State of the Union

A Dangerous Answer

This morning there was some peculiar media coverage of last night’s Republican debate.  Predictably, in all sources Ron Paul coverage was significantly less than the column inches provided Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, even though he is running neck-and-neck with them in Iowa.

Ron Paul was the only one to raise the issue of foreign policy in a serious way, saying that it is a mistake to demonize 1.2 billion Muslims and that continually calling for war against Iran will not solve anything.  I read an early morning AP article that reported those comments and opined that Paul had thereby proven that he is too extreme for the Republican Party.  When I returned to the story later this morning the first version had been deleted from the server and it had been rewritten to eliminate both the “too extreme” and the direct quotes from Paul that it had included.  Instead, it mentioned only Iran and briefly noted that a response to Paul was made by Michele Bachmann.

Most other press coverage also avoided providing any detail on Paul’s actual comments.  The New York Times had truncated coverage but managed to insert an essentially editorial comment, reporting “Yet Mr. Paul may have showed the limits to his appeal among Republicans when he argued forcefully against aggressive action to rid Iran of its nuclear capabilities.  He raised his voice, saying, ‘You cannot solve these problems with war.’”

The Washington Post had the most detailed account of Bachmann’s rejoinder, “At that, Bachmann said: ‘With all due respect to Ron Paul, I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard from Ron Paul.’ She added: ‘The reason why I would say that is because we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Iran will take a nuclear weapon. They will use it to wipe our ally Israel off the face of the map, and they’ve stated they will use it against the United States of America.’”

Here’s my problem with all of this:  the mainstream media is deliberately marginalizing Paul and his views and is making him out to be extremist in spite of the fact that in a normal world it is his opponents who might reasonably be called extreme.  Bachmann can be forgiven, I suppose, for misspeaking that Iran would “take” a nuclear weapon, whatever that is supposed to mean, but she is completely wrong in her assertion that the Iranian government has ever threatened to use a nuclear weapon to attack either Israel or the United States.  She also repeats the conventional fiction that Israel is an actual ally of the United States.

Every other Republican candidate is completely comfortable with operating under the assumption that Israel must be protected at all costs and that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon that is somehow a threat to the United States.  But there is no evidence that Iran either wants or is building a nuke. It may not even be capable of making a bomb given the ongoing sabotage of its nuclear program.  It is also not clear how Iran might actually threaten the United States.  As Paul has put it, Israel is quite able to defend itself with its own nuclear arsenal and advanced military capabilities.  So Ron Paul is talking good sense and is trying to avoid a war while the others are not, but the media is content with spinning its coverage to leave the impression that Paul is the dangerous party.

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Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Christopher Hitchens was, as Tom Piatak once wrote in our pages, “the purest neocon.” He was also, as George Scialabba has assayed, “an ornament of Anglo-American literary journalism.” I had read more polemic against Hitchens than of Hitchens himself until I picked up a copy of his Thomas Jefferson: Author of America and found myself compelled to recognize him as a writer first and ideologue a distant second — the only way any essayist of first rank should be evaluated. Read him, even if you shouldn’t believe him.

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And Was the Mission Accomplished?

For the Army and Marines who lost 4,500 dead and more than 30,000 wounded, many of them amputees, the second-longest war in U.S. history is over. America is coming home from Iraq.

On May 1, 2003, on the carrier Abraham Lincoln, the huge banner behind President George W. Bush proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished!”

That was eight years ago. And so, was the mission accomplished?

Two-thirds of all Americans have concluded the war was not worth it.

And reading the description of Iraq from the editorial page of the pro-war Washington Post, who can answer yes? Read More…

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Daily Round-up: End of the Electoral College, End of Sovereignty, Foreign Policy of OWS

Is the electoral college at risk of being eliminated? How serious is the threat and how far along are those who oppose the Founders’ design for selecting presidents? Gary Gregg peers into the schemes of supporters of the “National Popular Vote Plan.”

James Pinkerton warns of other progressive machinations. Dissecting John Fonte’s book Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?, he says that American sovereignty being a fragile thing, stands against a gave threat from global elites.

Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., makes a persuasive case that Americans should be worried because even as one-worldism is rejected by the masses, it is still embraced, in one form or another, by much of the elite—the corporate right as well as the intellectual left. If the American public isn’t paying attention, the elites will, in the end, have their way.

Leon Hadar says libertarians aren’t doing enough to influence foreign policy in Washington. And why not? They’ve had numerous successes in shaping tax and immigration positions, but fall short when it comes to foreign policy, leaving neoconservatives with the entire foreign-policy pie.

…there is no reason why libertarians should not form alliances with other policy oriented types or infiltrate congressional staffs as part of an effort to try to influence the foreign policy debate in Washington instead of agreeing to the current informal division of labor under which they are being tasked to do economic and trade policies and the neo-conservatives are in charge of foreign policy/national security.

Daniel Larison is shaking his head at P.J. O’Rourke’s latest, in which he tries to ascertain the foreign policy leanings of OWS protestors.

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Libertarians Should Do Foreign Policy

Justin Raimondo posted on antiwar.com a thoughtful critique of my essay in the recent issue of the American Conservative.

It seems to me that we both agree on the need for those of us who want to reduce the role of government in the economic and social spheres — and who take action to achieve that goal — to apply the same libertarian principles when dealing with government political-military intervention abroad. But we may be addressing different target audiences.

One problem in any discussion about “libertarians” is coming up with a definition of who these guys are anyway. Free-market conservatives? Republican free marketers? Anarchists on the political right and left? Civil libertarians? Members of the libertarian parties? Social-cultural liberals? Randians?  And the list can go on and on.

I admit that my focus has been on what could be referred to as Washington-centric libertarians, those  politicians, officials, activists, pundits, journalists, academics, think tankers, etc. who proclaim their commitment to free-market principles and are trying to influence the policies that are being made in Washington and those who make them.

In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that decisions on foreign policy/national security are made by small political and policy elite in Washington, unlike, say, education and the environmental policies that are affected by a wider public debate. That explains why a small group of neoconservative intellectuals and operators could play such a critical role in forcing the U.S. into a long and costly military intervention in the Middle East.

And my arguments is that for many reasons Washington-centric libertarians have not played a role as countervailing non-interventionist force in this debate. Or worst, some of them have been applying their libertarian principles to help mobilize support for U.S. political-military interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Policy oriented libertarians have been quite successful in shaping some aspects of U.S. regulatory, tax, environmental, and immigration policies — as practitioners in government agencies and Congressional staffs or as analysts, columnists and television pundits. But they have been missing in action when it comes to the foreign policy and national security arenas. So when Republican officials and lawmakers searhc for foreign policy experts or when the media search for foreign policy pundits they take a look at a list that includes neo-conservatives of various persuasions.

Like Justin Raimondo I hope that Dr. Ron Paul becomes the next U.S.president and that more libertarians get elected to public office and I applaud all those who are trying to make that possible. But until that happens there is no reason why libertarians should not form alliances with other policy oriented types or infiltrate congressional staffs as part of an effort to try to influence the foreign policy debate in Washington instead of agreeing to the current informal division of labor under which they are being tasked to do economic and trade policies and the neo-conservatives are in charge of foreign policy/national security.

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Gerson’s Sharia Cut on Gingrich Reveals GOP Rift

If there is any better example of the Republican establishment’s dismay at Newt Gingrich’s surge in the presidential primary polls, I’d like to see it. Michael Gerson, the evangelical Christian and The Washington Post’s Republican faith & politics columnist, came out swinging Tuesday in an unusual fusillade calling into question Newt’s intellectualism, religious tolerance and judgement. If one didn’t know Gerson to be a former top official in the Bush White House, scribe of the infamous “axis of evil” reference in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, reflexively dismissive of foreign policy “realism,” and promoter of regime change in Iran, you would think he was writing, at least on Tuesday, for the Democrats. Or Ron Paul.

But he wasn’t. He was writing as one of a growing number of alarmed Republicans who I’m guessing recognize Mitt Romney as the only safe bet to face President Obama in 2012, and see that chance slipping away every time Gingrich bests Romney at a debate or ticks up in the polls. So they go for Gingrich’s biggest weaknesses with the general electorate : his tendency to indulge in “shallow  ideas” and vacillating red meat gasbaggery at the expense of anyone deemed too small or politically gainless to be represented by a Big Voice in Washington (in other words, those who cannot afford Gingrich or advance his career). In this case, Muslims.

Gerson spends several paragraphs condemning Gingrich for assuming and proclaiming that Islamic Sharia law  “is inherently brutal,” “the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth,” and “totalitarianism.” He says for believing this, Newt actually has more in common with the “Iranian clerics, Taliban leaders and Salafists of various stripes” who believe Sharia should be interpreted that way and use it as a tool of oppression and punishment.

Wow. Though I cannot disagree with Gerson’s assessment of the former Speaker of the House (I wrote extensively about Gingrich’s Summer of 2010 crusade against the coming “tyranny” that is Sharia law in America, and Islamophobia as a campaign tool in that year’s congressional elections) it is amazing to hear this come from an evangelical Christian conservative. As a group, these Republicans typically flock to the same conveniently oversimplified and politically charged view of Sharia and of Muslims that Gingrich is  espousing for such Grand Effect. According to a Pew Research Poll in March 2011, 60 percent of White evangelical Protestants said Islam “is more likely than other religion to encourage violence.” This, compared to 42 White mainline Protestants and 39 percent White Catholics who said the same thing.

More importantly, Gerson seems to be willing to buck the overall thrust of the base on Islam to cast aspersions on Gingrich. According to Pew, 66 percent of self-described Republican conservatives think Islam encourages violence more than any other religion, compared to 38 percent of  independents, 41 percent of moderate/liberal Republicans and 40 percent of respondents overall.

Meanwhile, during the heat of the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy, of which Newt was no small part in fueling — at one point on FOX News he compared the organizers for the new Islamic center to Nazis after World War II – as many as 76 percent of Republicans polled said they would rather see a strip club built near the crater that once was the World Trade Center towers. Newt, as always, saw an opportunity to cash in politically. Interestingly, in the end, he backed out of an invitation to mix it up in the streets with the rabble he had roused.

Though he actually stopped short of calling Gingrich an Islamophobe, Gerson is still taking a risk with his loyal audience with this tack, but I think it’s fair to say he’s looking at the long game, for which Republican insiders, many albeit off-the-record, say Gingrich’s overall chances at winning are slim.

“Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich, a similarly farcical character,” quipped one Republican to National Journal nine days ago. Ouch.

Here’s a taste of what Gerson said  in The Washington Post:

…Gingrich insists: “Shariah in its natural form has principles and punishments totally abhorrent to the Western world.” With due respect to the speaker and his recent reading, what qualification does he have to identify Shariah’s “natural form”? In America, public officials respect the conscience of citizens while protecting them from violence. The proper role of government is to aggressively fight terrorism, not to engage in theological judgments.

The governing implications of Gingrich’s views are uncharted. Would President Gingrich reaffirm his belief that the most radical form of Islamic law is the most authentic? Would he tell American Muslims that to be good citizens they should renounce Shariah? Would he argue in his inaugural address, as he has argued before, that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization”? No strategy would be more likely to produce resentment, alienation and radicalism. Read More…

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Kaganed Again

How you analyze an issue depends on the starting point.  An recent op-ed in the Washington Post by leading neoconservatives Fred and Kimberly Kagan on the impending US departure from Iraq lays out five current “American core interests” in the region.  They are:  that Iraq should continue to be one unified state; that there should be no al-Qaeda on its soil; that Baghdad abides by its international responsibilities;  that Iraq should contain Iran; and that the al-Maliki government should accept US “commitment” to the region.

Fred is the Director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute while Kimberly heads the nonpartisan Institute for the Study of War.  The two Kagans, enthusiastic cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq back in 2003, seem to have short memories.  In 2003, Iraq was more unified and stable than it is today; there was no al-Qaeda presence; Saddam abided by a sanctions regime imposed by the UN; and Iraq was the principal Arab state restraining Iran.  Then, as now, the US was clearly “committed” to the region through the presence of its armed forces and I would add parenthetically that Iraq in no way threatened the United States, or anyone else.  It was precisely the US invasion that dismantled the Iraqi nation state, introduced al-Qaeda to the country, wrecked the Iraqi economy, and brought into power a group of Shi’a leaders who are now much closer to Tehran than they are to Washington.  Nice job Kagans and one has to wonder why you are still giving advice.

I have heard that the Kagans have been hired as top advisers to David Petraeus at CIA, so it is apparent that being wrong repeatedly has no effect on one’s employability.  Of course the dynamic duo has made its way to the top by firmly attaching their lips to General Petraeus’ derriere, praising him exorbitantly after his adoption of their plan for the so-called surge in Iraq.  They effused regarding the General and his colleague Ray Odierno, “Great commanders often come in pairs: Eisenhower and Patton, Grant and Sherman, Napoleon and Davout, Marlborough and Eugene, Caesar and Labienus. Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno can now be added to the list.”  Someone should point out to the Kagans that the deceased generals whom they cite won their laurels by fighting against enemies who were as well armed, well equipped, and numerous as their own forces.  They didn’t earn their stars and garters by blasting the crap out of a bunch of Fedayeen using helicopter gunships and airstrikes, and, when that didn’t work, bribing the insurgents to cease and desist.

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Daily Round-up: Mike Lee, Democracy Exported, Arab Spring No More?

Mike Lee is serious about cutting the federal budget down to constitutional size. W. James Antle III takes a look at the Tea-Party-backed Senator who has brought grassroots conservatism to the Beltway.

Why are American voters so nonchalant with the ever-shifting religious affiliations of certain politicians? Because in America, that’s the norm for everyone, says Rod Dreher.

Daniel Larison tackles the problem of “democratic realism” and its promotion abroad by neoconservatives.

All that matters for boosters of “democratic realism” is that the U.S. has an “obligation” to promote its “values,” and it doesn’t trouble democratists that the end result is usually antithetical to many of our actual political values.

Pat Buchanan says David Cameron just made the largest wave of his political career as Prime Minister by vetoing Germany’s call for a new European fiscal union.

Like the “fire bell in the night” Thomas Jefferson heard in 1820, a harbinger of civil war, Cameron’s declaration that European fiscal and political union goes forward, only without Britain, may be a harbinger of the breakup that is coming.

Nick Turse asks, “Did the Pentagon help strangle the Arab Spring?

Prior to the rise of the 2011 Middle Eastern revolution, the U.S. had a long-standing relationship with recently-ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Eric S. Margolis says it’s time for the West to apologize for supporting Mubarak’s reign.

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Time to Apologize for the West’s Shameful Support of Dictatorship in Egypt

CAIRO — Tahrir Square, epicenter of the earthquake that ousted Egypt’s western-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak, is quiet—for the moment.

There are banner-wavers, speakers, and youngsters milling about. But the by now world-famous square has a forlorn, leftover look, with more street people than revolutionaries. Violence crackles like static electricity.

Heavily armed riot and security police and their armored vehicles are massed nearby. In the ancient Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, I saw vanloads of government thugs waiting to attack demonstrators. I was almost arrested when I started taking photos.

Demonstrators at Tahrir showed me cans of expended tear gas that caused some deaths and many casualties. Whether they were the usual anti-riot CS gas, or the six times stronger, carcinogenic CR that can kill or blind, I could not tell. But the canisters were marked, “Made in the USA” and everyone knew it.

While Hillary Clinton was gushing about democracy in Egypt, shipments of U.S. made anti-riot gear, including truncheons, gas, and rubber bullets, are being airlifted in from the United States. Clinton’s U.S. State Department appears to be timidly backing Egypt’s revolution, but the real power in American foreign policy, the Pentagon, is standing firmly behind Egypt’s 500,000-man armed forces. Read More…

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David Cameron’s Finest Hour

Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to veto Germany’s demand for a new European fiscal union will define his premiership.

More than that, Cameron has raised a banner for patriots everywhere fighting to retain their national independence.

With his no vote on fiscal union, Cameron declared to the EU: “British surrenders of sovereignty come to an end here. And Britain will deny Brussels any oversight authority of any national budgets or any right to sanction EU members.”

The euro-skeptic right is understandably ecstatic.

“He Put Britain First,” thundered the Daily Mail. “There is now a wonderful opportunity for Britain gradually to loosen itself from the shackles of a statist, over-regulated, anti-democratic, corrupt EU.”

The Sun featured Cameron as Winston Churchill, flashing a wartime V-for-Victory sign over the banner headline: “Up Eurs — Bulldog PM Sticks up for Britain.”

The British left, however, almost took to bed. Read More…

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