A friendly critic, some years ago, told me that Chronicles could never succeed, because, although we are often right, we are right much too early. To have spoken about the Islamic problem a few days after September 11 made you look like a prophet. We had been warning about the danger for over 15 years. We were also right about the significance of the Balkan conflicts, immigration, and multiculturalism, but we were always so far ahead of the curve that, on every issue, we went through the same cycle: initial ridicule, a brief instant of respect, then a dismissive ”Oh, everybody knows that now!”
The saddest issue on which we have been proved correct is the war in Iraq. We said, from the beginning, that the evidence did not justify an invasion, and, that even if it did, the result would be a quagmire of violence and chaos from which it would be difficult to extricate ourselves.
By now, even Bill Buckley knows we were right. What did we know that was not available to Don Rumsfeld and the neoconservative chickenhawks who egged him on? In one sense, nothing; in another, everything. It is often not technical information we need in order to make up our minds about a political issue, but historical and moral understanding. Our “reading” of Iraq was derived from the study of history going back to the postcolonial formation of the country, to the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, all the way back to the ancient Sumerians and Assyrians of Mesopotamia.
Today, virtually everybody knows. Even the Dallas Morning News has conceded the truth:
Prior to the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, a small but vociferous faction of paleoconservatives and foreign-policy realists argued that the United States was careening into catastrophe. Some argued from prudential grounds that attacking Iraq would cause more problems than it would solve. Others argued from traditionalist conservative convictions about the nature of men and societies that it was delusional to think that America could, by force of arms, impose liberal democracy on a nation that lacked the cultural and institutional capability for it. These thinkers were not only ignored, but some were anathematized from the right as unpatriotic.
As the writer who headed the list of David Frum’s “unpatriotic conservatives,” I am entitled to brag, on behalf of my colleagues. America needs Chronicles, if only to inject a little musty old-fashioned air into our national debates. If you have already made a gift this Christmas season, please accept my thanks. If you haven’t yet sent a contribution, please help us to keep the voice of conservative sanity on the web by clicking here. All donations to ChroniclesMagazine.org are tax deductible, so don’t delay. ~Thomas Fleming
I cannot urge everyone strongly enough to contribute to the support of Chronicles‘ website. It is one of the very few voices of sanity available online, and it is to my mind quite clearly the best and most insightful commentary written in this country.
Schumacher’s greatest achievement was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world. The wisdom of the ages, the perennial truths that have guided humanity throughout its history, serves as a constant reminder to each new generation of the limits to human ambition. But if this wisdom is a warning, it is also a battle cry. Schumacher saw that we needed to relearn the beauty of smallness, of human-scale technology and environments. It was no coincidence that his book was subtitled Economics as if People Mattered.
Joseph Pearce revisits Schumacher’s arguments and examines the multifarious ways in which Schumacher’s ideas themselves still matter. Faced though we are with fearful new technological possibilities and the continued centralization of power in large governmental and economic structures, there is still the possibility of pursuing a saner and more sustainable vision for humanity. Bigger is not always best, Pearce reminds us, and small is still beautiful. ~Description of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful.
Clark Stooksbury, Jeremy Beer and (I suspect) many others familiar to us all from our Crunchy Cons and Look Homeward, America adventures earlier in the year will be assembling next month for the group blog about Mr. Pearce’s new book, whose name it bears: Small Is Still Beautiful.
Hart has always held certain views outside of the conservative mainstream. An advocate for stem-cell research, Hart debated another National Review editor on the subject in 2004. Early in 2005, Hart wrote a long editorial for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “The Evangelical Effect.” Finding fault in Bush’s evangelicalism—in 2000, Bush declared that Jesus Christ was his most influential political philosopher—Hart wrote: “The Bush Presidency often is called conservative. This is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative.” ~James Panero (via Supreme Fiction)
Mr. Hart has done fine work eviscerating the follies of the Bush administration, and his denunciations of the ideological turn of the administration, the GOP and the conservative movement have been very much on the mark. There was a great deal of chest-beating at NR over Mr. Hart’s Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he both criticised pro-life enthusiasts and ridiculed the Iraq war as Wilsonian madness. (There was far more to the op-ed than these two things, but these were the points that seem to have received the most comment.)
I have always assumed that the thing that most offended them was not his attack on pro-lifers but his hostility to the war in Iraq. Under the “new fusionist” dispensation, there are important ”issues” and then there are fundamental, unquestionable truths: among the latter is the truth that the Iraq war is necessary and good and proper. To use the word Wilsonian in a disparaging way in the context of discussing the war in Iraq is to have placed oneself among those dissident conservatives who still remember what conservatism is and what they believed before 2001. It is the sort of thing that irritates war supporters on “the right” to no end, because it reveals how deeply indebted they are to the foolishness of liberal internationalism for their foreign policy views, and I take it as almost certain that it was this that brought down the intense criticism of Hart’s op-ed rather than anything he might have said one way or the other about abortion.
Hart’s op-ed did also elicit strong reaction over his somewhat cavalier treatment of opposition to abortion (in which he rather unimpressively cited vague irrrepressible “social forces” on a matter of fundamental moral principle), and in his disdain for evangelicals one often gets the sense not so much of a High Church man whose mind boggles at the shallowness of Enthusiasm but of a Northeasterner who finds people from much of the rest of the country rather drab and miserable yokels whom we should ignore as often as we can. But he did make one excellent observation in his remarks on abortion that deserves to be quoted here: “Simply to pull an abstract “right to life” out of the Declaration of Independence is not conservative but Jacobinical.” This is quite right. I would extend that to much of the “rights” talk that pervades the American right today. However, since large numbers of people who consider themselves conservative routinely pull abstract rights out of the Declaration of Independence (and who denounce as relativist or historicist those who object to this idiocy), it is a protest that will most likely confuse or annoy its target audience.
In any case, it has been the war that has separated him most sharply from the crowd at NR and the ideology that now infests the movement more broadly. If there is one sentence that might sum up the modern Republican Party and the conservative movement, it is that they would sooner prefer causing death abroad than protecting life at home. If someone like a McCain or a Giuliani should somehow miraculously win the nomination in ’08, my impression of the priorities of conservatives will have been confirmed absolutely.
But where Mr. Hart has been devastating in his critiques of the administration and modern conservatism, he makes some remarks, such as the one quoted above, that seem to me to make no sense. What can it mean, for example, to call Mr. Bush’s politics populist? Radical of a sort they certainly are, but to call someone radical may or may not be an indictment of him–it is the quality and nature of the roots to which one returns that determines whether his radicalism is wisdom or insanity.
But in what sense is Mr. Bush is a populist, and how does he advance any kind of populism? Whether we are speaking of a kind of rightist populism that focuses on national identity, relative economic self-sufficiency, defense of the American worker and a foreign policy of non-entanglement and neutrality or the old American (conservative) populism of agrarian protest in the 19th century or the aristocratic brand of populism of the Opposition in Britain in the 18th century or the leftist populism of redistribution and socialism re-emerging in Latin America, there is no kind of populism that matches Mr. Bush’s politics (except insofar as the word populism is used rather the way some people use fascist by people from the coasts to disparage the politics of someone else with no regard to content or meaning). Mr. Bush is a liberal patrician who actually favours the interests of the Northeastern elite and who embraces a heady mix of hegemonic nationalism that expresses itself in terms of a universalist ideology. His politics are radical in the pursuit of ideological clarity, and they are also autocratic and imperialist. He has nothing but contempt for actual populist opposition to mass immigration, free trade and activist foreign policy, to name a few examples where what benefits the people and what the people desire are equally uninteresting to him.
He is a Brahmin with a twang, and for some reason a great many people have bought into the twang and the folksy spiel while ignoring what the man says and does. This is a serious mistake, and it reinforces Mr. Hart’s assumption that all populism is contrary to his kind of conservatism, which is probably why he says his kind of conservatism is anti-populist. Certainly, if I thought Mr. Bush was a populist of some kind I would want to be an ardent anti-populist, but he isn’t one and no fair definition of a rightist populism could confuse it with the sort of ideologically-driven and flatly unpatriotic policies pursued by the present administration. To call Mr. Bush populist is to bring discredit on actual populists, which mainly benefits precisely those few whom Mr. Bush actually serves and represents.
The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power. ~Matthew Continetti, The Weekly Standard
This is a pleasant fiction, at least where Democratic party leadership and elected representatives are concerned. This claim about being a “peace” party is most true of Democratic House members, who are necessarily a little more representative of grassroots sentiment, but even here it is not terribly convincing. Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold, bless their politically irrelevant hearts, continue to hold the only real antiwar positions of any remotely prominent Democrats on the Hill. Pelosi talks a good game as far as Iraq goes, but she was foursquare behind every Clinton intervention and has no principled qualms about power projection or intervention as such. She opposes the Iraq war (feebly), but that’s all. In practical terms, the two parties converge far more often than not on foreign policy. This is what drives progressives and traditional conservatives alike crazy. Were there actually a clear partisan division over America’s role in the world, there would be no question that all non-interventionists would flock to the major party that represented them. There is no such major party.
This supposed divergence only holds up at all when you compare supporters of the two parties. As the November 2005 Pew poll, which I discussed last year here, showed, support for interventionism tended to rise in direct proportion to a person’s wealth and education. (This tells me that people who have many of the advantages in life are shockingly bad judges of the national interest, and it would be worth investigating why this is the case.) Support for an interventionist role was even more directly correlated with a person’s party affiliation and self-described political leanings: Republicans and those who considered themselves conservative or very conservative were considerably more likely to reject the idea that America should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” In other words, most of the people calling themselves conservative on a fundamental question of the American role in the world rejected the conservative and traditional American view. As with so many other things, I suppose they are entitled to take whatever position they believe is best, but I do get awfully tired of their sullying the good name of conservative in the process.
However, as the poll showed, at least 22% of conservatives and 27% of Republicans did agree with the statement that America should mind its own business internationally (compared with 55% of Democrats). That is a clear minority of the GOP, but a sizeable one that a real non-interventionist party could possibly steal away. But the Democrats cannot pursue a dedicated non-interventionist line without sacrificing a huge portion of their own support. The Democratic base is almost evenly split down the middle. Mr. Continetti’s “great divide” goes right through the Democratic Party (and through the GOP to a much lesser extent), not between the two parties themselves.
Mr. Continetti rests much of this divide on attitudes towards the Iraq war, which is highly misleading. Many of the current opponents of the Iraq war on the left (or, more accurately, those who support withdrawal from Iraq on the left) are not particularly opposed to the projection of American power and some were not even opposed to the invasion. John Murtha is famously one of the most “hawkish” of Democrats, and it seems unlikely that Jim Webb is reflexively hostile to interventionism. Kucinich distinguishes himself as the only probable ’08 contender who actually supports withdrawal sooner rather than later. Conservative and other interventionist Democrats oppose a particularly badly run and pointless war that is damaging the armed forces and wrecking America’s reputation. In this they are increasingly joined by internationalist and realist Republicans who are nothing if not interested in maintaining American superpower status and protecting Washington’s bloated definition of what constitutes our national interests. The foreign policy establishment has started to turn on the war not because they are giving up on projecting power, but because they see it as a liability that prevents the government from being able to project power around the globe. The complaint from many Republicans now is not that there are too many commitments but that there are too few military resources to match them. Any desire to liquidate the Iraq war in these quarters is fuelled by a desire to maintain America’s ability to project power and to answer the “real” threats from Iran or some other bogey conjured to frighten us into still more war.
In some sense, non-interventionists might benefit from the Iraq war’s continuation as it grinds away at the public’s patience and wears out their tolerance for idiotic foriegn policy, but for good or ill non-interventionists are not nearly so cynical as some of their adversaries in the foreign policy debate. Unlike them, we are not indifferent to the costs and damage their wars do to this country, and so we would sooner see them ended even if their continuation might destroy support for interventionism for a generation. Unfortunately, there is scarcely any political leadership that represents our view. A sharp partisan divide over foreign policy would be a refreshing change, but it is one for which we will still have to wait a very long time.
Chait asserts that “any new libertarian voters the Democrats attracted … would cost them support,” but here he is clearly wrong. According to data analyzed by David Boaz and David Kirby, Democratic House and Senate candidates in 2006 did 24 percentage points better with libertarian-leaning voters than they did in the midterm elections of 2002. These findings are corroborated by the strong Democratic gains in New Hampshire and the interior West–areas of the country where small-government leanings are prevalent. Yet, even as Democrats improved their standing with the “economically conservative, socially liberal” crowd, they increased their overall national vote share as well. So much for the idea that gaining ground with libertarians is doomed to be a net vote loser. ~Brink Lindsey
Proponents of the “libertarian swing vote” theory (Boaz and Kirby) and proponents of a liberal-libertarian alliance are awfully crafty in the way they use evidence. They ignore the intervening election of 2004, which would show that 2006 represented a stabilising and hardening of “libertarian” support for the GOP. There are those classed as libertarians by these Cato studies who tend to drift towards the Democrats, but their numbers are limited and they form a clear minority of the voters classified as libertarians.
Advocates for the “swing vote” or the alliance then make vague references to New Hampshire and “the interior West” without ever explaining why a party’s success in these places equals support for libertarian social or economic policies. There is an assumption that libertarian voters helped make Democratic success here possible, but I feel fairly sure without having looked terribly closely at any state-by-state vote tallies that the people voting for the new Democratic House and state legislature representatives in New Hampshire were not those Cato might define as libertarians but were instead “centrist”/”independent” voters whose mass defection from the GOP fits the national trend. In “the interior West,” it is difficult to believe that there really are as many libertarians (very broadly defined) as some seem to think. Did AZ-05 and AZ-08, for example, flip because of a great defection of libertarians, or for other reasons entirely? I suspect that the more you dig into the specifics of each Democratic victory in “the interior West” you will find very few libertarian-themed campaign pitches that brought them the win.
Going from ’04 to ’06, did libertarians defect in greater or smaller numbers from the GOP than other blocs of voters? Clearly, they defected in smaller numbers. In part, this was because no one was trying to persuade them to defect. On the other hand, no one was trying to persuade them because their policies are actually unpopular across the country (hey, everybody, let’s have mass immigration and free trade!) and the voters Democrats could most easily poach are conservative populists. The vague outline of a liberal-populist alliance at least has a slight plausibility to it when it comes to some aspects of economic policy, and if Dobbsian Democrats could drop the fetishes of cultural liberalism and cease antagonising these same voters they would win far more support than if they joined hands with libertarians in, say, selling out the country with amnesty.
This brings us back to the biggest swindle of them all: the equation of libertarian with “economically conservative and socially liberal.” This is a definition fit for the DLC or the Concord Coalition, not the Cato Institute. It is an attempt to claim the broad middle as the natural libertarian constituency. This is a clever PR move, but it has no connection to reality. Using this definition makes appealing to libertarians seem politically desirable for both parties, but this is to treat libertarian voters as some sort of floating centrist vote that, according to Cato’s own studies of their voting behaviour (even accepting Cato’s over-generous enumeration of how many “libertarian-leaning” voters there are), they simply are not.
Mr. Lindsey’s claim that populism is a loser on the national stage is a tried and true spiel favoured by the two party establishment and those who support the consensus politics on trade, immigration and foreign policy. (Note that foreign policy, the main area where a liberal-libertarian alliance is most natural and most obvious, is the one Lindsey avoids like the plague because, when it comes to the Iraq war, he is as libertarian as I am Buddhist.) Populism has been a loser on the national stage when prosperity was widespread, economic insecurity was minimal and wages were not stagnant. When economic insecurity and anxiety rise and wages do not, populism often succeeds. When government seems to be failing and out of control, populism succeeds. In 2006, minimum wage hikes succeeded in referendum after referendum–obviously, some populist measures are quite popular. Ross Perot, one of the most ridiculous presidential candidates ever, got 19% of the vote nationally. That was the fruit of sheer populist frustration, much of which he frittered away with his general battiness and poorly run campaign. If one party or the other could reliably count on those Perot voters or people like them in every cycle, it would become the virtually permanent majority party. “Libertarian-leaning” voters possess this kind of power only in their wildest dreams.
The Reagan coalition was built by very intelligently exploiting the patriotic and socially conservative impulses of the famous Reagan Democrats–the Jim Webbs of yesteryear–and diverting their economic populist frustrations into hostility against a hostile cultural liberalism that was seen (by these voters at least) to be sapping national resolve in foreign affairs and dissolving the nation’s moral integrity. Now that the GOP has gone insane on foreign policy, these people no longer feel that they belong in that party and they are remembering that they have little love for the long-time ally of the corporations. While it may discomfort some of our friends, such as Dan McCarthy, Jim Webb’s victory announcement that he had also always been concerned with ”economic fairness and social justice” as well as deeply outraged by the Iraq war was a sharp reminder that a competent, patriotic foreign policy combined with some degree of economic populism together make for a tremendously powerful appeal to people like Webb. Reagan and his allies even managed to make fundamentally libertarian economic policies feel populist by casting tax reductions in terms of giving people their own money back (which also had the virtue of being true), and it is largely so long as libertarian economic policy seems to be working to the benefit of the middle class (and not principally to corporations) that its unpleasant side-effects are tolerated. Libertarians take the side of free trade and mass immigration, to name two prominent examples of egregiously pro-corporate and unpopular policies, at the cost of their own political marginalisation. The party or political coalition that can mobilise populist sentiment on both trade and immigration will frequently come out ahead.
As we New Mexicans dig out from under our unusual four inches of snow today, the world continues on much as it has done, which is to say it is heading off in strange directions in defiance of all common sense. Preposterously, our governor, Bill Richardson, is contemplating a run for the White House and has been gladhanding all over New Hampshire for the last few days. I now understand what Arkansans must have felt in 1991 looking at the prospect of their own ridiculous governor, also named Bill, taking a stab at the big time. The difference is that their governor actually had some outside chance of pulling it off. Ruben Navarette recently opined that Richardson would make a great candidate (provided that the mean, old nativists don’t get him!). Just look at his record! Indeed, let us look.
He has managed to be elected twice as governor on the Democratic ticket in a state where Democratic registration outpaces Republican at a rate of at least five to three. He is a Hispanic governor who has won election in a plurality Hispanic state. His previous electoral experience was as the effectively unchallenged Congressman from the Third District in the north of the state where, between jaunts to Haiti and North Korea on diplomatic do-gooding (where he did very little except pose for the photo op afterwards) in the ’90s, he did nothing. Then he was made Ambassador to the U.N., a post previously held by such political giants as Alan Keyes and Madeleine Albright, where he very capably did nothing (14 years in the House had prepared him well). Following this tour of glory, he became Secretary of Energy, where he was fortunate enough to preside over the greatest security scandal in the Department’s history as the massive security lapses at LANL, essentially in his own backyard, became public knowledge. Sen. Byrd famously declared his political career dead in a committee hearing, but Bill has never been one to pay attention to what other people said. After his colossal failure and screw-up of management on his part, he scurried on home to become the big fish (no fat jokes, please) in our very little pond. Now he would like people to ride useless trains to Raton and fly spaceships from our “spaceport”–all of it, I am sure, at no cost to us. He would also like us to give him supreme power. I suggest that we ought not to try that.
He has faced competition less challenging than Barack Obama has. The New Mexico Republicans put up the sacrifical offering, er, candidate of John Sanchez in 2002, who had only just knocked off the then-NM House Speaker Ray Sanchez (no doubt counting on the confusion of the last names to work in his favour among Valley voters) and who then went down to ignominious defeat in the gubernatorial race. This year the GOP had a no-name nominee who didn’t particularly want to bother with campaigning, so the party had to replace him mid-year with John Dendahl, long-time party operative and former chairman, who managed to barely get the registered Republican vote and nothing more.
On the basis of such “victories,” Bill Richardson claims his place in the sun as a viable presidential contender, as if he had ever won a seriously competitive election or fashioned a political coalition more lasting than the food on his plate. As holder of the Guinness world record for most hands shaken in a day, he is the ultimate flesh-pressing con-man and he will also certainly go nowhere in the primaries, try as the national media may to make him into a serious candidate and “the only Hispanic candidate for the nomination.”
In other news, The Wall Street Journal today profiled Vladislav Surkov, the half-Chechen deputy chief of staff at the Kremlin and former ally of many prominent oligarchs, who could win the contest for Most Neocon-like Russian hands down. In the profile, stories of his demonisation of domestic opposition as “true Nazis” and his belief that all critics of the Putin regime seek the “destruction of Russia” have an eerie familiarity to them. The campaign against Dmitri Rogozin, in which Rogozin was tarred by state-run television as a “racist and fascist” is Frumesque in its mendacity and opportunistic use of such charges. It’s almost enough to make a paleo feel sorry for Khodorkovsky and his ilk–almost. One of the great mysteries of our day is why the neocons constantly laud Mr. Bush as a defender of freedom when he often runs his administration in Putin-like ways while they despise Putin and his allies for running Russia in much the way they would like to govern this country. True enough, they sympathise with Putin’s enemies and do desire to undermine and weaken Russia for hegemonist reasons, so their contempt for Putin is based to some degree in the realities of power politics and to some degree in their sheer Russophobia. Nonetheless, the irony of the apologists for autocracy in this country resenting Putin’s autocratic methods is really too great to ignore.
It is something of a compliment for Eunomia that my unexplained cessation of blogging for four days has caused some of my faithful readers to question whether I am, in fact, still alive. (Then again, it may be a sad commentary on the regularity of my blogging that some assume that only the sweet release of death would keep me from giving my opinions on current events and other matters of interest.) Rest assured that I have not vanished from the face of the earth or crashed my car into a tree. I am back home in New Mexico for Christmas (on a slower Internet connection), and travel and family gatherings have drawn me away from regular blogging for the last few days. The coming of (New Calendar) Christmas and other work will probably take up most of my time this week, so blogging will be very light. I regret that some of the most active conversations in the comment threads have been happening during my trip, as they all seem to be very good and spirited, but it was unavoidable.
It is good to see that my absence from blogging has not dulled interest in Eunomia. I would also like to thank Ross Douthat for his kind mention of one of the points in my recent post on libertarians and the GOP on bloggingheads during his latest sparring session with Matt Yglesias. I will have a post here and there on news items and commentary that strike me, but I must first take care of some academic conference-related work and some things I am working on for ISI. Perhaps later this week, when most of this is out of the way, I will be able to post a little more often.
In the new Newsweek poll, 48 percent of Americans say they want U.S. forces home within a year; 67 percent want them back within two years. A scant 23 percent believe they should stay “as long as it takes to achieve U.S. goals.” ~Harold Meyerson
If Washington gossip is right, even many of the president’s own advisers in the White House and the key cabinet offices have given up on success. Official Washington, the media and much of the public have fallen under the unconscionable thrall of defeatism. Which is to say that they cannot conceive of a set of policies — for a nation of 300 million with an annual GDP of over $12 trillion and all the skills and technologies known to man — to subdue the city of Baghdad and environs. Do you think Gen. Patton or Abe Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin would have thrown their hands up and said, “I give up, there’s nothing we can do”?
Or do you suppose they would have said, let’s send in as many troops as we can assemble to hold on while we raise more troops to finish the job. If the victory is that important — and it is — then failure must be unthinkable, even if it takes another five or 10 years. ~Tony Blankley
This is where the wisdom of the old Powell Doctrine comes in. An important part of that doctrine, in addition to the ”clear exit strategy” element, was a high degree of national consensus about taking military action. There was never really any deep, abiding consensus about the need to invade Iraq. Americans were in an irrationally angry mood, and if Mr. Bush had decided that we needed to invade Switzerland he might have managed to get a bare majority behind him. One would have pointed out in vain that Switzerland was neutral. “You’re just an apologist for those cheese-eating financiers of terrorism!” the war supporters would have shouted at you.
Support for the mission was always inversely related to the level of difficulty. When it was all supposedly going to be a “cakewalk” and “doable”–at no cost to you, as a classic expression of government deception might have it–there was a broad majority in favour of the war. As it has become an intractable internecine conflict among Iraqis with no clear way out and no definition of victory beyond euphemisms and recycled talking points from 2003, public support has plummeted to an astonishingly low 21%. I don’t think the wildly unpopular Korean War, where tens of thousands of Americans died, ever had such low levels of support. Mr. Bush keeps wanting to embrace the mantle of Truman, and he may well achieve Trumanesque levels of public contempt. Obviously, in this political environment, the answer is not an insane commitment to do whatever is necessary even if it takes ten years, because the public simply will not stand for it. In a representative government, some of us still operate on the assumption that public opinion should have some significant part in deciding our future policy.
Committing to a potentially 10-year war policy that obviously has no broad support right now is ludicrous. This from someone who has the gall to sniff at the unrealistic views of foreign policy realists! Try to keep the war going for five more years (you can forget about ten), and things here at home could start to get really ugly. There is nothing more unrealistic than believing that Americans will tolerate a continuation of this war much beyond November 2008. Two years is the maximum amount of time Mr. Bush has to get out of Iraq, regardless of what is happening there. The Washington crowd has studiously avoided much mention of a “timeline” or a “deadline” for withdrawal, but the people have already set that deadline for them. Two years from now, a full two-thirds of the people (and probably more by then) will demand an end to the war. The smart policymaker will keep that in mind as he tries to think of how we extricate our soldiers from Iraq–it is getting them out of Iraq that is the main priority and the thing that should most concern people in government.
Washington does not have five years to make the Iraq war a success: in two years, if it should come to that, the Iraq war will be over five years long. The American people will have given the government five years to accomplish what they said would take a matter of months. The powdered elite of Washington in the media and government alike should get down on their knees and thank the people for their patience with elite incompetence across the board. What we will we hear instead? The last remaining war supporters will shout abuse at the weak, immoral and “isolationist” American people who have “betrayed” them. I hope that the people will treat such contempt with the scorn it deserves.
Sometimes, current tactical logistical weaknesses must not be used as an excuse for, or a signal of, strategic failure. In 1861, newly elected President Abraham Lincoln faced such a dilemma over the siege of Ft. Sumter. He had decided to ignore his military advice to surrender the fort. While the final published version of his explanation for this decision in his July 4, 1861 Message to Congress did not reflect his personal anxiety in coming to that decision, it might be useful to President Bush to read Lincoln’s first, unpublished, draft — which did reflect his mental anguish as he tried to decide. All his military advisers, after due consideration, believed that Fort Sumter had to be evacuated. But Lincoln’s first draft read:
“In a purely military point of view, this reduced the duty of the administration, in this case, to the mere matter of getting the garrison safely out of the Fort — in fact, General Scott advised that this should be done at once — I believed, however, that to do so would be utterly ruinous — that the necessity under which it was to be done, would not be fully understood — that, by many, it would be construed as a part of a voluntary policy — that at home, it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its foes, and insure to the latter a recognition of independence abroad — that, in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated. I hesitated.” (see “Lincoln’s Sword,” pp 79-80; by Douglas Wilson).
Lincoln was alone in the self-same rooms now occupied by George Bush. All his cabinet and all his military advisors had counseled a path Lincoln thought would lead to disaster. He was only a month in office and judged by most of Washington — including much of his cabinet — to be a country bumpkin who was out of his league, an accidental president. Alone, and against all advice he made the right decision — as he would do constantly until victory. ~Tony Blankley
By “disaster” in this case, of course, Mr. Blankley means the peaceful severance of the Union, which is a disaster only to friends of consolidation and nationalism, and by “right decision” he means the decision to plunge the peoples of America into bloody slaughter for four years. What the modern parallel might look like is not exactly known, but there will be one grim similarity: a considerable number more Americans killed for a bad cause in a war that should never have been started in the first place.
Refusing to heed people who know what they were talking about (or who at least know more than you do) and going with your gut is not a sign of great leadership. It is a sign of willful pride and folly. Pretty clearly, Mr. Lincoln made the wrong, provocative decision that brought on a worse crisis. If Mr. Bush has ever ignored anyone’s advice with the kind of bullheaded stubbornness that only he can muster, this is the advice to ignore.
As the world seems to overflow with Obamaniacs and everyone who can put two words together seems to be chanting his name (no middle name, please), Dave Sirota seems to be just about the only person on the left who isn’t buying the snake oil. In another anti-Obama post, he manages to find the few lines of substance in Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. After passing by the lame happy-talking points, Mr. Sirota zeroes in on Obama’s substantive pitch, which, in time-honoured fashion, is education. He’s for it. Perhaps he also loves puppies. Mr. Sirota is having none of it:
Yes, it is the Great Education Myth – the idea that if we only just made everyone in America smarter, we would solve outsourcing, wage depression and health care/pension benefit cuts that are the result of forcing Americans to compete in an international race to the bottom. As I wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, this is one of the most dishonest myths out there, as the government’s own data shows that, in fact, all of the major economic indicators are plummeting for college grads. You can make everyone in America a PhD, and all you would have is more unemployed PhD’s – it would do almost nothing to address the fact that the very structure of our economy – our tax system, our trade system and our corporate welfare system – is designed to help Big Money interests ship jobs offshore and lower wages/benefits here at home.
Mr. Sirota is making sense here. There has never been any sense that Obama is in any way a big “reformer” in the way that progressives use that word, which is also why he is treated as more acceptable in spite of his perfectly left-liberal voting record. He is in so many ways a conventional, predictable Illinois Democrat, but with fewer of the rough edges and (for the most part, as far as we know) not much of the sleaze that goes with it. He plays at being a “change” politician, when the main thing he apparently wants to change is his current job for a more powerful one. He will therefore say nothing terribly radical, nothing threatening, and absolutely nothing interesting–certainly not to his progressive fanbase and not to anyone else, either. His current book is misnamed: there isn’t actually anything all that audacious about him, except that he seems to have the presumption that he could seriously compete for the presidential nomination. He might call his next book The Blandness of Optimism. He presents voters with the political equivalent of a cream puff, minus the cream, which doesn’t leave much. Not only is he functioning as an empty vessel for progressive and antiwar hopes, but he also increasingly appears to be an empty suit. A charismatic empty suit, yes, but an empty suit nonetheless, which is perhaps the worst imaginable combination.
Oh, yes, and he wants to bring people together. No more divisive politics! He’s a uniter. He’s building a bridge, or filling a breach, or something. How’d that work the last several times people went for it? This shows that Obama the Idealist is mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors: his idealism is a belief in generic idealism, which will bring people together and “move our country forward.” Forward towards what? He replies: “Who cares, as long as we’re moving and I’m the one behind the wheel?”