Daniel Larison

Condi, Mistress Of Understatement

On Lebanon: “You have to resist Hezbollah . . . [and] try to strengthen the moderate Lebanese forces, which is not an easy matter.” ~Bret Stephens, OpinionJournal.com

Thus spake Secretary Rice, who had to have enjoyed the irony of talking about strengthening “moderate Lebanese forces” when the war she and the administration backed 100% did more than anything in the last 15 years to undermine and weaken those forces to the advantage of Hizbullah.  Strengthening “moderate Lebanese forces” wouldn’t have been easy in the best of times, but after the Lebanon war it seems a very long shot.

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Freisinnigen ‘Raus!

I found myself on a panel to discuss globalization and offered that conservatives might do well–at the voting booth and otherwise–to push free trade, liberalize markets, rein in farm subsidies, and keep Europe’s door open to Turkey. Nothing controversial for this crowd, I assumed, with the possible exception of the last. ~Matthew Kaminski, OpinionJournal.com

Reading Mr. Kaminski’s article, I had to laugh.  It cannot say much for the journalistic reputation of WSJ Europe, of which Mr. Kaminski is the editor, that he believed reheated economic liberalism was going to go down well with the representatives of the various Christian Democratic and Volkspartei groups assembled for the meeting.  When was free trade as such ever really a conservative position on the Continent?  Why would a Gaullist rein in farm subsidies?  Why would people with political roots in Catholic corporatism and some of whom remain committed to Catholic social doctrine want to liberalise markets?  Nothing controversial?  Could the man have been this delusional?

In a riposte worthy of George Grant or Wendell Berry came the answer to Mr. Kaminski’s “uncontroversial” ideas:

The reality check arrived from a German Christian Democrat. “For us, a human being is not only a function of production,” he lectured from the floor. “Our voters are not signing up to . . . your neoliberal, neoconservative agenda.”

To which Mr. Kaminski could only lamely add, “(Jeesh, I hadn’t even mentioned Iraq.)”  More simplistic, ahistorical analysis followed, such as:

In Europe’s biggest country, as well as in France, right-wing rulers remain wedded to the nanny state–which emerged with Bismarck–and to close alliances with guilds and big business that tend to stifle competition. In her day, Margaret Thatcher never felt welcome on the Continent.

There was a time when Margaret Thatcher would not have been terribly welcome in the Conservative Party, which was decidedly not given over to economic liberalism, as this was largely the position of the party’s opponents.  During the last fifty or sixty years of Tory drift, they, too, have accommodated with the “nanny state” as have most center-right parties across Europe, but their concerns have always come from very different sources and what they seek to preserve by means of regulation has usually been very different.  Unless, of course, one thinks that it makes sense to confuse the Christian Social Union of Bavaria with the SDP of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern because both have different kinds of objections to the free play of market forces.  What appears as European conservatives’ being “wedded to the nanny state” is very often their desire to preserve the character of their communities and the stability of their institutions.  Those who want liberalised markets, free trade and state rollback in Europe can vote FDP or some other similarly liberal party.  

In the real world, the GOP has hardly been very hostile to the “nanny state” in practise, and if the center-right in Europe makes alliances with “guilds and big business to stifle competition” the GOP simply makes alliances with corporations to achieve whatever it is the corporations want to achieve.  Those waiting the great age of federal deregulation under the GOP majority are still waiting.  Republicans expand government with a vigour that would embarrass and discredit most Socialist and Labour parties in Europe today.  Structurally and for all intents and purposes, the GOP is no less of a statist party than its center-right counterparts in Europe, but is actually far less oriented towards the common good as understood by conservatives in Europe.  Meanwhile, the WSJ mocks the “economic patriotism” of the French at its own peril, since it clearly seems not to understand that such a platform would be a winning message here in America–and would be unstoppable were cultural conservatives to advocate it, rather than leaving it to the Democrats.

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A Political Hack Like No Other

I imagine that the appalling Victor Davis Hanson is to blame for most of this. I simply don’t see how one can read Thucydides without coming away with some quite emphatic lessons about the long term costs of imperial arrogance towards one’s political allies, how unnecessary military adventures turn into disasters, und so weiter. Not to mention Thucydides’ depiction of the dangers of cheap jingoism and pro-war demagoguery at home (it would be unfair to describe Glenn Reynolds and company as tinpot Kleons, if only because Kleon actually went out to fight the war that he had touted for). ~Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber

The quote from Thucydides included in Mr. Farrell’s post reminded me of a similar quote from Chateaubriand on the age of “Buonaparte”:

Words changed meaning. A people who fights for its legitimate sovereign is a rebellious people. A traitor is a loyal subject. France was an Empire of lies: journals, pamphlets, discourses, prose, and verse all disguised the truth. If it rained, we were assured it was sunny. If the tyrant walked among the silent people, it was said that he advanced among the acclamations of the crowd. The prince was all that mattered: morality consisted of devoting oneself to his caprice; duty was to praise him. Above all it was necessary to praise the administration when it made a mistake or committed a crime.

It is no wonder that the most fanatical of Bonapartists was Nicolas Chauvin, the man who gave his name to chauvinisme, which at the time originally meant a fanatical attachment to the cause of a particular political figure, in this case Bonaparte, as well as hyper-nationalism.  It is fitting then that our neo-Bonapartists with all their distortions of language should also be astonishingly virulent national chauvinists.

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Syracuse, Anyone?

Henry Farrell gets medieval on a pet peeve of mine: neoimperialists invoking Thucydides. I’m not a big fan of our pundit Blavatskys who tell us that the dead would be on their side of some contemporary controversy. Orwell gets this the most of course. But if I was going to pick a historical figure supportive of democratic imperialism and the remote social engineering implied in transforming the Islamic world into a swarthier Kansas, then Thucydides would be absolutely the last on any list. ~Pithlord

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When You Fail, Blame The Generals

Card put it on the generals in the Pentagon and Iraq. If they had come forward and said to the president, “It’s not worth it,” or, “The mission can’t be accomplished,” Card was certain, the president would have said “I’m not going to ask another kid to sacrifice for it.” ~Bob Woodward, The Washington Post

In other words, according to the former chief of staff, it is up to the generals to tell the President what the strategy ought to be and determine whether it is or is not worthwhile.  But consider this year’s response to the retired generals who said that the strategy either wasn’t working or that the war should never have been fought in the first place–they were widely denounced by GOP flacks and their very participation in the debate was viewed as a possible threat to civilian control of the military.  When civilian critics of the war say that the strategy isn’t working or that the mission cannot be accomplished, we are accused of buying into enemy propaganda and helping the cause of terrorists.  No wonder the generals who haven’t retired don’t dare go to Mr. Bush to say that the war is pointless!  No, I’m sorry, if Mr. Bush is so lacking in perspicacity and understanding that he cannot see for himself that the strategy isn’t working, it does not become solely the responsibility of his subordinates to tell him this.  He does not get a free pass on this one.  The pernicious influence of Kissinger’s “stick it out” mentality is there for all to see, and it makes you think that Mr. Bush would “stick it out” even if the generals told him that it would be pointless to do so.

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“We Are Where We Are”–Que Sera, Sera

Garner made his final point: “There’s still time to rectify this. There’s still time to turn it around.” 

Rumsfeld looked at Garner for a moment with his take-no-prisoners gaze. “Well,” he said, “I don’t think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are.”

He thinks I’ve lost it, Garner thought. He thinks I’m absolutely wrong. Garner didn’t want it to sound like sour grapes, but facts were facts. “They’re all reversible,” Garner said again.

“We’re not going to go back,” Rumsfeld said emphatically. ~Bob Woodward, The Washington Post

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Revenge Of The Populists; What’s A Progressive Globalist To Do?; The Nostalgia Attack

Many of this year’s prominent candidates are also surprisingly nationalist on immigration, playing off concerns about declining wages. “I do believe we must gain control of our borders,” Webb said during a debate. “We also must gain control over corporate America’s use of illegals. This, along with the Iraq war, has been the major failure of this administration.” ~David Brooks, The New York Times

It cannot be a good sign for the GOP that prominent Democratic candidates are able to articulate genuinely conservative sentiments on the war, corporations and immigration more ably than their opponents.  With the rise of candidates such as Ford and Webb the Dems may be beginning to understand that, to be successful, their coalition has to be broad enough to include those who, like Webb, have Confederate ancestors and are proud of them and what they fought for and those, like Ford, who express a natural affinity with believing Christians because they are themselves church-going folk.  What Brooks seems to miss is that as Democrats have become more skeptical of “free trade” once more, so has the nation.  Economic populism should work politically because, in spite of a perfectly respectable economy according to the numbers people in the country do seem unusually anxious about their economic prospects.  When the left-liberals do not engage in cultural warfare, whether in the courts or elsewhere, that rallies ordinary folks to oppose them, and Democrats start to sound more like the common man they purport to represent on cultural questions, the appeal of Red Republican rhetoric diminishes significantly.

What is a progressive globalist (a name Brooks invented to refer to the squishy cosmopolitans who have made up the political leadership of both parties) to do in an age when nobody seems to care much for globalisation and globalism?  There is always the attack on the dumb nostalgics:

And yet Democrats have reason to worry long term. This message is based on a sort of economic nostalgia, what The Economist called a “rose-tinted version of the 1950’s and 1960’s” — when the middle class prospered, families cohered, America dominated, unions thrived, Islam was invisible and immigrants were Irish and Italian.

That’s odd.  This sounds remarkably like the “nostalgia” that has motivated most conservatives and Republicans since the 1960s.  It is commonplace to hear evangelicals talk about “taking back” the country, which has more than its share of nostalgia.  Perhaps there is a real element of nostalgia in this “rose-tinted” view, but it is also based in a recognition that, on the whole, those conditions were better for large swathes of the country than the conditions we have today.  Conservatives used to know this and say as much.  Except perhaps for enthusiasm for strong labour unions, can you think of anything in that list that the average conservative or Republican voter would find undesirable?  Even if it were actually impossible to recover some measure of that old order, that does not make its appeal any less powerful.  To remind the voter of how things were–or how we remember them to be, which often is virtually the same thing–is to tap into their discontent with the way things are, and the discontent is considerable.  If Democrats could acknowledge voters’ importance of anxiety about social and moral disorder in a genuine way, best of all if they actually shared this anxiety and valued the same kinds of things that the voters valued, they would recapture a lot of middle-class voters who have written them off as the party of decadence and cultural rot.    

If there is one thing that reading about Bolingbroke and the Opposition has reminded me of, it is that the “politics of nostalgia” do not seem nostalgic to the people who espouse them, but seem to be the very stuff of principle and common sense.  Wanting to restore the ancient constitution or “the good old days” is not just some hopeless dream cooked up by poets and oddballs–though it may ultimately be out of reach–but is the natural and healthy response of people who are seeking a restoration of order in deeply disordered times.  If people want eunomia, they may respond favourably to those who offer them the nostalgic vision of the way things used to be when there was more eunomia to be had (or people at least think that there was, which is effectively the same thing as far as its impact today is concerned) and a promise to bring them back.  This was one of the principal appeals of Populism and La Follette’s Progressivism: to go forward to the “good old days.” 

Brooks continues:

This nostalgia is certainly common today. In their must-read book, “Applebee’s America,” Doug Sosnik, Matt Dowd and Ron Fournier quote an anxious Michigan voter: “This is going to sound silly, but I wish things were like they were when we were growing up. … I wish I could go back in time. We had stable lives. Mom could stay home, and we could afford it. Life was slower.”

But nationwide, and in the decades ahead, can a politics that evades the modern realities of Islamic extremism and the skill-based global economy really be the basis of a majority movement? I doubt it.

Certainly nostalgia alone won’t cut it.  Even nostalgia and criticism won’t do it by themselves.  There does have to be a positive alternative offered up.  However, the more things in the present differ from the memory of how much better things used to be, the more powerful the appeal to the past will be.  The more chaotic, uncertain and dangerous the present, the more people will want to return to something more like a previous era–even if that era was in some respects just aas chaotic and dangerous in reality–and the more willing they will be to follow those who paint that picture of the old days.  

But there is nothing that says return to the past must evade present realities.  Usually the return to the past comes about because people come to believe, rightly or not, that imitating the way things were done in the past when things seemed to have been better will tend to reproduce the same happy consequences.  Perhaps it does not always provide a handy solution, and sometimes it might be genuinely misleading, but it is almost always in the search for a solution for modern problems that people seek solace and answers in the experience of the past.  Again, real conservatives have always known this.  For Brooks it is a sort of baffling phenomenon that appears to him as an obstacle for the political success of Democrats.  Unfortunately, this sort of nostalgia could have limited appeal, but not for the reasons Brooks gives–we are a people cursed by an inclination to optimism and a stunningly naive confidence that there really is such a thing as progress.  If the “good old days” are gone, it is only to make way for the better days to come–this is the fatuous assumption of so many.  On the whole, progressives in the Democratic Party are the worst offenders in this regard, but they have lately been joined by a great many Republicans.  Typically, the party in power is always more inclined to prattle on about optimism and the future, because they think that they control what the future will be, but there are built-in tendencies to think in this way across the spectrum. 

Incidentally, I love some of these euphemisms we have today, such as “skill-based global economy.”  What is the “skill” of labourers in Indonesia?  Their “skill” is to live in a poor country with a low cost of living and limited labour regulations.  There are skilled, educated workers in other countries, yes, who work for less than our skilled workers, and to this extent there is a “skill-based global economy,” which is to say that there is a global economy.  No one denies this, and no one is “evading” the reality of it.  Critics look starkly at the reality of it, see its deleterious effects on American workers and say, “What if we tried something that didn’t result in the death of American manufacturing?”  For some crazy reason American workers respond to this sort of thinking–obviously, they’re just being nostalgic for the olden times.  You know, the time back when they had stable jobs with decent wages.

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Our Bargain With The Devil

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was under fresh pressure last night after India accused his intelligence agency of masterminding the Mumbai train bombings that killed 186 people.

Hours after the broadcast of an interview in which Gen Musharraf claimed that the US and its allies would fail in their “war on terror” without the support of Pakistan and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the senior police officer in charge of the investigation into the bombings dropped a diplomatic bombshell.

Mumbai police commissioner AN Roy said the ISI began planning the July attack in March and later provided training to the Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that carried it out.


The row coincided with the return to Pakistan of Gen Musharraf after a three-week foreign tour during which he has faced questions about Pakistan’s commitment to the “war on terror” and the role of his intelligence agency. 

But in an interview yesterday on Radio 4’s Today he defended the ISI and claimed that the Taliban, not al-Qaeda, posed the greatest threat in the region.

“You will be brought down to your knees if Pakistan doesn’t co-operate with you. That is all that I would like to say. Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you would not manage anything. Let that be clear,” he said in the interview, which was recorded after he had held talks with Tony Blair in London on Thursday. ~The Daily Telegraph

This is one of those ugly predicaments that playing the hegemon brings upon America.  We have been compelled to ignore the reality that the ISI and Pakistan are and long have been the leading sponsors of jihadi terrorism in the world–a dubious distinction that our government routinely pins on Iran with remarkable duplicity–because if we should push them too hard to stop their anti-Indian terrorism the ISI will go back to its old habits of arming and supporting the Taliban, making life in Afghanistan even more grim and dangerous for NATO forces and the Afghan government.  Musharraf’s remarks on Radio 4 are a not-so-veiled threat that he effectively holds the leash on the Taliban and that if he chose to let go, if Pakistan stopped “cooperating,” Afghanistan would quickly become unmanageable.  The resurgence of the Taliban would soon enough become a full-blown restoration–and one that we are hard-pressed to combat, of course, because so many of our armed forces are stuck in Iraq. 

If the U.S. really were fighting jihadis no matter where they were–as the more crazed of the neocons seem to think we are supposed to be doing–we would be absolutely obligated to take the fight to Pakistan, which does not merely harbour but actively aids and abets jihadis in Kashmir and the rest of India proper.  This is one of the worst-kept secrets in modern international affairs.  It is also an arch-proliferator of nuclear weapons and probably today represents the single greatest threat to the peace of Asia and the world–but why worry?  They are on “our” side, right? 

If the goal of our foreign policy instead is to neutralise anti-American jihadi groups, stabilise Afghanistan and pursue American national interests, we might well have to temper our reaction to Pakistani treachery.  But if the ISI was involved in supporting and preparing the Mumbai train attacks–and I have little reason to doubt that at least some elements within the ISI were involved–then the ISI and the Pakistani government have shown that they have not changed in the least and are no better than the Taliban in their deliberate support for jihadi terrorism.  The logic of the so-called Bush Doctrine would lead to the United States and India allying together against this arch-sponsor of terrorism.  Jai Hind and let’s roll, right?  This is why the Bush Doctrine is an idiotic doctrine–it would, if followed strictly, force us to push Pakistan back to the side of the Taliban and give our enemies access to the power of the world’s only nuclear Islamic state.  We would take our strong moral stance and bring disaster to South Asia. 

All of this has got to be tempered with the realistic assessment that any major conflict between India and Pakistan would almost certainly lead to a nuclear exchange with disastrous consequences for India and Pakistan, the entire region and all of Asia.  It is, however, imperative that Washington show some integrity and courage vis-a-vis Pakistan for a change and push Musharraf to hand over the ISI members responsible for supporting Lashkar-e-Taiba and also push to suppress the camps for Lashkar-e-Taiba that he was supposedly suppressing five years ago after the Parliament attack.  Our good relations with India require us to make holding the elements in Pakistan responsible for this atrocity a priority.  Our long-term national interests in the region dictate that we support India in demanding justice for its murdered citizens. 

If Musharraf is incapable of meeting reasonable demands to hand over those responsible (the example of A.Q. Khan shows that we cannot trust Pakistan to seriously punish its own), because his position is too weak and he does not really control what the ISI does, it should be clear that he has no effective control over the apparatuses of his own state and can only be relied on to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron that is Pakistan. 

If he continues to deny any ISI involvement, we can be more and more sure that he remains as committed as ever to the jihad in Kashmir and against India, which should not surprise us when we know that he came to power through the Kargil War and that he was one of the architects of that war, but it will tell us what kind of ally we have in Islamabad and what we can expect from him.

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The Irresponsible House Leadership

Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said any leader who had been aware of Mr. Foley’s behavior and failed to take action should step down. “If they knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership,” Mr. Shays said. ~The New York Times

As of right now, that would definitely include the head of the NRCC and the Majority Leader.  It presumably would also include the Speaker, his denials of prior knowledge notwithstanding (Reynolds’ new statements about Hastert’s knowledge of the affair are definitely of the, “I’m not going down alone for this one!” variety).  It is reasonable to say that the Speaker “should have known” about a serious ethical lapse by one of the Members–unless, of course, they think trolling the Internet for minors does not consistute a serious ethical lapse.  If they knew about this, as it seems they did, and they did nothing (which, in a majority that altered ethics rules to make life easier for Tom DeLay, is not that surprising), chalk it up to just one more example where holding onto power trumped everything else.  The leadership could have forced Foley out when it found out about the correspondence; it could at least have stripped him of his position heading the relevant caucus.  The best response, both ethically and politically, would have been to ask for his resignation and have a special election last spring so that you could make it clear that the majority party abhorred this sort of conduct while giving Foley’s replacement a fighting chance to win the election.  Now they have shown their relative indifference to unethical behaviour (again) and will probably end up losing the seat.  Someone remind me again why the party that endorses torture, arbitrary executive power, illegal searches and surveillance and aggressive war and shrugs at the ethical corruption of its members is fit to govern.

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Put The Lime In The Coconut And Blow Them Both Up

Mr. Woodward reports that when he told Mr. Rumsfeld that the number of insurgent attacks was going up, the defense secretary replied that they’re now “categorizing more things as attacks.” Mr. Woodward quotes Mr. Rumsfeld as saying, “A random round can be an attack and all the way up to killing 50 people someplace. So you’ve got a whole fruit bowl of different things — a banana and an apple and an orange.”

Mr. Woodward adds: “I was speechless. Even with the loosest and most careless use of language and analogy, I did not understand how the secretary of defense would compare insurgent attacks to a ‘fruit bowl,’ a metaphor that stripped them of all urgency and emotion. The official categories in the classified reports that Rumsfeld regularly received were the lethal I.E.D.’s, standoff attacks with mortars and close engagements such as ambushes.” ~Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

As has been reported elsewhere, there are over 800 such pieces of “fruit” being launched every week.  That’s a lot of fruit bowls, Rummy.

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