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.
The Coming Crisis In the Middle East
The gathering storm in the Middle East is gaining momentum. War clouds are on the horizon and like conditions prior to World War I all it takes for explosive action to commence is a trigger.
Turkey's provocative flotilla often described in Orwellian terms as a "humanitarian mission," has set in motion a flurry of diplomatic activity, but if the Iranians send escort vessels for the next round of Turkish ships, it could present a casus belli.
It is also instructive that Syria is playing a dangerous game with both missile deployment and rearming Hezbollah. According to most public accounts, Hezbollah is sitting on 40,000 long-, medium-, and short-range missiles and Syrian territory has served as a conduit for military material from Iran since the end of the 2006 Lebanon War.
Should Syria move its own scuds to Lebanon or deploy its troops as reinforcement for Hezbollah, a wider regional war with Israel could not be contained.
In the backdrop is an Iran with sufficient fissionable material to produce a couple of nuclear weapons. It will take some time to weaponize missiles, but the road to that goal is synchronized in green lights since neither diplomacy nor diluted sanctions can convince Iran to change course.
Iran is poised to be the hegemon in the Middle East. It is increasingly considered the "strong horse" as American forces incrementally retreat from the region. Even Iraq, ironically, may depend on Iranian ties in order to maintain internal stability. From Qatar to Afghanistan all political eyes are on Iran.
For Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, regional strategic vision is a combination of deal making to offset the Iranian Shia advantage and attempting to buy or develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iranian ambition. However, both of these governments are in a precarious state. Should either fall, all bets are off in the Middle East neighborhood. It has long been said that the Sunni "tent" must stand on two legs: if one falls, the tent collapses.
Should that tent collapse and should Iran take advantage of that calamity, it could incite a Sunni-Shia war. With Iran feeling its oats and no longer dissuaded by an escalation scenario with nuclear weapons, war against Israel is a distinct possibility. However, implausible it may seem at the moment, the possible annihilation of Israel and the prospect of a second holocaust could lead to a nuclear exchange.
The only wild card that can change this slide into warfare is an active United States policy. Yet, curiously, the U.S. is engaged in both an emotional and physical retreat from the region. Despite rhetoric which suggests an Iran with nuclear weapons is intolerable, it has done nothing to forestall that eventual outcome. Despite the investment in blood and treasure to allow a stable government to emerge in Iraq, the anticipated withdrawal of U.S. forces has prompted President Maliki to travel to Tehran on a regular basis. And despite historic links to Israel that gave the U.S. leverage in the region and a democratic ally, the Obama administration treats Israel as a national security albatross that must be disposed of as soon as possible.
As a consequence, the U.S. is perceived in the region as the "weak horse," the one that is dangerous to ride. In every Middle East capital the words "unreliable and United States" are linked. Those seeking a moderate course of action are now in a distinct minority. A political vacuum is emerging, one that is not sustainable and one the Iranian leadership looks to with imperial exhilaration.
It is no longer a question of whether war will occur, but rather when it will occur and where it will break out. There are many triggers to ignite the explosion, but not many scenarios for containment. Could it be a regional war in which Egypt and Saudi Arabia watch from the sidelines, but secretly wish for Israeli victory? Or is this a war in which there aren't victors, only devastation? Moreover, should war break out, what does the U.S. do?
This is a description far more dire than any in the last century and, even if some believe my view is overly pessimistic, Arab and Jew, Persian and Egyptian, Muslim and Maronite tend to believe in its veracity. That is a truly bad sign.
Austrian Complacency and the Movement for Sharia
Vienna is a city bursting with history. The sounds of Mozart pulsate in the streets. Tourists abound. Apple strudel and local sausage are unparalled. The Vienna of jack boots and swastikas is a distant memory. Even the Vienna as a sanctuary for escapees from Communism is long forgotten. On the surface, the contemporary Vienna is prosperous, peaceful, and civilized.
But there is another Vienna percolating beneath the surface, a dark threatening presence that has the potential to undo the tranquility Austrians have come to accept as the norm. This is the Austrian version of banlieus, the areas populated by Muslims, mostly Turkish Muslims. In these areas, crime is on the rise, resentment is palpable and building facades are marred with graffiti.
Most significantly, the average person refuses to recognize the potential problem these communities represent. If one is audacious enough to point out the dangers, the specter of Islamophobia or racism is raised as a chilling censor. It is instructive that defenders of Enlightenment ideas such as individual rights, property rights, and the rule of law are castigated as right-wing fanatics when they insist on applying these principles to Muslim minorities.
So preoccupied are establishment figures with maintaining the peace or, at least, the Austrian form of tranquility, that they prefer to avert their gaze and criticize the democratic debunkers. It is obvious, or should be obvious, that sharia is inconsistent with Enlightenment ideas. But when it comes to peace versus principle, authorities opt for the former, fearful that any other stance will exacerbate public attitudes.
As a consequence, official state numbers suggest the Islamic population in Austria has remained stable at 500,000 over the last decade, even through the birth rate among Muslims is more than twice the replacement level of 2:1. Far better to deceive than alarm the public at large.
The same condition prevails on the crime rate. Since crime statistics aren't broken down by race or ethnicity, the average person may intuit a disproportiate crime rate among Muslims, but it isn't part of the public record.
When Elisabeth Sabaditch-Wolf, a Vienna, resident spoke out against Muslim practices that threaten democracy, she was labeled a right-wing fanatic and is facing prosecution for public incitement. Rather than honor her for defending civilizational principles, she has been marginalized as an extremist by Austrian authorities. These prosecutions -- even if unsuccessful -- have a chilling influence on free speech and open debate.
It is remarkable that sharia has won a psychological victory since it cannot be challenged without judicial investigation. Yet sharia, in essence, cannot tolerate apostasy. Apostates, according to Koranic principles, must either convert, submit, or die. This is a direct contradiction of democratic ideals and a violation of liberal religious practice established over centuries of bloodletting. Now, without a shot being fired, the Austrians have seemingly conceded. All it took was the possibility of violence and the osmotic ambience of intimidation.
One gets the impression a nation that has grown to love freedom and prosperity has grown complacent. And with that complacency, Austrians will engage in almost any rationalized arabesque in order to maintain tranquility. Without fully realizing it, this strategy is leading inexorably to the totalitarianism it fought so hard to avoid during the Cold War. Sharia disavows secular prescriptions, but in its political agenda it is intent on transforming Western institutions. Signs of that goal are already evident in Austria today.
Doctors Who Compromise With Islam
In a policy shift that smacks of appeasement, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested American doctors should be given permission to perform a ceremonial pinprick on girls from Muslim culture in order to keep their families from imposing full circumcision, cliterdectomies.
The academy's committee on bioethics justified this stance by noting federal law "makes criminal any nonmedical procedure performed on the genitals" of a girl in the United States, thereby driving some families to take their daughters overseas to undergo mutilation. Presumably the ritual "nick" is a compromise to avoid greater harm.
But whatever the intention, this policy shift vouchsafes legitimacy to a practice that should not be permitted. How much bloodletting will satisfy parents? And at what point do compromises end?
If Muslim countries allow wife beating and slavery, do we allow a little of these practices in the United States in order to avoid more extreme examples? Perhaps a punch or two would be acceptable.
The argument that saying the practice is wrong, unacceptable, and barbaric indicates "insensitivity" to another culture. But as I see it there are humane considerations which transcend cultural practice and that should be honored everywhere.
Currently 130 million females worldwide have undergone genital mutilation according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It is mostly performed on girls under the age of 15. Very often this procedure results in severe complications with pregnancy and sexual dysfunction.
Where are the feminists? It seems to me if there were ever an issue that brings them to the barricades, this is it. Moreover, a compromise that legitimates even the recognition of this monstrous practice should be seen for what it is, the thin edge of the wedge that will allow for other barbaric acts.
On a larger front this decision by pediatricians reveals a sentiment widespread in Europe and now gaining traction in the United States: a desire to avoid conflict through preemptive compromises. Since intimidation is a backstage theme, Western nations prefer conciliation to violence, even if it means undermining the fabric of society. That explains why British and Danish representatives have discussed acknowledging sharia in legal matters. Of course, reconciliation isn't possible since sharia is not capable of accommodating common law and Constitutional principles. For Muslims, it is all or nothing and, since they recognize the vulnerability of Western institutions, it is more "all" than "nothing."
That an intelligent group of doctors does not recognize the implications in its action is truly puzzling. But then again, so many are blinded by fear and hope a "modest" measure of compromise will satisfy the demanding voices. Rarely, of course, does reciprocity enter the equation. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. Unfortunately that is not the way Islam is treated in most Western capitals.
This is not the end of this cultural tale: there are and will be further compromises, and from many surprising sources. Where this is leading is frighteningly clear: the incremental adjustment in Western standards will lead ultimately to civilizational change, unless a cataclysm awakens Western societies to the imperial reality of extremist Islamic sentiment.
The E.U. and Its Likely Breakup
There isn't any need to say "I told you so" for Euro skeptics. They knew what few would admit about the European Union. The fractures in the union now apparent were there all along merely waiting for one crisis to make them self-evident.
With demonstrations over tough austerity measures in Greece, the E.U. is experiencing the first of what could be a host of violent reactions across the continent. In a sense, Greece is the canary in the coal mine foreshadowing what might occur in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland.
In conversations in Austria the typical response is "why should we bail out the Greeks for their profligacy?" Alas, this is the typical German response as well. The Germans were willing to be an underwriter of the Greek bail-out, as long as the IMF is a major partner. But there are limits. Borrowing costs for Europe's most vulnerable countries are soaring and the euro's value is plummeting. E.U. officials warn of "high uncertainty" surrounding the region's economic recovery. Despite a $141 billion rescue package offered the Greek government, it is not clear this sum will cauterize the problem or stop its spread elsewhere.
It is instructive that pensioners took to the Athenian streets in protest against financial retrenchment. In news interviews, the point was often made that these aging citizens saved for retirement and counted on a pension during retirement. Now they find themselves in a financial quagmire they did not create.
Should Spain, with an economy considerably larger than Greece's, face similar economic pressure -- a condition that seems inevitable -- Europe could face an unprecedented banking crisis. While the bail-out could help Greece and might be needed for Spain, it is already widening the divide between Europe's southern area where the financial problems are concentrated and the northern tier, which contains most of the industrial exporters best positioned to take advantage of a weak euro.
Some European economists contend that devaluation will serve as a spur for exports, for growth, and a return to balance of payments equilibrium. But this scenario overlooks the fact that 27 euro-zone countries are inextricably linked to the euro that militates against individual trade strategies. What might be desirable for Sweden could be undesirable for Spain. This is the E.U. dilemma in a nutshell.
Bail-outs come with prescriptions, specifically deep austerity cuts to compensate for generous government hand-outs. However, this measure has, and probably will, spark social anger wherever it is applied. While Greece has been in the forefront in this financial crisis, the IMF has raised the possibility Spain could be next on the road to insolvency. It is estimated that a bail-out for Spain could cost five times the sum allocated for Greece. According to Mark Kirk, a U.S. congressman on the committee that oversees financing for the IMF, "that amount of money is far more than is available to lend."
One Vienna merchant described the crisis personally and poignantly "I do not feel any responsibility to assist a welfare recipient in Barcelona or Lisbon." Whether he feels responsibility or not, the E.U. locks him into a confederation that imposes a level of responsibility. That union cannot continue if the taxes in industrious areas rise to assist nations that are or soon may be insolvent. The complication of regional multiplication is that it penalizes the strong members of the union so that they can assist weak members. By any political calculation this is an unsustainable arrangement.
When the E.U. falls victim to these centrifugal forces is difficult to say, but in my judgment it will happen, and with it, the euro will be a casualty as well, returning Western Europe to its traditional status as a continent with individual states, languages, histories, and economic conditions.
The Search for Equality
If healthcare reform and its aftermath mean anything, it is the calculated attempt to address inequality in the nation, a matter that surfaced during the presidential campaign and an issue that goes to the heart of this administration's game plan.
The presumptive gap between rich and poor has been the catalyst for the Obama obsession with the redistribution of wealth. Mr. Obama claimed that healthcare reform would "mark a new season in America." He added, "We have now just enshrined . . . the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care."
Leaving aside for the moment whether the healthcare legislation provides this basic security and, of course, its effect on the quality of care, the notable portion of the money to pay for this bill will come from payroll taxes on households making $250,000 or more. On average, the annual tax burden for households making a million dollars will rise by $40,000. Another source of financing will come from cutting Medicare subsides for private insurance, ultimately affecting insurance company executives and shareholders.
By contrast, the benefits of the bill flow mostly to households making less than four times the poverty level. Those without insurance in this group will become eligible to receive subsidies or to join Medicaid. Of course, many of the poor are already covered by Medicaid, but this bill extends coverage dramatically. The bill will also suggest that healthy people will be coerced into buying insurance, thereby subsidizing those who heretofore did not have insurance or had preexisting conditions that militated against coverage.
While Mr. Obama has commended President Reagan for "changing the trajectory of America," this bill has changed America, period. From the trickle down view of the economy, Obama has instituted bottom up growth, a theory without an empirical basis. As the president now sees it, class warfare is not only desirable, it is a way to redress economic disparities. Presumably the laissez-faire foundation that Reagan commenced will be undone brick by brick with Obama led redistributionist schemes.
Unfortunately, class warfare of the kind President Obama has in mind cannot possibly generate the goals for which it is aiming. Raising taxes to extortionate levels does not produce additional revenue for the government. Beyond a certain point, wealthy people work less, and earn less, or put their assets off-shore, but they will find a way to avoid the coercive reach of Uncle Sam. What the Obama administration seems to ignore are the incentives that drive economic growth. As Reverend William Boetcker noted, "You can't make a poor man rich by making a rich man poor." How can an economy grow when the catalysts for growth are thwarted by the extensive reach and policy orientation of government?
Establishing the proper balance between the market and government is never easy. But in the case of President Obama, we have a leader motivated by ideology to tilt the equation in the direction of government control. If the prescribed way of dealing with unemployment and unfunded liabilities is economic growth, the president's polices insure the opposite. It is not coincidental that the nation's Founders put a premium on opportunity and free markets, recognizing full well that a market dominated system will invariably result in disparate rewards that encourage inequality. Economic equality can only be achieved by political engineers who take from some and give to others.
Should one parse the language of President Obama, this egalitarian agenda is his goal. Healthcare reform is merely one manifestation of his plan for the future. Surely he is not the first to attempt this quasi-Marxist economic vision. But we know from vast experience in Europe and the Soviet Union that the result of this quest is a stagnant economy, invidious comparisons, and slow to nonexistent economic growth.
Frederick Brown, writing in Harpers magazine (December 1981) wrote:
It could be said that each leftist generation reinvents, with such material as the age suggests, a lost utopia, an ancien rgime, and a new order: each one finds its soul in evangelical distinctions between a "before" and an "after."
President Obama is apparently searching for his lost utopia unwilling to recognize what came before and willfully shopping for a new tomorrow. *
"Justice is the end of government." --James Madison