State of the Union

New Look

As the cover image of our September issue suggests, The American Conservative does indeed have a new design. The changes don’t end with the cover: inside we have more interior art, an expanded “Front Lines” department, and a two-column layout for major articles that makes them all the more readable. The latter two changes help to match the design, our monthly pace, and our content — since we now often have longer pieces than in the past, a format that’s easy on the eyes is essential, and by extending Front Lines subjects can now be covered in more depth rather than merely as squibs. (Not that the Front Lines items are that long — most are 600 to 1200 words).

The content is conservatism’s finest: the September cover story by Andrew Bacevich looks at where America stands ten years after 9/11 and 20 since the fall of the Soviet Union. Philip Jenkins examines what terrorism means beyond (and after) al-Qaeda. Eamonn Fingleton explains why East Asia keeps buying our bonds, despite their negative return on investment, while Jim Antle explores whether budget constraints are turning deficit hawks into peace doves. Anthony Gregory looks at the classical-liberal roots of class analysis, and John Rodden provides a poignant appreciation of Orwell’s “A Hanging.” Plus: why a conservative protests AIPAC with Code Pink; columns by Buchanan, Giraldi, Lind, Kauffman, and Taki (an excerpt from Evelyn Waugh, too); and reviews by Daniel Flynn, Scott Galupo, Kevin Gutzman, Mark Nugent, and Peter Wood.

Don’t miss out — subscribe or buy a friend (or enemy) a gift subscription to the magazine that puts ideas over ideology.

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What’s Huntsman’s Strategy?

Partly in response to Michael Dougherty’s profile, Jim Antle wonders why Jon Huntsman didn’t run to the right. What advantage can there be in a Republican candidate saying, as Huntsman did on Twitter, that he believes in evolution and trusts science on global warming? The nonexistence of man-made “climate change” and rejection of evolution are articles of faith for large blocs of the GOP base, after all, and there don’t seem to be blocs of any size within the party that insist on the contrary view.

Huntsman’s approach looks a little like John McCain’s in 2000. That didn’t win McCain the nomination, but it did win him the New Hampshire primary. The wager the Huntsman people — former McCain adviser John Weaver in particular — may be making is that if their man can take down Romney in the Granite State and Perry or Bachmann wins Iowa, primary voters in places like Florida and perhaps even South Carolina (which has a less consistently right-wing primary base than you’d think; this is the party and the state that gives us Lindsey Graham, after all) will face a choice between a candidate who seems like a strong general-election contender and a candidate who seems like a base-pleasing flop.

Looking at the candidates the GOP has actually nominated over the past 20 years — two Bushes, Dole, and McCain — makes it clear that “moderates” have a way of winning in the end. A second scenario in which Huntsman could pull through would see Bachmann and Perry both surviving Iowa but subsequently draining momentum from one another, much as Romney (then a movement darling, believe it or not) and Huckabee bled one another in the 2008 fight with McCain.

All of this depends on Romney collapsing, and I think that’s unlikely. It also puts a great deal of weight on New Hampshire’s independent tendencies, and that seems like a losing bet as well, quite apart from McCain’s win in 2000. But it’s not clear that a more conventional strategy of running to Romney’s right would do any better: voters who want red meat were never going to take the former Obama ambassador Huntsman over the likes of Perry and Bachmann. On paper, being another candidate on Romney’s right might seem like a stronger, safer position, but there’s a danger of being lost in the herd.

Huntsman is perhaps also taking a cue from Ron Paul. Confronting Giuliani over foreign policy and terrorism should have been electoral suicide by any conventional measure. But it separated Paul from also-rans like Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback and galvanized a segment of the base that didn’t even exist before that moment. Huntsman is no Paul, but when you’re at 2 percent in the polls, what do you have to lose? There’s no cost, and as Paul demonstrated, there can be unexpected gains. (And in terms of internal campaign dynamics, there’s sometimes a fundraising benefit in playing to the campaign’s base rather than the party’s base.)

Huntsman was a longshot before and he’s a longshot after his “maverick” tweeting — but now he’s a longshot with more attention and a brand distinct from the rest of the field. The latter is more than Pawlenty ever managed, and we saw where campaigning as a conventional conservative took him.

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Today’s T.E. Lawrence Urges Withdrawal from Afghanistan

What seemed the greater part of Washington’s British expat community attended a book launch party for Can Intervention Work? at the Politics and Prose bookstore here last week. The author, a former senior coalition official in Iraq and Afghanistan, did not shy from controversy. Now a member of the UK Parliament, Rory Stewart put forward that the mammoth troop surge in Helmand province – an “exit strategy” pushing numbers to 30,000 – may have in some part caused the insurgency in the region. It is certain that the swelling of Taliban numbers and their entrenchment in the region came after this colossal troop deployment, which antagonized local Afghans and presented the Taliban with a monolithic enemy to wage holy war against.

This bold assertion was par for the course for Rory Stewart. In his own affable, yet careful, manner – betraying Stewart’s experience as a diplomat in both Indonesia and the Balkans – he has become one of the most forceful advocates of comprehensive withdrawal from Afghanistan, rendering him controversial in certain obvious circles. And we needn’t be shamefaced about doing so, says Stewart: what’s important is “knowing when to step back – being prudent is not being a wimp.”

In spite of his modest stature and choirboy tones, Rory Stewart is no wimp. This urbane English chap – and he is most certainly a “chap” – is a rising star of British politics, whose shrewdly cultivated expertise on Afghanistan is in high demand both in Washington and London. In June of this year he attended the highly exclusive (and perennially sinister) Bilderberg Conference, proof that his ideas have won currency in high places. As James Forsyth remarked in The Spectator, “Rory Stewart’s career to date reads like something from the heyday of the [British] empire.” Among other manly pursuits, in 2002 he walked alone across north-central Afghanistan, an experience he translated into a widely celebrated book, The Places in Between. Read More…

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Why Are We Baiting the Bear?

Is the Senate trying to reignite the Cold War?

If so, it is going about it the right way.

Before departing for a five-week vacation, the Senate voted to declare Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be provinces of Georgia illegally occupied by Russian troops who must get out and return to Russia.

The Senate voice vote was unanimous.

What is wrong with Senate Resolution 175?

Just this. Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia has been under Georgian control for 20 years. When Georgia seceded from Russia, these ethnic enclaves rebelled and seceded from Georgia.

Abkhazians and Ossetians both view the Tblisi regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, though a favorite of Washington, with contempt, and both have lately declared formal independence.

Who are we to demand that they return to the rule of Tblisi?

In co-sponsoring S.R. 175, Sen. Lindsey Graham contended that “Russia’s invasion of Georgian land in 2008 was an act of aggression, not only to Georgia but to all new democracies.”

This is neocon propaganda. Russian troops are in those enclaves because in August 2008 Georgia invaded South Ossetia to re-annex it, and killed and wounded scores of Russian peacekeepers. Tblisi’s invasion brought the Russian army on the run, which threw the Georgians out and occupied slices of Georgia itself. Read More…

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Jack Will Be Back

As readers may know, American Conservative columnist extraordinaire Jack Hunter has signed on to be the official blogger of the Ron Paul 2012 campaign. Jack will be on hiatus from TAC while the campaign in under way: mixing campaigns and nonprofits like TAC is something tax laws and campaign-finance regulations frown upon. As soon as the way is clear, though, Jack’s regular work for us will resume.

In the meantime, there are several additions and improvements to the TAC site — and not just the site — coming soon. As part of the upgrade, we’re refining our comments policy. Substantive, good-faith comments, positive or negative, are welcome as always. Profanity or inflammatory epithets are still unwelcome, as are ad hominem attacks on writers, other commenters, or anyone else. Keep posts concise and germane; this isn’t the place for full-length rebuttals or running battles with other users. That’s what your Facebook page is for.

The rules won’t be hard for most users to follow — the guiding principle is to keep the level of discussion to what you would expect at a good public lecture.

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The Vineyard’s Real Pest

Worse things than jaws lurk in the shoal waters south of Cape Cod. No sooner had Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg launched the hydraulic shark that upstaged Ted Kennedy as Martha’s Vineyard’s foremost marine predator, than Amity Island faced an alien invasion. The monsters could snap like Velociraptors, and came with table manners to match. Having decimated the island’s small animals, they turned to terrorizing smaller children, breaking the bones of one.

Within a few years they owned the place, forming salt pond flotillas that outweighed a T. Rex. Majestic they may be, but their reptilian contempt for all other creatures makes dreadnaught English swans terrible neighbors .The alpha males can grab feckless mallards by the neck, and with a serpentine flick, whip them clear out of the water. They chase Canadian geese honking down island to manure lawns and manicured golf courses uninvited.

Bird flu was unheard of in 1979, but the swan’s behavior posed an acute threat to such endangered species as the plover and (you can’t make these things up) the Sand Tiger Beetle. Each fall, the Vineyard reverts to what it was before the coming of the Democrats, when Mathew Gosnold discovered the Wampanoag vacationing there in 1602 — a happy hunting ground. Thus it was decided that, once summer people and the Secret Service had departed, these honorary vermin would once again become fair game, and whatever drove the first generation of Euroswans flocking across The Pond, those that lingered ran into a hail of ought-four shot. Read More…

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The Government Should Stop Giving Rich People Money

Warren Buffet caused a stir last week when he argued that he and other wealthy individuals should pay a higher tax rate. Now, as a libertarian, I prefer to balance the budget exclusively through spending cuts. However, if that’s not politically feasible, I support higher taxes today over deficit spending and the interest it entails.

But before we go raising taxes on every high-income individual, why don’t we just stop giving tax dollars away the most politically connected among them? Stephen Slivinski of the Cato Institute estimates that the federal government spent $92 billion in corporate welfare (i.e. subsidies to business) in 2006, a figure that has likely exploded upward with the rest of the budget. By comparison, eliminating the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy would raise $67.8 billion annually over the next decade on average–a quarter less than we spend on corporate welfare.

Until our government cuts corporate welfare queens such as Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto off from the federal teat, I have a feeling that any revenue raised from increasing the marginal income tax rate will just come out of the pockets of one group of rich men and end up in the pockets of other, even richer men, whose only skill is knowing how to play the political system.

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The View From Martha’s Vineyard

As he and his daughters bicycle around the summer playground of the Northeastern elite, Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama is steadily bleeding away both the support of the nation and that of his most loyal constituency.

Several times, his approval rating in Gallup’s daily tracking poll has sunk to 39 percent, with disapproval reaching 54 percent. Support for his handling of the economy has dipped to the mid-20s. Only 11 percent of Americans, says Gallup, are satisfied with the way things are going.

Unemployment remains at 9 percent, as it has for two years. The Dow has lately lost 2,000 points, or $3 trillion in wealth wiped out. All that money the Fed pumped out is now being reflected not only in the price of gold, silver and Swiss francs, but in rising consumer prices — inflation. One in five U.S. children is living in poverty.

Middle America, some time ago, decided the “hopey, changey thing” was not working out for them. Now the patience of African-Americans with a president for whom they voted 24 to one is wearing thin.

At a Black Caucus confab in Detroit, Rep. Maxine Waters told an angry audience that if and when Black America demands that they confront Obama, the caucus is ready “to have the conversation.”

A collision between Obama and his base seems inevitable. For Black America’s situation, though tough today, seems certain to get tougher. Why? Read More…

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Kagan: Stop Preemptive Superpower Suicide

Whatever America’s fiscal woes, and the mounting costs of its open-ended military engagements across the world, the defense budget must remain sacrosanct, and its troop deployments must remain entrenched – if America’s “decline” is to be staved off. Or so says Robert Kagan, who at a panel discussion on Tuesday at Brookings in Washington challenged the notion that America was entering an inevitable, and irreversible, era of decline. To start chipping away at military assets would be to commit “preemptive superpower suicide.”

Kagan, a part-time historian, took the long view in the discussion. America is, yes, currently facing a crisis of legitimacy – in the domestic sphere, where the ultra-partisan debt ceiling scrap recently exposed the alleged flaws in America’s political system, previously an example to the world; and internationality, with America’s seeming inability to win a decade-long war against a guerilla army in Afghanistan, despite its unequalled military resources. But we’ve seen this all before, says Kagan: the 1960s and 70s saw high-profile assassinations, the Watergate scandal, and the slowly unraveling misadventure in Vietnam. Read More…

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This Is How the Government Works…Or, to Be More Exact, Why It Doesn’t

For any of you who haven’t been keeping track of all the craziest scandals in Washington–not the kind where Congressmen send crotch pics or dress up like furries, but the kind where people get killed–the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) ran a program from November 2009 to to January 2011 known as Fast and Furious. In addition to being named after a terrible series of Vin Diesel movies, the program’s crimes include allowing guns from the United States to pass into the hands of, who else, Mexican drug lords. These weapons have been implicated in a number of shootings, including the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

So you’d think the guys at the ATF who ordered Fast and Furious would be finished, right? Their careers completely destroyed and possibly facing prison time?

Well, that might be the just thing, but government is usually the enemy of justice, not its champion. Here’s what really happened:

The ATF has promoted three key supervisors of a controversial sting operation that allowed firearms to be illegally trafficked across the U.S. border into Mexico.

All three have been heavily criticized for pushing the program forward even as it became apparent that it was out of control. At least 2,000 guns were lost and many turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and two at the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The three supervisors have been given new management positions at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They are William G. McMahon, who was the ATF’s deputy director of operations in the West, where the illegal trafficking program was focused, and William D. Newell and David Voth, both field supervisors who oversaw the program out of the agency’s Phoenix office.

This illustrates one of the many reasons the government fails so consistently and so thoroughly. Everyone accepts a CYA mentality, whenever someone screws up royally, his superiors have to pretend that all the screw ups responsible are actually super competent and fete them with promotions and awards. Remember when President Bush honored George Tenet and Paul Bremer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom after Tenet told us the case for Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” and Bremer horribly mismanaged the early days of Iraq’s occupation? That wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s a pervasive feature of government: pretend your mistakes are actually accomplishments. Even if no one believes you, you might be able to say it enough to convince yourself.

Story via Radley Balko.

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