Archives for the 'Foreign Policy and Defense' Category

Good News: 9/11 Didn’t “Change Everything”

On the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and DC, things are going much better than most of us dared hope in the initial aftermath of that horrible day. We’re still a secure, prosperous, and relatively free country, and the fear-poisoned atmosphere that governed American politics for years after 9/11 has thankfully receded.

Not everyone’s thankful, however. Boisterous cable gabber Glenn Beck laments the return to normalcy. The website for Beck’s “9/12 Project” waxes nostalgic for the day after the worst terrorist attack in American history, a time when “We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the greatest nation ever created.” Beck’s purpose with the Project? “We want to get everyone thinking like it is September 12th, 2001 again.”

My God: why in the world would anyone want that? Yes, 9/12 brought moving displays of patriotism and a comforting sense of national unity, but that hardly made up for the fear, rage and sorrow that dominated the national mood and at times clouded our vision.

But Beck’s not alone in seeing a bright side to national tragedy. Less than a month after people jumped from the World Trade Center’s north tower to avoid burning to death, David Brooks asked, “Does anybody but me feel upbeat, and guilty about it?” “I feel upbeat because the country seems to be a better place than it was a month ago,” Brooks explained, “I feel guilty about it because I should be feeling pain and horror and anger about the recent events. But there’s so much to cheer one up.”

One of the things that got Brooks giddy was liberals’ newfound bellicosity. That same week, liberal hawk George Packer wrote:

What I dread now is a return to the normality we’re all supposed to seek: instead of public memorials, private consumption; instead of lines to give blood, restaurant lines….”The only thing needed,” William James wrote in ”The Moral Equivalent of War,” ”is to inflame the civic temper as past history has inflamed the military temper.” I’ve lived through this state, and I like it.

There’s something perverse, if not obscene, in “dreading” the idea that Americans might someday get back to enjoying their own lives. “Private consumption!” “Restaurant lines!” The horror! The horror!

Like Brooks’s National Greatness Conservatives, a good many progressives thought 9/11’s national crisis brought with it the opportunity for a new politics of meaning, a chance to redirect American life in accordance with “the common good.” Both camps seemed to think American life was purposeless without a warrior president who could bring us together to fulfill our national destiny.

That’s why prominent figures on the Right and the Left condemned George W. Bush’s post-9/11 advice to “Enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” As Jeremy Lott notes, “in his laugh riot of a presidential bid,” Joe Biden repeatedly condemned Bush for telling people to “fly and go to the mall!” A little over a year ago, asked to identify “the greatest moral failure of America” John McCain referenced Bush’s comments when he answered that it was our failure sufficiently to devote ourselves “to causes greater than our self interest.”

True, Bush’s term “destination spots” is a little redundant; but otherwise, for once, he said exactly the right thing. And of all the many things to condemn in his post-9/11 leadership, it’s beyond bizarre to lament Bush’s failure to demand more sacrifices from Americans at home: taxes, national service, perhaps scrap-metal drives and War on Terror bond rallies?

National unity has a dark side. What unity we enjoyed after 9/11 gave rise to unhealthy levels of trust in government, which in turn enabled a radical expansion of executive power and facilitated our entry into a disastrous, unnecessary war.

In his Inaugural Address, Barack Obama condemned those “who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.” “Their memories are short,” he said, “for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

Riffing off of Obama’s remarks, Will Wilkinson wrote:

Can you recall the scale of our recent ambitions? The United States would invade Iraq, refashion it as a democracy and forever transform the Middle East. Remember when President Bush committed the United States to “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”? That is ambitious scale.

Not only have some of us forgotten “what this country has already done … when imagination is joined to a common purpose,” it’s as if some of us are trying to erase the memory of our complicity in the last eight years—to forget that in the face of a crisis we did transcend our stale differences and cut the president a blank check that paid for disaster. How can we not question the scale of our leaders’ ambitions? How short would our memories have to be?

Oddly, even Glenn Beck seems to agree, after a fashion. The 9/12 Project credo celebrates the fact that “the day after America was attacked, we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States, or political parties.” And yet Beck has called on “9/12’ers” to participate in tomorrow’s anti-Obama “tea party” in DC.

On the anniversary of 9/11 what’s clear is that, despite the cliche, September 11th didn’t “change everything.” In the wake of the attacks, various pundits proclaimed “the end of the age of irony” and the dawning of a new era of national unity in the service of government crusades at home and abroad. Eight years later, Americans go about their lives, waiting on restaurant lines, visiting our “great destination spots,” enjoying themselves free from fear–with our patriotism undiminished for all that. And when we turn to politics, we’re still contentious, fractious, wonderfully irreverent toward politicians, and increasingly skeptical toward their grand plans. In other words, post-9/11 America looks a lot like pre-9/11 America. That’s something to be thankful for on the anniversary of a grim day.

(cross-posted at Cato@Liberty)

Posted on Sep 11, 2009 in Conservatism, Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense, Human Nature, Liberalism | 9 Comments

“The Ghosts of Those Unlived Lives”

Robert McNamara’s death reminded me of one of my favorite editorials ever, from the New York Times a decade and a half back. The occasion was McNamara’s release of his Vietnam memoir In Retrospect. In the book, he confesses that he too thought the war was a tragic mistake, but felt hamstrung from speaking out by loyalty to the administration he served. The editorialist would have none of his apology. I don’t think I’ve ever read a finer example of tightly controlled, exquisitely expressed contempt. I’ll quote parts of it here:

Comes now Robert McNamara with the announcement that he has in the fullness of time grasped realities that seemed readily apparent to millions of Americans throughout the Vietnam War. At the time, … Millions of loyal citizens concluded that the war was a militarily unnecessary and politically futile effort to prop up a corrupt Government that could neither reform nor defend itself….

It is important to remember how fate dispensed rewards and punishment for Mr. McNamara’s thousands of days of error. Three million Vietnamese died. Fifty-eight thousand Americans got to come home in body bags. Mr. McNamara, while tormented by his role in the war, got a sinecure at the World Bank and summers at the Vineyard….

His regret cannot be huge enough to balance the books for our dead soldiers. The ghosts of those unlived lives circle close around Mr. McNamara. Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late.

Mr. McNamara says he weeps easily and has strong feelings when he visits the Vietnam Memorial. But he says he will not speak of those feelings. Yet someone must, for that black wall is wide with the names of people who died in a war that he did not, at first, carefully research or, in the end, believe to be necessary. .

Everyone should see Errol Morris’s mesmerizing documentary about McNamara, “The Fog of War.” It’s the portrait of a reflective, self-aware, “civilized” 20th-century man who knows that through his long career, he’s been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. No, his regret could not have been huge enough to balance the books, but you can’t doubt that through his long life he periodically experienced something very like Hell. I’ve never seen a movie quite like it.

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Posted on Jul 7, 2009 in Foreign Policy and Defense, Human Nature, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

“Tell Me How This Ends”

This week’s Examiner column argues that we should start withdrawing from Afghanistan:

Each year of the war brings greater violence than the last, with 2008 the deadliest yet for U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians. Civilian deaths dropped somewhat in 2009, but coalition casualties continue to rise–up 62 percent from last year.

Army chief of staff George Casey recently told reporters that the situation will get worse before it gets better, and that “anything you put [in Afghanistan] will be in there for a decade.”

No surprise there: Nation-building is extraordinarily hard. The good news is that it’s almost always unnecessary–and especially so in Afghanistan.

Gen. Colin Powell’s famous “Pottery Barn” principle–”you break it, you own it”–doesn’t apply in this case. We didn’t “break” Afghanistan. We went to war to disrupt Al Qaeda and demonstrate that no government could get away with sheltering a group that killed nearly 3,000 Americans–goals we achieved more than seven years ago.

If Al Qaeda operatives are foolish enough to set up new training camps in Afghanistan, we won‘t need boots on the ground to destroy them. Thanks to advances in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology, we’re no longer limited to Clintonian gestures like lobbing cruise missiles at empty tents. Since 9/11 we’ve repeatedly used UAVs to kill Al Qaeda operatives in countries we’re not occupying, like Yemen and Pakistan….

Mad love to the Cato foreign policy crew for sources and suggestions on this one.

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Posted on Jun 23, 2009 in Foreign Policy and Defense | 3 Comments

Neoconsensus

Since Rich Lowry, Karl Rove, and Charles Krauthammer have all admitted that Obama’s anti-terror policies are substantially the same as Bush’s, I assume they’ll refrain from arguing that Obama’s making the country less safe, and they’ll hold off on blaming him if and when there’s another terrorist attack.

Posted on May 22, 2009 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Foreign Policy and Defense, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Joe Biden’s War Record

I have a piece up on National Review Online today about Joe Biden’s sorry record on the Iraq War and what it means for the future of Congress’s (increasingly theoretical) power to declare war. The column’s hooked to tomorrow’s debate, but who knows if that’s going to happen.

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Posted on Sep 25, 2008 in Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense | 12 Comments

Polling Presidential Power

There’s a new poll out from the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center that shows “Americans strongly oppose giving the president more power at the expense of Congress or the courts, even to enhance national security or the economy.” Which is certainly good news, but it doesn’t mean there’s deep public support for de-imperializing the presidency. As the survey itself shows, only a minority of Americans thinks our current, gargantuan presidency is “too powerful.”

Which is one reason why there’s been very little debate over presidential power in campaign over the last few months (I know, because I’ve been looking fruitlessly for op-ed news hooks). Even after the Bush years, presidential power is not a pressing electoral issue.

Last December, Charlie Savage did the electorate a service by getting all the presidential candidates to go on the record with their views on executive power. (Here are McCain, Obama, and Biden’s answers.) But the voters don’t punish candidates who break these promises like they do presidents who break a “no new taxes” pledge. If the voters did, the candidates would have worried more about flip-flopping on the wiretapping question, but both McCain and Obama felt they could do it with little difficulty.

So sure, around 2/3s of the respondents to the AP/National Constitution Center poll oppose further expansions of executive power. But how people answer broad, abstract questions about governance is one thing; what they actually demand from potential presidents is another thing entirely. If the rhetoric of this presidential campaign is any indication, voters continue to respond to the idea of the president as a combination miracle-worker-cum-national parent.

Barack Obama has, among other things, promised to hold back the oceans’ rise, “end the age of oil in our time,” and “create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

In his acceptance speech, John McCain professed humility, only moments after a video montage that suggested God rescued him from a carrier-deck fire so he could be president someday. And, judging by Rudy Giuliani’s keynote address, McCain will bridge the Mommy Party/Daddy Party divide, becoming a all-purpose national parent: “And we can trust him to deal with anything, anything that nature throws our way, anything that terrorists do to us…. and we will be safe in his hands, and our children will be safe in his hands.” He’s got the whole world in his hands.

This expansive vision of presidential responsibility is incompatible with limited government. And so long as it prevails, we can’t take much comfort in the fact that Americans tell pollsters they’d like limits on presidential power.

More bad news here.

Posted on Sep 15, 2008 in Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense | 1 Comment

Cult Reviewed in National Review

Claremont Institute fellow Michael M. Uhlmann has a dismissive review of The Cult of the Presidency in the current issue of National Review: “It’s Not Just the Executive,” September 15, 2008. (Here it is if you get NR Digital, otherwise it’s available in the print edition). It seems to me that the review largely consists of inaccurate characterizations, unsupported assertions, and non sequiturs. But I’m understandably biased, so check it out and judge for yourself.

Uhlmann writes that “The bulk of Healy’s book is devoted to various sins, offenses and negligences of the Bush administration.” That’s a bizarre statement, given that the book has nine chapters and an introduction, and only three of those chapters cover GWB’s tenure. In fact, the “bulk of the book” is devoted to demonstrating that, as I write in Chapter Two, “the problems of the modern presidency did not begin when George W. Bush emerged victorious from 2000’s seemingly interminable Battle of the Chads” and that–despite what some on the Left seem to believe–those problems will not vanish in January 2009 when he heads back to the ranch to cut brush.

The book is a history of the presidency’s transformation from the important, but constitutionally limited office the Framers designed to an extraconstitutional monstrosity charged with moving the masses and saving the world. But by beginning his review with a discussion of “unhinged” Bush critics, and mischaracterizing the book’s contents, Uhlmann has undoubtedly left NR readers with the impression that The Cult of the Presidency is yet another partisan screed against the current administration. Move along, nothing to see here.

That’s a shame, because conservatives could surely benefit from reexamining their decades-long affinity for strong presidencies. There’s nothing particularly conservative about investing vast unchecked power in the hands of whichever professional politician manages to claw his way to the top in a modern presidential contest. As Russell Kirk put it, “Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite—these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order.” And if principled reasons aren’t good enough, the fact that Republicans, let alone conservative Republicans, are unlikely to dominate the electoral college in the coming decades ought–like the prospect of a hanging–to concentrate the mind somewhat.

Uhlmann is willing to concede that the Bush administration’s claims of uncheckable authority over the detention and treatment of terrorist suspects “entail arguable legal propositions.” Which is gracious of him. But he provides very little argument for his view that the Framers envisioned a president with anything like the powers the current president–or others before him–have claimed. What arguments he provides often consist of offering innocuous and uncontroversial historical claims about 18th-century Americans’ views of executive power–as if those claims establish that the modern presidency is the constitutional presidency. In each case, he falls a few premises short of a syllogism.

Yes, the Federalist suggests, as Uhlmann notes, that “legislative excess is the danger chiefly to be guarded against in a republic.” But that was so, as Madison explains in No. 48, because the government the Constitution envisioned would be fundamentally different from one in which “numerous and extensive prerogatives are placed in the hands of a hereditary monarch.” Legislative power was more to be feared precisely because under the American Constitution “the executive magistracy is carefully limited, both in the extent and the duration of its power.”

Yes, the Framers sought to avoid some of the mistakes made in some of “the state constitutions adopted between 1776 and 1787″ and to create a relatively vigorous and independent executive. But there’s quite a distance between that fact and the current administration’s claims that Congress cannot restrain the president from ordering torture and that the president has the power to permanently imprison American citizens without charges or legal process. (Uhlmann treats these issues at greater length in an extensive essay on presidential powers in a recent edition of the Claremont Review, in which, it seems to me, the verbiage-to-evidence ratio is also fairly high.)

Then there’s Uhlmann’s painfully obvious argument that “It’s Not Just the Executive” that’s a problem in our modern welfare-warfare state. Well, yes. It’s not clear who Uhlmann’s arguing with when he points out “the size and arbitrariness of government in general” are intertwined with concerns about a powerful presidency, and that the growth of presidential power would not have been possible without the collaboration of Congress and the judiciary. I make the same points repeatedly and at length throughout the book.

But the book focuses on the presidency because the president has become the focal point of Americans’ dangerously unrealistic expectations about what government can deliver, at home and abroad. As the political scientist Theodore Lowi explained (and as I discuss in the book), the post-New Deal state pledged itself to the constant delivery of goods and benefits, with the public looking most of all to the president to meet the key test of the new regime’s legitimacy: “service delivery.” The emerging “Second Republic of the United States” was one in which, as Lowi sums up, “the system of government had become an inverted pyramid, with everything coming to rest on a presidential pinpoint.”

So the presidency is important. It merits special attention, perhaps especially from conservatives, given their longstanding myopia about the dangers of presidential power. For too long the Right has been wedded to the odd proposition that next to the “Imperial Congress” and the “Imperial Judiciary”, the executive branch–the branch with guns–is the least dangerous branch. I’m glad that NR reviewed the book, and I didn’t expect an uncritical embrace of my perspective. But I would have preferred a serious discussion of the issues the book raises.

Posted on Sep 6, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense | 9 Comments

Maybe This Time It Will Work

Okay, okay, I grudgingly like Sarah Palin. She’s not as good as the pick McCain offered in an offhand wisecrack the week before the announcement: “Mr. McCain, who had settled on his selection, was less than forthcoming here Thursday night when reporters shouted questions about his pick. ‘Wilford Brimley,’ he responded.” But she’s interesting, with some loveably cranky political affiliations in her past.

But I don’t vote based on likeability. Even for Wilford Brimley. And Palin’s appealling image changes nothing fundamental about what the modern GOP offers. A truth-in-advertising-style slogan might be: “Mindless bellicosity, gratuitous fearmongering, and phony promises to shrink government–now with extra spunkiness!” Yay: USA. USA. USA. I can’t believe that some otherwise sensible libertarians seem to be warming up to the ticket on reasons that privilege style over substance.

I have no intention of voting for anyone who could possibly win. But this seems to me a lot like the 1992 election, when most limited-government types were rightfully unconvinced that GHWB was the lesser of two evils. I don’t find Obama any more horrifying than Clinton from a limited-government perspective, and McCain is far worse than Bush the Elder. He’s a known quantity: a National Greatness Conservative who differs from GWB only in the intensity of his conviction that America must always be a crusader state loudly tromping about the world and breaking things. An alleged fiscal conservative who rabidly supports a $700 billion Bridge to Nowhere. A man who puts the First Amendment in scare quotes and has a long and detailed record of betraying limited-government conservatives. He’s your last, best hope? Auughhh, indeed.

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Posted on Sep 5, 2008 in Conservatism, Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy and Defense, Libertarianism | 8 Comments

Biden and “Dumb Wars”

In his 2002 speech, then state-senator Barack Obama said, “I’m not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” And that would certainly represent an improvement over what we’ve got now. Curious, then, that Obama’s picked a running mate who seems to have no such objection.

Today’s Washington Post details Biden’s role in enabling our Iraq adventure. It’s hardly a “Profiles in Courage” moment, and it also points up the gutless and constitutionally suspect manner in which Congress authorized the war: by delegating the final decision over war and peace to the president:

In the days that led up to the vote on the war resolution, Biden and McCain stood together on the Senate floor, sometimes fighting against each other, sometimes fighting in tandem. They teamed up to shoot down an amendment by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) that would have forced Bush to seek further authorization before an actual invasion. They were on opposite sides of the effort to narrow the war mission from regime change in Iraq to combating Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. And Biden expressed plenty of misgivings about Bush’s intentions.

“The president always has the right to act preemptively if we are in imminent danger. If they are coming up over the hill, he can respond. If troops are coming out of Tijuana, heading north, we can respond. If they are coming down from Toronto, we can respond. If missiles are on their way, we can respond. But that is not the way I hear it being used here. We are talking about preemption, as if we are adopting a policy,” Biden said.

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But in Biden’s closing remarks before the war vote in 2002, he also voiced a remarkable degree of trust in Bush. “The president has argued that confronting Iraq would not detract from the unfinished war against terrorism. I believe he is right. We should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said. “

Walk, chew gum, and play the harmonica, perhaps–having learned little from the Iraq experience, Biden in April 2007 called for American boots on the ground in Darfur:

Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic presidential candidate, called Wednesday for the use of military force to end the suffering in Darfur.

“I would use American force now,” Biden said at a hearing before his committee. “I think it’s not only time not to take force off the table. I think it’s time to put force on the table and use it.”

In advocating use of military force, Biden said senior U.S. military officials in Europe told him that 2,500 U.S. troops could “radically change the situation on the ground now.”

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Posted on Aug 25, 2008 in Foreign Policy and Defense | 10 Comments

The Power to Consult about War?

“In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found,” James Madison wrote in 1793, “than in that clause which asks the president to give Congress a courtesy call whenever he’s picked a new country to invade.” Well, no, that’s not actually what he said. It went more like this:

In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man.

How to check that temptation? In 1973, Congress tried the War Powers Resolution, a deeply flawed piece of legislation that has never so much as inconvenienced a president bent on war. Former Secretaries of State Jim Baker and Warren Christopher–and a bipartisan panel of DC bigwigs–have a new answer: semi-mandatory consultation with Congress backed up by a dread “resolution of disapproval” (that the president can veto!). Somehow I don’t think this is going to work.

I haven’t had a chance to read the full report yet, but judging from the coverage and the op-ed Baker and Christopher penned for yesterday’s Times, the Commission’s proposal seems like an exercise in High Broderism. For some serious attempts at putting teeth in the War Powers Resolution, check here and here.

However, as I explain in the Cult of the Presidency, I’m skeptical that any of these megastatute solutions are going to work. Because no Congress can truly bind a future Congress and no statute can force the courts to resolve separation of powers fights they’d rather duck, such legislative solutions tend to be about as effective as a dieter’s note on the refrigerator. Unless and until ordinary voters demand that Congress stand and be counted on issues of war and peace–and defund unauthorized wars–we’ll continue as before. Hey, maybe we are the change we’ve been waiting on.

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Posted on Jul 9, 2008 in Cult of the Presidency, Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense | 1 Comment

Half a Cheer for Carter

The obvious answer to John McCain’s recent, lame, anti-Obama soundbite, “Carter’s Second Term,” is that while Carter was no Gerald Ford, at least the man wasn’t as bad as Richard Nixon, the nearest recent historical parallel to George W. Bush. Though even that may be unfair to Nixon, who after all did not start the Vietnam War, and at least made peace with China. Moreover, despite his extravagant theories of executive power, Nixon at least disclaimed the right to lock up American citizens without charges or a trial, signing the Non-Detention Act of 1971. For the story behind that act, which the Bush legal team considers unconstitutional, see this piece [.pdf] by the indispensible Louis Fisher.

That said, the whole episode puts me in mind of Jim Henley’s tentative libertarian case for Jimmy Carter (see here, here, and here). As Jim wrote two years ago:

His administration deregulated trucking and air travel, market-friendly reforms that had huge, beneficial effects on American economy and life. (I’m old enough to remember when flight was for business travelers and the rich.) He appointed Paul Volcker to the Fed and backed his tight-money policies right through an election year.

I’m not convinced, nor is Jim, entirely. He runs through some of Carter’s bad points, like his godawful energy policy and his creation of two additional cabinet departments (one more than Reagan). I’d add the Desert One operation which, to read Mark Bowden’s account, was the craziest military operation approved by a president since the Bay of Pigs. Of course, Jimmuh’s unbearable sanctimony and self-righteousness shouldn’t count, but I’m sure it’s colored my assessment. But the fact that people reflexively rank Carter among the worst of the modern presidents says something about the bias toward presidential activism that warps our public debate.

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Posted on Jun 16, 2008 in Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy and Defense, Libertarianism | 9 Comments

Promote Others

If you’re in DC tomorrow (register and) come on down to Cato for a forum on Bill Kauffmann’s new book Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism. I’d say “great new book,” but I don’t have it yet, so I can’t. But I’ve read other Kauffman books and his one-page history column in the old American Enterprise magazine was a consistent gem (or maybe a raisin), so I’m sure it’s great. You’ve gotta love a guy who retroactively opposes the interstate highway system, not just on constitutionalist grounds, but because it made America ugly. From the event flyer:

Conservatives love war, empire, and the military-industrial complex. They abhor peace, the sole and rightful property of liberals. Right? Wrong.

According to Bill Kauffman, true conservatives have always resisted the imperial and military impulse: it drains the treasury, curtails domestic liberties, breaks down families, and vulgarizes culture. From the Federalists who opposed the War of 1812, to the striving of Robert Taft (known as “Mr. Republican”) to keep the United States out of Korea, to the latter-day libertarian critics of the Iraq war, there has historically been nothing unusual about anti-war activists on the political right. And while these critics of U.S. military crusades have been vilified by the party of George W. Bush, their conservative vision of a peaceful, decentralized, and noninterventionist America gives us a glimpse of the country we could have had—and might yet attain. Passionate and witty, Ain’t My America is an eye-opening exploration of the forgotten history of right-wing peace movements—and a clarion call to anti-war conservatives of today.

Tyler Cowen recommends the book, though he suggests (by linking to a picture of kimchi) that antiwar conservatives were wrong to question our undeclared, conscript-fought war in Korea. I know, I know, the kimchi part’s a joke.

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Posted on May 7, 2008 in Conservatism, Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy and Defense | 8 Comments

Expert Opinion

It’s a hell of a thing when you can’t even count on liberal media bias anymore. The back page of the Week in Review section of yesterday’s NYT features a symposium on “How to See This Mission Accomplished,” in which the Times asked nine experts to address problems going forward in Iraq. Since at least five of the nine were enthusiastic backers of the war — and three work for the American Enterprise Institute — this is something like asking the captain of the Exxon Valdez* for his considered judgment on how best to conduct the cleanup. Hey NYT: next time, why not consult someone who got it right?

* Ironically enough, the Valdez’s Wikipedia entry places one “Able Seaman Robert Kagan” at the helm during the crash. They’re everywhere.

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Posted on May 5, 2008 in Foreign Policy and Defense | 8 Comments

Our Permanent Emergency

In the American Interest, John Mueller continues to talk sense about the age of terror:

[T]errorism and the attendant “war” thereon have become fully embedded in the public consciousness, with the effect that politicians and bureaucrats have become as wary of appearing soft on terrorism as they are about appearing soft on drugs, or as they once were about appearing soft on Communism.

Key to this dynamic is that the public apparently continues to remain unimpressed by several inconvenient facts. One such fact is that there have been no al-Qaeda attacks whatsoever in the United States since 2001. A second is that no true al-Qaeda cell (or scarcely anybody who might even be deemed to have a “connection” to the diabolical group) has been unearthed in this country. A third is that the homegrown “plotters” who have been apprehended, while perhaps potentially somewhat dangerous at least in a few cases, have mostly been either flaky or almost absurdly incompetent.

On that last point, see Monday’s Washington Post on the “Liberty City Seven” trial(s):

The Miami case revolved around a part-time contractor who gathered a loose band of men in a rented room in a downscale neighborhood known as Liberty City. The group, distantly affiliated with the Moorish Science Temple religion, talked about Muhammad, Jesus, Confucius and Buddha, and also practiced martial arts.

Its leader, Narseal Batiste, told his Yemenese grocer in October 2005 that he wanted to conduct jihad to overthrow the U.S. government. The grocer, an FBI informant who himself had a criminal record, told the bureau. The FBI then employed a second informant, this one an Arab from overseas who depicted himself as a representative of Osama bin Laden.

Batiste confided, somewhat fantastically, that he wanted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago, which would then fall into a nearby prison, freeing Muslim prisoners who would become the core of his Moorish army. With them, he would establish his own country.

Sounds like a plan!

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Posted on Apr 25, 2008 in Civil Liberties, Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy and Defense | 4 Comments

You Had Me at “Live Lobsters”

So my dad, who, like me, is a fan of pulpy noir detective novels and shows, sends me an email telling me to set my Tivo for this. I click the link and read:

In the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in Edinburgh, corrupt cop Brendan McCabe is being drowned in a tank of live lobsters.

That is perhaps the best sentence I’ve ever read.

Posted on Oct 6, 2007 in Arts and Culture, Asides, Civil Liberties, Conservatism, Cult of the Presidency, Domestic Policy, Executive Power, Foreign Policy and Defense, Human Nature, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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