Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.
A Word from London
Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.
Weighing Aspirations, Trump Argues for Increased Defense Spending
During President Trump’s recent address to Congress, he said we must add $54 billion of spending to the defense budget in order to bolster the nation’s defense capabilities. Considering the $1 trillion in defense sequestration during the Obama years, this number may be relatively modest. The problem is making an assessment of what’s adequate and necessary.
Defense spending in the age of advanced military hardware is an exercise in reading tea leaves. The number of variables in any equation often overwhelms the serious analyst.
Take the F-35 as an example. The head of the program said that the cost of the aircraft will be reduced to $85 million by 2018. But that number has significance only if seen against a backdrop of lifetime use. An aircraft with an 8,000 to 10,000 flight hour cycle is more expensive than one with a 5,000-hour life.
Then, there’s the question of mission. An aircraft designed to perform a single mission — e.g., the A-10 Warthog — is cheaper to build than an aircraft capable of multiple missions. However, single mission planes will necessitate a larger than anticipated force and arguably a budget increase.
In today’s environment, it’s also appropriate to ask whether the aircraft is manned or unmanned. Perhaps it’s wise to spend more on anti-aircraft weapons and less on fighters and interceptors. Could stand-off platforms be less expensive in the long term than fighters and interceptors? Could stand-off weapons render Russian and Chinese airplanes irrelevant?
For a considerable period after World War II, military leaders and the corporate sector argued — without much push back — for additional annual defense spending. President Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to this condition as “the military industrial complex.” With GDP growth at four percent, it was widely believed that continued defense spending provided an insurance policy against prospective threats.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and emerging sacrosanct entitlement expenditures, President Bill Clinton engaged in significant military retrenchment to close the nation’s budget gap. These defense cuts were increased dramatically by President Barack Obama, who implied that defense spending was fungible, and could be the fulcrum that maintains budget equilibrium.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump maintained that we hollowed out our military assets and offered enemies global opportunities they did not have when U.S. military preeminence was unchallenged — hence, the desire for additional spending.
But defense spending makes sense only when it’s directly related to an estimate of international threats, taking into account the means to neutralize those threats and the cost of those measures. What is one to make of a reduced Marine Corps — 220,000 to 180,000, the total at the moment — if one cannot identify the Marine Corps mission? Similarly, how many planes would it take to challenge Russian dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Much of defense spending applies to a Cold War apparatus that has limited application to terror-inspired enemies. Can appropriations be calibrated to mission needs? Or does politics inhibit appropriate action? Our politicians shy away from any conflict that hints at heavy casualties. This cautionary provision makes sense, but it also affects expenditures. Flag officers contend that if you want fewer casualties, then we must invest in more advanced technology. A philosophical position drives procurement policy.
If the defense goal is to dominate anywhere, any time, against any foe (Trump-like considerations), the costs have to be stated explicitly. And it may mean that our aspirations are inconsistent with global realities, or that a U.S. accustomed to “guns and butter” may, for a time, be more dependent on guns and national defense than entitlements. Try selling that proposition to those in the Democratic Party.
Change in Our Time
From Heraclitus to the present, historians and philosophers have addressed the issue of change. Is change built into the nature of society or is it a mirage that reflects a different side of sameness? It would appear that there are years in the so-called modern age that suggest a departure from the past: 1789 and The French Revolution; 1914, the Great War and the End of Innocence; 1939 and the onset of World War II. Although it is too early to argue with any certainty, 2016-2017 may be a flux of historic proportions, since the institutions and their philosophical underpinnings that accounted for relative global stability are in disarray. The world is turning and not necessarily on its axis. “The wheel keeps turning the sky’s rearranging.”
Alas, the rearrangement brings into focus an uncertain future in large part because the political and economic institutions, such as the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, and the European Union, have lost or are losing their legitimacy. In fact, liberal internationalism — a belief that nations can share “rules of the road” — is undergoing a challenge from a newly emergent nationalism. Not only is President Trump calling for America First, but a nationalist sentiment has gained traction across the European continent and into the Asian heartland. Rules are being renegotiated or dismissed and the pattern for going forward remains unclear.
Accelerating this percolation is technological innovation that has produced a social media of narcissism and personal fulfillment that virtually excludes any other pursuits. Secularization across the board has elevated “me” into the position of a transcendent force. How does one manage a society that does not recognize the limits of freedom? How can order be maintained without modesty and humility?
As Jacques Ellul once announced, “technology exists because technology exists.” Presumably it is a force of its own, resistant to the controls of manners, morals, or human welfare. If in a Schumpeterian equation there is as much destruction as creation, will employment be a privilege? How do you deal with those left behind? A guaranteed income? Rewards for the idle? The puzzle parts seek a framework.
If trade deals are filtered through the prism of job creation, will tariffs be imposed to equalize comparative advantage? And if so, would these tariffs be applied internationally — what is now called import taxes? National assertiveness, with its broad political appeal, could result in a diminished world order or even global depression. Admittedly Smoot Hawley has faded from public memory and it was not the actual cause of the Great Depression, as many have conceded, but it did exacerbate a declining world economy.
Artificial intelligence is already addressing these issues without the requisite policy constraints. Most manufacturing jobs will soon be obsolescent. Even higher-level positions in medicine will be rendered unnecessary. These are changes advancing incrementally. A person with cancer might consult an oncologist today, but in short order he will ask a computer bank for the best treatment based on all the empirical evidence of his disease. Of course, this example cannot be generalized to all jobs, for society will probably need some work. The question is who gets rewarded, and who doesn’t, and who is left out of the equation completely.
While the change in the past was largely political and economic, the change we are in is the tail wagging the cultural shifts. The loss of confidence in institutional foundations moves down a slope of cultural realignment. When President Trump denounces political correctness, he speaks to a portion of the population largely forgotten by elites and resentful at the adversarial dominance of the “chattering class.” President Trump is an unlikely voice of the disenfranchised, but there you have it. The confidence deficit fills the air as people come to question the leadership in their nations; change will be unhinged from notions of the past.
Revanchism and Crisis Management
Revanchism, from the French revanche or “revenge,” is the will to reverse territorial losses following war or social movement. The dismantling of the Soviet Union, to cite one example, has led to a Putinesque policy of irredentism, the reclamation of territory once within the Soviet orbit. In a strange way revanchism has become the 21st century foreign policy perspective.
Palestinians believe the land captured in the 1967 war against Israel is “occupied” territory, hence territory belonging to the Palestinians. Chinese government officials agree Siberia is a province of China — a territory the Chinese once controlled.
Persians believe the Tigris-Euphrates basin is within their empire, notwithstanding the states with a present claim on this territory.
Revanchism accompanies claims around the globe as statism retreats before disruptive politics. As a term, revanchism originated in the 1870s in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War among nationalists who wanted to avenge French defeat and reclaim the lost territories of Alsace-Lorraine. The movement draws its strength from patriotic and redistributionist thought. It is inextricably linked to irredentism — the conception that a part of the cultural and ethnic nation remains unredeemed outside the borders of the nation state.
Russian strategy relies on military intimidation and non-military means, such as the manipulation of perspectives. To offset those strategies the West requires a united front and the means to counter revanchist efforts through a variety of penalties.
The questions that always remain are what is fair and what is legitimate. Is it legitimate for Mexico to claim rights to the southwestern American states? Is it fair for Russia to say the sale of Alaska was inappropriate? When do the claims of revanchism end? Does history have limits or are the boundaries determined by the relative strength and power of the claimant? Recently the Hague International Court ruled the Philippine claim of the Spratly Islands was legitimate. The Chinese government, however, chose to ignore the judgment.
History is replete with examples where false claims were made backed by powerful armies. Japan invaded Manchuria prior to World War II, arguing it was once a Japanese province and should be united with Japan again. Absurd on its face, this claim was recognized until Japan was ultimately defeated.
China, based on its ancient history, contends that it is the Middle Kingdom and all nearby Asian states are peripheral and subject to the expanding concentric circle of Chinese influence.
Revanchism affects the law and is also hostage to extra-legal concerns. It is a plea for justice and a false justification for imperial aims. Unfortunately, global stability depends on the recommendations of competing interests. Where law is ignored, force prevails. If, for example, China decides to ignore decisions at the Hague, can one force China’s hand? Is it productive to do so over a few rocky islands in the middle of the China Sea? But if action isn’t taken, does that become a precedent in future controversies?
Putin’s portrayal of Russia besieged by implacable foes opposed to its irredentist position resonates with Russian memory and is popular domestically. Revanchism is a gift that keeps giving since a Russia suffering from economic hazards from within has claimed glories from without. Moreover, a Russia willing to fight has a distinct psychological advantage over European states in the grip of appeasement. Overt invasions may be a condition of the past, but revanchism provides a pretext for military operations and saber rattling that can be justified as crisis management. Imperial Russia resides in the mindset of revanchist thinking and the West had better get used to it.
What Social Epidemiology Means for Foreign Policy
If one relies on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the great strength of the U.S. in the 19th century was its mediating structures that maintained social equilibrium. By that, Tocqueville meant the family, the church, the schools, and the associations — institutions that created coherence and solidarity without reliance on government.
However, a different America has emerged. As books like Charles Murray’s Coming Apart and Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic indicate, America is facing disequilibrium due to a host of harmful social trends.
The family is in disarray with the percentage of children living at home with two married parents in their first marriage going from 73 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2014. Illegitimacy rates have skyrocketed among most groups with 72 percent of Afro-American children born without fathers in the home. Labor force participation rates have sunk to levels last seen during the Great Depression.
The garment of social bonds is gossamer thin. Community volunteer activity is in decline and organizations like Rotary and the Lions Club are filled with aging participants. Mainline Protestant churches are devoted to a left-wing social justice agenda, but lack a devotion to religious principles. Popular culture has been debased by vulgar and commonplace boorishness. Fewer Americans believe in God than ever before and manners and morals have been buried beneath the tide of tolerance.
While some of these trends are worldwide, the U.S. is still considered the “trendsetter.” As a consequence, nations view with interest the ability of the U.S. to overcome these new social contingencies in order to deal with the demands and expectations of foreign policy. For example, can the U.S. mobilize a fighting force large enough and committed to the sacrifice militaries in the past have exhibited? Or have Americans grown soft and uninterested in foreign commitments?
Chinese leaders are perplexed by conditions in the United States. There is the widespread belief that the cultural advantage the U.S. had is on the wane, but they are mystified by the rapidity of the change. Vladimir Putin believes — to the extent his beliefs are discernible — that the U.S. desire to withdraw from foreign commitments offers an opportunity for the enhancement of Russian interests, that is the restoration of empire. Iranian leaders were persuaded the U.S. under former president Obama’s guidance would do whatever it could to maintain the flawed and one-sided deal so that former President Obama could contend he avoided a war with the putative representative of the Shia people.
Hence, the apparent cultural evolution in the U.S. has had a relationship to foreign policy that is correlational if not causal. An America that turns inward is a nation unwilling to pay the price for the maintenance of global stability. Needless to say, this claim will seem exaggerated. However, President Trump has talked about “America First,” an America raising questions about the international obligations of the past. Foreign policy, notwithstanding the struggle against radical Islam, has been relegated to a backburner political matter.
From a simple accounting, the financing of a $20 trillion debt will soon be the equivalent of the defense budget. The U.S. maintains the largest and most effective military in the world, yet it should be noted that there is little political support to sustain that level of military preparation should entitlements be reduced for defense expenditures.
Sacrifice is not a condition millennials consider. Hip-hop doesn’t prepare the young for the vicissitudes of war against a foreign foe. And the implacable voice of narcissism in social media suggests you don’t do for our country, you do for yourself. The state of America is grim amidst the corrosion in the culture. Of course, one should never rule out redemption in a nation that often exhibits resilience. At the moment, however, a U.S. coming apart influences a world in disarray. The beasts of evil are watching with anticipation at this social epidemiology thinking this may be their moment to leap forward. *
A Word from London
Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.
The Road to War
The road to the future is filled with potholes. This metaphorical sentence speaks to a world war already in process. Despite denials from the present U.S. administration, the war is organized, promoted, and managed by radical Islamists. Driven by an ideology, these religious fanatics want to undermine the West so that a global caliphate can be established. The war is in its 25th year, but the U.S. and its allies still do not understand the magnitude of the struggle.
On July 14th, a day celebrating French freedom, Bastille Day, at least 84 people were wantonly killed, including ten children, by a suspected terrorist who slammed his truck into unwary revelers watching the annual fireworks display. The symbolism was palpable. It is precisely the French liberty, equality, and fraternity that the Islamists detest. Theirs is fraternity of barbarism.
If there were ever a moment for an appropriate response, this is it. Paris, Orlando, Istanbul, San Bernardino, Brussels, stand as stark reminders of the international reach of Islamic terror. And there isn’t an end in sight. Moreover, the murderer who killed innocents on the Promenade des Anglais had a history of aggressive views known to French authorities, just as the Orlando killer was investigated by the FBI before his murderous spree. It is not as if clues aren’t provided by savage extremists.
A strategy for dealing with this matter is available to us. It is the template for confronting an ideologically driven foe like Communism. For decades the U.S. fought on the battlefield when the global status quo was challenged. Whether successful or not, and in many instances we were not successful, the willingness to counter aggression mattered. More significantly, the U.S. fought a non-kinetic war in the culture and the political arena. Intelligence operatives penetrated communist cells, ridiculed Marxism-Leninism, and caused confusion among leaders. Despite moments of conciliation and fatigue, the national opposition to Communism held. The U.S. had a powerful anti-communist method: fear, a fear that if pushed beyond a certain well understood limit, the U.S. would explode with the full fury of its military might.
The issue at the moment is that Islamists do not fear the U.S. President. President Obama will not even acknowledge the magnitude of the threat. Iran routinely violates the nuclear accord with the U.S. and scoffs at our UN declaration of disapproval. Gun control was the presidential preoccupation after the Orlando murders, and “truck control” will probably be the response to the carnage on the French Riviera. The U.S. is no longer a nation to be feared. From mosques in Syria to madrasses in Pakistan, the message is unequivocal: the U.S. is defanged.
The strong horse in the Middle East is Russia, a nation that routinely violates human rights in its battle against Islamists. Putin is a dictator who should never be emulated, but he offers a lesson in the fear he has generated among Chechen extremists. If we could once again recall that war is hell and that sacrifices must be made for survival, we would be in a position of mobilizing all of our resources to defend liberty. Marquess of Queensbury rules have no place in a war with barbarians who are intent on killing every man, woman, and child on the opposite side of the religious divide, including those of the same faith who do not embrace extremism.
The atrocity on Bastille Day is a reminder that there aren’t “sleepers” or “lone wolves” who embrace militant Islam. Most of these killers have been inspired by an idea. That idea needs proselytizing as a system of belief, as ISIS suggested in accepting responsibility for the murders. This is, alas, a doctrinal war that requires a counter-attack at its source — the imams who preach hate, the Wahhabism that values violence, and the Salafists who distribute weapons to adherents.
The West needs a wake-up call before more innocent lives are lost. But only the U.S. can provide the leadership to awaken the somnolent nations of Europe. Does anyone in Washington hear the alarm bells?
The New America
On July 4th I, like millions of Americans, celebrated the 240th year of our national independence. I celebrated, as well, the unique character of a nation based on the rule of law, a state where every person is to be treated equally under the laws of the land.
On July 5 at 10 a.m. I saw a new American nation ushered in by the director of the FBI, James Comey. This new American nation no longer follows a rule of law. The prevailing sentiment is a rule of influence and power. What is true for a designated elite is not true for the rest of us. Equality under the law has been Latin Americanized. It is as if Hugo Chavez was running the U.S. judicial system.
Before James Comey said no reasonable prosecutor would pursue this case against Hillary Clinton, he added language to the federal statute that made his case for dismissal. Comey used the word “intent,” a word that does not appear in any of the State Department protocols.
In fact, in the first ten minutes of his surprising presentation Comey makes an effective case for indictment, suggesting: 1) the former Secretary of State was extremely careless with national security secrets; 2) it is not reasonable to assume anyone in her position of authority and sensitivity would put emails on a private server; 3) one hundred and ten emails on the server were classified “at the time they were sent,” endangering national security and clearly indicating Hillary Clinton lied consistently; 4) Hillary Clinton deleted emails before turning them over to State Department officials as the law requires; 5) it is “likely” foreign governments have hacked her emails, although evidence supporting this claim is not dispositive.
In listing the charges against Ms. Clinton one is left with the impression of gross negligence and arrogance about the law under which she served. What applies to some does not apply to her, a point made throughout her life.
In similar circumstances, John Deutch, former director of the CIA and David Petraeus, head of Central Command were both fined and excoriated for infractions of a similar, but lesser nature. Hillary has gone off scot free, indicating this entire imbroglio was a misunderstanding and, of course, she made a mistake.
For many, the charges in question are far more egregious then the Comey recommendation suggests. If special access programs (SAP), the highest level of security involving the entire intelligence apparatus of the U.S., was put at risk, Clinton engaged in what could accurately be called treasonous behavior. Seven of the 110 classified documents were SAP.
It is also odd that attorney General Loretta Lynch met former president Bill Clinton several days before the Comey statement. At the time, Lynch said she made a mistake in meeting Clinton. In the aftermath of press criticism, Ms. Lynch went on to say that she would recuse herself from the investigation or rely on the FBI recommendations. Did Lynch know what those recommendations might be when she met with President Clinton?
What so many in the media and blogs fail to see is that this investigation is not only a story about Hillary Clinton. It is a saga about legal adjudication. If the law of the land does not apply to the Clintons — as appears to be the case — why should it apply to anyone else? If intent is the overarching issue in determining culpability, is the thief to be found innocent when he says, “I took the necklace from the shelf because I thought it was mine. I never intended to steal it.”
What Comey has done is besmirch his own reputation, compromise the FBI, and serve as a midwife for the New America parented by Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch. Hugo Chavez must be having a good laugh from the depths of Hell.
Now that the London fog has cleared, a dispassionate analysis of the Brexit vote is possible, even with murky clouds over the British Isles. The pound plunged with the Brexit vote as did global markets. Political elites from Cameron to Obama shuddered. Investors on both sides of the Atlantic were pummeled. Some say the British vote to leave the European Union is an invitation to anarchy.
I would say the vote represents a monumental assertion of free will, a vindication of a millennium of democracy and self-government. While those in London favored remaining in the E.U., the rest of Britain rebelled against the stain of migration that has disrupted the countryside, even leading to the massive rape of underage girls in one community by recent Muslim immigrants. The idea that Britain could absorb another 650,000 immigrants under E.U. mandate is, in the minds of many, a prescription for disaster.
Multiculturalism is in retreat as are the politically correct nostrums that have unsettled life for the average Brit. Brexit speaks to the Grand Old England, the one led by Margaret Thatcher, who was the original Euroskeptic. She understood that the arrogant assertion of a united European entity undoing 400 years of history since the Westphalian accord was a fantasy. It has taken 40 years for that fantasy to reveal itself, but now it has and dissolution is on the horizon. Brexit will lead to Czexit and Italexit and the slow but inexorable splitting of the elitist conception of Europe.
Most Brits were tired of a group of bureaucrats in Brussels telling them whether the use of an electric teapot was permissible or the allowable size of a lawn mower. Who are these bureaucrats anyway? They weren’t elected by British citizens. In fact, the entire E.U. is supra democratic, a reach beyond sovereignty to unassigned authority. Ordinary people understand the disconnect with a government over which their control cannot be exercised.
Despite ritualistic anxiety over the Brexit vote, it does represent an opportunity for the United Kingdom and global arrangements. This is the moment for the Anglosphere, a trade and military arrangement for those nations that share a common culture, language and tradition (the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand). There is also the distant possibility British independence could enhance, rather than dismember, NATO. After all, it is U.S. and British involvement that represents the core of NATO’s strength; a realignment based on larger than present defense contributions from member states would be the shot of adrenalin NATO needs to combat the challenges of Russia and Putin in the Baltic States and the Ukraine. With a reconstituted NATO, the anti-terrorist mission would be given greater weight than is presently the case and, perhaps, given a focus that has been lacking.
For most of its history, the E.U. represents a redistributionist scheme in which the prosperous nations bailout those unable to make a go of it. In the former category, Germany, France and Britain stand as nations that give more than they get from the E.U. The rest are on a queue waiting for subsidies all the while introducing reforms, like early retirement for government employees who put a strain on the economy. One might well ask why a factory worker in Manchester should be taxed to sustain a government official in Athens who will retire at 55. Moreover, if the Greek, or Italian, or Spanish governments realize they will be assisted by E.U. funding, what is the incentive for realistic fiscal reform? Surely E.U. pressure has been applied and modest change has occurred, but the socialist dream of converting a utopian idea into practical results has not and cannot be realized.
From the outset, the E.U. was designed for tariff relief in the coal and iron industries. However that modest goal morphed into a political entity modeled on the United States that overlooks participant national cultures, history, and languages. Remaking history is the goal of utopians who rarely, if ever, take into account the sentiment of ordinary people.
Brexit represents that moment when the merry-go-round of historical evolution is stopped. Brits have said “enough.” As I see it, this is the beginning of a remarkable assertion of sovereign will, independence, and democratic zeal. Economic markets may be adversely affected since vast change is always disruptive. But over the long term (admittedly a vague expression) this vote will be seen as the re-institutionalization of the Magna Carta. *
Among scholars, World War I was a turning point in modern history. The war elicited a Communist Party ruling a nation, the war was the seedbed for the rise of Nazism, and the war led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Clearly, the postwar global map was altered. History was bisected into pre- and post-World War I.
Alas, we are in another turning point in this new century. Roughly a hundred years from World War I, the P5+1 deal has bisected 21st century history into pre- and post-Iran negotiations. The world, as we have known it, has been interred, replaced by a series of monumental changes.
Pre-Iran deal will seem halcyonic compared to what awaits us. Just as pre-World War I was considered an age of innocence, pre-Iran deal will be thought of as the era of denial. The globe will not be same again as the tectonic changes come into focus.
First, Iran will be regarded as a "strong horse" in the Middle East. Not only does Iran have sufficient capability for a bomb at a time of its choosing, the lifting of sanctions will energize its economy and expand its regional aspirations.
Second, the state system that the Sykes and Picot Agreement helped to create a century ago no longer exists, creating a Middle East map that is unrecognizable. A power vacuum emerging from the U.S. regional withdrawal has opened a Pandora's box as Islamic extremists, subjugated ethnic groups, and warlords compete for the contested space in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
Third, new alliances have emerged with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and possibly Turkey joining Israel in opposition to Shia expansion through Iranian military activity. The U.S. rapprochement with Iran has alarmed the Sunni states and Israel, leading to a belief that American military strength to counteract hostile regional forces is no longer an option, in fact, cannot even be summoned.
Fourth, Russia under Vladimir Putin's leadership has inserted its military into a dominant role in the eastern Mediterranean with the U.S. retreat. Taking the lead in the war against the Islamic State, Russia has developed a "coordination cell" in Iraq that includes the Iraqi army and the Iranian Quds. Hence, Russia is the presumptive "stabilizing" influence in the region with motives that are not benign.
For Mr. Putin any form of chaos that results in high oil prices is desirable. Therefore, it is plausible that the real prize is not the Russian footprint in Syria, but an influence over the Saudi Arabian oil fields. Moreover, Russian military presence in Syria influences Israeli ability to retaliate when Hezbollah and Hamas engage in missile attacks. Israel understands its hostile neighbors, but it does not want to go to war with Russia - if that can be avoided.
If Iran is the emerging strong horse in the Middle East, Russia is its jockey. The cooperation between the two states does not bode well for Sunni states. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently met with Mr. Putin, pointing out - one can only assume - that Israel is obliged to defend itself, but in so doing it does not want to encounter Russian forces on the other side of the military divide.
As Mr. Putin sees it, the "humiliation" the Soviet Union faced in 1989 with the dismemberment of its empire must be restored. His chessboard moves in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, his challenges to NATO, his humiliation of the United States and his intrusion with military force into Syria are efforts to restore the "near abroad," the empire he saw dismembered. Moreover, he can accomplish his goals with the U.S. enfeebled by a president who can only engage in wishful thinking and doesn't possess a scintilla of strategic awareness. This is the Russian moment, a point both Mr. Putin and Middle East leaders recognize.
Mr. Putin presents himself to the U.N. as the man who can save the Middle East from entropy. Perhaps he can, but at a price that may be unacceptable. The face he is wearing at the moment belies real intentions.
I am reminded of a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:
No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.
So far, Mr. Putin has pulled it off. The question, of course, is when will the mask of President Obama be removed.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, once said "all politics is local." It was a simple statement that in time became axiomatic. One politician after another echoed the refrain. In fact, I cannot recall any public refutations.
For a while logic suggested that this assertion is correct. In my judgment, however, that time has passed; if anything politics has become national.
The relationship between the government and the individual is complicated in large part because of mediating institutions - the private agencies of family, schools, churches, and associations. These institutions in the aggregate are individually served to moderate a heavy and intrusive hand of federal authority. Alexis de Tocqueville, writing about America in the 1840s, described these institutions as part of the national character and national resiliency.
The difficulty with this characterization is that these moderating structures are in disarray. Each is failing at its role, eroding the barrier between government and the individual.
Family status is confused by the high rate of divorce, illegitimacy and polyamory. The bonds that held family together are challenged by progressive notions of sexual union. What a family is, how it is defined, is subject to a variety of interpretations; one thing is clear - the family as a unit, together through a bond, is rapidly disappearing.
Empirical evidence is mounting that the schools do not do their jobs. Students graduate from high school unprepared for a job or higher education. Most significantly, the principles on which American civilization is based are not transmitted. Young people may love the freedom America allows, but they know very little about "first principles" or why our form of liberty must be defended. Unanchored to traditional belief, these citizens are subject to propaganda and the incremental loss of liberty.
Churches were once religious centers urging a belief in God. Some still perform this role. But many are social and political centers promoting social justice, narrowly construed as political lobbying. Sermons often deal with national issues rather than biblical propositions. The result is that churches have lost their legitimacy as moral arbiters. They may represent some segment of the population, but cannot claim the role of transcendent interpreters of faith or morals.
Associations were once the bulwark of civil authority and pride. They did good deeds; they were the backbone of towns; they represented civic duty and a desire to help those in need. Now, however, their numbers are dwindling. Those in attendance tend to be gray around the temples. Downtown associations are becoming uptown clubs.
Facing conditions of the kind described here, it is hardly surprising that the influence of the federal government is growing. Citizens are adrift searching for meaning in lives that cannot find comfort in traditional institutions.
The nanny state organized by President Obama and his advisors is a national outgrowth of mediating institutions in trouble. If there is a way out of this morass, it is through restoration. Rebuilding schools as learning centers; families as units of cohesion; churches as moral centers; and associations as the backbone of civic authority. It can be done, but it does mean weaning the citizenry from the teat of national assistance. After decades of feeding at the public trough, citizens have habits of mind which have been inscribed. As I see it, the time has come to un-inscribe them. And it is suitable to do so as soon as possible.
For several successive days Russian planes have targeted Syrian rebel troops backed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Even the recalcitrant Obama administration had to admit this is an intentional campaign to degrade U.S. efforts at deposing President Assad. According to official reports the Obama administration is "angry."
Clearly Obama doesn't want to get sucked into a proxy war in Syria, but at the same time he cannot (should not?) abandon CIA-backed rebels who have put their lives on the line to oppose Assad's army.
There is little doubt in any quarter that Russian attacks on U.S. allies are a direct challenge to Obama's policy of partial intervention.
Russian officials contend the air campaign in Syria is designed to fight ISIS and other terrorists. However, targeting tells a different story. There is also a report that a Russian aircraft destroyed a U.S. surveillance drone.
A Rebel spokesman in Syria argues that Russian planes struck an Ezzeh gathering (a CIA-backed group) in Hama province catching the fighters off guard. Seventeen more strikes followed over a three-day campaign injuring 25 rebel fighters. Obama administration officials considered asking Russian forces to avoid certain areas in Syria, but came to the conclusion that the Russians could use this information to even more directly target U.S. allies. Clearly the U.S. is not only on the defensive, it does not have a strategy to protect its allies.
When several rebel forces gained a foothold in northern Syria, Assad lost confidence in his ability to protect coastal areas including Latakia province. That condition was most likely the catalyst for Russian advancement in the area and the desire to build a major military facility there.
Weakening moderate rebel forces is central to Russian ambitions. Putin is attempting to put Obama in the position of having to accept Assad, despite all Obama's claims about deposition. Should that happen, the U.S. will have lost face with its former Middle East allies; Russia will have demonstrated its hegemony in the region; Assad will have been "rewarded" for killing 250,000 of his own people, and using poison gas, and American alliances will be called into question around the globe.
Rebel forces are understandably disheartened. They were trained by the CIA and offered American support. Now they have been left to dangle. When asked about future support, several officers said, "There is nothing specific."
Here too is another graphic sign of American weakness. Without deploying a force of our own in the region - which President Obama justifiably wants to avoid - there could still be a demand for "safe areas" and "no fly zones" which U.S. aircraft could defend. It is morally unconscionable to train rebel troops we place in the battlefield, only to see them exposed to Russian air strikes.
Russia's goal is clear: Protect President Assad. Assertions about the war on terror are a pretense. According to reports, there has been one bombing mission directed at ISIS and al Nusra, the Syrian al Qaeda operation; all of the others are directed at rebel troops.
The stakes in this conflict go well beyond Syria. They involve the geography in the Middle East, Russian influence in the Ukraine, and even the waves of immigrants floating to European shores. A "What me worry?" president either doesn't fathom the consequences of inaction or it is part of his scheme for withdrawal and retreat.
Recent reports have indicated that hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops entered Syria in early September. Moreover, the accord on intelligence among Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria suggests Russian troops will be assisting the Iranians in the war against ISIS. That may not be all.
Israeli officials are appropriately concerned that Russian troops will be operating in the Golan Heights along with Hezbollah and Assad-led Syrian forces. Israel is faced with the additional challenge of the expanded Russian presence in Syria, especially in the Latakia region, where in the past IDF forces destroyed arms convoys intended for Hezbollah.
When Israeli forces returned fire on two Syrian positions near Quneitra, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded: "We respect Israel's interests related to the Syrian civil war but we are concerned about its attacks on Syria." Clearly this statement is mutually contradictory; if you are concerned about Israel's interests then it must be protected by defensive military action. Nonetheless, this response stands as a warning signal. Certain attacks may be justified so long as they do not jeopardize the position and security of Syria's President Bashar al Assad.
In a recent trip to Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that Israel
. . . will maintain its position of noninvolvement in the Syrian civil war, but I would not allow Hezbollah and other terrorist groups to amass advanced weapons systems, nor would I tolerate attacks against the Golan Heights.
This statement was obviously an effort to establish rules of engagement with Russian forces, rules that would be violated if Russia equips Hezbollah with sophisticated missiles. There is little doubt that the presence of Russian forces introduces a new and somewhat constraining variable in Israeli strategic thinking.
It is also instructive that Iran has agreed to purchase $21 billion worth of aircraft and satellite equipment from Russia, one of the largest military transactions in Russian history and a transaction made possible through the lifting of sanctions.
What this means is that Israel is not only surrounded by Muslim neighbors with evil intent, but Russia directly or indirectly, could be in an adversarial position as well. From the defensive position Israel is in, there aren't easy answers. In the past the support of the United States served as a counter-weight to the hostile intent of Israel's Arab neighbors. However, the Iran deal militates against active U.S. assistance. For the Obama team, Israel is a distraction standing in the way of a regional plan that includes U.S. withdrawal and Iranian hegemony.
Russia's enlarged military footprint in Syria has not even led to a whimper from President Obama, a silence that sends a clear and uncluttered message to Israel. As a consequence, Israel is on its own, unmoored from ties to the United States. This complicates military action, but it does not forestall what may be necessary.
Israelis realize what Evelyn Waugh once noted, that
. . . barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity.
Israel has experienced those atrocities with knifings on the street, often from unexpected quarters. Now it is alone on a globe that seemingly does not care about the Jewish state. The questions that remain are: Can Israel defend itself and can it maintain the morale necessary to defeat its apparent and possible enemies? These are "big" questions.
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have conceded that some portion of the money released to Iran through the lifting of sanctions will result in "bad behavior," a euphemism for terrorism. The supposition of the president's team is that despite the bad behavior, Iran, unconstrained by sanctions, will in time join the community of responsible nations. In other words our concessions will yield a positive response from the Supreme Leader Khamenei and his acolytes.
What is in evidence in these negotiations is the implicit Western belief in rationalism, a stance that suggests our enemies, with the appropriate incentives, will act just as we would. "Trust but verify" is the qualifier President Reagan used in his negotiations with the Soviets. President Obama, on the other hand, has resorted to trust and have faith in rational expectations. What happens when the adversary is irrational remains unclear. A theological belief system and acceptance of taqiyya (a religious lie to promote the interests of Islam) challenge assumptions of rationality.
Nonetheless, rationalists persist. At a recent meeting a discussion took place on ways to combat ISIS's influence in the Middle East. The intelligent and well-meaning host argued that a campaign designed to show the unspeakable and monstrous crimes of ISIS combatants might discourage many from joining this poisonous group. Here was the rationalist worldview on display - clear, hopeful, and seemingly sensible. Yet the one point rationalists cannot seem to comprehend is that rationalism doesn't defeat irrationalism. At some point, even if it isn't in his nature, and even if there is recalcitrance to embrace this position, the rationalist must be as ruthless as his enemy.
The only way to defeat the dragon is to deliver enough heat to counter his fire. President Lincoln had to send a message to Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan: destroy the enemy. General Patton wasn't loved by General Eisenhower or President FDR, but he could be as ruthless in war as the Nazi forces. Victory against relentless enemies doesn't occur because of films and conferences, it occurs because of sacrifice and bloodshed. That is the axiom of war.
For those who want to avoid war at all costs, there is talk, negotiation, and concession. But this is merely a delaying tactic until that moment when the enemy feels sufficient strength or recognizes weakness in his opponent to attack. History speaks volumes on this point.
Yet the same mistake will be made in the West as was made in the past because we are constrained by an unwillingness to recognize evil. For us, there is always a rationalization, a belief that there must be a reason for "bad behavior." When the attack on 9/11 occurred there were rationalists publishing articles about American misdeeds in the Middle East and a host of explanations each having some scintilla of evidence behind it. But it would not be said that this attack was an act of evil and, in order to correct it, we must stamp out that evil using every means available to us.
As a consequence we negotiate, hoping that enemies who say "death to America" don't really mean it. President Obama rationalizes by saying "that's politics." Too bad no one from the press asks if his political statements should be put under the same lens.
Goethe's Mephistopheles tells Faust "I am the spirit that denies! And justly so, for all that time creates, He does well who annihilates!" Alas, we deny those who wish to annihilate. We assume that we are immune. That history - this time - will not repeat itself, that the beast who wants to destroy will betray his instincts and act as we would like. Unfortunately the enemy of the West isn't only found in the deserts of the Middle East or the steppes of Russia, but within ourselves and a rationalist view that is unwilling to recognize evil. *
Who is Julia? Julia is the eponymous voice of President Obama, a woman invented by the  campaign to demonstrate how this present administration is assisting women in all aspects of life. However, inadvertently it displays the Obama vision of America, a vision right out of 1984 with Big Brother at her side throughout a lifetime.
In this cartoon narrative, Julia evolves from birth to old age with the Obama government locked at her hip. The presumption is that Julia could not succeed without the helping hand of government. When Julia turns three she is enrolled in the federally funded Head Start preschool program. Never mind that empirical evidence indicates Head Start is a failure despite $167 billion spent on this program each year.
In this evolving tale, President Obama's programs prepare her for college, offer free healthcare, student loans, free birth control, of course, a chance to start a business, and an opportunity to retire in comfort and dignity. All of this from a beneficent government eager to carry Julia through the vicissitudes of life's stages.
That reliance on government has a baneful effect on society and on the individual is not entertained by Ms. Julia, nor is there any mention of the incompatibility between the Nanny State and the U.S. Constitution. By the time Julia has reached the age of Social Security she will be burdened with a debt of $45,000. If one multiplies Julia by the thousands, arguably the millions, unemployment will remain unnaturally high, entrepreneurship will be a disappearing concept, and Social Security will assuredly be bankrupt.
One gets the distinct impression Julia is European. She is offered the Faustian deal of cradle-to-grave security by a government promising more than it can or should deliver. In the process, the economy founders, debt mounts, currencies fail, and the moral strength of the West falters.
Julia is to Obama what Goldstein is to Orwell. One is presumably asked to pay obeisance to a female narrative that has an inevitably destructive outcome, albeit not one recognized by the Obama team. Similarly, in 1984 obeisance is paid to Goldstein as the exemplar of government involvement. It is a ritual without purpose. In fact, Julia is also a symbol of government that nurtures and provides even as it takes and devours.
It is one thing to discuss government's role as a "helping hand" when there aren't alternatives, but it is quite another matter to think of government as a crutch to be relied on throughout life. For the Obama campaign team to think this is an appropriate message is revealing. Either Obama operatives believe the public, the female public, will find this narrative appealing or they believe women are too myopic to see the implications in this government scheme.
Suppose for the sake of argument Julia does not have a government on which to rely. She would have to apply her God-given ingenuity to educational choices and finding a healthcare arrangement that's affordable and use her talent to start a business or develop professional skills in order to earn an income. Liberty gives her choices and power. Government may create the illusion of helpfulness, but ultimately it stifles innovation and inventiveness. The most appropriate vision for Julia is empowerment. Unfortunately, despite the frequent employment of this word, government invariably enfeebles and makes one dependent.
If the feminist movement is interested in Julia it should be wary of the cartoon the Obama team has limned. As I see it, Julia should be a free-thinking individual capable of making her own choices in life and independent from the intrusiveness of government action. Julia should avoid personal debt and avoid, as well, serving as an instrument of government policy. She should be sufficiently sensitive to the fact that a government "benefit" comes with a price that is usually unseen.
Needless to say, the Obama team thinks Julia is a campaign attribute, but for thinking individuals this cartoon figure is a caricature implicitly describing all that ails this nation.
After a lot of arm-twisting, the Gulf Arab states publicly backed the Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran. On the surface, this appears as a diplomatic victory for the president as he seeks to build support for his signature foreign policy initiative. But is this true?
The positive response from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain emerged after months of intense lobbying by the White House. What the administration gave up to achieve its goal is a matter of some speculation.
There isn't any doubt that the U.S. will offer advanced military material, intelligence-sharing and training. However, from the outset Saudi Arabian officials have said that whatever capability Iran obtains from the deal should be offered to their country as well.
Secretary of State John Kerry held a summit explaining the terms of nuclear agreement to the GCC, but what is undisclosed is whether he was willing to agree to Saudi terms. In other words, if there is a pathway for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, will the same pathway exist for Saudi Arabia? Kerry refers to the deal with Iran as "the best option." What that means for Saudi Arabia remains unclear.
It is clear, of course, that this GCC backing undermines pro-Israel groups who oppose the Iran deal because it threatens America's Middle East allies, albeit Egypt is conspicuously omitted from the acceptance group. Republicans continue to insist, despite the GCC proclamation, that the Iran accord will jeopardize Israel and American interests in the region. They note, as well, that Tehran will use new oil money and revenues to fund its militant proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
Notwithstanding GCC acceptance of the deal, several notable officials from the Gulf voiced concern that Washington may weaken its alliance in the area as it pursues rapprochement with Iran. It is therefore incumbent on Washington to assure these nations that they will not be abandoned. From the Sunni Arab perspective, sophisticated weapons, radars, missile defense systems and enhanced intelligence operations may be insufficient as reassurances.
Even Kerry said of Iran, he "hopes that indeed perhaps there could be a turning of the page, but we have to prepare for the possibility and eventuality that it won't." Preparing for the possibility it won't probably means the GCC nations require a deterrent, i.e. nuclear weapons of their own. Is this what Kerry really means when he argues the U.S. will do whatever is necessary to provide security for our allies or does he mean these nations will come under the U.S. nuclear umbrella? In any unfolding scenario either America offers nuclear guarantees, nuclear weapons or a green light to secure these weapons.
As many analysts understood from the outset, negotiations with Iran lead inexorably to proliferation, the very condition President Obama said he was trying to avoid. Just as "verification" for President Obama doesn't really mean verification, but rather selective inspection, "endorsement" by the GCC doesn't really mean endorsement, but rather tentative acceptance based on a laundry list of incentives.
Arab states have learned the fine art of negotiation. They also understand taqiyya - deception - to advance the interests of Islam. What seems to be the case is never quite the case. While Secretary Kerry warns of the worst-case scenario, he acts as if a rosy future awaits the region. Wiser minds see it differently and I side with the wiser minds.
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan recently reaffirmed Iran's position that issues involving Iran's missile program are not matters for discussion. Presumably Iran is determined to keep developing its missile force. As for attempts to clarify Iran's past activity regarding the "military dimensions" of its nuclear program, Dehghan noted that Iran will definitely not grant anyone access to its security and military "secrets."
Concerning statements made by President Obama and Secretary Kerry after the deal was signed, Dehghan said:
The U.S. officials make boastful remarks and imagine that they can impose anything on the Iranian nation because they lack a proper knowledge of the Iranian nation . . . the time has come now for the Americans to realize that they are not the world's superpower and no one recognizes them as such any longer.
In fact, in a clear reference to Obama's "red lines" that seemed to exist only as disappearing ink, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said that several provisions of the resolution constitute "the crossing of red lines" that Iran set, particularly on the issue of military capabilities. As far as Iran is concerned, military matters, including access to ballistic missiles, aren't on any agenda, will not be a bargaining chip, and remain none of the business of the P5+1.
So despite all the claims about peace and stability, the agreement is basically a statement of intention. Verification, to which President Obama refers, is a chimera. Iran will permit inspections when it chooses to do so, notwithstanding Kerry's assurances to the contrary.
In 1933 Billy Rose and "Yip" E. Y. Harburg wrote "It's Only A Paper Moon" with the lyrics:
It's a Barnum and Bailey World
Just as phony as it can be,
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me.
As I see it, the Iran resolution is a "make believe" document filled with intentions that rely on Iranian good will. The one person who contends the "make believe" becomes real is the president, if you believe in him. As a consequence, this arrangement, however you cut it, is a presidential initiative to refashion the Middle East by "offshoring" responsibility for regional stability to the leading state sponsor of terrorism. In this case, a belief in the president must exist without any doubts.
Alas, as Tennyson noted, "The old order changeth." But it is a question of whether the new order enhances stability. From Obama's perspective, U.S. foreign policy is being woven into the fabric of multi-lateral decision-making, a step closer to world government. President Obama is not a naf, as some conservatives contend; he has a plan for a new world order.
The deal with Iran is merely one stage in a multi-stage process to reduce the American footprint on the world stage. In his mind, this agreement will release the U.S. from Middle East obligations and hasten the day when regional powers will fill the vacuum. Obama's choice for the role of surrogate policeman is Iran. Hence, an Iran that can and will acquire nuclear weapons becomes a military and political force with which to be reckoned.
The problem, of course, is that Iran has its own imperial agenda that goes beyond Obama's romantic perception. Iran envisions a Persian empire that includes the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and swaths of territory from Yemen through Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. Obama is the romantic dealing with his dream of a new world order; Iranian leaders see a metaphorical chess board that allows them to move directly to an assault on the Queen.
The question that emerges is "Who is right?" Thus far, there isn't any reason to place confidence in the president's plan since the Iranian leadership is in open defiance. Iranian leaders chant "death to America," then they suggest the treaty will be upheld. In discussing romantic yearnings in foreign policy, Isaiah Berlin once said:
. . . passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, leads a search after means of excusing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.
This seems to be an accurate depiction of the present administration's position. Despite warnings about the danger of an accord in which the U.S. makes the major concessions, President Obama appears to be driven by an "unappeasable yearning," a yearning that cannot be realized when the goal of a cooperative Iran is unattainable. *
After years of inaction, NATO is now attempting to develop a strategy to cope with Russian aggression. A U.S. State Department report indicates that Iran has not reduced its global terrorist activity despite the accommodative stances of the P5 + 1 on Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition. The elimination of "stop and frisk" preventive policing action has resulted in an increase of gun violence in New York City and in other major cities where previously enforced police measures have been caused to lapse.
What do these events have in common? Despite all of the effort to refute them by cultural constructivists, the laws of nature are inevitable. If there is not an inner compulsion to comply with the law or accepted forms of behavior, external compulsion is necessary. When there is neglect to apply external compulsion in the form of policing or resistance to aggression, anarchy will prevail. Aggressors sense when rules can be violated.
This isn't a radical or ethnic question; it is a matter of natural law, a condition so obvious that most people recognize it intuitively.
Why then are we obliged to reacquaint ourselves with the obvious? First, there are those, who for political reasons rationalize the behavior of miscreants. Russia has a historical sphere of influence over Eastern Europe, argue the apologists. Or you might hear the words of inner city rabble rousers who contend that strict police action has a "disparate impact" on certain racial and ethnic groups, despite the fact these are the people who disproportionately violate the law. Second, many do not believe laws are natural, notwithstanding empirical evidence to the contrary. These are the well intentioned who believe if we establish an example of peace and tranquility aggressors will follow suit. Third, there are nave true believers who cannot be convinced by reasonable argument and may even accept the chains that tether them as a game played by aggressors.
No matter what Putin says about his intention to restore the pride of mother Russia damaged in the Cold War, European and American leaders refuse to accept his words as genuine. To do so would force actions most national leaders consider unacceptable. Similarly, the Supreme Leader of Iran doesn't conceal his ambitions to establish an empire in the Middle East. But President Obama is so keen on a nuclear weapons deal, he remains deaf to the comments. Thugs, carrying weapons, know the police are handcuffed. Some have stated as much. Yet the politicians responsible for the lax policies contend the uptick in crime is statistical aberration.
There is an unwillingness to recognize the fact that evil hasn't yet been eliminated. In the interest of self-preservation, it would be advisable to recognize this reality. Yet, and this is the point, so many are willing to march to their demise. They accept the willful destruction of property claiming that a portion of the city can be set-aside for this purpose.
In almost the same manner President Obama has turned a blind eye to terrorism fomented by Iran, terrorism that has claimed at least 1,500 American lives. It appears as if any call to halt terrorist activity will jeopardize a nuclear weapons treaty he regards as the hallmark of his administration.
Here is a case where domestic policy collides with foreign policy. An unwillingness to stand up to the defiled in Ferguson and Baltimore is analogous in my judgment, to the acceptance of aggression by the mullahs in Iran and by Putin. Losing the will to call evil by its name, and by avoiding the use of police and military assets to oppose it, was once regarded as ignoring common sense. "Peace through strength" was not an expression invented by President Reagan; it goes back to Jerusalem and Athens. In fact, it is in the Western DNA.
Something happened. Is it battle fatigue? Perhaps a lack of leadership? Or is it something else, a profound belief in appeasement as a questing and religious ideal? One thing is certain: aggressors smell weakness. The slide to slavery may not be inevitable, but the path we are on could lead to that result.
Alfred Marshall, in his foundational 1890 book, Principles of Economics, argued that "Human wants and desires are countless in number and very various in kind." Alas, Western civilization is in a spiral pursuing a number of wants and desires without regard to law, constitutionality, or common sense. The goal of unfettered freedom has captured the imagination of many on both sides of the Atlantic transfixed by the belief that human beings do not have to be constrained by biology, laws, or conflict.
By virtue of technological miracles people in the West can live as they wish. "The future," as Paul Valery noted, "is not what it used to be." The ad that once stated "if you have one life to live, live it as a blond" has opened a Pandora's box of opportunities from hair color to sex change, from belief in the defense of the country to global coexistence, from a Constitution or a set of laws to post-structural ideas that rely on perceptions. The rich traditions of moral thought that guide human relationships have been interred. In fact, there does not appear to be an innate drive to avoid ethical transgressions on any level.
It was once believed that if informed citizens acting rationally could express free will, their individual choices would yield the best outcome for the civilization as a whole. An assumption was made in this belief that people would have access to information and the power to exercise choice. But suppose you are confronted with information overload so that distinguishing dross from pearls of wisdom is impossible. Suppose as well that choice is withheld through judicial action that supersedes individual preferences, when prosaic near term action is determined by a few and imposed on an unwary populace.
The evolution of social lives and technology are affecting the way policy is derived. Lines of demarcation between buyers and sellers, employer and employee, rich and poor, weak and strong are not clear. If you can sell things on-line the likelihood is you are both the buyer and the seller; if you rely on technological innovation to earn a living, you are likely to be both employer and employee; if you call yourself middle class, you are rich by the standards of three decades ago but poor by the buying power of the super-rich; if you can obtain a nuclear weapon and have the means to deploy it, you are a de facto power even if you have weak conventional defense assets.
In a century defined by accelerated change, norms that once served as pillars of security cannot be relied on. Uneasiness is in the air we breathe. The average person cannot be sure the job he has today will be there tomorrow. Policy analysts cannot assert the defense erected at the moment can serve as a barrier to the offensive development of the future. A universal desire for the "good" in the form of clean air or treaty alignments very often results in the opposite of intention. By assuming public responsibility for the mitigation of risk through healthcare and welfare programs, personal responsibility has languished. When the clarion call for remediation of any perceived problems occurs, state activism of various kinds is the answer.
Free education, universal healthcare, and mercenary armies turn out to be very expensive. There aren't any free lunches in the West or anywhere else for that matter. But the appetite for "more," for the realization of the dream, for the world we want rather than the word we have, increases daily. It is inspired by an improved standard of living and the acceptance of stability engendered by the end of the Cold War. History has not ended as Francis Fukuyama once proposed, but the elements of historical judgment are in suspension. The West does not want to confront the reality that it is in a war with radical Islam. It does not want to fight, so it wills the enemy away.
Post-structuralists simply define what they believe is true, facts being a distraction from the embrace of a desired reality. Hence Islamic radicalism is not Islamic, a tax is not really a tax, legislative wording is unrelated to intent, and the enrichment of uranium is not related to the creation of a nuclear weapon. As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, words are whatever I want them to mean. This is a convenient way to satisfy the best of "wants," but can never be entirely satisfying. A decline in the West will be ushered in through the appearance of illusory solutions, treaties to ban weapons, and a harvest of new technologies, new economies, new ways of thinking. The cult of the "new" commands attention because of desire, an insatiable guest for Utopia. Unfortunately Utopia is just beyond our reach. What does come into focus is the dystopian consequence of reaching for the unreachable.
The regeneration power in the West still exists, but it appears to be in desuetude. It is as if a relearning process is necessary starting with the delay of gratification, confidence in the institutions that made the West unique, belief in God or a belief in power beyond oneself and the startling realization that there is evil in the world against which defense is needed. This seems rather elementary, but as George Orwell noted in a time of peril:
We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
For a variety of reasons, including the expanding vistas of wants and desires, the obvious has been forgotten. *
Herb London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.
Rising from the ugly portals of dictatorship and control, is the irrevocable value of open expression. Free speech, indeed the ability to make decisions for yourself, is a gift bequeathed to citizens residing with Western traditions. At times speech is hateful and tasteless - an unappetizing feature of freedom. But this is a price willingly paid to assure free exchange.
These platitudinous comments are now being challenged by a theological view that there is only one way to live, think, and conduct oneself. That is the essence of sharia - part law and largely a way of life. Many Muslims choose this way voluntarily, some have it imposed and some ignore it completely. Nonetheless, there is an army, admittedly a minority army, comprised of many thousands or perhaps millions who wish to impose "this way" on others. For them, free speech is incompatible with sharia. In order to maintain equilibrium in the minds of the truly faithful jihadis, open expression must be squelched. There isn't any compromise, nor is there any opportunity for rational exchange. The die is cast and only force remains.
What the West observed in the murderous attack on a satirical magazine and its editorial staff in Paris [also in Garland, Texas] was not merely retaliation for cartoons depicting the Prophet unfavorably, but a religious impulse to close the channels of free expression. Freedom for jihadis is realized when everyone embraces Islam and the world is at peace.
This is a civilizational conflict, fought on the terrain of religious doctrine and often tasteless cultural actions. But whether the manifest form of expression is tasteless is less relevant than the ability to express it. It is hard to defend the purveyors of smut or Nazi marches in Jewish communities or those who throw excrement on Christian symbols, but as much as these actions should be criticized and condemned, the price of liberty is the acceptance of the disagreeable for the acceptance of Constitutional virtue.
To my surprise, there is a movement in the West that rationalizes the extremist sentiments within Islam, noting that "it is a religion of peace" or "most Muslims are peaceful." Curiously very few journalists ask the obvious question: What are the conditions in Islam that promote violent behavior? To do so, would not only be regarded as "Islamophobic," but ironically would trigger a violent response.
Many in the West have been rendered paralyzed by fear and political correctness. What one might say about a Jew or a Catholic, could never be said about a Muslim. It is inconceivable that there would be a play on Broadway about the Prophet comparable to The Book of Mormon. When a play about Prophet Mohammed was launched in Washington D.C. decades ago, the mayor was shot. That was an opening and closing.
Self-censorship is in the Zeitgeist. So many are concerned about the reaction of controversial opinion that they lose sight of the fact that by sacrificing openness, freedoms - to which we often give lip service - are being eroded. It is not merely the First Amendment that is at risk; rational discourse itself is imperiled. The absurd commentary rationalizing the murders in Paris is a case in point. Where are the probing questions, alas, the obvious questions? Where is the outrage? Why do we accord a standard for one religion that doesn't apply to others? These queries await a response but all that one hears is a whimper.
In the January 2013 issue of First Things, Professor Patrick Deneen contends that the decline in the study of great books is to be found in the very arguments within the great books themselves.
While these arguments do exist, their role and the extent of their influence are difficult to assess. Admittedly, the reflexive use of "critical thinking" as an argument for the study of great books is absurd, since no one quite knows what it is or how to achieve it. Moreover, the essence of any thinking is related to a knowledge core and experience base. Without these conditions, "critical thinking" is merely one more clich in the armory of academic rhetoric.
John Dewey argued that the reading of great books was essential as a preparation for citizenship. But since his view of citizenship was an individual circumscribed by "the collective," the readings are designed to justify an end, not as an open-ended dialogue.
Then there is the view that great books lead inevitably to a humanitarian stance, a hallmark civilizational insight. Yet Joseph Mengele, the depraved Nazi butcher, was a scholar of classic texts. Books can make a world and can destroy the world or even be irrelevant to the world. Great books have housed within them the treasure of human wisdom, but it is not revealed by simple reading. Are there books designed to perpetuate virtue or to transform education? This bifurcated model offered by Professor Deneen is a useful concept. For if one accepts the latter stance of transformation, great books may be an encumbrance best displaced from the heart of education.
Deneen concludes by suggesting that we consider
. . . humble books, or at least great books that teach humility, in contrast to those great books that advance a version of Promethean greatness as an aspiration that has undermined the study of books.
What is ultimately called for is a
. . . liberation from the tyranny of our unconscious submission to the ideas that dominate our age by considering others that have been discarded.
Clearly this is praise, albeit modest praise, for "humble books" as a witness for where we stand at the moment. But I remain unpersuaded by his argument, in part because Deneen does not truly address the importance of great books in the total educational experience. He is right to contend that these texts do not necessarily mold citizens, or encourage critical thought, or offer civilizational insights. These are weak confirmations for great books as an educational core.
What is important, what stands as the justification for great books, is that the canon asks the appropriate questions, questions that, as Cardinal Newman noted, go to the very essence of education. Instead of being narrowly defined by disciplinary restrictions, great books cut across the human experience to ask: Why are we here? How do we leave our mark? How do we control inner desires? To whom do we owe allegiance and why? And, recognizing the inevitability of death, what gives life meaning?
These, of course, are not the only questions, but they are queries unfastened to disciplinary study. Moreover, these are questions designed to inspire thought, not simple answers, since those aren't readily available. In a university setting where vocationalism is in the ascendency, a place where students often regurgitate the expected response to professional testing, such questions, which provoke serious reflection and thought, are rarely on display.
Yet it is these questions that lie at the heart of education, and it is these questions that are evoked from the reading of great books. Professor Deneen appropriately tells us to moderate our claims about these texts. I would agree, yet I would urge him to consider the real reason why these books should remain at the very center of the curriculum. In education, the question is often more significant than the answer.
Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president and the Earth did not move. This wasn't exactly a surprise since the bench in the Democratic Party isn't deep. Her brief for doing so is based on the claim she is a woman who cares about the middle class. Of course, this is an odd construction since she had little experience as a member of this class.
Many journalists have commented on her various dissimulations from her opposition to the "surge" in Iraq to her Benghazi testimony to being fired upon in Serbia to her private emails to her financial bonanza on a $1,000 investment in the commodities market. What remains unanalyzed, though, is her foreign policy record.
After all, this subject is the basis for her professional experience. As secretary of state, she did have experience on an international scale. But what, if anything, did she accomplish?
Mrs. Clinton argues that she put together the sanctions regimen that culminated in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. Since she cannot cite one example of a nation that went from instability to stability on her watch, the sanctions regime is her claim to success. Curiously, this assertion hasn't received very much attention, but it should.
During her years at State her peregrinations around the globe were unprecedented. She was a master, excuse me - a mistress, of shuttle diplomacy. Many nations agreed with her positions and some did not. Turkey, for example, engaged in a gold-for-oil deal with Iran in defiance of sanctions. China received a dispensation of 20 percent so that it could continue to buy Iranian oil. Russia sent centrifuges to Iran for hard currency. What might be said is that sanctions worked to some degree. They certainly had an adverse effect on the Iranian economy, but did they force or encourage Iran's leaders to a negotiating posture on nuclear weapons?
On this point, the evidence is ambiguous. Iran's leaders want sanctions lifted. The point that remains unclear is whether Iran would abandon its nuclear weapons ambition for the removal of sanctions. In every public comment Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said there isn't any action or gesture that will deter Iran from the pursuit of nuclear "energy." Needless to say, he will not use the word "weapon." However, the primary goal of enriched uranium for weapons production will not be deterred by the threat of sanctions.
This posture raises a curious issue about Mrs. Clinton's "accomplishment." If the partial sanctions regime could not sway Iranian leadership, what conditions accounted for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's presence at the Geneva and Lausanne negotiating table?
While no one in the Obama administration will say it, and Hillary Clinton will not admit it, Iran's leaders were eager for the P5+1 discussions. They know President Obama and other world leaders are so eager for a deal that they would be able to secure approval of nuclear weapons and sanctions relief at the same time. Should one rely on the framework - before the details are ironed out - it is no longer a question of whether Iran will have nuclear weapons, but when they will have them.
As a consequence, the one Hillary achievement, the one that is highlighted on her resum, is questionable at best. She traveled a great deal; she met world leaders. But her deeds are remarkably shallow. During a campaign, resumes are blown up like helium balloons. Mrs. Clinton will need all the false air she can get. Yet in the one area she considers most noteworthy, the evidence doesn't justify the claims.
When President Obama was a student at Columbia College he wrote a paper calling for the "end of nuclear weapons." It was a time when there were similar calls for the elimination of these weapons of mass destruction; this was ostensibly an idealistic cri de coeur. Unilateral disarmament of the kind this movement demanded was seen as playing directly into the hands of a Soviet rival expanding its nuclear weapons capability.
The emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world has made the once idealistic claim seem Pollyannaish. A unilateral reduction in U.S. nuclear forces, without a reciprocal response from other nuclear powers, only weakens the deterrent effect of our arsenal.
Yet remarkably, in comments made before the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York City, Secretary of State John Kerry stated U.S. "willingness" and "readiness" to engage and negotiate further reductions of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below the level set by New Start.
While there has been suspicion of Russian cheating on the Start accord and threatening gestures about the use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine, President Obama is raising the specter of further dramatic retrenchment. Senator McCain, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee said "further strategic nuclear reductions with Russia would be a dangerously nave non-starter with the U.S. Senate." In fact, nuclear weapons have grown increasingly prominent in Russian military doctrine as the growth in its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons would suggest.
At the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, the five announced nuclear weapon states recognized by the treaty - U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China - will discuss current approaches to nuclear arms control. It is instructive that North Korea, Pakistan, Israel, India and arguably Iran - all nuclear powers, possible nuclear powers, or about to be nuclear powers - are omitted from the discussion.
In President Obama's Nobel Prize speech, he reiterated his long-standing belief in a world free of nuclear weapons. But despite these heartfelt sentiments the world is moving ever closer to proliferation, even among those nations that signed the non-proliferation treaty. While the president asserts a "broad international consensus on the need to secure nuclear materials," it is obvious that within the framework on Iran's nuclear materials there isn't any requirement that this state sponsor of terrorism accept international protocols.
Visionaries relying on their own illusions assume that cooperation is possible. But reality intrudes. For Russia, its bristling nuclear arsenal affords comfort in any escalation scenario in Eastern Europe. Should NATO forces confront Russia, the threat of tactical nuclear weapons looms.
Rather than begin the upcoming nuclear security summit by stating our position, Secretary Kerry would be wise to put an emphasis on reinforcing the national deterrent. No sensible person wants nuclear exchanges. Unfortunately not everyone is sensible. A world without nuclear weapons is and should be a goal, but suppose you disarm and your enemies do not? Russia, for example, has already said it will not participate in the preparatory process for the 2016 security summit.
An agreement of the willing is meaningless if the unwilling do not participate. In the nuclear age it is far better to be safe - behind the wall of defensive weapons - than sorry after a failed effort at a freeze. The utopian vision, in this case, can easily emerge as a dystopian saga. President Obama leaves the impression that he is still a nave Columbia student captivated by illusions. However, there isn't anyone like him in Russia, China or Iran. *
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, President and founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
Despite administration claims to the contrary, 2014 was the year of failure on the foreign policy front. In every area of the globe chaos or instability reigns.
The Middle East is a cauldron of warring factions and theological imperatives. Libya is falling under the sway of radical groups each trying to gain control of Tripoli. In essence, government has ceased to exist. French forces may be the only hope for the restoration of order, but that is not a sustainable solution.
Iraq is struggling to maintain a state that resembles the recent past. With ISIS carving out a segment for itself and the Kurds banging the drums for autonomy, the future is indefinite. A modus vivendi between Shia and Sunni leaders is also unlikely. On Iraq's border, Syria is in a similar state of dismemberment. Assad holds on to power precariously with overt Russian support and tacit U.S. acceptance, but his base is restricted to an area around Damascus as rebels of various stripes carve up the rest of the country.
The largely ignored war in the Sinai continues unabated with Egyptian forces taking significant casualties. Sinai has become a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten Egyptian stability and Israel's southern border.
Iran, a perpetual source of terrorist activity since 1979, has emerged, with U.S. approval, as a stabilizing regional force opposing ISIS ambitions. Yet its own imperial goals remain undiminished. Iranian National Guard members launched a coup against the Yemini government and prevailed. As a consequence, Iran controls the critical sea lanes at the Red Sea and the Gulf of Hormuz.
Negotiations in Geneva and Vienna indicate that Iran will possess sufficient fissile material to build nuclear weapons, a decision that will have profound implications for the future of the region. In addition to altering military strategy, nuclear weapons, or even sufficient fissile material to build weapons, will roil the political waters for the foreseeable future.
Across the globe, on the Pacific front, the Chinese have made it clear they want to assert themselves as the hegemon in the region. Assertion doesn't always mean war, but it does represent a challenge, one that the Obama administration neither understands nor is prepared to openly resist. As a consequence, Japan, South Korea, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia are searching for leadership, a helmsman who can lead nations with disparate interests but the same potential enemy.
In South America, U.S. overtures to Cuba seem to suggest that there may be more to gain from opposition to American policies than embracing them. Venezuela, as a proxy for Cuba on the continent, has harbored terrorists and sympathizers of Iran without penalty. The caudillo principle hasn't died in South America, but the U.S. as a model of democratic government is fading.
On balance 2014 represents the unfolding of the Obama foreign policy failures. It is one thing to renounce the position of global policeman, but another thing to remove oneself from the adjudication of international disputes. As much as President Obama wants the U.S. to be a state like other states, we are different in kind, size, and stature. Notwithstanding denials to the contrary, America is still the light of opportunity that shines across the globe, albeit a somewhat less bright light under Obama's leadership. Restoring that leadership role represents the task ahead. Needless to say, it will not be easy reversing positions and establishing confidence with skeptics, but that is the challenge that lies before us.
In several press conferences and public statements President Obama has theorized a Middle East strategy that is limited, time sensitive, and avoids "boots on the ground." This position is the one he proposed to Congress. Modest but not overwhelming; committed, but only in a partial sense. In no sense, not even one advocated by the president, is this a policy for total victory over ISIL or al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.
Recognizing the limits of resources and what President Obama calls "war fatigue," what can be done? Surely there is more that the U.S. can do than we are doing at the moment. Ultimately, of course, Middle Eastern states will have to fend for themselves. While there isn't one nation that has anywhere near the military capability of the U.S., in combination they can constitute a military force capable of defeating extremism. A union of Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait could pool military assets into a Middle East NATO with the U.S. as a member state offering logistics, Special Forces, and sophisticated hardware.
Although Israel is not a beloved member of the Gulf nations, its military prowess and intelligence apparatus would make it an "unregistered" member of the coalition. After all, since Iran is the enemy of the Sunni states in addition to the other terrorist networks originated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and it is an enemy of Israel, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well, that is probably going too far. Israel would be a pragmatic ally. Under exceptional conditions and the passage of time, it might be called a friend.
Like NATO, this would be a military alliance designed to thwart terrorism and the imperial ambitions of Iran. It could also be a cultural institution that extirpates the interpretation of religious texts that inspires violence. King Abdullah of Jordan and President al Sisi have made this clear. The coalition would provide this viewpoint with a megaphone.
It is instructive that President Obama has conspicuously avoided reaching out to traditional allies, Egypt and Jordan. His policy emphasis is on reaching an accord with Iran, the nation on whom Obama is attempting to build his legacy. For the president, this rapprochement is equivalent to Nixon's overtures to China - a world-changing event for which Nixon will always be remembered. The problem is that Iran is not China and with four capitals under its control - Beirut, Damascus, Bagdad and Sana'a - Iranian leaders have constructed a Middle East Empire.
In fact, it is late in the day to conceptualize a countervailing influence, but there isn't any choice. History has impinged on decision-making. The Gulf States may be facing existential choices if Iran is permitted to have nuclear weapons or the fissile material to build them. Should that be the result of the June negotiations in Geneva, the Sunni defense condominium will be obliged to develop a nuclear umbrella of its own as a regional deterrent.
In an unstable area with many state and non-state actors, nuclear proliferation is the pathway to a doomsday scenario. Surely that isn't the legacy Obama planned. Hence a regional alliance, like NATO, may serve as the most reasonable alternative for the future. President Obama won't embrace it now, but it is looming in the recesses of his imagination. Should he need some guidance, he could cite the Middle East Strategic Vision, written by Eli Gold, Pete O'Brien and Tony Shaffer on the London Center for Policy Research website. This isn't a plug, merely a suggestion.
Editor's Note: this essay is a response to the address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Joint Session of Congress.
A state leader with the distinction of Bibi Netanyahu should be honored, not boycotted, particularly when he is here to explain the nexus between our Iranian rapprochement and the very survival of the state of Israel.
With Elie Wiesel as witness to today's historic speech to the U.S. Congress and a living testament to the mantra "Never Again," Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu reminded us that something bigger is at stake than a "bad deal" with Iran. By clearly articulating the dangers of a nuclear Iran in a combustible Middle East, he elevated the current debate by explaining in a way that even the Arabists and foreign policy elites in our own State Department should understand - that Iranian rapprochement poses a threat not only to the survival of the state of Israel, but to the entire world as well. This is why the speech which was so compelling to security-minded strategists, yet so threatening to others who would prefer to view Netanyahu's remarks through the lens of pure politics. It crystallized what is at stake but clearly expresses that strategic interests will not be held hostage to this Obama initiative.
In addition to threatening the survival of Israel, this "bad deal" giving Iran leverage for the realization of its ambitions, has alarmed the Sunni nations in the area. It is a catalyst for regional nuclear proliferation, with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt poised to act should Iran acquire nuclear weapons or the fissile material to produce nuclear weapons.
We, at the London Center for Policy Research, embrace a bipartisan foreign policy that endorses a free, peaceful, independent Israel. Our fate, and that of all freedom-loving nations, is tied to Israel and its future. We will not forget.
If one relies on recent accounts in the news, we are all post-structuralists now. Post-structuralism was a response to the structural intellectual movement that human culture can be understood in logic and language. Post-structuralists are skeptical of human science accepting relativism and obscure phenomenology as its method. As post-structuralists see it, objective conditions only reveal the superficial dimensions of human behavior.
Several years ago it was revealed that the conditions described in Rigoberta Menchu's work, which resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize, were fraudulent. The conditions she described didn't exist. One might assume an embarrassed Ms. Manchu would apologize. However, in the post structuralist world, she said that even if the report was inaccurate, these are events that might have occurred.
At Duke University members of the lacrosse team were accused of raping a woman of dubious repute at a team gathering. Although the claims of rape were unproven, a significant number of faculty members rushed to judgment with accusations against the students. After DNA testing demonstrated beyond a doubt that sexual encounters had not occurred with players, the faculty members in question maintained - based on their assessment of class, gender, and race - that it is an act that could have occurred.
In an event startlingly similar, a Rolling Stone article that attributed a case of rape at University of Virginia, led to a variety of campus decisions, including the closing of fraternities. It was argued that the woman, about whom the article was written, was gang raped at a fraternity party. Days after the article was published and the administration responded, the contentions fell apart. The story turned out to be a fabrication. Did the president of the university recant? Did the faculty members who rushed to judgment apologize? Of course, neither occurred.
Arguably the most recent example of post-structuralist thinking resides with President Obama. In his State of the Union address the president said:
Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.
By any standard, this statement is false, yet the president and his spokesman badly needed them to be true. So they pretended they were true.
In order to keep negotiations alive, President Obama accepted the Joint Plan of Action that allowed Iran to continue making sustained progress along its uranium and plutonium tracks with no restriction on ballistic missile development. Rouhani - Iran's president and negotiator - greeted this news as the "right to enrich." In fact, he boasted that Iran would continue to bolster its nuclear program "forever."
Post-structuralist Obama's denial is reminiscent of a comment Nikita Khrushchev made to Richard Nixon:
If people believe there's an imaginary river out there, you don't tell them there's no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.
Despite a world President Obama would like to see, reality intrudes. The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stated the position of his terrorist nation clearly, a position the president has chosen to ignore. He said:
There are only two things that would end enmity between us and the U.S. Either the U.S. president and E.U. leaders should convert to Islam and imitate the Supreme Leader, or Iran should abandon Islam and the Islamic revolution. . . . I do not know why some people believe that some day we will make peace with the U.S. and start relations with them.
The post-structuralist view is predicated on what you want to believe. Curiously, rather than face reality, many would prefer the fantasy, even detesting the truth tellers. As George Orwell noted:
The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.
Operating out of Lebanon, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that pulls the strings in this nation north of Israel. It has influence in the army, in the parliament, and even on the streets of major cities. It has this influence because President Assad of Syria offers financial and military support and Iran is the ultimate broker controlling Assad's fragile government and exporting the missiles Hezbollah has stockpiled.
But now Hezbollah is in a tangle. It wants to avoid an all-out war with Israel, a war it cannot win. Yet its Iranian sponsor has sent a delegation of senior Revolutionary Guard commanders to the Golan Heights and has taken steps to surround Israel with missile deployment in the West Bank, the Syrian border, and Gaza.
Needless to say, Israel doesn't want another war on the heels of its confrontation with Hamas, nor can it tolerate dire threats. As a consequence, Israel's recent strike in Syria is an attempt to forestall Iranian and, by proxy Hezbollah, interests in a region fraught with chaos. Israel cannot create order out of the Syrian maelstrom, but it can strike against those who would exploit the situation for a potential attack.
A preemptive strike by Israel signals that deterrence has risks. This was the case on the northern border when Hezbollah retaliated by killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding others. Hezbollah did so to save face - according to some analysts. Its targeting choice on the eastern end of the border devoid of civilians and against a military convoy, suggests it was inclined to be cautious.
Hezbollah is obliged to adopt a wait and see attitude. The war in Syria that includes rebels and Iranian forces, as well as the dismemberment of the country through ISIS invasions, has existential importance for Hezbollah. Without Assad and Syria at its back, Hezbollah would be hard pressed to sustain itself in Lebanon. Syria is Hezbollah's link to Iran and Iran provides military assistance to Hezbollah through the Syrian conduit. Should this linkage fall apart Hezbollah would be placed in a precarious state.
Both Hezbollah and Assad do not want to drag the Lebanese people into a war precipitated by Iranian plans. After all, Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, has a vivid memory of the 2006 cross-border attack that led to the Second Lebanon War and the destruction of large sectors of the country. From his standpoint, it is far better to assemble a massive missile force poised to attack and available as a threat than to engage in an all-out war against Israel he cannot possibly win. However, since Hezbollah is a vassal in this scenario, its fate is largely in the hands of Iran: Hence the tangle.
In the Middle East regional events vary from day to day. Because they are unpredictable, and as a consequence, volatile, Israel must decide when and where to attack and be prepared to give an enemy a clear ultimatum and, on occasion, the benefit of the doubt. Hezbollah is an enemy, and a dangerous enemy, but it is not prepared to fight. That may be a positive. *
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder and president of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
A virus of devastating proportions has been let loose on the world stage. This one is far more dangerous than Ebola and much more difficult to contain. It is the use of violence as a political tactic.
The anarchists, the professional agitators, the Muslim radicals, the "lone wolves" have reached the conclusion that violence works. It achieves attention; it forces the hand of authority; it challenges the rule of law.
When people die in the wake of hostage taking in Sydney, or two New York police officers are assassinated on the streets of Brooklyn, or children are killed in Pakistan, or people are decapitated by ISIL leaders, or property is destroyed by soi disant defenders of justice, the stabilizers of order are put on notice. Clearly these actions aren't the same, and there is the temptation at conflation, but from the point of view of those challenging "the system," either the prevailing religious sentiment or constitutional principles, violence is a mechanism that inhibits action or intimidates a foe.
By any reasonable historic standard, the virus of the 21st century is nowhere as deadly as the violence in the 20th century. Yet there is a difference. The present virus is random. It can break out anywhere, any time. The present virus has legs because of instant communication and social media. Most significantly, the "sensitivity trainers" have made it difficult, if not impossible, to restrain violence with counter-violence. As a consequence, the offense dominates the field of play.
In what can only be described as a mind-numbing statement, the President of Antioch College, James Dixon, indicates that violence has to be considered against a background of "class differences in morality." He said:
White middle-class America is pretty cool to the use of either personal violence or mass violence as a means of solving human problems. Usually, they look for a method of accommodating or mediating differences short of personal violence. This is not the acceptable mode of moral behavior, for say, a black kid from an inner-city ghetto. At some point he confirms his morality by beating the hell out of somebody. That for him is a positive confirmation. That makes him feel a man. What in a sense is moral in terms of being consistent with the ethic of the culture for one group is not moral for another. And you've got a real problem under these circumstances in trying to define what's crime.
Should enhanced intelligence techniques be employed to avoid violence, the intelligence agents face charges of human rights abuse. Should a police officer fire his weapon to protect himself, he is guilty of killing an "innocent boy." If we bomb ISIL headquarters to protect the besieged Yazidis or the Christian minorities from slaughter, we are the neo-Crusaders. Violence initiated as a tactic has the offense covered.
When terrorists are apprehended and sent to Guantanamo, it is the American government holding them "hostage" that is labeled the "human rights" abuser. In fact, organizations exist to challenge efforts by the government to protect the citizenry from violence using civil rights arguments or selective historical antecedents.
Surely, it is not appropriate to throw out the baby with the bath water, sacrificing civil liberties for security, but we have moved so far in one direction that insecurity prevails at home and abroad. The president is reluctant to use force to protect U.S. citizens oversees and he is reticent to employ the National Guard to stem looting and mayhem at home.
Anarchism is the result with this virus metastasizing in every corner of the culture. Popular music embraces violence. Films glorify terror. Mary and John Q. Public keep their heads down hoping that they won't be affected. But there isn't immunity. Fear is the result of an era when the virus is rampant. There is scarcely a sensible American viewing his television screen who doesn't ask, "What have we come to?"
Will there be a public outcry? It is so hard to predict when the public has been cowed into acquiescence. How many more murders abroad must we endure and how much destruction of property before the Silent Majority is vocal?
The activists have spoken. They control the media narrative, but building in the crevices of public opinion is another voice calling out for the defense of law and order, words that seem quaint in the present atmosphere. Will these people be heard? Do they want to be heard? This may be the most potent question of the 21st century.
The negotiations in Vienna to restrict or prevent Iran from enriching sufficient fissile material to build nuclear weapons, raise the specter of yet a new round in what some have described as "the second nuclear age." For the uninitiated, the first nuclear age was the period in the Cold War when the U.S. and allies confronted the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The second nuclear age is defined by the multiplicity of nuclear powers linked together by varying levels of cooperation and conflict.
Although the Soviet Union and the United States had tense and hostile moments, they did reach some accord for maintaining strategic stability. However, in the second nuclear age, deterrence involving threats from two or more potential adversaries is complicated. Actions of self-defense by nation one against nation two, may be threatening to nation three. Furthermore, non-nuclear technologies such as missile defense, cyber-attacks, and precision weapons could challenge strategic balance.
Hence, there is a need to carve out a unique and unalterable restraint mechanism among nuclear powers to avoid endangering stability; what I have described as "a safe zone" to reduce the risk of deliberate, accidental, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
At the moment five nuclear powers, the U.S., China, Russia, France, and England, maintain an uneasy, but recognized, regimen under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty with India and Pakistan included in the forum. Clearly North Korea is an outlier and Israel is an ambiguous supporter. But despite tensions on the foreign policy front among the Big Seven, equilibrium, however shaky at times, has held. Surely this fragile system needs buttressing with transparency and confidence boosting measures.
The fear is that by adding Iran to the mix, as the leading state sponsor of terror, not only is the status quo unsettled, it means that a nation outside the command, control, and communication network that forestalls breakout and possible deployment, will now be in a position to alter the fragile deterrence mechanisms on the world stage. Moreover, recognizing the stated motives of Iranian leaders, a P5+1 deal that gives Iran a green light for further uranium enrichment and the likelihood of nuclear weapons could trigger a cascading desire for nuclear weapons in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Fierce, low intensity conflicts, such as the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, could escalate into the strategic realm, but thus far deterrence has worked. Whether it will continue to work is dependent to some degree, on restraining Iranian nuclear ambitions. Can an Iran with nuclear weapons, or simply fissile material, be counted on to maintain nuclear stability?
Multilateral participation in the maintenance of stability is essential. But an unreliable nuclear power, assuming its own rules and motivated by theological or imperial goals, could set in motion a nuclear exchange with catastrophic consequences for mankind. It is in everyone's interest to maintain a vigilant balance; yet a nation inspired by terror has a distinct advantage if it strikes first and can withstand retaliation. This is the Iran dilemma. Can the U.S. and other nuclear nations bring Iran into a community in which strategic balance trumps regional hostilities? Will Iran foster confidence by avoiding "breakout"?
Answers to these questions are mystifying, but without answers the world will be entering a long, dark and dangerous tunnel of uncertainty.
What do we know, or think we know, that just isn't true? There are myths, riddles and indeterminate conditions, but for many these factors are ignored in favor of what one believes to be true.
Let me cite several examples.
It has long been contended by foreign policy analysts that the security architecture of the Eastern Mediterranean was based on a preponderance of American power, specifically naval power. What was once undeniable is now subject to clear challenges. The withdrawal of American naval forces from the region has led to a vacuum in which Russian naval presence has become more prevalent than was previously the case and radical Islamic influence has heightened. Moreover, it is not clear that the U.S. is aware of the possibility of losing the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea to Russia or radical Islam, or is preparing to forestall such a scenario.
President Barack Obama has noted that Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was his closest ally, someone on whom he can depend. However, it is clear Erdogan has not cooperated with U.S. military operations in the region, despite his stated opposition to ISIL. Turkey has also violated the sanctions regimen by continuing its trade with Iran. And it pursues a foreign policy that increasingly sides with the most extreme elements in the region.
State Department spokesmen continue to assert that the Arab Spring represents the efflorescence of democratic sentiment. And in Tunisia that may be true; but it certainly isn't anywhere else in the region. Libya, Syria, Iraq - to mention three examples - have been transformed from spring thaw into winter freeze.
It is an article of faith to contend that the U.S. is Israel's closest ally. Indeed, since the creation of the state, Israel has been the beneficiary of American largess. With President Obama at the helm, however, a page has been turned in the relationship. President Obama is considering sanctions against Israel because of the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem; at the same time, relaxing sanctions against Iran in the hope that this will introduce flexibility into the talks on nuclear weapons in Vienna. For many Israelis, deciding on friend or foe isn't easy any longer.
It was a facile judgment to maintain "oil is king" in the Middle East neighborhood. Black gold in the ground paid the bills, gave Arab states leverage in the West and provided riches beyond the contemplation of Croesus. But with oil prices dropping into the neighborhood of $60 a barrel, or half of the price of two years ago, the oil is king scenario has lost its bite. Natural gas and fracking have altered the energy equation. With this shift, the need to deploy troops to protect Middle East oil interest is less pressing.
It was axiomatic that U.S. military influence was a stabilizing influence on global affairs, a position that almost anyone in a foreign policy desk in Washington once accepted. President Obama has a different view, arguably a revolutionary position. He contends that our overseas commitments do not enhance global stability. It is his belief that in order for the U.S. to restore its standing in world affairs, it should channel foreign policy interests to global partners, i.e., "lead from behind."
Alas, the world turns and with it the assumptions of yesteryear - alas, yesterday - no longer apply. Hence the consistency needed to make foreign policy isn't evident. Those who think they know how the world works are often referring to a world that doesn't exist.
There will always be those who appropriately apply the lessons of the past, and yes, we must learn from them. But those lessons must be tested against an ever-shifting backdrop abroad and here at home. Demography, for example, may not be destiny, but it does influence politics and a foreign policy orientation, as does the changing cast of policymakers. What does this all mean? Just when you are sure you know, try reviewing your position again and again. *
A Word from London
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
It has become glaringly apparent that the college tuition bubble is about to burst. At a time of financial exigency, the cost of $250,000 for a four-year education at a private college is beyond the means of most middle class parents. That story is now very much front-page news. What may not be front-page news, but is itself a related bubble, is the excessive commentary surrounding the liberal arts.
If one speaks to an academic immersed in the academic culture, he is likely to glorify the virtues of the liberal arts curriculum. The liberal arts, however, have been injected with foreign steroids that have ballooned the number of offerings and weakened the meaning of the curriculum. If one were to rely on the Matthew Arnold standard of "the best that is known and thought as a guide," the current curriculum is anything that will fit, or whatever you can get away with.
The absurdity of the offerings, from the Occupy Movement to Film Noir, represent little more than outcroppings of the contemporary imagination. So absurd are many of the college level courses that it is even impossible to caricature them. The university has let itself become a feast for those bursting with "expression." Rather than distinguish between the worthy and the ridiculous, scholars refuse to distinguish at all.
This is the age of open arms, of responding to student demands, of acceptance. Far be it for some crusty academic to argue that a course on the films of Woody Allen hasn't an appropriate place in the curriculum. To reject this premise is to be judgmental, apparently in the new order, a sin.
What students get out of these experiences remains unclear. Surely some of these courses are entertaining, some may even be illuminating, but what, if anything, do they offer the liberal arts? The presumption of the liberal arts experience is that by studying the great works of civilization, one arrives at an understanding - or even a partial understanding - of the human condition: what matters, and what makes us matter? Differences in time will reveal varied themes, but passion, loyalty, sadness, conflict, envy, greed, and love do not vary. These are the conditions of life and the very air we breathe, and they are revealed in literature, philosophy, drama, and poetry.
To suggest - as the contemporary curriculum does - that these feelings, ideas and conditions do not matter is to miss the point of the liberal arts by allowing the trifling, the trivial, and the current to insinuate themselves into the curriculum and devalue the college experience.
Encouraging serious students to engage in an exercise such as work or travel or even reading on their own might be as desirable as paying for the privilege of studying the inconsequential. When the tuition bubble does burst, with the new order may come a curriculum that is no longer flatulent and unworthy of scholarship.
If you think these opinions are an exaggeration, read a core curriculum guide from 1950 at any major university and compare it to its modern counterpart. Even leaving aside breakthroughs in science and computer studies, the number of new courses with exotic titles is staggering. "Expression" is deemed good; all aspects of life are considered worthy of investigation and the line between scholarship and amusing oneself with intellectual junk food, "empty calories," remains unclear.
At some point, however, those who underwrite this expensive education - whether they are parents, trustees, or government officials - will ask if we are getting very much of a return on the investment. Perhaps this type of spurious education is among the main reasons people are finding it so hard to find jobs.
Colleges and universities will not die, but they will be obliged to define and justify their missions. That is a task both necessary and desirable for a nation that puts a premium on education, and for an institution that has seemingly lost its way.
Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
It has become fashionable among the cognoscenti to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. In fact, the Quilliam Foundation, focused on religious freedom, has promoted the distinction along with many quite reputable analysts of Islamic behavior. Presumably Islamism believes in the imposition of faith over society by violence or law, while Islam rejects violence conducting itself as any other religion might. This distinction has a hopeful ring to it since one may embrace the faith and abandon the ideology, thereby stabilizing presently unstable societies.
But suppose this is a distinction without a difference. After all, the Islamist is willing to die in order to spread the faith, his death a testament of his religious devotion. Most people would say this is fanatical, but from the Islamists' perspective this is a tactic that intimidates religious rivals driving them to appease or convert. Without having to utter a threat, Jews and Christians know that any criticism of Islam, even mild criticism, could lead to retributive violence. This is what gives Islamism its advantage.
Islam, by contrast, is regarded as benign, a pathway to Allah like any other religion. But is this true? Admittedly most Muslims are not violent, yet it is also the case that violence perpetrated against infidels is clearly suggested in the Koran. Koranic dogma indicates there is only one true religion and its adherents have an obligation to spread the faith.
The democratic belief in self-expression is suppressed by the religion and the ideology. In fact, the ideology springs from the religion. The Medina period in the Koran is fraught with violence embodied in the Verses of the Sword and the good Muslim is one who gives himself to the collective, the umma. Although the Koran is not written chronologically, some assume the Mecca period or peaceful interlude in Islamic history is what should be emphasized. Yet Muslim scholars accept the principle of abrogation, i.e., that which comes later is more holy than what came before. Hence, Medina trumps Mecca.
This principle confounds Western diplomats who wish to create their own reality. In a sense it is like the difference between Hamas and Fatah. Fatah, or the PLO, is willing to engage in discussion with Israeli leaders. Photos are taken and smiles are exchanged. Nonetheless, the goal of Fatah is clearly stated in its own documents: the extermination of Israel with Palestinian borders from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Hamas is not as subtle. It will not negotiate; it will not engage in photo opportunities, but it is firmly and unalterably committed to the destruction of Israel. What is the real difference?
Diplomats deny intentions, just as many in the West comfort themselves by generating false distinctions among Muslims. It should be restated that most Muslims are not terrorists. Most are not violent. Yet it cannot be denied that most terrorists are Muslim. It is politically incorrect to say that, even though almost everyone in the West knows the truth of that statement.
As a consequence, we build institutions on quicksand. We persuade ourselves that there is a way to fix the problem by defining it in a manner that satisfies our basic instincts. It is hard to imagine a religion that values death over life. There is an unwillingness to concede the underlying imperial desire in Islam is to spread caliphates across the globe using any means necessary. The definitions speak to us as tranquilizers. It simply feels better to deny the truth. Unfortunately the truth does not disappear like soap bubbles. Its ugly face appears and reappears. *