Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

Total Pageviews

Monday, May 29, 2017


Ewan joins the conversation on this blog with a lengthy response to my post Idle Speculation.  He objects to my characterization of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy as imperialistic, and after a series of observations about Putin’s behavior and that of the United States, he remarks “Compared to the US, Russia is the grown up.”

I shall not dispute Ewan’s factual assertions – as I remarked at the beginning of the post, I know little or nothing about these matters and warned readers to take them for what they were worth.  But the remark that I quote, I believe, reveals a way of thinking about international affairs that is fundamentally wrong, and I shall spend some time explaining why.  Now, I have written about this before, and like many writers, I am in the grips of the bizarre fantasy that someone who has read anything by me must surely have read everything by me, but, to paraphrase that great fantasist Ronald Reagan, though I believe in my heart that this is true, I know in my head that it is not.  So here goes.

If, like me, you have spent your entire adult life inveighing against the self-congratulatory ideological mystifications of America’s imperial projects, and if it makes you, as it makes me, “faintly nauseous” [to quote James Comey] each time you hear an American apologist describe this country as “the good guy” on the international scene, you might be seduced into a transvaluation of values, leading you to call America the bad guy and America’s opponent the good guy [or “the grown up.”]  But that would be a mistake.

The world is a complex array of nation-states, some of which have been imperial powers [Spain, France, Germany, Great Britain, Mongolia, among others], some of which are currently imperial powers [China, Russia, the United States], and the rest of which would be imperial powers if they could.  There are two models of imperium, or Ideal Types, as Max Weber would have labeled them.  One model is the ceaseless expansion of the homeland into contiguous territories – China, Russia, and to some extend Germany exemplify this model.  The other is the projection of imperial power overseas or to non-contiguous territories – England, Mongolia, Spain, Portugal, and France come to mind.

The United States has pursued a rather complex mix of these two styles of imperialism.  Very early in its history, it declared the Western Hemisphere its natural sphere of interest, projecting military and economic power to a number of places in Central and South America.  At the same time, America’s principal imperial project for its first hundred years was the forceful incorporation of all the territory to the west and southwest of the original thirteen states, ending only when America reached the Pacific Ocean.  Once that Manifest Destiny had been accomplished, America reverted to the alternative model of imperialism, projecting its power into the Pacific and the Northwest. 

The Second World War ended with two great empires bestriding the world like Colossi:  The Soviet Union and America.  The Soviet Union had successfully expanded both east into Central Asia and west into the Baltic and Eastern Europe, incorporating a contiguous territory spanning eleven time zones.  America had, in effect, inherited the imperial purple of Great Britain and France, and now, seventy years later, has its troops stationed in upwards of one hundred fifty countries.  Things did not always go smoothly for the two hegemons, of course.  The Soviet Union’s Afghanistan adventure ended badly, contributing to its eventual breakup.  America ill-considered attempt to assume France’s role in Southeast Asia was so disastrous that it was forced to reconstitute its military force to repair the damage.

In all of this, there are no good guys and bad guys, no grownups and wayward children.  There are just states [not individuals, remember] expanding their imperial reach until they come up against other states strong enough to oppose them successfully.  The underlying purposes of these expansions vary.  America’s motives are transparently those of international capital.  China’s motives are in part those of state capitalism and in part an effort at internal consolidation and stabilization [Owen Lattimore’s classic work, The Inner Asian Frontiers of China, is, as I have observed before on this blog, a useful guide.]  Russia’s motives appear to be in part economic and in part revanchist.

What then is a man or woman of the left to think?  If there are no good guys and no bad guys, where do I hang my hat and my heart?  I can only offer the answer that satisfies me.  Put not your trust in princes, as the Good Book says [Psalm 146, chapter 23, verse 5].  Choose your comrades in this world, those with whom you make common cause, and then fight alongside them for what you and they believe to be right and just.


howie b said...

Where would religions come to play in this schema, such as Christianity and Islam and even (God help me) Judaism?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

They play a very important role as rationalizations.

howie b said...

Tons of follow up questions, here's a few:

Like Huntington and his clash of civilization, religion may play a larger part than as mere rationalization.
The American elite, or so I'm told, have lost their religion
Weber's analysis fails in the middle ages and ancient world- the Roman religion was commensurate with the state, and the Pope and his church loomed larger than the Emperors and Barons and so forth
Modern religion Weber observed is highly personal and spiritual. What does that have to do with rationalizations?
Why can't capitalism have it's own religion?

Answer whichever you feel like and up to

s. wallerstein said...

There aren't any states, say, Switzerland, which a long time ago decided to mind their business and are just plain less aggressive than the states which you mention above?

Yes, I know that Switzerland is small, but it's rich, could have set up a colony or two in Africa back in the good old days (as Belgium did with genocidal results) and certainly they currently have the money and technology to develop nuclear weapons, which they haven't done.

Ewan said...

I don't want to become one of those tiresome people who keeps coming back with further comments because they fancy themselves as something of a controversialist. I do want to clarify two things, if I may. I apologise for the verbal incontinence. (Bin my comment if you think I miss the point.)

There is a distinction can usefully be drawn between good guys/bad guys and grown-up/not grown-up.

I'm from Great Britain, so I'm familiar with the blind prejudice that we're the good guys. I accept everything you say on the subject.

Grown-up/not grown-up is something else again. It is a useful distinction.

On relations with Russia, there are US patriots, like Sen. Bill Bradley, and members of the Cold War establishment, like the late George Kennan, who are grown-ups - they know their stuff, they know what is possible, they know when compromise is in the national interest. The Russians know where they are with them. Then there are those who are not grown-up. The sociopaths. Most of the neo-cons, for starters, Hilary Clinton, etc. etc.

The Russian government, and, in particular, Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov, and Sergei Shoigu are grown-ups. They attempted to negotiate with the US, for example on Syria, as if their US interlocutors were also grown-ups. John Kerry was the nearest thing in the previous administration. He would agree one thing with the Russians and say the opposite when he got home. He would agree a ceasefire authorised by the President, and the Pentagon would refuse to obey, and indeed sabotaged the ceasefire. The Russians have a word that means "not such as we can rely on to stick to an agreement". After painful months of negotiation with the US, Sergei Lavrov regretfully announced that the Americans were such. There are rules, and the Americans do not know how to observe them. There are boundaries, but no-one has taught them to the Americans. In this sense, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Iranians are grown-ups. It is possible to do business with them without risking the survival of the species. No such luck with the Americans. The Russians are not the "good guys". The Americans are not in any essential sense the "bad guys". However, the US, as it now behaves, is so erratic, and yet so single-mindedly focused on the interests of a few undesirables, that it is a clear and present danger to everyone. Not grown-up.

By the way, there are grown-ups in the US establishment. General Dunford, who as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs refused to countenance war with Iran ("not on my watch"). And Admiral Fallon, Centcom chief, who had the measure of General Petraeus ("an ass-licking little chickenshit").

Your characterisation of the post-War Soviet Union does not reflect the fact that its behaviour was au fond defensive (despite the hubris, and the ideology, of a few - long since disavowed by the Russians).

LFC said...

I would appreciate some evidence to support your statement that it was the Pentagon that "sabotaged" the Syria ceasefire that was agreed on by the Russians and the U.S. (in the previous admin) and other parties. That's not my recollection.

No one has esp. clean hands when it comes to Syria, especially not the Russians and Iranians, who have been actively backing a murderous regime that has committed clear crimes against humanity and has jailed and summarily executed thousands (at a minimum) of its political opponents while indiscriminately and deliberately attacking and killing a lot of civilians.

I don't find your grown-up/not-grown-up distinction useful or even all that intelligible.


On a separate pt, I don't agree w Prof. Wolff that the interests of capital are the *only* thing motivating U.S. foreign policy. It's a significant factor but not the only one. Reality is a bit more complicated than that.

It's one thing to like "elegant" ideas in philosophy, which Prof Wolff has said repeatedly that he does. It's another thing to transfer that preference for "elegance" and, by extension, parsimony to the analysis of foreign policy, where it can result in embracing reductionistic and less than illuminating analyses.

Perry Anderson, whose lengthy take on US foreign policy in NLR a few yrs ago (later published in bk form) basically agrees w Prof. Wolff in its main emphasis, notes a strain of "messianic activism" in US for. policy over the yrs -- that is, there has been a persistent impulse to spread the perceived 'blessings' of the US system to the world (and that has competed w other, different impulses). Woodrow Wilson, correctly viewed today as a racist etc., had a sincere set of beliefs along this line that prob. can't be reduced to serving the imperatives of 'international capital'.

The 'economic' school of interpreting U.S. for. policy has made important contributions, but I think there's more going on than they allow for.

Finally, 'empire' and 'imperialism' have arguably become close to useless terms b/c of the different ways in which they are thrown around. The U.S., as the post notes, has military installations in a lot of countries, hence (if you like) an 'empire of bases'. But it doesn't have a classic territorial/colonial empire, not any more, nor much apparent interest in acquiring one.

Danny said...

'America’s motives are transparently those of international capital.'

I think that 'transparently' means in an honest and open manner, right? I don't know what 'those of international capital' means, and perhaps it seems churlish of me to refuse to guess. I don't know what 'spirituality in the 1930s' means, either, and it's not that I simply refuse to guess, it's that this is so very abstract and informally stated that it seems 'transparently' designed to make me guess. Let us guess, that this idea that America's motives are transparently those of international capital is something like in French discussions of American dystopia, I'm thinking of how 'Action Francaise' militants were anti-American -- e.g., America represented democracy. I don't need to be terribly formal about defining the discourse of the Jeune droite, of the cuff, because how formal can it get? The tone is what it is..let us say that you identify as a French reader, with European dignity and French civilization, and not with America's economy and society as a technocratic and utilitatrian utopia. There's been lots of water under the bridge, but I'm suggesting going back to, shall we say, the mid 1920s or something, and pondering suspicious assessments of American motives, at a time when maybe America was not inspiring any sort of great passion among the intelligentsia.

I guess my point is that in certain circles, you can say that 'America’s motives are transparently those of international capital.'And the response you get, will be sympathetic understanding. To me this is bizarre. How to explain? I think such a discussion seems like a parody of flaky coffee-shop hipsters..your mileage may vary. I think 'get a job'. I don't even have a job..

Ewan said...

John Kerry agreed the terms of a ceasefire. President Obama gave it his imprimatur. The Secretary of Defence said he didn't think the US should comply (publicly defied his commander-in-chief!). The USAF then accidentally bombed Syrian troops. Oops.

(We can get into the bombing of the relief convoy if you wish, and the Western media's practice of broadcasting as fact without verification jihadi propaganda. The reporting of the siege of Aleppo has been one of the very lowest points in our media's lamentable career. Compare and contrast Mosul. It appears to be a principle with us that our enemies can always be trusted to act against their own interests at precisely the moment when it will cause them maximum damage and justify us in doing whatever it is we wanted to do all along. For example, Syria use chemical weapons thus crossing the US "red line" the jihadis want it to cross, precisely when it has invited in the UN chemical weapons inspectors... D'oh!)

Russia and Iran are acting within the law in coming to the aid of an ally at that ally's request. The US and its allies are acting contrary to the law in funding, arming, training etc. jihadists, mostly not even Syrians, to overthrow the Syrian government. What may very well have started as a civil war, soon morphed into a proxy war by the Saudis, Turkey, the US, UK and France to overthrow a government they do not like. Such interference is what treaties they have all signed deem illegal. If we are to believe Messrs. Annan and Ibrahimi of the UN, a negotiated settlement in 2012 was thwarted by the jihadis at the behest of the US and the Saudis. The killing of civilians could have ceased long since but for that. We have encouraged the prolongation of the killing of civilians. Given the record of both the Saudis and the US, it is in any event not for us to be lecturing anyone, even the Ba'athists in Syria. We are in the process of driving 19m Yemenis to starvation. We killed what the UN estimated to be half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s (no-one bothered to count the adults). The US Secretary of State called it a "price worth paying". We have killed more than a million civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen since 2001. And we aren't finished.

"Not grown-up" is maybe not most apt to describe those who complain righteously that their enemies kill thousands as a pretext to kill hundreds of thousands themselves.

And maybe you do not like the term applied to US policy on Syria. Fair enough - but that policy is surely not coherent. The US has signed agreements with Russia it has failed to honour. It has condemned Russia for doing legally in Syria what it is itself doing illegally. It has proclaimed its determination to defeat Islamism - by allying itself with the main source and sponsor of Islamism. It insists on identifying as its chief enemies the only forces on the ground able to fight the jihadis effectively. It has allied itself with those its allies are fighting. It has even been reduced to pretending that a change of name has rendered al qaeda a "moderate rebel force" worthy of US tax dollars. I could go on!

You may think it unhelpful to characterise US behaviour as "not grown-up". Fair enough. It still scares the bejeesus out of the rest of us to no good purpose. Or are you able to tell me what purpose has been served by turning Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia into a chaos of death and destruction with no end in sight and at the expense of several trillion dollars?

US foreign policy for at least a hundred years has been about making the world safe for "free enterprise". Quite how does the current chaos further that policy?

LFC said...

A lot here, too much to respond to all of it. I agree w/ the point there is contradiction/incoherence in U.S. policy (e.g., selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which supports Sunni extremists in various parts of the world and acts v. badly in Yemen). I never said U.S. policy in the region is coherent.

I would note however a point you have omitted to mention: The main target of U.S. air attacks in Syria and Iraq is ISIS. ISIS opposes Assad. If the U.S. is bent on overthrowing Assad, it has an odd way of demonstrating that. The U.S. is also aiding the Syrian Kurdish YPG, much to Turkey's displeasure. If I'm not mistaken, the main thing the YPG is engaged in right now is fighting ISIS.

As for this:
Russia and Iran are acting within the law in coming to the aid of an ally at that ally's request.
Except that in this case the ally has committed serial crimes vs. humanity and is violating international law every day. Under these circumstances, coming to the active aid of that ally is not "acting within the law."

As for al-Qaeda changing its name: as far as I'm aware there is still an org. called al Qaeda. I happened to see a recent headline about one of bin Laden's sons issuing a recent call to action (will have to check the cite on that). So I'm not sure what you are referring to.

Mosul: The US Army recently completed an investigation of that now rather notorious incident, finding (acc. to a summary on the NewsHour) that it dropped a bomb on a building, aiming to get a couple of snipers, and the bomb set off explosives placed in the bldg, killing 100+ civilians. (Seems excessive to drop bombs on a bldg if your target is two snipers, but I haven't read the details of the report.) Trump has apparently loosened some of the constraints on targeting etc., w predictably bad results.

I agree the US has been responsible for a lot of harm to civilians and a lot of chaos. I said no one has clean hands here. There are not clearly identifiable "good guys" and "bad guys" in most of these situations. But I find your willingness to defend Russia and Assad troubling.

Bashar al-Assad has provided a case study in how to lose legitimacy that he otherwise probably would have had, as a sitting (albeit unsavory and autocratic) head of state fighting insurgents. You lose legitimacy in that kind of situation by labeling all of your opponents "terrorists" while at the same behaving, in effect, like one yourself. He was in a difficult position in that he obviously wanted to cling to power at all costs, which is psychologically understandable, but there comes a point at which how you decide to fight a war trumps the issue of whether your cause was 'legitimate' to begin with, and Assad, it seems to me, crossed that threshold a long time ago.

Ewan said...

I have gone on too long.

A few points:

"If the U.S. is bent on overthrowing Assad, it has an odd way of demonstrating that." This is startling. The US makes no bones about it.

I'm also surprised you don't see the difficulty in us deciding who is legitimate and who illegitimate. If we were indeed the good guys, maybe... but, as it is, it is really not on for us to label Assad worse than the Saudis, or Saddam a good guy when we support him but the new Hitler when he disobeys us. The Russian insistence on the rule of law seems to me the best of a bad job. I can't think of any other way to curb them all even slightly.

On al qaeda in Syria, there are specialists who try to detail the various jihadi groups and affiliations. Al Nusra, ahrar al-Sham etc are all inter-related and all subsidiaries and rebrandings and divisions and factions of the same jihadis. As indeed is ISIS/Daesh. They are all the spawn of the US/Saudi cunning plan to use Islamists against secular Arab states. Brzezinski was actually proud of it!

Mosul: I meant the whole shebang. You refer to one incident we happen to have heard of. Aleppo was "genocide!!!!!"; Mosul - mainly silence.

I hold no brief for any thug or princeling or prime minister in the Middle East. I do think the stream of drivel about Russia needs stopping. It is dangerous to us all.

I won't drone on any longer.

Unknown said...

Off Topic: The Washington Post this morning has an editorial praising the “Problem Solvers’ Caucus” in the House. It consists of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans who want to “get things done.” The rules are that all 40 will vote as a bloc on the Floor on any measure supported by 3/4s of the caucus membership and a simple majority of caucus members from each party.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus (the real crazies) also vote as a bloc whenever some requisite number of votes favors one positon or another.

There are a number of other caucuses in the Congress (e.g., the Black Caucus), but I don’t know whether any of them require members to vote as a bloc; however, I don’t believe any of them do so far.

I wonder if this phenomenon could be the seed of a multi-party system in Congress. If caucuses have “party discipline” in voting, they would be acting very much like parties in a parliamentary system. This might lead to coalitions and, eventually, something other than the first-past-the -post system we have now.

Jerry Fresia said...

Good idea David - especially if reps ran as a specific caucus member within the party and not as a Democrat or as a Democrat secondarily. It could be a way of circumventing 2 party strictures.

Unknown said...


I think that's what happening Clearly the Freedom Caucus put its own position ahead of the Republican Party's.

Danny said...

'They are all the spawn of the US/Saudi cunning plan to use Islamists against secular Arab states.'

Pulling this out of context to stare at it, I can already see that it is not mainstream western discourse. I'm not sure *what* it is. It appears to be neither righteous leftists, nor belligerent rightists? Or at least, this is my first question. There may be a notion lurking here about a demand that Muslims distance themselves from terrorists or be deemed their accomplices. Like, I'm trying to come up with some sort of cunning plan to use Islamists against secular Arab states..

I'll stare at this again: 'They are all the spawn of the US/Saudi cunning plan to use Islamists against secular Arab states.'

I don't know that a word of this even means anything to me. What is this about secular Arab states? What are the secular Arab states? I guess we are not talking about headscarf-banning laïcité, but what are we talking about? Probably I'm supposed to know more than I do, here, about the resurgence of Islam in politics in the most modernizing of Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Algeria and Turkey..?

Danny said...

'Given the record of both the Saudis and the US, it is in any event not for us to be lecturing anyone, even the Ba'athists in Syria. We are in the process of driving 19m Yemenis to starvation. We killed what the UN estimated to be half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s (no-one bothered to count the adults). The US Secretary of State called it a "price worth paying". We have killed more than a million civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen since 2001. And we aren't finished.'

Apparently, 'we' are the Saudis and the US. This is so self-loathing, that it sounds like batman. I think I know the 'we think the price is worth it' quote. I've come across this as something that has been much quoted in the Arabic press. The idea is that then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was calmly asserting that U.S. policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children. I do not see how there could be any sort of confirmation of a high number of sanctions related casualties, though. I mean, whatever she might have said, I dunno, and I perhaps love to quibble, this is one cold fish who loves to quibble, but I notice that 'half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s' seems like kind of a rough rendering. You add that no-one bothered to count the adults, but it seems that actually, no-one bothered to count the children. I would find a dramatically lower estimate to be more plausible, if that's relevant, and maybe it isn't -- I don't mean to seize on the lowest possible numbers, here. Whatever -- we have a preliminary estimate maybe, about about the sanctions’ toll, I think, though you say it is about who 'we killed'. The way that you connect the dots is to figure that sanctions are to blame for Iraq’s suffering, and not, oh I dunno, Saddam Hussein. That sort of argument was put forward -- indeed, there is talk of wide-scale misappropriation of funds from Iraqi oil sales earmarked for humanitarian purposes. I don't even insist on the point -- let us agree to criticize harsh and arbitrary restrictions on medicines, or such. And even, let's agree that there has never been much sustained attention in U.S. media to the costs of sanctions inside Iraq. Certainly we can agree that he sanctions against Iraq were a near-total financial and trade embargo. I do think it relevant, though, that the United Nations Security Council imposed them. You seem unclear on the point, as well, that following the 2003 Iraq War, the sanctions regime was largely ended on May 22, 2003.

Danny said...

I'm thinking at the moment, of how the headline-grabbing revolutions that gripped the Middle East in early 2011 brought the promise of an “Arab Spring,” like, a new dawn, for democracy, in a region etc. And of course, the real result. Call this a wave of violence, repression and civil war. There is Tunisia, where, I think, the protests inspired similar actions throughout the Arab world.

But in Tunisia, actually, it eventually led to a thorough democratization of the country and to free and democratic elections. Now, I'm not terribly steeped in this stuff, I'm not invested in how correct I am about this stuff, I just recall something in the media about massive protests in Cario's Tahrir Square, and whatever. I remember that Kadafi is Libiya, and I think 'flamboyant dictator'. There is Yemen, there is Bahrain. I get these places confused, this is about all I know about it. Then there is Syria. If most of the Arab Spring revolutions accomplished little, then I guess my idea about Syria is that Syrians have failed in their battle to oust Assad, and as I understand it, U.S. and other Western states backed what were moderate rebel groups. At least, that was, I think, the case in the early months of the civil war. But, it attracted Sunni militants from across the Arab world to fight against Assad's minority, and Islamic State extremists have proclaimed a 'caliphate' across half of Syria, and huge areas of Iraq, and threaten to overrun Aleppo, and potentially the capital, and that has prompted Russia to intervene in an effort to shore up Assad.

Think of Assad as a longtime Kremlin ally.

I recall seeing something about how 250,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. I read that 24 million citizens have been driven from their homes. But my point is not to be a know-it-all, I truly haven't bothered much with this stuff, I'm not saying I'm proud of how informed I am about it. I guess I'm no role model, in terms of even seriously caring about all the dying children, think of the children, and wringing my hands. I like to quibble about logic and semantics. But I don't delude myself about it..I'm better at logic than any of you losers. This is for whatever it is worth.

Danny said...

You say a great deal here about sociopaths (such as heh, Hilary Clinton) and rules.

'The Russians have a word that means "not such as we can rely on to stick to an agreement". After painful months of negotiation with the US, Sergei Lavrov regretfully announced that the Americans were such. There are rules, and the Americans do not know how to observe them. There are boundaries, but no-one has taught them to the Americans. In this sense, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Iranians are grown-ups. It is possible to do business with them without risking the survival of the species.'

I wonder what actually, is the word that you mention? But I notice some projection happening, here. It has been said that we cannot count on Russia to stick to fundamental agreements regarding Western security. I think, for example, of how the outgoing president of Estonia warned against the “naïveté” of other European leaders when dealing with an increasingly aggressive Russia. President Toomas Hendrik lives. He has long warned of increasing Russian interference. He has done this along with other Baltic leaders. He said this:

“Sometimes I’m bewildered by the naïveté of some leaders who, having seen repeatedly that all of this is violated, still persist in sort of acting as if we have not ... seen the intentional undermining of the foundations of Western security.”

He pointed to those countries, like France, who supported ending sanctions on Russia, put in place after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and bloody meddling in eastern Ukraine. Now, my understanding is that he thinks that the Baltic countries are not at the top of Moscow’s priority list, as it becomes ever more interventionist abroad, from Ukraine to Syria. He said this:

“As long as the UK is in the EU, it can temper some of the anti-American positions that we see some countries taking,” Ilves said. “But let’s be honest, the sole treaty-based link, the big link to Europe that the United States has is through NATO.”

Now, I am no professional, but I muse about whether militarily Europe is a disorganised rabble without the US and it is primarily the US that prevents Putin from retaking the Baltic States. Actually, I am not kidding when I claim to love to quibble, and I am distracted by the question what are the hardest words to translate into English? There is an Indonesian word that conveys the awkward humor behind a joke delivered so badly that you can’t help but laugh. In English, we sarcastically say, “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.” I don't mean anything by that, or even by this: one of the hardest English words to translate into other tongues is gobbledygook. It’s based on the onomatopoeic sound of a turkey’s gobble -- meaning “jargon-filled language that is difficult to read, maybe intentionally confusing.”

I say I don't mean anything by it, but in that case, it's off-topic. Getting back to the topic, I wonder how terrorists justify carrying out atrocities to themselves. Oh is that the subject?

Danny said...

'Given the record of both the Saudis and the US, it is in any event not for us to be lecturing anyone, even the Ba'athists in Syria.'

I wonder who it is for, to be lecturing anyone? I can imagine somebody stepping in to offer that the Syrian Arab Republic has never been a working-class socialist state, of the category Marxists would recognize. I'm kidding, but I'm possibly in a minority around here, for laughing. It's not that I'm laughing at a brutal, corrupt regime that instils fear into the hearts of Syria’s 20 million people. I'm laughing at the idea of lecturing Ba-athists in Syria. They burn his effigy in towns drenched in blood by his security forces.

I don't claim to know much about who is the real “brains” behind the regime, or about any of this. I think that Assad tried to bog down American troops in the quagmire of Iraq by siding with the insurgents, even though Syria and Iraq had been bitter enemies. Assad tried to bog down American troops in the quagmire of Iraq by siding with the insurgents, even though Syria and Iraq had been bitter enemies. I remember that supposedly, Assad faced accusations of involvement in the 2005 assassination of the former prime minister and opponent of Syria – a killing that forced Assad into a humiliating military withdrawal from Lebanon. I don't claim to know much about the way Assad threw himself into the arms of Iran.

Big picture, here, is of two presidents, in Tunisia and Egypt, being swept from office, and a third, Muammer Gaddafi, losing nearly half the country to Libyan rebels, and what else? I joked around about this being an Arab socialist state. Though, of course, it is. The framers of the constitution saw socialism as a means to achieve national liberation and economic development. “The march toward the establishment of a socialist order,” the 1973 constitution’s framers wrote, is a “fundamental necessity for mobilizing the potentialities of the Arab masses in their battle with Zionism and imperialism.”

I maybe can distinguish that from Marxist socialism, but I'm back to joking around. I can't say that 'these two different socialisms operated at different levels of exploitation', and keep a straight face, but your mileage may vary. My bad. Truly I ought to be ashamed if I cannot appreciate somebody disseminating a rigorous, evidence-based political analysis. My standards aren't even that high -- I would be able to admire some sort of defining mission, or values to devote oneself to -- and I personally take pride in being actually interested, and not only pretending to be a little interested, in quibbling about logic and semantics.

Ewan said...

Daniel Langois
I have read what you have written. Can I suggest some study. There are American and British academics and investigative journalists who devote their careers to the topics you express yourself on. They have written up their researches.

The word is "nedogovorosposobniy" (I'm sorry, I don't have cyrillic).

Ewan said...

Daniel Langois
In passing, I'm surprised you had to refer to the Arabic press for an interview Madeleine Albright gave to an American journalist in English broadcast in the US; also that you feel able to second-guess the work of the experts in demographics (you know, the highly technical statistical analysis of population dynamics) - again many of the most highly regarded are American academics e.g. the institute are Carnegie Mellon (I believe) the UN commissioned to analyse casualties numbers in Syria - their conclusion was that there were no statistically robust estimates of the total or the breakdown and the UN should stop quoting figures (hasn't stopped the media).