Eunomia · April 2007

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America’s public and intellectual elites do not know history. How can we say we know our enemies or know ourselves. [sic] Sun Tzu would be ashamed, no? ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Perhaps, or perhaps he would take it as evidence that we were pushovers ripe for an invasion.

More seriously, Michael’s post, inspired by Scott McConnell’s article comparing Iraq and Algeria (which Scott discusses at length on Antiwar Radio here), makes an important point about our collective historical ignorance creating the paucity of our foreign policy and geopolitical thinking.  A greater acquaintance with history, whether military or not, would be an invaluable resource for policymakers, pundits and the public alike.  Those familiar with the Mesopotamian campaign or the post-WWI rebellion in Iraq might have given more thought to meddling there in the first place.  Those who knew something of Valmy and Jena and Verdun would not belittle French martial prowess or courage, nor would someone actually familiar with the sweep of French history create preposterous narratives about eternal French enmity towards the Republic they helped to create.  The less educated in history a people is, the more easily it will be misled and confused by the half-learned ramblings of chauvinists and opportunists, and the less able it will be to scrutinise the rival claims of disputing controversialists.  Understanding of and respect for history are vital to remain free of the shackles of propagandists and ideologues who are constantly splicing, editing and redacting the story to serve their present goals (unfortunately, just as so many chroniclers over the centuries have also done).

In Riverbend’s case, perhaps, we can excuse all this. As I said, she’s had to live with the situation, and we haven’t. But it also has to be kept in mind that she presents a special, one-sided, and in some ways quite misleading perspective–that of the Sunni Arab minority, and especially its urban professional classes. ~Jeff Weintraub

I don’t know Mr. Weintraub’s own views on the war, and it could well be that he has similarly taken to task as self-interested, U.S.-bought special pleading every utterance of Iraqi Shi’ite exiles on the U.S. dole.  We can hope.  Certainly there is nothing any less one-sided and biased about the perspective the exiles brought to the debate about going to war or what has happened in Iraq since the invasion.   

As with the other multiethnic state that Washington has helped to break apart in the last fifteen years (Yugoslavia), policymakers actively select which biased, tendentious accounts of the affairs in said state they are going to accept and then treat these accounts as if they were sacred truth.  Once a ‘good’ side, ‘our’ side, has been so anointed, many Americans have a very bad habit of adapting their perspective of events in their country as our own.  Thus when Albanian lobbyists and KLA spokesmen said that something was so, our political and media took it–and still take it–as gospel.  When representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which opposed the rule of Milosevic, would speak against U.S. Balkan policy and call it counterproductive and ignorant of political realities in the region (which had the virtue of being true), they would be denounced as apologists for the regime.  The point is not that the Serbs were necessarily always right and the Albanians always wrong in every instance, but that there was a near-automatic presumption that if a Serb or Serbian-American said something about Yugoslavia he was engaged in nothing more than an ethnic apology, while Albanians and Albanian-Americans were heroic and gallant defenders of human rights, etc.  I remember stories about Albanian-Americans going to Kosovo to join up with the KLA depicting them as if they were volunteers going to help fight for a free France against Hitler–had a foolish Serbian-American attempted to show the same solidarity with his cousins, he probably would have been thrown in prison.  That the observable reality of Kosovo was almost completely the reverse only made this unfortunate need to endorse one side’s narrative as reality that much more painful.  

It seems to me that something similar is going on here, where Riverbend’s credibility as a witness is being impugned (ever so gently, but impugned nonetheless) because she is a Sunni from the professional classes of Baghdad and for no other reason.  In other words, she represents precisely the kind of educated Iraqi that was supposed to be integral to the new Iraq, and might well have been one to contribute to that new Iraq had Washington not chosen quite deliberately to throw Sunni bureaucrats and soldiers out of work in an idiotic fit of “de-Baathification” and then empower the exiles in the provisional government (whom Riverbend correctly called the Puppets) and then ensure that Shi’ite majoritarian domination would follow.  It is hard to see how any Sunni, no matter how sanguine his or her view of the invasion, was supposed to respond to this “bottom rail on top now” approach to “liberation” except with bitterness and resentment.  More importantly, the account she gave in her final post, in which she said that the stories about eternal Sunni-Shia rivalries had no bearing on pre-war Baghdad, was all the more powerful for being rather obviously true.  Before the invasion, no one could doubt that Shi’ites were a marginalised and put-upon group that had suffered horribly in 1991, but likewise no one could doubt that intermarriage, coexistence and cohabitation in the same neighbourhoods were all part of the social fabric of pre-war Baghdad.  This is to be expected in any large city in which communalism is not mobilised for political purposes.  The reason why there has been such a hideous orgy of destruction and marauding in the name of driving sectarian enemies out of different neighbourhoods is that Sunnis and Shi’ites did live alongside one another, did intermarry and didn’t make their sectarian identities the most significant aspect of their lives.  Now having the wrong name (Omar instead of Ali) will mean that you end up in the river with a hole in your head. 

That is a major difference that the war created, and anything else you want to say about the war really has to take account of that.  When outsiders help precipitate conflict between different groups in another country, the outsiders are among the first to discover the “deep” structural causes behind these conflicts, as if to say, “These people have always been maniacs–but we had no idea until just now!  Why, of course, it all has to do with Karbala, and they have been killing each other for centuries.”  Except that they hadn’t been killing each other for centuries.  Indeed, I have heard very persuasive arguments that prior to the Safavid mobilisation of Shi’ism as its political weapon in Mesopotamia, and the resulting Ottoman mobilisation of Sunnism in response, the Sunni-Shi’ite schism had very little political significance and open sectarian conflict did not occur, because the political salience of these identities is closely tied to having powerful backers who are vying with the other group’s powerful backers. 

People in mixed societies caught in civil wars will always tell the story that the different groups used to coexist more or less peacefully, because the different groups often did coexist peacefully.  That isn’t to say that there weren’t always tensions, injustices and occasionally hostility and bitterness, but that rampaging sectarian death squads were unthinkable.  This is what civil wars do to diverse societies that fracture along ethnic or religious or political lines: people who once more or less normally lived cheek by jowl find that they are being told that they must slaughter one another or risk being slaughtered by their former neighbours.  (The explosive potential of multiethnic and multireligious societies in time of crisis should give every enthusiastic multiculti and open borders activist pause.)

Since SCIRI has long been known as a group in the employ of Tehran, it was hardly strange that she would regard many of the new leaders as agents of Iran.  That is to say, many of the people she accused of being Iranian agents were Iranian agents; many of the people she called U.S. dupes and puppets were exactly that.  Those she thought were out to feather their own nests through corruption often were corrupt.  She hasn’t said that things were “basically OK” under the old regime, but that they were manifestly better than they have been since the invasion.  No one can really dispute that, and no one even tries to do so anymore, which is why we get efforts to dismiss someone like Riverbend because she comes from the wrong background.     

Stephanopoulos: If this now declared deadline of Gen. Petraeus of September, if the political goals haven’t been met by then, do you see large scale Republican defections at that point?

Will: Absolutely. They do not want to have, as they had in 2006, another election on Iraq. George, it took 30, 40 years for the Republican Party to get out from under Herbert Hoover. People would say, “Are you going to vote for Nixon in ‘60?” “No, I don’t like Hoover.” The Depression haunted the Republican Party. This could be a foreign policy equivalent of the Depression, forfeiting the Republican advantage they’ve had since the ‘68 convention of the Democratic Party and the nomination of [George] McGovern. The advantage Republicans have had on national security matters may be forfeited. ~RCP Blog

And I thought I was pessimistic!

The RCP Blog also points to this Buckley column that has already been widely discussed elsewhere.  The column ends thus:

The general [Petraeus] makes it a point to steer away from the political implications of the struggle, but this cannot be done in the wider arena. There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican party will survive this dilemma.

There is probably a part of me that would cheer at the prospect of either one of the major parties being consigned to the ash-heap, though just a few years ago more than a few people began to think that it would be the other party that would shrivel and weaken unto death, so I don’t accept these forecasts of utter devastation and annihilation.  As things stand, the GOP is going to get shellacked again in 2008, and it will be up to the people in that party to decide whether they will learn their lesson or continue down the path to self-destruction that they are currently on. 

But not even the most soul-crushing electoral defeats normally prove to be the cause for a party’s elimination from the scene.  The Tories have suffered about as many humiliating consecutive defeats as a party can in the space of ten years and they continue to persevere in spite of themselves.  In parliamentary systems, parties may break up or rebrand themselves more often, but in our system the core interests of the Federalist-Whig-GOP continuum have remained surprisingly constant despite some marginal changes here or there.  The heart of their support has shifted geographically, but at bottom it has remained a party of corporations, finance and the Court tradition; it draws its popular support from rural, suburban and exurban America, but it remains the quintessential metropolitan party and now seems intent on forcing its metropolitan candidates down the voters’ throats. 

So long as these interests exist, there will be some party representing it, and it may as well be the same one that represents them now.  The loss of the nearly four-decade edge in national security debates will certainly hurt, since Republicans unfortunately have pinned so much on their reputation for national security and responsible foreign policy that they have allowed it to become a crutch.  For many decades the GOP could always say, “No, you may not like our social or economic policies, but we know how to handle foreign threats and run the ship of state better than those yahoos.”  Now they are “those yahoos” and have nothing left with which they can salvage their position.  In truth, aside from paying their occasional lip service to cultural issues, national security/foreign policy has become the GOP’s single unifying issue, and this has only become more true the worse Republican-managed foreign policy has been.  Iraq has simply shown the perverse lengths to which Republicans will go to maintain unity in the one area where they still command some credibility, at least with their own people.  The one thing that will absolutely ensure that Iraq makes the GOP brand unacceptable for decades is the virtually universal determination of Republican leaders and mainstream conservative pundits to keep defending and supporting the war in Iraq.  There would be appear to be no inclination to move away from these positions.  Will is not yet right about the permanent damage this war will do to the GOP, but before the end he might be.

…to be so insanely wrong in his characterisations of other conservatives that he makes me look like an ecumenical bridge-builder who looks for the best in everyone’s ideas.  I think there is a pretty big difference between objecting strongly to the betratyal of conservatism based on accurate assessments of what other people are proposing and the wild, scattershot style of condemnation that Sullivan likes to use. 

So, when will Ross apologise for his support for torture?  Oh, wait, that’s right–Ross doesn’t support the use of torture.  Neither does he obviously or necessarily favour “massive domestic spending and borrowing, aggressively religious social policy, utopian foreign policy, and evisceration of civil liberties.”  All of these things, except for the non-existent ”aggressively religious social policy,” can be laid at the door of the administration and its reflexive supporters, but to imply that everyone who proposes less rigid or doctrinaire approaches to policy thinking (no matter what they are) must be headed down the same dark path is more than a little ridiculous.  Ross’ Sam’s Club Pawlentyism is the sort of politics that, in its concrete form, isn’t noticeably different from Sullivan’s agenda.  In certain areas (social policy, particularly Ross’ interest in natalism, immediately leaps to mind), it is probably much less leftist. 

Of course, to Sullivan “aggressively religious social policy” means a politician mildly suggesting in a stump speech that homosexuality may not be exactly what God intended.  As we all know from Sullivan’s dreadful book, this is not conservatism, but “fundamentalism,” which is an amazing social movement that happens to include everyone except for Andrew Sullivan and perhaps his two dogs (and we’re not so sure that the dogs aren’t just theocon agents in disguise). 

I’m a pretty relentless purist by the standards of most folks today, so I don’t object to these sorts of critiques as such, but there’s something more than a little comic about the man who wants a carbon tax and universal health care lecturing anyone about deviations from the conservative norm, much less accusing them of abandoning conservatism for holding positions not much more to the left than his own.  How exactly did a socially liberal Rockefeller Republican of Sullivan’s sort persuade himself that he is actually the last of the true Goldwaterites?       

There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely entirely on unverified, crudely oversimplified computer models to finger mankind’s sinful contribution. Devoid of any sustaining scientific basis, carbon trafficking is powered by guilt, credulity, cynicism and greed, just like the old indulgences, though at least the latter produced beautiful monuments. ~Alexander Cockburn

Without going into the comparison to the sale of indulgences that he makes, I have to say that Mr. Cockburn is making a good deal of sense here.  He points out the much higher carbon dioxide concentrations that existed in the Eocene.  Somehow life went on and actually flourished.  Then there is this:

Water covers 71 per cent of the surface of the planet. As compared to the atmosphere, there’s at least a hundred times more CO2 in the oceans, dissolved as carbonate. As the postglacial thaw progresses the oceans warm up, and some of the dissolved carbon emits into the atmosphere, just like fizz in soda water taken out of the fridge. “So the greenhouse global warming theory has it ass backwards,” Hertzberg concludes. “It is the warming of the earth that is causing the increase of carbon dioxide and not the reverse.” He has recently had vivid confirmation of that conclusion. Several new papers show that for the last three quarter million years CO2 changes always lag global temperatures by 800 to 2,600 years.

But, no, pay no attention to any of this–there’s a scientific “consensus” and we all must run screaming (after ratifying Kyoto) into the night.

What’s more, McCain argues on the basis of unmatched experience, including real military experience. None of the other candidates has so much as tried on a uniform. ~Niall Ferguson

I suppose if you must be a madcap warmonger, it doesn’t hurt that you at least have served in the military in wartime and suffered tremendously as a prisoner of war.  Then again, nothing better debunks the idea that military experience yields foreign policy wisdom than the case of John McCain.

Ironically, the correct comparison is to the Republican Party in the United States. This is a political party that draws much of its support from the political mobilization of Christian sentiment. ~Matt Yglesias

Yglesias is responding to a Michael Rubin item here, which was an update on his original post about anti-AK rallies.  The comparisons with Christian Democrats and Republicans alike are pretty sorry, and I’ll tell you why.  AK is an allegedly ”reformed” Islamist party, which means that it has changed absolutely nothing about itself except for its packaging and rhetoric.  Christian Democratic parties are typically very secular outfits in practice, even if most of their voters are still nominal or active churchgoers.  The Republicans are even more secular in practice and more secular in the makeup of their constituencies in that even most “conservative Christians” in America are political secular liberals through and through when it comes to the relationship between government and religion.  Yes, there is a part of the GOP that is itself fairly religious and this occasionally carries over into the party’s policy prescriptions in very limited ways, but this part does not even constitute the substance of the whole.  

AK is a party of political Islam, voted into power by Islamist voters and they make up virtually the entirety of the party.  AK (standing for the Turkish for Justice & Development: Adalet ve Kalkinma) is the redesigned, “acceptable” form of the National Salvation, Welfare, Virtue, Felicity and Motherland parties that came before it.  The constituencies of these successive parties are essentially the same–Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul as a member of Welfare.  If Islamist governments are generally undesirable or ultimately incompatible with constitutional government, the Turkish AK government must be found similarly wanting.  It might be that Kemalism is doomed to collapse and an Islamist Turkey is unavoidable, so it might be wise to learn how to live with that kind of Turkey, but pretending that AK is just the GOP or CDU with a headscarf is not the correct response.   

Or, as I wrote a couple years back:

The example of Turkey is not heartening, as it took a full seventy years from the establishment of the republic before a mostly free election could result in the election of a government the majority truly desired, and even that government was soon thrown out on account of its Islamism. Only by minimising its Islamism in public and in its rhetoric has Mr. Erdogan’s party been allowed by the army and the constitutional court to remain in power–this is hardly the ideal situation to hold up as proof of a successful synthesis of Islam and democracy. Turkey’s secular republic has succeeded in becoming more democratic to the extent that it has because its republican reforms very deliberately circumscribed the role of Islam in public and political life. The two are inherently incompatible–one must give way for the other to advance…

If the conservative movement’s domestic policy vision ran from Ponnuru on the right to Brooks on the left, well … Andrew might not be happy with the result (though I think his differences with both men are often more a matter of emphases and rhetoric than policy substance), but I’m pretty sure the GOP wouldn’t be staring disaster quite so squarely in the face. ~Ross Douthat

I take what I think is Ross’ point about domestic policy inflexibility, but in what ways have the movement and the Republicans really refused to attempt to advance a domestic policy agenda that stretches from Ponnuru to Brooks?  Has it been too much on Ponnuru’s side, or too much on Brooks’?  As a dissident looking in, I have the sense that it may be the fact that the movement’s policy agenda is so narrow in that it can only join together people as “far apart” as Ponnuru and Brooks.  My impression is that you could fit such a “big tent” in the average backyard with lots of room to spare.   

Domestic policy is much more Ross’ cup of tea than mine, so I imagine he has examples I’m not thinking of, but what policy initiatives should they have undertaken that they have instead rejected out of fidelity to the imaginaire of the conservative champion Reagan and their alleged stubborn George Allen-like orthodoxy?  Also, would these desirable changes in domestic policy priorities have helped stave off or noticeably ameliorate Iraq and corruption-induced defeat last year?  Is savvy, inspired domestic policy ever enough to significantly reduce the damage from a failed foreign policy venture? 

If avoiding disaster is the goal (as one might assume it would be), shouldn’t conservatives and Republicans be thinking of ways to go “back to Taft” (or maybe back to La Follette!) in foreign policy rather than pursuing the somewhat chimerical Goldwater-Reagan redivivus?  The former would seem to have more of a natural constituency and more immediate practical application.  That being the case, isn’t it rather odd that almost all Republican presidential candidates are not terribly critical of the current direction of foreign policy, but all of them have numerous divergences from the old smaller government, lower tax mantra?  The presidential field seems to be taking stabs at the sort of domestic policy innovation I believe Ross is referring to in his post, but will any of it matter if they, the party and the movement remain overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in Iraq “until the job is done”? 

The problem for Obama is that his failure to be more supportive of Israel will not be forgotten by those for whom this is a dealbreaker, which includes not only a fair share of Democratic donors, but also a significant voting bloc in states like New York and Florida. ~Susan Estrich

As I have already said, I thought Williams’ “name the top three allies” question was ridiculous.  Even assuming that this was not simply a roundabout way to set up a candidate to talk about the eternal bond with Israel that shall never be broken (or whatever it is you are supposed to say to satisfy some people), it was a terrible question.  If it was not much more than an indirect way to say, “So, Obama, how much do you love Israel?”, it is a bad joke.  On what planet is Israel one of our three most important allies?  More important than Britain, Germany and Japan?  Really? 

But neither the New Mexico governor nor the two senators with the most time in office said or did anything that ignited the sparks you need to move up in the hierarchy of the race, which inevitably becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. ~Susan Estrich

This is something I hate about the political media.  The “hierarchy” didn’t exist four months ago until political journalists created it by dubbing the people they had chosen to write about the most the “most viable,” and then the pundits, who are lower on the political media food chain, reinforce the mythical hierarchy by treating it as if it were an actual structure that just came into being on its own.  The only reason why the “frontrunners” have managed to establish themselves as presumptive favourites is that they are already famous and have access to money because of their fame, while lesser-known candidates, who are inevitably better qualified and would probably be better at the position, must complete Herculean labours before they will even be given a brief look.  Then, once someone gives them a brief look, he declares them hopeless because they have not completed all twleve Herculean labours.    

Obama was as jittery as an aged Katharine Hepburn [bold mine-DL], and gave away the natural advantage of his tremendous intellect by failing to provide any specifics. He shied away from engaging frontrunner Clinton and appeared timid and uninformed. His candidacy can’t afford another appearance this bad. ~Kevin Hassett

On the other side, Mr. Hassett believes nuestro gubernador became the credible challenger for the nomination, which is what amateur election observers who have already picked Richardson as the winner, as I have, want to hear. 

Of course, Mr. Hassett works at AEI on economic policy and served as a McCain advisor in 2000, so it’s entirely possible that he understands very little about electoral politics.

Rove is more than a symbol. He is the architect of Bush’s election triumphs and an influential player in pushing the president’s agenda. He represents Republican success. ~Fred Barnes

So you have peculiar situations where authors can report an unending sequence of facts which suggest an epoch of relative material scarcity and decreased social complexity who just won’t admit that judged by these metrics there was a downsizing. ~Razib

I have a couple points expanding on my original response to Razib’s otherwise very good review of Ward-Perkins’ new book.  First, perhaps there are such people as Razib describes, but we would need to be specific about this.  Which authors actually say, “The cities shrank, everyone was poorer and trade weakened, but you cannot say that any of these things actually got worse in material terms“?  The entire argument revolves around which standards you are using to judge the civilisation.  Obviously when judged by material wealth, the scale and frequency of building, levels of trade, the size of the military, the vitality of civic institutions, etc., things got worse, especially after the 4th century and even more so in the sixth and seventh.  The curial class really did effectively collapse by the sixth century, both because the state made it an undesirable role to have and the function it fulfilled ceased to possess the significance that it once had; other institutions (the bureaucracy and Church mainly) were developing that proved more attractive to the leading men of the cities; reduced means and increased burdens made the responsibilities of the curiales harder and harder to meet.  I have no problem acknowledging that the curial class vanished and that this was a change for the worse if we’re talking about preserving the traditional form of the Roman city.  What I am not going to do is beat my breast and lament the departure from late Roman urbanism, since it is not really the purpose of an historian to approach things this way.  Besides, there’s more than one way to assess the accomplishments of a civilisation.  Arguably, given the reduced material conditions of the postclassical period the cultural production of the Mediterranean Christian world in these centuries should be regarded as even more impressive than they already are; these societies managed to produce works of enduring importance and, one might argue, greater value in much more straitened cirucmstances.  The point is not to get into some fruitless back-and-forth over whose period is better, but simply to insist that narratives that privilege one era over another have unhealthy distorting effects on the study of both periods and they cause scholars to constantly look for those things that “anticipate” the decline of the “‘higher” period rather than approaching the evidence less tendentiously.   

Second, it is more likely that the authors who stress change and transformation rather than speaking in terms of decline are historians primarily concerned with questions of meaning and social function, and so do not have much to say about the “relative material scarcity” except to acknowledge that it existed.  Consequently, the ways in which late antique society are not like its grand, paradigmatic classical forerunner are only interesting insofar as they actually illuminate the characteristics of late antique society.  It is better to understand why people lit a votive candle at a saint’s shrine than curse the “Dark Ages.” 

For good or ill (I tend to think it ill), institutional history today generally is in decline (though it has not yet fallen!), while narratives of ”decline and fall” has everything to do with the decline and fall of institutions, whether civic, fiscal, political or military.  Narratives of decline and fall are inevitably focused on the state.  In these narratives, state-building is civilisation is progress.  In a similarly overwrought way, disintegration of the state equals barbarism equals general decay.  There is also more than a little of this applied to the progressive nationalist telling of American, German and Italian (and even early Chinese) history.  According to these views, you are presented with the following absurdities: the genius of American republicanism was somehow secured and made better after the War of Secession under such giants as Grant and Hayes; Leibniz, Goethe, Schiller and Kant were the products of an inferior culture because they lived before  unification; the Quattrocento was the product of a period of Italian decadence because there was frequent warfare between the cities; it was better that the Warring States period that produced Confucius, Mo-tzu and Laotzu, among others, gave way to the stifling centralisation of the Ch’in and the Legalists.  It would seem clear that state-centered narratives of progress and decline are deeply flawed, which is one reason why late antique historians have done all they can to get rid of such a model of the late Roman period. 

Ironically, Byzantine studies is one of the last holdouts for scholars focusing on institutions, even though by the standards of the older classicists Byzantine institutions are all degraded and sub-par (don’t even get them started on the monasteries).  There is always a danger that history will fall into these patterns because so much of the record comes from state records or chronicles and other sources that tend to privilege what the political leadership is doing.  Of course, there is some truth in any narrative tying state formation with advantages in terms of internal security and peace, and there is certainly great importance in understanding institutional structures of any society.  What late antique historians will keep insisting on, I think, is that they want to keep those things in a balance with the study of society, culture and religion.  If man does not live by bread alone, neither should we measure the worth of a civilisation simply or primarily by the continuation of the annona.    

At first, I thought my improved rank in the TTLB ecosystem had something to do with the greater attention Eunomia had received lately (and, of course, all the fine content that you are being provided).  It seems that I was kidding myself.  The entire ranking system seems to have gone haywire.  I was alerted to just how wrong things were when I noticed a few impossibilities: Don Surber was in the top ten, and Instapundit, Michelle Malkin and The Corner had all dramatically dropped into insignificance.  Goodness knows we all hope for such a day, but I think we have to assume that there was a major glitch somewhere.

For the past few months, while he has virtually been crowned Antiwar Republican Demigod by certain enthusiasts, I have complained that Chuck Hagel said a lot of promising-sounding things but never actually did anything.  Well, okay, he is at least doing something now.  It isn’t much, and it doesn’t reflect a foreign policy vision all that terribly different from the rest of his party (the divergence from which may be an unreasonable expectation on my part), but it is something.  Robert Novak reports his recent conversation with Hagel, who continues to describe a deteriorating situation in Iraq, and Novak concludes by saying:

Hagel represents millions of Republicans who are repelled by the Democrats’ personal assault on President Bush but are deeply unhappy about his course in Iraq.

I suppose I have a hard time understanding antiwar Hagel admirers because I have a hard time understanding the thinking behind the position Novak has described here.  This sentence seems to say: Hagel represents millions of Republicans who are deeply confused.  This might be an accurate statement of political reality, but it is hardly the image of Chuck “Taking A Stand” Hagel that this column is supposed to show.  The bumper sticker slogan does not make the heart leap: “Vote Hagel–he’s just as confused and ambivalent about Iraq as you are!”  Think about this for a moment.  If you are deeply unhappy about a very important policy, and the President from your party is the main supporter and advocate of that policy and seems completely oblivious to the damage it is doing to country and party, shouldn’t you be very annoyed with the President?  Shouldn’t you want a “personal assault” (politically speaking) on such a person?  Shouldn’t you want the opposition to him to be as strong as it possibly can be?  Apparently not.  Apparently your tribune is Chuck “Go Sell Shoes” Hagel.

Meanwhile, House Republicans who bit the bullet and went on record in a nonbinding resolution opposing the “surge” have been met with contempt back home:

With public opinion tilting firmly toward ending U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.) might have expected praise for his votes that would start to bring the troops home. Instead, at town hall meetings on the Eastern Shore, the former Marine and Vietnam combat veteran has been called a coward and a traitor.

Now it seems to me that the rather more cowardly thing most House members did was to vote against that resolution even though they knew it had no binding consequences and they knew that they would suffer politically with their core voters.  Unreasonable war supporters will be, well, unreasonable, but these folks have some nerve to call cowardly one of the few dissenters from the party line people like them impose on their representatives. 

But if there are indeed “millions of Republicans” who feel as Hagel does, why are there episodes like this one in eastern Maryland?  Either the “millions of Republicans” who share Hagel’s dissatisfaction with the war are quiescent and don’t attend town hall meetings, none of them lives in Gilchrest’s district in Maryland (which is one of the relatively more evenly-split, moderate Republican-held districts) or perhaps they are the sort who like to grumble about Mr. Bush’s war behind closed doors but don’t like anyone actually doing anything practical to register this opposition.  I have no idea.  I would very much like to know where these “millions of Republicans” are, because there do not seem to be very many who live in any Republican-held districts.  Could it be that the approximately 30% of Republicans opposed to the “surge” all live in districts represented by Democrats anyway?  Could war support among constituents of the GOP’s rump House caucus actually be substantially higher than the national Republican average?  Such a thing would be almost as baffling as it would be horrifying. 

The reaction in South Carolina was more predictable, because Bob Inglis’ district was always a lot more conventionally mainstream conservative (and therefore, I’m sorry to say, that much more easily propagandised by the idiocies of Hugh Hewitt and friends):

After Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) voted for a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush’s troop increases, reaction in his district was so furious that local GOP officials all but invited a primary challenge to the reliable conservative. Inglis responded with multiple mailings to his constituents, fence-mending efforts and a video message on his House Web site pleading his case. On subsequent Iraq votes, he has not strayed from the Republican fold.   

Meanwhile, the alleged defeatist and peacenik Sam Brownback continues to make liars of his pro-war critics (a role to which they are presumably quite accustomed):

“This isn’t the way to go,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said of the Democrats’ bill yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” “This is assured defeat. Defeat will happen in America, not in Iraq. That’s not what the American people want.”

In light of the appalling overall conformity of GOP rank-and-file sentiment on the war, I suppose Hagel’s stand is rather more impressive than I usually admit.  He is coping with a political reality in the modern GOP that seems to beggar reason and common sense, and under the circumstances he has been reasonably consistent, albeit still pretty far from heroic Lawrence-esque ”don’t give up the ship!” defiance. 

Eight years later, it is Clinton who is running for president, and Penn, 53, is her chief strategist. While not her campaign manager in name, Penn controls the main elements of her campaign, most important her attempt to define herself to an electorate seemingly ready for a Democratic president but possibly still suffering from Clinton fatigue. ~The Washington Post

Via Yglesias

This idea of Clinton fatigue has been going around for some time, and I remain unpersuaded that such a thing exists except among all those people who would never vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances and who never did vote for Clinton.  Goodness knows, I am tired of Hillary Clinton, but then I am also tired of all of the presidential candidates and it is still only April 2007.  As for everyone else, not only does there seem to be a troubling lack of Clinton fatigue, but there also seems to be an undue level of Clinton enthusiasm (except among the Obamaniacs).  Someone needs to explain to me why the roughly two-thirds of the country that continued to approve of Bill Clinton’s performance as President through his final day are supposed to feel fatigued by the idea of another Clinton.  This is especially unclear when this is after the public has experienced, in all its unpleasantness, the consequences of choosing (twice!) the candidate whose great virtue in 2000 was that he was not tied to Clinton.  Remember the guy who was going to bring back integrity and honour to the office?  So much for that. 

An association with Clinton was once considered in certain circles the political kiss of death, but today it might be a boost.  After what will be almost eight years of Bush, the appeal of some sort of return to something like the ’90s (whose nostalgic value has skyrocketed under Mr. Bush) is probably going to be a lot stronger than many are allowing.  Obama is banking on the exact opposite being true, which is why he has pithced his campaign (rather incredibly) as a departure from the bad, old days of partisan bickering, but my impression of the country’s mood is not so much that it wants amity and bipartisanship as it wants the government to stop enormously screwing up everything it touches.  “Let’s get back to Clinton-era levels of incompetence and corruption!” could be Hillary’s winning slogan. 

All of this doesn’t mean that Clinton would be anything but a complete horror as President, but at the moment I don’t quite understand the argument for why the general public is supposed to be tired of the name Clinton.  It seems to me that some people talk about Clinton fatigue as a way to counterbalance to the very real Bush fatigue that almost everyone has (perhaps it has even reached Barney).  My guess is that those who want to push the “Clinton fatigue” meme the most are the people who feel bitter that Jeb Bush cannot run for President because of his last name.

A Thompson run would be a serious, possibly fatal, blow to the prospects of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who hopes to emerge (against either McCain or Giuliani) as the “conservative alternative.” Thompson would be a rival for that role, and the announcement of his candidacy would create at least a temporary boomlet that would eclipse Romney if the former governor had not already increased his standing in key polls. ~Stuart Rothenburg

You have to appreciate the willingness of Republican voters to avoid the exhausting pursuit of authenticity.  In spite of the supposed yearning for the return of Reagan, Republicans have been only too happy to state considerable support for an occasional cross-dresser, a media darling, a monumental fraud, a stunning hypocrite and an actor.  It now seems to me (and Stuart Rothenburg) that Thompson should hurt Romney quite a lot if and when Thompson joins the race.  In the past, I have assumed that Fred Thompson’s candidacy was absurd and of no importance, but as I have since discovered his candidacy is only too viable and it is the democratic process that is truly and uncompromisingly absurd.   

The subtle and learned James Poulos believes Thompson’s candidacy does not hurt Romney.  Let me offer an explanation for why I now think this probably is the case.  First of all, there’s not enough room for two pretenders in the race.  Romney is pretending to be a conservative, and Fred Thompson the actor will be pretending that he is a viable candidate for President.  Thompson, as one skilled in the art of pretending, will do a much better job in his chosen role than Romney can do in his, so much so that otherwise sane people will buy Thompson’s candidacy when they will not buy Romney’s conservatism.  Where Thompson’s pretense will seem charming and endearing, Romney’s will continue to be seen as embarrassing and insulting to thinking people everywhere.  If you believe Dobson, Thompson is not really a Christian, but if true this also hurts Romney, who is also not really a Christian.  There is the possibility that Thompson threatens to undermine Romney in that pivotal ”non-Christian conservative” voting bloc.  Thompson drives a pickup truck; Romney made his announcement surrounded by “cars and memories,” including his dad’s model compact car, the Rambler.  In the GOP primaries, the pickup truck beats the Rambler every day.  Thompson and Romney are both rich, but Romney’s entire persona screams “corporate robot,” while Thompson’s lawyer/actor past (which ought to make him completely untrustworthy) oddly makes him seem more accessible and, well, human.  Then there is the matter that Thompson is actually credible when he says he is pro-life, while Romney never will be.  Both of them are almost unhinged in their Persophobia, but again Thompson wins the contest because he has been seen on television in military uniform in a movie and Romney has not.        

In Colorado, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard’s decision not to seek reelection set the stage for one of the nation’s most competitive 2008 races. But the top choice of party leaders, former Rep. Scott McInnis, has taken a pass, citing family reasons. McInnis had nearly $1 million stockpiled for the race. ~The Los Angeles Times

The rest of the article details GOP weakness in candidate recruiting and fundraising for next year, as many of the more promising potential candidates have been discovering “family reasons” and the like with greater frequency.  Give Mr. Bush credit for this–he is encouraging more Republican politicians to put their families first!  The reason?  Well, the political environment for Republican candidates is a little difficult right now (the words “poisonous” and “toxic” litter the article). 

Then there was this item:

Broader signs of Republican distress also are turning up across the country.

When voters five years ago were asked which party they identified with, neither Democrats nor Republicans held an advantage. Now 50% of voters say they are aligned with the Democrats, and 35% with Republicans, according to a survey released last month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Those are the sorts of party identification numbers you see in New Mexico, where the state GOP hasn’t held power in over seven decades.  The so-called 50-50 nation is very, very dead.  Mr. Bush and Iraq killed it.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership continues to whistle past the graveyeard:

“No question, the president’s gone through a rough patch. But the central figure for the Republicans next year is not going to be George Bush,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

A rough patch?  Bill Clinton went through a “rough patch” when he got impeached.  Politically speaking, the last two years for Bush have been like someone driving off a cliff, hitting a power line and then falling into a burning building.  It’s true that Bush will not be the “central figure” next year.  He’ll just be the President whose terrible decisions haunt the next GOP nominee wherever he goes like some dread wraith.  But he won’t be the central figure–they could have someone like Giuliani to rally around!  No wonder Republicans are depressed. 

For a time. Once the frenzy of the nominating campaign was over, Royal proved a candidate so weak as to horrify the Socialist rank and file. For a politician who speaks so often about listening to ordinary people, she is authoritarian in private, according to Eric Besson, a snubbed top aide who gave a bestselling book-length interview this spring before defecting to the Sarkozy camp. She does not have an intellect of the very top caliber and she is not built for the unglamorous, reflective business of organizing, course-setting, and administration. In a way that will remind Americans of their own president, she misspeaks almost constantly. A practical joker got her cell phone number and tricked her into endorsing the independence of Quebec. On a trip to China, she told an official that France could learn a lot from China’s speedy justice system. Meaning to attack one of her detractors for his misplaced wit (esprit), she accused him of spiritualité (spirituality). People understood what she meant, but it was like calling Greeks “Grecians.” ~Christopher Caldwell

Personally, I like it. ~Robert Kagan on Obama’s foreign policy

It’s hardly a secret that Obama is a rabid interventionist.  He didn’t exactly hide this in the past, and with his foreign policy speech last week he has made it clear just how far out there he is.  Not that this should surprise anyone–Obama is a progressive internationalist working in a long, bad tradition of progressive internationalists from Woodrow Wilson to George Bush.  It is typical, and typically wrong, for Kagan to treat Obama’s speech as some sort of departure from his left-liberalism.  It is entirely consistent with his left-liberalism, and that’s yet another problem with his foreign policy. 

If the Post, the establishment’s unofficial propaganda organ, has nice things to say about it, look out.  If Robert Kagan likes someone’s foreign policy, it’s fair to say that this policy will be bad for this country.  That alone is reason enough to hope for Obama’s defeat.  It would also seem to render completely absurd recent attempts to portray Obama as some sort of wimpy dove.

Kagan confirms my reading of the speech and stresses just how insanely interventionist Obama is:

It’s not just international do-goodism. To Obama, everything and everyone everywhere is of strategic concern to the United States. “We cannot hope to shape a world where opportunity outweighs danger unless we ensure that every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy.” The “security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” Realists, call your doctors.

They are like people quietly marching to their doom. ~David Brooks on the GOP

Brooks’ observation about the miserable state of the GOP is interesting, but does he really think that the presidential candidates for ‘08 are competing for the “George Allen” vote?  No one would compete for the “George Allen” vote as such if you put a gun to his head.  Which brings me to the other point I wanted to make: how did the GOP fall so far that George Allen has come to symbolise mainline conservatism?  I am not exactly what you might call a fan of the Republicans, but even I would not smear them with this association at this point.

On the plus side, Brooks’ column does have one very funny line that I think my readers will appreciate:

The libertarians and paleoconservatives have been losing for so long they are suddenly quite interesting.

But I do think that those who claim the gentleman from Kansas is such a conservative rock star (see our previous posts on the silliness of the Conservative Messiah Watch) ought to be a little more careful given that his views on the most pressing issue of our time–the war against jihadists who want to kill us–more closely resemble those of a Democratic also-ran than anyone else’s. ~Charles Mitchell

I know it is some sort of job requirement for Romneyites to say things that embarrass the cause of their champion, but I have been fascinated to watch as they keep trying to find something about Sam Brownback that is actually supposed to offend conservatives who are inclined to support Mitt Romney.  It is possible for conservatives to take aim at Brownback’s many weaknesses on immigration, foreign policy and the like, but it is only possible to do this when your conservative policy alternatives are actually better and more conservative than those being offered by Brownback.  In almost every case, Romneyites cannot do this, because their man proposes policies that are at least as foolish or wrongheaded as anything Brownback has; since he is not a conservative, he cannot really credibly propose policies that are demonstrably more conservative.  If Sam Brownback happens to agree with Joe Biden that partition of Iraq is the right solution to the present mess, he may well be wrong, but he is not obviously wrong simply because Joe Biden takes the same view.  Partition is a bad idea, but I wouldn’t expect Romney to be able to explain why.  Romney, for his part, has no plan for Iraq, and only mentions Iraq obliquely and rarely in a speech that focuses overwhelmingly on Iran.  Romney replaces his impressive lack of any attention on Iraq with a lot of alarmism and deception:

Whether it’s Hamas or Hezbollah; Al Qaeda or Shia and Sunni extremists, there is an overarching goal among the violent Jihadists - and it transcends borders and boundaries.  That goal is to replace all modern Islamic states with a religious caliphate, to destroy Israel, to cause the collapse of the West and the United States, and to conquer the entire world.

This is what we in the business like to call “crazy,” or more simply stunningly wrong.  Shi’ites by definition don’t want a caliphate–the whole caliphal project didn’t work out well for them the first time, now, did it?  Not that Mitt “Patria O Muerte“ Romney, master of the ignorant soundbite, would know this.  Hizbullah wants power in Lebanon.  It actually doesn’t care about the United States, except insofar as we are involved with Israel and actively opposing them inside Lebanon; the rest of the West is entirely irrelevant to Hizbullah’s goals.  Only in the broadest sense that all of these people are Muslims is it true to say that they want to conquer the world at some point, in that it is imperative to seek the reduction of all lands to the rule of Islam.  However, that requirement would extend to all Muslims and not simply the ones that happen to fall in certain countries that some folks have decided must be our enemies.  Romney’s vision is Santorumesque in its zany breadth and ideological fervour.  If I were a Romneyite, I would be doing all I could to make sure that no one read this speech, lest they think my candidate was nothing more than a clueless regurgitator of the bad slogans of others.  His continued inability or unwillingness to articulate any plan on what to do in Iraq makes him a candidate who refuses to speak about the preeminent and immediate policy question of the day.  He can talk about jihad all he likes, but if he has virtually nothing to say about Iraq one way or the other at this point in the campaign he is not fit to be President.

Romney gave his speech at Yeshiva University and uses the word chutzpah within the first two paragraphs.  At least he didn’t say that la ilaha ill’allah is an inspiring phrase that should belong to Judaism.

I would never have thought it possible, but Cornel West is actually making some sense about Obama and the other presidential candidates.

Recently, there have been a few statements about pre-war Iraqi society that would appear to flatly contradict each other.  One comes from Ali Allawi’s new book The Occupation of Iraq (via Fouad Ajami’s review in The New Republic and a helpful reader of this blog):

Essentially, it was based on the recognition by the Shi’a elite that they might have some share of central power, within limits that would satisfy the more ambitious of their leaders. But they should not aspire to control or run the state, even though their numbers might warrant this. At the same time, the state, dominated by the Sunni Arabs, would recognize and acknowledge the props of Shi’a identity, and would not move to alter or shrink them in any significant way. Essentially, the Sunni Arabs controlled the state, while the Shi’a were allowed to keep their civil, mercantile and religious traditions. It was a precarious balance, but it held the potential for improvement and progress towards a common sense of citizenship, duties and entitlements. Successive governments in the 1960s and 1970s, however, foolishly destroyed this. The state removed the elements that kept a vigorous Shi’a identity alive in parallel to a Sunni- dominated state. Nationalizations, emigration and expulsions destroyed the Shi’a mercantilist class; the state monopoly on education, publishing and the media removed the cultural underpinnings of Shi’a life; and the attack on Najaf and the religious hierarchy came close to completely eliminating the hawzas of Iraq. When the state embarked on the mass killings after the 1991 uprisings, Iraq became hopelessly compromised in the minds of most Shi’a.

Christopher Hitchens, in full jingo-exculpation mode, has latched on to Allawi’s book as proof that Iraq would have collapsed (presumably complete with mosque-bombings and massacres) whether or not there had been an invasion.  This might well be true, just as it was probably true of Yugoslavia that artificial, post-WWI entities that no longer commanded the loyalty of most of the inhabitants over and above their more immediate identities could survive in a world of resurgent ethnic, religious and national politics.  This in no way makes it any more justifiable that Western powers helped to speed up the process of dissolution in both cases.  Besides being flatly the opposite of everything the jingoes said before the invasion (in their telling, Sunni would lie down with Shia and usher in an age of harmony), the strange thing about this argument is that it seems to say that just because a man is already dying from cancer it is acceptable to slip polonium into his tea (he was going to die anyway!) or that it is appropriate to inflame the grievances between estranged friends until one of them kills the other because they were already on pretty bad terms.  Perhaps Hitchens would justify murder in this way by saying, “Well, we’ve all got to go sometime,” as if the act of murder didn’t have some direct impact on the timing and nature of the departure! 

About this “inevitable collapse” argument, I have two things to say: 1) deep cultural and religious loyalties never preclude the exercise of agency, though they will constrain and shape it; 2) the active politicisation of sectarianism and ethnicity in the vaunted democratic elections (the “purple finger” that Hanson et al. want to see so much more of in news coverage) was a direct cause of the violent contestation for supremacy between the sects in Iraq.  Once sect and ethnicity were confirmed as legitimate political dividing lines and those identities were invested with significance as markers of political status, rather than being deemphasised as much as possible, violence was unavoidable.  The nightmare that Iraq has become undoubtedly owes much to its fragmented society and brutal history, but it owes a great deal to the inflammation and mobilisation of rival religious and ethnic identities in the “democratic” present as well.  The nationalist expulsions and massacres of the late 19th and early 20th century across central and eastern Europe and Anatolia did not just “happen” as if by some chemical reaction–they were actively fomented by those ‘progressive’ nationalist elements who sought to build their identity and their nation on the blood of others.  If a given country is a powerful mix of explosive and conflicting identities that could erupt into a hellish mess, it would seem that the people who come into that country by way of setting off a lot of explosions and introducing a lot of instability, both physical and figurative, bear a whole lot of responsibility for starting the chain reaction.  Hitchens would very much like to deny this now, since he was and remains a proponent of lighting the fuse.

Against the “inevitable collapse” argument, we have the final post of Riverbend, who has opted to leave the country:

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. [bold mine-DL] They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq’s history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven’t been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn’t know what our neighbors were- we didn’t care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

Not only does Riverbend tend to carry more authority in my eyes than the dreadful Christopher Hitchens and the self-justifying Iraqi exile (we didn’t ruin Iraq–it was already too far gone!), but her statement about pre-war Iraqi society makes a lot of sense. 

A crucial thing about these sorts of identities is that they do not often become points of contention unless power, status and wealth are directly associated with belonging to this group rather than that.  Even when belonging to a certain group entails relative marginalisation, this does not necessarily create inevitable enmity between the ruling and the marginalised groups. 

Some will object that I am being too reductionist here.  I don’t mean to say that these identities do not have any meaning independent of these other factors, when they clearly have very powerful meaning in and of themselves and only exist because they give people meaning, but the causes for actual conflict between different groups are closely tied to contestation for power.  Some may object that this absolutely obvious, but it is surprising how few people appreciate this.  In the rather limited thinking of some, religious fratricide is possible only if the two sides have had a blood-feud dating back to medieval times and ethnic cleansing and genocide can only be explained by “centuries” of hatred, when the causes are almost always much more immediate and proximate.  There are those who insist on an essentialist understanding of identity, according to which being X must have always entailed being against those who are Y (abstract nationalists tend to be the worst essentialists, because they are always defining themselves by their perpetual opposition to some other people), while others believe that a constructivist account renders identity, especially a religious or ethnic identity, to be ultimately nothing more than the product of other socioeconomic factors.  The former have a hard time believing that coexistence has ever been possible in the past (in nationalist histories, these periods are always periods of national decadence and foreign pollution), while the latter have a hard time believing that anyone can actually care about something so supposedly meaningless.  Both are wrong and obviously so. 

In societies in which less immediate or more universal identities take precedence, more immediate loyalties and identities tend to get deemphasised or they are actively suppressed by the enforcers of the broader identity.  It is when those broader identities break down or lose their significance that some form of the more immediate loyalties rushes to fill the cultural space they abandoned.  Thus party loyalty and “Yugoslav” solidarity gave way to more immediate ethnic and religious attachments; once the fragile shell of Iraqi nationalism and the lid of Baathism were removed and public authority broke down, a return to tribal and sectarian loyalties was bound to happen, if only as a means of self-preservation amid chaos.  However, the outsiders who actively helped subvert and destroy every basis for unity and common identity in the name of “liberation” have a bloody cheek to talk about how the fratricidal horror unfolding before us was “inevitable.”

Heidi, a recent college graduate from Florida, wonders whether the war will eventually collapse on the Green Zone, the way it did on the U.S. embassy in Saigon. But she doesn’t let that occupy her for long. Looking down at the empty glass in her hand, she smiles and says, “Let’s do a shot.” ~Brian Bennett

Why is it that that I can imagine that many of the top policymakers in the executive branch have done the same thing for the last several years?  

Turn on the television and the reporting is all hate:  a Middle Eastern Muslim is blowing up someone in Israel, shooting a rocket from Gaza, chanting death to America in Beirut, stoning an adulterer in Tehran, losing a hand for thievery in Saudi Arabia, threatening to take back Spain, gassing someone in Iraq, or promising to wipe out Israel. An unhinged, secular Khadafi rants; a decrepit Saudi royal lectures; a wild-eyed Lebanese cleric threatens — whatever the country, whatever the political ideology, the American television viewer draws the same conclusion:  we are always blamed for their own self-inflicted misery. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Hanson has here reached some new plane of neocon propaganda that almost defies description.  Having been among those who insisted that “the swamp” of anti-Americanism was one of the reasons that we had to go into Iraq–to build the transformative model Arab democracy that would inspire a thousand ballot initiatives or some such nonsense–and having painted this virulent and widespread anti-Americanism as a product of the foreign policy that privileged stability over reform, and having rung the alarm bell about about the crazy Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese et al. who want us and our families dead, we are now being told, basically, that the media is not reporting all of the good news from the entire region about how much Muslims like us deep down.  Americans would understand just how grateful and appreciative the Iraqis are if only those lousy journalists would report the real news! 

Naturally, if the media tried to portray Near Eastern societies as complex and changing structures in which admiration for America coexists with hatred for American policy, they would then immediately be hit by some other propagandist for “hiding the truth” about rabid anti-Americanism, “blaming America first” (by pinning blame for anti-Americanism on the bad policies that Hanson et al. advance) and for their egregious liberal and multiculti biases that cause them to regard people in the Near East as human.  This is really stunning to see: someone who has spent the last several years whipping up chauvinism and contempt for many of the people in the Near East now wants to tell us that the people over there aren’t all that bad.  More pitiful is the running theme of the entire column, which seems to be a complaint that life isn’t fair. 

Then consider this part:

And various other polls reveal that only about 20% of Americans are in sympathy with the Palestinians. Egypt alone of the major Arab countries rates a favorable impression; most others — Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia — evoke high levels of American negativity.

Why might that be?  It couldn’t have anything to do with the propagandists who daily churn out anti-Syrian and anti-Palestinian rhetoric! 

Not long ago I talked to a right-wing hardnosed fellow in a conservative central California town about the need to stay and finish the task of stabilizing the democracy in Iraq and rectifying the disastrous aftermath of 1991. He wasn’t buying. Instead he kept ranting about the war in the ‘more rubble, less trouble’ vein. And his anger wasn’t only over our costs in lives and treasure.  So I finally asked him exactly why the venom over Iraq. He shouted, “I don’t like them sons of bitches over there — any of ’em.” His was a sort of echo of Bismarck’s oft-quoted “The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” ~Victor Davis Hanson

It’s very likely true that Bismarck didn’t much care for people who lived in the Balkans, since they were Slavs and he was a junker from East Prussia, but I would suggest that there is a world of difference between Bismarckian calculation about the strategic value of the Balkans to Germany and the heated remarks of Hanson’s interlocutor.  There are those of us, including myself, who have held that Iraq was never worth the life of a single American, but the people who tend to hold this view also have a funny way of not despising the Iraqis as “them sons of bitches.”  On the other hand, those who take this latter view seem to be the folks who cheer for Mr. Bush and continue to (grudgingly) support the war and whose support for the war is only undermined to the extent that Mr. Bush does not order the Air Force to level the entire place and be done with it. 

It seems to me that Hanson’s “hardnosed fellow” is precisely the sort of unfortunate Republican voter we have in spades in this country, for whom “them sons of bitches” are equally deserving of aggressive war, carpet bombing and the odd tactical nuke (”more rubble”) as they are of dismissive contempt and impatient frustration.  I would hazard a guess that Hanson’s “hardnosed fellow” was perfectly happy to back the Iraq war to show “them” who was in charge and he probably belongs to the school of “thought” that holds that Vietnam should have been won by the indiscriminate use of H-bombs. 

I cannot think of a mentality less likely to understand, much less share, Bismarck’s view of national strategic interests.  One is born of an understanding of the national interest and the realities of the region; the other is the angry tantrum of someone who understands neither, but knows that he doesn’t like “them.”  It is a mentality that is not at all averse to meddling in the affairs of other nations that have nothing to do with us, provided that the casualties are mainly on other side.  It is a mentality that does not consider whether or not a war is actually in the vital interests of America, but whether it will crush some uppity band of foreigners about whom these “hardnosed fellows” know nothing and care less.  None of this should surprise Hanson, since it has been the endless burbling about Islamofascism-this and 1938-that by Hanson and company that have helped to inculcate an arrogant contempt for “them sons of bitches over there,” since it has been the more or less explicit purpose of inventing the phantom of Islamofascism to lump together every possible political tendency in the Near East that hegemonists find offensive (which is basically all of them) and to reduce every question of policy in western Asia to one of whether you are an “appeaser” of the rampaging Islamofascist juggernaut or one of the few, the proud, the Hansonian 300.

Private House Democratic polls of the 50 most competitive congressional districts project a gain of 9 to 11 seats in the 2008 elections that would be an unprecedented further surge by the party following its 2006 gain of 30 seats that won control of the House.

All previous major surges of House seats have been followed by losses in the next election. The 54-seat Republican gain in 1994 that produced GOP House control was followed by an eight-seat loss in 1996. However, the current Republican political slump, fueled by President Bush’s unpopularity, would reverse that pattern if the election were held today, according to the Democratic polls. ~Robert Novak

When you think about it, this isn’t as surprising as it might seem at first.  When in American history has any party been hitched to the reputation of a two-term President during a war that will have lasted three-quarters of the entire presidency by the time of the next election?  (Just consider that, barring drastic changes in policy, the Iraq will be almost six years old when the new President is inaugurated.)  This has never happened.  Unless you count the Kennedy and Johnson years together as a single presidency, you have to go back to 1816 to find something similar (the two-term President Madison had just concluded a divisive and largely calamitous war), but the political dynamics of the aftermath of the War of 1812 are obviously so far removed from modern American politics as to make any comparison meaningless.  Even if you use the 1968 comparison, which I have used before, the comparison is misleading insofar as the fully escalated Vietnam War was primarily the product of the Johnson administration.  If the 1968 model should have applied to any election, it ought to have applied to ‘04. 

Leave aside for a moment whether the current President and war are popular (obviously, the unpopularity of both is killing the GOP), and just consider the relatively unique structure of this political situation.  There has never been a President elected twice in his own right who presided over a war this long.  Normally, Presidents either get re-elected before they get us into wars (Wilson), the wars are relatively brief (Tripoli, War of 1812, Mexico, Spain, Gulf War, Kosovo), or the wars are concluded successfully shortly after the President’s latest re-election (War of Secession, WWII).  The unpopular, less successful and/or unconstitutional wars of the modern era normally end up forcing Presidents into early retirement (Truman, Johnson).  Bush’s victory in 2004 has really thrown a wrench into the punditry works, because by all rights and according to the relevant precedents it should not have happened. 

The one bit of good news for the GOP is that the Vice President is not running, or else the presumptive Republican nominee would be directly associated with everything that has been dragging the party down.  Weirdly, every Republican candidate (except, of course, for Ron Paul) has been going out of his way to make sure that everyone knows that he associates himself with the disastrous foreign policy of this administration (subscribers can see Ross’ article from the March issue of The Atlantic that touches on this).  In some ways, this next election is shaping up to be a combination of 1920 and 1952: the repudiation of the legacy of an unpopular presidency and war (1920), but one that also takes place while the war is still going on (1952).  But in all its particulars, 2008 has no obvious parallels, which renders past patterns less useful for predicting the outcome. 

If there are already projections of additional Democratic gains in 2008, there is nothing in the presidential race at this point that suggests that there will not also be long presidential coattails for the likely Democratic winner.  Depending on events (and all other relevant caveats about predicting the future, etc.), the next election appears as if it will be something between a landslide and an epic blowout.  If 2006 was the tsunami, it appears that the GOP will still be suffering aftershock tidal surges in 2008.  What seems especially strange, then, is the sight of the Republican candidates and party leadership actively removing all of the dikes and protective barriers that might keep them from drowning when the surge comes in.

The most important speech at the 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference, held in early March at a Washington hotel, didn’t come from any of the Republicans running for president. It came from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, one of the few Republican success stories in 2006–he was reelected with 47 percent of the vote–and a rising star in a party that’s been knocked back on its heels. ~Matthew Continetti, The Weekly Standard

Pawlenty is an interesting figure politically (and probably precisely the sort of non-Tommy Thompson Midwestern Republican governor who ought to be running for President instead of, say, Tommy Thompson), but I would qualify this statement about him.  Yes, Pawlenty was one of the few success stories for Republicans, but what’s important to remember is that Pawlenty himself has been extremely popular in Minnesota and still only managed to pull 47%.  (Mike DeWine in Ohio suffered from the same strange dichotomy of being widely admired in Ohio, but going down to ignominious defeat because of his partisan affiliation.)  There was a time late in the election last year when Pawlenty’s re-election, which was supposed to be a cinch, was very much in doubt, and the mismanagement of resources by RGA head Mitt Romney didn’t make Pawlenty’s life any easier.  Pawlenty’s case suggests that the 2008 battle will be fought primarily in the Midwest, since this is the region where the GOP is still hemorrhaging, it is the region that they desperately need to win back and it is one where they do have some resources with which to win it back.  Rebuilding in the Northeast will take longer and the Mountain West is both less crucial and less contested.

But what are Pawlenty’s proposals?  Well, he sounds a little bit like Brownback and a little bit like Reihan (no surprise, then, that the subtitle of the article is “Meet the first Sam’s Club Republican” and Pawlenty was among the first to invoke Sam’s Club as a symbol of what some might call “lower-middle” political interests):

And before you knew it Pawlenty took off, arguing for reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada and Mexico, for increased government subsidies for alternative energy, for more health insurance coverage, and for using government to cater to the needs of down-scale voters. At times the crowd was confused; at other times it seemed annoyed.

Here’s the interesting bit: Pawlenty thought that the purpose of speaking at a gathering of conservatives was to make them think.  It may be that every one of his policy proposals has no appeal for Republican voters, and it may be that these are all bad policies, but anything that might shake conservatives and the GOP out of their somnolescent stupour has to get at least a little credit. 

I’m not sure it says anything good about Rudy Giuliani, the Republican Party or the country as a whole that he seems more willing to throw his political convictions to the winds on gay marriage than on abortion. ~Ross Douthat

It probably doesn’t say anything good.  What it seems to say is that Giuliani knows he has throw social conservatives a bone somewhere and has chosen to throw them the tiniest, most pathetic bone he could find, which means he thinks they are stupid and easily bought.  What it says about the GOP is that its current presumed “frontrunner” understands that much of the GOP leadership doesn’t care that deeply about these things, and it cares even less about the far more significant moral issue of the day.  What it says about the country may still be up in the air.  It will depend on whether social conservative voters rally around Giuliani, “new fusionist”-style, because he promises give some foreigners a good thwacking.  If they don’t, there is still a lot of hope for this country.  If they do…  

I like the optimism explanation. It’s easy to see why folks would refrain from reproduction if they thought their kids had only a broiling, denuded planet full of wretched consumer-zombies living pointless lives in cookie-cutter McMansions and soulless big box strip malls to look forward to. ~Will Wilkinson

Via Ross Douthat

On the other hand, more than a few conservatives who already have children and are having still more certainly fear that their children will have to face exactly this kind of future (and present), which would be one of the reasons why they are so vehemently opposed to most or all of the things Mr. Wilkinson describes.  So that leaves me with something of a puzzle: are Americans optimistic in Mr. Wilkinson’s view because they believe that the future will not be like the dreary consumatopian wasteland that he has painted above, or are they optimistic because they look at the same dreary consumatopian wasteland and see its better qualities?  Or is the key to American optimism (and thus relatively higher birthrate) the active embrace and celebration of said wasteland?   

Remember how Putin gave an angry speech at the Munich security conference earlier this year?  Remember how he said the deployment of missile defense systems in central Europe was viewed as a violation of past promises to Russia and was unacceptable?  Oh, how the hegemonists mocked him!  Well, as a result of our insistence on putting that system in Poland and the Czech Republic, now Putin wants to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which is only one of the main pillars of European defense and security. 

Naturally, Condi was unhappy–Russia has treaty obligations, she told them!  This is the hegemonist double standard, applied with the same foolishness to Iraq, Iran, etc.: you must follow all of the treaties and international obligations you have made, while we can withdraw from them or thumb our noses at them with impunity.  It’s interesting how international law and treaties become so much more important and crucial to international security when other states violate them.  My suggestion: drop the double standard and regain at least a little credibility when it comes time to demand that other parties live up to their commitments.   

And with the country knee-deep in a disastrous war, an opposition party should have no trouble making that case on the merits, instead of whining endlessly about how the GOP needs to play fair and stop questioning their patriotism. ~Ross Douthat

Ross is right that the opposition party should have no trouble making the case on the merits.  It would help if the leaders of the opposition party knew what the merits were, and it wouldn’t hurt if they had party leadership that actually knew what it was doing.  In addition to not whining, pushing back and arguing the case on the merits, the Democrats could take a page from their opponents’ playbook and make the argument why getting out of Iraq is precisely the more patriotic thing to do.  They could also argue that patriotism may sometimes entail courses of action that directly oppose what the state believes is in its own best institutional interest. 

Unfortunately, the party whose leader once said, “You cannot love your country and hate your government” is not prepared to make such an argument.  Because more than a few left-liberals actually do have a more, shall we say, complicated, qualified relationship with patriotic feeling they do not play the patriotism card themselves because they a) don’t necessarily think it’s true or b) cannot speak in the idiom that would make such an appeal credible.  For more than a few of these folks, at least among the elite, patriotism itself really does strike them as chthonic, retrograde and backwards; naturally, they resent accusations of disloyalty (as anyone would), but it seems that enough left-liberals lack the ability to unequivocally express patriotic feeling that they are left with complaining.  Democrats “whine” about having their patriotism impugned, which is reasonable inasmuch as they are actually being falsely attacked, but to successfully counter these attacks they would need to be able to appropriate the full-throated language and imagery of patriotism (much of which their more intellectual friends regard as manipulative and artificial).  This appropriation is something they either will not or cannot do.   

The media didn’t marginalize him [Scott Ritter] because he stopped bashing Clinton and started bashing Bush - they marginalized him because everyone who disagreed with him seemed credible, and he didn’t. ~Ross Douthat

I’m all for watching candidates who are capable of “making the other smoothies on stage a little uncomfortable” - I just want those candidates to also be capable of saying something halfway interesting, and maybe even capable of winning some votes as well. ~Ross Douthat

Now, Ross, you can’t tell me that talking about Bin Laden “rolling in his blankets” over the Iraq invasion wasn’t at least halfway interesting.  It would have had to intrigue viewers by making them sit up and ask: “Who’s that old guy talking about Bin Laden’s sleep habits?”  Of course, the substantive point (there was one in there somewhere) was right, albeit redundant, since I imagine only the most die-hard of the “they aren’t reporting the good news from Iraq” brigades believe that Al Qaeda has been weakened by the Iraq war.  A majority of Democrats are fiercely opposed to the Iraq war (far more than Obama or even Edwards), and at least some of them are actually something close to non-interventionist (or they are heading in that direction), but without Gravel and Kucinich those people would be more or less completely unrepresented in their own party’s candidate debates.  Simply by being there, they force the candidates dubbed “major” by the media to take account of the constituencies in their own party that they would be only too happy to ignore.  If these no-hope candidates are monomaniacal and obsessive in the process, they are no less interesting than the pre-packaged, dreary, rehearsed lines of the “respectable” candidates.  Journalists obviously love them because they provide something actually interesting to report on the next day, rather than having to write the boring, “no one said anything of any real importance” copy that normally follows these staged farces.   

From media reports, it seems that Gravel made (perhaps somewhat hyperbolically) at least a few worthwhile points that tended to get obscured by his talk of feeling like a potted plant.  He noted that our sanctions on Iran have accomplished nothing.  He is correct.  He pointed out the relative hypocrisy of demanding nonproliferation from other states while preparing to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons.  Except for Kucinich, no one else on that stage, if he wanted to remain “viable,” could have ever said either of these things.  Those strike me as things that need saying in public debates more often, so if only no-hopers are allowed to say them and introduce them into the debate I say that we need a lot more no-hopers running for President. 

Of other candidates, he said:

Mr. Gravel said he had made that statement before he had the chance to stand with the other candidates a few times. “It’s like going into the Senate,” he said. “You know the first time you get there you’re all excited — ‘My God, how did I ever get here?’ And then, about six months later, you say, ‘How the hell did the rest of them get here?’ ”

Who couldn’t appreciate a candidate who would say this on the record?

Perhaps Gravel seemed less interesting if you watched him live on television, but I, for one, would have been glad to see someone on that stage say that he finds the major Democratic candidates frightening.  Given Obama’s foreign policy speech, Edwards’ little Herzliya gig and Hillary Clinton being, well, Hillary Clinton, it’s fair to say that they are frightening in their foreign policy views.  It’s a sorry state of affairs when the joke candidate from Alaska is just about the only one with the guts or zaniness to say so in a nationally televised forum.  

Via Ross at his shiny new Atlantic blog comes this Noam Scheiber piece on phony “populism” and Fred Thompson.  Mr. Scheiber is right that the Americans who are drawn to Fred Thompson’s pickup truck act want ”their rich people” to act as they do.  It isn’t as if voters are entirely unaware that they are rallying around millionaires and dynastic heirs.  On the one hand, the rich Republican politicians serve as a kind of goal for aspirational voters who want to make their own fortune; the rich Democratic politicians tend to operate more according to a rather distorted notion of noblesse oblige (hence, Edwards, son of a mill worker, now claims to feel obliged to “help” others succeed as he has–by using the state to compel others to do the helping).  (This, in addition to the nature of the institutions where they are working, may help to explain why privileged upper-middle kids who have enjoyed the best education tend to go overwhelmingly for left-liberal politics and politicians–their politics is at least partly an expression of the debt they feel they owe.)  

Mr. Bush’s brush-clearing doesn’t necessarily endear him to anyone on an egalitarian basis, especially when he is clearing his brush on a gigantic ranch.  It seems to me that these things, even if they were completely fake and done for public consumption, don’t work because they show the rich politician to be “just an ordinary guy” (which he obviously isn’t for one reason or another) but because they show the rich politician as someone who doesn’t have to do his own brush-clearing but who does it anyway.  It elides inequality, which in turn helps the voter forget the vast disparity in power between himself and the politician whom he is about to invest with still more power.  Phony “populism” makes it easier to entrust a politician with great power, because the phony “populism” seems to suggest (though it can often deceive) that the new power will not distance the pol too much from voters.

But let’s clear something else up.  What these pols do with their homey performances is not really populism, phony or otherwise.  Any attempt of a slick Eastern or Californian transplant (such as the Georges Bush and Allen respectively) to play as the down-home country boy has nothing to do with populism, though it may be classed as a kind of symbolic demagoguery.  (The pioneer of Eastern transplantation to the West, T.R. was a progressive and extremely hostile to the trusts, yes, but no one could reasonably confuse him with a populist like Bryan.)  Populism has to have some theoretical connection to empowering or serving the popular interest, which has typically meant the breaking up of concentrated wealth and concentrated power and distributing power more evenly throughout the body politic.  Obviously, the GOP has never really wanted to attack the former and historically has only rarely attacked the latter and has since ceased to attack it at all.  The original party of consolidation makes for a poor vehicle for any kind of populism.  The symbolic demagoguery of pretending to be just like Middle Americans (or enough like them to assuage their doubts) has had to make up the distance between the nature of the party and the desires of its constituents.  On the national level, I think this bridge is finally beginning to strain and break from having to stretch so far and bear so much weight. 

What typically drives liberals crazy about this phony “populism” is the example of men belonging to the historic party of corporations and the moneyed interest hamming it up as one of the common people, when they actually serve entirely different interests.  (This doesn’t mean that Democrats serve substantially different interests these days–it is the success of “third way” politics that the Democracy is equally in hock to corporations.)  What I think many liberals still don’t quite understand is just how powerful and visceral Middle American resentment of overbearing and unaccountable government (especially in its more culturally radical forms) really is.  Republicans have been able to tap into that populist resentment of government intrusiveness for a time, but this was only possible so long as the GOP retained some credibility as being at least a marginally more small-government party.  Once that has vanished, as it assuredly has over the past few years, the GOP finds itself exposed for what it is–a party that purports to represent Middle America despite the reality that its every major policy priority seems almost designed to ruin or harm Middle Americans, the Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency. 

Not even a funny actor, a red pickup truck and a Southern accent can repair the damage done to the GOP brand.  I think I begin to understand more why many people think Fred Thompson will save the Republicans, but they are still operating according to the culture war rules of the late 20th century.  According to what I am guessing will be the new rules, at least for a little while, the GOP will be forced to defend the expanded warfare-welfare state they have created and embraced, creating temporarily the space for Democrats to position themselves not only as economic populist foes of corporations (which will, of course, simply be an act for most of them) but as the party opposing expansive and intrusive government.  The cultural issues will continue to motivate and influence elections and the GOP will continue to win considerable support for advancing cultural conservatism, at least rhetorically, but without the responsible/limited government leg of the GOP stool cultural conservatism alone cannot keep the GOP standing.  It strikes me that a Giuliani campaign, which can plausibly draw on neither the cultural issues nor the symbolic demagoguery nor a responsible/limited government message, would bring about electoral disaster for Republicans.  Fred Thompson would not do a lot better, but he does at least have that red pickup truck. 

I finally saw The Last King of Scotland this week, and Forest Whitaker’s performance in the role of Idi Amin is every bit as good as I had heard that it was.  He was certainly deserving of the Academy Award he received.  He embodied the charisma, paranoia and bombast of the dictator in what seemed to be the right proportions.  It would be too much to say that he made Amin a sympathetic figure, which is not really possible, but he did make him believable and real, and this is a tribute to Whitaker’s acting. 

As many of you will already know by now, the story is told from the perspective of a young, self-indulgent Scottish doctor who has decided to have a bit of an adventure (and to get out of the shadow of his father) by going to Uganda, where he happens to become Amin’s personal physician.  Amin’s enthusiasm for all things Scottish helps the young doctor to ingratiate himself with the dictator, and before long the doctor discovers that he has simply become the big man’s lackey and finds himself trapped in the deadly embrace of the jovial monster.  His powerlessness and vulnerability as the dictator’s lackey is brought home in two episodes: in the first, he pleads uselessly with a furious Amin to not expel the Asian merchants from Uganda, and then has this episode thrown back in his face by Amin when the dictator realises the economic consequences of expelling the merchants:

Amin: “Why didn’t you tell me not to expel the Asians?”

Garrigan: “I did!”

Amin: “But you did not persuade me, Nicholas.  You did not persuade me.”

Of course, the absurdity of trying to persuade a man who routinely has his enemies and critics murdered on the slightest hint of disloyalty is clear.

In future, keep an eye on the new group blog to which I will be contributing.  It is called What’s Wrong With The World, and it is the successor of Enchiridion Militis. 

Update: My first WWWTW post, responding to the first excerpt of Christopher Hitchens’ atheist/anti-religious tract, is now up.

Obama’s delusion, widely shared by Democrats, isn’t nearly as dangerous as the neoconservative delusion still being served up by the Republicans.

It’s still a delusion, nonetheless. ~Robert Robb, The Arizona Republic

That was it. Obama’s answer to a question of how, as commander-in-chief, he would change America’s “military stance” in response to an attack by al Qaeda did not involve using the military. ~Byron York

God forbid, a thousand times, that I should ever say anything really in support of Barack Obama or the other Democrats being targeted here, but it seems odd that Mr. York would be so dismissive of Obama’s view on when to use force overseas, since Obama’s stated view is not terribly different from the one that I assume most conservatives would endorse.  Only a few days ago Obama gave an unequivocal statement making clear that he was perfectly willing to use military force, even pre-emptively:

No President should ever hesitate to use force – unilaterally if necessary – to protect ourselves and our vital interests when we are attacked or imminently threatened. But when we use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others – the kind of burden-sharing and support President George H.W. Bush mustered before he launched Operation Desert Storm.

In other words, Obama did not even rule out using force for reasons other than self-defense, which means that he has no principled or fundamental objections to interventionist wars as such.  This is a progressive foreign policy of the old Wilson-Roosevelt-New Frontier type, and I certainly don’t mean that as a compliment.  But why should conservatives who endorse activist, interventionist foreign policy find fault with it as a “weak” approach to foreign threats?  For someone who supposedly represents the wild and wooly antiwar fringe of the left–as Mr. York probably sees them–Obama sounds an awful lot like a dyed-in-the-wool CFR man.  

Obama didn’t repeat this line about the use of force during the debate, which means that he performed poorly in the debate (as many observers have already noted).  You can knock his ability to perform under pressure (I would be happy to chime in on this point), but if there is anything wrong with Obama’s approach to foreign threats it is that he believes that every crisis around the world is potentially a threat to American security.  He seems to have no sense of proportion of what constitutes a particularly dire threat and what poses a more long-term, manageable danger; diseased Indonesian chickens and loose Russian nukes seem to worry him equally.  But his lame debate performance has no necessary bearing on what Obama thinks about responding to terrorist attacks or foreign threats, since the man plainly stated his hyper-ambitious concept of American national security just this week.

Mr. York’s entire column is dedicated to belittling answers to a fairly obnoxious hypothetical question.  Without precise information about the nature and origin of simultaneous terrorist attacks, no serious person could answer the question with anything more than generalities about “swiftly responding” and so forth.  Were the two attacks the work of Al Qaeda alone?  Were they committed with only minimal or no collaboration from other groups?  Were they sponsored in coordination with a foreign government?  Were the attacks conventional, biological, or nuclear in nature?  Who knows?  Brian Williams will just keep asking his bad questions and make the candidates dance a jig to his tune.  Obviously, the nature of the response, beyond the obvious call to “retaliate,” and the “stance of the military” overseas (which was the phrase used in the question) would depend on what kind of threat America faced.  If there were  mustard gas attacks launched by a jihadi cell in a couple malls, that would call for a different change in military posture overseas than would the detonation of Pakistani nukes in Houston and Miami.  Obviously.   

This question was not quite as bad as the one that Williams asked when he pressed the candidates to list the top three allies of the United States.  What a stupid question.  Even in the Bush Era, we have managed to retain a few more than three very important allies and it is almost childish to demand that a candidate rank the relative importance of Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, Russia, India, Italy and Spain, to name just a few of the more important.  In making that list, I have left off a number of countries allied with the U.S. in some fashion–does that mean that I don’t think they are valuable allies?  This is the ultimate triumph of soundbite politics over the responsible discussion of foreign affairs.  Different allies have different functions, different alliances have different purposes and good relations with all of them are obviously desirable.  A question like this will create uncertainty in foreign capitals if, say, Edwards rattled off a Britain-Japan-Israel list and Obama listed Britain-India-Germany (I believe he actually listed the EU and Japan before getting distracted).  The Japanese and Israelis will want to know why Obama has no respect for them, while the Indians will think that Edwards doesn’t think much of the relationship with New Delhi, when the list may have absolutely no bearing on the candidate’s view of other alliances.  I hope a future moderator puts the same stupid questions to the Republican field, so that they can be tripped up by having to give answers that will satisfy no one.   

Update: Meanwhile, Michael Goodwin at The New York Daily News had a completely different take on Obama’s answer to the very same question:

With only about five minutes to go in the sober Democratic debate last night, it seemed there would be no memorable moment, and thus no winner.

Then Barack Obama suddenly showed why he is the surprise of the political season. With a strong voice and a confident, focused look, he returned to a question about a hypothetical terror attack on two U.S. cities to deliver a minilecture about the need for a President to be willing to use our military might. Saying we face “a profound security threat,” he shattered the developing anti-war tenor of the debate to say there “is no contradiction” in using diplomacy and the military.

But on the southern borders of Russia, the salient Muslims are Shi’a. ~Marty Peretz

Perhaps this is being too picky, but I don’t think so.  The “salient Muslims are Shi’a,” are they?  What does salient mean?  It either means protruding or projecting forward, sometimes used to refer to a point in a line of fortifications, or it simply means “strikingly conspicuous or prominent.”  Scan the southern border of Russia, friends, and find me a prominent Shi’ite group anywhere along that very long border.  They are not to be found in any numbers at all–certainly not so that you could call them the “salient Muslims.”  Neither in Georgia, nor in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  Where they are to be found, they are in the extreme minority.  Strangely, there are no prominent Shi’ite groups in Mongolia or China.  There are some more Shi’ites in Azerbaijan, but that’s it.  Presumably Peretz refers here to Iran and Iraq, which are distinguished by having no borders with Russia, or at least no borders on terra firma in the case of Iran. 

This prompts me to set down Larison’s Fourth Law of Foreign Policy Commentary: When writing on a particular region, actually knowing something about the region’s geography is mandatory.

She [Ann Devroy] was everything Broder is not: fearless, intellectually honest, scrupulously fair, and suspicious of power. ~Paul Begala

Kicking around David Broder has become quite the pastime lately, and no wonder.  He represents everything that thinking people (and even, when convenient, someone like Paul Begala) find repugnant about establishment media figures and the political consensus they slavishly protect (as they protect their positions by doing this).  Matt Yglesias asks whether the Post’s circulation would be harmed by letting Broder go and answers in the negative, but I think he misunderstands the function that Broder serves.  As the Post is the reliable establishment rag, its editorial line painstakingly aligned to match the most dreadfully “centrist” of “centrist” consensus views, so David Broder is the most dreadfully “centrist” among dreadful “centrists.”  The Post could no more part company with him than it could become a newspaper dedicated to holding government accountable and serving the public interest.  You might as well ask the editors of The Wall Street Journal to not oppose the interests of Middle America or call on the Times to treat Christians with respect.  It would not be in the nature of the Post to send Broder packing.  They would have to admit that flacking for concentrated power and war was somehow, well, undesirable, which would mean that they ought to close their doors forever. 

Jim Gilmore makes his announcement as a hokey soundtrack plays in the background.  The core of Gilmore’s message: “Keep the Reagan dream alive…Oh, and don’t vote for Rudy McRomney.”  He keeps using his “Republican wing of the Republican Party” line, which somehow sounds less and less interesting each time he says it.  There’s nothing really terribly wrong with the announcement itself (except for the blaring trumpets–is he entering Rome in triumph?), but also absolutely nothing that would make someone take a second look at Gilmore.  The biggest surprise has to be that he is still in the race after his heretofore dismal reception by activists and voters; Ron Paul has been picking up at least 2-3% support in some polls.  Gilmore remains trapped in asterisk country, and nothing in his announcement suggests that he knows how to move up.

Many thanks to both Dr. Ralph Luker and Peter Klein for kindly tagging Eunomia with the Thinking Blogger Award.  Each named Eunomia as one of the “five blogs that make me think” on the same day.  It is gratifying to know that Eunomia has such respect as a worthy and interesting blog in the eyes of the readers.  The award began here.  It is now my turn to tag five other blogs.  For those I tag, the rules are:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

In no particular order, I tag: James Poulos’ Postmodern Conservative, The American Scene, Gene Expression, In Media Res and Leon Hadar


Thinking Blogger: Not necessarily a contradiction in terms!

Yet, to concentrate on these things is to miss the most important argument of the speech which was that Obama’s mere presence as president would solve most of the problems of American foreign policy. Obama argued that as president he’d be able to counter “the terrorists’ message of hate with an agenda for hope around the world.” It is tempting to dismiss this as sheer hubris. But Obama is not alone in making this case. Just last week the New York Times’ foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, one of the most influential journalists in America, wrote that Obama’s main selling point was that he could repair America’s relationship with the world. ~James Forsyth

Set aside for the moment that Obama is always talking about hope.  The line about countering hate with hope could have been taken from one of Mr. Bush’s speeches.  Knowing Obama’s penchant for “borrowing” other politicians’ lines, it probably was taken from one of Mr. Bush’s speeches.  It is no less vapid when someone fluent in the English language says it.

I don’t know which is more troubling: that a man might become President because he can recycle boilerplate optimism and cultivates a weird cult of personality, or that it can reasonably be said that Tom Friedman is one of the most influential journalists in the country.

Steven Clemons says remarkably sensible things about Obama and Cuba here.  Mr. Clemons notes some of the flaws with Obama’s big foreign policy speech (it’s so big and sprawling he calls it a “kitchen sink” speech), which echo nicely some of my concerns about “And-ism” and policy approaches that try to comprehend everything: Obama fails to make “hard choices” and doesn’t set priorities.  Another interesting point: “hard power” isn’t actually hard in the sense that it is ineffective; “soft power” achieves more and is therefore actually much more “hard” because it is more effective.  

The fact that Petraeus is backing it, however, doesn’t then become an additional reason for further elements of the national political leadership to also back it. “Look, the general I put in charge because he was willing to defend my policy publicly is defending my policy” isn’t an independent basis for thinking the president’s policy is sound. ~Matt Yglesias

This is right.  It doesn’t make any sense to invoke Gen. Petraeus’ authority as a reason to support the plan, since any commander who accepts the assignment is bound to defend the merits of the plan–especially if he consulted in the drafting of the plan!  Saying that Gen. Petraeus supports the plan is like saying that he agrees with himself–one might expect such minimal coherence in a commander. 

Of course, one could just as easily cite other generals who think the plan is unlikely to succeed and that, according to Gen. Sheehan, the administration doesn’t know where it’s going.  Yet Gen. Petraeus has become the only figure who still possesses any credibility with the general public, because he actually knows what he’s doing to some degree and has been one of the few really outstanding commanding officers in the entire campaign.  One shudders to think how much worse things would be going if he were not in charge.  If you were going to try to run a successful counterinsurgency campaign, you would put someone with proven expertise in counterinsurgency, such as Gen. Petraeus, in charge of the effort.  To fail to do even this much would be to declare to the world that you are completely clueless.  However, the fact that Gen. Petraeus is very good at counterinsurgency tactics does not mean that he can save a situation that seems to be beyond our current means to save.   

But the Petraeus admiration had already reached such a point that, based on Gen. Petraeus‘ testimony alone, Hugh Hewitt and his legions of misguided followers made it their mission to penalise any Republican who opposed the “surge” because such opposition would “embolden the enemy.”  No word from Hewitt on whether the repeated massive bombings, the destruction of the Iron Bridge and the bombing inside the Green Zone constitute proof of an “emboldened enemy” despite the failure of all efforts to halt or change the “surge.”  Indeed, the existence of the so-called Victory Caucus (Hewitt’s mechanism for intimidating the Congressional GOP into slavishly follow the Bush line on Iraq) derived directly from this devotion to Petraeus.  Hewitt and friends are amazingly selective in the officers they choose to lavish praise on, naturally, since every military officer, active or retired, who can be found who questions or condemns the current plan or the war in its entirety receives scant respect from them.  When a few retired generals said that Rumsfeld should go (a view with which an overwhelming majority agreed by early 2006), we were treated to warnings about cabals and potential mutinies from some war supporters.  When Petraeus spoke, however, it was like the word of God for these people.  Funny how their respect for the officer seems to match up pretty exactly with their preconceived ideas about the war.    

The civilians and activists hide behind Petraeus because they have nothing else left.  It is also yet another example of the strange dichotomy of Bush’s approach to the war.  On the one hand, he is the War President, the Decider, the Numero Uno Honcho, and on the other he suffers from a case of chronic deference, constantly referring to “what our commanders on the ground” or “what our generals” say as his way out of every difficult question.  He would like to give the impression that he is a decisive leader who takes the bull by the horns, so to speak, while avoiding the impression that the mismanagement of the war has anything to do with him and the policies that he and his ministers set.  Instead of the buck stopping with him, he keeps giving it back to the generals, saying, “No, really, I want you to keep it!”  Because he is constantly deferring to the ”experts,” he may think he has immunised himself from criticism (much as he has sealed himself off from the real world in all else), but as soon as someone in Congress attempts to fill the war leadership vacuum that he has left he suddenly rediscovers vast inherent powers in the role of Commander-in-Chief and insists that no one is in charge except for him.  Until, that is, he can find a war tsar to try to do his job for him.  It is a bizarre contradiction in an administration that wants to undo all the “damage” of the post-Watergate years to the imperial presidency while also being terribly concerned not to appear to be repeating the mistakes of Vietnam-era Presidents (with whom, of course, loyal courtiers will insist he has nothing in common–except perhaps for allegedly treacherous and insane opponents). 

Vast executive overreach when it comes to politics and policing at home has met diffidence, confusion, weakness and dilatoriness in the conduct of foreign affairs, which just happens to be the exact inverse of what the executive should theoretically be like.  It is not exactly surprising that Presidents have become worse at doing what they are assigned to do once they started making everything their business.  Referring to the administration’s weakness in foreign affairs probably seems counterintuitive to those who, Ledeen-like, continually mistake jingoism for a demonstration of strength, rather than the desperation response of men whose minds are choked with fear and paranoia about the rest of the world that it is.  There is no more clear example of weakness in foreign affairs than engaging in the use of force against a vastly inferior, weaker, poorer state in the name of panicked self-defense.  It would be rather like Germany invading Belgium in 1914, but not to strike at France and swiftly knock out a strategic threat in the west.  Instead, Germany would have invaded Belgium in order to neutralise the menace and threat of Belgium itself.  Any power that felt truly threatened by a state so much weaker than itself would be admitting stunning weakness in the eyes of the world, probably inviting far more challenges and attacks than if it had left things alone.  A superpower that claims to be threatened by a basketcase country on the other side of the planet has all but admitted that it is on the ropes.  

I spoke with a half-dozen prominent GOP operatives this past week, most of them high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush I and Bush II administrations, and I heard the same devastating critique: This White House is isolated and ineffective; the country has stopped listening to President Bush, just as it once tuned out the hapless Jimmy Carter; the president’s misplaced sense of personal loyalty is hurting his party and the nation. ~David Ignatius

But just watch the man move to the beat of an African drum and tell me…oh, wait, that’s even worse.  Maybe it’s not as bad as all that.  Maybe the weaknesses of the administration have been exaggerated by wild-eyed bloggers!  Maybe not:

“This is the most incompetent White House I’ve seen since I came to Washington,” said one GOP senator. “The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can’t even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It’s the weakest Cabinet I’ve seen.”


In Chicago this week, Obama argued against the current tides of Democratic opinion. There’s been a sharp rise in isolationism among Democrats, according to a recent Pew survey, so Obama argued for global engagement. Fewer Democrats believe in peace through military strength, so Obama argued for increasing the size of the military.

In other words, when Obama is confronted by what he sees as arrogant unilateral action, he argues for humility. When he is confronted by what he sees as dovish passivity, he argues for the hardheaded promotion of democracy in the spirit of John F. Kennedy. ~David Brooks

Far be it from me to continue to advise Obama on how to run his campaign (I earlier told him that he shouldn’t run this time–and I stand by that advice), but this approach puzzles me.  Obama must feel confident that he has the antiwar voters locked up if he can make the kind of foreign policy speech he made the other day, which was not all together non-interventionist-friendly (to put it mildly).  The problem is that the antiwar voters still have a long time to rally around someone like John Edwards, who at least makes some effort to not sound like a rampaging interventionist these days (except, naturally, when it comes to Iran), which will leave Obama mouthing Clinton-like platitudes about “responsible” foreign policy while more consistent antiwar candidates who actually have foreign policy experience (e.g., Richardson) will be stealing his supporters.  I suppose we can give Obama credit that he is attempting to lead his party and moderate the extremes within it.  The problem is that one side of his party is, according to his own past estimations, dead wrong on their basic assumptions about the management of foreign policy; for some reason, he has chosen to embrace the overwhelming bulk of their conception of how to manage foreign policy.  I don’t know whether this is how he uses his “Niebuhrian instincts,” but it seems like awfully foolish politics to me.

Brooks goes on:

When I asked him to articulate the central doctrine of his foreign policy, he said, “The single objective of keeping America safe is best served when people in other nations are secure and feel invested.”

That’s either profound or vacuous, depending on your point of view.

Well, obviously I think it’s pretty vacuous, but what it is mostly is dangerous.   

I am not one particularly drawn to an Ariel Levy or Isla Fisher.  It doesn’t help that I had literally never heard of either one until today.  (Make of that what you will.)  Apparently, Ms. Fisher is the fiancee of Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame, which is very “naice” for him; she has also apparently ridiculed Scientologists, which is a testament to her good judgement (despite the business of being engaged to Sacha Baron Cohen).  No, if we must talk about actresses/celebrities we will never meet, it simply has to be Rani Mukherjee whom we admire:

About such a woman, Sayat Nova might have said:

Ov che tesi, test e uzum, ov tesnoom e, miranoom e

(He who does not see wants to see you; he who sees, perishes.)

Or to use one of my favourites:

Patvakan angin javahir, lal badeshkhan is indz ama

(You are a worthy, priceless jewel, the very ruby of Badeshkhan for me.)

Update: Here is a higher-quality version of Rani performing Main Vari Vari from Mangal PandeyTumhari adao pe main vari vari indeed.

Leon Hadar explains why peace and populism may possibly play well in Peoria.

While watching Rosa Brooks (of the Obama-is-the-Messiah school) and Ross talk about Obama’s amazingly bad speech on the day of the Virginia Tech killings, it occurred to me that Obama’s failure here was not simply one of poor taste and political tone-deafness.  Obama has said more times than anyone can care to remember that he wants a new kind of politics, he wants to transform the country, he wants to bring an end to cynicism and, last but not least, he thinks that a significant part of ”the problem” in Washington is the ”smallness of politics.”  Suppose for a moment that some poor fellow actually believed all this drivel and enthusiastically backed Obama’s candidacy.  What would such a person have made of a speech that was at once rather petty (score one last point against Imus!), cynical (exploiting a horrible crime to talk up your political issues) and predictable (a politician talks nonsense in the wake of a disaster)?  This would-be Obama man would probably conclude that Obama’s talk about transformation, a new kind of politics and so on (the things that were supposed to make Obama “fresh” and interesting as a candidate) was just a lot of talk and nothing else.  At the moment when Obama could have demonstrated what his new sort of politics might look like when everyone was paying attention he retreated to the comfort of boilerplate rhetoric, tired point-scoring and attempting to manipulate human suffering for his own purposes on the day of the killings itself.  Perhaps no one really believed all his talk about transformation and newness and such (we can only hope), but it is a little strange that hardly anyone has noted how completely it subverts what was supposedly a core theme of his campaign.  

Reihan has an interesting post responding to two of mine, and he had some very kind words for the Dark Lord of Paleoconservatism (as I have been dubbed).  For my part, I enjoy Reihan’s charmingly eccentric, often idiosyncratic version of meliorism, and his criticisms here are unlikely to provoke much of my usual rhetorical ruthlessness.  Reihan allows that “[m]ost “And-ism” really is shallow,” so in this respect we don’t disagree at all.  I would say more and say that most And-ism is shallow because it is usually a gimmick or a blind groping towards some amorphous change.  Between most “And-ism” and “Me-tooism” there is often a thin, almost invisible line. 

Reihan speaks of “defying false choices,” and I am all for this kind of defiance.  But there is also virtue in defying false pairings.  Take the pairing of the label “green” with the carbon tax or the label “free market” with state capitalism.  There is frequently a pressure in debates to define your position in terms of the conventional policies frequently associated with that position.  Thus to show that you are serious about conservation you have to make certain alarmed statements about the dangers of climate change and you must also demonstrate your concern about these dangers by arguing for a carbon tax of one kind or another, whether or not climate change really is likely to usher in catastrophic events and whether or not a carbon tax (or Kyoto or what-have-you) is actually a prudent and workable policy.

There is a sense in which paleoconservatives have been offering an “and” conservatism in certain respects all along, but in an entirely different sense than the “And-ism” we have been discussing.  Paleos are and have been advocating the best in the traditions of the Christian West and, at bottom, a humane, traditional conservatism of place, prescription and piety.  In this sense, we are following the path of the Agrarians and the New Conservatives, among the more recent figures, who sought a holistic (not partial!) vision of order, the common good and the good life, and so we are looking to the example of what you might call the original “and” conservatives.  The idea that there was some contradiction in defending the rights of property and tending to the landscape would have struck many of these men as absurd.  To their mind, a decent respect for the land went hand in hand with owning property, because to them property still possessed the sense of having something to do with owning land.  The farther removed we become from that connection, thanks to the preferred arrangements of the moneyed interest, the more one-sided and fragmented every appeal to either property or conservation becomes, so that we are often left with And-ists desperately grasping at some earlier sense of what conservation required and usually ending up by accepting the most dreadfully conventional views of state environmentalism.   

However, if these traditional conservatives were and are early “and” men, they were and are even more fierce “or” men in that they insisted, for example, that you should not concentrate wealth in massive enterprises, gear everything towards efficiency and place the “protection” of both property and the land more and more in the hands of a state that would have great incentives to subvert those protections and to “develop” the land (very often in recent decades by making that land unusable for anything but parking or shopping) according to the goals of the moneyed interest.  To defend a wider array of goods necessarily means taking on that many more adversaries, which surprisingly is not the recommended way to win elections.  And-ists run the risk of making more adversaries, but very often they advance their And-ism with the most milquetoast, drippy, neutral language aimed at maximising superficial voting support and avoiding those policies that tend to create resistance.  Even the And-ists at ConservativeHome are unhappy with Cameron because he has taken this inevitable step away from emphasising “both…and” to just talking about the new and trendy things that will supposedly make the Tories likeable and electable again. 

My impression of virtually all ”And-ism” as represented by the folks at ConservativeHome, for instance, is that its adherents revel a little too much in being contrarian when it will make them appear “new” or “interesting” or “innovative,” but are not as interested in challenging deep-set structural problems.  It doesn’t help that a lot of “And-ism” appears on the scene with the explicit purpose of rehabilitating the fortunes of some virtually moribund political party, which tends to mean that “And-ism,” like its distant cousin, fusionism, will shift and transform according to the needs of the party and not necessarily according to the goods of the commonwealth.  The Cameroons are a great example of this: they are “and” conservatives when it means that they can add on something trendy or popular to their agenda (e.g., Tory support for the disastrously bad, but theoretically very popular Kyoto accords), but they long ago in practice gave up on insisting on the “or” elements of conservatism when it has come to challenging expansive government.  In practice, “And-ism” of the kind advanced at ConservativeHome and, to some degree, in the counsels of the Cameron shadow government is just another way of saying, “Let’s take the easy way out.”  As I have seen it being practiced in politics, I think it is, in the end, an abdication of leadership posing as bold, exciting and transformative leadership.  This leads us, quite naturally, to Barack Obama, who purportedly offers us a kind of “And” progressivism.

Reihan is right that all large-scale problems are defined by complexity and numerous interrelated factors.  They cannot be addressed effectively by attacking from one and only one side.  Arguably, this is even more true in foreign affairs than elsewhere, where the complexity is potentially greater and the number of factors has vastly increased.  Responding to my critique of Obama’s big foreign policy speech, Reihan also grants that “Naxalite rebels don’t menace Peoria.”  But not even Obama would have said anything quite so easily ridiculed (though he might talk about the “quiet violence” of caste stereotypes in Bollywood movies).  The underlying assumption that made Obama claim our security “is inextricably linked to the security of all people” is that, eventually, unless “we” Americans do something about it the Naxalite rebellion will cause a chain reaction of events that will result in the destruction of Miami (or whichever city) or something equally undesirable.  (For the sake of clarity, I should note here that I was the one to first start talking about Naxalites in this discussion–one will look in Obama’s speech in vain for a reference to them.)  It is domino theory on stimulants: as Orissa goes, so goes the free world!  You could use any foreign crisis, real or imagined, in place of the Naxalites, and you would get the same unreasonable alarmism.  It is as if pop chaos theory met Cold War paranoia and had a brief tryst in the supply closet at an establishment foreign policy think tank, resulting in the birth of modern interventionism.  Strangely, though, instead of regarding this kind of thinking as the conspiracy theorising of bureaucrats and academics, a lot of people take it as sober and far-seeing analysis.  It is because of this kind of thinking that we are always being called to “do something” here or there–not necessarily because of the crisis itself, which might actually be relatively limited, but because of its potential impact “on the region.”  In Obama’s vision of the world, if a chicken on the other side of the planet sneezes, Americans might die.  Whatever else you want to say about interconnectedness, I think we can all agree that this is simply nuts. 

It may be that America at present is too bound up in the “global supply chain” to extricate itself from many of the places where someone in government thinks we have some interest, which certainly imposes constraints on what can be done right now, but it seems to be a mistake to accept that this dependency is either necessary or unchangeable.  My foreign policy views are based at least in part on the assumption that such dependency in the form that it now takes is neither necessary nor unchangeable and that this dependency is positively harmful to the United States.  From my perspective, someone who wants to enmesh us ever deeper into a global network, as Obama clearly does, does not really offer any greater appreciation for the complexity of that network, nor does he inspire confidence that he has any clear understanding of what the American interest is or ought to be.  He has, like so many progressives, fetishised cooperation and interdependence, as if to mirror the extent to which many Republicans have fetishised a sort of “splendid isolation” that isolates us from nothing harmful but rather leaves us stranded in hostile territory.  

Did Marty Peretz care about the politics of Mauritania until someone pointed out to him that he could use it as a cudgel with which to bash Arabs?  My guess would be no.  Incidentally, how did the “new democracy” of Mauritania come about?  It was the result of a military coup overthrowing the former tyrannical ruler, Taya, who had been more or less “our” man in Nouakchott (if you can imagine such a thing).  This paved the way for the elections that put Abdallahi in power. 

In other words, Mauritanian “democracy,” such as it is, came about initially through non-democratic means and arose out of opposition to a pro-Washington regime, which would seem to make nonsense out of most democratist notions of how U.S.-led democratisation is supposed to work.  The good news is that Mauritania might provide an example of a nation in Africa handling its own internal problems, which is one more argument against meddling in the internal affairs of other African countries.  The bad news, if you like, is that all of this talk about “democracy” in Mauritania is as meaningless as it was when it was being used about Kyrgyzstan.  The causes of past cruelties against the black African population in Mauritania have not been eliminated.  As the leader of the Forces de liberation africaines de Mauritanie puts it:

What is going on [in Mauritania] is neither democracy nor its ‘cousin.’ It is nothing but an evolution of the mechanisms of distribution of power among the Arab-Berber tribes. We have gone from coups d’etat… to tribal alliances with a democratic unction, so as not to alienate the international community… 

Who would have guessed that you cannot establish functioning democracy in tribal societies?  Shocking! 

President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi attends a rally in Nouakchott, Mauritania March 8, 2007. Abdallahi took over from a military junta as Mauritania's civilian head of state on Thursday, and won a U.S. pledge of closer cooperation with the Islamic Arab-African nation. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

Marty’s New Role Model!

Update: The CSM story linked to above reminded me that Taya had earned the wrath of his country’s Islamists because he had established ties with Israel, and the new “democratic” president wants to review and possibly end those ties.  As was reported on the day of his inauguration, Abdallahi has had to play to the crowd:

But the tie with Israel is unpopular with most Mauritanians and Abdallahi has said it will be reviewed and debated.

“Mauritania will continue to stand by the struggle of the Palestinian people to recover their legitimate rights on their national soil,” he said in his inauguration speech.  

Funny how democracy works, isn’t it?  Upon learning about this, Peretz will probably insist that the coup and everything that followed were all terrible things that should never have happened. 

Does John Edwards include Jews in his prayers? Or Muslims? Or Hindus?  Or any other non-Christians?

He didn’t the other day. The other day, in order to commemorate those killed at Virginia Tech, Edwards led a prayer “in Christ’s name” at Ryman Auditorium, which bills itself as “Nashville’s  Premier Performance Hall.”

Edwards has a perfect right to pray publicly or privately any way he wants to. But people who are not Christians often feel left out of prayers like his. ~Roger Simon

I have to agree with Yglesias: this Politico item reaches new depths of lameness.  In fact, it has passed far beneath the mere crust of lameness and broken down into the core of absurdity, where it will fortunately be consumed by tons of satirical magma.

John Edwards is a Christian.  It seems to me that the only way that he could pray without being tagged as a pandering, overly ecumenical buffoon would be to pray “in Christ’s name.”  It has to be embarrassing for all involved to hear politicians rattle off the new trinity of inclusiveness: “The strength of America is in our churches, our synagogues and our mosques!”  Presumably a Muslim candidate, were there ever to be such a one, would open his prayer with bismillah arrahman arrahim, or perhaps a translation of the same, because that’s part of how Muslims pray.  Give me a candidate who will not reshape his prayers to fit a focus group any day (even if his decision to give a prayer was apparently done on the advice of a consultant).  Spare me the treacly preaching of a Roger Simon when he asks:

Why not include all religions in your prayers?

Because that’s obviously fake and done for political purposes?  Because virtually no one, in his regular prayers, “includes” all religions in this way?  The reasons could go on. 

When writing a polemic designed to warn your readers about incipient American fascism, here are some helpful tips for what not to do (so that you do not end up sounding like Naomi Wolf).  To save time, I have limited it just to eight points:

1) Do not start by referring to the overwhelmingly popular military coup in Thailand that was blessed by the Thai king and helped remove from power an incompetent and corrupt demagogue.  Mentioning this will only make your readers wonder why the same thing might not be tried here to good effect.

2) Do not, if you can help it, refer at any time to Pinochet, whose lasting legacy will be that he made Chile into one of the relatively wealthier, more stable and least basketcase-like Latin American countries that it still is today.

3) Do not write the following: “I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds [bold mine-DL] of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.”  Other kinds of fascism?  Like the Australian kind?  What other kinds of fascism besides the European are there?  (Hint: there is no Islamofascism)

4) Do not go through the entire article and fail to define fascism.

5) Do not set up fascism as the opposite of democracy or as equivalent with the policies of authoritarian caudillos, since this will show you to be entirely ignorant of what fascism is.

6) Do not refer to Rev. Niemoeller when talking about Guantanamo.

7) Do not liken the Florida recount fights to the rise of the fascisti.  James Baker was not the second coming of D’Annunzio.

8) Whatever you do, DO NOT compare the firing of the eight US Attorneys to anything related to Joseph Goebbels.

The sad thing about Wolf’s article is that many of the things she objects to are usurpations, bad policies or violations of fundamental rights.  Instead of focusing specifically on these, she has to make it into a tiresome declaration of her zealous anti-fascism, in the process showing that she doesn’t know what the word fascist means and thus manages to devalue the legitimate criticisms she was trying to make.

No, it was secular nationalism that killed them, the pseudo-religion that exalts the Turkish nation. ~Morning’s Minion

Undoubtedly pan-Turanism and Turkish nationalism masquerading as Ottomanism were profoundly significant ideological factors in driving the genocide, and I wouldn’t even object to allowing that they were the most significant factors for the architects of the genocide.  In addition to pointing to the basic Muslim identity of the irregulars, both Turkish and Kurdish, who carried out most of the actual looting and killing, I would point to an important feature of the ideology of the CUP leadership that is very often glossed over in many traditional accounts of this group.  Taner Akcam, who will probably not be mistaken for a “right-wing culture warrior” (though I might fairly be described as such), wrote in his masterful A Shameful Act on the Islamic background to the genocide:

In addition to the general subjugation of all its subjects, the Ottoman state specifically oppressed and discriminated against non-Muslims.  Indeed, in the course of Ottoman rule, long-standing assumptions of Muslim superiority evolved into the legal and cultural attitudes that created the background for genocide.  This is not to say that the Ottoman Empire rested only on violence, but that without a grasp of the particular circumstances of the Muslim-non-Muslim relationship, we cannot understand the process that led to a decision for a “final solution” to the Armenian question….The Muslim-Christian clashes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the Armenian genocide must be considered against this background.  Accordingly, the view that relative peace prevailed prior to the emergence of nineteenth-century nationalism, [sic] is not only incorrect but also misleading. (p.19-20)

And again:

Solidarity among the empire’s Muslims, no matter what, was the psychological product of decline and disintegration coupled with the belief of being surrounded by hostile forces desiring the state’s elimination.  Thus Pan-Islamism was transformed into state ideology.

For this reason the attacks, mainly against the Armenians, had the nature of pogroms.  The state unleashed its attacks on the slightest provocation, calculating that this would bind Muslims more closely to the empire.  The Austrian ambassador to the Porte reported that Muslims were being armed and set into action against Christians, calling this a policy a “Muslim Crusade.”  From reportss of the various diplomatic missions in Istanbul and eyewitness accounts, it is clear that the massacres of 1894-96 were centrally planned. (p.44)

And again Dr. Akcam wrote:

For all their differences, these divergent currents–Ottomanism, Islamism, Turkism, and Westernism–shared one core premise: the nationalism of a dominant ethnic group, which was understood to mean the Turks. (p.49)

Elsewhere he stresses the flexibility of the CUP in stressing different aspects of their ideology according to perceived need; when it helped to speak of jihad, they spoke of jihad, and when it helped to speak in racialist terms, they spoke as racialists.  Whichever way you slice it, this was a nasty bunch.  They were motivated by a number of different senses of their rightful superiority over Armenians and other minorities, one of which in this case was Islam, albeit an Islam as mediated through a particularly Turkist filter.

Speaking of “right-wing culture warriors” and the Armenian genocide together is notable for another reason, since relatively few “right-wing culture warriors” over here have any familiarity with the genocide and even fewer care very much.  I have noticed that almost the only people who have shown any interest in what I have had to say about the genocide have been on the left or center-left.  It is not for nothing that it is the Democrats who consistently push for recognition of the genocide, if only because Armenian-Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic.  Christian conservatives, who might theoretically be natural allies for the Diasporan Armenians in this area, seem to be generally uninterested in the question. 

Depressingly, any sense of solidarity with Armenian Christians that one might think Christians in this country would or ought to have is virtually non-existent.  For obvious reasons, American Jews are much more aware of the genocide and they tend to be more involved in promoting knowledge about the Armenian genocide.  Likewise, the slaughter of the Assyrians undertaken at around the same time is also largely unknown to American Christians, just as the sorry fate of today’s Assyrians is overshadowed by an unfortunate commitment to Mr. Bush’s War.  This deplorable neglect of Near Eastern Christians is repeated time and again across much of the American right.  The response tends to be one of ignorance, indifference or some mixture of the two, so I would be very interested to see more “right-wing culture warriors” at least paying some lip service to remembering the Armenian genocide.

Armenians laying flowers in the memorial on April 24. 

 Menk’ Hishoom Enk’


The bill’s advocates had hoped that Pelosi, a longtime advocate for recognition of the Armenian genocide, would bring the bill to a floor vote by Tuesday.

Yet the bill still is lingering in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it has not been scheduled for a vote. ~The Chicago Tribune

This is a shame.  I had been operating on the mistaken assumption that Ankara’s mouthpieces had been making so much noise about this because the resolution was set for a successful vote.  It would seem that Madam Speaker once again has managed to disappoint even in the most symbolic things.

An article by the New York Times dated 15 December 1915 states that nearly one million Armenians had deliberately been put to death by the Ottoman government. 

What You Cannot Say In Turkey

The United States contributed a significant amount of aid to the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.  Shown here is a poster for the American Committee for Relief in the Near East vowing that they (the Armenians)

Americans From A Different Time 

Activities here for the Commemoration Day were not all that remarkable, but it is a fairly small Armenian presence here on campus.  Today I had my normal Sayat Nova translating session, and then our Armenian students here at the University gathered for a screening of Assignment: Berlin, which makes up in importance as a lesson in the fate of Talaat Pasha for what it lacks in production value.  I had said yesterday that the CUP men managed to avoid facing their responsibility for what they did, which is only partly true.  They did not face the same kind of formal, internationally recognised justice that certain other genocidaires have had to face.  They were, of course, formally condemned by the Kemalists, who wanted to make clear that they had no connection to the CUP leadership, and one by one the leading party men were gunned down in the following years.  The movie mentioned above tells the story of the trial of Taalat’s assassin.

Update: Mark Krikorian writes on the genocide here.

To say that conservatives can compromise on first principles but cannot disagree about how best to wage the war on terror is to urge the abandonment of the issues that built the Republican majority in favor of the issue that tore it down. ~Jim Antle


I find it hard to imagine that if we had found that Iraq was, say, eighteen months from having a nuclear bomb, we would be seeing the same national debate we have now. If troops had found a decent sized stockpile of uranium, or designs for a bomb, or what have you, the majority of Americans would now think that the war was a good idea, even if all other events had unfolded the same way. Jim and Julian, presumably, still would not. But they would have lost the national debate. ~Jane Galt (Megan McArdle)

Unfortunately, I think Ms. McArdle is right, which tells you a lot about just how little actual argument has to do with our “national debates” and how they are “won.”  This is the anatomy of an American “national debate”:

One side advocates for X with great urgency and warnings of future doom, and the other side lays out all the reasons why X is horrible and foolish.  The first side laughs off all these warnings as fantastic nonsense uttered by the naive or the immoral.  The public pays no attention to the arguments and listens to the fearmongering by the first side, convincing themselves that the people on Side A are decent, upstanding types (not like those maniacs from Side B) who would never steer “us” wrong.  Once X has started and done its damage (whatever that might be), it is only when literally everything that Side A said has been proven false with a vengeance that the public begins to reconsider that Side B might have had a point.  Not that Side B was “right,” mind you, but that they were not quite the band of clowns that the public had taken them to be (at the insistence of Side A).  At this point someone notices that if Side A had been right about anything at all, particularly about one of the potentially more worrisome warnings of danger, the entire “debate” would have swung back to Side A, in spite of their having made a colossal mess of the entire project, because the public still believes that “we” had to “do something.”  This urge to “do something” can only be outweighed by the sheer incompetence with which the government actually does things.  This is small consolation, since the experience of numerous past failures never convinces the public to stop trying to have the government ”do something” about this or that. 

The structure of our “national debates” is powerfully and completely biased in favour of unwise, rash policy innovations and against deliberation and patience.  It is also strongly biased in favour of the activists in this or that area of policy, which tends to produce bad results because said activists are typically long on enthusiasm and short on understanding.  They know just enough to know that their policy proposal must prevail, or else all is lost.  More than this, they do not know. 

In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people. When narco-trafficking and corruption threaten democracy in Latin America, it’s America’s problem too. When poor villagers in Indonesia have no choice but to send chickens to market infected with avian flu, it cannot be seen as a distant concern. When religious schools in Pakistan teach hatred to young children, our children are threatened as well. ~Barack Obama

Actually, our security is not “inextricably linked” to that of “all people.”  Really, it isn’t.  Our security is not “inextricably linked” to that of people in Zimbabwe or Darfur or Nepal or Colombia.  He might argue that it is important to help resolve the smouldering civil war in Nepal or support the MDC opposition, but he would have to acknowledge that these things are only distantly and tangentially related, if at all, to U.S. security.  In some cases, our security is scarcely linked at all. 

Are Americans endangered by rebel Naxalites in east-central India?  Is American security at risk because of Sri Lanka’s civil war?  If this were true, every crisis and conflict on earth would be a threat to national security and would merit American involvement and intervention.  This is crazy.  This is not a responsible retreat from delusions of grandeur, but simply more of the same in a slightly less menacing form.  Obama’s foreign policy is a more charming hegemonism, but hegemonism it remains.  He would rather have the hegemon be liked and have many willing servants, rather than recognising that the work of a hegemon is itself detrimental to America and the world (but especially to America).  This is, in its way, far worse than a blundering interventionism that reveals its wrongs for all to see, because a more subtle hegemonism has a much better chance of enduring (at least for a little bit longer). 

It might be the case that the United States should act in certain circumstances abroad even when our security is not directly concerned, but Obama does not make that appeal, because I think he knows that people have had enough of this sort of excessive idealism.  But then he makes the far less credible appeal that national security is bound up with the fate of democracy in Latin America.  Quite the contrary.  The regular workings of democracy in Latin America have produced one of the more virulently anti-American, albeit pitifully weak, rulers of the last decade.  What does Obama make of the opposition of Bolivian President Morales to the drug war if narcotrafficking is the bane of Bolivian democracy?  At least he didn’t refer to the “quiet violence” of flu-infected Indonesian chickens. 

Obama believes that by stressing interdependence and globalisation that he has seriously addressed complexity in foreign affairs, but he has simply replaced one rigid scheme with another, and in that scheme every problem on earth is potentially our problem.  If every problem is our problem, and everyone’s security is “inextricably linked” to our own, how can any President set priorities or address one crisis rather than another when all are potentially just as relevant and connected to American security?           

It cannot now be said that Obama does not make policy speeches.  But he does make bad policy speeches.

I wonder if any of those who have wrapped themselves in a St George banner and chanted objectionable, racist slogans, ever realised that the man himself was a Turkish Arab? ~Jack Straw

A “Turkish Arab”? In the third century? Over 300 years before the birth of Mohammed, and the Arab conquest of the Byzantine Empire?

Are the Armenians “Turkish Arabs” too…

Don’t these people have editors? ~Mr. Eugenides

Via The Debatable Land

Leave it to the pathetic Jack Straw to take two somewhat sensible points (1) there are Christians in Palestine who should not be ignored; 2) St. George is not only an English saint) and completely spoil them with a level of ignorance that seems surprising even in a politician. 

Tomorrow is April 24, the day on which Armenians traditionally commemorate the genocide committed against their people.  That genocide began 92 years ago this month.  April 24 was chosen as the day of commemoration because it was on April 24, 1915 that the leading members of the Armenian community in Constantinople (Polis to the Armenians, Konstantiniye for the Turks) were arrested and taken away to be executed in the days and weeks that followed.  That gave the signal for the beginning of the organised attempt to annihilate the Armenians in all those places where they constituted more than 5-10% of the population; the goal was nothing less than the destruction of the Armenians throughout most of Anatolia.  Obviously, the Ottoman triumvirs directly responsible never publicly admitted their responsibility, much less were they punished for their crimes, and all attempts to hold other involved in the genocide were by and large stillborn thanks to post-WWI politics.  The new national government in Ankara early on rejected attempts to hold “the Turks” collectively responsible (this is understandable, in a way), and this hardened into the full-fledged policy of denialism that we see today.  At this point, denialism and Turkish republicanism have unfortunately combined; the hyper-nationalists today are only the most obnoxious of the denialists.  The Turkish Republic is the only ostensible democracy that I know of in which it is a crime to state publicly well-established historical facts.  In other democracies they make it a crime to deny genocides–in Turkish democracy, they make it a crime to use the word genocide.  It is a bad joke that the administration that wants to intervene in Sudan to stop a civil war that they (mistakenly) deem a genocide actively opposes a minimal effort to acknowledge a genocide that only Ankara and their apologists refuse to call by that name. 

Tomorrow Congress is preparing to pass still considering a resolution recognising the Armenian genocide as genocide and acknowledging the role of the Turkish government in it.  If West Germany had had a law on the books criminalising anyone who spoke of the Holocaust or the responsibility of the German government, it seems unlikely that Washington would respond well to threats from Bonn to the effect that relations would sour dramatically should Congress pass a purely symbolic resolution acknowledging the historical reality of the crime their government actively denies.  Today Ankara so threatens Washington with very real retribution for such a symbolic measure, when it is Ankara whose denialist law and repressive government combined to inflame public opinion against Hrant Dink, leading directly to his death.  That is only the most recent and dramatic example of how this genocide denialism has served as a mechanism for suppressing freedom of speech and whitewashing past crimes in Turkey.  It is appalling that such a government believes it is fit to join the nations of Europe as an equal; it is even more depressing that so many Americans are interested in currying favour with such an ally. 

The ‘politics of and’ understands that tender policies don’t require an abandonment of tough policies. ~ConservativeHome

Via Reihan

This is something that bothers me about Tory modernisers, Cameroons and domestic comp-cons, such as Sam Brownback.  First of all, these are the sort who use such words as ’tender’ in the context of public policy (kisses are tender, but policies are clumsy, blunt-force instruments wielded by government).  Here in America they refer to themselves, as Brownback does, as “compassionate conservatives” and ”bleeding-heart conservatives,” as if there were anything conservative about a bleeding heart.  A heart that bleeds will do an unusually poor job of conserving sufficient blood supply to function properly!  Bleeding hearts are not normally good secular images for the defense of life.  The other thing that bothers me is the desire to create unified themes that supposedly bridge all areas of policy (thus being pro-life has something to do with art programs or Darfur) or the tendency to imagine that it is possible to ‘have it all’.  Hence the “and” in “And” conservatism. 

I remember how a few years ago Stoiber ran on a program of “capitalism and solidarity,” which sounds good at first and has a certain tradition in Christian Democratic circles of the past few decades.  Ultimately, it does not convince many.  This “and” talk is supposed to be an attempt at balance, but it always translates into an inability to make decisions, set priorities or gauge the importance of different policies (or, worse, it is the lamest and most transparent pandering to the other side’s constituents with cheap buzzwords).  Worst of all, it is intrinsically optimistic in its assumption that it is possible to address one set of problems effectively while simultaneously addressing all other sets of problems with the same vigour.  Man is finite, time is limited, resources are scarce and choices have to be made. 

“And” theories tell the thinking person that the “And” theorist is incapable of real leadership because he refuses to face up to the real costs and trade-offs of this or that policy.  Worse still is the apparent inability of “And” conservatives to recognise inherent contradictions in their proposed combinations:

A willingness to confront the Islamic roots of global terrorism and and more opportunities for mainstream British Muslims to set up state-funded schools.     

Perhaps the thinking here is that if the Treasury funds madrassahs there will be fewer openings for Saudi and Pakistani money and ideas, but if the “And” theorists are recognising the generically ”Islamic roots” of global terrorism it seems downright stupid to devote state resources to funding Islamic schools, be they “mainstream” or not.

The “And” conservatives seem to enjoy rebelling against existing establishments, whether or not the establishments are pursuing obviously bad policies.  This would have some merit, if the alternative foreign policy opposed by the establishment figures was any good.  Another item from ConservativeHome identifies the flaws of the ‘triangulation’ approach (from which the “and” approach is supposedly distinct) and the vested interests that benefit from it:

Such voices include the public sector unions who oppose radical reform of schools and hospitals and the foreign office establishment that favours multilateralism and stability over pre-emption and regime change.

In other words, insofar as it is entirely unlike this ‘triangulation’ approach, “And” conservatism here is a sort of hybrid between the policy views of Mickey Kaus and Michael Ledeen: fight the bureaucrats/revolution in everything!  Elsewhere in foreign policy Cameron himself shows that “And” conservatism means a sort of oceanic attempt to care about everything equally, which will lead to being equally inattentive to all:

And when the Conservative Party talks about foreign affairs it can’t just be Gibraltar and Zimbabwe.  We have got to show as much passion about Darfur and the millions of people living on less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan African who are getting poorer while we are getting richer.

To which the sensible Tory might reply, “Why?”   

Joseph Cirincione seems to be rather excited at the prospect of four of the five permanent Security Council, nuke-wielding powers changing their executive leadership in 2009 (Hu Jintao will continue in his post) and thinks that this is an “opening” for changes in non-proliferation policies.  (He also notes that some old Cold War hands from both parties are interested in non-proliferation and eliminating nuclear weapons.)

Is the next administration likely to have a “very different nuclear policy”?  I suppose it’s possible, but what would lead anyone to think so?  More to the point, look at the probable political changes in the big five powers and consider whether these changes presage any real changes for proliferation policy.  

Imagine the combination, if you will, of Hillary, Sego, Gordon Brown, Hu and Some Guy Picked By Putin and ask yourself: is this the crowd that is likely to change significantly the world’s non-proliferation regime one way or another?  Another combination could be Edwards, Sarko, Brown, Hu and Some Other Guy Picked By Putin.  What a summit they could have!  Do any of these people give anyone the impression that they are going to pursue anything other than the status quo when it comes to conventional assumptions about Iranian proliferation?  If Bush’s policy is undesirable, as Cirincione says (and I would agree with him), which one of these new leaders is going to repudiate it? 

When Royal is not channeling Joan of Arc, Katherine Harris-style, she is demonstrating foreign policy ignorance that would make Mr. Bush seem like a globetrotting genius.  Sarko’s brief has never been foreign policy, and his interest has primarily been focused on integration, immigration and crime.  Brown willingly went along with Blair’s loonier crusades partly because he agreed with them, but also because he accepted that the deal with Blair allowed the PM to run foreign affairs pretty much as he saw fit while leaving the domestic side of things to him and the Treasury.  Foreign affairs are not his strong suit, and he will be presiding over a fractious and unhappy Labour Party that will have no patience for any more foreign adventurism.  If, as is likely, some Democrat gets elected over here, there may still be a great deal of noise made about Iranian proliferation, but there will be little action, if there is any at all, until the Iraq war has been concluded.  Fundamentally, however, all major Democratic candidates accept the outlines of Mr. Bush’s stance towards Iran, which is that its possession of nukes is unacceptable.  There will be no great change in U.S. policy should a Democrat win.  If the Republicans somehow pull it out, it will be on a platform of confrontation with Iran.  The new Russian President will be United Russia’s man and, therefore, Putin’s handpicked successor.  Moscow’s attitudes are unlikely to change much at all.  In each of the countries where leadership is changing, the mood has become introspective and there is a desire in each place to focus on internal ills.  It is possible that many areas of foreign affairs are going to be neglected by this next crop of leaders, or else some will embrace Mr. Bush’s approach all the more (if, for instance, a McCain or Giuliani should somehow win the election).    

I am reminded of that memorable line from Cameron Crowe’s Singles when I look at the breakdown of my readership.  According to Alexa, Jordan, Egypt and the UAE still provide approximately one-fifth of my readers, and Bulgaria provides another 6%.  It was encouraging to find in a set of other statistics for the site that I had received visits from such diverse places as Ethiopia, Armenia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives and French Polynesia (and, yes, Belgium and Italy, too).  You are all most welcome.     

I can imagine a few explanations. One is that most conservative pundits have allowed that portion of the brain that one uses to analyze a substantive question of national policy to atrophy to the extent that they don’t understand why this is something that conservatives should like. Another is corruption; this proposal would be bad interest group politics and the energy companies are major financiers of the right. A third is hackishness; this proposal would put you in disagreement with George W. Bush and other Republican Party politicians. Last is the politics of resentment; conservative pundits just hate environmentalists too much to see the forest for the trees. [sic] ~Matt Yglesias

Yglesias proposes here some possible explanations why there aren’t many conservative pundits who advocate a carbon tax despite its purportedly great political advantages.  While listing those who do support such a proposal, Ross also offers an explanation for why pundits, whose job description rarely involves introducing interesting or new policy proposals, aren’t pushing this or any other potentially controversial proposal.  Ross’ explanation makes sense of pundit indifference, but Yglesias’ answers sum up fairly well most of the actual political reasons why a carbon tax proposal would go nowhere today on the right.  A proposal that goes against corporate interests, the administration and offends mainstream conservative knee-jerk anti-environmentalism all at the same time is obviously doomed from the start as far as most conservatives today are concerned.  As for the pundits themselves, they have no incentive to swim against the tide of anti-environmentalist, pro-administration sentiment that remains widespread in their regular readership.  A carbon tax is the sort of thing Mike Huckabee would probably propose, and that is exactly why conservatives will want nothing to do with it (much as they already want nothing to do with the rest of Huckabee’s tax policy).

There are at least three additional reasons why you will not see a lot of enthusiasm for the carbon tax on the right once the policy ideas begin to filter down from the wonks to everyone else.  There is the die-hard small-government response that lower taxes in one area shouldn’t be replaced by another tax.  “Starve the beast” isn’t a big vote-winner, I agree, but among the true believing anti-statists, who are actually disproportionately represented in the middle and lower echelons of movement conservatism, it remains one of their hoped-for goals.  Regardless of what a carbon tax is supposed to achieve, these are the people who will oppose it because it is a tax and the overall government take will not significantly diminish; the stated purpose of reducing consumption in something, regardless of what that something is, will offend another batch of economic conservatives who seem to think that consumption is man’s purpose here on earth.   There would also be a pretty intense reaction among voters against a tax that would obviously raise the cost of living for everyone, since this puts another financial strain on working and middle-class families that will feel as if they cannot afford it (and in many cases, whether for reasons of indebtedness or not, they actually cannot).  Direct taxes are no better for these people, but the voters who want lower taxes do not simply want to see their money extracted in a different way.  The middle-of-the-road, less obsessively anti-tax voters who might even be sympathetic to the goal of the policy (i.e., reducing carbon emissions) are not so sympathetic to the goal that they want to see higher energy costs.  

During a time in which economic populism is becoming more popular, because job security is worsening and outsourcing has become an ever-greater problem, it seems to me that the party of the carbon tax is the party that will implode all across the Midwest.  If conservative pundits are as reflexively pro-corporate, pro-administration and anti-environmentalist as Yglesias makes them out to be, they would just need to sit back and wait to reap the benefits of a backlash against a Democratic candidate proposing a carbon tax. 

The party of the carbon tax will probably not do very well elsewhere, but those areas hardest hit by the glories of free trade will probably not be eager to add yet another cost to doing business in the United States that will encourage still more industry to relocate in foreign climes.  Add to this the visceral, nay, reptilian response of the average suburbanite to the suggestion that their ability to consume ought to be challenged and questioned, all for the sake of the alleged benefits stemming from the reduction of carbon emissions, and you have the next great “populist” anti-tax movement just waiting to be directed by a savvy pol.  This last point may be the most important for explaining why this is an idea fit only for policy wonks: the powerful consumerist hatred of any conservationist appeal that says that consumption of anything ought to be reduced vastly outmatches in intensity any feeling of approval for something like the carbon tax.       

Perhaps if the policy were sold as a step towards energy independence, it might manage to win the support of non-interventionist conservatives who already think we should extract ourselves militarily as much as possible from the Near East.  However, if we were to pursue the nuclear route and oil fields ceased to be strategically important for America, what rationale would the empire have left?  Has Krauthammer really thought this one through all the way?  

There seems to be an idea out there that McCain has hurt himself politically with his little “bomb Iran” crack in a way analogous to Howard Dean’s infamous “scream” (which was, in fairness, more of a yelp).  This seems to be wrong for two reasons: 1) the episode merely confirms that McCain is apparently as nonchalant about the consequences of war as he seems to be much of the time (which many Republican voters consider to be one of his greatest traits), while Dean’s scream hinted that the man might be a little unstable and unfit to hold great powers; 2) the voters McCain most needs to win over right now are Fred Thompson-adoring Persophobes who believe, as the members of the audience in the video believe, that bombing Iran is the obviously right and necessary thing to do. 

What may work in his favour even more is the response to this episode and his response to the reactions the episode causes.  In and of itself, the episode would be quickly forgotten and of no importance whatever, but now that MoveOn has thrown itself into the mix and antiwar activists are drawing attention to the video, McCain will be able to spin the episode as a bit of humour or, better yet, as a bit of allegedly Reagan-like levity of the old “the bombing starts in five minutes” variety.  In fact, expect that to become a standard McCainiac talking point before too much longer. 

There will be those who find this incredible.  Surely, the Iraq war is dragging down John McCain, they will say.  So how can more warmongering help him?  My answer to these objections is this: the Iraq war is dragging down McCain’s reputation among journalists who are against the war but deeply want to stay in love with the “maverick” McCain they have idolised all these years, and it hurts him with independents and moderate Republicans, who have traditionally formed McCain’s core of support in national politics.  It helps him enormously with those voters to whom the name McCain is normally anathema.  Sad to say, these voters are the sort who not only think the “surge” is working (which makes McCain of McCain Doctrine fame look good to them) but they are also the sort who think that Mr. Bush has generally done a bang-up job all around.  The risk that McCain has with these voters is that they will think he was not being serious enough about the threats from the “mullahcracy” or “the terror masters” or whatever sloganeered name they have picked  up from the main anti-Iranian pundits.  In any case, these are the voters McCain needs to win the nomination, so he needs to remind them as often as he can that he is the most pro-war (not just in Iraq, but in general) candidate out there. 

I can already see Romney’s desperate bid to shore up his superior anti-Iranian credentials: “Bombing Iran is no laughing matter–I’m deadly serious about it!”  He will then point out that he refused to provide state police security to Khatami during his visit to Harvard and remind everyone of his sabre-rattling at Herzliya.  You can almost hear the pro-Romney spin now: “Gov. Romney was in Israel declaring enmity against Iran, but where was John McCain?  He was probably singing a tune and making jokes about our national security!”  Do I think Romneyites are that sorry?  Generally speaking, yes. 

Can something so trivial change the course of a campaign?  Maybe not, but then at the time I didn’t think a YouTube  video would bring down George Allen, either.

So Sarko and Royal have advanced, pretty much restoring French presidential politics back to its dreary pre-2002 normality, even though the major parties have hardly done or even said much to suggest that they are understand the deep apathy and disgust with government of so many of their citizens.  There are obviously two important differences between now and 2002.  The first is the existence of a sizeable center vote (18% for Bayrou) over which the major parties must compete.  The second is that Sarko has apparently found a way to pilfer Le Pen’s voters without actually doing all that much to get them, because Le Pen has thrown away his immediate political support from France’s native working-class population for the sake of making a bargain with the Muslims for the future.  The oft-mentioned 8% of Muslims backing Le Pen and Le Pen’s open embrace of the cause of the people who tried to burn sizeable parts of France to the ground probably went over badly with his natural constituencies.  Go figure.

Unfortunately, the competition over the center will make both Sarko and Royal pursue ever-less interesting and ambitious proposals.  It is not really that much in doubt that Bayrou himself and the people likely to have supported him are going to fall in line behind Sarkozy.  Given that Royal is fairly batty by anyone’s standards and evidently not very knowledgeable about the rest of the world, the election is Sarko’s to lose and he is not going to lose, as I said last week.  Sarkozy will extend the Gaullist/UMP control of the presidency at least through 2012.   

The ISI/Liberty Fund colloquium for graduate students on federalism and constitutionalism held at the Russell Kirk Center in Mecosta was a great time.  We had two fine discussion leaders in Profs. Carey Roberts and Jim Bond and an interesting mix of law, history and political philosophy students to work through some choice readings from The Federalist, Anti-Federalist writings, the Hayne-Webster debate, Calhoun and more modern texts (sections of the European Constitution and several Court rulings of the past decade or so).  I had the privilege and honour of meeting Mrs. Kirk at the Center, and she was good enough to have us into her home on a couple of occasions.  She is a charming and engaging lady, and a great hostess.  The Center certainly keeps her busy–she was in Indianapolis last week, where Rod Dreher, Max Goss and others spoke, and as I understood it she will be at another ISI event next week as well.  

As a Byzantinist, I was something of the amateur among those who did their work on political theory and American history, but I enjoyed being part of the discussions both during and after the sessions.  I also made a trip over to the used bookstore there in town, finding a few nice volumes, including the reminiscences of Anna Dostoevsky and a Defoe title I had never heard of before.  The weekend was very pleasant, and I look forward to a chance to do something like that again, though I will be glad to be through with the conference season in a few weeks.  All of the events I have gone to this year have been excellent, but I will be glad to be traveling a little less after next month.  

Another tack seems to be to deemphasize material remains and cultural complexity, and suggest that the energies of the post-Roman Western world were funneled into Christianity. Ward-Perkins notes that encyclopedias of Late Antiquity are heavily tilted toward coverage of religious arguments, schisms and transformations, with relatively little space given to architecture, secular learning or politics. In other words, though Late Antiquity might be materially poorer than the Classical Imperial period, at least in the west, it was spiritually superior. Frankly, to me this is reminiscent of Communist era attempts to dismiss the consumer cornucopia of the capitalist world by suggesting that socialist man was spiritually richer if materially poorer. ~Razib

Ward-Perkins, like Liebeschuetz before him, is absolutely right to emphasise the archaeological and material evidence that shows undeniable economic contraction and the relative decline of Greco-Roman urbanism of the classical type.  Indeed, no one working in late antiquity really denies any of these claims of fact, and every decent history of late antiquity in the Mediterranean world takes account of these changed material realities.  Late antique historians certainly talk about architecture, for instance, at least as far as the Eastern Empire goes, since the modeling of church basilicas on secular halls and the magnificent achievement of Hagia Sophia are but two remarkable legacies of the late antique period.  If there is a great deal of attention paid to religious arguments and schisms in late antique studies (in my opinion, there is not nearly enough attention actually paid to religious controversy and heaps and heaps of attention paid to hagiography), that is because there were quite a few of them happening with rather significant consequences for the development of different parts of the Mediterranean world.  Each time you have someone sniff with Gibbonian disdain for religious contentions over an iota, you will wind up with five cultural historians who want to dedicate their lives to defending the importance of such contentions.  Each time someone comes along and says, “But, look, people really were poorer!  Things got worse!” the cultural historians will groan and say, “Yes, we understand.  Now let’s talk about something really interesting.”  These two approaches should not have to be at war with each other, since they are inherently complementary.  Obviously, comparisons of late antique scholarship to commie propaganda in any context will not encourage this sort of happy collaboration.   

Where the cultural and late antique historians part company with the late Romanists and archaeologists is in their evaluation of the worth of the period and its production, or rather the former believe that the period should receive the attention appropriate to a crucial period of transformation that contains answers for, among other things, how the medieval world came into being. 

Late antiquity had to be invented as a separate period and basically as a new concept because generations of classicists had told everyone that once the glory of Rome had passed everything went to hell and wasn’t really worth talking about.  Even traditional church history in the West used to stop at Chalcedon, as if the theologians were conceding that the fate of the empire and the fate of really interesting theology were inextricably linked. 

Church historians obviously have a hard time going along with a full-on decline and fall view, since it quite explicitly devalues the epoch of the Church’s great early efflourescence.  Tell them that the world of the 4th and 5th centuries are a “period of decline” and they will throw Chrysostom and Augustine back in your face, and they are right to do so.  Cultural historians are horrified at the idea that a whole range of centuries, in which cultural production of various kinds (including Neoplatonic philosophical works, the work of the 4th and 5th century rhetoricians and the secular court poetry of, say, Corripus and George of Pisidia) remained fairly high but had changed form, should be put on the back burner because those centuries represent a relative worsening of material conditions compared to an earlier period.  Imagine if early modernists took the same approach, ignoring the 17th century because life was so much more miserable and so much more full of religious controversy in many parts of Europe than in the 16th–how absurd would that be?

On the whole, late antique historians today try to avoid speaking in terms of either decline or superiority.  This is a result of cultural history dominating late antique studies, and there are certain things to be said against arguments about transformation that are so vague that one might conclude that no one is paying that much attention to content, but one has to understand the tremendous prejudices and biases built in to the traditional narrative sweep of European history that late antique historians battle against all the time.  They are compelled to speak in terms of transformation and change because so many people still think of the period as one of collapse and ruin.  The old apologetic interest in the Age of Faith is not what it once was and there is also a reluctance among the scholars, most of whom are not necessarily particularly religious, to engage in a lot of Christian triumphalism.  If anything, late antique studies of late have often been aimed at rehabilitating the religious deviants and heretics of the period to give a complete picture of the social fabric of that world.  That actually seems to me to be a very worthwhile thing to be doing (it is also, in a way, the kind of thing I am doing, though with less heretic-rehabilitation and more focus on the meaning deviant theologies had for their adherents), and it does not require us to dismiss or ignore material evidence and the realities of straitened conditions that this evidence shows.

Conversely, the pro-America vote is only 1% in Argentina. When did Argentina become the most anti-American country in the world? Even the French and the Palestinians are more sympathetic to a leading role for the U.S. Weird. ~Kevin Drum

I have two words for Drum: debt default.  The ruin of the Argentine economy accelerated after the default of 2001, intensifying already widespread dissatisfaction with neoliberal “austerity” measures.  Loss of confidence in the government and the dollar-pegged currency among foreign investors had been worsened by the decision to devalue the peso.  There had already been a run on the banks, which ended up destroying the savings of much the Argentine middle class and forcing a freezing of savings that then deepened the recession.  The resulting meltdown after the default flung hundreds of thousands and millions below the poverty line and sent unemployment skyrocketing.  The Economist reported in February 2002:

Such is the awe-inspiring severity of the economic, financial, political and social collapse that has befallen Latin America’s hitherto richest country and its third-largest economy. 

That tends to put people in a bad mood.  At the time, this was blamed squarely on the U.S.-backed, World Bank/IMF-approved neoliberal policies of the Menem and de la Rua governments.  The Argentine meltdown was the beginning of the end of the neoliberal era in Latin America.  There are now no governments in Latin America that would go within ten feet of the label neoliberal, much less the policies associated with it.  As neoliberalism goes, so goes the reputation of the United States, which was the principal sponsor of the doctrine.   

American refusal to bail out the Argentines, announced in the editorials of The Wall Street Journal among other places, made the association between the economic collapse of Argentina and America even stronger.  Good job, WSJ–another bright and shining victory for “free markets and free people”!  Add to that decades of Peronism and economic populism, both of which flourish when they have an outside force politicians can blame for the woes of the country, and it is not hard to understand why Argentinians have particularly hard feelings towards U.S. leadership in the world.  As they probably see it, if the U.S. had a much lower international profile Washington would not have been able to press unsuitable policies on their government–indeed, it would not have even tried to do so.  It is not surprising at all that 84% of Argentines don’t trust the United States to act responsibly.  

Interestingly, Argentina is relatively more sanguine about America functioning as the “world’s policeman”–more Americans (76%) believe the U.S. is doing more along these lines than it should than do Argentines (62%).  Running up against that is the figure showing 75% of Argentines who think the U.S. should have fewer bases around the world, which is a higher percentage to take this view than any other country listed in this survey (France is a close second).

My guess is that neoconservatives will not be smiling after seeing this.   

Col. Wilkerson has a simple phrase that will be very annoying to some: “Israel is a strategic burden on the United States.”  That certainly seems to be true.

Via Antiwar Blog

Compare and contrast the depths of stupidity and callousness to which politicians will go.  Here is Huckabee a few weeks ago in an interview with RCP:

There are things we need to be afraid of; we need to be afraid of Islamic fascists; we need to afraid of the internal terrors that we face. The fact that many people will go to work this Friday and get a pink slip and be told that the job they’ve been working at 20 years won’t exist anymore. The fear that people are going to get a phone call that their 8 year old has broken his arm on the playground and they’re not sure how they’re going to pay the doctor bill and pay the rent on the first of the month.

That’s real terror. I mean, people have to understand that there are many forms of terror in the United States. There’s a terror that exists because our healthcare system is upside down and we’re just so overwhelmed with chronic disease that it’s bankrupting us and making us non-competitive. Parents are afraid their kids are going to spend twelve years in schools and still not be prepared to challenge the issues of the world.

So those are real true forms of terror for many American families.

This week it was Obama’s chance to try to see the big picture in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre:

There’s also another kind of violence though that we’re gonna have to think about. It’s not necessarily physical violence but that the violence that we perpetrate on each other in other ways. Last week, the big news, obviously, had to do with Imus and the verbal violence that was directed at young women who were role models for all of us, role models for my daughter. I spend, along with my wife, a lot of time making sure that my two young daughters, who are gorgeous and tall and I hope will get basketball scholarships, that they feel good about who they are and that they understand they can do whatever they can dream might be possible. And for them to be degraded, or to see someone who looks like them degraded, that’s a form of violence - it may be quiet, it may not surface to the same level of the tragedy we read about today and we mourn, but it is violence nonethesame.

We [inaudible]…. There’s the violence of men and women who have worked all their lives and suddenly have the rug pulled out from under ‘em because their job has moved to another country. They’ve lost their job, they’ve lost their pension benefits, and they’ve lost their health care and they’re having to compete against their teenage children for jobs at the local fast food place paying $7 an hour.

There is the violence of children, whose voices are not heard, in communities that are ignored. Who don’t have access to a decent education, who are surrounded by drugs and crime and a lack of hope.

There is something pretty badly out of joint if politicians find it appropriate to liken unemployment and slurs to terrorism and criminal violence.  Obama has been down this road before, of course, remarking to AIPAC that the problem is not so much terrorism as it is cynicism.  In one sense, he might have had a point, except that this is what he always says.  Kaus offers an explanation:

It suggests a mindset that tries to fit every event into a familiar, comforting framework he can spoon-feed his audience [bold in original]  without disturbing them.

A less charitable explanation is that Obama isn’t nearly as politically savvy as many of us, myself included, thought he was.  Perhaps he will keep saying similarly incredibly vacuous and/or obnoxious things for the next eight months.

Update: Steve Sailer notes that this bad speech is an expanded retread of an old Jesse Jackson routine.

It’s also worth noting that Obama almost literally cannot make a speech about anything without mentioning his parents, especially his father, his wife or his daughters.  Some might find this to be a touching attachment to family.  I find it to be a tiresome habit of trotting out his biography and family life as the only substantive, new things he ever has to talk about.

Update: Ross talks about the speech here.

Forty-eight percent of Americans 18 to 29 years old said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while 45 percent said the United States should have stayed out. That is in sharp contrast to the opinions of those 65 and older, who have lived through many other wars. Twenty eight percent of that age group said the United States did the right thing, while 67 percent said the United States should have stayed out. ~The New York Times

Via Ross

Well, if that’s right, it pretty much shoots to pieces my idea of a generational mass abandonment of the neocons and neolibs.  On the “bright” side, it could just be that my fellow youngsters are really ignorant and have no idea what they’re talking about when they say things like this!

This flattering picture, which makes even the senator blush, has seldom been challenged by political commentators or the public. And as of mid-March 2007, no one had tried in earnest to subvert the idea that, as president, Obama could help ease America’s racial tensions because his mother was white and his father was black.

But that’s exactly what Steve Sailer, a columnist for the anti-immigration site, tried to do in a piece he submitted to the American Conservative magazine, where, at the time, I was assistant editor. Using quotes from Obama’s 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, Sailer portrayed the senator not as a unifying figure, but as an angry black nationalist who completely rejected his white racial heritage as a young man and might do the same as president.

“[T]here is the confusing contrast,” he wrote, “between the confident, suave master politician we see on television and the tormented narrator of Dreams, who is an updated Black Pride version of the old ‘tragic mulatto’ stereotype found in ‘Show Boat’ and ‘Imitation of Life.’ ” Sailer surmised that Obama “offers important testimony about the enduring glamour of anti-white anger.”

Even before I read the piece I knew I wouldn’t like it. TAC’s editor, who was pleased with Sailer’s work, had told me as much. But I found the piece so offensive when I first read it that I jumped out of my chair and rushed into the managing editor’s office to try to kill it on the spot. She and the editor promptly dismissed my objections. The piece is provocative, they said—it’s edgy. It’s racist, I said—and the magazine will be regarded as such for publishing it.  ~Alexander Konetzki

Now I have briefly worked with Mr. Konetzki during the time he was at TAC, and I think he was and is a good editor.  I had heard about his resignation and the reason for it, which I thought was strange (especially after I read the “offensive” Sailer article), but I thought that it wasn’t a big deal.  People have strong disagreements about editorial priorities and tone and policies, and sometimes they part ways of their own accord.  While I don’t quite understand why some people go to work for a publication whose political leanings are both plain as day (had Mr. Konetzki never read a Steve Sailer piece in TAC before?) and evidently contrary to their own, I really don’t understand why they then act as if this state of affairs is both a surprise and an outrage.  Ross makes a good point about this here.  Jim Antle has fun with this here.  I understand even less why you would turn on former employers on account of this disagreement.  Resigning in protest is one thing, but public ridicule and using private conversations against your colleagues are something else all together.  Just because an association is brief does not obviate the need for at least a certain decent interval to pass before criticising your former colleagues (it’s been what, about a month?).  I don’t think any interval is long enough to make slamming your former colleagues and insinuating that they wink and nod at racist commentary an appropriate move, at least not unless you have a good deal more to back it up than does Mr. Konetzki. 

Of course, Mr. Konetzki cannot have really been entirely unaware that the great and good in establishment political circles in Washington and New York almost certainly already thought TAC was racist (among other things), partly because of its position on immigration and partly because it is vital to the great and the good to think this about anything related to Mr. Buchanan et al.  Naturally, nothing could be more untrue–not that any of this will likely matter to readers of the Monthly.  It is possible to object to Sailer’s interpretation of Obama, even to find it completely wrong, and not consider it racist.  It is possible Mr. Konetzki’s criticisms of the article would have gone over much better had he not immediately resorted to flinging a loaded charge with what seems to me to be too much ease.  Had he been more familiar with the typical and inaccurate criticisms of Sailer, he had to know that calling something that Sailer wrote racist would be guaranteed to make many conservatives ignore whatever else he had to say against the article.  If Steve Sailer sneezes, people say it is a racist sneeze; if he takes a sip of water, he must be doing it because he hates non-whites, etc.  They say this because he has the bad taste to talk about sociobiology and genetic differences as if they mattered in the real world.  In this article he then gave the ultimate offense: he suggested that the great multiculti political hope of the present moment tends to identify with one side of his background over the other.  If this is true, this is not obviously disqualifying; it may not even be an unattractive trait.  It is considered a negative only by those who think race and ethnicity are or ought to be entirely irrelevant to our entire political discourse.  Identifying with one group over another and championing their particular interests are not bad traits to my mind, but if that’s true about Obama this would directly contradict his current public image that so many people find appealing.   

In my view, Sailer’s article was actually a sympathetic portrayal of sorts (though it also clearly had its critical and polemical elements), showing that Obama is not the absurd race-unifying comic book character candidate that his admirers would have him be, but a real person who has described how he understands his identity, heritage and upbringing in very personal terms.    Mr. Konetzki claims that Mr. Sailer misrepresented some things or simply got some facts wrong.  I would say that even if Sailer is misreading something in the book, that is much more likely a case of mistaken judgement rather than a distortion of facts.  Sailer’s error here was to try to make Obama into someone interesting enough to merit all the attention the man already receives.  No one wants to know what’s actually in the empty vessel they are busily pouring their hopes into, and they don’t respond well when they hear that the contents are not what they imagined them to be.  But it is actually quite difficult to see how it is racist to highlight those aspects of Obama’s struggles with his own identity that Obama himself includes in his published works and then to draw conclusions from the story about Obama’s views.  Perhaps Mr. Sailer pushed some interpretations farther than they merited or read into the memoir more than was there, but it is extremely hard to accept that the article is racist. 

A few wrote to remind him [Pope Benedict] that, as far as “reason” was concerned, it was Arab rationalists like Avicenna and Averroës who, with their commentaries on Aristotle, had saved Greek thought from obliteration during Europe’s undeniably dark Dark Ages. ~Jane Kramer

Via Reihan

This would be nice, if it were true.  Yes, Muslims preserved the Greek learning that they found in the lands they conquered, but it wasn’t as if Greek thought was ever in danger of “obliteration,” since the vast majority of Greek literature and history was preserved by the, er, Greeks in Byzantium.  Muslims were especially keen on philosophy and scientific texts, and these they made use of and recopied down through the centuries, which then facilitated their introduction into western Europe.  But they had little use for the playwrights, poets and historians, whose works we have primarily because of the Byzantines, who were also preserving the philosophical and scientific texts at the same time. 

It might also be worth noting that Avicenna and Averroes were notoriously “unorthodox” by the Islamic standards of their day with beliefs about the eternity of the world and the like standing in direct contradiction to Islamic revelation.  One of these philosophers felt the need to imagine truth as running on two tracks that did not intersect very often: the truths of reason and revelation were both true, but they were not going to fit together or be reconciled.  Even when Islam had a place for philosophy, it was never as a “handmaid” to theology, but usually more in the role of a scullery maid who would be allowed to scrub the floors as long as she made sure to stay out of the master’s way.  The obvious points would be that al-Kindi, Avicenna and Averroes represent a limited phenomenon that rather underscores and proves Pope Benedict’s Regensburg observation about the nature of Islam.  These three, with perhaps a couple others, represent the greatest achievements of Islamic philosophy for its first six centuries, but they are relatively few in number and ultimately had much less significance for the overall development of Islamic thought than the jurists and mystics had.  There was a moment when a kind of actually Islamic rationalism was on the rise, and it was squashed in the ninth century and never really fully reappeared.  Even then, it was a highly eccentric movement within Islam and one deemed to be wrong on fundamental questions of theology, as indeed it would have to have been if the divinity of Qur’anic authority was going to be confirmed. 

When there is a conflict overseas that involves foreigners killing each other, liberal and neoconservative interventionists are convinced that it is genocide, know that it will get much worse and demand that we “do something.”  When there is a conflict overseas that involves Americans fighting foreigners, neoconservatives and Jacksonians are confident that everything will get much better and the end is in sight, while liberal interventionists will say that things can only get worse.  Non-interventionists say, “Don’t get involved and don’t start wars,” and all the other groups tell them that they have no grasp on reality.

France is only the latest example of Europe’s left-right spectrum decomposing from below, as the lower-middle (heirs to the Poujadists and the Trotskyists) revolts against the orthodoxies of the upper-middle.  The mostly shallow fusionism of Ségo and Sarko marks a clumsy attempt to reconcile with the new political reality.  European politicians, at least, “Are All Pim Fortuyns Now.” I think it’s only a matter of time before a similar political landscape emerges here in the United States. We have the considerable advantage of a large and growing economy, and yet we also have a sky-high rate of incarceration that might soon become for us what tension over assimilation and immigration has been for Europe — and then some. ~Reihan Salam

Well, I think I am in decent shape as far as time-sensitive work goes now, and I don’t want to make this really, really long, but all the recent talk about Kosovo calls me to say a few words.  As I have mentioned in the past, the bombing of Kosovo was a crucial moment in bringing me around fully to a non-interventionist foreign policy view and in crystallising my understanding of why our solidarity with Christian peoples in Europe was important to the security of Europe, so I take the matter pretty seriously.  I have not written much about Kosovo lately because I haven’t had much to add, and I find the entire scene to be fairly depressing.  As I remember Dr. Fleming once saying, Kosovo was Waco writ large.  As surely as the latter awoke me to the terrible potential of the central government, the bombing of Kosovo made me see our foreign policy’s corruption by poisonous ideology and corrupting lust for domination.  What they did to the Serbs they could and very well might do to Americans some day.  It would not be for the first time. 

Let’s start with part of Rod’s quote from a “prominent journalist” written in response to Spengler’s Asia Times article on Kosovo:

The salient point is that from a CULTURAL point of view, either prospectively or retrospectively, the significance of this 10% is nil. So I genuinely don’t see why you view this as a make or break issue in terms of Western will versus what you persist (baselessly in my view) to call ‘dhimmitude.’

The “prominent journalist” is right that partition of Kosovo will not solve the problem, but simply postpone its resolution to some future date.  The places and sites sacred to Serbian Orthodox Christians will not cease to be sacred to them simply because they have been pillaged and ravaged.  (Incidentally, the April issue of Chronicles, whose cover is covered with images of icons defaced by the KLA and other Albanian vandals, is a great one and concerns itself with the more general problem of Christophobia.)  Kosovoan independence will ensure that whenever conflict does resume, as it almost certainly will, it will be an international war that has the potential to become a much larger conflict.  With that in mind, partition will only be a stopgap measure and one that does not avoid the fundamental problem, which is that NATO has empowered Islamic terrorists in the middle of the Balkans.   

Whether or not the territory of Kosovo and Metohija is divided politically, this fundamental Serbian and more generally Orthodox attachment to Kosovo will remain undiminished.  It is like the attitude of a Frenchman towards Lorraine after 1871, only many times more intense.  It is probably more like the feeling of Armenians about the Van and Sivas regions.  The desirability of partition is that it will at the very least prevent the renewal of conflict in the immediate future, but as I have noted it will not eliminate the causes for future conflict.  From the Serbian perspective, partition of Kosovo is less than optimal for the very reasons that the “prominent journalist” said, which means that any settlement will not be a stable or lasting one.  Partition is acceptable only inasmuch as it protects the current Serbian population of Kosovo, which is certainly desirable in itself, but it remains only the second-best solution to reincorporating Kosovo into Serbia.  However, there is also a far more fundamental question of preserving Serbian sovereignty.  Given that it is possible to avoid both independence and partition, partition also seems undesirable.  James Jatras writes on partition this week:

Under such circumstances, it is unfortunate that suggestions are heard from various quarters that the best outcome for Serbia would be a partition of Kosovo. Indeed, as claimed by James Lyon in the Sorors-financed Belgrade media conglomerate B92, partition is the secret goal of Serbia’s leadership, which—according to Lyon—is rubbing its hands in anticipation of the majority of Serbs’ eradication from Kosovo, so as to have a pretext to keep the area north of the Ibar. All Belgrade’s brave defense of principle, suggests Lyon, is just maneuvering toward that end.

For whatever it is worth, I do not for a minute believe any such nonsense, which smells of a deliberate effort to sow discord and confusion. To start with, even if any such pro-partition intention existed with anyone in the Serbian government, it is hard to credit the secret collusion necessary to achieve such an outcome amid the obvious political rivalries. Thankfully, the current political dynamic is such that each party vying for power must tout its principled stand on Kosovo while ready to pounce on any opponents foolish enough to weaken their commitment to Serbia’s constitutional and territorial integrity. Oddly enough, the current disunity has redounded to Serbia’s advantage. Even those who might wish to sell out have no chance to do so. 

Still, the question of partition now has been raised. I can confirm that there are some in the United States who are not at all hostile to Serbia and have suggested to me that maybe it’s “better to keep something than lose all.” And even some Serbs, perhaps conditioned by years of mind-numbing propaganda that “Kosovo already is lost,” may be tempted to think the same way. So, as we face the last gasp of the West’s failing policy, the disastrous consequences for Serbia of even considering the possibility of partition must be addressed. Both partition and, should it ever be toyed with, a policy of secretly aiming at partition fail as a matter of practicality, of principle, and of political advantage.

As a practical matter, Serbia’s aiming for partition just as the Ahtisaari plan stands on the brink of collapse would be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. If those “friendly” western governments that wish to detach all of Kosovo from Serbia could do so, they would. If they cannot—and it is increasingly clear they cannot—why should Serbia compliment their failure by conceding the majority of what they have failed to seize?

All of this is why intervening on behalf of irredentists and terrorists (or intervening in any war that is not your fight) is generally a bad idea and should be avoided.  To make amends, our government ought not to continue rewarding irredentists and terrorists for their crimes and should also oppose Kosovoan independence. 

Note that I do not use the Albanian propaganda word Kosovar (taken from the Albanian name of the place, Kosova) when describing any of this.  The extent to which ‘Kosovar’ has entered into the standard lexicon of many people concerned this question reveals the pervasive anti-Serbian bias in media coverage of anything related to Kosovo; it is so widespread that people pick it up without realising its origin or its significance.  Kosovar might be a term that could be applied to the Albanian population, since it is an Albanian word, but obviously it makes no sense to refer to “Kosovar Serbs,” unless one wants to privilege Albanian claims to the place.

In one sense, the independence of Kosovo is not the “make or break issue” that presages either the future collapse or the revival and survival of Europe.  The make-or-break moment arguably already occurred when most Europeans and Americans sided with the Bosnian Muslims, the mujahideen imported from Iran and elsewhere and the KLA against the Serbs.  When the might of the West was used to compel Serbs to cede part of their own country to terrorists and Albanian irredentists, the spirit of capitulation and collaboration had already prevailed in many parts of Europe.  There is another sense, however, in which defeating Kosovo independence or at least ensuring partition will be a strong signal that the West has stopped trying to curry favour with Muslims by selling out their civilisational brethren.  Of course, that is probably too much to hope for at this point.  There is yet another way to view the fate of Kosovo as a symbolic turning point related to Europe as a whole: Kosovo’s fate is a warning to the apostles of assimilationism and mass immigration that immigration can be a prelude to full political takeover, and this final takeover often will be achieved through violence if necessary.

The “journalist” continues also said:

As far as Russia goes, incidentally, don’t exaggerate the importance of Kosovo to them (even to the
Patriarchate). That’s what was said during the Kosovo War itself, about Milosevic’s ouster, etc.. These days, if anything, Kosovo is even less significant in terms of Russian policy goals, though you may well be right that they will end up blocking the current independence deal in the UN Security Council. But the idea that in doing so it will be a case of a latter-day Horatius at the bridge seems to me far-fetched.

Statements like this puzzle me.  Whether or not the Russian government officials believe in their heart of hearts that they must stand by the Serbs and deeply treasure the “spirit of Kosovo” (I will guess this is probably not true), this is irrelevant because it is entirely consistent with Russian interests concerning their own territorial integrity vis-a-vis Chechnya and other potential breakaway states to oppose the separation of Kosovo from Serbia.  Whether or not Orthodox and Slavic solidarity enter into it, and we cannot entirely discount these things insofar as they may matter to some of the Russian public for symbolic reasons, Realpolitik dictates that the Russians resist the independence of Kosovo.  Washington and Brussels have given Moscow no reason to trust them or to support their meddling in the Balkans then or now, and whether or not this meddling is ultimately aimed at Russia (Spengler says no, I say don’t be so sure) the Russians think that it is, which is the only thing that matters for determining how they will view this matter.  If the Russians received certain guarantees that no one would attempt to detach Chechnya from Russia through similar efforts at the U.N., they might be willing to take a softer line, but to take those guarantees seriously they would have to believe that the West was acting in good faith…which the move to put ballistic missile defense in central Europe makes entirely impossible. 

The “journalist” then concludes:

Incidentally, it is a mark of just how wrong people like Neuhaus, Steyn, and, it seems, yourself are in your ‘Eurabia’ thesis that you’re surprised by the Le Pen story. The truth is that there is so much assimilation (though to say this is not to
underestimate the degree of exclusion and alienation) of Maghrebi immigrants to France that a certain number feel comfortable with Le Pen.

This is absurd.  I’m sure the Muslims quoted in the article citing the 8% of Muslims who will support Le Pen next Sunday are confident that they are assimilated French citizens.  Maybe some of them are.  Perhaps the assimilated Muslims are the only ones backing Le Pen–even so, you almost have to feel sorry for the man quoted in the article saying that Muslim professionals will be able to get proper jobs in a Le Pen regime because Le Pen looks out for French citizens!  It’s difficult to say for sure, but what seems obvious about the Le Pen-Muslim story is that Le Pen has effectively thrown in the demographic and cultural towel and decided to start making a deal with the people he assumes will only become more and more powerful and numerous in the future.  It is smart on his part from a narrow, cynical, political perspective, but it can only confirm the arguments of those warning about Eurabia that the people who might have been relied upon to resist Islamicisation more fiercely than others have given up and sought to make a better deal for themselves.  It may pay off in the short term.  In decades to come, it may be remembered as the moment when French will, strained and weakened by last year’s riots, gave out and paved the way for the gradual Kosovo-isation of southern (and central?) France.

For those interested in a compelling account of the problems with U.S. Balkan policy over the years and the deeper pathologies that drive globalist interventionism, here is an old but excellent piece by Dr. Trifkovic

Shorter neoconservatism: Culture matters when it vindicates our opposition to domestic policies we wouldn’t have wanted to support anyway, but it is absolutely irrelevant when it undermines the argument for the interventionist foreign policy we want to pursue.

Elsewhere, Ross and The Plank’s Isaac Chotiner notice pundit conflict-of-interest problems, citing the most recent and egregious example of boosterism posing as analysis in Niall Ferguson’s assessment that McCain is the only man up to the challenge of understanding the value of the navy, which might be related to Ferguson’s close ties to McCain.  As a remedy to this sort of unethical punditry, it may be necessary to have the political equivalent of some enormous Henry Blodgett/Merrill Lynch-style scandal of irresponsible flacks boosting for interests in which they have a personal stake.  Just as this sort of unethical stock boosterism contributed to the boom in the late ’90s followed by the implosion of the NASDAQ, which ushered in new rules of public disclosure for analysts on business channels, these pundits are contributing to the creation of a market full of dangerously overbought candidates whose stock can only go down at a rapid rate once their loyalists are no longer able to artificially inflate their value.  In fairness to Ferguson, however, he was flacking for imperialism and war a long time before he joined up with McCain, so there’s a kind of integrity about his unethical behaviour.   

I’ll be away from Eunomia for a bit.  Between work that needs to get done and another few weeks of traveling hither and thither, there just isn’t time right now for any more posting.  There should be some interesting things to report from an ISI/Liberty Fund conference up at Mecosta later this week.  We will be talking about federalism and constitutionalism.  Regular posting may resume sometime next month, or perhaps a little sooner, depending on how quickly I can get some things done.  Right now I have to get ready for my Sayat Nova session.   

Update: Ross and Reihan will have lots of interesting things to say while they and Megan McArdle substitute for Andrew Sullivan during his vacation, so go read them while I’m away.

Joshua Cohen and Brink Lindsey rehash liberaltarianism.  Try to stay awake, if you can.  If you’re still awake, Lindsey talks about his book

I just want to clarify something because I didn’t [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. ~Tommy Thompson 

Good grief.  Abe Foxman’s talking points are already written for him here.  This is one worthy of Biden.  I mean, what was going through his mind?  There’s something to be said for not trying to lamely pander to every group you speak to in the course of a campaign.  Just consider Romney’s disastrous “patria o muerte” moment down in south Florida as an another example of trying to play to the crowd way too much.  Here’s the thing about ethnic audiences: they know what their traditions are, and they want you, the candidate, to respect them.  They do not want to hear about how you “understand” or “share” their traditions, because, unless you come from that group, you don’t.  Don’t even try to pretend that you do.  It’s embarrassing, and it’s liable to get you a lot of bad press coverage to boot. 

In the latest of many gaffe-strewn interviews, she [Segolene Royal] seemed to be blissfully unaware that the Taliban was no longer the official government of Afghanistan. ~Christopher Hitchens

Ms. Royal has been a bit, shall we say, spotty on the campaign trail over the past few months, but with things like this she manages to make Nancy Pelosi look like a savvy foreign policy thinker. 

I have to confess that the French presidential election this time around bores me unusually, even when compared to other uninteresting, predictable European elections of the recent past.  Those who have been following this closely will laugh and say, “This is a very unpredictable race–no one knows what will happen!”  But this isn’t really true. 

It’s true that no one knows who will be the challenger against whom Sarkozy will run in the second round.  It could be Royal, or it could be Le Pen, and it might even be the other guy (who might be winning the all-important Donzy primary in Burgundy), but as we know from the ‘02 election it won’t matter much who goes up against Sarkozy, particularly if it is Le Pen.  The Socialists have shown total collapse for the last five years ever since they were knocked out in round one last time, and La France presidente campaign isn’t going to save them.  Bayrou has the novelty factor working in his favour, but has limited party support and doesn’t really tap into the visceral or powerful symbolic issues of the day.  A Sarko-Le Pen showdown could be amusing, if only to see Le Pen take the relatively more pro-Muslim positions of the two of them–what would the multicultis do with that one?  In that event, I look forward to the socialist rallying chants, “Vote for the fascist, not the old fascist!” 

Sarkozy will rally the right around himself if he has to face Royal, who will probably manage to distinguish herself by reenacting the main role of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People before it’s all over.  After all, she has shamelessly pandered to every other nationalist symbol she can think of.  If she thought there were enough votes in it, she would probably suggest restoring the Orleanists to the throne, unless that alienated too many of the other monarchists.  In her tawdry flag-waving, Marseillaise-singing and Joan of Arc-loving, she is a bit like Howard Dean with his appeal to Confederate flag owners.  There is nothing wrong with the things she is promoting and embracing (just as there wasn’t actually anything wrong with what Dean proposed), but the lateness and desperation of her embrace have to be embarrassing to the head of her party and father of her children, Francois Hollande.  If Sarko faces Le Pen the entire country (minus 17-18%) will join together in mindless groupthink to “save the Republic” once more.  Of course, the French could surprise us all, but my guess is that the only truly uncertain factor of any interest will be how large Sarkozy’s margin of victory will be and whether that will represent some sort of mandate for his policies.

Now it is difficult to know with any certainty which respondents were ignorant of some of the things asked of them in this latest poll, but one figure stood out for me.  The percentage of Americans who know that “more civilians than troops have died in Iraq” was 69%, which obviously means that this most glaring and obvious fact of the Iraq war is unknown to nearly one-third of the public.  As it happens, roughly one-third of the public still supports the war.  Is it the same one-third?  I don’t know, but it might help explain why there is a singular lack of moral indignation about the slaughter unleashed by this war among war supporters if so many people literally don’t know that a slaughter is going on. 

Add to that the even more appalling figure that only 55% of Americans knew that American killed in the war were approximately 3,000 in number (it is now over 3,300 since the invasion), and it begins to make sense why some people are so unimpressed by the outraged opposition to the war.  If huge numbers of Americans don’t know how many soldiers have died, but believe for some reason that more soldiers than civilians have died in Iraq, it isn’t hard to imagine how those people could convince themselves to stick with Mr. Bush through thick and thin–after all, it’s not that bad right now, so why wouldn’t they? 

Update: It doesn’t exact inspire me with confidence that a full 7% of the public believes that Mikhail Gorbachev is still in power.  Have these people been living in a cave?  Oddly enough, more people knew Gorbachev was in charge of the USSR when he actually was in charge than now know that Putin is the President of Russia.  Fewer Americans (68%) know that we have a trade deficit today than in 1989 (81%), yet our trade deficit today is worse than it was then.  One would think that the imbalance of trade, along with other ills of the free-trading regime, would be something that more people know about than they used to, but that isn’t the case. 

My traffic rankings in the UAE and Egypt are excellent, and my readers from there evidently currently constitute almost one-fifth of my readership.  Is it the result of all the Nawal al-Zoghbi links I have been putting up lately?  I don’t know.

Mickey [Kaus] now spends his energies primarily defending the furthest extremes of right-wing culture. ~Andrew Sullivan

It is true that Mickey Kaus will defend Ann Coulter, much to the aggravation of his fellow liberals, but it is exceedingly difficult to credit that he “primarily” works on defending the extremes of “right-wing culture.”  I have watched a fair number of his exchanges on bloggingheads, and for someone supposedly preoccupied with vindicating right-wingers he spends remarkably little time talking about them.  First of all, he probably wouldn’t even be familiar with what those extremes are, or if he were familiar with them he would probably strongly disagree with them.  What did Kaus do that made Sullivan flip out (again)?  He said that Paul Krugman made an unconvincing argument–specifically about the alleged “Christian hack” problem in the federal government generally and the Justice Department specifically.  In essence, Krugman cites a few Christians serving at Justice and NASA who act like, well, Christians.  They disapprove of Lawrence v. Texas (as would any decent 10th Amendment supporter)!  They cite Scripture!  They think that a cosmological theory is a cosmological…theory!  For their next trick, they might start praying.  These were the best Krugman could come up with? 

The first one about Lawrence is bound to set Sullivan off, and probably not because he believes that the Court’s ruling was carefully argued and impeccably supported by precedent.  There is not one instance in the Krugman column that demonstrates that the people in question were actually unqualified for their positions or that they gave their religion priority over what their work required–unless you believe, as Krugman does, that disagreeing with the Lawrence decision more than any other in the last 20 years (personally, I would have gone with either Casey or Kelo) is automatically proof of your lack of qualification for a job in the Justice Department.  But to acknowledge this wouldn’t back up Sullivan’s far-fetched story that “the Christianists are coming!”  So he has to go into overdrive and declare that Kaus is carrying water for Christianists…because that makes a lot of sense.  Then again, this is the guy who thought that The Weekly Standard existed to promote religious fundamentalism.

What does Kaus actually say?  He wrote:

I’m not saying theocratic incompetents from the “700 Club” aren’t fanning out through the government. Maybe they are. I’m saying Paul Krugman is not convincing on this issue.  He doesn’t even seem to be trying to be convincing. Why should he try? There’s always been a market for anti-hick editorializing in the New York Times, especially anti-Southern-hick editorializing….Krugman’s select Times readers aren’t exactly going to demand rigor when it comes to attacking Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

Indeed.  We saw much the same thing in The New York Times Magazine just a little while ago when Gary Rosen, editor of Commentarytook the easy route in mocking religious conservatives, praising the atheist-cons who were rebelling against them and approving of the divorcees and secular men leading the Republican pack at the time, reserving especially unfounded insults (”authoritarian bullies”) for the Concerned Women of America. 

Now, it’s true that Larry Kudlow, for instance, has made an entire career out of saying that Paul Krugman makes unconvincing arguments (I exaggerate a little), but saying that Paul Krugman isn’t making a very good argument is a tiny bit different from “primarily” focusing on “defending the furthest extremes of right-wing culture.”

This was good to see.

Update: It is also worth noting that today Pope Benedict shares a birthday with my mother.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

A group of Manhattan public high-school students and a history teacher with a soft spot for Cuba flouted federal travel restrictions by taking a spring-break field trip to the communist nation - and now face up to $65,000 apiece in fines, The Post has learned. ~The New York Post

A few points: the teacher was foolish to organise such a trip, knowing full well as she must that they would be in violation of federal law.  The parents who must have consented to their children going on such a trip are even more foolish.  The principal who had to have authorised the trip and has since started denying all knowledge is still more foolish.  The laws restricting travel to Cuba are the most foolish thing in this story, since there is actually no good reason why these restrictions remain in place today.  Why should it be illegal for these students to go to Cuba?     

This urge to see the victim class as virtuous and the oppressor class as villainous leads people in countries like the United States and Britain to sympathize more with our enemies than our defenders. This is not new.

“England is, I believe, the only country in which, during a great war, eminent men write and speak publicly as if they belonged to the enemy,” said Lord Salisbury a century ago. Now you can add America to the list. ~Michael Barone

It takes a certain kind of boldness to try to conflate the miscarriage of justice committed against the Duke lacrosse players (who were nonetheless, it must be said, not exactly living as virtuously as they might have done!) with opposition to the Iraq war.  That would align Mr. Bush and his supporters with the wrongfully accused lacrosse players, and make the antiwar opposition into a collective Nifong, which works nicely at first as a way of taking a cheap shot at the integrity of war opponents but otherwise comes off sounding completely cracked. 

It takes a certain stunning indifference to justice to borrow a line allegedly from the (otherwise quite admirable) Prime Minister who presided over the nakedly imperialist and aggressive South African War and then think that you have somehow proved something important (i.e., that opponents of the Iraq war “sympathize” with the enemy) by using it.  It has struck me as something of a credit to Britain that there was at least some real opposition to the entirely unjustified attack on the Afrikaner republics.  It meant that, in spite of Gladstone-style imperialism and the rhetoric of liberal “uplift,” there were some British people who were able to recognise something terribly wrong when they saw it and were willing to say something about it.  Opponents of the South African War, like Anti-Imperialists on our side of the ocean at the very same time, could be proud that they took the side of right rather than that of might and domination.  If Mr. Barone wants to align us with opponents of past aggression and imperialism, he is most welcome. 

But this has absolutely nothing to do with imputing virtue to America’s enemies, nor does it have anything to do with sympathy for such enemies.  There is no such sympathy, at least not among antiwar conservatives (and not really among virtually all opponents of the war).  If there is any sympathy for non-Americans, it is for those civilians who have suffered on account of the war. 

Opposing bad government policy, in this case an invasion of another country, has everything to do with applying standards of right to our own behaviour.  This is done in an attempt to actually encourage the just and, perhaps, even slightly virtuous conduct of national affairs insofar as this is possible with something as inherently corrupting as state power.  Perhaps, just perhaps, if Mr. Barone would like to see fewer reflexive attacks on “villainous oppressors,” he might stop supporting policies that could be reasonably described as unjust and oppressive.  That doesn’t mean that false attacks, such as we saw in the case of the accused lacrosse players, will cease, but that Mr. Barone and company will have a bit more credibility in complaining about miscarriages of justice at home when they are not supporting a war that cannot be reconciled with the requirements of justice. 

Like our ongoing war of aggression, the South African War left Britain badly isolated and despised by her many rivals as well as by the great neutral, the United States, where pro-Boer sentiment was widespread and very public.  Back then, condemning wars of aggression and rejecting imperialism were the normal American responses.  Now this is considered something of an exotic and fringe phenomenon.  So much for the idea of progress.  This isolation and international hostility led Joseph Chamberlain, Ulster England’s contribution to the history of debased militaristic-cum-socialistic “conservatism,” to spin the extremely negative consequences of the imperialist adventure as Britain’s “splendid isolation.”     

This quote from Lord Salisbury (a figure of civilised aristocratic Toryism to whom most modern conservatives in either country would normally not pay any attention) has been making the rounds during the past couple months on the blog right and in the conservative commentariat because of Andrew Roberts, Mr. Bush’s approved court historian, who has written A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.  The quote comes from this book.  You have undoubtedly heard about Mr. Roberts’ work in one way or another in recent weeks, especially after it became public that Mr. Bush favours this historian.  I have not read the book (and I am not really in any hurry to), so I will not pass judgement on whether it is the rather tiresome rah-rah justification for various Anglo-American war crimes of the last hundred years that its critics say it is or whether it is the magnificent contribution to modern historiography that its admirers believe it to be.  What does seem clear, however, is that pro-war writers have decided to latch on to this one quote as a shorthand for expressing their contempt for opponents of the war, as if they are somehow demonstrating their moral superiority by tying themselves to a chain of unjustified Anglo-American invasions of different countries (e.g., Boer war, Suez, Vietnam, etc.).  It makes some sense that war opponents would liken supporters of the invasion to Suez or Vietnam hawks, but it will never cease to amaze me that the supporters are only too happy to accept these comparisons (even after they have strenuously denied that the Iraq war bears any resemblance to these other wars–which is what they would have to say, since at least two of them failed).

Without endorsing every last bit of this Guardian piece (for instance, I don’t think the Lancet estimates of Iraqi dead are at all reliable), it has an amazing example of what passed for commentary on the pro-war side at the beginning of the Iraq invasion (from William Shawcross in The Wall Street Journal):

April 9 - Liberation Day! What a wonderful, magnificent, emotional occasion - one that will live in legend like the fall of the Bastille, V-E Day or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Watching the tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s towering statue in Baghdad was a true Ozymandias moment. All those smart Europeans who ridiculed George Bush and denigrated his idea that there was actually a better future for the Iraqi people - they will now have to think again. 

A day that will “live in legend”?  Like V-E Day?  Did people really talk like that back then?  Yes, unfortunately, we all know that some people did, and yet most of those who spoke in such rapturous tones about the invasion go merrily about their business today without giving any hint that they think they went horribly wrong somewhere along the way.   

Hat tip to Antiwar

President Bush’s top national security adviser said Thursday that there is an urgent need to name a high-powered White House official to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s something I would like to have done yesterday and if yesterday wasn’t available, the day before,” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters during a briefing at the White House. A day earlier, the White House had said the idea for a so-called war czar was still in its infancy. ~MSNBC

This continued preoccupation with finding the war ‘czar’(which I will insist on spelling tsar in all cases from now on) is hard to understand.  What, exactly, will the tsar be doing that the old War President himself is actually unable to do?  Of course, this would normally be the time for remarks about someone’s incompetence, intelligence (or lack thereof) and often willful resistance to acknowledging changing circumstances, but let’s step away from the usual Bush-mocking for a moment and think about this in another way. 

Structurally, the war tsar would be doing what the President theoretically already does.  The war tsar would oversee both theatres, Iraq and Afghanistan, and would somehow “break through” the bureaucratic barriers and entrenched policy positions that are supposedly hamstrining both efforts, right?  In terms of government structure, the President is the only person in the modern executive branch who has the authority and resources to even attempt to do this.  Hiring some flunkey, whose main function will be to serve as a P.R. man and eventual fall guy when things get worse, will not make that flunkey into a substitute President, were such a thing even desirable.  

The National Security Advisor, again theoretically, is supposed to be the President’s point man in helping him to manage the bureaucrats and make sure that policy is carried out effectively.  Since NSAs of the Rice-Hadley school seem incapable of performing even their most basic functions, we might want to start thinking about whether there needs to be some reorganisation of the National Security Council to remedy what appears to be a real weakness in the system: its reliance on appointing reasonably competent people to the position of NSA.  We cannot expect that future Presidents will not choose underqualified loyalists for key positions–in fact, we have to assume that this will happen–so there would need to be some stronger institutional safeguards to make sure that the execution of foreign and military policies does not hinge on whether the NSA actually knows how to do his job.  (Better still, we might dismantle large portions of the national security state and the empire and make the NSA job a good deal more manageable even for the Rices and Hadleys of the world.) 

Come to think of it, where are the presidential cultists and unitary executive theorists now?  Shouldn’t they be the ones most disgusted and horrified at the thought of Mr. Bush delegating all those supposedly “inherent powers” that he allegedly possesses as “Commander-in-Chief”?  Does the war tsar participate in the “inherent powers” of the Commander-in-Chief through some kind of Neoplatonic experience of emanation and return through the various hierarchies of bureaucratic being, or will the President alone retain the mystical power to annul the Constitution on a whim?  Besides, we don’t want to fight a war by committee, do we?

One basic reason why a war tsar is an unwelcome addition to this sorry administration is a simple one of accountability.  Mr. Bush has managed to use his subordinates as shields to absorb much of the criticism that ought to be aimed mainly at him.  He does not deserve to have yet another shield to protect what remains of his reputation.

The story concludes:

Michele Flournoy, a former Pentagon defense strategist, expressed skepticism about the new post, saying it sounded like a “bureaucratic fix” to a larger problem. “I think a war czar is a desperate attempt to inject new energy into what is a vacuum of leadership,” she said in a conference call with reporters.


We cannot “shorthand” this issue with concepts such as the “democratization of the region” or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to “win,” even as “victory” is not defined or is frequently redefined. ~Gen. John Sheehan (USMC, Ret.)

But there are other differences between Mr Yanukovich’s backers and the western and central Ukrainians who mostly support his opponents. The east suffered in the Stalinist famine of the 1930s and inherited a political culture that combines narrow paternalistic expectations with profound cynicism. Easterners despised Mr Yushchenko in 2004 because, to them, his promises of a new sort of government were so much cant. ~The Economist

But his promises of a new sort of government were so much cant.  Why is this so hard to believe, or why does anyone find it in the least strange that someone would think this?  When a politician speaks in airy and meaningless platitudes, that is usually a good sign that he either has a) nothing interesting to say or b) an agenda he doesn’t want to talk about.  These eastern Ukrainians assumed Yushchenko was out to swindle someone with his empty rhetoric, because that is what politicians do.  They were right.  The question we should ask is: are Americans cynical enough to see through Obama’s equally meaningless appeal?

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, has seen it all before. Ever since the “tulip revolution”, when Askar Akaev, the authoritarian former president, was chased out of office by street protesters two years ago, the country has been in permanent political tumult. Anti-government demonstrations follow the same pattern: tents are erected in front of the president’s office, the White House; the organisers bus in protesters from their home regions and feed and water them; some, the so-called “rental pickets”, are also paid for their time—causing quite a few old-guard Kyrgyzstanis to observe sourly that, since the tulip revolution, too many of their compatriots have forgotten the real meaning of a day’s work.

The protesters—more than 10,000 of them—who gathered in the centre of Bishkek on April 11th, however, seem to have been genuine. They were there to lend weight to the call by Kyrgyzstan’s opposition parties for Kurmanbek Bakiev, the president, who was swept into power in March 2005, to step down, hold early presidential elections and amend the constitution. The leading light behind this week’s rally was Mr Bakiev’s former ally and prime minister until last December, Felix Kulov. In February Mr Kulov set up a new opposition movement, with a splendidly inclusive name: the United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan. He and his supporters want to return to a short-lived constitution adopted only last November after a week of street protest. It curtailed the president’s extensive powers in favour of parliament. But Mr Bakiev managed to undo most of the changes a month later. In the process, Mr Kulov lost his job

Mr Bakiev has failed to fulfil his promises of democratic reform. Instead, he has replaced rule by his predecessor’s family with rule by his own. ~The Economist

So the phoney “Tulip Revolution,” which had more to do with two-faced oligarchs than tulips, has yielded bitter fruit.  This would be the part where democrats around the world scratch their heads and ask, “What went wrong?”  They are, of course, asking the wrong question.  The right question might be: “Who was naive enough to think that Kyrgyzstan was experiencing a democratic revolution?”  The evidence that the revolution was a sham was available pretty early on.

At the time, some of us were very skeptical of the democratic nature of the change of power.  This was not exactly an episode of the oppressed Kyrgyz people yearning to breathe free.  It seemed to be a regional and tribal feud that wore the mask of “people power,” a mere jockeying of old rivals, albeit one spurred on by meddlers from outside and accompanied by violencelooting and destruction of property

Many democrats around the world swallowed the propaganda whole without giving it much thought.  In most parts of the world, democracy really does just mean “to the victor the spoils,” because that will very frequently be the result of a change of power from one region or tribe to another.  The Ukrainian “revolution” of 2004 was much the same (that “revolution” has also experienced the disappointment of not being the glorious reform movement it was cracked up to be and now clings weakly to power), as was its dubious successor in Lebanon.  The politics and constitutions of these countries will always baffle outside observers who approach them with simple dictatorship/democracy binary schemes, because there is no country for which such a scheme makes any sense.

Of Mr. Bakiyev, I wrote last April:

For those who actually found Mr. Akayev’s rule so terrible, his replacement by Mr. Bakiyev will be as meaningful for the domestic reform of Kyrgyzstan as the succession of Andropov after Brezhnev was for the internal politics of the USSR.

This is turning out to be the case.  What else could we have expected from internecine fights among political figures raised up in the old Soviet system to one degree or other?  A Bishkek Spring?  Hardly.

This is the post where I partially grant that Jonah Goldberg has a good point about something, and then point out that it is fairly inconsistent with certain things he has said in the past. 

My former EM colleague and a future co-blogger, Steve Burton, discussed the recent lefty blog attack on Goldberg’s post related to differences between American and European health care systems in which Goldberg said, more or less, “Culture matters.”  That is, the political traditions of different countries and their relationship to the state in the past will affect how well-suited this or that people will be for different policies.  That seems quite reasonable, and it sounds an awful lot like the sort of thing that antiwar conservatives were saying against the universality of democracy prior to the invasion of Iraq.   

Mr. Burton is correct that the blog left has tended to respond reflexively and mistakenly to what Goldberg said.  Subsequently, there was some engagement in the latest bloggingheads episode with Ezra Klein and Julian Sanchez with the idea that culture was an important factor in considering the viability of European-style socialised health care in this country.

Mr. Burton said that he made this point about culture in his “jokey” style, but I would guess that the Canadians and western Europeans being indicted as the heirs of “throne-kissing swine” and those “with a long history of sucking up to the state and throne” respectively would not get the joke, especially since it was historically the least overtly royalist and conservative elements in these countries that pressed for socialistic policies.  There was and is a kind of conservative and Christian democratic pro-labour socialism, but in most cases those most well-known for their “throne-kissing” were less likely to be in favour of the sort of centralised socialist systems promoted by European social democrats and Canadian labour activists.  (To the extent that some European conservatives embraced parts of the socialist agenda early, it was at least partly to undermine and weaken the appeal of socialist parties.)  The goal of corporatism, both Catholic and non-Catholic, was to find some alternative path that did not unduly privilege the interests of capital or labour, but sought (however clumsily in some cases) to coordinate and balance these interests. 

Nonetheless, the basic point that very homogeneous European societies with some greater tradition of state interventions in economic life would be more amenable to socialised health care makes a lot of sense, especially since European liberalism (or what we would call right or classical liberalism) ceased to be a politically viable alternative in most parts of the Continent over a hundred years ago.  It does seem to be making one of its better comebacks in a place such as Belgium with the Vlaams Belang.  Belgium, of course, has long had a tremendously weak sense of national solidarity and identity, and this is now aggravated by the influx of Muslim immigrants who are politically identifying themselves more and more with the Socialists.  Beyond the traditional religious and ethnic cleavages in Belgium that tend to make “nationwide” social solidarity less attractive to many Belgians, especially the Flemings who wind up footing much of the bill, there is an added division in the society created by mass immigration.  This relates tangentially to some pro-immigration conservative claims that immigration would be less of a burning issue in this country were it not for the welfare state, and it also points to a reason why the progressive left in America might want to try to take restriction of immigration and assimilation more seriously as one of their winning issues (in addition to conservationist, income equality and pro-labour concerns). 

A recent history of Denmark (land of at least some of my ancestors and, apparently, royalist toadies) by Knud Jespersen has made the link between Danish homogeneity and the creation of Danish social democracy very clear and convincing.  It is perhaps not entirely a coincidence that the Danish liberal party, Venstre, under Anders Fogh Rasmussen has done fairly well following the influx of Muslim immigrants into Denmark.  Yet, somewhat ironically, to stave off the challenge of the more specially anti-immigration nationalist party, Dansk Folkeparti, it has adopted some restrictionist legislation.   

Now we come to Goldberg’s older article in which he objected to Maistre-style paleoconservative “junk” “identity politics.”  In his most recent post, he said:

Liberals constantly invoke Sweden as a governmental model without paying much heed to the fact that Sweden’s government succeeds as much as it does because it governs Swedes.

But back in ‘02, when writing about where “Pat Buchanan Meets Al Sharpton” (because that’s a respectful way to talk about other conservatives), Goldberg wrote:

More relevant, he [Maistre] thought constitutional democracy was for suckers — in part because it’s based on the idea that humanity is universal.

“Now, there is no such thing as ‘man’ in this world,” de Maistre famously wrote. “I have seen in my life French men, Italian men, Russian men… But as for ‘man,’ I declare that I have never met one in my life; if he exists, it is entirely without my knowledge.”For de Maistre, you couldn’t be just a “man.” You had to be a man of Italy, a man of France, a man of Persia, etc. The new American republic was so much folly, in de Maistre’s eyes, because its Constitution was blind to this unchanging fact of life.  The Declaration’s bold proposition, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” ran completely counter to everything de Maistre believed.

It should go without saying that the Left subscribes precisely to this point of view. Along with nationality, they also emphasize ethnicity, race, and various other identity-politics categories, but the principle is the same. They believe there is an epistemological firewall separating blacks from whites, women from men, Latinas from non-Latinas, etc., etc. De Maistre would have no problem saying “people of color,” because that is largely how he saw the world.

What doesn’t go without saying is that there’s still a sizable segment of the Right that preaches very similar junk: paleoconservatives.

I had first noticed this article when Goldberg had said something to the effect that Maistre would have endorsed the concept of “white logic” (i.e., that there is a system of logic appropriate to white people, and other, entirely different systems appropriate to others).  That is, if you believe that ethnicity and nationality are real and significant, you must be essentialist about it, and you must impute radical difference between all ethnicities.  That this does not follow logically (not even when using “white logic”) should be clear to everyone. 

In support of his bizarre claim, he linked to the article with the Maistre quote above.  In short, he seemed to be saying, if you don’t believe in abstract, ahistorical Man and all that this entails, you inevitably must accept that different groups of people have irreducibly different epistemological frameworks.  I suppose you can take that position (it’s the sort of caricature of Enlightenment rationalism that defenders of the Enlightenment find appalling), but I continue to be perplexed at how someone can take that position and a) call himself a conservative or b) invoke cultural difference as a significant factor in discussing problems of policy.  But never let it be said that I haven’t given Goldberg at least a little credit when he has managed to get something right.

Prof. Knippenberg at No Left Turns has taken up for Jonah Goldberg on account of the recent…strong disagreement that I have had with the latter over his treatment of several of his interlocutors over the last year.  In objecting to shoddy debating tactics and what would seem to be an unwillingness to engage the ideas of others, I have sometimes become quite angry, since I generally find this kind of debating offensive and unfortunately quite typical of the way certain conservatives attempt to set the limits and define the terms of the debate in such a way that only they will prevail.  It is a kind of rhetorical sleight of hand that should not go uncriticised. 

Each of the controversies I have cited previously fit this pattern of someone raising objections to some kind of prevailing idea or conventional wisdom or stigma and Goldberg slapping them down with at least as much disrespect as there has been in anything I have written.  In Prof. Knippenberg’s view, that shabby behaviour gets a pass, but when I call Goldberg on this tactic in the strongest terms and then draw some unflattering conclusions about what it means it is hateful, perhaps because I don’t cloak my ridicule in a supposedly “amusing” or “jokey” style, a style that, as it happens, isn’t even funny.  So I have criticised this tactic of tarring interlocutors with what are intended to be very nasty associations and focused on one of its more egregious users.  This has led some people to consider me hateful, which I think is the wrong characterisation inasmuch as they mean that I actually feel hatred for the people I am criticising.  I don’t believe that’s the case.   I will allow that I can and have been swept up by what probably is undue anger, but I firmly reject the idea that people should not be outraged and get genuinely angry when they encounter someone who uses his position of influence to belittle and insult those whose ideas he doesn’t understand and furthermore doesn’t seem to want to understand.  If a teacher did this to colleagues on a regular basis, he would reasonably be regarded poorly and would be viewed as a much less serious person who cannot let his evidence do the talking, but must run down those with whom he disagrees because he knows his argument isn’t really very good or interesting to start with. 

If I have harmed or set back this critique because of some flaw or excess on my part, I do regret that.  I would find it obnoxious if errors on my part were allowed to obscure the main point.   

Prof. Knippenberg remarks (without providing links) that I have criticised him a couple times in the past, which is true.  He once wrote against Fukuyama when Fukuyama was engaged in his public break with neoconservatism, and I countered what I thought to be the mistakes in his response.  I wasn’t bowing and prostrating myself as I made these statements, of course, but neither was I really rude or, as he claims, disrespectful.  The other comes in the context of my dispute with Claremont last year, where the followers of Harry Jaffa made it their business to belittle, mock and insult Claes Ryn and his understanding of historicism as much as they possibly could.  I don’t remember Prof. Knippenberg taking any of them to task for referring to Prof. Ryn’s conservatism as a “cartoon” or taking any number of other disrespectful pot shots at him, but perhaps I missed the stern lecture that he gave them back then. 

Prof. Knippenberg jumped in with what struck me at the time, and still strikes me, as a flawed statement about Ryn’s idea of synthesis (which he then clarified and thus revealed that he didn’t actually disagree with Ryn about very much at all, making his earlier attack seem all the more odd).  I was intentionally copying the tone that Prof. Knippenberg used in his post, and in my remarks I said nothing that was more disrespectful than his attack on Prof. Ryn when he said:

Argh, I can’t help myself! I have a preliminary thought, subject to much revision. Ryn makes much of incarnation and synthesis, and, apparently, of the Incarnation as an example of synthesis. Which comes first for him, synthesis or Incarnation? If the former, then he strikes me as, ultimately, a polytheist opposed both to Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, and to philosophy as Strauss understood it, on the other.

Now theological labeling games can be quite harmless, but it seemed clear to me that initially accusing Ryn of some kind of polytheism was intended quite plainly to discredit him as somehow being an apostate from the main of Western religious tradition.  If that’s what was going on, that is a pretty harsh and lousy thing to say based on little more than an impression, but let’s remember that I am the disrespectful one and Prof. Knippenberg is in the position to set the rules of conduct.  I probably did respond a little impatiently in my response, because I had been up to my ears in Claremont chatter from any number of people who didn’t seem to know much theology (or history).  As part of that argument, Prof. Knippenberg’s intervention seemed to be just one more flawed attack on Prof. Ryn. 

I invite readers and critics to investigate this claim that I have been disrespectful to Prof. Knippenberg.  I believe you will find that it is not an accurate claim.  If Prof. Knippenberg still feels as if I was attacking him unfairly or disrespectfully, I would like to say now that I apologise for any offense that I have given.

His interpretation of my recent blast against Mr. Henninger seems, however, to be mistaken in at least a couple places.  Prof. Knippenberg wrote:

He offers two justifications here for his tone. First, the objects of his scorn deserve it. Second, if he, and others like him, can’t do this in print, they’ll explode in other, less pleasant ways.

I stand by the first idea.  Obviously, if I didn’t think the targets of my criticism deserved withering scorn, I wouldn’t heap it on them.  What I was referring to with this second idea, which was probably not stated as well as it could have been, was that the stifling, homogenising effects of ever more unaccountable media and government will end up creating some kind of backlash in our society.  Opening up political discourse through media such as blogging and allowing bloggers to be relatively unconstrained in what they say are necessary to channel the very natural opposition to this concentration of power into some rather more constructive activities.  Naturally, Prof. Knippenberg makes this remark to be mostly about me and my state of mind, which is, I’m sorry to say, not a very serious response.   

It seems evident to me that the reason why those in the institutional media of newspapers, cable news, etc., such as Messrs. Henninger and O’Reilly, would want a “blogger code of conduct” is less because they want to raise the tone of debate (which their own institutions have done their fair share of coarsening as well!) and more because they want to try to impose rules on the media they and those of like mind with them currently do not control.  I took a particularly sharp tone with Mr. Henninger himself because his newspaper’s op-ed pages and their online journal, particularly the work of the awful James Taranto, are only too happy to treat their targets on left and right with disdain and disrespect.  Perhaps Prof. Knippenberg acknowledges this, which is why he made most of his post about me and not about the things I was saying against the WSJ history of smearing political opponents.  My point was partly that people at the Journal have to be pretty cheeky to claim some high ground against the ”hyper-aggressive language of bloggers,” since their op-ed page is much more influential and prominent and they nonetheless use it even more pointedly to smear or insult, for instance, immigration restrictionists, opponents of the war and all those opposed to policies that favour concentrated wealth and power.  Do those who do these things deserve respect?  Maybe a little, but not very much. 

Such is the way of things that these far more harmful and stifling enforcers of the narrow political consensus in this country are considered the responsible and respectable voices in our discourse.   

Update: Thanks to Rod for this.

Watching the magnificently bad Indian nationalist movie-parading-as-message-of-peace, Dil Pardesi Ho Gayaa, which stars the stunning Salloni Aswani, I happened to notice the mention of the chinar tree, which is to be found in Kashmir and is apparently extremely important in Kashmiri culture and it is considered “the King/Queen of all the trees.”  It would seem that the name “originated from the Persian word “Chihnaarst” meaning fiery red color.”

As Sayat Nova fans will know, the ashugh often will compare the lithe figures of women to the chinar tree, as he does in Ashkharooms akh chim kashi:

Mechkt salboo-chinari pes, rangt frangi atlas e.

Your waist is like the cypress and chinar, your colour is that of French silk.

Update: Aur ha, there is another shared borrowing in Armenian poetry and colloquial Hindi.  Sayat Nova has a poem called Eshkhemet hivandatsil im (I have become sick from your love), where eshkh is the Armenian rendering of ishq, which I assume must be originally taken from Arabic.  Language bleg: does anyone know for certain what language ishq comes from?

Novak’s entire career has been a series of position papers in favor of “values”–the “value” of unfettered sexual activity; the “value” of egalitarian democracy; the “value” of free-market capitalism unshackled from the Church’s social teaching.  Pope Benedict, on the other hand, is not concerned with “values” but with the concrete encounter with the Risen Christ… ~Scott Richert

Scott follows up on his excellent three-part series of articles at Taki’s webzine with this post responding to Novak’s criticism of Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi address, which I also commented on earlier this week.

In spite of his post lambasting me as one full of hate, I remain open to persuasion that I am wrong about Jonah Goldberg.  No, really.  Any day now, someone somewhere will present me with the evidence (of which my posts, I am told, are apparently free).  Though I remain skeptical, I have allowed that Goldberg’s forthcoming book may have something worthwhile to say.  As for “evidence-free table-pounding,” well, this is the Web and evidence often is presented through links, which I provided in the post to which he was responding.  The links and arguments found in those posts would confirm even more strongly what I am saying.  Of course, I would expect Goldberg to challenge my interpretations of the controversies in question, but that would require making an argument rather than engaging in a lot of, well, evidence-free hand-waving and shouting.  

It is curious that someone who claims to know little or nothing about me or my motives would also say that I am “reverting to form,” since that would indicate that he knows what my “form” is.  Certainly when it comes to NR generally, my ”form” is one of aggressive criticism and mockery, because most of the contributors there seem to deserve little else.  Those people made it pretty clear some years back that they consider people like me (i.e., conservatives who oppose the war in Iraq and paleoconservatives in particular) to be traitors to our country.  I have no brief for Eric Alterman or most of what he has had to say, but I generally share his low opinion of people who have declared me and mine to be traitors.  If holding something of a grudge for something that happened just four years ago–and for which no one at NR has ever expressed the least regret–is obsessing over “past” battles, I happily plead guilty.   

This post wasn’t especially vitriolic nasty, nor was it long by my standards, it wasn’t even a direct response to anything he had written and half of it wasn’t even about Goldberg.  Nonetheless, that single post is what he chose to respond to, rather than address any of the other posts that I have written in response to precisely the sort of cheap point-scoring tactics that he has used against the “crunchy cons,” Matt Yglesias and Ross and Reihan.  That is to name only those with which I am personally familiar and to which I have some small connection through blog exchanges.  His part-condescension, part-mockery approach to “crunchy conservatism” expressed very well what he thought of traditional conservatives–they probably also do not “deserve” a lot of his time.  He had no interest in people looking backwards when the “backwards”-looking folks were challenging some of the pieties of modern conservatism last year, but he now feigns interest when it suits him.  He seemed perpetually put out that he even had to talk about things as retrograde as farming or localism.  He believed, as he was glad to tell us, in a “partial philosophy of life,” which helped explain where he was coming from a lot better than anything else he said.  If belittling and insulting his interlocutors is Goldberg’s idea of ”having fun,” so be it, but he shouldn’t be surprised if the people he insults don’t take it in the good-natured spirit in which it was supposedly offered. 

He went after Yglesias for the same reasons the Smearbund has routinely gone after Pat Buchanan and others critical of U.S. Near East policy, bringing out the big guns with a Lindbergh comparison.  I didn’t know Matt Yglesias, and I have still never met him, but the cheap-shot style of Goldberg’s response reminded me of the “crunchy” debates immediately and I thought it was just as unfair and shabby to employ these methods against a progressive as it was to employ them against other conservatives.  I have recounted often enough his insulting response to Ross and Reihan and why that response was both obnoxious and ignorant.  The last controversy was the one that particularly set me off most recently, not least because of his disrespectful reference to Sam Francis at the end.  Just prior to that, I wrote a critical, skeptical but not entirely hostile post about Goldberg’s book, and his response made me think (for a moment) that there might be something more interesting about this guy than his public displays would lead you to believe, but Goldberg saved me from this bout of goodwill by reverting to his form.  Long before Alterman ever said anything about Goldberg, Yglesias had the goods on him.  I had already been convinced by his treatment of Ross and Reihan that this interpretation was right.  Does it matter that Ross and Reihan have been nothing but cordial and helpful to me?  Probably.  They were being publicly dragged through the mud, however briefly, on account of their supportive comments about me and certain other paleos, which made the insult all the more irritating and personal to me.   

Goldberg probably doesn’t address these other posts because he thinks my objections to his positions in the “crunchy con” debate were simply “whiny,” so presumably he would find most of what I have written in these other posts to be “whiny.”  That might even be true in certain instances–this is blogging we’re talking about, not necessarily the most carefully considered writing on earth–but this point would be made a lot stronger if Goldberg didn’t seem to think everyone who breaks with the movement line as interpreted by Goldberg & Co. was either a whiner, a fool, a closet fascist or a liberal wannabe (or a closet liberal or fascist wannabe). 

For those interested in a couple other examples of things Goldberg doesn’t understand, the good folks at Conservative Times remind me here of another episode in which Goldberg demonstrated just how little he knew about John Lukacs’ understanding of patriotism, which Scott Richert, a great student and interpreter of Lukacs, had some fun with here.  That response reminded me of the post in which I hit Goldberg for his ignorance about the geography of the Habsburg Empire and his offhand reference to Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.  Maybe Goldberg would say, “Well, you can’t know everything.”  That’s true.  But then the wise man would not speak about those things that he doesn’t really understand.  I stand by the content of that Habsburg post, in which I wrote:  

Assuming he was a ghost, Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s spirit would not be talking to Jonah Goldberg under any circumstances, unless it was to scare him out of the National Review offices. It is more likely he is residing in the reflected glory of the Beatific Vision, or so we can hope. Okay, here’s a third point: Kuehnelt-Leddihn would be horrified by the Montenegrin vote because of its democratic and nationalistic character. That is what a real K-L reader would take away from the story immediately. Identitarianism was bad enough for K-L, but identitarianism based on a fairly insubstantial national identity would have to be even worse! The fact that the independence movement is led by a crook and monumental swindler in Djukanovic doesn’t help at all. As a committed Kuehnelt-Leddihnist, I won’t stand for Jonah Goldberg lowering the name of the great man with such preposterous posts.

Given that episode, I am still inclined to remain very skeptical that Goldberg will make good use of the works of K-L in his work on fascism.     

Going over all this, an outside observer might say, “Okay, but so what?  Why does any of this matter?  Why should I care about your paleo polemics?”  In the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn’t matter that much.  If, on the other hand, one of the editors of the flagship journal of mainstream conservatism is actually not much more than the ideological enforcer that he seems to me to be, that tells us something important (albeit perhaps a little redundant at this point) about the moribund state of much of what passes for conservatism in this country.  A lack of ideas also has consequences for the health and success of a political persuasion and political movement, and if there is indeed such a lack today among some of the more prominent conservatives that is a problem that needs to be diagnosed and remedied.  If these posts have contributed to that in any way, they have not been a complete waste of my time.

By the day, the debate at home about Iraq becomes increasingly disconnected from the realities of the actual war on the ground. The Democrats in Congress are so consumed with negotiating among their factions the most clever linguistic device to legislatively ensure the failure of the administration’s current military strategy—while not appearing to do so—that they speak almost not at all about the first visible results of that strategy. ~Charles Krauthammer

Krauthammer may be right about disconnects between debating points and reality, but he may be slightly off in his aim.  Brushing past the destruction of one of the relative few bridges across the Tigris by a bomb blast and the explosion inside the Green Zone, he had to simply ignore Sadr’s statement ordering the Mahdi Army to target Americans (when it was supposed to be vital to the “surge” to not have to fight the Shi’ite militias yet), the bombing in Tall Afar, that former beacon of the progress we were all supposedly ignoring last year, and the odd chlorine gas attack, among other things.  He does not mention these things probably because they cannot be fitted into the narrative of progress and “cautious” optimism he is presenting to us, because that narrative is just one more version of the same “we’re turning a corner,” “things are getting better” rhetoric that we heard in ‘04, ‘05 and early ‘06.  After all of that talk was shown to be horribly wrong during the rest of ‘06, we are being treated to much the same as before.   

StarTrek in-jokes notwithstanding, Jonah is [sic] does fairly engage people who disagree with him. ~Koz

Sure he does.  That’s why he very “fairly” intimated that Rod Dreher and Matt Yglesias were respectively quasi-fascistic and anti-Semitic (no mean feat for Yglesias on this latter point) and then sought to tar Ross and Reihan with what he must have thought was the granddaddy of all negative associations by tying them to Sam Francis (thanks to his impressive ignorance of the sharp differences and even some contradictions between Dr. Francis’ theory and Ross and Reihan’s ideas).  That’s why during the entire “crunchy con” debate he pretended that the phenomenon under discussion didn’t exist, there was no such thing as a “mainstream conservative” and all of this was a construct of Rod’s ever-leftward-drifting mind–it’s all because he can fairly and intelligently engage his opponents in serious argument.  Yeah, that’s the mark of a fair and serious mind.  How could I have been so wrong? 

Those are just the examples that I happen to know about because I have been tangentially involved in the debates in question.  How many more examples are there?  I admit that I don’t know this, but there does seem to be a pretty consistent pattern over at least the last year.  His dense failure to understand a basic element in the thought of Joseph de Maistre (which dates back to 2002) certainly doesn’t recommend him to me as a keen interpreter of intellectual history, that’s for sure.  Personally, I would take the disengagement and indifference of Derbyshire over the fake, condescending attentions of Goldberg any day.  

As for Koz not knowing what “lower-middle reformism” means, it hardly gets Goldberg off the hook, since he clearly did seem to know exactly what Reihan meant at the time and decided to take a cheap shot at Reihan’s smart and basically on-target analysis.  He didn’t really understand what Reihan was saying, of course, since he rushed to conflate Sam Francis and Sam’s Club Republicans in a mishmash that would be amusing if it weren’t so pathetic.  Since Goldberg doesn’t like populism, as he will tell everyone within earshot, and also apparently doesn’t care much for anything that vaguely hints at support for American labourers, he took Reihan’s claim that the GOP needs to address lower middle class interests and concerns in order to win in the next election (which is very probably true) as an occasion to engage in a lot of posing and gesturing about his own superior thoughtfulness.  Arguably, Goldberg has demonstrated some actual thoughtfulness and serious thought somewhere (the odds are in his favour that he must have, at some point in his career, written something slightly insightful), but it isn’t apparent in any of the controversies we are discussing here.  I am open to persuasion that Goldberg is not just an ideological enforcer with a weakness for sci-fi, but so far I don’t see anything that would make me change my judgement about him.

But if this is the choice they make, we’ll know that modern conservatism has ceased to become an ideology based on any kind of principle and has instead morphed, in the age of terrorism, into something not dramatically far removed in spirit from a hero-worshipping cult. ~Michael Tomasky

Tomasky reminds us what every informed person already knew: Giuliani is a horrible person who will do whatever it takes to acquire power.  Sounds like a winner!

Today I retrieved my car from impound, which is so far to the south that it is actually beyond the Southside and in that empty gap past the point where the two highways that previously made up the Dan Ryan split off from each other.  The actual retrieval process was fairly easy, as such things go, though the possibilities for Kafkaesque delay were everywhere.  Strangely, the cop who had issued me the ticket had told me that I needed to present proof of ownership to access my car at the impound, which was rather difficult…since my registration was in the car that had just been towed away.  Fortunately, this guy was either just having me on (thinking that I was some New Mexican tourist because of my license plate) or enjoys misleading people or was himself confused about the procedure, since I needed no such proof, as I learned from the people at the lot when I called.  Anyway, that little episode is over. 

To help unwind at the end of the evening, I therefore offer this combination of Lebanese pop and salsa, which at least Michael should find amusing.

So there was a “secret” attempt to find a war ‘czar’, and it was unsuccessful (it was so secret, it naturally made it into the Post), since when it comes to this war everyone in the military wants to stay a boyar, so to speak.  The notion of executive-appointed ‘czars’ has always intrigued me, since many of the same people who, for example, support the drug war waged by the drug ‘czar’ (perhaps using drug Circassians against the drug cartel equivalent of Shamil) will also complain in other contexts about regulatory bureaucracies and other agencies of which they disapprove sending out ‘ukases’.  For the people saying these things (usually the editors of The Wall Street Journal) the first is very good, while the second is very bad, even though it is presumably ‘czars’, not people at the EPA, who send out ukases.  Needless to say, domestic friends of autocracy have a confused relationship with the lexicon of Russian politics.  

In any case, ‘czar’ positions are interesting for another reason: their creation presupposes that the normal administrative apparatus of the government, as created by Congress and authorised by the President, is a complete failure and has to be bypassed and also assumes that there is too much ‘gridlock’ or ‘partisanship’ to make it possible to achieve satisfactory ’results’ in this or that policy.  This appeals to two of the worst instincts in the American body politic: “let’s cut through the red tape” and “let’s put aside partisanship and work together.”  If you don’t want red tape, don’t just cut through it–get rid of it.  If you don’t want partisanship, get rid of parties.  If parties serve a legitimate function, stop whining about partisanship.  The ’czar’ position is a perfect expression of the American desire to have it both ways, while also reserving the right to get angry when this obviously cockamamie scheme fails. 

In other words, the creation of a ‘czar’ is not just an admission of policy failure, but an admission that the policy could never have succeeded in the first place because it was far beyond the scope of the government as presently constituted to achieve the policy’s goals.  The creation of the ‘czar’ is then very much a symbolic gesture to show that something is being done and expresses our profound “commitment” to the issue, while making no difference whatever to the bottom line.  The reason why we keep having these things, and why the creation of a war ‘czar’ would have been greeted with some enthusiasm by those who think that any change of course is desirable no matter what it is, is that it satisfies the public when they believe that the problem is being addressed in a decisive way.  Nothing says decisiveness like ‘czar’.  

Bizarrely, it was Bush’s “decisiveness” that earned him public goodwill for a long time after he had clearly gone off the policy deep end.  People could say, “He may be stupid, but you can’t say that he’s indecisive!  No Jimmy Carter syndrome here!”  With the disaster of Katrina, people stopped saying that, and suddenly the supposedly well-oiled machine of the administration (which, as it turns out, was always a basketcase bursting at the seams with rivalries) became a creaking, rusty derelict that could hardly do anything in a timely or intelligent fashion.  Once the illusory aura of decisiveness was broken, it started to become clear even to some of the previously mystified that these people really had no idea what they were doing.  Anyway, this groping for someone else to be the decisive leader (some might even call him the Decider) shows just how far the mighty Leader has fallen.  But a few months ago, decisions were his and his alone.  Now they have become simply the latest thing to be outsourced in George Bush’s America. 

I have sometimes wondered why media reports about every governmental “czar” title uses the earlier transliteration ‘czar’ rather than tsar, which more accurately captures the sound of the word.  Anyone wishing to test the proposition, go to a Russian Orthodox church at the start of the (Slavonic) liturgy and listen for, “Blagosloven tsarstvo…” (Blessed is the Kingdom…)  In English translation of the word cesky, we use a ‘cz’ to express what is basically a ‘ch’ sound, which would make czar sound like char, which is Armenian for evil, and that is usually what I think these buck-passing ‘czar’ positions are.

Update: Secretary Gates, no fan of the proposed position, gets it right when he says: “This ‘czar’ term is, I think, kind of silly.”  No kidding!

If the “single least-controversial thing you can say about foreign aid and third-world development” is that they are “really, really helpful for the nation you’re trying to help out to become less corrupt,” which is a claim few opponents of foreign aid would accept as true, what would be the most controversial thing you could say about them?  That they bring back the dead?

The sense among more compromised conservatives that when confronted with the question, “well, what would you have done instead?,” the paleocon answer tends to be “I would have voted for Alf Landon in ‘36, you idiot.” ~Ross Douthat

Ross has a point here, though it is perhaps not as good of a point as he might think.  (Note: In what follows, I can really only speak for myself, but I will risk making certain generalisations about paleos that others are free to contradict, mock or ignore.)  Those who have been in the opposition, even when what is supposedly their “side” has been in power, can fall into a purism that verges on a kind of fatalism.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what most, much less all, paleos actually fall into in reality, but the danger is certainly there.  Sure, there’s a tendency among some of us, myself included, to look askance on even those traditional conservatives who continue to treat Lincoln as something other than a tyrant and even less patience for those who may now think that the New Deal was worth the trade-off of killing what little remained of the Constitution (not that these folks would acknowledge that this was the trade-off), but considering what we’re talking about paleos are quite restrained and mild in their annoyance with these folks.  If we engage in a certain amount of Jacobitic refighting of old battles, this is because we are pretty confident that the wrong people won in the past and that the principles upheld by the losers were not rendered irrelevant or untrue by the accidents of contingent history.  For those who have bought into the official history and those who don’t know any, it is important to be reminded that things did not have to be the way they are and that “there is no such thing as a lost cause because there is no such thing as a gained cause.”  If, as Gary Rosen wrote in today’s OpinionJournal, “no one on the right is agitating to abolish the income tax or the Department of Health & Human Services, to repeal the civil-rights laws, or to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and the U.N. (well, maybe the U.N.),” this is something generally to be decried from the rooftops and the cause of lamentation–especially the bit about NATO.  As it happens, there are plenty of people on the right who are agitating for one or more of these things–they just happen to exist outside the world of “the right” as imagined by the editor of Commentary.  Part of the reason why paleos have not been able to “do” anything is that they are usually not in the position to “do” very much, which came about in no small part because paleos were pushed down and out by those who have had the record of making a hash of things and being frequently wrong in their predictions.  The question I would turn around to our mainstream friends is what, after all their compromising and deal-making, exactly have they managed to accomplish that puts them (or their blogger sympathisers) in a position to belittle anyone else’s lack of accomplishment?  Particularly during the decade of ascendancy (1996-2006), what does pragmatic conservatism have to show for all its worldliness and savoir-faire?  The answer would seem to be No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D and Iraq.  I do believe I see the flaw in the pragmatic approach. 

That brings us next to the question of practicality.  Of course, abolishing the income tax, for example, would be highly impractical…if you think that the federal government should be doing all of the things that it currently does.  It would be very hard to fund things without such a tax or some equivalent revenue-extractor, but then the whole point of wanting to eliminate the tax is to stop that extraction and destroy the basis of the government’s power over myriad things in our lives.  But eliminating all of those functions and “services” is deemed to also be impractical because there are strong vested interests defending them.  Of course, this actually only means that eliminating these functions is very difficult and impractical in the short term, not necessarily undesirable nor impracticable.  Those who will point out the impracticality of a thing are usually those who already oppose it absolutely, but who want to frame their strong opposition in terms of pragmatism.  To speak of practicality begs the question, “What is to be done?”  Before praxis, there has to be some goal.  What most people call impractical is really just something that they don’t want to try to do in the first place. 

Of course, it may be that certain things are impossible.  Trying to test the states’ right of secession today would bring disaster upon your people, for instance, because the central state would annihilate you, no questions asked.  In the back of every reactionary’s mind is the knowledge that the attempts to openly resist the central state (i.e., “doing” something) have resulted in the obliteration or ruin of whole peoples and regions.  That doesn’t mean that we think the Jacobites or the Confederacy were wrong, but it means that the value of “doing” something has been qualified significantly.  Further, since it is not possible to save the whole, it becomes imperative to preserve what you can of your way of life in your own backyard.  Thus comes the annoying criticism that we do not “do” anything, since many of us came to the conclusion (it seems difficult to say that it is the wrong one) that our ailments are spiritual and cultural and cannot be solved through the sort of political “doing” and “action” that would satisfy our critics anyway. 

This doesn’t mean that we don’t engage in the political realm to some extent, inasmuch as we still believe it is part of our responsibility to remain informed and aware of what goes on in the centers of power, but there is an awareness that the sources of our ills are elsewhere and cannot in any case be addressed by becoming a retainer to princes.  Like Kekaumenos, we keep a close eye on the intrigues of the capital, insofar as it might affect us and ours, but we do everything we can to avoid it as much as possible.  For those who have spent (or wasted, depending on your perspective) their lives in the capital fighting political turf wars, while the culture rots all around them and few political victories are won, this is certainly an infuriating attitude, but what can I say? 

Nonetheless, paleos seem to have a weird way of being pretty well-attuned to the political realities of the day better than, say, most Republicans who think that something called “Islamofascism” exists apart from Islam (that old “religion of peace”), the “surge” is working, megacorporations are the friend of the small town and the American middle class and all forms of populism are a dead end.  Some of our libertarian friends take issue with our proclivity towards what they mistake for “nostalgia” and our sense of what has been lost in the onward rush of so-called progress, going so far as to mock our simultaneous desires to revive agrarianism as the most desirable arrangement and also to protect domestic manufacturing for the present as the lesser of two evils.  They meanwhile shout hosannas to the Wal-Mart god and sit idly by, mute, as American labour is devalued and cheap foreign labour is imported–be silent, ye people, for The Market is at work!  Pardon me if I say that the charge of paleo lack of realism doesn’t seem as well-placed as some might think. 

Then there is the problem that the cranks–then and now–are usually right and are often more prescient than their more accommodating neighbours.  The combined realities of being vindicated as right with surprising frequency and watching others take the country over a cliff will make anybody a little cranky.  Of course, the real Old Right answer to what we might call the FDR Problem would have been to impeach and remove FDR for gross and repeated violations of the Constitution and his oath of office, followed by giving support to the new President, John Nance Garner.  It also happens that this would have been the right thing to do. 

I would sooner live and approach the world with my eye on doing the right thing rather than, say, settling for the thing that was “doable.”

The strategy of deploying charged and hyper-aggressive language is now evident: First intimidate one’s targets, then coerce them–into conformity or silence. And do it always under the banner of free speech and democracy. ~Daniel Henninger

Quite unintentionally, Mr. Henninger has just described the editorial policy of The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and National Review.  It is amazing to me that someone at a newspaper whose editors and contributors have engaged in plenty of destructive and often false commentary about their political enemies would have the gall to lecture bloggers on intimidation, coercion and the silencing of opponents.  Sometimes I think that half the reason the WSJ op-ed page exists is to try to intimidate and silence opponents, particularly those on the right with whom they disagree; the same goes for the others, only more so.  Bloggers may speak harshly to their interlocutors and targets and call it democratic activism, but at least we do not launch invasions and cheer on organised slaughter in the name of freedom and democracy–that dubious honour belongs to Mr. Henninger and his ilk.

Speaking of “doublespeak” and general two-facedness, nothing captures it better than a columnist at an establishment rag such as the Journal pretending that bloggers have the monopoly on aggressive hostility towards political opponents.  If I write in a bitter, withering tone in many posts, I learned it from reading the Journal’s editorials as a boy–these were always laced with irony and also quite frequently with contempt for their subjects.  Yes, the blogosphere is far less restrained, and particularly in comment sections this becomes quite dreadful at some sites, and I am certainly strongly in favour of restraint, but any attempt to dictate a “code” to bloggers is an attempt to control them and limit their influence.  That would almost have to be the point of inventing such a thing, and the only beneficiaries of limiting their influence are the establishment media, the political class and the administration.  Looking at it that way, it seems to be a very bad idea.

Bloggers are notoriously combative and often seem unusually “angry” to the refined, calm columnists and media watchers, because many of us, unlike them, actually have opinions that do not resemble weak tea.  Having gagged on years and years of their spoon-fed pablum, we spit it back in their face and they discover that they don’t like it at all.  Sometimes we’re angry, and sometimes we’re simply calling establishment pundits and media outlets on their flaws in a particularly pointed and critical way that these people can only interpret as a “screed” or an expression of crazed rage.  What I despise is the pretense put forward by establishment figures and institutions that they hold the keys to the definitions of moderation and reasonableness.  Their insipid policy views are half the reason so many of us are so agitated about the state of affairs today.

I run what I am proud to say is a pretty clean and respectful house here at Eunomia, so I know it is possible to create a healthy atmosphere of combative back and forth that does not have to degenerate into mudslinging and insults.  If other bloggers fail to do that, that is their mistake, but I find the idea of a general code for bloggers (especially one sanctioned by the king of verbal abuse and intimidation, O’Reilly) to be ridiculous.  There is a lot of invective and criticism and obvious hostility to various hacks, villains and tyrants who deserve that hostility here at my blog.  If I were to subscribe to this bizarre code, I would basically have to stop writing 85% of what I write because of rule #2 alone:

We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.

I find such a restriction completely unrealistic and inappropriate.  In person, I actually try to be diplomatic and seek to avoid harsh exchanges of words or even intense disagreements.  I do this for the sake of civility, and because I am not inclined as a matter of temperament to getting into shouting matches with people face to face.  FoxNews, which has perfected the medium of the shout-fest that is supposedly a “news” or “opinion” show, would not want to have someone like me on.

I have read that Jefferson was much the same way: he could write vituperative polemics against his political foes, but would be the image of civility in person.  As it should be.  The early satirists of the Opposition wrote things about Walpole and the Robinarchy, albeit they often had to write about them indirectly, that they would probably never have said in person to Walpole and his fellows.  Written invective will be the outlet for a society choking under the imposed constraints of political correctness and thought crimes.  The more consolidated major corporate media become, and the more autocratic the government becomes, the greater the demand will be for increasingly unfettered expression to rebel against these things.  To take away that outlet, or to try to say that there is something deeply wrong with that written invective will be to ensure that there are explosions of outrage elsewhere in society.

Mark Krikorian is optimistic that we are not approaching a point of no return with respect to amnesty and mass immigration.  I think he is probably too optimistic.  He cites as a supporting example Muslim support for the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen.  As Mr. Krikorian writes:

Jeez — if Arabs can vote for a guy like Le Pen, then a Republican Party that is optimistic and welcoming toward immigrants, but firm in its support of muscular enforcement and lower numbers, shouldn’t have any problem holding its own among Hispanics, especially if we reduce new inflows and let our still-strong (compared to Europe) assimilative forces do their work. 

Certainly there is a kind of irony of the old paratrooper who fought in Algeria making a deal with the children and grandchildren of some of the people he fought against, but as The New York Sun reported two months ago Le Pen had started moving towards an alliance with French Muslims.  As a cynical move to latch on to the fastest-growing population in the country, it is very clever.  As a massive sell-out to the entire platform to which the National Front was supposedly dedicated, it is hardly a very encouraging example for restrictionists in America.

The Sun article also said:

The National Front is surprisingly popular among Muslim immigrants or second-generation Muslim citizens. For all its campaigning about immigration, Mr. Le Pen’s party has always extended support to Arab and Islamic causes abroad, from Saddam’s Iraq to Arafat’s or Hamas Palestine, and from Al Qaeda to Iran. And it is as firmly anti-American and anti-Jewish as the Muslim community itself tends to be.

Even taking this with the grain of salt that any reporting about Le Pen in the Sun requires, it makes sense that there are other, non-immigration positions that draw Muslim voters to support the FN.  Le Pen making a deal with the Muslims in France is the equivalent of surrender and collaboration in the hopes of creating favourable conditions for yourself in the new order.  It is rather less encouraging news and feeds into pessimism that Europe really is finished if some of the most vehement opponents of mass immigration from the south are effectively throwing in the towel.  

Being critical of Israel is hardly unusual on either left or right in Europe, and opposition to the Iraq war is also hardly unique, but Le Pen has always been consistently much more, er, vehement in his denunciations of both.  By comparison, I know of very little in the Republican Party platform that would actually trump the many natural advantages the Democrats have with a growing Hispanic immigrant population.  Enforcement and reduced numbers probably are somewhat popular with second or third-generation, more assimilated Hispanic voters, but there is too little working in the GOP’s favour with these voters otherwise. 

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have enforcement and reduced numbers (we certainly should), but it is to say that it will not be possible for the GOP to have its cake and eat it, too.  Le Pen’s example can only encourage the “pro-amnesty Republicans” who hope to make a deal with Hispanic voters.  If the French example is any indication of what will happen here, it also means that there will eventually be a tipping point when restrictionists will find themselves so badly outnumbered that they may feel compelled for other reasons to de-prioritise immigration restriction and try to join forces with the people they have been working to keep out of the country.  

Liz Cheney’s anti-Syria op-ed was interesting for what it did not say.  It did not dwell on whether or not Pelosi was going beyond the law or her constitutional role in “negotiating” with Assad, but simply declared that no one should have any dealings with Syria.  It did not talk about U.S. complicity in the Israeli devastation of Lebanon, which was remarkable considering Ms. Cheney’s crocodile tears for poor suffering Lebanese democrats and the dream of “Lebanese independence.”  Lebanese freedom and independence are important only when they are being undermined by Syrians.  This tracks nicely with the same two-minded approach to Lebanon that the administration has already offered: the Siniora government must be freed from the terrible grip of Hizbullah, but if it is undermined and ruined by Israeli attacks that is all right (because this can be blamed on Hizbullah anyway).  The clarity of stating openly what we have all assumed to be the administration view (or does anyone actually think that Ms. Cheney is just giving us her personal opinion here?) is refreshing.  The op-ed did not actually talk very much about why engaging Syria would be bad for the United States, but went on and on about why it might be bad for Lebanon.  The latter point is worth bearing in mind, but it isn’t really clear why dealing with Damascus is obviously contrary to the American interest.  Of course, it’s not as if Ms. Cheney or her relations have lately been terribly concerned about that interest. 

So the problem with paleos is that “we” haven’t “done” much because of our “refusals to compromise.”  I suppose I would have to plead guilty, at least for myself, on this point.  Thanks to my refusal to compromise I have not managed to overthrow the managerial state in my spare time, and through my dilatory efforts the empire somehow continues to thrive.  Somehow a few dozen academics and writers have not managed to defeat or even check the combined forces of international corporations, modern mass culture and the federal government, but if we had just gotten around a little more and made a few more deals we would have been successful.  Obviously, it’s because we refuse to compromise that we haven’t been successful. 

Not that Koz tells us what we could or should have done or why we should have compromised core principles to do the things that we should have been doing.  Perhaps in his next installment he can tell us how betraying principle and collaborating with the enemies of liberty and justice would have ”done” something worthy of his respect. 

Since we’re playing a kind of blogging tag, I will note that Koz has pointed out that I laughed at Tom Bevan’s prediction that Fred Thompson would vault into third place if and when he entered the race.  Indeed I did, because the idea that legions of people are just waiting for Fred Thompson to save us sounded ridiculous at the time.  It still sounds pretty ridiculous, even though it appears to be true. 

Obviously, as I made perfectly explicit in a later post (in one of those supposedly non-existent examples of a paleo admitting error), I was mistaken about Fred Thompson’s ability to seize the imagination of Republican voters, since he has subsequently moved not just into third place but even into second place (!) as of the most recent polling.  This is almost certainly a testament to the pathetic weakness of the major Republican candidates, the limited value of early polling and the celebrity-driven quality of Republican primary politics this cycle, but I am willing to acknowledge that my prediction was quite wrong.  However, I am positive that people who want Fred Thompson as President have little idea what Fred Thompson believes or would do as President, because even greater numbers of people want Giuliani as their man and know virtually nothing about him.  In a short time, Fred Thompson probably will become the “frontrunner” because the position of “frontrunner” in April of the year before the election is fairly unimportant and will probably switch hands many times over the next few months as people learn more about different candidates.  So, as I said a few weeks ago, this polling is either pretty meaningless or the people responding to these polls are the most foolish, impressionable, irrational voters one could hope to find.  These early polls are measuring, as polls usually do, vague, changeable sentiments that may have little value for predicting future voting habits. 

I will continue to insist that Fred Thompson-mania makes no sense, it is irrational and it is the Republican Party’s political version of a cry for help.  That will remain true even in the event that Fred Thompson winds up winning the nomination, because he brings nothing to the table that ought to make him the obvious champion of the field.  He possesses many of the same liabilities of the other candidates (e.g., somewhat questionable credentials on life, the tie to campaign finance reform, an undistinguished tenure in the Senate, etc.), and he has had no particular accomplishments in his political or non-political career.  He has only a middling-to-bad record on immigration, he has been foursquare behind the war and he has been an active partisan of Scooter Libbythat is the man Republicans want to anoint as their saviour?  Go ahead, and watch him lead the party to catastrophe. 

In his favour, he has the virtue of being a passable actor and probably enjoys high name recognition thanks to his work in television.  If those are qualifications to be the President of the United States, this country is in a lot more trouble than I thought. 

Whereas Larison imputes Goldberg’s thoughts as necessarily vapid, swimming in the mainstream of American culture as they are. ~Koz

Perhaps Koz has misunderstood me somewhere.  It is true that Goldberg’s frequent TV chatter and “timewasters” at The Corner make him seem rather less than a serious observer of the political and cultural scene, but we are talking about blogging after all and that is not really why I agreed with Alterman’s assessment that Goldberg has turned to intellectually bankrupt “movement shtick.”  I agreed with Alterman’s assessment because I think this is an accurate observation about the shallowness and, yes, vapidity of what passes for mainstream conservative intellectual activity today.  Goldberg seems to embody those things to a remarkable degree and much more than, say, Ramesh Ponnuru or John Derbyshire, for example, who routinely show that they can engage in actual debate without resorting to lazy name-calling and guilt by association; they have some ideas of their own, and they can defend and explain them through something called “argument.” 

It is possible that Goldberg’s forthcoming book will demonstrate that there is more to Goldberg today than someone who engages in little more than posturing and rather heavy-handed attacks in which he tars his enemies with what he would consider to be particularly nasty associations and labels.  His obnoxious slaps at Ross and Reihan, who are probably on his side on many issues, are par for the course–he doesn’t know how to respond to or critique any idea, regardless of what it is, without resorting to these methods, because he doesn’t seem to know how to handle ideas except as ciphers of movement loyalty or disloyalty.  I suppose every political movement will have these people, but these people will not normally be taken as people with something interesting to say.  The problem with the movement today is that Goldbergian shtick, which is basically the striking of the politically appropriate pose and the uttering of the politically appropriate word, is widespread and a surprisingly large number of conservative pundits engage in it in the mistaken belief that this is the same as making demonstrative arguments.  Most of modern conservatism operates in two rhetorical modes: panegyric (hurray for Romney [or whomever we are praising this week]!) and invective (down with the evil-cons!).  Everyone else uses these modes as well (I am a big fan of invective myself), but at least some are also capable of demonstrative reasoning. 

If paleocons and leftists find themselves to be in agreement about certain things, especially about the debating tactics of Jonah Goldberg, this is because he uses the same tactics against both and both groups find these tactics to be cheap, weak and unpersuasive.  Of course, he isn’t trying to persuade, but to reinforce collapsing ideological structures–that tends to confirm the picture of intellectual weakness that Alterman and I and others have been describing. 

What I found especially unconvincing about Koz’s critique was this bit:

This last [about swimming in the mainstream of American culture] is a paleocon trope that I wish more of them could see for themselves, since the paleocons often have very useful cultural commentary, but no accountability for any of it. Being a paleo means never having to say you’re sorry. If they had been in charge, the problem (whatever problem it is) would have never happened in the first place. This is good as far as it goes, but it means that we have to retreat into our own personal little Barbie and Ken dollhouse where we have total fiat over our environment.

I don’t really know what this last line even means, but I assume it is another form of the usual criticism of supposed paleo “quietism” or withdrawal from the arena.  It is surely the only time “Barbie and Ken dollhouse” has been used in the same paragraph with paleoconservatism.  It also isn’t really about whether we paleos are in charge of anything.  We are certainly capable of mistakes and faulty judgements, but where I think we differ from other conservative “factions” and other Americans, to the extent that you can generalise about a group as genuinely diverse in perspectives as paleos actually are, is that we retain more strongly a recognition of the limits, needs and purpose of human nature, we seem to remember history more keenly, we instinctively refuse to trust governments regardless of which people run them, and we are less inclined to justify moral abominations when they are committed by our government or by people in our society (perhaps because we are not in positions of influence or power and do not feel compelled to justify the unjustifiable to retain those positions).  If speaking out against what the critic believes to be rank immorality or injustice is disqualified because the critic is somehow “unaccountable” because he is so marginalised or otherwise uninfluential that he has virtually nothing to lose when he is mistaken in his criticism, then I suppose I plead guilty to being “unaccountable” in this way.  If it means that we are not somehow  just as obliged to pay respect to truth and acknowledge when we have been wrong, I reject this categorically.  What would it be like to have “accountable” cultural critics?  How are they currently not being held to account?  When those cultural critics say something like, “The family is the central institution of society and must be strengthened by actively discouraging divorce and encouraging traditional Christianity,” are they being “unaccountable”?  

Koz says that “being paleo means never having to say you’re sorry,” which I might be inclined to spin as a compliment meaning that paleos never have anything for which they should be sorry.  But obviously that is not his meaning.  It means that paleos should feel bad that they keep more or less accurately pointing out the grievous dangers to this country long before these evils become obvious to everyone else, while no one pays any attention to the paleos and instead listens to the impressive frauds who continue to bungle everything and fail their country on a regular basis.  Perhaps it means that we should feel contrite that we opposed the war before it was trendy to do so. 

On the contrary, it is not being paleo that allows you to go along without ever admitting being wrong.  It might be the case that no one would notice even if we did get things horribly wrong, but I would like to think that paleos would have the integrity to acknowledge those errors, not least because they are well aware of the terrible evils that come from pride and vanity, which are the two passions that usually prevent men from facing up to their mistakes.  Politicians and many professional pundits seem to enjoy this luxury of never having to say that they’re sorry, because they for the most part are unaccountable for their errors, even though the policies carried out partly because of their errors usually have many more disastrous consequences for the commonwealth and the world. 


Gna, Blbool-Goosan Sheram (1906) 

Gna, blbool, trir gna
Es aryoonot ashkharen
Trir, blbool, el mi kena
Bazhanetsin kez varden

Go, nightingale, fly away 
From this bloody world.
Fly, nightingale, and do not stay…
They have separated you from the rose.

K’o sirekan siroon vardet
Kamin pchets choratsoots
Arnov ltsrats vardarant,
Ayginert pchatsoots.

The wind blew, drying
Your beloved beautiful rose…
Your rose garden is filled with blood,
Your gardens are ruined.

Arden eghav agravi tegh,
Estegh el vard chi batsvi,
Zoor mi voghba, kheghchook blbool,
Tsavert ar heratsir.

Already was the place of the crow,
Here also the rose will not open.
Do not lament in vain, miserable nightingale,
You escaped your pains.

Translated by Larison

There is an online collection of Armenian poetry in Armenian script available here, including Sayat Nova’s entire Armenian corpus listed alphabetically.  This should make it easier for me to post translations in the future.  Unfortunately, the design of the site does not allow for copying the Armenian script text itself.  But, here, for instance is a link to Ashkharooms akh chim kashi.


Contact with the PFLP is not a requirement for being holed up by the Israel Defense Forces. Bethlehem University students cannot get to Jerusalem, a few minutes’ drive away, unless they sneak in illegally. The students from the separated Gaza enclave have to take classes from Bethlehem via the Internet.

Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey was at the university the same day I was, and faculty members could hardly believe a real live member of Congress was there. Smith later was given a tour of Jerusalem to see with his own eyes that the separation barrier in most places is a big, ugly and intimidating wall, not merely a fence.

Smith, an active Catholic layman, was drawn here because of the rapid emigration of the Holy Land’s Christian minority. They leave more quickly than Muslims because contacts on the outside make them more mobile. Peter Corlano, a Catholic member of the Bethlehem University faculty, told Smith and me: “We live the same life as Muslims. We are Palestinians.”

Concerned by the disappearance of Christians in the land of Christianity’s birthplace, Smith could also become (as I did) concerned by the plight of all Palestinians. If so, he will find precious little company in Congress. ~Robert Novak

I feel the ascension of Jonah Goldberg is an example of just how intellectually bankrupt…how much conservatism is just a kind of movement shtick rather than a thoughtful position. ~Eric Alterman

I would like to be able to say that Alterman is all wrong, even if it would mean giving Goldberg some minimal credit, but as far as the official conservatism of the mainstream goes it is difficult to find fault with this description. 

Then again, no one really wants to make a list of the conservatives whom liberals consider respectable and decent, and no one wants to be on a list that includes Andrew Sullivan.

Update: Speaking of Sullivan, Alterman reminds us of just how outrageously pro-war and insulting to antiwar people Sullivan was in the old days before he realised that the pro-war bandwagon was going off a cliff.  He notes (correctly) the absurdity that the more or less repentant hawks and newborn skeptics still presume to speak with authority on foreign policy after having been so completely wrong on Iraq.  He adds (rightly) that their admitting being wrong on Iraq isn’t sufficient to restore confidence in their judgement: they have to be able to demonstrate that they understand why they got it so wrong and also demonstrate how they have changed in their thinking that would avoid these same pitfalls later.  I know Sullivan thinks he has addressed this with his laughable “conservatism of doubt” and his terrible book, but as with so many other things Sullivan is very wrong.

Alterman also paints an amusing picture of Christopher Hitchens “getting high with Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol.”  I assume he means this figuratively.

The invitation extended to Vice President Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of the nation’s most conservative.

Some of the faculty and the 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, who are overwhelmingly Republican, have expressed concern about the Bush administration’s support for the war in Iraq and other policies, but most of the current protest has focused on Mr. Cheney’s integrity, character and behavior. Several students said, for example, that they were appalled at Mr. Cheney’s use of an expletive on the Senate floor in a June 2004 exchange with Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. ~The New York Times

As were many of us.  This is moderately encouraging news.  It shows that there are still some things this crowd will do that conservative people in this country will not abide.  It might even be enough to convince Damon Linker and Jacob Weisberg to rethink their anti-Mormonism.  (Not likely.)  In fact, that might become a sort of slogan for the protesters: “Conservatives cannot abide Dick Cheney.”  It could catch on.

Or, as Prof. Woodworth at BYU put it:

We espouse honesty, chastity, integrity, ethics, virtue and morality, and he does not epitomize those values.

Update: Unfortunately, the protest appears to be made up mostly of Democrats, which makes it far less remarkable and less interesting.

So I experienced what many an unfortunate Chicago resident has experienced: today, my car was towed away to the deepest Southside (the 10000 block!) before my eyes.  I had stepped inside a building to pick someone up for a workshop, and all the while I had this weird uneasy feeling…maybe I should go check on my car, something told me.  Sure enough, they were hitching my car to the tow truck even as I had this sense of foreboding.  So the lesson is simple, folks: listen to your paranoid instincts!  Because they are coming to get you (or at least your car).  It is this sort of petty law enforcement (a.k.a., the city’s money-making racket) that makes me lose respect for the law, because this pretty clearly had nothing to do with clearing the road for rush hour (the alleged reason for making this area a tow zone) and had everything to do with milking me for a nice fat fine.  If any progressives out there would like to understand why people like me really loathe government, know that it is because of these obnoxious little abuses of power along with the great.         

In fairness to the horrible towing tyrants, I was in a tow zone designated as a tow zone between 4-6 for a grand total of three or four minutes after 4:00.  They had not yet taken my car away when I came running out to try to stop them from taking it away.  There was “nothing” the tow truck guy could do, he said.  Yeah, well, there was nothing he could do if he wanted to get paid more. 

The parking ticket/towing regime in Chicago is one of the most maddening things about this city, and if I had to make a short list of reasons why no one should ever live here it would rank high on that list.  It would fall below “large numbers of whiny Cub fans” and come in just ahead of “terrible blizzards.”

The idea that anti-Catholicism is a significant force in American life today is a complete canard, perpetrated by theologically and politically right-wing Roman Catholics–a minority among the Catholic laity–and aimed at anyone who stands up to the Church’s continuing attempts to impose its values on all Americans.
The people who scream “anti-Catholicism” at every opportunity use the same tactics as right-wing Jews who charge that any criticism of Israeli policies is anti-Semitic. And just as the Jewish Right attacks liberal Jews, the Catholic Right attacks liberal Catholics as well as liberal non-Catholics. ~Susan Jacoby 

Via Pro Ecclesia

I have no particular brief for the Donohues out there, but the idea that contemporary anti-Catholicism is simply the figment of right-wing Catholic imaginations is loopy.  Exhibit A, which is only the most recent, would be Amanda Marcotte and the blog left’s zealous defense of her disgusting blasphemy.  This could not have happened and been so widely tolerated and defended unless there was a well-entrenched prejudice against Christians generally and Catholics in particular.  You could argue that these progressives are unrepresentative of America as a whole (you would be, I hope, be right), but you cannot argue that they are politically irrelevant or obscure or a minor blip on the screen.  Arguably, the phenomenon we see in the Marcotte case or in the screeds written against The Passion (or past insults, such as the famous elephant dung-smeared Virgin in New York, an indecent portrayal of the Virgin Mother in a Santa Fe art exhibit a few years back, The Priest, The DaVinci Code, etc.) is not so much anti-Catholicism but hostility to traditional Christianity of all kinds.  It is possible that complaining about this prejudice can be overdone and the charge may sometimes be thrown around loosely, but those making the charge are pikers compared to those who wield the label anti-Semite if creating a tremendous climate of fear of criticising your group is the goal.  

Granted, anti-Catholicism is a lot less virulent and less widespread today than it once was, but it isn’t just concentrated among the coastal secular snobs, either.  You don’t have to go very far into conservative Protestant America before you will run into the same old anti-Catholicism that has existed as long as there have been Protestants.  Much of this is mostly ignorance, fed by popular DaVinci Code-style “history” that convinces people already biased against Catholics that they really do have secret orders of albino assassins who kill to keep the entire racket afloat, but it is all over the place.  Fewer people speak explicitly in terms of “popery” and “priestcraft” and “worshipping Mary,” and all the old nonsense, but there are plenty of Protestants in this country who believe that all of these things are deeply wrong and view the people who engage in them to be scarcely recognisable as Christians.  We may wonder why American Catholics are indifferent to their brethren in the Near East, but for Protestants the explanation is easy: for them, those people aren’t really Christians and should be targeted for missionary work just like the Orthodox or anybody else.  (Of course, if Catholics and Orthodox mean what they say, they believe the same about Protestants, but they have not typically had the unusually poor form of preying on particularly poor and miserable populations for new converts.)  Pentecostalism is booming in Latin America (as it is elsewhere in the world), and it is certainly not because the Pentecostals are saying nice, conciliatory things about the Catholic Church. 

In truth, many converts to Orthodoxy, especially those who have converted from Catholicism, make Catholic-bashing into a minor pastime, which they know will go over just fine with their Protestant or secular interlocutors who will basically nod along with the Orthodox fellow’s critique of papal supremacy–at least until he begins talking favourably about icons and the Theotokos.  Just get together the ex-Catholic, ex-Anglican crowd (there are more of these double converts than you would think) at an Orthodox gathering and watch them go!  They know more about the ins and outs of Episcopal church politics than most Episcopalians.  But that is beside the point.  There are perhaps some people who convert to Orthodoxy instead because it is sufficiently traditional, liturgical and hierarchical without having the perceived “baggage” that being Catholic carries with it in what is still a significantly Protestantised culture.  In my case, I genuinely found Orthodox theology to be more compelling on those points where the two confessions differed, but after a brief Slavophile, “the West is dying from Catholic-inspired rationalism” phase I have moved well away from defining my Orthodoxy by how upset I can make myself about, say, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  (Speaking of ignorance about Catholicism, you will not believe how many people in this country do not understand that the Immaculate Conception refers to the Virgin Mary and have no idea what it means–it is fairly frightening the level of ignorance about their own civilisation’s history some people have.)

All of this is by way of saying that anti-Catholicism in America is very real and it is sometimes quite vicious today.  If certain people exploit or abuse this truth for other ends (which I don’t necessarily accept, but I’m willing to entertain that it’s possible), that does not make the phenomenon less real.

The more I ponder it, the more I think Dr. Fleming’s view of the Pelosi-Syria matter makes the most sense.  I was never exactly cheering Pelosi on, but I fear I allowed my now instinctual aversion to agreement with the jingoes on just about anything to trump my better judgement.  In the discussion at Chronicles’ website, Dr. Fleming wrote:

What role congress has in advising and consenting to wars and to the appointment of ambassadors. But it is the Senate, not the House, that approves ambassadors. Pelosi has no more right than I do. For a change, George Bush is not only right, but he is more right than he knows.

As much as I disapprove of this administration and of the general misbehavior of the executive branch, I am even more disturbed by the spirit of anarchy that is growing among many fine and sensible people. Blogging only encourages the sense that each of has a right to whatever we please, including to act as if we were president, supreme court, congress, and gods all rolled into one egomaniacal package. It is a strong temptation to which I have not always been immune. But the world will not always be the way it is and I believe we should act in such a way as to encourage decent order [bold mine-DL]. I know this sounds like Sartre, but it is also sound Christian moral doctrine.

The point about the dangers of blogging unleashing vicious tendencies is definitely right.  If I and other administration critics have badly erred anywhere, it is in our enthusiasm to use any event or “scandal” as a cudgel with which to beat Mr. Bush and in the willingness to rally behind any self-seeking pol who happens to say something potentially useful to the cause of opposing Mr. Bush’s War.  I have tried to avoid the more absurd excesses in this regard (I did not think the anti-Rumsfeld retired generals were our saviours, I do not believe the U.S. Attorneys’ firings were really improper or wrong, and I find Chuck Hagel’s posing to be something of an embarrassment and consider antiwar folks’ embrace of him to be badly misguided), but I am sure I have fallen into two very inviting traps on more than one occasion: these are the traps of thinking 1) if neocons and the White House think there is something wrong with it, it almost has to be a good thing for America; 2) there has to be some remedy somewhere to the continued foreign policy incompetence and villainy of this administration, but if there is it almost has to involve breaking precedents and subverting the executive to some unacceptable degree in one of the few areas where the President has some legitimate role. 

The first trap is so inviting because this is often the correct view, but that does not mean that it is always the correct view.  The second is more inviting because it is deeply depressing to consider the possibility that there literally is nothing that anyone can do to stop Mr. Bush from continuing to make a hash of our foreign policy until he leaves office in 2009.  However, just because something is deeply depressing and bitter doesn’t mean that it isn’t the case.  For instance, it is deeply depressing that most conservatives still support the war, but it is undeniable.  The assumption that there is something that can be done about Mr. Bush’s policies is a fundamentally optimistic one, and I am not normally inclined to accept such assumptions.  

Many people, myself included, allowed ourselves to believe that a change of party in the majority in Congress would serve as some sort of bulwark, however imperfect, against Mr. Bush’s continued misrule, but we may simply have been so blinded by our contempt for the man and his lackeys that we missed that the elections were going to change essentially nothing.  As an anti-democrat, I am especially guilty of ignoring my better instincts and having some sort of faith in a process that I know to be fundamentally irrational and injurious to good government.  The assumption that something can be done is based in a confidence in our form of government as presently constituted (which is a far cry from how it was designed, but there you are) and founded in a belief that our present system is still healthy, capable of self-correction and capable of checking abuses.  The Iraq war itself stands as a repudiation of all such beliefs: the system failed entirely, it is not even attempting to correct itself and it has neither the means nor the inclination to check abuses.     

This lack of a remedy to foreign policy failure seems to be a glaring flaw in the structure of the modern federal government.  It is quite maddening that no one seems to have any recourse, whether through elections or anything else, when an administration commits itself to a foreign policy that is wrong, dangerous, contrary to the national interest and completely cut off from anything resembling reality.  But it could well be that there is no available solution to this dreadful state of affairs that does not involve compromising our commitment to law, custom and our basic principles.  Sometimes there are things that cannot be solved, but must simply be endured.  There is a certain amount of fatalism in this view, I suppose, but then most peoples who live under unaccountable autocrats have to become fatalistic to remain sane. 

It is typically the neocons and Lincoln-idolaters who seek to find justifications for Raskolnikovian overstepping of boundaries for the “greater good.”  How many times have you heard a Yankee apologist talk about “going beyond the Constitution to save the Constitution” and other such lies? Let’s not forget that the apologists for the mass bombing of civilians are legion.  They will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, which is why they are typically so often wrong in their judgements and actions, but it should be the mark of the defenders of Eunomia that we will stop at certain limits because without these limits we are no longer able to govern ourselves or restrain our worst instincts.  The respect for limits and restraint is what separates the morally sane from the fanatics and ideologues.  If we lose that, it will not matter if we win this or that debate, because we will have become the epigones of the possessed.  

I replied that I expected the Vatican to proceed in a more catholic manner than that. ~Michael Novak

This from the man who went as the lackey of Mr. Bush to tell Pope John Paul II what just war really meant (because Novak & Co. had the better understanding of the matter)!  Talk about audacitas!  So it took Novak two whole days to spit at Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi address?  He’s clearly starting to lose his anti-Vatican reflexes.

Novak is, of course, attacking Pope Benedict for saying, “Nothing positive comes out of Iraq.”  Because so many “positive things” come from Iraq.  This is partly true, if you count Christian and other Iraqi refugees as ”positive things.”  This reminds me of one First Things contributor attacking Pope Benedict last summer for saying that “war is the worst solution,” because, well, it is.  Even though what the Pope said was true and consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, as I tried to show at the time, it was too wobbly of a statement for our jingo friends at First Things.  Naturally, there would hardly have been reason for folks at First Things to comment on the Pope’s remarks in that case had the war going on at the time not involved Israel or the United States. 

This week, Fr. Neuhaus at least manages to dismiss the Pope’s opinion without piling on with quite so much obvious hypocrisy, but he did have this unintentionally amusing remark:

Admittedly, it is galling when Catholics and others who are usually blithely indifferent to church teaching seize upon a papal opinion with which they agree and, suddenly becoming hyper-infallibilists, elevate it to dogmatic status.

Imagine how much more galling it is to watch those who claim to defend adherence to the entirety of church teaching justify “preventive” war to “prevent” some theoretical future threat.  It is not only “preemptive war” that cannot be found in the Catechism.  Then there is that bothersome “last resort” qualification, which the FT crowd seems not to understand.  For them, it would seem as if all that you need to have a just war is a convenient pretext that there may be some future threat of aggression from another state (of course, using this dubious moral reasoning, terrorist attacks against the U.S. are just anticipatory strikes against the people who would try to attack them later anyway–emptying just war of all meaning cuts both ways).  By the same sort of thinking, Iran would be justified in launching preventive strikes against Israel’s preventive strikes that are designed to prevent Iran’s preventive strike, and on and on it would go ad nauseam–all in the name of perfectly just self-defense, of course.  It turns an admirable aspect of the Christian moral tradition into a respectable cover for the brutal logic of rival mob bosses racing to off each other.  Pretty clearly, this talk about “defensive” preventive war simply repackages whatever is about to happen as self-defense (not unlike what the Germans did when they invaded Belgium in 1914) and the person saying it will then take umbrage at the suggestion that this is all a lot of propagandistic nonsense.  In a world where everyone is theoretically a potential aggressor (except maybe Liechtenstein and Vatican City), it no longer matters who actually strikes the first blow or provokes the conflict, and so it also no longer matters whether the supposed threat from the other state is even real.  It might be real, and that is good enough for the quack court theologians of this administration.  With every state a potential aggressor (with only the likelihood of aggression preventing us from, say, ”defensively” occupying Canada), every war can become more or less justifiable.  The horrors that this sort of perverted reasoning could lead to are not hard to imagine: if you believe a hostile state is developing nuclear weapons with the intent to use them against you, how long before it becomes the respectable First Things position that the “preventive” and “defensive” use of “tactical” nukes against that state is justified?  Depending, of course, on the “prudential judgement” of the magistrate, that is!     

Nobody is more blithely indifferent to Catholic teaching on war than Catholic neoconservatives.  His creative and, it seems to me, dishonest description of George Weigel’s awful article defending the just war merits of preventive war is a small contribution to this bad old tradition of indifference.

Now Novak isn’t satisfied with describing the address as a “low point.”  He wants you to know just how much good news there is in Iraq:

Under Saddam, scholars say there were between 75-125 murders of civilians every day. Bad as the murders are now under sectarian vengeance, the numbers of dead every day rarely reach that total, and most days are considerably below it.

Leaving aside the total lack of sourcing for this claim (”scholars say” is the laziest citation in the world), let’s think about those latter claims.  This murder rate presumably refers to all of Iraq in the Saddam era.  In Baghdad alone during the past year, there have routinely been 2,000-3,000 deaths per month that have been counted and reported, which means approximately 66-100 dead per day in Baghdad, at least during the last year.  (Incidentally, violent sectarianism has gone hand in hand with the politicisation of sect and ethnicity in the elections, which makes it unclear how those elections can be credited as something genuinely positive.)  I believe these figures do not normally include the victims of car bombs, which might raise it still higher.  That means that sectarian killings and other murders in Baghdad easily account for much of this supposed pre-war murder rate for all of Iraq, and this may hardly scratch the surface of what is happening elsewhere in the country (for which we have far less reliable numbers).  Of course, the threat of random catastrophic violence of the car-bombing type automatically makes life in Baghdad worse than it ever was before the war.  It is bizarre to suggest otherwise.  Add to that the tens of thousands (or perhaps more) of civilians who have been or are being slain during combat operations, and you obviously have a significantly worse situation, before you even take into account deteriorating living conditions and so forth.  Millions of Iraqis, who are usually the educated professionals who have the means to get out, have fled this country that is apparently enjoying a Giulianiesque recovery from a rabid Saddam-era crime spree.  Our open borders friends usually like to talk about how immigrants are “voting with their feet” when they come here in droves, but watch as they switch gears and pretend that millions of people fleeing a country tells us nothing about the horrible state of that country when we are talking about Iraq. 

And, yes, Novak has actually cited the Sadrist rally protesting the occupation as proof of something good coming out of Iraq.  Why, look, they’re free!  Well, yes, I suppose they are after a fashion, and look how many of them have chosen to use that freedom.   

Mr Maude’s officials have been secretly drawing up the outline of a ‘velvet divorce’ with the Scottish Conservatives, which would give the Scottish Tories a new name, a distinct identity, and make the Conservatives officially as well as in practice a party exclusively devoted to seeking power in England and Wales. However benignly it was presented, such a split would, in effect, mean the final Tory retreat from Scotland, a historic fissure in British Conservatism, and the death of a party defined in many minds by its One Nation Unionism. ~Fraser Nelson

Viewed another way, this is the sane recognition of the futility of One Nation Unionism in a part of the UK that increasingly doesn’t believe itself to be part of One Nation (a phrase, incidentally, that has radically different connotations in Australia!).  What is more significant about this is that it might finally free the Tories to embrace the English nationalist identity that has become the logical thing for it to take on, as Mr. Nelson describes later in the article.  (Not that I expect the Cameroons, in their New Age, Mandela-worshipping trendiness, to understand this.)  So long as the Tories felt compelled to keep flogging the lost cause of the Union, they were to some degree prevented from effectively combatting the idiocy of “Cool Britannia” or the tiresome Europhilia of the ‘modernisers’ with a decisive appeal to English identity.  Political realities being what they are, the Tories already are effectively not much more than an Anglo-Welsh party right now–mostly Anglo and southern Anglo at that.  If Scotland should ever become independent, it will no longer matter whether there are many Tories beyond the Firth of Forth anyway.  If Scotland remains in the Union (this is the year of the rather unremarked tricentennial of that particular misfortune), whatever happens to the Scottish Tories will not be much worse than what has already been happening and might be better.  

No subject in the world is as complex as foreign affairs. ~Henry Nau

I wish I could get published in Policy Review by writing the foreign policy equivalent of “different strokes for different folks” plus “life is complex” plus “you have to pick a side.”  That would be fun.  It wouldn’t be very interesting for my readers, but it would be fun.

How times have changed.  Today, the war in Iraq is far less justified, morally or strategically, than the Gulf War was; and yet, outside of Chronicles and Pat Buchanan, most “conservative” Catholics have supported the war unquestioningly. 


And everything I wrote above applies in spades to “conservative” American Catholic support for Israel’s attack on Lebanon last July and August. ~Scott Richert

The title of this post might well be the chilling response one might hear from some American Christians of different confessions when they are confronted with the damage their government’s policies have inflicted on their Near Eastern brethren.  The entire sad, sorry tale of general American Christian indifference to our brethren in the Near East (with a few notable exceptions) reminds me of a remark I once heard in a conversation with an H-SC alumnus, who commented on the Christian Balkan nations: “It’s like they’re not even real Christians.”  (At least he did not preface this remark, as some of the faithful might, with lectures on the justice of fire-bombing civilian populations in WWII.)  The man might be forgiven for having bought into the drumbeat of pro-Bosnian Muslim propaganda that was called “reporting” during the 1990s, since there were very few sources of information that offered a different perspective, but the readiness of American Christians to disown Christians from other parts of the world struck me as particularly depressing.  Why should it be that many of those who claim to desire the Christianisation or re-Christianisation of America so much seem unfazed at the prospect of the de-Christianisation (and consequently still greater Islamicisation) of the Holy Land and the lands where Abraham and St. Paul walked? 

The readiness of more than a few American Christians, particularly conservative Protestants and Catholics, to throw the Christians of Lebanon to the wolves of Hizbullah and the destruction of the IAF (with bombs sent to Israel by the U.S. government) was just as appalling, if rather more predictable by that point.  Obviously, I was deeply moved by the plight of the Lebanese people, especially since Lebanon has represented one of the last redoubts of Christianity in the Near East, now more than ever.  Along with Syrian Christians (who make up roughly 10% of the population), the longsuffering Copts of Egypt and the hard-pressed, shrinking Palestinian Christian population, the Christian communities of Lebanon are virtually all that remain of what was once the fully Christian Orient.  If it has not actually been part of the design of U.S. policy to destroy these communities, the ruin of many of them has been the effect.  The decline of these communities under Islamic rule was obviously very great, but the modern decline has as much to do with our interference in the region.  You might at least have thought that in a country reputed to be among the more “religious” in the world (or so we tell ourselves as a way of pretending that we are much better off than the dying Europeans) and nominally still largely Christian there would be sympathy and concern for the travails of fellow Christians rather than indifference tending towards contempt.  You would be wrong to think that. 

(Note to self: What has happened to Cliff? He seems to think that we should base our strategy on Zarqawi, not self-interest.) ~Andrew Sullivan

Does Sullivan actually know who Cliff May is?  Does he think that May was once upon a time a reasonable, well-informed person who held moderate or even conservative views about foreign policy?  This is Cliff “Foundation for the Defense of Democracies” May we’re talking about–he is the neocon who makes most neocons look timid and cautious in their promotion of global revolution and war.  At FDD, he is the team captain of a Who’s Who of hegemonist warmongers–only an outfit such as FDD could make Mario Loyola a “visiting fellow.” 

Sullivan is surprised that May is reciting the administration’s talking points?  It has become neocon SOP to cite Al Qaeda higher-ups to defend the Iraq war: if Zawahiri says X, we should believe him and formulate our policy accordingly.  Because Zawahiri says Iraq is vitally important to Al Qaeda, Iraq should therefore be vitally important to us–which means that neocons believe that we should have our strategy decided by the people who want us dead.  Of course, much like their support for the magical “surge” under any and all circumstances, the Cliff Mays of the world would assure us that the Iraq war was even more imperative if Al Qaeda leaders were constantly belittling the importance of the Iraq war.  It would go something like this: “You see, they have to constantly deny the importance of the central front in the war on terror, because we are winning in Iraq!  Because Zawahiri doesn’t say so!”   

P.S.  May cites Ayman al-Zawahiri as his authority for what we should do, not Musab al-Zarqawi as Sullivan claims.  Zarqawi is, of course, quite dead.  Not that Sullivan is paying attention to any of this.  Arabs with Z-names are all evidently the same to him.  For this he gets regularly paid and gets to blog at the site of one of the more respected journals in this country.  Clearly I have been taking the wrong approach to blogging success: the market apparently craves hysteria, inaccuracy and whimpering about how no one likes my book.  Now I just need to write a really bad book, and I, too, can enjoy the same kind of success.















Obama raised how much money?

Harry Reid on the Iraq war, and Nancy Pelosi going over to Damascus, Syria…This is a formula for a massive Republican comeback, especially at the presidential level, in ‘08. ~James Pinkerton

Mr. Pinkerton’s commentary is usually very smart and on target, which is why I found this remark so bizarre.  It is true that people viscerally opposed to the Democrats regard Reid and Pelosi’s efforts with special disgust, but I don’t think anyone has seen the evidence that the public at large actually objects to the Democratic leadership trying to rejigger foreign policy.  They may object to meaningless grandstanding that changes nothing, but that would mean that the public wants real opposition to Mr. Bush and his war, rather than the opposition of cheap talk and self-important photo-ops and glossy magazine features (Chuck Hagel, this means you). 

Generic ballot numbers, Mr. Bush’s approval rating and the relative rarity of three consecutive terms won by the same party in the post-war period (since 1952, it has happened exactly once) all suggest that the GOP could not win in ‘08, especially at the presidential level, even if the the genes governing the most impressive traits of Lincoln, T.R., Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan were all spliced together to combine some sort of GOP Serpentor and this being were made the GOP nominee.  As it is, given the pathetic state of the major candidate presidential field, they would be lucky to have a leader as effective as Cobra Commander (we could call him GOPra Commander).  To offset this tremendous weakness (made all the worse by the cluelessness of the GOP on popular attitudes about trade and economic policy), Pelosi would have to try to sell the Syrians large parts of Florida in exchange for a lifetime supply of baba ghanooj to make the GOP reasonably competitive in ‘08.

Update: The March Hotline/Diageo numbers are available, and it has some interesting information for those fearing the great anti-Pelosi backlash.  Questions 15 and 16 are instructive.  Asked whether they are “happy” that the Dems won control of Congress, 55% said that they were.  Asked whether they thought Congress spent too much, too little or about the right amount of time checking the executive, 24% said “too little” and 32% said “about the right amount,” while only 33% thought Congress spent too much time on it.  If the Dems can sell what they are doing as imposing checks and balances on a runaway executive, they will win the crowd. 

Question 18 shows the generic ballot gap: the Dems lead by 18 with 15% of Republicans that either didn’t know or refused to give an answer, 6% choosing neither and 9% of Republicans backing the Democratic candidate.  That’s nearly one-third of the party.  By comparison, the Dems had 6/3/4% giving comparable responses.  The Democrats are far more unified behind their eventual nominee, regardless of who it is, than the Republicans, and almost the whole advantage they have in the generic poll would seem to come from this discrepancy in partisan loyalty.  Only 7 in 10 Republicans say they will back their party’s candidate, but the Democratic candidate gets 87% of Democrats behind him.

For the last 28 years, we have been operating in a world in which, according to the popular stereotype, strong executive = competent foreign policy = Republican and weak executive = bungling foreign policy = Democrat.  (The standard GOP/neocon knock on Clinton in foreign policy was that he was too weak, ineffectual and feckless, not that he was a rabid interventionist and authoritarian, and in virtually every case where he played these latter roles the neocons supported and defended his decisions.)  I believe that post-1979 world is ending, mostly thanks to a Republican combining executive usurpation and foreign policy bungling on a massive scale.  We have nothing to which we can compare this new world, because nothing quite like it has existed before.  Therefore, congressional challenges to a would-be strong executive and congressional challenges to that executive’s bungled foreign policy may no longer elicit the traditional response of the public rallying around the President.  Perhaps the old structure will reassert itself in the future, but it seems possible that an entire new generation of voters will naturally and appropriately associate executive power-grabs, warmongering and failure and tie it to their image of the GOP, which means that expectations of public outrage at Reid and Pelosi’s foreign policy adventures are based on political realities that no longer exist.  On the contrary, these moves may or may not be good policy, but they are likely to prove to be very good politics.  It seems to me that Boomers are still trapped in that old world and keep expecting the public responses that would occur during the post-Carter years.  They may find that things are no longer what they once were. 

Does Joe Lieberman expect us to believe that he cares about “our allies in the Fatah Palestinian movement”?  Of course not.  This is simply more anti-Syrian posturing.   

It’s magical, this Surge; no matter what happens, the evidence demonstrates that the Surge is working. It can’t fail! Any behavior taken by anyone in Iraq is a positive by-product of the Surge. I mean, sure, the Surge hasn’t dented American casualty rates or Iraqi casualty rates for the country as a whole, but that also is evidence that it’s working; the enemy is clearly desperate, which is why he’s attacking us. ~Robert Farley

Via Yglesias

In fairness to the pathological Bush-supporters, the only way to maintain support for Mr. Bush’s War and the latest security plan (a.k.a., “surge”) has to be to engage in such creative “adaptation” to changing circumstances.  If these folks had ever been disturbed by evidence from the lowly realm of the senses (a.k.a., “reality”), they would have dropped Mr. Bush and his war years ago (as have so many attuned to the inner workings of the “reality-based community”). 

The “surge” must be working at all times, because otherwise it might be time to reconsider support for the war, which might mean that support for the war was misguided in the first place, and it would also mean that Mr. Bush, the great leader (as roughly 75% of Republicans still regard him), had erred catastrophically and then persisted in his error.  The true believers know that this latter idea is impossible, because they know that Mr. Bush is good and wise and decent, etc.  They know this because they have to believe it, since otherwise that would mean that they have been backing an impressive liar and criminal buffoon.  Never underestimate the power of denial.

It’s also worth remembering that the “increasing number of attacks and casualties is proof that the enemy feels deeply threatened by the establishment of democracy” spin has been tried before, back in the days of Cheney’s “last throes” remarks in ‘05.  You almost have to admire the suppleness of war propaganda.  We have not only always been at war with Eastasia (or Westasia, in our case), but we have always been winning, though occasionally suffering massive setbacks that some traitors might call “defeat,” which is really just another name for victory if viewed from the proper party perspective. 

Make this yet another reason to oppose the ugliness of modernisation.

Via Mosaics

There’s no telling what you will discover in the world of foreign blogs.  For instance, here is a striking post from a Syrian blog (via a link at George Ajjan’s blog) that revealed to me the existence of the Arabian oryx, a creature that I normally associate only with Africa and one that I honestly didn’t know existed. 

What else do you not know about Syria?

Holy Week has come to a bright and joyful end, and I am attempting to catch up on the latest controversies. 

Most notable of these was the argument that has broken out over Nancy Pelosi’s much-discussed visit to Syria.  When cornerned about the propriety of the visit, Nancy immediately backtracked by using the one get-out-of-jail free card any American politician has in taking potentially explosive steps in the Near East: she claimed she was doing it to help Israel.  Boggle as the mind may at the, er, audacity of such a claim (which the Israelis publicly repudiated), she made it, but she also made it in a typically grandiose, overreaching Pelosian way by talking about roads to Damascus and peace in Israel with much the same stupefying carelessness that the Krauthammers of the world talked about the “road to Jerusalem” going through Baghdad.  Granted, Pelosi has not come to bring the sword, but rather talking points, on her sentimental journey to the city once known for its fine sword metal, but she wields even these with such blithe indifference to their unrealistic nature that it can only trouble a realist or any critic of Bush-style foreign policy.  It cannot end up doing any good, and it will probably do harm, if perhaps only in undermining efforts to conclude the Iraq war by lending credibility to those who say that opponents of the war are lacking in sagacity and prudence when it comes to handling hostile or potentially hostile governments. 

Now I am certainly not one of the outraged breast-beaters who think that Pelosi has committed some heinous transgression, but neither am I quite so hopeful that this trip to Syria was actually evidence of anything like a coherent “alternative” foreign policy–not that there was much danger of the Democratic leadership providing one.  I do not share the faith of the presidential cultists who think that the branches of government are profoundly unequal (they believe this about foreign policy in particular), but like everything else the Democratic House has done in the last three months I find that I would be supremely disappointed in their actions if I had ever expected anything but flim-flam and empty rhetoric, which is mostly all they have managed.  The problem is not, as Unity ‘08 centrists would have it, that there is too much divergence, but far too much convergence, especially in foreign policy.  The problem, as usual, is not that the Democrats are undermining Mr. Bush’s policies and sending contradictory signals to the world, but that they are expressly at great pains to not do either of these things–but have still managed to do so despite every effort not to.  So they have bungled twice over.  Most of them do not fundamentally disagree with anything Mr. Bush has done, but only disagree with the timing, the methods or other elements of the execution, which means that all they have left is posing and putting on shows of calculated defiance that achieve nothing.  As Tom Lantos said in defense of the visit:

In USA Today, he [Lantos] noted that she “publicly declared that she supports the administration’s goals regarding Syria.”  

Whatever those goals are (it is hard to tell with this crowd what the intended goals are), the Democratic leaders insist that they are supporting them.  Yet the only justification for what they are doing would be if they had strong objections to those goals and believed those goals to be directly contrary to the national interest.  Short of that, they are just mucking about like a bunch of high-powered tourists.

There is nothing especially wrong with Pelosi going to Syria, nor is there even anything wrong with the Speaker attempting to reclaim an appropriately robust role for Congress in the making of foreign policy, but as with everything else she has done so far the Speaker has achieved nothing while pretending to have radically changed everything.  Most of those who complain about Pelosi trying to run her own foreign policy are not usually moved by constitutional scruples, but find any hint of dissent from the standard line about the perfidy of Syria, for example, to be intolerable.  Actually going there and treating the Syrian government as a more or less legitimate government with which we have formal diplomatic relations are far worse things than dissent in this view, and so there is a lot of loose talk about treachery and illegality.  If Pelosi’s venture represented something concrete in terms of advancing a new Syria policy and beginning a brokering of an Israel-Syria peace, it might have real merit and deserve the strong defense Dr. Trifkovic has given it.  Certainly, detaching Syria from Iran is highly desirable if it can be done, and it probably can be done, but it seems unclear at this time how Pelosi going to Damascus has made it more likely rather than less.  Arguably, she has done more to set back the development of some understanding with Syria with her little display than anyone else has in months, because it gives the appearance that Pelosi is now taking control of U.S. foreign policy, when in fact she controls very little and knows she controls very little.  It is empty grandstanding for the folks back home–watch as I tweak George Bush’s nose over Near East policy, she might as well be saying.  Basically, she is to diplomacy what Chuck Hagel is to war: someone who likes the sound of his own voice and the cachet of being labeled a dissenter or rebel or “maverick,” while actually doing nothing to merit those labels. 

Therefore, Dr. Fleming makes a good deal of sense when he writes:

The best that one can say about Pelosi’s trip is that it is inconsequential. The worst is that it reveals a self-important woman who puts party politics above the American interest.

This latter point seems to be on target.  It fits into Pelosi’s preference for taking symbolic action rather than doing anything substantive.  At least she didn’t say that she was putting the Speaker’s gavel in the hands of Syrian children!  The Armenian genocide resolution is a good example of a symbolic move (which I happen to agree with) that does nothing except formally state what every honest, informed person already knows (the Ottoman government organised and carried out a genocide against the Armenians, and that this was very bad), but which will inevitably worsen relations with Ankara, committed as it is to official denialism.  Within its first four months, Pelosi’s speakership could be defined generally as one that meddles inconclusively in foreign affairs while also managing to create a diplomatic nightmare with Ankara for purely constituent-driven and ethnic lobby reasons.

I find myself increasingly torn over the genocide resolution, since it is undeniable that the genocide occurred and that the Ottoman government was behind the planning and execution of it (particularly the CUP triumvirs), while it is equally clear that American-Turkish relations will become terrible if this resolution is passed.  If there were ever any arguments advanced against the resolution that were also capable of acknowledging the profound evil of the genocide and the ongoing complicity of the Turkish state and the early National Movement in the denial of the Ottomans’ responsibility, they might be quite compelling.  Since every Realpolitik argument I have seen treats the genocide as a sort of historical curiosity (as if it were an episode about which everyone’s opinion is equally valid), I am inclined to regard realist arguments against the resolution to be rather sickening in their indifference to the truth.  There is also something to be said for resisting moral blackmail from people who put Hrant Dink on trial and who still pretend that the near-extermination of Anatolia’s Armenian population was some sort of unfortunate accident.  Were the victims not Christians, and were the perpetrators not Muslims, and were the denialists not “good” secular and “democratic” Muslims, it seems to me that we would have no problem roundly condemning both the past crimes of the state and the ongoing suppression of free speech needed to maintain the cloak of ignorance and deceit that the current government actively weaves to obscure these crimes from view.  If only to resist moral blackmail from genocide deniers and to fight the profound misunderstanding of Ottoman Turkey as some land of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, the House should pass the genocide resolution.  That does not mean that Pelosi’s foreign policy bungling is generally a good idea, but it can occasionally and accidentally come to the right conclusion (even if not necessarily for the right reasons).    

Update: Read the smart exchange unfolding over at Chronicles‘ website in response to the articles by Dr. Fleming and Dr. Trifkovic.  Dr. Fleming also has pointed us to the interesting blog of Chronicles’ contributor George Ajjan, who has any number of thoughtful posts on matters Near Eastern (plus an intriguing post about Easter in Senegal among the Maronites there). 





Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered: and let those that hate him flee before his face.

A sacred Pascha has been revealed to us today, a new and holy Pascha, a mystic Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha, a Pascha that is Christ the Redeemer, an unblemished Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha that has opened for us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha that makes all the faithful holy.

As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.

Come from that sight, you women, bearers of good tidings, and say to Zion, ‘Receive from us the good tidings of joy, of Christ’s Resurrection. Exult, dance and be glad, Jerusalem, for you have seen Christ the King like a bridegroom coming from the grave.

So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.

The myrrh-bearing women at deep dawn came to the grave of the giver of life. They found an Angel sitting on the stone, and he addressed them and said, ‘Why do you seek the living with the dead? Why do you mourn the incorruptible as though he were in corruption? Go, proclaim it to his Disciples.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

A Pascha of delight, Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha, an all-venerable Pascha has dawned for us, Pascha. Let us embrace one another with joy. O Pascha, ransom from sorrow! Today Christ shone forth from a tomb as from a bridal chamber, and filled the women with joy, saying, ‘Proclaim it to the Apostles’.

Two weeks after proclaiming that neoliberalism is dead, David Brooks has said that he is a neoliberal. ~Mickey Kaus

Kaus refers to these two columns by Brooks, in which he has determined that both neoliberalism and small-government conservatism are finished and things of the past (even assuming that the latter even existed in some practical way).  In the course of declaring small-government conservatism finished, however, he does end up saying things that sound like a sort of “Republicrat”-cum-neoliberal platform.  Quoth Kaus on Brooks: “He’s Bill Clinton.”  That seems to me to be a far more damning indictment of Brooks than anything Sullivan could dream up about Christianists and authoritarian welfarism (or whatever it is he thinks is going on). 

Just try listening to Newt Gingrich as he butchers the Spanish language with one of the worst Yanqui accents you have ever heard.  If you can endure more than a minute, you are truly heroic.  As someone who has an appreciation for foreign languages properly spoken, and who strives to avoid hideously bad accents like this, I think Hispanics should regard this little display as far more insulting than any loose talk about ghettoes that prompted this painful speech.  This display of horribly pronounced Spanish might convince all Hispanics that they should accept English as the official language of the United States, if only to make sure that they do not have to suffer more Anglo politicians attempting (and failing) to speak their language properly.

On the bright side, at least he didn’t cite Castro and talk about how inspiring a commie slogan was! 

Dissents make the spaces between the two sides larger than they need to be and paper over the fundamental agreements. And while some of my favorite writing happens in dissent, it sure is exhausting when it’s all you read. ~Dahlia Lithwick

Someone will really have to point out to me the society in which dissidents are on the rampage and the chokehold of dreary centrism has been broken, because it certainly isn’t in America.  From my perspective, it is the fundamental agreements between the two parties and the two broad ideological camps that drive me up the wall, because the artificial imposition of the stale centrist consensus on the entire population is deadening and generally bad for participatory government and good government.  I don’t deny these fundamental agreements between the two “sides,” nor do I deny that party and pundit elites on both “sides” basically share 85-90% of their worldview.  These things are the problem.  To some small extent, if they have any positive value, progressive blogs and blogs like this one are part of the solution. 

This is not simply the old, “we want a choice, not an echo” logic, but it is the view that in a representative government it is actually legitimate to demand representation for all those tens of millions of people routinely ignored or given the shaft by the consensus elite.  It is actually legitimate to highlight and stress political differences between groups of people who have fundamentally different views.  This is not evidence of “dangerous polarisation,” but the basic functioning of political representation and expression.  The reason why there is a “politics of disdain” is that the political and chattering classes have had special disdain for us and people like us (i.e., people who have strong articulated, informed political views); we disdain what passes for government in this country because those in government have nothing but disdain for the real interests of the American people as we understand those interests. 

Of course, persuasion is desirable, and reasonableness is desirable, but the least persuasive arguments are those that engage in ”on the one hand, on the other hand” hemming and hawing and the least reasonable arguments are usually those that insist that “the truth is always somewhere in the middle.”  Often the truth isn’t in the “middle,” at least not as the “middle” of our politics is currently defined (in favour of war and corporations, against borders, the Constitution, the family and American labour, among other things).  There is probably a good reason why some strong progressives and some traditional conservatives find themselves in agreement about certain vital policy questions and also find that they are not ashamed to acknowledge this agreement.  Their deep commitments to their respective worldviews give them a sense of certainty about who they are and what they believe.  This gives them the freedom to face up to new economic, political or social realities with some greater clarity than that possessed by those whose commitments are less secure and much more confused and have to be shored up through constant ideological posing about how much they hate Hillary Clinton or how much they fear the coming of the Christianists.  The dissidents at the relative margins are not the ones who need to indulge in displays of anger and hatred–it is the marginally conservative and marginally liberal people at the center who must overcompensate for their own milquetoastery by making the bashing of people on one ”side” proof of their bona fides as a member of the other “side.”     

Perhaps we could follow Dahlia Lithwick’s advice and start bringing people together to write co-authored, “balanced” posts in the blogosphere as well.  Just think of it: Jessica Valenti and Ann Althouse would be writing about feminism together; Amanda Marcotte and I could pen an article on Christian theology; Justin Raimondo and Michael Ledeen could write about the war.  Oh, wait, that might not be very practical, since all of these people have wildly different views of the world grounded in actual arguments and experiences.  Some of these arguments are better than others, but to want to actively blur the differences between them and bring together political opponents to engage in self-conscious Broderism is not just strange but actually destructive of real political discourse.  It is this sort of stifling miasma that people go to the blogosphere to flee, and no wonder!  Maybe the blogosphere actually expresses widely diverging political views that consensus journalism and commentary actively tries to suppress, and these consensus pundits and journalists do this so that people will be conned into believing that the extreme poles of acceptable discourse range all the way from Jonah Goldberg to E.J. Dionne.  That idea is not only wrong and insulting, but it is likely to make some of us a bit, well, angry.

So the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran will apparently be released.  This strikes me as the least expected outcome, since I assumed that the Iranians who were foolish enough to detain these people would also want to maximise the propaganda value of their captivity for as long as possible.  Sad to say, that is what Mr. Bush would do and has done with our own detainees.  However, the overwrought display of clemency by Ahmadinejad (not one generally associated with clemency) is a very nicely calculcated move, as if to say, “We have so much leverage over you that we will be magnanimous and give you a little gift.”  The only way that Tehran could have humiliated the British more than by holding the detainees was by releasing them as a goodwill gesture, managing at once to defuse the ‘crisis’ and deflate to some degree the anti-Iranian rhetoric that these people are all soulless monsters.  All of the people hyperventilating about the uselessness of NATO, the EU, the UN and the British Government all now appear to be fairly silly, insofar as the ‘crisis’ to which they failed to respond “effectively” (i.e., by massively counterproductive sanctions and/or military action) was resolved quickly and without recourse to the usual hamfisted attempts to intimidate and bludgeon this or that country.  The jingoes have lost their latest pretext for a war with Iran, which will not by any means diminish their enthusiasm to find another one. 

All this said, the gullibility of some people in the antiwar movement that Faye Tunney’s letters were genuine or “eloquent” (!) has been as stunning as the particularly pathetic de rigueur outrage that the Iranians are holding a woman captive.  As for those letters and her interview, the big giveaway for me (besides the obviously staged nature of her “confession” as Tunney stares at what must have been her cue card or script) was the frequent use of the word “compassionate,” as if the Iranian propagandists were trying to find the English word that most epitomises the opposite of what most Westerners associate with the Tehran government.  As for the other phenomenon, we are supposed to simultaneously think the Iranians brutes for capturing the woman sailor, while deploring a mother’s lack of willingness to fight to the death for (allegedly) the sake of Iraqi territorial integrity, while actively pretending that there is nothing at all strange about sending a mother on patrol in potentially dangerous waters. 

Ahmadinejad’s “family values” line works so well rhetorically because so many people in the West know just how crazy it is to have women on patrol and in potential combat zones, but you wouldn’t have heard a single pundit, particularly none on the right, say peep about this.  Virtually every conservative pundit has learned to mechanically utter the set phrase, “our servicemen and women,” and they all know that right-thinking people no longer make a great fuss about having women in what could potentially be combat situations.  Why, that’s the sort of thing Jim Webb used to do (as George Allen so lamely tried to argue in ‘06), and if there’s one thing that unites conventional conservative pundits it is reflexive opposition to whatever Jim Webb believed or believes.  Naturally, Sullivan still distinguishes himself with the most asinine comment about the entire affair:

The only downside for Ahmadinejad was his ugly, stupid statement about women servicemembers. But it may go down well with the D’Souzaite masses in the Middle East.

D’Souzaite masses?  The masses in the Middle East are probably not likely to identify with a secular Westernised intellectual with a Portugese last name–just guessing! 

The remark wasn’t ugly or stupid, except to a utopian egalitarian who thinks that mothers should be sent to the front lines (apparently because they have nothing better to do, such as, say, raise their children).  It was a valid observation made for completely cynical, self-serving purposes by a demagogue who cares no more about “family values” necessarily than he actually cares about destroying Israel; these are useful things for him to say to play to the sentiments of the crowd and embarrass the foreigners (which also works as a crowd-pleaser in pretty much every country), but Ahmadinejad must fundamentally be a survivor and a smart manipulator if he has lasted as long as he has and climbed to the position where he is. 

Had the Iranians taken an extreme opposite route and executed the fifteen as spies or for whatever other made-up charge they could think of, that woman’s child would grow up to tell people, “My mother died to keep the Shatt al-Arab under the control of the Iraqi ‘government’ controlled by Iranian influence.”  And there are actually a lot of people, at least over here, who think that would be a worthwhile sacrifice, and they would say as much, right before they decry the breakdown of the family.

Note on the use of language: many people have referred to the detainees as hostages, which doesn’t have much difference in the way of real meaning historically from detainee, but it carries with it strong emotional and moral connotations.  To detain someone sounds vaguely legal or appropriate (thus when pro-administration flacks speak of the torture of prisoners, they always speak of “treatment of detainees” rather than, say, ”abuse of hostages”), while to take a hostage sounds aggressive and vicious, because we have become accustomed to thinking of hostage-taking as relating to terrorists or bank robbers taking civilians hostage during their attacks (or as the main target of their attacks).  However, applying this sense of hostage to captured soldiers or sailors is perverse and ridiculous, much as it was idiotic how every media report referred to the “kidnapping” of Israeli soldiers in the summer of last year, as if the captured soldiers had been picked up after school by a strange man offering them candy. 

To hear Mitt Romney talk on the campaign trail, you might think the Republican presidential candidate had a gun rack in the back of his pickup truck.

“I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life,” he said this week in Keene, N.H., to a man sporting a National Rifle Association cap.

Yet the former Massachusetts governor’s hunting experience is limited to two trips at the bookends of his 60 years: as a 15-year-old, when he hunted rabbits with his cousins on a ranch in Idaho, and last year, when he shot quail on a fenced game preserve in Georgia. ~Newsday

I’ve been shooting once or twice in my time, I have been on a horse a few times in my life (mostly when I was very young), my school had all of us do a five-day backpacking trip in the Jemez, and I have been fishing on occasion, so by Romneyian standards I must be the Great Outdoorsman.

The quail hunting trip might at least work to Romney’s advantage in a very narrow sense, in that he did not shoot any of his companions in the face.

So I will leave this post as the tombstone for this ugly little blog that brought out the vilest in me and has now left me in deep shame for the rest of my life. ~Ilkka Kokkarinen, c. September 2006

Apparently, he got over the vileness and the shame, since he has been regularly blogging for the last month here beginning with this random post.  I don’t hold it against the guy that he came back to blogging–she is a powerful mistress, as I well know–and I don’t mind that one of the sharper bloggers has returned to regular posting, but I do find it a bit odd that he departed from the ’sphere with the huffy self-righteousness of a grand opera prima donna who has screamed at the conductor that she would no longer work with such mediocrities and yet he has re-entered this world without so much as a brief explanation of why he now thinks blogging is something other than the desecration of humanity that he seemed to regard it a mere six months ago.  We don’t need much, but just maybe a word or two on “Why blogging is not nearly as vile and evil as I used to think.” 

Ross and Matt Yglesias attempt to redeem vlogging, and rehash the recent arguments while making many smart and funny remarks.

Let me preface this by saying that I haven’t yet seen Children of Men, so what follows is based on what occurred to me as I was reading this interesting Christopher Orr review of the movie.  He first notes Cuaron’s scrubbing of any meaning, polemical or otherwise, from what was originally, as Orr calls it, a “Christian fable.”  With this phrase in connection with the story’s theme of childbirth (or the absence thereof), I am reminded at once of That Hideous Strength, since it is childlessness (albeit not barrenness) that blights the main female character, Jane, in the last installment of the Space Trilogy.  Lewis makes it fairly explicit that there is something deeply awry and unnatural in the woman’s marriage and life that she doesn’t have any children, and once Merlin and the animals destroy the horrid Atlee-esque bureaucratic machine (now that’s what I’m talking about!) the trilogy’s hero, Ransom (a philologist!), is there at the end of the story to advise Jane on how to live in a God-pleasing manner.  (For some reason, no one has ever made film adaptations of these Lewis stories–I wonder why!)  Now, cue angry ranting from Amanda “Some of the Non-Procreating Women Escaped” Marcotte; score one for the natalists.  Orr then also notes the odd, incongruous introduction of anti-immigrant sentiment as a feature of the non-natal future, and cites Ross’ objection that this feature makes no sense at all.  Just as a matter of sheer practicality, dying societies will take whatever labour they can get.   

Therefore, as I was reading Orr’s review, a thought occurred to me: the movie Children for Men is a much better-made, savvier attempt at making something like V for Vendetta.  The similarities are quite plain, so it struck me as odd that I have not seen anyone else compare the two.  Perhaps someone has, but probably no one has thought of the two together since most sane people seem to agree that Children for Men is a very well-done film and those same people seem to agree that Vendetta is the most awful waste of time you were likely to have experienced last year.  Consider: both are set in the near future of an authoritarian/neo-fascist Britain, both are making not-so-subtle criticisms of 2006-07 U.S. policy, both think that the most put-upon groups in such a future authoritarian dictatorship would be improbable selections from the list of Officially Designated Minority Victim Groups (Muslims and homosexuals in Vendetta, immigrants in Children of Men) and both vest their hopes for social and political change in more or less empty symbolic actions carried out by desperate revolutionaries.  Cuaron has taken a story of redemption and renewal and turned it into a rather hollow paean to predictable leftist shibboleths of diversity and “empowering women” (which is why Marcotte thought so highly of it), much as the original Vendetta and the film version took a story of a Catholic rebel fighting for the True Faith and turned him into the symbol for nihilistic anarchism.  The difference is that the entirety of Vendetta was shot through with intellectual and spiritual emptiness, which made it an obviously bad film; Cuaron has enough talent and skill as a director that he can take something of even Vendetta-like pretentiousness and make it into a watchable movie.

Warfare is like hunting.  Wild animals are taken by scouting, by nets, by lying in wait, by stalking, by circling around, and by other such stratagems rather than by sheer force.  In waging war we should proceed in the same way, whether the enemy may be many or few.  To try to simply overpower the enemy in the open, hand to hand and face to face, even though you might appear to win, is an enterprise which is very risky and can result in serious harm.  Apart from extreme emergency, it is ridiculous to try to gain a victory which is so costly and brings only empty glory. ~Maurice’s Strategikon, Book VII

I’m told that that number will be “at least” $11.3 million, and could go a little north of that. I’m told that would make his “burn rate”—i.e., the percentage that he has spent of the money he has raised—51%. The $11.3 cash on hand would be in the ballpark of what McCain raised in the quarter. Also, a source in the Romney camp provides some historical background by way of showing that 51% is a very respectable burn rate. Bush was a champion at frugality, with just a 35% burn rate in the first three quarters of 1999. Of the other candidates in the same time frame in 1999, Forbes had a 100% rate, McCain 85%, and Dole 91%.  In the first three quarters of 2003, Dean had a rate of roughly 50%, Edwards 66%, Kerry 53%, and Lieberman 65%. ~Rich Lowry

So there should be no worries for Romney, except that all but one of the aforementioned candidates failed to win the nomination and most of them were reduced to being bad punchlines before it was all over.  The one who won the nomination was, of course, Kerry, the man Romney is so terrified of being compared to that he has made Francophobia one of the central planks of his platform.  I await evidence that my assessment of Romney as an “overfunded joke candidate” is mistaken.

He’s not a Martian running for president of the earthlings. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez on (who else?) Mitt Romney 

Just for the record: I did not “dream up” the biggest rate of increase in discretionary non-defense government spending in generations. I did not dream up the bankrupting Medicare prescription drug benefit. I did not dream up the festival of pork that this president has signed into law. I did not dream up the fact that in Bush’s first five years, federal spending on housing and commerce jumped 86 percent,   that spending on community and regional development leaped 71 percent, or that Medicaid’s costs went up by 46 percent. I did not hallucinate the Federal Marriage Amendment. I did not dream up federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. I did not dream up big increases in farm subsidies or an explosion of pork-barrel spending. I did not dream up the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on the basis of her religious faith. I did not dream up Karl Rove’s meticulous effort to mesh local churches with local Republican organization. I did not dream up all the many aspects of the Bush administration that can fairly be described as Christianist welfarism. The term “compassionate conservatism” was not my invention. In his attempt to dismiss the conservative critique of Bush that is fast becoming the consensus, Ross says that Bush actually favored means-testing social security. Or did I misread that? ~Andrew Sullivan

For the record, I think Ross means that Sullivan dreamed up the “Christianist-dominated” part of “Christianist-dominated welfare state.”  I’m guessing this because Christianists don’t exist except inside Sullivan’s mind, so they can only dominate the welfare state in the same way that pixies or unicorns dominate the welfare state.  Which is to say, not at all.

Update: Yes, that’s pretty much exactly what he meant.

Very quickly, let me say that any Romneyite spin you may be hearing that he now polls at 17% in Iowa is misleading because of the stupid methodology of the poll: there is an open-ended question (which is basically a prompt to name your preferred candidate), and a “forced-choice” question that artificially limited the field to the top six.  Romney scores 9.6% on the open-ended question among registered Republicans, and 17% on the “forced-choice” question.  In other words, when people are given the option of picking any candidate half of his “support” evaporates and moves to other candidates, leaving him more or less stuck at the 8-9% mark where’s he been for months.  Amusingly, in the “forced-choice” question, Obama pulls 11% of registered Republicans, and overall 27% of self-identified Republicans picked a Democratic candidate.  That means that, when forced to choose among the six, more Republicans in Iowa prefer a Democrat over any one of the Republican Terrible Trio.   

Update: Okay, I jumped the gun a bit.  The numbers most people are talking about are the likely caucus-goer numbers, which also happen to put Romney at just about 17%.  That may be more significant, but the underlying lack of support among Republican voters for Republican candidates cannot be considered a good sign for any of the GOP contenders.

It’s a really sick time we live in when the Holocaust is considered a “contoversial subject” and denial of the atrocity is considered a valid alternative view. ~Philip Klein

Mr. Klein is right, but then it has already been a fairly sick time when the Armenian and Ukrainian genocides have been considered in certain scholarly and political circles to have been simply unfortunate episodes or perhaps even myths propagated by enemies of the revolution. 

This latest pandering to Muslim “sensibilities” in Britain is simply the application of the same politically motivated denialism that we see in the Armenian and Ukrainian cases to the one atrocity that has normally been deemed to be just about the only absolutely undeniable thing.  (Technically, virtually no one denies the events of the Armenian genocide, but they deny their significance, which amounts to the same thing.)  The twisted road by which we have reached the point where Pakistani Muslim schoolchildren in Britain would feel sufficiently offended by the history of WWII in Europe that a significant element of that history would have to be omitted is worthy of a series of posts at some point in the future.  All of this leaves in the background unmentioned the otherwise appalling ignorance of all British schoolchildren about world history outside of that sacred time of 1939-1945.  Those who would like to know “what happened to the Brits” might consider that many of ”the Brits” today have no grasp of some of the most rudimentary elements of British history, nor, thanks to official multiculti nonsense, do they have any sense of what that history has to do with their identity as part of the British people. 

It might be worth noting that this is a lesson in the importance of political expediency for promoting knowledge about past atrocities: the Holocaust became widely, publicly known because it was useful to the Allies to make it so, while the stories of the Armenian and Ukrainian genocides have had no such powerful advocates for their publicity and remembrance.  As much as I don’t like it, what is remembered from the past is tied inextricably to those who have the power to authorise and enforce official memory.  When those who have the power are more concerned to address present needs (such as avoiding Muslim discontent, riots and attacks), a new, airbrushed, revised story will be told.  When there are no victors to publicise an enemy’s atrocities, or when the victors are unable, for whatever reason, to do this, atrocities are usually softened or erased or justified as part of a founding mythology.  Then begins the talk of “necessity” and idealism, and it always sounds the same, whether it is uttered by a Benny Morris or a Turkish nationalist. 

Because of post-WWI squabbling over the carcass of the Ottoman Empire, the Allies were unsuccessful in holding most of the architects and agents of the genocide accountable.  The architects and agents of the Ukrainian genocide were heroes to people of a certain political persuasion, who might well have liked to expropriate a few kulaks in their part of the world, and were never going to be held accountable by their own government, which authorised what they were doing, nor by any other, which had no means of trying or punishing them.  Needless to say, the mass deaths of Germans following WWII are scarcely even remembered, since they are unique in having virtually no advocates for their memory and an unusual number of interested parties who would prefer to keep these events buried as much as possible.

Middle Eastern historians are, on the whole, very bad about repeating pro-Ottoman, pro-Turkish propaganda about the Armenian genocide, and only rarely does anyone bring up the genocide of the Ukrainians except as a tired debating point against people who use the Holocaust as a cudgel with which to beat political opponents.  The ‘wrong’ kind of people were doing the killing in those cases (Muslims, communists) and the ’wrong’ kinds of people (Christians, Slavs) were the victims.  Given the decades of pervasive anti-Christian and increasingly pro-Islamic biases in U.S. and European education, teaching the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians seems not only counterintuitive but perverse (since ”we” all ”know” that Christians are always the oppressor, never the oppressed). 

Sympathisers with the Soviets and communism generally could never really acknowledge that Stalin’s policies towards the Ukraine were fundamentally no different in revolutionary and nationalist motivations and hideous effect from the Holocaust.  To his cheerleaders abroad, Stalin was a “liberal in a hurry,” and if a few kulak eggs got broken, well, that’s the cost of progress.  Admirers of that famed Ottoman “tolerance” and latter-day proponents of the liberalisation and reform of the Islamic world have all been too deeply invested in their respective myths to face up to the hideous realities of what the marriage of progressive politics, Ottomanism and Islam could and did create, despite ample evidence not only of mass killings and deportations but extensive evidence (detailed in A Shameful Act) of government direction and coordination of the entire enterprise.   

At Taki’s Top Drawer, Taki remembers Sam Francis, and Dr. Gottfried writes on Ann Coulter and the always detestable SPLC.

At The American Conservative, Anatol Lieven makes the argument against fighting another Cold War with the Russians (and, naturally, I agree).

At Chronicles, Scott Richert writes about Islam in America:

As Dr. Siddiqui’s remarks indicate, the views of mainstream Muslims are far from the views of most non-Muslim Americans. How many non-Muslims in Rockford believe that the Constitution is a pure Islamic document, and that America would benefit from adopting sharia as the law of the land? How many non-Muslims believe that the definition of terrorism should be different for Muslims than for non-Muslims?

If the early poll numbers for Giuliani are to be believed, Emery is far from alone.  Apparently, the best way to show your pro-life credentials these days is to be willing to rain death and destruction upon the home of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.  The blood of thousands of dead Iraqi and Lebanese civilians, it seems, can cover a multitude of aborted American babies. ~Scott Richert

“The Antichrist is the reduction of Christianity to an ideology, instead of a personal encounter with the Savior.” Any attempt to co-opt the Faith for the service of a particular ideology has about it the air of sulfur. ~Scott Richert

That neoconservative organizations can afford to help politicians such as Santorum revise their hierarchy of values just reinforces the argument that Solovyov made a century ago: “Days will come in Christianity in which they will try to reduce the salvific event to a mere series of values.” That reduction is long complete, and we have entered the next stage: the shedding of those “values” that individual “believers” no longer think—or, rather, “feel”—are necessary for salvation. ~Scott Richert

See Part I of Scott’s series here.

Trotsky lived on after Stalin, and to some extent is still alive today, not because young people want the world he wanted: a phantasm that not even he could define. What they want is to be him. ~Clive “Don’t Be Like Trotsky” James

Some clever observer could tie Clive James’ article with theories about the New Anger and the irascibility of bloggers and engage in some hyperean, Joe Klein/Jonah Goldberg-like declaration about extremism and “young bloggers” as a manifestation of romantic quasi-Trotskyism.  Someone else could make references to neocons and Schwartz miya, which might be more appropriate, but would still be a bit far-fetched, since no one to the right of Hugo Chavez admires Leon Trotsky, and even Chavez probably isn’t that interested(Chavez might wonder why anyone would admire the guy who lost).  One interesting thing that James did say in that article about the totalitarian impulse was this:

It is the trick of meeting contradiction by silencing whoever offers it. 

Certainly that part is familiar to many a prominent neoconservative.

So there is now some argument over whether vlogging (i.e., video-blogging) is worthless or not.  Is it as efficient as good, old-fashioned blogging?  Everyone seems to be saying, “Not really.”  Is it entertaining?  Everyone who has bothered to weigh in on this vital matter seems to be saying, “Yes.”  In the wake of the eruption of Ann Althouse, which Bob Wright explains in more detail here, could there have been any other answer? 

It is probably not the best time to point out, then, this incredibly tedious conversation between Bob Wright and Michael Kinsley in which they bat back and forth the merit of the anti-Mormon arguments of Linker and Weisberg, despite the fact that neither of them had read the Linker piece and only one of them had read Weisberg.  In twelve minutes, they managed to establish that 1) intolerance was bad; 2) more tolerance would be good; 3) neither of them had read the Linker piece; 4) neither of them knew very much in detail about Mormonism or any other religion (quoth Wright on Catholicism: “that second whatever thing, the pronouncement  they had about thirty years ago or so”).  If anyone wanted a chief exhibit for the anti-vlogging position, this section would have been it.  Personally, I enjoy watching “diavlogs,” as they are rather absurdly called, but there are times when they try the patience of the most faithful viewer.

If political fundraising success is measured in terms of exceeding expectations and building momentum for the future, John McCain’s campaign has not had any success in fundraising.  If barely doubling the fundraising of Bill Richardson was the goal all along, McCain should be very pleased with his whopping $12.5 million.  Even after very deliberately lowering expectations, his first quarter numbers seem low by the new standards of this cycle.  Four years ago, $12 million would have been respectable and competitive for a top-tier candidate, but now it makes McCain look strangely weak. 

It is interesting that Giuliani was able to bring in only $15 million, despite his much-vaunted “frontrunner” status, while Romney, who has to be seen by now as an incredibly overfunded joke candidate, has pulled in the largest amount on the GOP side.  Meanwhile, the other contenders are running their campaigns on a shoestring and gaining popularity that Romney has not been able to buy no matter how many heaps of cash he fritters away.

Ross let things go at that, but the difference, clearly, is that Goldberg — like a lot of people drawn to the conservative movement — is drawn to it specifically because a faux-Burkean fussy aversion to “new ideas” provides a decent cover for the fact that he lacks the capacity to grapple with actual ideas. ~Matt Yglesias

To recap: Reihan wrote a really interesting post, Goldberg harumphed about whippersnappers not knowing anything, Ross intervened on Reihan’s behalf, I unleashed my standard furious attack, Reihan said some nice things about me and other paleos, which prompted a much more obnoxious Goldberg post, a reply from Reihan, and a number of even more furious attacks on Goldberg from me.  This debate then got tied in to Ross’ response to the Sullivan-Brooks spat (which was an entirely one-sided Sullivan conniption), leading to a Goldberg comment, Ross’ reply and Goldberg’s concluding remarks, which Yglesias roundly and rightly mocks.  It is hard not to agree with Yglesias’ observation, at least as far as Goldberg is concerned, since I said much the same thing last week, and especially since Goldberg’s mudstick act is consistent whether he is confronted with older ideas of a traditional conservative bent, relatively newer ideas from a Sam Francis, new potentially valuable ideas of the Ross-Reihan school or non-conservative ideas from anyone else.  He not only cannot discern between radically different, even opposed, ideas (thus, in his strange, strange world, crunchy cons are vaguely fascist and Ross and Reihan’s “Sam’s Club Republicans” are supposedly the same as Sam Francis’ MARs), but he also cannot engage with any of the proponents of these ideas without reaching for a heavy-handed smear or tendentious over-reading of someone’s position as a way of avoiding real debate and tarring his opponents as political untouchables or hopelessly naive loons.  I would instinctively like to think that many people in the “movement” are not like this, but a great many seem to love the Goldbergs and Hewitts of the world and relatively few see them for the faux-Burkeans that they are.   

You know I just don’t get it. I can totally understand why you might think that it was a bad idea to go into Iraq in the first place, but I can not for the life of me, fathom how a civilized person can support the idea of us leaving that country at the present time, for what will most assuredly result in genocide. ~Glen Dean

Clark challenged Mr. Dean on this post, and Mr. Dean wrote back in the comments:

Clarke [sic], that post had to do with the irony of left wing opposition to the occupation in Iraq, not right wing. The differences in you and the lefties, is that you are not calling for us to enter into Sudan while simultaneously calling for us to leave Iraq. You don’t oppose intervention in Iraq while supporting intervention in a lot of other places.

Actually, it seems that Mr. Dean’s post had to do with calling people who support withdrawl from Iraq barbarians.  If he cannot fathom how a “civilized person” can advocate leaving Iraq, given the likelihood of what he calls genocide, he presumably cannot consider those who do advocate leaving Iraq to be civilised people.  Mr. Dean does go on to criticise the left for their Bush-hating and says:

They hate George Bush so much that they are willing to perpetuate our defeat in Iraq, thus bringing about genocide in that country.

It is really sick when you think about it.

This is the curious idea that ending your participation in the war that has made a genocide at least a possibility is more morally objectionable than continuing your contribution to the potentially genocide-causing war, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  If there is a danger of even larger-scale sectarian and ethnic warfare in Iraq, that would mean that those who opposed the war citing the ethnic and sectarian instability of the country would have been proven right, which means that their arguments for withdrawal might benefit from the same sort of insight that led the war opponents to anticipate the disaster the war supporters were unleashing.  

In the last resort, with nothing left, flinging accusations of enabling genocide has become something of a standard argument in pro-war circles.  This standard argument often, but not always, invokes Vietnam, or rather Cambodia in connection with Vietnam.  Bringing the war into Cambodia was necessary and right, as some would tell it, but the genocide that happened later was all the fault of people who wanted to end American involvement, even though it was bringing the war into Cambodia that set off the chain of events that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge.  But, hey, stuff happens.  Mr. Dean assures Clark that he was not coming after those of us on the right for any signs of ”Bush Derangement Syndrome” (how reassuring)–but he would still lump us in with all of the genocide-enablers, whereas those who have been hawks from day one are obviously deeply concerned about the plight of all the tens and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have already died.  They’re civilised people, after all, not like those antiwar barbarians who eat uncooked meat and live in tents. 

Indeed, some crazy person, obviously boorish and uncivilised, might start throwing around the g-word in connection with our Iraq policy for the last 16 years, since arguably more people have died through sanctions and American wars against Iraq than have perished in that supposed “genocide” in Darfur.  But that would be crazy.  Unfortunately, those of us who have protested and opposed these sorts of interventionist policies all along are not as civilised as those who would like to perpetuate them, so we must simply grunt and howl in our heathen rage.      

*With apologies to Konstantinos Kavafis (a.k.a., Cavafy)

In a genuinely unexpected outcome, the single most common characteristic of these particular political conversion stories was precisely: radicalization rightward in reaction to an overwhelmingly left-biased humanities faculty on one elite campus after another. ~Mary Eberstadt

The same process is probably at work today, but as every level of education has been more and more permeated by anti-Western and anti-Christian attitudes (particularly in history) I bet the reactions against overreaching indoctrination begin earlier.  That was certainly what happened in my case.  It certainly didn’t hurt that I grew up in a home where my parents espoused a very strong conservatism (had I been inclined to read them as a teenager, Bradford and Kirk’s complete works were sitting on our shelves), so there was a strong countervailing influence against the politicised junk they threw at me at school, but an overwhelming part of my early education at secular, private schools was so consistently biased to the left and so openly uninterested in most of the Western tradition generally and Christianity specifically that I was something of a cultural idiot by the time I entered high school.  Growing up entirely secular ensured that, as far as religion was concerned, there would be no strong counterbalance to the anti-Christian elements in our education.  

The virtually total neglect of studying any religion backfired, however, since my curiosity about the subject caused me to go out and start learning something, even if it was initially heavily focused on South Asian religions.  The multiculti propaganda, even as much as I disliked it all along, had had some effect, and this was to discourage interest in Christianity (which I assume is at least half of the purpose of all multiculturalism).  It also had the effect of inspiring in me both a zealous syncretism and a lot of undue respect for Islam (after all, “everyone” knew that Islam was a religion of tolerance and learning, not like those mean, old Christians).  Fortunately, rapid disillusionment with Islam followed, and the departure away from my ignorance of Christianity and away from my childish, conventional neocon-like foreign and libertarian domestic politics came next.  (I guess there doesn’t have to be any connection between sympathy for the “good” Islam, desire for confrontation with China and a belief that global free trade is good for the American worker, but in their sheer irrationality they do seem to coexist comfortably in the minds of more than a few people.)  The multicultis are good at keeping people ignorant, but once the veil is lifted multiculturalism is so shallow and worthless that it cannot long keep anyone in its thrall.  From the perspective of my classmates, I was already on ”the right,” perhaps even the far right in some respects, but as I look back on it I was escaping from a host of liberal delusions–belief in “rights,” confidence in democracy, etc.–the last of which I think I finally shed about five years ago (just in time!).    

Gradually, the wisdom of Chronicles, which I started reading more often in my college years when I was back home, broke through the near-impenetrable haze of youthful stupidity.  Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s books drilled in just how pernicious and undesirable democracy was.  Chronicles’ hammering away on the Western injustices done in Yugoslavia finally sank in, and I became aware of the folly of meddling in Kosovo by early 1998 (just about when the first threats related to Kosovo were being made by the administration).  Had Chronicles not existed, there would have been hardly any resources to provide any sort of perspective on the Balkans that was not dripping with the standard historically illiterate, Christophobic, anti-Slavic view of most Western media outlets.  Providing the decent, learned and Christian perspective is the service Chronicles has provided on numerous matters of policy and culture.     

As I have related before, the bombing of Kosovo was a turning point in that the injustice of that war and the insipid nature of the internationalist consensus behind the bombing campaign pushed me irrevocably into the anti-interventionist camp.   It cannot be a coincidence that I was much more likely to be persuaded by the neocon/WSJ party line on meddling in Yugoslavia, backing Israel to the hilt and vilifying Russia when I was in my teens, since this was the time when I was still stunningly ignorant of the history of a lot of Christian civilisation.  It usually requires such appalling ignorance to buy into a lot of the rhetoric used in justifying U.S. policies or in defining “the West” in ways that include Mexico, Israel and Turkey but exclude half of Europe.  As soon as I started learning anything about our civilisation’s history, and particularly once I started to become familiar with Orthodox Christianity (though I would not convert for several more years after this), the folly and villainy of a lot of conventional interventionist policies started to become apparent to me, partly because I started to perceive in them the works of people who were hostile to the cultural and religious inheritance of our civilisation and partly because the policies themselves seemed designed to target and harm Christians around the world (or at least to support the enemies of Christians around the world, which amounts to something very similar).  Iraq and Lebanon have hardly disabused me of this notion. 



Behold, the Bridegroom is coming at midnight. * Blessed is the servant He shall find awake. * But the one He shall find neglectful will not be worthy of Him. * Beware, therefore, O my soul! Do not fall into a deep slumber,* lest you be delivered to death and the door of the Kingdom be closed to you. * Watch instead, and cry out: * Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God. * Through the intercession of the Theotokos, have mercy on us!

If only these older-but-supposedly-wiser geniuses would spare us the dubious benefit of their hard-won “wisdom,” we might find a solution to global warming – just think how much noxious gas would no longer be polluting the atmosphere. ~Justin Raimondo

Mr. Raimondo is skewering Tyler Cowen, Brink Lindsey and the other collaborationists advocates of a new “libertarianism,” who are busily trying to find a modus vivendi with implacable statist forces of one kind or another.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?  Raimondo’s impatience with such people, who have suddenly learned to stop worrying and love “positive liberty” (translation into English: trading your birthright for a mess a pottage), mirrors my irritation with such “conservative” luminaries as Sullivan, Brooks and Sager, who are all busily diagnosing where conservatism has gone awry and proceed to tell us that conservatism can only be saved by chucking or repudiating some huge part of what political conservatism has involved for decades.  These new “insights” usually appear right around the time the wise men have books to sell.  Incidentally, this new vogue of libertarians selling out to Leviathan is a strange thing to behold, since it usually means that I, arch anti-libertarian, find myself holding far more libertarian-like positions than many of the perfumed professionals at Cato.  Then again, I support Ron Paul, while these folks probably wouldn’t dream of “wasting” their votes on him.  I don’t know who the candidate of “positive liberty” would be, since I am not fluent in Newspeak and wouldn’t be able to tell you what people mean when they say “positive liberty” anyway.

In Sullivan’s case, there is a lot of whining about abusive, big government, but in the end he can’t actually think of anything on a major policy level that the government should stop doing (and he thinks it should start doing a few other things that it isn’t doing); he also doesn’t like traditional Christians and their dread influence.  Sager joins him in pinning big-government excesses on the Christians, thus making his “libertarian” project and the repudiation of social conservatism the supposed electoral panacea of the GOP (which, besides being exactly the opposite of political reality in this country, doesn’t seem to involve doing anything to reduce the size and scope of government in any way).  Brooks, who has never been on record as wanting to reduce the size of government, at least has a certain honesty in consistently and straightforwardly defending bad positions.  

Mr. Raimondo also notes the bizarre fixation on one element of domestic policy reform as the guiding star of libertarian fortunes in America, namely partial privatisation of Social Security:

These guys are perhaps to be forgiven for overemphasizing the importance of what was, after all, the Cato Institute’s major policy initiative – the partial privatization of Social Security – but was this failure really the major setback for the cause of liberty in the beginning of the new millennium? Doherty, too, seems to fall for this hooey. He opens his book with the news of this supposedly world-historic defeat, a tic he shares with his reviewers, perhaps because all of them at one time or another have worked for Cato. Yet this is more than just institutional bias. It represents a failure to understand both libertarianism and the current crisis of our nation.

This is not really all that surprising, since the collaborationists advocates of a new libertarianism, especially Brink Lindsey, are known to be Iraq war hawks (the Iraq war perhaps being another example of “positive liberty” being wrought on a grateful people).  They would be unwilling to see their embrace of hegemonism as being in any way in conflict with their libertarianism.  Perhaps they subscribe to the Zorg philosophy of life:

[Liberty], which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos!

Bizarrely, many libertarians, whose greatest political asset today should be the traditional libertarian principled opposition to aggression, war and activist foreign policy, have become so intimidated by the pro-war sentiment on the right (or have bought into it themselves) that they have turned most of their attention to domestic policy questions…and consequently discovered that their solutions on domestic policy are horribly unpopular.  Meanwhile, the peace and non-interventionist position that ought to be the universal libertarian foreign policy position would probably be wildly popular with the left and center that some of them are trying to make a deal with, but they actively ignore it and pretend that it isn’t even relevant to the discussion.

War, in short, is good for business in Arizona. And yet, Saint John McCain’s strident militarism never gets discussed on these terms — is never seen as something on a par with how Carl Levin loves cars and Joe Biden loves credits cards. ~Matt Yglesias

This is right.  The reason why McCain’s militarism doesn’t get discussed in these terms is that there is a reigning idea out there today that only corrupt and venal people (you know, French, Chinese and Russian people with their filthy interests in oil of all things) would ever oppose high-minded and noble efforts to kill a great many other people.  You see, no one opposes these interventions for good reasons, but just because they are either treacherous or bought off.  It certainly couldn’t be that anyone supports interventions out of naked political interest or the desire for power (and it definitely never has anything to do with oil interests or powerful lobbies of any kind)–you’d have to be some kind of conspiracy nut to think that! 

That’s why the jingoes are especially fond of Lieberman: unlike McCain, he apparently favours these efforts out of pure devotion to state violence, rather than out of any of the morally compromising influence of money and powerful constituencies in his home state.  Besides, the idea that someone might support something as admirable and decent as organised killing because of graft and influence is too shocking for the tender feelings of the members of the hegemonist consensus.  You shouldn’t have to be cajoled into supporting aggressive war–the enthusiasm and desire should be spontaneous. 

Besides, if it appeared that McCain were acting out of political calculation, that would undermine his personal narrative of being a true-believing warmongering fanatic, which would destroy his last attractive feature for Republican primary voters.  Suggesting that he was acting out of loyalty to constituencies in his state would hint that his positions were remotely explicable and therefore potentially rational, which would ruin his image. 

If you’re ever feeling blue and need a good laugh, the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal do the trick.  Who knows what absolute howlers you’ll find?  Maybe it will be those enterprising apologists for illegality, Casey and Rivkin, laying out the legal argument for sinking Cuba to the bottom of the Caribbean (”if we take a more nuanced view of international law, we will find that island nations really belong to the international community at large and can be disposed of as and when necessary”) or the odd Henninger column in which he explains that cancer would be cured if the Republicans became more competitive in New England.  If those sound too reasonable for their respective authors, that’s because those pieces were never written. 

This one, however, is a very real Dorothy Rabinowitz piece in which she tells us that the case against the two AIPAC lobbyists charged with espionage undermines the First Amendment.  No, really.  Why didn’t Pollard and Hanssen think of that one?

Meanwhile, on the other side, Bill Richardson just hauled in $6 million and still has $5 million on hand, which is pretty good for someone virtually no one in the media is taking seriously as a contender for the nomination.   

So says Tommy Thompson (hadn’t he already announced once before?), whose candidacy initially provoked my derision, but who seems to be making his mark in Iowa and filling the gap that the Republicans need to fill: the competent administrator (sans friends with mob ties!) from a purple state who has a record of reform achievements and a history of effective collaboration with both parties.  In other words, the exact opposite of Bush.  If he manages to become a truly competitive candidate, I will be glad to eat my earlier words.  This isn’t because I have any great interest in Tommy Thompson becoming the nominee (I suspect he is more Ross and Reihan’s kind of candidate), but I would prefer to not see one of the Terrible Trio in that position, and right now he appears to be the more plausible, non-Brownback alternative.   

He does have a position on Iraq that would make him a very good general election candidate:

Thompson said he would have a “completely different” strategy in Iraq, promising to remove all U.S. troops if Iraq asks the United States to leave.

“If the government duly elected . . . says, ‘We want the American troops, the American government out,’ we should leave,” Thompson said.

On the other hand, the GOP primaries will require him to say things about Iraq that make no sense:

But he said he would have voted against the Democratic-led effort in Congress to establish a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, saying that to set a timeline would “really just target to the enemies that we are not there for the long haul, we’re not there to defend our troops.”

Um, but we’re not there to defend our troops–our troops are allegedly there to defend the Iraqi government against [fill in the blank with latest enemy], and quite a few Americans no longer see the point.

Although the presidential election is 19 months away, the Republican Party has a real and growing problem in Ohio that could cost it the White House in 2008.

Simply put, the GOP brand is in trouble in Ohio, more so than it is nationally. That matters because in 2004 Ohio was the key to an Electoral College majority, and could well be the same in 2008. ~Peter Brown

Wasn’t Ohio the purplish-blue state where Sherrod Brown won the Senate race on an explicitly economic populist platform?  That might make some people think that some sort of political appeal aimed at middle class voters (some might even call it “lower-middle reformism”) would be in order for the Republicans if they want to have a chance in competing in a crucial swing state and so have a fighting chance at winning the next presidential election.  You might even say that if they didn’t develop this sort of appeal, their defeat would be basically guaranteed, since they would otherwise be fairly sure to lose Ohio, and they cannot afford to lose Ohio.  What would Goldberg say to all that?