Daniel Larison

“Mama Grizzlies”

Will Wilkinson is making things more complicated than they need to be. Trying to understand the marketing slogan “mama grizzlies,” he writes:

Ms Fiorina’s education, executive experience, and vast wealth places her among the elite of the elite of America’s elite elite. But “the elite” are the bogey of salt-of-the-earth “real” Americans, and elitism is the great sin against God-fearing, flag-bedecked authenticity. Ms Fiorina is so far from the prototype of red-state authenticity, she might as well be from Jupiter or France. So, in order to get a boost from the tea party movement’s populist wave, it seems the most must be made of any connection, however, tenuous, to populist conservative ideals of womanhood. Apparently marrying into a couple of daughters is enough to qualify the former HP chief a “mama”.

One thing that does unite Fiorina and Palin together is that they are both women who held significant executive positions and didn’t do their jobs very well. Fiorina was fired by the board of HP thanks to a record of mismanagement and presiding over the collapse of HP’s stock price, and Palin quit halfway through her term after having done little aside from antagonize energy interests with a massive tax increase. In other words, the things that are supposed to make them credible candidates show us why they are not credible, and so there has to be a diversion into biography politics to give them something to say.

One could say that the “mama grizzly” slogan is designed to distract attention from the glaring problem that at least some of said “grizzlies” are pursuing political positions for which they are not very well qualified. Palin cannot run on her record, and Fiorina shouldn’t be able to, either, since their records would prove that they shouldn’t be entrusted with important executive positions, and so some other way to make them appealing has to be found. The solution is even sillier than the usual politician’s claim that he is doing this or that “for the children.” As it turns out, Palin’s solution is simply to say that her preferred candidates love their own children and want to protect them, as if that were meritorious instead of instinctive.

In Fiorina’s case, the “mama grizzly” conceit was above all a way for Palin to justify supporting Fiorina as an “acceptable” alternative to Campbell when there was still a chance that Campbell might win the primary.

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“Those Who Wish To Kill Us”

Andrew:

But I do believe we are at war; and that killing those who wish to kill us before they can do so is not the equivalent of “assassination”.

There are a few reasons why I find this to be a horribly cavalier and misguided reaction. This administration is making a claim as broad, absurd and offensive as the Bush administration did when it claimed the authority to declare anyone, including U.S. citizens, enemy combatants. The objection that this power is only going to be used against “those who wish to kill us” trusts that the government is never going to abuse its power and that the government is never going to make a mistake. One of the main reasons why we have due process is the assumption that governments routinely abuse their power and frequently make mistakes. Has the last decade of American history already vanished from our memories?

Consider how many people were wrongfully rounded up and detained at Guantanamo for years, and then suppose that they were all U.S. citizens, and further suppose that instead of being illegally detained they had all been killed by government forces (after all, they were “terrorists”!). According to this administration, not only would the government be within its rights to kill all those people (because they were “those who wish to kill us”), but that for the sake of national security there can be no oversight, no review and no accountability for the decision to kill them. These are the tactics of military governments, dictatorships and colonial empires. If we adopt those tactics, or acquiesce in them because “we are at war,” we will be embracing the legacy of those regimes. The Anti-Imperialists feared over a hundred years ago that empire would corrupt the republican nature of our government, and it certainly has, but it is rare that we have such a stark, clear view of just how much corruption there has been.

The trouble with an open-ended, extra-legal “war on terror” (or whatever euphemism people care to give it nowadays) is that there is no end to the “emergency” to which these extraordinary power-grabs are supposedly necessary responses. Not only will every President from now on claim to have the authority to kill citizens arbitrarily if they are deemed enemies, but in an open-ended “war” that spans the entire globe in which “battlefields” can be declared by government fiat there are absolutely no guarantees that this power will not be turned against political opponents and government critics at home or against Americans living overseas. Indeed, it is probably only a matter of time before this happens–all in the name of self-defense and national security, of course.

We should also be clear about the meaning of the words we’re using. Assassination is a method of warfare. The first people referred to in European languages as assassins were waging war against their enemies. Assassination was the asymmetric warfare of its time in the middle ages. Now it is used more often by more powerful, technologically advanced military powers, but the tactic is basically the same. The U.S. government and other allied governments have long reserved the right to assassinate individuals they deem to be national security threats. It’s just that up until now those individuals have happened to be foreign nationals. The only way one can correctly describe what the government claims it has the right to do to al-Awlaki is assassination. This is the same thing the government claims it has every right to do to all of those people in western Pakistan targeted by drone strikes, and it is the same thing the Israeli government claimed it has the right to do when it launches strikes aimed at killing a particular Palestinian leader. Up until recently, people may have believed that this power would never be directed against anyone with U.S. citizenship. If so, they were wrong. Now there are those who think that it will never be wrongfully used against American citizens. They are bound to be wrong, because there is no way that using power in such an unaccountable, extra-legal way will not be done wrongfully at some point. Indeed, I am doubtful that there can ever be a “right” way to use power to kill someone arbitrarily.

P.S. Andrew wrote in the next line:

My concern has always been with the power to detain without due process and torture, not the regrettable necessity of killing the enemy in a hot and dangerous war.

Obviously, this doesn’t make any sense. It’s only a “regrettable necessity” if the person is, in fact, “the enemy,” and in most cases we’re going to be taking the government’s word for it that its targets are actually legitimate targets. If we assume that the government should be constrained by due process when it detains suspected terrorists who aren’t citizens, why wouldn’t it also need to be constrained by due process before having citizens suspected of terrorism executed? As wrong as illegal detention is, and as abhorrent as torture is, neither is so final and irreversible as death. There can be no legal recourse or remedy that would do the citizen any good if the decision to kill him was made in error, and surely we don’t believe that intelligence reports are now so reliable that there is no possibility of misidentifying someone.

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DeMint and Miller

Via Andrew, Reihan:

Of the potential Republican candidates on offer, DeMint comes closest to filling the Palin vacuum.

Assuming DeMint decided to run, It could happen. Then again, if DeMint’s insurgent-backing campaign succeeds in November by sending a number of Tea Party-aligned Senators to Washington he will have also succeeded in making himself somewhat obsolete. What do I mean by this? Right now, DeMint stands out for being a particularly outspoken Senate Republican who has been successfully fighting against the NRSC and the minority leader during primary season, and he has a lot of credibility with activists because of this. The more successful DeMint is in promoting Tea Party candidates, the weaker the rationale for a possible presidential candidacy becomes. A DeMint run would make a lot more sense if the GOP were not already mostly falling in line with DeMint and DeMint’s preferred candidates. The more friendly to the Tea Party movement that elected Republicans becomes, the less need there is for a Jim DeMint to run for the nomination. Once the establishment incumbents have all been routed or cowed and once most of the presidential contenders have jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon, there is not much to distinguish DeMint in the eyes of primary voters.

It is possible that his recent maneuvers to block last-minute legislation in this session will not be perceived as striking a blow for good government, but viewed instead as the sort of insider manipulation that DeMint’s allies claim to loathe. Perhaps activists won’t mind as long as DeMint keeps breaching Senate protocols and annoying his colleagues. DeMint’s take-no-prisoners approach satisfies his supporters, but he is making a lot of enemies along the way.

A significant test for DeMint is the outcome of the Alaska Senate race. He has thrown his weight behind Miller more than just about anyone else other than Palin. Murkowski’s write-in bid evidently has significant support across the state, which suggests that there may be a rather low ceiling of support for DeMint’s preferred kind of candidate in one of the more overwhelmingly Republican states in the country. Between Murkowski and McAdams, 58% of Alaskans say they want someone other than Miller, so they are rejecting the kind of politics that Miller and DeMint represent. If that happening in Alaska, why won’t it happen in the rest of the country?

Miller’s candidacy is a test of the notion that most voters abhor earmarks and federal spending, and the contrast with his opponents could not be more clear. He is running against two candidates who have no reservations about requesting federal funds for Alaska. To drive home the point, Murkowski has wrapped herself in the mantle of Ted Stevens. Even if you want to argue that Alaska is unrepresentative and more heavily dependent on federal funds than most states, the reality is that most voters across the country do not respond well to anti-spending appeals. Anti-spending appeals are supposed to be at the heart of what DeMint and Tea Party candidates want. Regardless of what it means for DeMint, Miller’s possible loss in Alaska has a sobering lesson for everyone on the right promoting the fantasy that the public is eager to reward budget-cutters with political office.

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The Greatest Pushback in the Vast Interior

Taken together, all these maps show a Democratic Party shrinking back to its bicoastal base and a Republican Party expanding to take in most of the vast expanse of the continent. ~Michael Barone

Via Weigel

If that is what the election results are, it might be worth talking about, but this seems to be another installment in Barone’s year-long series of columns overhyping Republican chances in order to maximize disappointment with the actual outcome. I honestly don’t understand the need to make declarations about the “vast expanse” supposedly dominated by the GOP or predict the “single greatest pushback in American history” (Rubio), especially when the people making these declarations have fundamentally misunderstood the public mood. Barone remains convinced that the election represents a coherent ideological repudiation of specific pieces of legislation. As he says:

Moreover, as the political turnaround of the last 22 months has shown, voters stand ready to punish a party that passes bills they hate or fails to stay true to stands they love.

As troubling as it may be for political pundits and activists to hear, most voters aren’t terribly interested in any of that, and that is definitely not the main thing that concerns most of them this year. Weigel gets this right:

Basically all horse race columns could be replaced by the phrase “voters want jobs and are angry that they can’t get them.”

Barone exaggerates the extent of Republican revival in an important way when he contrasts the current political map as he sees it with the presidential election results in 2008. If the “vast expanse” seems to be hospitable to the GOP, this is partly a result of the smaller electorate during the midterms that would be more inclined to vote Republican than the much larger electorate during presidential years. Over the last year Barone has practically made an artform out of ignoring structural and demographic changes in the country while fixating on ephemera.

Earlier this month, Peter Beinart reminded us of the demographic problem the GOP faces in the future:

Similarly, the Tea Party is today garnering all the headlines, but the rising demographic force in today’s politics is not aging white conservatives, but Hispanics and Millennials, two rapidly growing portions of the electorate that are uncomfortable with any right-leaning ideology at all, let alone the right-wing purism of Palin and company.

One doesn’t have to believe that Palin represents “right-wing purism” to acknowledge that she and her party are disliked by large majorities in both of the groups Beinart mentions.

The new estimates on House apportionment derived from early Census numbers do show that core Republican states are gaining a net of six seats and Electoral College votes, but what this masks is the effect new migration will have on voting patterns in these states. Northeastern and Rust Belt states continue to lose population, and mostly Southern and Sun Belt states keep gaining. While this gives traditionally Republican areas more weight in the coming decade, it is also changing the composition of state electorates that can make reliably Republican states less reliable. Colorado used to be a fairly reliable state for the GOP in presidential elections, but it has become more competitive and went for Obama by nine points last time. New Mexico used to be classed among “swing states,” but gave Obama a fourteen-point margin of victory and turned the traditionally Republican NM-01 House seat centered around Albuquerque into a likely Democratic one. It now appears that even in a bad year for Democrats NM-01 will remain in their column, and this was a seat that had never been Democratic until it flipped in 2008. Even if the Republicans win the House, which I still doubt will happen, that is one of the seats that they have lost for a long period of time, and should they gain the majority thanks mainly to economic discontent they will represent fewer states and districts in Congress than they did at the start of the decade. Over time, it is the GOP that has been losing ground, and Barone is doing them no favors by telling them flattering stories about how they are once again dominant.

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Distinctive American Culture

Our culture is more concerned with not offending our enemies today. We have a culture, if somebody attacks us, a growing percentage of our country wants to ask, “What did we do to cause this? It’s our fault.” Somehow they’ve been told and they’ve bought into the notion that America is hated deservedly. So this Spanish stuff that you see in this ad, this is just an outgrowth of America thinking it’s guilty of being so big and such a superpower that we have to reach out, we have to be nice to the people that we’ve oppressed or made angry. ~Rush Limbaugh

Via David Sessions

What struck me when I read Limbaugh’s statement was not his remark about American culture being “under assault from within.” After all, this is more or less what Lowry and Ponnuru claimed about Obama seven months ago when they attempted to describe his “assault on American identity. What interested me was the way that Limbaugh immediately took a Spanish-language ad during a football game and turned it into a symbol of criticizing U.S. hegemony in the world. When you and I hear about this ad, we might have one of a number of reactions. I would dismiss it as typical corporate promotion of the cult of diversity, but for Limbaugh it was a product of a “blame America first” mentality and somehow related to arguments about blowback. The ad was instantly symbol of something insidious for Limbaugh, as if it were part of Obama’s “apology tour” that Limbaugh and people like him have invented out of thin air. Implicit in the connection Limbaugh made is that “our enemies” are everywhere and are even now among us (perhaps on the New York Jets’ starting roster!), and that the main problem in America is that there are too many people unwilling to resist them. This is the usual foolish alarmism that we are all used to by now, and it is tempting to point and laugh and then move on.

Instead of dismissing the appeal to a “distinctive American culture” that Limbaugh makes, I want to make plain that believing that a distinctive American culture exists shouldn’t have to have anything to do with the Americanism and hegemonism Limbaugh is offering here. One of the things I find grimly amusing about Limbaugh’s invocation of a “distinctive American culture” is that he is an enthusiast for the global reach of both American power and American popular culture and commerce. All of these have contributed to the steady erosion of differences between American culture and cultures elsewhere, and they have hastened the homogenization of distinctive American regional and local cultures into a mass culture that is remarkable mostly for how little it stands out from the mass cultures of other countries. When Limbaugh talks about a “distinctive American culture,” all that he is really referring to is America’s superpower status and a certain brash, arrogant disdain for other nations. A random Spanish-language ad raises the alarm because it hints at a failure to show the proper disdain and an unwillingness to assert American preeminence. My guess is that Limbaugh’s reaction to the ad has almost nothing to do with questions of assimilation, immigration or culture, and has almost everything to do with a certain mindless sort of American self-congratulation that Limbaugh would applaud no matter what language was used to express it.

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Religious Knowledge

Is it really a “shocker” that many Americans are poorly informed about religion? J.D. at Democracy in America thought so, and he went on to say this:

Still, as Steven Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, writes, it is very odd that “those who think religion is a con know more about it than those who think it is God’s gift to humanity.”

No, it isn’t “very odd.” It isn’t odd at all. Let’s think about this. First of all, many of the people who think “religion is a con” are surprisingly obsessed with the subject, and some of them spend an inordinate amount of time railing against it. It seems reasonable that they would pick up at least some superficial knowledge of the details, if only as a means for making fun of religious beliefs in great detail. Most believers don’t think “religion” is God’s gift to humanity. They will probably say that they regard the religion they profess to be God’s gift, and for the most part will be indifferent to or uninterested in the others.

Some of the more interesting findings concern what Americans don’t know about their own religions’ teachings. The 45% of American Catholics who don’t know Catholic Eucharistic teaching sounds surprisingly high, but then you consider the state of the American Catholic Church, the preoccupations of many American Catholic bishops, and the extent to which American Catholics have become fully Americanized and to some extent Protestantized in their cultural and religious habits and it doesn’t seem surprising at all. After all, how are these Catholics going to know these teachings if many of their hierarchs and priests aren’t teaching them on a regular basis? Along the same lines, the minority of Protestants that cannot identify Martin Luther as the first major Reformed theologian doesn’t really surprise me. How many Protestant chuches put that much of an emphasis on church history? How central to modern Protestant religious practice is knowledge about the early Reformers? My impression is that it is not particularly important. These results don’t tell us as much as some people seem to think that they do.

The farther afield into world religions one goes, the more one is going to find that Americans are no more knowledgeable about the religions of the rest of the world than they are about anything else in the rest of the world. A nation that cannot locate Iraq on a map is not a nation that is going to know the religious demographics of Asian countries about which they know even less than Iraq. I’m not excusing the ignorance, but I also don’t assume that the fact that most Americans regularly attend church has any relationship to whether or not they can recognize Hindu deities. Being religious and having extensive academic religious knowledge are very, very different things, and religion professors should be among the first to know and to emphasize this.

The Pew survey report does contain these crucial points:

Data from the survey indicate that educational attainment – how much schooling an individual has completed – is the single best predictor of religious knowledge. College graduates get nearly eight more questions right on average than do people with a high school education or less. Having taken a religion course in college is also strongly associated with higher religious knowledge.

Other factors linked with religious knowledge include reading Scripture at least once a week and talking about religion with friends and family. People who say they frequently talk about religion with friends and family get an average of roughly two more questions right than those who say they rarely or never discuss religion. People with the highest levels of religious commitment – those who say that they attend worship services at least once a week and that religion is very important in their lives – generally demonstrate higher levels of religious knowledge than those with medium or low religious commitment.

Put another way, people who have spent more time finding out about religion, pay more attention to religion and take a greater interest in religion are better informed about religion. That isn’t exactly breaking news. We would presumably find similar gaps in knowledge about politics between politically engaged and politically apathetic citizens, and the same would go for pretty much every other subject.

This discussion interests me because I came to Christianity from a thoroughly secular background by way of a fairly extensive self-education in religious texts of all sorts. Viewed one way, I was extremely well-informed about world religions by the time I was 20. As I look at it now, I was still stunningly ignorant of the most important Truth of all. By the time I was a sophomore in college, I am fairly sure I could have answered all of these questions correctly, but what would that have shown? It showed that I was a religion major and had read many books. That’s all very well, but that knowledge didn’t mean that I understood anything that really mattered.

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Crook: Obama Should Be More Like Creigh Deeds

What he should have done – and what he ought to do from now on – is simple. Instead of blessing leftist solutions, then retreating feebly to more centrist positions under pressure, he should have identified the centrist policies the country could accept and advocated those policies. ~Clive Crook

So Obama needs to keep doing the same things he’s doing, but be more forthright in his gutless centrism? He should keep compromising and watering things down, but do so more boldly? Instead of paying lip service to his supporters’ concerns, he should cut to the chase and ignore them entirely? If a key Democratic problem in this election is its disenchanted, unmotivated base, doubling down on the Creigh Deeds style of politics seems a guaranteed way to maximize Democratic losses.

I can imagine a progressive columnist taking this sort of thinking in a very different direction: if Obama is going to be denounced as a leftist even when he endorses centrist policies, he may as well embrace leftist policies and at least satisfy his core constituencies. As political strategies go, there are worse strategies than base mobilization. If Obama is going to be faulted for starting out at a left-liberal position, the progressive could argue, he may as well just stay there and not make concessions for which he will get no credit anyway. That probably would have produced fewer legislative victories, but it might have worked better as a political strategy. I’m obviously not a Democratic partisan or a progressive, but anyone can see that following something straight out of the Doug Schoen/Mark Penn playbook is a recipe for Democratic disaster.

Crook’s thesis rests on the shaky assumption that the public has soured on policies that were “less than perfect but vastly better than nothing” because of the way the policies were pitched. Never mind that it is progressives and Democratic activists who feel neglected, slighted, insulted and used over the last two years. According to Crook, they needed to be dismissed and marginalized completely for the sake of maintaining Obama’s centrist reputation, despite the fact that it is his centrist policies and reputation that have discouraged and dispirited so many of the people who got Obama elected. Perhaps many Obama voters had unreasonable expectations, as activists and ideological voters often do, and perhaps they don’t appreciate how good they have had it. Regardless, Obama’s political problem is clearly the problem of having a Democratic base that is disaffected, and that problem would have only been made worse had he prostrated himself before the Washington establishment consensus even more quickly than he did.

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Fiscal Responsibility Is Vitally Important and Politically Toxic

If an election in which there is a groundswell of anger against government spending and debt isn’t a good time to take a stand on entitlements, when is a good time? ~Philip Klein

This is one of the reasons that the “Pledge” has disappointed and frustrated so many conservatives: they honestly believe that there is a groundswell of anger against government spending and debt. That has made things very easy for their thinking about this election. It has been the best of both worlds: Republicans could return to power by being principled, debt-reducing fiscal conservatives! This bit of self-deception complemented the equally fantastical notion that Republicans lost power in 2006 because they were insufficiently principled fiscal conservatives. Just as most conservatives still seem to have no idea how their preferred party was ousted, they do not understand why that party might win this time. Worthless as they may be in many other respects, Republican leaders do understand that keeping elderly voters happy has been the principal cause of the revival of their fortunes, and they aren’t about to jeopardize that so that they can immolate themselves as part of a quest to reduce entitlement spending. Take away their Medicare demagoguery during the health care debate and put them on the other side of the argument as Medicare-slashing villains of Democratic imagination, and the election would be entirely different. This is why Democratic leaders have been so eager to tie anyone they can to Paul Ryan’s “roadmap” and why so many Republicans have been fleeing from it en masse.

If there were a truly large groundswell of anger against spending and debt, it would make a lot of political sense for Republican candidates to propose significant changes to entitlement programs. Since most dissatisfaction with the current majority does not come from anger against government spending and debt, it makes much more political sense for Republicans to continue their cynical pretense of being zealous defenders of Medicare and Social Security. There are probably few worse times to push entitlement reform than during a weak economic recovery with high unemployment. The public is mainly angry about these things, and the thought that politicians might be meddling with entitlements at a time like this would simply make many Americans even angrier.

Recently, Andrew Sullivan has been urging Obama to make fiscal responsibility the central theme of the midterm elections. On the face of it, this makes sense. Some of the proposals in the “Pledge” are fiscally disastrous, and pointing this out exposes the GOP as fiscally irresponsible. Actual fiscal conservatives find defenses of fiscal responsibility appealing, and so it is tempting to conclude that other voters would respond in the same way. For the same reason that conservatives are wrong about the “groundswell,” it would be a mistake for Obama to stake out a position of stern fiscal prudence as the alternative. That is, it would be a mistake if winning the election is the priority. The Republicans have a chance at winning because they have no intention of reining in spending in a meaningful way and they have just told everyone that they have no such intention, because they know that this is not what most voters want.

Obviously, fiscal responsibility is wise, necessary and important. Debt reduction is of vital importance, and it is a disaster for the United States that neither major party really has any intention of taking the problem seriously. Being fiscally responsible when it is actually wildly unpopular would be the appropriate, adult thing to do.

That is why it is almost certainly political poison. Republicans are trying to compete by mouthing fiscal conservative slogans and endorsing fiscal madness on substance, because they correctly assume that Americans like the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility and generally don’t favor the substance. They want to claim that they are on the side of “the people,” but in order to do the right thing for the country they would have be firmly against what most of the people want.

It remains to be seen whether the coalition government in Britain will be punished for its austerity measures, but it is very likely that any administration or majority that seriously pursued an austerity budget would be run out on a rail at the next possible opportunity. Republicans have a chance of winning a narrow majority because they have made sure to protect themselves from the accusation that they are fiscally responsible. Announcing to the world the truth that they are fiscally irresponsible takes away the one thing that might keep some voters from voting Republican. For that reason, Republican leaders have to be delighted that their “Pledge” has become a significant part of the pre-election conversation. The more that newspapers and pundits editorialize against it as reckless flim-flammery, the more votes Republicans will get.

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China Is Not Pursuing Weltmacht

Seth Cropsey’s article in Foreign Affairs on a potential U.S.-Chinese naval rivalry mentions China’s perceived “core interests” in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea and refers to “China’s path to regional hegemony.” It’s worth bearing in mind that this is what we’re talking about when we see Walter Russell Mead misleadingly comparing recent Chinese actions to Wilhelm II’s Weltpolitik. There was a significant change in German policy after 1890 that led to a more overtly aggressive Germany foreign policy, and that did result in the realignment of European powers Mead describes, but there has been no dramatic shift in Chinese policy that merits the comparison. Some of the Western commentary on this Senkaku dispute sounds similar to the hysterical warnings about Russian imperialism we were hearing two years ago during the war with Georgia. To listen to the alarmists then, you would have thought that Moscow was intent on rebuilding the Soviet Union because Russia acted in what it regarded as its legitimate self-interest in a dispute with one of its neighbors.

China has pursued its claims in nearby seas for decades. The recent dispute over the detention of the Chinese captain and Chinese claims on the Senkaku Islands happens to be with a government important enough to merit international attention. The Philippines and Vietnam have been contesting with China over claims in the South China Sea for decades. That should keep things in perspective before we start talking about the Kaiser and all of the exaggerated fears that this inspires in the American mind. Japan was willing to seize a Chinese ship to protect its territorial claims, which led to the collision and detention of the ship’s captain, and Beijing has predictably overreacted. Beijing has probably reacted this way as a means of protecting the government’s reputation at home and providing cover for an eventual de-escalation. So it is a very short-sighted interpretation of all of this to write this:

Twenty years of scrupulously patient effort at getting its neighbors to embrace China’s peaceful rise are being squandered by six weeks of aggressive diplomacy.

Mead confidently argues later in his post that almost a decade of aggressive warfare by the United States has not really had any significant effect on American power, but China has supposedly wrecked the last two decades of cultivating its neighbors because of a diplomatic row with one of its largest trading partners. China isn’t throwing “its weight around in a sterile quest for Wilhelmine Weltmacht.” As Cropsey says, China seems to be interested in regional hegemony. With regard to the dispute over the islands, China is claiming territory that it has been claiming for decades. According to the Japanese government’s own account, Japan formally claimed these islands in 1895, but this was against a backdrop of Japanese expansion in the region that took advantage of the weakness of Qing China. Even if Japan has a good claim to the islands, it is not hard to see why China would view the matter very differently. From the Chinese perspective, Japanese possession of the islands probably reminds China of their earlier national humiliations by foreign governments. That does not necessarily mean that China has a better claim. It does mean that if the U.S. goal “remains the development of some kind of stable international system in Asia that creates the same kind of long term peace and prosperity there that the European Union (with all its faults) has brought to Europe,” Americans should refrain from portraying a genuine territorial dispute based in past Japanese expansionism as evidence of Chinese regional aggression.

This is all the more important when the U.S. remains obligated to defend Japanese territory, but does not endorse the Japanese claim to the islands. Japan may be taking comfort in the U.S. alliance right now, but nothing could better demonstrate why the alliance makes so little sense for all parties than the events of the last year. As Nick Kristof pointed out earlier this month, the U.S. is not going to go to war with China to keep the Senkakus Japanese. From the Japanese perspective, what use is the alliance if the U.S. isn’t willing to back Japan on what it regards as legitimate territorial claims? For that matter, why should Americans be in the position of defending a nation that is perfectly capable of defending itself and enforcing its territorial claims? What if the U.S.-Japan alliance is actually an impediment to “the development of some kind of stable international system in Asia”?

The current ruling party in Japan came to power on the promise to re-balance the U.S.-Japanese relationship and pursue closer relations with its regional neighbors, and this was not just some accident or belated reaction to the Bush years. It reflected a significant change in Japanese attitudes that Washington has largely dismissed and ignored. The U.S. wants to keep perpetuating Cold War alliance structures that are increasingly irrelevant to the regions involved and to U.S. interests, but a steadily growing number of people in allied countries are tired of the U.S. military presence these alliances often entail and many no longer want their countries to fill the outdated role of front-line states in an international struggle that ended twenty years ago. For our part, Americans see fewer reasons than ever why the U.S. should be responsible for providing defense for countries that are able to defend themselves.

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Looking Ahead to 2012

R.L.G. at Democracy in America wrote this a few days ago on the 2012 nomination fight:

Mr Douthat makes clear that he thinks Mitt Romney has the clearest path to the nomination. No wonder he is banking on a changing mood; it will have to change a very great deal before the man who pioneered Obamacare will be the Republican nominee.

As Ross noted in a later post, Romney is already ahead of Palin among some social conservative activists according to the Values Voters Summit straw poll, and right now he has the most support of any likely 2012 contender. It’s true that Romney is in a virtual tie with Huckabee at the top of this latest poll, but the “obvious” front-runner Palin is in fourth place behind the increasingly ridiculous Gingrich. If I had to pick Romney or Huckabee as the current front-runner, I would have to say it is Romney. Despite all of his considerable baggage and my strong dislike for him, Romney is accepted by movement conservative activists, pundits and leaders to a degree that Huckabee is not and probably never will be. More important, he is acceptable to wealthy Republican donors, and Huckabee is not. Romney is certainly running and has been organizing to that end for some time, and Huckabee may not run and has never had much of a campaign organization even when he was an actively campaigning candidate. That puts Romney far out in front of his closest rival, and it puts him miles ahead of the others.

It seems as if it would make sense that health care legislation Romney championed in Massachusetts should be his undoing because it was the model for the federal health care bill. Then again, it should be bad for the GOP as a whole that the health care bill was in many important respects modeled on the Republican compromise position of the mid-90s that Romney adopted. Romney’s health care record should be a liability with primary voters, but that assumes that they will care more about what he did as governor of Massachusetts than they care about what he says he will do as President. The latest version of Romney is the one who fiercely denounces health care legislation and urges its repeal. A substantial percentage of Republican primary voters in 2008 overlooked his complete lack of credibility on a range of issues on which he pretended to be the true conservative candidate, and without McCain in the race sucking up the support of all the moderate primary voters Romney will probably gain their support as well. The voters who regard Romney as too fake and too unprincipled will probably be split several ways by a large field of candidates, and the new Republican rules for awarding delegates will benefit the candidate who is best able to compete in many different kinds of states and who has the resources and organization to have a campaign presence across the country. All of that leaves Romney with a decent chance at the nomination. His nomination will be a debacle for the GOP of a different sort, but it seems the most likely outcome whether or not the public mood changes.

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