October 31, 2005

Sharon Praises Stands Against Iran, Syria (MARK LAVIE, 10/31/05, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Sharon said that for the first time in years, “the United Nations is standing against extremist countries like Iran and Syria that threaten the region.” The U.N. Security Council demanded Monday that Syria cooperate with an inquiry into the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafik Hariri and might take on the issue of the Iranian nuclear program.

Sharon also said that as a result of its pullout from Gaza, Israel is better accepted on the international stage than before.

At this rate George Bush will have succeeded in making the UN a useful institution by the time he leaves office.



October 31, 2005

CRISIS OF FAITH IN THE MUSLIM WORLD: PART 1: Statistical evidence (Spengler, 11/01/05, Asia Times)

Radical Islam should be interpreted as a cry of despair in the face of the ineluctable decline of Islamic society. Read carefully, the leading Islamists say precisely this. At the close of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was the sick man of Europe, and its former territories today comprise the incurables ward of geopolitics. From this vantage point, America’s attempt to foist its own form of democracy on the Islamic world seems delusional.

As I have reported before, the demographic position of the Islamic world has set a catastrophe in motion. It is hard enough for rich nations to care for a growing elderly population, but impossible for poor nations to do so. Iran, along with most of the Muslim world, faces a population bust that will raise the proportion of dependent elderly in the population to 28% in 2050, from just 7% today.

If America faces discomfort, and Europe faces crisis, Muslim countries face breakdown. America now has a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$40,000 and a diversified economy. Iran has a per capita GDP of just $7,000 and depends on oil exports for the state subsidies that keep its population fed and clothed – and Iran will no longer be able to export oil after 2020, according to some estimates.

America can ameliorate the impact of an aging population by raising productivity (so that fewer workers produce more GDP), attracting more skilled immigrants (and increasing its tax base), and, in the worst of all cases, tightening its belt. American life will not come to an end if more people drive compact cars instead of SUVs, or go camping for vacation instead of to Disney World. But the Islamic world is so poor that any reduction in living standards from present levels will cause social breakdown.

In 2002, the United Nations’ Arab Development Report offered a widely-quoted summation of the misery of the present position of the Arab World, noting:

# The average growth rate of per capita income during the preceding 20 years in the Arab world was only one-half of 1% per annum, worse than anywhere but sub-Saharan Africa

# One in five Arabs lives on less than $2 per day

# Fifteen percent of the Arab workforce is unemployed, and this number could double by 2010

# Only 1% of the population has a personal computer, and only half of 1% use the Internet

# Half of Arab women cannot read.

Negotiating the demographic decline of the 21st century will be treacherous for countries that have proven their capacity to innovate and grow. For the Islamic world, it will be impossible. That is the root cause of Islamic radicalism, and there is nothing that the West can do to change it. […]

America’s fertility rate – the average number of children per woman – has stabilized at just around the replacement level. That is why America’s elderly dependency ratio will stabilize around 2030. But the fertility rate of the Muslim world is falling much faster.

To the contrary, there’s much that the West (well, really the Anglosphere) can do and is doing. The most important thing is hastening the End of History–forcing the Islamic world to reform along liberal democratic lines, adopting democracy, capitalism, and protestantism–which amounts to a Reformation of Islam itself. This will not only make Islamic societies healthier but will, in the process, refurbish Islam, demonstrating that it can be the basis for those thriving 21st-century societies, is indeed a necessary basis.

At the same time, the dying nations of Europe, whose secular rationalist faith can not provide such a basis, will serve as a safety valve drawing off the excess unemployed in the Islamic world. The success or failure of these European states and of the massive waves of migrants they’ll be taking in will depend on a recognition that they must be assimilated into the culture that had made Europe successful until the early 20th Century and that Islam can be integrated into that earlier Judeo-Christian model.

None of this will be easy nor is it certain to work. Even in a best case scenario it requires tremendous upheaval in both the Islamic world and in Europe and a free flow of ideas and peoples that will hardly be welcomed by everyone. But, as Spengler points out, the alternative is abysmal.


October 31, 2005

It may be exported, but at least it‘s democracy (Khaled Fouad Allam, 10/31/05. Chiesa)

Today, whether one likes it or not, that world is changing, because the war in Iraq inaugurated what has been called “the American moment,” and it has brought to light the absence of any European political project on the great questions that are found across those societies.

Of course, this is the case of an “imperial democratization,” which is weighed down by some obvious errors: the unmaking of the structure of Iraqi society through the total dismantling of the old apparatus of the state connected to the Ba’ath party; a communitarian perception of the nation, according to which the “building policy” has begun from the presupposition of a society divided along ethnic and confessional lines.

But on second glance, these are errors that Europe probably would have incurred as well.

They are errors that Europe made in Iraq in 1921, with the British repression of the Shiite rebellion, because even back then the Shiites were already claiming rights to political participation. French and British colonialism always backed the Sunnis, because they had been the country’s élite for centuries, although they constituted a minority. And Arab nationalism perpetuated the situation.

But now all of that is gone, or is dying off, definitively. And it must be understood that the reversal underway will produce a large-scale effect in the Middle East and in the Arab world in general.

The pressure exerted on Syria by the United States has already obtained the abandoning of the Syrian protectorate over Lebanon. And this must not be separated from what has happened in Iraq. Both events are the product of a new phase of history, the slow decomposition of political authoritarianism in the Middle East. […]

While American “imperial democracy” has brusquely inaugurated a new era for the peoples of the Middle East, the left must foster an authentic way of looking at the civil societies of the Arab world, keeping in mind that these are not the same as the countries of Eastern Europe. Lebanon is not Ukraine, and the Arab world, oppressed by authoritarian dictatorships and regimes for over fifty years – and before then by the colonial regimes – has not had its Solzhenitsyn, it has not had its Gulag Archipelago, it has not been able to denounce to the world the barbarities it has suffered.

Of course, in the Arab world there was no system of concentration camps like in the Soviet Union. But many have personally paid the price of denouncing the absence of liberty. It must also be emphasized that Europe has rarely listened to the dissenting voices from that world, the voices crying out about the lack of freedom.

Of course, the question of the legitimacy of an act of war is being posed, and will always be posed. But that question does not freeze history; history continues forward. History is something too serious for one to be able to resolve it through a debate in which the favorable and contrary voices are balanced. The request by Hariri’s son to have the assassins of the former Lebanese prime minister judged by an international tribunal is a manifestation of a history that is changing. And even though Saddam Hussein’s trial is controversial, it will have a strongly cathartic effect on the collective Arab imagination. It will mean the restitution to the Iraqi people of their own history. For this reason, I maintain that it is important that the trial be conducted in Arabic.

Taking all this into consideration leads to the conclusion that democracy is not a luxury for some privileged peoples, and that the geopolitics of the Middle East is definitively leaving behind its configuration in the zones of influence that ensnared it during the twentieth century.

Sure, it’d be nice if Europe were more helpful in the process, but it ultimately doesn’t matter much.


October 30, 2005

If you want to succeed, follow us Down Under (Lynton Crosby, 29/10/2005, Daily Telegraph)

For so long simply seen as an adventure playground for gap year students or a breeding ground for sportsmen, Australia has now graduated into the world of big players.

Proof? Well, I won’t rely on the fact that Australian troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan. I won’t brag about our free trade agreements with the US, New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore. Nor even our progress on negotiating a free trade agreement with China – already a market for many Australian products. […]

The Australian economy is now in the 15th year of the longest economic expansion in 50 years – perhaps, according to John Howard, the Prime Minister, “the longest since the gold rushes of the 19th century”. Today this continent, much of it desert, ranks 53rd in terms of world population, but is the world’s 13th largest economy; eighth in the world in income per head from 18th two decades ago. […]

John Howard (and to be fair, in some areas such as currency deregulation, his predecessor Bob Hawke) practised what he preached: the foundation of a nation’s success is economic growth, and that growth is rooted in economic stability, free trade and rewarding hard work and investment.

The experiences of the three great states of the Anglosphere suggest that the Third Way works brilliantly.


October 30, 2005

Iran’s President says “2 or 3 hangings” could end market woes (Iran Focus, Oct. 30, 2005)

Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the latest cabinet meeting in the Iranian capital that “if we were permitted to hang two or three persons, the problems with the stock exchange would be solved for ever”, according to a Tehran-based newspaper.

Ahmadinejad was addressing a cabinet meeting held to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation at the Tehran Stock Exchange, the daily Ruznet reported on Sunday. […]

Iran’s ultra-Islamist President first sent jitters through the country’s markets when he said on the eve of the presidential elections in June that “stock exchange activities are a kind of gambling and we are against them”. Gambling is banned in Islam.

Nervous investors have been transferring their capital to other countries, and Dubai has benefited palpably from the flight of capital from Iran. The Tehran Stock Exchange has lost 20 percent of its value in the past four months.

“At the moment there are no buyers in this market, only sellers”, the newspaper Ruznet wrote. “Economists believe the situation is becoming more difficult to handle day by day”.

Because you can’t structure a functioning economy along Islamicist lines it can pose no meaningful threat to liberal democracy. It is self-destructive.

AM I MY BROTHER'S KEEPER? (via Robert Schwartz):

October 30, 2005

The Realist Who Got It Wrong (Charles Krauthammer, October 30, 2005, Washington Post)

In the Oct. 31 New Yorker [Brent Scowcroft] came out strongly against the war and the neocon sorcerers who magically foisted it upon what must have been a hypnotized president and vice president.

Of course, Scowcroft’s opposition to toppling Saddam Hussein is neither surprising nor new. Indeed, we are now seeing its third iteration. He had two cracks at Hussein in 1991 and urged his President Bush to pass them both up — first, after Hussein’s defeat in the Persian Gulf War, when the road to Baghdad was open, and then, days later, during a massive U.S.-encouraged uprising of Kurds and Shiites, when America stood by and allowed Hussein to massacre his opponents by the tens of thousands. One of the reasons for Iraqi wariness during the U.S. liberation 12 years later was the memory of our past betrayal and suspicions about our current intentions in light of that betrayal.

This cold bloodedness is a trademark of this nation’s most doctrinaire foreign policy “realist.” Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy: The only thing that counts is how countries interact, not what’s happening inside. You care not a whit about who is running a country. Whether it is Mother Teresa or the Assad family gangsters in Syria, you care only about their external actions, not how they treat their own people.

Realists prize stability above all, and there is nothing more stable than a ruthlessly efficient dictatorship. Which is why Scowcroft is the man who six months after Tiananmen Square toasted those who ordered the massacre; who, as the world celebrates the Beirut Spring that evicted the Syrian occupation from Lebanon, sees not liberation but possible instability; who can barely conceal a preference for Syria’s stabilizing iron rule.

Even today Scowcroft says, “I didn’t think that calling the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire’ got anybody anywhere.” Tell that to Natan Sharansky and other Soviet dissidents for whom that declaration of moral — beyond geopolitical — purpose was electrifying and helped galvanize the movements that ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.

The preference for stability at the expense of our fellow men is antithetical to the American ethos.


October 30, 2005

Occupational Hazards: a review of The Assassins Gate by George Packer (FAREED ZAKARIA, 10/30/05, NY Times Book Review)

Packer begins his absorbing account with the ideas that led the United States to war. A few neoconservatives, most prominently Paul Wolfowitz, had long believed that ousting Saddam Hussein would pave the way for a grand reordering of the Middle East, pushing it away from tyranny and anti-Americanism and toward modernity and democracy. Others, including Douglas Feith, explained that eliminating Hussein would be particularly good for Israel’s security. But the broadest reason to intervene in Iraq was that it was a bold use of American power that mixed force with idealism. Many neoconservatives were Reaganites who believed in an assertive, even aggressive, American posture in the world. For them the 1990’s – under Bush père and Clinton alike – had been years of retreat. “They were supremely confident,” Packer writes, “all they needed was a mission.”

But they wouldn’t have had one without 9/11. As one of the neoconservatives Packer interviewed correctly points out, “September 11 is the turning point. Not anything else.” After 9/11, Bush – and many Americans, including many liberals – were searching for a use of the nation’s power that mixed force with idealism and promised to reorder the Middle East. In Iraq they found it.

Packer collects his articles from The New Yorker but goes well beyond them. His book lacks a tight thesis or structure and as a result meanders at times, petering out in its final sections. But this is more than made up for by the sheer integrity and intelligence of its reporting, from Washington, New York, London and, of course, Iraq. Packer provides page after page of vivid description of the haphazard, poorly planned and almost criminally executed occupation of Iraq. In reading him we see the staggering gap between abstract ideas and concrete reality.

Hard as it is to believe, the Bush administration took on the largest foreign policy project in a generation with little planning or forethought. It occupied a foreign country of 25 million people in the heart of the Middle East pretty much on the fly. Packer, who was in favor of the war, reserves judgment and commentary in most of the book but finally cannot contain himself: “Swaddled in abstract ideas . . . indifferent to accountability,” those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq “turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one,” he writes. “When things went wrong, they found other people to blame.”

Packer recounts the prewar discussions in the State Department’s “Future of Iraq Project,” which produced an enormous document outlining the political challenges in governing Iraq. He describes Drew Erdmann’s memo, written for Colin Powell, analyzing previous postwar reconstructions in the 20th century. Erdmann’s conclusion was that success depended on two factors, establishing security and having international support. These internal documents were mirrored by several important think-tank studies that all made similar points, specifically on the need for large-scale forces to maintain security. One would think that this Hobbesian message – that order is the first requisite of civilization – would appeal to conservatives. In fact all of this careful planning and thinking was ignored or dismissed.

Part of the problem was the brutal and debilitating struggle between the State Department and the Defense Department, producing an utterly dysfunctional policy process. The secretary of the Army, Thomas White, who was fired after the invasion, explained to Packer that with the Defense Department “the first issue was, we’ve got to control this thing – so everyone else was suspect.” The State Department was regarded as the enemy, so what chance was there of working with other countries? The larger problem was that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (and probably Dick Cheney) doggedly believed nation-building was a bad idea, the Clinton administration has done too much of it, and the American military should stop doing it. Rumsfeld explained this view in a couple of speeches and op-ed articles that were short on facts and long on polemics. But how to square this outlook with invading Iraq? Assume away the need for nation-building. Again, White explains: “We had the mind-set that this would be a relatively straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation, and therefore reconstruction would be short-lived.” Rumsfeld’s spokesman, Larry Di Rita, went to Kuwait in April 2003 and told the American officials waiting there that the State Department had messed up Bosnia and Kosovo and that the Bush administration intended to hand over power to Iraqis and leave within three months.

That the main idea has worked out brilliantly is demonstrated from the polling places for the Iraqi constitution to Libya to Palestine to Lebanon to Syria to Pakistan, to the UN and so on and so forth. The one failure came in the form of mounting an Occupation rather than turning power over to an interim government acceptable to Ayatollah Sistani ASAP.

‘The Right War?’ and ‘A Matter of Principle’: Everybody Is a Realist Now (JAMES TRAUB, 10/30/05, NY Times Book Review)

A decade ago, the question of humanitarian intervention, above all in Bosnia, split both left and right into antiwar “realists” and prowar moralists, or “Wilsonians.” What is clear from these two volumes is that 9/11 fused the two arguments into one, for enemies embodying a totalitarian and obscurantist culture had reached out to deal us a terrible blow. This Islamofascist culture was as dangerous to us as to its domestic victims. President Bush, who entered office as a realist vowing to put “interests” ahead of “values,” became the chief exponent of a revived Wilsonianism. “We support . . . democracy in the Middle East,” he said, “because it is a founding principle, and because it is in our interest.”

Debate on the war is now, in effect, organized around this view – whether it is valid, whether it can be applied to Iraq, whether the Bush administration has hopelessly botched the execution. “Democracy promotion” has cleaved opinion on both sides, as humanitarian intervention did before. On the right, the “paleos” dismiss the project as a dangerous pipe dream – a form of “democratic imperialism,” in Patrick Buchanan’s phrase. [….]

The debate inside the left is of course a very different one, but also involves an absolutism that will not take account of individual cases. The absolutism, in this case, is an abhorrence of American power – an abhorrence greatly magnified by hatred for George W. Bush and all his works. The journalist Ian Buruma, though not a supporter of the war, has accused the fashionable left of practicing a form of moral racism, in which the brutalities of the West provoke outrage but the far greater crimes of third-world monsters like Saddam Hussein are passed over in silence. A magisterial nonchalance marches under the banner of moral superiority. Apropos the novelist Julian Barnes’s comment that the war wasn’t worth the loss of a single life, Norman Geras, a British political theorist, mordantly observes, “Not one, eh? So much for the victims of the rape rooms and the industrial shredders.” But of course to admit otherwise would be to credit the Americans, and even the Bush administration, with moral insight and the capacity for good. How much more satisfying to revel in the administration’s richly deserved comeuppance!

A Matter of Principle” will be sobering reading to many American liberals, especially those who took comfort in the near-universal European opposition to the war. Among the most powerful essays in the volume are those by French or German scholars taking their own countrymen to task. With the threat of the cold war over, writes Richard Herzinger, an editor of Die Zeit, the old cry of “Never again!” had lost its meaning of never again submission in favor of never again war – as if force itself were the great peril, and thus America, the most forceful nation, the chief enemy of peace. This is what Robert Kagan means when he describes the Kantian paradise Europeans have sought to take refuge in. They, no less than the Americans, and perhaps more, fit 9/11 into the world as they already understood it, and as they wished it to be.

Do we truly know what is required in order to defend democratic principles in the face of attack from those who consider themselves divinely inspired? (I am referring, of course, to Islamic fundamentalists, not the Bush administration.) “A Matter of Principle” includes a backbone-stiffening contribution from Adam Michnik, a political philosopher, a founder of Solidarity in Poland and an authentic hero of the democratic left. Asked whether it isn’t “paradoxical” to advocate violence as a means to advance human rights, Michnik snaps, “I can’t remember any text of mine where I said one should fight Hitler without violence; I’m not an idiot. . . . In the state of Saddam, the opposition could find a place only in cemeteries.”


October 29, 2005

UN turns screw on Syria over assassination riddle (Marie Colvin and Hugh Macleod, 10/30/05, The Sunday Times of London)

The story’s well worth reading, but you really want to pause for a moment and marvel at that headline.


October 29, 2005

U.S. to shift 7,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam (Japan Times, 10/30/05)

Japan and the United States adopted on Saturday a realignment plan for U.S. forces aimed at promoting greater military integration between the two nations and lessening the burden on communities hosting U.S. bases, including a reduction of 7,000 marines in Okinawa.

Among the major pillars of an interim report issued after a ministerial security meeting are plans to strengthen interoperability between the U.S. military and the Self-Defense Forces through a new U.S. Army command in Camp Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, joint use of bases, sharing information and expanding SDF training exercises in the U.S. […]

Saturday’s “two-plus-two” meeting involved Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.


October 28, 2005

The Crisis of American National Identity: a review of Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity by Samuel P. Huntington (Charles R. Kesler, Fall 2005, Claremont Review of Books)

In Huntington’s view, America is undergoing an identity crisis, in which the long-term trend points squarely towards national disintegration. A University Professor at Harvard (the school’s highest academic honor), he has written a dozen or so books including several that are rightly regarded as classics of modern social science. He is a scholar of political culture, especially of the interplay between ideas and institutions; but in this book he calls himself not only a scholar but a patriot (without any ironic quotation marks). That alone marks him as an extraordinary figure in today’s academy.

Though not inevitable, the disorder that he discerns is fueled by at least three developments in the culture. The first is multiculturalism, which saps and undermines serious efforts at civic education. The second is “transnationalism,” which features self-proclaimed citizens of the world—leftist intellectuals like Martha Nussbaum and Amy Guttman, as well as the Davos set of multinational executives, NGOs, and global bureaucrats—who affect a point of view that is above this nation or any nation. Third is what Huntington terms the “Hispanization of America,” due to the dominance among recent immigrants of a single non-English language which threatens to turn America, in his words, into “a bilingual, bicultural society,” not unlike Canada. This threat is worsened by the nearness of the lands from which these Spanish-speaking immigrants come, which reinforces their original nationality.

Standing athwart these trends are the historic sources of American national identity, which Huntington describes as race, ethnicity, ideology, and culture. Race and ethnicity have, of course, largely been discarded in the past half century, a development he welcomes. By ideology he means the principles of the Declaration of Independence, namely, individual rights and government by consent, which he calls the American “creed” (a term popularized by Gunnar Myrdal). These principles are universal in the sense that they are meant to be, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “applicable to all men at all times.” Culture is harder to define, but Huntington emphasizes language and religion, along with (a distant third) some inherited English notions of liberty. Who Are We? is at bottom a defense of this culture, which he calls Anglo-Protestantism, as the dominant strain of national identity. Although he never eschews the creed, he regards it fundamentally as the offshoot of a particular cultural moment: “The Creed…was the product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the founding settlers of America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”

The peril in refurbishing and maintaining a national identity is that it must remain as universalist as the Creed and not become nationalist.