Some free advice

In addition to, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” I have many favoured quotes in Stengelese. Indeed, one of my several motives for getting into Heaven is to hear Casey Stengel chatting with Thomas More. Both were talented managers.

“The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.”

“Now there’s three things that can happen in a ball game: you can win, you can lose, or it can rain.”

“Been in this game one hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before.”

“You got to get twenty-seven outs to win.”

“I couldn’t have done it without my players.”

“Nobody knows this yet, but one of us has just been traded to Kansas City.”

“That boy couldn’t hit the ground if he fell out of an airplane.”

“Wake up muscles we’re in New York now.”

“Being with a woman last night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.”

“You have to have a catcher because if you don’t you’re likely to have a lot of passed balls.”

“If you’re so smart, let’s see you get out of the Army.”

“They say some of my stars drink whiskey. But the ones who drink milkshakes don’t win many ball games.”

“I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

(Readers are invited to guess which quotes were Stengel’s and which were More’s.)


But it is, “Can’t anybody here play this game” that keeps coming to mind when I observe developments in the Middle East. As I hope gentle reader will soon discern, each of the quotes is relevant to the current situation.

The response to it in the West, and particularly from the United States government, is incompetent on a scale so breathtaking that I sometimes miss my slot as a daily news pundit. (And by inviting Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress, Boehner proved himself as dumb as Obama.) What distresses me is not that characters like Obama and Kerry say “terrorism” has nothing to do with Islam. They are politicians: of course they spout drivel. Rather, I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying.

This goes beyond noticing that the terrorists cry Allahu Akbar! after every strike. To understand current events one must notice the war being fought within Islam. And this is not as hard as it might seem. It is a war between not one, but two radical factions: Shia fanatics, and Sunni fanatics.

“Al-Qaeda,” “the Caliphate,” “Hamas,” and some other groupings, though rivals for the leadership, are united in their aspirations for the Sunni side. Revolutionary Iran and its proxy Hezbollah provide the united leadership for the Shia side. Every formerly Western-allied government in the region, including that of the Wahabi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia, fears both sides; but they fear Iran more. And after Iran, they probably fear Turkey, which has the potential of becoming patron to the fanatic Sunnis on the analogy of Iran.

We could get into blaming Islam itself for the mess, but that won’t be necessary for today’s purpose. It is only necessary insofar as we must understand that the words Allahu Akbar are not uttered lightly, and are not insincere.

While both sides look forward to murdering us next, their attention is first focused on murdering each other. Attacks on Western targets must be understood in this context: for neither party is so naive as to think they can out-gun us, or even out-gun Israel. Moreover, many of their stunts (including video beheadings) are designed to manipulate Western public opinion — against themselves, in order to win allies within the region. The “Je suis Charlie” demonstrations in France, for instance, were a godsend to the Sunni fanatics: they triggered massive anti-Western demonstrations among less fanatic Muslims across the Middle East, and thereby magnified their claim to represent Islam.

A good general knows better than to be manipulated by goads. He keeps his eye on the chessboard, and thinks several moves ahead. He acts in apparent indifference to his opponent’s last move, and may even invite more of the same. He is looking for checkmate, not to trade pawns. But in the words of a gorgeous Israeli paratrooper I once chatted with (she was female, incidentally), our leaders are trying to play chess with checkers pieces.

So note the disposition of the board. The Iranians, on the cusp of obtaining nuclear weapons if they do not have them already (I would bet they have), are the party that other regional states most fear (except Syria, the Iranian client we should be trying to lure away). And this for very good reasons. They also fear their domestic Sunni radicals, but they know the Shia party is much better organized and armed, and has the more realizable ambition to destroy them. This view is the opposite of senseless.

Now, fools, or let us say those too clever by half, will next suggest we play one enemy against the other. Let Hitler bleed himself mooshing Stalin, or vice versa. This is crazy, in addition to evil. The winner of that conflict then becomes our much more powerful adversary. Our task is to defeat the Sunni “terrorists” — by military means where necessary — without giving the slightest advantage to the ayatollahs. To negotiate with the latter, semi-secretly seeking their help against their worst enemy, is the stupidest course available; and it is the one the Obama administration is banking on.

Do I have to explain more?

Hard “realpolitik” would recognize both threats, and propose to defeat them respectively by quite different tactics. The allies we require are just the sort the Bush administration was cultivating, but which the Obama administration alienates with batty lectures on “human rights,” and other empty pieces of performance art, intended to undermine them. Our common interests are not permanent, and therefore they can only be allies, not friends: but this is war. In the first place we must communicate to such as the Egyptian and Saudi governments that we understand the game, know how to play it, and are once again (like Bush) as good as our word. Negotiate with your allies, not with your common enemies, or you will find yourself without allies pretty fast.

Our common interest with the Israelis — who are friend, not ally — is to move attention away from them. Our obsession with solving the insoluble “Israel/Palestine” conflict plays directly into our enemies’ hands, by enhancing an issue that galvanizes their existing supporters, and can only win them more. (Nor do you win allies by selling out your friends.) Quietly help Israel get ignored, which is exactly what our regional allies are doing, and exactly what Boehner wasn’t doing.

Beyond this: never try to solve an insoluble problem; you have better things to do than make it worse.