Monday, November 26, 2007
According to this blogpost from the Weekly Standard, the North Korean regime is now in existential jeopardy. This is the sort of thing to be taken with many grains of salt. Nonetheless, it illustrates the bankruptcy of the "realist" school of foreign policy, one of my favorite whipping boys.
The realists are correct to emphasize that success in foreign policy demands competent execution. That notwithstanding, it is always a mistake to concentrate on means to such an extent that their ends are forgotten. In the case of North Korea, our ends are the demolition of their nuclear program, and preferably regime change too. The reason for this is very simple, though it's one of the more controversial elements of the Bush Doctrine. The nature of the North Korean regime is simply evil and cannot be dealt with.
Even if we cannot accomplish these goals directly, they cannot be forsaken either. With hope comes opportunity, which might be manifested in unexpected ways. Without it, you give up on the whole loaf for sure, and the half loaf you thought you were settling for, well you might not get that either.
This cheeses me off a little bit, not because he's picking on my quasi-supported candidate (HT to The Corner).
First of all, it ought to be pretty clear by now that the level of communication between the Washtington Republican establishment and the conservative base is atrocious. Several times over Bush's second term, either the President or the Republicans have been caught completely flatfooted at the overwhelmingly negative response to their initiatives, eg, immigration, Harriet Miers, William Jefferson's money in the freezer, etc. I've wondered what actually happens in his Wednesday morning meetings. Whatever it is, somebody is not getting the memo.
About this particular incident, it just seems like Norquist hasn't updated his playbook since 1990. Right now, the most likely scenario after the next election is that the D's will control the Presidency and both houses of Congress. I'd give the GOP a better chance to defend the Maginot Line than to successfully prevent tax increases in that scenario. We all know that fetishizing a balanced budget is a green eyeshade trap. But somewhere over the rainbowsome kind of ballpark relationship to outlays. If there's no pressure at all to discipline spending (and I can never recall an instance of Norquist applying any), holding the line on taxes is increasingly implausible.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
In _The Lives of Others_, the conduct of the Stasi was petty and cruel, but never barbarous. I suspect this was done by design, but even if it was by accident, the effect is the same.
The viewer is never revolted by the events in the movie to the point where he must turn away from the screen to recover his own bearing. Because we, the audience, can safely pay our attention to the story in front of us, we can appreciate the content at a deeper, less abstract level. It's not just that most of us are fully capable of the various cruelties of the Stasi, but actually more hopeful than that. We are also capable of the heroic subterfuge of Herr Wiesler as well, which we feel all the more acutely because we feel the same dread at the risk of discovery that he did. To that end, we can forgive the producers some historical inaccuracies.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
As I've written before, the history and drama of the Cold War is surprisingly obscure today. As recent as it is, it seems to have slipped away from our collective memory. This is unfortunate, not simply for the sake of historical remembrance, but also because during that era, we were forced to strengthen and use spiritual resources which, since then, seem to have gotten collectively weaker among us.
With these things in mind I was very keen to seem _The Lives of Others_, a German film about life under the shadow of the Stasi, the East German secret police. The subject of the surveillance is Georg Dreyman, a prominent Socialist playwright who heretofore had been thought to be above suspicion. But the real protagonist is his Stasi minder, Wiesler, a distant, meticulous man, even among the Germans.
But it's important to realize that those facts of his nature and his past describe Herr Wiesler, they don't define him. He can still see the reality of the world outside himself, he can still choose his actions, and informed by his own conscience, he can still choose the good and reject evil. He can choose these things at his own personal cost even. In his own way, he can stand for the freedom of the playwright to write and the integrity of the relationship between the playwright and his girlfriend. But, notwithstanding these choices, and the spiritual awakening that came with them, Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler is still the same meticulous distant German that he was before. By the end of the movie, even though Dreyman is able to appreciate and acknowledge the sacrifice that Wiesler made for him, they never actually speak face to face.
As a final note, Wikipedia claims that this movie cost $2M to make yet has grossed $73M so far. This conforms to a pet theory of mine, that the audience hungers for real drama at the heart of the person and his ability to perservere in diverse or adverse circumstances. If Hollywood, or artists in general could write this drama, they would be more successful, both financially and artistically.
Hadley Arkes writes about the connection between the Giuliani campaign and the abortion issue here. Frankly, Rudy has been a lot more durable than I thought. If Rudy is nominated I'd probably even vote for him but his candidacy is very disconcerting nonetheless.
First, I personally oppose abortion but even if I didn't, it's important to realize that the presence of the pro-life movement as part of the Republican party is a good thing. It's a matter of simple arithmetic. Demographically speaking, it's the presence of the Religious Right that separates the United States from the UK or Canada or the major Continental nations. Those who don't like Ralph Reed or whoever should decide how much they like paying a marginal tax rate of 70% or whatever it is in Germany because that's the alternative.
Second, if Giuliani is elected, the pro-life movement is in for some bleak times. For the rest of us, even if he upholds his promises regarding judges, or at least intends to, we'll be living a colder, less friendly place nonetheless. There's a certain warmth and enthusiasm that comes from the realization that we can take some inconvenience when somebody else really needs us, and heck, the extra burden isn't that heavy anyway. That, I fear, is what President Rudy Guiliani will cut us off from.
The contrast with Mitt Romney is palpable. Mitt seems to believe the "right" things, except that he hasn't been able to convey why he believes them except for political expediency. If ever he can, I suspect his candidacy will be a lot stronger than it is now. In any case, I'd still take him over Rudy as it is.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Before the Iraq war, some antiwar advocates polemically argued that we were the ones who gave Saddam Hussein his weapons in the first place. Though it's not exactly clear why that train of thought should determine whether or not we invade Iraq, it obviously was intended to be a moral rebuke to America.
In any case it isn't so, here's a useful link. We supplied very few of Saddam's armaments, and those that we did were supposed to be a counterweight against the regime of the Ayatollahs in Iran who were fighting against Iraq at the time. You don't hear very much about this any more. Saddam has had his date with the hangman and frankly nobody misses him very much, so as practical matter it's not that big a deal. But, it is indicative of several important things.
It's been a theory, prominently but not exclusively of the paleolibertarians, that we can solve our Middle East problems if we just take the ball and go home. Mostly, this is insinuated rather than directly argued, and the above is a good clue why. We are never told what level of disengagement by America is supposed to work. Those disposed to oppose America are not especially fastidious. We are blamed for the things we are doing, but the things we did ages ago, things we only thought of, things the British did in the '20s, or in the above case, things we did very little of.
Most importantly, the hatreds and the rivalries in the Middle East are part of the cultural fabric there, and are substantially not created by us. In this particular case, Saddam Hussein was going to get his weapons from anyone who would sell them to him. This is why, even if we'd left Iraq a year ago and the violence there stayed at its grotesque nadir, it's still not our fault. This isn't to deny that the stubbornness and smugness of the Administration, and the state of denial in important quarters of the American Right, were not serious mistakes, mistakes that we're still paying for today. Nonetheless, they are not the real cause of our problems.
The biggest problem we have, is that almost all the major players there are immediately and opportunisticly willing to resort to violence to achieve their political ends. One very important upside to winning the Iraq war is that we can show to the players there, ourselves, and anyone else who's watching, that it doesn't have to be that way. Something else is actually possible, smack dab in the middle of the Middle East, at the end of the Persian Gulf. Thus there is another way for the actors there to achieve their political ends. Who knows, some of them may even try it.
It is the realist thesis that we have to rely on the powers that be, Saddam Hussein, Assads, the Saudi princes, etc. to keep a lid on the violence in the areas they have control over and quarantine it away from us. And truth be told, on many occasions we may have to do exactly that. But that should always be a tactical decision and never a strategic one. First of all, we have to rely on the control that those rulers have over their societies which may not be sufficient for us (and are probably maintained with very brutal methods). Second, it's not clear why these rulers, who have clawed their way up the greasy pole, should be looking to do favors for us. In some cases, like Osama, that's obviously a nonstarter since his raison d'etre is to commit acts of violence against us.
Ultimately, with the advance of globalization and technology, we live in the same world as the Middle East. At the end of the rainbow, their world is our world. To a substantial degree, we can insulate ourselves against the problems there. But, if we have no hope of those problems actually being resolved, we're just living on borrowed time.
Monday, November 12, 2007
As the cliche goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Sometimes the world is governed by what's best, and sometimes by what's the most popular. That's just a fact of life that we all accept, even if we don't like it some of the time. As it pertains to politics or cultural affairs, that means whoever gets the most votes wins the election. Whoever sells the most records gets played on the radio, et cetera, et cetera.
But public effectiveness also requires more than mere popularity. It requires energy for promotion and the ability to harness that energy toward concrete ends. In short, organization.
I was thinking about this in the context of (what else?) Ron Paul's campaign. It's worth mentioning that heretofore, nothing associated with the paleolibertarians has ever been worth a tinker's dam when it comes to organization. The paleocons are essentially professional pains in the ass. They would much rather argue with the mainstream Right (or themselves) to organize anything useful. The libertarians on the other hand, disdain organization. Organization is about putting common purpose ahead of individual autonomy and that reminds them of the government, which they hate. There is always a decent amount of libertarian sentiment wafting around America, but the Libertarian Party has always been a joke.
I don't criticize Ron Paul's campaign on this account. Again, it is by far the best anything associated with the paleolibertarians have ever done. It's just that their enthusiasm is of a piece with an eight-year-old boy who finds a cool new toy under the tree on Christmas. "Wait, you mean we can get together around stuff we all agree on, get more done _and_ have more fun than if we were all by our lonesome? Wow, I didn't know you could do that." The Sierra Club and the NRA (and the major parties and the unions and umpteen other groups) have been playing this game for a long time now. RP's campaign has a lot of catching up to do. A lot of RP's supporters would like to think that he polls at 2% because The Man is Keeping Him Down. I think the real answer is a lot more prosaic than that.
The Gunners were back in action today with a comfortable 3-1 win at Reading. As a practical matter, the upshot is that Arsenal earned three League points and returned to the top of the table. But the game also illustrated a few things that are worth mentioning in their own right.
First of all, some Arsenal fans have deluded themselves for a couple of years now that the Premier League alsorans have to put "eleven men behind the ball" in order to keep from being dominated by the Arsenal attack. This is just plain wrong on many levels.
First of all most teams, even the ones just trying to hang on a scrape out a nil-nil draw, don't play eleven behind the ball, because that's a terrible defensive formation. It just about guarantees that your team will be under constant pressure the whole game. There's not enough guys who can get forward to catch the opponent on a counterattack. And furthermore, there's often times nowhere to outlet the ball to maintain possession if you're lucky enough to get it. Today's game was actually an exception. For the first half, while the game was scoreless, Reading was completely negative. And during that half, they barely touched the ball. Most importantly, it's not the other team's responsibility to play in a way that makes Arsenal comfortable. It's Arsenal's responsibility to figure out how to beat the other team no matter how they line up.
Related to that, for as succesful a season as Arsenal has had, I still worry about the team's ability to generate chances from possession. If the opposition tries to pack the penalty area, there are at least two things to do. First is to send in crosses from the wing for headers. Second is to blast the ball at the goal from 25 yards or so and poach rebounds. But so far, Arsenal hasn't shown the desire or aptitude for either one.
I believe this is mostly down to coaching and training methods, but it also at least a little bit related to personnel. Emmanuel Adebayor either needs to play better or the team has to find some other options at forward. This is a bit of a hidden problem. As a team, Arsenal leads the League in goals scored and Ade is second among players with seven. But of those, only one from open play either tied the game or gave Arsenal the lead (another was a penalty). Most of his goals come when Arsenal already has the lead, and those are worth a lot less. Fortunately for the Gunners, the midfield is pouring them in. But I'd like to rely on that a lot less.
Finally, Reading's consolation goal essentially served as comic relief for both teams. As a rule of thumb, 90 minutes is long enough and the skill level in the Premier League is high enough to figure that you might give up one goal against the run of play. Therefore, the typical strategy of trying to score a goal first and then go back to the castle and pull up the drawbridge doesn't work in must-win games. And for a team like Arsenal, that's almost all of them. Therefore, Arsenal has generate enough chances to get at least two a game. When you're up three-nil, you don't have to sweat a bad bounce here or there too hard.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Fred D. Thompson entered the race a while ago, and it's safe to say he's nestled comfortably within the first tier of candidates without doing anything exciting. He's taken the lead on immigration, but otherwise done very little to dispel the rap that he's a candidate whose heart really isn't in it.
It's a thin line really. We want to have a President with some energy, aggression and passion, but at the same time has enough humility to deploy them in the service of a higher purpose, not merely his own ego. I think it's fair to say that our last two Presidents have been better on the campaign trail than on the job. It's especially sad in the case of Mr. Clinton, who was notoriously protective of his place in history. Nonetheless, he was more or less a bystander to the major events of his era. After all the turmoil associated with him, his substantive accomplishments are more or less nil. He would be better off if he were Coolidge, who operated that way on purpose.
That aside, back to Fred Thompson. The essence of his candidacy, IMO, is that he uniquely is positioned to restore the Republican party as the majority in America. That's a big job, since the GOP is has less credibility now (more precisely, in the aftermath of the 2006 election) than at any time since 1974. Observers within the party and outside of it are skeptical that it can be done.
The Republicans are caught in a bad pincer. President Bush is regarded as stupid, and the Republicans in Congress are regarded as venal. Put the two together and Republicans in general are stupid _and_ venal, and that's a deadly combination. A well-adjusted person might, under some circumstances, have respect for a person (on in this case, an institution) that is one or the both, but to be venal and stupid together is to invite contempt with a flashing neon sign.
This is the hole that Fred Thompson can dig us out of. More so than most of the other candidates, he has the opportunity to clearly and aggressively define what the party stands for, away from the cul-de-sac that it's currently in. But that will take more energy that we've seen from him so far.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Among those who oppose the Iraq war there's four main schools of thought:
1. Haters of President Bush and the bourgeois America that he represents.
2. Dogmatic pacifists of any stripe.
The first is something that respectable people simply ought to shun, though unfortunately sometimes they don't. The second is a little too abstract, so I'll pass on that for the moment at least. The third and fourth are pretty similar to each other. The paleolibertarians are those such as Presidential candidate Ron Paul who are essentially isolationist with respect to the Middle East for one reason or another, though it's difficult to see exactly what level of disengagement would isolate us from the turmoil there. The realists are those exemplified by Henry Kissinger, James Baker or Brent Snowcroft who suppose that we ought to rely more on good execution of the nuts and bolts of diplomacy. The realists and the paleolibertarians are IMO the most interesting of the opponents of the war among other reasons because it's only in the context of plausible alternatives that we can make intelligent choices.
I mention this because there's an interesting editorial in the LA Times today. Professor Bacevich is a realist, as he mentions in the article. Most of it is unobjectionable, uncontroversial even. Certainly now, I think both the military and civilian leadership have a better understanding of how many military resouces it takes to accomplish something, and would like to get a better bang for the buck than we've gotten in Iraq so far.
The fly in the realist ointment, of course, is 9/11. The professor writes,
"Reinvent containment. The process of negotiating that accommodation will
produce unwelcome fallout: anger, alienation, scapegoating and violence. In
collaboration with its allies, the United States must insulate itself against
Islamic radicalism. The imperative is not to wage global war, whether real or
metaphorical, but to erect effective defenses, as the West did during the Cold
Unfortunately, 9/11 proved we couldn't isolate ourselves from radical Islam with Realpolitik. If those dysfunctional societies are left to their own devices, they will be represented by Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or the ayatollahs, because they are the ones strong enough or vicious enough to end up on top.
We should know that most of the tribal societies of the Middle East are not necessarily our close friends. But, it seems that there's a legitimate chance that we could live in reasonable peace with them if we could interact directly with them. If we are smart, we might figure out a way to do that with less cost in life and treasure than we have seen so far. It seems that there is an opening for our scholars and politicians to look for it. I hope somebody finds it, but frankly I don't know where to look.
Given the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, it seems that there ought to be an opening for a Republican antiwar candidate for President. But if there is, then the Ron Paul campaign is a dog that is manifestly not barking. Heck, it's not even whimpering or wagging its tail. The fact that Ron Paul raised $4M in a day doesn't change this in the slightest.
The fact is, there is no reputable poll where Ron Paul consistency gets at least 5% support, either nationwide or in any topical state. Furthermore, over the past 10 months or so, 2 additional GOP candidates have plausibly entered the first tier, Huckabee and Fred Thompson.
The Ron Paul supporters seems to have to carry a "hidden juggernaut" mentality that seems to me to be historically myopic and frankly inexplicable. If The Man would just quit stepping on his neck, we would all be rallying around him. But we've seen this movie before. Howard Dean, Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader all failed as Presidential candidates, and Ron Paul has a long way to go to get to where they were.
But what has he really accomplished so far? Lyndon LaRouche ran, several times, for the Democratic Presidential nomination with campaigns that were both nuts and incoherent. If nothing else, Ron Paul has proved that he's not incoherent. So he's not the Republican Lyndon LaRouche. Faint praise, I'd guess.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
This is one of the most fascinating pieces I have ever read, regarding immigration or any other subject for that matter (Hat tip: Derbyshire, who circulated this in the Corner a few months ago). Immigration is a multifaceted thing, of course, but IMO the most volatile part of it is the intent to undermine popular sovereignty in the effort to liberalize immigration. And this is not distaste for some imaginged knee-jerk reaction against the brown hordes crossing the border, but the attempt to create a permanent ruling class against the interest of the citizens. See also here.
Monday, November 05, 2007
I had a friend in college who was a member of a fraternity and their house a specialty drink, the PhiNuke. I forget exactly what God-awful ingredients were mixed to make a PhiNuke, but the joke was "It's not the impact, it's the fallout."
So it is for the Republicans. 2006 was the impact, and 2008 is the fallout. In 2006 the GOP bubble burst. The staleness of incumbency, corruption, and the Iraq War combined to perfect storm that swept away majority in both houses of Congress. The only good news that is Democratic party never closed the sale as anything other than as a vehicle for frustration with the Republicans. Frankly they didn't really try even.
So that leaves an opening. The GOP still has issues that ought to command some support from the voters, eg abortion, national security, immigration. But first they have to survive the fallout. The Republicans have lost their political sinew: party identifcation, candidate recruitment, fundraising, message discipline. These are areas where the Republicans have had an edge for a while, but are now swimming upstream*. If one party is dominating the battle of ideas none of this matters. But that is a dim hope. If the GOP wants to materialize that hope, it needs to get its house in gear quickly.
* Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry have an article in National Review laying out just how much trouble the Republicans are in. Unfortunately the link is one of those lame-ass teaser things. If they ever fix it, I'll update.
After the usual sturm und drang, the Democrats in the Senate acquiesce to the nomination of Michael Mukasey as United States Attorney General. This, combined with the continuation of the Iraq War under a Democratic Congress and a couple of other things, has fueled frustration on the part of the Democratic base and their anti-war supporters. The anti-war majority in the country at large is not getting very much mileage out of their electoral success in the 2006 election, and they are none too happy about it. The Wall Street Journal has more here.
Unfortunately for them, this is the result of the cynical mentality of the Democratic Establishment, which heretofore had been somewhat hidden. Truth be told, most Democrats in Congress are motivated by bitterness and opposition to the President than anything else. What the President is for, they are against. But that game works a lot better in the minority than the majority, where they have real responsibility for what happens and the voters are watching a lot closer. And so now we find out what the Congressional Democrats really think about Iraq and the other big ticket terror-related issues. And the answer is, not much of anything really.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
More from O'Sullivan:
"My theory of the Cold War is that we win and they lose." - Ronald Reagan
What can we apply from our victory in the Cold War to the War on Terror? Well, we can adapt Reagan's theory of the Cold War for starters. And contrary to the naysayers then and now it is not merely an expression of mindless belligerence. It is a statement of intent. Sometimes it can be advanced with violence, sometimes without, but the intent is the same regardless.
Btw, this is why the Ron Paul campaign is now and forever shall be a joke, no matter how popular or unpopular the Iraq war is. Ron Paul does not particularly care about winning the War on Terror, if he even believes such a thing exists. That puts him outside the mainstream of the American people and even further outside the mainstream of the Republican party. Even then, he still might be a plausible candidate except for the fact that he makes no effort to persuade those who might disagree or even acknowledge they exist. Great job for someone who wants to be the chief executive of a constitutional republic.
Okay that aside, let's get the lay of the land in the Middle East and see who the main players are. In general, there are three sorts: the nation states, the terror groups, and the underlying tribal societies. Here the analog to the Cold War gets murky. First of all, the terror groups weren't nearly as significant. But most importantly, we have no real idea what civil society in Middle East might be like if we ever got the opportunity to engage it directly. In the Cold War, the people were our friends. To this day, America is in no place more popular than among the people of former Soviet satellites. Now, it's a grab bag. We have seen, in the space of 18 months or so, a change from bitter enmity to something approaching real friendship, at least among some of the Sunni Iraqi tribes. All in all, we shouldn't expect something like a real victory in the War on Terror to happen quickly.
But whether it's quick, or slow, or never happens at all, our intent is still the same.
The other day I bought the latest book by John O'Sullivan, _The President, The Pope, and The Prime Minister_, about Reagan, John Paul II, and Thatcher of course. To the extent I update this blog, I'm sure that I'll have several go-rounds about it. But while the subject material of the book is near and dear to my heart, it fills me some dread anyway. The problem is, most of the Reagan hero-worship comes off as the political-cultural version of 80s nostalgia, like Members Only jackets and A Flock of Seagulls for those who watch the McLaughlin Group. Jonah Goldberg makes a similar point here.
Nonetheless, this first impression is wrong in the final analysis. The lessons of the 80s are still topical today, especially for those of us who would in some way be considered part of the American Right.
Let's start with simple political demographics. The electoral success of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States is the finest fruit of the Buckley Renaissance of American conservatism which started a few decades earlier. As a coalition it was pretty simple: anti-Communist in foreign policy, low taxes and pro-family domestically. This has been pretty stable since then. Now, the Communists are gone and the terrorists are here, so we can substitute anti-terrorism for anti-Communism and not miss a beat. Furthermore, this was also more or less a winning coalition until 2006.
Now, this is in a state of flux. 2006 was a bad year, not just for the GOP, but also for the coalition animating it. The scale of the losses were large enough, and the prospect of further losses in future elections plausible enough, to the point where the whole viability of the Reagan coalition is in question. But at the risk of sitting aroun' telling boring stories about the old days, that is still the best option for the GOP.
This is true for three reasons. First, the things that the voters rightfully blame us for (largely the Iraq war), we can't do anything about. Second, the other core conservative issues are still popular: there's no point in abandoning the base on guns, abortion, immigration or defense. Those are going to be the elements of the GOP resurrection if there's going to be one. Finally, we will never outbid the Democrats on domestic butter issues so it's futile to try.
What's left? Well, we can do our best to get rid of GOP negatives that the conservative base never wanted in the first place, ie, fiscal and sexual corruption in Congress and the cronyism of the Bush43 administration.
There's also one final point to be made about Reagan and principle, contrary to Jonah's article above. It is true, as Jonah asserts, that Reagan as President made all sorts of compromises and sellouts, some of which were apparent at the time, and some of which weren't. But Jonah is wrong to suggest that he was less a man of principle because of them. In Reagan's case, it precisely because he held a few basic principles so firmly that he could make compromises while still in steadfast pursuit of them. This is especially topical of the GOP Presidential field today. We as mainstream conservatives have real reason to think that Giuliani, McCain (and maybe Romney too) don't share the same principles as the GOP base. I suspect that nominating any of them will cause substantial unforseen problems.