Twenty-two years after their Iraqi Kurdish brethren proclaimed their autonomy against the backdrop of an uprising against Saddam Hussein, Syrian Kurds yesterday formally declared the creation of an autonomous government. The United States should embrace the move. Syrian Kurds have largely restored order to the territory they control in and around the town of Qamishli. Children go to school, hospitals are open, and the local government provides basic services. This was no mean feat: Syrian Kurdish militias had to defend their region from encroachments and attacks from the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
So far, the United States has avoided contact with the Syrian Kurds, and has repeatedly denied Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader Salih Muslim a visa. The problem is two-fold: First, the PYD maintains close relations with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey. Ninety percent of Syrian Kurds sympathize with the PKK, which is no surprise since its leader Abullah Öcalan had for years resided in Syria and because they see the revived Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) as both corrupt and tribal: Syrian Kurds have no desire for leaders who prioritize a distant family over their own. American officials also say that the PYD is too close to Bashar al-Assad. This is an exaggeration: the PYD sees extremism on both sides of the conflict, and has worked to maintain their neutrality.
To ignore the autonomous Kurdish government in Syria would be a major mistake, however. The Syrian opposition has radicalized over the years. The moderates have long since been pushed aside. The alternative to the secular Kurdish administration is the Nusra Front and other opposition groups which hold the West in disdain.
In 1991, the Iraqi Kurds were pariahs, and treated poorly by the United States. Let us be glad that the Iraqi Kurds were forgiving, because they ultimately proved to be a great strategic asset to the United States. So long as the Syrian Kurds do not prematurely try to change Syria’s borders, there is no reason why we should not embrace the opportunity to bolster U.S. strategic interests and local liberty at the same time.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
U.S. Should Embrace Syrian Kurdistan
Must-Reads from Magazine
Some things never change.
As long as mankind has possessed the capacity to innovate, it has also been able to scare itself half to death.
Technology is disruptive; it seems to represent a threat to habit, ritual, and familiarity. It compels us to rethink how we interact with our world, and sometimes to reinvent ourselves. We call the fear of technology’s unintended consequences “moral panics,” but they could be more accurately described as empathetic panics. Technological innovation does present unique challenges and hazards, and it does disrupt lives—sometimes for the worse. Most of us, however, are the beneficiaries of technological advances. So, to the extent that any panic around a new technology catches on, it is a result of our collective capacity to sympathize with innovation’s victims.
Noting the relative size of this contingent does not reduce the sympathetic value of their condition. Some of those victims pay the ultimate price for society’s technological hunger. Around 10 p.m. on Sunday evening, for example, Tempe, Arizona’s 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was said by police to be walking just outside the crosswalk while pushing a shopping bag-laden bicycle when she was struck by an automated vehicle. She did not survive.
The vehicle was traveling at 38 miles-per-hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone, and the car made no attempt to brake, police said. Yet, according to the driver (yes, there was a driver behind the wheel at the time), Herzberg, who may have been homeless, walked out in front of the car before there was time for anyone—driver or vehicle—to react. “[I]t’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode,” said Tempe Police Department Chief Sylvia Moir, “based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”
It appeared, though, that Uber—the firm that operated this automated vehicle—was prepared for the public relations nightmare surrounding a death attributable to their new technology. The company announced within minutes that it would suspend the testing of its autonomous cars, which are operating in four cities across North America. That seems like a reactionary course for a company testing a new technology like this to take, but Uber knows what the real threat to its business model is: politicians.
The urban political class, which is still indebted to livery unions, has long sought to regulate Uber and its competitors into an uncompetitive position. Conservatives, too, fear the automated future. A driverless world would be one in which freedom of movement is dramatically curtailed. The modern political imperative to bubble-wrap the world’s sharp edges is forever intruding on individual liberty, and, when an alternative exists, a driver’s license may soon be stigmatized as a virtual license to kill. After all, there were over 40,000 automotive fatalities in 2017—the second consecutive year with death rates so high. Driverless vehicles are coming, and there will be regulations around them; they are already in the works. The is only the question of how heavy-handed those laws will be. The temptation to put the brakes on this paradigm-shifting innovation will be immense.
Driverless vehicles will displace millions of laborers. In a driverless world, over-the-road truckers and cab drivers will be all but eliminated. Far fewer families and individuals will own a vehicle, preferring instead to rent them on a need-based schedule. The local dealership will suffer as a result. This technology will transform not just the American economy but the American self-image. No longer will ours be a nation defined by explorers and travelers seeking out new frontiers on the open road. The highway will, instead, be the domain of the robots.
But this inevitable development will produce more winners than losers, as has virtually every other technological advancement of its kind. A sprawling study of innovations dating back to 1871 by the consultancy firm Deloitte should prove reassuring. Over the last 150 years, innovation has eliminated a significant number of dangerous or tedious jobs. The agricultural sector, for example, has slimmed down significantly as technology has replaced labor, as has the weaving, laundering, heavy industry, and secretarial sectors.
At the same time, however, technological advances have yielded the rapid growth of creative, technological, business, and what the study’s authors called “caring” sectors of the economy. Moreover, the increased employment in service sectors like hospitality, food and bar service, and hairdressers suggest that technology has increased individual efficiency and spending power, giving people more time to patronize the economy’s luxury services. The Deloitte study’s authors conclude that the public debate has been skewed unduly in favor of the minority who are disadvantaged by technological advances, and away from the vast majority who benefit from them.
Try telling that to the family of the woman who has the unfortunate claim on being the first person killed by an autonomous vehicle. It would take a hard heart to dismiss that pain or to charge headlong into an innovative future without concern for those who are dislocated along the way. That’s no society I would want to live in, and I’m glad I do not. The U.S. public sector, like much of the West, provides adjustment assistance and job training programs, unemployment insurance, and social welfare disbursements to ease that pain.
The fear that economic and moral degradation will accompany technological advancement is as old as technological advancement itself. The development of cheap paper manufactured from wood and straw pulp led to the proliferation of “dime novels,” which anti-vice crusaders of the mid-19th century warned, “distill an insidious poison of immorality into fresh and candid minds.” Locomotives were said to travel at speeds the human body could not endure and would eliminate vast and lucrative industries around canal networks. Telephony was said to be the work of the devil; farmers and landowners were known to tear down the lines that sprouted up across their property. Cathode-ray tubes in visual display terminals were sources of electromagnetic radiation that was believed to be harmful to pregnant women (they weren’t). The internet has yielded a trove of moral panics. Pornography is ubiquitous and soul-deadening; Google is “making us stupid”; YouTube provides predators a platform to corrupt our children; smartphones are addictive; social media is controlling weak minds through the power of suggestion.
It isn’t hard to see how the panics of today will be looked upon by our progeny with the scorn and skepticism we view the outrages of the 19th century. Children now have access to the panoply of human achievement and understanding, literally, in the palm of their hands. They are a part of an interpersonally connected world and the mutual understanding it fosters, thus rendering the ultimate scourge of man—great power wars—less conceivable. The “caring” sector’s expansion has led to life-saving innovations—like statin drugs—that are so ubiquitous we regard them as mundanities. And the inevitable future dominated by automated cars will allow people to maximize the time spent in transit for more economically valuable and self-fulfilling activities, which will ultimately enrich and benefit society as a whole.
That realization won’t change any hearts. As long as there is technology, it will conflict with tradition. That conflict is, in fact, one of the few constants of the human condition.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Transcendentalism that cannot transcend.
Is the postmodern theory of intersectionality–the new master narrative of the left, which claims to expose the hidden and overlapping structures of oppression in Western societies–intrinsically hostile to Jews and Israel? Or is it a mere accident that the loudest proponents of intersectionality also tend to be obsessed with “Jewish privilege” and the alleged depredations of the Jewish state? Is it possible to imagine a form of intersectionality that is friendly to Zionism and Israel? Or does anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel go to the core of intersectionality?
As intersectionality has migrated from postmodern academe to the forefront of left-wing activism, these questions have become urgent for anyone worried about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Witness, for example, the controversy over the connections between the Women’s March and Nation of Islam chief Louis Farrakhan. Despite significant mainstream-media pressure, and the pleas of their liberal-Jewish allies, the leaders of the Women’s March have refused to distance themselves from Farrakhan or forcefully condemn his long record of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The Women’s March has defended Farrakhan in intersectional terms. “People need to understand the significant contributions that these individuals have made to Black and Brown people,” said organizer Carmen Perez. Their liberal critics, meanwhile, have contended that the group’s flirtations with Farrakhan are a betrayal of “true” intersectionality. So which is it? Does intersectionality compel the Women’s March to embrace or apologize for Farrakhan? Or would a properly intersectional analysis require the Women’s March to disown him?
I’m afraid that, in this case, the Women’s March leaders know of what they speak, and that their critics on the anti-Farrakhan left are fooling themselves. That is, the Women’s March is going to bat for a vile anti-Semitic preacher, who has praised Hitler as a “very great man,” not in spite of intersectionality but precisely because of it.
To understand why, it helps to explore the intellectual history. The theory of intersectionality draws from two rivers of thought that flow in opposite directions.
The first is a set of ideas that came to replace class struggle and dialectical materialism on the left beginning in the 1960s and into ’90s. As the horrors of socialism came to light, the Soviet experiment faltered, and Marxism was discredited, the left became skeptical of all claims to objectively knowable truth. Science and religion, the Enlightenment and Judeo-Christianity, reason and revelation; these, the left’s big thinkers said, were all failed “grand narratives” that served the needs of power. Thus, every claim about truth, justice, beauty, and the good was actually an imposition of white, male privilege. Everyone is partial, according to this view, and nothing transcends race-gender-sex power dynamics.
Intersectionality’s second source of inspiration is the age-old dream of manmade utopia. The demise of Marxism, with its promise of a classless society as the preordained endpoint of history, didn’t put an end to all “secularized theologies,” as the classical liberal philosopher Raymond Aron described Marxism and dialectical materialism. Idealistic people of the left, and especially the young, still believe that radical political action can bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, that social-justice activism will one day wipe every tear (cf. Rev. 21:4).
Bring those two things together–the denial of objective truth and justice, on the one hand, and the dream of perfect justice, on the other–and you get intersectionality. Elizabeth Corey and Jonathan Haidt, then, are correct to describe intersectionality as a latter-day Gnostic religion. But they only paint a partial picture. Intersectionality is a religion, yes, but one that denies the possibility of all ultimate truths and therefore lacks–indeed, rejects–a standard measure of justice. That is why intersectional “justice” generally takes the form of online mobs. It is also why intersectional “justice” is so arbitrary and so hostile to Israel and the Jews.
Precisely because it is a theory of generalized victimhood, intersectionality targets the Jews–the 20th century’s ultimate victims. Acknowledging the Jews’ profound claims to victimhood would force the intersectional left to admit the existential necessity of the State of Israel. But the intersectional left is not prepared to do so because, under intersectionality’s rules, all the outcomes are predetermined. Israel has been prejudged an outpost of Western colonialism. Therefore, the Jews cannot possibly be allowed to “win” the intersectional victimhood Olympics.
Intersectionality, moreover, allows its proponents to apply hideous double standards when judging between Israel and its enemies. Judged against a fair and universal standard, the Jewish state comes out looking very good indeed, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that it has been at war since its founding. But the intersectional left dreams of perfect justice without a standard of justice. It can, therefore, condemn the sole democracy in the Middle East while ignoring or whitewashing the far worse crimes of her enemies. And even the most progressive aspects of Israeli society count against it in the victimhood Olympics.
Finally, Jewish victimhood, whether at the hands of the Nazis or the Soviets, requires the intersectional left to admit that, by contrast, and for all their faults, the Western democracies (including Israel) are pretty decent, even admirable. But again, the intersectional left is committed to the opposite idea–that everywhere in the West, there are hidden “structures of oppression” that trap minorities along the lines of race, gender and sexuality. Thus, again, the Jews will lose the intersectional victimhood Olympics.
Whenever such relativism reigns–and the very possibility of objective truth is denied–Jews are imperiled. Israelis and their friends, including fair-minded liberals, would be wise to abjure intersectionality altogether, rather than try to make their case on intersectional terms.
This column was adapted from an address at the 6th Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Same as it ever was.
The age of Donald Trump is a period of disorientation. Donald Trump decries “fake news,” while his opponents promote reports that “ring true” as fact. Maybe one of the most fanciful delusions of Trump’s presidency, though, is the notion that America would have been spared this post-truth moment if Donald Trump lost the race for the White House.
Maybe you think that if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency then Americans would be less paranoid. After all, they would not have a president transforming a national political party into a collection of fevered conspiracy theorists, rambling on about the “deep state” whenever the White House encounters a particularly rocky news cycle. Right? Well, maybe not.
A Monmouth University poll released on Monday revealed that nearly three-quarters of Americans believe that the so-called “deep state”—a nefarious cabal made up of unelected bureaucrats—either “definitely” or “probably” exists and might be calling the shots in Washington D.C. It’s not hard to see why 72 percent of Republicans believe in a “deep state,” but you might be initially a little confused as to why 72 percent of Democrats do, too. The mystery is solved, however, when you recall that it was not Trump but Clinton’s supporters who initially alleged that the FBI was tainted with political bias.
Moreover, this was a narrative that was buttressed by a significant amount of reporting around the notion that this federal law-enforcement agency was in the tank for Trump. Because most of the Bureau “is white, male, and middle-aged, often with a military background,” as Politico’s Josh Gerstein noted, this agency was demographically predestined to want to Make America Great Again. The FBI was “Trumpland,” The Guardian explained; Clinton is viewed as the “antichrist,” and that has led to a culture at the Bureau that encourages illicit behavior so long as it is designed to derail her campaign. The Bureau was even compelled to open an investigation into itself because the department’s long-dormant records division released a series of documents on Twitter related to Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, and Bill Clinton’s pardoning of Marc Rich just nine days before the election.
Perhaps a President Hillary Clinton would not have been so quick to vent her frustrations in public or deflect from her administration’s failures by projecting them onto her opponents. But we can be sure that Donald Trump would not have retreated into the shadows after his 2016 loss. He would surely have continued his attacks on a “rigged” system and the prejudicial Clinton supporters who resented the demographics that made up his coalition of voters—just like Hillary Clinton is doing today.
Since leaving office, Clinton has blamed her loss on the FBI’s intervention in the election, media’s pro-Trump bias, incurious debate moderators, and the nation’s latent misogyny. Clinton spent the weekend apologizing (sort of) for her most recent offensive and self-pitying diatribe, having spent a trip to India flattering her voters as the nation’s makers who were only narrowly out-voted by a coalition of takers. And then, only after Trump ran a campaign based on racial animus and sexism, which appealed to racists and sexists.
Well, under a Clinton administration, at least the allegations involving Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign wouldn’t be treated by the president and her party as though it were a partisan issue, right? Think again. The extent to which Russian narrative-engineers on social media went to bat for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Party’s presidential primary would remain a useful intra-party cudgel if tensions between Clinton and Sanders remained as persistent as they are now. Judging by Senator Sanders’a prickly refusal to condemn Moscow’s support in 2016, the issue of Russian meddling would have likely been as much of a wedge among Democrats as it is today among Republicans.
Moreover, we now know that Russian-linked social-media accounts pivoted from boosting Donald Trump to boosting the so-called anti-Trump “Resistance” the minute the election was called for Trump. Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a Senate panel that Moscow’s only interest was in “fomenting discord.” In 2018, that mission will likely entail pitting progressive Democrats against their establishmentarian counterparts in the primaries and raising a rabble against hawkish members of Congress from both parties—to say nothing of probing America’s political infrastructure for potential weaknesses. The Russian operations that James Comey called “loud” in their execution would have been uncovered one way or another. Indeed, it seems likely that they were designed to be exposed. Furthermore, as Comey testified, Moscow penetrated Republican organizations in 2016 just as it infiltrated their Democratic counterparts. If sowing discord in 2018 means undermining the Republican Party, Moscow likely has plenty to work with, and Democrats will be just as tempted to revel in the right’s despair.
Beyond the particulars related to legitimate policy items that distinguish a Republican administration from a Democratic one, it is the comportment of Donald Trump himself that has led so many Democrats and skeptical Republicans to assert that this presidency “is not normal.” It’s not normal for a president to demonize law enforcement to score petty political points. It’s not normal for a president to hold so many millions of American voters in naked contempt. It’s not normal for a national political party to treat an attack on private U.S. entities by a hostile foreign power as a partisan issue. And yet, all this is as much a feature of the Trump era as it likely would have been under President Hillary Clinton.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Podcast: The FBI and Facebook
There appear to have been good reasons to fire FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, and good reasons for both Republicans and Democrats to believe he was a malign force in the 2016 elections. So why did Donald Trump and his lawyer decide to make it seem as though he had only been fired for crass political reasons? And why is everybody going insane over the clearly preposterous idea that a political marketing firm used Facebook to control the 2016 election? Why is everybody going bananas? It’s a podcast. Give a listen.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
A flawed system fails.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, Democrats had a good laugh at the Republican predicament—and who could blame them? Observing as a neophyte celebrity dispatched with one capable and well-groomed contender after another with just 25 to 35 percent of the vote is hilarious—that is, when it’s not happening to you. Fortunately for Republicans, they might soon get their own chance at schadenfreude in watching the Democrats fight it out.
With the political winds blowing stiffly in Republican lawmakers’ faces, a number of prominent GOP officeholders have opted out of a re-election bid in 2018. Among them, California’s Darrell Issa and Ed Royce—two high-profile Republicans from competitive districts where the president is deeply unpopular. The opportunity for Democrats in these and other Golden State districts is so obvious, in fact, that it has yielded a bumper crop of candidates. For the Democratic Party, that’s a problem.
Since 2010, California has been operating on an arcane system that was designed to be more representative of voters’ will. Rather than holding traditional primaries in which the top vote-getting Republican and Democratic candidates face off against one another in the general election, California holds a blanket, non-partisan primary in which the top two finishers—regardless of partisan affiliation—proceed to the general election. In theory, this was supposed to enhance the responsiveness of the political process and to allow politicians—mostly Democrats, let’s be honest—to face a competitive challenge for reelection in districts where the opposition party was not competitive. It was supposed to be a reform that “will change the political landscape in California,” said then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, “finally giving voters the power to truly hold politicians accountable.” But the new system’s flaws soon became apparent.
Following the 2010 census, California’s 31st congressional district was transformed from a competitive landscape into an area in which Democrats held a five-point registration advantage; tough territory for incumbent Republican Congressman Gary Miller. In 2012, then-Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar decided to challenge the incumbent, but he was joined by a series of other Democratic and Republican candidates. Despite being the top Democratic vote-getter in the district, he finished behind two Republican candidates who both advanced to the general election. Aguilar eventually won his seat in Congress, but not before his name became a verb associated with this new system’s undemocratic pitfalls. Today, with Democrats crawling over one another for the shot to run for Congress in a favorable environment, California’s Dems are bracing for a cascade of Aguilars.
When the top-two system was put in place following a referendum, Republicans who opposed it said it would inevitably become anti-democratic in practice. “This is a process that lends itself to back-room dealing, to big decisions being made by small groups of people,” said former California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring. He was absolutely right. Politico revealed on Thursday that Democratic power brokers spent the week frantically working the phones to persuade, cajole, entice, or intimidate uncompetitive Democrats converging on GOP-led districts to get out of the race before the filing deadline. Their efforts have not been as fruitful as they’d have liked, and many races will likely see a glut of Democratic candidates who functionally serve to protect the Republican candidates in the race from the voters’ rebuke.
This system also lends itself to gaming. In California’s 48th District, the GOP maintains a substantial voter registration advantage, but it was one of seven Republican-led districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016—districts that represent the foundational building blocks of the Democratic Party’s strategy to retake the House of Representatives. There, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, whose conspicuous efforts to shield Vladimir Putin from due censure tie him to one of Donald Trump’s most unlovely traits, is not popular and his fundraising has been underwhelming. He faced a series of qualified Democratic challengers, any one of whom has a chance of victory in November. But Rohrabacher might have received a reprieve in the form of an unexpected challenge from within his own party by Orange County GOP Chairman Scott Baugh—a popular, connected, and well-known figure in this district. Now, with eight Democrats vying to consolidate the modest liberal vote share in California’s 48th, “A Republican-only top two runoff is possible here in November,” wrote Golden State handicappers Rob Pyers and Darry Sragow.
Nehring prophesized in 2010 that this defective system would create incentives for moneyed interests and party bosses to exert their influence in an effort to disenfranchise lesser-known candidates without the means to compete. Thus, this supposedly responsive new system would, in fact, lead to the return of the fabled “smoke-filled rooms” from which candidates emerged after an opaque selection process. “We’ll be forced to turn to nominating conventions,” he complained. Nehring might have been right about that, too, but his implication that this would be an unwelcome development is questionable.
Political observers who have marveled over Democrat Conor Lamb’s special-election victory in a Pennsylvania district that voted for Donald Trump by 20 points just 16 months ago attributed his win not just to the national environment and the quality of the candidate, but to the process through which he won the nomination. Lamb was selected—not elected—on the second ballot of a Democratic Party nominating convention. As a result, Lamb was able to run a campaign tailored to voters in his district, not the campaign that progressive activists would have allowed had a purity-tested liberal emerged from a contested primary process.
If California’s new electoral system allows Republicans to secure a reprieve from the voters’ verdict this fall, expect a change of heart from Democrats. Suddenly, there might be a new virtue in the wisdom of a closed nominating process or, for that matter, in the old smoke-filled rooms.