Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 5, 2008

Tour Mania

John McCain does a lot of “tours.” There was the Bio Tour, the tour to forgotten places (where Republicans rarely win), and the health care tour. This week is the tour for the GOP base. He’s giving them a week of talks on judges, abortion, pornography, and other topics which many social conservatives contend McCain has essentially ignored. This may help him. But the McCain team seems to be missing some more fundamental concerns of conservatives, social and otherwise.

Some are tactical. Why is McCain spending so much time crabbing about media coverage? This simply reinforces the sense among conservative establishment figures that McCain is too thin-skinned. They do have a point: it seems a bizarre waste of energy to grouse when mainstream media coverage of him, as in the “100 day” fight, generally has been quite fair. And if he and his team expect perfect accuracy from the New York Times, they are living in a political fantasyland.

Also high on the list of conservative grievances is McCain’s criticism of conservatives. His slamming of the North Carolina state GOP for its ad tying Democratic gubernatorial candidates to Barack Obama is a case in point. This perpetuates the nagging feeling among many movement Conservatives that McCain would rather jab his allies than attack his real foes.

On a broader level, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, McCain is still lacking an overarching theme or message for his domestic policy. So finding and articulating a consistent message might be a better strategy than three or four days of speeches on a select list of issues.

Now, it’s true that the vast majority of the Republican base (according to polls) has “come home” and is satisfied with McCain as the nominee. And it is likewise true that the election will be decided primarily by independents and those famous Reagan Democrats. Nevertheless, it would certainly help McCain to make sure he has his base secured–but to do it in a way that is meaningful and constructive. It’s not clear that he’s figured out yet how to do that.

John McCain does a lot of “tours.” There was the Bio Tour, the tour to forgotten places (where Republicans rarely win), and the health care tour. This week is the tour for the GOP base. He’s giving them a week of talks on judges, abortion, pornography, and other topics which many social conservatives contend McCain has essentially ignored. This may help him. But the McCain team seems to be missing some more fundamental concerns of conservatives, social and otherwise.

Some are tactical. Why is McCain spending so much time crabbing about media coverage? This simply reinforces the sense among conservative establishment figures that McCain is too thin-skinned. They do have a point: it seems a bizarre waste of energy to grouse when mainstream media coverage of him, as in the “100 day” fight, generally has been quite fair. And if he and his team expect perfect accuracy from the New York Times, they are living in a political fantasyland.

Also high on the list of conservative grievances is McCain’s criticism of conservatives. His slamming of the North Carolina state GOP for its ad tying Democratic gubernatorial candidates to Barack Obama is a case in point. This perpetuates the nagging feeling among many movement Conservatives that McCain would rather jab his allies than attack his real foes.

On a broader level, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, McCain is still lacking an overarching theme or message for his domestic policy. So finding and articulating a consistent message might be a better strategy than three or four days of speeches on a select list of issues.

Now, it’s true that the vast majority of the Republican base (according to polls) has “come home” and is satisfied with McCain as the nominee. And it is likewise true that the election will be decided primarily by independents and those famous Reagan Democrats. Nevertheless, it would certainly help McCain to make sure he has his base secured–but to do it in a way that is meaningful and constructive. It’s not clear that he’s figured out yet how to do that.

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A “Post-American” Food Crisis?

Scholars, pundits, and plain old citizens of the globe are fond of talking about the “Post-American World” now on the rise. With the growing economies of non-Western countries, so the argument goes, American influence ain’t what it used to be. Emerging economic dynamos don’t need the U.S. the way they once did, so America better start winding down all that policing-the-globe stuff and all that American imposition of values and traditions, etc.

So: how is the “Post-American World” managing the current global food crisis?

On Friday, in a statement praising growing Asian economies, George Bush cited Asia’s rising wealth as a factor in the crisis: “When you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. . . And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.” Bush recognizes rising Asian economies, and describes a cause-and-effect dynamic occurring within Asia. Very post-American, if you ask me.

How did it go over?

India will not accept such interference. The government should take serious note of the U.S. president’s statement and give a strong reply,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, vice president of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party.

In other words. “How dare America ‘interfere’ by saying this is our problem?” For more “post-American” Indian opinion, you can read this editorial titled “U.S. Cooperation Can Lessen Food Crisis Food Crisis,” from India’s Economic Times.

Of course, America is “interfering” in the way it usually does on such occasion: by pledging exorbitant funds to save the lives of people in far-away lands. Bush just approved a $770 million aid package to keep people alive in the countries hardest hit. Let’s keep an eye out for any “post-Americans” ready to match it.

Scholars, pundits, and plain old citizens of the globe are fond of talking about the “Post-American World” now on the rise. With the growing economies of non-Western countries, so the argument goes, American influence ain’t what it used to be. Emerging economic dynamos don’t need the U.S. the way they once did, so America better start winding down all that policing-the-globe stuff and all that American imposition of values and traditions, etc.

So: how is the “Post-American World” managing the current global food crisis?

On Friday, in a statement praising growing Asian economies, George Bush cited Asia’s rising wealth as a factor in the crisis: “When you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. . . And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.” Bush recognizes rising Asian economies, and describes a cause-and-effect dynamic occurring within Asia. Very post-American, if you ask me.

How did it go over?

India will not accept such interference. The government should take serious note of the U.S. president’s statement and give a strong reply,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, vice president of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party.

In other words. “How dare America ‘interfere’ by saying this is our problem?” For more “post-American” Indian opinion, you can read this editorial titled “U.S. Cooperation Can Lessen Food Crisis Food Crisis,” from India’s Economic Times.

Of course, America is “interfering” in the way it usually does on such occasion: by pledging exorbitant funds to save the lives of people in far-away lands. Bush just approved a $770 million aid package to keep people alive in the countries hardest hit. Let’s keep an eye out for any “post-Americans” ready to match it.

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Laboring Under A Misconception

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been dueling for the approval and support of Big Labor. Both have supported nearly every item on their wish list–including opposing secret ballot union elections and the Colombia free trade deal. Now Obama is in some hot water for (at the very least) giving the Teamsters the impression that he would lift the government supervision of the union which was enacted after mob infiltration and corruption were uncovered in the 1980′s. (The Teamsters, not surprisingly, rewarded him with their endorsement.)

If the shoe was on the other foot, and John McCain was carrying water for a corporate special interest, you could bet there would be a hue and cry. The reaction to the Democrats’ abject pandering to Big Labor is rather ho-hum, especially in the case of the Agent of Change. The media never seems to raise the concern that his devotion to banishing special interests is a bit one-sided (that is, he’s all for banishing the other guy’s special-interest supporters). Part of this is the media’s disinclination to press Obama and part is the fault of the McCain camp, which seems more obsessed with its own candidate’s image and press coverage than publicly and consistently going after his potential Democratic opponents for hypocrisy. So from the Democrats’ perspective, there is little downside if they keep on pandering to the whims of Big Labor.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been dueling for the approval and support of Big Labor. Both have supported nearly every item on their wish list–including opposing secret ballot union elections and the Colombia free trade deal. Now Obama is in some hot water for (at the very least) giving the Teamsters the impression that he would lift the government supervision of the union which was enacted after mob infiltration and corruption were uncovered in the 1980′s. (The Teamsters, not surprisingly, rewarded him with their endorsement.)

If the shoe was on the other foot, and John McCain was carrying water for a corporate special interest, you could bet there would be a hue and cry. The reaction to the Democrats’ abject pandering to Big Labor is rather ho-hum, especially in the case of the Agent of Change. The media never seems to raise the concern that his devotion to banishing special interests is a bit one-sided (that is, he’s all for banishing the other guy’s special-interest supporters). Part of this is the media’s disinclination to press Obama and part is the fault of the McCain camp, which seems more obsessed with its own candidate’s image and press coverage than publicly and consistently going after his potential Democratic opponents for hypocrisy. So from the Democrats’ perspective, there is little downside if they keep on pandering to the whims of Big Labor.

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Hitting the Streets in Jenin

So much of the Palestinian state-building project, or at least those parts of it that actually exist, are shot through with ready-made excuses. The latest news from this front is a long report from the Washington Post’s new Jerusalem correspondent, Griff Witte, about the training difficulties of the newest batch of Palestinian Presidential Guardsmen in Jordan. Witte is all but unequivocal about the nature of the problems: Israel hasn’t delivered first aid kits, flashlights, and uniforms to the PA.

But deep down in the piece, we read of other problems, problems readers might be forgiven for interpreting as having little to do with a dearth of canteens and radios:

One called the final field exercise for the Presidential Guard “a complete fiasco” that included the “‘killing’ of civilians and blue-on-blue engagements.” The term “blue on blue” refers to members of security forces accidentally or intentionally firing on each other rather than their targets. . . .

The American, who talked on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, also spoke of the training supervisors putting on what he called “a dog-and-pony show” when U.S. congressional delegations or other visitors came to the site.

All this is part of an $86 million U.S. appropriation for the creation of a competent, non-terrorist Palestinian security force. We’re closing in on two decades of failed attempts to create such an entity. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Israel’s creation, it’s interesting to think about the pre-state Jewish security forces and their comparatively paralyzing lack of equipment and training, and the absence of millions of dollars in foreign aid for their preparation. The Jewish security forces were possessed of the one irreplaceable thing that can never be purchased by a foreign power or inculcated during training in Jordan: they were adherents to a genuine nationalist movement.

So much of the Palestinian state-building project, or at least those parts of it that actually exist, are shot through with ready-made excuses. The latest news from this front is a long report from the Washington Post’s new Jerusalem correspondent, Griff Witte, about the training difficulties of the newest batch of Palestinian Presidential Guardsmen in Jordan. Witte is all but unequivocal about the nature of the problems: Israel hasn’t delivered first aid kits, flashlights, and uniforms to the PA.

But deep down in the piece, we read of other problems, problems readers might be forgiven for interpreting as having little to do with a dearth of canteens and radios:

One called the final field exercise for the Presidential Guard “a complete fiasco” that included the “‘killing’ of civilians and blue-on-blue engagements.” The term “blue on blue” refers to members of security forces accidentally or intentionally firing on each other rather than their targets. . . .

The American, who talked on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, also spoke of the training supervisors putting on what he called “a dog-and-pony show” when U.S. congressional delegations or other visitors came to the site.

All this is part of an $86 million U.S. appropriation for the creation of a competent, non-terrorist Palestinian security force. We’re closing in on two decades of failed attempts to create such an entity. As we approach the 60th anniversary of Israel’s creation, it’s interesting to think about the pre-state Jewish security forces and their comparatively paralyzing lack of equipment and training, and the absence of millions of dollars in foreign aid for their preparation. The Jewish security forces were possessed of the one irreplaceable thing that can never be purchased by a foreign power or inculcated during training in Jordan: they were adherents to a genuine nationalist movement.

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The View from the Continent

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

Last week I was in London attending a Global Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute, the Princeton Project on National Security, Newsweek International, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP. The attendees–from both the United States and Europe–included academics, scholars, journalists, diplomatic advisers and others who inhabit the foreign policy world. The event was well-organized, the conversations wide-ranging, and there was a genuine effort to hear from a diversity of voices (hence my invitation). But there is no question that the dominant outlook of most of those in attendance was left-leaning, which itself made the trip illuminating.

I came away from the gathering (portions of which I missed) with several broad impressions. One was that multilateralism has become virtually an end in itself. What matters to many Europeans and liberal-leaning Americans is the process rather than the results. What almost never gets discussed is what happens when one’s desire for multilateralism collides with achieving a worthy end (for example, trying to stop genocide in Darfur or prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb). The child-like faith in multilateralism as the solution to all that ails the world would be touchingly innocent if it weren’t so terribly dangerous.

There were the predictable assertions made about how the United States, under George W. Bush, was “unilateralist” and that, in the words of one former Clinton Administration official, “multilateralism was a dirty word” in the Bush Administration. This charge is simplistic and demonstrably untrue–and one could cite as evidence everything from the lead up to the Iraq war (in which the United States went to the UN not once but twice, and gained unanimous approval of Resolution 1441); the war itself (which included support from the governments of Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Norway, El Salvador and many other nations); the E3; the Quartet; the Six Party Talks; the Proliferation Security Initiative; a slew of free trade agreements; and more. In fact the Bush Administration was criticized by Democrats for being too multilateralist in their dealings with North Korea; it was said by John Kerry, among other liberals, that we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea rather than rely on the Six Party Talks.

Another impression I had was that many (if not most) Europeans and American foreign policy experts are caught in a time warp, acting as if we are still in 2006. They simply want to wash their hands of Iraq. They hate the war, are seemingly impervious to the security and political progress we have seen in Iraq since last summer, and they want the next Administration to downplay Iraq as an issue, which they believe has “obsessed” the Bush presidency. What they don’t seem to understand is that ending U.S. involvement in the war won’t end the war. In fact, if Obama or Clinton follow up on their stated commitments, it is likely to trigger mass death and possibly genocide, revitalize al Qaeda, strengthen Iran, and further destabilize the region. The irony would be that the plans laid out by Democrats, if followed, would increase, not decrease, Iraq’s dominance of American foreign policy. An Iraq that is cracking up and caught in a death spiral is not something that even a President Obama or Clinton could ignore.

The third impression I came away with is the widespread view in Europe, as well as among some Americans, that the U.S. has suffered a huge, almost incalculable, loss of “moral authority” (its worth recalling that we heard much the same thing during the Reagan years). The evidence cited is always the same: Guantanamo Bay, rendition and secret prisons, and waterboarding. They are invoked like an incantation. The effect of this is that you would think that the United States is among the leading violators of human rights in the world.

During one of the panel sessions I said it was fine to place on one side of the moral ledger waterboarding three leading al Qaeda figures, which I consider to be a morally complicated issue–but that it’s also worth putting on the other side of the moral ledger the fact that we liberated more than 50 million people from two of the most odious and repressive regimes in modern history. Liberation was not the only impulse that drove the two wars, but it was one of them, and a noble one at that. I borrowed a line from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic who, while a harsh critic of the execution of the Bush Administration, has written “I find it impossible to denounce a war that led to the removal of a genocidal dictator.” That is especially true now that we have the right strategy in place, that we’re seeing progress on almost every front, and that we have a decent shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. The situation is still hugely challenging and success, if we achieve it, will be long in coming. But the collapse of will that I witnessed among some leading foreign policy voices on both sides of the Atlantic, while not surprising, was still discouraging. It is no wonder that world leaders who do not share that exhaustion are the objects of condemnation.

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Too Late For The High Ground?

Barack Obama is complaining loudly to all who will listen that Hillary Clinton is taking the low road on the gas tax holiday. He argues that she is defying virtually all opinion from credible economists that this is poor energy policy.

Well, he might have more credibility as defender of the economic high ground and sound policy had he not fanned the flames of protectionist sentiment in state after state. It was he, after all, who told Ohio voters and Pennsylvania voters that job losses were the legacy of NAFTA (wrong), that open trade had drained the U.S. of its manufacturing base (wrong again), and that the road to recovery started with ripping up a trade treaty with our two nearest geograhical neighbors (really wrong).

So if he complains that the conversation has been debased, that politicians pander to fears instead of educating the public about hard choices, and that Clinton is winning by playing fast and loose with the facts, he might look in the mirror to see someone equally responsible for the economic illiteracy which now dominates the Democratic primary. If you want to set a standard for high-minded campaigning, it is generally best to stick to your own high standards.

Barack Obama is complaining loudly to all who will listen that Hillary Clinton is taking the low road on the gas tax holiday. He argues that she is defying virtually all opinion from credible economists that this is poor energy policy.

Well, he might have more credibility as defender of the economic high ground and sound policy had he not fanned the flames of protectionist sentiment in state after state. It was he, after all, who told Ohio voters and Pennsylvania voters that job losses were the legacy of NAFTA (wrong), that open trade had drained the U.S. of its manufacturing base (wrong again), and that the road to recovery started with ripping up a trade treaty with our two nearest geograhical neighbors (really wrong).

So if he complains that the conversation has been debased, that politicians pander to fears instead of educating the public about hard choices, and that Clinton is winning by playing fast and loose with the facts, he might look in the mirror to see someone equally responsible for the economic illiteracy which now dominates the Democratic primary. If you want to set a standard for high-minded campaigning, it is generally best to stick to your own high standards.

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Is Europe Heading Right?

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

Silvio Berlusconi is planning to appoint Roberto Calderoli, a far-Right critic of Islam, to his cabinet. Two years ago, during the first Danish cartoon firestorm, Calderoli went on television wearing a T-shirt bearing one of the offending images. A brave and admirable defense of freedom of expression in and of itself. But Calderoli didn’t stop at T-shirt activism. He threatened, cringe-inducingly, to walk a pig over the site of a proposed mosque in Padua. Then he made a headfirst dive into quasi-Fascism: After France lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup, Calderoli bragged that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding niggers, Muslims and communists.”

Berlusconi’s plan to appoint the former Reform Minister, along with other recent electoral shifts on the continent, raise a vital two-part question: Is Europe moving right? And, if so, how far?

Over the past six or so years, continental utopianism failed to produce the kind of unified EU we had been hearing so much about. Moreover, Europe’s hush-hush approach to Euro-Muslim relations failed to address the continued waves of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, witnessed everywhere from France to Italy to Spain to England to Holland. Europe talks a fabulous game of tolerance, but plays a ruthless game of tribal rugby. With some exceptions (Spain, for example) there’s increasing evidence that that most intemperate beast, the European Right, is awakening.

Witness the candidacy of Le Pen in France, or the career of Holland’s Pim Fortuyn, ended by assassination. Or take this week. In Italy, there’s the case of Berlusconi and his extreme potential appointee. Over the weekend, in England, staunch anti-Islamist Boris Johnson defeated Islamist apologist Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral race. Not troubling (perhaps even heartening) in itself. But on the heels of that victory, the extreme-Right British National Party’s Richard Barnbrook became the first BNP candidate ever to nab a seat in the London Assembly. To get the flavor of what Barnbrook is all about, consider this from the Daily Mail:

In public, Barnbrook has long favoured what one acquaintance calls a “Stormtrooper” brown suit and matching tie, which even his supporters feel is rather too suggestive of a Nuremberg rally for his electoral good.

Yikes. The problem with the European Right is that for every Berlusconi there’s a Calderoli, and for every Boris Johnson there’s a Barnbrook. Without a politically-defined national identity comparable to that of the United States, European nations are unable to mount a defense of ideals separate from a defense of (usually racialized) identity.

But one solution to the European conundrum may lie in the example of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has said he wants to make France more like America. This means cutting back the extensive state benefits that keep the French from fully contributing to their country and attract hordes of equally unmotivated immigrants. It means saying no to Islamization without discarding religious plurality. It’s been slow going for “Sarko the American,” but moderation takes time. Extreme policies can be enacted instantly, without regard for side-effects. But that lack of caution is precisely what makes it–and politicians like Calderoli and Barnbrook– dangerous.

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Deporting Chinese Students

Last Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that it will deport Chinese citizens found guilty of attacks during the running of the Olympic torch in Seoul last month. “The justice ministry, while fully respecting the friendly ties between South Korea and China, will sternly punish Chinese nationals who committed illegal acts,” a ministry spokesman said. The authorities were specifically looking for four Chinese, including a student suspected of injuring a policeman in a fight in a hotel lobby at the end of the torch relay.

Small South Korea has historically had trouble dealing with large China, yet Seoul’s officials have now found the courage to stand up to Beijing, which had earlier rushed to the defense of the students. So what is the most powerful country in the history of the world doing about its Chinese student problem?

Chinese students in the United States made a series of death threats last month. The most prominent incident involved Grace Wang, a Duke freshman who tried to mediate between twelve pro-Tibet protestors and a crowd of about 500 angry people, mostly Chinese citizens. As a result, her home in China was vandalized, her family there was forced into hiding, and she became the target of death threats in the United States.

Those who made threats against Wang should be found, jailed, and, if foreign nationals, deported. And that goes for all the others who made death threats on American colleges during the last couple months. Universities are vital institutions, and attempts to undermine freedom of expression on campus strike at the heart of our society. There should be zero tolerance for such intolerance. And Washington needs to send a clear message to Beijing, which appears to have orchestrated the “pro-China” demonstrations of students.

It’s bad enough that the Chinese Communist Party represses China’s people. It’s worse when it seeks to repress ours.

Last Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that it will deport Chinese citizens found guilty of attacks during the running of the Olympic torch in Seoul last month. “The justice ministry, while fully respecting the friendly ties between South Korea and China, will sternly punish Chinese nationals who committed illegal acts,” a ministry spokesman said. The authorities were specifically looking for four Chinese, including a student suspected of injuring a policeman in a fight in a hotel lobby at the end of the torch relay.

Small South Korea has historically had trouble dealing with large China, yet Seoul’s officials have now found the courage to stand up to Beijing, which had earlier rushed to the defense of the students. So what is the most powerful country in the history of the world doing about its Chinese student problem?

Chinese students in the United States made a series of death threats last month. The most prominent incident involved Grace Wang, a Duke freshman who tried to mediate between twelve pro-Tibet protestors and a crowd of about 500 angry people, mostly Chinese citizens. As a result, her home in China was vandalized, her family there was forced into hiding, and she became the target of death threats in the United States.

Those who made threats against Wang should be found, jailed, and, if foreign nationals, deported. And that goes for all the others who made death threats on American colleges during the last couple months. Universities are vital institutions, and attempts to undermine freedom of expression on campus strike at the heart of our society. There should be zero tolerance for such intolerance. And Washington needs to send a clear message to Beijing, which appears to have orchestrated the “pro-China” demonstrations of students.

It’s bad enough that the Chinese Communist Party represses China’s people. It’s worse when it seeks to repress ours.

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The Doctor Is In

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.

Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?

All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.

In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.

Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:

I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.

But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.

Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are stumping many of the political gurus. Because they behave in ways entirely contrary to their own self-interest (e.g. Clinton’s lying about Bosnia, Obama’s not dumping Wright when his campaign started), pundits search for psychological explanations and deeper meaning to be gleaned from these episodes.

Does her fragile grip on the truth suggest that she divorces herself from painful realities? Does his inability to recognize bad actors in his personal and even professional life (e.g. Ayers, Rezko, Wright) suggest he won’t be able to spot menaces on the world stage?

All of this is like reading tea leaves, trying to figure out–based on scant (and some would argue not relevant) information–the personalities and predispositions of very glib, very smart people whose entire campaigns are designed to persuade, cajole and, to a degree, conceal their candidates’ worst characteristics.

In that regard, Clinton and John McCain have a bit of an advantage. We know how they behave, for better or worse, over a long period of time on the public stage. With Obama, average voters have only a thimbleful of information in his Senate record. So it is not only appropriate they should examine these scraps of data about him, but even necessary.

Obama has started pleading with voters to consider the Wright matter only as evidence of his judgment in the context of his entire career. On Meet The Press he said:

I think it’s fair for people to look at this episode along with all the other things that I’ve done over the last 20 years. You know, when you’re running for president, your life’s an open book, and I think that people have a right to flip the hood and kick the tires, and, and this is one element of a much larger track record that has led me to not only run for president, but to help build a movement all across the country to bring about change.

But let’s be realistic: the average voter has no clue what Obama did in his 20-year career, the vast majority of which was spent in relative obscurity in Illinois state and local politics and community organizing. Running on the scantiest record of any serious contender in recent memory, he has left voters little choice but to ponder the tidbits of data unearthed during the campaign.

Obama may not like it. But it’s most of what voters have to rely on as they decide what kind of person he is and what type of President he’ll turn out to be. And frankly, it may be more illuminating that probing the minutiae of his state senate record.

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Embraced

There’s a very “balanced” piece about the planned Flight 93 memorial in today’s New York Times. But this surreal tale has been kicking around the blogosphere for a few years now.

In the name of Islam, a group of terrorists turned an airplane full of unsuspecting civilians into a missile packed with corpses. In order to honor the men, women, and children whose last experience was a death plunge over Pennsylvania, a memorial is designed. This memorial, named “Crescent of Embrace,” is a massive landscape sculpture of a star and crescent, the symbol of Islam.

The memorial’s designer, Paul Murdoch, said “The framing of that space is like a large-scale embrace, on a scale commensurate of the heroic acts of the people who died there.” There’s more than enough vagueness in that drivel to leave you wondering just whose acts Murdoch deems heroic.

The original design has to be seen to be believed. It’s as unmistakably an Islamic crescent as Mount Rushmore is a row of U.S. presidents. This is from the Times:

The critics complain that the shape of the memorial – designed by Paul Murdoch, an architect based in Los Angeles – is an Islamic crescent, that a wind-chime tower mirrors an Islamic minaret and that the memorial would point east toward the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Here’s an experiment: Take out the words “The critics complain that” and take out the “that” after “crescent.” Look at the picture of the original design for the memorial side-by-side with a picture of an Islamic crescent. Can there be any doubt that “the critics” are merely observers? And sloppy observers to boot. They missed something: the little satellite cluster of trees standing in place of the crescent’s star.

Is there a term to describe this phenomenon? Irony doesn’t cut it, and self-loathing misses the irony. Forget the nuances. Let’s go with surrender. For that’s what the symbol literally says. The Arabic meaning of Islam is “surrender” (not “peace” or “love” or any other rubber-bracelet sentiment). Constructing the “Crescent of Embrace” on a Pennsylvania field is simply writing “we surrender” in the very language of our enemy.

People have complained, and the Times reports that the design has been changed. It’s now the “Circle of Embrace.” The crescent’s gap has been (mostly) filled in, giving the Islamic symbolism a “Where’s Waldo?” spin. It’s still in there, you just have to look a little harder. Of course, the design and the designer should have been scrapped altogether. But amid all this embracing, it would be rude to leave him out.

If and when there’s another such attack, one wonders what they might throw up to commemorate victims. Maybe an all-in-one flight school, passport office, and mosque?

There’s a very “balanced” piece about the planned Flight 93 memorial in today’s New York Times. But this surreal tale has been kicking around the blogosphere for a few years now.

In the name of Islam, a group of terrorists turned an airplane full of unsuspecting civilians into a missile packed with corpses. In order to honor the men, women, and children whose last experience was a death plunge over Pennsylvania, a memorial is designed. This memorial, named “Crescent of Embrace,” is a massive landscape sculpture of a star and crescent, the symbol of Islam.

The memorial’s designer, Paul Murdoch, said “The framing of that space is like a large-scale embrace, on a scale commensurate of the heroic acts of the people who died there.” There’s more than enough vagueness in that drivel to leave you wondering just whose acts Murdoch deems heroic.

The original design has to be seen to be believed. It’s as unmistakably an Islamic crescent as Mount Rushmore is a row of U.S. presidents. This is from the Times:

The critics complain that the shape of the memorial – designed by Paul Murdoch, an architect based in Los Angeles – is an Islamic crescent, that a wind-chime tower mirrors an Islamic minaret and that the memorial would point east toward the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

Here’s an experiment: Take out the words “The critics complain that” and take out the “that” after “crescent.” Look at the picture of the original design for the memorial side-by-side with a picture of an Islamic crescent. Can there be any doubt that “the critics” are merely observers? And sloppy observers to boot. They missed something: the little satellite cluster of trees standing in place of the crescent’s star.

Is there a term to describe this phenomenon? Irony doesn’t cut it, and self-loathing misses the irony. Forget the nuances. Let’s go with surrender. For that’s what the symbol literally says. The Arabic meaning of Islam is “surrender” (not “peace” or “love” or any other rubber-bracelet sentiment). Constructing the “Crescent of Embrace” on a Pennsylvania field is simply writing “we surrender” in the very language of our enemy.

People have complained, and the Times reports that the design has been changed. It’s now the “Circle of Embrace.” The crescent’s gap has been (mostly) filled in, giving the Islamic symbolism a “Where’s Waldo?” spin. It’s still in there, you just have to look a little harder. Of course, the design and the designer should have been scrapped altogether. But amid all this embracing, it would be rude to leave him out.

If and when there’s another such attack, one wonders what they might throw up to commemorate victims. Maybe an all-in-one flight school, passport office, and mosque?

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We Wouldn’t Want To Upset The U.N.

Barack Obama on Meet The Press took strong exception to Hillary Clinton’s threat to obliterate Iran if it attacks Israel with nuclear weapons:

MR. RUSSERT: What do you think of that language?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, it’s not the language that we need right now, and I think it’s language that’s reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk, and, in the meantime, we make a series of strategic decisions that actually strengthen Iran. So–and, you know, the irony is, of course, Senator Clinton, during the course of this campaign, has at times said, “We shouldn’t speculate about Iran.” You know, “We’ve got to be cautious when we’re running for president.” She scolded me on a couple of occasions about this issue, and yet, a few days before an election, she’s willing to use that language. But in terms of… terms of…

. . .

MR. RUSSERT: Would you respond against Iran?

SEN. OBAMA: It–Israel is a ally of ours. It is the most important ally we have in the region, and there’s no doubt that we would act forcefully and appropriately on any attack against Iran, nuclear or otherwise. So–but it is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we’re shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we’ve seen out of George Bush. And this kind of language is not helpful. When Iran is able to go to the United Nations complaining about the statements made and get some sympathy, that’s a sign that we are taking the wrong approach.

It is nice to know that the new standard in an Obama administration will be: “Will X make us less popular at the UN?”Given the frequency of pronouncements condemning Israel and the need for U.S. vetoes and strong responses in defense of Israel, one wonders how this will work out in practice.

It’s unclear if the the Democratic primary electorate is entirely bereft of common sense. If not, this may become an issue for Clinton with which to question Obama’s fitness as commander-in-chief. (Watch her rather clear-headed response to Obama’s comments here.) It certainly will be one in the general election–should Obama get that far.

Barack Obama on Meet The Press took strong exception to Hillary Clinton’s threat to obliterate Iran if it attacks Israel with nuclear weapons:

MR. RUSSERT: What do you think of that language?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, it’s not the language that we need right now, and I think it’s language that’s reflective of George Bush. We have had a foreign policy of bluster and saber-rattling and tough talk, and, in the meantime, we make a series of strategic decisions that actually strengthen Iran. So–and, you know, the irony is, of course, Senator Clinton, during the course of this campaign, has at times said, “We shouldn’t speculate about Iran.” You know, “We’ve got to be cautious when we’re running for president.” She scolded me on a couple of occasions about this issue, and yet, a few days before an election, she’s willing to use that language. But in terms of… terms of…

. . .

MR. RUSSERT: Would you respond against Iran?

SEN. OBAMA: It–Israel is a ally of ours. It is the most important ally we have in the region, and there’s no doubt that we would act forcefully and appropriately on any attack against Iran, nuclear or otherwise. So–but it is important that we use language that sends a signal to the world community that we’re shifting from the sort of cowboy diplomacy, or lack of diplomacy, that we’ve seen out of George Bush. And this kind of language is not helpful. When Iran is able to go to the United Nations complaining about the statements made and get some sympathy, that’s a sign that we are taking the wrong approach.

It is nice to know that the new standard in an Obama administration will be: “Will X make us less popular at the UN?”Given the frequency of pronouncements condemning Israel and the need for U.S. vetoes and strong responses in defense of Israel, one wonders how this will work out in practice.

It’s unclear if the the Democratic primary electorate is entirely bereft of common sense. If not, this may become an issue for Clinton with which to question Obama’s fitness as commander-in-chief. (Watch her rather clear-headed response to Obama’s comments here.) It certainly will be one in the general election–should Obama get that far.

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Rallies Are So February

Barack Obama is apparently giving up on the mass rallies that impressed the pundits and gave endless copy to reporters about swooning girls, packed gyms, and record-breaking crowds. His campaign says the rally scenes have become a “monotonous backdrop.”

I think this means several things. First, the media finally noticed that he was giving the same speech over and over again. Second, young people fill mass rallies in crowded gyms, but not the people he needs to expand his base– working class voters and seniors, for example.

In some ways this is indicative of his entire campaign. The tactics that got him primary wins and adulation in January and February (big crowds, high-flying rhetoric) are now outmoded and insufficient. Some previously enthusiastic pundits have gone so far as to say:

This is a campaign that hasn’t won anything in some eight weeks; it’s a candidacy and message that seems tired . . . Obama looked almost like a victim. That’s not where an American presidential candidate wants to be.

The question remains whether Obama’s retail political talents, policy positions (does opposing gas tax relief win primaries?), and press interview skills are sufficient to match Hillary Clinton’s. That’s one of many questions the Indiana and North Carolina results will answer on Tuesday night.

Barack Obama is apparently giving up on the mass rallies that impressed the pundits and gave endless copy to reporters about swooning girls, packed gyms, and record-breaking crowds. His campaign says the rally scenes have become a “monotonous backdrop.”

I think this means several things. First, the media finally noticed that he was giving the same speech over and over again. Second, young people fill mass rallies in crowded gyms, but not the people he needs to expand his base– working class voters and seniors, for example.

In some ways this is indicative of his entire campaign. The tactics that got him primary wins and adulation in January and February (big crowds, high-flying rhetoric) are now outmoded and insufficient. Some previously enthusiastic pundits have gone so far as to say:

This is a campaign that hasn’t won anything in some eight weeks; it’s a candidacy and message that seems tired . . . Obama looked almost like a victim. That’s not where an American presidential candidate wants to be.

The question remains whether Obama’s retail political talents, policy positions (does opposing gas tax relief win primaries?), and press interview skills are sufficient to match Hillary Clinton’s. That’s one of many questions the Indiana and North Carolina results will answer on Tuesday night.

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Obama’s Missile Gap

Is Joseph Cirincione Barack Obama’s “top advisor” on nuclear affairs, as I stated here last week? He has denied it adamantly (scroll down to the comments section of my post), and even though I could not identify any other nuclear experts closer to the candidate, I am happy to take him at his word. It would be better to call him an Obama nuclear advisor rather than his top nuclear advisor.

Whatever his precise status in the campaign, there is no question about his views. Cirincione has backed away from his assertion that the Syrian facility destroyed by Israel last September was not a nuclear reactor. But does he stand by his views on missile defense?

Writing in the Globalist back in October, Cirincione compared the Bush administration’s effort to defend against Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles to “the Israeli settler movement,” saying that both “want to create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for successors to reverse course.”

On the one hand, he argues, spending billions to build radar stations and interceptor sites in Poland and the Czech republic is pouring money down the drain: “All evidence indicates that this U.S. anti-missile system is incapable of intercepting any long-range missiles.”

On the other hand, he argues, we are terrifying the Kremlin through our recklessness. “Russian military planners cannot count” on the fact that the system won’t work.  Indeed “the U.S. bases would have a real, though limited, capability against Russia’s nuclear deterrent force.”

Will it or won’t it work? Or will it only work against Russian missiles and let Iranian ones fly through? I confess to being confused.

Either way, what does Cirincione propose instead? “If the administration had any sense,” he writes, “it would ditch this technologically weak and strategically unnecessary plan — and instead seize the Russian proposal to use the radar at its Azerbaijan base bordering Iran.”

True, “that radar is not as powerful as the American radar” slated for deployment in the Czech republic. But never mind, even if the Russian proposal won’t work, it will work. The Azerbaijan radar would serve to “provide real military capabilities against any future Iranian threat.”

Am I alone thinking that this line of argument is a remarkably brazen attempt to have things both ways?

Memo to Barack Obama: when the time comes this fall to debate John McCain on defense issues, it might be helpful to get a second opinion from another adviser rather than two contradictory ones from Joseph Cirincione.

Is Joseph Cirincione Barack Obama’s “top advisor” on nuclear affairs, as I stated here last week? He has denied it adamantly (scroll down to the comments section of my post), and even though I could not identify any other nuclear experts closer to the candidate, I am happy to take him at his word. It would be better to call him an Obama nuclear advisor rather than his top nuclear advisor.

Whatever his precise status in the campaign, there is no question about his views. Cirincione has backed away from his assertion that the Syrian facility destroyed by Israel last September was not a nuclear reactor. But does he stand by his views on missile defense?

Writing in the Globalist back in October, Cirincione compared the Bush administration’s effort to defend against Iranian nuclear-tipped missiles to “the Israeli settler movement,” saying that both “want to create facts on the ground that will make it difficult for successors to reverse course.”

On the one hand, he argues, spending billions to build radar stations and interceptor sites in Poland and the Czech republic is pouring money down the drain: “All evidence indicates that this U.S. anti-missile system is incapable of intercepting any long-range missiles.”

On the other hand, he argues, we are terrifying the Kremlin through our recklessness. “Russian military planners cannot count” on the fact that the system won’t work.  Indeed “the U.S. bases would have a real, though limited, capability against Russia’s nuclear deterrent force.”

Will it or won’t it work? Or will it only work against Russian missiles and let Iranian ones fly through? I confess to being confused.

Either way, what does Cirincione propose instead? “If the administration had any sense,” he writes, “it would ditch this technologically weak and strategically unnecessary plan — and instead seize the Russian proposal to use the radar at its Azerbaijan base bordering Iran.”

True, “that radar is not as powerful as the American radar” slated for deployment in the Czech republic. But never mind, even if the Russian proposal won’t work, it will work. The Azerbaijan radar would serve to “provide real military capabilities against any future Iranian threat.”

Am I alone thinking that this line of argument is a remarkably brazen attempt to have things both ways?

Memo to Barack Obama: when the time comes this fall to debate John McCain on defense issues, it might be helpful to get a second opinion from another adviser rather than two contradictory ones from Joseph Cirincione.

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