State of the Union

Reshaping the Pentagon for an Age of Austerity

The systemic crisis now beginning to engulf the United States, Europe, and the global economy will bring drastic cuts in our defense spending. There is no other way to balance the federal budget without raising taxes. In this and the next four “On War” columns I will suggest means by which we can reduce defense outlays without endangering national security. Subsequent columns will look at each of the four armed services. Here, I want to lay out the assumptions that will shape our New Model Defense Department.

The first is that the maximum the country will be able to afford for national security will be $100 billion annually—about 10 percent of what we are spending now. That would still give the United States the world’s highest defense budget. The $100 billion figure is generous; our national finances may be so bad we have to spend less.

Second, our real defense requirements reflect our geography. In terms of threats from other states, we are an island. We face no hostile armies to our north or to our south, nor at present any threatening navies to our west or east—you may safely disregard the U.S. Navy’s game of puffing the Dragon. Though the nonstate, Fourth Generation danger from the south is real and growing, we should deal with it as a law-enforcement problem for as long as possible.

Third, our post-collapse foreign policy will be that recommended by Sen. Robert A. Taft. American armies will no longer be spreading “democracy” in the Hindu Kush, nor along the banks of the Euphrates. Our defense budget need only be adequate for defending our territory and citizens.

Fourth, consistent with a Taftian foreign policy, our grand strategy will be defensive. If other countries, cultures, and peoples leave us alone, we will leave them alone. If they attack us, we will wipe them off the planet and out of history. Read More…

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Black Friday Chaos Caught on Camera

Several days ago Rod Dreher brought up comments by Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Jonathon Sacks, relating to the problem of mass consumerism.

“What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have. … the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.”

Marx claimed religion to be the opiate of the masses, but Judeo-Christian religions, which preach respect and love for life, may be on the decline in America. Is a culture of nihilistic mass consumerism the contemporary substitution? Before the Thanksgiving turkey could even be digested, Black Friday kicked off — on Thursday. Several videos captured the chaos that ensued; people being trampled, shoved, and disregarded. One incident even had people getting pepper-sprayed. Let me not forget to mention the shootings, and fighting over $2 waffle makers. Here is one clip among many floating around the web:

Imagine this kind of chaos, elevated, if the American economy follows the Eurozone into crisis. Dreher is also pessimistic about such a development:

Can you imagine most Americans, whether on the left, right, or in the middle, in the 1930s having such an attitude? What happens to a generation that believes in nothing more than consumerism and sexual autonomy?

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Daily Round-Up: Nuclear Money Pit, Abridging Free Speech, Scialabba on Hitchens

Kelly Vlahos says a planned nuclear weapons facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico has already become yet another government money pit: over budget, behind schedule, and unwelcome by New Mexico residents.

It hasn’t been built yet—in fact, the designs aren’t even finished after 10 years. But the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) has been soaking up taxpayer money all the same …

Does “congress shall make no law” truly mean what it says? Peter Van Buren examines the case of Morris Davis, a federal employee who was fired from his research position at the Library of Congress after submitting a politically-charged op-ed to the Wall Street Journal.

How much heat can Herman Cain take before he gets burned? Rod Dreher talks about Cain’s newest lady-friend scandal — an alleged 13-year affair. Newt Gingrich is no stranger to controversies of infidelity himself, and Dreher says his actions are those of a man indifferent to any moral code.

Daniel Larison says that the postwar policy of Soviet containment fueled the strong foreign policy debates of that era, but the national security debates of this election cycle are far more superficial.

George Scialabba reflects on the career of Christopher Hitchens, in a review of Hitchens’s new book Arguably: Essays.

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New Whittaker Chambers Documentary

TAC contributor Mark Judge is working on a new documentary entitled “Witness: The Story of Whittaker Chambers.” Judge is taking donations to fund the project through, with a $20,000 goal. If you’d like to contribute, please click here.

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For Liberals: Conservatism Decoded

A friend of the magazine provides some wry translations:

Right to life:

Think of it as rent control for babies. Once that fetus moves in, it can’t be evicted just because mom thinks she can be more profitable if her womb is vacant.

Defense of traditional marriage:

Think of it as defending tax revenue. Just imagine our deficit problem if all the single women began sheltering their income in sham lesbian marriages.

Strong national defense:

Think of it as a single-payer system that prevents you from being enslaved by foreign powers.

Free trade:

Think of it as free speech for things that aren’t books. Don’t all products have some words on them these days anyway? At the very least they say “Made in China.”

Border control:

Think of it as a minimum wage for our children. By keeping out illegal immigrants, there’s less competition for unemployed American teenagers getting their first job at McDonald’s.

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Something Brewing in Pakistan

There has been remarkably little US media coverage of the situation in Pakistan, which could, at a stroke, cause Washington’s policy in central Asia to implode. The silence might be because the US media attention span runs to about thirty seconds while the situation in Pakistan is quite complicated. For those who haven’t been following developments, there is a massive and growing political scandal surrounding Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s personal involvement in what has been dubbed “Memogate.”

The memo in question, which was directed to Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and the Obama Administration as coming confidentially from Zardari, urged Mullen to use the full resources of the US military to join with the Pakistani civilian government to put pressure on key figures in Pakistan’s military’s leadership and force them to resign.  General Kayani, Chairman of the Pakistani Joint Chiefs, and General Pasha, head of the ISI intelligence service were particularly targeted.   In return, Zardari promised to replace them with officers who are more friendly to the United States and who would fully support Washington’s interests in the region.

The memo was delivered to Mullen personally by a wealthy Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who had the text dictated to him by Pakistani Ambassador in Washington Husain Haqqani. Haqqani is regarded as President Zardari’s closest adviser while Ijaz has been closely linked to a number of prominent neoconservatives, including James Woolsey.  He is an occasional commentator on Fox news programs.

Mullen turned down the offer and at first denied that the memo even existed. Haqqani has been recalled and has been forced to resign by Pakistan’s parliament where he will have to explain his involvement with the memo. Key parliamentary opposition leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has rejected claims from the ruling party that the memo is a conspiracy against Zardari and efforts to make the crisis go away are failing, which could lead to impeachment of the president.

The end result is that President Zardari has become markedly weaker while the military leadership and major opposition bloc have been empowered.  A third political party headed by former cricket hero Imran Khan is also making headway based on Khan’s pledge to distance his country from US policy.  He has called Hillary Clinton “Auntie Hillary,” referring to her frequent, and deeply resented, visits to tell the Pakistanis how to behave.

The killing of 28 Pakistani soldiers by NATO forces over the weekend has also helped to inflame the crisis situation.  If pro-Western but hideously corrupt Zardari somehow loses power the likelihood that a new government that is reflexively anti-American and supported by a vengeful military establishment will emerge is very strong.  The Pakistanis have already cut supply lines into Afghanistan and closed down a drone base and might well opt to end all cooperation on terrorism issues.

I for one would like to see the United States depart Afghanistan and adjacent areas posthaste, but there is real danger that the on-again off-again US policies of the past ten years have created a powderkeg situation that will be fed by visceral hatred of Washington and all its works.  Stay tuned.


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Daily Round-up: Confused Santorum, Three Squares No More, OWS Invades Election

Daniel Larison says that Rick Santorum displays a very shaky grasp of reality, after Santorum tried to assert that the U.S. acquisition of western territories following the Mexican War paralleled the Israeli seizure of territories during the 1967 war.

Why did voters reject the GOP in 2005 and 2008? Paul Gottfried discusses Ramesh Ponnuru’s National Review column, which claims the ideological purity of some hard-line conservative Republicans is to blame.  Gottfried says the NR columnist has some valid points, but that Ponnuru is mostly off the mark. Daniel McCarthy replies that Ponnuru’s explanations for GOP losses are simply maneuvers to marginalize the role of foreign policy in taking the blame.

Rod Dreher talks about the decline of traditional eating habits (three square meals a day), and the rising trend of all-day grazing. Will this have negative ramifications for traditional culture?

The GOP primary race continues a flavor-of-the-week tradition, with The Washington Times now reporting Newt Gingrich claiming the top spot in a recent Quinnipac poll.

Occupy protestors butted in during an Obama appearance at a Manchester, New Hampshire school earlier today, heckling the president over the arrests of OWS protesters. A similar disruption happened at a Ron Paul appearance in Keane; Paul responded to the hecklers with disarming sympathy:

If you listen very carefully, I’m very much involved with the 99 [percent] … I’ve been condemning that 1 percent because they’ve been ripping us off. So, we need to sort that out. But the people on Wall Street got the bailouts and you guys got stuck with the bills and I think that’s where the problem is.

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Pepper Spray: “A Food Product, Essentially”

There is a wonderfully invective meme blazing across the Internet thanks to FOX News’ Megyn Kelly, who told Bill Reilly in an amazingly mendacious grasp at justification yesterday that pepper spray is “a food product, essentially,” in relation to the line of kneeling student protesters at UC Davis who were sprayed methodically in their faces with the fire-hot chemical  “as if they were garden pests” (as described earlier by understandably frustrated Washington Post writer Philip Kennicott)

 Video of Kelly on the O’Reilly Factor here.

Kelly, who is typically bloodless in her surrogacy of whatever the rightwing agenda is at the moment, almost appears to be uncomfortable enjoining this particularly ludicrous line of defense (perhaps she was glancing off camera at the rolling footage of the students, kneeling as if about to be executed), or she was simply coming down with a cold. Nevertheless, her delusional comments about pepper spray has birthed a thousand satires in the comment field at Gawker and on Twitter (hashtag MegynKellyEssentials). A few notables:

Megyn Kelly on tasers: “It’s static cling, essentially!”

Megyn Kelly on nightsticks: “It’s an olive branch, essentially!”

Megyn Kelly on Jerry Sandusky: “He was having sex, essentially”

Megyn Kelly on landmines: “It’s like a treasure hunt, essentially!”

Megyn Kelly on nuclear weapons: “It’s a microwave dinner, essentially!”

Megyn Kelly on zip-tie handcuffs: “It’s a Livestrong bracelet, essentially.”

From Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: “Tomorrow on Fox: exotic recipes using ricin (made from castor beans) & mustard gas – ‘food products, essentially'”

Really, Kelly and O’Reilly say they “believe” the police were in the right because the students were breaking “the law.” If we follow that ridiculous path (which is where every rightwinger who hates the whole idea of Occupy wants to go, essentially) then there will be no place left to exercise one’s Constitutional right to free speech and assembly but in the privacy of their own basements. Seems like Kelly and O’Reilly would have been the first to advocate the imprisonment of Sam Adams ahead of the Boston Tea Party. In fact, there would be no Boston Tea Party if today’s rightwing, in collusion with government, corporations, and an anxious establishment, applied their same, arbitrary rules.

So, rather than modern day American Revolutionaries, Kelly, O’Reilly and every other so-called conservative supporting the violent crackdown of protesters all over the country were really   Tories  all along?

Just Sayin’

Update: I tweaked a line above regarding the Boston Tea Party, in light of exchange with Chris, in comments (below). I think it gets the point across.


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Ramesh’s Right-Wing Social Democrats

Paul, that Ponnuru column makes more sense as the expression of a party line than as serious analysis. Wage stagnation is a long-term problem, but there’s little evidence that it contributed to the GOP’s defeat in 2006; certainly Ponnuru provides none. It sounds like a device to minimize the role foreign policy played in the GOP’s descent. The Ponnuru line is that Republicans should do more of what he likes — bribing the middle class with dubious social programs like Medicare Part D or mandatory retirement savings programs (a great handout to Wall Street) — while ignoring the uncomfortable truth that a war Ponnuru supported cost his party dearly. It’s interesting, by the way, that he attributes 2010 Republican Senate losses in Nevada and Colorado to small-government types but says nothing about the much more catastrophic nomination of Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. The Colorado candidate, Ken Buck, came within 2 percentage points of winning. Ponnuru would like his readers to believe that if only small-government conservatives would shut up, “values” would suffice to elect more Republicans. O’Donnell was a Tea Party favorite herself, but she complicates that picture.

It certainly is a myth that Republicans lost in 2006 or 2008 because they were too big government, but small-government ideology, which was neither preached nor practiced then, can hardly be blamed either. Lest Ponnuru forget, the doomed Republican Congress in 2006 staked its re-election on a bundle of legislative nonsense called the “American Values Agenda,” which included attacks on online gambling and homeowners’ associations that limited displays of American flags. The GOP wanted a replay of 2004 — dupe the evangelicals and values voters into supporting the party of war and Wall Street.

The truth that hardly gets spoken is that certain Republican pundits who consider themselves social conservatives have a vision for this country that amounts to a hybrid of European-style Christian Democracy and Chilean semi-privatization of the welfare state, along with a values-hyping foreign policy delegated to outright neoconservatives and a managerial-therapeutic approach to the poor. The Bush administration, especially in its first term, was the closest these pundits ever came to getting what they want. And it was a strategic, fiscal, and moral disaster for the country.

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Are Republicans Ideological Purists?

In a syndicated column, National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru tries to explain how the GOP really lost its way. It seems that Republican Congressmen with a “fixation on ideological purity” have been misleading their party by complaining about government expansion. Republican leaders who lament that their party has been “fiscally irresponsible” are supposedly barking up the wrong tree. When Republicans triumphed in recent presidential races, it was because they were able to put aside their small-government ideology and to promise things that attract votes. Thus George W. Bush was able to win Florida in a tight race in 2000 by promising to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs. To his credit Bush, and presumably his grey eminence Karl Rove, ignored those doctrinaire Republicans who wish “to avoid accommodation at all costs.” They did whatever it took to get elected.

According to Ponnuru, it was not Bush’s spending on social programs but “the bleeding in Iraq, Washington corruption, wage stagnation and the lack of an agenda to do something about these and other problems “ that led to disastrous Republican defeats in 2006 and 2008. The Republicans may not regain public trust until they recognize Bush’s “real mistakes” as opposed to his imaginary ones. Presumably they will have to do something about getting wages to rise and then offer new social programs in order to win back the presidency.

To the consternation of my readers, I’ll have to admit that I agree with some of this analysis. Although Ponnuru and I are on opposite sides on most philosophical questions, it seems to me that some of his arguments are sound. Americans, like Western Europeans, have moved dramatically to the left on just about every social and economic issue since the middle of the 20th century, and contrary to the bromides that one encounters in Ponnuru’s magazine and similar sources, there is absolutely nothing that would make me believe that Americans are “a right of center people.” Further, Americans do not seem particularly exceptional but about one step behind the English, Canadians, Swedes, Germans, etc., on the road to becoming politically correct social democrats. And it didn’t start with Obama. Both parties, together with the media, public education, and the cultural industry, have been complicit in this process for many decades; and those Republicans who dared to criticize the Bush administration for sounding and acting like liberal Democrats are only waking up to reality.

But there are three problems with Ponnuru’s arguments. One, he is obviously disingenuous in urging Republicans to roll with the punches. Despite his observation that Bush was fighting an unpopular war, he and National Review devoted enormous energy whipping up favor for that war. They have also enthusiastically supported John Bolton, Dick Cheney, and other advocates of the use of American force in support of “our democratic ideals.” Clearly Ponnuru does not want to throw all scruples to the wind. He just wants the GOP to take those foreign policy stands that he and other neoconservatives have prioritized. Meanwhile he dismisses other traditional Republican concerns as ideological purism. Read More…

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