Beware the Rigid Idealist

The Hobgoblins[1] of Idealistic Minds

A Case for Practical Leadership










By Jay B Gaskill



True-believer idealists are gravitating to politics these days more than ever because, for the most part, they are prone to grand gestures… after all, politics is a media stage.  Occasionally, one or more of these idealists is given an executive position. This requires performance of an entirely different kind, one ill-suited to an idealist’s style.  A pattern usually follows: There is a giddy period of exultation among the followers, grand gestures and extravagant hopes.  Then, as it always does, reality hits the parade. Flash forward to the end of term. Idealists-in-power are prone to neglect the necessary, mundane aspects of governance in favor of the Holy Grail of grand achievement. Typically, when an idealist leaves office, there are unrepaired potholes, unaddressed necessities… I’m using potholes as a stand-in for all the necessities that we used to take for granted when good governance was the priority.


In 2008 and 2012, America elected a progressive idealist who promised to transcend partisan politics, but ended up being the most polarizing POTUS in recent history. If history is any guide, the country will swing, like a disenchanted lover, to someone of an entirely different type. If this theory is correct, the next president will be more practical, less idealistic, less ideological and far more authentically “middle of the road.”


The eventual reaction against an idealist-in-power is not a new story. I am an idealist by temperament, but I’ve learned to temper my policy positions in light of real world conditions, especially the inevitability of unintended consequences.


If we want to really change the human situation into a something better, we need to cultivate the virtues of patience, humility, and self-reexamination – especially the willingness to recognize when we have taken a wrong turn. For the fervent true believers among us, especially those who have not yet cultivated the humility virtues, the relentless pursuit of the ideal rarely ends well.  Often it has a disastrous authoritarian phase – broken eggs for a rotten omelet – or a bitter disillusionment.


The mind of a true-believer idealist is rarely able give up the pursuit of the Holy Grail. He or she is fixated on achieving that ever-retreating ideal state of the affairs that “everyone” wants to see realized “in our time.” …So fixated, that the very possibility of discovering a fatal error buried in the core of the Ideal is never seriously entertained…until the damage has been done.


True-believer idealists inhabit both right and left wing political aviaries. The Austrian economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek, an adopted Englishman, is typically called a “conservative” or even “right wing” thinker. But Hayek’s classic cautionary work, The Road to Serfdom, begins with a comment addressed “mainly to a very special class of readers in England. It was in no spirit of mockery that I dedicated it ‘To the Socialists of All Parties.’ It had its origin in many discussions which, during the preceding ten years, I had with friends and colleagues whose sympathies had been inclined toward the left, and it was in continuation of those arguments that I wrote The Road to Serfdom.” {F. A. Hayek. The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents–The Definitive Edition}


Hayek was writing about Nazi Germany, as a socialist experiment, but made clear that he also had the Stalin’s Soviet Union in mind, not to exclude the idealists who managed the British Labour Party’s 50 year dance with socialism. Hayek was a practical humanist who supported government assistance to the less fortunate and other “socialist” goals. But he realized that the largest socialist agenda, the top-down attempt to direct social and economic change, always leads to increasingly intrusive authoritarian means such that, over time, the outcomes are guaranteed to shock the consciences of  most socialists.


In fact, all Ideal Future Projects eventually collide with the messy real world – that gritty, but endlessly interesting venue where divergent human interests compete, unexpected events disrupt, “retrograde” tendencies seem to prevail, but wholly unexpected creative developments emerge to change everyone’s game plan…once again.


But for a true-believer idealist, the serial failures of any particular Ideal World Project must not be attributed to the Cause, itself.  This is a resistance to the accumulating evidence of failure, something that no bridge or airplane designer can afford to ignore, but something that idealists take in stride. Their mindset of denial is the product of idealist-faith, in which the idealist sees all the real-world failures as a problem of implementation, never of the Ideal, as such.  This evidence-resistant attitude has often led its adherents to embrace a sinister conclusion: insufficient means were employed on behalf of the Ideal cause. Through a chain of reasoning from that single false premise, about half of true idealists become full-on authoritarians. The rest tend to become bitter cynics, dropouts, moderate, incremental reformers, or thoughtful conservatives.


Idealists eventually face the problem of means and ends. The 20th century is rich with truly scary object lessons – the corpses and other dead-ends achieved by ruthless idealism.  Recoiling from the bloody 20th Century authoritarian excesses, many idealists of the 21st century embraced non-violence. Others, having become frustrated with the lack of “progress”, are increasingly willing to use deception and manipulation as a substitute for force. This is an ongoing tendency among current progressives of a certain stripe.


In general, modern and postmodern idealists tend to sort themselves in two flavors, the “progressive” and the “libertarian.” The first promote functional, outcome equality; the second promote process or opportunity-equality. The first can easily become unreasonably authoritarian, because, for them, human nature is considered an obstacle to progress. Members of the second group can become unreasonably anti-authoritarian, because political power is considered an inherent evil, in contrast with human nature, seen as naturally benign. Unreasonable excesses are likely in each form of idealism, because too much or too little authority are each fully capable of making a hash of freedom and human dignity under real world conditions.


Rarely do either postmodern progressive or libertarian idealists pause to reconsider whether their adopted ideals and the accompanying assumptions were flawed from the very beginning. Yet the two camps can sometimes reach agreement about policies. This agreement should not be taken as a reason for the rest of us to endorse a particular policy. When authoritarian and anti-authoritarians seem to agree, it should be a red flag for the practical minded among us.  Consider some illustrations:


Progressive idealists are attracted to peace through kindness and conciliation; equality and human dignity through redistribution of property. Libertarian idealists are attracted to peace through isolationism; freedom and human dignity through unfettered access to recreational narcotics. Both sides fear surveillance, partly out of political paranoia, partly out of complacency about threats.  Both are a little bit right, and both share naïve blind spots about the real world implications of their respective world views.


  • A drug addicted population is less able to self-govern, becoming an invitation to authoritarian manipulation.
  • An isolationist, over-conciliatory stance in a world governed by thuggish regimes becomes an invitation to war and attempted conquest.
  • The politically managed redistribution of property tends to substitute unnatural political inequalities for natural economic inequalities.


In these and certain other convergent stances, the progressive/libertarian idealists overlap in a way that can facilitates onset of authoritarian regimes, whether imposed from within or from outside.






Beware the politicians who talk about getting “more creative” ideas; this almost always telegraphs their bankruptcy of foresight and their history of floundering and drift.  Be critical of the commentator who freely uses the term “centrist” to describe an idea or policy shared by the two extremes; it is almost always an example of mediocrity of worse.


And do not be taken in by the politicians who give praise to the creative centers within their purview as a way of distracting us from the fact that such centers are working in spite of, not because of those same politicians.


I’m use the term “creative center” here in three overlapping ways:

As in: The center of creativity is moral alignment. Think of the benign creative geniuses of the Renaissance vs. the malignant minds who designed the Nazi medical experiments and mass murder technologies. The great axis of morality, as used here, aims towards the promotion of human life, human intelligence and continued human creativity as these three value aims are seen as mutually supporting.

As in: The center of creativity is a locus or community of creative people who flourish because of special conditions that protect and reward creative freedom and accomplishment.

As in: The adaptive, innovative, productive center is the soul of a flourishing civilization.


All over the world, creative centers, are under attack by envy-driven primitives (thinking of the jihad against Israel (a small creative center in its own right), the USA and Europe, for example), and by members of the political class who want to control (i.e., diminish and suffocate) these creative centers for their own advantage.


Bureaucracies (particularly of the authoritarian-idealistic stripe) are toxic to the creative centers. I note that where bureaucratic tyranny, in its various forms, takes root, many of the creative ones flee, seeking refuge in haven states. The polar opposite of authoritarian bureaucracy is chaos. That is also toxic to the creative centers, because chaos disrupts the stability of a creativity-supporting civilization.


These insights about Creative Centers are not meant to be a guide for political rhetoric. But they should be part of any vetting process with which we test the insight, credibility and policy savvy of the political class, especially of those who seek high executive office. But mere proposals require competent implementation. …Which brings us to the matter of leadership.






Leaders must be followed to be effective, which is why we are attracted to the charismatic ones. But, over time, the most effective form of executive leadership is mundane. When all is said and done we need problem-solving leaders. This is accomplishment-leadership, measurable not in gestures, but in real human terms.


We expect a good leader to have and to be able to express a vision. But, vision or no, to be worthy of support, a leader must recognize the real-world problems we care about, and to be able to explain the concrete steps to be taken to solve them. And if we are to be really astute in picking a leader, we will expect him or her to demonstrate the ability to adapt and revise plans as reality dictates – something idealists tend to fail at.


Untested leaders with powerful rhetorical skills are risky choices, often worthless – even affirmatively harmful. Without a track record of accomplishment or a cadre of subordinates with a record of real world experience, a charismatic new leader, however eloquent, is rarely worth the risk.


Leaving aside great wartime presidents like Lincoln and FDR, Dwight Eisenhower stands out as a model leader, one who simply got things done. Without soaring rhetoric, grandstanding or partisan rancor, President Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway system; ended the Korean War; managed the Cold War without risking Armageddon; enacted the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960; launched DARPA[2] (the source of endless technical innovation with both military and civilian uses); started NASA; fully desegregated the Armed Forces, established the nuclear powered Navy fleet, and inaugurated programs to develop the peacetime uses of atomic power.






We are right to be underwhelmed at the current selection of POTUS aspirants from both parties who are jockeying for their party’s nomination.


But we don’t require great leadership, just competent, determined, practical leadership focused an actually implementing (as opposed to merely advocating of talking about) effective solutions to the most pressing problems most Americans face. Among these neglected problems: overpriced state college opportunities for the children of American citizens; a dwindling American middle class; a growing circle of foreign enemies, emboldened by the perception of American weakness; and a lack of commitment to true energy abundance.



A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing.


Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at



[1] Hobgoblins, borrowed from R W Emerson’s, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

[2] The Defense Advanced  Research Projects Agency < > has produced amazing advances with civilian applications, especially in medicine and the nascent private space program industry.



Posted at:



By Jay B Gaskill


Today AP exclusively reveals heretofore secret details of the Obama-Iran atomic bomb program “negotiations” with the Islamic Republic of Iran.


I must quote Charlie Brown: “Oh good grief!”


Under the deal, it appears that Iran will keep 6,000 centrifuges and the most punishing sanctions will be lifted. No intrusive inspections will be allowed by the regime.  And Iran gets to keep its missile program. 


Details will follow, but I am reminded of a quip from my closest friend in the practice – this was during my “life of crime days” as an urban public defender. This was the era when dark humor was a lifeboat to those of us who toiled in a toxic moral environment. The topic of the morning was the prospect of plea bargain in a death penalty multiple murder case with a hard-nosed prosecutor and a client whose very visage would chill the heart of any juror. This was the era when electrocution was the still method of execution in California. With his trademark irony, Hal, my friend and colleague, noted that the electric chair used about 2,300 volts.


Maybe we could deal it to 1,900 volts.” Such a deal.


Talk about bargaining from a position of weakness. Leading up to the administration’s relaxation of the crippling sanctions that prompted the talks in the first place, Iran agreed to dilute half of its stock of 20% enriched uranium.  No one  is talking, but what happened to the other half? The enrichment time starting from 20% (well above the 5% needed for a peaceful power plant) to the 90% enrichment needed for an atomic bomb is almost an order of magnitude shorter that it takes to fuel a bomb from raw uranium. Here is the last line from the AP story: “Iran already can produce the equivalent of one weapon’s worth of enriched uranium with the centrifuges it now runs. However, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke of eventually operating enough centrifuges to produce what 190,000 of its current models churn out.”


But we should not be bargaining from a position of weakness. The sanctions had Iran on the ropes before Mr. Obama relaxed them. And we have the military capability, using mostly air power, to destroy and degrade all of the uranium enrichment sites in Iran.  Not only has this administration refused to even entertain doing this, Mr. Obama has made it clear that we will not lend or sell the bunker-busting technology to Israel, nor even offer basic logistic and intelligence support if or when that tiny country, her back to the wall, decides to try to degrade Iran’s nuclear bomb capability before it is too late.


And here’s the irony: Saudi Arabia and Jordan, appalled by our president’s naiveté, weakness and irresolution, will support the Israelis on this.

I fondly remember a time when democrats, thinking of Harry Truman and Henry Scoop Jackson were tougher on foreign policy, national security and defending Israel from another holocaust, than the republicans. JFK was a hawk. This president … is clearly cut from softer cloth.


My readers are aware of the rest of the story.  If you are new, please read my two most recent articles, Tick Tick Tisk { }, and Waiting for Moderate Iran { }.


Years ago when the Israeli homeland was under missile attack by the client terrorists of Iran, I wrote, Pray for peace, but first pray for Israel { }.  Little has changed since then except the threat from Iran has reached the point where only the hard-nosed realists among us can prevent a holocaust.




A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing.  Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at




More from the referenced AP Article


AP Exclusive: Iran limited to 6K centrifuges in draft accord



Mar. 19, 2015 11:42 AM EDT


LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A draft nuclear accord now being negotiated between the United States … offering the Iranians immediate relief from sanctions that have crippled their economy, officials told The Associated Press on Thursday. As an added enticement, elements of a U.N. arms embargo against Iran could be rolled back.


Officials said the tentative deal imposes new limits on the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium, a process that can lead to nuclear weapons-grade material.


The sides are zeroing in on a cap of 6,000 centrifuges, officials said, down from the 6,500 they spoke of in recent weeks. That’s also less than the 10,000 such machines Tehran now runs, yet substantially more than the 500 to 1,500 that Washington originally wanted as a ceiling. Only a year ago, U.S. officials floated 4,000 as a possible compromise.


… Washington believes it can extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear weapon to at least a year for the 10 years it is under the moratorium. Right now, Iran would require only two to three months to amass enough material if it covertly seeks to “break out” toward the bomb.


It’s unclear how complete the draft agreement is. Iran’s deeply buried underground enrichment plant remains a problem, officials said, with Washington demanding the facility be repurposed and Tehran insisting it be able to run hundreds of centrifuges there. Iran says it wants to use the machines for scientific research; the Americans fear they could be quickly retooled for enrichment.


Iran already can produce the equivalent of one weapon’s worth of enriched uranium with the centrifuges it now runs. However, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke of eventually operating enough centrifuges to produce what 190,000 of its current models churn out.



Copyright © 2015 Associated Press, Inc.






3-12-15 Addendum

Bibi addresses Congress.  The chattering classes chatter.  GOP Senators warn the Iranian mullahs that an insufficiently tough agreement with the Obama administration can be revised or disregarded by a new administration.  The chattering classes go ballistic.  Reports from Israel suggest that Bibi’s party, the Likud, might fall behind its principal completion, the center-left Zionist Union party.


My comment?




Nothing has changed.  The ruling mullahs of Iran are still the same intransigent crowd of fanatics, hell bent on getting (what they believe to be) the irrevocable status of a nuclear power; they remain undeterred by mere economic sanctions.


When the Obama administration complains that its vocal opponents and the Senate letter-writers are blocking the only viable path to containing the Iranian nuclear threat, it has tipped its losing hand to the opposition, to wit: There is no military option that this administration is actually willing to use to forestall Iran’s path to nuclear power status.


Conclusion: Having already endured about 80% of the expected economic punishment on the way to the unholy grail, the mullahs are more than willing endure the remaining 20% in order to get what they have always sought.


The current US President drew a red line in the sand that Syria’s dictator ignored. The same US President must now suffer the continuation of the Assad regime, and the concomitant loss of American credibility in the region and among our European allies and friends.  When this president declares that Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, he is not believed.


This crisis is – or should be – beyond partisan politics.  Why? …Because the stakes for the US and the world are so dire that intra-party differences are as insignificant as arguing about import tariffs while Hitler seizes Europe, invades Britain, and gets an ally to bomb the US Naval installation at Pearl Harbor.


The principal risk is not that some GOP Senators may or may not have prevented a ‘deal” with the Iranian government over their thousands of Uranium refining centrifuges. [I personally think the letter will make no difference one way of the other.] The truly important risk is that the proposed “deal” will permit Iran’s terrorist regime to game the sanctions, fool the inspectors (if any) and push through to the goal of creating an atomic weapon or two as a fait accompli before anyone in the West can stop them. Then, who will bell the cat?




By Jay B Gaskill


If Iran’s atomic bomb becomes a reality, that fact will transform the world in disastrously fatal ways. The clock is ticking. The president is …worried.

Mr. Obama is releasing his “second and final” national security policy today. “…the report makes it clear that it is not limiting pre-emption to traditional uses of force.” NYT article “Security Strategy Recognizes U.S. Limits” 2/6/15 A7


In that deadly arena where real powers contend over life and death issues, it all comes down to credibility and power. Power, once dissipated cannot be replaced, except by equally effective power. The credibility of a power player, once damaged, cannot be restored except by tough real-world actions over time.  A bluffer only repairs credibility slowly.


In the deadly arena where the real powers contend, lies and bluffs – once exposed – deflate credibility for a good long time. So force often becomes necessary.  Our president has backed himself and the country into a situation in which only the use of force will work….if it is in time.


Tick. Tick. Tick.



The Islamic Republic of Iran is perilously close to attaining the untouchable status of a nuclear power.  The costs of preventing that alarming development by using force are so scary that this president  has decided to rely on economic penalties and disincentives (i.e., “sanctions”), and on the Iranian “reassurances” (i.e., “hints” and misdirection) to save the day.

It is certainly true that avoiding a new Middle East conflict would avoid the blowback from military action, like a spike oil prices and terrorist activity.  Naturally, avoiding that scenario, if possible, is desirable. But what if “soft power” does not work on fanatics?  What if Iran’s rulers just don’t give a damn? What is the administration’s backup plan?

So far it consists of hints and suggestions that the US will use military force.  To the Iranian mullahs-in-charge this is another red line bluff. Not a credible threat.  So they will endure the sanctions.


…Which raises the real question of the day: Can the world live with a nuclearized Iran? The answer depends on the experience, foresight and judgment of the policy makers one asks. No major policy maker in the current administration has lived through the Cold War MAD (deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction) period. Mr. Obama’s leadership team is out of touch.

The answer to the real question of the day, sadly, is: Of course, the world cannot live with a nuclearized Iran as long as the present regime has control.


The nuclear threat from Korea is contained by distance, and the presence of China. Comparing the two threats is like the difference between a fire in a dry forest surrounded by an ice field, and a huge fire in the middle of a large city of paper surrounded by a gasoline-soaked field.  Iran is a terror sponsoring state. An Iran armed with nukes will ignite the world..


The deadly bomb technologies that placed the entire world at risk during the Cold War can now be purchased on the black market. Iran has already done that.  The rest is an engineering project.


Great progress has been made by Iran’s busy engineers. Missiles and bomb casings are ready.  How long until the Iranian enrichment facilities produce of weaponized fissile materials in bomb making quantities?  The “breakout” event is just months away.  Because the Iranians are lying about almost everything, intelligence cannot be sure just how many months we have.


What would happen if the regime in Iran succeeds in getting nuclear power status? The experts agree: a regional arms race would follow. Iran has taken the whole region to the very edge of the containment breakthrough threshold.


Add one nuclear power like the Iranian regime to the mix, and nuclear weapons will eventually be used on cities.  Will. Be. Used.


Not our problem? …Not, unless we want our children to survive to adulthood.


Using new data and better computers, scientists have recalculated the nuclear winter scenario of the cold War.  It now appears that even a “small” nuclear war (using fewer weapons that are in the Pakistan arsenal) would set off a nuclear winter. Within one year, the dark sun will reduce the world’s food supply to a pathetic trickle. In less than two years, a billion people could starve to death. Wars will surely follow.  Civilization itself might not survive the crisis.




Pause a moment.  I invite you to think like an Israeli. You are living at ground zero.  The president wants you to trust him. …Because he has your back.


But wait? How do you know who among your circle of nice-making neighbors, relatives and acquaintances will be your real friends? …Only under duress, when you find yourself in real need, in a desperate bind. Then and only then your real friends – if any – will reveal themselves. This is the one true test of character. A supposed friend’s character is never truly evident until the relationship is subjected to stress.


A high wind always reveals the weak branches. The Beltway is full of characters who are fair-weather friends of “the Jews” and their refuge state, Israel. If Obama cannot be relied on, who can?


Where is Hillary Clinton? Not a word.  Not a word.


A mortal enemy of the West in general and Israel in particular is trying to stride the Middle East like a colossus. It name is the Islamic Republic of Iran.


For more than a decade a firmly entrenched clique of ruling mullahs has controlled or eliminated dissent while, at great national cost, it has doggedly and consistently pursued a single goal: to acquire an atomic bomb arsenal capable of cowing the West in general and eliminating, if possible, the local Jews and leveling their refuge state, Israel, to the dirt.


Sanctions have not yet worked. The closer to the mullahs’ goal they get, the more sanctions they are willing to endure.  And they are now very, very close.


The naïve among us ask: Why endure such economic hardship for long when the pursuit of material comfort is so attractive? Because the hardened members of ruling clique of Iran are not like the gentle, pleasure-loving peoples of the developed Western democracies of Europe.


Do not underestimate the motivational power of hate when it is linked to the promotion of self-esteem and drilled in, month by month, year by year by an entrenched authoritarian regime seeking to restore a lost empire.


It is not fair weather in Tel Aviv; it is no holiday for Israel. For our friends in the Jewish refuge state, the Jewish homeland project long ago ceased being an experiment. It is home. Israel’s inhabitants and their true friends are clear eyed about the very real, very lethal threats to the tiny Jewish homeland.


For the Jews, Harry Truman was a true friend. For the Jews, Barack Hussein Obama is not. Each modern democrat need to answer the question: What kind of democrat am I?


Our president’s self-regard is out of joint with reality. His ideological predisposition has revealed itself in his early formation and his presidential decisions. I suspect that his character is an amalgam of the Marxist mindset of his biological father, of his new left early mentors, and the thinly disguised anti-Semitism of his former spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright. Mr. Obama is apparently enthralled by a counter-factual version of history concerning Israel and the Middle East, one where Israel is an illegitimate bully that only has a provisional right to exist. Obama appears to want to hold Israel hostage in exchange for demands that, to its citizens, look like a suicide pact. This is not about a few settlement apartment houses near Tel-Aviv. It is about the survival of the Jewish people in their original homeland.  It is about the moral damage to Western civilization if, once again, we fail them and allow another final solution.


If Israel has lost confidence in Obama, can those of us who love Israel trust this president? I note that Mr. Obama’s first and best chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was someone who could be counted on to look after Israel’s back…until he resigned in 2010 to become Chicago’s first Jewish Mayor. His subsequent silence may be a product of loyalty and political calculation.


Rahm Emanuel’s White house role was replaced by the omnipresent, Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett. She is a classic “progressive” activist who tends to see Israel as a bully and the groups attacking Israel as victims. Ms. Jarrett is not a friend of Israel.[1] I believe that she has Mr. Obama’s ear because he thinks he needs to hear her all the time, lest he stray..


I tend use 9-11-01 as a personal litmus test of a leader’s understanding of the terrorist challenge, the enemies, the allies, the friends, and the scope and nature of the war against us. On that day, I was in midtown Manhattan, staying with family, and something became all too clear to me, to those I met in New York, Washington DC, and all those elsewhere who were paying attention: I was that the mass murders on that day were properly labeled as the spawn of a malignant mindset. …A contagious malignancy.


I also knew on a deep gut level that Manhattan’s world famous financial center was targeted, not only because it was an American asset, but also because it was a center for all those hated “rich Jews”.


Sadly, the record reveals that, for young Senator Obama, the 9-11 cataclysm did not spark a surge in patriotism; nor did it spark the epiphany that radical Islam was actually at war with us. [2]


Ms. Jarrett has tended to be more careful in her public utterances, but her private counsel has been to downplay terrorism, and to treat the war started by radical Islam against the West, the USA and Israel as a fantasy construct of the right, a domestic political problem to be managed.[3]




Why did Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu decide to “go around” POTUS to speak directly to the US Congress? Bibi has known all along just how dangerously unreliable an ally of Israel Mr. Obama has revealed himself to be. But many of America’s liberal secular Jews are a bit slower to the realization. As a country, Israel still owes deference to the traditional relationship with the US, especially since the US military establishment is on Israel’s side.  I believe that Bibi hoped for covert support from US forces when the IDF is forced to act against Iran. My personal theory: Netanyahu felt compelled to ratchet up the political pressure on Mr. Obama because the circumstances are desperate. I suspect he has calculated that:


(1) Israel really doesn’t have two years left to for Obama and the Europeans to dither, especially if Iran is within 6 months of breakout.

(2) Given the number of hardened installations now in place in Iran, Israel’s military options are problematic, unless significant American air support and intel are forthcoming.

(3) Hillary will give Bibi political cover with the centrist democrats.

(4) Even if Obama can’t be moved off the dime on real sanctions, that public opinion can still compel POTUS to lend military support to Israel when the current sanctions fail.




At the end of the day, I too, believe that economic sanctions should have been tried first. And they have.


Because of the futility and tardiness of any sufficiently strong economic sanctions, especially those that are unilaterally imposable at this late hour, the sanctions can and will be endured by this Iranian regime long enough to make some atomic weapons. After that game changer, Iran will consider that it is invulnerable.


Therefore: Because of the grave – and probably irrevocable – consequences of allowing Iran to achieve atomic bomb power status in the region – the US will need to impose to “kinetic” sanctions.


A year or two ago, I joked that our president had ramped up his response to the Iran atom bomb program: he had escalated from adjectives to verbs. Now, the hour is too late for jokes.


Sadly, it appears that at this juncture, only action will be effective in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. ..Unless there is a regime change.  But those prospects are close to zero. Once the Iranian regime has the Bomb, it will be even more difficult to dislodge even if an authentic opposition rose up. Which country would dare support the revolution while the entrenched ruling mullahs could use an atom bomb.


In other words, unless the regime makes a full turnaround, we will need to use “kinetic” sanctions. The following steps are outlined as an illustration only.  But what we do next must be decisive and effective; and each must carry a double message: one to the mullahs in Iran, and one to the other regimes that might be tempted to take the same path.


The overall action plan would be coupled with an information blitz aimed at the Iranian population. It would unfold in stages as follows, relying primarily on US air and sea assets:


  1. US air and naval assets take out Iran’s navy (to secure the Strait of Hormuz).
  2. US air assets destroy Iran’s air force and missiles.
  3. Then we destroy the gasoline refinery at Adiban.  Pointedly, we leave the oil fields and the other refineries alone for now.
  4. At this stage , we saturate all possible Iranian information channels – using electronic means and drones carrying and dropping leaflets – spelling our the demands, warning of the pending further sanctions, and setting out the no nukes, no excuses peace conditions.
  5. Then – and only then – we offer to open time-limited negotiations to completely dismantle the Iranian atomic bomb program.
  6. If the negotiation and compliance deadline is ignored by the Mullahs, we demonstrate American capability by bunker bombing one of the enrichment sites.
  7. If the regime is still intransigent, we take out another enrichment site, and destroy the Revolutionary Guard headquarters.
  8. We allow one last opportunity for fruitful discussions.
  9. Then we do whatever it takes. Don’t forget the ultimate stakes, the prevention of nuclear genocide. Note that these actions can probably be accomplished almost exclusively with air power and small units of Special Forces, but not without lots and lots of civilian deaths. But note, also, that the cost in lives and destruction from preventing a nuclear Iran are vastly smaller that the staggering human costs that will inevitably follow the emergence of a nuclear-armed radical dictatorship like Iran in the region.


As “scary” as all this might sound, this military action is very likely to be less costly than were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Not coincidentally oil prices are low enough to take the initial economic shock. …Because the low prices are partly the result of Saudi action, a country that does not want Iran to acquire the bomb.  In any event, US oil and gas production can probably be ramped up a bit in the short term. Yes, there will be blowback. Yes, Iran may try to increase terror activity through its proxies.  If so, we take out another gas refinery.  Out capacity of inflict punishment far exceeds Iran’s.


US public opinion will be on board as long as the actions are decisive, effective and the entire process is measured in weeks not months. It has been a long, long time since Americans have seriously been asked to take the long view, and to engage in what many, many critics will falsely claim is an “unnecessary” war.


The lives of Jesus of Nazareth and Hillel the Elder overlapped in the first century.  They lived at what is now ground zero. Some moral questions are bright line clear. This is one of them.


The jihad kills children.


“…and whoever may cause to stumble one of those little ones who are believing in me, it is better for him that a weighty millstone may be hanged upon his neck, and he may be sunk in the depth of the sea.”  Jesus


And leaders temporize.


If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am for myself, then what am “I”? And if not now, when? Hillel



When? When? When?




A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing.  Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at

[2] Mr. Obama was sensitive. “The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others,” Mr. Obama wrote. “Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.”  To be fair Ms. Jarrett’s silence about 9-11-01 can be attributed to the fact that she was still a practicing lawyer-activist and not seeking public attention.

[3] I and many other commentators have seen a report about the run up to the bin Laden raid that portrays the president as ambivalent and reluctant to order the operation. Both Mrs. Clinton and Leon Panetta were persistent in urging the president to take action, but every time Ms. Jarrett got his ear, he temporized. If true, it was a leak, now covered up. I still find it credible.




>>as a pdf —

>>in htm –


Editor’s note: This is a revision by the author of an earlier article of the same title that went viral after its release in 2004 – at least 6,000 readers saw it before 2008.






An Ongoing Analysis by

Jay B Gaskill


Let me define my terms. All thinking people who respect human life and dignity are liberals in the larger sense. So that makes me and most thinking conservatives liberals, too. 


That larger, generous liberalism is not my topic. 


For purposes of this essay, I’m applying the terms “political liberal” or “postmodern liberal” to identify a subset of the partisan left, those people for whom being a “liberal”: (a) is kind of a calling, in which some one’s declaration that “I’m a liberal” sounds very much like “I’m a Seventh Day Adventist” (my apologies to all SDA’s – this is just an illustration); (b) the liberal self-identification is meant to immediately imply a specific litany – a secular catechism — of specific doctrines.  In general these are the positions that are shared by the 21st century left wing of the Democratic Party and the Green party.


A short list of the defining positions of political liberals would include several commonly shared liberal sentiments – opposition to racism, the devaluation of women and the concern for the protection of the quality of the natural environment, which are mainstream issues and sentiments widely shared by moderates and conservatives.  But in the fevered minds of political liberals, these sentiments become conflated into an epic struggle against the grotesque foes of all that is good and true.  We face a mythic “liberal” construct in which all middle class whites are inherently racist; all heterosexual males are irredeemably sexist; and all businesses (save a select few who donate heavily to liberal causes) are bent on raping the environment.


Beyond these silly caricatures, the same “liberal” minds tend to view all military and police as small minded, atavistic brutes, and see conservatives as living in trailer parks (or as having been somehow trained in them, retaining their trailer park values as they have become indecently wealthy by selling cars). In these same minds, concern for sexual freedom and female autonomy get turned into a general doctrine that decries any attempt to regulate what adult people do with their sexual and reproductive organs. Even discussions about regulating very late term procedures to terminate an unborn fetus (whose heart is actually beating), or attempts to control children who want to escape from the “sexual tyranny” of their parents are ruled out of bounds.  We must not even entertain these thoughts, lest we – God forbid – practice   right wing zealotry.


As I revisit and revise this essay, the progressive liberal establishment finds itself confronted by the murderous intolerance of a malignant mutation in Islam.  Our current president, Barack Hussein Obama, purports to speak for his fellow liberals when he refuses to use the term “Muslim extremists” much less “Islamo-fascists”, “Islamo-Nazis” or even “radical Islamists,” seemingly in order not to offend the delicate sensibilities of all peace-loving Muslims, multiculturalists, or even the Wahhabi Muslims who rule Saudi Arabia.


Thus the postmodern liberal mind has turned tolerance into an endorsement of intolerance.


A recent article by Dr. Dennis Prager describes an incident where “Bill Maher, a man of the left on virtually every issue, began by defending liberalism’s honor against liberal hypocrisy on the subject of Islam.” Maher took hell for it from some of his fellow liberals.


Maher: “Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles. . . . Liberal principles like freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, equality for women, equality for minorities including homosexuals — these are liberal principles that liberals applaud for [pointing to his audience], but then when you say in the Muslim world this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.”


Bill Maher was invited to give a December 2014 commencement address at UC Berkeley. As a result of these remarks, he was almost disinvited, because of a single departure from the approved catechism. He had dared to excoriate the radical Islamists who killed a cartoonist and many others in France. The students and faculty members who attempted to stop the Maher’s commencement speech were members of the partisan, political left. Maher was an apostate because he had departed from the left’s secular catechism.


This is not the space in which to debate the merits of the public policy issues that make up the catechism of the political left. But we need to understand that, collectively, these views are a catechism.


There is no better explanation for the extreme resistance of the “political liberal” group to all rational argument.  For this discussion, please try not conclude anything about my own views, except that they are determined issue-by-issue from a philosophical and moral framework that is rooted in certain durable verities and a commitment to real world engagement. Over the years I have taken and discarded liberal and conservative policy prescriptions alike as evidence and additional evaluation warranted.


A healthy dialogue requires a great degree of flexibility of approach, attention to evidence, and the willingness to reexamine assumptions; in short, it requires a dedication to doing what works in the real world.  Dialogue is essential for wise policy.


Anyone who takes on the challenging but rewarding task of real-world moral engagement hits a bizarre wall when attempting a reasonable policy dialogue with the partisan creatures I’m calling “political liberals”.


Why is this?  The political liberal mindset is dominant in a number of parts of this country. It is held by self-styled “sophisticated and thoughtful” people who vigorously reject the very idea that their belief system constitutes an ideology.  Of course, when liberals deviate from the main doctrine, they tend to speak very softly indeed.


Liberalism in this form is a secular religion.  This religion originated, innocently enough, as an attempt to off-load the entire charitable and humanitarian enterprise to the regulatory and social action agencies of government.  Somehow, it has survived the demise of national and international socialism by appealing to some of the very groups who were threatened by the former ideologies.


The point of interest here is that political liberals consist of two groups: the angry and outspoken activists who define “pure” doctrine, and the much larger group who simply go along.  It is the unwillingness of this second, larger group to openly deviate from doctrine that interests me.


I believe that, for this larger group (most of whom are well off financially and educated far above the “trailer park” level they tend to despise), the primary function of this secular religion is to protect the comfortable lifestyles of its adherents. [1]


It is no coincidence that political liberals thickly populate some of the wealthiest and best educated coastal and urban communities in America.  They are bound together, not only by a political religion, but by shared experiences. For the most part, they constitute social cohorts that enjoy six linked sets of shared assumptions and attitudes:


  • A comfortable hedonism enjoyed by predominantly well educated post-religious middle class and upper class sub-populations;
  •  A “hip” social outlook that tends to mask or anesthetize moral qualms about the enjoyment of their position; effect this is a shared social milieu in which “style” and social “sophistication” operate to confer on their life styles a sort of gentile veneer of social virtue, one characterized by “tolerance”;
  • Compartmentalized morality, especially in the arts, an attitude that holds that the arts are generally to be free of all traditional moral stances and constraints, except for a small sub-component (honored more by gesture than actually patronized) in which the condemnation of oppression and the celebration of the oppressed are featured elements;
  • Non judgmental attitudes about “sins” of the educated and tolerant, overlooking drug abuse, “life-style” motivated abortions, serial divorces and a whole range sexual behavior typically condemned in less “sophisticated” cultures;[2]
  • The tendency to see morality as the avoidance of social criticism, resulting in a cinematic definition of the moral “stand”, where morality is understood primarily in terms of appearances;
  • The notion that morality is properly and even sufficiently manifested by moral gestures. As a result, “correct” positions and stances trump all gritty engagement with the world, even at the expense of practical results.


How do we explain the fierce grip maintained by the religion of political liberalism over its adherents?


Liberalism’s tendency to elevate “correct” stances and gestures creates an extraordinary ability to shield the comfortable hedonist life styles of its main adherents from moral criticism.  Thus the religion of liberalism represents a form of social détente and clever camouflage.


How do we explain the isolationist / pacifist tendencies of political liberals?


This stance is a direct result of the comfortable hedonist life styles of its main adherents.  Isolationist pacifism is a moral stance that deflects criticism of the otherwise selfish addiction to moralistic gestures without-teeth in the face of existential evil.


The religion of political liberalism has three principal canons:


  1. Nationalization of charity.  Humanitarian endeavors cannot be effectively performed, nor equitably supported unless they are done by government agencies.  This has the virtue of insulating its adherents from real moral claims on their personal resources.  In effect, the political-moral stance that begins with the phrase– “I support….(you can fill in the blanks with a liberal cause here)” becomes the equivalent of “I gave at the office.”


  1. Social Marxism. This stance (going by various other names of course) dictates that a doctrine of (pretended) social equality substitutes for the now discredited ruthless redistribution of all wealth.  This stance (which was really the ur-source of political correctness) allows its adherents to accomplish (or at least favor) the humiliation and social repression of those whom its shifting fashions might choose to label oppressors. This is a low cost approach to egalitarianism and protects those whose sophisticated hedonism would otherwise be criticized. The appropriately expressed politically correct bromides are the camouflage of “undeserved” well off.


  1. Collective Expiation of guilt. Social survivor guilt, the inevitable result of a sense of “unearned” well being, is expiated by this religion’s ritual practices.  These rituals, for the most part, consist of bumper stickers, public gestures, cocktail party banter, and occasional political activity in support of liberal causes. Gestures are cost free insulation.


The psychological strength of the liberal religion derives from five related developments in the human condition, mostly confined to the highly developed and prosperous communities in Europe and the Americas:


(1)   The collapse of traditional religious and other transcendent moral demands on the individual among the dominant intelligentsia of the developed world;

(2)   Unprecedented material comfort and wealth that must somehow be preserved as the birthright of the “good people” (defined as the political liberals).

(3)   The persistent, nagging voice of residual conscience, still suffered by those anti-traditional secularists who have not yet succumbed to outright nihilism;

(4)   The emperor-has-no-clothes fragility of the whole act, such that any invalidation or repudiation of a part of the doctrine threatens the whole;

(5)   The deep psychological dread of any prospective return to individual accountability measured by an authoritative moral system.


The last point raises a particularly frightening scenario for those liberals who lack refuge in a “Plan B” – the resort to the supporting infrastructure of a transcendent, stable belief system supported by a community of co-believers, in effect, to traditional religion.[3]


The postmodern liberal mind tacitly or explicitly rejects religion except as a form of meditation or therapy. This is coupled with the rejection of the possibility of actual evil in the world.  The devaluation of evil is a psychologically necessary step because, to recognize evil entails a moral obligation to take up concrete, risky and burdensome actions against it. Recall that postmodern political liberalism is designed to support and validate the comfortable lifestyle of its adherents. In the political liberal canon, evil and wickedness are to be treated as psychological/medical issues best addressed via therapies. Such minds have rejected the classical tradition, and they lack the safety net of ordinary religion – which was rejected by liberalism-as-secular-religion as the construct of atavistic superstition. For this large subset of liberals, the prospect of a return to individual (as opposed to collective) moral accountability is a deeply unattractive option.  Why? It presents either of two unacceptable alternatives:


  • A return to a moral system in which one’s own conduct is seen again as “sinful,”[4] or –
  • A condition of moral free fall in which civil order is threatened. Either choice threatens the comfortable enclaves of protected, gentile hedonism in which the followers of liberalism-as-religion hope to live out their anxious but well-protected lives.


This is why a reasoned discussion of conservative alternatives to social problems can so quickly degenerate into personal attacks and mindless sloganeering.  These taunts are just a modern form of that ancient, bone-chilling cry: “Burn the heretic!


Yet the radical Islamists are beheading the heretics. This presents a crisis in liberalism. The Liberal in Chief in the White House clings to the fantasy construct that we are not at war, that the Islamist threat is a series of disconnected events, that Israel will not be at risk if it just agrees to “get along” with it hostile neighbors, and so on…


The sad fact of human nature is that at any given time about 20% of adults (including the alleged “smart’ ones) are living in an alternate universe made up of their preferred fantasies. And of all the comfortable fantasies, denial ranks number one.


I am convinced that thinking liberals can be saved. And the moment has arrived. The Islamic war is primarily against liberal Western civilization.  This presents a crisis within the postmodern political liberalism of the comfortable, prosperous West.


As liberals and conservatives, we need to ask ourselves “Why the rage against Israel and the USA?”


The followers of Islam have a great deal of difficulty accepting that their own religion’s retrograde elements are partly – even mostly – responsible for the failure of Islamist regimes to progress along the lines of a modern Western country[5]. Blame the failures of Allah’s chosen peoples on Allah? …Of course not. A more comfortable view is that the West is “cheating.”


Look up “malignant narcissism”.  The fanatical infatuation with radical Islam is a form of collective moral narcissism. The typical, full-on narcissist will pull down the whole world before acknowledging that he – and not the unfair world – is responsible for his own fate. In effect, the radical mutation in Islam is a form of collective moral narcissism.

It is clear to me that contemporary political liberalism has lost its way, and that a reasonable conservatism is needed to provide the necessary corrective, much as liberalism did in the 19th century for conservatism. Both approaches to life’s shifting problems are needed. Liberalism’s enduring project – currently overshadowing its historic commitment to liberty – is to mitigate the harshness of Darwinian competition on the people. Conservatism’s enduring project – formerly superseding its waning commitment to inherited privilege – is to protect the legitimate earnings of the people.

In former times, neither liberalism nor conservatism evidenced a particularly robust focus on the truly greater project: fostering the special conditions of ordered liberty in which creative human enterprises thrive – the very enterprises that constitute the fountainhead of all human progress, whether in the arts, technology or our social arrangements.

The challenges of the next 50 years will require creative adaptation on a large scale.  We – conservatives and liberals – should be tending to the vital project on which our future will depend: the project of fostering, protecting and anchoring the human creative enterprise.  The resumption of a fruitful dialogue between thoughtful conservatives and the enlightened, freedom-loving liberals requires a common understanding.  Both sides need to grasp that the creative project, writ large, necessarily requires protected freedoms that have always been closely associated with the conservative project.  Both sides need to grasp that creativity includes technology and the arts, that economic and creative freedoms are of a single piece.  These are the very freedoms essential to the functioning of creative communities throughout history.  They include the right to uncensored, unregulated expression, to the legally protected retention of one’s legitimately acquired property and earnings (particularly intellectual property and the fruits of one’s innovations and inventions) and the protection of voluntary mutual exchange, whether of ideas, art, goods, services or any other value that free men and women, working for themselves, can generate.

Fruitful dialogue requires us get past our ideological stereotypes.  We need to understand that, on the deepest level, that as people, we are not our opinions. Our core values define us, but our opinions only define our approaches to common problems.

That we agree to honor the freedoms, laws and social arrangements that are essential to the functioning of creative communities throughout history will form the bedrock of a creative civilization imperative.  I believe that this is a powerful idea, one that has the potential to transform both liberalism and conservatism.

Not coincidentally, the special conditions for a large scale, ongoing creative efflorescence have strongly rooted themselves in the New World, protected by the American constitutional structure of governance.  This is the core value of American exceptionalism. The American experiment is at its very core the first modern example of a creative society grounded in protected liberties. As the force of this idea spreads and the policy implications sink in, the stage will be set for the Great American Recovery.

Once again, our example will lead the world.




This piece was first posted May 18, 2004 on The Policy Think Site, and was substantially revised on January 23, 2015, where you can find other topical and perennially relevant articles. Set your browser to for The Policy Think Site



Copyright © 2004, 2015 by Jay B. Gaskill


A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing.  Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at








[1] And the secondary function is to supply that missing “meaning of life” component for those without religion or deeper philosophical principles.

[2] The attraction of this idea is powerful because most of us have “sinned” at least once!

[3] Note that political liberals have long ago rejected Plan C, the collective wisdom of the classical tradition.

[4] I can’t resist pointing out that political correctness has recreated sin by another name.

[5] A scholar who lived in the Muslim areas of the Middle East, sympathetic to the ‘better angels” of that religion, nevertheless points out: “Since the oil boom of the 1970s and ’80s, ­Saudi Arabia, whose official creed is Wahhabi Islam, has exported Wahhabism to parts of Africa, Asia, and the West through scholarships and the funding of radical mosques, preachers, and groups. Al-Qaeda is a direct spinoff of Wahhabi Islam, and IS an outgrowth from al-Qaeda, while the origins of Boko Haram lie in a network of Wahhabi-Salafi groups in Nigeria. This religious context provides the framework for justifying violence. Jihadists quote from Islamic scripture, prophetic traditions, and legal opinions to support their claims and activities. Jihad against non-Muslims and the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be killed are in fact based on Islamic law. The same is true of the tactic of capturing women and children as war booty and keeping or disposing of them as slaves. Islam also promises rewards and pleasures awaiting the martyr. It is therefore simplistic if not misleading to argue that groups like IS and Boko Haram have nothing to do with Islam.” Author John Azumah in the journal, First Things –









The Crisis in France, Europe and Here at Home

This is a two pronged war, one prong of which is steadfastly aimed at destroying secular liberal civilization. The second prong has spawned a deadly, multifocal war within the precincts and outposts of Islam. Clearly there are decent, well-meaning elements within Islam, until now smothered, intimidated, covert and confused. The blatant French attacks on the Western free press (and its most potent weapon, satire) have finally forced a few temperate Muslim voices to emerge from the background noise and protective shadows.  They are beginning to speak out.

This is just the beginning. 


The internal contradictions of postmodern liberalism are exposed, just as the fragile strands of a civil Islam, one capable of productively coexisting with modern Western life are being tested.

This situation is unstable, meaning it could go either way.


Postmodern liberalism has embraced tolerance as if it were a foundational moral value. But the reality of the matter is deeply different: Tolerance is a virtue practiced by individuals and societies that are held together by a well ordered and vital moral understanding that contains some tough boundaries between the permissible and the impermissible, the good and the reprehensible, the deeply honored and the evil.


When tolerance is allowed to slip out of its moral foundations, it becomes an agent of social suicide.


France may be waking up.

But we Americans need to take our situational understanding to a heightened level of alertness and depth. The few, timid Muslim voices that are tentatively seeking to form a moderate front in the intra-Islamic part of this war would not have emerged without our own country’s relentless retaliation on al Qaeda and its spawn.  These voices will fade and die unless we in the West continue to defend the vital boundaries on which a modern free society is based, including especially our hallowed traditions a free press (print and electronic). A truly free press is uniquely sacrosanct in just one major world power – The USA.

Required reading: a major new article by a Christian scholar who spent years living in a Muslim cultural environment.  It has been released by the respected American journal, FIRST THINGS. It is “Challenging Radical Islam, An Explanation of Islam’s Relation to Terrorism and Violence”, by John Azumah. Go to –


The author is informed, sympathetic to the decent, law abiding Muslims, and he pulls no punches when discussing Muslim and American leadership. He reminds us that this war is, at its very core, a moral struggle. This thoughtful and balanced piece is well worth your time to copy, read and reread.  Here are a few key quotes:

“Since the oil boom of the 1970s and ’80s, ­Saudi Arabia, whose official creed is Wahhabi Islam, has exported Wahhabism to parts of Africa, Asia, and the West through scholarships and the funding of radical mosques, preachers, and groups. Al-Qaeda is a direct spinoff of Wahhabi Islam, and IS an outgrowth from al-Qaeda, while the origins of Boko Haram lie in a network of Wahhabi-Salafi groups in Nigeria. This religious context provides the framework for justifying violence. Jihadists quote from Islamic scripture, prophetic traditions, and legal opinions to support their claims and activities. Jihad against non-Muslims and the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be killed are in fact based on Islamic law. The same is true of the tactic of capturing women and children as war booty and keeping or disposing of them as slaves. Islam also promises rewards and pleasures awaiting the martyr. It is therefore simplistic if not misleading to argue that groups like IS and Boko Haram have nothing to do with Islam.”

“…as is the case in Christian just-war theory, in which the power to declare war is carefully limited to governments, in Islamic law only legitimate Islamic governments can declare a jihad, not individuals or nonstate actors. An exception is made when a Muslim land comes under attack or occupation by an enemy force, which renders jihad or resistance an individual responsibility. But even then, jihad has to have been formally declared by the legitimate authority properly representing the people of the occupied nation. By declaring and conducting jihad on their own, al-Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, and other such groups act as heretical usurpers.”

“Given the clear consensus of the Islamic tradition, it is no surprise that Muslim leaders around the world have repeatedly and publicly denounced al-Qaeda, IS, and Boko Haram.”

While these public renunciations and fatwas may have little impact on the leadership of jihadi groups, they play a significant role in delegitimizing jihadi ideology and thereby undermining its appeal to young Muslims.”

“Undoubtedly the disorientation caused by modernity and postmodernity is key. Economic development and an increasingly global commerce in movies, TV, and other forms of popular culture weaken traditional Islamic institutions and disturb and disorient many Muslims. It is in this context that heretical groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State flourish. They’re part zealot, part thug, part political entrepreneur, in societies undergoing profound social transformations.

“What, then, are we to say about Islam and terrorism? There is no question that the jihadists quote mainstream Islamic texts to justify their actions. But bear in mind that, in itself, quoting Islamic texts does not necessarily make one’s views and actions Islamic. The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda quotes the Bible, as did the Branch Davidians of David Koresh, the People’s Temple of Jim Jones, and many other eccentric Christian cults. That does not make their views and ­actions Christian.”

While jihadi groups are heretical in their claim that they have the authority to interpret and impose these laws, the existence of the teaching alone is an invitation to rebellion and extremism. In other words, while it is neither true nor fair to argue that Islam is the problem, there is no doubt that Islam has a problem. When Jesus said that we will be able to discern the faithfulness of his followers by their fruits, he was speaking a common truth. And so, is it not time for Islamic scholars and leaders to reexamine the doctrines that are so easily abused by extremists? Isn’t the orgy of blood we are witnessing today a clear sign of the need for important and thoroughgoing reforms?”

“…A wind is blowing in the house of Islam, and a battle for the soul of Islam is earnestly underway. ­Disillusioned young Iranians are leaving Islam in droves and giving up on religion altogether. Other ordinary Muslims are turning away from Islam to other religions, including Christianity. We see also in Islam a growing progressive trend toward a critical rereading of Islamic texts and history. These are signs that a serious introspection is taking place across the Muslim world.”


We are not just spectators. An American withdrawal or premature holiday from the war declared by radical Islam against modernity and the Western freedom traditions will surely snatch the defeat of our sworn enemies from the jaws of victory.

To go forward, we, the French and the other ambivalent European cultures need to reestablish the moral foundations of modern civilization.

Years ago, the Jewish writer Dennis Prager asked us, “Can Believers Defeat Unbelievers?” (See my 2003 article “Secular Steel” and its reference to Dr. Prager’s trenchant piece at this link –

That, my fellow Americans, is the question of the moment.


Jay B Gaskill 1-9-2015

Copyright © 2015 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at law

A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing.  Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at









The president is counting on an ineffectual congress.


A new tool is urgently needed to restrain the illegal and/or unconstitutional exercise of power by the president.  Beyond the major policies at issue, the very relevancy of the legislative branch is at stake.  This article outlines a new legal weapon (more properly a shield) that will actually work.  At the moment, congressional leadership seems caught between ineffective grand gestures and a politically perilous strategy of relying exclusively on the power of the purse. In this proposal, the Congress would enact a streamlined response path for the Federal Court of Appeals to invalidate specific Executive Orders (or directives tantamount to Executive Orders) that violate federal law, the Constitution, or both.


Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

December 4, 2014


The full article needs to be read by all key House and Senate leaders.


Here are the links:










Without the large scale military intervention of the USA, as the one viable, large, stable Western democratic republic in the world capable of fielding a major military force, the Nazis and Fascists would probably have overrun Europe in World War II. Russia may have survived, but could not have crushed the Axis powers alone, nor escaped its own internal tyrants. The post-war consequences in this hypothetical universe would have been a fatal or nearly fatal blow to the survival of Western civilization. Without the USA, the march of Soviet and Chinese Communism could well have overwhelmed the West during the Cold War period.  And in this scenario, too, the forces of darkness would have made the wreckage of institutionalized freedom a settled and widespread fact of existence.


A compelling case can be made that, without the USA, Western Civilization itself would now be dying or a dead.


Naturally, many voices are heard disputing this evaluation – and expressing postwar resentment of the USA.  These voices are either disingenuous or coming from deluded fools.


The very existence of the USA as a robust, viable fresh start, as the new model of Western civilization over there in in “the New World”, was an unprecedented historical development. The success of the American model has profoundly changed the history of Europe and Eurasia.  In my opinion, the viability of the American experiment is the chief reason to be optimistic about the future of modern, liberal civilization, itself.




We are living in a post-Darwinian phase of evolution of the human condition, one in which natural selection was trumped and greatly accelerated by conscious selection. This is the meta-context that frames the ongoing war between competing models of civilization. The long-term survival prize will go to those civilizations (or nodes of civilization) that can effectively optimize their own survival, endurance and the efflorescence of creativity.  These are the civilizations that honor creativity and creative freedom; that respect the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of their members (a formula that includes freedom to engage in creative activity) by actually building and maintaining institutions that work for their protection.


The American version of civilization has been almost uniquely creative-innovative.  It is no accident that the tyrannies of the 21st century were almost uniquely anti-creative.  It  is telling that the latest challenge to modern civilization, symbolized by ISIS but much more widely geographically distributed, is built on atavistic ideas and prejudices that are, at core, fundamentally anti-creative in nature.


When you examine the geographical and political distribution of creativity, great, transformative inventions, wonderful new forms and creative iterations of culture, art and music, they can be plotted like islands of light on a dark background.  They do not light up the places where tyrannies and repressive bureaucracies or repressive religious ideologies hold sway. They light up North America, parts of Europe, little Israel and they make islands of light everywhere in the world that repressive authoritarian power is held at bay. The areas of the world controlled by repressive Islamic fundamentalism are dark; they are places where the efflorescence of a more secular and tolerant Islamic civilization that flourished long ago[1] are forgotten.


Tyrannies of all kind seek to control human creativity and bend it to serve a single master, but creative freedom is the very soul and essence of creativity. It is no accident that among the very earliest asylum-seekers from such repressive regimes are the creative ones in the arts and even in the sciences.  Many bright minds were seduced at the beginning of each tyranny, but eventually, all are disillusioned.


What would the world be like if there were no free country like the USA, Israel, England and the other enclaves of comparative liberty?  What if there were no refuge destinations?  It would be a truly malignant Dark Age.


We Americans did not choose to be exceptional.  Circumstances chose us.


Yet, even we are fully capable of jettisoning our heritage, betraying our promise and succumbing to the dark side, as some of our European friends have already done – a few of them more than once.  We are swimming in a sea filled with toxic ideologies masquerading as moral crusades.[2] The dead hand of bureaucracy rests heavily, even here, on the creative spirit.


For a host of reasons, philosophical, historical and situational, the USA is the last best hope of Western civilization. The USA is virtually the only creative-adaptive model of modern civilization that still has the capacity to defend itself and, in selected instances, to defend key elements of modern civilization that are at threat elsewhere.


This is the context that chose America.


Creative civilizations are characterized by adaptive creativity and the resolve to defend their members against all predators, internal and external, natural or biological, human or inhuman. Nothing less than secure self-confidence at the level of the most fundamental values is required for the world’s handful of creative civilizations to fruitfully co-exist with the rest of humanity. That confidence is the cultural firewall against the atavistic undertow. Cultural relativism and the promotion of unearned guilt by those who live in such civilizations are breaches in that firewall.


Even a mighty creative-adaptive civilization can fail. The mere capacity to defend its own civilization and that of its friends, without the will to use it amounts to an open invitation to predators. The passive, “soft power” defense of civilization is a dangerous and short-lived exercise in suicidal risk-taking. Thus, we have arrived at one of those historical hinge points.  This is not a healthy era. I am reminded of lines from the prophetic poem of William Butler Yeats-


“The Second Coming”


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


— William Butler Yeats



Things are falling apart, once again.  The stage is set, once again.  The monsters are loose, once again.  If we choose not to act, how long do we have to huddle in denial and fear before the beast is at our very doorstep? The urge to sleep while under threat is deeply rooted and deeply dangerous.  The attacks of 9-11-01 were a temporarily awakening, but the enemies of creative civilization do not sleep.




Gaskill on – The American Creative Surge –


Podhoretz on – WORLD WAR IV –

…and in book form –

[1] The Islamic Golden Age 786-1258, by all accounts, was religiously tolerant, incorporating Christian and Jewish cultural and scientific contributions. Twenty first century radical Islam is an entirely different creature.

IT’S EBOLA & the ISIS Headhunters With Our Teaching Moment



IT’S just EBOLA & the ISIS Headhunters

As revised 11-1-14


Analysis by Jay B Gaskill

                       Also posted at –



For a host of reasons, philosophical, historical and situational, the USA is the last best hope of Western civilization. The USA is virtually the only creative-adaptive model of modern civilization that still has the capacity to defend itself and, in selected instances, to defend key elements of modern civilization that are at threat elsewhere.  But capacity without the will to act, especially in the defense of civilization, is a short-lived exercise in suicidal risk-taking.

At no time in the last 80 years (i.e., since the decade before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 has our nation) our nation seemed as much like a toy tiger as it does now.  But this analysis goes far beyond mere military preparedness.  We are disabled and disarmed at several levels, including the moral, biological psychological, and strategic. Nature always provides teaching moments to those willing to recognize them. The tragedy is that we have so far ignored our teaching moments.

The Islamist fanatics have been seeking a nation to control and convert, creating a new force in world affairs, an “Islamostan,” a radically fundamentalist Islamic state endowed with superpower status by virtue of its control of deliverable nuclear weapons. This goal was evident to many analysts back during the second Clinton term, when the first World Trade Center attack was made, the USS Cole was bombed, and other attacks took place around same time, all against Western targets, all driven by the same fundamentalist, suicidal Islamic ideology. The 9-11-01 attacks on major US targets were part of the same attack pattern, and resulted in a temporary awakening among members of the US security establishment. Flash forward to the sudden appearance of ISIS in Iraq and nearby territories, well-funded, well organized, totally brutal and explicitly devoted the end of western civilization. If you trace the logistics and the money, you discover Iran.  If we follow Iran, we find an atomic bomb program on the verge of the point of no return.  And why should Fortress America worry?

Iran has almost enriched enough uranium to make several atomic bombs.  All it will take is a comparatively short run with its centrifuges, and possibly within a few months – far less than a year – they will be able to announce, “We have the bomb!” and thereafter no Western power will dare take them on directly.  The radical regime controlling Iran already has long range (not yet intercontinental) missiles. The ‘hands-off, we already have the bomb” moment will buy them all the time they need to build an arsenal. Iran is supporting ISIS. Connect the dots/

Now, this is what you probably do not know:


New climate modeling estimates, reworking the “nuclear winter” scenarios of the 1960’s, now raise the dire prospect that a much smaller nuclear exchange will have equally catastrophic world consequences.  These chilling research findings, using more powerful computers than were available in the 1960s, jointly released by Alan Robock[1], professor of climatology at Rutgers University and associate director of the school’s center for environmental Prediction, and Owen Brian Toon[2], chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a fellow of the laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics there.

Even a small regional nuclear bomb outbreak can “cripple global agriculture” with “the effects [that] would last for at least 10 years” dramatically reducing food supplies and producing mass starvation directly affecting “around one billion people” and indirectly affecting all the rest.[3]

This was never just about Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other single theater of armed conflict and unrest in the region or the world.  It was and is about restraining and eventually disarming a 12th century, fundamentalist jihad that is seeking to use 21st century weapons and the platform of a superpower Islamist state or coalition.  This vision potentially unites the Muslim nations of the Middle East in one glorious purpose: to use war to cancel the unjust sense of inferiority visited on them by the decadent modern societies that have out-produced and outperformed them on almost every measurable level.  Even the Saudi royal family recognizes ISIS as a dangerous apostasy and Iran as a mortal enemy to be stopped.

I have compared this entire situation with a Star Trek episode wherein the Enterprise sent a crew down to study a primitive culture.  When some of the loosely primitive aliens wrapped got their hands on a modern weapon, Captain James Kirk made short work of problem.  No Phasers left behind. Flash to the present day: We modern earthlings still live in a world inhabited by some tribes with 12th century minds, neighbors who are acquiring 21st century weapons. The cultural and civilization gap is approximately the same as that between the enterprise crew and the aliens, yet we dither.  Yes, we dither while not being able to say, “Beam us up, Scotty!” No, we are stuck on the same planet with these dangerously suicidal fools.



Ebola, a kind of viral hemorrhagic fever, is now an ugly, quite deadly pandemic that has killed thousands by sweeping through Western Africa; and it now has found its way through the porous borders of Europe and the USA. Complacent US officials began by asserting that we will never be in any real danger because, after all, we are not a third world country.  But pandemics expand exponentially; and even a first world country’s medical system like ours lacks the capacity to isolate and treat more than a few thousand infected patients all at once.  Here is the elephant in the room: Even a “small” epidemic of Ebola inside the USA would wreak havoc by crippling transportation and overwhelming the US medical system for all the “lower priorities” – i.e., almost everything else that requires a hospital setting.

All viruses mutate. Typically they start in an animal population before they find their way into a human one.  For a time they propagate in small human populations but eventually break out. Without proactive containment any one of several pathogens can spread rapidly through any population, given the right conditions.

The easiest infections to contain – at least under modern conditions – are the bloodborne ones, such as Hepatitis A, B & C, West Nile and AIDS.  Bloodborne viruses can be sexually transmitted by individuals who are not symptomatic. AIDS was – and is – no trivial threat.

The airborne pathogens are exceedingly difficult to contain.  The liquid and infected-blanket infection vectors for Ebola, smallpox and its epidemiological cousins represent more a containable threat than airborne contagion vectors do.  But infected bodily fluids can easily travel through the air[4].  An airborne variant of Ebola is just a mutation away.

The problem with deadly plagues that get out of the box is that the resulting chaos destroys or profoundly degrades civil society. The set of liberties and protective institutions that make a creative civilization like ours possible are more fragile than most people realize. Fear can dissolve any civil government into authoritarian tyranny in a matter of months.

Dangerous pandemics, like deadly Ebola virus, and virulent, atavistic ideologies, like the ISIS jihad, can always erupt outside the boundaries of advanced civilizations. But in the profoundly interconnected world of the early twenty first century, our boundaries are so porous that external threats swiftly mutate into grave internal problems.

The current American administration has been far less than vigilant, competent and effective in addressing these threats, stubbornly treating each large-scale threat pattern as a scattering of disparate, almost one-off events.

Now, not later, is the opportunity, the perfect time to inaugurate and deploy a national epidemic defense, infrastructure, including but not limited humane quarantine and isolation facilities, far, far better capacity to monitor and restrict potentially infectious travelers, including returnees, and so on. We need much more attention to all of the potential, invasive pathogens.  Recall the problem when a ship dumbs bilge in a new harbor, discharging invasive species?  The entire biosphere is much more rapidly being mixed than ever before.  Aboriginal peoples lost 85% of their populations when the germ-bearing Europeans arrived.  Given today’s stirred and re-stirred population, everyone is potentially an aboriginal target for new pathogens.

I am not being alarmist here.  So far, these are just teaching moments.  But think how close we are to a worst case scenario: A fully nuclear armed Jihadist state, inevitably with lead to an arms race.  Even a “small” regional nuclear exchange could trigger the loss of crops around the world for a year, causing the starvation of hundreds of millions. If history is any guide (and it is) that scenario will lead to war.  And war will lead to pestilence.

And we are not prepared.



History is knocking at our front door.

The Roman Empire fell from stage of history, having missed all of its potential teaching moments. Postmodern Western civilization refused to answer the door – seemingly bent on ignoring its teaching moments.

I assert that the next three years will be later identified by historians as the critical turning point when modern civilization began its collapseor averted it. Why worry about civilization, you ask?  …Because a smart fish needs to worry about having water to live in.

It is not too late to learn from these teaching moments.  Better quarantine protocols, detection and emergency transportation and treatment will require an infrastructure that we can still deploy. We will be thankful now, and for the inevitable next time.



With the use of sufficient, sustained force Iran can still be compelled to abandon its dangerous atomic-bomb ambitions. The feckless misuse of a meaningless “red line” warning by our president has essentially taken ordinary persuasion off the table. European style soft power did not work on Hitler.  It will not work now.

The clock is running. There are a number of workable military scenarios, all unpleasant.  

The following scenario is just for illustration. Shockingly brutal as it might seem to the “soft power” crowd, it is actually sufficient to the cause. It very likely will work. I leave it to the experts whether something less would also be sufficient.

The locations of Iran’s enrichment plants are now known. …As are the locations of most of Iran’s missiles.  Using heavy conventional weapons, these targets are repeatedly hit for thirty days.  After a pause, a blue line is announced: Cooperate in full measure with a permanent shutdown and cleanup of Iran’s atomic weapons program, starting with open inspections in 7 days, or Phase Two begins. A blue line in this case is one that cannot be avoided by silence or mere words.   Phase Two is the elimination of all of Iran’s oil refineries, its remaining air force and navy. In Phase Three, if necessary, we get serious.

If we take strong and sufficient action to avert an Islamist nuclear power, we will be criticized, even vilified, but the world will be a better place.

Iran is a beautiful country with an intelligent, beautiful population. So was Japan in the 1940’s.  No Eastern power came to Japan’s aid.  No Middle East power will intervene on Iran’s behalf. 

The cost in military resources and casualties will be far less if the US takes strong and sufficient action  within the next few months, than if we attempt to do “whatever it takes” after Iran has squirrelled away 20 kg of weapons grade uranium and / or plutonium.

Doing nothing effective at this critical juncture is tantamount to ignoring a burning fuse leading to an explosive chain reaction that can take down civilization itself.

Rome was a decadent bureaucratic state in which the capacity for creative, adaptive responses to serious challenges never took hold.  You might think that we in the USA – blessed as we are with an envied standard of living and a reputation for civil liberties, can weather any storm by hiding in Fortress America. Clinging to isolationism in the modern world is suicide, whether the threat is a rampant murderous ideology or a rampant deadly plague.

Sadly, it may well be us to us.  …Just us. Ideally, the USA should not have to act alone. But if we fail to effectively address such grave threats, no one else can pull it off in time.  And it will be all over but the weeping.

I would much rather cheer.


Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill

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Jay B Gaskill

Alameda, CA


More about creative civilization and it challenges from JBG:





A compelling political thriller (2104 Central Avenue Publishing)

[3] “New analyses reveal that a conflict between India and Pakistan, for example, in which 100 nuclear bombs were dropped on cities and industrial areas—only 0.4 percent of the world’s more than 25,000 warheads—would produce enough smoke to cripple global agriculture.”

[4] I noted this recent New York Post article < > CDC admits droplets from a sneeze could spread Ebola …Ebola is a lot easier to catch than health officials have admitted — and can be contracted by contact with a doorknob contaminated by a sneeze from an infected person an hour or more before, experts told The Post Tuesday. “If you are sniffling and sneezing, you produce microorganisms that can get on stuff in a room. If people touch them, they could be” infected, said Dr. Meryl Nass, of the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, DC. Nass pointed to a poster the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly released on its Web site saying the deadly virus can be spread through “droplets.”