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Works and Days

So Much Confusion…

December 19th, 2006 - 8:01 pm


Fast and Loose with Individual Liberty?

Kofi Annan in his farewell address lectured America on its apparent abandonment of civil liberties—remonstrating that when the United States “appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused.”

Some thoughts: the use of wiretaps, surveillance cameras, and civil detention of citizens is far more common in Europe than here in the United States.

In comparison to past wartime measures—suspension of habeas corpus (Lincoln/Andrew Johnson), shutting down newspapers (Lincoln), jailing of dissidents (Wilson), interning citizens, military tribunals (Roosevelt), or enemies lists, misuse of the IRS and FBI (Nixon), the Patriot Act, passed by both houses of Congress, is pretty tame.

The UN versus the US

In fact, there is much more transparency, accountability, and free speech in the present U.S. government than under the UN as run by Mr. Annan. Had one of the Bush children, Annan-style, shipped in a Mercedes using government exemptions to avoid fees and charges, or had Bush himself turned over his government-subsidized apartment to a wealthy sibling, the outrage would have been immediate.

When we do see prosecutorial abuse and judicial overreach—such as the supposed rape case at Duke or the Kafkan pursuit of Scooter Libby (when Mr. Armitage, at no apparent liability, has confessed to the leaks concerning Ms. Plame)—Mr. Annan and others are conveniently quiet.

Apparently for the Ghana-born Mr. Annan and his Swedish wife, their near constant criticism of the United States rarely seems to reflect commensurate unease with the judicial, cultural, social, or legal life of Manhattan.

And how Orwellian for Mr. Annan to point to Truman and the Korean War in his farewell sermon as an object lesson about the UN for the Bush administration. Truman could use that agency only because of a Russian walk-out (and hence absence of a veto) over China. Furthermore, the percentage of US troops in the present multilateral coalition is probably smaller in Iraq than was true in Korea. And there may have been more nations represented in 2003 than in 1950.

A better concern would have been Bill Clinton’s unilateral (no congressional approval) bombing of Kosovo and Bosnia, since, unlike the Bush administration, there was no American effort even to engage the UN (e.g., the threat of a Russian veto).

Therapeutics 101

And concerning Kofi Annan: But by any fair token, his tenure at the United Nations will go down as one of the most corrupt in the entire history of the organization. The extent of the $50 billion oil-for-food scandal boggles the mind. Annan’s son profited from his dad’s position, and tried to profit from an embargo that put Saddam Hussein’s interests ahead of the strapped Iraqi people. When you add in the son’s business with the Mercedes, and the father’s apartment deal, then the corruption extended to the personal and petty. All this is largely forgotten once the suave Annan, emblematic of both the Third World and replete with a sophisticated British-Continental accent, begins his teary-eyed moral sermons.

Jimmy Carter’s recent book likewise displays glaring lapses in character—from his unacknowledged use of someone else’s maps, his questionable recollections of conversations, his factual errors, and his equation of democratic Israel with apartheid. Yet once Carter talks of God, his own past anti-poverty work, or the unique utopianism of the Carter Center, and bites his lip and looks down in humble fashion, we give him a pass as well.

Bill Clinton was a past master of this therapeutic style, voicing the now famous “I feel your pain.” He bit his lip and talked of global brotherhood as he went through Monica, shady financial deals, and reprehensible 11th-hour pardons.

Any of the three could have lectured George Bush that in lieu of ‘smoke-em out’ and ‘dead or alive’ or ‘bring ‘em on’, the creased brow, the bitten lip, and the eyes skyward looking for divine guidance or in solemn humility pointed downward can provide quite a pass on all most anything.

Some Thoughts About Readers’ Responses

The Taliban is not the government of Afghanistan, although it is now popular to say the war is about lost, and that they “are back.” To the contrary, there is still an elected government in Kabul and, yes, it is under assault by Taliban insurgents streaming in from the border from Pakistan, whose government detests the present democracy in Afghanistan. But the Taliban will not come back into power unless the United States and NATO withdraw before Afghanistan is stabilized.

On rules of engagement: Changing tactics and wider latitudes of operation are necessary if we are going to surge more troops and raise the stakes. If we don’t disarm the militias, stop Saudi money and Iranian arms, control Iraq’s borders, disarm the gangs, and go after the militia leaders, then we will simply become more numerous and visible targets and ensure Iraqi dependency. The military response can only give a window of security for the Maliki government, which came on the heels of elections in a free autonomous Iraq.

Our leverage with it rests only with our willingness to depart if it chooses not to secure the country: again, Iraqis are now independent and free to ask us to leave.

Iraq is Not Lost!

The odd thing is that while the violence increases, so does the economy strengthen in Iraq, with more GDP growth, more investment, and more oil revenues. The surging economy—higher salaries, more consumer spending, strong real estate—along with efforts to stop Saudi financing of Sunni terrorists, and Iranian arming and training of Shiite radicals, would in turn take the strain off US soldiers. This month the Iraqi Security Forces should reach their targeted strength of 325,000 troops. In short, Iraq is far from lost, as John Murtha, for example, insists.

Hard Pounding…

At some point one side will crack as happens in all wars: either American public opposition, sick of the violence and killing, will reach such Vietnam-era proportions, that Senators will be emboldened to cut off funding and our troops will “redeploy”, OR the insurgents will become isolated from Iraqis who want to get in on the new prosperity, and will learn it has become too dangerous to support terrorists, given the new rules of engagement of the US military and the increase in size and effectiveness of the Iraq army.

In terms of will, it is reminiscent of spring 1918, when the German spring offensive, energized by divisions sent from the freed-up Russian front, nearly won the war—only to be followed by a startling reversal with the allied 100-day summer and autumn resurgence. Then infusions of American manpower, and Anglo-Gallic courage, demoralized and routed the once undefeated Germans. In March-April 1918 it looked as if German would at last win; by September 1918 it was clear they were going to lose.

More on More Troops

We do need to enlarge overall U.S. ground forces, and do it without more borrowing. A modest gasoline tax would be helpful. But barring that, it would be, in fact, even more advantageous to end agricultural subsidies at a time when the US farm economy is doing well. In all their manifest incarnations, they now reach $32 billion and would fund and supply easily the yearly costs for 100,000 more Marines and army units. Farmers are conservative and patriotic folk, and should welcome the challenge. In any case, federal expenditures threaten again to climb above 7% per annum, far above the rate of inflation, and far higher than during the Clinton administration.

War Won’t Be Wished Away

No one wishes to see more war in the Middle East of any sort. But since the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, we have seen a crescendo of violence against the US. Neither Jimmy Carter’s denunciations of the Shah, nor George Bush’s realism, nor Bill Clinton’s praise of Iranian democracy and embrace of Yasser Arafat—and not the American saving of Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, or the military aid to the anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, or the billions in money sent to Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinians, or even the emergency aid provided to feed the Somalis or the Indonesians—have done much to counter the cheap appeal of jihadism. Hence arose the present policy of going after Islamist militias, and autocratic regimes that sponsor terrorists, while offering the people of the Middle East a third choice other than autocracy and theocracy.

Who is Who?

It used to be that Democrats championed human rights abroad. Now their leadership praises the likes of Mubarak, and wishes to talk with the anti-Democratic Syrians and Iranians that are at the apex of Middle East terrorism. Whatever one thinks of neo-conservatism, there was a strong strain of Wilsonian idealism in it—the academic President that Democrats still worship.

In turn, it used to be that Republicans insisted on fiscal parsimony. But had the Bush administration, through vetoes and the bully pulpit, just kept congressional spending at the rate of inflation the past six years, we would now have a budget surplus, be paying down the deficit, and all agreeing that the tax cuts brought in more revenue, not less, and came concurrently at a time of federal budget surpluses.

The common denominator? The path of least resistance explains much of anomaly: no one wishes to upset the old realist status quo abroad of subsidizing Egypt, kowtowing to the Saudis, and ignoring the crimes of Iran and Syria. And by the same token, the more entitlements, the more complacence at home.

Milk-Toast Politics

So Democrats have become old Republicans abroad, and Republicans have become old Democrats at home. We the public think the renewed realism is stability and a return to normality, but it is a prescription for disaster: a “stable” Middle East gave us 9/11. Its dictatorships, along with the terrorists they subsidize, will only incite their impoverished citizens and continue to blame us for their own abject failures. At home, Social Security and Medicare are time-bombs, and when the baby-boomers hit full stride very soon, we will discover that something must give—and radically so given our present financial incontinence.

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