Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

GAZA PULLOUT AND IRAQI CONSTITUTION

Both of these are excellent developments.

What I love most about the Gaza pullout is that it was unilateral. It was made in exchange for nothing. Negotiating with the Palestinians strikes me as misguided. There is widespread approval in Palestinian society for suicide-bombers. They are encouraged, admired. The grimmest evidence of this is that Abu Mazen greeted the Gaza pullout by saying that the Gaza pullout was because of the murderers ("martyrs"). Abu Mazen is considered a relatively moderate guy for a Palestinian, and yet he's saying things like that. Whether he believes it or whether he's saying it to please the crowds I'm not sure, but it doesn't really matter: that the elected PA chairmen says things like that bears witness to the state of Palestinian public opinion, which is what really matters. No one unwilling to repudiate murder should be allowed to sit at the table with civilized leaders as a moral equal. I like the Palestinians whom I've met. They seem like warm, friendly people. But they have a grave and terrible national flaw in their failure to understand and boldly affirm that murder is wrong, and they've paying the price for it now for two generations.

None of this justifies the Israelis. There's plenty of blame to go around here. The Israelis need not talk to the Palestinians until they achieve the moral maturity to condemn murder. You don't reason with a madman; you apply superior force. But the Israeli dream of annexing land and creating a greater Jewish state, while ignoring the fact that the land they pretend to is already inhabited by people who have nowhere else to go, is a violation of human dignity and worthy of total condemnation. The Israelis should not treat a people that condones murder with respect, but they should be benevolent paternalists, creating, through superior force, a climate in which the mental and moral disease that afflicts the Palestinians stands the best chance of healing. That means Israel should dismantle the settlements, unilaterally, exactly like in Gaza, only more.

The same applies to the Iraqi constitution. If the Shia and the Kurds pass a federalist constitution, without Sunni agreement, more power to them. The Sunnis' demand that Iraq be a unitary state is unjustified. The Shias and Kurds don't want to be part of such a state. Combined, they're 80% of the population. There might be a reason for 20% to be able to defy the will of the 80% if the 20% want to, say, worship as they see fit, but not when they want to bind the 80% into a unitary state with them against their will. And whatever claims the Sunnis had to the shared national loyalty of Shias and Kurds was long since forfeited by the collaboration of many of them with Saddam and his crimes, and by their participation in a murderous insurgency. The Sunnis should be grateful that Shias and Kurds are settling for autonomy rather than shedding their troublesome fellow citizens by declaring independence. If federalism involves a risk of civil war, so be it. As in Gaza, talking has its limits, and you have to be able to draw a line after which agreement will not be reached.

As for the inclusion of an Islam clause in the Iraqi constitution, I was less dismayed by the clause than by the US media's (well, CNN's) naive reaction to it. There was talk of an "Islamic republic like Iran." There's a difference between separation of church and state, and democracy. Neither is a necessary or sufficient condition for the other. Indeed, they're somewhat at odds: in the US, the courts have to intervene to thwart the will of the people in their effort to exclude religion from public life. Religion cannot, at a philosophical level, be adequately defined so as to form a basis for separation of church and state in a nondiscriminatory fashion. What we have in the US is a combination of religious tolerance with secular humanism as the de facto state religion. This pattern of religion-state relations, unlike liberty or democracy, is a unique product of our own history, which we shouldn't expect to emerge elsewhere. To make Islam and democracy compatible is a challenge, because of some characteristics of Islam (in particular, the widespread notion that the penalty for conversion away from Islam should be death). But to be unable to distinguish between a totalitarian Islamist state and a government that is determined to uphold rights and freedoms and genuine democracy while making a constitutional deference to Islam (when even England has a state church) is a degree of ignorance that it's shameful to see displayed on a leading news network. Journalism is the first draft of history, the saying goes. But I am regularly amazed by the worthlessness of that first draft.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A HEARTWARMING SCENE

Last week I was walking past the White House on the way home, and I passed a pro-war demonstration. Actually a counter-demonstration; I later noticed that there was an anti-war demonstration going on next to it. Here are some great pictures.

What struck me is the contrast between the eloquence of the banners of the pro-war demonstrators, and the inane slogans of the anti-war crowd. On the one hand, "God Bless Our Soldiers, Liberating the World of One Tyrant at a Time." "US Soldiers Are True Heroes. Our Mission is Just and Honorable. Stay the Course." On the other hand, "Tell Cindy Sheehan the Truth."

If you haven't followed the Cindy Sheehan affair, Mark Steyn has a great roundup. Cindy Sheehan lost a son in Iraq and recently started camping out on the lawn in Crawford, Texas, demanding that Bush meet with her face to face, and, well... in her own words:

"You tell me the truth. You tell me that my son died for oil. You tell me that my son died to make your friends rich. You tell me my son died to spread the cancer of Pax Americana . . . You get America out of Iraq, you get Israel out of Palestine."

And how about this? "America has been killing people on this continent since it was started. This country is not worth dying for."


Just stop for a second and imagine Bush meeting Sheehan and saying: "I'm sorry. Your son died for oil. My friends in Big Oil wanted higher oil prices and profits (or is it that we wanted lower prices for American drivers?) so we went into Iraq and broke things up. And Pax Americana is a cancer. People don't want liberty and democracy. Either that or we're not promoting liberty and democracy at all, but... something else, some kind of imperialism or something... you should probably ask Chomsky to explain it to you, because no one else really understands it, certainly I don't, I got a C average at Yale. Actually, I'm not even sure whether we're spreading liberty and democracy but liberty and democracy are a cancer, or whether we're spreading something else that's a cancer, maybe harming liberty and democracy for the sake of American economic interests or something... And I'm also not clear on whether the Pax Americana, which I think is Latin for 'American peace', is a cancer because of the peace part, the American part, or both. I would have thought that maybe the problem is American WAR, not American peace, but I guess Saddam's regime can't really be described as peace, with all the killing that was going on, but it was a war for the liberation of the Third World or something... Well, this confession is confusing me, so I'll just say I'm sorry. And we'll get the troops out of Iraq, and start bombing Israel so that they'll leave Palestine, and bring the Pax Americana to an end right away..."

All right, well, draft your own version, but what could Bush possibly say to Sheehan that would qualify even remotely as an attempt to satisfy her without being a national disgrace. I can imagine being against the Iraq War. But I can't imagine wanting Bush to "tell Cindy Sheehan the truth," at least, unless "the truth" is that her particular combination of naivity and self-righteousness is poisonous, that she is as deranged as the people her son was fighting against; that there is an outside chance that she will, by turning public opinion against the war, get revenge against the people of Iraq for being liberated by her son, and other mothers, killed by jihadists, will experience the grief that she has; and that the progress of mankind may be measured by the extent to which we triumph over the Cindy Sheehan in each of us, the extent to which we face hardship with faith that it is still worthwhile to do right, the hope that through our sacrifices we will build a better future, and the love of liberty and of our fellow man, rather than letting grieve drive us into a frenzy of hate. I'd love to hear Bush tell her that.

What is odd is that, while skepticism about the Iraq War is becoming widespread, I think far more Americans, even those who oppose the war, would agree with "US Soldiers Are Heroes; Our Mission is Just and Honorable; Stay the Course," than with "Tell Cindy Sheehan the Truth." Far more Americans are basically behind the Iraq effort, even if some are doubtful about whether we've adequately defined its stopping place, than desire for Bush to abase himself and repudiate the toppling of Saddam, Israel, and the Pax Americana generally. Even if the Democrats want to oppose the war, Cindy Sheehan represents exactly what it is imperative for any responsible and patriotic Democrat to firmly, and preferably eloquently, repudiate. By treating Cindy Sheehan with respect, the media has done a great disservice to the country, and congressional Democrats, who aspire to be part of the apparatus of American power, should say so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

AMERICAN HAJJ: TOWARD AN OPEN SOCIETY

I'm afraid that the combination of my new World Bank job and my emerging relationship with Tech Central Station magazine is going to take the wind out of my blogging sails. I've published five articles there now, most recently these two:

"American Hajj: Toward an Open Society."

"Genuine Welfare Queens."

I love Tech Central Station. Ever since I discovered it, I've considered it the brainiest of all online magazine. So as long as I manage to keep getting published at TCS, that will suck my energies away from blogging. And I was particularly exhilarated to publish "American Hajj", the topic of which was immigration. I picked a provocative way to frame the issue and drew a lot of heat, but that's okay. Immigration generates visceral resistance, like immigration reform in the 1990s. I plunged into the debate in the feedback forum as well. Most of the commentary there was negative, but I got some more favorable links from Timothy Goddard and Steve MacMullen.

I took the GREs last week. Verbal 800 Math 780. That sounds good, but actually grad schools in economics are so competitive that my math score may be a handicap. Five years ago, I got a 750 on the Verbal and an 800 on the Math. So apparently, I've gotten better with words but worse with numbers.

Come to think of it, this job involves some travel too. So maybe that will be a stimulus to a different kind of blogging... travel-blogging...

Monday, August 08, 2005

Ron Brownstein argues that Republicans are "too self-reliant," in that they try to pass legislation only by achieving consensus within their own coalition, rather than by reaching out to Democrats.

I disagree. In the case of CAFTA, Democrats, who had a pretty good record on free trade in the last decades of the 20th century, turned solidly protectionist. In the case of Social Security reform, a lot of responsible Democrats including Bill Clinton were worried about the long-term fiscal crisis, but this year they suddenly turned to denial instead. The Democrats have abandoned the Clintonite center, retreating into a sort of reactionary post-paleoliberal funk. They refuse to accept the verdict of the 2000 and 2004 elections. Bush would like to cooperate with them. He offered to cooperate on Social Security reform, and he moved left on prescription drugs and on government big-spending generally, but the Democrats won't be appeased. So unless they want to follow up their victory by surrendering, Republicans have no choice but to cooperate with each other. If Democrats have been cut out of the legislative process, it's through their own choice.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

An interesting analysis of post-imperial Russia. As the husband of a Russian, I've seen Russians' peculiar attitudes towards their former empire up close. It seems to me they refuse to think through their situation properly. What do they want with their "near abroad" really? Why were they against Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine? In some ways, the collapse of the Soviet Union is a tragedy: it led to war in the Caucasus, to demographic and economic collapse, and to the dissolution of a political union which had some merits and might have been better maintained and adapted rather than destroyed. The "nations" that appeared, left high and dry by the Soviet collapse, were confused, uncertain, arbitrary. But if Russia doesn't plan to reconquer them-- presumably not-- I don't see how they can expect to have continuing influence there. And their refusal to make a total break with the legacy of Stalin is bizarre, perverse, and self-defeating. Of course any nation that lets itself be tainted with the shadow of a mass-murderer will be feared, reviled, and contained. What do they expect? What do they not understand?

A brilliant essay by Nick Cohen: "Why I've Been Excommunicated From the Left."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

EU, DREAMING

This run-down of the myths by which the EU has justified the expansion of its powers is amusing. They take credit for post-WWII peace on the continent (which of course was actually a result of NATO, American hegemony, and the Soviet threat) and for the spread of freedom and democracy to southern and eastern Europe. But this is disturbing:

According to opinion polls, Europeans consider the United States under George W. Bush the greatest threat to world peace. So European federalists now contend that there has to be a world balance of power. Everywhere it can, Europe offers itself as the civilized alternative to cowboy capitalist diplomacy. Naturally, it is dismissive of American ideas to advance democracy abroad. The EU snuggles up to the Chinese, allowing them to buy into Galileo, Europe’s satellite positioning system. In the Middle East, the EU is the friend of all Arabs and the enemy of Israel. On Iran and North Korea, Europe portrays itself as the mature, diplomatic alternative to Washington. The EU will aim to fulfill the anti-American dream of isolating the United States from all countries save Canada, Australia, and Britain. In this vision, Europe expands to include Turkey, Ukraine, North Africa, and perhaps even Russia. It also takes for granted that Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America will prefer to be guided by Europe, and that the Arabs and Chinese may be persuaded to someday trade in euros rather than dollars. After all, what country in its right mind would want to side with a cowboy capitalist system that threatens to impose its crude values on the rest of the planet?


Meanwhile, European voters are refusing to accept further integration; European economies are stagnating; Europe is unable to integrate its Muslim minorities, many of whom have come to despise, hate, and terrorize it; European populations are graying and are headed for decline; and European leaders are unpopular (except America's best friend, Tony Blair). That Brussels-broiled brains are still conjuring these fantasies is remarkable.

Irwin Stetzer thinks that the Republicans aren't claiming enough credit for the strong economy. But they may be cleverer than that. Bush doesn't need credit for the economic boom. He doesn't need any more re-electing. If the public doesn't notice the boom until 2006, then it will be more plausible to give credit for it to the Republican Congress. And they do need re-electing.

Friday, August 05, 2005

VIVA EL CHAVISMO

Probably against my better judgment, I have a sneaking admiration for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. I respect a guy who is willing to hurl down the gauntlet against a world order that he believes is unjust. Also, he seems to be fairly generous with Venezuela's oil money. Courageous defiance of an unjust order and generosity towards foreigners with his country's resources are also the virtues for which I most admire George W. Bush.

There's plenty that's disturbing in this Weekly Standard article about him. The regime seems to be spurring a new anti-Semitism at home, and abroad, the company Chavez keeps doesn't do him much credit. He's tight with totalitarians: right now he is on great terms with Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba; earlier he visited Saddam and embraced him as a "brother." What's intriguing is that most of these ties go across civilizational lines; Chavez leads a Latin and Catholic country, yet he is forging bonds with Islamofascists.

Chavez expresses solidarity with terrorists and tyrants, but as far as I know he himself hasn't committed any atrocities. In view of that, his solidarity with bad guys may be forgivable. It's a combination of being charitable-- a sort of weird application of "judge not that ye be not judged"-- and of an opinion that the "rogues" of this world are both lesser evils and enemies of an unjust order.

And it is an unjust order. American and European workers enjoy far higher wages, in large part because we shut our borders to foreign workers, preventing the benign forces of migration and arbitrage from bringing about a more equitable world. That injustice alone is more than enough to warrant all of Chavez's anger.

Also, Latin America is the most unequal region in the world. Whereas property in the US is based largely on work and merit, in Latin America it is based on privilege. I don't expect the likes of Chavez to be able to do much to improve the lot of the poor in Latin America. But I respect him and his "Bolivarian revolution," even if only for shaking his fist at it.

And we have one more thing to thank Chavez for: the menace he poses to US influence in Latin America helped to motivate the passage of CAFTA as a "national security vote" to keep Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala in the democratic column. If only Chavez would inspire Congress to deprive him of another ally by lifting the embargo on Cuba!