Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and most recently Diary of A Dean (Hamilton Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.
The Horror of Killing One's Own
Yemen's security forces killed more than three-dozen protestors in the last few days. Qaddafi has announced that allied efforts to destroy his anti-missile defenses are a form of terrorism and as a consequence, he is prepared to decimate the rebels in Libya. It seems to me that it is time to ask a question that haunts the history of our time: Are there limits to dictatorial power?
Since the Holocaust, the international community has given lip service to the idea that mass murder by dictatorial leaders should never be tolerated. Yet remarkably there are instances in Africa and Asia where this is common practice. In the Arab world where Sharia prevails, the killing of apostates is a routine practice.
Based on recent events, it would appear that conditions across the globe are sliding back to a barbaric period in which murder of one's own people for the retention of power is permitted or at least ignored. The argument is we cannot possibly intervene whenever atrocities occur. Or perhaps more logically, sovereignty trumps atrocity.
It is instructive that U.S. State Department officials employed the latter position for a time by suggesting we should not insinuate ourselves into a Libyan civil war. In other words, however sanguinary the attacks may have been and continue to be, there is not a justifiable role for the US. Needless to say, that position has been modified by our stance on the "no fly zone."
As I see it the basic Obama foreign policy thrust is based on an incremental U.S. withdrawal from regional influence. The withdrawal, I should hastily note, is both emotional - an unwillingness to defend our interests and our allies - and physical - a drawdown of troops based on the belief we cannot afford these foreign ventures.
That strategic vision, or lack thereof, has created a situation in which our enemies believe we are ineffectual and our allies believe we are untrustworthy. Instead of hastening to carve out a defensive stance for the U.S., one that recognizes our foreign interests, the administration has decided to channel our foreign policy through the United Nations. In doing so, the leverage that emerged in the past from the assertion of national power is lost. We are at sea as one nation in an international armada that has lost its way.
The new concept of America opting out of unilateral action has implications for nations with imperial goals. Iran has become the "strong horse" in the Middle East neighborhood by default. Our emerging position encouraged its evolution. Ortega y Gasset once noted, "To create a concept is to leave reality behind." Our concept of multilateralism is a chimera surrounded by a fantasy.
Winston Churchill warned that when democracies triumphed in World War II they "were able to resume the follies which has so nearly cost them their life." It seems we are at it yet again.
We watch with horror as power-hungry barbarians kill their own people. But we generally tolerate these actions. We are overcome by the magnitude of evil and the inversion of certitudes, but are helpless in their wake. We seek fresh creeds, but do not know how to deal with the revulsion in our collective gut. And all the while our leaders tell us this will pass and, after all, there is nothing we can do.
Is the world turning to savagery? Is the 1930s a scenario for the new century? Are we to allow shamefacedly the death and horror we have the capability to prevent? The derision of death lurks in our imagination, but the will to reverse it has not emerged. America cannot police the world, but the U.S. is still the only anchor that can assure international stability. It seems to me that role must be recognized and given the attention history has placed on it.
Libya and the Loss of American Sovereignty
For many, the American engagement in Libya is an enigma. Was the use of American aircraft a humanitarian mission to prevent a bloodbath, were these planes deployed to assist the so-called rebels, were they called on to send a message to Muammar Gaddafi - perhaps even to oust him?
There has been speculation about all of these as objectives. To complicate matters, President Obama's speech about Libya was filled with clichs and was sufficiently ambiguous to have the public arrive at any conclusion. (We want Gaddafi deposed, but that is not a policy objective.)
But now that the dust is settling even as the battles continue, it is increasingly clear, based on commentary from Samantha Powers and Ann Marie Slaughter, foreign policy advisers, that the objective was different from those widely considered. The Libyan exercise was a test case for trans-national progressivism. It was predicated from the start on multilateral cooperation and building consensus within the United Nations. How else could one explain the President's consultation with the Security Council rather than the House of Representatives?
This limited action, what the President described amusingly as a "kinetic military operation," was based on British, French, and U.S. cooperation, and a green light from the Security Council nations. Now, there is nothing new about multilateralism. Surely the wars in Afghanistan and even Iraq demonstrate this point. What is new is the seeming willingness of this government to abandon national sovereignty, to allow the U.N. to determine how American forces will be deployed.
While one-world advocates have long argued for the abandonment of nation states, they have finally found a U.S. President who agrees with their goals - President Obama once described himself as a "citizen of the world," but at the time the remark was considered rhetorical hyperbole. Little did anyone know that this was a serious definition of his role.
For acolytes of this position, such as journalist and author Fareed Zakaria, among others, the declining economic and military strength of the United States warrants multilateral action. However, once this view is adopted as policy, there is little turning back. Declinism has its own set of policy options.
That trans-nationalism was the objective in Libya above all other objectives is manifest in the failure to achieve any other goals. Gaddafi appears ensconced in Tripoli. The rebels are still on the defensive. Lives of civilians remain at risk. And if humanitarian impulses are driving policy, why not intervene in the Sudan or the Ivory Coast, where thousands have been and continue to be slaughtered?
If the U.S. is headed down the path of trans-nationalism, Americans ought to debate this matter. Should American treasure and blood be sacrificed under a U.N. banner by a multinational body that invariably displays anti-American sentiment? Even if the U.S. is losing the dominant global position it once had, it is the only nation possessing the weapons and logistics to be an international balance wheel.
As I see it, rather than a loss of resources that is driving policy, it is a loss of will, an emotional fatigue. The consequence is that many former internationalists eager to retain their stance have turned to trans-nationalism as an alternative. In doing so, however, policy makers cede control and independent action. They cede sovereign rights as well.
It is hard to imagine how destabilized the world will be with the draw-down of U.S. global forces, and political vacuums filled by the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians. With all of the imperfections in American policy, no nation in this century and the last has been more generous in coming to the aid of others in war and peace than the United States. If the Libyan action is a foreshadowing of a new American stance, the world will be a much more dangerous place than it is at the moment, and U.S. sovereignty will clearly be called into question.
Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton
It may be hard to believe but Alexander Hamilton lives. He lives in a brilliant documentary biopic directed and produced by Michael Pack and written and hosted by Richard Brookhiser. This documentary recaptures Hamilton's birth in Nevis, his military exploits in Yorktown, his fiscal policies on Wall Street and his duel on the Palisades of the Hudson River.
Hamilton was a man for all seasons and in keeping with his versatility, the film features themes that shaped and molded Hamilton's extraordinary life.
As America's first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton saved a debt-ridden nation from bankruptcy by establishing the legitimacy of the dollar. To test this hypothesis the filmmakers interviewed a contemporary Treasury Secretary. As one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers that set the stage for the Constitution, Hamilton created the legal and political architecture for the new nation. In keeping with their desire for a contemporary flair, the host interviewed a Supreme Court Justice to get his take on the Federalist Papers.
Hamilton was a man of great passion as evidenced by his illicit love affair and by his provoking of the Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, into a duel that ultimately cost his life.
It is instructive and clever that the host interviewed gang members in an effort to discover the consequences of disrespect. The comments prove to be insightful and illuminating.
As I see it, this film is a model for a documentary style that links the past to the present. Hamilton isn't merely a Founding Father, he is with us on the Columbia campus, at the New York Post, at Washington's side, and in the inner sanctum of government.
The Pack-Brookhiser film breathes with freshness. This is not a stuffy history that recounts 18th century America. It is an American tale that is timeless, set against a backdrop in which the present reaches back to find clues about the past.
Statues are ghosts of the past, reminders of history. But a film that shines on the present to discover antecedents, lives. The pornographers, prisoners, warriors, and calypso singers discuss money, rights, privilege, honor, sex, and battle. They offer voice to the episodes in Hamilton's colorful life and texture for the decisions Hamilton made.
Hamilton was Washington's amanuensis, his confidante. He recorded what the Father of Our Nation said and did. Yet he was more than a secretary; he was a guide and a leader. With that thought in mind the filmmakers plumb the depths of human experience to understand leadership and kindred souls who work together for a common goal, in this case the establishment of a new nation.
Alexander Hamilton was a quintessential New Yorker. From the Hudson to the East River, from the Battery to Harlem, Hamilton had a presence on every acre of Manhattan. Wall Street pays obeisance to him every day and the Caribbean islands where he was born and was raised convey rhythm Hamilton delivered to his adopted land.
Hamilton did not die a rich man, although he could have used his position to enrich himself. He was a man of integrity who set the temperament for a great nation. The spirit of exceptionalism that I believe still resides in the United States was the gift Hamilton and his confreres gave to the new nation. That spirit, that idiosyncratic sense of liberty, is what inspired this film and what makes it such a dramatic achievement.
Writing in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Paul Mattick, a professor at Adelphi University, attempts to explain capitalism's failure in an article entitled, "Capitalism's Dismal Future." Presumably its future is a continuation of its past. As Professor Mattick notes:
Capitalism has been around for so many generations now, proving its vitality by displacing or absorbing all other social systems around the globe, that it seems a part of nature, irreplaceable. But its historical limits are visible in its inability to meet the ecological challenges it has produced.
Alas, even if one accepts some of the exaggerated claims of ecological degradation, the evidence does not suggest that capitalism alone is responsible for the problem. China, which has a state-controlled economic system, has environmental problems that surpass any in the United States and Europe. Moreover, a free market offers profit as an incentive to address the problem Professor Mattick identifies.
Mattick's overheated rhetoric does not stop there. He also asserts that depression and recoveries are "a recurrent feature" of the capitalist economy. As I see it, capitalism has the capacity to create wealth and put it at risk as well, as opposed to command economies that distribute limited wealth and keep their citizens in a permanent state of impoverishment. The choices are not between a self-equilibrating system and the Keynesian concept of government manipulation as Mattick indicates, but rather an imperfect system of private incentives and a government-dominated system for the allocation of resources. History has already indicated that the former is to be preferred to the latter, despite Professor Mattick's neo-Marxist interpretation.
Despite the assertion that capitalism is trapped in a cycle of its own creation, it is clear that capitalism is sufficiently flexible to address the problems the system has created. For example, Mattick makes reference to the poor the capitalist system leaves behind. Yet it is clear that the enormous wealth capitalism produces has allowed for government largess for the poor in the form of welfare provisions.
In fact, one could make the argument that government interference very often is the factor that imperils capitalist success. The guarantees provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac helped to create a real estate bubble that ultimately undermined the housing market. To cite another example, the "carry trade" that gives banks the opportunity to borrow at near zero interest and invest in 30-year Treasury bills at three percent has restored solvency in the banks, but has not encouraged loans to entrepreneurs or a reasonable return on the savings accounts of average Americans. These conditions suggest something that might be described as "crony capitalism" instead of mere capitalism.
However, seeking advantage or privilege, while one dimension of capitalism's perversion, is a constant, indeed a permanent, feature of command economies. Corruption in the form of bribery is the elixir that keeps the Chinese economy going and in the former Soviet Union, payoffs to party officials were the coin of the realm.
Yes, capitalism is fragile, in large part because people are fragile. But it is the most adaptable economic system the world has known. The free market, the essence of capitalism, relies on the aspiration and desire of the people aggregated into something called demand. That demand quotient changes as conditions in the society change, including everything from natural disasters to the availability of fossil fuels.
Professor Mattlick has rehearsed a theme that coruscates through Western Civilization, a utopia of full employment, the fair distribution of resources, responsiveness to human needs (usually as some elitist sees it) and equality. But to the dismay of many, such a system does not exist and cannot exist. What we do have is a capitalism that is robust, with all its flaws, and sufficiently adaptable to address the most basic human desires. That is not half bad and certainly does not presage a "dismal future."
The Divinity Dupes at Yale
Hucksterism is alive and well and residing at Divinity Schools in universities across the country. In fact, these institutions designed to provide instruction on religious practice have become centers for the promotion of leftist ideology and now Islamism.
On March 23 Imam Feisal Rauf, founder and chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, what some have called the mosque at the World Trade Center site, spoke at Yale on "religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation." The discussion, organized by Jews and Muslims at Yale, was moderated by Rabbi James Ponet, head of the Slifka Center for Jewish Life.
Imam Rauf has received international attention for the Cordoda Initiative with adherents and opponents aroused by the ensuing controversy. Rauf claims to foster strong ties and friendship among different religious faiths, but in all instances the understanding is a one-way street with Jews presumably coming to appreciate the unique contributions of Islam.
Having heard Imam Rauf speak, his soft and mellifluous tone conceals positions consistent with radical Islam. For example, during deliberations about the mosque near the World Trade Center site, Rauf refused to criticize Hamas as a terrorist organization, even though it is listed as a terrorist group by our State Department. He refuses as well to recognize the incompatibility between Sharia - which he espouses - and Constitutional precedents in the United States.
Rauf attempts to convince his audience of his good intentions with reference to his enthusiasm for the New York Giants football team, his having grown up in New Jersey and his love of the United States. But what remains unclear, in fact what is intentionally enigmatic, is whether this love of America trumps his love for Islam and the totalistic demands of the religion.
Moreover, there is an inherent hypocrisy in his approach that the left wing Divinity School embraces as well. While there is much said about understanding and cooperation, the onus is put on Jewish students to appreciate Islam, but there isn't any expectation that Muslims should learn to appreciate the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West.
Islam relies on the Constitutional guarantee of the First Amendment to challenge the most basic and fundamental precepts of constitutionalism. Islam does not recognize the separation of church and state. Islam doesn't have any provision for the protection of individual rights. Islam systematically subjugates women and refuses to offer them the full protection of the law. Are these conditions that should be embraced by the Jews at Yale's Divinity School?
Admittedly there are portions of the Koran that display a desire for cooperation in what is sometimes described as the Mecca period. However, Islam also applies the law of abrogation suggesting that what came later (even though the Koran is not written chronologically) is to be superordinated over what came earlier. As a consequence, the Medina period in which violence is advocated and Verses of the Sword are regarded as more significant than the earlier peaceful episode in Islam's evolution.
But did Imam Rauf mention this matter in his peroration? Of course not. Will Yale students challenge him on this matter? Of course not. Will this event be heralded as a peaceful exchange designed to promote understanding? Of that I haven't the slightest doubt.
In fact, this should be described as Rauf's Grand Sharia Tour Across America. It is a mission aimed at the useful dupes in the Academy who will accept his pronouncements. As I see it, the secret that won't be revealed and is "a third rail" in discussion is that the American left and Islam have very little in common ideologically, except for one matter: hatred of the American system and our way of life. *