“Classical liberalism” and contemporary conservatism 0

We find this essay by Yoram Hazony peculiarly interesting, so we are posting it in full.

It was published in the Wall Street Journal two days ago on October 13, 2017.

We have long assumed that contemporary Western conservatism is “liberal” in the sense that John Locke and Adam Smith used the term. This essay enlightens us about that. We discover that we are not “classical liberals” after all.

And we are surprised to learn from Yoram Hazony that Friedrich Hayek, whom we much admire and often quote, was at one time an advocate for world government. (We have called world government “the ultimate nightmare” in an essay listed under Pages in our margin). The same goes for Ludwig von Mises. And we are less surprised but still concerned to learn that Charles Krauthammer is too.

We offer no criticism, make no comment, except to say that, like Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, we still “place religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government”.

Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?

American conservatism is having something of an identity crisis. Most conservatives supported Donald Trump last November. But many prominent conservative intellectuals—journalists, academics and think-tank personalities—have entrenched themselves in bitter opposition. Some have left the Republican Party, while others are waging guerrilla warfare against a Republican administration. Longtime friendships have been ended and resignations tendered. Talk of establishing a new political party alternates with declarations that Mr. Trump will be denied the GOP nomination in 2020.

Those in the “Never Trump” camp say the cause of the split is the president—that he’s mentally unstable, morally unspeakable, a leftist populist, a rightist authoritarian, a danger to the republic. One prominent Republican told me he is praying for Mr. Trump to have a brain aneurysm so the nightmare can end.

But the conservative unity that Never Trumpers seek won’t be coming back, even if the president leaves office prematurely. An apparently unbridgeable ideological chasm is opening between two camps that were once closely allied. Mr. Trump’s rise is the effect, not the cause, of this rift.

There are two principal causes: first, the increasingly rigid ideology conservative intellectuals have promoted since the end of the Cold War; second, a series of events — from the failed attempt to bring democracy to Iraq to the implosion of Wall Street — that have made the prevailing conservative ideology seem naive and reckless to the broader conservative public.

A good place to start thinking about this is a 1989 essay in the National Interest by Charles Krauthammer. The Cold War was coming to an end, and Mr. Krauthammer proposed it should be supplanted by what he called “Universal Dominion” (the title of the essay): America was going to create a Western “super-sovereign” that would establish peace and prosperity throughout the world. The cost would be “the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general.”

William Kristol and Robert Kagan presented a similar view in their 1996 essay “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs, which proposed an American “benevolent global hegemony” that would have “preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain”.

Then, as now, conservative commentators insisted that the world should want such an arrangement because the U.S. knows best: The American way of politics, based on individual liberties and free markets, is the right way for human beings to live everywhere. Japan and Germany, after all, were once-hostile authoritarian nations that had flourished after being conquered and acquiescing in American political principles. With the collapse of communism, dozens of countries — from Eastern Europe to East Asia to Latin America — seemed to need, and in differing degrees to be open to, American tutelage of this kind. As the bearer of universal political truth, the U.S. was said to have an obligation to ensure that every nation was coaxed, maybe even coerced, into adopting its principles.

Any foreign policy aimed at establishing American universal dominion faces considerable practical challenges, not least because many nations don’t want to live under U.S. authority. But the conservative intellectuals who have set out to promote this Hegelian world revolution must also contend with a problem of different kind: Their aim cannot be squared with the political tradition for which they are ostensibly the spokesmen.

For centuries, Anglo-American conservatism has favored individual liberty and economic freedom. But as the Oxford historian of conservatism Anthony Quinton emphasized, this tradition is empiricist and regards successful political arrangements as developing through an unceasing process of trial and error. As such, it is deeply skeptical of claims about universal political truths. The most important conservative figures — including John Fortescue, John Selden, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton — believed that different political arrangements would be fitting for different nations, each in keeping with the specific conditions it faces and traditions it inherits. What works in one country can’t easily be transplanted.

On that view, the U.S. Constitution worked so well because it preserved principles the American colonists had brought with them from England. The framework — the balance between the executive and legislative branches, the bicameral legislature, the jury trial and due process, the bill of rights — was already familiar from the English constitution. Attempts to transplant Anglo-American political institutions in places such as Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Iraq have collapsed time and again, because the political traditions needed to maintain them did not exist. Even in France, Germany and Italy, representative government failed repeatedly into the mid-20th century (recall the collapse of France’s Fourth Republic in 1958), and has now been shunted aside by a European Union whose notorious “democracy deficit” reflects a continuing inability to adopt Anglo-American constitutional norms.

The “universal dominion” agenda is flatly contradicted by centuries of Anglo-American conservative political thought. This may be one reason that some post-Cold War conservative intellectuals have shifted to calling themselves “classical liberals”. Last year Paul Ryan insisted: “I really call myself a classical liberal more than a conservative.” Mr. Kristol tweeted in August: “Conservatives could ‘rebrand’ as liberals. Seriously. We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education.”

What is “classical liberalism,” and how does it differ from conservatism? As Quinton pointed out, the liberal tradition descends from Hobbes and Locke, who were not empiricists but rationalists: Their aim was to deduce universally valid political principles from self-evident axioms, as in mathematics.

In his “Second Treatise on Government” (1689), Locke asserts that universal reason teaches the same political truths to all human beings; that all individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal”; and that obligation to political institutions arises only from the consent of the individual. From these assumptions, Locke deduces a political doctrine that he supposes must hold good in all times and places.

The term “classical liberal” came into use in 20th-century America to distinguish the supporters of old-school laissez-faire from the welfare-state liberalism of figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Modern classical liberals, inheriting the rationalism of Hobbes and Locke, believe they can speak authoritatively to the political needs of every human society, everywhere. In his seminal work, “Liberalism” (1927), the great classical-liberal economist Ludwig von Mises thus advocates a “world super-state really deserving of the name”, which will arise if we “succeed in creating throughout the world . . . nothing less than unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions”.

Friedrich Hayek, the leading classical-liberal theorist of the 20th century, likewise argued, in a 1939 essay, for replacing independent nations with a world-wide federation: “The abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.”

Classical liberalism thus offers ground for imposing a single doctrine on all nations for their own good. It provides an ideological basis for an American universal dominion.

By contrast, Anglo-American conservatism historically has had little interest in putatively self-evident political axioms. Conservatives want to learn from experience what actually holds societies together, benefits them and destroys them. That empiricism has persuaded most Anglo-American conservative thinkers of the importance of traditional Protestant institutions such as the independent national state, biblical religion and the family.

As an English Protestant, Locke could have endorsed these institutions as well. But his rationalist theory provides little basis for understanding their role in political life. Even today liberals are plagued by this failing: The rigidly Lockean assumptions of classical-liberal writers such as Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand place the nation, the family and religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government. Students who grow up reading these brilliant writers develop an excellent grasp of how an economy works. But they are often marvelously ignorant about much else, having no clue why a flourishing state requires a cohesive nation, or how such bonds are established through family and religious ties.

The differences between the classical-liberal and conservative traditions have immense consequences for policy. Establishing democracy in Egypt or Iraq looks doable to classical liberals because they assume that human reason is everywhere the same, and that a commitment to individual liberties and free markets will arise rapidly once the benefits have been demonstrated and the impediments removed. Conservatives, on the other hand, see foreign civilizations as powerfully motivated — for bad reasons as well as good ones — to fight the dissolution of their way of life and the imposition of American values.

Integrating millions of immigrants from the Middle East also looks easy to classical liberals, because they believe virtually everyone will quickly see the advantages of American (or European) ways and accept them upon arrival. Conservatives recognize that large-scale assimilation can happen only when both sides are highly motivated to see it through. When that motivation is weak or absent, conservatives see an unassimilated migration, resulting in chronic mutual hatred and violence, as a perfectly plausible outcome.

Since classical liberals assume reason is everywhere the same, they see no great danger in “depreciating” national independence and outsourcing power to foreign bodies. American and British conservatives see such schemes as destroying the unique political foundation upon which their traditional freedoms are built.

Liberalism and conservatism had been opposed political positions since the day liberal theorizing first appeared in England in the 17th century. During the 20th-century battles against totalitarianism, necessity brought their adherents into close alliance. Classical liberals and conservatives fought together, along with communists, against Nazism. After 1945 they remained allies against communism. Over many decades of joint struggle, their differences were relegated to a back burner, creating a “fusionist” movement (as William F. Buckley’s National Review called it) in which one and all saw themselves as “conservatives”.

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, circumstances have changed. Margaret Thatcher’s ouster from power in 1990 marked the end of serious resistance in Britain to the coming European “super-sovereign”. Within a few years the classical liberals’ agenda of universal dominion was the only game in town — ascendant not only among American Republicans and British Tories but even among center-left politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Only it didn’t work. China, Russia and large portions of the Muslim world resisted a “new world order” whose express purpose was to bring liberalism to their countries. The attempt to impose a classical-liberal regime in Iraq by force, followed by strong-arm tactics aimed at bringing democracy to Egypt and Libya, led to the meltdown of political order in these states as well as in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, the world banking crisis made a mockery of classical liberals’ claim to know how to govern a world-wide market and bring prosperity to all. The shockingly rapid disintegration of the American family once again raised the question of whether classical liberalism has the resources to answer any political question outside the economic sphere.

Brexit and Mr. Trump’s rise are the direct result of a quarter-century of classical-liberal hegemony over the parties of the right. Neither Mr. Trump nor the Brexiteers were necessarily seeking a conservative revival. But in placing a renewed nationalism at the center of their politics, they shattered classical liberalism’s grip, paving the way for a return to empiricist conservatism. Once you start trying to understand politics by learning from experience rather than by deducing your views from 17th-century rationalist dogma, you never know what you may end up discovering.

Mr. Hazony is president of the Jerusalem-based Herzl Institute. His book “The Virtue of Nationalism” will be published next year by Basic.

 

(Hat-tip to our reader and commenter, Cogito)

The first labor of Trump 3

… undoing Obama’s “deal” with Iran?

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On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 countries finalized a nuclear agreement with Iran. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced: “Today major world powers recognized Iran’s nuclear program. Our dreams have come true.”

Of all the bad that Obama has wrought upon the world, the worst may be his empowering of the Islamic regime of Iran.

Secretary of State John Kerry, under the orders of Islam-loving President Obama, concluded a “deal” with the Iranian regime.

This is what they brought the United States to agree to.

The quotations and information come from Discover the Networks:

The key elements of the deal were the following:

Iran will be permitted to keep more than 5,000 centrifuges, one-third of which will continue to spin in perpetuity. (Note: Pakistan created a nuclear bomb with just 3,000 centrifuges.)

Iran will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief. (In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice conceded the following: “Yes, it is real, it is possible, and, in fact, we should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now.”)

Russia and China will be permitted to supply Iran with weapons. Indeed, Russia has agreed to sell Iran S-300 anti-missile rocket systems in exchange for 500,000 barrels of oil. As the InternationalBusiness Times reports, “Russia and China will continue to make weapons deals with Iran under U.N. procedures.” According to political analyst Charles Krauthammer, “the net effect of this capitulation will be not only to endanger our Middle East allies now under threat from Iran and its proxies, but to endanger our own naval forces in the Persian Gulf.” “Imagine,” he added, “how Iran’s acquisition of the most advanced anti-ship missiles would threaten our control over the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, waterways we have kept open for international commerce for a half century.”

Iran will have the discretion to block international inspectors from military installations and will be given 14 days’ notice for any request to visit any site. If Iran in fact denies access to any suspected site, that denial is then adjudicated by a committee on which Iran sits as a member. Next, the matter goes through several other bodies, on all of which Iran likewise sits. All told, the entire process may take up to 24 days.

Only inspectors from countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran will be given access to Iranian nuclear sites. Thus there will be no American inspectors. The embargo on the sale of weapons to Iran will be officially lifted in 5 years, though in reality it has not been enforced at all in recent years under Obama.

Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program will remain intact and unaffected; indeed it was never even discussed as an issue in the negotiations.

The heavy water reactor in Arak and the underground nuclear facility in Fordo will remain open, violating the “red lines” that Obama has repeatedly cited.

Iran will not be required to disclose information about its past nuclear research and development.

The U.S. will provide technical assistance to help Iran develop its nuclear program, supposedly for peaceful domestic purposes.

Sanctions will lifted on critical parts of Iran’s military, including a previously existing travel ban against Qasem Suleimani, leader of the terrorist Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Suleimani was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in the Iraq War.

Iran will not be required to release American prisoners like Iranian-American Christian missionary Saeed Abedini, Iranian-American Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, or U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati. The P5+1 nations “and possibly other states, as appropriate, are prepared to cooperate with Iran on the implementation of nuclear security guidelines and best practices”. This would include “co-operation through training and workshops to strengthen Iran’s ability to protect against, and respond to nuclear security threats, including sabotage, as well as to enable effective and sustainable nuclear security and physical protection systems“.

Last and worst – we must add – the “deal” allows Iran to make nuclear weapons freely ten years from the date of the “deal”.

What, you may ask, does the US get out of the “deal”?

Answer: Nothing but enmity, hatred, and threats.

The ruler of Iran, [the Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini] Khamenei, is quoted as saying that Iran needs to plan to fight the US regardless of whether there is an agreement. The president of Iran, Rouhani, stands at the head of the march of hatred in the streets of Tehran, in which US and Israeli flags were burned, and in which many chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.

Concessions [were made by the US] even on issues that had been marked as red lines … which is a bad deal in its own right.

It [the deal] paves Iran’s way to many nuclear bombs and gives it hundreds of billions of dollars for its terrorism and conquest machine, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world.

(The full text of the “deal” may be found here.)

Pusillanimous punditry 1

On Fridays, Bret Baier, in his Special Report on Fox News, asks his panel of pundits who they each think is “the winner and the loser of the week”.

On the Friday of the week in which Donald Trump proved himself one of the biggest winners in recorded history, three days after his election to the most powerful position in the world, NOT ONE of the pundits picked him as the “winner of the week”! (One of the panelists, a woman, actually chose his defeated rival Hillary Clinton as her “winner’ – for being the “first woman nominee” for the presidency.)

Why? We guess because none of them likes Trump. So … they advertised what poor judgment they have. We don’t remember who they all were, but one of them, sad to say, was the wise, humorous, cultured, judicious Charles Krauthammer.

What’s more, in the week before the election the whole panel, which again included Krauthammer, placed their biggest bets on Hillary Clinton winning the election. The nasty, corrupt, criminal Hillary Clinton. And NOT ONE of them said what a disaster that would be.

The lesson we learnt from these events: don’t listen to pundits.

Posted under media, United States by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

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The new Republicanism 0

It is more than likely now that Donald Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee in the presidential election this November.

It is therefore very likely that the Republican platform will be what he wants it to be. And many Republicans, especially the go-along-to-get-along pillars of the Grand Old Party, most prominently its leaders in Congress, do not like what he wants. They repudiate him and his ideas. They say he is unfaithful to conservative principles and will alter long-standing Republican policies. But if their choice is between changing principles and policies to those of Trump or breaking the Party asunder by thwarting the will of the millions of voters he attracts, they will accept – are slowly coming round to  accepting – Trump and his vision for America. (While probably still planning to knock it into a more familiar and acceptable shape.)

What do his conservative Republican critics object to in particular?

In an article hostile to Donald Trump, but accepting that he is almost certain to be the Republican nominee, Linda Chavez writes at Townhall:

Trump represents a repudiation of the Republican Party’s commitment to smaller government, free trade and an internationalist foreign policy.

Let’s consider these commitments one by one, and assess how far Trump is likely to change them, and how bad the change would be.

Smaller government is certainly a cherished principle of conservative Republicanism. We list it among our core conservative ideals, along with individual freedom, a market economy, and strong defense. Regretfully we admit that government is not likely ever again to be actually small, but does Trump not say anything that suggests he would reduce the hugely overblown bureaucracy oppressing Americans now? He does. He says he will lower taxes. Lower taxes must mean some shrinking of government. And that’s probably the most any conservative Republican could do.

It’s on free trade that we have a difference of opinion with Trump. He has indicated that he would match tariff barriers with tariff barriers. We think that’s counter-productive. But it’s not enough to induce us to call Trump a wrecker of American prosperity. In fact, most of his economic thinking is likely to increase American prosperity very considerably. He would stop foreign aid unless America got something back for it. He would make those countries that want American military protection contribute to the cost of it. And he has plans for job creation which we’re inclined to trust because, as an extremely successful businessman, he has done it.

As for the Republican “internationalist foreign policy” – we’re coming to that.

Here are some points from Charles Krauthammer’s syndicated column on Trump’s recent foreign policy speech. Much as we respect Charles Krauthammer, on this rare occasion we disagree with him.

On the Republican side … foreign policy has been the subject of furious debate. To which Donald Trump has contributed significantly, much of it off-the-cuff, contradictory and confused. Hence his foreign policy speech on Wednesday. It was meant to make him appear consistent, serious and presidential. …

Its major theme, announced right at the top [was]: America First. Classically populist and invariably popular, it is nonetheless quite fraught. On the one hand, it can be meaningless — isn’t every president trying to advance American interests? …

On the other hand, America First does have a history. In 1940, when Britain was fighting for its life and Churchill was begging for U.S. help, it was the name of the group most virulently opposed to U.S. intervention. It disbanded — totally discredited — four days after Pearl Harbor. …

The irony is … it is the underlying theme of [Obama’s] foreign policy — which Trump constantly denounces as a series of disasters. Obama, like Trump, is animated by the view that we are overextended and overinvested abroad. …

Both the left and right have a long history of advocating American retreat and retrenchment. The difference is that liberals want to come home because they think we are not good enough for the world. Conservatives want to wash their hands of the world because they think the world is not good enough for us.

That’s nicely put! Our disagreements will come below.

For Obama, we are morally unworthy to act as world hegemon. Our hands are not clean. He’s gone abroad confessing our various sins — everything from the Iranian coup of 1953 to our unkind treatment of Castro’s Cuba to the ultimate blot, Hiroshima, a penitential visit to which Obama is currently considering.

Trump would be rightly appalled by such a self-indicting trip. His foreign policy stems from a proud nationalism that believes that these recalcitrant tribes and nations are unworthy of American expenditures of blood and treasure.

At least Krauthammer calls it “a proud nationalism”. Linda Chavez, in her article, likens Trump’s nationalism to disreputable [?] European nationalist groups which are better described as tribal. She seems to forget that the United States has for centuries been a melting-pot, and the American nation has been – until very recently under Obama – the least tribal in the world. And Trump’s “nationalism” is better described as patriotism. That’s what an American’s “proud nationalism” really is.

This has been the underlying view of conservative isolationism … It is not without its attractions. Trump’s version, however, is inconsistent and often contradictory. After all, he pledged to bring stability to the Middle East. How do you do that without presence, risk and expenditures (financial and military)? He attacked Obama for letting Iran become a “great power.” But doesn’t resisting that automatically imply engagement?

More incoherent still is Trump’s insistence on being unpredictable. An asset perhaps in real estate deals, but in a Hobbesian world American allies rely on American consistency, often as a matter of life or death. Yet Trump excoriated the Obama-Clinton foreign policy for losing the trust of our allies precisely because of its capriciousness. The tilt toward Iran. The red line in Syria. Canceling the Eastern European missile defense. Abandoning Hosni Mubarak.

Trump’s scripted, telepromptered speech was intended to finally clarify his foreign policy. It produced instead a jumble. The basic principle seems to be this: Continue the inexorable Obama-Clinton retreat, though for reasons of national self-interest, rather than of national self-doubt. And except when, with studied inconsistency, he decides otherwise.

Is Trump’s patriotism a “version of isolationism”?  Is it “inconsistent and often contradictory”? By “unpredictable” did he mean what Krauthammer is taking his words to mean?

What did Trump actually say?

We quote his speech in part (find all of it here):

America first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration. But to chart our path forward, we must first briefly take a look back. We have a lot to be proud of.

In the 1940s we saved the world. The greatest generation beat back the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. Then we saved the world again. This time, from totalitarianism and communism. The Cold War lasted for decades but, guess what, we won and we won big. …

Does he regret those American involvements? Not at all. He is proud of them.

Unfortunately, after the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. … We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.

With that we could not agree more strongly. It is not possible to turn states like Iraq and Afghanistan – Arab states, Islamic states – into Western style democracies.

And as for his comment on Obama’s actions – they have been “unpredictable” in that they make no logical sense. Krauthammer chooses them as examples of unpredictability to condemn Trump’s recommendation of it, when in fact Trump means something entirely different – as we shall see.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill that void much to their really unjust enrichment.

They have benefited so much, so sadly, for us. Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy.

Trump goes on to “identify weaknesses in our foreign policy” and to say how he would fix them. Among them (they are worth reading in full) is this:

We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies, something that we’ve never seen before in the history of our country. He negotiated a disastrous deal with Iran, and then we watched them ignore its terms even before the ink was dry. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, cannot be allowed. Remember that, cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And under a Trump administration, will never, ever be allowed to have that nuclear weapon …

At the end of his analysis and outline of his intentions he promises:

 This will all change when I become president.

To our friends and allies, I say America is going to be strong again. America is going to be reliable again. It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again. It’s going to be a friend again. We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests and the shared interests of our allies.

Does that sound isolationist?

We need a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam.Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States and indeed the world. Events may require the use of military force, but it’s also a philosophical struggle, like our long struggle in the Cold War.

Absolutely right! And no other politician, as far as we can recall, has said it before.

He goes on to speak of “working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world”, which is one of the few points on which we disagree. There can be no such thing as an American ally in the Muslim world, precisely because “the philosophical struggle” prohibits it. Islam is ideologically opposed to the West.

… And then there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now. But they’re going to be gone. ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly. They will be gone very, very quickly.

So that is what Trump means by “unpredicatble”. A commander-in-chief does not announce to his country’s enemy just when its army will stop fighting and when he will withdraw his troops – as Obama has done. It is a military absurdity!

He goes on to say “we have to rebuild our military and our economy”.

The Russians and Chinese have rapidly expanded their military capability, but look at what’s happened to us. Our nuclear weapons arsenal, our ultimate deterrent, has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal. And it has to happen immediately. Our active duty armed forces have shrunk from 2 million in 1991 to about 1.3 million today. The Navy has shrunk from over 500 ships to 272 ships during this same period of time. The Air Force is about one-third smaller than 1991. Pilots flying B-52s in combat missions today. These planes are older than virtually everybody in this room.

And what are we doing about this? President Obama has proposed a 2017 defense budget that in real dollars, cuts nearly 25 percent from what we were spending in 2011. Our military is depleted and we’re asking our generals and military leaders to worry about global warming.

We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest, single investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned, and I mean unquestioned, by anybody and everybody.

Does that sound “isolationist”?

But we will look for savings and spend our money wisely. In this time of mounting debt, right now we have so much debt that nobody even knows how to address the problem. But I do. No one dollar can be wasted. Not one single dollar can we waste. We’re also going to have to change our trade, immigration and economic policies to make our economy strong again. And to put Americans first again.

But, he says …

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Fixing our relations with China is another important step — and really toward creating an even more prosperous period of time. China respects strength and by letting them take advantage of us economically, which they are doing like never before, we have lost all of their respect.

We have a massive trade deficit with China, a deficit that we have to find a way quickly, and I mean quickly, to balance. A strong and smart America is an America that will find a better friend in China, better than we have right now. Look at what China is doing in the South China Sea. They’re not supposed to be doing it. …

To be militarily strong again, and at the same time try to negotiate better relations with an aggressive Russia and China – is that “contradictory” or is it speaking softly while carrying a big stick? 

I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must only fight to win. …

Our power will be used if others do not play by the rules. In other words, if they do not treat us fairly. Our friends and enemies must know that if I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce that line in the sand. Believe me.

My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas … We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing

No country has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must start doing the same. We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony.  I am skeptical of international unions  … And under my administration, we will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs. …

I will view as president the world through the clear lens of American interests. I will be America’s greatest defender and most loyal champion. …

The world is most peaceful and most prosperous when America is strongest. America will continue and continue forever to play the role of peacemaker. We will always help save lives and indeed humanity itself, but to play the role, we must make America strong again. … We have to and we will make America great again.

Where are the alleged “inconsistencies”? Where is the “jumble”. (We urge doubters to read the whole speech and tell us if they find any inconsistencies or contradictions that we have overlooked.)

The speech as a whole could be taken as a manifesto of the new Republicanism – what the Republican Party will stand for under the leadership of Donald Trump. He will take the Party forward, but not in the direction it has long wanted to go. It wanted to go, but did not move. He will make both good and bad decisions, as leaders generally do. But he will make them in the interests of a strong and prosperous America, and that is an America that is good for the world.

Putin projects Russian power, Obama wags his finger 2

Russia has brought fighter planes, air-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft batteries to Syria. He has put military “boots on the ground” there too. The aerial bombing and ground fighting have started. Command centers have been established. Russia is there to stay.

An editorial in Investor’s Business Daily deplores the fact that Russia is now the dominant great power in the Middle East.

And it is a fact. Obama has handed the region to Putin as on a golden platter.

And what’s worse, with Russia comes China and Iran. We can’t see Putin sharing power with any other country for very long.  But right now, the Vast Nasty Country Conspiracy is in full operation.  (See here, here, and here.)

Moscow won’t just be destroying IS; it will be replacing us as dominant power in the Mideast, where the oil the free world needs is. And Putin won’t be alone.

According to Russian Sen. Igor Morozov, who sits on Russia’s international affairs committee, Chinese forces are joining Russia against IS. “China has joined our military operation in Syria,” Morozov said in Pravda. “A Chinese cruiser has already entered the Mediterranean, and an aircraft carrier follows it.”

With Iranian Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani believed to have met with Russian officials this month, the “genuinely broad” coalition against terrorism in which “Muslim countries are to play a key role” may end up as Russia, China and Iran.

Meanwhile, London’s Daily Express reports on German reporter and author Jurgen Todenhofer’s book, “Inside IS — Ten Days in the Islamic State.”

In it, he warns that the free world “is drastically underestimating the power of ISIS’,  which “intends to get its hands on nuclear weapons”,  then undertake “the largest religious cleansing in history”. Years ago, all these would have seemed laughable predictions. But Obama’s new world of American decline is full of such terrifying surprises.

Charles Krauthammer thinks, as we do, that Putin has little interest in defeating the Islamic State.

He writes, also at IBD:

If it had the wit, the Obama administration would be not angered, but appropriately humiliated. President Obama has, once again, been totally outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin.

Two days earlier at the United Nations, Obama had welcomed the return, in force, of the Russian military to the Middle East — for the first time in decades — in order to help fight the Islamic State.

The ruse was transparent from the beginning. Russia is not in Syria to fight the Islamic State. The Kremlin was sending fighter planes, air-to-air missiles and SA-22 anti-aircraft batteries. Against an Islamic State that has no air force, no planes, no helicopters?

Russia then sent reconnaissance drones over Western Idlib and Hama, where there are no Islamic State fighters. Followed by bombing attacks on Homs and other opposition strongholds that had nothing to do with the Islamic State.

Indeed, some of these bombed fighters were U.S. trained and equipped.

Asked if we didn’t have an obligation to support our allies on the ground, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter bumbled that Russia’s actions exposed its policy as self-contradictory.

Carter made it sound as if the Russian offense was to have perpetrated an oxymoron, rather than a provocation — and a direct challenge to what’s left of the U.S. policy of supporting a moderate opposition.

The whole point of Russian intervention is to maintain Assad in power. Putin has no interest in fighting the Islamic State.

Indeed, the second round of Russian air attacks was on rival insurgents opposed to the Islamic State. The Islamic State is nothing but a pretense for Russian intervention.

Just three weeks ago, Obama chided Russia for its military buildup, wagging his finger that it was “doomed to failure”. Yet by Monday he was publicly welcoming Russia to join the fight against the Islamic State.

He not only acquiesced to the Russian buildup, he held an ostentatious meeting with Putin on the subject, thereby marking the ignominious collapse of Obama’s vaunted campaign to isolate Putin diplomatically over Crimea.

Putin then showed his utter contempt for Obama by launching his air campaign against our erstwhile anti-Assad allies not 48 hours after meeting Obama.

Which the U.S. found out about when a Russian general knocked on the door of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and delivered a brusque demarche announcing that the attack would begin within an hour and warning the U.S. to get out of the way.

In his subsequent news conference, Secretary Carter averred that he found such Russian behavior “unprofessional.”

Good grief. Russia, with its inferior military and hemorrhaging economy, had just eaten Carter’s lunch, seizing the initiative and exposing American powerlessness — and the secretary of defense deplores what? Russia’s lack of professional etiquette.

Makes you want to weep.

Consider: When Obama became president, the surge in Iraq had succeeded and the U.S. had emerged as the dominant regional actor, able to project power throughout the region.

Last Sunday, Iraq announced the establishment of a joint intelligence-gathering center with Iran, Syria and Russia, symbolizing the new “Shiite-crescent” alliance from Iran across the northern Middle East to the Mediterranean, under the umbrella of Russia, the rising regional hegemon.

Russian planes roam free over Syria attacking Assad’s opposition as we stand by helpless. Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary of state beseeches the Russians to negotiate “de-conflict” arrangements — so that we and they can each bomb our own targets safely. It has come to this.

Why is Putin moving so quickly and so brazenly? Because he’s got only 16 more months to push on the open door that is Obama.

He knows he’ll never again see an American president such as this — one who once told the General Assembly that “no one nation can or should try to dominate another nation” and told it again last Monday of “believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.”

They cannot? Has he looked at the world around him — from Homs to Kunduz, from Sanaa to Donetsk — ablaze with conflict and coercion?

Wouldn’t you take advantage of these last 16 months if you were Putin, facing a man living in a faculty-lounge fantasy world?

Where was Obama when Putin began bombing Syria? Leading a U.N. meeting on countering violent extremism.

Go on, weep.

That’s what we’re doing, figuratively at least.

The bad decision about Iraq 6

Charles Krauthammer’s column today in the Washington Post says what needs to be said about a stupid question that “gotcha” journalists are asking presidential candidates.

And he tells them what the right question should be.

Ramadi falls. The Iraqi army flees. The great 60-nation anti-Islamic State coalition so grandly proclaimed by the Obama administration is nowhere to be seen. Instead, it’s the defense minister of Iran who flies into Baghdad, an unsubtle demonstration of who’s in charge — while the U.S. air campaign proves futile and America’s alleged strategy for combating the Islamic State is in freefall.

It gets worse. The Gulf states’ top leaders, betrayed and bitter, ostentatiously boycott President Obama’s failed Camp David summit. “We were America’s best friend in the Arab world for 50 years,” laments Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief.

Note: “were,” not “are.”

We are scraping bottom. Following six years of President Obama’s steady and determined withdrawal from the Middle East, America’s standing in the region has collapsed. And yet the question incessantly asked of the various presidential candidates is not about that. It’s a retrospective hypothetical: Would you have invaded Iraq in 2003 if you had known then what we know now?

First, the question is not just a hypothetical but an inherently impossible hypothetical. It contradicts itself. Had we known there were no weapons of mass destruction, the very question would not have arisen. The premise of the war — the basis for going to the U.N., to the Congress and, indeed, to the nation — was Iraq’s possession of WMD in violation of the central condition for the cease-fire that ended the 1991 Gulf War. No WMD, no hypothetical to answer in the first place.

Second, the “if you knew then” question implicitly locates the origin and cause of the current disasters in 2003 . As if the fall of Ramadi was predetermined then, as if the author of the current regional collapse is George W. Bush.

This is nonsense. The fact is that by the end of Bush’s tenure the war had been won. You can argue that the price of that victory was too high. Fine. We can debate that until the end of time. But what is not debatable is that it was a victory. Bush bequeathed to Obama a success. By whose measure? By Obama’s. As he told the troops at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, “We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” This was, said the president, a “moment of success.” Which Obama proceeded to fully squander. With the 2012 election approaching, he chose to liquidate our military presence in Iraq. We didn’t just withdraw our forces. We abandoned, destroyed or turned over our equipment, stores, installations and bases. We surrendered our most valuable strategic assets, such as control of Iraqi airspace, soon to become theindispensable conduit for Iran to supply and sustain the Assad regime in Syria and cement its influence all the way to the Mediterranean. And, most relevant to the fall of Ramadi, we abandoned the vast intelligence network we had so painstakingly constructed in Anbar province, without which our current patchwork operations there are largely blind and correspondingly feeble.

The current collapse was not predetermined in 2003 but in 2011. Isn’t that what should be asked of Hillary Clinton? We know you think the invasion of 2003 was a mistake. But what about the abandonment of 2011? Was that not a mistake?

Mme. Secretary: When you arrived at State, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been crushed and expelled from Anbar. The Iraqi government had from Basra to Sadr City fought and defeated the radical, Iranian-proxy Shiite militias. Yet today these militias are back, once again dominating Baghdad. On your watch, we gave up our position as the dominant influence over a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” — forfeiting that position gratuitously to Iran. Was that not a mistake? And where were you when it was made?

Iraq is now a battlefield between the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State and the Shiite jihadists of Iran’s Islamic Republic. There is no viable center. We abandoned it. The Obama administration’s unilateral pullout created a vacuum for the entry of the worst of the worst.

And the damage was self-inflicted. The current situation in Iraq, says David Petraeus, “is tragic foremost because it didn’t have to turn out this way. The hard-earned progress of the surge was sustained for over three years.” Do the math. That’s 2009 through 2011, the first three Obama years. And then came the unraveling. When? The last U.S. troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011.

Want to do retrospective hypotheticals? Start there.

Posted under Arab States, Iraq, middle east, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, May 22, 2015

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Who remembers freedom? 5

Yesterday (March 9, 2015), on Fox TV, Charles Krauthammer pointed out to Bill O’Reilly that the Left now has control of almost all the institutions that shape our culture. He is right.

The chief disseminators of ideas – the universities, the entertainment industry, and almost all the press and TV news media – accept and propound Leftist values and aims almost as naturally and unquestioningly as we breathe air. The only exceptions, as Krauthammer pointed out, are Fox News, “three pages of the Wall Street Journal”, and talk radio. Of course the intolerant dictatorship of the Left wants to silence them. The Left brooks no dissent.

Generation after generation is growing up and becoming the workers and welfare-dependents, the rulers and bureaucrats, the parents and teachers, the writers and preachers of what used to be the free world, convinced to a man and woman – and every one of the other 70-plus genders now compulsorily recognized by the Left – that there is such a thing as “social justice”, that it is supremely desirable, and that it can be attained by government controlling the economy, pretending to control the climate, and tightly regulating how and where and for how long people live their lives.

Leftists really do believe that their dogma is “the truth”, and the only good. Just like religions. Which is why we say that the creed of Leftism, though it does without a traditional divinity, is a religion. It has a god of sorts in History, which it holds to be the uber-director of our destiny, warning us, like the Borg in Star Trek: “Resistance is futile.”

Those of us who still cling to the quaint old-fashioned notion that individuals should be free to live and think and act as they choose, and that their freedom should be protected by the rule of objective law, are a fast diminishing minority. Our own descendants will consider us cranks.

America was founded on the idea of individual freedom protected by the rule of law. Because its people were safe and free, they made the United States the mightiest and the most prosperous country of all time.

It was good while it lasted.

Global cooling 1

With the facts on the ground now established in Crimea — several thousand facts in the form of Russian troops — the question now becomes: Will sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia work? Will it reverse Vladimir Putin’s adventurism and deter future aggression?

Michael Gerson asks these questions at the Washington Post – as if there would be any sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia.

In any case, his answer is no.

He writes at the Washington Post:

One of [Putin’s] primary foreign policy goals is to relitigate the end of the Cold War. His intervention in Ukraine will press toward that objective until serious resistance is met. Like international aggressors before him, Putin would prefer the fruits of war without its costs.

Does he have reason to believe the resulting isolation of Russia will be sustained? The history of the “reset” says no. The weariness of Congress and the American public with conflict — which Obama emphasizes and encourages in his own rhetoric — says no. America’s humiliating dependence on Russian influence in the Syrian crisis says no. The desire for Russian help in the Iranian nuclear negotiations says no. The dependence of Europe on Russian natural gas says no. European Union vacillation and disunity say no.

It is, perhaps, this confidence that has led Putin not only to intimidate but also to humiliate. To sponsor Edward Snowden. To follow a 90-minute telephone conversation with Obama with troop movements. Many Russian goals in Crimea might have been achieved by intelligence assets and paramilitary forces. The use of Russian troops was intended as a broader message to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East: Don’t waste your hopes on the West.

Criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy are now coming in waves. Its policy is improvised and feckless. Or it consists of cliches (“an interdependent world”) and condescension (“19th-century behavior”).

But Obama deserves more credit for good intentions and intellectual consistency.

Or no credit because of naivety and ignorance? Or – as we read him – an actual desire for America to lose, decline, and fall?

His foreign policy does have a theory. He believes that as U.S. power retreats from the world, a variety of good things will fill the vacuum. Allies and international institutions will take more responsibility. The United States will be better able to promote liberal norms, unburdened by discrediting military power.

If he believes that, then naivety and ignorance is right.

Gerson continues to give him the benefit of the doubt. He puts the best possibly interpretation on Obama’s actions: they may be mistaken but they’re benign.

This vision gives permission for drastic defense cuts, abandoned “red lines,” a scramble for the exits in Afghanistan and the ceding of leadership in crises such as Syria. It dovetails with domestic political imperatives — for Obama to be the ender of wars, focused on nation-building at home. …

The columnist himself has a better grasp of geopolitical realities:

The problem is this: When enlightened liberal norms are divorced from U.S. power, liberal norms do not win out. The vacuum is filled by:

●Radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, which prosper in chaos. In an atmosphere like Syria, the most brutal are the most successful, and eventually become regional and global threats.

●Despots such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who still believe in military solutions — such as using chemical weapons and “barrel bombs,” filled with oil and metal shards, on civilians — because these solutions are working for them.

●Nationalist powers such as Russia and China, which is now throwing its military weight around East Asia. Japan is experiencing an upsurge in nationalism.

In the 20th century, the United States was both unique and irreplaceable because it exercised great power without the blood-and-soil nationalism of Russia, Germany or Japan. It stood for universal, liberal, democratic ideals. We should not expect those humane ideals to thrive in the vacuum left by a retreating America.

He would seem to be using “liberal” in the real meaning of the word, and not as a euphemism for anti-Americanism, statism, and collectivism.  In which case, his liberalism isn’t Obama’s liberalism. But he seems to think it is. Which is why, we suspect, he takes so mild a view of the president’s motives and intentions.

*

Charles Karuthammer, also writing at the Washington Post,  is more scathing: 

Vladimir Putin is a lucky man. And he’s got three more years of luck to come.

He takes Crimea, and President Obama says it’s not in Russia’s interest, not even strategically clever. Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness.

Really? Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia annexed it 20 years before Jefferson acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.

Now Russia looms over the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin can take that anytime he wants — if he wants. He has already destabilized the nationalist government in Kiev. Ukraine is now truncated and on the life support of U.S. and European money (much of which — cash for gas — will end up in Putin’s treasury anyway).

Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”

This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.

“That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” says Kerry. Makes invasion sound like a breach of etiquette — like using the wrong fork at a Beacon Hill dinner party.

How to figure out Obama’s foreign policy? In his first U.N. speech, he says: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” On what planet? Followed by the assertion that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” — like NATO? — “make no sense in an interconnected world.”

Putin’s more cynical advisers might have thought such adolescent universalism to be a ruse. But Obama coupled these amazing words with even more amazing actions.

(1) Upon coming into office, he initiated the famous “reset” to undo the “drift” in relations that had occurred during the George W. Bush years. But that drift was largely due to the freezing of relations Bush imposed after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Obama undid that pushback and wiped the slate clean — demanding nothing in return.

(2) Canceled missile-defense agreementswith Poland and the Czech Republic. Without even consulting them. A huge concession to Putin’s threats — while again asking nothing in return. And sending a message that, while Eastern Europe may think it achieved post-Cold War independence, in reality it remains in play, subject to Russian influence and interests.

(3) In 2012, Obama assured Dmitry Medvedev that he would be even more flexible with Putin on missile defense as soon as he got past the election.

(4) The Syria debacle. Obama painted himself into a corner on chemical weapons — threatening to bomb and then backing down — and allowed Putin to rescue him with a promise to get rid of Syria’s stockpiles. Obama hailed this as a great win-win, when both knew — or did Obama really not know? — that he had just conferred priceless legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad and made Russia the major regional arbiter for the first time in 40 years.

(5) Obama keeps cutting defense spending. His latest budget will reduce it to 3 percent of GDP by 2016 and cut the army to pre-Pearl Harbor size — just as Russia is rebuilding, as Iran is going nuclear and as China announces yet another 12-plus percent increase in military spending.

Puzzling. There is no U.S. financial emergency, no budgetary collapse. Obama declares an end to austerity — for every government department except the military.

Can Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so?

Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier. …

Next weekend’s Crimean referendum will ask if it should be returned to Mother Russia. Can Putin refuse? He can already see the history textbooks: Catherine the Great took Crimea, Vlad (the Great?) won it back. Not bad for a 19th-century man.

Posted under Commentary, communism, Russia, Soviet Union, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, March 7, 2014

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Atheists and conservatives stir up a brouhaha 4

The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.

The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.

That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.

Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …

The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.

Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”

“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …

Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”

Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.

He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …

But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.

The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind. 

When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”

“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …

And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.

Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.” 

But –

Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …

The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.

American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …

In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.

Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.

The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.

In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.

On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”

Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :

Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:

The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?

So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”.  As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!

The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.

If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.

Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?

But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.

Tha-at’s better!

Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?

One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.

Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.

Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?

No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.

What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not – in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?

Which is to say that, philosophically speaking,  I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.

We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.

We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:

None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.

Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)

Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.

As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.

Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.

Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …

A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.

And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …

… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.

Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:

“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”

Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.

“Look what you’ve made me not do” 3

Obama’s ignorance, his dyed-in-the-wool leftism, his anti-Americanism, his inexperience, should all have disqualified him, if not from a first term as president since the media protected him from any exposure then, but at least from a second term after it had become plain what unsuitable stuff he’s made of.

He gropes for someone to blame: former President George W Bush; the Republicans; little covens of saboteurs inside government agencies such as the IRS; anthropogenic global warming; insurance companies; the tea party; an obscure amateur video; the Koch brothers; … and now – suddenly – Big Government!

Charles Krauthammer sees Obama regarding activities of his own administration, effects of his own policies, messes caused by his own failures, with bewilderment.

We quote from Charles Krauthammer’s column in the Washington Post:

In explaining the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, President Obama told Chris Matthews he had discovered that “we have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly”.

An interesting discovery to make after having consigned the vast universe of American medicine, one-sixth of the U.S. economy, to the tender mercies of the agency bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service.

Most people become aware of the hopeless inefficiency of sclerotic government by, oh, age 17 at the department of motor vehicles. Obama’s late discovery is especially remarkable considering that he built his entire political philosophy on the rock of Big Government, on the fervent belief in the state as the very engine of collective action and the ultimate source of national greatness. (Indeed, of individual success as well, as in “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”)

This blinding revelation of the ponderous incompetence of bureaucratic government came just a few weeks after Obama confessed that “what we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.” Another light bulb goes off, this one three years after passing a law designed to force millions of Americans to shop for new health plans via the maze of untried, untested, insecure, unreliable online “exchanges”. 

This discovery joins a long list that includes Obama’s rueful admission that there really are no shovel-ready jobs. That one came after having passed his monstrous $830 billion stimulus on the argument that the weakened economy would be “jump-started” by a massive infusion of shovel-ready jobs. Now known to be fictional.

Barack Obama is not just late to discover the most elementary workings of government. With alarming regularity, he professes obliviousness to the workings of his own government. He claims, for example, to have known nothing about the IRS targeting scandal, the AP phone records scandal, theNSA tapping of Angela Merkel. And had not a clue that the centerpiece of his signature legislative achievement — the online Obamacare exchange, three years in the making — would fail catastrophically upon launch. Or that Obamacare would cause millions of Americans to lose their private health plans.

Hence the odd spectacle of a president expressing surprise and disappointment in the federal government — as if he’s not the one running it. Hence the repeated no-one-is-more-upset-than-me posture upon deploring the nonfunctioning Web site, the IRS outrage, the AP intrusions and any number of scandals from which Obama tries to create safe distance by posing as an observer. …

The paradox of this presidency is that this most passive bystander president is at the same time the most ideologically ambitious in decades. The sweep and scope of his health-care legislation alone are unprecedented. He’s spent billions of tax money attempting to create, by fiat and ex nihilo, a new green economy. His (failed) cap-and-trade bill would have given him regulatory control of the energy economy. He wants universal preschool and has just announced his unwavering commitment to slaying the dragon of economic inequality, which, like the poor, has always been with us.

Obama’s discovery that government bureaucracies don’t do things very well creates a breathtaking disconnect between his transformative ambitions and his detachment from the job itself.

It seems a likely way for a naive ideologue to react to the unintended consequences of trying to play dictator of the USA.

Posted under Commentary, government, United States by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, January 8, 2014

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