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Monthly Archives: June 2008

Thinking about China

June 30th, 2008 - 10:58 pm

Mark Helprin at the Claremont Institute points out two obvious things. The first is the rise of China, not only as an economic power but also as a technological and industrial power. The second is the apparent lack of any US strategy to come to terms with that fact. The combination of the two can lead to disastrous effects. Most people remember Yamamoto’s famous warning to the Japanese High Command about America’s industrial power. Today Yamamoto could repeat his warning, but with a different set of names. American American shipbuilding is in rapid decline while Chinese capacity is in ascendance. The National Defense Magazine writes: “The commercial outlook for U.S. shipbuilders is bleak. They are unable to compete on the global commercial market due to high material and labor costs as well as lower productivity. Labor costs are kept artificially high by continued union resistance to employee cross-training and shipyard reluctance to invest in automated production tooling. ” In a world where American power is founded on maritime supremacy that may be unhealthy. Helprin vividly describes the Chinese fleet in being lying in its industrial capacity:

China hasn’t the amphibious or aerial lift for a successful invasion of Taiwan, but its shipyards, which produced 220,000 tons of shipping in 1980 and 13 million tons in 2006 (with 20 million projected for 2010), and its fast-growing aircraft industries, could, if directed, make this a moot point in a very short time.

The same trends are present in many other traditional indicators of national strength. Which is not to say the US has been standing still; it has grown in strength too, but in different ways. Thus the relationship between the two countries has become asymmetric while growing in the net more equal.

That growing equality has monumental implications. Yet China remains off the Washington policy radar whose picture is based on a changeless mezzotint of the postwar world. But that world has gone and America has not yet re-adjusted its mental picture to reflect the new one. What should be America’s objectives in a world where the West is in relative decline?

Our object is not to regain the power we and the Europeans had over China in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but, now that things are in flux, to keep China from attaining a similar power over us. This necessitates keeping the correlation of forces in our favor, not to dominate but for the sake of stability in maintaining a consistent position and lest the rapid evening encourage China to push past us and beyond. To the protest that it is too early to be concerned, the fitting answer is that if anything it is too late.

The core problem the US faces in coping with China is what to do about the huge differential in labor costs. Simply put, China can do a lot of things more cheaply than America. Helprin suggests that the gap has traditionally been bridged with the forces of automation and innovation. But leaving aside the question of whether this strategy would work, those bare-knuckle solutions would be hard sell to an intellectual elite that instinctively recoils from dog-eat-dog change; and whose main worries are in any case about providing everyone with a sense of “self-esteem”, avoiding anthropogenic Global Warming and spreading Enlightenment. It’s hard to imagine how a policy elite which cannot even approve the drilling of new oil wells or the construction of nuclear power plants can seriously contemplate competing with China. And yet China’s strategy is in large part based upon a playbook that America wrote — and forgot.

The irony is that the very mechanism by means of which China is mounting its challenge—growth that elevates per capita income and provides higher and higher discretionary margins—has been ours for so long that we have forgotten it. It is what made us the arsenal of democracy during World War II, and the discretionary margins are now so much greater that even at rest our potential dwarfs what it was then.

But the potential will remain untapped if there is no will to tap it. The principal obstacle to thinking about China may be the national elite’s obsession with itself and its petty hobbyhorses. Like the great courts of Europe in the late 19th century, its members have been so secure for so long they have forgotten that the sun does not revolve around their earth. Helprin asks who in Washington will awake from this dreamlike trance.

And yet what candidate is alert to this? Who asserts that our sinews are still intact? That we can meet any challenge with our great and traditional strengths? That beneath a roiled surface is a power almost limitless yet fair, supple yet restrained? Who will speak of such things in time, and who will dare to awaken them?

Alas, probably nobody. There’s a widespread body of opinion that sees America’s strength itself as the source of world problems and welcomes the ascendancy of China and other nations — even of multilateral institutions like the United Nations — in relative power to the US. In that universe the best course in nearly every crisis is for America to do nothing, but only after pre-emptively apologizing. Helprin’s thinking on China will have no resonance. But Alfred E. Neuman’s might: what — me — worry?

Tip Jar.

On the road

June 30th, 2008 - 6:31 am

Michael Totten continues on the Road to Kosovo.  What makes a trip in those parts singular is that the borders along the way are apparently mostly human in nature — demarcated by communities rather than lines on the map. Moreover they were shifting.  So unlike most travel stories in which the landscape is fixed, Totten’s trip through Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo is full of unexpected encounters and he finds he has crossed the invisible line from place into the other.  So in this world of GPS navigation, the only way to find out what was ahead was often to resort to the time-tested method of asking around.  Is it safe to continue into North Mitrovica? No map will help you here. Try asking someone you meet on the road.

Two days later, Sean and I met two American police officers in the charming Ottoman-era city of Prizren. He and I still hadn’t figured out the real story in North Mitrovica, and figured these men might know. One was from Texas and spoke in a very slow drawl. The other was from Southern California.

“Was it dangerous for us in North Mitrovica?” Sean said.

“Yes,” the American police officer from California said. “There are some real extremists up there, and it only takes one to ruin your night.”

“The road is open now, though,” Sean said. “So the situation has been resolved?”

“No,” the officer said. “This is by no means resolved. Nothing in Kosovo has been resolved. We’re at the very beginning of a new stage here.”

O Brave New World

June 29th, 2008 - 4:44 am

Russell Shorto of the New York Times looks at the demographic collapse of Europe and examines the various explanations for it. One theory is that when the traditional family met “modernity” the result was a hybrid with the worst features of both. The low birthrate of southern European countries for example, is explained by arguing that taking care of kids in the old fashioned way is just too difficult and hence, couples have chosen not to have kids.

Will Europe as we know it just peter out? Will ethnic Greeks and Spaniards become extinct, taking their baklava and paella to the grave with them, to be replaced by waves of Muslim immigrants who couldn’t care less about the Acropolis as a majestic representation of Western culture? Venice has lost more than half its population since 1950; its residents believe their city is destined to become a Venice-themed attraction. Is the same going to happen to Europe as a whole? Might the United States see its closest ally decay into a real-life Euro Disney?

According to this theory, the northern Europeans have attained a birthrate of 1.8 — lower than replacement but higher than Western Europe’s — by applying welfare state solutions to the childrearing problem. Extensive daycare and parental leaves allow northern European couples to stop worrying about childrearing and worry about more important things, like “gender equality” instead.

State-subsidized day care is standard. The cost of living is high, but then again it’s assumed that both parents will work; indeed, during maternity leave a woman is paid 80 percent of her salary. “In Norway, the concern over fertility is mild,” Aassve told me. “What dominates is the issue of gender equity, and that in turn raises the fertility level. For example, there is a debate right now about whether to make paternity leave compulsory. It’s an issue of making sure women and men have equal rights and opportunities. If men are taking leave after the birth of a child, the women can return to work for part of that time.”

Unfortunately for this theory, the article continues, there is the glaring counter-example of the USA, the only major Western country to have replacement birthrates. The secret to American exceptionalism, some will be sad to learn, is apparently the stubborn tendency of the inhabitants to cling not only to their guns but to their Bibles as well, which has had the effect of reinforcing gender equality. Darn. “But the U.S. runs counter to this [the welfare state theory]. Some commentators explain its healthy birthrate in terms of the relatively conservative and religiously oriented nature of American society, which both encourages larger families. It’s also true that mores have evolved in the U.S. to the point where not only is it socially acceptable for fathers to be active participants in raising children, but it’s also often socially unacceptable for them to do otherwise.”

But there is more than Bible-clinging behind the American birthrate. A flexible labor market means that American parents can often find ways to earn a living and raise kids, creating not only a modern industrial society but avoiding extinction at the same time. “Compared to other high-income countries, this cost is diminished by an American labor market that allows more flexible work hours and makes it easier to leave and then re-enter the labor force. An American woman might choose to suspend her career for three or five years to raise a family, expecting to be able to resume working; that happens far less easily in Europe.” But for those who think flexible labor markets and religious attitudes are too a high a price to pay, there’s a third solution: import people. With immigration from high birthrate countries the only way to make up for labor shortfalls in the near term, policy makers are focusing on culling the best and the brightest from the Third World.

If you can’t breed them, lure them. The population flow largely went the other way during the first half of the 20th century, but immigration is quickly transforming European societies. Some are looking to Canada or Australia as models: there, the focus is on selective immigration — opening the door for those who have knowledge and training that will benefit the economy.

But mass migrations create problems of their own. They unbalance the societies from which emigrants come. And they change the character of countries to which the immigrate. Some countries are casting about for politically correct ways to exclude undesirable cultures from entering the mix, torturing the language if necessary to create a kind of coded barrier to certain types. Whether that will succeed is open to question. But if that’s not possible, there’s a fourth way near and dear to radical environmentalism’s heart, such as it is. That is to encourage the Enlightened to traipse into that good night and groove on the return of the jungle. Shorto seemed creeped out by a gentleman that he met.

… the bearish middle-aged man beside me was full of enthusiasm. He waved an arm expansively, indicating a distant tree line. “From here you see that the city is embedded in a protected nature area,” he said through an interpreter. “We will bring that into the city.” Listening to Karl Gröger, director of the city’s department of building, is disorienting; where local politicians are supposed to cheer development, he was standing in the midst of his city’s industrial infrastructure and saying, in effect, “Someday all of this will be wilderness.”

But Shorto, to his everlasting credit, doesn’t think the National Geographication of Europe is a serious solution. Despite efforts to prettify the population decline there’s no escaping the hard fact that a society shutting itself down will at some point collapse. Slowly at first and then rapidly as huge cohorts age and dodder around incontinently. Short writes:

I put this to Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau, who monitors global fertility on a daily basis from his perch in Washington. Is it possible that these are basically “good problems,” that Europeans, having trimmed their birthrates, are actually on the right path? That all they have to do is adjust their economies, find creative ways to shrink their cities, get more young and old people into jobs, so that they can keep their pension and health-care systems functioning?

Haub wasn’t buying it. “Maybe tinkering with the retirement age and making other economic adjustments is good,” he said. “But you can’t go on forever with a total fertility rate of 1.2. If you compare the size of the 0-to-4 and 29-to-34 age groups in Spain and Italy right now, you see the younger is almost half the size of the older. You can’t keep going with a completely upside-down age distribution, with the pyramid standing on its point. You can’t have a country where everybody lives in a nursing home.”

Of course things would never reach that point. Long before the nursing home phase old and defenseless societies would be systematically looted and taken over by high birthrate outsiders who will have grasped the unattended levers of power. This the way the world ends. Not with a whimper, but with a suffocated scream.

Tip Jar.

Max Boot versus Andrew Sullivan

June 27th, 2008 - 5:20 pm

The debate between Max Boot and Andrew Sullivan over America’s postwar relationship with Iraq really captures what the Times Online has asserted in a recent article: “the evidence is now overwhelming that on all fronts, despite inevitable losses from time to time, it is we who are advancing and the enemy who is in retreat. The current mood on both sides of the Atlantic, in fact, represents a kind of curious inversion of the great French soldier’s dictum: ‘Success against the Taleban. Enemy giving way in Iraq. Al-Qaeda on the run. Situation dire. Let’s retreat!’ ”

While not everyone is unreservedly optimistic, Max Boot rightly points out that the West has been in Middle East for a long time. The French and British in especial will remember that. But even the US has had a long military involvement in the region, much of it spurred by the 1990s requirement to “contain” Saddam Hussein. Time did not begin with Operation Iraq Freedom. Boot writes:

Sullivan thinks it’s impossible to imagine that we could have this sort of long-standing military presence in the Mideast without perpetual fighting. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that the U.S. already has a string of bases in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries. Having visited many of these installations I haven’t noticed a lot of fighting there. In fact they are peaceful and relatively uncontroversial. Granted, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was more controversial: Osama bin Laden cited it as a justification for his campaign of terrorism. But we now know that was simply a pretext, since his calls for violence in his homeland have not ended even though we have withdrawn our troops.

One of the major reasons why it was always doubtful that America would withdraw entirely and relocate, as John Murtha once suggested in a moment of absentmindedness, to Okinawa, is that the region is a strategic focus of national and world interest. An Iraq in chaos or exporting subversion would pull America into the region, rather than permit a ramping down of overt military presence. Moreover, the eventual drawdown of US forces in Germany was made possible, not merely by the cultural differences between the Germans and the Arabs, but by the changes in the strategic situation in the region. The US didn’t stay in Germany until the Germans were pacified. They stayed until the Eastern Bloc collapsed. Perhaps one of the worst outcomes of the partisan over on Iraq has been to dissociate the campaign from its larger strategic aims.

The biggest potential gains of the campaign (in my view) have been to put the damper on the threat of WMD development in Iraq and Syria, create an alternative model of governance for the Shi’ite arc and effect the discredit of al Qaeda. These gains present a number of opportunities which should be exploited by future administrations. The entire debate over future US facilities in Iraq should revolve around how such facilities should be configured in order to develop these strategic gains and not around cultural comparisons between the Germans and Arabs. Yet even so, a commentator writing in 1946 and looking back at the century of horror and mayhem that convulsed Europe — an history which contained multiple genocides and ethnic cleansings (the Ukranian Famine, the Holocaust, Armenian genocide, the Scramble for Africa) and two of the most destructive wars in history — might have been forgiven for having doubts over whether the European was all that much better than the Arab. Now hardly a day goes by without some conservative commentator observing that “America is from Mars and Europe is from Venus”. Who would have said that in 1946? The fictional Harry Lime, closer to the events in memory than we are today, had much to say about Cuckoo Clocks. But he was wrong. Europe has shown that it is more than capable of peace. Maybe the Arabs are too.

Tip Jar.

Hymn to love

June 26th, 2008 - 9:32 pm

The boy upon whose life the movie Lorenzo’s Oil was based died, aged 30. “On May 29, the family of Lorenzo Odone celebrated his 30th birthday. He died the next day. He had lived 22 years longer than doctors predicted when they diagnosed him – at the age of six – with an incurable, degenerative disease of the nervous system. His continued survival was attributed to an oil which his parents, Augusto and Michaela, had invented.” Their home, which ought by rights to have been a depressing place, was instead a shrine to love.

In the kitchen, still stuck to the fridge, are precise instructions in English and Spanish for his carers. Another list provides contact details of his six doctors. In the living room, above the day bed where he received physical therapy, is a diagram showing the correct positioning of the pillows and rollers to support him. During all his years of illness, he never developed a single bedsore and, until his death, had never suffered from pneumonia, which is common among ALD patients. …

“The main thing now is that Lorenzo is with his mother. My goal is for him to live on. I made a promise to him that other children would know his story and about his life before he became ill. I will honour that promise.”

Maybe Edith Piaf understood. We find and we lose. And are the better for it.

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Follow the leader

June 26th, 2008 - 8:53 pm

Glenn Greenwald at Salon is aghast at how Keith Olbermann could turn on a dime on the subject of FISA wiretaps and telecomm company amnesties in connection with counterterror wiretaps simply because Barack Obama changed his position. How could he? The logical error in Greenwald’s thinking is to assume that Olbermann had a position. Greenwald laments:

What’s much more notable is Olbermann’s full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama — rather than George Bush — supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it’s proof that Obama won’t “cower.” Grave warning on Olbermann’s show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution. Is that really what anyone wants — transferring blind devotion from George Bush to Barack Obama? Are we hoping for a Fox News for Obama, that glorifies everything he says and whitewashes everything he does?

Obama’s candidacy is partly founded on a cult of personality. He is the Face, the One we’ve been waiting for. A voter who simply wanted to endorse a set of policies could have voted for John Edwards or Hillary Clinton as well as Barack Obama. Obama’s distinctive competence is that he is Barack Obama. Without that singular qualification he would simply be one in a long line of standard bearers for a set of liberal prescriptions that are forty years old. This circumstance also explains why attacks on BHO tend to take the form of impugning his personality.

To a certain extent the candidacy of Barack Obama represents a revival of the idea of an aristocracy. The word itself comes from the Greek aristokratía which means “the rule of the best”. This is in contrast to the idea of a democracy, in which the officeholders themselves are nothing special. In fact, there is the subtle assumption that leaders in a democracy will frequently be mediocrities if not outright rogues. What is important in a democracy is that officeholders carry out the will of the people; that is to say, popular policy.

Glenn Reynolds points out that if we had “‘a Supreme Court that looks like America,’ Heller would have been 7-2, … or at least 6-3,” citing surveys which showed that “a clear majority of the U.S. public — 73% — believes the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns. And almost 7 out of 10 Americans are opposed to a law that would make the possession of a handgun illegal, except by the police.” But as Greenwald points out, in an Olbermann world the relevant metric isn’t ‘what do the people want’, or even ‘what is right but “what does Obama think?” It’s a concept that is instantly familiar within the context of an aristocracy, where by definition, what matters is the King’s will.

Great Britain, which entered the 20th century with its aristocracy in working condition found that the aristocrats were not necessarily wiser than the common man. One of the major casualties of the Great War was the consensus that the “Public School boys knew best”. But because it was customary from the Public School boys to lead from the front, no one learned better how fallible their judgments were than the Golden Youth of Britain itself. The Public School boys buried themselves in the mud of the Western Front, sometimes taking a soccer ball “over the top”. Interestingly, while other societies had moved away from the idea of a class of naturally superior persons, the concept was enjoying a revival in America. David Halberstam’s, book “The Best and the Brightest” recounted the blunders of “President John F. Kennedy’s ‘whiz kids’ — leaders of industry and academia brought into his administration — whom Halberstam characterized as arrogantly insisting on ‘brilliant policies that defied common sense’ in Vietnam, often against the advice of career US Department of State employees.” And while I wonder whether the career State Department employees would truly have done better, even the “Best and the Brightest” rooted their legitimacy in the superiority of their ideas and in the brilliance of their policies. They never reached the point, which every cult of personality naturally achieves, of arguing from Divine Right.

C. S. Lewis argued that the extinction of the individual and its replacement by nothingness is the ultimate peril. One of his most satanic characters, Edward Rolles Weston is filled, not by a magnificent malice, but by an arbitrary, banal pettiness. Describing Weston, Lewis writes “For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he [the protagonist] was in some sort prepared; but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at a preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out – its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. On the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness.” I think Greenwald, in recoiling from personalities with apparently no will of their own, would recognize the symptoms well.

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Arms and the man

June 26th, 2008 - 7:32 pm

Here’s a video showing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley decrying the Supreme Court’s decision that the Second Amendment refers to the individual right to keep and bear arms.

Will the Court Actually Strike Down the Challenged Provisions of D.C. Law? Yes. The Court struck down the handgun ban; and also the requirement that firearms in the home be kept locked and unloaded/disassembled — to the extent the latter requirement prohibits citizens from “rendering … firearm[s] in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.” … the lower courts may have to piece out what level of readiness and access is realistically required for “immediate self-defense.” …

Are “Keep” and “Bear” Separate Rights? … It clearly includes the right to “use [arms] for the core lawful purpose of self-defense” in the home. … What about carrying them outside of the home? Justice Scalia notes that 19th-century state courts regularly upheld prohibitions on “carrying concealed weapons.” … The opinion does not mention that many of these state courts hold that the right to bear arms obligates governments to allow some form of weapons carry — if concealed carry is banned, then “open carry” (holstered on the hip) must be allowed, and vice versa. …

The imposition by the U.S. government of a U.K.-style system of sweeping gun bans and prohibitions on armed self-defense is now off the table. Such laws are a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court Second Amendment decision comes on the heels of decisions to allow enemy combatants access to the American legal system and striking down death penalties for child rapists. The decisions exemplify the fault lines in American political opinion and how they are played out in the courts. Chicago is now prepared to make the argument that the Supreme Court decision does not apply to it’s fair city.

“In the sense the Supreme Court has found this is an individual right to bear arms, we recognize this is a significant threat,” said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city’s law department. “It gives people an opening to challenge the ordinance in a way it hasn’t been challenged in many years.”

Hoyle said the high court’s ruling does not invalidate Chicago’s law because it does not apply to cities or states. And, she said, lawyers are confident they will be able to successfully fight off any legal challenge to the 1982 ordinance that makes it illegal to possess or sell handguns in the city.

“We have very strong legal arguments to make at every level of the courts,” pointing out, for example, that the gun law constitutes a reasonable restriction for a densely populated urban area. But Hoyle fully expects legal challenges to those arguments are coming.

She can count on it.

The City of Chicago is not of course opposed to firearms; simply who gets to bear them. The police department recently proposed arming police officers with assault rifles.

CHICAGO (CBS) ― One answer to curbing Chicago’s gun violence, according to police, is putting officers on the streets dressed in full battle gear and traveling in vehicles normally used in hostage and barricade situations. I think it acts as deterrent,” Chicago Police Dept. Supt. Jody Weis said. “The first thought is that it’s SWAT and they’ve backed off. I think the deterrent factor is important.” …

But in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, the idea of police with assault weapons is a concern. “If they’re going to carry assault rifles like that that’s just going to be an all out war with citizens criminals because they’re going to defend themselves,” said area resident Kevine Green.

Pat Hill, a former police officer and the president of the African American Police League, questions the message police are sending to the black and Hispanic communities where the battle-ready officers are expected to be deployed. “This is the stuff you use in war,” Hill said. “This is what you use in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are they telling the community now that they’ve declared us as the enemy?”

The Chicago police department says the heavy weapons will only be used “when needed”, which raises the question, will they ever be used when they are unneeded?

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From Baghdad to Beijing

June 26th, 2008 - 6:22 pm

“We’re going to give the a run for their money … and their medals too.” A number of Iraq veterans are going to compete in the Beijing Olympics on their own terms.

What if nobody recognized Robert Mugabe?

June 25th, 2008 - 7:06 pm

Robert who? The New Republic and Paul Wolfowitz have come up with the same idea. The James Kirchick at the New Republic argues that Robert Mugabe is only President of Zimbabwe because we believe him. But if we don’t, then what’s he going to do?

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, is the legitimately elected president of Zimbabwe. Or at least he should be. … So here’s a question for Senators Obama and McCain. Back in April, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer declared Tsvangirai the winner of the March 29th election, and certified that he won over 50% of the vote. Recognition of him as the duly elected president of Zimbabwe — with all of the diplomatic measures that would imply, specifically spelled out today in a New York Sun editorial — should have been forthcoming, yet the State Department has been reluctant to go that far. With Tsvangirai hiding in the Dutch Embassy for fear of his life, will either of you call upon the United States to recognize him as the elected president of Zimbabwe?

Paul Wolfowitz has less radical, but related idea. Give Zimbabwe a check only if Mugabe leaves. That way the bureaucracy’s next salary becomes conditional on Old Bob’s departure. Zimbabwe ain’t big enough for Mugabe and foreign aid.

The international community should commit – as publicly and urgently as possible – to provide substantial support if Mugabe relinquishes power. Even if Mr. Tsvangirai were to become president tomorrow he would still face a daunting set of problems: restoring an economy in which hyperinflation has effectively destroyed the currency and unemployment is a staggering 70%; getting emergency food aid to millions who are at risk of starvation and disease; promoting reconciliation after the terrible violence; and undoing Mugabe’s damaging policies, without engendering a violent backlash.

The international community should also say it will move rapidly to remove the burden of debts accumulated by the Mugabe regime and not force a new government to spend many months and precious human resources on the issue (as Liberia was forced to do to deal with the debts of Samuel Doe).

Given the strength and ruthlessness of the regime, change will not come easily. Nevertheless, developing a concrete vision for the future would help to rally the people of Zimbabwe around a long-term effort to achieve a peaceful transition. It would give Mr. Tsvangirai important negotiating leverage. And it could attract disaffected members of the regime.

It sounds like a great plan. But in order for it to work, those who decide to give Mugabe the cold shoulder should have confidence in the moral justness of their cause. Because even if the United States recognized Tsvangirai and developed countries closed their wallets to Mugabe, the rest of the “international community”, which is to say most members of the UN and every tinpot dictator on the planet, would continue to call the Zimbabwean dictator “Mr. President”. Mugabe would thereafter mount a soapbox and claim that while Tsvangirai was merely a “colonial puppet”, he was the People’s President. And this kind of ridiculous posturing may have an effect for as long as there are enough guilt-stricken intellectuals in the West who are willing to let their masochism get the better of their intellects; who are willing in spite of the evidence of their own eyes, to let unreason trump reason. Mugabe’s basis for legitimacy — and today his sole basis for legitimacy — is the Colonialism card. On the day the West sticks this card where the sun doesn’t shine in Robert Mugabe’s anatomy, the way will be open to the obvious: a Zimbabwe free of his tyranny.

The final scene at Robert Mugabe’s bunker.

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History challenge

June 25th, 2008 - 4:39 pm

I received an email from the Naval Historical Center in Washington asking for help in locating sources for a forthcoming survey of the role of Asian-Americans in the 20th century, with emphasis on their experiences as more roles opened up to them within the service. The text of the message is below. I didn’t have any sources to hand, but got permission to post an appeal. If anyone knows any sources or wants to share his experiences, write to me and I will forward the lead to the Naval Historical Center. Better yet, post up in the comments section below. The email said:

I’m working on a U.S. Navy book project relating to Asian-Americans serving in the U.S. Navy and am interested in the role of Filipinos as stewards in the early 20th century as well as their wider participation in other rates as those opened up in the 1960s-70s and later. Do you have any advice on book citations and/or Filipino contacts who could shed light on this very interesting topic?

One of the things we’ve discovered is that whenever our historians talk about integration and diversity to sailors, the subject is most often bout African Americans, and in a lot of ways rightly so. But they lways get questions from Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and ilipino sailors which boil down to, “what about us?” So, in response, we’re going to put together a survey book on the whole subject of diversity from the 1780s to the present.

So, basically, if anyone has any information or suggestions on Asians & Asian-Americans in the U.S. Navy from the beginnings all the way down to the present day, then I am very interested.

I sometimes think that if any American author wanted to create a version of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, the ideal character would be based on a Filipino Navy steward. Fraser’s fictional Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE: witness to history and scoundrel extraordinaire, found himself present at major moments in world events, ranging from the Charge of the Light Brigade to eve of the 20th century. Yet the fantastic adventures of Flashman might easily be surpassed by the collective memory of the Filipino steward. Who was with Kimmel at Pearl Harbor, with Spruance during the Battle of Midway, attended FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan during the long and eventful years of crisis? And when more roles opened up to them, who helped keep the sea against America’s enemies, stood at watch in the dark on all the seven seas? They have no name but deserve better than oblivion. And maybe the Navy Historical Center project will help capture something of their memory before we forget what ought never be forgotten.

If you have any leads or comments, do write.