But First, Some Updates
We are nearing forty confirmed travelers for our May trip to the battlefields of Europe. Beside on-site lectures in places like Waterloo, Verdun and Omaha Beach, we will have more in depth give-and-take, question and answer sessions in the evening at the elegant historic Trianon Hotel at Versailles on the legacy of that denoument to World War I, and again at the Nato headquarters in Brussels on the past and future of that organization.
Bruce Thornton’s new book (Decline and Fall) discusses some of these issues and we will try to press him on his arguments, perhaps enlisting a European intellectual to take him on. Hillsdale College military historian Tom Connor is an excellent lecturer, and has visited our sites for over thirty years. While the dollar has plummeted, the problem is ours, not the group’s as the price remains fixed in dollars as listed. And as on the Greek trip, we’ve got an interesting schedule at meals in which the three of us will meet and talk with each person on the tour.
Some have asked about the progress of the novel, No Man A Slave, whose excerpts I ran this year on occasion. I’m almost finished (500 pp in ms) and hope to have the illustrations, maps, and other peripheral things finished by early spring and off to the agent my March 1.
Meanwhile I am editing a prequel to the classic Princeton volume “Makers of Modern Strategy”—a “Makers of Ancient Strategy” in which prominent ancient historians like Donald Kagan, Barry Strauss, Tom Holland, Ian Worthington, Adrian Goldsworthy, Josh Ober, and others relate the ancient world’s experience with terrorism and counter-insurgency, wars of national liberation, preemption, multilateralism, imperialism, border defense, etc. to shed some light on our current challenges and to remind us, in this current war especially, that there is nothing new under the sun.
Even the big-city newspapers finally are beginning to run a few human interest stories about the improved quality of life in Iraq—and more even than the usual ‘it’s our fault’ lines that suddenly the morgue workers or taxi cab drivers who ferry families to funerals are out of work and ‘hurting.’
But often lost in these accounts is any sense of appreciation of the US military—both the tens of thousands of unknown souls who walked up and down the cities of Anbar in the worst days of 2004-6, and the hundreds who were killed as part of an effort that might lead to something like we are beginning to witness today. Walking in a Ramadi is eerie, since there are living battlefields of pockmarked walls and cratered alleyways reminding one, among the current relative quiet, that not long ago this was a killing-field and its combatants either dead, wounded, or long gone and little remembered. But there are thousands of Americans this new year, who served in Iraq, well before the surge, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for fighting courageously when we were not sure of the enemy, or the correct strategy, or the labyrinth of Iraq’s tribal structure, and yet they nevertheless met and defeated the enemy. It is a minority opinion perhaps, but I think far from “ruining” the military, the Iraq war showed us all how the military, under the worst conditions imaginable, both political and tactical, at home and in the field, nevertheless manages to prevail.
And we should not forget David Petraeus, who is on his way of becoming a rare, but genuine American military hero. Should Iraq become permanently stabilized, it is hard to measure the achievement of his generalship in the late 2007, not the least here at home in radically changing the political landscape.
One beneficiary of the turn-around in Anbar is the stalwart John McCain, whose unending support for the war and the surge is a reminder of why voters are starting to see something in him that is critical in a war. As some readers noted, my disclaimer that I cannot support candidates due to the Tribune column is somewhat nuanced by my continual admiration for McCain these last four years. I thought his attacks on Rumsfeld were often excessive, and disagreed with his illegal immigration fixes, campaign finance legislation, taxes, and Guantanamo position, but all that is more than outweighed by his past service, his blunt talk, his unapologetic defense of unpopular positions, and his desire to balance the budget and keep our defenses strong. I think I will try to elaborate on this further in this week’s TMS column.
I worry about Sarkozy
Is he for real? He just cut off diplomatic talks with Syria over its extremism and tampering in Lebanon. He seems hardly crushed by his wife’s exit, at least if photos from Egypt with his new girlfriend are any indication. He hasn’t backed off either his reforms or his pro-Western defense. In short, he seems like he is having the time of his life, and energized rather than demoralized by his controversies. I pray for his continued good health. Along with David Petraeus, I can’t think of any two figures that have more changed the world for the good in 2007.
A Latino Klan? (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-gateway30dec30,1,1970709.story?coll=la-headlines-california)
There is relative media silence about reports that Latino gangs in the Florence neighborhood of Los Angeles had systematically tried to murder blacks in a sort of primeval ethnic cleansing. I may be mistaken, but this seems to me the first time in American history since the early 1960s in the South, where an ethnic group deliberately employed terror and murder to rid another race from an environs in systematic fashion. Why the relative quiet about such an atrocious report? If true—where is Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson? Where is the hate crime, the political ads? This is an explosive story and a shocking development.
Where Did Britain Go?
There are all these strange stories emanating out of the UK—a desire to talk with the Taliban, and a group of leftists polling no confidence in the notion that the British were morally superior to the Taliban. Then there is the Iran sailor fiasco, the Basra pull-out, and the usual loudmouth imam on public assistance trashing the West from his London sinecure. It seems lost on Americans that our traditional European bogeymen—the French and Germans—are trying to reestablish friendly relations, while the British drift apart. I am interviewed from time to time by foreign journalists and try to go to Europe twice a year, and my inexact gut feeling continues to confirm the impression that the British elite is among the most anti-American in the world.
Hillary as Wonder Woman
Sen. Clinton apparently said the following, at least as reported:
The dictum around the Oval Office in the ’90s, she added, was: “If a place was too dangerous, too poor or too small, send the first lady.”
I would grant that her husband might not be all that willing to fly into harm’s way, but her assertions are ludicrous. Every day military personnel and diplomatic officers really do fly into monstrous places, eat questionable local food, and deal with a host of unsavory characters. But that is simply not true of the First Lady. And such melodrama is a window into her soul and character, one that reveals a near delusional sense of self. Does she really believe that she was some sort of superhero that was ordered to fly into the darkness (“too dangerous, too poor or too small”) to save things?
Two weeks ago I wrote about the “Clinton Albatross” or the notion that Bill’s sudden ubiquity would be no plus, and for a variety of reasons. I didn’t get much reaction to that column, but note her sudden plunge has an eerie correlation to his appearance on the campaign stump. Too many Americans remember the Chris Wallace Fox interview or the finger pointing and beet-red temper tantrums.
I continue to be baffled by John Edwards, really am bewildered. His anti-corporate, populist message is typically American, and reminds me of my grandmother’s memorized recitations of William Jennings Bryan speeches, or my dear grandfather’s rational defenses of the Sun Maid Raisin Cooperative in its light vs. dark struggle against the greedy private raisin packers. No problem there, very American.
But what I can’t fathom is the complete disconnect between the blow-dried Edwards—charging a broke UC system thousands for a talk on poverty, working for a Hedge Fund, living in a mansion that is emblematic of American excess and self-indulgence, and on and on—being taken seriously as a candidate. It makes no sense, except as a reflection how angry some voters must be at the status quo, at least enough to hold their nose at this walking contradiction and vote for his populist rhetoric.
Wrote this for NRO’s corner this morning
A Happy New Year Abroad
Watching the debate over whether Huckabee’s withdrawn “attack” ad is over the top, and other assorted Iowa psychodramas makes interesting contrast with the rest of the world’s electioneering outside the Great Satan.
In Kenya they’re burning churches and rioting; in Pakistan riots lead to murder and arson. Hamas and Fatah are at it again in Gaza. At some point, someone might wonder how such a crass hyper-power can rather peacefully conduct voting in a way most abroad apparently cannot.
In the case of Pakistan, however, we are starting to see a disturbing pattern: the rioting and violence continues, the conspiracies mount, and the three general factions square off (the al-Qaida/Islamists “death to the West” clique; the military/dictatorship “at least we provide order and secure the nukes” bunch; and the “reform” and democracy Bhuttoites [“forget our past corruption”]).
The common denominator is that it is somehow America’s fault for: either “propping” up a dictator”, or not pressing him enough to reform, or naively backing him up against a wall, or demanding he fight terrorists, or giving him a pass not to fight terrorists, or rigging an American-backed Bhutto return, or exposing a brave heroine to the clutches of her enemies without proper security, or this or that or that or this.
And these endless, and self-contradictory indictments are often voiced by Pakistani elites of two types. They are either opposition figures whose past careers are ample proof of corruption and lost opportunities—or expatriate intellectuals in European capitals and American universities (who sound like they had a little bit more opportunity at the good life than those who grow up in El Paso or Bakersfield), endlessly faulting some aspect of US foreign policy–always forgetting why they are here and not over in Pakistan, and why perhaps they might do more good to match their idealistic and often vituperative rhetoric by returning to the land of their birth to enact real change on the ground, a country that sorely needs those with such international experience and expertise.
The media usually, but unknowingly, provides some exegesis: they have shown now for the nth time the shrieking rioter who serially beats the skeleton of a completely burned out and utterly destroyed bus with a long wooden stick–then cut away to the typical interview with some government grandee, ensconced in a beautiful home of tile and gardens, defending the indefensible of the government in mellifluous English.
Meanwhile, we are daily reminded that Pakistan’s 1998 detonation of a nuclear weapon remains the greatest foreign policy lapse of the last quarter-century.