Daniel Larison

The Recent Past Is a Very Foreign Country for Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson gets his facts wrong again:

There was a reason why after bombing Milosevic out of power, we inserted ground troops. Thus Serbia (and Iraq, for that matter) is not now quite Libya.

There was a reason why NATO sent ground forces into Kosovo, which was to secure its de facto separation from Serbia. The air war in 1999 did not drive Milosevic from power. He remained in power for over another year. NATO ground forces never entered the rest of Serbia. Indeed, the demand that NATO forces have the run of the entire country was one of the outrageous conditions in the Rambouillet agreement that caused Milosevic to reject the U.S. proposal on Kosovo, and that rejection was then used as the excuse to begin the bombing. Milosevic was eventually compelled to yield on Kosovo, but he did not go along with this demand. Besides, there was never any need for an occupying force in the rest of Serbia. Hanson’s comments on Kosovo in this article are completely wrong on the facts. I have pointed out the post-Gaddafi disorder and lawlessness in Libya several times, but the idea that the conditions in post-invasion Iraq were significantly better than the current state of affairs in Libya is deranged.

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Vanished Kingdoms and the Transience of Power

Among other things, Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms is an investigation into the impermanence of power. He writes in his introduction:

The above observations may be worth considering further, if only because mainstream history-making persists in its addiction to great powers, to narratives about the roots of the present and to ultra-specialized topics. The resultant image of life in the past is necessarily deficient. In reality, life is far more complex; it consists of failures, near misses and brave tries as well as triumphs and successes. Mediocrity, ungrasped opportunities and false starts, though unsensational, are commonplace. The panorama of the past is indeed studded with greatness, but it is filled in the main with lesser powers, lesser people, lesser lives and lesser emotions. More importantly, students of history need to be constantly reminded of the transience of power, for transience is one of the fundamental characteristics both of the human condition and of the political order. Sooner or later, all things come to an end. Sooner or later, the center cannot hold. All states and nations, however great, bloom for a season and are replaced. (p.5)

He goes on to say that we all tend to deny that this impermanence applies to us:

Of course, human nature dictates that everyone is lulled into thinking that disasters only happen to others. Imperial nations, and ex-imperial nations, are particularly reluctant to recognize how quickly reality moves on. Having lived a charmed life in the mid-twentieth century, and having held out against the odds in our ‘Finest Hour’, the British risk falling into a state of self-delusion which tells them that their condition is still as fine, that their institutions are above compare, that their country is somehow eternal. The English in particular are blissfully unaware that the disintegration of the United Kingdom began in 1922, and will probably continue; they are less aware of complex identities than are the Welsh, the Scots or the Irish. Hence, if the end does come, it will come as a surprise. (p.6)

I suppose what makes it harder for imperial and ex-imperial nations to accept changing realities is that they suffer from the illusion that they have far more control over their fates than they actually do. They can remain attached to the illusion long after the control has slipped away, and indeed they hold onto the illusion because control has been slipping away. Especially when a nation defines itself in terms of its “mission” in the world or a cause to promote, it is in danger of losing itself when it no longer has the mission or cause to fall back to provide meaning.

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Why Huckabee and Rubio Shouldn’t Be Selected for the VP Nomination

Andrew comments on Romney’s political weaknesses:

If Romney cannot win a Southern state with Christianist voters or keeps losing the white working and lower middle class, he’s a very weak nominee. Which means he will have to pick a red-blooded red-stater as a veep. I think Rubio’s Mormon period effectively rules him out as an option. My suggestion? Huckabee as veep. He balances every Romney weakness.

Huckabee would make an interesting choice. It would mean that Romney was tying himself to the person who once said that he had no soul. The Democratic ads would practically write themselves: “Even Mitt Romney’s running mate has said that he has no integrity and will say anything to win an election.” It would likely horrify the economic conservatives who found Huckabee so unacceptable last time, and it would also saddle the ticket with Huckabee’s ethical baggage that the media never bothered digging into last time.

As for Rubio, there are many reasons why it would be a mistake to select him as Romney’s running mate, but the story about Rubio’s childhood Mormonism isn’t one of them. Anyone who is going to have a problem with the ticket because Rubio was briefly a Mormon long ago as a child will already be opposed to supporting Romney anyway, and Christian conservative voters typically don’t punish a politician if he is currently a practicing Christian. This is why Christian conservatives have had no problem supporting Jindal and Haley. Romney could choose Rubio, but the most important reasons why he shouldn’t are clear: Rubio’s experience at the national level is simply insufficient, and he is not yet otherwise qualified to be the next in line to the Presidency. Selecting Rubio would generate a lot of enthusiasm among movement conservatives, which addresses one of Romney’s problems, and it wouldn’t turn into a debacle the way Palin’s selection did, but it is still a bad idea.

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Santorum’s Bad Populist History

Rick Santorum concluded his concession speech with some creative historical interpretation:

But their rulers ruled them [the British] from on high, didn’t listen to them as they fought the Revolutionary War. Our leaders were different. George Washington, the signature leader of America, was different. He understood that the greatness of this new country was to have leaders who understood that, in spite of their breeding and education, they didn’t have all the answers, that they could trust the people, that ragtag group of people who stepped forward to volunteer to create freedom in this land.

And they believed General Washington believed in them. In fact, some of his boldest moves came not from him or his generals, but from the ranks. That’s how America’s freedom was won, leaders believing in the people that they led against those who just thought all the answers resided in those in charge.

American leaders during the War of Independence were not all that different from their contemporaries in Britain. That was one of the causes of their grievances against Parliament and the Crown. They were Englishmen entitled to the same rights and liberties, they believed that these rights had been secured in the previous constitutional struggles against the monarchy, and they perceived that Parliament and the Crown were encroaching on those rights in a way that threatened self-government in the colonies. They were not all that different in their political views from their Loyalist opponents, except that the patriot leaders believed that their grievances merited the separation of the colonies from Britain. The Loyalists obviously regarded this as an excessive response to government policy. The Founding generation typically had very little confidence in “the people,” and they did not have appreciably more confidence in “the people” than their counterparts on the other side of the conflict. Early republican leaders did recognize that they didn’t “have all the answers,” but this is because they understood that everyone was fallible and no one person or institution should be entrusted with too much power, and not because they had an abundance of trust in “the people.”

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Is the “New Wilsonism” Triumphing or Declining?

In the previous issue of The National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev and Ray Takeyh warned about the “triumph of the new Wilsonism” spurred on by the Libyan intervention. Leslie Gelb responds in the new issue:

In sum, I think a good case can be made that we are not entering a period where the floodgates to intervention are opening but a period where floodgates are probably closing. I see increasing caution and opposition to intervention worldwide, and especially in the United States.

Pat Buchanan made a similar argument:

However, to contend that Libya represents a “template for future limited interventions,” a “paradigm shift” or a “doctrine” that may reduce realists to political irrelevance goes more than a bridge too far.

For Libya seems less a rule than an aberration.

Buchanan and Gelb are most likely correct. When the Libyan war began, Gideon Rachman said that it was more likely that it represented the “last hurrah” of Western interventionism rather than the beginning of a new era of it. We may hope he was right. Restraint seems to be prevailing this year despite constant agitation for some sort of Western-led or Western-backed Syrian war.

Compared to what the U.S. and major European powers were willing to do in the 1990s, there appears to be much less political will for large-scale, sustained interventions in foreign conflicts. That is because of reduced fiscal resources, the drain on military resources caused by Iraq and Afghanistan, and the related loss of public support for wars of choice. Despite greater formal consensus in support of the idea of the “responsibility to protect” just a few years ago, Gelb is right that there is much less support for military intervention in Western states than there used to be and there is virtually none at all elsewhere. As for Syria, there appears to be a growing international consensus (rejected by three of the Republican presidential candidates) that even providing military aid to the opposition there would be a serious mistake that would worsen conditions in the country. Regional governments may want to fight a proxy war in Syria, but there does not seem to be much appetite among Western governments for one.

On the other hand, intervening in Libya seemed very unlikely up until the last few days before it happened. At this time last year, the idea that the U.S. and our allies were going to attack Libya seemed implausible if not absurd. The administration was being hammered by interventionist critics for its inaction, and for once it seemed as if the U.S. would not be involved in yet another unnecessary conflict. In a matter of days, all of that was turned on its head. The bombing began just a few weeks after it appeared that there would be neither U.N. authorization for military action nor U.S. involvement. Public support for the war was always very weak, but the administration simply ignored this and it waged the war without receiving approval from Congress. That suggests that future administrations may be able commit the U.S. to new foreign wars similar to the one fought in Libya on very short notice without encountering much serious resistance.

For that reason, I’m less persuaded by the argument that the U.S. wouldn’t repeat something like the Libyan intervention if Obama were no longer President. Later in his response, Buchanan asked:

Would President Romney back the ouster of a pro-American autocrat facing mass demonstrations if the successor regime might be Islamist? Has any Republican candidate offered Libya as a model?

If we assume that Romney’s positions on the administration’s policies towards Mubarak and Gaddafi tell us what he would be likely to do in office, the answer to both of these questions has to be yes. Unlike Santorum, Romney has not railed against Obama for giving up on Mubarak. On the contrary, Romney called for the administration to pressure Mubarak to step aside just a week after the protests in Cairo began. Romney’s position on Libya has been less clear-cut, but on the whole he supported the intervention while faulting Obama for the way that he managed it. Based on what he has said about Libya, he favored a more aggressive U.S. role in the conflict, and he has been pushing for providing weapons to the Syrian opposition. Romney would not cite the Libyan war as it was fought as a model, but he agreed with the decision to intervene, which suggests that he would probably be willing to order similar military action.

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Arizona and Michigan Results

While it may be hard to believe, Romney has slightly improved on his 2008 Michigan percentage of the vote, and he has received many more votes tonight than he did four years ago. Since there was no “native son” candidate in Arizona running against him, Romney won in a walk by more than 20 points. He has improved over his 2008 Arizona result by 13 points, and his 2008 result was nine points better than Santorum’s. The build-up to tonight’s vote has mostly been a lot of phony drama. There was never any doubt that Romney would win Arizona, and in the last few days it seemed very unlikely that Romney would lose in Michigan. His early-voting advantage made it even less likely (and he held a 50-24% advantage among voters who had decided their vote in 2011), and in the end the most recent late-deciding voters (9%) also went for Romney over Santorum. Four out of ten primary voters backed Romney, which is more or less the same support he had four years ago. Romney will end the night with a significantly larger delegate lead than he had this morning.

According to the exit poll, voters did not endorse the idea that Santorum could use economic issues to compete with Romney. Among voters who named the economy as the most important issue, Santorum lost by 16 points. The next largest group named the budget deficit, and Santorum lost that group by 18 points. In a weird reversal, Santorum led among voters who opposed the Tea Party movement, while Romney narrowly led among supporters and those that claimed to be neutral. Romney continued to dominate among “somewhat conservative” and moderate voters, and predictably lost the “very conservative” vote to Santorum.

Matching the improvement he has shown throughout the nominating contest, Ron Paul managed to double his 2008 percentages in Michigan and Arizona.

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Romney Is “Articulate” So Long As He Has a Script to Follow

Dan Schnur mistakenly believes that Romney’s mistakes are limited to talking about wealth (via Andrew):

The curious thing about Romney’s verbal missteps is how limited they are to this very specific area of public policy. He is usually quite articulate when talking about foreign affairs and national security. Despite his complicated history on social and cultural matters like health care and abortion, his explanations are usually both coherent and comprehensible, even to those who oppose his positions [bold mine-DL]. It’s only when he begins talking about economic issues – his biographical strength – that he seems to get clumsy.

This is just wrong. Romney has regularly made ridiculous statements on all of these other issues. It’s true that some of these date back to his first presidential campaign, and these tend to be issues where it takes some familiarity with them is required to recognize just how ridiculous they are, the candidate who once promised to “double Gitmo,” declares that there shouldn’t be an “inch of space” between the U.S. and allied governments, and rules out any and all negotiations with the Taliban does not deserve the credit he is getting here. Romney is “articulate” about foreign affairs in the sense that he has learned his rehearsed, scripted lines, and he can deliver those lines smoothly. That said, does he ever give non-Republicans the impression that he really understands what he’s talking about? No, he doesn’t.

Pro-life conservatives can readily spot the flaws in Romney’s statements on social issues. Romney has won over some pro-lifers by making statements that are considered merely good enough, but no one actually credits his story that it was ESCR that changed his mind about abortion. One of the things that got him into trouble last cycle was that he insisted on talking about these issues even though he was not very good at it. Romney’s awkwardness on questions of wealth and class is more apparent to more observers because these are not things he can handle by reciting party-line slogans, and there are many more people with stronger opinions about wealthy, out-of-touch politicians than there are critics of his foreign policy ignorance.

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Have Paul and Romney Formed an Alliance?

Brian Doherty laughs at the idea of a Paul-Romney alliance (via Andrew):

The world is full of dark mysteries and sneaky tricks, and it’s possible Ron Paul’s campaign is in secret alliance with Mitt Romney, the Axis Powers, Victor von Doom, and the Reptilians. Let’s just say that the supposed evidence presented for it by his other opponents and press speculators doesn’t prove their case.

The idea of an actual alliance between the two campaigns is silly. Personal friendship aside, Romney is the antithesis of everything Paul represents in an intra-party contest. What does make sense is that Paul and his campaign would direct most of their attacks at those candidates most likely to compete with Paul among self-described “very conservative” voters. As Doherty points out, Paul has criticized Romney, but spending a lot of time attacking Romney is the least effective way to detach those voters from the other non-Romney candidates. Criticizing the other non-Romney candidates’ records is the obvious move in order to peel away “very conservative” voters from the anti-Romney of the week.

All of Romney’s rivals have attempted to capitalize on Romney’s weakness with the most conservative voters, and Romney receives his strongest support from “somewhat conservative” and “moderate” voters. Besides, it doesn’t hurt Romney very much if Paul attacks him for being insufficiently conservative: Romney’s relative moderation is what most of his current supporters like about him. It makes sense that the Paul campaign would see the other candidates as natural competitors for the “very conservative” vote and would direct their attacks accordingly. The other candidates have typically been vulnerable to attacks from the right, and Paul is uniquely positioned to criticize them as a consistent constitutionalist. Of course, Paul’s goal in the nominating contest is to maximize his influence at the convention, and the current obstacles to doing that are Gingrich and Santorum.

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Erasing the History of the Bush Era

Doug Mataconis faults Brooks’ column for its tardiness:

What stands out about Brooks’ lamentation is the fact that it seems to be far too little, far too late because the problems that Brooks complains of go back far further than a mere five years. Where were they during the 90s when conservatives were pursuing bizarre conspiracy theories against the President and his wife? Where were they when the Bush Administration used a terrorist attack as an excuse to pass a PATRIOT Act that was little more than a wish list of law enforcement tools that had been requested for years, most of which have barely even been used in the pursuit of terror suspects over the past ten years? Where were they when discriminatory laws against gays and lesbians were used as a springboard to election victory in 2004? Heck, where were they when a supposedly conservative Administration increased government spending and power at a rate unseen since the Johnson Administration?

Mataconis is mixing up things that he finds objectionable about the GOP over the last twenty years with the fight between “the protesters and the professionals” Brooks identifies as the latest episode in his moderate martyrology. Take the last item from Mataconis’ list as an example. The massive increases of government spending and power in the Bush era were things that Brooks and other Republican proponents of activist domestic government cheered on and defended. Brooks doesn’t see that as a failure of party leadership in the past–that is what he thinks Republican leaders ought to be doing now. The same goes for the PATRIOT Act and other security state measures. Those are the sorts of things that Brooks thinks represent the professionals’ interest in governance.

As far as Brooks is concerned, opposition to Bush-era domestic and security policies on constitutional, small-government conservative, or libertarian grounds is proof that the “protesters” (i.e., conservatives and libertarians) are simply uninterested in governing because they refuse to endorse the bad policies that he and other “big-government conservatives” favored. Brooks and those who shared many of his assumptions about the role of government prevailed in intra-party debates for most of the 2000s. It proved to be a policy and political disaster, and now he is annoyed that Republican voters are belatedly reacting against this.

Where were the party’s leaders when these things were happening in the Bush era? They were helping to push bad pieces of legislation through Congress, and then they were selling them to their constituents as vote-buying measures that would cement Republican majorities. This was how Santorum proved he was a “team player” during the last decade. Meanwhile party leaders blindly followed the administration and supported its disastrous war in Iraq, which did more than any other single Bush-era policy to damage the party’s political fortunes (to say nothing of the damage it did to U.S. interests and fiscal health). The Republican Party just went through the better part of a decade in which the President from their party and their Congressional leadership presided over a number of major policy failures and blunders, and most of these were measures connected with so-called “compassionate conservatism” and the “freedom agenda,” but Brooks writes as if none of that occurred. More to the point, he writes as if he didn’t support most of the major failed policies of the Bush era. There is a lot to be said about the modern GOP’s ideological maladies, but Brooks is mostly avoiding the main problems of the last decade and he has less credibility than almost anyone else to make the argument.

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Republicans and Immigration

Matt Steinglass is half-right when he says this:

Republicans aren’t concocting grand strategies based on John Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s thesis that they face demographic doom, because they don’t believe that thesis. I think most Republicans actually don’t think that their hard-line anti-immigration stance ought to be costing them the Hispanic vote. As far as they’re concerned it’s the right policy, and Hispanics ought to be able to see that.

I agree that most Republicans don’t believe this thesis when it is presented to them. Many Republicans are scarcely aware of this argument in the first place, but they are far more likely to believe that America is and will continue to be a “center-right nation.” When asked to provide evidence for this view, they will probably invoke polling data on ideological self-identification, and if that isn’t enough they will point to the 2010 midterms. Many Republicans view the composition of the 2010 electorate as proof of the resilience of the Republican coalition after the aberrations of 2006 and 2008. 2012 will likely be a disillusioning election for them.

Most restrictionist and enforcement-first Republicans assume that most Hispanic voters are not likely to vote for the GOP for a number of reasons besides immigration policy. This may be a convenient assumption, but it also happens to be true. Whether or not stricter immigration policy “ought” to be alienating Hispanic voters, the assumption is that most Hispanic voters already disagree with the GOP on too many other areas of policy*. Liberalizing the party’s position on immigration would simply be unimaginative pandering that would also fail to win over many voters, and in the process it would cause significant disaffection among the party’s reliable voters. Bush, Perry, et al. lost the intra-party fight on immigration on policy and political grounds, and for once the party’s corporate backers did not get their way. Immigration restrictionists see an amnesty or semi-amnesty policy as the thing that will hasten the current GOP’s political demise. Restrictionists assume that the policy concession that is being promoted as the way to boost Republicans’ political fortunes will instead be the fast track to near-permanent minority status, and judging from the effects of the last amnesty bill they aren’t wrong.

* I should add that thinking about this in terms of policy disagreements doesn’t take account of the role of identity politics in drawing/pushing Hispanic voters away from Republican candidates, which is probably even more important in determining voting patterns.

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