State of the Union

Europe’s Military Dependence

Lawrence Kaplan has discovered that our European allies are not much use in a real shooting war. In his latest New Republic article, the reliable cheerleader for American intervention opines:

A campaign devised to showcase the benefits of multilateral action has done exactly the reverse…Leaving aside the question of will—that is, whether the Europeans wish to cooperate in garrisoning the farthest-flung precincts of (what used to be) American influence—is it really necessary to point out that, given the assumption European power alone would suffice to persuade Qaddafi to back down, someone on the Obama team ought to have inquired about European capabilities—that is, whether the Europeans can do this or, more to the point, anything at all? Because, for ten years—or 20, or 60, depending on one’s reading of the international scene—it has been fairly straightforward, obvious even, that the Europeans have left their historical role to history…

Over the past few years, they have gone further, decisively repudiating that role. There is, to begin with, the massive and ongoing wave of defense cuts that has swept the continent. Ten years ago, the U.S. contributed roughly half of NATO’s defense budget; today, it accounts for three-quarters of the alliance’s military expenditure. During the same period, the number of active duty military personnel in Europe declined by more than one third. (The day after he proposed to take military action against Muammar Qaddafi, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government said that it would be cutting 11,000 troops from Britain’s armed forces. Just before the war, he also announced that the U.K. would scrap its only aircraft carrier.) For ten years now, it has been clear that, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has put it, NATO is “evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people’s security and others who are not.” What Gates said was true in Kosovo, where 83 percent of the bombs dropped came from U.S. planes; in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops account for two-thirds of the NATO presence (and a much higher fraction of the combat force); and now, in Libya, where, at least before it abandoned the battlefield, America’s strike aircraft were flying more than one half of the sorties.

And why shouldn’t the Europeans slash their defense budgets? With the Soviet Union on the ash heap of history, they face no immediate threats — and even if they did, they could rest easy in the knowledge that they are securely within America’s protective grasp. Much like a man who has lived off welfare for years, Europe has become dependent on military subsidies courtesy of American taxpayers.

Kaplan argues that Europe’s current weakness forces the United States to embroil itself even more deeply in the civil war in Libya (and presumably everywhere else in the vicinity of NATO), but he never seems to consider that the more resources we pour into our military, the more the Europeans will cut from theirs. This is the world American hegemony has created: the stronger we make ourselves, the weaker our allies can afford to be.

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The New Utopia: Aerotropolis

In the 2009 film Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a traveling businessman on the road so many days a year that he finds peace in the transit hubs most of us experience as a kind of dull purgatory — airports, frequent flyer clubs, and runway-adjacent hotels. Striding into the chaotic, noisy terminal he tells us that ”All the things you probably hate about traveling are warm reminders that I am home.”

In a new book Aerotropolis, Tom Friedman-like prophet of globalization John Kasarda and his co-author Greg Lindsay embrace the placeless-ness felt by Clooney’s character, telling us that like it or not, it’s “The Way We’ll Live Next.” While previous generations built giant metropolitan areas enlivened by the veins of rails and freeways, the new era will witness urban centers so dependent on next-day air connections across the globe that their physical infrastructure will be centered around the airfields. And the inhabitants of the aerotropolis will live in a kind of void, with Lindsay conceding that ”One of the great luxuries of the 21st century will be a sense of place.”

Aesthetics will suffer too, with “speed, efficiency, generic ‘world-class’ architecture” becoming the primary concerns of urban planners.

If this vision sounds like a nightmare, you’re not alone. In this fortnight’s London Review of Books, critic Will Self finds the spectacle of Aerotropolis somewhat horrifying: Read More…

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Ron Paul Runs

His announcement is coming later today, and Public Policy Polling warns pundits who would write him off: “In Iowa Paul’s net favorability with GOP voters is +38 at 55/17. The only Republican more popular with the base than that in the state is Mike Huckabee. Paul’s numbers trump Tim Pawlenty (+32), Mitt Romney (+30), Sarah Palin (+29), and Newt Gingrich (+21) as well as a cadre of other less well known candidates.”

In the current American Conservative, Paul Mulshine looks at the lessons of Ron Paul’s 2008 run and how they apply to 2012. Not only is Paul’s organization more experienced now, but the issues environment of 2011/12 could work in his favor: in 2007, Paul was the only Republican contender willing to criticize a war. This year, the Republican base is none too fond of Obama’s Libya war. Paul has more to say about the decline of the dollar than the other candidates can be expected to have, and of course he was talking about Tea Party issues long before there was a Tea Party. (Other than the Boston variety.) These points can also work against him, however: every Republican is now going to be saying, to one degree or another, many of the things that only Paul was saying four years ago. That Paul has a record to match his rhetoric may or may not count for much with voters — democratic myths notwithstanding, not many voters know or care about a legislator’s history. What wins elections is organization, which is why Mulshine’s piece is must reading.

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When Dictators Fall, Who Rises?

One month before the invasion of Iraq, Riah Abu el-Assal, a Palestinian and the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem at the time, warned Tony Blair, “You will be responsible for emptying Iraq, the homeland of Abraham, of Christians.”

The bishop proved a prophet. “After almost 2,000 years,” writes the Financial Times, “Iraqi Christians now openly contemplate extinction. Some of their prelates even counsel flight.”

The secular despot Saddam Hussein protected the Christians. But the U.S. liberation brought on their greatest calamity since the time of Christ. Scores of thousands of those Iraqi Christians fleeing terrorism and persecution after 2003 made their way to Syria, where they received sanctuary from President Bashar Assad.

Now, as the FT and Washington Post report, the Christians of Syria, whose forebears have lived there since the time of Christ, are facing a pogrom should the Damascus regime fall. Read More…

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Different Views of Guantanamo

The latest Wikileaks revelations relating to the Guantanamo prison tell one a great deal about the biases of the mainstream media covering the story.  Driving into the office this morning I heard NPR talk about recidivism, that 42 out of the more than 700 inmates who had been released had returned to some form of radicalism.  The Washington Post instead headlined “New details on al-Qaeda’s moves after 9/11,” showing more interest in the travels of the al-Qaeda leaders immediately after the terrorist attack.  The New York Times had multiple headlines, one of which, interestingly cited Flawed Evidence for Assessing Risk reporting that “Analysts sometimes released detainees wrongly judged a minimal threat and held others who were no threat.” The Guardian reported “Guantánamo leaks lift lid on world’s most controversial prison” with sub-headings: “Innocent people interrogated for years on slimmest pretexts,” “Children, elderly and mentally ill among those wrongfully held,” and “172 prisoners remain, some with no prospect of trial or release.”

So what is the actual story?  Well, the NPR account admitted that “returning” could include any form of terrorist link, including visiting a website while the WashPost made no effort at all to explore the collateral damage caused by incarcerating hundreds of people without any due process and without any access to good information on their actual crimes.  The Times tried to be judicious, suggesting that the errors in procedure could go either way while the Guardian unflinchingly thinks the whole thing stinks.  As do I.

I would suggest that anyone interested in the banality of the evil that the Bush Administration unleashed on the world read the docs that are available on the Guardian website, describing how an uncaring government deals with the lives of real people who are being treated as if they were garbage.  That President Obama continues the reprehensible practices of Bush and his cronies because he fears facing some adverse political consequences if he seeks to try the terrorist suspects in civilian courts demonstrates clearly that we have now elected three presidents in a row whose highest instincts are limited to self preservation.  God help us all.

 

 

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Does John McCain Support Al-Qaeda?

During the 2008 election, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said that our constant military intervention in the Arab world was the primary motivation behind terrorist acts like 9/11. Why did Paul say this? Because Osama Bin Laden said it. Because the 9/11 Commission report said it. Because CIA intelligence said it, even inventing the term “blowback” precisely to describe it. Yet, when Paul explained this, fellow candidate and eventual Republican nominee John McCain excoriated the Texas congressman and suggested that he was indirectly giving aid and comfort to the enemy, Al-Qaeda.

Yet last week, McCain gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Directly.

Yes, it seems that the man who once ran for president portraying himself as being “tough” on terrorists now supports Al-Qaeda. This is not a joke. Read More…

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Philip K. Dick vs. Lincoln and Hegel

In 1980, K.W. Jeter, Gary Panter, and Nicole Panter interviewed Philip K. Dick for the punk fanzine Slash. Plenty of interesting material, including the part I’ve excerpted below — Dick’s thoughts on decentralism. (Thanks to Jesse Walker and Dangerous Minds.)

SLASH: What’s your prognosis for the next 25 years? Do you think things are going to get real dismal?
DICK: No! No! I think things are going to get really good. I think we’re going to see a great decentralization of the government, which is good. The government is just failing to solve the economic problems and it will devolve to the state.
SLASH: States? That’s what Ronald Reagan is after, isn’t it?
DICK: Yeah. I think he’s right about that. If you got really sick now it’s the state of California that’s going to pick up your bill … not the federal government. We could survive much better without the federal government than without the state government.
JETER: It’s like those forces in the Brown administration who want to conclude a separate treaty with Mexico for petroleum products. What the hell! California is the sixth largest industrial nation in the world …
DICK: I know where my state taxes go. They don’t buy weapons with that. I would like to see this country break up into individual states.
SLASH: Wouldn’t that mean some pretty piss poor states?
DICK: Yeah, but presumably you’d still be free to travel. I spent years and years studying the war between the states and as much as I admire Lincoln, I think his philosophy was wrong and they should have let the South secede. That would have been a much wiser decision.
SLASH: What would things be like now? Would the South still have slavery?
DICK: Definitely not. Civil rights would be much worse for Blacks in the South than they are now but … on the positive side … uh I have books written during the war of speeches made by General Sherman have the right to self determination.
SLASH: Sounds more Socialist.
DICK: Well, actually they influenced the Germans on that. The North adopted the Hegelian view of state as a real entity rather than an abstraction which has led to the massive centralized government as bad as the Soviet Union. The original model for the U.S. was modeled by Jefferson after the models of the American Indian Federations. There is no doubt that the founding fathers were designing a system of independent and allied states based on these Indian models. Jefferson would have been appalled by Lincoln’s contesting the supremacy of states rights.

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Google Doodles on Easter

It’s fascinating to watch for Google’s “doodles,” the modifications the search engine periodically makes to its logo. Most of the time these temporary changes celebrate the birthdays of scientific or cultural figures, or nod at national holidays around the world.

Other than the Gregorian New Year, there seems to be no observance promoted more by Google than Earth Day. Now in its fifth decade, the feast of environmental awareness always gets worldwide promotion on all of Google’s pages on April 22.

This year, Earth Day coincides with Good Friday. Thus while billions of Christians worldwide observe Christ’s passion, any who might visit Google’s page are shown an idyllic scene of waterfalls and panda bears.

Will Google do anything for the movable feast of Easter, secularized by the retailers into a day of chocolate and colored eggs? Looking through the gallery of past Google doodles, it appears that the world’s leading search engine has only posted one Easter-related doodle in the last decade — and predictably, it contained only Easter eggs.

The global internet knows no borders or cultural affinities, and so perhaps the chief Googlers are Rawlsians, believing that all comprehensive doctrines should be bracketed — at least those with roots in the West. But in March, the Google home page in India featured a doodle celebrating Holi, a Hindu spring festival in the world’s largest multicultural state. Maybe we can expect more gestures toward religious pluralism, with doodles for Ramadan, Passover, and Easter.

As for the implicit endorsement of Earth Day over Good Friday, Google might take a cue from other institutions. The New York Stock Exchange, the United Nations, and even the government of Chinese-controlled Hong Kong aren’t closed today in deference to Mother Earth.

 

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No More Obamacons

Andy Bacevich, who presented the conservative case for Obama in our pages back in 2008, has been critical of BHO’s policies since taking office — because they are Bush’s policies, too. Wick Allison, who succeeded William Rusher as publisher of National Review, also takes back his endorsement. Not that this means President McCain would have been any less disastrous: as Allison says, the 2008 election gave voters a choice between Bush Squared and Bush Lite (and Obama is looking heavier all the time).

There’s nothing novel about being confronted with terrible choices at the ballot box. What has changed in the last 30 years is that these choices are no longer meant to be concessions to a strictly political reality; now a choice of party or presidential candidate is supposed to entail a vast philosophical, even religious, commitment. This change can be attributed to the success of the conservative movement in repolarizing politics — and what a success it has been. Politicians are straitjacketed by single-issue ideologues, while the ideologues themselves, to preserve their access and power, can’t propose anything philosophically radical. The result is that people who should be daring thinkers become publicists for politicians (Paul Ryan, Ronald Reagan), while politicians who should get their hands bloody “making sausages” become doubly incapacitated, terrified of ordinary voters and their own party’s metaphysicians alike. Partisanship infects the life of the mind, while mental abstractions overtake politics.

We can’t say David Hume and Michael Oakeshott didn’t warn us.

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Bush Trumped Conservatism

Billionaire, reality TV star and possible 2012 presidential contender Donald Trump has been saying many things as of late, as his mix of Obama-bashing and Birtherism continue to excite a portion of the Republican base. But despite much silliness, Trump actually has said something vitally important: “George Bush gave us Barack Obama… If it weren’t for George Bush, we wouldn’t have Barack Obama. So I’m not thrilled with George Bush.”

For conservatives, this is unquestionably the most important message to remember heading into 2012.

While most conservatives will now admit to not being “thrilled” with Bush, not all of them are necessarily prepared to reject him and his legacy primarily because for eight long years the Right was completely immersed in defending his administration. Conservatives blindly defended arguably the biggest big government Republican president in history because they were so wrapped up in also blindly defending arguably the worst foreign policy blunder in American history—the Iraq War. Bush told us he was a “compassionate conservative.” We now know he was not conservative in any tangible sense, compassionate or otherwise. Bush also told us Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States, that Iraq was complicit in 9/11 and sold his war accordingly. Thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and an almost decade-long war later, we now know none of this was true. Indeed, to still say that Iraq was “worth it,” is to say that virtually any war our government concocts would be “worth it” too. Read More…

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