Daniel Larison

The MEK and the FTO List

Paul Pillar corrects a common misunderstanding about the Foreign Terrorist Organization list:

Tanter seems to believe that a group has to have committed terrorist acts within the previous two years to be kept on the list. Not true. (Having been directly involved in the laborious process of compiling the required administrative records for the initial listings after enactment of the law in 1996 that created the FTO list, I know a thing or two about this subject.) Two years used to be the interval between recertifications of listed groups, and it is now the period after which a group can petition for delisting. But no terrorist acts have to have been committed during that period; retaining the capability and presumed intent to commit them is sufficient to stay on the list [bold mine-DL]. If performing terrorist acts recently was a requirement to stay on the list, many of the 49 groups currently on the list would have to come off. Lebanese Hizballah, for example, probably would be one of them. I expect that many of the pro-MEK campaigners would be among the first to scream if that happened.

One of the main reasons the MEK has remained on the list is that they do retain the “capability and presumed intent” to commit acts of terrorism. Violent resistance has been at the core of the group’s identity and methods for decades, and it remains dedicated to the overthrow of the current Iranian regime. I’ll quote Ray Takeyh once again:

The core of MEK’s ideology has always been anti-imperialism which it has historically defined as opposition to U.S. interests. The MEK opposed the Shah partly because of his close associations with the United States. MEK’s anti-American compulsions propelled it toward embracing an entire spectrum of radical forces ranging from the Vietcong to the PLO. Given its mission of liberating the working class and expunging the influence of predatory capitalism, the United States has traditionally been identified as a source of exploitation and injustice in MEK literature. As the organization has lost its Iraqi patron and finds itself without any reliable allies, it has somehow modulated its language and sought to moderate its anti-American tone. Such convenient posturing should not distract attention from its well-honed ideological animus to the United States.

Terror has always been a hallmark of MEK’s strategy for assuming power. Through much of its past, the party exulted violence as a heroic expression of legitimate dissent. One of the central precepts of the party is that a highly-dedicated group of militants could spark a mass revolution by bravely confronting superior power of the state and assaulting its authority. Once, the masses observe that the state is vulnerable to violence, than they will shed their inhibitions and join the protest, thus sparking the larger revolution. Thus, the most suitable means of affecting political change is necessarily violence. Although in its advocacy in Western capitals, the MEK emphasizes its commitment to democracy and free expression, in neither deed nor word has it forsworn it violent pedigree.

While it may sometimes be necessary to put aside a terrorist group’s past for the sake of ending armed conflict through negotiated settlement, that isn’t what proponents of de-listing want. Advocates of rehabilitating the MEK are mainly interested in using the group to destabilize the Iranian regime. MEK advocates seem more than ready to ignore or whitewash the group’s past so that it can be used as a weapon against Tehran, which will be perceived by the vast majority of Iranians as an insult and a threat to all Iranians. Almost all Iranians understandably view the MEK as traitors and enemies of their country. If the MEK is de-listed, it will confirm for most Iranians that the U.S. is not simply opposed to the current regime, but that it is hostile to the Iranian people as well.


Walt and American Exceptionalism

Marion Smith responds to Stephen Walt on American exceptionalism and foreign policy (via Scoblete):

President Obama’s misunderstanding of American exceptionalism has found defenders among international-relations scholars and taken on an aura of legitimacy. Realist theorist Stephen Walt, in a recent article in Foreign Policy, exposes the “myths” of American exceptionalism. Walt echoes Obama’s view — namely that, since many nations have sincerely believed they were exceptional, no nation is truly exceptional.

Smith gets off to a bad start here. Whatever criticisms of American exceptionalism Prof. Walt made in his essay, we already know that Obama doesn’t share them. Smith’s argument is with Walt, but he insists on ascribing views to Obama that the latter doesn’t hold. In fairness, Prof. Walt may have created some confusion when he referred to part of Obama’s 2009 remarks in isolation, but Walt was interested in criticizing American exceptionalism rather than clarifying Obama’s position on it. So, we should be clear that the position Walt is defending has nothing to do with Obama.

Does Walt argue that “many nations have sincerely believed they were exceptional,” and does he conclude from this that “no nation is truly exceptional”? Not exactly. As it relates to foreign policy, he objects to the idea that the exercise of U.S. power overseas is unique:

Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities — from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom — the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics.

What we see here is an admission on Walt’s part that America is unique in many ways, but he maintains that its conduct of foreign policy is not what sets it apart. The closest that Walt comes to arguing that “no nation is truly exceptional” is when he says this:

Most great powers have considered themselves superior to their rivals and have believed that they were advancing some greater good when they imposed their preferences on others.

And this:

Among great powers, thinking you’re special is the norm, not the exception.

These statements have the virtue of being true. However, Smith believes he has found counter-examples that disprove Walt’s argument:

How about the American commitment to end European imperialism in North America, leading to the Monroe Doctrine? Secretary of State John Quincy Adams worked so that neither Spain nor France reclaimed their revolting colonies in Latin America.

Our “commitment to end European imperialism in North America” is quite exaggerated here. Quite a lot of North American territory remained under direct British and Russian rule until 1867. If America was committed to ending European imperialism in North America, the U.S. wasn’t very effective in making that happen, was it? Latin American and Caribbean revolutionaries had already done most of the work of ending most European imperialism in the Western Hemisphere, and the position of our government was to endorse the results. Haiti was a different case. U.S. policy was fairly hostile to the new state, and early on the U.S. tried to strangle it out of existence through arms and trade embargoes. How does that fit into the scheme of “promoting a system of justice”?

What the U.S. did commit to doing, at least rhetorically, was to oppose the return of European control over newly-independent republics and to oppose the imposition of Restoration-type governments on the republics of Latin America. Monroe stated that those parts of the Americas that were now independent were “not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” The core of the doctrine was this:

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

While there was undoubtedly considerable sympathy for republican independence movements in Latin America, U.S. policy in this case was to approve of the de facto political arrangements that existed at the time, and to declare opposition to European reconquests and the extension of the monarchical system that was being reimposed in contemporary Europe. That was a sensible, self-interested position for a young, relatively weaker republic to take. It didn’t require much of the U.S., and the U.S. was never compelled to act on it. In practice, Spain was in no position to retake its former colonies, so the U.S. didn’t have to do very much to fulfill that commitment. If European colonies still existed in the Western Hemisphere after 1823, the U.S. left them alone, which is exactly what the Monroe Doctrine required. Until the outbreak of war fever of 1898, the U.S. did not stir itself to eliminate the remnants of Spanish colonial empire in the Caribbean, and at the conclusion of the war took over some of its colonial possession as our own. The independence and liberty of most of the Americas came about without any U.S. effort on their behalf.

Smith offers other examples:

In the 1821 Greek Revolution against the Ottomans and in the Hungarian Revolution against the Austrian and Russian empires in 1848, America continued to stand conspicuously and sometimes precariously for freedom abroad.

In practice, there was no tangible U.S. support for the Greeks or the Hungarians, and as everyone knows the Greeks won thanks to the intervention of three of the Great Powers, and the Hungarians lost badly. The Monroe Doctrine took for granted that the U.S. would remain aloof from European conflicts: “In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy to do so.” “Standing conspicuously” for freedom abroad was all very well, but all this conspicuous standing didn’t amount to very much.

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous disagreement with Smith, most Americans sympathized with Russia in the Crimean War against Palmerston’s Britain, which was the leading liberal interventionist power of the day, and the U.S. even sent military advisers (including McClellan) to the Russian side during the war. This came just a few years after the Russians had crushed the Hungarian revolution. During the largest armed conflict in post-Napoleonic Europe, the U.S. leaned towards Russia without becoming directly involved. Of course, this can be explained by traditional hostility to Britain and Great Power politics, but it does not really fit with the idea that the U.S. is uniquely or especially driven by its political principles to pursue a certain kind of foreign policy. If Russia and the U.S. shared a common international rival, it made sense for the two governments to have closer relations. The record of U.S. foreign policy in the 19th century, to say nothing of the 20th, supports Walt’s case.


Ryan and Crony Capitalism

Pete Wehner admired Paul Ryan’s Heritage Foundation speech:

He made the case for why equality of outcome is itself a form of inequality (it creates a system based on political influence and bureaucratic favoritism). He made a moral defense of capitalism, pointing out that it has done far more to help the poor than any other economic system ever devised. And he made the (Lincolnian) case for upward mobility, for the idea that all citizens have the right to rise.

I suppose this would be a bad time to point out that the TARP that Ryan supported is a classic example of “a system based on political influence” that rewards failed companies and successful companies without regard to merit or outcome. Fortunately, Ryan is against all that now! Look, he has said so. He doesn’t like the “class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules, and preserve their place atop society.” He just votes for the latter’s bailouts and defends their interests, and occasionally writes lengthy articles in which he conflates those interests with a defense of the “free enterprise ethic.”

I’m not sure that asserting that everyone has a right to something is the same as making the case for it. When he said that Americans have “an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups,” he was praising that arrangement. He did so largely by ignoring the decline in American social mobility that has been taking place in recent decades.


Paul Ryan and Social Mobility

Paul Ryan reports on American and European social mobility c. 1900. Unfortunately, he seems to think that it still applies to the present:

Our Founding Fathers rejected this mentality. In societies marked by class structure, an elite class made up of rich and powerful patrons supplies the needs of a large client underclass that toils, but cannot own. The unfairness of closed societies is the kindling for class warfare, where the interests of “capital” and “labor” are perpetually in conflict. What one class wins, the other loses.

The legacy of this tradition can still be seen in Europe today: Top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.

The United States was destined to break out of this bleak history. Our future would not be staked on traditional class structures, but on civic solidarity. Gone would be the struggle of class against class.

Instead, Americans would work, compete, and co-operate in an open market, climb the ladder of opportunity, and keep the fruits of their efforts.

There are some European countries that have worse social mobility than the U.S., but several have higher social mobility than the U.S. As Jonathan Walton explained in his summary of the findings of an OECD study from last year, this stark contrast between general “European” class barriers and American social mobility is not true:

According to their findings, social mobility measured according to earnings, wages and education across generations is relatively low in relation to other developed nations such as Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Spain.

For instance, in terms of earnings levels, nine developed countries, including France, offer greater mobility than the United States. The U.S. only tops Italy and Great Britain. And the U.S. ranks the highest in terms of the influence of parental background on student achievement in secondary education.

For all of Ryan’s complaints about sowing resentment and “pitting people against one another,” he never really addresses the poor U.S. record on social mobility in recent decades. On the contrary, he declares, “We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.” Nowhere in the speech does he consider the possibility that increasing economic and social stratification is the thing that is corroding society rather than “divisive” rhetoric. Ryan does say that we should “lower the hurdles to upward mobility,” which is something, but there is nothing behind it. This is also the same Paul Ryan who said of Herman Cain’s regressive 9-9-9 plan, “We need more bold ideas like this because it is specific and credible.” Does that sound like someone eager to lower the hurdles to upward mobility?


Created and Uncreated

Erica Grieder discusses Mormonism and theology:

Richard J. Mouw of the Fuller Theological Seminary says that the key issue is Mormons say that God and man are part of the same species, apparently a reference to the Mormon belief that God has a body (“He has a body that looks like ours, but God’s body is immortal, perfected, and has a glory that words can’t describe,” as the Mormon FAQ puts it.) That’s theologically provocative, but given that mainstream Christians hold that Jesus is both human and divine, it’s not hard to see how the question might arise [bold mine-DL]. Similarly, some theologians object to the Mormon conception of the trinity as three distinct entities, as opposed to the mainstream view that sees the trinity as (as this LDS site puts it) “united in substance and in person in a way that is incomprehensible by man.” Again: theologically provocative, not dispositive.

As far as theological definitions are concerned, the teaching of the hypostatic union of two natures concerns something radically different from the “provocative” claim Grieder mentions: the union presupposes the uncreated nature of the divinity being united to human nature. While there were disputes about the created or uncreated nature of the Son, even Anomoeans acknowledged that the Father was uncreated and immaterial along with all of the other attributes of divinity. I suppose it is “provocative” to teach a modern form of anthropomorphism and to hold that God is material rather than immaterial, and it is also radically different from the theology of virtually all professing Christians since the beginning. It is so radically different that Islamic theology is closer to Christian orthodoxy on this question than is Mormonism, so, yes, it’s “provocative.” It’s also what orthodox Christians would identify as false. Understanding the Trinity as “three distinct entities” has precedent in the history of doctrine. This was a tritheist teaching that Christians of all the ancient post-Nicene confessions flatly rejected as the antithesis of Trinitarian doctrine.

If one takes the Nicene Creed as the statement of what defines the core of Christian doctrine, as the main Christian confessions do, tritheists believe in something profoundly different and incompatible with Christian teaching. There seems to be no point in dismissing radical differences in the two teachings. When adherents of both know it isn’t the case, it doesn’t show any respect for either of them to pretend that they are just slightly different versions of the same thing.


TAC Hiring Online Editor

If you or someone you know is interested in political writing and traditional and principled conservative analysis and commentary, TAC has a new opportunity:

Do you want to join a Washington journalism team that’s advancing a smart, independent voice on the Right?

The American Conservative is looking for an online editor. The magazine is already expanding its website, which will re-launch this winter as the nation’s premier online hub of traditional conservatism. If you are the right editor for this job, here’s what you’ll be doing: Managing and growing The American Conservative’s web presence, overseeing online content (assigning, editing, and writing articles and blog posts), planning/producing the homepage on a daily basis (aggregation, multimedia creation, comments curation, and overseeing staff bloggers), developing and executing the web strategy (including social media, search, referral traffic, and e-newsletters), and monitoring analytics.

The ideal candidate will have some experience in online journalism and a passion for engaging with a dynamic community of serious readers, plus:

•Eagerness to work tirelessly in a small but ambitious team (the position will report to magazine’s editor)
•Superb writing and editing ability
•Strong communication and organizational skills
•Love of considered, lengthy journalism as well as an appreciation of horse-race politics
•Excellent news/opinion judgment
•A background in intellectual conservatism and keen understanding of The American Conservative’s unique sensibility.

This position is based in our Arlington, Virginia office. To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, and writing sample to: [email protected]

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No, Obama Is Not a McGovernite on Foreign Policy

Rich Lowry talks nonsense:

Perhaps none of this should be surprising since the Democrats, despite the Clinton interlude, never stopped being a McGovernite party, and Obama is a McGovernite figure.

In what sense could this be true? McGovernite is just a term of abuse here that has no relationship to what Obama is doing. Lowry objects to the decision to honor the agreement with the Iraqi government negotiated by the previous administration. It doesn’t matter that there was no realistic way to keep large numbers of American soldiers in Iraq without risking the eruption of a new insurgency. The administration hasn’t endorsed a “come home, America” sentiment, but it has acknowledged the reality that most Iraqis want U.S. forces to get out of their country. All year long, there has been agitation from presidential candidates and activists to keep large numbers of U.S. forces in Iraq for years to come, but that idea was never going to be acceptable to the Iraqi government. The “boost to Iran” came eight years ago when the U.S. deposed their enemy, and it came again each time that Shi’ite parties favorably disposed to Tehran were elected and formed governments. A continued U.S. presence would not have prevented Iran from continuing to receive similar “boosts” as Iran-Iraq ties grew stronger. Obama’s foreign policy decisions can be described as many things, but the one thing it absolutely isn’t is McGovernite.


The “Missed Opportunity” in Iran That Wasn’t

Mona Charen recycles the old complaint that the administration didn’t do enough for the Green movement:

The fall of that regime would be the greatest victory imaginable against worldwide terror (to say nothing of what it would do for Iranians). Yet when the regime was rocked by weeks of protests, Obama let the opportunity to support the demonstrators (and possibly affect the outcome) slip through his fingers.

It’s not clear what the opportunity was that Obama missed. For the sake of argument, let’s grant that the U.S. could have “possibly affected the outcome” of the election protests by showing more public support for the protesters. Further, let’s assume that the effect of U.S. support for the Green movement would not have been counterproductive, but would have made the Green movement more successful than it was. This last point is almost certainly false, but let’s accept it for the moment. It still doesn’t follow that the current Iranian leadership would have been replaced, and it is even less likely that the entire regime would have fallen, so there never was an opportunity to be exploited. What we can know with some certainty is that the leadership of the Green movement did not differ greatly from the current leadership on disputes issues concerning Iran’s nuclear program and its support for proxies outside Iran, so we would have no reason to expect changed regime behavior had the Green movement had prevailed and Mousavi had been accepted as the new president.

Back in the real world, we know that the Green movement was not a revolutionary movement dedicated to regime change, but was focused overwhelmingly on domestic political grievances within the existing political system. We also know that the Green movement did not want foreign backing. The standard complaint about the U.S. response to the 2009-10 protests in Iran is that the U.S. failed to provide the protesters with support they didn’t want that would have changed nothing in the hopes of achieving something (i.e., regime change) that the opposition wasn’t seeking.


Foreseeable and Foreseen

Aaron Goldstein responds to Clark Stooksbury:

My point here is that neither supporters nor detractors of the War in Iraq foresaw the emergence of Iran and it is this emergence which prompted my question about Saddam as our military forces prepare to leave Iraq.

This is clearly untrue. One of the most obvious consequences of deposing Hussein was that it would increase Iran’s regional influence by removing the anti-Iranian bulwark that Hussein’s regime represented. Opponents of the invasion certainly mentioned this in the months before the war started, and many of us pointed it out quite frequently in the years that followed. While skeptics sometimes imagined more direct Iranian interference in Iraq than there has been, they correctly predicted that Iran would benefit significantly from Hussein’s overthrow. Contrary to Goldstein’s claim, the Margolis article Clark cited touched on this as well:

This chronically unstable “Pandora’s Box,” as Jordan’s King Abdullah calls it, is the nation the U.S. plans to rule. When Saddam falls, Iraq will almost certainly splinter. This is the very reason why Bush père wisely decided against marching on Baghdad in 1991. President Bush Sr. and his Arab allies concluded Iran would annex southern Iraq.

The fear of annexation was unfounded, but the basic understanding that Iran would wield greater influence in a post-Saddam Iraq was correct. Considering the links between Tehran and the leading Shi’ite parties in Iraq, increased Iranian influence was inevitable once those parties were permitted to run the Iraqi government. Not only was this increased influence foreseeable, it was foreseen as long ago as 1991.

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There Will Be No More New Candidates

Bill Kristol cannot give up on the dream of new presidential candidates:

So: The race seems to be more open and fluid than conventional wisdom has it. In particular, it strikes me that as everyone focuses (understandably) on Romney, Cain, and Perry, Gingrich is increasingly well positioned for a serious challenge. And mightn’t at least one of Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, or Jeb Bush be rethinking his decision not to run?

No. We should have been finished with this nonsense weeks ago, but let’s quickly review why this makes no sense. For starters, the filing deadline for New Hampshire is this Friday. Florida’s deadline is next Monday, and South Carolina’s deadline is a week from today. It doesn’t matter how undecided or uncommitted primary voters are if the new candidates aren’t going to be on the ballot. Thanks to Florida’s primary re-scheduling, there is even less time to organize a campaign in the early states, and New Hampshire will probably schedule its primary for January 10. Put another way, there are ten weeks left until the Iowa caucuses. Anyone trying to start up a campaign at this late date would be guaranteeing his own defeat. This pointless chatter was mildly amusing two months ago, but now it’s just sad.

P.S. All of this applies to Jindal, too.

Update: Daniel Halper offers this defense:

The only question would be whether there is time for another candidate to establish himself, raise funds, and establish an effective campaign. But those details have nothing to do with the obvious lack of enthusiasm for the Republican presidential candidates.

Oh, well, if that’s “the only question,” there’s no problem. A lack of enthusiasm for the current field doesn’t mean that there is room for new candidates. The race may be “fluid” in that voters keep shifting from one anti-Romney candidate to another, but it isn’t realistically open to new candidates, and it’s silly to suggest that it might be.

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