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Posts For: June 1, 2014

Is Gladstone a Model for the GOP?

In the Saturday Wall Street Journal, John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge of the Economist had an article, based on their new book The Fourth Revolution, putting forward William Ewart Gladstone–the Grand Old Man of Victorian politics–as a role model for 21st century Republicans.

Their effort to revive Gladstone’s reputation can only be cheered by anyone interested in 19th century British politics (which I confess is one of my quirkier interests) and the proposals they put forward for improving the effectiveness of government while reducing its cost appear laudable. But I was struck by the complete absence of a discussion of foreign policy where Gladstone left a large imprint with his once-famous Midlothian campaign of 1880. As a parliamentary candidate and leader of the Liberal Party, he campaigned against what he saw as the imperialist excesses of the Tories in places such as southern Africa and Afghanistan where, in the First Boer War and the Second Afghan War, respectively, Britain was then suffering embarrassing reverses.

In his campaign Gladstone laid out the principles of what was then known as a Little England policy and today would be called non-interventionism. Among his principles: “1. The first thing is to foster the strength of the Empire by just legislation and economy at home. 2. My second principle of foreign policy is this: peace. 3. In my opinion the third sound principle is this to strive to cultivate and maintain, ay, to the very uttermost, what is called the concert of Europe; to keep the Powers of Europe in union together. 4. My fourth principle is that you should avoid needless and entangling engagements. 5. My fifth principle is this, gentlemen, to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations. 6. And that sixth (principle) is, that in my opinion foreign policy, subject to all the limitations that I have described, the foreign policy of England should always be inspired by the love of freedom.”

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In the Saturday Wall Street Journal, John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge of the Economist had an article, based on their new book The Fourth Revolution, putting forward William Ewart Gladstone–the Grand Old Man of Victorian politics–as a role model for 21st century Republicans.

Their effort to revive Gladstone’s reputation can only be cheered by anyone interested in 19th century British politics (which I confess is one of my quirkier interests) and the proposals they put forward for improving the effectiveness of government while reducing its cost appear laudable. But I was struck by the complete absence of a discussion of foreign policy where Gladstone left a large imprint with his once-famous Midlothian campaign of 1880. As a parliamentary candidate and leader of the Liberal Party, he campaigned against what he saw as the imperialist excesses of the Tories in places such as southern Africa and Afghanistan where, in the First Boer War and the Second Afghan War, respectively, Britain was then suffering embarrassing reverses.

In his campaign Gladstone laid out the principles of what was then known as a Little England policy and today would be called non-interventionism. Among his principles: “1. The first thing is to foster the strength of the Empire by just legislation and economy at home. 2. My second principle of foreign policy is this: peace. 3. In my opinion the third sound principle is this to strive to cultivate and maintain, ay, to the very uttermost, what is called the concert of Europe; to keep the Powers of Europe in union together. 4. My fourth principle is that you should avoid needless and entangling engagements. 5. My fifth principle is this, gentlemen, to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations. 6. And that sixth (principle) is, that in my opinion foreign policy, subject to all the limitations that I have described, the foreign policy of England should always be inspired by the love of freedom.”

Gladstone was certainly no isolationist. He criticized the Tories for not doing more about the Ottoman Empire’s slaughter of Christians in Bulgaria, and as prime minister he oversaw the virtual annexation of Egypt in 1882. But, contradictory as his thinking often appears, he was less imperialist than his Conservative rivals such as Disraeli and Salisbury.

No matter how much Disraeli and Gladstone, in particular, were often ranged against each other on matters of policy both domestic and foreign, they shared in the Victorian consensus that Britain needed to keep defense spending low so as not to be a burden on the people’s purses or liberties. Britain spent enough to maintain the world’s largest navy but even its naval hegemony was increasingly challenged by a German naval buildup in the early 20th century. Meanwhile the British army remained tiny, fit only for imperial campaigning.

This was all part of a strategy that today is called “offshore balancing”: British policymakers vowed they could safeguard their interests by controlling the seas without having to intervene in a major land war in Europe. This is the same strategy that many urge on the U.S. today–in fact a strategy that the Obama administration seems to be implementing as we downsize our army to the lowest level since 1940. Yet all it takes is a passing familiarity with British history to see how delusional and self-destructive this policy can be.

The very fact that Britain lacked an army capable of fighting the armies of Europe meant that Britain was unable to deter German aggression in either 1914 or 1939. Indeed the British aversion to land warfare called into doubt its commitments to allies such as Belgium and France and led German militarists to gamble they could overrun Europe without major hindrance from London. In the event, the German calculation was wrong–Britain’s entry into both World War I and World War II was a key obstacle to German designs. But Britain paid a huge price for not being able to deter German aggression in the first place.

Worried about spending too much on defense, the Victorians and their successors spent too little, and wound up having their country and their empire bled dry in conflagrations that might have been avoided if Britain had done more to defend itself and its allies. There is an important lesson here for present-day Republicans who focus only on reducing the size of government. They should not forget that government’s first duty is to defend the country and if it is unable to do that–or even if it is able to do so but only after a long, costly struggle that might have been avoided–then short-term cost savings on defense will prove ephemeral. In the end military weakness is far more costly than military strength. That was a lesson that Gladstone and other Victorian titans ignored and that their would-be successors should heed.

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The Brussels Shooting and Why Europe Won’t Confront Islamic Jew-Hatred

The revelation that the Belgium police have now made an arrest in relation to the recent shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels, and more significantly that the suspect is a Muslim radical who spent time fighting in Syria, confirms what many had suspected about that attack; that it was the work of Islamic militancy and the Jew-hatred that constitutes a core aspect of that ideology. When a similar shooting attack took place in 2012 at a Jewish school in Toulouse, much of the media initially attempted to speculate that this was the work of a far-right white supremacist. No doubt the liberal media was holding out for such a result this time too. But in both cases these attacks were the work of home-grown Islamic extremism. These acts may for the moment only concern a very small number of radicalized individuals, yet such individuals emerge from a much wider sub-culture of hate that Europe’s elites not only attempt to ignore, but that is even excused and legitimated by the prevailing narrative in Europe.

The suspect in question has been named as 29-year old French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who spent a year fighting with rebels in Syria. It’s not as if there haven’t been enough warnings about the dangers represented by the phenomenon of large numbers of European Muslims going to fight in Syria, but if European governments have proven incapable of preventing these individuals from making their way to Syria, then one also has to wonder how they were so easily able to slip back into Europe. Still, the case of the Toulouse shooting provides a noteworthy parallel. The gunman in that case, Mohammed Merah, had already spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now it is widely believed that Merah’s sister Souad is also currently in Syria.

It is more than just a little revealing that so many of Europe’s Muslims are drawn to fight for Islamic causes in far off countries in the first place; there are an estimated 600 French Muslims fighting in Syria and almost as many from Britain. It is similarly telling that when these people return they not only continue to engage in acts of violence, but that their violence is directed toward Jews. Of course we shouldn’t ignore the violence against Jews coming from Muslims who haven’t first been radicalized via Syria or elsewhere; on the same day as the shooting in Brussels two French Jews were assaulted in Paris as they were leaving a synagogue. There is hardly space here to rehearse all the recent incidents from Europe of Muslims attacking Jews, but a European Union survey from the fall exposed how in most European countries Muslims were by far the leading group responsible for anti-Semitic incidents, closely followed by individuals identified as being on the far left.  

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The revelation that the Belgium police have now made an arrest in relation to the recent shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels, and more significantly that the suspect is a Muslim radical who spent time fighting in Syria, confirms what many had suspected about that attack; that it was the work of Islamic militancy and the Jew-hatred that constitutes a core aspect of that ideology. When a similar shooting attack took place in 2012 at a Jewish school in Toulouse, much of the media initially attempted to speculate that this was the work of a far-right white supremacist. No doubt the liberal media was holding out for such a result this time too. But in both cases these attacks were the work of home-grown Islamic extremism. These acts may for the moment only concern a very small number of radicalized individuals, yet such individuals emerge from a much wider sub-culture of hate that Europe’s elites not only attempt to ignore, but that is even excused and legitimated by the prevailing narrative in Europe.

The suspect in question has been named as 29-year old French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who spent a year fighting with rebels in Syria. It’s not as if there haven’t been enough warnings about the dangers represented by the phenomenon of large numbers of European Muslims going to fight in Syria, but if European governments have proven incapable of preventing these individuals from making their way to Syria, then one also has to wonder how they were so easily able to slip back into Europe. Still, the case of the Toulouse shooting provides a noteworthy parallel. The gunman in that case, Mohammed Merah, had already spent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now it is widely believed that Merah’s sister Souad is also currently in Syria.

It is more than just a little revealing that so many of Europe’s Muslims are drawn to fight for Islamic causes in far off countries in the first place; there are an estimated 600 French Muslims fighting in Syria and almost as many from Britain. It is similarly telling that when these people return they not only continue to engage in acts of violence, but that their violence is directed toward Jews. Of course we shouldn’t ignore the violence against Jews coming from Muslims who haven’t first been radicalized via Syria or elsewhere; on the same day as the shooting in Brussels two French Jews were assaulted in Paris as they were leaving a synagogue. There is hardly space here to rehearse all the recent incidents from Europe of Muslims attacking Jews, but a European Union survey from the fall exposed how in most European countries Muslims were by far the leading group responsible for anti-Semitic incidents, closely followed by individuals identified as being on the far left.  

Europe’s elites have proven completely incapable of confronting and tackling this worsening phenomenon because they are incapacitated by a worldview that barely even allows them to openly acknowledge the problem. Most types of racism and bigotry in Europe have been swept away not by government legislation but by a culture of political correctness imposed by Europe’s media and cultural institutions that sets such views beyond the pale. Yet because that very doctrine of political correctness holds immigrant communities and particularly Muslims to be a victim group of the highest order, it has become impossible for Europeans to imagine that these people might themselves be the perpetrators of racism and bigotry. The model doesn’t allow for such a notion, especially not when the victims are Jews. Since Europeans perceive Jews as being white, Western, and affluent, that places them on the side of the oppressors and not among the oppressed.

Then there is the Israel factor. As much as critics of Israel like to stress that it’s Zionists and not Jews they take issue with, whenever Jews are attacked, liberals and liberal Europeans inevitably make the Israel connection and in so doing invalidate their own pretense that they view the two as being entirely separate. When Jewish children were mowed down by bullets as they made their way to school in Toulouse and the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton was obliged to concoct some words of sympathy, she stunned observers by using this event to note how, “we see what is happening in Gaza.” It seems that for people like Ashton, it is impossible to acknowledge Jewish victimhood without also footnoting Palestinian suffering, as if in some attempt to explain away whatever has just been done to the Jews in question.

European liberals delight in expressing horror and gleeful outrage at the sight of American Evangelical Christianity. They warn against reactionary Christian attitudes on any social issue that arises in their own country and they are always sure to castigate the Catholic Church whenever the opportunity presents itself (Pope Benedict’s visit to London was marred by large and angry protests). But if Europeans were really concerned about ultra-conservative religious extremism then they would act to prevent the proliferation of radical Islam in Europe. Similarly, if they were serious about ending racism then they would crack down on the only form of racism in Europe today that still kills people: Islamic Jew-hatred.

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Only Five for One? The Bergdahl Swap is Actually Worse Than Israeli Prisoner Deals

Speaking today on ABC’s This Week National Security Advisor Susan Rice described the homecoming of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity at the hands of the Taliban as “a joyous day.” No doubt, all Americans are happy that his ordeal is at an end. But as with the most famous of Rice’s previous appearances on the Sunday morning news shows when she wrongly claimed that the Benghazi terror attack was the result of film criticism run amok, the messaging was slightly off kilter. Ransoming Bergdahl is defensible but the notion that what has occurred was not a case of the U.S. negotiating with terrorists, as Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel claimed on the same show, is an absurdity. At least when Israel releases terrorists to gain the freedom of one of its soldiers, the country’s leaders have the grace to treat the decision as a regrettable action made out of necessity and nothing to celebrate.

The debate over the Bergdahl swap raises comparisons to Israeli actions, such as its prisoner swap to gain the freedom of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Some congressional Republicans, such as House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, are criticizing the swap for the same reasons many Israelis and Americans denounced the deal in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded over 1,000 Palestinian terrorists to Hamas, including many murderers, for Shalit. Rogers believes that negotiating with the Taliban not only strengthens these Islamist foes of the United States but also sets a high price on hostages that will make it difficult to free others who are held by terrorists and encourage more attacks on Americans.

These are all fair points, but I have to confess that my first reaction to the headline about the five-for-one agreement mediated by officials in Qatar was puzzlement as to how the Obama administration had managed to make such a deal for only five prisoners when the Israelis are routinely forced to release hundreds or more than a thousand terrorists for only one of their own people. Is it that the Israelis are simply too easy a mark in such negotiations? Are Americans better at driving a hard bargain? But the more I’ve read about the five prisoners who have been freed in exchange for Bergdahl, the less impressed I am with the negotiating acumen of the administration. Far from cutting a better deal than the Israelis tend to be able to do, this swap may actually be far worse in terms of the potential danger of the particular individuals involved and the administration’s future attitude toward the conflict. While the Israelis often pay too high a price for their hostages, they do so without conceding defeat in the long-term struggle in which they are engaged. The Bergdahl deal appears to be not just a lopsided swap but also an indication that the U.S. may be conceding defeat to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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Speaking today on ABC’s This Week National Security Advisor Susan Rice described the homecoming of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity at the hands of the Taliban as “a joyous day.” No doubt, all Americans are happy that his ordeal is at an end. But as with the most famous of Rice’s previous appearances on the Sunday morning news shows when she wrongly claimed that the Benghazi terror attack was the result of film criticism run amok, the messaging was slightly off kilter. Ransoming Bergdahl is defensible but the notion that what has occurred was not a case of the U.S. negotiating with terrorists, as Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel claimed on the same show, is an absurdity. At least when Israel releases terrorists to gain the freedom of one of its soldiers, the country’s leaders have the grace to treat the decision as a regrettable action made out of necessity and nothing to celebrate.

The debate over the Bergdahl swap raises comparisons to Israeli actions, such as its prisoner swap to gain the freedom of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Some congressional Republicans, such as House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, are criticizing the swap for the same reasons many Israelis and Americans denounced the deal in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded over 1,000 Palestinian terrorists to Hamas, including many murderers, for Shalit. Rogers believes that negotiating with the Taliban not only strengthens these Islamist foes of the United States but also sets a high price on hostages that will make it difficult to free others who are held by terrorists and encourage more attacks on Americans.

These are all fair points, but I have to confess that my first reaction to the headline about the five-for-one agreement mediated by officials in Qatar was puzzlement as to how the Obama administration had managed to make such a deal for only five prisoners when the Israelis are routinely forced to release hundreds or more than a thousand terrorists for only one of their own people. Is it that the Israelis are simply too easy a mark in such negotiations? Are Americans better at driving a hard bargain? But the more I’ve read about the five prisoners who have been freed in exchange for Bergdahl, the less impressed I am with the negotiating acumen of the administration. Far from cutting a better deal than the Israelis tend to be able to do, this swap may actually be far worse in terms of the potential danger of the particular individuals involved and the administration’s future attitude toward the conflict. While the Israelis often pay too high a price for their hostages, they do so without conceding defeat in the long-term struggle in which they are engaged. The Bergdahl deal appears to be not just a lopsided swap but also an indication that the U.S. may be conceding defeat to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Anyone who thinks the U.S. got off cheap, especially in comparison to the lopsided Israeli deals, needs to read the report by Eli Lake and Josh Rogin in the Daily Beast today about the five men who have been sprung from Gitmo for Bergdahl. These are not run-of-the-mill terror operatives but key figures in the war being waged against the U.S. and its allies. As Lake and Rogin wrote:

While not as well known as Guantanamo inmates like 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Taliban 5 were some of the worst outlaws in the U.S. war on terror. And their release will end up replenishing the diminished leadership ranks of the Afghan Taliban at a moment when the United States is winding down the war there.

The dossier on their activities is a compendium of involvement in the terror campaign against the U.S. as well as other assorted crimes such as heroin trafficking. But the main point here is that these are not, as was the case with most of the people Israel released, rank-and-file terrorists. Many of those freed by the Israelis are criminals with blood on their hands, including participation in notorious atrocities. But the Israelis have rarely released anyone in the chain of command of groups dedicated to their destruction. As Lake and Rogin detail, the five Taliban operatives are key players in the war against the U.S. in Afghanistan. Though they are not the people who pulled the triggers or exploded the bombs that killed U.S. troops and our allies, they are the people who gave some of the orders for the shedding of American blood and are thus far more important. Seen in that light, some of the outrageously lopsided deals concluded by the Israelis don’t seem quite so ill advised.

But there is more to this controversy than just the price of Bergdahl’s freedom. By releasing these five top Taliban commanders, the U.S. is demonstrating that it is throwing in the towel in the long struggle against the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan. It is spinning this mindset as a sign that the war is already either over or coming to an end, as the president said in his West Point speech this week. But the Taliban hasn’t gotten the memo about the end of the conflict. Indeed, the circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan are little different from where they were prior to the president’s correct decision to order a “surge” of U.S. troops to seize the initiative in the war. This administration has done a good job seeking to hunt down al-Qaeda operatives with drone strikes but the notion that it can keep Afghanistan from falling into the hands of these killers while both drawing down U.S. forces to a bare minimum and releasing senior Taliban commanders is laughable. Wars don’t end just because one side decides they are tired of the conflict. The Taliban have been waiting patiently for the end of the U.S. presence in the country and along with their terrorist allies believe their 2001 ouster from Kabul can be reversed.

Rice is right that President Obama had a “sacred obligation” to do whatever he could to gain the release of Sergeant Bergdahl. No American should ever be left behind if they can be rescued. But the problem here is not just the price the U.S. paid for the lone American unaccounted for after more than a dozen years of fighting in Afghanistan. Say what you will about the Israel prisoner releases and the unfortunate celebrations in which the Palestinians have celebrated the murderers freed to gain the freedom of hostages or even to restart peace negotiations. But there has never been any doubt about Israel’s determination to continue the struggle against its enemies. The same can’t be said about the Obama administration today.

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