Eunomia · July 2007


You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July, 2007.

So this week’s New York Times article by Brookings Institute experts arguing that we may yet be able to win the war has sent a tidal wave of hope through the pro-war camp and a chill down the backs of the Democratic Party defeatist. ~Tony Blankley

A tidal wave?  Good grief, these people are desperate!

Speaking on behalf of “defeatists” everywhere, let me say that this op-ed sure had me worried.  Whatever shall we do when “centrist” Democrats utter predictably optimistic assessments about the state of a misguided war that they originally supported?  I suppose war opponents shall have to run and hide–the tide has turned against us!  The tidal wave of Pollack is crashing down; the fateful hinge of O’Hanlon is squeaking threateningly.  In another shocking revelation, Joe Lieberman has said that we must not withdraw.

P.S. ITWOT?  What?

Caplan divides them into three categories: antimarket bias, antiforeign bias, make-work bias and pessimistic bias. Antimarket bias describes people feeling that trade and profit are zero-sum games, that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. They haven’t learned that free exchange is win-win and that in a free market, profit comes from cost-cutting innovation. Antiforeign bias, perhaps a vestige of primitive man, consists of distrusting “them” even though our prosperity increases according to how global the division of labor is. Foreigners don’t want to invade us; they want to sell us useful things [bold mine-DL]. Make-work bias is the belief that what makes us rich is jobs, rather than goods, and so anything that eliminates jobs is bad. If that were really true, we could prosper by outlawing all inventions created after 1920. Think of all the jobs that would create! Finally, pessimistic bias is the view that any economic problem is proof of general decline. Lots of people actually think we’re poorer than our grandparents were! ~John Stossel

It’s no secret that I don’t like Caplan’s arguments.  I also find them wanting.  Do “lots of people” actually believe that we are poorer than our grandparents, the folks who lived through the Depression?  I would really need to see some evidence for that.  Not that the self-serving claims of libertarians aren’t enough for me, mind you. 

Profit can come from innovation, or it can come from other ways of cutting costs, such as reducing the price of labour by moving operations to places where labour is exceedingly cheap and of fairly comparable quality (or by importing cheap black market labour that does the same job for half the price or less).  If you could cut costs through innovation and cheaper labour, profits would be even greater–that sounds like a win-win…except for the people who don’t reap any of the profits.  The generalisation about foreigners is true, except in all those cases when it isn’t.  Some foreigners may want to invade; some may want to infiltrate and attack.  If you want to say that most do not want to do this, you might have a point, but the default assumption in favour of importing foreign labour and foreign products is no more rational when it is pursued relentlessly.  What Caplan has categorised as irrational biases are simply different political leanings from his own; he knows that he is rational, so it must be that all these others are irrational.  People do not assume that anything that eliminates jobs is undesirable.  They assume that something that eliminates, for example, the manufacturing sector from their town is undesirable, particularly when that manufacturing provides most of the employment in the town.  The libertarian answer: things change, people should move to another location.  When people respond to this upheaval in a hostile way, it is declared irrationality and bias and the libertarian believes he has answered his critics.  The optimistic bias of every free trader and market enthusiast is that every disruption, upheaval and economic transformation brings net benefits to all at ultimately minimal cost.  That might even be true, but it won’t change the response of the voters harmed by the upheaval.  The people who bear the brunt of those costs don’t care whether the costs are “minimal” in the grand scheme of things–they respond rationally to what is happening around them and are not inclined to measure their present misery against an uptick in national productivity. 

I can see why Caplan’s agenda is attractive.  It would be tempting for me to argue that no one who disagrees with me about policy questions should be allowed to vote.  That would simplify matters considerably, and naturally I think that the resulting policies would be better, but somehow I think someone might suspect that this was a not-so-subtle power grab.  If we were going to start setting up standards for voting, I would want to insist on voters who could also demonstrate foreign affairs and historical literacy, which would disqualify so many people that we would not need ballots, but could settle all important matters by a show of hands.

Look: Ross is a smart guy [bold mine-DL]. He knows perfectly well that modern liberals have no serious connection to eugenics advocates of the past. He knows perfectly well that abortion supporters aren’t motivated by eugenicist theories. He’s not using the word out of a dedication to scientific precision. Rather, he and his fellow conservatives are using the word “eugenics” because they also know perfectly well that it’s (quite rightly) associated with racism, pseudo-science, and Adolf Hitler. ~Kevin Drum

No, Ross is using the word because that is the word that supporters of “liberal eugenics” use.  He is using the word because the connection between eugenics and a process of genetic screening plus abortion is pretty obvious.  He also perfectly well knows that eugenics is associated with Margaret Sanger, Woodrow Wilson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

Incidentally, Ross continues the Gattaca meme here, which makes sense, since it is entirely relevant.

Shorter Michael Gerson: we need to bribe other governments in order to fight corruption.

According to John Savage, I have supposedly argued this:

“Progressives” who support abortion on demand cannot logically argue against eugenics, such as was carried out by pre-WWII progressives who supported forced sterilization for the sake of reducing the numbers of “feebleminded” people.

This is what I actually said:

Every time someone on the left endorses the “right” to abortion today he does accept the idea that there are some who should never be born.  Progressive arguments on behalf of sterilisation and eugenics took it one step further: there were those who should never be allowed to conceive in the first place.   

In other words, the two views resemble each other in certain ways, but are not actually the same.  One is held by progressives today, and another was held by some progressives in the past.  At no point did I say or imply that progressives cannot logically argue against state-enforced coercive eugenics and sterilisation policies.  If anything, the implication is that today’s progressives have failed to be consistent in their current opposition to negative eugenics because they accept the methods and assumptions of “positive” eugenics and because they imagine that the state-protected and funded murder of unborn children is significantly ethically different from the use of the state apparatus to eliminate “undesirables” from the gene pool.  The Down’s Syndrome exception that seems to be in vogue rests on this assumption: there is a kind of life that is not lebenswert, enlightened people know that kind of life that is and they can determine–or will defend the rights of parents to determine–when such a life should be terminated or prevented from coming into being in the first place.  Progressives certainly can argue against negative eugenics (and it would be worth mentioning that I have made a point of distinguishing between different sorts of progressives to recognise that many different kinds have existed), and they do so, but this ought to make them take a much more critical view of “reproductive rights,” especially when one of the champions of that movement explicitly used an appeal to eugenics in her arguments for contraception.

This argument has become tedious.  On one side, there are those who point out the obvious (progressives in the past openly supported X, which means that progressivism has a history in which support for X occurred) and then note something true (there are today those who propose something called “liberal eugenics”) and then say something else that is true (modern progressives are typically strongly pro-abortion).  On the other side, you have a goodly number of people who either actively deny or ignore the first point, reject the second and resent that anyone would have the audacity to mention the third.  This is supposed to persuade the first group that they have made some horrible mistake.  It isn’t working.

The least impressive retorts have been along the lines of, “Why, conservatives supported segregation, too!  So there!”  As if anyone needed to be reminded.  This is not an obscure fact, but rather something that is routinely thrown in the face of anyone who claims to be a conservative.  It isn’t a question of whether conservatives should have to grapple with bearing a name that is associated with these policies–they already do, and have been doing so for decades.  If progressives want to use that name, they are more than welcome, but they will have to at least acknowledge and address the more unsavoury parts of the tradition to which they are appealing.  They cannot deny the history of the progressive tradition and they cannot be permitted to simply airbrush away inconvenient arguments that attempt to refashion eugenics in a liberal image.  If conservatives attempted to blithely pretend that there is no trace of the things that the left finds objectionable in the history of conservatism among modern conservatives, I would expect furious criticism and mockery from the left.  They should expect the same. 

This bipartisan consensus is all the more striking because it is increasingly out of step with the majority of the American people. A poll conducted by the Washington think tank Third Way in March found that respondents favored protecting the security of the United States and its allies over promoting freedom and democracy in the world by a margin of 3 to 1. More recently, in a poll of Republicans by the Republican consultant Tony Fabrizio, only 16 percent of respondents supported basing U.S. foreign policy on spreading democracy, a dismal result for the Bush doctrine. On the Democratic side, the liberal blogger Ezra Klein recently pronounced himself “fed up with values,” calling instead for a foreign policy based on competence and consequences. Klein was sounding a familiar theme in the blogosphere: the idea that because the Bush administration has justified the Iraq war in the name of liberty and democracy, the values themselves are to blame. ~Anne-Marie Slaughter

I’ve seen some pretty big rhetorical leaps, but this one is astonishing.  As I understood him, Klein declared himself “fed up with values” in the context of criticising foreign policy that is abstract, vague in its ends and indifferent to means and oblivious to the realm of the possible.  Klein never “blames” the “values” here–he blames those who invoke liberty and democracy (whether sincerely or not) as supports for reckless and aimless foreign policy projects.  To the extent that “values” rhetoric provides justification to horrible foreign policy thinking, it shields bad policies from the appropriate level of scrutiny and critical attention they might otherwise receive.  Stripped of its region-transforming happy talk about the March of Freedom, administration policy in the Near East makes little or no sense and this would be much more clear to all if the entire debate were not cluttered with idealistic prattle that all people are destined to be free. 

What Slaughter describes as a “familiar theme in the blogosphere” is not familiar here at all.  Few bloggers “blame the values,” since many do not think the administration is committed to those “values” and others think they are so incompetent that they could not successfully advance them no matter what they tried.  Most critics of democratism, the spreading of democracy and the fomenting of global revolution are not themselves hostile to democracy as such (not that democracy can be called a “value” in any case) and do not necessarily blame democracy for the misfortunes in Iraq.  They may pin some blame on the elections, especially the way the elections were organised along sectarian and ethnic lines, but they would hasten to point out that elections are not by themselves enough to make a proper liberal democracy in the sense that most people mean it in this country.  There are those critics who think that administration talk of democratisation has always been two-faced and cynical (this is tempting, but incorrect), while they believe that they, the critics, are the defenders of democratic principles against the administration.  There are others who are quite fond of democracy, but who find the forcible export of it to be a misguided, impractical or counterproductive way to encourage this form of government abroad.  There are a few, including myself, who believe that genuine democratisation itself would be undesirable, and that it is doubly foolish to promote something that we should not want to see happen anyway–but then we were not exactly pro-democratic enthusiasts before the war, either.  There is virtually no one who used to think liberty and democracy were wonderful and who now think they are madness because George Bush used them in his talking points.  If you generally favour liberal revolutions and popular government, your problem with the “freedom agenda” is not that it has been promoting democracy, but that the administration believed launching a full-scale war was the wisest way to achieve this end. 

Despite this considerably wrong, misleading statement about bloggers, Slaughter has remarked on something that will be familiar to readers of Eunomia: the interventionist, democratist consensus is alive and well in both parties and dominates the top tiers of both presidential fields.  Most Americans do not want this nonsense, but like good democratists the elite of the two parties will continue to impose such policies on our country and on the world in defiance of what the majority of citizens actually desires.

“I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman,” quipped Romney while campaigning in New Hampshire. ~The Evening Bulletin

Well, that works out nicely, since I think the presidency ought to be held to a higher level than allowing it to be sought by a smiling robot.

While Kevin Drum continues to embarrass himself, Ross has another good post on one particular angle of the debate over the designation “progressive.”  The “meme” of progressives as supporters of eugenics and sterilisation comes from the history of early 20th century progressivism.  (Or you can try the short version: just watch Gattaca and see whose politics seem to have prevailed in that world.)  You can merely glance at this period and find progressives who endorsed or upheld either segregationist or sterilisation or eugenics policies: Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell “Three Generations Of Idiots Are Enough” Holmes, and Margaret Sanger.  Sanger saw birth control as a means to reduce the reproduction of undesirable populations.  Every time someone on the left endorses the “right” to abortion today he does accept the idea that there are some who should never be born.  Progressive arguments on behalf of sterilisation and eugenics took it one step further: there were those who should never be allowed to conceive in the first place.   

Those three are not minor, fringe figures in the history of American progressivism.  They are part of the legacy that progressives today call to mind when they use this name.  Today, I assume progressives would abhor state-coerced sterilisation and overtly racist and eugenics rationales for birth control, but it was not always so.  Now there are those on the left who favour a “positive” eugenics that is supposed to be qualitatively different from the bad, old eugenics.  If Kevin Drum doesn’t know about that, that’s hardly Ross’ fault. 

I agree with Djerejian–any description of the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran as a second Cold War is just ridiculous.  Are we involved in a similar “cold war” with Venezuela?  Maybe we should ask that master strategist, Rick Santorum!  Yeah.  To label every standoff between Washington and a regional power as a “new Cold War” is at once to make light of the significance and scope of the Cold War and to engage in a kind of foreign policy myopia similar to the disease that causes pundits to see a potential Hitler in every foreign regime they dislike.  These comparisons are not very substantive.  They seem deliberately excessive, almost as if the author wants to make a splash by saying outrageous things. 

While I appreciate Djerejian’s point about not having time to set straight every ludicrous foreign policy argument out there, this one seems to cry out for special attention.  Wright begins by stating certain obvious facts: Iran has gained in strength because its regional opponents have been deposed by the U.S., and its proxies have enjoyed some successes in the region.  After that Wright loses me.

According to Wright, a ”Green Curtain” is descending, or rather is being draped by the U.S.  Why green?  Well, I suppose several of the allied states are fairly repressive and, in a few cases, openly fundamentalist, but this would make a hash of the “moderation” vs. “extremism” scheme that is supposed to define who is on either side of the “curtain.” 

The only similarity between what is happening today and the Cold War is that both do involve containment doctrines of a sort, which is to say that both situations involve adversarial relations between Washington and another power.  That’s it.  Before the invasion, standard U.S. policy in this part of the region was “dual containment,” targeting both Iraq and Iran.  Now that containing Iraq is not in the picture any longer, containment has focused entirely on Iran.  Obviously.  The recently announced weapons sales to the GCC states are a new part of this long-standing policy of anti-Iranian containment.  In other words, the only thing remotely Cold War-like in Iran policy has been going on for years before 9/11, and most of our Iran policy is not really anything like U.S. Soviet policy during the Cold War. 

Administration Iran policy is far more of a “forward” strategy and far more confrontational than the Truman Doctrine was towards the Soviets, and it actively seeks the deposition of the current regime where containment doctrine dictated holding the line against the other side’s aggressive foreign policy.  The biggest flaw in the comparison is the idea that Iraq’s government is essential to the “Green Curtain,” which would be like saying, if we wanted to pursue this comparison a bit further, that the Ukrainian SSR was a vital ally in holding back the Soviet menace.

The article is not entirey clear whether the “Green Curtain” notion is actually the way that the administration conceives of what it is doing, or if this is Wright’s projection of inapt comparisons onto their standard anti-Iranian policy.  Both are quite possible.  The administration’s fondness for inappropriate and ridiculous historical analogies is well-known.  If these bad analogies are still infecting the policymaking process, as they probably are, it is important that they are met with as many challenges and rebuttals as possible.

Fred Thompson

Hey, Fred, Where’s The Cattle?

Fred Thompson plans to announce Tuesday that his committee to test the waters for a Republican presidential campaign raised slightly more than $3 million in June, substantially less than some backers had hoped, according to Republican sources. ~The Politico

Via Jason Zengerle

The funniest part of the article comes a little later:

He attracted support from such top-shelf party figures [bold mine-DL] as Mary Matalin, Liz Cheney, George P. Bush and other GOP stalwarts who saw him as a potential Hillary Clinton slayer.

Not to be flippant, but since when have these people been “top-shelf party figures”?  (If these are top-shelf party figures in the GOP, today’s GOP really is in much worse shape than I thought.)  A Cheney loyalist and failed former campaign manager, Cheney’s daughter and the President’s nephew do not constitute a band of power brokers.  This is the quintessential band of courtiers, filled with servants and connected First and Second Family members.  These people are there to show that Bush and Cheney have been willing to give Fred their indirect backing, and bizarrely Fred, like McCain, has accepted the poisoned chalice.   These supporters have been thrown at Fred in the same way that the old Bush ‘04 campaign team was thrown at McCain.  The latter really worked well, didn’t it?  Now that one of Fred’s new co-campaign managers is Spence Abraham (you all remember Spence, don’t you?) and he has Larry Lindsey as his economics advisor, it looks as if the first-term band is getting back together!

David Corn has a pretty good critique of Fred the Neocon, but he doesn’t delve deeply enough for my taste.  You don’t have to go back to early days of the Iraq war to find Fred’s sympathy with aggressive, interventionist foreign policy.  He has been declaring it for all to hear for the past few months.  His recent London speech is a good place to start, and one of his foreign policy consultants (her name starts with a ’c’ and ends with “heney”) is another clue.  Fred is, as I have called him before, a kind of “deep fried Cheney.”  Corn is absolutely correct that neocons can have no complaints about the four leading GOP candidates.  Come to think of it, they cannot really have many complaints about any of the candidates, except for Ron Paul (obviously). 

What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two friends battling each other on an unwanted new front in Iraq? The surprising answer was given in secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and now under secretary of defense for policy. A Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador to Turkey, he revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert operation of U.S. Special Forces helping the Turks neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK leaders that they have targeted for years.

Edelman’s listeners were stunned. Wasn’t this risky? He responded he was sure of success, adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied. Even if all this is true, some of the briefed lawmakers left wondering whether this was a wise policy for handling the beleaguered Kurds who had been betrayed so often by U.S. governments in years past.

The plan shows that hard experience has not dissuaded President Bush from attempting difficult ventures employing the use of force. On the contrary, two of the most intrepid supporters of the Iraq intervention — John McCain and Lindsey Graham — were surprised by Bush during a recent meeting with him. When they shared their impressions with colleagues, they commented on how unconcerned the president seemed. That may explain his willingness to embark on a questionable venture against the Kurds. ~Robert Novak

Let me guess that this will not make Peter Galbraith very happy.  Reihan said a mouthful when he wrote:

An American presence in Kurdistan will be more than a gesture of goodwill; it will likely be very costly.   

What backers of the Kurdish option (i.e., redeployment of U.S. forces to Kurdistan) and opponents have both not really been expecting is for the administration to use force in Kurdistan against the PKK.  Backers of the redeployment idea don’t want to upset the Kurdish political leadership, with whom they sympathise, and opponents or skeptics of the idea (including myself) have assumed that any U.S. military presence in Kurdistan would function as a screen for the PKK, not as a hammer to be used to smash them.  While the proposed action against the PKK may be as potentially explosive as a redeployment to the region (in this case, it will be the peshmerga, not the Turkish army, we will have to worry about more), it probably exposes U.S. forces to fewer threats in the north. 

Some distinctions need to kept in mind.   Novak writes of a venture “against the Kurds,” but it isn’t aimed indiscriminately at “the Kurds” and specifically focuses on one band of Kurds that, officially, the KRG condemns.  An Irishman from the Republic might broadly sympathise with his coreligionists in Ulster and could still refuse to endorse the methods of republican terrorists.  In theory, the KRG attempts to hew to this line of deploring mistreatment of Kurds in Turkey without endorsing terrorism against Turks.  Whether they will hold to that line should joint U.S.-Turkish operations start hitting PKK bases is less clear.  Needless to say, should something in this covert operation go awry and local opinion turns sharply against the U.S. (especially if there should be very many civilian casualties), the government may find that it has no good place inside Iraq’s borders where it can redeploy U.S. forces.

It is all the more remarkable that things have reached this sorry state now, when the Turkish government is probably more favourable to Kurdish rights and the public use of the Kurdish language than at any time in living memory (which isn’t saying much, but still) and when a sizeable number of independent Kurdish deputies were elected to the parliament in the last election. 

Egemen Bagis, foreign policy advisor to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkish forces were prepared to mount operations against Kurdish PKK fighters who had taken refuge in Iraq, because the US had failed to intervene.

“We are hoping we will not have to do it. We are hoping that our allies will start doing something, but if they don’t we don’t have many options,” he said.

“Our allies should help us with the threat, which is clear and present. If an ally is not helping you, you either question their integrity or their ability.” ~The Daily Telegraph

Thank goodness the reform-minded, “pro-Western” Erdogan government was returned with a large parliamentary majority.  Otherwise, we would have had to worry about U.S.-Turkish tensions increasing over Kurdistan.  Ahem.

The time may soon be upon us when the “redeploy to Kurdistan” solution favoured by Galbraith, Sullivan, et al. will be like every other Iraq policy fix to date: it will start far too late and will have missed the window of opportunity where it might have achieved some of the goals envisioned by the advocates of the change.  The other problem with the “Kurdish option” is that it was never intended to be a redeployment that included the goal of curtailing the activities of the PKK; the redeployment would have been, and would have been seen as, a transparent case of putting Americans in between the Turks and Kurds to prevent the Turks from entering Kurdistan.  Such a deployment would be a deterrent against immediate action, at the expense of good relations with Ankara, but it would leave the Turks with no means of redress for their grievances.

Incidentally, the electorate that just voted AKP a big majority is the same electorate that doesn’t much care for the U.S., or at least U.S. government policy:

A poll last week by the US-based Pew organisation found that 72 per cent of Turks regarded terrorism as the key issue facing the country. The same poll showed that only 9 per cent of Turks had a positive view of the US, with more than three quarters concerned that the Americans could pose a military threat to their country. Many Turks believe that the US has been supporting the Kurds.

 

Is it just me, or is this Yglesias post about his first ever visit to West Virginia this weekend really strange?  I suppose it’s really not that important, but it strikes me as a little unusual that someone who has been living in D.C. for years would have never gone to, or at least through, West Virginia at some point at least once.  This jumped out at me since I have driven through WV at least six times in the last ten years, and I was usually starting a bit farther away than Washington.  A New Yorker-inspired joke might be appropriate at this time. 

Both Obama and Paul are internet-driven candidacies, crammed with small donations and hyper-enthusiastic volunteers. They are also representative of a budding and clear revival of what can only be called neo-isolationism. And they have the wind in their sails. ~Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan’s discussion of this “neo-isolationism,” if you want to call it that, has some interesting points, but I draw the line at the inclusion of Obama.  If he is an “isolationist,” the word really doesn’t mean anything anymore (not that it means much).  (It doesn’t really apply to Ron Paul, either, since he thinks the government should foster trade and diplomatic relations around the world–almost no one believes that America should actually be “isolated” from the rest of the world.)  Here is Obama a few months ago:

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

I keep citing this quote because it expresses so well the tiresome glibness and excessive ambition of Obama.  Obama takes a view that is essentially no different from Bush’s Second Inaugural in its key assumption that American security (or freedom) is dependent on the security (or freedom) of everyone else on earth.  If it is evidence of madcap idealism and near-utopianism in Bush, it is certainly the same with Obama.  Obama is not a candidate who pledges a policy of “opting out,” as Sullivan describes it.  He pledges the exact opposite–he stresses, as a progressive internationalist would do, interdependency and the need for greater involvement abroad.  Obama would probably also argue that involvement overseas needs to be done in different ways and more often by way of international institutions than has been the case in the past few years.  Whether or not his supporters rally to him because of this or because of his opposition to the Iraq war, Obama himself does not represent anything like a “neo-isolationism.” 

Incidentally, it is hilarious to listen to standard GOP attacks on antiwar Democrats that use such words as “McGovernite” to criticise their adversaries, since there is no major Democratic candidate who espouses anything remotely like a “come home, America” platform.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s op-ed in the Post makes about as much sense as all of those teary-eyed columns written last summer about how poor Joe Lieberman was being “purged” from his party by “extremists.”  It hails from the same ideological universe: this is the place where being “moderate” and “centrist” consists in adopting the most irresponsible and dangerous establishment ideas as your guiding principles and refusing to yield no matter how much evidence there is that these ideas are horribly wrong.  As a “centrist,” you believe that these ideas are inherently good, regardless of whether they make any sense, because they are not held by large numbers of people from both parties.  This proves that the ideas are sufficiently high-minded and unsullied by anything as unimportant as constituents’ interests, informed understanding of the relevant problems or effective methods of addressing the problem at hand.  It is not “extreme,” and it is reformist–this is enough.  It also involves being open to “bipartisanship,” which is the means by which the horrible “centrist” ideas are implemented.

For “centrists,” partisanship can be found in anything and everything that thwarts the “centrist” consensus.  Moderation is defined by adherence to that general consensus–in this way Secretary Gates, Negroponte and Zoellick can be described as “seasoned moderates,” even though they have been active participants in foreign and trade policies that could hardly be described as moderate.  Before he was U.N. Ambassador in the run-up to the invasion, Negroponte was an old Cold War Central America hand involved in some of the shadier operations down there and long before he was in the Pentagon Gates was the CIA deputy director tied up in Iran-Contra and someone who advocated bombing Nicaragua.  Whatever you think about the intervention in Nicaragua, Gates was not one of the “moderates” then and he still isn’t today.  It is only when compared with Rumsfeld that Gates has appeared as the steady, sane alternative.  Zoellick, in his former role as U.S. Trade Representative, was a leading cheerleader for the Doha round, which seems very sensible and “moderate” to the establishment and which strikes many of the rest of us as anything but that.

Another example of “bipartisanship” feted by Slaughter is CNAS, a think tank whose board includes a Who’s Who of undesirable old Clinton-era Cabinet members and the odd refugee from the Bush administration (Armitage).  There is one slight surprise–Gen. Newbold, the only one of the anti-Rumsfeld retired generals who retired before the invasion because he would not participate in it, is also on the board there.  Let’s just say he is keeping distinctly odd company, when the think tank’s advisors include the perpetually wrong Michael O’Hanlon (how does that guy still get taken seriously?).

The Bolton and Wurmser examples are funny.  Of course Bolton and Wurmser object to diplomatic tracks with North Korea and Iran.  They are people who always oppose diplomatic tracks with such regimes.  This is not an example of “partisan” pushback, but an intra-Republican fight between hegemonists and those more inclined towards “realism.”  Further, these criticisms came as the result of changes in administration policy, and not as a response to bipartisan talking shops or the appointment of Bob Gates to be SecDef.  For these things to be related, you would have to be able to show that Bolton and Wurmser said what they said as a protest against the appointment of the supposedly “seasoned moderates” to key positions.  Except that this doesn’t make any sense, since two of the “moderates” already served the administration in one capacity or another and the nomination of Gates was met with relatively little opposition on the right.

Tony Smith’s op-ed made a good deal of sense, since many neoliberals have been enablers of neocon foreign policy.  He did not say that they were the only villains in the story, but was drawing attention to the shocking staying power of a foreign policy view on the left, embodied in the DLC and its think tank, PPI, that has been shown to be woefully misguided.  These DLC types were practicing bipartisanship like it was going out of style, and it was bipartisanship in the service of a bad cause.  Lind’s argument was of an entirely different kind, and had little to do with bipartisanship or partisanship–he was criticising a tendency among some prominent liberal internationalists to embrace democratising, imperialistic and interventionist views.  His point was that these foreign policy figures were tainting liberal internationalism’s supposedly good name by taking it in dangerous, militant and unsustainable directions.  As I made clear at the time, I don’t think Lind’s own position makes much sense, but his argument concerned an intra-liberal quarrel that had to do with the merits of democracy promotion and interventionism as such.  As it happens, the people he labels “heretics” are reliable Democratic ”centrists” on foreign policy (Ivo Daalder, for example), which is why Lind can be labeled as a “partisan”–because he criticises prominent ”centrists.”

All in all, Slaughter’s op-ed is one more installment in the Post’s never-ending series dedicated to the idea that nothing is so wrong with Washington or America that more Beltway collaboration and insiderism can’t set it right.

Even though most Americans don’t know anything about the Obama-Clinton spat, it has become a notable dispute between the rivals.  When I heard the answers from the two candidates, I thought Obama’s response was a bit odd.  I knew what he meant, and I could even see how he could argue for meeting with, say, Assad or whichever Iranian President is elected in 2009 during his term in office, but why pledge to meet with Kim Jong Il within the first year?  Chavez and Castro (either one) are fairly irrelevant, and meeting with them would mean nothing if it did not represent some shift in relations.  There are degrees of “roguishness” among the rogue states, and it is rather ludicrous to lump together the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Latin America together with important regional players in the Near East and the crackpot in Pyongyang.  Why not throw in Mugabe for a nice even half-dozen? 

In fairness to Obama, this was the question’s flaw, but the stupidity of the question might have been turned back on the person asking it in a smart and interesting way to show that he, Obama, knew that some of these regimes were worse and more obstinate than others.  Some might merit the direct attention of the President in certain circumstances, while others could be safely ignored or kept at arm’s length while lower-level contacts might pave the way for later meetings between higher-ups.  The approach that would ultimately be favoured by both Foggy Bottom and the public would involve incrementally developing contacts with these regimes that could lead, over the course of a year or two, to proper meetings between the Secretary of State and his opposite number, which might then lead to more contacts or not. 

Leaping to the conclusion of this process, where the President meets with the leader on the other side, would not only probably be jarring and horrifying to the diplomatic corps at the State Department, but would ensure that very little would come from the meeting.  If Obama appreciated the difference between meetings that represent the fulfillment of a long diplomatic process and meetings to show that he, Obama, is not some stand-offish yahoo like Bush (he’s lived in other countries, after all), he would have handled the question much differently.  To do that, he would have had to have understood something very basic but very important about diplomacy, but he did not, does not, understand.    

As a symbol of his departure from the methods of Bush, Obama’s answer made some sense, but like everything else he says on foreign policy (from his “I majored in international relations and lived in Indonesia, so I am more qualified than anybody” line to his recent article in Foreign Affairs) it comes off sounding fairly dopey, poorly conceived and clueless.  Some credit this to his inexperience in a major campaign with real opposition, while others (including myself) recognise that Obama sounds clueless on foreign policy because he is basically clueless.  His correct position on Iraq has been allowed to mask his otherwise misguided foreign policy vision, and his prescience on the disaster that the war could become has been mistaken for some overriding understanding of foreign policy.  Yet he has not demonstrated any such understanding since he took the position on the war that was, as it happens, also extremely popular in his district and his state. 

New Presidents choose the first foreign trips in their first year with what I assume is tremendous care, since they appreciate that these trips will possess a symbolism beyond what even they might wish to convey.  (Speaking of propaganda, presidential visits to another country are put to use in propaganda, er, public relations here at home.)  It mattered (more than some may have realised at the time) that Mr. Bush chose Mexico as his first foreign destination–it represented Mr. Bush’s immigration mania, his ignorance about foreign policy and the world beyond North America, and included a pointed slight to far more reliable allies when he declared that we had a “special relationship” with Mexico.  Later that year, he went to Europe, after which time there was not a great deal of time left to go jetting off to any other locations if he wanted to attempt to do anything else domestically.  Likewise, the leaders new Presidents invite to Washington or to their various retreats are also representative of the administration’s priorities and the President’s judgement (Mr. Bush’s soul-seeing moment with Putin was telling and a sign of his non-intellectual, instinctive style of policymaking).  Even meetings at relatively neutral venues, such as summits, stamp an administration in certain ways. 

Whichever method Obama might use to have these meetings, he would have to be very careful that he scripted it in such a way so as not to slight actual allied and large non-aligned countries. 

“Sorry, Chancellor Merkel, the President can’t see you for very long, because he’s got to have a sit-down with Chavez before the summit ends.”  The silliness of the entire scenario is part of the problem I have with the obsession with what are mostly powerless tinpot dictatorships that our foreign policy establishment, political class and media cultivate.  The President shouldn’t have to meet with most of these leaders at any time, much less during his first year in office, because they are mostly second or third-rate powers, if not outright economic and political basketcases.  Would the President go racing to meet with the leadership in Estonia and Thailand in his first year?  It is unlikely.  Why, then, pledge to be in a hurry to meet the rulers of states that are actually much weaker and poorer?  What we are arguing over here ought to be what the policy of the government towards the regimes would be.  In all of the sound and fury following the debate the other day, I have no sense that Obama and Clinton have any interest in fundamentally changing our policy towards Iran or North Korea.  As near as I can tell, except for Iraq, Obama would like to retain most of the overall policy goals of the current administration, but would like to go about pursuing them in a different way.  That makes his answer the other day far less important as a signal that he is going to change anything substantive.  What he wants to do is project a different image.  As with everything else in his campaign, Obama is proposing superficial, rhetorical and stylistic changes.    

It is therefore remarkable that public opinion tends to side a bit more with Obama’s position of meeting with “rogue nations” (42% support, 34% are against, 24% are not sure).  Remarkably, according to Rasmussen’s breakdown of the results, even 30% of conservatives and 31% of Republicans endorse presidential meetings with “rogue nations.”  Obama may be a foreign policy dunce, but he has actually picked a position that seems to be a political winner. 

Galbraith has long been a consultant to the Kurds and, long before that, a passionate advocate for their cause. Still, an objective case can be made that the United States has a moral and strategic interest in Kurdish independence. Redeploying troops to the Kurdistan region accomplishes four goals, Galbraith argues. It “secures the one part of Iraq that has emerged as stable, democratic, and pro-Western.” It deters “a potentially destabilizing Turkish-Kurdish war.” It “provides U.S. forces a secure base that can be used to strike at al-Qaida in adjacent Sunni territories.” And it limits “Iran’s increasing domination.” ~Fred Kaplan

Kaplan is referring here to Peter Galbraith’s NYRB article on Iraq.  Personally, I’m a bit wary of anything offered by passionate advocates for Kurdish independence.  Kurdish independence attracts a pretty odd motley crew, many of whom do not generally show what I would call good judgement.  What other idea could unite Paul Wolfowitz, Marty Peretz, Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway in something like common cause?  As a stateless nation, the Kurds have been on the receiving end of plenty of oppression (and some Kurds dished out their share as well–ask the Assyrians and Armenians), and despite my criticisms of the ”Kurdish exception” rhetoric and my objections to the unduly optimistic assessments of what an independent Kurdistan would mean for the region I have no argument with the Kurds themselves.  However, it is quite legitimate to question the judgement of “passionate” advocates for the national cause of another people when they are calling on the U.S. government to do something for that people.  Galbraith talks about discharging our moral debt to the Kurds–have we not actually already done that in destroying the regime that terrorised them?   

Kaplan anticipates this objection and says that an objective case can be made for an independent Kurdistan.  What the points quoted above demonstrate is not that there is a case for an independent Kurdistan, but that a U.S.-occupied Kurdish protectorate might achieve the goals Kaplan mentions.  Almost by definition, a Kurdistan that requires an American presence, even a relatively small one, to guarantee its existence against outside invasion is not fully independent, and a Kurdistan that exists as a forward U.S. base and a sort of buffer zone between Turkey and central and southern Iraqi chaos will not necessarily remain stable or pro-Western (and it already isn’t really very democratic) for very long.  Kurds are “pro-Western” to the extent that they are (and I would not assume that it is a very great extent) because they have enjoyed protection and stability thanks in part to the U.S. military, but like any other people–and perhaps more than most–a desire for independence and the continued presence of American forces, even if they are there in a purely defensive and supporting role, will probably create increasing resentment and hostility towards that presence.  It seems to me that it is not a coincidence that the one group in Iraq that still has generally favourable views of the U.S. is the one that has had rather less contact with the military presence in Iraq.     

Though the Bush Administration is glibly mocked for making Mr. Musharraf an “exception” to the Bush Doctrine, the U.S. has no interest in destabilizing a nuclear-armed government already under a jihadist threat. ~The Wall Street Journal

Without pre-empting any of my forthcoming column, let me say very briefly on a separate question that it is not the toleration of Pakistan that bothers critics nearly as much as the Bush Doctrine itself.  By the standards of the Doctrine (regime change carried out against supposed and real proliferating, terrorist-supporting rogue states), if so it can be called, Pakistan ought to be one of our top state enemies, since it has done both in spades.  Since that would clearly be insane and inimical to actual U.S. interests, the Bush Doctrine doesn’t actually have a lot to recommend it in the real world.  Its application against a regime that fits the Doctrine’s description least well of all the possible candidates simply drives home the hollowness of the Doctrine.

The Journal concludes with the obvious analogy and displays its sudden acquisition of profound understanding of cultural difference: 

Jimmy Carter made that mistake with the Shah of Iran, another imperfect Muslim ruler whose successors were infinitely worse. Pakistan is not the Philippines, a Catholic country with long ties to the U.S. whose political culture we well understood when Reagan pushed Marcos from power in 1986.

The difference between Iran then and Pakistan now is, obviously, that we did not bring Musharraf to power by overthrowing the local democratically elected government–Musharraf did that all on his own. 

This Noam Scheiber op-ed makes some interesting points about the DLC and its increasing irrelevance to the debates within the Democratic Party.   He is not arguing quite the same thing as I was in my TAC article on neoliberalism (sorry, not online) a couple months ago, and I may have given the DLC more credit as a going concern than he does, but our conclusions are not all that different.  The New Democrats are on the wane inside the Democratic Party, and with them go the fortunes of at least one variety of neoliberalism that they represented. 

Think for a moment about just how arrogant that is. The Japanese should ignore how well their government is, you know, governing and instead make their electoral decisions based on how well their leaders serve what right-wing U.S. pundits think are our interests in the area. Clearly, after all, the most important thing for the average Japanese citizen is how aggressively his country expands it’s [sic] military. ~Sam Boyd

Boyd is right that it is supremely arrogant, and reflects the notion, common among hegemonists, that everything in the world either is or should be about America and American foreign policy.  When the Germans elected Merkel, it was interpreted as a move “towards” America; when the Socialists won in Spain, it was an ”anti-American” result.  Gordon Brown’s tenure means nothing to them if it cannot be shoehorned into the all-important question: will he do our bidding?  The French election was not of interest to these sorts of people because it potentially represented a change in how France was governed domestically, how its regulatory apparatus functioned and what it meant to be French, but caught their eye purely because Sarko was allegedly more “pro-American” than his predecessor and his rival.  And so on. 

What all of this “analysis” seems to miss is that very few other countries have elections in which foreign policy plays a role as dominant as it does in our presidential elections, and that when they do talk about foreign policy it does not always center around the U.S.     

This ”analysis” also fails to take into account that most other nations do not think that an “activist international role” of the kind that AEI prefers is all that desirable.  This is especially true in Japan, where it was pounded into the heads of the Japanese for two generations that war was never an appropriate instrument of policy.  After having sufficiently beaten down the Japanese, some would appparently like to see the Japanese built back up as a military power to serve Washington’s regional goals.  If there were referenda around the world on this question of having a pro-American ”activist international role” (a.k.a., being an imperialist running-dog), the activist side would lose eight times out of ten.  The AEI folks should be pleased that most foreign electorates do not place as much importance on foreign policy and U.S. relations, or else the LDP under Abe might suffer an even greater defeat.  It is a strange world where hegemonists think it is to their advantage to empower intense nationalists, especially when the domestic agenda of the latter involves the sort of historical revisionism that directly attacks the hegemonists’ own ruling myths about America overcoming the evils of Japanese militarism and transforming Japan into what it is today.    

In an otherwise superb piece on the (often cynical) political and lobbying battle over the Armenian genocide resolution, Michael Crowley has this unfortunate line:

Most Armenian-Americans are descended from survivors of the slaughter and grew up listening to stories about how the Turks, suspecting the Orthodox Christian Armenians of collaborating with their fellow Orthodox Christian Russians [bold mine-DL] during World War I, led their grandparents on death marches, massacred entire villages, and, in one signature tactic, nailed horseshoes to their victims’ feet.

This is almost entirely right, which makes the mistake all the more glaring.  Diasporan Armenians often do talk of nothing else when it comes to politics, and the official Turkish line is that Armenian collaboration with the Russians was the “justification” for the deportation of Armenians “away from” the front lines.  However, the main descriptive error here is obvious, or should be, since Armenian Apostolic Christians are of a different confession from the Russians and have been for a very, very long time.  Ironically, this allowed the Armenians inside Russia to enjoy relatively greater ecclesiastical independence as a non-Orthodox church than other non-Russian Orthodox churches, such as the Georgian, but that is a different matter.  The difference here is crucial because the genocide occurred against the “loyal” millet, the one Christian community that could not be directly implicated in the designs of Russian or Greek or some other Orthodox state’s foreign policy, because they were not Eastern Orthodox and were under their own religious authority that had no ties to Moscow or any other center of Orthodoxy.  There were some Armenian revolutionaries who sided against the Central Powers in the war, but they were not representative of Armenians in general, much less could the entire community be reasonably held responsible for the actions of a relative few.  This is what made the genocide that much more shocking and terrible to the Armenians–unlike the other Christian minorities, they had by and large remained loyal and law-abiding subjects.  For the ideologues of the CUP, however, one Christian minority was as much of a threat as any other.  To do full justice to the history of the genocide, it is exactly the difference between Armenian and Orthodox Christians that must be kept in mind.   

Matt Yglesias recommends to us an old Robert Kaplan article on the virtues of the AKP.  Since I am a pretty convinced AKP-phobe, if that is what we can call it, I thought I would take a look.  Within two sentences I decided that the article cannot be a very credible source of insight on modern Turkey, since it manages to get late Ottoman history so profoundly wrong:

The multi-ethnic Ottoman Turkish Empire, like the coeval multi-ethnic Hapsburg Austrian one, was more hospitable to minorities than the uni-ethnic democratic states that immediately succeeded it. The Ottoman caliphate welcomed Turkish, Kurdish, and other Muslims with open arms, and tolerated Christian Armenians and Jews.

First of all, you cannot seriously compare Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on this point.  During the same period of time in the late nineteenth century, before anyone had ever heard of Young Turks, the two empires treated their minorities in very different ways.  In the 1890s, there were large-scale, government-aided massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which had followed the massacres of the Bulgarians in the 1870s.  In Austria, nothing of the kind was happening–the emperor was the mediator and protector of all the subjects in his domains, and was a force working against, not with, any nationalist or supremacist forces within the empire.  Obviously, the Arab subjects of the Ottoman Empire did not regard Ottoman rule quite so highly as Kaplan does in retrospect.  Second of all, it is not exactly true that the empire was more tolerant than the republic, since the empire had done most of the heavy lifting of genocide and expulsion of minorities from Anatolia.  The failure of the Greek invasion of 1919-22 and the Treaty of Lausanne did the rest of the damage.  The main difference is that the empire engaged in a lot of killing of non-Muslim minorities, while the republic turned its attention to oppressing non-Turkish minorities regardless of religion.  In a really twisted way, that’s a kind of progress.  

Kaplan would very much like to distinguish between the Young Turks who “brought down the empire” (small point–it was the Allies who “brought down the empire” and it was the Young Turks who were stupid enough to get into the war that destroyed the empire) and the quasi-constitutional monarchy that existed before 1908, which would be interesting, except that this is mostly a lot of rot.  Anyone familiar with Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act will know that things cannot be divvied up quite so nicely.  The Young Turks were by turns Pan-Turanian, Islamist or Ottomanist, depending on what the circumstances demanded, and to call them “secular-minded” as Kaplan does is to mistake later Kemalism for what the CUP represented when it came to power.  Kemal emerged out of the Young Turk movement, but it is rather obvious that this movement was not really “secular-minded.”  It was a fusion of Islam, nationalism and progressive reformism in one nasty bundle.  The triumvirate wasn’t being purely opportunistic in calling for a jihad during WWI. 

Why does this matter (besides getting the history right and shooting down weird pro-Ottoman sentiments in the West)?  It matters because AKP has been very keenly cultivating a neo-Ottomanist ideology–one that follows up on and goes beyond the neo-Ottomanism of Ozal that Kaplan thinks is so wonderful–that naturally regards the pre-republican period fondly as a time of Turkish greatness and relative Islamic (Sunni) unity.  It is also relevant that the poem that got Erdogan jailed in the first place was written by Ziya Gokalp, the leading ideologist of the CUP and one responsible for many of the nasty ideas that subsequently led to genocide.  Perhaps it tells us something that Erdogan chose to cite that particular author.  I am confident that if a European politician started publicly quoting from the works of fascist or Nazi writers, he would not be winning a lot of sympathy from Western audiences.

Those unfamiliar with this history can be forgiven for indulging in misplaced sympathy for the AKP, but Kaplan almost certainly knows better.  Like many a Western Turcophile, Kaplan finds the integration of Turkey into Europe a wholly good thing and seems willing to concoct the necessary arguments to make this most unpalatable idea go down more easily.

Update: Here is an April post of mine pouring cold water on another one of Yglesias’ “but the AKP isn’t so bad” arguments.

But on the whole, Rowling’s wizarding society conforms to boringly conventional gender roles. Dads, like the loveable Mr. Weasley (father of red-headed sidekick Ron), go off to work while steadfast moms stay home cooking, cleaning, and rearing large families. ~Dana Goldstein (some Deathly Hallows spoilers included)

Via Steve Sailer

Of course, there’s every reason in the world to reject in its entirety this latest stab at dissecting the politics, sexual or otherwise, of Harry Potter and Rowling.  If there is something boringly conventional going on, it is the need of pundits to find a political message beyond the rather tendentious “Nazi-like wizards are as bad as the Nazis” theme that runs throughout the series.  Then again, nothing could be more boring than loading down a fantasy series with the WWII preoccupations of the Anglo-American mind, but to complain about this would be once again to dwell on the politics of the story to the detriment of the story’s important themes.  Preferably, these pundits need to find a message with which they strongly disagree, so as to appear quite unconventional and different in their discovery of a reason to loathe Harry Potter’s subtle signals of, in this case, cultural conservatism. 

These two sentences cited above capture for me the heart of the matter: because Rowling’s society ”conforms” to  “boringly conventional” (i.e., traditional or normal) gender roles, the story’s veritable overflowing with liberal cliches and feel-good affirmations of multicultural and multiethnic Britain count for almost nothing with Goldstein.  Thus, despite the fact that we do not really want it credited to our view of things, Harry Potter is delivered, gift-wrapped, to the doorstep of patriarchal reactionaries.  This seems odd to me.  It is as if a conservative writer went out of his way to criticise Tolkien’s supposed radical feminism because he made Eowyn into a substantial and heroic character.

The core complaint Goldstein has about the stereotyping that goes on in Potter is that it actually takes diversity too seriously.  The story assumes that creatures that are not entirely human will behave differently from humans, and it suggests that there are ingrained differences between the groups that can be traced back to the different natures they possess.  If progressives believe that all talk of beings having common natures is “reactionary,” this will put progressives in an odd bind of explaining why it is that they should think that there are such things as human rights.  Had Rowling kept her nods toward diversity at the merely tokenist, superficial level, and never attributed any significance to difference, all would probably have been well.       

Eschewing their former role as advocates for and enforcers of GOP political suicide (as leading champions of anti-fundraising efforts and promoters of primary challenges against moderate “surge” dissidents), the Victory Caucus is reborn as the pure propaganda outfit that it was always meant to be.  The great imitators of MoveOn have settled for their much more natural role of water-carriers for the Pentagon and the White House.

Rod asks which of our previously held beliefs the Iraq war changed.  Initially, I thought that nothing in my views had really changed all that much, but as I reflect on my views five years ago at the start of the war debate I realise that a number of important assumptions that I once held (and some of which I held fairly strongly) were wrong.  The constant in all of these beliefs was unfounded idealism, optimism and confidence in the basic soundness of democratic government.  Anyone who knew me in 2002 would never have mistaken me for an idealist or an optimist, but I retained enough of these foolish habits of mind that the disillusionment that followed was fairly severe.      

On conservatism and American politics:

1)  First among these was my assumption that most Americans who called themselves conservatives distrusted government and feared the expansion of government power.  That was the conservatism I had been raised with, and it seemed to be the one that had a visceral appeal to a large number of conservatives during the ’90s.  Obviously, this conservatism is held by only a fairly small number of conservatives, and, as wiser people than I have known all along, the popularity of a “roll back the state” message is extremely superficial. 

2)  One of my other false beliefs connected to this was that most conservatives were conservatives first and GOP partisans second (if at all), and would therefore be just as outraged by GOP government activism and overreach as they had been in the 1990s.  This was the worst sort of naivete on my part, and it was repeatedly shown to be false.  To point out that some of the same people who wanted to attack Iraq opposed aggression against Yugoslavia was almost useless–partisans are well aware that they use a double standard, and they have no problem with it.  Again, I mistook the attitudes of conservatives whom I knew for what was true for “conservatives” generally–this was just sloppy analysis. 

3) Another false belief that I held was that most conservatives were conservative as a result of custom and reflection, with rather more emphasis on the latter, and to discover that most conservatives were such on the basis of little more than visceral dislike of various hate figures was something that took some time to accept. 

4)  Another mistaken assumption was that most conservatives were likewise wary of government power overseas and that they would therefore be extremely skeptical of foreign adventurism.  It seemed obvious to me that if I and others who took this view simply pointed out the bizarre Wilsonian pretensions of the administration, that would cure them of their enthusiasms.      

5)  Yet another false belief was that most conservatives were not nationalists, when obviously the defining feature of most Americans who call themselves conservatives is that they are, in fact, nationalists.  Had I been reading more Lukacs in my younger days, I would have already known this.

6) One more false belief was that the power of nationalism and hyper-nationalism in America generally was fairly weak.  I’m not sure why I ever thought this was the case.  This was one where I could not have been more wrong.  This was the result of wishful thinking and not much else. 

In each case, I made poor judgements about American politics because I substituted my understanding of conservatism for the conservatism held by tens of millions of people.  I remain convinced that the latter should understand conservatism more as I do, but it has been a long five years learning just how completely far from that most conservatives are.  I imagined that the brief outpouring of nationalism after 9/11 in which most of us were swept up was a passing phase, a fever that would lift quickly and leave few traces.  It had not occurred to me until later that 9/11 tapped into a vast reservoir of nationalism, and even in spite of Iraq nothing seems to be able to suppress it (and, perversely, withdrawal from Iraq may serve as yet another boost to it). 

On democracy and the media:

1) Despite some long-standing dislike for mass democracy, I continued to operate until 2002-03 under the assumption that a deliberative process of informed debate would bar the way to the launching of an entirely unjustified and unprovoked war.  Ha!  In other words, I had the strange idea that arguments and evidence mattered and that public opinion was responsive to reality.  Once again, I was not nearly pessimistic enough, and as certain as I was of the impossibility of spreading democracy in the Near East from the very beginning I remained until then embarrassingly deluded and blind to the profound inadequacies of democratic government.  For some inexplicable reason, probably the result of all those years of conditioning in civics classes, I thought that the transparently weak and false claims put forward by the government would be undone by our adversarial political system and the checks to executive abuse would prevent wanton aggression.  In short, I believed, against all better knowledge and judgement, that the structures of representative government would function to stop an unjust war from happening.  Never mind that this had never happened in the past–for some reason, I thought it was going to work this time.  At the time that the war started, I believed that the people in these structures had failed to do their duty, but as time went on I began to understand that the structures themselves are incapable of preventing executive abuses of power, because all of those structures have subordinated themselves completely to the executive in these matters.  Call it the death of my constitutional optimism. 

2)  I had the totally unfounded, naive, youthful idea that it was the duty of journalists to hold government to account.  They may theoretically have such a duty, but when it comes to questions of war most seemed to think that discretion was the better part of valour.  Perhaps because they were excessively worried that they would be pilloried as fifth columnists and subversives, many journalists who were otherwise not at all sympathetic to what Mr. Bush was trying to do simply rolled over and let a campaign of disinformation against the public succeed (and, what was worse, they became active participants in that campaign). 

Of course, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I find it a bit humbling that I and other noninterventionists could have perceived the numerous misleading government statements, the likely pitfalls following the invasion, the absurdity of implanting alien political and social norms into an entirely different culture and unknown part of the world and the malign effects of the war on our political institutions, and yet at the same time I could be so mistaken about my countrymen and supposed political confreres.  As someone who opposed any invasion of Iraq from the day the idea was first floated (Jan. 29, 2002), I did not make many of the same mistakes that war supporters did, but I regret them all the same, since my failure to understand the political reality of my own country led me to make arguments in my letters and conversations that were not going to be very persuasive.  Antiwar activists were often effectively arguing past, or rather above, the public.  We were arguing the impracticalities and immorality of such a war; the other side could tap into a visceral desire for revenge and payback, regardless of the target.  War advocates understood the irrationality of democracy (including the crowd-pleasing lie that democracies are naturally peaceful) very well and exploited it for all it was worth.  Antiwar activists have been labouring for years under the delusion that popular attitudes can be affected by having better policy arguments and superior command of knowledge about a region.  Current war supporting pundits have much in common with this approach, since the standard refrain of pro-war commentators is something like, “The American people will never approve of a policy of surrender,” just as some antiwar commentators might effectively claim (as I know I did) that ”the American people will never approve of a policy of aggression.”  I was wrong then in my judgement of the public mood; they are wrong now.  

It occurs to me that the reason why antiwar activists are so strongly attached to the mantra of “Bush lied” (besides the reality that he and his officials did lie on numerous occasions) is that they are attempting to square a nation that embraced a manifestly unjust, unnecessary war with their confidence in the functioning of our system of government.  In this view, if people will so easily embrace such an obviously wrongheaded policy, sane foreign policy will not be possible in a democratic system.  The government’s deceptions (which absolutely did occur) help to bear a lot of this burden, since they allow the majority of people to use the old “he tricked us” excuse to cover up for their own failures.  Absent those failures, however, no deceit would have been sufficient to propel a country entirely against its will into such a war. 

In Russia ’s case, it has been easy for Putin to tarnish liberal democrats by associating them in the popular mind with past policies of accommodation and even subservience to the United States and the West. ~Robert Kagan

Putin didn’t need to do any of the tarnishing or the associating.  The Russian liberals did that themselves by enabling and then openly cavorting with the criminals who looted the country during the plunder that was privatisation.  Russian liberals were, are, accommodating and subservient to the U.S. and the West.  Indeed, that seems to be the essence of what passes for Russian liberalism (which is, in reality, about as liberal as the “colour revolutions” were democratic).  “Russian liberalism” simply means the transplanting of western European and American managed democratic capitalism in which they, the “liberals,” will serve as the managing elite and organise things according to their particular interests.  This would inevitably require  them to ignore what most Russians want and what most Russians believe.  Not surprisingly, because of the very nature of what they believe and the policies they have endorsed and would support in the future, these liberals cannot make it very far in Russia.  This is not some cunning ruse by Putin–they brought it on themselves when they effectively turned against their countrymen.   

In Europe and the United States, the liberal world cheered on the “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan and saw in them the natural unfolding of humanity ’s proper political evolution. In Russia and China, these events were viewed as Western-funded, CIA-inspired coups that furthered the geopolitical hegemony of America and its (subservient) European allies. The two autocratic powers responded similarly to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, and not only because China’s embassy was bombed by an American warplane and Russia’s slavic orthodox allies in Serbia were on the receiving end of the nato onslaught. What the liberal “West” considered a moral act, a “humanitarian” intervention, leaders and analysts in Moscow and Beijing saw as unlawful and self-interested aggression. Indeed, since they do not share the liberal West ’s liberalism, how could they have seen it any other way? ~Robert Kagan

Those who cheered on the “colour revolutions” were gullible and usually were not paying very close attention to the people being brought to power in the process.  Whether or not the CIA was involved in any of these (I tend to think they were not involved, since these revolutions succeeded), Western governments openly supported one side against the other and cast each one in terms of movement towards the West and away from Russia.  The bombing of Yugoslavia was aggression.  These do not seem to me to be debatable (especially the latter), and seeing them in this way is not an expression of a different ideological bias.   

If two of the world’s largest powers share a common commitment to autocratic government, autocracy is not dead as an ideology. ~Robert Kagan

That would be interesting, if autocracy were an ideology and not a catch-all term for one-man rule.  Viewed this way, neither Russia nor China is actually an autocracy (Ross has made this argument about China already).  Autocracy implies that there is a sovereign who personally wields power over the entire apparatus of government because all legal and constitutional authority rests with him.  Autocrats are not typically term-limited, since they recognise no law above themselves.  Absolute monarchs might fairly be described as autocrats (Byzantine emperors would sometimes use the title of autokrator to refer to themselves).  Of course, there have not been many truly autocratic regimes for a long time, and today no major power has one. 

Unless Putin disregards the constitution or has his majority in the Duma rewrite the relevant passage, he will leave office after two terms in accordance with the law.  Of course, in addition to his popular support, Putin represents a power structure of the state intelligence services, the military and oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin.  Russia has a democratic authoritarian nationalist regime that is managed by members of the internal state security and military apparatus.  Authoritarian regimes are conventionally conflated with autocratic ones, because both are “non-democratic” in the way that Westerners think of it, but authoritarian regimes very often go out of their way to give the appearance and institutional structure of consultative and/or populist government.  Authoritarians love plebiscites, and they much prefer some formal body to do the dreary work of pushing legislation.  They are almost always in thrall to democratic ideals and make a point of casting themselves as “true” democrats–autocrats not only would feel no need to do this, but would find any concession to democratic principles inherently offensive.  

Russia’s government does not really fit the “autocratic” bill, but then most modern states don’t actually fit this description.  Genuine royal absolutism went the way of the dodo in central Europe in 1848, and disappeared from Russia in 1905-06; the last genuine modern autocracies ruling major powers vanished in the 1908 revolution in the Ottoman Empire and the 1911 Chinese Revolution. 

War could erupt between Russia and Georgia, forcing the United States and its European allies to decide whether to intervene or suffer the consequences of a Russian victory. ~Robert Kagan

Whenever Kagan moves from description to prescription or prediction, what is an otherwise unremarkable analysis of the current state of affairs quickly turns into a veritable self-parody of neoconservative foreign policy views.  Whatever would we do if we suffered the consequences of a Georgian defeat?  Imagine, Tbilisi in Russian control!  Why, it would be…just like it was for close to two uninterrupted centuries before the collapse  of the USSR.  Somehow the world survived Russian control of Georgia before, and I suspect we would manage to muddle through in the event that Russia acquired the territory again.  It would annoy all of those folks who went to the trouble of routing a major oil pipeline around Russia and sending it through the Caucasus, but otherwise I cannot imagine why anyone (outside Georgia, that is) would be unduly troubled.  The idea of intervening against the other major nuclear power over Georgia is simply mad.  Is the independence of Sakartvelos worth risking WWIII or anything like it?  Of course it isn’t.  

Of course, speaking as an Orthodox Christian, I think it would be terrible for there to be a war between Russia and Georgia, and I have deplored the acrimony fostered by both governments.  However, if there were a war, I can also say with confidence that it would not meaningfully damage the United States or Europe at all.

In places like South Korea and Germany, it is American plans to reduce the U.S. military presence that stir controversy, not what one would expect if there was a widespread fear or hatred of overweening American power. ~Robert Kagan

As far as South Korea is concerned, this is a remarkable, false claim.  Most South Koreans resent that American soldiers who violate their laws remain under U.S. military jurisdiction, especially when there are incidents involving military personnel that result in the deaths of South Korean civilians.  The deaths of the two girls in 2002 sparked general outrage, and the episode likely still sours some on the American presence.  Many South Koreans are not what you would call fans of the U.S. military, and this long-standing resentment has been stoked by the combination of the withdrawal of some soldiers from South Korea all together and the movement of other U.S. forces to new bases.  The abandonment of the “tripwire” has understandably created some controversy of its own, but this takes place against a backdrop of strong opposition to the military presence among a large minority of the population. 

Five years ago, at least 44% of South Koreans had an unfavourable attitude towards the United States, and this year only 58% of South Koreans expressed a “positive” view of the U.S.–only a slight improvement over five years ago, and one that still implies a lot of resentment and dislike.  Five years ago, South Korea was among the ten most “anti-American” countries in the world:

Survey data suggests that South Koreans have been increasingly critical of the US since the 1980s, and that negative views have become more widespread since George W. Bush took office. An August 2002 poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that South Korea ranked eighth among the 44 countries surveyed in terms of unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S, with higher rates of disapproval than Indonesia and India.  

In the realm of pop culture, South Korean horror films connecting the American military to the spawning of evil creatures have done booming business. 

Evidence for significant South Korean opposition to the American presence is abundant.  Naturally, South Korea’s political elite does not express such sentiments, just as most allied states’ political leaders say the things Washington wants to hear rather than what will most satisfy their own people.  Kagan’s handling of evidence here is typical for his foreign policy tradition: whenever a regime expresses pro-American sentiments in defiance of large numbers of its people, the regime’s position is taken as the more meaningful one.  It was in this misleading way that war supporters invented “New Europe” as a concept, even though the governments who represented this supposedly different Europe and supported the invasion were overwhelmingly opposed by their constituents.   

Chinese rhetoric has been, if anything, more tempered during the Bush years, in part because the Chinese have seen September 11 and American preoccupation with terrorism as a welcome distraction from America’s other preoccupation, the “China threat.” ~Robert Kagan

China certainly does welcome the prospect of an America distracted by terrorism, and they have to be fairly excited at the prospect of an America bogged down in Iraq for the foreseeable future, but the “China threat” is not “America’s” preoccupation.  It is largely the preoccupation of the same people who advocated most loudly for invading Iraq.  Much like their calls for intervention in the Near East, their sabre-rattling against China is unwise and dangerous.

Tim Ash is on a roll (and not in a good way):

Looking back over a quarter of a century of chronicling current affairs, I cannot recall a more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster.

I’m hardly banging the drum for intervention in any other places, but who actually thinks that the mess in Iraq is a more “comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster” than the nightmares that Congo, Sudan and Zimbabwe have been over the last five to ten years?  Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, now essentially produces no crops thanks to the insane land-grabbing ways of ZANU-PF and friends.  After wiping out four million people through violence and disease, the two Congo Wars continue to have significant aftershocks.  Those have been man-made disasters on a grander scale, partaking of a kind of irrationality that is difficult to equal.  We do not notice them, because we do not even pretend to care about central and southern Africa the way that some of us pretend to care about Darfur.  Then there is Darfur, where the mass killing and refugee crisis together constitute a “more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster” than what has happened in Iraq, and its effects have spread to some of Sudan’s neighbours.  This is not to say that the Iraq war is not an appalling waste or that it will have calamitous effects for years to come, but this is to say that it is still not, in fact, the worst thing that has happened in the last 25 years.  Unlike those others, however, the geniuses in Washington can look at the Iraq disaster and say, “We did that!”

It is my view that the same kind of hysteria that originally made Iraq into the most threatening foe has now started to transform itself into a new hysteria.  This new hysteria claims that the ending of the Iraq war will become the source of the most calamitous destruction and chaos, an unparalleled disaster, just as before the old hysteria caused people to think that starting the war would usher in a new era of freedom and wonder throughout the region (I exaggerate only slightly). 

Both views rely on the assumption, which continues to go unexplained and unproven, that Iraq is extremely geopolitically significant and political events in Iraq will have tremendous significance for the wider region and the world.  If that were the case, Baathism should have spread like wildfire and the Gulf War should have triggered regional bloodletting on a massive scale.  In the event, the first never happened and the bloody aftermath of the Gulf War was contained within Iraq.  It seems to me that Americans on both sides of the debate frequently fall into the habit of thinking that Iraq is really important in one way or another, since this makes our government’s obsession with the place over the last 17 years make a little more sense, which blinds us to its relative unimportance–both to our country and to the rest of the world.  To the extent that Iraq has become geopolitically significant, it is because Washington has been focusing so much of its energy and attention on it.  Other major powers, with perhaps the exception of Britain, do not imagine that the world revolves around Iraq and they never regarded the old regime as some singularly world-threatening force.  Perhaps it is time for Washington to walk away.    

Consider the list of consequences Ash cites to demonstrate his claim that it is the ”most comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster” that he can remember.  He begins:

Besides the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalizing of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the Al Qaeda brand; the eruption, for the first time in modern history, of internecine war between Sunni and Shiite, “a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition”

Every one of these things has already taken place or is taking place right now, well before the war has come to an end and Americans have gone home (which once again forces me to ask why we need to remain).  The Iraqi state in any meaningful sense was destroyed and/or disbanded in 2003.  The ramshackle Iraqi government that attempts to fill the void is about as much of a “state” as the Federal Government of Somalia (the Maliki government has nicer office buildings, though).  “Militant Islamism” and the Al Qaeda “brand” have already been revitalised and enhanced respectively.  That’s what was bound to happen when you destroy a secular state in the Islamic world and occupy a Muslim country.  The latter danger–the enhancement of Al Qaeda’s “brand”–is still somewhat within our control.  It may be the case that withdrawal will at least diminish the appeal of said “brand” by depriving Al Qaeda of one of its major rationales for its propaganda and recruiting.  The internecine war is, of course, already here.  You can argue that it may get worse, at least until one side or the other wins pretty decisively, but the conflict has already “erupted.”  (Also, depending on your definition of “modern history,” this statement isn’t accurate in any case, since conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite powers did occur with some regularity since the 16th century: these were the wars between the Safavids and Ottomans, which in turn sharpened and politicised the sectarian divide to a much greater degree than before.) 

Ash then finishes the list:

the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Again, this has already happened.  There is not anything now that can fundamentally change the outcome in which Iran is greatly strengthened (which is we should have rapprochement with Iran).  Washington can choose a path of confrontation, in which it organises a regional concert of powers to oppose Iranian influence as it has been (rather unsuccessfully) trying to do for the past few years, or it can turn things to its advantage by bringing the rising regional power into our orbit.  In fact, the most plausible path towards achieving some measure of stability in Iraq is to have Iran shoulder the responsibility that goes with the influence that Tehran wants to have in Iraq.  Iran wants greater regional power, and Washington wants a way out of Iraq without chaos being the result.  If it is possible to come to some understanding with Tehran, in which Washington “hands off” Iraq to Tehran, both could achieve their immediate goals and many of the worst evils might be limited and contained (though they would probably not be prevented all together). 

Among the possible consequences of the collapse of Iraq, Tim Ash mentions this item included by Fred Halliday:

the alienation of most sectors of Turkish politics from the West and the stimulation of authoritarian nationalism there

As opposed to the waves of pro-Western good feeling and galloping liberalism that currently characterise the Turkish body politic?  Say what you will about the rest of the region, but the idea that the Turkish political mood will become meaningfully more anti-Western after Iraq disintegrates is an odd one, simply because it is difficult for Turkish public opinion to become any more anti-Western than it already is.  Any previous enthusiasm for EU entry inside Turkey has cooled–many Turks have heard from Europeans that they are not really welcome in the club, and they have decided that they don’t really want to join anyway.  Turkish politics is often a competition over which party can be, or at least appear, the most authoritarian nationalist (here is Erdogan trying to out-nationalist the Nationalists).  It’s not as if a regime that criminalises speech and expression and represses its minority populations is currently in any danger of not being an authoritarian nationalist one.  To the extent that instability on its southern border strengthens the hand of the Turkish military (which is to say that the military would gain almost complete control, rather than its current significant level of control), greater chaos in Iraq might make the military more assertive in some ways.  Otherwise, it is pointless to worry about the possible anti-Western and authoritarian turns in Turkish politics–that ship has sailed.

These days, Mr. Hagel is no longer feeling so alone.

As he walked across the Capitol, one day after the latest chapter of the Senate war debate ended, he said he is receiving fresh encouragement to consider a presidential candidacy. He intends to study the landscape and disclose his intentions “in the next few weeks.”

There is no Republican presidential candidate with this point of view [bold mine-DL]. There might be an opening for me on this,” Mr. Hagel said. “I’ve had three very significant Republican fundraisers come to me this week, all of whom said I should look at running.” ~The New York Times

If the “point of view” to which he refers involves a lot of talk about tactical disagreements for the last four years and relatively little action on anything more substantive, he would be correct that this point of view continues to be unrepresented.  The war “opponent” who does not, in fact, favour ending the war is an unusual profile, but it is one that he has staked out with gusto.  Indeed, Chuck Hagel fits the slot of Serious Republican Leader Who Does Not Lead perfectly.

“I’m afraid that some of our Democratic Party friends don’t have that vision like we do,” Romney said. “They look beyond the early days of America to the days of Europe of the past and think of big government and big brother and big spending and big taxation.” ~Iowa Independent

Well, the great Transformer needs to make up his mind–is Clinton harking back to the Europe of the past, or does she represent the hated French of the present?  Does he actually know anything about Europe? 

If the latter, this would be a French electorate that just elected a President who is in many respects to the left of Clinton, or at least barely to her right when it comes to the question of the state’s involvement in the economy.  If the former, then this means that Clinton is in favour of a much-reduced state that deferred to local councils and parlements and recognised all manner of “feudal” rights–that is the Europe of “the past” that existed “before days of early America” that Romney confuses so readily with the social democratic state of the 20th and 21st centuries.  The size of government under absolutist governments was amazingly small.  Taxation was on the whole lower than it has been in this country for eighty years.  Absolutist rulers could run a “big brother” operation only in their wildest dreams.  For Romney, though, anything European is fair game, no matter how stupid it makes him look to criticise it.

Undettered by anything resembling common sense, Romney continued:

Specifically, he attacked Clinton for seeking to move the nation toward what Romney called a “shared-responsibility, we’re-all-in it-together society.”

Apparently, Romney believes is a no-responsibility, dog-eat-dog society in which we owe nothing to anyone.  That is what you get from that particular ”person of faith.”

The Economist reports on Ron Paul’s campaign.  There’s a sentence I never thought I would write.  The article offers a reasonably fair treatment of Dr. Paul and the campaign so far.

The article reminds those who did not already know that Dr. Paul represents Brazoria County, of which I was once briefly a resident for a couple years in my childhood.   

Harry Potter, in fact, functions something like a Rorschach Blot: In countries around the world, it captures various national anxieties about contemporary culture and international affairs. French intellectuals, for example, debate whether or not Harry Potter indoctrinates youngsters into the orthodoxy of unfettered market capitalism [!]. Some Swedish commentators decry what they perceive as Harry Potter’s Anglo-American vision of bourgeoisie conformity and its affirmation of class and gender inequality. In Turkey, we find a significant discussion of Harry Potter that pivots around issues of Turkish civilizational identity: whether Turkey is part of the West, the East, or a bridge between the two. A few Turkish writers have even asserted that controversies over Harry Potter in the United States demonstrate how Turks are more “Western” than Americans. And in Russia, a country whose concern over international status and prestige becomes more apparent each day, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta created a minor firestorm when it claimed that the film visage of Dobby the House-Elf was a deliberate insult to President Vladimir Putin [bold mine-DL]. ~Daniel Nexon

What is the strange obsession that people have with imputing grandiose cultural significance to the Harry Potter books and films or the popularity of Harry Potter?  Why must everyone constantly be looking for clues as to its political message, or seeking some lesson of political morality from a tale of battling wizards? 

If you look very closely, and really try to see the resemblance, I suppose you can see one, but then you would have to be extremely anxious to find negative portrayals of Putin in a story about adolescent wizards.  What does it say of your own view of the Russian President that you see a similarity between him and an imbecilic, droopy-eyed elf? 

Does it actually make any sense to be offended by this?  Granted, the character in question is a slave and not terribly bright, but he does come across as genuinely good and as someone interested in helping the hero with various (admittedly dimwitted) stunts.  To put it mildly, this is not how Putin’s critics view the man.  On the contrary, his critics concede that he is smart, shrewd and ruthless, but they also regard him as utterly villainous–more Draco than Dobby, to say the least.  For Putin to resemble a character who hates his Death-Eating master is actually a kind of compliment to Putin (the realisation of which will probably lead to a flurry of anti-Potter articles as subtle pro-Putin propaganda).  At the rate these ridiculously politicised readings of Potter are going, we will shortly hear from the Kremlin’s answer to Michael Gerson, Vladislav Surkov, who will assure us that the Order of the Phoenix is actually just a proxy for Boris Berezovsky’s seditious efforts against the Russian government and the depiction of the Ministry of Magic is designed to make Russians lose faith in their government as part of Britain’s grand conspiracy to subvert Russia from within by way of the Potter movie franchise.  Enough is enough.

Great countries don’t lose wars, and great countries aren’t hated with such venom from some around the world. ~Chuck Todd

Unless this is a tautology in which you have already defined great as “undefeated” and “universally loved,” this is not a true statement, and it is obviously not a true statement.  If the Iraq war troubles us because we fear we will cease to be “great,” then “we” have misunderstood what makes this country great and also what makes its government powerful. 

France was one of the greatest countries in the modern era and it lost several wars.  What this statement might imply is that “great countries” don’t lose wars to insurgents in no-account backwaters, but that also isn’t true–again, Britain and France stand out as powers that have suffered such reverses and managed to carry on as major powers.  The French even lost to Mexican rebels, for goodness’ sake.  Spain’s empire was dismembered from within by bands of rebels; the Spanish Monarchy, the superpower of its time, was brought to stalemate by the Dutch and humiliated by the English.  The presumably mightier People’s Republic of China was thrown back by the Vietnamese.  None of these powers necessarily ceased to be “great” in terms of political and military power, and when they eventually have ceased to be “great” there have usually been causes unrelated to defeats in wars. 

Hatred goes with greatness.  If you would not be hated, don’t seek hegemony and world power.  It matters less how you seek such power, as it is the seeking itself that conjures up resentment.  If Americans want to have the dominant nation in the world, be able to fight every war to a successful conclusion and not be hated by some sizeable number of people, then we as a people have lost all touch with reality.  Invincibility and domination would provoke hatred, and virtually universal good feeling is never going to be directed towards America so long as either one of the other two conditions applies. 

The competition between liberalism and absolutism has reemerged, with the nations of the world increasingly lining up, as in the past, along ideological lines. ~Robert Kagan

Part of that “lining up” along ideological lines would include our support for the dictators of Ethiopia and Egypt, the kings of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar, the emirs of the UAE and Kuwait, and the military strongman in Pakistan, while states such as Iran ally themselves with the very demagogic but also quite democratic Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.  In many cases, you, the head of government, make use of the allies that are available to you.  You exploit regional divisions to your advantage, and you make the most out of ideological differences between your foe and your would-be ally while minimising them between yourself and your would-be ally. 

Thus we pretend that Yemen, for example, is not for all intents and purposes a one-party military government (which goes through the niceties of a parliament and elections, etc.), or rather we ignore that it is this, because Yemen may be a useful place for interdicting Red Sea traffic we want stopped or for countering jihadi recruiting in the hinterland.  Yemen was once a staunch ally of Saddam Hussein and Iraq, based on strategic ties to Baghdad going back decades to counterbalance the Saudis and, since 1962, because of an ideological affinity for anti-monarchist, anti-Islamist Arab nationalist republicanism.  Ideological alignment matched national interest in those days, until certain harsh economic realities imposed by the Saudi expulsion of their workers made them appreciate the finer points of cooperation.  Now the military ruler of Sana’a is on our side–for now. 

Imagining that our allies are somehow our ideological kindred spirits is very misleading, since it makes us assume that they will agree with courses of action with which they may want nothing to do.  This sort of confused thinking was probably part of the reason why there was so much whining about French non-participation in the invasion of Iraq.  It was inconceivable that they, democratic republic that they were, would not want to fight on our side!  Except that French national interests–and common sense–dictated otherwise.  

Kagan started out by making sense, stressing the conflicts and competition between nations, which should have led him to understand that these ideological lines will, must, be crossed when national interest requires it.

AMID ALL THE frenetic early maneuvering in the 2008 GOP presidential race, Republicans may be missing the elephant in the room: namely that the head of the herd is bleeding to death on the carpet. ~Ron Brownstein

As Yglesias has already cited:

Democrats lost the White House in 1952 and 1968 after Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson saw their approval ratings plummet below 50%. Likewise, in the era before polling, the opposition party won the White House when deeply embattled presidents left office after the elections of 1920 (Woodrow Wilson), 1896 (Grover Cleveland), 1860 (James Buchanan) and 1852 (Millard Fillmore). The White House also changed partisan control when weakened presidents stepped down in 1844 and 1884. Only in 1856 and 1876 did this pattern bend, when the parties of troubled presidents Franklin Pierce and Ulysses S. Grant held the White House upon their departure.

Those deeply embattled Presidents also usually had large domestic problems that had helped drive the their administrations into the ground: secession, depression and recession formed the backdrops to the ‘60, ‘96 and ‘20 elections respectively.  The 1876 result is also misleading and gives Republicans more hope than they should have, since Tilden the Democrat would have been President, had it not been for the Reconstruction-ending bargain that gave the election to Hayes.  A future GOP nominee could, of course, promise to end the occupation of Iraq and imitate Hayes in that way, but unfortunately for him Iraq does not (as of yet) have any votes in the Electoral College, so it could not change the outcome in the same way.

The parallels with 1952 are certainly real and a little eerie, as I have discussed before, but where 2008 differs from all of these other albatross elections is that it is an entirely open (i.e., no incumbents on either side) election during wartime after a full two-term Presidency.  1952 was entirely open, but only because Truman knew he had no chance and therefore followed only about 1.75 terms of the Truman Presidency.  Obviously, Johnson bowed out after winning only one election in his own right.  1920 followed a two-term Presidency and was entirely open, but the war had already been concluded.  Presidents who oversee the beginnings of American involvement in major foreign wars are either personally re-elected or, if the war is going poorly, retire from politics prematurely.  If the President is re-elected, the war typically ends during the second term.  You do have the odd exception of FDR, but repetition of this is now unconstitutional. 

   

In the case of the war in Iraq, Iran is China, and the first component of a strategy to win in Iraq is to establish a rapprochement with Iran. That is, a general settlement of differences. The Iranians have offered us such a settlement—including a compromise on the nuclear issue—on generous terms. But the Bush administration, true to its hubris, refused to consider it, going so far as to upbraid the Swiss for daring to forward the overture to us. It seems, however, to remain on the table.

The reason a strategy to win in Iraq must begin with a rapprochement with Iran is that any real Iraqi state is likely to be allied to Iran. Even the quisling al-Maliki government cowering in the Green Zone is close to Iran. A legitimate Iraqi government, which is virtually certain to be dominated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, will probably be much closer.

A restored Iraqi state that is allied with Iran will quickly roll up al-Qaeda and other non-state forces in Iraq, which is the victory we most require. But the world’s perception will still be that the United States was defeated because its main regional rival, Iran, will emerge much strengthened. If Iran and America are no longer enemies, that issue becomes moot. ~William Lind, The American Conservative

This is an excellent proposal.  I have been convinced for some time that rapprochement with Iran is the logical move and one of the most important things that Washington can do to contain the damage done by the war.  It may be possible to turn what is presently a disaster into a more balanced and respectable outcome.  Were he to pursue this course (and Mr. Lind is absolutely right that he will never do so), Mr. Bush might even score a late success in his otherwise rather bad foreign policy record.  In any case, this is the wise course that a future administration ought to take.  It remains to be seen whether the Washington establishment would rather suffer massive humiliation or engage a state with which we have no necessary and inevitable conflicts. 

But the proposition that our rights are a gift from God is neither un-conservative nor un-Christian; it is a commonplace observation in the context of American political history. ~Ramesh Ponnuru

Ponnuru’s first sentence is more debatable, since it depends very much upon what one means by conservatism and what one thinks Christianity teaches.  Of course, one actually looks high and low in vain in the Fathers for talk of anything resembling rights, which is a notion very closely attached to an entirely different conception of human nature and human society.  It is fair to say that the mythology of Whigs and liberals is antithetical to Christian revelation, and it teaches radically different things about human nature.  Christian orthodoxy holds that man was created without sin, but has since entered into corruption and his genuine freedom has since been limited and reduced.  In this sense, possessing our rightful, natural freedom is possible only for those who have been fully sanctified.  In the fallen world, liberty is not to be had without Christ, and the liberty in question has little, if anything, to do with the state or society as a whole. 

Only a very particular sort of conservatism accepts the Whig mythology not simply as part of a cultural tradition and therefore in some sense unavoidably “ours” and worthy of some respect.  This particular kind of conservatism would instead see the mythology as an actually true statement about the origin of government, the nature of man and the existence of rights.  The other sort of conservative–the one who is willing to show respect to the liberal tradition as one would show to elders, even if they are doddering and confused–has the more tenable position as a conservative.  The one who endorses Whig mythology has plenty of company in American history, but he is really just the latest version of a Whig.  For some people, that is quite all right and even a compliment.  I would stress, however, that it is not really part of conservatism to endorse this mythology.  Even some American conservatives who might have well preferred the label “Old Whig” did not actually embrace these fanciful stories as if they were true.  Many who bear the name of conservative may not want to go so far as to repudiate all these myths, but there is certainly a good case to be made that they have nothing to do with conservatism or orthodox Christianity.  

Ponnuru is correct about the last point–you can certainly find statements declaring fundamental rights to be from God scattered throughout American history.  This is a claim with a short but notable pedigree in Anglo-American thought.  Whig theorists regularly stated that rights came from God, just as they described popular sovereignty as His bestowal of His own sovereignty on the people.  Certain Presbyterian Covenanters saw natural parallels between their conception of proper church government and the appropriate ordering of the state.  Natural rights theorists often traced the origin of rights back to the Creator.  They also seem to have been most abundant in the wake of acts of treason and rebellion, since they were compelled to find some justification besides the legal (which they knew they didn’t have) for what they or their confreres had done.  There are some obvious objections: what rights that do exist arise from a constitutional and legal evolution that can actually be traced and explained, and they neither pre-exist human society nor do they inhere in all people, because there is no such thing as inherent rights.  You can be quite devoted to the legacy of 1688, for instance, and the constitutional inheritance it represents and still not believe any of this talk about rights and God.  When we talk about rights, in practice we mean legal and constitutional rights, rights that we possess as citizens and heirs of a particular constitutional tradition.  This makes the rights we have rather difficult to universalise and introduce to every corner of the globe, since they require an entire history and constitutional edifice that many peoples have lacked. 

Mythical rights whose origin is supposedly divine are far more flexible–they can be said to exist when there is no evidence for them, and their very intangibility and invisibility might seem to confirm their divine source.  They can be discerned in everyone, because they are actually just figments of fecund imaginations.  They can be declared “natural,” yet they are often entirely out of the ordinary in the present state of human existence.  While I understand the desire to link mythical “rights” to something transcendent and eternal, and thus have the ability to say that they are not subject to the accidents of history, I have to say that I don’t find it very convincing.

Ponnuru concludes:

Most of the time, however, when people say that our rights come from God what they are most concerned about affirming is that those rights are not created by human beings. That, it seems to me, is true, or else there are no human rights at all.

I understand this position quite well, since at one time I accepted it.  Of course, rights, taken as existing things that each person possesses inherently by nature, had to come from God, or else they do not really exist!  If human rights come from human nature, they must ultimately come from the Creator of that nature.  All of this hinges on the first part of that conditional, and should there not actually be any such things it is idle to debate where they come from. 

Without a divine origin, they would just be the product of this or that legal arrangement–which is, of course, exactly what they are.  This is a problem for those who are of the opinion that a thing constructed or arranged by men is not worthy of respect or admiration.  (Of course, it is entirely reasonable to say that those who conceived of and preserved constitutional liberties derived at least part of their understanding of justice and human dignity from the revealed religion in which they were raised, but that is to put such rights at a remove from any divine origin and make them frighteningly contingent on…people!)  Acknowledging this does not make a person less concerned to shore up those legal protections, nor does it mean that he is more inclined to run roughshod over constitutional liberties.  On the contrary, recognising the contingency, historical evolution and fragility of constitutional and legal rights seems crucial to defending them against those who, convinced that rights exist as elements of our natures, seem less disturbed by trampling on actual rights in the here and now (always in the name of defending liberty, of course, and bringing its fruits to other lands).  If enough bad, anti-constitutional, liberty-killing precedents are established, liberty will not regenerate and spring forth anew because God has willed it so–liberty can be crushed or voted away.  

In a way, I still accept the logic of the view outlined by Ponnuru, but I no longer think that rights as some sort of essential aspect of human nature exist.  If they existed, finding their origin in God might make some sense, but then I suppose I would also acknowledge that God was responsible for creating unicorns–if there were any unicorns.

It occurs to me that I should probably be doing something else right now other than blogging (a class syllabus doesn’t write itself), but my recent criticism of Bush’s liberation theology, which joined a chorus of negative responses from Ross, Rod, David Kuo, and Sullivan, has met with some skepticism from a blogger who issues the inevitable challenge:

There’s a common theme in all these, that because the religious is much more important than the political and worldly, that the political and worldly essentially doesn’t matter and that the religious shouldn’t influence the political and worldly. I strongly disagree with this.

Taken in isolation, the quotes from Ross, David Kuo and myself might seem to match this description, but this would be to misunderstand a great deal about how we think religion and politics should intersect.   

To apply this charge against Ross and myself would have to strike anyone familiar with our published statements on religion and politics as fairly bizarre.  Where Ross and I may differ on policy prescriptions or on the degree to which religion, more specifically a traditional Christianity (Catholicism for him, Orthodoxy for me), ought to influence politics, we are essentially on the same page in believing that religion not only should have an influence but that this influence is absolutely inevitable in any society that has a large number of religious people in it.  Particularly in a regime that is supposed to be democratic, religion and religious questions will play a role in political debate, and I think Ross and I would again be in agreement that they should probably play a larger role than they do and should do so in more explicitly religious language.  Besides the theological confusion in the idea, there are three things that bother me about Bush’s liberation theology.  First, it takes an ideology and then claims that this ideology has theological roots–you cannot disagree with the assumptions of the ideology, lest you declare yourself against the promises of God!  This is clever enough, but fairly transparent.  A second, related matter is that it takes what is otherwise unremarkable liberal revolutionary dogmatism and seeks to baptise it with invocations of the Deity.  Far from having “religion” influencing politics, it subordinates religion to the role of providing justification and being a sort of moral escape hatch when things go awry.  Mr. Bush’s use of this religious language, however sincere and deeply felt it might be, manages at once to enlist the name of God in a purely secular and, as it happens, rather bad cause, and to fulfill the worst stereotype about the political danger of religion in politics (as I have said, the Iraq war is a prime exhibit not of excessive religiosity in government, but rather a decided lack of it).  It has the ring of cynicism, even if it is not intended as cynical, while somehow also giving off the whiff of zealotry, though nothing could be further from the truth than to see in Mr. Bush the religious fanatic.  There may be some fanaticism there, but it is not actually religious.  Finally, nothing could be worse for a properly robust role for religion in public life than taking Mr. Bush’s badly disordered version of it as an expression of religious influence on politics.  This liberation theology, not unlike Marxist liberation theology before it, is a perfect example of how Christians twist and distort the Faith to suit the supposed political needs of the moment.   

My impression has been that Mr. Kuo does not believe that religion, specifically Christianity, should not influence politics, but that Christians should not make political success a greater priority than the calling of the Faith (as he believed was happening with conservative Christians, the modern GOP and the current administration).  You can dispute whether or not Mr. Kuo is right about this confusion of priorities in our own time (to my mind, he is more right than not), but you should not mistake this for a desire to separate religion and politics.  Rather, the goal for him would seem to be that Christians work as a leaven in the body politic, but that they do not allow themselves to be consumed by causes that are more partisan, narrow and limited and instead retain a more balanced sense of the lines between advancing and applying Christian witness in the realm of public policy and becoming servants of the political operation through which that witness is to be carried out.  It is not an appeal to quietism and indifference to political action as such–it is, as Mr. Kuo has said many times, a call for a “fast” from politics.

Then there is this business about whether God “cares” about the state of affairs on earth.  This sets things up nicely for the defenders of elements of the liberation theology, since it implies that anyone who would reject the gnostic and chiliastic deviations of liberation theology thinks that God is indifferent to the organisation of human society and human suffering.  This is not correct.  On the contrary, the charge might readily be made that Ross and I take the claim of a God Who “cares” about such things too far and that we think He “cares” about all manner of behaviour that has been deemed off limits to scrutiny by worshipers of privacy and money and, yes, liberty.  No one has ever exactly confused either one of us for great enthusiasts for a really severe application of the “wall of separation”!  That said, it does not mean that we are going to believe fairy tales that God wants everyone to become good liberal democrats, which is the ultimate conclusion of Mr. Bush’s sort of thinking. 

There is no evidence in Scripture or tradition that this is true.  No relevant religious authority teaches such a thing.  It is an odd view indeed that identifies the longings of fallen man with divine will.  Suppose, despite evidence to the contrary, that all men do long for political freedom–do Christians normally credit every desire of fallen humanity with such a high and noble origin as the Creator Himself?  Most people in different ways desire many things they ought not to desire, at least according to the teachings of Scripture, and they do this in defiance of God’s will–we do not attribute lusts of the heart or the pride of knowledge to some ”heavenly plan.”  We recognise them as excesses and flaws.  It is at least possible that a desire for political liberty may contain the seeds of similar spiritual disorders.  Even if every man declared that he wanted political liberty, it is still conceivable that this desire derives not from inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but from another spirit entirely. 

There are circumstances in which faithful Christians can, indeed, must resist unjust, tyrannical government, as Christians are meant to defer to legitimate authority and not simply lawless power.  That is a vital distinction.  The Anglo-American idea of the right to rebel has certain medieval precedents and theological defenses.  Even so, this means that God wills that every society and government be well-ordered according to prudence, justice, charity, moderation.  To the extent that a liberal democratic government can realise these virtues or allows people to realise them, we can say that it does not stand in opposition to what God wills.  It might even be argued (though I would not necessarily argue this) that this is the regime best suited for cultivating such virtues.  Even so, it remains only one means, an instrument, to the true end that God wills, which is man’s perfection in the virtues and the cultivation of God’s likeness unto full sanctification.  However, in certain ways, such a regime can be antithetical to these virtues and stands in need of reform.  Declaring that a particular political order is ordained by God for the entire world opens the door to abuse at home (since questioning the assumptions and goals of the regime could then be taken as resistance to God’s will) and aggression abroad (since the faithful must not tolerate the thwarting of God’s will in the form of different political regimes).  As it happens, this is exactly what has issued forth from the administration for which this idea has been a motivating force. 

When Mr. Bush says that “freedom is God’s gift to mankind,” he isn’t simply praising God for a providential order in which such things as political liberty are possible (which has rather more decent precedents that do not involve Woodrow Wilson or The Battle Hymn of the Republic), but he is saying quite clearly that the development of political liberty is itself integral to God’s providential plan and that God wills that all of the world be brought into a certain political state.  Against this, there is the weight of at least 1,700-odd years of Christian theologians who rarely, if ever, ventured the view that there was any particular regime, political principle or political arrangement that was absolutely favoured by God (and in the last three hundred years, Catholics and Orthodox are still taught to believe that no single form of government has any special endorsement from on high, and that all legitimate government must be obeyed).  Those who gave it much thought routinely came down, of course, in favour of monarchy, and one could be as theologically libertarian (that is, a proponent of man’s free will) as one wished without reaching any similar conclusion that there should be guarantees against arbitrary government written into law.  The thing that may trouble any small-government Theonomists among us is the recognition that political liberty was a primarily secular accomplishment resulting from contestation between different centers of power; strong arguments can be made that it required a Christian culture for the right conceptions of person and human dignity to command broad acceptance, and that Christianity with its recognition of two kinds of authority made political liberty possible in a way that it was not in other religions, but that is a very different kind of argument. 

Within Christendom, early English and Dutch liberal ideas were aberrations and happened to coincide with what most of the Christian world would have then and still does regard as heresy.  European liberalism elsewhere largely came into existence in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Catholic Church, not least because the liberals sought to attack and undermine the authority of the Catholic Church.  These are significant stumblingblocks for any belief in a liberation theology of the kind Mr. Bush espouses.  If God wills political liberation, this means two things.  First, it means that most centuries in the history of Christendom were almost entirely filled with Christians who did not know this part of the will of God and egregiously failed to obey Him (which conveniently elevates the modern liberal Christian to a much higher status in the divine economy–this is just a coincidence, I’m sure).  The other thing that it means is that God’s will was effectively frustrated for almost the entirety of human history, and it has only been in the last two to three hundred years that His plan has made any headway at all.  God is shown to be strangely diffident about His own supposed high purposes, or else most of His servants, including almost all of those whom Catholics and Orthodox today venerate as saints, were engaged in persistent rebellion against God’s will.  Both thoughts are impious and unacceptable.  Very simply, either Mr. Bush’s understanding of divine providence is correct and the broad sweep of Christian tradition has missed something vitally important about God’s will, or Mr. Bush is wrong and the tradition right. 

In the Orthodox world, of course, not only is there virtually no tradition of thinking as Mr. Bush does, but most instances where Orthodox theologians and philosophers have started speaking in terms of freedom have come after intense periods of post-1789 Westernisation.  It is in the very modernity and newness of such talk that distinguishes it from the overwhelming witness of Christian tradition.  Against the sweep of that tradition, the liberation theologians have on their side the Declaration of Independence and the occasional passage from Algernon Sydney.  How could it be that I remain convinced that liberation theology is bunk? 

While I think he misses something important in this post, I like James’ fighting spirit:

There is only one way to beat the Democrats at what will be their own easy game. Republican candidates must step forward now to forthrightly enumerate the shortcomings of the Bush presidency and articulate plainly how any Democratic administration is more likely to continue them. Whoever does can toast the competition, galvanize conservatives, bring the Republican party back to order, and win in 2008. 

I am entirely with James as far as the spirit of this proposal goes.  Republican candidates should do this.  Indeed, I think they should do this whether or not it will bring them electoral victory, because I think it is just about the only thing to be done right now that will help to undo the long-term largely self-inflicted damage on conservatism and the GOP.  Furthermore, they would be right to do this, which might make for a refreshing change all on its own.  The Republicans need to make good on their disastrous error on Iraq.  They are essential to bringing the war to an end with minimal acrimony and relatively little political recrimination.  Frankly, they owe the country for the burden they have imposed upon it, and payment is overdue.  Let’s just say I won’t be holding my breath for the great change of heart.     

Moreover, it will not work.  It will not save the GOP in this cycle.  They are already too deeply implicated in what has happened.  Protestations of independence would be just what you would expect from co-conspirators who want to avoid punishment.  When you help someone burn down your house in a fit of hysteria, it will not persuade the immediate witnesses of your innocence, much less worthiness, when you begin pinning all of the blame on the lone arsonist.  The witnesses know that you were involved–they saw you setting the fire (in the minds of men, no less).  This being Harry Potter season, it occurs to me that suddenly breaking with Bush after years of unending support rings of opportunistically blaming the imperious curse for yielding to the will of the Dark Lord (that would be the other Dark Lord, thank you very much).  In any case, the drive towards an “independent policy on the war” is an interesting option, but so many of the candidates have already boxed themselves in with the most outlandish rhetoric about the war (”it’s about Shia and Sunni,” “they will follow us back here,” “we have to stay on offense”) that charting an “independent” course would call forth cries of opportunism and inconstancy.  Plus, the truly worrying prospect is that some of these candidates are deadly serious in what they say about Iraq.  It may be the one issue they refuse to finesse and the one issue on which they refuse to pander, even in the general election.  This is one of the reasons why the eventual GOP nominee is very likely to lose, but for some of them the prospect of losing the election does not trouble them that much.  As much as it continues to perplex me, these people actually seem to think they are in the right. 

As far as the primaries go, the GOP field is encouraged in any real conviction by the political reality that war support remains considerable among GOP voters.  For years, I strained to see signs that this was untrue, that it was all the result of some dastardly trick.  These voters couldn’t actually, knowingly believe in all this garbage, could they?  Well, yes, actually, they could and still do.  We have already seen what happens when elected Republicans begin getting “dangerously” independent-minded (not that this involves very much independence). 

Hagel, for whom I generally have little sympathy, has merely murmured hints of displeasure with the “surge” and he has managed to make himself into the foulest of “appeasers” in the eyes of activists for his troubles.  Brownback merely suggested that a pointless half-measure might not be the best approach, and he was castigated here and there on the right–that is what anything resembling real dissent gets you.  Warner’s actions over the past few months have prompted calls for his retirement and for a primary challenge against one of the most venerable “pro-military” incumbents the GOP has.  Mildly critical House members who have voted the wrong way on symbolic resolutions now face primary challenges that they would never have had otherwise. 

That is the reality for the majority of conservative activists and voters: even the mildest dissent on the war is treachery.  The candidates are prisoners to this.  McCain’s campaign suffered its final blow when he insisted on continuing to buck the party on immigration–which is arguably viewed as an issue that is not more important than Iraq–so it does not take a cunning strategist to guess that taking on core voters over the issue on which they have whipped into a fury more than any other is a crazy move. 

Remember, these people are not the Peggy Noonans of the world–they are probably not even reading Peggy Noonan on a regular basis.  If they read commentary, they are reading things like this and they are nodding along in agreement.  These are the people who think that the WMDs have been found (or believe that the weapons, if they have not yet been found, are safely ensconced in Assad’s closet).  They believe that Hussein and Bin Laden were like two peas in a pod, that Hussein was directly behind 9/11 and that Iraqis and Iranians were among the 9/11 hijackers!  They will not appreciate the finer points of a Poulosian protest, which is a shame, because they really need to pursue a different course than the one they are on now.       

Poulos’ predicted showdown now has a soundtrack and video starring Obama Girl (via Sullivan).

Ross gets feisty:

In fact, I think Andrew lets Bush off too easily when he says “as a very abstract theological principle, it’s hard for a fellow Christian to disagree” with the President’s contention that “a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom.” On the one hand, there’s nothing “abstract” about that particular Christian principle: The gift of freedom that Christ promises is far more real than anything else in this world, if Christian teaching on the matter is correct. On the other hand, there’s nothing that’s political about that promise, and the attempt to transform God’s promise of freedom through Jesus Christ into a this-world promise of universal democracy is the worst kind of “immanentizing the eschaton” utopian bullshit.

Naturally, I couldn’t agree with Ross’ response to these items more, and I have objected to this Bushian-Gersonian liberation theology last year and again in a different form in my column (not online) in the July 16 TAC.  It is exceedingly easy for a Christian to disagree with Mr. Bush’s “theological perspective,” especially when that perspective seems to require spreading the good news of liberty by way of airstrikes and invasions.  It is amazing how much mischief results when you try to square Christian revelation with often antithetical revolutionary principles. 

Immanentist ideologies and substitute religions stand in opposition to the Gospel.  Compared to the liberation from sin and death that Christ has accomplished, how insignificant is political liberty!  This does not mean that the latter is itself undesirable, but that it is hardly the chief priority of God’s salvific plan for man, and it is precisely for the salvation of men from sin and death and not their amelioration of their political status that God became man.  I can think of no worse kind of militant quasi-religiosity than the sort that preaches secular revolution, actively works in such a way as to worsen the situation of the militant’s own co-religionists and justifies the bloodletting that follows by saying, “Deus vult!”   

John Heilemann has an article on the collapse of the McCain campaign, which went from slow rot to structural collapse this past week.  It seems as if every day brings a new resignation of top staff members.  With McCain likely headed out of the race sooner rather than later, it’s time to see how some of those reckless predictions of mine are looking.  Just after the midterms, I wrote:

Speaking of McCain and Giuliani, here are my reckless predictions for the 2008 primaries: McCain will implode relatively early, perhaps pre-March, thanks to some episode of his famously explosive temperament mixed with a lack of primary voter support; Giuliani will go nowhere, but not for lack of money to keep trying (he might last past Super Tuesday but not get enough delegates to win the nomination); the Mormon thing will matter enough to see Romney go down to defeat in South Carolina (it seems to me to be a given that he will fare poorly in New Hampshire and Iowa), which will kill his candidacy; Duncan Hunter will do better than people expect, but still go nowhere in the end. 

McCain hasn’t given up yet, but my initial sense of how his campaign would go seems to have been borne out by the meltdown of recent days.  I did not foresee the fundraising difficulties that he has had, but then no one could have expected this.  That is the truly remarkable part of the story: McCain has been blowing money like he’s Mitt Romney, but he didn’t have as much to spend and he hasn’t gotten as much in exchange for it.  He was supposed to be the establishment candidate, but somewhere along the line he forgot to tell the establishment (or, to be more precise, he told them and they told him to take a hike).     

Speaking of Romney, though, he has spent literally all of the money he has raised.  That doesn’t seem like a smart way to run a campaign, but what do I know?  Giuliani continues to poll well, but it is not clear to me how he has spent 72% of his money–what has he been doing with it?  Romney has been throwing money at advertising and organising in Iowa.  Giuliani has been spending freely, but has actually lost ground relative to where he was five months ago.  I stand by my predictions about the failures of their candidacies.  My Duncan Hunter optimism was, shall we say, misplaced.

The wild card in all of this remains, obviously, the elusive non-candidate Fred, who now effectively ties Giuliani in national polls for the top spot in the field.  Fred seems to fit, at least superficially, with what I said nine months ago:

Someone else, I don’t know who just yet, will be the nominee on the GOP side, and he will not fit the model of goopy Republican moderate now being praised as the path to victory. 

Fred will probably make a boring-but-fine, conventional GOP nominee, a sort of “steady as she goes” tribute to boilerplate and stale ideas.  No bold ideas or courageous stands–just a reassuring pat on the back from ol’ Fred as he drinks his lemonade on the porch.  In electoral competitiveness, he will be Bob Dole with a drawl, but he’ll have charisma, too, which means he might get all of 40% of the vote.  He will prove an acceptable fall guy for Republican defeat.   

Second, Bush remains energized by the power of the presidency. Some presidents complain about the limits of the office. But Bush, despite all the setbacks, retains a capacious view of the job and its possibilities. ~David Brooks

Dan McCarthy, who has reviewed Prof. Lukacs’ excellent George Kennan: A Study in Character for TAC, points us to the WSJ’s reviewer of the same book.  You can read both if you like, but if you’re pressed for time I recommend that you just read Dan’s.  As someone who has read the book and having written a review of it myself (publication to be announced later), I can say with confidence that Joffe does not really do justice to the subject of the study or to the work of the scholar who wrote it. 

Presented with a fascinating character study of an important, learned and serious historian and foreign policy analyst, Joffe takes the predictable route of checking off ideological boxes.  The problem with the review isn’t just that the reviewer gets hung up on Kennan’s lack of enthusiasm for parliamentary democracy in the 1930s (be honest–if you had been around in the 1930s, would you have thought much of parliamentary democratic systems?) and his admiration for certain conservative authoritarian rulers (which is so far from “baffling” that it is baffling that Joffe would find it baffling).  This focus hardly helps to get to the core of the book, which actually has less to do with Kennan’s attitudes towards democracy and dictatorship.  His political views are part of the story, but the brilliance of the book is its illumination of the inner life and, obviously, character of the man.  I don’t want to say more, lest I give away too many of my own thoughts about it. 

In the end, one gets the distinct impression that Joffe does not know, or does not know well, much of anything else that Prof. Lukacs has written, nor does he understand the close affinities between the author and subject that help to explain some elements of the book.  For instance, it is rather relevant that Prof. Lukacs has been a noted anti-anti-communist for decades, but a reader of Joffe’s review would have no idea about any of this.  It is sufficient for a WSJ reviewer to dismiss those lacking in ideological purity.  It is my strong sense that the George Kennan described in Prof. Lukacs’ fine work would not want even the faint praise of someone writing for that paper, since it has become the journalistic center of everything twisted and wrong with American foreign policy thinking in our time. 

Bennett and Leibsohn are under the impression that the GOP presidential field is moving away from Mr. Bush on Iraq, and they demand that this stop right now–it’s time for some solidarity with the President, it’s time for a united front!  This ignores the reality of what virtually every candidate (except Ron Paul) has been saying about Iraq.  Glenn Greenwald explains why the GOP presidential field as a whole has no major disagreements with Mr. Bush over Iraq: it is political suicide for someone seeking the GOP nomination to go against the war.  Hence, none of the four leading candidates and only one of the “second-tier” candidates has said anything that expresses opposition to the war.  Oh, yes, Tommy Thompson has his three-point plan, and Brownback has his tri-partition plan, and almost all of them have made remarks about poor planning in the past, but for the most part none of them (except, of course, Ron Paul) has actually done anything to put himself in clear opposition to the administration, much less the war itself. 

It says something about the state of the GOP that many Republican pundits find it plausible to claim that the GOP is insufficiently united in support for the Iraq war, as if the party were suffering from wave after wave of dissenting splinter groups and unduly raucous foreign policy debate.  Perversely, this feeds the Republican ”ideological diversity” myth while also enabling pro-war pundits to accuse even the most minor disagreements over tactical plans of undermining the party and the cause.  It stifles dissent while giving the impression that the GOP is overflowing, dangerously so, with a variety of opinions on important policy questions.

Popper more than thumped the table.  He used propaganda techniques to caricature Hegel.  He twisted his ideals into their opposite, attributing to him false motives, denounced him as pathological.  On all major isues dividing Popper and Hegel, I stand with Popper.  Hegel’s theodicy, his premature reconciliation of liberty and power, favored the status quo and represented a long and dangerous German intellectual tradition.  All the same, he was neither totalitarian nor nationalist and deserved a serious critique, not a caricature.  Popper’s attack remains a showpiece of intolerance and narrow-mindedness.  Writing in the midst of a war that would decide civilization’s fate, Popper understandably “did not mince words,” but this should have reinforced, not waived, critical rationalist maxims.  Resorting to manipulation to delegitimize Hegel, Popper betrayed critical rationalism. ~Malachi Haim Hacohen, Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902-1945

This biographer is extremely sympathetic to Popper, but he does not make excuses for him when Popper goes off the deep end in his arguments against those whom he regarded as the fonts of totalitarianism.  One need not embrace Hegel to recognise that he is not what Popper made him out to be.

In “Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion,” David Gelernter, a Yale computer-science professor and a versatile and prolific public intellectual, makes a provocative claim: Such professions of faith express “belief in . . . a religious idea of enormous, transporting power.” Indeed, he contends that America “is a biblical republic and Americanism a biblical religion.”

This does not in any way detract, Gelernter is quick to clarify, from America’s commitment to religious freedom: Liberty, democracy and equality constitute the American Creed [bold mine-DL]. And Americanism entails a duty to not only realize these universal ideas at home, but to spread them around the world. ~Peter Berkowitz

It’s simply appalling in so many ways that I am at first overwhelmed.  In the first place, the title is a little baffling (why the fourth?), until you realise that he must mean to include Islam as the third great “Western” religion, at which point we can already take it as a given that words mean nothing to the author.  Then there is this bit from his book’s description

Gelernter argues that what we have come to call “Americanism” is in fact a secular version of Zionism. Not the Zionism of the ancient Hebrews, but that of the Puritan founders who saw themselves as the new children of Israel, creating a new Jerusalem in a new world. Their faith-based ideals of liberty, equality, and democratic governance had a greater influence on the nation’s founders than the Enlightenment.
 

It is hard to say which is the worse part.  You have this business about “secular Zionism” that is at once religious and not religious  side by side with misrepresentations about ” faith-based ideals of…democratic governance” when referring to 17th century Calvinists along with a New England-centric spin on the whole of American identity, as if the Randolphs, Jeffersons, Morrises, Washingtons, Madisons and Pinckneys of the early republican era were guided by the zeal of New England Puritanism.  Whether or not I dislike many things in the Enlightenment heritage of many of the Whig ideas at the core of the political philosophy of many of the Founders (and I do), I cannot pretend that it played second fiddle to some mythical Zionism.  To the extent that this did exist at all and influenced American political life, the phenomenon he describes has very little to do with the establishment of the Republic and much more to do with the “refounding” or rather destruction of the same in the War.  If this Americanism has as three of its patrons Lincoln, TR and Wilson, the question is not whether it is dangerous (since it clearly is), but whether it has so entered into the mainstream of American politics that it cannot now be expelled. 

If “liberty, democracy and equality” constitute “the American Creed,” I am glad to say that many of the more esteemed Americans in our early history were only two-thirds or even one-third believers in it. 

Then there is another item from the book description:

If America is a religion, it is a religion without a god, and it is a global religion. People who believe in America live all over the world. Its adherents have included oppressed and freedom-loving peoples everywhere—from the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions to the martyred Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square.

I don’t know what to call this except insane.  There was another global godless political religion that sought to spread all over creation.  Perhaps Gelernter has heard of it.  As its fate reminds us, the Lord does not suffer such blasphemies to long endure.  You cannot serve both God and Americanism. 

This claim about the other peoples of the world is also shockingly presumptuous, even for someone of Gelernter’s policy views.  It is as close to someone saying publicly that “inside everyone there is an American trying to get you” as I have ever seen in real life.  This idea is often implied in what many democratists say, and it can be inferred from many of Mr. Bush’s major speeches, but most have the good sense not to say such things quite so bluntly.  Quite obviously, the patriots of the Greek and Hungarian revolutions “believed” in Greece and Hungary, if we must use this language of “believing in” countries.  (The physical places exist whether or not anyone believes in them, and the cultural distinctiveness of Greek and Hungarian would exist whether or not any political revolutionary ever “believed” in a national cause.)  The latter made the mistake of trusting the shaky promises of foolish American ”rollback” advocates, but the heroes of 1956 did not “believe in America” or in Americanism.  If they believed in an -ism, it might have been Hungarianism or something like it.  Give Gelernter credit for a certain bizarre consistency: if all it takes to be an American is to buy into a few tired political slogans, anyone who embraces those slogans really must effectively be an American or at least an Americanist.

Then there is this last bit, which is just too funny:

Gelernter also shows that anti-Americanism, particularly the virulent kind that is found today in Europe, is a reaction against this religious conception of America on the part of those who adhere to a rival religion of pacifism and appeasement.

Or it might have something to do with prudential objections to policies that are perceived as dangerous and misguided.  However, as we can all see, that’s obviously far too outlandish of an interpretation, so the “religion of appeasement” explanation will have to do.  Does that mean that anti-Americans in Latin America and the Near East also belong to the broad church of appeasement?  Hugo Chavez, pacifist–you heard it from Gelernter first!  No wonder the description calls the argument “startlingly original.”  I am startled that it even got published. 

A GOP victory is not absolutely out of the question, of course, but getting there would take a forward-looking agenda, unparalleled message discipline, a strict focus on the millions of independent voters, an innovative candidate and campaign and a lot of luck.

In other words, don’t bet on it. 

————

A successful Republican candidate in Ohio will have learned how to articulate a culturally conservative message fused with government accountability and economic opportunity specifically tailored to voters in the industrial heartland [bold mine-DL]. Without the support of the anxious working class, Ohio will also turn deep blue. And so will the United States. ~Frank Luntz

Now where have I heard this suggestion before

It is in the realm of possibility that the GOP could put forward a candidate who could make this sort of pitch to Ohioans and other Midwesterners, but the likely spokesmen for such an appeal are either not running (Pawlenty) or are trailing badly in all polls (Huckabee, The Other Thompson, Hunter).  Fred has been dusting off the old anti-Washington populist lines, but when it comes to policy he seems to offer nothing that could be called, whether as a compliment or criticism, innovative.  Fred’s popularity is the result of a longing for the tried and true path of down-home elite-bashing that has served the GOP, whose leaders are about as elite as they get, so well, but he has never made a name for himself in pushing actual populist policies with respect to trade or economic policy.  A former lobbyist and trial lawyer, Fred is also personally a terrible torch-bearer for the GOP in the Midwest. 

Romney’s message stresses concepts of opportunity and innovation, but his economic views are those of the corporate executive and as master of the downsizing, streamlining “turnaround.”  There is probably no worse candidate for the GOP in Ohio than Romney, who embodies everything about corporate America and Republican free trade policies that a lot of voters in Ohio (and elsewhere)currently despise.  Nominating Romney (which Republicans are not going to do in any case) would be a signal of just how far out of touch the party had become.  His nomination would probably be a prelude to epic political disaster.

Giuliani and McCain poll better in named match-ups with Democratic contenders than the other two “leading” candidates, but on trade and economic policy they have nothing to offer Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states.  Leave aside their foreign policy craziness for a moment, and remember (if you somehow had forgotten) that these two are the strongest pro-immigration advocates in the field.  That will not, already does not, play well with Republican voters, and it likely will not play very well with the electorate in Ohio, either.  Needless to say, the state that went for Bush in ‘04 at least partly thanks to the gay “marriage” ban referendum is not going to be a good fit for Giuliani. 

The Republicans need to be able to compete in Ohio and Midwestern states like Ohio, and they appear to be gearing up to nominate a candidate that will make them relatively more competitive in either the South (Fred), California (McCain), the Northeast (Giuliani) or nowhere in particular (Romney).  They have apparently learned nothing from the close call in 2004 and the repudiation of 2006.  Quite apart from tone-deafness on the war, many Republicans seem to be of the mind that if they say the words “low unemployment” and “recovery” often enough that it will persuade all those voters who feel real economic insecurity (even though they are employed) that all is well. 

Bill Kristol’s latest exercise in optimism in place of analysis is the latest to mistake economic indicators for political reality.  It might be worth noting that the recession had ended by the middle of 1992, but that didn’t mean much to those still feeling the effects of the recession.  Likewise, we may have been enjoying a reasonably good multi-year recovery, but that raises the questions: good for whom and how widely distributed have the fruits of the recovery been? 

Indeed, the endless chirping of certain pundits about ever-higher indexes in the stock market may have the opposite effect of the one intended by the boosters of the “Bush recovery.”  Far from persuading those who are anxious about the state of the economy in their part of the country, it simply reinforces their sense that the interests of finance and corporations do not seem to coincide with their own.  It persuades them that the last few years have been quite good for some, and rather less spectacular for everyone else, which makes them much more receptive to economic populist messages that purport to explain this gap and propose alleged remedies for it.  The mentality that makes Kristol’s article possible is the same one that will send the GOP to an impressive defeat next year.

It isn’t exactly the redeployment Warner and Lugar want.  American forces may not be going to the cooler heights of Kurdistan anytime soon, but it seems likely that some Iraqi parliamentarians will be taking their holidays there.  They did already give up their July vacation time and have still managed to go nowhere with any of the legislative agenda before them.  The worst thing that can be said of the Iraqi parliament is that it is irrelevant whether or not it is in session in August or at any time thereafter.  The final results in terms of legislation and political reconciliation will be roughly the same. 

It should be noted, however, that the Iraqi parliament’s failure to pass any part of its legislative agenda (e.g., de-Baathification law, hydrocarbon law, provincial elections, etc.) is much like the larger Iraqi “failure” to build a functioning self-governing political system: success requires Iraq to be radically different in its ethnic and sectarian makeup from the way that Iraq actually is.  The entire enterprise has been set up to fail, and under these circumstances condemning Iraqi failure or Iraqi stubbornness or whatever it is that opportunistic pols would now like to blame for their failure to serve the interests of the American people is a bit like blaming the rain for being wet.  It may feel good to say it, but it is ridiculous.  The old knock on the Great Society seems applicable here: if you wanted to create a political system designed to maximise communal hatred, violence and non-cooperation, you could not have done much better than the government has done in Iraq.  (This is not to say that democratisation in Iraq could have been done if it had been handled differently, but it might not have resulted in such a terrific explosion of violence and deepening communal resentment.) 

The ‘05 elections sharply politicised ethnicity and sectarian identity, encouraging the communalist violence that was already beginning, and the parties that prevailed in those elections reinforced and nurtured those divisions (divisions that are vital for their continued hold on power).  Now the government and parliament, which had its origins in this rather dreadful process, cannot find any consensus and so can pass no major laws, since there is virtually no sufficient minimal degree of common identity and shared priorities among the members.  This is a snapshot of the fatal flaw of Iraq as a “nation-state” that has explained much of its history in the 20th century.  As I’m sure others have said before, since there is no nation in Iraq, there will tend to be a great emphasis on the state as a substitute for a lack of any organic unity or natural affinities.  

In less obviously despotic systems, the state’s role in a multiethnic society is also bound to increase, either in its role of policing communal quarrels or as an instrument used in compelling a certain degree of good relations between different groups and through an institutional apparatus designed to protect minority interests.  It seems plausible that social solidarity will decrease as diversity increases, but it is by no means assured that the state will become either smaller or less intrusive as a result.  Lacking anything else, multiethnic societies will find their common loyalty in the institutions of the state or the state will use those institutions to coerce obedience of the different groups (or these societies will have some combination of the two).  The more “successful” multiethnic states have, in most cases, divvied up power among the different groups in some fashion or have attempted to act as a supposedly unbiased mediator of the different groups’ interests (this is the Austrian model, at least when it actually functioned properly).  Whenever the central state has become too closely identified with one group, the state tends either to resort to repressive measures against the increasingly alienated members of other groups (this has been the case with Iraq), or it will seek (usually in vain) to accommodate the demands of the other ethnicities, which can result in the complete breakup of the state (especially when, after a defeat in war, the central state has lost a large part of its authority with all member nations).  Lost on the democratists, as usual, is any awareness that it is mass democracy itself that makes imitation of the Austrian model all but impossible and makes it more likely that multiethnic societies will tend to suffer the fate of Iraq or Ivory Coast.   

Jim Gilmore has dropped out of the presidential race, citing inability to raise funds.  Unlike every other public appearance he has made, he neglected to mention in his announcement that he was governor of Virginia on 9/11. 

And then there were nine.  (We are counting on Fred to get the field back to a nice round 10.)

I have already done most of the commenting on Mormonism that I am going to do, but since the topic has come up again in Ross’ latest bloggingheads and prompted a reply to Ross’ request for a clarification from Prof. Fox, a longtime friend of Eunomia, I thought I might add a few comments.  Prof. Fox writes:

For example: Matt Yglesias claims in the Bloggingheads video that the Mormon church teaches that “the New World, in pre-Columbian times, was dominated by two vast rival empires.” (Those would be “the Nephites,” the people who carried on the family name and traditions of an early prophet named Nephi, and “the Lamanites,” a group named after his brother and enemy, Laman.) While the history of Book of Mormon interpretation over the past 180 years is actually pretty complicated, the basic facts are that Matt here is correctly describing what most Mormons who read the book believed…up until about 20-30 years ago, that is. The Book of Mormon itself never suggests the existence of massive, continent-wide, roaming empires; rather, serious readers have come to recognize that in fact the book talks about a couple (or actually more than a couple) pretty densely populated yet nonetheless localized tribes, and nearly everything presented in the book as fact takes place, according to its own narrative, within an area that a person on foot could cross within week, if not less. This is what we Mormons called the “limited geography” thesis: specifically, that the book isn’t telling us the whole history of the Native Americans (which many Mormons admittedly thought the primary purpose of the book was for decades), but rather telling the story of some relatively restricted groups, whose story God thought important enough to make certain it would be preserved and brought forth in our day.

However, the official LDS version of the Book of Mormon has this passage (Helaman 3:8):

And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea awest to the sea east.

And again, Helaman 11:20:

And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did acover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east.

There may be ways to reconcile this language with the “limited geography” thesis (perhaps the land between the two seas is exceedingly small?), and I won’t pretend that I am anything close to being thoroughly versed in these matters, but it appears at first glance that the earlier prevailing view of vast territories is one that seems to have some direct support in a central LDS scriptural text. 

Incidentally, there are other things that will leap out at the reader of the online version of the Book of Mormon (especially since they are hyperlinked).  For instance, there are several references to weapons made of steel.  Leaving aside the technological question, this creates another problem.  The official site does the cross-referencing work for you, pointing you to citations from the Bible that (in the traditional King James language) also refer to steel.  This seems a strange thing to draw attention to, since these passages about steel weapons from the Bible are English mistranslations of the adjective for a bow made of bronze (toxon chalkoun in the Septuagint versions of 2 Sam. 22:35 and Ps. 18:34/LXX 17:34), which tends to confirm that the language was taken directly from the King James mistranslation rather than echoing the content of the Old Testament books to which it is being compared. 

These are probably familiar arguments to Prof. Fox and others, and they may therefore be as tiresome to them as shocked secularist discoveries of contradictions between the Gospel accounts are to me.  Nonetheless, if a Mormon defense of the historicity of their scriptures’ claims is to persuade anyone, it will need to sort out these contradictions.

Until this week I thought we were entering the last stages of the Iraq war.  Roughly 40 percent to 60 percent of Republican senators have privately given up on the war. Senior G.O.P. officials have told President Bush that they are unwilling to see their party destroyed by this issue. ~David Brooks

The latter have a funny way of showing their unwillingness.  Had these officials actually been unwilling to let this happen at a time when their unwillingness might have counted for something, they could have started impressing on Mr. Bush and the Congressional GOP that the war was breaking the party last year or even the year before.  This was already happening, but it was vehemently denied by the “we are winning” crowd.  However, as far as much of the GOP was concerned, 2005 was the year of purple thumbs and impending victory (not to mention all those Iraqi cell phone users) and 2006 was an election year where it usually did not do to campaign against the President (even if few wanted him to campaign on their behalf).  Now that they are faced with the equivalent of either Stevensonian failure or Wilsonian meltdown, no wonder these officials have become so “unwilling.”  Last year, the official party message was that the public was not against the war, but the mismanagement of the war.  The official line was that a Democratic majority that pushed for the end of the war would be repudiated by The Land Formerly Known As Bush Country.  Last year party officials were certainly anxious about the war, but most didn’t actually believe that the war would destroy the GOP.  They also believed that they would suffer only a mild rebuke at the polls (and there were more than a few people who cited the 1998 elections, in which Democrats unusually gained seats, as the model they half-expected 2006 to follow).  They have not had a good track record recently.

This other figure on Republican Senators is a bit surprising to me, since I’m pretty sure only about 30% of the Senate GOP (no more than maybe 14 members) has given any real indication of dissatisfaction with the administration’s current plan.  They are so few that you can remember them all by name: Warner, Voinovich, Lugar, Hagel, Collins, Snowe, Coleman, Bennett, Smith, Domenici, Alexander, Gregg, Sununu, and (if you are really generous) Brownback.  It seems bizarre to me to give up privately on a war and then go through all the motions and give the speeches required to keep the same war going.  The upper limit of this figure means that for every one Republican Senator speaking out against the current plan and in favour of the ISG recommendations, there could be one who believes more or less the same things but refuses to declare his position.

One reason why there is a “deadlock,” as Brooks puts it, is that the 60 or so members who support redeployment and the ISG report occupy a position that essentially favours the continuation of the war for an indeterminate period of time.  They represent a distinct, but not significantly different, position from the “surge”-supporting McLiebermanites to the extent that they accept every bit of conventional wisdom about Iraq (beginning with the story that “we have vital interests there” and getting worse from there) and actually provide enormous political cover for the “surge” supporters by advancing an argument that the U.S. presence in Iraq must continue in some form.  By disagreeing simply over the how and the where of this continuation of our presence, the “centrist” and “realist” position–which, in my opinion, is neither of these things–effectively empowers the most vehement war supporters to continue in the current course, since the latter can continue to argue that their approach is the better method.  Lacking any substantive disagreement about the importance of Iraq to U.S. interests and in the absence of an alternative that does not revert back to a 2006-style priority of force protection (i.e., the very kind of deployment some of these same people were criticising for its failure to provide security for Iraqis), this ISG-loving “centrism” is in its way as bad and objectionable as the “comprehensive reform” “centrism” was when it came to immigration.  As with the immigration bill, Iraq “centrism” is obnoxious and unsuccessful because it combines what might be called the worst of both worlds: it offers no chance of resolving any of the things that the “surge” is also failing to resolve, but neither does it offer a way out of Iraq for our soldiers.  Instead of “going long” or “going home” (which are, to my mind, the only coherent positions available) this muddled middle embraces “going round and round.”  That the “centrists” on either side of the aisle cannot even manage to work together on their pointless agenda adds just the perfect touch of incompetence.

You might call me a pessimist on the glory of democratic Kurdistan.  Therefore, I am not exactly won over by this sort of talk:

If we rescue Kurdistan, moreover, it does retrieve a sliver of the original hope.

They will be free of Saddam; they will be a Muslim democracy deeply grateful to the United States; they will be a Sunni society that is not hostile to the West; their economy could boom; their freedoms could flourish further. The Turks and the Kurds can become an arc of hope for some Persians who want to live in a free society and lack an obvious regional role model [bold mine-DL]. I fear, alas, that Arab culture is simply immune to modern democratic norms - at least for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discourage democrats or liberals [ed.–so we should discourage them?]; but that we should have no illusions about their viability in Arab society. Mercifully, the Middle East is not all Arab dysfunction. The Turks, the Jews, the Kurds and the Persians offer much hope.

Note that Kurdistan is apparently in need of “rescuing.”  From whom?  Oh, yes, the Turks.  But not just the Turks–it is apparently in need of rescue from its own regional overlords.  That makes all this talk about rescuing Kurdistan seem a bit bizarre–if we must rescue Kurdistan from both Turk and Kurd, the “rescue” mission would appear to be as futile and senseless as the “model of transformation” theory.  The statement quoted above is also riddled with the subjunctive, ever the mood of the optimist: these things might happen and it could lead to something better.  Well, okay, there are always many different possibilities, but are any of these proposed outcomes likely?  Optimists are great ones to talk about possibilities, but seem decidedly less curious about finding out which ones are more probable than others.  Supposing that Turks and Kurds can somehow “work it out” and the massing Turkish forces on the northern Iraqi border are just out for a summer hike, isn’t Turkey (at least according to its boosters) already supposedly something like a “regional role model”?  Wasn’t the point of democratising Iraq that it was a predominantly Arab country and would therefore be a beacon (or whatever they were calling it back then) to reformers in other Arab states?  Wasn’t Turkey considered less suitable as a model for reform because Arabs and other non-Turks remembered with some resentment the Ottoman yoke?  Since we’re pretending that Turkey is some sort of free society–unless you want to, you know, speak freely–I suppose we can also pretend that these previous objections never mattered, and that the rest of the region will take inspiration from Turks (whom the other nations dislike or resent) and the Kurds (whom most of the other nations look down on).  Let the rescue begin! 

Additionally, this is a fascinating distinction between Arabs and everybody else, and it is as close to full-on essentialism as I think I have ever seen Sullivan endorse.  (Ross is appropriately skeptical of the promise of the Kurdish Eden.)  I see that Sullivan is talking about “Arab culture,” but he speaks about “Arab culture” as if it were somehow so thoroughly different from the cultures of other Near Eastern peoples as to have no meaningful relationship with them.  Especially when it comes to other largely Muslim nations, this distinction becomes even more tenuous.  What is there about Kurds that makes their culture more amenable to liberal democracy than Arab culture?  The differences are not as great as one might suppose.  It is easy to see why. 

The Kurds’ ”stateless” existence has meant that they, perhaps more than others that have had a national state(s) of their own, have melded and adopted more cultural norms of their neighbours than others.  This is also not simply a question of shared culture among Muslims, but of shared culture among all peoples of the Near East and eastern Mediterranean.  The distinctions between the different nations should certainly not and really cannot be overlooked, but Western observers’ rediscovered confidence in understanding the importance of ethnicity in foreign affairs has become a bit overzealous.  The trouble with Arab culture, as Sullivan seems to be telling it, is that it is the product of Arabs, and there’s simply nothing to be done with Arabs.  The Kurds, on the other hand, well, these are people you can work with….It doesn’t actually make a lot of sense.  Are the structures of Kurdish social and family life so radically different from those of their neighbours that they are not likely to suffer from all of the same political pathologies?  

In the past, certain optimists believed that some of the biggest problems in the Near East were a lack of democracy and the absence of a robust civil society.  Fix those problems, and things would begin going the right way–the region would be transformed!  Now other optimists (haven’t we learned by now to stop being optimistic?) wish to tell us about the Kurdish (or Turkish or “Persian”) exception to the Near Eastern rule.  It turns out, they tell us, that the Near Eastern rule is actually just an Arab rule.  Even though the new proposed “arc of hope” does absolutely nothing to address the original “swamp” question that encouraged all of the original nonsense, and even though it means that the roots of the problem are even deeper and even less easily remedied, if they can be at all, this is supposed to be some consolation.

Sullivan ends his post with a rationale for his position:

It seems to me we should be investing in those places that have a chance, rather than further antagonizing those regions that have yet to develop any politics but violence, paranoia and graft.

Well, all right, but by that standard–at least according to some the latest evidence from Kurdistan–we should be clearing out of Kurdistan.  Indeed, using that standard, we should be investing our resources more heavily in Chile and Thailand than we put into in any country between the Tauros and the Hindu Kush. 

Someone writes to Sullivan:

Liberals are instinctively opposed to racial pride, nationalism, religious bigotry, and leader-worship–and we saw it in spades with George Bush and Bushism.

After all, if you don’t count 20th century progressive support for eugenics and sterilisation policies, the French Revolution (or, for that matter, almost any 19th century national movement), 19th and 20th century liberal nationalism, the Kulturkampf in Germany and Austria, WWI, and the adulation bestowed on FDR, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King (the last three mostly posthumously), when have liberals ever been associated with any of those things?  Arguably, left-liberals today show fewer signs of some of these past liberal enthusiasms, but that would show this claim of “instinctive” opposition to be rather hollow.

Intensive Arabic has been going pretty well, but as we are now on Day 18 of 45 I have started to feel a little run down.  In fact, after reading a short article about a Dubai Islamic studies graduate student today, I just so happened to find a UAE dirham in my pocket that had been given to me in change for my tea earlier that day.  The single dirham coin is the same shape and colour as a quarter, so it might easily pass for one if the cashier didn’t look closely enough.  When I first saw it, I thought I had started hallucinating Arabic writing on money.  That may give you a sense of my state of mind.  The good news  is that I can make out everything on the coin.

And those were the polite ones, who were otherwise impressed with Obama. “I can’t imagine if he were informed he would come before 10,000 people and say what he said,” says New Jersey Education Association President Joyce Powell. ~Ruth Marcus

This is to misunderstand Obama, as Marcus notes.  It isn’t as if Obama doesn’t know that merit pay is unpopular with teachers’ unions.  He knows full well that it is.  He seems to have a strategy of saying unpopular things to interest groups in the hope of proving that his “transformation” of politics is not just a slogan–not that he otherwise has much more to offer than rhetorical jabs at entrenched interests.  So he goes to Detroit and bashes automakers, and now tells teachers’ unions what they do not want to hear.  No one will say that he is beholden to this or that lobby!  (When he appeared at AIPAC, though, his adherence to the appropriate script was complete–there are some lobbies with which you simply do not play the game of being Mr. Above It All.)  In the end, he will probably find himself not winning a lot of endorsements, either. 

First Nussle, then Ravenel, now Vitter: Giuliani’s political touch seems to have the odd side-effect of getting his staff hired (into a collapsing administration), indicted or implicated in scandal.  In other Giuliani news, Norman Podhoretz himself has been named as a “senior foreign policy advisor.”  Now we know what Giuliani means when he says he wants to “keep us on offense.”  He means it quite literally, as in, “let’s have some more offensive wars.” 

And, as everyone except those living in certain remotes of Malawi must know by now, McCain’s campaign is collapsing.

The Vatican text, which restates the controversial document Dominus Iesus issued by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2000, says the Church wants to stress the point because some Catholic theologians continue to misunderstand it. ~ABC News (via Rod)

Leave it to the press to take something very simple and almost routine and turn it into a scandal.  I suppose the potential for conflict and controversy makes for a better headline than “Vatican Says Catholic Christianity Is True…Yet Again,” but there is no real potential for that, as there is nothing new being contested. 

Was Dominus Iesus really all that “controversial”?  I have read it, and I found in it the same position towards other Christian confessions that the Catholic Church has stated quite explicitly since Vatican II, which is normally interpreted by otherwise unfriendly Vatican-watchers as a positive, “liberalising” interpretation.  This new document mostly reiterates some of the basic points and makes plain why confessions that lack apostolic succession are not, well, properly apostolic and therefore do not possess all of the proper marks that would make a church a church.  There is nothing in any of this that a non-Catholic should find at all shocking or disturbing.  If he didn’t already know that the Vatican does not believe him to be fully a part of the Church, he hasn’t been paying enough attention to care about it now.  If I did not have an interest in theology, I would say that it is almost a non-story. 

As an Orthodox Christian, I continue to be puzzled by an ecclesiology that says that the Orthodox Church at once has valid sacraments and apostolic succession, but lacks in the fullness of the truth.  This puzzlement is a case of sharply different understandings of catholicity and ecclesiology generally.  As noted here in the past, as I understand the Orthodox teaching, catholicity requires oneness of mind in doctrine, and unity requires unity of faith, bishop and Eucharist.  Catholics and Orthodox share none of these things.  How the Vatican understands the Orthodox to be in communion (but not full communion) with the Catholic Church at the present time will probably never make sense to me. 

That’s the thing about equivocal evidence: People read it through the lens of their pre-existing biases, and the pre-Iraq War biases on the Right (and not only on the Right) were similar to the biases that led the Committee on the Present Danger to overestimate Soviet strength in the 1970s - specifically, a belief that dovish analysts elsewhere in the government were underestimating the capabilities of America’s enemies. In both cases, highly intelligent people got things dramatically wrong, by reading into incomplete evidence and drawing unwarranted conclusions that dovetailed with their own political prejudices. In neither case, I think, do you need to assume duplicity to explain what happened. ~Ross Douthat

This makes a certain amount of sense, but I tend to think that when government officials talk about a “reconstituted” nuclear program and warn about the possibility of ”mushroom” clouds on the basis of admittedly ”equivocal evidence,” they are still engaged in something that is not terribly ethical.  It also occurs to me that the “highly intelligent” bit is part of the problem–many of these people are highly intelligent (albeit often poorly informed or confused about certain things) and this leads them to believe that they, of all people, could not get something like this wrong, which makes them less cautious than thoroughly duller minds might be.  But leave that aside for the moment. 

If this really boils down to pre-existing biases rather than deception (which I don’t entirely accept myself), that would actually be worse in some ways for Cheney and the foreign policy approach he favours.  Okay, maybe not for Cheney personally, since he would implicated in deceiving the public, but for the brand of interventionist policy he supports it would be a boon to admit the administration’s deceit.  If this is all a question of pre-existing biases colouring perceptions of equivocal evidence, it would mean that the reflexively hawkish, suspicious, shoot-first-and-then-keep-shooting sort of foreign policy recommendations that lead to the Committee on the Present Danger and Iraq war hawks getting things so thoroughly wrong have a pretty poor track record over the past 25 years and should not be taken very seriously in future policy debates.  If future conflicts are going to turn on such questions of intelligence, the tendency to exaggerate threats, fear the worst and support pre-emptive strikes will become less and less persuasive and credible.  This will be a good outcome for the country, but I have to wonder whether it might not be in the interests of interventionists to begin agreeing with the rhetoric about administration lying (all in a “good cause,” of course).  The lies could be pinned on the administration, while the interventionists could claim that they, too, had been misled: “We were only responding in the way we believed was responsible given what the government was reporting about the nature of the threat!  Who knew that they would lead us astray?  We have been tricked!”  Who knows?  The people foolish enough to believe Mr. Bush’s whoppers might just believe this bit of revisionism.

My Cliopatria post on David Halberstam’s final article is here.

[H]is skepticism toward universalism gives him much in common with forms of multiculturalism today’s conservatives say they oppose. ~Alan Wolfe

I have said pretty much all I intend to say about Wolfe’s original article here, but this item begs for special attention.  Since Wolfe is terribly concerned with originality, it might be worth noting that this criticism of conservative particularism is not new.  There are plenty of fairly universalist people on the right who find particularism offensive for the very reason that it seems to lend support to multiculturalism.  They make points that I have found no more persuasive.  The criticism is not new, and it does not become any more accurate with the passing of time.  The universalist will often refer to religion to shame the particularist, who will often be religious to one degree or another: why, if a religion is in some sense truly universal, how can someone opposed to universalism be religious?  (This is also the essence of Wolfe’s weak point about Kirk and Catholicism.)  Well, he might begin by not deliberately conflating concepts that have nothing to do with each other.  Rational, man-made universalism is misguided both in its hubris and its ahistorical nature.  Revelation will be applicable to all times and places, since it comes from God, Who is eternal and immaterial.    

Those of us who are generally working in the same tradition as Kirk was believe that cultural diversity is a product of historical change.  To a certain extent, traditional conservatives are open to the post-modern critique of Enlightenment rationality, because we find the latter limited, one-sided and defined in such a way as to set man’s reason against his adherence to “irrational” customs and traditions.  (For another rightist who praised diversity and identified uniformity as a preferred trait of the left, Wolfe might read Kuehnelt-Leddihn, whose enthusiasm for Catholicism will not leave him in doubt as to where K-L stood.)  Where particularists and multicultis tend to part ways is over the multicultis’ preference for encouraging and building up every other culture except their own (assuming that they believe that they have a culture of their own).  A conservative particularist is not terribly bothered if there are other cultures that have evolved differently, and he will usually be more aware of the significance of those differences than his universalist rivals.  

The particularist does not share the multicultis’ belief that his culture should have to be undermined or ridiculed to accommodate the cultures of others, and he tends to not think that the most stable and well-ordered polities are not those with the greatest number of different cultures.  In the end, multiculturalism does not offend these conservatives because of its interest in diversity, but because it has no real interest in diversity as such (and these people tend to be embarrassingly ignorant and naive about foreign cultures), only in the subversion of their own cultural norms.  Traditional conservatives accept cultural diversity as the result of natural historical development–it is something that can only be eliminated by coercion and ideology.  Multiculturalists seem interested in using other cultures as means to their own ideological goal of transforming their own society into something entirely different from what it has been.

In short, this point about multiculturalism is not a real criticism of Kirk.  It is not even that interesting of a point.  One might even call it an irritated gesture rather than an idea.

A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reform, speeding up the Bush administration’s reckoning on what to do next, a U.S. official said Monday. ~AP

Cue Lugar: “See?!  Benchmarks are never a good idea!”

No one in Iraq is failing to “compromise” because he thinks he can count on an endless American presence. Iraqis are debating core questions of power-sharing and federalism that are the hardest issues for any democracy to settle. ~The Wall Street Journal

There’s an element of truth in this that exposes the larger fraud of the entire project.  Iraqi politicians aren’t failing to compromise because they expect us to be there forever.  They would fail to compromise regardless of whether we were there or not, since the different political factions are not interested in compromise, which is why all of the crucial legislation is stalled and why democracy in Iraq will fail horribly.  These are the hardest issues for a democracy to settle, which is why it is madness to pin our national security and our soldiers’ safety to Iraqi politicians’ abilities to pull together compromise legislation in a situation where such legislation is simply a dream.  Withdrawal should not be premised on the idea that it will facilitate Iraqi political compromise, because that isn’t going to happen (at least not for many, many years).  Withdrawal should happen because it is the right thing to do for our soldiers and for our country.  Remaining in Iraq won’t make Iraqi political reconciliation significantly more likely, and it will cost us.  That is the situation.  Withdrawal soon–with provisions being taken to provide for the security of neighbouring countries and some efforts to provide for the refugee crisis that will be coming–is the best of the bad options.   

One more time, from the introduction of Elements of the Philosophy of Right:

For Hegel,as for Mill, the function of representative institutions is not to govern, but to advise those who govern, and to determine who it is that governs.  Hegel expects deputies to the Estates to be ordinary citizens, not professional politicians.  One evident reason for this is that he wants the Estates to be close to the people, and to represent its true sentiments; another reason (unstated, but quite evident) is that he does not want the Estates to be politically strong enough to challenge the power of the professionals who actually govern.  But he does not intend the Estates to be powerless either.  In his lectures, Hegel describes a multi-party system in the Estates, and he insists that the government’s ministry must always represent the ‘majority party’; when it ceases to do so, he says, it must resign and a new ministry, representing the majority of the Estates, must take its place….This idea takes the Hegelian constitutional monarchy most of the way toward presently existing parliamentary systems with a nominal hereditary monarch (as in Britain, Holland and Sweden).

And we all know about iron hand of totalitarian terror that Queen Beatrix has.

Later, there is a vitally important point: “Hegel distinguishes between the ‘political state proper’ from the state in the broadest sense, the community as a whole with all its institutions….He regards the state in the latter sense as the individual’s final end [italics mine-DL].”  In other words, as far as a political telos is concerned, Hegel is arguing for a position that is substantially similar to that of Aristotle: the citizen’s end is realised in and through the life of the political community, because man is a political animal and this end is appropriate to his nature.  It is our latter-day, impoverished understanding of what a political community fully means that causes many to mistake the importance these philosophers give to this broader political community for a theoretical endorsement of unlimited governmental power.  A polity is more than its government (thank God!), and there are many philosophers whose political thought will make no sense if we do not keep this distinction in mind.  We may or may not find this account of political life satisfactory, but we are not free to describe it as totalitarian or proto-totalitarian.  It is, by definition, exactly not that, because it assumes that there is more to the political community than the all-encompassing government and party machine.

Speaking of Hegel’s legacy, the editor goes on:

This is the case with traditional images of Hegel as reactionary, absolutist, totalitarian.  Taken literally, of course, these images have been long discredited [italics mine-DL].  Yet in our liberal culture they nevertheless possess a kind of symbolic truth, because they represent this culture’s self-doubts projected with righteous venom into its iconography of the enemy.  Hegel is especially unappealing to that dogmatic kind of liberal who judges past social and political thinkers by the degree to which (it has been decided beforehand) all people of good will must share.  The value of Hegel’s social thought will be better appreciated by those who are willing to question received views, and take a deeper look at the philosophical problems of modern life [bold mine-DL]. 

It is especially rich that defenders of the Popperian caricature believe that they are the ones engaged in the rigorous independent thinking and resistance to “official” interpretations.  The last fifty years of Hegel scholarship, from what I understand, have been filled with the debunking of myths woven by those in thrall to the politically correct interpretations of their own time.  Incidentally, the disparagement and dismissal of many early American heroes on account of their insufficiently enlightened attitudes come from this same instinct to measure past thinkers against present standards and condemn them when they (inevitably) fail to measure up. 

Popper’s view of Hegel was the ideologically-driven modern liberal view of the man for decades, and its perpetuation today is simply a continuation of something not much better than propaganda, which in the Anglo-American world was already more than a little coloured by a dislike for things German.  Popper had a very good argument to make against 20th century historicists who used language about the direction of history–language that everyone knows I abhor, by the way–to justify appalling crimes against their fellow men.  Popper was writing a polemic against totalitarians of his own time, and he was right to do this.  Where he went awry was to try to find roots for the woes of the 20th century in Hegel’s actual thought, among other places, rather than in the ideologically filtered abuses of it. 

If a Nazi likes and promotes Wagner, whatever else you might rightly say about Wagner’s attitudes, that does not make Wagner a proto-Nazi or his music proto-Nazi music.  Obviously.  I suppose I am especially annoyed by the Hegel-bashing tradition because it is just one more aspect of the old, wearisome obsession to read all of modern German thought and history as one big prelude to the Nazis (the ultimate example of this was, naturally, on The History Channel, where a program actually stated that if the Romans had not been ambushed in the Teutoberg Forest in AD 9, Hitler would never have come to power!), as if we could not find many more relevant proximate sources specific to the post-unification and post-WWI scene.  It is an attempt at a more sophisticated Goldhagenism, but the idea is the same.  It is itself a kind of essentialism–the sort of thing Popper rightly warned against–inasmuch as it seeks to find something particularly twisted in German culture to explain what happened later, but in the process succeeds in twisting everything to fit the preconceived pattern of some perverse Teutonic state-worship (to which we Anglo-Americans are, of course, immune).  This is a comforting myth that we tell ourselves, as it persuades us that we are somehow inherently less prone to the political and moral insanity of totalitarianism–that sort of thing only happens to other people.  How some parts of the Anglo-American world would love to be able to discredit a culture that did more to create Western civilisation than almost any other, and how better to do this than to smear the philosophical and artistic giants of the German past with the taint of somehow contributing to the rise of Hitler?  Just consider the stupidity of this: nationalists try to appropriate the cultural achievements of their countrymen over the centuries, regardless of whether the creators of the appropriated works would have anything to do with such people, and then it is taken by later observers as proof of their perfidy that some chauvinists have sullied their name by speaking it with admiration.    

At bottom, reading totalitarianism into Hegel’s thought is the worst sort of “precursorism” (interpreting earlier works in the light of what came later, rather than according to their own time and proper meaning) and an old standby of bad teleological historical narrative, those banes of real intellectual history, in which an idea that seems as if it could have led to something that happened later is taken as an inspiration for these later events.  Then there is the old habit of “so-and-so interpreted this thinker this way, therefore the thinker must mean what so-and-so says.”  Two things would have to be demonstrated for this to be a worthwhile point: the person citing the thinker would need to have shown that he understood what the original thinker meant, and this person would have to avoid making interpretations that flatly contradict what the thinker said.  Failure on either point makes the later “follower” of the thinker a bad student and a poor representative of the man’s thought. 

Nietzsche scholars are constantly battling against similar popular misrepresentations, as have scholars of Maistre (who was an important philosopher of science as well as a political thinker) and Bolingbroke, among others.  It makes no sense why a certain batch of interpretations or the tradition derived from them should be given priority if they do not do their subject justice.  If Byzantinists did that, no one would have bothered to say anything after Gibbon, and certainly not after Bury and Ostrogorsky.  Obviously, some interpretive battles will go on forever, but as more scholars dig into the material there will be more interpretations firmly established by the persuasiveness of the arguments and their support in the evidence.  Once well-supported and serious arguments have been made, however, it is not sufficient to go back to the old interpretation, unaltered, and declare that most people who have given the matter much thought don’t know what they’re talking about.     

In short, no one remotely familiar with their [Voinovich and Domenici’s] records would consider any of them to be among the Senate’s conservative intellectual giants. On the contrary, they are poll-driven politicians who want to hold on to power, and the polls indicate that many Americans are decidedly unhappy about the direction of the war. ~The Washington Times

No one enjoys good opportunist-bashing more than I do, but this shot at Domenici is particularly odd.  Domenici is not claiming to be a spokesman for conservatism (and with a lifetime ACU rating of 74, no one will be rushing out to label him as one).  That’s a big problem–for conservatives.  The Senate Republican dissenters on Iraq have almost all been politically vulnerable, “moderate” or liberal Republicans, and those who do not exactly fit these categories (such as Hagel and Brownback) have tended to have the least substantive critiques and have offered even less substantive alternatives.  Instead of taking the lead in criticising the President and forcing change, more conservative members in the last Congress and the present one have mostly distinguished themselves as reflexive defenders of the war (their chief complaints, when they have made them, is that the war has not been prosecuted with enough vigour and has not been expanded to enough other countries).  For years conservatives in the GOP have gone out of their way to make sure that people associate this war with the word conservative–despite its having no meaningful connection to conservatism of any recognisable kind–because they have lent it unstinting support.  In highlighting the latest dissenters’ lack of conservative reputations, this simply reinforces this identification.  The war will go from appearing to be a generically Republican war, which is mainly what it is, to a specificially “conservative” one in the public eye.  Editorials such as this one are part of the reason why.  

Domenici is also a strange target of the wrath of the Times for another reason.  Domenici changed his position on the amnesty bill to a vote against the cloture motion that the Times and most conservatives also wanted to defeat.  In other words, he responded to the outcry from his constituents and conservative activists by embracing their view of the bill and ended up voting the right way, helping to send the bill down to a crushing defeat.  Obviously, he did this for self-interested, purely electoral reasons–he fears voter backlash come next year.  Even so, I don’t remember a Times editorial singling out Domenici and the other vote-switchers for rank opportunism and pandering back then.  The Weekly Standard had plenty to say about the Senators who turned against the amnesty bill that the magazine supported, but that’s because the magazine’s editors were angry at the former allies who had defected to the other side. 

The Times is chastising someone who effectively came around their position on the recent legislation and pointing out Domenici’s responsiveness to his constituents as a bad thing worthy of mockery.  Meanwhile, the steadfast duo of McLieberman never wavers, never blinks, never listens to the voters, and that is supposed to inspire admiration?  We have some remnants of a republican government, so there is something to be said for not always heeding the desires of the crowd, but by design representatives should represent their constituents and Senators should, at least originally, represent the interests of their states.  To consistently fail in this representation is to have failed in the basic duty of an elected official.  The Times would like more members of Congress to shirk their responsibilities and ignore their constituents more often, at least when it comes to the war.  On immigration, they will continue to think that the populist backlash was a just and legitimate exercise in self-government.  You really can’t have it both ways.  Domenici is an opportunist, but it was thanks to opportunists like him that amnesty was defeated.  The war will one day be brought to an end through the efforts of other similarly “flexible” politicians.   

It’s important to be at least somewhat grounded in reality about what is significant about the defeatist posture taken by Mr. Lugar et. al. — and what is business as usual for a certain type of Republican. Anyone who remembers Mr. Voinovich’s emotional attack against John Bolton (Mr. Voinovich later reversed himself) or his ramblings in response to radio talk-show host Sean Hannity’s factual questions about his support (subsequently reversed) for the failed Senate immigration bill understands that he’s hardly a thinking man’s conservative in the mold of the late Sen. Robert Taft. ~The Washington Times

Now, according to some, being like ”Mr. Republican” is irrelevant to the current challenges that Americans face–at least if it means adopting a sane foreign policy!  Apparently he is good enough for jingoes when they can try to use his name as a club with which to beat dissenting Republicans. 

Alex Massie says some of the things that need to be said about this Andy McCarthy post, which was a response to Amir Taheri’s op-ed, in which Taheri wrote:

Since 1960, the Turkish army has staged a coup once every 10 years, either to curb the radical left or to stop the Islamist right from seizing control of the state.

Not only could one fairly describe AKP as “socially and religiously conservative”–which they certainly are relative to the CHP or the Turkish nationalists–but in any relative positioning of the different parties on the left-right spectrum you would be compelled to describe AKP as effectively center-right relative to the secular leftists and nationalists.  It is conventional in portrayals of political party alignments to place nationalist parties on the far right, which tends to increase confusion about how religious parties can actually be, and usually are, to the right of modern nationalists, especially when it comes matters of family law and traditional morality. 

Suffice it to say, you can refer to AKP in a Turkish context as being on “the right,” provided that you do not think that this automatically means that the AKP is just Christian Democracy with a headscarf (as some EU-expanding fools would argue).  Islamists will come in different shades.  There are the hooded Hamas-style radicals, there are more austere Deobandi reactionaries of the Taliban model and there are relatively less violent conservatives, such as the AKP so far (the catch-all, rather misleading term “Islamist” only tells us so much).  In a related way, you can imagine a reformist ”Christian socialism” of the left (Tolstoy) and reformist one of the right (Slavophiles, Dostoevsky, Dollfuss, etc.) and another one dedicated to violent revolutionary action (e.g., Thomas Muentzer). 

In the Turkish case, it is reasonable to define Islamists as being on ”the right” of Turkish politics, since Kemalism was most definitely a left-wing revolutionary nationalist movement that was constantly working to overthrow and outlaw remnants of the old order.   Thinking of the Kemalists as the effective guardians of Turkish “conservatism,” as McCarthy’s post implies, is to identify conservatism with the defense of whichever status quo power elite currently holds the reins.  In this view, Islamists in Turkey can’t be conservative or rightist because they are against the status quo, which is, of course, arranged in such a way as to favour a secular leftist nationalist elite.  If we wanted to think of conservatism that way (I don’t care to), we would definitely have to think about “the right” as something other than conservatism. 

The relevant point to be made is not that Islamists are not conservative or on “the right” in some sense.  Relative to their competitors, they are.  The point would be that the entire nature of politics in Islamic countries is such that the largely secularised West should naturally sympathise and ally itself with the political left, because what the conservatives in the Islamic world want to have–to say nothing of radicals or reactionaries–is the preservation and building up of their traditions and religion, which may be quite antithetical to what Westerners would like to see in those countries.  

This is yet another reason why democratisation in the Islamic world is a very bad idea.  It will have the effect, as universal suffrage in Europe did, of empowering the more religious and, generally, more illiberal voters who will favour religious or religious-themed parties.  If liberalisation in the Islamic world were the ultimate goal, democratisation would be the last thing you would encourage. 

The West has also gone so far to the left, culturally and politically, relative to traditional societies elsewhere in the world that even Western reactionaries, including myself, would seem startlingly left-wing in them.  Western reactionaries tend to differentiate themselves from the other 95% of Westerners in regarding this general shift to the left as a largely bad development that has had a few positive side-effects.  Many self-styled Western conservatives tend to think things have gone along more or less all right, except perhaps for the last forty years or so, as this has been the time when there were a few undesirable changes.  Some Western liberals, at least in this country, apparently often live in fear that a homegrown Taliban is just around the corner, a Jaysh al Mahdi lurking behind every megachurch.  The odds of the latter are poor. 

Of course, a strong case could be made that Western conservatives have a certain common interest with Islamic conservatives insofar as it involves our minding our own business and leaving them to mind theirs.  The globalists are hostile to any and all settled ways of life, except for their own inherently destabilising and unsettling one, and so are the natural political opponents of cultural and religious conservatives everywhere.  That does not mean that conservatives in the West are necessarily going to like most of the things conservatives in Asia and the Near East want to protect, or that we all have, a la D’Souza, numerous overlapping interests that compel us to join forces against the godless. 

Many people in the West don’t like Turkish Islamism, and our governments find that they can usually work much better with the Kemalists.  (Turkish opposition to the war in Iraq was a bitter disappointment for Washington, but then Washington has understood nothing about Turkey’s view of its national interests for years.)  Even so, we don’t get to define political alignments based on how cooperative, effectively pro-U.S. or Westernised a group is.  Still, let’s be clear about something: it will be very bad for Turkey if AKP increases its hold on the country, and this would be true even if (or perhaps especially if) this comes about through “peaceful democratic change.”  AKP is Exhibit A for why full democratisation in the Islamic world is a bad idea both for the West and for the Islamic countries involved.

Far more bizarrely, there have been no outraged protests on behalf of the slighted Malinese, Bangladeshis and Indonesians in response to Taheri’s opening reference to this bit of Turkish chauvinism:

Talk to Turks of any political persuasion and you are sure to hear how proud they are that Turkey is “the only democracy in the Muslim world.”  

It is also worth noting that Republican critics of the antiwar movement have no problem acknowledginging that Islamists are on the political right when it helps them to highlight the reflexive anti-Western alliances of antiwar leftists.  This criticism makes a certain amount of sense, but its significance for labeling the political alignment of Islamists seems to have eluded McCarthy here.

Potential Spoilers Below 

If I’m mistaken and there have been movies in which Islamists where the bad guys, please let me know. ~Michael Fumento

How about True Lies?  Granted, this was a very bad movie (it had Schwarzenneger and Tom Arnold in it, after all), but it was a success at the time and made very explicit that the nuclear terrorists were doing what they were doing for plain jihadi reasons.  It was a movie that made jihadis the villains even before 9/11 had happened–does that count for anything?  How about A Mighty Heart, whose entire raison d’etre is an act of violence carried out by jihadis?  How about World Trade Center?  The story is not principally about the terrorists, but obviously the jihadis are the villains of the piece.  Or Flight 93?  Did I miss something?  Does anyone really think that we have actually been completely lacking in these sorts of movies?  Against these, yes, you will also have the case of The Sum Of All Fears (also a terrible, terrible movie) where jihadis were replaced with a much more universally hated, and non-existent, neo-Nazi threat.  This is ridiculous political correctness and a crazy obsession with long-dead Nazism, but if you think we are at war with “Islamofascists” should it really matter to you whether Hollywood emphasises the Islamic side or the fascist side?

Update: This last point was intended to be tongue-in-cheek.  I was also mistaken and responded too quickly before reading carefully.  Mr. Fumento does make a point of specifically excluding pre-9/11 movies and 9/11-related movies.  Having excluded them, he is right that there are fewer movies that portray jihadis as the villains.  That exclusionary move seems a bit strange, though, since 9/11 is the iconic moment of jihadi terrorism.  Excluding movies related to the most immediately significant jihadi terrorist attack and then complaining about a lack of movies showing jihadi villains are odd moves to make.  If I ruled out Schindler’s List and Life Is Beautiful , I could also make a claim that Hollywood seems to have stopped caring about the Holocaust and no longer makes movies about it.  That wouldn’t make a lot of sense.  

Read the rest of this entry »

From the introduction of Elements of the Philosophy of Right (pp. ix):

There were always those, however, who insisted that Hegel was fundamentally a theorist of the modern constitutional state, emphasizing in the state most of the same features which win the approval of Hegel’s liberal critics.  This was always the position of the Hegelian ‘centre’, including Hegel’s own students and most direct nineteenth-century followers [bold mine-DL].  This more sympathetic tradition in Hegel scholarship has reasserted itself decisively since the middle of the century, to such an extent that there is now a virtual consensus [bold mine-DL] among knowledgeable scholars that the earlier images of Hegel, as philosopher of the reactionary Prussian restoration and forerunner of modern totalitarianism, are simply wrong [bold mine-DL], whether they are viewed as accounts of Hegel’s attitude towards Prussian politics or as broader philosophical interpretations of his theory of state [bold mine-DL].

For what it’s worth, here’s another argument that Hegel was not a totalitarian. 

The point in all of this is to make clear that the popular, Popperian reading of Hegel as proto-totalitarian is wrong.  It is legitimate and appropriate to point this out when others repeat such a claim about Hegel.  For the time being, this is the last thing that I will say about this ridiculous controversy. 

Onto a more fun topic: The Rick Santorum Follies!  Newsweek interviewed Santorum, and he had plenty of things to say about the war.  He begins:

Americans are frustrated with the prosecution of this war. They don’t understand why we’re in it. They don’t see any reason to continue the fight and instead of going out there and arguing more clearly than the administration has to this point, and putting this in the proper perspective for the American public, [the Republicans] have decided to join the other side and abandon ship. I think that’s absolutely irresponsible and will come back to haunt us as a party. 

Right.  It will haunt the GOP that it is breaking with Bush at this late date, and not that it remained steadfastly loyal to him for years.  Note that Santorum doesn’t actually say that there is anything wrong with the prosecution of the war or with the war itself, but simply with the marketing of it.  Better communication is what is really needed to change popular attitudes!  This is like the thinking that says the U.S. government just needs better public diplomacy, because there couldn’t be anything wrong with state policies. 

This seems to show that Santorum has learned nothing since his defeat in November.  Then, as now, he thinks that the reason why the public is tiring of the war is simply that it doesn’t “get it” the way he does.  I suppose we have all had similar feelings about things where the overwhelming majority is against what we think is the right thing.  Certainly, having majority support is not in itself proof of a policy’s merits.  However, when a policy loses public support it is usually because there is something basically wrong with them that requires you to either fix or scrap the policy.

He continues:

It’s not a pretty time. You have a leader of your party who refuses to go out and identify the enemy. So when you go out there and do what I did in my race, you get your hat handed to you because people think you are to the right of the president.

Sure, that’s it!  Mr. Bush has been too cautious and reserved in his rhetoric about jihadis and his political opponents.  Santorum never seems to consider the possibility that his defense of the war was not what caused him to lose.  There were pro-war incumbents who just barely won (though Pennsylvania was always going to be a very bad state for the GOP last year).  The problem was less that Santorum appeared to be on “Bush’s right,” but that his “gathering storm” speeches seemed to be the product of a hallucinating mind.  While Pennsylvania voters were concerned about a number of priorities in addition to the war, Santorum talked about foreign policy an awful lot for a Senate election.  In a purple state, he had the burden of being a very strong social conservative.  Instead of showing how his style of social conservative reformism had led him to support different pieces of popular legislation that went beyond the usual “hot-button” life and sexual morality issues, his sabre-rattling confirmed every bad stereotype that could be imagined about religious conservatives.  He also said bizarre, batty things about foreign policy in the process.  Warning urgently about the Bolivian-Venezuelan threat to Argentina is not usually the way to win votes in Scranton, no matter what your other positions are. 

He concludes:

The people behind the plot in Great Britain were not poor or oppressed Middle Easterners. It is not oppression. It is not imperialism. It is an ideology.

No, they were relatively well-to-do professional Middle Easterners.  The exact reasons for the attack, as far as I know, remain unknown.  The choice of target does not suggest any obvious symbolism, but seemed theoretically designed to inflict mass casualties and induce general terror for the sake of doing it.  Some have floated the idea that it was retaliation for Rushdie’s knighthood; others assume, not entirely unreasonably, some connection to Iraq.  It was probably some combination of these, along with more general feelings of resentment, alienation and rage.  Someone can have an ideology and be combating what he regards as oppression and imperialism.  Imperialism may exist, and an ideology will be created to combat it.  Imperialism may inflame an ideology that already existed, giving it new significance, a new enemy and a new cause.  Also, just because the people willing to carry out terrorist attacks are not themselves poor or oppressed doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not acting because some other people with whom they sympathise are poor and oppressed.  19th century anarchist bomb-throwers didn’t have to be, and often weren’t, rebellious wage-slaves or serfs turning against their oppressors directly.  Terrorists can be motivated by, or can claim to be motivated by, the suffering of others even though they are themselves relatively well-off.  Indeed, a certain amount of relatively higher social status and education is often required for someone to become a really ferocious radical.  The educated people who enjoy a slightly better quality of life in a community are often historically the ones agitating for change and joining in revolutions and revolutionary societies, because they have been raised with or have had access to radical ideas that they then feel obliged to put into practice.  To say that there is such a thing as jihadism and to know that the origins of it existed long before the creation of Israel or U.S. intervention in the Near East do not allow you to ignore that these other things may contribute to the appeal of jihadism.  Such things often have multiple causes.  It is important not to rule out any of the possible causes because they might undermine our own political preoccupations.  Occupation of Muslim countries does not explain everything, but it explains something.  A doctrine of jihad within Islam predating the modern period is part of the story, and an important part, but it is not the whole story.  There are some causes of jihadism that are beyond our control, which means that changes in policy will not necessarily eliminate jihadi threats thereafter, but if changes in policy can weaken the appeal of jihadism and make that threat less significant they should not be rejected before they have even been considered.  It is the insistence on attributing purely ideological motives to jihadis, as if there could be no other explanation, that makes Santorum’s analysis so unpersuasive.

While Hegel’s political philosophy has been attacked on the left by republican democrats and on the right by feudalist reactionaries, his apologists see him as a liberal reformer, a moderate [bold mine-DL] who theorized about the development of a free-market society within the bounds of a stabilizing constitutional state. This centrist view has gained ascendancy since the end of the Second World War, enshrining Hegel within the liberal tradition [bold mine-DL]. ~From the description of Renato Cristi’s Hegel on Freedom and Authority

Cristi is also author of “Hegel’s Conservative Liberalism”.  I cite scholarship on this question, since I assume that people who spend their lives studying Hegel might know a thing or two I don’t.  That is why scholars, like bloggers, make citations in the first place–to recognise that there are subjects on which others are greater authorities. 

Karl Popper, interesting, brilliant and fine man that he was, was not a Hegel scholar and was retrojecting onto Hegel the sort of exaltation of the state that he rightly found so terrifying in his own time.  He was not alone in this, but he was wrong to do this.  In mid-20th century, support for any kind of monarchy was likely to throw your credentials as a political liberal into doubt.  Because a constitutional monarchist is, almost by definition, some kind of liberal, as only a liberal or Whig would dare to suggest that the monarch be subject to the limits of a constitution (especially a written constitution), the only thing one might say about my description of Hegel is that it was a bit redundant. Pretty much all constitutional monarchists were liberals (in the 19th century, European sense), though not all liberals were constitutional monarchists.  It is possible to find in 19th century liberalism evidence of a dangerous centralising and “rationalising” tendency (demonstrated by Austrian liberals, Red Republicans and Garibaldian revolutionaries), and it is possible to criticise 19th century liberals for their close attachment to nationalism.  What you cannot do is deny that people who were plainly political liberals were, indeed, political liberals. 

Of course, when I referred to Hegel as a “moderately liberal constitutional monarchist,” a statement that is actually true whether or not some people want to accept it, I was referring to the liberalism of his day.  What started all of this was my criticism of the lumping in of Hegel into a discussion of so-called “liberal fascism,” since Hegel was neither a modern liberal nor was he a proto-fascist. 

What is strange about all of this is that Hegel’s 19th century liberalism does not actually make him look that good to me.  However, there is still a big difference between sympathising with the principles of 1789 and believing in a totalising, all-intrusive state.  That said, Hegel’s sympathy for the principles of 1789 ought to make him bad enough for traditional conservatives today that no one should need to resort to trying to pin later totalitarian ideas on him.  If you want to make the argument that 1789 led inexorably to 1917 and 1933, that would be an argument for why being a 19th century liberal is not necessarily the most desirable thing to have been.  However, for good or ill, that is what Hegel was.

Update: It is also worth noting that Hegel, while he did approve of the principles of 1789, was not an uncritical admirer of the Revolution.  Similarly, it is possible for Hegel to be a liberal without being uncritically accepting of all elements in natural rights-based liberalism.  He also had some criticism for the Enlightenment.  The more I am made to think about it, “moderately liberal” sounds more accurate all the time.

In Canada they have two national languages, but that’s one reason Canada often seems silly. They don’t even know what language they dream in. ~Peggy Noonan

With respect to Ms. Noonan, who has been pretty good, especially on immigration, in the last year or so, this is not right.  To justify our desire for English language, we should not have to run other nations in the process.  Their ways are not our ways, and that is fine.  The important point here should not be that every nation must have one and only one language, but that there should be one official and national language that provides a common means of communication and a source of common identity.  There are fictitious, meaningless nation-states whose linguistic divisions signal a deeper divide of culture, ethnicity and politics.  Take Belgium, for one.  There are others that have a common history and a reason for existing as a common, albeit federal, relatively decentralised, polity that are not the products of accidents of European great power politics or the Treaty of Versailles.  Canada is such a nation.  I understand and appreciate the Quebecois separatist view, but I have long since matured out of the weird American need to belittle the Canadian nation, which, strange as it may sound to American ears, does exist, as if we were so insecure in our own nationality that we needed Canada as our whipping boy to make us feel more American.  An American patriot does not need to disdain Canada to be more at home with who he is.  Canadians will sort out their internal debate on their own.  There is nothing necessarily “silly” about having multiple languages in a polity (it may impractical, but it is not silly–in terms of maintaining the peace, it can be the soul of wisdom in certain situations).  What is silly is pretending that a centralised, uniform nation and a mutiplicity of languages can coexist without any difficulty.

The fall of communism hasn’t created a global community of democracies. It turns out the Russians don’t want to be like us. The Arabs don’t want help from infidels. The Iraqis’ democratic moment has turned into sectarian chaos. The Palestinians have turned theirs into a civil war. ~David Brooks

I am reminded of Sir Steven Runciman’s claim in his history of the Crusades that the the conflict in the late twelfth century leading up through 1204 between the Byzantines and Latins was a good example of how cultural tolerance was most successful when cultures relatively rarely interacted with one another.  Proximity and conflict tend to coincide.  The idea that increased communication, contact and awareness of other peoples would lead to greater integration, unity and acceptance is fantastical.  Greater integration also involves increased pressures caused by close proximity; greater communication includes the possibility of fatal miscommunication.

I can understand why this idea is attractive and tempting, but that is no excuse for believing it to be true or finding it to be surprising.  For instance, is anyone surprised by this:

The globalization of trade has sparked nationalistic backlashes.

Of course it has.  Globalisation involves a certain loss of control, a loss of power and, yes, a loss of sovereignty.  That is why a great many people very reasonably object to it.  Those who are interested primarily in securing the interests of their nation are going to take a dim view of a process that inevitably deems the claims of the nation as secondary at best.  Despite everything he has just said, Brooks adds:

It could be we just need to work harder to overcome racism and tribalism.

As if a lack of effort was the problem.  It is in the compulsion to “overcome” boundaries and the hard-working efforts to “overcome” racism and tribalism that the origins of the reactions against these efforts are to be found.  This overcoming, whatever its intent, appears to many people to be an attempt to obliterate their identity, their distinctiveness, their independence after a fashion.  This “overcoming” appears to them to be a conquest by hostile forces.  Nothing has so retarded the gradual change in attitudes of any one people towards other peoples as the concerted efforts of their elites to make them accept other people.  It has in some formal ways hastened technical integration, but ensured that social integration, if it will ever happen, will be deferred for generations. 

Brooks offers a more plausible alternative:

But it could be the dream of integration itself is the problem. It could be that it was like the dream of early communism — a nice dream, but not fit for the way people really are.

And again:

People say they want to live in diverse integrated communities, but what they really want to do is live in homogenous ones, filled with people like themselves.

My impression is that most people say this because they have been trained from the time they were old enough to believe that this was a basic moral truth.  They do not actually see much value in diversity itself, but believe that to deny the value of diversity is to be a bad person.  If they say that diversity is what they want, it is because they have been told that this is what they are supposed to want.  The idea that there is something acceptable, indeed normal and understandable, about this disinterest in diversity is still fairly controversial.  It will take another generation before it is once again entirely unsurprising.

So that graph [of oil prices] looks like this {draws a ‘V’}.  So what I did is I went to the Freedom House freedom index….Yeah, Freedom House, they actually index freedom in countries….Free and fair elections, newspapers, NGOs, political participation, and I overlaid the Freedom House freedom index on the oil price graph for four countries: Iran, Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela.  What does that look like?  Well, the freedom index for these petrol-estates, states highly dependent on oil for their GDP, looks like this {draws the top of a triangle}…Oh, well that’s interesting.  See, the price of oil looks like that {draws V again} and the freedom index looks like that {draws top of triangle again}.  What does that tell you?  It tells you that the price of oil and the pace of freedom operate in an inverse correlation.  ~Tom Friedman 

So my offhand response to that would be: why on earth would you start a war in the middle of the Near East, thus driving up oil prices to $70 per barrel?  I have no idea.  I’m sure Tom knows.  Just ask him in another six months.

Friedman actually makes a moderately intelligent argument that oil-rich countries are lousy candidates for democratisation.  Though he does not say this, he might have added that natural resource-rich countries are able to live off profits from exports in such a way that enterprise and invention are discouraged and do not have the proper incentives.  These countries do not need to make things and create wealth, because they are already awash in natural wealth that other people wish to possess.  It is a lack of extensive supplies of natural resource, within reason, that spurs cultures to become more favourable to enterprise and invention. 

Oil is a buttress for state revenues and state power.  Every state that relies heavily on it for its revenues tends towards the authoritarian and autocratic.  Therefore, you would have to be some sort of unusually foolish person to think that Iraq, with one of the largest proven oil reserves on earth, would be an ideal candidate for democratisation and a model for the rest of the region.  Your name might well be Thomas Friedman.

Profiles in bad precedent-citing:

When we talk about combating global warming, what are we talking about?  We’re talking about changing the weather.  We’re talking about changing the weather.  If we pull it off, it would be the biggest project mankind has ever undertaken since the Tower of Babel.  We’re talking about changing the weather. ~Tom Friedman (via Ross)

Someone get this man a copy of Genesis!

Did Fred once lobby for an abortion “rights” group (via Ambinder) to try to get the “gag rule” restriction eased?  Members of the group say yes, and Fred, naturally, denies it.  Hm…who has more reason to deceive?  I was somewhat skeptical, but then this part of the article persuaded me that Fred had done the deed:

At one of the meals, she recalled, Thompson re-enacted a cowboy death scene from one of his movies.

That sounds like something Fred would do. 

This will probably not seriously hurt Fred’s appeal with GOP primary voters, since that appeal is based on so much smoke and mirrors in the first place.  It isn’t as if people are rallying around him because he is such a great champion of conservative causes, but rather because he is simply not as bad as the major competition.  In the end, he could have saved himself a lot of grief by admitting that he once did do this lobbying work, but subsequently viewed the matter very differently.  Instead of having it be a blot on his record with conservatives, he could have used it to show the sharp contrast between his former lobbying and his voting record, which is actually fairly good.  This will obviously not help with pro-lifers, who can hardly be thrilled that he blew of a big NRLC meeting and went overseas to spout Liz Cheney’s propaganda in Britain instead.

I can think of lots of people to blame for the current polarization, but that’s not the point. ~David Ignatius

That’s right.  We wouldn’t want to find out who is responsible for the current state of affairs, since that would entail making criticisms of the responsible people, which could be divisive and offensive to someone (especially those being criticised).  Having discovered the responsible party, you might get carried away and start proposing alternatives, and before you know it you might start organising with people who agreed with your alternatives to…implement them!  If we go down that road, we might as well just surrender to the jihadis now, since we can’t possibly operate an adversarial representative government and combat jihadism at the same time.  Thank goodness we have Ignatius to save us from partisanship, which is surely a fate worse than death.

If you believe the Bush presidency is a failure, what then?  Do you delight in whacking him like a piñata for the next 18 months with your only objective a Democratic blowout victory in the 2008 election? ~Cal Thomas

That would hardly be my objective.  As anyone knows, the object of whacking a piñata is to get at the delicious candy inside, plus the visceral satisfaction of the whacking itself.  I’m not sure what the equivalent of the candy would be in this metaphor (impeachment?), but just striking the piñata for the sake of breaking it seems like a decent option at present.  Thomas seems to have written this column under the odd impression that Democrats are the only ones who think Mr. Bush is a failed President. 

Thomas continues:

Politics has always been a contact sport, but in the past - even during difficult times - there were those who transcended partisanship, putting the country first. In her book “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin writes of how Abraham Lincoln brought his severest critics into his administration to work with him, not against him, for the promotion of the general welfare.   

Well, actually, he was working for the promotion of the war effort against the South and not exactly “the general welfare,” and he didn’t do a lot of transcending partisanship, since he only brought Andrew Johnson onto the ticket in 1864 because he feared he faced the real danger of losing the election.  Notoriously, many of his early top generals were obviously political favourites chosen for their connections to big Republican pols and not for their ability to command men in battle.  That was part of the system, but hardly one that resulted in success.  The Cabinet was made up of Lincoln’s political opponents within the Republican Party–he did not appoint Vallandigham to be Secretary of War!  The members of the Cabinet may have disagreed with each other (Seward and Chase forming one particularly bitter pair of opposites), and they may have had old grudges against Lincoln, but this was the sort of transcending of partisanship that would allow John Warner and Trent Lott to work side by side.  Lincoln bringing in Seward is the sort of bold aisle-crossing that would have President Bush embracing John McCain (which he already did, after a fashion).  Lincoln may or may not have been a smart politician, but I have to wonder whether his example is one we want to follow.  I tend to think that when you start ordering the killing of large numbers of people whom you claim as your fellow citizens, you have rather failed as a leader of the nation.  Whatever else he was, he was definitely not David Broder with a beard. 

There then follows, in classic High Broder style, a lament about the division of the nation:

This is a foreign notion in our day of 24/7 cable news, talk radio, fundraisers and polarizers. These exist and profit from stirring the pot, never achieving harmony or consensus.  Each has a vested financial, political and career interest in division, not unity.

Thus spake the professional pundit and frequent guest on FoxNews.

Thomas goes on:

While that might make bloggers feel good and occupy their time until the next election, does it strengthen the nation against multiple threats?

Well, if it can put some pressure on Congress to check the abuses of the executive and help curtail his reckless foreign policy, which is in turn adding to the dangers our country faces, it may do just a little bit of good.  Turn that question around: have the reliable apologists of the administration been preventing the correction of erroneous policies?  Have they helped perpetuate dangerous and foolish courses of action?  Actually, whatever the tremendous flaws with their arguments, they have been engaging in something we in a free society like to call “speech” and “political argument.”  Supporters of bad policies, especially wars that have lost the support of the public, will often look to stymy, discourage and shut down a wide-ranging debate on the policies themselves and on almost anything else.  The lack of unity and consensus is not taken as a sign that the policies lack sufficient public backing and are therefore being carried out in express defiance of the voters, but rather as evidence that we, the citizens, are somehow failing the government and the goals the government has set forth for its policies.  What these arguments miss is that the government’s goals will never be achieved if they lack the support of the public, and the public will (ideally) withhold that support if the goals are unrealistic, misguided or fundamentally wrong.  When your allies are riding roughshod over the land and calling all of the shots while the opposition cowers in the corner, there were no great cries against the evils of partisanship from Mr. Bush’s supporters.  Back then it was taken as given that the fierce partisan style of the President was part of his “leadership” and it was natural and appropriate to act in this way.  Now that GOP triumphalism has come back to bite them, some are taking shelter in the cave of “centrism,” compromise and consensus.  So enamoured of bipartisanship has Thomas become that he even supports the appointment of blue-ribbon panel called “Americans United”!  Eat your heart out, Unity ‘08.

He comes to the conclusion:

Assembling a group of respected Republicans and Democrats, bypassing the rank partisanship of the Democratic congressional leadership, and declaring his final months in office will be dedicated solely to attempting to do what’s right for the country and not for Republican advantage in the next election might - if successful - have the incidental benefit of helping Republicans in 2008.

The problem is that Mr. Bush believed that this is what he was doing with the immigration bill.  It was magnificently bipartisan, uniting establishment figures of left and right like nothing else, and Mr. Bush evidently sincerely believed that it was the “right thing” the country, since he was willing to say that opponents of the bill “didn’t want” to do the “right thing” for the country.  No one, except perhaps Mr. Bush, Mel Martinez and Karl Rove, could have confused the immigration bill with something designed to help Republican prospects in the future.  It was exactly what Cal Thomas calls for today–and it was repudiated by a broad (and bipartisan!) majority of the U.S. Senate.  The problem with Mr. Bush’s policies is not that they have been too partisan, but that they have been bad policies.  No amount of backslapping, “improved communications” and aisle-crossing will change the reality that Mr. Bush is simply out of sync with the country on many of his major policies.

Update: On the same theme of “why can’t we all just get along?”, I give you David Ignatius.

Steve Benen at the Monthly comments:

I don’t doubt that Ignatius means well, but his argument is lazy and hard to take seriously.  It’s easy to urge Americans to get together; it’s a challenge to lay out an agenda for them to rally behind. It’s simple to tell people to stop arguing; it’s hard to talk about solutions. The column reads like Broderism at its least persuasive.

Which is pretty unpersuasive.

But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help. ~William Easterly

Prof. Easterly is on a roll this month.  His Foreign Policy article on development ideology was excellent (my comments are here), and he offers a much-needed corrective to the common media portrait of Africa (starring mainly Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe).  As Prof. Easterly supposes in his latest, the developmentalists have an institutional interest in exaggerating the nature and scope of the problem (much as governments have an interest in exaggerating security threats, etc.).  The larger the problem is, the more important, necessary and powerful they will become (or at least this is the hope), so they have a real incentive to continue to deem all of Africa to be a failure by their standards.  That in turn makes the developmentalists that much more relevant to “fixing” a problem that is already being addressed, albeit at less-than-miraculous speed.  Then comes the revelation that the developmentalists really don’t want you to hear:

In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders.

Just imagine–a world with no NGO junkets, no meddlesome international bankers and bureaucrats, no self-important actors who are out to save mankind!  Okay, let’s not get carried away.  Those things will all continue, but if African nations are fortunate they will not have these things inflicted on them.  These nations have been poorly served by the way in which development lending has been done and the way in which foreign aid has been distributed.  These nations will be the ones that achieve increased prosperity, provided that the developmentalists do not sabotage it, retard it or discourage it through their historically unsuccessful policies. 

  

Still, the sour complaints and dire prognoses of 1992–oh, my God, the budget deficit will do us in!–were quickly overtaken by events. ~Bill Kristol

Yes, including such “events” as the 1994 election of a Congress that began to impose some of the fiscal restraint that ideally comes from divided government.  Deficit doomsayers may have been overwrought in 1992, but it was the Perot campaign pushing the deficit to the middle of the debate and the public’s support for balanced budgets that began to head off any potential woes of running deficits year after year.  Relative fiscal restraint combined with the post-’91 recession recovery led to the fat years of the last decade.  It didn’t just come out of nowhere, but was the result of a number of people drawing attention to a problem and attempting, however fitfully and half-heartedly at times, to address it.  Optimists are great ones for minimising the problems that can actually be solved while undertaking impossible projects to reorder entire societies, which is why they are doubly useless when it comes to running a polity.  

Kristol continues:

What’s more, the fear of many conservatives that we might be at the mercy of unstoppable forces of social disintegration turned out to be wrong.

Well, according to the Iraq standard of social disintegration, I suppose they turned out to be wrong.  In other respects, most of the things that troubled social conservatives in 1992 are still around and have become in some cases worse than they were.  Where there was greater concern about cultural rot and crime in the early ’90s–because these seemed to be and actually were the more salient problems of the time–fears of eroding national identity and security, both physical and economic, contribute to very real anxieties.  Some social problems have become less severe in the last fifteen years, but they nonetheless remain great.  Of course, Kristol is an unusually bad one to assess whether or not these claims were vindicated, since he did not accept many of them back then, either, and he is instinctively inclined to find pessimistic views unpersuasive.

It’s not quite as high as some of the earlier estimates, but given the state of some of his competition Ron Paul’s $2.4 million cash-on-hand looks pretty good.  ABC’s Political Radar blog reports:

Paul’s cash on hand puts him in third place in the Republican field [bold mine-DL] in that important metric, although he is well behind leader Rudy Giuliani, who has $18 million in the bank, and Mitt Romney, with $12 million.

Is it now permitted to regard him as a more serious candidate than “Smike Brownbuckabee“?

Whatever your feelings about the war, it must, surely, provide a moral justification for those Islamists intent upon unleashing murder upon our soil and, at the same time, inculcate a deep sense of confusion within our Muslim community. Seen objectively, the aggression instigated by our political leaders against Iraq is no less motivated by a utopian, millennialist vision of how-the-world-must-be than the violence perpetrated by those who wish us all to be better off under the benevolence of a world caliphate. Evangelical liberal fundamentalism has led to rather more deaths in the world just recently than its fundamentalist Islamist counterpart [bold mine-DL]: you might conclude that they are two sides of the same coin. This may seem to be an argument for cultural relativism of the worst kind; after all, we cleave to the values of liberal democracy because we know them to be right and thus worth fighting for — and, of course, imposing, at the point of a gun and a bomb, upon other people who may not yet have seen the light. Well, perhaps. But in which case it is difficult on objective grounds to adopt outraged expressions when those other people attempt to impose their equally implacable vision of how-the-world-must-be on us, at the point of a gun. ~Rod Liddle

Update: For the benefit of those unable to understand complex ideas, a brief comment on this quote.  The point here is obviously that Liddle does not endorse the “cultural relativism of the worst kind” (nor, for that matter, do I).  Instead, he holds up the similarities between our aggressive, ideologically-charged war in Iraq and the jihadis‘ ideologically charged war to drive home the point that our principles as Western, free peoples require us to do better and not engage in this sort of “armed doctrine” fanaticism.  This is especially the case because such fanaticism is a contradiction and repudiation of our principles as liberal democratic peoples.  Obviously. 

Fill in the blanks:

____________ is acting aggressively and consistently to undermine _________ regimes in the Middle East, establish itself as the dominant regional power and reshape the region in its own ideological image.

No responsible leader in __________ desires conflict with __________.  But every leader has a responsibility to acknowledge the evidence that the ______ military has now put before us: The __________ government, by its actions, has all but declared war on us and our allies in the Middle East.

_________ now has a solemn responsibility to utilize the instruments of our national power to convince _________ to change its behavior, including the immediate cessation of its training and equipping extremists who are killing our troops.

It’s not every day that New Mexico (or, more accurately, one of our representatives) is in the national news.  When we do make the national news, it is usually because our governor has done or said something really embarrassing (which happens only every other day) or LANL has lost another hard drive filled with top secret materials.  So it is refreshing that the wire services should be carrying a story about our senior Senator that does not involve any of this. 

As you have all probably heard by now, Domenici is the latest one of the greybeards, so to speak, in the Senate to begin declaring dissatisfaction with the present state of Iraq policy.  This is a long way from the 2000 convention and the New Mexico delegation’s cries of “viva Bush!”  Warner grumbled earlier in the year (before falling back into line for a little while), Lugar joined the chorus just at the end of last month, he was followed by Voinovich, and now Pete has sided with them.  Domenici’s defection, like Lugar’s, is important because turning against the war is not politically necessary for either of them in the same way that it probably was for, say, Gordon Smith or Norm Coleman.  Like Lugar’s view expressed in his recent speech, Domenici’s position is essentially, “The ISG was right.”  As an imaginative slogan of political rebellion, it leaves something to be desired.  As a foreign policy view, it is an improvement over the status quo.  As a sufficient change in the foreign policy thinking of leading Republicans, it is woefully lacking, but that is to be expected.   

Back home, Pete is fairly popular, which makes his decision to break with the White House a bit more interesting.  He cannot actually be worried about his re-election, and I don’t think concern about re-election is a major reason why he has done this.  New Mexicans never throw out an incumbent Senator, especially not one as widely liked as Domenici.  Domenici was instrumental in helping to keep the base open in Albuquerque, and as Budget Committee chairman for all those years New Mexico never went begging for its already disproportionate take from the Treasury.  He has even covered himself on immigration this time around, so there will be fewer defections from his Republican supporters than there would have been had he backed the amnesty bill.  His support for the war was one of the major problems anyone back home would have had with him, but even then his re-election was never in jeopardy because of this.  The Domenici and Lugar break with the administration is a result of the public return of Republican ”realist” politicians to the forefront of the Congressional GOP–the Senate and House minority leadership is nowhere to be found in all of this.  Besides, the Democratic “bench” is extremely shallow.  Except for Tom Udall, currently representing NM-03, they have no one who could seriously attempt a run and hope to win. 

Sometimes blogging is a really tiresome pastime.  I recently wrote in a recent post that Hegel was a “moderately liberal constitutional monarchist,” which has the virtue of being more or less accurate.  For instance, consider the following:

Hegel stresses the need to recognize that the realities of the modern state necessitate a strong public authority along with a populace that is free and unregimented [bold mine-DL]. The principle of government in the modern world is constitutional monarchy [bold mine-DL], the potentialities of which can be seen in Austria and Prussia.

There are all sorts of responses to Hegel’s position, and it might be interesting to pick up our copies of Philosophy of Right and sort through his arguments.  Denying that he held such a position, when it is the beginning of most discussions of Hegel’s political philosophy, seems to me to be an unsatisfactory response.  Repeating some caricature of Hegel’s position that you could have picked up in The Open Society And Its Enemies and pretending that this is the appropriate understanding of Hegel’s politics are not the methods likely to persuade anyone of Hegel’s terrible totalitarianism.

Rani Mukherjee from Paheli

Here she is in Kangana Re from Paheli.

Tomorrow we finish the equivalent of one nine-week quarter of elementary Arabic.  Subhan’allah.  It has not been as overwhelming as I expected, but it will be getting more demanding as we go forward.  My initial promises of no blogging were a bit premature, but they were not entirely false.  There is a class I have to start preparing for the fall, dissertation chapters to write, plus the column.  I will try to keep my different blog homes updated as and when I can, but I can make no guarantees about the regularity of posting. 

Regardless, go take a look at my first column (not online) in the July 2 TAC.

There are serious fissures within the American establishment on foreign policy, but everyone - from liberals like Feinstein to neoconservatives to realists - shares the premise that America needs to manage the politics of the Muslim world, by force when necessary, to prevent the emergence of radical regimes. ~Ross Douthat

Ross says he isn’t sure that the premise is wrong.  Let’s assume, for the moment, that this premise is right.  (I don’t really think it is, but I’ll leave that for later.)  If America “needs to manage the politics of the Muslim world…to prevent the rise of radical regimes,” a troublemaker from the fringes of insignificance might ask why it is that the government pursues those policies that have always seemed least likely to “prevent the rise of radical regimes.”  Between the application of the blunt-force trauma of military intervention and the sudden shock of democratisation, is there any way that radicalised politics and radicalised regimes would not be the outcome?  That is, if preventing the emergence of radical regimes is the goal, how much must we redefine “radical” to exclude the emerging regimes already in the region in order to maintain some sense that the goal is still practicable?  Further, are the distinctions between Maliki and Sadr in the argument to which Ross refers credible?  How much of a Shi’ite sectarian and fundamentalist member of a terrorist group (as Maliki was and is) do you have to be before you get labeled “radical”?  If Maliki’s radicalism does not disqualify him, the actual goal of the government would seem to be having a compliant “ally” in Baghdad.  However, if Maliki is also ineffective, he is not of much use as an “ally,” which raises the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?”  Considering how complicit the Maliki government has been in the past in Sadrist activities, it seems bizarre to draw a distinction in which a barely tolerable Maliki allegedly holds the line against undesirable Sadrism.

The same troublemaker might note at this point that a large part of our efforts for decades to control Near Eastern politics to our supposed advantage has had significant radicalising effects in their own right.  It may be that the consensus view that prevention of the emergence of radical regimes and a continued, prominent and military presence in the region are entirely incompatible.  Perhaps we can have constantly contested hegemony or we can have a Near East that lies beyond our control, but which also may be less prone to boil over with radical political movements, but we may not be able to have both.  The establishment seems to think that we must have both.  It seems improbable that we can attempt to maintain the degree of control that the establishment wants while enjoying the lack of radicalism that they would prefer–one entails the other, and, in the end, the latter severely weakens the former.  While this fellow is making all this trouble, the troublemaker could then add that there might be some small connection between the current predicament and the preoccupations of the broad foreign policy consensus in the establishment.  At some point, the establishment should probably come around to a new consensus that managing the internal politics of other countries is, rather like running a command economy, a futile and self-defeating exercise in attempting to plan and organise human behaviour according to this or that model. 

My Scene colleague Cheryl Miller points to these three items.  Despite what seems like a perfectly crafted attempt to bait me into an extremely long response, I would make just a few points.  First, Ms. Grabar’s article was not “preposterous,” though it was weaker than it should have been.  Second, a Jane Austen Christianity is the Christianity of the safe, the unremarkable and the ordinary.  I do not claim that there is no need for such a thing or that it is unimportant, but the idea that it is actually more profound or more powerful than Dostoevsky’s vision seems, well, just silly. Third, no one who understands anything about Dostoevsky would say the following, as Tom West does:

Dostoevsky’s solution, for all its anti-European sentiment, seems to take its departure from the same post-Hegelian premise: only will, and not reason, can guide us.

The principal error of both Peter Verkhovensky (Demons) and Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment) is to place their trust in the power of the will and the willingness to overstep the boundaries of the law, both human and divine.  Plainly, for Dostoevsky will alone cannot guide us, and in Dostoevsky’s Orthodoxy–heavily influenced by the Slavophiles and indirectly by the Fathers–there is the understanding that will apart from or in opposition to God is death and isolation.  Willfulness against God is a mark of the demonic; it is at the heart of our ancestors’ rebellion in the Garden.  Further, it is the one-sidedness of reason alone, reason without faith, reason against God, that Dostoevsky, like the Slavophiles, repudiates when he critiques reason.  Likewise, no fair and accurate reading of The Grand Inquisitor could lead anyone to conclude the following about Dostoevsky:

For Dostoevsky, then, either we accept the absolute authority of the father and king and church, or we repudiate human reason and follow nothing but arbitrary will, personal or collective.    

Amazing.  This is totally wrong.  It is entirely backwards.  West claims to be reviewing a work by Joseph Frank, but the Frank works on Dostoevsky I have read would never have made such a claim.  In the story, who represents the (for Dostoevsky) unholy trinity of authority, miracle and bread?  The Grand Inquisitor.  Who represents a religion in harmony with human freedom in this story?  Christ.  Those who have read Dostoevsky’s Writer’s Diary cannot miss his frequent, polemical equations (in which he again echoes the Slavophiles) between socialism, Catholicism and rationalism.  The first two, in Dostoevsky’s view, both share a devotion to authority, miracle and bread.  Dostoevsky’s Christianity, his Orthodoxy, is the Orthodoxy in which Christ did not come down from the Cross because He so respected man’s freedom.  This is the same Dostoevsky who does not have Fr. Zosima’s body exuding the scent of myrrh after his death, because Dostoevsky does not wish to make faith an automatic response to a miracle, but a freely chosen embrace of the Incarnate Truth.  (A good argument can be made that Dostoevsky has gone too far in his opposition to both authority and miracle, since the Orthodox Church acknowledges the importance of both, but that is not at issue here.)  Dostoevsky’s vision is the one in which evil is the proof of human freedom–suffering will exist if man is to be free–and appeal to authority is the mark of a Christianity that seeks to supplant Christ.  His Winter Notes on Summer Impressions is another valuable source for understanding his priorities.  This was someone who did not discard the old scheme of “liberty, equality and fraternity,” but rather refused to let it be defined by liberals and socialists according to their lights.  Setting up Dostoevsky as some embodiment of the most ultra of reactionaries is satisfying to someone already intent on belittling traditionalism (so intent that he misses that Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn hold positions very close to one another in the end), but it does no justice to the complexity of Dostoevsky’s works and the mixture of his liberal background, his later Slavophile-inspired romantic conservative nationalism and renewed acceptance of Orthodoxy.     

Happy Independence Day!  231 years ago today the Declaration of Independence (which had already been signed on July 2) was proclaimed in each of the new states, and the political bonds between the colonies and the Mother Country were severed. 

As I am short on time this year, I will direct you to last year’s Independence Day musings on the Declaration and what it means and does not mean to be American.

On another Near Eastern policy topic of interest, Ross comments on Reza Aslan’s remarks on democratisation:

Aslan made a dismissive comment about the advocates of “stability” over democracy during his talk, saying sarcastically: “That’s worked out so well, hasn’t it?” And of course it hasn’t - except, Meridor’s remarks suggested, when you consider some of the alternatives.

Indeed.  I am tempted to rephrase Churchill’s line about democracy being the worst of all governments, except for all the others, replacing the word democracy with stability.  That would be a little too easy, but it would make the point.  Then again, I think Churchill was wrong about that–democracy is definitely in the bottom three or four, including all competitors. 

Aslan’s dismissiveness is typical of the democratists and interventionists.  When prolonged interventionism in the Near East contributes to blowback, they blame it on the pursuit of stability, as if there had been anything stabilising about the sanctions and ongoing air war against Iraq or as if the semi-permanent garrisoning of Americans in Saudi Arabia was a hallmark of genuine realism.  Depending on which group in the region you’re talking about, even that old “stability” was a lot better than the current approach.  So, yes, for some nations “stability” did work out relatively well, at least when compared to the disasters of the last few years.  The biggest problem with critiques of the policies of the ’90s is that they mistake those policies for being unduly cautious and afraid of change, when the establishment consensus by the late ’90s was for regime change in Iraq and fairly aggressive “containment” of Iran.  That this acquired frighteningly broad support in the foreign policy establishment shows just how flexible the name
“realist” really can be.  The goal in these cases was not stability, but upheaval.  Bizarrely, in turning against the ”realism” and “stability” of the ’90s (which were simply expressions of a mild interventionism), the critics have embraced precisely the elements of those policies that were the most damaging, destabilising and counterproductive and sought to replicate them on an even grander scale.  Calls to “drain the swamp” would be a lot more convincing if the people making the recommendations had not just spent the last 12 years creating the swamp–not through their tolerance of despotism, but through their misguided, heavy-handed and clumsy attempts to combat despotism.

Ross makes an important observation:

If you’re an outside observer looking at Middle Eastern politics, it’s relatively easy to take the Aslan line - which is hardly his alone - and suggest that ten “messy” years, or fifty, or even a hundred, is a small price to pay for the eventual democratization of the region.  If you’re part of Middle Eastern politics, though, and particularly if you’re the most hated country in the region, the scapegoat for every failure and the demon at the heart of every conspiracy theory, it’s a lot harder to sign up for the bumpy ride, because one of those bumps might jeopardize your very survival.

This is good, but missing here are some critical questions.  Why should anyone have to pay the price for democratisation, regardless of how long it might take?  Why does democratisation have such importance on the Near Eastern policy agenda?  If Israelis have some reasons to be skeptical of the short and middle-term consequences of democratisation (which assumes that the long-term results of such change will be ultimately positive), perhaps other peoples in the region likewise have good reasons to doubt either the practicability or even the value of democratisation.  Even supposing that it is a widely-shared goal, democratisation is still ultimately no more than a framework for the expression of the existing political priorities of a nation.  Democratists’ abstract faith in the goodwill of the common man would be touching, if it were not so totally out of touch with the deep reserves of ill-will that many peoples harbour toward one another.   

Talk of “messiness” is the sort of abstraction about violence, death and social disintegration to which interventionists and their friends, the globalists and developmentalists, often return.  You can almost hear them quoting, approvingly, the wisdom of the humanitarian Buck Turgeson, “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed.  What I’m saying is that we’re talking about no more than 20 to 30 million casualties, tops!” 

If the short and middle-term consequences of something, be it democratisation or ”increased diversity,” are extremely bad for social cohesion, social peace, a just ordering of the polity and the cultivation of a humane and decent order, that means that the policy is an extremely bad one.  I find it extraordinary that this rhetoric of “in the long run, we will all be better off” can still persuade after seeing where it has led in the 20th century.  If the long run involves running over a lot of people to get to the goal, maybe, just maybe, the goal is actually a bad one. 

To follow up on the omelette metaphor Ross mentions a little later, it does not seem to trouble these “big picture,” “broader canvas” types that their ends-justify-the-means morality entails that their, our, omelette sustenance comes from effectively devouring our fellow man or at least living off of the resources created by deliberately caused human suffering.  These are the humanitarians and cosmopolitans to whose enlightened perspective we  are meant to defer. 

Ross describes the nuclear proliferation panel in Aspen in this post, in which he says:

And nobody seemed willing to consider the notion that deterrence might be a viable strategic option in a world with, say, fifteen nuclear powers; the likelihood that “it’s not just Ahmadinejad getting the bomb, it’s Hezbollah getting the bomb,” in Carter’s phrase, was taken as a given. 

Having looked over the bios of the panelists, I can’t say that I am surprised.  When you have two academics who have circulated in upper echelon DoD circles for a long time, Jane Harman and James Woolsey (because every discredited foreign policy approach needed to be represented, I guess), you are going to get some pretty predictable–and bad–answers.  It is the predictability of the panel’s uniform ”Armageddon” response is what is noteworthy here: at a convivium where ideas would be, one assumes from the festive name, celebrated and encouraged, here is a panel on one of the more compelling issues of our time and all it can produce is rather haggard, reflexive alarmism.  If the “ideas” on display involve recycling the “nuke hand-off” argument, there is not much to celebrate.  This business about “Ahmadinejad getting the bomb” is the sort of thing I would expect from amateurs and unoriginal pundits.  Even as a shorthand, it is misleading.  Ahmadinejad isn’t getting the bomb in the event of a successful test.  Vajpayee didn’t get the bomb when India acquired their nukes–he doesn’t get to take it with him when he leaves office.  If they are successful, the Iranian government and military will be getting the bomb.  Contrary to apparently common perceptions, there are actually more than three or four people in the political and military apparatus of Iran.  They might have a few things to say about how the government might use, or not use, said bomb.  There will be more and less aggressive elements in government and military circles, but sufficiently few basiji fanatics that the prospects of a regime bent on a suicide attack on any other country are not good.   

For the panelists, judging from Ross’ description, it all seems so clear: Ahmadinejad (who, the unspoken subtext tells us, is just like Hitler or some equally despicable figure) is a crazy man who will start lobbing nukes around the minute “he” gets “his” hands on them.  He will, of course, probably be out of power come 2009 come the next presidential election, barring a significant change in his relative domestic popularity and in the economic woes he was elected to address.  Note that no one in the West would have ever said that they feared “Khatami getting the bomb.”  Khatami was powerless, almost a nonentity as far as real foreign policy was concerned, and he held the very same position as the ever-threatening loon in the open-neck white shirt.  Once Ahmadinejad is gone, as he likely will be in just two years, it will be a good deal harder to psychoanalyse his successor and personalise the Iranian nuclear program as the plaything of a madman.  It is impossible not to notice that this is the exactly identical sort of argumentation that people made about Hussein and Iraq, and events have shown that they didn’t know what they were talking about then, either.  Why does anyone continue to listen to these fantasies?  (To his credit, Ross wasn’t buying any of this.)

One of the consistently craziest claims that interventionists and many realists make about the dangers of proliferation is this very “hand-off” argument.  Deterrence works, so alarmists have to find loopholes and exceptions.  ”But what about the hand-off to terrorists?” they ask.  In this view, transfers of nuclear weapons will just happen between states and their proxy armies as a matter of course.  This makes no sense.  Nuclear weapons states do not make it a habit to hand over one of the most powerful weapons on earth to the relatively more lunatic people with AKs whom they use as cat’s paws.  Having seen last summer what Hizbullah did with the conventional weapons Iran had given them, why would Tehran hand over a nuke?  It is ludicrous.  In fact, the “hand-off” has never happened in over sixty years since the invention of nuclear weapons.  That’s because it is a crazy idea, and it is one that no government, especially the paranoid, control-obsessed and authoritarian kinds, would ever consider seriously.  The reasons are pretty clear.  First, it means giving up a valuable national security asset that you have invested significant money, time and manpower into developing.  Next, it means that you have handed over a weapon that can be traced back to you and retain no control over how it is used.  Perhaps most importantly, it means subtracting from your own power and increasing the power of your proxy, thus making the proxy less dependent on you.  

The real fear with Pakistan, for example, is not that its government will actually consciously deliver a nuke to a jihadi group (it would not, for all of the reasons outlined above), but that the government is so unstable that jihadi-friendly elements in the security and military forces might be able to seize power by force or gain access to the nukes that Pakistan has.  The main danger of future proliferation, which is the largest danger of the present moment as well, is not that there will be more nukes, but that more nukes may be poorly secured and accounted for.      

The really weird thing about the standard nonproliferation argument is the way in which it regards the acquisition of these weapons by American allies as even more threatening than their acquisition by a few tinpot despotisms.  The list of probable proliferators in the event of a successful North Korean or Iranian nuclear test is mainly a list of U.S. allied or subsidised countries.  In their arguments, the nonproliferation activists seem to be almost as focused on the danger of Taiwan and South Korea acquiring these weapons as they are on the dangers of Iran and North Korea acquiring them.  Is it just a coincidence that the development of independent nuclear deterrents by our Asian allies would make the U.S. nuclear shield irrelevant to the security alliance between our countries, or do American nonproliferation activists actually fear a world in which our Asian allies are fully capable of providing for their own security? 

While the great and the good flail around in Aspen with their attempts to produce workable Iran policy ideas, George Ajjan has a long post that highlights the poverty of the usual policy debate on Iran and cites a letter from a correspondent, who has many interesting observations on the recent “petrol riots” that received so much coverage in the West.  The “Ideas Festival” could do worse than to ditch Woolsey and company and talk to George and his Iranian correspondent.

The ink was probably barely dry on the commutation order before the hacks at The Wall Street Journal, fresh from being repudiated by a majority of the Senate and the country on the amnesty bill, put together their Libby editorial together.  It could have been written before the fact, but regardless of this it is a rich artifact of Bush-era propaganda.  Mr. Bush is “evading responsibility” by failing to pardon Libby, when his act of commutation before Libby’s appeal was heard was something that he definitely did not have to do.  He is “evading responsibility,” even though the WSJ position on this entire matter is one, long evasion of responsibility, moral, political and legal.  These people are simply amazing.  The commutation is a “dark moment” in the history of the administration–and not because it is giving cover to a convicted perjuror!  It is a “dark moment” because the President did not misuse his pardon power to completely exonerate a felon.  That is what these people mean.  The WSJ said that Libby deserved better.  Actually, he deserved to go to jail.  He should be glad that the President was willing to do this much for him.  So should his moronic defenders.

The Journal has a twofer of bad contributions this morning.  Brendan Miniter has arrived to tell us that–contrary to what he must think is established public opinion on the matter–George Washington didn’t win every battle!  Why, he even retreated from New York (a move that anyone even briefly acquainted with New York City can applaud for its wisdom)!  He apparently thinks that the example of the weaker, native force defeating the intruding imperial army at Saratoga is supposed to encourage us in our campaign in Iraq.  Of course he does. 

I have some new Scene posts on: Alan Wolfe’s attack on Russell Kirk, the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, Bill Bennett’s ideas about history teaching.  In addition, there are my post on foreign policy traditions, my two most recent criticisms of the Fred Phenomenon, comments on consolidation, a post on the Pashtuns, a Fourth of July week reflection on the Loyalists, and my remarks on an article in Foreign Policy on the “ideology of development.”

In terms of the wider U.S. public, Brown will find Tony Blair a hard act to follow. Notwithstanding liberal anger over Iraq, Blair has won a special place in Americans’ hearts.  This is partly due to his many consoling appearances here just after September 11.  But it was also his lucid summation of the liberal world’s case against jihadist fanaticism, which stood in such stark contrast to our own president’s leaden tongue.  ~Will Marshall

Those familiar with the PPI and those who have read my neoliberalism article for the 6/18 TAC will recognise Marshall as the spokesman for the hawkish internationalism of the DLC-style Democrats and the editor and lead contributor to their book of bad foreign policy ideas, With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty.  Yes, that is what it’s actually called.  It is no surprise that he is one of these people with a soft spot for Blair.  Those of us who opposed and oppose the war take a rather more dim view of the man for obvious reasons. 

Of course, Putin was the first foreign leader to contact President Bush and offer assistance after 9/11, and has been as blunt and straightforward about his intentions towards jihadis in Chechnya as Blair has been verbose and overblown.  Americans, as a whole, couldn’t care less about Putin’s support for the United States in a vital moment, but because Blair speaks with a British accent they think he has been imparted with special wisdom from God.  Instead of being supremely angry at Blair for helping sucker our two countries into an unnecessary war, many Americans are desperately worried about denial-of-service attacks on Estonian servers and regard Putin with dread.  By no means should we lavish Putin with the sort of embarrassing flattery and worship that people have given Blair over at least the past six years, but if we could find some happy medium between irrational adoration for a mediocre nobody and irrational hostility to one of our potentially best geostrategic allies we would be doing a little bit better by the interests of the United States.

Why would anyone think that Dana Stevens has the need to take a lame Democratic partisan shot in every movie review she writes?  Via Ross comes her Transformers review, in which she writes:

That planet was once home to two alien races: the upstanding Autobots and the sneaky Decepticons. (Does anyone but me hear the echo of “Democrats” and “Republicans” in these names?)

Um…no.  But if this were the case, it would put Dick Cheney in the position of playing Starscream.  That does sound about right, given their shared capacity to grate on my nerves with their voices.

Well, I was obviously wrong about Bush and Libby, or at least substantially wrong enough that it makes my earlier predictions in this area fall apart.  As you will have probably seen by now, the President has commuted Libby’s sentence, leaving him with a hefty fine and two years of probation, but at least allowing him to avoid time in jail.  This is really as much as he could ever have been expected to do, no matter how many Fouad “Fallen Soldier” Ajami pieces confronted him in the press.  Technically, those of us who argued he wouldn’t pardon Libby were right, but those of us who actually take Libby’s perjury conviction seriously aren’t typically interested in emphasising technicalities.

He also should have made border enforcement a key priority of his administration far earlier in order to defuse criticism that promises to restrict illegal immigration were empty. ~Morton Kondracke

Well, yes, he should have done that, but he didn’t because those promises were empty.  Since he failed to enforce the law, why should the failure of the amnesty bill surprise anyone?  Why should we be treated to an ueber-centrist’s hectoring about legislators being “terrorized” by voters (note to Kondracke: terror is not what we normally call the process by which citizens make their wishes known to representatives in a peaceful fashion)?  The only way there was going to be enough support for that or any bill like it was if there was confidence that the government was both willing and able to enforce the law.  In reality, it wasn’t even willing.  So, yes, Mr. Bush should have made enforcement a top priority.  He should also have rejected anything remotely resembling amnesty, he should never have started the war in Iraq and he should also not run the executive branch as badly as he has, in fact, run it.  Come to think of it, Americans should not have re-elected him, but we’re past that point.

Kondracke rattles off the “cowardice caucus,” which is basically a list of ‘08 Senate election incumbents, plus purple-state and populist Democrats.  What this tells me is that the Senators most sensitive to the public’s mood on the issue and most responsive to the public opposed the bill, because there were enough bad provisions to create massive opposition across the spectrum.  This is actually something close to how a deliberative, representative system is supposed to run: neither momentary passions nor narrow interests should be able to overwhelm the institutional checks against both.  Federal legislation must possess sufficiently broad support that it can overcome the many obstacles that our system has placed in the way on purpose.  This is supposed to ensue a greater measure of consent in the making of laws and the prevention of the instability of purely democratic government.  For the most part, the political class does what it wants and the rest of us are along for the ride, but every so often they run into a brick wall of public outrage.  This is a good thing.  We need more of it, and fewer of Kondracke’s “solutions.”

As many of you may already know, this week Ross will be blogging from the “Ideas Festival” in Aspen whose content I hope is not nearly so odd as its name.  He tells us that the main events begin tonight and continue thereafter.  Many of the participants whose names are familiar don’t seem that interesting to me (I do so anxiously await hearing about the contributions from Rahm Emanuel and Jim Wallis), but perhaps the gap will be filled by the others.  Queen Noor might give a stemwinder about Palestine, which would at least make for some fireworks. 

There’s only one non-democracy in our neighborhood: that’s Cuba. And I strongly believe the people of Cuba ought to live in a free society. It’s in our interests that Cuba become free and it’s in the interests of the Cuban people that they don’t have to live under an antiquated form of government — that has just been repressive.

So we’ll continue to press for freedom on the island of Cuba. One day, the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away (laughter) — no, no, no — then, the question is, what will be the approach of the U.S. government? My attitude is, is that we need to use the opportunity to call the world together to promote democracy as the alternative to the form of government they have been living with.

You’ll see an interesting debate. Some will say, all that matters is stability, which in my judgment would just simply reinforce the followers of the current regime. I think we ought to be pressing hard for democracy. ~President Bush

That’s an interesting slip-up, since it means that Bush acknowledges that even democracies that vote for preposterous demagogues are still democracies.  Rick “Gathering Storm” Santorum and friends will be disappointed by this lack of farsighted moral clarity in facing down the Boliviano-Venezuelan threat.     

It never ceases to amaze how Mr. Bush thinks that saying he “strongly believes” in something is an argument in its favour.  If I “strongly believe” that I am able to transmute one element into another, does that make it true?  If I close my eyes and repeat the phrase, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do believe in spooks!”, does that mean that the spooks are real?  Mr. Bush has a bad habit of stating his ideal preferences and backing them up with policies that are absolutely the last policies one would choose to achieve the goals he has set out.  You want a free Cuba?  Try trading with them and opening up their society through travel, exchange, and communication.  End the sanctions.  Let the natural intercourse between the southern U.S. and Cuba, which was commonplace in the pre-Castro days, resume.  The Cuban regime will break down just as every officially communist regime eventually breaks down or redefines itself when exposed to increased commerce and exchange.  End the ridiculous restrictions on American travel to Cuba.  End the pointless ethnic lobby-driven punishment of Cuba.  Indeed, before long Castro will be gone and Washington will have to engage with the Cuban government without the old dictator in control.  This could be a great opportunity for changing course on Cuba policy, or it could be an occasion to spend another decade or two cutting off our two countries from the mutually beneficial relationship that ought to exist between close neighbours. 

I understand the emigre hostility to the Castro regime.  I share their contempt for the man and what he has done to Cuba.  The best way to destroy his legacy and see a day when Cuba is genuinely free is to stop artificially propping up the party regime through sanctions.  Sanctions are a dictator’s best friend–they give him something to blame for bad conditions, they provide a plausible foreign threat and they serve as a reason to rally around a government people might otherwise despise.  End the sanctions, and you will be a lot closer to seeing a free and democratic Cuba than if you perpetuated the tired policies left over from the Cold War.  

Viva Cuba libre.

You are the America we love. ~Nicolas Sarkozy to Barbara Streisand (Time, June 29, 2007)

Via John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review

I know the French have strange tastes when it comes to American entertainers, but things like this might convince me that the Francophobes had a point.

And so for the sake of our own security, for the sake of the security of the United States of America, the United States must stand with millions of moms and dads throughout the Middle East [bold mine-DL] who want a future of dignity and peace, and we must help them defeat a common enemy. ~President Bush

Via USC Center on Public Diplomacy

Here we have public diplomacy as boilerplate stump speech.

Americans are a naturally optimistic nation; and the younger they are, the more hope they have: 31% of the underthirties even believe the chaotic occupation of Iraq has made the US safer. Fewer than one in five believe it has made the US less safe, and 38% believe that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do, compared with 35% of all adults. If you want to find the most antiwar part of the population, you need to look at senior citizens, not the young. ~Andrew Sullivan

Of course, these results would tend to confirm my view that “optimistic” is just a brief way of saying “not paying much attention” or “not knowing very much.”  These results might be said to embody “the folly of youth” in statistical form.  These results also reinforce just how much I am totally unlike the people in my age group.  I am pessimistic, antiwar and conservative–it doesn’t get much more atypical than that.

Sullivan points to some other interesting items:

A solid 43% of the underthirties, moreover, believe being gay is a choice, compared with only 34% of the general population.

This is rather remarkable, since it seems to me that this is the social conservative view of homosexuality and one that tends to align with opposition to homosexuality.  It is the essentialists who claim that there is something so predetermined about sexuality that choice is almost beside the point, and it is curious that the generation that is supposed to be more accepting of homosexuality thinks of it as a “choice.”  Perhaps most of them think of it as a choice no different from any others, but a belief that it is something voluntary and chosen makes their attitudes towards it much more malleable than if they believed that it was some ineluctable product of nature.

There’s bad news for Obama for the under-30 set:

Seventy-four per cent said that most people they know [bold mine-DL] would not vote for a president who had ever used cocaine.

The old “most people they know” response is a good indication of what the respondents actually believe.  No one would want to appear puritanical and rule out voting for a former coke user, but lots of people are perfectly happy to say that all their friends are very much against such people.  This seems counterintuitive to me.  It seemed to me that people my age would be even less concerned about a candidate’s drug use than their parents (and it is still possible that they may be marginally less concerned), but that is a huge number of people who would refuse to vote for a candidate simply because of such a habit.  Don’t get me wrong–I think this is an unusually healthy sign for the future.  It is nonetheless slightly surprising. 

Until Iraq, I really thought I understood what a “civil war” was. Or, more accurately, I understood that a great variety of intrastate conflagrations could be rightfully termed “civil war”. The American Civil War was a civil war. In a different sense, Bosnia and Rwanda were civil wars marked by hideous power imbalances. ~Brian Beutler

Part of the confusion about whether we should call the Iraqi civil war a civil war or not (I think we should, since at bottom that’s what it is) stems from just this sort of broad, lazy definition of civil war.  This isn’t really Mr. Beutler’s fault–a lot of people don’t define it properly, and almost everyone thinks that our “Civil War” was a civil war.  After all, that’s what they were taught in school, and that’s what most scholars call it.  Iraq war supporters have taken advantage of this confusion and used it to argue, more  or less, that the lack of an organised Army of Northern Anbar marching in columns with drummer boys and flags proves that Iraq is not in the grips of civil war, as if Iraqi Sunni insurgents were interested in anything other than retaking power in Baghdad.  It is the foreigners (and some of the Kurds) who want to split up Iraq–most of the Iraqis may not “think” of themselves principally as Iraqis, as Lugar said, but that does not mean that they do not want their own group to control all of Iraq, or as much of it as they can manage.  A lack of shared identity or a lack of a shared interpretation of national identity is usually a prerequisite to civil war; it does not necessarily entail partition or separation. 

Sometimes, for the sake of brevity and communication, I still use the phrase Civil War to refer to the War of Secession, but this is not an accurate name.  I use the translation of the French name (guerre de la Secession) because the French, God bless them, do not have the hang-ups of Unionist historiography compelling them to use language that legitimises the mythical of the eternal Union.  The only way that a war between states that had left the Union and those that remained in the United States could be classified as a civil war is if the seceding states sought to conquer and subjugate the other states (which would make secession seem a strange move) or if “the Union” was not actually a union but a consolidated state inside of which a war was raging between citizens of that same state.  Neither of these was the case, so I submit that “the Civil War” was not any such thing.  It was a war of secession in which the anti-secessionist forces won.  A similar point might be made about the wars in what was Yugoslavia: they were wars of secession from different polities.  Strangely enough, we do not call colonial wars for independence “civil wars”–our War for Independence is not called “the British civil war” on either side of the Atlantic, and the Dutch rebellion against Spain is not called the “Habsburg civil war” (and it would be ridiculous if it were).  From a certain French perspective, the war in Algeria was a kind of French civil war, inasmuch as the French regarded Algeria as an integral part of France by that time, but it wasn’t really a civil war, either.  Many people in the press referred to the North Yemeni invasion of the newly-constituted Democratic Republic of Yemen (a successor to the Marxist South Yemen) as civil war, but it was the suppression of separatism pure and simple.

As I have said before, and as I will probably say again before it’s all over, a civil war is, as the name implied, a war fought between citizens of the same polity.  The Roman civil wars are a good standard to which can compare other wars to test whether they are being fought between fellow citizens or not; the English, Spanish and Russian civil wars were likewise genuine civil wars.  Citizens of seceding states who want to create a new confederation of states might reasonably be defined, from the perspective of the union from which they seceded, as rebels of a sort, but they are not  fellow citizens with the people they are fighting.  Also, they are not interested in seizing control of the government of the union from which they have separated.  Both of those conditions would probably be necessary for such a war to be correctly labeled a civil war.

The “blog rating” system, using the categories of the MPAA, provides some amusement, though its standards are so rigorous that all but the most fastidious would be likely to have some number of objectionable words in them.  For instance, National Review’s The Corner received an NC-17 rating.  Meanwhile, Eunomia and The American Scene both received G ratings.