Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

FISKING THE MONITOR

Sometimes I like the Christian Science Monitor, but this editorial on the French No is ridiculous. After a bit of blather about how other issues than the constitution affected the vote (do Europhiles realize that this argument is condescending?) they conclude:

Brussels would be making a big mistake if it deemed France's objections not relevant. With the Dutch also expected to vote "no" in a referendum on Wednesday, and the British leaning against, it's time for the EU to reconsider how best to seek its goal of an ever closer union. [my emphasis]


"How best to seek" its goal? Apparently , the goal itself is not in question. But what if Europeans don't want "ever closer union?" What if the current degree of integration is enough for them? What if, perchance, they would prefer to move in the other direction, towards more national autonomy? If that's what the No voters were saying (and it surely is), this formulation shuts out their grievances from square one.

The EU began five decades ago as an economic club, designed to curb nationalism in the wake of two world wars and to foster economic growth at the same time. It's done remarkably well at both, but cracks are appearing in the peace and prosperity model.


Remarkably well?! The euro zone is one of the most economically stagnant regions in the world! True, in the 1950s and 1960s, economic growth in Europe was dazzling, but that's ancient history. Now European economies are shutting the young out of the job market while walking towards a fiscal/demographic cliff.

And why curb nationalism? Sure, it has its dark sides. But a little love of country is healthy. A positive patriotism would be far better than the nastier sentiments that have been circulating in Europe lately, in particular an increasingly poisonous anti-Americanism.

This isn't to say the integration process should stop. The great magnet of EU potential membership has forced welcome democratic and economic change in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Turkey.


The magnet of EU membership may have contributed to the transition from communism to democracy in Eastern Europe. We don't know the counter-factual. I'm at a loss to imagine what "welcome... economic changes" the Monitor has in mind. But in any case, this argument is exhausted. Eastern Europe is already on board, and Western Europeans don't want to expand further. The credible promise of membership depends on a willingness to embrace ever more members. That willingness is no longer there, and this argument for unification (and it was the only decent one they had) is obsolete.

And while France may lament jobs lost to companies moving to cheaper Eastern Europe, that loss is dwarfed by the number of jobs created by French trade with those countries.


Do they have any evidence of this? Could they provide a link? Being a free-trader, I'm inclined to like this kind of argument, but this instance of it seems implausible-- in particular because it refers to jobs created in France, which seems like an oxymoron.

No, the integration trend should not stop. But the doubters must be heard, must believe they're being heard, and must receive convincing arguments countering their concerns. Obviously, that hasn't happened yet.


The doubters have heard the arguments for integration already. They've seen through them. Arguments for Europe as a path to peace and prosperity were made thirteen years ago in defense of Maastricht. History since then has torn them to shreds. Integrationists must listen, must acknowledge what they've listened to, and must be able to admit when their arguments have been beaten. Obviously, that hasn't happened yet.

But what gets my goat is: why is an American publication like the Monitor carrying water for the EU? I would have expected to see a wretched editorial like this in a Brussels press release. Why should an independent newspaper in Boston be channeling this pathetic propaganda?

THE EU CONSTITUTION AND THE IRAQ WAR

Yes, there's a link: France tried to stop both.

It was France that forced the US and the UK to invade Iraq without a second UN resolution, a.k.a. illegally. We were on the way to a vote of the Security Council, which we might not have won anyway. But France never let us try. Chirac declared pre-emptively that France would veto any resolution authorizing war. The declaration was both an irritation and a godsend to Tony Blair: an irritation, because he really did want a second resolution to pass; a godsend, because Blair used France's "unreasonable veto" to get Parliament to authorize a war without the UN's consent.

The French have just, in a small way, changed the narrative of the Iraq War, and made it more favorable to the Anglosphere-led coalition. Before now, few would have been willing to credit the Anglo-American claim that the "illegal" way we went into the Iraq War was unavoidable because of the machinations of an obstinate and erratic France. Now people might take another look at that argument.

Monday, May 30, 2005

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION?

This quote is funny:

M de Villiers [leader of the "No" camp] often cites “the English” as an example. “They are a little bizarre, but they have not abandoned the idea of being a powerful nation on their own and they have shown that it is possible to prosper outside the Euro.”


It would be silly to overdraw this. But the French no is reminiscent of the French Revolution. The French revolutionaries, too, looked to England as an example, while at the same time disdaining it. Then, too, events in Paris stunned Europe, and set in motion a chain of events that would sway the whole of Europe. Then, too, conservative forces (the church) joined with liberal forces (the bourgeoisie) and populist forces (the sans-culottes) to overturn an order that was reactionary and out-of-touch.

And oh yes: Outside the euro? Wait, where did the euro come into it? That was part of Maastricht. But given the vagueness of the constitution, given the Euro-elites' habit of fudging and muddling through, the French could hardly have had such a clear idea of what they were voting on. In practice, the vote was partly on "Europe" as a package, the euro included. And victory gave anti-unification forces a new momentum.

France is at the heart of Europe in a way that Britain (and obviously America) is not. So its example matters more. 19th-century Continental liberals, bizarre as this may sound to American ears, looked to the disastrous Jacobin experiment, in France more than to the flourishing republic across the sea, for inspiration. Now the tocsin has been sounded...

I have a sudden urge to go learn French!

(btw: I can't find where, but Villiers has alluded to the fall of the Bastille as a precedent for the French no before, I think...)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

THE END OF THE EUROPEAN UNION?

Not likely-- but France just voted "no" to the Constitution. At the least, that destroys any momentum for "ever closer union." The noes won by a wider margin than polls had suggested:

As the polls closed, the French Interior Ministry said the no camp had 57.26 percent, compared to 42.74 for yes, with nearly 83 percent of the votes counted.


The EU can function without the constitution. However, a lot of the current political architecture of the EU was established with very little popular legitimation. The Dutch never voted on the euro. Only a very narrow majority in France voted for the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and that despite the unanimous and vocal support of the political establishment and the press. Therefore, the vote against the referendum may also be, in part, a vote against the euro and other aspects of the European project.

Europe's present political arrangements are unwieldy. If the pattern of electoral rebukes to the system continues, the arrangements might begin to unravel.

The bond between the peoples and the elites of Europe has been frayed by the push towards a federal Europe. Now all Europe's major country governments are unpopular-- Berlusconi, Blair, Schroeder and Chirac alike. New politicians, new programs, new agendas are needed.

Friday, May 27, 2005

It's interesting that Niall Ferguson (an avowed fan of "empire" and "Angloglobalization") and Juan Cole (smart but perennially hysterical Middle East expert and Bush critic) seem to agree here. To wit, Ferguson writes:

[U]nlike the American enterprise in Iraq today, [the British in 1920] had enough men... [B]ack then the ratio of Iraqis to foreign forces was, at most, 23 to 1. Today it is around 174 to 1... The numbers that matter right now are 174 to 1. That is not only the ratio of Iraqis to American troops. It is starting to look alarmingly like the odds against American success.


Cole writes:

There are simply too few US troops to fight the guerrillas. There are only about 70,000 US fighting troops in Iraq, they don't have that much person-power superiority over the guerrillas. There are only 10,000 US troops for all of Anbar province, a center of the guerrilla movement with a population of 820,000. A high Iraqi official estimated that there are 40,000 active guerrillas and another 80,000 close supporters of them.


Both agree that the US will have to stay in Iraq for ten to fifteen years more to "succeed," whatever that means. But we can't do that because we don't have enough soldiers, and people aren't going to volunteer to fight for us. I suggest that sometime in the near future we cite manpower constraints, pull back to our bases, and get ready to withdraw some troops from Iraq.

During the election, Bush said that we'll fight "until the mission is finished." The mission being... what? We've removed Saddam and held elections. If "the mission" was to bring perfect civil peace to every corner of the country, that was never very likely.

We've got to remember that every war ends in disillusionment. After the Civil War, the South was occupied by carpetbaggers for a few years, then fell under the sway of the Ku Klux Klan and segregation. Within months after World War I, Keynes had written The Economic Consequences of the Peace, foreshadowing the residual bitterness of Germany and the rise of Hitler. And after World War II, a dozen nations of eastern and central Europe were consigned to a Stalinist hell. Going back further, after the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna buried the continent's nascent liberalism beneath a reactionary restoration of monarchies. Did we expect the war in Iraq to be more successful than these past "triumphs"?

[UPDATE: I don't want to be an archair general, by the way. This development is encouraging. Maybe we will decisively defeat the insurgency before manpower constraints force us to pull back. But we shouldn't let heroic rhetoric and high ideals become a trap. And we shouldn't promise the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people more help than we have to give.]

Thursday, May 26, 2005

CONFESSIONS OF A CHICKENHAWK

As Bob Novak points out, the limiting factor for US power is recruits. The heart of the matter:

How can the United States maintain its global credibility against the Islamists, if military ranks cannot be filled by volunteers and there is no public will for a draft?


I personally never accepted the Pottery Barn rule, if you break it, you own it. We didn't break Iraq. Saddam did. We gave them an opportunity to build a better society. No one said it would be easy. We won the war long ago. Our war objective was to remove Saddam. We removed Saddam. We went the extra mile and did some damage to the enemies of Iraqi democracy, while presiding over a process that led up to elections and a democratically elected government. We've made life, as one Iraqi put it, "more risky but worth living." We don't owe them, since we've benefited them already. (And they don't owe us, since our gift was gratuitous.)

I would like to stay in Iraq and keep fighting them. If there's ever been a just cause, it's killing the grotesque fiends who kill innocent people with car bombs. But it's not worth degrading our recruiting system, or introducing a draft.

I'd like to join the Army myself. I've wanted to for a long time. I tell my wife about my desires frequently. She says she'll divorce me if I do. Even so, I keep considering it. But my mom paid for the wedding and honeymoon, so I feel like she's got a stake in it too. I'd feel wrong pushing the envelope. For that reason, in my own personal case, I support the draft. I'd like to be drafted, so that I could serve my country, and my wife couldn't get mad and divorce me, and if she did divorce me, my mom wouldn't be able to blame me for it.

But in principle, I'm against the draft. And there are limits to what an all-volunteer army can sustainably do, particularly in a country whose wealthy economy offers such attractive alternatives. Our political leaders should recognize those constraints. And that should affect our strategy in Iraq, if necessary.

"GUIDED DEMOCRACY"

The no vote hasn't even taken place yet, but already the EU president is saying that a no vote means the referendum will have to be held again.

If the French and the Dutch reject the EU Constitution on Sunday and Wednesday, they should re-run the referendums, the current president of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said.

"If at the end of the ratification process, we do not manage to solve the problems, the countries that would have said No, would have to ask themselves the question again", Mr Juncker said in an interview with Belgian daily Le Soir.


It's time for the unification train to crash.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A DISQUIETING SUGGESTION

Is Nick Kristof drawing the wrong lessons from the interesting anecdote he cites in his excellent op-ed about the threat that blogs pose to Chinese communism? He writes:

I tried my own experiment, posting comments on Internet chat rooms. In a Chinese-language chat room on Sohu.com, I called for multiparty elections and said, "If Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait can choose their leaders, why can't we choose our leaders?" That went on the site automatically, like all other messages. But after 10 minutes, the censor spotted it and removed it.

Then I toned it down: "Under the Communist Party's great leadership, China has changed tremendously. I wonder if in 20 years the party will introduce competing parties, because that could benefit us greatly." That stayed up for all to see, even though any Chinese would read it as an implicit call for a multiparty system.


Kristof figures that the difference between the two statements, the one that the censor removed and the one that he allowed, was that the second "toned it down." But I note another difference: the second statement is heretical about democracy, but the first is heretical about (both democracy and) Taiwan.

Perhaps the censor was less communist than he was nationalist. He's willing to let someone advocate multi-party democracy, even though he may not agree. But he's outraged by a remark that seems to endorse Taiwan's independence.

My personal experience with mainland Chinese is that they're totally irrational on the subject of Taiwan. The idea that, just because the Taiwanese have been separate from China for almost the entire 20th century, have done very well thank you in the meantime, and would prefer for things to stay that way, maybe Taiwan should be independent, seems to them a cross between a joke and an insult. Some defect in their psyches makes them unable to see the overwhelming logic of putting the clarifying label "Taiwanese independence" on a benign status quo.

Which is ominous for the future of Asia, world peace, etc.

Howard Fineman of Newsweek, in an essay that asks whether "the tide of conservative Republicanism [has] crested," writes:

Two religions are in collision, one of them secular and scientific, the other Biblical.


An interesting way of putting it. I like the description of... well, of something, what exactly is an interesting question which I'll get back to... as a "religion." It has the connotations of unreasoning dogma which are appropriate in a description of... again, let's just say certain people, for now... but which are usually not admitted to.

But to oppose "secular and scientific" to "Biblical" won't wash. The secular-sacred distinction is a (rather distinctive) feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secular and sacred refer to different spheres of life, both of which Bible-believing Christians lead. Fineman's formulation suggests that "Biblical" types do not lead secular lives, which is absurd.

Again, while (a literal interpretation of) the Bible may clash with (the present corpus of dogmas of mainstream) science in a few cases (evolution, ontology), by and large, the two deal with different topics: ethics, and nature, respectively. No normal Christian has a problem with the practice or the findings of observational or experimental sciences.

But let's go back to the question we bumped into before: what "religion" are we talking about? It is "secular," which suggests a denial of the sacred. It is "scientific," suggesting nonrecognition or subordination of other forms of cognition, such as the aesthetic faculty; conscience; tradition...

My problem with this is that those who deny the sacred deny, knowingly or not, the sanctity of human life; and sometimes they later become aware, and/or confess to, and/or act on, this denial. And those who reject conscience and tradition have difficulty justifying the failure to reject the moral and behavioral traditions derived therefrom.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Paul Krugman thinks we're headed for a depression:

Everyone loves historical analogies. Here's my thought: maybe 2004 was 1928. During the 1920's, the national government followed doctrinaire conservative policies, but reformist policies that presaged the New Deal were already bubbling up in the states... the coming of the New Deal was hastened by a severe national depression. Strange to say, we may be working on that, too.


Where does Paul Krugman get these ideas? The economy grew at a respectable 3.6% in the first quarter of 2005, making 14 consecutive quarters of growth, and eight consecutive quarters in which the economy has grown at at least a 3% annual rate. The dollar is getting stronger. The economy created 274,000 jobs in April, beating expectations. In March there was even an unexpected fall in the trade deficit. Unemployment is 5.2%, just a bit above the full employment rate. There was even an unexpected bounce in tax receipts. All the signs are pointing in a good direction! To forecast a recession right now would be bizarre enough. But to forecast a depression is really unworthy of an eminent economist.

As Mark Steyn reports, supporters of the European constitution are using increasingly desperate rhetoric:

With the new constitution flailing in most polls, the Dutch government is being rather vicious already. Bernard Bot, the foreign minister, dismisses the electorate's objections as "a lot of irrational reaction". Piet-Hein Donner, the justice minister, warns that Europe will go the way of Helga's orchestra if the constitution is rejected. "Yugoslavia was more integrated than the Union is now," he points out, "but bad will and the inability to stifle hidden irritations and rivalry led in a short time to war."

Scornful of such piffling analogies, the prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, thinks a Balkan end is the least of their worries. "I've been in Auschwitz and Yad Vashem," he says. "The images haunt me every day. It is supremely important for us to avoid such things in Europe."

At the Theresienstadt (or Terezin) concentration camp in Poland, Sweden's European Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, declared: "There are those who want to scrap the supranational idea. They want the European Union to go back to the old purely inter-governmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads."

Golly. So the choice for voters on the Euro-ballot is apparently: yes to the European Constitution, or yes to a new Holocaust.


One great legitimizing myth of the European Union is that it has saved Europe from the scourge of war which tortured its history for so long. Baloney.

First of all, since World War II, western Europe has been democratic. There has never in history been a war between two democracies.

Second, western Europe was occupied by American troops, which obviously would not have allowed, say, France and Germany to go to war.

Third, any such war would have been exploited by the Soviets, and so would have been obviously suicidal.

Fourth, since WWII, Europeans, far from wanting to acquire territory, were eager to surrender it, giving up millions of square miles of colonial territory in Africa and Asia.

Fifth, inasmuch as the Euro-project emulates the federal project of the United States, this is hardly encouraging to those who see it as a guarantor of European peace: it took a bloody civil war to secure the enduring unity of the United States. If there is a future European war, the most likely cause will be the European project. At some point, someone will want to secede, and someone will want to use force to defend the integrity of the European "state."

Monday, May 23, 2005

LET FRANCE VOTE NO

The French will vote on the EU constitution on May 29th. Gerard Baker thinks Americans should be rooting for a no. Michael Mandelbaum seems to prefer a yes. Mandelbaum argues that Americans have benefited from European unification in the past. True, but European unification came in two phases. The first phase, which took place in the first decades of the Cold War, was pro-capitalist, anti-Soviet, pro-American, and a stunning economic success. The second phase, which began with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, sought to rival American while pioneering an alternative "social model" of capitalism. It has been an abject economic failure, with Europe becoming one of the world's most stagnant regions economically, falling ever further behind America.

The secularist, socialist, not-very-democratic emerging European polity bears a growing resemblance to the Soviet Union. The European ethos smothers national pride, seeking to cultivate in its place a pan-European loyalty, though it is far from obvious that this is preferable. (From the American point of view, pan-European consciousness seems to consist in anti-American bigotry.) Europhiles want to create (to paraphrase the Soviets) a "new European man." Ominously, a landmark in the formation of pan-European opinion was opposition to the Iraq war, which was opposed by large majorities in almost every European countries (so I've read). That solidarity with a Stalinist dictator is the one thing the "European public" can agree on is one reason not to welcome the emergence of this new polity.

Maybe the best that we can hope for is that Europeans rediscover patriotism, to love their countries for their own particular virtues, histories, traditions and character. The European past is richer and more glorious than that of any other region of the world, and it is the one great resource the Europeans have. A positive form of identity would reduce the psychological need for Europeans to turn to negative forms of identity such as anti-Americanism.

The European Union has been one answer to the question: How should European nations adapt to their smallness in a post-colonial, globalizing, American-dominated world? It is the wrong answer. They should reject the constitution and think again. It would be an unwelcome upheaval if the European Union were simply to unravel. But the momentum towards "ever closer union" which is inherent in the EU's structure and in the Euro-elite's ideology should be discarded. And a French no would be a valuable symbol of that change of course.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

GHOSTS OF POSTS PAST

Back in March, I wrote:

The Rose Revolution. The Orange Revolution. The Purple-Finger Revolution. Now the Cedar Revolution. Revolution is in the air. Democrats and dissidents are taking heart; dictators and tyrants are nervous. People power is on the move.

We've been here before. In 1989-91, the Soviet empire, from Prague to Kazakhstan, spectacularly collapsed. There were other democratic stirrings going on, too: Violeto Chamorro beat the Sandinistas in an election in Nicaragua; Vietnam undertook democratic reforms; and Saddam was driven out of Kuwait. Bush hailed a new world order.

But not in China. Whereas the Soviets ultimately stopped short of resorting to bloodshed to prevent the disintegration of their empire, the Chinese did not. They massacred thousands of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and maintained their grip on power.

What is awkward for sympathizers of the liberal theory of history is that China, where the center held, was far more successful than the ex-Soviet bloc, where it did not.


I went on to predict that this "year of revolutions," like that of 1989-91 (or those of 1848, for that matter) would end with a Tienanmen-type event:

At some point, this wave of democratization may meet its Tiananmen. Some authoritarian regime-- not in Beirut, I think, but somewhere-- will violently crush a popular protest.


Well, I was right. News from Uzbekistan (one of my favorite countries in the world, by the way, where I spent my first spontaneous "honeymoon" with my wife):

THE full horror of what happened in eastern Uzbekistan on Friday May 13th has yet to emerge. But an opposition leader claims to have compiled a list of 745 people gunned down by government troops in Andizhan and Pakhtabad. Of these, more than 500 were slaughtered when the soldiers opened fire on a crowd protesting in Andizhan against President Islam Karimov, the Central Asian republic’s authoritarian leader.


But was I right to hint that the next Tiananmen might be justified? I concluded the post cryptically:

And as history's judgment on that massacre gradually takes shape in the years that follow, that judgment will be an ambiguous one.


No, I take it back. Uzbekistan would be better off without Karimov. And we can certainly afford to withdraw our troops and support from his country. There's no need reason for us to let the blood of Andijan taint us.

A PROPHET IS NOT WITHOUT HONOR...

Except in his own country. As Bush's stock sinks at home, it is rising in the Middle East.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

WRONG, MICHAEL LIND

Time to fisk one of most un-prescient articles I've read this year: "How America Became the World's Dispensable Nation," by Bush-hater Michael Lind, in response to the State of the Union.

In a second inaugural address tinged with evangelical zeal, George W. Bush declared: "Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world." The peoples of the world, however, do not seem to be listening.


It's true that when Bush made the speech, it was not particularly well-received. But its meaning was transformed a few days later by the Iraqi elections. So that's what he was talking about everyone (at some level) thought. Since then, we've seen a democracy movement in Lebanon force the Syrians to withdraw; we've seen dictator Mubarak of Egypt promise multiparty elections; we're now seeing a push for democracy even in Syria (!); there's been a coup in Kyrgyzstan and now civil unrest is shaking Uzbekistan too. Not all of this is good, and it's a reminder that, if freedom is the "untamed fire" Bush spoke of, well, untamed fires are dangerous. But the world was most certainly listening.

A new world order is indeed emerging - but its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited.


Examples? What do you have in mind?

Consider Asean Plus Three (APT), which unites the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with China, Japan and South Korea. This group could become the world's largest trade bloc, dwarfing the European Union and North American Free Trade Association. The deepening ties of the APT member states are a big diplomatic defeat for the US, which hoped to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to limit the growth of Asian economic regionalism at American expense.


Since the time of Lind's writing, North Korea has accelerated its nuclear brinksmanship, and there has been an escalation in tensions between Japan and China, with Chinese mobs looting Japanese shops while Japan has hinted at support for Taiwan. The US is Japan's only ally, a key force for deterring/containing North Korea, the quiet guarantor of the status quo in Taiwan, enjoys close relations with India, one of the few countries where Bush's re-election was welcomed, and is a huge market for the products of the whole region. Is Lind seriously claiming that the Pacific Rim countries are not at all worried about the growing power of China? America is more indispensable to the balance of power in Asia than ever, and our role as economic locomotive for the region is not much diminished either. To see Asia consolidating itself against the American hegemon is a fantasy.

In the same way, recent moves by South American countries to bolster an economic community represent a clear rejection of US aims to dominate a western-hemisphere free-trade zone.

Consider, as well, the EU's rapid progress towards military independence. American protests failed to prevent the EU establishing its own military planning agency, independent of the Nato alliance (and thus of Washington).


Europe? Military independence? Be serious now. Not that I would mind. The US has been pressuring Europeans to increase their military spending for some time. The past four years have underlined Europe's military impotence (Britain excepted). The huge military gap between Europe and the US will not be closed anytime soon-- and most European nations know it. For every France and Germany shadow-boxing at military parity with the US, there's a Netherlands, a Britain, and several former Soviet satellites pointing out that only America, and certainly no newfangled European entity, can guarantee their security. And with Putin paying homage to the legacy of Stalin, the American alliance is more precious than ever for the EU's newest members.

Europe is building up its own rapid reaction force. And, despite US resistance, the EU is developing Galileo, its own satellite network, which will break the monopoly of the US global positioning satellite system.


This is of no military importance. US "resistance" to Galileo was not because Galileo was somehow a threat, but because it's a waste of money.

The participation of China in Europe's Galileo project has alarmed the US military. But China shares an interest with other aspiring space powers in preventing American control of space for military and commercial uses. Even while collaborating with Europe on Galileo, China is partnering with Brazil to launch satellites. And in an unprecedented move, China recently agreed to host Russian forces for joint Russo-Chinese military exercises.


Yes, China's on the rise. China is also a repressive communist regime and hungry for resources, in short, a potential threat. The threat of China makes America more indispensable, not less, as Japan, Taiwan and India are well aware. Without the US, China would probably have overrun Taiwan before now, and, having gotten a taste of conquest, would be eyeing other vulnerable neighbors.

The US is being sidelined even in the area that Mr Bush identified in last week's address as America's mission: the promotion of democracy and human rights. The EU has devoted far more resources to consolidating democracy in post-communist Europe than has the US.


Certainly, the EU is to be praised for its role in spreading democracy in post-communist Europe, or at any rate in the ten new member countries and a few others. But that's old news. It's been going on since the 1990s, and it's largely over. So this hardly constitutes the US "being sidelined." What's more, America, by facing down the Soviet Union, did at least as much to make it possible as Europe ever did. More recently, America played the most active part in the recent elections in Ukraine. Europe may have subsidized more NGOs, which may or may not have been of some use, but the basic reason the post-communist countries are democratic is because they're post-communist, and Reagan deserves far more credit for that than anyone in the EU. (Really, no one is promoting democracy today other than the US and our allies. This is one of Lind's most outrageous claims.)

By contrast, under Mr Bush the US hypocritically uses the promotion of democracy as the rationale for campaigns against states it opposes for strategic reasons.


Really? How does Lind know? Does he have some kind of privileged access to Bush's head? More to the point, though, would it be "hypocrisy" if the US promoted democracy only when this coincided with US strategic interests? Why? Is being liberated only a good thing when the motives of the liberator are pure?

However, if Lind wants to make a charge like this, he at least owes it to us to explain what "strategic reasons" motivated the war in Iraq. (Afghanistan is clear enough.) Is it, perhaps (wait for it)... BLOOD-FOR-OIL?!? But did we want the price of oil to go up, or down? If down, we failed to, but didn't seem to mind; if up, that helps Bush's oil-industry buddies, but wouldn't it hurt him at the polls? Or did we go in to prevent weapons proliferation-- in which case Lind had better come up with an argument against the Bush-lied-people-died crowd, because Lind must think Bush was telling the truth...

Actually, Lind would be closer to the truth if he reversed his formulation and wrote "under Mr Bush, the US hypocritically uses strategic reasons as the rationale for campaigns against states it opposes because of its commitment to the promotion of democracy." But either formulation misses the point of Bush's Second Inaugural. Bush claims that "our interests and our values are one"-- that promoting democracies serves our strategic interests, because democracies are inherently peaceful. He may be right or wrong about that, but Lind had better understand Bush before he starts mouthing off about him.

Washington denounces tyranny in Iran but tolerates it in Pakistan.


Can't we distinguish degrees of evil here, Lind? Isn't nuance allowed? Musharraf is a relatively liberal, pro-Western autocrat, in an unstable, very poor, and corruption-plagued country that has had several disappointing democratic episodes. Iran is a repressive theocracy that finances terrorism. There was a time when critics accused Bush of seeing the world in black and white. How the tables turn.

In Iraq, the goal of democratisation was invoked only after the invasion, which was justified earlier by claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was collaborating with al-Qaeda.


Demonstrably false; Bush's message to the Iraqis before the war was "The tyrant will soon be gone." Not that there would be anything terribly wrong with Bush awakening to the value of democratization after the invasion, if that had been the case.

Nor is American democracy a shining example to mankind. The present one-party rule in the US has been produced in part by the artificial redrawing of political districts to favour Republicans. The role of money in American politics continues to grow. America's judges - many of whom will be appointed by Mr Bush - increasingly behave as partisan political activists in black robes. America's antiquated winner-take-all electoral system has been abandoned by many other democracies for more inclusive versions of proportional representation.


I'm with him on gerrymandering. As for the rest, Lind is applying the poisonous rhetoric of moral equivalence. "One party-rule?" Yes, Americans have been electing Republicans lately. Lind uses a phrase which sounds akin to "one-party state," as if Republicans are totalitarian just for winning elections. And what do you make of "America's judges - many of whom will be appointed by Mr. Bush?" Well, yes. That's the Constitution for you. Judges have to be appointed somehow, don't they? Is Lind in favor of a hereditary judiciary?

In other areas of global moral and institutional reform, the US today is a follower rather than a leader. Human rights? Europe has banned the death penalty and torture. The US is a leading practitioner of execution.


There's a difference of opinion here about the definition of "human rights." In the American system, murderers can forfeit their right to live. In European countries, you don't have the right to read certain books, or say insulting things about Islam, or fire a useless and insubordinate employee. Take your pick.

Under Mr Bush, the US has constructed an international military gulag in which the torture of suspects has frequently occurred.


Some of those torturers are already behind bars. Beyond that, well, we're working on it...

The international rule of law? For generations, promoting international law in collaboration with other nations was a US goal. But the neoconservatives who dominate Washington today mock the very idea of international law.


Which international law are we talking about here again? The international law according to which Saddam Hussein, in virtue of having killed his way to the top, plunged his country into useless wars, annihilated all freedom of speech, and killed millions of people, was recognized by the whole world as legitimate ruler of his country, while those who aspired to liberate his people were called outlaws. If that's what your talking about, I agree that "mocking" is not the proper attitude to have. If that's international law, it must be condemned.

The next US attorney general will be the White House counsel who scorned the Geneva Conventions as obsolete.


I think "quaint" was the word. There's reason to be worried about this. But please be circumspect and stick to the facts.

A decade ago, American triumphalists mocked those who argued that the world was becoming multipolar rather than unipolar. Where was the evidence of balancing against the US? they asked. Today the evidence of foreign cooperation to reduce American primacy is everywhere - from the increasing importance of regional trade blocs that exclude the US to international space projects and military exercises in which the US is conspicuous by its absence.


If you call the bad guys bad guys, they may get mad and gang up on you. But sometimes it's the right thing to do, nevertheless.

It is true that the US remains the only country capable of projecting military power throughout the world. But unipolarity in the military sphere, narrowly defined, is not preventing the rapid development of multipolarity in the geopolitical and economic arenas - far from it. And the other great powers, with the exception of the UK, are content to let the US waste blood and treasure on its doomed attempt at hegemony in the Middle East.


Who says we want hegemony in the Middle East? Not President Bush, that's for sure.

That the rest of the world is building institutions and alliances that shut out the US should come as no surprise. The view that American leaders can be trusted to use a monopoly of military and economic power for the good of humanity has never been widely shared outside the US.


Probably most people have never thought about it in quite those terms. But Israel, Taiwan, the Baltic states, and others who have pressing reasons to think about it seriously tend to believe precisely that "American leaders can be trusted to use a monopoly of military and economic power for the good of humanity." Even the Europeans, who are so anti-American these days, quietly show that they believe the same thing by under-investing in their militaries.

The trend toward multipolarity has probably been accelerated by the truculent unilateralism of the Bush administration, whose motto seems to be that of the Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn: "Include me out." In recent memory, nothing could be done without the US. But today, most international institution-building of any long-term importance in global diplomacy and trade occurs without American participation.


This begs the question of how important international institutions are. No doubt some are much more important than others. But we posted our man at the World Bank without difficulty, even though it was the hated-and-feared architect-of-the-war Paul Wolfowitz.

In 1998 Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, said of the US: "We are the indispensable nation." By backfiring, the unilateralism of Mr Bush has proved her wrong. The US, it turns out, is a dispensable nation. Europe, China, Russia, Latin America and other regions and nations are quietly taking measures whose effect, if not sole purpose, will be to cut America down to size.


You almost get the sense from this paragraph that "Europe, China, Russia, Latin America and other regions" are pioneering some kind of global harmony. Actually, there are tensions within and between all of those regions, and the US is generally an important factor in the balance of power. Central Europeans looked to the US not only as their ultimate military security against Russia, but as a counter to Franco-German hegemony in the EU-- as do the British, despite everything. Japanese, Taiwanese, Koreans, and Indians rely on the US to offset the rising power of China. Israel counts on the US for its safety, but so do small, rich Persian Gulf states like Qatar and Kuwait.

Ironically, the US, having won the cold war, is adopting the strategy that led the Soviet Union to lose it: hoping that raw military power will be sufficient to intimidate other great powers alienated by its belligerence.


How dumb can you get? The US is relying, as it always has, on the power of ideas. Bush has confidence in the power of American ideals to shape the world, and events so far this year have mostly been vindicating him. Even when we applied "raw military power" a couple of years ago it was only after great diplomatic work, and it was along with an impressive "coalition of the willing" that included 45 nations.

To compound the irony, these other great powers are drafting the blueprints for new international institutions and alliances. That is what the US did during and after the second world war.


Apparently, Lind is comparing... something or other... to the creation of the United Nations after World War II. Do the various obscure initiatives he has mentioned really constitute anything like that? Actually, nothing he has mentioned in this essay is global in scope at all, let alone a second United Nations. Lind is not content to make a more moderate and plausible critique, that the work of international institution-building has been on hiatus during the Bush term. Instead, he chooses to pretend that it has been going on without us, and on a scale comparable to the post-WWII creation of the UN, no less. One drawback to making this claim is that Lind can't provide even a travesty of evidence for it.

But that was a different America, led by wise and constructive statesmen such as Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who wrote of being "present at the creation". The bullying approach of the Bush administration has ensured that the US will not be invited to take part in designing the international architecture of Europe and Asia in the 21st century. This time, the US is absent at the creation.


Virtually every sentence in Lind's article is mindnumbingly wrong. You can see his desperation. He's lashing out as his worldview creaks and groans under the weight of contradictions, and slowly breaks apart and crashes to the ground. Lind wrote this four months ago. It's unlikely that an essay like this would be published today. People are more guarded. But they're thinking it. That's why Lind's article is so valuable; because a whole lot of people still want to believe what Lind wrote. Lind's fantasy-world in which the US made itself the dispensable nation is mentally inhabited by much of the intelligentsia. On the surface, they've started to become aware that times are changing. Subconsciously, a story like Lind's is still driving them.

Meanwhile in the real world, "bullying" is good description of Bush-haters' preferred prose style, but not of the Bush administration, which has shifted towards a combination of lofty rhetoric with coaxing, cajoling, flattery, and soft power. His revolutionary call for universal freedom in the Second Inaugural was by no means backed up by a universal threat of force. What it was instead, aside from being the keystone in the official justification for the Iraq war, and a prelude to the Iraqi elections, was the bold expression of a serious and passionate dissent against a form of international law which legitimizes dictators. 2005 is not quite like 1989. This time America is not taken aback by the power of its ideals, but consciously deploys them. (And the revolutions so far are fewer, and a bit less "velvet.") Nor is 2005 like 1945, though now, as then, the ideas of political legitimacy that underlie the world order are undergoing a fundamental revolution; for 1945 inaugurated a world of (formally) equal, sovereign states, but this time around the notion of sovereignty is being called into question, and displaced by a liberal-democratic criterion, and the precedent of "Robin Hood imperialism" has been established and, resistance notwithstanding, legitimized.

That said, if America has not become the dispensable nation, Bush has gone some way towards making himself the dispensable president. With the Second Inaugural, Bush transcended his Republican roots. He is at odds with his party on immigration. On Social Security reform, too, he enjoys less than full support from the Republican camp. Libertarians and paleocons defected on the subject of Iraq, and I don't see how any conservative, qua conservative, could really take the vision expressed in the Second Inaugural as a justification for the war. By now the liberal case for George W. Bush, the big spender at home, the liberal interventionist abroad, the redistributionist Social Security reformer, is at least as strong as the conservative case. But he has not been embraced by the Democrats, who, like the crazed Clinton-haters of the 1990s, are desperate with rage that the other guy has appropriated their best causes. A president whose aspirations soar above those of his own party, and who is despised by the other party, is not likely to get much done. Maybe that's just as well. In a democracy, leaders are supposed to be dispensable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I commented over at EconLog:

A deliberate, conscious lie to another person is one thing. Other cases of lying are subtler and more ambiguous.

(1) Is it lying to go through the motions of one's born religion, going to church, reciting the creeds, when in fact you have lost your faith in God?

(2) Is it lying to say "I know the Bible is the Word of God," if the evidence you have in support of that proposition falls radically short of the evidential standards you ordinarily require in order to refer to one of your beliefs as "knowledge"?

(3) If so, is it also lying for a materialist, whose ontology apparently acknowledges the existence only of particles, energies and forces, to speak of "moral" principles at all, or to call behaviors "right" and "wrong?"

(4) Is it lying for a salesman to present only the upside of a product, and to tell every potential customer that this product is worth their money when, actually, he thinks that most of them would do better to spend their money on something else?

(5) If so, then what if the salesman believes that every customer would do well to buy his overpriced trash, but he believes this only because he has deliberately suppressed the mental faculties by which his mind ordinarily distinguishes true from false propositions, for the sake of economic gain? Is that lying?

Telling the truth is not an on-off switch. It's more like a staircase...


Bryan toots his own horn that he's "pathologically honest." I'm inclined to say the same about myself, but be careful: self-deception takes many forms.

There's an important quality which is closely akin to honesty but not quite the same thing as honesty as currently used, which I try to cultivate myself and observe in other people, and which I believe is an important virtue. Let's call it, in a special sense, trustworthiness. A trustworthy person is careful and rigorous in forming his beliefs, and everything (or most of what) he says reflects this rigor. A trustworthy person is not merely a non-liar; he is resistant to the various temptations we have towards self-serving belief, for example: to justify our conduct or our privileges, to confirm our own theories and avoid the inconvenience and embarrassment of changing our minds, and to adopt beliefs which may be advantageous to us. Trustworthiness can only be gained over time, because if you raise your evidentiary standards at some point in time, you find that many or most of the beliefs adopted previously are (by your new standards) unreliable, so you must perform a Descartes-type move and doubt them all before you can make any more progress. A trustworthy person may seem ignorant at times, because he is loath to express opinions in the absence of high-quality information.

A REVEALING JOKE

Althouse was listening to Air America and writes:

[T]he only attempt at humor I heard from Al Franken in the hour or so I spent with him today was a joke that Donald Rumsfeld had ordered that a Bible and a Talmud be flushed down the toilet, along with an Encyclopedia Britannica "for the reality-based" people.


"Reality-based" is the latest self-indulgent epithet of the left, and the motto of Matt Yglesias's blog, among others.

What do they mean by that? Well, Franken's joke contains a clue: Leftists are (according to them) to the Britannica Encyclopedia as Christians are to the Bible and Jews are to the Talmud.

I suppose it follows that Christians (and Jews!) are as indifferent to facts as they are to the Koran?

Well, good for Franken. I like (relatively speaking) an atheist or scientific-materialist-agnostic who will come out and say straight to my face that my beliefs are fantastic and foolish. Let's argue the case!

The real threat is the condescension of those who profess to "respect" religion, but insist that "science" demands that religious people make a few marginal concessions, such as evolution, or the ordination of women, or gay marriage, or the exclusion of God from schools, in the name of "tolerance," to be followed by more concessions later, until, as they and their fellow cognoscenti reassure each other it must, religion fades away at last.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

THE IRAQI INSURGENCY

The end of World War II has put the spotlight on Stalin and the Soviet Union, and with it it raises the question of how the world would be different today if the war of intervention against the Bolshevik Revolution had succeeded. The Bolsheviks anticipated all the worst aspects of the Nazi regime-- concentration camps, purges, terror, scapegoating a class of "enemies," the cult of the leader, using a party machine as an apparatus of oppression, economic isolation, even invading Poland, though unlike the Nazis, they failed in this last endeavor. The Nazis both emulated the Communists and used the Communist threat as leverage to make Germany's conservative establishment entrust power to them. Mussolini emulated Lenin and was a model for Hitler in turn. Indeed, even the slogans of Hitler and Stalin-- "national socialism" and "communism in one country"-- evidence the parallel. The Bolsheviks created the moral climate in which Nazism could emerge, but the Nazis did not surpass them in criminality: the Soviet regime slaughtered 25 to 30 million people.

I bring this up because the sheer nihilism of the Iraqi insurgency suggests to me a comparison with the Bolshevik Revolution. James Bennett writes of "the mystery of the Iraqi insurgency":

The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of the new government.


After the success of the elections, after the formation of a government, after the smashing of the insurgency, the violence in Iraq is accelerating again. A sort of hybrid regime has developed there, liberal democratization alloyed with military colonialism, but it doesn't have a police apparatus or depth of legitimacy adequate to deter mindless violence.

I supported the war in Iraq because I believed that the sanctions made us morally responsible for the deaths of too many Iraqis; that we had to choose either war and regime change or else lifting the sanctions; and that while Saddam wasn't much of a threat as it was, he would quickly become one if the sanctions were loosened. Regime change was the only way to uphold our national security without continuing to resort to unconscionable means. I also thought, actually, that the prospects for democracy in Iraq were good, but this was based on a sort of abstract reasoning and "lessons from history" in which I was loath to place much confidence.

The situation has changed, and the moral justification for staying in Iraq has changed with it. I don't think we're responsible for bringing peace and security to Iraq, just because we overthrew the regime. That smashing an insurgency as bloodthirsty and nihilistic as that in Iraq is a just cause, beyond all question, but it's not really our cause. The question should be: Given our (increasingly) scarce military resources, is this the best place to serve the welfare of mankind? Or should we be in Darfur instead, trying to bring an end to genocide there? Should we bring the boys home, let the military lick its wounds, and in so doing, create a credible threat that can be applied elsewhere.

I don't think we should stay in Iraq just to prove that America always wins. The trouble is that we've let our rhetoric raise the stakes of victory indefinitely. We already won the war. We wanted to remove Saddam; Saddam's gone. We wanted to transfer sovereignty; sovereignty has been transferred. We wanted to hold elections; elections have taken place. If establishing complete civil peace is one of the criteria of victory, then any maniac with a bomb can "defeat" the world's superpower at will.

But when you look at the sheer evil that the insurgents so unmistakably embody, the lack even of any noble purpose for which they wreak so much destruction other than (for a few of them) the utopian dream of a restored caliphate, we may be facing a new gang of Bolsheviks. And that brings us back to the question: would it have been better if the intervention against the Bolshevik revolution had succeeded? Did the western powers make a mistake by not intervening against the Bolsheviks more vigorously and effectively, and really defeating them? The answer to that question, I just don't know.

Friday, May 13, 2005

WRITE YOUR SENATORS...

And demand that they support this bill.

The proposal would allow illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work permits that could last for six years. They would have to clear criminal background checks, pass an English language test and pay a $2,000 fee to qualify.

At the end of the six years, they and their families could apply for permanent resident status, and five years later for citizenship.

The bill would also allow foreign citizens to apply for low-paid jobs that Americans do not want to do from outside the country. If the worker lost his job, he would have 60 days to find a new one or return home.


The bill is sponsored by Senators Kennedy and McCain. I will be very proud if this bill passes. Republicans be warned: I'm a big fan of a lot of Republican positions, but I'm a swing voter on this; I won't belong to the party of the New Segregation, if that's what you become.

I'm so excited to think of all those new citizens. One downside: why does the $2,000 have to be levied up front? Why not take it out of their paychecks later, after permanent resident status has enabled them to get jobs?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

TRUE PATRIOTS LOVE IMMIGRANTS

John Derbyshire asks:

Flip on Fox News any night of the week and watch those clips of foreigners streaming across the southern desert into America by the hundreds and thousands. Doesn't patriotism imply some concern for your nation's borders?


On the contrary. I take great patriotic pride in America's tradition of immigration. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." Border restrictions are a quiet repudiation of some of the finest aspects of America's history and ethos. It is precisely my patriotism, the confidence that I have in this country, the appeal of its culture and ideals, its deep and fundamental strength, and my belief that it has and desire that it should continue to lead the world towards better things that make me believe that we can undertake the challenge of dissolving the world's greatest injustice. That other people want to build their lives here is something in which I take great pride. And it is because I love my country, because I believe there are great virtues in my country, that I want more people to have the chance to experience it, to enjoy it, to participate in it. I'll go so far as to say that one's attitude to immigration may be the best litmus test for the distinction between patriotism and that lower emotion, nationalism. If you love America, you welcome others in; if you just dislike non-Americans, you want to keep them out. Derbyshire is utterly wrong.

If "comfort with contradiction" is at the heart of a definition of conservatism, as Jonah Goldberg argues, then I make the grade. I am a free-marketeer with a communitarian ethos; I am ready to go to bat for religious fundamentalism and yet am a resolute free-thinker myself; I am an American patriot and inspired by George W. Bush and yet fear the direction in which the country is going, and expect us to be superseded by China or be worsted in a papal-imperial struggle with the UN; I love and hate Andrew Sullivan...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

While I don't much like the tone of this Thomas Sowell article on immigration, I agree with most of the argument. For example:

In addition to those with these liberal attitudes, there are some conservatives who think that we need workers from Mexico to do work that Americans will not do.

Virtually every job in the country is work that Americans will not do if the pay is below a certain level. And the pay will not rise to that level so long as illegal immigrants "undocumented workers' are available to work for less.


Sowell is right that the phrase "work that Americans will not do" is a red herring. But it's good for us if the wages of certain jobs fall, because we are all both consumers and producers of labor services. We benefit by paying less for services. Immigrants relieve us of some jobs and allow us to concentrate on other, mostly more attractive ones.

He concludes:

Hard-working immigrants may indeed be a godsend, not only to farmers and other employers, but also to families looking for someone to take care of children or an aged or ill member of the family. But Americans worked as farm laborers and as maids before there were "undocumented workers' to turn these chores over to.

If it has been done before, it can be done again. All that prevents it is the welfare state and the attitudes it spawns.


But why should we do these "chores" ourselves when we can invite immigrants to do them for us? That would make us worse off, while closing an important door of opportunity to the less fortunate.

Sowell's title is "Reverse welfare-state attitude, illegal immigration will stop." No, it wouldn't, because the dynamic American economy does and will continue to generate a lot of jobs at wages that are attractive to foreigners.

GEORGE W. BUSH, CANDLE ON THE WATER

For some reason that phrase came into my head as I was reading this George W. Bush speech (in Latvia). The key moment is that Bush apologizes for Yalta:

As we mark a victory of six days ago -- six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.

The end of World War II raised unavoidable questions for my country: Had we fought and sacrificed only to achieve the permanent division of Europe into armed camps?


(Hat tip: Belmont Club)

This is at the same time that Putin is refusing to apologize for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and more generally refusing to repudiate, or even reviving the legacy of Stalin. There is something majestic about the way now-- now!-- Bush is challenging our mythologized past, confessing that our hallowed victory in World War II was, as Niall Ferguson puts it, a "tainted triumph."

One commenter at Belmont Club remarks: "This is pretty funny in a poltical sense. After years when Bill Clinton would apologize for just about anything the US had ever done, and the Democrats have spent years moaning about how GWB would never apologize for anything, he's gone and apologized for the actions of an iconic Democrat, FDR." George Bush seems in some ways to be morphing into a Democrat of late. His proposals for progressive indexation of benefits, and his willingness to entertain raising the cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax point in the same direction, as David Brooks notes:

Democrats have been hectoring President Bush in the manner of an overripe Fourth of July orator. The president should be summoning us to make shared sacrifices for the common good. The president should care for the poor, and stop favoring the rich. He should make the hard choices and impose a little fiscal discipline on government...

Over the past few weeks, the president has called their bluff. By embracing the progressive indexing of Social Security benefits, the president has asked us to make a shared sacrifice for the common good. He's asking middle- and upper-class folks to accept benefit cuts so there will be money for the people who are really facing poverty.

He has asked us to redistribute money down the income scale. Why should programs for children and families be strangled so Donald Trump can get bigger benefit checks?

He has made the hard choices. By facing up to the fact that there are going to be benefit cuts, he's offended Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, the supply siders and other important Republican constituencies.


Really, though, it's not that Bush has turned into a Democrat; rather, he has transcended both parties, drawing with him the best strands of each party's traditions; he becomes, at times, the Voice of History. In him I hear the eloquence of the great presidents echoed, and historical analogies with all the great presidents come into my mind. Like Abraham Lincoln, he found himself dragged into a war of dubious legitimacy and found himself forced to articulate a lofty message of freedom, to turn to Providence so as to become greater than himself, to rise to meet the moment history had thrust upon him. Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, he saw that the socio-economic foundations of American life had changed, and that deep policy changes were necessary:

The times in which we live and work are changing dramatically. The workers of our parents' generation typically had one job, one skill, one career, often with one company that provided health care and a pension. And most of those workers were men. Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home. (Applause.)

This changed world can be a time of great opportunity for all Americans to earn a better living, support your family, and have a rewarding career. And government must take your side. Many of our most fundamental systems -- the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training -- were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared -- and thus truly free -- to make your own choices and pursue your own dreams. (Applause.)


And he has embraced that challenge, and in the process may well build a generational majority for the Republican Party. And like John F. Kennedy, for better or worse, he was a son of privilege, who came to power in an extremely close and even questionably legitimate election, with a tiny majority but expanded it, an expansionist at home and abroad, who swore that his generation would "pay any price, bear any burden" to uphold liberty.

The debate over Iraq has sometimes taken the form of an argument over whether Iraq was like Vietnam (bad) or like World War II (good). But the truth is, we have transcended both paradigms. The fire-bombing of Dresden, the atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are almost unthinkable now; we are far more careful with the lives of enemy civilians. Nor would we resort to forming an alliance with a ruler as evil as Stalin. Our standards have risen.

I don't agree with Bush on everything. One good thing about Clinton is that, perhaps he was from a poor background, he was relatively frugal and less inclined to waste money. Bush's big spending will get us into trouble if the next president is not more restrained. In this respect, Bush is setting a dangerous precedent that will need to be reversed. But that doesn't stop me from admiring the man, and his message.

The public has not necessarily followed Bush. As Bush offers a guest worker program, the snarling Minutemen try to bar the border to brave would-be immigrants. Polls show declining support in Iraq even as the spark of freedom begins to spread through the Middle East. The end of the election year, though a relief, also means that the public is following politics less closely, less available to be inspired. Bush continues speaking, but fewer are listening. The Democrats' successful obstructionism has given them a higher profile than the Republican majority on the domestic scene. Meanwhile in Washington there is only the murky sea of partisan grappling, minds in the gutter, as symbolized most recently by Harry Reid calling Bush a loser. Bush floats above it, oblivious to it, small and faraway somehow.

Dante, in On Monarchy, argued in favor of a monarchical emperor on the grounds that one who has absolute power cannot be corrupted by ambition. I am far from agreeing with this, but looking at Bush, it seems that Dante may have had a bit of the truth. With nothing left to gain or lose except his own satisfaction in having done the right, guided by the inner light of conscience and faith, Bush is a man apart, speaking for, and to, the ages.

It's a privilege to be alive right now.

Friday, May 06, 2005

THE DIGNITY OF OWNERSHIP

The Cato Institute, which did not (so it seems) welcome Bush's progressive indexation proposal, keeps plugging this line on Social Security reform:

"... Major reform requires political toughness and tenacity and a real thoughtfulness when it comes to explaining why change is necessary. Alas, neither congressional Republicans nor the White House has excelled at presenting the case for reform. They are failing to draw on the rich populist themes of the dignity of ownership and the right to dispose of one's own earnings and savings that can win the political debate."


As usual when Cato and Bush disagree, I'm with Bush on this. Far from being a "rich populist theme," I think "the dignity of ownership" would be a loser in this debate. And this even though I think the phrase captures a profound moral truth.

There is dignity in ownership, in standing on one's own two feet, in not being dependent on others. But the dignity of ownership is a truth felt by a farmer who runs his fingers through the soil of his own land; by a tenant oppressed by a snooping landlord; by an employee who has to kiss up to and surrender his moral scruples for the sake of a boss he despises, all because he doesn't have enough money to last him a few months while he looks for the new job he knows is out there. A private retirement account, heavily regulated by the government, invested automatically in remote mutual funds and firms, is too abstract to engender this feeling.

Moreover, the dignity of ownership flows in part from the economic security that it provides, and since a Social Security check seems safe-- even though it's not-- people feel a certain dignity in receiving it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE

George Will is being unusually silly today:

Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."


Will accomplishes the dubious trick of implying that not voting for atheists is somehow, vaguely, unconstitutional. Wrong.

Will rhetorically reduces the difference between voters' preferences and constitutional restrictions on officeholding to one of "de facto" vs. "de jure." Imagine doing this if religion is not at issue. Suppose we passed a law prohibiting people who wear clown suits from holding elected office. I would consider this a violation of freedom of speech. But it is the prerogative of voters not to support candidates who like wearing clown suits (if, for example, they don't seem serious enough to handle public responsibilities). So what's the difference between wearing a clown suit and believing in God? Religion. Will is quietly buying into an assumption here that religion, and religion alone, should be rigorously excluded from the public square. To impose a special burden of self-censorship on religious people is interestingly reminiscent of the Soviet Union. It is directly at odds with the principles of a free society.

Will's essay is an exercise in missing the point. The biggest example of discrimination against Christians and other non-secular-humanist faiths, which Will never addresses, is that we are taxed so that curricula which exclude or contradict our faith can be taught to our own children.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

SEGREGATION, RELOADED

This bill will, for no good reason, make life a little harder for immigrants without status:

Motor vehicle departments [issuing drivers' licenses] would be required to verify the documents and Social Security number. States still could give licenses to illegal immigrants, but they would have different designs or colors to alert security officers that they are unacceptable as IDs for boarding planes or entering federal buildings.


Someone I know is without status and is, consequently, not allowed to fly on an airplane. So this person cannot pay us a visit. Very sad. Probably someone you know is affected by this too. It's a little thing, in a way. But Martin Luther King was eloquent on the subject of how little acts of discrimination can make you feel like less of a person:

when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people...


Now we're going back to that. I'm ashamed of Congress.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

News from Russia:

Popular demonstrations, organized by the trade unions, as well as by various political and civil-society organizations, took place in cities in Russia on the Day of Spring and Labor. Most of the meetings had one feature in common. Right, left and center all criticized the government.

The largest turned out to be the demonstration organized in Moscow by the trade unions and by "United Russia." [Putin's party] It enjoyed the participation of about 25 thousand people. The "United Russia" member who set the tone of the meeting was Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov.

He blamed the government that it had failed to securely prop up the practical sector of the economy. "Already for 15 years the government has carried on a policy that we may describe as follows: survive however you can, and we'll create the conditions that make your life difficult," he said.

"We will not allow Russia to turn into a country that just extracts oil and gas. We will struggle to make our country a country of the most advanced stages of production and the highest technologies," he concluded.

The Union of Rightist Forces party conducted a demonstration with the slogans "Government helps those who help themselves," "Oil runs out, but minds won't," "An official is a servant, not an owner."


(translated, for what it's worth, by yours truly)

It doesn't sound much like the supine populace under Putin's proto-dictatorship that you imagine, does it? But why is Putin's party protesting against the government? Russia continues to mystify the West.