Monthly Archives: September 2011

Steyn: Gagging us softly

[Ed. note: I haven’t done any Mark Steyn for a while (you should, however). The events at York U. this week make this bit of Steyn very relevant.]

By Mark Steyn, September 6, 2011

In this anniversary week, it’s sobering to reflect that one of the more perverse consequences of 9/11 has been a remorseless assault on free speech throughout the west. I regret to say that, in my new book, I predect this trend will only accelerate in the years ahead. The essay below was written as last week’s National Review cover story:

To be honest, I didn’t really think much about “freedom of speech” until I found myself the subject of three “hate speech” complaints in Canada in 2007. I mean I was philosophically in favor of it, and I’d been consistently opposed to the Dominion’s ghastly “human rights” commissions and their equivalents elsewhere my entire adult life, and from time to time when an especially choice example of politically correct enforcement came up I’d whack it around for a column or two.

But I don’t think I really understood how advanced the Left’s assault on this core Western liberty actually was. In 2008, shortly before my writing was put on trial for “flagrant Islamophobia” in British Columbia, several National Review readers e-mailed from the U.S. to query what the big deal was. C’mon, lighten up, what could some “human rights” pseudo-court do? And I replied that the statutory penalty under the British Columbia “Human Rights” Code was that Maclean’s, Canada’s biggest-selling news weekly, and by extension any other publication, would be forbidden henceforth to publish anything by me about Islam, Europe, terrorism, demography, welfare, multiculturalism, and various related subjects. And that this prohibition would last forever, and was deemed to have the force of a supreme-court decision. I would in effect be rendered unpublishable in the land of my birth. In theory, if a job opened up for dance critic or gardening correspondent, I could apply for it, although if the Royal Winnipeg Ballet decided to offer Jihad: The Ballet for its Christmas season I’d probably have to recuse myself.

And what I found odd about this was that very few other people found it odd at all. Indeed, the Canadian establishment seems to think it entirely natural that the Canadian state should be in the business of lifetime publication bans, just as the Dutch establishment thinks it entirely natural that the Dutch state should put elected leaders of parliamentary opposition parties on trial for their political platforms, and the French establishment thinks it appropriate for the French state to put novelists on trial for sentiments expressed by fictional characters. Across almost all the Western world apart from America, the state grows ever more comfortable with micro-regulating public discourse—and, in fact, not-so-public discourse: Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish Free Press Society, has been tried, been acquitted, had his acquittal overruled, and been convicted of “racism” for some remarks about Islam’s treatment of women made (so he thought) in private but taped and released to the world. The Rev. Stephen Boissoin was convicted of the heinous crime of writing a homophobic letter to his local newspaper and was sentenced by Lori Andreachuk, the aggressive social engineer who serves as Alberta’s “human rights” commissar, to a lifetime prohibition on uttering anything “disparaging” about homosexuality ever again in sermons, in newspapers, on radio—or in private e-mails. Note that legal concept: not “illegal” or “hateful,” but merely “disparaging.” Dale McAlpine, a practicing (wait for it) Christian, was handing out leaflets in the English town of Workington and chit-chatting with shoppers when he was arrested on a “public order” charge by Constable Adams, a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community-outreach officer. Mr. McAlpine had been overheard by the officer to observe that homosexuality is a sin. “I’m gay,” said Constable Adams. Well, it’s still a sin, said Mr. McAlpine. So Constable Adams arrested him for causing distress to Con­stable Adams.

In fairness, I should add that Mr. McAlpine was also arrested for causing distress to members of the public more generally, and not just to the aggrieved gay copper. No member of the public actually complained, but, as Constable Adams pointed out, Mr. McAlpine was talking “in a loud voice” that might theoretically have been “overheard by others.” And we can’t have that, can we? So he was fingerprinted, DNA-sampled, and tossed in the cells for seven hours. When I was a lad, the old joke about the public toilets at Piccadilly Circus was that one should never make eye contact with anyone in there because the place was crawling with laughably unconvincing undercover policemen in white polonecks itching to arrest you for soliciting gay sex. Now they’re itching to arrest you for not soliciting it.

In such a climate, time-honored national characteristics are easily extinguished. A generation ago, even Britain’s polytechnic Trots and Marxists were sufficiently residually English to feel the industrial-scale snitching by family and friends that went on in Communist Eastern Europe was not quite cricket, old boy. Now England is Little Stasi-on-Avon, a land where, even if you’re well out of earshot of the gay-outreach officer, an infelicitous remark in the presence of a co-worker or even co-playmate is more than sufficient. Fourteen-year-old Codie Stott asked her teacher at Harrop Fold High School whether she could sit with another group to do her science project as in hers the other five pupils spoke Urdu and she didn’t understand what they were saying. The teacher called the police, who took her to the station, photographed her, fingerprinted her, took DNA samples, removed her jewelry and shoelaces, put her in a cell for three and a half hours, and questioned her on suspicion of committing a Section Five “racial public-order offence.” “An allegation of a serious nature was made concerning a racially motivated remark,” declared the headmaster, Antony Edkins. The school would “not stand for racism in any form.” In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said they took “hate crime” very seriously, and their treatment of Miss Stott was in line with “normal procedure.”

Indeed it was. And that’s the problem. When I ran into my troubles up north, a very few principled members of Canada’s bien-pensants stood up to argue that the thought police were out of control and the law needed to be reined in. Among them was Keith Martin, a Liberal MP and himself a member of a visible minority—or, as he put it, a “brown guy.” For his pains, he and a few other principled liberals were mocked by Warren Kinsella, a third-rate spin-doctor for the Liberal party and a chap who fancies himself Canada’s James Carville. As Kin­sella taunted these lonely defenders of freedom of speech, how did it feel to be on the same side as Steyn . . . and anti-Semites . . . and white supremacists? Eh, eh, how’d ya feel about that, eh?

Mr. Kinsella was subsequently forced to make a groveling apology to “the Chinese community” after making a joke about ordering the cat at his favorite Chinese restaurant in Ottawa: Even the most censorious of politically correct enforcers occasionally forget themselves and accidentally behave like normal human beings. But, before the Chinese cat got his tongue, the Liberal hack was, like so many of his ilk, missing the point: “Free speech” doesn’t mean “the brown guy” is on the same side as the “white supremacists.” It means he recognizes that the other fellow is entitled to have a side. By contrast, Canada’s “human rights” commissions and Britain’s gay-outreach officer and Europe’s various public prosecutors seem to think there should be only one side of the debate, and they’re ever more comfortable in arguing for that quite openly.

Thus, after Anders Breivik gunned down dozens of his fellow Norwegians, just about the only angle on the story that got the Western Left’s juices going was the opportunity it afforded to narrow the parameters of public discourse even more. They gleefully fell on his 1,500-page “manifesto,” wherein he cites me, John Derbyshire, Bernard Lewis, Theodore Dalrymple, and various other names familiar round these parts. He also cites Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Andersen, and my leftie com­patriot Naomi Klein, the “No Logo” gal and a columnist for The Nation in the U.S. and the Guardian in Britain. Just for the record, my name appears four times, Miss Klein’s appears four times.

Yet the British, Canadian, Australian, European, and American Left—and more than a few likeminded Americans—rose as one to demand restraints on a very narrow sliver of Anders Breivik’s remarkably—what’s the word?—diverse reading material.

“I cannot understand that you think that it is fine for people to go out and say we should kill all Muslims,” sighed Tanya Plibersek, the Australian minister for human services, on a panel discussion, “and that that has no real effect in the world.” Because, after all, calling for the killing of all Muslims is what I and Bernard Lewis and Theodore Dalrymple and Naomi Klein and Hans Christian Andersen do all day long.

She was addressing Brendan O’Neill, a beleaguered defender of free speech on a show where the host, the guests, the studio audience, and the post-broadcast tweeters were all lustily in favor of state regulation, and not of human acts but of opinions. And not just for inciters of Norwegian nutters, but for Rupert Murdoch, too. To one degree or another, they were also in favor of the government’s taking action to whip the media into line. Into line with what? Well, with the government, presumably. Whether or not they’ll get their way Down Under, in London the British state is being actively urged to regulate the content of the press for the first time in four centuries.

How did we get to this state of affairs? When my travails in Canada began, somebody reminded me of an ob­servation by the American writer Heywood Broun: “Everybody favors free speech in the slack moments when no axes are being ground.” I think that gets it exactly backwards. It was precisely at the moment when no axes were being ground that the West decided it could afford to forgo free speech. There was a moment 40 or so years ago when it appeared as if all the great questions had been settled: There would be no more Third Reichs, no more fascist regimes, no more anti-Semitism; advanced social democracies were heading inevitably down a one-way sunlit avenue into the peaceable kingdom of multiculturalism; and so it seemed to a certain mindset entirely reasonable to introduce speech codes and thought crimes essentially as a kind of mopping-up operation. Canada’s “human rights” tribunals were originally created to deal with employment and housing discrimination, but Cana­dians aren’t terribly hateful and there wasn’t a lot of that, so they advanced to prosecuting “hate speech.” It was an illiberal notion harnessed supposedly in the cause of liberalism: A handful of neo-Nazi losers in rented rooms in basements are leaving Xeroxed white-supremacist flyers in payphones? Hey, relax, we’ll hunt down the extremist fringe losers and ensure they’ll trouble you no further. Just a few recalcitrant knuckledraggers who decline to get with the beat. Don’t give ’em a thought. Nothing to see here, folks.

When you accept that the state has the right to criminalize Holocaust denial, you are conceding an awful lot. I don’t just mean on the specific point: The Weimar Republic was a veritable proto-Trudeaupia of “hate speech” laws. In the 15 years before the Nazis came to power, there were over 200 prosecutions for “anti-Semitic speech” in Germany—and a fat lot of good it did. But more important than the practical uselessness of such laws is the assumption you’re making: You’re accepting that the state, in ruling one opinion out of bounds, will be content to stop there.

As is now clear, it isn’t. Restrictions on freedom of speech undermine the foundations of justice, including the bedrock principle: equality before the law. When it comes to free expression, Britain, Canada, Australia, and Europe are ever less lands of laws and instead lands of men—and women, straights and gays, Muslims and infidels—whose rights before the law vary according to which combination of these various identity groups they belong to.

Appearing at a Van­couver comedy club, Guy Earle found himself obliged to put down a couple of drunken hecklers. Had he said what he said to me or to Jonah Goldberg, we would have had no legal redress. Alas for him, he said it to two drunken hecklers of the lesbian persuasion, so they accused him of putting them down homophobically and he was fined $15,000. Had John O’Sullivan and Kathryn Lopez chanced to be strolling by the Driftwood Beach Bar on the Isle of Wight when, in the course of oldies night, Simon Ledger performed “Kung Fu Fighting,” they would have had no grounds for complaint, even if he’d done the extended dance remix. However, the passersby in question were Chinese, and so Mr. Ledger was arrested for racism.

In such a world, words have no agreed meaning. “There were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown” is legal or illegal according to whosoever happens to hear it. Indeed, in my very favorite example of this kind of thinking, the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary “moderation” he’s been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was “immoral,” was “not acceptable,” “spreads disease,” and “damaged the very foundations of society.” A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard’s “community safety unit” for “hate crimes” and “homophobia.”

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a “barmy doctrine” growing “like a canker” and deeply “homophobic.” In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for “Islamophobia.”

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia.

Two men say exactly the same thing and they’re investigated for different hate crimes. On the other hand, they could have sung “Kung Fu Fighting” back and forth to each other all day long and it wouldn’t have been a crime unless a couple of Chinese passersby walked in the room.

If you’re not gay or Muslim or Chinese, you’re maybe wondering to yourself: How can I get a piece of the action? After all, if the state creates a human right to be offended and extends it only to members of certain interest groups, it is quite naturally incentivizing membership in those interest groups. Andrew Bolt, Australia’s leading columnist, was struck by the very noticeable non-blackness of so many prominent Aussie “blacks” and wrote a couple of columns on the theme of identity-group opportunism. He’s now been dragged into court and denounced as a “racist”—“racism” having degenerated into a term for anyone who so much as broaches the subject. But, if the law confers particular privileges on members of approved identity groups, how we define the criteria for membership of those groups is surely a legitimate subject for public debate.

One of the great strengths of common law has been its general antipathy toward group rights—because the ultimate minority is the individual. The minute you have collective rights, you require dramatically enhanced state power to me­diate the hierarchy of different victim groups. In a world of Islamophobic gays, homophobic Muslims, and white blacks, it is tempting to assume the whole racket will collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.

Instead, the law increasingly bends to those who mean it the most. In some of the oldest free societies in the world, the state is not mediating speech in order to assure social tranquility, but rather torturing logic and law and liberty in ever more inane ways in order to accommodate those who might be tempted to express their grievances in non-speechy ways. Consider the case of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a Viennese housewife who has lived in several Muslim countries. She was hauled into an Austrian court for calling Mohammed a pedophile on the grounds that he consummated his marriage when his bride, Aisha, was nine years old. Mrs. Sabbaditsch-Wolff was found guilty and fined 480 euros. The judge’s reasoning was fascinating: “Pedophilia is factually incorrect, since paedophilia is a sexual preference which solely or mainly is directed towards children. Nevertheless, it does not apply to Mohammad. He was still married to Aisha when she was 18.”

Ah, gotcha. So, under Austrian law, you’re not a pedophile if you deflower the kid in fourth grade but keep her around till high school. There’s a useful tip if you’re planning a hiking holiday in the Alps this fall. Or is this another of those dispensations that is not of universal application?

Western governments have gone far too far down this path already. “The lofty idea of ‘the war on racism’ is gradually turning into a hideously false ideology,” the French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said in 2005. “And this anti-racism will be for the 21st century what Communism was for the 20th century: a source of violence.” Just so. Let us accept for the sake of argument that racism is bad, that homophobia is bad, that Islamophobia is bad, that offensive utterances are bad, that mean-spirited thoughts are bad. So what?

As bad as they are, the government’s criminalizing all of them and setting up an enforcement regime in the interests of micro-regulating us into compliance is a thousand times worse. If that’s the alternative, give me “Kung Fu Fighting” sung by Mohammed’s nine-year-old bride while putting down two lesbian hecklers sending back the Cat of the Day in a Chinese restaurant.

As John Milton wrote in his Areopagitica of 1644, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”

Or as an ordinary Canadian citizen said to me, after I testified in defense of free speech to the Ontario parliament at Queen’s Park, “Give me the right to free speech, and I will use it to claim all my other rights.”

Conversely, if you let them take your right to free speech, how are you going to stop them from taking all the others?

from National Review


Fail 101: Prof Cameron Johnston misses the point of his own class lecture. Fail 102: York University fails as a inculcator of knowledge.

York University Social Sciences and Humanities Prof Cameron Johnston, in Toronto, created an apparent firestorm when a student, not paying attention, heard him say “all Jews should be sterilized”, when he used the statement as an example of a type of opinion that someone should not be entitled to hold (for the record, Johnston, being Jewish, does not not believe, nor is he saying “all Jews should be sterilized”, as a matter of his personal opinion). The student, offended by what she thought she heard, complained to an on-campus Jewish organization, which immediately called for Johnston to be fired.

Johnston was compelled to issue the following statement in order to put context to his remarks:

Statement from Professor Cameron Johnston
September 13, 2011

“In lecture, I discussed that the course focuses on the texts and not “opinions”. In fact, I stated that for this course opinions are not relevant and I questioned the common idea that everyone is entitled to their opinion.

I pointed out that everyone is not entitled to their opinion by giving the example of someone having an anti-semitic opinion which is clearly not acceptable. This was an example of the fact that opinions can be dangerous and that none of us really do believe that all opinions are acceptable.

For the record, I am also Jewish which undoubtedly influenced my choice of this example of a reprehensible opinion.

Cameron Johnston

BUT, accusations of bigotry and general handwringing aside, the course gets off on the wrong foot from the beginning, and Prof Johnston has some explaining to do about the opinions he does hold, especially as an instructor at a Canadian, publicly-funded university.

From his statement:

In lecture, I discussed that the course focuses on the texts and not “opinions”. In fact, I stated that for this course opinions are not relevant and I questioned the common idea that everyone is entitled to their opinion.
I pointed out that everyone is not entitled to their opinion by giving the example of someone having an anti-semitic opinion which is clearly not acceptable. [Emphasis mine – Ed.]

Concepts of freedom of expression enshrined in the Charter, Common Law, and the American First Amendment do not speak to the quality of free speech. Indeed, many popularly held opinions, even innocuous ones, are relevant only to certain individuals and allied groups. Who decides whose opinion is not acceptable? I care little for the opinions of truthers, neo-nazis, most liberals, and a whole range of people who don’t think as I do (and arguably, don’t think at all), and while I might not find their opinions acceptable to me, they are their opinions, and they are entitled to them.

By the same token, a good many people don’t share my opinions on many things. That is a matter of fact, not my opinion. As has to be pointed out over and over again, its the actions taken from one’s beliefs and opinions that matter. There was a time when debating opinions used to be called the “Age of Enlightenment”.

The fundamental question at play here is whether a professor at a Canadian university should act as arbiter of what constitutes an “acceptable” opinion at any time. Johnston wasn’t running a course on the impact and sociology of commonly held opinions in western civilizations. His comment was only an aside to whatever the theme of his lecture was.

Its troubling that Canada’s overwhelmingly liberal academia still believes it has a mandate to regulate speech. The fundamental freedoms that give Prof. Johnston the ability to stand in his class and prognosticate, are the very freedoms he’s prepared to deny to others who don’t share his particular group-think.

The irony is that the very dis-entitlement he is willing to apply, would equally apply to him: he’s not entitled to hold the opinion that some may not be entitled to hold their opinion – so say those who find his opinion “unacceptable”.

As for the student – the student is apparently a final year student, whose behavior on several levels in this is certainly below what one would expect from a graduate of a Canadian university, and she is going to have to deal with the fallout of her actions. It would be hoped that she had acquired a more refined sense of clarity in her thinking processes by the time she nears graduation.

But then, that’s just my opinion.

Why the US needs Sarah Palin to be President.

The article below, from Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, amply demonstrates that while colour may not matter in the US political landscape(or put a better way, colour enhances the political experience if you’re a Democrat, irrelevant if you’re a Republican), gender still most surely does. The Tea Party can’t hold a candle to the Democratic Chauvinists and misogs.

Obama has demonstrated to the world and Americans at home, that neither race nor scholastic pedigree can guarantee that a sitting president can have a clue about what America needs, or how to go about making it happen. A trillion plus tax dollars wasted and Obama’s speech to the nation can be summed up neatly in this short precis:

Pass this jobs bill remix

One of America’s national comedians (other than those in Congress and the White House) apparently quipped that the speech would be specially transmitted to Mexico and China, where the US jobs went….[link needed]

The Beltway Establishment Network no longer works, at least not for Middle Americans. The US is ready for, and needs a pragmatic and new approach to beltway governance. The only politico in the US who can pull that off is Sarah Palin. None of the other Republican presidential wannabees can carry the public chutzpah needed to light a fire under all sectors of the US economy. Love her or hate her, you cannot ignore her, and that is exactly what the US needs right now.

The US simply cannot afford, under any circumstances, another empty expensive four years of Barack Obama, or whoever the DNC anoints as the current Max Headroom to stand in front of the real seat of Democratic power: TOTUS.

The New York Times finally figures it out: who is this Sarah Palin, anyway?

NYT shocked, shocked to find Palin has anti-establishment principles

September 9, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

I seriously have no words to introduce this news story from the New York Times:

Let us begin by confessing that, if Sarah Palin surfaced to say something intelligent and wise and fresh about the present American condition, many of us would fail to hear it.

That is not how we’re primed to see Ms. Palin. A pugnacious Tea Partyer? Sure. A woman of the people? Yup. A Mama Grizzly? You betcha.

But something curious happened when Ms. Palin strode onto the stage last weekend at a Tea Party event in Indianola, Iowa. Along with her familiar and predictable swipes at President Barack Obama and the “far left,” she delivered a devastating indictment of the entire U.S. political establishment — left, right and center — and pointed toward a way of transcending the presently unbridgeable political divide.

A “curious thing”?  Really?  Sarah Palin has been doing that very thing, almost uninterrupted, for her entire political career.  Regardless of what people might think of her chances for political office or her activism, Palin has been an anti-establishment voice from the very beginning.

In 2011, the New York Times thinks this is news.  I actually had to triple-check this article to make sure it didn’t fall under the Opinion section.  I don’t want to take too many swipes at Anand Giridharadas for finally getting around to noticing this, but if the Gray Lady took three years to suddenly discover that Palin was an anti-establishment populist who takes on both parties, then that really says something about their approach to the news.

Palin took on the Republican Party in Alaska, blowing the whistle on corruption in the GOP in Alaska as a member of the state oil commission.  She rode that reputation to the governor’s office, where she fought the oil companies to protect Alaska’s interests in its natural resources.  Did they not bother to find out these two basic facts about her political career when the Times and other national media outlets busied themselves reporting on the used tanning bed Palin bought with her own money?

Giridharadas reports on the new discoveries from her Indianola speech:

But when her throat was cleared at last, Ms. Palin had something considerably more substantive to say.

She made three interlocking points. First, that the United States is now governed by a “permanent political class,” drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second, that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called “corporate crony capitalism.” Third, that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private).

Palin has been making that point on the national stage for more than two years, since Republicans lost to Barack Obama in 2008.  If the Times had bothered to cover her objectively, they wouldn’t have waited until 2011 to notice this.  But like most of the national media, they’ve been much more interested in covering Levi Johnston than the Tea Parties.

Something tells me, though, that the Times knew this all along.  I’m guessing that their sudden interest in the substantive Palin has less to do with being shocked, shocked to find that she’s anti-establishment than in subtly encouraging her to jump into the GOP race, which they might see as a way to split Republicans and keep Barack Obama in office.  That’s flawed, too, but having seen their subtle encouragement of John McCain and their disgusting smears of him as soon as he wrapped up the nomination in 2008, their sudden appreciation for Palin has me just a wee bit suspicious.

Update: One commenter points out that the author calls this a “column,” and not a news story.  Fair point, but it’s also in the NYT’s US news section, not its opinion section.

J.E.Dyer: Pax Americana, we hardly knew ye

Pax Americana, we hardly knew ye

by , September 6, 2011

Reset those geopolitical calendars, folks.  It’s not post-1991 anymore.  It may not be post-1945 anymore.  Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are interacting more in the pre-WWII (WWI-era?), pre-American-superpower mode every day.  Things are happening so fast now it’s hard to keep up with them.  Herewith an annotated list:

1.  Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr has finally been connected to the power grid.  A “pre-launch” ceremony has been scheduled for 12 September.  The important thing about this is that it means Russia has decided not to hold the Bushehr start-up in reserve any longer, as a bargaining chip with the various players in the Iranian nuclear drama.  (Note: Bushehr is not an important resource for the nuclear weapons program, but its fate is a signal of how seriously Iran takes the UN supervision and inspection regime.)   It’s been the Russians, dragging their feet for years, who have kept postponing the operationalization of the reactor.  They have now chosen to make the break.  Why?

2.  Turkey is rattling the naval saber around the Aegean Sea – and is planning to sign a strategic cooperation agreement with Egypt this month.  The agreement will reportedly include military cooperation.  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who did an interestingly-timed turn in Somalia last month, plans to visit Egypt – and, reportedly, Gaza – in mid-September.  It’s no accident that Russia and Iran will be celebrating at Bushehr at the same time Erdogan is exercising Islamic leadership in post-Mubarak Egypt.  Russia is using Iran (as opposed to throwing in with her) to signal the Turks that Ankara doesn’t have a free hand and will meet resistance and counter-power in the region.

3.  Russia is motivated to do this by the same things that have reportedly put the Greek military on alert.  Turkey’s naval saber-rattling is both general and particular, and the particular focus is the plans of Cyprus to begin offshore gas exploration in the next several weeks.  Turkey has announced on multiple occasions that this exploration will be prevented.  Cypriots and Greeks are gravely concerned; it is being reported in Cyprus that Russia will send submarines to patrol Cypriot waters and defend the offshore commercial activities there.  (Not as unlikely as it was two years ago, and certainly not impossible.)

The more general purpose of the saber-rattling is regional power projection.  This week, the Turks used the pretext of the UN’s “Palmer report” on the 2010 flotilla incident – which acknowledged that Israel had not violated international law – to announce their new program of naval presence in the region.  Eerily (and pointedly) named the Barbaros Action Plan, the naval program will entail the following:

The Barbaros Action Plan, which aims to display the Turkish Navy’s presence in neighboring seas, now plans for Turkish maritime components to be in constant navigation not only in the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean but also in the Adriatic Sea, the Red Sea as well as the Indian Ocean.

In other words, Turkey plans to conduct naval security patrols of the waters of the former Ottoman Empire.  We’re way beyond pre-Pax Americana here; we’re in pre-Pax Britannica territory.

4.  Not unnaturally, Greece has just concluded a security cooperation agreement with Israel.  Those in the Eastern Mediterranean expect the offshore plans of Cyprus to become a flashpoint, and Israel is a cooperative partner in the Cyprus endeavor, having agreed with Cyprus in 2010 on a maritime boundary and a mutual recognition of seabed claims (and being an offshore gas driller herself).  Israel, Greece, and Cyprus have a common interest in both freedom of economic action off Cyprus and reining Turkey in across the board.

The Red Sea patrols in the Barbaros Plan are another new and special concern, one that can ultimately put in question the neutrality and quiescence of a key region of the NATO perimeter.  From the Red Sea, the Turkish navy – by far the biggest and best one in Israel’s immediate neighborhood – can flank Israel.

5.  The Eastern Med isn’t the only area where the old Pax Americana behaviors are behind us.  It cannot be emphasized enough that we have already entered a period in which the US is likely to have to struggle diplomatically for what we have been able to assume in the past.  A parade of West Europeans has been making up to Moscow this year, for example:

6.  Central Europeans aren’t taking this trend lying down.  In May 2011, the Central European consortium called the Visegrad Group, which traces its modern history to the mid-1930s, decided to form its own military “battlegroup” under the command of Poland.  (The Visegrad Group consists of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.)  The land-warfare oriented Visegrad battlegroup will operate independently of NATO.

As Richard Cashman of the Henry Jackson Society implies, this development isn’t just indicative of a break-up of NATO-era security assumptions.  It’s in part a reversion to the power/security vision of a century ago, exemplified by the writings of British geopolitical thinker Halford Mackinder and his collaboration with Polish leader Josef Pilsudski in the interwar years.

7.  The essential feature of that older vision was the absence of a superpower on the model of the United States.  The US model matters, because Mackinder’s famous concept – modified and repopularized after WWII by Nicholas Spykman – envisioned the dominant power of the “World Island,” or Eurasia, being the dominant power of the globe.

The missing piece in Mackinder’s theory was the importance of naval power for a (relatively) easily-defended economic titan.  The US, her alliances, and her Navy accomplished after WWII what Mackinder did not envision:  the maritime encirclement of the World Island.  Even the British Empire had not achieved a true precedent for it.  The Soviet Union perceived the American encirclement feat with crystalline clarity, but throughout most of the Cold War, the US, NATO, and Japan persisted in thinking of themselves in Mackinder’s terms:  as a weaker hinterland of the “Heartland” (or Pivot Area – Central/Eastern Europe and the expanses of Russia and Central Asia), trying desperately to defend themselves.

Mackinder’s map (from Wikimedia Commons)

(Note for aficionados of these ideas:  essentially, it was a successful US offensive posture with the strategy suggested by Spykman’s analysis that turned the World Island-Rimland construct on its head.   “Containment” was the shorthand defensive formulation of the Spykman-based strategy, but using containment as a basis for rollback was what succeeded in the end. Through alliances, and economic and naval power, the Rimland achieved dominance over the World Island, rather than being consigned to a permanent condition of strategic inferiority.)

No single theory is comprehensively explanatory, but identifying the present situation as a gradual collapse of the maritime encirclement of the World Island goes a long way.  With the absoluteness of US naval power receding, the dynamics predicted by the Mackinder vision are reemerging from long-term storage.

8.  In the West, the emerging drama off Turkey may turn into the first real post-Pax Americana showdown.  In the East, a showdown is all but underway.  As the fear of Chinese ambitions grows among Beijing’s neighbors, the naval powers of the region are beginning to assert a counter-influence.  Late last week, the news came out that an Indian warship, conducting a port visit in Vietnam in July, was confronted by the Chinese navy in international waters and subjected to peremptory demands.

(In an interesting sign of the times, INS Airavat was not in the Indian task group that met with unexpected failure in its attempt to hold a planned exercise with the Russian fleet in April.  Airavat was on a separate deployment.  These multiple naval deployments by the Indian navy to East Asia would have been unimaginable even three years ago.)

Japan, meanwhile, has just gained a new prime minister, whom observers expect to counter Chinese maritime claims – e.g., in the Senkaku Islands at the south of the Japanese archipelago – more “assertively.”

The potential maritime disorder affects arrangements on the continent, as indicated by Russia’s new charm offensive with the Koreas.  US ally Seoul agreed with Moscow in July to significantly increase military cooperation, including hosting Russian troops for training in South Korea.  A month later, the Russians were in North Korea, China’s client, conferring on stepped-up military cooperation and a program of joint exercises.  At virtually the same time, the Russians welcomed Kim Jong-Il for a rare visit.

9.  China gives Russia plenty to worry about in general, having established military exercise series in the last year with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey, deployed thousands of Chinese troops to the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Northern Pakistan, and continued construction of the Karakoram Highway into Pakistan, which would allow rapid military as well as commercial movement across the heart of Central Asia.

But Asia isn’t the only part of Russia’s near abroad in Chinese sights.  In July 2011, China dispatched airborne troops for her first-ever military exercise with Belarus.  And in August, China and Ukraine agreed to expand military cooperation. Romania, which inaugurated a series of military exercises with China in 2009, agreed in July 2011 to boost naval cooperation with China.

10.  Every hour brings a new update.  Today – Tuesday, 6 September – China and New Zealand agreed to expand their military relations.

11.  One last gem crops up today.  In her continuing barrage of bizarre announcements, Iran has offered the new analysis that her territory is actually “14 percent larger than previously thought.”  What that means, only the days ahead will make clear.  It sounds like bad news for Iran’s neighbors.

Bottom line

The pressure of encirclement is being released on the World Island – a reasonable starting point for discussing what is going on.  The scramble for dominance of it is underway.

And the time for lament is past.  Too many things are changing; we cannot recapture the post-WWII, post-Cold War Pax Americana along its old outlines.  But neither will the world leave us alone, or retain its generally beneficial features – such as peaceful tradeways and uncoerced agreement to borders – without the use of American power.  No other aspirant to international leadership even has those things as objectives.  With the exception of the British Empire, no other aspirant ever has.  The old Pax Americana is gone; our task now is to get to work on the new one.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

[H/T Hot Air]