Eunomia · September 2007


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In a move sure to make me question the soundness of my judgement, George Will has come to a similar observation as I did a few weeks ago:

In his second Inaugural address, the president said: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” You have said: “In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.”

Well. Given that the goals of liberty and security can both generate foreign policy overreaching, and given the similarity between your formulation and Bush’s, should people who are dismayed by Bush’s universalizing imperative be wary of yours? Does not yours require interventions in Darfur — where you say “rolling genocide” is occurring — the Congo and similar situations?

Well, maybe not Congo.  But there are ailing Indonesian chickens that desperately need our help. 

“There is blood on the steps of Pakistan’s Supreme Court,” said Ahsan. “The people of Pakistan have a right to protest, yet they have been brutally attacked. This whole situation is as noxious as the tear gas itself.”

————

The crackdown on the protest came just two days after the Supreme Court, lead by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, ruled that the government had no right to blockade streets leading into the capital, nor could it prevent protests or stop the free-flow of traffic past government buildings.

————

“We are looking at an obscene and unnecessary show of excessive force,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, who had come to observe the protests. “This has been wanton brutality against a professional group that is struggling to uphold the rule of law.” ~Time

While the world’s attention these days is focused, with good reason, on the crackdown in Burma, far more geopolitically significant troubles are erupting once again in Pakistan.  Musharraf has, of course, continued to pursue re-election after the amnesty for Sharif was summarily withdrawn, and the prospects for any kind of negotiated transfer or departure of Musharraf from the scene are now very poor.  With this latest ruling that he is eligible to run for another term as president backing him up, Musharraf’s intransigence will drag Pakistan over the edge of a cliff.  What Musharraf and his government are doing is different from the actions of the junta in Burma only in degree, but not in kind.  The comparison was not lost on the lawyers being assaulted:

“It’s just a shade short of Burma,” said one bedraggled lawyer, echoing an earlier statement by Ahsan. “Yeah,” said his companion. “But here they are attacking lawyers in suits instead of monks in saffron.”

And, of course, the regime doing the attacking is considered too valuable and useful to too many major powers for them to say or do anything.  It is vitally important that Washington come to realise that Musharraf is far more of a liability for the stability of Pakistan, and thus for U.S. interests in the region, than he is an asset.  Our association with his increasingly brutal and destructive rule can only drag our reputation further into the mud and make cooperation with any future post-Musharraf government that much more difficult.  Washington needs to consider how it will sustain the ties with Pakistan once Musharraf is no longer there.  It seems increasingly likely that Musharraf has overreached so often and exhausted all goodwill that he cannot long remain in office.  It is also crucial to understand that the policies that Washington has urged Musharraf to pursue have contributed to the current predicament.  To throw Pakistan into turmoil to save Kabul is not a good exchange.  Wouldn’t it be useful if we had an accomplished professional diplomat serving in Islamabad right about now…wherever did he go?       

I have noted my points of disagreement, but this densely footnoted and courageous book deserves praise rather than abuse. The Israeli liberal daily Haaretz stated that it would be irresponsible to ignore [the earlier article’s] serious and disturbing message that the Israeli government must understand that the world will not wait forever for Israel to withdraw from the territories, and that the opinions expressed in the article could take root in American politics if Israel does not change the political reality quickly. ~Jonathan Mirsky

One of Sullivan’s readers wrote

Although I despise Bush, I have to confess admiration for his unequivocal statements against the junta and in support of the protesters.  It’s more than can be said for Russia, China, and India.  One should expect this kind of thing from Russia and China I suppose, but India, the nation which invented modern civil disobedience, should know better [bold mine-DL].

Mr. Bush can afford to be unequivocally opposed to the Burmese government.  There are absolutely no American interests tied up in Burma, no Americans currently residing there, so far as I know, and therefore no real consequences for the United States or American citizens if Mr. Bush takes an “unequivocal” position.  As it happens, and bearing in mind my views about the uselessness of sanctions in general, I think Mr. Bush is taking the right line on this.  Of course, it costs him nothing to take an “unequivocal” line and his wife’s strong personal interest in Burma (which sometimes veers into embarrassing condescension) probably has something to do with it as well.  It is sheer symbolism, but I suppose if you are reduced to symbolism you might as well symbolically oppose the junta. 

For once, we seem to be seeing a spontaneous, non-Sorosian popular uprising.  We can tell the difference between the fake and the genuine article right away–in Burma there is not an officially approved and media-anointed oligarch waiting to take power as “leader of glorious revolution.”  Despite some attempts to dub this the “saffron revolution,” because of the colour of the monks’ robes, it has not become the Saffron Revolution in media reporting in the same way that the non-revolutions elsewhere became endorsed movements complete with capitalised names.  Unlike the generally fraudulent “colour” revolutions (each one of which has been shown to be nothing of the kind), the monks have evidently not developed a media strategy, have not been influenced by meddling NGOs or co-opted by foreign money.  It does not seem to be stage-managed and pre-fabricated for Western media consumption.  The lack of organisation and coordination among Western and other democracies suggests that the events have actually taken them by surprise, rather than being rolled out like a new consumer product.  Unlike in Kyrgyzstan, this uprising does not seem to be an attempt to displace one clan with another.  [Correction: Apparently, I am too gullible about all of this.]             

Then there is this reader’s remark about India, which brings me back to the title of this post.  You will have seen many articles mentioning how China, India and the ASEAN nations have been reaping a windfall from the sanctions imposed on Burma by Western nations, and in opinion pieces this fact is usually glossed with a comment about how “even” people from democratic India have been investing in Burma.  As a matter of economic and political realism, this is to be expected.  Indians are going to do business with their neighbours, including Burma, just as all states almost have to do business with the states that border them.  As a result of having economic ties to neighbouring states, a government cannot easily denounce a neighbouring government with the intensity of those who have nothing at stake.  It is pretty easy to track any given state’s economic and political connections to petty despotates around the world by the intensity of the criticism and punishment meted out to the latter.  The major powers all have connections with regimes that are more or less like this (though SLORC has always been exceptionally awful), and so outrage at a regime’s misconduct is usually inversely proportional to the intensity of ties between the two states.  Nothing surprising there, but it’s worth bearing in mind when judging the official responses of different governments. 

However, many people in India do “know better,” so to speak, and I expect that the opposition parties are making great hay out of the Congress-led government’s general inaction and meek statements about the protests.  As a matter of fact, yes, they are, and they have been joined by some Congress MPs as well.  For convenience, we all use the name of a country when we are referring to its government.  This can sometimes give the impression that a majority of the country is in agreement with the official position of the government, which is almost never the case.  So, the next time you see someone say that “India” is doing this or that in relation to Burma, do remember that a great many people in India are urging their government to take the side of the protesters.  Of course, it is always easy for the party (or parties) out of power to make demands for action to which they, were they in office, would never yield.   

Update: It’s not much, but good for Thailand and ASEAN:

Thailand and the Association Of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have demanded that Burma stop using violence against demonstrators and voiced ‘’revulsion'’ at the killings in Rangoon. The strong position against Burma, also an Asean member country, was delivered by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Hypocrisy has become so commonplace among isolationist conservatives that it doesn’t always register, but this time it’s too blatant to ignore. ~Scott Paul

There are no real isolationists in Congress.  You certainly can’t find any of these people calling for withdrawal from Iraq or calling for an end to overseas intervention.  (The only people who might be reasonably described in some sense as “isolationist” are in the House, not the Senate.)  Opposition to the treaty does have to do with hostility to the United Nations.  There are Republicans making pro-sovereignty arguments, which come down to not wanting to accede to another international treaty.  In point of fact, the vast majority of the Republican caucus is robustly internationalist–they just don’t want the U.N. to have any say in what we do.  That may be many things, but it isn’t isolationist.

About two-thirds of the way through the JRC debate on Iraq, Peter Brimelow had what I think was the most important point, and one entirely consistent with my general hostility to optimism:

“Not all problems have solutions.”

At the fine foreign policy blog of McCarthy, Antle and Spencer called Exit Strategies, Dan McCarthy writes an excellent post on Leslie Gelb’s much-touted review of The Israel Lobby.  As I have suggested before, Dan notes that Gelb concedes or supports the thesis of the book on a crucial point when he says: “As it happens, America’s commitment to Israel rests far more on moral and historical grounds than on strict strategic ones.”  As it happens, that is one of the central claims of The Israel Lobby. 

Dan makes the point even more forcefully:

Instead, as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, the Israel lobby and the more-Likudnik-than-Netanyahu neocons here in the United States have been pushing policies that are ultimately detrimental to Israel and that run counter to America’s interests. Leslie Gelb seems to be aware of this–he certainly presents evidence to that effect–but he can’t bring himself to say it.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Hawkins has written this.  It is unfortunate because it is an attack on his former colleagues, but even more because it is an embarrassing spectacle.  Yes, Murray Rothbard opposed unjust wars and pernicious foreign policy, for which he was scurrilously attacked after death by Mr. Buckley.  If anyone would like to take Buckley’s side in that disgraceful episode, he associates himself with very shabby behaviour unbecoming of a gentleman.  People at Antiwar.com also oppose unjust wars and pernicious foreign policy, for which they are routinely scurrilously attacked.  They all see interventionism as a principal source of the expansion of the state at home and the loss of liberty.  I find it hard to believe that anyone at the gathering would say that patriotism has become a dirty word, except perhaps by way of saying that warmongers have helped make it seem so by misusing the word and conflating it with things that have nothing to do with patriotism. 

Lord Salisbury was, of course, the last of an old breed of aristocratic servants of the state whose duty it was to preserve and pass on the institutions and empire entrusted to him as Prime Minister.  It is to his credit that his direct involvement in the dreadful South African War was relatively limited, since it was much more the brainchild of Joseph Chamberlain–a Chamberlain neoconservatives could love–and to his discredit that he countenanced such a war of conquest.  The British comparison is useful only to a point, since our home country is richer in resources and more populous than Britain has ever been (I do not mean this as a boast, but simply as a statement of the facts), and would continue to enjoy a fairly high degree of prosperity if we gave up on Iraq or indeed have up the entire rotten empire.  If there are cancers in the conservative movement, they are not mainly to be found among the libertarians, vexing and mistaken though the latter may sometimes be.  They tend instead to concentrate themselves around places like FrontPageMag.com, and it is a pity that reputable and serious people should lend their efforts any respectability.  I’ll leave it at that.  

As the John Randolph Club panel shows, not everyone associated with Chronicles and the Rockford Institute shares the view that we should withdraw from Iraq entirely and immediately, which is what you might expect from an assembly of intelligent, informed gentlemen who take such questions seriously.  I appreciate the concerns of those who fear chaos in the region following a withdrawal, and I understand why some people are convinced that America still has vital interests there.  These concerns seem to me to be exaggerated in the first place and largely incorrect in the second, but even if both are true withdrawal from Iraq does not mean withdrawal from the entire region, at least not at the present time. 

It is quite regrettable that Mr. Hawkins would prefer taking the path of denouncing colleagues.  It is a habit of mind that is quite common to ideologues, which I had assumed Mr. Hawkins was not.  I will not say that Mr. Hawkins has ceased to be a conservative and a patriot, though he chooses to say it of his colleagues, because he disagrees over one area of policy.  That is the exactly sort of thing that has so disgusted me about much of the modern conservative movement–the tendency, all too common, to declare someone persona non grata because of a policy difference.  Set aside debates over who the “real” conservatives are for the moment–that is at least something that may be legitimately questioned and debated–but to impute personal disloyalty and lack of patriotism to people because they do not share a policy view seems to me to be a very dangerous habit.  There might be cases where such a charge was warranted, but you would have to be very clear and certain of the evidence before you made it.  Such attacks have been done before, and the policy being defended by such disgusting accusations was a bad, misguided policy, the very one that has brought us to our current pass.  Let Mr. Hawkins reflect on that when he considers what and whom he is defending.       

It is, however, shocking to read Mr. Hawkins say this:

Opposition to America’s rise at every stage has always been rooted in the Left, where dissent against one’s own society and its constructive values is a defining trait.

Were the Loyalists “rooted in the Left”?  They were the original North American Tories, as our ancestors derisively called them, and they were the root of North American conservatism.  Rather by definition, they opposed the “rise” of America.  Were the Federalists “rooted in the Left” in some meaningful sense?  They were, it is true, more centralist than their rivals, but they were also men of property and station, who retained some sense that virtue, status and hierarchy had a proper role in republican society.  They were adamant opponents of the French Revolution and its heirs, and they were the chief opponents of Mr. Jefferson’s expansionist plans.  Whatever was wrong with the Federalists, it was not a product of leftism.  Things are more complicated in later periods, since early and mid-century expansionism was the cause of some Democrats, but the War was certainly a product of the progressive, liberal party of its time, the GOP.  Early American imperialism arose under GOP tutelage forty years later.  Then progressives in the Democratic Party (and now once again in the GOP) took the lead in projecting power in Europe and elsewhere and meddling around the world, and we have been paying for it ever since.  If empire-building is something Mr. Hawkins would like to praise, he might at least give credit to its true authors and acknowledge who the opponents really were.     

Since he has chosen to play the rather tired game of guilt-by-association, it is worth noting that Mr. Hawkins has also associated with the Constitution Party in the past, a group that I am confident Mr. Hawkins’ new associates at FrontPage despise just as much as they despise the gentlemen at Chronicles.  If he has no problem joining hands with people who are his obvious natural enemies, who am I to tell him that he should not?  Meanwhile, if I am forced to choose between Kirkpatrick Sale and David Horowitz, I think we all know which one I will choose and it will not be difficult.  Hint: it isn’t Horowitz. 

I have enjoyed Mr. Hawkins’ work in the past, such as this latest contribution about the U.S. military and Africa.  It is a pity that his most recent effort does not match it and previous products in thoughtfulness or insight.

Via Scott Richert 

The JRC debate can be heard here.

Update: Mr. Hawkins also wrote this other stunning claim:

It is the defection from the goal of American preeminence by some on the right since the Cold War that marks a change. Those who want to see other powers rise as America retreats, in order to create a “multipolar” world (the term was actually used by several people), are the ones who have defected from the right.

Supporting hegemony is the standard of what it takes to be “on the right”?  This is nonsense, of course, and an embrace of the caricature of men of the right as militarists and empire-builders.  It nonetheless does point to a deeper problem.  For many conservatives, especially those who grew up during the Cold War, support for the growth of the security state and international hegemony has been a defining feature of what they think conservatism is.  As Scott notes in the comments of his post:

Far from being “conservative,” the extreme nationalism of men such as Hawkins is actually a leftist phenomenon–and has been ever since it emerged during the French Revolution.

This reflects a long-standing problem of post-war political conservatism in America.  As Prof. Lukacs said in his important “The Problem of American Conservatism” (from Remembered Past, p. 582-583):

So were, unfortunately, most American conservatives, unaware of the crucial difference (George Orwell described it in one of his prime essays) between the ideological nationalist and the true patriot: the former is moved by the desire to extend the power of his nation, the latter is moved by the love of his country.  They [the conservatives] were nationalist rather than patriotic: they put their nationalism above their religion, their nationalism was their religion.  Thus American conservatives welcomed (at worst) or were indifferent (at best) to the dangers of excessive American commitments to all kinds of foreign governments or–what was more important–to the flooding of the United States by countless immigrants from the south who would provide cheap labor but whose increasing presence could only exacerbate deep national problems….The true patriot and the true conservative is suspicious of ideology, of any ideology: yet the American conservatives were, more than often, ideologues, disregarding John Adams’s pithy statement that ideology amounted to idiocy.

The tragic thing about nationalists is that many of them fall into nationalism because they believe that it is either the same as patriotism or they usually know no other way to express love of country except through bombast, boasting and contempt for other peoples.  In their way, they have a strong attachment to the nation, but it is not the nation as it is or has been, but as one that they imagine or have been taught to imagine: a nation that always wins and dominates the scene.  Thus proper love of country is transmuted into love of power, and defending power becomes the new standard of loyalty.  At its worst, there is a nationalism where the nation is an idea or embodies a set of ideas, which ends up disembodying the nation and making it into nothing more than a concept.  Nationalists are not consciously unpatriotic, though they do not understand patriotism correctly, but the things they support often work to the detriment of their country.

All this makes a murderous backdrop for what will be Mr Cameron’s second, and possibly last, conference as Tory party leader. He was the future, once. Now we are in the extraordinary position where serious Tories talk about Mr Cameron being gone by Christmas, after losing an autumn election — and ask whether the Tory party would survive in its current form, or be torn apart by a modernisers-versus-traditionalists war. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that, if Mr Cameron fails, the party may face an existential crisis. ~Fraser Nelson 

A party conference can be many things: a show of confidence, an agonising reappraisal or, as in this case, a series of auditions by pretenders to the throne while the lost leader withers before our very eyes. ~Francis Urquhart

 

The Economist has an editorial and two articles on the developing situation in Burma.  The second article makes a necessary point about the futility of sanctions:

Shareholder-activists and ordinary consumers have also done their bit to encourage a boycott. But the campaign to punish the regime sometimes seems to have lost sight of its real goal, and to be ready to celebrate isolation itself, not the change it is supposed to bring.

In fact, isolation has never really been on the cards. Any gap is eagerly filled by Myanmar’s neighbours—not just China, but also India and Thailand and other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Even in the Western camp there have been differences in approach between the three most important members, America, the EU and Japan.

This is, of course, the problem with virtually all sanctions regimes and divestment schemes.  They are intended to send a signal, and indeed they do.  The signal is apparently supposed to be: “We understand neither economics nor politics.”  Not only do other states and private interests take advantage of sanctions and divestment, but the local population sees foreign sanctions as one of the causes of whatever hardships they are facing.  They are also well-aware of the hardships imposed by their own government, but to add sanctions on top of the corruption and misrule is a bit like stepping on a man’s head while he’s drowning.  However, it makes the one imposing the sanctions feel that he has “done something” and has acquitted himself of whatever strange duty he felt that he owed to the internal political disputes of other countries.  Needless to say, those who endure such regimes as SLORC (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) don’t need much more of this kind of “help.”

Oh, the horror:

According to EUobserver, the Commission’s plan was to “change the map of Europe currently seen on the ten-cent to two-euro coins into a larger one going east to the Caspian Sea and including Turkey”.

However, while the final result includes Belarus and parts of Russia, poor old Turkey is conspicuous by its absence.

In other words, the new coins show all of geographical Europe up to the Urals, and does not include anything on the Asian side of the Bosphoros, which have been the defined geographical boundaries of Europe for a very long time.  The small bit of Thrace that Turkey has is still represented, so all is well.

Via Sullivan

The transcript shows that Bush consciously intended to go to war without a United Nations Security Council resolution. The United Nations Charter, to which the United States is a treaty signatory (so that it has the force of American law), forbids any nation to launch an aggressive war on another country. ~Prof. Cole

This is all true, but then we have known this to be true since the spring of 2003.  Of course he intended to go to war without a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorised it.  He and his supporters essentially admitted as much at the time (all those pro-administration pundits spinning far-fetched theories about “punishing” Iraq for violating the Gulf War ceasefire and 17 or however many U.N. resolutions weren’t just talking for their health), and they bragged about their steely-eyed resolve when they said it.  I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have the war’s illegality confirmed for all to see.  Still, if the spineless Congress can’t bring itself to defend the Constitution, what makes us believe that it will hold the executive accountable for breaking other laws?

Prof. Cole also points to a story about how the war could have been avoided with Hussein going into exile.  He is rightly angry that Mr. Bush launched the war anyway when it might have been avoided, but then the war was always unnecessary.  It wasn’t just unnecessary because Hussein was apparently willing to go into exile.  It was unnecessary because there was no cause for war. 

I’ve made mistakes in the past, and I’m going to keep making them. ~Bill Richardson

That’s our governor–no spineless flip-flopper is he!  Anyone can stick to his guns when he’s right, but this kind of steadfastness in error is exceptional.  Now you can begin to understand the bizarre nature of New Mexican politics, in which this guy is considered a genius and a conquering hero.

Apparently, Daniel thinks I spend a good deal of time saying nothing more substantive than that I do not agree with things I disagree with. ~Will Wilkinson

In the two particular cases in question, I think that a skeptical reader might not find that much more to the arguments Mr. Wilkinson advances beyond his assertion of moral abhorrence for policies and norms that he does not support, plus the occasional dismissive reference to nationalism or a “national coalition” thrown in here and there.  How substantive that is, I will leave to others.  My concluding remarks for both responses sought to draw out what seemed to me to be the root of the disagreement, which was a disagreement over basic assumptions.  In the remainder of both posts, I did attempt to address at least some of the rest of what Mr. Wilkinson had to say.  Perhaps these attempts were lacking. 

In any case, the two posts in question are expositions of the observation that conservatives do not hold his kind of libertarian assumptions about national identity and borders, because, among other things, they do not and cannot take liberty to be the moral baseline.  They make distinctions between citizens and non-citizens, nationals and non-nationals, which they consider to be not simply prudent but actually obligatory and right.  Neither do conservatives, or most people for that matter, judge the efficiacy and worthiness of U.S. immigration policy on the basis of whether it aids the populations of ”developing” nations, because we do not think that it is the role of the U.S. government to set its policies to maximise the prosperity of the populatiions of “developing” nations.  Having put up a rather eccentric set of standards, Mr. Wilkinson finds that conservatives are not measuring up.  That’s all very well, but I don’t know that it tells us very much.  That is why I wrote the concluding remarks that I did.   

My concluding points in these two cases were to draw attention to the fact that the points of contention between Mr. Wilkinson and his interlocutors are not disagreements over anything like measurable practical benefits for the world’s poorest or anyone else.  They are disagreements between libertarians such as Mr. Wilkinson and conservatives, because the two are sharply, seemingly irreconcilably at odds about basic values.  He berates conservatives for privileging the interests of fellow citizens and countrymen (which he finds “morally abhorrent”), but beyond asserting that this act of privileging is wrong he does not give any persuasive reason why this should be so, except to fall back on his assumption that distinguishing between citizen and non-citizen is arbitrary and wrong. 

He wrote:

For example, this liberal finds the claim, implicit in much of the immigration debate, that I ought to heavily discount the welfare gains to non-citizens simply because they belong to a different national coalition morally abhorrent. I don’t doubt that many people take themselves to have an “inescapable” moral obligation to treat outsiders unfairly, or to even positively harm them (even kill them!), if it redounds to the benefits [sic] insiders. But I deny that there is any such obligation to escape in the first place. 

There’s no question of an obligation to treat outsiders “unfairly”–the so-called “unfairness” comes in distinguishing between insider and outsider–since it only seems like unfair treatment to someone who thinks there should be no distinction.  Yet there is no good rationale for abolishing the distinction, or at least none that has been presented in these posts.  The point is that there is not an argument I can see for why there is no obligation.  It is simply a restatement of Mr. Wilkinson’s assumption that none exists.  Hence my original conclusion. 

He then made the point that the (to use Levin’s phrases) “contractual way” and moralising according to “continuity and generation” are both equally artificial, which prompted me to respond that, if this is true, their equally artificial nature simply underscores  that people opt for one “way” or another depending on what functions they valued most.  This drives home the point, implicit in the entire discussion about moral sentiments, that the adherents of the two ”ways” judge morality by significantly different standards.  If it is true that “the liberal dimensions of the moral sense are uniquely amenable to defense by rational argument,” it would be interesting to see some of that kind of argument in these cases.        

In the latest post, Mr. Wilkinson tells us that “the global system of exclusion through citizenships, visas, and borders has manifestly failed to make the world’s least well-off better off,” though the system was never designed specifically to make the “least well-off” better off.  The basic question remains: why should that system be upended or radically changed, when the system of exclusion has actually worked to promote competition and innovation that have benefited most nations enormously?  Furthermore, is it even certain that such a proposed massive influx of poor labourers into developed economies would have the beneficial effects attributed to the proposal?  The idea might be as humanitarian and high-minded as you please, yet the costs of absorbing all these people (and the more, the better, because we wouldn’t want to be heartless and cruel, would we?) could weaken or stall those developed economies to the detriment of all.  

Conservatives argue that there is a hierarchy of loyalties based on natural affinities and social relationships, and that it is, in fact, a disordering of moral priorities to pretend that our obligations to our next-door neighbour and to a man on the other side of the world are effectively the same or even close to being comparable.  Proximity, kinship and shared citizenship create bonds between people that do not exist with others.  Conservatives here are no more personally ”indifferent” to the suffering of the world’s poorest nations than are the people of any “developed” country.  What Wilkinson calls “indifference” to foreigners’ suffering, conservatives call loyalty to compatriots (and a rejection of the sentimentality that allows us to see nothing around us closer than Africa).  The false choice that Mr. Wilkinson would have us make is to believe that there is something particularly pernicious and vicious about valuing such loyalty, and that the only way to show concern for the suffering of the world’s poor is to open the gates and create a huge, exploited underclass in our own country.  

I assume that Mr. Wilkinson’s concern for the world’s poorest is not a kind of rhetorical moral blackmail, though he still deploys it rather heavy-handedly.  Naturally, he does not extend the same assumption of good faith to his interlocutors, but imputes to them “morally abhorrent” views, he hints of bad faith and disregard for other people’s human rights, and describes the ideas to which he objects as “repugnant, and dangerous” and “poisonous.”  He says things like: “Levin wants to defend the shudder when it comes to, say, cloning, but (I trust) not when it comes to the subhuman treatment of the Dalits.”  Levin argues that there are some obligations that we owe family and neighbours that we do not choose, which means in Mr. Wilkinson’s view that he would not really think twice about tacitly endorsing the worst aspects of a dehumanising caste system. 

Don’t you see?  Any reasonably strong concern for purity and hierarchy must lead to tolerating the treatment meted out to untouchables.  That sounds like a very fair conclusion based on what the man said.  This is the sort of tendentious stuff that religious conservatives in particular have had to put up with for years: if you strongly espouse a moral precept, you must obviously endorse the worst fanaticism imaginable and you cannot possibly object to it.   Oh, yes, and then there is the charge of indifference to the suffering and injustice suffered by billions.  But, no, really, there is an argument in there somewhere.   

Telling us that that our immigration policy should be geared towards reducing global poverty is revealing in its own way, but takes no account of the ever-greater immiseration of the population left behind by the mass emigration advocated here as a solution.   Is Mr. Wilkinson “indifferent” to the suffering and injustice that those people who remain  behind (and inevitably many people will remain behind) will experience?  I wouldn’t assume that he is.  Yet that seems to be a likely outcome of the proposal he has endorsed.  Rather than stripping the most destitute of nations of their human resources, it would be best for all involved in the long term if they remained in their own countries.  This would in all likelihood hasten the pace of domestic reforms that would gradually make these places increasingly liveable and prosperous.  For each horror story from the “developing” world, there are success stories in the same parts of the world that suggest that mass abandonment of the poorest countries is not the only alternative to dead-end developmentalism.  As Easterly says:

But this doesn’t quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today’s rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa’s history. 
  

At the moment when things may be looking up, with the obvious notable exceptions, we should call on people to flee their countries just as they beginning to enjoy some limited prosperity?  The failures of international development efforts in many parts of the world are well known, and Mr. Wilkinson and I are in agreement about that much.  However, some “developing” nations have actually managed to improve social and material conditions quite considerably (those Dalits that concern Mr. Wilkinson so much are politically mobilised now and have elected officials drawn from their ranks–unthinkable only a couple decades ago).  It seems to me that the benefits for future generations in these countries would be greater still, if more of their most capable and industrious people did not resettle elsewhere but instead remained to build up those countries rather than essentially abandon them.       

Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia seems to be working to his advantage back home and in our own press to some extent.  Bollinger’s introduction has been the focus of much of the criticism, which has apparently helped to create sympathy for Ahmadinejad.  It would have been better had the exchange never took place if the only “acceptable” way Bollinger could approach the encounter was as a hectoring critic.

Here’s an amusing item from the Time article/Ahmadinejad press release:

He notes that Americans don’t understand Iranian history, saying that the movie 300 — with which he seems intimately familiar — was a “complete distortion of Iranian history.” Iran, he says, has never invaded anyone in its history.

For modern Iran, this is certainly true.  If the Achaemenids count as being part of the same Iran (and they did call their country Iran), then this would be another one of Ahmadinejad’s “creative” history lessons. 

But can China compel the junta to do the right thing?

——-

Surely China will have to “fix” the problem, analysts argue, because of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 

————

Last night I saw the news reports saying two military divisions had arrived in Rangoon, including the 22nd —one of the same units deployed to Rangoon in 1988. ~Melinda Liu

This last point is one of the more telling observations of the article.  The question about China forcing the junta to “do the right thing” assumes that Beijing sees the “right thing” to be the same as other outsiders do.  I am doubtful that the Chinese government sees it this way.  As the article relates, China has tried to distance itself from its more disreputable satellites in recent months, but any expectation that China wants to stop the crackdown in Burma because of the ‘08 Olympics seems mistaken.  There is no guarantee that China’s economic interests in Burma would be seriously threatened by a destabilisation or ousting of the junta, but it is likely not something that the Chinese government wants to risk.  Any government that replaced the junta would be made up of those democrats who will remember China’s backing of the junta for all these years. 

Even if economic realities dictate that Burma remain tied to China for the present, resentment against China’s role in the junta’s grip on power could fuel a strong reaction against the Chinese.  (Consider how radicalised Iranians reacted against the United States as a model of what might happen.)  There have been strong expressions of anti-Chinese sentiment in other outposts of Beijing’s informal empire:

While China likes to portray itself as a benign force in Africa, free of the historical baggage carried by the former colonial powers, Beijing’s conduct is already resented.

During last year’s presidential election in Zambia, the leading opposition candidate, Michael Sata, campaigned on an explicitly anti-Chinese ticket. Beijing’s investment was, Mr Sata argued, almost entirely worthless for Zambia.    

China has every interest at this point in backing the junta, even if it engages in a brutal crackdown.  Those who think that hosting the Olympics inspires good international behaviour should recall that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of the year before the Moscow games.  There was a U.S. boycott, of course, which did nothing substantial to harm Moscow.  If one of China’s satellites does something vicious between now and next summer, it will affect Beijing even less.

P.S. Joshua Kurlantzick has a good article on Burma in The New Republic, which concludes:

Apparently convinced they’d risk no serious sanction, in September 1988 the Burmese military stepped in, staging a kind of auto-coup. In the course of suppressing protests, Burmese troops killed as many as three-thousand people. Today, similar fears are rising. More soldiers reportedly are taking positions in Rangoon, and the regime reportedly is recruiting criminals, possibly to infiltrate protests and cause havoc, a tactic utilized in 1988. Burmese opposition radio has reported rumors that senior junta leader Than Shwe has ordered that authorities can use violence to squash demonstrations. Twenty years on, 1988 looks nearer than ever.

Simply excellent.

Via Ambinder

So if it’s wrong to consign someone to second-class citizenship based on skin color, why should we feel any more comfortable about forcing someone to live someplace horrible like Zimbabwe simply because that’s where he happens to have been born? ~Tim Lee

Because we’re not “forcing” someone to live in Zimbabwe (or wherever), but rather preventing him from living here.  Second, Zimbabwe was not always so horrible, and is not doomed to be so.  It is horrible for very explicable reasons of bad “policy,” if you can call systematic plunder and looting a policy, that are a matter of record, and which could be corrected if the Mugabe kleptocracy were no longer there.  I feel “comfortable” about stopping Zimbabweans (or anyone else) from coming to this country en masse, if they could actually manage it, because I see what this massive influx of refugees is doing to Zimbabwe’s neighbours and I do not want that for my country.  I would prefer that it not be happening to Zimbabwe’s neighbours, either.  The refugee crisis is a product of corruption and misrule on an epic scale.  The solution is not found in constantly offering maniacal despots a safety valve to release the buildup of social discontent, but in keeping the pressure on until the tyrannical goose is well and truly cooked by domestic rebellion.  Mass emigration not only drains other countries of some of their most industrious members, but it also serves as a much-needed relief for people in control of the sclerotic and bankrupt political institutions of many “developing” nation-states.  Western guilty consciences and the policies based thereon are their insurance policy and one of the means for their continued domination and exploitation of their subjects.  I have a hard time coming up with a moral theory that justifies that.

Update: On the subject of Zimbabwe, would you believe it if I told you that Zimbabwe was still 31st in a ranking of states for good governance in sub-Saharan Africa?  That means that there are 17 countries that are considered to be governed even more atrociously.  That seems worth nothing.

When will Christopher Hitchens berate those lousy Buddhist monks for sowing “discord” and “hate” in Burma?  After all, he knows how religion poisons everything*, so I anticipate his denunciation of those troublemaking fanatics any day now.

*I hadn’t thought of it before, but this is just an adaptation of a phrase attributed to Mao: “religion is poison.”  Keep the faith, Hitch.

I used to think that it really mattered whether or not I referred to Burma as Myanmar or Burma.  No, really.  I can remember when the change happened.  The Economist suddenly started talking about Yangon and Myanmar out of the blue.  Oh, the treachery, I thought.  SLORC said Myanmar, so obviously all right-thinking people had to say Burma.  Of course, at another time the British said Burma, so other right-thinking people would have insisted that something else be used.   

Then you spend about ten minutes looking into the significance of the change in Burma and you realise that this is silly.  Mranma/Myanma is one name that has been used to describe the country, and Bama is another.  One is apparently a literary style, the other is used more often in colloquial speech.  The traditional name of Burma evidently may or may not originally come from Bama, but is definitely held over from the British colonial designation for the place.  Why a different name can’t be reflected in English usage is a bit of a mystery.  Of course, it comes back to who made the change, rather than the substance of the change itself.  The logic seems to be: we won’t give them the satisfaction of using the new name!  That’ll teach ‘em a thing or two!  Of course, the Burmese government doesn’t really care that much which name we use–it isn’t about us–and so our valiant defiance of the dictators is so much huffing and puffing over nothing.   

All the time we use inapt names in English for countries that have never called themselves by that name (e.g., Armenia, Finland, Hungary, Greece), which has often puzzled me, since some of us get very annoyed with people who insist on calling us estadounidense and norteamericano.  These are the established names, and so for convenience I understand why we don’t run around talking about Hayastan and Hellas, but it would be nice if we could admit that it is a matter of convenience (and, one might say, a certain laziness) to use the non-indigenous names of other countries.  Strangely enough, we are more than happy to oblige foreign countries when other governments change their countries’ names (e.g., when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, or Zaire became Congo yet again, or British Honduras became Belize).  Perhaps it is high time that we fought back against Fasoan tyranny and returned to the ridiculous-sounding geographical designation that preceded the current name.  Sometimes I will still say Zaire out of force of habit, but calling it Zaire for all those decades (which virtually everyone did) was, according to the logic of the anti-Myanmar crowd, a concession to Mobutu.  Since Mobutu was on “our” side in the Cold War, Westerners, so far as I know, did not worry themselves about whether or not they were giving in to some supposed anti-colonialist blackmail by using the official name of the country. 

Some people are upset by the official renaming of Bombay because Hindu nationalists were the ones who did it (I believe the old name is still frequently used out of habit), but it puzzles me why we shouldn’t, generally speaking, use the names for countries that the inhabitants themselves use or those that they say they would prefer.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with continuing to use old names, especially when they are well-established and familiar (we will not start calling Egypt Misr nor will we begin styling India Bharat anytime soon, I think), but actively protesting against the official name of a country–when it has as much claim to being a “legitimate” name as its alternative–seems like an odd way to express opposition to a regime.  It’s not as if the regime cares whether we use the new designation or not–the change is for domestic consumption anyway–and we are not lending aid and comfort to Burmese dictators if we happen to call it Myanmar.     

For instance, Iran has been the official name of that country in foreign relations since the 1920s, but there are still some who will insist on calling it Persia, thinking that they are somehow sticking it to the Ayatollah.  They are, if anything, sticking it to the ghost of Reza Khan and the Pahlavi rulers, which is pointless.  That Iran is the older indigenous name for the place only underscores how irrelevant this posturing over names really is.

Sigh.  It’s enough to make you despair for your “national coalition,” also known as a “country.”  It never fails to amaze me how those who are keen to talk about the constructed nature of identity and social conventions seem to think that it is therefore somehow illegitimate to maintain identities and conventions once they have been constructed.  The key idea of constructivism is that we are the ones shaping and crafting the concepts we use, and that they supposedly do not derive from the nature of things.  If that is so, and for the sake of argument let’s say that it is, it is ultimately no more “abhorrent” in a firm, absolute sense for one group to exclude outsiders than it is for another to include them–both kinds of treatment of outsiders serve different functions, and the kind of treatment you advocate depends very much on which function you value more and which one you think you can live without.  Those who are already uninterested in the maintenance of national identity will naturally have no problem with welcoming in outsiders by the millions and tens of millions–they have made the great sacrifice of not maintaining something they didn’t value–while simultaneously declaring their greater moral sense for valuing inclusion.   

The unchosen obligations, which are still imposed on us and affect us even when we react against them by rejecting them, that the liberal wants to weaken actually serve both manifest and latent functions, and it is on account of this that they are reproduced.  Failing to maintain and reproduce them does actually lead to social disorder, which the liberal desperately tries to normalise and affirm as just a “different” kind of social organisation.  The vast majority of human experience tells us that there is something in human nature that compels us to cultivate in-group solidarity, construct identities in opposition to other groups of people and structure relatively restrictive social rules to organise our group.  Any of these things can be taken to extremes, and they can also be badly neglected.  In the current age of neglect, “society” continues to trudge on in one form or another, but the social costs stemming from neglecting those old unchosen obligations have badly damaged our capacity for creating social capital.   

Excesses in either direction will undermine human flourishing.  Of course, confusion sets in at the beginning when you begin making liberty the baseline of judging whether or not something is desirable.  Mr. Wilkinson has successfully shown once again that he hates boundary maintenance–both of the physical and the metaphorical kind–and that conservatives favour it, which is why he isn’t a conservative.  Very illuminating.   

Preliminary reactions from abroad suggest that, far from appearing ridiculous and laughable, as an American audience naturally takes him to be, Ahmadinejad is winning plaudits for his performance in more than a few corners at home (at least in the Iranian establishment) and getting credit for enduring Bollinger’s supposedly “harsh” introduction.  Of course, the “harsh” introduction was a series of questions that were neither new nor terribly “harsh.”  In the end, it may not make that much difference, since Ahmadinejad is already quite popular in the Near East.

“The government has ordered the 22nd Division troops to pull out of Karen state and return to Yangon,” Colonel Nerda Mya of the Karen National Union told the news agency. “We believe the troops will be used as in 1988.”

Troops from remote areas, unfamiliar with current events in the big cities, were deployed at that time in the killings of civilians. ~The New York Times

The Chinese government used the same methods in 1989, bringing in reserves from Sichuan and other provinces to crush the students in Tiananmen, and you would almost have to assume that Beijing is giving the junta tips on how to quell the protest, since a change in the political situation there could create difficulties for their neo-colonial treatment of Burma.  We may hope that things go well for the protesters, but it seems to me that they recalled the forces from fighting the Karen minority precisely because these are the forces that have already become accustomed to engaging in harsh repression of civilian populations.  After what they have done to the Karen, dispersing some protesters and cracking heads will seem like nothing at all.

Our basic advice to Mr. Bollinger from the start of the whole tragedy at Columbia has been that, when it comes to the war the Arabs are waging against Israel, he is eventually going to have to choose sides. ~The New York Sun

This is almost too easy.  Does Lee Bollinger live in Israel or in any of the neighbouring states?  Is he a citizen of any of the countries there?  Why does he need to “choose sides” in “the war” to which neither he nor his country is actually a direct party?  What relation does this really have to his dressing-down of Ahmadinejad?  It’s as random as can be.

Today we regard a Northerner circa 1855 who transported, housed, and concealed from authority a fugitive slave as a moral visionary, despite the fact that he was flouting the laws of his time. Is there any morally relevant distinction between that individual and someone today who smuggles a refugee from Zimbabwe into the United States, shelters him in his home, and helps him evade the immigration authorities? ~Tim Lee

My Scene colleague Tim does his best to weight things in favour of his argument with the most extreme example of a misruled country and a comparison with slavery and a title that evokes memories of apartheid.  Since everyone will agree that Zimbabwe is today a waking nightmare, and we will also agree that slavery and apartheid are bad, there must be nothing left for it but to relocate the entire population of Zimbabwe to our shores.  The Zambians will be relieved.  Or maybe there is another answer.

First, it is doubtful that life in a country that is suffering net population loss by the millions because of fears of famine and violence from ZANU-PF-supporting ”veterans” is less brutal than was the antebellum South.  With respect to food production in particular, modern Zimbabweans would be fortunate to live in agriculturally rich and fertile lands that were being used so productively as they were in the Old South.  Slaves in the antebellum era certainly had a much better chance of staying alive and prospering after a fashion than do “free” people in Zimbabwe today.  Give Mugabe his due: his tyranny is just about as brutal as it gets short of mass killing.  

Second, since it apparently needs to be said, people who are actually engaged in human trafficking today and the Harriet Tubmans of the past are very different sorts of people.  First, the former are driven primarily by economic interests, while the latter were a sort of politico-religious agitator.  The moral differences between them are vast.  The former are criminals, not simply by some technicality of federal immigration law, but by trade.  They are smugglers and crooks who exploit and abuse their charges.  Since the people they bring here are on the fast track to being cheap exploited labour, and if we wanted to keep using slavery analogies, they are about as morally pure and high-minded as slave traders.    

Bringing slavery into the debate might introduce other difficulties for the proponent of large-scale immigration, since extreme economic dependency is the state into which these people are entering (or, rather, it is the state in which they will remain).  The argument a pro-immigration person might want to make is that this system of illegal exploitation and human trafficking is one of the reasons why immigrants should not be criminalised for trying to come here, since that would theoretically prevent at least some of them from putting themselves at the mercy of criminal operations.  Of course, even in an era of open borders with all the other problems that would create, such exploitation would continue, especially for those coming by boat, as migrants will still be herded into shipping containers just as they are today if there is an economic incentive for the smugglers to do it and little or no law enforcement to deter them.  Decriminalising immigration, which I take to be the main point Tim wants to make, would not mean that the human traffickers will be any better regulated; decriminalising immigration is a concession to the supposed “reality” that it is already impossible to regulate the “movement of labour.”  If I were wont to get on a humanitarian soapbox and decry the evils of such human trafficking, I could point to this as a massive moral blind spot of the pro-immigration side, but I don’t like humanitarian soapboxes and see this as mostly a distraction from the larger question. 

The larger question is this: how does mass emigration actually help other parts of the world?  Letting in those who can escape the nightmare is all very well and good, but it is almost certain that the most motivated and most capable will be among the first to abandon their “prisons,” as the Free Exchange blogger calls them, leaving their neighbours to endure even greater hardships as conditions continue to deteriorate.  Applied domestically, this would be rather like writing off inner cities as hopeless and encouraging those who could ”get out” to move to the suburbs, leaving the city centers to deteriorate and collapse even more quickly.  In effect, what these humanitarian arguments for ending “international apartheid“ will lead to is resource-stripping of human capital by the developed world, maintaining the “developing” world’s status as a source for raw materials and a world with the export profile of a colonial dependency.  Rather than arguing, as some anti-developmentalists do, that trade and investment will build up the economies of these countries, the “humanitarian” argument for encouraging mass emigration calls for massive divestment from the failed “enterprises” of post-colonial Africa and elsewhere by the very inhabitants of those countries.

As I have argued before against a certain Free Exchange blogger :

Some might think that people who live in these “prison” countries regard the place where they live as their home and might even say that they are not simply labour units to be reassigned to allow for greater efficiencies.  Mass uprooting and relocation of poor populations with migrants moving from the countryside to the city and from the home country to communities abroad, which has happened in virtually every impoverished, modernising nation-state from the independence of Greece on, is all very good for those who can get out, but dooms those who remain (and many will remain) to an even more miserable existence.  Dr. Wilson once remarked on this, asking a rhetorical question that went something like this: “What sort of country robs poor countries of their best and brightest people?”  This blogger’s kind of country, it would seem. 

 

How many times do dictators get laughed at in their own countries? ~Andrew Sullivan

When it comes to Ahmadinejad, if memory serves, some Iranian students are quite capable of heckling and mocking the man (and setting fire to his picture!), chanting “death to the dictator” while he is speaking to them.  This makes all of the loose talk about the “dictator” Ahmadinejad misleading–if anyone is the “dictator” in Iran, it is the Ayatollah Khameinei (not so many publicly mock him).  If the invitation was an exercise in getting people to mock Ahmadinejad publicly, Columbia might have saved itself the trouble and let the folks back home do it with real enthusiasm.   

If it weren’t for political disputes over the current war in Iraq, and if Fred Thompson weren’t a presidential candidate, no one would criticize his praise of those Americans who have shed their blood for the liberty of others. ~Robert Stacy McCain

That’s not true.  This has nothing to do with his praise of Americans who have shed their blood “for the liberty of others.”  It is his blatant, repeated insult against all of those allied soldiers who shed their blood and risked their lives in the same causes during the same wars while they fought alongside our soldiers that drives people to criticise him.  People who think that the controversy is over Thompson’s praise of American sacrifice are not paying attention.

Which brings to James Joyner’s question:

Over the last century, though, all of them have had at least some substantial “other people’s liberty” component. Who else can make that claim?

Well, obviously, the British and the Dominions can make that claim over the last two centuries, and well they might, because they have at least as strong (or weak) a claim as we do.  It depends on how many of Britain’s wars you want to credit as being on behalf of “other people’s liberty.”  The Spanish living under Bonpartist occupation might have thought the Peninsular campaign was being fought at least in part for their liberty from foreign domination, and from the German and Austrian perspective the same could be argued for the Napoleonic Wars all together.  If the Spanish War counts for us, the British have to get credit for the South African War.  Never mind that both were wars of aggression against states that had never done the invaders any harm–one of the official lines was that we were fighting for Cuban freedom and the Brits were fighting to help the black and coloured populations of the Boer republics.  Obviously, these are debatable claims, which is why it was a mistake for Thompson to phrase things the way he did. 

If our involvement in WWI must be treated as a war for “other people’s liberty,” when that was always secondary or even tertiary to other concerns, both the British and Russians have to get credit for fighting on behalf of Belgium and Serbia (and don’t forget the “liberation” of the Arabs from Ottoman rule–ha!).  As this list makes clear, such comparisons depend heavily on whether you endorse the official propaganda circulated about the war at the time and afterwards.  In fact, the men fighting in the Pacific weren’t fighting for the freedom of the nations of East Asia, but to retaliate for an attack.  Less gauzy sentimentality and mythology in our collective memory of our foreign wars would probably be more desirable than what we have been getting from Thompson.       

Update: It seems that some of our friends to the north have taken notice of Thompson’s claim and made their objections known.  Mr. Gardner writes in The Ottawa Citizen, making some familiar points:

Now, I don’t want to answer dogma with dogma. Strategic and national interests played major roles in the decisions of all combatants in the First and Second World Wars. They do in every war. It’s a messy world and the motives of nations are seldom simple and pure.

The sort of Americans who cheer for Fred Thompson would agree with that statement — as it applies to other countries. What they cannot seem to accept is that it applies to their country, too. For them, Americans are unique. The United States is unique. And what sets America and Americans apart is purity of heart.

“We are proud of that heritage,” Thompson said in Iowa after citing the mythology of America-the-liberator. “I don’t think we have anything to apologize for.”

Nothing to apologize for. Never did anything wrong in 231 years of history. Nothing.

This is infantile. And dangerous. A superpower that believes it is pure of heart and the light of the world will inevitably rush in where angels fear to tread. And then it will find itself wondering why the foreigners it so selflessly helps hate it so.

How could Saddam have used chemical weapons against Iranians? Doesn’t A’jad know Saddam didn’t have WMD? That was just a neo-con lie. ~Cliff May

Apparently, the words weapons inspections and disarmament aren’t in May’s vocabulary.

There’s a curious idea, one popularised earlier this year by Obama, that a refusal to negotiate or to dialogue with this or that dreadful government and/or individual is an expression of fear.  This follows the usual drill: everyone else embraces the politics of fear, but Obama and those like him embrace the politics of hope, blah, blah, blah. 

Evidently, it takes courage to stand up and, just like everyone else, denounce the president of another country under the guise of “conversation” and “debate.”  After all, what is the point of letting Ahmadinejad onto your stage so that you can tell him that he’s a “cruel dictator”?  Are we trying to hurt his feelings?  Obviously persuasion isn’t the goal, since calling someone a dictator in front of an audience of students is not going to make him break down and have a conversion experience: “Thank you for showing me the light, Mr. Bollinger!  I will do better!” 

Similarly, there’s no point in holding talks simply for the symbolism of holding talks and showing that We Are Not Afraid To Talk.  How impressive.  All of this attempted appropriation of the rhetoric of toughness and fearlessness is an attempt to steal a page from the (stupid) foreign policy book of militarists.  Instead of “showing resolve” by not talking to someone, we show resolve by talking to someone.  At no point does anyone on either side stop to think that maybe, just maybe, making decisions, whether great or small, based on how fearless and tough they make us look is idiotic and the root of more than a few of our problems overseas.  When strategic interests require it, negotiating with “rogue” states is perfectly reasonable and appropriate, but to do it simply to make a point of doing it or to show just how unafraid we are of Hugo Chavez (I should hope that no one sane and not living in Venezuela is afraid of Hugo Chavez) and the like is daft. 

As I’ve said before, to “engage” Ahmadinejad or someone like him ends up making him look no more ridiculous to our own people, while it can make him seem superficially more important and statesmanlike than he could ever be on his own.  Ahmadinejad is not undermined at home when he is taken seriously by people overseas, even if he is taken seriously as a villain and a despot.  If anything, criticism of him will be met with a visceral reaction of rallying around their President in some quarters, while the invitation will cause frustration and despair among his domestic foes.  These things energise Ahmadinejad’s backers and weaken his rivals.  The stronger he and his backers are within the Iranian government, the harder it becomes to push for a rational Iran policy, as advocates for harsh treatment of Iran can exploit any gain of strength by Ahmadinejad as one more reason to pursue their confrontational policies. 

The invitation ultimately has only a small effect on any of this, but what effect it does have is harmful.  That is why it should not have been made, and not because we are quaking in terror at the prospect of Ahmadinejad’s next speech.       

On reading the blog account of the big to-do at Columbia today, it occurs to me that Ahmadinejad must have found Bollinger’s “sharp challenges” much as Francis Urquhart described Prime Minister’s Question Time: “very frightening–like being mugged by a guinea pig.”

Consider this “challenge”:

Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and the civil society of the region?

You could almost imagine Ahmadinejad replying, “I thank the honourable gentleman for his concern for peace and democracy, which my government has always shared.  We have always worked to bring peace and democracy to the rest of the world, because we love all of the nations of the world.  Naturally, we abhor terrorism and I refer the honourable gentleman to my previous answer.”

In his speech, Ahmadinejad did actually say, “we love all nations.”  That’s a nice thing to say.  It isn’t true (no one on earth, except perhaps for saints, loves all nations), and it is just so much boilerplate.  Someone probably said to him, ”They think that you hate the rest of the world, so ‘prove’ them wrong and say that you love the world.  That’ll show ‘em!” 

The point is that posing such questions to a demagogue simply lends meaning and importance to whatever the demagogue says in response.  It sets him up to blather on about whatever he would like to say.  If he ignores the questions, nothing has been proved that we did not already know, and if he answers them he will invariably spin them to his advantage.  Demagogues often have a good knack for turning a phrase and playing to a crowd–that’s how they got to be demagogues.  Forest Whittaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland comes to mind as a good image of how a despot can turn on the charm and have the foreigners laughing while his henchmen are busily eliminating dissenters.  This would hardly be the first time that a nationalist leader or religious fanatic adopts a moderate, soothing tone when speaking to a foreign audience, while saving the polemics for the folks back home.  People who ought to know better, and who see through such tricks when they are being played by our own politicians, are then taken in by this and they say, “He seems like a reasonable fellow to me!  What was all the fuss about?”

The pose that Ahmadinejad strikes on the subject of the Holocaust is typical.  He pretends that Holocaust studies are somehow today moribund and need to be “opened up” to ”alternative” perspectives.  In this, he uses the reality of a certain political dogmatism surrounding the history of the Holocaust to push an entirely different idea: in the name of opening up debate and furthering research, he would like the “alternative” of denialism to be accepted as a legitimate line of inquiry.  This is the sort of line that Armenian genocide-deniers take: there are different perspectives that need to be respected, the past is complex, who can really say what happened, awful things happen in wartime, etc.  To this they add the hilarious complaint that the push to have the genocide recognised is political (always considered a dirty word in these sorts of arguments), since, of course, deniers of the Armenian genocide could not have any agenda or political interests of their own.   

Diasporan Armenians in particular are understandably very passionate about having the genocide recognised, and they mobilise politically to this end, which then leads to Ankara’s apologists outrageously casting themselves as the defenders of free and open historical inquiry (when it is the apologists who are carrying water for a government that supports the active suppression of open historical inquiry inside Turkey and are actively supporting political efforts to halt formal recognition of the genocide in the House) against “political pressure.”  This objection against the use of “political pressure” to have a genocide recognised is a good example of morally bankrupt cleverness, but it can be an attractive view, which is why propagandists and deniers use it. 

It is unfortunately a reminder that genocide recognition often depends on whether it serves the interests of great powers and ideologues to recognise it.  The Armenian and Ukrainian genocides, for example, have not been very useful in this way, and so their status as genocides and their significance remain disputed and contested by those who have some stake in denialism.  Recognition of these genocides is seen as a preoccupation of an ethnic community and not a more important matter of moral and historical truth.  Ninety years ago, it would have been considered an unquestionable reality in America that there had been a genocide of the Armenians (though they did not have the word at the time), but today for all together too many Americans it has become a “complicated” question about which there are many different perspectives.  This change is not the result of an evolution towards more sophisticated and serious treatment of the history of the Ottoman empire, but a clear example of how power interests can corrupt historical understanding.         

Returning to Ahmadinejad, he reportedly said at the conclusion of his appearance:

If the U.S. government recognizes the rights of the Iranian people, respects all nations and extends a hand of friendship to all Iranians, they will see that Iranians will be among their best friends.

The dangerous thing about Ahmadinejad’s visit is that he will occasionally says things that are true when they seem useful to him, thus tarring those true observations through association with him.  The above statement is just such a true statement, and it is one likely to be ridiculed by the usual suspects because it came out of his mouth.  Indeed, it is frustrating to realise that if the U.S. government had recognized “the rights of the Iranian people” in 1953 and for 26 years after that Iran would very likely not now have someone like Ahmadinejad as its President.  Our two countries would almost certainly not be headed towards confrontation.  If the U.S. government respected “all nations,” the “crisis” with Iran would not exist because there would be no question of foreign powers dictating to any sovereign state how it might manage its internal affairs.  If Washington did pursue rapprochement with Iran, which, as my Scene colleague Matt Frost correctly notes, this visit has made even more unlikely, it is very likely that the U.S. and Iran could develop good, mutually beneficial relations.  Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia has helped set back the possibility of such rapprochement by associating the idea of opening any kind of dialogue with the Iranians with his views, which makes rapprochement even more remote than before.  That in turn aids the most hard-line elements in the Iranian regime, thus ensuring that the very repression and misrule that provoked Bollinger’s “sharp challenges” will continue and will probably get worse by strengthening Ahmadinejad’s faction at home by giving him such a forum and raising his profile internationally.  

Part of it is that he just looks cuddly.  Possibly cuddly enough to turn me straight.  I think he kind of looks like Kermit the Frog.  Sort of.  With smaller eyes. ~Sally Kohn, reminding us why sane people laugh at the Kossacks

 

Ambinder notes:

In private, Obama likens himself to Reagan, according to some of his friends. He believes that the very act of Americans choosing to elect him would amount to the biggest foreign policy advance of the past 20 years, would immediately change the way, say, a young boy in Lahore views this country, would crush the propaganda gains of radical Islam since the end of the first Gulf War, would heal the scar that serves as a reminder of America’s original sin (slavery), would directly engage the mass Muslim world in a way that no one who voted for oil or empire could, and … you get the idea.

Now that you’ve finished groaning and smashing your head against a wall now that another presidential candidate has started with the Reagan comparisons, I will continue. 

So a young boy in Lahore will have his views changed about America by the election of Obama, will he?  As Ross suggests, this is a strange thing for someone who has advocated taking military action inside Pakistan without its government’s permission to say.  At the present time, most Pakistanis see America as the major threat to their country.  Given Obama’s past remarks about Pakistan and foreign policy generally, the young boy in Lahore will probably go from fearing and loathing America to actively preparing for the impending assault.  It seems to me that the “propaganda gains” of radical Islam are to be found in their exploiting of U.S. occupation of Muslim countries.  Obama’s election would not “crush” these.  Whatever his later policies might do to weaken those claims, his election would obviously not change them in the least. 

Given how some in the Near East portrayed Secretary Rice after her truly awful “birth pangs of a new Middle East” remark, it occurs to me that a President Obama may have more difficulty in changing how people across the world see America.  This seems to be the case, since he quite happily endorsed deeply unpopular moves by the U.S. and our allies, including the Lebanon war of last year.  On 22 August 2006 (when the war was in its closing phase), he said:

I don’t think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel’s response to take some action in protecting themselves.

What did he have to say about the results of “some action”?  The ruined infrastructure, the hundreds of thousands of refugees, the 1,000 dead civilians?  One looks in vain for any remarks that might be seen as critical of the methods used in the Lebanon war or the indiscriminate nature of the bombing.  However, there is this:

During the fighting between Israel and Lebanon earlier this year, Mr. Obama co-sponsored a resolution endorsing Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning Hamas and Hezbollah.

And this:

There was absolutely nothing in Obama’s speech that deviated from the hardline consensus underpinning US policy in the region. Echoing the sort of exaggeration and alarmism that got the United States into the Iraq war, he called Iran “one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace.”

I’d be interested to see how he “directly engages with the Muslim world” after unequivocally supporting a bombing campaign that met with widespread condemnation from Muslims around the world.  Obama would like to tell a story about how his election will change the image of America in the world.  Because his election would be a milestone in domestic politics, I think there are a great many people here who automatically assume that the rest of the world would see his election in this same way.  These Americans might find, if he were somehow elected, that other nations would see through his hope and unity rhetoric to the substance of his worryingly over-ambitious foreign policy views.  It is, of course, a certain kind of meddling foreign policy that has harmed our national reputation, and the real test for Obama’s “change” candidacy is whether he has given any indication that he departs significantly from it.  It seems to me that he doesn’t, and that will mean that any superficial good feeling that might follow his election would be sunk in a sea of disappointment and bitterness when people around the world discover that he is not very different from the alternatives.  If the next President wants to repair America’s reputation, he will have to start changing what the U.S. government does in her name.  Putting a different face on what is basically more of the same will not make a dent. 

Via Ross, I see that Mark Steyn makes the right points about Fred “Our Casualty Numbers Are Bigger Than Yours” Thompson:

It’s unbecoming for a serious nation to get into a pissing match about whose pile of war dead is higher.

And:

It should not be necessary in “supporting our troops” to denigrate everybody’s else. 

And:

That’s President Reagan addressing “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” at Normandy in 1984. I know everyone wants Fred to be the new Ron, but I miss the old one’s generosity of spirit. 

And:

But Senator Thompson’s line is a gross sentimentalization.

That all sounds right to me.

If Bush is like the Prophet Jonah (no, don’t laugh just yet), does that mean that his fellow “shipmates” will toss him overboard and he will be consumed by the political equivalent of a whale, only to be delivered after repenting of his past errors?  I can think of worse comparisons that the President’s supporters might make, but not many.

Via Jim Lobe

Bagehot would not have been at home in early 21st-century America. Today we prefer our writers soft, exculpatory, self-righteous but nevertheless wrapped in the rhetoric of non-judgmentalism. ~Roger Kimball

With all respect to Mr. Kimball, whose larger point about Columbia is well taken, it seems to me that the medium of blogging in particular often involves nothing but extremely judgemental, polemical writing.  Whether or not this counts as properly ”manly” is for others to judge, but soft, simpering nebbishes are not exactly the first things that would come to mind when I think of 21st century political discourse.  There are certainly advocates for ever-greater bipartisanship and more simpering appeals to unity, but they tend to be met with the scorn of political bloggers.

On the matter of Ahmadinejad’s invitation to speak at Columbia, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Kimball and others.  I suppose I can understand to some extent why someone might have thought this might be a good idea.  Strangely, whoever this someone was, he did not think about all the other reasons why it would be an extremely bad idea. 

There was probably a strong sense that this would be an opportunity to poke various Persophobic loonies in the eye, as if to say, “Not all Americans want to drop tactical nukes on Iran.  Norman Podhoretz and his ilk do not speak for all of us.  Some of us favour ‘dialogue’.”  Be that as it may, the invitation was dreadful, but above all it was a very stupid thing to do.  If you wanted to reconfirm every anti-academic prejudice on the American right, it is hard to think of how you might better accomplish it than bringing in Ahmadinejad under the banner of free speech and academic freedom.  (If MoveOn.org could have found some way to co-sponsor the event, it might have been even more obnoxious and offensive.)  For more than a few on the right, it’s a three-for-one deal: a chance to bash academia for being “anti-American” (which they take as a given anyway), while also bashing defenders of free speech and academic freedom for also being complicit in subversive and all-around idiotic ideas (which they also take as more or less a given).  At this rate, why not invite Hugo Chavez to give a commencement address or give Castro an honourary degree for his ”humanitarian” contributions to the people of Angola?  Just because they and their governments are not threats to us does not make them and their views acceptable.  Ahmadinejad may talk whatever rubbish he likes in his country, but no one is obliged to ”engage” it and no one should be interested in associating with him when he comes here.   Like MoveOn’s self-defeating antics, Columbia’s invitation reminds the dissenting conservative of the crucial lack of discernment that seems built-in with all too many people on the left.        

There is probably an instinct among quite a few academics to rally against these criticisms of Columbia.  After all, supine conformity to the foreign policy priorities of the government is only too common these days (see Congress, the media), and the academy is not properly an extension of the government that it should be required to toe some line on policy.  The thing worth noting, of course, is that “engaging” Ahmadinejad by inviting him to Columbia misses the essence of the policy debate surrounding Iran.  Focusing on Ahmadinejad, either as an invited guest or a target of hatred, personalises U.S.-Iranian relations in the same misguided way that Washington routinely does with foreign governments.  Ahmadinejad does not represent most Iranians, and he does not represent much of the Iranian political elite.  It is precisely because he really is marginal that his obsessions are irrelevant to the policy debate.  Treating him as a serious figure, either as someone to be “sharply challenged” or targeted for harsh criticism, is to play the game on his terms and give him a level of credibility that he could never obtain on his own. 

Manifestly, the man’s views are very often ridiculous, and he is a ranting demagogue, an Iranian Huey Long with less common sense.  He is, however, a shrewd political operator who knows how play the angles.  To give him a forum is to play into his hands and to treat him as the world leader that he would like to pretend to be.  It flatters his ego, builds up his reputation around the world and strengthens his hand at home.  It makes the task of those who oppose anti-Iranian warmongers at home harder, it helps stoke the fires of Persophobia and it is in itself a colossal blunder on every level.  It is quite one thing to argue that Ahmadinejad is a preposterous demagogue whose rantings pose no threat to anyone but his unfortunate listeners and quite another to pretend that Ahmadinejad is just another citizen in the republic of letters and a participant in free-flowing intellectual debate to whom we issue “sharp challenges,” such as: “Dear boy, wouldn’t you reconsider your slightly troubling claims about the Holocaust?” 

The problem with inviting Ahmadinejad is revealed by a simple test: would anyone in an academic institution be willing to vouch for a speaker with similar views if he did not come from a country currently being vilified by our government, or if he were a white European?  When Columbia and other universities extend invitations to far, far more reasonable and decent foreign politicians–a Joerg Haider or Filip DeWinter, for instance–then I will begin to believe their claims about a desire for open and active debate.  Until then, I will hold the view that such “free speech” and “academic freedom” mean speech and views of which some established consensus already approves. 

If Obama et al. wanted to help convince Pakistanis that the United States government means their country harm, well, mission accomplished:

The Pew Research Center found seven in 10 Pakistanis worried that the U.S. would attack their country; 64 percent said the U.S. was more of a threat than India [bold mine-DL], with whom Pakistan has fought three wars and continues to detest.

That figure equals the percentage of Turks who see the U.S. as the greatest threat to their country.  So Washington has managed to give the impression in the last several years to our two largest, overwhelmingly Muslim allied states that we are their greatest enemies.  It sounds as if it’s about time to be awarding Karen Hughes her Medal of Freedom. 

It’s almost enough to make you wish that there was some seasoned State Department veteran as ambassador to Pakistan to work to control the damage.  Maybe someone named Ryan Crocker.  Unfortunately, he’s in Iraq trying to make the best out of an impossible situation–a perfect symbol of the extent of the distraction from more important goals that Iraq has become.

“I’ll make sure that our future is defined not by the letters ACLU, but by the letters USA.” ~Mitt Romney

It reminds me of one of the sparkling gems from his announcement speech:

That is the path that has been taken by much of Europe. It is called the welfare state.  It has led to high unemployment and anemic job growth. It is not the path to prosperity and leadership. 

“Empty suit” doesn’t begin to describe this candidate.

But if they’ve dropped the vampiric word, they haven’t dropped the vampiric implication. The new book suggests that the lobby for the Jewish state—unlike the lobby for, say, ethanol—is not just another successful interest group but somehow illegitimate because of its success, and that its influence on American policy has become so powerful and malign that no one dares challenge it (except, well, them, and a good number of Jews). ~Ron Rosenbaum

I don’t know why anyone should bother to answer this, except that the repetition of falsehoods long enough practiced has a way of making those falsehoods seem to be self-evident truth.  The authors state in no uncertain terms that “the lobby” is not illegitimate and its activities are not improper.  They say the following on p.13:

The Israel lobby is not a cabal or a conspiracy or anything of the sort.  It is engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie.  Pro-Israel groups in the United States are engaged in the same enterprise as other interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the AARP, or professional associations like the American Petroleum Institute, all of which also work hard to influence congressional legislation and presidential politics, and which, for the most part, operate in the open.  With a few exceptions, to be discussed in subsequent chapters, the lobby’s actions are thoroughly American and legitimate.

So the new book flatly rejects what Mr. Rosenbaum says that it suggests.  Preoccupied as he is with questions of moral imagination, he has apparently let his imagination get the better of him. 

He then goes on to quote Eliot Cohen’s scurrilous attack on the authors and then pretends to be agnostic about whether or not the quote from Cohen is true.  It’s an old Ciceronian-style trick: “I will not speak today about the gentleman’s lurid crimes and disgusting debauchery, as I am unsure whether they ever happened…”  Cohen was reiterating the lie that the authors accuse pro-Israel activists of being equivalent to foreign agents, and with amazing boldness claimed that Mearsheimer and Walt are the ones demonising policy differences in an article entitled, “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”  Indeed, there is no demonisation going on in the book, and for a “polemic” (as Rosenbaum calls it) it is amazingly free of invective.  It is staid, at times a bit dry.  If they were trying to write a “polemic,” they have been unsuccessful.   

No, the polemic is Mr. Rosenbaum’s.  Mr. Rosenbaum is annoyed because he thinks they quoted him out of context and put his quote in a passage that could give readers a very misleading impression of what he’s talking about.  He is troubled that someone would impute views to him that he does not hold!  Why, the nerve!  He has noted that the authors have pledged to correct the error, which is more than can be said for the legions of critics who routinely, happily impute views to the authors that they do not and that they categorically reject.  Mr. Rosenbaum is one those of critics falsely imputing views to others when he writes:

Wisse’s book doesn’t treat the idea of Jews having power as something necessarily threatening.

But Mearsheimer and Walt do not treat the “idea of Jews having power” as something “necessarily threatening.”  They don’t find it at all threatening.  They are quite at ease with “the idea.”  “Jews having power” isn’t the issue, and Mr. Rosenbaum must know that it isn’t, and he must know they don’t object to this idea.  They see pro-Israel interest groups wielding influence in ways that they deem harmful to U.S. strategic interests, much as an environmentalist might see lobbyists for developers as advocates for policies harmful to nature.  I might object to Ankara’s influence in Washington without thereby having a problem with “Turks having power.”  This line of argument is ridiculous.  Opponents criticise this or that lobby because it advances what they see as the wrong kinds of policies.  That’s it.     

As Glenn Greenwald shows in response to some of Ledeen’s rambling, the main rule of American politics I was talking about does not, of course, seem to apply to warmongers:

So Gen. Abizaid, who “failed” in his mission, also “suppressed” the “copious evidence” of Iranian involvement in Iraq. That sounds like Ledeen is accusing General Abizaid of being less than honest — how else can one characterize someone who “suppresses” evidence? — and that, as we learned this week, is not allowed. The Commander-in-Chief just explained this morning that such attacks are “disgusting” and constitute attacks on The Troops Themselves.

Greenwald also says all the necessary things about intellectual–and I would add moral–cowardice of neoconservative jingoes.

I don’t know whether Scarborough meant the last part rhetorically, but regardless he has picked up and extended a critical meme of modern liberal thinking – it’s President Bush’s war.  This couldn’t be more wrong, both factually and morally.  Regardless who started it and how it began, it is now an American war. ~Dean Barnett

Of course, it is Mr. Bush’s war.  He launched it arbitrarily and illegally.  He perpetuates it every day that it goes on.  He can end it any time he wishes, and he does not.  He received a meaningless resolution that “authorised” him to start a war and violate the Constitution, but the resolution actually authorised nothing.  It was simply a capitulation, a symbol of Congressional weakness and timidity, an abdication of the duties of the legislative branch.  He who would govern as an autocrat must accept the responsibility for what he unleashes upon the world.  It is Mr. Bush’s War, and in the last analysis it belongs to him more than to any other.  This is why “the people” do not have an obligation to continue this war, and why we are not bound by the promises of an arbitrary executive.  There was no real consultation with and consent of the people in the beginning, and there never has been.  The people do not accept responsibility for Mr. Bush’s War, no matter what twaddle Gov. Huckabee may offer on its behalf.    

Barnett refers to this Joe Scarborough post.  Like Scarborough, I think MoveOn.org was phenomenally stupid to run the Petraeus ad.  Worst of all, the attack ad is irrelevant.  MoveOn targeted Petraeus for criticism because it saw him as a threat, but his testimony changed absolutely nothing in public opinion.  As antiwar conservatives have come to expect from this sort, they shot themselves in the foot for no reason. 

Rather than thinking in terms of smart political strategy, MoveOn went for the viscerally satisfying put-down typical of the left-wing netroots set.  They are, of course, an embarrassment to opponents of the war, and above all they are a joke, which is what you would have to expect from an organisation that was founded on the principle that Bill Clinton was a good President. 

I have yet to understand the thinking of progressives who want to fight their political foes on such unfavourable ground.  The clever line of attack would have been to stress Petraeus’ relative successes while emphasising how futile and impossible the overall mission still was.  Didn’t these fools learn the basic rules of American politics: whatever you do, hands off the military, which you shall not criticise in any substantial way.  It doesn’t matter right now whether this is a desirable state of affairs (it would horrify the Founders)–it is the political reality that we have.  Publicly criticising a combatant commander is political suicide.  Small children know this.  The brain-damaged know this.  Dogs know this.  MoveOn apparently does not.  

It is, of course, tempting to accuse domestic supporters of the war of the same things they routinely accuse us of doing: treason, subversion and all manner of villainy.  It is very tempting sometimes.  You have no idea.  It is tempting to come up with arguments why they deserve those accusations, but it is wrong.  Many of them may espouse loyalty to an abstraction and a myth, but I think they are not willfully disloyal to their country.  They are dishonourable enough to accuse many others of disloyalty, but that is something else.  Accusing other people of treason over political differences is the act of an ideologue, a commissar, the very sort of person who has promoted this war and backed this administration to the hilt. 

Even so, leveling such accusations at military personnel is utterly and in all ways foolish and misguided.  First of all, it is almost certainly false, it is a show of disrespect to men who are in almost every case trying to carry out an impossible task assigned them by their civilian masters, and it is politically buffoonish.  Tragically, it helps the administration’s apologists and the supporters of prolonging the Iraq war.  With friends like MoveOn.org, the antiwar movement needs no foes.     

The relationship of the United States and Israel is special, even unique. And it seems not to fit their schema very well - which, in their eyes, can only mean that there is something “off” about the relationship, not about their framework. ~Scott McLemee

Via Cliopatria

Of course, this is where the original essay, and now the book, really bothered a lot of people–the authors simply rejected the assertions (and assertions are all that they usually are) that Israel is strategically valuable, reliable and that its relationship with America is “special, even unique.”  If you do not accept these very questionable assumptions, U.S. policy towards Israel appears irrational and at odds with the national interest.  To which defenders of that policy say, “You better believe it’s irrational!  It’s based on a special, unique relationship that you don’t understand.  Now stop puncturing our myths.”  

If you do not accept a priori claims about the significance of the current relationship, you might reasonably think that political activists have built up these claims and used political pressure to have them accepted.  That is what political activists do–they work to shape perceptions and tell a story that is most advantageous to their cause.  It is apparently pernicious to point out that this also happens in the setting of Near Eastern policy. 

Now the relationship didn’t used to be so “special,” much less unique.  At the founding of Israel, Secretary Marshall didn’t want to recognise the state but was overruled by Truman, which tells me that the obvious, natural and “special” bonds tying the two countries together were hardly anything of the kind sixty years ago.  At the time of Suez, the relationship wasn’t very good at all.  In 1967 it wasn’t good, either.  The “special, even unique” bond with Israel that is supposed to have these deep roots in our own “secular Zionism” and past rhetoric about being the Chosen People (which, besides being an impious usurpation of a role that orthodox Christians properly attribute to the Church rather than to a nation, is obviously a direct rejection of the Jews’ claim to the same role in the present, since a New Israel displaces the Old) has existed for a little over thirty years.  In its present “unprecedented” form the relationship has existed for all of six years.    

Of course, the South African Nationalists were heir to the Calvinists who believed the Afrikaners to be the New Israel in a new Promised Land.  It was not because of this rhetoric of Christian Zionism, but rather in spite of it, that Israel and SA collaborated on security matters.  Like their distant coreligionists in New England, the Afrikaners thought of themselves as the Chosen People because of their Christianity, which meant for them that the Church took the place of Israel.  This is not normally seen as the basis for strong solidarity with contemporary Jewish people, because it obviously isn’t.  In any other context, no one would propose that talk of New Israel means anything else.  It seems to be a measure of the general ignorance of Christian theological tradition that such a claim could be made in earnest. 

Early modern and modern usage of the New Israel language was frequently used by (at least nominal) Christians engaged in nation-building or nation-expanding efforts; the experience of settling new lands and displacing the indigenous peoples, often by violence, made it natural to draw comparisons with the Old Testament Israelites.  Settlers from Reformed traditions seem to have been more inclined to draw such comparisons because of their more frequent recourse to the Old Testament, which would have made it the most likely source for literary and symbolic references.  

In the preface to their book (which, it might be noted as an aside, is dedicated to their colleague and friend Samuel Huntington), Mearsheimer and Walt make a point that I think has been overlooked in the larger debate about their argument:

America’s response to that war [Lebanon, 2006] proved to be a further illustration of the lobby’s power, as well as its harmful influence on U.S. and Israeli interests.

That would seem to agree with what I said here, though I will need to read on more to see what they say specifically about Lebanon.

NATO and EU missions are hampered by low defense budgets among almost all the states of both organizations. “For decades, successive secretary generals of NATO said defense budgets are too low to do the things we have to do,” said Appathurai, the NATO spokesman. ~International Herald-Tribune

Via James

Continuing our NATO-fest, which our Scene colleague Matt Frost has also joined, James points to this IHT story on the stillborn Rapid Reaction Force.  This makes you wonder how much Australia, Japan et al. would really bring to the the “new NATO” of Giuliani’s fever dreams.  Australia has been engaged in a military buildup that has brought its defense spending to a whopping 2% of GDP, while Japan’s defense budget is 1% and India’s is just a little over 2%.  That means that India and Australia just barely meet minimum NATO standards of a defense budget at 2% of GDP, and Japan does not.  In absolute terms, they are three of the top twelve nations in military spending, but their budgets are not that much larger than those of mid-level NATO states, such as Spain and Poland.  Britain’s capacity has already been pushed to the limit (while being gutted by the Blair Government at the same time), and it is one of the better-funded NATO members.  If most current NATO members cannot be bothered to increase their spending (and they can’t), why would India, Australia or Japan do so to provide resources for a “new NATO”?  Coming back to Ross’ question: what would the “new NATO” actually be trying to do that would persuade Indian, Australian and Japanese voters to accept larger and larger military budgets?

P.S. Yes, I realise this tends to give a manifestly stupid idea far more consideration than it probably deserves, but there are so many things wrong with the proposal that it is difficult to sum them all up in one or two posts.

Never one to miss an opportunity to embarrass himself, Michael Gerson successfully rebuts a claim that Mearsheimer and Walt never made:

In fact, Israeli officials have been consistently skeptical about the main policy innovation of the Bush era: the democracy agenda.

Of course, Mearsheimer and Walt do not claim in their original essay that Israeli officials encouraged the “democracy agenda.”  Their focus in any case is primarily on the domestic lobbying and political efforts of pro-Israel activist groups, not all of which are in agreement with Israeli government positions.  Gerson ignores all of this, and thus evades the substance of the matter.   Some pro-Israel activists in this country and U.S. officials did and still do endorse the “democracy agenda” and were adamant about its importance.  Some pro-Israel former members of the administration are also ideological democratists (e.g., Paul Wolfowitz), which explains the difference between these American pro-Israel figures and the Israeli government view.  The difference between them can best be understood by the distances involved: the Israelis have to live with the disastrous consequences of democratisation, while pro-Israel democratists can pat themselves on the back and feel morally superior for having supported political reform without running any risk themselves.   

Gerson spent all those years in the White House and doesn’t seem to remember what the major policy innovation of the administration was.  Actually, the “main policy innovation of the Bush era,” a.k.a., the Bush Doctrine, is the idea that the United States should target terrorism-sponsoring regimes for elimination and use preventive warfare against those states that appear to pose a long-term threat of developing and/or distributing “weapons of mass destruction.”  That is the radical, new thing that Mr. Bush introduced, and for the most part it has been a failure in practice.  That is the part that some Israeli officials had no problem with at all, even if some would have preferred more attention be paid to Iran. 

The U.S. government has been formally promoting democracy as the “solution” to the ills of “developing” nations, including nations in the Near East, at least since the Carter Administration.  In its foolishness and misguided idealism, Mr. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” is every bit as counterproductive to U.S. (and Israeli) interests as Mr. Carter’s Shah-undermining democracy promotion was 30 years ago and has had more or less the same results.

The rest of Gerson’s article is rubbish (maybe it’s even “dangerous rubbish”), since he does not even attempt to address what Mearsheimer and Walt actually say.  He ignores the militantly pro-Israel policy views of many conservative evangelicals and the political pressure they bring to bear on Republican candidates by saying that Mr. Bush does not accept premillennial dispensationalist theology, as if Mearsheimer and Walt said anything of the kind (they did not).  Indeed, the two authors made a point of referring to pro-Israel Christians by way of anticipating the charge that they are discussing a “Jewish lobby,” when they clearly are not.  They are talking about a collection of American interest groups that support, in their view, a misguided and dangerous foreign policy.  Since that foreign policy is misguided and dangerous, and inimical to American security interests, critics of the essay never have anything to say on the substance of the matter, but must constantly talk of anti-Semitism and conspiracies.  References to “grassy knoll” and “the DaVinci Code” have no place in a serious response to the argument the authors make, but then there has hardly ever been a serious response made by anyone.  Lacking in anything to say, Gerson resorts to the standard method of vilification followed by arrogant dismissal.

The appeal to the opinions of the mob people, which is what pro-Israel pundits are always reduced to, is not very compelling, and I’ll tell you why.  Large parts of the public have long been very fond of Britain, they have many sentimental and cultural attachments to Britain, many of them are of English, Scotch, Welsh or Irish descent and feel a strong affinity for the people of Britain, and they see the origins of their own political principles in the British constitution.  That doesn’t mean that there were not very specific and powerful interests lobbying for U.S. entry into wars that had no connection to U.S. national interests.  Those interests wanted U.S. entry into WWI to protect Britain (some of this concerned large loans that had been made to Britain), and they managed to use their considerable influence to bring political pressure on the government to go to war against Germany.  An overwhelming majority of the public, despite having many reasons to sympathise with Britain and despite knowing about German provocations that helped build support for war, did not want to go to war in 1917.  Over two-thirds of the people did not want to fight in a European war.  Interested parties lobbying the government for war and a President already inclined to intervene brought us into that war.  If Gerson had been alive then, he would assure us that there were no Anglophile Eastern business and financial interests involved in the drive to intervene in WWI because they did not endorse Wilson’s Fourteen Points.  He thinks that an example of a different bad policy that the interest groups did not push proves that they do not wield the kind of influence attributed to them regarding an entirely distinct policy.  In other words, he cannot reason properly.

Advocacy for certain policies is what political activists and interest groups do: they shape and influence policy by wielding political clout and threaten those who don’t play ball with strong opposition.  This is how petitioning and lobbying works.  As Mearsheimer and Walt have said repeatedly, this is a legitimate and proper part of our political system.  To listen to their critics, you would never know that they say this.  

Activists are by definiton more focused and intent on specific areas of policy than the political class or public generally.  The interest groups the activists and lobbyists represent are focused on how any given politician votes on their pet issues, and they make sure to broadcast those votes to their groups’ members and make sure to support the political rivals of those who vote the ‘wrong’ way.  Publicising the record of someone as an opponent of your group’s goals is a standard method of trying to wield influence, and better still if the group can spin that opposition as an expression of some hateful or vicious attitude.   

While there may be groups that offer opposing views and try to see them enshrined into policy, it is often the case that one side of any given debate is much more mobilised, energised and better prepared to get its view across.  That is certainly the case in American domestic politics when it comes to policy related to the Near East and to Israel in particular.  This means that policy will tend to be influenced by those groups that have the most passionate and often more extreme views about a subject than the general population (including the larger group that the activist and lobbyist claim to represent), but even more so by those that are well-connected to both parties and well-funded.  Because such interest groups are typically so passionately committed to the policies that they want to see enacted, it is usually prudent for politicians who don’t want trouble to yield to their entreaties on any particular vote, unless there are other, even more powerful, countervailing interests that take precedence.  With respect to pro-Israel groups, they are able to deploy a number of additional political threats, including ultimately using the threat of a charge of softness on terrorism or anti-Semitism to intimidate and cajole dissenters on a relevant vote.  There is usually no political benefit in angering such groups, and nothing to be gained and much to be lost by taking the opposing side.  This is not because the public is overflowing with ardent love of Israel (this is exaggerated considerably), but because these groups will target those who oppose their agenda.  Such groups can make the political lives of opponents much more difficult, and the fear of this discourages opposition in the first place. 

The most effective interest groups are those that are better organised, better funded and better able to communicate their message to politicians than their rivals.  By general agreement, AIPAC is considered the most effective single organisation; add to its significant clout all the other interest groups that have a stake in promoting what are perceived to be “pro-Israel” policies, and you have a formidable array of interests that nonetheless represent a fairly narrow sliver of the nation. 

However, just because an interest group is effective, organised, well-funded and able to communicate well obviously does not mean that it represents the broad public interest.  By definition, it represents a fairly narrow interest, but one which it claims is consistent and complementary with the public interest.  But any narrow interest group’s claims of this kind can be, and frequently are, exaggerated, if not entirely false.  The group or groups has/have every right to compete for its share of influence, but no group has some unquestionable right to that influence.  Its preferred policies are not beyond question, and the scope of its influence is not beyond scrutiny.  If the policies it proposes are damaging to the commonwealth and the national interest, any narrow interest must be challenged and questioned and its agenda opposed if necessary.  Attempts to wrap itself in popular opinion should be seen as the cynical ploys that they are.  When defenders of the interest group or groups begin resorting to ad hominem and invective, this should be taken as indirect proof that they cannot defend the substance of their preferred policies on the merits.

What Mearsheimer and Walt say is very straightforward and not in the least sinister.  They say that American pro-Israel groups and individuals, for which “the Lobby” was used as a catch-all shorthand term, wield great influence and shape U.S. policy in the Near East to a considerable extent.  Since no one can actually deny that this is true, they impugn the motives of the people saying it.  But if the present level and nature of support for Israel are so natural, so obviously right and so consistent with the American interest, as the defenders of the supposedly non-existent lobby say, why all the hysterical fits and foaming at the mouth?  Why the rampant talk of anti-Semitism?  Why is it not deemed a legitimate difference of opinion over U.S. national interests in the Near East?  Why can no one–literally no one–put forth a positive case for the current U.S.-Israel relationship in response to Mearsheimer/Walt? 

I would have to guess that it is because pro-Israel activists cannot justify the current U.S.-Israel relationship in terms of its advantages for the United States, because they are only too aware that there are not many tangible or discernible advantages for the U.S. coming from this relationship.  The costs are only too obvious.  In any remotely realistic calculation of costs and benefits, the pro-Israel side loses and loses badly.  That is why we must never peer too closely at the costs and benefits, or we might soon start adopting different policies.  I would guess that pro-Israel activists support the current shape of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the policies related to it in the conviction that they are the “right thing” to do for both countries.  There is just no tangible, measurable or visible evidence that this is so, and plenty that seems to point towards the opposite conclusion.        

NATO has already expanded to include former adversaries, taken on roles for which it was not originally conceived, and acted beyond its original theater. We should build on these successes and think more boldly and more globally. We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location. The new NATO should dedicate itself to confronting significant threats to the international system, from territorial aggression to terrorism. I hope that NATO members will see the wisdom in such changes. NATO must change with the times, and its members must always match their rhetorical commitment with action and investment. In return, America can assure them that we will be there for them in times of crisis. ~Rudy Giuliani

James and I have had our turns criticising Giuliani’s most recent re-statement of this proposal, but this section of his FA essay could stand a little more scrutiny.  Giuliani says that NATO should “build on these successes.”  Which successes?  Bombing the Serbs and provoking Russia by incorporating its former satellites into the alliance?  Evidently.  If we have many more such “successes,” we might wind up with a real crisis with Russia on our hands.  If this is what Giuliani rates as a successful adaptation of NATO, we do not want to see what he would do with an even larger alliance. 

NATO has acted beyond its original theater in Afghanistan because the alliance was fulfilling its obligations to respond to an attack on a member state.  He says the “new NATO” should confront threats to the “international system” (which he has already shown that he does not understand), but he gives no indication that NATO would cease to be an alliance for mutual defense.  Even so, he says:

We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location.  

On its face, this means that any state in the world that meets these criteria can belong to the alliance and would presumably be entitled to the same security guarantees as any other member.  In the new, global “NATO,” on what basis would you make security guarantees to Poland and Latvia and not to the new members?  Giuliani lays out activities for the “new NATO,” but says nothing about the benefits of membership, except saying that “America can assure them that we will be there for them in times of crisis.”  Is it not safe to assume that the benefits of mutual defense remain?  And if America will “be there for them,” are major European states not going to “be there” for the new members and vice versa?  Of what use is the alliance to eastern European states if those security benefits disappear with the “transformation” of NATO into GloboLegion?   

Update: Ross makes other sound critiques of Giuliani’s “new NATO” here.  He starts with what should be the first question everyone asks about this: Why do it? 

Would Mukasey be out of his depth as AG?  Bob Novak says yes, and provides the story of how Mukasey was selected.  In fairness to Mukasey, whose experience on the federal bench makes him look like a Titan compared to the man he’s replacing, there are probably many very competent people who are “unqualified and ill-equipped” to rehabilitate the Justice Department after Gonzales trashed the place with his mismanagement.  It could well be that no Attorney General could undo the damage that Gonzales has done over the past two and a half years in the time remaining in the second term. 

That said, it does seem that Novak’s view is correct–there were other potential nominees whose experience in the department would have made them much more effective in cleaning up the current mess.  Everyone is pointing to Mukasey’s long legal career, which certainly looks impressive, but running a government department is a very different kind of task.  At the start of a presidential term, Mukasey would be a good enough selection, but if this were the start of the term the President would not be so politically hobbled and weak, the Democrats wouldn’t control the Senate and selecting Mukasey would be unnecessary.  Well, as they say, decisions have consequences.   

Someone else noticed Fred Thompson’s bit of stupidity that I criticised here.  It is apparently also a regular part of his stump routine.  The Post writer notes:

Even if the Soviet Union is not included in the calculation, U.S. military casualties in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth (”a combination of nations,” in Thompson’s phrase) in World War I and World War II. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Commonwealth lost 1.7 million troops in the two world wars.

Even excluding WWI, which was a fight for the “rights of small nations” only in the delusional mind of Woodrow Wilson and his admirers, Thompson’s claim is false and obviously so.  Of course, in my original post, I didn’t talk about the Soviets, because the idea that the Soviets were fighting for “other people’s liberty” was ludicrous and obviously so.  The Post does itself no favours by even mentioning this, since it has a perfectly solid argument against Thompson’s claim by looking at the sacrifices made by all our free allies in WWII.  There might be another occasion for acknowledging the enormous losses suffered by the USSR in WWII, but this was not it.

Thompson’s claim wasn’t exactly “jingoistic,” though it might be employed in service of future jingoism, but it was certainly nationalist and was rather chauvinistic at that.  It is a declaration of vast American moral superiority over all other nations put together.  These are the words of someone who would be President?  He would be the one to represent our country to the world?  The President, whose words carry tremendous influence for good or ill, cannot long afford to be so reckless and sloppy in his language as this. 

Thompson’s statement was an insistence that Americans have sacrificed more than all other nations combined for the sake of liberty.  It was plainly inaccurate, which is bad enough, but the significance of the remark is much worse.  I say again that this is an example of appalling arrogance and a show of enormous disrespect to all those soldiers of free nations that fought alongside our soldiers.  We expect, no, we normally demand that western Europeans remember the sacrifices made by Americans on their behalf.  They should remember and respect our war dead, just as we should remember and respect theirs.  We were allies, fighting on the same side towards the same end.  

Republican politicians were not always so oblivious to the rest of the world.  We once had a President who proudly acknowledged the contributions of U.S. allies in Normandy:

Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken. There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers. 

“The impossible valor of the Poles” has no place in Fred Thompson’s view of what happened in WWII, nor do the forces of free France or the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.  Apparently, he thinks it’s all about us, or at least it is so much more about our role that everyone else just pales in comparison.  In his view, we must have done all the heavy lifting and all the real work.  The hundreds of thousands of Allied dead?  Fred Thompson doesn’t remember them, doesn’t even seem to know that they exist.  With his embarrassing statement, which he keeps reiterating, Fred Thompson is reminding us why he is not like that President and why he is not fit to be our next President. 

Taking pride in the achievements of our country is admirable and good, and we should be enormously grateful to those who served and those who lost their lives in America’s foreign wars.  Maybe that was Thompson’s original intention in saying what he did, but even the best of intentions do not excuse such historical ignorance and disrespect to some of our oldest, most reliable allies.  Patriots do not need to boast of the greatness of their country or the extent of the sacrifices made by their people.  They do not need to tally up casualties to prove their country’s value, nor do they need to constantly talk about how superior the country is.  Indeed, they can bring disrepute to their country by insisting on its superiority.  As we are reminded (a little too often) in other contexts, Americans have no monopoly on the love of liberty, nor have we outdone all other nations combined in the sacrifices made in its defense.  A patriot loves and admires his country and its people because they are his own and because they possess virtues peculiar to them–not because they are The Best Ever or The Most Heroic Ever.  Such an attitude seems to premise patriotism on the greatness of a people’s achievements, when patriotism should inspire the native of the tiniest, least powerful land in the world. 

It should be enough to say that our armies truly have fought and sacrificed for the sake of the freedom of other peoples.  That is true, that is admirable and that is something that should never be forgotten.  Neither should it be distorted or exaggerated into something that it is not–this is actually to fail to respect the actual achievements of our soldiers and to invent other achievements to take their place.  The reality of American sacrifice in WWII, for example, is sufficient to merit great honour and respect, and it does not need this exaggeration.  Chauvinists exaggerate the reality because they cannot tolerate other nations sharing in the praise and the glory of the achievement–they want it all for their own country.  Chauvinism of this kind is a disorder of the appetitive part of the soul.  It is an excess of pride. 

What can Thompson’s remarks be but a slight (unwitting and ignorant as it may be) to all those British, Commonwealth and free European soldiers who were there together with ours in France, Italy, the Low Countries and Germany?  How would Thompson’s defenders react if a foreign politician said something that excluded and ignored the sacrifices of Americans?  They’d scream bloody murder, that’s what they’d do, and they would have a point.  Well, it works both ways.  Some people have forgotten how to show respect to American allies over the last few years, and in the process they have forgotten that Americans will soon receive no respect if they do not show it towards other nations as well.   

Update: Alex Massie makes other good points related to WWII and modern American obliviousness about Allied contributions in his post on Gelernter.

Look, if we were at all serious about public diplomacy, we’d have had all our regional experts who speak Arabic flooding the airwaves apologizing for Condi’s immensely tone-deaf “birth pangs” comment during the Lebanon-Israeli war the summer before last, when the entire Islamic world was enraged by images of cluster munitions being littered willy-nilly through south Lebanon, not to mention the horrific incident at Qana. Or she would follow her predecessor Colin Powell’s recommendation to close Guantanamo without delay, by having a come to Jesus w/ the Decider about how the Cuban penal colony (along with the hooded man at Abu Ghraib) was overshadowing the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America among many around the world.

These would be the makings of a serious public diplomacy effort, not this breezy, palsy-walsy festiveness with Cal [Ripken]. But what good does it do to scream on like this? You do public diplomacy with the public diplomacy team you have…. ~Greg Djerejian

Via Yglesias

I agree.  Then again, if we were serious about public diplomacy we would have a lot more regional experts who speak Arabic working for the government than we do right now.

Djerejian is responding to this unfortunate episode, catching Secretary Rice saying something especially silly:

I’ll bet he’s going to go out and find people who want to be Cal Ripken in…Pakistan, people who want to be Cal Ripken in Guatemala, people who want to be Cal Ripken in Europe, and that’s the wonderful thing about sports…it really transcends culture and it transcends identity.

That must be why we are all such avid soccer and cricket fans here, and hockey is wildly popular in Brazil.

The WSJ story on Giuliani’s London visit included this

“This is no time for defeatism and appeasement,” Mr. Giuliani said of Islamist terrorism, using Churchillian language of 1930s Europe. Shifting forward five decades, he added: “As Margaret Thatcher would have put it, this isn’t a time to go wobbly!”

He can really string those cliches together, can’t he?  (Of course, the word appeasement became a dirty word because it was used by Chamberlain and had less than optimal results as a policy.)  I wonder if Giuliani will ever be able to say anything about foreign policy without falling back on tired slogans, bluster and invoking the names of Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher.  Hang on, that sounds like someone else we know…

This bit from the story was remarkable:

“I don’t think of Sept. 11 as being my defining experience,” Mr. Giuliani told reporters before the speech. 

No, he just wants everyone else to think of it as his defining experience, and he just happens to mention it at every possible opportunity. 

Mr. Giuliani argues his foreign-policy experience is extensive, though perhaps easily overlooked because it is less traditional. 

“Less traditional” here means “non-existent.”  Romney has similarly grand foreign policy “experience”–he refused to give Khatami state police protection at Harvard–but even Romney has visited Iraq.  It’s amusing that Giuliani somehow thinks that going to London and making a speech constitute an example of gaining foreign policy experience.  He and Thompson really are more alike than either would like to admit. 

Giuliani also made sure to remind us that he is a crazy person:

Mr. Giuliani used his speech to call for expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, mentioning for the first time that he’d like to bring Israel into the alliance, which now includes European countries, Canada and the U.S. He also mentioned Japan, India, Singapore and Australia as potential candidates.

Bringing in Israel doesn’t strike me as a feasible option, but then I don’t think NATO should still exist.  But Singapore?  India?  Japan?  Does that mean if Pakistan and India get into a shooting war, NATO attacks Pakistan?  Giuliani does know where the Atlantic Ocean is, doesn’t he?  He was giving the Atlantic Bridge lecture, after all.  Why this doesn’t make him a laughingstock, I’ll never understand.

It is interesting to note in passing how much more Republicans love Margaret Thatcher than do many members of her own party.  The Tories are in the perpetual electoral bind that they’re in for many reasons, but one of the reasons is that they are about as competitive in the North as Michael Dukakis was in Utah.  The way Thatcher privatised industry in those areas is a large part of the reason why those regions are lost to Conservatives.

Update: James makes the right points about this NATO expansion nonsense.

Via Dan McCarthy, the Taft Club discusses the relationship between the right and the GOP.  The above quote refers, of course, to the Bush administration.  The moderator of the panel refers to the war as being obviously a “quagmire with no compelling rationale.”

Rudy Giuliani scored a coup in his White House campaign yesterday by meeting Gordon Brown at No 10, conferring with Tony Blair, receiving an award from Baroness Thatcher and wrapping himself in the legacy of Winston Churchill. ~The Daily Telegraph

It’s enough to make one violently ill.  We may forgive Baroness Thatcher, since she is advanced in years and has politely received other hopeless Republican candidates.  Otherwise, we have the spectacle of Giuliani meeting with two of the more loathsome politicians on the other side of the Atlantic.  For that matter, it is only in the warped world of the modern GOP that a photo-op with Tony Blair would be considered a boon. 

Update: The WSJ headline today is “Giuliani Visit to London Aims To Bolster Credentials”–how have we come to such a pass where Republican presidential hopefuls seem to feel obliged to make a pilgrimage to Britain?  How does visiting with British politicians bolster credentials?  As someone who follows British politics pretty closely, it seems to me that association with most of the people in politics could only drag a candidate down.  I have to confess that I don’t fully understand the Churchillophilia that grips so many on the right today, but admiration for Churchill has begun to change from being an annoying rhetorical tic and become almost a kind of requirement for office.  This kind of pilgrimage can only work by going Britain, since no aspiring candidate would dare visit any other country and seek the blessing of past or current political leaders.  We won’t be seeing anyone falling over himself to win Jose Maria Aznar’s approval.   

“Safe and superficial.”

I have never seen an issue where the short-term interests of Republican presidential candidates in the primaries were more starkly at odds with the long-term interests of the party itself. ~Michael Gerson

Gerson is right about one thing (and one thing only): there is a stark opposition.  There is a short-term temptation for Republican candidates this year and next to pursue Hispanic votes in the general election through the shameless and misguided pandering of embracing Gerson’s preferred, horrible immigration policy, which, if enacted, would result in the guaranteed long-term destruction of the GOP as a competitive national party.  There is a temptation to treat Hispanic voters like idiots and pretend that liberalising immigration is their top priority (only slightly less condescending than the old Republican effort in the ’90s to try to build up support among Hispanics by supporting Puerto Rican statehood).  Of course, the reason why Hispanics do not tend to vote for Republicans and young Hispanics are even less likely to do so is that these voters do not support the various other, non-immigration policies championed by the GOP.  This is, in fact, why most immigrants tend to vote for the Democrats: Democrats propose policies on social services, education, welfare and the like that are more likely to benefit immigrants, or which are more likely to be in keeping with the political traditions they have brought with them from their old countries.  Additionally, Republicans cannot outdo Democrats in their enthusiasm for multiculturalism, since they have no enthusiasm for it.  They cannot be insistent on assimilation, which is what their constituents demand, while playing up to bilingualism or rhetoric about strength in diversity.  

Hispanic voters’ opinions on immigration policy are hardly monolithic.  The idea that capitulating to immigration liberalisation or amnesty will win over these voters assumes that actual Hispanic voters want such policies, when a sizeable number of them may prefer immigration restriction.  Gerson wants the GOP to do two incredibly stupid things at the same time: pander to Hispanics by adopting strongly pro-immigration views, thus alienating core constituencies of the party, and simultaneously insult the Hispanics with this pandering while ignoring any and all other policy issues that are the actual source of Hispanic alienation from the GOP.  It is a combination of substantively bad policy with an embarrassing attempt to employ the symbolic politics that both parties use to feign concern for this or that community.  It would be much more refreshing if pro-immigration Republicans could at least acknowledge that they support liberalisation and amnesty because it suits the interests of large businesses even though it means future doom for the GOP. 

I know that you’ve waited patiently for another Bollywood-related post.  Believe it or not, it’s been over two months since I last wrote about anything of the kind.  So, here is a nice patriotic song from Veer-Zaara.  Razib Khan will be pleased that I have stopped fixating on Bengali actresses.

P.S. As a bonus, here is an old one from Gambler: Dil Aaj Shayar Hai.  Another classic, Aye Dil E Nadan, is here.  Along the patriotic lines of Aisa Des Hai Mera, here is Des Rangeela from Fanaa.

P.P.S.  While I’m at it, I can’t leave out a note about Armenian.  It will not be much of a surprise to find out that the two languages have virtually identical demonstratives meaning ”this” (ays and aisa), but it is an interesting thing to note in passing.   

A few pokes have made the structure wobble and sway, and if enough of us get together, we could push it all right over. ~Pharyngula

Via Sullivan

Yes, it’s not because atheist diatribes are feebly argued and pitiful that we ridicule and deride them, but because they are so powerful and threatening to the claims of faith.  That must be why atheism is taking the world by storm…oh, wait, it isn’t.  Of course these insults provoke religious people to indignant response, and especially because the arguments used are tendentious or inaccurate or intellectually sloppy (or all three together).  But this really is one of the weakest argument of them all.  It’s as if a man called your mother filthy names and then used your outraged response as proof that the accusations are true.

Then there is the old chestnut that any and all religion is a prop of tyrants and a license to abuse power.  I should have thought that this would have been revealed as absurd by the end of the twentieth century, but why would anything as trivial as empirically verifiable historical record disturb the comfortable and lazy habits of the atheist mind?  The Church at its best was historically the bane of arbitrary rulers and abuses of secular power, and even the most autocratic of Christian rulers would have never contemplated the mass slaughter of innocents that enlightened revolutionaries carried out.  Even in the worst persecutions of heretics (and I would note that one of the most ancient and most thoroughly Christianised polities, namely Byzantium, generally avoided any executions of heretics), it was typical that only recalcitrant heresiarchs would be punished.  Enlightened terror tries to wipe out entire communities, entire nations, for the “greater good” or “utopia” or some damned pseudo-scientific lie.  And, of course, plenty of enlightened atheists have accepted the political rationalisations of mass murder while they scoff at the punishment of heretics.  If the “New Atheists” want to play the game of “whose mentality is more likely to lead to tyranny and state-sanctioned killing?” they shall lose, and lose badly.

He goes on:

We can admire the scattered bits of rational architecture that have arisen from the flawed bases of religion … but what if all of humanity were building on the bedrock of naturalism and reason, instead of that quaking vapor of god-belief? We could reach so much higher!

Yes, as high as the tower of Babel…but then that didn’t go very well, did it?

Americanism is the set of beliefs that has always held this country together in its large embrace. Americanism calls for liberty, equality, and democracy for all mankind. And it urges this nation to promote the American Creed wherever and whenever it can–to be the shining city on a hill, the “last, best hope of earth.” Ultimately, Americanism is derived from the Bible [bold mine-DL]. The Bible itself has been a grand unifying force in American society, uniting Christians of many creeds from Eastern Orthodox to Unitarian, and Jews, and Bible-respecting deists like Thomas Jefferson–and many others who respect and honor the Bible whatever their own religious beliefs. ~David Gelernter 

Simply ridiculous.  What can I say?  Do Jews respect the Septuagint?  Are they unified behind the New Testament?  Jefferson “respected” the Bible the way that a butcher “respects” the carcass of an animal–he chopped up the New Testament and kept the bits of the Gospels that he thought were suitably “rational,” which leads me to note that my WWTW colleague Paul Cella has a good post on Gelernter’s latest.  Paul’s Marcion reference is very good, since Gelernter is a modern gnostic of sorts, and the reference to Marcion makes the comparison with Jefferson only too obvious.  If Marcionites, too, might be counted in the broad church of ”Bible-respecting” folk, we can see just how utterly meaningless such respect is.   

Gelernter’s article is something amazing to behold.  It combines almost every hateful aspect of nationalism and every piece of degraded thinking shared by war supporters today.  It blithely confuses opponents of particular wars with adherents of doctrinaire pacifism, a view that virtually no one in this country holds today.  Anyone who opposes the war in Iraq knows all too well how idiotic it is to try to describe the leadership of the modern Democratic Party as pacifistic.  If they were, they might at least have the stomach to try to end this war outright, and, of course, they do not.  Gelernter sets a new standard for unintentional irony by damning globalism in the pages of The Weekly Standard, a flagship of globaloney if ever there was one.  There is, of course, the required mockery of France and the obligatory nod to Joe Lieberman, and every other intellectually lazy rhetorical move that we have come to expect from neoconservatives.  It is really quite dreadful.   

Consider this bit of Gelernter’s “reasoning”:

You might argue that World War II has nothing to do with Iraq; after all, the Japanese started the fight by attacking our fleet at Pearl Harbor. But even the Japanese never succeeded in slaughtering civilians on the U.S. mainland. And those who think that our war in Iraq has nothing to do with the 9/11 murderers, or their friends whose ultimate target is America, are living in Fantasyland.  

Actually, one might argue that WWII has nothing to do with Iraq because WWII ended over sixty years ago and was fought in entirely different parts of the world against radically different enemies.  As for living in a fantasy, I expect that Gelernter would know all about that by now. 

This is really a shame.  Some years ago I heard good things about Gelernter’s Drawing Life (perhaps I heard incorrectly?), and I imagined that because of his personal experience he would have to have been keenly aware of the dangers of ideological fanaticism and the glorification of violence as a means of change.  Apparently he has come to different conclusions.  

Gelernter’s article is just a rehashed version of his new book’s thesis as applied to the latest political controversy, in this case the fight over Petraeus’ testimony.  It confirms my impression that Gelernter’s book does not simply try to describe the idea of “Americanism.”  A description and analysis of the idea might not indicate any approval of the thing being described.  He might have written a book about Americanism describing the “Americanist heresy” and could have been quite hostile to it, but, of course, this is David Gelernter we’re talking about.  Far from opposing the heresy, he seems interested in becoming its latest heresiarch.  He is interested in championing his brand of Americanism quite actively, even if that means grossly distorting or oversimplifying American history, among other things, in the process.  It also seems to mean extolling the virtues of every military conflict of the last century, going out of his way to defend the merits of the most astonishingly futile of wars.  He manages to find words of praise for British intervention in WWI (!), which even one so belligerent as Niall Ferguson was sane enough to recognise as an unparalleled national disaster for Britain.  Perhaps if more leaders in 1914 had belonged to the mythical church of appeasement that Gelernter has invented in this latest exercise in lame, shabby Europe-bashing, European civilisation would not have come crashing down in an orgy of bloodshed–not that I expect him to care about the fate of European civilisation, since he seems to loathe Europeans so intensely.

From the book description of Americanism:

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.

Conflating one’s country with nationalist ideology is bad enough, but to imagine that your ideological nation is itself the font of a “religion,” and that Americanism is ”derived from the Bible” at that, is so perverse that words fail me.

We often hear about the Brits boffo counterinsurgency in Malaysia. But are the British still in Malaysia? Yes, it was a communist insurgency, which they defeated. But they also left, which presumably sapped the nationalist dimension from equation. ~Josh Marshall

As others have pointed out before, the Malayan case is much less encouraging for us, since the communist insurgents came primarily from the Chinese minority and so did not have nearly as much of a popular “sea” in which to swim.  It was more like a small pond.  The Muslim Malay majority was not sympathetic to their goals, and Malay nationalists supported the British effort in exchange for a promise of independence, which made the insurgents’ political marginalisation and defeat much, much easier.  Decolonisation and independence were already in the works, while communist revolution seemed both unnecessary and undesirable to the majority. 

Both Malaya and Vietnamese insurgencies grew out of the resistance to Japanese occupation, but the chief difference was that the Vietminh could appeal to national identity in ways that the communist insurgents in Malaya could not.  In other words, the Malayan insurgency lost in part because it could not count on a nationalist dimension in its fight, since the insurgents were not representing a nationalist cause, but rather an ideological one and one associated with a small minority group.  (Comparing the Malayan and Vietnamese cases seems to confirm Prof. Lukacs’ view that nationalism is the far more powerful and therefore potentially more dangerous modern ideology when compared to socialism and communism.)  Had the British opted to stay in Malaya indefinitely, as the French chose to try to do in Indochina, there might have been a broader-based anti-colonial rebellion, which would have probably been very different in its outcome. 

The Malayan case was also significantly different in the number of insurgents involved:

In the end the conflict involved up to a maximum of 40,000 British and Commonwealth troops against a peak of about 7–8,000 communist guerrillas.

Estimates of the insurgency’s size in Iraq vary, but I have seen figures this year as high as 60,000.  (As I understand this estimate, this refers only to Sunni insurgents.)  That’s seven to eight times the number of insurgents, while we have approximately four times as many soldiers fighting them.  If the optimal size of a counterinsurgency force is 10x larger than that of the insurgents, the British were much closer to the ideal and had the overwhelming support of the majority, and it still took them nine years before the crisis was formally ended.  The lesson from the Malayan experience is that you should fight very unpopular, isolated, highly ideological insurgencies and you should ally with the local nationalists if you want to win.  It is very difficult for a government, especially one backed by a foreign power, to compete with nationalist insurgents in the intensity and credibility of their nationalism. 

Via James comes this claim:

Contemporary Japan and India, among other non-Christian countries, have also embraced the Great Separation.

This is pretty demonstrably untrue in the case of India, since Indian politics has been nothing if not suffused with religiosity of all kinds since independence.  It is technically true to the extent that the religious communities in question do not have institutional “churches” as such, but pretty clearly nonsense to the extent that religious activist associations wield enormous clout in Indian politics.  There is an idea that this has been bad for “Indian secularism,” but Indian secularism has not meant the separation of religion and politics but the incorporation of all communities into the political process.  Where Hindutva seems to some to threaten the system is in its majoritarianism and exclusivism.  But the Great Separation has nothing to do with it one way or the other.  Japan is more straightforward in that the divinity of the emperor was officially repudiated, but large numbers of people still respect the emperor intensely and the symbolic value of the emperor is incalculable.  The clearest example of actual separation is in Turkey, which is where the separation is being actively undermined by the democratic process, because the “separation of church and state” or the separation of religion from politics is fundamentally hostile to democratic principles in a religious country. 

Then there is this even more extraordinary claim:

Separating church and state works; mixing them tends toward disaster.

This is where the messy details and historical contingencies come in handy.  First of all, it depends on which church or religion and what kind of state, which this formula ignores.  I can also say, with just as much confidence, that mixing church and state works, while separating them tends towards disaster.  I can say this because I can think of cases that support both claims, just as Ms. Goldstein can think of cases that support hers.  To my mind, Rome (renowned as the most punctilious of religious societies) and Byzantium “worked” and the Soviet Union failed–consider their respective lifespans as political systems and “experiments” in having different answers on the church/state relationship question.  Byzantium wins, hands down.  Does that mean that we should all prostrate ourselves before an emperor?  Perhaps not.  What it does mean is that taking the particular experience of certain nations as a universal rule is probably unwise.  The details of church-state relations are extremely important in distinguishing between excessive subordination of church to state or subordination of the state to the church.  Separation works, except for all the times that it doesn’t and symphoneia works better. 

Neuhaus draws attention to the rather more unsavoury elements of Collier’s The Bottom Billion, namely its insistence on military interventionism as a solution to African ills.  It shouldn’t be necessary to explain why military intervention is just as misguided, counterproductive and destructive as the evils of developmentalism, but apparently it needs to be said.  Just as developmentalism stunts and distorts the economic development of client states, as both Easterly and Collier argue, intervention does the same to the political life of “beneficiaries” of interventionist aid. 

Intervention does absolutely nothing to solve the fundamental political woes of any given state, but at best simply locks them in place.  It may even exacerbate them by drawing one group or another into the orbit of the intervening power, making the different responses to intervention grounds for future conflict.  Undertaken in an emergency as a “temporary” measure, outside intervention becomes a persistent habit of major powers (which are, of course, not intervening out of their goodness of their collective hearts, but for some other reason), and it becomes the default “solution” to every significant domestic crisis in these countries.  Forever being “aided” and “helped,” the peoples that “benefit” from this interventionist regime end up being no more capable of coping with the internal divisions and problems of their countries than they were before and may prove to be worse off.  They become permanent protectorates of the “international community,” global wards that get progressively worse the more “help” they receive. 

Rather than developing the institutions and skills necessary for running their own affairs successfully, these states are forever being artificially propped up, simply deferring more permanently stable arrangement indefinitely.  To those who think outside intervention brings order from chaos, I say simply this: Wait and see what happens in a year or two.  It is at best a stopgap measure that averts some terrible event here or there.  Above all, this interventionist idea says that some nations have the right to trample on the sovereignty of others.  It is inconceivable how a peaceful international order can survive with this kind of two-tier system of states.  A very few states may embark on “genuine” humanitarian missions, but the rest will be pursuing aggrandisement and influence.  Wars of aggression will be dressed up as efforts to “restore order” and “bring peace,” and the war in Iraq has already shown the way.  

From the American perspective, intervention is also a very sure way to fritter away lives and resources on problems that we cannot solve.  Americans have shown time and again that we do not really have the inclination, patience or training to do the work that intervention requires, and even if we did it would not be in our national interest to use our resources in that way.  Under the circumstances, it is actually immoral to urge intervention, knowing that the public will not be willing to bear the cost and see it through–we would be committing the errors of encouraging the miserable and making false promises.  There is also something truly condescending in the assumption that other nations of the world need our intervention.  It is at least partly this mentality of Western obligation and non-Western blame for Western “failure” to act that hampers entire regions from improving local conditions on their own. 

If Ross is right that “the Putin era, in one fashion or another, probably still has decades left to run,” it seems to me that the smart course of action for Western governments is to start working out a modus vivendi with Putin-era Russia on areas of common interest and smoothing out those main points of contention (Kosovo, Iran, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.) that seem most likely to generate conflict in the near term.  Then again, that’s what I think we ought to do while Putin is still the Russian President.  

Apparently, I’m Lucius Vorenus, which makes a lot of sense.

RCP reports a SurveyUSA poll that shows Mark Warner either destroying or totally destroying his Republican opposition next year.  Tom Davis can at least argue that his name may not be widely known in the Southside and the Valley.  Gilmore is as well-known as Warner in the state, and he gets absolutely annihilated (is a 28-point margin still a landslide, or does it count as an avalanche?).  That is probably because people do remember his tenure as governor.  George Allen polls at 37%–how are the mighty fallen. 

Yes, of course, the election is over a year away, the numbers will change, the margins will get smaller and no one should forget the fate of George Allen as a reminder that individual elections turn on the strangest things.  However, if some Republicans are already effectively writing off New Hampshire as a lost cause, and Shaheen only polls at 54%, is Virginia really even competitive at this point?  On New Hampshire, another RCP item had this to say:

Shaheen’s entry into the contest against Sununu has cast a pall over many Republican strategists around the country. “That seat’s done. That’s over,” said one GOP strategist. A recent poll showed Shaheen leading incumbent John Sununu, 54%-38%. “She’s over fifty [percent,” the GOP strategist said, “which is the hardest thing of all. That means they have to pull people away from her.

Scott Paul explains why Romney, who has sent a statement of his demands letter to the United Nations, is a buffoon when it comes to foreign policy.  I agree entirely.

 

Consider how Kissinger distorts the past while conjuring up his nightmare post-withdrawal scenario:

Within Iraq, the sectarian conflict could assume genocidal proportions; terrorist base areas could re-emerge [bold mine-DL].

Of course, there were no “terrorist base areas” in the country prior to the invasion (except in those areas of the country that were outside of Baghdad’s control).  They cannot “re-emerge” if they did not exist before.  Much of the rest of his list of disastrous outcomes is misleading, exaggerated or simply unrealistic.  He writes:

Under the impact of American abdication, Lebanon may slip into domination by Iran’s ally, Hezbollah; a Syria-Israel war or an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities may become more likely as Israel attempts to break the radical encirclement; Turkey and Iran will probably squeeze Kurdish autonomy; and the Taleban in Afghanistan will gain new impetus. Countries where the radical threat is as yet incipient, as India, will face a mounting domestic challenge. Pakistan, in the process of a delicate political transformation, will encounter more radical pressures and may even turn into a radical challenge itself.

That is what is meant by “precipitate'’ withdrawal — a withdrawal in which the US loses the ability to shape events, either within Iraq, on the anti-jihadist battlefield or in the world at large.

What slippage towards Hizbullah “domination” there has been in Lebanon has come in no small part from the destabilisation created by the “revolution” of 2005 and the war last summer.  Of course, Hizbullah is not in a position to “dominate” Lebanon, on account of the fractious and changeable nature of political alliances in Lebanon.  (As more of the Christian population of Lebanon flees the country for points west, the demographic changes may work to create an outright Shi’ite majority, but that is the result of developments specific to Lebanon and not a product of our Iraq policy.)  Hizbullah “domination” of the entire country is mostly a chimera that is being used to alarm the public about the long arm of Iran.  Even in the event of withdrawal, the United States could very likely control the airspace between Israel and Iran.  If Washington did not want an Israeli strike on Iran, it can make it known to the Israeli government that an attempt will not be tolerated.  A Syria-Israel war would be substantially less likely if Washington would encourage the Syria-Israel negotiations that have been sought by the Israeli government.  It would be even less likely if Washington would work to separate Syria from Iran.  In exchange for lifting sanctions on Syria, Syria could agree to cease any support for militias in Lebanon, and Damascus and Washington might resume their former counterterrorist and intelligence collaboration of late 2001 and 2002.

Iraq withdrawal will have little or no effect on the strength of the Taliban.  This is just hot air.  India’s internal security problems will not be changed one whit by what happens in Iraq.  If there is still cross-border terrorism against India coming from Pakistan and carried out by groups that have the backing of at least some elements of the Pakistani security and military apparatus, that is a function of indulging Islamabad in its double game of feigning concern about jihadi terrorism in the north and west of Pakistan while helping it prosper in the south and east.  I should rephrase that.  Islamabad is genuinely concerned about the jihadis in the north and west, because those jihadis do not work with the government anymore, while those in the south and east still do. 

As for Pakistan’s radicalisation, it has been Musharraf’s ham-fisted and therefore ineffectual efforts at suppressing such radicalism that have created the internal security mess that Pakistan is now suffering.  The fear of Pakistan becoming an open enemy or “radical challenge” seems to me to be overblown.  Musharraf has cultivated this fear to maintain support for his tenuous position, and Americans who don’t know very much about Pakistan have accepted it for years because it seemed better to have the dictator we knew than whatever might replace him.  What makes it more likely would not be a withdrawal from Iraq, but the growing perception that the government in Islamabad is too closely tied to Washington and does not serve the interests of Pakistan.  Popular resentment against the political role of pro-U.S. militaries in major allied states is a major source of resentment against the United States in these countries.  AKP in Turkey gained so many seats because their success was seen as a rejection of the military’s threats to intervene in the presidential election.  Many AKP supporters were not necessarily enthusiastic backers of the party’s goals, but wanted to teach the military a lesson.  The party (or rather oligarchic clique) in Pakistan that can exploit resentment against the huge role of the militarty in Pakistani politics will also enjoy some success.     

Kissinger’s article is a classic of the internationalist op-ed genre: rattle off the names of half a dozen countries, demonstrate some superficial familiarity with the political conditions of each and then intimate an impending disaster unless your preferred course of action is not followed in each particular.  The regional chain reaction is a favourite of these sorts, and it is often effective in cowing dissenters against interventionist policy because it points an accusing finger at those who advocate for a different position: “Why do you want to throw the world into chaos?”  Kissinger is presumably not uninformed about the political realities of the countries he describes.  He and internationalists like him thrive on conjuring up these pictures of doom that will result from a “failure” to “engage” with a crisis somewhere or a move to “disengage” from this or that region.  It lends strength to the idea that “we” must be deeply enmeshed in world affairs, since everything would fall to pieces without “us.” 

This idea is mostly untrue, and I would bet that the internationalists who actually know something about the world know this.  They do not urge continued intervention because they believe it to be necessary for the world, but because they believe it is imperative that “we” remain the hegemonic power.  There is some irony that the strongest defenders of U.S. hegemony always deliberately underestimate America’s ability to shape events abroad through primarily diplomatic, economic and political means–this allows them to draw a picture of a world teetering on the brink of chaos that can only be saved by more and more direct intervention.  Leaving Iraq will not make us have less influence on events elsewhere, but will rather obviously free up our resources and attention for coping with other problems.     

On foreign policy alone, some 200 experts are providing the Obama campaign with assistance of some sort, arranged into 20 subgroups. ~The Chicago Tribune

Given Obama’s foreign policy views, that doesn’t say much for the 200 experts, does it?  Does anyone put off by interventionist policies think that Anthony Lake is going to provide the right answers?

Karen Hughes, our PR agent head of public diplomacy to the world, has good news: Al Qaeda’s popularity in Islamic countries is dropping even more quickly than our own.  She has to be able to boast about something , since it has been on her watch (though it is obviously out of her control) that unfavourable attitudes towards the United States have risen sharply in some of the very countries she cites in this op-ed.  When 64% of Turks view the U.S. as the greatest threat to Turkey, it’s fair to say that the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs has not been very successful.  Of course, it’s impossible for public diplomacy to work when the government is pursuing a disastrous and wildly unpopular foreign policy. 

But here’s a different point: if such an overwhelming majority of people in both Iraq and Afghanistan hate Al Qaeda so, there seems little chance of a terrorist haven being established in either place.  How can anyone still believe the claim that our soldiers must remain to prevent the creation of an Al Qaeda sanctuary?  If the people are the center of gravity in insurgency, jihadis in Anbar have already lost, which does not necessarily mean that we win.  These figures seem to be an encouraging sign that, whatever happens in the wake of a withdrawal from Iraq, an Al Qaeda safe haven is not in the cards.  If our soldiers are going to continue to risk their lives in Iraq, the administration should be clear about why: it will be to keep warring Iraqi factions from destroying each other.  This is not enough to justify an ongoing American presence, however large or small.

He also told the United States that it should set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq as this would spur the Iraqi Government into meeting its own security needs. Without a time-frame, he said, there would be no pressure for the necessary political and security measures. ~The Times

 

If the West wants to support the Orange movement, let them pay for it. Do you think we are idiots? ~Vladimir Putin

This is refreshingly to the point.

What’s that?  Eli Lake grossly misrepresents and distorts someone’s position on a Near Eastern policy debate?  He perceives accusations of bad faith and conspiracy-mongering where none exists?  He becomes virtually unhinged in the process?  How unusual.

The report further stated that the date of preference for an attack against Iran is in eight to 10 months - after the US presidential candidates for both the Democrats and the Republicans have been chosen, but before the major presidential campaign kicks off. ~The Jerusalem Post

This seems like strange timing, and it is almost enough to make me discount the story.  The reported timing does not match with any of the other rumours that have been circulating about an attack on Iran. 

Starting a war in the middle of an election year seems like the worst of all possible options for Mr. Bush, since it would not have the same political effect as a late October strike.  A late 2007 or early 2008 strike might give a Republican nominee time to recover from any public backlash.  However, it might sway the primary electorate to choose one of the more hard-line candidates and thus make the GOP’s chances in ‘08 even worse.  If done in late spring or summer, there would be months between the start of operations and the election for the public to see the costs that such a decision unleashed, but not enough time for the damage to be undone.  It would work almost entirely to the detriment of the GOP, even though all of the leading Democratic candidates in principle support attacking Iran.   

Mr. Buchanan and Dr. Wilson are also discussing the possibility of an Iranian war.

Putin observers have been banging their heads against a wall in frustration as they try to understand his selection of Viktor Zubkov to head a new government as prime minister.  Rather than look for the simple explanation that you might use for any other quasi-democratic authoritarian regime (the last government was not seen to be performing well and needed to be replaced), the move has spurred on endless speculation: what does it all mean?  The Rise of Zubkov has become the latest in a string of events that serves as the pretext for trotting out all the old cliches about Russia–it’s baffling!  it’s mysterious!–which never seem to embarrass the people who employ them.  It means that Viktor Zubkov will be prime minister.  That’s what it means.  Mystery solved. 

It seems to me that everyone has become so caught up in the idea that the FSB runs everything that it genuinely stuns people when Putin chooses a non-silovik for a job.  They had finally come up with an explanation for how the Russian state worked, and a lot of it even seemed to make sense, and then Putin goes and makes a perfectly boring, non-sinister choice for prime minister.  How do you fit that into the narrative of Putin the Monster?   

Why does any executive choose a nonentity who will do his bidding?  So that he will have a nonentity who will do his bidding.  It’s really very simple.  Why did George Bush select Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General?  It wasn’t because of his great legal mind.  He had Gonzales’ loyalty right to the end, and knew that Gonzales would do as he was told.  He might do his job very badly, but he would not do it with any trace of independence! 

Because Zubkov is not from the inner circle or an old secret police man, people are perplexed, apparently forgetting that Putin was mayor of St. Petersburg and probably wants to have someone from that city running the government. 

P.S.  It turns out that he and Zubkov are old colleagues from city government days.  The great riddle has been answered. 

“Local matters, generally speaking, should be left to the locals,” Thompson said Thursday in what seemed to be a gentle way of suggesting that Congress had overstepped its bounds. “I think Congress has got an awful lot to keep up with.”

Thompson also made sure not to impugn the motives of any of the religious conservatives whose support he now needs for his presidential campaign. “I know that good people were doing what they thought was best,” he said.  ~ABC News

He is referring to Congress’ intervention in the Schiavo case.  Fred is actually taking what always seemed to me to be the right view.  Above all, this was not a matter for any part of the federal government, and it wasn’t properly a matter for the Florida legislature or the governor.  All those opponents of judicial activism who want judges to “follow the law” have to accept when judges “follow” laws of which they disapprove or which they would like to see changed. 

However, the symbolism of this statement will be bad for Fred with a lot of activists who made the Schiavo case into a litmus test of how truly pro-life someone was.  It’s not as if Fred can afford to alienate a lot of pro-life voters, but he has already made some moves this year that could be interpreted as slights to pro-lifers.  Instead of showing up at the NRLC meeting this year, he jaunted off to London to meet Baroness Thatcher and deliver a bad speech on foreign policy.  Now he says this about the Schiavo case, which I think will go over poorly with any really ardent pro-lifers who might have been inclined to support him.  On the other hand, it will probably only help him with those Republican voters who watched the hysteria over the Schiavo case with something akin to dread and horror. 

Maybe George Shultz believes what he writes about Mearsheimer and Walt, which shows that he isn’t even acquainted with their original essay, much less the book they have published.  My guess is that he either skimmed the work or decided that he already knew what it said and wrote this attack without checking to see if any of his charges make any sense.  For instance, he has this “damning” statement:

Anyone who thinks that Jewish groups constitute a homogeneous “lobby” ought to spend some time dealing with them.

Of course, what the essay said on this point was:

We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.

Hm, let’s see…it isn’t about “Jewish groups” and it isn’t homogeneous.  It’s a loose coalition, its members don’t always agree and it has no overall organisation.  “The Lobby” serves as a term of convenience, a catch-all to refer to these various groups together.  Yes, that sounds very much like what Shultz said, except for all of the completely different ideas contained in the two statements. 

The responses this idea of “the Lobby” receives are bizarre.  It’s as if someone wrote about the role of ”the tobacco industry” and was then accused of believing in a monolithic corporate alliance in which there was absolutely no difference of opinion about anything.  Generalising about groups that have common interests and goals is now seen as promoting conspiracies.  To call these responses sloppy would be a bit too generous.  

Sec. Shultz almost certainly knows better than this, of course, but he chooses to lend his prominence to the public effort to smear and insult two academics who make inconvenient arguments for people who support a misguided foreign policy.  If “questioning” is legitimate, and “lies” are not, what should we make of Shultz’s article?  A legitimate difference of opinion, or a scurrilous pack of lies?  Is that really the standard Shultz wants to use? 

In between his hyperventilating breaths about “underhanded Jewish plots” (which is clearly not what Mearsheimer and Walt are describing) and the like, he argues that comparisons between Israel the South African Nationalist apartheid regime are ludicrous.  This is true in a way–the Nationalists were running their system inside the territory of the country that their government legally ruled, while Israel illegally occupies territory and imposes a restrictive, discriminatory system on the inhabitants.  (For the record, I think all territories occupied in violation of international law should be abandoned by their occupiers–the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus is another outstanding example of a U.S. ally being permitted to continue breaking the rules without suffering any real consequences.)  Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in territories it does not even rightfully hold would be like the old South African government imposing its policies inside the borders of Namibia.  From the perspective of international law, Israel’s policy in the territories is not quite like apartheid; it is in a way worse because it does not even take place within the state’s recognised borders.  This makes it one of the more outstanding examples of persistent international lawlessness of the last four decades.   

One of the counterarguments employed against Mearsheimer/Walt is that there are also other influential lobbies that sometimes also get their way and wield tremendous power in Washington.  You don’t say!  This is apparently supposed to prove that pro-Israel groups do not have much influence, or that they are sufficiently counterbalanced by other interests to make complaints about their undue influence seem foolish.  If “the Lobby” does not rule with absolute power over every decision made by the U.S. government, it must not exist, or its existence doesn’t matter!  Of course, we all know that oil interests, the Saudis and defense contractors, among others, have great influence in Washington as well.  These are, on the whole, not terribly desirable influences, and they deserve similar scrutiny.  Then again, no one is denounced as a neo-fascist for simply mentioning these other lobbies, and there is no immediate charge of conspiracy-mongering when someone argues that the goals of the ”the Lobby” do not coincide with the interests of the United States.

Shultz says “those who blame Israel and its Jewish supporters for U.S. policies they do not support are wrong.”  That’s very interesting, except that this is not what Mearsheimer and Walt have done.  They are not “blaming,” they are analysing and trying to understand the rationale for what would otherwise be utterly irrational policies (e.g., the invasion of Iraq).  They do not single out or “blame” Israel’s Jewish supporters.  They state that there are many groups, including Christian evangelicals and the like, that advance what these groups believe are in Israel’s interests (which the groups also believe are in America’s interests), and they attribute to these groups significant influence in shaping policy in the Near East.  (If someone made the argument that “the Israel Lobby” significantly affects our Cuba policy, he would be rightly laughed out of the room.)  Hard as it is for many to understand the difference, understanding a phenomenon and imputing some evil to it are two very different things. 

At every stage, Mearsheimer and Walt have stated very clearly that they believe there is nothing “improper,” much less underhanded or malign about efforts to lobby on behalf of Israel.  They do believe these efforts are badly mistaken in the context of advancing U.S. national interests.  It is because the most ardent supporters of Israel in this country refuse to tolerate any questioning of U.S.-Israel relations or U.S. Near East policy that they refuse to have the debate over whether or not supporting Israel to the extent and in the manner that our government has done is actually serving the national interest.  Perhaps these supporters suspect that they would not win such a debate on the merits and so must continually throw out these outrageous charges against critics.  If that is the impression supporters of Israel would like to give, they should keep engaging in the same histrionics as they have done for months. 

A query: do those who deny the existence of “the Lobby” think that Christian evangelicals have much political influence on other issues?  If they do, why would that influence not be similarly significant when it is deployed on behalf of putatively pro-Israel policies?  Do they deny that many Christian evangelicals are rather intensely pro-Israel in sentiment?  If they do not deny it, what is so strange in arguing that there are groups and individuals that represent the interests of Christian evangelicals when it comes U.S. policy concerning Israel (the latest of which is Christians United for Israel)?  What if someone were to say that the policies advocated by these pro-Israel evangelicals, which tend to be on the militant and aggressive side, are contrary to the American national interest?  Would supporters of Israel simply deny the existence of their numerous allies?  No, they would have to explain why supporting the bombing of Lebanon serves American interests, which they cannot do.  They would have to explain how illegally settling land that does not belong to Israel serves American interests.  They would have to explain how subsidising and arming the Israeli armed forces serves American interests.  In other words, they would have to defend the policies they support on their merits, and this they have never been able and have scarcely tried to do.        

I was thinking this week about how the mood now, among normal people and political figures, is so different from the great burst of feeling that marked the early days of the war–the 17 days to Baghdad, the unstoppable Third Infantry Division, the dictator’s statue falling. The relief that Saddam didn’t use poison gas, as he had against the Kurds, that he collapsed like an old suitcase and got himself out of Dodge. There was a lot of tenderness to those days, too–the first tears at the loss of troops, the deaths of David Bloom and Michael Kelly. Still, the war seemed all triumph, a terrible swift answer to what had been done to us on 9/11 [bold mine-DL]. ~Peggy Noonan

To whom did it seem a “terrible swift answer to what had been done to us on 9/11″?  What kind of answer could it have been besides the wrong answer?  One might have thought that the month-long campaign in the autumn of 2001 against the Taliban would have had this effect.  How in the world could people watch the invasion of Iraq and think, “Ah, yes, it’s payback time for all those things that Iraqis did not do to us!  Come, let us celebrate!”  If there were people who felt that attacking Iraq was payback, this was because the government had deceived them into thinking that Iraq and Al Qaeda were in league together.

I remember the early days of the war very well.  I remember how many people whom I knew were very anxious about the lack of major resistance at the outskirts of Baghdad.  It seemed to them like a trap, assuming, of course, that the dire warnings about the grave Iraqi threat were not so much nonsense.  So many people bought into the propaganda about Iraq’s nefarious weapons arsenal that they were expecting gas attacks to come at any time.  In the event, there was nothing, which was a good first indication that we would find none of the weapons that were supposed to be there in vast quantities.  This was a relief of sorts and certainly good news for the soldiers, but it was the first tangible evidence that the entire thing was a wild goose chase.

Ms. Noonan goes on:

At one point Gen. Petraeus was asked by Sen. John Warner if Iraq has made America safer and said, “Sir, I don’t know actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.” Later, invited to expand on this by Sen. Evan Bayh, said he’d been surprised by Mr. Warner’s question and added that “we have very, very clear, very serious national interests” in Iraq.

That of course is the great question. History will answer it.

No, actually, people answer this question.  They answer it all the time.  Petraeus just answered it (I think incorrectly).  I have a very different answer.  History doesn’t actually do anything in this regard.  History is a record of events and the interpretation of that record.  It does not issue final answers.  No interpretations in history are ever entirely settled, because the interpreters keep changing and the times in which they live differ so widely.  Historians in the 2020s may look back on Iraq as a moderate success of sorts, if it seems that no long-term damage has been done to the U.S., while historians of a generation later may see it as the beginning of some destructive process that comes to fruition only decades from now and so regard it as a colossal blunder of epic proportions.  The annexation of the Philippines looked much less foolish in 1920 than it did in 1941.  Many people had come to recognise the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as too harsh by the late 1920s, but too late for it to do any good.  Sending Lenin to Russia seemed clever to people in Berlin in 1917; it seemed much less clever in retrospect in 1944-45. 

We do not need to wait for historians to tell us whether the current course of action is wise; we do not need to wait for them to tell us whether it is working.  What we cannot know right now is the long-term historical significance of these events.  That does not mean that we cannot assess success or failure, justice or injustice, right or wrong.  Judging historical significance is a judgement of what effects resulted from a particular event or series of events.  Judging the merits and justice of an invasion, for example, is a question of political prudence and moral theology.  Judging whether or not a war is in our national interests is a matter for policy analysts in the here and now.  Future historians will only be able to fully vindicate the invasion of Iraq if there is a time in the future when people no longer view aggressive war as wrong.  Even if some future historian comes to accept that our government was defending legitimate interests by remaining in Iraq for years and years, that does not necessarily make it so.   

History is not a conscious being that wills and acts and answers questions.  (Yes, I know Ms. Noonan is speaking figuratively, but this constant appeal to history in lieu of trying to make our own judgements is a kind of secular fatalism.)  If our national interests were so very clear and very serious, it would not be difficult for someone, somewhere, to elaborate on what they are.  I have yet to see an argument along this line that did not boil down to one of two things: “I don’t like the Iranian government” and “there’s oil in them thar dunes!”  Far from being “very, very clear” and “very serious,” our interest in remaining in Iraq is utterly obcure and the importance of remaining in Iraq to U.S. national security seems to be anything but serious.  Iraq’s centrality to the region may be exaggerated; its centrality to our national security definitely is.  For that matter, the Near East’s centrality to geopolitics is vastly overblown.  This is not something that only History (or Mike Huckabee’s future historians) can determine.  Sound, informed analysis will do the trick.  When we abdicate judgement like this, we are acting irresponsibly.  So let us have no more of this grand talk about what history will tell us years from now, and perhaps pay a good deal more attention to the history of places that we propose to save from themselves by means of fire and sword. 

The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny al-Qaida a safe haven. A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East. A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror and that will make us safer here at home. ~George W. Bush 

This Free Iraq sounds pretty impressive.  There is nothing, it seems, that it cannot do, no obstacle it cannot overcome.  Why we didn’t try to establish a Western democracy in this place called Free Iraq, we will never know.  Instead we went to this “Republic of Iraq” place that has none of Free Iraq’s advantages.  There’s no such place as Free Iraq, you say?  That’s crazy–the President has just told us all about it.  He wouldn’t tell us something that wasn’t true, would he?

Yet when the United States bombed European and Christian Serbia to help Balkan Muslims, few critics alleged that American Muslims had unduly swayed President Clinton. ~Victor Davis Hanson

That’s true.  We blamed the Albanian lobby for encouraging intervention in Kosovo, as well we might have done.  The Democrats became very cozy with Albanian lobbyists; the thug and terrorist Hacim Thaci was even a guest at the 2004 Democratic convention.  There’s no sense making sweeping generalisations against all Muslims.

There’s a much easier explanation for the targeting of Serbia during the ’90s: it eased the consciences of those who want to defend non-Christians against a country that was historically Christian, it weakened a Russian satellite, which pleased hegemonists and Russophobes (who are usually the same people), and satisfied all of those in America and western Europe alike who don’t care much for Slavs or Orthodoxy generally.  It also provided a new rationale for NATO in an era when it had none, and briefly fit the bill for those in this country (including neoconservatives) always obsessed with finding a new enemy to fight.

P.S. Note how Hanson can’t even describe the criticisms of neoconservatives or the “Israel Lobby” without distorting the truth.  Why would anyone listen to what he has to say?

Perhaps Thompson’s candidacy will last longer than New Coke did. ~George Will

The left-field substitution of Iraq as the focal point for our post-9/11 rage could never have happened in another region. ~Ezra Klein

This seems very doubtful to me.  Iraq was subjected to frequent bombings and air strikes in the twelve years between the end of Desert Storm and the 2003 invasion.  Iraq was targeted for “regime change” three years before 9/11, and there was a shockingly broad (and wrong) consensus in this country that Hussein’s government represented a serious threat to the region and the world.  It wasn’t at all difficult for those interested in a war with Iraq to refocus the new post-9/11 rage on the old enemy, since Iraq’s government and Hussein personally had filled the “new Hitler” space in hegemonist rhetoric for years by the time of the attack.  The public had been conditioned to fear and hate Iraqis for a full decade, and Hussein was genuinely villainous enough to lend some credibility to the propaganda about the Iraqi “threat.”  In the looney fringes (e.g., The Wall Street Journal) long before 9/11, all evil things allegedly came from or went through Baghdad–the first WTC bombing, the OKC bombing, etc.  Of course, it made the sale slightly easier that Iraqis were also predominantly Muslim, but all that really mattered to persuade a sizeable portion of the public was that Hussein was a dictator and had fought against the U.S. in the past.  If we had randomly invaded Algeria or Oman in response to 9/11, then maybe Kamiya might be onto something. 

The same thing could have easily happened in another region, if the political class were dedicated to projecting power in another region as they are in the Near East.  Just consider the precedent of the Philippine War.  It originated in the initial conflict between the Filipino rebels and U.S. Army forces sent to occupy the archipelago after the victory at Manila Bay and escalated into a major, brutal counterinsurgency campaign.  The expedition to the Philippines itself was a fairly random diversion and only very tangentially related to the immediate goals of defeating Spain and, as the imperialists desired, supporting Cuban nationalists.  The war against the “Dons” ended and still the U.S. kept fighting in the Philippines, presumably to acquire a base for naval and commercial shipping in Asia.  Fighting the Philippine War made absolutely no sense as a follow-up to the Spanish War, unless you consider the strong interest the establishment of the time had in the China trade and the powerful influence of vocal imperialists and naval power advocates.   

Kamiya’s argument relies on a vast majority of Americans having some clear sense of differences between the Islamic and Arab worlds and other regions, which they do not have.  Kamiya says:

No one would dream of suggesting that if Cuba attacked the U.S., we should respond by invading Venezuela. But we play by different rules in the Middle East. 

In fact, there would be a small army of pundits and activists suggesting this very thing.  It doesn’t hurt that Chavez and Castro are politically aligned, but you wouldn’t even need it to be Venezuela for this to work–replace Venezuela with Peru or Paraguay and it would still be only too possible.  Actually, invading Iraq after 9/11 would be a bit like invading Colombia to strike at Latin American communism.  It would be like portraying Bogota as an evil communist-supporting government with close ties to Castro (while the Uribe government, as everyone knows, is actually vehemently anticommunist and anti-FARC).  As it is, right now there are people who might be inclined to call for an attack on Venezuela as a way of getting at Iran (!).  Fostering Veneuzuelophobia has become the latest thing in certain Republican foreign policy circles.  You can already hear them now: “You have to knock out Castro’s economic and political ally to bring his regime down.  On to Caracas!”  

The government and interventionist pundits engage in this kind of vilification of foreign governments and of whole nations in every region of the world.  They are equal-opportunity imperialists.  It just happens that the primary focus has been and will continue to be on the Near East, which means that the irrational fearmongering about Near Eastern governments will be especially intense.  It doesn’t mean that there are not efforts to do the same thing for other regions.  Unfortunately, similarly “random” bait-and-switch deceptions of the American public would not fail.  Who’s going to uncover the deception?  The press?  Ha, that’s a good one!        

Consider: Suppose for a moment that NATO did not intervene in 1999 in Kosovo, and some Albanian Muslim terrorists carried out a major attack on American territory or U.S. bases while Milosevic was still in power in Belgrade.  I can very easily imagine the same kind of unfocused hysteria directed at “those people” in the Balkans.  I could very easily see how the same sorts of people would cook up some roundabout rationale for invading Serbia and overthrowing Milosevic in the name of fighting Albanian terrorism.  “Drain the swamp” probably would have been the slogan then as well.  It would make exactly as much sense as attacking Hussein to strike at Al Qaeda. 

The point of the “left-field substitution” was to pursue a policy that the supporters of the invasion had been wanting to pursue for years.  It was not coming out of left field as far as they were concerned.  Of course, it is an irrational, crazy move judged on the facts in the real world, but since when have those mattered in determining whether or not we invade another country? 

It isn’t so hard to imagine something similar in the Balkans, since this is another region about which Americans know next to nothing and which they perceive as a place of unrelenting, irrational bloodfeud and barbarous peoples.  Our general colossal ignorance of and prejudice against Slavic peoples made it extremely easy to vilify some as the “bad” Slavs and others as the “moderate” and “pro-Western” ones.  We’re still doing it in media coverage of Ukrainian politics.  The Serbophobia of the ’90s was made possible by the steady drumbeat of media coverage casting Serbs as the villains of the conflict in the Balkans, just as Iraqis were made out to be the villains of the Near East throughout the same decade.  Being able to draw on old Western prejudices against communists, Slavs and Orthodox Christians didn’t hurt, either, since all of these things made the Serbs seem alien and Eastern, and thus, following the logic of this sort of prejudice, more likely to be involved in something sinister.  Of course, there was no good reason for the United States to go to war with Yugoslavia in 1999, but our government did so anyway.  Imagine how much easier it would have been to do the same under some general pretext of fighting “tyranny and terrorism.”  

We have played this game before, and many of the same people were involved then as now.  Once again: the point of the “left-field substitution” was to pursue a policy that the supporters of the invasion had been wanting to pursue for years.  The substitution worked because the public had been prepared by years and years of conditioning to accept any attack on Yugoslavia or Iraq as basically a good, defensive or righteous war against the new Hitler.  Who knows?  Perhaps Venezuela will be the next target in another decade.  The groundwork is already being laid today.    

P.S. While there is much else in the article that I would agree with, I have to add that Kamiya’s claim that the “war on terror” is a “crusade, a Holy War” is basically entirely wrong.  Those who prattle on the most about Evil and moral clarity are those who are most likely to deny very strongly any religious or theological significance to the conflict.  They go out of their way to deny that “Islamofascists” are motivated by anything that is actually religious, and insist that they are effectively Muslim versions of the Nazis, as numerous presidential speeches and pundits’ articles have claimed.  This talk of an enemy as the embodiment of evil is the talk of identitarian politics and total war.  It is only all too secular and far removed from any Christian or other religious source.   

Obama’s Iraq speech today makes many of the right points, but his current Iraq position remains quite unsatisfactory and his broader foreign policy views border on terrifying.  I think the compromise “residual forces” position that he and the other major Democrats have taken is a mistake, both substantively and politically.  It seems to me to contain the worst of both worlds by eliminating the ability of American forces to do much of anything inside Iraq while also failing to remove the vast majority of our soldiers out of the country.   

Part of the argument of my column in the latest TAC available online is that Obama has been using his long-standing opposition to the war as a kind of screen to block antiwar voters from seeing his hyper-ambitious, unrealistic foreign policy ideas about everything else besides Iraq.  The expansiveness of Obama’s idea of what is in the national security interest of the United States is no less dangerous and no less irresponsible than Mr. Bush’s belief that the freedom of America depends on the freedom of the rest of the world. 

His position on Iran is really no less belligerent and no less misguided than that of Giuliani in its basic assumptions about the Iranian government.  For instance, he said about Iran:

And it’s time to deliver a direct message to Tehran. America is a part of a community of nations. America wants peace in the region. You can give up your nuclear ambitions and support for terror and rejoin the community of nations.  Or you will face further isolation, including much tighter sanctions.

As George has pointed out in connection with Giuliani’s FA essay, Iran already is a member of the “community of nations.”  They never left.  George argued:

But bellicose statements do not alone remove a nation from the “international system;” rather, uncooperative nations must be dealt with through the tools of that system, be they diplomatic, political, economic, or yes, military in cases where America’s sovereignty is directly threatened.

Nearly every other nation, including staunch American allies, retains diplomatic relations with Iran. And America too should consider re-evaluating the diplomatic freeze that has lasted nearly 3 decades. In addition to a mere consular presence that could facilitate people-to-people cultural exchanges, a full-blown embassy would enable espionage and the gathering of more reliable information than we tend to obtain from unsavory exiles, as Ted Galen Carpenter has argued.

(Incidentally, this echoes William Lind’s calls for rapprochement with Iran.) 

Later in his speech, Obama quotes Brzezinski, who introduced him at the rally and whose role in the campaign has caused the Senator some grief in pro-Israel circles.  As the Politico story relates, Obama’s position on Israel and Iran is solidly pro-Israel/anti-Iran and ever so conventional.  More worrying still, Obama’s vision for American meddling, er, leadership has not been dimmed in the least by the chastening experience of Iraq:

When we end this war in Iraq, we can once again lead the world against the common challenges of the 21st century. Against the spread of nuclear weapons and climate change. Against genocide in Darfur. Against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair. When we end this war, we can reclaim the cause of freedom and democracy. We can be that beacon of hope, that light to all the world. 

 Unconventional?  Hardly.

In case you haven’t seen enough refutations of Giuliani’s crazy Foreign Affairs essay, George Ajjan offers his own commentary that eviscerates Giuliani’s claim to be any kind of credible candidate on foreign policy.  Zeroing in on Giuliani’s chatter about globalisation in the Middle East, George writes:

As for the Middle East, Giuliani has it wrong there too. Modernization and globalization do not at all go hand-in-hand with approval of the political/military plans of the United States. I suppose it never occurred to Giuliani that a young Muslim’s ability to enjoy a shake from McDonald’s subtracts nothing from his admiration and hero-worship of an evil man whose claim to infamy is his commitment to the taking of innocent American lives, as my Dubai experience illustrated.

George has shown Giuliani’s invocation of the “international system” to be a lot of hot air, since he consistently misunderstands what “the international system” actually is.  (He seems to use “international system” to mean “policy goals of Washington,” thus emptying it of its real meaning just as others like him have done to the word “democracy,” as George noted.)   While superficially consistent with the preoccupations of his chief foreign policy advisor, Charles Hill, Giuliani’s “international system” talk is mostly window dressing for self-defeating, hyper-aggressive interventionism that seeks to lump non-state actors together with those states Giuliani et al. deem to be worthy targets. 

P.S. There is also more than a little irony in one of the leading backers of the invasion of Iraq talking about the importance of the same system for the survival of civilisation.  The invasion was a fundamental attack on the structures and rules of the actual international system and a violation of international law.  Supporters of the invasion have had great fun speculating about how “international law doesn’t really exist” (except when it can be twisted and manipulated to justify an invasion of a sovereign state), but watch how they wrap themselves in the mantle of preserving international order after they have done so much to undermine that order.  If the great conflict of the moment is between non-state actors and the stability of the international state system, who would be worse to have as a defender of the latter than someone who supports policies of violating other nations’ sovereignty, dismantling existing state apparatuses and turning stable countries into lawless zones where no legitimate authority holds sway? 

The resentment of Sunni tribal leaders against al-Qaeda’s highhanded brutality predated the surge — but the surge gave those leaders the confidence and ability to oppose al-Qaeda. ~Michael Gerson

By more or less common agreement, the Awakening began in November 2006.  It was spurred on by the smart counterinsurgency work of American soldiers.  It was not a product of the “surge” of brigades that the President announced in January.  Typically, in the study of history we don’t assume that cause comes after effect.  Either our people were already succeeding in Anbar before the “surge,” making the “surge” redundant and potentially unwise, or they were not and the “surge” was vitally necessary.  (Or both efforts are fundamentally unsustainable because they rely on empowering elements who are violently opposed to the new order our government has been trying to establish in Iraq.)   

Some will say that counterinsurgency success is counterinsurgency success, but if we are judging the merits of a particular tactical plan details are of the essence.  If the change of fortune in Anbar was beginning without the “surge,” that suggests that the “surge” was unnecessary in the one area that has seen marked improvement, while “surge” boosters struggle vainly to demonstrate sufficient satisfaction of the administration’s standards of success.  If the emerging wisdom is that pinning the success of the “surge” on Iraqi political reconciliation was foolish and a misguided waste, then war supporters are finally coming around, eight months too late, to the conclusions that opponents had reached in January.  If political reconciliation at the center is now made out to be so very last winter (the fall fashion is arming sectarian killers for future mayhem), that is not what “surge” supporters have been saying all year long

Skeptics may be forgiven for doubting claims of success, since boosters have made every event into some kind of vindication for the “surge.”  When bombings and deaths were on the rise, we were told that this was proof that the “surge” was working; when bombings and deaths were declining, the “surge” was working.  When Sadr disappeared, the “surge” was working, but now that he’s back it is working even better.  When the Iraqi parliament gets bombed, it shows that “we” are getting to “them”; when the Yezidis of Erbil are massacred in multiple bombings, victory is at hand.  And so on ad nauseam.  This week the story is that conditions are improving and that this is proof that the plan is working, but you can bet your last cent that if things begin getting uglier the same people will find an entirely new way to explain why the plan is still really working, but in a new, unexpected way.

Overwhelmingly in Europe, and to a lesser but still large extent in the United States, the vastly unpopular Iraq war has been conflated with the broader war against radical Islam. ~Tony Blankley

This is true about American attitudes, if we’re talking about what supporters of the Iraq war routinely say about it.  As we all know, war opponents have been ridiculed for years for claiming that the two are distinct conflicts that have little or nothing do with one another.  I know that war supporters would also very much like to make opposition to Iraq into opposition to the very different fight against jihadis, but almost the only ones conflating and confusing the two have been defenders of the invasion of Iraq.  Indeed, they have to lean very heavily on this claim, since there is no rationale for remaining in Iraq that really captures the public’s attention quite like the fear of an “Al Qaeda stronghold” being established in Iraq.  Never mind that this has become entirely unlikely–what matters is the constant repetition of it to cow the public into submission and support.  

Meanwhile, the Europeans and others around the world might reasonably be confused by our government’s deliberate conflation of the two conflicts.  If Mr. Bush and so many in the political class insist that Iraq is the “central front in the war on terror,” the argument might go, who are they to say that the two are not one and the same?  For the many opponents of the war around the world, the distinction between Iraq and “the war on terror” does tend to get lost because the administration and its supporters have worked overtime to make sure that the lines are blurred.  As a result, if they oppose Iraq they might find themselves drawn towards opposition to anti-jihadism as such.  Mr.  Blankley has helped demonstrate here how Iraq has undermined and jeopardised the real fight. 

Of course, as a matter of policy, all NATO countries remain officially committed to the mission in Afghanistan, and several of our European allies have been collaborating with us all along in the Horn of Africa and in running interdiction efforts in the Red Sea.  European governments and peoples are not persuaded that jihadism is the “existential threat” alarmists make it out to be because, well, the threat isn’t nearly that grave.  Talk of WWIV is ludicrous on its face, but that doesn’t mean that those who mock the WWIV crowd don’t believe that jihadis are very dangerous.  Having been warned about new totalitarians and new Hitlers ever since the Cold War ended, there really is a strong inclination to disbelieve the alarmists when they begin talking about jihadis as new totalitarians, because they have been wrong so many times before in their dire warnings.  (In fact, jihadis are totalitarian in a sense, but precisely because they are religious fanatics who have a totalising view of the role of religion that subsumes everything to it; they are unlike secular totalitarians in significant ways and our inability to speak about them except in 20th century ideological terms continues to be a great hindrance in understanding and countering them.)  Disbelief turns to bewildered astonishment when they begin speaking of “Islamofascism” and other such absurdities.   

Anti-jihadists have exaggerated and overreached so much in their rhetoric, and they have tended to support questionable or foolish policies to such an extent that they have created a backlash of intense skepticism about the scope and scale of the threat and anti-jihadist proposals for addressing that threat.  One might conclude that if many anti-jihadists were so badly wrong about Iraq, for instance, or if they indulge in fantasies in lieu of analysis that anti-jihadism in its entirety is not credible.  This would be a terrible mistake to make, since there is a serious threat from jihadis, but this mistake is one that many anti-jihadists have encouraged people to make.     

TAC’s 9/10 issue is available online, including my column on Obama and foreign policy.  Also online are Jim Pinkerton’s cover essay on a revived Christendom, Michael’s article on Huckabee, and Fred Reed’s column.  The print issue has some very good pieces as well, such as Clark Stooksbury’s review of Elites for Peace and Trita Parsi on the causes of U.S.-Iranian rivalry.

After reading this (via Ross), I was reminded at once of the following scene from Brazil:

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the government is winning the battle against terrorists?

HELPMANN: Oh yes. Our morale is much higher than theirs, we’re fielding all their strokes, running a lot of them out, and pretty consistently knocking them for six. I’d say they’re nearly out of the game.

INTERVIEWER: But the bombing campaign is now in its thirteenth year.

HELPMANN: Beginner’s luck.

I have no doubt that future administrations might try to perpetuate the war in Iraq, and I have equally little doubt that the media would, for the most part, roll over and accept this tyrannical imposition on our country just as they did when the Iraq war started.  We must be “responsible,” after all.  Mustn’t withdraw “precipitously,” you see.  Mustn’t do anything that would indicate that we are still, at some minimal theoretical level, self-governing citizens of a republic.

In fact, I think Mr. Robb is entirely right on the military matters he discusses, but does not judge correctly what the political implications of an indefinite continuation of the Iraq war will be.  It is because the war cannot be resolved in any traditional way that will make it politically impossible for it to garner meaningful public support for much more than another two or three years.  Our debates about progress and benchmarks in 2007 will seem quaint and ridiculous if in two years things are much as they are today, and I see little reason to think that the situation will be any better.  If it does not end in 2009, the incumbents will suffer badly in ’10.  If the next President does not end the war, he (or, perhaps, she) will not be re-elected, the successor will end it and will have likely also campaigned on such a platform.   

Pro-military and hegemonist pols will not continue to permit the wreck of the Army that a continued presence in Iraq would entail.  That will crack the base of the war’s support.  A couple more years of this, and you will finally have the open defection of many reliably internationalist politicians who will come out strongly against the war.  The public will grow weary of the futility of the entire exercise, even though most of them don’t know anyone who is fighting overseas.  Some event will dramatically symbolise just how pointless the Iraq war has become and will drown out the chatter from “serious” people. 

If there were some prospect of a satisfactory, victorious conclusion to the war, Mr. Robb might well be right that all of the factors he outlines would encourage prolongation of the conflict, but there is not and the public is on the verge of realising this.  The major candidates all favour continuing the war, but many of these are the same people who judged the original question of the invasion so poorly.  Their judgements are not sure signs of anything, except their own brazen complicity.  

At his blog, George Ajjan has a good article on what the U.S. should with respect to Syria that originally appeared in Quarterly Review.  In it he has many important points, but this one stood out for me:

 Expending whatever remains of America’s regional credibility on behalf of the unproven Saudi stooges currently governing Lebanon must come to a halt, because it is simply not in the interests of the United States.

George also argues that negotiating a peace between Israel and Syria would help to detach Syria from Iran, which seems to me the most practicable way of limiting Iranian power short of full rapprochement with Tehran (which would, in any case, much more difficult). 

The accompanying piece that replies to George’s article, written by one Jillian Becker, does not seem terribly persuasive.  So much of it is the usual, bankrupt, unimaginative stuff you’ve seen a thousand times before.  Ms. Becker makes no attempt to distinguish between the retaliation for 9/11 of the Afghan War and the unprovoked invasion of Iraq that certainly did come about in no small part because of neoconservatives and Mr. Bush’s “hopes and wishes,” to use her phrase.  This makes everything else she has to say suspect.  She makes no attempt to distinguish, because I assume she does think there is any real separation between the one and the other. 

Her claims about Israeli public opinion seem surreal in light of this old story, which reports that 10% of Israelis favour full withdrawal from Golan and 40% favour partial withdrawal, with 44% opposed to any kind of withdrawal.  The same report confirms that most Israelis do not trust Assad, but it simply isn’t true that there is not much “public enthusiasm for conceding land.”  There is evidently some support for conceding some land.  The word “enthusiasm” does a lot of work here, as it is meant to discredit claims that there is some significant public support for some kind of ”land for peace” arrangement with Syria. 

Ms. Becker notes that the Kadima government of Ehud Olmert is horribly unpopular, neglecting to mention that it was Olmert’s disastrous entry into and handling of the war in Lebanon that destroyed his government’s credibility.  It was hardly his government’s most recent drive to negotiate with the Syrians that has undermined him; Olmert has not exactly erred on the side of being too irenic.  Speaking of public opinion, we should remember that Kadima had earlier been elected on a peace platform.  The very existence of Kadima as a viable party, before the war ruined its reputation for competence, stemmed from public support for some settlement with the Palestinians.  If, as George correctly argues, the Golan Heights have less religious and symbolic significance, it is hardly so strange to think that the public that voted Kadima in would be willing to consider peace with Syria at the price of the Golan. 

On something pertaining to church life for a change, I had the great pleasure of seeing the visiting Moscow delegation of bishops and the Sretensky Monastery Choir at our cathedral this past Sunday.  This was a remarkable event, and not only because the crowd at the cathedral was huge by our standards.  So far as I know, this marked the first concelebration of Moscow and ROCOR bishops at our cathedral.  The delegation’s world tour will take them to many of the major centers of Russian Orthodoxy abroad in celebration of the reconciliation among all Russian Orthodox.  Also present was the “Reigning” (Derzhavnaya) icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, whose appearance after the last Tsar’s abdication signified that Russia thereafter was under the sovereignty of the Theotokos.  The Tribune has a series of photographs from the event, and the story is here.

The Choir performed exceptionally during the liturgy.  Their rendition of Mnogaya Lyeta filled the church with such a rich, resonating sound that I felt a sense of awe.  I then had the added enjoyment of hearing the Choir perform at the CSO Sunday night, where they offered both sacred and secular songs.  If any of you live in D.C., they will be performing in the vicinity tomorrow.  If you can still get tickets, I strongly recommend that you go.

Via this Economist Free Exchange blogger (via McArdle), whose arguments seem strangely familiar, comes a review of The Bottom Billion.  My guess is that Paul Collier, the author, and I would agree on many of the evils of ”developmentalism” and would find some of the same problems with the organisations and institutions that allegedly promote development in poor countries.  The Free Exchange blogger refers to ”Easterly’s jaded pessimism,” which is fair if he means Easterly’s attitude towards the institutions and ideology of development.  It might be misleading to those who are not aware that Easterly is, in fact, a tremendously optimistic booster of free trade (one might almost call his views on trade naive, but I do not) who believes that the surest way for “the developing world” to enjoy economic growth is for development agencies and foreign governments to stop engaging in their absurd obsession with “helping” them.  Much more help of that kind, and these countries are done for.  

At one point, the reviewer writes:

The Nobel laureate Robert Solow once wrote that economists are intellectual sanitation workers: their key contribution is to consign bad ideas to the trash.

So that’s what economists are good for!  I had been wondering.  The Free Exchange blogger goes on to promote mass immigration (or rather mass emigration from the poor nation-states) to free people from their “national prisons.”  Iraqi refugees have been thus “liberated,” and I assume that they would have preferred to stay in the “prison,” which makes this talk of prisons seem rather odd.  Some might think that people who live in these “prison” countries regard the place where they live as their home and might even say that they are not simply labour units to be reassigned to allow for greater efficiencies.  Mass uprooting and relocation of poor populations with migrants moving from the countryside to the city and from the home country to communities abroad, which has happened in virtually every impoverished, modernising nation-state from the independence of Greece on, is all very good for those who can get out, but dooms those who remain (and many will remain) to an even more miserable existence.  Dr. Wilson once remarked on this, asking a rhetorical question that went something like this: “What sort of country robs poor countries of their best and brightest people?”  This blogger’s kind of country, it would seem. 

This talk of “national prisons” is the sort of language applied to states that one wishes did not exist and would like to see dismantled.  Again, the example of Iraq (or that of the recent Ivorian civil war) stands out to show us what will follow the breakdown of the “national prisons” in Africa and elsewhere.  However, like the bold Wilsonians dispensing self-determination to the “imprisoned” nations of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, those who would destroy the prisonhouses may be quite unhappy with what results.   

Maybe Ross is right, though I suspect Ms. McArdle is making more sense in this case, but can someone please smack the AFP writer who penned this drivel:

Aristotle may have been more on the mark than he realised when he said that man is by nature a political animal.

(Crankish intellectual mode on.)  For the love of all that’s holy, if AFP writers must refer to Aristotle, could they at least consult their Cliff’s Notes (or appropriate French substitute) first?  This is not a clever play on words or an amusing joke, but a kind of bowdlerised Aristotle for morons.  This is obviously not what zoon politikon means, and never could have done, since ta politika for Aristotle meant something that encompassed a wide range of social, ethical and religious life.  When he said that man is a political animal, he meant that man was naturally inclined to live in political community with others. (Crankish intellectual mode off.)

It has never been clear to me that liberals are all that much more interested in “ambiguity and complexity” than the average conservative (those on our side did not come up with the phrase “knee-jerk liberal” out of nowhere), and it is not at all clear that many of the people who call themselves conservatives today are actually politically conservative, which complicates things a bit.  The kind of bizarre dogmatism and blindness to reality exhibited by many soi-disant conservatives these days seem to be traits of an ideological cast of mind, but it doesn’t seem to me that this is conservative or that it is associated with a recognisably conservative politics.  The modern king of stubbornness and inflexibility, Mr. Bush, is probably temperamentally less conservative than Woodrow Wilson, and his politics are lamentably similar.   

Ross offers his explanation:

It isn’t just that the left, far more than the right, tends to tell brainiacs what they want to hear - that they were born to rule, that the world is just waiting to be reshaped for the better by their combination of smarts and expertise. (Though of course right-wingers sometimes give in to this temptation as well.) It’s that we live in a society that makes an aggressive attempt to select for intelligence in the formation of its elite, and then educates that elite in a university system that is liberal to the core - not left-wing, necessarily, or not anymore, but certainly not conservative either, unless you think (as some fools do) that Thomas Friedman qualifies as a man of the right. The modern meritocracy has evolved to bring up most of its pupils to be Friedmanites, a minority to be Chomskyites, and a vastly smaller minority to be actual conservatives. Small wonder, then, that if you’re brainy in America, you probably call yourself a liberal - you were raised that way, after all. Whereas conservatives are the stupid party - the party of the Boston phone directory, not the Harvard Faculty Club, with some crankish intellectuals thrown in for ballast.

This sounds plausible at first.  God help me, I was raised that way in many respects, but fortunately I managed to survive with my mind intact and free of sympathies with the “great” Friedman and the like.  Certainly, preparatory schools try their best to indoctrinate “future leaders” with the very latest hogwash, but it is this kind of constant reinforcement that creates the elite Ross is talking about. 

After thinking about Ross’ claims about “brainiacs” and being “born to rule” for a moment, I realised that we might observe that the left has so often argued for nothing of the sort.  It has traditionally told everyone that no one was born to rule, not even the intellectuals, and the more far left the revolution the more leveling, anti-intellectualism and cutting down of the tall flowers you would have.  There is a reason why the left-liberal Karl Popper identified the root of evil in Plato and Hegel, not exactly champions of rote repetition or plebeian yahooism, and it is because there is actually a presumption against the importance of intelligence and rejection of superiority of any kind in most leftist thinking. 

Social engineering does require smart technocrats, I suppose, and so those inclined to this sort of thing will be drawn towards liberal politics, but I would guarantee you that if the incentives of power, influence and status favoured a different politics many of the smart fellows, being smart fellows, would suddenly discover the virtues of right-wing ideas (or whatever was in fashion).  Rather by definition, left-wing ideas tend to be seemingly newish ideas, which makes them fashionable and thus attractive to the up-and-coming, so there may be a tendency for people who spend a great deal of time pondering ideas to fall for the latest nonsense simply because it has arrived recently on the scene.  Even so, academia was once the redoubt of relatively politically conservative people until not all that long ago, and its members were not therefore necessarily rigid or unimaginative.  

It certainly can’t be the inherent plausibility of liberalism that draws smart people to it, since it has little or none.  Today it has value as a marker of social status and in-group membership, and most who hold to its presuppositions do so out of rote and habit and unthinking allegiance, because it is expected and much more risky to reject outright.  Unless the reasonably smart person is either unusually cranky or oblivious to the social and professional costs of espousing a strong traditional conservatism, he will find a way to accommodate himself to the prevailing views of his peers.  This is how the social and political elite maintains its status–it co-opts those who might threaten it if it can and marginalises the rest.  At present, this means liberals are in, but this has to do with the changes in the kinds of people who acquired and held power in the past much more than the “cognitive style” of members of the different groups. 

Another fairly major problem with the “soft partition” idea: it’s not terribly popular among Iraqis (see question 13) with only 28% (of Iraqi Arabs) in favour.  Naturally, the solution that is being touted by such “realistic” pols as Joe Biden is the one that is the most unlikely to be accepted by the people who actually inhabit the country. 

Via Ross and Franke-Ruta, here is a CBN profile of Mike Huckabee.  According to the report, he does support the teaching of creationism (not ID) “alongside evolution,” which came as something of a surprise to me.  Intelligent Design is custom-made as the pseudo-scientific alternative that a pol can invoke without bringing down quite the same measure of criticism on himself.  Even McCain (whose campaign is apparently now going to have “faith” as its theme!) has hied himself to the Discovery Institute to pay homage to the latest fad.  ID is, of course, quite different from “creationism” and “creation science,” in that ID assumes that much of evolutionary theory and cosmology is correct, but holds that modern theory fails to account for the presence of orderliness and intelligence in the universe.  (ID does not so much account for these things as it asserts them and waves its hands melodramatically as it asks, ”Why, oh, why will the oppressive scientific community not heed our arguments?”) 

“Creationism,” on the other hand, holds that more or less literal accounts of Biblical creation are entirely, “factually” true and creation science is founded on the notion that the claims are empirically verifiable.  The thinking here seems to be that if archaeology can verify many historical references in the Old Testament, ”creation science” should be able to do the same for prehistoric times.  If there is geological evidence of the event that the Bible (and the Epic of Gilgamesh, stories about Manu, etc.) records as the Flood (at the end of the last ice age), that is apparently not supposed to be taken as evidence that modern geology and paleontology are reasonably reliable and accurate fields of science, but rather as proof that 95% of what geologists and paleontologists say about the age of the earth and the history of life on earth is wrong or badly distorted.  Hence you have such travesties as the Creation Museum.   

As you may remember, the governor was one of three candidates who raised his hand in response to the question about who didn’t believe in evolution.  In the following debate, given a chance to elaborate on this, Huckabee gave his somewhat famous “I’m not running to write eighth grade science textbooks” line.  In the past, however, he has made this sort of statement:

But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution. And I think that what I’d be concerned with is that it should be taught as one of the views that’s held by people. But it’s not the only view that’s held. And any time you teach one thing as that it’s the only thing, then I think that has a real problem to it.  

Indeed!  The kids have been deprived without having a proper education in the four humours and epicycles in addition to modern biology and heliocentrism.  After all, who can really say how, or even whether, the planets orbit the sun?  How unfair to privilege one view over another!  That is effectively what the governor was saying.  This is ridiculous. 

You have to enjoy Huckabee’s standard refrain of ”it’s a theory, not a fact!”  As I have said before regarding ID:

That theories are constantly revised does not make theoretical knowledge less certain or less reliable than the “factual”–there is, or should be, the awareness that no theory ever has the final word, but that it is the best word available to us to date. Indeed, without theoretical frameworks to structure it, factual “knowledge” is often just a jumble of unrelated information. What ID proposes to do is to say, “The theory of evolution has not, as of yet, accounted for all of the complexities of biological phenomena, and therefore we declare it simply insufficient and propose to fill in the ‘gaps’ with a non-empirical, non-scientific explanation.”   

Our knowledge of the world, like the knowledge of the past or any other subject of study, is always limited and provisional, but clearly some answers and some theories are more valid than others.  Huckabee’s view on teaching both creationism and evolution is effectively a rejection of the idea that it is possible for reasoning people to discern between theories that are more consistent with empirical evidence and those that are less so or entirely inconsistent.  Instead, Huckabee thinks we should be “fair” to all of the views “held by the people.”  This is taking the right’s flirting with an anti-diversity love of “intellectual diversity” a bit far, wouldn’t you say?* 

I take Huckabee’s point that such cultural fights over education policy really are not relevant to being President, or at least they shouldn’t be since education ought to remain a strictly local and state matter, but the argument that Huckabee is making in the statement above is actually a very strange one for a conservative to make.  What he is saying is that there are many equally valid truths, truth is not one, and to privilege the best or most coherent explanations of phenomena is to stifle or shut out a free and fair exchange of ideas.  Presumably Huckabee does not believe this when it comes to moral and spiritual truths about the obligations men owe each other or about the nature of man or the existence of God.  Cultural conservatives do not think we should actually be “fair” to all views “held by the people” on matters of abortion and marriage when it comes to setting public policy and passing laws, but rather insist quite strongly (and, to my mind, rightly) that there are right answers that rule out the alternatives as unacceptable and false. 

I suppose the complaint Huckabee is making here is that science, or any kind of scholarly research, is not democratic.  By democratic here, I mean not only that anyone can have his own ideas about science, which is less worrisome, but that everyone’s views are entitled to equal respect and public affirmation.  Obviously, everyone’s views are not so entitled, and certainly not when it comes to specialised fields of study. 

Having said all that, I think the Genesis account of creation ought to be taught in those schools where the parents want it taught, along with an education in the cultural inheritance of the Christian civilisation to whose last remnants they belong, but not in science class.  The establishment clause has nothing to do with this, and this is not a First Amendment issue.  It is a matter of good education and common sense.  The fundamental objection that so many Christians have to the teaching of evolution is the significance that is attached to the theory in the name of evolutionism, which secularists push to deny the existence of God and reject the authority of the Bible.  If there were not the notion that their religion and everything they are teaching their children to believe were being openly derided and denied through the teaching of evolution, there would be a great deal less resistance.  Encouraging that resistance to the teaching of evolution, rather than mobilising the same people against the courts’ hostility to religion in the public square and public schools, is self-defeating.       

The secular West has already done away with any hierarchy of religious truth some time ago.  More’s the pity.  Indeed, religious truth as something real and binding is not taken very seriously in our culture, though there are many individuals who accept that it is.  Christians have to plead for some minimal acknowledgement of their own beliefs in schools that they fund with their taxes, and even here they are usually unsuccessful.  In effect, religious claims have been reduced to the level of “private” opinion, and every effort to drag them out of this prison is met with powerful hostility. 

We allow for pluralism regarding ideas and things that our culture already acknowledges to be irrelevant to the organisation and running of social and political life.  You can always tell what a culture values most highly by how much control those in authority attempt to exercise over its particular sphere.  People generally permit the widest scope of “freedom” in those things that do not concern them and do not really matter to them.        

Now Huckabee would ironically have us abandon standards of truth in at least one area of secular study in the name of religion, or rather in the name of “representing” the views of religious citizens in the classroom.  “Let’s be fair!” the man says.  As I thought conservatives used to argue whenever the latest multiculti fad was sweeping through the schools, schools do not exist for the purpose of “representing” the diversity of society (and attempts to make them do this are generally a waste of time, when they are not efforts at ideological indoctrination).  Schools exist for educating children in those fundamental subjects and abilities of analysis and reasoning that will make them more humane and more capable to take up their duties as citizens.  (Yes, I know how old-fashioned that sounds given the state of things, but there it is.)  It seems blindingly obvious to me that instructing children in the religious heritage of their own country and civilisation is an essential part of a proper education, if only to make them culturally literate human beings who are not cut off from the riches of Western art and literature.  Both are incomprehensible without a grounding in the history and teachings of Christianity, and it is no coincidence that I learned virtually nothing of those things in my formative education, receiving cant about diversity instead.  A proper education in Western culture and religion, however, has nothing to do with talking about Genesis in biology class.  Without the former, creationist school boards might triumph everywhere and achieve nothing of lasting significance. 

*Having been subjected to idiotic propagandising in middle and high school about the glories of Diversity and multiculturalism, I recognised the shallowness and vapidity of both a long, long time ago.  I also noticed early on that a diversity of ideas and particularly political ideas was not welcomed.  I am very familiar with and in favour of this kind of criticism of the diversity cult.  However, an enthusiasm for intellectual diversity (which, I would add, many on the right do not have when it comes to certain intramural policy debates) is not a license for dressing up willful ignorance or anti-intellectualism as a legitimate alternative to a prevailing view. 

If you were one of the ten people who actually read all of Paul Berman’s long essay on Tariq Ramadan, you will be very excited to hear that Ian Buruma has attached his counterblast to a review of Podhoretz’s latest “book.”  For everyone else, it will seem like a very odd diversion away from what had been up till then a fairly interesting review article in which he quite properly mocks the notion of “Islamofascim” and related idiocies.  In related neoconiana, James has a response to Beinart’s review of the latest from Ledeen and Podhoretz.

Reacting to these posts, a commenter at Ross’ blog wrote:

No wonder politicians give up and rely on scripts; this kind of henpecking the details and failing to engage on the larger point that Fred Thompson counts himself an unapologetic patriot who generally sees the US foreign policy as good. I’d think his judgement could be addressed on that point without dithering about body count.

Yes, why “dither” about facts?  Why be concerned with historical accuracy?  It’s not as if a deficient understanding of the past could have any consequences for the quality of policymaking. 

Speaking of “larger points,” one might engage the larger point that Thompson lends credibility to the stereotype of the ”unapologetic patriot” as unthinking, ignorant and boastful patriot, which in turn does so much to give proper American patriotism a bad name in the world.  One might engage the larger point that Thompson’s answer reflects not so much patriotism as it does chauvinism, since the patriot, as Chesteron said in Napoleon of Notting Hill, boasts not of the largeness of his country but of its smallness.  One might engage the point that Thompson largely ducked the question about America’s unpopularity today by jumping into a refrain about how much more Americans have sacrificed than all other nations for the “liberty and freedom of other peoples.”  Or a Thompson defender might engage the larger point that ignoring the contributions of our British, French, Commonwealth and other free European allies is an amazing thing for a presidential candidate to do in the announcement of his candidacy.  This is someone who allegedly wants to be President.  He claims to be prepared to run our foreign policy during what he regards as a crucially important time in a major worldwide struggle, and this struggle requires cultivating and tending alliances that have been badly strained over the past few years.  He chooses to launch that effort with an insult to some of our oldest and best allies. 

Suppose for a moment that Thompson genuinely doesn’t know that his statement was, in fact, false–is that supposed to encourage us to regard him well?  Haven’t we had quite enough of presidential candidates who relish their own lack of knowledge about the rest of the world and the history of other nations?  The gaffe, if we can call it that, is indicative of the sort of detail-free campaign he seems intent on running, and yet another example of a Republican who thinks that foreign policy is two parts nationalist rhetoric and one part bombast.  

Here’s another point.  If a Canadian or, God help us, a French politician were to make some similarly overblown statement, the reaction in certain circles in this country would be one of hysterical outrage at the expression of “anti-Americanism.”  Our pols are free to say whatever foolish, ignorant thing they please and can ignore U.S. allies whenever it suits them, but just watch those pols issue denunciations of those same allies the moment their leaders utter the ‘wrong’ thing or fail to show their gratitude to America for all that we have done for them.     

At the same time, the Republicans’ conservative base doesn’t have much taste for the realists who dominated foreign-policy thinking in past GOP administrations (except for über-adviser Henry Kissinger, who has managed to transcend these divides with the same aplomb he has shown in past campaigns). For Republicans “there’s no upside in declaring, ‘These are my advisers.’ The base hates realists, and neocons are too controversial,” says sometime Romney adviser Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. “So the thinking is, don’t define yourself by foreign-policy advisers.” ~Michael Hirsh

It’s not entirely clear to me why “the base” would be so hostile to foreign policy realists (hate seems like an especially strong word), given the way things have gone over the last few years, but then I suppose I have a hard time understanding a group of people that still supports the President.  I guess year after year of talk radio, blogs and pundits telling Republican audiences that “stability” and “realism” are basically codewords for treason and defeatism has a corrosive effect after a while.  If you were someone who read and watched and listened to daily “conservative media” reports that are telling you incessantly that Islamofascism is on the march and that the restored caliphate (with Venezuelan help) is blazing a trail straight for Dubuque (or wherever), it is quite natural that “realism,”‘ grounded as it is in some measure of actual knowledge about the rest of the world, would not seem very good to you. 

If this claim is true about “the base,” it confirms my suspicion that there are no GOP “realist” candidates running for President because foreign policy realism doesn’t go down well with the primary voters and activists these days.  The “realists” supposedly refuse to “name the enemy” and do not “understand the threat” as such luminaries as Rick Santorum and Norman Podhoretz do.  The voters and activists have definitely become members of Bush’s Republican Party, and the majority of the candidates could not break out of this stranglehold even if they wished to do so.  Of course, in one important respect, it wouldn’t matter whether there were candidates being advised by foreign policy realists or not.  As I have said before:

Among politicians, all of the “realists” more or less embrace the continuation of the war.  Their very balance-of-forces, stability-centered view of foreign affairs dictates that they support an American presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.  

Because while Obama is still seen as the insurgent candidate challenging Hillary’s Democratic establishment camp, he has actually been recruiting ex-Clintonites in large numbers. Behind the scenes, Obama and Hillary have been engaged in a vicious battle for the best and brightest officials of the 1990s, those who mastered “working the system in Washington” a decade ago. The competition has grown so fierce that several Obama officials who were once Friends of Bill tell me they have been threatened with becoming pariahs by the Hillary camp if she wins the nomination. In response, the Obama campaign has only revved up its recruiting effort of midlevel former Clinton officials. “The Obama pitch is, ‘You’ll never be in the inner circle’ with Hillary,” says Gene Sperling, Sen. Clinton’s top economic advisor. ~Michael Hirsh

Obama’s “transformed,” “unconventional” foreign policy will be steered by former Clinton officials and the odd Brookings advisor.  His foreign policy will manage to combine all of the excessive ambition and overreach of his progressive internationalism and the destructive, interventionist instincts of “centrist” Democratic foreign policy staffers.  On foreign policy, Obama and Clinton are becoming almost indistinguishable.

“Maybe the times have changed, and the Webcast and his celebrity are enough. Maybe he and his tactics are the wave of the future,” Cullen said, adding a stinging comparison between Thompson and the failed 1985 launch of a new Coca-Cola formula. “Or maybe he’s the New Coke.” ~The Washington Post

Well, Thompson does want to rekindle ’80s nostalgia, so a New Coke candidacy sounds just about right.

George Ajjan’s blog on Syrian politics, syriapol: A Syrian Democracy Project, is a great resource for commentary and news about the country.  He also has a very interesting post that reproduces an article of his on Syrian identity and history.  The following exchange seems crucial for grasping how Syrians (broadly speaking) understand their identity:

Sometimes Lebanese, Jordanian, or Palestinian friends will ask me what my origin is:

“Halabi,” I proudly reply.
They respond with a confused look. “Souri, yaeni…”
“La, halabi.”
“I don’t understand, why don’t you just say that you are Syrian?”
“Why don’t you?”

Understanding this view seems to me to be a basic prerequisite for understanding the politics within and relationship between the Syrian Republic and Lebanon in particular.

P.S.  Halab is Aleppo, for those who might not be familiar with the Arabic name.

Ross has some good remarks on the previous post, and he’s right to note that WWII casualty estimates vary.  My original statements were based on this source, while the Wikipedia entry gives some different numbers.  While the figures are different, the other source does show that British, French and Commonwealth forces suffered more losses in absolute terms and in proportion to their national populations.  Let me repeat: I do not point this out to denigrate American sacrifice in WWII, which deserves the highest respect, but to insist that Americans remember the sacrifices of the other nations that were on our side in the war.  That shouldn’t be too much to ask from candidates aspiring to be President, or have I missed something?

Ross mentions that Thompson was responding to a question about the declining popularity of the United States.  His complete answer was this (quote near the bottom of the page):

Well, part of that comes with being the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous country in the history of the world.  I think that goes with the territory.  We’re more unpopular than we need to be.  That’s for sure, but our people have shed more blood for the liberty and freedom of other peoples in this country [sic] than all the other countries put together….And I don’t feel any need to apologize for the United States of America. 

America was also ”the strongest, most powerful, most prosperous country in the history of the world” during earlier periods in the last century and this did not cause as much widespread hostility.  If some resentment and envy come with the territory of being a superpower, even this cannot account for the extent and depth of negative feeling towards our government (and perhaps towards our country).  Thompson says that he feels no need to apologise for the U.S., which is fine as far as it goes, but apparently he does feel the need to trumpet our vast moral, military and political superiority in just the sort of arrogant way that drives so many people around the world to resent America, or at least to resent our government.  It isn’t enough to say that we have more power and wealth than any country ever, but on top of that he feels he has to make the (false) claim that our nation has more accumulated virtue than all other nations on the planet put together.  For those seeking the beginning of an explanation of why even formerly relatively favourably inclined nations now have very sharply negative views (e.g., Turkey) of our government and our country,  they could do worse than to look at the mentality expressed in Thompson’s remarks.  

During his appearance on The Tonight Show, Fred said something that is rather stunningly and obviously untrue:

Our people have shed more blood for the liberty and freedom of other peoples … than all the other countries put together.

There’s nothing terribly edifying in this kind of claim of national nobility-through-high body counts, but you have to wonder what the man could possibly have been thinking that would cause him to say this.  Even leaving aside WWI, where the claims to fighting for liberty are a bit more strained (and where all other belligerents lost far more people than America), this claim is demonstrably false.  It requires either an amazing ignorance about the past or contempt for American allies in WWII. 

Britain and France entered WWII at least officially to safeguard the independence of Poland, which I think gives them some right to claim that they suffered their losses for the sake of the “liberty” of other peoples.  In 1940 alone in a war fought on behalf of Poland, the French lost 90,000 KIA, and the British lost over 68,000.  The British, Commonwealth and Free French soldiers who died during the war were certainly fighting at least in part for “the liberty and freedom of other peoples,” and the number of their fatalities and casualities was necessarily higher than that of the United States.  Our casualties were on the order of 600,000 killed and wounded, while British and Commonwealth casualties (not including India’s 100,000) were approximately 915,000, which does not include civilian deaths in Britain and France.  If we were to judge these losses according to the size of the populations of the different countries, the disparity would be even greater.  Given how much smaller its population was, Britain’s losses were proportionally over three times as great as ours. 

None of this is to minimise the sacrifices that Americans have made.  But leave it to some showboating politician to take something noble and admirable and distort it as part of his talking points, insulting the war dead of our best allies in the process.  This claim of Thompson’s is just the sort of nationalist mythologising that we could stand to have much less of nowadays.  It doesn’t speak well for the management of foreign relations in any future Thompson Administration that the man has no idea how much the rest of the Allied nations sacrificed in WWII.

P.S. It might also be noted that Americans, like all other nations, did not enter the wars of the 20th century primarily because they were interested in fighting for the “liberty and freedom of other peoples.”  Those justifications followed once the country was already involved.  In the process of fighting for our own national interests, we also happened to be defending the cause of the “liberty and freedom of other peoples,” but had we not been provoked and had our government not already been so eager to intervene America would not have done much in the way of fighting on behalf of others’ freedom.  The reasons given for our involvement in the world wars were those of self-defense and retaliation, just as other nations were technically fulfilling their treaty obligations to allied states or fighting in self-defense as well.   

While I’m on an anti-Brownback theme, I noticed a bit of election-year pandering by Sen. Whole Life.  Brownback voted for the Ensign amendment to the appropriation bill for the State Department.  The amendment eliminates a small rise in U.N. peacekeeping funding.  Personally, I think this amendment is just fine.  What is a little surprising is that Brownback, the champion of Darfur, would vote to weaken proposed funding for U.N. peacekeeping when a new peacekeeping mission has been authorised for Darfur.  It isn’t really that surprising when you consider that no Republican presidential candidate wants to be seen voting for increasing U.S. funding of U.N. operations when he has primaries that he wants to win.  Nation-building and peacekeeping may be all the rage in certain limited circles on the right, but rank-and-file Republicans don’t care for them and they really don’t like the U.N.  The amusing thing is that Brownback has voted the right way this time, but his career of internationalist activism and “bleeding-heart conservatism” will still be held against him.  Given how poorly he’s doing overall, he might as well have voted against the amendment and remained true to his sappy foreign policy vision.

Ross noted approvingly that Sam Brownback once again argued for his three-way “soft partition” plan at the debate yesterday, and followed up here.  Well, yes, Brownback did that, but then he has done this at virtually every debate since the campaign started.  That would mean, as a matter of making a “contribution” to the debate about future Iraq policy, that Brownback has apparently won every debate this year for lack of meaningful competition.  You don’t need to be an enthusiast for this year’s debate formats or a Brownback critic to question this assessment.  Tommy Thompson also made similar “contributions” to the debate about political strategy. His “contributions” included calling for impossible things to be done (Maliki should call a vote on the U.S. presence! provincial governments! they should share oil revenues!) without giving any explanation of how any of these things would happen.    

Along with Joe Biden, Sam Brownback is one of the main proponents of “soft partition” and has been since the beginning of the year.  He flirted with Sen. Warner’s modified “surge” plan, which earned him no end of grief from the jingo platoons of the blog and talk radio right (”don’t embolden the enemy!” they cried), and he was even confused by some with someone who marked the beginning of the Great Antiwar Republican Crack-up.  The reactions to Brownback’s very minimal moves away from the administration’s position do tell us how miserable the state of the debate inside the GOP is, but they also draw our attention to the superficiality of the proposals Brownback has endorsed.  I mention these things because it has been my impression that Sam Brownback’s Iraq proposals have been concerned with positioning Brownback as one who can be critical of the way the war is being waged without having to explain why his proposals would achieve the goal of “victory” that he has declared to be necessary.  I get the impression that he has embraced “soft partition,” just as he dabbled with Sen. Warner’s “Anbar, not Baghdad” mini-”surge,” because he would like to say that he does not support the status quo and instead supports some other unworkable scheme whose merits he cannot actually explain.  If a united Iraq has been the fetish of the administration, a federalised Iraq has become the fetish of “realists” and centrist Democrats alike.  There is no sense that those arguing for a federal or partition solution can say why their “solution” is going to stabilise Iraq.  If one of the fears of the anti-withdrawal crowd is that the country will collapse into chaos and warlordism, nothing in a federalising or partition plan prevents this, and indeed any partition, whether “soft” or “hard,” will encourage the centrifugal forces already unleashed in the country.  (Incidentally, the “Awakening” and the arming of Sunni insurgents are also contributing to centrifugal tendencies in the name of pacifying Iraq; what they are doing is setting up nicely, well-armed enclaves of people who have even less incentive to collaborate with other Iraqi groups than before.)  Supporters of “soft partition” support it for the same reasons the ISG report received support–it is something different!  It is a change!  So, you will pardon me if I find Brownback’s “contributions” underwhelming as usual. 

On a slightly related question of allegedly antiwar Republican Senators who are not, in fact, against the war, can I just say how strange I find Steve Clemons’ enthusiasm for Chuck Hagel?  Of course, I find anyone’s enthusiasm for Chuck Hagel to be very odd, but it is always stranger coming from such a vocal opponent of the war.  I might expect David Broder to lavish praise on Chuck Hagel’s willingness to “transcend” partisanship, but I still expect a little more from foreign policy experts.  Mr. Clemons notes that Hagel is probably retiring and will not fight another election.  This is more bad news for the GOP (Nebraska does not actually have much of a recent record of voting Republicans into the Senate), but I confess that I don’t see what it is that the Senate will be losing that is so invaluable with respect to foreign policy.  This is someone who, in his time in office, never saw an intervention that he didn’t like, even when he saw all of the potential problems that might arise from it.  His prescience about problems in Iraq in 2002, rather than making him seem wise and insightful to me, underscores just how irresponsible and conventional the man is when it came time for him to cast a vote.  From the perspective of a war opponent, Hagel’s retirement and likely replacement by a Democrat would make it that much more possible for the Senate majority to have enough votes to push for some real change in policy. 

Hagel has talked a good game at times, but consider this strange remark from Clemons:

Hagel was the boldest in my view in fighting George W. Bush on the war.

When exactly was he fighting Mr. Bush on the war?  When he voted for the authorisation?  When he gave his little speech about shoe-sellers?  I am genuinely mystified at this idea that Hagel has been some great champion of the resistance to Mr. Bush.  He has proved to be something of an annoyance to the administration, but that’s it. 

A couple years ago I was discussing the question of Kosovo independence with a friend of mine (yes, this is what I talk about in my spare time), and I submitted that it was likely that an independent Kosovo would, sooner or later, be faced with Serbian military action.  He was skeptical that the Serbs would seriously contemplate such a course, but I thought it was a distinct possibility, and it is becoming only too likely.  Really, it is inconceivable how it could be otherwise, given the symbolic, historical and cultural importance of Kosovo to Serbs.  Given the significance that pious Orthodox believers attach to the death of Tsar-Martyr Lazar and the non-negotiable claims to the territory that Serbian nationalists have, no Serbian government could accede to the detachment of Kosovo even if that government were inclined to do so (and the current one is not).  The demand for Kosovo independence by the “international community” is obviously an outrageous one, an extraordinary example of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state in contravention of all of the rules by which the so-called “community” is supposed to be governed.  (There is a bad precedent for it in the separation of East Timor, which was an unwise move at the time and which created a scarcely viable ward of the “international community” whose example can only encourage the numerous separatists inside Indonesia, and repeating the error of Timor would be even more dangerous in a region where there is a very live Albanian irredentist movement.)  Kosovo independence also has potential for reigniting or exacerbating separatist battles around the world and serving as a precedent for revising territorial boundaries based on ethnic demographic change and majoritarian self-determination (something that might be of a little direct concern to us since Calderon declared that wherever there is a Mexican Mexico is also there).  The post-war international settlement has largely held because the major powers have not lent their support to revanchist, revisionist and irredentist political movements and have not tried to back up irredentist claims with their own power.  In the Balkans, this has not been the case.  Do the major powers really want to unleash another round of upheavals in the Balkans like those of the 1912-1923 and 1990-1995 periods?  If the Western powers do, they will pursue the reckless course on which they have been embarked in the drive to make Kosovo independent. 

You don’t need to be Dr Strangelove to think that striking Iran would be better than letting it go nuclear. ~James Forsyth

No, you could be John McCain or Hillary Clinton.  It is debatable whether their states of mind would be much of an improvement over Strangelove.

Arnaud de Borchgrave had this item in his latest:

A ranking Swiss official, speaking privately, said, “Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests.”

This is the crucial point–anyone with a modicum of experience.  Of course, none of the major candidates for President really has this, and the foreign policy advisors whom the major candidates are consulting seem to have had a pretty appalling record when it comes to policies they have supported in that region. 

 

Supporters of Sen. Larry Craig with the American Land Rights Association are calling for a boycott of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport.

The Battle Ground (Washington) based association says airport police who arrested the senator in a men’s room sex sting are responsible for weakening private property rights in the West. Craig is a Republican member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. ~Seattle P-I

And I thought I had trouble when I was a kid with people who couldn’t spell my last name properly.  This is just bizarre.  Good to know that the Chavistas are tackling the crucial problems of the day.

Via The Plank

His announcement is something strange to behold.  He tells us that he thinks that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are “not outdated.”  Well, that’s a relief.  Rehashed Reaganisms follow.  He is in favour of low taxes, free markets and life.  I’m glad that he’s running a “different kind of campaign,” as I might otherwise have difficulty detecting the new and interesting angle that Fred brings.  Much of the ad is Fred rattling off his resume, which doesn’t make much sense (people already know that he is on Law & Order!).  The entire thing feels like a mock-up, as if Fred will come out the next day to say that it was all just a big joke at our expense, or maybe a new kind of reality entertainment.  He then brings in the meaningless pablum about unity that you’ve probably already seen.  And why does the man shake his head as if he’s having some sort of mild seizure?  Isn’t he an actor?  Can’t he deliver a recorded speech better than this?  More unity babble follows.  All in all, I don’t think it’s going to satisfy very many people who have been waiting patiently for the start of his campaign.  As for me, I just find the entire thing to be hilarious.

P.S. The announcement video is quite long for an online announcement at roughly 15 minutes.  He just keeps talking.  I think Mike Gravel’s YouTube video of the campfire was shorter. 

P.P.S. He bobs his head around all the time.  It’s very distracting.  In his other public appearances, he hasn’t done much of this.

Since he has never imputed bad faith or shabby motives to his opponents, I guess this Will Wilkinson post really puts Ezra Klein in his place.  Oh, waitnever mind.

Concerning the specific dispute over why respectable economists routinely put their arguments on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page, I don’t think that either Klein’s incredulity or Wilkinson’s mockery gets anywhere near the real answer.  It isn’t a question of credible people lending support to a “laughable ideology” or credible people who are ideologically inclined towards the paper’s editorial views publishing in a comfortable venue.  Prominent, respectable economists submit articles to the WSJ op-ed page because the paper is one of the most widely-circulated national newspapers whose main focus is reporting on business and finance.  A huge percentage of WSJ readers, whose politics are happily not always that of the immigration-cum-imperialism crowd who write the paper’s editorials, is made up of people who make their living working for corporations or investing in the market (or both) and who want to have informed commentary about developments in the economy.  Economists publish their op-eds in the WSJ to reach an audience that is going to be interested in what they have to say.  And supposedly clever schemes of building up the empire of the supply-siders really has nothing to do with it. 

But his supposed “visit to Anbar Province” was in some ways even more cynical — and accepted even more gullibly by the media — than his June 2006 visit to Baghdad. There, at least, he actually set foot on Iraqi soil.

This time, Bush visited Al-Asad Air Base — an enormous, heavily fortified American outpost for 10,000 troops that while technically in Anbar Province in fact has a 13-mile perimeter keeping Iraq — and Iraqis — at bay. Bush never left the confines of the base, known as ” Camp Cupcake,” for its relatively luxurious facilities, but nevertheless announced: “When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like.” ~Dan Froomkin

Thank goodness we have the Kagans of the world to inform us of the profound significance of such events, since we might otherwise mistake them for absurd PR stunts designed to deceive and mislead the public (as usual).

Why don’t we have more politicians like Saakashvili? ~Andrew Sullivan

Because God is merciful and does not want to punish us with such a terrible scourge?

I jest, but only slightly.  I don’t dislike Saakashvili just because of his strange admiration for Stalin (apparently de rigueur for Georgian nationalists these days), his belligerent posturing, his lickspittle relationship to Washington or the calamity of a “reformist” government that he runs.  His “national” movement is also a creature of the Open Society Institute, that Soros-created monstrosity, and he is a close chum with the likes of both McCain and Soros.  For that matter, he seems to be one of those Westernised people who go back home and try to impose foreign models on their home countries.  Something about these people bothers me at a visceral level.  Did I forget to mention the part about his wife saying how he is like Beria?  She said, in a moment reminiscent of something Elizabeth Uhrquhart might have said, ” I think my husband is the right person to frighten people.”  Yes, why can’t we have more politicians like Saakashvili?

I have also seen a member of his government in action at a recent conference on the Caucasus, and let me just say that I was not impressed.  His Minister for Education had come to tell us about all the wonderful new reforms instituted by the government.  One of the audience members, herself of Georgian descent and a self-declared friend of reform, challenged the minister with a question about the closing down of rural schools under Saakashvili’s education reforms.  She asked very simply when the government intended to reopen these schools.  The minister responded with the kind of dismissive character attack that is only too familiar, accusing the questioner of being a sneaky admirer of the old system under Shevardnadze, which was, of course, complete nonsense.  The conversation deteriorated from there.  Nonetheless, Georgian government propaganda had been delivered, and her job was done.  Why can’t we also have an Education Secretary as condescending and oblivious as Georgia has?

When I first saw this, I was inclined to say, “Well, at least something good has come out of this dreadful mess.”  Alex Massie (via Ross) has saved me from making the mistake of thinking that anything good could really come from the Iraq war.  His post also serves as an important reminder of something that American observers of foreign politics should always heed: domestic political concerns are almost always more important to people in other countries than is U.S. foreign policy (which happens to be true of American voters as well).  We will generally not understand political events in other parts of the world if we try to understand them through such dim, cracked lenses as “pro-/anti-American” or “pro-/anti-Iraq war” and the like.  (Can I tell you how tired I am of stories that try to spin Gordon Brown as a vigorously pro-American Atlanticist?)  Contrary to our own impression of ourselves, other people really aren’t that preoccupied with us and our wars, even when their governments are involved in one of our misadventures.

While listening to Eli Lake busily distorting and lying about Profs. Mearsheimer and Walt and the argument in their original essay, it occurred to me that they never made anything like the main claim to which he objects so strenuously and which, according to Lake, make it perfectly appropriate to associate them with the likes of David Duke.  (You have the admire the gall of someone actively engaged in using the guilt by association tactic accusing other people of McCarthyism and “John Birch Society” tactics.)  Becoming ever more agitated, Lake continually repeated that they were accusing certain individuals of being “foreign agents,” which is what I would call a lie, since anyone can read the essay and see that it makes no such claims.  The essay does make the claim at one point that AIPAC is ”a de facto agent for a foreign government,” which a perusal of AIPAC’s own website would tend to support to the extent that it very explicitly lobbies for the interests of Israel.     

First, on the terminology of “the Lobby,” the authors wrote:

We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.

So it is a catch-all term to refer to diverse individuals and organisations, and does not refer to a “Jewish lobby” or conspiracy of Jews in high places or any of the other mischaracterisations that critics have made.  Those who say that the essay says any of these things either have not read the essay or are out to deceive. 

Defining “the Lobby” further, they write:

In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers’ unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy [bold mine-DL]: the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better.

So it is an interest group, or an umbrella term to refer to a number of groups all working towards broadly shared goals.  It is engaged in a legitimate activity, at which it excels.  For some reason, this sends people into apoplectic fits.

What does “the Lobby” do?  They write:

The Lobby pursues two broad strategies. First, it wields its significant influence in Washington, pressuring both Congress and the executive branch. Whatever an individual lawmaker or policymaker’s own views may be, the Lobby tries to make supporting Israel the ‘smart’ choice. Second, it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy. 

All of this is pretty uncontestable.  This is what pro-Israel groups do, and they make no bones about what they are doing.  Christians United for Israel, for instance, is quite explicit about its goals.  I think the name gives it away. 

On the role of “the Lobby” in pushing for the war in Iraq, they write:

Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical [bold mine-DL]. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure. According to Philip Zelikow, a former member of the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and now a counsellor to Condoleezza Rice, the ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The ‘unstated threat’ was the ‘threat against Israel’, Zelikow told an audience at the University of Virginia in September 2002. ‘The American government,’ he added, ‘doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.’

Of course, Zelikow did say something close to this, in that he did acknowledge that a likely target of any Iraqi WMD arsenal would be Israel, which is to state a fairly common view.  Are we really supposed to believe that Israeli security was not a critical factor in deciding whether or not to go to war against Iraq?  That is what the critics of Mearsheimer/Walt would have you believe.  You are supposed to believe that Mr. Bush, who has on the whole aligned Washington with Israel more than any other modern President, made such a decision without Israeli security having much to do with it at all.   

Something I have never understood about the hysterical reaction to this claim that war advocates supported the invasion because of expected advantages for Israel is simply this: why should pro-Israel Americans regard this claim as either false or malicious?  If Israel really is a strategically valuable, reliable ally, a fellow democracy to which we have such deep obligations and all the rest of it, surely its security would be of concern to our government and to citizens who support the connection with Israel.  The supposed threat from Iraq would have been greater to Israel than to the United States–this much is common sense.  You would expect close intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and an allied state in the months prior to a major military action against a nearby state, and I think you would be shocked if it did not take place.  Yet any suggestion that U.S. officials and activists believed this and acted accordingly is considered equivalent to accusing someone of treason.  That this reaction is a bit unhinged is putting it mildly.  

One point of the essay, of course, is to deny that Israel is a strategically valuable, reliable ally.  The authors argue that it is neither very valuable nor reliable.  Once you reject this assumption (which is really what it is), what used to appear right and proper might now seem wasteful and pointless.  A close U.S.-Israel connection might seem desirable if pro-Israel forces were correct about the merits and mutual benefits of the relationship.  The essay argues that they are not correct, and says instead that the connection is damaging to U.S. interests.  You might think that supporters of the invasion would hotly contest the basic idea that the Iraq war is contrary to U.S. interests, and perhaps some have done so, but unless you think the war actually is very bad for America (and it is) there would be little reason to express concern about the role of ”the Lobby” in promoting said war. 

Honestly, I don’t quite understand how there can so much fuss about this essay, since the role of pro-Israel activists in pushing for this war is no different from Anglophiles pushing for entry into WWI and WWII or the Hearst machine and American imperialists pushing for war with Spain.  They were not “agents of a foreign power.”  They were horribly, horribly mistaken Americans who were horribly mistaken because they had become too attached to the cause of another country (whether England or Cuba) or conflated the interests of two different nations.  Critics of Mearsheimer/Walt claim that there is an accusation of bad faith, but the essay makes no such charge.  On the contrary, the frightening thing about pro-Israel activists today or Anglophiles in the past is their utterly sincere conviction that the interests and destinies of America and another nation are bound up together.  The dangerous thing about them is that they are typically not arguing in bad faith or acting cynically.  What makes them dangerous is that they are absolutely convinced that they are doing right by America by doing right by the other country.  It is their judgement about what is right for America that is so deeply flawed.  That is the point.  Naturally, they dislike this claim, as anyone might object to being characterised in this way, but what is never said in the essay is that any of the people in “the Lobby” are “agents of a foreign power.”   

Rather crucial for understanding this whole question is recognising that the perceptions of what is in Israel’s interest by pro-Israel advocates in this country are sometimes horribly wrong.  There were pro-Israel, pro-war pundits who believed that Israel’s position would be greatly improved by the overthrow of Hussein and said so in 2002-03 (”the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad,” and all that rot), and instead the aftermath for Israel has proven to be almost as harmful as the post-invasion has been for us.  The expansion of Iranian power that has resulted has been detrimental to Israeli security, and this was brought home by the war last year.  (Of course, this reality feeds anti-Iranian jingoism in this country, but it is difficult to see how Israeli security would be actually aided by spreading the war to Iran.)  It is also important to distinguish between what American pro-Israel activists are doing on behalf of what they think is right for Israel and what any particular Israeli government desires.  These may coincide from time to time, as they tend to do on policies relating to the Palestinians and the settlements in the territories, but there seems to be no question that the most hard-line pro-Israel activists are far more aggressive and militaristic towards Israel’s neighbours than people who actually live in Israel can afford to be.  Many Israelis are interested in the possibility of negotiating with Syria for a peace settlement, while for many pro-Israel activists here the idea is madness.   

P.S.  Early 20th century Easterners interested in promoting Chinese interests and connections with China also stand out in this long, bad tradition of boosters for other countries who wind up plunging us into unnecessary wars.

“Iowa, for good reason, for constitutional reasons, for reasons related to the Lord, should be the first caucus and primary,” Richardson, New Mexico’s governor, said at the Northwest Iowa Labor Council Picnic. ~Des Moines Register

Via Zengerle

Knowing our governor, you almost have to think that it was a big joke at the expense of the current nominating system.  After all, many of the current system’s defenders do sometimes talk as if God and the Constitution both mandated Iowan primacy in American presidential politics.  Then again, knowing our governor, I would guess that this was a classic example of Richardson telling the audience whatever it was he thought they wanted to hear.  He threw in the Constitution and God to cover all the bases–it’s patriotic and religious and absolutely sycophantic.  If he were speaking to a group of die-hard war supporters, he might have said that keeping Iowa in first place was essential to defeating jihadism.

Via Greenwald, I see that Fred “The Surge” Kagan has gone completely mad.  In an article called “The Gettysburg Of This War,” Kagan writes about (wait for it) the President’s surprise trip to Anbar (which, Kagan tells us, “should have surprised no one who was paying attention.”), about which he has this to say:

If ever there was a sign that we have turned a corner in the fight against both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency, this was it.

Yes, friends, he did say that.  Turned a corner!  Viewed another way, one might conclude from the location of the visit that Baghdad and even the Green Zone have become so dangerous that the President dared not go there.  Kagan continues:

It should be recognized as at least the Gettysburg of this war [bold mine-DL], to the extent that counterinsurgencies can have such turning points. Less than a year ago, it was common wisdom and the conclusion of the Marine intelligence community in Anbar that the province and its people were hopelessly lost.

Of course, last year it did seem hopelessly lost, and barring the remarkable change in local attitudes that did, in fact, happen it would have remained so.  The Marines don’t throw in the towel unless things are genuinely hopeless.  What changed was an extraordinary shift in local opinion against putative “Al Qaeda” elements.  Some of this was facilitated by U.S. forces before the “surge” began (as those paying attention already knew), but it was essentially a move by insurgents to side with their enemy (our armed forces) against an even worse enemy.  Kagan dismisses all of this and more, of course, which is how he can say cracked things about Gettysburg and turning corners.  Then again, I suppose if I were prominently associated with authoring some form of the “surge” plan, as Kagan is, I might look for anything that would vindicate what I had advocated.

The Post on a “surge” showcase.

If you can’t get enough of Brookings members’ NYT op-eds on Iraq, here’s another one.  Not very surprisingly, it basically cannot deny the overwhelming problems:

Unfortunately, at the moment the political paralysis seems to be a more powerful force than the military momentum, and progress in security is unsustainable without sectarian compromise among Iraq’s Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites. The country remains very violent, and the economy rather stagnant.

In the end, the authors are forced to say:

Given the continuing violence, and the absence of political progress, Iraq is not now on a trajectory toward sustainable stability — and America is not yet on a clear path to an exit strategy.

Not much more than a month ago, O’Hanlon and Pollack wrote:

As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

It seems plain to me that the two statements flatly contradict each other, or at least the latest article undermines a main claim of the earlier op-ed.  I suppose there could be “potential” for sustainable stability, and still Iraq might not yet be on a “trajectory” towards sustainable stability, but the implication of the earlier statement is that there is a real likelihood of success and the implication of the later statement is that things generally look quite bad despite some marginal improvements here and there.  Somehow I don’t expect this item to be cited by excited war supporters as the latest revelation of the Oracle.  Somehow I expect that it will be very carefully ignored, but then I’m an awful cynic. 

Ross follows up on the debate over his latest Atlantic piece on future Democratic electoral prospects, and he explains quite clearly what he means by populism and how his reform ideas relate to it.  I think Ross’ analysis of electoral trends makes sense, which is why I wrote in defense of it.  However, I am actually sympathetic to those, such as Will Wilkinson, who do not like the substance of the policy proposals endorsed by economic populists, as I do not care for many of them myself.  I disagree with some libertarian critics of this populism, to the extent that they even allow that it actually exists, concerning some specific areas of policy and more general assumptions about the legitimacy of the claims of national sovereignty and national interest.  While I have some right-populist inclinations in matters of trade and immigration and I have a very old-fashioned Bolingbrokean-Jeffersonian hostility to concetrated wealth and power, which makes for some common anti-corporate ground with more conventional left-populists, in practice I am not that much of a populist.  You will not see me voting for Edwards-style populism or “compassionate” conservatism or “Sam’s Club Republicanism” now or ever.  For that matter, I neither shop at Sam’s Club, nor am I a Republican, so that makes me a pretty unlikely supporter of this sort of politics, since I rather rather regard the former as a symptom of moral and economic disorder and regard the latter as, well, not my favourite organisation.  Yet I still do recognise that there are people who might just go for such reformism, and these really are the sorts of people the GOP needs to win over and keep if it wants to remain competitive going forward.   

As I have made abundantly clear over the years, I am a small-government constitutionalist and a Ron Paul man, which puts me in a fairly small group.  (I am also very sympathetic to corporatist ideas of solidarity and a conservationist ethic, which may put me in an even smaller subset of this group.)  Despite an appreciation for some of the aspects of corporatism, the kind of economic intervention by the state on offer these days leaves me completely cold.  (Non-intervention is very often the wise course, in foreign policy as in domestic affairs.)  However, my preferences do not really give me the luxury to pretend that people in this country are not looking for some sort of intervention by the state in the field of health care, because they plainly are.  You hear this anecdotally from friends and colleagues, and you see it backed up in polling.  The desire is there, and the main dispute seems to be over whether you have a mostly state-run or a more state capitalist-run program.  Mike Huckabee talks vaguely about having a solution that involves none of the above, but he is typically blissfully free of specifics when he says this.  (Based on anecdotal impressions, I would say that young, educated professionals might be even more worried about health care than many other groups, but I wouldn’t press that too far.)  These people are acting on the assumption that the U.S. government is “their” government (if only!) and that it exists to provide them with certain things they need, or at the very least to provide them with the “opportunity” to acquire what they need. 

At this point, someone usually says something saccharine about empowerment, which is usually where they finally lose me, since it is never the government’s role to empower its citizens.  This idea of government empowering people is the root of all swindles.  Indeed, citizens’ power stands in an inverse relationship with that of the government,and the government never “gives back” the power it has taken.  The more “empowerment” we have, the more servility we have.  This is naturally not a popular view (for confirmation, see the political history of the 20th century or just the 1964 presidential election), and it is not one that is normally associated with populism, though I think a case could be made that it is the ultimate populist view, insofar as it is one that places the best interests of the people ahead of popular enthusiasms.  It is the view most consonant with a decentralist understanding of political liberty, and such an arrangement would ultimately be far better for the common good, a humane, sane way of life and the flourishing of more self-supporting communities. 

As George Grant observed forty years ago, though, political decentralisation without economic decentralisation is simply submission to corporate oligarchy, which I think he regarded as worse than a living Hell (in which case, he would have been too generous).  Consequently, he was known as the “Red Tory” for his harsh criticism of the dissolving acid that capitalism and technology poured on social bonds.  Also, the Loyalist and Anglo-Canadian Conservative tradition never knew the reflexive hostility to state action that our political tradition initially did, and strangely enough Canada now enjoys more effective decentralisation in certain respects than we do (even though it also has more in the way of government services).

All of this got me to thinking about how strange it is that the Democrats have become the party of the economic populists, since they have historically been the less nationalist of the two parties and appear to be in no danger of changing, yet this kind of populism almost always goes with a strong dose of nationalism.  Most economic populist complaints today focus on a few general areas: free trade, the effects of globalisation (e.g., outsourcing, etc.), related government favouritism for corporate interests and immigration.  The Washington-New York political elite is largely in agreement that free trade, globalisation, state capitalism and mass immigration are fundamentally desirable.  There may be disagreements about how to manage them, but there is only minority support for rejecting or opposing any of them on a large scale.  (This is still true in the current presidential fields.)  You would expect the historic party of labour to be more concerned about immigration, but as chance would have it, they are also the historic party of immigrants.  You would expect the more nationalist party to be more skeptical of free trade and globalisation, but they are also the party of corporations.  On each issue where populists might gain traction, the party leadership has tended to reject the populist position and endorse the globalist one, because their true corporate masters desire it.  This remains true.  What is striking today is the extent to which Democratic candidates are willing to buck corporate America at least a little when it comes to free trade, which suggests that the populist critique of free trade and globalisation, which was smothered during the incredibly boring, issue-free 2000 election, might break through this time and cause a change in the political landscape.       

At APSA, Prof. Patrick Deneen had a critique of Prof. Dienstag’s Pessimism, which I have discussed many times before, and of philosophical pessimism itself.   He said:

Memory and hope, Christopher Lasch argued – and not pessimism – are the proper antidotes to optimism.

I agree with this, or at least I almost agree.  Pessimism seems to me to be the antidote to the poison of optimism, and then memory and hope function as the proper nourishment that human nature needs to flourish.  Even if undiluted pessimism is a poison of its own, and I might grant that it is in its most extreme despair of any meaning in life, St. John of Damascus said of his heresiological work that it is necessary to make use of poisons to create antidotes. 

I have said many times that the virtue of hope has nothing to do with optimism, and Christians who routinely mistake hope for optimism are very badly confused about what hope is and what they are supposed to be hoping for in this life.  Indeed, to hope for salvation in Christ is almost the opposite of the optimist’s view.  The optimist says, “I will be saved, and I can save myself.”  The Christian says, “I may yet be saved, if it be God’s will.”  Hope and optimism are in fact antithetical, which reinforces my sense that optimism is as vicious as hope is virtuous.  Optimism is as demonic as hope is divine.

My own view is that the pessimists are as close to being right as secular philosophers are likely to be, but that in their denial even of the hope of salvation and their denial of all meaning they have missed the heart of why they are right about so many of their other observations.  They have seen clearly through the vanity of this world and the promises of those who would seek to realise some kind of salvation here below, and we would all be better off if there were more people inclined to see these promises as the hollow deceptions that they are.  However, the only possible pessimism that escapes the ultimate emptiness of this secular pessimism (the pessimists would see it not as emptiness, but as possibility) is a Christian pessimism that understands that redemption is still possible, but it is not one that can be fulfilled in this world.

On the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship in last summer’s disastrous war in Lebanon, for example, I disagree with their denial of responsibility on Washington’s part — the original impulse to take some form of action may have come from the Israeli leadership, but as I made clear at the time, it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the scale and objectives of the operation became defined by Washington, and they were plainly goals for which Israel had not prepared its forces. ~Tony Karon

Indeed, it is surprising that Profs. Mearsheimer and Walt would argue that Washington was not at least partly responsible for the Lebanon debacle, since the war in Lebanon–and the U.S. political class’s virtually unanimous support for it–seems to me to serve as a principal example of how the Lobby’s definition of U.S. and Israeli interests skews and shapes U.S. policymaking in ways that are actually detrimental to the interests of both states.  The way that the war in Lebanon was cast in much of the U.S. media–very simply as Iran and Syria’s proxy war against Israel and Israel’s purely righteous retaliation against this proxy war–had a lot to do with Lobby influence in creating an impressive bipartisan consensus here that everything Israel does can be described as “self-defense” and a similarly broad consensus that Iranian influence in the Near East is the great danger of our time.   

In addition to Washington’s role in exacerbating the war in Lebanon, a clear demonstration of Lobby influence was in its control of the public debate about the campaign.  (We routinely heard how “the American people” support Israel, but few bother to wonder why this support remains as strong as it does.)  This public relations offensive was led by numerous denunciations of the idea of proportionality in the commentary pages of major newspapers, reliable anti-Vatican criticism from prominent pro-Israel Catholics and Christians, Rev. John Hagee’s declaration that the bombing of Lebanon was a “miracle of God” (Hagee is now the head of Christians United for Israel, which aspires to mobilise pro-Israel evangelicals and wield AIPAC-like influence), the U.S. Ambassador’s statement that “we are all Israelis now,” Secretary Rice’s infamous “birth pangs” quip, and on and on.  Obviously, this was not all coordinated or synchronised, as critics of Mearsheimer and Walt accuse them (falsely) of claiming about Lobby activities, but resulted from the shared objectives of numerous different interest groups in this country in boosting for Israel.  (The crucial point of the argument against the Lobby is that these interest groups that belong to it are highly unrepresentative of the interests of most Americans, and not surprisingly they advocate policies that serve their narrow interests rather than U.S. national interest.)  It was, of course, technically possible to speak out against the rampant anti-Lebanonism that swept the country last summer (which was wrapped up in the nicest qualifications), but you didn’t find many people doing it, and certainly not many politicians and foreign policy intellectuals. 

I agree with Mr. Karon that some of this response is ingrained and habitual now.  It is mixed up to some extent with our own nationalists’ paranoia about so-called “Islamofascism,” and it dovetails nicely with the goals of hegemonists in the Near East.  Then again, most hegemonists are themselves very keenly pro-Israel and are as interested in U.S. regional hegemony in the Near East for the sake of Israel’s security (as they understand it) as they are for reasons of projecting U.S. power, and it seems likely that they not only see no conflict between the two priorities but assume that the two are quite complementary.  In any case, reflexive support for Israel obviously gets constant reinforcement from the media and politicians, which is how it became reflexive in the first place, and the coverage and commentary in this country on the war in Lebanon were perfect examples of how “the Lobby” works.

I hadn’t seen this until today, but I think it sums up nicely everything that is wrong with our foreign policy establishment today:

On the second point, Quiggin is trying to frame the debate by using the Very Scary Terms “aggressive war” or “non-defensive” war.  Aggressive to whom? One state’s “aggressive” or “non-defensive” war is another state’s “defensive” or “prudential” action.

Of course.  The Japanese invasions of East Asia were really just defensive (and were part of an effort to free East Asia from perfidious colonialism!), after all, and who’s to say whether the invasion of Poland was really aggression?  The German government said that the other side had fired first, and who are you going to believe?  Come to think of it, one state’s experience of brutal conquest is another state’s war of liberation.  

During WWI, Germans cultivated the “ideas of 1914,” chief among them being the belief that they were engaged in a purely defensive war.  They would be pleased to know that Drezner would agree with them.  Likewise, our invasion of Mexico was really just “retaliation” for Mexican “aggression,” and our conquest of the Philippines was a “prudential” response to the crazy Filipino notion that they should have an independent country, which was clearly a very dangerous idea for them to have.  Hundreds of thousands of them had to die before they learned to stop being so aggressive.   

Below are belated links to many articles that will be of interest to regular Eunomia readers: 

Now online from recent TAC issues:

From the current online issue: Prof. Kurth’s fine article on the effects of demographic change on foreign policy and international order, Nicholas von Hoffmann on Clinton, Michael on the Christian Zionists of CUFI, Paul Belien on the effects of past immigration amnesties in the Netherlands, Claude Salhani on Chinese electronic and satellite warfare and Pat Buchanan on the “ideological war.” 

From the previous issue: John O’Sullivan on immigration politics, Caleb Stegall’s much-discussed review of Deep Economy, Paul Robinson on the “surge,” and James Bovard on legal challenges to administration detention and torture policies.  I have previously mentioned Michael’s article on Rick Santorum and William Lind’s argument for rapprochement with Iran, but I’ll list them again anyway.

New in the last couple of weeks at the Chronicles’ site:

Dr. Trifkovic has a new article on the demographic impact of current immigration levels, another on Pakistan, another on Kosovo, and another on the current situation in Iraq.  Mr. Buchanan writes on U.S. de-industrialisation, and writes here on the Newark killings and here on Karl Rove.  Paul Craig Roberts writes on China and U.S. media hyping “the China threat.”  From the August issue, Fr. Hugh Barbour has an article on Josef Pieper and liberality as the basis of culture.  Here is Tom Piatak on Harvey Mansfield’s “Straussian piffle.”

I have long been skeptical about the prospects of success for the “surge,” but I don’t see any reason to go around insulting Gen. Petraeus by comparing him to Wesley Clark.  Unlike Wesley Clark, it appears that Gen. Petraeus received his current command because of his ability and his intelligence, rather than on account of cronyism and ties to the President (which is rather striking, given the general pattern of personnel choices by the current administration).  Unlike Wesley Clark, it seems unlikely that Gen. Petraeus is in any danger of trying to start WWIII on a whim.  Unlike Wesley Clark, it seems to be generally accepted that Petraeus’ superior and subordinate officers do not loathe him.  All of this makes Petraeus’ future chances as a political candidate much, much better than Clark’s, but then almost anyone’s chances as a candidate would have to be better, since they could scarcely be much worse.

When I first saw the story that several GOP campaigns were contemplating Gen. Tommy Franks as a choice for VP, my first reaction was incredulity.  As we all know, he has to his credit the initial phase of the Afghan War, which was followed by a less satisfactory conclusion in eastern Afghanistan.  He was also head of Central Command during the initial, well-executed invasion of Iraq, which was followed by quite unsatisfactory post-invasion security (there seems to be a pattern here), on which more in a moment.  Certainly, a fair part of this can be laid at Rumsfeld’s door, and Franks was executing the orders he received, but it seems frankly bizarre to me that any GOP nominee would want to fight an election with a running mate who gives the other side free shots to make “Tora Bora” and “Phase IV” into shorthand for Republican incompetence in military affairs.  Why bring up all that old baggage and give the other side such an easy target?  (The short answer is that there are not all that many credible elected Republicans at the state or federal level who want to sacrifice their future political prospects in what many probably regard as a lost cause–nobody wants to be next year’s Geraldine Ferraro.)

Any reader of Fiasco will come away with a much-diminished impression of Gen. Franks, who comes across as having no grasp on what the difference between strategy and tactics is.  That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his ability to fulfill the duties of President, should the need arise.  (On his behalf, I should say that most of the jokers who would head the ticket are probably even less qualified.)  Indeed, there is an entire subsection in Fiasco entitled “Franks flunks strategy” (p. 127-129), part of which reads:

The inside word in the U.S. military long had been that Franks didn’t think strategically.  For example, when the general held an off-the-record session with officers studying at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in the spring of 2002, not long after the biggest battle of the Afghan war, Operation Anaconda, one student posed the classic Clausewitzian question: What is the nature of the war you are fighting in Afghanistan?  “That’s a great question for historians,” Franks side-stepped, recalled another officer who was there.  “Let me tell you what we are doing.”  Franks proceeded to discuss how U.S. troops cleared cave complexes in Afghanistan.  It was the most tactical answer possible, quite remote from what the officer had asked.  It would have been a fine reply for a sergeant to offer, but not a senior general.  “He really was comfortable at the tactical level,” this officer recalled with dismay.

Ricks then goes on to explain how this inability to think strategically led Franks to a war plan that “was built on the mistaken strategic goal of capturing Baghdad, and it confused removing Iraq’s regime with the far more difficult task of changing the entire country.”  In fairness to Franks, Rumsfeld had had no intention of sticking around long to change the entire country, which was one of the reasons why there were so few soldiers sent into Iraq and why ”Phase IV” was so risibly unplanned and lacking in preparations.  Speed, flexibility,”get in, get out, a man alone” (so to speak)–this was Rumsfeld’s approach to warfighting, and it had no place for intensive, large-scale occupations.  As far as Rumsfeld and Franks were concerned, the only objective was destroying the regime.  According to the theories of Wolfowitz et al., the Iraqis should have been able to take things over almost immediately, making a prolonged presence in Iraq unnecessary.  For the Pentagon, it was in any case undesirable.  Needless to say, someone who is reputedly not good at thinking strategically and who is, as Arkin puts it, “not known as especially interesting or smart” does not strike me as the sort of man you would want as first in the line of succession to the Presidency. 

P.S. Do my eyes deceive me, or is Brent Scowcroft advising the McCain campaign?  Evidently, so is Powell.  I suppose that doesn’t surprise me all that much, but I had not heard this before today.  I really don’t want to hear very much complaining from Republican “realists” about the lack of “realists” in the GOP presidential field when some of the foremost supposedly “realist” and “moderate” figures in the party are advising one of the most die-hard militarists in the race.  These two may be advising him out of GOP establishmentarian solidarity, since McCain was supposed to be the presumptive favourite, at least until the activists and donors had something to say about it, but it is still telling that the prominent ”realists” and militarists overlap and mingle so easily.