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Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Andrew Sullivan is nothing if not prone to revisiting his earlier enthusiasms.  I suppose there is a kind of authenticity in that . . . “often wrong, but never uncertain!”  He loved Bush for a while, but grew disenchanted on account of Iraq and the gay marriage issue. Then he liked Ron Paul for a spell until Paul’s old school conservative views from the early 90s were revealed.

Now he is down on Obama due to the Libyan campaign (and in particular the lack of any public relations campaign). I checked Sully’s website not sure if he’d be against the campaign or say that anyone opposed to it was the second coming of Neville Chamberlain. His strong enthusiasms are not matched by equal philosophical clarity.

But Sullivan does make a good point that every patriotic American should agree with:

My anger is not simply at what I regard as the folly of starting a long war with someone as insane as Qaddafi, but at the way this war was foisted on the public with absolutely no warning.

It shows contempt for the American people, and their views, and contempt for the Congress and its role in deliberating before going to war. As [James] Fallows notes, this entire debate was entirely about changing one man’s mind, not the country or the Congress or the people. Only the emperor counts, and if he happens to be wrong, tough luck. Who would have thought we’d elect Barack Obama to replicate the worst aspects of an unaccountable executive?

Sully is confusing his idealized image of Obama with Obama the reality.  Obama is not replicating anything.  He is taking the natural tendency of the American executive–to obtain and protect power in its operational sphere–and wedding that to un-American big government ideas.  He believes in government, his foreign policy views derive from his concern that his domestic big government programs may be harmed by foreign wars, and, more than the average politician, he really really believes in himself.  Obama doesn’t have much faith in America, however, so when he’s alienating the majority of Americans (as in healthcare) or thumbing his nose at historical American practice (as in the Libyan operation) he feels like he’s being faitful to his core mission.

Obama’s incoherent embrace in 2008 of the war in Afghanistan while poo-pooing Iraq should have been a clue.  By then, both were the same types of campaigns fought for the same reasons using the same strategy.  True, Afghanistan harbored the 9/11 attackers and began as a revenge operation, but by 2008 both wars were nation-building efforts to spread Muslim democracy and root out homegrown anti-government insurgents.  By 2008, neither campaign had much of anything to do with revenge or international terrorists, other than a prop in the propaganda that supported the campaigns.  That Obama could embrace this kind of incoherent nonsense bode ill of him, and I wrote as much at the time.

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Is it 1848?

In 1848, Europe was rocked by a domino-like string of revolutions and revolutionary movements in France, Germany, the Austro Hungarian Empire, Italy, and elsewhere.  What came of it?  A few regime changes, but mostly failure and repression.  Not much that was terribly memorable, in truth.  Far more important were the nationalist upheavals of the latter part of the century, in Italy and Germany in particular, which really gave force to the nationalist idea in Europe and created a useful outlet for the frustrations and anomie of industrialism and urbanization. 

We see something like this today in the Arab World.  First Iran and Tunisia.  Then Egypt.  Today, Bahrain and possibly Saudi Arabia.  But what of it?  These revolutions, like those of Europe in 1848, have vague grievances and even vaguer proposals.  I’m astonished at how little that is clear and intelligent the would-be revolutionaries have to say about what’s wrong with the status quo, how they intend to fix things, and why their projects won’t implode.  It is much like 1848 in this respect.  By contrast, the French Revolution of 1789 and the American War of Independecne and the liberal and nationalist anti-Soviet revolts of 1989 were crystal clear in motive, aim, and technique.  Indeed, the clearly wrong ideals of France have much to do with its self-destruction and replacement by alternating depositims and half-stable republics until 1945, while the clear and basically sensible ideas of America and the pro-American regimes of the former Warsaw Pact have much to do with both regions’ relative stability and prosperity through the present.

Of course today, as in 1848, a certain type of romantic sensibility sees the barricades and simply wants to cheer and relive the faded and half-understood events of yesteryear.  As a conservative, I’m instinctually cautious.  While I have no particular love for Mubarak or anyone else in the Arab World, I cannot help but remember what is already forgotten:  this is a land of half-baked ideas (i.e., Ba’athism, Nasserism), corrupt and charismatic rulers, and a religion that extinguishes nearly every instinct needed for effective self-government.

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More on Egypt

Why do we assume these protesters represent a majority of Egyptians?  If several hundred thousand Americans called for Obama’s resignation–as they have at a great many public events–no one calls for the President’s ouster.   But here we do, even though we know these primitive tribal people can be whipped into a frenzy on the basis of rumors and the most blatant propaganda and, furthermore, we have no reason to have any confidence what percentage of the Egyptian people they represent.

Why is our President so tergiversatious.  One minute he’s for Mubarak. Then the protesters.  Then the process.  Doesn’t his own ideology of pro-Third World nationalism counsel him the best thing to do is shut up? Indeed, in this instance, his instinctually anti-imperialist views accord with my own ethnocentrically-based anti-imperisalist and anti-interventionist views.  But it appears, as is often the case in his contradictions, that his ego is the trump card.

The media has concluded “Mubarak must go!”  Why believe them?  Musharraf stepped down in Pakistan, and the place is still a mess.  Little people-power revolutions occurred with great fanfare in Lebanon and Iran with mixed effects.  The former led to Hezbollah’s greater political power, but Lebanon, for various cultural reasons, is still a halfway decent place to visit.  Iran, by contrast, shut them down, as Mubarak seems resolved to do, and there the silent (or easily cowed) majority has accepted the legitimacy of this turn of events.

The worst case scenario of this situation in Egypt to me is as follows. One, US military traffic in the Suez Canal is not permitted.  And, two, out of misguided “outreach” and “idealism,” a Muslim Brotherhood dominated regime continues to receive billions of US Aid each year as ransom for not attacking Israel (as opposed to being a quasi-ally, as it has been for the last 30 years).

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The Real Haters

Arizona recently passed a law designed to address the continuing problem of illegal immigration.  It strikes me as a perfectly reasonable attempt to leverage the eyes and ears of local enforcement to address the open and notorious scandal of America’s colonization by Mexicans and other Latin Americans. 

The elites of the Obama administration, the media, and various Hispanic chauvinist organizations are all predictably aghast.  As in the case of gay marriage, whenever the ordinary people of America are given a chance to speak up on controversial social issues, they almost invariably disappoint the elites.  These elites, in turn, react with the thinly veiled contempt they hold for ordinary Americans of a conservative bent.  The only reason any working class white Americans vote for Democrats is their justifiable suspicion of corporate America.  But beyond that the Democrats have a shakey coalition, where the vast majority of Americans oppose key parts of their program.

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This editorial about Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan says something that the gleeful CNN International reporters miss:

She’s back. Hurrah! She’s a woman. She’s brave. She’s a moderate. She speaks good English. She’s Oxford-educated, no less. And she’s not bad looking either.

I admit I’m biased. I don’t like Benazir Bhutto. She called me names during her election campaign in 1996 and it left a bitter taste. Petty personal grievances aside, I still find jubilant reports of her return to Pakistan depressing. Let’s be clear about this before she’s turned into a martyr.

This is no Aung San Suu Kyi, despite her repeated insistence that she’s “fighting for democracy”, or even more incredibly, “fighting for Pakistan’s poor”.

This is the woman who was twice dismissed on corruption charges. She went into self-imposed exile while investigations continued into millions she had allegedly stashed away into Swiss bank accounts ($1.5 billion by the reckoning of Musharraf’s own “National Accountability Bureau”).

She has only been able to return because Musharraf, that megalomaniac, knows that his future depends on the grassroots diehard supporters inherited from her father’s party, the PPP. . . . .

Make no mistake, Benazir may look the part, but she’s as ruthless and conniving as they come — a kleptocrat in a Hermes headscarf.

The West, for all its power, still often behaves like an overgrown, immature adolescent.  We neatly divide the world into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” and assume blindly and against all evidence that democracy reveals who is who.  Bhutto, Musharaff, Mandella, Putin, Chavez, Ortega, and all the rest are leaders of tribal soceities with tribal politics.  We might have to deal with them from time to time, but we should never assume that these countries or their people or their leaders will resemble our own, nor should we embrace or distance ourselves from them on that basis.  Hard-headed calculation, true realism, is what is called for.  Our democratizing actions in Iraq and meddling in Ukraine and, for that matter, Turkey, are just part and parcel of our collective immaturity.  Even Europeans, who purport to lecture Americans on our lack of finesse, are all too frequently guilty of this failing. They are too concerned with atoning for their own sins of colonialism to think clearly about these matters. Unfortunatley, our people as well as those of the Third World suffer as a consequence.

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In the wake of the Cold War, the US military was cut dramatically. We went from a 750,000 man Army to one of about 475,000 today. The Navy and Air Force undertook similar cuts. We went from spending about 5.5% of GDP on the military to 3%. One consequence has been that the “all volunteer force” is stretched thin, has had to make due with relaxed recruiting standards, and there is a great deal of grumbling from senior commanders that the Iraq War and the repeated, lengthy deployments are killing recruiting and retention.

A larger military, both now and in the future, likely would be easier to recruit for and retain manpower, even during a time of war, than the present system. There is a reason for this paradox: such a military would allow greater time between deployments, greater flexibility when a surge of any kind is needed (including for contingencies in other theaters), and it would ease the strain on the battlefield through more overwhelming force whenever a large number of forces may be concentrated. Since one of the missions our troops will likely be called upon in the future is counterinsurgency, large numbers of skilled, trained, and well-rested infantry will be needed. The basic dynamics of this type of war are less technology and more manpower intensive than their counterparts. The U.S. had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam and the French had more than 400,000 in Algeria. We have now approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. Since our goals in the wake of 9/11 have been so ambitious–indeed, overly ambitious and utopian in my opinion–Rumsfeld and Bush’s continuation of the “peace dividend” military and their failure to demand a larger military (particularly when support would have been high right after 9/11) has proven foolish indeed.

This is not just a matter of 20/20 hindsight. Their decision-making was truly warped. Who looks at the Soviet problems in Afghanistan and blames them on troop levels rather than on the Soviet penchant for “scorched earth” tactics and the inherent unpalatability of its ideology to the religious Afghan people? Who looks at a looming occupation and thinks gratitude will grease the wheels when governance and power are necessary? Who looks at a country the size of Iraq and thinks troop levels that are a fraction of the number of (per capita) police in the peaceful United States will get the job done? The combination of incompetence and ideological blindness is the root of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. Some hard-headedness, including about the size of the military, will be needed in the next administration. We should not, because present-day recruiting problems avoid planning for the next conflict in a way that is sustainable, avoids a draft, and allows the military to accomplish the mission.

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