Thursday, September 21, 2017

America’s Great Game

I meant to make a new nation…

-        T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)

I had formed a beautiful and gracious image and I saw it melting before my eyes….I did not think I could bear to see the evaporation of the dream which had guided me.

-        Gertrude Bell to King Faisal of Iraq (1922)

It was in this world made of failed British utopians such as Lawrence and Bell, those who were doing the work of the imperialists, into which America entered.

America's Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, by Hugh Wilford

This is a story of the early American Arabists, those who made the first moves into the region that was dominated by British and French colonialists, beginning, for the most part, during World War Two.  (Yes, they were initially “Arabists,” not Zionists.)

We are introduced to several characters: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt Jr., Chief of CIA covert operations in the Middle East and grandson of Teddy; Archibald B. Roosevelt, Jr., CIA officer and also grandson of Teddy and Kim’s cousin; Miles Copeland, a friend of the cousins; a long list of American anti-Zionists; numerous Arab, Jewish, and British leaders.

When Wilford began the research for this book, he was surprised by two things: first, such a book – a comprehensive look at America’s covert actions in the Middle East – had not previously been written; second, the first Americans on the scene were favorably disposed to the Arabs and Muslims. 

We will see how comprehensive a work Wilford has achieved in the coming weeks; as to the second point, I will note a curious similarity to the British position – not in London but for those on the ground, and certainly true in Palestine: overall, the British on the ground were favorably disposed, relatively, to the Arabs.

Wilford notes the domestic Arabist, anti-Zionist citizen network covertly funded by Kim Roosevelt; the large body of published memoirs of CIA Arabists.  The stories behind these will be interesting.

So, what changed?  What happened to turn this pro-Arab, pro-Muslim view into precisely the opposite?  It is a question Wilford recognizes that he must address.  For now, he summarizes: fears of Arab nationalistic leaders and communism; western access to Middle East oil; growing support in the US for Israel (for which he mentions the “so-called Israel lobby”).

Wilford begins the story with Kim Roosevelt, who, eventually, entered Iran in July 1953 under a false name to carry out the very well-known coup that toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq.  But the story doesn’t begin here; it begins with Kim’s childhood: born in Buenos Aires in 1916; the exotic adventures of his grandfather Teddy; his youthful stories of his wholly imagined childhood in India; his own trips with his father, Kermit, Sr.; his friendship with Lawrence of Arabia.

Kim’s education at the Groton School for Boys and then Harvard – and it is interesting to find how important these institutions (along with Princeton) were to providing the individuals necessary to the mission of covert operations. 

Groton’s motto – “Cui servire est regnare,” or “For whom to serve is to rule” – should give some idea of the culture and ideas driven into its students daily.  From its first 1000 graduates came nine ambassadors, three senators, two governors, two secretaries of state, and one president (FDR).

After Groton and Harvard, Kim spent time on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena.  He was getting the itch, however, and was interested in going to work for Colonel William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was in the process of creating a unified strategic intelligence service.  In August 1941 – four months before Pearl Harbor – Kim joined Donovan.

Cousin Archibald also had youthful exotic experiences; he also attended Groton and Harvard; he was then offered a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, but turned this down as he intended to marry – all scholarship recipients must remain single.  He also entered the world of the colonialists, more directly, in 1942, when he found himself on a ship to capture a beachhead near Casablanca under General George S. Patton.

This “beachhead” was a part of Operation TORCH, a joint British – US invasion of North Africa.  The Soviets had been pressuring the Allies to establish a second front against the Germans.  The US military leadership was against the idea, but FDR directed them to proceed.  D-Day was set for November 8, 1942.

After he landed and a cease-fire was called, one Moroccan in particular sought Archie out: Mehdi Ben Barka.  Archie learned much of French colonialism during their time together; he didn’t like what he learned. 

Ben Barka was an interesting character: the first Moroccan Muslim to earn a degree in mathematics from an official French school; against colonialism; a revolutionary in the spirit of various revolutionary movements throughout the third world.  In 1962 he was accused of plotting to kill Moroccan King Hassan II; for this he was exiled in 1963.

Ben Barka was then “disappeared” in Paris in 1965.  The details behind this remain guarded.  For example:

Owing to requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, the United States government acknowledged in 1976 that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) possessed 1,800 documents involving Ben Barka; however, the documents were not released.

Wilford offers many examples of the treatment of the Muslims at the hands of the French – each one only increasing Archie’s disillusionment regarding America’s policy of collaborating with the French.  On the occasion of a riot in which French soldiers at best stood by (and, at worst, contributed), Archie witnessed twenty Arabs massacred.  Upon delivering a scathing report to his superiors regarding the French inactions (or actions), Archie was recalled to the United States.

The Arab world that Kim and Archie were entering was favorably disposed to Americans.  Perhaps primarily this was because they despised the French and weren’t terribly fond of the British; also because the experience with Americans prior to the covert activities of what was to become the CIA, most American involvement in the region was deemed to be beneficial: universities, hospitals, missionaries, Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

Archie saw the opportunity in North Africa for America to establish itself “as the great unselfish friend of the Moslems.”  Well, we know today that things didn’t turn out this way.


The earliest Americans on the scene grew up with fascinating tales and experiences of the exotic.  This was certainly true for the Roosevelt cousins, and it was true for many of the earliest agents and friendlies: the children of early twentieth century missionaries and university administrators, archeologists, businessmen – all who were born and raised in the region. 

Men such as these were to become instrumental in helping to develop contacts and otherwise gather intelligence while using the cover of their “official” positions.

In any case, this is to come.  And in this, the cousins would be instrumental.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Isn’t it Ironic?

Donald Trump gave his first speech at the United Nations. 

Irony: the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.

Henry Watson Fowler, in The King's English, says, "any definition of irony—though hundreds might be given, and very few of them would be accepted—must include this, that the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same."

Also, Eric Partridge, in Usage and Abusage, writes that "Irony consists in stating the contrary of what is meant."

Let’s examine Trump’s speech; his words will be in italics, below.

Verbal Irony

Verbal Irony is a statement in which the meaning that a speaker employs is sharply different from the meaning that is ostensibly expressed.

We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams, and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred, and fear.

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government…

Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.

In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone…

For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the UN Human Rights Council.

Tragic Irony

Tragic irony is a special category of dramatic irony. In tragic irony, the words and actions of the characters contradict the real situation, which the spectators fully realize.

Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terror but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

International criminal networks traffic drugs, weapons, people, force dislocation and mass migration, threaten our borders and new forms of aggression exploit technology to menace our citizens.

[The United States Constitution] has been the foundation of peace, prosperity, and freedom for the Americans and for countless millions around the globe…

In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign.

…we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.

Our citizens have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom and the freedom of many nations represented in this great hall.

…we did not seek territorial expansion or attempt to oppose and impose our way of life on others.

We want harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife.

[Regarding Iran] …it is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime, one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.

It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran's government end its pursuit of death and destruction.

…in Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamic extremism that inspires them.

We must deny the terrorists safe haven, transit, funding, and any form of support for their vile and sinister ideology.

In Syria and Iraq, we have made big gains toward lasting defeat of ISIS.

The actions of the criminal regime of Bashar al-Assad, including the use of chemical weapons against his own citizens, even innocent children…

Situational Irony

Situational irony is a relatively modern use of the term, and describes a sharp discrepancy between the expected result and actual results in a certain situation.

It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior.

My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.

The Criminal

Certain of Trump’s statements fall into a category all their own:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it. Believe me.

I have also totally changed the rules of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.

We have also imposed tough calibrated sanctions on the socialist Maduro regime in Venezuela, which has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.


Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever…

We can only hope.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Miscellaneous Peterson

Returning to my journey through Jordan Peterson’s videos, I offer several paraphrased tidbits.  I believe most, if not all of these come from his series entitled “Professor against Political Correctness,” but I won’t swear on it.

Argumentation Ethics?

You cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.”  You cannot derive ethical guidelines from factual knowledge.  The reason is that there are an infinite number of facts from which to choose, so which facts are you going to pick?  Merely by attending to some and not another you are already using an ethic.

When I hear this from Peterson, why do I think of Hoppe’s argumentation ethics?

Hoppe states that his theory is an a priori, value-free praxeological argument for deontological libertarian ethics. Argumentation ethics asserts the non-aggression principle is a presupposition of every argument and so cannot be logically denied during an argument.

When two parties are in conflict, they can choose one of two means to resolve this conflict:

Engaging in violence, or engaging in honest argumentation.

Choosing violence to resolve conflict does not strike me as something sustainable for human life on earth (have I just made a value statement, I wonder?).  If they choose argumentation, they inherently reject violence as the means for resolving conflict – hence coming to the non-aggression principle.

Ok, I have taken this one about as far as I am able (probably even beyond this); your thoughts are more than welcome on this.

The Value of a Value System

No value system, no positive emotion.  The post-modernists complain about a value system, because it includes some people (winners), and excludes other people (losers).  So they flatten the value system, so there will be no losers.

When you flatten the value system, you don’t get rid of suffering.  When you flatten out value systems you still have the losers; you merely get rid of the winners. 

We see the radical left’s attempts and successes at destroying all value systems.  But I will focus elsewhere.

Regarding the non-aggression principle: can this be considered a “value system”?  Is there some positive emotion that comes from the absence of the initiation of aggression?  Perhaps yes, if one were living in Central Europe at pretty much any time between 1914 and 1991. 

But even in this case, it still seems to me that non-aggression results in the absence of a negative emotion; this doesn’t strike me as the same thing as a positive emotion.  Is there meaningful “life” in this, a life where all we have is the absence of negative emotion? 

Does one even require “positive emotion” in life?  Who says this is of value? 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Reflex Movements

Reflex movements have been reported to occur in up to 75% of brain-dead patients…

McMeekin offers his analysis of events in Russia during 1917 and how these effected Russia’s involvement in the war.  The connection of this to the title should become apparent shortly, if you haven’t already figured it out.
[It would be] absurd and criminal to renounce the biggest prize of the war…in the name of some humanitarian and cosmopolitan idea of international socialism.

-        Pavel Miliukov, Foreign Minister, Russian Provisional Government; March, 1917

Miliukov was an advocate of continuing the war after the February Revolution; needless to say, this did not garner him much support from the supporters of Lenin.  On 20 April, 1917, he sent a telegram to Britain and France, stating that Russia would continue to support its allies and wage the war to the end.

In the first week of May he resigned his post.  But I am getting ahead of myself….


The war was not going terribly well for the western allies during this year – not much ground lost, but not much ground gained.  The same could not be said for Russia and her advances in Anatolia and the Middle East.  While Congress Poland and the oilfields of Ploesti were lost to them…

…the Russians, after an initial disaster at Lake Narotch in March, had won victory after victory in the East, from Brusilov’s numerous (albeit tactical) breakthroughs in Galicia to northeastern Turkey, where the Caucasian army was carrying all before it.

A year earlier, in 1915, Russia suffered from regular shell shortages.  No longer:

Russia produced four times as much shell as Austria-Hungary in 1916 and nearly as much as Germany, which was sending most of it is own output to the western front.

Foreign capital flowed into the country; the economy was “thriving,” according to McMeekin.

In the meantime, the war on Russia’s south was going well.  Advances were made in Persia and Mesopotamia.  Things were even better in Turkey; the northwestern portions of Turkey were secured during the Anatolian campaign of 1916.  The winter of 1916 – 1917 was harsh, but there was every reason to believe that with the spring, Russia could continue consolidating further gains at Turkey’s expense.

One of Russia’s long-time objectives, the one that would secure the warm-water access that was so coveted, was within sight.  When this was stated openly in the Duma by the new chairman of the Council of Ministers, the announcement was met by “the usual mob of hecklers” – led by Alexander Kerensky.


February saw, with today’s knowledge of what was to come within days, a surreal event in Petrograd.  A conference of the Allies was held: France, Britain, and Italy, along with Russia.  Maurice Paléologue, the French ambassador to Russia offers extensive notes regarding the internal situation in Petrograd.  For those interested, I offer some passages here.

It was in this environment where Pavel Miliukov made the statement regarding Constantinople, cited above.

The picture was surreal in the war offices as well – war planning for 1917 continued unaltered, unaffected by events in Petrograd.  Planning was moving forward for more aggressive amphibious assaults along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, to even include the Straits. 

March 14 saw the issuing of “Order No. 1” by the new provisional government, abolishing most elements of officer control in the armed forces and mandating the election of “soldier soviets.”  The order was received by Baratov in Persia, as one example, as if it came from “outer space.”  He was not forced to withdraw until June 1918 – fourteen months after the order was issued.

On the European front, however, morale was breaking down – then again, on the European front there were no military advances that might offer a boost to morale.  McMeekin offers this picture as an image of the Russian morale on the European front during 1917; it depicts Russian soldiers fleeing the Germans on the Galician front, July 1917.


The Bolsheviks seized power on the night of 7-8 November, 1917.  They immediately petitioned for and were granted an armistice by the Central Powers, culminating with the Brest-Litovsk negotiations; they repudiated all obligations to their former Allies; Trotsky leaked the “secret treaties” – of which the most important, perhaps, was the Sykes-Picot Agreement – to the Manchester Guardian.

Russia was thrown into Civil War – primarily the Red Army against what is referred to as the White Army.  The most significant fighting occurred within the first three years and the war ended by 1923.  Perhaps 300,000 were killed in the fighting.

The Red Terror, the White Terror, summary executions, Cossacks killed and deported, the economy devastated.

You know the rest.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Exercise in Self-Indulgence

Given all of the free time I have created for myself by eliminating, at least for a time, certain subjects for my writing, I thought I would explore other topics of interest.

You all know that I am a fan of progressive rock, given my many cites of lyrics from Rush and Dream Theater (Primus is something else, indeed.  You classify them, I cannot).  I would like to examine a bit of the most progressive rock album ever released by Rush, Hemispheres.

As described at Wikipedia:

The album contains examples of Rush's adherence to progressive rock standards including the use of fantasy lyrics, multi-movement song structures, and complex rhythms and time signatures.

Believe me, it is complex music; way over the top.  In fact, so over the top that…well…

In the 2010 documentary film Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, the band members comment that the stress of recording Hemispheres was a major factor in their decision to start moving away from suites and long-form pieces in their songwriting.

I recall hearing them say something about the songs being so complex that they had a hard time figuring out how to even play them live.

What Good is a Rush Reference Without Some Lyrics?

I can live with it, but…

I have heard Neil Peart (the lyricist and drummer for the band) describe himself as a bleeding heart libertarian (heaven help me…but don’t lose hope).  From the opening song of Hemispheres, part VI. The Sphere A Kind of Dream:

We can walk our road together
If our goals are all the same
We can run alone and free
If we pursue a different aim

Let the truth of Love be lighted
Let the love of truth shine clear
Armed with sense and liberty
With the Heart and Mind united
In a single perfect sphere

Yet, I don’t believe he is offering this “bleeding heart libertarianism” as a political philosophy, but a personal philosophy.  I offer, from another song on this album, The Trees:

There is unrest in the Forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the Maples want more sunlight
And the Oaks ignore their pleas.

After a bit more explanation:

So the Maples formed a Union
And demanded equal rights
‘The Oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more Oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet,
And saw…

From the entirety of the lyrics (you can check the above link if you are interested), it is clear that Peart isn’t happy with this outcome.  It seems clear that Peart views the “bleeding heart” portion of his self-description as a personal philosophy and not a political philosophy.

I am with him on this.


Back to the music.  Perhaps the best example of progressive rock on this most progressive rock album is an instrumental piece, almost ten minutes long and divided into twelve distinct sections.  As if to emphasize the excess progressive in this progressive rock piece, it is entitled “La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence).” 

(Forgive the strange introduction, but this is a great live version of the song…and, also, don’t be fooled by the audience shots that include three different females.  That’s all of them.).

There you have it.