Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.
Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
In Edward Bellamy's novel Looking Backward the principal character is mesmerized and put to sleep for decades. When he awakens, the world has changed; the socialist impulses of Bellamy and his technological predictions (quite accurate it turns out) are very much on display. Most noteworthy, individual aspirations have been converted into collective designs; wealth has spread and new forms of technology litter the landscape.
While I find myself disagreeing with much of Bellamy's philosophical disposition, it strikes me the exercise of looking back is a useful one. Suppose for example I was mesmerized in 1965 and awakened in 2009. How might the nation appear to a pilgrim who has been asleep for more than four decades?
For one thing, I might ask if I live in America. The civil rights legislation of the 1960s was predicated on the idea that race and ethnicity should be neither a handicap nor an asset in public life. In 2009, by contrast Ms. Sonia Sotomayor, despite a lackluster record as a judge, is likely to be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice because of her Hispanic background and her "empathetic" experience with the poor and downtrodden.
In the 1960s it was clear despite growing cynicism that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Our Founders recognized the nexus between biblical prescriptions and political institutions. By 2009 America has become a nation that has deracinated the Judeo-Christian tradition from public life. In fact, President Obama said, the United States is one of the largest Muslim nations in the world even though roughly 3 million Muslims live in this nation of 320 million people.
In the 1960s SDS and many anti-war supporters marched in candlelight vigils to protest the war in Vietnam, but despite hardcore radicals, most Americans and certainly most legislators supported their country. By 2009 a substantial number of Americans want to see the U.S. lose a war in Iraq and be forced into an ignominious surrender in the Middle East.
In the 1960s General Motors was the world's largest car manufacturer and a company that stood as an example of the nation's economic strength. In 2009 G.M. is in bankruptcy, more than 60 percent of the company is owned by the government, and half of its brands have been removed from the market. Moreover, the nation's free market -- described by Europeans pejoratively as Anglo-Saxon capitalism -- has now been replaced by the command economy with Washington largely in control of the means of production. Eighty percent of American International Group is now owned by the Federal Government; 30 percent of Citicorp is in the same position; federal authorities imposed a merger on the Chrysler Corporation, and, if President Obama has his way, health care representing 17 percent of the economy will be controlled by the federal government as well.
In 1963 American students reached the apogee on SAT tests and international exams in science and math vis-a-vis foreign competitors. By 2009 the U.S. students scored near the bottom in these international tests, notwithstanding an enormous increase in educational spending in the last four decades.
There are days when I think it would be best if I could remain asleep in 1965. The nation was somewhat innocent, as was I. Socialism was a concept mocked here and abroad, even in the Soviet Union by homegrown intellectuals. The United States was a hegemon on the world stage, often criticized, but also recognized as a world power. It was inconceivable that any president, in the presence of world leaders, would apologize for the transgressions in American foreign policy.
Race was being subordinated as a concept for employment and college admission in the sixties, despite the Jim Crow legacy of the past. God was in his heaven and much was right in the world.
Now I question whether the America of 2009 is American at all. Is this merely an aberrational moment or are we headed down a new and, in my judgment, a dangerous direction, one inconsistent with our traditions and principles?
Perhaps someone will wake me from this disturbing dream and say, yes, America is well, and still the land of the free. But I've come to learn that being mesmerized can be very discomforting.
Listening to the American tourists traveling in France, it is apparent we are in the "age of Obama." The Ugly American has morphed into the Apologetic American, the one who is sorry for everything. This American apologizes for breathing French air; for being colonists; for appearing arrogant.
It is hard to fathom how this new American can apologize to the insufferable French for arrogance or colonialism, but there you have it. American tourists merely ape their president. In this period, Americans are unequivocally sorry.
Now in order for these tourists to appear genuine, they must impose historical amnesia on themselves. Forget the role 19- and 20-year-old soldiers played in liberating France during World War II. Forget American blood that seeped into the sands at Normandy. Forget the Marshall Plan that rebuilt war-torn France. In fact, forget much of the 20th century.
Rewrite history so that the French appear as sophisticates and Americans hopelessly "nouveau arriviste." Not only must you rewrite this history, it must be rewritten by the Americans themselves. They will be their own revisionists.
From any point of view, this is sickening. The American apologist has nothing for which apology is necessary. If anyone should be bowing and offering thanks it is the French. When a Frenchman recently upbraided Americans for only speaking English, he should have been reminded that were it not for Americans the French would only be speaking one language as well, German.
Admittedly the French generally know more about wine than Americans, but when it comes to manners, what the French call, "politesse," Americans generally beat them at their own game.
Every time an American apologizes for Vietnam or "wrecking the Atlantic alliance" (to quote President Obama) I want to slap him into sensible thought. It was the French who left Vietnam with their tail between their legs and President Eisenhower and Kennedy who bailed them out.
It was De Gaulle who refused to join NATO and demanded a "force de frappe," a toothless response to Soviet nuclear threats. And it is the United States that is responsible for putting teeth in the European fighting force. Although probably uncharitable, some have argued that the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty because she has only one arm in the air.
Now that President Obama has become an instant hero in France, ala J. F. K., it is not uncommon for a Frenchman to say at last America has put race behind it and selected a black man. Whenever I hear this comment I always ask, when will France elect an Algerian. My comment is usually greeted with silence.
President Obama has given impetus to the contemporary French argument that the United States may not be so bad after all. But this is an America that refuses to flex its military muscle; an America that appears confused and without direction. If one can find a stance in the new administration, it is the accommodative spirit that cannot distinguish between an enemy and a friend. It is an America that says pleasantries about Iran and castigates Israel. It is an administration that wants to turn back the clock in its dealings with Muslim nations, but refuses to mention the sacrifices Americans made for Muslims in the Balkans and Iraq among other places.
Although it is an unpopular position, I prefer the Ugly American to the Apologetic American: the one wearing the horribly garish Hawaiian shirt, the one who brags about American accomplishments, the person who knows America bailed out France and isn't afraid to say so, the one who interred political correctness, and the one who refuses to apologize for American actions. Americans sacrificed blood and treasure for Europeans. That is nothing to be ashamed of.
As I see it, we need a dose of Yankee-first patriotism. That surge of nationalistic fervor might do us some good and might even have a chastening effect on the French (notice I said might).
It is strange that I long for the Ugly American I once criticized, but whenever I hear the Apologetic American on the Champs Elysee, I only wish the past can be resurrected. Give me the Ugly American any day of the week rather than his contemporary counterpart.
The 2009 election in Iran has exposed the problematic dimensions of President Obama's "soft power" approach. By any standard this election of Ahmadinejad appears to be a sham. Millions of votes were counted in just two hours after the polls closed. Internet sites were shut down. Protestors were beaten and arrested. And in the village where Mir Hossein Mousavi, the chief rival to Ahmadinejad, resides, anecdotal evidence indicates widespread tampering.
Yet, even though Vice President Biden said there is "some real doubt" about the election result, the United States government is committed to continued efforts at negotiation in order to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program. "Talks with Iran," it was noted, "are not a reward for good behavior, they are only the consequence" of President Obama's decision that talks with Iranian leaders are in our national security interest.
But is that really the case?
A thunderstorm of protest across Iran clearly demonstrates that many Iranians, perhaps most Iranians, feel cheated. It appears as if the so-called "green revolution" has traction with a passion for change evident with youthful demonstrators on the streets of every major Iranian city. Despite efforts at suppression by government authorities, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter among other outlets offer a communications network for the disenchanted.
As I watched YouTube clips from the comforts of my home, I heard crowds shouting, "Death to the dictator."
Mousavi has formally asked the Guardian Council to annul the election result he described as a fraud. But there is little doubt his plea will not be heeded. How this discontent will unfold remains to be seen, but a network of young, middle class dissenters could emerge as a force putting pressure on Ahmadinejad and Iran's theocracy to take a less confrontational posture toward the West.
This, of course, is precisely the dilemma President Obama now faces. On the one hand, he has staked out a position as a negotiator with the Guardian Council -- the twelve member clerical body associated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On the other hand, he must recognize that overtures towards the existing regime run headlong into the emerging grassroots spirit for change. If through negotiation he legitimizes the mullahs, he will lose the youthful demonstrators who have put their lives on the line for liberalization.
The question the president must address is which side of history will he be on. Will he consider the passion for change inexorable or will he, like Ahmadinejad, consider the demonstrations like the unrest after a soccer match?
The backdrop for President Obama's stance is the Iranian enrichment of uranium and probable development of nuclear weapons. Should the president embrace the view of demonstrators, his negotiation position will be compromised. Should he negotiate with the mullahs lending legitimacy to the present regime, he will be seen as the opponent of democratic reform. What if the negotiations do not result in the cessation of Iran's nuclear program? Will this investment of political capital be viewed as a foolish gesture that only alienated those who might bring about a regime change?
Clearly history has a way of intruding on grand designs. The demonstrations on the ground could be the beginning of a major shift in the fortunes of Iran. A stable Iran, without imperial goals, could set in motion reforms that might cascade through the region. Is this the beginning of the end for the Iranian theocratic state or is this merely a momentary pause in the move for ever tighter controls on the Iranian people?
President Obama had better be prepared to answer these questions since the pace of change could be unpredictable. On one matter there cannot be any doubt: the confidence in "soft power" espoused by the president has been called into question. He sits on the horns of a dilemma, and historical movements will decide questions he has only started to consider.
Here in the heart of the heartland in Sioux City, Iowa, a "pitchfork mentality" is emerging. In a town that has stockyards and a meatpacking company that yields what locals call "aroma alley," the Republican base, which has been in retreat since the presidential election, is energized and the Democratic majority is growing angry at its own leaders.
Two issues have emerged as critical: a government plan to prevent the deductibility of state taxes on the federal tax form, and a state Supreme Court decision to mandate homosexual marriages.
If subject to a vote these proposals would lose 85 to 15 percent according to recent polls. Yet the state court is seemingly oblivious to public sentiment and is intent on making the law rather than interpreting it. And the Democratic majority in the legislature anticipates a revenue windfall if the tax proposal passes, a windfall it cannot resist.
These two issues are the front burner matters in a state that voted for Barack Obama in the presidential election. But support for the president is evaporating quickly. In Sioux City even the Democrats at a recent rally contend "he is moving too fast and too far." Iowans believe America is sliding into a command economy that imperils freedom. Despite the claims by hard-core leftists like Janeane Garofalo that these cross-country tea parties are nothing more than discontent with the president's race, I couldn't find a scintilla of evidence to support this claim.
The concern is real and deeply felt uniting most Republicans and many Democrats. These are rumblings in the heartland that President Obama should heed, although that doesn't appear to be the case. Iowa farmers don't know John Maynard Keynes, but they do know a power grab when they see one. Fiercely individualistic Iowans are resistant to a Washington bureaucracy that wants to tell them how to live and work. Priming the pump is seemingly acceptable as a method for kicking the economy into gear until the decisions affect personal behavior.
I don't know if Americans are yet ready for a second American Revolution as some bloggers are suggesting, but I do know that in a state conservative in outlook and disposition, anger is building that may be unprecedented. The "I'm angry and won't take it any more" refrain at rallies is often bipartisan with some Democrats saying if we only knew "this is the change we've been waiting for," they might have kept on waiting.
Admittedly the Iowa caucus launched the Obama campaign for president about which some Iowans are quite proud. Many state Democrats argue it is still too early to assess the president's performance. That may be true, but the policy directions established with the Stimulus Bill, the Appropriations Bill and the budget proposal indicate an enormous transfer of capital from the private to the public sector and an accompanying transfer of power as well. This change cannot be overlooked even for those inclined to support the president.
It is possible that if there is an uptick in the economy, the public mood may change. However, it will soon be obvious blame cannot be leveled against former President Bush for the problems Obama inherited. Both the proposals and the state of the economy will soon belong to President Obama and his team. Therefore excuses and rationalizations are not likely to fly.
As I see it, the tea parties are a genuine cri de coeur. They arise as a plaintive eruption from the grassroots. Where this will lead is anyone's guess since these events are dispersed across the country. At the moment no one to my knowledge has attempted to translate the evident frustration into a political movement. But that could happen.
President Obama has chosen to ignore or dismiss these actions. That is a major error. He would be far wiser to address the concerns directly. The longer the anger festers, the more it becomes an impediment to his political fortunes. 2010 isn't far off for a congressional realignment and 2012 isn't far either for a Republican in the White House. These tea parties may auger a change as formidable as the one America once experienced in Boston Harbor.
On June 6, 1944, the United States and its allies launched the largest air and sea armada in world history. The purpose of this mission was clear: liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi despotism.
The landings on the Normandy beaches led to unprecedented death and destruction. American soldiers leaving their amphibious landing crafts measured their life expectancy in minutes. In the first hour of battle hundreds lost their lives and in succeeding waves thousands were killed as the beaches at Omaha and Utah were soaked with the blood of young men in their teens and early twenties.
At Pointe du Hoc Rangers scaled the sheer cliffs on rope hangers. When one was killed by German bullets another stepped on the precarious rungs. Of the 224 Rangers who scaled those cliffs only 90 survived, but as historians observed, rarely in history has there been such a display of courage, fortitude, and sacrifice.
This was the beginning of a great epoch in history that led ultimately to the defeat of Hitler's Germany. But history has a way of describing the big picture and leaving out the tales of individual bravery by young men who a year or two earlier were playing high school basketball, working on a farm, or applying to college. History called their number and they responded. Tom Brokaw called them "America's greatest generation."
It is hard to know if they made history or history demanded heroic deeds from them. Perhaps it was a little of both. But standing in the cemetery at the Normandy Beach and observing row after row of those who gave their lives for a cause greater than themselves, I am humbled by those who died so future generations could live freely.
There is another thought that crossed my mind in this crowded necropolis. I don't understand how anyone, much less the president of the United States, could apologize for American actions abroad in the last century or this one. With all the mistakes and miscalculations, there has never been a force for good more notable than the United States military.
Ask the citizens of Caen, Bayeux, St. Lo, Archante what they thought about G.I.s in their midst. Residents of these towns were saved from enslavement by Americans who fought Panzer divisions in their backyards. Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley left devastation in their advancing wake, but they brought with them armies that yielded freedom and set the stage for a level of prosperity Europe has enjoyed ever since.
It is difficult for most Europeans to remember the past. After all, who wants to remember an uncle that bailed you out of a jam? Here in Normandy, however, conditions are different. Citizens of this region were there on the front line. Omaha Beach is Bloody Omaha to them and the American flag still stands as a reminder.
This June, the 65th anniversary of D Day will be celebrated. For most Americans and most Europeans it is simply another day in late spring. Some octogenarians may remember that fateful day when the liberation of Europe began. Many, however, knowing nothing about history will be disinclined to pay any special attention to the day.
I recall seeing Steven Spielberg's film Saving Private Ryan, in which, with extraordinary verisimilitude, the director recaptured the events at Omaha Beach. As the film began and the bloodshed was evident, a young lady seated behind me asked her friend "What war do you think this is?"
For the fallen heroes lying in their graves this ignorance is lamentable. Perhaps it explains why President Obama can apologize and apologize again and many Americans can applaud, or at the very least, accept his gesture for foreign consumption. I cannot. I am appalled that we can ignore, forget, or rationalize away American heroism.
I don't think we should ever apologize for what the United States has done to extricate millions from the yoke of totalitarian control. It is not arrogance to recall the limbs that were shattered and the bodies broken to set history on the course of democracy, imperfect as it is.
Before President Obama stands supinely before the G-20 again and engages in a form of national self-flagellation, I would urge him to stand amid the crosses and stars in Normandy cemetery and recall the sacrifices made by those youngsters so that he could be president of the United States and breathe an unadorned version of freedom. *
"A people . . . who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages, may achieve almost anything." --George Washington
Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
When Chris Matthews of "Hardball" indicated that it was "our job" to get Obama elected and then to make him look good, a new chapter in national journalism emerged. By any stretch of the imagination this is cheerleading, not journalism. And in the several months since Barack Obama acceded to the presidency, Americans have witnessed the equivalent of the Adoration of the Magi.
This schoolgirl crush knows no bounds. Obama's reliance on the teleprompter is explained as a desire to assert a tightly knit and well thought through message. One might just as well argue the president cannot deliver a message extemporaneously.
His mistakes are viewed as timing issues. During a G-20 speech in London the president attempted to equate the language in the Declaration of Independence with sloganeering during the French Revolution -- a dubious analogy to begin with. However, after saying "liberte" he stopped and seemingly lost his way. This awkward pregnant pause was thwarted when his eyes found the teleprompter and the words "egalite and fraternite." Members of the press, however, described this as a pause for "emphasis."
Even the president's odd apology to the assembled nations that legitimized anti-American sentiment ("the U.S. was sorry for wrecking transatlantic relations") was greeted as the beginning of a healthy relationship with our allies.
The New York Times, caught in the Messiah syndrome, rationalizes every word from the president's lips as thoughtful and articulate. Moreover, as A.A. Gill noted (4/5/09) when the president stepped up to 10 Downing Street, he shook the hand of a police officer standing guard and as a consequence, "showed the British how to be classlessly classy." Maureen Dowd argued that Barack Obama "grew up learning how to slip in and out of different worlds -- black and white, foreign and American, rich and poor." He "knows how to manipulate." As opposed to George W. Bush who was "manipulated."
As ever, Bush is the handy stooge, the polar opposite of Obama. For the Times' columnists Bush is the exemplar of everything that went wrong, the cowboy rough around the edges. But suppose, for the sake of argument, Bush shook the hand of the bobby standing guard at the Prime Minister's residence. My guess is the headline would have read "the unclassy Bush does it again and violates diplomatic protocol."
Surely the press should point out positive things a president does, but journalism and cheerleading aren't compatible. The president has his public relations flaks who attempt to put a positive spin on everything he says and does. He doesn't need a sycophantic press corps. In fact, an honest portrayal of presidential action is what the country requires.
Instead the American public is getting a consistently worshipful tone. Writing in the Washington Post, Tom Shales describes a presidential press conference in the following way:
Most of the facets of President Obama's personality that have made him intensely popular were on display last night during his second prime-time news conference, and so he emerged from it still every inch "President Wonderful," as it were, untouched and intact.
Because of this cupidity, policies are overlooked, policies that are changing the face of America. What we have in its place is a personality cult with image replacing substance and press bias substituting for reportage. If this honeymoon continues unabated Americans may witness the most formidable policy shifts in the history of this nation without journalistic accounting.
The press love affair with Obama may make him look good, but whether this is a healthy state of affairs for the nation remains questionable. I prefer to pray for the Messiah rather than pray to the Messiah the press corps has invented.
The United Nations is at it again. Recently the human rights organization approved a proposal launched by Muslims to protect Islam from criticism. A simple plurality of 23 members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution. Eleven Western nations opposed it and 13 abstained.
The resolution urges states to provide:
. . . protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation, and coercion resulting from defamation of religious and incitement to religions hatred in general.
According to Terry Counier, the Canadian representative, "it is individuals who have rights and not religions," a criticism echoed by most European Union countries.
But the council is dominated by Muslim and African nations that have argued religion, in particular Islam, must be shielded from criticism in the media and other areas of public discourse. Specific reference was made to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as an example of "unacceptable free speech." The resolution noted: "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."
The United States did not cast a vote on the resolution because it is not a member of the Council. Bush administration members voiced disapproval of the Council's reflexive anti-Israel posture and its failure to act on abuses in Sudan and elsewhere.
This latest resolution will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on free speech whatever the intent of the Council. Geert Wilders' Fitna, a film depicting violence in many Muslim nations, would be treated as a crime. Even the use of terminology such as Islamo-fascism might be interpreted as incitement. Could one even condemn suicide bombers, shahadists, who believe they are acting in the Prophet's name?
Moreover, the blanket assertion that Islam is wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism is contradicted by the Koran itself and events in the news. Unless one embraces Sharia, the abuse of woman, the stoning of adulteresses and honor killings are clearly violations of human rights. And while most Muslims do not engage in acts of terror, those who do frequently justify this behavior with reference to the Koran, specifically the Verses of the Sword.
The other curious, arguably hypocritical, matter is that some Islamists use free speech provisions in the West to attack Christianity as polytheism and an unworthy religion, and attack Jews as apes and pigs. If criticism of Islam is banned, does that resolution apply to all religion?
At stake with this Human Rights Council resolution is the essence of Western civilization that rests on a foundation of open expression of different and even unpopular opinion. If the nations of the world concede this point, Islamic religion would be provided a free speech sanctuary, and opinion of any kind that might violate the sensibility of mullahs would be relegated to a criminal offense.
While this may appear to be an innocuous development, its implications are profound. Europe, already in an accommodationist mood, would slide even further into the Eurabia scenario described by Bernard Lewis, among others. Muslims would be treated as a separate, and to some degree, privileged category and the Christian civilization, as Winston Churchill argued we must defend, will have engaged in a form of preemptive surrender.
At this point, the Europeans have opposed the resolution that passed. Does that mean they must acquiesce in the resolution's provisions? Is the intent of this action to impose Islamic will on the world? And if this is to be the standard, how will violators be punished? Can a critic of Islam travel to Pakistan?
The questions pose a dilemma for anyone who believes in free and untrammeled expression. Is the metaphorical door closing on Western freedom? The signs at this Geneva-based Human Rights meeting are not hopeful.
One might assume that standards that prevail on one part of the globe might be applied equally to another part of the world. One might assume as well that what is good for the goose might be good for the gander. Well you might assume that, but in contemporary life you would be wrong. Some behavior tacitly and vehemently accepted by radicals within the Islamic community is rejected when applied by others.
According to erstwhile president Jimmy Carter, Israeli checkpoints on the Gaza border designed to forestall terrorism are an example of "apartheid." However, the former president has not said a word about Saudi Arabian policy that bars non-Muslims from Mecca and from holding Saudi citizenship.
Any criticism of the Koran such as the Geert Wilders' film Fitna is greeted with a fatwa and a variety of death threats. But Muslim claims that Christians are polytheists and infidels and Jews are the progeny of apes and pigs -- comments routinely made in many mosques -- are presumably protected by free speech provisions.
American universities (Georgetown, Columbia, Harvard) have been encouraged to promote programs that encourage toleration and understanding of Islam. Yet not one major university in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan has a Western studies program that engenders toleration and understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Geert Wilders was denied entry into England, after receiving an invitation to speak at the House of Commons, for fear that his speech might incite a Muslim protest. Yet a grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood who routinely provides an apologia for terrorism has an appointment at Cambridge University.
When officials in the state of Florida asked a Muslim woman to remove her hijab for an ID photo, they were accused of Islamophobia. However, Muslim nations demand that even the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the First Lady cover their hair when visiting their countries.
After the revelations of Abu Ghraib -- horrible as they were -- the United States was excoriated in the Muslim world as "the vilest of nations." Yet when Muslim men hang and flog women for adultery, we are told -- using a standard of cultural relativism -- that we have no right to judge these actions.
It has been noted at Gitmo that a Koran in the toilet is a hate crime. However, burning the contents of the Library of Alexandria is legitimate because it is an expression of Muslim views of non-Muslim literature.
A Christian who becomes a Muslim is honored by the members of his adopted faith. A Muslim who wants to convert to Christianity is an apostate who faces the death penalty.
Prejudice against Muslims is deemed unacceptable in every major news outlet in the Western world. Yet Muslim prejudice against Jews, women, Christians, homosexuals, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists elicits scarcely a word of condemnation.
Clearly hypocrisy reigns, but the real problem is that these illustrations -- which only touch the tip of the proverbial iceberg -- suggest that Muslims want a free pass to treat negative commentary as Islamophobia. On the other hand, these same people feel free to use the institutions in the West to express hatred of others and support for terrorism. Remarkably the avatars of political correctness often agree with them.
If a Danish cartoonist cannot draw pictures of Mohammed, then Muslim protestors should be restrained from calling for his murder. Tolerance cannot be a one-way street. If Arab protestors can stand in front of the Israeli Knesset carrying Hamas flags, then Israeli protestors should be free to carry banners in behalf of the IDF in Ramallah.
As I see it, Muslims have grown too comfortable in raising the specter of Islamophobia. Unless there is mutual respect -- a claim President Obama is making -- there cannot be any respect. Unless there is genuine reciprocity, tolerance is an empty word. It is time for the West to not only assert the foundational traditions of its history, it is also time to argue that our institutions cannot be employed to destroy our civilization.
In a little over two months since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the United States has become a different nation. It is not merely the transfer of trillions of taxpayer dollars from the government to designated industries. It is not only the de-leveraging in the private sector and the re-leveraging in the public sector. It is not solely the dramatic increase in aggregate debt. The primary issue, as I see it, is the method employed to achieve these goals and the disregard for personal liberty and the Constitution. Atlas is getting ready to shrug.
Let me cite an example. On March 24th, 2009, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Barney Frank's committee passed a bill giving Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner extensive control over the salaries of employees working at companies receiving bailout funds. This bill goes well beyond the removal of Richard Wagoner as President of General Motors. The "Pay for Performance Act of 2009" would impose government control on the salary of all employees -- not just senior executives -- of every company receiving a capital investment from the government.
Presumably the legislation is designed to prohibit "excessive compensation" -- a somewhat obscure standard to say the least, but one to be adjudicated by Mr. Geithner. This legislation will soon be coming before the full House of Representatives for a vote at a time when the populist tocsin of anti-elitism is in the air we breathe.
Yet it is interesting that Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution -- that enumerates the powers of Congress -- does not mention the power to determine salaries in the private sector, nor does it mention bailouts and the extra-Constitutional authority these bailouts confer. It is remarkable that the Democratic-led Congress and the Obama administration consider it appropriate to assume such power and equally remarkable that no one, to my knowledge, has pointed out the unconstitutional nature of this decision.
This, of course, is not the only example. The Obama administration, through TARP allocations, permitted bonuses at AIG in those divisions that generated a profit. In fact, contracts were signed to this effect. However, when the story leaked that $150 million would be allocated to AIG executives in the company that had received billions in bailout funds, an outcry arose from the public so shrill the White House was obliged to respond.
Rather than note that our Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws and bills of attainder (the so-called "bonus tax" being one of the latter) and that the bonuses were given with forethought from the administration, President Obama joined the chorus of angry citizens and demanded a return of the money. Surely this president, who has taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, must know that such bills of attainder provisions are illegal. If our Constitution means anything, contracts that are conducted legally and in good faith require an obligation by both parties to meet the terms of the agreement. The Fifth Amendment states clearly:
No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.
Yet here is America in Constitutional denial as the Obama administration marches blithely into a Brave New World of expansive government control over the private sector. Whether socialism has come to this land of the free or whether this is an invasion of European leveling is too early to say. But it is already clear that the change Mr. Obama discussed during the course of his presidential campaign is here and it is transformative.
Moreover, despite the claim that this is a temporary shift of priorities in order to ameliorate the meltdown in the credit markets, it is instructive to recall Milton Friedman's admonition that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government decision. My great grandchildren will be dealing with the changes initiated today a century from now. And even though I hope my prediction is wrong, these actions taken in haste by the President and the Congress are altering the foundational principles of our nation into the indefinite future. No wonder I see tears flowing down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty. She doesn't recognize her country.
There is little doubt that the French are enthralled with President Obama. The presumption is that a new era in French/American relations has been launched. Since it is too early to assess the president's policies, I have asked my French friends what accounts for their enthusiasm. Although the comments vary, there is a central theme: a man of color will lead us forward.
Despite the sincerity of this claim, I find it curious. On the one hand, commentators on both sides of the Atlantic argue Obama has ushered in a post-racial period in which racial attitudes are irrelevant. Yet they also suggest that the color of his skin is critical in the assessment of his presidency.
Needless to say, hypocrisy is not restricted to the Obama presidency. However, black celebrities who have been interviewed invariably say that at long last they can believe in a president and now they "have come to love America." Presumably a black American or for that matter an Algerian residing in France couldn't admire an American president or the nation until a man of color became president.
It is one thing to identify racial pride, but the attitude on display suggests that many Americans deriving all the benefit and privileges the United States confers did not appreciate or understand these conditions until a black man was elected president.
Either this suggests remarkable ignorance or a willful disregard for the unique qualities America possesses. American liberty wasn't born with Obama. Moreover, despite errors in the past and the mistreatment of blacks through a substantial portion of the national history, politicians in both parties have attempted to redress the wrong of the past over the last half century.
History did not begin with Bill Clinton, did not cease with George W. Bush, and was not resuscitated with Barack Obama. Remarkably that is not the way the Obama era is being treated.
Every French bookstore has books on Obama prominently displayed. His picture is far more prominent in France than President Sarkozy. In fact, every breath the new American president takes is recorded for posterity. This fascination with Obama has reached ridiculous proportions especially when one considers that his presidency is about a fortnight in duration.
Some French commentators rather patronizingly say it is about time Americans had a black president. I usually greet this comment with a question: When will France have an Algerian president or perhaps one from Cote d'Ivoire? My question is usually met with silence accompanied by a frown.
As I see it, the Obama election demonstrates how far we've progressed and how little we've progressed. On one level, Americans can elect a president notwithstanding his race. On another level, race was an overarching factor in his election and in his international standing.
Suppose for the sake of argument, Obama serves two terms and is succeeded by Eric Holder, the Attorney General designate who is also black. In sixteen years a teenager at the moment will have known only black presidents during this formative period in his political life. Would he in the middle of 2024 suggest that its time we had a white president? Or would he note that he couldn't appreciate the quality of American liberty until a white man were elected to the highest office in the land? On any level these questions are absurd, but are they any more absurd than the chant echoing through contemporary life that America can finally be appreciated because a black man has been elected? Is race -- either as a positive or negative -- a national obsession? And from my point of view, isn't it time we gave it a rest and truly got beyond the racial question completely. *
"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." --Samuel Johnson
Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
For at least five years there has been one consistent cri de coeur in the liberal community: "Bush lied." Presumably he justified the invasion of Iraq by suggesting Saddam Hussein was attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Never mind the fact that the Clinton administration agreed with this Bush assertion; IAEA inspectors concurred, and the subsequent Dulfer report indicated Hussein was intent on acquisition of these weapons. But enriched uranium was not found; hence Bush lied.
Conventional wisdom has it as failed intelligence and Bush, willy-nilly, is held culpable. Yet on July 5, 2008, the Associated Press (AP) released a story, almost completely unnoticed, that: "a secret U.S. mission hauls uranium from Iraq."
The opening paragraph in the story notes:
The last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium, reached a Canadian port Saturday to complete a secret U.S. operation that included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a ship voyage crossing the oceans.
Included in this "haul" was 550 metric tons of yellowcake used for nuclear weapons enrichment, a staggering sum that could have been used to produce dozens of nuclear weapons.
According to recent accounts the uranium was discovered in 2003, but the administration did not reveal the discovery fearing that terrorists would attempt to steal it. It was guarded in a 23,000-acre site with sand berms surrounding the area.
It would seem that this story would vindicate the Bush administration once the AP details were released. In fact, I waited and waited for precisely this result, but it hasn't happened. Could it be that media leaders would be obliged to admit they were wrong about Bush? Might the entire Move On campaign against the Bush presidency be called into question if these facts were revealed to the public? One might well ask at this point, who did the lying?
Since yellowcake did exist in Iraq it might appear that Valerie Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, who have become darlings of the left by arguing Bush did not tell the truth about Hussein's nuclear ambitions, were lying. Wilson wrote a piece in the New York Times slamming Bush, despite the fact President Mayaki of Niger said Hussein did try to buy yellowcake. Now we know the yellowcake did exist and it was held in Iraq, notwithstanding Wilson's claim to the contrary.
It is often argued the truth will set you free. However, this episode suggests that may not be true. Interpretations of recent history by the president's detractors would have to be rewritten. Clearly the Iraq war could still be opposed, but the argument that the president engaged in dissimulation won't fly. That conclusion simply does not sit well with anti-war activists. In the case of these government detractors the bromide silence is golden applies.
In most respects this is a remarkable news story that very few want to touch. It is a demonstration that for many, ideology trumps facts. It is evidence that the hatred for President Bush defies rational judgment. And this story indicates that for a segment of the population evidence will not, cannot, change a fixed opinion. Unfortunately the casualty in this tale is not merely George W. Bush and the Republican party, but American history and those students who are obliged to study it.
The past is prologue to the present. And in the present context the issue of nuclear material and the Iraq war was a significant feature of the last presidential campaign. Had the truth been known, had the media exposed the facts, the election might have turned out differently. Yes, there is something to be said for complete transparency, even in politics.
As a candidate President Obama promised change, formidable change; alas a break with the past. Little did anyone appreciate how committed the president is to transformative change.
With the $787 billion bill now the law of the land, more money will be transferred from one group to another than at any point in American history. The government will emerge as the central architect in the economy and the notion of limited government as the premise for this "new nation" has been tossed on the ash heap of history.
Newsweek editors claim "We Are All Socialists Now." Perhaps that is true for the majority in the Congress, but I doubt it is a view shared by the majority of Americans. Intuitively most people realize that the expansion of government spending reduces the influence and size of the private sector. In fact, there is a tipping point at about 30 percent of government spending that drives private initiative downward. We are now at that point.
Moreover, without any analysis both houses of the Congress embraced the 1400-page legislative agenda with alacrity in order "to avoid a catastrophe." Yet, the much-overused word "stimulus" turns out to be a euphemism for special interest allocations and pork barrel appropriations. The greed once attributed to Wall Street can now be found on K Street.
Most disturbing is that the final tab is not $787 billion as advertised. That is merely the first year's tally. As the Congressional Budget Office noted the real expense based on years two, three, and four -- as newly created programs are sustained -- is on the order of $3.2 trillion. Keep in mind that the nation's annual GDP is $14.5 trillion.
The consequence of this act is to place on the next generation the greatest financial burden the country has ever encountered, a burden so great that no one can be sure of how we will emerge from the indebtedness.
Yes, we are changing from a nation that relied on the ingenuity of its citizens and incentives that drive innovation, to a nation that relies on government to determine "winners" in the economy.
Yes, wealth is being spread around, as candidate Obama promised. But what he and his media courtiers don't seem to appreciate is that this legislative action will destroy the incentives for wealth creation. Socialism may distribute wealth according to its philosophical commitment to egalitarianism, but it doesn't know how to build the institutions that inspire wealth in the first place.
William J. H. Boetcker (1916) wisely noted that:
. . . you cannot make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak and you cannot make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor.
This obvious lesson -- once regarded as axiomatic -- has been lost on the Obama team. They see a stagnant and faltering economy and assume spending will solve the problem. It hasn't occurred to this president and his congressional acolytes that the solution may be worse than the problem.
Instead of corporate leaders making decisions for their companies, Congressman Barney Frank will determine how assets should be deployed in the economy. Instead of risk takers operating out of a local garage, entrepreneurial activity will be monitored by Senator Schumer. This isn't merely a disgrace; it represents a dramatic fall in the fortunes of the nation.
Recognizing the tyranny that could result from big and intrusive government, President Gerald Ford once noted that: "a government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have." It may seem exaggerated but the new president is dangerously close to taking everything away as government devours the private sector and America is transformed into a Marxist utopia.
Godfrey Hodgson, a British journalist and associate fellow at the University at Oxford, has a new book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, that is an attempt to undermine the deeply held belief that the United States is a morally and politically superior nation.
In his treatise he accuses Daniel Boorstin, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Perry Miller among others as perpetuators of a self-congratulatory myth, a myth that has shaped the popular imagination of Americans throughout history. From Hodgson's perspective the apostles of exceptionalism see the United States as a nation of
. . . unrivaled virtue, a chosen hand with a special destiny, and a duty to spread liberty, democracy, and the rule of law, "a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom" in the words of President George Bush.
Hodgson sees himself as a debunker. He notes, "Not all ideas about America exceptionalism are untrue, but important pieces are untrue, and it is very unhealthy for a society to believe things about itself that are not true."
As I see it, Hodgson has created a red herring and then beats it till it is disfigured. The United States is an imperfect nation. Its government has made mistakes, overplayed its hand at times, even corrupted its principles at various moments in the past, yet a case -- a valid case -- can still be made for American exceptionalism.
After all, only one nation on the globe has assimilated millions of immigrants who sought refuge on American shores. The Europeans are generally incapable of integrating.
If the Hodgson thesis has any meaning, it is as an exemplar of a new genre of historiography called "American Declinism." Rather than admire American accomplishments, the revisionists like Hodgson emphasize the flaws. Rather than see national greatness, Hodgson sees only arrogance. Rather than fulfill The Promise of American Life, to borrow a title from Herbert Croly, the declinists see delusions.
Should the Hodgson thesis gain traction it will be yet another nail in the national coffin by those convinced that history must pass into an era of transnational loyalties. Somehow I don't see how that vision can inspire Americans. I may be wrong, but either we come to appreciate American exceptionalism, or we end up with American mediocrity.
For several years human rights activists and defense attorneys have argued that the detainees at Guantanamo pose no security threat and should be released. President Obama, based on a campaign pledge, issued an executive order closing the controversial prison.
In a recent report the Brookings Institution examined hundreds of pages of declassified military documents and arrived at the conclusion that many of the prisoners held without charges are innocent. The report concludes that only 87 of the 250 detainees have any relationship with al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other armed groups hostile to the United States.
Several days later, however, the Pentagon released a report indicating that suspects who had been held, but subsequently released from the Guantanamo prison, are increasingly returning to fight against the United States and its allies.
Sixty-one detainees released from the U.S. Naval Base prison in Cuba are believed to have rejoined the struggle against the United States. The total is up from the 37 reported in March 2008.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell indicated that:
There clearly are people who are being held at Guantanamo who are still bent on doing harm to America, Americans, and our allies. So there will have to be some solution for the likes of them, and that is among the thorny issues that the president and his new team are carefully considering.
Furthermore Mr. Morrell said, the new numbers show a "substantial increase" in detainees returning to terrorist missions, from 7 to 11 percent. Presumably intelligence, photographs, and forensic evidence such as fingerprints and DNA were used to tie the detainees to terrorist activity.
These contradictory reports raise important questions: Is Brookings right, is the Pentagons report on target, or do both have valid positions however different in orientation?
One thing is clear: the notion of 61 or even one released detainee trying to kill Americans is unacceptable. Moreover, the trend is in the wrong direction.
If the president ultimately closes Guantanamo, what will he do with the 250 detainees? Will they be released on the streets of the United States? Will they be sent abroad to fight against American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Human rights attorneys representing the detainees often claim most are innocent of terrorism, but if that were true they wouldn't return to the battlefield as soon as they are released.
It is instructive that most of the activists are persuaded the detainees pose no threat. That may even be the case with a few of them. Overlooked in their calculation is that these prisoners were apprehended on the battlefield. They aren't criminals who robbed a supermarket; they are trained as killers intent at mayhem. For most Americans, holding these terrorists is a good idea, and, to assume they have the rights of American citizens, a very bad idea.
So despite all the declarations suggesting these detainees can be trusted, I demur. Let those go who have incontrovertible evidence they aren't a threat. The rest, however, should be kept in prison, whether it is Guantanamo or any other venue that will have them. Guantanamo made sense, but since it has been caricatured and denounced, alternatives must be found.
But the idea that all of these detainees should be released is absurd on every level, a point even President Obama has come to appreciate. Far better to deny the rights of terrorists then to have them on the battlefield attempting to kill American soldiers.
I recently attended a meeting in New York devoted to the proposition that terrorist acts be thwarted with economic development projects. One bien pensant after another waxed lyrical about the benefits of an improved standard of living as a means of modifying radical sentiment. As the chairman of the event noted: "people who have jobs and a decent standard of living are less inclined to commit violent acts against others."
Surely I thought these educated and experienced policy analysts might consider empirical evidence that belies the economic determinist position. After all, the terrorists on 9/11 were not desperately poor or impoverished. In fact, the leader of hijacked flight 93 came from one of the wealthiest families in Lebanon.
It was also the case that the British nationals who were trained in the terrorist activity that led to the devastation of 7/7 were ostensibly middle-class Muslims living in a suburb of London.
Similarly, the bloodshed in Mumbai, in which at least 170 people were wantonly murdered and close to 400 injured, was conducted by young men who, from all accounts, were not economically impoverished.
In a desperate attempt to postulate a cause for what are seemingly irrational acts, many in the West assume that violence is a function of despair, a reaction to poor conditions. It seems implausible that rational people acting out of religious conviction would murder because it advances their faith. Surely there must be another explanation. As a consequence, they have seized on the idea that if the West transferred capital in an effort to improve economic conditions, the reason for acts of desperation would evaporate.
But suppose violence is wound deeply into a fanatical religious belief system that no amount of capital transfer can ameliorate. Suppose as well that these cash outlays are regarded as Western guilt and a sign of weakness.
Winston Churchill, after fighting a war in the Sudan, described Mohammedanism (his word for Islam) as a fever that could not be addressed through rational discourse or improved living conditions. He analogized this fanatical faith to hydrophobia in which the lack of water leads to madness.
It is natural for a rational people to search for rational answers to the international plague of our time. But it is foolish, arguably insane, to keep applying the same policy prescriptions to a problem and expecting a different outcome.
Radical Islam must be defeated on every battlefield it establishes. Its ideas must be vanquished as well. And most significantly, the West must separate itself from this malignant force before it metastasizes throughout the globe.
It is patently naive, in my judgment, to contend that if only the unemployment rate were lower, if only apartments could be built, the radicals will abandon their dreams of conquest and the establishment of caliphates across the globe.
There may indeed be a justification for philanthropy. Helping others is what a nation built on principles of justice and fair play is bound to do. In some instances it may help to mitigate poor conditions.
But philanthropy to help the poor should not be conflated with philanthropy to dissuade radical thought. No matter how many dollars are thrown at Muslim fanaticism, it will still be fanatical. To assume any other result flies in the face of historical experience. Until the radicals are defeated with arms and ideas, a threat will persist. There is no getting around this fact, however unpleasant it may seem.
Admittedly I have lost patience with the do-gooders who believe money is the magic elixir for peace. As I see it, peace in our time comes with a very high price tag in blood and confrontation. If we believe there is an easy way out of this war, Americans may be shocked by the ultimate outcome. *
"Every public official should be recycled occasionally." --John V. Lindsay
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is quoted recently as noting that the election of Barack Obama will make the United States "an honest nation and not a hypocritical one." He went on to note that:
Even those who voted against him, like me, say "We're very thankful this has happened. This is the consolation prize. In having lost in terms of the ideology we wanted, or the person we wanted -- John McCain -- the benefit that we got was an America that can say to the world we've overcome the worst thing in our history."
If you look at America which I believe is a great nation, a beautiful nation, a nation of altruistic goals and very often great altruistic accomplishments -- one of the terrible marks against us is slavery and racism, and I think that's a great thing for America to have overcome.
And I believe that will gain us a tremendous amount in the world community. We can now be an honest nation and not a hypocritical one.
As I see it this comment is representative of a stripe of conventional opinion. Presumably the issue of race is now behind us. How can people criticize America on this score when its people elected a person of color?
While I understand the sentiment; I don't understand the logic. Michele Obama once noted she didn't have any pride in America until now, the moment her husband was nominated for president. In a sense, Mayor Giuliani is in agreement for at last we can "overcome the worst thing in our history." Remarkably this comment is devoid of historical texture.
Barack Obama may be the first black president, but he is not the first black to serve in public life. After all Virginia, the seat of the Confederacy, elected a governor who was the grandchild of slaves. The 13th and 14th Amendments were designed specifically to provide rights to blacks emancipated during the Civil War. American forces were integrated during World War II. The color barrier in major league baseball was eliminated in 1947.
While racism was not eliminated, in fact cannot be eliminated through fiat, the United States has been a remarkable racial laboratory for a century, even though these accomplishments have often been ignored, very often, of course, by those who might benefit most from pretending the accomplishments didn't exist.
It is remarkable that this society bent over backwards to address racism by emphasizing race as a source of privilege with affirmative action programs for university admission and job applications. Sure, slavery, using contemporary standards, was an abomination, but, that along with hideous Jim Crow laws was eliminated long before Barack Obama was born.
If one were to take the Giuliani argument at face value, strides against slavery and racism weren't meaningful until the Obama election as president.
This statement, perhaps inadvertently, is yet another example of reflexive American defensiveness. Americans are so inured to criticism that they accept without response the claims made against this nation. Yes, America is an imperfect nation, but with all its blemishes it has done more to establish equality among the races than any place on the globe.
Consider Africa itself, where tribal warfare, race hatred and religious intolerance are rampant. Consider Europeans, who often point fingers patronizing the United States, yet discriminating in wholesale fashion against Laplanders, Moroccans, and Turks.
Recently a French friend said, "At long last America overcame racism and elected a black man." My response: "Please let me know when the French will elect an Algerian president."
We have been cowed into submission by the continual drumbeat of guilt. And even Giuliani, who should know better, has fallen into the ideological trap. Having made mistakes doesn't mean we should feel guilty about our past. I think we should hail the Chief of State and our President-elect Obama, but he is not the messiah; he did not end racist thought, and he isn't the first example of the American spirit of fair play.
The long road to serfdom seems to be getting shorter with each passing day. At the recent G-20 meeting there was virtually unanimous support for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (point number 14) and a reaffirmation of the development principles agreed to at the 2002 UN Conference on Financing for Development held in Monterrey, Mexico.
Acceptance of this proposition commits the United States to an official foreign aid formula of 0.7 percent of Gross National Product, a goal envisioned in President-elect Barack Obama's Global Poverty Act. In the aggregate this will cost $845 billion of taxpayer assets. Additionally, it is anticipated that President Obama will lobby for the Jubilee Act designed to cancel as much as $75 billion of foreign debt.
Not only are we discussing bailouts of the mortgage industry, financial services, the insurance business, car manufacturers, but we are soon to be the bailout artist for the globe. Some have hailed this as the dawn of a new era in which contributions to the International Monetary Fund and the UN Development Fund will increase exponentially.
For many adversaries, the United States is being cut down to size. But this is actually a voluntary diminution. As the economy falters, it is only a matter of time before America's military dominance declines as well.
Alas, change is just over the horizon. But this is revolutionary change that not only involves the redistribution of wealth at home, but also the distribution of American wealth abroad. Where does it end? In fact, the more pertinent question is How does the United States sustain a sound economy when capital is being dispensed in an almost feverish fashion?
Presumably this capital flush will stimulate liquidity and put the global economy back on track. This, of course, is hoping for the best. But as P. T. Bauer, among other economists of development, has noted, foreign aid rarely affects those most in need and, in most instances, creates a level of dependency that militates against the development it was designed to produce.
This proposal, however, has little to do with sensible policy and a lot to do with ideology and a global equalization program. For decades Americans have been besieged with a drumbeat of have and have-not nations, Northern hemisphere vs. Southern hemisphere disparities, and those who luxuriate in wealth, and the dispossessed.
To some degree, it is understandable that the urge to spread the wealth around is irresistible. But taking from Peter to give to Paul may make Paul happy, but it doesn't do much for Peter. In fact, it doesn't help either of them if Paul becomes dependent on Peter for assistance and Peter grows tired of handing over his wealth. How long before Peter also asks for a handout?
This global equalization program concentrates solely on the role of government, a point made by UN officials and the proposed Obama legislation. Yet most foreign assistance is organized by churches, unions, foundations, universities. In fact, contributions coming from the private sector dwarf those from government.
That condition means very little for those who are persuaded a reallocation of world resources is necessary. What these activists overlook is that their program is essentially beggar thy neighbor. Their plan for redistributing wealth implicitly argues for a static economy, one in which growth is unlikely to occur.
Of course, economies that cannot grow ultimately fail. If taxes are used as the method for redistribution, workers will pretend to work and employers will pretend to pay wages. Envy becomes the prevalent theme and opportunity is relegated to the back burner of economic life. We are a long way from that practice, but if the legislative path we are on isn't curbed the American economy could easily become Europeanized, i.e. stagnant, static, and filled with free loaders.
From the founding of this nation to the present there has been an understandable tension between equality and individualism. Clearly we, as Americans, want both, assuming they are reasonably defined.
Equality presumes equal before the law, equal or roughly equal opportunity, and even equal in the eyes of God. But it does not mean or should not mean equal in the race for success and equal economic results.
Yet curiously the nation is moving from the safety net designed to assist those in peril to redistribution or the attempt to equalize economic results, i.e. "spread the wealth around."
This condition I would describe as a belief in compression at the mean, a belief that has penetrated almost every aspect of American life. It is the egalitarian project launched by John Dewey in the 1920s and embraced by President-elect Barack Obama.
Take education as an example. Almost all recent funding in this arena is designed to assist those in the bottom quartile of performance. Schools that are not performing well receive more funding than schools that meet state guidelines, based on the assumption that additional funding can influence performance. And in some cases, this has proven to be the case. The bottom moves closer to the middle of the pack. Yet totally ignored in this distribution scheme are those in the highest quartile, those who might be described as excellent. The consequence, of course, is decline at the top of the achievement pyramid, some upward movement at the bottom and a bulge in the middle.
Assume a similar set of conditions in the tax structure where those who earn over $250,000 (or is it $150,000?) are taxed at a higher rate than those who earn less. Since rebates will be given to those in the bottom quartile of the income structure paid for by those in the top quartile, it would appear that progressivity in the tax system is designed to promote compression at the mean. No one too rich and no one too poor.
The problem with this arrangement is that if you eviscerate the incentive for wealth, those who have the capacity to attain it will be disincentivized. Why earn more if the government intends to take it away and give it to others?
The same situation is emerging in the financial and industrial areas. By offering to jump-start a faltering economy, Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson has advocated assisting some financial houses, but not others. The government assisted J. P. Morgan with the purchase of Bear Stearns, but let Lehman Brothers fail. Consideration is being given to a loan for the Big Three automakers, but not to computer manufacturers. Aside from the fact that government officials can play God and determine who stays in business and who doesn't, these bailouts are predicated on the simple proposition that those companies capable of generating profits and paying taxes will be obliged to assist companies that are failing and need a handout.
The danger is that at some point every company will be asking for assistance. In fact, the egalitarian project will inevitably fail because it destroys the incentive to succeed. By homogenizing economic rewards, government is instituting mediocrity. The society is suggesting that meritorious results should not be sought or valued.
Imagine a situation in which baseball players earning the highest salaries based on performance have to subsidize those who are "200 hitters." What would baseball become? Who would bother attending games or even watching on T.V.?
Yet the movement for compression at the mean continues unabated. Where it will lead is clear. Unfortunately, its devotees don't seem to mind.
Based on Vice President-elect Joseph Biden's comments to Israeli officials and back channel discussions with the Obama team, the new administration will offer Israel a "nuclear umbrella" against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran. Presumably any attack on Israel will be followed by a devastating U.S. attack against Iran.
Needless to say, how this will actually play out is anyone's guess, but the presumption is that the guarantee makes deterrence increasingly robust. It is the Obama team's response to the alternatives of "doing nothing" or the military option.
In effect it is an admission that Iran will most likely acquire nuclear weapons and despite claims that this is unacceptable, the nuclear guarantee suggests we will do nothing to prevent this development. While this decision is less belligerent than the so-called military option, it cannot allay Israeli fears.
After all, as one Israeli official noted, "What kind of credibility would this guarantee have when Iran is nuclear capable?" If Iran will not acquiesce without this weapon of mass destruction, why should it acquiesce with this weapon?
Moreover, the chatter about this deterrent reinforces the Iranian position that the West is unprepared to thwart nuclear weapons development.
Perhaps the most curious feature of this policy is attempting to convince a resident of Pierre, South Dakota, that he should be embroiled in a nuclear war if Haifa is attacked. The obvious point is that an unthinkable act might not lead to an unthinkable retaliation.
Suppose you can't be sure where the bomb came from. Suppose as well, it is a suitcase bomb assembled and set off by a terrorist organization without a home. And suppose further that China and Russia oppose any retaliation at the UN Security Council. What would President Obama risk? Would he be willing to kill millions of innocent people to stand behind his pledge?
From the Israeli standpoint, the assurance is meaningless. If deterrence works at all with a theological state intent on Armageddon, it is the independent Israeli nuclear force that might make a difference, not a pledge from the United States. Moreover, to the extent the Obama administration insinuates itself directly into Israeli security matters is the extent to which independent Israeli action is diminished.
Ultimately policy options are limited, as the Bush administration realized. If a regime change is not in the offing or a very tough embargo defying Russian and Chinese sentiments is not enacted, the military option is the only real policy alternative that is left. And every signal from the Obama team is that this option will not be entertained.
Hence an American nuclear umbrella is nothing more than a ploy to appear tough and discourage the mullahs intent on weapons acquisition. However, it is so shallow in scope that even the most gullible Persian will see right through it. This is less a policy and more a public relations gambit.
Should this be the Obama foreign policy perspective, "the tests" will come fast and furiously. Deterrence works when claims are credible. When they enter the realm of the imaginary, they are laughable and undermine future options. A nuclear umbrella as a strategy to forestall an Iranian preemptive strike belongs right next to the Maginot Line in the annals of misguided defensive strategies.
In what can only be described as a perplexing review Lorraine Adams, (New York Times Book Review 12/14/08), examines The Jewel of Medina, the Sherry Jones novel about the Prophet Mohammed and his marriage to the nine-year-old A'isha. Employing a sneering tone, Ms. Adams skewers the book as "historical romance," a swipe recognizable to the cognoscenti.
What makes the review notable is that Random House, the original publisher refused to issue the book on the grounds it would offend the Muslim community and might result in a violent reaction. As a consequence, this decision planted the novel squarely in a free speech controversy.
Ms. Adams seems to suggest that since the novel doesn't have literary merit, the Random House decision was appropriate, notwithstanding the fact officials at the publishing house did not use merit or lack thereof as a reason to suspend publication.
Ms. Adams employs a form of moral equivalence in her review suggesting that both Satanic Verses and Martin Scorsese's film, Last Temptation of Christ resulted in violent reaction from Muslim and Christian communities. Presumably when religious groups are offended by an unflattering presentation of doctrine or prophets, violence results.
However, this judgment is skewed in an unrecognizable direction. While there was an incident that resulted from the showing of the Last Temptation of Christ, it is difficult, alas implausible, to contend that Christians engage in violent behavior when Jesus is besmirched or Church doctrine is violated. In fact, Dan Brown's DaVinci Code also promoted the blasphemous idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, but I could not find any evidence of violence against the book or the film. Criticism, yes; violence, no.
Contrast that stand with the consistent pattern of violence when Muslims are offended. In fact, to suggest that the two religious responses to offense are comparable enters the realm of the absurd. Quoting a professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, Ms. Adams notes:
I don't have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft-core pornography.
Well, yes, you can as Dan Brown demonstrated. Moreover, even well-meaning professors of Islamic studies do not know the full story of the Prophet Mohammed and A'isha. Why isn't Ms. Jones entitled to poetic license in a novel?
Since Lorraine Adams cannot defend Random House's imposition on free speech, she contends "Jones' prose is lamentable." And "An inexperienced, untalented author has naively stepped into an intense and deeply sensitive intellectual argument." But when did it become unacceptable for an author to step into a sensitive intellectual argument?
One doesn't have to applaud Ms. Jones' effort to approve of the publication of her book. Nor does one have to regard it as art in order to countenance publication. I am often astonished at the trash that makes the New York Times bestseller list.
As a final fillip Ms. Adams notes that:
It is telling that PEN, the international association of writers that works to advance literature and defend free expression has remained silent on the subject of the novel.
Could it be that PEN is also intimidated by the prospect of violence? Or might PEN be so inured to political correctness, it only defends free expression when it happens to be consonant with prevailing sentiments at this august body?
Ms. Adams has delivered another in a long line of patronizing reviews in the book review section. But this one, in my opinion, crosses the line of fair play. Whether Jones has written a masterpiece or an historical romance is of little consequence. After all, historical romances do get published. What is noteworthy is that a writer at the Times has attempted to justify censorship using a qualitative standard of her preferences and relegating violence to an incidental concern of the Random House officials. No wonder many of us think free speech is imperiled. *
". . . [W]hat folks claim is right is always just a couple of jumps short of what they need to do business. Now an individual, one fellow, he will stop doing business because he's got a notion of what is right, and he is a hero. But folks in general, which is society, Doc, is never going to stop doing business. Society is just going to cook up a new notion of what is right. Society is sure not ever going to commit suicide. At least, not that way and of a purpose." --Robert Penn Warren: All the King's Men
Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
The results are in and my candidate lost the presidency. Since I love this country, I wish the newly named President Barack Obama every success. But this was an election unlike any other. I don't think the Republicans merely lost an election, I believe many of us lost a country.
This was a land that once rewarded hard work and enterprise; a place where one's word was his bond. America was the land of opportunity. If you can't do it here, you cannot do it anywhere. We were a people to be envied, not only because we had the highest standard of living, but because we had the greatest degree of stability.
Americans were notoriously optimistic because we counted on tomorrow being better than yesterday. We were an open people dependent on fair play and a free market bounded by a standard of virtue. With all the blemishes in our past and breaches in our own ethics, we were a model of civic rectitude. "Dems that gives, gets"; those who wish to bilk the system will be discovered and isolated.
There was a time not so long ago when people did not depend on government to bail them out of financial difficulty, a time when the nanny state bred apprehension, not affection. Now, it seems, in the new America almost everyone wants a free ride. The non-taxpayer wants a rebate from the taxpayer. The poor man wants everything the rich man has and he wants the rich man to give it to him.
Enemies of the nation, it turns out, are not enemies at all; we merely defined them as adversaries. Had we been clever in the past, we could have defined them out of existence. All we have to do is engage in "soft power," diplomacy and clever negotiating skill. Surely those who want to kill us will be persuaded that swords should be converted into plowshares. It's odd, but Osama bin Laden doesn't seem to embrace this position.
The America of "now" is one where Orwellian logic rules. Redistribution of wealth is fairness. Taxes are patriotic. The free market should be a regulated market. Big government is good for you. Politicians know what kind of healthcare is best for you. Choice should be limited, except when it comes to abortion. Power comes from being powerless. Progressive education is designed to promote progress toward socialism. Race doesn't count unless a person of color tells you it counts. Higher education gets lower each year. Those who create our problems should be asked to solve them. Religion should be a private matter that does not inform public morality. Liberal is radical. Free speech is selective speech. Courage is impetuousness.
Yes, Americans -- many Americans want change. The level of dissatisfaction runs deep. But the national cri de coeur hasn't a direction. That's what makes it so dangerous. Americans live better than at any moment in our collective history, notwithstanding the meltdown on Wall Street, yet despair is ubiquitous. Admittedly observing 401(k) accounts disappear like soap bubbles will make anyone angry. Nonetheless, it is a privilege to live in the land of the free, a privilege now regarded as an entitlement.
It was once wrong to use community groups such as ACORN to steal an election. It was once wrong to conceal one's past in order to invent an identity. It was once wrong to use the instrument of government finance to satisfy a constituency and then claim an unregulated market is what ails us. It was once wrong to lie in a campaign and still is, except when the media panjandrums avert their gaze for the lies of a favored candidate.
Surely we face threats across the globe that cannot be easily forestalled. Arguably the most significant threat is from within in the form of an unregulated government, a government large, intrusive, and seductive. This is the new American government that promises everything and demands very little from its citizens. "Shop until you drop" is the national anthem. After all, you don't have to fight if you don't want to and you don't have to sacrifice if that's too much for you. All you have to do is visit malls and keep opinions to yourself. Opinions are important since Truth Squads want to be sure you don't criticize the chosen candidate.
Where is my America, the place of fair play, individual rights, the rule of law, and respect for private property? Was the past merely a dream from which I have awakened? Can that America of exceptionalism return? Can it find its way back into the public consciousness?
I have my doubts. Now the change agents scream "everything will be different." Alas, they are right. It appears as though everything will be different, most especially the end of an America I loved.
For decades Americans have been seduced by government programs. In fact, any modification in them is greeted with fear and loathing -- this is the so-called third rail in American politics.
While these programs have emerged incrementally, socialism or government control of the means of production was routinely shunned. That was "the European sickness," and the more Europeans captured private capital, the more this capital crossed the Atlantic to the United States.
Now, however, with bipartisan efforts, the United States is unavoidably on the road to socialism. A Republican president and an establishment figure on Wall Street, his secretary of the treasury, have nationalized the banking industry in response to the meltdown in the credit market.
In creating a new fund within Treasury, Washington bureaucrats will decide what debt instruments to purchase and how to manage and eventually sell them. They will also make massive purchases of bank stocks, guarantee bank loans, and compete with sovereign wealth funds.
Moreover, the Republican candidate for president could have opposed this move, standing apart from President Bush and his Democratic rival. But he chose not to do so.
In addition, Senator McCain has adopted a "cap and trade" energy position which would add yet another layer to the Washington bureaucracy and another source of government regulation.
On the Democratic side, Senator Barack Obama has indicated he wants "to spread wealth around," a statement that smacks of redistribution. Moreover, his "tax rebate" to 95 percent of Americans includes payments to 44 percent of the Americans who do not pay taxes. Why should you get a tax rebate if you don't pay taxes? And why call this a rebate at all?
From his healthcare position to his desire to increase the tax rate and capital gains taxes, Obama is, at his very core, a redistributionist. Rather than economic growth, his economic policy is based on the distribution of existing resources. Is it far fetched to describe this as "from each according to his ability to each according to his need?"
What is unfolding is the nightmare of government control of most industries. Can the airplane and car companies sustain themselves without government subventions? Will healthcare remain privatized? Will hospital care be rationed?
A Democratically controlled Congress will be eager to extend its influence with politicians becoming the chief arbiters in the economy. Rather than having a third of gross domestic product as public expenditures and two-thirds private, these numbers are likely to be reversed.
As a consequence, the United States' economy will begin to resemble the European model. Growth will be stifled, unemployment will inevitably increase, incentives will diminish along with venture capital, and the standard of living Americans have enjoyed will decline. This is not a prediction based on my vivid imagination, but one predicated on empirical evidence of socialist economies.
Labor unions will assert themselves with the avoidance of the secret ballot and the ability to negotiate rules between unions and management, and radical organizations, such as ACORN, will demand their pound of flesh from the government as well. The scenario demanded by the hard-core left for decades will finally be realized.
While it is true, as Senator Joe Biden invariably points out, that one percent of the population controls 22 percent of the wealth; it is also true, but never mentioned by Biden, that the same one percent accounts for 37 percent of tax revenue.
The continued taxation of capital only drives it out of circulation. While the sin of capitalism is greed, the sin of socialism is envy, in large part because limited resources lead to a situation where modest differences in income tend to be exaggerated and invidious. Schadenfreude is the natural consequence of socialism.
Is this narrative overblown? Perhaps, but if one would have told me ten years ago the banking industry would be nationalized I would have assumed the claim was hallucinogenic. America has enjoyed decades of extraordinary wealth based on the virtues of a modified free market. Yet some believe the "unregulated market" is to blame for our present woes, notwithstanding the obvious fact that the market operates with thousands of rules and always has. One might more appropriately blame intrusive and misguided politicians for the present market turmoil.
The danger of democracy is that public participation is vulnerable to demagoguery and a free-rider syndrome. Economic egalitarianism is irresistible for those who have relatively little and long for more. This is a natural temptation but one that was largely resisted until this most recent presidential campaign. Now socialism is on the rise as the philosophy of free market capitalism is considered the culprit for economic woe.
Will this stance change America forever? Is this merely a temporary aberration borne of financial dislocation? Or has envy already insinuated itself into the national culture?
Perhaps Americans should recall what Abraham Lincoln noted about economic distribution: You can't make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak and you can't make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor.
There is a campaign underway by self-described foreign policy realists, including Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry, and George Schultz, to abolish nuclear weapons. These establishment figures contend that the major nuclear-armed powers must promote a vision of a world devoid of these weapons of mass destruction. Who can blame them? With proliferation, the likelihood of actual deployment increases dramatically.
As a wish, perhaps a dream, this proposal makes sense, but as a policy it would eviscerate the security of the West with unpredictable consequences for the future.
There is nothing certain about these weapons except their frightening destructive capacity. From the beginning of the nuclear age there has been a debate about their ability to deter conventional war or whether there is an ethical argument for their existence. But whether one likes it or not, they are here and any unilateral effort at nuclear disarmament is not likely to effect the behavior of other nuclear powers.
In fact, whatever the realists call for is decidedly unrealistic since they haven't posited a "zero" end game. Until recently the abolitionist position was considered naive. Now, however, there appears to be a renaissance for global disarmament, albeit the debate and energy behind it all seem to come from the United States.
According to the group of enumerated realists the globe is at a crossroads: If nuclear proliferation is to be thwarted, states possessing nuclear weapons will have to embrace their abolitionist vision starting with the U.S. as the exemplar.
While this is the goal, there is the recognition that in the short term complete disarmament is unattainable. Calling for the unattainable, however, serves as a catalyst for what they believe to be the attainable. One might describe this strategy as employing utopian ends for pragmatic means.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that since the realist group is so highly regarded, the proposal has had a momentum of its own that often overlooks the pragmatic dimensions of the argument. Moreover, the onus is put on the U.S. to take the lead in the disarmament movement, notwithstanding the role the U.S. has played as a nuclear umbrella for several non-nuclear nations.
Moreover, once the movement for disarmament starts, can there be an intermediate step before the zero end game is achieved? The pressure in Western democracies is likely to be inexorable, a condition unlike that in the globe's tyrannies. There is a distinct possibility that the call for disarmament could undermine the delicate security arrangements the U.S. organized over the last half century. After all, non-proliferation, to the extent it has worked at all, is due to America's protective umbrella. Japan, Turkey, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, to cite several examples, have not joined the nuclear club because of U.S. assurances.
As I see it, the call for nuclear disarmament is not merely utopian, but dangerously so, notwithstanding the belief that it will engender pragmatic decisions along the way to a "zero" solution. A transformation in the U.S. and Western nuclear defense posture will not in the end trigger a reciprocal response from Iran -- should it obtain nuclear weapons -- or North Korea, since their regional influence is determined by the existence of these weapons.
Nuclear weapons are indeed frightening and from a moral standpoint unjust, but unilateral disarmament does not make the globe more stable or just. In fact, it may invite an entropic response as those with these weapons attempt to intimidate those without them. Balance of power politics does leave civilian populations hostage to the threat of incineration, but imbalanced politics leave nations vulnerable to tyranny and enslavement.
Clearly the Europeans who embrace "soft power" will respond favorably to this proposal. But if they get what they wish for, Europe could be defenseless against radical and imperial forces and this time the United States might not be in a position to bail them out.
From the mouths of adversaries occasionally appear pearls of wisdom. Writing for the Herald Tribune (9/25/08) Roger Cohen contends that Sarah Palin is on to something "in her batty way" when she describes America as exceptional.
This idea has certainly been around since the Founding and was kindled by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy In America. In my judgment Sarah Palin was right to discuss it because this election could turn out to be a plebiscite on this very issue. Cohen may call her "batty"; I call her description accurate and intelligent.
Barack Obama is the quintessential transnational progressive, a one worlder, who despite his proclaimed love for the United States, is far more interested in connection to the globe than in distinctive American qualities. Hence his self-description in Berlin as "a citizen of the world" and his repeated denunciation of the United States in his memoir Dreams of My Father.
Of course, Mr. Cohen claims Obama is tomorrow and McCain-Palin yesterday. But what Mr. Cohen may not realize is the dichotomy he describes was an essential feature of American life from the 19th century to the present. Like it or not, one can easily make the case that American institutions are unique and the ideology that led to their creation set the United States apart from other people.
Clearly Mr. Obama's hard-core left-wing background militates against the appreciation of this idea. For him, technology has created porous geographic boundaries, and a world connected as never before. It is instructive that when asked if new immigrants to America should speak English, he argued Americans should learn Spanish. This is indeed universalism with a vengeance.
Overlooked in the Obama worldview is that his rights and privileges emerge from his American citizenship. He doesn't receive rights from the United Nations or the International Court of Justice. It is an oxymoron for him to describe himself as "a citizen of the world." But this is consistent with his anti-foundational logic that assumes a neutral stance vis-a-vis the United States, one that refuses to consider American exceptionalism.
How can he when his weltanschauung is based on a repudiation of the nation state? His view is predicated on a tolerance for all cultures, but a fundamental critique of ours. This is the so-called non-ideological, nonjudgmental stance.
In a sense this is a European view that tribalism must be broken, replaced by a grand design. That design, of course, is the European Union. But the conditions that hold it together remain obscure. To what would a European owe his allegiance? And for what would he sacrifice?
If one were to transmogrify Europe into the United States, a glimpse into the Obama plan can be seen. The new America is a globalized America, one that closes the door on deep-seated national sentiment.
Without the national transcendence one finds among exceptionalists there are only bloodless abstractions on which the nation depends, e.g. Social Security, Medicare, progressive education. Why should Americans defend these benefits and abstract ideas when they are merely contingent values?
People do not sacrifice blood and treasure for contingent values. Unfortunately the difference between exceptionalism and universalism is not well understood and, astonishingly, Mr. McCain has not exploited the difference, Sarah Palin to the contrary notwithstanding.
My guess is most Americans still embrace the notion of American exceptionalism, even with the well-rehearsed imperfections in the American system. But if Americans lose faith, if they arrive at the conclusion history is not on our side, universalism might seem a viable alternative world view.
Economic reversals have accentuated this issue, but that too will pass. What won't pass is the Cassandras who want to bring into focus a new American nation, one linked to global entities yet no more desirable or unique than its national counterparts. *
"Christmas casts its glow upon us, as it does every year. And it reminds us that we need not feel lonely because we are loved, loved with the greatest love there has ever been or ever will be." --Ronald Reagan
Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
There is a powerful metaphorical wave sweeping over American culture called "denial," an unwillingness to recognize and confront unpleasant realities.
While there is, and always has been, a portion of the American public that struthious-like puts its head in the sand, I am persuaded that the size and scope of this population is increasing. In part this is due to the frivolous nature of media presentations, the "amusing yourself to death syndrome," and in part it is due to the potential horror associated with nuclear weapons and the consequence of Armageddon.
The manifest form of this phenomenon is evident on many fronts.
With Russian tanks rolling into Georgia clearly violating the rights of a sovereign nation, State Department officials, according to New York Times reports, argued that President Mikheil Saakashvilli was counseled against challenging Russian dissidents in South Ossetia. The implicit point is that Saakaskvilli was responsible for the invasion, not Putin, despite the obvious fact Russian tanks were poised on the border for days waiting for the green light from the Russian leader.
Second, notwithstanding claims from Osama bin Laden, Sheik Omar, Ahmadinejad, and a host of others with radical sentiments who have declared war on the United States and acted on those claims by killing American civilians and soldiers, there are many who claim we are not in a real war, but a police action that does not require the mobilization of forces. These are the proponents of "soft power," i.e., negotiation as the response to suicide bombers and violent attacks.
Third, a transfer of unprecedented wealth is taking place with more than $750 billion going to the OPEC nations annually in return for their oil. To add insult to injury, some unknown proportion of this money is designed to fuel terrorism and promote anti-American sentiment across the globe. Yet when the Congress has the opportunity to address this matter, admittedly at the margin, by drilling for oil in ANWAR or off-shore, the environmentalists contend we haven't any right to interfere with the mating habits of the caribou in Alaska or contaminate beach front properties in Florida and California (even though there isn't evidence to support this position).
Fourth, so enamored are the spokespeople at NBC with the Olympic events in China that they have inadvertently or intentionally lost sight of the dictatorship that is a backdrop for these athletic contests. China has created a Potemkin Village in Beijing that seems to generate nothing but awe from Western observers. Crimes of oppression against Tibet and the Falun Gung are seemingly overlooked in the seizure of "good feeling and harmony."
Last, and arguably most significantly, the blame America crowd that sees conspiracies everywhere and attributes grandiloquent power to the CIA -- if only that were true -- overlook national achievements and concentrates solely on blemishes and mistakes. Using the language of the moment for this group, these aren't governmental mistakes, only dissimulation.
For the BAC (Blame America Crowd) the United States is a force for evil that imperializes helpless nations for its own benefit. That the U.S. is the only hope for mankind, a beacon of light for the expression of liberty, is what the BAC would call a well-integrated myth that perpetuates the present unholy system. This form of denial runs deep and is, based on my experience, impenetrable.
The problem with this tsunami of denial is that these are real issues that require national resolve and confidence. First, of course, we must recognize the challenges squarely and then we should mobilize the determination to do something about them. But if we refuse to identify the problems and are unable to generate the will, America will be lost in a fog of inaction. There is a price one pays for denial; it is the price of defeat. That consequence should never be forgotten.
D-day is just over the horizon for Israel. Either it decides to attack the Iranian installations where uranium enrichment is proceeding apace or it lives with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them.
Timing is critical since the Iranians are about to install sophisticated Russian radars and missile ground-to-air defenses that will make penetration of Iranian airspace very problematic.
Those who argue that deterrence will work dismiss Ahmadinejad's rhetoric as empty rants. They contend that the mullahs are basically sensible and realize that Armageddon is not in anyone's interest. While nuclear weapons will give Iran hegemonic leadership in the Middle East, proponents of deterrence claim the "bomb" is a political instrument that offers cover for surrogate terrorists such as Hezbollah, but is not weapon of preemption.
Those who argue for a military assault, on the other hand, contend that Ahmadinejad's comments cannot be taken lightly. He has vowed to "wipe Israel off the map" and he indicated that a conflagration precedes the return of the twelfth Mahdi to Earth. While so-called moderates in Iran have tried to provide private assurance that these words aren't representative of the government, Ahmadinejad has not been repudiated by the mullahs in the Leadership Council.
Moreover, very recently Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashai said:
The Islamic Republic of Iran did not, does not, and will not recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. No Iranian citizen or party will ever accept this.
Is this incendiary comment to be taken at face value? Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, can this comment be ignored when Iran possesses nuclear weapons?
Of course, the costs and benefits on both sides of this strategic ledger also have to be addressed. For "the deterrence only" crowd an Iran with nuclear weapons will be acknowledged as a regional leader. Even Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would attempt to cut a deal in order to avoid conflict. A nuclear weapon would also mean that Iranian surrogates, namely Hezbollah and even Sunni-led Hamas, could expand their terroristic activity with the "bomb" looming as a brake on their adversaries.
While European leaders have offered many "carrots" for the cessation of the Iranian nuclear program, Iran does possess missiles with sufficient range to reach every European capital. Would extortion enter the political equation if Iran is in possession of nuclear weapons?
The "attack now" crowd maintains that Iran is a threat to regional stability and possibly a threat to Europe. As Senator McCain has noted "the only thing worse than bombing Iran is Iran with the bomb." There is no doubt, however, that this stance has many risks.
Iran is capable of closing the Gulf of Hormuz that could increase oil prices to $300 a barrel and might create a worldwide depression. It is also likely that Iran would retaliate against American troops in Iraq and Israel with chemical and biological weapons unless its second strike capability is neutralized. There is also the issue of collateral damage and world opinion. Clearly Israel and American detractors will seize on any attack as yet another example of U.S. imperial ambitions, even if the attack is conducted unilaterally by Israel.
Since these are "life and death" questions for Israel, glib assertions won't do. If the attack does occur, it would have to be a near perfect assault to thwart retaliation. If it doesn't occur, Israel would be forced to enhance its nuclear delivery system and prepare for an attenuated war with Hezbollah and Hamas on two fronts with the distinct possibility Arab states would be emboldened to join Iran in attempting to wipe Israel off the map.
Difficult choices and ominous events await the future. For Israel, the inexorable movement of history goes on whether it acts or refuses to act.
Many Chinese who have entered the ranks of the middle class are fond of collecting masks made of porcelain or jade. Having observed the Olympic events in Beijing, I am not surprised by this fetish, for what one sees in these Chinese-sponsored Olympics is a mask that conceals an unpleasant reality.
From fireworks that were artfully computerized at the opening ceremony, even though they weren't real, to the ages of gymnasts that are falsified, and the faux singer who merely looked like the right Chinese representative, these Olympics [were] a well-rehearsed Chinese mask. Or should it be described as a Chinese Potemkin Village? Clearly China wants to create a global impression as an emerging economic power, not unlike Germany in the 1936 Olympics and the Soviet Union in 1980. And with few exceptions, NBC spokespeople, inured to politically correct commentary, have been complicit.
It is instructive that a description of the "twenty-year-old" captain of the women's gymnastic team informed the viewing audience that she was taken from her home, and brought to a training facility after having been identified as a prospective Olympic athlete. After a year, she wanted to return to her family, but was told her training is for the greater glory of China and she must constrain her adolescent nostalgia for hearth and home. This story was related without the slightest hint of criticism.
Compare the ebullient, youthful American gymnastic team that embraced after every event, shouted encouragement and consoled teammates who didn't perform well, with the almost automaton-like Chinese girls who feigned smiles and could barely conceal their fear of failure.
I am reminded that the Olympic tradition is based on amateur sports with the Latin root of amateur being love. But the athletes from China and other dictatorial nations are not amateurs (neither, of course, are American basketball players) and few display love of the games which was the initial purpose behind them.
Now the Olympics are a political spectacle designed for effect. The athletes are mere pawns, somewhat like actors, in a staged event for the delectation of viewers. Surely there are spectacular moments such as Michael Phelps' medals and the performance of the men's relay swim teams. But on the whole, there is too much that is formulaic and staged. Any sport where judges decide the quality of performance enters the cauldron of political judgment.
Clearly the Chinese hoped to influence world opinion with these games. But what the Olympic mask concealed is as notable as what it revealed. Demonstrators were rounded up and in several instances beaten by baton-bashing Chinese police officers. Tibetan sympathizers were mistreated from the outset. And with all the hoopla, China comes across as a gray, joyless society, notwithstanding occasional spurts of enthusiasm from fans. Even the attendance figures are fraudulent as the number of empty seats in the stadium and gyms attest.
It has been argued that the Olympics should transcend politics. In fact, I agree. Yet it is notable that IOC (International Olympic Committee) is politicized. There is no escaping the reality that these Chinese Olympics were designed as and for a political agenda.
Whether the public will buy the idea that China is a world power poised to lead the global community in the 21st century remains to be seen. On one matter, however, there isn't any doubt: The Chinese mask offers the world only what it wants you to see. Once the mask is removed much of what you observe is false, misleading and manipulated.
Tom Farer, the dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, has written a new book Confronting Global Terrorism and American Neo-Conservatism: The Framework of a Liberal Grand Strategy. In this book a strategy, or what the author calls a new narrative, is depicted for future strategic analysis. But first the author limns a dichotomous model of neo-conservative and liberal assumptions.
For example, neo-conservatives are consequentialists and liberals are essentialists. By this he infers that neo-cons believe the ends justify the means and liberals believe some means should never be employed whatever the ends may be.
He contends further that neo-cons see virtue in war while liberals do not. Neo-cons are reticent to engage in the self-examination of their policies, liberals, by contrast, return to first principles continually. Neo-cons oppose the constraints on foreign policy imposed by the UN Charter, liberals embrace these constraints. Liberals are multilateralists, neo-cons unilateralists.
I think you can get my drift and surely you can get Professor Farer's drift. Notwithstanding the obvious bias, this model demonstrates the futility of political modeling based on a bipolar universe.
The essential problem is that the prototypes are caricatures. I do not know a neo-con who sees virtue in war even if he sees virtue in heroism. I do not know a neo-con who ignores means and concentrates solely on ends.
I do know neo-cons who have engaged in virtually endless examination and reexamination of policies they promoted (Douglas Feith's new book is a good example). I do know neo-cons who favor multilateralism (Does George W. Bush qualify?). And while many neo-cons are skeptical about the UN as a body to promote peace and harmony, many would adhere to a charter that allows for "anticipatory self-defense," as the UN Charter does.
Of course, this is a transparent set-up. The liberals are the hope for the future with a narrative for multilateralism and cooperation. The neo-cons are the voice of a failed past based on a muscular and poorly thought through strategy.
But is it enough to generate a foreign policy through a new narrative? Are there existential threats that defy categorization? Suppose Iran does not respond affirmatively to the new narrative which calls for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and an Israeli peace treaty with the Palestinians that returns to the 1967 borders. Suppose as well that Iran acquires nuclear weapons and uses them as cover for the actions of Hezbollah or to threaten the state of Israel. What then? When is war an option? And when does the dichotomous scenario cease to have meaning?
Professor Farer would probably maintain a prompter hoc argument. Well, if we had a different narrative, the conditions you depict would not occur. But what if they do?
Trollope, in his novel The Prime Minister, wrote there are times when events are "saved from the examination of principles." There are times as well when events transcend or defy models. There are times when the biological need for self-preservation trumps liberal ideals.
Clearly bipolar analysis can be an interesting guide, but it is rarely a useful guide. The world is not merely good and bad, black and white, big and small; it is often a composite of good and bad, gray and medium.
The model that reflects a bias is throat clearing for a cause. The tocsin of war rarely accommodates theoretical propositions. As Samuel Johnson noted about a hanging, war tends to focus the mind.
The force of intimidation will not rest. So powerful is the threat of Islamic violence that another book has been yanked from public distribution by cowardly publishers.
Sherry Jones' The Jewel of Medina was due to be published on August 12 by Random House, a unit of Bertelsmann AG. This novel traces the life of A'isha, the child bride of Mohammed, from the time of her marriage at age 6 until the prophet's death. But since the book was regarded as potentially offensive "to some in the Muslim community" its publication was postponed indefinitely.
It is paradoxical that Ms. Jones contends that her book is an attempt at bridge building and is consciously respectful of Islam and Mohammed. However, as Thomas Perry, representative of the publisher, said in a public comment [the book]:
. . . could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment. In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.
Obviously Mr. Perry, without saying so, was referring tacitly to the protests that erupted in Muslim countries in 2006 when cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed in an unfavorable light appeared in a Danish newspaper, leading to the deaths of more than 50 people.
In 1988 Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was greeted with riots across the Muslim world forcing the author into hiding for several years after Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa against him.
It is instructive that Ms. Jones argues Mohammed and A'isha shared a great love story, albeit one wonders what kind of love a six-year-old can possibly have with a middle-aged man. As the Hadith points out she was Mohammed's favorite wife; in fact, "he died with his head on her breast."
Whether this novel romantizes this relationship or condemns it as a form of pedophilia is somewhat irrelevant. What counts is that in this land where the First Amendment has been defended with blood and treasure, free expression is being compromised through intimidation.
The argument employed by some Islamists is that their sacred doctrines and prophet are being vilified by Western critics who do not fully appreciate Muslim tradition and faith. While there is some logic in this claim, Islamists do not have the slightest hesitation in the condemnation of Christianity as polytheism, or Judaism as a religion of monkeys and pigs. Presumably what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
Most significantly, free speech and open expression which characterize Western democracies are rarely, if ever, manifest in Islamic nations. Hence criticism, even valid scholarly criticism, of Mohammed and the religion he founded is never entertained.
That an American publisher with the extraordinary pedigree of Random House should succumb to the conditions in the Muslim world is truly astounding. It illustrates the fact that even our most cherished traditions are under assault and that bullies threatening violence or, at any rate capable of violence, can close the proverbial door on open discourse.
It is not merely the suspension of one book that troubles me, but the chilling influence of violent intimidation in every aspect of American life. If this self-censorship continues the United States will become a different nation and the tradition of liberty we so value will be a distant memory.
What will it take to summon the will to resist the Islamic threats? And where is the courage Americans put on display throughout our history? It is indeed time to respond by saying to Random House and every other publisher, "issue the book you wish and the nation will defend your right to do so." Any other response smacks of cowardice and surrender. *
"Many are destined to reason wrongly; others, not to reason at all; and others to persecute those who do reason." -Voltaire
We would like to thank the following people for their generous contributions in support of this journal (from 7/1/08 to 9/12/08): Ariel, Reid S. Barker, E. O. Barlow, Douglas W. Barr, Harry S. Barrows, Bud & Carol Belz, Charles Benscheidt, Charles L. Blilie, Erminio Bonacci, Mitzi A. Brown, Patrick J. Buchanan, Robert M. Buchta, Priscilla L. Buckley, Dino Casali, Cliff Chambers, W. Edward Chynoweth, William D. Collingwood, Robert Day, Dianne C. DeBoest, Robert M. Ducey, Nicholas Falco, Joseph C. Firey, Nansie Lou Follen, Reuben M. Freitas, Donald G. Galow, Jane F. Gelderman, Mr. & Mrs. Lee E. Goewey, Joseph H. Grant, Bernhard Heersink, H. Ray Hodges, John A. Howard, Thomas E. Humphreys, Burleigh Jacobs, O. Guy Johnson, Robert R. Johnson, Louise H. Jones, Janet King, Edward B. Kiolbassa, Reuben A. Larson, Alan Lee, Donald G. Lee, Leonard S. Leganza, Eric Lihof, Herbert London, Francis P. Markoe, Curtis Dean Mason, Roberta R. McQuade, Woodbridge C. Metcalf, Walter M. Moede, John Nickolaus, David Norris, King Odell, Harold Olson, B. William Pastoor, Mr. & Mrs. Mark Richter, Matthew J. Sawyer Richard P. Schonland, Harry Richard Schumache, Joseph M. Simonet, Charles B. Stevenson, Clifford W. Stone, Dennis J. Sullivan, Michael S. Swisher, Julian Tonning, Alan Rufus Waters, Eugene & Diane Watson, Gaylord T. Willett, Piers Woodriff.
Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and the soon-to-be-released America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
Based on everything we now know, what would America look like four years from now if Barack Obama were elected president in 2008? Clearly this involves conjecture on my part, always a dangerous thing to do. But based on campaign rhetoric, there are clues about an Obama presidency.
At the outset, there will be a collective sigh of relief. Race as a campaign issue will be permanently inserted into history's trash heap where it belongs. In that sense, there will be justifiable rejoicing over what will be described as a new chapter in the national story.
But as is the case with all presidents, once the applause ends, action is supposed to begin. And it will. In order to deal with the deficit, Obama will raise taxes -- a conventional Democratic response to revenue shortfall.
He will also propose to Congress the Universal Health Care program based on the proposition that everyone in the nation must be covered by health insurance and, for those who for one valid reason or another are not, the government will insure them.
But most significantly, Mr. Obama will focus on foreign policy with two overarching conditions in his telescopic lens: a timetable for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and direct negotiations with Iranian leaders over nuclear weapons.
If the Obama campaign is to be believed, troop draw down would be completed within 18 months with the likelihood President Obama will establish a timetable for Iraqi withdrawal sometime after assuming office.
As I see it, this year and half period would be a time for the Shia militias, Iran and al Qaeda, to reinforce their troops on the ground and plan a strategy for filling the military void left by the precipitous American troop withdrawal. This action will most likely embolden the extremists who will describe America's departure from the battlefield as an ignominious defeat that affirms the rise and traction of radical Islam.
It will also send a message to moderate nations in the Middle East neighborhood, namely Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, that they had better make a deal with Iran, the acknowledged hegemon in the region, or face a military challenge.
Mr. Obama has also indicated that he would engage in direct negotiations with Ahmadinejad about nuclear weapons and Iran's regional role. In fact, he noted these negotiations should occur without preconditions -- an unprecedented development.
The question, of course, is what can President Obama say. Is he prepared to accept Iran as the area's most influential player with nuclear weapons? Can he offer blandishments that persuade Iran to forgo the nuclear option? And if he is not persuasive, what precisely would he be prepared to do? These questions suggest that negotiations between leaders without preconditions are unprecedented for a good reason: they cannot work and could put protagonists in a position where compromise is impossible. Needless to say, time is on the side of the party being asked to make concessions.
As I see it, an Obama presidency (based on campaign promises) will be obliged to: raise taxes across the board, make commitments for universal health care that will put enormous pressure on the budget, orchestrate a rapid troop withdrawal from Iraq which emboldens our enemies and invites further divisions in this beleaguered nation,and negotiate directly with Iran which most probably results in a Persian empire with nuclear weapons.
Of course, this is mere speculation that Obama supporters would deny or, at least, attempt to refute. But as I listen to the campaign comments, I'm persuaded the conditions I've outlined are plausible, even as I pray that they don't occur.
This thought exercise, however, should be entertained for those who oppose and those who support the senator from Illinois. As I see it, the times in which we live, and the election before us, demand nothing less.
There is a blanket of fear that has been cast over all debate and political action on the world stage. It is the fear of reprisals used as a strategic device by Islamists everywhere.
Here is how it works. If you are critical of Islam in any way, a mullah might say: "You are free to express your opinion, I respect your freedom of expression, but there are those in our community who may respond differently." The upshot, of course, is that if violent acts cannot be controlled, one had better be careful about what one says, since blasphemy is regarded as a capital offense.
Rather than protect the critics, authorities in many nations claim they wish to reduce the prospect of violence by chastising the critic. Accommodation is the word employed as the tactic; encouraging self-censorship is the strategy. And it works.
Geert Wilders, the producer of Fitna, a film about the violent dimensions of Islam, is forced into hiding in his native home of Holland. Rather than suggest the West promotes the free exchange of opinion, leaders in Holland have censured Wilders for what is described as his incitement to violence.
The test of the West is whether it will defend its own principles or whether it will acquiesce in a concession to intimidation. Thus far, the record is discouraging. It is not simply the Archbishop of Canterbury's foolish claim that the United Kingdom will have to accept some form of Sharia; it is the subtle concessions, such as not showing pictures of a pig. Is Miss Piggy banned on the BBC? That may not be as laughable as it first seems.
Even in the United States the fear factor is palpable. Other than the Weekly Standard, not one newspaper or magazine would publish the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Were these news outlets as vigilant in pursuit of religious integrity with "Piss Christ" or The Da Vinci Code? Why isn't what is good for the goose, good for the gander?
Although most journalists won't admit it, the answer is fear, an unwillingness to challenge the Islamic bullies. While there is a facile belief in the First Amendment, it is easily abrogated through the power of intimidation. Who wants to live with a fatwa against him? Wasn't Salman Rushdie's life thrown into disarray after a fatwa was directed against him?
But if journalists do not react to the threat, either tacit or implicit, who will? And if we do not protect the critics acting on the basis of freedom of speech, how long will we be able to count on the First Amendment?
It is one thing to glibly assert we are engaged in a battle of ideas. In fact, our armor against attack is courage, and from what I have observed, it is in short supply. At the very least, sensible people should demand a standard of reciprocity. If we cannot criticize Islam, Islamists should not be permitted any criticism of the Judeo-Christian world.
Of course, that standard won't fly since the Koran refers to Jews as pigs and monkeys and Christians as polytheists. What we must do is change the language by challenging every claim of Islamophobia. This banner automatically restricts speech, just as the word "racist" dims frank discussion about race relations.
Religion of every kind should be put under the bright light of critical examination, including Islam. It is to be seen as no different from any other religion. Its adherents should be permitted open discourse and its critics must be offered the full protection of the law. To see it in any other way is to give Islam a privileged status in the Judeo-Christian world it does not deserve.
First, we must overcome the fear factor: that is more easily said than done. And second, we must defend the critics, even those with whom we may disagree. For what is at stake is nothing less than our freedom. It would be a startling development to see us give up our freedom without a fight, a condition -- based on what I've described -- that is already in our sight.
Prince AlWaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, the world's 19th richest man with a net worth of $21 billion, recently gave a 16 million donation to the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh to launch two research centers for Islamic studies. The signing ceremony was attended by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the chancellors of both universities.
The universities rank among the foremost institutions in the world offering research on Islamic and Middle Eastern studies.
Two years ago Prince AlWaleed donated $40 million to America's Georgetown and Harvard Universities for the expansion of their Islamic studies programs. In each instance AlWaleed has indicated that the centers are designed for constructive and critical awareness of the role Islam plays across the globe. As he noted: "It is paramount for both Islam and the West to reach mutual ground for pro-active dialogue, respect, acceptance and tolerance."
Presumably deeper understanding will emerge from these programs with their emphasis on "mutual understanding and cross-cultural dialogue between Islam and the West."
But here is the rub. In all of these programs critical awareness is a one-way street. The West is supposed to understand Islam, but what remains unsaid is that Islam is not obliged to understand the West. "Mutual understanding" is a high-sounding phrase that is exercised only in the breach. If tolerance is mutual as the Saudi benefactor contends, then he should put money into Muslim universities in the Middle East for an appreciation of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
It is already clear that British universities tolerate and promote Islamic studies. But where is there evidence of the reverse? Without reciprocity this emphasis on cross-cultural dialogue is a sham. Western students are supposed to understand and appreciate Islamic traditions, while the Judeo-Christian tradition is trashed as polytheistic or misguided or worse. In fact, tolerance and Islam are largely incompatible.
It therefore seems most likely that Prince AlWaleed is donating his money to proselytize, to encourage students to gravitate to his faith. While the study of Islam is and can certainly be a serious source of scholarship, one wonders whether that will be the case in these two recent instances or whether the British universities are merely the equivalents of Middle East Studies programs compromised by Saudi money and influence.
It is also worth asking once Prince AlWaleed has left his footprint on the major British and American universities, whether he will turn to the less well-known institutions that he can buy off for a mere pittance. He has already left his mark at Griffith College in Australia.
Money talks to academics in a most alluring way and Saudis have the money. The extent to which Middle East Studies programs have been compromised across the United States has prompted Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Islamic studies, and Fouad Ajami to launch their own Middle East Studies Association.
The Saudi plan to use universities as a launching pad to promote religious fervor is transparent. Obviously many scholars simply want to engage in and encourage Islamic scholarship, but that isn't the motive of all scholars nor is it always the motive of Saudi benefactors.
Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 9, 2008) devoted four full pages to a new book by two professors at the University of Chicago, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunshine, one a professor of economics and behavioral science and the other a professor of law. The book, entitled Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, is intended to approach policies that encourage, but do not insist on, socially desirable directions.
Presumably cognitive limitations stand in the way of appropriate choices. Since people are basically inert, impulsive and often irrational they would be best off nudged into acceptable behavior, claim the authors. What they call for is "libertarian paternalism" which they argue is not an oxymoron.
A "nudge," according to them, is a noncoercive alteration in the decision-making process, e.g., innocuous details such as the pattern of lines on a road. Professor Sunshine explains that:
For too long, the United States has been trapped in a debate between laissez faire types who believe markets will solve all our problems and the command and control types who believe that if there is a market failure then you need a mandate.
He and his colleague stand astride these views, arguing that an understanding of human irrationality can improve how public and private institutions shape policy. The presumption is that a nudge does not limit free choice; it merely provides a desirable direction.
One example used by the authors is the reluctance of employees to sign up for 401k plans even though it is in their best interest to do so. They suggest that companies adopt automatic enrollment, while retaining an opt-out provision. That would be seen as the right kind of nudge that still allows for free choice.
Professor Thaler has spent a career thinking about decision making and, in his judgment, people often opt for irrational or overly optimistic positions. For example, he notes they are more fearful of unlikely threats like a nuclear power accident then they are something more probable like a car accident.
As I see it, this book is yet another academic argument for the "third way," a path between the free market and the command economy that has failed so many times before. The problem is that the "nudge" will come from the same government and the same bureaucrats often responsible for failures in the public sector. Surely it is fair to say that people sometimes make irrational and undesirable choices in life, but isn't that often true of bureaucrats who have the same temptations? Or are Thaler and Sunshine merely indicating that there are intelligent social engineers who can tell us how to behave?
It seems to me that if you are paternalistic in subliminally nudging someone in the "right direction" you cannot be a libertarian, even if the nudge is intended to be noncoercive. Moreover, even when there are rewards for certain behavior that are well-established and well-understood, some people choose to ignore them. For example, there is an unquestionable correlation between education and a standard of living. A college degree is worth more than a high school diploma, and a PhD is worth more than a college degree. Is there anyone who doesn't know this? Yet many cannot be nudged into higher education.
Professor Thaler argues that many people are more fearful of unlikely threats than probable threats, using nuclear power accidents as an example. Surely Thaler must realize that threats are related to perceptions. As a result of the China Syndrome there is the fear that a nuclear explosion could have widespread and catastrophic consequences, however limited the probability; while a traffic accident -- while more probable -- has limited consequences and is something already integrated into one's consciousness.
Clearly the market mechanism isn't perfect. But it does account for irrational choices, and it assumes as well the ultimate prevalence of what the public wants. As I see it, anyway you cut it, I would prefer the "invisible hand" to the manipulated hand of social engineers. How long would it take for the subtle nudge to become, as the estimable Roger Kimball put it, the big push? Is it enough to say, as Thaler and Sunshine do, that transparency is sufficient to offset the nudging of social engineers? After all, what makes a free economy work is its freedom which includes the freedom to know. And yet, as the authors note, people still make irrational decisions.
It is an illusion to think that there are appropriate alternatives to the free market despite the clever conflation of words in the Thaler-Sunshine thesis. In the end, of course, paternalism is not liberty and liberty cannot be paternalism. *
"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. Of such is wisdom." --William Butler Yates
Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial, published by Lexington Books, and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
For a considerable period after 9/11 it was customary for foreign policy analysts to argue that the war against terror, renamed more accurately as the war against radical Islam, hadn't any national destination. Alas, it was a war against a shadowy foe that didn't wave any flag or reside in one country.
Recent evidence contradicts that conclusion. The enemy is Iran, the center of terror central and the nation with unequivocal imperial aspirations in the region. What was once obscure is now entirely transparent.
In the recent battle in Basra an Iranian Guard general was found giving orders to al Sadr militias. Both arms and men routinely cross the border from Iran into Iraq. Confrontations in Southern Iraq suggest Iran is also willing to support AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) despite the fact this terrorist organization is Sunni and Iran is led by a Shia majority -- so much for religious differences when the U.S. and Israel are the common foe.
Second, Hamas in Gaza is now a functioning surrogate of Iran. The money and arms in this area have been provided by Iran and the rockets landing in Sderot generally have Iranian markings.
Third, Hezbollah in Lebanon has regrouped since the war against Israel last year and has, according to recent accounts, stockpiled more than 30,000 rockets north of the Litani River and another 10,000 close to the border of Israel. This remarkable buildup occurred with Iranian assistance, support and training.
Fourth, Syria is yet another geographic pawn now controlled by the mullahs in Iran. President Asad is obliged to coordinate all foreign policy decisions with Ahmadinejad. In fact, he admitted as much when he said recently that he would discuss controlling the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah through his handlers in Iran if he were absolved of the murder of former Lebanon leader Hariri, a matter being investigated by the United Nations.
Fifth, Syria at the behest of Iran has held up presidential elections in Lebanon in an effort to install a candidate agreeable to Iranian leaders. In most respects, Lebanon is to Iran what the Sudetenland was to Germany in the 1930s; it is a client state unable to operate without the consent of Syria and Iran.
Last, Iran, for reasons of its own ambition, actively promotes the enrichment of uranium that can be used for the development of nuclear weapons. Recently, Ahmadinejad announced the deployment of another 6000 centrifuges in Natanz to accelerate the enrichment process. It has also been discovered through satellite surveillance that Iran has deployed North Korean missiles with a range of 4000 kilometers, sufficient range to reach every European capital.
Clearly these potential weapons united with a missile present a growing threat in the region and beyond. But even if that weren't the case, the mere existence of these weapons has generated diplomatic missions from Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking some kind of alliance with Iran. Moreover, a nuclear-armed Iran offers cover for the malevolent actions of Hamas and Hezbollah. It will be increasingly difficult for Israel to respond to attacks from these surrogates knowing that an Iran with nuclear weapons stands behind them.
It is distressing that despite all we know about Iran, a policy against this nation in unambiguous language has not been developed. As a consequence, Iran is becoming the Middle East hegemon, notwithstanding the fact Arabs distrust Persians and Sunnis have a different theological perspective from Shia. Power invariably trumps principle, particularly in the Middle East.
Based on recent events, we can no longer sustain the illusion that al Qaeda is an elusive force set loose on the world stage. It needs sustenance, safe homes and national support to survive. For its own national reasons Iran provides these conditions, even if at some point it will have to face down al Qaeda. At the moment, it is a useful ally. And at the moment as well, the U.S. cannot delude itself into thinking the Iranian threat will evanesce.
Each day that passes with Iran unchallenged is another day in which its power is enhanced and America's Middle East position is diminished.
Could there possibly be a more naive person on the globe than former president Jimmy Carter? Or is Carter simply seeking the Neville Chamberlain award to put beside his Nobel Prize?
After meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, Carter claimed the terrorist group accepts the Jewish state and is ready for peace. Either Carter misunderstood what was said at this meeting or chose to misunderstand, because the statements emanating from the Hamas camp stand in stark contrast with Carter's public remarks.
Hamas leaders state categorically that they will not recognize Israel, but will offer the Jewish state a ten-year truce if it evacuates the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and east Jerusalem, including Temple Mount. Moreover, and most significantly, the terror group will not annul its stated goal of annihilating Israel.
It was also noted that Israel must allow the "right of return" for millions of refugees, a formula most sensible people recognize for the destruction of the Jewish state. So let me get this right: In return for a temporary truce, Israel is obliged to commit suicide. This is what Carter calls peace in our time.
One Hamas spokesman made his claim transparently clear:
For any truce to take effect, Israel would need to evacuate every centimeter of the West Bank and every centimeter of east Jerusalem.
It is instructive that not one peace plan put forward by Fatah or even Israel's leftist parties calls for so extreme a plan.
Speaking in Israel, Carter offered his Trojan horse of a peace plan by claiming Hamas has agreed to "accept" Israel. "There's no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel's right to live in peace within the 1967 borders," he added. Before Carter could finish his misguided claims, Fawdi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman, said, "We stand by our line, which means no recognition of Israel."
Is Carter deaf or just a dupe? Even the so-called ten year truce is described as a "hudna," a Koranic term used to describe a respite from war so that troops can be assembled for the final assault. It is also the case as half a century of negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors attest, that deceit is part of the Arab strategy -- a point, among many, Carter chooses to ignore.
In addition to his conversation with Khaled Meshaal, Carter met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Here too President Carter asserts that Syria is ready to "make peace" with Israel. "All" Israel has to do is give up the Golan Heights. In fact, Carter was "impressed" with Assad's eagerness to consummate a deal. Rather than broach this anticipated deal with President Olmert, Carter met with Yossi Beilin, leader of the extreme left Meretz party, and prevailed on him to be the catalyst for such an accord.
While President Carter claims he is a private citizen representing only the Carter Center in these diplomatic discussions, he also claims the U.S. government would support "any" peace agreement reached among the principal parties. Not only is this claim fatuous, but as the contradictory arguments of Hamas leaders suggest patently false. "Any agreement" means the elimination of the state of Israel either now or later. How could any sensible leader in the United States or Israel agree to these terms?
To suggest that Carter can negotiate an accord where others have failed is to underestimate past deliberations or overestimate what is now being discussed. In Carter's case there is evidence of an ego without limit, a rube without guidance, and a naive diplomat without an appreciation of history or facts on the ground.
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez is feeling his oats. With oil approaching $110 a barrel, he has transformed himself into South America's banker, paying off the debt in Argentina, being the supplier of weapons for FARC and other radical groups and stirring up well-funded political activity whenever the opportunity arises.
He has also adopted the mantle of America's leading critic. In 2006 he called President George Bush "the Devil" at the United Nations General Assembly. He invariably invokes Noam Chomsky, a radical critic of U.S. foreign policy, as a "truthteller." He has expressed great confidence in Iran's Ahmadinejad; has supported Hezbollah and calls Fidel Castro his mentor. And he inveighs against U.S. capitalism as "savagery" and free markets as an effort to foster income disparity.
Yet remarkably Chavez has many admirers in the United States. Cindy Sheehan, the soi disant poster woman for the anti-Iraq war sympathizers, calls him a friend, and said with great enthusiasm that Chavez would undermine "the U.S. empire."
Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemisphere Affairs in Washington, argues that "Venezuela has become a major source of interest for social visionaries in the United States."
Representative Dennis Kucinich wrote that the U.S. administration should look at Venezuela as a "model democracy," a point of view embraced by Jesse Jackson, Ed Asner, and leftist writers Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein.
In the face of a Chavez-provoked crackdown on press organizations and dissenters, Representative Brad Sherman of California said Venezuela had "a strong free press and respect for important freedom."
As one might expect, Hollywood is solidly in the Chavez camp. Harry Belafonte said "millions of American people . . . support your [Chavez] revolution." Sean Penn delivered similar encomiums when he met with the Venezuelan president. And Danny Glover has received tens of millions from Chavez for the production of three new films.
Perhaps the most interesting of Chavez's program agents is former Representative Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy, representing Citizens Energy Corporation, has been a television spokesman for Citgo, the Venezuelan oil outlet in the United States. Kennedy maintains on camera that Citgo is donating millions of gallons to needy Americans "because no one should be left out in the cold." The fact that many Venezuelans are left out of the nation's political process is not mentioned by Mr. Kennedy.
There is little doubt that the Kennedy gambit is designed to elicit good will for Chavez and, in a nation naive about foreign affairs, it appears to be working. Some spokesmen have even urged their listeners to buy Citgo gas. After all, some of these dupes contend, Chavez is using oil revenue to alleviate poverty.
Chavez is conducting a public diplomacy campaign on several fronts. He has bought ads lauding Venezuelan accomplishments in the Economist, New Yorker, and Roll Call among others. And he has hired public relations firms to burnish the image of his government.
While Chavez frequently refers to himself as a modern Jesus and goes off on rants not unlike his hero Fidel Castro, he isn't a fool. He has carefully cultivated hardcore left-wing opinion in the United States and has used his plentiful oil revenue to buy friends.
However, his agenda is quite transparent. He wants to undermine American interests on the continent and he expressly desires a Marxist-style revolution wherever possible. If this agenda means embracing Ahmadinejad or any other enemy of the United States, so be it.
Since the left in the U.S. detests George Bush, Chavez is a useful vehicle for its interests. Anti-Americanism is the gravaman that unites Chavez, his U.S. admirers, and global terrorists. Oil lubricates this alliance and fuels the network. We would be wise to examine his aims carefully and do what we can to thwart these objectives.
There are ghosts walking the globe, forty million of them to be precise: People who are officially non-persons; some cannot marry, cannot register as citizens, and are, for all practical purposes, invisible
Twice in the last year Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was in a position to resolve the plight of Kurds in Syria who struggle to survive without citizenship. But he did not act.
As a consequence, Kurds in Syria face obstacles owning property, having passports, voting, or being publicly employed. They are not eligible for food subsidies or admission to public hospitals. In fact, there are now approximately 300,000 stateless Kurds in Syria (about ten percent of the Kurdish population in this nation) without legal ties to the nation and effectively stateless under international law.
While the Kurdish condition in Syria is egregious, the Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Turkey also face varying degrees of hostility. They are minorities in each of these nations, yet are by far the largest ethnic group on the globe without a nation of its own.
As a minority in Muslim societies, the Kurds often tell their children that Islam was forced on them by Arab conquerors. In recent years many have returned to the original religion of Zoroastrianism, a condition that suggests a greater ethnic rather than religious identification.
From the standpoint of American foreign policy the Kurds have the potential to liberate or, at least, disrupt the dictatorial regimes in Iran and Syria, a point made most effectively by Jack Wheeler in a September 2006 article.
Clearly, a united Kurdistan is a chimera since Turkey would never permit it, and the Kurds of Turkey are plagued by a Marxist terrorist organization called the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), generally repudiated by most Kurds in the region. But the Kurds of Iran, Iraq, and Syria are a potentially liberating force, an engine of democracy, waiting on the sidelines for the fall of the mullahs.
The question that remains unanswered is why our State Department doesn't actively recruit and work with the Kurdish minority in Iran. Ten million Kurds in Iran could be a formidable force for the much-discussed scenario of regime change. In general, they detest the mullahs and are outspoken advocates of democratic reform.
Similarly, the three million Kurds in Syria are avowed opponents of Assad. After decades of abuse by the Alawite minority they are prepared to resist a seemingly implacable regime.
But where is America's strategic vision? What kind of assistance can we provide? In fact, are the Kurds even on the radar screen at Foggy Bottom?
If the alternatives in Iran policy are the military option or regime change, it would seem that some reliance on Kurdish assistance might be contemplated. That, however, does not appear to be the case, a matter that is most perplexing.
It may well be that State Department officials know something I do not. But vague responses to queries about the Kurds are not a hopeful sign. One would think that at this juncture we would seek to exploit every potential asset in the region in our quest to prevent Iran from possession of nuclear weapons.
That the Kurds are seemingly left out of the Iran policy equation is an omission that could have dire consequences for the region and perhaps for American interests across the globe.
In a recent Le Figaro report Nicolas Sarkozy said:
At the end of the French presidency, my aim is that [Europe] will have moved towards a common immigration policy, a common defense policy, a common energy policy, and a common environment policy.
The citizens of all of Europe demand protection; they want Europe to protect them, not make them vulnerable. They want it to allow them to act, not oblige them to suffer.
President Sarkozy goes on to contend that this "protective Europe" is incompatible with "the excesses of financial capitalism." He maintains that France under his guidance will take initiatives "to moralize capitalism." As part of his vision Europe is to be seen for "community preference" and to make matters perfectly clear President Sarkozy has called on the government backed Caisse des Depots et Consignations bank to take the lead in protecting France from the "power of extremely aggressive sovereign funds."
How does one parse the ambiguous phrases? Is European immigration policy, to cite one example, going down a path taken by France in which more than a quarter of Marseille residents are Muslim and unrest now characterizes urban life in this once peaceful city? What does Sarkozy mean by a common environmental policy? Are European nations about to embrace a common carbon footprint? And if so, will such regulation be enforced by bureaucrats in Brussels?
Perhaps the most interesting and often heard expression used by Sarkozy is "moralizing capitalism." For years European leaders have been decrying "the inhuman dimensions of Anglo Saxon capitalism" -- code words for the free market. Sarkozy is merely following the rhetorical lead of his predecessors.
However, in his desire to place strict control on sovereign investment he may be inhibiting cash-starved industries and corporations and, in the process, restricting innovation Europe needs to be competitive. If moralizing capitalism means protective regulation that keeps union control over the labor market, stagnation is the inevitable result. It has been demonstrated in France and elsewhere in Western Europe that if you cannot fire, you cannot hire, a condition that has led Europeans to envy the relatively low unemployment rate in the United States.
Clearly Europe has benefited from Arab capital that has gravitated north in search of investment opportunity. This condition aimed in part as punishment for American Middle East policy, has bolstered the euro against the dollar and, to a modest degree, has had a salutary influence on European economies.
But in actuality Europe's industries are largely moribund. They cannot compete against Asian markets and often demand protection against the economic onslaught. The unfunded liability due to cradle to grave security -- even with recent modifications in outlook -- is daunting.
As a consequence, the Sarkozy proposal to moralize capitalism -- which has the ring of human decency to it -- is catastrophic for a Europe that suffers from economic sclerosis. If anything, France and Western Europe desperately require a shot of adrenalin in the form of free market initiatives.
Clearly Europeans have a preference for security, long vacations, short workweeks and reduced competition. However, Europeans are not alone in the world. The intrusion of other markets is a reality and the interest of competitiveness will have to be assuaged.
While Sarkozy's pro-American foreign policy stance is justifiably applauded, his European economic position is hopelessly predictable and doomed to fail. Perhaps as a member of the EU in good standing, he, as the leader of France, is obliged to repeat standard European slogans. But these are empty slogans that, if enacted into policies, will further weaken Europe economically and make it less likely the continent will assume the defense responsibility to which it so often gives lip-service.
Sarkozy has enjoyed a honeymoon period with American leaders, but his platitudinous economic position should offer a moment of reflection. Are we merely hearing much of the bankrupt moralizing of the recent past, an echo of Chirac? I'd hope that isn't the case, but, in my opinion, that is the most likely conclusion to be reached from his remarks. *
"The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men." --Samuel Adams
Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial, published by Lexington Books, and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
Rangel the Reaganaut?
Far be it for me to criticize a man who comes to his senses. And far be it for me to criticize a journalist I admire. But when George Will writes that Charlie Rangel is a tax-hating Democrat, either his researchers haven't done their homework or Mr. Will has been duped by Washington's premier mountebank.
According to Congressman Rangel circa 2008:
Ronald Reagan opposed using the tax code as a means of achieving changes in our social structure. I don't think the tax code should be a substitute for the appropriations process in making social change.
Rangel contends that what we do to taxpayers is embarrassing. Sounding a little like Steve Forbes, he is now a proponent of a simplified tax code, one that lowers rates and closes loopholes.
In examining his 19-year history in the Congress one would be hard pressed to find consistency. In fact, his only consistent position is inconsistency.
What is most remarkable was his voluble position against Reagan's tax cuts. He did not rail against them because of a belief they would harm the economy; he criticized them because, as he noted at the time, they are "racist." Yes, this same Charlie Rangel who advocates lower rates and simplicity condemned tax decreases as racist.
Could the representative from Harlem have had an epiphany? It is possible, but doubtful. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he may be obliged to be more responsible than he was in the past. It may also be the case -- excuse my cynicism -- that Mr. Rangel is more wealthy than he used to be, putting him in the highest tax-paying bracket.
If one were to parse his former claim of tax decreases as racism, you would find that his presumption is African-Americans need government handouts and any diminution in this government role is unfair. That this stance is pandering at its worst did not faze the shameless Mr. Rangel. He knew where his electoral bread is buttered.
When I challenged him on this point during a television talk show, he accused me of racism for supporting Reagan's tax cuts. How then can anyone take Mr. Rangel's present claims seriously?
That a cut in tax rates might generate additional tax revenue is a concept outside of Mr. Rangel's ken. For him, all issues were to be seen in racial terms. Before his newly discovered respectability, Mr. Rangel was a racial hustler who shot from the hip for the delectation of his constituents.
Mr. Will now claims Rangel is a new man. Well, I don't buy it. First, I would like to know which lobbyists are paying for his trips to the Caribbean? Second, I would like to know if his advisers told him a form of triangulation might be good for a Senate run? And third, if his tax proposals are to be "revenue neutral," what's in and enhanced or out and diminished?
If George Will had answers to these questions, his column might be credible. Without them, I remain a skeptic. Moreover, recognizing Mr. Rangel's chameleonic history, I tend to be skeptical about any of his public utterances.
Perhaps I should give more credit when it's due, but in his case the past is not a distant memory and I still retain a vivid recollection of the fury of his critique. Tax cuts thy name was racism sayeth the Congressman from Harlem.
The Daily Telegraph recently published an article indicating that Islamic extremists have created "no go" areas across Great Britain where it is too dangerous for non-Muslims to enter.
Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester and the Church of England's only Asian bishop, said that people of a different race or faith face physical attack if they live or work in communities dominated by a strict Muslim ideology.
Clearly what is at stake is the very future of Christianity as the nation's public religion. With multiculturalism gaining ground as a philosophical position, Islam is riding on the coattails of this phenomenon.
Since all faiths are to be treated equally according to this multicultural faith, it isn't possible to challenge publicly the call to prayer or the reliance on Sharia to adjudicate legal claims.
Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, who has said England is "sleepwalking into segregation," has been criticized for what some consider incendiary language. However, it is clear that multiculturalism has led to deep and irrepressible social divisions, what one politician called "voluntary apartheid."
It would appear that the divisions can be attributed to the government's failure to integrate immigrants into the larger community. But it is also related to a diminished belief in the Church of England and Christianity in general. Most residents of Britain believe the Church will be disestablished within a generation, severing a bond that has existed between Church and State since the Reformation.
Of course, there are those who contend that the critique of multiculturalism is little more than a manifestation of intolerance. Yet it is the intolerance in the Muslim communities that has resulted in this blow-back.
Reverend Nicholas Reade, the Bishop of Blackburn, which has a large Muslim community, maintains that it is increasingly difficult for Christians to observe their faith in communities where they are a minority. He too believes that pressure put on the Government will result in the disestablishment of the Church of England.
There is little doubt that Britain is undergoing dramatic change. In a mere few decades this nation with an acknowledged Christian foundation is now routinely described as a multi-faith society. Clearly the large number of immigrants entering the British Isles accounts in large part for the shift in attitude. Yet that isn't the whole story. The loss of confidence in the Christian vision, which underlies most of the achievements and principles of the culture, may account for a reluctance to defend the nation's heritage.
If minorities are permitted to live in their own insulated communities, communicating in their own languages and having a minimum need to build relationships with the majority, the nation will sink into balkanization. Moreover, this separation feeds and endorses Islamic extremism by alienating youngsters from the nation and creating the impression ideological devotion is a mark of acceptability.
There are, of course, Muslims and Christians who recognize the problem and are eager to do something about it. But can Sharia relate to British civil law? Can Sharia-compliant banking be accommodated in a free market system? Can Christianity be maintained as the nation's public faith? Can universities transmit a sense of Britannia when multiculturalism is in the ascendancy?
These are merely several of the host of questions and issues that must be addressed by government and religious leaders. Unfortunately there are many more questions than answers and much more confusion on the part of the British public than clarity about the road ahead.
While the United States and many European nations have recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, China has indicated it will avoid any precedent that could be applied to Taiwan.
In fact, in 2005 China's National People's Congress passed an "antisecession law" which said: "Both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China. China's sovereignty and territorial integrity brook no division." This antisecession law explicitly gives the Chinese government the authority to "employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures" should Taiwan unilaterally declare its independence.
With Kosovo's declaration, Taiwan is once again on the front burner as an international issue. The Taiwanese presidential election in March 2008 and the referendum on United Nations' admission offer stark evidence that Taiwan's ambiguous status will be given careful examination.
Much has changed in the China-Taiwan relationship in the last few decades. For one, China-Taiwan trade was at roughly $120 billion in 2007 up from $2 billion at the end of the 1980s. More than half of Taiwan's outbound investment goes to China, putting Taiwan in the position of either number four or five in direct investor status on the mainland. Moreover, somewhere around 25 million Chinese are employed in Taiwanese businesses on the mainland leading to a level of integration that could not have been imagined a decade ago.
Surely this integration moderates, to some degree, China's military buildup across the straits. But China's adamant position vis-a-vis Taiwan overlooks the current reality.
Taiwan is an advanced economy that recently replaced Australia as the 16th most wealthy nation on the globe. Its population of 23 million people is larger than three-quarters of the nations at the United Nations. Its role in the design and manufacture of the iPhone among other advanced consumer products is the envy of most Asian states. And since 1988, when martial law was suspended, it has had a vibrant democracy and vigorous competition between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The idea that Taiwan is a "renegade province" -- an expression often used by Chinese leaders -- overlooks the evolution of this island nation. At the outset, when Chiang Kai-Shek took six million adherents to Formosa, there was little doubt these people identified themselves as Chinese who at some point had a vision of returning to the mainland. Over time, however, this identification has changed.
Today, when asked the question of identity more than 70 percent said they are Taiwanese. Not only has Taiwanese nationalism effloresced, but the disparity between Taiwan's per capita income of $28,000 and China's at $1800 stands as a vivid reminder to Taiwanese that Communist leadership in China is not what they want to embrace.
While the KMT is somewhat more accommodationist in its stance toward China than the DPP, it is not willing to modify the status-quo. What it does suggest is that tourism and cultural ties should be encouraged in order to promote further understanding with the vague suggestion that in the future (some distant future) the two states may be united.
By contrast, if one may call it a contrast rather than a nuanced position, the DPP embodies the nation's newly discovered nationalist fervor. It argues that Taiwan has more to offer China than the reverse. Former President Chen engaged in rhetorical flourishes about independence that alarmed the White House and infuriated China. But these comments were more a reflection of de facto nationalism rather than de jure separation.
Taiwan's stance is in fact an ambiguous one between independence and reunification. If independence were actually declared, it might serve as a casus belli for China. If reunification were to be a short-term policy, any Taiwanese government advocating it would fall. Hence there is a delicate minuet between the two rival positions with neither in the ascendancy, despite an occasional minor tilt in one direction or the other.
There is a growing international perspective that time is on China's side, but I see it differently. Fissures in the Chinese economy and a totalistic political system indicate that dictatorial party control and the free market are incompatible. Should China go through a form of democratization, the Taiwan question could easily be addressed. A democratic China might hold genuine gravitational pull for Taiwanese, who despite nationalistic sentiment, still retain transcendent ethnic ties to China. Or more likely, a democratic China would simply maintain close relations to Taiwan with the latter serving as a political model to be emulated. Perhaps under these circumstances a confederation could be entertained.
Therefore the key to the resolution of the so-called Taiwan Straits issue is patience on the part of Taiwan and a belief that at some point liberalization in China will open a host of opportunities.
The United States should play a significant role in this political equation. After all, the U.S. is the only nation with the military strength to offset an adventurous gambit by China across the Taiwan Straits. Even if America's military interests in Asia recede, the U.S. must maintain a military umbrella for Taiwan so that the force of liberalization can gain a foothold in China. If I am correct, Taiwan needs time and the U.S. can provide it.
American leaders should continually send a message to Chinese officials that a military solution for what China calls its Taiwan problem is unacceptable, even if China refuses to take the military option off the table. Taiwan deserves our support and China must realize that missiles bristling in Fijian Province and its increasingly menacing blue-water navy will not deter the United States' defensive commitment to Taiwan.
At the moment, Taiwan feels isolated. The penumbra of China is palpable. China's growing influence on the world stage which includes blandishments for those who renounce Taiwan and implicit threats for others is keenly felt by Taiwanese officials. Nonetheless, twenty-four nations presently recognize Taiwan, and this island nation's technical assistance program in Latin America and Africa have the potential to generate new friends.
Taiwan wants UN recognition as a way to break through the isolation. For Taiwan UN membership or some affiliated status is a national security issue. If Avian flu were to cross to the Taiwan Straits without notification from the World Health Organization, for example, thousands of lives could be put in jeopardy. The upcoming Taiwan referendum on this matter is advertised all over Taipei as "Taiwan in the U.N.: Peace Forever." This is, of course, wildly hyperbolic, but it does reflect Taiwan's desire for recognition.
Most Taiwanese officials do not realize that UN participation could limit national sovereignty, even if the UN gives tacit recognition to sovereign states. The example of Israel is illustrative; it is a UN member continually censured by the Human Rights Commission and is isolated in the UN by the bloc voting of the 57 Muslim nations. Whatever the outcome in the Taiwan UN referendum, China's veto in the Security Council is ultimately dispositive. It will not allow formal status for Taiwan and, most likely, will resist informal status as well.
As I see it, Taiwan can secure some measure of international status through bilateral arrangements of a formal and informal nature with neighboring Asian nations, e.g., Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia. Chinese saber rattling has had a chastening effect on regional nations that fear potential Chinese imperial aspirations. As a consequence, Taiwan can play a modest role in an Asian defense condominium through its technical expertise and its own defense capability.
Although China is or will soon be in a position to display overwhelming force directed at Taiwan, the Taiwanese should invest heavily in a robust anti-missile system that will have to be factored into any Chinese offensive threat. Just as Chinese missiles are a symbol of intimidation, Taiwanese defenses are a symbol of resistance and determination.
As I see it, this island nation has performed a miracle in a scant sixty years. From a fledging state comprised of those seeking sanctuary from Communist oppression, it has emerged full-blown as an economic giant and a stable democracy. If any nation deserves our support, it is Taiwan. Kosovo may serve as a precedent, albeit this new state has not proven itself in any way. Taiwan, however, has proven itself in every way. In a world where power often replaces moral standing, it would be refreshing for morality to prevail and for Taiwan to receive its just rewards.
If Taiwan remains patient and democracy in Asia is inexorable, as I believe it to be, that day may not be far off.
A federal appellate court recently put the world's largest companies on notice that they could be held liable for having engaged in business with South Africa's apartheid regime. Presumably doing business with regimes that commit human rights violations can be litigated retroactively. Overlooked in this court decision, however, are the human rights violations of the present South African government that emerged from the apartheid era.
While the betrayal of human rights can be found across the globe, it is nonetheless frustrating when a nation liberated from the yoke of oppression is complicit in promoting oppression elsewhere. Nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Since President Robert Mugube introduced a policy of violent confiscation of white-owned farms in 2000, Zimbabwe, once the jewel of Africa, has been reduced to degeneration, starvation and one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world.
One might assume that South Africa liberated from apartheid would condemn the lawless behavior of Mugube. Well that might be assumed, but it would be wrong. Because Mugube fought against white colonialism, the ANC has been reluctant to condemn the brutality of his regime.
Moreover, not only does it give Mugube a pass on his brutality, it props him up through a formal military alliance and, through its auspices at the UN, it keeps the evidence of atrocities off the international agenda.
In March 2007 Mugabe's secret police cracked down on his opponents at a public prayer meeting and assaulted the country's opposition leader, Morgan Tsuangirai. Yet the South African ambassador to the UN said Zimbabwe's issues should "remain local," untrammeled by international intervention.
Of course this is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last time, South Africa supports dictatorial regimes. It has consistently voted against censuring the military junta in Burma at the UN and has adopted a defiantly anti-American posture in every international meeting in which it has been present. The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Aziz Pahad, claimed the U.S. was responsible for a "volatile, dangerous, and unpredictable environment" in world affairs and has condemned the "unilateral action" against Iraq.
Although South Africa's Muslim community is small, 1.5 percent of the population, it has become increasingly radicalized. Yet ANC leaders have condoned the action of the radicals noting "a clear distinction between terrorism and legitimate struggle for liberation." On the week of June 4 the ANC called for South Africans to turn out "in solidarity with the Palestinian people."
While the reflexive anti-American and anti-Israeli position is not surprising, what is most noteworthy is South Africa's role in supporting Iran's nuclear ambitions. According to South African officials Iran has an "inalienable right" to a "peaceful nuclear energy program," albeit that is precisely what Iran claims as well. Enriched uranium, of course, has other purposes as well, a point South African leaders certainly understand. That South Africa supports Iran is largely related to oil since Iran supplies almost half of the oil South Africa uses.
If one were to drill down far enough, the ANC's cozy embrace of totalitarians is related to an historic distrust of the West, solidified during the apartheid years. Bubbling to the surface is anti-American sentiment based on a belief the U.S. could have done more to end the hateful apartheid system.
Yet it is instructive that the U.S. relies heavily on South Africa to be the continental leader. And in some ways South Africa is fulfilling this role with its peacekeeping force in the Congo, the Ivory Coast and Burundi and its belief in sound economic principles.
Unfortunately the positives that have emerged are more than neutralized by ANC's complicit support of totalitarian practices that are reminiscent of South Africa's discredited past. As one South African spokesman noted, "South Africa is now the only state in the democratic world aside from Venezuela . . . that is standing behind Iran on everything."
I wonder what Nelson Mandela thinks about this stance. *
"We may not imagine how our lives could be more frustrating and complex -- but Congress can." --Cullen Hightower
Herbert London is author of Decade of Denial, published by Lexington Books, and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
It is a virtual cliche borne of overstatements to suggest the world is interconnected. Technology has created the information economy and, according to Thomas Friedman, has made "the world flat." Presumably the p.c. has made decisions possible in real time, has offered opportunities for labor, commerce, and wealth production on an unprecedented scale, and provided benefits too numerous to identify. Let me illustrate.
Most libraries will soon be book-free and devoid of people. In the cyberspace age most research is done online. Google is in the throes of digitizing 32 million books on its site. For the Google entrepreneurs, content hasn't any value. It is the viewer who is important, the person who wants the content. Needless to say, for authors this may appear as copyright infringement, but for the researcher it is nirvana.
Any topic the mind can conjure is or will soon be researchable. Buildings housing books have become places for repose, or for codgers like me who love dusty stacks. But the library of books and archives is quickly becoming an anachronism.
Similarly, a technology that transmits information in words and pictures can advise and educate. A surgeon at NYU hospital can assist with a surgery in Nairobi; a grandma in New Jersey can provide visual evidence for her cold remedy to a grandchild in Los Angeles.
Behavioral targeting to wit: the preferences of online users are collected and offered to advertisers capable of targeting individual consumers. "Deep pocket inspection boxes" inside an Internet network can track consumer visits and deliver precise data to anyone eager to sell products or influence opinion and taste.
Perhaps the most significant online break-through is the use of "virtual" manufacturing, sometimes described as nanotechnology. Products can now be produced in a virtual world without real mock-ups or materially based forms. From airplanes and cars to buildings and homes, a non-material world of products can be constructed; in fact, is being constructed as Boeing's 777 aircraft indicates.
In a world where information and ideas count more than material resources, the gap between rich and poor will diminish in time. In fact, companies that relied on a stable of scientists or so-called experts will now be challenged by the globalization of the Internet. If a question is posted, thousands of people across the globe will be able to address it in real time. Knowledge will be democratized as the aggregate views of mankind tackle issues from desertification to agricultural yield.
That technology is changing our lives is apparent as the cell phone, iPods, and HDTV demonstrate. But I would be remiss if I mention only the benefits without considering the drawbacks.
A generation that relies on the Internet for research seeks specific answers to specific questions. The large, universal, deeply philosophic matters are overlooked. Moreover, if intellectual property is made available without charge -- the manifest form of Internet transactions -- what is the incentive for scholarship?
Second, the value of the Internet is that anyone can use it (this is the height of egalitarianism), but the major flaw is that anyone can use it. This technology can be employed to spread knowledge, and to spread rumor, to elevate the human experience and to degrade it. The fact that a false rumor can circulate the globe in seconds should give us pause.
Third, by monitoring individual preferences through advanced targeting devices, privacy can be jeopardized. Do I want advertisers to know my desires? Do I want all the information about myself collected and made readily available to a source I do not know?
As Descartes noted when he discussed "the ghost in the machine," technology offers wonders that can influence living, but it is accompanied by a cost. It is one thing to see a world that is flat with opportunity universalized, but it is not far-fetched to envision a Brave New World as well. Clearly the choice is ours, or is it? Technology seemingly has momentum of its own. Once in motion, it is hard to stop. Hence, it is wise to think through the pros and cons of new technology and never lose sight of the law of unintended consequences.
More than a decade ago Ben Wattenberg wrote a book with the marvelous title, The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong. If that book were republished today I would change the title to The Bad News Is The Good News Is Ignored.
It isn't surprising that in the world of media reportage only bad news counts. The problem with this condition is that it feeds a generally one dimensional view of politics, a misperception of the world that promotes weltschmerz and despair.
Most of the reports about Iraq, for example, emphasize sectarian violence, failed policy, and tactical errors. Overlooked, with rare exceptions, is that the "surge" and an emphasis on counterinsurgency have had a profound effect on the war effort. Civilian deaths have fallen 77 percent year over year, while military fatalities have declined by 64 percent.
Needless to say, nirvana has not been achieved, nor is it appropriate to declare victory, but the trend line is clear. Al Qaeda is in retreat. Even many Sunni leaders who had provided sanctuary for Al Qaeda terrorists have turned against them. Recently the Washington Post and the BBC finally admitted that violence in Iraq is abating, but these stories appeared well into the third stage of the campaign, and remain aberrational in media coverage of the war.
Second, it is noteworthy that Democratic candidates for president have placed a great emphasis on income disparity in the nation. The quasi-Marxist contention is that the rich grow richer and the poor, poorer. Yet the evidence provides a somewhat different picture.
The middle class has more disposable wealth than ever before and the lowest quintile has actually improved its annual income. Moreover, the numbers overlook the extraordinary mobility of one group rising and some falling back. But perhaps the most significant finding is that the percentage of those who are poor had declined slightly, and the percentage of those who earn above $150,000 per annum has increased (controlling for inflation).
Needless to say, this condition may not attract the attention of "two Americas" speech-makers since the reality is much less provocative than assertions of economic exploitation. But surely there should be space somewhere in television land where the nuanced story of class income can be described.
Last, it is often said by the panjandrums of television news that most Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs. Presumably workers are distressed by dreary dead-end positions. Yet recent polls tell a different story with more than two thirds arguing that they are satisfied or very satisfied with their present positions.
It should also be noted that most Americans between the ages of 25 and 45 change jobs multiple times, indicating that there are several opportunities to find employment satisfaction. In a society that has made the transition from an industrial base to an economy structured by information, those who obtain skills can dictate to the employment market. This may be the first time in history that labor influences management more than the reverse.
These largely undisclosed, or should I say non-publicized, accounts are part of a consistent media view. In the 1960s it was argued, due in part to Paul Erhich's book The Population Bomb, that the world's population would double in every subsequent decade. Of course, that hasn't happened, but the recantation hasn't either. It was argued four years ago that several islands in the Pacific would have to be evacuated because the ocean would rise due to global warming. But the devastation of these atolls has not occurred and the media organs responsible for the initial accounts are silent.
The drum beat of negativism is unrelenting. There may be some good news stories on t.v. and in newspapers, but it is simply hard to find them. I wonder what kind of effects a steady diet of negative news has on the public. No, I need not wonder; I see it in the mind set of nihilists who preach despair and the end of the American experiment.
As oil approaches $100 a barrel and as some pundits contend the price could reach $200 a barrel, Chicken Littles are persuaded this could undermine Western economies and involve an historic transfer of capital to oil producing nations.
While this could happen, I remain unconvinced. It is not that I am hopelessly polyannish; my guarded optimism is based on several quite logical expectations.
First, an oil price that accelerates the production of synfuel alternatives is not in the best interest of OPEC nations. Saudi economists understand that matter, which explains why production increased in the 1970s when President Carter introduced his synfuels plan.
Second, while demand has been increasing, particularly from China and India, known reserves have also been increasing in East Africa, Prudhoe Bay, and the South Pacific. Of course, crude oil is meaningless without refineries. For the first time in decades the U.S. is intent on doing something about refinery capacity.
Third, the public is increasingly aware of the fact that oil revenues translate into terrorist activity, a condition that explains why Americans are eager to see a largely homegrown fossil fuel industry such as ethanol.
Fourth, steps are being taken to transfer combustion technology reliant on gasoline to hybrid and electric cars.
Fifth, the use of sovereign Arab capital to buy Western companies and financial institutions is engendering widespread uneasiness and dissatisfaction with Middle East oil.
Sixth, there isn't a presidential candidate in either major party who doesn't discuss "energy independence." Of course, it would be far more accurate to say "less of a reliance on Middle East oil," but that's not quite as sexy as energy independence.
Seventh, it is often overlooked that Canada has the world's largest oil reserves, more than Saudi Arabia. However, much of it is in the form of tar sands, difficult and expensive to extract. However, at $100 a barrel, this fossil fuel is starting to look economic.
One of these conditions alone might not be sufficient to change the oil pricing structure. In the aggregate, however, a scenario has emerged in which high oil prices are probably not sustainable.
Another independent variable that influences oil price is the weakness of the dollar. But that too is more a temporary condition rather than a long-term prospect. When the Fed decides to control dollar production and loose credit, the dollar's trajectory will undoubtedly change. As one might guess the weak dollar is also having a salutary effect on the current account balance since U.S. exports appear very reasonable.
Most significantly, the average person realizes something is amiss. We buy oil from sheiks who fuel terrorism and then we have to employ tax-generated funds to fight the terrorists. There is something wrong with this picture. Mr. and Mrs. Man and Woman On The Street are starting to get it. And when they get it, the pols cannot be far behind.
While $100 a barrel for oil seems like an overwhelming obstacle for business development and economic growth, it is not here for the long term. Markets adapt to price escalation. The oil market is in the spring of this adjustment, but, I'm convinced, it will flower. When it does, I'd like to be among the first to say "goodbye OPEC." It was a cartel that lost its way, and won't be remembered for anything except the manipulation of the market for a short time. That, and making sheiks more wealthy than logic would suggest they had any right to be.
The veil of secrecy surrounding the Israel bombing on September 6 of what is alleged to be a Syrian nuclear facility is understandable. Israel is not willing to disclose its military capabilities and technical advantages.
On the other hand, the secrecy is having and will continue to have a profoundly negative effect on United States' diplomatic credibility. Since North Korea was involved in one way or another with the Syrian facility either by providing enriched uranium, nuclear technology, or plutonium, it makes sense to discuss Kim Jung Il's pernicious role in exporting nuclear material.
Yet the State Department, leading a discussion in the Six Party talks over North Korea's nuclear capability, does not want to upset the so-called apple-cart by describing North Korea's malevolent influence. Silence in this case is deadly, but the State Department's goal is an agreement, however empty the ultimate result might be.
What hasn't been seriously entertained is the influence of silence on the talks in Annapolis and back channel conversations with the Iranians. If the United States chooses to avert its gaze from North Korea's mischief, the message being conveyed is that you can get away with a great deal if you negotiate with the U.S. and offer the illusion of conciliation.
In fact, diplomacy has become a weapon used against this government by our enemies, mindful of our energetic pursuit of treaties. This is the 21st century version of the Munich Accord, with appeasement the goal for State Department officials who do not know how to say "no."
Moreover, the hidden message at Annapolis is the U.S. wants a deal, even if it means giving tacit support to terrorists and selling out our allies. What other conclusion can one reach if we are unwilling to blow the whistle on North Korean nuclear exports?
For some who believe it always pays to talk to adversaries (Barack Obama comes to mind), it should be noted that negotiations can serve as a cover for violent acts. In the haste to produce an "understanding" the U.S. can overlook or rationalize any action that might jeopardize a treaty. Yet as history has demonstrated, treaties are worthless if one of the parties chooses to ignore its terms. Think of the Kellogg-Briand pact or the Locarno Treaty.
It should be noted that in addition to the dissemination of nuclear material, the North Koreans have provided every rogue state in the Middle East with missile technology to deliver weapons of mass destruction. The SCUD arsenal in Iran, for example, has its provenance in North Korea.
There are times in foreign affairs when silence is golden. As already noted, I can appreciate Israel's reluctance to discuss details of its September 6 attack. But the U.S. is in a different position vis-a-vis North Korea and its involvement with possible Syrian nuclear material. This disclosure warrants transparency in my judgment.
Unfortunately, the State Department wants deals more than disclosure. As a consequence, the full story of North Korea's involvement with Syria won't be known in the short term. But there is something we do know: Israel would not have attacked unless the material in question was a direct threat to its security, and Syria would not have cleaned up the site unless the material might prove to be an embarrassment.
What we also know is North Korea's involvement in this imbroglio, since a North Korean vessel carrying sensitive material was monitored by Israeli surveillance satellites days before it arrived in Syria. The key question that remains open is why the State Department maintains secrecy about this matter. But, then again, I think I know the answer to this question.
The logic of "congestion pricing," to wit: charging cars an exorbitant sum for driving into the inner city in order to avoid traffic congestion, is compelling. It flows from the free market logic that if you tax something, you get less of it. In this case, it would be fewer cars on the city streets.
London's mayor argues this has been a grand success, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City agrees. In fact, he has lobbied energetically with Albany legislators to get approval for his plan.
Unfortunately, what Mayor Bloomberg has not considered is the law of unintended consequences. When asked how people would navigate about midtown Manhattan where congestion pricing would be enforced, he said, "they will use public transportation." Here's the rub.
For anyone using the Number 4 or 5 on the East Side Subway Line, it is apparent the trains are filled to capacity, alas beyond capacity, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. In fact, as a regular rider, I can attest to the condition.
At the 42nd Street Station there isn't even standing room on the platform. Mayhem invariably results when those getting off the local Number 6 train seek a downtown express.
Now the mayor contends that the subway system can accommodate thousands of additional passengers. Is he kidding? Presumably the mayor who uses this line on his way to City Hall, or so he says, claims the trains are "not crowded."
I find it hard to believe he uses the same line I do. On my several subway trips each weekday, I find myself converted into a sardine. I'm obliged to breathe the fumes of recently devoured onions and hair that hasn't been washed in weeks. There are times I simply get off at the nearest station to breathe.
Needless to say, intimacy is part of the New York experience. Most people conduct themselves with reasonable respect for others, and remarkably there are few subway injuries and even fewer fatalities.
Yet, as I see it, the system is at capacity. Another 50,000 users would break this precarious balance. Mayor Bloomberg may think the East Side Line can accommodate others, but he is dead wrong.
Congestion pricing is a theory in search of empirical evidence. What it may restrain on the avenues and streets, it will surely exaggerate in the subway system. Perhaps this underground congestion will render MTA efficiencies; perhaps additional trains will be employed; perhaps, as well, the Second Avenue Line will be completed. But these conditions fall into the realm of wishful thinking. What we have is likely to be what we will have, at least for the foreseeable future. Hence anticipating an illusory set of new arrangements is simply daydreaming.
Therefore, despite my predilection to embrace free market ideas, I do not believe congestion pricing can work in New York. For residents in Area Code 10021 who do not use the subway system, and live in Mayor Bloomberg's insulated New York City, the idea has resonance. But for those of us riding daily on the Numbers 4 and 5 congestion pricing is a thoroughly impractical concept.
In one respect, it reminds me of the 5 deposit on bottles and cans which, based on the logic of the market, was designed to clean the streets of litter. What the promoters of this idea neglected to consider is that surveyors of bottles and cans would rummage through plastic bags of garbage, spreading filth across streets and placing greater demands on the Sanitation Department than was formerly the case.
As one of the great philosophers of the 20th century, Fats Waller, once said, "One never knows, do one." Theories do not always work as we expect them to, and, one way or another, unintended consequences usually enter the social equation. *
"You can't be for big government, big taxes, and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy." --Ronald Reagan