TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Sklar: Islamic Imperialism

This is the fourth in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. Earlier excerpts of Sklar’s writing appear in the first, second, and third posts. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. As a researcher, Sklar was a historian of the United States, including its role in the world, particularly (from the late nineteenth century) as a promoter and guarantor (on balance) of a global system of expanding economic and political freedom. As a reader and informed commentator on international affairs, he was also deeply interested in broader issues in world history, particularly insofar as they shaped contemporary global conflicts. (Among the several dozen of Sklar’s books that I inherited are heavily marked and annotated copies of the following: John Yoo, War by Other Means: An Insider’s Account of the War on Terror; Philip Bobbitt, Terror and Consent; Bernard Lewis, The Middle East: A Brief History of 2,000 Years; and Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire.) The following excerpts from a letter to John Yoo reflect Sklar’s evolving understanding of what he understood as an ongoing U.S. (and Western) war against Islamic imperialism. Of particular interest is his conceptualization of various sectarian, and even nominally secular, movements as sometimes-competing branches of an expansive, totalitarian movement. Also noteworthy is Sklar’s historical analogy to the politics of the Civil War era, a recurring theme in his late writing. The letter sets the stage for the fifth and final post in this series, in which Sklar further elaborates his claim that “leftists” and “rightists” have, in effect, exchanged places on the American political spectrum. In addition to this and other propositions, the letter is significant because Yoo will be one of the contributors to the aforementioned Telos symposium. (The second op-ed to which Sklar refers, and on which he commented in sections of the letter not reproduced here but accessible in his Letters on Obama (from the Left), concerned Clarence Thomas’s jurisprudence.)

—Norton Wheeler

From a letter to John C. Yoo, December 20, 2011

The two WSJ Op-Eds of 6 Sept. & 22 Oct, to which you refer, are indeed in my files, and I’ve read them with care and the pleasures of their stimulus to thinking and learning—far exceeding alleged stimulus to the economy from the Obama/O-Dem spending/tax/regulatory policies. . . .

Let me comment on your two Op-Eds in response to your invite, and also for purposes of some broader dialogue.

First: “Ten Years without an Attack,” WSJ, 9/6/11, p. A21 . . .

As you emphasize, and as I’ve believed since “day one” (9/11/01), we are at war, as distinguished from dealing with crimes within or across lines of civil society. The methods and laws of war apply, not crime-deterrence/punishment, and hence not domestic law, police, and courts, except insofar as they may aid the war effort or are obligated to do so. With whom is the U.S. at war? Here, some rethinking, I’d suggest, is needful. It is usually said—and conceptualized—that we are in a “War on Terror” and accordingly that we are at war with terror, emanating from non-state entities, in particular, al-Qaeda and its cells, branches, affiliates, allies, enablers etc., whether acting on their own or as proxies of states. The U.S. government designates as “terrorist” other entities, e.g., Hamas, Hezbollah, with which, however, the U.S. is not “at war.” Bobbitt makes a useful distinction between “states of terror” and “states of consent” with respect to the major conflict in world affairs at this juncture of history, and with respect to the conditions of war and peace. With these considerations in mind, let me offer the following observations and caveats.

Item (a): President G. W. Bush declared, properly I believe, that a state that harbors, aids, enables terrorists/terrorism targeting the U.S. is an enemy effectively at war with (subject to attack by) the U.S. . . .

Item (b): Without a host, or harboring, nation-state (“failed” or functioning), or an enabling nation-state (or -states), entities like al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Taliban, the major Pakistani jihad groups, are (would be) debilitated to the point of a minor war-making significance, if not of total incapacitation. Hence, for example, depriving al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime of control of its Afghan nation-state base was crucial to successful warfare against them. “Regime change” was just as key to an effective response to their aggression (9/11, et al.) and to their ultimate defeat (if so), as “regime change” in the U.S. South was to the defeat of the Confederacy— something that Lincoln understood but that many of his fellow Northern Americans did not understand, and that many of his commanding generals did not understand, or did not want to do (McClellan), until he got Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan in commanding place. The Obama politics and policies are analogous to the aversion to regime change during secession and the Civil War that Lincoln contended with and provisionally won out against, and analogous with reversion to regime-status-quo-ante politics and policies after the Civil War, associated with Andrew Johnson, Seymour, Greeley, Tilden, Hayes, that first the Reconstruction Republicans and then President Grant contended with and ultimately lost out against, resulting in a century of Southern Jim Crow and agro-peonage, with which the U.S. government protectively co-habited (“aligned”), and with its impact on the nation as a whole. The Obama politics and policies represent enabling the restoration of jihad-Islamic power in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as its installation elsewhere. . . .

Item (c): The following will take a bit more contemplation, but from the outset I’ve believed it central to an effective conceptualization of the war the U.S. is in and the enemy in that war:— Al-Qaeda is itself a state-entity—not a nation-state, but still a state. It is not just a gang or outlaw outfit (like “organized crime”), but an apparatus with state-scale financing and “diplomatic” relations, with highly developed media and propaganda capacities and activity, and with law-making and war-making powers—similarly with Hezbollah, Hamas, PLO/PA/Fatah, which are state entities in this sense, and also nation-state-based or -tethered or -supplied. Israel is already, de facto, “living side-by-side” with a Palestinian state, or states, at war not at peace.

Item (d): A trans-nation or supra-nation state is common to historic Islam—e.g., the Caliphate itself, and also the Ottoman system. The Iranian ayatollahs see their state not as an Iran-nation-state, but as a transnational—global—state, to be fully attained if necessary by the demise of Iran as a nation. . . . So, historically speaking, if not legalistically or diplomatically or politically speaking, the U.S. is at war with states. . . .

Item (e): In the “War on Terror,” the states or state-entities at war with the U.S., since ca. 1979, are in historical form and content, secular or clerical party-state-command systems of power, in effect right-wing socialist in “Western” terms, also known in 20th-century terms as fascist or communist (generically, “Leninist”), that is, vanguard-party-(clerical)-state-command. Like such states in the past, they have been engaged in an aggressive imperialism both regional and global, including rivalries among one another. . . . Until the advent of the Obama presidency, the U.S. has been the major effective left-wing-democratic adversary of the fascist-state aggressors, or of the latter-day fascist international. Yes, it is my view that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld politics and policies abroad and at home against these aggressors are of the left in the context of modern world history, and the Obama/Clinton politics and policies are of the right. It is consistent with my analogy of Obama with Buchanan-A. Johnson-Tilden Democrats, and of Bush with Lincoln/Grant Republicans. . . .

Item (f): Since 1990 and the deterrence and ultimate removal of the Iraq fascist (Ba’athist) state, the clerical, or Islamist, mode of party-state-command politics has come to dominance, in place of secular national or pan-national modes, in the Arab, Iranian, Turk, Pakistani, and SE Asian spheres. Taken in its parts and all together, it may be referred to as Jihad-Islamist Imperialism—or Islamic Imperialism, for short—in a phase of renascent aggression, and contending for a system of empire both regional and global, in the course of which making alliances with non-Islamic states (such as aforementioned), and making a modus vivendi with “great powers”—China, Russia, Brazil, as well as political-diplomatic and colonizing inroads in Europe, Canada, Latin America, and the U.S. As an emerging (and surging) geopolitical system, Islamic Imperialism has three major state-components—Turk, Iranian, Muslim Brotherhood (Arab), or as I abbreviate it, TIMB. It may be referred to as a Triple Alliance in various stages of internal rivalry and unity (as with other Triple Alliances of the past), Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (GCC) are a “4th,” but the Saudi bloc will more likely either fall in with the Triple Alliance, or fall to it. (Note the recent Saudi-Iranian pour-parlers.)

Item (g): The “9/11” attack on the U.S, was carried out by the al-Qaeda state-entity, a component of the larger transnational Islamic Imperialist system. The mode of attack corresponded with the system’s current phase of martial combat—not deploying armies or navies against enemy territories, armies, or navies, but making intrusions or attacks by out-of-uniform cells, militias, and colonizing organizations against enemy societies as such—what has come to be called “terrorism”—to disrupt, disable, and enervate their market systems, associational relations, and open-society democracy, thereby eroding and “transforming” them within their borders, and breaking their resolve to contend against Islamic Imperial advances in world affairs beyond their borders.

Item (h): The U.S, government, during the Bush presidency after the 9/11 attack, not wanting to appear as “anti-Islam,” or as waging a “Western” war or “crusade” against Islam, designated the enemy as “Terrorism,” and as the agency of that terrorism al-Qaeda and its affiliates and enablers, and declared the conflict a “war on terror,” and a war against al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization. This in itself bred confusion as to whether to deal with “terrorism” under civilian criminal law or under the laws of war. Just as World War II was not a war in the Pacific against bombing or against the Japanese naval force that attacked Pearl Harbor, but a war against the Japanese Empire and all its forces; and not a war in Europe/Africa against the SS and Wehrmacht, but against the German and Italian empires and their allies, and all their forces; so the conflict associated with 9/11 is not simply a war against an al-Qaeda component, or against a current mode of attack (“terrorism”), but against the larger transnational Islamic Imperialism. In addition, just as WWII was not regarded as 2, 3, or more wars, but one large war with several theaters and fronts, so it is misleading and disorienting to regard the current conflict as, in Obama’s and others’ phrasing, “two wars,” rather than one larger war against aggressive Islamic Imperialism, a war with several theaters, of which the U.S. itself is one. Just as not all Germans were Nazis or German Imperialists, just as not all Britons were British Imperialists, or not all Americans were American Imperialists, yet German, British, and American Imperialism were valid names for real systems in real history, so also, not all Muslims are Islamic Imperialists, and not all Muslim-majority societies and their nation-states are Islamic Imperialist or engaged in Islamic Imperialism, or are components of an Islamic Empire system, yet Islamic Imperialism is a valid name for a real system in real present-day history.

I say the foregoing and the following as a historian, not as a political strategist, and so what I say as a historian is not necessarily the same as what political leaders, if they agreed with my views, will or can say from the standpoint of realpolitik. Historical perspective, however, may aid in clarifying both strategic thinking/planning and legal/constitutional thinking/procedures. You and Bobbitt are excellent guides, although not sufficiently comprehended and applied by political leaderships, and plainly rejected by the Obama/Clinton/Holder/Napolitano/Pelosi/Reid political leadership, except where forced under political duress into an opportune acquiescence.

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