Posts Tagged ‘Bush’

Ten years ago today, our country and my family received a terrible blow.  We were attacked.  Our countrymen were murdered.  We were shaken. 9/11 is an important historical event that has defined much of the last ten years, but it was also a family tragedy for me, as my Uncle Donnie Regan gave his life that day in the line of duty with the New York City Fire Department.

I distinctly remember the day, as I’m sure most Americans my age do.  I was living in Texas at the time–taking time off and about to start my first law firm job in a few weeks–and received a call from a close friend.  They were evacuating the Dallas Federal Building.  I turned on the TV.  The first tower was already down.  I was stunned.  The second tower came down soon thereafter.  My alarm at this took a little time; at first, I thought this was a replay of the first tower falling.  Then I realized that this situation was even worse than I thought.  Rumors of the “mall in DC” being on fire were on the news.  No one knew the extent of it.   I spoke briefly to my parents, when I heard that Donnie–my uncle and the father of my cousins to whom I am closest–may have been at the towers.


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The UN, having obtained US Support, has now moved to create a “no fly” zone over Libya.  Oh, what can we say.

Obama is now getting on the train he couldn’t get off after saying–unwisely in my opinion–Kaddafi must go.  That’s the problem with threats . . . they cascade upon themselves. This appears chiefly an emotional reaction to disturbing and violent news from the region, coupled with a self-fulfilling prophecy of presidential rhetoric.  There is no real moral reason to intervene here and not, say, Iran a few months ago or Bahrain or Egypt or many other places. And the reasons here are many times less compelling than Iran, which has, unlike Libya, been hostile to the US in very recent times.

We should all be concerned that Obama is moving without any congressional authorization.  Indeed, there’s been almost no debate.  It’s weird.  Wake up one day, and we’re at war. This is a terrible precedent, not so different from what the first President Bush tried to pull in the First Gulf War, though he ultimately did get a congressional resolution. Obama spoke out against this sort of thing when he was in Congress.  But like most presidents, he has fought to preserve and expand the power of the office once he was in it, even as he has used that increased power to undermine America the nation.  But even strong presidents have generally recognized in the momentous matter of war, the people’s representatives deserve a say.

Obama is turning against the one thing he had going for him in the last campaign:  relative realism and restraint on foreign policy.  Contra my putatitively conservative brethren, I do not embrace the US-as-global-cop role.  It is expensive, it does us little good, and it allows small regional conflicts to become global ones.  Many Americans agreed in 2008, fed up as they were with the indeterminate outcomes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the antagonism these wars fueled in the Muslim world.  Now we have a President who eloquently spoke to these themes going down the road to permanent war counseled by the psychotic duo of Senators McCain and Lieberman.  And worse, he is doing so at the insistence of Britain and France, nations whom we should respect, but not nations whom we should follow into every hare-brained European-style human rights war.

Worst of all, we have no strategy here. Though legally required, a congressional debate may not do any good, because, in both parties, we see a reactive, emotion-laden, and vaguely Wilsonian approach to the world that has no end game, cannot distinguish the important from the irrelevant, and, through a misplaced concern for “human rights,” makes no distinction between a genuine threat to the global order from what used to be called “internal affairs.”  So today we go to war with Libya.  Iran, not so much.  We are this big, lumbering, powerful country, but our leaders’ thinking is worse than that of children.  It’s like that of adolescents:  impulsive, overly self-satisfied, contemptuous of risk, ignorant of potential pitfalls, forgetful of recent failures, and a product of peer pressure.

Finally, in Europe and in America we have this confused idea that “no fly zones” are something short of war.  It’s true, they’re much safer for our guys than a land war.  In Kosovo, we had zero casualties, even as we bombed Serbian bridges and cities. In that sense, air strikes are sometimes the right tool to use.  But they are still acts of war, with bombing and killing and violations of another nation’s sovereignty, as well as some risk to the life and limb of Americans.  Yes, Kaddafi is a bad man.  He killed Americans back in the day and was punished for it (or made recompense in the case of Lockerbie).  If this were a merely retaliatory raid, I might be more sympathetic.  But American no longer does retaliatory raids. Every campaign is wrapped not in the flag but in the mantle of concern for democracy. This is the Democratic Party’s version of neoconservatism, plain and simple, where the lack of national interest is held up as proof of our purity of motive.  But this type of “freedom” is no formula for peace, as it makes a potential enemy of every nation on earth that is not governed like us.

While I am no pacifist, for moral and self-interested reasons, I must prefer peace to war.  Peace is not just a state of mind.  It involves something tangible and fundamental:  not undertaking aggressive military action unless it is a last resort connected to national interest.  The concern for the national interest, if widely shared and enshrined in international law, limits the effect of war.  It certainly limits the impact of war on our own nation.

A strong principle once existed for condemning war unless it was a defensive act.  This was the European system of the last 400 years, particularly after the Congress of Vienna.  But it’s been degraded since the end of the Cold War in the name of human rights.  It faced an earlier challenged in the name of ethnic homogenization, as in the Franco-Prussian War.  But even this principle had natural limits, and it was thoroughly discredited (or rendered irrelevant by ethnic cleansing) after World War II.

Now even this limiting principle is gone.  Americans will suddenly go to war for Rwandans and Libyans and Chadians and God knows who else.  We can’t go to war for everyone everywhere, and say we’re for peace.  If we’re engaging in “humanitarian” wars without even a patina of concern for national interest, then our nation is acting like naked imperialists.  Just because a handful of nations, in the name of Europe, team up and say they’re in the right doesn’t make this conglomerate non-imperialist.  It’s just cooperative imperialism.  It doesn’t change the reality.

I genuinely felt sick during the Kosovo War.  I knew what it meant to be “ashamed” of your country.  It was a new feeling for me.  Not only was our nation getting into an unnecessary war, but it was doing so for stupid reasons, badgered by confused Europeans, swindled by propaganda, and we were on the wrong side.  Today it’s the same.  While I feel much less sympathy for Kaddafi compared to Christian Serbia, it’s otherwise a nearly identical situation.

Iraq, at its worst, still had some arguable connection to national interest, even if the war ultimately proved unnecessary or based on a mistaken premise.  Afghanistan clearly had such a connection, even if it’s dragged on too long, having metamorphisized into a democracy-building campaign.  But Kosovo?  Somalia?  And now Libya?  These are the military interventions of an idiotic national leadership, Republican and Democrat.

Obama, after waxing and waning, has made a choice.  He neglected to tell the American people why this is so important. And now, showing solemn regard for the seriousness of war, he is off . . . to Brazil!?!

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That’s what they used to say about World War I:  you had armies of lions led by donkies.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear that the grand strategy–democratic nation-building in the Muslim world–will do little to make us safer from terrorism and requires an impossible tutelage of proud, xenophobic Muslims by secularized America and its military. 

Nearly ten years into Afghanistan, the place is what it has always been:  dangerous, anti-American, Muslim, and primitive.  Iraq is little better.  Yet conservatives remain optimistic, bragging even about the Iraq “victory.”  At the same time, the military plods onward, in spite of the strategic lunacy of our civilian leaders’ vision.  I confess, I was once more optimistic about the possible outcome.  Events have chastened me.  I have returned to my natural isolationism (coupled with a Jacksonian bias to the occasional, brutal retaliatory raid).  Ten years after these campaigns have begun, it’s clear that they are doing more harm than good, at least for our country and its security.

Lawrence Auster observed an important aspect of why this farce continues in a comment on the increasing focus of training Americans to build rapport with locals:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, as in Vietnam and Korea before them, the politicians assign the military a fundamentally impossible mission to accomplish. The military is told that they cannot defeat the enemy decisively, but must concede to the enemy an inviolable strategic sanctuary from which the enemy controls the tempo of combat. Moreover, the politicians place absurd restrictions on how the military must conduct operations even in the non-sanctuary areas where it is allowed to fight. Rather than resign or resist, the top brass accepts a strategy and operational restrictions that guarantee failure. This leaves the mid-level officers in the unenviable position of executing the impossible strategy under the ridiculous restrictions. Coming from a “can do” culture, the mid-level officers come up with incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plans to carry out the impossible mission. Mid-level officers who try to do the impossible are decorated and promoted; they know that if they salute, make no waves, and do their time overseas, their careers will stay on track. The few officers who realize they are executing a strategy that guarantees defeat either resign in disgust or are forced out. It is simply not in the Army’s institutional interest to lift its eyes above the level of the “intermediate steps” to the strategic level–among other things, this would bring about a profound crisis in civil-military relations, as the Army would have to refuse or resist political instructions that made no sense. As a result, the Army as an institution prospers even as it is defeated and even as the nation wastes vast amounts of money and lives trying to do the impossible.

Of course, mid-level officers are not supposed to conduct grand strategy; it’s healthy that they are subordinate to civilian leaders and also healthy and admirable that they are optimistic.  But there comes a time when some push-back is called for.  If a mission is unworkable, impossible, and will simply get soldiers and men needlessly killed, then it’s time to say something, whether in professional journals, in briefings to civilian leaders, or otherwise.  If nothing else, there is a time to say ” yes we can patrol here and there, meet with this or that village, and the like, but we do not have enough men to defeat the enemy, guaranty local security, and, further, we cannot and will not win hearts and minds, because our very presence in an Islamic land is repulsive to the people. And finally, none of these things will do anything identifiable to defeat al Qaeda or make America safer.” 

One unfortunate consequence of the incresaing “professionalism” of the modern military is its leaders’ absolute financial dependence on the government and, by necessity, prevailing political winds.  The old aristocratic volunteer officer might have been more inclined to speak out, whether against a losing campaing in Afghanistan or a meddlesome requirement to integrate women into his unit, not least because he could fall back on an inheritance and family wealth.  The modern major and lieutenant colonel is on the brink of a comfortable pension and is likely from a middle class background; to speak out to forcefully against the crazy directives coming from on high would result in penury, if not worse.  We sometimes wonder why Soviet engineers and soldiers and bureaucrats participated in their insane system year after year, in spite of the obvious lies, half-truths, destruction, and missed projections made by central planners.  There, as increasingly is the case in America, the state was everything.  In the Soviet Union, the withholding of a job, a pension, a license, a prescription, an apartment, or a degree was incalculaby destructive of the individual.   And there, as increasingly is the case in America, there were almost no resources outside the state, including private wealth, to fall back upon if one had earned the disfavor of the state.

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Conspiracy of Silence

Probably the biggest way the establishment and its lapdog media aid the President and reveal their intrinsic biases is by their silence.  We have an ongoing war of indeterminate success in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Gone are the protests, editorials, mock graveyards, and Michael Moore propaganda films of only four years ago.  Gone is the concern for Guantanamo Bay, rendition of suspects, or the “imperial presidency.”  Gone is most of the mainstream media’s handwringing over deficits; Bush’s “wars of choice” still get most of the blame, even though Obama projects annual deficits 3-4X larger than Bush’s from 2001-2007 (2008 was the stimulus year, and it got to be over $1T that year.)

The most negative aspect of a Democrat in the White House is the way that the media gives him a pass, redefines the issues, and holds him to a lower standard than a Republican.  It is good for a Republican or any President to be accountable for his mistakes.  Bush was rightly held to account for the lackluster results in Iraq, the massive chaos following Katrina, and the huge corporate giveaways in his prescription drug plan.  But Obama should be held to a high standard too.  He’s not, whether on his healthcare being instantaneously over budget or the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.  He is being give the affirmative action treatment he has received his whole life, the kind where results, rigor, and responsibility are never taught or reinforced.  Moreover, native Republican patriotism (and at times mindless militarism) leaves him completely free to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely regardless of their results, or rather, lack of results.

While there are some good aspects to the opposition being made up in this case of patriotic adults, it is bad if he is given a complete pass, as young lives and much American treasure as well as our national security are all on the line.  And, for obvious reasons, his repeated screw-ups and inability to do anything to help the economy are becoming the elephant in the room that even his lapdog media cannot ignore.  There comes a point where Obama’s and his supporters’ blaming of Bush and the Republicans (who lost their congressional majority in 2006) looks stupid and unbelievable, even to them.  There seems already a shift in his more marginal supporters, who are put off by his ideological fervor and revelations of instinctual leftism, i.e., his criticism of Officer Crowley or bowing to non-white foreign leaders.  My optimism on a mainstream and partial media revolt is probably over-optimistic.  Unbelievable lies on race, immigration, sex differences, and crime have proceeded apace for 40 years,  even as they have become more and more ridiculous and disproven.  Whether there is significant backlash under Obama remains to be seen.  But for now, he is being given a great deal of leeway, and he is accomplishing a great deal of permanent change both to the citizens’ relationship to the federal government and the American government’s relationship to its international friends and competitors.   And these changes are mostly very bad ones.

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Obama’s noises about abandoning nuclear weapons, his release of torture memos, and his sucking up to Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and Cuba at the Summit of the Americas all have the same source:  his belief that the U.S’s disproportionate strength, global perceptions of our arrogance, and our shoddy record all combine to make the rest of the world hate us.  If we only show that we understand them and are sympathetic, so this thinking goes, they will respond by scaling back their venom.

This is not completely unreasonable thinking.  There are times when gestures of humility and magnanimity are effective, particularly in certain kinds of interpersonal settings like the boardroom or in an academic environment, where give and take is the name of the game.  There is no doubt his sensitivity in this area had much to do with his electability.  However, when such a  technique is applied in a world with real and motivated enemies, competitors, hostile strange alien peoples, and Islamic terrorists who believe they are undertaking a religious mandate, it is a formula for disaster.  It may make us some friends, but more likely it will invite contempt by our enemies, and such easily bought friends with lack the respect and fear that the U.S. has always commanded and will instead be cowed by our enemies’ threats.

The standard leftist narrative of foreign policy excludes any acknowledgement that our military strength and the sometimes dirty deeds of our security forces are why we have been safe from major threats under Bush’s presidency, and that these actions are also the reason why the Cold War did not end at a summit or conference, but instead ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union after a decade-long and quite controversial arms race.

For someone who has spent as much time in Chicago as Obama has, I’m surprised that something like the following has never affected Obama’s view of human nature:  every single time that I gave a panhandler a dollar in a moment of Christian compassion, the response was never–NEVER—an appreciative thank you.  It was always a request for more money, a more greatly embellished tale of being down and out, or, sometimes, it was the prelude to a physical confrontation.  I learned.  Obama should have concluded from the hustling and violence all around him in Chicago that the response of the toughest of the street thugs to weakness is not to scale back, but instead to pounce. Indeed, didn’t his mentor Saul Alinsky teach him exactly that?

In dealing with our friends in Europe, it’s perfectly appropriate to engage in some bonhomie to restore these essential, centuries-old relationships.  In dealing with Latin America–a land of prickly poseurs and blowhards that are alternately envious of and fearful of our nation–a certain circumspection is called for.  Such jealous lands, with such different histories and values, cannot be completely trusted, especially when they’re indulging in their periodic flirtations with dictatorial caudillos. Any outreach must be tempered by self-respect and reminders of their own failures, crimes, and our relative even-handedness in places like Panama and El Salvador since the 1980s.  Finally, when dealing with lunatic nations like North Korea, Somali pirates, al Qaeda thugs, Iran, and other undeniable enemies, strength and clarity are what is called for.  It’s this last tool that Obama seems to lack appreciation for entirely, embarrassed as he is by our allegedly sorry history.

Obama is continuing to act out the 1970s psychodramas of the far left, a movement that scuttled its credibility during the Cold War.  If Bush looked at the world and mistakenly saw an inviting place where throngs of the oppressed were itching for the imposition of U.S. style government, Obama cannot imagine that if we are sometimes wrong, so too are our enemies.  Further, he does not see that while a nation such as ours may at times be selfish, short-sighted, ham-handed, over-eager, and a bit ignorant, other nations transcend these venial sins and can become positively satanic–hostile not only to us, but to civilization itself.  The coddled and charming Obama seems unequipped to learn that in dealing with such beasts, one must become the hunter not out of charity or an inflated sense of self-importance but from the primal duty of self-preservation.  Or, more ominously, perhaps he thinks some kind of golden mean of U.S. weakness and Third World invigoration can be found, and that in this newly balanced world, conflict will soon evaporate.

In spite of his “community organizin'” background, Obama is first and last a lawyer.  And lawyers, as a class, love procedure, words, meetings, resolutions, and all the rest.  They do a good job of restraining strong men and would-be tyrants in domestic matters.  But men that would become tyrants are also the men that would become generals, leaders, war heroes, and cut-through-the-bullshit problem solvers.  Obama and the Europeans are “arresting” pirates that should instead summarily executed.  They’re begging for North Korea to stop its provocative actions, when such compliance should instead be demanded and coerced.  They’re “reaching out” to Iran, when this crazy nation run by fanatic theocrats should instead be isolated, perhaps by throwing a bone or two to the far less troublesome Russians and Chinese, who share our Islamic extremism problem.

There is little sign that Obama can get beyond the procedural instincts of a lawyer and just do something by speaking in the unmistakable international relations language of force.  Diplomacy and alliance-building certainly have their place, and Bush should have shown these tools more respect.  But force is a tool too–the most fundamental and reliable in fact–and Obama shows little understanding of the times and places where it sends a message with the greatest eloquence.

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Obama’s increasingly apparent leftism has many marks: unnecessary snubs of our British allies, a penchant for the most indefensible and ideological spending, the hoary politician’s trick of shifting costs to future generations, his incoherence on foreign policy, a lack of moral clarity in dealing with terrorists, and a petty conflation of his critics with a single talk show host.  Obama now has a new addition for the roster: crude dismissals of the entire pro-life position as a cynical political move.

There are many different views on how to approach and limit embryonic stem cell research rooted in one’s view of the relative importance of scientific research, the moral status of embryonic tissue, and the degree to which one believes government should devote funds to controversial projects, regardless of one’s personal views. But Obama today recognized none of the complexity that he acknowledged in the campaign. No, Bush did not allow this research to be funded because of a “political agenda” but the enlightened Obama is here to save science.  What a crude insult! It is nearly as crude as his constant lies about his activities, which insult our intelligence, and his appeals to “common sense” to justify whatever big government flavor of the month he happens to be promoting.

We’ll see how devoted Obama is to pure science based on whether he allows any dissents from the global warming hype or achievement gap nonsense, both politically correct views that have been subject to numerous dissenters, almost none of whom receive mainstream media attention. It’s become increasingly obvious, however, that his campaign acknowledgement of moral complexity and the legitimacy (or at least reasonableness) of his opponents’ positions on life issues is fading, and a new, somewhat tone-deaf ideological character has emerged, the same one that went to Rev. God Damn America’s church for so long, and the same one who penned a tortured paean to his socialist, child-abandoning father.

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Ross Douhat and Jeff Maximos had the following remarks on the peculiar kind of meritocracy at work at both the Ivies and Wall Street, a new model of leader combines great intellect with a great sense of entitlement, and a very meager sense of civilizational responsibility.

Ross begins:

I don’t often plug my first book, Privilege, but I think it’s worth mentioning here because when you read about how the American leadership class acquitted itself at Citibank, or on Wall Street in general, I think you can see the dark side of meritocracy at work – the same dark side that shadows an instititution like Harvard, where a job in investment banking became, for a time, the summum bonum of meritocratic life. The mistakes that our elites made, and that led us to this pass, have their roots in flaws common to all elites, in all times and places – hubris, arrogance, insulation from the costs of their decisions, and so forth. But they also have their roots in flaws that I think are somewhat more particular to this elite, and this time and place. Flaws like an overweening faith in technology’s capacity to master contingency, a widespread assumption that the future doesn’t have much to learn from the past, and above all a peculiar combination of smartest-guys-in-the-room entitlement (don’t worry, we deserve to be moving millions of dollars around on the basis of totally speculative models, because we got really high SAT scores) and ferocious, grasping competitiveness (because making ten million dollars isn’t enough if somebody else from your Ivy League class is making more!). It’s a combination, at its worst, that marries the kind of vaulting, religion-of-success ambitions (and attendant status anxieties) that you’d expect from a self-made man to the obnoxious entitlement you’d expect from a to-the-manor-born elite – without the sense of proportion and limits, of the possibility of tragedy and the inevitability of human fallibility, that a real self-made man would presumably gain from starting life at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder (as opposed to the upper-middle class, where most meritocrats starts) … and without, as well, the sense of history, duty, self-restraint, noblesse oblige and so forth that the old aristocrats were supposed to aspire to.

Jeff adds:

Bereft of a sense of tragedy and their own finitude, and possessed of no intuition that they ought to impose upon themselves the discipline of self-limitation, both for the good of our common society and for the good of their souls, and eschewing obligations to their ‘inferiors’, most of our meritocrats embody the vices of the nouveau riches and the ancien regime without any of the counterbalancing virtues. They have been the worst of both worlds, sort of like liberaltarians celebrating the most loathsome excesses of the culture while hymning the most calamitous excesses of creative destruction.

I think both of these observations are useful. I realized in criticizing Bush’s crony capitalism coupled with my later suggestion that Wall Street would do well to return to the WASPy values of understatedness, modesty, and a strongly developed sense of noblesse oblige that there is a tension if not an outright contradiction between these two ideas. After all, the kind of technocratic efficiency by which talent from all races, countries, and parts of the globe is channeled to a handful of institutions is quite unlike the era of the “Gentleman’s ‘”C” and the Country Club. There is a difference, though. At the realm of law and policy, things should be neutral and this was an important Anglo-American ideal that the Rockefellers, Morgans, and other so-called Robber Barons embraced, even as they cultivated themselves into a kind of self-conscious American aristocracy in the late 19th Century. The American elite did not enshrine itself with legal privileges, government largesse, and the kind of “free for all” that elites in Latin America induldged.  The self-respect of the American WASP elite depended in part upon its accessibility to outsiders who conformed to the elite’s standards. Self-limitation and ostracism coupled with neutral rules defined the mainstream of American business culture well into the 1970s–think of the “IBM Uniform”–but this culture also demanded some regard for community, loyalty, patriotism, and civilizational leadership almost entirely absent on the Wall Street. Ross Perot spent some of his enormous sums of wealth in the early 1980s to find and rescue POWs in Southeast Asia.  It’s hard to imagine this kind of eccentric and selfless act from anyone on today’s Wall Street, let alone something more mundane like joining the Kiwanis or coaching a soccer team.

Bush straddles the new meritocracy and the old elite. He is after all a Harvard MBA, but he stands in sharp contrast to his father. Like his father, he’s not particularly ideological. But unlike his father, he has little sense of propriety, as evidenced by crude self-interested acts like threatening vetos over an oil sheikdom’s right to run a U.S. port, his indifference to the working class’s vulnerability to immigration, or his excessive concern for loyalty. In the latter sense, he is a unlike the new Wall Street elite, who instead embrace a set of facially neutral rules that happen to benefit “guys like them.”  In this model, the more layered requirements of the old WASP elite are replaced solely with the sheepskins.  They believe the group in general–smart, Ivy educated, upper middle class in taste, not particularly brave or admirable–is entitled to rule the world, even though this would not necessarily be so for any particular individual among them. The idea that that group owed anything to the broader society or to God, however, is completely missing, and this is what seems to seperate them from the Henry Fords and John D. Rockefellers of yesteryear.

So Bush is a defective representative of traditional WASP values, holding on to his family’s power in a world where that class is in retreat–evidenced most dramatically by the rise of the out-of-nowhere Obama–without the counterbalancing effect of other stable, multigenerationally wealthy families that could, once upon a time, constrain even a President.

This new kind of elite built on a peculiar and very recent type of speculative activity will likely have a tough time justifying its power and wealth as the wheels come off. During the long Bull Market of 1982 to the present, one could reasonably conclude that the various financial players were allocating capital intelligently and responsibly through the miracle of markets, even though the details of any one instrument were arcane. After you learn about $60T in CDS obligations and monoline wrapped crap debt turning into AAA paper, it is all kind of hard to swallow. And the huge bonuses don’t make it any easier. The resentment and rage of the middle classes is building up. They feel, as they have felt at other times in history, that the basic contract has been broken to benefit the few at the expense of the many. If too many of these folks disappear and sink too soon, this is a recipe for political radicalism. As in the case of the ancien regime itself, decades of placidity can mask the potential for violent, sudden change. If it’s not Obama, it may be some other extreme on the flip side of his reign.

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