Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books) and most recently America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
Did President Bush Lie?
For at least five years there has been one consistent cri de coeur in the liberal community: "Bush lied." Presumably he justified the invasion of Iraq by suggesting Saddam Hussein was attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Never mind the fact that the Clinton administration agreed with this Bush assertion; IAEA inspectors concurred, and the subsequent Dulfer report indicated Hussein was intent on acquisition of these weapons. But enriched uranium was not found; hence Bush lied.
Conventional wisdom has it as failed intelligence and Bush, willy-nilly, is held culpable. Yet on July 5, 2008, the Associated Press (AP) released a story, almost completely unnoticed, that: "a secret U.S. mission hauls uranium from Iraq."
The opening paragraph in the story notes:
The last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium, reached a Canadian port Saturday to complete a secret U.S. operation that included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a ship voyage crossing the oceans.
Included in this "haul" was 550 metric tons of yellowcake used for nuclear weapons enrichment, a staggering sum that could have been used to produce dozens of nuclear weapons.
According to recent accounts the uranium was discovered in 2003, but the administration did not reveal the discovery fearing that terrorists would attempt to steal it. It was guarded in a 23,000-acre site with sand berms surrounding the area.
It would seem that this story would vindicate the Bush administration once the AP details were released. In fact, I waited and waited for precisely this result, but it hasn't happened. Could it be that media leaders would be obliged to admit they were wrong about Bush? Might the entire Move On campaign against the Bush presidency be called into question if these facts were revealed to the public? One might well ask at this point, who did the lying?
Since yellowcake did exist in Iraq it might appear that Valerie Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, who have become darlings of the left by arguing Bush did not tell the truth about Hussein's nuclear ambitions, were lying. Wilson wrote a piece in the New York Times slamming Bush, despite the fact President Mayaki of Niger said Hussein did try to buy yellowcake. Now we know the yellowcake did exist and it was held in Iraq, notwithstanding Wilson's claim to the contrary.
It is often argued the truth will set you free. However, this episode suggests that may not be true. Interpretations of recent history by the president's detractors would have to be rewritten. Clearly the Iraq war could still be opposed, but the argument that the president engaged in dissimulation won't fly. That conclusion simply does not sit well with anti-war activists. In the case of these government detractors the bromide silence is golden applies.
In most respects this is a remarkable news story that very few want to touch. It is a demonstration that for many, ideology trumps facts. It is evidence that the hatred for President Bush defies rational judgment. And this story indicates that for a segment of the population evidence will not, cannot, change a fixed opinion. Unfortunately the casualty in this tale is not merely George W. Bush and the Republican party, but American history and those students who are obliged to study it.
The past is prologue to the present. And in the present context the issue of nuclear material and the Iraq war was a significant feature of the last presidential campaign. Had the truth been known, had the media exposed the facts, the election might have turned out differently. Yes, there is something to be said for complete transparency, even in politics.
As a candidate President Obama promised change, formidable change; alas a break with the past. Little did anyone appreciate how committed the president is to transformative change.
With the $787 billion bill now the law of the land, more money will be transferred from one group to another than at any point in American history. The government will emerge as the central architect in the economy and the notion of limited government as the premise for this "new nation" has been tossed on the ash heap of history.
Newsweek editors claim "We Are All Socialists Now." Perhaps that is true for the majority in the Congress, but I doubt it is a view shared by the majority of Americans. Intuitively most people realize that the expansion of government spending reduces the influence and size of the private sector. In fact, there is a tipping point at about 30 percent of government spending that drives private initiative downward. We are now at that point.
Moreover, without any analysis both houses of the Congress embraced the 1400-page legislative agenda with alacrity in order "to avoid a catastrophe." Yet, the much-overused word "stimulus" turns out to be a euphemism for special interest allocations and pork barrel appropriations. The greed once attributed to Wall Street can now be found on K Street.
Most disturbing is that the final tab is not $787 billion as advertised. That is merely the first year's tally. As the Congressional Budget Office noted the real expense based on years two, three, and four -- as newly created programs are sustained -- is on the order of $3.2 trillion. Keep in mind that the nation's annual GDP is $14.5 trillion.
The consequence of this act is to place on the next generation the greatest financial burden the country has ever encountered, a burden so great that no one can be sure of how we will emerge from the indebtedness.
Yes, we are changing from a nation that relied on the ingenuity of its citizens and incentives that drive innovation, to a nation that relies on government to determine "winners" in the economy.
Yes, wealth is being spread around, as candidate Obama promised. But what he and his media courtiers don't seem to appreciate is that this legislative action will destroy the incentives for wealth creation. Socialism may distribute wealth according to its philosophical commitment to egalitarianism, but it doesn't know how to build the institutions that inspire wealth in the first place.
William J. H. Boetcker (1916) wisely noted that:
. . . you cannot make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak and you cannot make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor.
This obvious lesson -- once regarded as axiomatic -- has been lost on the Obama team. They see a stagnant and faltering economy and assume spending will solve the problem. It hasn't occurred to this president and his congressional acolytes that the solution may be worse than the problem.
Instead of corporate leaders making decisions for their companies, Congressman Barney Frank will determine how assets should be deployed in the economy. Instead of risk takers operating out of a local garage, entrepreneurial activity will be monitored by Senator Schumer. This isn't merely a disgrace; it represents a dramatic fall in the fortunes of the nation.
Recognizing the tyranny that could result from big and intrusive government, President Gerald Ford once noted that: "a government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have." It may seem exaggerated but the new president is dangerously close to taking everything away as government devours the private sector and America is transformed into a Marxist utopia.
The American Exceptionalism Debate
Godfrey Hodgson, a British journalist and associate fellow at the University at Oxford, has a new book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, that is an attempt to undermine the deeply held belief that the United States is a morally and politically superior nation.
In his treatise he accuses Daniel Boorstin, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Perry Miller among others as perpetuators of a self-congratulatory myth, a myth that has shaped the popular imagination of Americans throughout history. From Hodgson's perspective the apostles of exceptionalism see the United States as a nation of
. . . unrivaled virtue, a chosen hand with a special destiny, and a duty to spread liberty, democracy, and the rule of law, "a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom" in the words of President George Bush.
Hodgson sees himself as a debunker. He notes, "Not all ideas about America exceptionalism are untrue, but important pieces are untrue, and it is very unhealthy for a society to believe things about itself that are not true."
As I see it, Hodgson has created a red herring and then beats it till it is disfigured. The United States is an imperfect nation. Its government has made mistakes, overplayed its hand at times, even corrupted its principles at various moments in the past, yet a case -- a valid case -- can still be made for American exceptionalism.
After all, only one nation on the globe has assimilated millions of immigrants who sought refuge on American shores. The Europeans are generally incapable of integrating.
If the Hodgson thesis has any meaning, it is as an exemplar of a new genre of historiography called "American Declinism." Rather than admire American accomplishments, the revisionists like Hodgson emphasize the flaws. Rather than see national greatness, Hodgson sees only arrogance. Rather than fulfill The Promise of American Life, to borrow a title from Herbert Croly, the declinists see delusions.
Should the Hodgson thesis gain traction it will be yet another nail in the national coffin by those convinced that history must pass into an era of transnational loyalties. Somehow I don't see how that vision can inspire Americans. I may be wrong, but either we come to appreciate American exceptionalism, or we end up with American mediocrity.
Terrorists Returning to the Battlefield
For several years human rights activists and defense attorneys have argued that the detainees at Guantanamo pose no security threat and should be released. President Obama, based on a campaign pledge, issued an executive order closing the controversial prison.
In a recent report the Brookings Institution examined hundreds of pages of declassified military documents and arrived at the conclusion that many of the prisoners held without charges are innocent. The report concludes that only 87 of the 250 detainees have any relationship with al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other armed groups hostile to the United States.
Several days later, however, the Pentagon released a report indicating that suspects who had been held, but subsequently released from the Guantanamo prison, are increasingly returning to fight against the United States and its allies.
Sixty-one detainees released from the U.S. Naval Base prison in Cuba are believed to have rejoined the struggle against the United States. The total is up from the 37 reported in March 2008.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell indicated that:
There clearly are people who are being held at Guantanamo who are still bent on doing harm to America, Americans, and our allies. So there will have to be some solution for the likes of them, and that is among the thorny issues that the president and his new team are carefully considering.
Furthermore Mr. Morrell said, the new numbers show a "substantial increase" in detainees returning to terrorist missions, from 7 to 11 percent. Presumably intelligence, photographs, and forensic evidence such as fingerprints and DNA were used to tie the detainees to terrorist activity.
These contradictory reports raise important questions: Is Brookings right, is the Pentagons report on target, or do both have valid positions however different in orientation?
One thing is clear: the notion of 61 or even one released detainee trying to kill Americans is unacceptable. Moreover, the trend is in the wrong direction.
If the president ultimately closes Guantanamo, what will he do with the 250 detainees? Will they be released on the streets of the United States? Will they be sent abroad to fight against American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Human rights attorneys representing the detainees often claim most are innocent of terrorism, but if that were true they wouldn't return to the battlefield as soon as they are released.
It is instructive that most of the activists are persuaded the detainees pose no threat. That may even be the case with a few of them. Overlooked in their calculation is that these prisoners were apprehended on the battlefield. They aren't criminals who robbed a supermarket; they are trained as killers intent at mayhem. For most Americans, holding these terrorists is a good idea, and, to assume they have the rights of American citizens, a very bad idea.
So despite all the declarations suggesting these detainees can be trusted, I demur. Let those go who have incontrovertible evidence they aren't a threat. The rest, however, should be kept in prison, whether it is Guantanamo or any other venue that will have them. Guantanamo made sense, but since it has been caricatured and denounced, alternatives must be found.
But the idea that all of these detainees should be released is absurd on every level, a point even President Obama has come to appreciate. Far better to deny the rights of terrorists then to have them on the battlefield attempting to kill American soldiers.
Aid and Radical Islam
I recently attended a meeting in New York devoted to the proposition that terrorist acts be thwarted with economic development projects. One bien pensant after another waxed lyrical about the benefits of an improved standard of living as a means of modifying radical sentiment. As the chairman of the event noted: "people who have jobs and a decent standard of living are less inclined to commit violent acts against others."
Surely I thought these educated and experienced policy analysts might consider empirical evidence that belies the economic determinist position. After all, the terrorists on 9/11 were not desperately poor or impoverished. In fact, the leader of hijacked flight 93 came from one of the wealthiest families in Lebanon.
It was also the case that the British nationals who were trained in the terrorist activity that led to the devastation of 7/7 were ostensibly middle-class Muslims living in a suburb of London.
Similarly, the bloodshed in Mumbai, in which at least 170 people were wantonly murdered and close to 400 injured, was conducted by young men who, from all accounts, were not economically impoverished.
In a desperate attempt to postulate a cause for what are seemingly irrational acts, many in the West assume that violence is a function of despair, a reaction to poor conditions. It seems implausible that rational people acting out of religious conviction would murder because it advances their faith. Surely there must be another explanation. As a consequence, they have seized on the idea that if the West transferred capital in an effort to improve economic conditions, the reason for acts of desperation would evaporate.
But suppose violence is wound deeply into a fanatical religious belief system that no amount of capital transfer can ameliorate. Suppose as well that these cash outlays are regarded as Western guilt and a sign of weakness.
Winston Churchill, after fighting a war in the Sudan, described Mohammedanism (his word for Islam) as a fever that could not be addressed through rational discourse or improved living conditions. He analogized this fanatical faith to hydrophobia in which the lack of water leads to madness.
It is natural for a rational people to search for rational answers to the international plague of our time. But it is foolish, arguably insane, to keep applying the same policy prescriptions to a problem and expecting a different outcome.
Radical Islam must be defeated on every battlefield it establishes. Its ideas must be vanquished as well. And most significantly, the West must separate itself from this malignant force before it metastasizes throughout the globe.
It is patently naive, in my judgment, to contend that if only the unemployment rate were lower, if only apartments could be built, the radicals will abandon their dreams of conquest and the establishment of caliphates across the globe.
There may indeed be a justification for philanthropy. Helping others is what a nation built on principles of justice and fair play is bound to do. In some instances it may help to mitigate poor conditions.
But philanthropy to help the poor should not be conflated with philanthropy to dissuade radical thought. No matter how many dollars are thrown at Muslim fanaticism, it will still be fanatical. To assume any other result flies in the face of historical experience. Until the radicals are defeated with arms and ideas, a threat will persist. There is no getting around this fact, however unpleasant it may seem.
Admittedly I have lost patience with the do-gooders who believe money is the magic elixir for peace. As I see it, peace in our time comes with a very high price tag in blood and confrontation. If we believe there is an easy way out of this war, Americans may be shocked by the ultimate outcome. *
"Every public official should be recycled occasionally." --John V. Lindsay