Eunomia · May 2007

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“Her view is the old, classic, European caricature that we describe of big government, big taxation, welfare state,” said the former Massachusetts governor.

“She gave a speech a couple of days ago and laid out her vision for America. And as I listened to her I figured her platform wouldn’t even get her elected in France,” Romney, who was a missionary in France, said to chuckles and applause. ~AP

So he really is going to run his campaign on Francophobia and lame welfare state-bashing. Well, he’ll run on that and on his preposterous “it’s about Shia and Sunni” foreign policy chatter and his “caliphate” boilerplate. Mind you, I don’t have anything against welfare state-bashing, but if I were the candidate who had signed universal health care (with insurance mandates for all!) into law as governor I think I would be taking a different approach to the debate over the role and size of government.

Naturally, being Romney, he cannot even make this criticism properly (this may have something to do with not really understanding the conservative critique of the welfare state and simply mouthing poll-tested slogans that he thinks conservatives want to hear). He says that Clinton’s view is “the old, classic, European caricature that we describe of big government, big taxation, welfare state.” Taken literally, Romney’s words seem to mean that Clinton’s view is an old, classic caricature that had been drawn by someone in Europe. We know what Romney wanted to say here, but he didn’t really say it. He doesn’t seem to know what the word caricature means.

When you say that something is such-and-such a caricature of something, you are actually saying that the caricature is a distortion of the real view of the person and you are using the modifier to describe who or what kind of person is drawing the misleading caricature. Thus you would say, “the liberal caricature of Christian conservatives” or “the conservative caricature of liberal academics,” etc. According to Romney, there apparently used to be an old European caricature of Hillary Clinton’s policy views. In fact, part of Romney’s remarks becomes a string of disconnected phrases. If he has been correctly quoted, he just begins uttering phrases at the end of that one sentence: “big government, big taxation, welfare state.” Grog no like welfare state.

Opponents of the First Gulf War, for instance, would argue that the events of 9/11 vindicated their concerns - because the Gulf War created a permanent U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, providing grist for anti-Americanism across the Islamic world - but there hasn’t been a massive post-9/11 backlash against George H.W. Bush or Brent Scowcroft, to say the least. Or to take a more remote example, I’m inclined to think that our intervention in the First World War was a strategic mistake and that both the Spanish-American War and the Mexican War violated just-war principles - but had I been an anti-war politician in 1914 or 1899 or 1846 I would have suffered politically for taking these stances, regardless of whether I was right on the merits. ~Ross Douthat

Ross is right: there has not been a backlash against Bush the Elder-style “realism” in recent years, since the “realists” have come to consider themselves something of the obvious, default alternative foreign policy position after the discrediting of aggressive idealism and neoconservative power projection.  There has also not been a terribly big eruption of thoroughgoing anti-interventionist sentiment.  Since the connection between post-Gulf War policies and 9/11 has been kept as obscure as possible by all interested parties, including the mass media, there is no reason why there would be a strong backlash against the foreign policy that brought us containment of Iraq, sanctions on Iraq, the stationing of forces in Saudi Arabia and maintenance of the (illegal) no-fly zones.  There has been no anti-Scowcroftian backlash because most people do not acknowledge that the first Bush administration’s policies had anything to do with what happened later.  The popular (and also the neocon) narrative is that of Clintonian fecklessness and inaction–it is quite acceptable in Republican circles to speak of these policies “inviting” terrorist attacks, because these are not the favoured policies of the most aggressive interventionists.  Their idea is that foreign threats and attacks are always the product of insufficient interventionism and insufficient power projection–there is nothing that a firmer hand and a greater demonstration of willpower will not overcome. The neocons’ problem with Clinton’s foreign policy was not that it used force indiscriminately, one might even say promiscuously, but that it used force only half-heartedly and without the full intensity that was necessary to show our national “resolve.”

Certainly, none of the Democrats who voted against the Gulf War authorisation has since been lionised for his principle and far-seeing vision.  Then again, how many of the Democratic Senators in particular who voted against the Gulf War authorisation were kicked out by voters in 1992, 1993 or 1994?  Not many.  If there were any who lost their seats in 1994, it was not principally because they had opposed the war with Iraq.  Likewise, Kerry and Edwards would not have lost re-election (even if they had been running) in 2002 or 2003 had they voted against the AUMF.  In any case, how many incumbent Senators lose races for re-election?  Not many.  Cleland was ousted only through a unique combination of extremely dirty politicking and a very pro-Bush Georgia electorate.

The issue is always one of presidential and national politics. Gore got on the ticket because of his foreign policy “expertise,” but more importantly he got on the ticket because he had voted the politically ‘right’ way on the authorisation the previous year, and all the other ambitious Senators then and later noted this and meditated on it whenever the question of using force came up after that.  When it came time to choose what to do in the fall of ‘02, Kerry and Edwards must have been thinking about what this vote would mean for future presidential chances, whether in the ‘04 cycle or later.  They knew that no opponent of the Gulf War had won the nomination of their party, so it would not have been difficult for them to think that opposing a new Iraq war would have been curtains for their presidential aspirations.  As with so many, many other things, Kerry and Edwards were wrong.  In the event, Kerry’s late transformation from pro- to anti-war man dogged his campaign and probably cost him the election; given the alternative of voting for a dithering, confused man, enough voters still refused to pick John Kerry.  Had he been antiwar all along, he might have claimed some clarity and superior judgement.  Instead, he had to play the wounded victim–”Ooh, George tricked me!”

As for the other wars, Ross’ politician double would have done very poorly running as an antiwar candidate in any of the European countries in elections in the early years of the war.  Nationalist democratic fervour for the war on both sides was intense and had a significant role in pushing all of the governments involved to enter into war and then to persist in it. Were Ross an American politician confronted with the question of WWI entry in 1916-17, he not only would have prospered as an antiwar politician (unless he had been arrested by the government for his subversive activities) but would probably have been wildly popular nationwide.  A supermajority of Americans opposed entry into WWI.  Their pathetic representatives lined up behind the President, as most pathetic Congresses have done down through our history, to support a declaration of war with the exception of one member of the House. With the Spanish and Mexican wars, it would have mattered a great deal where Ross the politician lived.  Had he been a Democrat in 1899, he probably would have done well for himself to oppose the war, and certainly to oppose annexation and the Filipino counterinsurgency that followed.  Had he been a Northern Whig in 1846, he might have survived the pro-war hysteria that swept over the country. Similarly, Democrats in 2002 in secure seats had little to fear from their constituents, because their voters tended to be less in favour of the war and were less likely to oust an incumbent on account of his opposition.  The strange thing about Democrats backing the Iraq war is that they were voting as if they all lived in deepest Alabama or Idaho, when they actually lived in very different parts of the country where people had significantly different views of the necessity and rightness of the war.

He tried to explain away his state’s low rankings on high-school dropout rates, poverty, and crime during his tenure, his bold statements as energy secretary that turned out not to be true, his 72-hour change of mind on the immigration bill, his stance on guns, the stock he once owned in an oil company, his brief support of Alberto Gonzales, his résumé padding on his baseball career, and the story he tells on the stump about a dead soldier whose mother has asked him to stop telling it. ~John Dickerson

In spite of my past claims that I thought Richardson was going to be the surprise dark horse candidate of the Democratic field, I initially ridiculed his presidential campaign because I knew perfectly well what all of his “experience” and his “record” amounted to.  His time at the U.N. was useless, his tenure at Energy was a disaster and his time in Congress, when he wasn’t jet-setting to various “crisis” situations, was entirely unremarkable.  At the same time, Richardson can hardly be blamed very much for New Mexico’s low rankings “on high-school dropout rates, poverty, and crime,” since New Mexico always ranks low (or high, depending on how we’re listing the states) in these things.  I love my home state, but I have no illusions about the condition of my state. 

This condition might have something to do with the fact that New Mexico has effectively been a one-party state for over seventy-five years, at least as far as the legislature is concerned, and it has a political culture of corruption and favouritism that seems mild only because it has to compete with Illinois and Louisiana.  As New Mexico governors go, Richardson has been better than some, which is hardly a good reason for him to become President.  Even so, a little perspective is required.  New Mexico is not Iowa, and it is never going to produce the results that Iowa produces, because the culture (or cultures, as the multicultis insist on reminding us) there is quite different and cultivates a very different mentality.  The huge impact of the federal government on the New Mexican economy means that most people in the state will be inclined to embrace a politics of state dependency and state activism.  This invariably has an overall negative effect on the politics and government of the state.     

It seems to me that though democrats may be irritated by the relish with which Rove disdains them and infuriated by his habit, until now at least, of winning, to say that they find his cleverness insufferable is preposterous. So preposterous, in fact, that only a certain kind of Washington hack hellbent on ignoring obvious truths in the name of balance, objectivity or those famous cocktail party invitations, could write this. ~Alex Massie

It is something of a puzzle where Rove acquired his reputation for political genius.  This was the campaign consultant who made sure that Bush frittered away his late momentum in 2000 and turned a reasonably secure victory into an epic legal contest that his candidate just happened to win.  His candidate received fewer votes than the guy being advised by Bob Shrum, almost universally agreed to be one of the worst campaign consultants of all time.  The party he worked for picked up seats in midterm elections during a highly abnormal time of national rallying around the incumbent President in the wake of spectacular and unprecedented terrorist attacks and an initially more or less effective military response.  This had literally nothing to do with him or his “genius.”  Two years after that, he was very nearly responsible for running the unsuccessful re-election campaign of an incumbent wartime President, which would have been a first in American history.  Without the idiocy of the Massachusetts Supreme Court making gay “marriage” a live political issue and triggering a wave of state referenda that mobilised voters who were also likely to back Bush, the ’04 campaign would probably have failed.  Not only would no one have then confused Rove with a political “genius,” but they would have classed him with the other Bush loyalist hangers-on from the Texas years who were put in places of importance because of their relationship with the boss and not because of any significant ability. 

Rove’s contribution to political strategy (mobilise the “base,” pretend that independent voters don’t really exist) wasn’t really terribly insightful or really all that new, and it proved to be good for relatively short-term gains.  He did not build the structures necessary for the major realignment he purportedly wanted to create, but engaged in triangulation and the kind of petty symbolic politics in which Clinton trafficked.  The difference is that where Clinton used such small-time symbolic political gestures (e.g., support for school uniforms) to broaden Democratic appeal, Rove and Bush took the path of vilifying domestic opponents to such an extent that they ended up implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) vilifying and/or alienating large swing-voting blocs.  When in wartime and when belonging to a party reputedly competent in foreign policy and military matters, you can get away with this approach for a while, but once that image of competence vanishes you will suddenly find that your “clever” strategy of base mobilisation to the exclusion of almost everything else was not really very clever at all. 

The truly pathetic thing about the Rove approach is that the administration he helped get elected and re-elected has pursued policies that almost uniformly do not serve the interests of the core constituencies on whose support Rove placed so much importance.  He has managed to duplicate Hillary Clinton’s bad combination of extreme liberal image/actually centrist politics, but he has had Bush take it even farther.  That is, Bush endorses policies that are wildly at odds with his core constituencies’ desires while cultivating a reputation for being an insane far-out extremist who appeals to the most dangerous fringes.  Symbolically in many ways, Bush has sought to portray himself as fiercely conservative (hence all of the disillusionment and shock expressed by many pundits as they have discovered that he is not, in fact, conservative) while governing as the reincarnations of Wilson and LBJ combined.  The utterly superficial and meaningless nature of Bush’s symbolic appeals ought to have been obvious, but for many on the left it was simply too perfect to have a real Texan evangelical conservative as a foil for their arguments.  That he was actually an Eastern transplant Ivy Leaguer who loved business interests and the mass immigration that they wanted did not, could not, get in the way of the caricature, because that caricature was so satisfying.  Everyone (except actual conservative Christians) got something out of perpetuating this farce: Bush won reflexive conservative support as soon as liberals began bashing Bush for his evangelicalism and supposed conservatism, while the liberals had an ideal target and someone onto whom they could project all of their baroque and crazy fears of incipient Southern-fried theocracy.  His manipulation and their irrationality were a natural fit.  It hardly required a genius to pursue this strategy, which was good news for Bush, because he certainly didn’t have a genius advising him. 

Finally, after all these years of hard work and sacrifice…a break! ~The Writer/Comedian (Bill Murray), The Lost City*

Later this summer, I will have a review of Colin Wells’ Sailing from Byzantium in Chronicles.  Here is the table of contents for the May issue, which has, in addition to many fine meditations on the importance of property rights and the dangers to them, a good Joe Sobran piece on George Will and the state of conservatism and Joseph Fallon’s article on the military buildup for a potential attack on Iran.  The June issue considers the phenomenon of Americanism.  In that issue, Dr. Fleming smashes a number of standard “conservative” idols in his “Establishing Christian America”: 

If America were, in fact, a basically Christian or moral nation, Hollywood would be out of business, and so would most colleges and universities.

Among many other excellent contributions, the June issue also has an article by George Ajjan on the question of “foreign fighters” entering Iraq and Iraqi and American border security. 

TAC has its new May 21 issue out, which is now online.  The following issue will have a piece I have written on neoliberalism (as well as Michael’s profile of Ron Paul), and the issue after that one should see the beginning of my regular column there.      

*Like The Writer/Comedian, I am kidding about the hard work and sacrifice.

Peter Suderman writes about Ron Paul for NRO (via Michael).

Reihan has a few responses to the legions of Fletch-loving maniacs and other critics.

So Republicans will keep winning because Americans are becoming more entrepreneurial and “market-oriented” and because they’re increasingly “saying it’s not all about materaliasm, it’s not all about the pursuit of material things”? It’s hard to imagine a balder description of the essential contradiction at the heart of the GOP coalition, and yet Rove seems unaware that there’s anything contradictory here at all. ~Ross Douthat

This contradiction echoes part of what I was saying earlier today:

The pairings of social democracy/cultural hedonism and economic liberalism/cultural conservatism are extremely weird and abnormal.

There is a way in which the computer chip-empowered people of Rove’s active imagination and the culturally conservative, not-so-materialistic people could get along or prove to be more complementary than I might normally allow.  It is even possible that technology will facilitate a large-scale flourishing of homeschooling, home businesses and some measure of agrarian ”return to the land.” This might even be joined together with a religious ethos and a respect for consecrated order, but I wonder whether it is at all likely. 

It is annoying to say, but from what I understand of his thesis Brink Lindsey is right.  Abundance and technology tend to lead to what I would call cultural disintegration and atomistic individualism (he would call this “freedom”) and actively undermine the ethic that says “it’s not all about materialism.”  It may rely on those who are driven to pursue higher goods and it will create the space for people who want to say, “it’s not all about materialism.”  It is quite conceivable that the excesses of the “Age of Abundance” will send sane people running screaming (and making prostrations along the way) back to churches and perhaps even real monasteries (and not merely the MacIntyrean metaphorical monasteries of the home), but this still suggests a sharp tension and even a dialectic between the Mammon voters and the God voters. 

Incidentally, the whole controversy over “crunchy conservatism” and the more general traditional conservative critique of the materialism of capitalist society centers around the basic truth from the Gospels that you cannot serve two masters.  “Fusionism” has been premised to some considerable extent on the assumption that you can do this.  The “fusionists” have been mistaken.

A veil of timidity and euphemism hangs over the entire discussion, which could lead a sleepy reader to miss his meaning altogether. ~Paul Berman

One might say much the same about Berman’s essay on Ramadan, which seems to timidly and euphemistically dance around the edge of saying something bold about Ramadan.  I understand that writing about certain things, especially intellectual movements to which you feel no particular attachment, can be difficult and a writer can sometimes feel as if his own argument is eluding him in the mesh of all the detail (this has to be even more true when the detail runs to 28,000 words), but after slogging through all of it I would have liked to have found out something more interesting than ”who is afraid of Tariq Ramadan.”  I now understand who is afraid of him, but I just have no idea why I should really care what Tariq Ramadan thinks (or at least no more of an idea than I had going in).  Update: I also have no idea why I am supposed to be deeply engaged by tactical alliances between Trotskyists and Islamists or the journalistic assault on Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  I suppose these things are “new,” as Berman keeps calling them, but why are they interesting?  After finishing the piece, I can’t really say. 

Also, despite his utmost striving, Berman fails to convince that the influences of fascist or other modern European thought were as formative for Qutb and al-Banna as he and others routinely claim.  To take just one example from the Berman piece:

This was Islamism itself, in its Mussolinian, Third Reichstyle yearning for the final showdown.

But “the final showdown” is either implicit or very explicit in every monotheistic religion that concludes with an apocalypse, an end of days or a Day of Judgement.  I doubt very much that Qutb received this idea from fascist thought.  If anything, any familiarity he had with fascist thought would have been added to the Islamic background.  In any case, modern gnostics, such as fascists and the like, derive their political apocalypticism from the religious apocalypticism of which their ideology is a pale secular shadow. 

To bring in a phrase that many conservatives will cite but relatively few conservatives probably understand, the gnostic drive to “immanentise the eschaton” is precisely the attempt to realise an apocalyptic religious goal here below through the creation–often forcible and violent–of a secular equivalent of heaven or Firdaus.  A crucial difference between chiliastic religious movements and modern gnostics on the one hand and Islamists on the other is that it seems that the latter do not believe that they can accelerate or usher in the Day of Judgement.  On the contrary, it seems to me that a salafi has to be almost the opposite of a chiliast or modern gnostic in that he believes the “final showdown,” to use Berman’s phrase, is not in any way under his control.  The salafi may be a religious zealot with a political agenda (though he would not necessarily define the two spheres as being all that separate), but he does not think that he will bring Firdaus to earth.

Here’s some additional confirmation that the Iraq war was built on a foundation of lies and deceit (as if you needed more proof).  I’m waiting for the pro-war propaganda response, which will probably be, “You go to war with the intelligence you fabricate.”

Since some liberals have (only half-jokingly) sometimes spoken of Obama in messianic terms, and his childhood associations with Islam have become fodder for discussion, it is probably not helpful to him to talk about him by using Muad’Dib references.  (Link via Yglesias)

He [Buruma] marveled over Ramadan’s mix of anti-globalist fervor and ultra-conservative cultural views. “In American terms,” Buruma remarked, “he is a Noam Chomsky on foreign policy and a Jerry Falwell on social affairs.” ~Paul Berman

So, in other words, he’s rather like…me?  Well, not quite.  For starters, my grandfather did not found the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a piece of information that any cursory introduction to Ramadan always mentions, but which Berman has failed to bring up in the first page and a half of his miniature biography).  Of course, this description of Ramadan doesn’t tell us much about him, since the religion and tradition he wants to conserve are radically different from the religion and tradition that I want to conserve.  Incidentally, Berman does not go into much detail about why Ramadan was denied an entry visa when he tried to come to this country.  It was denied because the government claimed he gave material support to Palestinian terrorists.  Now it may be that the government is wrong, but you would think that something like that would be worth mentioning early on. 

Anyway, there is nothing that strange or marvelous about a combination of social and cultural conservatism and ferocious anti-globalism and anti-imperialism.  Indeed, the two pretty much go hand in hand.  “Don’t Tread On Me” and “mind your own business” are saying more or less the same thing with slightly different emphases.  It is only because of the weird confluence in a few Western countries of the battered remnants of classical liberalism with social and cultural traditionalism (a combination of the interests of capital and cultural capital, you might say) that those who are (at least rhetorically and symbolically) culturally conservative at home endorse the whirlwind of “creative destruction” sweeping over the world and devastating, er, “enriching” everyone else’s cultures.  Perhaps this is because these people see this process as a creation of “our” culture and therefore a demonstration of our culture’s vitality or value, but then they have to ignore that this creation acts rather like a nihilistic parricide against the very culture that raised it up in the first place. 

The more fiercely conservative you are about your religion, your culture, its habits, morals and traditions, the more likely you are to regard all forms of globalism and globalisation–political, economic, cultural–as perverse, destructive and hostile to your “vision of order” and your way of life.  Opposition to hegemonism and globalisation on the one hand and opposition to cultural decay and fragmentation on the other are a natural pair.  Support for their opposites (with some qualifications in the realm of foreign policy) forms another natural pair.  The paleocon combination is the normal, relatively more common conservative response to these phenomena around the world.  The pairings of social democracy/cultural hedonism and economic liberalism/cultural conservatism are extremely weird and abnormal.  It doesn’t actually make sense for people who want to preserve tradition to support international capitalism with the enthusiasm that many conservatives do, and indeed some “conservatives” today not only see the contradiction but decide that they are quite happy to let tradition fall by the wayside for the most part.  That is the outcome of the fraud of “fusionism”: the decision to discard virtue and to start a torrid affair with “economic dynamism.”  The marriage of liberty and virtue that ”fusionism” was supposed to represent and defend did not take account of that ”other woman,” which we might also call “growth.”  For that matter, it doesn’t make much sense for people who believe social solidarity is extremely important to endorse rampant individualism in social and cultural matters.  Both are like patients suffering from ulcers who believe that drinking acid will help with the cure.  These combinations exist only in fully industrialised Western societies and map onto no other alignments anywhere on earth.  

In his contribution to the ever-widening discussion of GhostbustersFletch and Reihan’s fun article about the latter, Yglesias wrote:

Mass market comedy, as seen in Hollywood films, strikes me as a pretty good partner for post-Goldwater conservatism. Comedy, to be funny, usually requires the skewering of the powerful in some sense. But the mass culture marketing demands that your product not actually do much to challenge prevailing ideas in the world. It’s a bit of a paradoxical situation, but it nicely mirrors the efforts of a political ideology designed to further entrench the privileges of the country’s wealthy elite and its white Christian majority and somehow do so in the name of anti-elitism.

Ross took umbrage at this and responded:

The idea that white, middle-class Christian Americans, simply by virtue of being part of our country’s “white Christian majority,” never have any legitimate grievances against the American political system has a long and distinguished pedigree on the left.

I understand what Ross means here, and he’s right to scoff (as I think he is) at the implication that the “white Christian majority” somehow rules the roost in this country.  A large part of the Republican coalition exists today because this is untrue and demonstrably so: it is because much of the “white Christian majority” has acquiesced or been made to acquiesce in the losses to cultural liberalism that conservative Christians mobilised politically and began trying to create a political response to these cultural reverses.  Another idea that has enjoyed circulation on the left is the What’s the Matter With Kansas-style complaint that middle and working-class social conservatives act against their own economic self-interest in backing the GOP, which such observers as Thomas Frank deem to be ”irrational” (because voting on something other than economic matters is always ”irrational” to such people).  There is a sense in which it is true that these voters support the GOP despite the damage GOP-backed policies do to their communities, businesses and wages (it is also true that they back the GOP because they have tended to assume, with good reason, that Democratic policies would do more damage), but it is not really possible to complain about aggrieved cultural conservatives who are so alienated by cultural liberalism that they vote against their own best economic interests and also complain that these cultural conservatives enjoy some default hegemonic status because they happen to belong to the demographic entity of “white Christian majority” (which never acts as a cohesive or unified bloc in any way). 

Even so, Ross might sharpen his reply to Yglesias by noting, among other things, that only some parts of the “political ideology” of conservatism are dedicated to defending the interests of the “white Christian majority” (though it is apparently necessary to wrap this in the fluffy, inoffensive language of “Judeo-Christian values” or just “values”), while other, probably more influential parts of today’s political conservative movement are more or less dedicated to that wealthy elite privilege-entrenching Yglesias mentions.  This comes in place of, and at the expense of, the interests of middle and working-class white Christians.  The relatively clever bit of the political movement today is how it manages to convince these people, at least temporarily, that their interests are profoundly implicated by the forging of new free trade pacts, unending mass immigration and perpetual war and all other policies endorsed or tolerated by corporations and the moneyed interest.  More often than not, these constituencies don’t really buy these arguments, but probably think that an alliance with corporate interests and the rest of the open borders lobby is necessary to remain politically competitive and thus allows them to engage in their rearguard political actions against cultural dissolution.  Their disappointment with Mr. Bush is therefore extremely acute, because there has been and continues to be a great deal of working for corporate interests and waging the perpetual war and very little, save perhaps the bizarre Schiavo episode, that seems to have much to do with either the “values” or interests of the white married Christian voters of this country.  These voters made their corrupt bargain in 2000 and again in 2004 and are annoyed that there has been no payoff.  A movie highlighting those tensions and conflicts might be quite interesting, even if it wouldn’t necessarily be very funny. 

The foundation published Ramadan’s book To Be a European Muslim in 1999, and it enjoyed a modest success. To Be a European Muslim was regarded as a thoughtful argument for healthy new relations between old-stock non-Muslim Europe and the new-stock immigrant Muslim population. Daniel Pipes in the United States was among the expert observers who offered applause–though, if you visit Pipes’s website, you will see that, ever since his initial review, Pipes has been posting additional remorseful observations about how wrong he was, and what could possibly have gotten into him? ~Paul Berman

Berman’s essay, which is more like a small book, on Tariq Ramadan may or may not be worth reading in full (I have just waded in and I am not sure that I will finish), but this remark about Pipes was interesting.  Pipes is, of course, the embodiment of neocon Arabophobic Islamophilia.  No, I’m not kidding.  When they do not happen to live in the immediate vicinity of the Levant, Islamic fundamentalists have had few better allies–both conscious and unwitting–than neoconservatives.    

Pipes himself peddles all the standard pro-Islamic myths or exaggerations: Islam as “religion of peace,” Islam as guardian of Greek learning in the middle ages, medieval Islamic civilisation as a Golden Age of rationality and tolerance, and so on and so forth.  He is also ardently in favour of attempts to forcibly “reform” the Islamic world from the outside and supports all efforts to crush as many Arab states as possible in the process.  He believes that Islam is essentially good, but has gone awry somewhere and must be pummeled and shaped by outside intervention to return to its pristine goodness.  It is impossible to understand the creation of a word like “Islamofascism” without understanding just how deeply neocons have embraced this myth of the peaceful, enlightened Islamic world and their narrative of a small fraction of that world that has gone astray.  While the word is intended to conflate and confuse multiple, mutually opposed groups and states, this conflation is done for specific policy reasons, one of which is to target all forces hostile to Israel and to create an ideological identifier for all of them.  The word itself implies and its users constantly reiterate that Islam itself is fine and no problem at all; there is nothing inherent in it that should or could lead to what they called “Islamofascism.”  As they are obsessed with telling us (and as Joseph Bottum insists on claiming again now, citing Bernard Lewis), modern jihadis are not just supposed to be theoretically totalitarian but can be tied to 20th century totalitarian ideologies as a matter of intellectual genealogy, and furthermore they will claim that jihadism is a political ideology.  Hence Islamofascism, which is something that a secular audience can more readily grasp.  Last year I proposed an explanation for why neocons do this:

For secular people like these prominent neocons, it is horrifying to consider the possibility that some people have motivations that cannot be explained in secular language, because they, lacking in religious imagination of any kind, are at a loss to even begin to really understand what motivates a jihadi.  Even when they acknowledge the supposed goal of Paradise or the religious nature of the duty these people believe themselves to be carrying out, it is always with a certain level of incomprehension, almost as if they cannot really accept that anyone not attached to some intelligible ideology firmly bounded in this world really exists.  Their inability to understand the religious desire for transcendence in some of its most appalling forms stems, I suspect, in no small part from their own depressingly optimistic and immanentist ideology.  Their inability to understand a drive for religious purity and intolerance of other religions as anything other than fascism stems in part from their own reflexive commitments to religious pluralism and a latent or not-so-latent hostility to dogmatic Christianity: everything not on the side of pluralism and “freedom” somehow all gets pushed into a big box called fascism.     

In any case, it is not surprising that Pipes would have had a soft spot for someone like Tariq Ramadan, especially pre-9/11, because in the late ’90s encouraging Muslim immigration into Europe (like encouraging Third World immigration into any Western country) was quite natural for neocons, who were, after all, leading advocates of intervening in the Balkans on behalf of Muslims (no bigoted Westerners were they!) and calling for Turkish entry into the EU.  (The argument for Turkish entry was a twofer for the neocons: they were able to idealise a “democratic” Islamic country while also mocking the small-minded Europeans.)  Just as they have winked and nodded approvingly at Chechen terrorism, they endorsed the entry of mujahideen into Europe for the greater glory of killing Serbs.  Just as it had been fashionable in England to romanticise the Algerian rebel Abd al Qadir because he was killing Frenchmen (though they would take a rather dim view of locals rebelling against their authority some twenty-five years later), it became acceptable to write admiringly about the self-determination of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims.  Neocon outrage against jihadis, such as it is, is really more that of a jilted lover than that of a dedicated foe.  When they lament the jihadi threat, you can almost hear them saying, “Come on, guys, we’ve had such good times together.  Remember when the KLA staged the Racak massacre and we pretended to believe it?  That was great.  We should get the gang back together.”

554 years ago today, Constantinople, the God-guarded City, the Queen of Cities, fell to the assault of the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.  Three days of pillage and rapine followed.  The Byzantine Empire came to an end after 1,123 years.

Update: Paul Cella has a good commemoration here.  

Second Update: Dr. Trifkovic also has a very good piece on the Fall of Constantinople.

News media world-wide described the event as a step in overcoming Russia’s tragic history. The New York Times called the merger “the symbolic end of Russia’s civil war.” But the reality is far more complicated. Not only are there theological and moral issues at stake, but there is also the suspicion among some that Mr. Putin is building new networks of influence by using the church to reach out to Russian émigré communities all over the world. ~Nadia Kizenko

I imagine that there will be a more proper official response to Prof. Kizenko’s unfortunate article than my various blog posts, but until then I want to say a few more things about this.  People at church on Sunday who had seen the article were upset by this, and they regarded it very poorly.  While Prof. Kizenko may encourage those intent on breaking away from the Russian Orthodox Church, which would be a terrible thing for all, she has certainly not persuaded anyone.  One reason is that her article is so thoroughly inaccurate.  Perhaps she felt the need to give the story a political spin to make it attractive to the editors at WSJ.  Perhaps those editors twisted or manipulated her words to give them the worst possible meaning.  I do not know the full story about that, but what I do know is that Prof. Kizenko has misrepresented or misunderstood central issues and matters of fact in the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The reality is complicated and the history of the negotiations much more involved and drawn out than she claims, but it is Prof. Kizenko who has opted to tell a simple story of political meddling and “Putin’s acquisition.”

As for the charge that Mr. Putin would like to reach out to emigre communities, I’m sure this is true.  This is hardly some sinister plot.  Many countries often look to build up networks of communication and support with their Diasporan communities abroad, and as I have suggested in the past this probably was a motive of Mr. Putin in supporting the reconciliation.  In any case, his motives in the matter are beside the point.  An important point to be made here is that the emigre communities of the Russian Church Abroad are hardly so large as to constitute a major resource that the oil-rich master of the Kremlin would make much effort to “acquire” it, to use the Journal’s unfortunate phrase.  Certainly, no one familiar with the Synod would confuse it with having the rather larger financial resources of some other Orthodox jurisdictions.  The gain for Putin and the Moscow Patriarchate in purely wordly terms is very, very small.  Prof. Kizenko’s claim that Moscow now will have access to a “ready-made network of 323 parishes and 20 monasteries in the U.S. alone, and over a million church members in 30 countries [bold mine-DL]” is simply not true.  Would that we had so many parishes and monasteries!  Would that we had so many members!  That would be wonderful news indeed, but it would certainly be news to us.  

The numbers of members worldwide in Synod parishes come to something like 150,000 people.  News stories are frequently inflating the number of parishioners in our churches.  Certainly, if there are so many of us in America alone, it is remarkable that our representation in the greater Chicago area–one of our archdiocesan centers–should be limited to our cathedral and one modest parish.  The ROCOR parish directory is available to anyone who would care to peruse it.  There you will find that, counting parishes and monasteries together, there are only 111 Russian Orthodox Church Abroad churches, monasteries and hermitages in the United States, roughly one third as many as Prof. Kizenko claimed.  In the rest of the world, including what were the ROCOR parishes in Russia, there are 126 listed churches and monasteries outside the U.S., bringing the global total to 237.

More worrisome and dangerous is the hint that there is something suspect about the loyalty of Russian Orthodox, as if they take their orders from the Kremlin.  This sort of argument is absurd when it is applied to Catholics, it is absurd when applied to Mormons, and it is absurd when it is applied to us.  Priests are being cast as agents of political influence, and Orthodox parishes are being made out to be conduits of Moscow’s power.  This is shameful and untrue.  This would be insulting enough, but it also revives ugly and tiresome stereotypes about the Orthodox that we are unacceptably submissive to state control or that state authorities have some undue control over the operations of the Church.  The hoary charge of Caesaropapism lurks just out of view, and with it the claim that we are not much more than “the emperor’s men” or, in this case, “Putin’s men.”  Such compromises have happened occasionally, rarely, in the history of the Church during times of great trials.  Many of the heretical emperors exercised such excessive interference in the affairs of the Church, but this has been so far from the normal state of affairs that it is amazing that this stereotype has endured. 

Select presidential candidates respond to a query from The Jerusalem Post about how they understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship.  McCain does his best to leap to the front with an exuberant endorsement of Israel as an ally (you have to admire the “sacred soil” line, considering McCain’s general dislike of religious conservatives here and around the world), and Romney works in his “caliphate” shtick–who can forget that Hizbullah dream of a caliphate?  Clinton avoids these more spirited efforts, but puts in a respectable amount of abasement (nice touch with the nihilism reference).  Obama does his best to keep up, but he will continue to be dogged by his stubborn insistence on referring to Palestinians as if they were human.  Richardson says all the “right” things, and even manages to work in a New Mexico reference!

After falling over himself to declare his utmost devotion, Brownback makes sure to throw in at the end: “To be sure, Israel has problems and difficulties, and my support for any particular Israeli policy or government would not be unconditional.”  He makes sure to end on a variant of his boilerplate slogan: “However, my administration would always reaffirm that at its heart Israel is good, and because of that, Israel can help America and the world be great.”  It was bad enough when he used this sort of saccharine talk about America alone, but if this is going to be a characteristic of a Brownback foreign policy I think we could probably do without it.   

Consider Iraq. The split among conservatives has widened since Saddam was toppled in the spring of 2003. Traditional realists continue to put their trust in containment, and reject nation-building on the grounds that we lack both a moral obligation and the requisite knowledge of Arabic, Iraqi culture and politics, and Islam. Supporters of the war still argue that, in an age of mega-terror, planting the seeds of liberty and democracy in the Muslim Middle East is a reasonable response to the poverty, illiteracy, authoritarianism, violence and religious fanaticism that plagues the region. ~Peter Berkowitz

From these sentences, I would conclude that Mr. Berkowitz doesn’t like this latter group at all and enjoys making their position sound even more ridiculous than it is.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s the case, but he certainly makes the supporters of the war sound preposterous. 

Read the rest of this entry »

We cannot acquiesce in independence movements where independence means a return to savagery or Communist domination. ~Sen. Barry Goldwater

Earlier today I had written a fairly lengthy commentary on this item taken from a 1961 National Review Goldwater essay, but my browser cut out on me at an inopportune moment and all of it (plus the time I had spent writing it) was lost.  What follows will be a shorter, more pointed version of what I was going to say. Read the rest of this entry »

The Republicans gave up a lot to get Kennedy, particularly in agreeing to “Z” visas that would allow the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States to stay as legal residents and eventually seek citizenship. ~Fred Barnes

Shorter June 2007 Washington Monthly forum on how the Democrats can compete for the military vote:

Carter: Attacking Serbs was a good thing.

Cohen: Don’t get trapped in the kill zone (a.k.a., Iraq)!

Stewart: Theocracy is scary.

Exum: Be like Kennedy (and Rumsfeld)!

Douglas: Be tough like Webb!

Tyron: Ignore the generals.

Fick: You, too, can serve the empire. 

But Rove cautioned against reading too much into polls, or the results of the 2006 midterm elections. “It’s important to keep in perspective how close the election actually was,” he said. “Three thousand five hundred and sixty-two votes and we would have had a Republican Senate. That’s the gap in the Montana Senate race. And eighty-five thousand votes are the difference in the fifteen closest House races. There’s no doubt we’ve taken a short-term hit in the face of a very contentious war, but to have the Republicans suffer an average defeat for the midterm says something about the underlying strength of conservative attitudes in the country.” Rove’s arithmetic was correct, but he sounded like John Kerry, who, shortly after his defeat in the 2004 election, told me, “I received the second-highest number of votes in American history.” ~The New Yorker

Put another way, Rove’s response is a bit like that of an Astros fan who could still say, “Sure, the Sox beat us four games to nothing in ‘05, but all of the games were really close.”  Rove quite happily ignores that the national vote–the one that will matter quite a lot next year–gave the Dems a nine point advantage in the midterms.  The Democrats could point to a number of extremely close House elections (in New Mexico or Wyoming or Illinois) that went against them and say, “If we had just had a few thousand more votes here or there, we would have gained 40 seats.”  It might be true, and yet it could very well be irrelevant.  For Rove to continue to describe the losses last year as “average” for a midterm election reveals just how little he has learned: with gerrymandering and advantages of modern incumbency taken into consideration, losing 30 seats is a blowout defeat.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Flake sums up the bankruptcy and desperation of the GOP today:

All we can hope for, I guess, is for the Democrats to overreach on something. 

That’s what they were saying for a lot of last year, too, and it didn’t happen.  Until it does, or until Republicans develop something like an effective response to the demands of the electorate, the GOP can expect to keep sinking.

Must we arrive at something anti-liberal when we build up from a metaphysical proposition? ~Joseph Bottum

The suspicion of metaphysics would be more persuasive if, for another example, we imagine that religiously informed governments follow a pattern that invariably ends in some form of the Inquisition, granting civil police powers to religious authorities. ~Joseph Bottum

Mr. Bottum’s entire essay would be more persuasive if he didn’t pepper it with bizarre phrases like “the Counter-Enlightenment of the Left” and bizarre statements like the one quoted above.  The punishments meted out in “the Spanish Inquisition” were carried out by the secular arm.  Religious authorities were never vested with “civil police powers.”  The Inquisition investigated into whether people were heretics, infidels and the like, whereupon it fell to the secular authorities to carry out whatever sentences the law required for profession of heresy or apostasy, and so on.  The ecclesiastical office itself did not carry out any of the punishments that followed from these investigations.  This may seem like a minor point, but Bottum’s essay is riddled with these sorts of lazy claims. 

I suppose the postmodernists belong somewhere in the Counter-Enlightenment fold—although whether on the left or the right, philosophically, is difficult to say. ~Joseph Bottum

It is difficult, perhaps, because they aren’t Counter-Enlightenment people at all, but post-Enlightenment who have nothing in common with the Counter-Enlightenment except perhaps skepticism about the importance of the self and the power of reason. 

Even free will, however, is only one more suggestive part of death’s relation to politics. Think of all this in terms of the violence praised by a surprisingly large range of modern political theories. Why does death manifest itself—a sudden, miraculous, culture-forming power—whenever a thinker turns against the Enlightenment? What logic compels political philosophers, from the most radical right to the most radical left, to embrace murder when they renounce the poverty and weightlessness of modern culture? And why does literature show us again and again characters who imagine they can resolve the anxieties of modernity by drenching it in blood? ~Joseph Bottum

In my biased estimation, it occurs to me that a great many people were very enthusiastic about violence and killing and sacrificing human lives for the sake of goals inspired by the thought of the Enlightenment and its derivatives.  Something about “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored” comes to mind.  Mr. Bottum’s question about political philosophers and murder gives the impression that there have been a great many anti-modernist, anti-Enlightenment people openly calling for murder, but he does not give any examples and seems to take a number of things for granted that may not be true at all.  For instance, I suspect that he thinks fascism is opposed to the Enlightenment, when it is one of the latter’s outgrowths; he probably thinks that the liberal belief in the perfectibility of man is significantly different from the fascist and communist efforts to create a “new man.”  I am not sure that he assumes these things, but that is what I would have to guess.  His argument here is unclear, but there seems to be no other way for him to make his claim about philosophers and murder hold up unless he attributes an anti-Enlightenment position to the moral insanity of various sympathisers with what Niemeyer called ’total critique’.  Read the rest of this entry »

Later in this essay, I take up what may be the largest piece—the fact that, at a very abstract level of logic, freedom of the will is closely tied to a world with death in it: If nothing really dies, then we have no freedom of choice; if we lack significant freedom of choice, then death will prove unreal. ~Joseph Bottum

Via Ross

This sounds like pretty heady stuff, and at first it gives you the impression that this is a deep and powerful claim about the nature of existence.  Then you realise that it is utterly and in all ways wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Having more or less stifled internal dissent, Russia is now ready to play a more aggressive role on the international stage. Remember, it was Putin who restored the old Soviet national anthem. And it was he who described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “national tragedy on an enormous scale.”

It would be a bigger tragedy if he or his successor tried to restore that evil empire. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the Weimar analogy predicts will happen. ~Niall Ferguson

Three points to start.  Putin restored the melody of the old Soviet anthem, but the words have been completely changed.  Call it grotesque, or call it appropriation of different pasts, call it the politicisation of nostalgia, or call it what you will, but he did not simply restore the Soviet anthem as it existed before 1991.  That is a rather misleading statement.  Second, if we understand that Putin is a nationalist and further understand that many Russian people living in the USSR saw the USSR as a Russian project in which Russians were the main actors, it will make a lot more sense that, as a nationalist, Putin will view the collapse of the USSR in terms of a collapse of Russian power and prestige.  Indeed, Russian power and prestige did collapse, and nationalists don’t like it when this happens to their state, but one need not necessarily read anything more into it than that.  None of this is necessarily to praise or defend Putin as such, but simply to understand the political realities of Russia today.  Third, a Weimar analogy does not suggest a revival of the empire that preceded the period of chaos, disillusionment with democratic parliamentarism and hyperinflation, but rather a transformation of the Weimar republican system into something else.  If Ferguson’s claim had been true of the Weimar period, it would have meant that the Hohenzollerns or some family like them would have reconstituted the Kaiserreich, which obviously did not happen.  Instead of a return to pre-1991 Soviet models or the evolution of a hyper-nationalist revisionist regime, we are seeing the development of a quasi-democratic authoritarian nationalist regime.  If there were any interwar comparison that would be more suitable to modern Russia, it would more likely be post-1938 Spain that serves as the model.  For a number of reasons, however, this is an unsatisfying comparison.   Unfortunately, Mr. Ferguson can be very good at understanding the past when he is not actively working on a political project in the present, but here he makes a hash of things.  Since he is part of McCain’s camp, it is no surprise that he would espouse alarmist and Russophobic sentiments.

Historical analogies are indeed inexact and imperfect, especially when they involve Weimar and Nazi Germany.  People find endless points of comparison between their own moment in history and this period, because this is one period they can be fairly sure the History Channel-addled minds  of their readership will be able to comprehend.  These people are also fairly sure that they can conjure up the appropriate reaction of fear and loathing for whatever it is that they are comparing to incipient Nazism.  The analogies are inexact because the arguments are always tendentious.  “Did you realise that Hitler was a vegetarian, and did you know that so-and-so is a vegetarian?  We should fear and hate so-and-so.  I rest my case.”    Read the rest of this entry »

More generally, pending death makes us think of honor, patriotism, and in-group solidarity

If longer lives move us away from such feelings, yes some immortals would be quite libertarian. ~Tyler Cowen

Wouldn’t that imply that libertarians don’t value honour, patriotism and loyalty very much?   



I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it. ~Sen. Mitch McConnell

It is interesting how so many people routinely use “the handwriting on the wall” as a commonplace phrase for “this is something that has become really obvious, even to someone like Mitch McConnell.”  Few seem to recall or acknowledge the phrase’s origins in the Book of Daniel (my patron saint) or the prophecy of doom for Belshazzar and the Babylonians that goes along with the handwriting.  Consider the relevant verses (Dan. 5:25-29):

And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

PERES; Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. 

I cannot think of a more ominous phrase to use with respect to President Bush and his Iraq policy than to speak about handwriting being on the wall.  (Since the Kurds fancy themselves latter-day Medes, the prophecy matches up with the contemporary Iraqi scene pretty well, if we think of Iraq as Mr. Bush’s “kingdom.”)

“They want to bring down the West, particularly us,” Romney declared. “And they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent.” ~The Boston Globe

The Globe story tries to make the statements cited in it into something rather more sinister and manipulative than I think they actually are.  No doubt, these candidates want to demagogue terrorism and they are trying their best to do that, but the quotes the article cites do not give the impression so much of deliberate obfuscation as simple ignorance and confusion on the part of the speakers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Murashev’s views I have come to respect over the past nineteen years. He is very objective. He has seldom been wrong. He tells me that Kasparov has joined with a Marxist who campaigns for the return of Communism. Here is this important pro-democracy figure, Kasparov, who has now joined with his former arch-opponent to get political attention. Murashev says that unfortunately Kasparov has become an almost clownish figure. ~Paul Weyrich

Naturally, these days Mr. Kasparov is allowed plenty of space on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, which never ceases to remind us how much it loathes Russia and the preferences of the Russian people.

To Sergeant O’Flarity, the Iraqi security forces are militias beholden to local leaders, not the Iraqi government. “Half of the Iraqi security forces are insurgents,” he said. ~The New York Times

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period with this 83-man unit, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war [bold mine-DL], one they had no ability to stop. ~The New York Times

Now it’s possible that these soldiers who have been living and fighting in Iraq for months have been unduly influenced by U.S. media reports about the war, such that they have embraced the view that there is a civil war in Iraq.  On the other hand, it seems more likely that their characterisation tends to confirm what outside observers had concluded some time ago.

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army. ~The New York Times

Via Yglesias

Staff Sgt. Safstrom sums up my thoughts pretty well when he asks about Iraq: “What are we doing here? Why are we still here?”

So this Chris Muir “there’s so much good news from Iraq you can’t even believe it” cartoon is making the rounds this weekend.  A little bit of digging will reveal that at least a few of the pieces of ”good news” Muir cites in his cartoon are over two years old and come from this story.  You will find references there to the 47 embassies, the 1,100 building projects, and the 364 schools.  (Query: how many of the 47 embassies are for countries that were not bribed, er, persuaded to join the “coalition of the willing”?)  Many of the other items can be found in web entries that are almost as old (via Atrios).  In fact, with just this latter 2005 source you can account for almost every claim in this cartoon, which was published today.  If all of these claims were true two years ago, and there has been nothing happening since then to augment or change these numbers, that would seem to suggest that whatever progress there was in Iraq at the start of 2005 has stalled.  No word, of course, on how many of these 364 schools are still open today.  How could there be, when Muir is simply recycling two-year old stories as if they were recent accomplishments?  What does it say about the “good news from Iraq” crowd that they have to reach back almost two and a half years to pull up this information, especially since the last year and a half has been generally so miserable?  This is a bit like Southerners in 1864 still congratulating each other on the victory at Chancellorsville, even though a few things had happened in the two years that followed that could possibly have had some bearing on the present state of the war.

Does it not trouble pro-war Republicans and conservatives in the least that their rattling off of statistics about Iraqi education and health care infrastructure comes off sounding a bit like a progress report to the People’s Congress in Beijing or the bragging of some tinpot dictator about how many children his reforms have put into school?  Take away the numbers and it is hard not to be reminded of Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin talking about Ugandans being rich and driving “big cars.”  The reality was somewhat less impressive.

Update: The enthusiasm with which today’s Muir cartoon has been embraced by some on the right is just sad.  This cartoon isn’t a Memorial Day commemoration of our fallen soldiers.  Instead, it enlists a day intended for venerating fallen American patriots in the bad cause of flacking for the administration.

“Congress voted yesterday to provide our troops with the funding and flexibility they need to protect our country,” Bush said in a statement Friday.

“Rather than mandate arbitrary timetables for troop withdrawals or micromanage our military commanders, this legislation enables our servicemen and women to follow the judgment of commanders on the ground,” he added. ~AFP

Once again, a mutant strain of Vietnam Syndrome has come to dominate the debate over the war.  Disillusioned Vietnam hawks have told a story about Vietnam that suits the interests of many groups, so it has become something of a consensus view.  According to this story, it was terrible micromanagers from Washington who doomed an otherwise “winnable” conflict to ultimate failure.  Because, you see, it was the White House selecting bombing targets, and not the collapse of ARVN, that led to the collapse of South Vietnam.  Mr. Bush decided long ago that no one would confuse him for a President who was extremely familiar with the details of his own war, and has made a fetish of his own hands-off approach to the war.  He is the Decider who prefers to defer to those under his command. 

Ever since 1975, it has been the mantra of most politicians, especially Republican politicians, that they will follow the judgements of military commanders during wartime and will essentially cede most decisionmaking to these commanders (all the better to wash their hands of whatever comes out of the conflict, I suppose).  Critics of the President, particularly Democratic members of Congress, have decided that their best course of action is to get into a contest with Mr. Bush to see who can follow the “commanders on the ground” more assiduously.  Mr. Bush’s failure, as Obama will tell us, is that he does not pay attention to the situation “on the ground,” while Mr. Bush will retort that he will not tolerate politicians (which apparently does not include himself) meddling in these affairs.  When it comes to a choice between Congress and the “commanders,” as Mr. Bush memorably told us not long ago, he is “the commander guy.” 

Obama has a point, as far as it goes, since Mr. Bush’s obliviousness is now proverbial, but speaking about “the ground” in Iraq has moved beyond an appeal to realism and a desire to measure results in the real world to a convenient trope that allows antiwar Democrats the room to claim that they are actually more hard-headed and tough-minded than Mr. Bush with respect to winning the war.  This approach may be quite appealing to some presidential candidates, since it seems to make it possible to be antiwar and in favour of a more vigorous, “effective” war at the same time.  It is understandable why everyone now wants to fixate on the reality “on the ground,” since so many of the tactical and administrative errors of the first four years have been a product of the administration’s old hostility to empirical evidence, history and any expertise that might contradict received ideological maxims, but the phrase itself has become a cliche–so much so that Mr. Bush has embraced it–and it has ceased to mean very much.  Indeed, “commanders on the ground” and “situation on the ground” are fast approaching the meaninglessness of such stock phrases as “support the troops,” “cut and run” and, everyone’s favourite, “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” 

These phrases no longer refer to any actual coherent policy position, nor do they really refer back to anything in reality.  They are slogans used to say something in a less direct, but even more effective way.  When you want to say, “The administration is incompetent,” you say, “The President is ignoring the situation on the ground.”  Charges of incompetence are a dime a dozen in government, but this other accusation conveys the special quality of Mr. Bush’s incompetence–he is ignoring the situation on the ground.  That sounds much worse for Bush, which is why Democrats prefer to say this. 

Likewise, when you want to say, “We’re going to keep fighting this war forever,” you say, “We are following the advice of the commanders on the ground.”  It doesn’t matter what the advice of the commanders might actually be.  It doesn’t even matter whether the politicians actually follow that advice.  The commanders might unanimously call for withdrawal, but what matters is the attitude of the politician who expresses his respect and support for the decisions of the “commanders on the ground.”  This shows that he has the requisite hawkishness to be taken seriously on national security by people in the establishment. 

When you want to say, “Bow before the President,” you say, “Support the troops.”  We can tell this is the case because the phrase is quite often invoked at those moments when critics say something against the President.  Since virtually no one is saying anything against the troops, calls to “support the troops” might seem redundant, except that the phrase has next to nothing to do with the troops any longer.  There are uses of the phrase that may refer to actual troops, but very often this is almost incidental.  When you want to say, “I want to continue this war forever and ever,” you say, “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.”  Fighting forever is what this phrase logically entails, because it implies that “they” will attack us “here” if we stop fighting “over there,” which means that we can never be safe unless we keep fighting “over there” against “them.”  Instead of saying something as crazy as that, it is much better to cast the entire conflict in strictly defensive terms.    

So there is an obsession with this “ground” on which the commanders are operating and with which Mr. Bush has virtually no acquaintance.  Since Mr. Bush was once a National Guard aviator, perhaps his lack of attachment to “the ground” is understandable.  It seems to me that all the other commanders–those on the sea, for instance–must be feeling terribly hedged in and micromanaged, since it is only the “commanders on the ground” who are given this much flexibility and leeway.


Blessed art Thou, O Christ our God, Who hast revealed the fisherman as most wise By sending down upon them the Holy Spirit; Through them Thou didst draw the world into Thy net. O Lover of Man, Glory to Thee!


When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations; But when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!


We magnify Thee, O Life-giver Christ, And we honor Thy most Holy Spirit, Whom Thou didst send from the Father unto Thy disciples.

A very joyous and blessed Holy Feast of Pentecost to you all.

Here is Ron Paul’s appearance on Bill Maher.

Go here to support Ron Paul’s campaign.

As long as the Church Abroad existed as an independent entity, it implicitly challenged the authority of Moscow to speak for the Russian Church. It consistently denounced the collaboration of the church with the Communist Party, called for a more positive valuation of Russia’s prerevolutionary and anticommunist past [bold mine-DL] and served as a hopeful beacon to Orthodox Christians in Russia seeking an alternative.

Many in the Church Abroad wonder how this merger went through at all. The process was secretive, and there has even been speculation that some American businessmen with Russian ties helped to push it along. But now having accepted Moscow’s authority, the former Church Abroad faces many questions. Can its leaders press Moscow to reject the church’s tradition of collaborating with both the Kremlin and the KGB? Can they hold on to the church properties they have maintained for the past 80 years? Will the Moscow Church dispatch pro-Kremlin clergy to promote political aims? And, above all, can the leaders of the Church Abroad stem the tide of defection from the disappointed faithful that has already begun? ~Nadia Kizenko

Prof. Kizenko (she is a professor of history at SUNY Albany) makes a number of strange or false statements here.  In the past, the Church Abroad did serve an important function as a witness to Russian Orthodoxy free from any hint of Soviet influence, but the need for such an independent witness is no more, because the USSR is no more.  In the past, the Church Abroad did challenge collaboration with the Communist Party, but that party is no longer in power and the days of the “godless authority” are over.  The language of “merger” and “acquisition” is entirely inappropriate to the restoration of full communion between Christian brethren.  It suggests that the Church of Christ is merchandise to be bought and sold, as if our bishops were like the soldiers at the Crucifixion casting lots for the garments of the Lord.  This is an outrageous thing to suggest, but Prof. Kizenko’s language is meant to conjure up images of sordid and crooked dealings or the idea of the reconciliation of Orthodox Christians in terms of a hostile takeover more familiar to the readers of the Journal.

Members of what was the Church Abroad have valued and continue to positively value much of prerevolutionary Russian culture and history because it is also the culture and history nourished by the Russian Orthodox Church.  The ethnic Russians among Russian Orthodox outside Russia also have a natural admiration and love of their ancestral country, and they impart this admiration and love to new converts as part of the cultural traditions of their people, and I consider this all to the good.  In the last decade and a half, however, the Russian Orthodox in Russia have also begun to recover and rediscover the prerevolutionary past.  The Moscow Patriarchate has glorified the Holy Royal Martyrs and commemorates them among the Saints of the Church, which was a significant and important acknowledgement both of the Holy Royal Martyrs’ sanctity and martyrdom and of crimes of the persecutors who slew them and who also slew all the new martyrs of Russia.  Naturally, Prof. Kizenko fails to mention any of this.

The process of reconciliation was not secretive.  It was the fruit of the work of a joint commission made  up of representatives from the Synod and the MP, and information about their work was routinely made available.  The Sobor in San Francisco last year included lay and clerical representatives from every diocese in the Synod.  Each step was taken with the knowledge of all bishops and the laity of their respective dioceses.  Nonetheless, it was obviously and necessarily never going to be a “democratic” process, but was going to be one worked out by the bishops invested with the authority first given to the Holy Apostles to teach and lead the people of God.  The question of property has been or is in the process of being settled, and this has by and large meant the preservation of the status quo as far as questions of ownership and management are concerned.  Administratively and practically, the Synod’s institutional structures remain intact.  The key differences from the past are that communion has been restored and we recognise and commemorate Patriarch Alexy as the chief hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

There will be more to come in the next few days, but this is all I have time to write right now.

Update: Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy uncritically embraces the extensively error-ridden article by Prof. Kizenko.  I am continually impressed at how willing some people are to make their political hostility to the Russian government the deciding factor in judging the merits of the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  I wonder whether these critics would ever be satisfied with a reunion with Moscow unless the Patriarch of Moscow actively undermined Putin’s rule (never mind that this would be directly contrary to the injunctions of the Apostle and centuries of Orthodox tradition).  It is these critics, not the Orthodox hierarchs, who are making political concerns the priority, which rather exposes their real concern, which is to encourage schism and spiritual sickness for the sake of scoring political points against a Russian government they do not like.  This is very wrong, and it has to be fought at every turn.  Insisting on persisting in the old division because Putin’s regime is authoritarian would be like urging Catholics around the world to go into schism because Catholic bishops had supported the pro-Catholic Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.  Maybe there were and are people who urged such measures, but happily few or none listened.  Let us hope that the same will be the case today. 

Correction: In an earlier update, I had briefly confused Prof. Kizenko with an entirely different Kizenko who was connected to a pro-Yushchenko group.  I am reliably informed by those who know Prof. Kizenko that she almost certainly has nothing to do with such groups.  She is a Russian Orthodox Christian.  She simply happens to be badly mistaken in what she wrote in her article.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation’s call to “global leadership.” It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent. ~Prof. Andrew Bacevich

There are many problems with this argument, not least of which is that about a fifth of Hispanics in America are Protestants, mostly evangelical Pentecostals and Baptists. Almost all of Bush’s political gains among Hispanics have come from this group, which gave him 44 percent of their vote in 2000 and 56 percent in 2004. Hispanic Protestants tend to be conservative on social policy.  And many conservatives, I’d be willing to bet, would feel more cultural affinity with Hispanic Baptists in their church pews than they would with Huntington’s colleagues in the Harvard faculty lounge. ~Michael Gerson

This is amusing to read.  Gerson knocks anti-immigration populists as “lowbrow,” but wants to stir the populist pot against pointy-headed academics by pushing a crude evangelical identity politics that will supposedly unite Anglos and Latinos in their shared derision for scholars.  Gerson joins naked anti-intellectualism to anti-patriotic policy proposals.  An inspiring combination!  His motto might be, “We’re ignorant and transnational.”

Note that Gerson doesn’t tell us about the four-fifths of Hispanics who aren’t Protestant.  He doesn’t tell us what their politics are like, nor does he tell us about the cultural values they possess, because he probably knows, or at least guesses, that this information would be distinctly unhelpful to the cause of selling out his country.  The final lines, deploring national chauvinism, might have some credibility if they did not come from a former speechwriter of an administration that has masterfully honed the rhetoric of national chauvinism for the purposes of promoting aggressive warfare.  About that rather un-Christian behaviour, Gerson naturally never has anything to say.

If the Republican Party cannot find ways to appeal to natural entrepreneurs, with strong family values, who are focused on education and social mobility, then the GOP is already dead. ~Michael Gerson

That might be the case.  There is no obvious evidence that most Hispanic voters necessarily fit this bill, nor is there much evidence that the Hispanic voters who do fit this bill want to have an amnesty.  In any case, why does appealing to such voters have to involve a massive subversion of the law and the active encouragement of still more mass immigration?

For a certain kind of conservative, any attempt to grant a legal status to illegal immigrants is as welcome as salsa on their apple pie. ~Michael Gerson

Is there some reason why granting legal status to illegal immigrants should be received any more enthusiastically?  Also, salsa-on-apple-pie is just about as clumsy and blunt a metaphor as it gets.  The only worse way to say what Gerson means to say about these people (”these people don’t like Mexicans”) would be to talk about a tequilla-soaked flag.  This guy was a speechwriter?  For the President?

But there’s more than a passing resemblance between this narrative [Animal House] and classic right-wing populism. Like “Bluto” Blutarsky rallying his fraternity to ruin the homecoming parade, crafty conservatives have been riling up middle America for decades against champagne-sipping limousine liberals. The boys in Animal House aren’t, say, fighting tooth and nail for a living-wage ordinance. These mostly privileged young men are fighting for their right to party—a libertarian cause if there ever was one. And consider that the villain in Wedding Crashers is a Kennedy clone, a cultured environmentalist who hides his woman-hating ways behind earnest platitudes. ~Reihan Salam

I salute Reihan for suffering through Fletch again so that the rest of us can be reminded of just how much we resent Chevy Chase for that (and Ishtar) to this day.  He also has to be the only one–ever–to align John Belushi with the politics of the Southern Strategy.  As for the political message of Wedding Crashers, I leave that to Michael, since this is more his area than mine.  Besides, I don’t even like weddings.

Ms. Kizenko’s article bothered me a great deal, more than I thought this sort of argument would bother me.  The thing is that I came into ROCOR as a convert out of a desire to find a Traditionalist Orthodox jurisdiction, one that was firm on ecumenism and as faithful to Church Tradition as possible, so I sympathised with the skepticism and reservations of those who feared the worst from a reconciliation with Moscow.  I could appreciate the perspective of Old Calendarist friends who believed that the Synod was making a terrible mistake.  In the end, however, I could see nothing that should have stood in the way of reconciliation.  Having made my spiritual home in the Russian Church Abroad, I am not going to become one of these spiritually nomadic people chasing after super-akribeia.  If ever there was a legitimate need for oikonomia for the pastoral care of the Orthodox people and their spiritual well-being, it was the case of the alienation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  This was alienation created by the political interference of the Soviet government in the management of the Church–it would hardly do to perpetuate this alienation out of excessive fear of Putin’s authoritarianism. 

There is no sense in Ms. Kizenko’s article that the spiritual welfare of the Russian Orthodox flock should come first or that the Russian Orthodox Church exists not to counter the Putin regime but to preach the Gospel and provide the spiritual medicine in the hospital of salvation.  Pastorally, reconciliation was the only sane thing to do, especially as more and more immigrants from Russia came to Diasporan communities with baptisms from churches under Moscow’s jurisdiction.  Over the years there have been some cases of Russian immigrant faithful, validly baptised, being denied communion because of the rift between Moscow and the Synod.  That was becoming an intolerable and unsustainable situation, and moreover there was no fundamental issue requiring continued separation.  This division was a wound that needed to be bound up, poison that needed to be expelled.  Wisdom required oikonomia, accommodation, and there are as many examples of our Fathers among the Saints who have practised oikonomia as well as pursuing akribeia as the circumstances required.  Without serious impediments, reconciliation had to happen and was indeed already long overdue (coming 16 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union).  Westerners and Russian Orthodox outside Russia should not allow their opposition to the policies of the Putin regime, which are and ought to be irrelevant to this discussion, blind them to the greater pastoral needs of the Orthodox Church.

Indeed, it was Mr. Putin who first made overtures to the Church Abroad in September 2003, when he met with its leadership during a visit to New York. The church merger is only the most recent of his successful attempts to appropriate symbols of Russia’s prerevolutionary and anticommunist past along with Soviet ones. ~Nadia Kizenko

Via Rod

This is simply untrue.  Talks between the Synod and Moscow predated Putin’s administration and they certainly predated his visit to New York.  By the time I was baptised in January 2003, reunion was already being widely discussed in the Synod.  It is true that reconciliation negotiations continued and perhaps even intensified in the past seven years, and it is true that Putin has supported this reconciliation (obviously doing so for his own purposes), but it is frankly insulting to all the bishops in the Synod to claim that Putin could have somehow masterminded the consent of the bishops of the Church Abroad.  Bishop Gabriel of New York expressed strong reservations about the reconciliation in the past, yet even he did not finally oppose it. 

What theological and moral issues are at stake?  Note that Ms. Kizenko does not elaborate, presumably because she either does not know or cannot explain.  Those are the only issues of any consequence that should prevent the reconciliation of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church.  Unless there are credible arguments about some serious error into which Moscow has fallen, there is nothing more to talk about.  Communism as a state system is finished; the Soviet Union is no more; Sergianism and collaboration are things of the past.  Ms. Kizenko must know this.  Indeed, it is not possible for her to not know this, yet she persists in encouraging precisely the kind of fractiousness and discord among Russian Orthodox outside Russia that she holds up as a major challenge for our bishops.  That she does so in a paper well-known for its hatred of Russia and all Orthodox nations is all the more unfortunate.  It is depressing to see the extent to which some people will take their obsession with Putin-bashing. 

A Parliament’s job is not only to legislate but to debate, to inquire, to hold to account and to understand. It is time for Government to become more efficient and more creative in the way that decisions are made. Our job in this Chamber is to lead and to persuade, not to impose unnecessary burdens on business, communities and individuals. ~Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland (via Alex Massie)

Massie correctly reminds us that all of this might be just so much empty talk, but what refreshing and unexpected talk it is.  Massie also writes about Ron Paul, one of the few sensible elected representatives around.

By the way, Senator Obama, it’s a ‘flak’ jacket, not a ‘flack’ jacket. ~John McCain

Indeed.  A “flack jacket” is what the admiring media fans of McLieberman wear.

The survey’s finding that 70% of American Muslims favor a bigger government rebuts the conventional wisdom that the entrepreneurial nature of immigrant populations makes them a natural fit for the fiscally conservative approach that characterized the GOP (pre-W). ~George Ajjan

Ron Paul and Michael Scheuer teach Giuliani (the one who supposedly knows so much about terrorism and national security) a thing or two.

“Blowback,” as it’s called, is a controversial thesis, but it does explain why Osama bin Laden goes after America and not, say, Switzerland.

This is a favorite rhetorical trope of anti-interventionists: If only we had a neutral foreign policy like Switzerland, terrorism would never have come to our shores. But it’s simply not true that Switzerland has never suffered an attack by Middle Eastern terrorists. ~John Tabin, responding to Jim Pinkerton

Via Clark

It’s also simply not true that Jim Pinkerton (or any other realist or non-interventionist) claimed any such thing.  Way to tackle that straw man!  As the quote makes clear, Pinkerton is talking about Bin Laden.  You may have heard of him–a tallish fellow, long beard, bad attitude, lots of money.  When Al Qaeda hits targets in Switzerland (or Sweden or Norway or San Marino), maybe then Tabin will have a point.

In Kevin Smith’s Clerks, the lead characters discuss the morality of the assault of the unfinished second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. One character, arguing that independent contractors were unjustly killed in the attack, equates the Rebel Alliance to “left-wing militants.” But if the Anchorhead sequence is taken as canonical (there’s disagreement among fans on this point), it’s hard to cast the Alliance as a leftist movement in any conventional sense. The Rebellion, in fact, is a radically libertarian undertaking. Thirty years after Star Wars captured the world’s imagination, it’s past time that the Rebels’ fight for economic liberty was celebrated in those terms. ~John Tabin

Just so we’re all clear on this: it is good for libertarianism to be associated with the fictional violent attacks of insurgents against an empire (Tabin seems to be suggesting that the Galactic Empire invited these attacks), but it is bad for libertarianism to actually have a real presidential candidate espousing relatively mild criticisms of the neo-imperial policies of our own government.  In other words, libertarian principles are fine for fantasy universes, but undesirable in the real world.  I might even agree with this assessment of the value of libertarianism in certain cases, but it is an awfully strange thing for an avowed libertarian to say. 

It occurs to me that if you want to make a pro-life argument against this new birth control pill that evidently suppresses a woman’s menstrual cycle, you do not under any circumstances refer to it as a pesticide.  The reasons should be obvious, since it is the nature of a pesticide to kill pests, which is not the association any pro-lifers want to make when they are talking about contraception.

Via Tapped

There’s a scene about two-thirds of the way through in which pirate representatives of various nations meet to elect a king, that resembles the late Star Wars movies with their endless council discussions and legislative wrangling. ~Dana Stevens

You don’t vote for kings. ~King Arthur

Somehow I think I will manage to miss this Pirates epic as easily as I have missed the first two.  Haven’t the movie execs realised that the reason why the concurrent filming of Lord of the Rings worked out so well was that the complete story had already been written out and been wildly popular for decades?  Then there is the small matter that the story of the trilogy was actually interesting and engaging, unlike the heinous wastes of time that were the Matrix sequels.  Then again, they’re the ones pulling in hundreds of millions in revenues and I am writing on this blog, so why should they care whether they turn out the most appalling garbage?

Daniel Larison, whose ever-present aura of gloom is powerful enough to drive a Care Bear to suicide… ~Dave Weigel

That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said about me in weeks.

Just compare those three simple declarative sentences to the stereotype of Iraqi Arabs as unbeknighted, ignorant barbarians who could not possibly govern themselves [bold mine-DL]. ~Michael Ledeen

Unbeknighted?  Were the Iraqis all given honorary knighthoods at some point, and then had them taken away?  The word that the great thinker is looking for is probably ”benighted.”  It never ceases to amaze me how passionate warmongers can be when it comes to emphasising the equality and value of Arabs only when it serves their very narrow ideological purposes.  They are furious at the suggestion that Arabs might be different from Americans in any significant way (because this would suggest that democratisation is a crazy or pointless exercise), except when it is necessary to bomb them or torture them, in which case they are treated as just so much disposable trash. 

Ledeen is referring above to a report that there are Iraqis who own and value books, as if this were some shocking and unknown thing.  Apparently reading is the sole qualification for self-government these days, which happily means that most Americans still qualify.  Perhaps this news is shocking to some of Ledeen’s pro-war confreres, who are of the view that the only thing “those people” understand is force, which presumably means that ”those people” are not well-known for their love of reading.  While some might think it strange that someone can be an advocate of routinely throwing “some crappy little country against the wall” and be deeply outraged at suggestions that the cultures of some nations are profoundly ill-suited to the cultivation of representative government, it all fits together rather well.  If you are a mad, militant revolutionary who believes that democracy is universal and human cultures are irrelevant, the two go together very nicely.  With defenders like Ledeen, Bernard Lewis doesn’t need any critics.   

I really like the WSJ’s editorial page — I don’t know what we’d do without them. ~Andy McCarthy

We might have an honest debate about foreign policy in the Near East?

McCarthy continues:

But they have a nasty, condescending streak when they get on their high horse, as they do with their signature position on immigration.

As opposed to the folks at NR when it comes to discussing the war, since they are never nasty or condescending in the least.  Of course, the other problem is that the WSJ editorial page is always on its high horse about this or that, which makes it rather rich when contributors to that page claim to be engaged in something like dispassionate, hyperean contemplation and find the “aggressive” methods of bloggers unpleasant.  That is an important part of what I was saying in this post, the irony of which was apparently lost on everybody.

Meanwhile, here is Ponnuru channeling Buchanan:

It may also be that the assimilation of those earlier immigrants was aided by the cutoff in immigration from 1924 to 1965. I think that was almost certainly the case.

Who would have expected it? At its outset, Paul’s campaign promised to be a curiosity. The nominee of the Libertarian Party in his previous run for the presidency (in 1988), Paul seemed likely to play a predictable gadfly role–using his stage time to press hoary libertarian bugaboos like the abolition of Social Security, the legalization of drugs and prostitution, and–Paul’s special obsession–a return to the gold standard. Instead, thanks mainly to his adamant opposition to the Iraq war, he has assumed a far more serious role. In a Republican field that has marched in lockstep with George W. Bush on the war, Paul’s libertarian isolationism has exposed an intraparty fissure over foreign policy that is far wider than has been acknowledged, encompassing not only disgruntled libertarians but some paleocons and social conservatives, as well as such GOP lions as William F. Buckley, George Will, and Bob Novak. As populist-isolationist Pat Buchanan wrote in an op-ed last week, Paul was “speaking intolerable truths. Understandably, Republicans do not want him back, telling the country how the party blundered into this misbegotten war.”

Paul, for his part, thinks his view is commonsensical. “This is a very Republican position,” he told me. “I just think the Republicans can’t win unless they change their policy on Iraq.” ~Michael Crowley

As usual, Rep. Paul is right about this.  There is a fissure over foreign policy, and probably one-third of Republicans is fed up with the war, but I have to wonder whether it is enough.  As I noted yesterday, over half of Iowa Republicans want out of Iraq within six months, but they don’t rally around the one Republican candidate who would actually embrace this goal.  Part of this is a function of voters not knowing anything about Paul and being inundated by Romney’s advertisements.  Another reason why Republican opponents of the war haven’t really rallied around the only antiwar Republican in the race is that their opposition to the war may not derive from a opposition to much of the rest of U.S. foreign policy.  It’s one thing to be against staying in Iraq and quite another to endorse a policy vision that dictates that we should get out of Korea and Germany and most other places around the world as well. 

Nonetheless, Rep. Paul is having an impact on the race and a more serious one than Chuck Hagel could have had.  Paul distinguished himself by offering a clear, sharp contrast with the standard pro-war message of the party.  If Hagel could be bothered to run, he would have had something to say about selling insulated shoes, or some other hot air that he sends out for the media’s enjoyment. 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to support any Turkish military incursion in Iraq against Kurdish rebel bases there after a deadly suicide bombing in Ankara blamed on the militants.  

Upping the pressure on its southern neighbour, Ankara urged Baghdad Thursday to act against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) holed up in in northern Iraq.

“We expect urgent and resolute measures,” foreign ministry spokesman Levent Bilman told reporters shortly after reports of more violence with a landmine explosion attributed to the PKK killing six soldiers in the southeast.

Erdogan said late Wednesday his government would secure parliamentary authorisation if the army sought to conduct a cross-border operation targeting PKK bases.

“It is out of the question for us to disagree on this issue with our… soldiers,” he told the private ATV network. “When the time comes, we will take the necessary step, there will be no delay.” ~AFP

During the war in Lebanon last summer, I and others had remarked on the rather stark contradiction between the standard pro-Israel propaganda about opposition to “a state within a state” in Lebanon and the complete indifference of Washington and pundits to the “state within a state” in northern Iraq.  These “states within a state” both promote and shelter insurgent groups that commit acts of terrorism against U.S.-allied states, but apparently some terrorists are less objectionable than others.

Young Zeitlin has some interesting thoughts on liberaltarianism.  He is also wise beyond his years.

Do you think any cool Trade Fair girl would give you the time of day if she knew the pathetic Bible-dancing goody-goody that you are? ~Fred (Chris Eigemann), Barcelona

Quasi-religious people attend services, but they’re bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but find large parts of it odd and irrelevant. They find themselves inextricably bound to their faith, but think some of the people who define it are nuts. ~David Brooks

While reading this, I was reminded of Barcelona and Ted’s “Bible-dancing” (in which he dances to the tune of Pennsylvania 6-5000 while reading the Bible) because late in the film one of the Trade Fair girls (Ted’s future wife) describes herself as quasi-religious.  For his part, Ted has something of a quasi-religious respect for the cult of management.  Cosa de gringos.

Today I was working on a couple new Sayat Nova poems, Khmetsoor dzerit tasemen (Give me a drink from the cup of your hand) and Ari indz angach kal divana sirt (Come, listen to me, mad heart), and another one of these Persian loanword links between Armenia and India appeared.  This is not very surprising anymore, since there are so many mutual borrowings, but it is always interesting to see which words make their way into other languages.  In this case, it is divana/deewana, which means “mad” or “crazy,” usually referring in poetry and song to the madness of love.       

Passing strange, but perhaps a sign of which face of libertarianism has the broader appeal these days. ~Ross Douthat

That would be the non-libertarian face of Giuliani.  This pretty much confirms what many of the naysayers of the “libertarian vote” thesis have been saying all along.  My version of this criticism can be put this way: libertarians who actually begin to approach something recognisably like a libertarian view of politics (which might involve some reduction in the size and power of the state) are exceedingly few in number, while those who would like to unite the worst instincts of the parties of greed, sex and death are rather more numerous.     

April’s Diageo/Hotline poll is out, and it has some frankly stunning results that should make Republicans very unhappy.  The generic ballot gives the Dems a 20 point advantage.  McCain-Clinton and Giuliani-Clinton match-ups are where the Republicans do their best overall, and Giuliani even edges out Clinton, but in every other contest the Democratic candidate dominates.  Obama pulls 17% of Republicans in a match-up with McCain; he pulls 13% against Giuliani.  Neither of them beats Obama right now.  Edwards gets 14% of Republicans vs. McCain and 12% vs. Giuliani.  Edwards beats both of the supposedly most “electable” Republican candidates. 

Romney…well, Romney is like a chicken being taken to the chopping block.  It’s just embarrassing how badly he loses in these match-ups.  Clinton beats him by 14, and that’s the smallest margin of Democratic victory.  Obama wins by 27, and Edwards by 25.  He actually underperforms relative to the generic Republican ticket against both of them.  Against Obama, he can barely get a majority of Republicans to admit to supporting him if he were the nominee.  The Mormon factor?  Maybe.  Maybe people are just turned off by his inhuman cadence and condescending grin.  Bizarrely, the most recent polls show a narrow plurality of GOP primary voters rallying to the man who seems likely to be the worst general election candidate the GOP has had since Taft’s re-election bid (the difference is that Taft at least had the excuse that he was in a three-way race). 

Yes, yes, it’s early, these polls mean next to nothing as I have said on many occasions, and the Republicans still have a lot of time to recover and compete, but I cannot recall the last time the margins between major named candidates were this large.

Continued warfare makes John Boehner teary-eyed, but not for the reasons you might think.  Was the remark about his oath to defend the Constitution an indirect confession that he had failed to keep his oath?  It’s moments such as this one that remind me that I literally do not understand what makes Republican politicians tick.  Today’s GOP man is a strange mix of sentimentality and machismo; he has the heart of a compassionate jingo.  Weird. 

The new conservative media infrastructure is ideally suited to rapid-response punditry and rallying the base, but it’s not really an alternative to the major cultural institutions—the big dailies, networks, universities, and Hollywood studios. Talk-show hosts and bloggers criticize the mainstream media’s excesses, but rarely do any reporting of their own. Conservative think tanks provide a corrective to Ivy League liberalism, but aren’t in the business of actually educating undergraduates and churning out Ph.D.s [bold mine-DL]. The O’Reilly Factor can give a right-leaning movie a much-needed boost, but aside from a few outliers like The Passion of the Christ, it isn’t clear that Hollywood has become any more hospitable to conservative values and themes in the last decade or so. ~Ross Douthat

This is from a review of South Park Conservatives Ross wrote a few weeks ago last year.  His conversation with Henry Farrell pointed me to it, and this quote in particular struck me as being very right.  A few weeks ago I had made some similar remarks:

If anyone wants an explanation for why the academy is dominated by the left and why the youngest cohort of voters has gone even more overwhelmingly for the Democrats than usual, you need look no further than precisely this sort of professional cop-out, giving up on educating the next generation for the sake of the easy, cheap and ephemeral victories of politics.  Every conservative out there complains about the declining standards of education, the ruin of the academy, the politicisation of the classroom and on and on, but what happens when it comes time to step up and do some of the educating themselves?  They go to law school to get a “useful” degree, or go into politics or some other field where the “prospects” for the future are better, and then wonder how the media, academia, the arts and cinema have all been taken over by people who loathe everything they believe.   

The creation of these parallel institutions, such as they are, has had the somewhat predictable effect of reducing incentives for conservatives to persevere in the various hearts of cultural darkness and also has tended to make sure that conservatives are less relevant to much of the discourse today in any number of fields that were ceded and abandoned decades ago.  Were modern conservatives such great “theocrats” as some parts of the left accuse them of being, you would think that they would dominate the seminaries and divinity schools around the nation, but the opposite is usually the case.  Were conservatives in fact as medieval as their progressive adversaries believe them to be, you might think that they would dominate medieval history, but the opposite is usually the case.  History departments were once redoubts of reaction, and nowadays almost the opposite extreme is true.  This is perplexing, since you might think conservative-minded people would be very keen to learn about their history and traditions and so pass them down and reproduce them, but with baffling regularity they entrust the keeping of the faith and the preservation of memory to those who are less inclined to venerate traditional forms and those who may be more interested in subverting and debunking than understanding.  There has been a recent flurry of arguments in favour of reviving the study of military history, which is a very good idea, but even when that study revives there will not be many conservatives doing the scholarship, because the academy has already been deemed enemy territory.

And we think of angry Venezuela, the Middle East, and Russia every time we fill up — if we can afford to fill up. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Do we really?  It seems to me that we might just as easily think of Mexico and Nigeria.  That would make as much sense as any of these, except that no normal person thinks about any of this when he is putting gas into his car.  Strangely enough, when I was hit recently with a near-$60 gas bill I did not say, “Lousy Hugo Chavez!  Why does he persecute me so?”  Unlike Rick Santorum, I do not have an unceasing stream of panicked thoughts about the President of Venezuela.  Unlike the editors of The Daily Telegraph, I do not wake up in the middle of the night after having nightmares about Vova jacking up the petrol rates.  It seems to me that anyone who thinks about Hugo Chavez when he is at the gas station has been breathing in the fumes for a little too long.

I don’t think finding a connection between this and the Iraq war makes much sense. What you see here is a glimpse of the other side of the cultural abyss, in which the control of women - their bodies and their souls - by brutal patriarchal fundamentalists is the norm. It’s evil. ~Andrew Sullivan

I think what is most amazing to me is that this doesn’t take place in some tent in the middle of the desert or a stone hut [bold mine-DL]. These people are not dressed in tribal garb — they are wearing jeans and t-shirts and the whole thing takes place in a street in what appears to be a modern town. It isn’t the Moqtada al Sadr brigade or Al Qaeda extremists —it’s not part of the civil war although according to the article, many Iraqis are trying to rationalize it as such. This is nothing but barbaric patriarchal violence perpetrated by our alleged allies, the Kurds, toward a teen-age girl…~Digby

What is lacking in both of these responses is any sense of just how crazy it always was to think that Iraq was well-suited for anything like modern democratic government, when this takes place in Kurdistan, alleged bastion of enlightenment (at least according to the pro-Kurdish pundits in the West).  Leave aside for a moment the incompatibility with an Islamic society–what of the incompatibility with a tribal one, such as that of Kurdish Yezidis, who are not even Muslim?  Of course, there’s nothing surprising that the Yezidis are wearing modern clothing.  It is a quaint, silly idea that cultural habits and mentalities are somehow required to be linked to this or that economic or material condition.   

To offer a slightly different perspective, let me ask this question: what part of this episode do Westerners find more troubling?  Is it the stoning, the brutal killing of the girl, or is it the idea that there should be social control over interpersonal relationships and sharp social separation between religious groups?  Some might say that the two are bound up with each other and would argue that the stoning is simply a product of the latter.  That’s reasonable.  Yet if the punishment for this transgression was not execution, but was one of ostracism or some other means of shaming, what is the outsider’s real, principled objection to it?  That people should be allowed to love and marry whomever they like?  To the mind of anyone in a traditional society, this is insane and a recipe for the annihilation of small groups.  Indeed, all things considered, it is a fairly strange idea.  In any case, it is the Yezidis’ marginal, minority status in an Islamic sea that helps explain why they are so ferocious and brutal in their insistence on maintaining the boundaries of their group.  This is part of the more general collapse of security to the extent that this and things like this will happen more and more as different sects are forced to turn to self-help and customary law to govern their part of the country.  It is part of the war to the extent that the war was the cause for unleashing the revival of sectarian identity as a particularly important element in everyday life.         

Strategic Vision’s new Iowa poll has some interesting numbers.  First, they ask about candidate preferences:

1. If the 2008 Republican presidential caucus were held today between Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Chuck Hagel, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, Fred Thompson, and Tommy Thompson for whom would you vote? (Republicans Only; Names Rotated)
Mitt Romney 20%
Rudy Giuliani 18%
John McCain 16%
Fred Thompson 10%
Tommy Thompson 7%
Newt Gingrich 5%
Mike Huckabee 3%
Sam Brownback 2%
Tom Tancredo 2%
Ron Paul 2%
Duncan Hunter 1%
Jim Gilmore 1%
Chuck Hagel 1%
Undecided 12%

Then they ask about the war:

5. Do you favor a withdrawal of all United States military from Iraq within the next six months? (Republicans Only)
Yes 54%
No 37%
Undecided 9%

It is obvious that approximately half of these pro-withdrawal voters must be supporting some candidate who has no intention of supporting withdrawal in the next six months or in the foreseeable future.  85% of all Iowa GOP voters claim to support a candidate who is in favour of remaining in Iraq for some considerably longer period of time than six months.  Of pro-withdrawal GOP voters, plainly only the 2% backing Ron Paul (and, I suppose, the 1% behind Hagel) are expressing candidate preferences that match with their preferred Iraq policy. 

Either the war is of significantly lesser importance to Iowan Republicans than it is to other kinds of Republicans (doubtful), or these voters have no idea that all but perhaps two of the named candidates in this poll (with some mild qualified dissent from Tommy Thompson) want to stay in Iraq “as long as it takes” or their candidate preferences bear no relation to the candidates’ stated views on the war.  Voter irrationality is fun, isn’t it?

I suppose if we merely use “invite” as a synonym for “provoke” or “give rise to,” we can say American policy “invited” 9/11, or at least served as one component of the invitation. But nobody ought to be enraged and offended by that suggestion. Rather, people are outraged and offended because to say one has “invited” something implies that one “has it coming,” that one can scarcely complain when the invited guest arrives. ~Julian Sanchez

Sanchez is replying to John Tabin, who would like to save libertarianism from the dread influence of Ron Paul.  Ron Paul, as my readers will know well, has the gall to say things consistent with being a libertarian, which is apparently a real danger for keeping libertarianism “respectable” and non-threatening. 

There were two distinct points that I tried to make in a previous post answering Tabin.  Perhaps I did not state them clearly enough.  One point is that you cannot accuse a critic of U.S. foreign policy of “blaming America,” since this conflates state and nation in a terrible, misleading way.  Indeed, this is precisely the kind of conflation that terrorists and theorists of total war make to justify the targeting of civilians, who are allegedly “complicit” in the perceived or real crimes of their government.  Maintaining a clar distinction between the state and the people, on the other hand, repudiates all such justifications for intentionally targeting civilians, whether they come from Bin Laden or Dean Barnett.  This distinction is vital to repudiating any potential justification for terrorism.  This is a distinction that Mr. Tabin apparently would like to efface, so long as it allows him to get in his shots against Ron Paul. 

The other is that even if you are in some sense “blaming” the government for the bad policies that have provoked violent terrorist responses, you are not saying that the government “invited” those attacks.  Unintended consequences are just that–unintended.  Conservatives and libertarians have normally been aware that presumably well-intentioned policies often have consequences that were unforeseen (albeit perhaps not unforeseeable).  Interventionists, on the other hand, would like us to believe that interventionism never has sharply negative consequences, while engaging in “appeasement” or failing to intervene will almost always have negative consequences.  Bombing and slowly starving a nation for a decade cannot have any radicalising effect on people in the region, but pulling out of Mogadishu has catastrophic effects.  (Actually, almost the exact opposite is the reality.)  The difference between them is that in the former we are being “strong,” while in the other we are showing “weakness.”  Replace “strong” with unjust and “weakness” with wisdom, and we might begin to get somewhere.

In just the same way, interventionists very clearly pin blame for the outbreak of wars on all those policymakers who fail to take a hard or militant enough line against other powers or groups.  Sometimes they may be correctly assessing the situation, but there is no doubt that they engage in this blame-game more than just about anyone.  As they tell it, failing to take their policy advice leads to terrible suffering and bloodshed on a massive scale.  They plainly say that policies of “appeasement” invite attack.  Neocons say this about Clinton-era policies all the time.  When it serves their turn, they have no problem saying that America very actively ”invited” terrorist attacks, provided that the policies they are referring to happen to be the exact opposite of whatever they recommend.  They are quite happy to blame the government and the people for their laxity and diffidence that allowed terrorism to flourish.  In this view, when the government engages in illegal bombing or maintains a presence in a foreign country that demonstrably contributes to the motivations of terrorists, the policies are not only beyond reproach but they cannot possibly contribute to anything bad.  The policies are beyond reproach because these were, for the most part, their favoured policies.  Whenever someone complains about someone or other “blaming America first,” you have to know that the person making the complaint is really saying, “This person is blaming people like me and my preferred policies.”  That is what gets interventionists so angry–the idea that they are responsible agents who might be held accountable for the bad policies they advocated. 

So they employ the very rhetoric that they say is so poisonous and awful when it (allegedly) comes out of the mouths of their political adversaries, and then feign shock when those adversaries point out that it is actually interventionist policies that provoke violent responses.  It might seem that both sides use the exact same kinds of arguments for opposite ends, but this is not quite right, either.  Non-interventionists typically do not use this language of “inviting,”  while interventionists use it as a matter of course.  What’s more, it’s obvious that they use this language, which is why it is stunning that they would claim it is somehow an outrageous and appalling thing to say.  Maybe it is as outrageous as they now claim to find it, but in that case it is they, not non-interventionists, who should be beyond the pale.

Guram Sharadze, head of a small nationalist movement, was shot dead in central Tbilisi on Sunday night.

Police say a man arrested shortly after the shooting has confessed, but they declined to give further details out of concern about compromising the investigation.

Sharadze, who led the Faith, Fatherland and Language movement, was a prominent critic of Western influences in Georgia and had especially denounced the civil-society work funded by U.S. philanthropist George Soros. ~Pravda

Via Srdja Trifkovic

This is sad news.  You can be fairly sure that someone who opposes Western influence, Saakashvili and Soros truly was a Georgian patriot.  The nasty personal dictatorship of Saakashvili grows stronger by the day, and Washington winks at all of this because he is a useful tool in the Caucasus and a good means to pester the Russians on their southern border.  Such are the fruits of “people power” in Georgia.

Alex Massie tells us:

a reader who has some knowledge of these things writes to say that “Matalin’s imprint has been a colossal flop” sucking “millions of Simon & Schuster’s dollars down the right-wing rathole.”

Alex Massie really hates Braveheart.  Fair enough.  While it is not the historical absurdities of the film that bother him the most, they are enough to make me shake my head in disbelief, so I am not going to say very much on behalf of Braveheart.  I am afraid that I’m having trouble finding the racist element in it beyond the general categorisation of Englishmen as barbarous thugs who want nothing more than to rape and pillage (oh, wait, I’ve got it now).  If I were a Scot, I would probably find it to be as dreadful as I found The Patriot as an American.  My objections to the latter may be slightly idiosyncratic, since I found the movie’s treatment of Loyalists, for one thing, absolutely awful; the happy South Carolinian beach community where our hero takes refuge is also a bit hard to take.  (In knocking The Patriot, I risk no backlash from outraged fans, since none exists.)  I think I may be able to explain why Braveheart won such a following in Scotland.  First, any group of people will respond favourably to the the dramatic re-telling of the stories from their national history that portray them as the put-upon, longsuffering people who throw off the yoke of oppression and whose hopes are embodied in a charismatic warrior figure who suffers and dies on their behalf.   Maybe this is why some Indians liked Mangal Panday–who knows?  My guess is that they liked it because of Rani Mukherjee, but that is another story.  

On a different point, I would remind everyone of the great enthusiasm Braveheart generated among many on the right, along with neo-secessionist sympathisers with the SNP, in this country.  It was frequently feted in the American conservative press as the “conservative movie of the year.”  Why?  Because Gibson was always talking about “freedom,” which was a word that had already become a substitute for alot of conservative argument back in 1995.  In fact, the redeeming features of Braveheart had little to do with some general “freedom” (sorry, that’s “freedom!”) and everything to do with waging a vendetta for his murdered woman (compelling, but totally fictitious) and fighting on behalf of his friends and countrymen.  (If I recall correctly, Wallace’s original skirmish with the authorities was actually a fight for the right to keep a fish that he had caught, which is a respectable, if less romantic, thing to fight for.)  The things that made Apocalypto worthwhile were the things that kept Braveheart from becoming a purely Eisensteinesque approach to the middle ages.  My impression is that students of film could probably learn something by comparing Alexander Nevsky and Braveheart as similar ideological treatments of medieval warfare that recast the medieval struggles in totally different, modern terms.

Setting aside their problems, the thing I find interesting about Braveheart and The Patriot is the way that they show how, for lack of a better word, “blowback” comes into being.  Gibson always sets up the story as one of the average man whose hand is forced by brutal and repressive action by the invading/dominating (always English) forces to take violent retaliatory action.  He reprises part of this sort of story in Apocalypto.  This was a Gibson action flick that I actually enjoyed, which was described to me as the most paleo film ever made and which Peter Suderman has called “the ultimate reactionary movie,” which may well be true.  When Republican audiences see Gibson leading a rebellion against a tyrannical occupying force, be it the English of the 14th century or the British of the 18th century, they tend to eat it up (though, somewhat weirdly, there was a much stronger positive response to Braveheart in America than to The Patriot), but when it comes to Americans projecting power far from home and occupying other peoples’ lands, well, they seem to forget all of this and become very incensed at the idea that people in other countries might respond to the indignities and humiliations of domination by foreign powers in a similarly rebellious way.

One final point: people tend to respond more favourably to Wallace-like martyr figures than they do to successful Bruce-like political leaders in their art and literature (not necessarily in their voting), because I think there is a broadly shared and deep sentiment that makes many people really want to believe that good leaders are firmly uncompromising and slightly mad.  Political leaders who engage in politics are always going to be considered less inspiring and less admirable, even when those leaders actually bring home the bacon, because people will receive this “bacon” with the knowledge of the supposedly unsavoury process by which it was acquired.  It was acquired by compromise, you see, which is obviously less desirable than acquiring it through a bold armed raid on the local pig farm.  This doesn’t make any sense.  It is part of the chaotic, destructive side of romanticism, and it isn’t supposed to make sense, because it is an open revolt against things that make sense.   

At first glance, you’d think Romney and Reed would know each other well from their time together as cyborgs taking orders from the distant, politically ambitious planet that sent them. ~Bruce Reed


Both neoconservatives and their foes, it’s worth pointing out, have a vested interest in inflating the current crisis: The neoconservatives because it lets them argue that defeat in Iraq means defeat for all time, the realists and liberals because it lets them suggest that their wise counsel is all that stands between us and a Bush-created abyss. But while this is a tough moment for America, no question, it’s still the case that we’ll probably leave Iraq with our long-term advantages - economic, military, geographic, demographic - over our rivals more or less intact. ~Ross Douthat

On behalf of non-interventionists, let me say that we are probably one of the few foreign policy factions that have little to gain and much to lose by making Iraq into the ultimate test of hegemony.  As I have suggested before, the Iraq war is terrible (elsewhere I have called it an abomination) and the nakedness of its aggression is almost unprecedented in our history, but it is not ultimately quite as significant for America as many people, both pro and anti, have claimed.  Many people seem to mistake their evaluation of the worthiness or rightness of the conflict for an assessment of its overall significance.  To show that you are really, really for being in Iraq, you have to say all sorts of untenable things about how epic and “cosmic” and elemental the struggle is and how central Iraq is to the struggle.  The Iraq war can’t just be the right war–it has to also be the most important front in the most important war ever fought by anybody ever.  To show that you are really, really against being in Iraq, you have to say how it will bring ruin to every house and cause the sun to darken in shame.  The immorality and injustice of the war are no less real when the war is not also the beginning of some dramatic contraction of American power.   

Iraq illustrates why hegemony is a bad idea in principle on moral, constitutional and strategic grounds, not proof that America is somehow suddenly in decline as a world power.  Viewed for the long term, hegemony does not endure in any case, but interventionism seems the surest way to make sure that whatever predominance America has had will vanish much more rapidly.  This is something that has never made much sense to me about interventionism.  The people who support interventionist foreign policy claim to taking pride in having America as the predominant power in the world, but theirs is the pride of the impatient child or Madeleine Albright: “What’s the point of having this superpower you keep talking about if we never use it?”  Smart strategists who want to keep their country on top first of all don’t talk about how predominant their country is (they would rather downplay the disparity of power most of the time and avoid encouraging rivalry or envy), and they certainly wouldn’t go around upsetting the status quo that keeps their country on top.  What hegemons don’t do, if they want to remain hegemons, is to start preaching revolution and starting wars.  Iraq signals danger for the hegemony only if Washington tries to imitate this war in the future.          

The National Journal article, for its many flaws, captured an important aspect of the foreign policy debate: the overwhelming consensus that American hegemony was endangered but was obviously desirable and something worth preserving.  The positions in the debate might be summed up this way:

Neoconservative: We are the only ones with the clarity and understanding to run the world properly, and if we ever weaken in our resolve for one moment we will all die or be enslaved by Islamofascists.

Interventionist (Liberal): Running the world requires cooperation with international institutions and an increased awareness of the interdependency and complexity of the world.  Every ailing chicken is our concern.  We have to care a lot about that chicken, too.

Realist: Everyone else is too ideological to run the world, but we will run the world through effective diplomacy, bipartisanship and a willingness to acquiesce in totally pointless wars from time to time to show the world our “leadership.”

Libertarian: The world will run itself–spontaneous order, baby!

Paleoconservative: Running the world is for fools who don’t know anything about history.  We can’t run the world and we shouldn’t try.  If we try, we will destroy ourselves or become slaves to our government.

As a veteran of the George Wallace campaign on the American Independent Party line in 1968, Mr. Viguerie certainly knows how to make mischief for the major parties. Back then, the Wallace candidacy badly harmed the candidacy of Democrat Hubert Humphrey; 40 years later, a third-party crusade on the right would do far more damage to the Republican nominee. The same Republicans who encouraged (and financed) Green candidate Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004 just might find themselves facing the business end of a spoiler campaign in November 2008.  The most appropriate vehicle is the Constitution Party, a far-right, theocratic outfit that claims to be the biggest of the nation’s third parties. ~Joe Conason

Of course, theocratic isn’t really an accurate description of the Constitution Party.  Yes, there are some Theonomists running around out there who vote CP, but my impression has always been that it is a group of Christian conservatives who actually think the Constitution says what it says.  I can see how this might seem frightening to some, but theocratic?  Not really.  The good folks of the CP are very keen on Scripture, to put it mildly, and some might say that they treat the Constitution as if it were Scripture, but I suppose I would tend to prefer people who take the fundamental law of the government that way rather than treating it as if it were toilet paper.  In the odd event that Ron Paul does not win the GOP nomination, I will be pleased to support the Constitution Party in ‘08.

Some wags say the party is hopelessly divided over issues ranging from abortion and Iraq to gas prices and immigration. ~David Hill

If you ask me, the problem with Republicans and abortion is not that the party is “hopelessly divided” but that they’re all together too willing to overlook fundamental differences in pursuit of having a “strong” and “electable” candidate who promises to torture and bomb as many foreigners as possible.  If you were to ask me again, I would say that the party is not divided about Iraq all that much and the number of Republicans for whom Iraq is a deal-breaker is (unfortunately) fairly small.  The problem the GOP has is not too much disagreement and fractiousness over Iraq, but a mind-killing conformity on the one policy issue where they are as wrong as can be.  The one question where the GOP is “hopelessly divided” is on immigration, since the party apparatus is for lots of it in whatever form it might take and the constituents are by and large not.  Mr. Bush and the Senate GOP have resolved this division through total collapse and surrender to the forces of amnesty.

The fact that, say, India and Brazil “don’t hesitate to assert narrow national interests that often have little to do with Washington’s agenda” tells us very little about whether America’s headed for a long-term slide, any more than the mere existence of France, Austria, Spain and Prussia spelled Gibbonesque doom for the eighteenth-century Britain. ~Ross Douthat

Agreed.  The National Journal piece is unpersuasive, since it takes as its point of departure the fantasy that being the “lone superpower” has entailed being able to rule the world and dictate the policy priorities of all countries.  India and Brazil assert “narrow national interests” (as opposed to the broad national interests of another country?), and this is different from the past…how exactly?  It is not the assertion of their national interests that is notable, but that both countries are now relatively much wealthier and more developed than they were even 15 years ago.  Their disagreements with the U.S. matter more to us today, because they have more significance in the world than they did at the end of the Cold War.  This is a new situation.  It is not inevitably a path to decline, unless successive administrations mismanage the situation so badly that we fail to turn the rise of these countries to our advantage.  This rise of India and Brazil is why Americans have started paying much more attention to both and why Washington has been trying to butter up both of them with different kinds of incentives (lower duties on ethanol for some, nuclear technology for others). 

Not that long ago, India and Brazil used to be stalwart NAM states that viewed U.S. policies with tremendous suspicion and kept themselves at a distance.  Now that they are aspiring to higher, regional power status themselves, they are finding points of agreement and mutual benefit, as well as points of conflict.  This is what some call “international relations.”   

What is interesting about Indo-American relations is not how fraught or difficult they are, but how much more often India and America are cooperating (two Presidents have now visited India after exactly zero had visited previously).  Under old Congress governments, this would have been unlikely.  Under Manmohan Singh and a Congress chastened by a decade of BJP rule, it is now not that surprising.  Arguably, the rise of a wealthier, stronger India that has some real pro-American tendencies is good news for American power, provided that Washington knows how to handle this changing situation.  If Mr. Bush’s treatment of an emboldened Europe is any indication of how Washington responds to changing international realities, I wouldn’t hold my breath that the government will know how to correctly bind India to the U.S. 

According to National Journal, now that this imagined ability to rule the world by diktat is supposed to be ending, it’s all downhill from here.  Well, this is, to put it mildly, silly.  The “rise of China” didn’t spring out of nowhere–it has been happening for my entire lifetime (or, to take a Zhou En-Lai-like perspective, the apparent rise began in 1945 but it still remains too early to tell at this point whether China is actually rising or falling), which would be the same period during which America has continued to be the predominant power in the world.  Everything depends on knowing how to bind strong allies to oneself, divide hostile powers and set them against each other and wield one’s own power in a limited, conservative fashion.  If there was broad public consensus that the Iraq war was still a great idea and there were people advocating that we engage in a lot more such wars, we might start prophesying an age of decline.  The healthy response of the public to regard this war as rather mad and pointless at this point is a good sign that there will not be another such wasteful, useless, power-depleting display for some time.

One point where the article is least persuasive is when it talks about Venezuela:

That Chavez feels free to constantly bait Washington and attempt to revitalize Fidel Castro’s populist socialist revolution in Latin America is a testament to perceived U.S. weakness.

Viewed another way, the correct way, giving Chavez all the rope he wants to hang himself (and ruin Venezuela in the process) seems to be a confirmation of just how irrelevant and unthreatening Chavez and Chavismo really are.  Venezuela is basically a Latin American Zimbabwe, but with oil instead of agriculture as the source of the wealth that the ruling clique will exploit until the system collapses, and it will continue to descend into the depths of the basket-case nightmare states of the world.  People let Mugabe say and do what he wants because he is impotent beyond his borders; Washington puts up with Chavez’s bloviating and mockery because I think they know that he isn’t the dire threat that the Santorums and Romneys of the world try to make him out to be.

The one part of the article that’s really worth reading is the Luttawak section.  (Luttawak doesn’t buy the decline theory, and he also says that we should ignore the Near and Middle East as much as possible–he’s two for two this month!)  Luttawak is mostly talking about underlying structural strengths and not at these accidental ups and downs.  The section after that is marred in a number of ways.  Yes, Constantine XI probably did have a sense that the “scales of history hung in the balance” in May 1453, since an important strain in Byzantine religious ideology held that the fall of the empire would coincide with the end of the world.  Gavrilo Princip was not a “Bosnian nationalist” for two simple reasons: he was a Serbian nationalist, and there is no such thing as the Bosnian “nation.” 

The article is also somewhat interesting for including a Kagan quote that captures the paranoia and irrationality of the prominent neocons better than anything I have seen lately:

“That worries me more than anything,” Kagan said, “because already we’re seeing Iraq treated like a political football even though our very existence could be at risk….”

Our very existence is at risk…from Iraq?  What is it that threatens our very existence?  Kagan has no idea.  This is just the sort of alarmist stuff they have become so accustomed to saying that they probably don’t even know what they mean at this point.  This is crazy stuff.

Matt Yglesias makes the solid point that ought to be much more obvious to most people than it is that someone’s attitudes towards a country and his opinion of the merits of that country’s government’s foreign policy need not have anything to do with each other.  Arguing for Sarkozy’s relative anti-Americanism (or lack thereof) or Brown’s relative pro-Americanism (or lack thereof) is fairly pointless, since both men can admire things about America (e.g., pro-market economic policies, relative independence of the central bank, etc.) and may even like to visit America (as Brown does) without endorsing any of the policies that most Europeans of all political persuasions find dreadful.  (It is a sobering reality that some of the most robustly pro-Bush European leaders tend to be ex-communists from the old Warsaw Pact–such is the reality of the neocons’ much-vaunted, mythical ”New Europe.”)  The problem is definitional: if you consider any criticism of U.S. policy by foreigners proof of their “latent” or ”strong” anti-Americanism, you have already confused things hopelessly.  There is virtually no more culturally pro-American people in Europe than the Germans, but just because Germans love stories about the American frontier doesn’t mean that Germans want to endorse the next generation of New Frontier foreign policy. 

It was good for a joke to find out that Richard Perle liked to vacation in the south of France, but this actually helps put his contempt for French foreign policy in perspective.  There are few more triumphalist creatures on the planet than the American tourist abroad, and it stands to reason that someone who routinely vacations in another country will tend to develop–perhaps as some strange coping strategy–distorted opinions about everything related to that country.  In fact, it seems probable that someone who sees a country through the eyes of a tourist, even someone who regularly summers in another country, will probably come away with a far more negative assessment of that country’s government and its policies than someone who has never been there.  Familiarity breeds contempt and all that.  On the other hand, stunningly ignorant, provincial members of the administration share the contempt towards Europeans of their ocean-hopping associates, so sometimes there’s no telling. 

I have not yet made up my mind how much I like Natacha Atlas’ music.  Her rendition of the Bollywood-style “Janamaan” (an attempt to render jaan-e-mann)  on one of her newer albums was a surprise (and fairly good).  As it happens, there was also a recent Bollywood release called Jaanemann.

But is it unbearably snobbish or sniffy to note that, whatever one’s own literary credentials, it requires considerable generosity of spirit to grant any of these volumes the title “book” in anything other than the meanest, lowest, technical sense of the term? ~Alex Massie on those Threshold “books”

I don’t think so.  In fact, I think Mr. Massie understates the extent of the generosity it requires.    

Abraham Lincoln is thought to have been a kindly Christian driven reluctantly to war.  He was actually an agnostic and an  avid power-seeker who embraced violent measures readily.

George W. Bush is thought to be a kindly Christian driven reluctantly to war.  He is actually a theologically-confused power-seeker who embraces violent measures readily. ~Clyde Wilson

Read the whole post.

But for me, the more-significant op-ed in today’s Journal is by historian Mark Moyar, whose work on the origins of the Vietnam War — based on part on new information from the communist side of the conflict — has been a revelation (here’s a hint: if Indonesia doesn’t immediately pop into your mind when you think about the reason for the Vietnam intervention, you haven’t read your Moyar). ~John Hood

Well, I haven’t read my Moyar, but it makes sense that there would have been concern about the implications for the region of a successful communist takeover of South Vietnam, since Indonesia was at that time under the rule of a partly Marxist and communist-friendly strongman, Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president and dictator (and father of the former President Sukarnoputri, the first elected post-Suharto Indonesian President).  This doesn’t require reading some guy named Moyar, but would require a basic knowledge of the region’s geography and political makeup in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Kathryn Jean Lopez raves about Mary Matalin’s publishing outfit, while that noise you hear is the sound of Ross banging his head against a wall.

Update: Lopez seems to refer to Lynne Cheney as “our next First Lady.”  Does Lopez know something the rest of us don’t?

 The conventional wisdom, in essence, holds that running stridently against the war spells political doom for the Democrats. It also holds, however, that running stridently against the war is unnecessary because the Republicans will end the war anyway. Meanwhile, the Republicans are supposed to be doing this for political purposes. These things can’t, however, all be true. ~Matt Yglesias 

Couldn’t it be the case that ending the war would be good politically for the GOP because people instinctively trust them not to be too dovish, but bad for the Dems because people worry they are too soft? I’m not saying this is rational or correct, but it seems perfectly plausible. Moreover, something similar was the case in 1972. People wanted to end the war, but voted for Nixon (who also said he wanted to end the war) instead of McGovern. Could this not be the case today? ~Isaac Chotiner

He has a point.  Yglesias would be right if he said that all these things are logically contradictory, but that in no way prevents them all from reflecting the confused state of public opinion on the war.  In the Democratic field of candidates, it has been the candidates who try to appear generally “strong” on national security (Obama’s call to rule the world being one example of taking a tough posture) who have had the most success advancing their claims that they would end the Iraq war.  In the ever more loopy world of GOP candidates, it has been the candidates who claim that they will end the war (by “winning” it) that have tended to gain the most traction.  It is possible that the only way a Democratic candidate wins while also arguing for an end to the war is by being even more militant about other foreign threats than the Republican candidate.  Obama could say, playing off of his response to Mike Gravel, “We can’t waste any more time in Iraq–we have to get ready to nuke Pakistan!”  Whether this makes sense or not will be immaterial–it will make him look “decisive” and “bold,” which we know from long experience the public values more than “intelligent” and “wise.” 

Even though a significant part of every antiwar argument is that Iraq is bad for our national security, anxious voters may not believe advocates of withdrawal that they actually have a good idea of what is necessary for national security.  Despite the fact that Iraq should have destroyed any confidence the public had in Republican foreign policy ideas for a long time, the Democrats seem to be dogged by the public’s sense that they don’t just oppose wars because they are not efficient or successful, but sometimes even oppose them because they are wrong and stupid.  This is apparently still not a popular position to take.

The difference between this election and 1972 is that one party is clearly not even promising to end the war in the foreseeable future.  The GOP candidates don’t generally talk about “peace with honor,” but instead insist that the war not only can be won, but it must be won.  They have raised Iraq to such a place of centrality and importance in the “war on terror” and in their common ideology that they cannot now abandon the cause without making a mockery of their entire foreign policy position.  It would be as if the Democrats ran in 1952 on a platform of total victory in the Korean War and declared that anyone who wanted an armistice was more or less in league with the communists.  They would have lost by an even larger margin than they did.  1952, not 1972, may be the more appropriate comparison on this particular point.


The GOP’s share of the Hispanic vote dropped in 1988, 1992, and 1996, before rising under Bush. Second of all, you would expect the Republicans to do better and better among Hispanics as the last amnesty receded into the past, and its beneficiaries assimilated and started to move up in the world. ~Ross Douthat

Someone would expect this, I think, if he thought that assimilated, successful immigrants normally have a natural tendency to break with the Democratic voting habits of most new immigrants.  This seems reasonable, but if it were true the GOP would be awash in Greek, Armenian and Asian voters.  Generally speaking, it is not.  Voting for Democrats in many ethnic immigrant communities is just the obvious thing to do, especially for those who come from political traditions that stress some greater measure of social solidarity.  Interestingly, these immigrants often tend to concentrate in large urban areas that either lean or are solidly Democratic, so this traditional preference for Democrats is reinforced by the very process of assimilation.  Further, suburbs are no longer always a reliable Republican stronghold, so it may be that even assimilated, successful immigrants who come out to the suburbs may not so much adopt suburban Republicanism as they will help speed the transformation of many suburbs into Democratic turf.  Inherited cultural and political attitudes are often more determinative of voting patterns than class or income.  The GOP has to be hoping that historical materialism is at least partly true and it has to be hoping that ideas do not, in fact, have many consequences at all (or at least fewer consequences than a nice salary).   

John Tabin is right: Sullivan is wrong to call AmSpec paleocon.  To its credit, AmSpec has various perspectives in it, including some paleo or at least paleo-friendly articles, but criticising bad, tendentious neocon readings of history does not in and of itself make anyone or anything paleocon.  But Sullivan is especially wrong to call it that because of this review of Kagan’s Dangerous Nation.  As Mr. Tabin correctly points out, Angelo Codevilla is wildly, intensely hawkish and hegemonist; he is one of those people who will bear the label imperialist as a badge of honour.  No one who has any sense of the various factions and arguments on the American right would ever confuse a Codevilla piece with anything related to paleos.  The Codevilla piece is mostly unobjectionable, which I find shocking to admit, since I normally feel myself breaking out in hives on those occasions when I have read Codevilla in the past.  It turns out that Kagan has written such a terrible book about American history and foreign policy that it even offends the historical sensibilities of a Claremont man.  That takes some real doing.   

Update: In case the absurdity of the paleo-Codevilla equation wasn’t completely obvious, here is the assessment of the elder Pod of Codevilla and the “superhawks”:

On the Right though it obviously is, this neighborhood of superhawks is as distant from the precincts of paleoconservatism as it is from the redoubts of the anti-American Left.

So I’m watching Pan’s Labyrinth at long last, and two things occur to me: Guillermo del Toro is not a subtle director, and that stupid flying mantis-like bug is really annoying.  He She doesn’t have the panache and personality of a Master Flea.  He She just keeps chirping.  I don’t like it.

Since smart people I respect seem to think so much of this VDH column, it seems necessary to point out some of the more fantastically crazy things Hanson says in that column:

Few believed that it was a tragedy brought on by an aggressive Germany; fought heroically by amateur French, British, and American soldiers who defeated the professionalism and skill of the German army (the most lethal land force that had yet appeared); and was a result of two different and largely antithetical visions of Europe. No one dared accept that the post-bellum failure to invade Germany, occupy Berlin, and demonstrate the utter lunacy of German militarism had caused World War II; the problem was that the victorious allies had been too mean rather than too fickle.

Yes, few believe these things, because these things are not true.  WWI wasn’t principally a tragedy brought on by an aggressive Germany.  It was the result of combined Austrian meddling, Russian folly, British hesitation and German diffidence.  The problem with Berlin in the July crisis was its passivity in guiding its allies’ policies, not in its aggressiveness.  German “aggressiveness” in the Schlieffen Plan was an unavoidable result of being encircled by the Franco-Russian alliance.  Blame that on stupid Wilhelmine Weltpolitik and the decision to drop the connection with Russia, which you certainly can do, but spare us the lectures about German aggression.  The two antithetical visions of Europe to which Hanson refers were the vision in which the Entente powers continued to dominate most of the world and the vision in which Germany would be permitted to join them as a first-rank power.  Scary!  It never ceases to amaze me how people can look at the vastly stronger, more powerful alliance in the Entente and see in it some poor victim of overmighty Germany and the allies that it had to carry for the duration. 

Hanson’s “On to Berlin!” idea is stunning.  To believe that this was even possible, much less desirable, by the time the Ludendorff offensive failed is to be quite wrong.  It was possible to occupy Paris because Napoleon had been beaten in the field, but the treatment of the defeated party ensured that it was incorporated into the system of European powers and not treated with the harshness that its aggression might have seemed to merit.  Not only does Hanson find the “Carthaginian peace” imposed on Germany lacking as a punishment, but he seems to think that humiliating and grinding the Germans under the boot even more would have stamped out German nationalism.  This is shockingly wrong.  What was the German response to the Napoleonic invasions and occupations?  It was in part the creation and cultivation of German nationalism.  Does anyone think, supposing it was actually possible to do (and the American public would never have tolerated prolonging the war to capture Berlin), that occupying Germany in the 1920s would have created a less bitter, less resentful, less nationalistic, less revanchist Germany?  Does anyone think that a liberal democratic constitution imposed by the Allied sword directly would have been more acceptable to German nationalists than the one adopted by Germans after the Armistice?  This would only have delayed the resumption of hostilities, but it would have ensured that the revenge meted out by the Germans on those who had occupied their country would have been even more severe.  This is a perfect example of the problem with Hanson’s whole view: whatever the problem, it could have been solved by the application of even more force.     

As a young fogey who supports the aspirations of whippersnapper bloggers (isn’t that a redundant description?) to trouble the more esteemed and well-known pundits, I point you to the blog of Matt Zeitlin:

I’m a high school student in Oakland, California. I have zero qualifications to write about anything of importance besides the fact that I have a computer, internet access and spend too much time reading. I am Mickey Kaus’ Worst Nightmare.  

In the way it is often used, whippersnapper carries the connotation of obstreperous youths showing no respect to their elders, and this is how Kaus has used it, but the word often actually refers to someone of no importance (at least in the eyes of the person labeling him a whippersnapper) presuming to have a certain importance.  It is in one sense a perfect word to use for all bloggers, who are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty insignificant and who also presume to hold forth on matters great and small, but it might just as well be applied to all columnists and pundits.  An important part of good blogging, it seems to me, involves reminding better-known pundits and columnists that they are not necessarily all that important and authoritative and that they have no monopoly on driving the debate.       

Right now, the internecine spats on the right are far deeper, nastier and stranger than anything on the left. Or maybe I’m looking at it from a skewed perspective. ~Andrew Sullivan

He is responding to Yglesias’ remarks on the unsurprising news that progressives are dominating in terms of online activism, organisation and activity.  Sullivan is missing the point here.  Yglesias isn’t particularly talking about people who have foreign policy disagreements.  He is talking about the demographic profile of the Democratic Party, which is, not surprisingly, rather more diverse than the GOP in most ways (don’t even get me started on Republican ideological diversity).  Despite the best efforts of the Mehlmans and Martinezes to make the GOP ”relevant” to constituencies that don’t care much for Republican policies, the GOP’s core demographic remains and presumably will remain for the foreseeable future middle-class, married white voters with families.  Progressives lack this relative uniformity of background and interests, and so would need to be mobilised around policy issues and common enemies.  To put it another way, the wine and cheesers in New England may not have much in common socially or culturally with workers in the Midwest, but they are all interested–for different reasons–in having the government do similar things and also have a common loathing for the way Republicans have run things.  That is partly why the “netroots” are so preoccupied with what Jonathan Chait called propagandising: mobilising the shared opposition to Bush, the GOP and the Iraq war is a key factor uniting virtually all Democrats, so the “netroots” are trying to emphasise these things that such disparate groups have in common.

Online organising and advocacy are innovations that progressives have largely started during the Bush years.  It makes sense: it is a technology that does consolidate scattered audiences and more or less continuously communicate messages to allies, and this would seem to be especially valuable for those who have mostly lacked a populist megaphone of their own and whose geographical centers of strength are scattered around the edges of the country.  It also provides an outlet for those progressives who live in Republican-dominated states and who otherwise have few practical means to shape the debate.  

As I have already mentioned, Poulos’ post is outstanding.  In addition to pointing out the virtues and significance of deliberative rhetoric and its function in channeling political and legal conflict into peaceful forms of disputation, James cuts right to, and through, the heart of one of the more dreadful rhetorical tropes of certain conservative pundits of an empire-friendly bent: the frequent pairing of the “Unionist” assault on the Confederacy with the war against the Axis, in particular the fight against Nazi Germany, as if they were comparable in any meaningful way.  The only real point of comparison is that both wars were waged by the United States government and both resulted in victories for that government–after that, they are not all that similar.  I will return to the first point later, but let me say something about this pairing first. 

There are some obvious problems with this from the start.  The “Unionist” war against the South was fought in contravention of the Constitution (though, quite naturally, it was fought “in the name of” the Constitution, as so many usurpations ever after have been justified) and represented the concentrated effort by an assembly of polities to invade and conquer another.  WWII, whatever one wants to argue about the policies leading up to it and the negative effects that it had on the country (and there were more than a few), was nonetheless a constitutional, declared war fought as a response to an attack on American territory.  The opponents fought by the United States government in the two wars were scarcely comparable in ideological and political terms.  Where one sought to withdraw peaceably from a political arrangement, inasmuch as this was permitted, the other sought to expand its territory by conquering, suppressing and dominating all the nations around it.  One represented a social and political order that was, if anything, attempting to retain some combination of aristocratic and agrarian republican structures out of a profound respect for past precedents and classical models (which is, ironically, one of the reasons why Hanson, a classicist, hates the Old South so much), while the other was a rude, modernising revolutionary force that idolised the future.  At the risk of some oversimplification, the progressive Yankee nationalist could only see in the Southron his antithesis, the embodiment of virtually everything he wanted (and tried) to purge from his country, while the progressive 20th century New Dealer confronted in fascism a hostile variant of his own progressive nationalist managerial statism.  Mass democratic nationalism coupled with the beginnings of a managerial state found itself warring against an ideology with which it had a little too much affinity for some people’s comfort.  As Kuehnelt-Leddihn said of democracy, fascism and communism more generally, the intensity of the hostility between these different systems was that of a family feud, not one of diametrically opposed extremes.  The similarities between these different centralised, managerial statisms may help explain why fascism elicits so much more powerful emotional negative reactions from everyone across the spectrum, as if to overcompensate for these similarities through extra denunciation.    

James quotes from Fred Thompson:

Hansen writes [that’s Victor Davis Hanson we’re talking about here, sic; get out your copyeditors, NR-JP], “The hundred years of talking about slavery was not as important as two days at Gettysburg. The success or failure of Normandy affected Hitler more in an hour than had years of pleading with him in the 1930s.” If for no other reason than that we want to avoid war whenever we can, universities should at least offer the option of studying it.

James credits these assessments as more or less correct (”nothing in this sequence is untrue or inaccurate”), but says also that they miss certain important distinctions that he describes thus:

One is that between Gettysburg and Normandy. Another is between Hanson’s hour of decisive bloodshed and Fred’s hoped-for ideal of eternally postponed bloodshed. And the third is between pleading and studying.

James notes many of the key differences between the wars being mentioned in the same breath.  However, I must very respectfully disagree with my learned associate on the accuracy of the Hanson remarks that Thompson quoted.  On a slightly pedantic level, I would note that Gettysburg was a battle of three days and it was the third, final day that rather made all the difference in making it into a decisive defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia rather than an inconclusive draw.  This might not be such a major objection, except that it was the decisiveness of the battle that lends it its special significance as a “turning point” in the history of the war and so gives it whatever greater importance as an event that it possesses.  It does not exactly help the cause of reviving military history studies to state inaccurately a key detail of one of the best-known battles in American history.  A little less pedantic is the objection to the apparent interpretation (very common for Americans to make) that Normandy was somehow on par with Gettysburg’s significance in the War of Secession by being the decisive turning point in WWII, when that honour really must, for better or worse, belong to Stalingrad.  A more substantive point is that, as a matter of history, the Battle of Gettysburg is not “more important” than the hundred years of debate that preceded it.  If you tried to take that attitude into an American history class today or at any time in the past as a student, you would not do very well.  With respect to the outcome of the war, the battle was an extremely significant event that brought about a sizeable change in the course of the war by ending the Confederacy’s attempts to take the war into the North and hastening ultimate Confederate defeat.  Battles can and do change the course of events in dramatic ways (see Gaugamela, Actium, Yarmuk), because wars are events of profound transformation and wars turn in no small part on the outcome of battles, but this does not make them “more important” than the decades of political argument and struggle that paved the way for the war to happen in the first place.  It is just this sort of talk that can give the study of histoire evenementielle a bad name. 

Some of its partisans rightly want to emphasise that events can be decisive and that history is contingent on events, and they then get entirely carried away by elevating these events into a category of greater significancee than the mundane, plodding periods of peace and the very real structures of institutions and the mentalities of nations.  It is as if some of these partisans cannot argue for the significance of war as a transformative force in history without implicitly (or, in this case, explicitly) devaluing everything outside of war.  Just behind this language of greater importance is the notion that it would have been better to “resolve” the conflicts that these wars “solved” earlier…by means of an earlier war.  Far from seeing war as a catastrophic failure and a great enemy of civilisation, those making this kind of argument see it as a sort of quick fix, a simple answer to very knotty questions.  It declares animosity towards brokered deals, compromises and all of the accommodations that must be made for political life to continue without violent interruption.  The opponents of this approach will quite often attribute to them a tendency to offer simplistic answers, because that is very often the kind of answer they are offering–not because they are fools, but because they really think the answer is that simple. 

The threads of life over the course of decades in all their complexity jumble into something very much like a Gordian Knot, and these folks seem rather too eager to cut right through with a sword.   Behind this is an impatience with deliberation, an intolerance for fussing about with argument and, well, a dislike for basically everything that we know of as politics.  One is reminded of Gladiator’s version of Commodus speaking to the hero: “You are a man who knows what it is to command.  You give your orders, the orders are obeyed, and the battle is won.  But these senators, they scheme and squabble, flatter, deceive.  Maximus, we must save Rome from the politicians.”  So, actually, I think there is quite a lot wrong with Hanson’s statement as quoted by Thompson. 

Thompson himself is right that universities should provide courses in military history, which would, of course, require more institutional support for hiring those with interests in military history.  Part of the reason why there is less interest and less support for those working in this area is that it is seen as being heavily focused on institutions (the military being the main one) and events, which are two kinds of historical research that are not exactly tickets to success and prominence in the discipline today.  They are not popular or fashionable because I think they are viewed as approaches that neglect too many things, unduly privilege discrete events and resemble a little too much the “one damn thing after another” school.  This may be an unfair judgement in certain ways, but because of this atmosphere that makes it that much more important that military historians adapt to at least some contemporary expectations in paying attention to social and cultural dimensions of warfare (and good military historians do exactly this).  We are caught in something of a vicious cycle, where relatively few are being trained to study these things because the study of them in the past has been seen to be lacking, which is hardly helped by proponents of reviving the study of military history making bold statements about the vastly greater importance of single decisive events.

James Poulos has a masterful post on the importance of rhetorical combat and puts the renewed calls for the study of military history into some perspective.  Any post that coherently ties together mentions of Henry Clay and The Untouchables has to win some sort of special award for creativity.

Since August 2006, Eunomia has increased by over 1,900 posts.  That’s an average of 250 posts per month since last August.  Since Eunomia began in December ‘04, it has averaged 120 posts per month.  Here’s to the next 3,500.

He’s a nationalist…he will stand on the side of the Chinese.  That’s why they call themselves Nationalists. ~Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber) in The Painted Veil


Ross points to a David Frum post that explains some of the reasons just how bad of a political death sentence that the new Senate immigration bill is for the GOP.  On one point, the scurrilous labeling of opponents of the bill as bigots, one member of the Senate GOP was already vindicating Frum’s prediction before he had made it.  It’s worth remembering that the administration used the same “if you don’t support this policy, you’re a racist” rhetoric in arguing for democratisation in Iraq.

Frum is right about some of the political consequences.  The impact of immigration on wages is real and hurts American workers, and the GOP just sided against those workers.  Rather than pursuing what some might call a “lower-middle” political strategy by defending the interests of American labour here, the GOP showed that its true loyalties always rest with employers.  This was a missed opportunity for a sane conservative populism and a gift to the Democrats.  It confirms that the GOP is competing for the mantle of Party of Immigration (but it will never win that particular competition), which will turn off millions of their voters, without actually winning over the voters they are trying to win over.  The slow-motion implosion of the GOP proceeds apace. 

It does expose the Terrible Trio as pro-amnesty or as latecomers to the issue, and it can only remind core Republican voters that the only reliable candidates on immigration with anything like long records are Hunter, Tancredo and Paul.  Whether or not this is “unhelpful” to the GOP depends a lot on whether you think the GOP has a remote chance of winning in 2008 (I don’t).  Damaging the “electable” candidates is only a bad thing if, well, you want one of those people elected President (I don’t).  If there is a pro-amnesty candidate nominated, many core voters will not be enthusiastic or mobilised behind him, based on the old “we want a choice, not an echo” logic, and any one of the “electable” ones will go down to ignominious defeat anyway.  Recent polls show that immigration is a priority for only about 7% of Republicans, but that’s a 7% the GOP needs to have energised and working for them.  Also, just because immigration does not take first place for a lot of people more concerned about the war doesn’t mean that it isn’t an important issue to them.  Just when you thought Mr. Bush couldn’t do any more damage to his party, he manages to come up with a body blow that could cripple it for the next few years.

He would face huge fundraising and organizational hurdles if he ran in the Republican primary, not to mention the fact that most Republican primary voters aren’t likely to warm up to Hagel given his opposition to the war in Iraq [bold mine-DL]. ~Chris Cillizza

Mr. Cillizza’s post helps explain the realist gap in the GOP field in a couple ways.  The first is political: realist critics have no popular constituency large enough to beat the opposition within the party.  The second is the imagined linkage of realist criticism of Bush to some purported opposition to the war.  The one does not necessarily entail the other.  Indeed, the one may have nothing to do with the other.  In treating opposition to the administration and opposition to the war as one and the same, GOP leaders and activists have helped to push more Republicans away from the party’s position on the war, because they are desperate to separate themselves from Bush even more than they are desperate to separate themselves from the war.  Supporting the war can be defended with all of the usual appeals to being patriotic and pro-military (even though this war is bad for the military and the country), so what nervous Republicans have wanted more than anything is to find a way to support the war without endorsing Mr. Bush’s leadership.  This is tricky and perhaps impossible to manage, but what many people take as Hagel’s opposition to the war is, in fact, his opposition to the administration’s handling of it.  The failure to discern between the two has led a lot of people to make mere administration foes into war opponents, which has in turn mislead others into thinking that Republican disenchantment with Mr. Bush means that there is a rebellion against war policy in the offing.  Of course, the rebellion never materialises, because these members typically come from districts where support for the war runs above even the GOP average.

There are no ”internationally-minded realists,” as Ross described them, in the GOP presidential field, because the “internationally-minded realist” critique of Bush’s foreign policy does not hinge on strict opposition to the Iraq war.  Indeed, it is possible for the “internationally-minded realist” Baker-Hamilton consensus to recommend something very much like the “surge” in concert with diplomatic initiatives.  If realism acquired a bad name in neocon circles because it prized “stability” before the war, it is acquiring a bad name in antiwar circles because it prizes “stabilising” Iraq before attending to American interests (assuming as it does that trying to “stabilise” Iraq is in our interest). 

The Republican realist critique usually seems based in objections to the flaws in the generally aggressive neoconservative interventionist posture and associated hostility to international institutions that goes with that posture.  Relatively few establishment realists actually object to many of the goals that neoconservatives have in the Near East with respect to the major questions of stabilising Iraq and containing Iran and preventing Iranian proliferation.  It seems to me that most Republican realists would prefer attempting to reach those goals through greater use of diplomatic exchanges and international institutions and so on, but I think most Republican realists are committed to keeping the “Game” in the Near East, described so well by Prof. Bacevich, going for as long as they can.  They cannot offer a fundamentally or even significantly different alternative because they are deeply invested in most of the same projects that the neoconservatives want to pursue.  In the current atmosphere, realists find themselves offering what Jim Pikerton described Hagel as supporting: “hegemony lite,” whose slogan might be: ”Great diplomacy, less militaristic.”  Such a view becomes background noise–why settle for the watered-down version, when you can have the full-strength foolish foreign policy?  

In short, anti-Bush realists suffer from the same problem from which skeptical realists and liberals suffered before the invasion: they accept almost all of the assumptions and goals of the more activist, aggressive party, but want to go about pursuing the goals in a different way.  This is the “yeah, but” foreign policy approach, and it always loses debates, because it has already conceded the moral and strategic high ground to the activists.  Antiwar arguments lost because they so often started by conceding, “Saddam Hussein is a threat” or “Hussein is evil, but…,” when it should have been strongly denied that he was a threat and declared to be immaterial whether or not he was evil.  Realist critiques fail to gain purchase today because they begin, “Of course, we can’t just leave Iraq…” or “Of course Iran is a huge, enormous, gigantic threat that I am really afraid of…”  If realists would stop conceding these points, they might get somewhere.  But they concede these points because they basically agree with the view that says Iran poses a dire threat to the United States.   

Hagel’s political predicament is related to the woes of the realists.  If observers across the spectrum are persuaded, or tricked, into thinking that Chuck Hagel actually opposes the Iraq war (rather than quibbling about how it is being fought and actively denying that he wants to withdraw), Hagel is still unable to gain traction as a realist critic of Bushian foreign policy because the GOP overwhelmingly still supports the war (as does Chuck Hagel in almost every respect) while war opponents think that a serious critique of Bushian foreign policy has to begin with opposition to the war.  Since he does not oppose the war, but everyone seems to think that he does, he wins over no constituencies on either right or left.  For Republicans, he is weak and “defeatist,” while as far as attentive antiwar observers are concerned he cannot be taken seriously.  He does not really speak for the disenchanted realists on the right, because his only enunciated difference with Bush’s foreign policy is the management of the war and the implementation of the new “surge” plan, and these are things that many of the disenchanted realists have been willing to support for the time being.  Meanwhile, other Republican realists do not launch into a full-scale critique of Bush’s foreign policy, because they still support the war and they realise that any coherent critique of Bush would have to involve taking a distinctive position on Iraq.

Peggy Noonan wrote in her column (which was actually all about Fred Thompson):

While the other candidates bang away earnestly in a frozen format, Thompson continues to sneak up from the creek and steal their underwear–boxers, briefs and temple garments.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the best joke ever told, but it wasn’t terrible.  Hugh Hewitt, pretending that he cares about religious prejudice because he has a pro-Romney book to sell, retorts in faux outrage:

If an orthodox Jew was in the running, would Peggy have added “yarmulke?” Or if a devout Catholic, a mention of a rosary or a scapula? I doubt it.  There are acceptable bigotries and unacceptable bigotries.  Anti-Mormon drive-bys that are good for a laugh play well in some circles –the same circles that used to indulge Catholic and Irish jokes.

Where on the body exactly does Hewitt think yarmulkes are worn?  And it plays well in those sinister Irish joke circles!  Not that!  Yes, I understand that Mormons take these garments very seriously and invest them with real religious significance, which is their business, but if Mormons or their would-be defenders (who are typically much more sensitive about these things than actual Mormons, because they are working overtime to show how enlightened and inclusive they are) want Mormonism to become better known and more widely accepted in American society they could all really do without the humourless whining of Hugh Hewitt.  The main problem that Romney has with his Mormonism, outside of the dedicated anti-Mormons who will never vote for a Mormon, is that he simply refuses to talk about it in any detail.  By trying to overcome prejudice or aversion to what some people see as a ”cult,” he treats it as a very secretive, almost embarrassing subject–in other words, he acts as if he belongs to a cult, and not in a good way.  Instead of seeing Noonan’s column as part of a process of normalising and “mainstreaming” Mormonism as an everyday part of American life, making it into something that pundits can poke fun at the same as any other American religion, Hewitt naturally assumes the worst.  Perhaps this is because he knows that among many conservative voters Romney’s Mormonism is a deal-breaker, so he overreacts to any instance of potential anti-Mormon sentiment in the conservative press because he already knows how dire the situation is for his chosen candidate.   

Marty Peretz seems equally enamoured of two articles that flatly contradict one another.  Naturally, he has nothing to say about the merits of either argument, except to say that the dispute is “fascinating.”  This has the sound of the cheerful co-ed in a philosophy class who opines, “I think that everyone can have his or her own opinion and everyone is, like, totally right.”  Earlier, Peretz thought Lewis was absolutely right and obviously so:

This is the history of Western responses even to terrorism, especially to terrorism. We know the consequences.

According to Peretz, Lewis had penned a “cool analysis” and Lewis had forgotten more than his critics will ever know.  Well, his critics seem to include Efraim Karsh, who may not know as much as Lewis forgets, but he seems to know all of the things that Lewis has already forgotten. 

I suppose it is fascinating how Bernard Lewis can be shown in devastating fashion to be completely wrong about the modern history of the region about which he claims expertise.  Despite this, he will still be taken seriously by historically ignorant conservatives (and Marty Peretz) in this country as someone with almost oracular authority on things related to Near East policy.  Bernard Lewis takes a Munich-centric view that American problems in the Near and Middle East are the result of weakness, conciliatory gestures and appeasement (not like those tough Soviets), while Efraim Karsh (writing in the Sun, no less) completely repudiates virtually everything Lewis said, but still manages to make the conflict with jihadis into an unavoidable, epic struggle that apparently had nothing to do with U.S. policies.  Pick your interventionist poison.

Other takes on the Lewis piece are here and here.

What I should have said is that Friedman holds a special place in my development.  I took a class from him at college on ‘globalization’, and read most of his books.  In 2002, he and Ken Pollack were the two people that I relied on for guidance with regards to Iraq.  I trusted him.  I believed in him.  And he got it one hundred percent wrong.  And while honest people tend to admit their mistakes, and when the mistake is particularly soaked in blood, do a lot of soul-searching and apologizing, he never has.  My mistake in looking at the Iraq war still pains me, and though I was a 24 year old kid with no experience in foreign policy or politics, my gullibility and the betrayal from my former guides still colors my thinking.  For someone like Friedman, who should know better and occupies the most valuable opinion space in the world, it’s stunningly immoral to pretend to having no responsibility in this quagmire.  All of us are responsible, and the first step is to admit error.  Maybe if I said this he finally would have understood where we come from, though I doubt it.  But I didn’t say it. ~Matt Stoller

Mr. Stoller may now understand that the short path to making errors in foreign policy judgements is to listen to foreign policy establishment wonks and newspaper columnists, but I should have thought that would be rather more obvious to someone on the left than to others.  But I suppose I can sympathise a little.  When I was 11 and 12, I saw how excited everyone was to go to war with Iraq the first time, I heard all of the rationales (the only convincing for me one was false: oil prices could go through the roof if we don’t act!) and I took my cues from the adults, most of whom seemed to be certain that getting in the middle of an Arab war was the smart and necessary thing to do.  Most of Congress agreed with the President, and the country was overwhelmingly in favour (as Americans have tended to be about post-Vietnam conflicts at the beginning).  Over the years, I discovered that all of the people I had come to respect and listen to since then, such as the editors at Chronicles, Russell Kirk and the like, had actually been opposed to the first Gulf War, since it in no significant way served American interests.  About this they were completely right, but, of course, this was a war that was not really being fought under the pretense of defending the interests of the United States.  (The Saudis had a fairly huge army of their own, some of the best military hardware oil money could buy, plus any number of Afghanistan-hardened mujahideen, so the idea that they “needed” American help in the event of an Iraqi invasion was, on reflection, ridiculous.)  In the event, I supported the Gulf War, albeit not in any public or recorded way (I was 12), and I have been sorry for that for a long time.  In subsequent years, as the illegal no-fly zones were set up, the sanctions kicked in, and “we” launched a few cruise missile strikes on Baghdad now and again, it began to dawn on me that getting into that conflict in the first place probably wasn’t very smart.  Remaining there indefinitely, trying to starve out the Iraqis for having the audacity to be oppressed, seemed unsustainable, immoral and stupid, and after thinking about it for about five minutes it occurred to me that invading Iraq would be even more foolish, so it seemed that the only sensible thing to do would have been to leave.  Of course, the government went ahead and did the more foolish thing.

Interventionists have sometimes latched on to the very Bin Laden statements that Ron Paul referred to in the debate as proof that the Iraq status quo was unsustainable.  According to these people, this was why we had to invade!  They were right that the status quo was unsustainable, but the answer wasn’t invasion. 

Despite the views of someone like Gen. Zinni, who believed that containment was “working,” containment “worked” only if Americans were willing to keep cutting Iraq off from the outside world and bombing it on occasion.  Given the alternative of invasion, containment would have been much better, but it was absolutely true that the presence we had and the policies we were enforcing in the region were contributing factors in motivating terrorist attacks against U.S. targets.  Iraq war hawks did not usually make these arguments publicly (it was so much more fun to deceive the public about other reasons to go to war), but this was Wolfowitz’s view and it is recorded in Ricks’ book Fiasco (something else about which Rudy Giuliani probably has never heard and knows nothing).  Besides, it wouldn’t do to basically say, “We’re starting this war so that we will be able to eliminate the causes of Al Qaeda’s complaints.”  Never mind that attacking and occupying a Muslim country ranks rather high on the old jihadi-aggravator scale.  Looked at this way, we can see that the administration not only “gave in” to Al Qaeda’s demands (at least inasmuch as leaving Saudi Arabia, ending the no-fly zones and stopping the sanctions were all concessions to Bin Laden’s laundry list of complaints), but then gave them something else to use as a rallying cry. 

Far from demonstrating resolve to show that terrorism “doesn’t work,” the administration practically gave up on the same policies that non-interventionists were calling for Washington to give up on before 9/11 and engaged in a new policy that was sure to magnify the very jihadi threat that the other “concessions” might have weakened.  To the extent that these “concessions” “showed weakness”–that perennial hegemonist fear–the administration clearly “showed weakness,” even desperation, in its haste to relocate the forces then in Saudi Arabia to Iraq.  The administration admitted in practice that the Ron Pauls of the world were right all along about the dangers of the policies we had been pursuing during the 1990s, and then proceeded to compound their past errors by embarking on our equivalent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  If even the administration could acknowledge the dangerous and counterproductive nature of deployments and policies that contributed to 9/11, why was the solution one of actually invading–quite illegally–another Muslim country? 

President Bakiev was in no position to disagree. Kazakhstan, whose income per person of $3,800 is eight times Kyrgyzstan’s, is the country’s largest foreign investor. Many successful Kazakh entrepreneurs already think of Kyrgyzstan as pretty much a province of Kazakhstan, anyway. ~The Economist

Here is an interesting example of what is effectively a personal dictatorship flush with oil money functioning as a mostly benevolent actor in the troubled, impoverished pseudo-democracy of the region.  That income figure means that the average Kyrgyz earns about $470 per year–might there be other priorities for Kyrgyzstan besides pointless tribal conflict dressed up as respectable democratic change?

Incidentally, this would probably have something to do with the numbers that show “unfree” states growing at a faster rate than “free” ones, since Kyrgyzstan would have to have been absurdly designated “more free” than Kazakhstan on account of its fake, Washington-approved revolution.  When developed, slow-growing countries get lumped in with massively impoverished, very low-growth countries, the authoritarian oil states in developing countries are going to look pretty good.

Which is all fine and dandy—except that last year a group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, came to exactly the opposite conclusion. Their study found that insecure and fearful children were more likely to grow up into conservatives, and that confident kids were more likely to become liberal. Clearly, as scientists are so fond of saying, more research is needed. ~The Economist

Via Isaac Chotiner

Besides, the new UNM study proposes that it found conservatives at UNM, which anyone from Albuquerque would find automatically suspicious.

On a more serious note, the opposing UNM results make more intuitive sense to me, since I grew up with both parents in a stable, pretty low-stress environment and some might say that I have become a bit conservative.  It makes intuitive sense in another way, which is that children who grow up in stable families are likely to think that those family structures are normal and the behaviours associated with maintaining them normative.  It seems to me they are more likely to acknowledge and respect parental authority than kids raised in more chaotic or difficult surroundings.  Indeed, their entire attitude towards authority would probably be different, and this could incline them towards the traditions their parents were handing down to them. 

On the other hand, growing up I knew a whole lot of kids from fairly well-off families, who grew up with both parents and had few worries in life.  They followed their parents’ example and the general cues from their teachers in high school to become nice conventional left-liberals, as it seems to me quite a lot of people in my generation in Albuquerque did to one degree or another.  In my case, it probably helped that there were shelves full of books by Russell Kirk, Mel Bradford and Kuenhelt-Leddihn and I heard my dad talking about Voegelin’s opposition to “immanentizing the eschaton” (true story) when I was in middle school.  So my childhood was not, you might say, exactly typical of the average New Mexican.

If you are treading close to “the edge of the abyss” and you then “turn a corner,” doesn’t that mean that you are just as likely to turn towards the abyss as you are to turn away from it?

But the man has a fundamentally different view of what the United States government should and should not do [bold mine-DL]. I imagine that, had Paul been in the Senate when Jefferson presented the Louisiana Purchase to it, he would have heartily declared, “Nay! Where in our Constitution does it grant the federal government the authority to purchase land?” ~Jay Cost

Um, okay.  Paul believes that the government should be limited to its enumerated powers, which must mean that the GOP wants unlimited powers for the federal government.  Those would be two fundamentally different views. 

If Paul had been around in 1803, he presumably would have said that about the Purchase, because that is the correct view of the matter.  Several Federalists, including my distant cousin William Plumer of New Hampshire, actively opposed the Purchase and tried to organise the secession of New England to separate their states from the Union.  To them it was not only illegal, but it was also aimed to pave the way for the expansion of slavery (which, as it happens, did end up expanding into at least some part of the Louisiana Territory).  They were right on the constitutional question, and Jefferson was wrong (and a traitor to his own best principles).   

This is supposed to discredit Ron Paul and make the GOP look good?  This sort of talk will remind the few remaining constitutionalists in the party that the Red Republicans secured their hold on power by gutting the constitutional republic, spitting on the Constitution and destroying the voluntary Union of states.  Mr. Cost is basically saying that the GOP has no place for people who actually believe in strict construction or the limits that the Constitution placed on government.  He might as well say, “Libertarians and constitutionalists, ‘raus!”  That’s fine by me, Mr. Cost.  I have never entered the big circus tent of the GOP, and with attitudes like those of Mr. Cost I certainly never will. 

Cost is saying that modern Republicanism and constitutionalism are basically mutually exclusive.  I suppose he’s obviously right, given what I’ve seen over the last six years, but I’m not clear on why a Republican would want to advertise to his fellows that their party is a gigantic, shambolic fraud against its conservative supporters (a few of whom still operate on the assumption that judicial activism is bad because it’s unconstitutional, and not just because they don’t like point-headed judges).  I’m not sure why a Republican would want to declare, in no uncertain terms, that the past Republican defenses of constitutionalism and the Tenth Amendment and the rhetoric of limited government and judicial restraint are essentially worthless–they belong to a “fundamentally different view of what the United States government should and should not do” from that of today’s Republican Party.  It doesn’t make any sense, but I appreciate Mr. Cost’s work in clearing up any confusion that constitutionalists might have had about whether they should support the GOP.

There is absolutely no question at all that in the South Carolina debate this week, Paul said that America invited 9/11. ~John Tabin

Actually, there is quite a lot of questioning of this very wrong assessment of Rep. Paul’s words.  Most people not already apparently predisposed to loathe non-interventionist arguments don’t think Paul was saying this, nor do they think he was “blaming America.”  To blame America would be to blame the American people or the country as a whole or even the government, and it would involve accusing one or all of these of being culpable for 9/11.  Strictly speaking, virtually no one in America does this, and certainly no conservative or libertarian non-interventionists do this.     

Note that the whole language of “inviting” was Goler’s.  Paul ignored the drift of the tendentious, leading question and tried to provide a substantive answer about the negative consequences of policy instead.  Paul advocated understanding; he wasn’t using the language of blaming and excusing.  In any case, that is typically the language of the left.  If I could have told him what to say, I would have told him that he should have said, “No, of course America didn’t invite 9/11–what a stupid thing to ask!  I’m here to talk about substantive policy issues and our broken foreign policy, and all you can do is waste our time with pathetic rhetorical games.  No wonder the media failed us in the months prior to the invasion–you’re not even asking the right questions!”  But Dr. Paul is more longsuffering and generous than I am.  

Mr. Tabin refers to Paul’s position as one of “radical pacifism,” which is utterly false and, I’m sorry to say, all together too typical of critics of non-interventionists.  If someone doesn’t support unconstitutional wars of aggression, he can only take this view out of a rejection of all war!  As do all conservative and libertarian non-interventionists, Ron Paul acknowledges the right of self-defense and believes that wars can be fought for self-defense.  He thinks American wars ought to be declared, as the Constitution requires.  If this is “radical pacifism,” you can count me in. 

Mr. Tabin’s article is titled, “Will Libertarianism Survive Ron Paul?”  Mr. Tabin may not have chosen this title, so the question may not be his, but about this title let me just say that if libertarianism survived because libertarians went around denouncing Ron Paul it wouldn’t be worth very much. 

Is he anything beyond a standard Republican conservative? Will he have anything beyond a Mideast policy that consists of win in Iraq, support the surge, and oppose any timetable? Does he stand for any strategic thinking apart from what John McCain unconsciously but aptly characterized as “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran”? On domestic issues, can Mr. Thompson go beyond standard conservative thought? I happen to be standard conservative myself [sic], but sometimes old things need to be made new, the obvious needs to be made fresh. ~Peggy Noonan

Well, his views on these things aren’t exactly secrets.  He has been giving interviews in which he states very bluntly what he thinks about all sorts of things, and he has been either writing articles for National Review or giving speeches that National Review has turned into articles on a regular basis for several months.  The things we seem to know about him are that he supports the war and the surge and wants no timetables, he seems intent on pushing for conflict with Iran (it seems likely that he would go along with McCain’s little ditty) and thinks that Scooter Libby got a really raw deal.  He’s for the 2nd Amendment, he’s pro-life and he likes Sarkozy.  Oh, and he allegedly drives a red pickup truck.  That about sums it up.  Who’s excited?

A bit late to the D’Souza-bashing party, Cathy Young reviews The Enemy at Home and concludes (as everyone already had four months ago) that…Andrew Sullivan is wrong about people on the right in general and the reaction to D’Souza’s book in particular.  In the course of a review that ends with the (terribly surprising) conclusion that a contributor to Reason supports freedom, she gets really carried away and says something strikingly similar to what Kevin Drum had said about a remark by Glenn Beck, which had echoed part of D’Souza’s thesis:

In effect, D’Souza, Colson, Buchanan and company agree with the familiar sentiment that the terrorists “hate us for our freedoms.”

It is a strange article indeed that can use the phrase, “D’Souza, Colson, Buchanan and company” without a powerful sense of irony.  It would be like a conservative saying, “Lindsey, Sager, Rockwell and company,” as if these people were really all part of the same group of “libertarians” who were arguing for a common position.  As I argued at some length back in February, saying that Muslims “hate us for our freedoms” is almost completely the opposite of saying that they object to Western cultural decadence.  Everything hinges on the implications of the two different statements: one implies that we are virtuous and innocent and have been inexplicably wronged because we carry the torch of liberty, while the other says that we are a sinful, wretched lot who have been chastised by the secular equivalent of God sending the Assyrians against us.  The former assumes that there is nothing wrong with us at all, their response is wholly without cause and irrational (or is essential to who they are and therefore unchangeable and also not worth trying to understand in any depth) and “they” react violently against “us” because “we” are the embodiment of more or less pure secular good and “they” are the embodiment of pure secular evil.  The latter view assumes not only that “we” are capable of error and corruption, but that this moral corruption has additional consequences beyond social disorder, family disruption and degeneracy at home.  With these two responses you can begin to discern the difference between nationalists and conservatives.  According to the latter view, one of the other consequences to cultural decadence is the outraged reaction of traditional societies subjected to the fruits of that decadence by way of globalisation.  There is some validity to this line of argument, but it hardly explains everything (and D’Souza is the only one who is trying to use it to explain everything vis-a-vis the Islamic world). 

As I said before, where D’Souza goes badly wrong–because he is desperately covering up for interventionist foreign policy–is to pin the blame entirely on the export of cultural liberalism, rather than seeing this as an aggravating factor that simply intensifies the hostility generated by other things, such as U.S. foreign policy, and he then gets even more ridiculous when he proposes the solution that we team up with “traditional Muslims” for ecumenical jihad against the godless pagans and the supposedly distinct “radical Muslims.”  This issue becomes timely, since we are once again debating the absurd charge of “blaming America” that has been aimed at Ron Paul, because he insists on recognising that bad, provocative policies have bad (albeit unintended) consequences.  Giuliani’s response to Ron Paul is very similar to the general response to D’Souza in the common thread of Republicans’ objecting to “blaming America,” but notably D’Souza has continued to enjoy the support and benefit of the doubt of many conservatives, even those who think he is deeply mistaken.  D’Souza enjoys this relatively better treatment because he does not pin 9/11 in any way on U.S. foreign policy, which means that the Republicans who have contributed to the errors of this foreign policy are off the hook.  D’Souza “blames America first,” but the America he blames is that of the coastal megalopoleis, “Blue” America, which is a relatively more acceptable target for the conservatives who are trashing his book.  Of course, GOP orthodoxy is that you should never “blame America” in any way, by which they mean you should never engage in criticial thinking or criticism with respect to anything to do with the U.S. government or American culture in relation to the rest of the world, so that it is still in poor taste to trace 9/11’s causes back to cultural liberals (even though all of the D’Souza critics would otherwise be happy to trash these people all day long as traitors and the like).  At other times, it may be acceptable to bash cultural liberals in the most vehement ways, but that is something that “we” keep in the family.  The idea seems to me: don’t argue in front of the Muslims, but maintain a front of unity and solidarity to the outside world.

Again, this is a good thing, not only for the healing of the Church but also of Russia. Whatever is in Putin’s heart, he’s allowing this to happen, and that can’t be taken away from him. Although the whiff of Caesaropapism stings my Western nostrils. It struck me as telling that Alexy praised Putin’s essential quality, the thing that won over the ROCOR holdouts, as devotion to Russia, not to Christ. ~Rod Dreher

I would take issue with two points in Rod’s otherwise good post on the reconciliation with Moscow.  First, he refers to it as ROCOR’s schism with Moscow, as if the Russian Orthodox in exile had chosen to break away from Moscow out of some sort of pique rather than principled resistance to collusion with an anti-Christian regime.  On the contrary, the Church Abroad had gone out of communion with Moscow because the Patriarchate had begun colluding with what was remembered in Synodal service books until the early ’90s as “the godless authority.”  It was a question of conscientious refusal to participate in that error, an error that fortunately was brought to an end with the collapse of that authority.  It is now in the past, slava Christe Bozhe, but it is important to remember that the Russian Orthodox outside Russia were doing the only thing that they could have done when the Soviets were in power.  There is, incidentally, something slightly inconsistent in hitting ROCOR for schism while at the same time complaining about “Caesaropapism” because of Putin’s involvement in helping to facilitate the reconciliation.

The other thing I would say is that Caesaropapism is not evident here.  This is mainly because Caesaropapism does not exist, at least not in the Orthodox world.  What people think of when they hear that term is the emperor or sovereign governing the church as if he were in a position of authority akin to that of the Pope.  Hence the name.  Caesaropapism in that form found its first real expressions in…England under Henry VIII and various Lutheran and other Protestant states in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  When Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece after independence, the relations between the sovereign and the Church of Greece were organised along the traditions inherited from the post-Augsburg German context (cuius regio, eius religio) rather than anything resembling either the idealised Byzantine symphoneia or the more basic, mundane distinction of secular and religious authorities that prevailed in Byzantium and again in Muscovy.  This German and Protestant Caesaropapism served as the model for the Petrine reforms, including ther introduction of Caesaropapism into Russia along with advance of Western-style absolutism.  Obviously, the subjection of the Church to the Soviet state was a more extreme example of this relationship, which outsiders have routinely and wrongly assumed to be the norm of church-state relations in Orthodox countries.   If there was or still is any Caesaropapist tendency in Russia, it came there by way of Westernising and modernising reforms that aimed to exalt the state and diminish any institutions that might pose a challenge to the centrality of the state. 

I generally try to offer some perspective on why Putin does what he does and why he is not quite the villain the Western media make him out to be (which is not to say that he is a particularly good or just President), and I certainly don’t and wouldn’t dispute Putin’s profession of Orthodoxy, but he has been a major booster of reconciliation at least partly as a way to encourage Diasporan Russians, including second and third generation Diasporans, to either come home to help or to do more to reinvest in Russia.  It is not so much a question of Putin “allowing” this–since he does not actually control the Church–as it is a question of Patriarch Alexei permitting him to receive some of the credit for the fruits of what have been the labours of Orthodox bishops from Russia and throughout the Diaspora.  The disunity among Russian Orthodox presented some practical obstacles to rallying ethnic Russians around the world to support Russia more than they have done.  There is also some small truth to the charge that some Diasporans have wanted the reconciliation for both nationalist and patriotic reasons: they wish all Russians to be (at least theoretically) joined together, and they also believe this will be good for Russia.  If these were the overwhelming or primary reasons for the reconciliation, that would be more of a problem, but I am of the opinion that these are contributing, mostly harmless factors that have added impetus to the fundamental drive to restore the unity of Russian Orthodox Christians.

Blogging has been light today, as we have a mostly interesting Caucasus conference going on here at Chicago and I am trying to get other things ready for the final weeks of the quarter.  The conference began yesterday, and most of the more relevant medieval and late antique talks were yesterday afternoon, so I have been learning a good deal about contemporary Georgian folk customs and Daghestani Islam, but I don’t have much to add to these discussions.  I am continually fascinated by the perpetuation of animal sacrifice in Caucasian Christian countries.  Obviously, animal sacrifice in the Islamic world continues as part of customary celebrations, but it remains intriguing that ancient Armenian matagh ceremonies and similar Georgian rites of sacrifice persist.  It has reached the point in Georgia that, according to one speaker today, the Georgian Orthodox Church has banned the practice at Alaverdi.     

So, moving swiftly from the sublime to the ridiculous, I give you (via RossE.J. Dionne:

It isn’t always easy to notice, but this year’s Republican presidential campaign has become the occasion for the collapse of conservative orthodoxy.   

I agree with Christopher Orr that it must be difficult to come up with fresh and interesting arguments for columns twice a week on a regular basis, but surely that doesn’t excuse recycling the exact same “new insight” that Dionne had back in August 2006 and then acting as if that recycled ”insight” was something as yet unknown.  It’s true that the “is conservatism finished?” column and the “conservative orthodoxy is collapsing” column are not exactly the same, but they make the same argument: conservatism can be said to be falling apart because there are big policy arguments among Republicans, of which the “dissenting” views of presidential candidates are but the most prominent.  This is tempting, but it gets things a bit backwards.  What has happened is that conservatives have hollowed out conservatism and filled the empty shell with Republican policy priorities over the years; these priorities have changed as time has gone by, which has created various rival constituencies of the different policy sets who are now squabbling in the wake of the failures of this or that policy.  The reason why, as Orr notes, the only ”plausible” candidates the party can find are “former heretics” is very simply that the “orthodoxy” has shifted and narrowed to such a degree that at least some of the former heresies are apparently no longer the grounds for exclusion or marginalisation that they once were.   

The ”collapse” of “conservative orthodoxy” also assumes some general consensus and widely shared agreement about what that “orthodoxy” was in recent years and about what it is today, but such a consensus is something that has not existed among conservatives for years and years.  As different elements of the party coalition and the conservative movement have drifted away from each other over almost everything except foreign policy (we happy few antiwar conservatives being the exception to this last point), the fundamental, non-negotiable things have been reduced again and again for the sake of unity.  It may not be a perfect example, but Hewitt’s statements about the two things where deviation will not be forgiven by his kind of activists are telling for what they say about what “conservative orthodoxy” has become: the appointment of non-activist judges and support for the war are the two things where the Hewitts of the world will tolerate no deviation, no matter how small.  On anything else, they are willing to be flexible and interested in coalition-building.  (To this we might add tax cutting as a core litmus test that threatens to destroy Huckabee’s campaign and which has badly damaged McCain’s–but it is interesting that has not yet destroyed them.)  Giuliani falls within the approved sphere because he has made friendly remarks about John Roberts, while a Hagel or, even worse, Ron Paul is simply too far out there because they are not party-line men on the war.  Thus Hewitt tolerates the pro-abortion candidate, but demands exclusion for the antiwar candidate.  “Conservative orthodoxy” isn’t collapsing so much as it has mutated into something more in line with party priorities.  It is an “orthodoxy” of which people like Dean Barnett are the guardians, which makes it much more like a kakodoxy.  

If “conservative orthodoxy” was already rather muddled last summer (it was) and all the tendencies now on display in the presidential race were fully present (they were), the presidential race may merely confirm the irrelevance of the older, more extensive ”conservative orthodoxy” for policymaking while reminding us that all of the candidates feel obliged, most of the time, to pay lip service to most of the tenets of the much-rediced ”orthodoxy.”  Another problem with the Dionne piece seems to me to be that “conservative orthodoxy” is taken as a given and its content is supposedly well known to all, when the “torture plank,” if you will, is an entirely new introduction and product of the last five years.  Hey, who said the Republicans couldn’t adopt new positions for changing times?  They just happen to choose the very worst kinds of policies to make themselves adaptable.

James Kirchick defends illegal war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.  This is supposed to put non-interventionists on the defensive?

It’s hard to imagine that a President Giuliani, for instance, would have let Osama bin Laden slip away back in 2001, or let the Iraq war drag out for all these years, with our military so ill equipped. Giuliani is that rare political combination: moderate ideologically, but not mushy personally. He has the hard edge of an ideologue, but not the rigidity or extremism. ~Jim Pinkerton

Mr. Pinkerton does good work, and I enjoyed his takedown of Chuck Hagel that matched up with so many of my own objections, but this part of his article arguing that Giuliani is the GOP’s best hope didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I don’t know how you can be described as “moderate ideologically” when you endorse the killing of the unborn and the torture of detainees.  “Use every method you can think of” sounds like a line designed to provide plausible deniability for something you know is illegal and morally dubious, and that is Giuliani’s view of torture.  It seems to me that the “moderate” position relative to that would be to pick one or the other abomination to support, whereas the opposite “extreme” would be to oppose abortion and torture (apparently a difficult task for most of the candidates).  Also, if Giuliani is the mayor who put the city’s emergency response center inside the World Trade Center, known terrorist target that it was, the man who fired the successful NYPD Commissioner who had effectively brought about a reduction in crime for the sake of his own ambition and popularity, and the man who brought in Bernie Kerik to head the NYPD (when the man was a suspected associate of the mafia), do we really trust his decisionmaking skills and his choices of personnel when it comes to important security-related matters? 

It is also debatable whether having a President Giuliani in 2001 would have made any difference (except that it would have spared us a Mayor Giuliani being built into a cult hero).  It is not clear that it was up to the President to “let” anyone go, since it was the very nature of our deployment in Afghanistan (once again, Rummy’s “get in, get out, a man alone” approach to warfare saves the day!), which made us rely on Afghans to secure parts of the border on account of a lack of our own manpower, and the mistakes of Gen. Franks and Rumsfeld during the fighting at Tora Bora that allowed for Bin Laden’s escape.  The failures in 2001 come back to questions of the President’s judgement and personnel decisions.  Does Giuliani really have a very good record here on those things when they are most specifically tied to security?  The record seems spotty at best, which is why it is perplexing that conventional wisdom holds that this guy from Brooklyn, because he railroaded Michael Milken, persecuted the squeegee men squeegeefascists and insulted ferret-owners, among other things, has what it takes to head the executive branch of our government.   

It is even more unlikely that Giuliani would have proven to be somehow more realistic and sensible than Bush on Iraq.  What is Giuliani’s position on Iraq?  He thinks they should have sent more troops, and he supports the sending of more troops now.  He repeats classic War Party canards about “if we leave there, they’ll follow us here,” and he seems to be just as hopelessly committed to persisting in the Iraq war as any other leading Republican.  If he had been President for all this time, would the Iraq war still be dragging on?  The answer would seem to be yes, with the qualification that it might have had to be called off to prepare for the invasion of Iran.  The third leg in Giuliani’s “moderate” tripod would be support for interventionist wars.

Of course, if it is true that the GOP’s best hope is the goombah part-time transvestite, Republicans had better start drinking heavily–starting now.  By the time they wake up, it will already be 2015, just in time to get ready for the next open election (following the impeachment and removal of Vice President Richardson on corruption charges). 

The Russian Orthodox Church today formally ended an 80-year global schism triggered when exiles refused to accept the domestic church’s subservience to the Soviet state.

In a ceremony at Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 1990s after being torn down by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the top leaders of the domestic and overseas Russian Orthodox hierarchies signed an act of “canonical communion.”

The document provides for the full restoration of religious unity under the Moscow patriarchate while maintaining autonomy for the church abroad in organizational and economic matters. ~The Los Angeles Times

As many of you know, I am a convert to the Orthodox Church, and I was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  I remain at a Synod parish here in the Chicago area, and I intend to remain there.  The reconciliation between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church has now been formally realised and completed, and I believe this is very good.  I understand the reservations of some of our brethren about the potential pitfalls that this might entail, and I respect the Traditionalist Orthodox who rightly guard against the evils of ecumenism, but there was no longer any real impediment to the reconciliation with Moscow.  There was no longer anything that really justified the continuation of the Russian Church Abroad outside of communion with Moscow.  As of today, the Russian Orthodox around the world will be united, and, what is more, on account of his reconciliation all Russian Orthodox everywhere are in communion with all other main Orthodox jurisdictions.  I understand that this is a point of concern for those skeptical about the reconciliation with Moscow, but it seems to me in this case that the great good of restoring full unity among the Orthodox is worth risking those dangers that may lie ahead. 

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: “What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?” ~Bernard Lewis 

The other thing, though, is Russia has been deploying brutal measures against subjugated Muslim populations for at least two hundred years. The Czars fought Muslim guerillas [sic] in the Caucasus, the Soviets fought Muslim guerillas [sic]in the Caucasus, and Vladimir Putin has done the same thing. Relations between Russians and the Muslims who live to the south of the Russians is a big, long, giant example of Lewis-favored conservative policy prescriptions not working — the fighting just keeps going on and on and on and on. ~Matt Yglesias

Some may wondering why Bernard Lewis is bringing up this comparison, since I believe most people are agreed that the Soviet Union lost the Cold War and ceased to exist shortly thereafter, yes?  In other words, as the other “ideological nation” of Irving Kristol’s fantasies, Lewis seems to be proposing that the United States could also help hasten its demise by following the same sorts of policies that the Soviet Union followed vis-a-vis the Islamic world.  Contra Yglesias, these policies sometimes may temporarily “work” in the narrow sense of quelling immediate resistance (at tremendous moral, human, political and economic cost), but they usually require such brutal and heinous methods that civilised people–you know, the sort who regard communists as generally very bad types–would not employ.  The core assumption of the entire article seems to be that Lewis approves of the idea that the Soviets were tougher-minded than we are and that this is somehow meaningful for what we should do today.  Yet again, I would remind the esteemed court servant historian that the Soviets lost and their system collapsed from within, which means that the jihadi estimates of the actual strength of adversaries may be about as good as their ability to appreciate fine Buddhist art. 

Lewis certainly isn’t saying that any of the Soviet policies carried out during these decades were good or wise policies (though the entire article leads you to think that he almost has to be equating the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with our occupation of Iraq), but simply that Moscow had arranged it in such a way that it would not be criticised by Muslims and Arabs when it engaged in such policies.  In effect, it had intimidated or bought off these countries to such an extent that it remained entirely clueless just how stupid remaining in Afghanistan for all those years really was.  Perhaps if it were not for the Soviet method of smashing foreign critics in the mouth they might have learned a little more directly and bluntly the outrage their invasion had caused in the Islamic world.  So, it’s a good thing for us and the world that the Soviets were as foolish as the neocons now are, but this hardly sounds like a model that we would want to keep imitating. 

What would be on the Soviet check-list, so that we would know whether or not we were doing the “right,” tough things?  Occupy Central Asia!  Partially already done.  Invade Afghanistan!  Check.  They never got around to occupying Iraq, so we’re actually ahead of the game.  Let’s see, we haven’t deported entire nations to distant locations in the frozen tundra, but if we want to get tough and put a stop to all of this Muslim troublemaking we could start there.  Obviously, the reason why Russia is having problems with Chechnya today is that Moscow has lost its killer instinct.  Stalin would never have permitted this sort of thing to go on this long–after all, winning is everything, right? 

Yglesias is partly right about the Caucasus, though Soviet occupation of the Caucasus did not meet with the same kind of sustained Shamil-like resistance of the mid-19th century.  After WWII, any nationality suspected of having collaborated with the Germans or otherwise of dubious loyalty to the USSR met with mass deportation, which is what the Chechens suffered. 

The Soviet re-occupation of Central Asia after the civil war was relatively much more difficult and bloody for the Soviets, since the various Turkic peoples of the region had been stirred up to revolt as the empire began to collapse in WWI and were then encouraged in resistance to the Bolsheviks first by Enver Pasha (still living the Pan-Turanist dream at that time) and then transformed itself a general Islamic resistance movement against godless communism that outlived Enver.  Probably little known Soviet fact: Frunze, the former name of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, was the official who brought an end to the Basmachi.  No wonder the locals didn’t want to keep the name!

Back to the article.  Lewis’ fun with history continues, citing the response of certain Arab states to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan:

Even this anodyne resolution was too much for some of the Arab states. South Yemen voted no; Algeria and Syria abstained; Libya was absent; the nonvoting PLO observer to the Assembly even made a speech defending the Soviets.

It is hardly surprising that South Yemen, which defied the Cold War pattern that the communist part of a divided country would be in the northern half, sided with the Soviets.  Soviet support for the PLO is well known, so it is also not very interesting to note that the group the Soviets supported lent rhetorical aid to Soviet policy.  I would have to guess that Libyan, Algerian and Syrian actions could be explained in much the same way (for instance, Libya was ruled by an Arab nationalist revolutionary with obvious sympathies with the Soviets, and Syria was then, as now, governed by a socialist government friendly to Moscow).  This is not proof that heavy-handed Soviet tactics work better, but that international patronage wins and keeps clients.  We used to understand how that worked.

I’m not sure exactly why Lewis is rehashing this story, since we are all keenly aware that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (our two Muslim “allies”) were and have remained leading exporters of jihadis.  Soviet treatment of enemies abroad did not somehow cow the Pakistanis and Saudis into acquiescence or inaction, and the occupation of Afghanistan radicalised many Muslims from around the world and caused them to go fight the Soviets there.  Indeed, Lewis includes this in his article:

The Muslim willingness to submit to Soviet authority, though widespread, was not unanimous.

Never mind that many Islamic countries weren’t ”submitting to Soviet authority,” but failing to protest a war fought by their great power patron.  We might talk of “the Muslim willingness to submit to American authority” because many of the governments of allied Islamic countries have “failed” to actively work against the war in Iraq.  Lewis doesn’t even acknowledge the role of the Saudis or Pakistanis in any of this.  The mujahideen of the ’80s and the Taliban apparently just emerged from the soil of Afghanistan all on their own.

Take psychology professor Phyllis Chesler. She has been a tireless and eloquent champion of the rights of women for more than four decades. Unlike her tongue-tied colleagues in the academy, she does not hesitate to speak out against Muslim mistreatment of women. In a recent book, The Death of Feminism, she attributes the feminist establishment’s unwillingness to take on Islamic sexism to its support of “an isolationist and America-blaming position.” She faults it for “embracing an anti-Americanism that is toxic, heartless, mindless and suicidal.” The sisterhood has rewarded her with excommunication. A 2006 profile in the Village Voice reports that, among academic feminists, “Chesler arouses the vitriol reserved for traitors.” ~Christina Hoff Sommers, The Weekly Standard

I have already remarked on why it would be bizarre for conservatives to care about this “controversy” over American feminism’s alleged lack of concern for Muslim women (which, for what it’s worth, happens to be untrue), but I thought I would go back over the Sommers article to see if I had been too flippant in trying to find something wrong with a Weekly Standard piece.  Certainly, The Weekly Standard could not be confused with a robust defender of tradition or traditional gender roles or anything that might mislead their readers into thinking that they were reading a culturally conservative magazine.  So it might not be quite as bizarre for the Standard to run this piece as, say, a magazine that was actually socially and culturally conservative, but it was still a bit odd.  Even so, perhaps I had missed the real point of the article in having judged it a bizarre piece of commentary for an ostensibly conservative audience.  It should have occured to me that a significant part of the real point, as with most everything the Standard does, is to back up their bad foreign policy views.  

At first, this section of the article puzzled me, but it became clear soon enough why it had been included.  It might well be that Prof. Chesler speaks against Muslim mistreatment of women, and it is probably true that there are academic feminists who are “anti-American” (though in the last ten years or so I have seen that word used so indiscriminately that I scarcely know what it is supposed to mean anymore), but I had to confess that I didn’t understand how there was any conceivable connection between the two.  Then I focused on that line about the ”isolationist and America-blaming position” that these feminists are supposedly taking.  As we understand all too well in the wake of the Giuliani-Paul contretemps, the accusation of being “isolationist” and someone who “blames” America is intended as an insult, an accusation of disloyalty and a way to demean your interlocutor because he (or in this case, she) has taken a foreign policy position contrary to the globalist, hegemonist consensus.  The problem that Chesler and Sommers have with these feminists seems to be, actually, that they do not get on board for interventionist wars, because of their “isolationist and blame-America position.”  I cannot think of any other reason why someone would choose to use the word “isolationist” in the context of this discussion.  My guess would be that these people now shun her because they dislike the suggestion that they are somehow turning against their own country, and not necessarily because of anything related to the Islamic world at all.  Their shunning of her might therefore prove nothing at all about their own attitude towards “the subjection of Islamic women.”  

Yes, there are citations in the article of women saying stupid things about terrorism–but not really more or less stupid than Obama and Huckabee have said about violence and terrorism in the past few months.  I await the article, “Terrorism and the Fecklessness of Obama and Huckabee,” but I imagine I will be waiting for a while.  There are other citations in the article where women say exaggerated, Marcottesque things about similarities or equivalences between the treatment of women under Islamic fundamentalist control and treatment of women in the West (patriarchy is patriarchy is patriarchy, I guess), where their error is not so much failing to take seriously the oppression of women in Islamic countries as it is in equating or linking the plight of women in, say, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan with that of women living in America.  This may have the rhetorical effect of diminishing the significance of the plight of Muslim women in the eyes of people who are already not terribly inclined to listen to what feminist activists have to say in the first place, but it is rather different from saying generally that “American feminists” are feckless or are not working on behalf of Muslim women.  In any case, these equivalences and linkages typically do not involve showing hatred for America–they involve hatred for religious people.  It would be very difficult to say that Amanda Marcotte hates America, for instance, but she plainly does hate religious people, at least if they are in the least traditional or serious about their religion’s dictates with respect to sexual morality.  It is that hang-up that partly drives these feminists to say absurd things about universally identical patriarchy, since it is taken as a given that traditional religion is simply a weapon of patriarchy against women, and so on and so forth.

If Sommers’ piece were an article called “Outlandishly Exaggerated Things That Some Radical Feminists Say About America,” I don’t suppose many feminists would like it, but at least the article would actually demonstrate what it claims to be showing.  The best part of the article comes about three-fourths of the way through:

Hard-line feminists such as Seager, Pollitt, Ensler, the university gender theorists, and the NOW activists represent the views of only a tiny fraction of American women. Even among women who identify themselves as feminists (about 25 percent), they are at the radical extreme.

In other words, they are so unrepresentative that anything that Sommers can demonstrate about this “radical extreme” has almost no bearing on the majority of American feminists.  All of which makes the title, “The Subjection of Islamic Women and the Fecklessness of American Feminism,” seem fairly overblown and misleading.

It would appear that my initial, immediately negative reaction to Tommy Thompson’s candidacy has now become conventional wisdom six months later. 

The always tiresome Ryan Sager, fresh off of sticking knives into religious conservatives and encouraging the GOP to commit electoral suicide by alienating its key constituency, has decided to join the Smearbund against Ron Paul.  Gosh, a non-interventionist is accused of being a racist and anti-Semite.  This is about the only things that our opponents seem to be able to say (falsely) about us.  Don’t interventionists ever get tired of distorting and lying?   Apparently not. 

Ryan Sager is an odd sort of libertarian.  He doesn’t actually seem to support any real, live libertarians, and he doesn’t seem to support any actual reductions in the size or scope of government.  His latest here is an effort to join in the chorus trashing the only small-government libertarian candidate in the GOP field.  Why is he bothering?  Because said candidate enunciated a foreign policy of non-intervention and, by extension, non-aggression, which are the traditional libertarian positions.  I have suspected that his pro-”libertarian” arguments were really just cover for endorsing social liberalism and bashing Christians–which is all that most Republican libertarianism amounts to in practice anyway–since that is the cheap poseur libertarianism I have come to expect from pundits.  Thus he welcomes the candidacy of Giuliani, who has never been confused with a defender of civil liberties at any other time in his life, and Giuliani himself suddenly worries about keeping the government out of our private lives–but only when it comes to abortion.  How noble and idealistic. 

There is no love for Hagel in this Jim Antle article praising Ron Paul at Taki’s Top Drawer.

Some key Republican supporters of President Bush’s Iraq war policy said this week that if the Iraqi parliament calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, their position could change dramatically.

“I suspect we would respect their wishes,” said Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, the third-ranking Republican in the House.

I think that it would reflect a successful, healthy and well-running parliamentary organization [bold mine-DL] that was delivered to that nation by the sacrifices of our fighting men and women.” Putnam was responding to a bill a majority of Iraqi lawmakers signed on to earlier this month supporting a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. ~Politico

Perhaps Rep. Putnam has not characterised the Iraq war as the “central front in the war on terror,” but I still found these remarks a bit surreal.  According to the administration and the usual suspects in the pundit class, Iraq is vitally important to the “war on terror,” it is the “central front” (never mind that counterinsurgency doesn’t have linear fronts) and “if we leave there, they will follow us here,” etc.  All of that is, of course, bogus, but it is the party line.  Meanwhile, the Putnam position, if we can call it that, seems to be: “We’re just there to help the Iraqis, and we’ll leave when they ask.”  So far, the first group of Republicans has been basically on the same page with this second, almost certainly smaller group, since the first group assumes that the Iraqi parliament would not request our withdrawal unless and until Maliki supported that move, which would mean that Iraq was sufficiently stable and the Iraqi government was capable of providing for security.  It appears that there are now pro-war Republicans who can envision the Iraqi parliament  calling for our withdrawal in the near future, whether or not the country has been stabilised.  That would seem to suggest that there are at least some otherwise stalwart supporters of the war in the House minority caucus who don’t really buy the heavy-handed national security arguments for staying in Iraq and who think that we really are just there on a nation-building mission.  I wonder how many Republican voters would continue to support the war so unflaggingly if that was what they thought the mission was.

Then there is this item at the end, which makes the earlier surreal parts of the article seem grounded and normal:

New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, a Republican supporter of the war, said that such a move by the Iraqi parliament would be a reason for U.S. troops to leave. “That’s what the White House has been saying it wants. They stand up, we stand down,” he said.

Does Rep. Garrett even know what these talking points mean?  The “stand up, stand down, fight! fight! fight!” mantra doesn’t just refer to Iraqis casting votes on things or making public gestures that attempt to enforce their claims to sovereignty–it refers to Iraqi military units being trained and prepared to fight effectively, which seems to proceed at fairly excruciatingly slow pace.  What is being discussed here is an Iraqi parliament bill that calls for American withdrawal regardless of whether very many Iraqis have “stood up” or not.  Yet Rep. Garrett treats it as if it were all part of the official plan.

Incidentally, if war supporters think the Democrats are stabbing the troops in the back when they set a timetable for withdrawal, what would they think of Iraqi legislators setting a timetable or even calling for U.S. withdrawal outright?  If American legislators say, “Bring the troops home,” they are being disloyal and treacherous (in the pro-war view), but when Iraqi legislators say, “Take your troops away,” it is supposed to be perfectly fine and proof that Iraq can stand on its own? 

Each of those Arab countries has flaws and big ones, at that. But they are not Iran or Syria, or an Iraq conquered by either the Sunni Ba’ath or the Sunni Al Qaeda or an unstable combination of both [bold mine-DL]. ~Marty Peretz

I know there are all sorts of doom-laden scenarios for what might happen after a withdrawl from Iraq.  These are usually serious scenarios of increased sectarian warfare, or an Iranian invasion, or Kurdish separatism provoking a Turkish attack and so on.  In none of these scenarios is anyone so out of it as to suggest that the Ba’ath is going to “conquer” Iraq or that Al Qaeda will “conquer” it, either.  Absolutely nobody (except Marty Peretz) is suggesting that the two of them will be the winners of whatever bloodletting follows an American departure.  Where does stuff like this even come from?

First about the latter. George Bush was so pathologically partisan when he arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that he hardly had a moment for a Democrat or an independent liberal. Or a job. ~Marty Peretz

This is a statement about the President who appointed Norm Mineta–Norm Mineta!–Secretary of Transportation and invited Ted Kennedy to the White House to see Thirteen Days.  That was in the first month of his first term.  Back then, he still wanted to pretend that he was a “uniter.”  This might not matter, except that this is supposed to set up the stark contrast between Bush the newly-elected American President and Sarkozy the newly-elected French President, when there is actually no strong contrast with respect to appointing members of the other party as heads of government departments.

Nor are the Hugh Hewitts going after Paul because they’re “afraid” of him, as Andrew would have it; they’re going after him because he’s a poor spokesman for opposition to the Iraq War - sure, it’s intellectually consistent to oppose the 2003 invasion and the first Gulf War and the creation of NATO, but it’s not a plausible position for the contemporary GOP to take - and because they can use his tendency to stray into deep right field as a way to discredit any criticism of the Bush Administration.

The vacuum that Paul currently occupies is supposed to be filled by an internationally-minded realism. Indeed, it’s precisely the coexistence of realism and idealism in Republican foreign policy, the fruitful tension between the two strains of thought, that has long made the GOP the party to be trusted in international relations - because the idealists elevate the realists, and the realists keep the idealists grounded. When the pendulum swings too far in one direction or another, this tension has usually produced a correction, of the kind that, say, the original neocons and then Reagan provided to the cynical machtpolitik of Kissinger. But there’s no sign of a realist corrective in the current GOP field: There were ten  [sic] candidates on that stage besides Ron Paul yesterday night, and not one of them was willing to call the Iraq War a mistake, which seems to me like the place that a serious realist critique of his Presidency’s foreign policy needs to begin. ~Ross Douthat

As much as I don’t want to admit it in this particular case, Ross makes some good points here.  (However, I obviously think “hard isolation” is the serious and genuinely realist alternative, or else I wouldn’t advocate for some form of it.)  It isn’t plausible for the GOP to declare retroactive opposition to the founding of NATO.  I propose a compromise solution (one of the few times you will see me doing this): if the GOP adopts as part of its platform a call for the dissolution of NATO today, I think we non-interventionists can all see our way to agreeing (for the sake of progress) that creating NATO was a good, temporary answer to the problems of the time.  What do you say?

Okay, on a slightly more serious note, Ross really does make some good points.  Ross is right that Hewitt isn’t afraid of Ron Paul when he attacks him–Hewitt continues to pursue his mad plan to turn the GOP into a fifteen (or less)-state party as soon as possible by weeding out all of the traitors who think for themselves and question bad policies.  Ross is definitely right that Chuck Hagel appears to be a “self-promoting buffoon.”  Ross is also right that there should be foreign policy realists out there somewhere willing to make the case for opposition to the Iraq war or at least to make a sharper critique of the assumptions behind the invasion (rather than the usual nitpicking about implementation).  Unfortunately, most Republican realists who are already not running for President cannot manage to make this argument, so how much less likely is it that someone trying to satisfy a party base of die-hard war supporters in a primary election would offer a robust critique, even if he were in the race?

If the space filled by Paul should be filled by an internationally-minded realism, then why isn’t it being filled?  Because it is not at all clear that most of the internationally-minded realists in the GOP actually believe, for example, that the Iraq war was a mistake.  If they do believe this, there is little evidence that most realists think the answer is to withdraw from Iraq in some fashion sooner rather than later.  If acknowledging that the Iraq war was a mistake is the starting point for a realist turn away from Bushist foreign policy, realists who actually say this seem to be thin on the ground.  Perhaps I am missing some of them.  They do exist, but they are not very numerous nor are they usually very prominent, and those who tend to be prominent are prominent because they are reliable CFR types who never say anything too wildly interesting or creative.

If 40% of the public doesn’t think it was a mistake, and you can bet almost all of these are Republican voters, what are the odds that many Republican realists think that the war was a mistake?  Many will kvetch about execution, lack of planning, lack of international support and the like, but when it comes to the assumptions of what U.S. foreign policy is supposed to be and what the government is suppossed to do overseas it is hard to find self-described realists (with notable exceptions, such as Bandow and Bacevich) who will argue that the war was a mistake both in principle and in execution.  This is because “internationally-minded realists” tend to think that deposing Hussein was a net good, even if it has brought about the ruin of Iraq, a refugee crisis and considerably more regional instability, and since they are so “internationally-minded” they are even less likely to propose concrete alternative policies in favour of withdrawal because they fear the effects this will have on the region as a whole.  Put another way, the foreign policy establishment gave it their best shot with Hamilton-Baker and discovered that Mr. Bush doesn’t care what they have to say, which has basically caused them to stop doing much talking. 

Come to think of it, the Democrats have the same “problem” of a lack of distinct realist voices, but they have the national political advantage that all of their candidates actually want to end the war in fairly quick fashion.  They have the hard-core progressive non-interventionist in Kucinich, a progressive antiwar candidate in Edwards, a progressive interventionist (who is nonetheless against the war in Iraq) in Obama, and the centrist hawk act of Richardson, Clinton, Biden and Dodd (all of whom are also against the war).  Bizarrely, all of the Democrats know that their voters will let them be whatever else they want to be on foreign policy, so long as they still oppose Iraq, while all but one of the GOP candidates have hitched themselves to Iraq and seem to allow Iraq to dictate their entire foreign policy stance.  The lack of foreign policy realists in the GOP is closely tied to the stunning lack of political realists in their ranks, since the party seems to be operating on the assumption–which makes great propaganda and lousy campaign strategy–that the American people are not against the war, but are just discouraged and simply want “victory.”  That might even be true, if you could actually define this end-state and knew how to get there, but without these two crucial elements it is a false assumption.  Yet on this assumption all GOP candidates but one are pinning their electoral hopes in any general election contest. 

Personally, I think of the balance between “idealists” and “realists” a little differently.  Lukacs observes that the opposite of idealism in foreign policy, as in all things, is not realism but materialism.  Those who believe that history is made by what people think and believe are equal parts “idealist” and “realist,” because they understanding the central role of ideas in history and they are apprehending the world as it really is, while the materialists believe that the material order creates the immaterial.  Meanwhile, the ideologues, the adherents of abstractions, are actually as opposed to the mix of idealism and realism as the materialists, but in a way that often leads people to confuse them with idealists. 

There is evidence that our involvement in the Middle East has made some people living in the region angry enough to want to kill Americans. That fact doesn’t automatically dictate what our foreign policy should be, nor does it follow that if we were to leave the region tomorrow that Islamist terrorism would cease to be a problem. But it shouldn’t be beyond the pale to bring up. ~Jim Antle

Jim’s post makes many important points.  I have to agree that Ron Paul failed as a matter of debating tactics when he did not try to finesse the answer to play to the emotions of the crowd, but then Ron Paul never finesses his answers to play to the emotions of the crowd.  This is why he is frequently right and doesn’t get swept up in mass hysteria.  When his colleagues were foolishly plunging ahead on Iraq–which most of Paul’s current critics still believe to have been the right thing to do, which ought to obliterate their credibility at once–he was virtually alone on his side of the aisle in opposing the war.  The mindless Republican near-unanimity that took us into Iraq persists and causes most Republicans to fail to think critically about the nature and purpose of our foreign policy.  If Giuliani appears to have “won” the debate yesterday, he and the other candidates have made it clear in their Paul-bashing that the GOP is a party that favours myth and visceral emotionalism over serious thought.  Such is the deplorable nature of mass democracy that this sort of party might still do well in an electoral contest, but I think most of the country has grown sick of this stuff after all these years and the majority has been trying to purge its system of this toxic irrationalism.  Little noted in all of the post-debate commentary were Paul’s remarks that 2006 was lost because of the war and the majority of the country is against the standard GOP view: political realism, to say nothing of sane policy, dictates that the candidates offer some evidence of adjustment and reflection that actually amounts to more than mentioning “Islamic fascism” or “extremism” every three sentences.

As much as I and others who support Paul are thrilled that he is out there challenging these other candidates, it does make you ask the question: what would make anyone believe that a party that is 70% or more behind the Iraq war is going to be receptive to a lesson in how fundamentally they have departed from their own foreign policy traditions?  If the calamity of Iraq has not sobered them up, what good will history lessons do?  Even if they will acknowledge that this departure from tradition is true, they won’t want to hear that they have fallen into the ditch of hegemonism.  Denial in action is an awesome thing to behold.  Besides, many of these are people so far gone that they think that criticising policy as flawed and dangerous and “blaming America first” are the same thing.  (Incidentally, accusing someone of “blaming America first” is simply the code that these people use when their adversary engages in cultural or political criticism that they cannot answer with argument and feel compelled to resort to flag-waving and sloganeering–it is an ideological reflex totally divorced from thinking.)  Many can’t even manage the most elementary distinction between government and country, regime and people, and so cannot begin to grasp that opposition to ongoing policy implemened by the state is almost always motivated by devotion to the country’s welfare. 

Of course, it’s possible that departing from the Near and Middle East entirely would not bring an end to jihadi attacks on American targets.  Not likely, but possible.  Lessons from past insurgencies suggest that the attacks cease when the policies or actions that have been met with violent responses have been stopped.  It seems to me that you could make an argument that, say, having friendly ports in the Gulf is significant enough for our national interests that our government would be irresponsible as a matter of national interest to yield to demands that we never use those ports or base anyone in those countries.  I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that argument, but that is the kind of argument that someone would need to make to even begin to sound credible in defending an interventionism that provokes terrorist responses.  The benefits of intervention would have to clearly outweigh the costs that it brings with it.  The point normally made by non-interventionists is, of course, that the costs are almost always much higher and there are almost never any meaningful benefits for America.  In response interventionists say, “The sacrifice is worth it.”  They don’t elaborate, because I imagine they’re not even sure what they mean when they say this.  Anyway, there would need to be an argument that could credibly say that remaining in Iraq for the foreseeable future is so vital to the American interest that it is worth the risk of Iraqis (or some other jihadi motivated by anger over our presence there) one day possibly launching terrorist strikes on American soil.  Obviously, it’s nowhere near that important to America.  Continuing the Iraq war creates additional unacceptable and unnecessary risks for American security that can be eliminated by ending the war. 

This is the real question of any policy debate: every approach entails risk of one kind or another, and the wise and prudent man tries to find the policy that involves the least risk while securing essential national goods.  Part of the debate then involves determining what those national goods are.  Some people think voting Arabs belong in this category, while most do not.  Some think that propping up an openly sectarian government friendly to Iran is worth the lives of American soldiers, while opponents of the war do not.  Some believe that ruining our military in the sands of Iraq is essential to winning the “war on terror,” while others disagree.  Who seems to be more in the right? 

The Vice President was a great one for talking about risk before the invasion–the risk of inaction was too great!  Well, as it turns out, the risk of inaction was substantially less than he claimed and much more in line with what opponents of the invasion said it was.  It doesn’t require someone to be a dedicated America Firster to know that the current policy advocated and defended by the majority of the Republican candidates, most Republican voters and this administration is failing to secure American interests and is exposing this country to increased, unnecessary risks.  Our presence in Saudi Arabia, which did directly contribute to the motivations of the 9/11 hijackers, has now been replaced by a presence in Iraq that seems to have no logical or obvious conclusion and which also seems to be serving no obvious American interest.  Ron Paul proposes trying to shield America from these unnecessary risks, and for this he is routinely denounced and belittled by this supposed “big tent” party that is brimming with ideological diversity.

It is amusing to watch the gaggle of these other Republican candidates hold forth about the threat of Islam (Giuliani now claims to be some sort of expert), when they seem to have absolutely no historical perspective on any of this.  Tancredo expressed this view most absolutely when he cut to the heart of the issue: “…whether Israel existed or didn’t, whether or not we were in the Iraq war or not, they would be trying to kill us because it’s a dictate of their religion, at least a part of it, and we have to defend ourselves.”  Tancredo is sort of right, and yet also so horribly wrong that I cringed when I heard this. 

Is jihad an integral part of Islam?  Yes.  Will there always be those who pursue jihad and try to subject non-Muslims to Islamic rule?  Yes.  Of course, where and under what circumstances jihadis will be doing this are all determined by any number of other factors.  There are jihadis in Kashmir, but not terribly many in Gujarat–perhaps that has something to do with the political disputes over Kashmir?  There are or have been jihadis in the Caucasus, Kosovo and Bosnia, but not terribly many in Indonesia, which may have something to do with violent contestation for power in the former.  It seems plain that jihad comes to the fore when Muslims are caught up in conflict with non-Muslims, but otherwise the “dictate of their religion” remains more or less dormant.  So, I put it to the majority of Republicans, why would you pursue policies that seem intent on provoking more conflicts with Muslims if you are interested in quelling jihadism and undermining its appeal?  Either you have no idea what you are doing, in which case the rest of us should not heed your advice, or you are going about seeking the right goal in entirely the wrong way.   

Jihad has existed in its fully formalised and elaborated form for approximately one thousand years, and yet jihadis (very broadly defined) took an interest in attacking Americans only in 1979.  For some reason, Maghrebi Muslims were not gathering themselves into boats to raid the Jamestown settlement in a trans-Atlantic razzia.  For some reason, the ruler of Morocco was among the first to recognise the independence of the United States; one of our earliest treaties was with the Moroccan monarchy.  There was a war against Tripoli to secure our shipping in the Mediterranean, which was a war against piracy.  From 1805 until 1979, it is exceedingly difficult to think of many episodes when the “dictate of their religion” so motivated zealous Muslims to attack Americans.  As ties with Israel have deepened and our military profile in the region has increased, jihadi attacks have also increased.  Now, as the old saying goes, correlation is not causation, but it is awfully curious that Muslims studiously overlooked a ”dictate of their religion” for most of our national history in our dealings with them and only happened to rediscover them at the moment that we embarked on policies that were not all together friendly to at least certain Muslim groups and states.  Of course, we have enjoyed geographical distance from the Islamic world, and as inhabitants of this continent we have a certain luxury of distance that our cousins in Europe do not have, which is why it is so perplexing why anyone would actively promote a narrowing of this distance to bring us into ever-greater contact with people who are, in Mr. Tancredo’s estimation, out to kill us.  The point is, surely, even if Tancredo were right (and he largely is not right), we would be far better advised to limit our points of contact with the Islamic world in every imaginable way than to expand them through ever-wider rounds of intervention, democratisation efforts and the like.  Even by the standards of the wild Republican vision of the conflict with jihadis, the Republicans have been going about things in almost entirely the wrong way. 

The history of Islam from the beginning has been one involving much strife, bloodshed and the invasions of non-Muslim lands, and anyone talking about this should harbour no illusions on this score (I certainly don’t), but as a result of political fragmentation of the Ottoman territories after WWI there has been no Islamic polity capable of projecting power or significantly threatening Europe or any of the countries bordering the Islamic world.  The pathetic political and economic weakness and general geopolitical irrelevance of the Islamic world (Luttawak is right on this) has contributed to the eruption of mujahideen on the borders of that world where there are relatively small-scale conflicts.  Terrorism and even the pursuit of an “Islamic bomb” are the responses of a world desperately outclassed and outmatched in almost every measurable way by its neighbouring civilisations.  Those who have been on the losing end of global cultural and economic transformations almost always grasp for the sword and try to redeem their losses through power–the American conservative movement can understand this response a little too well, I think–and thereby confirm their own lack of deeper reserves of strength.

Of another excessively hyped and misunderstood, albeit real, threat, George Kennan said 54 years ago:

They [anti-communists] distort and exaggerate the dimensions of the problem with which they profess to deal.  They confuse internal and external aspects of the communist threat.  They insist on portraying as contemporary things that had their actuality years ago.  They insist on ascribing to the workings of domestic communism evils and frustrations which, in so far as they were not part of the normal and unavoidable burden of complexity in our life, were the product of our behaviour generally as a nation, and should today be the subject of humble and contrite soul-searching on the part of all of us, in a spirit of brotherhood and community, rather than of frantic and bitter recrimination.  And having thus incorrectly stated the problem, it is no wonder that these people consistently find the wrong answers.  (from George Kennan: A Study of Character by John Lukacs, p. 193-194)

Though not entirely applicable to the present situation, this quote points to many of the flaws in what passes for a lot of anti-Islamist or anti-jihadi thought today.  If Kennan was the anticommunist anti-anticommunist (where he was opposed to communism, but also strongly critical of populist, ideological anti-communism), perhaps the time has come for an anti-jihadi anti-anti-jihadist.

Sadly, some people have no sense of loyalty.  Lend Ron Paul support for his bid for the nomination here or support his re-election to the House here.

So, in other words, Osama bin Laden & Co. get to determine the legitimacy of our policies because these terrorists are the truest expression of the will of the people? Isn’t this a bit like saying a farmer can’t clear a field if it might upset a rattlesnake? ~Jonah Goldberg

Goldberg continues to confirm every criticism I have made of him, and has managed to distinguish himself here as even less impressive than I had thought.  You do have to be fairly dense to conclude the things quoted above based on what Ron Paul said last night.  Obviously, Paul never said anything of the sort.  He wasn’t talking about legitimacy or illegitimacy of policy (though he could have in certain cases to good effect), but instead was effectively talking about whether a given policy is prudent and wise.  Policies that help to produce violent, suicidal attacks appear to Dr. Paul to be poor policies.  I wonder why.  He said nothing about ”the will of the people” here or anywhere else.  Non-interventionists would obviously oppose entanglements overseas regardless of whether terrorism resulted from these entanglements, but how much more reasonable is the non-interventionist view when these entanglements do result in terrorist attacks?  If Goldberg would declare, as he has, that Robert Taft is “irrelevant” to the present moment, he may as well chuck almost the whole of the history of U.S. foreign policy.  Oh, that’s right, he and his confreres have done exactly that, just as non-interventionists have been claiming for some time.     

If the goal of U.S. foreign policy is to secure the national interest and strengthen American national security, it is very simply unwise to make policies that demonstrably contribute to additional, unnecessary threats to our national security.  If interventionist policies and military deployments overseas contribute to “blowback” that directly harms citizens of the United States, it is reasonable to argue that these policies helped to cause these negative unintended consequences and that they are therefore more desirable, different policies that should be pursued.  Those held hostage by terrorist demands are those who inflexibly refuse to adjust policy out of fear of showing weakness.  They offer no solution to the threat, but propose war after deployment after intervention to allegedly combat the problem their preferred policies helped to create and in so doing only magnify and deepen the problem.  Their fear of appearing weak is itself a fundamental flaw that dooms them to keep perpetuating the same errors that helped land us in this predicament.  

Reagan’s decision to withdraw from Beirut was the right one at the time, but obviously the better, earlier decision would have been not to intervene in Lebanon.  The decision to leave Beirut appears now, in distant hindsight, as a contributing factor to emboldening jihadis because the government kept intervening in Muslim countries, deploying armies in the Islamic world and harrassing certain Muslim countries.  Those errors contributed far more to what came later than did the belated decision to leave a place where we should never have been.  Constant meddling combined with relatively quick withdrawals is assuredly a lousy combination, which is why we should stop intervening in the first place.  If Goldberg isn’t interested in Taft, maybe he could try something a bit more recent, such as the Powell Doctrine–at least back when Powell actually believed in his own doctrine. 

We were wrong to be bombing Iraq in the 1990s.  First of all, it was illegal under international law.  More than that, it was pointless and served no American interest.  We were wrong to have tried to strangle Iraq with sanctions.  The Gulf War had little, if anything, to do with American interests.  At most we were fulfilling our obligations to the U.N.  (This is part of the reason why non-interventionist conservatives also have little time for the U.N., since enforcing its mandates has become a frequent excuse for meddling in countries that have nothing to do with us.)  As for policy towards the Soviets, containment and opposition to Soviet power did not necessarily entail wars in Asia, least of all in Vietnam, which even the author of the original “Containment” article opposed as foolish and misguided.  Goldberg would probably respond that George Kennan is also irrelevant.       

To persist in the belief that U.S. policies had nothing to do with 9/11 or, even worse, that they may have had something to do with it but it is absolutely unacceptable to change them anyway is to hold a position in which you effectively declare your indifference to the damage to U.S. national security that these policies inflict.  You have taken the view that there are more important things than securing this country.  I suppose a person could take that position, but he has to be pretty obnoxious to sit in judgement of anyone else’s foreign policy views.   

Of course, war supporters also routinely cite the authority of Al Qaeda higher-ups when they think it bolsters their arguments for remaining in Iraq.  Listen to what Zawahiri said–we can’t leave, we’d be playing right into their hands!  Supporters of the war are only too happy to take Bin Laden or Zawahiri as oracles and to take them far more seriously than anyone else does when it suits them.  To take note of what Al Qaeda members have said before or even immediately after their attacks is, however, off limits, because that way points towards a potential exit from the mess that interventionists have helped create.

Alex Massie recovers from the shock of Maureen Dowd attempting to write about European politics and delivers some of the best ridicule aimed at Dowd I have seen.  He achieves this mostly by letting Dowd speak for herself, which is always calamitous and bad for her reputation.

All bigots and frauds are brothers under the skin. ~Christopher Hitchens

I suppose this means that Hitchens has many more siblings than we thought.

Yesterday I received some pleasant news: my paper abstract was accepted for the 33rd Byzantine Studies Conference, which will be held this October at the University of Toronto.  As one conference season ends, so another already has begun.  This will be my first time in Toronto, and indeed my first time in Canada, which should be interesting in itself.  Do any Canadian readers and/or associated Canadian bloggers have good recommendations for restaurants or things to do in the evening in Toronto?  We will likely not be driving up, so recommendations close to the area of the university would probably be ideal. 

Friends of Eunomia are welcome to attend the talk, though I suspect they will require registration for attendees.  I will, of course, be speaking about matters related to imperial religious policy and monotheletism.  Try to contain your enthusiasm. 

The elder Podhoretz warns against a modern equivalent of “Finlandization.”  And not a moment too soon!  Just imagine: if we yielded to a fate of Finlandising, we might suffer from the blights of prodigious cell phone production, EuroVision contests and reindeer!  Stop the madness!*

* I refuse to answer seriously any article that takes the existence of something called “Islamofascism” as a given. 

So do you suppose that the story that Ashcroft, Mueller and top Justice officials threatened to resign to protest the illegality of the NSA domestic surveillance program (you know, the one that the President has “inherent powers” to authorise) will have any effect on the standard refrain from administration defenders about the original legality of this program?  No, I didn’t think so, either.

I suppose you have to hand it to the folks at FoxNews–they wanted to see candidates taking out their opponents at the knees, and they got some mildly memorable exchanges as a result.  But what is the real result?  Anyone bothering to watch this debate would have come away with a firm impression that the people in this field really, really don’t like taxes, largely support some means of torturing detainees while using euphemistic terms to talk about it (with only Ron Paul and McCain dissenting, naturally), are against terrorism and for the most part oppose abortion.  Oh, yes, everyone also opposes excessive spending, but no one (except Ron Paul) can think of a single program or department that he would eliminate that he can actually name.  During the last two-thirds of the debate that I heard, no one (except, of course, Ron Paul) gave any indication that he would depart in the slightest from Bush’s foreign policy.  Bushism does live.  Indeed, it stalks the land like a revenant, seeking victims on which it can feed.  The Democratic candidates have to be delighted.  If this is their opposition, almost any one from their fairly mediocre gang of candidates will do just fine in any match-up. 

Again, Ron Paul made the right points regarding torture and foreign policy, but by design these questions bring up those two areas where he is indubitably right and (sadly) entirely at odds with the party’s core voters.  He attempted to give full, intelligent answers to explain the idea of blowback, but obviously lacked the time to do this completely.  Giuliani unwittingly revealed himself to be surprisingly ignorant about the issue where is supposedly strongest when he said that he had “never heard” anyone say what Dr. Paul had said–if he has never heard that Al Qaeda attributes their attacks to our presence in the Gulf and the no-fly zones and sanctions against Iraq, and if he has never even heard of the idea of blowback, what sort of national security candidate is he?  Naturally, the crowd lapped it up, further lowering my opinion of the average voter. 

I’m a little bit late to the debate tonight.  The sound quality of Fox’s live stream video is poor, so it’s difficult to hear what the candidates are saying.  I suspect that I won’t be missing anything important if I don’t catch every word. 

Gilmore has said he favours sanctions on Iran (surprise, surprise), Romney says that (yawn) Washington is broken, McCain is in deep denial about the causes of the ‘06 defeat.  Quote from McCain: “We did not lose the election because of the war in Iraq.”  No, it was just too much spending!  Huckabee jumps on the tax-cutting bandwagon (again).  Brownback embarrasses himself with a shameless plug for ethanol.  (Note to Brownback camp: when asked about how to lower fuel costs, do not mention ethanol, which contributes to higher gas prices in the Midwest!)  Tommy Thompson bores us by reiterating how many vetoes he has had. 

Ron Paul rattles off the federal departments he would eliminate–hurrah!  “We can’t change anything until we change our philosophy about what government should do.”  Go, Ron!      

Gilmore reminds us that, yes, he also cut taxes.  He is the “consistent conservative,” and other people are not.  We get it.  Hunter hits his marks on trade with China and encouraging domestic manufacturing.  Tancredo reminds us that many of his colleagues are massive hypocrites about spending.  “Follow the Constitution,” Tancredo says.  That would make him only the second candidate, after Ron Paul, to mention the Constitution in any shape, way or form.   

Gilmore nails Giuliani, Huckabee and Romney.  Goodbye, 11th Commandment!  (Apparently, earlier in the debate Romney also repeated his idiotic “it’s about Sunni and Shia and a caliphate” routine.)  Giuliani runs and hides behind fearmongering about Hillary–but the questioner won’t let him off the hook.  Giuliani runs and hides behind George Will.  This is the bold, decisive leader that Republicans want?

McCain describes his bad policy positions as “leadership.”  He pretends that his immigration position has something to do with border security.  Huckabee defends himself more aggressively and confidently.  He makes Giuliani look pathetic by comparison.  Romney fends off the attack competently, but not decisively.  Brownback defends his amnesty position by calling on Reagan’s amnesty.  Tommy Thompson seems to take up for ESCR in existing lines, but also shows himself to be fairly informed.  Giuliani tries to play a libertarian card on abortion.  Huckabee gives a fairly effective rebuttal, but becomes repetitious with his examples of dedication to life. 

Romney repeats his conversion story.  Who buys this stuff?  Tancredo hits the other candidates for cynical conversions and weakness on immigration.  He remains too undisciplined and unfocused.  McCain lies that he doesn’t support amnesty.  Romney tries to move himself away from McCain on immigration, and scores a couple points.  He gets a final shot at McCain on both immigration and campaign finance reform (which is shameless, since he once upon a time supported McCain’s campaign finance bill and advocated for even more radical restrictions).  Giuliani goes for his immigrant ID card idea again.  Hunter reminds us of the border fence that ”I built” in southern California, and reminds us of the extension of the fence he supported; he hits the administration on being lax in building the fence. 

Ron Paul invokes Robert Taft and non-interventionist foreign policy!  He defends the conservative, constitutionalist antiwar position.  He pins 9/11 on interventionist foreign policy!  Unfortunately, Giuliani wins the crowd with his attack on Paul.  He calls on Paul to withdraw his statement.  Naturally, Paul doesn’t withdraw. 

McCain gets a bizarre round of applause for his comments on the battle flag.  Huckabee handles his parole-of-murderer question as well as he possibly could have.  Tancredo pushes back on a global warming question.

FoxNews tries to impose a torture litmus test.  McCain gives a fairly decent answer in which he says, basically, “Don’t torture.”  Giuliani offers a euphemism for torture, while saying that he is against torture.  Romney actually gives a reasonably intelligent answer to this gotcha hypothetical, and then makes robust pro-Guantanamo remarks.  “Enhanced interrogation techniques”–Romney gets a prize for most euphemistic term for torture.  Brownback gestures strongly.  Gilmore reminds us of all his resume points–he has the experience.  Gilmore’s act gets old pretty quick.  Huckabee also gestures strongly.  Huckabee talks about sacrifice. 

Paul hits the others for using “Newspeak” on torture.  Then becomes slightly unfocused.  Tancredo invokes Jack Bauer (groan).  Asked about the lack of minority candidates, Gilmore begins reading off his resume again.  Romney sends a love note to the Department of Education and No Child Left Behind.  Hunter bangs the old China drum again (and makes some good points). 

Clearly, Giuliani did much better in his second outing, and he was able to manipulate the crowd with his 9/11 references better than before.  Romney was much less polished, McCain didn’t seem quite as old, Hunter continued to perform well.  Huckabee did reasonably well.  Gilmore, Tommy Thompson and Tancredo become more forgettable by the day.  Paul made all the right points and did relatively well considering his limited opportunities.  If we have to pick a “winner,” Hunter probably won.      

President-elect Sarkozy, who was elected on a pro-American and pro-Israel platform, is considering offering an important job in the new conservative government to a former socialist foreign minister known for his anti-American and anti- Israel opinions. ~The New York Sun

The Sun is referring here to Hubert Vedrine, who famously dubbed America a “hyperpower” and did not mean it as a compliment.  Even so, I have been somewhat surprised that Americans took offense at this, since hyperpower really just means superpower, and most of the Americans who don’t like Vedrine or France are just fine with America being described as a superpower.  Even though hyper and super have the exact same meaning, one carries a subtle connotation of excess and the other, in conventional usage in English, has the connotation of surpassing excellence.  People here love Superman, but the same people would regard Hyperman as a sugar addict with serious control problems.  Go figure.

Back to the article.  This lede captures perfectly the incredibly self-obsessed way in which many American journalists look at foreign elections and foreign politics.  Sarkozy, whose campaign was almost entirely one focused on reviving the French economy, combating unemployment and establishing law and order, did not run on a “pro-American and pro-Israel platform.”  Arguably, had he made his campaign so explicitly one of foreign policy questions he might well have lost, since he would have seemed to be preoccupied with all the wrong issues.  Of partly Jewish background and an admirer of American economic success, Sarkozy is perhaps less critical of Israel and America, but he is not even as robustly supportive of Mr. Bush’s policies as the German Chancellor.  He has stated that France and America are strong allies, but allies can and will disagree with each other.  This is only a ”pro-American” position if you rather foolishly believe that Chirac was “anti-American” because he argued against invading Iraq (a position that must now seem quite friendly and helpful to the United States).  Sarkozy ran on a platform of domestic reform and economic revitalisation, plus keeping out the Turks.  If anyone can figure out how that has anything to do with America and Israel, I congratulate you on your ingenuity.  

At least he didn’t talk about the “quiet violence” of rapacious tornado damage insurance agents.  Considering that Obama has made at least two awesome gaffes in the past two months, shouldn’t he have already been dubbed the new Joe Biden by now? 

The Defense Department today (Monday) announced 27-year-old 1st Lieutenant Andrew J. Bacevich of Walpole was killed yesterday (Sunday) when an improvised bomb exploded while he was on a patrol in the Salah Ad Din Province.

His father — Andrew J. Bacevich — is a Boston University professor and a vocal critic of the war. ~WPRI 12 News

Via Chronicles

My most sincere condolences go out to Prof. Bacevich and his family.  May God grant the soul of his servant rest where the righteous repose.  Vechnaya pomyat.

As a novice, Cox is under the mistaken impression that presidential campaigns are about ideas. ~Matt Labash

As a friend to no-hope presidential candidates everywhere, I have to applaud John Cox for undertaking what has to be one of the more pointless presidential campaigns in recent memory.  Even running on the Constitution Party ticket will get you some already-established ballot access, but to run a more or less solo protest campaign against the powers-that-be, well, that’s simply awe-inspiring.  Truly, it is.  Quite a few people know who Ron Paul is, regardless of what they think about him, and he can get some funding from a small but devoted group of supporters.  Mike Gravel at least has been elected to office, which gives him a certain “legitimacy” in the eyes of the media that normal citizens do not possess.  John Cox is truly building from scratch.

John Cox can be forgiven if he works on the assumption that campaigns are about ideas.  Pundits, who know better, are constantly talking about the ideas and proposals that candidates are offering, or complaining when they are failing to offer any “new” or “interesting” ideas, and the main candidates themselves encourage this illusion by saying, as Brownback does all the time, “our ideas” will win the election.  Actually, as Samnesty well knows, you win elections with votes, and as I have tried to argue many, many times, voting and policy ideas have almost nothing to do with each other.  But everyone is constantly talking about ideas, especially on the GOP side, such that it was even the boast of President Bush last year before the midterms that the GOP was the “party of ideas.”  It is tempting for a disaffected Republican to believe that this supposed ”party of ideas” should actually embrace conservative ideas and should then even enact conservative policies. 

Where Jon Cox is at his most admirable is when he says, in all sincerity, “I’m just a believer in the U.S. Constitution.”  Unfortunately, that is a serious drawback for any candidate trying to compete for the GOP nomination.  

Why would a putatively conservative magazine and its audience care whether Western feminists care about Islamic women?  That is the question that has occurred to me after seeing some of the reaction to The Weekly Standard’s cover story this week.  First, it would appear that the claim is false or grossly exaggerated anyway.  However, suppose that it were true.  Wouldn’t the conservative response be to be just as skeptical of feminist criticisms of traditional societies overseas as conservatives are normally skeptical of feminism here at home?  Of course, not all traditions are equal, and no one would confuse The Weekly Standard for a bulwark of traditionalism anyway, but this seems to be one more instance of a conservative magazine trying to prove that it actually cares more about women’s rights or racial equality or any other given cause normally more associated with the left than those hypocritical liberals do.  This is an interesting polemical tactic and can go some way towards undermining credibility of political adversaries, but it helps if it is a) true and b) in some way remotely consistent with everything else you claim to believe.  This particular claim would appear to fail on both counts. 

George Kennan had an outstanding remark about “that curious law which so often makes Americans, inveterately conservative at home, the partisans for radical change everywhere else.”  This is often on display in mainstream conservative rhetoric vis-a-vis Islam or any non-Western society: traditional and customary structures at home are good, admirable and have stood the test of the time, testifying to their importance and meaning, while traditional structures elsewhere must be torn down and those living in those structures must be dragged, kicking and screaming, into enlightened modernity.  The cultural radicalism we conservatives presumably deplore at home becomes a gift of liberation for the peoples of the world.  There must be some sort of happy middle ground between this combination of domestic social conservatism and radical emancipationism abroad and a D’Souza-like call for American conservatives to discover their abiding common ground with traditional Muslims. 


Via Yglesias 

The times change, but nationalism never ceases to be ignorant and obnoxious. 

Last year I remarked on the divisions the war would eventually create within the GOP, dubbing the hard-line Victory Caucus types the Dolchstoss faction on the assumption that they, or those who agreed with them, would begin making this kind of accusation.  You can already hear the refrain, “We were never defeated on the battlefield!”  Which, as Gen. Giap once noted after the war, was true but irrelevant. 

Perhaps I was a bit off in assuming that there would be some greater division among Republicans by this point.  However, related to the Dolchstoss faction, I said:

The Iraq failure will cut through the party and divide it into three very unequal parts.  The major schism will be the alienation of the hard-liners, represented in the ‘08 field by McCain and Gingrich, who are so much more aggressive on Iraq and foreign policy questions generally that they seem to inhabit their own universe.  They will ironically be perhaps the most disgruntled Republicans after an Iraq defeat, because they maintain the illusion that if their more aggressive, heavy-handed and brutal tactics were employed victory would be the inevitable result.  Call them the Dolchstoss faction.  Incredibly, they will spin the failure in Iraq as an example of what too much diplomacy and consultation cause, and they will tap into the resentment of a core nationalist constituency that will make the primaries very hotly contested.  Expect to hear a lot of talk from the hard-liner candidates who will claim that they are both smarter and ”tougher” than Bush was.  They will say, “Bush let us down because he failed to live up to our hype–but we will live up to our own hype!”  Since this involves starting many more wars and ruining the country, we may take them at their word that they will certainly try.  

I guess I didn’t realise just how much of the GOP would belong to this faction at this point.  Judging from the presidential field, it would have to be something like 60-70%.

I remember hearing that Guantanamo Bay and the war on terror were allowing Vladimir Putin to terrorize Chechnya. ~Isaac Chotiner

Obviously, saying that would be silly, but the point of saying something like that would be to argue that whatever human rights violations were being committed in the name of the “war on terror” undermine the credibility of the U.S. government to criticise Russian conduct in Chechnya.  That would be a true statement.  (Not that I think pestering the Russians about fighting terrorists and insurgents in their own country should one of our top priorities in foreign policy.)  This is rather like saying that embarking on preventive wars to stop future, potential threats invites other states to do the same–it is true.  In so doing, Washington does not “allow” China to launch a “preventive war” against Taiwan, but it severely undermines its ability to condemn that invasion and rally international opinion against future wars that are essentially wars of aggression.  This is why people argue against setting bad precedents, because they, well, set bad precedents that others can invoke as justifications for their own bad behaviour later. 

There is no question of actually ”allowing” or “disallowing,” however, since Russians had been fighting in Chechnya for years before there was a “war on terror.”  Also, Washington doesn’t actually rule the world, but there is a hegemonist assumption behind all of this talk of “allowing” this or that to take place in the world.  Stupid interventionists use this language of “permitting” and “allowing” all the time when they are complaining about inaction in the face of this or that crisis.  Why has the West “allowed” the situation in Darfur to unfold as it has?  Why does the West “allow” the Burmese regime to abuse its people?  And so on.  To speak of allowing or permitting is to claim the power and right to stop it, whether by force of example or by action.

This came up, bizarrely, in the context of complaining about how poor Wolfowitz has been treated in some commentary and press reports, which cast the scandal with his girlfriend’s raise as an obstacle to advancing an anti-corruption and anti-poverty agenda.  The anti-corruption part is easy to understand, while the other one makes sense if you understand that Wolfowitz has been so politically damaged that he cannot continue to function effectively.  Think of him as international lending’s answer to Alberto Gonzales: he may not have actually done anything illegal or even necessarily technically wrong or unethical, but at this point keeping him at Justice is ridiculous.  So long as a politically damaged person is at the head of an organisation, that organisation doesn’t function as well as it could or should.  Just ask the other President.

Kirchick takes an even more odd view, linking critics of Wolfowitz with a view that, for liberals, there should be “no friends to the right.”  For this critique to make sense, Wolfowitz would have to have been a pretty good World Bank President, which, as Yglesias points out, Mallaby (not one normally to be confused with a half-crazed Kossack) is explicitly denying.  Then there is the political reality that the Europeans and Asians don’t like Wolfowitz, while he has a cheering section from the African delegations who like that he has sent them great big wodges of cash.  This is a bad dynamic in any kind of banking (even development lending): the depositors hate you, but the borrowers love you.  You have messed up somewhere.  It means that the people who put up a lot of the money dislike the head of the bank, and they are willing to pull their money out of the bank as a result.  If the World Bank disappeared tomorrow, the world would probably be a better place in certain respects, but for those who actually want the thing to function “properly” (whatever that would look like) the need to get rid of Wolfowitz appears to be both vital and perfectly obvious.

Today, we know the substantive problems with compassionate conservatism. It involved blending church and state in ways that made people on both sides uncomfortable. It was too small an agenda to build an entire domestic policy around. ~David Brooks

Now some of us sensed the problems with “compassionate conservatism” right away.  It wasn’t that it blended church and state, but that it wrapped up the same old welfarism in quasi-religious language and sought to centralise things that were best left local.  It wasn’t that the agenda was too small or too large–the agenda was wrong, because it had the government trying to do things “compassionately” that conservatives theoretically didn’t want government doing in the first place.  If Mr. Bush “saved” the GOP from big government conservatism, he had a funny way of doing it, since one might have called “compassionate conservatism” a kinder, gentler form of neoconservative social policy.   

Going back over the 22 July 1999 speech, I was reminded of many of the catchphrases from his camaign (”armies of compassion” was one that always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason).  I also remember that later that same year he complained that Congress was “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.”  At that moment, I knew that there was something seriously amiss with Mr. Bush’s candidacy.  Later he complained about conservatives who spoke of America “slouching toward Gomorrah” in a clear shot at Robert Bork.  How sad and also strangely amusing that Mr. Bush should now be regarded by some as some sort of obsessive religious conservative and an incipient theocrat, when he made his start in the national campaign often running against the voices of moral reproach.  He was the obnoxiously self-satisfied John McCain lecturing his fellow Republicans from a position of righteous “moderation”–at least, that’s what he was before he discovered that he had to compete with the real McCoy, er, McCain.  That was what “compassionate conservatism” seemed to be: a Third Way for Republicans; rhetorical distancing from actual conservative positions to show that he wasn’t really one of “them”; a sort of neoliberalism on the right.  In practice, that is more or less what it was.  It wasn’t anything really new, but presented a new face: it was moderate Republicanism that had a friend in Jesus.  Of it a cynic might have said, “It’s not your daddy’s Rockefeller Republicanism anymore.” 

If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life; they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice. ~Pope Benedict XVI

In 1988, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published a collection of essays under the title of Church, Ecumenism and Politics. In it, he argued that capitalism is little better than national socialism or communism, in that all three propose false idols (prosperity, the Volk, and the state, respectively). Ratzinger said that to build a humane civilization, the West must rediscover two elements of its past: its classical Greek heritage and its common Christian identity.

From the classical era, Ratzinger wrote, Europe should rediscover objective and eternal values that stand above politics, putting limits to power. Ratzinger used the Greek term eunomia to describe this concept of the good. In that sense, one could say that Ratzinger proposed a eunomic, rather than capitalist, model of Western culture.

Over the years, Ratzinger has been close to the Communio school within Catholic theology, which stresses the need for cultures to take their point of departure from the Christian gospel rather than secular ideologies. Its primary exponents have repeatedly criticized capitalism for promoting an ethos of individualism and “survival of the fittest” that is at odds with the communitarian thrust of Catholic social teaching. ~John Allen


First, the most important issue of his presidency, the war, has not gone as well as people want. Second, the war has sucked all the oxygen out of the president’s domestic agenda. Few today, when they think of the president, even remember faith-based initiatives, the Medicare reform law or even the “Bush tax cuts” that have helped create an almost unthinkably healthy economy of historic low unemployment and 41 consecutive months of growth. ~Tom DeLay

I didn’t realise that Politico was actively trying to live up to its negative reputation as the official online GOP smoke-blower, but then I have seen that Tom DeLay is apparently now a regular columnist for them, which would seem to confirm all the worst thing Politico’s critics have said and then some.  Couldn’t they have chosen an unindicted Republican instead?  I have it on good authority that there are still a few left out there!

DeLay’s column is surreal, which is what you might expect from someone who has inhaled as many insecticide fumes as he probably did in his previous career.  The war “has not gone as well as people want,” he says, as if it were simply a question of a particularly finicky public that demands impossibly high standards for effectiveness in war leadership.  Perhaps if people weren’t so unreasonably demanding, DeLay seems to be saying, they would see how well everything has actually gone.  Next, DeLay says that the war has ”sucked all the oxygen out of” Bush’s domestic agenda (which implies that this agenda was full of air), to which the obvious reply would have to be: Bush has a domestic agenda?  Yes, he used to have one, but whatever he didn’t get passed in his first term died on the vine.  Except for amnesty, he already had nothing left on the domestic agenda at the start of 2006, and now even that seems unlikely to go anywhere for the time being.  No one remembers faith-based initiatives because that program was, by and large, a flop, and one derided by several people who used to work in the office for FBIs.  Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, the changes to Medicare are only too familiar to some–those would be the ones who remember the largest expansion of federal entitlements in a generation, the huge cost of the new program and the shameless arm-twisting the administration (and Tom DeLay) engaged in to make sure that it passed. 

DeLay’s advice is for Mr. Bush to now “move past Iraq [bold mine-DL] and return to a domestic agenda that is being hijacked by overreaching liberal Democrats.”  Indeed, in the words of DeLay’s moral exemplar and personal favourite, it’s time for the country to move on.  Why should the Commander-in-Chief (a position about which he never ceases us to remind us) get mired down in the exhausting and tiresome details of the war he started?  There is, in DeLay’s estimation, “nothing more he can do, except report back to the American people about the progress.”  Let’s move along.

I’ve always been partial to the Filipino analogy, but it’s worth remembering that the Phillipines [sic], like the Transvaal, was a distinctly peripheral theater in the early 1900s, which substantially reduced the war’s ripple effect on geopolitics; Iraq, on the other hand, is rather more centrally located, and sits athwart a region that matters a great deal to the global order (Edward Luttwak’s provocations aside), at least until its oil wells run dry. So there’s always a chance - albeit a small one, I think - that the Iraq War will prove a prelude to a larger conflagration of some kind, playing the Spanish Civil War to a Mesopotamian World War II. ~Ross Douthat

I take Ross’ points.  The comparison with the Filipino insurgency does make some sense and, if this is the right comparison, actually supports his second suggestion more than he has granted.  It is true that the Filipino war was peripheral to world politics at the time it was being fought, but a few decades later American possession of the Philippines would become a significant factor in the Japanese decision to attack the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor.  While it might not definitely be the case that the U.S. would not have been drawn into the Pacific War but for the possession of the Philippines, without U.S. annexation and control of the Philippines the Japanese would have had far less reason to fear direct American involvement in the war in East Asia and would have had that much less reason to provoke open war with the U.S.  So it is conceivable that the Iraq war could end up having similarly significant consequences if American forces remain there in large numbers to serve as a tripwire for a future, larger war with, say, the Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi bloc.  

Regional conflicts in the Balkans led to continental, even global, war because the great powers decided to make these local conflicts into a matter of their security, thus magnifying the conflict into a much larger one than it need be (with several of the powers destroying themselves in the process).  This has ever since given people an outsized impression of the strategic importance of the Balkans (such that the ridiculous Bubba cited 1914 as a reason to start a war against Serbia, just as the Austrians had done 85 years before), which Bismarck correctly noted were not worth the bones of one Prussian grenadier.  The strategic importance of such-and-such a place is usually something that has to be constructed and argued for by various interest groups, since initially this is often not self-evident to policymakers.  When we saw that some place is strategically important, this often means in practice that influential groups back home say that it is, because they have investments or goals tied up in that place.  Viewed rather more dispassionately, the Levant has almost no strategic significance for the United States, yet the preoccupations of our foreign policy thinkers are often focused on the conflicts consuming this very narrow band of territory, because various factors of domestic politics contribute to the creation of the view that these conflicts have vastly greater global significance than they, in fact, have. 

In the German example, Bismarckian realism gave way to the interests of Weltpolitik, the naval lobby and Anglophobe nationalists who believed that Germany’s natural enemy was Britain, and, as part of the Kaiser’s new push to become friendly with the Ottomans and Berlin’s foolish rebuff of the Russians (leading in due course to the Franco-Russian alliance), we see that Bismarckian common sense about the Balkans gave way to encouragements to the Austrians to meddle there and then there was no discouragement of the Austrian move to invade Serbia in 1914.  (The Kaiser famously wrote in the diplomatic correspondence before the Austrian declaration of war, after receiving word of the Serbian concessions, “Every cause for war falls to the ground,” but infamously failed to stop the Austrians from plunging ahead.)  Unpleasantness ensued.  Bad policy decisions in a number of European capitals, many of which were taken in pursuit of placating domestic political constituencies, contributed directly to making the Balkans the “powderkeg of Europe,” rather than there being anything necessarily inherently important about the conflicts in the Balkans as far as outsiders were concerned (obviously, they were inherently important for the people directly involved in the Balkan Wars).  Iraq and the Near East are “central” to the “global order” because a consensus has formed about the “global order” that makes the Near East its center, but there is no necessary reason to believe the consensus-makers when they say this.  

The Near East was somewhat important during the Cold War, but it had nothing like the importance of Europe, because Europe was the place where the two largest powers stood face to face, as it were, and where they were most likely to come into direct conflict.  CENTO withered away, and hardly anyone one noticed, and I think few shed tears for its demise.  NATO persists in the face of all the reasons why it should have dissolved a decade ago.  That seems slightly significant.  Iraq’s geopolitical centrality will be defined by whether or not outside powers choose to make it their field of competition–there is nothing, not even oil, intrinsic to Iraq that makes it so vital and significant.  Regions of the world tend to possess geopolitical significance because they become battlefields for the great powers, and not because of their inherent value or location.  I do wonder whether we think of the Near East as having great strategic importance because we have embarked on policies that make it seem tremendously important, when any other part of the world might be made to seem just as important if the attentions of the only superpower were focused on it.  

The idea that there is a place in the world that yields disproportionate strategic advantage because of where and what it is has a venerable tradition in geopolitical theory, but I am not at all sure that this idea is correct.  Ross says that Iraq is more “centrally located” than South Africa or the Philippines, which is true to the extent that we recognise that many of the centers of economic and political power rest in Europe and South and East Asia, but it is Luttawak’s point that no country in the Near and Middle East is itself one of these centers and these countries are, taken together, fairly peripheral.  I would go perhaps even further and say that the Near and Middle East fit the economic profile of colonial Africa: sources of raw materials needed by different metropolitan powers, but in themselves not necessarily terribly politically significant. 

Bruce Bartlett writes about Ron Paul, and Andrew Sullivan has begun talking about him.  All we need now is a third to start boosting Dr. Paul’s candidacy and we’ll have a pro-Ron Paul trend in the media.

Is the treatment that Shaha Riza has received the “nastiest character assassination” that Christopher Hitchens has seen in his lifetime?  He thinks so.  So, it’s nastier than the character assassination carried out against, to name a few, John Tower, Clarence Thomas, Pat Buchanan, Max Cleland, Jim Webb and Pim Fortuyn (the latter then being actually assassinated as a result)?  It is nastier than all of these (which involved various smears, including accusations of criminal conduct, cheap attacks against the person’s patriotism or frequent comparisons to Nazis) to suggest that the woman effectively got a pay raise as a result of being Wolfowitz’s woman?  Somehow I don’t think that’s worse.      

His speech started on judges and pivoted to Scooter Libby. No one understood why he [Thompson] was talking about Libby [bold mine-DL]. ~Hotline

AmSpec’s Prowler gives more details on the Thompson speech, but the reaction of Hotline’s CNP informant is telling.  Indeed, why would anyone in any given audience understand Fred Thompson’s bizarre obsession with the defense of Scooter Libby?  The only thing more bizarre than this would be teary-eyed testimonials about the integrity of Karl Rove or an expression of the deep, abiding respect one has for the planning skills of Donald Rumsfeld.  Does any sensible Republican ‘08 candidate actually want to associate himself with the cause of a convicted felon whose chief claim to fame is that he always does the bidding of his master, Dick Cheney?   

If they came to hear about judicial tyranny and the need for judicial restraint and strict constructionists (or whatever boilerplate they are expecting), they will naturally be perplexed by references to a perjury case that most people didn’t follow very closely and which most people don’t consider to be one of the burning issues of the day.     

Michael Crowley is surprised that 40% think it wasn’t a mistake to invade Iraq, but he really shouldn’t be.  Just look at the responses to one of the other questions (”Do you consider the war in Iraq to be part of the war on terrorism which began on September 11, 2001, or do you consider it to be an entirely separate military action?”) to understand this view.  43% believe Iraq is part of the “war on terrorism,” so it is not in the least surprising that 40% think invading Iraq was the right thing to do.  Until that absurd and false connection between Iraq and the jihadi war is broken definitively and completely in the public mind, you will continue to have large numbers of people who believe that invading Iraq was absolutely right.  I would be fascinated to see how these people would answer questions about WMDs, Iraq-Al Qaeda ties and the like.  Almost certainly, many would agree with statements that would make even Weekly Standard subscribers cringe in embarrassment.

Winning is everything. Fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it’s losing that’s immoral. ~Ralph Peters

But if winning were everything, we could take a page out of Dean Barnett’s handbook and bomb the place into oblivion.  Since winning isn’t everything, we don’t do that, because we are, thank God, not quite the hideous monsters Ralph Peters would like us to be.  There’s a reason why it is exceedingly difficult to try to dominate another country by force in a just way: in the end, either you cease to be just, or you cease to dominate.  This is why highly civilised empires and great powers cannot retain their dependencies and colonies and satellites when the native people decide that they must go; attempts to retain the colonies or satellites by force always degenerate into brutality and then often fail anyway. 

Upon their return in 1945, the French committed summary executions of Algerians to show that they were once again in control (perhaps because “the only thing they understand” is force?), which marked the beginning of the end of French control: such ruthlessness, which would presumably be applauded by Peters because it shows a desire to ”win,” caused profound resentment and hatred and a desire for independence, which was eventually realised after a long and nasty war.  Peters’ recommendations were followed in Algeria.  Ruthlessness was the order of the day before very long, and this was effective in winning battles and equally effective in losing the war by pushing more and more Algerians into the independence camp.  We no longer live in the age of Timur, when a reputation for building mountains of skulls will intimidate and horrify a people into submission.  Some might even call this progress.  In modern warfare, ruthlessness by an occupier is met with ever greater levels of resistance once the people in a country believe that the dominant power has no particular right to exercise any power over them.   

Peters’ line only makes sense in the context of a just war, since loss in a just war would also be a defeat for the effort to remedy some great wrong committed against you.  Failure to see a just cause through to a successful end would indeed be immoral (this does not mean that unconditional surrender is therefore somehow a moral demand to make).  But we’re not talking about a just cause.  We’re talking about the occupation and domination of Iraq.

“I am not happy with the Republican Party today,” Hagel said. “It’s been hijacked by a group of single-minded almost isolationists, insulationists, power-projectors.” ~CBS

Insulationist?  Is that someone who believes strongly in winterising the entire country?  What is an “almost isolationist”?  Does it make any sense to call one of the more activist, interventionist periods in Republican Party history an era of the ”almost isolationists”?  Hagel uses it, I suppose, because he considers it an insult to call someone an isolationist, since he is typically just the opposite.  This is the sort of word that a “power-projector” type would throw at those who are more interested in securing this country.  Hagel would know something about the “power projectors,” since he has traditionally been one of them until today.  He had no qualms about projecting power against Yugoslav civilians, nor did he ultimately resist the drive to project power against Iraq.  It seems to me that you have to have a lot of gall to complain about a hijacking in which you were a participant.  This is the hijacker who says, “Well, when I signed on I didn’t realise you were actually going to take over the plane–I only agreed to threaten to take over the plane, so don’t blame me!”   

The number of threats is not decreasing. They are only transforming and changing the guise.  As during the Third Reich era, these new threats show the same contempt for human life and claims to world exclusiveness and diktat. ~Vladimir Putin

This should reassure many of Putin’s critics.  He is also not above using the same cheap invocations of WWII propaganda to advance his views, which gives him something in common with many of his Western critics.  The Russians say that he was not referring to America, which means that he might have been using the commemoration of victory over the Nazis to make the same sort of ham-fisted connection between WWII and the current fight with jihadis that is so popular in some circles over here.  I sense an opportunity for a meeting of the minds: Rick Santorum and Vova, together at last!

Maybe Reihan is right.  Maybe a sequel to 28 Days Later is one of the best movies around.  There is a long and respected tradition of endless numbers of horror sequels, so I suppose it’s only fair that the 28 crowd gets its own franchise.  As post-apocalyptic horror goes, 28 Days Later is pretty hard to beat.  I don’t see how you can even attempt a sequel of something as grim and unnerving as that one (except, naturally, that you, the studio executive, want to make a lot more money).  Of course, it could be worse–they could start making prequels.

For democracy’s future, these are real problems. But there’s an even bigger one: democracy is not improving people’s lives. In Bangladesh, among the most corrupt countries in the world, many were thrilled when the military seized power in January. By most accounts, Russians like how Vladimir Putin has ruled. And though Chávez is one of Latin America’s least democratic leaders [bold mine-DL], he’s also one of the most popular. In many countries that have embraced democracy since the cold war’s end, free elections haven’t reduced corruption, violence or poverty. ~Peter Beinart

Take note that whenever Beinart talks about the decline of political freedom and someone being the “least democratic,” he is constantly conflating being liberal with being democratic.  There is no doubt that Chavez has been robustly, obnoxiously democratic.  That’s exactly the problem.  If he has become a democratic despot, he is not any less democratic for that. 

Incidentally, unless you are an outspoken journalist, a Chechen, a Georgian (or, more recently, an Estonian) or one of Russia’s seven liberals (five of whom live outside the country), why wouldn’t you like the way Putin has governed?  His tenure has coincided with, if not necessarily caused, improved living standards and has provided some stability and order where there was rather more lawlessness and chaos in the recent past.  Of course, people may like the way a government runs things and the government may still be horribly wrong in what it has done, but when you frame it this way it is obvious why Russians overwhelmingly approve of how Putin has ruled.  If you lived in Russia and were not a particularly political person, you probably would appreciate the relative improvement of the Putin era over that of Yeltsin.

Remember also that the Thais were also very enthusiastic when the military deposed Thaksin and seized power.  This is because democratic government will sometimes not only fail to reduce corruption, but will instead breed it.  Even if it does not encourage corruption, democracy is only as vigilant and honest as the electorate and entrenched power interests want it to be.  If elected representatives have no interest in checking executive corruption, there is nothing in a constitutional arrangement that will prevent it.  Even so, corruption charges against Thaksin and both major parties in Thailand made Thais very tired of his demagogic rule–and he has been one of the relative success stories of Asian democracy.

There is no reason why democracy should necessarily reduce corruption.  For every advance in open and accountable government democracy might theoretically bring, it introduces two opportunities for new graft, patronage and deal-making.  Only extensive reform legislation backed up by an ethos that tells people that it is actually wrong to help your cousins and friends game the system will effectively combat most basic corruption. 

There is no reason why democracy should curb violence or alleviate poverty.  Democracy politicises difference and aligns people along lines of mass identity: it requires well-established habits of abiding by the procedural rules of democratic government to keep these contestations from becoming either blatantly corrupt or violent.  Democracy concerns the equality of citizens, the nature of the distribution of power and the theoretical origin of political authority.  At its most basic, it is majority rule, and even in its indirect forms it is simply a mechanism for expressing consensus.  If most of the people in a nation embrace views that perpetuate internecine conflict or poverty or both, being able to vote and have representatives vote on legislation are fairly useless for addressing problems of violence and poverty.  Democracy is only as pacific as the people in a society (and perhaps less), and it has absolutely no direct relationship to the economic success of a society.  Those who think that participatory government will make them richer haven’t been paying much attention. 

What are Beinart’s answers?  Of course, it wouldn’t be to drop the idealisation of democracy.  That would make too much sense.  Instead, we should have “debt relief, open markets and foreign aid that really make a difference in a poor country.”  The first one makes a fair amount of sense (the refusal to bail out Argentina led to the implosion of their economy, the destruction of their middle-class and the backlash against pro-market policies), but the other two seem like invitations for populist backlash on the one hand and ever-greater corruption on the other.  Throwing foreign aid money at the rest of the world will not aid very many foreigners, except for those who happen to be among the government officials responsible for handling the money.

Today Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is cloning himself in Bolivia and Ecuador. ~Peter Beinart

If that doesn’t create a bipartisan consensus against cloning, I don’t know what will!

Four months into the primary season, the Republican candidates are all running way to the right on domestic policy, talking about tax cuts and porkbusting and abandoning the territory that Bush tried to swipe from the Democrats; meanwhile, the man currently leading in the GOP primary polls, Rudy Giuliani, seems to have decided that his path to the nomination requires a frontal assault on the party’s social-conservative consensus. The only place where there hasn’t been any serious deviations from Bushism is foreign policy, and particularly the war in Iraq, which is the one place where I thought deviations were most likely. ~Ross Douthat

I think Ross is being far too hard on himself here.  I read Ross’ piece on the staying power of Bushism not too long ago, and it made sense to me at a time when the primary contest had already started taking the shape it now has.  Let’s take it point by point.  Ross wrote:

All of the prominent candidates, for instance, champion fiscal restraint, but none are [sic] likely to revive the small-government conservatism that Bush deliberately abandoned. 

This is a true statement for both prominent and obscure candidates, save Ron Paul and perhaps Tom Tancredo.  Ron Paul is like a voice crying in the wilderness (as usual) in the midst of a field of people who are mostly either perfectly content with the current size and scope of government of the Bush Era or who focus their criticism on the excessive deficit spending of the last few years.  Who among the leading candidates is making a real small government agenda an important part of his campaign?  Of course, everyone always talks about tax cuts and reforming the tax code, but Mr. Bush was one for tax cuts and spending increases.  Sam Brownback can talk about killing the tax code with a “dull axe,” but we will wait in vain for the “compassionate conservative” to take that dull axe to any federal programs.  If anything, the prominent candidates aim to close this gap between revenues and expenditures by being more skeptical about cutting taxes (cue John McCain saying that he will follow the deficit to the gates of hell).  The candidates will make noises about shrinking government, the same way that Mr. Bush made similar noises during the primaries when he needed to fend off attacks from the right, but they are not making any proposals to this effect.  I think Ross has taken their Reagan-mania too much to heart: they are mouthing empty platitudes, not making concrete statements about policy.  That is a problem in itself, but it doesn’t make Ross’ analysis wrong.  Ross is much more right than he allows on this point in particular.

Keeping social conservatives happy and engaged is important for these candidates, and we have not yet seen whether any of them can actively spurn them and get away with it.  It is true that Giuliani has decided to take the Balaclava approach to wooing social conservatives, but it is not at all clear that this is a smart or winning strategy.  The merest whiff of a Fred Thompson candidacy has started to collapse Giuliani’s once-formidable position at the head of the pack, and his more openly pro-choice candidacy promises to hurt his position still more.  McCain tried to run to Bush’s left in 2000 and he was crushed; Giuliani wants to run to the left of Bushism, which is already pretty far to the left, and will almost certainly suffer the same fate.

The near-unanimity of the candidates on backing Bush’s foreign policy in almost every particular has already been noted before.  Ross had good reason to think that someone other than Ron Paul would break with the administration on Iraq or foreign policy more broadly, but here he has assumed a rational response to the failure of Bush’s foreign policy that you might expect from a foreign policy realist.  This makes sense, since I believe Ross is basically a realist, but it imputes to most of the candidates understanding of foreign policy that they do not seem to have.  As a matter of political self-interest for the general election, they should be running away from Iraq as fast as they can, except for the baffling reality that Republican voters overwhelmingly support the war and the “surge” and seem to think that victory is just around the next “corner.”  The party has truly become Bushified, and now the ‘08 candidates are stuck playing to a base that embraces Bushism at a time when most of the country loathes it. 

In what sense have most of the candidates, especially the “prominent” ones, actually moved away from Bushism, by which Ross means “social conservatism and an accommodation with big government at home, and a moralistic interventionism abroad”?  In reality, they haven’t moved very far from Mr. Bush’s chosen ground at all, which is why all of the insipid Reagan chatter is that much more depressing.  The candidates seem to believe quite genuinely that if they invoke certain talismanic words and names that the primary voters will respond with Pavlovian automaticity.  Most of them do not feel obliged to take up policy positions that might actually reflect a commitment to smaller, limited government, because they seem to think that simply saying that they are against big and wasteful government will do the trick.  Don’t ask them what they would do differently–they like Reagan, and that’s enough, isn’t it?

Listening to the performances of traditional muwashshah songs by Zein al-Jundi and reading a bit about the genre, it has been a pleasant, not entirely surprising, discovery that three of the principal instruments in muwashshah ensembles are the oud, qanun and kamancha, which are also central to traditional Armenian music.  This makes perfect sense, when you consider the proximity of Syria and Armenia and the longstanding patterns of exchange between the two lands, but it nonetheless seemed like something worth noting.

In yet another test of the viability of a late-start campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, Fred Thompson went before conservative leaders Saturday night to discuss law and order – for the nation, not a TV show.

People from the crowd of more than 400 said the topic played well because it goes to the heart of what unites economic and social conservatives. ~Politico

Apparently what unites economic and social conservatives is boilerplate rhetoric.  Thompson turned back to “first principles,” beginning with the rule of law.  That’s right, the rule of law.  Fred Thompson, lead cheerleading defender of Scooter Libby, wants to talk to you about the rule of law.  Of the Libby case, Thompson once famously said:

This is a trial that never would have been brought in any other part of the world [bold mine-DL]. This is a miscarriage of justice.

Fred seems to have an unusually high opinion of the justice systems of all other countries.  In his view, there is apparently not one dictatorship or corrupt regime in the entire world that would have prosecuted someone in Libby’s position.  By implication, he apparently thinks that the justice system of every country on earth is more just than our own is, at least when it comes to Scooter Libby.  But fortunately he can talk with credibility about the rule of law, because he’s not just a lawyer, but he also played one on TV.

From his re-pre-launch speech, there was also this:

“It is a sad irony that a nation that is so dedicated to the rule of law is doing so much to undermine the respect for it,” Thompson said.

Do you suppose that Thompson has ever focused on the deeds of the administration when it comes to the undermining of the rule of law?  Of course he hasn’t.  Likewise, it doesn’t matter to him that Libby got up on the stand and gave demonstrably false testimony under oath.  Even though no one made Libby say the things that he did, it is an “injustice” to hold him accountable when he breaks the law.  That’s what the “law and order” candidate believes. 

Vice President Cheney was asked on Fox News about concerns that the Iraq war was hurting Republicans. “We didn’t get elected to be popular,” Cheney said. “We didn’t get elected to worry just about the fate of the Republican party.” ~Bill Kristol

It is true that voters do not elect representatives out of purely partisan interest, but presumably think that they are acting in the best interests of the country.  It is not always the case that the voters are right about the latter, but Cheney is right that narrow partisan gain is not the main reason why voters elect members of Congress and Presidents.  If he is so indifferent to questions of popularity, it is strange, then, that for the better part of its first five years the administration has governed with a very keen eye to using every lever and mechanism at its disposal to maximise Republican gains.  They didn’t get elected to be popular, but they were surely going to do everything they could to game the system and turn everything to their advantage and to magnify their popularity as much as they could.  This is called politics.  It was a particularly aggressive and nasty form of politics at times, but politics all the same.  There would have been a time when nothing would have commanded the administration’s attention more than the fortunes of the party–sustaining and expanding the Republican majority were the explicit goals of the Rove political machine and became the overriding goals in setting domestic policy.   Now that the “permanent majority” machine has broken down and lies wrecked on the side of the road, behold how high-minded and concerned about the common good Mr. Cheney has become!  See how he stands above the petty grasping pols who worry about their positions of power–not like the noble sage of the Naval Observatory!  Of course, Mr. Cheney has the luxury of never having to run for election again and can be unusually dismissive of public opinion in a way that elected representatives cannot and should not be.

I imagine that the 11 ”moderate” Republicans who approached Mr. Bush about the damage Iraq was doing to the GOP were trying to speak to Mr. Bush in a language he might be able to understand: they tried to explain Iraq in terms of electoral politics, because no other kind of appeal was reaching Mr. Bush.  Instead of showing appreciation for their sounding of the warning bell, the administration seems to think it is more appropriate to cast them as selfish cynics.   

The pictures tell you everything: an exuberant, peaceful massive demonstration in a Muslim country for secular democracy. It seems to me that the most important ally the United States now has is Turkey: critical for maintaining the survival of Kurdistan; critical for stemming the tide of Islamism in the Mulism world; pivotal in helping Europe integrate its new Muslim immigrants in the ways of pluralism and secularism [bold mine-DL]. But let’s stop from a moment to look at all these people in the near east, loving democracy, cherishing freedom from theocratic diktats, celebrating the equality of women. Know hope. Freedom is more powerful than fundamentalism. In the long run. ~Andrew Sullivan

Never mind that the exuberant demonstration is a demonstration against the ruling party that represents most Turks and is made up of people committed to Kemalist secularism.  Their ace in the hole is the army, and they know that if the Islamists go too far the army will step in.  Then we’ll see how the survival of Kurdistan works out.   

Just consider whether the other points make any sense.  Turkey is critical for maintaining the survival of Kurdistan?  Well, I suppose it might be, if we mean that its refusal, so far, to invade Kurdistan means that Kurdistan will survive a little longer.  Turkey’s government doesn’t want Kurdistan to survive; if it had its way, it wouldn’t want Kurdistan to exist.  Turkey will stem the tide of Islamism in the Muslim world?  How?  The “reformed” Islamists are in power in Turkey, and have no particular interest in stemming the tide of Islamism elsewhere.  Ankara was notorious in backing Bosnian and Albanian Muslims in the ’90s, even though both groups had ties to jihadis from the Near East.  Is there any evidence that the Turkish government is actively working against Islamism in other countries?  On the contrary, the sympathy for Hizbullah itself last summer was hard to miss.  Turkey is pivotal in helping Europe integrate their Muslim populations?  How?  The Muslims in France do not by and large come from Turkey, and most Europeans don’t even want to bring Turkey into the EU–why would they accept Turkish advice on integrating Muslim immigrants if they don’t want to integrate Turkey into Europe, and why would the Turks give advice to people who clearly want to keep them at arm’s length?  Aren’t those elevating Turkey as the great synthesis of East and West simply projecting what they hope to see developing in the Islamic world?  Aren’t these protests expressions of a secularism under siege that feels itself to be on the wane and endangered by the rise of political Islam?  Why do we take them as signs of confidence and health of a secular Turkey?

The people in these demonstrations may be rebelling against imaginary “theocratic diktats” (of which there has been none in Turkey for at least 73 years), but they also represent the political forces that enforce secularist and nationalist diktats.  Relatively few people in Turkey are on the side of freedom as such. 

The “Idiot” species, we suggested, bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment. Its beliefs—revolution, economic nationalism, hatred of the United States, faith in the government as an agent of social justice, a passion for strongman rule over the rule of law—derived, in our opinion, from an inferiority complex. In the late 1990s, it seemed as if the Idiot were finally retreating. But the retreat was short lived. Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct. ~Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Far be it from me to defend the wisdom of crowds and the virtues of democracy.  If Mr. Vargas Llosa wants to say that the policy preferences of mass democratic electorates are often foolish and unsound, I will not contradict him.  However, I tend to find the anti-populism of the liberal democrat a little hard to take, since it is so transparently inconsistent with his own confidence in democratic government.  There is often nothing obviously more purely rational and less self-interested about the preferences of the liberal democrat that puts him in the position to laugh at the populist and socialist as an “idiot.”  Carl Schorske’s cultural history of fin-de-siecle Vienna was one work that revealed to me this contempt of the 19th century liberal and his sympathisers for the conservative Catholic, the nationalist and the socialist: in this telling, liberals conceived of themselves as embattled heroes of rationality, and their foes were foolish crowds stupidly pursuing “magical” answers that could not be explained by anything other than irrationality.  In fact, the backlash against classical liberalism across all of Europe and, to some extent, also here in America was the result of the failure of liberal policies to address the interests and needs of huge numbers of people.  There is good reason why Christian democracy and social democracy became the dominant forces in European politics in virtually every country: most constituencies did not benefit from and did not want the liberal order.  The story of modern Europe is the story of how liberty and democracy are frequently mutually exclusive, but it also offers an important reminder that there are social and political goods that most people will privilege ahead of fairly abstract notions of liberty. 

Liberal economic policies were geared for the benefit of liberal middle-class voters and promised, eventually, benefits for others as well, but in the short term the rural and labour interests were quite rationally and sensibly opposed to policies that privileged the interests of buergerlich city-dwellers and the interests of capital and finance.  Liberals are always caught in the paradox that they endorse all of the contractual and egalitarian theories that must lead inexorably to universal suffrage and mass democracy, knowing at the same time that their definition of good government and freedom is not shared by the overwhelming majority of people in the world and will likely be repudiated once everyone has a vote.  Nowadays they possess a charmingly naive faith in the virtues of democracy, but reserve the right to declare the exercise of the franchise in ways they dislike to be the workings of idiocy.  This role today is taken up by the inheritors of the American Freisinnigen, the Republicans, who are quite happy to extol the glories of democracy and “people power” at every turn when it seems to vindicate their policy preferences until the demos turns against them, whereupon they rediscover that America is supposed to be a republic and the madness of crowds is a dangerous and worrisome phenomenon.  It is as some of them are Jacobins who are willing to pose as Federalists when the occasion requires; the centralising tendencies of both Jacobin and Federalist make this contradictory stance less absurd than it might otherwise be.  But that is another story.         

Back to Latin American idiocy.  What is striking about this analysis is not its rude dismissal of the recurring preferences of large numbers of Latin Americans, but the treatment of the resurgence of “the Idiot” as if nothing in the 1990s happened that might have caused many Latin American nations to question the neoliberalism that was being promoted as the answer to “the Idiot.”  Latin American electorates did not turn on neoliberalism out of a fit of pique or whimsy–like its original, neoliberalism introduced any number of strains and upheavals into the societies where neoliberal policies were implemented and austerity budgets alienated those who depended on government largesse.  Like classical liberalism, neoliberalism has proved to be wildly unpopular.  The disasters of neoliberalism in Argentina in particular seemed to vindicate increased hostility to such policies.  Even though the Argentinian government could be fairly blamed for the overspending that pushed their country into the debt crisis that led to the meltdown that impoverished many Argentines, the association of the ruling party and the government with neoliberal policies tainted the entire theory with the failures of their mismanagement. 

If “the Idiot” has returned with a vengeance, it is because neoliberal politicians also acted pretty idiotically in their own right and discredited the alternative to old-fashioned populism.  To the extent that neoliberalism was associated with pro-American attitudes, its failure made hostility to U.S. policy fashionable once again.  Rather than face up to any of these political realities, Vargas Llosa goes so far as to declare outside sympathisers with this backlash to be guilty of “intellectual treason” (whatever that means). 

The author takes the easy road of bashing Hugo Chavez, who is so ridiculous that criticising him is a bit like calling in an airstrike on a barrel of fish.  He cites Chavez’s admiration for Chomsky and Chomsky’s admiration for Chavez.  That is a surprise–two radical leftists admire each other!  In other news, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair get along, and Christopher Hitchens does not believe in God.  Somehow Foreign Policy thought it worth publishing an article that tells us that (contrary to all of those numerous Western claims of success) Venezuelan social and economic policies are not working very well.  Plus, did you realise that some sociology professor from Binghampton University (where?) has defended the Cuban government?  How could you not know–he is apparently an “American opinion leader.”  Continuing to show the vast influence of ”idiot” sympathisers in the industrialised West, Mr. Vargas Llosa has dug up a lecture by Harold Pinter (he’s still alive?) in which Pinter rallies to the side of the old Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas (because it’s never too late to justify communist atrocities).  Of course, it’s dreadful to have people still defending the Sandinistas, but in an age when Trotsky admirers appear in the pages of National Review it might just be that old leftists rehashing debates of the 1980s are not the most pressing concern of our time.

But did you know that there are occasionally news stories written about Chavez that do not roundly condemn him and all his works?  Clearly, there are terrible and sinister forces at work!  That is not all.  He goes on:

Populists share basic characteristics: the voluntarism of the caudillo as a substitute for the law; the impugning of the oligarchy and its replacement with another type of oligarchy; the denunciation of imperialism (with the enemy always being the United States); the projection of the class struggle between the rich and the poor onto the stage of international relations; the idolatry of the state as a redeeming force for the poor; authoritarianism under the guise of state security; and “clientelismo,” a form of patronage by which government jobs—as opposed to wealth creation—are the conduit of social mobility and the way to maintain a “captive vote” in the elections.     

This is all perfectly true, and it is also a pretty good definition of every welfarist, progressive and social democratic political movement that has come to power in North America and Europe for the last seventy years.  Give or take a point, it could be a very good description of FDR and the New Deal.  These movements are routinely very wrong about the efficacy of the policies they promote, they are often quite stupid about economics and they often end up worsening the conditions of the people they set out allegedly to help, and they are, of course, vehicles for ambitious men to acquire power for themselves, but they came into being in response to the inadequate representation and inadequate response of governments dominated by other forces.  It may be the case that Latin American governments working on behalf of the interests of the wealthy oligarchs pursue policies that are better for the economic development of their respective countries, and it may often be the case that populist backlashes harm these countries, but it is entirely understandable and predictable that marginalised, dispossessed and poor people who see relatively few obvious benefits from this order are going to seek some kind of change.  There is not even a hint that there might be some explicable cause for the resurgence of populism–it can only be idiocy. 

Now, obviously Western sympathy with Chavismo is fairly idiotic, but it is also highly unrepresentative of most Western opinion, just as Chavismo itself is largely unrepresentative of most Latin American left-populism.  Most Latin American nations have turned left without indulging in the more absurd excesses of Venezuela and Bolivia, and they will benefit from their moderation.  The “threat” described in this article is not really that threatening, since it refers to the political sympathies of mostly marginal and far-left Western figures who have limited influence, if they have any at all, on policy.  The regimes for which they have sympathies are themselves relatively weak and have already begun to suffer the economic consequences of their flawed policies.     

Nobody denies the manifest disaster of the past four years. ~The Economist

This line comes in a leader that aims to praise Tony Blair’s record, which makes the rest of the piece so much harder to take.

It still seems like a decent idea to me, though: current events are intrinsically interesting, and learning about them make you genuinely curious about why the world ended up the way it did. If the lessons are structured with curiosity about causes in mind, this will make you interested in the Cold War, which in turn makes you interested in World War II, which in turn makes you interested in the Great Depression, etc. It’s a solution to the most obvious problem of teaching history: without any context, why should a 16-year-old care about dusty topics like the Missouri Compromise or the rise of the labor movement? ~Kevin Drum

It is hard to exaggerate how much I dislike this attitude towards the study of history.  In addition to confusing students about the workings of causality, giving them a completely skewed understanding of historical significance and basically endorsing quasi-Hegelian, teleological readings of history as the unfolding of some necessary, predetermined outcome and anachronistic “precursorism” as the desirable ways to think about the past, which ought to discredit the method right there, it betrays the assumption that there is something more intrinsically interesting about present events (which may or may not be terribly historically significant) than about events that we know are historically significant.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this method would take the music of System of a Down as a point of departure for talking about the Armenian genocide, rather than trying to show the causes for the genocide and mentioning, in passing, that modern Armenians still consider this to be a defining event in their history. 

This assumption that current events are more intrinsically interesting is one that I imagine the average teenager doesn’t share.  To the average teenager, what happens in contemporary European, Near Eastern or even American political life probably seems just as boring and irrelevant as the Missouri Compromise.  Indeed, the pursuit of relevance is misguided and doomed from the beginning–for example, WWII shouldn’t have to be relevant to you, the ignorant teenager, to make it worthy of study.  Besides, the job of the history teacher is to cause the students to take an interest in things that they would otherwise not be interested in.  Some might call this process “education” and others might call it “broadening” the “minds” of students.  There is nothing at all wrong in relating history to current events or using contemporary references to help explain a concept, but it is important not to muddle things or confuse students about chronology, when they often have a hard enough time appreciating the importance of chronology.  Teaching isn’t supposed to be spoonfeeding students what they already like and then hope, miraculously, that this translates into an interest into other things. 

“The assumption has always been that Mr Bush was planning to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor and that the Republicans in Congress would go along with him,” says Charlie Cook, a leading political analyst. “But that looks increasingly difficult by the day. We could be facing a Nixon in 1975 situation where senior Republicans ultimately prevail on George Bush to change course [bold mine-DL].” ~The Financial Times

I have no idea what this refers to, since Nixon had been gone for approximately four months by the start of 1975 (there was apparently some scandal) and it was not Republicans prevailing on Ford to change course that concluded American involvement in Vietnam.  It was the progress of the North Vietnamese offensive and Democratic opposition to the aid requested by Ford for South Vietnam that brought about the conclusion.  This is like an American newspaper citing a British political analyst talking about a “Margaret Thatcher in 1991 situation”–you have to hope that the analyst was misquoted and the editors and fact-checkers simply forgot to read over this story.  I have seen more or less plausible attempts to create parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, but this one doesn’t make any sense at all.

2008 will be a unique election, but Leon Hadar makes an argument that suggests why it will share many of the characteristics of the election of 1920:

But a more appropriate historical analogy in discussing the impact of the war in Mesopotamia is the disastrous outcome of American fighting in World War I.

The Wilson and Bush administrations have many things in common, and once we started to see Bush’s galloping Wilsonian idealism in action it was easy to imagine his Presidency ending in just as much failure and public repudiation as Wilson’s had done.  The two make for an interesting comparison, since Mr. Bush’s War has so far resulted in comparatively far fewer American deaths, it probably will not end up leading to a much greater slaughter a few decades hence and in contrast to Wilson Mr. Bush has not (yet) engaged in widespread efforts to round up and imprison dissidents against his war.  It is striking just how weak Mr. Bush has been as a President compared to the rather imperious Wilson (not that anyone should want him to start demonstrating Wilson’s sort of “strength”).  Inflexibility defines both men, but the man in the administration who most resembles Wilson’s demeanour–right down to the perpetual scowl on his face–is the Vice President.  Meanwhile, Mr. Bush seems to resemble no one in the Wilson administration more than Thomas Marshall, the Vice President so ineffectual and ridiculous that he refused to assume the Presidency after Wilson was incapacitated with a stroke for fear that it might appear to be a coup.  Mr. Bush has played the role of incurious legacy admission to Wilson’s obsessive academic.  Mr. Bush’s errors have proceeded from knowing little and being interested in even less, while Wilson’s were the errors of presuming to know and see all (even when he didn’t know much at all about the peoples and lands he was helping to divvy up).  Both certainly drank deeply from the poisoned well of optimism, but unfortunately for the world Wilson’s optimistic preaching was received by a weary and disillusioned world as a new hope rather than the misguided folly that it was.  With the benefit of the experience of the 20th century, most nations were less willing to embrace similarly unrealistic talk of hope, reform and liberation when Mr. Bush was offering it.  Wilson could speak as the representative of an America only just stepping fully onto the world stage, while Mr. Bush speaks as the representative of the world’s predominant power.  What sounded like a blessing coming from Wilson ends up sounding like a veiled threat coming from Mr. Bush.  Thus, bizarrely, Mr. Bush will probably be remembered more poorly than Wilson–who is still surprisingly highly regarded by many historians and politicians–despite the fact that he is merely a second-rate imitator of the far worse original.  (Not, let me insist again, that we want to have another Wilson!) 

As large as Iraq looms on the scene today, as politically significant as the war is today, and as much as it will sour the public on intervention in the near future, I think we may be surprised at how quickly the effects of the war pass away and recede into the distance.  Calamitous and awful as it has been, it still remains a war on a relatively limited scale and will wind up having a primarily regional impact.  It has acquired the prominence that it has because it involves the superpower, but it will ultimately probably possess the historical significance of the Boer War or some other colonial misadventure of the British Empire.  The disaster of Wilson’s intervention was global in nature, and it has continued to shape the history of the world ever since, almost entirely for the worse.  If the outbreak of war in 1914 was the most significant turning point in modern history (and it was), marking the end of old European civilisation and ushering in all of the horrors of the 20th century, American intervention in 1917-18 ensured that the consequences of the Great War would be even worse.  Princip’s bullet murdered nations, but Wilson’s overzealous conscience ruined whole continents. 

Mr. Bush’s legacy of failure will probably not be so enormous, but will be, like so much else he has touched, of minimal effect and importance.  Despite high ambitions and overblown rhetoric that mimic Wilsonian pretensions, mediocrity and smallness have been the chief characteristics of Mr. Bush’s policies.  Watching Mr. Bush trying to follow in Wilson’s disastrous footsteps is like watching someone of the stature and ability of Mussolini trying to reconstitute the Roman Empire.  Their ideological eyes are far bigger than their political stomachs.  Wilson really inaugurated and launched the idealist-interventionist school of American foreign policy, ensuring misery for many generations of Americans and foreigners, while Mr. Bush’s bungling will not even manage to kill off this dreadful thing. 

As Dr. Hadar suggests, there may well be a temporary “isolationist” backlash against the clumsy, mistake-ridden interventionism of the last several years.  Yet Mr. Bush will remembered as the head of an administration so incompetent in planning and execution that he could not even manage to fully discredit this approach to foreign policy, because he has ensured that the numerous mistakes in implementation will mask the fundamental mistake of meddling in other countries’ affairs. 

This concerns the “surge” and the recent remarks by one Maj. Gen. Mixon about troop levels in Diyala and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi government.  What seems striking about this story is how closely Gen. Mixon’s complaints about the Iraqi government seem to track with the warnings of certain war opponents who said that the “surge” was doomed to failure because of the weakness and compromised nature of the Iraqi government.  They do not seem to bear out the constantly optimistic assessments of war supporters who have interpreted every event for the past four months as some sort of vindication for the “surge.” 

As others have noted before, when things have seemed to improve temporarily, they say, “The surge did it!”  When things seem to be getting worse, they say, “The surge is making the enemy desperate!”  Presumably when Sadr stands beside Maliki in the center of the Green Zone in triumph, these people will say, “The surge has lulled them into a false sense of security!”  Even then, when someone at home criticises the “surge” as a bad plan, they will still say, “You don’t see the big picture.  This was just the first surge of many, with each one being ever more powerful and surgish than the last.  We may have lost the surge, but we will win the best-of-five surge series.” 

Taken together with the news that the Iraqi parliament may adjourn for a couple months and the report that the “surge” will continue well into 2008 (which means it isn’t much of a “surge,” and is actually an escalation, as David Corn and Jim Pinkerton pointed out recently), it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine how all of this will turn out well.  If the Iraqi government keeps confirming just how useless it is, while our government continues to pursue a tactical plan that depends heavily on the Iraqi government not being useless and actually pursues this plan for over a year, Americans will have been dying at higher rates for roughly a year while the vital element of the entire plan has simply failed to materialise.  Meanwhile, political support for the effort has started crumbling because all of these problems are becoming common knowledge, and the start of September has become the much-discussed point when that support will begin to collapse rapidly. 

But in the 21st century, things look different. Dictatorships, as in China, appear to have learned from the failure of the Soviets. While they continue to oppress political opponents, they allow a high level of economic freedom within their borders. ~Kevin Hassett

For some people, this seems difficult to accept, but I’m not sure why it should be.  Providing goods and services and participating in government are two very different things.  If the government permits the former, but prohibits the latter, that might even help boost productivity (imagine how much more productive political bloggers would be at whatever they did for a living if they weren’t spending all their time blathering about politics!).  As a matter of resources, time, energy and attention, it could easily be argued that participation in politics and the exercise of political freedoms are a drag on economic activity.  We could acknowledge this and still say that we prefer to expend our energies on these other goods, but it makes sense that those who have no such political freedoms and no participation in government to worry about will probably devote more energy and attention to work.  Authoritarian governments may decide to do economically stupid things (such as the Thai junta clamping down on moving bahts out of the country), but democratically elected governments may make their countries commit prolonged economic suicide (e.g., Venezuela) to pursue ideological and political goals.  It certainly doesn’t follow that giving more people the right to vote will ensure better economic policies–to believe this is to assume that the mass of voters knows something about economic policy and can gauge and discern wisely which proposals are better than others.  Usually, voter preferences tend to be very blunt: they tend to overreact to perceived failure with extreme swings to the opposite side, or they find themselves confronted with a two party consensus on economic management that permits no real change no matter what the people may or may not want.     

It isn’t as if the thesis that societies with less of a participatory government could be economically more productive was entirely unsuited to the 20th century.  Singapore has stood as a brilliant, shining repudiation of all theories that insist political freedom and economic freedom are somehow inextricably tied together.  Arguably, Singapore is exceptional in many ways that could make it a weak example, but time and again you can find evidence that both less free and less democratic societies (not always the same thing) will enjoy greater productivity and wealth.  The post-Cold War era has seen this happen on a consistent basis, as the graph in Mr. Hassett’s own article demonstrates.  The disparity between unfree-but-productive and free societies has actually widened during the 2001-05 period.  Of course, this involves including Malaysia (which at least plays at having elections) and Russia (which has elections that produce outcomes that liberals don’t like) among the “repressive” societies, which will definitely boost the numbers against the free and the democratic.

Will the 2008 election pit an Eisenhower Democrat against a Truman Republican? Now that would be an interesting debate. ~Michael Lind

Yes, it would be, if there were any Eisenhower Democrats.  One actually searches in vain for such people in the current presidential field.  Jim Webb might qualify, but he isn’t running.     

Mr. Lind’s article is right in its analysis of the GOP’s abandonment of most of its inherited views about foreign policy and war, and he offers a useful political explanation for why the GOP’s foreign policy has shifted as its constituencies and membership have changed over the decades.  Though the incorporation of traditionally more non-interventionist Southerners and fundamentalists into the coalition should have blunted the influence of interventionist foreign policy thinkers on the GOP, the “Jacksonian” constituencies can be counted on to back a war to the hilt once it has started and so have functioned as the main supporters of the sorts of policies that they would have decried as wasteful and crazy just ten years ago when carried out by the other party.  Neocons and Southerners don’t explain everything, either, since much of the GOP leadership remains in culture and background very much the product of the Eastern Establishment and possesses the same meddlesome internationalist perspective of the old Northeastern Republicans.  If the party leadership were the product of Middle America–fat chance, that–it is less likely that the same policies would have gained as much of a following among them.  The establishment types tend to be the “realists” in the party, but even as “realists” they are not really any less committed to hegemony and serve as rational enablers of the more dangerous enthusiasts for foreign adventurism. 

Dr. Dalrymple, sometimes TAC contributor and a thoughtful man, has an article in The New English Review comparing the thought of Marx and Qutb.  He does hit on some similarities, which are the similarities of all utopianisms, but I am concerned that this sort of argument pave the way for the invention of the no less ridiculous idea of “Islamomarxism.”  Are we really unable to approach the thought of a Sayyid Qutb without relying on the clumsy and inappropriate frameworks of 19th and 20th century European political thought?  Are we incapable of seeing Qutb as an exponent of a religion?  Of course, part of his religion involves a call to political power and the exercise of that power, but all of these things he advocates for reasons of his religion based on the requirements–as he sees them–of his religion.  Trying to interpret it through the lens of secular ideologies will not get us very far.   

But then there was an item that caught my attention.  Dr. Dalrymple writes:

Is this Marx or Qutb speaking:

[there] is a natural struggle between two systems which cannot co-exist for long.

The answer is Qutb, but Dr. Dalrymple also notes the striking similarity between this statement and those of Marx and Marxists down through the years.  However, this is not really evidence of some deeper affinity between Qutb and Marx.  It is a reflection of the Manichean rhetoric employed by all fanatics and modern gnostics who insist on realising their version of the Kingdom here and now.  You can see it in Lincoln’s claims that the Union cannot endure “half slave and half free.”  Why couldn’t it endure?  Because one side is going to insist that the other half cannot continue as it has been going.  The impulse of the Freisinnigen is to “rationalise” everything and make uniform standards everywhere they can.  (The same mentality appears whenever someone believes that such-and-such an issue is “too important” to be left to the states or local communities, which is basically a statement that federalism and decentralism are only good for handling minor and insignificant things, which is to doubly insult both.)  If such-and-such a thing is intolerable or unacceptable in Maine, it must be considered so in Mississippi, and not just in Mississippi, but also eventually even in Mauritania and the Maldives.  Presumably, infant car seat regulations in Bolivia are not up to code–taken to an extreme, the freethinker will consider this his problem, just as Obama believes that there is nothing on earth that is not related to the national security of the United States. 

The entire notion of Iraq serving as the model of democratic reform leading to the regional transformation of the Near East is based on a related view that if there is one “successful” case of democratisation in a region, it will automatically spread and reproduce itself in neighbouring countries, as if political ideas and institutions were like viruses that could spread in this fashion.  Indeed, democratists almost have to think of democracy as a kind of blight that will attack a monoculture of uniform despotism, simply wiping it out wherever it goes, which naturally takes no account of the diversity of cultures and peoples in the countries that they are trying to democratise.  It might seem strange that democratists are probably the least qualified to spread democracy around the world, but it seems to be the case.  Why?  Since they don’t seem terribly interested in the rest of the world for what it is, but simply as a platform where they can demonstrate their ideology in action, they are uniquely ill-suited to conveying democracy as anything other than a universalist project that aims to obliterate local customs and institutions.  This has very often been the flaw of advocates of democracy, who often express some degree of contempt for the customs and traditions of peoples who do not have democratic regimes.  They vaguely sense that the local culture has inhibited the establishment of democracy, but instead of finding some way to adapt their model to local circumstances they will often seek to uproot whatever they regard as an impediment, ensuring that democracy is thereafter associated in the minds of the locals with cultural and political radicalism that deeply offends them.    

The old joke that the puritan is the person who is worried that somewhere someone is having a good time is only partly right.  It is not just the enjoyment of others that such people cannot stand.  The real freethinking Yankee is the person who is worried that somewhere someone is thinking in a way that is not identical to his own thinking.  Difference troubles the freethinking mentality, and the untidiness of non-systematic views of the world drives the freethinker crazy. 

You can see the same “no coexistence” rhetoric in WWII propaganda films that claimed that the world cannot be partly enslaved and partly free, which is even sillier, since it was entirely possible for decades and decades for a few free republics and constitutional monarchies to exist and coexist with the rest of the world that was subjected to some form of autocratic rule.  This would have continued to be true, regardless of the outcome of WWII, but as with all good propaganda the message had to be one that related distant, abstract dangers in immediately threatening ways.  If Germany attacks Russia, how does that concern you?  In reality, it often doesn’t concern you.  But if you are convinced of the danger of Germany eventually attacking you, then you become very attentive to the problem of Germany.   

Most people are unconcerned if there is or is not freedom on the other side of the planet–what concerns them is when that lack of freedom supposedly endangers their security.  If someone could plausibly argue that inaction with respect to Darfur would lead in a fairly direct way to a bomb going off in their local mall, people would become a bit more anxious about helping Darfuris.  This is actually a fairly normal response; people who lie awake at night worrying about Darfuri villagers are highly atypical and frankly rather odd people. 

In a related way, this is why–indeed it must be why–interventionists continue to spout the obvious lie that “they hate us for our freedom” and the associated falsehood that “democracies don’t war.”  Wasting time, money and lives on democratisation only makes sense if it is seen to serve a larger purpose of security.  Constantly babbling about spreading freedom only seems reasonable to national security-focused citizens if they are made to believe that we have enemies because of who we are and that we can only eliminate those enemies by making their own societies more like how we are.  The government needs to make the conflict ideological and promise that it has an ideological solution, which theoretically reaffirms domestic confidence in our own ideals and also links what is an entirely security-related matter to ideological definitions.  Security threats have not come about because of certain policies or lapses in defense, but because of people opposed to our very existence and way of life.  In other words, as the propagandists tell it, the only reason why these other societies produce hostile forces is that those societies are insufficiently identical with us in their political norms and institutions.  If we make them more identical with us, there will have to be peace!  It is so logical that the stupidity of it doesn’t seem to occur to all that many people who support the government’s decisions.  The problem arises when policymakers believe their own propaganda and think that they actually can solve the problem of jihadi hostility by promoting democracy and freedom, when the lack of these was never the cause.  They mixed up the domestic propaganda message with the actual policy analysis (assuming that there was any analysis with which to confuse it), and hijinks ensued. 

The end of the Cold War with all its attendant resurgences of nationalism, ethnicity, religion and political diversity–things that had been largely artificially suppressed or managed by the two rival systems–should have put an end to this kind of homogenising, rationalising thinking once and for all, but instead the democratists took the collapse of communism as an invitation to make the world in the democratists’ image.  Incidentally, there are two principally ideological reasons why democratists are so furious with Putin and Chavez: they have shown that real mass democracy can and will yield authoritarian, illiberal governments in societies that do not have a politically liberal culture appropriate to constitutional government and, furthermore, that the cookie-cutter model the democratists would impose all around the world is wildly unpopular in large parts of the world.  Left populism in Latin America is a very public repudiation of everything democratists have claimed about democracy: that it is inherently peaceful, prone to encouraging freedom and likely to produce more pro-American regimes.  To maintain the obvious contradiction between their ideology and reality, they must massage the reality and describe Russia and Venezuela as “failed” democracies, because it can never be admitted that fully functioning democracies can create what is being created in Russia and Venezuela.  (Occasionally, some democratists will see the flaw in this sort of argument and acknowledge that when they say democracy they don’t just mean ‘majority rule’ and political equality of citizens–which is what democracy actually means–but include under that label the whole array of liberal constitutional arrangements that have, of course, absolutely nothing to do with democracy.)  This is fine, except that their democracies are doing what the ancients knew democracies were best at doing: attacking the rich, creating chaos and leading directly to despotism.     

The impulse to homogenise and unify on the home front and eliminate rival systems elsewhere is the impulse of every kind of ideologue, which is why conservatives and men of the Right who love variety, the local, the particular and the differences of place, custom and culture are dead-set against every kind of ideology and pursue a persuasion, a mentality and a way of life that will not be governed by the dreadful categories of ideological thinking. 

Has Hitchens devastated religious faith, as he plainly thinks he has? I’m glad he’s entertaining - but is he persuasive? Does his book confirm you in your nonbelief, or leave questions unaddressed? Hitchens takes these questions seriously - shouldn’t the reviewer, whether an atheist, a believer, or somewhere in between, have the decency to do the same?

Ah, but it’s Kinsley on Hitchens. Brilliant! ~Ross Douthat

Ross covers quite well the bizarre quality of Kinsley’s review, which is that it doesn’t actually review the book very much at all, but instead uses the book as an excuse to chat about what a very “interesting!!!” person Christopher Hitchens is.  As far as the book is concerned, the main thing that interests Kinsley about it is that it does not fit the pattern of deliberately provocative self-contradiction that makes so many journalists and pundits swoon, which may just be the most deliberately provocative act Hitchens could have done. Here he is, a political columnist and writer, and he has written a book in which he does not reinvent his entire worldview, so that he remains more ”unpredictable” than if he had.  Earnestly consistent conviction is the new authenticity.  Interesting!

But Kinsley’s review flops in more ways than this.  He describes Hitchens’ recent career as if many of his moves have been surprising or counterintuitive:

Hitchens had seemed to be solving this problem by turning his conversion into an ideological “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Long ago he came out against abortion. Interesting! Then he discovered and made quite a kosher meal of the fact that his mother, deceased, was Jewish, which under Jewish law meant he himself was Jewish. Interesting!! (He was notorious at the time for his anti-Zionist sympathies.) In the 1990s, Hitchens was virulently, and somewhat inexplicably, hostile to President Bill Clinton. Interesting!!! You would have thought that Clinton’s decadence would have positively appealed to Hitchens. Finally and recently, he became the most (possibly the only) intellectually serious non-neocon supporter of George W. Bush’s Iraq war. Interesting!!!!

There is something strangely, indescribably fitting in the allusion that compares Hitchens to a morally insane woman who murders the man she loves (at least as Salome tells the story), but after that Kinsley doesn’t do very well.  Except for the abortion bit, there is nothing particularly interesting about any of these things.  They only seem strange if you believe that to acknowledge Jewish ancestry entails a duty to become Zionist or if you think being on the left entails supporting Democratic politicians and opposing aggressive war, which hard-core leftists of Hitchens’ sort have never believed. 

Is it strange or “interesting!!!” that a man who venerates the memory of Leon Trotsky should be disgusted by the legendary centrist triangulator and ultimate politician of convenience?  Hitchens has quite open admiration for the Bolshevik murderer, so he could hardly be impressed by the milquetoast liberalism of Clinton.  I remember how much he hated Clinton’s attack on the Sudan, not so much because he opposed military adventurism (he quite likes it) or random violence against civilians (if it’s in a “good” cause, he’s not bothered) but because I think he saw it simply as Westerners beating up on a Third World country.  His loathing of the West at that time seems to have outweighed his loathing of Islam, but recent years have managed to make them about the same.  As tempting as it might be to make his Trotsky admiration into an explanation for why he embraced the Iraq war, that certainly doesn’t do it justice.  Hitchens has long been obsessed about the Kurds, just as any good leftist should be (sympathy for the Kurds unites such diverse lefties as Peretz and George Galloway), and this has coloured his entire view of Iraq policy; he wrote, no doubt quite seriously, of the “anti-fascist” character of the Iraq war.  In fact, the only thing remarkable about Hitchens’ support for the Iraq war is that he should be one of the very few leftists who still support it in one way or another.  Hitchens has remained faithful to the export of revolution and death to a degree that makes him seem strange and unpredictable to liberals who have suddenly discovered their inner realist only after a Republican has embarked on a classic liberal interventionist project.  Hitchens’ grim, remorseless consistency on killing people for their own good reveals the opportunism and rather crass partisan reflexes of so many center-left war critics.  If it has aligned him more with the neocons, this is simply because they also routinely agree with interventionist wars regardless of the party affiliation of the President launching them.        

Max Boot actually makes the right, if obvious, point that we need more trained linguists in the government and in the military.  How far away is the goal?  Pretty far:

We won’t close our knowledge gap until a Foreign Area Officer—an officer who has dedicated much of his career to understanding a particular region—gets at least as much respect within his service as a tank commander or fighter pilot.

If we were speculating about why “we haven’t launched a crash program to teach thousands of young people Near Eastern languages” (Dari, Pashto and Urdu aren’t really Near Eastern*, but we’ll let that go this time), a few answers present themselves. 

One is that the administration has remained in many ways so tied to the earlier “liberation” approach that it does not think there is a real need to teach Americans these languages.  Why go to the trouble to learn Dari or Pashto, when Afghans are glorying in democratic freedom and don’t need us to talk to them?  This would be a result of the contradictory impulse to dominate a region as hegemonists, but to insist all the time that there is no hint of colonialism at work.  You probably don’t teach a lot of people to learn these languages unless you see your involvement in the relevant countries being very long-term.  So perhaps no one is preparing for the “Long War,” because they don’t think the war will actually be all that long (or perhaps they hope to project power via bases, but avoid local entanglements as much as possible).  Perhaps they still expect, in spite of everything, for the local people to figure out alien systems of government, effective administration and establish some reasonable level of order and security without much in the way of assistance and advice (except as can be given in English to prominent exiles or those among the locals who can speak English).  However, this seems a less likely answer.

Another possibile answer for the lack of extensive language training programs is simply that the administration is filled with officials either so contemptuous of the rest of the world or so ignorant of much of it that they do not appreciate the importance of having an expanded corps of linguists in these languages.  Mr. Bush is famously intellectually incurious, so the initiative wouldn’t come from him.  One can almost imagine him saying to Secretary Rice, “Why can’t all those people just speak English?”  Secretary Rice would seem at first like the better candidate to push for improving language training, at least as far as her responsibility at State goes, but she is famously not a Near or Middle Eastern expert and might not have given a lot of thought to the variety and range of different languages that need to be sponsored to support operations across these regions.  You would think a Robert Gates (no stranger to collaborating with foreign rebels is he) would press for this more.  Perhaps he has privately tried and run up against the uncomprehending, baffled looks of other members of the administration?

The third answer is simply that of incompetence: everyone in the administration knows how important this is, they really want to take it seriously, but haven’t much sense of how to go about training a lot more linguists.  Unfortunately, given the track record of this administration, this seems the most likely explanation, as attractive as the other two might seem. 

Reporters have had fun quizzing top officials on the differences between Islamic sects and the affiliation of relevant jihadis, showing in the process that many of the top people in relevant areas of policy and oversight have no idea what goes on “over there.”  I think they should go back and corner top officials on these language questions.  Corner the heads of Senate Foreign Relations or House Armed Services.  “Mr. Chairman, what are the major languages that they speak in Afghanistan?”  If one gets even one of them right, ask: “What kind of a language is that?  What other languages is it related to?  Which groups speak that language?”  And so on.  This would be very elementary, but it might just embarrass enough prominent people that they would feel the need to make more of an effort in boosting these language training programs. 

I like foreign languages.  While I am probably too much of dilettante and not really good enough at many of the languages I have worked on, I would like to think that I know something about their value and importance, not simply for the immediate purpose of communication, but for understanding how other peoples around the world think and understanding what other peoples think is important.  The apparent initial indifference of the government to this matter, and its sluggish response up till this point, is just one more indictment against the competence of the administration and the entire apparatus of the federal government.

*I have typically referred distinctly to the Near East and the Middle East as different regions, because they are different regions.  This follows an older, European categorisation of the Orient into Near, Middle and Far.  This is reflected in many modern European languages: the Near Eastern region is still described as der naehen Osten, le Proche Orient, etc.  For whatever reason, Americans collapsed the Near and Middle East together, so that we are treated to the bizarre descriptions of places in the Levant as being “Middle Eastern” and frequent references to Israel-Palestine negotiations as pursuit of “peace in the Middle East.”  Perhaps Americans call the Near East the Middle East because some of us already regard Europe as the “Near East”?  Who knows? 

It has become so widespread and conventional that it is a bit hopeless to try to change the usage, but Boot’s usage above is doubly odd, since it conflates everything in the opposite direction and makes everything–including languages found principally in Pakistan and India–”Near Eastern,” which is no more correct than the other confusion.  It seems to me that the logical point dividing the two would be somewhere between modern Iran and Pakistan.  Arguably, Iran might be classed as part of the Middle East instead, except that I believe Oriental Studies has usually taken Persia to be Near Eastern.  Yes, there is a certain arbitrariness in drawing the line, but for the sake of geographical accuracy it does need to be drawn somewhere.

So Cheney went over to Iraq to lay down the law, er, consult with the sovereign and democratic government of an independent and free Iraq recently liberated from the cruel grasp of the tyrant (cue inspiring music in the background).  While he was on his proconsular tour, I mean, diplomatic mission, U.S officials complained about the plans of the Iraqi parliament to adjourn for two months.   Arkin from the Post gives some details:

“For the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in the middle of summer is impossible to understand,” U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates also said that he pressed for the recess to be canceled. Sen. John Warner (R-VA) said a two-month recess is “not acceptable.”

This news of proposed adjournment will come as something of a shock to many Americans, who were scarcely aware that the Iraqi parliament was ever in session, since they seem constitutionally incapable of doing anything at all.  At last notice for those who do follow Iraqi politics closely, there was the development that the Sunni bloc was finally fed up with waiting to vote on the amendments that they want for the constitution as a way to guarantee relatively less federalism and to ensure some oil-sharing from the oil-rich regions that they do not control.  They were so frustrated that they were prepared to withdraw entirely.  This makes it less clear how remaining in session during the torridly hot summer months in Baghdad will accomplish anything, except that it will maintain the illusion that the Iraqi government is trying to fix the unfixable and solve the intractable.  As Arkin points out, however, there is nothing about this parliament that suggests that the main problem is the forthcoming summer break.  The main problem is the structure and political makeup of the Iraqi parliament, which is an extension of the bigger problem, which some people like to call “Iraq.”

Iraq has become one of those cases that vindicates the old saw that “if there is no solution, there is no problem.”  Optimists need to stop expecting solutions, and they need to stop trying to force solutions to things that have no solution.  Above all, they need to stop being optimists.

Shorter Podhoretz: “The 11 House Republicans who met with Bush on Iraq were motivated by politics, and this is entirely normal for politicians.  Did I mention that they are motivated by political concerns, which tend to be political in nature?”

In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. ~Gen. David Petraeus

Religious leaders from all the major faiths, who disagree on some of the most fundamental questions, managed to put aside their differences to agree that Rushdie had it coming. ~Michael Kinsley

Right.  I believe the Catholics began collecting a tithe to pay for hitmen to take him out.  This is insane.  It is one thing to say that many other religious leaders may have said (I have no idea whether they had anything to say about the matter one way or the other, but I am extremely skeptical that they said anything) that Rushdie was incredibly stupid to engage in militantly public apostasy from his inherited religion, given what he knew about that religion’s prescriptions for apostasy,  but to say that leaders “from all the major faiths” agreed that Rushdie “had it coming” is just ridiculous. 

Did the Dalai Lama say, “Rushdie really had that fatwa coming!”?  Did Pope John Paul II send a note to Khomeini saying, “Nice fatwa–I agree!”?  Presumably the United Methodists burned his image in effigy out of solidarity with their Muslim brethren, yes?  Give me a break! 

Incidentally, in the wild and wacky world of liberal religious tolerance, it would normally be considered a move of ecumenical generosity to side with Islamic religious authorities against those who denigrate their teachings, except when they supposedly side with those authorities against someone who has discovered the evils of religion.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, si, Western critics of Islam, no.  One is an enlightened visionary breaking out of the oppressive coils of patriarchal oppression, and the others are “Islamophobic” nuts, even though they often say more or less the same things.

How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer. ~Michael Kinsley

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;     
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,     
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will                                    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Michael Kinsley can often be interesting (or is that “interesting!”?), but here his credulity undoes him.  No, these points give believers no pause, because they are not serious points.  They are the sorts of points one expects to hear from Jodie Foster’s character in Contact or a fifth grader who thinks he has discovered–for the first time ever–that there are differences between the different Gospels.  It’s a good thing we have folks like Hitchens to pick up on the loose threads, since no Christian has ever thought about any of this, but has gone about in mindless “god-worship.”  Personally, I prefer the phrase “god-worship” to religion, since it makes it very clear what cannot be included as religion.

Are these questions from Hitchens’ book, as related by Kinsley, actually at all interesting?  Are they even accurate statements about the beliefs he purports to destroy in a solvent of Hitchensian ridicule?  Well, no and no.  Leave it to an atheist to not understand the purpose of the covenant, which was not primarily ethical lesson-giving (rather obviously, murder was considered a grave sin from the time of Cain, but why worry yourself over details after having thrown back a few too many drinks?).  The covenant, represented in the giving of the Law, was the establishment of what was to be an eternal bond between God and His People.  The Law was the limit or the boundary set for those who would distinguish themselves as the chosen of God.  That is one point of the Law and the giving of the Law.  The keeping of the Law involves not murdering and not committing adultery, but the far more significant and prioritised Commandments concern the worship of the One God, reverence for His Holy Name and the rejection of idols.  Obviously, the Israelites did need to be told about these things, because they had either never known them or had forgotten them during the sojourn in Egypt.  Try to keep up, Hitchens.

Christ, of course, did die in His humanity, and the reality of His death is a point that the Gospels go to some lengths to insist upon.  Again, it is the paradox of the God-become-man dying that formed one of the great difficulties of Christian theology, but it was not some blind spot that Christians have never noticed.  Christians have come to account for it by stressing that it was in the flesh that Christ suffered and died, but it was nonetheless the Word’s own flesh that suffered and died.  Paradoxically, it can be said by traditional Christians that God died upon the Cross, but it will be said at the same time that God qua God is impassible and immortal.  It’s a complicated idea, and no doubt it causes trouble for Hitchens, but one thing it isn’t is some unaccounted for contradiction.  Hitchens’ objection isn’t new or clever or interesting; it is a sort of inverted Docetism, where he denies the reality of the Incarnation by attacking the divinity of Christ rather than the reality of the flesh.  Are African and Muslim practitioners of female gential mutilation paid-up members of the Discovery Institute?  That would be interesting if it were true, but we all know it isn’t.  When female-genital mutilators begin citing the “argument from design,” then we can start heeding something that Hitchens says.  

Why not argue against real adversaries rather than strawmen?  Why not take on the main challenge, rather than kick around the easy targets of Mormonism and Islam, as he does in the other excerpts available at Slate?  Could it be that the bold and flamboyant Hitchens cannot hack it against real opposition?

The piece in question, in which Buchanan blames the Virginia Tech shootings on the Korean hordes who have entered the country in the past few decades, is a good example of why it’s so lonely over here on the moderate-restrictionist side of the immigration debate - because all the other restrictionists seem determined to take every chance they get to act like, well, the liberal caricature of an immigration opponent. ~Ross Douthat

Three points.  First, it’s lonely on the moderate restrictionist side because most people who start out as moderate restrictionists very quickly find themselves under assault from open borders fanatics who think that anyone to their right on immigration is a racist and aren’t afraid to say as much–therefore the moderate restrictionists sooner or later either cave into this blackmail or they eventually come into the Brimelovian camp to one degree or another.  Second, Mr. Buchanan’s target of choice in this case was perhaps not as well chosen as it probably should have been (since, as Steve Sailer of TAC and VDare, Koreans are a group with a very low rate of committing murder, which makes Cho Seung-Hui an even more freakish aberration from the norm than he would already have been).  The use of spectacular and extraordinary cases to vindicate general principles is usually a bad idea.  Pro-lifers who wanted to make or break the right to life on the Terri Schiavo case have learned, I hope, that they tended to make a mockery of what is generally a powerful, sacred truth.  Restrictionists can likewise take to excess the entirely legitimate public policy position that mass immigration increases crime generally and violent crime in particular, but this should be understood as an abuse of a legitimate argument, not as some sort of transparently absurd tub-thumping (such as, it seems to me, Ross and Reihan seem to making Mr. Buchanan’s article out to be).  Third, the very nature of the immigration “debate” in this country is such that if restrictionists cannot make the issue into a dire one of national security and public order it is virtually impossible to persuade large numbers of people to reject the dreadful nonsense they are routinely fed about this being a “nation of immigrants,” that importing cheap labour is good for the economy and the structure of our society and the idea that the failure to integrate millions of culturally alien people into our society is a recipe for success and happiness for all concerned.  Moderate restrictionist approaches, because they tend towards the incrementalist, the procedural and the technical, have something to recommend them (they tend to be better grounds for forging broad-based legislative compromises, for instance), but they leave the rhetorical field wide open to the abuses of open borders zealots who are allowed to contest the field almost unopposed because all “reasonable” people have agreed that more rigorous restrictionist views are not really admissible.  This sets up all restrictionists, moderate and rigorous, for ultimate defeat. 

In other words, unless restrictionists of any kind (moderate or rigorist) cast the isssue as one of letting into the country foreigners who threaten you (and also make it sound much more frightening than it really is) nobody much cares, because most people aren’t thinking about long-term demographic, cultural or socioeconomic consequences of cheap labour today.  There are rooves to be repaired and gardens to be tended, so don’t tell them about the damage being done to the wages of native-born labour or the creation of an exploited underclass.  (Hundreds of small towns take similarly short-sighted approaches to “development,” selling their birthright for a Super Wal-Mart, but that is another story.)  The main way to get the attention of the mass democratic public is, unfortunately, to shock them with the threat of immediate danger.  I suppose this is why so many Republicans engage in hyperbolic rhetoric when talking about the threat from jihadis–if the danger is not overhyped and magnified beyond all reason, virtually no one will take it seriously.  This is probably why liberal activists are constantly in ‘crisis’ mode, because they learned a long time ago that people in this country don’t even blink unless someone mentions that there is a ’crisis’ in such-and-such an area.  This is also probably why some environmentalists tend to verge on the hysterical, since their policy recommendations would otherwise be so completely unpopular that they have to overcompensate by making their issue seem like one of life or death for the entire planet. 

If restrictionists do cast the issue in this more alarmist way (i.e., in the only way that will make the issue politically meaningful to most people), they are declared hopelessly marginal and extreme–usually by moderate restrictionists who want to make it clear that they favour limitations on immigration, but they are not like those wacky VDare people.  When casting the issue this way is also much more accurate (viz. Resendez Ramirez and, indeed, the prison population of the border states), moderate restrictionists will still tend to shy away from it because it smacks of, well, taking the issue of restricting immigration a little too seriously.  Many moderate restrictionists seem to take the view that, yes, on balance there should be some control over the borders and reform of the immigration system with an eye towards limiting levels of immigrants into the country, but when it comes right down to it they do not believe it to be either terribly urgent or crucial.  It is one policy issue in a raft of others and you can ultimately take it or leave it. 

More rigorous restrictionists obviously take it much more seriously, which sometimes leads them to make excessive statements about the wrong cases, even though such statements might be only too appropriate in other cases.  The episode of the Hmong hunter who went on a shooting spree in Minnesota, while technically an isolated incident, did highlight the problems the Hmong have assimilating into American society after coming from Laos (something to bear in mind before  we start welcoming in boatloads of Iraqis fleeing the nightmare of their ruined country), and the recent case of Muslim immigrants plotting (crudely and amateurishly) to attack a military base in New Jersey suggests that the kind of argument Mr. Buchanan was making is a valid and necessary one, albeit one that missed its mark in this particular case. 

Sixty years on, the attitude of Londoners towards Americans is radically different [bold mine-DL].  After September 11, 2001, the U.S. Embassy building in Grosvenor Square was supplied with large concrete barriers and bollards to ward off a car or truck bomb. Armed policemen patrol day and night and unsuccessful efforts were made to turn some streets into no-entry zones. ~Carol Gould

The first time I read this, I thought, “That makes no sense, I must have missed something.  How does that show anything about the attitude of Londoners?”  Then I read it again and I realised that the Standard had outdone itself when it comes to fits of crazy anti-European rhetoric.  Even Clive Davis finds it a bit odd.

The problem here, of course, is that all U.S. embassies around the world experienced massive increases in security in the wake of the largest terrorist attack in American history.  Why might that have happened?  Could it be that the government was not so much concerned about unruly yobbish mobs blowing up the front gate as they were concerned to avoid repeats of Nairobi and Dar es Salaam?  No, it’s obviously the evil-minded Londoners who wanted to ram bomb-laden trucks into the side of the building.  (Of course, there were and still are potential terrorists in Britain, but they are not exactly, shall we say, West Enders.  Ms. Gould could talk about the Britons who actually do hate America, but that could get dicey and involve all sorts of deviations from the party line.) 

The next bit of the article is not much better, blaming neighbours of the embassy for being concerned that their neighbourhood might enjoy the sort of explosive attentions the IRA paid to the financial center of London in 1993.  These people have probably overreacted and embarrassed themselves, but it is not difficult to understand why the residents of Mayfair don’t want a prime potential terrorist target literally in their frontyard.  It is, after all, their country and their neighbourhood.  If The Weekly Standard doesn’t like it, they can go cry to their best friend Tony, for whom probably large proportions of the Mayfair protesters voted in the last general.  Frankly, it’s easy to belittle people in central London from the bowels of the AEI building, and if there are British citizens who have hardly distinguished themselves with stoicism and hardy endurance there isn’t much tolerance at the Standard and similar vehicles for anything resembling independence of thought by Europeans.

Take the next item: complaining about opposition to an American trying to buy Arsenal.  First of all, any sensible person knows that you don’t want to buy Arsenal, for goodness’ sakes–you would want to buy a respectable team.  (I will be now be deluged with death threats.)  If the people who own Arsenal don’t want to sell a controlling stake to an American, that seems to me to be a legitimate business decision.  Having endured the delights of foreign oligarchs from Russia buying up football teams, it might be that football owners and fans have had quite enough of making their national sport into a field for foreign venture capitalism.  If Canadians or Brits tried to buy an NFL franchise or, an even more serious threat to national pride, a NASCAR team, the American sports media would raise holy hell over it and every conservative would throw a fit about how “those people” don’t know anything about our football.  This has the virtue of being true.  As for the whining about too many stairs and no A/C in the Tube–suck it up!

The last time I was in Britain, which was admittedly eight years ago now, I was shocked at how accommodating and Americanised people had become.  People in London were short-tempered and rude, as almost all big city people are, but most Britons were decent, pleasant people who gave us no grief.  Yes, this was pre-9/11, pre-Bush, pre-Iraq, but what stunned me was that the once unforgiveable crime of putting ice in tea had become a commonplace thing.  In spite of what they must have regarded as an evil importation of bad taste, the British have accepted iced tea and now do not stare at you uncomprehendingly when you request it.  I don’t know whether it is actually progress–some might take it as proof that Britain really has gone down the drain–but it seems bizarre to regard the British today as being more anti-American than many of them were at the height of the CND days.  The main examples Ms. Gould uses are examples where Britons are reacting against symbols of American wealth and power, which always put people on edge in every corner of the world when they are wielded by foreigners in your own country.  It may not be terribly edifying, but there is nothing strange about it, nor is it necessarily representative of seem broader shift in British attitudes.  They are not turning against Americans or America as such, and therein lies all the difference in the world.       

Tomorrow I will be at the major medievalist conference of the year at Western Michigan University.  I will be talking about…monotheletism, of course, and monothelete ideas of deification.  I think they had some, which may come as a surprise to some people who don’t think of the monotheletes as having many ideas at all.

What Republicans stood for in the past was a sober realism about the limits of our power and our good intentions. That spirit is absent today. They act as though slogans are a substitute for strategy. What they claim as steadfast resolve looks more like blind obstinacy. ~Steve Chapman

It may be obvious, but it bears saying.  Today, Republicans are to warfare what Democrats traditionally have been to welfare.  Both insist that we must be willing to “sacrifice” and “pay any price” for the sake of higher ideals, but in both cases the ones insisting on all the sacrifice and paying very rarely have to do either.  Republicans have an attitude towards the lives of Americans that Democratic redistributionists have for the property of Americans: it is always worth it if someone else gives up his, provided that the goals of the policy are being pursued.

The ads he has come up with are not a bad way to convey his “experience,” but a larger problem he may have is what happens when his rivals begin paying attention to him and pointing out all of the failures that occurred on his watch in his various posts.  His tenure as Secretary of Energy is the most damaging and the most well-known, so why exactly does he think it is a good idea to remind people that he was in charge of the department during one of its worst security/espionage scandals?  For that matter, what did he accomplish as U.N. Ambassador?  What did he accomplish in Congress besides the usual pork spending?  He has some minor successes as governor (he banned cockfighting, after all), but even here he doesn’t actually have that much to run on.  Yes, he cut income tax rates, and we New Mexicans appreciate that, but that is literally the only thing he has done that most New Mexicans can recall him doing that does not involve gladhanding with Richard Branson, blowing huge sums on the Spaceport or wasting our money on a worthless train to Raton.  No offense to the good folks of Raton, but who wants to go to Raton?  More to the point, if you want to go, drive there, for goodness’ sake!

And few Democrats questioned whether the al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was in Kurdistan. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Perhaps few people questioned this, regardless of their partisan affiliation.  Perhaps more should have challenged the easy association of Ansar al-Islam and Zarqawi with Al Qaeda c. 2002-03, but no matter.  More certainly should have questioned whether their presence in a part of Iraq that Hussein did not control (and which we could have attacked with impunity anyway) was a legitimate justification for invading the rest of Iraq, where Ansar al-Islam clearly was not

Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe returned to Bogota this week in a state of shock. His three-day visit to Capitol Hill in Washington to win over Democrats in Congress was described by one American supporter as “catastrophic.” Colombian sources said Uribe was stunned by the ferocity of his Democratic opponents, and Vice President Francisco Santos publicly talked about cutting U.S.-Colombian ties. ~Robert Novak

There might have been less blunt ways of beginning to scupper a nasty bit of interventionist foreign policy in Latin America (Plan Colombia), but I’ll take what I can get in this case.  Mr. Novak laments the loss of an “important ally,” but for what end is Bogota an “important ally”?  To pursue the bankrupt, undesirable and, oh yes, unconstitutional drug war in Colombia.  Those who want to see interventionist foreign policy weakened, there could hardy have been a better outcome. 

Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party concludes on 10 May.  The people rejoice!

Via The Debatable Land

Rosa Brooks (she of the Obama-is-the-Messiah school) and Will Wilkinson talk about reproduction, yielding this priceless line from Wilkinson (which I am obviously taking out of context):

“You can replace immigrants with robots.”

The more serious point is that Wilkinson is not terribly concerned by the demise of this or that culture.  Okay, so we have established again that many libertarians are not concerned about cultural identity, but we knew that already.  The reason why potential demographic collapse in the West seems worrisome to non-libertarians (a.k.a., 98% of the population) is that the demise of our culture does worry us if for no other reason than that it is ours and that we want to impart it to the more than 2.1 children we are having in our desire to avoid “deplorable solipsism.”

Of course, it’s true that cultures come to an end.  It’s true that cultures change.  However, cultures seek to reproduce themselves, and the way that they do this is through the convictions of those who bear this culture that it is worth preserving and passing on to the next generation (which rather assumes that there will be a next generation to which one can pass the cultural inheritance to).  It seems to me that the habits of perpetuating cultural traditions and teaching them to the next generation on the assumption that your culture actually has some value and is worth keeping for its own sake, quite apart from any happiness it gives you, are so deeply engrained, indeed so normal and widespread throughout every traditional society, that it is difficult to regard with equanimity a rather blase and indifferent reaction to the death of our own culture.

Bill Richardson has campaign commercials (via Yglesias) that don’t make me feel physically ill and which are also fairly funny.  I say this as someone who thinks he would make an appalling disaster of a President and who has voted against him twice in gubernatorial elections.  I stand by my completely mad prediction that he will be the Democratic nominee come next spring.

The delegation included Representatives Mark Kirk of Illinois, another leader of the moderate coalition; Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania; James T. Walsh of New York; and Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri. Mr. Kirk, Mr. Walsh and Ms. Emerson declined to discuss the meeting. ~The New York Times

They were part of a delegation of “moderate Republicans” who had come to express their concern over Iraq.  They were telling Mr. Bush what their constituents think about the war–their districts have turned hard against the war, in some cases dramatically so.  There was also this item: “One told Mr. Bush that voters back home favored a withdrawal even if it meant the war was judged a loss.”  That sounds like a pretty strong endorsement of a withdrawal policy, at least as far as that district goes.  If this is true in moderate Republican districts, what do you want to bet that this is representative of general national opinion? 

Obsessive election watchers from last fall will remember that Kirk and Walsh survived strong challenges and there was a brief moment where it seemed possible that Walsh would get swept out to sea along with the other 30 Republican House members ousted in November.  Now these “moderates” are scrambling to find some cover before the next election, because they know that the next wave will take them if they don’t.

The years after September 11 have seen a welcome surge in the number of faculty positions and courses devoted to Islam and the Middle East, without producing any charges of a distorted intellectual agenda. ~David Bell

Well, yes and no.  There have not usually been charges of a “distorted intellectual agenda” from people who have something to do with these areas of study, but there are routinely accusations of a “distorted intellectual agenda” aimed at Middle Eastern Studies departments around the country.  The accusers both do and do not have a point.  They do have a point that scholars of the Middle East do not actively ridicule and belittle most of the peoples they study, and they have a point that people who know rather more about the region–and who have actually been to the region–tend be surprisingly less reflexively pro-Israel than many of their fellow citizens who do not even possess a passport.  On a more grave note, they have something of a point when it comes to Islamic studies, where scholars of Islam enjoy the luxury of studying something both supremely interesting to the public at the present time and something about which relatively few non-experts can effectively challenge their interpretations, however misleading or simplistic some of them might be.  This gives them a flexibility and level of control over the public debate that is less possible in other areas of study.  Most of the accusers are not concerned about the influence of Turkish denialist policy on Middle Eastern studies, since the Armenians and other such peoples do not interest them very much, but it is true that most Turcologists tend to be very tight-lipped or agnostic about the Armenian genocide because they cannot afford to be publicly associated with something that is illegal to talk about in the country where they must do their research.  This is very unfortunate.  This is not principally what Mr. Bell is talking about (he is writing about the decline of military history), but inasmuch as it does pertain to the history of WWI it is an interesting aspect of another part of the historical record that suffers for both obvious political reasons and reasons of shifts within the discipline.

When I studied alongside other social science students who were not historians, I was impressed by how they wanted to reduce history to nothing but a story of “kings and wars,” as they dismissively put it, so that they probably assume on the basis with their acquaintance with the History Channel (a.k.a., The Nazis We Have Known And Killed Channel) that the only kind of history that exists is political and military!  How disappointed they would be to find that there are so few classes that fit their idea of what history is.  It is interesting that they assume that history was nothing but talking about “kings and wars” and it is also interesting that it was because of this that they had decided years ago that they didn’t like it.  How many sociologists now pester the world because they became convinced of the uselessness of history because of this perceived preoccupation with nothing but political and military history?  This loss of interest in history (which is obviously the most interesting subject anyone could ever study), as I have said repeatedly over the years, is proof that they had poor or unimaginative history teachers. 

History for these social science students was literature done up with a scientific apparatus.  Indeed, I would not argue strongly for the scientific quality of history in the way that this word is applied to the hard sciences or even something like sociology.  For me, contingency and unrepeatability define historical experience and so make the study of history decidedly unscientific by design, but I do understand the impulse of historians who wish to use social scientific methods to advance their craft because they are very much concerned to establish history as a reputable discipline that can match up with any of the social sciences.  History requires rigour, evidence and accuracy, but it obviously cannot involve experimentation.  Even though there are plenty of historians who understand that you have to have a grasp on chronology, narrative and the “kings and wars” to make sense of anything else, they also want to make clear that history is not “just” a story of “kings and wars” (even though it is inevitable that enrollements for classes about “kings and wars” are always much higher than they are for Gender in Renaissance Florence or what-have-you).  Consequently, while every amateur historian wants to talk about Valmy, Gettysburg, Verdun and Kursk, among others, the professionals want to show you how much more there is to the craft of history by talking about things like “Meaning And Identity In The Romanian Fin-De-Siecle” or “The Construction Of Community In Early Modern Tuebingen” or, more obscurely, “The Implications Of Demetrios Of Lampe For Armenian Church Union.”  Most people look at these things and think, “How boring.”  Many of us working in this or that field of history look at the same things and think, “Why didn’t I think of that title?”  (These may not be the best titles, by the way, but they will do for now.)  This isn’t because we don’t think wars are important (they are supremely important as engines of social, cultural and political transformation; they define entire epochs, they change the ”course” of history in dramatic ways) or even that battles are unimportant (the fate of entire regions has sometimes turned on the outcome of a battle), but because we are, I think, attempting to fill out the rest of the story that is not comprehended by the dismissive description of “kings and wars.”   

Yglesias and Drezner have a conversation about the French election and have an interesting exchange over anti-Americanism in Europe.  Yglesias thinks it’s overhyped and largely centers around Iraq, Drezner doesn’t.  I tend to agree with Yglesias on this point, though he does flub the point a bit when he conflates France and Germany as both having had “leaders of the right” c. 2002-03.  The point is that the French and German people are generally not exuberantly and vehemently anti-American in the sense that they despise America and Americans and all our works.  Quite the contrary in many cases.  “Anti-Americanism” in the way many people use it today simply means, “So-and-so doesn’t endorse U.S. foreign and/or trade policy and is therefore anti-American.”  It is possible for there to be people who couple the critique of policy with a general rejection of everything to do with America (Hugo Chavez comes to mind), but even many European social democrats can find things about America they like–these just happen to be things that are not being stressed as much or as often as they would like.  It is lucky for us that the ties with the U.S. and reservoirs of goodwill of European peoples exist to sustain relationships between America and Europe that foolish governments on both sides of the Atlantic will try from time to time to abuse or sever as they see fit. 

It seems to me that Drezner also fumbles when he says that realists don’t care about public opinion.  They don’t care about it in the way that people who want to intervene on behalf of the longsuffering democrats of Uzbekistan (or wherever) care about it, but they acknowledge that it is a relevant factor in the domestic politics of other nations and they recognise that domestic politics can and will shape the definition of another nation’s foreign policy, though perhaps it will never radically reshape it in ways that make the actions of foreign governments highly unpredictable.  It seems to me that it is the realists who are quite concerned about widespread hostility to American policy among different peoples around the world, because they recognise that this poses a threat to U.S. interests in the long term, while it is interventionist-cum-idealist view that other nations’ anti-Americanism is just a function of their governments spewing out propaganda on the assumption that there could not be anything that “we” have done that would merit such opprobrium.  In the latter view, “anti-Americanism” (i.e., opposition to U.S. policy) is created and whipped up by foreign governments and would otherwise be much more mild.

An uncommitted GOP strategist went further, saying Thompson’s approach to a possible bid needs to be sharpened. Citing ballot access in early primary and caucus states as an example, the strategist said Thompson’s team shows a “lack of understanding of what it takes to get in the race. It’s not just traveling around the country giving speeches.” ~Politico

Well, I think that for the sake of Fred Thompson, all of the relevant states would just give him an exemption from these “laws” and allocate funds for statues to be built in his honour instead.    Perhaps all fifty states could send delegations to pay homage to him, rather than wearing out the deliverer with all of this traveling.  They could bring offerings representative of the different peoples and regions of the country, and it could all be inscribed in a giant rock carving celebrating the glory of Fred Thompson (which would, of course, have to replace all of the figures on Mount Rushmore).  He has at least deigned to think about possibly running, so how could we do any less?

Did I mention I’m not a fan? 

David Frum makes something like an interesting point when he says that the GOP presidential field ought to be considered one of the strongest ever, but the problem is that the candidates are making a mess of things by ignoring all those things that are supposed to be their natural advantages.  According to this reading, all of the major candidates are failing to play to their strengths, and the rest of the field is…well, he doesn’t explain why they’re not exciting anyone, but it isn’t hard to see why they aren’t. 

Brownback’s strength is that he is a dedicated social conservative leader, but he often chooses to exploit his reputation on this by talking about Darfur and prison reform and the like.  Instead of making him seem like a fresh, interesting, reform-minded social con, it makes him seem flaky and weird.  Set aside for the moment whether these are important things, as prison reform might well be in principle.  They are transparently bad politically (Republicans don’t care about Darfur–they really don’t care), yet he just won’t stop talking about them, undoubtedly because he thinks they’re important.  Mike Huckabee has been as solid an activist governor on marriage policy as you can imagine, and he even makes sense when he tries to portray himself as a conservationist, but he caricatures himself by talking about art programs as part of the pro-life agenda.  The attempt to seem different and fresh again comes off sounding weak and desperate.  Tom Tancredo has led on immigration just about as well as anyone could have hoped for under the circumstances, but does he think that anybody outside a very hard-core restrictionist constituency cares about his pet cause of freeing Compean and Ramos?  (It is my impression that restrictionist championing of two apparently genuinely bad border agents on the grounds that “they’re border agents and we’ve got to support them” would be as damaging to restrictionist positions as the Schiavo case was for pro-lifers if anybody in the general public knew very much about it.) 

Even the candidate whom I like and admire and support, Ron Paul, has a tendency to talk about the gold standard more often than might be advisable for an insurgent campaign that already has everything going against it.  The less said about Tommy Thompson, the better for him.  Duncan Hunter is right about trade with China and right about trade generally, but he has to understand that a Republican base brainwashed for the past thirty years that Free Trade Is Good will not hear him on this.  More to the point, donors will actively shun him, if they haven’t already.  If he is a message candidate, rather than someone trying to win a lot of votes, this makes sense, but that tends to reinforce the impression that you get that a lot of these people are out there to fly their respective flags and not actually take the lead of their party.  The end result is that people who believe nothing (Romney) or believe the wrong things (Giuliani) stand much better chances of becoming the eventual nominee, in which case these flag-fliers will find themselves stuck with another Republican campaign that has no time for their concerns.  It may be a moot point, since the GOP ticket is almost bound to get crushed next year anyway, but it tells us something about why the GOP is so moribund this time around. 

There is nothing fundamentally different from previous cycles here: in each one, the party anoints an expedient standard-bearer whose past record hardly inspires confidence among core constituencies, but who seems to demonstrate the bare modicum of political skill to justify his elevation, whereupon all of the core constituencies duly pretend that their latest standard-bearer is an embodiment of all they have ever wanted.  This is not a flaw with the candidates, but with the entire structure of the Republican Party and with the two major political parties in this country.  The conservative activists have gotten tired of playing the role of cheerleaders for people who actually couldn’t care less about their respective agendas.  They are in a funk because they realise that the system to which they have contributed so much energy to build is something of a farce that almost guarantees that the eventual nominee will be horribly disappointing.  This is particularly acute today in a way that it wasn’t in 1999-2000 or 1995-96 because there is now no Congressional majority to fall back on and there is a keen awareness that the movement has sold itself into indentured servitude to a party that will not lift a finger to advance most of what the movement wants advanced.  

Nonetheless, it is questionable whether it is actually to McCain or Romney’s advantage in the primaries to stress their past moments of moderation and bipartisanship.  Barack Obama does not, for instance, mention his endorsement of Joe Lieberman’s re-election at all, since he knows that this is poison for any Democratic presidential candidate, even though it would supposedly represent Obama’s ability to transcend conventional political divisions over the war.  When one of the major objections activists have against McCain is his role in the “Gang of Fourteen,” talking about his record of working with Democrats hardly seems desirable.  Romney obviously isn’t a conservative, but the only reason he’s even competitive at this point is that he has conned enough people into believing that he has become one.  

Described in the abstract, the candidates do sound impressive, provided that you describe each one in the most flattering terms imaginable, but then you actually see the people attached to the impressive-sounding descriptions and you begin to realise why virtually no one is enthusiastic. 

Where I think Frum is mistaken is when he writes:

Have Republicans absorbed how much trouble their party is in? To the (limited) extent that we do, we tend to to attribute everything to Iraq — as if Katrina, the Schiavo affair, corruption in Congress, and the intensifying irrelevance of our domestic-policy agenda did not exist. And so we demand from our candidates ever more fervent declarations of fealty to an ideology that interests an ever dwindling proportion of the public.

Those other things are real problems, no doubt, but those other things would be manageable and it might be possible to address them effectively if there were no Iraq war.  The total failure of candidates, party leadership and most Republican voters to face up to that reality and the necessary change that has to be made (i.e., Republicans must lead the charge for withdrawal) is the thing that is killing GOP chances at the White House more than all those other things combined.    Yet to listen to the candidates and constituents tell it, you would think that continued ueber-hawkishness on Iraq and the Near East generally was a political winner.  Republicans may acknowledge that Iraq is weighing down their party, but they often acknowledge it in a way that lends itself to bitterness and resentment against the public, which has never exactly been a good way to win public confidence.  To the extent that they admit that the Iraq war is bad for them politically (they cannot fully admit it–see how many of them desperately cling to the false hope that withdrawal will be a political disaster for the Democrats), they think that this is simply proof of how right they are on the policy: we’re so confident that we’re right, we refuse to bow to public pressure!  It’s impressive, in a way, except that political parties don’t get extra points for flying in the face of public opinion on serious matters of policy.  Indeed, the more serious the policy question, the worse it is for the party that bucks public opinion. 

In 1968, the country decisively repudiated the incumbent party that had, among other things, led us into a pointless and frustrating war.  Forty years later, the Republican nominee may suffer the fate of Humphrey unless there is a sudden change either in Iraq or in the mainstream Republican position on Iraq.  However, as I have noted before, 2008 is unique and does not make for an easy, neat comparison with any other election. 

France will be by the side of the oppressed of the world. This is the message of France; this is the identity of France; this is the history of France. ~Nicolas Sarkozy

Does he actually believe that?  If he does, that’s pretty scary.  Do the French actually believe that he believes that?  I assume they regard it as yet another dose of pompous rhetoric.  We can only hope that he is entirely insincere.

Here is where the administration has betrayed its own cause and disserved Americans. For four years, it has been incoherent, or flat-out AWOL, in making the public case about why military operations in Iraq are inextricably bound with victory in the greater war against jihadists and their state sponsors. ~Andy McCarthy

The other explanation is that they have not made the case, or have not made a coherent one, because such a case cannot be made.  Mr. McCarthy will strain mightily to fill the gap, but he cannot make a persuasive argument about this.  This is not his fault, since I don’t think anyone could make an actually persuasive rational argument that ties the war in Iraq inextricably to the fight against very specific jihadis with whom we are at war.  What advocates of this linkage must do is make the fight against these very specific jihadis into a war against any and all jihadis everywhere and then say, “Hey, there are some jihadis in Iraq, therefore Iraq has something to do with the larger war.”  This is, simply put, crazy.  There are jihadis in Kashmir, too, but the end of the Kashmiri insurgency has nothing to do with our fight. 

The Cold War ended with the collapse of the USSR, despite the continued official control of China by the CCP, because everyone understood that China was not operating in the power-projecting, superpower mode that the USSR had been.  In the end, the Cold War was decidedly not aimed at fighting all communists everywhere, but was aimed at countering Soviet power and Soviet threats to Western and allied security. 

Are there declared members of Al Qaeda in Iraq?  Yes, obviously.  Does that actually mean that we can never end our military deployment in Iraq so long as there are members of Al Qaeda in Iraq?  Is our entire military policy abroad to be dictated to us in this way?  This doesn’t make any sense.  You don’t use and dull the fine blade of the U.S. military for the equivalent of tending to a few weeds in somebody else’s garden.  In any case, the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a direct product of the invasion advocated by the same people who insist on remaining–why should anyone trust their judgement and assessment of what will or will not aid Al Qaeda?  They have been stunningly wrong so far, and I see nothing in their analysis that suggests that they have changed their assumptions or methods in the least.  Besides, to stay in Iraq to get at Al Qaeda is to play their game: it gives them enormous propaganda advantages to have Americans occupying a Muslim country, it gives them priceless opportunities to make us look incapable of providing security to people we have said we will protect, and it has afforded them a natural pool of sympathetic people from whom they could draw new members.  They say it is their central front because they want us to stay there and keep providing them with priceless propaganda victory after priceless propaganda victory.  If we are indeed in a global counterinsurgency, this stream of propaganda can only aid their cause and harm ours. 

However, the bottom line is that Mr. McCarthy believes that the war is just because he firmly believes, in spite of everything that people connected to reality know, that Hussein’s regime had meaningful links to anti-American jihadis when this is not true.  The war isn’t just, and Hussein’s regime didn’t have those links, which makes all the rest of his defense of the Iraq-”war on terror” link that much more strained and pointless.  He doesn’t help himself when he offers “insights” about Iraq’s sectarian warfare such as these:

It is infighting stoked by al Qaeda and the Iranian enablers with whom al Qaeda has colluded since the early 1990s [bold mine-DL].

This claim of collusion is, not to put too fine a point on it, garbage.  Al Qaeda and the Taliban not only hate Shi’ites and theoretically want them all dead, but the Taliban actively persecuted the Shi’ite Hazaras of Afghanistan, while Iran actively backed the mortal foes of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Tajik and Hazara Northern Alliance.  We all know this.  Iran actively aided the invasion of Afghanistan by granting overflight rights and could not have been more pleased to see those people overthrown.

If Mr. Bush made a steady effort to tell people about the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, they would probably be shocked to hear that these people make up perhaps 5-10% of hostile forces.  If this is the “central front” of the “war on terror” that is supposedly more important and dangerous than any other conflict in American history (which is also obviously untrue) and Al Qaeda is only managing to put this small and relatively limited presence in Iraq, they are not only not the epic, global threat the administration has been making them out to be, but they are indeed not much more than the annoyance–a nasty annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless–that Edward Luttawak recently described the problem of terrorism today as being.  That is why it has been so important for war supporters to conjure up vast forces of “Islamofascists” from all over, why it is imperative to lump in Iran, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas into one giant blob of jihad that knows no distinctions: because the actual enemy of Al Qaeda is neither so vast nor so threatening as it was originally depicted and must be continually added onto by including new, entirely unrelated enemies.  Al Qaeda is dangerous, and ought to be countered through actual counterterrorism, intelligence and domestic security work, but to frame this–as everyone who uses the Islamofascist label has effectively done–as a sort of WWII replay against Nazislam is to admit that you have no idea what you’re up against and no idea how to counter it.  To admit all this is to admit that the alarmist and well-nigh fanatical vision of a “global war” under these circumstances is ridiculous, as is the attempt to link the Iraq war to such a “global war.” 

For the rest of us, the desired new direction is the word that is such anathema to both the Left and the foreign-policy establishment: Victory. ~Andy McCarthy

It is almost amusing to watch someone who supports a policy roundly endorsed by the foreign policy establishment effectively complain about the weakness and stupidity of the foreign policy establishment, but the picture of war supporters playing the part of the marginalised anti-establishmentarians is just too absurd.  If anything, we will remain in Iraq forever because the foreign policy establishment of both center-left and center-right will insist that it would be “irresponsible” to leave.  It must be strange to belong to a group that believes starting wars is the responsible thing to do, and ending them is wildly reckless. 

Yes, there is indisputably a vibrant antiwar movement. Thanks to its sympathetic media megaphone, it is influential beyond its numbers. ~Andy McCarthy

Yes, thank goodness we have all the big corporate media guns on our side.  Oh, wait…that’s all a lot of nonsense.

There is a certain lovely irony that Nicolas Sarkozy is one of the foremost opponents of Turkish entry into the EU, since part of his family comes from Salonika (mod. Thessaloniki, classical and Byz. Thessalonika), which happens to have been the hometown of Mustafa Kemal and the heart of the CUP in its early days before the Balkan Wars restored it to the Greeks. 

Then again, it is quite appropriate that an heir to minor Hungarian aristocracy should be resisting the incorporation of Turkey into Europe, since it was long the mission of the Hungarians to keep Europe from being incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.  In those days Belgrade (Mag., Nandorfehervar) was the front line fortified point protecting the Hungarian Plain from invasion.  As someone who also has Hungarian ancestry, let me say to the soon-to-be President of France, Isten aldd meg a magyart.

But I also believe that given a choice between soul-throttling fundamentalism and individual liberty, most people will pick liberty in the end. ~Andrew Sullivan

Leaving aside for the moment just what Sullivan means by “fundamentalism,” it remains entirely possible that large numbers of people will quite willingly choose to have their souls “throttled” because they regard it as the better option of the two.  This seems strange to many Americans, but then most of the world also seems strange to many Americans.  Perhaps what we regard as normal and obvious is not a good guide for what will happen around much of the rest of the world, since our society is still generally so markedly different from many societies around the world. 

What’s more, if a publication started infusing its business-oriented news coverage with rightwing politics would an Economist writer even notice? ~Matt Yglesias

Well, since The Economist’s news and editorial departments are both about as “right-wing” as Tony Blair when he is in a particularly gushy, humanitarian mood, I would say that their writers would notice.  For instance, here’s some rampant right-wingery from their book reviews this week:

In Europe’s own history Islam has often been a more tolerant, civilising force than, say, the Roman Catholic church [bold mine-DL]. Today’s Turkey offers a current example: devout Muslims with a passion for secular democracy.

Set aside for now just how absurdly, painfully wrong that is.  (These would be the tolerant, civilising forces that had their chief influence in Europe in the Balkans and Spain, and most of their time in both places was neither terribly tolerant nor civilising, while Catholicism created the basis for all western European high culture, literature and art, among other things.)  A critic might object and say, “But neoconservatives say this sort of thing all the time about Islam, and about Turkey, too.  Do you mean to say that they aren’t right-wing?”  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Even so, the skepticism of an Economist reviewer of the Eurabian thesis–a popular one in many different conservative circles nowadays–underscores just how much less “rightwing” Economist writers tend to be compared to their American counterparts in the pro-corporate, globalised hegemonist set.  I could cite example after example showing just how ‘wet’ the (British) liberalism of The Economist is, I could argue why it is rather farther to the left of the WSJ on those points where they don’t readily agree, and I could go into some detail to explain why shameless propagandising for globalisation, corporate interests and interventionist wars (which both the WSJ and The Economist do all the time) has nothing to do with what most right-wingers I know actually want or believe, but there is only so much time in the day.

There’s one other difference between the incomers and the aborigines. On polling day the people at the top of the hill will have trooped down to the polling station and, pretty much to a man, voted SNP. Down by the harbour they will have wandered along to the same booths and voted for anyone but. It is pretty much as simple as that.

It is tempting to see Gardenstown as a pristine example of why people vote for nationalist parties. This, of course, would be to ignore the more complex religious, tribal and political reasons why people vote SNP — but to a limited degree, the Gardenstown example holds water. Here you have a population at the top of the hill which feels itself usurped and colonised, taken over, forced out by the bloody English. It is easy to forget — and will become still easier as the years progress — that the English moved in because they were willing to pay comparatively large sums of money to the Scots for those pretty little houses at the water’s edge. And in each individual instance, the Scots were quite uncomplaining when it came to cashing the cheques. It’s only now, when they look down the hill, that the sense of grievance — only mild grievance, mind, this is not Palestine by any stretch of the imagination — manifests itself; their entire seafront swallowed up. Because nonetheless, their village and their way of life is gone, presumably for ever. ~Rod Liddle


The truth is, the Republican Party has one of its strongest lineups ever. Yet one would think from polls showing that a third of Republicans are dissatisfied with their choices that they were stuck with a roster of has-beens and also-rans [bold mine-DL]. Spoiled and well fed, they’re the party of Goldilocks in search of the perfect porridge. ~Kathleen Parker

Give me strength.  Republicans largely are stuck with has-beens and also-rans.  Giuliani, McCain and Tommy Thompson fit the former category (sorry, Tommy), and I’m sorry to say that the other candidates generally seem to fit the latter.  If Fred Thompson joins the race, there will be one more has-been in the mix. 

Did Ms. Parker watch the debate last week?  That was one of the strongest GOP line-ups ever?  Well, in a frightening way, she may still have something of a point when you consider that the “credible” and “viable” alternatives to George Bush in 2000 were such giants as Steve Forbes and John McCain (with a field rounded out in the end by Gary Bauer, John Kasich and Alan Keyes).  Even so, supposing for a moment that this is one of the strongest Republican presidential fields of all time, the obvious question has to be: how have the Republicans ever won the Presidency?  The real answer has to be that there actually have been much stronger Republican fields in the past, and also that there have been more propitious times for the GOP than there are right now.  Even if this were a very strong field, which I don’t believe, the eventual nominee has everything going against him.   

“Even if we won’t be going around in the woods trying to find any bears to kill, sometimes the bear visits whether you’re looking for him or not,'’ he [Fred Thompson] said. ~Kathleen Parker

Is this some oblique reference to the Reagan ”bear in the woods” ad from long ago?  Is this yet another lame attempt to relate to the youthful experiences of Davy Crockett (who was, after all, from Tennessee)?  Perhaps this talk of unexpected bear visitations would make more sense if we were not, as a matter of policy, virtually permanently camped out, Grizzly Man-like, in “the bear”’s cave. 

Not satisfied with having their harpy cries of doom disappointed when the devastation of Lebanon did not usher in Armageddon and the Mahdi (or was it the smoking gun?) did not appear in the form of a mushroom cloud on 22 August 2006, war supporters are gearing up for another summer of dire warnings.  Tony Blankley seems to be worried that we are on the verge of something as bad as WWI or WWII or maybe both put together…because in September there will finally be some accountability for the morally bankrupt war policy that he and his allies have supported:

No [sic] even a middling student of history can be anything less than appalled at how often mankind lurches into its episodic catastrophes due to momentary lapses of common sense shared by vast majorities.

In 1914, from London to Paris to Berlin to Vienna to St. Petersburg and Moscow, most people briefly thought that World War I would be over and won by Christmas. In retrospect, the known close balance of lethality held by the two belligerent alliances (and the advantage the machine gun gave to the defense) should have led people to presume a long and bloody abattoir of a war.

In the 1930s, the idea that the manifest expansive urges of the Japanese Empire and Hitler’s Germany would somehow be self-limiting should never have become the consensus expectation both in Europe and the United States. 

Blankley is comparing these two, of course, to general public disgust with the Republican Party over Iraq, which is apparently going to lead to epic disaster on par with global conflagrations…by starting to get us out of a war.  There follows a warning about the madness of crowds, because there is nothing that worries the preachers of the armed doctrine of democratists than popular unrest at home:

Cynical or foolish politicians will reflexively give the people what they want. Even most sincere and thoughtful politicians will rarely find the strength to long resist the urge of the public. Vox Populi, Vox Dei — (although sometimes politicians should listen to the advice given to Charlemagne by his advisor, Alcuin: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”)

This is often true, but why is it that war supporters only seem to discover a sane perspective on the dangers of mass politics at the moment when their policy preferences are in danger of being overthrown?  It seems to me that there were not many invocations of the wisdom of Charlemagne or any other skeptic of popular government to be found in Republican ranks when everyone and his brother was intoxicated with the wonder of seeing numerous purple-fingered Arabs or started wrapping themselves (figuratively) in orange banners in tribute to glorious Ukrainian revolution.  You couldn’t get such people to shut up, so exuberant were they about “people power.”  Nor was there much concern about the folly of the mob when they returned Dobleve to power in ‘04.  I would like to think that we anti-democrats have been a bit more consistent in our fairly unremitting disrespect for mass democracy when it opposes our preferences and when it favours our preferences.

As near as I can tell, Blankley thinks September is going to be so “cruel” because it will finally signal the end of Mr. Bush’s ability to indefinitely con the public and abuse the military.  Political pressure will build up such that even the Decider will have to take account of it.  There may even be enough Republican defections from what I might call the Lemming Caucus to overcome Mr. Bush’s veto by that point.  Plus, Gen. Petraeus will report the success, or lack thereof, of the “surge,” at which point there will be nothing behind which war supporters will be able to hide.  Not that they won’t do all they can to manufacture new “corners” that we have almost “turned” and new “plans” that need to be tried, but they will no longer be able to retain credibility with even the much-diminished core supporters who have remained with them till now.

The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises [sic] are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo. ~Michael Barone

On the political implications of this increasingly severe social stratification, I had this to say last year:

Why anyone wants to replicate the splendid “successes” of the Mexican social, economic and political model, I will never fully understand, but the reality that Mexican immigrants will reproduce the society and culture of their old country was entirely foreseeable and was foreseen.  For some folks, the transformation will not be so bad and will make some into a hereditary oligarchic ruling class tucked away in their little enclaves.  That is, at least until homegrown Chavismo comes knocking on their door.

There are two forces at work gradually creating a new oligarch-serf society in certain parts of the country. First, there is the arrival of large numbers of immigrants coming from cultures in which this sort of stratification and the attendant systems of patronage and graft that go with it are all considered normal.  The inherited political culture of these immigrant populations reproduces itself, and the native oligarchs encourage this development because the highly stratified arrangement suits their interests and may even match their own preoccupations with class-driven politics.  Perversely, those most inclined to bang the economic populist drum about income inequality have the most to gain politically from the processes that are encouraging the widening of income inequality in these megalopolitan centers, since the two-tier structure would benefit an oligarchic party doling out largesse to clients in exchange for support.  Second, there is the steady, ongoing departure of the middle-class families that cannot afford to live as the oligarchs do and do not want to live among the serfs, especially if the serfs are from a significantly different culture and/or race.  Call the process ”flight of the native.”   

You have the prospect of the coastal megalopoleis becoming extensions of Latin America in terms of social structure quite apart from any cultural or other changes that may be happening, while Middle America becomes ever-more staunchly the bastion of middle-class interests against a coalition of interests of oligarchs and serfs.  This will make the coastal regions even more inaccessible to Republicans, while continuing to strengthen Republicans over time in the middle of the country.  If the megalopoleis, Upper Midwest and coasts are net demographic losers over time, we should continue to see a decrease in the political clout of relatively left-leaning strongholds.  However, as the social transformation on the coasts continues, these areas promise to produce ever more radically leftist politics that will separate these places even more from Middle America.  It seems that it follows that those who do not want there to be two truly starkly opposed Americas should give serious thought to curbing mass immigration. 

Reason: In 2006 the GOP majority held a vote on Iraq withdrawal that you said was intended to embarrass the Democrats politically. And then the GOP lost the elections in part because Democrats hit them on the war. Why have your colleagues misread the popularity of the war?

Gilchrest: I can’t psychoanalyze those guys. I think the GOP was dissolving. Now it’s drying up and the wind’s going to blow it away. I just don’t think we have the depth of knowledge, intellect, and experience necessary for a viable political party any more.

Try putting that on the 2008 bumper stickers!

At the same time, I have to acknowledge that Gilchrest does have some choice words for the ridiculous “Victory Caucus”: 

Reason: How do you interpret the Republican base on this issue? There are a number of ad hoc groups that bloggers have started to punish Republicans who’ve cast anti-war votes, like Florida’s Ric Keller…

Gilchrest: Poor soul.

Reason: That was the Victory Caucus. How do you respond to these groups that want to oust anti-war Republicans?

Gilchrest: I know what I want to say, but my mother taught me not to say it. Look, history is a vast early warning system. Knowledge is key to this issue. Simplistic, dogmatic ideology confines and restricts your view of the world. So if you want to be loyal to the troops in the field, if you’re saying you’re patriotic, then you’ll read a book like Anthony Zinni’s The Battle for Peace. You’ll read a book like Fiasco. You’ll turn the damn television off every night for two hours and read some objective opinions on this thing. Ignorance is pervasive in any culture and ours is not an exception.

Reason has interviewed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD).  Here is a choice excerpt: 

Reason: When you voted for the war you said that the Americans who would overthrow Saddam were “peacemakers.” Do you stand by that?

Gilchrest: I stand by that rationale. That rationale was based on the Persian Gulf War of 1991. I was here during that war, during the debate, during the development of the authorization to use force, and this authorization for this war was virtually the same. What it meant was that you only go to war with all other options exhausted. After a couple of years, when all that began to unravel, that’s when I knew if I had a chance to vote on authorization again I wouldn’t vote for it. What I failed to consider was whether the executive branch was competent, informed, and had integrity [bold mine-DL].  Under the circumstances, I don’t think it was.

He failed to consider it?  I can understand, with some reservations, that members of the House might have regarded the administration as ”competent,” “informed” and bursting with integrity, but were mistaken and then felt foolish for having trusted the administration.  To not even consider whether or not this was the case seems crazy to me. 

It seems to me a safe bet, and the conservative bet, to assume that the administration is always incompetent, uninformed and corrupt until they prove otherwise on a consistent basis.  This is how I view government in general, and I have to tell you I am not disappointed as often as I should be.  You don’t entrust war powers to the chief executive on the assumption that he is going to do everything right, but you should only vest the President with lawful, constitutional war powers (which would involve a declaration of war) after you have already accepted that the President will almost certainly make a hash of it, doesn’t know what he’s doing and may be on the take from or under the influence of special lobbies but that the war is nonetheless in the national interest and must therefore go aheadAfter living through the age of Clinton and Bush, how could anyone ever again make the mistake of assuming a plenitude of competence and knowledge in the executive branch? 

Note what Gilchrest doesn’t say.  He doesn’t say that it was a mistake to meddle in Iraq in general, or that it was wrong to invade another country without good reason, or that there is something profoundly wrong in effectively calling those who start wars “peacemakers.”  He embodies the kind of critic of the war that Hanson et al. skewer (and with some justification): when things go poorly, then they discover that the war was a mistake, but should things turn around they will suddenly rediscover their inner hawk.  I guess this is what a lot of people in the so-called “political middle” are like, and it reminds why I try to stay as far away from the “political middle” as I possibly can. 

Iraq policy has become the poster child for the pathology that afflicts American politics.  Specifically, Iraq policy is the exclusive domain of extremists.  On the right, attempts to recognize any specific failures in Iraq policy are condemned as “undermining the troops” while all efforts to change strategy or put pressure our Iraqi allies are disdained as “cut and run” tactics.  The right’s approach is pinup patriotism — all flash, no substance.  The left is no better, smearing everyone that disagrees with them on any detail (no matter how small) as “Bush sycophants” or “neocons”, all the while responding to any new information about incremental U.S. successes or diplomatic initiatives with behavior akin to a child sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming “la la la la la” in an effort to avoid hearing the intolerable.

Where are the moderates? ~Jason Steck

It is my view that there are no moderates in the Iraq debate because it is not really possible to take a little from column A and a little from column B and craft a synthesis of the “best” from both sides of the debate.  You will be classed with one side or the other in the debate on the war to the extent that you emphasise the insights of one side or the other.  For instance, when Mr. Steck writes:

Regardless of whether it is true or not that the war itself was originally a misguided diversion from the post-9/11 war on al-Qaeda, the political right has a legitimate point in stating that Iraq is now a central front in that war.  Abandonment of that front in the face of any other practical alternatives would constitute the granting of not only a major propaganda victory to al-Qaeda and its affiliates, but would also carry a serious risk of granting them a new base in Iraq far better technologically and financially than their earlier base in Afghanistan. 

Speaking as someone on the political right and who has opposed the war from day one, I don’t accept this at all.  They don’t have a legitimate point.  It isn’t a central front in the “war on al Qaeda.”  Even now, it has almost nothing to do with Al Qaeda.  Conjuring the picture of Iraq serving as a major Al Qaeda base–supposedly much more substantially than it does right now–is straight out of the most tired of pro-war talking points.  Imagine if communist guerrillas accounted for approximately 5-10% of all enemy forces encountered in Vietnam–would anyone seriously claim that fighting in Vietnam was in any way a part of an anticommunist containment strategy?  No, you would acknowledge that this group was trying to exploit the situation and recognise that the rest of the conflict is basically unrelated to that group.  If you want to split the difference between “unreasonable” extremisms, you might start by not choosing one of the most poisonously deceptive pieces of government propaganda as the positive contribution of war supporters to the debate.

After a war this badly managed, why is there not a single serious anti-war candidate in the GOP? ~Andrew Sullivan

Maybe because there is the constant insistence on the part of the great and the good (and even the relatively mediocre) that the one antiwar candidate in the Republican race is not a “serious” candidate?  It becomes a self-fulfilling complaint once you have decided that antiwar candidates are ipso facto unserious because you already know that antiwar candidates cannot be “serious” contenders for the nomination.  No one could be better-suited as an ideal candidate for Sullivan’s rhetorical pose as the Last of the Goldwaterites than Ron Paul, who is as genuinely libertarian and constitutionalist in reality as Sullivan pretends to be during one of his “fundamentalist”-induced panic attacks, yet you will not see someone like Sullivan (or anyone else in a similarly prominent position) lift a finger to advocate for Dr. Paul’s candidacy.  Why?  Because he is “not serious.”  Of course, candidates can never be really “serious” until large numbers of people support them, so instead of complaining about Ron Paul’s candidacy antiwar, realist, small-government and constitutionalist conservatives might actually stop whining about how the movement and candidates have failed them and back the one person who has had the integrity and willingness to defend these positions when most of them were hiding or on the other side.

Sullivan is right that Barnes’ picture of GOP diversity is quite exaggerated.  Note that the only diversity Barnes discusses in his article is diversity over abortion views, and it is on these issues that Barnes and the Standard are happy to entertain a wide variety of views.  Obviously, on foreign policy dissent is not only not welcome, it is very simply hated. 

Among the candidates, on the main issue that will probably end up destroying the modern Republican Party, the war in Iraq, only Ron Paul has been right from the beginning.  It is for that reason, if for no other, that all of the people in the movement and party who have been or continue to be wrong about Iraq refuse to grant that he is a worthy candidate.  He stands as a living rebuke to all those who have sold out or compromised their principles or embraced the opposite of what conservatives used to believe about foreign policy, and so all those who have lost their way will insist on not taking him seriously, because to take him seriously is to admit that they have been terribly wrong in one way or another.

In fact, grasping that they are Albanians and knowing that “ethnic Albanian” plus “Muslim from the former Yugoslavia” equals “Kosovo,” is the privilege of experts. It is but one of many Balkan equations that mainstream media editors are determined to keep hidden from their consumers. That there is nothing in the federal complaint about the “Yugoslav” suspects’ origins is almost certainly the result of political interference.


Having been assured ad nauseam over the years by successive U.S. administrations that Kosovo’s Albanians are not really serious about their Islam, that even when they desecrate Christian churches and joyously rip crosses from their cupolas they do it for nationalist rather than jihadist reasons, the powers-that-be are doing their utmost to ensure that the public remains anesthetized. Asking when and how Albanian “secularists” became Islamic radicals is a no-no. Being so audacious as to wonder what this transformation bodes for a new, independent Muslim state in the heart of Europe is simply not on. Asking questions about major KLA figures’ documented links to jihad terrorism (including to Osama bin Laden personally) is polizeilich verboten. In the meantime, cadres, cash and ordnance linked to jihadist outrages all over Europe have been traced back to Kosovo, including the bombings in Madrid (March 2004) and London (July 2005), and a rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Athens last year.

In New Jersey in May 2007, Kosovo blowback has finally reached America. ~Srdja Trifkovic


My colleagues continue to do fine work at What’s Wrong With The World, and I am pleased that my initial effort over there seems to have been generally well-received.  Thanks to that post, Mark Shea and Ross have proposed a showdown between me and Christopher Hitchens.  Actually, I think Douglas Wilson is doing just fine without any help from me, and makes the crucial point (the one that atheists will contend against until their last breath because they know a large part of argument hinges on it) that if the atheists are right about God then there is no transcendent moral order, no imperatives of justice or requirements of conscience that are any less subjective or arbitrary or more authoritative than the “man-made religions” Hitchens ridicules.  Morality is then not only purely conventional and contractual, but inevitably exists only as a function of social control by the few over the many for the benefit of the former.  Hitchens has in no way remedied the control of thought and act that he finds so obnoxious in religious societies, but has simply denied the religious legitimisation of this control.   

Hitchens’ exquisite moralistic outrage at the crimes of the religious or at least the nominally religious is all very interesting, until you consider the problem that there is nothing authoritative or meaningful or ultimately important about the morality he claims to defend (not that this devotion to this morality stops him from backing wars of aggression and lionising communist murderers, but, hey, nobody’s perfect).  Men who do not fear God, because they think He does not exist, will usually have no compunctions against committing the most horrific atrocities, along with a whole range of crimes, if they believe they have sufficient self-interest to do so.  If atheists were right, and there is very often no justice here below, the morality that condemns the genocidaire and praises the almsgiver is as ephemeral and ultimately meaningless as the religious rites they regard as absurd.  In such a world, one man’s genocidaire becomes another man’s national hero and, if the atheist is right, there is nothing to which men can appeal as an ultimate authority against such depredations (except to the entirely arbitrary conscience of other people, who would feel no sense of moral obligation to help anyway). 

Human dignity quickly evaporates when man becomes concerned with survival and naked interest, as men usually will when they have no vision of the eternal before their eyes, whether it is a Dean Barnett talking about “getting our hands dirty” or a Stalin talking about making omelettes.  Monistic materialism, which is the inevitable destination of an atheist, cannot invest man with any special dignity; theoretically, he would be no more morally significant than the bacteria we kill off with disinfectant.  The paths to a thousand genocides are opened, because men are already prone to such deeds and without some confidence that these things are not only absolutely wrong but the cause of damnation the temptations of power will very often win out over what native goodwill may reside in fallen, unilluminated men.  To this the atheist, if he is honest, will happily agree and say, “That’s just the way it is.  Get used to it.”  But not only does no sane person want to live in such a world, our very natural horror in the face of such things tells us that a world entirely without meaning cannot be the reality. 

It is not precisely the purpose of revelation to bring ethics to the world (though the life of virtue is tied together with participation in divine Life), and it was certainly not the main feature of Christ’s life and work to be an ethics instructor, but to bring life to the world, yet without God ordering the cosmos and giving men the just fruits of their works in eternity there is no particular reason to regard one ethos as more desirable than another, except by some arbitrary and equally man-made standard that can be challenged, deconstructed and subverted by means of the reason that built it up.  Paradox and mystery stand beyond the ken of reason, and so offer man the hope of meaning that cannot be emptied of content.     

My father’s family is from New Jersey, and my great-grandfather was at Fort Dix after being mobilised for WWI (he subsequently caught influenza, but fortunately survived), so I feel as if I have some more immediate connection to the story of the planned assault on Fort Dix by the six foreign Muslims (four Albanians, one Turk, one Jordanian). As Dr. Fleming points out, this was not exactly a band of cunning masterminds, and no wonder that it wasn’t. I will probably have more to say about this later, but it is worth remembering episodes like these after our government went out of its way to support the cause of Albanian Muslims.

In France, for instance, I’m told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms [bold mine-DL] where either party may move on when their term is up. How shallow and how different from the Europe of the past. ~Mitt Romney

Frequently?  Who told him?  The tooth fairy?  This is a howler even for Romney.  Many have noticed this glaring, incredible error.  It not’s in quite the same league as Ted Stevens’ “series of tubes” gaffe, but it’s pretty bad.  If this is part of Romney’s vaunted Francophobia campaign outlined in his master plan, he might want to stick to blathering about caliphates and other things fewer people will recognise as false.

Is Europe moving right? Is the democratic left in trouble?  The decisive victory of Nicolas Sarkozy over Socialist Segolene Royal in France’s presidential elections on Sunday was the most recent example of the battering that moderate left parties are taking from the forces of globalization and discontent over immigration. ~E.J. Dionne

The battering of moderate left parties?  Was Dionne paying attention to this or any other election?  This was the best showing the French Socialists have had in ten years; the extreme left in France was the loser this year, not the “moderate” left (of course, once we have started describing Sego as a moderate, the entire conversation has become surreal).  Italy just ditched Berlusconi and friends, Spain dropped the PP like a bad habit and Angela Merkel has to govern in a “grand coalition” because she almost managed to lose to Gerhard Schroeder.  There are blips of center-right success, such as Sweden, but all across Latin America (except Mexico, barely) and Asia (see India) it is the “moderate” left that has been winning the day.  The revolt against Labour was a revolt against the incumbent, incompetent party, where England moved to the right and Scotland simply kicked the bums out.  As anyone following the Cameroons knows, a win for the Tories in the next general election will only be a slight nudge to the right for Britain.  In Canada, Liberal incumbency had worn out its welcome.  Then there is, of course, the United States.  What Dionne describes are those elections where the “moderate” left has either held power for quite a while and is finally getting replaced after having enjoyed tremendous political, if not policy, success, or where, as in France, they haven’t held power in quite a while because they have not made themselves more competitive politically.  Beginning in 1997, the recent past has been largely high times for the center-left in many parts of the world.  It is amazing that anyone could think that there is a general crisis for it brewing out there.   

They have Tom DeLay–yes, that Tom DeLay–writing a column on why the GOP lost in 2006.  It is remarkable how he refers to his former district, Texas’ 22nd, as if it were just any other House district.  No mention is made of why the seat was open or why there had to be a write-in candidate on the GOP side.  There is no mention of a fellow named Jack and a little thing called corruption.  According to DeLay, the greatest Democratic advantage in 2006 was unity.  Therefore, if Republicans are more united, they will win.  Uh-huh.  The Democrats had nothing else going for them that was more important than that.  Nope, Republicans just need some of the old-time religion (i.e., conservatism) and some unity, and all their problems will be solved.  And this was the tactical and political brains of the GOP operation in the House?  No wonder they were in such bad shape by the time he left.

In a speech that hit hard at the failings of Detroit automakers, Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Japanese companies had done far better than their Detroit counterparts to develop energy efficient vehicles.

Mr. Obama, speaking to a sold-out meeting of the Economic Club of Detroit, proposed stricter fuel economy standards, wading into a debate under way in Washington on increasing the corporate average fuel economy, now at 27.5 miles a gallon for cars and 24 miles a gallon for light trucks. ~The New York Times

Romney is going to be upset that someone is horning in on his modern, fuel-efficient car and technological transformation shtick, and in Michigan no less!  Meanwhile, Obama continues to follow the inevitable trajectory of any Stay-Puft politician who attempts to become a serious quantity on the national stage: to overcompensate for the glowing media frenzy that initially surrounded him and gave him a reputation for being charming but superficial, he must gradually become obsessed with details of policy that will either drive people up the wall or send people to sleep.  Having the media image of the best of JFK and RFK together, he is doomed to become a statistic-spewing Gore clone.  Just as he was anxious and uncomfortable in the first debate, he will continue to flail around and give dreadful policy address after dreadful policy address.  In the end, he was going to have to say something, and whatever he said was going to weaken his candidacy significantly. 

At least he didn’t talk about the “quiet violence” of poor fuel efficiency standards.

Take a look at the newly redesigned Chronicles website, including Dr. Trifkovic on the recent French presidential election, Dr. Wilson’s latest, Dr. Fleming on the war, and the table of contents for the May issue.

I ask this because behind all of the misleading rhetoric, half-truths and unkept promises, the problem with the “turn the corner” language for most people is that the corner keeps receding out of view.  Suppose that “turning the corner,” so to speak, achieved nothing and simply prolonged the agony of roaming aimlessly through a maze without end?  What if you could “turn” a hundred ”corners” and still be no closer to ”victory”?  Could we admit at that point that it was time to bring our people home and stop wasting their lives in vain attempts at angular maneuvers? 

Iraq’s top Sunni official has set a deadline of next week for pulling his entire bloc out of the government….Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi made his comments in an interview with CNN. He said if key amendments to the Iraq Constitution are not made by May 15, he will step down and pull his 44 Sunni politicians out of the 275-member Iraqi parliament.

“If the constitution is not subject to major changes, definitely, I will tell my constituency frankly that I have made the mistake of my life when I put my endorsement to that national accord,” he said.

Specifically, he wants guarantees in the constitution that the country won’t be split into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish federal states that he says will disadvantage Sunnis. ~CNN

How that’s three-state, one-country “political solution” looking now, Samnesty?

Now, it’s perfectly natural to want a charismatic presidential candidate. The trouble is that Republicans seem to have completely lost sight of the difference between the apparent and the real. The reductio ad absurdum of this trend is the burgeoning candidacy of TV star Fred Thompson, who plays the part of a tough prosecutor and alpha male on “Law & Order.”

Robert Novak recently noted, approvingly, that “[s]ophisticated social conservative activists” are flocking to Thompson. “Their appreciation of him,” wrote Novak, “stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but his actor’s role as district attorney of Manhattan on Law & Order [bold mine-DL].’” If this is how sophisticated social conservative activists make their political judgments, I’d hate to see the unsophisticated ones. ~Jonathan Chait

That is what has continued to puzzle me about the rise of Giuliani and the would-be rise of Fred Thompson.  Each time someone points out all the obvious flaws with both of them, there will be some pundit ready with the retort: “You underestimate how serious and responsible the voters are.  They have balanced all of the relevant concerns and are choosing the best candidates.”  How has it ever been the measure of sophistication, intelligence or political cunning to rally around a former mayor and an actor who has been out of office for five years as your best hopes for winning a national election?  When Giuliani continued to hold the lead in the polls, a thousand pundits (okay, more like a couple dozen) emerged from the woodwork to declare the “death of the litmus test” and to opine on the sophisticated and debonair savoir-faire of social cons.  “They’re not just a bunch of backwoods yahoos–they can read and everything!” someone might have said. 

Then came along someone whom people had not just seen on TV, but someone whom they had seen playing a role in a television show.  The Republican Party was saved!  At last, we had found an acceptable replacement for a former district attorney–we had a guy who played a district attorney on television!  As I wrote about the rush to Giuliani some months ago:

This is the height of unserious, celebrity-driven voter preferences.  This shows these voters to be not the complex, priority-balancing realists of pundit legend, but easily-led (yes, I really do want to use that word) and gullible people who will chant the name of any politician if they have heard it often enough in a positive context.  God help us, but many of these people may have concluded that Giuliani is their guy simply because they have seen him on TV more often than they have seen the others.  Yes, I do think it is that bad. 

Not only is it that bad, it is now a point of pride with Republicans that they are flocking to Fred Thompson because of his television career.  In New Hampshire, it appears that Romney has temporarily pulled into the lead.  Why?  Probably because he appeared on national television in the debate last week and was declared the effective winner by the chattering classes.  For the majority of people who are not paying attention, it is as if the Oracle has spoken: Romney won the debate, so we must now chase after the latest hot commodity. 

The GOP has become a hostage to its own superficial symbolically-driven electoral appeals.  It has become so addicted to mere symbolism that its members can scarcely see past the hype around telegenic media personalities.  For them, being a telegenic media personality is not just an advantage–it is the candidacy. 

In their discussion last week on American Francophobia, Peter and Jonah missed the greatest reason for why Americans ought be skeptical of French foreign policy: not necessarily because of French delusions of grandeur or attempts to place themselves as the benevolent alternative to American hegemony, but because the French foreign policy establishment is still nakedly imperialistic in its outlook. It has not moved past the nineteenth century [bold mine-DL]. Indeed, French foreign policy elites refer to Africa as “le pré carré,” or “backyard.” ~James Kirchick

It isn’t at all clear that “naked imperialism” would merit much condemnation from at least one of those two, except on the principle that what counts as imperialism for other states counts as “leadership” for our government and the two are therefore incomparable.  This last item is the least damning part of what is an otherwise correct description of French foreign policy.  Calling this or that region “the backyard” may be a lousy way to think of one’s neighbouring countries and/or continents (I think it is), but I would wager that a sizeable number of Americans, perhaps a majority, views Latin America in exactly the same way.  Of course, many of our policies towards certain parts of Latin America are forms of imperialism that aren’t wearing much, if they are wearing anything at all, but that is a problem with the policies and not so much with the attitude.  (Yes, you can say that the policies would be less likely if the attitude didn’t exist, but it is hardly the thing that clinches the argument.)  This is not to praise French policy, which in Rwanda was obviously grossly negligent and criminal, but to remind everyone that they are hardly any more guilty than many of their competitors.  I tend to resist the widespread urge to sit in judgement of the French, not because the French are so great, but because those who would be their judges are not, at least on the level of government, doing any better than they are and in many cases are doing far worse. 

Mr. Kirchick says that France’s foreign policy establishment has not yet left the 19th century.  In truth, neither have we, except that we only entered the Europeans’ 19th century at the very end of the actual 19th century with respect to overseas colonies.  For instance, the Phillipines gained independence in 1945, Algeria in 1962–they saved their brutal anti-independence counterinsurgency for the end, while we made sure to get ours in right away.  Unlike the French, we are back in the Phillipines in some real military capacity after a relatively brief departure from our naval base at Subo Bay.  The current Filipino government is as reliable a lackey to Washington as any hegemon could want–Paris can only dream of having such extensive control over the foreign policy of a former colony that is not a complete basketcase (see Cote d’Ivoire). 

France insists on tying itself to rather nasty regimes around Africa and the Near East because the wars of independence and the rest of the decolonisation process reduced France to a lesser power than it had been in centuries (albeit a lesser power that acquired nukes).  It may not be desirable, and it may be quite ugly, but the French elites can at least make more plausible, albeit morally dubious, arguments that they are serving their national interest than can our political class.  There should, of course, be no illusions about what any other state is trying to do.  What we should avoid are those illusions that tell us that their conduct of foreign affairs is necessarily or obviously our business, unless there is some clear reason to think that it is.  (This is why, incidentally, I cannot understand why Western papers are getting so excited about the Estonia-Russia business, except to perpetuate anti-Russian hysteria among their readers.) 

One important point is that Americans should always be skeptical of any government’s foreign policy, including their own government’s foreign policy.  These policies are not being carried out to bring about the unity and brotherhood of man, after all.  These policies are being carried out to advance this or that nation’s interests first and foremost (it’s an interesting idea that we might want to try out for a little while), and this involves wielding power.  If France is wielding its power abroad, it very well may be pursuing goals contrary to the interests of the United States.  In my estimation, the true national interests of the two nations do not routinely or irreconcilably conflict and seem to converge at many points, which is why it still makes sense to regard France as an ally and a valuable one at that.  Something that troubles some interventionists greatly is the idea that allies are sovereign states that may act according to their own lights.  Sometimes allies go wrong and Washington should try to guide them away from the precipice, just as we would hope they would do for us and sometimes have done for us (in their own interests, obviously) when our government has gone a bit funny in the head. 

For decades, the French supported the Hutu regime even when it became Nazi-like in its racial nationalism. It may be difficult for Americans to comprehend such imperialistic motivations, but the main reason for French support of Hutu power was that the Hutu are Francophone and the Tutsis Anglophonic, and that the latter group was aided by the former British colony of Uganda. ~James Kirchick

It may be difficult for Americans to comprehend such imperialistic motivations….Perhaps, though I daresay that the apparently numerous Churchill-idolising American fans of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (which, at least according to its critics, is not much more than a rather lengthy volume that repeatedly says in various ways, “Yay, go Anglophones!”) understand Paris’ support for Francophones in Africa just fine.  The odd people who have been propagating the idea of the Anglosphere, which I find totally uninteresting in almost every possible way, probably also understand this connection, though they pretend that Anglospherism is more than glorified Anglophonism (it’s about values!).  I wonder: what do Anglospherists think of this new history volume?  Excited?  Embarrassed? 

Come to think of it, France’s support for the Hutus was and is fairly easy to understand, since sharing a common language with the rulers of another country provides an automatic way in for spreading your influence.  That is part of the reason why colonialists who are actually intent on maintaining their control of another country learn the local languages, make sure the local elites understand theirs and attempt to introduce their culture by way of language.  The one good defense against the charge of colonialism over the Iraq war is the profound disinterest the government has shown in supporting programs for Arabic speakers and actively recruiting people to learn and study Arabic and Arab cultures.  The “empire of bases” doesn’t need any well-staffed colonial administration full of fluent speakers of the native languages–it will happily use other countries’ lands, but it won’t be bothered with the day-to-day affairs of the dependency.  That would be meddling in their internal affairs and therefore wrong!

This is all nonsense, according to senior White House officials. They say that Bush isn’t delusional at all and that history will vindicate him, just as it vindicated Lincoln and Truman. ~U.S. News and World Report

But “history” didn’t vindicate them and doesn’t vindicate anybody.  Progressive nationalist historians and historians inclined towards an internationalist perspective in foreign policy have worked at vindicating them ever since their terms ended, and for some reason otherwise intelligent people live their entire lives believing that Lincoln was a successful chief executive and Truman was a great leader of men.  Measured by the standard of whether they left their country better than when they took office, both must be counted as miserable failures, among the worst five to have ever held power in this county (Wilson, FDR and LBJ being the other top contenders).  As much as I dislike Mr. Bush and pretty much all of his works, he is actually not even in their league in terms of the damage he has wrought on this country.  A mediocrity in everything, even his flirtation with tyranny, with which these other men had torrid and passionate affairs, has been unimpressive.   

Truman’s and Acheson’s failure in blundering into the Korean War and then Truman’s failing to win it have not been “vindicated” by anyone–the continued division of Korea along a heavily armed border to this day marks one of the lasting legacies of the Truman Administration (even though, yes, the armistice was signed under Eisenhower).  God forbid that 55 years from now we have a division posted in Kurdistan to guard the border with Greater Iran–such might be Mr. Bush’s “vindication.”  Perhaps by then President Sasha Obama, her popularity plummeting thanks to our continued involvement in the Second Nigerian War, will find herself in some difficulty when she compares herself to that paragon of bold leadership, George W. Bush. 

Had Truman run and somehow been re-elected, despite the most abysmal approval ratings in the history of the modern Presidency, it is somewhat questionable whether South Korea would have survived at all.  Had Adlai Stevenson been elected, it is questionable whether we could have held Japan (I exaggerate a little).  Does anyone actually want to be compared with Truman?  Why?

This entire debate is a bit surreal to me, since my test of “great President” is a President who actually follows his oath of office and obeys the Constitution, which Lincoln and Truman were great ones for violating all the time.  Setting aside such quaint notions for a moment so that we can speak in a lingo more familiar to modern helots, Lincoln and Truman did have certain “accomplishments” after a fashion that have certainly been lasting, and so they may be said to have been “great men in history” who shape events.  Lincoln destroyed the constitutional republican Union of states, and Truman permanently and probably fatally subverted the republican nature of our government by committing us to international adventures for what now seems to be perpetuity.  Caesar helped to kill the Roman Republic, but he might at least argue that his hand was forced and he could also claim that he at least won his military engagements.  Pity the empire whose Caesars are men named Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.  Mr. Bush can only dream to achieve anything as lasting or permanent.  A failure to the end, his Presidency will not even fundamentally change the structures of government that he received from his predecessor.  As much as he is personally ridiculed and despised, he is really not much more than a placeholder President, a cipher, a nonentity.  It is because of this that his profound sense of self-importance and mission is especially disturbing, since even the Lord who chose to make those halting of speech into prophets is not this cruelly ironic.  Sometimes Presidents leave office in disgrace because they were thoroughly bad Presidents through and through, in the sense that they were just really bad at their jobs.  If he is anyone, Mr. Bush is Carter, not Truman. 

“They were the ones who said ‘Make the ‘96 election about nothing except V-Chips and school uniforms,’” says a former Clinton adviser. ~The Nation

The “they” in this case were Dick Morris and Mark Penn, who now serves as pollster and chief strategist for HRC.  This remark would tell us everything we need to know about Penn, if we didn’t already know who he was: he is someone who has  made his name on manipulating the public and preventing the representation of tens of millions of people through the worthless, “triangulated” centrist policy prescriptions that he has helped advance.  As the quote above indicates, he belongs to the school that says elections should be as vapid and irrelevant as possible.  He represents, in short, everything I despise about American politics and the political class.

That, of course, is the heritage of this land. The people who came to Jamestown 400 years ago may not have all been saints. But they were all pioneers. They crossed the broadest waters and dreamed the grandest dreams. Their spirit is the American spirit. It is why America surpassed our native England to become the world’s most powerful nation. ~Mitt Romney

Dreamed the grandest dreams?  The early settlers in Virginia were primarily looking for land and money.  Nothing to be ashamed of, these things, since these are what pretty much all settlers, pioneers and immigrants are interested in finding.  Occasionally you will have sectarians who want to carry out their mission in a new land, but for the most part you will have normal people.  It is this plain, down-to-earth history of people seeking to find a plot of land and tend it that tells us a lot more about most traditional Americans down through the centuries than talking about people ”dreaming the grandest dreams.”  The New Englanders were more into dreaming, and look at all the trouble they–we–have managed to cause.  We would have done better to have even more sodbusters and even fewer dream-obsessed Yankee Puritans.  I say this as someone with a lot of New England Puritan and Yankee background. 

In any case, it’s nice to see that Romney’s Europhobic chauvinism extends also to the Mother Country, which is remarkable since the “American spirit” exhibited by the settlers at Jamestown was very much an “English spirit” and continued to be decidedly English or, if the last five defenders of the Union prefer, British.  Romney’s little remark is like something out of Hegelianism for Dummies: the American Geist has carried us along and caused us to triumph over all our adversaries. 

I have an alternative explanation for why the U.S. has outstripped the U.K. in world power: World Wars One and Two may have had a small part to play in dethroning England from global predominance.

Mike Suarez, 42, a friend of Fueyo’s and chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, pointed out what Obama did not say during his Tampa rally.

“If he were the quote-unquote traditional black candidate, he would have said something about Don Imus,” said Suarez, who has not yet decided upon a candidate. ~The Washington Post

Thank goodness Obama’s not like some “quote-unquote traditional black candidate” like this guy who spoke on the day 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 [sic]. 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.

Oh, hang on, that was Obama.  I guess what Mr. Suarez probably means is that a “quote-unquote traditional black candidate” would keep talking about Don Imus until our ears bled, whereas Obama only talks about him in earth-shatteringly inappropriate ways occasionally.  Right?

He agreed to a $28 million, one-year contract that will start when he is added to the major league roster for his first start, most likely in three to four weeks. Clemens will earn about $18.5 million under the deal, which will cost the Yankees approximately $7.4 million in additional luxury tax, meaning they are investing about $26 million in a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who will turn 45 in August. ~AP

As longtime readers of the blog will know, I am an Astros fan and have been since I was five years old.  When Clemens, a native Texan, came out of retirement in Houston a few years back, it was generally understood (at least publicly) that he was only doing this because playing in Houston afforded him a chance to play baseball while being able to spend more time with his family.  Apparently that was nothing more than a lot of PR garbage, and I should have realised as much at the time. 

Now he has turned his back on his hometown and gone to serve the dreadful Yankees, who are to the integrity of baseball what Dick Cheney is to responsible foreign policy.  Of course, it’s not hard to see why: any ballclub stupid enough to throw that much money at a 45-year old pitcher deserves to be taken to the cleaners, and forcing the Yankees to cough up $26 million for one year’s work (minus spring training!) from Clemens is the sort of karmic retribution that George Steinbrenner undoubtedly deserves but so rarely receives.  In that sense, I can appreciate what Clemens is doing, and I can take some pleasure knowing that the Yankees have unloaded enormous amounts of money to destroy the Astros’ rotation (they took Pettite before this) but will ultimately not benefit from the expense.   

If you want to get the “man on the street” view of Obama’s appeal as it relates to the vexed question of whether he “transcends” race, do you suppose one of the most representative people you could find to determine the breadth and scope of Obama’s appeal would be a “native New Yorker” who “conducts diversity training in her workplace and is a proponent of affirmative action, a position she staked out in college”?  Why not ask Samantha Power whether she thinks Obama might be a decent candidate while you’re at it?  David Axelrod might also be available.

The Post story is almost too precious to believe:

At a campaign event in Tampa last month, she hung on Obama’s every word as he spoke to an adoring crowd packed into the courtyard of the historic Cuban Club of Ybor City. As she listened, race wasn’t in the forefront of her mind, she says later. It usually isn’t, she says.

“Kind of like, if I could compare him to Tiger Woods. When I look at Tiger Woods, I see the best golfer in the world,” she says. “So when I see Barack Obama, I see a strong political candidate. I do not see ‘Oh, that’s a black man running for president, or African American or multiracial black.’ It’s not what comes to mind first. What comes to mind first is: great platform, charismatic, good leader, attractive.”

If race isn’t usually on Ms. Lang’s mind, why would it be when she goes to listen to Obama speak?  If you have a liberal fan of diversity who doesn’t think about race, would putting her in a room with Obama suddenly evoke profound anxiety?  This is ridiculous.  What this article tells us is that coastal liberals who have appropriately liberal views on race support one of the more left-leaning candidates running for President.  If you can find a couple of progressive activists who also like Obama, you can declare it a trend: liberals want to elect other liberals!  It’s a revolution!

Incidentally, have you ever noticed how this universalist language about “transcending” race is as, if not more, condescending as any, since it treats race as something that needs to be “transcended” or “overcome” as if it were some sort of ailment or disease?  In other words, everyone (especially Obama’s supporters) acknowledges that Obama is as popular as he is in spite of his race in one sense, because the favourable reaction to him always deemphasises the identity that he has chosen, to one degree or other at various times in his life, to emphasise rather a lot as his identity.  The people who are most inclined to like Obama seem to take pride in the fact that they think they are being “color blind” about it, but this means that they are embracing their candidate as a symbol of their own universalism while simultaneously devaluing and implicitly disapproving of black Americans who might run for President in some other less “transcendent” way.  You can almost hear them sigh with relief, “Thank goodness he isn’t like those people.  Not that I think about these things much, of course, because that would be wrong.” 

Frankly, I do admire Romney’s consistency, it shows professionalism - some candidates don’t even know what talking points their campaigns communicate. However, I’d like to hear Romney’s view on the fact that democratic elections in the Middle East in the past few years have quite legally, and under US-sanctioned balloting, increased the political clout of Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine), and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt). ~George Ajjan

This was a point I didn’t get to in the post where I united two of my favourite hobbyhorses (bashing Romney, mocking people who talk about Islamofascism).  Now I can add two more of my preoccupations to the mix: questioning the wisdom of democratisation in the Near East and rejecting optimism. 

There are three consistent positions one can take on the question of democratisation:

1) Democratisation is good for the peoples of the Near East and is naturally bound to create a more pro-Western, pro-American, pro-Israel Near East (see Turkey for why this one is wrong).

2) Democratisation is probably bad for American and Israeli interests, but must be pursued for the long-term development, security and sanity of the region.  See interwar Europe, Latin America at almost any time in the last 200 years or modern Africa as counter-examples of the rather terrible results when fragile developing democracies are created in inhospitable times and climes, whether they are being established in badly tribally, ethnically or religiously-divided nations or in nations with insufficient experience with the norms and practices of democratic governance.

3) Democratisation is an inherently destabilising and all-around bad idea that is both inappropriate to the nations of the Near East now and for the foreseeable future and fundamentally dangerous to international security.  In this view, the “global democratic revolution” may even be potentially far more dangerous to the peace of the world than global communism.

Naturally, Republican elites, including Romney, have generally endorsed #1 and have been gradually moving towards #2 as they have begun to count the costs and have been forced to acknowledge that nothing pro-American is emerging in the democratic or quasi-democratic regimes arising in the region.  Those Republicans who once endorsed #1 and have since thrown up their hands in despair do not usually move over to #3, but very frequently retain their powerful faith in democracy as an engine of peace, freedom and development (looking over the hideous history of the most democratic century in history, I really have no idea why they think this).  They are incapable of doubting the virtues of democracy and soon adopt a fourth position, which might be called the Ralph Peters view or the “damn ingrates” position: democratisation in the Near East was a fine and noble idea, and we are fine and noble people for trying to implement it, but those stupid Arabs just couldn’t get their act together, so let’s just kill as many as we can.  This is sometimes hard to distinguish from the advocates of the #1 position, since the #1 folks also tend to be very vocal about killing as many Arabs as possible (see Ledeen and “crappy little country”-against-wall-throwing approach to foreign policy or Rice and “birth pangs of a new Middle East”).  It is amazing to watch the transformation of some of these unbounded optimists, who were not long ago preaching the universality of human dignity, into the most cynically monstrous of amoralists, who now believe that the Iraqis failed us, because they weren’t able to pick up on the fly in a war zone something that takes hundreds of years to nurture, cultivate and developThis is a powerful confirmation of the potential evils of optimism: no one is more savage and cruel than an optimist disappointed by the people he was going to save through his naive idealism.

Coming back to Romney, it is intriguing that he at once takes the far-out confrontational posture of a “Gathering Storm” Santorum vis-a-vis Iran, while at the same time listing the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the general jihadi foe that must be fought.  That ends up putting Romney in the odd position of defending the Syrian government as a “moderate Muslim government” as he breathes in, and then implicitly damning them by targeting Hizbullah as another part of the jihadi foe as he breathes out.  Even though the Syrians oppose one part of the ”worldwide jihadist effort” in repressing the Brotherhood, we will no doubt be told that they are also part of the “worldwide jihadist effort” because they lend support to Hizbullah, which tends to show just how useless and unwise this sort of rhetoric about a “worldwide jihadist effort” really is.  It is safe to say that anyone who thinks that there is a “worldwide jihadist effort” that includes both the Brotherhood and Hizbullah working for the same goals is playing directly into the hands of those, such as al Qaeda, who want nothing more than to convince as many Sunnis as possible that Washington is intent on indiscriminate war against Muslims everywhere.  Nothing better aids jihadi propaganda that presents them as champions of an Islam besieged all over the world than clumsy, ham-fisted descriptions of a “worldwide jihadist effort” that validates the jihadis’ own description of the nature of the war.  Romney wants us to play the jihadis’ game, and in this he is hardly alone on the right–shouldn’t someone be asking why Romney wants to fight the war on the enemy’s terms?  

Rather than exploiting the cleavages that exist between different kinds of Muslims and different groups of jihadis, as a savvy George Kennan-like foreign policy thinker might propose, the insane plan of leading Republican candidates and the party leadership is to keep reinforcing the image of a monolithic, unified “worldwide jihadist effort.”  The net result of this thinking will be that America will have that many more implacable enemies to fight and we will have missed that many more opportunities to turn jihadi against jihadi and use natural Baathist hostility to the same to our advantage.  Rather than playing on national and sectarian divisions and exploiting opposition between relatively secular Muslims and their religious counterparts, talk of a “worldwide jihadist effort” helps to push these groups into collaboration where none existed before.  Of course, having created this collaboration, it will then be taken as proof by these same clever people that these groups were “inevitably” going to ally with one another because of their fundamental agreement with one another.   

So what is it that we think Sarkozy will do — follow the United States blindly into a new war? It seems not. Sarkozy addressed France’s American friends by saying “I want to tell them that France will always be by their side when they need her, but that friendship is also accepting the fact that friends can think differently.” And, of course, under Jacques Chirac’s presidency France did cooperate with the United States in Afghanistan and has cooperated with us broadly on intelligence-sharing and counter-terrorism. So what’s the difference supposed to be? ~Matt Yglesias

Yglesias asks a good question.  The answer is: no significant difference at all.  Americans, their journalists included, think every foreign election has to have something to do with them, and they seem to be interested in those elections mainly for what they tell “us” about the future attitude of the next foreign leader or government towards America.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it makes for pretty uninteresting analysis of foreign elections when, unlike the election Germany in 2002 (where Schroeder used his opposition to the war, which his opponent also shared, to save his re-election), the election in France had virtually nothing to do with America, U.S. foreign policy or Franco-American relations.  Read the transcript of the Sarkozy-Royal debate, and you will find scant mention of les Etats-Unis.  That’s because this was a French election about domestic and European policy. 

It is as if foreign journalists had become terribly excited that the outcome of the utterly boring, conventional, domestically-driven 1992 election signalled something meaningful in the area of foreign policy.  Like America, France has an establishment that pursues a certain set of goals overseas regardless of changes in domestic politics, and a qualified Atlanticism will remain part of that establishment perspective so long as one of the major parties holds power.

Mitt Romney’s War: the total conflation of all Islamist movements. Not only is the Muslim Brotherhood not a jihadist organization, but its very lack of jihadiness is what spawned Ayman Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Suffice it to say that there is no caliphate on heaven or earth that will simultaneously satisfy Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which goes a long way toward explaining why there is no concerted “worldwide jihadist effort” by these groups to establish one. ~Spencer Ackerman
Via Drum

Ackerman is right that Romney’s remarks in the debate make no sense, but they are worse than he thinks.  Not only is there “no caliphate on heaven or earth that will simultaneously satisfy Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Hizbullah presumably wouldn’t even want  a caliphate at all, since the last intertwining of Shi’ism and ideas of having a khalifat as such was in Fatimid Egypt more than a few years ago.  Plus, the Fatimids were Ismailis (though not, strictly speaking, Seveners), and Hizbullah today is from the Imamiyyah or Twelver Shi’ite branch, which makes the likelihood of this predominant strain in Iranian and Lebanese Shi’ism indulging dreams of a restored caliphate in Cairo (where virtually no Shi’ites today dwell) even more remote.  

Not that anyone is keeping score, but I would like to point back to a pre-debate post in which I zeroed in on Romney’s foreign policy and historico-cultural ignorance on display in his speech at Yeshiva University.  In the debate Romney offered up the same “gibberish,” as Drum called it, that he offered in the speech.  Few, if any, have called him on it in the past when he has said ridiculous things about “the enemy,” and so he keeps on repeating them, because they give him the superficial appearance of knowledgeability and understanding.  There are no candidates on the Republican side, except perhaps Ron Paul, who would either know to correct Romney or who would feel any strong desire to do so.  In the view of most of the candidates who were up on that stage Thursday, Hizbullah and Hamas must be our enemies because they are Israel’s enemies, and so any lazy or overbroad concept that unite them all together under a single umbrella term will do. 

For some of the ridiculous candidates (Brownback and Huckabee), and the Rick Santorums of the world, the catch-all idea is “Islamic fascism” or “Islamofascism,” a phrase and a word respectively so stupid that they must win some sort of prize for being the most stupid of the current century.  Romney shares in their profound confusion (or deliberately misleading rhetoric) for the same reason: all these diverse and disparate groups must be brought together under a single, frightening label and they must be made out to be enemies of America, whether or not these descriptions are plausible, true or reasonable.  As has been stated by some of the biggest supporters of the term Islamofascism, its value lies in its vagueness and its all-purpose application: everyone even nominally Muslim or remotely authoritarian can be classified as an Islamofascist, whether he is a Baathist, a member of al-Ikhwan, or a partisan of Hizbullah.  As May said in September of last year:

The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism”: It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria).

In other words, the word we use to describe our enemies must be meaningless in order to accommodate the maximum number of enemies.  If there were ever a politician who was perfectly suited to an age in which words should be entirely malleable and subject to the political needs of the moment, it would have to be Romney.  Romney and rhetoric about Islamofascism were made for each other. 

I’m curious: have I just not noticed books like this before? Or is it really true that there’s a sudden avalanche of popular books extolling the virtues of atheism? ~Kevin Drum

Drum cites Dawkins, Harris, Stenger and Hitchens as evidence of the “avalanche.”  Do four books constitute an avalanche?  It seems to me that some similar four or five-year period during the 19th century, which Kuehnelt-Leddihn mocked in Moscow 1979 as the true age of atheism, or the height of the Cold War must have produced as much atheistic printed material as the last five years have.  Did the era of rising political communism somehow manage to produce fewer tracts on behalf of atheism in a similar span of time?  In fact, these four books seem to be remarkable for how few of them there are.  If ever there were a time during the last 17 years when religion and belief in God should be enduring great scrutiny and opposition, it would seem that the last six years would be it.  Yet most people in the West, whether secular or religious, have come to one or more of the following three conclusions: 1) violence in the name of any religion has nothing to do with Religion; 2) crimes committed by religious extremists tell us nothing about the truth of any religion (obviously closely related to #1); 3) their religion may be violent and dangerous, but that doesn’t apply to all religions, especially ours; 4) faith is perfectly reasonable, provided that it doesn’t become all-consuming; 5) faith should be all-consuming, but should stand in opposition to violence; 6) every religion would be fine, provided that it was balanced with a little “enlightenment”; 7) this simply proves that our religion is true and theirs isn’t.  Virtually nobody anywhere has come to the conclusion that says, “There, you see, this just affirms my conviction that God is made-up nonsense.”  No doubt the atheist will say, “This is just another example of the foolishness of crowds and the persistent delusions of the ignorant.”  This is what he would have to say, because it can hardly encourage an atheist that the last few years have not seemed to produce a new generation of fellow non-believers.    

It is also remarkable how generally unrepresentative of the contemporary discourse on faith and God they are.  Of course, being representative of the Zeitgeist is not any measure of truth, but it is worth noting that even the skeptics have become much more skeptical of pure skepticism when it comes to matters divine.  Atheists always exude this aura of the poor, few truth-seekers oppressed by the masses of the deluded, because they are not part of any “avalance,” but normally appear on the scene as isolated little flurries that come quickly to an end. 

Are books dedicated to running down religion and theism as irrational the same as books “extolling the virtues of atheism”?  A book that attacks the existence of God, or rather denies the rationality of belief in God, tells you nothing positive about atheism.  It doesn’t have to, and it isn’t trying to tell you anything about atheism.  The atheist thinks, just as the theist thinks, but with less reason, that he is telling you about the ”way things really are.”  An atheist tract is, to the atheist’s mind, like a botanist telling you, “This is what a hydrangea is.”  It assumes that atheism is simply what you would have to end up with if God does not exist.  Atheism offers nothing, but promises that life is pointless.  Not surprising that all this miserable view can manage to produce is four books of any prominence in the span of several years.   

Are these books actually popular?  Yes, Hitchens’ book is currently #3 on Amazon, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising since it just came out last week and has received plenty of press, and Dawkins’ book is still at #25.  The other two are not in the top 100.  What do you want to bet that the same secularists and atheists who bought the books by Dawkins and Harris are also running out to buy Hitchens’ latest? 

This is a piece about Thursday night’s Republican presidential debates, but first I would like to note that the media’s fixation with which Republican is the most like Reagan, and who is the next Reagan, and who parts his hair like Reagan, is absurd, and subtly undermining of Republicans, which is why they do it. ~Peggy Noonan

The media’s fixation?  I enjoy the old “the media is out to get us” line as much as anyone, and it can be true, but I am struggling to see this one.  Presumably the party agreed to hold the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and obviously it was the candidates who have been going out of their way for the past few months (especially the tiresome Mitt Romney) to declare that they are Reagan’s children.  It has been conservative activists who have been actively fretting about the quality of the candidates and the alleged lack of true-blue Reaganites in the field.  Yes, the media has reported these internal divisions and anxieties, perhaps even gleefully, but they are not fabricating the “who’s like Reagan?” narrative out of thin air.  When you can imagine Giuliani responding to what he would like on his hot dog by saying, “Well, as the great and optimistic hero Ronald Reagan might say…mustard and relish,” you know that all of the obsession about Reagan is an expression of the candidates’ understanding that they aren’t very much like Reagan, at least in terms of their effectiveness as candidates, and are doing all that they can to cover up their weaknesses by constantly tying themselves to the great man.  As a result, ironically, the more often they mention Reagan, the more they diminish themselves by calling to mind just how capable and effective Reagan was at articulating his message and how generally bad many of them are at doing the same.  If Reagan was the Great Communicator, Giuliani showed himself to be the Great Stumbler (his answer on Sunnis and Shi’ites was amusing to watch as he painfully called to mind the difference–which he managed to get more or less right, by the way). 

That brings me to Mitt Romney.  Yes, Romney is smooth and, to the untrained eye, almost human.  In the superficial world of television debates, he will always “do well” in some sense, because he is a master of appearance over substance.  I will be willing to grant that Romney gained the most from last night’s debate, even though he did not necessarily perform as well as some of the others, because he made no obvious mistakes (except for being a treacly and obnoxious politician who reinvents his views when it is convenient) while his two major rivals came away looking unimpressive (Giuliani) or like a crotchety old man who hasn’t had his dinner yet (McCain). 

If Nixon’s infamous five o’clock shadow and sweat were allegedly his undoing on television, McCain’s glowering face will have to be his.  Not for him M. Royal’s coleres tres saines et tres utile–he was just grumpy.  That isn’t necessarily a negative in my view, since we could stand to have more grumpy and passionate candidates and fewer prefabricated candidate dolls who utter trite phrases (guess which one I mean), but the public typically responds poorly to these displays.   

Did Romney really help his chances at the nomination that much?  He may have, but his chances of getting the nomination have always been so poor (there’s the Mormonism and then there’s his record) that improving on those chances doesn’t necessarily mean that much. 

Having had a little time to think about it, and taking my obvious pro-Ron Paul sentiment into account, I think the four best performers tonight were certainly Hunter, Huckabee, Gilmore and Paul.  In terms of actual policy views, Hunter managed to make himself less interesting to me with his frequent turn to jingoism.  This will probably only help him in the primaries.  Paul performed well, and made the most of limited opportunities he was given, but his absolutely right focus on foreign policy and civil liberties is probably not going to pull in a lot of votes. 

For those who have not seen a lot of him, Romney probably seemed to put on a good show, but no one can really buy what this guy is selling.  His entire persona annoys me at this point.  Perhaps I am too negative, but if that is what wins debates it is a sad day indeed.  He merits maybe fifth or sixth place.  McCain performed competently, probably earning fifth or sixth place overall, but he by no means dominated, despite being given all the time in the world.  Giuliani fared pretty poorly, all things considered, and could not cease mentioning Reagan in virtually every answer.  Virtually everyone did this, but Giuliani’s constant Reagan talk was embarrassing.  Thompson was fairly effective on policy questions and handled the format all right, but just didn’t put together a complete performance.  He repeated himself on how many things he had vetoed, which didn’t help.  Unfortunately, Tancredo did pretty badly.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he is out before Ames.

Update: I should add that there was virtually nothing in this crowd that is going to persuade people alienated by Bush.  The only one to diverge from Bush on foreign policy was Dr. Paul, and he did so capably, but the overwhelming impression the other nine gave to the uncommitted and disaffected was that the basic feature of the Bush administration that most offends them, its foreign policy, will remain fundamentally unchanged.  In the contest between the tired, cranky interventionists and the smoother interventionists, the latter will win.  There is no evidence of substantial change or an appreciably new direction.  It’s like watching the Democrats in 1988.

McCain looks and sounds old and bitter, Thompson (Tommy) comes off sounding very well-versed on issues but needs to work on delivery, Hunter appears more polished, Romney continues to sound like a robot, Brownback sounds insipid.  Huckabee is siding with the military’s expertise, but otherwise has conventional foreign policy answer.  Gilmore goes out of his way to bow before the shrine of Reagan.  Ron Paul waves the flag of non-intervention and “humble” foreign policy!  He is talking about the Constitution!

McCain’s delivery is sometimes broken and stilted, but he’s hitting all of his points.  Tancredo refers to Ahmadinejad as a “gentleman” in a standard pro-Israel answer.  His delivery was not very sharp.  Giuliani makes Iranian nuclear weapons an entirely personalised issue about Ahmadinejad (dutifully invokes Reagan).  Gilmore dodges a chance to bash Romney (missed opportunity, if you ask me) on his Bin Laden quote.  Gilmore does speak convincingly.  Romney backpedals like a fiend to escape his gaffe.  The Politico questions are not terribly good so far.  Romney engages in shameless Reagan invocation.  Huckabee makes a pretty good conservationist appeal.  Tancredo continues to stumble.  Duncan Hunter calls himself a “compassionate conservative” and then engages in obnoxious sabre-rattling against Iran.  Paul knocks the role of government question out of the park.  Giuliani manages to make a point that he doesn’t really care about the repeal of Roe when he could have just gone along with the crowd.  Gilmore advances a strong pro-life message.  Thompson argues for a federalist solution.  Romney repeats his lame conversion story, and continues to be unpersuasive. 

Brownback gives a fairly solid defense of fusionism.  McCain continues to make his points strongly, but he still sounds awfully old.  Hunter pitches his defense credentials.  Ron Paul makes some solid points on defense and foreign policy.  Romney blathers about separation of church and state and segues into religious freedom.  Huckabee somehow manages to get hung up on explaining the importance of faith in politics. 

Good grief, Romney is horribly cloying.  How can the other candidates stand it?  Brownback makes a decent point about religion in the public square.  Hunter pitches his border control credentials.  Gilmore handles a question about Karl Rove fairly capably.  So far Hunter and Gilmore are performing the best, and McCain is doing decently.  Thompson has the best record of accomplishment, and he is making sense about the need for new ideas, and he is beginning to sound more confident.  Tancredo throws down the gauntlet on immigration.  McCain gives pat answer for “comprehensive” reform.  Romney is weak on ESCR, Brownback naturally takes a strong line against.  McCain supports funding for ESCR.  Ron Paul gives the constitutionalist answer! 

Surprisingly, Romney embraces his health care bill.  McCain continues to be the only one who talks about spending.  Romney makes a strong point on having no taxes on dividends and capital gains.  Gilmore talks up his elimination of the car tax (which Virginians who had to balance the state budget probably aren’t so excited about).  Hunter hits free trade deals.  Ron Paul pushes for sound money

Blech–Brownback talks about compassionate and aggressive foreign policy.  Giuliani engages in a totally shameless invocation of Reagan.  Brownback blathers about “Big Ideas” that guarantee Republican victory–they are more clueless than I thought.  Huckabee makes an unexpected protectionist and anti-corporate point.  Tancredo continues to do poorly.  Romney makes shameless plug of his Olympics experience in the context of talking about an ID card for aliens.  Ron Paul strongly repudiates that, and Tancredo backs him up.  Everyone dodges the Libby question except for Gilmore, who actually gives a decent answer.  Tancredo pathetically uses the Libby item to shill for Ramos and Compean.               

Brownback continues to defend the Schiavo intervention.  McCain gives a smarter answer.  Giuliani basically dodges the question.  Hunter goes out of his way to defend the intervention.   

What’s unsettling about McCain’s revival of the talk of a League of Democracies is that U.S. foreign policy for the last six years has been so far out there that his proposal sounds like the product of a relatively reasonable and sane mind.  That’s how bad things are.  Under normal circumstances, McCain’s idea would be written off as loopy, the establishment equivalent of warning about black helicopters, but our foreign policy has run so far off the rails that an overtly pro-interventionist alliance aimed at attacking other countries somehow seems more consultative and friendly and reasonable.  “In the next war, we won’t be fighting alongside Estonians and Mongolians–we’ll have the Brazilians with us!”  Perhaps that’s the thinking.  The “coalition of the willing” was one of the greatest, most embarrassing flops of all time for a superpower, so perhaps an institutionalised “coalition of governments based on the will of the people” will do a bit better when the time comes to attack without provocation yet another small, overmatched country.  I await the counterargument from proponents of unfettered independent national action who do not want to have to justify themselves before the representatives of decadent Belgium and lascivious Brazil (or whatever their objections would be). 

Yglesias points out some of the main flaws with the proposal (for one thing, he says that the leading Non-Aligned Movement states would likely have nothing to do with this transparent hegemonist ploy), and Bob Wright suggests that neocon enthusiasm for a League is a way of creating a new Cold War (that sounds right) by pointedly excluding all those powers and regions that the neocons seem intent on fomenting conflict with in the first place.  It seems to me that it is simply a larger version of the new NATO, which theoretically requires members to be at least passably democratic states (but entertains applications from Albania and Georgia) and which is no longer constrained by anything so limited as its founding treaty or the strategic imperatives of guarding against a threat from the east that no longer exists.  It now practically serves as the international armed forces of the hegemony, provided that the mission can somehow be related to the “war on terror.”  The League represents a move beyond this: to create a permanent institutional basis for international meddling wherever the “democratic nations” (read America and Britain) believe it is necessary.  Since many of the fledgling democracies around the world are relatively poor and need development assistance (controlled by the IMF and World Bank, which are effectively controlled by Washington), their collaboration with any League effort is almost guaranteed.  The tricky part comes when industrialised and modernising democratic states are involved.  Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, India, Argentina, Bangladesh (which is more or less democratic most of the time) and Indonesia together have a huge number of people and some considerable natural resources, and their politics are nowadays are decidedly not in harmony with the goals of McCain and the neocons or even with the Washington establishment in general.  There is nothing to stop them from making a NAM-style league of democracies that directly repudiates any Washington-backed League’s claim to represent democracies around the world, and it seems likely that someone would either use their position within the NAM or would create something parallel with it to voice their opposition. 

It is a given that countries such as Russia, Venezuela and Bolivia would not belong to the League of Democracies, not because they are not democratic, because all three are rather obnoxiously democratic, but because their democracies are not sufficiently liberal.  It will not be long before “democracy” in this context will be defined to mean “constitutional republican democracy with a ’free-market’ economy ruled by managerial elites in conjunction with corporate interests.”  So it should actually be called the Managerial League, or something equally uninspiring.  Also, it is specifically in order to make possible international action without a Russian or Chinese veto that neocons and others want this League, so including Russia would defeat the entire purpose of the League, part of which would almost certainly be to contain, threaten and harrass Russia. 

I understand why internationalists fed up with the U.N. want to create a leaner, meaner U.N. that doesn’t have to take account of the reality that at least a third of the world’s population doesn’t live under democratic rule.  Presumably such a League would try to avoid the structural flaws of U.N. permanent member vetoes that hobble any real collective security action, which in turn would mean that any non-member or member state that makes the mistake of getting on the wrong side of a majority of the League would probably be targeted for another round of “liberation.”  I don’t see how any of this actually serves the American interest or the interests of the other states that would called upon to participate in the League’s many ill-advised adventures, but then maybe that’s because it doesn’t serve the interests of most people.

One dinnertime chat does not a ticket make, though it would certainly confirm my impression that Chuck Hagel is less a principled anti-war conservative than an unprincipled attention-whore. (And I say this as someone who would like to see a principled anti-war conservative in the ‘08 race - and one who’s a little more plausible than Ron Paul.)  ~Ross Douthat

I was going to write about this earlier today, but for a moment my inspiration departed from me when I thought: continuing to talk about this tiresome politician is exactly what he wants, and I don’t feel like giving Hagel what he wants.  Then I thought over it a little more after seeing Ross’ post and decided I would add a couple remarks, if only to drive home for the last time why I don’t much care for Hagel. 

Ross is absolutely right about Hagel.  Hagel is not a principled antiwar conservative.  He isn’t an unprincipled antiwar conservative.  He’s not an antiwar conservative, period, since he would have to oppose the war to be against it, as I have been saying for some time.  On some things (e.g., immigration), he’s not all that terribly conservative, while we’re at it, but that’s not the point.  He has been doing all this because he wants attention.  Does he have some strong reservations and objections to the way Mr. Bush has run the war?  Sure.  As an internationalist realist hawk, he is bound to be upset at seeing internationalist hawkishness discredited as badly as Iraq has discredited it.  That doesn’t mean that he is the tribune of the antiwar right or antiwar voters generally.  I am no longer of the mind that he might be an acceptable, more electable ”compromise” candidate for antiwar voters.  Playing footsie with Bloomberg, who would be obnoxious to the right for all the reasons Giuliani is and who has no obvious or prominent foreign policy position of any kind, is the ultimate pursuit of media chatter for its own sake.

I would say something in defense of the “plausibility” of Ron Paul.  Ron Paul is a good candidate who holds policy views that are, unfortunately, not shared by probably 70-85% of his party (I’m probably being generous in putting it so low).  He is not a “plausible” candidate as an antiwar conservative/libertarian because it is not possible to be against the Iraq war and be politically viable at any important level in the Republican Party today.  Asking for a more plausible antiwar conservative than Ron Paul is to ask that the internal politics of the GOP were radically different, that the vast majority of conservative voters was not deeply inured to a failed policy and that the overwhelming majority of conservative pundits and activists did not vehemently demonise any and all conservatives (including Hagel and even Brownback) who strayed from the party line on Iraq even a little.  I sympathise with wanting all these things, because I want them, too.  I would also like a palatial villa in Tuscany and a summer home in the Alps, but it aint happening, and the reason why it isn’t happening in the GOP primaries hasn’t got anything to do with Ron Paul himself.

Did the neocons expect that tribalism would make an Iraqi democracy function more smoothly?  Mickey Kaus proposes this idea (around minute 46).  He correctly observes that tribes can have relatively stabilising effects, and the promotion and politicisation of identities beyond the tribal will tend to break down the mechanisms of control that tribal leaders have.  However, I am fairly confident that virtually all neocons, if not all of them to a man, who were promoting democratisation in Iraq not only were not counting on tribal loyalties to help, they were positively certain that those loyalties, like ethnic, sectarian and other loyalties, were irrelevant once the people got a taste of Freedom.  Krauthammer’s old dismissive line about the importance of these things sums it up best:

This kind of contempt for the political and spiritual dignity of people who live in different circumstances never goes away. It simply gets applied serially to different sets of patronized foreigners. Today we are assured with confidence that Arabs, consumed by tribe or religion or whatever, don’t really care about freedom either. 

Not only was there no sense in which tribal or religious ties might have been both normal and useful, but they were regarded by neocons as antithetical to everything that was being attempted with respect to democratisation.  As I noted at the time:

Krauthammer sneers at those who perceive in other nations prior loyalties to “tribe or religion or whatever” because he regards people who make those loyalties a priority as regressive and rather frightening, and his global revolutionary faith, if we can call it that, cannot admit that anyone would actually prefer such atavistic attachments to the wonders of “freedom,” which to them is precisely ‘emancipation’ (always a favourite word of levelers, destroyers and other wreckers of human happiness) from all those ties and obligations that sane, rooted people take for granted and respect for the natural, decent affinities that they are.

Neocon “discoveries” of the importance of culture and the fissures of tribal society have been fairly late in coming.  The reason why neocons have consistently been wrong about democratisation in traditional societies is that they do not understand that the rules are different in those societies.  The universal, autonomous individual for whom their ideology is crafted does not exist in these societies.  Like one of their number, Elliot Abrams, neocons believe  that, in the words of Efraim Halevy, “you can promote a certain ideology anywhere and everywhere around the world if you think it’s the right ideology. And you really don’t have to know very much about the basic facts in the region that you’re dealing with, because you have to tailor the region to your ideology.”  Neocons didn’t worry about the tribes in Iraq and certainly didn’t incorporate them as part of the plan, to the extent that there was a plan beyond, “It worked in WWII, so it has to work now.”  It almost seems sometimes as if these social realities are largely unknown to them.    

This is probably of interest only to other bloggers, but the old Kaus-Klein feud resumes here around minute 40:00.  Kaus defends the habit of liberals critiquing liberals as stemming from old-time left-wing principles, which means that he’s admitting that the old generation of New Left folks were engaged in their version of the netroots’ rebellion against their perceived enemies among the neoliberals and centrists.  What Vietnam hawks were to them, Iraq hawks are to the netroots, which I suppose is obvious enough.  It’s still a slightly unusual thing for Kaus to say, since it would seem to suggest that the neoliberals were once upon a time just a bunch of young punks toeing the Port Huron party line cluelessly.     

In other circumstances I could see myself defending the rule of law. ~Harvey Mansfield

Those other circumstances would probably include: when the rule of law is threatened by anything other than the executive branch, when we are not in “time of war,” when we have a Democratic (or any other non-Republican) President.

Instead of reading the completely uninformative article on the French presidential debate in the Times (a lot of political journalism is pretty uninformative, but this one wins a prize), according to which the two contenders were even more vapid than the Republicans will be in California tonight, why not just read the transcript (via Debatable Land)?

Update: The initial moments of the debate clearly seem to have favoured Sarkozy.  Instead of answering directly the question posed to her, Royal went on the offensive, rattling off accusations against the government and her challenger, which provided Sarkozy an opportunity to come in and rebut, it seems fairly effectively, each of her points.  At the same time, he was able to maintain his somewhat overdone, but probably popular stance of attempting to unite the political spectrum behind a campaign for competence and common sense in government.  Just reading the first exchanges, I get the sense that this is actually a policy debate and not the pathetic excuse for presidential debates that we have. 

Royal then set up Sarkozy to make one of his expected law and order appeals, in this case making a promise to punish recidivism harshly and then proposed to try 16-year old criminals as adults.  Royal based her initial pitch around combating crime and inequality, and then proceeds to give Sarko the opportunity to dominate on the crime question from the very beginning.  Obviously, the effect on television may be very different, but Sarkozy comes off as doing very well against the rather excitable Sego. 

Second Update: The section on Turkey was quite interesting.  Sarko responds to accusations that he is being irresponsible and damaging relations with Turkey:

While it is a secular country, it is in Asia Minor.  I  will not explain to French schoolchildren that the borders of Europe are with Iraq and Syria….I don’t think that the stability of the world will be strengthened by killing Europe [bold mine-DL]….I prefer to say to the Turks, you will be associated with Europe, which will have a common market with you, but you will not become members of the Union for a very simple reason: because you are in Asia Minor.  

Nevertheless, he [Tom Cole] is sanguine regarding 2008: “The positioning is good for us” because “we don’t have to conquer new territory, we have to reclaim old territory.” ~George Will

Give the man credit for staying on message.  By this sort of thinking, the Macedonians, Greeks and Mongolians are on the verge of some of the greatest geopolitical comebacks in world history.  They don’t have to conquer new territory–they just need to reclaim their old provinces!  It is all terribly misleading.  It is possible for a declining stock to be an excellent buying opportunity.  It is also possible for that stock to be Enron, especially when the people in charge of the company deceive their shareholders and mismanage the company for their own temporary benefit.  From the way Rep. Cole is telling it, the Byzantines must have been in good shape after Yarmuk, because all they had to do was “just” recover lost territory.  Oh, well, if that’s all, why worry? 

Well, the worry is that, like any force after a big defeat, the Republicans are having trouble coming up with the recruits needed to fight another day.  Confidence in the commanders, so to speak, has been shattered, and precious resources have been depleted during the last, ill-starred contest.  The Three ‘Mo’s (momentum, morale and money) are all on the other side.  As Clausewitz might have said if he were a political blogger, “Voter identification is to fundraising as three to one.”  And the Republicans are also losing the fundraising race, which used to be their strong suit.

Plus, they are apparently not very good at analysing current electoral politics:

Cole thinks that Democrats, who he says have more litmus tests for their presidential candidates than Republicans do [bold mine-DL], are so convinced that they are going to win the White House, they are not resisting what they enjoy surrendering to — the tug from the party’s left.

He’s kidding, right?  More litmus tests?  Obama just gave one of the most interventionist speeches of any presidential candidate ever and the progressives have made a tiny bit of noise about it.  He has supported cap-and-trade, when the left wants something much more bold.  There have been no obvious consequences from the left for Obama taking the centrist hawk ball and running with it, and indeed I would surprised if we see any major attack against Obama from the left.  I think he believes he can win them over with his biography and charisma and his heavy-handed comparisons of himself with RFK, and he just may.  By contrast, just consider how much grief Edwards took (and not from Mike Gravel) for saying “all options are on the table” with respect to Iran, and then consider how easy Obama has had it after giving a speech praised by both Robert Kagan and Marty Peretz, a bipartisan dynamic duo of hideous foreign policy ‘thinking’.    With Obama’s speech, Edwards has become the de facto less obnoxiouly interventionist progressive on foreign policy that Obama was pretending to be earlier.  (Except for Kucinich and Gravel, there are no non-interventionists in the race on the Democratic side.) 

I suppose the argument would be that Iraq is the litmus test for Democratic candidates, and all have been forced to toe a line for phased withdrawal, timetables, etc.  Of course, what is remarkable in all of this is that the “litmus test” position that Clinton has supposedly been “compelled” to take is basically the centrist hawk position on Iraq that Obama has felt compelled to embrace to avoid appearing too antiwar.  No sense jeopardising his lifelong ambition to be President over something so trivial as real opposition to a war. 

Bruce Bartlett’s paeans to her courage notwithstanding, Clinton has not apologised for her Iraq war vote because she a) doesn’t think she needs to apologise and b) knows that she will not pay a particularly heavy price for not doing so.  This is because the litmus test on Iraq is very easy to pass: you have to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that as President you will end the war.  The thinking seems to be that what the candidate says or does before then is merely the means to that end.  It would appear that antiwar progressives may be willing to empower someone who has a foreign policy not substantially different from Bush’s simply to get a Democrat in office to make some attempt at concluding the war in Iraq.  Anyway, it is profoundly mistaken to think that the Democrats are in worse shape because of their confidence.  As a party they are much more united around their eventual nominee, whoever it may be, and their combination of confidence in victory and hunger for winning the White House are eerily similar to Republican indifference to Bush’s deviations from traditional conservatism after eight years of Clinton.  The left’s leverage in ‘08 will be less than it was in the midterms, especially if an Obama or Edwards gets the nod.  Republicans keep planning their campaigns with the assumption that the Democrats will collapse in a fit of disunity and/or lunacy, but this didn’t happen last year and it isn’t going to happen next year.  The Republicans need to develop an actual strategy for winning in their own right.  From what I saw in Tom Cole’s remarks, they don’t have the first clue. 

Instead of being horrified that IL-06 in DuPage County, where Henry Hyde used to routinely pull 60% of the vote or more until 2004, almost fell to a no-name Iraq war veteran Democratic challenger, Mr. Cole believes the closeness of the race in 2006 works to Republican advantage!  The truth is that DuPage County isn’t the Republican stronghold it once was–the Dems got 44% in 2004 and 48% in 2006.  Obviously, if they keep making steady gains like that in what was once a suburban bastion of Republicanism, you can forget about retaking the House in the next decade.  

On the separate note, consider the beginning of Will’s column:

Tom Cole earned a PhD in British history from the University of Oklahoma, intending to become a college professor, but he came to his senses and to a zest for politics [bold mine-DL], and now, in just his third term in the House of Representatives, he is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

While it does hold out hope for all Ph.D. students everywhere that they, too, might one day enter politics and become campaign coordinators in doomed, lost causes, consider the attitude Will’s shot at academia represents.  If anyone wants an explanation for why the academy is dominated by the left and why the youngest cohort of voters has gone even more overwhelmingly for the Democrats than usual, you need look no further than precisely this sort of professional cop-out, giving up on educating the next generation for the sake of the easy, cheap and ephemeral victories of politics.  Every conservative out there complains about the declining standards of education, the ruin of the academy, the politicisation of the classroom and on and on, but what happens when it comes time to step up and do some of the educating themselves?  They go to law school to get a “useful” degree, or go into politics or some other field where the “prospects” for the future are better, and then wonder how the media, academia, the arts and cinema have all been taken over by people who loathe everything they believe.  

When I am occasionally tempted by the political road (however ludicrously impractical such a road would be), I am often reminded of that quote from Max: “What would you rather do: change how people see or how they pay their taxes?”  The poverty of so much of conservatism today is a result of way too many otherwise decent and sane people opting for the latter goal rather than the former.  Nowadays, it seems that they can’t even do that part very well.  Perhaps it would be better if more conservatives turned to teaching, cultivating and creating things rather than running uninspired electoral campaigns.

He said that what “irritates many people in the world is the condescending, patronizing attitude of America, that we have all the answers and everyone should do what we want them to.” ~Contra Costa Times

Personally, I have no real problem with Romney’s quote, except that it is absolutely and completely antithetical to everything else he has ever said about foreign policy and foreign relations.  His numerous public statements on Iran have been filled with precisely this kind of presumption and the insistence that Iran do what we say.  One of the planks of his campaign is to jeer at and deride France.  Now he suddenly worries about Americans sounding patronising and condescending?  Does the man ever just tell the truth?  He should give it a try–he might find it liberating.

If I have bolstered Yglesias’s reputation in a way that advances his career, I’m glad to have helped. I think he’s the best blogger there is and entirely deserving of the breathtaking success he has enjoyed. But, given his astonishing success–a large base of readers, a job with The Atlantic, a book contract, all before his 26th birthday–it is odd that Yglesias believes the incentive structure of political journalism punishes his ideology. How much higher does he think he should have risen? ~Jonathan Chait

Saniora criticized the Israeli report for failing to address the destruction, estimated at more than $5 billion, inflicted on Lebanon by the IAF and naval bombardment as well as the ground incursion during the war.

The report on the “unjust war… did not make a single mention of the massive material, human losses and destruction Israel inflicted on Lebanon,” Saniora said. ~The Jerusalem Post

Obama gave a speech last week to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was an exhilarating speech to me. ~Marty Peretz

Worst of all, Peretz dubs Obama a “maverick, a real maverick.”  Other great mavericks of our time include McCain and Lieberman.  Obama has joined a select and very horrifying group of people.

This is a perfectly good question, though one to which I have only conventional wisdom to offer. Basically it’s this: Thompson is a guy whose political record in the Senate was a big zero; whose only real claim to fame is being a character actor on TV and in films; who has done nothing to distinguish himself this year except deliver a few vaguely Reaganesque pastiches in a nice baritone; who is apparently not Christian enough for James Dobson’s taste; who has no known issues that he really cares deeply about; and whose most famous quality is his laziness. ~Kevin Drum

What Brooks sees as a the base’s inability to accept change is often, in reality, a burning desire for change. He mocks the clamor for Fred Thompson to run as an “Authentic Conservative” but he fails to see, or at least credit, the degree to which the call for “Authentic Conservatism” is a rebuke of Bush. ~Jonah Goldberg

In light of continued Thompson fever (sounds a bit like swamp fever, doesn’t it?), it may be time to revisit the much-discussed David Brooks piece and the flurry of chatter it has generated.  One interesting response came from Daniel Finkelstein, who recounted an episode from the bad old days of the Major Government:

Early in 1995 my friend Jim Pinkerton, formerly the research point man for Republican strategist Lee Atwater, visited London at my invitation. I took him round to meet some of my friends in the Cabinet and in senior Downing Street roles. And when the meetings were done with we sat down to discuss Conservative prospects.

What would you do if you lost, he asked me. I rattled off a list of big changes that would need to be made. And will you lose, Jim inquired. Oh yes, I answered, no doubt about it. Then what are you waiting for, he replied.

Indeed–what are we waiting for?  Apparently, many people are waiting for Fred Thompson to lead them to the promised land.

It is possible that people saying they support Thompson are yearning for an “authentic conservative” and think that they have found him in Fred Thompson.  The question still has to be: why Fred Thompson?  After digging into his record even a little, it is clear that there is enough of the taint of McCain about him (plus his vote to acquit Clinton) that whatever makes McCain unpalatable to core voters ought to apply to Thompson as well.  If there were a real longing in the movement and party to return to the imaginary days of Reaganite purity, someone like Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul or Duncan Hunter would be a potential contender among the Republican presidential candidates in at least one of the primary states by now.  Sad to say, they are not. 

By just about anyone’s standards, it is fair to say that the deviants and heterodox rule the roost in the primary contest so far.  The activist base claims dissatisfaction with the field of candidates, but somebody is behind all these poll results that have been showing Giuliani, McCain and Romney as the “viable” candidates, while the relatively more “pure” no-hopers languish in obscurity (Brownback, the only self-identified “compassionate conservative,” also lags, but may still prove competitive in early contests).  The major conservative opinion journals and websites often seem obsessed with defining the field to the Terrible Trio, which reinforces the certainty that these are the only candidates that will gain any momentum with the audiences of these journals and websites.  It is true that, before his unfortunate “Jews and finance” gaffe, Tommy Thompson (a reformist, “compassionate conservative” before it was a nationwide bad idea) was gaining traction in Iowa.  In any case, if conservatives were yearning for change away from the last several years of “compassionate conservative” nonsense, they would not rushing into the ever-loving embrace of a social liberal, a frequent opponent of tax reduction and the governor that signed universal health care into law in his state.  The boomlet for Fred Thompson once again rewards someone who is no more and no less conservative than McCain and whose deviations are basically the same as McCain’s.  While McCain’s deviancy has been greatly exaggerated–by McCain as well as by his enemies–he has a poor reputation with core conservatives for good reasons, and those reasons ought to apply with equal force to Thompson.  If contrarianism from a Senator in a reliably Republican state really is unforgivable, Thompson stands convicted of the same error as McCain. 

If Brooks’ column was a roundabout defense of the legacy of “compassionate conservatism,” as Goldberg at least implies, he couldn’t be terribly unhappy with the current state of play.  Moving away from domestic policy for a moment, Brooks can hardly be disappointed when the two would-be “saviours” are Thompson and Gingrich, who are equally strident about an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy.  These five candidates seem to be more generally on the Brooksian side of things than they are on the side of supposed “George Allen” orthodoxy.  If the search for the “authentic conservative” has yielded Thompson as the answer, the seekers cannot be all that picky. 

The activist leadership may be saying all sorts of disgruntled things about the need to adhere to the old orthodoxy, such as it is, but it would appear that no one is listening to them at this stage.  It seems to me that the invocation of a “return to Reagan” is a kind of pose or maybe the sounding of a distress signal.  When a movement has exhausted itself and hit hard times, there is usually a call to go ad fontes where all can drink deeply from the restorative wells of living water, but in most cases the movement members never make it back to the sources and settle for wildly gesticulating in the direction of where they think those wells are supposed to be.  It is important that the Reagan Era be mystified and mythologised as much as possible, so that it is made into an Eden from which conservatives were expelled.  It is imperative that the flaws and compromises of that era be whitewashed as much as possible, so that there is some model on which conservatives can now model themselves.  However, if returning to the glories of the Reagan Era was the precondition of restoration for conservatism and the GOP every conservative should theoretically rally behind the pro-amnesty Giuliani or McCain, since they offer a way to relive the wonders of 1986. 

I think an important part of Brooks’ argument is that it would be very different if conservatives were responding to the dire political situation by opting for a return to old principles because they had seriously thought about how a revamped, purified conservatism stripped of Bushist deviationism would best defend the things they want to conserve.  It seems to me that Brooks’ criticism is aimed at an instinctive lurching back towards whatever existed before regardless of its usefulness, applicability or timeliness.  This lurching is done not so much because the conservatives grasping for it have any strong faith in it or even an understanding of why it will remedy the ills they face, but because they are looking for something comfortable and familiar after the disillusionment and defeat of the last few years. 

What is the principled conservative response to mass immigration?  Many of the declared candidates are more or less restrictionist because they assume that much of the activist base is restrictionist, but two of the leading three are openly pro-amnesty in one form or another, and this has apparently not caused any great weakening of those two.  The point here is that many activists may believe and be right in believing that the right conservative position is a restrictionist one, but this is one of those issues on which embrace of amnesty does not seem to be the political poison the polls suggest that it should be.  The yearning for an “orthodoxy” may simply not be present in many of the voters. 

Perhaps this is because there is no widespread interest in the old “orthodoxy” or the recent Bushist deviation from it.  Perhaps the reason for the enduring enthusiasm for such preposterous candidates as Giuliani and Thompson is a desire for something different from both of these, which Giuliani and Thompson in all their vagueness seem to offer.  Perhaps since most responding to these polls probably don’t know much of anything about either man, people are investing these blank slates with their desire for something else, a third option between an instinctive return to a mythologised past and a continuation of the disastrous present.   

Part of the problem with the movement today, at least as far as policy debates are concerned, is that there seems to be a good deal of agreement that enforcement and border security are important, but the basic continued flow of cheap labour in some form is not going to be interrupted.  This might seem to be a compromise between restrictionist and business conservatives, but it strikes me rather as an inability to set priorities (or, more accurately, a refusal of restrictionists to challenge and question the priorities of business conservatives).  As a result, immigration policy, which should be an obvious winning issue for the right, is allowed to drift rudderless year after year while prominent GOP leaders (and not a few conservative pundits) actively work against the interests of large segments of the coalition.  If restrictionism is the right answer on mass immigration, does it take a higher priority than cheap labour, free trade and globalisation?  I think it does, and I think if cast in the right way and put forward by a competent candidate it could change the nature of the political game in this country for a generation. 

It is these sorts of policies, together with other populist themes related to outsourcing and economic anxiety and insecurity, that make up the ground where domestic political battles are going to be waged in coming years.  A conservative who can articulate the appropriate balance of economic nationalism, defense of the interests of American labour, defense of borders, cultural conservatism and a rhetoric of social solidarity that focuses on local community organisations and municipalities rather than advancing another confounded centralist plan can advance a view that is at once populist and also reasonably decentralist and rightist.  It would be something like an American Christian Democracy, but where Christianity actually informs and elevates policy rather than simply serves as a rallying cry and where the Democracy would be a lot more like the Democracy of Jefferson and Jackson and a lot less like that of Konrad Adenauer.  Its federalism would involve concrete devolution of powers and would not simply be a convenient way out of embarrassing social issue controversies, which is mostly what it has become these days.  This populism would pay tribute to the “retroculture,” yes (and draw essential elements from the agenda outlined in the TAC essay about it), and would argue for a consistent culture of life and human dignity that does not wink at torture or nod at bombing civilians or smile knowingly at the killing of the unborn, and it would also seek to work on behalf of both workers and professionals ill-served by the regime of multinational corporations and globalist politicians.           

If I understand him correctly, Brooks objects to a reflexive return to old models that seems to show no awareness that it is not 1984 or 1988.  It is not necessarily the return to principles that is the problem, nor is it necessarily the principles to which people say they wish to return that are lacking, but it is the lack of imagination in addressing those principles to the present political moment that grates.  There are possibilities for a conservatism that is true to its fundamentals and flexible in its policy approaches, but it requires conservatives to snap out of their sleepwalking and face up to what it is that the public is demanding, what it needs and how conservatives can propose to provide remedies. 

If screenwriters don’t know the stories, they could start with the Black Book of Communism. It could introduce them to such episodes as Stalin’s terror-famine in Ukraine, the Gulag, the deportation of the Kulaks, the Katyn Forest massacre, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the Hungarian revolution, Che Guevara’s executions in Havana, the flight of the boat people from Vietnam, Pol Pot’s mass slaughter—material enough for dozens of movies. ~David Boaz

Well, having just mentioned The Killing Fields, it seems odd that he seems to list “Pol Pot’s mass slaughter” as one of the things that hasn’t been treated in a film.  The Katyn massacre was part of the story of the codecracker movie nobody went to see, Enigma, and The Lost City showed briefly but effectively the beginnings of communist terror under Castro and Guevara.  The horrors and chaos of the Cultural Revolution have been depicted, albeit not in a systematic way, in the fine Chinese movie To Live and, again, One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich portrays Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Gulag.  The Last Emperor at least obliquely refers to the police state under Mao (and this otherwise movie actually exaggerates the mistreatment accorded to Pu Yi after his deposition).  Tom Hulce starred as the projectionist in an outstanding portrait of Stalin, The Inner Circle, that was as quickly forgotten as it was brilliant in depicting the dictator and his willing lackey (it was more of a portrait of the cult of personality, but very powerful all the same).  Robert Duvall played the man himself in a miniseries about Stalin.  Those are just the ones that I have happened to see or know about myself.  

Now, it is absolutely true that there are still not enough movies being made to tell the stories of the more vast, systematic crimes of the Soviet Union and Maoist China against its subject peoples, including the genocide of the Ukrainians or the famines induced by collectivisation in China, and there are obvious political reasons why telling the stories about the evils of communism does not inspire a lot of folks out in Hollywood. 

Yet if screenwriters and producers are not banging down the door to make these movies, to listen to contemporaries of all political persuasions compare current threats to the Greatest Evil Ever you would be hard-pressed to find very many who talk about how such-and-such a foreign leader is the “new Khruschev” or the “new Stalin.”  No, every pundit knows that to get people to pay attention to a foreign crisis he has to invoke Hitler, Nazism and the Holocaust.  Chauvinists and jingoes call it Islamofascism for a reason (they are ignorant), but they have another reason: fascism causes a visceral, negative reaction in virtually all who hear it, while communism may well deeply offend many but somehow lacks the emotional power that sixty years of continuous conditioning about Nazis have created.  There is a more immediate hunger for anti-Nazi stories in America, because Americans were directly involved in fighting Nazi Germany in a way that we simply weren’t with the Soviets.  Even telling stories from the Korean War are probably less appealing, because the war was enormously unpopular and ended in stalemate.    

Even so, there are a few more films depicting the crimes of communism than Mr. Boaz allows.  If they are less well known, that may be because they have smaller audiences, perhaps because the Cold War ended with a whimper rather than a bunker.  All of this may in turn explain why there are fewer movies made about the evils of communism: the stories are very dramatic and powerful, but the collapse of communism came about in large part because the system simply broke down and the many peoples who laboured under that yoke finally threw off the yoke themselves.  Sad to say, but great stories about foreigners successfully struggling against their repressive governments are not the source of big box-office results.  What kind of anticommunist movies sell over here?  Rambo.  Now you can probably see why there aren’t more of them being made.   

The footnotes to the modern Armenian translation of Sayat Nova’s Angin akn vret sharats had an interesting explanation for what seemed a partly impenetrable line of verse.  The verse ran:

Khosrov pachayemen toghats, doon Tovoozi takht is, gozal.

Now, takht is the word for throne shared by Armenian, Persian and Urdu.  However, without the explanatory note linking this takht to the invasion of India and raid on Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739, which was when he made off with the Peacock Throne, my Armenian teacher and I would not have readily made sense of what was meant.  Once Nadir Shah entered the picture, everything came together nicely.  Since this poem was probably written in 1758, Nadir Shah’s exploits would not have been such distant history for the ashugh.  The translation of the line would run as follows:

Left by King Khusrau, you are the Peacock Throne, beautiful one.


Skandari-Zoolghari toghats javahir is, angin lal is



In America, even the Satanists embrace triangulation. ~Reihan

Viewed another way, though, this might be the ultimate confirmation that triangulation is just the sort of diabolical method that some of us have always considered it to be.

Sharon is the bad guy who seemingly looks forward to a war. ~President Ronald Reagan, from private diary entry on Jan. 16, 1982

And, in fact, Laphroaig does taste like burning plastic. But it’s good burning plastic. ~Mencius Moldbug (that’s the name he uses–really)

I second that.  My introduction to Laphroaig was at the recent ISI/Liberty Fund colloquium at Mecosta.  We had received word from the Scotsman among us that this was good whiskey, and we were not likely to dismiss the informed opinion of a Scot on a matter as weighty as this one. 

As for the matter of restoring the Byzantine Empire, well, let me just say that I have heard of worse solutions to political problems in the Balkans and the Near East than this.  However, past attempts have not exactly done much for the well-being of Christians and Christianity in Anatolia, which therefore makes any resumption of the megali idea undesirable at the present time.  The main problem with reconstituting the empire, assuming it could be done, is that there would need to be a much better and formally defined procedure for succession.  Byzantium’s all-too-frequent usurpations and civil wars were obviously among its more unattractive qualities for those living inside the empire.  In some sense, this was a terribly traditionally Roman thing for them to be doing, but it did not really help in the long run.   

Helal enjoys working with Rice. He appreciates her interest in hearing all points of view on a given subject and her understanding of the details. When I ask him what he makes of the words he often translates for her, like “freedom” and “democracy,” he is polite, but wary. “I cannot imagine that you can go anywhere in the world and ask people, ‘Do you want to be free?’ and they will say, ‘No, we really love to be prisoners,’” he says. The problem is not with freedom but with democracy, a concept that evolved in differing and idiosyncratic ways in the Western historical experience. “In the Middle East, they look at things and ask, Is it halal or haram,” he explains. “Is it approved by the religion or not? If you go to a Bedouin society and you tell them that the state will determine how you’re going to settle a conflict between you and your cousin, you must be out of your mind, because the most important and powerful tool to them will be tribal law, which is unwritten.” ~David Samuels

Indeed, there is a sense in which you do have to be out of your mind to accept as normal the idea that the state settles such disputes.  Anyone who surveys history has to know just how abnormal such an arrangement is, how much it contradicts so many of our instincts and customs and how ultimately fragile and contingent upon a certain ethos it is.  It is strange to read Mr. Helal’s statement, which expresses with perfect clarity a view of the world that appears to be not so very different from my own, and try to reconcile that with his work alongside a Secretary of State who believes in the “inevitability of democratic change” in the very same region.  One of them is right, and I do not think it is Secretary Rice.

She is trying to have things both ways, a fact that she understands, because she is not stupid. At the same time, she believes she can have things both ways, because she believes that history is on her side. ~David Samuels

“Israel today will not do anything, take no initiative whatsoever,” Halevy says, “unless the United States approves it. It was never that way before.” The retired spymaster sips his tea, and looks me in the eye as he searches for an appropriate way to define how the relationship has changed.

“Insemination is an act of two, not of three,” he finally says. “As a result of what happened in 2003 and 2004, the natural act of insemination between Israel and its neighbors is no longer possible.” ~David Samuels

This seems to me to relate directly to Edward Luttawak’s much-discussed Prospect article, in which he basically says that the U.S. should leave the Near East to the Near Easterners and, by implication, largely step away from the Israel-Palestine conflict.  If Halevy is right, that would also seem to suit the best interests of Israel as well, since ironically it would actually free the hand of the Israeli government to act.

“I used to deal with Condi when I was head of Mossad and she was national-security adviser, and I had a great respect for her, and admiration,” Halevy says. “I still do. But I think that in her role of secretary of state, things are not going too well. The main problem is that Condi Rice was never an expert on the Middle East. That’s not her area of expertise. And therefore, she has to rely on others. And the others in this case is a lawyer who is an ideologue”—meaning Elliott Abrams—“who believes that you can promote a certain ideology anywhere and everywhere around the world if you think it’s the right ideology. And you really don’t have to know very much about the basic facts in the region that you’re dealing with, because you have to tailor the region to your ideology.” ~David Samuels

As late as 1987 or 1988, Rice said, the American policy of democratic change in Europe would have looked like a failure. What her answer suggested was that the Bush administration’s policy of encouraging democratic change in the Middle East might appear to fail for 50 years, and then might be judged to have been a farsighted success. ~David Samuels

Well, actually, since in 1987-88 the Soviets were already buckling, Gorbachev was talking up glasnost and perestroika, Solidarity remained a dynamic force in Poland, and Vaclav Havel had emerged in Czechoslovakia–all of which had followed deliberate, concerted efforts by a foreign imperial power to suppress by force all attempts at local political change as recently as twenty years earlier, we can say that Rice either doesn’t remember what was happening in the late ’80s in the one part of the world about which she was allegedly an expert or that she is spinning like a top.  Gentle reader, which do you think it is?  A huge difference between central and eastern Europe in the Cold War and the Near East today is rather obvious: many of the countries of central and eastern Europe had had at least some past experience with representative government in the late 19th century and the early 20th century.  Encouraging democratic change in a part of the world where that actually has a chance of working might be worth pursuing over the long term.  Pursuing a pipe dream, even if you pursue it studiously for five centuries, will not make the pipe dream any more realistic.  

One of the big problems with the march toward Palestinian democracy, Wilkinson told me, was that the visuals were lousy [bold mine-DL]. “Secretary Rice would show up at the Muqata, and you had broken glass, bars on the windows, people with AK-47s running everywhere.” ~David Samuels

Quite.  Two other big problems were called Hamas and Fatah.

“He[Bush]’s had as much effect upon my foreign-policy views as I’ve had on his,” Rice told me. “It is in part, in large part, his unshakable belief in freedom. And his unshakable belief that human beings have not just a right to it, but they’re at their best when they have it.” Like the president, Rice is a regular churchgoer who embraced religious practice later in life—in Rice’s case, after returning from Washington, D.C., to her teaching job at Stanford University, where she served as provost from 1993 to ’99.

Rice’s detractors, and even some of her close friends, see her worldview, which is both intellectually coherent and heartfelt, as deterministic and lacking any real appreciation for the influence of local factors on big historical events. A common term for the core of her thought among her colleagues, past and present, is “the theology,” a reference to her bedrock faith in the likelihood, or inevitability, of progressive historical change [bold mine-DL]. Her views have evolved since she witnessed firsthand the end of the Cold War. ~David Samuels

If that doesn’t worry you, there’s this item a little later:

Where Rice sharply differs from Fukuyama is in her vision of a strong tension between a beneficent order of liberal states and the “transnational forces” that seek to tear down the global system. Her worldview is therefore trickier and more idiosyncratic than it first appears. “Democracy, for Secretary Rice, I think, and for them,” Zelikow says, speaking more generally of the administration, “is a universal safety valve for social conflict. And as they confront parts of the world in profound social and political crisis, they prescribe democracy.”

She thinks that democracy is the remedy for social conflict?  She hasn’t figured out yet that democracy simply becomes another vehicle for social conflict that the rival groups in any conflict use to continue their fight?  That politicising the different groups in a conflict-ridden society through a democratic process simply legitimises the ongoing conflict?  If she still doesn’t understand that this is a real possibility, I think she isn’t fit to be the Secretary of State.  (Of course, she isn’t fit to be Secretary of State, but we’ll leave that for later.)

Toward the end of our first interview, I asked Rice whether the hopeful narrative of Arab countries holding free elections and moving forward toward democracy risks ignoring 500 years of tragic history in the Middle East.

“It’s not hopefulness,” she said crisply, interrupting me. “It’s a sense of what is possible, and optimism about the strength of democratic institutions.

“Let me ask you this,” she continued, wagging her head back and forth, taking pleasure in the clash of ideas. “Not that long ago—you said 500 years, but not that long ago, say, 1944, or maybe even 1946—would anybody have said that France and Germany would never go to war again? Anyone?” ~David Samuels

The more of this article I read, the more troubled I am.  I have assumed for a while that Secretary Rice just went along with whatever the boss told her to do, since there has not appeared to be any overarching or coherent theme to her foreign policy views between 1999 and today, but it becomes clear that she does have some sort of ideas about history and foreign policy and they are all terrible.  She used to be a great one for talking about balance of power and Great Power interests, and now she talks incessantly of democracy and forces of history.  Maybe the confusion was there all along and I didn’t see it. 

Just consider her response to Samuels’ question and reflect on how utterly ridiculous it is.  As a Cold War-era official, she must know that the reason France and Germany didn’t go to war again after WWII was that France and most of Germany were our allies against the far larger threat from the east, a little place Secretary Rice supposedly knew something about, the USSR, and that there was no desire and no reason for renewed conflict between Germans and French while the Soviets loomed large on the horizon.  This might have been reasonably guessed at once NATO was founded and West Germany joined the alliance.  In 2007, we are theoretically where the post-WWII leaders of Europe were c. 1949-50, and the main worry in 1949-50 was no longer a revival of Franco-German enmity but the power of the Soviet Union.  She would also presumably know that the EU has centered around a strong Franco-German partnership.  As Secretary of State, she would also have to know that France and Germany remain U.S. allies and are therefore not likely to start wars with each other.  Would anyone have predicted such a happy outcome in 1946?  Maybe not.  But the non-occurrence of major war between French and Germans was not some mythical hope that had never existed for long stretches of time in the past.  Between 1815 and 1870, there was never a shot fired in anger across the eastern frontiers of France by French and German armies, which was a situation created by the Congress of Vienna and maintained by the Concert of Europe.  What European warfare there was after 1815, with the notable exceptions of the wars of Italian and German unification, tended to center on the Eastern Question, whence came so many terrible things.  This is not an answer to the question that was asked, which is, to paraphrase, “How oblivious do you have to be to think that democratisation will succeed in the Arab world?”  The Secretary responded to a very serious question about the applicability of democracy to the Arab world (which actually understates the burden of history) with a total non-sequitur about peace in Europe that she and everyone else knows is guaranteed by U.S. supremacy and our nuclear arsenal.  In fact, the guarantee of peace through such deterrence is relatively easy and straightforward compared to the difficult task of introducing a rare and fragile orchid into the desert.  Secretary Rice is even more clueless than I had feared that she was.   

“I think we are just at the beginning of great historical flux, and I think it’s even much more dramatic and much more profound than I thought in 2000,” Rice says, when I mention an article she published that year in Foreign Affairs, laying out her vision of a global democratic future guaranteed by the United States. Most articles about foreign policy are op-ed pieces masquerading as political philosophy, and Rice’s is no exception. But it does describe a coherent view of the world that places a great deal of emphasis on the determined exercise of military and diplomatic power and has little in common with the humble, neo-isolationist platform on which George W. Bush ran for president. The world as Rice understands it is both a welcoming and a dangerous place, in which America plays a special role. The sunny and scary parts of her worldview are woven tightly together.

“There has been a triumph of the broad institutional consensus about what it takes to be effective and prosperous or successful,” Rice says, pointing to the interest that all states share in obtaining access to markets and ensuring domestic stability. Unlike Donald Rumsfeld’s finger- wagging, Rat Pack–era version of realpolitik, or Dick Cheney’s paranoia about mushroom clouds and sleeper cells, Rice’s views are the kind of optimistic stuff that mothers might wish their children were being taught in school. Threats to the emerging global order of liberal states come from what Rice calls “transnational forces,” “violent extremists,” or sometimes “terrorists,” locutions that share in common a studied avoidance of the word “Islam.”

“When we liberated Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, we found Nigerians and Chinese and Malay and American people who essentially deny nationality in favor of a philosophy—a violent extremist philosophy to which they are committed,” she says. “It reminds me in some ways of the way that ‘Workers of the world, unite!’—Karl Marx,” she adds helpfully “—was a slogan that meant that an American worker had more in common with a German worker than an American worker would have with the American leadership.” When she is thinking hard about something, she furrows her wide brow and scrunches up her mouth in an unselfconscious way that suggests a schoolgirl determined to ace a test. ~David Samuels, The Atlantic

Is it supposed to reassure us that the transnational nature of Islam and the power of religion to unite various peoples were new ideas to the then-National Security Advisor in 2001 that she could only understand in terms of international communism? 

By the way, I think everyone reading The Atlantic knows what “workers of the world, unite!” meant, but it’s interesting to watch her tell us what it means.  The difference between that slogan and the transnationalism of Islam is that Marx’s theorising about the loyalties of workers around the world consistently failed to be demonstrated in the real world, because time and again nationalism proved to be more powerful than the draw of international socialism and even the “successful” communist revolutions were fueled by nationalist drives for anti-imperialist independence.  When push came to shove in WWI, French, British and German labourers dutifully lined up and slaughtered each other.  Communists were rarely, if ever, able to exploit class conflict in Western industrialised societies, where the communist message was supposedly going to take off like wildfire, and generally succeeded only in late-modernising societies or alongside national independence movements.   This is one reason why Prof. Lukacs regards nationalism as a far more potent and potentially destructive force.

In Istanbul last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the nomination of Abdullah Gul as president of Turkey. In Paris next Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy will very likely be elected president of France.  These two events are geographically distant but closely connected in political terms. Together they explain a bald fact of life: Turkey is not going to join the European Union. And they also illustrate one more contradiction—and failure—of the neoconservative project. ~Geoffrey Wheatcroft

There is a relationship between the events unfolding in Turkey and France, and happily both do signal setbacks for the politics and policies neocons in America would like to see in these countries.  But tying these events in with neoconservatism is a bit overdone.  Goodness knows I would love any opportunity to point out yet another example of neocon failure, but this time their failure, such as it is, is a pretty small part of the story.  The protests against Abdullah Gul represent the profound schism within Turkish politics between the predominantly secular elite and urban middle class and the rural masses and the working class.  The neocons might never have existed, and this would still have happened.  Sarkozy’s rise is the result of a backlash against the rather more multiculti, hands-off approach to questions of immigration and assimilation (and, related, law and order) that France had sought to pursue under both Socialist and Gaullist governments.  The 2005 riots discredited lax law enforcement and the lax approach to integration and made Sarko the man to watch, because he alone among top-level French politicians seemed to understand that this was a burning issue (no pun intended) that had to be addressed, both for his own political advantage (naturellement) and for what he considered the good of the country.  Likewise, these events internal to France would have occurred in one form or another had The Weekly Standard never wasted the life of a single tree by being printed. 

Both events do repudiate core ideas of latter-day neoconservatism: that nations are a function of shared ideals and “values” and nothing more; that Muslim populations can and should be smoothly and easily incorporated into the West and/or that Islam and democracy are readily compatible; that mass, non-Western immigration is a good in and of itself and must be maximised.  Either in Turkey or in France or sometimes in both countries, these ideas are not doing very well at the moment.  However, all of the actors in these events are not thinking about the neocons at all, except when they completely misunderstand what a neocon is and think that Nicolas Sarkozy, who is a kind of French Thatcher if not even a French Pat Buchanan in certain ways, fits the bill.  In fact, the failure of Turkish entry has as much to do lately with Turkish hyper-nationalism, the continued denial of the Armenian genocide, the prosecutions of dissidents who insist on talking about the genocide and the state-encouraged murder of Hrant Dink as it has to do with anything related to AKP per se.  Turkish poverty and booming demographics would make the EU wary of admitting the country regardless of anything that was happening in Turkish politics.  Except for the despicable coat-holding that the administration does for such genocide denialism, one cannot actually pin any of that on the neocons, either, though their general silence and implicit hypocrisy on this matter are amazing.  They ignore genocide denialism while they are only too happy to meddle in every foreign crisis by calling it a genocide and demanding that something be done about it. 

So it is true that neoconservatives tend to be unduly enthusiastic for Turkish entry into the EU.  They seem to like to encourage anything that would weaken and/or destroy Europe, especially when it comes to Christians in Europe, and they continue to operate under the strange assumption that advocating for Turkish entry into the EU will somehow win America a nice finish in the Global Muslim Opinion Derby.  This is like the sad spectacle of Republicans voting for Puerto Rican statehood in a lame attempt to win Hispanic votes in California and Texas, when these voters don’t care about Puerto Rico, or the sadder spectacle of selling out on immigration in a desperate bid to win over Hispanic voters who don’t like illegal immigration anyway.  How many times have we heard the neocon lament: “Why don’t these Saudi and Egyptian Muslims appreciate all that we’ve done for the Albanians?”  Um…maybe because they‘re not Albanians?     

In the end, Mr. Wheatcroft does not demonstrate any clear connection between neocons and the secularist resistance to Gul or the voters’ support for Sarkozy.  He only vaguely outlines the connection between Turkish membership in the EU and Sarko’s popularity.  The connection is obvious, if we understand that Sarko’s popularity is driven in no small part by French anxiety about Muslim and African immigration.  If French leftists think of Sarko as a “neocon with a French passport,” they obviously don’t understand neocon views on immigration.  Mr. Wheatcroft mentions that the war has inflamed Turkish anti-Americanism, which is true, and it has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Turkish hyper-nationalists in viewing the Kurdish population as a fifth column and traitors, but if anything opposition to American policy in Iraq and opposition to an independent Kurdistan have served as things holding together such disparate political forces as the hyper-nationalists, the CHP and AKP.  Turkey is badly politically divided, but with their war the neocons have given all Turks something they can all hate together.  In the end, neocons are not even on the stage in these dramas.  Indeed, they have become entirely irrelevant to large parts of the world they would try to rule, and that may be the most damning indictment of them one can make.

I’m just skeptical that the aggregate tendency of young white Bobos, in America as in Europe, to have one or zero children doesn’t contain at least an element of solipsism. ~Ross Douthat 

Surely there are things, even inside this fantastic moral taxonomy, that men and women could do with their lives to compensate for their choice not to have children. Surely not all childless lives are deplorably solipsistic. ~Will Wilkinson

Indeed.  I wouldn’t say deplorably solipsistic–I wouldn’t use the word solipsistic, since this ascribes an epistemological error to what is really just an exercise in glorifying autonomy and practicing self-indulgence.  On the other hand, these childless folks could become monastics and then Ross would be in more of a pickle.

It suggests that there aren’t any interesting Republicans in our fiction not because Republicans aren’t interesting, but because our intelligentsia’s political prejudices blind them to the possibility that a Republican might be, well, a complicated human being rather than just the sum of every liberal’s fears. ~Ross Douthat

Ross is right about a certain lack of imagination among liberals when it comes to depicting Republicans.  If there is an audience for what has seemed like 462 books on the imminent onset of theocratic fascism or fascistic theocracy or whichever other contradiction in terms the cunning religious conspirators are developing, this audience is not going to be interested in stories that depict religious conservatives and Republicans as anything but absurd stick-figures.  On the other hand, if you tried to imagine an administration filled with fewer interesting, engaging personalities than the present administration, I don’t think you could do it.  It also doesn’t help encourage the depiction of complex human beings when this administration in particular has seemed to go out of its way to play to every caricature of Republicans that the left has conjured over the years. 

That isn’t to say that the last few years haven’t provided plenty of material for rich, florid, even baroque novels about corruption, fanaticism, pride and failure.  But how to tell the story?  Perhaps only the genre of magical realism could fully capture what seems to be an assembly of stunning mediocrities, the half-mad, the drearily self-important and the embarrassingly venal.  I think we lack the writers we need to tell this story.  They would need to be part Prokopios, part Ortega y Gasset, part Kafka and part Miguel Angel Asturias, but would have to be able to speak in a distinctly American idiom.    

Rather, the primary issue is that netroots activists and TNR have major, persistent, principled disagreements about foreign policy. ~Matt Yglesias

That often seems true (certainly it is true when it comes to Iraq).  I certainly hope this is the case all of the time, though the unfortunate enthusiasm of some progressive bloggers (who are, I understand, not part of the ”netroots” proper) for Obama’s recent foreign policy address makes me think that this may be exaggerating this disagreement.

Update: A Kossack expresses his displeasure with Obama on foreign policy, so maybe there is some hope for them.  Matt Stoller characterises it by saying it was ”what I would expect from a brilliant neoliberal,” but nonetheless finds “a lot to like here, though it’s not so much a progressive vision.” 

Already a monumental fraud, he can’t even keep straight which novel is his favourite

Now, I understand how you might confuse Huckleberry Finn with Battlefield Earth.  No, really.  Both were written by Americans, and both have the letter ‘i’ in their titles, so the similarities are so extensive that it was almost inevitable that Romney would switch them around in his mind.

Unfortunately for Romney, regular voters who don’t pay that much attention will get it into their heads that Romney, a Mormon, likes books written by the founder of the wacky cult Scientology, and that there is therefore some reasonable association to be made between them.  He has managed to take what is already guaranteed to be a difficult issue for him and made it that much worse.  On the other hand, perhaps he is looking to pick up big money on the Hollywood fundraising circuit.

Yet even the most thinly qualified of middle east experts [bold mine-DL] must know that Islam, as with any other civilisation, comprehends the sum total of human life, and that unlike some others it promises superiority in all things for its believers, so that the scientific and technological and cultural backwardness of the lands of Islam generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. ~Edward Luttawak

Yet there are quite a few people who speak and act as if they were experts on the Near and Middle East who show little or no comprehension of this totalising quality of Islam.  This all-encompassing nature of Islam is not a jihadi trick or part of their propaganda–it is supposed to be one of the more appealing aspects of Islam, because it proposes to have the right answer for every sphere of life. 

Just consider how many people want to give Islamists the benefit of the doubt that Islamist rule is somehow compatible with constitutional rule.  These would be the people who think real constitutional or liberal government is possible in the Islamic societies of these regions.  It might be possible to have some sort of mass participatory Islamic republic (such as, say, Iran), replete with candidates and maybe even parties, provided that everyone involved understood the unassailable position and final authority of Islam.  A constitution in which Islam was not established and empowered as the religion of the state seems highly unlikely.

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup. ~Thomas Sowell

Notice that Sowell does not distinguish between different parties or branches of government.  He talks generally about the entire political, media and intellectual elite (had he included talk about bankers and profiteers, he might as well be a communist), which means that he apparently sees President Bush (a politician), National Review (part of the media) and himself (who might be fairly described as a member of the “media,” an “educator” and a member of the “intelligentsia”) as part of the general worsening degeneracy. 

It puzzles me why anyone thinks that the military can work some kind of magic on a society that is badly corrupted.  There are times when he thinks that only a coup could “save the country,” he says, but save it from what?  If we are speaking of a degeneracy in standards of conduct, the quality of thought, competence, moral responsibility and the like, no army can save a country from these things.  It rests with citizens themselves to reform themselves and their country.  Otherwise, some military regime would be like having a cancer patient train for the marathon–it would probably hasten his death rather than restore his health.  Even if you take the view that the people serving in the military are more disciplined, moral and patriotic than everyone else, which at least sounds plausible, they could only seize control of the government and enforce order.  Expecting a military coup to undo the “worsening degeneracy” in a society is an expression of pure desperation.   

Dean Barnett’s recent outburst of moral insanity should not come as a surprise to those of us who have had the misfortune of following his writings over the past few years.  Barnett has prompted the last two installments in my (unfortunately) ever-longer list of posts on the (largely conservative) “argument from war crimes,” though technically Walter Williams also got into the war crimes-as-moral authority act in between Barnett’s two items.  Podhoretz, Krauthammer and Sowell were already leading the way in approvingly citing past war crimes to vindicate whatever bad policy they were trying to defend in the present.  On a slightly lower level you will even find Rabbi Daniel Lapin getting in on the act of invoking 20th century total war precedents to minimise whatever wrongdoing is going on at the time.  Who was it who was saying that conservative intellectual life was not gravely deficient?  Let him peruse these entries for proof of bankruptcy both moral and intellectual.   

Long gone throughout much of the movement (if it was ever there in the first place) is the wisdom of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, who wrote, almost to the point of obsession at times, about the evils of ”strategic bombing” and attacks on civilians.  His novel Black Banners is an extended description of the evils of the bombing campaigns against Germany.  Such attacks were for him the ultimate expression of identitarian madness and the willingness to dehumanise the enemy according to abstract and collectivist categories.  Mass politics and mass warfare were for him equally enemies of civilisation, and mass warfare was a direct product of the democratic age.  It is depressing, but hardly surprising any longer, that those who now speak for mainstream conservatism would not only not understand what K-L had to say, but they would reflexively regard everything he had to say as treacherous and vile.  Just imagine–someone against democracy and strategic bombing!

It might appear as if one could hardly turn around lately without running into a conservative pundit who will drag out the hoary “what about Nagasaki?” argument or some other inappropriate WWII reference.  There are a couple reasons for this.  One is the tendency on the modern right towards unmitigated and rather unfortunate exaltation of everything related to WWII, and to shape their ideas about war and foreign policy accordingly.  Internment?  The pundit will probably reply: “I don’t know whether it makes it any sense or whether it’s really necessary, but they did it in WWII, and that makes it all right by me!”  Bombing civilians?  The pundit says, “We did it to Japan, so it has to be okay.”  The supposedly clinching argument in favour of the “plan” to rebuild Iraq was: ”We did it in Germany and Japan, and we can do it agan,” asserting a continuity between the competence of the Marshalls and MacArthurs of the world and their own that did not exist.  Many of these folks seem to proceed from the assumption that if the U.S. did something during the Good War, that something must be good or at least reasonably defensible, because “we” know that “we” would never do anything comparable to the evils committed by those people.  When there are no obvious precedents for whatever it is they would like to do, they put on a show with the old “he’s a new Hitler” routine or wave their hands around while screaming, “Munich!”  The other reason is, I suspect, a total divorce of many conservatives from the moral traditions of Christian civilisation.  It is not exactly clear to me when or how this happened, and it certainly isn’t limited to conservatives in America (Westerners generally have lost touch with these traditions), but it seems likely that it was the experience of WWII itself that accelerated whatever dissolution was underway.  It provided a cause that needed to have its every act justified, and it was a total war that required the rationalisation of ever more outrageous crimes.  Perhaps had post-WWII governments not thrust us headlong into the Cold War and all of the morally dubious enterprises that entailed, the damage could have been contained and repaired, but instead all of the worst things that WWII had done to the country the Cold War magnified and exaggerated.  Once a generation or two has contemplated the nuclear obliteration of the world with a certain indifference, the mere firebombing of a few cities ceases to shock or concern.

With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east [sic] should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them. ~Edward Luttawak

The logic here would be akin to saying America lost the moral high ground after bombing the civilian center of Tokyo in World War II. While that bombing cost America any claim to moral perfection, no one was making any such claims in the first place. America still held the moral high ground because it wasn’t us that wanted to establish a global totalitarian dictatorship and exterminate inferior races. ~Dean Barnett

Wow, the dreaded “nostrism” rears its ugly head, as if Barnett had leapt directly from the pages of Black Banners.  

I suppose the same logic would apply, which would make the statement about losing the moral high ground in WWII with the mass bombings of civilian targets pretty much true.  I do find it intriguing how apologists for latter-day atrocities and war crimes will always run to past war crimes as some sort of trump card: “Our government used to kill a lot more civilians with indiscriminate bombing!  What do you have to say that to that, huh?” 

Never mind, also, that the Japanese weren’t trying to create a global totalitarian dictatorship, nor were they primarily interested in exterminating inferior races, though the militarists certainly believed in Japanese supremacy.  Granted, the war crimes our government committed in Japan were done at a greater remove than the war crimes their soldiers committed.  Strange how the two sets of crimes are remembered, though, isn’t it?  Except in revisionist Japanese textbooks, the Rape of Nanjing lives on in infamy (as it should), but the fire-bombing of Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and on and on, was all in a day’s work and shouldn’t give us a moment’s pause.  How could “we” lose the moral high ground just by killing a few hundred thousand Japs, right?  Our cause was just and noble and true, which permitted us to do whatever we wanted.  Because we had the right end in mind and the right intentions, mass murder was really just like getting our hair a little mussed in the process.  That’s what Barnett is saying, pure and simple. 

At least he allowed that slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people made our side less than perfect.  Mighty magnanimous of you, Barnett.  Mind you, these bombings were doubly vicious in that they didn’t even serve any obvious objective according to some purely amoral calculus of “necessity”–not that strategic necessity could or should be able to make right the massacre of innocents.  Where is our Mike Gravel to say, “These people are frightening”?

Update: The voice of barbarism and decadence speaks:

The anti-torture argument sits on a fragile branch of moral vanity. [!] The torture opponents’ entire premise rests on the erroneous notion that one can successfully wage war without cruelty and savagery. I wish they were right. But they’re not.

BEFORE GETTING TO TORTURE, ALLOW ME TO MAKE a quick digression into abortion. I’m pro-life. I strongly feel that every abortion is the taking of an innocent life [bold mine-DL]. But please note what I didn’t call it – murder.


Murder requires what those in the law refer to as a specific mens rea. That little Latin phrase in this context means you need a precise and knowing intent to kill someone in order to qualify as a murderer. The typical mother who has an abortion and the doctor who provides it have no such intent. They don’t feel they’re taking a life. I feel they’re wrong, and most of the readers of this site probably feel they’re wrong. But because they lack that specific and knowing intent, they’re not murderers. ~Dean Barnett

Via Ross

Notice anything wrong with all of this? Barnett “feels” that abortion is the taking of an innocent life; he cares and sympathises; he wants to know how the doctor “feels” about the abortion he’s performing.  That’s nice.  We wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, after all, over something so trivial as the snuffing out of human life.  Apparently the “taking of an innocent life” is just a minor infraction.  Besides, we wouldn’t want to use inflammatory language to talk about infanticide.  That would be strident and uncouth. 

You might be able to argue, or at least you might have done once upon a time when pre-natal development was not as well and widely understood, that the mother doesn’t realise what she’s doing and isn’t doing it with “malice of forethought” (let’s throw that in since we’re going to be speaking in the language of weasel lawyers), but the doctor surely knows exactly what he is doing, especially now.  That he may not be particularly troubled by what he does or believes that he is actually doing a good thing does not excuse him from the responsibility to the life he is ending.  But, wait, Barnett isn’t done:

THE TORTURE DEBATE brings out a similar absolutism from torture opponents. They tend to casually assume that people who support “coercive interrogation techniques” do so because they’re congenital sadists who have just been waiting for this moment in history so they could begin water-boarding Muslims with impunity.


That’s not the case. The people who support coercive interrogation techniques, and I am one of them, do so sadly. Unfortunately, given the nature of the war we’re in, certain moral compromises are a necessity. Using coercive interrogation techniques is one of them.

Oh, Barnett is sad about torturing people–so at least there’s some hope for him yet!  Why not just tattoo “the banality of evil” across his forehead and be done with it?  This is amazing stuff.  Doesn’t Barnett realise that it is far worse to be a relatively sane person who nonetheless rationally and knowingly justifies the use of torture and insists upon using the propagandistic euphemism “coercive interrogation techniques”?  If Barnett were actually a sadist, the moral corruption he advocates would be much easier to contain and avoid.  It is the attempt to make moral corruption reasonable, justifiable, normal that is the far greater perversion of the moral order–and yet he thinks he is showing how reasonable and decent the friends of torture are!

But Barnett hasn’t stopped digging himself into a hole:

What’s most infuriating about the anti-torture people is their tacit assumption that you can fight a war without making moral compromises. War is all about moral compromise. It’s not in the normal order of things to kill others. The very aim of war is to do just that. In World War II, we did terrible things like the fire-bombing of Dresden, the massive bombing of Tokyo, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While all these actions were terrible, they were also necessary. And justifiable.

Except that it is never justifiable to slaughter indiscriminately hundreds of thousands of people, not even when it is done in the name of “strategic bombing” and “necessity.”  There is such a thing as ius in bello.  Granted, if you believe incinerating entire cities as a demonstration of power and vengeance is legitimate, what’s a little waterboarding or electrocution going to matter?  Once mass murder of civilians, noncombatants, has been normalised, there are no limits.  We should thank Mr. Barnett for revealing once again the horrifying moral abyss into which at least some war supporters have fallen. 

Update: Mark Shea writes:

There’s just one problem: It is not a “moral compromise” to shoot an enemy combatant in wartime. It is just, assuming a just war. However, the mass slaughter of civilians that Barnett cites aboves is *not* “justifiable”. It too is not a moral compromise. It is simply and solely evil: a “crime against man and God” according to the Church. Barnett is calling a largely religious and prolife readership to enthusiastically accept grave evil. He is, in short, a false prophet.

That’s the name of the game for “new fusionism.”

Personally, though, if I were running for president I’d site [sic] something obscure like Andrei Bely’s objectively pro-terrorist modernist classic Petersburg. ~Matt Yglesias 

This is an interesting choice, a very intriguing…hm, yes, quite a unique selection.

Okay, so, I can’t really replicate the odd style of Bely, but I have to commend Yglesias on the selection.  As weird, Hesse-like, pre-revolutionary Russian novels go, it’s right up there.

But “conservatism” has no mystical essence. Rather than a magisterium handed down from apostolic times, it is an ideology whose contours are largely arbitrary and accidental. By ideology, I mean precisely what Orwell depicted in 1984. I do not mean, of course, that conservatism is totalitarian. Taken as prophecy, 1984 has little merit. Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all. ~Austin Bramwell

The worst thing that can happen to a conservative is to be seen as disloyal. The worst thing that can happen to a liberal is to be seen as “in the tank.” ~Jonathan Chait

Second, there is the corrupting influence of teamism. Being a good conservative now means sticking together with other conservatives, not thinking new and adventurous thoughts. Those who stray from the reservation are accused of selling out to the mainstream media by the guardians of conservative correctness. ~David Brooks

As Mr. Bramwell has argued, the movement has existed to instill conformity and filter the approved policy positions down to the members.  This is not something that has happened just recently, but has been a feature of the movement (as it will be a feature of anything that calls itself a movement) from fairly early on.  The reason for the emphasis on loyalty and conformity seems to have come from the awareness of being outnumbered and surrounded, politically speaking, which required greater cohesion and solidarity than might otherwise be desirable for the full flourishing of intelligent thought.  As both movement and party have become more embattled–since the movement has hitched itself to a party that is in the process of destroying itself through bad policy and incompetent administration–the impulse for unity has become even stronger.  Part of this impulse has been centered around the very thing that is destroying the movement, namely Iraq, and the other part of is expressed in the profound longing for some “authentic” conservative to rescue the movement from all of the compromises and failures of its leaders.  The two expressions of the desire for unity are directly contradictory and will end up cancelling each other out.  Unless, of course, they drop the war, which isn’t going to happen. 

You “conservatives” and “libertarians”, who have aligned yourselves with these type of people due to a shared opposition to the war, disgust me. It’s like you all have been duped into the notion that these people actually care about civil liberties. Get a clue. Liberals do not care one iota about liberty. They don’t care one bit about the free market. All they care about is a large intrusive government that forces their collectivist ideals on the masses. They may say this and they may that, but wake up people. They are nothing but a bunch of Stalinists. ~Glen Dean

Via Clark

What is it like to be an Iraq war supporter?  What does it feel like to wake up every day and believe that roughly 95% of the world’s population is insane and bent on destroying you?  What is it like to think that one of the most miserable countries on the other side of the planet poses a direct and dire threat to you and your neighbours?  What is it like to unthinkingly follow the President?  Tell us, Glen. 

Incidentally, isn’t a war propelled by nationalistic loyalty to the state something of a “collectivist ideal” being imposed on “the masses”?  Just wondering!   

I don’t know about all liberals, but it seems to me that someone like Russ Feingold, who actually voted against the PATRIOT Act, cares a good deal more about civil liberties than the “national emergency” crowd.  Now there are liberals who endorse all of the security state legislation–the Lieberman left–who are deemed to be “responsible” on national security, which is strange.  Shouldn’t support for such measures instead be taken as proof of the inherent “Stalinism” of liberals?  Apparently “Stalinism” these days involves suspicion of and opposition to excessive and unaccountable government power–who knew? 

Of course, it is perfectly possible for a liberal to be right about the unconstitutional actions of the government in one area (unreasonable searches) and get it magnificently wrong when it comes to another area (e.g., freedom of speech in the Limbaugh case), just as conservatives who wrongly support this war are still capable of being right in their opposition to other bad government policies.  Just as the dangers of centralised government to individual liberty ought to make left-liberals opponents of centralised government action, so the damage that war does to good order, constitutional liberties, civilised norms, traditional morality and settled communities ought to make conservatives oppose war in almost every circumstance.  Failure of conservatives to oppose aggressive war doesn’t mean that they ”really” hate good order, constitutional liberty, civilised norms, traditional morality and settled communities, but that their support for the war is radically out of step with everything else they do claim to believe.  It corrupts and undermines their other convictions.  Like all the left-liberals who embrace concentrated power in a mistaken belief that it will advance “positive liberty,” conservatives who support aggressive wars are usually confused and have lost touch with their foundations.  

Liberals are as humourless about matters of race as most “conservatives” are about anything pertaining to foreign policy.  For the former, you can’t tell certain kinds of jokes; for the latter, you are not allowed to say anything even remotely favourable about another country if its government happens to take a different foreign policy line from our own.  For the former, any hint of what they will deem as racism puts a person beyond the pale of civilised society–ban him, jail him, expel him!  For the latter, any hint of critical thinking about the flaws in U.S. policy or decisions to start wars shows that you must secretly desire the green flag to fly over the Capitol and want the United States to surrender abjectly to any and all adversaries.  The response to such “defeatists” is much the same as the liberal response to “racists.”  In both cases you see ideology and the desire to silence opposition winning out over critical thinking.  Those who want to cavalierly fling around accusations of Stalinism might want to look in the mirror when they speak. 

My favourite combination of these two obsessive mentalities is when some neocon democratist gets on his high horse and declares that anyone who is not in favour of killing other people to bestow freedom on them must therefore regard those people as inferior.  Only a racist could think democratising Iraq is a fool’s errand!  You must hate Arabs and freedom!

As for devotion to individual liberty, why do I think that people who endorse extraordinary rendition, the arbitrary detention of citizens and the launching of unprovoked wars are in a poor position to sit in judgement of others’ libertarian qualifications?  I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Before today’s court decision, Mr. Gul had faced another round of parliamentary voting this week in order to be confirmed as president. Mr. Erdogan may now propose another candidate or, more likely, call a general election. ~The New York Times

This confrontation between the constitutional court and AK was only a matter of time.  Putting forward Gul as the sole candidate for president has served as a dangerous provocation to the army.  Practically speaking, if you want an example of how an Islamist party is a threat to Turkish representative government you need only take account of the likelihood that the Islamist party is likely to provoke a military coup against it.  Someone will object that this isn’t the Islamists’ fault–what policies do they advocate that would actually undermine democratic norms or constitutional protections?  At the moment, none, obviously, because if they so much as blink the wrong way the army will overthrow the government.  They have played a clever tactical game in which they are more pro-European than the secularists, but it is purely tactical, as I would hope anyone can see.  Does anyone really think that the condition of religious minorities in Turkey, for example, will become better under a more assertively Islamist government in the future?  Is it reassuring to, say, the remaining Armenians in Turkey that the current PM is a man who was imprisoned because he recited a poem by Ziya Gokalp, arch-ideologue of the bad, old CUP, that spoke of “our minarets” being like bayonets? 

To take as evidence of future intentions AK’s tactical maneuvers to get Turkey into the EU (which won’t work anyway) is to mistake them for a happy socially conservative social democratic party that just happens to be full of Muslims.  That seems a mistaken reading of the situation to me.  It’s true that there are Islamists, and then there are Islamists, but there is necessarily something in political Islam that is not compatible with representative government because the claims of Islam in the political realm generally are broad enough and expansive enough that they leave no space for the free public space needed to cultivate what anyone else would recognise as a pluralistic or democratic order. 

You might be able to argue that a mass Islamic republic, such as Turkey could well become if Kemalism collapses, does not necessarily have to represent some great danger, but I will insist that people recognise that a mass Islamic republic and a pluralistic republican democracy are nowhere near the same thing.  For the latter to be maintained, it would be necessary for the bulk of AK’s voters to appreciate and desire such an arrangement, when it seems to me that they do not.  From a realistic foreign policy perspective, it is important to note that the rise of successful Islamism in Turkey has coincided with the gradual drift of Turkey away from the West.  We may never see a return to Erbakan-like proposals for Islamic economic unions and the like, but the priorities and desires of AK voters do not lie in becoming more like Europe.  This is why it is not possible to take at face value AK’s current pro-EU position and all of the reformism that the drive for membership entails.  

If someone wants to make the argument that we should collaborate with “moderate” Islamists in the way that Western governments tried to use unions and social democrats against communism, that is another debate, but we should appreciate that the reason why “moderate” Islamism will be successful in depriving jihadis of recruits and political strength is that it will also be offering a similar future vision of a state governed in the name of Islam.  A party like AK might help to counteract the temptation of violent political action, but it will do so because it offers another means to the same general goals. 

However, a sizeable, powerful minority in Turkey does not want to see what AK will become and this minority can and will stop it from happening.  For them, any political Islam is really too much, and I don’t really blame them.  In the Turkish case, the question of whether AK can manage the contradictions between political Islam and democratic norms is purely academic, since Turkey does not have regular democratic norms in the first place (a consequence of the repressive speech laws instituted by the Kemalists) and the army will never permit the experiment to last for very long. 

Two new Nawal Al Zoghbi albums, Habit Ya Leil and Elli-Tmanetoh, arrived in the mail today, so I have been treating myself to some of her older songs, including some I have mentioned before, such as Gharib Al Raai, and others that I have learned about only recently.  I don’t really have anything else to add, but I thought I would take this opportunity to try out a title (in this case, Nawal Al Zoghbi’s name) in Arabic script.   

Some months ago, I had written a post about The Lost City that was swallowed up by a fickle browser and I never got back to giving my impressions of this truly excellent movie.  I was first inspired to see it by this Leon Hadar post, which I had commented on before after seeing The White CountessThe Lost City has much in common with the latter, and both are outstanding antidotes to Casablanca-style abstract idealism.  Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia) is in many ways the opposite of Bogart’s Rick.  He is a lover of music and dance for their own sake.  He is one who cultivates a life apart from politics and causes not because he has become embittered and cynical in the worst sense, but because he appreciates beauty and the culture of his native city.  “Have you ever thought of living for your country?” the elder Fellove lectures his hotheaded son, Ricardo–Fico does exactly this, and he is not surprisingly the only one of the three sons who lives to the end of the story.  Once Castro comes to power, he does not go off to join a resistance movement, but instead goes to make his own way in America, to build up a life and find a way to get the rest of his family out of Cuba.  It is a moving film that still does not pretend to take itself too seriously.  So that no one becomes too philosophical, Bill Murray’s anonymous “Writer” is always ready to lighten the mood with cornball antics.   

“I don’t have a loyalty to a lost cause,” says Fico Fellove, “but I do have a loyalty to a lost city…and that’s my cause and my curse.”  Fico’s loyalty to place, even a lost place, a place to which he can never return, is inspiring to behold.  Would that more people had a tenth of the devotion.  Fico is a true family man, in that he places his loyalty to his family ahead of everything else.  Unlike his brothers, who either get themselves killed fighting for abstract freedom and democracy or join the sinister forces of Castroism, he places his loyalty to them and the rest of his family first.  If there is one moment where Fico puts principle ahead of these relationships, it is when he realises that “madness” has come to Cuba with the rise of Castro and that he cannot afford to stay, despite his love for the beautiful Aurora (Ines Sastre).   

The Lost City is a tribute to the Havana and the Cuba that were lost in 1959 and afterwards, but it is also a hint of what might eventually be there once again once the deadening shell of party rule is dismantled.  In the end, The Lost City is a sad film lamenting the disappearance of a vibrant and rich world, but it diagnoses very clearly how such places enter into oblivion: through the rigidity of ideology, revolutionary claptrap and promises of the future.