Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, June 30, 2005

AN OUTRAGE IN MISSOURI

A Costa Rican family that has lived in the US for fourteen years, including a girl who was only 5 when she came here, is likely to be deported soon, despite a struggle on the part of their community to help them to stay. This is the kind of disgraceful injustice that makes America deserve its bad name in the world. The American Prospect reports.

IN IRAQ, PATRIOTS VS. TERRORISTS

Iraq the Model has a great post in response to the Bush speech and the renewed explosion of debate on Iraq in America. Money quote:

"What I want to say here is that it is our [i.e., the Iraqis'] fate to fight terrorism on our own land and we (the majority) have accepted to challenge this fate the day we abandoned Saddam and welcomed our freedom."

Coming soon: German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Opinion polls show the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) way ahead of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD), with Mrs Merkel poised to become Germany's first female leader.


Very good news. But one thing is puzzling: why is Merkel popular when Schroeder's reforms are unpopular? And when Merkel's party has the following hope:

"There will be new elections in Germany. This means a change in the content and style of politics," he said.

"Then the hard work will begin. Our leader, Angela Merkel, will carry out the kind of economic reforms that were implemented in Britain over the last 15 years."


Then again, why "the last 15 years?" It's under Thatcher that the really useful reforms in Britain were implemented. For those, you have to go back 25 years. Merkel's likely victory will be a huge step forward. But I'm not bullish on Germany yet.

"EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION" AND IRAQ

Belmont Club has a post on "extraordinary rendition."

Still fewer want to admit that security is obtained by force; information by compulsion; or that war involves violence. The process of "extraordinary rendition" is a case study in laundering responsibility; a description of how a commodity is provided by an astute political division of labor. The commodity in question is defense against Islamic terrorism...

Italy wanted to be rid of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a suspected terrorist, but was unwilling, for domestic political considerations, to act against him. Therefore it arranged to have the United States snatch him from Milan. The United States wanted information from Nasr, but for domestic political reasons, was unable to apply torture to get it, however much the Left wanted that to be true. Therefore it passed him to Egypt for actual questioning. It goes on. Canada wanted to move on a Syrian-born Canadian citizen suspected of terrorist links, which is, as everyone knows, a very un-Canadian thing to do. So it got America to do it for them. "In Canada, a government inquiry has revealed a greater role by Canadian intelligence in the Justice Department's secret 2002 'expedited removal' of a Syrian-born Canadian citizen to Syria after he was detained as he changed flights at a New York airport."


Extraordinary rendition tends to be criticized by the left. But compare the case for extraordinary rendition with Timothy Garton Ash's reasoning for why the Iraq war was a "blunder":

Bush[, in his] Fort Bragg speech... made this extraordinary statement: "To complete the mission, we will prevent al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban - a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends."

Consider. Three years ago, when the Bush administration started ramping up the case for invading Iraq, Afghanistan had recently been liberated from both the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorists who had attacked the US. There was still a vast amount to be done to make Afghanistan a safe place. Iraq, meanwhile, was a hideous dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. But, as the United States' own September 11 commission subsequently concluded, Saddam's regime had no connection with the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was not then a recruiting sergeant or training ground for jihadist terrorists. Now it is. The US-led invasion, and Washington's grievous mishandling of the subsequent occupation, have made it so. General Wesley Clark puts it plainly: "We are creating enemies." And the president observes: our great achievement will be to prevent Iraq becoming another Taliban-style, al-Qaida-harbouring Afghanistan! This is like a man who shoots himself in the foot and then says: "We must prevent it turning gangrenous, then you'll understand why I was right to shoot myself in the foot."


So why does Ash think that the Iraq war was a bad idea, even though he concedes that Saddam's Iraq was a "hideous dictatorship"? Because it wasn't breeding Islamic terrorists. Why wasn't it breeding Islamic terrorists? Well, it was in that Saddam was financing Hezbollah and Hamas, but put that aside for now. And then there were the contacts between al-Qaeda guys and Saddam in the 1990s, but... well, never mind about all that, I'm getting sidetracked. Why wasn't Saddam's Iraq breeding Islamic terrorists? Because Saddam's torture-and-fear machine was killing any so inclined.

In essence, the left's alternative to the Iraq was extraordinary rendition writ large. Let Saddam do our dirty work for us.

WHO'S INCOMPETENT?

Bob Herbert makes the case that the Bush Administration is incompetent in Iraq. Greg Djerejian blasts the might-have-been incompetence of a Kerry administration, based on Kerry's NYT op-ed. You judge which is more convincing.

The incompetence charged has never convinced me. Iraq was always going to be difficult. I anticipated that. Not in detail, but in general I anticipated it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

BUSH RETREATS FROM "LIBERTY BELL RINGING" OF SECOND INAUGURAL

Thoughts on the Bush speech, in order of importance:

1. Bush endorses the flypaper strategy:

Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of Coalition operations in Iraq — who is also senior commander at this base — General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said: "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."


The flypaper strategy is the idea that by invading Iraq, we've attracted jihadists to the fight in Iraq who would otherwise have attacked the United States. Read up on the flypaper strategy here, hat tip: Instapundit. It's been plugged by Andrew Sullivan, but Bush's endorsement is surely it's greatest success so far.

It's occurred to me a few times that the Iraq War is a bit like the Spanish Civil War. A mental war that grips the whole world (then: fascism vs. the general left; now: Islamofascism vs. liberal-democracy) is incarnated at one place and time in physical war, and becomes a cause celebre, closely-watched and symbolic. In the Spanish Civil War, the liberal cause was betrayed by the cynicism of the hard left and the fascists won; but the momentum of the fascists' victory carried them into a world war which they lost. (That could happen this time too, but surely a more positive outcome is possible?)

2. 9/11 and fighting terror were front and center in this speech, in contrast to the Second Inaugural, which was a step towards recasting the war as part of a quest for the global advance of liberty. I have a stake in this argument. I've supported the war strongly ever since April 9, 2003, when the Iraqis greeted us as liberators, and Iraqi freedom has been my chief motive for doing so. But even I thought Bush went a bit too far in his Second Inaugural. This time Bush defended the war in terms of American national security and national interest, which is probably good.

Should we fight for the freedom of others? I believe that imperialism and military occupation by democratic powers has done much to spread freedom and improve the lot of the occupied/imperialized. Witness contemporary Japan, under its American-imposed constitution, or Western Europe, where democratic capitalism was consolidated under American tutelage; witness India, still democratic on a foundation of the British common law and other British institutions (and even the English language!) or Singapore and Hong Kong, where British influence fueled prosperity rather than democracy. And yet we have been far less successful in the former Yugoslavia, where our mission was altruistic, nor does (explicitly altruistic) foreign aid have a very impressive record. The irony is that we do more good for the spread of freedom when our motives for doing so are self-interested rather than altruistic. So it's good that Bush is emphasizing the self-interested reasons for the war. Jesus once said that "when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth." By emphasizing national security, we help to hide the Iraq War's philanthropic side.

3. Do Democrats have to keep repeating this argument over and over again?:

Bush engaged in his own mendacities. Over and over, he linked the war in Iraq to the attacks of 9/11, despite the by-now-definitive discrediting of any connection.


Could they at least have the decency to write "discrediting of any direct connection?" No, Saddam didn't commission the 9/11 hijackers. But bin Laden was (justly!) outraged by the sanctions we imposed on Iraq, and that was part of the motive for the 9/11 attacks. That's a "connection," to begin with. Saddam and bin Laden agreed about Israel, too, and they both supported terror there. That's another connection of sorts. Or again, it's plausible to see Osama bin Laden as part of a broader Islamofascist cause.

It raises the question: do the Democrats have any interest in crafting a message with majority appeal? If the Democrats are too obtuse to entertain the possibility that the argument may be bigger than their myopic focus on the direct 9/11-Saddam connection or lack thereof, can't they at least be opportunist and take their cue from the polls? The idea that Iraq is, or ever was, irrelevant to the war on terror, has never appealed to a substantial majority of Americans. And it's been hashed out a million times by now! If half the country is still unconvinced, isn't it time to give up this line of argument and try another tack?

4. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to two of Bush's arguments against sending more troops:

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever — when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

I can believe the second and third arguments. I don't buy the first one; I think commanders want more troops. And Bush left out the fourth and strongest argument against sending more troops: we can't afford to. We're straining the military's human-capital constraints already. Should Bush have acknowledged that? Hard to say. I'd have liked it if he did.

5. I like this:

We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity, and returns to strike us again.


I like this. It has a rhythm-of-history vibe to it. Fascism festered, grew stronger, until we confronted it, then it subsided. Communism grew stronger until we confronted it under Truman, then it stopped advancing; we retreated after Vietnam and it began advancing again; we confronted it under Reagan and it subsided. Islamism exploded in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and began spreading, until we confronted it in Afghanistan and Iraq; now it faces likely retreat and defeat.

6. Is this plea trite and surreal, or not?:

This Fourth of July, I ask you to find a way to thank the men and women defending our freedom — by flying the flag … sending letters to our troops in the field … or helping the military family down the street.


On the one hand, this is a way of dodging the call for sacrifice that Bush should really be making, but can't for political reasons: Asking more people to enlist. Flying flags and sending letters won't help us win in Iraq.

On the other hand, to be honored is really the most right and proper reward for soldiers. I welcome the moves towards paying them more. I was thinking about other incentives we could provide, better veterans' benefits and whatnot... But we shouldn't, can't and won't have an army that fights for money. More money for soldiers should be a means to increasing their prestige, and it should be used carefully because while it could have that effect, it could backfire. If paying soldiers better attracted a more talented class of people to join, this could lead to people to see a military uniform and assume that the person in it was really smart and special-- a good thing. But if high pay makes people think soldiers kill for money rather than for a just cause, that would make the profession less reputable. Spontaneous support from the community may be the best incentive for soldiers, but is it possible that Bush can actually spur this kind of grass-roots support. Not here in Washington, DC, that's for sure. But being a Republican in DC, I always have in mind the idea that there's a different world out there, a whole different America, the red states, where communities are organized on a different basis, where people have a value system that we don't understand, where people were sufficiently uncorrupted by urban cynicism to listen to Bush's idealism and embrace it... Who knows? In the red states, maybe Bush's call will actually have an effect.

To sum up, it seems like a good speech to me. I'd been turning away from the war just a bit. This shored up my support.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

KERRY'S POSITION ON IRAQ

John Kerry is clearer on Iraq in this op-ed than he ever was on the campaign trail. As before, though, there's no acknowledgment that removing Saddam was a good thing. Instead:

The reality is that the Bush administration's choices have made Iraq into what it wasn't before the war - a breeding ground for jihadists. Today there are 16,000 to 20,000 jihadists and the number is growing.


And all those jihadists put together are not as bad as Saddam was.

Kerry seems to be looking for easy outs. For example:

The administration and the Iraqi government must stop using the requirement that troops be trained in-country as an excuse for refusing offers made by Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany to do more.

Training a few Iraqi troops outside Iraq might do a bit of good, who knows. (Though really, do the French and Germans have so much military expertise to teach?) But it's hard to believe it would make a real difference in the war. This seems like pie-in-the-sky too:

The administration must work with the Iraqi government to establish a multinational force to help protect its borders. Such a force, if sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, could attract participation by Iraq's neighbors and countries like India.


Kerry also seems to be unaccountably willing to treat Arab dictators as friends:

Iraq's Sunni neighbors, who complain they are left out, could do more to help.


To help whom? To help us and the Iraqi elected government? But Iraq's neighbors are more inclined to sympathize with the insurgents. I don't think we want them to get more involved. That's where the democracy/dictatorship distinction comes in... but then, Kerry has never really understood that distinction.

If the jihadist enemy in Iraq represents "The Power of Hatred," is our cause the power of love? (Is that the cause we should aspire to?)

Deroy Murdock, publishing on the Cato Institute website, blasts the Islamic world for its cruelty towards and rampant execution of gays. Good for them. (For the Cato Institute, I mean.)

Monday, June 27, 2005

THE RISE OF CHINA

Paul Krugman would like to block China's bid to buy Unocal. Well, sort of:

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a company that is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, is seeking to acquire control of Unocal, an energy company with global reach. In particular, Unocal has a history - oddly ignored in much reporting on the Chinese offer - of doing business with problematic regimes in difficult places, including the Burmese junta and the Taliban. One indication of Unocal's reach: Zalmay Khalilzad, who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for 18 months and was just confirmed as ambassador to Iraq, was a Unocal consultant.

Unocal sounds, in other words, like exactly the kind of company the Chinese government might want to control if it envisions a sort of "great game" in which major economic powers scramble for access to far-flung oil and natural gas reserves. (Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country.) So the Unocal story gains extra resonance from the latest surge in oil prices.

If it were up to me, I'd block the Chinese bid for Unocal. But it would be a lot easier to take that position if the United States weren't so dependent on China right now, not just to buy our I.O.U.'s, but to help us deal with North Korea now that our military is bogged down in Iraq.


It's interesting to parse Krugman's phrase: for whose sake would Krugman block the bid for Unocal? I think it's safe to say that Krugman is far more against Bush than he is against the Chinese. I'm inclined to agree with Sebastian Mallaby that "If you look for a convincing reason to block China's bid for Unocal, you're not going to find one," and that on the contrary, the deal is likely to benefit the US. But then, maybe Krugman agrees with that. He recognizes that the US will benefit from the deal, and he doesn't want any benefits to accrue to the country led by the man he hates, George W. Bush. It's the same reason that he's constantly poking needles into a voodoo doll of the US economy.

The Financial Times' comment on the Unocal takeover calls China "rich and popular," and backs it up with this interesting tidbit of information:

According to the 16-nation global attitudes survey by the Pew Research Center in Washington, China is now more popular than the US, in spite of concern about China's industrial strength and the resulting job losses among its rivals. Of the seven European countries surveyed, only Poland favoured the US over China.


Now why on earth would China be more popular than the US? Here we can draw a lesson from the early Cold War that illuminates a link between domestic and foreign policy. In the three decades after 1975, the US became steadily less popular, trailing the Soviet Union. A major reason was racism: the vicious treatment we meted out to people of different skin color at home blackened our reputation in the eyes of people of different skin color abroad. Beginning in the mid-1960s, we purged ourselves (mostly) of racism, and the US and its democratic-capitalist model gradually became more respected, emulated and admired in the world.

Nowadays the main black mark on the US democratic-capitalist model is immigration restrictions. Our creed that "all men are created equal" is hypocritical and hollow as long as we maintain viciously tight restrictions on entry into the country. Right now, millions of illegal immigrants are engaged in a vast project of civil disobedience, living here, working, integrating into our society, but still legally in the shadows. If civil disobedience triumphs over unjust law, as it did in the 1960s, and if we recognize the right of all people to live and work in the land of the free, then our reputation will rise again, we will surpass China, we will remain the leading example and inspiration to the world. If we continue to lock these people into the underworld of illegality, or worse yet if we resort to ethnic cleansing (the slogan "what part of illegal don't you understand?" points in this direction), then China will eclipse us, and rightly so.

If we turn our backs on the traditions symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, we do not deserve to lead the Free World.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

HOBSBAWM'S TAKE

I've long been a fan of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm (though of course I braoadly disagree with much of his worldview.) In this article, he captures some of the confusion of this moment in history. Hobsbawm acknowledges that the war in Iraq doesn't make sense in terms of your typical capitalist-imperialist narrative:

Even those who do not share the views of the old generals and proconsuls of the US world empire (which were those of Democratic as well as Republican administrations) will agree that there can be no rational justification of current Washington policy in terms of the interests of America's imperial ambitions or, for that matter, the global interests of US capitalism.


He acknowledges the revolutionary character of the "neo-con" project (which has got to be at least half a compliment coming from a Marxist):

It may be that it makes sense only in terms of the calculations, electoral or otherwise, of American domestic policy. It may be a symptom of a more profound crisis within US society. It may be that it represents the - one hopes short-lived - colonisation of Washington power by a group of quasi-revolutionary doctrinaires. (At least one passionate ex-Marxist supporter of Bush has told me, only half in jest: "After all, this is the only chance of supporting world revolution that looks like coming my way.") Such questions cannot yet be answered.


A crisis within US society? Possibly. Interesting...

THE WORLD BANK AND MIGRATION

The World Bank is a magnificent organization in search of a raison d'etre.

All right, few will agree with that: the World Bank proclaims a grandiose mission: "Our dream is a world free of poverty."

But that's more of a hope than a task. How can you lift billions of people out of poverty? Whatever the answer, it isn't the one that the Bank was postulated on. Friedrich Erixon's attack on the entire aid industry is mostly a rehash for someone who studied development. The World Bank began with the theory that poor countries suffered from a shortage of capital, so a bank could loan them money and spur economic growth. That was baloney, and everyone acknowledges it now, yet the organization keeps on running, adjusting and enlarging its mission.

That's just fine. A lot of organizations find valuable roles different from thsoe they began with. But in the case of the Bank, the question is whether it can do any good at all. What market failure does it supply? Moving money doesn't help. What's needed are good institutions and policies, but those are hard to cultivate, and why should the Bank be better than local governments at developing them?

My idea is a new kind of loan conditionality: provide lots of money in return for more open immigration policies...

Hmm, my wife's calling me. I'll get back to this idea later, it's interesting. (Comment freely if so inclined...)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

UNCLE SAM NEEDS YOU?

I think Daily Kos does us a service by shaming chickenhawks, though he overdoes it sometimes. The chickenhawk critique can take an illiberal form, at odds with the principle of civilian control over the military. But if you believe that we should be in Iraq fighting the insurgency, and if you're in good health and of military age, but you're not in uniform, you should be asked: What do you have to say for yourself?

I'm healthy, of military age, and support our ongoing efforts in Iraq, so why am I not volunteering? Because I recently got married and my wife threatened to divorce me if I went. But since I recently got married, I could have volunteered earlier, right? Well, yes, but for the better part of a year before I got married I was engaged, and my then-fiancee would have broken off the engagement if I'd joined the military. Before that I was considering joining, and I went into a recruiting office, but just after that I was sent on a World Bank mission to Africa, which gave my Russian fiancee a chance to join me and give us another chance (she couldn't get a visa to the US before), and one thing led to another...

Would you really be joining the army if you weren't married? Or are you just bragging? A fair question. I'd join. I've considered joining despite being married and risking the divorce, but for religious reasons I'm against divorce, so I haven't done so.

But doesn't everyone have some excuse to make? Maybe. And that's why I like to emphasize that the willingness of Americans to volunteer is a constraint on our power that we should recognize and talk about, even if that does encourage our enemies a little bit.

Congress is increasing the incentives to the military, that's good. I wonder if there's some way to institutionalize non-monetary benefits, too. For example, we could publicly pressure good universities to discriminate in favor of guys who have served in the military. Just one idea.

Can we draw in enough recruits to win the war? Well, it depends on what you mean by win. Max Boot makes an apt comparison of Iraq and (among other places) Colombia:

The biggest weakness of the insurgency is that it is morphing from a war of national liberation into a revolutionary struggle against an elected government. That's a crucial difference. Since 1776, wars of national liberation have usually succeeded because nationalism is such a strong force. Revolutions against despots, from Czar Nicholas II to the shah of Iran, often succeed too, because there is no way to redress grievances within the political process. Successful uprisings against elected governments are much rarer because leaders with political legitimacy can more easily rally the population and accommodate aggrieved elements.

Look at Sri Lanka, the Philippines, El Salvador or Colombia, all fragile democracies that have endured major uprisings that recruited a larger percentage of the population and controlled more territory than the Iraqi rebels — without winning. Other democracies, such as Israel, Turkey and Britain, have also survived brutal insurgencies.


Doesn't this imply that we can leave, and that the Iraqi government, enjoying the legitimacy of elections as it does, will win against the insurgency anyway?

I'm not quite to the point of looking for a timeline from withdrawal, but I'm getting more sympathetic to it. And I think the precedent of Richard Nixon's "peace with honor" after Vietnam is a precedent worth looking at. "Peace with honor" seems like a euphemism now, of course; we remember the last helicopters out of Saigon. But the fall of Saigon took place after Nixon was hounded out of office by Watergate. But for Watergate, the "peace with honor" might have held.

We're in a far better position now than we were at the end of the Vietnam war: there's no draft; most of the Iraqi population is basically on our side and embraces our cause; the war is much less unpopular on the home front; the enemy holds no territory; and our goals are clearer. Clearer, but not all that clear, however. What level of civil peace would constitute victory? If Iraq ends up like Colombia, would that be a victory or a defeat? A victory, surely: Saddam will be gone, to our benefit and to the Iraqis, because a gnawing, moderate-intensity conflict, combined with a hefty amount of freedom and democracy, is better than the dismal, worthless, frightened, lying, doublethinking existence of subjection to a totalitarian state. But after seeing the Iraqis on our TV screens, close up, for so many months, we compare Iraqis' quality of life to our own, not to Colombia's. Leaving Iraq like Colombia would feel like a defeat, or at least a half-defeat. (Vietnam was a victory in a way, too, after all: we lost one country, but we did prevent the "domino effect" from bringing all of southeast Asia under communist rule. But it felt like a defeat.) That's why I say we should look to Nixon: with the help of larger geopolitical maneuverings, he turned Vietnam into a marginal theater before the inevitable withdrawal.

Allawi thanked us for making "our cause your cause." But at the end of the day, our cause is not the Iraqis' cause; it is much bigger. We need to bear that in mind.

Good for Blair:

[T]hree... important messages have been sent to the whole of Europe. First, with France and Germany economically moribund and destined for a long period of introspection, the Franco-German alliance can no longer lead Europe, even if it could agree on the way forward, which it no longer can. Secondly, the EU founding fathers’ vision of a forced march to “ever-closer union”, driven by the Brussels bureaucracy and the French political elite, is no longer democratically acceptable. Thirdly, Europe’s need for strong but pragmatic leadership is greater than ever because the present course points straight to economic ruin.

The obvious candidate to fill this leadership vacuum is Britain under Tony Blair. Mr Blair’s Third Way rhetoric may seem half-baked and self-contradictory in the context of British or American politics, but trying to find a compromise between capitalism and social democracy is what mainstream politics in every European country is about. Moreover, Mr Blair, while he may be no great economic or political theorist, has a track record unique among the major European leaders, of running a Third Way model with a modicum of success.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Europe’s dominant parties from across the political spectrum — from the Right in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands to the Left in Sweden, Poland and Portugal — are converging on Mr Blair as the potential standard-bearer for a new vision of Europe which is less politically ambitious but more economically dynamic, a Europe in which many different “social models” can operate, and thrive.


Tony, the proof that a (fairly) small nation and its leader can still matter on the world stage in an age of globalization and American hegemony, if they are brave and clever-- and right. Let all minor powers take note.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

FEEDBACK FOR "HOBBES, LOCKE AND THE BUSH DOCTRINE"

Some interesting posts were made in the Feedback Forum over at Tech Central in response to my article. The best one:

Great article. But I think you undersell your case.

From its humble beginnings in 1648, the Westphalian state system has grown into the world’s primary organizational structure. As a result, it has assumed sacred status in some corner. (As in, for example, Thomas Nagel’s review of Jeremy Rabkin’s new book in the current The New Republic). The question is: Why? It certainly has not kept the peace (though I suppose that things might have been worse without it), though it has been reasonably good for business. But its basic flaw remains that its starting point—that the King’s faith was his country’s faith—is little more than a license to discriminate against religious minorities. The Protestant Kings promised not to protect Protestants living in Catholic territory, and vice versa. It thus immediately set the stage for today’s basic dispute: sovereignty against human rights.

Throughout most of the Westphalian era, there was no such thing as “Human Rights Law.” How a ruler treated “his own” people was really no one else’s business. If, for example, Hitler had chosen to exterminate only Germany’s Jews, anyone could express an opinion, but no one would have the right to interfere. The problem arose when he started exterminating Poland’s Jews—after all, they “belonged” to Poland to emancipate or exterminate, depending upon the mood of the Polish sovereign. Similarly, when Saddam gassed the Kurds of Halabja, he was simply gassing “his own” people. Poor taste perhaps, but hardly a violation of anything important. Had he reached across the border to gas Syrian, Iranian, or Turkish Kurds—well, that would have been a problem. As longs as he restricted himself to the Kurds that the state system gave him, however, the rules remained intact.

The post-WWII attempt to weld Human Rights Law onto the state system never grappled with the underlying contradiction. They were essentially voluntary rules that individual countries could adopt by treaty—and then violate with impunity. Every attempt to address such problems ran smack into the inviolability of sovereignty.

Though the conflict between sovereignty and human rights has always been troubling, it is only over the past few years that the internal contradictions threaten to undermine the entire system—or at least to modify it in a significant way. Bin Laden declared war on the United States—a meaningless statement in the Westphalian sense, but one that he supported with acts of war. President Bush, in his inaugural address, spoke directly to the citizens of other states—and told them to violate the laws of their sovereigns. This direct dialog between the head of one state and the citizens of another is as inappropriate as an individual’s declaration of law. And in the ultimate absurdity, the ICJ ruled (among other improprieties and absurdities) that Palestine simultaneously qualifies as a state sovereign over population and territory, but not a state whose acts of war can qualify to create a state of war.

The system is broken. The current dispute is between those who insist upon rebuilding it as it was and those who would modify it to elevate human rights above sovereignty. In the latter system, whose standards would prevail? The answer to that is, in fact, the single invariant principle of war and diplomacy. It is an answer that has not changed since Plato rejected it as the basis of abstract justice. Prevailing international standards are always those of the strongest party.


And this one:

The STRONGEST will always be the only judge that matters, no matter they be Lockeans or whatever. This is the way it has always been and the way it will always be.

Governments choose to follow Lockeanism or Hobbesianism based on whichever seems to be in their best interest at the time. Hobbesianism is always going to be the choice of despots and tyrants between invasions of weak neighbors. Lockeanism is obviously better in the long term for liberal democracies, but they often pursue Hobbesianism in the short term. To the extent that democratic Hobbesians are willing to tolerate dangerous regimes until they are obviously threatened or attacked, they are likely always to be at a strategic disadvantage since they are unwilling to take action when their adversaries are weakest. In addition, they are prone to delude themselves into believing that since they pose no threat to anyone they will not themselves be attacked. In fact, Hobbesians will strive to have themselves be perceived as weak as possible to ensure that others are not provoked. Provocation leads to conflict and the whole point of Hobbesianism is to avoid conflict.

The best strategy for a liberal democracy is Lockeanism if it has the will and power to pursue it. The absolute worst strategy for a liberal democracy is Lockeanism without either the will or the power or both. I place the US in the latter category. We have neither the will nor the power to successfully convert tyranic states into liberal democracies.

The best strategy for the US is to dispense with Locke and Burke and to use our enormous military and economic might not for the benefit of Muslims, Africans, Asians, and Mexicans, but for the benefit of our own citizens, period.


Interesting.

Just got published in Tech Central Station. "Hobbes, Locke and the Bush Doctrine." Cool! Visit the front page today and you'll see my column front and center... (This is my third article with them: previously they published "The News-and-Views Industry in the 21st Century" and "Did Benedict XVI Take a Page Out of MacIntyre's Book?")

Monday, June 20, 2005

DO-NOTHING FAILURE SECOND-TERM PRESIDENTS ARE GOOD FOR AMERICA

The New Republic regurgitates the bait-and-switch myth about Bush's second term:

[T]he most important explanation for Bush's problems is what might be called his bait and switch. Bush campaigned in 2004 on one set of ideas, but he is pursuing a radically different agenda.


Actually, Social Security reform figured prominently in the most important speech of the year, Bush's RNC speech, where he signaled the thesis of his campaign with the words:

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.

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.


Concerning Social Security, Bush said:

We will always keep the promise of Social Security for our older workers. With the huge Baby Boom generation approaching retirement, many of our children and grandchildren understandably worry whether Social Security will be there when they need it. We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account -- a nest egg you can call your own and government can never take away.

In all these proposals, we seek to provide not just a government program, but a path -- a path to greater opportunity, more freedom and more control over your own life.


This was a statement of political philosophy and a plan of action clearer than any politician has offered America for many years. Kerry offered nothing comparable. And the polls show how positively the public reacted. Immediately after the RNC speech, Bush picked up a lead of some 7% in the polls which he mostly maintained thereafter. It was the RNC speech, in which the ownership society and Social Security reform were central themes, that more than any other moment was the turning point of the race.

Moreover, a majority of Americans continue to support Social Security private accounts. What the slide in Bush's approval ratings shows is that, though most Americans didn't think the Democrats were the best choice this time around, they still trust them, and when they see the Democrats standing united against a Bush policy, they believe that the policy is a bad idea even if they like the plan when asked about its features outside the context of partisan politics.

But what interested me most in the New Republic's article was their point about a general pattern of failure for second-term presidents. Combine that with a remark from Fred Barnes about the popularity of do-nothing presidents:

It's sad but true that our political system, assuming the economy is not in the tank, rewards presidents (and sometimes governors) for doing little. President Clinton benefited from this. His second term was largely unproductive. He balked at Social Security or Medicare reform. The war he fought in the Balkans consisted of bombs dropped from such high altitudes that American warplanes faced minimal risk. He refused to consider sending ground troops. The result: no American casualties. He did nothing to ease the stock-market bubble or deal with the looming recession. He got along with France...

President Reagan, while hardly as unproductive as Clinton in his second term, also profited a bit from the do-little syndrome. His approval rating in June 1985 was 58 percent, well above Bush's today. True, he achieved tax reform, but that was at a time when leading Democrats were on board. And he got along famously with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, all the while marching toward victory in the Cold War. But Reagan had quickly abandoned Social Security reform when the Senate frowned on it and declined to fight for serious spending cuts. Had he pursued those issues in his second term, his popularity would no doubt have sagged.


There's nothing "sad" about Americans preferring lazy second-term presidents. Americans don't like activist government, and that's just fine. They're suspicious when they hear rumors of big changes emanating from Washington. With good reason: many of the big changes emanating from Washington in the past have been changes for the worse.

If you combine Ryan Lizza's insight that second-term presidents generally fail, and Fred Barnes' insight that do-nothing presidents are usually popular, you understand part of the reason why I was optimistic about a second Bush term. Despite Bush's labors, politics these four years are likely to feature a good deal of bitterness but much less action. And that's mostly good for the country. (Even Social Security reform, though I would LOVE to see that disgraceful program overhauled, can maybe wait. Bush has sowed the seeds. Sooner or later they'll grow into reform.)

Nato has an update from the front lines. Actually, it's something better: an essay informed by his experience on the ground in Iraq, where he's serving as a soldier. (As an "MI," apparently, but I don't know what that is.)

This factoid struck me the most:

We are immensely unpopular amongst all but the Kurds - Even the Shia dislike us by at least a 2:1 margin. Yet at the end of the day, we'll get covert requests from community leaders that US soldiers accompany IA troops during house searches to prevent theft.


1) If this is true, then the Iraqi blogosphere is probably a bit more biased than I thought. Most of the Iraqi bloggers (certainly not all) seem to have a relatively positive attitude towards the US.

2) This reminds me a bit of Jesse Jackson getting in trouble for saying that he'd reached the age where, if he heard footsteps behind him in the street at night, and turned around to see that the person was white, he was relieved. Of course, it's rational: crime rates are higher for blacks, and anyone interested in self-preservation has a motive to be aware of this. But it was a scandal to admit. If Iraqis recognize that Americans are incorruptible while their own people are sometimes thieves, shouldn't that give them a positive attitude towards Americans? Yes, but people are under no obligation to be consistent; and people will do all sorts of intellectual gymnastics in order to sustain their self-esteem, individual and collective.

A (MACRO)ECONOMIST'S ENDEARING CONFUSION

Robert Samuelson admits:

[O]ur ideas for explaining trends in output, employment and living standards—what we call "macroeconomics"—are in a state of disarray. If you're confused, you're in good company.


Among the mysteries: what's the deal with consumer spending and why has the personal savings rate been falling through the floor? Why did productivity growth accelerate in the 1990s-- and continued at a fast or even rising clip ever since? Why are long-term interest rates so low? How long can the US afford to keep running a trade deficit? (My small contribution to the last question is here: I argue that the trade deficit can be re-interpreted as "hard currency exports," and that it's future will depend on factors affecting the supply and demand for a good, dollars, which is useful because it performs the traditional roles of money better than other currencies, namely: a store of value, a unit of account, and a medium of exchange.)

Makes me eager to get started on a PhD in economics sometime soon. "Crisis" and "opportunity" are the same word in Chinese...

UPDATE: While a traditional macroeconomist like Robert Samuelson is confessing confusion, Steve Moore of the Club for Growth is crowing at the vindication for supply-side economics evidenced by the jump in tax revenues this year. It's a good time to be an Austrian economist!

If only we could control federal spending! Last weekend I was fantasizing about a McCain candidacy, with McCain winning conservative support by saying something like this: "I wasn't a strong supporter of the Bush tax cut because I wasn't sure we could afford it. Now we have some big deficits that we have to deal with, and it's possible that we'll have to reverse part of the tax cut during my administration. But the tax cut is popular-- people do prefer to keep their money, after all-- and it's good for the incentives to work and save, so I want to try to keep it as long as we can. To do that, we've got to control spending.

"The Constitution gives the president a tool to restrain spending which Bush didn't use: the presidential veto. If we compare the government to a person, Congress is like the impulse inside you to want things and buy, buy, buy. Each Congressman has constituents at home he wants to please with pet spending projects. It's understandable that Congress tries to get all their pet projects funded. It's not just that they want to get votes; they care about their constituents too. But if you buy everything you want, you'll end up in lots of debt and in lots of trouble. That's what happened to us for the past eight years. The presidential veto is like that part of your brain that adds up the dollars and cents and figures out what you can afford to buy and what you can't. When the presidential veto is asleep, spending gets out of control. I admire our current president in a lot of ways, but when it comes to restraining spending, he didn't do the job that the Constitution meant for him to do.

"I can't promise to slow federal spending if I'm elected to the presidency. Ultimately, Congress has the last word on how much the federal government spends. All I can promise is my best, and federal spending will still increase by whatever amount Congress can get past my veto. Of course, that means some pet projects may not get funded. But I think the public will accept this, because I believe every American understands that we can't go on the way we've been going."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Donald Rumsfeld defends Guantanamo. I'm convinced, up to a point.

It seems to me that people are conflating the issues of Guantanamo and torture. Maybe I'm missing something, but the incidents I hear reported from Guantanamo sound risibly mild, e.g. "Koran abuse." At Guantanamo, the scandal is that the prison is outside both American and international law. The prisoners have the rights neither of defendants in an American court nor of lawful prisoners of war. Guantanamo has the flavor of legal limbo and thus of arbitrary power, which we have reason to be suspicious of even if for the moment it is being used humanely. Rumsfeld acknowledges this:

The real problem is not Guantanamo Bay. The problem is that, to a large extent, we are in unexplored territory with this unconventional and complex struggle against extremism. Traditional doctrines covering criminals and military prisoners do not apply well enough.


The really shocking incidents of torture come from Abu Ghraib and Iraq. Here the scandal is at a more visceral level: people have been tortured to death by agents of the US armed forces. I'm not an expert on this; I don't know if those are facts or allegations. But torture to the death is the most extreme, horrific case of cruelty, an echo of 1984. Personally, I find it absurd that some people use Abu Ghraib as an argument against the war. Obviously, the fact that Saddam Hussein was far worse doesn't justify torture by US forces in the least. Equally obviously, the fact that Saddam was far worse does mean that the war was a good thing from the anti-torture perspective. It reduced the amount of torture in the world. But if we want to keep up the good work, we should purge the practice of torture from our armed forces.

I suspect that for much of the public, and for liberals in particular, Guantanamo has become the symbol of all the abuses committed by the US in the war on terror, including torture to the death. So perhaps the distinction between the legal scandal of Guantanamo and the human scandal of Abu Ghraib deserves emphasis.

UPDATE: Check out Nato's informative comment.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mickey Kaus wrote a post about a possible third-party McCain run, and asked for reader feedback. This was mine:

"Mickey,

I’m enjoying your informed speculation about a possible McCain run. Here’s something else to think about:

Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996 because Ross Perot picked off a lot of Republican votes. He never got a majority. He got 43% in 1992 and 49% in 1996. And this probably affected his own sense of mandate, and helped to motivate his drift towards the right and his embrace of selected conservative policies.

If McCain ran in 2008, on a Reform platform for example, that would be likely to take just enough votes away from the Republicans to put the Dem candidate over the top, but without any real mandate. The Dem president would also be forced to work with a Republican Congress.

A lot of libertarians look back to the mid-1990s as a fairly good time, and some hope for a Democratic president for the sake of gridlock that will prevent the expansion of government. I think this is misguided. The 1990s formula is unlikely to repeat itself because of certain lessons that both parties learned. Republicans learned that fiscal conservatism benefits the country but not the Republican Party. Democrats learned that a Democrat president can be politically successful by selling out ideologically, and while they pretend for political advantage to be delighted with the results, they don’t want to repeat the experience. Dems put partisan interests before ideological interests in the 1990s, while Republicans put ideological interests before partisan interests. Now the pendulum has swung the other way in both parties. Dems have the knives out for moderates and compromisers, while Republicans are oozing into all the nooks and crannies of the mushy middle.

So a re-run of the 1990s looks unlikely. Elect a Dem, and we’ll see, not a compromising Dem facing off against ideological Republicans, but an ideological Dem facing off against compromising Republicans. But the exceptional circumstances of a strong McCain third-party challenge might change that! If a Democratic president elected were elected with an even smaller percentage of the popular vote than Clinton in 1992, say 40%, and if the other 60% of the vote went to, say, McCain and Frist, then it would be very hard to pretend that there was a mandate for resurrecting the old paleoliberal agenda. Though on the other hand, we should never under-estimate the sophistry of Democrat spin-mongers… But even if the new Dem president did try paleoliberal stunts for a couple of years, the public would punish him in the mid-terms, and he’d probably see the light.

This is a great scenario because, as you’ve pointed out before, the best hope for the Democrats is to be re-invented from above after putting a guy (or, more likely, gal) in the White House. And libertarians desperately need an opposition that plays the role of disciplining the Republicans, rather than that of making them look good by comparison.

What McCain needs, in order to run, is not a realistic chance of winning, but, rather, an argument to trick himself and his fans in the media into believing that his candidacy would be something other than a huge ego trip. That’s where you come in! No one could possibly be as ingenious at crafting this rationalization as you!

Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

DEVELOPMENT HERO: TONY BLAIR

If any single leader of a rich country is a friend to the world's poor, it is Tony Blair. Blair has apparently talked Bush into boosting aid to Africa and providing debt relief to 18 countries. At the same time, Blair is spending his political capital in Europe on attacking the Common Agricultural Policy, the disgraceful agricultural subsidy program that eats up most of the EU budget while artificially boosting European food production and thus robbing Third World food producers of what could be an excellent market. (The US also has disgraceful farm subsidies, which Bush has exacerbated, but not as bad as those in the EU.) But do they have to campaign on the utopian slogan "Make Poverty History"? Poverty will never be eliminated, for two reasons: first, the threat of poverty is a necessary incentive to make people work; second, poverty will always be perceived as a relative rather than an absolute condition.

Much foreign aid is wasted, some of it may even be harmful. I'm convinced on balance that it is beneficial. But it would be much more beneficial to poor countries to pass Social Security reform, thus raising our savings rate and draining less capital from the rest of the world. Of course, if we really care about the world's poor, the ultimate way to show it is to be the first nation in the world to recognize the right to migrate. Let poor people come here and win better lives for themselves through labor. Let them work, save, and bring their money home to enrich their families and their countries. Why is the wealth and income divide in this world so appallingly great? Borders.

Monday, June 13, 2005

THE WASHINGTON POST VS. AMNESTY

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post defends what could be called a double standard, namely that they are far more harsh on Donald Rumsfeld than on, say, Zarqawi. This defense seems on-target to me. The Post balances their criticism with this:

The United States and this administration in particular continually assert the moral right to behave differently than other nations. We will not be bound by the International Criminal Court. We insist that other nations give up their nuclear weapons while we keep our own. We wage war without U.N. Security Council approval. We publish annual report cards on everyone else's human rights records.

The premise of this highhandedness is that the United States is, on balance, a force for good in the world -- a superpower that uses its might not to subjugate others but to allow them to live freely. This is a premise that The Post's editorial page on the whole accepts -- to the dismay of many readers.


The Post is an honorable contrast with Amnesty International, with its now-famous "gulag" quote:

The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law.


Amnesty's gross exaggeration, in using the word "gulag," shows contempt not only for history and truth, nor merely for the victims of the real Gulag, but above all for the ideals to which Amnesty is, or rather plays at being, committed. By showing what serious advocacy of human rights looks like, the Post puts Amnesty to shame more eloquently than any conservative critic.

From USA Today:

Nearly six in 10 Americans say the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq, a new Gallup Poll finds, the most downbeat view of the war since it began in 2003.


We should not withdraw from Iraq now. This is Bush's chance to do what Tony Blair did a couple of years ago, and stand for the right in the face of hostile public opinion. It's never a good idea to let the polls determine foreign policy. Polls are too fickle, too ill-informed.

That said, we are constrained in our foreign policy by both public opinion and the limitations inherent in a volunteer army. Many Iraqi insurgents may take heart from the belief that America is a democracy, therefore soft, and able to be worn down. Frustrating as it may be for some people, the insurgents are right: we do have our limits, and we can be worn down.

Pundits and policymakers should always bear in mind these constraints on the exercise of American power.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

WOLVES IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING

When a person holds a position that is deeply iniquitous, they sometimes mask it with mock concessions to the other side. Thus Hitler told Europe how much he wanted peace, provided there would be a few revisions of Germany's borders to amend wrongs done after World War I. Opponents of immigration play the same tricks. Here's Victor Davis Hanson:

Both sides agree that when newcomers arrive legally from Mexico in the thousands, rather than unchecked in the millions, they become some of our best citizens.


Thousands? Thousands? In a world of billions, hundreds of millions of whom dream of coming to America; in a nation of almost 300 million people; VDH wants thousands of Mexican immigrants? Only thousands?

If there were only thousands of Mexican immigrants, of course, this would for practical purposes be to eliminate Mexican immigration. For Mexicans, coming to the US would mean being one-in-a-thousand.

No, VDH, you don't get any enlightened-and-politcally-correct points for this travesty of a concession. It is evidence of your bad conscience, nothing more.

I buy groceries almost every day at a shop run by Hispanics (Salvadorans I think). They work hard, they're friendly, their prices are low. They are some of our best citizens when they come unchecked in the millions. I pray that they may, in the future, come unchecked in the tens of millions, not only from Mexico, but from countries all over the world, living out that greatest of American traditions that underlies all the others: that the hungry, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, may build new lives on this soil, while they enrich our economy and our culture, and their dreams continue to be the lifeblood of our nation.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Israelis are beginning to evacuate Gaza. A glorious day in history. The Palestinians have been getting a raw deal far too long. While it's probably unavoidable that the vast non-terrorist majority pays the price for the murder-worship to which a few of their compatriots have sold their souls, it is also unfair and tragic. And while the blame for this tragedy goes in the first place to the renegades who have proven their eternal enmity towards that honorable man, Muhammed, by murdering innocents, it goes in the second place (there's plenty of it to go around) to the stubbornness of the Israelis. May the closure of the settlements in Gaza be the forerunner of many more closures.

TURKEY

Turkey was supposed to be the EU's answer to Iraq. While America exported democracy by military force, the EU did it more benignly, through cultural diffusion and peaceful integration into transnational structures-- so the story went.

This story is a bit unfair: as Iraq becomes a democracy, America will have been more instrumental in bringing that about than the EU was in Turkey. However, the story is also idealistic: it embraces the freedom-spreading part of the Bush Doctrine, while embracing gentler means. Moreover, it concedes the idealism of the Iraq venture: the US did something good, the critique seems to suggest, but the EU will do something better.

Well, it looks as if it won't, as Gerard Baker reports. The French referendum, and the likely accession to power of the Christian Democrats later this year, will be the nails in the coffin of Turkish entry.

The failure of Europe to admit Turkey casts a new light on the failure of Europe to welcome regime change in Iraq. Europhiles and leftists would have us believe that Europeans' goodwill towards Muslims was as great or greater than Americans', but they rejected war as a means of expressing that good will. Some of us were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one, even though there was an alternative explanation: That Europeans did not care about Iraqis' welfare; or even that they preferred Iraqis to remain destitute and enslaved, as a way of keeping down a potential rival.

But by admitting Turkey to the Union, Europeans could show their good will towards Muslims by the peaceful means. That they (probably) will not suggests that Europe did not oppose a war to liberate Muslims because they dislike war. They opposed it because they dislike Muslims.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A good review of my old prof Jeff Sachs's book, by David Frum. I used to envy Sachs. A dazzlingly successful economist in youth, he was catapulted through Harvard to be shaping the destiny of nations as an economic adviser while still in his mid-30s. His class was great... but. His insistence on claiming the moral high ground sometimes got the better of his critical faculty. Sachs' road to fame was too easy. Student at Harvard, PhD at Harvard, professor at Harvard, he never had to come to terms with his own failings and weaknesses-- which is a good experience for all of us. As a result, he's naive in ways that a less successful person would be unlikely to be. No, I wouldn't want to be Jeff Sachs.

Howard Fineman offers an inadvertent parody of the MSM practice of using anonymous sources:

I’m sitting here with a gloomy letter from Iraq, written by a high-ranking officer I cannot name in a branch of service I cannot name in a part of the country I cannot name. But trust me, because I trust him. Iraqis, he says, have no feel for or belief in the democracy we want to create, and our occupation is making them less, not more, capable of self-government.


Now really, Howard, why should we do that when we have the blogosphere? Why should we do that when we can click through to the Iraq the Model blog and read straight from a real live Iraqi we know and trust? Or we can go to his blogroll and link to Neurotic Iraqi Wife, Healing Iraq, Baghdad Burning, The Messopotamian, and dozens more Iraqi bloggers? Or when we can link to a lot of soldier-bloggers, such as Mudville Gazette, or Nato? Of course, all these sources have their biases, but so does Fineman.

There are two links in the chain of trust here: "trust me," says Fineman, and "I trust him." That there are two links automatically makes this less reliable than the one-link-in-the-chain information that we can get through the blogosphere. After all, Fineman might be mistaken in trusting his friend's letter. Maybe his friend's experience is unrepresentative. Maybe his friend is biased, because of temperament, because of personal reasons, or because of other views. And Fineman doesn't just quote the whole letter. No, he quotes it selectively, and puts a layer of his own views on top of it. Maybe there's good news in the letter that Fineman does not report, because he's against the war, or because he opposes Bush, or because he thinks this version of the story will maximize sales, or because his friends are against the war and he wants to please them. Fineman's second-hand take based on a letter is one source of evidence about the war. But it's not the only one, and it's not as good as many others that are readily available.

So I respectfully decline to trust Fineman, because he trusts his friend. It doesn't seem like good epistemic practice. I'll go to the blogosphere, take in the wide range of impressions it has to offer, and come to my own conclusions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Matt Yglesias is spinning for the EU:

Overlooked in all this is the fact that most Europeans are neither French nor Dutch; significantly more countries approved the constitution than voted it down. Asking why Europeans are rejecting the European Union is a bit like wondering why the American people lost their faith in Ronald Reagan in 1984. There's nothing to explain, because the thing didn't happen.


Ronald Reagan in 1984? Yeah, right.

Sure, some countries approved the constitution. In some cases, e.g. Germany, legislators did so without a referendum. We can see from the French and the Dutch case how far the political class fails to represent the people on this issue. In other cases, countries that benefit from membership of the free-trade bloc, structural funds, rights of migration and/or an implicit security guarantee, were under the impression that rejecting the constitution might lead to being cut out of the Union and losing these benefits.

Ronald Reagan, by contrast, won a landslide victory in the face of a hostile media and a hostile political class.

Matt goes on to write:

The constitution failed not because it was overwhelmingly rejected but because the procedural barriers to approval were so high.


Does he want to lower them? To force some countries to sign up to the constitution against their voters' expressed wishes? What's he driving at here?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

John Tierney has the goods on a disgrace that's (probably) about to happen in Florida: a child will be ripped out of a school he likes, and a school that has dramatically improved his learning, because of teachers' unions' self-interested opposition to vouchers, and because of the Soviet-style secularist fundamentalism that the courts have imposed on American schools in the name of religious neutrality.

As the rest of the US economy has improved over time, schools have not done so, because they are a government-run monopoly. Duh. Didn't we learn anything from the fall of communism?

Meanwhile, for anyone who is puzzled by the sense of grievance manifested by the religious right, this is Exhibit A. We are taxed in order to finance schools where our children are taught curricula that marginalize, undermine, and sometimes directly contradict our beliefs. Religious people are angry about this. But not nearly as angry as they ought to be.

Vouchers allow market forces improve our education system, while getting the government out of the business of drafting curricula, a task which is incompatible with the separation of Church and State. Vouchers can hardly worsen, and will probably do a great deal to help overcome, the grotesque inequities in our education, which underlie most of the social inequality in American life. In short, if there was ever a progressive cause, education vouchers are it.

It's good to see that the cause has penetrated even the reactionary pages of the New York Times. On my webpage is a futuristic article about what education in America will look like after vouchers have taken effect; and an explanation of "why religious neutrality in education requires vouchers."

DISPATCH FROM TAL AFAR

Nato, a blogger with whom I've had fascinating debates on tradition and on philosophy of mind, is now serving in Iraq. I'm honored to have his comments on a previous post. (Nato blogs here.) His comment:

I think the goal, here, is to set up a country that won't descend into civil war once we're gone. The reason why lots of people weren't so excited by the idea of Saddam's fall was because they felt civil war, chaos, and insurgent spillover would ensue. If we can leave behind a state that's at least minimally cohesive on the way to becoming functional, then we've done what we came here for. The view from Tal Afar (where I am right now) is pretty decent.

On the other hand, I'm glad you touch on the matter of our wide-scale burnout. This war has badly hurt our Army and has chewed through a lot of good people. People with families and prospects on the outside have to set their pride in serving against the hardship for their families of seperation, uncertainty, and all the other chaos that a grining deployment schedule throws into everyone's lives.


This article is hopeful: despite many difficulties, Iraqis are as hopeful as ever and determined to proceed "step by step" to making their country democratic and safe.

We need to think about how to reconcile our ambitions for global freedom with the manpower constraint that we face. Michael Ledeen may be right that "it is shameful that we have yet to seriously challenge the legitimacy of the terror masters in Tehran and Damascus, who represent the keystone of the terrorist edifice," at least in the sense that Iranians and Syrians are just as deserving of freedom as Iraqis are, and the Iranians at least would probably give the Americans at least as warm a welcome as the Iraqis did. And Greg Djerejian may be right that "troop draw-downs [from Iraq] at this juncture would be all but inconceivable and grotesquely irresponsible." But neither of these critics is taking into account a constitutional constraint on US power, namely that we cannot (de facto) conscript soldiers, and therefore our military actions are limited by the number of brave young men who decide they are willing to give of their time and risk their lives for freedom. Pundits like Ledeen and Djerejian have not integrated this constraint into their analysis and prescriptions for US foreign policy.

SAVE THE EURO

The Economist is worried about the euro. I think that even if the unification tide is rolled back a bit in the coming months or years, the single currency is worth keeping. It will be helped by the abandonment of the Stability and Growth Pact: the SGP deprived states of discretionary fiscal policy, just when states' loss of control over monetary policy to the ECB made fiscal policy more necessary than ever. The ECB, like the Supreme Court in the early United States, will have to be cunning to maintain its authority in an unfavorable institutional environment. And much depends on the wisdom of its policymaking. Surely it is past time to lower interest rates and give Europe's economies more space to grow.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Do you support free speech?

Did you vote for John Kerry?

Then read this.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

NEGOTIATE WITH BIN LADEN

Yeah, I mean it.

I think it would be good strategy. The downside is that we would look weak, and that jihadists would take courage, saying we were on the verge of defeat. (I don't think, though, that jihadists would sincerely believe that; they've seen too much of American power.) And yet negotiation is effective against terrorists because it creates disagreement in their ranks, as some of them are willing to sacrifice a portion of what they want in order to get it peacefully, while others who take an all-or-nothing strategy see them as betrayers. That's why a mixture of repression and negotiation is the most effective strategy.

Probably bin Laden would refuse to negotiate, at least for now. By negotiating, he would disgust many of his followers and perhaps even risk his life. If he didn't negotiate, America could continue to make the offer and to gain moral high ground by doing so. "We want peace, it is they who refuse to listen," we could say.

If bin Laden did negotiate, there is, of course, plenty of room for doubt over whether such a man as bin Laden should be able to influence US policy. And what kind of demands would bin Laden make? Withdraw from Iraq; well, we might consider that if you can stop the terror attacks. Make Israel withdraw from Palestine; but the territories only, or must they evacuate their whole country? In any case, we are not in a position to do either, the most we could do is stop giving the Israelis aid. What could bin Laden give us in return? That depends on how much control he has over his fighters, and whether he would lose control if he were seen to be negotiating with the Great Satan. It's hard to foresee what these negotiations would look like, because they 1) are unprecedented and 2) depend heavily on a single rather mysterious personality.

But the main reason to negotiate with bin Laden is to show that we genuinely want to live in peace with the world. If we don't, we should. And an American call for peace to al-Qaeda would get the world's attention. We could address the al-Qaeda chief something like this:

"For years our nation and your organization have been fighting against each other. Many of our soldiers and civilians, many jihadist fighters, and many innocent civilians, have died in this struggle. They have died in the falling Twin Towers, they have died in car bombs and suicide bombings in Arab streets, they have died on the battlefield, they have died in prisons. On your side and on ours, we are all haunted by the memory of lost loved ones, whose voices we will never again hear, whose living faces we will never see. After the noise of battle comes the weeping. After the blood, the tears.

"We do not wish to continue this fight, and we believe that you, too, do not wish to continue it. But we each fight in the service of lofty ends, of principles and dreams in which we believe passionately. Up to now, our dreams, our principles, our ends have put us into conflict, and perhaps that conflict is inescapable. But we hope not. We wish to speak with you and seek some way to be reconciled with you, to see if what you desire might be made compatible with what we desire, and so that we might put an end to all the killing."

Think for a moment of how such a statement would challenge the world to take a second look at us, would shake the Bushitler stereotype to its foundations, would inspire and soften the left. Talk is cheap. Why not use more of it?