Elie Kedourie, the most far-sighted and informed of commentators, always used to say that Syria held the key to the future of Palestine, Israel, and the wider region. It seems true right now. But how Bashar Assad will take the determining decisions is unclear. . . .
A wrong decision, even a small slip, can lead to sectarian or ethnic massacre on a hideous scale. And it is all in the hands of a one-time ophthalmologist who accidentally became a dictator because his elder brother was killed driving too fast.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
David Pryce-Jones on the stakes in Syria:
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Why I'm still not a Republican. I don't know if it's principle on my part, or a lack of fortitude, that I can't bring myself to join the party and work from within to change it (not that I imagine I'd accomplish much; I'm sure I wouldn't). But I look at the budget deal, that emblematic chimerical triumph, and I don't even want to try. From the first link:
Based on the serial cave-ins by alleged fiscal conservatives over the last four months, what evidence is there that more than a shred of something resembling the Ryan Plan will even make it out of committee, let alone pass two houses of congress?From the second:
[T]he most knowledgeable supporters of the deal acknowledge, at least privately, that a large fraction of it is phony.From the third:
If tea-party congressmen nonetheless vote for it, how can they tell their supporters that they meant what they said last fall about transparency and ending D.C.’s budget games?
[I]f President Obama promised to propose an annual budget that would hold spending increases down to $352 million, and then plopped on the Speaker’s desk a proposal that — once carefully examined — turned out to increase spending by $38 billion . . . [w]ould Boehner be saying the difference was no big deal? Would commentators be saying, hey, “Let’s not fly off the handle, the Obama budget isn’t as bad as it sounds”?No doubt a real fight to get the deficit under control would be difficult in ways I, completely on the outside, can't imagine. But the Republicans have the chance here to achieve greatness, a service to the country for which future generations would thank and honor them. Isn't that prospect worth the struggle? Yet they seem unwilling to attempt it.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Mark Steyn, in a piece worth reading in full:
‘Why is there no looting in Japan?” wondered a headline in the Daily Telegraph. So did a lot of other folks. . . .
Most analysts overlooked the most obvious factor: Looting is a young man’s game, and the Japanese are too old. They’re the oldest society on earth. . . .
Old societies are always vulnerable. Old societies running up debt levels of 200 percent of GDP in an attempt to jump-start the economy before the clock runs out are even more vulnerable. . . .
When the earthquake strikes, who clears the downed electric lines from the roads, pulls you from the rubble, supervises an orderly evacuation? Young people. . . .
The tsunami has accelerated Japan’s date with demographic destiny, as the economic downturn accelerated Europe’s.
StrategyPage on Libya:
Helping the rebels defeat Kaddafi forces, and capture Tripoli, is very difficult. Even by Arab standards, Libyans are terrible soldiers. Heavily armed Libyan troops were once defeated by Chadian tribesmen riding around in pickup trucks, using light weapons against Libyan armored vehicles. What was most humiliating about this was that the Chadians were not considered Arabs, but sub-Saharan Africans (who are considered even less effective soldiers than Arabs.) But in this case, the Chadians were better organized and better at what they were doing, and sent the surviving Libyan troops fleeing north.
The military ineptitude is a cultural thing. Arabs moving to the West, and joining the military there, perform as well as anyone. But back in the Old Country, putting together an effective fighting force . . . is very difficult. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it took years to find men who could handle the training and responsibilities. . . . But in Libya, the locals and foreigners would like a solution within months, or less.
. . . [T]he rebels are divided into many factions, and have only been united (most of the time) the past few months because the Kaddafi forces were close to killing all of them several times. But with NATO air power, and help organizing more effective military units, the immediate danger is gone. The factional differences will assert themselves. Many Libya experts believe that this is just the first stage of a multi-act civil war. Prospects for a quick and lasting peace are not good.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Lee A. Casey and David B. Rivkin Jr.:
The Obama administration’s announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several other al-Qaeda operatives involved in planning the 9/11 attacks will be tried by military commission marks another step in the process whereby the president and his advisers are returning even to those Bush anti-terror policies about which they once were the most critical. . . .
The administration’s reversal reveals a growing, if perhaps grudging, realization — based doubtless on access to the highest classified information and more than two years of fighting the global war on terror — that the Bush administration did not adopt these policies as part of some grand strategy to increase presidential power. . . .
It would, of course, be nice if the president would publicly acknowledge that he was wrong about these things. Politics being what they are, however, this is not very likely. However, if he has not already called former President Bush to make that acknowledgment in private, it is high time he did.
Andrew C. McCarthy, on a statement (which he terms "repugnant") from General Petraeus and NATO Ambassador Mark Sedwill:
Petraeus says, “we are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.” Is that why you thought we sent troops to Afghanistan? Is that what you think we should be doing in Afghanistan now? I am pretty confident that most Americans couldn’t care less about the Afghan people. . . .Seems reasonable.
What should our new policy be? We should have as little to do with Muslim countries as possible. At home, we should focus on the political and legal terrain with an eye toward:
(a) distinguishing between our allies in the American Muslim community (i.e., those who do not want to impose sharia on public life) and those who seek to undermine our constitutional system, so we can marginalize the latter;
(b) excluding from the United States aliens who would support supplanting the U.S. Constitution with a sharia system . . . ; and
(c) cutting off immigration from, and sharply reducing contacts with, Muslim countries until they take it on themselves to reform — on separation of mosque and state, freedom of conscience, equality, interfaith tolerance, individual liberty, and unambiguous rejection of terrorism.
Not only is that a policy that can work, it is one an insolvent country can actually afford.
Mark Steyn, responding to one senator's unhappiness with freedom of expression:
I often get asked to reprise the words I quote in my book, from Gen. Sir Charles Napier in India explaining to the locals his position on suttee — the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Napier was impeccably multicultural:You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.. . . In Trafalgar Square, there is a statue of General Napier. I would urge any visitors to London to see it before it’s taken down, as it surely will be one day soon. Imagine what our world would look like if it were Lindsey Graham up on that plinth. A society led by such “men” cannot survive, and does not deserve to.
Many worthwhile items in John Derbyshire's latest diary. For instance:
We — some colleagues and I — were discussing the two pieces National Review published recently on homosexual marriage. . . .Another:
The problem with both pieces, I tried to tell my colleagues, was that they were scholastic, in the pejorative sense — angels on pin-heads, the cooking up of elaborate rationalizations for positions you are determined to take anyway. As Bertrand Russell said of Aquinas: “The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.”
Such arguments are persuasive to nobody whose personality, circumstances, and life experience have not already made the conclusion appealing to them, or mandatory.
The life of a content provider improved immensely through the 19th and 20th centuries. Now it looks as though we’re headed back to Grub Street.
For example: I have an acquaintance whose life ambition was to be a musician and producer of music. (Pop music, that is.) He labored away at it, at one point having his own studio and equipment. He had to give up at last. “Nobody wants to pay for music anymore,” is his explanation. Now he’s a computer programmer.
Writing is headed the same way. . . .
“Nobody wants to pay for music anymore.” And pretty soon nobody will want to pay for TV shows, or movies, or journalism, and the content-provider business will be like professional sports: a handful of superstars making megabucks, the rest of us sleeping on ash heaps for the warmth. . . .
As the Turks say: İt ürür kervan geçer — “the dogs howl, the caravan moves on.”
Monday, April 4, 2011
Amazing anecdote via Clifford May:
Zogby's an idiot, a liar or both. He should no longer be taken seriously on any matter besides polling, and possibly not even on that.
Investor's Business Daily recently quoted James Zogby, head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, offering a creative analysis. "The guy who gets up on the plane and says 'Allah!' or whatever and then blows the plane up is not making a statement about his faith," Zogby told congressional staffers. Zogby explained that it's like a Christian hitting his thumb with a hammer and exclaiming "Jesus Christ!"Not at all. Whenever I stub my toe I shout, "Neptune's brackish trident!" and find someone to disembowel.
"The comparison is absurd," IBD comments.
Zogby's an idiot, a liar or both. He should no longer be taken seriously on any matter besides polling, and possibly not even on that.
Mark Steyn on NATO's warning to Libyan rebels not to attack civilians:
Say what you like about Barack Obama, but it’s rare to find a leader so impeccably multilateralist he’s willing to participate in both sides of a war. It doesn’t exactly do much for holding it under budget, but it does ensure that for once we’ve got a sporting chance of coming out on the winning side. If a coalition plane bombing Qaddafi’s forces runs into a coalition plane bombing the rebel forces, are they allowed to open fire on each other?And this:
According to the State Department, Colonel Qaddafi’s 27-year-old son, Khamis, is also a “reformer.” Or at least he was a few weeks ago, when U.S. officials welcomed him here for a month-long visit, including meetings at NASA and the Air Force Academy. . . . [A] scheduled trip to West Point on February 21st had to be canceled when young Khamis was obliged to cut short his visit and return to Libya to start shooting large numbers of people in his capacity as the commander of a crack special-forces unit. Maybe he’ll be killed by a pilot who showed him round the Air Force Academy. Small world, isn’t it?
Brendan I. Koerner in Wired (last month's issue):
For US firms, the decision to manufacture overseas has long seemed a no-brainer. Labor costs in China and other developing nations have been so cheap that as recently as two or three years ago, anyone who refused to offshore was viewed as a dinosaur, certain to go extinct as bolder companies built the future in Asia. But stamping out products in Guangdong Province is no longer the bargain it once was, and US manufacturing is no longer as expensive. As the labor equation has balanced out, companies—particularly the small to medium-size businesses that make up the innovative guts of America’s technology industry—are taking a long, hard look at the downsides of extending their supply chains to the other side of the planet.The current supply disruptions must have more companies thinking about this.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Sure, ObamaCare is great for you. So great that the president is now offering 3 million members of his base ObamaClemency. . . .
We are deep in banana-republic territory here. The head of state forces an eccentric law onto his subjects and then let’s his closest supporters get out of it so that they alone may continue to prosper. To call this more of the “same old” cynical Washington back-scratch machine is to underestimate the extent of the damage taking place before our eyes.
What is amazing is that anyone blames the Florida pastor for any of these deaths, and that no one is calling on anyone in the Islamic world to speak out against this madness. Everyone seems to take it for granted that if Muslims are offended, they will murder innocent people, and that instead of calling that irrational violence what it is, we should take pains not to offend Muslims, and blame those causing the alleged offense to the Muslims for the irrational violence.I must respectfully disagree: it isn't the least bit amazing. Some people (and I don't mean "Truthers") held us responsible for 9/11; remember this, and this? In their minds we're always to blame.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Can Islam coexist in a diverse world? It has done so in recent centuries, of course, but it is beginning to appear that this period of accommodation may have been an aberration caused by the extreme weakness of Islamic countries and the relative lack of interaction between Islamic and non-Islamic cultures. Whether coexistence is still possible under modern conditions is a question that does not yet have an answer.I think not. How to proceed is a difficult question, but we should start by acknowledging our societies' incompatibility.
Via Mark Steyn, who has (as usual) thoughts worth reading.
David Hume at Secular Right:
I’m a conservative who is passionate about science. I can tell you from personal experience that the American right-wing’s periodic love affair with Creationism, whether through genuine sincere belief or political opportunism, is a major reason for the alienation of scientists from any engagement with American conservatism.
Thoughts from P. J. O'Rourke.
The secret to fatherhood is a vast, thick wallet. And a lot of patience and/or alcohol.
America really is exceptional. What makes America exceptional is not that Americans are better or smarter or harder working than other people. The exceptional thing about America is that we've come up with a system that allows the second-rate from all over the world to do really, really well.
Blind obedience is good. In others. Always in others.
It seems that Obama is no better acquainted with the Law of Unintended Consequences than was his predecessor. Current U.S. geostrategic thinking seems to be: If two futile, budget-busting, decade-long wars don’t get Islamia on the right path, try three. So off we go with another missionary war on borrowed Chinese dollars. Hey ho. . . .
I am more and more convinced that I live in a world gone mad, and that the best I can hope to accomplish is to steer my own little four-person boat safely through the white water.
Mark Steyn sums up the Arab world: "Passivity and dependency oscillating with duplicity and victimhood." He adds,
I always love the way the West gets blamed in the Middle East for supporting despots and thugs. C’mon, all you Arab “intellectuals”: Who else is there? Where’s your Havel or your Corazon Aquino?There are reformers, but bad things tend to happen to them.
There are many arguments for a flat tax: Compliance costs are lower, it’s easier to understand, it doesn’t create a divide-and-conquer dynamic with regard to the tax brackets, it aligns taxpayers’ incentives, etc. But there’s a practical moral argument, too: The tax code is corrupt. Using the tax code as a cookie jar full of special favors for friends and supporters is corrupt. It does not matter that it’s legal, it is immoral. The purpose of taxes is to raise revenue for the government, not to repay political favors or to bribe voters with their own money. . . . Obamacare is not the only thing that should be repealed and replaced.
In congressional testimony yesterday, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates . . . [was] asked if there would be any American “boots on the ground” in Libya, [and] swiftly replied: “Not as long as I’m in this job.” In other words, Gates would resign rather than carry out the president’s orders to send U.S. military advisors to provide arms and training to the rebels.
Gates is free to give the president any advice he likes. If he does not like the president’s decisions, he is free to tell him—privately—that he will resign. But he is not free to publicly rule out options that the president has said he is not ruling out. That is insubordination.
Andrew Biggs spoke at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee this week:
My testimony and that of the other witnesses . . . attempted to grapple with the dual problems of recovering from a deep recession while tackling a truly massive fiscal gap. The reaction of the Republicans on the committee, while not exactly a grad school policy seminar, was on par with the seriousness of the problems we face.All the Democrats care about is winning the next election. When that's past they'll care only about winning the following one. And on and on.
However, the behavior of many of the Democrats on the committee, including many senior members, turned the hearing into what can only be called a farce. Representative Pete Stark of California referred to all of the witnesses as “clowns” and “second-rate economists” dug from “the bottom of the barrel,” and the tenor of the questions didn’t get much more constructive from there. There was almost no discussion of what we might actually do to fix our budget gap. Instead, there were questions on the 2001 tax cuts, funding for the Iraq war, loan guarantees for wind power, and on and on. It was almost funny at the time, but given the responsibilities handed to elected officials and the obvious need for them to wield those responsibilities in the face of enormous challenges extending over decades, it was much closer to a disgrace.
Apoorva Shah on new Indian census data:
The sex ratio of children in India (children ages 0-6) shows a decrease in the number of baby girls vs. baby boys. In fact, the female-to-male child sex ratio is at its lowest level since India’s independence in 1947.Shah comments,
The continued prevalence of female feticide in India should be a major concern to Indian policy makers and officials. Even as the country makes progress in education and health, cultural attitudes in many parts of the country appear to be distinctly pre-modern.
Steven F. Hayward:
The most clarifying single moment of the last generation may well have been former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous remark that we’d need to pass the healthcare bill to find out what was in it. Rather than being a matter of ridicule, I thought Pelosi expressed perfectly the innermost character of congressional legislation in the modern administrative state. What she said was quite true and accurate: even at more than 2,000 pages, . . . in effect the actual operating law would be formulated by administrators rather than Congress. And the huge number of waivers being granted under ObamaCare reveals the essentially arbitrary (some might say lawless) nature of administrative government.
Kenneth P. Green at the American Enterprise Institute's blog:
Everyone knows about the great success that Brazil has had in converting its transportation system to rely on homegrown ethanol from sugarcane, allowing it to export oil and enjoy an economic boom, right? But what happens when you simply change your fuel dependency from something pumped out of the ground to something grown on it?Green quotes from (I can't keep myself from typing "No relation," though it makes no sense) the "Green" blog at nytimes.com:
Brazil may import ethanol from the United States in April, Brazil’s oil regulator says. The move comes as a growing number of Brazilian cane farmers choose to produce sugar, which has surged in price over the last year, rather than ethanol, leading to a spike in fuel costs.Green comments,
U.S.-subsidized ethanol production is heading down south to a country whose cheaper homegrown ethanol we won’t import for American motorists. I’m sure that makes sense to someone.Not to me.
Jonah Goldberg in this week's G-File:
A friend of mine told me about a guy he knows from Taiwan. This Taiwanese guy -- a serious academic and intellectual -- was the only one of his peers to be entirely supportive of the Iraq war. Why? Because the whole thing was so bat-guano crazy that it sent the signal to the Chinese that America was still enough of a gun-slinging badass of a country to send its military halfway around the world just to prove a point. Or something. And being from Taiwan, this guy thought this was a message the Red Chinese needed to hear.
I don't think this is a fantastic justification for what's going on in Libya, but . . . you can be sure a lot of bad actors around the world are scratching their heads about what crazy America might do next. That is not altogether a bad thing.
Although why the White House is doing everything it can to reassure the Assads in Syria and others in the region that they're perfectly safe is beyond me. Leaving 'em guessing what America might do next has its advantages.
"The genius of you Americans," former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser allegedly once said, "is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing."
From an interview of Bernard Lewis:
Iranians' disdain for the ruling mullahs is the reason Mr. Lewis thinks the U.S. shouldn't take military action there. "It would give the regime a gift that they don't at present enjoy—namely Iranian patriotism," he warns.
By his lights, the correct policy is to elevate the democratic Green movement, and to distinguish the regime from the people. "When President Obama assumed office, he sent a message of greeting to the regime. That is polite and courteous," Mr. Lewis deadpans, "but it would have been much better to send a message to the people of Iran."
Friday, April 1, 2011
David Warren on our Libyan adventure:
This is a very old story: the ability of the liberal mind to delude itself by confusing appearances with realities; by embracing the comfortably plausible in preference to the uncomfortably true. And finally, expressing genuine surprise when the whole effort blows up in our faces.