Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.
A Word from London
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
It has become glaringly apparent that the college tuition bubble is about to burst. At a time of financial exigency, the cost of $250,000 for a four-year education at a private college is beyond the means of most middle class parents. That story is now very much front-page news. What may not be front-page news, but is itself a related bubble, is the excessive commentary surrounding the liberal arts.
If one speaks to an academic immersed in the academic culture, he is likely to glorify the virtues of the liberal arts curriculum. The liberal arts, however, have been injected with foreign steroids that have ballooned the number of offerings and weakened the meaning of the curriculum. If one were to rely on the Matthew Arnold standard of "the best that is known and thought as a guide," the current curriculum is anything that will fit, or whatever you can get away with.
The absurdity of the offerings, from the Occupy Movement to Film Noir, represent little more than outcroppings of the contemporary imagination. So absurd are many of the college level courses that it is even impossible to caricature them. The university has let itself become a feast for those bursting with "expression." Rather than distinguish between the worthy and the ridiculous, scholars refuse to distinguish at all.
This is the age of open arms, of responding to student demands, of acceptance. Far be it for some crusty academic to argue that a course on the films of Woody Allen hasn't an appropriate place in the curriculum. To reject this premise is to be judgmental, apparently in the new order, a sin.
What students get out of these experiences remains unclear. Surely some of these courses are entertaining, some may even be illuminating, but what, if anything, do they offer the liberal arts? The presumption of the liberal arts experience is that by studying the great works of civilization, one arrives at an understanding - or even a partial understanding - of the human condition: what matters, and what makes us matter? Differences in time will reveal varied themes, but passion, loyalty, sadness, conflict, envy, greed, and love do not vary. These are the conditions of life and the very air we breathe, and they are revealed in literature, philosophy, drama, and poetry.
To suggest - as the contemporary curriculum does - that these feelings, ideas and conditions do not matter is to miss the point of the liberal arts by allowing the trifling, the trivial, and the current to insinuate themselves into the curriculum and devalue the college experience.
Encouraging serious students to engage in an exercise such as work or travel or even reading on their own might be as desirable as paying for the privilege of studying the inconsequential. When the tuition bubble does burst, with the new order may come a curriculum that is no longer flatulent and unworthy of scholarship.
If you think these opinions are an exaggeration, read a core curriculum guide from 1950 at any major university and compare it to its modern counterpart. Even leaving aside breakthroughs in science and computer studies, the number of new courses with exotic titles is staggering. "Expression" is deemed good; all aspects of life are considered worthy of investigation and the line between scholarship and amusing oneself with intellectual junk food, "empty calories," remains unclear.
At some point, however, those who underwrite this expensive education - whether they are parents, trustees, or government officials - will ask if we are getting very much of a return on the investment. Perhaps this type of spurious education is among the main reasons people are finding it so hard to find jobs.
Colleges and universities will not die, but they will be obliged to define and justify their missions. That is a task both necessary and desirable for a nation that puts a premium on education, and for an institution that has seemingly lost its way.
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
It has become fashionable among the cognoscenti to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. In fact, the Quilliam Foundation, focused on religious freedom, has promoted the distinction along with many quite reputable analysts of Islamic behavior. Presumably Islamism believes in the imposition of faith over society by violence or law, while Islam rejects violence conducting itself as any other religion might. This distinction has a hopeful ring to it since one may embrace the faith and abandon the ideology, thereby stabilizing presently unstable societies.
But suppose this is a distinction without a difference. After all, the Islamist is willing to die in order to spread the faith, his death a testament of his religious devotion. Most people would say this is fanatical, but from the Islamists' perspective this is a tactic that intimidates religious rivals driving them to appease or convert. Without having to utter a threat, Jews and Christians know that any criticism of Islam, even mild criticism, could lead to retributive violence. This is what gives Islamism its advantage.
Islam, by contrast, is regarded as benign, a pathway to Allah like any other religion. But is this true? Admittedly most Muslims are not violent, yet it is also the case that violence perpetrated against infidels is clearly suggested in the Koran. Koranic dogma indicates there is only one true religion and its adherents have an obligation to spread the faith.
The democratic belief in self-expression is suppressed by the religion and the ideology. In fact, the ideology springs from the religion. The Medina period in the Koran is fraught with violence embodied in the Verses of the Sword and the good Muslim is one who gives himself to the collective, the umma. Although the Koran is not written chronologically, some assume the Mecca period or peaceful interlude in Islamic history is what should be emphasized. Yet Muslim scholars accept the principle of abrogation, i.e., that which comes later is more holy than what came before. Hence, Medina trumps Mecca.
This principle confounds Western diplomats who wish to create their own reality. In a sense it is like the difference between Hamas and Fatah. Fatah, or the PLO, is willing to engage in discussion with Israeli leaders. Photos are taken and smiles are exchanged. Nonetheless, the goal of Fatah is clearly stated in its own documents: the extermination of Israel with Palestinian borders from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Hamas is not as subtle. It will not negotiate; it will not engage in photo opportunities, but it is firmly and unalterably committed to the destruction of Israel. What is the real difference?
Diplomats deny intentions, just as many in the West comfort themselves by generating false distinctions among Muslims. It should be restated that most Muslims are not terrorists. Most are not violent. Yet it cannot be denied that most terrorists are Muslim. It is politically incorrect to say that, even though almost everyone in the West knows the truth of that statement.
As a consequence, we build institutions on quicksand. We persuade ourselves that there is a way to fix the problem by defining it in a manner that satisfies our basic instincts. It is hard to imagine a religion that values death over life. There is an unwillingness to concede the underlying imperial desire in Islam is to spread caliphates across the globe using any means necessary. The definitions speak to us as tranquilizers. It simply feels better to deny the truth. Unfortunately the truth does not disappear like soap bubbles. Its ugly face appears and reappears. *
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
It is customary for members of the Academy to display anti-American sentiment in the form of multi-culturalism. Rarely, however, does the critique involve the Constitution itself. There is the belief that Supreme Court Justices may have overstepped their authority or mistook various clauses. Now, Georgetown University professor, Louis Michael Seidman, goes further in raising the question of whether we should obey the Constitution at all.
In his new book, On Constitutional Disobedience, Professor Seidman contends that since the people of today have a framework different from those in the 18th century who constructed the document, we are under no obligation to adhere to its provisions. In fact, as he sees it, invoking Constitutional arguments detracts from the merits of an issue and is usually "profoundly beside the point."
Seidman is quite clearly a member of a university club that believes the dysfunction of government is a least partially due to the Constitution's role in public life, e.g., free speech and gun control. He maintains that the political theory undergirding the Constitution was a product of another time and is thereby "weird, if not actually repugnant." He refers specifically to the denial of rights to women, nonwhites and those without property. As he notes:
I do think what we're talking about here is cultural change. America is at a stage where there is a growing realization that a lot of constitutional law is empty posturing.
Alas, Professor Seidman is probably right about that point. Where he is not right is in assuming the Constitution is irrelevant or an impediment to the resolution of contemporary issues. The strength of this 23-page document is in its recognition of human frailty and the penchant for evil.
The Founders, relying on a combination of Original Sin and Augustinian assumptions, wrote a document that assumes mankind is not comprised of angels. Therefore the institutions of state should rely on a balance of power, authority vested in each branch of government that curtails the influence of the others. Whether Seidman thinks so or not, this position is axiomatic. It is not restricted to time and place, but directs attention to a universal theme.
Assuredly the Constitution is a document related to its time. But the resilience built into its provisions has allowed for issues like women's rights to be redressed. Similarly, Seidman assumes that the Constitution is a hopelessly anachronistic document that doesn't speak cogently to the problems we must now confront. Yet it is precisely the genius and flexibility inherent in it that contributes to public debate and adjudication of problems.
At the risk of logical extension, this Seidman opus represents a breed of left-wing faculty members who contend it is time to change the rules that govern the nation. Presumably it is this group that is prepared to lead us to a new and more desirable promised land. This is not merely the Constitution, as "living document," tortured by interpretation. No, this is disobedience, a refusal to employ the Constitution as the boundary in public discourse and national governance.
What is overlooked in this critique is that in calling for disobedience, these selective professors are advocating a form of anarchy. They would contend, of course, that natural factors such as common sense and local legislation, will fill the political vacuum. Perhaps. Since my own experience suggests a deterioration of commonsensical reactions to public issues, I am not as sanguine as the left-wing professoriate about Constitutional disobedience. Nor am I persuaded that there exists a group of people steeped in the laws of human behavior and biblical prescriptions who can create the contours of effective rules for this republic. It may surprise many in university life, but this nation was blessed to have the Constitution bestowed on it. It is a gift that keeps on giving, even if many of its beneficiaries don't realize it. *
Several decades ago the distinguished sociologist Daniel Bell wrote:
The real problem of [American] modernity is the problem of belief. To use an unfashionable term, it is a spiritual crisis, since the anchorages have proven illusory and old ones have become submerged. It is a situation which brings us back to nihilism, lacking a past or a future, there is only the void.
Fredrick Nietzsche argued very much the same in The Birth of Tragedy where the search for meaning in a nihilistic environment leads inevitably to the perverse and degrading.
And Oswald Spengler in his lugubrious account of Western societies contended in Decline of the West that a diminished sense of meaning will ultimately yield decline and defeat.
Is this a one-way street to oblivion? Can American resilience reassert itself? What are the telltale signs in our midst?
Recently a Duke University student said she has entered the ranks of the pornographic world in order to pay her tuition expense. Not only has she advertised this condition, she says it as a matter of pride, asserting a right to feminist independence. Her acolytes agree. Apparently for these millennials the word "shame" is not in their vocabulary.
Three young men in a small Oklahoma town claimed to solve the issue of boredom by tracking a jogger and killing him in cold blood. One of the assailants indicated "there isn't much to do in this town."
A husband and wife found sheer exaltation in killing people. As they noted, there is a certain excitement in taking another life.
At a music award ceremony a young "artist" simulated fornication on stage for a national audience and, in some quarters, is admired for her "breakthrough" performance.
The most successful commercial publication of the last few decades is a book about sadomasochism with a woman claiming to have discovered the "joy of domination."
A film nominated for an Academy Award, "The Wolf of Wall Street," exalts the life of a drug-addled swindler who exploited the fragile bank accounts of working class people for his extravagant life style.
"Adult cinema" means in effect the use of foul language that was once verboten in polite society. Etiquette and dignity have been interred by popular culture.
Yes, there are positive conditions in this deeply degraded and dumbed-down culture. Young men and women serving in the military are generally patriotic.
There are volunteers all over the nation that serve in hospices and help the elderly.
Despite a debased curriculum in most college humanities programs, hard sciences thrive, with the United States a leading center of technical innovation.
Of course there should be more to say on the positive side of the scales, but there isn't. We appear to be in a Spenglerian slide. Franz Kafka once noted "there is always hope but not for us." It is hard to embrace that sentiment since hope itself is the harbinger of change.
What may be needed is an ideational explosion, an event so evil, so grotesque that the human imagination shudders in concert. It would require a Wilberforce in our midst to say "enough!" to introduce a pathway to a new future. We have battered the walls of tradition till there is nothing but the void. We have challenged the mediating structures; family, schools, churches, so they are no longer anchors in our lives. We search for meaning in all the wrong places.
This is the time for an awakening that recognizes our strengths, the residual resilience that still exists in some quarters. And it is time to challenge the bold revolution that is now conventional wisdom with a counter-cultural revolution based on kindness, traditional principles and a belief in a higher authority.
It is asking for a lot, but then where is the present road we are on taking us? *
Recently the University of Colorado noted that political affiliation and orientation would be a protected category in the university's nondiscrimination policy. What prompted this action were reports from conservative faculty members that their viewpoints have been stifled.
While the proposal was approved, it is remarkable that this policy had to be introduced in the first place. What it suggests is that the faculty political outlook is homogeneous, allowing little room for different points of view. Yet, to state the obvious, the essence of education is the exploration of different opinions. Some faculty members contend that anti-bias policies are a waste of time. After all, the exclusionary position of most faculty members will not change because of university reform.
In fact, if diversity of views is the goal, that is more likely to come from outside the Academe than inside the faculty. Faculty members who share this left wing orthodoxy, in my experience, are accustomed to the present academic environment. Their self-righteousness is mutually reinforcing. They are the virtuous ones and their position must not be challenged. Whenever this argument of political bias arises university presidents invariably say "higher education is facing much bigger issues than this."
But is that true? If the free and open exchange of opinion is not possible, if propagandizing for an ideology is permitted, the purpose of education will inevitably be compromised. This fall the University of Colorado hired its first "visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy." The appointment was created in part to change public perception of the institution. However, while the appointment may offer legitimacy for conservative views, it is odd that an ideology of one kind is being used to counter the ideology of another.
As I see it, the issue is openness - a consideration of a variety of opinions within the same classroom. The university is not designed to promote an ideology of the left or the right. Any exercise in politicizing the Academe contradicts its essential mission. After having experienced an ideological shift, ever since the 1960s, it is understandable that a minority of conservative faculty members would seek some protection from the herd of leftist ideologues.
But history has a strange way of hoisting protagonists by their own petard. The ideologue of the right might one day be charged with intimidation and chastisement that one sees so evident on campuses across the nation today. It is an unlikely scenario, but one serious scholars in the Academe should not overlook. If there is one standard worth defending, it is a belief in academic freedom - the ability of professors to express freely their opinion in areas where there is demonstrated expertise.
This is not unlimited freedom, nor is it freedom of speech. But it is a freedom anchored in openness that allows for the expression of any political view. Should the university adhere to this standard, it is not necessary to amend the university's policy. Nor is it appropriate to hire a conservative professor to balance the political scales. If administrators want to engender an atmosphere of fairness and openness, it makes far more sense to remind faculty members of the meaning behind academic freedom.
Holocaust museums around the globe present in remarkably graphic form pre-war Nazi conditions that promoted anti-Semitism and the belief that Jews were sub-human. Children read schoolbooks in which Jews were depicted as exploitive, dangerous, lacking in essential human qualities. Jews were demonized to an extent that led inexorably to concentration camps and extermination. The horror of this period is told and retold in museums as a reminder that this must never happen again. Propaganda of a vicious variety has consequences, a condition the world now knows all too well.
Or does it? For decades Palestinian school texts repeat the same dangerous lies about Jews. A crossword puzzle for children asks "what is a four-letter word for an exploitive people? Answer: Jews." Summer camp bunks in the Arab section of the West Bank are named after "martyrs" who have killed Israeli women and children.
Last year Syria had a four-part television series on "the blood libel" - the claim that Jews kill Christian youth so their blood can be used for the making of matzos. Saudi textbooks have actually reprinted perverse Nazi cartoons from the 1930s. And the Protocols of The Elders of Zion, a classic anti-semitic book based on nothing more than the ill-advised ideas of a fantasist, has been reprinted in many Arab venues and has been circulated by imams as evidence of Jewish turpitude.
None of this material is surprising. It has been revealed in many newspapers and journals. There have been courageous journalists who have campaigned against these contemporary atrocities. Yet progressive Jewish leaders and Holocaust museum curators ignore these conditions.
If one attends a Holocaust museum, the last exhibit is invariably on genocides in our time, from the boat people in Vietnam, to the long march in Cambodia, to Darfur. Poignant photographs are displayed that tug at the heartstrings and display Jewish sensitivity to human depravity. This is as it should be. If any group is aware of the horror people can inflict on one another it is the Jews.
However, what is missing is the existential evidence of anti-semitism. Where are the tracts pointing to the rise of anti-semitism in many European communities, the hatred directed against Jews in Muslim populations, and the vile images about Jews promoted in Arab and Persian nations? I suspect the reason for this obvious omission is political correctness. It is certainly not a lack of awareness.
I reside near the downtown Holocaust Museum and admire the way history is recaptured in the exhibits. It is also telling that the final pathway in the museum offers a splendid view of the Statue of Liberty. Yet remarkably, challenges to Jewish liberty at the moment are ignored. There appears to be a deep sense that what is happening across the globe now could be glossed over.
In a perverse way this is history repeating itself. So many Jews in Germany and elsewhere during the 1930s dismissed the routine caricatures of Jewish life as adolescent rants, something that will evanesce over time. Why make a fuss about this matter? It seemed better to avoid controversy. I suspect that is the same explanation used by curators now. Political correctness is a silencing device used by some Jewish leaders against Jewish interests.
It is time to realize museums are a sacred cultural trust that not only tell a story of the past but offer a narrative of what must be countered in the present. If "Never Again" is a goal - a goal that should not be forgotten - then the anti-semitic facts of our time should be told just as museum attendees are reminded of the historic horror of the Shoah. *
For the new class of self-proclaimed progressives there is a tale of two cities, one privileged and one underprivileged. This dichotomous model comes right out of the Marxist playbook. However, despite its simplicity and repudiation of human nature, it continues to have appeal as President Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio can attest.
The tale of two cities appeals on several levels. It plays into the psychology of guilt-riddled individuals who feel they may have been responsible for the condition of the downtrodden. It also appeals to those who are indeed downtrodden by suggesting their condition will improve if you can redistribute resources from the rich and give it to them.
Of course history demonstrates that you cannot make the poor rich by making the rich poor. But most people ignore empirical evidence. It is the narrative that counts. Hence Marxism's appeal, even if it is now progressivism or another euphemism. Taking from Peter to give to Paul always satisfies Paul.
The tale of two cities is a tale of tails, for the actual distribution of the wealthy, those earning over $300,000 annually, is about 5 percent, and the poor, those earning or living on $20,000 for a family of four or more, is about 15 percent. In other words, this tale is one of extremes that leaves 80 percent out of the equation.
One might assume that any theory or narrative that ignores the bulk of the population would be rendered useless. But this narrative has vitality because it is what many choose to believe. Nuance hasn't any standing. In fact, a progressive tax of the kind the U.S. has, does take disproportionately from the rich (nationwide 1 percent of the population pays 40 percent of the taxes) and has yielded trillions over the last four decades to the poor in welfare payments, public housing, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. However, the percentage of the poor remains largely unchanged.
Although the explanation for this phenomenon is complicated with several variables in play such as illegitimacy, joblessness, and structural economic change, it should be noted that most rich Americans were once poor. Children are generally not born with a silver spoon in their mouths. At twenty-one many Americans do not lead a hardscrabble life. But wealth is generally beyond their reach.
In the political world and in popular culture the tale of two cities narrative persists. It does so because in films that explore the tension between rich and poor, with the poor protagonist the hero who triumphs in the end, is a story line the public embraces. Similarly, in the New York mayoralty race Bill de Blasio spoke of the two cities theme, yet offered few concrete proposals for reform. His major reform, if you can call it that, is raising the taxes on the rich to pay for pre-kindergarten education. How much this tax will be and what the definition of rich may be remain obscure. There is also no evidence to suggest pre-kindergarten education necessarily advances the achievement level of poor kids. Whether you can pay for it and whether it works are irrelevant concerns. It sounds good and strikes the right public nerve endings.
In 1922 Antonio Gramsci, the architect of the Italian Communist party, converted the Communist ethos from economics to culture. It was a brilliant tactical move that gave Communism an appeal that its failed economic theory could not. It is the Gramscian view we live with almost a century later, despite its perverse and wrongheaded analysis of reality.
If perception is reality, however, a president and a mayor have adopted this stance. They see the world through a Marxist lens that defies all we know about the failures of the Communist experience. For them the failures do not matter because they realize the tale of two cities narrative lives in the hearts of true believers.
The world stage is trembling with emerging challenges, challenges so deep and potentially fracturing that the globe may never be the same again. This is 1789, 1848, 1917, and 1941 wrapped in one momentous year. Wherever one turns, chaos reigns and, in large part, this dislocation is due to a United States' reluctant to play its post-World War II role as the "great equalizer." From the Middle East to the Far East, from London to the Levant, U.S. withdrawal physically and emotionally is having a profound influence on diplomatic calculations.
There are obvious examples. Geneva negotiations over Iran's nuclear enrichment program offers the retention of fissile material, in return for the relaxation of sanctions. This is precisely what the Iranians have contended for, for more than a decade. It virtually assures an Iran with nuclear weapons, and incorporates the Iranian economy into the global economic network. It also invites regional nuclear proliferation as a counterweight to Iranian ambition and brings Israel close to the brink of war.
The unilateral Chinese declaration of an air defense zone over the East China Sea, incorporating the contested Senkaku islands, is a direct challenge to U.S. interests in the Pacific. It has shaken our allies and portends possible air and sea confrontations.
The Ukrainian government is facing hostility from Russia, which threatens to turn off its natural gas supply. Ukraine is facing a choice of domination by Putin and Russian, or alliance with the European Union. The people would prefer the latter, the government the former, but the U.S. sits on the sidelines unwilling to take a position.
Since the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda has regrouped, roiling North Africa from Libya to Syria. Although it was declared an insubstantial threat by President Obama, it is now the main opposition force in Syria, an influential group in Iraq yet again, an ally of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and even has a formidable presence in South America.
The prevailing sentiment in the Obama administration is that if you speak softly and carry no stick, things will fall into place. U.S. forces should not be seen as the global policeman because our involvement - it is widely believed - complicates knotty issues, making them even more complicated than they would have been otherwise. Overlooked in this calculation is what the perception of U.S. weakness means for our friends and foes alike.
Allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel have already arrived at the conclusion that a weak, appeasement-minded U.S. government is not one on whom they can rely. These nations must fend for themselves or seek new alliances. The Japanese, sensing a U.S. withdrawal from the Pacific, have doubled their defense budget this year.
Conversely our foes such as China and Russia believe they can exploit the appearance of U.S. weakness. They are increasingly assertive in the United Nations and have filled a vacuum left by the United States in Syria, much of the Middle East, and the China Sea.
Even in South America our enemies are jockeying for influence in areas where the U.S. response has been neutrality, a stance without substance. The Monroe Doctrine has been tar and feathered and resigned to disuetude. Latin America isn't even on the U.S. radar screen.
The signs of weakness are ubiquitous, notwithstanding the obvious fact that the U.S. is still the most powerful military force on the globe. By channeling American foreign policy interests through the United Nations and a variety of international organizations, the Obama administration has allowed others to dictate policy, even hold our interests hostage to their goals.
A classic idea that weakness begets challenges is once again emerging. From Athens to Rome, the lessons of history march forward, often ignored, but repeatedly reenacted. History is now at our doorstep asking questions that have a distinctly familiar ring.
A presumptive deal between the United States and Iran to curb the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions is regarded in the White House as a breakthrough, cutting the Gordian knot between intractability and persistence. Yet before the acclamation begins a cautionary note is warranted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said, "I believe that adopting them [the deal proposals] is a mistake of historic proportions." There is much to suggest that he is right.
For one thing, perhaps most notably, Iran retains the capability of making nuclear weapons. The deal - described as unfolding - merely freezes the most advanced aspects of its nuclear program, including the production of near-weapons-grade fuel. With uranium enriched at the 20-percent level as is presently the case, Iran can probably produce six Hiroshima-like atom bombs today. Moreover, it possesses the missiles to deliver them over a 1000-kilometer distance.
Second, Iranian leaders have been known to lie. The assurances offered in the past have disappeared like soap bubbles. After all, negotiations of one kind or another have been going on for decades. Prime Minister Rouhani, in his previous role, was the chief Iranian negotiator at a diplomatic table with American and European representatives. Despite his pleasant smile and moderate demeanor, he is a jihadist who is eager to promote Iran's imperial agenda, and that political position is enhanced by the possession of nuclear weapons.
Third, although this deal is the first phase in what is presumed to be a step-by-step process, verification procedures are obscure. It has been established from Intelligence sources that Iran has several projects deeply hidden underground on heavy-water nuclear production and centrifuges. Even if one or two are "frozen" to satisfy IAEA inspectors, how can one be sure other facilities aren't operating at full tilt?
Fourth, the acceptance of an Iran with nuclear capability will lead inexorably to nuclear proliferation in the region. Saudi Arabia has recently completed an arrangement to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan that are congruent with its present delivery capacity and in defiance of U.S. admonitions. This arrangement was precipitated by the American "rapprochement" with Iran.
Fifth, the acceptance of the U.S.-Iran deal means that Iran will be perceived as the "strong horse" in the Middle East. It is, in effect, precisely the perception Iran has been trying to cultivate with its neighbors.
Sixth, this deal is actually little more than a public relations bonanza for the president, even though it weakens U.S. ties to allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel. President Obama will hail this diplomatic "achievement" as a Chamberlain-like "peace in our time" deal. In fact, as was the case with Chamberlain's concessions to Hitler, this deal probably brings us closer to the brink of war than was formerly the case.
At the risk of hyperbole, this "exchange" with Iran is part Munich and part Yalta. The concession designed to promote better relations with Iran is probably an illusion, a case of believing before seeing. Moreover, the concession catapults Iran into a Shia leadership position that threatens surrounding nations.
The Saudis believe that in the last phase, when sanctions are finally eliminated, Iran will still have nuclear capability. It will resemble the "Japanese solution," a point at which there is sufficient fissile material to build several bombs, but the missiles are simply not yet weaponized. This may be an arrangement the U.S. is prepared to live with, but it is not one the Saudis can embrace.
Since this is the era of illusions, it is easy to predict what is likely to occur. President Obama, with great fanfare, will announce to the American people that this tension over nuclear weapons in Iran has been resolved. There will be a national sigh of relief. However, behind the curtain of illusion, the dogs of war are plotting. What they see is a U.S. devoid of military commitment and struggling to maintain a peace at any price.
The negotiations over Iran's potential nuclear weapons arsenal has pushed all other foreign policy issues out of the headlines. But as Washington muses about Iran, one of the boldest attempts to challenge the U.S. as a Pacific power has occurred with very little commentary.
Recently China unilaterally created an "air defense identification zone" in the East China Sea that has the Senkaku Islands within its perimeter. These islands now claimed by China have been administered by Japan since an accord signed in 1972.
While the Chinese describe this perimeter as "air defense," in actuality it is "air control." In fact, the way the perimeter is drawn comes within 80 miles of Japanese territory. These Chinese air patrols have already encountered Japanese Coast Guard vessels and air defense planes in what can only be described as a game of who blinks first.
This "zone" has already had a profound influence on regional states. The South Koreans distrust Chinese ambitions, but may distrust Japan even more. Some commercial airlines have already agreed to recognize the Chinese identification zone, albeit Japan's aviation authority ordered national airlines to disregard the Chinese air zone. Most analysts assume China will employ this zone of influence to push aggressively for the "satisfactory" resolution of island disputes with Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
But the most significant development is the challenge to U.S. hegemonic regional influence. Recognizing a U.S. government distracted by Iranian negotiations in Geneva, the Chinese acted. The head-to-head confrontation between these Pacific superpowers, which the American government wants to avoid, is now upon us. If the U.S. allows this perimeter to stand unchallenged, the East China Sea will be regarded as a Chinese aerial protectorate in a few months.
In an effort to calm jittery allies in the region, the U.S. government sent a pair of B-52 bombers over the disputed islands and well within the Chinese perimeter. At this point, there hasn't been a Chinese response. But there will be other challenges as long as China and her neighbors are jostling for control of waters with potentially rich hydrocarbon reserves.
China's Defense Ministry noted that the Chinese military would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that didn't obey the rules of the newly created zone. White House spokesman, Josh Ernest, said the dispute between China and Japan should be settled diplomatically, but also noted "The policy announced by the Chinese . . . is unnecessarily inflammatory."
It was merely a question of time before U.S. supremacy in the Pacific was tested. For years the U.S. and China have been on a collision course, notwithstanding American efforts to placate Chinese ambitions. As China sees it, this is the ideal time for a confrontation.
The U.S. is withdrawing forces in several nations indicating both war fatigue and budgetary restraints. Negotiation with the Iranians has become a State and Defense department preoccupation. Despite President Obama's "pivot" to Asia, our allies on the continent are apprehensive about the American defense commitment. At a recent conference I attended in Tokyo the most often heard refrain was "where is the United States?"
The question, of course, is really "where is the U.S. when we need her." Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines need her now. Clearly the U.S. does not want a confrontation with China; a view probably shared by the Chinese government. But the Chinese believe the United States will back down. B-52s may fly today and possibly tomorrow, but does the U.S. have the will to sustain resistance to the assertion of Chinese power? In the answer to that query lies the future of the Pacific. An unchallenged China will regard herself as dominant over the contested islands in the East China Sea and even regional nations, soon to be viewed as satellites in the reconfigured Middle Kingdom.
In life Nelson Mandela was admired; in death he is venerated. As time passes his life story is evolving from hagiography to beatification. There is something to admire in a man who stood by his convictions and altered the course of history by destroying the hateful apartheid institution. But the Mandela story has been so sanitized it has lost any relationship to the truth.
Mandela was a Communist who lied about his party membership in order to confuse South Africans about his actual goals. Till his dying day he admired Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership, overlooking their crimes and the police state they built.
Some might say even if Nelson Mandela was a Communist it doesn't matter because Communism collapsed. Those rationalizers do not know what has happened and is happening in South Africa. The ruling African National Party (ANC) is a front for the South African Communist Party (SACP). Jacob Zuma, a high-ranking SACP member, is the current South African president. As Zuma noted in a recent speech:
You need to have a clear understanding of dialectical and historical materialism. You need to be armed with a theory of the working class Marxism-Leninism. You need to understand this theory as a guide to action.
Remarkably, the popularizers of the Mandela myth overlook the plight of the poor blacks Mandela vowed to assist. Intimidation and anti-democratic methods are routinely used against those who have the temerity to stand up to government police tactics. Mandela also received worldwide acclaim for resisting attacks on the minority white population when he seized power. Overlooked in the midst of applause are ANC banners in a recent rally saying the "Honeymoon is over for white people in South Africa."
In addition, to his Communist affiliation, Mandela had a curious group of luminaries he admired including: Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, and Muammar Gaddafi. The hero worshippers never cease to ignore this fact.
It isn't the only fact ignored by the mythmakers. At one point, Mandela recruited Joe Slovo for the armed ring of the ANU in a campaign of sabotage. Slovo, accompanied by a small group of well-trained explosives experts, was dubbed "the KGB colonel" and was considered by many analysts to be an agent of Soviet intelligence.
Mandela continually denied being a Communist Party member or sympathetic to Communism. He even went so far as to suggest he was "an anti-communist." This artful dissimulation was designed to dupe foreign audiences, particularly the Western hero worshippers. Of course, they believed this propaganda.
U.S. and European press corps members are complicit in the creation of the legend. They exalt the hero and ignore the damage. They ignore the death of Jonas Savimbi and pretend that Namibia and South Africa are free. They ignore Cuba's presence in Africa and Mandela's role in enhancing that influence. They praise Mandela as a reconciler, but ignore his rejection of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) that advocated the abolition of apartheid, but refused to engage in violence against innocent people. It was also anti-communist.
For the Obama administration, history doesn't count. The U.S. government presently provides $500 million of aid to the present regime. Money is being raised for the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory, a center for very selective memory.
For the nave hero worshippers, nothing can excoriate the memory of a legend superordinated into demigod status. It would be one thing if Mandela's compromises, however dubious, resulted in a free, prosperous nation where corruption didn't exist. But the reality is a South Africa with dictatorial control and the exploitation of the poor.
So much for the real Mandela legacy. *
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
Now that the dust has cleared and government services are open and available, let me engage in Monday morning quarterbacking.
Right after his 2012 election victory President Obama did something he rarely does: he tuned in to Fox News. Nothing, he noted at the time, is more satisfying than schadenfreude or what might be described as the mischievous delight in the misfortune of others. In this case, President Obama rejoiced over the defeat of his opponents.
Although a year passed since the president's triumph, he still refers to Republicans as "enemies" rather than adversaries. He refuses to engage in negotiations over Obamacare and he remains intractable over the debt limit. If there is one area in which he is prideful, it is putting Republicans in the position of seemingly responsible for the government shutdown. Schadenfreude lives.
The evidence for this claim is palpable. House conservatives have dropped all of their major demands, including defunding and delaying Obamacare, only to see President Obama reject their proposal for ending the stalemate. He was intent on total victory, a stance that vindicates his position whether or not it is good for the country, or even good for the normal give and take of politics.
At long last, members in the Senate on both sides of the aisle have finally begun to focus on the major budget issues, e.g., a broad deficit reduction deal. In the shadows stand financial markets jittery about the impasse and fearful the inability to strike a deal could lead to default.
The contours of a deal were always evident: fund the government until mid-March, raise the debt limit through January, and tighten income eligibility rules for those receiving government subsidies for insurance. What may be the key factor, however, is whether the president would blink. For him, Obamacare is the centerpiece of this presidency. Even though he has violated the rules of his own bill by allowing exemptions for unions and the Congress, he is adamantly opposed to adjustments that would influence spending. He didn't blink and, by any reasonable estimate, did win.
It should be noted that some Republicans engaged in overreaching through their effort to repeal Obamacare; yet one might assume that any president would stand above the fray by considering conditions that would allow for compromise.
There is only one person who could have cut the Gordian knot and that is President Obama. However, the president remained in his bunker, sure of this position, and vehement about its retention. This is schadenfreude in its full glory. The president appeared to be more concerned with opinion polls showing public sentiment leaning against Republicans than the welfare of the nation, alas, of global financial markets.
Yes, I do believe a deal was inevitable. There was too much at stake for this not to happen, but the president wanted this to appear as a victory for himself and a defeat for Republicans. That goal is not merely childish, it is vindictive. It also reveals a lot about this presidency after only one year through the second term.
It has been argued in several of the intellectual journals in the West, that the aspiration for freedom is a universal goal, that most societies admire the freedoms we enjoy and wish to emulate us. As I see it, this proposition is one of the more pernicious illusions we entertain.
Surely there are those who build monuments to freedom such as the 1989 dissidents in Tiananmen Square, but most people have never lived in free societies, nor exhibited any desire or capacity for freedom. In this era, there are many examples of those who have enjoyed freedom yet have abandoned it in the name of a passionate cause. This illusion has been happily indulged by many commentators on the Arab Spring.
There are those who assume, for example, that deep in the heart of a Muslim Brother resides a freedom fighter eager to be untethered. But this assumption is belied by the "umma," the united Muslim world that opposes individual impulses. The notion of a free Muslim is related to a person deceiving himself into believing he is free because of his religious dedication. However, this is not freedom; it is the exaltation of the faith over the self-expression of the person. Under present circumstances, those who embrace the Koran's prescriptions must assume a generalized view of fidelity that subordinates freedom.
For many, the idea of individual choice is unsettling. These people would rather have a life plan mapped out for them including when to pray, when to eat, and with whom to congregate. Freedom in this context is fear provoking; it is vulnerable to those who attempt to seduce with dreams of perfection. It is a short step from this dream of perfection (read: utopia) to an expansive government that manages most aspects of our lives and relieves the individuals of freedom's burdens.
There is a balance in our society between rules backed by legal principle and free choice we do not want to see disturbed. Establishing and maintaining that balance is not easy. Since imperfections are a function of human fallibility, there are always those who will promise that increased civil authority can remove social imperfections.
The big government engineer and the religious zealot often have much in common, especially their mutual desire to employ the instrument of coercion to eliminate perceived social imperfections or injustice. A truly free person recognizes the defects in himself and the extension of flaws in the community he inhabits. He resists the attempt to equate freedom and self-interest, and the desire to redress the wrongs of history with the palliatives of expansive authority.
For most people the signs of inequality in income and status require remediation through the stifling of choice and the superordination of other principles: e.g., justice, redemption, and salvation.
It is said that freedom is not to be trifled with. Precious as it is, freedom is not sought by everyone. In fact, freedom is not security, but opportunity: the opportunity to choose. Of course many choose unwisely. Perhaps freedom is what people should strive for; but, in the whirlpool of chaos, freedom is a forgotten muse.
Thomas Paine noted that: "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it." That fatigue can surrender to slavishness, even for unsuspecting avatars of freedom who have diminished will to defend it. That is the question of the moment: Does mankind have the will to strive for freedom where it doesn't exist and have the will to defend it where it still exists? It was once easier to answer this question than it is now.
Diplomats gravitate from all over the globe to New York City for United Nations week. Traffic is snarled and barriers block midtown streets so the panjandrums of the globe can determine the fate of Syria, nuclear weapons in Iran, and a Palestinian state. But this is only part of the reality.
These so-called diplomats representing every form of tyrannical regime are in New York to indulge themselves. Strip joints are filled to capacity. African "statesmen" in Brioni suits are preoccupied with jiggling strippers. And prostitutes are booked solid. New York is Gomorrah and the UN officials love it.
Moreover, so do their wives and significant others. Bergdorf Goodman has a queue in front of its Fifth Avenue store as women line up for baubles and beads, threads and make-up, aggregating to impressive five figure numbers. Even Arab women in black burkas buy Prada gear to keep under their make-shift effort at phony modesty.
The veneer of respectability is accepted by most New Yorkers because the cash registers are on overtime, but there is a perverse dimension to this decadence. Most of these national representatives wouldn't be able to recognize a human rights issue if it bit them in the rear end.
When they do speak in the UN forum, they mouth the words that were assigned to them. In more instances than one might guess, the representatives are recovering from stupor-inducing revelry. There aren't any issues in the UN, only interests. Most of the states are dictatorships placed in the ironic position of deciding the political liberty of others. At the General Assembly every state has the same influence whether it be Micronesia or China. To call it a farce, does not do justice to the words "farce" or "fairness" or even common sense.
Yet this debating society for no ostensible principle continues. Who would give it up? The U.S. pays approximately 25 percent of the bill, so most nations can beat up on America and not have to spend a dime for their frivolity. Diplomats look forward to their once-a-year bacchanalia. Significant others can shop till they drop in Fifth Avenue stores all at the expense of peasants who eke out a living wage in their homeland. And diplomats can get lap dances to feed their sexual fantasies instead of tap dances on the brain that may one day await them at home.
Of course, all of the debating during the day occurs with faux seriousness. National leaders understand that the Security Council is all that counts, and even there, one veto can call into question any initiative. If truth be known, the General Assembly is comparable to a meeting of Mafia dons. Many are present, but only primus inter pares counts, i.e., the U.S., China, and Russia.
This charade results in overtime payments for New York's Finest, frustration for truckers, and a city caught in gridlock. Mayor Bloomberg says this is a great week for New York. It may be a great week for the mayor since his escort brushes traffic away like dandruff, but for the rest of us UN week is hell.
Three so-called diplomats from Mogadishu bought an apartment on the upper eastside near Park Avenue. The price tag was equivalent to half the GDP of Somalia, which is only a slight exaggeration. Not only is this a pad for fun and games, it is a probable exit habitat when the government changes hands. This kind of transaction takes place in plain sight with the cognoscenti aware that the money for this transaction comes off the backs of unwary Somalians. Yes, it's good to be king or, at least, a diplomat at the UN.
At long last, UN week is almost over. But already, plans are being made for next year. Perhaps as a change of pace, UN Week in 2014 should be held in Mogadishu. There might even be a special session on piracy. Talk about rebellion; it will never happen. UN Week must be held in New York and I think you know why this is the case.
Here is a question that haunts America today. The distinguished historian Samuel Huntington has an answer based on founding documents and a national creed. But the answer of a decade ago seems weak, almost feckless, in a nation transformed by demography, educational inadequacy, and historical amnesia. I readily admit this "new nation" is a new nation I don't understand and am at a loss to describe. But try I will in any case.
Culturally, America has been degraded. Even Rhythm and Blues seems like Mozart compared to dissonant Rap and its vile lyrics. Television programming has evolved, or is it devolved, from "Omnibus" to "Dexter" as the envelope of taste is pushed to ever new boundaries. Should anyone decry this development, he is put in the "prison" of First Amendment violator.
Schools have been converted into playpens and nurseries rather than centers of learning. Whatever deficiencies the Little Red Schoolhouse had, its students learned to read. How is it that with advanced technology and lavish expenditures, contemporary schools still produce illiterates? When did self-esteem replace effort and rigor? I have encountered many students who tell me what they are capable of doing, but rarely do the work to accomplish their goals. There is the expectation that success is a function of willing it.
When did charity become an entitlement? The expansion of rights has come at the price of responsibility. Whatever happened to the aphorism, "God helps those who help themselves?" During a smallpox scare in the early 1940s my mother took me to a local hospital for the inoculation. As we were about to leave my mom asked the nurse, "How much is the fee?" The nurse replied that since your son sleeps in the same bedroom as his parents - the standard for poverty in that time - no fee is required. Rather than leave, my mom said "We do not take charity. I insist on paying." After a meeting with the hospital attendant, she did. There was simply too much pride for her to accept a handout.
That spirit has evanesced as the government buys, supports, and induces dependency with dozens of government programs that offer handouts. This is certainly not what the Founders meant by "the Land of the Free." But from cell phones to food, from housing to computers, Uncle Sam is on the ready with "gifts."
Without seeking phantoms to slay across the globe, presidents in the past recognized America's moral and political role in world affairs. Sacrifices were made with blood and treasure to preserve world order. Now we have President Obama, a man who does not believe in the national missions of the past and, despite his denunciation of poison gas in Syria, has encouraged our once enemy - Russia - to dictate the terms of adjudication in the region. From hegemon to captive in merely five years.
Despite a racial divide in the nation's history, extraordinary steps have been taken over the last half-century to integrate blacks into every aspect of American life. To a degree unfathomable a generation ago, this effort has been successful. Surely it is not perfect, but what is?
Nonetheless, a cadre of race extortionists has emerged that foment racial antagonism for its own benefit. Rather than rely on the progress of racial programs, these "hustlers" seek out examples and often exaggerate events in order to enhance positions in their own community and play on the guilt of the white population eager for expiation. But can a nation riven by hatred find union? As long as the Reverend Sharpton, among others, can enlarge his bank account, the question is irrelevant. Unity is not good for his business.
Although political scandal is not new to American history with Harding, Cleveland, and Kennedy coming to mind, it is hard to believe that admitted perverts would shamelessly run for two of the highest offices in New York City. It wasn't long ago when perversity would foreclose on electability. In fact, those accused of such matters wouldn't consider running. Of course, the two candidates lost in the primary. But the fact they received more than one percent of the vote suggests taboos are in retreat.
Whether it is dumbing down, decadence, excessive pride, dependency or the lack of leadership, the United States is undergoing profound change. I can't say who we are, but I am sure it is not who we were. America, once the model of emulation, is a nation seen differently abroad and acting differently at home.
There was a time not so long ago when I could select my own doctor. There was a time when I could choose my health insurance company. There was a time when everyone believed Marxism was a failure, an idea relegated to the ash heap of history. There was a time when class warfare occurred in other places far away, but Americans believed in opportunity, not sponging from others.
Was that really not so long ago? It is true President Obama said he would transform America. He has lived up to his promise. Our Constitution has been twisted into an unrecognizable document. Washington has become a lawless town where criminals are heroes and heroes are ignored. Peace through strength - the bipartisan belief that military preparedness preserves order - has been converted into peace through prayer. If you hope for the best, it just might occur.
Although racial profiling has been lambasted, its opponents base racial fairness on a race-based test, i.e.,the number of arrests must be equal to the number of a racial group in a given community. If crime is committed by a racial group that is disproportionate to its number in the population, that's too bad.
Common sense is on vacation. People who have violated the law and sing misogynistic lyrics are rewarded as millionaires in the rap world. Teachers who engage youthful students in sexual escapades cannot be fired. The aggregate pension liability for retired police officers and firefighters in New York City is more than the salaries of active employees. Laws that Congress passes for the rest of America do not necessarily apply to it. And a congressman tells us that the Tea Party, based on a grassroots effort to limit the expansion of government, is equivalent to the KKK, and if you have the temerity to disagree with him, you are a racist.
Four Americans killed in Benghazi (including the ambassador) defending the embassy are ignored by the Secretary of State who said, "What difference does it make?" American students are more likely to know the winner on "American Idol" than the authors of the Federalist Papers.
Sophistry is the language of politics and television news. "Fairness" is taking from some and giving to others. Taxes are referred to as "investments." Adversaries are enemies and enemies are friends. Islam is a religion of peace. The use of poison gas is a red line - oh, I meant a dotted line. The IRS is an "independent agency." A deadline was established for the introduction of Obamacare, but it wasn't meant as a "deadline." The president asserted and reasserted that: "If you like your doctor or healthcare plan, you can keep it." Lies are merely "misinterpretations."
When there is so little to rely on, the basis for civilized stability is undone. I observe tweeters on the street who communicate in 140 characters and cannot express a thoughtful opinion. Is it any wonder? Technology has given us many new opportunities, but these opportunities are saddled with toxins. So what if I can find out what you are having for dinner or who you are dating. Does it make a difference? All we have are distractions from what really matters.
What does matter are the interests of the nation. To my astonishment, the president has given Russia a veto over American foreign policy and the State Department has channeled foreign policy decisions through the United Nations, an organization reflexively opposed to American interests.
In surveying this landscape I realize that I am an alien in a foreign land. I don't speak the language of puerile adolescents that dominate the media. I remain a patriot, albeit patriotism itself is an antediluvian idea. And I regard government's coercive effort to redistribute wealth as theft. My world is at an end. There won't be a funeral for the deceased nation, but there will be a lamentation. This is it. *
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
There is a discredited biological theory - "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" - that suggests that the stages that occur in one's personal life follow the path of species evolution. Although there isn't a valid scientific basis for the theory, it does have application to the basic thesis in Rich Lowry's well-researched and artfully crafted new book, Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream - And How We Can Do It Again.
Abraham Lincoln's personal life evolved from a hardscrabble existence with dim prospects for the future into the presidency. In Lincoln's youth, the nation was recovering from a humiliating defeat in the War of 1812 that left the capital in ruins and the nation deeply in debt. But a vision of a capitalist empire was about to emerge, a vision that would transport a poor nation of farmers into an industrial behemoth.
Lincoln didn't romanticize his background, as many historians have done. He didn't want to be poor; he wanted respectability, and he had a plan to achieve that goal based on work, self-improvement, and character. To the chagrin of employers, and even his father, he read whenever he had a free moment, teaching himself geometry and trigonometry, grammar, and, ultimately, law. Lincoln was the embodiment of ambition, often arguing that a healthy person should either take advantage of the opportunities available to him or create those opportunities. This was Horatio Alger before Alger wrote his first novel. Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, described Lincoln's ambition as "a little engine that knew no rest."
Historical bodysnatchers like Mario Cuomo have converted Lincoln into a Big Government redistributionist. But this is far from the real Lincoln. He was a Whig who believed there was a place for government in mobilizing national energies to inspire prosperity. He admired Henry Clay, who championed the "American system" - banks, tariffs, and infrastructure - in order to protect infant industries, provide sound credit for investors, and energize the potential strength of the economy. But more than anything else, Lincoln believed in personal willpower to improve one's self. Free-market purists might reject some of his achievements, such as the Homestead Act and the creation of land-grant colleges, but for Lincoln these were ideas designed to unleash personal steadfastness. Without realizing it, Lincoln was a follower of Edmund Burke, seeking order through individual liberty. He had an undeviating faith in the generative capacities of mankind.
Lincoln's destiny was inextricably tied to the nation's. In helping to make free men prosperous, he would, in turn, make the nation prosperous. He made this argument in his brief against slavery: The "peculiar institution" would resist the heroic extension of human potential that was America's destiny. And his "House Divided" speech ("A house divided against itself cannot stand") recognized the irrepressible conflict between two visions: the South, traditional and agrarian, and the North, industrial and expansive.
For Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence laid the foundation for liberal capitalism. It made the case for human dignity and, more important, for a system that would encourage human potential. He was deeply moral, believing that there was a clear distinction between right and wrong, but he wasn't a moralist. He was as critical of Thaddeus Stevens and the radical Republicans who insisted on immediate abolition as he was of Jefferson Davis, who fought to retain institutionalized slavery. Above all, Lincoln considered himself a Constitutionalist - notwithstanding his suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War.
Rich Lowry asks, "What would Lincoln do today?" Crossing the divide of a century-and-a-half isn't simple mathematics; this is pure speculation, and you have to admire Lowry's standing up to the challenge. Surely there is much that Lincoln couldn't have imagined. Yet it is also true that his vision for mankind set the stage for the most prosperous epoch in human history. Lowry notes that Lincoln would probably disapprove of "taking money from some people and giving it to others," since the idea of an able-bodied adult living off the labor of others was anathema to him. Similarly, Lincoln would reject class conflict since he believed that "property is desirable." Lowry doesn't mention it, but Lincoln undoubtedly would have been appalled by President Obama's famous rebuke to business owners: "You didn't build that."
"The [Republican] party would be well served to heed the lessons of Lincoln's tone and of his statesmanship," writes Lowry. In 1861, Lincoln told Congress, "The struggle of today is not altogether for today - it is for a vast future also." Can the American Dream be salvaged? Rich Lowry gives us evidence that, despite our seeming decline, Abraham Lincoln's example offers a road to redemption and revitalization.
There was a moment after 9/11 when almost all Americans realized what could be lost to an enemy intent on destroying our people and our institutions. As time has passed, so too has much of this sentiment. Americans may be patriotic, but patriotism is generally not in the forefront of their thinking. There are, however, some Americans who consider any form of patriotic expression jingoism or misguided public sentiment.
One recent example comes to mind. The spokesmen for the 9/11 Memorial Museum have been trying to subdue American patriotism and resilience after the 2001 terrorist attack. According to a recent report, officials at the museum tried to bury the by now famous photograph of three firemen raising the stars and stripes over the rubble at Ground Zero. The reason given is that it is too "rah-rah America."
A recently published book quotes the museum's creative director as saying he prefers material that is not "so vigilantly" and "vehemently" American. Instead of featuring the photo of the "firemen and the flag" he insists on three other photos that "undercut the myth of 'one iconic moment.'"
As I see it, this is yet another moment when the agnostics about American institutions express their skepticism. Frankly, there isn't anything about which to be skeptical. American institutions have their flaws admittedly, but they are still the most resilient ever created. What is evident is that terrorists thought of the Twin Towers as an American symbol. It embodied in bricks and mortar: freedom, liberty and triumph.
It would seem that officials at the museum succumbed to the hordes of politically correct supporters. And it is not the first time. The International Freedom Center was removed from Ground Zero after an attempt was made to put the 9/11 attack into a "broad context," i.e. a potential anti-U.S. debate on "the meaning of freedom." Of course, U.S. detractors are relentless; the campaign against "the firefighters and flag" photo is merely the next chapter in a continuing campaign. If the firefighter photo is "too simple," as the creative director noted, it is really too direct, too accessible, too patriotic. (All the "toos" being valuable amplification.)
For those intent on complicating an attack that killed 3,000 Americans, there cannot be sympathy. There isn't an explanation that can whitewash the destruction by haters of the U.S. motivated by an extreme Muslim ideology and their distaste of everything for which America stands.
Symbols do matter. It is unfortunate that museum officials do not seem to understand that contention. They are seemingly caught in the web of left wing ideological bias that contends the U.S. is wrong or partially wrong or largely responsible for attacks launched against it.
When Americans choose to wave their flag as a sign of belief in the nation, detractors contend that is "rah-rah," with the flag representing tocsin sounding in the air. How sad that the officials given the authority to determine the policy of this Ground Zero museum could be so myopic, and so driven, apparently, by their ideological views.
Over the last thirty years (nothing precise about this time frame) radicals in the United States have worked tirelessly and relentlessly to change this society in a manner consistent with their own agenda. The method for doing so is not secret. In fact, it is transparently clear.
The first goal is to create an electoral map that will guarantee the election of left-wing presidents. To accomplish this goal one state in particular has to change from red to blue: Texas. On its face, this project seems impossible. Texas, as Governor Perry has noted, is crimson red and "will stay that way." But suppose the electorate expands by registering new voters, particularly illegals who could be granted amnesty through recent immigration proposals, and unregistered voters.
As Senator Ted Cruz has noted, "If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House." Conservative spokeswoman, Anita Moncrief, contends, "If they go for amnesty, we will find ourselves doing a post mortem over the GOP's suicide." Should Texas become a reliable blue state, its 38 electoral votes will virtually guarantee a Democratic president into the distant future.
The second goal is to develop dependency on government assistance for a majority of Americans. With close to 50 million people on food stamps, 45 million on Medicaid, 35 million in Section 8 Housing, and 52 million receiving welfare assistance, an America that was once based on self-reliance and personal liberty is disappearing in plain sight. This dependency comes with the potential for enslavement since one will need Big Brother for the very essentials of life.
The third goal is the reformulation of American voting trends through the mobilization of minority voters. It is instructive that in the 2012 election President Obama obtained support from only 39 percent of white voters, less than former Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis received in 1988, a year when he was trounced by George Herbert Walker Bush.
President Obama won by carrying 93 percent of African American voters, 71 percent of Latino voters, and 73 percent of Asian voters. Here is the new formulation of presidential victory - appeal to minorities through a divide and conquer strategy. Moreover, this is merely the beginning. By mid-century, whites in the U.S. will be a distinct minority. Presumably, minority opinion and attitudes could shift. The nation has a history of electoral movements in unpredictable directions. At the moment, however, history appears to be moving in a leftward direction with little change in sight.
Of course only time will tell if this radical strategy will work. "The eyes of Texas are upon you" goes the popular verse, but it would be just as apt to say "the eyes of America should be on Texas." This is America's electoral weathervane.
Should the radical tactics yield a victory in that state, any hope of retaining the traditions associated with America's democratic republic will be lost. It is remarkable that conservatives do not get it. They are in a wilderness of false hope and gnashing of teeth as the radical blunderbuss flares forward. Wake up America - your future is at stake.
The president of the United States has lied on every important issue of the day, from the targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS to the murder of those serving the country in Benghazi.
Blockbuster films are visual comic books with Marvel the cultural equivalent of Henry James.
Members of the press corps are now part of the Democratic Party, offering no real critique of the president or the Senate.
Taxes and regulations militate against the generation of wealth.
A nation once known for its innovation, now relies on foreign entities for new ideas since the education system is failing America.
The unfunded liability in the United States is equivalent to all the wealth in the world.
U.S. population has grown fat and soft as the increase in obesity and adult diabetes would suggest.
Rap music personalities who degrade women in their music are part of the cultural elite in the United States.
Television fare pushes the envelope of extremism with ever more explicit sexual acts on screen.
Many college graduates cannot identify the decade in the 19th century when the Civil War was fought.
Muslims are seemingly immune to criticism since a hostile response is likely, but every other religion is fair game.
Gitmo, a prison holding known terrorists, spends $800,000 a year for each and every prisoner.
The best selling book of 2013 deals with sadomasochism.
A Boston Patriots football star is accused of serial murders soon after signing a multi-year $40 million contract.
Edward Snowden is accused of stealing secrets from the NSA and is charged with treason, but the president refuses to prevail on Russia to extradite him.
The Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act giving same-sex marriage equal status with heterosexual marriages.
Arab protests throughout North Africa were unanticipated by the U.S. State Department.
An inability of the U.S. to develop a strategy for Syria has left the government in a catch-up position with rebel forces.
The Obama administration believes the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderating influence in the Arab world.
Attenuated delays and an unwillingness to entertain seriously the development of nuclear weapons in Iran means the Persian mullahs will soon have weapons of mass destruction.
The systematic reduction of our naval fleet means, in effect, that the U.S. cannot protect its interests and allies in the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea, or the Sea of Japan.
Federal Reserve easing along with the fiscal deficit will at some point result in an inflationary tsunami.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has led to a temporary political vacuum that is likely to be filled by the Taliban.
Seventy-two percent of Afro-American children are born out-of-wedlock.
The "Leave It To Beaver" family is gone, a distant memory of an earlier period.
The best selling history text in the nation is Howard Zinn's A People's History of The United States, which is a contentious view of competing interests in our national past.
American students came in next to last on the OECD science and math tests.
President Obama has exercised Executive Orders more than any other president.
The debt increased by $5 trillion over the last four years.
These are randomly selected facts and opinions that lead inextricably to one conclusion: national decline. I am not one of the declinists who believe in determinism, nor am I a tired old man who is going through a lamentation of "the way things used to be." But there is a theme and it is worrisome. America is not what it once was - the great colossus that strode the globe as a force to be emulated. The task before us is a recognition of the issues we face and an examination of manifold ways to address them. *
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
According to President Obama "Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago." Initially my reaction to his remark is he is playing to his constituents. After all, why not take advantage of the rabble rousing as he has done before. But my acquiescence quickly turned to anger.
This pot-smoking kid from Hawaii accorded every advantage the American society can confer is saying in effect he faced "racial discrimination." He made this claim with a straight face after he received scholarships at an elite private school in Hawaii, a full scholarship at Occidental, and then one at Columbia. Without the slightest demonstration of scholarly achievement, he obtained acceptance to Harvard Law School and yet another scholarship. He was elected to Law Review, but did not publish one article as its editor.
He became U.S. Senator in large part because his Republican rival was caught in a scandal. And without sponsoring one major piece of legislation, he was catapulted into a presidential race. If ever the path to stardom was synchronized with green lights, it is the case of Barack Obama.
Yet he has the audacity to play the race card, even indicating that he used to hear "the locks click on the doors of cars" when he passed. According to Obama young black males are "painted with a broad brush" nearly all of whom have been profiled, "himself included." As he noted:
There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator with a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off.
Let's get beyond the stereotype to a few facts the president overlooked. The majority of criminal behavior in the United States is found in the African American community despite the fact it is only 13 percent of the population. Black on black murder accounts for 93 percent of the murders in the Afro-American communities. It is 11 times more likely a black person will harm a white person than the reverse. If a woman holds on to a purse in the presence of young black males, there is empirical evidence for doing so. In fact, she would be foolish not to do so. Admittedly there are many innocents caught in the web of racial profiling. Surely the president is referring to those individuals, but safety on our streets is related more to black criminality, than to racial profiling.
The extortion artists of the Al Sharpton variety derive a handsome living from playing the race card and the guilt syndrome among liberals. As Sharpton himself noted, his many suits, tuition for his children at private schools, his automobiles are "merely granted as "access." Most Americans may wonder why similar "access" isn't granted to them. Without the racial cause, Sharpton would be seen as just another hustler eager to make a fast buck from an unwary public. But the shameless advertisement of racial prejudice gives him credibility and celebrity status.
What hasn't been said, of course, is the extraordinary growth of a black middle class since the 1960s. What isn't mentioned by Sharpton, or even President Obama, is that college graduates who happen to be black earn the same starting salaries as whites. Moreover, among municipal employees, required to take tests for entry, a lower score from blacks is treated as a higher score among whites in order to ensure black representation in the workforce. Supreme Court decisions allow for race as an admissions factor in universities as if there is a justifiable reason for "diversity."
Despite Sharpton's pointed analysis, the U.S. is not the land of Jim Crow. The Trayvon Martin case tells us very little about racial attitudes, as the designation of George Zimmerman as an "Hispanic White" clearly suggests, and the president has invented a past to satisfy the ambitious constituents in his midst and to reinforce rabble rousers eager to use race as a platform for political reform.
Have we reached a stage in our national development where seriousness on almost any subject is impossible? Examples abound.
Edward Snowden, who leaked National Security Agency surveillance projects to the British Guardian, said:
I can't in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building.
And he noted, "The public should decide, not the government."
Here is a remarkable claim of a bureaucrat who has arrogated to himself the role of spokesman for the public. Moreover, he seems to ignore the responsibility the National Security Agency has in lawfully gathering intelligence that assists in targeting prospective terror activity. In fact, the public does make a decision about these surveillance procedures in the form of elections; but no one ever attributed seriousness to Snowden's arguments.
Reading a catalogue at a major university is also an exercise in frivolousness. From rock climbing to queer studies, from film noir to Lady Gaga, universities demonstrate a loss of purpose. There is an emergent orthodoxy that deals with environmentalism and homosexual marriage, but inquiry of a serious nature is in decline. The Socratic Method has been replaced by Star Chamber psychology of acceptance or banishment.
Popular film has remained popular by appealing to the sensibility of a 14-year-old-boy. Films such as "Man of Steel," "Iron Man," "Fast and Furious" have scripts that could be composed by monkeys; what they offer are remarkable computer driven special effects, simply breathtaking technology that is riveting yet mindless.
In New York City a man found culpable of lascivious texting to teenage girls and consistently lied about it, (Anthony Weiner) wants to be regarded as a serious mayoral candidate. Remarkably, his Democratic adherents think this is a good idea. Where is the shame? Whatever happened to taste and modesty? Once again, here is an issue put through the cauldron of media cleansing without the slightest regard for serious criticism.
The Obama administration invested millions of taxpayer dollars in a manufacturer of solar panels, Solyndra, which was bound to fail from the outset, yet the public response has been ho-hum, another day in Washington. But that money squandered to sustain a marginal company belongs to the taxpayers, John and Mary Public.
Obama's State Department officials cannot address, with any clarity, the order to "back down" in the Benghazi affair in which four men in service of the country were murdered; nor is there anyone assuming responsibility for the sexual imbroglios among ambassadorial appointees. Does anyone care? Former Secretary Hillary Clinton referring to Benghazi brazenly said, "What difference does it make?!" Alas, she is busy setting the stage for a presidential run. Are there adults in the State Department, or is it a playground for teenagers?
Similarly, the lack of focus in foreign policy is astounding. In the haste to withdraw American focus from around the globe and convert the U.S. into a "normal nation" without so many international obligations, the administration is unable to define American interests abroad. This vacuum has left deep and continuing dangers, but blithely the administration continues on its merry way far more concerned about the terrorists housed in Gitmo than violence and confusion from the Suez to the Hindu Kush. Denying the reality of radical Islam doesn't make it go away. Because we choose to leave the battlefield, doesn't mean the war is over.
Yet from culture to foreign policy everything is a joke. It is as if Howard Stern and Jay Leno were responsible for public policy. As silly as it sounds, that may be the case since the nation appears to be unable to think seriously about any subject.
How can the nation pursue its future when seriousness itself is in retreat along with its companion belief in determination? You cannot be determined if you do not know what you cherish. Calvin Coolidge once argued:
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "Press On" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
But how do you "press on" when seriousness of any kind is missing? This is a dilemma without an obvious answer.
Recently the Supreme Court delivered a rebuke to Governor Jan Brewer and the citizens of Arizona arguing in a 7 to 2 majority that the state violated federal law when it added a proof of citizenship requirement to a federal voter registration form almost a decade ago.
According to the majority decision the high court ruled that in areas where Washington holds constitutional authority - as is the case with immigration and the rules for federal elections - states may not override Congressional judgment.
In 2004 voters in Arizona approved a state initiative that required proof of citizenship when residents sought to vote. That proof could be a passport or a birth certificate. Under federal law, registrants only need to sign a form attesting to voter eligibility under penalty of perjury.
According to Arizona's attorney general, Tom Horne, in the last year more than 200 people were caught having registered to vote without holding citizenship. Nonetheless, Justice Antonin Scalia, in his majority decision, held that Arizona state law interfered with Congress's prerogatives. As he noted, federal law "forbids states to demand that an applicant submit additional information beyond that required by the federal form."
Presumably anyone in Arizona who wants to vote illegally will ask for the federal form. Arizona officials remain free to crosscheck information that registrants supply on the federal form to ensure accuracy, but considering actual voting practice this is unlikely.
In his dissenting opinion Judge Alito wrote: "The Court reads an ambiguous federal statute in a way that brushes aside the constitutional authority of the States and produces truly strange results." The strange result to which he refers is opening the gate for illegal voting. There is no doubt the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the motor voter law of 1993, sustains federal authority over voting provisions, but the argument that proof of citizenship is a burden that discriminates against certain groups is absurd on its face. The only group it discriminates against is illegal voters, those specifically mentioned in the Constitution as ineligible to vote.
Moreover, this court decision invites the cynical conclusion that elections are rigged, that the very integrity of elections can be called into question. As the last presidential election indicated, places like Colorado had voting districts with 140 percent participation and Philadelphia had districts in the inner city that voted 100 percent for President Obama. You mean, there wasn't one error, one misplaced vote? One might add, what happened in those instances where voter fraud was unambiguous? Who was penalized and how many of these cases were merely dismissed?
The Arizona law wasn't foolproof, but it at least provided another appropriate hurdle through which the illegal voter must jump. That is now gone. Attorney General Holder applauded the decision and as one might expect wrote an amicus brief challenging the Arizona law.
Needless to say - although I will - every American who has a right to vote should be encouraged to do so. No one, regardless of race or ethnicity, should be denied access to the polls. But that does not mean we should allow, through foolish interpretation of federal law, an opening for fraud in the form of illegal voting.
I am sure Justice Scalia didn't have that in mind with his majority decision. Sometimes, however, a narrow interpretation of the law can lead to unanticipated baneful results.
The word "equality" is woven into the fabric of the nation. Despite the clause in the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's continual efforts to preserve it, most people assume we are born with different endowments, have different temperaments, behave in different ways and, most assuredly, are unequal. In fact, the more we as a nation emphasize individuality, the more likely inequality will result.
Nonetheless, we are all endowed by our creator with inalienable rights and we are equal in the eyes of the law. But lately equality has been submerged in an aquatic swamp overwhelmed by politics and ideology.
For the proponents of same sex marriage for example, equality rears its head as Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights based on the supposition homosexuals should not be treated differently from heterosexuals. In this case, equality before the law is the essence of the defense.
By the same token and very often by the same proponents, affirmative action in university admissions is an exercise in inequality since the target population of blacks, Hispanics and others are designated as "special" and treated differently from their white counterparts. In this case, the Fourteenth Amendment is trumped by a university claim of "diversity," as essential goal of the Academy; it can only be achieved by the establishment of various and different admission standards.
Presumably what is good for the goose may not be good for the gander. One could argue, as Justice Kennedy did, that the principle of equal protection admits to no argument for a "two class theory" in which there is recognition of special wards entitled to "a degree of protection greater than that accorded others."
In a recent 7 to 1 decision the Court avoided a direct answer about the constitutionality of affirmative action, but ordered an appeals court to consider the case under demanding standards for its justification. When an appeals court reviews the matter, the issue of equality before the law will be tested yet again.
Ultimately, determining the benefit of "diversity" is a dicey business since minority representation on campus doesn't automatically manifest itself as integration. In other words, a university may not use any means it desires to achieve the stated goal of diversity. It will increasingly be a goal limited by "strict scrutiny" from the courts. Will the recent Texas Case Court decision lead inevitably to the elimination of race based preferences? That isn't clear, albeit that direction seems compelling.
What the seemingly compromise decision in the Texas Case foreshadows is a position somewhere between retention and elimination, a position that partially explains why "equality" is in the cauldron of political judgment. We want it when it suits our cause and dismiss it when it doesn't.
The Equal Protection Clause was once sacrosanct, but an attempt to redress the wrongs of the past and engineer the conditions of the future has created an impasse. America is in an odd place. Equality doesn't always mean equal protection and freedom doesn't always mean "free from" government intrusion. History has a strange way of changing perspectives.
That there are fundamental beliefs is less true today than it once was. And for that we pay a price in legal acrobatics and language obfuscation. Reading a Supreme Court decision is comparable to plying through a document in a foreign tongue. The justices are caught in a vise between a "living and continually adjusted Constitution" and "an originalist document" that stands as a bulwark of our civilization. As I see it, the court is split and so are the American people. *
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute, Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
Now that the result is in and the Republican Party has engaged in ritual handwringing, it is time to suggest some time-honored views of campaigns. It is facile to conclude that with this dramatic presidential loss Republicans are likely to be a permanent minority force in national politics.
In 1964 the Goldwater defeat left the party with seemingly hopeless options. The New York Times described Republicans as tone-deaf and extremist, conditions that suggested interment. Sixteen years later Ronald Reagan won a decisive victory. He called Barry Goldwater after the electoral victory to say "we won." Resurrection does recur in politics.
As a consequence, the principles that undergird the Republican Party - assuming, as I do, that they are the right principles - should not be discarded. This is the party that believes in the virtues of free enterprise, individual rights, local authority, effective but non-intrusive government, peace through strength, the power of human initiative and the Constitutional principles passed down by our Founding Fathers.
Admittedly the demography in the nation has changed. Blacks and Hispanics represent about a quarter of the voting population, and they are usually reflexive Democratic voters. Young people - those under 30 - are a major voting bloc and a disproportionate number have been influenced by trash culture and left-wing proselytizing in our schools. About a third of the population is on the public dole, reliant on government for food, shelter and survival. Women are more active in politics than ever before with abortion often the forefront of their political choices.
Hence there is a challenge Republicans must face. First, it seems obvious that the party should reach out to minorities employing a Jack Kemp strategy, i.e. demonstrate that the free market, as opposed to government handouts, can have a salutary effect on the fortune of minorities. It is not merely jobs that many want, but the prospect of opportunity and the wealth that may emerge from exercising it.
Second, an organized effort in colleges should be launched to demonstrate the romance of American traditions. The nation's founding and the wars to identify and defend our liberties are at least as compelling as the rancorous labor struggles and the emancipation of blacks from slavery. College Republican clubs have languished for years. Howard Zinn's Peoples History of the American Republic is the most popular textbook on our campuses and it is an explicit condemnation of everything for which this nation stands. It is time for a systematic rebuttal and, in the process, an artful defense of what makes the United States unique. The most powerful instrument for attracting young Republicans voters is an honest portrayal of the national narrative.
Last, it is time for Republicans to indicate that its policies explicitly represent a concern for the poor and indigent. Democrats do not have a monopoly on compassion. It is not enough to simply apply labels like "compassionate conservatism" to the party. Republicans are in the vanguard of social reform, even though this point was overlooked in the campaign. For example, sex trafficking affects thousands of women left stranded on our streets or in the grip of urban predators. Republicans have led the charge on this human rights issue that often transcends politics, but is in the wheelhouse of a party noted for its liberationist sentiments.
For most Republicans this is a moment of despair. Democrats are beating their chests with affirmation. But the twenty-year-old who worked for Obama's reelection is in time likely to be married with a newborn at home. The conditions that prevail now may not make much sense in four years or eight years. Will he be mugged by reality?
So many of my colleagues were once Democrats. They argue that the party left them. Alas, that is true to some extent, but not completely. Many left the party because it was no longer an hospitable environment for their basic beliefs. Coalitions within parties, such as the well-advertised New Deal coalition, dissolved over time. Dixiecrats - a major component of that coalition - became Republicans. It is possible that Hispanics, a growing and influential component of national politics, who have traditional goals consistent with those in the Republican Party could be potential converts. A majority may not be Republican at the moment, but under the appropriate circumstances could join the party in large numbers. It won't be easy since 55 percent of Hispanic children are born out of wedlock and a significant number rely on expansive government services that Democratic administrations have put in place.
However, this is not the time for Republicans to whine; it is the time to plan. Historical evolution is not inevitable. As the past points out, today's majority could easily become tomorrow's minority. It is time for Republicans to get to work.
From the time Alfred Mahan wrote his classic work on naval power at the beginning of the 20th century to the present, this two-ocean nation relied on sea power to protect its territory at home and its interests abroad. In fact, it was axiomatic to suggest that the hegemonic role the United States played in maintaining global equilibrium was directly related to its ability to project naval power.
Clearly this wasn't always the case. In the World War I period from 1914 to 1918 the United States had a fleet level of 363, a fleet smaller than Germany, the United Kingdom and France. It remained at that level in the 1920s (an average of 376) and during the 1930s till 1938 (an average of 339 ships). Needless to remind anyone about the onset of WWII there was a slight increase in new vessels from 1939 to 1941, during the Lend Lease period, (a total of 394), but by 1942, with the war in full swing, there were 1,782 ships in the Navy and by 1945 at the end of the war, the U.S. had 6,768 vessels.
This force level was not sustainable. With retrenchment very much in the air after the war, naval forces were reduced to 634 in 1950. However Cold War saber rattling as a function of Stalinist diplomacy, led to ship levels in the U.S. increasing to 1,030 by 1955, a high point from 1955 to the present.
In the 1960s naval forces averaged 878 during the decade and in the 1970s averaged a reduced 606. In fact, President Reagan who often discussed the need for a 600-ship navy never reached that goal in his eight years in office, the highest level being 594 in 1987 and an average of 561 during his tenure.
Now the U.S. Navy is a mere shadow of itself. During the recent presidential debate, candidate Mitt Romney noted that naval capability had shrunk to a level lower than World War I. Technically he was correct since naval forces are now at 287. President Obama glibly responded by suggesting this is irrelevant; after all, we don't rely on bayonets or horses either. His implication is that our ships are more sophisticated than their predecessors at sea so the numbers do not carry the same logistical weight they once did.
By any standard this is questionable. Numbers matter. If one third of our ships are in repair and one third are in port for the rest and relaxation of sailors, there are approximately 90 vessels available to patrol the seven seas protecting American interests. This is not only an historical record, it is a number inadequate for the task at hand.
An active and assertive blue water Chinese navy is intent on challenging U.S. naval superiority in the Pacific. In the past, challenges of this kind were met by a show of force, an aircraft carrier force or joint military maneuvers with an allied nation. At the moment, we do not have the fleet strength for a symbolic act or to engage in joint training with say, Japan. The Obama administration has simply hollowed out U.S. capabilities.
The argument for this decision is that we cannot afford to be a supreme military force. It was revealing that administration officials said recently the U.S. would not be a super power by 2030. Based on the possibility of sequestration and further military retrenchment, that date may be an exaggeration. Decline is a choice and it appears as if the Obama team has opted to embrace it based on the goal of additional domestic spending.
Military spending is four and a half percent of GDP, a far cry from World War II levels and a fraction of domestic spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. What the Obama team does not seem to realize is that a hollow military capability puts at risk everything this nation has accomplished. Domestic spending clearly has its place, but defense spending refers to our very existence. If we insist on underwriting so-called entitlements at the expense of our naval assets, we will relinquish the future and put ourselves in the position of arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. When that ship went down and when the ship of state goes down, it doesn't matter who has the best view of the horizon. *