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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Answering Back…

August 25th, 2007 - 7:14 am

Every once in a while, one must attend to business and reply to published critics. So here it goes. Long overdue.

First some readers responses:

a. First—the unhinged one about 150 years of open borders. Far from it. Illegal immigration at today’s massive rates is unique in American history and a phenomenon of the last 40 years. And yes, our ancestors did care about the melting pot. English was required in school, as well as patriotic singing, skits on Americanism, and the necessity to “assimilate”. I wrote about all this in Mexifornia.

b. “And by the way, scarce labor leads to mechanization, not higher prices.”

Well, in theory yes. But some crops like soft-fruits such as fresh grapes and peaches can’t be mechanized yet. The market will work, though, as I pointed out, and labor costs will rise. Prices will also rise accordingly. If they don’t, farmers who grow these crops will cease doing so, and the public will either pay more for scarce produce they want, or simply decide that fresh grapes and peaches at such prices weren’t that important anyway.

c. “When you speak of agriculture and immigrants you speak of the agri-corporations such as Tyson or the few large “truck” farms that need labor to pick their crops. The rest of us do our on work and wonder when the anarchy of our cities’ society will come break down our doors.”

I wish it were so. But a 40-acre berry farmer or plum grower (5,000 plus trees) can’t prune, thin, or pick his crop himself. Ditto a raisin grower of 30-acres. There are still some farms between corporate agribusiness and small 5-acre or organic or 400-acre family farms that are mechanized with row crops or nuts for example. So yes, these categories of small farmers have used illegal labor. It’s not a question of me “speak[ing]” but a fact that is not under dispute.

I also hope the anarchy of the city won’t break down our door, but in my case, with numerous break-ins, thefts, hot pursuits in our fields, and trash thrown into the vineyard, as well as endemic trespassing, it already has happened.

d. “Memo to Dr. Hanson: free markets work. Americans are demanding quality from Chinese manufacturers and will vote with their dollars. The Chinese will either reform or lose market share.”

Of course they do. But they work far better in the US than in China. And in the process of consumers sorting out that it isn’t wise to buy such products, a few of them (or their pets) may die–and that is the theory behind the Food and Drug Administration; i.e., the market is fast to react, but not always fast enough to protect the consumer. And the public, even a few, should not die to serve as a beacon to others that a particular product should not be purchased.

I. Dinesh D’Souza

Recently in an interview Dinesh D’Souza apparently was quoted as saying that I blurbed his most recent book The Enemy at Home—leaving him puzzled then why I would do something so inexplicable as to then go on and trash it in print.

Indeed, I reviewed very negatively on two occasions The Enemy at Home. My only prior professional relations with Mr. D’Souza was his request a number of years ago to blurb another one of his other books, What’s Right With America. I read that book, liked it, and blurbed it. But even then an odd thing happened. After I did so, I got an email from Mr. D’Souza informing me that the blurb had been somewhat altered and reworded.

But again, I did not blurb nor do I endorse his recent book on 9/11. Here’s a recent powerlineblog.com post by Scott Johnson on the matter:

Powerlingblog.com
August 25, 2007
D’Souza makes it up

Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy At Home is something worse than a bad book. It’s a rotten book. I took a whack at it in the New Criterion essay “D’Souza goes native,” and in posts here including “D’Souza’s dishonesty,” and “D’Souza’s soulmate.”

Perhaps no one has criticized the book more harshly than Victor Davis Hanson. In “The mind of Mr. D’Souza”, replying to D’Souza’s four-day NRO apologia responding to his conservative critics, Hanson left blood on the floor. When a reader recently sent me a link to this interview with D’Souza, I was therefore intrigued by this exchange:

[Interviewer Bernard Chapin]: Ah, that brings me to my next question. Several very famous conservatives condemned your book including the likes of Roger Kimball, Peter Berkowitz, and Victor David [sic] Hanson. I know that you penned a series of responses [published on NRO], but what is it that so angered them? Also, how much does this type of criticism personally affect you?

Dinesh D’Souza: Well, I think I’m a very non-confrontational guy in person. As a result of my early political education at Dartmouth, I have developed a thick skin in regards to criticism. The hysterical reaction that The Dartmouth Review received in the early eighties gave me an initiation to politics so I’m not a stranger to controversy. I’ve come to expect a certain degree of irrationality from the Left — not the liberals I mean — but from true leftists.

The difference with The Enemy at Home is that conservatives failed to take my back. That they chose not to do so is disappointing because my book is breaking new ground. So, in that sense, the reaction I got was completely different. There were half a dozen conservatives who went after me. Victor Davis Hanson and Peter Berkowitz are colleagues of mine at the Hoover Institute [sic] so the critical and harsh tone of their criticism disappointed me. The irony, of course, is that Victor Davis Hanson wrote a blurb for the book….

Hanson wrote a blurb for the book? There is not a single blurb on the dust jacket of the book or in the publicity materials that accompanied it from the publisher. Did Hanson write an unpublished blurb for the book? If so, it’s funny that D’Souza didn’t get around to mentioning it during his four-day NRO extravaganza. In fact, not surprisingly, I understand that Hanson never wrote any such blurb for a book that he has publicly condemned as morally vile.

Posted by Scott at 6:44 AM | Permalink | E-mail this post to a friend |
story on the matter.

II. Andrew Sullivan

Recently Andrew Sullivan—angry that I agreed with most others that The New Republic’s Pvt. Beauchamp was a fabulist for writing things untrue about Iraq— claimed I was equally culpable for once opposing troop increases and now supporting them.

His harangue was incoherent, since, as I pointed out three years ago, I felt 138,000 troops were preferable to having 200,000 in Iraq— the real problem being not so much numbers as the rules of engagement that precluded Americans from going on the offensive and rendered them instead targets for snipers and IEDs.

Sullivan warped that into saying I oppose the present 160,000 troop level surge, and am calling for Americans to shoot from tanks. He made that latter statement up of course. But it was not the first time I have such a run-in with him. Not long ago, in a debate, he announced in front of a Columbia University audience that I had supported government-sanctioned torture. Even though I had written exactly the opposite.

Here’s the posting on that one too (corner.nationalreview.com):

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

08/22 09:50 PM

A Response to ever more from Andrew Sullivan [Victor Davis Hanson]

The last time I had a run-in with the frenetic Andrew Sullivan was in front of an audience at Columbia University. There while loudly renouncing his former support for invading Iraq, he accused me of supporting government-sponsored torture — only later to concede that in fact, as I told him at the time, I had written a column specifically objecting to its use as others acknowledged. But that apparently has become Sullivan’s modus operandi — in frenzied fashion to toss out slurs and then to grow silent when they are refuted.

Now he is angry that I, like dozens of others, referred to The New Republic’s Pvt. Scott Beauchamp as a fabulist that he is, and so tried to make the case that an opinion writer whose views he disagrees with is comparable to a war chronicler making up facts on ground around him as he goes along.

That’s preposterous, but so are the examples Sullivan cites of my own supposed fables, when three years ago I emphasized that a need for a change of tactics, not sheer numbers, was the key to restoring security in Iraq.

First, I am not sure that Sullivan can read the English language. He lodges the following accusation:

“The first is an argument that counter-insurgency works best when American troops stay in their tanks and kill people. It’s a June 2004 defense of a strategy not exactly identical with the Petraeus strategy Hanson is now touting. Money quote:

“For their part, American troops have discovered that they are safer on the assault when they can fire first and kill killers, rather than simply patrol and react, hoping their newly armored Humvees and fortified flak vests will deflect projectiles.”

Sullivan’s quote of what I wrote proves the exact opposite of his allegation that I argued that we should “stay in tanks and kill people”. That would be entirely defensive and rely on armor like Humvees. Instead, as any reader can see, I argued for going on the assault, NOT simply patrolling and reacting in hopes that “newly armored Humvees and vests will deflect projectiles.” I don’t know where Sullivan got “stay in their tanks” other than once again he made it up himself.

Of course, I stand by all that and believe that much of the change in Iraq is due precisely to an alteration in tactics rather than numerical increases alone, which have allowed us to come out of defensive postures and “attack” those who are killing Iraqi civilians.

But when he gets to a discussion of numbers Sullivan only compounds his ignorance. I wrote in support of changing tactics and using the then current 140,000 troops differently, rather than sending in 200,000 troops to emulate existing tactics, a numerical increase that was called for by some. Sullivan objects that I wrote:

“There are other advantages to a force of some 138,000 rapidly responding soldiers, rather than 200,000 or so garrison troops. The more American troops, the less likely it is Iraqis will feel any obligation to step up to the responsibilities of their own defense. The more troops, the more psychological reliance on numbers than on performance of individual units. And, the more troops, the higher the profile of culturally bothersome Americans who disturb by their mere omnipresence, rather than win respect for their proven skill in arms.”

I stand by that. Apparently, Sullivan does not realize that the current 160,000-troop surge is far closer to 138,000 than it is to 200,000-and is designed precisely to provide a window of security by more aggressive operations apart from our compounds, and intended to allow us to disengage and turn over the war gradually to the Iraqis.
As for Sullivan’s final complaint. Yes, I did write the following:

“At the same time, the Arab world is beginning to see elections take hold in the Islamic world—in Afghanistan, the West Bank, and now Iraq. And that fact will eventually be fatal for Al Qaeda and Baathists alike. We cannot appreciate these positive symptoms in our despair over the post-invasion period.”
I think the general decline in support for bin Laden and suicide bombing in the Middle East, and changes from Lebanon to Libya support that evolution, and yes, that we can’t appreciate that in our present despair.

I used to think Sullivan was perhaps unstable, but not necessarily dense. But I fear that he is increasingly both-or more still.

I do plead guilty in consistently and without exception supporting the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003, supporting the effort to foster constitutional government in Iraq from 2003-2007, believing that despite our acknowledged errors that we can adjust, just as we have in past wars, and will still prevail-and that a democratic Iraq will be a humane achievement for its people, a marked improvement for the region, and a positive development for the security of the United States.

08/22 09:05 PM

III. Nicolas Stuart

From the August 21, 2007 Canberra Times (http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/detail.asp?class=your+say&subclass=general&story_id=1040362&category=opinion)

An Australian author Nicolas Stuart alleges that the experience in Iraq has contradicted arguments made in Carnage and Culture about the general advantages Western civilization enjoyed and still enjoys in military practice, and he suggests I am a fan of Alexander the Great, using words like “hypnotic effect” to suggest the attraction I feel for such a cutthroat.

This essay too is absolutely absurd and full of errors and sloppy reporting.

Some points he misses:

1. Carnage and Culture was not “reissued” in a mood of “triumphalism” as Why the West Has Won. A complete fabrication. The latter title was the original one of the English publishers that appeared on the original publication date in the UK and Commonwealth. (Different title, cover, and English spellings). Carnage and Culture was the title I gave the book. It remains just that in the United States in the paperback edition.

2. Stuart has a long excursus on Alexander the Great as if I were enamored by him— who in fact figures in only one chapter of the nine in Carnage and Culture—negatively. Far from glorifying in his conquests, I pointed out how Alexander distorted the Western liberal tradition.

3. While I acknowledged why he was militarily successful and the dynamic infantry and cavalry traditions upon which he drew (and how different they were from the Persian tradition), I wrote negatively of his larger aims and behavior (“—and no foreigner did more to destroy three hundred years of liberty and freedom of the Greeks inside Greece than did Philip and his son” [C&C 82]; “”For all his professed devotion to Greek culture, Alexander died a man closer to heart to Xerxes than to Themistocles” [C&C 89]).

4. In fact, I wrote negatively of both Oliver Stone’s movie (http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson112704.html cf: http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson100904b.html)—and about a decade ago wrote a controversial article that took an extremely negative view of Alexander— “Alexander the Killer” for the Military History Quarterly.

5. So most of what Mr. Stuart writes in association with Alexander the Great in regards to my views is factually incorrect and once again fantasy. In fact, well before Iraq I wrote the following which, again pace Mr. Stuart, was the subject of my talk to officers of the Australian military: “We in the West may have to fights non-Westerners—in jungles, stealthily at night, and as counterterrorists—to combat enemies who dare not face us in shock battle. In consequence, we may not always fully draw on our great Hellenic traditions of superior technology and the discipline and ardor of our free citizen soldiers ins shock battle…[C&C 97].

6. Stuart ends his piece with :

“Today, an alternative (an effective) military strategy is being implemented. It’s apparently having an effect, but it may already be too late. Reports last weekend suggest the US is already beginning to withdraw some forces. If this is correct, they may be able to draw down troops before the Presidential election campaign swings into gear in Washington.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll be leaving a secure Iraq behind. To use an inappropriate historical analogy, don’t forget that Alexander’s empire began to disintegrate while the young king lay on his deathbed.”

Alternative? He didn’t read Carnage and Culture, which devoted a single chapter to decisive battle and explained why Alexander’s autocratic, top-heavy and corrupt regime in fact did fail. Our alternative and “effective” strategy of the present counterinsurgency is based on trying to implement not authoritarianism as did Alexander—but constitutional government. And it is being implemented in the military sphere by reliance on superior technology, the give and take between officers and enlisted men that are characteristic of free armies, flexibility and individualism that change, alter, and implement tactics, plenty of funding that is the fruit of capitalism, superior logistics of sending over and supplying 160,000 troops, free discussion and debate at home over the wisdom of doing so, discipline and civic militarism (traits we are trying to inculcate in the Iraqi military and police).

In other words, we draw on these Western institutions and traditions even when we cannot fight in our preferred mode of decisive battle using superior firepower. All this was carefully outlined in the book. Even when our enemies come over here, they are dependent on Western technology (like airplanes) to conduct a stealthily terrorist attack. And few doubt should this continue in serial fashion, the Western military response in all its fury would overweigh anything the Islamists might conjure up.

And that is, for now, that…

The Old Wisdom

August 21st, 2007 - 9:49 pm

Bush, Bush everywhere…

This summer—in between weekly encounters on radio and in print exchanges with those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome—I tried to get away, by climbing as many peaks in the Kaiser wilderness as possible, and marveled over the relative emptiness of that part of the central Sierra.

Recently I went up on the so-called Kaiser Loop, a 15-mile round-about hike to Kaiser Peak (about 10,300 feet). Lo and behold!—there were three hikers on the summit in that rarified atmosphere. And after exchanging pleasantries about the beauties of the empty wilderness, one well spoken and nice person remarked about the exploitation of the forests (yet not a house, road, or human to be seen), and the greed of developers (the nearest road hasn’t been improved since the 1940s).

Then Presto!—out came Katrina, Iraq, Bush this, Bush that. The clear air, the panoramic vista, the Sierra junipers—none of that could stop the onset of this paroxysm, this fit of madness. I hiked down, unsure whether I should have called the paramedics to copter him to Fresno.

So what is a Neocon?

Heard that up at 10,000 feet as well. The slur seems equivalent to the charge of being a child-molester. Apparently to be called a “new conservative” no longer refers to a way of thinking first identified with a group of influential New-York leftists who tired of their own doctrinaire liberalism in the late 1960s and 1970s, and turned on the Great Society. Nor in matters of foreign policy does it mean that these once liberal / now conservative skeptics were suspicious of both the realpolitik of supporting tyrants and the liberal appeasement of terrorists that amounted to the same thing through inaction.

Instead, to be frank—and I speak as one who supported the idea of removing Saddam and staying on to foster constitutional government there—it is now a thinly-veiled slur against supposedly sneaky, scheming Jewish intellectuals who likewise supposedly got us into a surrogate war for Israel. And this conspiracy theory persists despite the fact that former realists like Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld are neither Jewish nor easily hoodwinked—and ultimately made the final decision to go to war after receiving overwhelming authorization from the US Congress, including a majority of Democrats and stirring saber-rattling speeches and warnings about WMD from the likes of Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.

I have disagreements with neo-cons on things like open borders, but on the Middle East ultimately I think they will be proven correct: that we must find a way to distance ourselves from dictators and yet reply militarily to those who harbor terrorists. In the long term, the forces of globalization and modernism are far more lethal to jihadism than 7th century Islam is to us, but in the dangerous short-term, Bush-I realism and Clintonian cruise-missiles will only lead to another 9/11.

Whom to Trust?

Not The New Republic that printed false accusations from a once anonymous, now unmasked Pvt. Beauchamp, his falsehoods “checked” at the magazine apparently by his newly-wedded wife. Not Newsweek’s “Periscope” that printed falsehoods about flushed Korans. Not Reuters or AP whose wirephotos can be assumed to be either photoshopped or simply captioned with untruths. Not CBS news (‘fake, but accurate’)—not CNN’s president who stepped down after those Davos slurs. I say this only out of amazement at the self-righteousness of all these outlets that give moral lectures about integrity and “truth” to the rest of us.

I Guess We Forgot the Laws of the Past

There used to be certain laws about mortgages, wisdom slowly acquired through past boom and bust cycles of American history. You got a fixed, usually 30-year mortgage. You paid 20% down. And you bought a house whose debt payments did not eat up more than 30-40% of your monthly income.

Tales of wild real estate riches and speculative profits, even if true, meant little, since a home was more than just an investment. Somehow all that was forgotten with no or little down payment loans, adjustable-rate or interest only schedules, and excess purchased square footage.

Apparently the idea was either to appreciate yourself into 2nd and 3rd mortgage equity, or to expect interest rates magically to go down and thus lower payments, or to buy and sell/buy and sell yourself into a mansion. So the house of straw is now tragically collapsing, and the old wisdom of the past being relearned.

Ditto the Chinese serial fiascos. In the 19th century, the muckrakers, crusaders, and populists all lectured us that most industrialists were good, but a small minority that wasn’t could do great damage through the mass sale of toxic products. Thus arose the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies and the consumer movement.

But then the new wisdom ignored that and we were told that out-sourcing was a win/win situation, as cheap goods flooded into the US, keeping inflation low, expanding our purchasing power, freeing us up from the drudgery of rote labor, while moderating the Chinese.

Few asked whether there were comparable regulatory institutions in China. And there weren’t. And now we have everything from toxic pet food to tainted toys—exactly in the manner of our own spoiled canned meat and drug-laced soft-drinks of generations past. Again we forget our ancestors’ past wisdom about human nature.

Ditto again open borders. Our illiberal ancestors worried about letting in too many groups in too quickly a time under less than legal auspices, lest the heralded melting pot stagnate and solidify.

We in our infinite wisdom laughed at all that as protectionist, illiberal, nativist, even racist. And so like the laxity of the Chinese manufacturing sector, for 30 years the U.S. functioned without the rule of law. Now the result is that Los Angeles is the second largest city of Mexican nationals in the world, the legal system has become a mockery, and the bankrupt idea of a salad bowl of unmixed and competing tribes has replaced the melting pot. Apartheid communities in the United States—try visiting Parlier or Orange Cove, California— are somehow models of diversity, not to be lamented for their poverty, racial and linguistic uniformity, and entitlement-dependent and often exploited illegal aliens.

How odd that liberalism is giving us a model right out of the Old Confederacy or South Africa, a nation in the American Southwest of two different societies. The old truism holds true: each time a Mexican national enters the US legally, knows English, and has graduated from high school, an employer loses a potential bargain hire and the Chicano Studies industry an exploited victim in need of its crusading zeal.

So once more we are turning back to the mundane: nations must have borders; a citizenry should have a single uniform official language; assimilation and integration must be encouraged, and separatism and tribalism shunned.

The one common thread is again short-term bounty and convenience at the expense of long-term disaster. An odd thought: I wish I could say that had we more farmers in this society, who are born, live, and die in the same place, and depend on what works over decades rather than what seems to work over a few years, we wouldn’t be in such dilemmas.

I say I wish because agriculture for years depended on illegal immigration, failing to realize that scarce labor would make prices rise and mechanization quicken–and that the doom of farmers was always overproduction and surfeit never shortages of product.

Our Silly Modern World

August 12th, 2007 - 5:06 pm

Why Study Dead Greeks?

Someone just asked me that at a reception the other night, wondering why anyone would prefer to write a book on the Peloponnesian War rather than something more modern and readable.

I confess at least part of the reason is to read Greek literature. In fact, I get asked what’s so good about the ancients a lot lately, even after retirement from some 20 years as Greek professor who taught Greek 1A-B, Latin 1A-B, and then an upper-division Greek class (something like Sophocles’ Antigone or Xenophon’s Hellenica) and corresponding Latin course (e.g., Virgil’s Aeneid Book 6, or Livy, Book 22), interspliced with independent studies in Greek and Latin composition, and sometimes Greek and Latin literature classes in translation.

For a hectic period between 1993 and 1997 my colleague, Bruce Thornton, and I each taught 10 semester classes a year in classics to keep the program alive during the California budget meltdown, mostly to minority youths who came to Greek or Latin with no preconceptions but often left after four years far better educated than many of their professors. We were so busy that we never stopped to think much abstractly why we did what we did, but as one ages and looks back, the answers are now clearer.

Ten years ago, John Heath and I co-authored Who Killed Homer? to answer that question about the need to study Classics. But again as I look back, I would put it something like this.

I came to look at the world of Greek and Latin literature as a garden on the other side of a strong door of modernism, a barrier which could not be opened. We look at this fascinating world through a tiny key-hole only (given the loss of most of classical literature and our feeble efforts to make-up for it with archaeology and epigraphy).

But knowledge of Greek and Latin allows us, through some mysterious power of transformation, to glide through the keyhole and into the other side, where suddenly everything comes alive and continues to instruct and entertain about the unchanging human condition. And what a lesson it is in the world of Thucydides, and Euripides, and Horace and Tacitus! Like stale air before a fresh wind, immediately gone is the falsity of the modern politically-correct age.

Old-age is never golden, but hard and humiliating, a time of illness of the worst sort from incontinence to deafness, assuaged only by the accumulation of experience and wisdom, and a certain resignation for what’s ahead. Teen-agers are not always vulnerable victims preyed on by their elders, but sometimes smart sassy pros who use their youth and beauty to humiliate pathetic old gawkers and hangers-on. Thracians are wild and uncouth, Cappadocians big and stupid, Athenians oily-tongued, Boiotians hard-working but boring, dull rustics.

The Greeks don’t believe these stereotypes are ironclad, merely funny and more often than not accurate—and couldn’t care whether you the reader find them offensive. Farmers appear more reliable than rhetors, poets more inspired than educated, and the rich as fragile and over-refined as the poor are uncouth. The more you hammer or plow, the more hardened you become; the more your read or think, the softer and more impractical—the mean, to meson, then being critical, this elusive combination of thinking and exertion.

Virtue is pretty simple in this other world: duty to the state, civic participation in all its manifestations; abidance to the truth; avoidance of sin as defined mostly by avoidance of overindulgence, as in too much money, talk, drink, sex, food, and sleep; financial and social loyalty to children and friends; and unceasing cultivation of mind and body. Public secular shame, not private religious guilt, is the goad that keeps us on track.

Absent is the modern notion of victimization in which any character lapse is automatically attributable to some past childhood, parental, gender, racial, or class infliction. Usually you screw up because you were weak, or selfish, or stupid, and if you don’t make amends, it was due to an innate character flaw rather than momentary weakness.

And most importantly, there is no myth that human nature is malleable, and radically changed by money and education. Thus there exists on the other side of this modernist door, in this enticing garden, our old now taboo words like lazy, stupid, traitor, cowardly, no-good, disgraceful, shameful, etc., and an expectation that when a society is given too much money, leisure, and affluence, people will usually do all sorts of ludicrous things, being people after all—perhaps in our own time like watching Anna Nicole Smith Fox News Alerts, complaining that Wal-Mart has run out of motorized shopping carts as you devour Big Macs (I saw just that two days ago), and spending $10,000 on batteries and hydraulic lifters for your car while not investing $200 a month for catastrophic health insurance plan.

Then you put down the poems of Catullus or Homer’s Iliad and get sucked back through the keyhole into our modern world, in which there is a veneer, a falsity really, that coats almost everything we do, sometimes for good reasons, more often for the bad. So it is a fine thing to read a little Greek and Latin each evening to remind us that the modernist mindset is antithetical to almost everything that preceded it, and mostly a human reaction to a novel generation of once unimaginable and now unlimited choices, appetites, and opportunities.

A Winning Campaign?

In today’s divided red/blue state America at war in Iraq, it is hard to imagine that there is much of a pubic consensus on anything. But, in fact, there are a lot of things upon which most Americans agree—and would like done from any future President.

First is fiscal sanity. For most Americans piling up debt is as much an emotional and spiritual crisis as it is an economic one. An indebted America makes all of us feel collectively lousy—weak, dependent, and self-indulgent. Who likes to be lectured by the Chinese, Germans, or Japanese that we are spendthrifts? Tax cuts are great and really did bring in more gross revenue, but who cares if we still spent far more than we took in? The first four years of this administration did more to discredit the sound policy of tax cuts that any other: had they just kept spending rises to the level of inflation, the ensuing surpluses would have proved that budgets can be balanced through the stimulation of less taxation.

The public also doesn’t want any more lectures about the hidden benefits in massive trade deficits. We don’t believe anymore that a dollar-rich, but import-dependent and rival China is as vulnerable as we would be in a future financial war.

Americans are tired of being lectured that massive billion-dollar annual budget deficits are actually a tolerable percentage of our gross domestic product. And they don’t believe that our national debt is not really much of a worry compared to burdens carried in the past as during World War II.

These apologies for all this indebtedness are usually economic arguments—many of them valid—that suggest deficits, imbalances, and debt are nothing to worry about. But what is forgotten again is the psychological element. Americans are shamed by spiraling debt—whether their nation’s or their own—and the dependence and vulnerability that accompanies it.

Second, we want the borders closed. Period. Again, elites make all sorts of arguments for the utility of illegal immigration—from the advantages of unclaimed social security benefits to global competitiveness. But aside from such questionable short-term math, for most Americans illegal immigration was all along simply a moral issue of dishonoring the law.

Americans are uneasy when millions simply flaunt their legal system—whether skipping a green card, not having a driver’s license, or falsifying social security numbers. The public also senses that the melting pot works well with a few hundred thousand annual legal immigrants, but hardly at all with a massive yearly influx of nearly a million aliens, who arrive without legality, education, or English—but often with the tacit approval of politicians, employers, and church officials who find personal advantage in open borders.

Despite liberal preference for the multicultural salad bowl, the public still prefers the assimilation and integration that alone turn many races, religions, and ethnicities into a common American culture—and thereby avoid the mess we see abroad from the Balkans to Iraq. Politicians need to stress that the melting pot is in everybody’s interest, especially now in an increasingly multiracial America of conflicting languages, ethnicities, and religions.

Third, voters also worry that their voracious oil appetite enriches lunatic regimes in the Middle East that will use the trillions of dollars they did not earn for nefarious purposes. We know that paying such a huge import bill weakens our fiscal health while warping US foreign policy.

Yet Americans don’t want some massive government Manhattan project— just common sense compromises that will reduce our daily appetite for foreign oil enough to bring down the world price. They want us to open up Anwar’s 2,000 acres in a multi-million acre Alaska for safe drilling. Most don’t think our coasts should be off limits to fuel our cars when other countries’ shores aren’t that send us oil.

If friendly Brazil can supply us cheaper ethanol, let it to do so without exorbitant tariffs. Nuclear power could power plug-in commuter cars, and curtail the burning of fossil fuels for electrical power. But the larger point again, is to cut our appetite now. And that requires environmentalist Democrats to be encourage more exploration and nuclear power, and free-market Republicans to allow the government to establish conservation standards.

Finally, the public is sick of Washington corruption—both the Jack Abramoff tawdry kind, and the more subtle insider earmarks of a Congressman John Murtha. Voters want Democratic lectures on reform to apply to their own pork-barrel waste, and Republican moralists to moralize also about the crooks in their midst.

A winning message is simple—quit spending money we don’t have, stop flouting our immigration laws, free us from Middle East oil blackmail, and cease equating politics with profit. Americans may not agree on the war in Iraq, gay marriage, or abortion, but there is plenty of common ground on which a sober politician can still find a bipartisan majority.

And now enough of that ranting!

August 6th, 2007 - 5:52 am

High Noon for General Will Kane

In the classic Western High Noon, desperate Marshall Will Kane, played by Gary Cooper, tries to rally the fickle townspeople, his deputies—and his own wife. They have to stand up to the outlaws due into town for the final big shoot-out on the noon train. As the sweating Kane scrambles in vain to find supporters, he looks up constantly at the town clock tower to see the hour hand inching toward high noon.

Time is likewise running out on Gen. Petraeus in Iraq. Dozens of Democratic Senators and Congressmen were elected in 2006 on promises to end the war immediately—which Senate Democratic Leader and former war supporter Harry Reid has declared is already lost.

Petraeus must convince a good number of these liberal lawmakers to give the US military a final fifth year of war. He wrote the handbook on counter-insurgency, has an Ivy League PhD (with a thesis on the lessons of Vietnam), came in with a new Defense Secretary and Centcom commander, and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate Democrats. They are also not quite convinced that Petraeus is going to lose. So for now he has bought a few precious weeks until the Democrats’ clock strikes twelve this autumn.

But the Republican timetable is not much longer. A few Republican Senators at any time can join the Democrats to ensure their anti-war legislation becomes immune to both Senate filibusters and presidential vetoes. Senators like Richard Lugar or John Warner don’t want to see hard-won Republican constituencies completely vanish if we lose in Iraq. So they are distancing themselves from the war.

There are only so many more lives and billions of dollars and years the American people will sacrifice without assurance of victory. The result is that even Republican leaders demand that Petraeus win a vast war of counterinsurgency within a year when it has usually taken several in the Philippines, Malaysia, or Central America.

To keep their support for more time, Gen. Petraeus must somehow kill more of the terrorists, win over more of the Iraqis, and lose far fewer Americans in the process—and do all of that before the 2008 election so they can run on victory rather than stalemate.

The military itself has a clock. For the most part its planners support the idea of surging 30,000 more combat troops and going on the offensive against terrorists.

But with a much reduced military, ongoing commitments in Europe, the Balkans, Japan, and Okinawa, possible crises on the horizon with Iran and North Korea, and a war going on in Afghanistan, it can’t afford to maintain the surge levels forever.

The military’s concern is not so much the summer surge now, but how to translate its ongoing tactical success into permanent strategic momentum next year—at least to such a degree that it will allow incremental American withdrawal as confident Iraqis fill our places. Or as Gen. Petraeus himself is accustomed of asking from subordinates, “Tell me where this ends?”

Finally is the Iraqi clock. If Petraeus can convince Iraqis that more insurgency means only a bleak future of more bombings, beheadings, and random violence of the last four years, he can still keep a posse of supporters. And if he can show that power, water, sewage and government services are all improving as the violence subsides, even more will come out to join the Americans than fight them.

At the beginning of High Noon, everyone praised Marshall Kane as they did Gen Petraeus. Then as the clock ticked, they abandoned him, and hid back inside when the outlaws seemed invincible. At the end of the movie with the bad guys dead, the fickle public changed once more and cheered their Marshall on for a second time.

We the townspeople are watching Gen. Petraeus watch his various clicking clocks. It is hard to remember a senior US officer who was greeted with more acclaim than he when he took over command of the coalition in Iraq this February. Then as causalities mounted, and the insurgents kept staging bombings, his posse of supporters began to disappear and run for cover.

But if we stabilize Iraq, they will once again emerge to peep their heads out of their windows–as some already have for the moment– and praise him as another William Tecumseh Sherman or Matthew Ridgeway who by feats of arms saved both an imperiled war effort and an administration in their eleventh hour.

No wonder then our Will Kane in Baghdad keeps his eyes always on the clock. How did High Noon end? With Marshall Kane victorious, but leaving town in disgust at his fair-weather friends he saved.

What If…

What would be the press reaction–if George Bush announced that he wanted to invade nuclear Islamic Pakistan? Or if he addressed a group of African-Americans and adopted a fake-black accent as if implying all spoke with flawed Southern-accented grammar? Or if he went to a Daily Kos convention and praised lobbyists? Or if he told a reporter that he hated a Congressman? Or if he said that our soldiers in Guantanamo reminded him of Nazis, Stalinists, and genocidal followers of Pol Pot? Or he said that Abu Ghraib was about the same as when Saddam’s murderers ran it? Or if he said another Congressman reminded him of Hitler? Or he lost his temper and began yelling at Fox’s Chris Wallace?

What Do They Want in Iraq?

August 1st, 2007 - 4:07 pm

Gen. Obama

The problem with opposition senators like Obama running for President calling for tough military action—in this case going into Pakistan—is twofold: he has no fides after wanting to get out asap from Iraq and opposing much of the post 9/11 legislation that has helped to keep us safe. And two, and far more importantly, he is a US Senator after all, and has had plenty of time to introduce legislation authorizing the invasion of a sovereign country. Anything less and it is just theatrical politics.

What the Left is Thinking?

A frequently asked question recently has been something like the following: do you think the Democratic Left really wishes us to lose in Iraq? Or how can you explain the overwhelming emphasis by the liberal media and politicians on Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo and the relative neglect of medal-winners in Iraq?

I think the answers are something like the following. The liberal Democratic leadership believes that Iraq can fail, thereby repudiating the Bush doctrine and the current war on terror, discrediting conservative candidates at large, teaching the American people about the limits of empire and foreign adventurism, restoring humility to foreign policy, ushering in a Democratic renaissance under which higher taxes, more entitlements, and greater government intervention promote egalitarianism and ‘correct’ the past mistakes of the unenlightened electorate—and do so without serious or lasting harm to their nation’s security.

Indeed, in this defeatist view, the take-over of liberal government following flight might well be salutary in showing the world that the US has learned its lessons from Iraq, now elected the right people, and promises never again to commit such mistakes. The cost in blood and treasure was never worth the supposed goal of a constitutional Iraq, and the money would have been better spent on social programs at home that promote the general welfare of poorer Americans.

So in that sense, yes, I believe a great number of liberal politicians, journalists, and academicians think it would not be so bad if the US failed, pulled out of Iraq, repealed the anti-terror legislation that followed 9/11, and accepted their own liberal critique for such failure. As far as the recognition that thousands of Americans have died in Afghanistan and Iraq for the idea of offering an alternative other than jihadism and dictatorship that would enhance the security of the region and of the United States, I think it just doesn’t register against the “higher good” brought on by withdrawal and admission of defeat.


A Recommended Book

I’m currently reading the galley proofs of Robert Kaplan’s latest installment about his multiyear visits with the US military across the globe—Hog Pilots, and Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground (available this September).

It is by far his best volume of the series (Kaplan did everything from fly a B-2 to ride Humvees to desolate posts in the arid interior of Africa), and offers an encouraging assessment of how well we have done in the last three years in the war against terror, from Africa to the Philippines.

Kaplan once more strikes again a populist chord, namely that our NCOs and junior officers in the field are the best America has to offer—bright, educated, and pragmatic without the pretensions of our blue-chip graduates. His persuasive argument is that a relatively small investment in such a cadre of highly educated troops brings untold dividends in global good will—and damage to al Qaeda. We owe him a great deal of gratitude: at risk to his person he has managed to travel the world in search of obscure US military outposts, this time including naval and air stations, and demolishes the canard of an imperialistic America backing up dictators and thugs for narrow material interests.


Surging

Should Gen. Petraeus be given a full year he may well give enough confidence to the Iraqis that they themselves finally can begin to protect their constitutional achievement. In the manner of a broken record, for over a year now, I have been warning that the Democrats should be wary about their Pavlovian opposition to our efforts in Iraq—after a majority of their own legislators authorized the war—since the rhetoric might come back to haunt them.

And it may be beginning to, since they have boxed themselves into a position in which any good news is de facto bad news to their announced anti-war policies and candidacies—regardless of the national security interests of their country. The last time this occurred—1974-5—Democrats later suffered for their rhetoric and cut-offs, and for a quarter-century. To this day it is no accident that no Democratic President has been elected without a Southern accent since JFK—the rest (McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry) all appearing incapable of projecting a sense of US confidence and strength. The successfully elected Carter and Clinton relied heavily on their Southern-sounding fides, and (purported) support for the military.

Note in this regard the careful Clintonian triangulation: damn the Patriot Act, renditions, wire-tapping, Iraq, etc. but never to the extent of cutting off funds for such efforts (that just may have succeeded in keeping us safe from another 9/11). She is the proverbial pied piper, whose song of woe helps to lead the other Democratic lemmings to the abyss at which point she steps aside and lets them tumble over.

Sierra Redux

Last week I was hiking again in the Kaiser National Wilderness in an ongoing effort to visit most of the peaks and trails of the area, this time taking a ferry across Florence Lake and walking along the banks of the upper fork of the San Joaquin River for about seven or so miles, past the John Muir Ranch.

Once again I noticed the complete absence of vacationers in lakes and areas that were once commonly visited (I spent a week with my parents camping out at Florence in 1961 when there were more visitors than now). The roads are worse than they were 45 years ago, the camping facilities no better, and the government attitude far less welcoming. The result is an insidious public withdrawal from our wilderness heritage, and a sort of deliberate rusting of our facilities to discourage use.

But one is struck how vast the wild is and how beneficial it might be to contemporary youth to drop the video console and, for at least a weekend, hike, fish, and camp in the outdoors—if for no other reason than physical fitness and to develop a reverence for America’s forests and outdoors.

The few types I met in the High Sierra this summer were mostly the elite from the California coast, many of them Sierra Club members and other self-appointed and well-intended custodians of the wild. But from talking with many of them, I gathered their idea of a national treasure was a rather remote untouched preserve, visited by educated and affluent magnificos such as themselves, who visited no more than once or twice a year, but championed its sanctuary status daily from a distance. Anwar is the ultimate expression of that attitude, in which it is far better apparently that a Russia despoil the Siberian wilderness to put its petrol on the world market than for us to reduce our need by, if only in part symbolically, developing our own oil carefully and sensibly.

There hikers had not much interest in making trails more accessible to the millions who live nearer the mountains, who do not have the capital or education or expertise to navigate easily our present national parks and wilderness. Nor did they care much about the store owners, pack companies, and guides who make a living making the wilderness accessible.

In this regard, I was fascinated by a four-wheel drive “road” of sorts from the backside of Florence to the Muir Ranch, about five miles of absolutely inaccessible granite, woods, and streams. And yet almost daily a small used military four-wheel drive transport truck (with several crawler gears and locked wheels) brings out trash from a few campers, packers, and guests, and then trucks back in supplies, at no more than one or two miles an hour and on unbelievable inclines.

I finally paused on the trail, resolved to meet the sort of person who could drive such a contraption, and was rewarded by seeing the driver. We talked for a bit, and he seemed the sort of ideal custodian of the forests, who was brave enough to tackle the road, wanted others to enjoy the environs, but was absolutely committed to its preservation.

Likewise, if one visits the coast of Alaska, as I did this week, the overwhelming sense is one of vast size, solitude and natural forces that dwarf man—not environmental desecration. The point of all this is that we have a created a sort of natural religion for those who treat our wildernesses as churches rather than classrooms that can impart a much needed wisdom to an increasingly clueless generation.

The final irony? The best way for the Sierra Club to avoid becoming something like an esoteric cloister is to promote greater use of our parks: with public contact, comes reverence; while civic disdain is the companion of ignorance of and inexperience with nature.