Friday, August 24, 2007

Lenin makes the hajj, pt. 2

Kristol on The Daily Show

My friend JR clued me into an appearance by William Kristol on The Daily Show, hosted by Jon Stewart. This has been going on for a while apparently, and Kristol's most recent visit is linked above. They were talking about the Iraq war, of course, Kristol is pro and Stewart is con.

The segment is pretty short considering how important the subject is (7+ minutes), and without being very technical this interview gets to the crucible of the dilemma wrt Iraq, much more than most debate we have seen about the subject in the public arena. Kristol explains why he thinks the surge is succeeding, but Stewart replies, "Why should we trust you?" meaning the President, Kristol, or supporters of the war in general.

I was very moved by Stewart's question, because that's exactly the core of my frustration (as someone who supports the war) toward those who oppose it. To a large extent, the debate isn't about what we think, but who we are and what we are motivated by. That's why, as distasteful as it may be, we're going to have to get to the bottom of the "chickenhawk" vs. "unpatriotic" sorts of argument.

For my part, it's pretty simple. I want the United States to win the war in Iraq. And at the moment, that seems to me like a completely plausible outcome, so I favor continuing the American troop presence in Iraq until it is not plausible any more. There might be a time when I feel differently. Obviously I can't predict when that will happen, but I can say that I tend to give credibility to sources who also want to win the war. And on that score it's not really a close call.

Bush as LBJ

In Robert Novak's memoir Prince of Darkness, there's an interesting anecdote from the Johnson administration. Dean Rusk, or one of the higher-ups, has an off-the-record meeting with members of the press, wherein he says some highly impolitic things regarding the Vietnam war. One of the participants, Walter Lippman or some other Establishment luminary, leaks the proceedings to Novak, who promptly publishes a synopsis of them in his column, published in the Washington Post and a thousand other places.

As I read it, I thought of the George W. Bush and his difficulties. We have several plausible foils for him already. There's Clinton, a successful politician for himself but a failure for his party. Truman made hard choices regarding Korea and containment and was very unpopular in his time, but vindicated in history. Wilson made a fetish of democracy and Western ideologies of politics and did his best to export them across the world to the detriment of the U.S. national interest.

But reading Novak's book, there is Bush as Johnson as well, and it goes deeper than Bush:Iraq::Johnson:Vietnam. Johnson entered the White House after dominating the Senate as Majority Leader. W inherited a host of family connections and the associated loyalties as head of the Bush clan. But, what appeared initially as stuctural strengths in fact hid weakness of character.

Both Johnson and Bush fils thought they had it all figured out. They tended to disdain any sort of give-and-take with anybody outside their political in-group. Then, when they wanted to reach outside of it (a la Rusk above) they found out that they couldn't.

That's convenient

Apparently, Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann is out for two weeks with an "injury" just after he commits two major blunders in the first two League games of the year. Jens might still be a serviceable keeper at the moment, but it's very important that the situation not be allowed to deteriorate into David Seaman redux. Sometime soon, Arsene Wenger needs to figure out who his #1 goalkeeper is, and frankly I don't think he knows.

Unfortunately, situations like these (and Eduardo for that matter) have been a blind spot for Wenger. He can find talent better, cheaper, and younger than anybody else, but when it comes to first-team needs, he tends to hope there's enough in the cupboard when the time comes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Don't ever take sides with anyone....

.....against the Family again. Ever."

So saith Michael Corleone to his hapless brother Fredo.

Within the American body politic, there's been a lot of bitterness spilled over the Iraq war, and in particular two sorts of arguments are the most incendiary. The anti-war Left accuses the pro-war Right of being "chickenhawks", and feels aggrieved when their adversaries "question their patriotism."

Both arguments have an air of cheapshots about them. But as I've thought about it a bit, I've decided that both arguments are in principle legit and to some extent inevitable even. But arguments change meaning a lilttle bit depending on how they are handled, and these two have to be handled very carefully.

It is legitimate to say that supporters of the war are making positive declarations about things they have little or no experience to substantiate. But it is contrary to our culture and our form of government to say that those who haven't served in the military cannot be heard on foreign policy issues. Besides which, it's a self-defeating argument in any case, as many others have pointed out. If the franchise were restricted either to veterans or active duty servicemen, the war would have a great deal better political standing than it does now.

On the flip side, it is also an injustice to suggest that those who do not support the decision to go to war were disloyal. Even if they were, the American people are more forgiving about that sort of thing than Michael Corleone anyway. But many of those who oppose the war attempt to speak in America's name (while at the same time not very much concerned about America's interests). Unfortunately for them, we have a lower-case-r republican nation in the United States, and ultimately the American people are sovereign over it. And even if they are more forgiving than Michael Corleone (to the dismay of some on the Right), there are limits.

We all know the war in Iraq has had, and no matter what the outcome, will continue to have substantial partisan political consequences for a good while. Nonetheless, in conjuction with the patriotism thing it is very important to emphasize success or failure in the Iraq war is a matter of success or failure for the United States as a whole, not just the Republican party or George W. Bush.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why Russia?

Daniel Larison seems to be stupefied about why anybody ought to be worried about Russia, particularly since Vladimir Putin became President. This one seems pretty simple to me, and it has a great deal to do with the changes in history about what constitutes a great nation.

First of all, let's recognize that in practical terms Russia is currently a basket case. It's a demographic nightmare, it's economy is a shambles, the criminal element is wildly out of control, there is no rule of law but there are rogue nuclear weapons. What's not to like? Moreover, in spite (or because of) these things, Putin, the Russian leadership and to a substantial extent the Russian people regard Russia as a Great Power, equal to or at least roughly of the same stature as the United States. This would be very funny if it were meant as a joke.

Instead, Russia intends to use its energy resources to bully other nations into adopting Moscow's line on the various controversies bouncing around world. Often, Moscow doesn't really care about the substance of its own line very much. But, by defending it aggressively and forcing other countries to come to heel, Moscow demonstrates its capacity to exercise power and preserves its amour-propre.

This would be a great strategy if we still lived in the 18th century. National powers were of necessity much more restrained. Theoretically a monarch might have absolute power but his real control over society was limited by logistics of enforcing it. Therefore the hunt for position and treasure among nations could be endured, because there was hope at the local level that the adverse consequences might miss them. Today of course, there is nowhere to hide from Big Brother.

Unfortunately, Vladimir Putin is still pretending to be the second coming of Napoleon. It ought to be the diplomatic policy of the United States to tell him that that game is stupid. If there were any point to that game, America would have won it a long time ago. America is the preeminent nation in the world today because it has shown that it can see the world through a bigger lens than its own parochial interest and can act on what it sees. The other nations of the world willingly give America its power. When it hits the fan and something needs to be done, people know who to as (hint: it's not France or Russia).

The latest on L'Affaire Beauchamp

Today has been a busy day. Jonathon Chait has published a cri de coeur on behalf of The New Republic, essentially reprising the "who are you to question my patriotism" gambit that worked so well for Mike Dukakis. Everybody and their brother has got their two cents in since, including Daniel Larison, Rich Lowry, Matt Feeney, Ross Douthat, Dean Barnett, and "Alenda Lux."

This last of these impressively and lengthily defends Kristol from the substance of Chait's gripes, but at this point really who cares? From the state of play right now, it's likely that most or all of Beauchamp's shocking assertions, published by TNR, will shown be unsubstantiated at best, plain lies or scandalously exaggerated at worst. It is a lead-pipe cinch that at the time of publication, TNR showed a jawdroppingly cavalier regard for their truth. Given the recent history of TNR's journalistic malfeasance, the only thing that matters now is the Howard Baker question: what did the TNR editorial authorities know, and when did they know it? The magnitude of fallout from this issue cannot be overstated. Journals of opinion like TNR are small niche publications. Questions of credibility and the purpose of the common editorial voice have to be answered. It wouldn't surpise me if TNR is eventually forced to cease publication as a result.

Let's also make one other point. The motivation for TNR to publish Beauchamp is actually pretty simple when you think about it. TNR is a political opinion periodical of the liberal/Left. It is not a carbon copy of The Nation, but broadly speaking it is clearly on the Left nonetheless. The support of the war by TNR has cost it dearly, in public credibility and personal relationships. Eventually, Peter Beinart bitterly repudiated the magazine's support for the war. Nonetheless, the memory of its prior support did not vanish. Publishing Beauchamp was an act of penance by TNR, toward their colleagues on the Left but most importantly toward its own insitutional sense of guilt for being on the wrong side of a momentous issue like Iraq.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Arsenal 1 - Blackburn 1

Today's game was a disappointment on several levels. First the result itself wasn't quite as bad as it could have been, now that all the top four have dropped points so far this season, and ManU have dropped a bunch. Nonetheless it was an opportunity missed to let the other guys chase us for a change.

In contrast where Arsenal have gotten poor results from domination in play, Blackburn were full value for the draw and were clearly the better side for the whole second half. That won't be such a big deal for one game but cannot be allowed to continue. The same with Lehmann's blunder. That's two for him so far this year, & three strikes you're out.

It was far more depressing that Arsenal were not able to show any resiliency or sense of urgency after Blackburn equalized. There was 20 minutes left, counting injury time. Maybe they should have scored a goal in that time, maybe not. But 20 minutes is more than enough time to assert superiority over a game if they have any superiority to assert. Their failure to do so was very very bad in my book.

Also, the signing of Eduardo da Silva has to be regarded as questionable at best. Not that we can regard him as a failure after one hour of competitive play, but it will be difficult to resolve his role on the team. He is a tweener of a young prospect and first-team contributor. We have several good prospects at the club already for his position. As an automatic selection, he has to be compared to Carlos Tevez, Nicolas Anelka, and Obafemi Martins, other strikers who played for lesser Premier League teams last year who may have been (or may be) available. Each of these other three are proven at the highest levels at club football, and are acclimated to the Premiership. In comparison to these three, it is very difficult to justify the signing of Eduardo.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Arsenal 2 - Fulham 1

There's a bunch of things that can be written about today's game, but the most important one is that Arsenal left the pitch with three points, and live to fight another day. The nature of the League has changed a little bit over the past few years: the teams at the top win more often than they used to, so draws are less and less useful.

It was a typical Arsenal effort in many ways: lots of chances but not so much scoring. But if there's anything positive to take from today, it looks to me like the team has a little better handle on how to quit dancing in possession and get a shot off. We can hope it's a good omen that the winning goal was by Sasha Hleb.

Big Billy and You

Please Mr. President, or whoever resurrects the next attempt at "comprehensive" immigration reform, get around this for a moment.

Btw, Rod Dreher linked to this as well. He believes the problem is largely irreformable because illegal immigration is behind so much of the prosperity behind our consumerist lifestyles to the point where we as a people can't afford to give it up. I have some sympathy with the underlying complaint but nonetheless it's a crock.

The owner of Big Billy's economically benefits very much from illegal immigration. You and I, probably not as much.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I pile on

The brouhaha over this has largely gone down the memory hole by now, but I can still point out that a substantial motivation behind the self-identification of today's "progressives" is the embarrassment of being associated with the 60s-70s connotations of being "liberal." In that context, it's worth pointing out that "progressivism" has it's own dirty laundry too.

I used to be an Anglophile

I guess I still am in a way, but now it seems more a matter of nostalgia than real friendship and shared purpose.

Arsenal and the Premier League 2007-2008

I haven't written too much about this, but today was opening day for the Premiership, maybe the most exciting sports league on the world. There is enough quality to be motivated to follow the better teams, but also enough parity so that everyone knows that the big dogs don't get gimme wins against the also-rans. There's no playoffs, so all the title contenders' games are meaningful, kinda like baseball used to be before divisional play. The three teams at the bottom of the league are relegated out of the league.

My team, Arsenal, has finished a disappointing fourth for two straight seasons, the bottom of the "top-four" teams who legitimately consider themselves to be title contenders before the start of the season, and the lowest place to earn entry into the Champions League, the major continent-wide club competition. The manager, Frenchman Arsene Wenger is a revolutionary figure for opening the league up to skilled, relatively cheap foreign players. But he's been there ten years now, and his enormously successful first generation of recruited players have largely retired or moved on to other teams. He has replaced them with a bucketload of young talent, who in some cases have excelled individually but have yet to form an intimidating side.

Is this the year? I don't know, but I do think the question is a matter of character rather than skill or workrate. So many of the players have basked in the glow of being prodigies without ever being forced to feel the real sting of being blamed for failure.

One way or another we'll begin to see answers soon. Tomorrow Arsenal opens their season at home against Fulham, a team good enough to avoid relegation but no better. Again, due to the structure of the League, this game matters a lot more than you might expect. IMO, it's no exaggeration to consider this a must-win game on the first day of the season. One-nil to the Arsenal, or it's going to be a long, long year.

Army of Davids

When I was studying Polish at UCLA, I had to give a presentation on a topical journal article in Polish. The professor was a Polish native, but intellectually an exile from the political/religious mainstream there. The article I picked happened to push just about every one of his buttons. I didn't pick it to spite him, but by the time I figured out what the article said, I had put in too much work in it to change.

In any case, the subject of the article was the proposed EU constitution, and the author's point was that the refusal of the constitution's writers to acknowledge the Christian heritage of Europe in the preamble was discrimination against Poland as an EU member state. But more importantly, it was also an act of willful amnesia. Ie, without the historical significance of Christianity, the continent has no real basis for cultural unity. Furthermore, the Euro-elites were too afraid of Christianity as a challenge to their authority to allow even an insignificant mention of it in the preamble to the EU Constitution.

At the time, a classmate asked me if I agreed with the substance of the article. I said no, but I couldn't exactly say why, since my brain was frazzled from a whole weekend's worth of translation work. But now, in the middle of a lazy summer, it's easier to explain.

The Euro-elites establishment are empatically not afraid of a resurgence of Christianity as a threat to their power. What they are scared to death of is real popular sovereignty. The people are reactionary and fickle. That is why there are significant extra-governmental institutions (supranational courts, social charters, NGOs, etc.) that backstop the elected governments against real change or debate in the issues that can't be let out of the attic: immigration, anything dealing with homosexuality, anything dealing with race, anything dealing with the "right" to welfare, anything dealing with Islam.

Here in the United States we have, just barely, real popular sovereignty. Even when the establishment is united upon some course of action, the popular will can veto it, if it's willing to get off the couch long enough to mobilize. The failure of the most recent immigration bill is a prime example.

This is a substantial part of the reason why Europe (especially Old Europe), is fading into cultural insignificance relative to the United States, for at least two reasons. First of all, the message to the people living in these countries is, that when push comes to shove, they don't count. This message is internalized, and the citizenry of these countries are less prepared to handle the challenges that come up.

Second (and predicted by Hayek), the Euro-"elites" don't have enough information or talent to handle the dynamic modern world. In the United States, anybody can have a business, a blog, a cultural movement, or an independent net worth. These things exist largely outside of the control of the government or any other central authority for that matter. Therefore the American people have resources to adapt to problems as they occur, resources that aren't available in the rest of the world, especially to the governing classes.

I personally get defensive when I hear people trashing the American lumpenproletariat and its various nicknames (flyover country, Religious Right, red states, etc) even when the criticism is largely on point. The alternatives are much worse.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Prince of Darkness

I'm in Los Angeles at the moment and on the way over (and a little bit since), I've been reading the memoirs of Robert Novak, one of the most interesting figures in Washington for the past several decades. The Prince of Darkness has lots of interesting minutae (Did you know Bob Novak is Chris Caldwell's father-in-law? Me either, though I'm sure it isn't any kind of state secret.) But the overall portrait of the author is most compelling.

First of all, to me Novak has come across as the paleoconservative who didn't fit. He agrees with them about most on most of the controversial things, but somehow it's difficult to see him taking the career track of E. Michael Jones or Joseph Sobran. The reason why is because Mr. Novak represents not the Eastern Establishment exactly, but the mainstream of the American press, and comfortable in it. He worked in the vineyards as a correspondent in Nebraska and Indiana before establishing his Capitol-based franchises. This is a far cry from the let's-return-to-the-soil tradition of the paleocons.

Second, there is distinct lack of sentimentality of warmth in his personality. This is especially apparent in his writing regarding his partnership with Rowly Evans, who always seemed to me to be a gregarious good egg when I saw him on television. In this way, I guess his reputation is well-deserved.

But in spite of this, I still have to commend Mr. Novak for his ability to tell a straight story, in my view the prime reason why he has had a successful career as he had. This extends even to his own failures of character. In one anecdote, he admits that he softpedaled James Baker as chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan as a silent quid pro quo for Mr. Baker ceasing to badmouth Novak in the President's name. It's the sort of thing that any profession person with a substantial career has done that he is not proud of. I give quite a bit of credit to Mr. Novak for owning up to it.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Larry Kudlow is a likeable guy, & I tend to agree with him in broad strokes (in fact, I agree with most of what he wrote in the link). But for some reason, establishment types tend to get very blinkered when they've made up their mind.

The decline and fall of Ted Stevens (if in fact it happens) is the best news the GOP has had in a while. Mr. Kudlow is confusing the disease with the cure. The Republicans have already suffered from the disease, they might as well enjoy the benefit of the cure, even if it hurts a little.


Somehow, I'm pretty confident that FoxNews has more than enough journalistic integrity not to try something like this.