State of the Union

As Mosul’s Christians Flee, Religious Freedom Gets an Ambassador

mosul

The State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom paints a dark picture for religious liberty advocates. The AP says that “Millions of people were forced from their homes because of their religious beliefs last year,” referring to the IRF report’s summary of “the devastating impact of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic.”

The IRF report itself opens by saying that, in 2013, “the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”

In Mosul, the crisis of Iraqi Christians has reached fever pitch: a fourth-century monastery was recently taken by force. The tomb traditionally held to be the resting place of Jonah was destroyed by insurgents. The Iraqi government has denounced the rebels’ actions, but done little to stop them. An AP report sheds light on the havoc:

Residents in Mosul also say the Islamic State group’s fighters recently have begun to occupy churches and seize the homes of Christians who have fled the city. … Already in Mosul, the extremist group has banned alcohol and water pipes, and painted over street advertisements showing women’s faces. It has, however, held off on stricter punishments so far.

The State Department report was released on Monday, serving to illustrate a known trend of international religious chaos and neatly coinciding with President Obama’s announcement of David Saperstein’s appointment as Ambassador-at-Large of International Religious Freedom for the U.S.

The appointment has been a long time coming. Obama, criticized by some for dawdling, has allowed the post to remain vacant since Suzan Johnson Cook, Saperstein’s predecessor, vacated the post in October 2013.

Mark Silk writes at Religion News Service that Saperstein is highly qualified for the position:

Saperstein’s religious liberty bona fides is without peer. Two decades ago, he put together the coalition responsible for gaining all but unanimous passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that has recently become the darling of religious conservatives. In 1999, he was unanimously elected by his fellow commissioners to serve as the first chair of the USCIRF. He served on the first advisory council to Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and was a member of the task force to reform the office. No representative of a religious organization in Washington comes close to matching his credibility across the political spectrum.

His appointment comes at a time when religious strife is prominent at home and abroad. Saperstein has been tasked with what is arguably one of the most complex and difficult political missions of the moment. He faces extraordinarily violent international religious conflict, in addition to the prospect of political resistance at home. And given the trajectory of the world, things look likely to only get worse before they get better.


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Can a GOP Majority Handle Foreign Policy?

Sen. Bob Corker. Photo U.S. Embassy, Moldova
Sen. Bob Corker. Photo U.S. Embassy, Moldova

With the party united, the odds are now at least even that the GOP will not only hold the House but also capture the Senate in November. But before traditional conservatives cheer that prospect, they might take a closer look at the foreign policy that a Republican Senate would seek to impose upon the nation.

Specifically, they should spend time reading S. 2277, the “Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” introduced by Sen. Bob Corker on May 1, and endorsed by half of the Senate’s GOP caucus. As ranking Republican on the foreign relations committee, Corker is in line to become chairman, should the GOP take the Senate. That makes this proposal a gravely serious matter.

Corker’s bill would declare Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine “major non-NATO allies” of the United States, move NATO forces into Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, accelerate the building of an ABM system in Eastern Europe, and authorize U.S. intelligence and military aid for Ukraine’s army in the Donbass war with Russian-backed separatists. U.S. aid would include antitank and antiaircraft weapons.

S. 2277 would direct the secretary of state to intensify efforts to strengthen democratic institutions inside the Russian Federation, e.g., subvert Vladimir Putin’s government, looking toward regime change. If Putin has not vacated Crimea and terminated support for Ukraine’s separatist rebels within seven days of passage of the Corker Ultimatum, sweeping sanctions would be imposed on Russian officials, banks and energy companies, including Gazprom. Economic relations between us would be virtually severed.

In short, this is an ultimatum to Russia that she faces a new Cold War if she does not get out of Ukraine and Crimea, and it is a U.S. declaration that we will now regard three more former Soviet republics—Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia—as allies.

A small, weak country might accept this dictation from a superpower. But Russia, where anti-Americanism is virulent and rampant and the Russian people support Putin’s actions in Ukraine, would want him to tell the Americans just what to do with their ultimatum. And how Russia would respond is not difficult to predict.

Our demand that she get out of Crimea and leave her two-century-old naval base at Sevastopol in the custody of President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev and his U.S. allies, would be laughed off. Putin would tell us that Crimea has voted to return to Russia. It’s ours, and we’re going to keep it. Now deal with it.

To make good on our latest red line, we would have to start shipping weapons to Kiev, in which case Russia, with superior forces closer, would likely move preemptively into East Ukraine. What would our NATO allies do then?

The U.S. directive to the State Department to work with NGOs in Russia, blatant intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, would be answered with a general expulsion of these agencies from Moscow. We would not sit still for this kind of open subversion in the United States. What makes us think they would? Read More…

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Yatsenyuk’s Resignation Topples an Obama Ally in Ukraine

U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine
U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine

With the news that Arseniy Yatsenyuk tendered his resignation as Ukraine’s Prime Minister, a once meteoric career has come to a crashing halt. In the U.S., Yatsenyuk gained widespread notoriety when a conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev was leaked by, presumably, Russian intelligence. On it, Ms. Nuland expressed her certainty, in positively breathy tones, that “Yats” would make an ideal Prime Minister. As so, once the coup transpired in February, it came to pass.

In gaining the Premiership, Yatsenyuk made a deal with the devil, doing nothing to quell the violence that engulfed the Maidan after the Western and Russian-backed settlement agreement of February 21 was announced. Here we might pause to note that pronouncements from pro-democracy activists like Freedom House’s David Kramer and pop-philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy that Putin is entirely to blame for the violence in Ukraine, should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

After the February coup Yatsenyuk quickly threw in his lot in with the gang around the far-right Svoboda and became, quite illegitimately, prime minister. The far-right was compensated handsomely. Svoboda, whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok once voiced dissatisfaction that Ukraine was being run by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia,” was amply rewarded, gaining the defense ministry and the prosecutor general’s office, along with two non-power ministries like Agriculture and Environment. The government promptly removed the governors of the pro-Russian eastern provinces and put a number of oligarchs in their stead. The reaction to all of this by the citizens of these provinces, and that of their rather large, influential, and, yes, bare-knuckled, neighbor to the east is now all too plain to see.

Having captured the top prize, Yatsenyuk did what any self-respecting free-riding Atlanticist would do: he dashed off to Washington for meetings with President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. The President, for his part, authorized a $1 billion loan guarantee (about $14 billion shy of what Vladimir Putin put on offer the previous November) and urged Russia and Ukraine to turn to diplomacy to settle their differences. That was not to be, yet the new Premier’s strenuous efforts to drag the U.S. into a war his government bears a good deal of responsibility for starting have, for the most part, come to naught.

Yatsenyuk’s economic record mirrors his diplomatic one. The month he took office the Hryvnia lost a fifth of its value, and Yatsenyuk recently announced he expects the Ukrainian economy to shrink by 3 percent in 2014. It is said that the signing of the EU-Ukraine association agreement along with the conditions of the IMF’s $17 billion loan will launch Ukraine on its predestined European trajectory. Yet, if the experiences of Russia and Argentina, (to say nothing of non-IMF mandated austerity measures in the United Kingdom) are anything to go by, Ukrainians can look forward to many years of mass unemployment, the gutting of their manufacturing and export sectors, the hollowing out of government assistance programs, higher energy bills, higher taxes, and wage freezes. Read More…

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Ukraine Has Never Been Worth War

In 1933, the Holodomor was playing out in Ukraine. After the “kulaks,” the independent farmers, had been liquidated in the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture, a genocidal famine was imposed on Ukraine through seizure of her food production. Estimates of the dead range from two to nine million souls. Walter Duranty of the New York Times, who called reports of the famine “malignant propaganda,” won a Pulitzer for his mendacity. In November 1933, during the Holodomor, the greatest liberal of them all, FDR, invited Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov to receive official U.S. recognition of his master Stalin’s murderous regime.

On August 1, 1991, just four months before Ukraine declared its independence of Russia, George H. W. Bush warned Kiev’s legislature: ”Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.” In short, Ukraine’s independence was never part of America’s agenda. From 1933 to 1991, it was never a U.S. vital interest. Bush I was against it.

When then did this issue of whose flag flies over Donetsk or Crimea become so crucial that we would arm Ukrainians to fight Russian-backed rebels and consider giving a NATO war guarantee to Kiev, potentially bringing us to war with a nuclear-armed Russia? From FDR on, U.S. presidents have felt that America could not remain isolated from the rulers of the world’s largest nation.

Ike invited Khrushchev to tour the USA after he had drowned the Hungarian Revolution in blood. After Khrushchev put missiles in Cuba, JFK was soon calling for a new detente at American University. Within weeks of Warsaw Pact armies crushing the Prague Spring in August 1968, LBJ was seeking a summit with Premier Alexei Kosygin. After excoriating Moscow for the downing of KAL 007 in 1983, that old Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan was fishing for a summit meeting.

The point: Every president from FDR through George H.W. Bush, even after collisions with Moscow far more serious than this clash over Ukraine, sought to re-engage the men in the Kremlin. Whatever we thought of the Soviet dictators who blockaded Berlin, enslaved Eastern Europe, put rockets in Cuba and armed Arabs to attack Israel, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 1 all sought to engage Russia’s rulers.

Avoidance of a catastrophic war demanded engagement.

How then can we explain the clamor of today’s U.S. foreign policy elite to confront, isolate, and cripple Russia, and make of Putin a moral and political leper with whom honorable statesmen can never deal? What has Putin done to rival the forced famine in Ukraine that starved to death millions, the slaughter of the Hungarian rebels or the Warsaw Pact’s crushing of Czechoslovakia? Read More…

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The Dual Crisis

Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

The two crises are distinct, but there is only one American government to navigate them, and it is doing poorly. Israel caught a good break when (presumably) Ukrainian separatists shot down a civilian airliner over Ukraine: for days it almost completely diverted the world’s attention. The shooting was almost certainly an accident: the rebels had previously shot down Kiev government troop carriers, and would have no conceivable reason to down a Malaysian civilian carrier. Killing 300 non-combatants is a horrific, if not unprecedented, act; the last time a tragedy of this scope occurred was when the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner in the Persian Gulf in 1988, mistaking it for a warplane.

Vladimir Putin, whose government supplied to the rebels the anti-aircraft missile, should acknowledge the error, and express regrets. Yet the source of the Ukraine crisis remains exactly what it was before the downing of MA-17: an aggressive Western move to wrest Ukraine into the Western sphere, culminating eventually in Ukrainian NATO membership. It was the West that encouraged and fomented the coup d’etat which ignited the Ukrainian civil war. The ever present-minded media tends to ignore or overlook this: perhaps the only mainstream American or European writer who strives to keep this context in the public mind is the redoubtable Peter Hitchens, whose regular column and blog in the Mail Online is one of the few mass media venues making any effort to understand the crisis historically.

Obama seems shrunken by the dual crisis. On Monday, he publicly hectored Vladimir Putin to compel the Ukrainian rebels to allow free access to the crash investigators (which of course they should); meanwhile the White House is cranking up new sanctions against Russia, whose main fault lies in having taken measures to prevent Ukraine from being turned into a NATO outpost. (Twenty years hence, if China is sponsoring anti-American coups in Mexico, the anti-Putin brigade may get a taste of how Putin feels.) What most grated about Obama’s statement was its patronizing tone. But its implicit assumption, that Moscow bears direct responsibility and should be punished for whatever the Ukrainian rebels do with weapons supplied to them merits some scrutiny.

If Moscow is responsible, how responsible then is America for the death toll Israel is ringing up in Gaza, which includes hundreds of innocent civilians, many of them children? Unlike the Ukrainian rebels, the Israelis are well trained and know exactly what they are doing. Do the senators who pass unanimous (100 to 0, North Korea style!) resolutions supporting Israel bear responsibility for Israel’s actions?

How responsible is John Kerry, who—in what bids fair to be the single most absurd sentence ever uttered by an American Secretary of State, says “Israel is under siege” by Hamas. Do you suppose Kerry knows what restrictions Israel imposes on Gaza, under “normal circumstances”? Israel controls the population of Gaza, deciding literally who gets in and who gets out. It controls whether Gazans can import spare parts for the devices to help purify their water. It controls whether Gazans can build an airport, or whether Gazans can leave to go to a university. Israel controls whether Gazan fisherman can fish in the seas. And yet, America’s leading diplomat, announces, with a straight face, that Israel is under siege by Hamas. Does Kerry realize that Hamas’s official ceasefire demands—which are of course never mentioned by the American media—are almost entirely devoted to lifting Israel’s siege of Gaza?

And yet one can see the glimmerings of an American media jailbreak. Read More…

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Don’t Let the Hawks Hijack MH17

The bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie was premeditated mass murder. Gadhafi was taking revenge for Reagan’s raid on Tripoli in 1986. The downing of KAL 007, flying from Anchorage to Seoul, was mass murder in the second degree. Seeing an aircraft intrude into Russian air space, Soviet officers brutally ordered it shot down.

The downing of the Malaysian airliner that took the lives of 298 men, women, and children was not deliberate terrorism. No one wanted to massacre those women and children. It was a horrendous military blunder, like the U.S. shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus by the Vincennes in 1988. That U.S. cruiser thought it was coming under attack. And Ukraine’s separatists thought they were firing at an army plane. The distinctions are as important as those between first- and second-degree murder, and manslaughter.

The respective reactions confirm this. Gadhafi concealed his role in the Scotland slaughter. Moscow was defiant in the KAL case. America was apologetic over the Iranian airliner. Today, Vladimir Putin, with an indictment being drawn up against him, is blaming Ukraine for the war out of which the tragedy came. But though Putin did not order the plane shot down, the horror of it all has put him in a box. And the course he pursues could determine the future of U.S.-Russian relations for his tenure.

For the rebels in Ukraine are seen as Putin’s proxies. They have been armed and advised by Russia. And it was a Russian SA-11 that brought the airliner down. While the separatists say they got the surface-to-air missiles from an army depot, there is evidence the missile was provided by Russia, and Russians may have advised or assisted in the fatal launch. This crisis has caused President Obama to insist that Putin cut off the rebels. And if he does not rein them in, and abandon their cause, Putin is likely to face new U.S.-EU sanctions that could cripple his economy and push his country further out into the cold.

And the ostracism of Putin and the sinking of Russia’s economy is what some in the West have long had in mind. The Day of the Hawk is at hand. John McCain and John Bolton are calling for punitive sanctions, declaring Russia an adversary, putting defensive missiles and U.S. troops in Eastern Europe, and arming Kiev. ”That’s just for openers,” says McCain, who wants “the harshest possible sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Russia.”

“So first, give the Ukrainians weapons to defend themselves and regain their territory,” McCain adds, “Second of all, move some of our troops into areas that are being threatened by Vladimir Putin.” Right. Let’s get eyeball to eyeball with the Russians again.

In this “moment of moral and strategic clarity about the threat that Vladimir Putin’s regime poses to world order,” the Wall Street Journal said this weekend, we should send “arms to Ukraine until Mr. Putin stops arming the separatists.” The Washington Post urges “military assistance to Ukraine” and sanctions “to force Mr. Putin to choose between continued aggression in Ukraine and saving the Russian economy.”

But if aiding rebels in overthrowing their government is “aggression,” is that not exactly what we are doing in Syria? Hopefully, those who prodded the U.S. to send surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian rebels are having second thoughts today. But before we sink the Russian economy and send weapons to Ukraine, perhaps we should consider the potential consequences. Read More…

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Hawks Call for Cuts to Israel Military Aid

As Israel ramps up its ground invasion and bombing campaign against Gaza, one might think that the Jewish state’s fiercest defenders here in the United States would be resolutely holding the line against any suggestion of reducing support to the IDF. Instead, Eli Lake reported this morning, many of Israel’s most prominent hawkish supporters are increasingly open to the idea of reducing or eliminating the billions of dollars in military aid that the United States provides Israel every year.

They have not changed their feathers, to be sure, but rather see a phase-out of aid to be in Israel’s best interests as they understand them. Noah Pollak, who runs the Emergency Committee on Israel, said, “The experience of the Obama years has sharpened the perception among pro-Israel Americans that aid can cut against Israel by giving presidents with bad ideas more leverage than they would otherwise have.”

Elliott Abrams, the former George W. Bush deputy national security adviser and “leading pro-Israel writer and policy analyst” told Lake, “My view is over time it would be healthy for the relationship if the aid diminished. Israel should be less dependent on American financial assistance and should become the kind of ally that we have in Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom, an intimate military relationship and alliance, but no military aid.”

A consistent theme in these arguments is a desire for Israel to gain greater independence in recognition of its changed position from decades ago. David Wurmser, a former Cheney aide who helped author the 1996 “Clean Break” memo that also called for terminating U.S. aid, “said the idea at the time was for Israel to graduate from being a ‘tenuous project’ to a ‘real country.’” Naftali Bennett, the right-wing Israeli Minister of the Economy, said last year that “U.S. military aid is roughly 1 percent of Israel’s economy. I think, generally, we need to free ourselves from it. We have to do it responsibly … but our situation today is very different from what it was 20 and 30 years ago.’”

Abrams noted that Israel’s booming economy (its GDP has doubled since 2000) and recent discovery of significant natural gas reserves has led to talk of a sovereign wealth fund for the country to invest its surplus moneys in, “but I do not believe a country that has a sovereign wealth fund can be an aid recipient.”

In many ways, these pro-Israel hawks echo the sentiments of skeptics of U.S. policy towards Israel, including University of Chicago professor John J. Mearsheimer, who wrote in TAC in 2009 that “Both countries would be much better off if the Obama administration treated Israel the way it treats other democracies, such as Britain, France, Germany, and India.” There are obvious limits to that overlap, as Abrams worries that, “Were there a reduction now, it would be attributed to administration hostility to Israel and be seen as a weakening of U.S. support,” and so doesn’t want to see a reduction in aid until a more friendly administration is in place.

But the desire for Israel to take a more independent, self-sufficient place among the nations seems to be shared by hawks and doves alike, and is at the least worth keeping an eye on.


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Will Global Wilsonians Take Us to War?

While the neocons have rendered themselves ridiculous by either acting like petulant children when called out on their record (see Kristol, William) or dabbling in what amounts to overlong exercises in historical fiction (see Kagan, Robert), the liberal interventionist crowd deserves more scrutiny than they have heretofore been subjected to, because these Wilsonians, unlike their right-wing counterparts, are a not a specifically American phenomenon: the Wilsonians have gone global.

The Canadian scholar-turned-politician Michael Ignateiff channeled his inner Kagan and brought forth a wondrous account of what he sees as a “rising authoritarian archipelago” in last week’s issue of the venerable New York Review of Books. Ignatieff, acting in the role of Cassandra, warns us that much like the 1930s when “travelers returned from Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany praising the sense of common purpose they saw there …. democracies today are in the middle of a similar period of envy and despondency.”

There is, I think it fair to say, aside from the horrendous shape of the American economy, very little with which to compare the world of 2014 with that of the 1930s, which brought us the demonic Nazi regime, a lunatic Communist one, and the untold misery of millions of people even prior to the opening shots of the World War II. Yet for the Global Wilsonians it’s always 1938.

And so, we are darkly warned, that Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to China was about far, far more than a mere gas deal, rather, “it heralded the emergence of an alliance off authoritarian states with a combined population of 1.6 billion in the vast Eurasian space.” Well, perhaps. But any discussion of why Mr Putin has turned East was, it seems, beyond the scope of Ignatieff’s piece.

Over the weekend on a CNN roundtable, another Canadian thinker-turned-MP, Chrystia Freeland, struck back hard at the Council on Foreign Relations chair Richard Haas for having the audacity to suggest the U.S. and the EU are at least partially responsible for the turmoil rollicking the Near East in their eagerness to topple autocratic regimes like Qaddafi’s and Mubarak’s, without giving sufficient thought to what may replace them. Freeland seems to think that this kind of second-guessing is really most unhelpful to the Global Wilsonian project of worldwide democratization. Message: don’t look back.

Moving on from our Canadian Globalists, the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt was in town last week at the invitation of the Atlantic Council. Bildt, as is by now widely known, was one of the principal architects—along with fellow Global Wilsonian and Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski—of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership project which aims to incorporate six of the former Soviet states into the EU. Bildt, much like Ignateiff, looks at the world and sees nothing but trouble, trouble, trouble. (Maybe we should call them the Taylor Swift caucus?)

Bildt noted, “new dangers and challenges seem to be rising wherever we look … these are not easy times, and they call for clear headed strategic assessment of the challenges we are facing.” No doubt, but if the audience was expecting such an assessment to follow, they were mistaken. Read More…

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A Crucial Question for Reformicons

All things being equal, I should be fan of Yuval Levin. I haven’t read his Burke- Paine book, but I’ve read a fair amount of Edmund Burke in my day, and agree with Levin’s take on the importance in intellectual and political history of the Burke-Paine divide. I admire without reservation The Public Interest, the monkish domestic politics quarterly founded by Irving Kristol which made the first large footprints of neoconservativism. Levin has founded a journal, National Affairs, plainly intended to be the heir and successor to The Public Interest, devoted to domestic policy ideas. The magazine is a platform for so-called reform conservatism, a group sometimes labeled “reformicons,” which seeks to rethink conservative domestic policy options in a period of rising inequality and a shrinking and financially insecure middle class.

These are clearly the kinds of problems with which conservatives should be engaged. I concur with Levin and other “reformicons” that domestic conservatism, to be politically relevant, needs to move beyond simplistic tax-cutting and “government is the enemy” notions.

So why does Sam Tanenhaus’s prominently-placed piece about Levin and his cohorts in the Sunday New York Times magazine leave a queasy feeling? Levin  (unsurprisingly depicted as “soft spoken” and “self-deprecating”) is described as “probably the pre-eminent conservative intellectual of the Obama era” by one prominent journalist (Jonathan Chait) and “a one-man Republican brain trust” by another (David Frum). The piece notes reformicon regrets about the defeat of their chief point person in Congress, former majority leader Eric Cantor, and offers a snippet about a New York Historical Society discussion of Levin’s book done with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.

The answer is pretty obvious. Tanenhaus presents to a wide general interest audience the “preeminent conservative intellectual of the Obama era” and yet  erases from consideration the Iraq war or any other foreign policy question. So while it is true that Levin has interesting ideas about what’s wrong with Obama’s health care plan, we are left in the dark about whether he has thoughts about war and peace or America’s role in the world. Perhaps we can infer the answer from Levin’s association with some of the most prominent propagandists for that two-trillion dollar war of aggression, which, more than any war in America’s history, was a war conceived and successfully lobbied by intellectuals based in magazines and think tanks. Does Levin favor, as does Bill Kristol, starting a new American war against Iran? Does he favor, as also does Kristol, an American war against both the Sunni extremists in Iraq and their Iranian enemies at the same time? Would Levin deem such projects “Burkean”? I would be inclined to guess no, but then it is not especially reassuring to find Kristol and David Frum featured so prominently among Levin’s major boosters.

And then there is Eric Cantor. It is apt that the Richmond Republican should be described as one of the leaders of the “Young Guns”–a group of Republican congressmen most receptive to reformicon ideas. But he also holds the distinction of being the first House majority leader in American history to openly collaborate with the leader of a foreign power against the policies of an American president.

My first full-time job in journalism was with The National Interest, a publication founded and published by Irving Kristol as well, and edited by the Welsh-born Australian Owen Harries. The two magazines shared office space. Harries, as it happened, was also an admirer of Edmund Burke. Not infrequently, when the Cold War ended and the neoconservatives began to write chesty pieces about “the unipolar moment” and “benevolent global (American) hegemony” did Harries remind them of Burke’s cautious instincts in international affairs, his dread that Britain be too much feared for its own good.

Of course Yuval Levin, who has lived intellectually with Burke for years (the Burke-Paine book originated as his doctoral dissertation) is, if there can be such a thing, a genuine Burkean. But Levin’s rise in stature in domestic politics cannot help but elevate the reputations of his friends and backers–who seem to be, almost to a man, big backers of the Iraq war and neoconservative foreign policy in general. Virtually every individual mentioned as a Levin associate in Tanenhaus’s piece, save perhaps for Ramesh Ponnuru’s wife April and Michael Strain, was an active promoter of American aggression against Iraq, tub-thumping for the war or writing or editing articles impugning the patriotism of those who opposed it. Thus it is more than a little disconcerting to see neoconservatism be welcomed back into the public square under the false flag of Burkean moderation.

One can understand why neoconservatives and those influenced by them (which would include most of the editors and writers at National Review) are eager to have this history swept under the rug and forgotten. It is less easy to understand why Sam Tanenhaus would honor their wish by writing about the “preeminent conservative intellectual” of our era as if issues of war and peace were of no importance whatever.

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Mitt Romney Was Wrong All Along

Further evidence that the Republican Party still ought not to be trusted with guiding U.S. foreign policy comes courtesy of former Romney campaign foreign policy director Alex Wong. Wong, in a Politico essay that nicely captures the new Romney-friendly zeitgeist, tells us that Mitt was actually right all along; that his positions with regard to Syria, Russia, and Iran were far more astute and “clear eyed” than was generally appreciated at the time.

Wong notes:

Perhaps the clearest example of Obama’s failure to recognize a strategic competitor is the case of Russia. Mere months before the president first came into office, Russia had invaded its neighbor Georgia, sending an unmistakable message about the manner in which the Kremlin did business. By then, Vladimir Putin’s Russia had already accumulated a deplorable record on human rights and democratic governance—and it was getting worse. Russia has long used its vast energy resources as a cudgel to coerce other countries. And throughout Obama”s presidency, the Kremlin has routinely stood in the way of international pressure on both the Assad regime and the ayatollahs in Tehran.

Where to begin? As I and many others have repeatedly noted, it was neoconservative puppet-turned Tufts University Senior Statesman Mikheil Saakashvili who provoked the 2008 war with Russia by shelling Russian ethnic enclaves in South Ossetia. So Wong begins with a faulty premise, and then pivots to a criticism of Putin’s domestic record with regard to “human rights” and “governance.” This conflation is common. Republicans like Wong, against all evidence, really do seem to take the tenants of Democratic Peace Theory—the idea that a regime’s internal affairs can predict their approach toward external ones—seriously.

Wong then goes on to note that Putin has “stood in the way” of efforts by the international community to pressure both Syria and Iran. Well that’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another: as regards Syria, it was Putin who actually pressured his client Assad to work with the U.S. and Russia to gather and destroy his chemical weapons stockpile, thereby saving Obama from having to follow through on his fantastically reckless “red line” ultimatum. Had he not done so, it is entirely possible the U.S. would now be embroiled in yet another war in the Near East, a war that hawks like Wong and his former boss were all too eager in which to embroil us.

As concerns Iran, please consider the following from the nonpartisan International Institute for Strategic Studies nonproliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick:

Amid ongoing tensions over Ukraine, it is worth noting that Russia continues to cooperate closely with the West over Iran. Far from using the Iran issue to retaliate against US and European sanctions, as Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov ill-advisedly warned it might in mid-March, Russia has helped bolster the US position on the most sensitive aspect of the Iran negotiations: demands for cutbacks in the centrifuge programme. (emphasis added)

As Gov. Rick Perry might say: Oops. Read More…

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