State of the Union

Can the GOP get realist?

Today, I attended an absorbing yet rather downbeat Nixon Center discussion on “the future of the Republican party and its foreign policy.” Almost all the panelists and attendees agreed, with varying degrees of gloominess, that the chances of the GOP reformulating a coherent foreign policy looked bleak. There was lots of first-class brainpower in the room, and we heard lots of sensible denunciations of ideological internationalist crusades, but nobody seemed able to articulate a conceptually lucid, right-wing realist strategy that might have political traction.

Jacob Heilbrunn, senior editor of the National Interest (the Nixon’s Center’s publication) and a TAC contributor, began by saying that Obama, a formidable political opponent, had pushed Republicans into an impossible position on foreign-policy issues by seizing the realist initiative.

Dov Zakheim, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and a former official in the Reagan and Bush administrations, tried to be more optimistic. He said that the Republican Party could cultivate a respectable “loyal opposition” center-ground approach, supporting with the Democrats when they supported the national interest and setting them straight when they did not. He agreed, however, that the new administration’s had been “picking off” rational conservative foreign-policy voices from the GOP fold.

Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, focused on the new administration’s mishandled overtures to the East. He excoriated the diplomatic bungling of recent months: Biden’s Israel gaffe; Obama’s snubbing of Russian hospitality; and Hillary Clinton’s “incompetent moralising” towards most of the world. (Simes seemed so outraged at Biden’s folly that he could not bring himself to say his name, referring only to “dis man, der vice president” in his gravelly Russian accent.)

Everybody enjoyed laughing at misguided Democratic do-goodery, and there was a shared sense that Republicans could profit from adopting a realist response whenever the Dems got carried away in their dreamy utopianism. This was the Nixon Center, after all. But nobody seemed certain as to how exactly they might push the party in that direction, or whether, if the party did take such a course, they could sell themselves as realists to the public. It will be very hard – and in the short term impossible — for a party that brought Americans the Bush Doctrine, Iraq, and the wider disaster of the War on Terror to pass themselves off as sober ambassadors of common sense.

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Change You Can Believe In

The Guardian is reporting that “The Obama administration has moved to grant political asylum to foreign women who suffer severe physical or sexual abuse from which they are unable to escape because it is part of the culture of their own countries.”  Traditionally, political asylum was just that, providing a refuge for individuals being persecuted for their political views.  The paper cites a recent case of a Mexican woman who will apparently receive asylum because she was repeatedly raped by her husband, who also threatened to kill her when she became pregnant. 

I must admit that I don’t quite understand how and why the problem of spousal abuse in other countries becomes something that the United States has to address through the immigration process.  I wonder how broad the new guidelines will be, i.e. when does abuse become abuse justifying asylum, who will ajudicate the process, and who will be responsible for the women once they are admitted into the US?  How much fraud will there be?  Are we trying to pass judgment on social conditions in countries that we know little or nothing about and will we have clueless State Department officers running around conducting investigations in places like Kabul?  If so, it would smack of arrogance on our part as there are plenty of abused spouses in the United States. 

I also wonder why I had to see the article on the new policy in The Guardian and didn’t notice it in any US publication.

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The Imperial City Still Shines

Recession?  What Recession? Working in DC, it seems as if there isn’t one.

A DC tourism association reports this week that overall visitors to the nation’s capital were up 3% from 2007 to 16.2 million, and international visitors were up a dramatic 22% to 1.4 million in 2008. The Washington metro area’s unemployment of 6.2 percent also trails the national average, which is nearly in double digits.

My own anecdotal observations support this statistical data.  The Pentagon City Mall on a recent Saturday afternoon was jam packed with people making purchases; there was even a long queue if one wanted to buy the new iPhone. Every day, especially in the summer, Washington’s metro system is full of tourists, both from the heartland and abroad (each group is easily identifiable, with the former dressed down in shorts and t-shirts, while the latter look too fashionable to be the typical staid Washingtonian).

The Obama administration has proposed spending $400 million to fix up the grounds of the National Mall, the DC tourist’s favorite destination. Maybe we need these renovations to impress all the new foreign visitors that are coming?  To be sure, the landscaping of the National Mall does not compare to the Jardin des Tuileries of Paris or Regent’s Park of London, but it’s loaded with taxpayer-funded “freebies” of museums and monuments, a feature that apparently keeps ‘em coming.

The overall economic staying power of Washington is no doubt due to the largesse of its principal tenant and reason for being, the federal bureaucracy.  In a Cato Institute study entitled “Political Centers as Parasite Economies,” Richard K. Vedder explains that this phenomenon goes as far back as Rome, and is now repeated in America, where more

productive, private citizens in outlying regions of our nation and states are financially burdened to pay for a parasite public economy of lawmakers, lobbyists, contractors, and bureaucrats in the political centers.

Perhaps if we are going to have so much federal redistribution, we should, out of fairness, relocate more of the federal bureaucracies to other parts of the nation.  In this age of intra-office e-mail, why do all the secretariats and ministries need to occupy the same ten square miles? The millions of tourists visiting the mall certainly wouldn’t miss the carbuncles known as Health and Human Services and the Department of Energy, for example, and these spaces could be developed into more museums celebrating multiculturalism. Though federal expansion will certainly be his legacy, none of the bureaucracies are on the newly promoted Obama-themed tour of DC.  Washington’s tourists won’t miss them, but its taxpayer-supported employees sure would.

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How the Left Sees the Antiwar Right

Interesting post on the Daily Kos, “What If the Right Becomes the Antiwar Party,” inspired in part by Chase Madar’s TAC essay on the “humanitarian” hawkery of Samatha Power. (I don’t think Madar considers himself a conservative, by the way, he just wrote an outstanding criticism of Power.)

At the outset of the Iraq War, Neil Clark proposed (in TAC) a grand Left-Right alliance against the war, and there was — still is — some healthy cross-pollination. The stumbling blocks to an enduring alliance along the lines of the old Anti-Imperial League proved to be the dearth of antiwar conservatives and the tendency of antiwar leftists to mix other issues into their protests. A great many left-wing antiwar protestors were really just left-wing protestors, with the Republicans’ war being only the cause du jour. But that just goes to show what most TAC readers already know, that the groupthink of Left and Right works well for the warfare-welfare state establishment but doesn’t make much sense for people who just want to live in peace.

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Has Obama Peaked?

“The sound alone was worth the $24 billion!”

So said fellow Nixon speechwriter Ray Price as the mighty Saturn V rocket lifted Apollo 11 and Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins off the launch pad, three miles away, on the start of their voyage to the moon.

It was a splendid moment in that first year of the Nixon presidency, a year that had gone remarkably well for a minority president who had come to office with both houses held by the opposition.

Within weeks of taking office, Nixon had taken a grand tour of the European capitals. He had proposed a Family Assistance Plan, cooked up in Pat Moynihan’s shop, to wide applause. He had announced a withdrawal of 100,000 troops from Vietnam.

He would greet the astronauts on the aircraft carrier in the Pacific on their return, travel to Guam to announce the Nixon Doctrine, journey on to Vietnam and visit the troops, thence to Romania — the first U.S. president to travel behind the Iron Curtain.

Returning in triumph, Nixon departed for his August vacation.

When he returned to D.C., the storm clouds had gathered. Read More…

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Conservative INC.

There are several good posts and articles recently written that provide a peek inside the conservative establishment and how it operates, whether its fundraising, or talk radio, and who it consists of and what they are thinking . Many do not like the establishment and posture themselves against it but establishments, like the poor, you will always have with you and they are inevitable because when the centers of government, finance, media and entertainment are concentrated in one place instead of many, it thus requires one to live at or near them to be of some use.  When that many people are at the centers of power, then establishments are born. There’s no way around this.  The ascendancy of the right from 1981-2008 was bound to create a conservative establishment with all those people descending upon Washington D.C. since the mid-1970s and onward whether it was to staff think tanks, foundations or Administrations.

However, what we’re dealing with here is an establishment that has split itself in two.  In the majority is what I like to call Conservative INC.  It has become a money-grubbing scam as the Boston Phoenix article shows and one that is totalitarian in the way it operates and disseminates ideas. This was at the heart of Austin Bramwell’s AmCon article “Good-Bye To All That”:

By ideology, I mean precisely what Orwell depicted in 1984. I do not mean, of course, that conservatism is totalitarian. Taken as prophecy, 1984 has little merit. Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all.

First, like Ingsoc, conservatism has a hierarchical structure. Like Orwell’s “Inner Party,” those at the top of the movement have almost perfect freedom to decide what opinions count as official conservatism. The Iraq War furnishes a telling example. In the run-up to the invasion, leading conservatives announced that conservatism now meant spreading global democratic revolution. This forthright radicalism—this embrace of the sanative powers of violence—became quickly accepted as the ineluctable meaning of conservatism in foreign policy. Those who dissented risked ostracism and harsh rebuke. Had conservative leaders instead argued that global democratic revolution would not cure our woes but increase them, the rest of the movement would have accepted this position no less quickly. Millions of conservative epigones believe nothing less than what the movement’s established organs tell them to believe. Rarely does a man recognize, like Winston Smith, his own ideology as such.”

Read More…

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Gunning Against Federalism

Advocates of universal recognition of state concealed weapon permits failed to get a supermajority in the Senate yesterday. But what’s more interesting is that some opponents of the measure suddenly became advocates of localism and states’ rights. As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who carried a concealed weapon back in the 1970s, but yesterday led the charge against the measure, insisted:

Concealed-weapons laws that work in rural states may not be suitable in urban areas.
What’s good for Iowa or Alaska may not be good for California or New York.

Precisely—well said, Senator. But how about some respect for this principle of federalism and localism in other areas of public policy?

Support among the GOP was nearly universal for what Democrat Feinstein—apparently a new convert to a robust federalism—deemed the anti-states’ rights position. Even Fox News’ Glenn Beck politely challenged the sponsor of the measure, Senator John Thune (R-SD), on Thune’s claim that broadly interpreted Second Amendment protections were intended to apply to the laws of state and local governments. This issue may soon be decided in the next term of the Supreme Court.

Also notable was how this vote broke along regional divisions. Senators from the south, tornado alley, and most of the southwest are solidly in favor of less gun control, while the west coasters are most opposed to the lifting of restrictions. Here’s a compromise: perhaps the states in the permit-friendly areas ought to enter into agreements recognizing each other’s concealed weapon licenses. This would allow states sympathetic to gun rights to create a large zone unimpeded by what they consider more burdensome restrictions, while leaving the Feds and other hostile states out of it—and is a better option than all parties taking a roll of the dice on a closely divided Supreme Court.

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The Difference a Year Makes

Hillary Clinton sounds almost hurt that Iran has so far shunned America’s diplomatic advances. “We haven’t had any response … We’ve certainly reached out,” she says.

Poor thing.

Maybe, however, we should not be entirely surprised that Iranians are stubborn about “reaching out” to the Secretary of State. Just over a year ago, she was trying to reach the White House by threatening to “totally obliterate them.”

A year is not necessarily a long time in diplomacy.

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Bin Laden Killed …

… Sa’ad Bin Laden, that is, Osama’s son. Intelligence Officials are reported to be “80 to 85 percent” certain that this mini-Bin was obliterated in a drone-attack earlier this year.

A triumph for USA, then: justification for the seemingly crazy policy of pulverizing mud huts in the wilds of Waziristan with Hellfire missiles, launched from air-borne robots, controlled by computer joystick in Nevada.

Hardly. Sa’ad was a well-known terrorist, yet he was not, apparently, deemed important enough to be targeted. He just happened to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to sources.

I thought these drones were meant to show the surgical precision of our high-tech military machine. But the “wrong place, wrong time” seems a bit haphazard, doesn’t it?

One wonders: if Sa’ad — a man whom CIA officials believe organized al-Qaeda attacks from inside Iran — was the wrong target, who exactly would qualify as the right target.

And let’s not stop to consider how many of the estimated 470 people killed by drone attacks this year also just happened to be shock and awed to smithereens by mistake — innocent women and children, say.

Perhaps, one day, one of these Hellfire things will take out Osama himself, along with maybe a couple more of the 25 children he has sired. Then we can pretend that our swishy go-go gadget war on terror is not in reality a bumbling mess.

(For more on the perils of drone warfare, read William Lind in the latest issue of TAC. Subscribers only.)

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In Search of…Ideology

I want to thank some of the writers of Takimag.com for linking to discussing my TAC article “Carter Conservatism” including Richard Spencer, Kevin DeAnna and Dylan Hayes during last week’s 30 anniversary of the “Crisis in Confidence Speech.”

In Search of… was a popular 1970′s program hosted by Leonard Nimoy and I refer to it because in a way, the whole Carter Administration was an exercise in search of a new governing ideology. The speech itself was the climax of this effort that began as an effort by Carter and Pat Caddell to find such a framework in which the Carter Administration could operate in. They understood the old governing ideologies were no longer credible to most people in country that was still trying to steady itself after the upheavals of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and Watergate.

It was an ambitious and gutsy effort had it perhaps been confined to a second Carter term perhaps may have been successful. But in failing to deal with the immediate problems facing the American public, especially in 1979 when the Carter Presidency imploded, meant that they would not get their chance. As I said in my article, immediate politics, whether it was the firing of the cabinet or the Kennedy primary challenge, doomed the effort. Carter had essentially nothing to run on by the fall of 1980 other than trying to defend an indefensible record or trying to scare the public about Reagan, both of which failed miserably.

Read More…

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