Commentary Magazine


Topic: American Enterprise Institute

In Dialogue: Religion, Politics, Wealth, Justice

The American Enterprise Institute’s Nick Schulz interviewed me about two of my recent publications, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur Brooks).

Nick and I cover a lot of ground; the interview can be found here.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Nick Schulz interviewed me about two of my recent publications, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (co-authored with Michael Gerson) and Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (co-authored with Arthur Brooks).

Nick and I cover a lot of ground; the interview can be found here.

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The Moral Case for Conservative Economics

I wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard that attempts to explain what’s wrong with the liberal affinity for class warfare. In response to it, one of the really bright political minds I know wrote me and said that the person who “captures the moral critique (in addition to the intellectual one) of Obamanomics” will be the Republican Party’s nominee and the next president.

Whether or not that’s accurate — and I happen to believe there’s a lot of wisdom in it — it does strike me that a compelling moral argument on behalf of conservative economics specifically, and capitalism more broadly, has been sorely missing from the public debate. That case can be made easily enough; the question is who will step forward to make it.

There is, I think, a useful analogy that can be made to welfare reform. The conservative case was far more powerful and effective when welfare reform was framed in explicitly moral terms — when those on the right argued why (a) welfare policies (in the form of AFDC) were inflicting terrible damage on those they were intended to assist, and (b) reforms to the system would lead to greater self-reliance and human flourishing.

Something similar needs to be done on economics. (Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and I try to do it in this monograph, Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism.) Conservatives need to expand on their reliance on economic facts and figures and explain why economic growth is the best antidote to widespread poverty and misery; why Leviathan is a threat to liberty and human character; and why capitalism is a civilizing agent and national wealth a moral good. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for a movement that counts Adam Smith (a profound moral philosopher) and Abraham Lincoln (a profound moral thinker) in its pantheon.

I wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard that attempts to explain what’s wrong with the liberal affinity for class warfare. In response to it, one of the really bright political minds I know wrote me and said that the person who “captures the moral critique (in addition to the intellectual one) of Obamanomics” will be the Republican Party’s nominee and the next president.

Whether or not that’s accurate — and I happen to believe there’s a lot of wisdom in it — it does strike me that a compelling moral argument on behalf of conservative economics specifically, and capitalism more broadly, has been sorely missing from the public debate. That case can be made easily enough; the question is who will step forward to make it.

There is, I think, a useful analogy that can be made to welfare reform. The conservative case was far more powerful and effective when welfare reform was framed in explicitly moral terms — when those on the right argued why (a) welfare policies (in the form of AFDC) were inflicting terrible damage on those they were intended to assist, and (b) reforms to the system would lead to greater self-reliance and human flourishing.

Something similar needs to be done on economics. (Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and I try to do it in this monograph, Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism.) Conservatives need to expand on their reliance on economic facts and figures and explain why economic growth is the best antidote to widespread poverty and misery; why Leviathan is a threat to liberty and human character; and why capitalism is a civilizing agent and national wealth a moral good. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for a movement that counts Adam Smith (a profound moral philosopher) and Abraham Lincoln (a profound moral thinker) in its pantheon.

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On Human Nature and Capitalism

The American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine The American has posted an essay I co-wrote with Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, on “Human Nature and Capitalism.” We argue that the model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one prefers to the political system one supports.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

You can read the whole thing here.

The American Enterprise Institute’s online magazine The American has posted an essay I co-wrote with Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, on “Human Nature and Capitalism.” We argue that the model of human nature one embraces will guide and shape everything else, from the economic system one prefers to the political system one supports.

At the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature (to paraphrase 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann). The suppositions we begin with—the ways in which that picture is developed—determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, and the civilizations we create. They are the foundation stone.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It is getting worse, not better, for the Democrats in the congressional generic polling.

The recession has been worse for men than for women, but the Obama team needs female voters. So: “The National Economic Council released a report Thursday detailing women’s economic hardships and the different ways the administration is helping to alleviate their pain. … Economist Mark Perry, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller that the lack of attention to the economic problems of men has been foolish. ‘My initial impression of the report is that it completely ignores all of the significant and disproportionate hardships faced by men in the recession. We just went through an unprecedented ‘mancession,’ and it’s still not over.'”

There are worse things than being fired by NPR. “Fox News moved swiftly to turn the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing to its advantage, offering him an expanded role and a new three-year contract Thursday morning in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million.”

What is worse — firing Juan Williams or concealing the underlying reason for it? Fred Barnes writes: “I have no doubt that Juan’s comments about Muslims were merely a pretext. There had been prior run-ins between NPR and Juan over his appearances on Fox. But fire him over remarks that most Americans would identify with? I didn’t think the loathing of Fox would cause NPR to do something so ideologically driven, unprofessional, and bigoted. … The motto is, Fox is fair and balanced. Mainstream media types sneer at this. Juan actually embodies it. He’s both fair and balanced. NPR is neither.”

He says he’s not running. But is there a worse nightmare for Obama in 2012? “In one long year, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has gone from little-known prosecutor to GOP rock star. The Newark native won last November on a blunt promise to fix a ‘failed state.’ He’d stop the ‘madness’ of tax hikes and chronic overspending. He’d demand New Jersey ‘live within its means,’ tackling the rich public-employee benefits driving the state off the cliff. He’d be straight-up with voters. The promises won him election; it’s the follow-through that’s won him acclaim. Democrats were appalled when he impounded $2.2 billion in spending; taxpayers cheered. The liberal class gasped when he vetoed a ‘millionaire’s tax'; business owners hurrahed. He’s demanding government unions help close $46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He’s tough-talking but common-sense, and his approval rating keeps going up.”

Hard to recall a worse pre-election argument than Obama’s faux science explanation for the rise of anti-Obama sentiment. A real, former psychiatrist comments: “Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the ‘facts and science’ undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.”

If anything, a change for the worse. “A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse. In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.”

It is getting worse, not better, for the Democrats in the congressional generic polling.

The recession has been worse for men than for women, but the Obama team needs female voters. So: “The National Economic Council released a report Thursday detailing women’s economic hardships and the different ways the administration is helping to alleviate their pain. … Economist Mark Perry, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller that the lack of attention to the economic problems of men has been foolish. ‘My initial impression of the report is that it completely ignores all of the significant and disproportionate hardships faced by men in the recession. We just went through an unprecedented ‘mancession,’ and it’s still not over.'”

There are worse things than being fired by NPR. “Fox News moved swiftly to turn the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing to its advantage, offering him an expanded role and a new three-year contract Thursday morning in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million.”

What is worse — firing Juan Williams or concealing the underlying reason for it? Fred Barnes writes: “I have no doubt that Juan’s comments about Muslims were merely a pretext. There had been prior run-ins between NPR and Juan over his appearances on Fox. But fire him over remarks that most Americans would identify with? I didn’t think the loathing of Fox would cause NPR to do something so ideologically driven, unprofessional, and bigoted. … The motto is, Fox is fair and balanced. Mainstream media types sneer at this. Juan actually embodies it. He’s both fair and balanced. NPR is neither.”

He says he’s not running. But is there a worse nightmare for Obama in 2012? “In one long year, Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has gone from little-known prosecutor to GOP rock star. The Newark native won last November on a blunt promise to fix a ‘failed state.’ He’d stop the ‘madness’ of tax hikes and chronic overspending. He’d demand New Jersey ‘live within its means,’ tackling the rich public-employee benefits driving the state off the cliff. He’d be straight-up with voters. The promises won him election; it’s the follow-through that’s won him acclaim. Democrats were appalled when he impounded $2.2 billion in spending; taxpayers cheered. The liberal class gasped when he vetoed a ‘millionaire’s tax'; business owners hurrahed. He’s demanding government unions help close $46 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. He’s tough-talking but common-sense, and his approval rating keeps going up.”

Hard to recall a worse pre-election argument than Obama’s faux science explanation for the rise of anti-Obama sentiment. A real, former psychiatrist comments: “Faced with this truly puzzling conundrum, Dr. Obama diagnoses a heretofore undiscovered psychological derangement: anxiety-induced Obama Underappreciation Syndrome, wherein an entire population is so addled by its economic anxieties as to be neurologically incapable of appreciating the ‘facts and science’ undergirding Obamacare and the other blessings their president has bestowed upon them from on high.”

If anything, a change for the worse. “A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse. In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.”

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The Role and Purpose of Government

On the website e21, Representative Paul Ryan has responded to a column by David Brooks, who in turn was commenting on an op-ed by Ryan and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray added his thoughts as well.

The subject they are addressing is the role and purpose of the state in our lives. I would add only a few thoughts to what these razor-sharp minds have written.

The first is this: more than at any point in our lifetime, the sheer cost and size of government matters. We face an entitlement crisis. The level of our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Demographics are working against us rather than in our favor. And the Obama presidency has made our fiscal problems more, not less, acute. Unless we begin to reverse this trend fairly significantly, America will change in deep and lasting ways. We cannot continue on our present course and remain a strong, vibrant society. There is an urgent need, then, to re-limit government simply as a matter of dollars and cents, quite apart from philosophy and the effects the nanny state has on human character and self-reliance.

That said, conservatives also need to engage in a thoroughgoing examination of the core purposes of programs and policies. And in considering how to reform government programs, we need to think in terms of what we want them to do rather than simply how large and costly they are.

Consider four successes by government in the past 20 years: welfare reform; crime reduction (including the transformation of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani); the campaign against illegal drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led by William J. Bennett; and the surge in Iraq. In each of these instances, the key to success wasn’t limiting the size of government; in each case, after all, government spending went up, not down. What transformed failure into success was acting smarter, creating the right incentives and disincentives, attacking the problems in a comprehensive way, and thinking in terms of what works.

What we need, then, are policymakers who believe in accountability; who judge results based not on inputs (expenditures, number of caseload workers, police officers, or troops) but outputs (cutting the number of people on welfare, decreasing drug use, reducing crime rates, lowering the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, car bombings, suicide attacks, and terrorist safe havens); who are passionately empirical; and who understand that we need to craft programs so as to take into account human nature and human behavior.

When it comes to entitlement programs, our task is different from, say, an anti-crime strategy. On entitlements, our first priority needs to be cutting costs in order to avoid a fiscal calamity. That will require us to alter the way we think about the basic aims of these programs. And here, I think, is where we eventually need to go: gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

All these matters need to be examined in more depth. My hope is that Messrs. Brooks, Ryan, Brooks, and Murray continue to deepen this discussion and, in the process, pull other thoughtful voices into it. They could hardly perform a more useful intellectual and civic role.

On the website e21, Representative Paul Ryan has responded to a column by David Brooks, who in turn was commenting on an op-ed by Ryan and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Charles Murray added his thoughts as well.

The subject they are addressing is the role and purpose of the state in our lives. I would add only a few thoughts to what these razor-sharp minds have written.

The first is this: more than at any point in our lifetime, the sheer cost and size of government matters. We face an entitlement crisis. The level of our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Demographics are working against us rather than in our favor. And the Obama presidency has made our fiscal problems more, not less, acute. Unless we begin to reverse this trend fairly significantly, America will change in deep and lasting ways. We cannot continue on our present course and remain a strong, vibrant society. There is an urgent need, then, to re-limit government simply as a matter of dollars and cents, quite apart from philosophy and the effects the nanny state has on human character and self-reliance.

That said, conservatives also need to engage in a thoroughgoing examination of the core purposes of programs and policies. And in considering how to reform government programs, we need to think in terms of what we want them to do rather than simply how large and costly they are.

Consider four successes by government in the past 20 years: welfare reform; crime reduction (including the transformation of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giuliani); the campaign against illegal drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led by William J. Bennett; and the surge in Iraq. In each of these instances, the key to success wasn’t limiting the size of government; in each case, after all, government spending went up, not down. What transformed failure into success was acting smarter, creating the right incentives and disincentives, attacking the problems in a comprehensive way, and thinking in terms of what works.

What we need, then, are policymakers who believe in accountability; who judge results based not on inputs (expenditures, number of caseload workers, police officers, or troops) but outputs (cutting the number of people on welfare, decreasing drug use, reducing crime rates, lowering the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, car bombings, suicide attacks, and terrorist safe havens); who are passionately empirical; and who understand that we need to craft programs so as to take into account human nature and human behavior.

When it comes to entitlement programs, our task is different from, say, an anti-crime strategy. On entitlements, our first priority needs to be cutting costs in order to avoid a fiscal calamity. That will require us to alter the way we think about the basic aims of these programs. And here, I think, is where we eventually need to go: gradually and thoughtfully transitioning toward a means-tested system of benefits in place of the current Social Security and Medicare systems.

All these matters need to be examined in more depth. My hope is that Messrs. Brooks, Ryan, Brooks, and Murray continue to deepen this discussion and, in the process, pull other thoughtful voices into it. They could hardly perform a more useful intellectual and civic role.

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Defining Recovery Down

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective. Read More

What are we to make of the most recent jobs report, which shows that (a) unemployment increased from 9.5 percent to 9.6 percent and (b) nonfarm payrolls fell by 54,000 last month? If you’re White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you tweet, “Don’t be fooled — the economy added 67,000 private sector jobs, 8th straight month of added private sector jobs, job loss came in Census work.” Picking up on this, David Mark, Politico’s senior editor, writes this:

At the White House Friday morning President Obama praised the private sector addition of 67,000 jobs in August, the eighth straight month of job growth. “That’s positive news, and it reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession. But it’s not good enough,” the president said. And Christina Romer, outgoing chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, said the jobs figures were “better than expected.” Do they have a point about a slowly-but-surely improving jobs situation?

The answer is “no.” To understand why, it might be helpful to put things in a wider perspective.

For one thing, the so-called underemployment rate, which includes workers who are working part-time but who want full-time work, increased from 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. During our supposed “Recovery Summer,” we have lost 283,000 jobs (54,000 in June, 171,000 in July, and 54,000 in August). And for August, the employment-population ratio — the percentage of Americans with jobs — was 58.5 percent. We haven’t seen figures this low in nearly three decades. As Henry Olson of the American Enterprise Institute points out, “Since the start of this summer, nearly 400,000 Americans have entered the labor force, but only 130,000 have found jobs. … America’s adult population has risen by 2 million people since [August 2009], but the number of adults with jobs has dropped by 180,000. The unemployment rate declined slightly despite these numbers, from 9.7 percent to 9.6 percent, because over 2.3 million people have left the labor force entirely, so discouraged they are no longer even looking for work. ”

Keep in mind that all this is occurring during a period when job growth should be considerably higher, at least based on past post-recession recoveries. Former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Michael Boskin points out that “compared to the 6.2% first-year Ford recovery and 7.7% Reagan recovery, the Obama recovery at 3% is less than half speed.” Bear in mind, too, that today’s jobs report comes a week after the GDP for the second quarter was revised downward, from 2.4 percent to 1.6 percent. Economists generally agree that the economy needs to grow 2.5 percent to keep unemployment from going up, and a good deal better than that to begin to bring it substantially down.

What all this means, I think, is that we’re not in a recovery at all, at least not in any meaningful sense. And those who insist otherwise are (to amend a phrase from Daniel Patrick Moynihan) Defining Recovery Down.

The most recent GDP figures also have harmful fiscal ramifications. For example, estimates for the deficit this year (more than $1.3 trillion) are based on both the Congressional Budget Office’s and the Obama administration’s assumption of roughly 3 percent growth. If growth is well below that, government revenues are going to be lower than estimated. And so this year’s deficit and net increase in the debt are going to be worse than even the (already quite troubling) projections. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has very few, if any, arrows left in its quiver. It has done just about all that can be done.

The narrative the Obama administration is trying to sell is that we were on the edge of another Great Depression but avoided it and are now, in the president’s oft-repeated phrase, “moving in the right direction.” If we persist in following Obama’s policies on spending, taxes, and regulations, Obama assures us, we will build on this recovery and turn a sluggish one into a strong one. At the end of Obamaism lies the land of milk and honey.

This is wishful thinking. The economy right now is sick and, in some important respects, getting sicker. And the president is pursuing policies that are not only not helping; they are downright counterproductive.

Robert Gibbs can tweet away, but he cannot tweet away reality.

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Obama Ain’t No Reagan

Over at the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, William Inboden has written a smart piece, “Is Obama’s First Term Like Reagan’s?” Will addresses the narrative being put forth by President Obama’s aides, according to which Obama’s first term is analogous not to Carter’s (an increasingly common comparison these days) but to Reagan’s.

While granting that this is a clever try “if one can get past the irony of an administration simultaneously trying to dismantle the Reagan legacy while embracing the Reagan image,” Inboden writes, “As a matter of history, it is, well, dubious.” Inboden explains why. It’s worth the read.

Over at the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, William Inboden has written a smart piece, “Is Obama’s First Term Like Reagan’s?” Will addresses the narrative being put forth by President Obama’s aides, according to which Obama’s first term is analogous not to Carter’s (an increasingly common comparison these days) but to Reagan’s.

While granting that this is a clever try “if one can get past the irony of an administration simultaneously trying to dismantle the Reagan legacy while embracing the Reagan image,” Inboden writes, “As a matter of history, it is, well, dubious.” Inboden explains why. It’s worth the read.

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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American Equality

Arthur Brooks, the outstanding president of the American Enterprise Institute (and co-author, with me, of a forthcoming monograph on capitalism and morality), published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on fairness that ends this way:

There is nothing inherently fair about equalizing incomes. If the government penalizes you for working harder than somebody else, that is unfair. If you save your money but retire with the same pension as a free-spending neighbor, that is also unfair.

Real fairness, as most of us see it, does not mean bringing the top down. Yes, free markets tend to produce unequal incomes. We should not be ashamed of that. On the contrary, our system is the envy of the world and should be a source of pride. Generation after generation, it has rewarded hard work and good values, education and street smarts. It has offered the world’s most disadvantaged not government redistribution but a chance to earn their success.

That is true fairness, American-style.

One of the reasons Brooks’ piece is important is because he places economic issues in a moral frame and, rather than running away from the charge of “fairness” – which has been used as a battering ram against conservatives for decades – Brooks takes it head on and turns it to the advantage of conservatives. Brooks’ article helps explain why, in the words of Tocqueville, “equality in liberty” is vastly preferable, both economically and morally, to “equality in restraint and servitude.”

Call it true equality, American-style.

Arthur Brooks, the outstanding president of the American Enterprise Institute (and co-author, with me, of a forthcoming monograph on capitalism and morality), published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on fairness that ends this way:

There is nothing inherently fair about equalizing incomes. If the government penalizes you for working harder than somebody else, that is unfair. If you save your money but retire with the same pension as a free-spending neighbor, that is also unfair.

Real fairness, as most of us see it, does not mean bringing the top down. Yes, free markets tend to produce unequal incomes. We should not be ashamed of that. On the contrary, our system is the envy of the world and should be a source of pride. Generation after generation, it has rewarded hard work and good values, education and street smarts. It has offered the world’s most disadvantaged not government redistribution but a chance to earn their success.

That is true fairness, American-style.

One of the reasons Brooks’ piece is important is because he places economic issues in a moral frame and, rather than running away from the charge of “fairness” – which has been used as a battering ram against conservatives for decades – Brooks takes it head on and turns it to the advantage of conservatives. Brooks’ article helps explain why, in the words of Tocqueville, “equality in liberty” is vastly preferable, both economically and morally, to “equality in restraint and servitude.”

Call it true equality, American-style.

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Republican Resurrection

Michael Barone is a person with extraordinary knowledge about politics. So his statement in the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, The American, caught my attention: “Recent polls tell me that the Democratic Party is in the worst shape I have seen during my 50 years of following politics closely.”

Barone devotes his article to looking back at the biggest GOP victory of the last 80 years – the off-year election of 1946, in which Republicans won 13 Senate seats and 55 seats in the House – and explores the similarities and differences today.

Speaking of today, Obama’s approval rating in the latest CBS poll is at an all-time low of 44 percent, a staggering 24 points below where it was just a year ago. When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower: only 34 percent approved, while 55 percent said they disapproved.

Republicans now lead on the congressional generic ballot in both the Gallup survey (+3) and the Rasmussen survey (+9). Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats on nine out of 10 key issues – including on health care, which is nearly unprecedented. Following the passage of the health care bill, 53 percent now say they trust Republicans on the issue of health care, versus 37 percent who place their trust in Democrats. And according to a Marist poll, since ObamaCare passed, 53 percent of those polled said their opinion of the president has not changed. But 29 percent said their opinion of Obama has gotten worse. And only 18 percent — fewer than two in 10 — said their opinion of Obama has gotten better. To add salt to the wound: among independents, Tea Partiers’ views are preferred to Obama’s by a 50 percent to 38 percent margin.

This erosion of support for the Democratic party in such a compressed period of time is unlike anything I can recall. Democrats continue to hope that things will turn around between now and the mid-term elections. But with every passing month, this wish appears fanciful. Democrats like Bill Clinton predicted Obama and his party’s approval ratings would jump in the aftermath ObamaCare’s passage; many of us said the opposite. So far, the opposite is happening. Nor is opposition to Obama and Democrats likely to recede much between now and November; in fact it may well intensify.

Early last year, the GOP was bloodied and on the ropes, and out came the epitaphs. Sam Tanenhaus wrote a book titled The Death of Conservatism. Democrats like James Carville were saying, “A Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Today, after 15 months of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, it looks like Democrats may fall around 38 years short of that prediction. And Mr. Tanenhaus might want to get used to the concept of resurrection. Because that is what is unfolding before our eyes.

The strong wind at the backs of Republicans will at some point shift; that is the nature of American politics. For now, though, everyone agrees that November will be bad for Democrats. The only question is just how bad. At this juncture, I would say: very bad.

Michael Barone is a person with extraordinary knowledge about politics. So his statement in the American Enterprise Institute’s blog, The American, caught my attention: “Recent polls tell me that the Democratic Party is in the worst shape I have seen during my 50 years of following politics closely.”

Barone devotes his article to looking back at the biggest GOP victory of the last 80 years – the off-year election of 1946, in which Republicans won 13 Senate seats and 55 seats in the House – and explores the similarities and differences today.

Speaking of today, Obama’s approval rating in the latest CBS poll is at an all-time low of 44 percent, a staggering 24 points below where it was just a year ago. When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower: only 34 percent approved, while 55 percent said they disapproved.

Republicans now lead on the congressional generic ballot in both the Gallup survey (+3) and the Rasmussen survey (+9). Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats on nine out of 10 key issues – including on health care, which is nearly unprecedented. Following the passage of the health care bill, 53 percent now say they trust Republicans on the issue of health care, versus 37 percent who place their trust in Democrats. And according to a Marist poll, since ObamaCare passed, 53 percent of those polled said their opinion of the president has not changed. But 29 percent said their opinion of Obama has gotten worse. And only 18 percent — fewer than two in 10 — said their opinion of Obama has gotten better. To add salt to the wound: among independents, Tea Partiers’ views are preferred to Obama’s by a 50 percent to 38 percent margin.

This erosion of support for the Democratic party in such a compressed period of time is unlike anything I can recall. Democrats continue to hope that things will turn around between now and the mid-term elections. But with every passing month, this wish appears fanciful. Democrats like Bill Clinton predicted Obama and his party’s approval ratings would jump in the aftermath ObamaCare’s passage; many of us said the opposite. So far, the opposite is happening. Nor is opposition to Obama and Democrats likely to recede much between now and November; in fact it may well intensify.

Early last year, the GOP was bloodied and on the ropes, and out came the epitaphs. Sam Tanenhaus wrote a book titled The Death of Conservatism. Democrats like James Carville were saying, “A Democratic majority is emerging, and it’s my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next 40 years.” Today, after 15 months of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, it looks like Democrats may fall around 38 years short of that prediction. And Mr. Tanenhaus might want to get used to the concept of resurrection. Because that is what is unfolding before our eyes.

The strong wind at the backs of Republicans will at some point shift; that is the nature of American politics. For now, though, everyone agrees that November will be bad for Democrats. The only question is just how bad. At this juncture, I would say: very bad.

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Was the Assassination Ban Covertly Repealed?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?

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What McCain Gaffe?

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When the MSM gets fixated on a certain idea it is almost impossible to dislodge it, regardless of the evidence. One of those ideas is that Sunni and Shiite extremists don’t cooperate with one another or with secular Arab regimes.

Thus, last week, we saw a spate of reports claiming that a government-funded think tank had found no links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The report actually finds considerable evidence of Saddam’s links to a number of terrorist groups including Al Qaeda and its constituent organizations. This was noted by commentators such as Steve Hayes in the Weekly Standard but ignored by the MSM.

This week, the MSM is claiming that John McCain made a big gaffe by alleging links between Iran and Al Qaeda. To quote the lead of today’s Washington Post article:

Sen. John McCain, in the midst of a trip to the Middle East that he hoped would help burnish his foreign policy expertise, incorrectly asserted Tuesday that Iran is training and supplying al-Qaeda in Iraq, confusing the Sunni insurgent group with the Shiite extremists who U.S. officials believe are supported by their religious brethren in the neighboring country.

Actually it’s the authors of this Post article who are guilty of making incorrect assertions. There is copious evidence of Iran supplying and otherwise assisting Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni terrorist groups (including Al Qaeda central). The 9/11 Commission itself noted a number of links between Iran and Al Qaeda. That evidence is summarized here. A sample from the Commission report: “There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

For more recent evidence of Iranian activity, take a look at this American Enterprise Institute report by Danielle Pletka, Fred Kagan and Kim Kagan. There is an entire section on pages 22-23 on “Iranian Support for Al Qaeda.” Relying solely on press accounts and coalition forces briefings, the authors write:

A supply of arms flowed from Iran into al Qaeda strongholds in Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, presumably from the Iranian border to the south and east. From there, al Qaeda transported the munitions to Baghdad. Iranian arms became an important part of al Qaeda’s arsenal. In May 2007, both [Major General Rick] Lynch and Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, briefed on the use of EFPs by Sunni extremists south of Baghdad.

This and other bits of evidence have been cited on a number of blogs—for instance, weeklystandard.com and powerline. It has even been noted in the past by the MSM. In fact, last year the Washington Post, the very newspaper now so contemptuous of McCain’s statement, ran this article which states: “Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.”

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.

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Hitchens on Lefkowitz

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon G. Chang wrote about the State Department’s shameful disavowal of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. (Lefkowitz, a COMMENTARY contributor, published “Stem Cells and the President” in our January issue.) Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Lefkowitz had registered some blunt complaints about the ineffectiveness of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, and emphasized the failings of South Korea and China in particular. Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes up Lefkowitz’s cause.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had distanced the Bush administration from Lefkowitz’s comments by telling him to stick to human rights and leave the disarmament business to the big shots—in almost those words. Hitchens argues that in the case of North Korea the challenges of human rights and nuclear disarmament are necessarily linked:

The specific method of enslavement north of the border is to consider all citizens to be conscripts as well as serfs, an unprecedented mobilization that in the last resort has every North Korean a robotized soldier. This, in turn, especially given the proximity of the South Korean capital, Seoul, to the so-called “demilitarized zone,” compels South Korea to maintain a disproportionate armed force and the United States to commit an extraordinary number of its own troops, ships, and airplanes…Because of famine and exploitation, the average North Korean soldier is now as much as 6 inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. The struggle—ideological, political, and military—would be more or less over if Pyongyang did not have a thermonuclear capacity and a well-earned reputation for being governed by an unpredictable psychopath who may not understand the concept of self-preservation.

Hitchens goes on to point out the undesirability of a policy that managed to denuclearize North Korea incrementally, through bribes, at the expense of the human rights cause.

Now, this might not matter so much if it were only as irritating and humiliating as the long-drawn-out charade that we played with Saddam Hussein and are still playing with the Iranian mullahs. But meanwhile, we are authorizing and expediting the delivery of essential fuel and food to the regime, and thus becoming co-administrators and physical guarantors of the most cruel and oppressive system of tyranny on the planet.

Not only has the Bush administration gone mum about the evil of the axis-of-evil’s only non-deterrable member, but the issue of North Korean human rights hasn’t earned so much as a soundbite from any presidential candidate. Silence on this issue is not only an ideological failure, but a strategic one. As Hitchens says, “That’s why Lefkowitz was right to speak up and right to imply that it is within the terms of his brief to do so.”

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

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More in Afghanistan

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.

Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.

Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.

That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.

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Re: Lefkowitz on North Korea

I’ve just learned that the State Department, in an act of childish pique masquerading as diplomatic maturity, has literally “disappeared” its own envoy Jay Lefkowitz’s Thursday speech on North Korea from its website. No matter; the American Enterprise Institute, where Lefkowitz spoke, has saved it from the going down the memory hole by posting it here.

I’ve just learned that the State Department, in an act of childish pique masquerading as diplomatic maturity, has literally “disappeared” its own envoy Jay Lefkowitz’s Thursday speech on North Korea from its website. No matter; the American Enterprise Institute, where Lefkowitz spoke, has saved it from the going down the memory hole by posting it here.

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State Eats One of Its Own

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

On Friday the State Department disavowed the comments of its special envoy for human rights in North Korea. During the daily press briefing, spokesman Sean McCormack said that Jay Lefkowitz was not representing the views of the Bush administration on Thursday when he criticized the six-party talks to disarm Kim Jong Il.

“North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner,” the envoy stated in widely publicized remarks to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Yet what really stung the State Department were comments that received no attention. “Policy should rest on assumptions that correlate with recent facts and events,” Lefkowitz said. “One key assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that China and South Korea would apply significant pressure to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.”

South Korea has indeed been a disappointment since the six-party negotiations began in Beijing more than four years ago. Yet Lee Myung-bak, elected president last month, is already beginning to align Seoul’s policy closer to Washington’s. Therefore, the critical issue is now China. Lefkowitz discussed many wonderful ideas about how to disarm North Korea with Helsinki-type human rights dialogues, but he did not mention how we could persuade Beijing to help us.

And now is the time to talk about how to do so. With South Korea moving to our side, the Chinese will be alone in their support of Pyongyang. So skilful—and coercive—diplomacy can maneuver the Chinese into a position where they have to take a clear stand. Unfortunately, no one in the Bush administration is willing to force them to choose between their future, cooperation with us, and their past, their alliance with North Korea.

With China, we must be prepared to make nuclear proliferation the litmus test of our relations and use all the leverage we have. We have been patiently engaging the Chinese for decades, and now is the time for them to act responsibly. After all, what’s the point of trying to integrate them into an international community that they are working to destabilize through their support of dangerous rouges?

The spread of nukes to unstable and hostile regimes–and their terrorist proxies– is the world’s gravest threat. Nothing else comes close. China is either with us or against us. Someone in the Bush administration needs to say that because it’s better to learn the answer sooner rather than later. It’s right for Jay Lefkowitz to talk about the failure of the six-party process, and now it’s time for President Bush to discuss the real issue.

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John Bolton’s Profound Mistake

North Korea, almost completely sealed off from the world, mired in Communist stasis, and forging ahead with a nuclear-weapons program, is a deeply mysterious place. But is its behavior any more mysterious than that of the United States?

Back in February, six-party talks produced an agreement for North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for a generous package of foreign aid. January 1, 2008 was the deadline for it to reveal all the details of what it had been up to. But here we are on January 3, and it is evident that North Korea is planning to turn its homework in late, if it ever turns it in at all.

How is the Bush administration reacting to this latest broken promise, one of dozens that dot the five-year history of this latest attempt to persuade Pyongyong to negotiate away its weapons? “It’s unfortunate, but we are going to keep working on this,” are the words uttered by a State Department spokesman in response. Kim Jong Il must be trembling in his boots.

The United States has been engaged in a diplomatic charade, and that is the title of an op-ed in today’s USA Today by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, which begins: “Once and for all: Can we please stop pretending that Kim Jong Il is negotiating with us in good faith?”

But this charade is no parlor game. Eberstadt explains what has already transpired and what is at stake in the years ahead:

Viewed without illusion, these vaunted denuclearization talks with North Korea have in practice provided diplomatic cover for Pyongyang to achieve its long-desired status as a nuclear weapons state. And, by the way, any American official who thinks Kim Jong Il wouldn’t dare sell his nuclear wares abroad is off in a dream world.

Connecting the Dots admits to being baffled by American behavior. Is President Bush kicking this dangerous can down the road for a Hillary or Obama or a Huckabee to handle? Back in September, John Bolton courageously dissented from the Bush administration he had only just served to call the continuing American participation in the negotiation charade a “profound mistake.” Unfortunately, he has once again been proved right. 

 

North Korea, almost completely sealed off from the world, mired in Communist stasis, and forging ahead with a nuclear-weapons program, is a deeply mysterious place. But is its behavior any more mysterious than that of the United States?

Back in February, six-party talks produced an agreement for North Korea to abandon its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for a generous package of foreign aid. January 1, 2008 was the deadline for it to reveal all the details of what it had been up to. But here we are on January 3, and it is evident that North Korea is planning to turn its homework in late, if it ever turns it in at all.

How is the Bush administration reacting to this latest broken promise, one of dozens that dot the five-year history of this latest attempt to persuade Pyongyong to negotiate away its weapons? “It’s unfortunate, but we are going to keep working on this,” are the words uttered by a State Department spokesman in response. Kim Jong Il must be trembling in his boots.

The United States has been engaged in a diplomatic charade, and that is the title of an op-ed in today’s USA Today by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, which begins: “Once and for all: Can we please stop pretending that Kim Jong Il is negotiating with us in good faith?”

But this charade is no parlor game. Eberstadt explains what has already transpired and what is at stake in the years ahead:

Viewed without illusion, these vaunted denuclearization talks with North Korea have in practice provided diplomatic cover for Pyongyang to achieve its long-desired status as a nuclear weapons state. And, by the way, any American official who thinks Kim Jong Il wouldn’t dare sell his nuclear wares abroad is off in a dream world.

Connecting the Dots admits to being baffled by American behavior. Is President Bush kicking this dangerous can down the road for a Hillary or Obama or a Huckabee to handle? Back in September, John Bolton courageously dissented from the Bush administration he had only just served to call the continuing American participation in the negotiation charade a “profound mistake.” Unfortunately, he has once again been proved right. 

 

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Is John Bolton a Reckless, Unilateralist, Right-Wing Ideologue?

What are we to make of John Bolton? The New York Times called his appointment as United Nations ambassador “a terrible choice at a critical time.” But if Bolton is despised by many on the Left, he is a hero to quite a few on the Right. What does he really deserve: contempt or adulation?

Bolton, now at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., has a new book out, Surrender is Not an Option, telling the story of his career. I’ve reviewed it in the latest issue of Commentary and I found myself agreeing with the New York Times. He was indeed a terrible choice for UN ambassador — terrible, that is, for the corrupt UN. 

If a Republican wins the presidency next year, what would be the most suitable appointment for Bolton in the new administration? My own preference would be to nominate him as Director of National Intelligence. Among other things, Bolton is a bureaucratic steamroller; and if there ever was a crying need for fixing a set of broken institutions, this is it.  

If readers have other suggestions, I would welcome them.

What are we to make of John Bolton? The New York Times called his appointment as United Nations ambassador “a terrible choice at a critical time.” But if Bolton is despised by many on the Left, he is a hero to quite a few on the Right. What does he really deserve: contempt or adulation?

Bolton, now at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., has a new book out, Surrender is Not an Option, telling the story of his career. I’ve reviewed it in the latest issue of Commentary and I found myself agreeing with the New York Times. He was indeed a terrible choice for UN ambassador — terrible, that is, for the corrupt UN. 

If a Republican wins the presidency next year, what would be the most suitable appointment for Bolton in the new administration? My own preference would be to nominate him as Director of National Intelligence. Among other things, Bolton is a bureaucratic steamroller; and if there ever was a crying need for fixing a set of broken institutions, this is it.  

If readers have other suggestions, I would welcome them.

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Not Surrender Monkeys Anymore

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute have published a fascinating new paper based on their recent talks with counterterrorism officials in Europe. Their findings contrast with the crude stereotype that so many American conservatives have of the French as “surrender monkeys.” Gerecht and Schmitt write: “France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe.”

France, they note, has been facing the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism since the 1980’s and has done an impressive job of marshaling its resources to defend itself. What’s the secret of French success? Gerecht and Schmitt point to the fact that the French “grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction).”

The last office, whose most famous holder is Jean-Louis Bruguière, was created in 1986 and is utterly without parallel in the American system, because it gives a single magistrate the power to use both intelligence and police services to stop terrorists before they strike. Magistrates even have the power to lock up French citizens when there is not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.

For all their carping about America’s supposed civil-liberties abuses, the French have concentrated more power in the hands of their counterterrorism officials than we have. And it’s paid off. Gerecht and Schmitt conclude:

“We underscore the power of the French state since so much post–Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers—for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of ‘probable cause’ of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards—are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.”

In fact, as they stress, the kind of steps the French take work. And yet in the more than twenty years since this system was created, “France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, and many of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute have published a fascinating new paper based on their recent talks with counterterrorism officials in Europe. Their findings contrast with the crude stereotype that so many American conservatives have of the French as “surrender monkeys.” Gerecht and Schmitt write: “France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe.”

France, they note, has been facing the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism since the 1980’s and has done an impressive job of marshaling its resources to defend itself. What’s the secret of French success? Gerecht and Schmitt point to the fact that the French “grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction).”

The last office, whose most famous holder is Jean-Louis Bruguière, was created in 1986 and is utterly without parallel in the American system, because it gives a single magistrate the power to use both intelligence and police services to stop terrorists before they strike. Magistrates even have the power to lock up French citizens when there is not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.

For all their carping about America’s supposed civil-liberties abuses, the French have concentrated more power in the hands of their counterterrorism officials than we have. And it’s paid off. Gerecht and Schmitt conclude:

“We underscore the power of the French state since so much post–Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers—for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of ‘probable cause’ of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards—are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.”

In fact, as they stress, the kind of steps the French take work. And yet in the more than twenty years since this system was created, “France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, and many of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.”

Read Less




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