Saturday, June 30, 2007

American Power is Still Number One in the World

This week's Economist argues that America is still number one in international affairs, despite recent challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq:

EVEN the greatest empires hurt when they lose wars. It is not surprising then that Iraq weighs so heavily on the American psyche. Most Americans want to get out as soon as possible, surge or no surge; many more wish they had never invaded the country in the first place. But for a growing number of Americans the superpower's inability to impose its will on Mesopotamia is symptomatic of a deeper malaise.

Nearly six years after September 11th, nervousness about the state of America's “hard power” is growing (see
article). Iraq and Afghanistan (another far-off place where the United States, short of troops and allies, may be losing a war) have stretched the Pentagon's resources. An army designed to have 17 brigades on active deployment now has 25 in the field. Despite bringing in reservists and the National Guard, many American troops spend more than half their time on active duty; the British spend a fifth.

Other demons are jangling America's nerves. There is the emergence of China as a rival embryonic superpower, with an economy that may soon be bigger than America's (at least in terms of purchasing power); the re-emergence of a bellicose, gas-fired Russia; North Korea's defiance of Uncle Sam by going nuclear, and Iran's determination to follow suit; Europe's lack of enthusiasm for George Bush's war on terror; the Arabs' dismissal of his democratisation project; the Chávez-led resistance to Yankee capitalism in America's backyard.

Nor is it just a matter of geopolitics. American bankers are worried that other financial centres are gaining at Wall Street's expense. Nativists fret about America's inability to secure its own borders. As for soft power, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, America's slowness to tackle climate change and its neglect of the Palestinians have all, rightly or wrongly, cost it dearly. Polls show that ever fewer foreigners trust America, and some even find China's totalitarians less dangerous...

Yet America is being underestimated. Friends and enemies have mistaken the short-term failure of the Bush administration for deeper weakness. Neither American hard nor soft power is fading. Rather, they are not being used as well as they could be. The opportunity is greater than the threat....

From this perspective of relative rather than absolute supremacy, a superpower's strength lies as much in what it can prevent from happening as in what it can achieve. Even today, America's “negative power” is considerable. Very little of any note can happen without at least its acquiescence. Iran and North Korea can defy the Great Satan, but only America can offer the recognition the proliferating regimes crave. In all sorts of areas—be it the fight against global warming or the quest for an Arab-Israeli peace—America is quite simply indispensable.

That is because America still has the most hard power. Its volunteer army is indeed stretched: it could not fight another small war of choice. But it can still muster 1.5m people under arms and a defence budget almost as big as the whole of the rest of the world's. And it could call on so much more: in relation to the country's size, its defence budget and army are quite small by historical standards. Better diplomacy would enhance its power. One irony of the “war on terror” is that Mr Bush's hyperventilation worked against him in terms of getting boots on the ground: neither his own countrymen nor his allies were sure enough that they were really under threat. (And why should they be? An American-led West spent four decades tussling with a nuclear-armed empire that stretched from Berlin to Vladivostok; al-Qaeda is still small beer.)

The surveys that show America's soft power to be less respected than it used to be also show the continuing universal appeal of its values—especially freedom and openness. Even the immigrants and foreign goods that so worry some Americans are tributes to that appeal (by contrast, the last empire to build a wall on its border, the Soviet one, was trying to keep its subjects in). Nor is it an accident that anti-Americanism has fed off those instances, such as Guantánamo Bay, where America has seemed most un-American. This is the multiplier effect that Mr Bush missed: win the battle for hearts and minds and you do not need as much hard power to get your way.

That lesson is worth bearing in mind when it comes to the challenge of China. China is likely to be more and more in America's face, whether buying American firms, winning Olympic gold or blasting missiles into space. Merely by growing, China is disrupting the politics of the Pacific. But that does not mean that it is automatically on track to overtake America. Its politics are fragile (see
article) and America's lead is immense. Moreover, economics is not a zero-sum game: so far, a bigger China has helped to enrich America. An America that stays open to China—an America that sticks to American values—is much more likely to help fashion the China it wants.

If America were a stock, it would be a “buy”: an undervalued market leader, in need of new management. But that points to its last great strength. More than any rival, America corrects itself. Under pressure from voters, Mr Bush has already rediscovered some of the charms of multilateralism; he is talking about climate change; a Middle East peace initiative is possible. Next year's presidential election offers a chance for renewal. Such corrections are not automatic: something (a misadventure in Iran?) may yet compound the misery of Iraq in the same way Watergate followed Vietnam. But America recovered from the 1970s. It will bounce back stronger again.
It's good to see the Economist make the case for America as the "indispensible country" in world affairs. The consensus on Iraq -- among commentators from all sides of the political debate -- is that Iraq has distracted the country and imperiled U.S. national security. I have consistently rejected these views on this page. In a number of posts (for example, see here, here, here, here, and here), I have blasted the reemergence of "declinist" thought and argued for continued American preponderance in world politics.

America is a long way off from losing is global leadership position. Indeed, as the Economist notes, wagering on continued U.S. power and influence is a safe bet, but don't tell that to America-bashers who can't see past the Bush-Cheney cabal in Washington.

Time to Bury Brown v. Board of Education?

Juan Williams in yesterday's New York Times made the provocative argument that it's time to deep-six the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954:

With yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling ending the use of voluntary schemes to create racial balance among students, it is time to acknowledge that Brown’s time has passed. It is worthy of a send-off with fanfare for setting off the civil rights movement and inspiring social progress for women, gays and the poor. But the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that focused on outlawing segregated schools as unconstitutional is now out of step with American political and social realities.

Desegregation does not speak to dropout rates that hover near 50 percent for black and Hispanic high school students. It does not equip society to address the so-called achievement gap between black and white students that mocks Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity.

And the fact is, during the last 20 years, with Brown in full force, America’s public schools have been growing more segregated — even as the nation has become more racially diverse. In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average white student attends a school that is 80 percent white, while 70 percent of black students attend schools where nearly two-thirds of students are black and Hispanic....

Racial malice is no longer the primary motive in shaping inferior schools for minority children. Many failing big city schools today are operated by black superintendents and mostly black school boards.

And today the argument that school reform should provide equal opportunity for children, or prepare them to live in a pluralistic society, is spent. The winning argument is that better schools are needed for all children — black, white, brown and every other hue — in order to foster a competitive workforce in a global economy.

Dealing with racism and the bitter fruit of slavery and “separate but equal” legal segregation was at the heart of the court’s brave decision 53 years ago. With Brown officially relegated to the past, the challenge for brave leaders now is to deliver on the promise of a good education for every child.
Williams' case to bury Brown will sound as heresy to civil rights activists, diversity mavens, and multicultural totalitarians. The 1954 decision has tremendous legitimacy as the turning point in America's long struggle for African-American civil rights. It ushered in the most successful decade of grassroots mobilization on civil rights in history, culminating with Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But Williams is right to note that the heydey of movement for equal protection is long past. The Roberts Court, while divided on the issue, rightly moves constitutional interpretation back to basic principles of colorblindness under the law. We today are in the post-civil rights era, but many black Americans remain caught-up in the cult of victimology that grew out of rights revolution of the 1960s.

Williams, in his book
Enough, notes a tremendous indifference marking African-American attitudes on education. To many young blacks, the black "victim's strategy" has taken hold, leaving the pursuit of education to be no big deal:

There is a seductive, serpentine logic at work on young black people. Without anyone saying a word, black youngsters find themselves in a hypnotic, self-defeating trance that has them walking blindly into a black alley of failure. Brainwashed by popular culture to ignore reality, they are in a confused state of mind and doubt the value of schooling. When they watch TV or listen to music they never see people who have succeeded on the basis of education -- black intellectuals, artists, and professionals such as dentists, lawyers, and doctors -- celebrated for their accomplishments. In fact, people with that kind of success are ignored, if not put down as not authentically black, because they don't fit the caricature of black people in the culture.
Williams' writing on race are so refreshing for me, as a teacher at community college, in diverse Southern California, with an educational environment struggling to promote educational attainment and uplift among large numbers of minorities. Black students, especially from this demographic, are astoundingly difficult to educate.

I've thought long and hard about what it is that makes education for inner-city blacks such a challenge. I read many books on the topic, and I have made a personal commitment to black educational issues on campus.
We no longer have segregation mandated by law, yet voluntary residential patterns that result in de facto segregation certainly have an impact on the educational circumstances of black students in minority-majority schools. But the purported deleterious effects of "resegregation" alone cannot explain what hinders black educational advancement. One of the most interesting studies on the issue, John Ogbu's Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb, found that even well-off black students demonstrate levels of educational success below that of their white peers. For black educational gains to happen, an acievement revolution has to take place -- that is, especially among the black lower-third, a culture of achievement must take hold the promotes learning and knowledge attainment as key to black social gains in the post-civil rights era.

This is why Williams' writings are so on-point, and why -- as dramatic and iconoclastic as he sounds -- he's absolutely right: We must move beyond the powerful symbolism of Brown v. Board of Education. Blacks must get down to the hard work -- at the familiy and individual level -- of brushing off educational indifference and victimology, and promoting a culture of success in an American educational system providing more opportunities for advancement than ever before.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Supreme Court Steers Right Under Justice Roberts

Joan Biskupic at USA Today argues that the Supreme Court has shifted righward during Chief Justice John Roberts' first term, fulfilling the promise of conservativism dating to the Reagan administration:

In a remarkable first full term of the remade Supreme Court, a narrow majority of justices changed the law on race, abortion, free speech and a swath of other issues affecting American life.

Long-standing precedents were discarded or reinterpreted. Government interests prevailed over individual rights. Business won at the expense of consumers and workers. And people on the fringe, such as rabble-rousing students and atheists, lost out.

In the 2006-07 annual term that ended Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and newest justice Samuel Alito, set the tone. Of 19 cases that broke 5-4 along ideological lines, that quintet prevailed in 13 of them.

The conservative majority drew increasingly heated protests from liberal Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

No case revealed the chasm between the conservatives and the liberals as much as Thursday's decision preventing the use of race in school assignments. The dueling written opinions ran for 178 pages, and the ceremonial reading of the opinion highlights went on for nearly an hour in the white marble and red velvet courtroom.

"It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much," Breyer said.
Biskupic notes further:

In his 1980 presidential campaign and after winning office, Ronald Reagan emphasized what he believed were the excesses of the judiciary in the wake of the Earl Warren era and liberal intervention in social policy that is usually the domain of elected officials.

Reagan set the bench on a conservative path with his choices for the Supreme Court and lower federal courts during two terms. Roberts was with him in the beginning. He joined the administration in 1981, saying he was moved by Reagan's inaugural speech. "I felt he was speaking to me."

As a lawyer for Reagan and then later in the first Bush administration, Roberts often asserted that judges were improperly creating rights not in the Constitution. He took a narrow view of abortion rights and was involved in efforts to curtail affirmative action, school busing and other programs intended to bring minorities into settings where they were once shut out.
Be sure to check out the article's sidebar on the major ruling from the 2006-2007 term.

I'm particularly pleased with the Court's decision yesterday limiting school integration programs. See my earlier post, "
Supreme Court to Review Desegration Cases," where I discuss my position on racial balancing policies in the schools.

Collapse of Immigration Bill a Major Defeat for Bush

The collapse of immigration reform heralds a major defeat for the Bush administration's effort to achieve a lasting success in domestic policy. Here's the Washington Post's description of President Bush's reaction to the failure of his reform bid.

He looked uncharacteristically dejected as he approached the lectern, fiddling with papers as he talked and avoiding the sort of winking eye contact he often makes with reporters. And then President Bush did something he almost never does: He admitted defeat.

"A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn't find a common ground," he said an hour after his immigration plan died on Capitol Hill. "It didn't work."

It was, in the end, simply a statement of reality after the Senate buried his proposal to overhaul immigration laws. But for a president who makes a point of never giving in, even when he loses, it was a striking moment, underscoring the depth of his political travails. It took almost two years before Bush acknowledged, just months ago, that his effort to reshape Social Security had failed. Now he has surrendered in what was probably his last chance of securing a legacy-making second-term domestic victory.

The desultory appearance in a college hallway here after a speech on Iraq may have marked the death of ambition in Bush's legislative agenda. The paradigm shift that senior adviser Karl Rove saw after the 2004 election has now proved illusory. The Ownership Society that Bush promised to build in 2005 is rarely mentioned these days. Even the hope-against-hope optimism of finding bipartisan common ground after the 2006 elections has officially evaporated.

"Sand is flowing out of the hourglass," said Fred I. Greenstein, a Princeton University scholar on the presidency, who was struck by the gloomy tone of Bush's televised statement. "He looked much less like the kid on the cover of Mad magazine without a care. . . . He looked very angry and almost having difficulty getting the sentences out. That seems to me to contrast with some of the early stages" of his presidency.
I have often wondered how Bush kept up his spirits during these last few years in office. The president and his administration seemed so confident, and their agenda marked an era of incredible ambition and confidence in American power and values. But things are falling apart. It's indeed fascinating to see how conservatives are jumping ship left and right, no doubt because the Iraq war has turned out to be more difficult than most had expected. Now this administration's certainly in lame duck territory, if it hadn't been already. We'll see more journalistic commentary on the collapse of the GOP, and the Democrats will be arguing that a new era of liberal, left-of-center politics has arrived.

I've blogged a lot on immigration, and I supported the recent Senate reform effort. The issue's one of the biggest policy challenges facing the country, and I don't think delay will make things any better.

British Police Foil Terrorist Bomb Plot in London

British law enforcement defused a car bomb in London on Friday, preventing what was likely to be a ghastly attack in the city's theater district:

A Mercedes sedan packed with gasoline, nails and a detonator was discovered in London's bustling nightclub and theater district early Friday morning. British police said if the vehicle had exploded it would have caused "significant injury or loss of life."

Police were alerted to the situation by an ambulance crew that noticed smoke coming from the Mercedes, which was parked near Piccadilly Circus. Anti-terrorist officials said they were reviewing footage from the many closed-circuit cameras in the central London area and had launched a massive manhunt for the car's driver.

Peter Clarke, the head of London's anti-terrorist police, said it was unclear what the target was. But nearby was a crowded nightclub, "Tiger Tiger," which can hold more than 1,000 people. In this busy, landmark part of central London there are also many theaters and restaurants popular with tourists as well as Brits.

"It is obvious that if the device had detonated, there could have been significant injury or loss of life," Clarke said, adding that the number of dead and injured "certainly could have been into the hundreds."
I can imagine that appeasement-types in Britain and the United States will dismiss the plot as an insigificant distraction in thier efforts to retreat from the battle against militant Islam's anti-Western jihad.

According to the article:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took over from Tony Blair Wednesday, said the incident underscores the need for constant vigilance by both the public and the police. "We face a serious and considerable security threat throughout the country."
We'll see if Brown is able to articulate the nature of the challenges facing Britain as well as Tony Blair did. See my earlier post on Blair's defense of Western values, "Islamist Extremism and the Battle for Global Values," which links to Blair's Foriegn Affairs article from January of this year. See also my post on Blair's announcement that he was stepping down as prime minister.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

McCain Campaign Falters Over Immigration

John McCain's presidential campaign is facing political damage over the senator's staunch support for the Bush administration's immigration reform plan. The Washington Post has the story:
Once seen as the inevitable Republican presidential front-runner, McCain is sinking in the polls, particularly in the all-important early-primary states. On conservative talk radio, he is lumped together with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and derided endlessly. His stance on immigration is making life ever more difficult for his fundraisers. He is expected to again lag behind rivals in money raised when the quarter ends on Saturday.

McCain's staff has sought to make a virtue of what appears to be an anchor on his political fortunes. In an e-mail to supporters on Monday, campaign manager Terry Nelson said that McCain "is running for president not to do what is easy. He is running to do the hard but necessary things to protect our country from harm and to fix the challenges that we face as a nation now, not later."

The next day, McCain canceled some critical fundraising events to participate in a key vote on the bill. And he is isolated on the front lines of the country's debate over illegal immigration -- alone among Republican presidential candidates, the rest of whom oppose the overhaul of the nation's border-control laws.

It is a particularly difficult predicament for a Republican candidate looking for votes in Iowa and South Carolina, two states with early presidential contests next year. In both states, anger over the bill -- and McCain's backing of it -- runs deep.

"Iowa being quite conservative, very conservative, I think there are some who just want to get rid of [illegal immigrants], send them back, put up a double wall," said Nelson P. Crabb, the mayor of Clear Lake and a McCain supporter. "That's impractical. But I think the general feeling of people here in Iowa is 'Gee, they shouldn't be here.' "
Michelle Malkin says it's "Goodbye, John McCain," linking to a Times of London article that reports that McCain may drop out of the presidential race by September.

The Military Strategy of the Surge

Donald Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterpise Institute, testified before Congress on Wednesday, June 27. Speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he explained how the Bush administration's surge strategy works. Here's an excerpt, from the Weekly Standard:

It is now beyond question that the Bush Administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. That approach relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control. In other words, it is an approach similar to the one proposed by the ISG and by some who are now pushing for political benchmarks and the rapid drawdown of American forces as the keys to success in the war. It is no more likely to work now than it was then. Political progress is something that follows the establishment of security, not something that causes it. The sorts of political compromises that Iraq's parties must make are extraordinarily difficult--one might even say impossible--in the context of uncontrolled terrorism and sectarian violence. And the Iraqi Security Forces, although significantly better than they were this time last year, are still too small and insufficiently capable to establish security on their own or even to maintain it in difficult and contested areas without significant continuing coalition support

For all of these reasons, the president changed his strategy profoundly in January 2007, and appointed a new commander in General Petraeus and a new Ambassador in Ryan Crocker to oversee the new approach. This new approach focuses on establishing security in Baghdad and its immediate environs as the prerequisite for political progress. It recognizes that American forces must be in the lead in many (but not all) areas, and that they will have to remain in areas that have been cleared for some time in order to ensure that security becomes permanent. The aim of the security strategy is to buy space and time for the political process in Iraq to work, and for the Iraqi Security Forces to mature and grow to the point where they can maintain the dramatically improved security situation our forces will have helped them to establish....

The U.S. has not undertaken a multi-phased operation on such a large scale since 2003, and it is not surprising therefore that many commentators have become confused about how to evaluate what is going on and how to report it. Sectarian deaths in Baghdad dropped significantly as soon as the new strategy was announced in January, and remain at less than half their former levels. Spectacular attacks rose as al Qaeda conducted a counter-surge of its own, but have recently begun falling again. Violence is down tremendously in Anbar province, where the Sunni tribes have turned against al Qaeda and are actively cooperating with U.S. forces for the first time. This process has spread from Anbar into Babil, Salah-ad-Din, and even Diyala provinces, and echoes of it have even spread into one of the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad--Ameriyah, formerly an al Qaeda stronghold. Violence has risen naturally in areas that the enemy had long controlled but in which U.S. forces are now actively fighting for the first time in many years, and the downward spiral in Diyala that began in mid-2006 continued (which is not surprising, since the Baghdad Security Plan does not aim to establish security in Diyala).

All of these trends are positive. The growing skill and determination of the Iraqi Army units fighting alongside Americans is also positive. Some Iraqi Police units have also fought well. Others have displayed sectarian tendencies and participated in sectarian actions. Political progress has been very slow--something that has clearly disappointed many who hoped for an immediate turnaround, but that is not surprising for those who always believed that it would follow, not precede or accompany, the establishment of security at least in Baghdad. And negative sectarian actors within the Iraqi Government continue to resist making necessary compromises with former foes. Overall, the basic trends are rather better than could have been expected of the operation so far, primarily because of the unanticipated stunning success in Anbar and its spread. But it remains far too early to offer any meaningful evaluation of the progress of an operation whose decisive phases are only just beginning.

For contrast, see GOP Senator Richard Lugar's call for abandoning Iraq, which he announced in a speech on the Senate floor Monday night.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Kennedy Legacy for Peace and War

I have a poster of John F. Kennedy in my office. It was given to me back in 1991 or so, when I was a member of the Campus Democrats at Fresno State. The poster's caption quotes from Kennedy's 1960 presidential nomination acceptance speech, "Its time for a new generation of leadership...For there is a new world to be won." Kennedy's photographed wearing a white button-down and a pair of khakis. He looks so young. Thinking about it, that's probably the main reason I keep the poster displayed so prominently: I like Kennedy for his embodiment of the American spirit of progress and rejuvenation. I don't, however, remember his presidency (I was just a baby during his short term in office). I have, though, studied his policies, especially his Cold War legacy in international affairs. In that realm, he's far from my favorite president.

I discuss President Kennedy this morning because I've been thinking about this week's cover story over at Time, "
John F. Kennedy: Warrior for Peace" by David Talbott. Talbott argues that Kennedy's foreign policy legacy provides a guide to the direction for the country in our current long battle against the forces of Islamic terror. There's a spin to the Talbott piece that makes me uneasy, however. The article spends time deconstructing Kennedy speeches, and makes the case that Kennedy's assertion in his Inaugural Address that the United States would "would pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, oppose any foe to assure the survival and succces of liberty" was an anomaly. In later speeches, Talbott notes, President Kennedy stressed the moral leadership that only America could provide. The article also notes that after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy resisted the military-industrial establishment, intent on setting his own policy in foreign affairs. The article might be considered a (not-so-veiled) primer for the current Democratic presidential field, I would argue, in that it alludes to the hard-nosed pursuit of peace under a young, enigmatic Democratic president -- a legacy perhaps the Democrats could recapture should they take back the White House in 2008.

Here's a good snippet from the piece, to provide some flavor:

Today's hawks like to claim J.F.K. as one of their heroes by pointing to his steep increase in defense spending and to defiant speeches like his June 1963 denunciation of communist tyranny in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. It is certainly true that Kennedy brought a new vigor to the global duel with the Soviet Union and its client governments. But it is also clear that Kennedy preferred to compete ideologically and economically with the communist system than engage with the enemy militarily. He was supremely confident that the advantages of the capitalist system would ultimately prevail, as long as a nuclear catastrophe could be avoided. In the final months of his Administration, J.F.K. even opened a secret peace channel to Castro, led by U.N. diplomat William Attwood. "He would have recognized Cuba," Milt Ebbins, a Hollywood crony of J.F.K.'s, says today. "He told me that if we recognize Cuba, they'll buy our refrigerators and toasters, and they'll end up kicking Castro out."

Kennedy often said he wanted his epitaph to be "He kept the peace." Even Khrushchev and Castro, Kennedy's toughest foreign adversaries, came to appreciate J.F.K.'s commitment to that goal. The roly-poly Soviet leader, clowning and growling, had thrown the young President off his game when they met at the Vienna summit in 1961. But after weathering storms like the Cuban missile crisis, the two leaders had settled into a mutually respectful quest for détente. When Khrushchev got the news from Dallas in November 1963, he broke down and sobbed in the Kremlin, unable to perform his duties for days. Despite his youth, Kennedy was a "real statesman," Khrushchev later wrote in his memoir, after he was pushed from power less than a year following J.F.K.'s death. If Kennedy had lived, he wrote, the two men could have brought peace to the world.

Castro too had come to see J.F.K. as an agent of change, despite their long and bitter jousting, declaring that Kennedy had the potential to become "the greatest President" in U.S. history. Tellingly, the Cuban leader never blamed the Kennedys for the numerous assassination attempts on him. Years later, when Bobby Kennedy's widow Ethel made a trip to Havana, she assured Castro that "Jack and Bobby had nothing to do with the plots to kill you." The tall, graying leader—who had survived so long in part because of his network of informers in the U.S.—looked down at her and said, "I know."

J.F.K. was slow to define his global vision, but under withering attacks from an increasingly energized right, he finally began to do so toward the end of his first year in office. Taking to the road in the fall of 1961, he told the American people why his efforts to extricate the world from the cold war's death grip made more sense than the right's militaristic solutions. On Nov. 16, Kennedy delivered a landmark speech at the University of Washington campus in Seattle. There was nothing "soft," he declared that day, about averting nuclear war—America showed its true strength by refraining from military force until all other avenues were exhausted. And then Kennedy made a remarkable acknowledgment about the limits of U.S. power—one that seemed to reject his Inaugural commitment to "oppose any foe" in the world. "We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we are only 6% of the world's population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94% of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem."
President Kennedy's loss to the nation is one of the greatest tragedy's in our country's history. I don't think, however, that the Kennedy legacy in foreign policy -- with its utopianism and implied assertion of partisan moral superiority -- establishes a vigorous guide for America in the international era that lays ahead.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

General Sherman and the Strategy of Total War

This week's U.S. News and World Report looks at the "Secrets of the Civil War." One of the articles is a piece on the historical debate over Union General William T. Sherman's scorched-earth strategy of utter destuction of the enemy:

Speaking at the 1880 reunion of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union general best known for his destructive march through the Confederacy's heartland uttered the words that would be reshaped for posterity: "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys," the 60-year-old William Tecumseh Sherman declared, "it is all hell."

Remembered more pithily as "War is hell," the phrase distilled a sentiment that Sherman had voiced on many occasions, including once before the mayor and town council of Atlanta after he had brought that key Confederate city to its knees. The fact that this grand master of scorched-earth devastation abhorred war was, in his mind, neither an irony nor a contradiction. Sherman simply saw his approach to war as the best way of limiting its lethal potential.

Others, and not only partisans of the Confederacy, see it differently. To them, Sherman's devastating march through the South opened the way to the kind of warfare that culminated in World War II. Called total war, it goes beyond combat between opposing military forces to include attacks, both deliberate and indiscriminate, upon civilians and non-military targets. But was Sherman truly responsible for the strategic rationale that we now associate with the bombings of London, Dresden, and even Hiroshima? It is a question that historians continue to debate.
Read the whole thing. Civil War history is not my specialty, but it's an interesting hypothesis as to whether Sherman's strategy of complete destruction in defeating the Confederacy opened the way to a new strategy of total war in the 20th century.

While I'm on the topic of military history, check out the online poll going on over at The Oxford Medievalist 's blog, "Who Was the Greatest Military Commander." I suggested Douglas McArthur, mainly because my knowledge of military history going back over the centuries is pretty limited.

Iranian Miscalculation Fans the Winds of War

Joshua Muravchik argued yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that Iran is underestimating the will of the United States to defend its interests -- a miscalculation that is fanning the winds of war. Here's the introduction:

Several conflicts of various intensities are raging in the Middle East. But a bigger war, involving more states--Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, the Palestinian Authority and perhaps the United States and others--is growing more likely every day, beckoned by the sense that America and Israel are in retreat and that radical Islam is ascending.

Consider the pell-mell events of recent weeks. Iran imprisons four Americans on absurd charges only weeks after seizing 15 British sailors on the high seas. Iran's Revolutionary Guard is caught delivering weapons to the Taliban and explosives to Iraqi terrorists. A car bomb in Lebanon is used to assassinate parliament member Walid Eido, killing nine others and wounding 11 more.

At the same time, Fatah al-Islam, a shady group linked to Syria, launches an attack on the Lebanese army from within a Palestinian refugee area, beheading several soldiers. Tehran trumpets further progress on nuclear enrichment as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeats his call for annihilating Israel, crowing that "the countdown to the destruction of this regime has begun." Hamas seizes control militarily in Gaza. Katyusha rockets are launched from Lebanon into northern Israel for the first time since the end of last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.
Muravchik notes that Iran is taking its "death to America" slogan very seriously, but more troubling is that Iran's provocations lack strategic logic. Backing Hamas is simply digging the grave for Palestinian democracy; sponsoring assassination in Syria is a short-term fix that hardens Lebanon's hatred for the Iranian state, and builds support for a strenghened Lebanese army; and taking American and British hostages simply tests the patience of the Western democracies. Muravchik concludes with some international relations theory: Democracies are hesitant to start wars (and they don't fight other democracies), but they rarely lose:

Democracies, it is now well established, do not go to war with each other. But they often get into wars with non-democracies. Overwhelmingly the non-democracy starts the war; nonetheless, in the vast majority of cases, it is the democratic side that wins. In other words, dictators consistently underestimate the strength of democracies, and democracies provoke war through their love of peace, which the dictators mistake for weakness.

Today, this same dynamic is creating a moment of great danger. The radicals are becoming reckless, asserting themselves for little reason beyond the conviction that they can. They are very likely to overreach. It is not hard to imagine scenarios in which a single match--say a terrible terror attack from Gaza--could ignite a chain reaction. Israel could handle Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, albeit with painful losses all around, but if Iran intervened rather than see its regional assets eliminated, could the U.S. stay out?
Read the whole thing. History show that appeasement can embolden a revisionist state into conflict. History also shows, of course, that it's not a good idea to raise the hackles of Democratic nations, who wage wars to the end, in defense of democratic institutions and values. (Recall that George Kennan argued long ago to be careful of the "wrath of democracies.")

Monday, June 25, 2007

Mexican Migrants Exploit U.S. Educational System

As the Senate takes up the revived immigration reform legislation this week, Members of Congress would do well in reading today' s "Column One" article from the Los Angeles Times. The article, "Schools Call Roll at a Border Crossing," highlights the phenomenon of Mexican children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to attend public schools in San Luis, Arizona:

Children who are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants but live in Mexico cross every morning to get a better education for free in Arizona, breaking the law that requires them to live within the boundaries of the district. To many of their parents, who have ties in both countries, not living in the district is the educational equivalent of jaywalking.... "

There are no hard statistics on the number of children who break the residency requirement, but some people opposed to U.S. immigration policy have seized on the issue as another example of how they say migrants exploit the U.S. They contend that most school districts do not enforce the law because they risk losing state funding, which is based on the number of enrolled students. "

The whole thing's outrageous. We're not the school district for northern Mexico," said state Rep. Russell K. Pearce.
The article profiles Robert Villarreal -- an American citizen whose parents were Mexican immigrant farmworkers -- who works as an attendance officer for Yuma Union High School District. Villarreal's job is to perform background checks on students suspected of attending district campuses while not legally residing within district boundaries:

Part truant officer, part detective, Villarreal spends his mornings noting names of high school students arriving from Mexico and listening to explanations for why they crossed: They were visiting a sick relative. They were staying with a friend. Their parents divorced and one lives in Mexico, the other in the U.S. He lets the children, including the teens he spotted hiding from him, continue to school, then checks their stories.

A soft-spoken man with a full face and the hint of a mustache, Villarreal, 37, is a San Luis native and the son of Mexican immigrant farmworkers. But he has little sympathy for parents who avoid paying the property taxes that support the district by living in Mexico, where the cost of living is lower and houses sell for about $30,000, compared with the median price of $179,000 in San Luis.

"They want the American services," he said, "but they don't want to be part of the American system."
While national polls generally show public support for legalizing illegal aliens, the hard-right base of the GOP is giving the administration a difficult time, jeopardizing passage of the bill.

I've blogged a bunch on the topic. I'm particulary concerned about
the problem of assimilation and ethnic separatism, although I support the legislation -- which I regard as an "earned legalization" bill, rather than blanket amnesty. (But see the transcript from yesterday's Meet the Press, where Pat Buchanan, conservative author and former Reagan administration political advisor, said passage of the Senate bill would hasten "the end of the United States as we know it.")

Iraq Veteran Bothered by Congressional War Debate

Pete Hegseth, a veteran of Iraq who served as a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, is critical of the antiwar debate currently setting the foreign policy agenda in the Congress. In his Washington Post article today, Hegseth is particularly critical of Senator Carl Levin, who has established some of the key anitwar talking points within the Democratic Party:

As an Iraq war veteran who participated in combat operations and political reconciliation efforts, I take issue with some of the arguments repeatedly being made on Capitol Hill. Most recently I was bothered by statements from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who cited three common antiwar arguments in his June 21 op-ed, " Lincoln's Example for Iraq," all of which run counter to realities on the ground in Iraq.

-- A deadline for withdrawal is an incentive for Iraqi political compromise. Levin thinks we ought to pressure Iraq's government with a warning tantamount to saying: "You better fix the situation before we leave and your country descends into chaos." He should consider the more likely result: an American exit date crushing any incentive for Iraqi leaders to cooperate and instead prompting rival factions to position themselves to capitalize on the looming power void.

My experience in Iraq bore this out. Only after my unit established a meaningful relationship with the president of the Samarra city council -- built on tangible security improvements and a commitment to cooperation -- did political progress occur. Our relationship fostered unforeseen political opportunities and encouraged leaders, even ones from rival tribes, to side with American and Iraqi forces against local insurgents and foreign fighters.

-- We can bring the war to a "responsible end" but still conduct counterterrorism operations. The problem with this argument is what a "responsible end" would mean. What is "responsible" about the large-scale bloodshed that would surely occur if we left the Iraqis behind with insufficient security forces? What is "responsible" about proving
al-Qaeda's thesis that America can be defeated anywhere with enough suicide bombings?

The senator also seems to believe that America will have success fighting terrorists in Iraq with a minimal troop presence, despite the fact that 150,000 troops have their hands full right now doing precisely that.

-- We are "supporting the troops" by demanding an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Levin says that "our troops should hear an unequivocal message from Congress that we support them." He explains his vote to fund and "support" the troops while simultaneously trying to legislate the war's end. But what kind of "support" and "unequivocal message" do the troops hear from leaders in Congress who call their commanders "incompetent" or declare the war "lost"?

Such statements provide nearly instant enemy propaganda to every mud hut with a satellite dish in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. These messages do not spell support, no matter how you spin them. And they could inspire insurgents, making the situation more dangerous for our soldiers and

Veterans know firsthand that numerous mistakes have been made in the war. But that does not change the unfortunate reality: Iraq today is the front line of a global jihad being waged against America and its allies. Both
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have said so.

We face an important choice in the coming months: provide Gen.
David Petraeus the time and troops he needs to execute his counterinsurgency campaign, or declare defeat and withdraw from Iraq. It seems that Democrats in Congress have already made their decision.

Apparently, Senator Levin invoked Abraham Lincoln in his article criticizing the Iraq war, to which Hegseth responds:

President Lincoln chose to fight a bloody and unpopular war because he believed the enemy had to be defeated. He was right. And to me, that sounds more than a bit like the situation our country faces today. What path will we choose?
Hegseth is executive director of Vets for Freedom, a non-partisan organization established to educate the public on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and about importance of securing victory in these conflicts.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

No Western Outcry Against Islamic Intolerance?

In his "Regarding Media" column yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten asked where's the West's outcry over Islam's violent intolerance and bigotry? Rutten notes that it's been 19 years since Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Kohmeini, issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie upon the publication of "The Satanic Verses," a novel deemed blasphemous to Muhammed. Now with Queen Elizabeth II granting knighthood Rushdie, Islamic anger has flared, with renewed calls for his death:

When news of knighthood spread last weekend, the flames of fanaticism rekindled. An Iranian group offered $150,000 to anyone who would murder the novelist. Effigies of the queen and the writer were burned in riots across Pakistan. That country's religious affairs minister initially said that conferring such an honor on Rushdie justified sending suicide bombers to Britain, then — under pressure — he modified his statement to say it would cause suicide bombers to travel there. Pakistan's national assembly unanimously condemned Rushdie's knighthood and said it reflected "contempt" for Islam and Muhammad. Various high-ranking Iranian clerics called for the writers' death and renewed their insistence that Khomeini's fatwa still is in force. Riots spread to India's Muslim communities....

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

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


IT'S no coincidence that one analyst who saw that clearly was Flemming Rose, culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and the guy who, not long ago, commissioned those cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that convulsed so much of the Muslim world in obscurantist apoplexy. You may recall that most of the American news media essentially abandoned Rose and the Danes to the fanatics' wrath, receding into cowardly silence, as mullah after mullah called for the cartoonists' death, mobs attacked diplomatic and cultural offices and one Muslim country after another boycotted Danish goods.

In a column posted on the L.A.-based Pajamas Media website late this week, Rose began by reminding readers of legal scholar Ronald Dworkin's admonition that "the only right you don't have in a democracy is the right not to be offended," then went on to decry the pernicious consequences of a "misplaced respect for insulted religious feelings," now all too common in the West, including the United States. "This respect is being used by tyrants and fanatics around the world to justify suicide attacks and to silence criticism and to crush dissenting points of view," he wrote.

Rose also pointed to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which less than three months ago "passed a scandalous resolution condoning state punishment of speech that governments deem as insulting to religion." The council's decision went all but unmentioned in the American press, but Rose correctly argues that passage of such a resolution "means that the U.N. is encouraging every dictatorship to pass laws that make criticism of Islam a crime. The U.N. Human Rights Council legitimizes the criminal persecution of Sir Salman Rushdie for having insulted people's religious sensibilities…. The fact of the matter is that by adopting the resolution against 'defamation of religion,' the U.N. has tacitly endorsed the killing of Rushdie's colleagues in parts of the world where no one can protect them."
Rutten asks is this hyperbole for the sake of argument? The answer is no. Rutten cites Sonni Efron's Thursday Los Angeles Times article, "Dead Reporters and the Information Gap," which highlights the statistics on journalists who have been killed in Iraq since March 2003 (it's more than double the number of those who were killed during the Vietnam War, 1962 to 1975). But there's been little media attention to this toll.

What masquerades as tolerance and cultural sensitivity among many U.S. journalists is really a kind of soft bigotry, an unspoken assumption that Muslim societies will naturally repress great writers and murder honest journalists, and that to insist otherwise is somehow intolerant or insensitive.

Lost in the self-righteous haze that masks this expedient sentiment is a critical point once made by the late American philosopher Richard Rorty, who was fond of pointing out that "some ideas, like some people, are just no damn good" and that no amount of faux tolerance or misplaced fellow feeling excuses the rest of us from our obligation to oppose such ideas and such people.

If Western and, particularly American, commentators refuse to speak up when their obligations are so clear, the fanatics will win and the terrible silence they so fervently desire will descend over vast stretches of our world — a silence in which the only permissible sounds are the prayers of the killers and the cries of their victims.
Rutten's case is compelling: There truly are some ideas that are "no damn good," and we empower the world's forces of darkness with our appeasement.

For more background information (in the objective, non-critical journalistic format),
see this report on the Rushdie knighthood from the Washington Post. Also, see this excellent post from Stogie at Saberpoint, which examines the alleged blasphemies found in "The Satanic Verses." Stogie's not the only blogger who's outraged over Islam's intolerance, so we do have a large cadre of non-establishment writers who recognize and reject Islamic bigotry.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Case for a Preventive Strike on Iran

Here's the interview with Norman Podhoretz, available on YouTube. Hat tip goes to Neocon Express for the link.

For my earlier post on Podhoretz's Commentary article, "The Case for Bombing Iran," click here.

Barack Obama and American Foreign Policy

In yesterday's entry I wrote about Mitt Romney's essay in the new edition of Foreign Affairs. The Romney piece is one of two articles in Foreign Affairs' new series called "Campaign 2008," a collection of current and forthcoming articles by top U.S. presidential candidates. Romney's essay is paired with one from Barack Obama, "Renewing America's Leadership."

Barack Obama has been giving Hillary Clinton a hard time on the campaign trail in the current run-up to the early caucuses and primaries starting in January 2008. He was not in the Senate in 2002, when the Congress voted to authorize the Iraq war. Obama's able, therefore, to hammer his opponents with a credible antiwar position. Yet, his approach to foreign policy sounds eerily reminiscent to the Democratic Party's international agenda of recent decades. Here's a snippet:
Today, we are again called to provide visionary leadership. This century's threats are at least as dangerous as and in some ways more complex than those we have confronted in the past. They come from weapons that can kill on a mass scale and from global terrorists who respond to alienation or perceived injustice with murderous nihilism. They come from rogue states allied to terrorists and from rising powers that could challenge both America and the international foundation of liberal democracy. They come from weak states that cannot control their territory or provide for their people. And they come from a warming planet that will spur new diseases, spawn more devastating natural disasters, and catalyze deadly conflicts.

To recognize the number and complexity of these threats is not to give way to pessimism. Rather, it is a call to action. These threats demand a new vision of leadership in the twenty-first century -- a vision that draws from the past but is not bound by outdated thinking. The Bush administration responded to the unconventional attacks of 9/11 with conventional thinking of the past, largely viewing problems as state-based and principally amenable to military solutions. It was this tragically misguided view that led us into a war in Iraq that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged. In the wake of Iraq and Abu Ghraib, the world has lost trust in our purposes and our principles.

After thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars spent, many Americans may be tempted to turn inward and cede our leadership in world affairs. But this is a mistake we must not make. America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, and the world cannot meet them without America. We can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission. We must lead the world, by deed and by example.

Such leadership demands that we retrieve a fundamental insight of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy -- one that is truer now than ever before: the security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders. The mission of the United States is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity....

To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end and refocus our attention on the broader Middle East. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by America's civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place. We have now lost over 3,300 American lives, and thousands more suffer wounds both seen and unseen.

Our servicemen and servicewomen have performed admirably while sacrificing immeasurably. But it is time for our civilian leaders to acknowledge a painful truth: we cannot impose a military solution on a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions. The best chance we have to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political solution. And the only effective way to apply this pressure is to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces, with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a date consistent with the goal set by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. This redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the Iraqi government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed. But we must recognize that, in the end, only Iraqi leaders can bring real peace and stability to their country.

At the same time, we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq, prevent its spread, and limit the suffering of the Iraqi people. To gain credibility in this effort, we must make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We should leave behind only a minimal over-the-horizon military force in the region to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda.
Obama attempts to take full advantage of the Democratic Party's heritage in providing global leadership and in establishing the multilateral institutions of world politics. But his essay's unconvincing in establishing his own clear vision for American leadership. He waffles on the nature of the threats facing America, and how we should respond.

Bringing the troops home from Iraq seems to be the first priority. After that he offers vague platitudes on the need for regional diplomacy and confidence-building. He makes obligatory references to restoring American military readiness, arguing that the U.S. armed forces are facing a crisis. Later, though, he says the U.S. must stand ready to exert military power around the globe, to "support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities." We should only do this, however, with the participation and support "of others."

Obama makes a routine reference to nuclear non-proliferation. He calls for movement toward ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but avoids discussion of America's next-generation nuclear capabilities and defense systems. He speaks of reforming the United Nations, but avoids discussing Democratic Party obstruction of the Bush administration's U.N reform efforts under temporary U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

Obama's piece stresses rebuilding America's soft power. We should restore trust around the world, revitalizing "partnerships" and strengthening "alliances." It almost sounds as though the NATO alliance has collapsed, or that Japan and South Korea have abondoned their longstanding bilateral relationships with the United States. Obama's essentially reviving "foreign policy as social work," which is
the title of a 1990s essay by Michael Mandelbaum of John Hopkins University. Rather than basing American policy on hard interests, American power should be harnessed to promote social and humanitarian projects across the globe. Obama notes the need for more American leadership in combating the African AIDS crisis. Missing, though, is any mention of the Bush administration's far-reaching and positive record of humantarian medical relief to combat AIDS across the African continent.

Barack Obama is a dynamic speaker who demonstrates poise and confidence along the campaign trail. Yet, when comparing his foreign policy agenda to
that of Mitt Romney's, Obama comes off as unsure of the realities of American power and responsiblity in world politics. He seems to think that "rebuilding trust" will have the magical effect of melting away the forces of Islamic radicalism, or that "renewing parnerships" and "sharing responsibility" will adequately balance the emerging anti-American alliance based in the capitals of Caracas, Pyongyang, Tehran.

Muslim Veils Testing Limits of Tolerance in Britain

Yesterday's New York Times had a fascinating story on the rising impatience (some say intolerance) among Britons with the increasing frequency of Muslim women to wear full-body coverings in public. Check it out:

Increasingly, Muslim women in Britain take their children to school and run errands covered head to toe in flowing black gowns that allow only a slit for their eyes. On a Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park, groups of black-clad Muslim women relaxed on the green baize lawn among the in-line skaters and badminton players.

Their appearance, like little else, has unnerved other Britons, testing the limits of tolerance here and fueling the debate over the role of Muslims in British life.

Many veiled women say they are targets of abuse. Meanwhile, there are growing efforts to place legal curbs on the full-face Muslim veil, known as the niqab.

There have been numerous examples in the past year. A lawyer dressed in a niqab was told by an immigration judge that she could not represent a client because, he said, he could not hear her. A teacher wearing a niqab was dismissed from her school. A student who was barred from wearing a niqab took her case to the courts, and lost. In reaction, the British educational authorities are proposing a ban on the niqab in schools altogether.

A leading Labor Party politician, Jack Straw, scolded women last year for coming to see him in his district office in the niqab. Prime Minister Tony Blair has called the niqab a “mark of separation.”

David Sexton, a columnist for The Evening Standard, wrote recently that the niqab was an affront and that Britain had been “too deferential.”

“It says that all men are such brutes that if exposed to any more normally clothed women, they cannot be trusted to behave — and that all women who dress any more scantily like that are indecent,” Mr. Sexton wrote. “It’s abusive, a walking rejection of all our freedoms.”

Although the number of women wearing the niqab has increased in the past several years, only a tiny percentage of women among Britain’s two million Muslims cover themselves completely. It is impossible to say how many exactly.

Some who wear the niqab, particularly younger women who have taken it up recently, concede that it is a frontal expression of Islamic identity, which they have embraced since Sept. 11, 2001, as a form of rebellion against the policies of the Blair government in Iraq, and at home.

“For me it is not just a piece of clothing, it’s an act of faith, it’s solidarity,” said a 24-year-old program scheduler at a broadcasting company in London, who would allow only her last name, al-Shaikh, to be printed, saying she wanted to protect her privacy. “9/11 was a wake-up call for young Muslims,” she said.

At times she receives rude comments, including, Ms. Shaikh said, from a woman at her workplace who told her she had no right to be there. Ms. Shaikh says she plans to file a complaint.

When she is on the street, she often answers back. “A few weeks ago, a lady said, ‘I think you look crazy.’ I said, ‘How dare you go around telling people how to dress,’ and walked off. Sometimes I feel I have to reply. Islam does teach you that you must defend your religion.”

She started experimenting with the niqab at Brunel University in West London, a campus of intense Islamic activism. She hesitated at first because her mother saw it as a “form of extremism, which is understandable,” she said, adding that her mother has since come around.

Other Muslims find the practice objectionable, a step backward for a group that is under pressure after the terrorist attack on London’s transit system in July 2005.
The article's cover photograph, with the veiled Muslim woman reading the newspaper on a bus right next to a blonde British women munching an apple, is a classic portrait of cultural contrast. Check out the article's photograph slideshow as well.

The underlying issue, for me, is the openness of Britain's democracy, and the effects of multiculturalism on British national identity. Britain's special in its attention to custom and tradition in the development of the political culture and institutions. Is British culture deteriorating? At what point does a nation have a responsibility to limit individual freedoms to protect the dominant culture -- indeed, the national security -- when newer, radically different groups present challenges to the national consensus?

Many suspect that Britain, like the European continental democracies, provides a hospitable, tolerant society for Islamic radicals to organize attacks against Western civilization. Robert Leiken wrote an article on "
Europe's Angry Muslims" in the July/August edition of Foreign Affairs. Christopher Hitchens recently wrote of "Londonistan Calling" in the June issue of Vanity Fair.

One of my visitors,
Kris Stoke-Newington, who lives in London, directs me to Bel's Blog, the website of a conservative British law lecturer who often comments on Britain's multiculturalism. See also my recent blog post on American reporter Megan Stack's distasteful and humiliating experience wearing the full-body coverings while on assignment in Saudi Arabia.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mitt Romney and American Foreign Policy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has outlined his foreign policy in a new essay in Foreign Affairs. Romney offers an ambition agenda for shifting the direction of American foreign affairs. The article demonstrates robust clarity on the dangers facing America in the international system:

Today, the nation's attention is focused on Iraq. All Americans want U.S. troops to come home as soon as possible. But walking away now or dividing Iraq up into parts and walking away later would present grave risks to the United States and the world. Iran could seize the Shiite south, al Qaeda could dominate the Sunni west, and Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey. A regional conflict could ensue, perhaps even requiring the return of U.S. troops under far worse circumstances. There is no guarantee that the new strategy pursued by General Petraeus will ultimately succeed, but the stakes are too high and the potential fallout too great to deny our military leaders and troops on the ground the resources and the time needed to give it an opportunity to succeed.

Many still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, specifically by those extremists who promote violent jihad against the United States and the universal values Americans espouse. Understandably, the nation tends to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq, where American men and women are dying. We think in terms of countries because countries were our enemies in the last century's great conflicts. The congressional debate in Washington has largely, and myopically, focused on whether troops should be redeployed from Iraq to Afghanistan, as if these were isolated issues. Yet the jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations. It is broader than the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Radical Islam has one goal: to replace all modern Islamic states with a worldwide caliphate while destroying the United States and converting all nonbelievers, forcibly if necessary, to Islam. This plan sounds irrational, and it is. But it is no more irrational than the policies pursued by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and Stalin's Soviet Union during the Cold War. And the threat is just as real.

In the current conflict, the balance of forces is not nearly as close as during the early days of World War II and at critical points during the Cold War. There is no comparison between the economic, diplomatic, technological, and military resources of the civilized world today and those of the terrorist organizations and states that threaten it. Perhaps most important is the incredible resourcefulness of the American people and their unmatched education, inventiveness, and dedication. But today's threats are fundamentally different from those we grew used to confronting during World War II and the Cold War. Our enemies now have sleeper cells rather than armies. They use indiscriminate terror rather than tanks. Their soldiers -- as well as their victims -- include children. They count radical clergy among their generals. They communicate via the Internet. They recruit in schools, houses of worship, and prisons. They pursue nuclear weapons not as a strategic deterrent but as an offensive tool of terror.
Read the whole thing. Romney lays out key elements of his agenda. Of interest is his call to increase defense spending. He notes that "The next president should commit to spending a minimum of four percent of GDP on national defense." In that section, he also throws in a quick paragraph on strengthening the economy, including this point:

Our ability to influence the world also vitally depends on our ability to maintain our economic lead through policies such as smaller government, lower taxes, better schools and health care, greater investment in technology, and the promotion of free trade, while maintaining the strength of America's families, values, and moral leadership.
It would have been good to see these ideas developed in more detail. Instead, Romney goes off on the issue of energy independence. Check that section yourself. My feeling is Romney's been too influenced by the Kyoto-style, anti-Halliburton crowds structuring the environmental debate on the left of the spectrum. Romney's right to insist on energy independence, but some of his proposals might damage the economy (the call for more ethanol production, for example), or are too utopian in scope: "We need to initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative -- an energy revolution -- that will be our generation's equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon."

The same can be said of his call for transforming "civilian capabilities," which is actually a new way to advocate "
reinventing government." In other words, we need to reform the bureaucracy for the new era. He makes some interesting points, but it's not clear if the creation of new agencies and civilian missions will strengthen American foreign and defense policies. (The jury's still out on the new Department of Homeland Security, although the record of that new cabinet-level department ought to be counsel against the efficacy of enlarging our bureaucratic structures.)

Overall, though, I like the Romney agenda. Best of all is his core set of values. He concludes with a recollection of his company with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres:

I recently had the privilege of spending some time with Shimon Peres....Someone asked him about the conflict in Iraq, and he said, "You need to put this in context. America is unique in the history of the world. During this last century, there was only one nation that laid down hundreds of thousands of lives of its own sons and daughters and asked for nothing for itself." He explained that in the history of the world, whenever there has been a war, winning nations have taken the land of losing ones. "America is unique," he added. "You took no land from the Germans, no land from the Japanese. All you asked for was enough land to bury your dead."
Romney then goes on to note the unique role for American leadership in the world. It's a point well taken.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Michael Bloomberg is Presidential Longshot in 2008

I'm intrigued at the news of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to leave the Republican Party, as well as all the media speculation on the impact of Bloomberg's moves for the 2008 presidential race. Today's Wall Street Journal has significant coverage of the news. In the paper's main article, "Bloomberg '08: A Real Long Shot," authors John Harwood and John D. McKinnon suggest history and current polling numbers are working against a Bloomberg White House bid:

An independent presidential campaign by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be fueled by the widespread public disaffection with the current political environment -- and what could be the biggest financial war chest for any third-party candidate in American history.

But the former chief executive of a business media empire would face the same obstacles that have snuffed out all prior such renegade ventures, from the 1912 attempt by former President Theodore Roosevelt to Ross Perot's campaigns in 1992 and 1996, the last time an opinionated billionaire sought to upend the two-party system. Indeed, there are signs the Democratic and Republican parties are stronger than 15 years ago, making an outsider bid particularly tough in 2008....

"The likelihood of any independent being elected is remote," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts polls for The Wall Street Journal with Republican Neil Newhouse. But "the likelihood of an independent changing the total dynamics of the election is great. And the impact of a Michael Bloomberg on the election would be to throw all the cards up in the air and redeal them."

What exactly that impact would be is the subject of an increasingly intense debate. Mr. Hart says the independent bid could help Mrs. Clinton, by splitting the opposition to a politician whose poll ratings show an unusually large number of Americans who say they wouldn't vote for her. Others say Mr. Bloomberg would undermine Mrs. Clinton, or any Democrat, since he has generally taken liberal stances on issues such as gay rights and abortion, and his most recent ambitious proposals have included tougher gun control, and a congestion tax aimed at curbing traffic jams and global warming.
Bloomberg apparently has resources in the $billions to finance an independent run for the presidency. But my first thought is that third party candidates don't win, so what's the purpose of his defection from the GOP and his late entry into the race? While polls show that Republicans are satisfied with their current line-up of candidates, Howard Dean's fleeting front-runner status for the Democrats in 2003-2004 should remind people of the wide variety of factors influencing these contests. Bloomberg could have entered the race as a GOP partisan (Steve Forbes self-financed his 1996 run for the Republican nomination), yet the mayor probably sees the GOP field as pretty crowded, making it difficult for his candidacy to break into the top tier.

In any case, over at the op-ed page,
the Journal's lead editorial casts some light on Bloomberg's agenda. The mayor apparently has revived an old trick: He says partisanship is out of control, and that the two-party system is failing the people with the stale debates and "the same old politics":

But his contention that what the country really needs is an executive that transcends politics to "get things done" merits closer scrutiny. In his own words, "any successful elected executive knows that real results are more important than partisan battles and that good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology." He added, in a statement that would make any motivational speaker proud, "Working together, there's no limit to what we can do."

Terrific. Amid such happy sentiment, it seems churlish to point out that our disagreements about what the country should do are what lead to those debates that Mr. Bloomberg finds so tiresome. But underlying his critique is a belief, inconveniently belied by the evidence, that there is a large American center unserved by our two-party system.

This is not to say that there aren't plenty of moderates in America, but moderation takes many forms. Antigun, pro-gay-rights, vaguely pro-business (but tax increasing) Mike Bloomberg is one sort. Pro-gun, economically populist Jon Tester, the junior Senator from Montana, is another, different sort. Pro-war Democrat Joe Lieberman is yet another kind. Their differences from each other are at least as important as their supposed moderateness.

As for "rigid adherence to ideology," it's hard to understand how President Bush's current support for immigration reform, Bill Clinton's signature on welfare reform or George H.W. Bush's tax hikes fit into this caricature. Pragmatism is not the sole province of the Mike Bloombergs of the world. But calls on our politicians to be more pragmatic are usually, in practice, calls for them to agree with whoever is doing the calling.
Actually, a little more pragmatism -- or at least compromise -- on some issues might help break some of the gridlock (movement on immigration, for example, will require some key actors to give up something). Still, the Journal's editors make a good point. Bloomberg's not Ross Perot. The Texas billionaire entered in the presidential race as an independent voice in 1992 alongside an aloof GOP incumbent (G.H.W. Bush), amid strong perceptions among voters of economic distress (even though the economy had by then emerged from recession), and despite a renewed Democratic Party under Bill Clinton that proposed a more moderate form of liberalism.

Check the Harwood and McKinnon piece cited above for
the interesting table on the historical success rates of third party presidential candidates (scroll down). I doubt a Bloomberg independent run will be any more successful that the mayor's historical third party predecessors.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Conservatives Debate as Liberals March Lockstep

Jeff Jacoby's column today over at the Boston Globe notes that those on the right of the political spectrum are engaged in a vigorous debate over concepts and ideological direction, while liberals differ only on the purity of one's antiwar position:

WHAT DO liberal Democrats think about the war in Iraq? That's easy: It was a blunder that has become a debacle, and it should be brought to an end as soon as possible.

What do conservative Republicans think about the war? That's not so easy.

The right has been fighting over the war since well before it began. The American Conservative -- a biweekly magazine launched in 2002 by Pat Buchanan, a former aide to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- has vehemently opposed the Iraq campaign, regarding it as the worst kind of nation-building, a squandering of blood and treasure for no vital American interest.

By contrast, The Weekly Standard -- a conservative journal edited by William Kristol, an influential Republican strategist -- was among the earliest advocates of invading Iraq, and continues to defend what it calls "The Right War for the Right Reasons."

Tune in to a Republican presidential debate, and you'll hear views on Iraq that range from John McCain ("if we fail and we have to withdraw, they will follow us home") to Sam Brownback ("we've got to put forward a political plan to create a three-state solution") to Ron Paul ("it was a mistake to go, so it's a mistake to stay").

The Democratic candidates debate only the purity of one another's antiwar stance: Whose denunciation of the war came first? Whose goes the furthest? They squabble over style, but when it comes to substance, as Hillary Clinton said during a recent debate, "the differences among us are minor."

Iraq is not an anomaly.

On one important issue after another, the right churns with serious disputes over policy and principle, while the left marches mostly in lockstep. Liberals sometimes disagree over tactics and details, but anyone taking a heterodox position on a major issue can find himself out in the cold. Just ask Senator Joseph Lieberman .

In the liberal imagination, conservatives are blind dogmatists, spouters of a party line fed to them by (take your pick) big business, their church, or President Bush. Yet almost anywhere you look on the right these days, what stands out is the lack of ideological conformity.
Jacoby cites as an example the dust-up between the editors of the National Review and those of the Wall Street Journal over immigration reform. But vigorous disagreement exists over a range of issues among those on right of the political spectrum:
From school vouchers to stem cell research to racial preferences to torture, the American right bubbles with debate and disagreement, while the left, for all its talk about "diversity," rarely seems to show any. As National Review's Jonah Goldberg points out, that may be because "liberals define diversity by skin color and sex, not by ideas, which makes it difficult to have really good arguments."

Good arguments are no bad thing. They energize political parties and put convictions to the test. They illuminate the issues. They make people think. The debates on the right enliven the marketplace of ideas and enrich the democratic process. Some debates on the left would, too.
I agree. I've found this particularly true in the immigration reform debate, where I've noticed quite a bit of dissension among conservatives over the current Senate reform bill (see here, here, and here, for example).

Further, in my recent post, "
The Poverty of Paleoconservatism," I made the case for the healthy mental stimulant of difference and debate among conservatives.

In that post, I upbraid the extremely doctrinaire paleoconservative Mike Tuggle for his intolerance, simple-mindedness, and rank name-calling with reference to my positions in support of Iraq and the global war on terror. Tuggle's hung-up on Burkean purity, and he never fails to distort my positions on the issues -- as he did again in his own self-important post pronouncing his sacred duty to protect the blogosphere against "
the wrath of the neo-cons." Perhaps old Mike Tuggle will take a lesson from Jeff Jacoby that there is, indeed, a variety of good, legitimate differences among those of conservative convictions on the right. It's hard, though, for Tuggle to see beyond his narrow frame of reference, so I won't hold my breath!