Eunomia · June 2007

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Bird has, as Slate’s Josh Levin makes clear, always been ambitious and willing to enter dark emotional territory. That’s very much to Bird’s credit, and that willingness to not condescend can make for great kid’s movies. ~Reihan Salam

Reihan is talking about the director of Ratatouille, the new animated feature that is apparently brilliantly made and which is also boring children from here to Miami.  My Scene colleague Alan Jacobs discusses it at some length here.  My Scene colleague Matt Frost adds his thoughts here


My remarks are on the willingness of people making children’s movies to refuse to condescend.  Speaking of animated rodents, I have to tell you that The Secret of NIMH was one of my favourites growing up (and it was probably one of your favourites, too).  Talk about not being afraid to “enter dark emotional territory”!  It was, if the critics are to be believed today, the Ratatouille of its day, and it was also a memorable production that could enchant children without being a waste of time for parents.  NIMH would be the standard by which I would judge any animated picture, and the few more recent offerings I have had some reason to see (usually because I was visiting with some of my younger cousins) typically don’t measure up that well.

This just in: Fred Thompson is a superficial and media-driven candidate.  Who would ever have guessed?

Here was the best part from the news report:

“He looks good onstage, but I don’t know if he has the gravitas,” said Kathleen Williamson, a conservative Roman Catholic from North Weare. “It seems like he’s trying to win over conservatives, but I’m still not sure he has the credentials. I’m worried he’s trying to get by on his celebrity.”

Ms. Williamson should be worried–his non-campaign campaign to date is nothing other than getting by on his celebrity.  The scary thing is that this seems to pull 15-20% of the Republican primary vote without Fred even having to lift a finger.

Fascinating what-ifs all, but mostly irrelevant. Immigration reform was defeated by a conservative revolt that spread to the wider public. Senate opponents, gloating over their success in killing the bill, were essentially correct in insisting the American people had rejected immigration reform. ~Fred Barnes, “Things Fall Apart”

You can hear the sound of Barnes’ disappointment.  What we saw this past week was what occurs when representative government basically functions properly.  It is a strange and marvelous thing, rarely seen anymore.  We can be sure that the establishment has suffered only a temporary loss of control here.  Barnes does not quite go to Broderian or Gersonian depths in lamenting the failure of “centrism,” but he shows thinly veiled contempt for Senators who helped kill the bill because they are running for re-election or another office.  Imagine that–elected representatives responding to their constituents! 

In other words, the people have already rejected the bill now and most of the Senators in evenly divided states were afraid that they, too, would be rejected if they supported the bill.  They were all probably right.  Domenici is our senior Senator and has never had much difficulty winning re-election, and even he was evidently feeling the heat.  Bingaman, our Democratic junior Senator, isn’t even up for re-election next year and he voted nay on cloture, raising the number of Democrats who helped junk the bill to 16 (including the Independent Sanders).  People who don’t understand New Mexican politics may be confused by this, but they should remember that we have one of the poorest states that is also most adversely impacted by the ineffective security at the border and one which can hardly afford the extra strains on state services that illegal immigration already imposes.  Plus, opposition to illegal immigration in central and southern New Mexico among Republican voters is quite strong, despite the perpetual minority status of Republicans in New Mexico that would theoretically put pressure on Republicans to move towards the “center” (i.e., towards the left).  Anyone running for statewide office back home would be inciting some strong opposition if he supported this bill, and both Senators apparently got that message. 

Almost one-third of the Democratic caucus turned against the bill, and they have some common characteristics: they come entirely from purple states (Webb, McCaskill) and red states (Landrieu, Tester), which is predictable but significant.  Many were elected on economic populist platforms, and some evidently saw elements of the bill that conflicted with their populism.  The awful guest-worker provisions were likely what turned them against the bill, as well they should have.  Sherrod Brown was among those voting no.  Had the Democrats tried to whip the bill and force their members at least to vote for cloture, the tactic might not have worked, but there were enough Republicans siding with the Majority Leader that it would have passed easily had the Democrats not been so significantly divided.  For the record, 12 Republicans voted with Harry Reid on cloture, including the unexpected names of Judd Gregg and Richard Lugar.  Lugar just handily won re-election and apparently thinks he can tell his constituents to take a hike, but Gregg is up for re-election next year in 2010.  Perhaps Gregg thinks the massive blue wave swallowing New Hampshire last year was a sign that he needed to go with the majority’s leadership, but my guess is that he will eventually suffer on account of this vote.  New Hampshire voters may have thrown out the Republican bums in ‘06, but that does not necessarily mean that they wanted their Senators voting in support of this bill–Sununu seems to have understood this.    

I have to say that this is a better initial outcome than I could have anticipated after the outcome of the midterms.  There had been the disturbing thought that holding Bush and the GOP accountable would simply lead to the empowerment of the worst policies and instincts of this administration in domestic policy.  Admittedly, the gain on a change in Iraq policy has been minimal, but the cost in immigration legislation has fortunately been negligible so far.  The presence of 15 Democratic Senators who opposed the progress of this bill is somewhat reassuring, in that it suggests that there may be a cloture-proof bloc in the Senate opposed to any such omnibus bills in the next Congress as well.  On immigration, there appears to be a solid group of moderate-cum-populist Democrats who were significantly opposed to so-called “comprehensive reform” (Webb, Tester, Dorgan, McCaskill, Brown).  Four of these are newly elected Senators, and it is not at all certain that all of the Republicans they defeated (Allen, Burns, Talent, and DeWine respectively) would have been as reliable in opposing the bill as they proved to be.  Some might have been, but DeWine would likely have been a yea vote.  Surprisingly, the results of the ’06 Senate elections seem to have made amnesty slightly less likely, at least for the moment.    


These Are My People

Via Marc Ambinder

Nice touch with the pink.

In a sense, it’s almost too easy to engage in this piling on.   Then I say to myself, “Oh, why not?”  So here it is.  Jim Henley is a very funny blogger.

Equestrian portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares by Diego Velázquez.

Success Is Never Final 

Islamists see the currents of history flowing their way. They reign in Iran, installed Hamastan in Gaza by putsch, threaten Lebanon’s government and crow that they brought down the Soviet Union. ~Steven Huntley

One might say the same thing about democratists, c. 2005.  They saw the currents of history flowing their way.  They reigned in Ukraine (and allegedly in Lebanon), installed a new oligarch in power in Bishkek by putsch, threatened Syria’s government and crowed that they brought down the Soviet Union.  Usually, people who think they see the “currents of history flowing their way” don’t know what they’re talking about and find themselves getting swept away by unexpected flash floods of contrary events.  As Olivares said, “The first rule of all is to be for ever on the lookout for the unforeseen and the accidental.”

Yes, the Iraq turmoil often resembles a civil war, which was of course the goal of al-Qaida’s attacks on Shiite mosques and civilians. And, yes, the Iraqi leadership has failed to make the compromises vital to hopes of political reconciliation and failed to build security forces strong and competent enough to shoulder a fair share of the burden of the fight. 

But none of these nuances, analyses and complications will matter a wit with the Islamist radicals or with the rest of the Islamic world watching this conflict between modern Western values and 7th century fundamentalism. ~Steven Huntley

In other words, Huntley concedes almost everything critics of the war have been saying about the reality of the situation and feels satisfied striking a pose all the same.  One other thing: we are pretty clearly not seeing a “conflict between Western values and 7th century fundamentalism.”  All the time war supporters talk about the 7th century.  They have never studied the 7th century.  They don’t know Constantine IV from Constantine Porphyrogennitos, but they are going to tell us about “7th century fundamentalism.”  This is ridiculous.  If the conflict were between Western values and “7th century fundamentalism,” Western values would win without a fight, because 7th century fundamentalists, if they ever existed, are all dead.  The problem, obviously, is with 21st century fundamentalists.  If war supporters cannot get even these small things right, why should we trust them to understand weightier matters?

Many, maybe even most, Americans have come to believe that Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror, that the primary battlefield against Islamist radicals is in Afghanistan. But the “insurgents” — led by al-Qaida in Iraq — have been very clear that for them Iraq is the central front in the war against America. ~Steve Huntley

Three objections occur to me.  One is that “the insurgents,” broadly defined are not led by anybody.  They are a diverse and contentious bunch gathered into a number of groups, some of which actively try to kill members of the other groups.  Connected to that is the observation that many of the insurgents and even the once-and-future insurgents of Anbar are decidedly not led by Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Thus there has been much crowing about the Sunni tribes’ turn against Al Qaeda, since this has transformed the uneasy tensions between Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda into full-blown hostility.  Another objection is that Iraqi insurgents would see their insurgency as the central front in the “war against America,” since the only war against America with which they are concerned is the one they are fighting.  A third objection requires me to ignore for the moment the rather glaring flaws pointed out by the first two objections and say this: if Al Qaeda says that such-and-such a place is their central front in the “war against America,” they could be a) wrong or b) lying for their own advantage.  Even if they are not exactly wrong, it might make more sense to choose ground more advantageous to us in any case.  Think of it this way: if an enemy chooses a place as his central front, he may have miscaculated in his estimation of the strategic importance of that place.  

Japanese high command believed that it was a good move to attack Pearl Harbor (on the assumption that it would destroy the entirety of the Pacific Fleet) and enter into a Pacific war with the United States–they were spectacuarly wrong.  German high command resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, despite the near-certainty that it would bring America into the war to their tremendous disadvantage–this was a less obviously stupid move, but still ultimately a mistake.  In Iraq, Al Qaeda has not been playing to their strengths with other Muslims.  Their reputation as a supposed scourge of infidel invaders has been significantly qualified by their attacks on other Muslims, particularly on other Sunnis.  Meanwhile, they continue to gain strength and allies in Pakistan.  Arguably, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is even more important today to anti-jihadism than it was in 2001-02, and Iraq remains a secondary concern at best.  If Al Qaeda actually believes that Iraq is a “central front” and is not just gulling another empire into playing the game according to their rules, it seems clear to me that they have rather badly misunderstood their own position, as has the government in Washington.  It’s a bit like the Confederates thinking that sending a detachment to capture New Mexico would make it possible for them to take California; the official Washingtonian response today is a bit like thinking that the victory of the Colorado volunteers at Glorieta represented the turning point in the Civil War.  These were basically errors in judgement and a waste of resources on fruitless gambles.  Much like our own invasion of Iraq.  The thing about two sets of foreign interlopers fighting each other in someone else’s country is that, sooner or later, the locals are going to get sick of both sets of foreigners and try to force them out.  They may be unsuccessful, but they will try.  The hostility to our presence is caused by the same resentment at foreign meddling and occupation that Iraqis would have for the operatives of other outside forces.

Palmer is surely smart enough to know that fascism is a more complicated subject than he makes it sound. “I know John Mackey, John Mackey is a friend of mine, and he’s no fascist,” is a pretty vapid argument, to the extent it’s an argument at all. It’s even dumber as a retort to a book Palmer’s never read. Indeed, one gets the sense reading his post or some of my libertarian-reader email, that because Mackey is a libertarian, and perhaps because he’s a libertarian sugar daddy, anything having to do with him, Whole Foods or the organic food fetish is beyond criticism. Palmer might want to read, for starters, the writings of Ludwig Klages, Hitler’s Table Talk, The Nazi War on Cancer or How Green Were the Nazis before he flies off the handle like that. ~Jonah Goldberg 

The Goldberg syllogism: 1) Fascists were concerned about conservation; 2) modern conservationists are concerned about conservation; 3) Therefore, there is a meaningful substantive connection between fascism and modern conservationists that goes beyond this incidental agreement.  Sam Brownback is against cancer and wants to “eliminate” it in ten years–is he a liberal fascist too?  Shouldn’t it be significant that everyone who knows anything about John Mackey says that he is definitely a libertarian and not a fascist?  That doesn’t seem to be an “argument,” but a statement of easily-checked fact.  If it is not really disputable, Palmer doesn’t need an “argument” to prove that Mackey isn’t a fascist–he needs only take seriously the meaning of words and recognise that the terms libertarian and fascist are not equivalent.  Wouldn’t that settle this apparently puzzling riddle of Mackey’s potential fascism?

Of course, Goldberg is right about one thing: no one has any idea what he has written in his book.  (At the rate he’s going, no one will ever know what he has written, because people will be so annoyed by the stupid subtitle that they won’t even buy it.)  All that we do know about it is the title, the subtitle and the blurb from the publisher.  There is wisdom in the saying that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and likewise we shouldn’t judge it (and consequently simply dismiss it) by its title alone.  That’s a fair objection. 

When the new subtitle was proposed, didn’t someone point out that mentioning Whole Foods in the context of fascism sounded crazy?  Did Goldberg think that he had actually improved the book with such a goofy title?   

What does this mean?  First, let’s consider idaafa.  Idaafa is a construction that expresses the possessive relationship between two nouns in Arabic.  The other day I likened it to the German genitive, and the more I learn about idaafa, the more I think that this is a very good analogy.  It is a very useful way to understand this idea, at least for those who have studied German.  For example, das Buch des Vaters is a genitive construction in German.  Arabic will have the exact same construction with kitab-u al-waalidi.  Like anything in a German genitive construction, the idaafa must take genitive case endings.  Tanween, meanwhile, is the concept of doubling the last vowel in a word.  To have the nominative indefinite, you double the damma, which is equivalent to our short ‘u’, but if you have the tanween al-fatha (this phrase is itself idaafa) you double the fatha (equivalent to a short ‘a’).  This has the effect of making the noun accusative, and you cannot have a random accusative floating around in a genitive construction.  At least, that’s what I’ve managed to understand so far.  Now admit it–you really wanted to know that.  

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Thou desired the Kingdom of God, pleasing Him in thy earthly life, especially in increasing Thy God–Given talent for good deeds, for which Thou dedicated all Thy life: Therefore, Christ God rewarded thee with the painful prize of martyrdom, to Whom we pray for salvation, singing the name of Lazar. ~Troparion for Tsar-Martyr Lazar of Serbia

Overlooked in my earlier remarks on Hanson and Kurdistan was this slightly puzzling claim:

Israel lost some of its precious capital of deterrence in the last war, but ultimately the real loser was a bankrupt Iran who lost far more materially than did a far wealthier Israel.

I call this puzzling for two reasons.  One reason is that the “real loser” of the war in Lebanon last year was, um, Lebanon, which had its infrastructure severely damaged, 1,000 of its people killed, hundreds of thousands made into refugees and its political life thrown into ever greater convulsions.  The next biggest loser in material terms was Hizbullah, which lost many of its men and expended much of the armament the Iranians had provided them in the latter’s expectation that Hizbullah would use those weapons for Iranian ends.  Materially, the third biggest loser was Israel, which did, after all, suffer a smaller but not inconsiderable number of civilian and military casualties, in addition to having the northern reaches of their country more or less paralysed by random bombardment.  Iran takes fourth place, so to say, in a war in which there were basically four parties (plus, I suppose, Syria and, a little more indirectly, the U.S.). 

The other reason it is puzzling is that if Iran is “bankrupt,” this would also remind us of Iran’s economic difficulties and its energy crunch.  Namely, Iran has to import refined oil because it cannot process it on its own on account of the feeble and run-down state of its industry, and it is no longer able to translate vast reserves of natural resources into resources to offset the economic disorder that has been plaguing the country for decades.  If we remember all this, the Iranian claim to be pursuing a nuclear program for the purposes of generating power seems plausible.  That doesn’t rule out additional Iranian nuclear weapons programs, but it makes their stated reason that much more plausible.   

This is undeniably kinder, gentler, and less political. ~Timothy Noah on Goldberg’s re-subtitled Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Hegel to Whole Foods

Timothy Noah has a knack for making me make mild, quasi-defenses of Jonah Goldberg.  Does he have any idea how wrong he has to be for this to happen?  When Goldberg says that his book has been delayed because it had yet to be finished, one does not need to work overtime to concoct an elaborate marketing damage-control theory to make sense of it.  Sometimes the simplest explanation is the one that is also true.

While Mr. Noah envisions Goldberg hastily deleting all references to Hillary in his desire not to appear too “Coulterish,” he fails to persuade even Goldberg’s most inveterate critics (i.e., people like me).  Now that the subtitle (the subtitle, for crying out loud!) has been changed, Noah declares victory, apparently not realising that the new subtitle makes the book sound even more ridiculous and bizarre than the old one.  If they were aiming to move away from Coulter, they need a new rhetorical compass. 

Whether you agree with the thesis about some actual historical and philosophical points of contact between liberalism and fascism or you don’t, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Clinton made a certain amount of sense for reasons I have outlined before.  Next, the original proposed subtitle had some recognisable relationship to the title.  For marketing purposes, this connection needs to be clear.  In my amateur opinion, to change a subtitle in such a way as to introduce new layers of confusion and ambiguity is not the way to sell a book.  The subtitle has to make the subject of the book more clear than the necessarily shorter, genuinely more marketing-driven decision on the title.  These range from the simple (Jefferson Davis: A Biography) to the baroque (see the original subtitle of Crunchy Cons).  Informing us that a book will investigate the relationship between liberalism and fascism by referring in the subtitle to Hegel and Whole Foods as the bookends for the discussion makes nothing clear and rightly invites chortles of laughter. 

Removing from the subtitle the man who was essentially the first historic Fascist and the one who actually gave us the modern word fascisti (something for which I hope Mussolini is paying dearly right now) and replacing him with Hegel may make Popperians everywhere shout for joy, but it actually makes the book appear even less serious.  This purports to impute to Hegel, who was a moderately liberal constitutional monarchist, the seeds of totalitarian thought.  This is still a popular opinion and is most widely held by those who have not read much Hegel.  This view of Hegel is rather like the view that holds Strauss ultimately responsible for various neoconservative preoccupations.  It bears a faint resemblance to the kinds of arguments that claim to show deep affinities between Counter-Enlightenment reactionaries and radical minority identitarians or deconstructionists, which is to say bad, misinformed arguments like this one.  Because you can trace an intellectual lineage of Hegelians down through the Marxists and into the modern communists, there is the idea–popularised by Popper–that Hegel is at the root of totalitarian politics and utopian historicism.  To be brief, Popper was wrong. 

As otherworldly as including it surely is, I can imagine how Whole Foods comes into this.  Goldberg is the would-be scourge of anything that purports to have found meaning and purpose in ordinary life.  He wants a “partial philosophy of life” and would find the claims of people who shop at Whole Foods, if they actually made any explicit claims, redolent of a totalising politics.  The very name threatens Goldberg’s partial philosophy with the possibility of organicity and wholeness and the idea that there is more to political life broadly understood than quibbling over pensions.  Themes that are as basic to European and British conservatism as these should not threaten any American conservative, but when you have no particular vision of order anyone who claims to have such a vision has to be shouted down as a lunatic…or a fascist in waiting.     

At the Scene, I have some new posts on Kurdistan, the continuing diversity debate, and finally one in which I attempt (apparently to no good effect) a joke about trite political rhetoric.

Feeding America’s natural isolationism — no country relishes sending its sons and daughters to fight in a far-off desert — can create a momentum of irresponsibility that moves beyond control. ~Michael Gerson

So says that deeply realistic man who wrote the speeches for Mr. Bush in which the President declared that America would “end tyranny” on earth.  He understands foreign policy and what the real world requires. 

Of course, Gerson is right in that he recognises that no people wants to send off their sons and especially their daughters to fight overseas, but it never occurred to me that this was “‘natural isolationism.”  It just seems like natural humanity to me.  I don’t know of many other peoples in the world who truly relish sacrificing their young men to war.  Peoples around the world may glorify soldiers and celebrate their deeds in war, but most people, normal people, would rather that there be no war if at all possible.  One might just as misleadingly call this desire to live in peace a “natural pacifism,” since the desire to live in peace (or the desire to have your children live that way) can be of the most powerful motivations to fight in a war.  I have seen more than a few reports in which soldiers in Iraq have explained their belief in the cause in terms of making sure that their children do not have to return in another generation.  This, too, is a natural desire, even if it makes for bizarre policy choices.  In the end, Gerson’s remark is just one in a long line of confused uses of the word isolationism by people who wouldn’t understand the instinct for what they call “isolationism” if they spent a lifetime trying. 

From George Ajjan and another commenter at the Scene, I have learned that the Arabic for blog is mudawwinah.  You never know when a piece of information like that may be useful.   

The missing Republican realists have been worrying Ross for a while now, so he may be gratified by the recent speech of Sen. Lugar on Iraq, which reads like an “internationally-minded” realist’s how-to guide for Near East policy.  The speech has begun having an effect on the Senate GOP, mainly among those members, such as John Warner, who have been most skeptical of the “surge,” but the speech may have emboldened them to do something more than stand there and look gravely unhappy.  As we might expect, Lugar’s view seems to be, summed up briefly, “We really ought to follow through on those ISG recommendations, while investing heavily in ethanol!”  He makes the statement in the most authoritative establishmentarian way as he can–he blames sloganeering and opportunism and (egads!) ”partisan political calculations” for the present state of affairs–and gives a lecture on the irrelevance of benchmarks.  His view seems to be that Iraq is in such bad shape that trying to get some measurement of progress is ridiculous–better to just drop all talk of these measurements, while shaking a cragged, aged finger at those proposing to use such measurements as a way of determining whether or not the new tactical plan was having its intended and desired effect.  In a sense, he has a point.  As he admits, the plan is not working, so why bother with anything so tiresome as a debate over benchmarks? 

Of course, he gives that lecture on benchmarks in the context of remarks declaring that political progress in Iraq is essentially a fantastic, incredible dream, and he notes, “Few Iraqis have demonstrated that they want to be Iraqis.”  If “sectarian factionalism” is not going to abate and it “probably cannot be controlled from the top,” what exactly is the flaw with the position arguing for relatively more rapid American withdrawal?  Suppose that I grant that “we” have “vital interests” in other parts of the Near East–Lugar nowhere persuades any skeptic that withdrawal from Iraq, be it “phased” or “precipitous” or whatever, actually does more to damage our ability to protect those “vital interests” (i.e., ready access to the oil supply) than remaining where we are.  It is as if withdrawal from Iraq must also mean a pell-mell abandonment of every other commitment in the region.  Gradual disentanglement from these commitments would be desirable, but this isn’t on the agenda for a while yet, as there are more immediate concerns.  Even though “sectarian factionalism” will not abate, and there seems to be no military means that Lugar sees that can overcome the lack of security, departing from Iraq–even if it is done as part of an effort to contain and limit the further spread of instability outside Iraq–is simply not allowed in Lugar’s arrangement.  His main argument against withdrawal, after citing the potential for greater instability (a greater future instability that is not necessarily being prevented by continued presence in Iraq), is that it would take some time to do it right, as if this were not in itself a strong argument for beginning the preparations now.

In short, he declares every assumption central to the new plan being implemented since January to be wrong, announces the impossibility of the “surge” to accomplish its goals and essentially states that the political situation in Iraq is so miserable that no one should pretend it will be getting better anytime soon, but from this he nonetheless concludes that it can’t possibly be the best of all bad options to leave Iraq.  He wants a re-deployment to Kuwait and non-urban and Kurdish areas of Iraq, which is effectively an admission that the military presence in Iraq will not be used to improve the security of non-Kurdish Iraqis–so why keep them in Iraq itself?  There are no real answers to this, except fear of a greater instability for which the realist will not be able to prevent in any event.  That is what establishment Republican realism amounts to in the end: a recognition of the exact same problems that opponents of the war have been describing for months and years and a refusal to do anything except more or less soldier on for lack of imagination. 

From the film Nagin (1954), the instrumental theme composed by the great Hemant Kumar and Man Dole Mera Tan Dole.

Take a look at my Scene posts on Johann Hari’s new TNR article, Western (mis)perceptions of Iraqi and Yugoslav identity and the charge of Dolchstoss in the Iraq/foreign policy debate

The new American Scene is up and it is looking good (or tayyib, to use a word I have heard about 100 times in the last week).  My first posts there should be up before too long.   

Many pages toward the end are devoted to building up Wendell Willkie—a man risen from the world of business, like Hoover (and like him called a “wonder boy”)—as a sympathetic, charismatic anti-Roosevelt, but it all comes to anticlimax with Roosevelt’s easy electoral victory, for an unprecedented third term, in 1940. Willkie in his campaign indicted the President’s “philosophy of distributed scarcity” and asserted that it was only “from weakness that people reach for dictators and concentrated government power.” These seem to be Amity Shlaes’s views also, but in 1940 there was no breaking the bond between Franklin Roosevelt and the bulk of the American people. Time, which had backed Willkie, summed it up: “Whether Mr. Roosevelt is Moses or Lucifer, he is a leader.” ~John Updike

Most of Updike’s review is unremarkable as a description of Shlaes’ argument.  He does seem to marvel at the idea that anyone would have something good to say about Calvin Coolidge.  For her part, Ms. Shlaes seems to treat the subject of Depression revisionism as something that has never been done before, which would be misleading if that is her view.  The most striking thing about the review is this mention of Shlaes’ approval of Wendell “One World” Willkie, a former Roosevelt delegate and preposterous New York internationalist who had been a Republican in 1940 for a shorter period of time than has Mike Bloomberg.  While Roosevelt was actively lying to the public that their sons would not be sent to fight in any foreign war, Willkie provided a suitable bipartisan echo that was appropriate to someone who had been in FDR’s party until 1939.  As FDR continued to nudge and pull the country towards conflict, the GOP offered up token opposition in the ‘40 election.  There may have been a candidate somewhere in the country that could have broken “the bond” between FDR and a majority of the public, but it obviously wasn’t the ridiculous Wendell Willkie.

Scratch a liberal, and you’ll often find a fascist underneath. ~Jack Kelly

Since we’re engaging in hyperbole, shouldn’t that be Islamofascist?  This is an old line, and I know what Kelly means, but it seems to me that the far more damning criticism of liberals is not that they are crypto-fascists, but that they are liberals.  This is something that has never made sense to me about the desire to conjure images of fascism as a way of discrediting your opponents.  Oh, yes, calling someone a fascist is a very nasty insult, and it is a good way to express real contempt for someone, but it isn’t an argument.  It also doesn’t really say anything, except that you strongly disapprove of this other fellow’s views. 

Presumably, you regard the ideas of your opponents as sufficiently terrible as they are that there is no need to impute, usually through exaggeration or tendentious argument, fascist tendencies to them.  There are certain general similarities between some assumptions of left-liberalism and fascism, as I have said before, but for the most part the problem with liberals is not that they are fascistic (though they may be sympathetic to similar state capitalist arrangements and the aesthetics and rhetoric of revolutionary modernism).  The problem with liberals is that they tend to think and have thought that human beings are autonomous creatures with “rights”; they tend to think that all people are inherently free and rational and are only being prevented from enjoying an enlightened existence–as defined by them–because of the burdens and constraints of tradition, history and religion; they tend to believe in the therapeutic use of the state for the purposes of social improvement and regard human nature as malleable and perfectible through the reordering of social norms and institutions.  Part of this reordering involves getting everyone to think and believe the ‘right’ things, as defined by them, which means that discourse must be artificially narrowed and confined to a permissible range of expression of a range of different kinds of liberal ideas.    Fascism for the most part is just a lot of nationalist hysteria and rhetoric about renewal through conflict, which is in many ways more manageable and less corrupting than this liberalism.  Fascism imposes its restrictions on speech through the law and through threats of violence; liberalism imposes them more subtly and pervasively through a dogma of “social tolerance” that inculcates loathing for anyone who fails to be sufficiently “tolerant.”  The latter is much more effective as a means of social and thought control, which is why liberals use it, why those in power tend to prefer liberalism as a reigning ideology and why nominal conservatives who acquire power in our day and age adopt all of the tropes of “social tolerance” as a way of policing, with varying degrees of success, their opponents and their own constituents (”if you don’t like Harriet Miers, you must be a sexist!”).  The point is that what Kelly calls fascism is simply normal liberalism.  There’s no need to bring fascism into it at all.  Doing so indicates a certain intellectual laziness and a proclivity to adopt the very same habits of enforcing conformity and “social tolerance” that liberals use against you.  Flinging the label fascist at someone, without having a fairly good argument for using that label, is the mark of an ideologue who wants to limit and shut down speech.  It is particularly ironic that it should come at the end of a column protesting impositions on conservative speech. 

Kelly’s remark comes at the end of a column complaining, I think rightly, about PBS’ decision to pull a documentary, “Islam vs. Islamist.”  No one would mistake me for a fan of anything associated with the Frank Gaffneys of the world, but PBS’ move is heavy-handed and stupid.  If PBS pulled the documentary for political reasons, which seems probable, they are pretty clearly making a mistake–it is in the interest of their “side,” broadly defined, to emphasise the distinctions within the Islamic world, thus highlighting the impressive ignorance of the people prattling on about the unified Islamofascist threat and the nonsense uttered by Mitt “It’s About Shia And Sunni” Romney.  A documentary that purports to show the opinions of anti-Islamist Muslims, while potentially misleading in entirely different ways, would drive home just how counterproductive and misguided, say, Bush administration policies and Republican rhetoric about “Islamic fascists” are, since these have had the effect of deeply alienating the so-called “moderate Muslims” and turning Muslims against those who push these policies and this rhetoric and against the U.S. in general.  Many Muslims have come to view all of this as a generic attack on Islam as such; when they hear “Islamic fascist,” they do not think of it as a phrase that distinguishes jihadis from “moderate Muslims” but as a wholesale assault on Islam as being fascistic.  Whatever else you might want to say about this point, it is exceedingly poor PR if the goal is not to drive these people into the arms of jihadi groups.  If I wanted to cynically sabotage the agenda of people allied with someone like Frank Gaffney, I would encourage and broadcast every project that actually undermines the more general Republican arguments about “Islamic fascism” and the like, which is ironically what this documentary seems to have been capable of doing. 

The discovery that PBS has a built-in liberal bias will not come as news to anyone who has, well, ever watched PBS.  This is the network of the NewsHour where the conservative “balance” against Mark Shields for many years was Paul Gigot.  It’s come to this because a vicious cycle in viewing and donation patterns: PBS programming has always tended to attract a more left-wing audience (for some reason opera is not a big draw for the NASCAR and 24 set!), and consequently PBS’ supporters tend to be disproportionately favourable to documentaries and news coverage that match their presuppositions.  This is then reflected in donations from these people, which encourages PBS to air programs that these people like. 

Additionally, like NPR, the management at PBS is itself fairly far to the left, and no wonder.  Why?  For the same kinds of reasons that liberals predominate in the non-public newsroom, the academy, the arts and the studios.  For starters, there is a cultural prejudice against those professions among conservatives and, as a result, there is a prejudice against conservatives in those professions because most of the people in them have no great sympathy for a conservative outlook and feel no need to acquire such sympathy.  As elite professions, especially those that involve education or news reporting, there is a natural tendency to look down on the rest of the country as ignorant, uninformed and confused (that there is more than a little truth to all of these things doesn’t help).  As I have argued before, these jobs are deemed impractical and not all together family-friendly by conservatives, and conservative parents tend to encourage their children towards practical careers in business, medicine, law or different technical professions, because these are the career paths that promise some stability and a means to provide for a family, or culturally conservative people will go into the military. 

So there would already be fewer people with conservative inclinations going into these professions in journalism, education, etc., to begin with, and as fewer go into these professions the wider the gap between those professions and culturally conservative people becomes until there is almost no incentive for the latter to entertain the idea of going into these professions.  In all of journalism, working for public broadcasting is just about as culturally far removed from a conservative background as one can get.  Let’s just say that it is not something to which a lot of young conservatives aspire.  Meanwhile, the military still tends to have more socially and, to some extent, politically conservative members (even if it possesses certain leveling and homogenising elements as an institution), which can be explained in a similar way from the other side. 

There are also certain assumptions that people who work in a given institution will tend to share that may be inherently at odds with some political views.  For instance, journalism, when it is actually doing what it is supposed to be doing, ought to be challenging government authority and undermining official explanations when these are false; there are certain types of conservatives who regard this as wrong, especially during wartime.  Journalists ideally think that the public interest is typically served by more transparency and accountability, while certain conservatives, especially in wartime, seem to believe the opposite.  Academics are predisposed to take an interest in complex and nuanced arguments, while for a certain kind of conservative “nuance” is a dirty word.  On the other hand, academics can tend to be dogmatic about certain bits of received wisdom about politics, religion, cultural values and so on, and tend to float along in a stream of unreflective political correctness pushed by the administration, which blinds them to the surprisingly simplistic views they may hold of their fellow citizens.  This tends to create disconnections of members of these institutions from the general public, and attaches to these institutions a reputation (sometimes well deserved) for alienation from the rest of the country.       

Of course, Obama is being dishonest when he pretends that the U.S. government was trying to “ignore the rest of the world” prior to 9/11. Isolationism did not provoke the terrorists. On the contrary, the terrorist attack was partly a result of decades of U.S. intervention overseas–precisely the kind of meddling that Obama euphemistically calls “maintaining a strong foreign policy, pursuing our enemies, and promoting our values around the world.” This is the point made by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a principled and consistent Iraq War opponent, and it is understood by millions of populist Democrats as well. When you stick your hand in a hornet’s nest, you may get stung. Perhaps the action is worth the possible consequence, but don’t pretend that the sticking of the hand into the nest had nothing to do with the stinging! ~Jeff Taylor

Thompson’s luxury is that, in his stint as senator, he was basically a party regular. So he doesn’t have to shout his fealty to the right from the rooftops. He can send out more subtle signs. ~Jonathan Chait

More subtle signs?  If his anti-Michael Moore YouTube, his RedState blogging, his work on behalf of Scooter Libby’s defense fund, his close association with Cheney’s advisors and one of his daughters, and a trip to go suck up to Margaret Thatcher are subtle appeals to “the base,” I don’t want to see what overt and clumsy moves look like.  There may be nothing terribly politically stupid about most of these moves (his foreign policy speech in London was as appalling to me as it is probably going to be hugely popular with GOP primary voters), but subtle they are not. 

Here is a man of taste and discretion.

So far as I can tell from parsing this solipsistic flapdoodle, John Updike thinks the New Deal should be judged a great success because FDR was politically skillful enough to persuade Updike’s Dad to become a Democrat. ~Ross Douthat

Ross has this right.  In response to Shlaes’ revisionism (in which she basically argues something rather obvious that I learned from the time I was old enough to understand English–namely that FDR made the Depression longer and worse than it had to be through his New Deal policies), Updike tells a story about the human costs of the Depression, which would be all the more compelling for the “governmment-as-human transaction” model Updike is pushing if Hoover had not also helped to deepen and worsen the Depression through his own economic interventionist policies.  Updike’s story is an interesting portrait of how government-exacerbated crises can work, perversely enough, to instill even greater support for the government: the Depression was so miserable that people became grateful for whatever assistance they could get, even though the very programs they were using were working, on a macro level, to perpetuate their misery.  The popular response to national security crises is much the same: rationally, the public should despise the government that allows major terrorist attacks to succeed on native soil, but every time the public rallies around the very government that dramatically failed them out of a mixture of loyalty, patriotism, fear, dependency and, bizarrely, gratitude. 

Shlaes’ counterargument would be, surely, that the very government intervention that Updike’s father found so appealing on a personal level was part of a raft of destructive policies that stifled any chance at economic recovery prior to the both inflationary and expansive pressures of wartime spending.  Whatever else might be said about the flaws of corporations and the real dangers of concentrated economic power, the solution to economic stagnation is not actually to demonise the “malefactors of great wealth” and tax them at exorbitant rates.  The solution to economic weakness is not actually to tighten the money supply by using the Fed as a blunt instrument to batter and crush what recovery had started coming into 1937.  Updike’s argument is, in miniature, everything that is wrong with old-style left-wing economic thinking: it doesn’t matter whether the policy actually works to alleviate poverty or spur economic activity, provided that the government is supposedly trying to do the “right thing” because government is “ultimately a human transaction.”  (As if commercial exchange is any less a “human” transaction than the coercive extraction and redistribution of resources by the state!  Theft is a human transaction, too.)

It would be interesting if sentimental invocations of family history and changed political preferences could trump all other arguments.  If that were the case, I could discredit interventionist foreign policy just by recounting the political conversion of my ancestors from conservative New Jersey Democrats to dedicated Republicans after WWI.  My dad’s family rejected the Democratic Party because of Wilsonian foreign policy, and they deepened in their hostility to the Democracy during the New Deal years.  They despised FDR, their descendants despised FDR and I grew up despising FDR.  So, I come by my opposition to foreign wars and the welfare state honestly.  My great-great grandfather’s brother even wrote a short pamphlet denouncing the New Deal as unconstitutional (which it was).  I think my ancestors were right to reject these things, because I think they were all very bad for the country, but I also think that there are rational arguments to be made against them that go beyond, “My great-grandmother really disliked Roosevelt.”  Of course, those of us who have to fight against conventional historical interpretation of the last century and the established institutions created by now-mythologised Presidents are compelled to make rational arguments, while their defenders can continue to wax poetic about Ol’ Pappy and the soup kitchen.

I have said many times that this election will be unique, and it will be, and not just in the obvious sense that every event is unique, contingent and unrepeatable.  The same reasons why comparing foreign policy crises to past crises is potentially very misleading and distorting also apply to elections and, well, everything else.  Obviously, differences between any two elections are numerous and significant, and expecting to find the right model for understanding the ‘08 election by digging through previous ones is a bit like expecting to know how to handle a foreign policy crisis because you have grown up hearing about Munich.   

2008 will have no perfect comparisons with other elections, as no American presidential election has taken place without any incumbent candidates after two terms of the same presidential administration and over five years of war.  American presidential elections have always either fallen after or before wars, or when they happen during wars the wartime Presidents have been running (always successfully) for re-election or they have decided to retire because of their unpopularity.  The current scenario is new.  There is no clear precedent for what is happening.  That said, there are still better and worse comparisons to be made.  1968 has a certain appeal.  I have occasionally invoked it, proposing a 1968-style crack-up of the GOP over the war, but the more I have thought about it the more I realise that 1952 makes a lot of sense.  The Wilson/Bush, 1920/2008 parallels are very tempting, but 1920 now seems less compelling to me than it once did, since 1920 was a post-war election rather than one taking place during an unpopular war. 

1968 and 1972 are the other most directly comparable elections.  Richard Cohen goes for the ‘72 comparison today and doesn’t seem very persuasive.  He seems caught in the Beltway liberal time-warp on foreign policy, in which the GOP still has credibility on national security and and the Democrats are McGovernites.  As I mentioned in my TAC neoliberalism article out last week, there are no McGovernites among the leading Democratic candidates–quite the contrary.  The only one remotely McGovern-like is Kucinich, and his campaign’s futility is proverbial.  If the Democratic base is so profoundly “isolationist” or whatever it is that their critics imagine them to be, they have a funny way of showing it by rallying behind two of the biggest interventionists on the planet in Clinton and Obama.  Nonetheless, this charge of McGovernism is the deep, irrational fear that Democrats seem to have implanted in their minds, and some of them are unable to shake it.  They cannot imagine a time when, as recently as 1948 or 1944, their party was considered by the great and the good in the establishment to be more credible on matters of national security, according to the perverse definitions of national security used both then and now.  1952 was the year when the GOP began to take over the mantle of foreign policy competence.  After the Kennedy-Johnson interlude, the GOP would go on a 24-year run (with the brief Carter interruption) begun by Eisenhower’s former Vice President, who probably should have won in 1960 anyway.  Republicans were in the White House for 28 of 40 years starting in 1953.  1952 prepared the way for a shift in the reputations of the parties on foreign policy and national security.  It is not guaranteed that 2008 would do the same for the Democrats (indeed, I think the epochal significance of 2008 has probably been overrated), but the primarily GOP-led disaster of Iraq is such that they may appear competent enough by comparison to introduce a permanent shift in public attitudes.    

What about 1968?  Like 1952, 1968 saw the incumbent President step aside because of the war and his own doubts about winning re-election.  Unlike 1968, however, 2008 will not have the incumbent Vice President running in his place.  In this respect, 1952 and 2008 are much more alike.  It can hardly be encouraging to Obama that the last two times a Democratic nominee came directly from Illinois, he lost, and 1952 was the first of these two attempts.  Nonetheless, the dynamic today is entirely reversed: whichever unfortunate victim the GOP picks next winter and spring will likely be the one to reprise the role of Adlai Stevenson losing a landslide to the opposition candidate.

Everybody loves Fred. He has the healing qualities of Gerald Ford and the movie-star appeal of Ronald Reagan. He is relatively moderate on social issues. He has a reputation as a peacemaker and a compromiser. And he has a good sense of humor.

He could be just the partner to bring out Bush’s better nature — or at least be a sensible voice of reason. I could easily imagine him telling the president, “For God’s sake, do not push that button!” — a command I have a hard time hearing Cheney give.

Not only that, Thompson would give the Republicans a platform for running for the presidency — and the president a way out of Iraq without looking like he’s backing down. Bush would be left in better shape on the war and be able to concentrate on AIDS and the environment in hopes of salvaging his legacy. ~Sally Quinn

It’s official.  The waning years of the Bush administration have actually driven some people completely mad.  The psychotic break in this instance is apparently so great that it appears to the author that Fred Thompson appears to have powers of political reconciliation (perhaps he could persuade Mr. Bush to pardon Libby and Cheney, the latter for any crimes he may have committed while in the office, and perfect his Ford-like qualities) and the answer to all of our national ills.  I am pretty sure that this must be a joke (a sort of gallows humour that plays off of the deep depression some Republicans must be feeling at this point), but it really isn’t funny.     

The idea of Republicans replacing Cheney is surreal enough (many of them really like Cheney and think he has done a bang-up job–don’t ask me why), but replacing him with Fred because Fred is significantly different from Cheney is the stuff of hallucinations and fevers.  As a joke, this article doesn’t work, because the change of VPs is not only unbelievable, but also completely pointless.  Why bring in a replacement Cheney when you have the real thing?  Maybe the thinking is that Fred Thompson is Cheney, but without the perpetual scowl! 

Apparently no one told Ms. Quinn that Fred is just as incredibly irresponsible on foreign policy as the Vice President.  She has evidently not heard that Fred is being advised on foreign policy by Liz Cheney, and advised politically by Cheney hanger-on Mary Matalin.  She has apparently missed that he is a leading defender of Cheney’s man, Scooter Libby.  To go to the trouble of removing Cheney from office and replacing him with Fred would be a waste of time for everyone.  Even if successful, Fred would embrace the Cheney way–because Fred thinks that Cheney is basically right on all of the things that most horrify the rest of us.  The downside of this imaginary move is clear: it would put someone just as dangerous as Cheney in a position of power, but because of his geniality Fred could cloak his more nefarious designs under the cover of Southern colloquialisms and awshucksishness. 

“It says a lot about his [Fred Thompson’s] character that his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends think he is fabulous,” said Mosbacher. ~The Times

So Fred is winning the ex-wife primary.  How many delegates does that get you at the convention?

A large portion of modern wars erupted because aggressive tyrannies believed that their democratic opponents were soft and weak. ~Joshua Muravchik

Except for the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Crimean War, the War of Secession, the Franco-Austrian War (1859) and the other Wars of Italian Unification, the War of the Triple Alliance (South America), Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Turkish Wars, the War of the Pacific (South America), the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Sino-Japanese Wars, the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, WWI, the Spanish Civil War, Suez, Vietnam, Panama, the Bosnian War, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, the First and Second Congo Wars and the invasion of Iraq, Muravchik’s generalisation holds up pretty well.

What a contrast between some in the West and the Arab papers in their respective reactions to Gaza and the Hamas violence. The former blame Bush, blame the US, or blame Israel for the civil war, the latter blame the extremists in Hamas and the Palestinians themselves.

From a paper in Lebanon:  “[The Palestinians] have nearly lost their homeland, and the only ones to blame are those who wielded weapons in order to wrench it from the enemy, but have lost their way. The fedayeen have become the murderers of their own comrades-in-arms…”

From Saudi Arabia, “By means of Hamas’s takeover in Gaza, the Iran-Syria axis has managed to destroy the Mecca agreement, to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and to block the role of Saudi Arabia, which had become the regional authority [handling] the hotspots in the [Middle East], namely Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.”

And from Egypt: “What is happening in Gaza, and the emergence of the Hamas’s Islamic emirate there, can only be described as an earthquake, and not only for the Palestinians… The impact of this Islamic emirate on our Arab world will not be like that [caused by] the emergence of the Taliban Emirate, [for] it is more dangerous, to the point where it will [threaten] Arab security.” (translations from

Now contrast all that with Jimmy Carter’s blaming of George Bush for the upheaval in Gaza or, say, Robert Scheer’s paean to Hamas: “By contrast, the religious zealots who later formed the Hamas organization were more focused on spiritual probity and tended far more closely to the needs of their impoverished brethren in Gaza and the West Bank. As with Hezbollah in Lebanon - and that other Iranian-backed Islamist movement, the Shiites who now control Iraq - the religious movements, both Shiite- and Sunni-based, cornered the market on purity of purpose as opposed to rank opportunism. That is precisely why these fiercely anti-Western movements have been able to turn the favorite fig leaf of U.S. neo-colonialism, the slogans of democracy and elections, against the United States by winning popular elections.” ~Victor Davis Hanson

In fairness to the Western papers, they engage in this sort of parochial criticism because they are aware that this is the sort of foreign affairs analysis that the public wants (”what’s it got to do with us?”) and this is the main sort of analysis that most American and Western journalists are interested in doing (”why should we care about it unless it impacts us?”).  Put this down to an incurious, self-absorbed public, most of which thinks “it’s all about us,” if they give it much thought, and you can also pin this on journalists who write copy that they want to see sell papers, so they write stories with the proper spin that will catch and hold the public’s interest.  How many Americans would read a headline that says, “More foreigners keep killing each other in totally inexplicable and distant conflict”?  Not many.  How many would pick the paper that says, “Civil war in Palestine; Democrats blame Bush for failure of Middle East peace process”?  Obviously, many more.  Do accuracy and perspective go out the window in the process?  Of course, but the responsibility for that lies at least as much with the public as with the papers. This stifling parochial sense that all events revolve around “us” and “we” the Americans are somehow responsible for everything that goes wrong elsewhere in the world stems from the presumption that “we” have–or should have–some role in every conflict and crisis around the world.  If that’s true, it becomes incumbent on ”us” to analyse every crisis in terms of what “we” ought to do and what “we” have failed to and what “we” did wrong.  Hegemonists claim world leadership and then complain when everyone else expects them to deliver the goods, but just watch them explode at the suggestion that “we” should not be the “leaders” of the world or that other peoples in the world are responsible for their own futures. 

What Hanson seems to miss, unsurprisingly, is that the self-serving accounts from Arab papers in nearby states and the Scheer article are complementary in explaining more of the full story.  Naturally, many factions in Lebanon, secular despots in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy all have vested interests in denouncing Hamas–they would do so even if they were not allied with Washington–because Hamas represents a style of Islamic politics that threatens their own power in their own countries.  The Lebanese article faults Hamas and Fatah for fighting each other, which might be taken as not much more than a standard nationalist denunciation of fratricide.  Note the Saudi emphasis on the “Iran-Syria axis,” which is a natural villain for the Saudis to blame things on, since they already dislike and fear said axis.  It is essential, therefore, for these interested parties to detach the cause of Hamas from the cause of Palestine, since the latter still has resonance for many Arabs, and to show that Hamas has actually destroyed the chances of the Palestinians to have their own state.  That this seems to accord with the reality of the situation is a happy coincidence for these outside observers.  

Meanwhile, Scheer does not seem to be addressing responsibility for the civil war among Palestinians, but is instead explaining how Hamas gained a following and came to power.  The inconvenient reality that Hamas did come to power through elections encouraged (stupidly) by Washington cannot be harumphed away, much as Hanson might like to do so.  Scheer’s explanation of the appeal of Hamas and Hizbullah, while not exhaustive, is more or less accurate, since it was the relative lack of corruption and zeal of Hamas and Hizbullah that won them a following against the more corrupt Fatah and ineffective Arab nationalists who were unsuccessfully fighting against Israel for decades.  Hizbullah’s network of social services is a smart system of patronage that wins them loyalists and a social base that makes them that much harder to uproot and disband.  It is quite possible to describe the reality of this without saying anything good about it.  These methods have been successful in empowering these two groups–it is normally the ugliness, brutality and violence of these groups to which Westerners principally object, and not their means of retaining loyalty among their local constituencies.

Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas is unique, and uniquely aggressive. ~James Poulos

I don’t know that this debate is really contributing much to a better understanding of what to do with respect to Iran policy, but let me just offer one more rejoinder.  Iran’s relationship with Hizbullah and Hamas is unique, provided that we don’t count Syria as having a fairly similar relationship with both groups (plus, if certain reports are to be believed, a relationship with Fatah al-Islam).  Iran’s relationship with these multiple proxy armies would be unique, if elements of the Pakistani government weren’t simultaneously backing proxies in both Afghanistan and Kashmir.  In some capacity, our government has given tacit or open support to Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Jundullah as part of the opposition to Tehran (and Jundullah is based, of course, at least partly in Pakistan). 

I have less trouble with people describing something as a unique threat when it actually appears to be a unique threat.  My initial objection to the Stephens article that started all of this was a) the statement was inaccurate and b) if this was the only thing a boatful of alleged policymakers and putative experts on Iran could agree on, there is not only nothing like a consensus on a viable Iran policy, but also the one thing that “everyone” can agree on is probably a myth.  Finally, it seemed clear enough that even the consensus of the people described in the original article was one that was ultimately biased towards intervention, despite the fact that many of the attendees did not advocate intervention. 

Acknowledging the existence of a reported threat profoundly weakens arguments against intervention, because to believe that weak states on the opposite side of the planet pose some meaningful threat to our national security is to have given away 9/10 of the debate.  This is the assumption that has to be challenged at every step, because it is such an obviously bad assumption.  The principal conceptual failure of war opponents before the invasion was to grant the reality of the Iraqi threat and the uniqueness of Hussein’s menace.  There was not much of a threat and his menace was far from unique, yet it was the combination of the two that supposedly demanded action.  I don’t know how we can even begin to have “intellectual probity and policy as clear as it is responsible” when we begin from such a confused starting place as talking about a regime’s “uniquely aggressive” foreign policy when it does not have such a policy.  James and I both want clear and responsible foreign policy, but if we do not insist on being precise in our language and fastidious with the details it is just a hop, skip and a jump to talk of smoking guns in the form of mushroom clouds.

So there is a sizeable base of socially traditionalist, economically populist voters to be had. Unfortunately, the partisanship scolds invariably cater to exactly the opposite demographic: elites who favor free trade, open immigration, cutting entitlements, and social tolerance. ~Jonathan Chait

Think of it this way: we have large numbers of voters interested in a sort of Webb-Dobbs-Buchanan worldview and, on the other side, an endless supply of tiresome Obamas telling us that we just need to put aside our differences, work together and have hope.  No wonder the public is disenchanted!  The “centrists” who want to move beyond partisanship are actually interested in overrepresenting still more those views and interests that are already overrepresented in this country.

This clan power is one of the main reasons why western democracy does not transplant into Arab societies. They are different. We have seen what has happened in Iraq, where the division between Shia and Sunni Muslim is also hugely important. But even in peaceful, relatively civilised Jordan, attempts to encourage political parties have largely failed because they keep splitting into smaller and smaller units, generally clan based. A Muslim Arab almost always owes far greater loyalty to his cousins than he does to any party or government. ~Peter Hitchens

Starting tomorrow, a massive group blog headed by the one and only Reihan will take over where the team of Douthat and Salam left off at The American Scene.  The site will be redesigned, there will be a cast of thousands (okay, more like a dozen or so) and, most importantly, it will still retain Reihan’s idiosyncratic and fun style.  Along with many far more worthy, entertaining and interesting colleagues, I will also be joining the Scene.  Some of the faces, or rather names, will be familiar to you, and some will be relatively new or unknown, but I think it should be a very good mix.  In his characteristically broad and eclectic way, Reihan has drawn in friends and associates from across the spectrum and from across different areas of interest.  The new American Scene–it’s not just for policy geeks and indy rock fans anymore! 

All over Europe, the politics of identity threatens to trump the economics of individualism. ~Niall Ferguson

Is it possible that there is a connection between the leak in 2002 about the highly classified U.S. intelligence program — which the paper chose to publish despite the fact that it knew it was creating trouble for U.S. intelligence — and the recent arrests of Esfandiari and the others?  ~Gabriel Schoenfeld

I can see a reasonable argument for why it was probably not the best idea to have a big news story on a CIA recruiting operation, but it is a bit rich that we’re supposed to think that one newspaper story did more to put Iranian-American visitors under suspicion of espionage than, oh, the last five years of official sabre-rattling, “axis of evil” speeches, and loose talk about the use of tactical nukes…and a little thing called the invasion of Iraq.  Tehran might have deduced from these other things that the United States government was going to try to infiltrate and spy on their country quite apart from anything they learned in the newspapers here.  In Schoenfeld’s view, it is presumably not Washington’s belligerence and threats that would make Tehran suspicious of Americans in Iran, so why would a single newspaper story have made that much difference?  If government policy does not provoke hostile responses–if anti-American hostility just sort of happens for no rhyme or reason–what could one newspaper story do? 

If Tehran is so paranoid about the CIA, and I don’t doubt that it probably is (unlike Americans, people in other countries seem to be under the impression that the CIA is competent and good at what it does), why do we need to look any farther than the unreasonable, unrealistic anxieties of Iran’s government?  Surely, the Times story should have been confirmation of the appalling limits of the CIA’s reach into Iran.  If I were an Iranian government official, I would feel very relieved that this was the best the “Great Satan” could manage.  It might even make me lower my guard.  Who knows?  

Could it be that Schoenfeld takes the Iranian regime to be a relatively rational state actor when it allows him to score points against the supposedly subversive media?  Besides, to hear the Commentary crowd tell it, Iran is a totalitarian nightmare state filled with the very vapours of Hell (this is only a very slight exaggeration of what they and their allies say), so why would they expect there to be a rational reason for the regime’s behaviour that could be traced to a newspaper story?  They are not exactly the people who believe that activist U.S. foreign policy has adverse consequences for us, so why would they assume that U.S. journalism has adverse consequences for Americans overseas?  It sounds a bit like blaming American journalism first! 

On a more serious note, as anyone who reads the papers these days knows, Tehran is cracking down on everyone in the country, and has been tightening the screws on the population for many months, and for the last couple of years it has been an unusually poor time to be an American visiting Iran given the heated rhetoric of Ahmadinejad and steady efforts in some parts of the American press to gin up a new war fever against Iran.  Weak, repressive regimes also tend to be rather jumpy about foreigners, especially citizens of major powers whose governments have made it clear that they intend the destruction and/or overthrow of the regime.  It is quite possible that the causes of the current crackdown and the general anxiety about American spies that Tehran must have (given that we have two major military deployments on either side of their country and a small armada in the Persian Gulf) would have resulted in the arrests of these citizens in any case. 

Look at this another way.  Instead of giving the Times grief for reporting news, however unwise the decision may well have been, we should ask the obvious question: this is the CIA’s idea of developing human intelligence “assets”?  No wonder we never know what’s going on in other countries, since the cunning plan for extracting information from countries such as Iran is to ask ethnic Iranians to spy on the old country.  This is not exactly an unexpected way of gathering information in another country.  The Iranian government must already presume every American visiting is a potential spy; this story simply confirmed what they were already going to assume anyway.  Note that this is another bad consequence of maintaining a sanctions regime that makes the presence of Americans in Iran highly unusual and therefore that much more subject to official scrutiny and paranoia, since the reasons for Americans being in Iran today are very few. 

You pretty much have to laugh when you read this bit, though it is actually quite depressing:

The article explained just how the agency hoped to use emigres to get at their relatives in Iran. “If family members trust each other, they’ll tell you things you can’t know otherwise, can’t get [from satellites]. If you’re really lucky, you might recruit somebody involved in the nuclear-weapons program,” was how one former CIA officer explained it.

Sure, Cousin Mahmoud might even take you on a tour of Natanz! 

The question we should really be asking at this point is: why on earth should the public have ever believed intelligence claims about Iraqi WMDs when it comes via unreliable channels similar to those being encouraged here?  For that matter, given the still-parlous state of our human intelligence resources in Iran, why should we trust government claims about Iranian weapons programs now?

Just as the diversity within the communist world ultimately made it less threatening, so the many varieties of Islam weaken its ability to coalesce into a single, monolithic foe. It would be even less dangerous if Western leaders recognized this and worked to emphasize such distinctions. Rather than speaking of a single worldwide movement—which absurdly lumps together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon and Sunni jihadists in Egypt—we should be emphasizing that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies and friends. ~Fareed Zakaria

That sounds familiar.  So the question for Romney, Giuliani, et al., is this: why do you want to strengthen our enemies and fight the war on their terms?  Why does Romney want to help the cause of jihadism with his blundering remarks that “it’s about Shia and Sunni”?  Why does Giuliani want to take us into a jihadi-laid trap? 

Our research for Democracy Corps finds that a majority of voters are looking for an America that promotes the values of strong community and a sense of togetherness over individualism and self-reliance. ~Stanley Greenberg

Via Ross

The critical flaw here is that Greenberg still seems to think (in spite of the data discussed later in the piece) that preference for strong community has something to do with preference for a more activist state.  If those on the right have ceded the language of community and solidarity to liberals or allowed them to define it in terms of government action, we have given up on one of the most enduring and powerful elements of conservatism.   

In the battle between solidarity and dislocation, conservatives should naturally be on the side of the former, and it should be conservatives who benefit from the public’s interest in “strong community” and even, yes, “a sense of togetherness.”  (For some reason, the latter sounds much less ridiculous when you call it solidarity.)  Conservatism’s “failure” has been that conservatives have defined themselves or allowed themselves to be defined as individualists and advocates for the interests of the self.  A conservatism of place and virtue has very little to do with these things.  These numbers suggest that a conservatism that is both skeptical of government action and that also encourages the building up of community life and a politics of solidarity would fare very well.  It would not be the slash-and-burn, “every man for himself” anti-government style of certain libertarians, nor would it be an endorsement of the effects of “creative destruction.”  Settling people in a location, a place, not dislocating people through the constant flux of what some might call “cosmopolitan dynamism” and what we call social insanity, is the conservative way forward.  This is necessarily very general at the moment, but it is the appropriate way that is neither an accommodation with the central state nor an embrace of self-defeating individualism that only ultimately ushers in more government regulation later.

Under the provocative headline, “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)’s personal financial and political ties to India,” the three-page document attacks his leading opponent point-by-point for her allegedly too-cozy ties with businesses and business leaders who are profiting from the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to the Asian nation.

Critics called it “nativist” and “a racist, xenophobic hit,” and the chairman of the United States India Political Action Committee sent a letter to Obama’s headquarters in Chicago decrying the dissemination of “hurtful stereotypes.” ~Eric Zorn

In the case of Hillary v. Obama, experience turns out to be most useful as a proxy for the vast sociological chasm between the two camps. On the one hand, many of Hillary’s most loyal supporters lack college degrees and toil away at low-skilled jobs. Now if you happen to be a poorly educated worker who’s nonetheless eking out a decent living, no prospect is more alarming than the thought of losing out one day because someone a little younger, a little flashier, leapt ahead of you in line. There is a comforting order to the world you know. And that order demands that people pay their dues before getting promoted. The alternative is a bitter competition between you and your co-workers–and who knows how you’ll fare in that?

In the eyes of working-class Democrats, Hillary is someone who’s paid her dues–first in the White House, where she weathered a terrific, eight-year assault from conservatives, then as the scrupulously dependable senator from New York. If, after all this, Hillary doesn’t win the nomination, then the system they’ve bought into their entire working lives will have been turned upside down. ~Noam Scheiber

How does Obama’s anti-Hillary, Indian-bashing memo relate to what we might call the “seniority” question?  It’s pretty straightforward, actually.  It is classic “upper-middle” v. “lower-middle” politicking (over to you, Reihan).  Obama has something of a record of opposing free trade deals that Clinton’s base of supporters tends to dislike, but for the reasons laid out by Mr. Scheiber these people take a dim view of the relative youngster cutting to the front of the line.  Therefore, the social profile of his base of supporters matches up rather poorly with his policy views, which are actually more in line with the policies that tend to be preferred by the people w ho are more inclined, for entirely different reasons, to support Clinton. 

Clinton, meanwhile, has had a history of backing free trade deals and has apparently done very nicely for herself as well in the process.  The D-Punjab memo was aimed at highlighting Clinton’s hostility to the interests of her political base, while highlighting Obama’s slightly better record on opposing outsourcing and free trade.  Unfortunately, Obama keeps stumbling (in this case, offending Democratic desis all over America and making very negative headlines in India) because of the very inexperience and overeagerness that make him seem too green and too ambitious to the very people he is trying to reach.  In the end, he loses all around: he appears unduly hostile to foreigners and trade, which hurts him with his more globalist, Kumbaya-singing base, he sullies himself with the typical “old style” attack politics that he was supposedly going to transcend in his hyperean moral purity, he ends up having to back off of the attack so as to avoid completely losing supporters in the Indian-American community, and the attempt conveys an image of opportunism that doesn’t sit well with the voters he is trying to win over.  In the end, he did not even see the attack through to undermine Clinton with the targeted audience of lower middle class workers.  As this episode reveals, the question is not whether Obama is theoretically electable, but whether he is actually capable of running a national election campaign.  Never having run a really competitive campaign before on such a large scale, he is bound to make mistakes like this one. 

In the end, because he has boxed himself into the corner with his high-minded “transformative” message, attacks on other candidates will be even harder for him to do successfully, which means that there will be more of these errors or miscalculations in the meantime.  Obama’s original attack on Clinton makes good sense, but it is one he either has to stand by or outsource to an independent group.  Associating himself with the attack and then abandoning it make him appear indecisive and unready–the exact opposite of the image he has to project to be competitive.  Yet another reason why it was a mistake for him to run this time around. 

At every opportunity, they’ve told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design. ~Barack Obama

And at every opportunity, the Democrats and their allies have obliged by disrespecting Christian “values” and disliking traditional Christian churches, and have made a point of demonising and belittling conservative Christians because they care about, among many other things, abortion, gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design.

As if to confirm my earlier, mocking references to the similarities between the piety of Evan Almighty and Obama’s speeches, Obama also said:

But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart.

He even managed to figure that out without building a boat by hand.  It’s a miracle!

We are not living a replay of 1938.


But if one sees our current problems in less apocalyptic terms, then another kind of “trahison des clercs” comes into view: the blind cheering on of a sometimes foolish military power embarked on unnecessary wars that cost more lives than they were intended to save. ~Ian Buruma

This article seems to read at least partly as a riposte to Paul Berman’s virtually novel-length essay on Tariq Ramadan in The New Republic earlier this month, in which he mainly lays into Buruma.  Even if this isn’t intended as a reply to Berman’s arguments about the confluence of Islamism and fascism, it is mercifully much shorter and also makes a good deal more sense.  At the end, I am also not left with the question, “So what?”  Buruma makes many of the right points that should encourage everyone to keep the scope of the threat from jihadis in perspective.  Misdiagnosis is a barrier to coming up with the proper remedy, and for years neocons and their confreres have been badly misdiagnosing the problem of jihadism.  A first step to understanding the nature of the threat is to stop talking about fascism.         

Tony Blair’s hard line on Iraq alienated three Roman Catholics who worked for him in Downing Street. All three, who were experts in foreign affairs, were deeply worried by what they saw as the rush to war in 2003, The Independent has learnt. ~The Independent

There is something strangely depressing about this news.  It is somehow less surprising that the unreflective and incurious Mr. Bush went ahead with the invasion of Iraq, when he was surrounded by either secular careerists or fellow evangelicals with no great grounding in ideas derived from the thought of the Fathers, and further encouraged by Catholic neoconservatives who provided the moral and intellectual fig leafs to assuage any doubts.  Likewise, while it seemed to be especially misguided that the then-head of the Union in Germany, Angela Merkel, backed the war despite the Vatican’s clear objections to the conflict, Merkel’s own East German Protestant background made some sense of her indifference to these objections.  There is something a bit more disturbing about Blair, who should hardly have been entirely ignorant of or completely indifferent to the words of Pope John Paul II or then-Cardinal Ratzinger on these matters given the background of his wife, the upbringing of his children and so on, and who had the advice of such skeptical Catholic foreign policy experts, nonetheless leading the way for the invasion.  It is no less disturbing that he is now apparently coming to Rome as if it were the most normal thing, while an aggressive war that he has helped to wage has been destroying the Catholic and other Christian communities of Iraq.  (There was also his endorsement of the Israeli campaign in Lebanon last year, which is another post in its own right.)  See, for instance, the fate of Fr. Ragheed Ganni and three of his deacons, who were slain in Mosul by Muslims.  Their story is described by Pat Buchanan and discussed in multiple posts by Andrea Kirk Assaf.  There you can learn more about one episode of the new Christian martyrs of Iraq.  The blood of martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church, but there is something just a little unseemly about a man who has helped to unleash the slaughter against his Christian brethren convert to a given confession when he is at least indrectly responsible for inflicting suffering and martyrdom on that confession’s members.  It would be almost as bizarre as Bill Clinton becoming Orthodox. 

And, returning to Kosovo, he [Blair] insisted that the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states must give way in the face of genocide or ethnic cleansing. ~James Traub

Yes, he did insist on that, which would have really had something to do with Kosovo had either one of those things been happening there.  Since they weren’t, it was a uniquely bad example for the idea he was defending, but then the intervention in Kosovo was fairly unique in its total lack of justification.

As for Blair’s supposed rhetorical gifts, I have to say that I have always been unimpressed.  There is no doubt that he is an effective speaker as far as the needs of politics go, but no one will ever confuse him with the great orators of the past.

Then there is this silliness:

More than that, he believed that forcibly disarming the Iraqi dictator was wholly of a piece with the decision to confront Milosevic, another tyrant who posed a threat to his own people and to the West [bold mine-DL].

This is a particularly egregious bit of revisonism by Mr. Traub.  Nobody ever seriously tried to claim that Milosevic was a threat to the West, certainly not in any military or political sense.  Hence the need for prattling on about “values” and human rights.  According to Blair and friends, it was no longer sufficient in a world with Milosevices to defend concrete interests and provide for your own security, but you also had to look out for what other governments were doing internally and in their immediate neighbourhoods.  Sovereignty had to give way to “human rights,” because, as the humanitarian interventionists saw it, there were no longer meaningful external security threats directed at the West, and it was now time for the West to police the internal workings of other states.  Truly, no one claimed Milosevic to be a threat to the West, except in the most roundabout way that he challenged our “values,” which is another way of saying, “This government is not doing anything to us, but we really don’t like it anyway and want to find some reason to get rid of it.”

Now, I’m no great religious scholar, but it doesn’t take Pope Benedict to see that the Noah story is not a charming little tale about familial love, but a terrifying lesson about our dependence on God: a warning that we are alone in the world and always at the mercy of a wrathful and demanding Lord. ~David Plotz

Just so.  Well, that and a warning not to breed with the Nephilim (who were all wiped out, I suppose, which makes it a moot point).  It is also the main scriptural counterargument against all secular and atheist whingeing (that one’s for you, Mr. Massie) in the area of theodicy.  If God willed the annihilation of all life on earth, save those in the Ark, who can take seriously complaints against God based on “bad things happening to good people”?  First of all, it throws into doubt the “good people” part of the equation, since the righteous folks were on the boat.  The story of the Flood teaches that when calamities strike the world, the world as a whole may very well deserve what it is getting and God may even have willed these things for the chastisement of man for his edification.  What’s more, that this is an expression of God’s love, not the absence of it.  This is a hard saying, but it is true.   

This is why Evan Almighty is not really an ”appalling effort to pander to religious moviegoers,” in that it isn’t pandering to religious people to get them to come see the movie, but rather tries to appeal to people already going to the movies with some minimally religious message.  It sounds like an appalling effort to milk the vague sentimental Herrgott piety of the broad middle of barely religious Americans for some money, while teaching that the “family that dwells on a large wooden boat together stays together, because it is surrounded by floodwaters.” 

Religious moviegoers of the sort Mr. Plotz is imagining are the people who went to see The Passion not in spite of the sufferings of Christ depicted therein but because of them, because they do not want to see their religion stripped of its most powerful and terrifying moments.  Those are the moments that strengthen faith.  If you want campy feel-good stories about togetherness, you can go watch The Smurfs.  Evan Almighty may bring in a lot of money, but if it does my guess is that it won’t primarily be busloads of evangelicals who put it there.  It will be people who would like to have some nice nods towards religion in their entertainment and would like a religion that doesn’t demand too much, provided that we are all really nice people who are concerned about all the little furry creatures.  As an Orthodox priest once said to us one Sunday, “We are not called to be nice.  We are called to be perfect.”  Anything that confuses niceness with perfection is, in my view, a stumblingblock to real faith.  But perhaps Mr. Plotz and I are actually in agreement about this, since he says:

If I were a believing man, movies like Evan would make me long for the days when Hollywood just ignored God.  

From all descriptions I have read, it sounds as if it is moved by the same spirit that inspires Democratic “outreach” efforts to evangelicals and has many of the same characteristics: clumsy, embarrassing and painful to watch.  Evan Almighty sounds like a movie that would satisfy a fairly mildly religious Episcopalian who thinks that if only religion could be about the love and the togetherness and the via media (always the via media) there would be no more problems, at least not with religion.  Let there be nothing severe or harsh or (Heaven forefend!) judgemental in religion–that would seem to be the shlocky religiosity to which Evan Almighty may be appealing.  Maybe that describes more Christians in this country than I would like to think.  For all our sakes, I hope not. 

But whereas Oh, God was charmingly irreverent—a religiously themed movie even an atheist could love—Evan Almighty bears the stamp of the Bush era. Its politics may be nominally green (the Lord’s ultimate goal is to stop environmentally harmful legislation), but its approach to revelation is strictly constructionist. ~Dana Stevens

Question: is there any movie that has been released in the last year that Dana Stevens did not think bore the “stamp of the Bush era” (and in a bad way) or possessed some other sinister conservative message?  Knocked Up is a product of focus groups and pro-life political correctness, and 300 was “a mythic ode of righteous bellicosity” that prompted her to write:

But Leonidas is not above playing the tyrant himself. When a messenger from Xerxes arrives bearing news Leonidas doesn’t like, he hurls the man, against all protocol, down a convenient bottomless well in the center of town. “This is blasphemy! This is madness!” says the messenger, pleading for his life. “This is Sparta,” Leonidas replies. So, if Spartan law is defined by “whatever Leonidas wants,” what are the 300 fighting for, anyway? And why does that sound depressingly familiar?

So, as far as these recent movies are concerned, the answer to my question would seem to be no. 

Judging from her assessment of the movie, the problem with the story and all its Biblical literalism isn’t so much the nature of the story or even the Biblical literalism as such, but that the movie isn’t funny.  It sets up what could be a terrific farce, but then fails to deliver. 

What really seems to bother Ms. Stevens about the politics of the movie is that, according to her description, it isn’t so much drearily Bushian as it is idiotically saccharine because “[t]rees will be hugged, parks saved, unscrupulous legislators vanquished—and one man will learn to spend more time with his family.”  It sounds like a cross between an old Captain Planet episode and Spanglish.  Admittedly, that sounds pretty horrible (Spanglish being the movie that managed to make Adam Sandler entirely unamusing), but it sounds nothing like a movie that “bears the stamp of the Bush era.”  On the contrary, from what she says about its banality, conventional wisdom and triteness, it has the feel of an Obama speech, complete with the “quiet laughter” it provokes.   

There seems to be a pattern in her movie reviews where Ms. Stevens manages to find something politically perverse about movies she regards as terrible, rather than simply acknowledging them as films that are superficial or fail in their execution.  The rest of the time, she feels obliged to find some political flaw in movies that she enjoyed in spite of herself.   


On a different subject, speaking of George Bush, movies starring Morgan Freeman as God and Oh, God, I was reminded of this

[In 1992, t]he country was tired of the partisan bickering in Washington and didn’t see a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. ~Edward Rollins

That is probably mostly true.  There wasn’t a “dime’s worth” of difference then, and there’s probably not even a nickel’s worth today.  What is so bizarre about the would-be Bloomberg or Unity ‘08 campaigns is that both are premised on the strange view that the two parties are radically at odds and farther apart from each other than ever as they allegedly race to opposite extremes.  Independent candidacies flourish when they cast the major parties as an indistinguishable, self-interested blob that gives people no real choices on major policies.  They also flourish when they offer a clear alternative, not congealed, reheated slop that combines the worst of both existing options.  Were he to run (and he isn’t going to), Bloomberg would be likely to serve up the latter, and not even $500 million or however much cash he could throw at the electorate would make them want to swallow it.  He might get a decent 10 or even 15% as a protest vote, but that would be all.  His positive platform would have to be able to address what the major parties have missed, and as of right now there is no reason to think that he even understands what those things are.  As Ambinder pointed out, he is prone to saying absurd things like this:

“I’m particularly upset that the big issues of the time keep getting pushed to the back and we focus on small things that probably only inside the Beltway are important,” he said. “When you talk to people around this country, they care about who’s going to pay their Social Security, they care about who’s going to pay their medical care, they care about immigration, about our reputation overseas.” Nobody is willing to talk about those things,” he said about the issues.

This seems to make Bloomberg into the Tim Rutten of presidential candidates: other people may be talking about a subject, but it doesn’t fit his preconceived notions of the way the world is and therefore it is obvious that nobody is saying anything.

Stuff just doesn’t get that kind of reaction unless you feel guilty about err something, like say maybe selling out your country for political gain? ~ “Howie”

Never mind for the moment that knowingly making scurrilous and false statements about your political opponents is actually wrong in itself, because it is dishonest.

I would think pro-war chauvinists would know more about this, since their position is the essence of selling out the country out of loyalty to the policies of the state and a particular administration.  Do jingoes really believe that forcefully responding to disgusting and false insults reveals a guilty conscience?  By this sort of thinking, a stirring defense of a man’s innocence during a trial is actually an admission of his deep corruption and guilt.  “The lady doth protest too much” is not a very reasonable rule for political argument.  If it were, every time someone made an impassioned objection against a mischaracterisation of his view it would be tantamount to admitting that the mischaracterisation was right on.  This is…oh, what’s the right word?  Stupid? 

I guess this would mean that if war opponents started routinely accusing jingoes of a lack of patriotism and treason, they would blithely ignore it in the knowledge that they aren’t traitors.  They would only object to the charge if it was actually true.  No wonder these people believe what Bush tells them. 

But don’t those officers understand that the only real front is the home front, and the only serious battle the PR fight? Compared to the MSM and the Democrats, Al Qaeda poses only a trivial threat to our precious bodily fluids… ~Robert Farley

Farley is commenting on this report and the complaints of officers about the public comments by top commanders prior to the offensive.  While Gen. Odierno does his best to play down these complaints, they have some substance.  The story continues:

Still, he implied American commanders may have played a part by flagging the offensive in advance. “I think they were tipped off by us talking about the surge, the fact that we have a problem in Diyala Province,” he said. 

Not to dwell on the obvious too much, but “the fact we have a problem in Diyala Province” is more or less a direct result of the “surge” taking place in Baghdad.  Certainly those targeted by the “surge” in Baghdad and who have since moved into Diyala Province would have been aware, well before any public remarks were made, that there would eventually be a “surge” directed at them where they are…since they had been the targets of the “surge” in Baghdad.  This presents a basic, frequently predicted difficulty: if the targets of the “surge” are frequently leaving a place before each offensive, the securing of that place will be temporary at best and leads to other areas becoming new bases for insurgents.  This seems to be uncannily like the situation during the “hold, clear and build” months in 2006.  I also remember someone remarking years back on the clearing of Fallujah being like sweeping and spreading hot embers around so they will catch fire to many more places, which seems to be what is happening today.  Someone will still really have to explain to me how this “surge” represents anything new in terms of military tactics that differ significantly from 2004. 

I know the official line–now we’re really, really serious about training the Iraqi military and the Iraqis really have to make political progress.  Those remain the two critical pieces of the puzzle, and neither one of them is happening at anywhere near a satisfactory pace.  This sticks the military with a basically impossible task of chasing insurgents around the country with too few men in the hopes of conjuring some level of stability that will somehow facilitate a political settlement that none of the major factions seems terribly interested in creating under any circumstances.  It is therefore difficult for me to understand why it is boo-worthy when Clinton said that the Iraqis were failing to do what needed to be done on their end.  In some sense it is a cop-out for our political class as a way of avoiding their own responsibility, and it is certainly unfair, as I have said many times, to have expected Iraqis to have magically conjured up a functioning representative government with absolutely no relevant experience or political tradition on which they can rely.  That doesn’t make Iraqi failure to achieve certain levels of political cooperation and military effectiveness any less real.  It isn’t as if Iraqis have perversely desired failure, but they have been presented with a wrecked country, few resources and little relevant expertise and told by the people who helped destroy the country, “Here, you fix this–pronto!”

Here is a testy exchange between Spencer Ackerman and Eli Lake (warning: some profanity).  Suffice it to say, it seems to me that advocating still more democracy in Iraq as a way of enforcing “accountability” on Maliki is quite a bad idea, because the confessional lines have already been drawn and another round of elections would probably tend to empower even more radical elements than the ones currently in office.  Speaking about “the Iraqi people” as if such a collective group existed any longer, if it ever really existed as a national group at any point, also suggests something of a disconnect from the how people in Iraq are organising politically and how they would organise politically.  Once the main national institutions were gutted or disbanded, it is not clear how elections could have produced anything other than sectarian and ethnic fragmentation, since it was principally the institutions of the state that constituted “the Iraqi nation” and compelled different groups to belong to some common identity.  Given their druthers, whether or not most Iraqis would choose civil war as such (and most civil wars are not chosen by majorities, but are thrust upon people by political leaders), the different groups in Iraq might very well choose some sort of political separation rather than reconciliation within the same polity.  This is not just because the last few years have sharpened the divides and not just because elections have politicised religious and ethnic identity, but because there is no common national identity that can plausibly serve as the basis for political unity to which all groups wish to subscribe.  

IN THE MAIL: Col. Buzz Patterson’s War Crimes: The Left’s Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror.

I don’t think that the left wants to lose the war on terror, exactly — they just want Bush to lose the war on terror. I suspect, however, that Patterson’s theme is one that we’ll hear more in the future, especially if things go badly in Iraq [bold mine-DL]. ~Instapundit

Via Drum and Yglesias

Drum and Yglesias both noted the absurdity of the conditional phrase at the end of Reynolds’ post.  Something neither of them remarked on is the sheer gall of the book title that Reynolds lists here.  Note that he qualifies the second part of the subtitle, but not the first, which suggests that he has no strong disagreement with that part.  I would expect raving war supporters to believe that their critics want to “lose the war on terror” (except when, a la Romney, they want to accuse those critics of not even believing that it exists), but the idea that the people who are not in charge of the administration are on a campaign to “destroy our military” at the very time when the current administration is quite actively destroying our military with an open-ended, desultory military campaign is so contemptible and propagandistic that it surprises me that someone else has not already made this observation.  Perhaps progressives are so used to being browbeaten as anti-military that they no longer even bother to respond to such charges, or or perhaps they regard such things as beneath contempt and not worth answering, or perhaps they are themselves squeamish about trying to make arguments in which they play the role of superior supporters of the military.  In any case, if ever there was a charge that deserves some fierce pushback it would be this one.

And when people ask - and some do - whether America is ready for a woman president, I’m tempted to ask: Ready how exactly? Among the countries that have had women presidents would be, uh, Pakistan. ~Mike Littwin

I could think of worse comparisons, I suppose.  Ms. Bhutto’s rise to power as prime minister was not entirely unlike the one that Clinton is trying to replicate, inasmuch as neither one of them could have plausibly come anywhere near holding executive power had it not been for their husbands.  Ms. Bhutto’s first tenure also ended abruptly with the intervention of the military and then her second was brought to an end because of charges of corruption against her government, so perhaps talking about Pakistan is not the best way to discuss this question.  From the perspective of those who would like to see a woman as President, it certainly doesn’t conjure up a large number of desirable comparisons.   

Liberia and Bangladesh have also entered the glorious ranks of nations that have elected women as heads of government before America, as have India, Israel, Britain and now Germany.  Don’t forget the Philippines–they’ve already had two women presidents.  We could make a list and see what sort of countries have broken through that particular barrier and then consider whether “Let’s be more like Pakistan!” is a winning slogan.

Mr. Littwin’s trenchant analysis continues:

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found a shocking result - that only 72 percent said they would vote for a qualified Mormon nominee. The number was 88 percent for a woman and 94 percent for a black.

Shocking!  Admittedly, when I first saw the numbers from that infamous Rasmussen poll seven months ago, I was stunned at the depth of anti-Mormon feeling.  I had assumed that it would be significant, but not quite so overwhelming as the 43% refusal to vote for a Mormon.  To discover that almost one out of every two American likely voters was so opposed to Mormonism that it prevented them from voting for one was rather surprising.  Today, months and months later, this is no longer shocking. 

Religious identity does seem to matter more to religious voters than it did forty years ago, because there are more political issues that engage religious voters today and make a candidate’s religious convictions a matter of concern for voters where they may have seemed less relevant in the past.  Additionally, the less common ordinary church-going religiosity becomes in the country as a whole and the more secular and indeed anti-Christian much of American culture becomes, the more important a certain type of religious identity will become to those who see increasing secularism as a threat.  This seems counterintuitive–rising secularism should, one might think, encourage greater political ecumenism among religious conservatives, but inasmuch as combating secularism means affirming a certain kind of religious identity (be it Christian or the more PC, meaningless designation of “Judeo-Christian”) there will be built-in limits to the possibilities of building alliances with non-Christian religious conservatives.  Mormonism straddles the line, to the extent that Mormons may call themselves Christians but not be accepted by most other Christians as co-religionists, so the controversy over Mormon candidates will probably be greater than that over much more clearly non-Christian candidates. 

Then Mr. Littwin moralises:

Suddenly, this election looks like a test - of tolerance. I wonder how we’d look to ourselves if we failed.

I resent this sort of not-so-subtle moral blackmail.  The rhetoric about “tolerance” only means anything if female and minority candidates are actually judged primarily according to their qualifications and policy proposals.  Otherwise, we will be acknowledging that we have actively chosen inferior individual candidates out of a desire to not give the impression that we think female and minority candidates are inherently inferior.  In other words, if Democrats ”fail” by choosing Edwards and the Republicans “fail” by choosing, say, Fred Thompson instead of Romney or Giuliani, Mr. Littwin seems to be implying that these outcomes would have to be explained as the result of prejudice.  Mr. Littwin seems to be saying that the two primary electorates have to choose the “right” (i.e., female or minority) candidates or else they will have “failed” to be sufficiently tolerant.  This confirms that when people talk about “tolerance,” they mean, “You had better do what I say.”  Such “tolerance” is always set by default against whichever groups are or are considered to be the majority or the powerful.  “Failure” to give special consideration to someone outside those groups is deemed to be intolerance, rather than prudential judgement of the person’s ability, when allegedly the purpose of encouraging “tolerance” is to require that people give full consideration to a person’s ability without taking into account his majority or minority, in-group/out-group status.  In practice, “tolerance” is usually not the latter, but a scheme designed simply to transfer power from supposed in-groups to supposed out-groups.  It really exists for no other purpose.  

If we judged candidates purely on their merits, not only would Obama not be a “top tier” contender, but he wouldn’t have even declared for President, because he certainly lacks experience and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of policy proposals (and what policies he has proposed are rather terrible). 

Now, I’m not so naive as to believe that voters choose candidates based on anything as esoteric as experience or smart policies (where would George Bush be today if we did that?), but if we grant that identity politics is an unavoidable part of the democratic process (and it is), which can both harm and help women and minorities running for office, then we had better avoid cheap talk about the public’s intolerance when they “fail” to choose the “right” (i.e., female or minority) candidate in the primaries. 

It is close to certain that neither Clinton nor Obama would be where they are today in the polls if they did not have the advantages of being a woman and a black man respectively, as these are advantages with Democratic voters and are part of what gives these candidates their appeal and their edge.  (These things also help them with white and male voters who wish to demonstrate their political identity as progressive sorts through their support for female and minority candidates.)  To some extent, this gives them a certain appeal and an advantage with certain core Democratic constituencies that the others simply can’t duplicate.  Once they run in a general election, the things that have been advantages for them so far will be less obviously helpful and may prove to be a drag on the Democratic ticket in some parts of the country, which means that identity politics cuts both ways.  This is obvious, but apparently bears repeating.  This might be true even without Clinton’s (largely invented) reputation as a far-left liberal and Obama’s record of being just that kind of liberal. 

This result is a “failure” only in the sense that democratic politics is always a failure of the public to choose rationally the best qualified and most informed candidates, which is a central flaw in democracy itself.  Voters very often choose according to what they think their self-interest requires, but how they understand self-interest may be tied up with ideas of advancing “one of their own” to a position of power; there is a strong belief in democratic societies that you are best represented in government by “one of your own” who will in turn support your interests.  This is a question of being able to trust a candidate, and it is simply easier, as a matter of human nature, for people to trust those with whom they are better able to relate and identify.  That is the irrationality and folly of democracy.  That is also why it has an enduring appeal, even though it will consistently produce inferior government performance.  If Mr. Littwin has no argument with the way we select those who govern us, he really ought to leave the moral hectoring to someone else. 

The way for the Democrats to win, I say, is to follow the JFK model - in which a young, apparently idealistic and relentlessly forward-looking candidate offsets a tired (or, in the case of George W. Bush, wearisome) Republican administration.

This is how Bill Clinton won. It’s, of course, how Kennedy won. ~Mike Littwin

Actually, Kennedy barely won in an election that was almost certainly stolen by voter fraud in two states (Chicago, Chicago, that tottlin’ town…) and Clinton won thanks to a smartly targeted presidential race that appealed to disenchanted middle-class voters with a “centrist” economic platform and the presence of Ross Perot.  Now it’s possible that dissatisfaction with the incumbent was such that Clinton might have managed to win narrowly anyway, but the presence of Perot in the race made his victory secure.  All of the prattling about a “boy from Hope” was secondary or tertiary, if not actually irrelevant.  Arguably, it was Kennedy’s persona and performance that made the election reasonably stealable, but that is hardly what I would call a winning electoral model.  Other rather noticeable differences between Kennedy and Clinton on the one hand and Obama on the other is that the former had some considerable experience in government and Kennedy’s name had been put forward as a vice-presidential candidate in 1956.  In 2004, as we all know, Obama was running in his first federal election.  If you want young, idealistic and experienced…well, you’ll be looking for quite a while, because there is no such animal in Washington these days.

Vice President Dick Cheney has asserted his office is not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and therefore not bound by a presidential order governing the protection of classified information by government agencies, according to a new letter from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to Cheney. ~ABC News

The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, President Bush’s office is not allowing an independent federal watchdog to oversee its handling of classified national security information.

An executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 — amending an existing order — requires all government agencies that are part of the executive branch to submit to oversight. Although it doesn’t specifically say so, Bush’s order was not meant to apply to the vice president’s office or the president’s office, a White House spokesman said. ~The Los Angeles Times 

Via Bradford Plummer

The original executive order reportedly said, “Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government.”  Apparently, Messrs. Bush and Cheney are also claiming that they are not part of the United States government, or they may be admitting that they are actively rejecting democratic principles.  Either way, it doesn’t seem as if this is the sort of thing that a smart administration would do.  Corrupt and power-hungry?  Sure.  But smart?  Not so much.


The Washington Times crunches some numbers on ACU and National Journal ratings for Fred.  The Times makes the relevant point that Bill Frist was actually the more conservative (at least by ACU standards) of the Tennessean U.S. Senators when both men served together.  Of course, instead of being the Great Conservative Hope, Bill Frist is busily running Volpac and backing Fred Thompson.  The reason seems to be, as far as I can tell, that we have seen Bill Frist in action as Senate Majority Leader, and his performance made us long for the days of the staunch conviction and fighting spirit of Bob Dole.  Meanwhile, Fred Thompson got out while the getting was good, before the full onslaught of the Bush Era, and so memories of his time in the Senate are a little more blurry and bound to be suffused with warm, nostalgic feelings for the good old days when real conservatives supposedly roamed the halls of the Senate.  This obviously makes no sense.  The reality is that Frist more naturally fills the “conservative gap” in the GOP presidential field than does Fred, but was so badly compromised by his time running the Senate under Bush and the subsequent loss of the Senate in ‘06 that he ceased to be viable.  Thompson, had he remained in the Senate, would be in the exact same position politically.  It is only because he happened to separate himself from the Senate GOP before it went careening to its doom that anyone takes him at all seriously.  In terms of substance, he is actually a less compelling figure for conservatives in terms of his policy views than Bill Frist.  The reality is that Bill Frist, whatever his voting record, was an appalling failure of a conservative leader, which would hardly give anyone much confidence in his endorsement of the leadership potential of old Fred.

The use of National Journal ratings on “ideology” is much less reliable for properly understanding the relative conservatism or liberalism of a politician, since they routinely categorise pro-war, security state policies as conservative and opposition to them as liberal.  The ACU will often count things in similar ways, so that Ron Paul has the absurdly lower rating of 82.3 while Tom Tancredo rates 97.8–they differ principally over the war and the security state.  In NJ ratings, Ron Paul winds up somewhere towards the center on foreign policy because he has opposed most of the Bush Era surveillance and war measures.  Thus, Thompson’s relatively greater “conservatism” on foreign policy as recorded by NJ is slightly misleading if you do not take into account that this means that he is actually among the worse interventionists.  Likewise, his ACU rating is probably inflated by his leanings towards interventionist foreign policy.  His speech in London last week and his association with the Cheney clan confirm this tendency of his, which is probably the single greatest reason to be wary of his candidacy (if and when it is finally declared).

Newsweek’s latest poll has some interesting numbers.  Keeping in mind how little polls mean and how relatively unreliable polls of merely registered voters are, the poll shows that the four named Republican candidates continue to lose against the three named Democratic candidates, no matter the matchup.  Romney and Fred Thompson fare worse than Giuliani and McCain, but only by a half dozen points or so.  The trends in the primaries right now are moving in the opposite direction: Romney and Thompson are gaining strength, while the others are faltering.  In what seems to be some confirmation of Giuliani’s alleged “crossover” appeal, he performs slightly better among “blue state” respondents than his GOP rivals, but still loses to whichever Democrat is opposing him.  Importantly, Giuliani and McCain both perform noticeably better among red state respondents than Romney and Thompson, which may suggest that the latter two are still not well known enough or, possibly, that their candidacies somehow actually have less appeal in states that voted for Bush than those of their rivals. 

Giuliani partisans will make use of this to show that their guy is the best option for a bad election year.  However, supposing that ‘08 is going to be a losing year anyway, which is what all signs at the moment would suggest, wouldn’t Giuliani and his backers want to fail in this primary go-around and be positioned for ‘12 with the argument that the GOP failure in ‘08 was the result of sticking with the same-old, same-old rhetoric and strategy of a Romney or Thompson nomination?  (This could be a sort of reverse image of Reagan’s return as the presumptive favourite in 1979-80.)  Conversely, might not conservatives actually want a Giuliani nomination as a way to ensure that the drubbing the ticket takes in ‘08 is not attributed to the same-old, same-old strategy that the base currently seems to prefer?  Personally, I think all of the four leading GOP candidates would make pretty poor Presidents (for starters, their foreign policy views are all rather wretched or uninformed or both), so in that sense I am pretty indifferent to which bad nominee goes down to defeat.  Romney is a fraud, McCain is a jingoistic madman, Giuliani is a dangerous authoritarian and Fred Thompson now appears to be running more and more as Cheney’s proxy–it is not at all obvious to me that any one of these is the “lesser of two evils” when compared with their counterparts on the other side. 

However, the symbolism surrounding the different nominees will affect the narrative told about the election when it is over: if Giuliani were to be nominated but then lost in the general election, this would help to weaken the appeal of the idea that the “big tent” can be an electoral success, while a Romney or Thompson nomination perversely sets up a Giuliani or someone like him for ‘12 for a much easier run at the nomination and probably a better chance in the general election after the public has had some time to experience united Democratic governance once again.  Likewise, someone more like a standard conservative Republican candidate (or even someone just pretending to be one) stands a better chance of following the Reagan example of making a respectable, but ultimately failed run at the nomination this time and then returning after four years of Carteresque Obama/Edwards/Clinton rule to the rapturous applause of a grateful nation, etc.  This approach relies on the assumption that any one of the major Democratic candidates would prove to be such a disaster as President in his first term that re-election of the incumbent was far from guaranteed.  Given the major candidates on offer, I think this is a likely outcome, though Mr. Bush has been such a disaster that anyone else, no matter how poorly he performs, might appear brilliant and successful by comparison.

In what appears to be a partial confirmation of the conventional wisdom that I denounced as hallucinatory (because it made absolutely no sense), the poll shows that Republicans would be slightly more likely to vote for Bloomberg than Democrats (24% v. 19%) and it seems that more Democrats are certain (it is “not at all likely”) that they would not vote for Bloomberg than is the case with Republicans (51% for Dems v. 43% of GOP).  This may be a reflection of the attitude I described in one of my posts last week when I said that there would be Democratic resistance to a third-party run out of fears of creating another “Nader” effect that would cost the Democrats the election.  In the end, in any proposed three-way matchup Bloomberg manages to get no more than 14%.  While there is some slightly greater draw from the Republican side, I am surprised at how Bloomberg draws from both sides more or less equally.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense, and so I assume it is a function of people not knowing very much about Bloomberg.  These numbers may reflect the willingness to support any remotely competitive third-party challenge.  These numbers may actually reflect the greater Republican dissatisfaction with their candidates than it does greater Republican interest in a Bloomberg candidacy as such.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t been able to follow all the columns and editorials in the American press denouncing all this homicidal nonsense, it’s because there haven’t been any [bold mine-DL]. And, in that great silence, is a great scandal.

Is there something beyond the solidarity of the decent that ought to have impelled every commentator and editorial page in the U.S. to express unequivocal support for Sir Salman this week? ~Tim Rutten

Something occurs to me as I read this.  The first point has to be that everyone has already taken Salman Rushdie so terribly seriously for decades that many people are perhaps more than a little tired of hearing or talking about him in any context.  Goodness knows I am.  I have some difficulty feeling very sympathetic for someone who, given his background, knew perfectly well that his words would incite the responses they incited and went ahead and wrote them anyway, all the while claiming great victimhood in the process.  Obviously, the man should not be threatened with death for what he writes–that is the bare minimum fundamental to a free society–but one reason you may see fewer excited apologies for Rushdie is that he had to be a fool to write what he wrote, knowing full well what it would mean to Muslims.  Will we still be running around declaring our admiration for Ayaan Hirsi Ali in this fashion thirty years hence?  With any luck, we will have forgotten all about her, just as we may one day be free of having to hear about Salman Rushdie’s ego. 

The second point is that this claim of a “great silence” by Mr. Rutten is complete nonsense.  There have been plenty of papers that have been decrying the threats made against Rushdie, just as many people defended the Jyllands-Posten when its editor chose to publish the “Muhammad” cartoons.  More examples could undoubtedly be found, if I were inclined to waste more time tracking them down to disprove Mr. Rutten’s false hyperbole, but if both the Sun-Times and the Chronicle can agree that Britain should stand by its decisison there would seem to almost be a broad consensus across the gamut of mainstream opinion in support of Rushdie’s knighthood, or at least in support of Rushdie’s right to write whatever he might wish to write.  If it has not become a week-long obsession for all media outlets, perhaps this is because the headline, “Innocuous event occurs, Muslims claim deep offense, begin rioting” has become rather predictable and uninteresting.  Why, just today we have two columns rallying to Rushdie’s defense (while complaining about the supposed lack of concern everyone is showing), and I have yet to see anyone in this country saying that Britain should withdraw the knighthood under pressure or justifying the Muslim response to it.  If there really is less commentary on this than on other controversies, perhaps some people don’t say much about a topic because the situation seems so clear that there is no need to say anything else.  Mr. Rutten does understand that there are other things going on that may actually be more important than controversy over Salman Rushdie’s bauble, yes?  

Rutten’s memory of the controversy last year seems distinctly skewed:

You may recall that most of the American news media essentially abandoned Rose and the Danes to the fanatics’ wrath, receding into cowardly silence, as mullah after mullah called for the cartoonists’ death, mobs attacked diplomatic and cultural offices and one Muslim country after another boycotted Danish goods.

Well, no, I don’t recall that exactly, because I’m pretty sure this did not happen, just as I’m pretty sure Rutten doesn’t know what he’s talking about with respect to the response of the American news media to the recent controversy.  The only thing worse than the phoney tolerance and sensitivity that he attacks in his article is the even phonier intolerance against non-existent phoney tolerance.  It’s absolutely right to mock the pretensions of multicultis when you can actually uncover them engaging in pretentious, faux tolerance  of outrageous things.  When the reality seems to contradict this criticism, it comes off as just so much lazy media-bashing.  It would be like my saying, “Why don’t American academics speak out against the absurd attempt by some British academics to boycott Israeli academics?  This is outrageous!”  That would sound pretty good, except that many American academics have spoken out against the boycott.  If I were someone who wanted to engage in some lazy attacks about the inherent anti-Israel bias of the American academy, because this already confirms my prejudices about the academy, I would not bother to have found this out, just as Mr. Rutten seems intent on doing with the media in this country.   

A digression on this business of the proposed boycott of Israeli academics and universities: I can think of few more stupid and counterproductive efforts to a) force policy change in another country and b) advance whatever cause it is the people engaged in this boycott believe they are advancing.  Even if we all agreed that Israeli policy vis-a-vis Palestinians ought to change (and I think it should), what possible good would it accomplish to punish Israeli academics and educational institutions with international boycotts?  Are they the ones setting policy?  Of course they aren’t.  On the contrary, their members may well be among those pushing for different policies of the sort that the would-be boycotting academics want to see adopted.  Punishing Israeli academics for the mistakes or even crimes of the Israeli government is like holding Turkish academics accountable for the repression of the Turkish state, even when that repression is directed against those academics themselves.  It would be like other nations forbidding British scholars from participating in conferences because they oppose the policies of the Blair Government in Iraq, or banning American researchers from their work overseas because of something the Bush administration has done.  This is an insane, unprincipled approach and one that is almost certain to perversely strengthen domestic political support for the policies the boycotters wanted to change, as it also lends to these policies  now the respectability of being associated, in a roundabout way, with the cause of Israeli academic freedom.  Incidentally, why has Tim Rutten not actively denounced this boycott?  Silence is a scandal, or so some pretentious columnist once told me.

Rutten also mentions the higher numbers of journalist deaths during the last few years in the Iraq war than had happened during Vietnam, asking:

Why so little attention to this toll?

So little attention by whomJournalists have been paying quite a lot of attention to the deaths of their colleagues in Iraq and around the world in the last few years.  Indeed, it has been one of the distinguishing features of the Iraq war and has been the cause for a fair amount of reporting and commentary in its own right. 

If you want to find a cause for why this has received less attention, look to the usual suspects who actively vilify all of journalism as the repository of disloyalty and anti-patriotism and who consistently inspire in their audiences contempt for news reporting by complaining about its insufficiently pro-war content.  Can you imagine the outcry against ”the MSM” if they were to spend a lot of time focusing on the deaths of journalists in Iraq?  You can almost imagine some Hugh Hewitt clone, if not the master himself, saying, “Serves ‘em right for refusing to report all the good news in Iraq!”  We would see a lot of commentary talking about how these stories about journalists’ deaths are proof of why the media are undermining the war effort, and that this “explains” why the journalists are subverting the cause out of loyalty to their fellow journalists.  The thinking here would be that if the war is getting journalists killed, this would give journalists some special incentive to help end the war.  Any media critic would immediately recognise the absurdity of this, since it has been the major media that have made sure to make the possibility of withdrawing from Iraq seem absolutely crazy and irresponsible, but that wouldn’t matter to those who are already invested in the idea that all journalists in this country yearn for our defeat.  Additional coverage of the deaths of journalists would simply confirm this prejudice.   

These are the voters torn between their distrust for government and their desire for economic security - and they’re the people the GOP needs to find a new way to reach, and fast. ~Ross Douthat

This sounds familiar, and it also makes a good deal of sense.  As I have said before:

So-called “lower-middle reformism” is a necessary element for GOP success–it may not be a sufficient element. 

The numbers Ross offers in his post are fairly jaw-dropping.  The shifts of ”lower-middle” voters towards the Dems that took place between 2004 and 2006 are large and impressive.  A party dedicated to at least some mild economic populism, anti-imperialism and social conservatism would very probably thrive in this atmosphere.  Having largely ceded the first two to the Democrats by default (thus ensuring that the Democrats need not deliver in either area), Republicans are flirting with the idea of throwing the third out as well in the strange view that their adoption of a pose of Santorumesque far-sightedness and “leadership” (a.k.a., ignoring your consituents) and the embrace of deeply unpopular policies are the secrets to electoral victory.  After all, it worked so well for Santorum, why not duplicate his strategy on a national level?

Personal surveillance was conducted on Anderson and three of his staff members, including Brit Hume, now with Fox News, for two months in 1972 after Anderson wrote of the administration’s “tilt toward Pakistan.” ~The Washington Post

Via Jason Zengerle

This is beyond bizarre.  Was it supposed to be a state secret in 1972 that America “tilted” towards Pakistan, a member of CENTO whose 1971 war effort we had supported?  Was it also unknown to the general public in 1972 that Nixon had gone to China, Pakistan’s principal ally and sponsor?  For their next trick, the CIA could have kept an eye on all those infiltrators who had been leaking information about a “special relationship” with some country called Britain. 

I’m not sure we can make too much from the argument that the country has chosen the Southerner five times out of seven in the modern era. Seven is a very small sample! And several of the examples — like when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in 1976 — are much more easily attributed to historical context. ~Marc Ambinder

This seems right to me.  Leave aside for now the silliness of counting an Eastern transplant such as Bush as a representative of the South.  This was part of the reason why I insisted on pointing out the sheer lack of elected Southern Presidents between 1849 1850 and 1965.  For those keeping track at home, there were exactly two Presidents who took over because of the deaths of their predecessors who hailed from Confederate states at the time they took office (Wilson was a Virginian by birth, but didn’t live there for very long), and there was only one other who was elected while hailing from below the technical Mason-Dixon line.  That would be Harry Truman, who was about as Southern as I am Kenyan–and who only enjoyed his position as incumbent President because of FDR’s demise.  Untimely Yankee President deaths put more Southerners (very broadly defined) into the White House than voters did for over a century.  Until 1964, no one from the states that made up the Old Confederacy was actually elected to that position since Young Hickory Zachary Taylor  That is rather staggering when you think about it (of course, it can be readily explained by the greater population of the Northern states, the War, Reconstruction, etc.).  

Is it possible to imagine a similar span of time in which no one from the states making up the United States, c. 1865, had won the Presidency for 100 years?  Of course it isn’t.  Consider where most declared presidential candidates come from in each cycle: only a handful come from Southern states.  Lately, they have enjoyed success for specific, explicable reasons (it seems to me that Bush v. Gore had more to do with the 2000 election outcome than anti-Yankee sentiment, especially since both candidates were technically Southerners).  Complaining about this would be a bit like someone complaining in 1911 that the sinister New York-Ohio axis had dominated American politics for decades (from 1877 until 1913, every President but one–Benjamin Harrison–came from one of these two states), which would be to ignore all of the reasons why these were centers of political power for the two parties.  Only with Woodrow Wilson were we finally ”freed” from the grinding oppression of New York and Ohio, and that didn’t exactly work out all that well for the country.  

The 2008 field alone practically guarantees Yankee domination for years to come.  The Dems have one Southerner running and the GOP has a potential of three, if Fred will deign to grace us with his lofty presence.  This is actually backwards from the way it should be if the parties wanted to maximise their chances: the Dems need to be running relatively more Southerners and the GOP needs relatively fewer such candidates.  The South is more or less a lock for the GOP in any case, not because they only respond to Southern candidates or refuse to vote for Yankees (which is an unsupportable thesis), but because they prefer GOP candidates who will talk to them in their idiom (even if it is done in a condescending, “I have to please the rubes” way) and pay lip service to their concerns.  Granted, the GOP mostly just pays lip service to their concerns, but lip service is sometimes enough to keep voters loyal.  It works with Democrats and black voters, so why not Republicans and Southern whites? 

Indeed, the Founders didn’t really anticipate parties at all. But they did expect what Alexander Hamilton called “factions,” recognizing that our democratic republic couldn’t work without them. ~Jonah Goldberg

Well, yes and no.  Putting it as Goldberg has put it gives the somewhat incorrect impression that the Founders saw faction as something necessary and perhaps even good.  In fact, they believed factions were necessary to republican government only insofar as they were unavoidable.  The Federalists took it as a given that factions would exist, because they recognised a variety of competing interests in any society determined by wealth, habits, region, religion and so on.  They believed it was necessary to harness what they regarded as a potentially very pernicious human inclination to factionalism and division and regulate the competition of interests through the balances of mixed government.  In this they participating in a long British tradition of seeking to check and oppose the influence of faction on the workings of government.  Hatred of faction suffuses 18th century radical Whig and Tory thought alike, and our Founders inherited this.  Most everyone could agree that faction was inescapable, but most also recognised that it was a threat to republican government, and they were not wrong about this.  That does not mean that we should run towards the dismal swamps of Bloomberg, Broder and Obama (to take three examples of people who have never encountered a saccharine appeal to bipartisanship they didn’t like), where we are all united in our supreme contempt for conviction and our deep disdain for difference.  On the insanity of this Bloombergism, this Obamaian ”transformation” of our politics, and probably only on this, Goldberg and I agree. 

Mixed government was supposed to provide for the healthy coordination and balancing of all interests of the commonwealth and needed to be governed by those who placed a higher priority on the interests of the whole.  The purpose of Federalist No. 10 was to argue that the proposed federal union would provide a “republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government,” namely those of faction, because the authors of The Federalist were convinced that faction, left unchecked, would wreck any republic.  Arguably, the Federalists had the solution completely backwards.  They managed to create a system in which the power of faction was exaggerated by concentrating more power in the center and bringing the clash of diverse interests into the federal government, ultimately to the detriment of the Union and the common good.  The viability of an extensive republic–a key element of the Federalist position–was all but disproven in the next century.  Expansion introduced and exacerbated the very factionalism that the extensive republic was supposed to curb.  Instead of weakening the power of factions, expansion consolidated the interests of huge regions into blocs and pitted them against one another in a contest with high stakes.  The increased incentives for preeminence and power offered by the territories acquired through expansion ensured that the spirit of party would reach the point where the Union was no longer workable as a Union and had to either break apart or be reduced to a consolidated state.  In all of this, American liberty was the loser, partly because the Federalists actually underestimated the dangers of faction in the political system they were constructing.  As it turns out, faction is actually much less dangerous in a highly decentralised system, since the “disease” of faction is less easily spread. 

There is an additional reason why the “centrism” of “independents” is such a fraud: it is premised on the bizarre, almost inexplicable belief that the two parties in this country have both become extremist.  They are obviously at odds, but only in the way that brothers in the same family are rivals with each other for preeminence in the family.  If the Founders were here and had to describe our system of government, they would be hard pressed to label it as something other than an oligarchy.  On any number of controversial major policy issues, the actual differences between the major parties are so miniscule that they are hardly worth mentioning.  The parties do not reflect consensus on these matters–they construct this consensus, or rather impose it on the majority that effectively goes unrepresented as a result.  The areas where there is the greatest cultural and political disagreement are those that have been ceded to the courts’ jurisdiction.  If the people in the country are deeply, sharply divided, on a broad range of issues the party establishments are very comfortable with collaborating and agreeing with one another.  Immigration is one of the issues that starkly illuminates the division between Republican party leaders and their constituents, but this divide between the parties as institutions and those whom the parties claim to represent happens again and again. 

Yglesias points to this Romney nonsense and makes some good points.  Part of the presentation is hilarious (and disturbing in its ignorance), as he describes the goals of “terror groups” with “common enemies and common goals.”  One of these common goals is:

Eliminate Israel and defeat the Modernity.

Is the Modernity related to the Singularity?  Is it the name of a band?  If you take away the definite article, the statement is reduced to absurdity (and its connection with hostility to Israel is bizarre anyway, as if the two “goals” were intimately related), because then it becomes “defeat modernity,” which is to say literally, “they want to defeat the present time.”  But they live in the present time, so they would also be defeating themselves, which seems unproductive. 

Clearly, “the Modernity” doesn’t mean anything.  Yes, taken abstractly, “modernity” (not capitalised) entails a number of habits and attitudes, and many of the habits of Western modernity are quite alien to the habits of Islamic modernity (obviously) and modern Muslims of a certain stripe are especially put out by Western modernity and the works of modern Westerners.  To say that they want to “defeat the Modernity” is like saying that this was the goal of the Ottomans or the Self-Strengthening Movement or any of the anti-Western forces in the rest of the world that sought to appropriate certain elements of modern understanding and technique for their own purposes. 

This is all worth getting into a little bit, because as much as anti-modern reactionaries such as I will talk about the evils of modernity, taken in the abstract, there is no one modernity and I think reactionaries understand this perhaps better than some.  When some of us refer generically to “modernity,” we are referring very specifically to the effects of certain philosophical and political ideas within Western civilisation over the past 300-500 years.  Modernity really does mean something else in other parts of the world.  

There are modern mentalities significantly different from medieval ones, and there are postmodern mentalities different from the modern.  Despite much heavy breathing about jihadi “medievalism,” Salafist jihadis are not interested in the reality of the world of medieval Islam, because so much of this period is filled with periods of anarchy, defeat and religious change that they would not want to return to in any case.  Not entirely unlike the most radical Reformers, the only thing worth returning to is the pristine, original period at the very beginning.  Everything after that is decline and corruption.  Once religion has been part of history for too long, the thinking has seemed to be, it is sullied by its contact with people and their efforts to reproduce and interpret the religion.  Such people are interested in an imaginary reconstruction of what pure Islam must have been like, while at the same time relying on all of the traditional foundations that, according to their own criticism, would have to be the product of later, degenerate ages if they admitted the reality of historical change and evolution of doctrine.  This is the perfect expression of a modern mind and a typical characteristic of ”mass man”: the one who does not understand the system in which he lives, does not know how it came about, wants to overthrow this or that part of it and yet believes at the same time that he is entitled to the continued flow of benefits from the very structures he wants to destroy. 

Yglesias makes sense when he says:

Nor does asserting that Islamism writ large represents an attempt to “defeat the Modernity” seem like an especially cool, calm effort to face reality. Indeed, if we were faced with a genuinely anti-modern movement — an Islamic version of the Amish, say — we presumably wouldn’t need to have any quarrel with people like that or anything in particular to fear from them.

Quite right.  Islamic fundamentalism is, like all fundamentalisms of the last four or five hundred years, actually quite modern in its repudiation of inherited institutions, customs and the accretions of time.  Romney’s description of the “conservative view” of the conflict we are in seems as if it is the half-digested musings of someone (or his staff) who doesn’t actually know anything about these things but has learned the proper buzzwords.  One of the favourite words of many on the right these days is modernity, which they apparently embrace in all its folly and which is supposed to be the thing we are fighting to defend against “medieval” outsiders.  The absurdity of putatively traditionalist people lauding the virtues of modernity, which is right up there with conservatives calling themselves classical liberals on the list of things that annoy me greatly, should be clear to all.   

But Thompson, Allen said, is “resonating with people” because he espouses the “realization that all wisdom’s not in Washington — in fact, little wisdom’s in Washington.” ~The Hill

Fred would certainly know this, since he has spent plenty of his life in and around Washington.  Of course, if little wisdom is in Washington, what exactly does Fred have to offer?  His impeccable Hollywood, outsider credentials?

In 1971, John Kerry told a Senate committee that “We found [in Vietnam that] most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy.” Now it is accepted on both sides of the aisle that the Vietnamese desire and deserve political freedom. There is bipartisan recognition that freedom is a universal human aspiration. ~Brendan Miniter

Consider Kerry’s point: communism and democracy both claim to offer equality, freedom and some measure of justice, and both of them say many of the same kinds of things about people’s government and the will of the people.  Much of this is fairly superficial, but for people who had limited experience, if any, with either system the differences might very well have been obscure.  For the average peasant or townsman in Vietnam, the differences probably would have seemed irrelevant–what mattered was who threatened his home, his means of supporting himself and his way of life as he understood it.  In Vietnam, c. 1965-71, would the average Vietnamese nationalist, for example, have been terribly concerned or aware of the differences?  More to the point, would he have cared?  Would he have not, as a nationalist, sided with the revolutionary force dedicated to national independence and unification or indeed anything not associated with yet another foreign power?  As we all ought to understand perfectly well in this country, nationalism frequently trumps the desire for freedom.  That doesn’t mean that the desire doesn’t exist, but that there are often stronger, more meaningful desires out there. 

We are confronted in Miniter’s column with the utterly irrelevant observation that all people want freedom.  Yes, in some sense, all people want freedom for themselves, but there are surprisingly few who can stand other people to have it in equal measure.  In some cases, this is because they lack a complete appreciation for what freedom entails; in other cases, it is because the extension of equal freedom to all in every circumstance is crazy and socially destructive.  We place prudential limits on the freedom of some rather than others all the time based on common sense, experience and priorities that have nothing to do with freedom. 

In any case, aspiring and acquiring are hardly the same thing, and keeping freedom is even trickier and apparently a very rare skill.  That an aspiration for freedom has nothing to do with the content of Kerry’s quote should be obvious.  Whether or not people in Vietnam, or Congo or Zimbabwe “deserve” freedom is almost beside the point.  Suppose that we all agree that they “deserve” it and even “desire” it–then what?  Is it on to Harare with the 82nd Airborne?  Perhaps subvert the government by backing the MDC?  Even if that “succeeds” in toppling the government and introducing reformers into positions of power, why does anyone think that the proper institutions that safeguard liberty would be created?  If it can be done, it is for the people in other countries to do it for themselves.  Indeed, that is the surest way to make sure that it is founded on organically evolved institutions that are consistent with the habits and mentality of that people.  That takes an enormous amount of time, perhaps many generations, and if blatant, public assistance from a foreign power makes the work of reformers in other countries  more difficult that assistance isn’t really assistance at all, but precisely the kind of moral posturing at which contributors to The Wall Street Journal excel. 

The easiest way to expose liberal democracy–and here I mean a genuine representative, constitutional and popular government, not the fraudulent oligarchies that Washington backs in every corner of the world–to dire threats from nationalist and sectarian backlash is by associating with foreigners and unbelievers, which simply confirms everything that these people believe about anything to do with freedom: that it is designed by foreigners as a way to rob and exploit their country, impose puppet governments on them and corrupt their national traditions. 


Well, don’t I feel stupid!  The Rumi referred to in my Arabic workbook is Ibn al-Rumi, a fact which I completely ignored as I was writing my earlier post.  That would explain why they refer to him as being of Byzantine background, because Ibn al-Rumi was of Greek descent and did live in the 9th century. 

In fairness, this Ibn al-Rumi was, as I have discovered, a native of Baghdad and has a rather indirect connection to Rum in any case.  This makes the claim about a “Byzantine background” for him a little odd.  Next time, I’ll be a bit slower to jump to conclusions.  Such are the perils of the blog.

Last week, our NBC/WSJ poll showed President Bush at his lowest approval rating since taking office — 29 percent. It just got lower. A Newsweek poll out today shows that just 26 percent of all Americans – only about one in four — approves of the job Bush is doing; 65 percent disapprove, including a third of all Republicans. ~MSNBC

After I had noted that Mr. Bush’s ratings have plummeted below the Truman Line, I happened on an old item from before the midterms that seems even more relevant now:

In the midterm elections of 1950, the president’s party, the Democrats, lost 29 House seats and six Senate seats. Eerily, those numbers are in the plausible upper reaches of the Beltway consensus about the amount [sic] of seats Republicans will lose on Nov. 7.

Those numbers are eerily similar to the 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats that changed hands in ‘06.  That lends a little more support to the idea that this upcoming election is going to be more like 1952 than it will be like 1968.  Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency, indeed. 

1952 was obviously a win in the presidential election for the non-incumbent party, but what does another 1952 portend for Congressional elections?  In 1952, the Republicans gained 22 seats in the House and two seats in the Senate.  If the Democrats were to duplicate that next year, they would have 255 in the House and 53 in the Senate.  However, there is good reason to think that ‘08 is going to be more of a bloodbath for the Congressional GOP than 1952 was for the Democrats.

Since Bush’s ratings are now potentially on the verge of going into the sub-Nixon basement, a place so dark and dank that no one still alive knows what it might mean for the upcoming election, 1974 seems more and more plausible as a point of comparison.  Taking into account all of the normal caveats (gerrymandering is worse, incumbency is harder to overcome, etc.), a 1974-like 48-seat loss by the GOP would certainly push them back towards late 1970s-era numbers in the House (154).  The GOP lost 3 Senate seats that year as well, which seems like a more reasonable number of Democratic pickups next year between the open Colorado seat and vulnerable moderate Republicans all over the map. 

Ambinder compares the foreign policy proposals of Edwards and Romney and finds them to be strikingly similar.  There is certainly something to this, since they have a number of similar items, and I will say more on this in a minute.  If it is also true, as Hiatt argued earlier this month, that Obama and Romney are both robustly interventionist and largely on the same page in defining the American role in the world, that means that the relative “outsiders” or “reformers” in the “top tiers” of the two fields are all as firmly ensconced in the foreign policy consensus of Washington as the three establishmentarian goons are.  That is not really surprising, but it is interesting to see it confirmed so clearly and in such a way that the consensus can even embrace that great “leftist” Edwards and the jingoes on the other side.  If George Ajjan is right (he is) that Obama and Romney’s respective Foreign Affairs articles are demonstrations of embarrassing naivete and ignorance consistent with their general worldviews, this probably doesn’t speak well for Edwards, either, since he seems to be so close to Romney. 

But there is actually something to one element of Edwards’ position that makes me think, bizarrely enough, that he may be slightly less horrible than the other five media-supported candidates.  Edwards has explained his “bumper sticker” criticism with the following:

The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe. It’s a bumper sticker, not a plan. It has damaged our alliances and weakened our standing in the world. As a political “frame,” it’s been used to justify everything from the Iraq War to Guantanamo to illegal spying on the American people. It’s even been used by this White House as a partisan weapon to bludgeon their political opponents. Whether by manipulating threat levels leading up to elections, or by deeming opponents “weak on terror,” they have shown no hesitation whatsoever about using fear to divide.

This makes a good deal of sense, since this is what the administration has done.  It has taken a threat, which is quite real, and exploited it for maximum political gain in the most cynical and appalling ways.  Romney seems to approve of this sort of fearmongering and has perfected his Anti-Jihadism For Dummies rhetoric by being able, in the best semi-educated fashion, to rattle off the names of foreign groups and countries about which he knows nothing.  In practical terms, however, it isn’t clear what the big differences–besides, obviously, Iraq–between the foreign policies of the leading six candidates are.  The biggest difference may be between the others and Giuliani, of course, since he doesn’t have a foreign policy that goes beyond talking about himself and what a wonderful leader he is.

According to a new study by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s sociology department, Americans are generally positive — even optimistic — about the word ‘diversity,’ but when asked, even those working in the field of race relations have trouble describing diversity’s value and stumble when giving real life examples.

The desire to appear color-blind leads most Americans to prefer the standardized language of diversity-speak when addressing issues of race, rather than the other way around. The researchers conclude that American diversity-speak is a sort of ‘happy talk,’ an upbeat language in which everyone has a place, everyone is welcome and even celebrated. ~University of Minnesota press release

Via Steve Sailer

The best part of the release had to be this finding:

Also regardless of race, Americans’ definition of diversity places white people at the neutral center and all other groups of people as outside contributors.

That should give everyone pause.  Multicultis who believe that they are engaged in anything other than a rather embarrassing tokenism need to reflect on this conception of diversity that everyone seems to share.  Others who claim to prize imagined diversity but lament the disordering consequences of actual diversity should reconsider their embrace of the “happy-talk.”  Obviously, entire books could be written about the absurdity of any group of people constituting a “neutral center.”  No group of people is a “neutral center,” nor should any group of people, however vaguely defined, wish to be.  A “neutral center” is effectively an open space, a blank canvas, a shell without content, waiting to be improved upon and filled by something else.   

Perhaps more valuable for future discussion is this part:

The study also found that most Americans use platitudes when describing diversity. “The topic of race lies outside the realm of polite conversation,” said Bell. “Everyone in the study — regardless of race, political affiliation and even level of rhetorical ability — had real trouble talking about the inequities and injustices that typically accompany diversity in the United States.”


Dave Weigel reports that Hewitt’s Victory (for Democrats) Caucus has all but sputtered and died.  So much for the rise of the conservative MoveOn!  Perhaps someone pointed out to Hewitt how amazingly stupid it would be to actively subvert his own side in what will already be an extremely difficult election for Republicans.  On the other hand, that probably would have just encouraged  him to keep doing it.  My guess is that he has a book to promote and he has to do the rounds on behalf of his magnificent fraud of a candidate for President, so he can’t be bothered with enforcing the party line.

The Rove GOP has encouraged explicitly religious criteria for policies and candidates.  Why would this strategy not backfire against a non-evangelical Christian? ~Andrew Sullivan

Yeah, all of this prejudice against Sam Brownback is outra…oh, wait, he’s talking about Romney, who isn’t a Christian.  He is a Mormon.  Obviously.  That strikes me as being slightly relevant to the question at hand, since at least that claim about Mormonism’s non-Christian nature is actually easy to substantiate.  The argument Romneyites and those opposed to anti-Mormonism need to make is that it is somehow actually wrong for Christians to refuse to vote for non-Christians on primarily religious grounds.  They can’t make such an argument without slinging the charge of bigotry, which is a charge that is for the most part ridiculous and unfounded, and so they either don’t talk about it or they just whine about how unfair it is.

Nobody else has a proxy-theocolonial relationship with nonstate terrorist armies. ~James Poulos

Nobody except Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Albania, to name a few that spring to mind (you could certainly argue the “theo” part for Venezuela, but everything else fits)–unless we don’t count the funding and arming of terrorist proxies who wage jihad or (allegedly) fight for Christ.  That doesn’t even get us into the rest of Africa.  East and Central African states that engage in this kind of proxy support for terrorist armies, who wave the Bible with one hand and carry an AK with the other, are virtually a dime a dozen.  Like everything else related to Africa, this is Not Supposed To Count, because we know that the only threats to international stability come from Muslims in very specific parts of the world.

Nobody else is working so diligently and flauntingly toward nuclear armament.

Except for North Korea.

And nobody else is publicly advocating the obliteration from the planet of another state.

So the one thing that might be said to be unique about Iranian foreign policy is that its elected, relatively powerless President, who does not set Iranian foreign policy and has no control over its arsenal, has given uniquely aggressive speeches.  Well, in that case, let us tremble and be afraid.   

Update: Plus, there’s also this to consider.

A reader has alerted me to the pending nuptials of this blog’s heroine, Rani Mukherjee, to director Adi Chopra.  As much of a blow as this is, I congratulate them (shaadi mubarako) and offer this final tribute to Rani, mera dil ki rani, mere sapno ki rani.

Update: Alex Massie gives me a reason to hope that the first reports are untrue.

Consider a somewhat different case, a stylized representation of history. Say instead of “low-skill” Mexican workers migrating in large numbers to the United States we were instead talking about Scots-Irish United Statesians migrating from the American South into hospitable regions of northwestern Mexico [sic]. And let’s say these women and men were relatively “high-skill” as compared to the relatively sparse indigenous population. A group of Mexicans, determined Rawlsian nationalists, are concerned about the long-term consequences of this “high-skill” influx. Some hysterically conclude that the Americans have long-term irredentist designs, and that the “Texicans” are bent on secession or filibuster.

Now, my strong suspicion is that Will Wilkinson, as an active and vocal participant in Mexican public life, would forcefully argue that the Texicans have every right to settle in northwestern Mexico, and he’d have a strong case. (Moreover, I sense he’d be firmly opposed to an armed Mexican intervention designed to prevent the “Texicans” from seceding, particularly if a majority in the relevant region endorsed independence.) Of course, this migration is taking place in a context that raises a whole host of non-obvious questions.

Now, there is a powerful rejoinder to this fairly silly example, namely that Mexican immigrants in the United States do not have the relative power or influence they’d need to have as consequential an effect on, say, the territorial integrity of the United States. I mean, as we all know Mexican immigrants come to the United States to work and succeed, and they come because they are mostly supportive of U.S. institutions and even mores, which more or less allow them to work and succeed. ~Reihan Salam

Reihan’s monster post written in response to Will Wilkinson is worth a look, though it is as vast as the open spaces of Texico itself (I’m one to talk about long posts!).  This discussion of Texicans is interesting, since it reminds us of a few things.  First, it reminds us that political culture is an important factor for determining how well immigrants and natives will get along, and may be the source of future conflict or separatism if the rival cultures are sufficiently at odds.  The Texicans believed that they were defending their rights under the Mexican constitution by rebelling: they had a tradition in which there was a well-practiced right to rebel that they had inherited from the early republican American generations, while their counterparts on the other side took a less enthusiastic view of conservative revolution.  The actual causes of the Texan War of Independence also remind us that immigration into marginal lands or border territories of a large state can, over a period of time, lead to increased friction between center and periphery that can lead to outright rebellion in the event that the center seeks to (re)assert control over the borderlands.  This is what happened in the actual rebellions of the 1830s, which occurred not only in Texas but in Rio Arriba in New Mexico and in California.  Where the local rebels in the latter two cases failed, the Texicans succeeded because they were better organised, had a coherent political inheritance that informed the structure of their rebel government and enjoyed a supply of men and materiale from U.S. territories to the east.  Centralist policies were the proximate cause, but fundamentally divergent political cultures were ultimately the reason for the conflict. 

Today few are really contemplating the rise of Aztlan or anything comparable, but then again forty years ago no one supposed that Kosovo would ever be majority Albanian or in any danger of breaking away from Serbia and being recognised as an independent state.  Demographic and ethnic changes actually do matter to political life, since they remake the nature of the polity by transforming who the citizenry is. 

It is perhaps a little easier to acknowledge this and recognise it as a problem when it is happening elsewhere, but the same processes occur all around the world.  We are not immune from history; our so-called “melting pot” is not some cauldron for cooking up magical recipes that free us from the consequences of mass lawlessness. 

In the end, armed struggle may not be necessary at all for the new settlers.  Secession and/or irredenta may be unnecessary as well, since the means for advantageous political transformation are readily within reach for those who become citizens here.  There is no need to take forcibly what you can vote in your own control.   

A future citizenry may have absolutely no interest in any of the freedoms we still attempt, however ineffectively in many cases, to preserve, or a sufficiently large number of citizens will be willing to endorse the worst in demagoguery and authoritarianism if it gets them what they want.  This is always a danger in democracy, but it seems particularly unwise to engineer things so as to maximise the likelihood of this outcome.  This is what open borders advocates seem willing to see created–for the sake of so-called “rights.”  

Once again, they [conservatives] are enchanted by the banal. They seem unmoved by his [Thompson’s] lack of accomplishment in any field of endeavor other than acting.  The highlights of his Senate record seem to be a single bill to track wasteful spending, an ineptly run investigation on illegal Chinese campaign contributions and stewardship of a McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill that most of them despise. ~Jennifer Rubin

The Democratic candidates debate only the purity of one another’s antiwar stance: Whose denunciation of the war came first? Whose goes the furthest? ~Jeff Jacoby

Mr. Jacoby attempts the impossible: to use the Republican presidential field’s views on the Iraq war and foreign policy as vindication of the ever-popular ”intellectual diversity on the right, mindless conformity on the left” trope.  Intriguingly, The American Conservative and Ron Paul receive mentions that might almost be called respectful–which would be to ignore a sort of cordon sanitaire erected against the former by much of the “respectable” right and the vehement and widespread denunciations of Ron Paul by the ”mainstream” conservative pundits.  Antiwar conservatives are now useful to mainstream pundits to serve as an exhibit to show off to the crowd: “Look, we have our very own war opponents!”  Perhaps if someone had been living in a cave for the last six years and emerged this week, he might be persuaded that foreign policy debate was sweeping through the GOP like wildfire.  On the contrary, anyone who has watched all three debates to date can tell you how mind-numbingly similar nine of the ten candidates are.  Brownback’s tripartition plan and Tommy Thompson’s three-point plan make vague gestures in the direction of a change, but have no fundamental disagreements overall on foreign policy or Iraq.  Like some of the disagreements on the Democratic side, theirs are arguments over how to pursue the same policy, not substantial disagreements of principle.  The lone principled opponent of the GOP field’s foreign policy views is Ron Paul.  Nine of the candidates, plus perhaps Fred Thompson, have virtually no differences between them.  On torture, eight of the ten agree (and I have a sneaking suspicion Fred would frown one of those hounddog frowns of his and say something about how it is a shame that terrible things have to be done to keep liberty alive, etc.). 

I won’t pretend that the Democratic side is exactly a free-for-all of exciting and vigorous debate, since this would be preposterous nonsense.  Modern political parties abhor exciting and vigorous debate for the same reason monopolies abhor competition: it forces them to operate at greater and greater efficiencies, it creates uncertainty and potentially threatens their control of the market by opening up the market to alternatives beyond the approved handful of products.  This would also be the sort of spin that partisans engage in and I am hardly one of those.  However, as an antiwar conservative who knows Mr. Jacoby is generally quite wrong about the diversity of conservative thought on Iraq and foreign policy, and as someone who has followed the foreign policy debate on the other side to some degree, I believe I have to call Jacoby on his rather gross exaggeration.  The point here is to get at the truth and understand the political reality before us.  Conservatives need to do this more than anyone else.  It seems to me that the last thing the right needs is more self-delusion about its intellectual vitality and freshness, since it was exactly this kind of overconfidence, complacency, laziness and groupthink that helped get the conservative movement into the present predicament.  Continuing to slap themselves on the back by pretending that they are at the center of a dynamic and lively exchange of ideas is probably one of the most certain routes to further disasters American conservatives can take.  This myth of the right’s present intellectual diversity only helps to reinforce the instincts towards conformity that have so crippled conservative thinking.  To have a mainstream conservative pundit peddling this junk is bad news for the right. 

If Jacoby can cite TAC and the Standard as opposing magazines on the right as proof of the vast diversity of opinion among conservatives, for every Washington Monthly war opponent you could probably name a New Republic editor war supporter.  As I talk about in my TAC article (sorry, not online) this week, there have been neoliberal hawks and antiwar neoliberals.  Democratic political and policy leaders are actually still divided over the broader contours of foreign policy, but on the question of where the left is with respect to Iraq today you have almost a reverse image of the right: a small band of war supporters, outnumbered and almost overwhelmed by opponents.   

The broad base of the Democratic Party opposed the war early on, and it has been only in fits and starts that many of their pundits have caught up with where their constituents were years ago.  As conservative support for the war has waned, there have been a few changes of mind by pundits on the right and a handful of GOP Congressmen, but the majority of the party continues to support the war and their pundits and activists are typically in agreeement with this majority.  On the Democratic side in the presidential race, you have almost every position ranging from Joe Biden, who voted for the war supplemental and remains the pompous voice of establishmentarian Democratic hawks on all other matters, to Dennis Kucinich, who opposes war itself as an instrument of policy, and Mike Gravel, who sees the other candidates as madmen bent on attacking Iran.  On foreign policy generally, you can find Barack “‘Every Ailing Indonesian Chicken Is A Security Threat” Obama and Dennis Kucinich proposing, for the umpteenth time, the Department of Peace.  Gravel’s fears about his fellow candidates are not entirely unfounded, since Iraq policy is probably the only specific foreign policy matter on which there is some relatively “dovish” consensus, while views on Iran seem to cover almost the entire range of options (stopping short of the majority of the GOP field’s openness to using tactical nukes–but not clearly enough to satisfy the former Senator from Alaska).  In short, there is debate over fundamental differences aplenty on the left.  It is possible to find similar disagreements over basic assumptions on the right (on immigration, for example), but it is very hard to find much of that when it comes to discussions of foreign policy. 

Statist liberals often worry about the destabilizing effects of income inequality. Statist conservatives often worry about the destabilizing effects of cultural change. Ross evidently worries about both, which puts him at odds with cosmopolitan dynamism on two separate fronts. ~Will Wilkinson


It also puts him on the right side of both questions, since “cosmopolitan dynamism” is just an elaborate phrase for exploitation and upheaval.

Continuing to meddle in a controversy to which I was not invited, I give you something new from Will Wilkinson:

The ultimate reason to endorse liberal principles is that adherence to them produces conditions under which human beings are most likely to thrive (according to the broadest variety of different conceptions of thriving).

That’s interesting, since I am equally confident that rejecting liberal (and I do mean liberal in a broad sense) principles and organising social and political life according to the principle of good order and in defense of the Permanent Things are vital to providing the conditions under which human beings are most likely to thrive (decidedly not according to the broadest variety of different conceptions of thriving).  Plainly, freedom is not the moral baseline.  Freedom presupposes a moral order that entails other, prior obligations between kin and between fellow citizens.  Within a polity, fellow citizens have more obligations to one another than they have to non-citizens.  Even if the net benefits of a policy accrue to many citizens and non-citizens, but come at the expense of fellow citizens, it is very likely unjust and contrary to the obligations that members of a polity have towards one another.  For the success of any polity in providing for the welfare of its members, there must be a certain degree of solidarity, and it is those things leading towards social fragmentation and disunity that need to be justified.  Incidentally, on this point Christian social thought has much to say and has ample room for a solidaristic, patriotic nationalism.

Not only are concrete freedoms inconceivable without such a moral order, but without the fulfillment of these obligations such freedom is about as meaningful as paint on a tomb.  Besides, what does it profit a man to gain cheap commodities and inexpensive servants if he loses his country? 

I can’t begin to tell you how tired I am of the South’s victim complex. Five of our last seven presidents have been from the South and the other two have been from the Southwest — and the reason, as near as I can tell, is that most Southerners just flatly refuse to vote for anyone who comes from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And yet, somehow, it’s the rest of us who are supposedly intolerant of Southern culture. Feh. ~Kevin Drum

Of course, Northerners and Northeasterners are intolerant of Southern culture and have no problem saying so all the time.  Southerners used to vote for Northern Democratic nominees as recently as 1960, back when the Democratic Party actually saw fit to represent the interests of Southern Democrats.  It is amusing to hear this complaint from Northeasterners, who continue to dominate the country culturally, politically and economically far out of all proportion to their numbers.  They have the bulk of the financial and political establishment, and together with their kindred spirits in California they run most of the media and entertainment empires in this country, and they feel put upon by a few Southern Presidents?  Cry me a river.  The South and the Sun Belt are where a huge percentage of Americans resides, and they have moved there because they have grown tired of the way things are done in the North.  Besides, before LBJ the last  President who originally hailed from part of the Old Confederacy was Wilson (inasmuch as he was born in Virginia); before Wilson, you have to go back to Andrew Johnson, and the last Southern President before him was Polk.  The majority of U.S. Presidents has been one kind of Yankee or another, so stop the complaining already.

Also, since when is California part of the Southwest?  We Southwesterners don’t claim it.  It’s a Pacific state, and very un-Southwestern.  This is clear enough, since the vast majority of Californians lives west of the Mojave and the San Joaquin Valley.  The only connection we Southwesterners have with them is that lots of Californians keep coming to our states to get away from, well, everything that makes California what it is. 

Yeah, there’s no parallel here at all [between 1992 and today] is there? There’s no fiscal problem in Washington unaddressed by both parties, is there? Traditional conservatives have not deserted Bush, have they? He’s not regarded as Carter was, is he (his ratings are, in fact, lower)? And when a sane, secular candidate promises to tackle entitlement spending and climate change, no fiscal conservatives will warm to him, will they? Naah. ~Andrew Sullivan

There is certainly an opening for someone, but it isn’t at all clear that Bloomberg, even if he were going to run (which he isn’t–that’s the last time I’ll mention it today), is the one to exploit that opening.  Besides, if people want change, the Democratic candidates are at least vaguely gesturing towards it.  I have no illusions that the two party establishments are very far apart or opposed on many things, but this is the very reason why I see absolutely no appeal for a “centrist” candidate whose chief complaint is about the excess of partisanship.  Surely, if change is what the public wants people should support rather more radical alternatives than the ho-hum leading candidates. 

“Centrism” is a very nasty thing to behold when it is at work.  It is not actually pragmatic, despite its claims to be non-ideological, but takes as its non-negotiable positions a commitment to serving the interests of the political and economic establishment.  It is the ideology of the elite.  It is the pursuit of the receding middle ground, towards which all “centrists” strive–if only they could escape a world of partisanship and contention (a.k.a., politics) for the far, green country of blue-ribbon commissions, Tom Friedman columns and conferences at Brookings, all would be well.  The main legislative effort on the agenda today that is dangerously close to advancing is the immigration bill in the Senate–that is the evil that bipartisanship and consensus cause.  Most Americans don’t care for the bill, but horrid bipartisanship and the rhetoric of  ”tackling important issues” and ”getting things done” are threatening to impose it on us.  Bloomberg’s candidacy, if it were to come about, would be more of this, but with hundreds of millions of dollars behind it. 

Besides, anybody can already campaign on fiscal restraint.  If you want that, vote for McCain–he at least talks about it fairly often and he might even mean what he says.  More to the point, a purely budget-balancing candidacy might pull 10% in a year where dissatisfaction with both parties is high, but for ‘08 there is a strong trend away from one party and towards another.  The opening for just any independent is not nearly as large as it might at first appear to be.  It would have to be just the right kind of independent.  It would have to be someone who can exploit the broader dissatisfaction with the two-party establishment consensus on, say, trade, immigration and foreign policy,and who could be generously self-funded.  Ron Paul fits the first part of the bill, but unfortunately not the second.  

The other thing is that on the major issues of the moment (Iraq, terrorism, immigration, and, I suppose, health care) Bloomberg’s views are either completely unformed or carbon copies of ideas already on offer.  Perot was interesting and somewhat successful because he actually led on the deficit and on trade, and the bland consensus of the two parties on NAFTA created an opening for someone to represent the opposition.  Perot could tap into dissatisfaction following the ‘91 recession that is currently locked up by Democratic populists in the Edwards mould.  Also, there are billionaires and then there are billionaires–a wacky Texan will do better running for President in this country than a New Yorker any day.  Incidentally, that is probably one reason why Bloomberg isn’t going to run–he knows that he would end up doing worse than Perot after probably spending even more money, and he would be forever associated with a campaign effort that would be routinely described as “not even as popular as Ross Perot’s ‘92 run despite the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the direction of country.”   

(Sample 311 answer: The call center provides service in 179 languages. “You can report a pothole in Korean, ask for a nicotine patch in Portuguese and ask about alternate-side-of-the-street parking in Zulu,” the mayor said.) ~The New York Times

However, as we are reliably informed by enlightened libertarians, there is no need for any of this wonderful multilingualism in New York City, that veritable cauldron of assimilation where all speak English and blend seamlessly into the tapestry of America.

Do a lot of people actually think that Bloomberg would hurt the GOP nominee in ‘08?  Who are these people, and why are they holding forth on politics while on hallucinogens?  That’s not really fair to hallucinogens–not even these could make someone mistake Bloomberg for a candidate attractive to Republicans, except in the event of a GOP nominee so distasteful to his party that an independent candidate might become a tolerable replacement.  However, Bloomberg is hardly the ideal independent for disaffected Republicans, since he embodies all of Giuliani’s flaws as a social liberal and does not even have his imaginary virtues (”president of 9/11″) to fall back on.  In short, it is hard to explain why anyone would believe that Bloomberg would undermine the GOP ticket.  If anything, conspiratorially-minded Democrats have to be thinking that Bloomberg would be the GOP’s secret weapon to counteract Democratic dominance in ‘08.  However, it is precisely his potential appeal to left-leaning voters that will ensure that he gets no support from them for the reasons I outlined in a previous post.  Democrats and Democrat-leaners are hungry for a President who is Not a Republican, and backing the Democratic nominee is the surest way to make that happen.  Backing Bloomberg means playing Russian roulette with the election outcome and hoping, somehow, that the billionaire either does poorly enough not to make a difference or so well that he has a realistic chance of winning the whole shooting match.  A Bloomberg candidacy has no purpose and addresses no need.  If it happens, it would be the purest of vanity presidential runs.  It isn’t going to happen.  There, I’ve said it again.  Put it down alongside my impeccable prediction that Richardson will win the Democratic nomination (an idea that truly seemed much less ridiculous when I first made it).

Marc Ambinder (via Ross) offers the obvious counterargument against this apparently prevailing conventional wisdom about Bloomberg’s largely Republican base.  If it is the prevailing view, I am very surprised.  I’m sure Ambinder is right about where Bloomberg would get his support–if he received any support–since Bloomberg was a pretty conventional Northeastern Democrat (plus a few billion dollars) until the opportunity to run New York appeared and it became useful to become a Republican.  Those were high times for the Goppers back in 2002, so becoming an elephant made sense at the time, and now it makes good sense to turn into something else.  It seems to me that Bloomberg will not run and that he is, like Gore and other non-candidates whom the media wish to draft, actually serious when he says he isn’t running.  (It is true he can literally afford to wait in one sense, but he would have no real reason to wait if he was going to do it–the true lesson of ‘92 for him might well be that Perot started too late.)  In any case, whatever else he is, the man isn’t stupid, and only a stupid man–or a man with an ego the size of the moon (that would be Perot)–would waste tens of millions of his own money on a campaign doomed to failure.   

That group is, of course, the Amish, and many of the same people complaining that Mexicans won’t assimilate flock to Lancaster to take pictures of women in funny hats vending sticky-sweet food and overpriced handwork [sic]. Can someone explain this in terms that don’t devolve into “But the Mexicans are brown“?

Can someone explain this in terms that don’t devolve into “But the Mexicans are brown”? ~Megan McArdle

Yes, I believe the regular paleo bus to eastern Pennsylvania leaves later this evening, and I would be on it if it weren’t for my Arabic classes this week.  In fact, the people who go to Amish country go there because they like to enjoy the quaintness of traditional, pietistic German communities without having to put up with the inconveniences of living in traditional, pietistic German communities.  For their part, the Amish have preserved an example of Old World immigrants from another era, and their example has probably helped to reinforce the mythic images of the hardworking, religious, socially conservative yeomen whom certain libertarians and conservatives believe are settling in California and Arizona in large numbers.  If anyone has a strange affection for the Amish and what they represent, it would almost certainly have to be those who see few, if any, problems with mass immigration. 

Of course, Indian reservations are an alternative example of people living apart from the rest of the country and maintaining a traditional culture, but even more than the Amish–who actually have their own share of some modern social ills–they also have significant social problems with alcoholism and drug abuse, considerable poverty and dependency on government.  (Admittedly, the Amish do lack casinos.)  However, fashionable tourists buy pottery on these reservations and eat fry bread on the sides of New Mexican state highways, so I guess that means these problems are all figments of racist imagination.  I suppose if you have been invited into a kiva at some point, as I have, you should simply stop complaining about immigration and accept the wonders of the American ”fruit salad.”   

It occurs to me that someone who thinks the Amish represent a powerful counterexample to the mass immigration and considerable non-assimilation of millions of people from the neighbouring country must be having everyone on, but as I look at it again I see that Ms. McArdle is quite serious.  Very well, then.  I’ll give her question a shot.

There are at least four factors that drive the concern  about immigration, and particularly about modern Mexican and Latin American immigration.  The first is geography: the proximity of the country of origin for the vast majority of the current wave of immigrants is much greater than it was/is for groups from countries on the opposite sides of the oceans, which weakens the incentives for full assimilation (this is particularly true of those who continue to participate in Mexican elections), and the concentration of a large proportion of these immigrants in one region, which tends to make anything resembling assimilation to the culture of the rest of the country much less likely.  Granting that the children of these immigrants may acquire English language proficiency, this does not guarantee any depth of assimilation to what Huntington would call the common core culture.  There are lots of people in this country who do not accept that there is or ever has been such a culture, so they may find this idea mystifying, but it has existed and it is on account of the non-assimilation of these immigrants to it that many Americans are quite agitated.  Further, the ideas of our political and media classes about what assimilation means have changed, and whether it is because of multiculti preciousness or “proposition nation” ideology or both the old efforts to actively Americanise immigrants have weakened considerably.  The only way that the “melting pot” idea makes any sense is if there is sufficient heat and pressure, so to speak, to actually dissolve the constituent elements into the present mixture.  Without those things, full assimilation will not take place to the ultimate detriment of our national political life. 

The second factor is political culture: like virtually all immigrant groups, Mexican and Latin American immigrants are coming from a political culture that has extremely low institutional trust combined with an activist state and traditions of demagogic and authoritarian populism, and it is extremely likely that the immigrants who come to America will often have supported the leftmost politics in their home countries.  The problem here is that even if there is some real degree of assimilation and participation in the political process, the vast influx of such voters into the system will drive our politics in an even more statist, unfree, anti-constitutionalist direction (just as, historically, most every major wave of immigration has helped to do).  This is the objection that should be most significant for libertarians, but it never seems to bother a lot of them.

The third factor is social: along with all the workers doing the jobs that supposedly no one here wants to do (it is true that no one, not even the immigrants, really wants to do them for slave wages, for what it’s worth) come a certain number of criminals, an increase in the numbers of people living in relative poverty and many unstable or disintegrating families that, in turn, raise up (or rather fail to raise) a new generation that is more prone to all of the costly, destructive behaviours that impose a number of costs on the rest of the society through crime, dependency, etc.  In addition to importing the political pathologies of other countries, this situation brings with it social pathologies of its own. 

The fourth factor is more directly fiscal and economic.  That is, the demand placed on state services by immigrant populations–and here we are speaking more specifically about illegal immigrants–and the downward pressure that the influx of new labourers has on wages combine to make the voters who pay for those services and hold wage-earning jobs rather annoyed.  This seems to be the point that everyone understands or can at least acknowledge to be a reason why opponents of mass immigration are so opposed. 

Finally, it might be worth noting that Ms. McArdle’s question seems to take for granted that there is absolutely no qualitative difference between, say, the Russian programmer or the Indian engineer who comes here and the poorly educated or possibly even illiterate Mexican labourer from Michoacan.  The only reason why restrictionists would object to Mexican immigration, as Ms. McArdle tells it, is that it keeps coming back to their race, but this assumes that all restrictionists who are extremely concerned about mass Mexican immigration are similarly strongly opposed to non-white immigration as such.  If that were so (it isn’t), it would need to be demonstrated.  Naturally, this is the reason for the recourse to the Amish example, since it seems to me that pro-immigration advocates, stuck as they may be in the 18th or 19th century (because of their apparent conviction that our country is some sort of vast, empty territory in need of more people), are nonetheless convinced that their opponents are deeply reactionary and might be sympathetic to more immigration if it promised the creation of people living as if it were still the 17th century.  The idea that you might even want immigration policy that brings in the most productive, well-educated immigrants who contribute to the economy and society in a more substantial way than menial labour in the current generation (rather than waiting for some promised payoff 30 or 60 years hence) seems to be quite alien.

That brings us to another factor, that of education, and it may be the most significant factor of them all in a certain sense.  For immigrants and the children of immigrants to be competitive in this society, and for them not to get trapped in an underclass, it is imperative that they either have or are able to acquire quickly education comparable to that of their native peers.  Bringing in large numbers of poorly educated people is likely to ensure that their descendants remain fairly far behind for multiple generations.  Combined with the potential for cultural ghettoisation, this could easily create the kind of disaffected, unassimilated underclass that has created serious problems in places such as France and Britain. 

These are all real concerns grounded in observable facts, and we can go round and round with differing interpretations of which evidence is significant and which isn’t, but the habit of writing off the debate as inherently absurd because it must be driven by racial animus is an extremely bad one and one that hardly encourages a willingness among restrictionists to take pro-immigration voices seriously.  If there is more to the pro-immigration position than moral posturing, hand waving, accusations of racism, weak comparisons and extremely selective historical memory, I have yet to see it.  

From a Reason magazine perspective, it seems to me that a Bloomberg Administration is likely to be substantially more libertarian than either a Democratic or a Republican one would be. Bloomberg, however, is specifically identified with a brand of trivial nanny-stating — indoor smoking ban, trans fat ban — that seems to be to aggravate libertarians in a manner that’s out of proportion to the actual significance of the policy issues. ~Matt Yglesias

Don’t underestimate the power of libertarian pettiness.  These are the sorts of people who found Rick Santorum deeply offensive not because he was one of the most ridiculous warmongers in America, but because he actually took sexual morality seriously and spoke publicly about these things.  Nothing generates so much spontaneous, incandescent libertarian anger as someone decrying licentiousness.  War may irritate them, intrusive government may offend them, and economic regulation may worry them, but when someone questions their idea of what constitutes personal liberty all bets are off.

I can’t say that I have delved deeply into the policy preferences of Bloomberg (you can only keep track of so many bad non-candidate candidates at a time), but it occurs to me that aside from their common love of importing poor labourers Bloomberg and libertarians would have very little in common.  I suppose his social liberalism would match up well with libertarian indifference to the usual social issues, but my impression is that he is about as libertarian as Giuliani but not as fond of tax cuts.  Of course, if Ryan Sager can hallucinate and see libertarianism in Giuliani, anything’s possible.

So Bloomberg has declared independence from the GOP and changed his registration.  Let’s assume that this means that he will run for President instead of what it probably really is (a desire to detach himself from a radioactive label that can only be damaging to his continued tenure in NYC).  In that case, New Yorkers will get very excited about the prospect of having a presidential election version of a subway series.  As with the actual subway series, the rest of the country groans at the thought of three New Yorkers running for President (Clinton is not really much more of a New Yorker than I am, but technically she is one).  It is at times like this when New Yorkers are reminded that, as a general rule, the rest of us don’t like them very much and wish they would stop bothering us. 

Fortunately, I don’t think this Five Boroughs three-way will happen.  I will even say that neither major party will nominate a New Yorker for President.  More than that, I will go so far as to say that I don’t think a Bloomberg ticket would get many votes at all, and certainly not enough to be competitive.  What, after all, is the rationale for the man’s candidacy?  Is it “I have to spend my money faster!”?  Could it be, “We cannot allow that right-winger Obama in the Oval Office”?  Honestly, I don’t see where Bloomberg gets real support from voters.  He would appeal mainly to cultural liberals and moderate Republicans, most of whom are already going to be leaning towards the Democratic candidate in a big Democratic year.  Their great fear is that supporting a third party candidate from the center-left or left could “Naderise” the ‘08 election and ensure a GOP victory, putting a Fred Thompson or Romney at the helm.  That’s a sobering thought for all of us.  A Giuliani nomination might actually help Bloomberg by making the GOP’s nominee so loathsome to its core constituencies and everyone else that they would almost have no choice but to throw their support behind the independent, but Giuliani will not be the nominee.  The lesson is this: New York and New Yorkers are not nearly as relevant or as interesting as the folks there would like to believe.

As a rule, people in democratic societies prefer to take care of the business of life. They raise families. They work and they trade. They create wealth and they share it. Above all in free societies, we live by the law - and, at our best, we look after one another, too. ~Fred Thompson

Actually, people in pretty much all kinds of societies do all of these things, because these are all basic elements of social life.  If you think this is trite, just wait for the rest:

Often the cause of our grief is a misplaced trust in the good intentions of others. In our dealings with other nations, people in free countries are not the type to go looking for trouble. We tend to extend our good will to other nations, assuming that it will be returned in kind.

He is speaking in London, and he is referring primarily to America and Britain.  America and Britain don’t “go looking for trouble” in the world?  Leave aside Cold War era policies for now, and let’s try to forget, if we can, the close, longstanding links between British trade and British imperialism in the last two centuries before WWII and the various pro-corporate “small wars” of the early 20th century.  At the very least, you can count the governments of these countries as parties to two aggressive wars in the last eight years and they were the leading forces enforcing the sanctions and (illegal) no-fly zones against Iraq.  We don’t go looking for trouble, but we have hundreds of bases all over the planet.  We extend goodwill to the world, but have a bad habit lately of bombing and/or occupying other countries.  I don’t know what troubles me more: that Thompson has no idea how ridiculous this sounds to the rest of the world, or that he knows and doesn’t care.

Then there was this hegemonist clunker:

The American response is to ask how, then, does one justify non-Security-Council-sanctioned actions, such as Kosovo?

I don’t know, Fred.  How does one justify a war of aggression?  We’d all like to know the answer to that one.

He just keeps going:

Many in Europe simply have a different view from that of the United States as to the threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism. They think that the threat is overblown. That despite September 11th, and July 7th and other attacks in Europe and elsewhere, America is the main target and therefore the problem is basically an American one. The fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq at a particular point in time resolves the matter for them. Also, they see no meaningful connection between terrorist groups and countries like Iran [bold mine-DL].

Well, it has been overblown by some people in Fred’s party.  People who speak casually of “existential threats” are exaggerating the threat.  That much is clear.  The threat of “radical Islamic fundamentalism” hasn’t got anything to do with whether or not there were WMDs in Iraq at any point in time, but notice the phrasing “at a particular point in time.”  This seems to mean that Fred thinks that there were WMDs in Iraq, but not in 1998 and not in 2003, which suggests that he buys into all of the most preposterous “they were shipped to Syria” conspiracy theorising of pro-war circles.  The last sentence doesn’t even make sense.  Do many Europeans actually disbelieve Iranian connections with Hizbullah?  Europeans might very well recognise Hizbullah as principally an enemy of Israel, which is true, and they might not understand why Iranian support for Hizbullah is their concern.  If Fred is talking about imaginary Iran-Al Qaeda ties, no one should be surprised that Europeans see no “meaningful” connection here, because there is no connection at all.  

He then distorts the position of opponents of the war:

Admittedly, even some in America think that the threat is overblown, and that if we had not gone into Iraq, we’d have no terrorism problem. 

Actually, regarding this latter point, no one here says any such thing.  War opponents almost to a man say that we already had a terrorism problem and that this problem had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein.  Opponents of the war said crazy things like, “Maybe the war in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban should be our top priority, instead of invading a country essentially entirely unrelated to anti-American terrorism.”  Had we not gone into Iraq, our “terrorism problem” would probably be less severe than it is now, as we would not have given jihadi terrorists a huge propaganda coup and a major conflict for them to use as a rallying point for their cause, but unlike war supporters we do not inextricably link the “terrorism problem” with the war in Iraq because they are actually not very closely related at all.  Unlike those who warn against terrorists “following us home” if we leave Iraq, opponents of the war assume that anti-American terrorists are perfectly capable of targeting American interests whether or not we are in Iraq.  Our presence in Iraq does not deter terrorism, it probably encourages it and it wastes our resources on an unrelated fight.  That is what critics and opponents of the war say.  That old Fred thinks he can rely on such lazy, false charges to advance his boilerplate foreign policy agenda proves that he actually is relying on the insights of the Liz Cheneys of the world for his ideas, and that is truly frightening. 

Of course Fred wants to “let old arguments go” while still casting himself in the role of a far-sighted Churchill lecturing those whom I assume he takes to be Chamberlainesque ninnies of Britain in his audience.  Letting old arguments go is the approach someone on the losing end of those old arguments would take.  Someone who apparently didn’t know until recently that “geography, history, and ethnicity are important factors to consider in making decisions regarding today’s enemies” would very much like to put aside old arguments in which his side of the argument demonstrated powerful ignorance of all these things.  Someone who didn’t fully understand the “importance of preparation, of alliances, and the continuing support of our people” would like us move on and look forward…to endorse his basically unchanged vision of the world that promises more of the same.

It may be that Giuliani’s perplexing ability to hold himself out to the media as a foreign policy/national security candidate while possessing absolutely no qualifications in these areas is coming to an end.  We can only hope.  Faced with a choice between working with the Iraq Study Group or bringing in a lot of cash through speeches, he chose the latter.  It’s not so surprising that he did, since he probably has even less relevant expertise to offer than some of the other worthies assembled for that commission. 

Now he wants to weasel out of trying to have it both ways last year.  Having had a chance to serve as part of the ISG, which he blew off, he would like to associate himself with it by saying that he would have been part of the effort but for his future presidential campaign.  He says this for two reasons.  The obvious reason is that his preference for cash over public service on a key foreign policy matter shows him to be something of a fraud of a foreign policy candidate.  The other reason is that he would very much like people to associate him with the ISG now that the administration has started reconsidering its recommendations after six months of little or no progress in Iraq.  This would also partly make up for his impressive lack of any ideas about what should be done in Iraq.

Update: I don’t know what Nexis shows, but trusty old Google News tells me that media all over the place have been picking up the Giuliani-ISG story.  True, a lot of places have just picked up today’s AP wire and run with it, but the story is receiving coverage.  Relevant here is the fact that Newsmax, a site popular with many conservatives, was one of the first to pick up the story.  Unlike Giuliani’s total lack of national security credentials to date, this story is not going to go unreported.  The AP story has the added bonus of including the report of Giuliani’s (now former) South Carolina chair being indicted on drug charges.

Second Update: Media Matters has a nice skewering of Politico for being largely oblivious when it came to this story.

We always tend to think of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.” ~George Borjas

The U.S. is even more of a laggard in inflows of foreign nationals as a percentage of population. ~ Will Wilkinson

You can almost hear Gen. Buck Turgeson declaring, “Mr. President, we cannot allow an immigrant gap!”  It might be that we are not “falling behind,” as Mr. Wilkinson puts it, but are instead doing a bit better for ourselves.  If we keep “falling behind” like this, there might cease to be any excuse to continue calling America a “nation of immigrants,” and that sounds like a healthy thing to me. 

That line from Mr. Borjas’ post struck me.  I suppose it is fair to say that a majority of Americans, perhaps a very large one, thinks that America is a “nation of immigrants,” but to say that “we always” think this is odd.  Who is this “we” he’s talking about, and why would “we” have always thought this?  I mention this because not all of “us” agree that it is actually true.

My article on neoliberalism is in the new issue of The American Conservative.  It is not online, so you will have to read it the old-fashioned way.  Also in the June 18 issue and available online are Kara Hopkins’ article on the GOP and Ron Paul, Michael’s cover story on Ron Paul, Steve Sailer on La Raza and immigration, Jim Antle on Hugh Hewitt’s Romney book, and Theodore Dalrymple on Walter Laquer’s The Last Days of Europe.  It looks like a great issue, so I encourage everyone to go get a copy.

President Bush began by paying tribute to the founding father of Czech democracy. “Nine decades ago, Tomas Masaryk proclaimed Czechoslovakia’s independence based on the ‘ideals of democracy.’”

Well, that may be what the Masaryk said, but it is not exactly what he did. In 1918, he did indeed proclaim the independence of Czechoslovakia, confirmed by the Allies at Paris. But inside the new Czechoslovakia, built on the “ideals of democracy,” were 3 million dissident Germans who wished to remain with Austria and half a million Hungarians who wished to remain with Hungary. Many Catholic Slovaks had wanted to remain with Catholic Hungary. Against their will, all had been consigned to Masaryk’s Czech-dominated nation. ~Pat Buchanan

Words fail me.  There’s simply too much hilarious irony so densely packed in one article.  There is simply nothing else to do but point and marvel.

Thompson’s advisers aim to use the London events to bolster his foreign policy credentials and elevate him above the increasingly contentious fray of the GOP race. ~The Politico

Via Yglesias

I wish I could acquire “foreign policy credentials” just by going out of the country and giving a speech full of tired bromides about the “special relationship.”  Note that former Sen. Thompson doesn’t actually have any foreign policy credentials at the present time (just wait till you see who is advising him!).  In the Senate, he was chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee–not exactly Foreign Relations, is it? 

These items made me laugh out loud:

Liz Cheney, the former State Department official and the vice president’s elder daughter, is consulting on foreign policy. Longtime GOP guru Mary Matalin, a friend of Thompson, will help shape the campaign’s message.

That would be this Liz Cheney (via George Ajjan), and Mary Matalin, the woman who helped run an incumbent, victorious war President’s re-election into the ground (granted, she had a lot of help from the candidate and a funny guy from Texas).  So I guess all those hours labouring for Libby weren’t in vain after all, were they, Fred?  It would appear that he has the whole of Cheney’s ever-shrinking empire behind him.  That right there is as clear a strike against him as anything I’ve seen. 

On the contrary, the 30 or so conferees–Iranian-born intellectuals, Middle East scholars, journalists and former officials from Democratic and Republican administrations and foreign governments–could agree on little other than that Iran is a uniquely aggressive regime intent on becoming the predominant power in the Middle East [bold mine-DL]. ~Bret Stephens

So the one thing all could agree on happens to be only half true, if it is that.  Is the Iranian government intent on becoming the predominant power in the Middle East?  Probably.  That is not an unreasonable conclusion to draw from its actions over the last few years–that doesn’t mean that it will happen or that Iran can actually achieve its goals, but it is at least within the realm of the possible.  Is it a “uniquely aggressive regime”?  Obviously not.  To the extent that it is aggressive at all, it is so in the very commonplace way of funding proxy fighters.  For the most part, the Iranian government is not terribly aggressive by the standards of some other governments. 

To say that it is uniquely aggressive is to say that it is aggressive in a way unlike any other state on earth.  This is a sorry abuse of language.  The absurdity of a contributor to the Wall Street Journal editorial page complaining about a foreign government’s unique aggressiveness is simply too perfect.  You cannot exaggerate the bizarre, grotesque and strange ideas that appear in that paper.  Today Iran is uniquely aggressive (though it does not illegally occupy someone else’s territory), and the other day Libby was declared a “fallen soldier.”  What could be next? 

Leaving aside all this talk of Mexicans, did the core of Mr. Wilkinson’s response to Ross’ remarks on immigration make any sense?  Ross said, in reply to Yglesias:

Of course, one might argue that reducing illegal immigration is something that would “compromise the interests of the global elite” – which is one reason (among many others, some of them quite high-minded) why so many members of that elite are on the “left” on immigration. A slightly better way of putting what Matt is driving at, I think, is this: Large-scale immigration from Mexico to the United States is a form of de facto humanitarianism, and since Americans are generally leery of humanitarian spending (primarily because we overestimate the size of our existing foreign aid budget), liberal humanitarians have a vested interest in preserving the existing immigration system. It’s a rare issue where business interests line up on the side of raising the living standards of Third World peasants, and why mess with a good thing? Better, as Matt suggests, to go after the global elite in other arenas – like tax policy, say – where the business class’s preferred policies don’t have humanitarian externalities.

So here we can see that Ross is clarifying the point that Yglesias was making on why liberals could still support mass immigration even though said immigration has a negative impact on the wages of American workers and thus increases the income inequality that also exercises liberals.  For his exegetical efforts, Ross received the following tongue-lashing from Mr. Wilkinson:

It’s a rather profound error to characterize voluntary trade between American employers and Mexicans workers as equivalent to ”humanitarian spending,” as if money tax revenue had been withdrawn from the Treasury and sent to Mexicans. There is indeed a pecuniary externality of Mexican workers in the American labor market – downward price pressure from competition — and this can indeed have an effect on the pattern of American incomes. But it is a pretty basic and embarrassing mistake to confuse (1) coercive state confiscation and reallocation of income with (2) changing patterns of income from voluntary exchange.

Um, okay, but for this criticism to make any sense it would have to be aimed at someone who actually confuses these things.  If anyone in this debate might have confused them, it would be Ross’ imaginary liberal restating Yglesias’ argument.  At no point in his post did Ross say that he regards these things as equivalent or comparable, but that it seems to him that this is how liberals reconcile the apparent contradiction between their concern over inequality at home and their support for importing ever-greater inequality from abroad.  Ross’ rejoinder to the liberal position is that this justification is “slightly perverse,” since it seems to privilege the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the American poor, which Ross says is a bizarre way to engage in a “humanitarian” politics.  In other words, at the heart of this dispute are Mr. Wilkinson’s profound outrage at the position with which both he and Ross basically disagree and Mr. Wilkinson’s mistaken attribution of that position to Ross and his “populist nationalism,” under the “heel” of which he is “grinding” his Christian universalism. 

Young Zeitlin continues to impress (even though I suspect Ms. Franke-Ruta will not be pleased with the comparison).

All right, perhaps Mr. Wilkinson wasn’t saying that Ross dislikes Mexicans.  That is certainly how it came across, but no matter.  Not to worry, then–Mr. Wilkinson is just accusing Ross of holding repugnant and deeply immoral views that endorse the trampling of the human rights of millions.  That’s much better. 

Mr. Wilkinson was saying, and says again, that he thinks Ross wants a “less Mexican” America.  In one obvious sense, I suppose it is true that Ross thinks that preserving a common “core” culture in America (as Huntington might put it) to which immigrants assimilate is preferable to a hodgepodge society in which there are fewer and fewer shared traditions, habits and assumptions and little shared history.  Societies deeply divided along deep cultural and ethnic lines are not all together as successful as those that possess a common national and/or cultural identity; many multiethnic and multicultural societies are catastrophically unsuccessful.  These seem to be matters that can be tested empirically, so why are we disputing Ross’ relative affection for Mexicans or his concern about the Mexicanitas of America?  Why, indeed, bring up this question except as a way of trying (unsuccessfully) to undermine Ross’ position on immigration policy? 

To the extent that assimilation means that Mexican immigrants cease consciously embracing their Mexican national identity and replace it with an American one, then I guess Ross wants a “less Mexican” America, which is to say that he wants immigrants to assimilate.  {Cries of horror erupt from the audience; women faint; children begin to cry.}  The clear implication of this phrase “less Mexican” is nonetheless that Ross wants to get rid of the Mexicans here and that he singles out Mexicans in particular in his alleged populist nationalist enthusiasm.  Perhaps Mr. Wilkinson did not intend to conjure this idea with his phrase, but since the entire discussion of a ”less Mexican” America comes from his interpretation of general remarks made in a book review it is difficult to see how the phrase was not supposed to be accusatory.

Even though he does not find Ross ever saying any of this explicitly about his own views, Mr. Wilkinson thinks he has sussed it out from Ross’ review of Who Are We? by Huntington.  This is curious, since the only sense in which this seems to be true is that Ross regards the lack of present-day assimilation and the abandonment of assimilationism by American elites as very bad things for cultural and national unity.  Manifestly, these are very bad things for cultural and national unity–of course, this matters only to those who think that these are important things to have.  Ross seems to want a “less Mexican” America in the same way that he might want a “less Chinese” or “less Indian” America.  (All of this must remain somewhat speculative, since nowhere has Ross actually said any of this!)  That is, he may think that America actually has a cultural inheritance that has made it what it is and which immigrants have adopted to some degree in the process of becoming American; that process of becoming will necessarily entail setting the old identities in the background.  This may or may not have much connection with his views on immigration policy, since it is possible for someone to be an assimilationist while supporting a fairly liberal immigration policy.  Indeed, assimilationism might encourage a more liberal attitude towards immigration, since this position takes for granted that assimilation is possible.  It may be made more difficult by the new circumstances of mass immigration from Mexico and Latin America, but that does not necessarily mean that an assimilationist believes in drastically curbing the flow of immigrants, except perhaps insofar as he is persuaded that the numbers must be reduced for assimilation to happen properly.  In the end, Mr. Wilkinson has proven that Ross is an assimilationist and that he believes that immigrants should assimilate.  Had he said this about Ross, I suspect no one would have batted an eye, but this talk of a “less Mexican” America gives the charge an entirely different spin.   

Plainly, Ross endorses–as does  Huntington–assimilationism in the conviction that assimilating immigrants to a common culture is what has worked to integrate them, inasmuch as they have been integrated, into American society.  For some strange reason, he thinks integrating immigrants is a good idea.  He also seems to think that it is something that does not just automatically happen, but must be actively encouraged.  I think Ross takes this view because he thinks cultural identity is meaningful and has political consequences, and he probably worries about this because the political consequences of cultural disintegration and ghettoisation are quite bad.  The post in which he is addressing the cultural consequences of capitalism, including free-trading, pro-immigration economic policy, seems to confirm my interpretation of his concerns. 

If I have followed all of this correctly, Ross criticises a more libertarian economic model because it works in part to undermine national identity and Mr. Wilkinson criticises Ross’ “nationalism” because the policies informed by that “nationalism” obstruct the workings of a more libertarian economic model (and, let’s not forget our “moral right to cooperate”!). 

In other words, Mr. Wilkinson’s entire argument with Ross boils down to Ross’ criticism of policies that by Wilkinson’s own admission and according to his own assumptions must be antithetical to national identity, inasmuch as “nationalism” is antithetical to a libertarian, open borders arrangement.  This tells us that Ross is a cultural conservative and Mr. Wilkinson is a libertarian.  This has ultimately illuminated nothing about the merits and flaws of different immigration policies, but simply restated that Ross thinks national identity is important and Wilkinson thinks it is an arbitrary and even immoral form of control.  Put that way, I don’t think Wilkinson’s side of the debate comes off as being very persuasive. 

Quibbling over whether Ross wants a “less Mexican” America is simply a distraction if it isn’t intended as a slap–we may as well say that Mr. Wilkinson wants a “more Mexican” America and assume that this has somehow forever discredited his position and ended the debate.  Happily, we don’t need to do that, since there are so many other ways for his position to be discredited. 

Russia, China and other nations have an interest in seeing autocracy spread and in staving off democratic reform. ~David Brooks

I find the outline of the Kagan prescriptions as flawed as, if not more flawed than, I did Lind’s “liberal internationalism,” but that isn’t my main point today.  Still, let me make a few notes in passing before I move on.  I would note that Lind’s argument is most effective in attacking the weaknesses in the Kagan position simply by saying, “The existing institutions aren’t really broken–we just have to use them properly.”  The Kagan view is that we should create new institutions that will embody the fundamentally wrong assumptions that have led to the “misuse” or neglect of international institutions over the past 5-15 years (the short version of which is: we rule the world and everyone had better do what we say).  In a fight between between Lind’s mistaken view and the far crazier alternative view, I would take Lind’s side any day (which does not change my view of the flaws in Lind’s argument).

My main point is a much narrower one: this claim about the interests of Russia, China and “other nations” is almost entirely wrong.  The “nice” thing, if you like, about authoritarian nationalist regimes, which would be fair descriptions of both Moscow and Beijing at this point, is that they are not interested in changing the regime types of other countries.  Their interests lie in securing reliable trading partners and allies in various corners of the world.  If those allied governments are autocratic, so be it; if they are democratic, this is not a problem for the authoritarian nationalist.  Russia and China will do business with Germany gladly, and don’t care about its domestic politics except insofar as this might affect trade, but the Chinese will also be very cosy with Khartoum, because there is oil to be had regardless of the regime’s crimes.   

Washington has inexplicably cast itself as the revolutionary agent for global political change.  Russia, China and “other nations” have a vested interest in something relatively close to the status quo, or perhaps the pre-Bush status quo.  They don’t need autocracy to “spread”–they need to limit the expanding number of pro-Washington lackey, er, democratic governments around the world, which gives the impression of opposition to democratic reform.  Since so many of the ”colour” revolutions have been shams or staged performances designed to mask the transfer of power from one batch of oligarchs to another, there isn’t much actual democratic reform for Moscow and Beijing to oppose. 

They may defend autocratic governments in the process of opposing pro-U.S. governments, or they might decide to support opposition groups in U.S.-allied states as a way of destabilising regimes allied with us (in much the same way that we undermine governments friendly to their governments).  Even this overstates their hostility to actual democratic reform.  They have no strong interest in preventing it, unless the government is friendlier to their governments than the foreign public is; they have no interest in promoting it, unless the people in that country are more well-disposed to their governments than the ruling elites are.  That is what a reasonably rational, self-interested foreign policy looks like; we might try it some time.  In reality, given the general unpopularity of the U.S. government in so many nations around the world, actual democratic reform in many parts of the world would be positively beneficial to Moscow and Beijing–they could probably detach Turkey, Jordan and Egypt (among others) from our system of alliances and influence tomorrow if the populations of those countries had a real say in the matter.  If Moscow and Beijing really wanted to hit us where it hurts, at least for some short-term gain, they would be much more active in encouraging the reform protests against Musharraf.  However, their establishments are just as concerned about what would happen if Pakistan descends into chaos as is ours, and China has its own obvious vested interests there.  These interests concern what is in the best interests of China (at least as interpreted, self-servingly, by the government in Beijing), and not whether there is a dictator or an elected prime minister in Islamabad.  They will maintain their strategic relationship with Pakistan regardless of these things, just as they would pursue their hegemonic relationship with Burma whether or not the government in Rangoon was a junta or an elected and representative one.   

Note: Okay, in spite of what I said earlier today, maybe one blog post wouldn’t kill me.  Today has already been a rather long day, but intensive Arabic hasn’t proven to be quite the mind-killer that I expected it to be.  Then again, it has only been one day so far.  This is not going to be the beginning of a lot of nightly posting, so enjoy it while you can.  Now, on to the main event…

Reihan has responded ably to this Will Wilkinson post, which, among other things, says that Ross is a “populist nationalist” who wants to keep the Mexicans out because he just doesn’t like them (unbelievably, this was provoked by this post).  Naturally, coming from Wilkinson this is supposed to be an insult, though I rather enjoy the idea that everyone to the right of La Raza on immigration is a “populist nationalist”–this would give said populist nationalists a supermajority beyond our wildest dreams, and it would automatically make every opponent of lawlessness and amnesty a disciple of Buchanan and Dobbs.  This would be fine by me, and it would be great to have Ross with us.  Even so, somehow I think the analysis might be a little bit flawed.  Ross once mentioned that it is a lonely thing to be a moderate restrictionist, and I suggested a couple reasons why that is the case.  I should thank Mr. Wilkinson for validating one of my arguments.

Reihan notes that one important part of Wilkinson’s (truly bizarre) attack is simply, completely wrong:

Where exactly is Will getting the idea that Ross actively dislikes Mexicans? Could it be from … his imagination?

Mr. Wilkinson likes to imagine sinister things about people who would like to enforce the border and defend American sovereignty (you see, when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound like you’re engaged in some horrible act of oppression, but rather basic law enforcement), or he sometimes tries to make otherwise perfectly decent things sound like the equivalent of war crimes.  At least he didn’t call Ross “anti-cosmopolitan”!

There are many ways to go with this.  I could start by noting that no one has the “right” to enter another country–he enters by the leave of the people who already live there.  This control over who comes into a country is one of the main features of sovereignty, which is a very real and significant element of something we call “international law.”  Additionally, nations actually exist; they are not plots created by editors at The Atlantic to deprive Mexicans of higher earning opportunities (as much as I’m sure they all secretly yearn to do this above all else).  If Wilkinson wants to see some really serious ”populist nationalists,” he might look to Mexican and other Latin American immigrants to find people who are under the strange impression that remitting money from here to their families back home makes their nation stronger and that they regard helping their own people to be not just a nice side effect of their pursuit of their “moral right to cooperate” (whatever this is supposed to mean) but one of the main reasons why they have come.  It might be worth adding that the more certain people wrap up manifestly undemocratic and unwise policies in the rhetoric of human rights, the less most Americans will respect the legitimacy of the very concept of “human rights,” since they might conclude, not unreasonably, that pretentious elitists drag out this phrase whenever they wish to abuse or in some other way take advantage of the rest of the country.  The more certain people feel the need to declare the sentiments of the broad majority “repugnant” because the majority thinks that there is no “right” for other people to settle in their country, the more they will find themselves isolated in their ever-smaller ghettoes of self-righteous irrelevance.  Anyone who would like to know why libertarianism gains few followers, read Wilkinson’s post.  If anyone would like to see why it is a very good thing that no one embraces libertarianism, read Wilkinson’s post.  

Self-governing peoples are supposed to be in control of their governments (I know this is a threat to liberty, but bear with me), and those governments are supposed to pass laws and enact policies consistent with what its citizens wish it to do.  Having then passed these laws and enacted these policies, it is the government’s obligation to its citizens to enforce the laws and follow through on its policies.  To do otherwise is to frustrate self-government and subject citizens to arbitrary government.  I thought libertarians were against arbitrary and lawless government, but at least in some cases that evidently isn’t the case. 

Of all the commentaries I have read in the past six months, this [Luttwak’s] stands out as the silliest. Its tone reminds me of the ill-judged contempt with which the English used to regard eastern Europe. Poland, John Maynard Keynes remarked in 1919, was “an economic impossibility with no industry but Jew-baiting”. Czechoslovakia was nothing more than a fancy name for “the mountains of Bohemia”.

The reality in Keynes’s eyes was that people in eastern Europe would always stew in their mutual hatreds and shared incompetence. The sooner the Germans took over the whole lousy region, the better. After all, it was economically next to worthless as far as Britain was concerned.

Such notions underpinned what would become the policy of appeasement in the Thirties. Later, the same prejudices could be heard to justify inaction when it was Stalin who was conquering Eastern Europe. Indeed, you could still hear the old talk about “quarrels in a far-away land between peoples of whom we know nothing” during the break-up of Yugoslavia 10 years ago. ~Niall Ferguson

It’s not surprising that Ferguson didn’t like Luttwak’s argument–I thought Luttwak was making a good deal of sense, and certainly more than Ferguson has managed in six years of commentary writing.  What is Ferguson’s counterargument?  The 1930s!  Yugoslavia!  He forgot to mention Chamberlain.  Even for many Europeans, Yugoslavia was a “far-away land” or at the very least one about which most Europeans knew little and all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia would have been better off had the West kept out of the entire fight.  Indeed, there might not have had to be quite so much fighting had the West not bolstered and backed the separatist states.  James Baker was later ridiculed for saying “we don’t have a dog in this fight,” but here we are seventeen years later and still haven’t learned the basic truth that Baker was right about that. 

What Ferguson fails to address is the question of whether eastern Europe was actually worth going to war over as far as Britain was concerned.  If eastern Europe was so worthless to Britain, why would any British Government make security guarantees to Poland (which it had no means to defend or resupply)?  In the end, Britain did go to war over eastern Europe, which proved to be a mighty foolish thing to have done, so there is some disconnect here.  The power vacuum created by Versailles and Trianon, the treaties that ripped the guts out of the German Reich and obliterated the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, was going to be filled by one great power or another.  Ferguson takes it as a given that Britain should have been deeply concerned about this, when it was Britain’s concern with eastern Europe that dragged it and France into the war before  their rearmament was anywhere near sufficient and helped bring on Dunkirk and the disaster of France in 1940.   

Anglophone peoples seem to love to get into fights over parts of the world they know nothing about.  Saying disdainful things about foreign lands about which people in your country genuinely did and do know nothing is a reasonable thing to do, provided that you do not then presume to think that these lands are absolutely vital to your national security.  Of course, those preaching intervention don’t know any more about these countries than their opponents and usually know less (this is why they think intervention is a good idea and that it will work).

Ferguson never once addresses the claims of the Near and Middle East’s geopolitical insignificance, its miniscule industrial capacity, its economic retardation and its political sclerosis.  On every matter of substance, Luttwak’s article has not even been touched, much less refuted.  What has Ferguson managed to say?  Ferguson doesn’t like the man’s tone!  Luttwak says outrageous things!  Luttwak is heartless!  Ferguson waves his arms around, moralises and hectors, but does not actually offer a real response.  My conclusion is that a rational argument for the great geopolitical significance of the Middle East is not to be found, or else Ferguson would have at least gestured in its direction.  Instead of that, we get vague and dire warnings about Armageddon, and we’re supposed to come away with the view that Luttwak is the silliest of them all? 

Yglesias reminds us that, in the spring of 2005, supporters of the administration began crowing about the advance of democracy in the Near East.  Supporters believed a new era was dawning.  Critics of the “freedom agenda” said that democratisation would either fail or breed chaos.  True cynics, such as yours truly, never believed that there was much democratisation going on in the first place, but we did think that all of the hysteria was probably going to lead to trouble and said so at the time.  Two years later, guess whose predictions have been better? 

While we’re on the subject, here is a cover from that period that I bet the editors at The Economist wish they could take back.

Krauthammer’s “An Arab Spring?” (at least he kept a question mark in there) gives a clear example of the fundamental flaw in all of this democratisation talk.  The flaw is the belief that the type of government in a given country matters to our relations with that country:

The theory is that non-dictatorial regimes—which represent democratic aspirations and adhere to the democratic principles of the rule of law, protection of minorities, and human rights—are more likely to have normal relations with us.

It is almost never the case that dictatorial regimes actively refuse to have normal relations with us, but it is very often the case that Washington refuses to have normal relations with certain dictatorial regimes (while having perfectly delightful relations with other dictatorial regimes).  Instead of attempting to transplant the delicate orchid of representative government to a harsh, inclement setting in the hopes of somehow bettering relations between these states and our government, we might try a slightly less risky and hopeless strategy by…normalising relations with the states that we have been treating as pariahs.  Perhaps there would be one or two dictators who would hold out indefinitely and refuse normal relations, and that would present a more difficult problem.  However, for most states, especially those that are suffering economic meltdowns or deepening isolation, an offer of normalised relations with Washington would be most welcome.  The problem is that Washington does not want to make this offer, because the policy and political establishments believe it is unacceptable to have normal relations with these states.  Perhaps they can defend such a position, though I think it unlikely.  It is nonetheless remarkable to see such a straightforward statement of what democratisation in the Near East and elsewhere is supposed to achieve, since this statement reveals that the same goal could be reached simply by resuming diplomatic contacts and reestablishing formal, normalised state-to-state relations.

What is genuine liberal internationalism? It is neither a naïve idealism that ignores the realities of power nor a crude realism that ignores the power of ideals. ~Michael Lind

Oh, well, that clears things up nicely.  There is a little more substance to it.  Lind goes on to say:

Enduring international peace is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for liberal democracy. Why? In a world of recurring great-power conflicts or widespread anarchy, concerns about security may force even liberal democracies to sacrifice their freedoms to the imperatives of self-defense. This is what Woodrow Wilson meant when he said that the United States and its allies must make the world “safe for democracy.” A world safe for democracy need not be a democratic world. It need only be a world in which democracies like the United States are not forced by recurrent world wars to turn themselves into armed camps.

Obviously, even by this lower standard that Lind sets for Wilson’s foreign policy, it was nonetheless a magnificent failure, as the rest of the 20th century was to show.  That will never dim the faith of the true followers in the wisdom of Woodrow’s vision.  Behold:

A world of many, mostly small and nonaggressive nation-states will be less dangerous than one of a few empires battling to carve up the world.

One wants to ask: less dangerous to whom?  Everyone?  Citizens of the great powers?  Citizens of the small states?  Who knows?  Arguably, the age of a few great world empires was better, in terms of the prevention of armed conflict, for large swathes of Africa and Asia than the last century has been.  For Europe, the disappearance of their empires has brought two generations of peace and prosperity (under the admittedly artificial conditions of the Cold War and U.S. protection).  For Americans, it has been a decidedly mixed picture. 

This idea might be worth considering, except that the new states are not necessarily nonaggressive and the record following the two waves of new, smaller independent states after WWI and WWII have not exactly supported the contention that a proliferation of states is necessarily conducive to “global peace” and a less dangerous world.  Developing states and newly democratic states are among those most prone to resort to armed conflict, including both internal and international conflicts.  For those living in the regions where these states are found, life often becomes more dangerous as a result of self-determination. 

In the modern era, self-determination has been frequently driven by nationalism, which in turn can encourage irredentism and wars for national glory or the building up of national identity.  Indeed, the proliferation of states–and the weakening and collapse even of some of these states created in the 20th century–and the increased incidence of armed conflict around the world seem closely matched.  In any event, the increased number of independent states does not seem to have eliminated the causes of previously internal conflicts: for example, Eritreans warred against Ethiopians for their independence, and have since warred against them for territory and now engage in proxy wars throughout the region.  Depending on how foolish idealists draw the borders, the creation of a number of smaller states may be–and have been–an invitation to revisionist wars, nationalist wars seeking to unify a people scattered among several states or separatist wars seeking to break up artificial states created by the fiat of liberal idealists in the name of this very same self-determination.  

Here are some simple tests for the validity of the liberal internationalist vision: was Yugoslavia more peaceful before or after 1990?  How about the Caucasus?  Was Indochina peaceful after 1945?   

The key problem with Lind’s position, and that of his “genuine liberal internationalism,” is the assumption that there could be a “liberal international order based on sovereignty and policed by a concert of status quo great powers.”  Status quo great powers policing the world and an order based on state sovereignty are actually quite obviously incompatible things.  The great powers entrusted with these police powers have no incentive to respect the sovereignty of other states and sometimes have strong temptations to violate it.  This arrangement trusts the powers that have the least interest in respecting other states’ sovereignty with the role of guarding that sovereignty, but there is no mechanism that can check any one of the great powers if it abuses this role except for the intervention of another great power.  By making the policing of the world the business of the great powers, this system expands the areas of interest of all great powers to include the entire world.  As these spheres overlap and differing positions about how to police the world develop, they make great power conflict more likely, rather than less likely.  The entire thing is a recipe for trouble. 

It is not surprising that respect for sovereignty went out the window in the last sixteen years: this internationalism compels interventionism, and respect for the sovereignty of other states cannot be maintained alongside a desire to police the world, even when that policing is carried out by multiple great powers rather than just one.  This is actually pretty basic.  Great powers, even those that prefer to encourage stability and the international status quo at the state level, have an interest in undermining the sovereignty of weaker states.  This is how they wield control and exert influence and so remain great powers.  The disorder or violence within some states will provide the great powers with the pretexts for intervention that match the great powers’ interests in acquiring greater control.  Once the governments of the great powers are committed to sustaining a “peaceful” world order, respect for state sovereignty is bound to wane. 

Lind calls the “democratic hegemonists” and “liberal imperialists” heretics, but they are simply the logical evolutions of a misguided internationalist vision.  I appreciate what Lind is trying to do: he would like to keep the world safe from liberal interventionists and neoconservatives (who wouldn’t?), and he believes that it is necessary to reclaim the mantle of internationalism from interventionists, but the two cannot be separated.  What must be rejected at the root is the impulse to try to govern the world.  Unless this is done, the “democratic hegemonist” and “liberal imperialist” offshoots of internationalism will continue to come back again and again with every foreign crisis and every foreign conflict that can be deemed, however arbitrarily or incorrectly, a “genocide.”  The war against Yugoslavia should remind us how easily this “legitimate” loophole to sovereignty was used and abused to pursue purely hegemonist goals.     

The contradictions of the liberal internationalist position become more apparent as the article proceeds.  For instance, Lind writes:

The United States should support legitimate self-determination movements, with the caveat that in some circumstances autonomy within a federation may be more practical than independence. Many of these today involve Muslim nationalities ruled against their will by foreigners, such as Palestinians, Chechens, Uighurs and Moros.  As in the Balkans, US support for such nationalist grievances would weaken the jihadist movement by depriving it of issues capable of mobilizing Muslim anger [bold mine-DL].

This is a remarkable view.  First of all, it is remarkable that Mr. Lind would suggest that support for these separatist causes would weaken jihadism, since jihadis have become the major force in most, if not all, the separatist/independence movements mentioned here.  This was also true in the Balkans, which did not stop Washington from supporting the Muslim sides in the Balkan Wars.  It is also remarkable because it is almost completely identical with the view of liberal interventionists and neoconservatives.  Granted, the latter have a special place in their hearts for Balkan Muslims and Chechens, since they seem to be particularly interested in helping Muslims when they are fighting Slavs, but the logic and strategic justifications are the same: weaken the appeal of jihadism by aligning ourselves with the cause of oppressed Muslims around the world.  As many a disappointed, jilted neocon has noted over the last few years, jihadis have been entirely indifferent to American support for the cause of oppressed Muslim populations.  In reality, it is implausible that support for, say, Uighur rights has any effect on the strength of jihadism around the world.  For one thing, jihadism gains its strength at least partly from being a radical alternative to existing authoritarian regimes and as a vehicle for armed resistance to U.S. policies in the Islamic world.  Supporting the cause of Chechen independence addresses neither of these, while it definitely contributes to a worsening of the U.S.-Russian relationship to the general detriment of international stability.  

Muslim populations around the world tend not to notice Mr. Bush’s support for an independent Kosovo, for example, while they are more focused on the policies that seem to be or indeed are hostile to Muslim populations.  It is, of course, the latter that are the more potent fuel for jihadism.  If you want to weaken jihadi recruiting, a lot more would be accomplished by getting out of Iraq than lending support to the Chechens.  (Plus, it avoids the difficulty of finding excuses for Chechen terrorism.) 

The exceptions and qualifications keep piling up, until Mr. Lind’s liberal internationalism is not easy to distinguish from its more interventionist cousins:

Another exception to sovereignty would be the post-1945 ban on genocide along with a ban on ethnic cleansing.      

Well, that much was predictable.  Never mind that it was precisely this sort of exception-making that encouraged intervention in the Balkans and helped justify the invasion of Iraq.  Today, the cause celebre is Sudan, and tomorrow there will be another part of the world where we must “do something.”  If sovereignty is to be ignored each time such a conflict occurs, it will not be long before sovereignty becomes completely irrelevant.  The point is that almost every internal conflict can be described in terms of genocide or ethnic cleansing (the genocide convention’s definition of genocide is extremely broad), and when it cannot legitimately be called that it will nonetheless be so described by the propagandists.  Once you have made an exception to state sovereignty–the supposed pillar of this liberal international order–for this, you have essentially accepted that state sovereignty exists only so long as the great powers wish it to exist.  Their clients will retain sovereignty and the targeted small states that they want to dominate will lose it.  Mr. Lind’s complaints against the “democratic hegemonists” circle back and strike his internationalism with a fatal blow.

Cross-posted at Cliopatria and WWWTW

Because it isn’t Monday yet, here is a blog post (for all of you betting on my blogging hiatus, the clock doesn’t start until Monday): 

Fortunately, the modern world actually provides many different examples of mature electoral democracies. I’m not positive about this, but my sense is that a survey of two-party dynamics would indicate that something roughly resembling the American pattern is the rule rather than the exception. In Spain, gay marriage was brought in by the Socialist Party. Labour in Britain is the party of the unions and the party of gay rights and multiculturalism. The Liberals in Canada are opposed by low-tax, traditionalist Conservatives. And so it goes.

Obviously, this would be more a topic for rigorous academic research than a blog post, but my sense of things is that there’s some relatively “deep” reason that this configuration of political coalitions is so much more common than the alternative. ~Matt Yglesias

A couple points: relatively few other “mature electoral democracies” are trapped in the prison of a two-party system and “this configuration of political coalitions” that he describes is not necessarily all that common outside of a very narrow band of Anglophone democracies and perhaps a couple western European democracies.  To the extent that it is as widespread as that, it is a relic of Cold War-era political alliances that are becoming increasingly moribund.  Time was when economic liberalism (”classical liberalism”) was not at all amenable to socially conservative and rural voters and there was a time when traditional Christian social thought, and not its radical and heretical varieties, compelled a defense of the interests of labour.  Populists used to be quite at home in the generally more conservative party in this country, and it used to be that the party of progressivism and the party of corporate interests was the same party.  These are the much more normal, natural alliances of different interests in Western societies.  If I had to sum up the opposition between the two camps, it would be one of protection vs. exploitation/desecration. 

I think we are actually beginning to see small but significant movements towards a realignment that would ally social conservatives with economic populists and anti-imperialists (a sort of Bryan-Cleveland fusionism) against their opposite numbers.  This would be a sort of Christian conservative socialism, provided that it would be understood that this “socialism” need not have anything to do with state socialism.  This would be “left-wing” only in the bizarre world in which we live where it is considered ”right-wing” to start wars and concentrate power and money in a few hands (the exact opposite is more like it). 

On Monday, my intensive Arabic course begins.  Between that, dissertation writing and the new column, there won’t be any time for Eunomia for the next two months.  Depending on what happens in the next few months, I may also be away from this for all of August and September, too, and if certain things fall into place I could be completely swamped come the fall.  I will try to check in very occasionally, but the odds are that the best way to see my writing is to pick up a copy of The American Conservative (which you should already be reading anyway) or an issue of Chronicles.  It seems that all those hiatuses that I declared in the past, but never actually took, have caught up with me. 

I would like to take this chance to thank all of the readers and fellow bloggers who have made Eunomia as successful as it has been.  The first half of 2007 has been great.  I’ll see you all in a few months.   

Update: As a final treat before I go, here are Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan performing “Yeh Ladki Hai” from Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham.  Enjoy.

At last, the truth comes out (via Sullivan):

Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ future was thrown further into jeopardy Friday when he was accidentally struck by a boom microphone, reversing a years-long case of amnesia and causing him to remember his true identity as hotshot Tulsa, OK pool and spa salesman “Cabana Al” Gonzales.

Up at Mecosta two months ago, some of the other participants and I were talking about politics and the subject of Gonzales came up.  Someone asked if I thought Gonzales would remain Attorney General, and I said that I thought he would eventually be gone before the end of the second term.  So far, my prediction doesn’t look very good, but I remain convinced that Gonzales’ position is simply untenable and his departure is inevitable.  He will leave office, whether under some pretext of “spending more time with the family” or not, before Mr. Bush.  Crucially, Mr. Bush will not fire him, but Gonzales will nonetheless depart. 

I am equally convinced that Mr. Bush will never pardon Scooter Libby.  Predictions of Bush pardoning Libby make much more intuitive sense, because Bush clearly risks more politically by refusing to pardon Libby than he does by keeping Gonzales.  Bush’s core supporters really want Bush to rescue Libby and drop Gonzales, but they want the former so much more that it isn’t even funny.  That is exactly why I feel confident that Bush will neither fire Gonzales nor pardon Libby, because it seems to me that Mr. Bush no longer really cares, if he ever did, what his core supporters think. 

Additionally, Bush doesn’t pardon many people.  He is famous, or perhaps infamous, for his lack of clemency.  Chalk it up to one final absurdity of the “compassionate conservative” administration that the President’s epithet could easily be the Unmerciful.  In any case, there is a review process that vets cases for possible clemency, and the odds that Libby will be recommended for a pardon are not very good.  If Mr. Bush were going to pardon Libby, he would need such a recommendation to serve as political cover for the decision.  In the absence of such a recommendation, Mr. Bush will not intervene. 

There are three other reasons why he will not pardon Libby.  First of all, Libby is not a member of the Texan inner circle.  I am not kidding.  The Texans who have followed Mr. Bush to Washington have his loyalty, but all other administration officials are potentially expendable.  Second, Mr. Bush has generally shown a willingness to let subordinates twist in the wind and serve as decoys that take most of the attacks from the media and the opposition.  Even when he does not fire them quickly, because of his supposed sense of loyalty, he allows them to take the brunt of the responsibility for things for which he is ultimately responsible.  Finally, the entire Wilson/Plame affair was the result of one of Cheney’s operations gone horribly awry.  For all I know, Mr. Bush may see Libby taking the fall for Cheney’s scheme to be a fitting end to a distraction and embarrassment for his, Bush’s, administration.  If that is right, Cheney’s requests for a pardon, if they have been made, will likely make Mr. Bush even less likely to pardon Libby when all is said and done.

Ron Paul on Tucker Carlson’s show.

Via Eric Garris

In French parliamentary elections, Sarkozy’s UMP/New Center coalition has received 42% of the vote and is projected to win between 405 and 445 seats out of 577.  As the Economist graphic shows, Sarkozy’s coalition received essentially all of its gains in this cycle from defections from the National Front.  Sarkozy’s “tougher” policies on crime and immigration and Le Pen’s doddering, pathetic attempt to pander to French Muslims combined to virtually obliterate the National Front as a meaningful nationalist alternative to the center-right.  Expectations that Sarkozyism will deliver on its promised reforms will likely be disappointed, despite the genuinely ”huge parliamentary majority” the government will command and the large percentage of voters supporting the governing coalition. 

Religions thrive when disestablished. ~The Economist

Most of my post is not about this quote, but it was a strange statement and deserved some brief comment.  Some religions thrive when disestablished, while many disestablished religions simply fade away.  Just consider the examples of the Episcopalians, the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians…the list could probably go on.  Religions may or may not do reasonably well under pluralistic, disestablished conditions.  If you take the diversity of religions as evidence of the “thriving” of Religion, disestablishment can only contribute to such “thriving.”  Yet there is no guarantee that the previously established religion will thrive at all.  Indeed, it might weaken and collapse.  It is certain to suffer losses to increased competition and the loss of incentives and state supports, so to speak, that kept its membership at a certain level.  Saying “religions thrive when disestablished” is a bit like saying “monopolies thrive when they are broken up.”   

Now, on to the main subject.  Lexington this week is talking about Bryan Caplan’s “The Myth of the Rational Voter.”  I have my own problems with Caplan’s argument, which tends to identify rationality with a tendency to agree with economists on policy questions.  My view is that this is about as desirable as having voters follow the recommendations of the foreign policy establishment on foreign policy questions.  The ignorance of voters is extremely frustrating and it is at the heart of why mass democracy is a very poor type of regime.  However, foreign and trade policies offer perfect examples of how deference to the expertise of technocrats does not yield the best or wisest policies, but simply yields the policies preferred by the technocrats and the interests they represent.  These happen to be policies that prove to be fairly unpopular with large parts of the population, and they are also policies that appear to the reasonably well-informed voter to be foolish and irrational in their own right.   

I suppose I would like to publish a book in which I argue that voters are irrational unless they agree with the foreign policy prescriptions of Byzantine historians (who better than a student of Byzantium, after all, to guide the foreign affairs of the state with advice on diplomacy and war?), but for some reason I think people might see a flaw in this sort of thinking.  There is no way for someone to disagree with the expert without demonstrating his supposed “irrationality.”  The game is rigged, which is just the way experts like it.   

When Caplan talks about voter “irrationality,” he mostly means voter ignorance and perhaps voter prejudice.  His complaint is not really that voters are actually irrational, but that they do not have a sufficiently solid grasp on complex systems, particularly when it comes to economics.  Because of voter “ignorance” about alleged benefits, say, of free trade or immigration, they are said to have an “anti-foreign bias,” but what this bias actually represents is very often an entirely different set of priorities and values that cannot be tabulated by the economist.  If economic growth were the only good and the only concern of voters with respect to trade or immigration policy, Caplan might have a point about this “bias.”  However, the picture is often complicated by many factors, political, legal and cultural, that are not connected to economic questions at all.  It is the mistake of economists (and the libertarians who love them) to think that voters are hopelessly confused about these matters simply because they come to significantly different conclusions about policy.  Voters may be misinformed about the economics of trade and immigration, and they may not, but many of them are opposed to certain trade or immigration policies for reasons that go beyond the merely economic. 

Should a conflict arise between Kosovo and Serbia – which could involve Russia – where stands the United States? ~Clinton Whitehurst

Well, a good place to start would be to make sure that Kosovo is not an independent nation that would be entitled to the member state guarantees of the U.N. Charter.  This would help to ensure that any conflict that does occur would remain an internal Serbian matter and not an occasion for broader international conflict (provided that meddlesome outside powers do not use it as yet another occasion to attack Serbia).

Mr. Whitehurst has one valid point: there’s more to foreign policy than the three I’s (Israel, Iraq and Iran), and the candidates (especially the amateurs who don’t even have an Iraq policy yet) should be forced to address these other questions. 

The rest of his article doesn’t interest me very much, except that it is  noteworthy for being a laundry list of conventional interventionist concerns.  For instance:

Looking elsewhere, we should also ask candidates how they intend to ensure that a politically divided Ukraine continues toward integration with Europe and not move closer to Russia.

This is certainly a different area of foreign policy, but it is a strange question.  Why should any of the candidates want to ensure this?  Why does it actually matter to American citizens whether Ukraine moves toward “integration with Europe” or not?  What if large numbers of Ukrainian citizens, be they Ukrainian nationalists or ethnic Russians or what-have-you, don’t want to integrate with Europe?  Why is it Washington’s business to make that happen?  What does that integration entail?  EU membership?  NATO membership?  Both?  Does it make any sense to incorporate a sharply politically and “ethnically” divided Ukraine into NATO?  Does it make sense to make security commitments to a country that sits on one of Huntington’s “civilisational” fault lines?   (I am skeptical about the civilisational quality of the division between Ukrainians and Russians, but there is certainly something of a real division there.)  Asking these questions would be much more helpful in revealing the foreign policy visions of the different candidates.

Other parts of the article are less illuminating:

Imagine the expression on a candidate’s face if he/she were asked, “What is your position with respect to the United States establishing air bases and stationing personnel in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan?”  

Well, assuming for the moment the unlikely scenario where the candidate is well-informed about the present state of military operations in Central Asia, he would have a perplexed look on his face, since we have already established bases in both of these countries.  We lost our basing rights in Tajikistan.  The latest news is that some Kyrgyz legislators are agitating to remove the base in their country–FYI, Kyrgyz for “Yankee, Go Home” is Yankee Ketsin.  The question gives the impression that this is a hypothetical policy option rather than an ongoing deployment.  It would be like asking the candidate, “Do you think we should deploy American forces to South Korea?”

Many of the answers to Mr. Whitehurst’s questions are already known long before any of the major candidates give their speeches.  The drug war in Colombia will continue, no matter who wins, and the sanctions on Cuba will almost certainly continue.  These are foolish policies, but they have become deeply entrenched and have powerful interests behind them.  Fearmongering about Venezuela will be a feature of any future administration approach to Latin America, though the intensity of this may differ according to candidate, as it provides Washington with an easy scapegoat for things that go “wrong” in Latin America.  Caracas’ connection with Tehran also allows the more belligerent to demagogue Latin America policy as part of opposing Iran.  Increasing ties to India will proceed apace regardless of the election outcome.  This latter development is, for the most part, a good and desirable one. 

Russophobia, which pervades a significant part of our foreign policy establishment, and misguided NATO expansion goals will continue to push Moscow into an increasingly adversarial posture.  Mr. Whitehurst’s Ukraine question is actually mostly redundant, since there is broad consensus that the “Orange Revolution” was good and pro-Western and democratic and that the West should continue to festoon its decaying corpse with ribbons.  As James has noted in a different conversation, holding on to the Georgian satellite will remain part of our set policy (though, unlike James, I see no good reason, whether oil-related or no, for retaining this satellite in the teeth of Russian opposition). 

Did anyone read that Gerson article without finding it to be completely ridiculous?  Fallows joins the chorus against it.

Walton never appeared to waver from his opinion that a delay was unwarranted. After 12 prominent law professors filed documents supporting Libby’s request, the judge waved it off as “not something I would expect from a first-year in law school.” ~AP

Obviously, Judge Walton is not familiar with the legal expertise of the legendary jurist Christopher Hitchens!  You do have to have some sympathy for Libby–no one deserves such atrocious champions.

It’s not clear to me why rank criminality necessarily translates into rank expansionism or Greater Nationalism. I thought criminals enjoyed a patchwork mania of multiple passports, crazy quilt borders, and multijurisdictional chaos. Furthermore I can’t imagine how Macedonia, a state desperate to be institutionally mainstreamed into Europe, would tolerate Albanian guerrillism, nor how, frankly, NATO would. ~James Poulos

Criminality doesn’t translate into rank expansionism–rank Albanian expansionism is already there, side by side with Albanian lawlessness.  Here is The Economist, c. 2003, describing the irredentism of a criminal gang:

ONCE again, talk of a Greater Albania—an idea, if it came to fruition, that would cause chaos in the Balkans [bold mine-DL]—is in the air. This time it is the guerrillas of the Albanian National Army (better known by its Albanian-language initials, AKSh) who are trying to spread the word. They want to unite their cousins in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia and Montenegro, Greece, Macedonia and Albania proper.   

Anyone who would like a contemporary example of how separatist nationalism and widespread criminality can go hand in hand need only look at the Djukanovic regime in Montenegro. 

Macedonia is desperate to be “mainstreamed” into Europe, despite the humiliations such “mainstreaming” imposes.  This is why it has put up with European interference on behalf of the Albanian guerrillas who have already started rebellions there in the very recent past.  The Economist reminds us:

In 2001 Macedonia went to the brink of civil war when a guerrilla army sprang out of the ranks of the ethnic Albanians who make up 25% of the population. 

And, from a few years back, here is a description of the political situation:

In contrast, militant ethnic Albanians in neighbouring Macedonia love the idea of boosting municipal power. Indeed, a big increase in municipal authority was the price that Albanian nationalist fighters, closely tied to their cousins in Kosovo [bold mine-DL], extracted for laying down their arms in 2001. Devolution was the centrepiece of a settlement, brokered by the European Union, which stemmed an incipient war.

The standard Western media narrative (poor, suffering Albanian Muslims being oppressed by nasty Orthodox Slavs) has been applied to Macedonia for years (by The Economist as much as by any operation), and attempts by the Macedonian government to restore order to the western parts of their country have been greeted with a stream of anti-Skopje propaganda and outside agitation on behalf of Albanian guerrillas.  NATO has a strange history of “tolerating” Albanian guerrillas.  The pogroms that took place in Kosovo under their noses a few years back are reminder enough of that.  As we all know, NATO has an even stranger history of providing them with air support.  If James means that it makes no sense that the EU and NATO should encourage these sorts of things, I am entirely in agreement.  If he means that they do not, in fact, encourage these things, I’m afraid I cannot really concur.

James is right that Hungary will probably not start agitating to acquire the Vojvodina at the present time, but there is certainly no guarantee that the Hungarians in the Vojvodina will not start agitating for ever-greater autonomy or some other arrangement that will remove them from Belgrade’s control in the event of Kosovo’s independence.  Everyone else has left the old Yugoslavian party–why not the Hungarians?  Meanwhile, Hungarian liberal nationalists, such as Orban Viktor, have already tried to find clever ways to achieve a kind of Hungarian national unity inside the EU structure without recourse to territorial annexation and all of the grief that entails by passing the controversial Status Law that would extend protections to ethnic Hungarians from neighbouring states.  Slovakia and Romania have been furious about this legislation, as well they might, since both states systematically discriminate against their Hungarian minorities (which might be why the Hungarian minorities in those countries could be interested in a different arrangement!).  The point is that there are serious ethnic minority grievances in Slovakia and Romania, and Hungarian nationalists interested in appealing to those minorities.  Ethnic nationalism is very much alive in central and eastern Europe, and there is nothing that will guarantee that it will not lead to attempts in the future to revise the existing borders.  It is something that anyone who wants to begin redrawing the map is well-advised to consider very carefully.  The modern history of European map revisions has not exactly been a happy one, and there is no reason to think that repeating Wilsonian errors in the 21st century will have significantly different outcomes.

Obviously, Serbia is against Kosovo independence.  Bulgaria has expressed strong concerns about the dangers of destabilisation, specifically saying that a unilateral declaration of independence would have such a destabilising effect “on northern Kosovo, but also in southern Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and all of southeastern Europe.”  If many of the governments in the region take such a view, even those that have basically accepted Washington’s line on Kosovo (as Bulgaria has), does this not suggest that destabilisation of the region is a serious danger, whether or not Kosovo’s independence is declared unilaterally or arranged through the U.N.? 

In the end, I think James and I will end up being more or less on the same page as far as practical policy recommendations, because he correctly recognises the importance of a good relationship with Russia and he seems willing to acknowlegde how potentially damaging support for Kosovo independence would be to such a relationship.  In the end, Kosovo independence cannot be worth damaging that relationship, especially when the consequences of that independence for the rest of the Balkans may be very grim.

Kanan Makiya described the Baath system in Iraq as a “republic of fear.” Such regimes are bellicose by design: they can be counted upon to wage war against their peoples and their neighbors. These dictatorships turn their subjects into what Natan Sharansky has called “fear societies.” Our obligation, in such cases, should be self-evident. ~Martin Kramer

Really?  Why is it our obligation, and what makes it self-evident?  An obligation to whom?  Based on what?  If the best that could be hoped for in a post-Hussein Iraq was the sort of “multi-polar” nightmare we have before us, what exactly was our “self-evident” obligation?

Kramer says later:

If they’re not made free, they’ll destroy us; but if they’re made free too quickly, they might destroy themselves, and take us with them.

If we must use such vague generalisations, here’s another idea: whether or not “they” are free does not really matter to “us,” provided that “we” stop being closely involved in “their” affairs.  “They” do not have it in “their” power to destroy “us.”  Even if “they” destroy “themselves,” “they” do not have the means to take “us” down with “them.”  This, like so many of Prof. Lewis’ policy recommendations in the Near East, is just so much malarkey.  Mr. Kramer would seem to support the same policy goals based on exactly the same flawed premises.  It is only by comparison with Mr. Bush’s mad Prague speech in which he preaches the inevitability of freedom’s triumph that it seems at all grounded in a realistic appraisal of regional politics.  

I would never have associated the actions for which he was convicted with his character. ~Henry Kissinger on Libby

That’s interesting.  I suppose it is the point of having character witnesses to provide some evidence that, despite the man’s obvious guilt of this crime, he is presumably not normally the sort who goes around breaking the law.  However, it would have really helped Libby in the sentencing phase if he had expressed remorse for breaking the law and if his public advocates had been a bit more circumspect in their arguments on his behalf.  Not surprisingly, the old “perjury is just a technicality” and “there is no underlying crime” lines advanced by more than a few Libby defenders were not likely to endear a judge to the defendant.

My favourite of the excerpted letters has to be the one where the writer assures us that Libby cares about his friends for “who they are.”  How reassuring!

In keeping with a proud tradition of not placing too much importance on most pop culture products and arguing vehemently against reading political messages in the plotlines of space operas, I had steered clear of the ever-widening circle of arguments over the political “message” of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (I should mention at this point that I have not seen this movie).  There is a part of me that would like to encourage left-of-center movie reviewers to see every cinematic depiction of normal human behaviour as a coded conservative propaganda effort, thus reinforcing the association of normality with conservatism that any supposed propaganda effort would be trying to achieve.  This saves conservatives some of the trouble in actually producing our own films, as it attributes the production of films in which conservatives had no role to our supposedly vast network of Hollywood influence.  In addition to being very amusing, because it is so obviously contrary to fact, this serves to increase the public perception that such-and-such a popular, entertaining movie is “conservative.”  It also gives conservative movie reviewers things to write about, as they attempt to perceive the hidden references to Burke in The Bourne Supremacy*. 

For the most part, however, I find this sort of movie criticism annoying because it is so obviously wrong and compels everyone to label quite arbitrarily different pieces of art, television and film according to mostly inappropriate or misleading political categories.  Instead of appreciating Pan’s Labyrinth as a work of magical realism, it seems as if everyone felt compelled to show off his anti-fascist credentials by talking up the supposed political lessons of the film.  Instead of trying to understand, say, the New Caprica sequence in Battlestar Galactica as an interesting attempt to tell a different side of a war story there was no shortage of observers who wanted to make it into a commentary on Iraq.  Interpretations of 300 were similarly obsessed with either its horrible Orientalism or its supposedly subversive attack on Bush.  I suppose there could be and are political messages worked into all sorts of stories (I am more sympathetic to interpreting Apocalypto as a conservative morality play, which is far less speculative given the well-known politics of the director), but I suppose I have never quite understood why this becomes the basis for criticising the story or, more dramatically, rejecting it outright.  This is my general rule of thumb: the less overt and clear the political references, the better the work of art.  If you can very readily glean a political message from a film (at least any film not explicitly intended as propaganda), it is probably not terribly well made and probably not worth watching.  Take V for Vendetta, for instance–please!  

There have been some cases where Hollywood studio politics clearly clashed with the marketing and release of films that had potentially very un-P.C. implications, resulting in their narrow release and fairly dismal box office receipts (and possibly contributing a little to their later critical acclaim).  Children of Men and Idiocracy were two films that, even in the Cuaronised version of the Children of Men plotline, seem to have conveyed messages that so horrified their respective studios that the studios seem to have tried to sabotage their success.  Both films pointed towards–probably unwittingly for the most part–the issues of “birth dearth” and demographic collapse that might be taken as encouragement for a natalist politics, and Idiocracy also had the ”bad” taste to clearly put intelligence and heredity at the center of its story.     

*In case anyone couldn’t tell, this is not a serious example.

Am I only the only blogger/writer/person with a pulse in America who has never watched a single episode of The Sopranos?  It seems to be the case.  However, I have been unable to avoid the avalanche of post-series finale commentary, which seems to be literally everywhere.  From all of this I have gleaned that David Chase is very clever, the show was apparently well done and I have absolutely zero interest in watching it in the future.  Michael gives his impressions here.

On of the less-appreciated aspects of Christopher Hitchens’ writing is that he’s a sucker for the underdog. ~Alex Massie

Provided that he finds the top dog in any given scenario to be even more worthy of his loathing, and provided that the underdog does not believe in God very seriously.  He also seems to be rather more sympathetic if the so-called underdog’s name is Paul Wolfowitz.  These days, you can almost hear him saying, “Give me your tired, your poor, your hotel heiresses yearning to breathe free.”  For his hat trick of decrying the cruel injustices of the world, he need only pen an apology for Scooter Libby.  As the end of this latest column suggests, where he connects Judge Walton’s sarcastic rebuke to the esteemed worthies filing an amicus brief in Libby’s case to the “creepy populism” he is lamenting earlier, he seems perfectly willing to do so. 

Texas employers say: give us indentured labour, or else!

It hits all the usual pro-immigration notes: it is condescending, laughable and focuses exclusively on the benefits of exploiting cheap labour.  (There are never any costs from mass immigration in the pro-immigration view.)  There is no sappy talk about bringing people “out of the shadows” here.  The message is as blunt as it is appalling: “we” need our poor working underclass to make life comfortable for you.   

Via Common Reader

Rep. Paul can find success by framing his noninterventionism not as a corrective for America’s sins, past or present, but as the way forward to restoring America’s independence and sovereignty. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Politico

Michael makes a good point that this is the sort of rhetoric that will appeal viscerally to American nationalists, who constitute a significant, perhaps dominant, part of the GOP coalition.  The nationalists in question should be understood here as those Americans whose concern is with the preservation and defense of the actual nation, and not those abstract nationalists who think that America is only as good or as meaningful or as worthy of loyalty as the ideas that it embodies.  They are the “Jacksonians,” the people who despise Bush on immigration–because his immigration proposal seems to threaten the nation–just as much as they support him on the “war on terror” (which they think ”defends” the nation).  This actual nation would be the nation of American citizens, not the mythical proposition nation or “nation of immigrants” (as nonsensical and anti-assimilationist a phrase as can be found).  The problem with such an appeal, while it may be possible, is that nationalist audiences are not known for their interest in self-criticism and reflection, to put it mildly, and they have a bad habit of valorising every war their government has waged because they cultivate a strong attachment to those who “serve our country.”  Noninterventionist foreign policy requires a certain amount of self-criticism (even if it only involves saying, “our government was short-sighted and stupid,” which should be easy for everyone to accept) and a willingness to question the identification between implementing state policies and serving the country. 

Once that identification has been made, the nationalist instinct of saying, “my country right or wrong,” becomes a reflexive endorsement of government actions: “my state, right or wrong.”  In a putatively representative political system, it is even more difficult for nationalists to perceive sharp differences between the people and the country on one side and the government on the other.  Democracy encourages one of the worst traits of nationalism by reinforcing this (false) sense of identity of government, country and people.  It is difficult for a small government conservative or libertarian to speak in an idiom that would be comprehensible to those who follow this line of thought, since that conservative or libertarian rejects key assumptions of this audience.  Ron Paul frequently argues for noninterventionist foreign policy by pointing to the damage to constitutional liberties that war and empire cause.  He is entirely right about this, but like most libertarian and small-government appeals it tends to fall on deaf ears.  When voters are given the choice between policies that allow more liberty or those that promise more government power, they almost always choose the latter, because most are convinced in a very confused way that vesting more power in “their” government means that they, the voters, and the nation as a whole have more power to cope with this or that problem.  Nationalists have a hard time believing that weakening the state and stripping it of many of its powers will benefit the nation, because, perversely, most of them see the rollback of the state as a challenge to and an attack upon American sovereignty.  (Don’t even get me started on the free-trading, pro-immigration, pro-corporate internationalists who have the gall to complain that opponents of free trade agreements and mass immigration are in favour of “big government” in the form of border control and tariffs, as if they were dyed-in-the-wool libertarians!)

Independence and sovereignty are clearly good things.  They are not only entirely consistent with constitutionalism, but inextricably bound up with adherence to our fundamental law.  Find someone who supports global trade organisations, global regulatory institutions or global hegemony and you will find someone who more or less despises and loathes the idea of a federal government of limited, delegated powers.  You will find someone who is willing to cede the proper functions of the federal government to international bodies while scrapping limits on the executive for the sake of projecting power around the world.  The Constitution gets in the globalists’ way, and so they ignore or violate it as it suits them.  

Independence and sovereignty are things that Ron Paul consistently supports and defends, whether on immigration, foreign policy or even on trade (he is against NAFTA and the WTO, at least partly for what I assume are constitutionalist and pro-sovereignty reasons).  Indeed, in these areas he is a much more reliable defender of American sovereignty and independence than many of his colleagues who speak in the nationalist idiom but often serve, whether wittingly or not, globalist goals.  

Ron Paul on The Colbert Report.

My guess is that the very last people who will admit they were staggeringly, horribly, catastrophically wrong about Iraq are the neocon or Blair-groupie journos.  Even though Blair has admitted the situation in Iraq is a ‘disaster’ (without accepting responsibility for having caused it, natch) and even if he were later to hold up his hands and say, ‘Yeah, OK, I’m a pretty straight kind of guy, but Alastair messed with that dossier’, the journos would still be cleaving to their original line that the invasion was wholly justified, maybe not on the original grounds that Saddam was about to nuke or gas us all, but on new grounds they’ve just made up.  They will be the last to say that they were wrong.  David Aaronovitch wrote in 2003 that he would never vote Labour again if no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq; but somehow he has been able to extricate himself from this sticky little wicket (it would take too long and be wholly pointless to explain quite how).  I suppose it’s all because the journalists are less answerable to history and public opinion than their political heroes and more vulnerable to attacks of grand hubris. ~Rod Liddle

They are often also among the first to jump off the bandwagon and declare, complete with shocked and bewildered expression, that if they had any idea that the government would have made such a mess of things they would never have supported the war in the first place.  They’re remarkably adaptable and yet strangely inflexible people–they bear no responsibility for the policies they push in the public square, but they have this profound sense of their own righteousness because they advocated for high-minded wars of liberation. 

Albanian separatists both in Montenegro and in Macedonia, where military hostilities took place as recently as 2001, will be encouraged. Serbia will face further disintegration: Albanians in the south of the country are keen to be included in a new Kosovo, while Hungarian demands for self-determination in Vojvodina are also likely to intensify.  Far from being concerned about this fragmentation, Washington encourages it. “Liberating” Kosovo from direct Belgrade control, achieved by the illegal 1999 bombardment of the rump Yugoslavia, has already brought rich pickings for US companies in the shape of the privatization of socially owned assets. Even more important, it has enabled the construction of Camp Bondsteel, the US’s biggest “from scratch” military base since the Vietnam war, which jealously guards the route of the trans-Balkan Ambo pipeline, and guarantees western control of Caspian Sea oil supplies. ~Neil Clark (via Srdja Trifkovic)

This sounds familiar.

In the poll, Bush’s approval rating is at just 29 percent. It’s a drop of six points since April, and it represents his lowest mark ever on this question in the NBC/Journal poll.

Democratic pollster Jay Campbell, who works with Hart, attributes this decline to Republicans. Back in April, 75 percent of Republicans approved of Bush’s job performance, compared with 21 percent who disapproved. Now, only 62 percent of Republican approve, versus 32 percent who disapprove. ~MSNBC

This may be putting things a bit on the low side, but even Rasmussen, which has a solid reputation and has routinely shown Bush at higher levels of approval, has him at 33% and shows Republican support beginning to weaken.  The weakening of GOP support in the Rasmussen poll (the May ‘07 average for GOP approval of Bush is 72%) is not as dramatic a drop as this poll claims to have found, but the movement is real. 

David Corn and Jim Pinkerton have a fun conversation at bloggingheads on immigration, Bush’s Europe trip, foreign policy and the ‘08 race.  If you have time, I think the whole thing is worth listening to.  Those who wonder about the merits of diavlogs should watch this conversation to see how it is done.

Not only that, but they had better make the case that the leftwing Democrat likely to be nominated represents the failed status quo: the bureaucracies that are failing, the social policies that are failing, the high tax policies that are failing and the weakness around the world that has failed so badly in protecting the U.S. [bold mine-DL] ~Newt Gingrich

This would be quite a feat, since the GOP controlled both the legislative and executive branches for the past six years.  Any failures of bureaucracy, social policy and tax policy and any U.S. weaknesses around the world would be primarily the responsibility of the GOP.  That doesn’t mean that the Democrats would necessarily have any solutions, either, and they could still theoretically be even worse than these jokers have been.  Even so, it seems to me that the first step towards Republicans’ embracing their inner Sarkozy cannot be the standard reiteration of all the old criticisms of Democrats recycled from the ’90s.  That would mean that someone like Romney could not simply talk about “innovation and transformation,” but actually demonstrate some sort of innovative thinking, which his tired stump speeches berating European-style welfare states, Hillary Clinton and France do not show.

I said that Linker sometimes seems to oppose both political action based on religious conviction and non-political attempts to Catholicize (or Rortyize, or whatever) the culture through proselytization and persuasion. I also said, as I’ve said many times before, that I disagree on both counts: I think that Americans should be free to proselytize privately and that they should feel comfortable using “the levers of politics” (I love how Andrew makes the democratic process sound sinister) to promote policies that spring from religious convictions. And obviously Richard John Neuhaus is interested in doing both; only an idiot would claim otherwise, and I don’t know why Andrew is mistaking me for one. ~Ross Douthat

I am not really qualified to speak about Rorty or the “burning” question (should liberals prefer Rorty or Rawls?) that initially sparked this discussion, but since I have waded into a previous Douthat-Linker exchange I will now offer, unbidden, my probably unwanted comments on this Douthat-Sullivan argument.

I think Ross is probably being too generous here, since I think he might be able to guess why Sullivan is tendentiously attributing the wrong position to him on a question touching on Neuhaus and the intersection of religion and politics.  This has nothing to do with Ross’ earlier statement.  Whenever Neuhaus is mentioned, even in passing, Sullivan’s “theocon” alarm goes off and he begins warning about the heavy yoke of dogmatism.  When someone has spent as much time as Sullivan has in constructing an elaborate web around the myth that “theocons” have helped to turn the Republicans into a “religious party” and a haven for “fundamentalists” (you know, like Bill Kristol), and the central objection he has to “theocons” is that they seek to influence policy (gasp!) according to the lights of their understanding of natural law and revelation (shriek!), no occasion is too small to restate the description of sinister plan {voice quavering with anxiety}: Christians are attempting to…participate in the political process and…direct policies in the direction of their preferences!  Who will save us from this madness? 

A large part of the trouble comes from some of the more slippery definitions that secular critics of the “theocons” use.  We find an example of this in the quote from The Theocons that Ross cites:

The privatization of piety creates social space for every American to worship God as he or she wishes, without state interference. In return for this freedom, believers are expected only to give up the ambition to political rule in the name of their faith - that is, the ambition to bring the whole of social life into conformity with their own inevitably partial and sectarian theological convictions [bold mine-DL].

Two phrases, “political rule in the name of their faith” and “the whole of social life,” do all the work here, but it is never clear what constitutes “political rule” or where privatised piety ends and social life-conforming behaviour begins.  Does political rule here simply refer to established religion, or does it mean any exercise of political influence or power by religious believers?  My impression is that Linker means the latter.  He takes arrangements that most people, religious conservatives included, accept as given (no established religion, religious pluralism and freedom of religion) and then invests this surrender of “ambition to political rule” with a much more restrictive meaning.  Once you have ceded that we should not arrest people for heresy, you must also supposedly cede the right to every other attempt to influence political life.  Once you have yielded an inch on the potentially totalising claims of religion, you are supposed to give up all claims with a social or political dimension.  If you won’t stone the adulteress, don’t bother trying to ”impose” your beliefs on anyone with respect to abortion–you threaten the liberal order if you attempt the latter, because it must inevitably lead to full-on theocracy in the end.   

In Linker’s liberalism, how much “social space” do you get?  Is it a bit like zoning regulations, where you can build up to a certain point but cannot come to close to municipal property?  What is worship?  Is it simply liturgy on Sundays and bedtime prayers, or does man’s religious obligations to God and his fellow men require something in addition to that?  Does the bare minimum of religious life require more than that?  Obviously, any remotely traditional religion requires much more.  Linker’s definition of the proper sphere for religion in a liberal order seems to suggest that most of what traditional religion requires simply in terms of religious obligations is incompatible with that order.  If I understand him correctly, it isn’t simply that religion should stay out of the public square, but that the liberalism of the public square should enter into the religious groups of the society and liberalise them as well, if only to ensure that they stay out of the public square. 

God is sovereign over all, and it is the role of Christianity, for example, to be concerned with the whole man and the whole of society, and this for Linker seems to be the major problem.  Any political role is, of course, entirely out of the question, and this would eventually proscribe even proselytising, since proselytism is simply the imposition of the “inevitably partial” and “sectarian” convictions of one religion on adherents of another partial view.  If everyone has his privatised piety sealed off from all attempts to change society, it seems to me that even conversions would be a potential source of trouble, since religious conversions will generate social change.  (Ross says that Linker rejects going this far.)   

In Linker’s privatised piety, if taken to an extreme, Christians would presumably not even live according to the tenets of their faith, because this would be an attempt to bring the whole of their lives, which take place in political society, into conformity with their sectarian convictions.  This could have troubling second and third-order effects, such as “disturbing” patriarchal notions of marriage or veritably “medieval” attitudes towards homosexuality.  It is as if revealed religion were concerned with the whole of life!  It is as if Christianity required men to commit themselves and “all their lives” to Christ God.  Clearly, this is dangerous and subversive stuff–before you know it, they might want to start talking about it in the schools! 

A less extreme form of Linkerian privatised piety would have an allowance for consenting adults to practice their religion, provided that it never went outside the home and did not interfere with the proper, “rational” upbringing of children.  You wouldn’t want to inculcate all sorts of “anti-social” attitudes into your children by teaching them regressive ideas about traditional gender roles or sexual morality.  Christopher Hitchens’ dream of a bureaucrat rescuing children from the “child abuse” of religious education is not far away here.

Iraq may get better; Iraq may get worse. We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s in the hands of other people. But what we do know for sure is the terrorists are going to be at war with us a year, a year and a half from now. ~Rudy Giuliani

Via Yglesias

So apparently he thinks that, whatever happens, the next President will not have to worry about Iraq at all.  

Giuliani seems interested in testing the limits of the generally true proposition that voters choose candidates based on personality and identity politics rather than in actual policy positions.  He seems so convinced of the truth of this proposition that he has decided not to have any policy positions.  It’s a bold (read stupid) move.  Let’s see how that works out for him.

I tell you: the nineteenth century was one frigging amnesty after another. And the seventeenth century! We had no control of the borders whatsoever. ~Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan’s sarcastic remarks here are representative of the tenor and quality of the pro-immigration side of the argument, which is to say condescending and poor.  The quote above is particularly useful as a good example of the favourite pro-immigration tropes, related to the “nation of immigrants” rhetoric: border control is something relatively new and mass immigration of one sort or another has been happening for a long time.  They say this as if these were obviously and always good things.  There may have been times when more lax border control was more acceptable, when there was not a flood of labourers coming into the country each year, and there may have been times when mass immigration helped fuel American productivity when America had vast swathes of undeveloped land and insufficient manpower to make use of much of it.  

Pro-immigration advocates use these tropes as if the policies appropriate to the 1910s, 1810s, 1710s or 1610s were obviously the right policies for the present time.  There is no other area of policy where they would make such an argument (indeed, very few people would make such arguments about any area of policy).  It is surely only in the area of immigration where these proponents of mass immigration take the practices of a lightly populated colonial America, an expanding agrarian frontier society or an industrialising society from the past as prescriptive for the post-industrial present.  For many of these pro-immigration advocates, the religion, politics and prejudices of Americans over these centuries are embarrassing or even despicable, but their de facto approach towards immigration (with the exceptions of the interludes of “nativism”) is all right.  (Indeed, it is because they generally think so poorly of so much of the history of Old America that they want to constantly introduce new populations to continue transforming it away from that Old America.)  In every other way, pro-immigration advocates tend to regard every form of traditionalism, appeal to the past and imitation of past exempla as rigid, stodgy and backwards-looking.  They are wrong about all of these things, but curiously they have no problem dusting off ancient precedents to justify their present obsession. 

It is only on this policy question, the one where they happen to be stunningly wrong and outgunned by numerous social scientific arguments demonstrating the various social and economic problems created by current immigration policy (or lack thereof), that they discover the importance of venerable antiquity and the value of following the example of our ancestors.  Consequently, it is pro-immigration advocates who seem to be constrained by the blinders of myth and ideology.  This myth and ideology tell them that whatever was appropriate to the period of the frontier and continental expansion is also appropriate to our present society, despite its completely changed social and economic foundations.  When confronted with the far greater need for education to be able to flourish in modern society, they chant, not unlike war supporters prior to the invasion of Iraq who invoked WWII and the post-war occupations of Germany and Japan, “We have done it in the past, and we can do it again!”  That might make some sense, except that they show no evidence of knowing how to assimilate these immigrants, just as war supporters have never demonstrated any evidence that they know how to engage in successful democratisation or nation-building or any of the things that they claimed that “we” knew how to do so well.  Additionally, there is the problem that each successive wave changes who “we” are and makes the next period of assimilation less effective than the last.

The centrism of 1992 and 2000 eventually yielded welfare reform, education reform and prescription drugs for millions of seniors. ~Michael Gerson

Via Ross

There is plenty to ridicule in Gerson’s column, ranging from the claims that a federal role in education has something to do with Catholic social thought (subsidiarity alert!) to the idea that disregarding immigration laws is somehow supremely Catholic.  Leave it to the treacly evangelical to tell us what is and isn’t Catholic!  The quote above captures pretty well the chasm that separates Gerson and the “centrists” from both progressives and actual conservatives.  The “centrism” of 1992 and 2000 did yield welfare reform, education “reform” and a prescription drugs entitlement–this is why so many people are angry at “centrists.”  Many of us regard these things as horrible pieces of legislation.  (It seems to me that the latter two really are truly horrible pieces of legislation for which there is no good excuse.)  If they are the defining achievements of “centrism” over the last 11 years, then “centrism” be damned! 

The first was deeply unsatisfying to conservatives who wanted to dismantle or significantly reduce the welfare state, the second has managed to offend conservative constitutionalists and progressives with its centralisation and idiotic enforcement of “accountability” (punishing poor schools for poor performance by depriving them of resources is the obvious way to raise standards!), and the third is a bloated entitlement that is also even more expensive than it had to be, because it has been arranged via a “market” solution (a.k.a., a corporate boondoggle).  Add on the attempted amnesty bill as one more Gersonian type of reform that serious people on both sides of the spectrum regard as simply horrible.  Gersonian “centrism” seems to define itself by embracing the worst of both worlds: run entitlements through the pharmaceuticals, thus committing the errors of expanding government and subordinating the common good to corporate interests at the same time; amnesty 12 million illegal immigrants and create an indentured labour force for big business at the same time; meddle in local control of schools and punish minority school districts at the same time.  This is what “centrists” call compromise, and what the rest of us call a nightmare.  While the “centrists” are doing this, it is imperative that they self-righteously lecture the rest of us on how we lack either moral responsibility or compassion or both if we fail to embrace their hideous expansions of government and corporate power; if we really strongly protest, they are obliged to denounce us as racists and the like. 

If Bushism were actually a coherent political view rather than a collection of payoffs to special interests and constituencies, it would be a political view designed to maximise the worst results from the worst ideas of both sides of the political spectrum.  It would not shock me if both parties and the public wanted to flee from such a thing.  Unfortunately, with the exception of complaints about excessive spending, the GOP field (except for Ron Paul and, on some things, Hunter and Tancredo) is quite happy to carry on with Bushism almost in its entirety.  Despite a lot of rhetoric about their dislike for big spending and endless mentions of the name Reagan, this field does not, aside from the exceptions mentioned above, clearly reject any of the legislation passed over the past six years.  No Republican (except for Ron Paul) is campaigning on undoing what Bush has done at home.  Two of the top three GOP candidates as of right now are the most robustly pro-immigration Republicans in a presidential field since, well, George Bush last ran.  Gerson is denouncing a Republican Party that has, on everything except immigration, basically submitted to Bushism, and whose field of prospective nominees includes no less than four supporters of amnesty (plus Romney, whose views on this have changed considerably). 

If Gerson doesn’t want a GOP of “libertarians” and “nativists,” he is in luck–most of the candidates and a lot of the Republican establishment don’t want a presidential field with Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo.  I happen to like both Paul and Tancredo, but I am sorry to say that they unfortunately only speak for a minority of Republicans (though I suspect Tancredo may speak for as many on immigration as Paul does on foreign policy, perhaps up to a quarter or a third). 

Gerson complains about current political trends leaving some people politically homeless, but Mr. Bush is the one who has evicted far more people from the GOP.  The libertarians, the “nativists” (otherwise known as cultural conservatives and a major part of the core of the Republican vote), the traditional conservatives and the constitutionalists are not welcome in the Bushist GOP, and some of us have known that for a while.  Depressingly, as of right now national polls suggest that the embodiments of the evils of “centrism” (Clinton, Giuliani) are the leaders.  If there is a repudiation of the bad, old “centrism” taking place in this country, I would be very glad to see more evidence of it. 

Via Yglesias, I see that someone has dug up an old WWII-era War and Navy Departments’ guide to Iraq.  Reading it is, as the author of the guide might say, a hoot.  Most interesting to me was this section on “differences.”  After listing all of the differences between Americans and Iraqis, the guide continues:

What of it?  You aren’t going to Iraq to change the Iraqis.  We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of “live and let live.”  Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home.  Now you have a chance to prove it to yourself and others.  If you can, it’s going to be a better world to live in for all of us.

Official WWII government instruction manuals valorising the idea of “live and let live”?  Imagine that–placing strategic priorities ahead of drippy ideological platitudes!  The neocons will be very unhappy with the freedom-hating bureaucrats at the War and Navy Departments.

Other useful tips to the American soldier fighting Hitlerism in Iraq: “Keep away from mosques”; “Your move is to stay out of religious and political arguments altogether.”  Some advice never goes out of style.

Alex Massie has an interesting item on the non-diplomacy being practiced this year by our Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes.  Apparently, Ms. Hughes doesn’t do much in the way of public diplomacy these days, at least not when it comes to communicating with other countries.  The current year is approximately halfway done and her listed activities abroad so far include a meeting on education in India and an op-ed in The India Times on the same subject.  2005 was a flurry of activity in the Islamic world, but it also brought quite a lot of cutting and hostile commentary from Western media, to say nothing of the impression it probably made on its target audiences. 

As Mr. Massie notes, this change may be for the best.  I do find it reassuring that the government is not sending her around the world too often to patronise Muslim women and talk about how much she, too, loves her children.  That does not stop her from saying annoying things on our own soil: “… like you, we care about our families, many of us care deeply about our faith, we want our children to be educated and have opportunities, we want to live in a secure and a just world.”  Oh, well, in that case, everything is okay. 

However, I would be more reassured if the President himself did not roam the world continuing to chatter on about the great advances of “democracy” in Kyrgyzstan or the historical inevitability of freedom.  It seems to me that each time he gives one of these speeches, as he did in Prague, it is worse than a dozen head-smacking-worthy comments from Ms. Hughes. 

Speaking of which, here is an excerpt from her remarks at the opening ceremony for the Organization of Islamic Conference in D.C.:

Together we must address the misperception fostered by extremists that there is a “clash of the civilizations,” that the West is somehow in conflict with Islam, because I know — and you know — that simply isn’t true. Islam, as a major world religion, is part of the West and an important part of America [bold mine-DL].    

Islam is part of the West?  That will be news to a few people.  Naturally, she gets in the obligatory mention of Rumi, everyone’s favourite Sufi.  More surreal in this context are the invocations of Amazing Grace and Wilberforce’s antislavery reformism and Rosa Parks.

This would be seven successful attempts to win at least a third consecutive term. How many times has one party or the other failed to win a third consecutive term after having won two? Six: 1860, 1920, 1960, 1968, 1976, 2000. It is interesting to note that in three of these five failed attempts - 1960, 1968, and 2000 - only a fraction of the vote separated the two parties. ~Jay Cost

Mr. Cost’s election-counting would be a lot more persuasive if he took the same care with historical analysis that he insists other people take with methodology.  Why didn’t Donatelli include pre-War of Secession elections?  Could it be that the political context before the War was sufficiently different to make meaningful comparisons extremely difficult?  What possible value could be found in making comparisons with the six consecutive terms of Virginia Republicans in the early 19th century?  Is the America of 2007 in any way really politically comparable to America, c. 1807 or 1817?  Why might Donatelli not include war and Reconstruction-era elections?  The answer is obvious: 1860 was an unusually divided election, 1864 was fought under extraordinary domestic wartime conditions and during Reconstruction the game was effectively rigged each time in favour of the forces of occupation, er, the Republican Party.  The one time Tilden should have won, which ended up being the third consecutive GOP term following Grant’s two terms, his victory was taken from him in the “corrupt bargain.”  Properly speaking, the GOP did not actually legitimately win the election of 1876, but kept power as a result of the bargain.  Likewise, 1868 would not have been perceived as an election to a third consecutive Republican term, because most of Lincoln’s second term was served out by his Democratic Vice President.  1872 was obviously an incumbent’s election.  Because of the “corrupt bargain,” 1880 does not really belong to a string of consecutive GOP victories, but represents the break in between the Tilden and Cleveland victories.  FDR was excluded from any comparisons because the advantages of incumbency in 1940 made the contest fairly one-sided.  In other words, FDR’s third consecutive term is not a useful comparison, since no one before or after ever sought to be re-elected a second time.  Hence Donatelli’s qualifications about nonincumbents. 

I grant that Donatelli made a misleading statement when referring to Taft as the winner of a third consecutive term for his party.  It was the fourth consecutive election won by a Republican.  T.R.’s 1904 win is the relevant comparison we should look at, if we want a 2008 comparison, not Taft’s 1908 win.  However, the McKinley-Roosevelt-Taft sequence is highly unusual for at least one reason: most of Roosevelt’s first term was the completion of McKinley’s second, since McKinley was assassinated after his re-election.  Taft was succeeding a President who had been elected in his own right only once, but who had served the better part of two terms.  It might therefore seem at first glance as if Taft was succeeding a President who had won two consecutive elections, when he was actually only succeeding a one-time electoral victor.  The uniqueness of this sequence might tell us something about its poor value for comparison with other periods. 

The best comparison for the relatively unique 2008 cycle is 1928, when the party controlling the White House won the election but did not run an incumbent President or Vice President (where did you go when we needed you, Charles Dawes?*).  1904 and 1988 are poor comparisons for just this reason: the incumbent  President or Vice President was effectively running on a “four more years” platform.  To some degree, any nonincumbent, even if he is from the same party, cannot receive the same credit or blame that accrues to members of the current administration.  Indeed, the main hope that the GOP has is that their eventual nominee runs away from the current administration.  Since that seems unlikely, GOP chances of performing the difficult post-war task of winning a third consecutive term are even worse.  The circumstances in which each election takes place are all important: Hoover’s victory came during a time of peace and prosperity while 2008 will take place in a time of war and general dissatisfaction.  For that matter, 1904 and 1988 were also peacetime elections. 

What we can say with absolute confidence is that no nonincumbent member of an outgoing administration’s party has ever won an election during an ongoing war.  We can say this because the coincidence of an open election during a war that has lasted more than five years has never occurred in the past.  Wartime Presidents usually either win their wars, die in office or choose not to seek re-election.  It has never happened that a President has been re-elected during wartime and the war has continued beyond the end of the second term.  In this respect, there are no clear points of comparison for 2008.  All trends nonetheless point to a repudiation of the party responsible for the war, which is what happened in 1952 and 1968.

*This is a joke.

Meghan O’Rourke didn’t have to do much to convince me that the diamond engagement ring tradition is a sham, since I have come to instinctively, viscerally loathe diamond sellers and their horrible, manipulative marketing.  (Yes, all marketing is manipulative by design, but there has to be a limit somewhere.)  Forget all of the elaborate talk of gender equity–it’s a scam, pure and simple, and the fewer people who are parties to it the better.  It seems to me that buying a diamond ring signals to the woman not so much everlasting devotion as it announces to her and anyone else around, “I am easily conditioned and will do what the people on TV tell me to do.”  Perhaps this is what prospective brides are looking for–how should I know?   

After a psychotic, armed with a legally-purchased arsenal, massacred dozens of people on the campus of Virginia Tech University, there was near total silence about the nation’s lax gun laws [bold mine-DL]. ~Francis Wilkinson

I didn’t get into the post-VT massacre gun debate very much at all, but as soon as I read this I realised that Mr. Wilkinson must not have been paying much attention, since there was a very lively debate about this very subject in the days and weeks following the massacre.  The immediate aftermath of the VT massacre was filled with arguments about gun control from the left against arguments mainly about cultural depravity from the right, so much so that the intensity and immediacy of the political spinning of a mass killing were enough to sicken more than a few observers.  Rare indeed was the argument that said, “Yes, lunatics should have access to assault weapons.”  I suppose there were not all that many politicians who made a lot of noise about gun control at the time, but who believes that there was “near total silence” about the laxity of gun laws? 

For starters, I’m stunned to see the death of tens of thousands of foreigners caught up in an internecine battle billed by Larison as something suspiciously close to the concern of us Americans. One would have thought that whether or not it was a “bright idea” for Eritrea to secede made as much difference to foreign governments including ours, in terms of judgment, as whether or not Finland were a part of Russia or Slovakia a Sovereign Nation. Wars might always be lamentable, but what business is it of any good paleocon’s to tell Eritreans what and what not’s the smart stopping point for national satisfaction? ~James Poulos

That’s clever, but not clever enough.  The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia wasn’t “internecine,” for starters, but leave that for now.  I never said it was of concern to Americans.  It wasn’t and still isn’t.  I said that it was a very bad outcome for the peoples involved and for the region.  The origin of this very bad outcome was accepted by the “international community” during the flood of national self-determination movements that erupted after the end of the Cold War.  Perhaps nothing could have been done to prevent Eritrean independence anyway, but it serves as a useful example of what can come from the creation of new nations, even when they are created by way of an African “velvet divorce.”  The Horn of Africa is undoubtedly vastly worse-off because of the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  As a non-interventionist, I think that this does not concern me very much, because that conflict does not touch American interests.  It seems to me that it should concern those who bill themselves as realists and weigh policies according to how they will affect regional and international stability. 

If such observers think Kosovo independence will yield a significantly different result, they need to give reasons why they think so.  Dismissing concerns about the expansion of Albania, a land that is just as riven by criminality as Kosovo, is not a good way to start, when James must know that Albanian insurrectionists already exist in Macedonia in that fine, old Balkan tradition of irredentist guerrillas and they have launched, so far unsuccessfully, rebellions against the government in Skopje.  Macedonia was the killing ground of ethnic nationalists before the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, and there is no reason to think that all of the contestants in that old struggle have completely abandoned the old dreams of regaining a territory that at one time or another belonged to their people.  Why else do we have such ridiculous circumlocutions as the name ”Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” except to soothe the bruised Greek nationalist ego?   

Of course, as a non-interventionist I don’t think America should be telling Eritreans anything, but then I don’t think we should be maintaining Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo or supplying Ethiopia with weapons.  There is a whole list of things that Washington does that I think would be better left undone, but since we’re debating the merits of Meddlesome Policy A or Slightly Less Meddlesome Policy B, I choose the latter.  James seems to be of the view that the political future of Kosovo should be of enough concern to us to court the continued displeasure of Russia, among other potential problems, which seems to make Kosovo a matter of sufficiently great concern that he recommends that we expose our relationship with Russia to still greater strains.  To justify this, it is not enough that he simply prove that Kosovo independence would not be a bad precedent encouraging separatist violence in the rest of the region and elsewhere.  I don’t think he has fully answered this concern, which is very much a live concern.  Central and eastern Europe is full of arbitrary post-Versailles and post-Trianon lines that do not match up the ethnic populations of these territories.  If Albanian Kosovo will be independent, why should the Hungarian Vojvodina or Transylvania remain joined to the lands of the victors of WWI?  Once you begin pulling on the threads of the 1945 borders, as we have been doing for the last 16 years, revisionism could keep cropping up all over the place.  Kosovo’s “exceptional” status is just the opposite–there are numerous territories that belong to certain states despite the demographic realities that make them a readier match with other states.  So far, Albania has been the only one chaotic and lawless enough to serve as a launching pad for insurrection, but that does not mean that other states will not eventually provoke similar crises in the territories of their neighbours.  The point is, clearly, that actively promoting the independence of Kosovo will have real consequences for the security and stability of Europe.  If it is none of America’s business, then American officials should have nothing to do with it and the President should not talk about it.  If he insists on talking about it, he ought not say the wrong, destabilising sorts of things. 

In any case, James has to demonstrate that the change is actually an improvement over Kosovo remaining part of Serbia.  It seems to me that he still hasn’t done this.  This isn’t his fault–no one advocating for the independence of Kosovo has made such an argument.  Yet he and other proponents of Kosovo independence are the ones arguing for the innovation.  The burden of proof is squarely on those arguing for the change.  James wants to tell us that Kosovo is some exceptional case whose independence should not be the cause of anyone’s serious concern.  But if it is indeed none of our business whether Kosovo is independent or not, why would we not leave things in the political status quo or even return things to as close to the 1999 status quo ante as possible?

James comes to the crux of the matter that ought to matter to the realists among us:

And were Serbia truly isolated — that is, if Russia and China were somehow persuaded that the world, particularly the portions of Asia north of India, would not break out immediately into a contagion of insurrectionist hives — then Europe’s most put-upon state might let this last one go and resign itself to a fate which, admittedly, I would not want were I a Serb.  

This is a vital point.  Serbia isn’t isolated, and even if it were entirely on its own it is hard to imagine that Serbian nationalists would simply take the separation of Kosovo lying down forever.  Kosovo independence all but guarantees Serbian irredentism in the future, and it probably also guarantees Albanian irredentism outside Kosovo.  James says:

The issue is what the US ought to do having put itself in the shoes it now wears.   

Just so.  In our shoes, I think it would be very unwise to encourage the formal recognition of a statelet inside Europe, especially when it was one founded by terrorists and criminals.  Why Washington does not return it to the control of Belgrade remains a mystery.  Why would that be an unacceptable solution?  James has not clearly answered that, unless he is suggesting that I, the paleocon, should be concerned about an intercenine battle inside Serbian territory.

Marc Ambinder points us to Tommy Thompson’s campaign radio ad running in Iowa.  He outlines his three-point plan for “winning the peace in Iraq.”   

He says that the “Al-Maliki government” should vote on whether we should remain there.  Of course, the Maliki government already certifies the U.N.-authorised presence of the “multinational” force; members of the Iraqi parliament are working to reject that presence later this year, but so long as Maliki gets the final say the outcome of this process has already been determined.  So Step 1, which sounds good, may change nothing at all, since Maliki has been ”legitimising” our presence there for some time. 

Step 2 is to have 18 “state governments” in Iraq where “each major ethnic group can elect their own people.”  Minor ethnic groups in some provinces are evidently out of luck.  Rather incredibly, Thompson claims that “this would bring an end to much of the strife that currently divides Iraq.”  Why?  Because national elections also helped improve relations between sects and ethnic groups?  We might call this part of the plan federalising sectarianism.  Provincial elections are already on the Iraqi parliament’s agenda, but like everything else it has been stalled and seems unlilkely to move forward anytime soon.  So, in fact, step 2 is not new and may actually be a very bad idea. 

Step 3: “they must share their oil profits with every person in Iraq.”  Well, this would be ideal.  The hydrocarbon law remains stalled in the Iraqi parliament as well.  It is interesting to know what Thompson’s priorities for “winning the peace” are.  These points do demonstrate some minimal understanding of the problems of Iraq, which puts him way ahead of many of his rivals for the nomination (e.g., Giuliani, Romney), who think it shows expertise to be able to say the word Shia.  The problem is that Thompson’s proposals seem to mirror the current strategy, if so it can be called, and give no indication that the administration is already trying (and so far failing) to get these things done.  How would President Tommy Thompson do things differently?  We don’t know.  Will Iowa caucus-goers care that his plan is vague and insufficient?  Maybe not.  It might be a breath of fresh air for Iowans to hear someone besides Ron Paul talk about Iraq without once mentioning a caliphate or fascism.

Not to belabor my regular point about keeping at least one blood-soaked American promise, it’s worth reiterating that the ice-cold realist question remains whether or not independence for Kosovo is likely to destabilize various awkward world regions where ‘breakaway’ and ’separatist’ statelets (Transnistria, Abkhazia), aspiring statelets (South Ossetia), and has-been states (Taiwan) might take one look at an independent Kosovo and start agitating their way into International Crises. I submit this is not so. Kosovo is, like Iraq, a planetary aberration with a recent history too exceptional and twisted to merit any kind of comparison [bold mine-DL]. Kosovo has roughly nothing in common with any other zone of disgruntled sovereigntists — with the possible exception of Kurdistan. But no amount of sovereignty for Kosovo will move the United States or anyone else an inch toward support for a Kurdish state complete with flag and UN microphone. ~James Poulos

Fortunately, no matter what Mr. Bush says to his adoring fans in Albania, Kosovo independence is not guaranteed.  Obviously, the Russians are opposed for their own reasons, to which James alludes above, and there are even Albanians in Kosovo unhappy with the deal because it requires a continued European presence for several years.  Albanians in Kosovo want independence immediately, and the Russians will never let it happen.  Even with strong EU support for the separation of Kosovo, Mr. Bush has all of the clout of a wet noodle with Moscow right now.  This suggests impasse.

The bad precedent Kosovo independence would set has, in a sense, already been set with East Timor.  In an extremely bad move, East Timor was recognised as an independent country, which has hardly dampened separatist causes elsewhere within Indonesia.  It took a tsunami to quiet the Acehnese revolt.  There is fundamentally nothing, not even post-tsunami relief efforts, that is going to make Acehnese rebels more resigned to remaining part of Indonesia over the long term.  Timor Leste’s success can only encourage the Acehnese, whose state is hardly less viable as a polity than East Timor.  This is the sort of real danger that independence for territories or provinces of existing states has for international stability: the recent success of small, basically non-viable states to become independent will encourage more of the same in that country’s own region.  In Kosovo’s case, independence will be one step towards either joining Albania or a move to agitate for the “liberation” of their fellow Albanians inside Greece and Macedonia.  Forget about Abkhazia for a moment, or an even more serious separatist question, that of Kashmir.  Independence for Kosovo will have definite destabilising effects in the Balkans (to say nothing of the playground for narco- and human traffickers and worse that such a mini-state will become).  From the perspective of European law enforcement and security, European support for Kosovo independence is insane.  If stability in the Balkans is supposed to be an American goal, undermining that stability seems unwise.

Indeed, East Timor serves as a good warning to all who would elevate tiny quasi-polities to the level of independent nations that this is most undesirable.  These new states are inherently unstable and, even with the enormous gas reserves theoretically at Timor Leste’s disposal, horrendously underdeveloped.  Even if they should acquire nominal independence they will effectively be dependencies of the United Nations, regional powers and the relevant regional organisations for years and perhaps decades to come.  Independence does not solve the problem, nor does it put the question behind us, but instead makes it the business of the major powers for the foreseeable future.  Nothing is actually gained by most players by granting independence to these mini-states.  The major powers would agree to it either to score points against governments that the “international community” dislikes or promote a new nation as an exercise in nation-building. 

As for the exceptional nature of Kosovo, I respectfully submit to my learned colleague that its situation is all together too typical of the post-Cold War period.  The independence of Eritrea springs to mind as a good example of a case where the rest of the world unwisely said, “Oh, what’s the harm?  There will be one more independent nation to enrich the display of flags on First Avenue!  What could go wrong?”  Tens of thousands of Eritrean-Ethiopian war dead later, Eritrean independence doesn’t seem like a very bright idea.  As the two states’ recent fishing in troubled Somali waters shows, recognising the independence of a state that will inevitably be a persistent rival and enemy of a neighbour is a good way to make sure that there are more regional conflicts and crises rather than fewer.

Separatist and rebel causes all over the world, especially in India (Kashmiris, Nagas, Naxalites, etc.) and Sri Lanka (Tamil Tigers), can only be encouraged by the international recognition of Kosovo.  The point is not that any of these separatists will receive the support of major powers to gain independence, but that they will take the example of Kosovo as a model and will act in such a way to try to achieve the same result.  This means an increase in violence and the undermining of any political solution for these various rebellions. 

The Kosovo intervention, bad as it was, was not done so that Kosovo could be independent.  Washington does not owe Kosovo Albanians anything more.  Autonomy will have to be enough, as no one else has any real interest in their independence. 

Republicans should’ve beaten the Dems to this long ago. A whipping operation with an ounce of discipline could have nipped this entire thing in the bud simply by telling the President in public what he failed to hear privately: Gonzales is a marshmallow with eyes and hair and ought to be dismissed accordingly. He is a witless oaf at Justice and a lead-footed albatross round the neck of the Republican Party. ~James Poulos

I will keep America on offense in the Terrorists’ War on Us. ~Rudy Giuliani

James Joyner reasonably asks: “What the hell does that mean, exactly?”  Mr. Joyner goes through Giuliani’s “twelve commitments,” all of which are equally vague, and asks the right questions in response.  There is also a rhetorical problem with Giuliani’s re-branding of the “war on terror.”  If it is “the terrorists’ war on us,” this automatically gives the sense that we are already on the defensive, which renders his warnings about Democrats’ putting us on defense meaningless.  Ignore for a moment how simplistic and ridiculous this sort of thinking is (should we rename the drug war “drugs’ war on us”?), and just note that Giuliani’s first act to “keep us on offense” is to adopt a name that carries the connotation of being on the defensive.  Rhetorically, it is a total failure.  It conveys an idea that directly contradicts the message that Giuliani wants to send.  If he can’t even manage to get the phrasing right, why would anyone think that he knows how to handle actual policy challenges?  

It is amusing to think that all the polls and many pundits have held up Giuliani as the frontrunner, and yet he has not even made a formal announcement and has not given a single policy speech worth mentioning.  If these “commitments” are what he will be campaigning on for the next several months, he won’t remain in front of the pack for very long.

Democrats have opened up as much as a 15-point lead in party identification, a gap not seen since the Nixon-Ford days of the 1970s. ~Frank Donatelli

The opening of this gap has probably been the most significant change on the political scene taking place over the last couple of years.  Even in the absence of Democratic fundraising advantages thus far this cycle, this could have a devastating effect on Republicans in Congress in ‘08.  As I said last month:

As Clausewitz might have said if he were a political blogger, “Voter identification is to fundraising as three to one.”

The gap is significant because it reflects the morale of party regulars and hints at future voting habits.  Obviously, the gap occurs and then widens when one side is energised and the other side is dispirited.  The latter needs a nominee that can inspire voters and generate tremendous enthusiasm.  The problem is that the political environment is so poor for the GOP that very few politicians are capable of generating enough enthusiasm to make up for this deficit in party ID.

Hundreds of single straws, each in its own right not strong enough to effect change, could quickly become a broom. ~Natan Sharansky

Yes, Sharansky then talks about “sweeping” away the tyrannies of the world.  Very clever.  But there is a small problem here: a bundle of straws does not make a broom, but a pile of straw.   

This strikes me as the perfect metaphor for why democracy activists in many countries around the world labour and will continue to labour in vain: all the dissident ”straws” in the world are useless without the social and political foundations needed to make a dissenting political vision into an effective, reasonably just government.  Countries that lack a political culture that instills respect for the rule of law, transparent and accountable institutions and basic constitutional protections for citizens against state abuses are not going to be able to sustain whatever political changes these dissidents manage to make.

Reportedly, it took Mr. Sharansky’s personal intercession to get Mr. Bush to come to Prague against the advice of the State Department, a depressing indication of where things stand with what used to be called “the freedom agenda.” ~Bret Stephens

What’s actually depressing is the idea that Mr. Bush would choose to listen to Sharansky rather than to the advice of the State Department.  The people at State probably wanted to save him the embarrassment of giving the speech that he gave.  They were probably trying to avoid occasions where Mr. Bush would publicly chide American allies.  It’s not as if our government is overwhelmed with expressions of goodwill and cooperation these days that it can afford to alienate still more foreign governments. 

It’s strange how interventionists very selectively pick the dissidents whom they lionise and promote.  Solzhenitsyn is also a great Soviet dissident, but I suspect that Mr. Stephens and his crowd would not be terribly interested in having the President defer to him when deciding how to manage the foreign affairs of the United States government. 

Russia’s Garry Kasparov is here, as is Egyptian academic Saad Eddin Ibrahim, former Syrian parliamentarian Mamoun Homsy and others from Iran, Palestine, Belarus, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China. They mix easily with a half-dozen Israelis led by Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who, with the Czech Republic’s Václav Havel and Spain’s José María Aznar, is chairing the event. The idea is to put together what Mr. Sharansky describes as “a trade union for dissidents,” which can do to the various tyrannies of our day what Poland’s Solidarity movement did to the great tyranny of its time. ~Bret Stephens

This meeting in Prague seems to have been, among other things, an international Who’s Who of past and present Iraq war supporters.  Offhand, I’d say that alone is a pretty good reason to be deeply skeptical of any policy recommendations that have the stamp of approval of Aznar, Sharansky, Havel and Kasparov. 

Take Sharansky’s “trade union for dissidents” notion for starters.  This is a tired rip-off of actual trade unionism that expressed the legitimate grievances of Polish dockworkers against the communist regime in Warsaw and its masters in Moscow.  Unlike that actual trade unionism, which had to do with protesting ideologically-imposed injustices for the benefit of Polish labourers, Sharansky is proposing a talking shop where various dissidents, some more real than others, gather to indulge in ideologically-charged rhetorical backslapping.  Somehow I just don’t see the similarities.

Update: You’ll also notice that, despite these cliched references to Polish Solidarity, Lech Walesa was nowhere to be found at this “dissidents’ conference.”

It’s crucial to recall that the Taliban was not just a religious movement, but also an expression of Pashto [sic] nationalism, and that that the Taliban had a lot of trouble expanding into areas where other ethnicities predominated. ~Matt Yglesias

Well, that’s sort of true, but it isn’t really, when you consider that the Taliban had quite effectively established control over 95% of the country by 1996 and was in no great danger of losing that control until the combined U.S.-Northern Alliance assault in October 2001.  I accept Yglesias’ other point that Al Qaeda is unlikely to prevail against Anbari Sunni tribesmen, provided that those tribesmen remain more or less united in their efforts to eliminate Al Qaeda.  One reason why this is right is simply raw numbers: as a foreign operation, Al Qaeda will not have the numbers or local connections to overcome solid local opposition by force of arms.  Where the comparison with the Taliban is useful is in the dissimilarity of the two situations.  Unlike the Taliban in the 1990s, Al Qaeda in Iraq does not actually have the backing of a major regional government, a natural recruiting base or the military means to conquer and hold very much territory. 

The Taliban was, first of all, not entirely foreign, though it was backed by the Pakistani government, and had a significant base of local support among fellow Pashtuns.  Its difficulty in dominating the rest of Afghanistan beyond the south and east was rooted partly in the hostility of Tajiks and Hazaras to their rule, but it had far more to do with the persistent military resistance of opposing warlords and the Northern Alliance, supplied by Russia and Iran.  When the military forces of the Alliance were driven to the north, local ethnic minorities did not engage in prolonged resistance.  In the end, the Taliban had military superiority and, even more crucially, successfully restored order to the parts of the country they controlled.  This was an important factor in solidifying their control over a country that had suffered from more or less continuous warfare for more than fifteen years.  Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda has been actively alienating its presumed natural constituency among Sunnis in western Iraq.  Unlike the Taliban, it has no means to offer any modicum of social or political order, and so has little or nothing to offer that would encourage locals to yield to their control.  The clear dissimilarity between Al Qaeda in Iraq today and the Taliban in the 1990s is one reason why claims that an Al Qaeda statelet will establish itself in Anbar province after we leave are ridiculous.

As the sociologist Manuel Castells generalized, “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local.” People with university values favor intermingling. People with neighborhood values favor assimilation.

What’s made the clashes so poisonous is that many members of the educated class don’t even recognize that they are facing a rival philosophy. Many of them assume that anybody who disagrees with them on immigration and such must be driven by racism, insecurity or some primitive atavism. This smug attitude sends members of the communal, nationalistic side into fits of alienation and prickly defensiveness. It’s what makes many of them, in turn, so unpleasant. ~David Brooks

I like the sociologist’s generalisation, since it seems to suggest that elites aren’t actually people.  It also suggests that ”elites” have to be conditioned to accept rootlessness and ”cosmopolitan” attitudes, as these are the farthest things from normal.  This would help explain how they manage to hold such strange views about the world and their fellow citizens.  Of course, this idea of town v. gown as the explanation for our political conflicts is a reprise of Brooks’ opposition between so-called “progressive globalists” and “populist-nationalists.”  Generally, I think he describes the division correctly, though I don’t necessarily buy the prog-globs’ self-description of themselves as being “cosmopolitan.”  Many of them are not cosmopolitan in the sense that they are genuinely “open” to or curious about other cultures and peoples.  They espouse universal ideals and values, so what need is there to trouble themselves with foreign traditions that should be cast aside in favour of these values?  They are convinced that no one could actually prefer their own customs and religion to the exciting world of individualistic self-definition and anomie.  According to this view, all people naturally desire what we already have.  We are the mountain, and Muhammad will, must, come to us.  A more unpleasant and hateful idea is difficult to imagine. 

They are cosmopolitan in reaction against the definitions of their own native culture, but many of them usually find very little of value in foreign cultures that extends beyond exotic food and textiles.  They are the ones alienated from their homes, but they cannot truly be at home anywhere else, either.  Trying to belong to the whole world, they find no place for themselves anywhere.  This makes them rather obnoxious and domineering, as they seek to make everyone else just as rootless as they are–and so they advance policies of “openness” and “integration” that are aimed at nothing so much as breaking down cultural, ethnic and religious lines and dis-integrating nations.  This sort of cosmopolitanism is almost entirely negative.  In the West, it comes partly from a rebellion against any distinctive forms of Western and Christian identity and partly from an attempt to identify the creations of our civilisation with the universal aspirations of all people.  These are the people who never think that they are harming other people by attacking their cultures and traditions–it is always an emancipation.  “Look, we are making you more open and worldly!  You should thank us!”  The natural, normal reaction of most people to throw things and shout abuse at such “benefactors” is the “unpleasantness” that Brooks describes.  (Unmentioned in this discussion of a conflict of “values” is the deeply undemocratic nature of the bill that was almost foisted upon the country and the tyrannical refusal up till now to enforce the laws of the land–you don’t have to be a “neighbourhood” guy to see what is wrong with these things.) 

As for being unpleasant, there is nothing quite so unpleasant as the rich, Eastern transplant legacy frat boy telling the people of this country that they don’t want to do what’s right for America.  What would he or any other member of the elite know about America?  Except for political campaigning, changing planes or vacationing at their enormous ranches and ski lodges, these people hardly venture out into the interior of this country.  Whether they are in business or government, such “cosmopolitan” people have the cosmopolitanism of having been to two dozen airports where they encounter the same globalised junk pseudo-culture wherever they go.  These are the sort of people who don’t just fly over the interior because it is quicker–they truly don’t want to go to any of the places between the coasts.  This is generally fine by the rest of us, since we wouldn’t want them to visit anyway.

These people are legitimately cosmopolitan in that they would like to think that they are not citizens of any particular place.  To be a “citizen of the world” is the epitome of meaningless, oceanic detachment from your origins and your home.  It has never been clear to me why someone should become more like this the more educated he becomes, since the more education you have the more likely it is that you realise how wildly abnormal this sort of detachment is.  Perhaps I take this view because I am a product of many (maybe too many!) years of formal education and have somehow not bought into this nonsense about “openness.”  It is a little story that globalists tell to flatter themselves with the idea that they are more “open” and inquisitive and interested in the rest of the world, but mostly they just want to make the rest of the world as bland, self-referential and provincial as Manhattan and D.C.

Perhaps I’m confused about something.  Bob Novak tells us that “the base” wants Bush to get rid of Gonzales and pardon Libby.  As much as loyal party men love and support Libby, they are just as embarrassed by Gonzales’ awesome political and managerial incompetence.  So you might expect that, if the Senate GOP wanted to keep faith with what “the base” thinks, the Senators voting the party line would not vote with the President and Gonzales, since they regard Gonzales as a ridiculous failure. 

Instead they would express the lack of confidence that virtually everyone has already expressed about Gonzales.  Because it is a non-binding resolution, it provides everyone with an easy, symbolic vote to demonstrate some small amount of independence from the administration.  It does not compel anyone to do anything, but makes Gonzales’ position much more difficult.  It even gives Bush a pretext for removing Gonzales.  Everybody–except Gonzales–wins, right?  Well, apparently only moderate and vulnerable Senate Republicans (a category that seems to overlap more and more all the time) saw the value in siding with the Democrats.  The Republicans who crossed over are the usual suspects of administration critics and “surge” opponents, and almost all are slated to run in 2008. 

Rather than take the opportunity to repudiate Gonzales, Mr. Bush has settled into stubborn attachment to one of his Texan hangers-on and the Senate leadership has followed his lead.  Just as he did with Rumsfeld, he will eventually yield, but not before it will be too late to do him any good.  Gonzales cannot realistically remain Attorney General until January 2009, unless Mr. Bush wants to see Justice ground to a halt or rendered fairly dysfunctional for the next year and a half, and the sooner he goes the less damage Gonzales and any hint of impropriety do to Mr. Bush’s party.  If the majority of the public comes to see the defense of Gonzales as another exercise in irresponsible and/or unethical government by Republicans, the Congressional GOP and ‘08 nominee will be the ones who suffer the consequences, which are already going to be quite ugly.

[T]he cheapest date in Washington for sleazy foreign agents posing as US citizens… ~George Ajjan on Liz Cheney

George has a great post on the leader of a “Syrian” opposition group, Farid Ghadry.  The great tradition of Likudniks and neocons collaborating with Near Eastern con-men continues unbroken, and I think we can expect that tradition to continue for some time to come.

The thing you always need to remember when Democrat politicians talk is that they’re lying. ~Tom DeLay

Strong words from the ethics rules-violator and indicted corruption suspect.  I have taken DeLay’s presence at The Politico to be an indication of that operation’s biases, but I am beginning to think that only a cunning progressive strategist would bring on someone as discredited, dishonest and generally undesirable as Tom DeLay to represent the Republican or conservative side in any sort of point-counterpoint segment.  It’s like inviting Ken Lay as the spokesman for company management to a meeting about shareholders’ rights.  His every column might as well be a declaration: corrupt and indicted ex-Congressmen are the perfect representatives for the right.  That’s the impression his continued presence at Politico gives. 

The alternative explanation is that editors at The Politico think it is a good idea to associate with people indicted on corruption charges.  I believe William Jefferson might soon be looking for a writing gig–maybe Politico can team up the two of them and they can swap pointers on how to abuse the public’s trust. 

Oh, yes, DeLay goes on to say that there is no real scandal surrounding Gonzales and the USA firings, in the sense that there was nothing illegal about them.  This actually happens to be true (not that DeLay can explain why), but it also gives you a pretty good sense of how indifferent many House Republicans would probably have continued to be to any perceived or real improprieties committed by the administration had they remained in power.  The Democrats are here engaged in something called “oversight.”  We understand that this would confuse DeLay, since the Republican majority forgot how to oversee the executive branch once Mr. Bush came to power.  The Democrats may be pursuing pseudo-scandals, which would, of course, appear to put them in the exact position of the GOP majority from 1995-98 (though some of these scandals had some substance, as some of the Bush scandals have), but in the process they are also uncovering the endless depths of administration incompetence. 

That seems to be in the public interest.  It also happens to be the Democrats’ partisan interest, which is how an adversarial, divided government is supposed to work: there is supposed to be an incentive for power to check power and the vying interests of different branches and different groups to counter one another.  This hardly results in the ideal preservation from tyranny that some 18th century gentlemen hoped for, but it is certainly more desirable than having the Congress pathetically prostrating itself before the President and his ministers in all things.  I suppose it is unavoidable that members of the President’s party will whine about oversight and also unavoidable that they will become supremely self-righteous in demanding the same oversight when the other party gets the White House.  It is as predictable as it is tiresome.  I much prefer the rare few who actually think that Janet Reno and Alberto Gonzales should have never been appointed, who believe that both Libby and Clinton were guilty of breaking the law, who believe that William Jefferson and Tom DeLay are probably guilty and who believe that both Messrs. Clinton and Bush are dreadful, dishonest men who have started wars without good reason.  There are few people who believe all of these things, because party loyalty has great pull on people.  We all would like to believe that “our side” is entirely free from all serious faults, as if someone’s political leanings made him magically more or less immune to the temptations of power, but this is horribly wrong.  Indeed, it is just this sort of attitude that breeds the destructive, corrupting complacency in large sections of the public when “their” side engages in horrible behaviour that would otherwise outrage the silent collaborators among the people.  

Amusingly, DeLay compares himself to Robert Torricelli, which doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing you would want to say if you are maintaining that you are innocent of corruption charges.

Mr. Romney’s tendency to gloss over Mormonism’s history and distinctive tenets has upset some fellow Mormons. Some said they cringed when Mr. Romney said on “60 Minutes,” “I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.”

Tom Grover, 26, a Mormon who is the host of a weekday talk show on politics on radio station KVNU here, said that while he thinks Mr. Romney has handled the scrutiny admirably, some of his callers were incensed about Mr. Romney’s repudiation of his own ancestors’ polygamy. The church outlawed the practice a century ago, but members are taught to understand that polygamy had a theological and historical context in the church, which Mr. Romney’s remark ignored.

“That really left a bad taste in people’s mouths,” Mr. Grover said. “That’s a tough thing for people to hear when their ancestors sacrificed a lot to live that life. They probably wouldn’t bring polygamy back, but they honor the place of it in church history.” ~The New York Times

Even when he’s disrespecting his own religious tradition, Romney can’t really be honest.  He can’t imagine “anything more awful than polygamy”?  Really?  Genocide, slavery, war, abortion, cannibalism, murder–these are runners-up in Romney’s mind?  Leave aside whether or not he offends Mormons by saying this–it either demonstrates a strange view of what the worst thing in the world is or it is another example of Romney’s willingness to say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get out of a tough question.  More importantly, anyone who would so readily dismiss and condemn his own church’s history for the sake of political expediency is a man who cannot be trusted with any position of responsibility. 

In many ways, this is how the Senate is supposed to work–questioning the actions of the executive, especially in such critical matters as war and peace. Yet one can’t but read these transcripts and see a group of lawmakers already so burned by the experience of Vietnam that their preoccupation with avoiding a repeat experience was hampering their ability to respond to new challenges. Of course, none of them could have anticipated the stunning Israeli victory to come–or the conflict that such a win would fuel for the next four decades. However, there is a point at which oversight leads to myopia–where excessive focus on the mistakes of the past harden into a paralysis when confronted with the threats of the future. ~Ken Baer

Via Yglesias

So Mr. Baer thinks that it would have been a good idea to intervene directly in the 1967 crisis?  What exactly was myopic about the committee’s pointed questions to the Secretary of State?  

When the Senate engages in some minimal oversight after having already capitulated to an irresponsible administration in the escalation of one war, it has started down the dark path to myopic apologies for tyrannical regimes?  That’s remarkable.  One might have thought that it had been the shocking lack of oversight for most of the last four years that had landed us in the present debacle, but then one would not have the profound understanding of Ken Baer.

Baer went on to write:

But it would be a disservice to our progressive ideals if we allowed disgust with the Bush Administration to lead to a softness toward totalitarian, anti-egalitarian, atavistic regimes and movements. In this case, the ideological enemy of my political enemy is not my friend.  

Wouldn’t the “ideological enemy” of an American progressive also be someone on the American right?  Come to think of it, given the man’s economic populism and lavish promises of state subsidies to all and sundry (on which he has, of course, not delivered and which he has no effective means to deliver), arguably Ahmadinejad has more things in common with at least some progressives with respect to his own domestic policy priorities than he has sharp differences.  That would, however, remind us that Ahmadinejad was elected against the explicit wishes of the clerical establishment, which supported Rafsanjani, and that he won on a platform of Kingfish-esque demagoguery that appealed to the Iranian poor.  That would remind us that elections take place in Iran, which would in turn tend to poke holes in portrayals of the regime as a monolithic, undifferentiated mass.  None of this is to ignore the controls the regime has on these elections and the restrictions it places on who can run, nor is this an attempt to claim that Tehran is not a repressive regime.  That would be a strange thing to claim, since there obviously are political prisoners and repressive and brutal militias that enforce official codes of dress and conduct.  However, neither is Iran the uniform, fanatical, suicidal state that the administration and its supporters attempt to make it out to be.  Regimes can be brutal and nasty without being apocalyptic dangers to us and everyone else.  Typically, such regimes are surprisingly brittle and weak and are the exact opposite of the world-threatening powers jingoes describe them as being. 

We have been warned about new Hitlers a few too many times in the last fifteen years, and it doesn’t work anymore.  Here is a good antidote to the more hysterical fearmongering about the Iranians.

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics’ willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it. ~Judge Reggie Walton on the amicus brief of Bork, Dershowitz, et al.

The amicus curiae brief itself is quite amusing.  We are supposed to believe that these famous law professors bestirred themselves to express their deep, abiding concern about the constitutionality of Patrick Fitzgerald’s appointment as special counsel.  You see, even though the previous AG assigned this investigation to him and the AG could remove him at any time for any reason, these esteemed worthies thought it worth everyone’s time to query whether Fitzgerald was an “inferior officer.”  Yeah. 

Their zealous devotion to the letter of the Constitution is most impressive.  One wonders where all this zeal was hiding for the last six years. 

Here is Colin Powell defending himself and the original decision to invade Iraq by invoking the 2002 NIE.  That would be the rapidly thrown-together report that Sen. Bob Graham, as Obama reminded Edwards at the recent debate, cited when giving his reasons for voting against the resolution to authorise the President to use force.  If it was possible to conclude that war was not necessary or prudent after reading the 2002 NIE, why would anyone at this late stage continue to cite as some sort of authority, as if its findings made war the obvious choice?

Whom do pro-war conservatives love more: Scooter Libby or Joe Lieberman?*  They would vote for Joementum, but is there any limit to what they would do for Scooter? 

*It’s a trick question.  The one they love the most is, of course, Dick Cheney.


Chronicles is seeking a full-time, on-site assistant editor/editorial assistant.

January 2007Successful candidates will

—possess superior grammatical skills
—have some experience with copyediting and/or proofreading
—be familiar with Chronicles
—not be offended by the rich smell of pipe and cigar smoke

Send résumé to:

Assistant Editor Position
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture
928 North Main Street
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Applicants may also send letters off inquiry and résumés via e-mail to:

Now observers close to the campaign are revealing – with some astonishment – that donations to the campaign in recent weeks have pushed the total up to perhaps $4 or $5 million.

“That’s a huge number at this stage,” says one observer. “That starts to put him in a position where he can compete – state by state, anyway – with the major candidates.”

And this source added, “Of course, it’s hard to tell because the numbers keep changing – and thus nobody at the campaign has a firm count, at least not hour to hour. But the numbers are big. It’s definitely over three, probably over four, and if it hasn’t hit five yet, it will soon.”

At this rate, say observers, Ron Paul could have something like $10 million in his coffers inside of several months, and the total could keep growing – so long as he continues to hit on themes that Americans support – how to return the country to a true, small government, constitutional republic and how to end the war in Iraq. ~Free Market News

Via Sullivan

That’s great news.  I’m glad to say that I have contributed to his campaign.  Will the chattering classes start taking him seriously now?  I wonder if they know how.  

Defending the Constitution and opposing unnecessary wars–sounds like a winning message to me. 

We are not talking about a Mark Rich, an ongoing criminal pardoned by Bill Clinton for indefensible reasons. ~Bill Buckley

That’s right.  We are talking about Mark Rich’s dishonest lawyer.

All this change took a toll on many working Americans, who felt a pervasive sense of uncertainty - a sense that perhaps we were losing our identity, losing our way; perhaps our future would not be as bright as our past.  To some, the early 20th century looked like the beginning of America’s decline. ~Secretary Rice

This is a device that administration officials use all the time.  They take whatever it is they think their critics are saying about *them* and their disastrous policies in the present, use some historical analogy where they purport to find the same argument being used in the past and declare that, just like so-and-so in the 1910s, the pessimists are also wrong today.  This would be convincing if anyone could recall the actual prophets of American decline c. 1900 or 1914 or 1920.  No one was saying such things, since it was clear during these decades that America was going anywhere but into decline.  It is worth remembering that the response to mass immigration then was a thoroughgoing assimilationist view, espoused memorably by Teddy Roosevelt, who was pretty much the antithesis of the current President in all things except their shared fondness for armed conflict.  This is worth noting, since Rice makes TR the centerpiece of her address and the embodiment of her idea of “American Realism.” 

The beginning is not promising:

American Realism is an approach to the world that arises not only from the realities of global politics but from the nature of America’s character: From the fact that we are all united as a people not by a narrow nationalism of blood and soil, but by universal ideals of human freedom and human rights.  We believe that our principles are the greatest source of our power. And we are led into the world as much by our moral ideas as by our material interests.

But this is simply the retrojection of the idealism and utopian nonsense of the Second Inaugural back onto Teddy Roosevelt.  Roosevelt was a nationalist, yes, and an Americanist, but I think few would confuse him with a champion of human freedom and human rights as such.  The man who “used American power to eradicate yellow fever and support public health in the Philippines and in parts of the Americas” also oversaw the brutal crushing of the Filipino insurgency and waged a war against these people for the sake of retaining control over a coaling station in the interests of power projection and securing commerce.  You can argue that Roosevelt was basically right or you can regard him as a dreadful imperialist, but what you cannot do is reinvent the man as George Bush with a moustache. 

It gets worse:

It is for these reasons, and for many others, that America has always been, and will always be, not a status quo power, but a revolutionary power - a nation with New World eyes, that looks at change not as a threat to be feared, but as an opportunity to be seized.

This is crazy.  World powers or aspiring world powers that try to be revolutionary powers destroy themselves.  Look at France, Germany and the Soviet Union.  World powers sustain themselves by being big defenders of the status quo.  In reality, America, Britain and France have traditionally been friends of the status quo since WWI.  The Allies in WWI were dedicated to keeping the geopolitical order under their control.  The revisionists lost, the status quo won.  The same happened in WWII, where the Axis rebelled against the post-Versailles status quo and lost.  The Cold War was the result of the attempt of America, Britain and their allies to ensure that the world’s revolutionary power did not overturn the post-WWII status quo.  The story of the 20th century is in part the story of the failure of global revolution, at least when that revolution is actively promoted by a major power.  No world power that is on top of the heap and wants to stay there encourages revolution.  Indeed, no established government should want to encourage the fires of revolution elsewhere, as they will eventually turn back on the one fanning the flames in unexpected ways.

It keeps getting worse:

It was American Realism that informed the work of American statesmen in the early years of the Cold War - people like Truman and Vandenburg, and Marshall and Acheson, and Kennan and Nitze.  It informed for years later by Kennedy, and Reagan, people who understood that we had to deal with the reality of Soviet power but should never forget the malignant nature of that state’s character.

I feel confident in saying that George Kennan did not belong to this school of realism, if it is realism at all.  To list Kennan as being somehow similar in his foreign policy views to Kennedy seems especially bizarre.

Then there was this remarkable string of statements:

Trade is an engine not only of economic growth, but also of political transformation. Integrating into the global economy helps to open closed societies. It helps new democracies to deliver on the high hopes of their people. And it gives governments a stake in the international system.

I happen to agree with this, more or less, which is why I find it so utterly inexplicable that we should persist in our dead-end sanctions policies towards such states as Iran and Cuba.  Were Iran not such an economic mess, Ahmadinejad’s economic populism would have had much less appeal.  Had Cuba been open to American trade, it seems much less likely that the party dictatorship in Havana would be as strong and entrenched as it is today.  At the very least, it would have been compelled, as Beijing has been, to accommodate the creation and creators of wealth.  Instead, the actual policies of this most non-realist of administrations have sought to deepen the isolation of these nations.

Secretary Rice concludes with nauseating cheers for optimism.  What more is there to say? 

There are no coronations in America. ~Sen. Sam Brownback

If he thinks this, I’m afraid the good Senator has not been paying much attention to the Republican nominating process for, oh, the last forty years.  In this instance, I wish he were right.  I hope that people in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida do not respond to barrages of advertising and the cheap, lazy rhetoric of fearmongering that Romney offers.  (This would be to hope for something quite unusual.)  It would be outstanding to have a thoroughly competitive nominating process.  It would be fascinating to see what happens when each of the media-crowned top three does not get to have twice as much time in every debate as each of his competitors.  It would be intriguing to see what having qualified, representative, principled candidates leading the field is like.  I can barely remember the last time the GOP had a nominee who possessed all three of these traits. 

Instead, as we can all see, the GOP doesn’t have any of that.  It has the unqualified (Giuliani), the unrepresentative (McCain) and the unprincipled (you know who) leading the way.  Unless someone upends Romney at Ames or at least makes a big splash (better than 25%), the GOP will have a coronation of someone as it pretty much always does.


Jingoism Can Be Fun

In this dispiriting display of pandering and group-think, two notable contrary examples stand out. 

On the Democratic side, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, alone on the stage in voting for the temporary funding bill, declared his determination not to deny arms and protective equipment for the troops his 2002 vote helped send to Iraq — even, he said, if it costs him the nomination.

And on the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona defended his and the president’s comprehensive and humanitarian approach to immigration — a grace note in what was otherwise a rather discordant pair of ensemble performances. ~David Broder

What do Biden and McCain have in common here?  For one thing, they are both wildly, profoundly out of step with their parties on these questions.  Broder praises these two as examples of resisting “pandering and group-think,” but what this actually means is not that Biden and McCain have taken some bold, independent position, but simply that they have sided with the conventional wisdom of the establishment that a) we cannot “precipitously” withdraw from Iraq and b) we must have comprehensive immigration reform.  In other words, they are engaged in pandering and group-think, but their pandering and group-think are not aimed at their constituents or the parties they propose to lead in the general election as the respective presidential nominees.  Biden is participating in the group-think of the foreign policy establishment, while McCain is pandering to the media and the interests of business.  They pander and conform to the political establishment, rather than to the wishes of the public.  There is always something very distasteful about pandering and groupthink (see Mitt Romney and John Edwards as examples), but at least pandering to the voters has some minimally respectable justification in what is allegedly a representative government.  By contrast, Biden and McCain show themselves to be predictable functionaries of the Washington insider set and they also happen to be wrong on the policies where they differ from their competitors.  That’s quite an achievement.   

What dispirits Broder is actual political difference between the parties and the gall of most of the presidential candidates to speak to their respective constituencies in language that those constituencies will find appealing.  I may also be horrified by most of the GOP field’s easy-going banter about tactical nukes (as should any sane person), but for good or ill these candidates are competing for the support of their party’s base right now and that will inevitably involve candidates from both parties saying things that David Broder will find unrealistic or strange.  This is because David Broder is thoroughly out of touch with the views of most Americans on both Iraq and immigration, just as he is on most issues. 

But the dynamic on both sides is trending toward extreme positions that would open the door to an independent or third-party challenge in 2008 aimed at the millions of voters in the center. ~David Broder

I just heard Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos chatting on the ABC Evening News about the collapse of the immigration bill. Their conclusion? It was killed by extremists on both sides: liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans overwhelmed the centrists. It just goes to show that partisan polarization has made America ungovernable. ~Kevin Drum (who vehemently rejects this interpretation)

But together it added up to another example of a polarized political system in which the center could not hold.


The collective failure of the two parties already appears to have stimulated interest in a third-party candidate for president in 2008 whose main promise would be to make Washington work. ~Dan Balz

Balz doesn’t seem to have any particular provisions he’d like to see the bill contain. He just thinks there’s a big “immigration problem” and that congress should “do something” — anything — about it. Most annoyingly of all, he dresses this quintessentially Beltway desire to see legislating qua legislating up in faux populist garb: “to those far removed from the backrooms of Capitol Hill, what happened will fuel cynicism toward a political system that appears incapable of finding ways to resolve the nation’s big challenges.” Why a failure of interest-group logrolling should fuel cynicism, I couldn’t quite say. ~Matt Yglesias

…a piece [Balz’s article] produced with stunning swiftness that nevertheless manages to incorporate every respectable, loaded, portentous goo-goo cliche available ~Mickey Kaus

Via Ross

If any “respectable” journalist wants some greater understanding of why political bloggers tend to look down on “the MSM,” why they tend to be very aggressive against so-called “centrists” and why they are relatively more “extreme” in their politics, just read Dan Balz’s article or David Broder’s column to get a sense of the obnoxious, condescending junk that Americans are expected to accept as “responsible,” mainstream political journalism.  As the bloated, sclerotic heart of establishmentarian “centrism, The Washington Post deserves some special criticism for routinely serving up this miserable fare.

As near as I can tell, the complaining of Broder, Balz, Gibson, et al. is that special interests (e.g., pro-immigration lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.) failed to force through a bill that most Americans didn’t like and don’t want.  In the “centrist” view, those special interests represent the “center,” because the overall result matches up with the mindless, feel-good ”centrist” view that immigration is good and must be encouraged in all forms and at all costs, while the Senators actually representing the interests of their constituents and making coherent, serious criticisms of various provisions of the bill are the “extremists.”  In short, for the “centrist” gang, responsible, detail-oriented policymaking is a danger to the system, while gargantuan, confused, special interest-driven legislation is the salve to the nation’s wounds. 

The result was what you would expect to get from an omnibus bill on something as complex and controversial as immigration legislation.  Had Congress attacked this in a piecemeal fashion, there would not have been so many obstacles preventing its passage.  It is a very good thing, from the restrictionist perspective, that the majority attacked this problem in this way, since it will show the dead-end that is “comprehensive” reform and it should also show the importance of attending to specific problems of immigration reform one at a time.  That will probably make it less likely that pro-amnesty forces will be able to successfully incorporate something like the “Z” visa scam in future legislation.  At the very least, it might require defenders of amnesty to make arguments for this sort of measure without being able to buy votes with other elements of a larger bill, or so we can hope.

It occurs to me that we have a contemporary example of what sort of policy is adopted when “the center” holds and “extremists” of left and right are ignored in policy debate: the Iraq war.  It seems to me that this is not a desirable model to follow.  Perhaps if there were more debate that was more representative of the diversity of opinion in this country, rather than an acceptance of the requirements of a “centrist” consensus focused on passing bad legislation for the sake of comity and collaboration, we would have fewer phenomenally bad policies both at home and abroad.  I know, it’s a lot to ask, but that’s because I’m an unreasonable extremist who wants to loose anarchy upon the world.

Drum is right that Republicans contributed most of the votes that killed the amnesty bill.  That this was in no small measure a result of Republican partisan solidarity against Harry Reid’s parliamentary rigidity and not the result of any serious or principled objection to some of the worst features of the bill is beside the point.  Most of the majority party lined up behind the bill, and most of the minority did not, which is what you would expect for a bill that belongs to the majority party’s legislative priorities and represents something that large parts of the minority party’s constituents oppose fiercely.  There were crucial defections from the Democratic side, among them Byron Dorgan, who may very soon pass Jim Webb as the Senate Democrat I like the most.

If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, I
wear that title with pride. ~President George W. Bush

The event at which Mr. Bush was speaking and the entire theme of Mr. Bush endorsing the work of dissidents in repressive countries highlight just how absurd it is to have someone like Mr. Bush giving this speech.  This is a President who, along with his administration and its supporters, has routinely insulted, misrepresented and smeared critics and dissidents who oppose his policies.  He does not really respect dissent and has no interest in the actual arguments of those who disagree with him.  He has virtually nothing in common with political dissidents as such.   

The communists had an imperial ideology that claimed to know the directions of history [bold mine-DL]. But in the end, it was overpowered by ordinary people who wanted to live their lives, and worship their God, and speak the truth to their children. ~President George W. Bush

The irony of Bush’s statement here–mocking the ideological determinism of the communists in a speech bristling with references to the certain judgements and direction of history–is simply overwhelming.  If I thought his speechwriters capable of it, I would say that they put this line in there as part of an inside joke at Mr. Bush’s expense. 

Mr. Bush’s Prague speech lays out plainly that he thinks modern history is the story of the progressive advance of freedom.  He is horribly wrong, but that isn’t my point.  He believes, as he insists at several points, that it is ”inevitable” that freedom will triumph.  This is a deterministic and ideological statement.  There is nothing inevitable in history.  It is a mark of actual human freedom–our free will–that ensures that there is no sure or straight or inevitable path of development for any one nation, much less for the whole world.  Indeed, if freedom were the inevitable outcome that cannot be denied, there would never really be much need to work for it, cultivate it or fight on its behalf.  It would just happen spontaneously.  Strangely, this is what pro-war ideologues believed would occur in post-invasion Iraq, yet the drive to invade was also fueled by the revolutionary desire to “liberate” and the missionary desire to spread “freedom.”  These are the people who believe that everyone is naturally free but is everywhere in chains and that it is their, our, obligation to break those chains to “restore” people to their natural state.  This consequently turns into a chaotic mess, since people are not naturally free and political freedom is not some spontaneously occuring weed that sprouts out of the ground. 

Why is it that the people who are most intent on spreading an ideology feel compelled to tell others that their ideology is the natural and unavoidable conclusion to which all people must eventually come?  If the claims of inevitability were true and if the truths being preached were actually “self-evident,” every nation would embrace them without any prompting from anyone else.  Yet that does not happen.  So why this talk of inevitability?  It is to soften resistance and weaken the resolve to oppose what others very much wish to oppose.  It is an ideologue’s version of “we will bury you.”  Like Agent Smith in The Matrix, Mr. Bush is saying, “The future is our time.”  As we have seen in Pessimism, however, those who invoke the future do so to legitimise the injustices they are committing in the present. 

Still, some argue that a safer goal would be stability, especially in the Middle East. The problem is that pursuing stability at the expense of liberty does not lead to peace — it leads to September the 11th, 2001. ~President George W. Bush

That sounds an awful lot like saying that America “invited” the 9/11 attacks by pursuing “stability.”  But it would be terribly wrong of him to say something like that!  We know, because Rudy Giuliani said so.

Which explanation of the causes of 9/11 makes more sense?  Were the hijackers, particularly the 15 Saudis, objecting to Washington’s backing of the Saudi regime, or were they instead objecting to the American presence in the Gulf and our other Near Eastern policies?  Was Al Qaeda motivated by the lack of freedom in Saudi Arabia, or by something else? 

If Mr. Bush wants to invoke the causes of 9/11 to justify his foreign policy, he and his allies would need to be able to defend the claim that it was the pursuit of stability (which they have certainly abandoned) at the expense of democratic reform that led to the attacks.  Otherwise, this is not much more than some cheap demagoguery. 

Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our
disagreements. ~President George W. Bush

Via Belgravia Dispatch

Of course, that only works one way.  When other governments talk openly about their disagreements with our policies, it is always deemed to be anti-Americanism and the encouragement of the forces of darkness.

It’s even making a difference at the ballot box. Liberals have spent much of the past six years straining to cut into the GOP’s advantage among religious voters. But when the Democrats finally shattered the Republican majority in the 2006 midterms, it was their consolidation of the secular vote that helped put them over the top. Despite all their efforts to close the God gap, the Democrats managed barely any gains among frequent churchgoers last November—but their share of the vote among Americans who never attend church at all leaped to 67 percent, from 55 percent in 2002. ~Ross Douthat

This would suggest that, for all of Obama’s “righteous wind” and John Edwards’ “faith-belief,” the Democratic Party is geared to become more aggressively secularist in the coming years than it has been.

Nigeria has about ten times as many cell phone exchanges as it does landlines, and so Trippi worked with the campaign team to design a text message campaign. “The torch of democracy rests in your hands” [bold mine-DL] was one of their slogans. ~Marc Ambinder

That sounds painful. 

If Edwards is supposed to be damaged by Trippi’s former association with Abubakar?  Somehow I don’t see that sort of argument working out very well for Hillary Clinton’s campaign consultant.  That would be Mark Penn of the “Vote for Begin”/shill for corporations school of consultants.

It seems to me that if there is one place in this country where Romney’s “it’s about Shia and Sunni and a caliphate on top” ignorant belligerence will be received very poorly, it is in Iowa.  As many have observed, Iowa runs ahead of the country in antiwar sentiment.  Iowans generally don’t like interventionist wars, and most Iowa Republicans are fed up with Iraq.  Meanwhile, Romney’s foreign policy vision promises unending foreign conflict against any and every Muslim group whose name he can be trained to recite.  If there is any consistency between what Iowa Republicans say they want and how they vote (and there may not be), Romney should be in a lot of trouble. 

It sounds like the name of a bad spy novel, but it is actually the interesting wrinkle in the ongoing tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow over the supposedly anti-Iranian missile defense shield.  Putin has noticed the small flaw in the anti-Iranian element of the defense system: it doesn’t defend Russia or many of the countries in southeastern Europe against this dire Iranian threat.  Why, it’s hardly fair to expose the longsuffering democrats of Kiev to all those mythical Iranian warheads, you can almost hear Vova saying now.  Rather than using this glaring “flaw” in the plan as an argument against the shield, he proposed–in the almost certain knowledge that Washington will never accept it–putting  the missile defense system in Azerbaijan instead.  Putin has backed off the more menacing rhetoric and turned the entire situation to his advantage.  That’s the problem with making up transparently absurd justifications for anti-Russian foreign policy moves: they are revealed for the deception that they are the moment the Russians pretend to take these justifications seriously.

 ”This is a phenomenon in physics known as entrainment,” Kucinich tells the Brit. “A lower-vibration frequency will attune to the vibrations of a higher frequency. America can lift up the hopes of the people of the world, but we must do it from truth. Truth, I would say, is a higher vibration.” ~Eve Fairbanks

This is the funniest thing I’ve heard from Kucinich, God bless him, since he gave a rendition of “Sixteen Tons” at a civil rights gathering.

Bottom line: Mitt Romney is now the favorite to win the Iowa Caucuses in January, eight days before New Hampshire. ~Pat Buchanan

This is why Giuliani and McCain’s abandonment of Ames will probably be Romney’s undoing.  The pressure will be on Romney now to not only win decisively in Ames, but to win the caucuses in January by a similarly large margin.  Any failure to dominate in Iowa will be attributed to Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate (and these are legion) rather than to the strengths of his competitors.  If he goes into Ames against the equivalent of political midgets (at least as far as the media are concerned), he had better come away with much more than a Bushesque 31%.  In the absence of active competition from McCain and Giuliani, Romney needs to get 50 or 60%.  If Giuliani and McCain were to get much support at an event where they were not actively competing, that would also be a blow to Romney.  The ever-higher expectations that this scenario creates for Romney are probably going to harm his campaign more than a win at Ames will help.  The expectation that he will win the caucuses is also a significant burden.  Just as it is for Edwards, Iowa has become a must-win for Romney.  Anything less than a convincing first place finish will be received by the press and donors as a marginal defeat.  Meanwhile, the resources he will be compelled to commit to Iowa despite the lack of real competition are resources he will be unable to divert to compete against Giuliani in Florida, against McCain in New Hampshire and against the second-tier conservatives in South Carolina.  He has suddenly acquired the problems of a frontrunner without the attendant benefits in national name recognition and support. 

Ross points to Prof. Coyne’s response to Brownback’s evolution op-ed:

What happens if scientific truth conflicts with a politician’s “spiritual truth”? This is not a theoretical problem, but a real one, as we see in debates about stem-cell research, abortion, genetic engineering, and global warming.

Like Ross, I am unimpressed by this dilemma.  This is the sort of dilemma that one is supposed to solve by chucking out “spiritual truths” all together, if at all possible, or at least by reducing them to wan insignificance.  To take a different tack, what exactly is the “spiritual truth” about global warming?  Brownback himself, like Huckabee, actually takes an interest in climate change and conservation, so this laundry list of science-related policy questions on which conservatives are supposed to be buffoons seems particularly inappropriate in a response to Brownback.  There are evangelicals who believe climate change alarmists, and there are evangelicals, non-evangelicals and secular people who don’t buy into the alarmism at all and a whole range of people spread in between.  I missed the passage in the Book of Genesis where it said:

And, lo, God said unto Abraham, “Thy children shall cause a great emission of chloroflourocarbons and shall cause the atmosphere to trap heat and gradually warm the entire planet.  And I, the Lord thy God, shall be angry with the children of Abraham for their refusal to pass a meaningful carbon tax.”

The point is that religious beliefs will usually have little to do with attitudes towards the truths discovered through scientific inquiry.  No religious teaching is offended or violated by the existence of climate change, regardless of its causes or severity.  Where religious convictions and ethics derived from religious tradition may well come into the debate concern the applications of scientific knowledge and medical research.  The “scientific truth” about an embryo is, at least in part, that it is a human being in the very early stages of development.  The ethical and moral arguments against killing humans in very early stages of development do not reject any “scientific truths.”  The opponents of abortion have come to significantly different conclusions about the significance and value of humans in very early stages of development.  Science does not necessarily settle the matter one way or the other.  The same might be said of stem-cell research or genetic engineering.  Science describes and studies empirical reality, but it does not normally provide prescriptions for how men use that understanding of reality.

There are strict literalists who will insist that evolutionary biology and Scripture cannot both be right.  This is, happily, not the view endorsed by the teaching authorities of most Christians.  Christianity affirms the unity of truth.  Indeed, belief in a Creator demands that we acknowledge that the study of the natural world cannot disclose anything that contradicts revelation.  If people believe they have discovered obvious contradictions, they have either not worked on the problem long enough or they have been interpreting either the scientific evidence or revealed truths or both in a mistaken way.  Most non-literalist Christians, which would be most Christians in this country, have whatever problems with evolution that they do because of the impression they receive, whether through relatively poor scientific education, the preaching of dogmatic evolutionists or popular culture, that if a theory of evolution describes how life on earth probably developed and changed everything their religion teaches eventually falls apart.  This isn’t true, but it is repeated often enough by polemicists on both sides that those with relatively poor scientific education are either going to fall back on their prior beliefs and reject evolution or accept evolution and reject their religious upbringing.  It does not help matters when you have prominent religious conservatives, such as Brownback, construct unsatisfying fideistic halfway houses that are not really faithful to either science or faith. 

To make matters worse, Intelligent Design just makes a mess of things by pretending that you can solve scientific problems by saying, effectively, “And here we can see that God is working.”  Indeed, ID-as-science seems to owe much of its momentum to visceral opposition to randomness: things can’t simply be randomly evolved, but must have a certain structure.  Even if, as Christians believe, the structure and orderliness in the natural world points towards a Creator, acknowledging this will not add any new insights to the research.  Even if everyone granted the ID activists’ point, our scientific understanding of the world would not have actually gone forward.  This acknowledgement may very well lend new meaning to the study of the natural world, but it does not change anything in the understanding of the natural world.  In its pretense to be science-plus-religion, rather than religious philosophy attempting to lecture natural science on its deficiencies, ID convinces no one who is not already a believer and manages to get itself lumped in, bizarrely, with creation science with which it has virtually nothing in common.

Ross is right to locate conservative anxiety about these questions in the “political and moral implications” of them.  However, this may be where conservatives have been going wrong for a very long time.  If I accept, say, Hitchens’ or Dawkins’ explanation of what the political and moral implications of evolutionary theory (or cosmology or whatever) are, I have already conceded that these implications, which I don’t like at all, must follow from this or that scientific theory.  This leads me to want to question the reliability of that theory and to propose quasi-theories that seem to subvert the authority of that theory, but in the end I have still yielded the crucial ground, which is to accept the hostile materialist’s most tendentious interpretation of the meaning of an empirical observation.  Obviously, by playing their game their way, you are bound to lose.  The simplest way around this, and the one with the most intellectual coherence and integrity, would be to accept the truths of evolutionary biology as the most reasonable understanding thus far of how life changes and develops on this planet, but to categorically refuse to grant that evolutionary biology must somehow jeopardise the truth that man is created or that Scripture is true and the revealed Word of God.  There is actually no good reason why it should, and a proper appreciation for science would teach us the humility about what we can and cannot know. 

Appeasement at Munich led to nearly six years of devastating war in Europe. Political appeasement of the base may be less inducing of violence, but no less devastating [bold mine-DL], as it risks military paralysis or financial collapse once in office. ~Jason Steck

So Mr. Steck thinks that representing the interests of core constituencies may be less “inducing of violence” than encouraging Hitler in his aggression (he isn’t sure about it yet, but it just may be), but representing those interests will be no less devastating than WWII, which killed something like 50m people (the figure would be lower for Europe alone, but still somewhere around 30m).  This is what is called “moderate” opinion in this country: if you politicians refuse to be a squish like me, you are inaugurating the political equivalent of a global bloodbath.  I can begin to see why fewer and fewer people listen to such “moderates.” 

Nonetheless, the director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Soner Cagaptay, estimates that there are now 250,000 soldiers, most of whom have gathered in the last four weeks, massed at the Qandil mountain range on the border with northern Iraq. Those troops, according to Mr. Cagaptay, include heavy artillery and tanks, the most significant troop buildup by the Turks since they nearly invaded Syria in 1998 while accusing Damascus of harboring the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The Iraqi official yesterday said the figure of Turkish troops was closer to 100,000. ~The New York Sun

If Turkey invades northern Iraq, the Turkish-American alliance will be hanging by a thread.  Washington needs to make two things very clear: it must give Ankara a guarantee that the PKK’s operations will be curtailed and state very plainly at the same time that the Turkish military and government are risking the entire relationship with the United States over this.  If Turkish forces cross the border in large numbers, one contingency must be to convince as many leaders of the non-PKK peshmerga units to not engage with them. 

Turkey has legitimate security concerns, the same as any country attacked by terrorists from foreign bases, and our political class’ excessive sympathies with the Kurdish cause have blinded them to recognising the seriousness and legitimacy of the Turks’ concerns.  Washington must provide some arrangement by which American and Iraqi Kurdish forces will cooperate to contain the activities of the PKK.  Our policy in Iraqi Kurdistan appears to have mostly been on autopilot for the last few years, and this is the result.  On something of this magnitude, the prevention of a possible Turco-American or Turco-Iraqi war, the country would support the President if he showed anything resembling intelligence and determination on this question.  Unfortunately, given his track record, I have little confidence that this crisis can be averted by anything that the President or the State Department might be able to do. 

Jim Antle wrote a really smart and insightful article describing how Iraq had become the sole unifying element holding the GOP coalition together, and how that issue would help bring down the party.  For rank and file conservatives, this is largely true, but for the conservative elite of the major newspapers and magazines of the movement the grand, unifying cause really is…Scooter Libby.  As if to confirm E.J. Dionne’s somewhat overwrought column, the Wall Street Journal editorial page today has come out with a disgraceful op-ed written by Fouad Ajami entitled (I kid you not) “Fallen Soldier.”  The despicable nature of this title is obvious.  Here is Libby, a convicted perjurer, being likened to the honoured war dead and those wounded and missing in the service of their country.  Libby has indeed “fallen” as a partisan footsoldier who did the bidding of an administration responsible for sending Americans to war based on lies that Libby and his cheerleaders embraced, promoted and defended.  While Libby faces a maximum of 30 months in jail, 3,500 actual American soldiers have fallen and over 20,000 have been wounded, their lives ended, ruined or severely damaged.  Mr. Bush has no power to recall them from death and injury.  There can be no comparison between an administration lackey and patriotic soldiers, unless it is the purpose of that comparison to demonstrate how completely different they are.  

These scoundrels, the unspeakable moral villains at the WSJ have the gall to use the rhetoric of soldiering and war on behalf of a man who broke the law, who lied under oath and who worked to subvert the course of justice.  Ajami does not use this soldier image passingly or briefly.  It is the core of his argument:

In “The Soldier’s Creed,” there is a particularly compelling principle: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” This is a cherished belief, and it has been so since soldiers and chroniclers and philosophers thought about wars and great, common endeavors.  Across time and space, cultures, each in its own way, have given voice to this most basic of beliefs.  They have done it, we know, to give heart to those who embark on a common mission, to give them confidence that they will not be given up under duress.  A process that yields up Scooter Libby to a zealous prosecutor is justice gone awry.

Ajami is not done insulting the dignity of American soldiers.  He continues to taint and dishonour them by association with a criminal:

Scooter Libby was a soldier in your–our–war in Iraq, he was chief of staff to a vice president who had become a lightning rod to the war’s critics.

And again Ajami insultingly tars the honoured war dead with yet another association with Libby:

He can’t be left behind as a casualty of a war our country had once proudly claimed as its own.

These are the words of a patriot and a supporter of the military?  They are the most depressing partisan trash I think I have ever seen.  Certainly, it is the most despicable thing I have seen coming from the War Party in some time.

So far, on the big issues, his [Ron Paul’s] main kookiness has been of the right kind: he does not want the GOP to become the Big Tent of Torture and Abortion. If that’s kooky, we need more of it. ~Mark Shea 

Something in the American psyche recognizes this, which is why the GOP has done so well since 94. But voting for the GOP because They Aren’t Demented Christian-Haters has given the GOP the notion that they are the Good Party. They aren’t. They are (or were) merely the Less Disdainful of Christians Because They are Useful Party, something Rudy Giuliani is aiming to fix by turning it into the Big Tent of Torture *and* Abortion. If he succeeds, we will soon have two demented Christian-hating parties. And sometime after that, we will have either national chastisment and repentance or national chastisment and a hardened national heart ending in ultimate disaster. The chastisement will, like all suffering for sin, be a natural fruit of our own choices, not some Cecil B. DeMille special effect. But it will hurt.

I’d prefer that not to happen, which is why I try to do my patriotic duty and chew out this Administration for its betrayals of the natural law and the law of God. That’s one tiny clue as to why my sharp words for the Prez and his cronies, enablers, sycophants, and apologists are not the same as the demented ravings of the “I hate Christianity, God, Western Civilization, mercy, hope and love and hope for the dawn of the Age of the Imperial Autonomous Self in a Socialist Utopia” types found everywhere in the Leftist base. ~Mark Shea

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) just pulled the immigration overhaul bill from the floor after it failed to clear a procedural hurdle.

“We bent over backwards” to accomodate Republicans who disliked the bill, Reid said. “We have to figure out a way to get this bill passed.”

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the top GOP critics of the bill, said: “This is a victory for sanity in this country.” ~The Politico

Brand is everything; that old advertising shibboleth that you can’t sell a thing if the product is rubbish is here turned on its head. As far as Wolff-Olins is concerned, you don’t even need a product in the first place, just a brand — a fiction, an idea, a notion to flog in the marketplace. ~Rod Liddle

It seems to me that the Wolff-Olins approach to marketing is Romney’s approach to campaigning.  Romney isn’t superficial and dishonest, you see, he’s just “trying to invent new ways to move the world forward.”  Liddle sums up this kind of communication:

A mode of communication which somehow manages to be simultaneously disingenuous and sincere. 

Beyond that, Romney’s recent two-day swing across Iowa also exposed the difficulty he has responding to questions that require unscripted answers — a challenge he’s likely to face again Tuesday in a New Hampshire debate co-sponsored by CNN.

Among the disappointed Iowans was Republican Linda Wessels, 41, of Rock Rapids. At a Romney forum in Sioux Center, her autistic 5-year-old son, Sam, asked the candidate how he would help children with the disorder.

“Cute little guy,” Romney responded before launching into a monologue on topics including stem cell research and cloning — but not autism.

“I felt avoidance of the issue,” Wessels said.

Retired aerospace worker Gary Steinbeck asked about expansion of the space program, leading Romney into a ramble on science, farming and energy. “He didn’t really talk about the space program,” Steinbeck said.

And at another forum in West Des Moines, Republican Steven Faux, 54, was left cold after telling Romney that his son’s National Guard unit was on the verge of deployment to Iraq. The candidate does not mention the war in his stump speech.

Describing himself as a “worried parent,” Faux, a Drake University professor, called the war a “mess” and asked Romney how he would fix it.

Romney responded by voicing support for President Bush’s recent troop buildup, saying it had a “reasonable prospect of success.” He outlined risks of a quick U.S. withdrawal but offered no hint of how he would proceed if Bush could not stabilize Iraq.

“I thought he gave me a stock answer,” Faux told reporters after the forum.

Still, Romney’s fast-paced outline of a conservative agenda — fiscal discipline, family values and a robust military — draws frequent, if not fervent, applause. His appearance strikes many as presidential, an image he often tries to enhance by using a giant American flag as his backdrop, as he did last week in Iowa.

With his suntan, swept-back hair and sharply tailored suits, Romney, 60, can also seem “too perfect,” as “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno put it — a nicelooking “cardboard cutout” who shuns liquor, tobacco and divorce.

“I can have a good time, but you’re not going to hear about it,” Romney joked in a recent appearance on Leno’s show. “What goes on in Disneyland stays in Disneyland.” ~The Los Angeles Times

The shorter version of Romney’s problem: it’s hard to give compelling, interesting answers to a wide variety of questions when you are a poll-driven, pandering robot.

Despite Ross’ best efforts, I am not anxious about the rise of that magnificent fraud, Mitt Romney.  It is ephemeral, like everything related to Mitt Romney, and his apparent momentum is superficial, like everything else about him.  His position in the polls, like his convictions, will change with time, and not for the better. 

Here’s my suitably counterintuitive and anti-Romney thought.  McCain and Giuliani will still be on the straw poll ballot, even though they will not be present and actively campaigning in the poll, while Romney will be pouring enormous amounts of money into organising a big shindig for the potential caucus members to attend.  Yet it remains quite possible that the various factors working against him (his blatant dishonesty, his Mormonism, his shiny hair) will give him a relatively weak result that will seem all the more disappointing given the absence of the two other leading candidates.  If that happens, Ames could be the moment that reveals Romney to truly be the unelectable, well-funded, establishment-backed Gramm of the cycle.  Far from kick-starting his campaign and making him the frontrunner, Ames could be the moment when the elaborate confidence trick that is the Romney ‘08 campaign is exposed for what it is. 

I think we all make a mistake if we assume that Romney is now certain to win at the Ames straw poll.  I am happy to encourage such expectations, because I think they will not be met and then Romney’s bubble will have burst for good, but we count out the lesser candidates at our peril as political observers.  Tommy Thompson (yes, I’m talking about Tommy Thompson in a positive way) does not have the elaborate organisation or tremendous funding that Romney has, but he has been building up a small, steady base of support in Iowa.  Hunter has performed well in smaller straw polls and may surprise us here.  Brownback is the natural non-Romney social conservative candidate.  Any one of them, or all of them together, may give Romney an unpleasant shock.  At the very least they may make him spend a good deal more than he anticipated spending. 

If voting pacifist socialists into government won’t appease the balaclaved goons in ETA, it’s laughable to think it would do anything to mollify the far more ruthless Islamists lusting for Andalusia. ~James Kirchick

For all the rhetoric about Al-Andalus, Islamists seem to have left Spain alone since its forces left Iraq.  It is not possible to accommodate ETA in the same way, since Madrid is not going to recognise the independence of Euskadi.  Terrorists objecting to policies can only be mollified by changes in policy.  Many people reject this in principle, but it does have a strange way of working to eliminate future terrorism (at least from one source).  In the case of ETA, negotiation would only encourage Basque nationalists to believe that they were weakening Madrid’s resolve to hold on to Basque country and give them new hope of eventually breaking away.  Since Madrid can never give the extremists what they want, eliminating the threat from ETA will be much more difficult. 

Since Mr. Kirchick is so enamoured of Aznar, he might also remember that it was Aznar’s shameless attempt to pin the Madrid bombings on ETA, so as to avoid the electoral backlash against his Iraq policy that he feared was coming, that ensured his defeat.  Aznar knew full well that it was policies adopted by his government that had provoked the slaughter of civilians in Madrid, and he was desperately looking to blame it on a long-running internal political problem.  It would appear that the Spanish are cursed to be ruled either by clowns or fools.

But Romney seems so transparently phoney, so willing to say anything that I find him genuinely frightening. ~Josh Marshall

Well, there’s that, and the fact that he doesn’t seem entirely human.  Has anyone noticed how he never changes the tone or pitch of his voice.  He is in perpetual “golly gosh” mode, and he always sounds as if he has been given tranquilizers.  McCain is a cranky old man, and Giuliani is unbalanced, but at least I can tell that there is blood flowing through their veins.

I was so angry and hurt that I thought I would write that I would never read National Review again. But it isn’t true. The world is too small not to continue to know the magazine, to read it, and to interact with it.

Still, this much is true: From the moment Scooter Libby was indicted, all the way down to this moment of his sentencing, I have judged the character of many acquaintances in the worlds of writers, public intellectuals, and conservative politicians—their courage and their trustworthiness—by a simple measure: whether or not they stood up for Scooter Libby. ~Joseph Bottum

It seems to me that it would require a good deal more courage for a conservative today to stand up and say, “Perjury is a serious crime, and it should be punished whether or not the perjurer is a highly placed Republican administration official.”  All those lectures about the rule of law c. 1998 have to have meant something, or else most of the people calling for Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice (who are now calling for Libby’s pardon) were impressively shameless hypocrites. 

The people who have jumped on the Save Scooter bandwagon have been almost entirely conservative establishment fixtures and Bush loyalists (though some loyalists seem to have more loyalty to Libby than Bush!).  Most of those moved to work and write on his behalf, except perhaps for Fred Thompson, seem to have met or known the man.  They apparently respect him, and so go to bat for him.  Fair enough.  Derbyshire simply doesn’t care, and for that he gets called “vile”?  It’s just bizarre.    

For any conservative pundit in the mainstream movement to dissent from the received wisdom that Libby was treated unfairly and his unfair treatment is a Big Deal is a fairly bold move under the circumstances.  It also requires a bit of gumption to declare indifference to the “plight” of a man who has, for some reason, become the mainstream right’s martyr.  Whether or not you agree with the argument that you should care about Compean and Ramos more than you care about Libby (I don’t), it makes sense to reject the hysteria over what is actually a legitimate conviction for perjury (quoth Andy McCarthy: “The evidence that Libby lied, rather than that he was confused, was compelling”). 

What angers Kurds is the squandered leverage. Instead of demanding rule-of-law, the White House has subordinated democracy to stability not only in Baghdad and Basra, but in Iraqi Kurdistan as well. Rather than create a model democracy, the Iraqi Kurds have replicated the governing systems of Egypt, Tunisia or, perhaps even Syria. ~Kamal Said Qadir

Via Sullivan

It will undoubtedly shock Wolfowitz, Christopher Hitchens, Peretz and the rest of the pro-Kurdish set, but whatever Kurdish democratic political development that did take place had been taking place under highly artificial conditions and is now beginning to revert back to a regional norm.  There were probably a few things that Washington could have done differently to oppose these developments, but the Kurds cannot have it both ways: they do not get the full credit for having allegedly created a successful, prospering, self-governing region unless they are also accountable when their government degenerates into a ramshackle despotism.  Kurdistan seems to be experiencing the problems that all newly-formed quasi-democratic developing states (or, in this case, statelets) experience, and it seems to be falling into a regional pattern where the entrenched parties and their militias want to make sure that they retain all of the power that they have right now.  

Qadir also writes:

Because Iraqi Kurdistan lacks a constitution, Barzani and other senior political leaders can exercise unchecked, arbitrary power. The absence of accountability and a free press has enabled corruption, abuse, and mismanagement to increase.

Is it any wonder that two armed factions in a territory ruled only by them do not submit themselves to any legal or institutional authority?  Is it any wonder that the territory they rule is a haven for criminals and terrorists?  The attacks on Turkish targets by the PKK based in Iraqi Kurdistan are not unrelated to the political corruption of the other Kurdish parties.

Least surprising is that nepotism is widespread.  This is the Near East we’re talking about.  Nepotism is going to be a standard feature of any society in which the extended family and/or tribe plays a significant social role.  The idea that you would cut off your cousin or your brother-in-law from the plum assignments that you are capable of handing out to people , whether in government or business, probably strikes someone from a traditional Near Eastern or Mediterranean society as virtually insane.  Someone will object that it is not as useful to prefer people based on relation rather than merit, which is irrelevant to people who have no strong loyalties to institutions or abstract ideas of “the nation.”  ”Nepotists” are not interested in creating the best institutions or the greatest productivity–they are looking to make sure that their people reap the rewards of power and influence.  This is actually the common, normal way of doing things–meritocracy is a fairly rare and actually counterintuitive way of organising and managing things.  It involves many strange and admirably naive ideas about fairness.  It is something that has to be learned and reinforced on a regular basis, because the normal instinct is to make arrangements to provide for your blood relations and their families.  In a society where the bonds of social trust are weak, you don’t want the “best man” for the job–you want “your man” for the job, so that you know it is in the hands of someone you can rely on, because he has social and marital ties to your family.  Why would you want to give preferment to someone from another extended family unless he is first bound to you as part of your family? 

Qadir also notes:

Abuse of power is one of the main characteristics of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s administration. Iraqi Kurds speak often of arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearances.

And again:

Illegal treatment is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception in the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s detention centers. Disappearances remain rife.

And again:

Torture is common. Ali Bapir, the head of the Islamic Group, told Hawlati, the region’s other independent newspaper, that Kurdish security forces have crippled several dozen detainees in prison during torture sessions.

It’s a good thing Americans have gone to the trouble to “liberate” the Kurds from the oppressive master in Baghdad.  An oppressive master in Sulaimaniya is much better. 

The rest of the country is looking, it seems, for a President who can end the war in Iraq and move on to addressing a litany of domestic concerns; the Republican base, though, is looking for a President who can win the war in Iraq, and that’s not a contest that Mike Huckabee is equipped for. ~Ross Douthat

Ross gives a good sense of Huckabee’s strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.  What has struck me about his campaign is that Huckabee has failed to mention one of his biggest social conservative “achievements” of promoting so-called “covenant marriage.”  Romney talks all day long about strengthening families, and even McCain gets in on the pro-family act when he says some random thing about “preserving our American family,” but unlike most of the crowd Huckabee can plausibly claim that he has been actively encouraging stable, lasting marriages–the sort of positive, obviously beneficial social conservatism that would distinguish him from the crowd.  Arguably, he didn’t do all that much–he signed the bill into law and promoted the idea–and it didn’t have all that great of an effect, but it has to be at least as symbolically valuable as raging against gay “marriage.”

Ross is absolutely right that the GOP base, or least most of it, wants someone who will win the Iraq war.  It is also the case that, like everyone who has fantastic, unrealistic expectations, they will be horribly disappointed and embittered when such a candidate does not materialise.  Even so, I take Ross’ point that the GOP primaries will turn on questions of foreign policy and national security.  Huckabee clearly has no qualifications here, but then again neither do Romney and Giuliani.  If the Republicans are looking for an experienced national security candidate and a supposedly war-winning President, they would have to rally around someone like McCain or Duncan Hunter.  This is why I retain the small expectation that Hunter will fare reasonably well in the primaries: he has the requisite experience in government on these matters and he isn’t McCain.

For The Low, Low Price Of $800,000, This Could Be Yours!

But, wait, there’s more

I’m curious: why is it that George Bush is apparently digging in his heels and planning not to intervene in the Scooter Libby case? ~Kevin Drum 

First of all, I don’t think the “conservative base” cares very much at all about Scooter Libby.  Was there a grassroots groundswell for Cap Weinberger’s pardon?  This is such inside baseball that only the most strung out of political junkies actually bothers to form an opinion about it.  Vocal pundits, radio hosts and potential presidential candidates are the only ones who can be bothered to care about Libby’s fate.  Second, speaking of Weinberger et al., my guess is that Bush wants to avoid the inevitable comparisons between himself and his father’s Iran-Contra pardons.  Third, it is just the sort of thing everyone expects him to do, and Mr. Bush seems to enjoy doing whatever it is that conventional wisdom says that he won’t do.     


The political winds are blowing against the GOP, to be sure, but the Democrats really have an extraordinarily weak field of leading candidates, and the Republicans seem to have an unusually strong one. If, come the real primary season early next year, Republicans are looking at Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney and the Democrats are looking at Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, who would you rather be? ~Yuval Levin

Is that a trick question?  It is interesting to follow the observations of people on both sides.  Progressives are convinced that they have a solid, impressive field and think the GOP is pretty hopeless; conservative observers have just the opposite view.  I am of the opinion that both fields are laughable, but the GOP candidates are still in a weaker overall position. 

If we assume that both sides are exaggerating the overall virtues of their respective candidates, as partisans and ideological allies will do, we can begin to gauge the actual strengths of the candidates.  Right now, Giuliani and Romney are clearly more effective in debate formats than their Democratic counterparts, and McCain has started to do reasonably well, but viewed more objectively we see that the leading GOP contenders are an ex-mayor, a former one-term governor of Massachusetts and a Senator whom large parts of his party hate with a passion.  There is virtually nothing about the experience of the first two that makes them obvious presidential material, and all three have serious political obstacles to winning the nomination.  The Democratic candidates are not really objectively any better–they are less experienced in government, for one, and possess no executive experience whatever–but most of the energy, money and activism is on their side.  Party identification and mobilisation of core supporters are going to be crucial factors, and none of the prospective GOP nominees from the Terrible Trio seems to have what is necessary to re-energise his party.  Plus, all three of the Trio are committed to an enormously unpopular foreign policy, two of them are pro-amnesty and one is prominently associated with the amnesty bill.  The Democrats have no such deep internal schisms and they are not as badly out of touch with the country on foreign policy.  The Democrats are much more unified and will be able to unify around their eventual nominee much more easily.  Even a weak Democratic nominee should be able to prevail in this environment, and the GOP would need an exceptionally effective nominee to get its act together in time.  None of the Trio fills that role, and each of them actually has significant, well-known flaws that make their ultimate success in a general election very doubtful.   

Some candidates use new media in interesting ways…and then there’s Chris Dodd.

This is the strangest thing I have seen in a long time (via Crooked Timber and Yglesias):

A case in point is the following. The GSS folk actually made the mistake of asking the following question as part of their science module:

Now, does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?

Here we go. Now what follows is real social science data folks. No joking around:

Earth around sun 73.6%
Sun around earth 18.3%
Don’t Know 8.0%
Refused 0.1%


Among those who were up to date with seventeenth-century Galilean basic science, they actually dared to ask the follow-up question: 

How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year?

One day 19.0%
One month 1.1%
One year 71.2%
Other time period 0.1%
Don’t Know 8.5%
Refused 0.1%

I suppose the ignorance here shouldn’t really surprise me.  The historical ignorance of the average American is proverbial, so why should anyone be shocked that a fifth of the population displays such ignorance here?  I would agree that this is the kind of basic knowledge that one learns in, oh, elementary school, but, if high school graduates don’t necessarily know when the Civil War happened or where America is on a map, why should 25% being clueless about heliocentrism strike us as being all that remarkable? 

But where does this come from?  Where do these people live?  Have they never seen a diorama of the solar system?  Have they never read about the formation of planets?  Did no one ever tell them about Kepler and elliptical orbits? 

The Bush administration’s plans for the missile-defense shield call for a radar-tracking station to be built in the Czech Republic and for 10 interceptor missiles to be placed in Poland. The Czech and Polish governments have signaled their support even though national opinion polls in both countries show strong opposition to the U.S. plan. ~The Seattle Times

Yet dislike of Russia’s current path does not create unity. Both France and Germany are unenthusiastic about America’s planned missile-defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. President George Bush continues to protest that these are aimed at Iranian nuclear weapons, not at Russia. But with the exception perhaps of Britain’s Tony Blair, a lame-duck ally who will shortly leave office, he will find little support from his western counterparts. ~The Economist

It turns out that the idea is wildly unpopular across Europe, especially in those countries where the interceptors are going to be based.  The Polish and Czech governments are in favour of it, just as they have been supportive of the war in Iraq against the explicit wishes of their citizens.  Had Putin held off with his confrontational bluster, he could have easily detached most European countries from the U.S. on this particular issue.  Most Europeans don’t believe that there is a threat from Iran in any case, and they’re the ones who would be protected under any missile shield.  Iran does extensive business with Europe.  To launch missile strikes on any EU country would mean greater economic ruin for their country.  What is this strange American habit of seeing dangers in other parts of the world that the people in those other parts of the world do not see? 

If we took the government at its word, this missile shield would be built to counter threats from mighty Iran (whose Shahab missiles can probably only barely reach some parts of Europe).  However, it seems rather obvious that the current plan has nothing to do with countering an Iranian threat.  For instance, Voice of America tells us:

The U.S. plan suggests deploying 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. The system would cover NATO members except Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and parts of Romania [bold mine-DL].

In other words, the allies closest to Iran that would be the most easily targeted by any Iranian attack would have no protection whatever under this plan.  This plan does cover all ex-Soviet and former Warsaw Pact states now in NATO that border on or are closest to Russia.  It also protects the rest of the alliance west of Poland and the Czech Republic, but our easternmost NATO allies would be out of luck.  What were the Russians supposed to conclude from the obviously two-faced nature of the official justification for the missile shield? 

Those who have doubts about Bush’s plans (e.g., Brent Scowcroft on Iraq) get little sympathy from him, however. They’re seen not as prudent realists but as cultural imperialists, even racists: What, you think Iraqis are incapable of democracy? What, you think the immigrants from south of the border are any different from previous immigrants? ~Mickey Kaus

Via Ross

One of the notable things about Fred Thompson’s pre-campaign campaign is the great emphasis he has placed on using all forms of modern communication.  From using YouTube to blogging to texting, Fred seems to think that this will be an effective way for him to compete organisationally against the candidates who have declared earlier and already raised (and spent) large amounts of money.  Aside from the mostly spontaneous Internet surge for Ron Paul, Republicans have not had a candidate making use of these media with quite the same sense of purpose.  This leads me to guess that Thompson’s campaign will prove to be a lot like Howard Dean’s in 2003-04 in some important respects.  Unlike Dean, Thompson is already well known and has already received enormous signs of support in polls, but structurally Thompson so far is leaning heavily on online efforts that do not necessarily have any relation to the strength of his overall campaign organisation.  Add to this his relatively late entry and reputation for laziness, and after the initial post-announcement Thompson boomlet we may see Thompson going nowhere fast. 

He probably will have entered too late to compete at Ames.  If polling has been accurate and at all meaningful, he has the most to gain from a Giuliani dropout from Ames, since Thompson voters are actually overwhelmingly otherwise Giuliani voters (Poulos knows what he’s talking about here), but he probably won’t have the time, money or staff to mount a meaningful effort.  This means that he will probably have missed his best opportunity to shock the field with a big showing, which will further hamper fundraising and force him to rely still more on his name recognition, his folksy reputation and his ability to fill the need of the GOP base for the ”Reaganesque” will o’ the wisp they are always chasing.  In the end, enthusiasm for a folksy actor who hits all the right notes politically will not overcome established campaigns.  However, I assume the Terrible Trio will all suffer collapses at one point or another, and Thompson may find himself the default winner as a result.  This would show the entire process to be a mockery of anything resembling representative government, but it would be consistent with the Rise of Fred Thompson, a phenomenon so bizarre that I still cannot quite understand it. 

Update: McCain is also dropping out of the Ames straw poll.  They are simply abandoning this early battle to Romney and possibly Brownback, who has been visiting the state often enough and is supposed to have a better chance in Iowa because of his Kansan background.  Thompson’s late entry will probably prove to be an even bigger mistake than it already was.

Thinking about the differences between “compassionate conservatism” and “crunchy” conservatism this week, I proposed thinking about the differences between Sam Brownback and Caleb Stegall.  I think these examples do summarise quite well the differences between the two “positions” (though Caleb will always appropriately insist that he considers himself simply to be a traditional conservative).  Brownback seems to be a very earnest, serious and faithful man.  I have given him so much grief over the months because I disagree with many of his policy proposals and because many of his policy priorities seem to me to be perfect examples of what happens when sincere conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have become disconnected from constitutionalism and a sense of proportion and scale.  It seems to me that Brownback’s activist goals come from an abstract defense of Life and a generic commitment to “compassion.”  For Brownback, it is appropriate to use federal power to intervene on behalf of Life, whether this means intervening on behalf of Terri Schiavo or intervening in Darfur, because the support for abstract Life everywhere compels him to disregard any number of normal distinctions.  He does not ask whether the government should be doing something, or whether there is another, more local authority that might be capable of handling the question, but apparently simply asks what the compassionate thing to do would be in this or that case.  Inevitably, the “compassionate” thing is almost always to intervene and “do something.”  Instead of asking, “What is my relationship to these people?” Brownback always assumes a profound obligation to aid everyone everywhere.  This has the zaniness of Obama’s foreign policy (which might be dubbed, in keeping with his favourite phrases, ”quiet imperialism”), but with a social conservative spin.  Rather than minding your own business being the root of justice, Brownback theoretically wants us to mind everyone’s business for the sake of preserving Life and being “compassionate.”

Inasmuch as “crunchy” conservatives are simply a kind of Kirkian traditionalist, the difference between Brownback’s view and a traditionalist view is fairly simple: Kirk returned to his ancestral village and stayed in his native place, specifically rejecting calls for crusading overseas as surely as he rejected all “armed doctrines,” while Brownback has effectively said that our “goodness” as a nation depends on what we do in Sudan and Congo.      

Poulos weighs in with a smart statement:

See, the trouble is that certain types of ‘crunchy cons’ — and this is to the exclusion of compassionate conservatives and Nat. Great. Republicans, who by definition fit in a national membership category — already have meaning in their lives, identities, families, and communities, no Weberian scare quotes about it. They do not need ‘meaning’ imparted to them by some emonationalistic scheme or by some winsome political patriot [bold mine-DL]. They have typically dismissed earthy utopia in very specific terms, often on account of a recognition that utopia means nowhere for a reason. They are good, old fashioned people, and if they’re anything resembling middle class, they’re ‘bourgeois’ in social science terms but hardly ‘identify’ as bourgeois for reasons that should now be obvious. The certain types of crunchy cons to which I refer — and this includes certain types of postmodern conservatives — have no use for crusaderist projects because they don’t like to endure the abstraction of virtues into vague values simply to invent things to have in common with strangers. And, no surprise, they then get attacked for not caring about others, for being isolationists if disinterested in foreign policy or jerks if interested. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t for the anti-crusaders, I fear.

James makes the point concisely.  I will just add that this is why it is a major mistake to confuse this sort of conservatism, which usually derives from religious convictions, with an attempt to make politics into a religion.  They might wish members of a polity were more pious, in the broadest sense of that word, but they do not need politics or political causes to flourish and live meaningful lives.  It is quite literally a conservatism of place, of keeping things in proportion and within limits and of tending to your own fields.  A cultivator, not a crusader, might be the best example of it. 

Giuliani’s support in the state is not unimpressive, but it is shallow, and if Iowa is determined by the political/media establishment to be Judgment Day, the probability that Giuliani will win the nomination drops. ~Marc Ambinder

While most observers are focused on the U.S. Congress as it continues to issue new rubber stamps to legitimize Bush’s permanent designs on Iraq, nationalists in the Iraqi parliament — now representing a majority of the body — continue to make progress toward bringing an end to their country’s occupation.

The parliament today passed a binding resolution that will guarantee lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the U.N. mandate under which coalition troops now remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose cabinet is dominated by Iraqi separatists, may veto the measure.

The law requires the parliament’s approval of any future extensions of the mandate, which have previously been made by Iraq’s prime minister. It is an enormous development; lawmakers reached in Baghdad today said that they do in fact plan on blocking the extension of the coalition’s mandate when it comes up for renewal six months from now [bold mine-DL]. ~AlterNet

So, if this is all correct, let’s see if we have this straight.  Iraq’s parliament will not grant the extension of the mandate without conditions, such as a timetable for withdrawal, and the Congress recently had passed a bill incorporating a timetable for withdrawal.  Naturally, Mr. Bush vetoed the latter and duly received new legislation sans timetable, which means that Mr. Bush managed to pressure Congress into sending him legislation that put the American position more at odds with the position of a majority of Iraq’s parliament.  “Responsible” people here in America know that having such a timetable is a Bad Thing, because it would “embolden” the enemy and undermine the Iraqi government, while a majority of the would-be representatives of Iraq seem to think that hastening the day when American forces leave their country is a great idea.  It is not entirely clear how long everyone will be able to keep up the charade, but there have been indications that any vote by the Iraqi parliament effectively requesting our departure will be both the final straw and the perfect cover for Republicans who want to get out from under this issue.

Whereas inland the rugged mountains and thick forests marked off one rural community from another and induced a certain isolationism and backwardness that would come to be synonymous with the term ‘Balkan’, the Dalmatian communities were more open and sophisticated. ~Robin Harris, Dubrovnik: A History

Since it first entered modern Western minds during the early stages of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, Dubrovnik has interested me ever since, but I had only just found this history of the city very recently.  This quote caught my attention and got me to thinking about how we use this language of “openness” to describe certain societies positively and others negatively.  As I have tried to argue previously, like today’s “open society” cultural “openness” may actually have nothing to do with the virtues attributed to it.  Like “open society,” this “openness” may not actually entail genuine openness, but instead may involve a severe closing-off of any number of alternative paths and the gradual elimination of the sources of genuine, indigenous social and cultural diversity.   

The above quote,opposing the backwards Balkans to sophisticated Dalmatia, annoyed me no little and somewhat, because it represents common conceptions of what constitutes a successful society.  It is, by definition, “open,” and openness is tied to sophistication, because with “openness” allegedly come cosmopolitan attitudes.  Opposed to the cosmopolitan is the native, the provincial and the backwoodsman, and we are all supposed to be able to recognise a cosmopolitan, “open” person by his attitudes towards certain key policies (among them immigration, trade, foreign policy) and by a certain general attitude towards cultural change and exchange. 

My thought, which will need a good deal more elaborating and unpacking, is that most so-called cosmopolitans and friends of “open,” multicultural societies are the most drearily provincial people, both because they are actually largely incurious about much of the rest of the world (because it is filled with hordes of “provincial” rubes) and because their response to difference is to attempt to homogenise everyone else and conform them to the cosmopolitan’s standard.  I am thinking that it is plausible that a “provincial,” “isolationist” sort living up in the mountains, so to speak may at once be the most curious about the rest of the world and also be the least put out by the customs of other men.  Having relatively less contact with the “outside” world than “cosmopolitans,” he is more driven to find out about it, and familiar with his attachment to his own native customs he is more inclined to understand the loyalties of other men.  This may be why those, on both left and right, who pride themselves on their relative enlightenment and progressiveness seem to be continually taken aback and shocked by the persistence and power of attachments to ethnicity and religion around the world: not feeling these strong attachments themselves in any way, they have difficulty imagining them as meaningful factors in society.  Another part of this would be that those who are most inclined to political defenses of multiculturalism are probably least interested in understanding or inquiring into other cultures.  Thus those who express concern for the equality and dignity of Arabs and declare their interest in bringing the benefits of enlightened modernity and democracy to them (at least when they are not lauding the bombing or torture of said Arabs) show little or no interest in promoting any extensive efforts to learn Arabic or to engage in any of the relevant cultural studies.  Control is their goal, not inquiry.  Multiculturalism is a pose an elite Westerner adopts as part of status competition among other Westerners; in a sense, it has nothing to do with the other cultures at all, but uses them as props in the play being performed for a Western audience.   

More puzzling, the latest immigration debates don’t even seem to have raised Tancredo’s profile.

By contrast, Ron Paul has been much more successful at using his presidential candidacy to gain a wider hearing for his opposition to the Iraq war — a much less popular position among the Republican faithful than support for a border security fence — and general libertarianism, even if he hasn’t yet gotten much of a bounce in the polls. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has at least earned high marks for his homespun debate performances. ~Jim Antle

Jim’s article covers the troubles of Tancredo’s campaign quite well.  The contrast with Paul is interesting.  Why hasn’t Tancredo’s outspoken stance on immigration garnered the attention Paul’s foreign policy tussle with Giuliani has?  There’s no doubt about the outspokenness of his position, or its popularity with core Republican voters.  In the third debate, he pushed for a moratorium on legal immigration and spoke hopefully about a day in our future when “para continuar en espanol, opprima dos is no longer heard (or words to that effect).  He made a reasonably solid argument for the cultural and political importance of English as an official language.  At a time when the GOP base is deeply alienated from Mr. Bush and Senate supporters of the amnesty bill who regard the base as “bigots,” it seems as if it would be ideal to be the candidate who declared, as he did last night, that he would not allow George Bush to darken the doorstep of the White House in a Tancredo administration.  Simply as a viscerally appealing protest candidate, Tancredo has to be getting some support and attention, right?  Apparently not.

Those mainstream conservative pundits and activists who talk up their concern about illegal immigration seem to be drifting towards Romney or the approaching Fred Thompson juggernaut.  The conservative media may mention his candidacy from time to time, and restrictionist writers will discuss his campaign respectfully, but he is not receiving the spontaneous burst of free media or Internet support that Paul has enjoyed.  I can think of five likely reasons, some of which Jim mentions or alludes to.  First, MSM sources and liberal blogs and talk shows have absolutely no interest in playing up a hard-line restrictionist candidacy, since this is the part of the GOP that all of them despise, and on immigration they naturally sympathise with Giuliani, McCain, Huckabee and Brownback, whereas they tend to sympathise more with Paul or any Republican who shows independence from Bush on Iraq.  Next, Tancredo has not had any prominent “good television” moments in which he faced off with another candidate, which in turn means that his contributions get ignored by soundbite-obsessed, conflict-oriented news reporting.  Also, while it is a burning issue inside the GOP, immigration remains a relatively lower priority for the country as a whole relative to foreign policy and Iraq–a foreign policy debate in the GOP primaries is intrinsically more newsworthy and politically interesting to reporters than Tancredo’s fight against mass immigration.  Fourth, restrictionists are fewer in number online and are not pushing Tancredo’s candidacy as hard as Paul’s online fans are pushing his.  (This online buzz may ultimately be irrelevant when it comes time to vote, but it is helping to make Paul a more widely-known candidate.)  Finally, Tancredo’s debate performances until last night were dismal and hardly the stuff around which one builds a successful insurgent campaign. 

Jim notes the poor debate performances, including last night among them.  I had started to think that he had been improving since the first two, but this is not actually saying very much.  He seems to suffer occasionally from what I will dub Gilmore’s Disease: the need to summarise the entirety of his career, political philosophy and life goals in response to almost any question, regardless of its content. 

The sixth reason why Tancredo is not breaking out from the pack on the issue is that Romney has rather fraudulently, but effectively, filled the leading spot as opponent of the amnesty bill, and Tancredo has to trip over Hunter, Gilmore and Paul in the back of the pack.  Unlike Paul on foreign policy, he cannot stand out as the sole voice of reason on his single issue.  There are many other competing voices claiming, some quite plausibly, that they also oppose amnesty.  He also has to struggle to get any speaking time, and as the now-famous “talk clock” shows he is losing the battle to get out his message.  Only the unfortunate Tommy Thompson fared worse in terms of the amount of time he had to speak.  How is it possible that any candidate only gets to speak for five and three quarters minutes during a two-hour debate?  That’s absurd.       

Just as democracies do not make war on each other, they do not point nuclear warheads in each other’s direction. ~The Economist

This, of course, is utter rot.  Democracies do make war on each other.  They have done so before, and as more nations become democratic it is inevitable that it will happen in the future.  The second part is particularly absurd.  If Pakistan became a genuine liberal democracy tomorrow, does anyone believe that it would not ”point” its nuclear weapons at India?  This is a question of perceived strategic necessity–nations with weak or smaller conventional forces will rely on nuclear deterrents to check foreign threats, and they will target perceived enemies that have made their hostility clear.  This remark about democracies and nuclear weapons is like saying that France and Germany, both states with constitutions and universal suffrage in 1914, could not possibly have been preparing for war with each other.  It is a fantasy about the virtues of democracy and one that will only become more dangerous with time.  Does anyone believe that a liberal democratic regime in Moscow would have responded to the anti-Russian moves of the last 10 years with significantly less suspicion and wariness?  The responses of governments to perceived threats have less to do with regime type than they have to do with the prevailing foreign policy faction in influential positions in the government.  If “hawks” and nationalists are ascendant, democracy is no guarantee that a less belligerent, confrontational policy will result.  Indeed, democracy combined with a consensus political culture of “hawkishness” and nationalism often has explosive, terrible consequences.

France would never have targeted America with its nuclear weapons because…wait for it…France is an ally of the United States.  Russia has been, or at least could have been, a real ally of the West.  Russia has been led to believe with increasing frequency that both Washington and Brussels regard it as a serious and growing threat.  Finally, after the last provocation of proposing the missile defense system into central Europe, Moscow has pushed back hard in a tragic and futile worsening of relations.  Western governments are not solely to blame for this dramatic souring between Russia and the West, but they have contributed more than their share.   

“Ron Paul’s speaking to people like me,” Barbara Hagan, a former New Hampshire state representative and mother of seven, says one recent evening before dinner in the Manchester Radisson. “He’s an honorable man. He’s a hardworking man. I want my party back. I want my country back, and I want the U.S. out of Iraq.”


“I like to think of myself as a Barry Goldwater conservative,” he [Ron Paul’s New Hampshire Campaign Coordinator Jared Chicoine] says. “When I think of the 1960s, I think of conservatism. People say, ‘Reagan, Reagan, Reagan,’ but what about Goldwater? That’s why I consider myself a paleo-conservative.”


Why all the work for such a long-shot candidate? “I think [Paul’s campaign] should refocus conservatives about what it means to be conservative,” Chicoine says. “We have to be about more than preemptive warfare.” ~The Washington Post


To me, a shockingly large and diverse group of B List Republicans — Huckabee, Brownback, Tancredo, and even in their ways Paul and Thompson — are more impressive than the official “big three.” They all seemed to me to come much closer than Giuliani, McCain, or Romney to be coming at things from a principled, coherent point of view.  The top contenders are all “Reagan! Terror! Bush! Terror! Reagan! Terreagan!” and weirdly busy running away from their actual records. ~Matt Yglesias

I don’t see how Darfur liberals can be so blithely indifferent to a looming genocide in Iraq that we have precipitated, while urging intervening to mitigate one elsewhere. ~Andrew Sullivan

I don’t understand how there can be any coherence in this combination of positions, either, but then it seems clear to me that the inconsistency in their foreign policy is their desire to intervene in Darfur and not the desire to leave Iraq.  Iraq should show to all the dangers of intervention, whether these dangers are all foreseeable or not, and it should make everyone realise that interventionists are rolling the dice with the fate of entire peoples when they say that we have an “obligation” to act.  That realisation should make us even more skeptical and resistant to appeals to “do something” about Darfur or any other crisis around the world, as we should realise that every intervention carries with it the potential for unleashing a genocide or at the very least tremendous destruction and bloodshed.  Where there is one genocide, an intervention may create two or it may create some other unexpected or unmanageable situation.   

If we believe we are making things better by entering into someone else’s war or invading someone else’s country, it seems clear to me that we have not thought about the question enough.  It is almost certain that such actions almost never make the lives of most of the people in that country substantially, measurably better.  For every one successful intervention there are probably five failures, and these failures tend to have massive, negative consequences.  This is probably too generous to interventionism.   

For instance, intervention in the Balkans in 1995 resulted in the ethnic cleansing of the Krajina.  Perhaps that would have happened whether or not we actively supported Operation Storm, and perhaps it wouldn’t have, but in the event our government was at least indirectly party to the very sort of crime that our intervention was supposedly trying to stop.  (Krajinan Serb refugees remain refugees in Serbia to this day.)  There is, so far as I know, still no Save Krajina Coalition filled with drippy liberal actors and Sam Brownbacks, because the victims of that ethnic cleansing were the wrong kind of people.  If the plight of people is not on television or in news magazines, it might as well not exist for our politicians and media.  In 1999 in Kosovo, NATO’s intervention directly caused the mass exodus of Albanian civilians from what had become the war zone, creating a humanitarian crisis where none had existed before.  Upon the “successful” completion of the campaign, the Serbs of Kosovo were exposed to the retribution and ethnic cleansing of the now-victorious Albanians.  The original small-scale counterinsurgency within Yugoslavia’s own borders was turned into a regional disaster and the intervention contributed to actual ethnic cleansing where there had been none before. 

Darfur liberals will argue, somewhat implausibly, that it would be a simple matter to stop the janjaweed and end the killing in Darfur.   (Joe Biden, hardly an opponent of the Iraq war, also seems to hold this view.)  The people who endlessly (and rightly) ridicule “Cakewalk” Adelman and his ilk for pre-war predictions about Iraq have a strange confidence that things will go more smoothly in Darfur.  You know, like they did in Kosovo.  (It is only by comparison with Iraq, mind you, that Kosovo seems now to be anything other than a massive blunder and inexcusable waste.)  Adminstration critics correctly cite our general ignorance about Iraqi society and culture as a major, probably fatal, flaw with any attempt to intervene there, but general ignorance about the Sudan is vastly greater.  Virtually no one who is not a specialist in the region knows anything about the tribes of western Sudan, the politics of the different rebel groups or the details of the fundamental problems at the heart of the fighting, which are control of land and access to water.  Any involvement would certainly have to be largely that of air support for rebel groups, who are themselves stained with atrocities of their own, and would encourage the gradual disintegration of the Sudan as a state, creating a very large failed state.  All the arguments against intervening in Iraq apply to the Sudan with equal force, to which we may add yet another: we have no quarrel at all with Arabs in the Sudan.  It is the same kind of rhetoric and logic used by liberal humanitarian interventionists that helped to pull us into Iraq.  It needs to be fought wherever it is found, whether it is offered by Darfur liberals or by supposedly non-crusading, sober-minded conservatives who write things like this (via Ross):

I mean going in — guns blazing if necessary — for truth and justice. I am quite serious about this. The United States should mount a serious effort to bring civilization (yes, “Civilization”) to those parts of Africa that are in Hobbesian despair. We should enlist any nation, institution or organization — especially multinational corporations and evangelical churches as well as average African citizens — interested in permanently helping Africa join the 21st century. This might mean that Harvard would have to cut back on courses about transgender construction workers. And it might mean that some churches would have to spend more time feeding starving people than pronouncing on American presidential candidates.

We should spend billions upon billions doing it. We should put American troops in harm’s way. We should not be surprised that Americans will die doing the right thing. We should not be squeamish, either, about the fact that (mostly white) Americans will kill some black Africans in the process. Yes, this would be a display of arrogance of historic proportions, even a crusade [bold mine-DL]. But it wouldn’t be a military one. On one hand, this cannot be merely an armed invasion, but on the other hand it must not be some UN initiative which just shuffles poverty around. This would be America and its allies doing right as we see it.

Yes, this would seem imperial, for there would certainly be wars declared against us. French writers would break their pencils in defiance of the American Empire. Kofi Annan would need a pacemaker. Pat Buchanan would move to Canada. But being imperial is not necessarily a bad thing. The British Empire decided unilaterally that the global practice of slavery was a crime against God and man, and they set out to stop it. They didn’t care about the “sovereignty” of other nations when it came to an evil institution. They didn’t care about the “rule of international law,” they made law with the barrel of a cannon.


While I have specific criticisms for all of them, my common critique of Bushian compassionate conservatism, Brooksian National Greatness, Buchanism [sic] and Crunchy Conservatism is the common sense of crusade to all of them. There are times for crusades, to be sure. But I don’t think conservatism should ever be redefined as one lest it become just another populist fever. And I’ll go a step further. The reason Bush pushed me toward libertarianism is because I think any agenda built on the logic of the crusade is either doomed to failure or destined to be very un-conservative. It’s in the nature of things that you will always leave some children behind. ~Jonah Goldberg

This does help to explain a few things.  Ross makes many of the right points, and I would add just a few more.  If you think (wrongly) that Buchananism and “crunchy” conservatism have something to do with crusading and redefining conservatism as a crusade, and you regard crusading as foolish and un-conservative (which is exactly the sort of thing that Buchananites/paleos say about “neo-Jacobin” democratists and Wilsonian foreign policy all the time), you will tend to look down on Buchananism and “crunchy conservatism.”  You have completely misunderstood the things you are criticising, but at least there’s a kind of internal consistency in the “common critique” being made.  It might help clarify matters if there were any sense from the critic about what the proper non-crusading conservatism might look like.  Ross proposes an explanation:

Andrew argued that Bush has gone wrong by being too Brooksian, Jonah suggests that Bush has gone wrong by steering too close to Crunchy Condom (and a Pat Buchananesque “conservatism of the heart,” for that matter), and the upshot for both Andrew and Jonah is that the reform-conservatives have been discredited, and only a purer small-government conservatism retains any credibility [bold mine-DL]. If innovation gave us Bush, then innovation must be a bad idea.

As Ross himself has pointed out, this is pretty cheeky of Sullivan, since Sullivan is in favour of a fairly large, intrusive and powerful government, and it is my impression that roughly the same thing could be said of Goldberg.  Criticism of these ”reform” conservatisms gives the impression of some dedication to a pristine small-government vision (Goldberg at least spares us Sullivan’s repeated mentions of Goldwater), but the rest of the time that dedication is hard to find.  What all four of the conservatisms mentioned above seem to have in common (indeed maybe just about the only thing all four share) is that they are kinds of conservatism not endorsed by one Jonah Goldberg.  They may have some things in common (as I think Buchananism/paleoconservatism and “crunchy” conservatism do) or they may be completely different, but one thing that binds them all together is that they annoy this critic.  There might be reasons to object to parts of one or all of them, but there is no reason to think of all four of them as being related by a spirit of crusade, not least since only one among them–the “national greatness” one–makes any proposals that might be considered crusaderish.

Let’s remember that this latest discussion started when Rod said, quite reasonably, that conservatives overlooked Bush’s flaws and supported him when he was popular and have now started to bail out when he no longer commands the same levels of support.  Rod was saying that most conservatives had been enablers to one degree or another of Bush’s excesses and could not play the victim by complaining about all of the things that Bush had done to them.  This seems true.  Goldberg didn’t have much to say in response to this, and so resorted to complaining about the alleged deep affinities between Rod’s neo-traditionalism and “compassionate conservatism.”

Ross picks up on an important problem:

If Jonah wants to attack the utopian strain in contemporary conservative thought, why is he wasting his time on the putative links between No Child Left Behind, Rod Dreher, and Pat Buchanan’s “conservatism of the heart”?

Well, the cynic in me would say that he isn’t actually interested in attacking the utopian strain in contemporary conservative thought, but simply adopts this pose as a tactic to reposition himself as the real conservative whenever he comes across an argument by another conservative that he doesn’t like.  Yesterday he was concerned about crypto-fascist sacralisation of politics, today he is concerned about utopianism, and tomorrow he will be concerned about excessive populism, and he will somehow manage to discern one or all of these in everyone with whom he already disagrees on practical policy.  The one consistent theme seems to be that he is being progressively pushed in an ever-more libertarian direction, but even here the “libertarianism” in question is simply a shorthand for whatever it is that his current opponent does not support.  

To answer the question, it is not at all clear why Goldberg would be concerned with attacking the utopianism of Rod Dreher, when Rod specifically said in the “manifesto” of Crunchy Cons:

5. A conservatism that does not recognize the need for restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society nor, ultimately, conservative….

6. A good rule of thumb: Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract.

Obviously, the errors of the Bush administration are related to rejecting or not heeding exactly these sorts of ideas.  Big, new and abstract are words that apply quite well to the character of Mr. Bush’s policies, and his policies might be taken as the main exhibits used to prove the truth of the statement quoted above.  The departures from humility and restraint are obvious to all.  Whether or not Mr. Bush’s disdain for restraint and humility has any connection to compassionate conservatism is a subject for another day.  What should be clear is that being a “crunchy” con in no way undermines or weakens criticism of administration policies.  On the contrary, it is on the basis of the principles laid out in that book that “crunchy” cons should be among the leading critics of the administration.  Goldberg’s response fails on every level. 

Looking through the book, one will be struck by the complete lack of anything that might resemble utopianism.  The only kind of crusading spirit that might be reasonably detected in its pages is one that, as in the original meaning of the actual Crusades, involves asceticism, repentance and pilgrimage.  This has to do with living a life of virtue inspired by religious faith.  Strictly speaking, it has no connection to political crusades of any kind.  Indeed, one of the principal complaints Rod made in Crunchy Cons was that conservatives had subordinated their principles to party political priorities–it was the temptations of power and the requirements of supporting the party in power that had contributed to conservative confusion.  If anyone was embarking on political crusading of a kind, it was the loyal party men willing to cut whatever deals they needed to cut to keep the GOP in the majority. 

I just tuned in late to the debate to see Duncan Hunter blathering about pardoning Compean and Rampos.  He then turns around and says something sensible about appealing to Reagan Democrats.  Giuliani keeps talking and talking (and talking) about how important Scooter Libby’s case is.  Romney grandstands.  Brownback commits to pardoning Libby, as does Tancredo. 

A strong question on Iraq from the audience.  Hunter gives a boilerplate answer.  Did Hunter just compare Iraq to intervening in El Salvador?  Brownback reiterates his ”three-state, one country” plan.  McCain’s going to give us some “straight talk” about mismanagement, and then proceeds to endorse the current plan.

A question on the Iraqi government from the audience.  Paul argues for withdrawal as the incentive for the Iraqis to put their government together.  Giuliani preaches nation-building and wants the media to report good news.  Yawn.  Gilmore blithers and blathers in response to a question about conservation.  Tancredo invokes Teddy Roosevelt.   

Huckabee gets a chance to express his thoroughgoing pro-life view.  “It should never be acceptable to us that people are treated as expendable.”  I don’t think I’ll be supporting Huckabee, but this was probably the best statement of his understanding of respect for life.  Did Giuliani just mention God?  What?  We should “explain” our ideals to people?  Where did that come from?  He mentioned God again.  Paul declares the greatest moral issue is the adoption of pre-emptive war–he makes a solid case.  The audience responds favourably to Paul.  Brownback is “pro-life and whole life.”  He takes an indirect shot at Giuliani.  Brownback talks about Darfur.  Ugh.  He dodges the Giuliani-as-nominee question fairly effectively.

Romney handles an immigration question fairly well.  He gets in a quick shot at McCain.  Tancredo won’t advertise in Spanish.  “Bilingual countries don’t work.”  He has a point.  McCain makes a rather lame comeback against Romney: “Muchas gracias, Governor.“  McCain tries to make this into an anti-Hispanic question.  Maybe it convinces someone, but it seems overwrought. 

McCain runs away from the last six years on spending (as usual).  McCain promises to veto all pork barrel spending.  Giuliani talks about accountability.  Romney: “It’s going from small-bore to large-bore.”  Romney would have to be the largest bore of all.  Brownback randomly talks about his anti-cancer project.  Tommy Thompson talks about “winding down the war in Iraq.”  Tancredo hits Bush for governing as a liberal.  Paul takes on Bush’s foreign policy.  Gilmore makes a decent point on immigration. 

“Cutting ties with the past” is the main attribute of being an American?  I understand what Tancredo is talking about (he’s referring to immigrants becoming Americans), but I think he muddled his immigration moratorium point with this remark.  Giuliani invokes Lincoln.  Ugh.  “It [legal immigration] makes us better.”  This seems debatable. 

Gilmore gives us a spiel on what it means to be an American.  A lot of proposition nation nonsense.  So someone who “believes in freedom” is automatically an American?  Hunter beats up on Rudy McRomney.  “We need to move away from the Kennedy wing of the Republican Party.”  Hunter has the quote of the night from the part I have heard.   

Quiet Riots, aside from being an American heavy metal band, is also the theme of the AP’s coverage of Sen. Barack Obama’s speech to black ministers in Hampton, VA today.

“Obama warns of ‘quiet riot’ among blacks” is not the headline Obama might have expected from his speech. ~Marc Ambinder

Obama seems to like this theme of “quiet” problems.  It was part of his response to the Virginia Tech massacre, and it seems to keep cropping up in all the strangest places.

Incidentally, does Obama know when Hurricane Katrina actually happened?  He keeps talking about “19 months ago,” but Katrina made landfall in late August 2005, which was 21 months ago.

 I was focusing my comments at Rod and his Crunchy Conservatism (or at least my reading of it), which does share with compassionate conservatism many fundamental assumptions about the nature of “mainstream” conservatism as well as of the proper role of government and politics. ~Jonah Goldberg

Since my earlier remarks were too “otherworldly,” let me address this a bit more concretely.  This claim of shared assumptions is simply wrong.  It is another example of Goldberg’s exceedingly poor reading of the book.  One part of the ”crunchy” con critique is that mainstream conservatism is too materialistic.  He does manage to get that much right.  Compassionate conservatives say nothing about this.  Whether or not you agree with the “crunchy” con view, the two have nothing to do with each other.  “Crunchy” cons, both in the book and at the blog, tended to be skeptical of or hostile to development plans that came at the expense of the environment, historic buildings and the local community’s interests.  Compassionate conservatives are almost entirely unconcerned about this, though they will occasionally talk about conservation.  “Crunchy” cons find the the way that some on the right make a fetish out of the market and economic goods to be deeply misguided, as it seems to neglect man’s spiritual life and his obligations to transcendent moral order.  Compassionate conservatives are sometimes religious and use religious language, but their answer is not one of changing habits, cultivating virtue and building communities–if anything, they assume that this is already being done–but to “rally the armies of compassion” using federal cash.  It is the weak political answer to an extensive cultural problem, which makes it an entirely different sort of idea.  I’m sure Goldberg doesn’t understand how someone can object to a culture of consumption and self-indulgence without being a statist.  This is the essence of the problem of mainstream conservatism: mainstream conservatives seem to think that anything that criticises the degrading and uprooting effects of capitalism must therefore be proposing some state-led intervention, as if that were the only answer in a free society.  Obviously, the book proposes little or nothing by way of calls for regulation.  At several points, I believe you will find that Rod rejects the association between a desire to remedy a problem and reliance on the government to be part of the remedy. 

At bottom “crunchy” conservatism is cultural conservatism that tries to fight the culture war by actually living out a way of life dedicated to the practice of virtue and restraint.  Goldberg, he of the “partial philosophy of life,” wants nothing to do with this.  ”Crunchy” conservatism assumes that our vision and imagination of a good, well-ordered society matters a great deal more than the tax structure or funneling subsidies to charities.  It does not share compassionate conservatism’s assumptions about the “role of government,” since it does not propose much in the way of a role for government to remedy the ills it describes.  It does not see government activism accomplishing very much when it comes to shoring up local communities and families, and it sees a great deal of harm in collaboration between public authorities and corporations.  Compassionate conservatism seems to have been an attempt to put a moderately social conservative spin on welfarism and use religious language to justify the continued centralisation of power in Washington.  ”Crunchy” conservatism and the people in the book described as “crunchy” conservatives have nothing to do with any of that.  The difference between the two is the difference between Sam Brownback and Caleb Stegall.  If Goldberg doesn’t see the difference there, that is his problem, not ours.          

He said he’s “150 percent” behind Bush on the war in Iraq.

“At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001 ], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country,” Milligan said. ~Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Now it is easy to take the obvious shot at Mr. Milligan (where he’s supposed to be saying, “More 9/11-style attacks, please!”).  Far more ridiculous than anything so ugly and crass, Mr. Milligan seems to be saying that “the naysayers” (a.k.a., two-thirds of America) would realise their profound error of doubting Mr.  Bush and his Iraq policy if we suffered multiple catastrophic terrorist attacks, despite the small problem that the few remaining winning (albeit totally false) rhetorical points Mr. Bush has are that “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” and the claim that fighting in Iraq is vital to American security against terrorist threats.  In other words, Mr. Milligan thinks that the public would rally around Mr. Bush after multiple terrorist attacks showed his signature foreign policy initiative to have been a complete failure on his terms and would have also shown him to be incapable of effectively thwarting the very terrorist threat that he claims to understand how to fight better than anyone else.  It seems to me that a combination of multiple domestic security breakdowns, a mismanaged, aimless war and an incompetent foreign policy would pretty much destroy Mr. Bush’s remaining support.  It might also convince the “naysayers” that the sacrifice made by American soldiers in Iraq had been somewhat in vain.

If I am reading this new poll correctly, the right direction/wrong track numbers (question 3) have remained at their lowest “right direction” levels in 11 years.   37% still say (question 9) the war in Iraq has been worth fighting, but only 24% “strongly” believe this.  With some fluctuations back and forth, this is roughly the same level of support that could be found last year at this time.  It may be worth noting that there has not been a majority holding this position since September 2004.  55% want U.S. forces in Iraq decreased, but among those who want the numbers decreased only 27% support immediate withdrawal.  That seems to me a shockingly low percentage in favour of backing immediate withdrawal, considering the relatively high levels of discontent with the war.  32% believe that the U.S. is making significant progress in Iraq, which is 16 points lower than late June 2006.  Obviously, the bottom dropped out in the last year.  39% think the “surge” will improve matters in Iraq.  Only 37% believe Iraq must be won for the U.S. to prevail in the ”war on terror.” 

The response to question 45 is amazing.  Asked of “leaned Republicans” whether Bush is leading the GOP in the right direction or the wrong direction 65% still say he is leading the party in the right direction.  There is no hope for a party base this out of it.  Sorry, folks.  Curiously, conservative self-identification is up to its highest level in months (37%), matching or beating results from last summer.  The support for Bush’s party leadership helps to explain why most of the GOP presidential candidates are not heading off in bold new directions.  They find themselves confronted with core constituencies that apparently think Mr. Bush has been good for the Republican Party and is doing the right sorts of things for that party, so they have to play along.  It is basically inexplicable why all these Republicans think this, but there you have it.

On the Republican side, there’s Mitt Romney at one extreme (high zombie quotient), Rudy Giuliani at the other (still hewing to the pro-choice line, still talking with the cheerful opinionatedness of a New York City mayor), and McCain as a kind of phoniness parable, a cautionary example of what happens when a leopard tries to change its spots. ~New York Magazine

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who regards Romney as intensely inhuman and creepy.  Normally robot is the word that comes to mind, but zombie conveys the same sense pretty well.

Not to revisit old fights, but my problem with Rod’s admonition is that it leaves out the fact that his Crunchy Conservatism actually rests on many of the same assumptions of Bush’s compassionate conservatism. Conservatism, according to Crunchy Conservatism, has become too cold and calculating, too obsessed with the mighty dollar and the moral unimpeachability of the free market. Conservatism isn’t spiritual enough, humane enough, activist enough, quoth Rod. “Hillary Clinton got a bum rap from the right,” he admitted, “it really does take a village to raise a child.” Well, this is pretty much the same indictment at the heart of compassionate conservatism, which speaks relentlessly of leaving no children behind.

I’d take Rod’s laments about how we all should have turned on Bush earlier if only compassionate conservatism and crunchy conservatism didn’t have so much in common. Indeed, now that he’s aligning himself so much with so-called “paleos” it’s worth also noting that Pat Buchanan considered Bush’s compassionate conservatism a rip-off of his “conservatism of the heart.”  ~Jonah Goldberg

Ross and Rod have made the main points, so I won’t get into this too much.  Not to revisit old fights, but Goldberg demonstrates once again that he still has no idea what “crunchy” conservatism is.  Also, any “rip-off” from Buchananism was at the level of rhetoric only, since no one could possibly confuse Mr. Bush’s actual policies for an appeal to the interests of Middle Americans.  

At the core of “compassionate conservatism” is the notion that, as Mr. Bush once put it, “when people hurt, government has got to move.”  Compassionate conservatism was, is, a justification for conservatives to nationalise virtually all issues, use the welfare state for their ends and put forward inclusive rhetoric.  It is the “big tent” plus big government.  On the other hand, “crunchy” conservatism (in addition to not being a set of policy prescriptions or an attitude towards how to use the central government for conservative ends) looks to the legacy of the Agrarians and traditionalists, who obviously abhorred an activist federal government far more than Goldberg the wannabe libertarian.  They also obviously defended local communities and intermediary institutions as necessary to the cultivation of a stable, well-ordered society that would not need the constant intervention of a bureaucratic state apparatus.  That is the tradition from which “crunchy” conservatism is derived, and that is its message.  In the traditionalist view, the breakdown of social order and community inevitably invited state interference: as traditional morality and local communities withered, the state would use the resulting problems as pretexts for intervention and increased control.  Compassionate conservatives are the ones who would like to bring the state in to fill the gap, whereas traditionalists (or neo-traditionalists, as we are sometimes disparagingly called) want to build up more self-sufficient communities and support a greater decentralisation of power away from Washington.  Those interested in reducing the role of government in Americans’ lives–which is what a supposedly increasingly libertarian person might want–should be naturally inclined towards “crunchy” conservatism, rather than confusing it with something diametrically opposed to it. 

The difference between these visions is not a small change of emphasis, but rather a huge, yawning chasm between entirely different conceptions of what conservatism is, what our current predicament is and how we should go about addressing that predicament.  That Goldberg should conflate two radically different, even opposed, tendencies is typical.

If Iraq-weary voters are looking for someone who will call on America to “come home,” they won’t find that candidate here. ~Fred Hiatt

Quite.  Hiatt is talking about Romney and Obama, but he might just as easily be talking about most of the other major contenders.  This is Hiatt’s point–in spite of the Bush debacle, interventionism goes marching on in slightly differen, but substantially similar ways.  McGovernites and non-interventionists can look somewhere else.  On this, Hiatt is right.  It may be a redundant, even uninteresting point, since it has been obvious to anyone who is paying attention that Obama’s foreign policy is blood-curdlingly aggressive and activist.  (This foreign policy receives the stamp of approval from Kagan, Peretz and The Washington Post.)  The appropriate thing to say about Hiatt’s column is that he is coming very late to the subject and isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know.   

Obama does not reject in principle the “leadership” role that hegemonists insist that we have, but he criticises execution.  Romney does not reject the paranoid, “existential threat” style of Bush’s foreign policy (neither, in fact, does Obama, whose vision is in some ways even more paranoiac), but also complains about competence and execution.  They agree more often than they disagree, and as George Ajjan pointed out earlier this week both of them offer absolutely dreadful and amateurish foreign policy outlines. 

As I mentioned yesterday, both of these candidates contributed their respective foreign policy position pieces to Foreign Affairs, and Hiatt is only now discovering that these are robustly, obnoxiously internationalist and interventionist.  No kidding. 

Hiatt’s argument is not what Yglesias makes it out to be when he says:

Then he reads Barack Obama’s Foreign Affairs article, sees that Obama is not an isolationist or a pacificist, and concludes that Obama has the same views as Mitt Romney and his views are also “strikingly similar to Bush administration policy.” 

Hiatt doesn’t say that Obama and Romney have all of the same views.  He says that they do share quite a few, and they share even more policy priorities, even though they are going to address those priorities in different ways.  Obviously, they differ significantly on Iraq, and unlike Romney Obama has not shown pervasive ignorance about all things Islamic, and where Romney absurdly conflates Hizbullah, Al-Ikhwan and Al Qaeda Obama does not.  Relative to the laughingstock Romney, Obama seems slightly better, but this isn’t saying much.  Their overarching foreign policy visions are actually very much alike, which from the perspective of this non-interventionist is an assuredly bad sign for the future.

As a movie star, he [Fred Thompson] didn’t need a wife right away. He had groupies. ~Libby Spencer

This seems implausible.  To the extent that we can say that Fred Thompson was ever really a “movie star,” his groupies, if he had any, must have surely been from the B Team of groupies. 

I share Ross’ reaction to Fred Thompson and his considerably younger wife.  Ross talked about Thompson’s “trophy wife” weeks ago.  Then again, if Thompson, like Kucinich, has an incredibly attractive wife who seems to be way out of what would normally be his league, I don’t actually see how this has to work to his disadvantage.  It will probably just make the people who already like him like him even more.  On the other hand, it could make some people question still more his “man of the people” routine, since a lot of guys, no matter how old they are, are not married to women who look like that.  

Update: On the minus side, Thompson’s wife also elicits reactions like this one.

Second Update: Here is Scarborough’s shot at Thompson’s wife put in context. 

“We were way too optimistic,” said the officer, adding that September is now the goal for establishing basic security in most neighborhoods, the same month that Bush administration officials have said they plan to review the progress of the plan. ~The New York Times

So if all goes well according to this new schedule, the “surge” will be running about two or three months behind its original timetable…just in time for it be judged by all and sundry in September.  Simply from a political standpoint, this is the sort of information they needed to be giving the public months ago.  (Of course, Bush might have had a harder time winning on the funding bill if the public knew just how relatively little progress has been made.)  They needed fewer pundits declaring the “surge” to be a success and more assessments that say, “Yes, it’s working, sort of, but it’s taking much longer than we anticipated and it remains extremely difficult.”  This is not exactly a confidence-booster, but it sounds much more realistic and sober.  Frankly, Americans are suffering from an overdose of confidence-boosters.  They could stand some plain, matter-of-fact talk right about now.  Support for the war would have bled away at a slower rate had the administration and military been more cautious in their pronouncements of progress and much less optimistic about the time it would take to get things done.  Of course, the truth would be unpopular, but inflating everyone’s hopes and then having them disappointed exacerbates the problem of an already unpopular war.  Having heard from the usual suspects that violence was waning, Sadr was on the run and so on, the public will take the relative lack of substantial progress in securing all of Baghdad that much worse than it would have done had those in authority talked down the “surge.”  Perhaps it is inimical to a military ethos to do this, but with this administration it seems like the safe advice for managing expectations is “aim low.”

In discussion at WWWTW  that has followed my earlier post, my remarks about the “open society” were challenged.  Where I was talking about the ideology of post-war managerial liberal democracy, Eurocracy and Soros’ Open Society Institute–the sorts of things championed by those who consider themselves “Popperians”–to one of my colleagues at the group blog I seemed to be attributing their views, flaws and policies to the politics of Karl Popper.  This was not the case, and if anything the views and policies advanced by these people are virtually the exact opposite of Popper’s intelligent, humane rightish liberalism.  It is rather like the difference between Strauss and some of his more ridiculous disciples running around nowadays: they claim the master’s mantle and his name, but they may have no necessary relation to his view of things. 

Popper came out of the early 20th century Viennese context.  He was politically idiosyncratic, a scientist and philosopher of mathematics and science, an ex-communist turned social democrat turned anticommunist liberal, and a friend of Fredrich von Hayek.  His dabbling with communist politics, his experience of interwar Austrian politics and his flight from Austria on the eve of the Anschluss all shaped his attitude towards ideologies that invoked teleological, progressive histories that justified their crimes by referring to future utopias.  His Poverty of Historicism is worth reading, especially as an antidote to all of the prating West Coast Straussians do about historicism.  Not that they would understand this, but according to his definition they are the historicists and the enemies of his idea of the open society.  As a scientist, Popper was horrified by the inflexibility and certainty of ideologies, and he was similarly averse to all attempts at domestic social engineering projects that presumed to be able to handle human society as if it were a laboratory experiment.  Real scientific understanding always inculcates  genuine humility about what man is able to know, and Popper was a prime example of this willingness to admit the limits of human knowledge.  These experiences and ideas eventually led to his theorising about the opposition between the open society (tolerant, pluralistic, democratic) and its enemies, whence came his major work by that name. 

He located totalitarian impulses in Plato, Hegel and Marx.  One of his biographers, Malachi Hacohen, does a fairly good job showing that Popper’s understanding of all three was not always terribly accurate or sophisticated; he knew Marx best of all, because of his former politics, but Plato and Hegel he really rendered into caricatures.  Some of these caricatures of Hegel as bootlicking authoritarian lackey and the forerunner to modern totalitarian thought, have survived or been repeated by others, but these caricatures survive only because very few people have ever bothered to read Hegel’s political treatises.  Hegel’s vision of a liberal constitutional monarchy is very frightening, I suppose, if you don’t like that sort of thing.  Popper was one of many then and now to retroject the struggles of the mid-20th century into 5th century B.C. Greece and see Athens as the embodiment of Western values and Sparta as the embodiment of the totalitarian impulse.  The politics of all of the great Athens-based philosophers put a bit of a damper on Popper’s theory of Athens as democratic paradise, and the preference of more than a few of them for elements  of the Spartan regime was one of those complexities that the simple dualism of virtuous democracy and vicious dictatorship/authoritarian state was never going to handle very well.

If there is one thing in Popper’s original vision that remains intact among today’s defenders of the “open society,” it is his incredibly simple, dangerous confidence in democracy as a type of regime.  Unlike Kolnai, his Hungarian contemporary and also an exile from the world of the former Habsburg Empire, he never could develop much appreciation for monarchy, so far as I know.  Also unlike Kolnai, he did not become really conservative.  Kolnai converted  to Catholicism and finally settled in Quebec, both of which had to have had some effect on his outlook.  Kolnai offers a good corrective to some of Popper’s enthusiasms, though he is not free of some of the same biases.

The great trick of “open society” defenders is to make people believe that they actually live in an open, free society in which debate is wide-ranging and basically uncensored, where divergent ideas are tolerated and political diversity is encouraged.  The picture of Western societies as being such open societies is untrue to a significant degree, and today’s “open society” men would like to make it even more untrue in practice. 

This is the “open society” that preaches freedom of speech, but bans the Vlaams Blok (now reconstituted as the Vlaams Belang), puts Orianna Fallaci on trial, whips up the crowd into intense hatred of Pim Fortuyn, jails David Irving, and smears dissidents from the consensus line on fundamental economic, social and foreign policy questions.  These are the preachers of tolerance who work to root out every last vestige of Christian influence in public and most private institutions, implement speech codes on campus and classify what is often nothing more than political disagreement as “hate speech.”  The most impressive part of the scam is the commitment to democracy, which lasts only so long as the public backs one of the pre-approved parties that espouse all of the “correct” positions on any matter, but especially those pertaining to cultural identity and immigration.  Those that take a different line are systematically vilified, demonised and marginalised from the process.  Regardless of how many millions of voters a party may represent, its ideological conformity with the demands of the consensus is the key. 

The purpose of all this is clear: control.  The “open society” wants to create as much cultural and political homogeneity and uniformity as it can in every country, the better to eliminate nation-states and the cultures of the nations therein.  The stated goal may well be to eliminate discrimination, hatred, racism, and so forth, while the real goal is to break those institutions and bonds of social solidarity that might be used to mobilise against elites, whether they are national or transnational elites.  Consolidation of power and the elimination of rival sources of authority and rival objects of loyalty are also part of the project. 

The “open society” provides the ideological and cultural matrix for the pursuit of policies of “openness” with respect to trade and immigration, and these policies help to reinforce the ideology of the ”open society.”  It is the intellectual (if that’s the right word for it) underpinning of globalisation, and consequently the enemy of conservatives everywhere.  The “open society” is the society as left-liberals around the world believe society should be, and necessarily conservatives are its enemies.  Also among its enemies are all those who would actually prefer a free society in which dissent is not muzzled, stifled, marginalised, punished or repressed.     

Edwards continues to do reasonably well in the talk-show segment of the debate.  He gave an unusually smart (for Edwards) answer on Iran.  Biden gets really excited about intervening in Darfur.  Sane people should be very afraid of Biden.  Anyone who wants to boycott Beijing 2008 over Darfur wants to relive one of the most embarrassing moments of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.  Clinton actually had a good point bashing stupid hypothetical questions.  This was a much-needed statement.  I was waiting for Blitzer to ask something like, “If you had a time machine and could prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor with a magic wand, what would you do?”  Obama seems to actually be boring some of the audience members.  Kucinich got some applause on getting rid of NAFTA. 

Update: Edwards reverts to trial lawyer slime in his answer on top priorities.  Biden, Clinton and Obama give the obvious, right answer of ending the war.  Richardson blathers about education.  Kucinich wants peace–and getting rid of WTO and NAFTA–all in the first 100 days!

It occurs to me tonight: Richardson is now the Gilmore of the Democratic field.  He can’t stop talking about his resume.  I understand that this is his supposed strong suit, but he has to be able to finish a sentence without mentioning one of his past jobs.  He just said something about New Mexico and starting an “Apollo program” on energy consumption…please, make it stop. 

Obama continues to be halting and ill at ease.  Clinton must be having a great time–she has been laughing like a clown.  Edwards is taking as much time as he wants and he is dominating the debate.  For Democratic voters, he seems more and more like the obvious choice (not that I agree with this choice at all).  Gravel was the only one to support English as the official language of the U.S.  Kucinich (naturally) put in his two cents for full-on socialised medicine.  Dodd and Biden were also present, but seem to keep getting lost in the fray of Senators.

Regarding the recent Noonanian gnashing of teeth about Bush and others’ complaints about conservative complicity with the Bush debacle, Poulos, MPM, says:

Had Iraq gone much better or not gone at all, this conversation would not be happening. Conservatives fought properly when offered bad policy. They gave in when Congressional and Party operators concluded that election cash answered questions of political philosophy. Not until now — Election ‘08 — had other choices been both compelling and viable. I think, then, that the question of conservative guilt distills down to the question of war guilt — for good, ill, or both.

I think James is somewhat right in his explanation of what has made the Bush repudiations and conservative guilt-tripping rather more common. Without the war pummeling Bush’s approval rating into the ground (and confidence-destroying episodes happening every few months in some important department of government), there would probably be fewer conservatives rocking the old boat.  On the other hand, had the Iraq war never happened, Bush would have drifted along aimlessly, probably would have been voted out in 2004 as a government-increasing squish just like his father and the relative conservative passivity in the face of bad domestic legislation would have gone down as a black mark against them.

As someone who v-voted for “B-Buchanan” in 2000, I can assure him and everyone else that it was not out of “spite”–I voted for the most well-known conservative candidate and, what’s more, one of the only prominent voices on the right who actively opposed the bombing of Yugoslavia when it was happening. 

I wonder if James thinks that conservatives actually “fought properly” and fought hard enough against NLCB or Medicare Part D or any other bad–by conservative lights–domestic policy.  There was some grumbling about NLCB, but that early issue lacked any memorable, “This bill will pass over my cold, dead political body” moments of resistance.  Ditto McCain-Feingold and the Medicare prescription drug bill (the latter of which was, I acknowledge, rammed down the House’s throat by DeLay, but which did not precipitate massive rebellions in the base).  The giving in part of the process seemed to me to happen rather quickly. 

More broadly, lines have been drawn between those labeled “realists” and those labeled “neoconservatives.” Yet these terms mean little when even the most committed neoconservative recognizes that any successful policy must be grounded in reality and even the most hardened realist admits that much of the United States’ power and influence stems from its values and ideals. ~Mitt Romney

Via George Ajjan (who proceeds to demolish the claim made in this quote and refute much of the rest of Romney’s blather)

It helps when the “reality” in which the neocons are  grounded is also the one that actually exists here on this planet.

Our very own Aleppine Elephant, George Ajjan, has a great post on Obama’s Foreign Affairs article.  George begins:

When I was in 8th grade, I ran unsuccessfully for Student Council President in a field of 6 or 7 candidates. One of those candidates was an immigrant from India named Surinder Singh. He spoke with a very thick accent, wore a turban, and was generally unaccustomed to American pre-teen life. Thus, Surinder had some hard times at Franklin Avenue Middle School.

But to his credit, that didn’t stop him from standing as one of my competitors in the election of 1989. To this day I can remember elements of Surinder’s campaign speech. He began:

“My name is Surinder Singh. My goal is to make school a better place. We will have longer lunch and recess. We will have more rec nights and field trips. I will clean up the bathrooms!”

And on he went from there with a hilarious litany of pie-in-the-sky campaign promises.

I only bring this up because after reading Barack Obama’s 7-page foreign policy outline published in the most recent Foreign Affairs issue (a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations), Surinder’s ludicrous wish list was the first thing that sprang to mind.

George has put together a list of Obama’s grandiose promises and concluded:

If anyone had any doubts that Barack Obama is totally out of his league and thoroughly unqualified to be President of the United States, this ought to remove them.

At the Spectator blog, Clive Davis has a post with a YouTube video that sets the Brazilian national anthem to images of the country.  He says:

I love the sheer operatic jauntiness.

It does have a Pucciniesque operatic sound to it.  This makes it a rather jolly and pleasant anthem.  It is not, pace Sullivan, “kinda fascist.”

Jeff makes an important observation before he gives the citation from the always insightful Prof. Bacevich. Jeff writes:

That strategy of openness has been structured around the imperatives of economic growth and expansion, on the assumption that the construction of an integrated global order will ensure not only the economic preeminence of the United States, but her geopolitical preeminence.

It is interesting that Jeff should bring up this discussion of a “strategy of openness,” since Fareed Zakaria has come out this week with an affirmation of key elements of that strategy as the appropriate post-Bush strategy for the United States.  In other words, the policy establishment will continue business as usual, minus the glaring incompetence of management.  This has the feel, as all paeans to “open society” have, of whistling past the graveyard. 

Read the rest of this entry »

At Eating Words, there has been some discussion of the merits of the compliments contained in the Song of Songs.  While these may not be the most evocative poetic references in the English-speaking world today (or perhaps at any time), it is possible to find Near Eastern love poetry using these sorts of images for centuries after this.  Comparison of women’s attributes to pomegranates, cedars or cypresses, for instance, is fairly common in what little traditional Armenian poetry I have seen.  The most bizarre compliment, and one that I can’t quite understand, is when Sayat Nova compares his beloved’s hair to basil.  This doesn’t strike me as a complimentary thing to say, but perhaps I am not being imaginative enough.

I did see through Mr Blair when others didn’t, and for exactly the same reason that I see through Mr Cameron. That is, I am interested in politics as such, not as a branch of show business or of the gossip industry. ~Peter Hitchens

My view of the Republican presidential field this time around is much the same.  My low opinions of Romney, Giuliani and McCain, among others, come from considering what their policies would actually be rather than focusing on the dreadful question of “electability.”  In a sane world, the merits of a candidate’s policies and his “electability” would be closely related.  In any case, after two terms of Bush we should understand exactly what a campaign based on “leadership” and “electability” gets you: disastrous policies and actually fairly poor leadership.    

I did see through Mr. Bush the first time round and did recognise early on that he was obviously not conservative and his policies were generally going to be poor ones.  At the time, I assumed his worst policies would be his domestic policies, which would have been the case had he not overachieved in foreign policy incompetence as well.  Admittedly, I was sucked in by the deception or confusion of Bush on foreign policy and thought that “humble” foreign policy was a better bet than anything Gore might cook up.  A year after Kosovo, it was hard not to look at things this way.  On that, I should have known better, and I should certainly have known better than to buy even a little bit into whatever Condi Rice was selling at the time.  Even so, my 2000 Buchanan vote seems smarter and smarter every day.  Will a third party get my vote this time?  Almost certainly, unless GOP primary voters show some good sense and select Ron Paul.  You might think after the last eight years these voters would not be duped with the same old “leadership” and “electability” cons that got them into their present predicament, but you would be wrong. 

And yet these vestigial right-wingers represent a huge current of working class social conservatism, broadly patriotic, broadly religious, broadly monarchist, against drunkenness, gambling and sexual licence, highly uneasy about mass immigration, hostile to the EU, angry about crime and disorder.

But the Labour Party itself long ceased to represent such people. ~Peter Hitchens

Not that Mr. Hitchens is proposing the Cameroons as an alternative for these voters.  Far from it.  If there is anyone around who dislikes the Tories as much as I dislike the GOP, it would have to be Peter Hitchens.

But, as poor Polly Toynbee ceaselessly points out in column after column and book after book, it simply isn’t true. In classic terms, of increased state power, higher taxes and a bigger welfare state, with legions of people employed by the public sector, Labour is our most left-wing government since 1945-51. In terms of constitutional revolution, it is the most radical since Cromwell. Culturally and socially, it has hugely outdone Harold Wilson and Roy Jenkins in turning the ‘permissive society’ into the politically correct society. In foreign policy, it has made us more subservient to continental powers than any ruler since Charles II sold the country to Louis XIV at the secret Treaty of Dover. There is also a strong case, which I won’t elaborate just here, for making out that the Iraq war is not ‘right wing’, but originated in radical leftist ideas about reforming the world, combined with a leftist contempt for national sovereignty. ~Peter Hitchens

With the exception of the bit about Europe, much of the same might be said about the Bush era.

The more sophisticated will declare that the Iraqis were culturally destined to fail. ~Robert Kagan

What exactly are we talking about here?  Is it the Iraqi failure to cultivate a working, nonsectarian, representative democracy under the rule of law?  Well, then, yes, they were “culturally destined” to fail at this, since the overwhelming majority of them had absolutely no experience of this kind of politics and their political tradition has never had such a thing.  Then again, it is totally unreasonable and actually quite mad to expect that any people on the face of the earth could pull together a functioning government based on principles and habits that they had never had before while simultaneously suffering from the effects of war and rampant insecurity.  Had Americans not had decades of experience and centuries of legal and constitutional tradition and received wisdom in political theory, we would have made quite a hash of things as well (as virtually every liberal revolutionary movement elsewhere in the world did).  There is all the difference in the world between guarding a constitutional inheritance that has been thoroughly elaborated and developed and making one up from scratch based on largely alien models.  Some conservatives still understood that in 2002-03, but not nearly enough.

In another sense, the Iraqis “failed” to create or re-establish their nation-state after Hussein.  This is because their nation-state is a cobbled-together, artificial contraption that lost whatever meaning it once held for a large number of “Iraqis” some time ago.  Yet again, they “failed” to do the impossible.  So, yes, the Iraqis “failed,” but they could not have succeeded at the tasks they had before them.  I doubt very much that any people in the world could have done any better, given the resources at their disposal.

They have failed to create a functioning army and security force, but then it was our occupation authorities that got rid of the old army and security force in the name of ideological cleansing.  That one mistake probably accounts for 50% of the mess today.  Fools with WWII analogies dancing in their brains did more damage to this war effort than any number of insurgents. 

Of course, the impossibility of the Iraqis’ tasks underscores the futility of the American mission.  If American success rests on Iraqi political reconciliation, it is not going to happen.  Iraqi failure is mitigated by the recognition that “success” as determined by the goals set out by the administration was never realistic, which also means that American success was never realistic.  Those who didn’t want to create an opportunity for Al Qaeda should have not started an unnecessary war.  Once it was started, and the unreachable goals were set down, Al Qaeda and others were going to exploit the situation.  This was foreseeable.  Some foresaw it, and they were largely written off as appeasers or worse.  Complaining that the outcome that will follow U.S. withdrawal is not “tolerable” is useless: of course it isn’t “tolerable,” in the sense that it is a dreadful outcome, but neither is it all that avoidable.  In politics and foreign policy, serious people tolerate what they cannot eliminate, fix or avoid.  Other people follow the advice of Robert Kagan.   

Iraq said Turkish forces shelled a mountain stronghold of Turkish Kurd rebels in the north of the country on Sunday, a day after it urged Turkey to use diplomacy to resolve rising tensions in the region.


While residents say Turkey shells the area almost daily, the latest attack came days after Turkey moved tanks to its border and speculation mounted that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government is planning a military incursion. ~Reuters

The Iraqi prime minister on Saturday urged Turkey not to stage a military incursion into the northern Kurdish territories, saying his government will not allow the relatively peaceful area to be turned into a battleground. ~The International Herald-Tribune

Maliki is a funny fellow.  His government “will not allow” it?  If anyone is going to try to stop the Turks’ incursion, it will be peshmerga militiamen, who do not really answer to Maliki.  Of course, any direct clash between Turkish forces and our allegedly allied Iraqi Army would be a fairly disastrous outcome.  (The only good news might be that the Iraqi Army will probably be so ineffective that it will break and run as soon as it engages the Turks.)  Any direct clash between Americans and Turks would be something of a nightmare scenario.  If for no other reason, avoiding any such conflict is an excellent reason to get American forces out of Iraq.  We cannot be allied with two or three mutually hostile forces all at the same time without either shooting at our allies or betraying one or more of these allies.  There is no way for America to come out of this looking terribly good.  Getting out before we have the irretrievable situation of Americans killed by Turks or Turks by Americans seems imperative.     

By the standards applied to Israel and Lebanon last year, the Turkish air force should be allowed to bomb Baghdad at will and target whatever infrastructure that remains in Iraq.  This double standard might irritate the Turks, but they should appreciate how double standards have worked for them in the past.  After all, when they were brutally suppressing a Kurdish insurgency and tens of thousands were killed, Washington was not terribly concerned.  Later, once Iraq was out of favour in Washington, its suppression of Kurdish revolts was taken as evidence of the supreme malevolence of the Hussein regime and one of the reasons why he should be deposed.  Some more excitable people spoke of “genocide” and the plight of the Iraqi Kurds was suddenly a cause celebre.  Turkish Kurds, of course, didn’t matter quite as much to most of these same pro-Kurdish enthusiasts, since Turkey was a ”democratic” country and an ally.  It’s amazing how easily “genocide” can become a reasonable respone to internal security problems…provided that your government is on the right side internationally.   

White House officials said it had led them to engage the blogosphere in a concerted way for the first time [bold mine-DL], posting defenses on liberal and conservative sites. ~The New York Times

If the Bush administration has coincided with the rise of political blogging, and it has only just gotten around to engaging bloggers seriously at this point in the middle of a big political fight, it can count this late entry into the blogging fray as yet another missed opportunity and another failure to communicate its message.  Forget for a moment, if you can, about the horrible policy being pushed–how out of it must administration communications staff be that they have not actively engaged political bloggers years ago?

The inclination of most Western leaders most of the time has been to coddle or appease Mr Putin, rather than confront him—because they have been deluded about his real goals and motives, or distracted by other crises, or divided by the Kremlin’s gas deals. ~The Economist

The European response to Putin is more complicated (they are over a barrel because of oil and gas supply dependency, but they are ideologically hostile to Putin as much as anyone in Washington), but when it comes to Washington’s approach this is an amazing description.  On the surface at an official level, there has not been much confrontational and inflammatory rhetoric coming from administration officials, but to understand actual Russia policy you have to follow the old “watch what they do, not what they say” rule.  First, there was the withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which the Russians viewed harshly, and there was also NATO expansion into eastern Europe, which Russia took very poorly.  Then there has been repeated meddling by Washington, the EU, the OSCE and Western NGOs in Russia’s near-abroad: Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan being the most oustanding examples.  Criticism about Chechnya also rankles, especially when it comes from those states that invade other countries.  The government was not quite as bad about excuse-making for the Beslan murderers as some pundits and journalists in establishment circles, but the general response to the Beslan massacre in the West was a mix of indifference and a sense that the Russians brought this on themselves, and the perception of a double standard about terrorism here is very hard to shake. 

To Putin, who was the first to offer aid to the United States after the 9/11 attacks and who put up no barriers to American deployments all over Central Asia in the campaign that followed, Washington’s actions have been obnoxious, pointed incursions on Russia’s sphere of influence and demonstrations of impressive ingratitude.  The targeting of regimes that have long-standing ties to Moscow on grounds of halting weapons proliferation must strike the Russians as oddly convenient, since it was our ally in Pakistan that has been responsible for most of the nuclear and missile technology proliferation of the last ten years.  The deployment of “missile defense” systems in central Europe, contrary to past commitments made to Moscow, has been something of a final straw, precipitating a series of more and more confrontational moves from the Russian side to make up for what I suspect the Kremlin regards as its excessive indulgence of Western encroachment.  The idea that the current situation has come about because the West has been soft and indulgent towards Russia is simply bizarre and I don’t know how anyone could make successful policy recommendations based on such a skewed view of the situation.

Referring to its behavior while still enslaved by the Soviet state, she writes that “[t]oday’s Moscow Patriarchate is the as-yet-unrepentant inheritor of this legacy.” I would suggest Prof. Kizenko read the “Basic Social Concept,” adopted by the MP’s Council of Bishops of 2000, in which subservience by the church to a state hostile to Christianity is unequivocally rejected, and in great detail. As for repentance, that is a private Christian podvig, or spiritual deed, made before one’s spiritual father (as the daughter of a venerable ROCOR priest, Prof. Kizenko is certainly aware of this). Still, 16 years ago, Patriarch Aleksy performed an open act of repentance in an interview published many times since then: “It is not only before God, but also before all of those people to whom the compromises, silence, forced passivity or expressions of loyalty that the church leadership allowed themselves to make in those years brought pain that I ask forgiveness, understanding and prayers.” ~Nicholas A. Ohotin

Read the entire response.  It is good to see that the Church has challenged and corrected the misrepresentations of the earlier article.

As Bush’s inner circle shrank through his second term, Bartlett’s stature — initially questioned by some outside advisers who viewed him as too inexperienced to work at a high level — increased. Colleagues said he frequently was a balance to the more combative and aggressive instincts of other advisers such as Karl Rove. ~The Houston Chronicle

If that is true, one shudders to think how Mr. Bush would have governed without this “restraining” influence.  I suppose we will find out what Mr. Bush is like sans Bartlett over the next 20 months.

But nothing changed, the other side continued to get stronger, the ARVN side weaker. One reason the principals were always surprised by this, and irritated by the failure of their programs, was that the truth of the war never entered the upper-level American calculations; that this was a revolutionary war, and that the other side held title to the revolution because of the colonial war which had just ended. This most simple fact … entered into the estimates of the American intelligence community and made them quite accurate. But it never entered into the calculations of the principals, for a variety of reasons; among other things to see the other side in terms of nationalism or as revolutionaries might mean a re-evaluation of whether the United States was even fighting on the right side. In contrast, the question of Communism and anti-Communism as opposed to revolution and antirevolution was far more convenient for American policy makers [bold mine-DL]. ~David Halberstam (quoted by Wilson Burman)

But Halberstam saw firsthand how hope turned into expectant paralysis and confidence into dangerous myopia. In that dynamic come easy bromides about “terrorists” and rejection of complex terms like “civil war.” ~Wilson Burman

The problem is that the vocabulary of optimism itself distorts our understanding of the world and leaves us lost in illusions. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag

There are at least three terrible things that optimism does to people: 1) it makes people expect success, rather than teach them to prepare for it; 2) it encourages unrealistic expectations that can never be met, thus prompting profound disenchantment and bitterness; 3) it is constantly appealing to the future to make present failure seem more acceptable, which is simply another way of trying to excuse and justify error by saying that today’s errors are the seeds of tomorrow’s victory.  Virtually all foreign interventions possess these three optimistic evils, and it is because of the ruinous effects of optimism that these interventions will fail to achieve their stated missions.

But I think there is a sort of presumption in the idea that God is particularly interested in liberating people from Communism, let alone from the rule of Jimmy Carter or of the British Labor Party. His kingdom is not of this world, as Christ unambiguously said. Go to Poland now, and you will find that the church and the Christian faith are, if anything, weaker than they were under the heel of the Communists. I might add that Poland, though freed from the iron manacles of Moscow, is now instead wrapped up in the sticky marshmallow bonds of the European Union, a despotic, secretive, and lawless empire with the strong potential to get much worse than it already is. As for the U.S. and Britain, I will get round to that. I really wouldn’t like to speculate on what God might have wanted to happen, but if He was hoping for the current arrangements, I should be very much surprised. ~Peter Hitchens

There is some presumption in this, and it is the same kind of presumption that once guided confessional Protestant and then Anglo-American secular whiggish historiography, inspired whiggish “rights” theories and which even now creeps in with every claim that “freedom is God’s gift of humanity.”  God offers a different and a better liberation than the one offered by free-market gurus and democracy promoters.  He has loosed the bonds of death and sin–other forms of bondage here below, while they may be vicious, are not and never have been the priority for divine redemption.  The theological assumptions of the Social Gospel do not make any more sense when they are uttered by anticommunists. 

Hitchens has another great line later about Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI:

By contrast, the pope and his less-beloved but more dogged successor did hold fast against the satanic optimism of the free market and opposed both vainglorious Gulf Wars despite the unpopularity it caused them.

Of course, I tend to think that all optimism, rightly understood, is satanic after a fashion, but the one he mentions here is a particularly good example of it.

What Mr. Hitchens gets at here is an important lesson about the dangers of mythologising leaders of any kind, but especially political leaders.  The Reagan-Thatcher worship in particular is the right’s answer to the virtual deification of FDR.  Like the left, the Anglophone right wants to have its epochal, world-changing leaders, too, except that the mythology woven around FDR (”he got us out of the Depression,” “he won WWII,” etc.) is also to a very large degree bunk.  Liberals knock Republicans and conservatives today for their hero-worshipping ways, which is fair, because there is far too much of it and far too little thought, but they have always been great ones for idolatry of political figures, whether it was the posthumous honours bestowed on FDR by generations of liberal historians or the beatifications of the martyrs, JFK, RFK and MLK.  This tendency to revere and venerate political figures is a bad habit.  There may be something in human nature that calls us to do this.  As Dostoevsky said, man needs something to worship.  Yet if we are devoting our attention to enthusing over secular figures, it seems likely that we will lose sight of those actual saints and the Lord Himself Who sanctifies. 

The Psalmist says trust ye not in princes, and there is good reason for this.  The victory over Soviet communism was primarily the victory of the subject peoples of the evil empire over that empire’s rulers.  It was a moral and, in a way, a spiritual victory, and it was undoubtedly very good in itself.  We tell the story about how “we” won the Cold War, but exulting in triumphing over the Soviet system is a bit like congratulating oneself for having outrun and outlasted a paraplegic who was suffering from cancer.  

No stranger to Soviet affairs, George Kennan poured water on the myth of “Reagan won the Cold War” fifteen years ago:

The suggestion that any American administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous political upheaval, in another great country on another side of the globe is intrinsically silly and childish. (quoted in Lukacs’ George Kennan: A Study of Character, p.181)

Communism failed, would always fail, because it was moral and political abomination contrary to human nature and the law of God.  There were wise and foolish policies that could have been pursued against the USSR, and by and large Reagan and Thatcher can be credited for pursuing wise ones.  However, the final lesson to be learned here is that we should be honest and humble about what it is that we believe our government has been able to accomplish in the past so that we do not foolishly presume that we can work miracles in the future.  Whether they are sincere or not, some Iraq war advocates claim that they took the end of communism in eastern Europe as an example of how they expected liberation in Iraq to proceed: through an outpouring of popular support and mostly peaceful political change.  It is hard not see how the kind of mythologising of the end of the Cold War contributed directly to profound misconceptions about what would happen in post-invasion Iraq.  For sizeable parts of the two generations either raised on or actively participating in this myth-making about the end of the USSR, the expectations of some miraculous democratic transformation were unreasonably high.  These people had come to genuinely believe that all that was necessary for liberal democracy to flourish was for the oppressive regime to go away.  Of course, this ignored vast differences of culture, history, religion, political traditions and all the rest of it that explained why events unfolded as they did in Europe and would not be the same in Iraq, but these errors of historical ignorance were compounded by more of the mad optimism that runs through the myths about 1989 that many on the right today hold dear.  It is not simply too soon for such “confident eulogies”–these eulogies and the mentality that creates them can be positively dangerous. 

The four defendants were identified as Russell Defreitas, a U.S. citizen and native of Guyana who was arrested in Brooklyn. Authorities said Defreitas was the former airport employee. 

They said two suspects were in custody in Trinidad and Tobago, and identified those two as Abdul Kadir, a citizen of Guyana and former member of its parliament, and Kareem Ibrahim, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.

The fourth was named as Abdel Nur, described as a citizen of Guyana. They provided no other immediate information on Nur’s whereabouts, but said Kadir and Nur were associates of Jamaat Al Muslimeen, which was behind a deadly coup attempt in Trinidad in 1990.

Any time you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States. To hit John F. Kennedy, wow … they love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man … if you hit that, this whole country will be mourning. You can kill the man twice [bold mine-DL],” Defreitas said in another conversation, it said.

“Even the twin towers can’t touch it,” referring to the September 11 attacks in another comment that the law enforcement authorities said was recorded last month. “This can destroy the economy of America for some time.” ~Reuters

Ross notes that we have been fortunate recently in having very stupid enemies.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this Defreitas was not what you might call a fully assimilated newcomer.  If Defreitas was already a naturalised U.S. citizen, it is not hard to imagine that there are other Defreitases operating beneath the radar.  It makes amnesty seem rather foolish, doesn’t it?   

It is worth noting that the only planned attack (and it was only in the “planning stages” at that) against American targets originating from Latin America had its beginnings in Guyana and Trinidad.  These are not the normal bogeymen of interventionist fearmongering (they are both next to Venezuela, but that is about as much connection as there is).  This makes some sense, since 10% of Guyana’s population is Muslim and around 6% of Trinidad and Tobago’s population is Muslim.  (Interestingly, Guyana is also 35% Hindu–it makes sense, given the past British connection, but I confess I had no idea this was the case.) 

The much-feared “triangle” in southern South America is a border region where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, and it is one part of the continent that interventionists have been screaming warnings about (when they haven’t been engaged in their favourite pastime of Venezuelophobia).  These would all be countries with very, very few Muslims, and this “triangle” would seem to be an area that has so far, at least as far as the public knows, not generated any threats against the United States.  Perhaps if more anti-jihadists were more focused on anti-American enemies, rather than worrying about Hizbullah fundraising, we might begin to develop some sort of coherent and intelligent policy to oppose them. 

Yglesias makes the important, if obvious, point:

The news that the Islamic Army of Iraq (one of the main Sunni insurgent groups) fought a battle against al-Qaeda for control of a Baghdad neighborhood would, in a decent world, put to a rest the idea that we’re fighting some consolidated “jihadist” menace in Iraq. We’re fighting a whole bunch of people. Many of those people are fighting other people who we’re also fighting.

Also in that decent world Yglesias mentions would be a policy that recognised this divergence between different warring factions and which sought to exploit the divisions among them to American advantage. 

Price Floyd traces the decline of America’s standing in the world to this moment. “Back then, the USIA transmitted American values—and this was separate from selling American policy,” he said. “The two aren’t separated now. There’s no entity that makes it possible to separate them. So, if you disagree with our policy, which is easy to do now, then you hate America, too.” ~Fred Kaplan, Slate

I take Mr. Floyd’s point, and I think he is mostly right at least as far as government activity is concerned. It isn’t as if there are no other means of communicating to the rest of the world except by way of government, but I acknowledge that he is talking specifically about how the government does or does not successfully engage in public diplomacy.

This also highlights the terrible practical problems with a “values”-driven idealistic foreign policy or anything called the “Freedom Agenda.” When you take it as axiomatic, as Mr. Bush’s Second Inaugural did, that “our interests and our values are one,” you have prepared the ground for a continual identification of interests, values and policies that supposedly seek the former and allegedly protect the latter. As far as the state is concerned, the government’s policies are the embodiment of both American interests and values. To oppose or criticise that policy is to declare that you are somehow against one or both. To claim that foreigners resent U.S. policy is, for a foreign policy idealist, to say that they resent America; to say that policy causes terrorism (which it can and does do) is to say that America by its very nature causes terrorism. The special relevance of this conflation of “values” and policy for the recent dust-up between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani is obvious.

In this roundabout way, the idealists reason. We can understand how a foreign policy idealist probably genuinely believes that “they hate us for our freedoms,” because for him “our freedoms” involve the “freedoms” of, say, backing the Aliyev dictatorship in Azerbaijan or the “liberties” of selling munitions to Israel or the “rights” to launching aggressive wars against small, weak countries with which we have no real quarrel. Hegemony is itself an expression of freedom; our bases are extensions of our “values” and our cruise missiles the expression of our ideals.

Thanks to the invitation of Dr. Ralph Luker, in the near future I will also be starting blogging at History News Network’s Cliopatria.  It is a group blog of historians and history students, who cover all manner of topics from the strictly academic to the contemporary political scene, offering an historical perspective on current events.  I am looking forward to it.

People do not grasp the “invisible hand” of the market, with its ability to harmonize private greed and the public interest. ~Bryan Caplan

Some unfortunate phrasing, perhaps, but even so it is an interesting claim that, because most people do not see the imaginary, metaphorical force that surrounds and binds together economic activity, they thereby must have an “anti-market bias.”  More likely, these people lack the invisible hand-detectors that libertarians receive upon obtaining their libertarian membership.  Caplan continues:

They underestimate the benefits of interaction with foreigners.

Perhaps some people underestimate them, but if anyone overestimates the benefits it is surely a free-trading libertarian, who seems to see no real downside to such interaction.

Caplan again:

They equate prosperity not with production, but with employment.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if someone lacks employment it doesn’t matter to him how outstanding the GDP has been.  If we’re talking about politics, and not what constitutes good policy, the lack of employment today is more pressing and will move more votes.  19th century liberals at least understood this and restricted the franchise accordingly to keep the electorate from expanding much beyond their base of support.  Once the electorate grew in size beyond the buergerlich urban voters that supported liberal economic policies, these new voters quite rationally embraced policies that would work to secure their interests–whether of agricultural land or labour or small artisanal workshops–rather than endorse those that tended to benefit middle-class businessmen and industrialists.  As 19th liberals were bewildered then by the choices of the mob, so, too, are libertarians today, yet like the 19th century liberal the libertarian is an interesting, eccentric and fun figure who can command no great political following.  Liberalism flourished in the early phase of industrialisation, and the effects of that same industrialisation worked to overthrow and destroy classical liberalism.  Likewise, it is not “baffling” that American labourers sought and supported the politicians that at least promised to secure them certain basic protections with respect to the length of the workday, safety and health regulations and the like.  (It is a separate question where the federal government gets any authority to do these things.)  These choices may not be optimal for maximising productivity, but that doesn’t necessarily matter to the labourer.  The interests of labour actually involve more than the compensation for work that has been done.  Voters act irrationally just as Caplan claims if you have already determined that labourers’ voting for policies that govern workplace conditions, for example, is a form of irrationality.   

If someone’s job has been outsourced to another country (there’s my anti-foreign bias!) or eliminated for the sake of efficiency (my anti-market bias is taking over), it is unreasonable to expect him to say, “That’s all right.  The economy grew by 4%!”  Voters are often irrational when it comes time to select candidates (because candidate preferences are driven by all sorts of intangibles and identity politics quite distinct from policy questions), but they are not so blindly, willfully hostile to their own self-interest that they misunderstand their own immediate economic interests.  They may very well not see “the big picture” and they may support policies that seem immediately beneficial to them (for instance, nationalisation of an industry or massive redistributionist taxation), but which have overall negative consequences for the entire economy. 

This complaint has ever been the lament of the classical liberal when confronted with a mass electorate: “Why don’t you people realise that the policies that will make me wealthier are the right ones?”   

Of course, voters are short-sighted, prone to misguided enthusiasms and vulnerable to the predations of demagogues.  I don’t like democracy.  Generally speaking, I’m against it.  It is injurious to liberty, because no mass electorate presented with the ability to control, however minimally, a huge coercive apparatus is going to endorse a platform of austerity, limited government and decentralised power.  It will abuse to some extent this power, and demagogues will encourage this abuse for the sake of concentrating more and more power in their own hands. 

No one will confuse me for a defender of the rationality and sanity of democratic politics.  However, policies aimed at shoring up or protecting domestic industry do not strike me necessarily as being at all obviously “socially harmful.”  They contribute to increased prices on imports, and often provoke retalitatory tariffs on exported goods, but is such protectionism actually “socially harmful”?  Beyond the diminished consumption of commodities that such a tariff war might cause, what exactly is the harm?

Whatever else this study reveals, it definitely explains why no one will be bending over backwards to run on a libertarian economic platform anytime soon. 

Now…I do wonder why this lively debate on Iraq that Berkowitz is describing has not been evident in..where do we start…? The National Review? National Review Online? Fox News? The Weekly Standard? The Heritage Foundation? The American Enterprise Institute? The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page? Commentary? Just to name a few of the leading conservative outlets where any dissent on the war on Iraq has been silenced, and the only remaining debate is between those who want to nuke Iran and those who want to do a “regime change” there. And we can go on and on… as we focus our attention on the recent debate among Republican presidential candidates and the efforts to shut-up Dr. Ron Paul. There has certainly been more of a serious and lively debate on Iraq among Democrats and liberals. Count the number of Democratic senators who voted against the recent (modified) bill on Iraq and those Republicans who voted in favor of it. Thanks to The American Conservative and Chronicles, conservatives have been able to voice their views on Iraq and the Bush foreign policy. But please Dr. Berkowitz…there was no WMD in Iraq and there has been no conservative debate on Iraq. ~Leon Hadar

Amen to that.  I had some similar observations earlier this week, saying:

What Mr. Berkowitz fails to mention is that when it comes to conservative magazines, think tanks and other forms of institutional conservatism, the overwhelming majority remains more or less fully committed to the war.  Except for long-time opponents of the war at The American Conservative and Chronicles, dissent in the journalist and pundit classes has come in small doses and has mostly been limited to questions of implementation and practicality.  The mainstream conservative response to Ron Paul points to a broader uniformity on foreign policy that goes beyond Iraq, and the sloganeering of the other nine presidential candidates confirm that this uniformity will not be challenged by any of the “viable” potential nominees of the Republican Party. 

I concluded:

Indeed, I can think of no area of policy debate where the right is more conformist and uninterested in a variety of opinions than on foreign policy. 

This lack of any real debate inside the “mainstream” journals and institutions of the movement–indeed, the enforcement of ideological rigidity by more than a few of these journals–explains why there are only war supporting interventionists and Ron Paul in the GOP presidential race.  There are no distinctive, remarkable ”realist” candidates because antiwar “realists” are relatively hard to come by outside of academia and libertarian circles.  Among politicians, all of the “realists” more or less embrace the continuation of the war.  Their very balance-of-forces, stability-centered view of foreign affairs dictates that they support an American presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

In their self-declared “worst bloggingheads ever,” Ben Smith and Garance Franke-Ruta discuss the presidential fields and Paul’s performance in the second debate.  I think they either misunderstand Paul’s claim from the second debate or they do not recall the specific grievances that Bin Laden has outlined as the motivations for attacking American targets.  The sanctions and bombings of Iraq were included explicitly from 1996 onward.  Additionally, Paul has explicitly ruled out a third-party run. 

Classic quote from Ben Smith: “There is a Libertarian Party, I think, nationally.”    

Sullivan reminds us that Peggy Noonan was rather more sanguine about Bush the Destroyer of Worlds immediately after the ‘04 election.  Here are some samples:

George W. Bush is the first president to win more than 50% of the popular vote since 1988. (Bill Clinton failed to twice; Mr. Bush failed to last time and fell short of a plurality by half a million.) The president received more than 59 million votes, breaking Ronald Reagan’s old record of 54.5 million. Mr. Bush increased his personal percentages in almost every state in the union. He carried the Catholic vote and won 42% of the Hispanic vote and 24% of the Jewish vote (up from 19% in 2000.)

It will be hard for the mainstream media to continue, in the face of these facts, the mantra that we are a deeply and completely divided country. But they’ll try!

I suppose everyone gets a bit carried away when their side wins an election, but how Bush’s managing to break 50% proved that we are not a deeply divided country remains a mystery.  Then there is this remarkable relic from the age of Iraq war triumphalism:

The elites of Old Europe are depressed. Savor. The nonelites of Old Europe, and the normal folk of New Europe, especially our beloved friend Poland, will not be depressed, and many will be happy. Let’s savor that too.

As I have said over and over again, most people–the so-called nonelites–in “New Europe” were against the war and have no great love for Bush.  The Hungarians were liable to be depressed because we Hungarians are a depressive people, but no one was going to be dancing in the streets over Mr. Bush’s victory (and no one did dance).  The “nonelites” (a.k.a., the vast majority of the people) in “Old Europe” were stunned and vaguely horrified at Mr. Bush’s re-election.  I am always hearing anecdotes from friends and colleagues who were in Europe in 2004-05, and the constant theme was the obsession the Europeans had with figuring out how Bush won re-election.  It made no sense to them, and they were seeking to understand how something so bizarre could happen.  Indeed, I have wondered about that more than a few times myself. 

In other parts of the article, there are other embarrassing comparisons to Valley Forge and Agincourt (no, really, there are) and prostrations before Limbaugh and Hannity, but perhaps it is enough to say that Ms. Noonan has come a long way in the last two and a half years. 

But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say you’ve got to cap with a number. ~Bill O’Reilly

Now, is O’Reilly really saying that we need to defend the precious white, Christian, male power structure against a foreign onslaught, as his critics are suggesting? Or is he just saying, rather clumsily, that the “far-left” sees open immigration as a way to socially engineer America as we know it - which they perceive as dominated by a pernicious, patriarchal, Anglo-Saxon power structure - out of existence, as part of their “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go” agenda? I think it’s ambiguous, and it seems at least as likely that he’s caricaturing lefty views as that he’s expressing his deep, dark Christofascist fantasties [sic]. ~Ross Douthat

First of all, I don’t think Bill O’Reilly would ever use the phrase “power structure” as part of his self-identification.  The O’Reillys of the world do not use phrases like “power structure” to express their own views.  “Power structure” is a phrase that academics–liberal academics whom the O’Reillys hate–would use to describe the organisation of a society.  It would be like Sean Hannity using the phrase “cultural appropriation” or Rush Limbaugh speaking about “othering” or “anomie.“  These are phrases and ideas that simply aren’t normally used by bombastic GOP talking heads, or if they are they are used ironically and with contempt.  It seems fairly clear that O’Reilly is talking here about what he thinks open borders supporters really want, and not about what he fears they want.  I say this because I don’t think O’Reilly cares much at all about said “power structure,” which is to say he’s not terribly concerned about white American Christians, their culture or their interests, but he knows that it is popular among these viewers to side with them on immigration.  

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s that strange of an interpretation of the open borders position.  Actual Republican advocates of open borders–for example, those on the right who hold the WSJ immigration and border security position–who want to declare, “There shall be open borders,” are clearly not just indifferent to whatever dominant culture exists in this country, but they are plainly hostile to any politics that espouses loyalty to cultural and religious traditions and identities that supersede or take priority over economic motives and economic efficiencies.  These loyalties can be a drag on productivity when they encourage feelings of patriotism and national identity, which can be a problem for those whose loyalties are to themselves as individuals, the moneyed interest or the profits of multinationals.  When forced to choose between the bottom line and the border, these are the people who will choose the bottom line.  As Henninger made clear earlier this week, it’s all about the money market. 

They are indifferent to what these traditions and identities are–they just know that they are annoying baggage to be dispensed with as soon as possible.  What the open borders crowd knows is that loyalties to tradition and cultural identity potentially hamper “growth,” cultivate the desire for belonging and exclusion and erect boundaries between nations that can make the free flow of goods and services more difficult.  Wherever there are cultural conservatives, they are the enemy of the open borders, globalisation crowd.  (This is why I have argued before that it is the natural conservative response to regard policies of globalisation as hostile and threatening.)  It happens that the cultural conservatives of this country are predominantly white and Christian, so this is what our latter-day Freisinnigen have decided ought to be undermined.  (Incidentally, anyone who thinks that introducing large numbers of Latin Americans into the United States threatens the existence of “patriarchy” doesn’t know what he’s talking about–those who are most keenly interested in women’s rights might reconsider importing cultural habits that tend to be inimical to women’s emancipation.) 

These open borders folks are the people who speak contemptuously of cultural conservatives for daring to want to conserve their own culture.  Retaining this or that culture, rather than just letting “creative destruction” work its magic of demographic and social upheaval, may introduce barriers to economic activity and it will certainly hinder the “free movement of labour” that economic efficiency may require.  There are other open borders advocates who are multiculturalists, who at the very least have no strong attachment to Anglo-American and/or Euro-American culture and many of whom are positively glad to introduce any number of cultures and languages into the country.  That this does and will continue to result in social and political fragmentation detrimental to everyone in the country is not their pressing concern.  These are the sorts of people O’Reilly was referring to, but what he failed to mention, probably because it is not a popular thing to say, is just how many people among American elites in business share multiculti goals in subverting the culture that white Christian conservatives are trying, however haphazardly, to protect and preserve.   

And now for something completely different: here are Kajol and Aamir Khan in Chand Sifarish and Mere Haath Mein from Fanaa.

Iraqi PM al-Maliki told Lara Logan of CBS Evening News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that he has a real fear of a coup by the Iraqi army. ~Raw Story

“The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you’ve had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability,” Snow told reporters. ~Reuters

Maybe the White House is thinking of these Iraqi army coup plotters as the local version of Chun Doo-hwanFred Kaplan expresses his disbelief at the unending ignorance on display in this administration.  Yglesias is also fairly baffled.

The Republican National Committee, hit by a grass-roots donors’ rebellion over President Bush’s immigration policy, has fired all 65 of its telephone solicitors, Ralph Z. Hallow will report Friday in The Washington Times.

Faced with an estimated 40 percent fall-off in small-donor contributions [bold mine-DL] and aging phone-bank equipment that the RNC said would cost too much to update, Anne Hathaway, the committee’s chief of staff, summoned the solicitations staff last week and told them they were out of work, effective immediately, the fired staffers told The Times. ~The Washington Times

Via Dan McCarthy

Seventy-two per cent of the American public disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war and 76 per cent believe that the ‘surge’ is not improving matters. Even normally loyal Republicans are making clear that their patience is limited. A rapid British withdrawal would therefore make the Bush administration’s position politically untenable. One senior Republican congressman warns, ‘If Britain pulls out, it’s game over.’ In these circumstances, the update on the progress of the surge that the new US commander, General Petraeus, is due to deliver in September would become largely academic. Bush would not just be a lame duck; he would be a paralysed president, with Congress refusing to fund the war except on its terms. ~James Forsyth

This would be a very bold move in an area of policy where Brown has no particular claim to credibility or ability.  That is one reason why I am skeptical that he will do it.  In my estimation, Brown seems to like to be in control of a situation and does not normally seem to be one given to rash or precipitous moves.  If others are urging him to make this decision, he will hold off and make it in his own good time.  It would be enormously popular, but it would also cause him to be compared unflatteringly in Atlanticist papers with Spanish PM Zapatero (the last left-wing leader who pulled out of Iraq immediately after taking office).  The Economist would tut-tut, The Financial Times would wag its finger, the Times would shake its head, the Telegraph would go absolutely ballistic and the Mail would be, well, the Mail.  There are virtually no actual war supporters left in Britain (it has collapsed to the low teens in recent polling), but this establishment reaction wouldn’t be about support for the war.  It would be a reaction against the perceived slight against Washington and the endangerment of the connection with America.  Indeed, the more significance observers regard Brown’s decision as having, the more likely the establishment reaction to his decision will be negative.  Poland can withdraw its troops because there is no sense that Poland was that vital to the overall effort; Spain can pull out and not be missed.  When Britain pulls out, not even neocons in all their Churchillophilia will be able to stifle cries of “perfidious Albion”–indeed the Churchillophiles will be among the first to condemn Brown as a new Chamberlain.  Britons will love Brown for this.  Many in the establishment, whether or not they actually agree with the substance of the decision, will not be pleased.  

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Conservatives and liberals will fight unto eternity over whose notions of the law, society and justice are right. But the one idea owned by conservatives is the market.

For many Democrats in politics, the market–the daily machinery of the private economy–is a semi-abstraction. ~Daniel Henninger

To normal people, “the market” is a full-blown abstraction.  No semi-abstractions here.  Conservatives are supposed to be allergic and opposed to abstractions.  Therefore, it seems implausible that conservatives “own” one of these abstractions and still remain conservatives.  How does one own an abstraction anyway?  Wait, I know–the market will provide the deed! 

If Mr. Henninger means to say that many modern conservatives have traditionally tried, at least to some degree, to guard property rights, defend the claims of private enterprise against regulation and argue for the more effective distribution of goods and services via a relatively less regulated process of providing such goods and services, then he might say something more like that.  To speak about “the market” as if it were a concrete entity in opposition to an abstraction is to take a term that is specifically designed to abstractly describe a vast, complex system of exchange and make utter nonsense of it.  But then if I were trying to pretend that providing cheap labour for business interests (a.k.a., exploitation) was a “core” American value, I would probably wind up talking a lot of nonsense in the process as well.

At What’s Wrong With The World, I talk about Vietnam/Iraq comparisons, presidential politics and the meaning of hawkishness.

For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don’t like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don’t like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.

But on immigration it has changed from “Too bad” to “You’re bad.” ~Peggy Noonan

I can sympathise with Ms. Noonan’s disillusionment with Mr. Bush.  Of course, to be disillusioned requires that you had illusions and therefore failed to see things as they really were and are.  Impugning the motives of political opponents started at least in 2002.  Those who did not sign on for the full range of warfare state measures, including the abuses and excesses of the PATRIOT Act, were denounced and their patriotism denied.  Imputing villainy to political opponents was a major feature of the 2002 elections.  This was something that the GOP as a whole engaged in quite actively.  It was a Khaki election, and it was a good time to be a Bush cheerleader.  It wasn’t as if Mr. Bush dragged them kicking and screaming down this path.  They didn’t have their party and movement stolen from them–they gave them gleefully as if they were tributes to an overlord. 

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