Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 30, 2011

U.S. Troop Increase in Persian Gulf Won’t Make Up for Iraqi Withdrawal

U.S. officials are fooling themselves if they think their plans to bolster the U.S. troop presence in other Persian Gulf countries will make up for the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. Having troops in the smaller Gulf emirates–as we currently do–is certainly a good thing: It helps to deter Iranian aggression and safeguard the world’s supply of oil. (It also can put us in an awkward position when allies like Bahrain commit human rights abuses–but that’s another story.)

In the worst case scenario, it could allow us to reenter Iraq in force. But it’s hard to imagine what that scenario might be. What, short of an Iranian invasion, would lead us to dispatch substantial troop numbers to Iraq? More likely, even if the situation deteriorates in Iraq, we will wind up sitting on the sidelines, because sending troops to a country where they are not currently present is a momentous step that we (rightly) don’t take lightly. That will leave us virtually helpless to stop the machinations of the Iranians and their agents in Iraq, even if they use Iraq to evade international sanctions–as Kim and Fred Kagan and Marissa Cochrane Sullivan warn in this trenchant Weekly Standard article.

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U.S. officials are fooling themselves if they think their plans to bolster the U.S. troop presence in other Persian Gulf countries will make up for the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. Having troops in the smaller Gulf emirates–as we currently do–is certainly a good thing: It helps to deter Iranian aggression and safeguard the world’s supply of oil. (It also can put us in an awkward position when allies like Bahrain commit human rights abuses–but that’s another story.)

In the worst case scenario, it could allow us to reenter Iraq in force. But it’s hard to imagine what that scenario might be. What, short of an Iranian invasion, would lead us to dispatch substantial troop numbers to Iraq? More likely, even if the situation deteriorates in Iraq, we will wind up sitting on the sidelines, because sending troops to a country where they are not currently present is a momentous step that we (rightly) don’t take lightly. That will leave us virtually helpless to stop the machinations of the Iranians and their agents in Iraq, even if they use Iraq to evade international sanctions–as Kim and Fred Kagan and Marissa Cochrane Sullivan warn in this trenchant Weekly Standard article.

The most important function U.S. troops perform anywhere in the world is to spread political stability and American influence. Those objectives are much harder to accomplish from “over the horizon” than they are with “boots on the ground.” We will soon find that out for ourselves in the case of Iraq.

 

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No Justice for Women Assaulted at OWS

Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran and Occupy protester who was badly injured during a scuffle with police in Oakland, has become a national symbol for the movement. His case has sparked candlelight vigils, attacks on the liberal Oakland mayor, and maudlin op-eds from leftist activists who suddenly become overcome with reverence for soldiers when it serves as propaganda.

Here’s a taste of some of the coverage, from the socialist outlet Liberation News, which is calling for a citywide strike in Oakland:

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Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran and Occupy protester who was badly injured during a scuffle with police in Oakland, has become a national symbol for the movement. His case has sparked candlelight vigils, attacks on the liberal Oakland mayor, and maudlin op-eds from leftist activists who suddenly become overcome with reverence for soldiers when it serves as propaganda.

Here’s a taste of some of the coverage, from the socialist outlet Liberation News, which is calling for a citywide strike in Oakland:

The capitalist government’s response to the protests? Typical violence and repression. At the heart of the capitalist system is a police force whose job it is to abuse labor, people of color, the poor, the homeless, and leftists. It is their job as professional thugs to protect Wall Street from the 99 percent. The hierarchies of police forces have purposely protected and promoted the most brutal police with the least connection to humanity in order to have a police force that is always loyal to the capitalist government and capitalist class at times like this. They work for the wealthy 1 percent, not us.

So far, there’s no reason to believe Olsen’s injury (he was reportedly hit in the head with a tear gas canister) was anything more than an unfortunate accident. But there will be an independent investigation of the police anyway. If there was any foul play on their part, they’ll be brought to justice.

Unfortunately, there may be no justice for the other victims of Occupy Wall Street – the women who have reportedly been sexually assaulted and raped at the protests. In some cases, the crimes haven’t been reported to police, and the alleged assailants remain on the loose. But even when police have been alerted, the cases haven’t inspired similar candlelight vigils, newspaper columns, and nationwide calls for justice.

Instead, these alleged crimes are swept under the rug, and the perpetrators sometimes even shooed back onto the streets where they can offend again, as reported in the New York Post:

A sex fiend barged into a woman’s tent and sexually assaulted her at around 6 a.m., said protesters, who chased him from the park.

“Pervert! Pervert! Get the f–k out!” said vigilante Occupiers, who never bothered to call the cops.

“They were shining flashlights in his face and yelling at him to leave,” said a woman who called herself Leslie, but refused to give her real name.

She said that weeks earlier another woman was raped.

“We don’t tell anyone,” she said. “We handle it internally. I said too much already.”

Why isn’t the sexual violence being discussed like Scott Olsen’s case? Likely because it shines an unflattering light on the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s “safe” for activists to accuse police of brutality, feeding into the notion that the cops are bad and the protesters are good. But accusing some OWS participants of sexually assaulting other participants undercuts the moral standing of the movement. And so organizers prefer to hide the crimes, shield the criminals, and silence the victims. It’s an unbelievable scandal, and it’s a testament to the left’s hypocrisy on women’s rights that this has been allowed to continue unprotested.

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Despite Bombing, There’s Progress in Kabul

The terrible bombing in Kabul that killed five NATO soldiers and eight civilian employees–almost all Americans–certainly resonates with anyone who has driven through the capital city. As it happens, I was doing just that a week ago, riding around in armored SUVs that would have been vaporized had they come into contact with the giant truck bomb that demolished an armored Rhino bus on Saturday. Most of the time I wasn’t even wearing body armor.

That’s not bravado on my part; it’s a reflection of the fact that, a few high profile attacks aside (e.g., the firing at the U.S. embassy last month), Kabul remains pretty safe. Certainly it’s safer than Baghdad ever was during the height of Iraq’s civil war; maybe even safer than Baghdad is today. Kabul is a bustling city full of street life, both day and night. That wouldn’t be the case if the public perceived a high risk of danger.

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The terrible bombing in Kabul that killed five NATO soldiers and eight civilian employees–almost all Americans–certainly resonates with anyone who has driven through the capital city. As it happens, I was doing just that a week ago, riding around in armored SUVs that would have been vaporized had they come into contact with the giant truck bomb that demolished an armored Rhino bus on Saturday. Most of the time I wasn’t even wearing body armor.

That’s not bravado on my part; it’s a reflection of the fact that, a few high profile attacks aside (e.g., the firing at the U.S. embassy last month), Kabul remains pretty safe. Certainly it’s safer than Baghdad ever was during the height of Iraq’s civil war; maybe even safer than Baghdad is today. Kabul is a bustling city full of street life, both day and night. That wouldn’t be the case if the public perceived a high risk of danger.

The enemy is capable of staging isolated attacks like the suicide bombing on Saturday–but not of posing a consistent threat to the high level of security in the city. More needs to be done to safeguard Kabul, primarily by pushing the security bubble southward into Logar and Wardak provinces, where many attacks on the capital originate. But we should not lose sight of the real progress that has been made in the past year with enemy-initiated attacks across the country falling by 27 percent in the July-September period compared with the same period in 2010.

As long as Gen. John Allen and the troops under his command have the resources they need to do the job, they will continue to increase the level of security. But they might very well be denied the needed resources because of a lack of support on the home front–and specifically in the White House. Ultimately, that lack of will to win is a far bigger danger to the success of the war effort than a few random suicide bombers. Dangerous, deadly, and destructive as they are, they cannot stop the coalition’s momentum. Only we have the power to do that.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Bret Stephens

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

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Readers of Commentary surely need few reminders that pessimism about America’s future is as old as the republic. “We shall soon see the country rushing into the extremes of confusion and violence,” wrote historian and playwright Mercy Otis Warren—in 1788. Forecasts of decline and fall have been a recurring staple of our political discourse ever since. They have always been wrong. They are wrong again today.

What is it about the present moment that inspires so much gloom? Previous generations of Americans have endured deeper recessions, waged costlier wars, suffered worse social maladies, incurred larger debts (at least as a percentage of GDP), faced tougher foreign competitors, and made graver policy mistakes. And elected worse presidents: nothing Barack Obama has done in his 33 months in office quite matches the malfeasance of James Buchanan or the obtuseness of Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter. And like those presidents, Obama looks increasingly like a one-termer—assuming, that is, that he has a competent opponent next fall.

Americans might also take comfort in the fact that Obama’s record as president so far amounts to a remarkable mix of defeats, retreats, and Pyrrhic victories. His bid to impose a cap-and-trade carbon-emissions scheme went nowhere, as did his union-friendly card-check legislation, as did the public-option piece of his health-care plan. He abandoned his efforts to close Guantánamo and try terrorists in civilian court. He gave up on trying to woo Iran and bully Israel. He agreed to an extension of his predecessor’s tax cuts. He made stimulus a dirty word. ObamaCare is the most unpopular legislation in memory and may soon be overturned by the Supreme Court. He led Congressional Democrats to a historic midterm defeat. Read More

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

_____________

Readers of Commentary surely need few reminders that pessimism about America’s future is as old as the republic. “We shall soon see the country rushing into the extremes of confusion and violence,” wrote historian and playwright Mercy Otis Warren—in 1788. Forecasts of decline and fall have been a recurring staple of our political discourse ever since. They have always been wrong. They are wrong again today.

What is it about the present moment that inspires so much gloom? Previous generations of Americans have endured deeper recessions, waged costlier wars, suffered worse social maladies, incurred larger debts (at least as a percentage of GDP), faced tougher foreign competitors, and made graver policy mistakes. And elected worse presidents: nothing Barack Obama has done in his 33 months in office quite matches the malfeasance of James Buchanan or the obtuseness of Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter. And like those presidents, Obama looks increasingly like a one-termer—assuming, that is, that he has a competent opponent next fall.

Americans might also take comfort in the fact that Obama’s record as president so far amounts to a remarkable mix of defeats, retreats, and Pyrrhic victories. His bid to impose a cap-and-trade carbon-emissions scheme went nowhere, as did his union-friendly card-check legislation, as did the public-option piece of his health-care plan. He abandoned his efforts to close Guantánamo and try terrorists in civilian court. He gave up on trying to woo Iran and bully Israel. He agreed to an extension of his predecessor’s tax cuts. He made stimulus a dirty word. ObamaCare is the most unpopular legislation in memory and may soon be overturned by the Supreme Court. He led Congressional Democrats to a historic midterm defeat.

None of this has done more than contain the damage Obama’s presidency might otherwise have wrought. But it tells us important things about America. It turns out that the cult-of-personality style of politics that served Obama well as a candidate quickly lost its charm once he was in office. It turns out that the pride we felt in electing a black president didn’t translate into guilt when it came to criticizing his policies. It turns out that a political moment that supposedly heralded the death of conservatism was nothing of the sort. It turns out that Americans have an innate suspicion of loose monetary policy, intrusive government regulation, bullying unions, socialized medicine, and runaway deficit spending.

In short, America’s political culture remains in excellent health, free and frank and largely unencumbered by the shibboleths and taboos that paralyze Europe and Japan. And a healthy political culture is what, after the inevitable fits and starts, will ensure that we return to a growth economy, contain the entitlement state, loosen the death grip of public-sector unions, fund a military adequate for our strategic purposes, assimilate immigrants, and so on.

Now, if we can just bomb Iran’s nuclear sites….

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Bret Stephens is deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal and the paper’s columnist on foreign affairs.

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Optimistic or Pessimistic About America: Joseph Nye

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

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Polls show widespread pessimism about America’s prospects. Such moods reflect the slow growth and fiscal problems that followed the 2008 financial crisis, but they are not historically unprecedented. After Sputnik, Americans thought the Soviets were 10 feet tall; in the 1980s, it was the Japanese. Now it is the Chinese.

The United States has very real problems, but the American economy remains highly productive. America remains first in total research-and-development expenditures, first in university rankings, first in Nobel prizes, first on indices of entrepreneurship, and fourth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the world’s most competitive economies (China ranks 27th). America, moreover, remains at the forefront of such cutting-edge technologies as biotech and nanotechnology. This is hardly a picture of absolute economic decline.

Some observers worry that America will become sclerotic like Britain, at the peak of its power a century ago. But American culture is far more entrepreneurial and decentralized than was that of Britain, where the sons of industrial entrepreneurs sought aristocratic titles and honors in London. And despite recurrent historical bouts of concern, immigration helps keep America flexible. In 2005, foreign-born immigrants had participated in onw of every four technology start-ups in the previous decade. As Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once told me, China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, but the United States can draw on a talent pool of 7 billion and recombine them in a diverse culture that enhances creativity in a way that ethnic Han nationalism cannot.

Many commentators worry about the inefficient American political system. It is true that the Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances to preserve liberties at the price of efficiency. America, moreover, is now going through a period in which party politics have become very polarized, but nasty politics is nothing new and goes all the way back to the Founders. American government and politics have always had problems, and, though it is hard to remember in light of the current melodramas, they were sometimes worse than today’s.

The United States faces serious problems regarding debt, secondary education, and political gridlock, but one should remember that they are only part of the picture. In principle, and over a longer term, there are solutions to current American problems. Of course, such solutions may forever remain out of reach. But it is worth distinguishing problems for which there are no solutions from those that could, in theory, be solved.

Whether Americans seize the available solutions is uncertain, but Lee Kuan Yew is probably correct when he says China “will give the U.S. a run for its money” but not pass it in overall power in the first half of this century. If so, the gloomy views reported in the latest polls will turn out to be as misleading as those in decades past.

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Joseph Nye is a professor at Harvard and the author of The Future of Power (Public Affairs).

The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?

_____________

Polls show widespread pessimism about America’s prospects. Such moods reflect the slow growth and fiscal problems that followed the 2008 financial crisis, but they are not historically unprecedented. After Sputnik, Americans thought the Soviets were 10 feet tall; in the 1980s, it was the Japanese. Now it is the Chinese.

The United States has very real problems, but the American economy remains highly productive. America remains first in total research-and-development expenditures, first in university rankings, first in Nobel prizes, first on indices of entrepreneurship, and fourth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the world’s most competitive economies (China ranks 27th). America, moreover, remains at the forefront of such cutting-edge technologies as biotech and nanotechnology. This is hardly a picture of absolute economic decline.

Some observers worry that America will become sclerotic like Britain, at the peak of its power a century ago. But American culture is far more entrepreneurial and decentralized than was that of Britain, where the sons of industrial entrepreneurs sought aristocratic titles and honors in London. And despite recurrent historical bouts of concern, immigration helps keep America flexible. In 2005, foreign-born immigrants had participated in onw of every four technology start-ups in the previous decade. As Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once told me, China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, but the United States can draw on a talent pool of 7 billion and recombine them in a diverse culture that enhances creativity in a way that ethnic Han nationalism cannot.

Many commentators worry about the inefficient American political system. It is true that the Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances to preserve liberties at the price of efficiency. America, moreover, is now going through a period in which party politics have become very polarized, but nasty politics is nothing new and goes all the way back to the Founders. American government and politics have always had problems, and, though it is hard to remember in light of the current melodramas, they were sometimes worse than today’s.

The United States faces serious problems regarding debt, secondary education, and political gridlock, but one should remember that they are only part of the picture. In principle, and over a longer term, there are solutions to current American problems. Of course, such solutions may forever remain out of reach. But it is worth distinguishing problems for which there are no solutions from those that could, in theory, be solved.

Whether Americans seize the available solutions is uncertain, but Lee Kuan Yew is probably correct when he says China “will give the U.S. a run for its money” but not pass it in overall power in the first half of this century. If so, the gloomy views reported in the latest polls will turn out to be as misleading as those in decades past.

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Joseph Nye is a professor at Harvard and the author of The Future of Power (Public Affairs).

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