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Archive for March of 2006
March 31, 2006
March 29, 2006
eijing gave Condi another gentle smack down yesterday
over her drive to impose sanctions on Iran. In Jungian synchronicity, Beijing also appoints a new special envoy to the Middle East starting tomorrow, a Mr. Sun Bigan. Don't expect Bigan to rock Beijing's remarkably effective policy course.
What is it? UPI's Edward Lanfranco
describes it: “The People's Republic of China goals in the Middle East are driven by one dominant concern: access to energy supplies. It pursues this policy with moves that are a masterful combination of subtlety and stealth falling off most radar screens.”
acob Weisberg recently over at Slate reviewed Kevin Phillips 'American Theocracy'
. If striving for Matt Taibbi's hilarious takedown of Tom Friedman's middlebrow 'The World Is Flat'
, it misses the mark. Jacob's narrow interest is whether Phillips gives good advice to Democrats.
To us, beside the point. Phillips' book continues the Correlli Barnett-esque dicussion we wrote about here.
Are we (or not) replicating the same trajectory of British and Dutch commitment to religious and ideological abstractions? At the price of economic, technological and political decline. Consider — Marty Seiff reports on the Defense Science Board report warning about waning American technical capacity to execute BMD
, global precision strike, etc. The DSB report mirrors the Stiftung's conversation with Admiral Art Cebrowski, Director of Force Transformation at OSD, not too long before before his passing — that Americans are simply forgetting how to build and do things. (One reason for the OFT pre-occupation with rapid prototyping, particularly in space access and micro and pico satellites).
A link between U.S.policy stumbles and internal human capital trends identified by Seiff, Cebrowski and Phillips is worth discussing. Beijing's ascending technological and economic power and clear execution of national interest is in stark contrast. Jacob might do well to ponder that.
March 28, 2006
t last! You can get the newest Stiftung Leo Strauss Podcast here
! The Stiftung provides you, Dear Reader, with the true scoop — a top secret NSA Intercept of yesterday's Emergency PNAC Board Meeting discussing the recent Israeli elections. (Podcast transcript teaser below the fold. Full transcipt is on the podcast page
). Stiftung Leo Strauss takes you inside the den of the beast. And it's not a pretty picture.
(note: Podcast is about 3 megabytes — but we think it's worth it!)
peaking of the Israeli elections, our friends Global Paradigms
and Steve Clemons
are offering different views on the elections and what they mean for Israel and the regions. Check them out, then listen to the podcast.
On the immigration front,Rox Populi notes that Pinche Cabron is in the air
— for a whole lot of people.
The Heretik not only has some of the best art work around,
but pithy commentary on the status of Hamden v. Rumsfeld
before the Supreme Court.
Science fiction writer David Brin continues the legal policy theme as he talks about the state of censorship on the Internet.
David also has a podcast of his PBS radio appearance chatting about the issue.
David Neiwart picks up the radio theme and helps Alec Baldwin remember who exactly Mark Levin
was and is after their encounter at an NYC radio station.
Jim Henley, the respected libertarian blogger and writer was kind enough to recommend our earlier post “ Incoherent Hegemon”
over at Unqualified Offerings
. The Stiftung enjoys visiting that site for its great blend of the funny, insightful and cool.
Wrapping things up, Laura Rozen notes some interesting poll data
on the Administration.
And if you haven't done so yet, you should visit Gotham Image for some of the most entertaining scripts
on the Net. We always eagerly look forward to each new one.
Read more »
March 26, 2006
percolating conversation among some smarter conservatives raises profound questions about the fundamental direction of American society, probes the very definition of what 'American' truly means, and posits daring hypotheticals about the nature and possibilities of even a potential post-democratic America. This still embryonic discussion raises important issues that go to the core of our current situation, far beyond the stale and now formulaic 'Neocon'/'Realist' posturing.
The impetus? Grave concern by some thoughtful public intellectuals over the perceived existential crisis of Western and American civilization. A crisis seen as exacerbated by the twin pressures of demographics and a potentially failing war of civilizations between a fading West and a resurgent Islamic ecumenae. (The Administration's failure as a political enterprise is not the issue — it is short lived now in any event).
lready, a very preliminary and imprecise dividing appears to be taking shape: between 'Cultural Hobbesians' and 'Neo Lockeans.' These lablels are extremely rough and are subject to revision. For the moment, however, suffice it to say both seek to preserve American values, claim to defend the Enlightenment, and offer diagnoses and solutions for addresssing external challenges. Yet their differences apparently are driven by their essential pessimism or optimism. From this schism comes differing analysis and conclusions about the viability of America as 'Melting Pot' under contemporary circumstances, the scope of the threat to Western civilization, and what constitutes 'success' or even 'survival' of the American Idea.
The conversations are, as mentioned, embryonic and often cryptic. This summary merely reflects the Stiftung's intepretation. It's offered in the hopes that you will recognize this debate playing out around you even if it is not explicity expressed as such.
The Alleged Three Headed Threat Before America
n engine for debate has at least three major cylinders: one familiar, two new. The first is the longstanding crisis of 'Modernity'. It predates 9/11. The Administration's reactions to that event merely exacerbated existing trends, raised the crescendo and gave opening to new possibilities. The social undercurrents of uncertainties, fears and yearnings for Something New have been with us for some time:
What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward in all directions? Is there still any up or any down? Are we not straying as through and infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?
Nietzche was not alone in those sentiments. Max Weber also foresaw it: the gulf between the Enlightenment's embrace of reason and disenchantment with the absence of belonging and meaning offered by traditional authoritarian and inclusive social/religious orders. The 20th Century spilled oceans of blood over this existential crisis. Yet it can be succinctly summed up perhaps by Pascal's formulation: 'I am terrified of the eternal silence of these infinite spaces."
The second cylinder is a growing concern about demographic trends. Not only internal to the American or Western (should one use the hoary term 'Occidental'?) cockpits, but from without. Internally, the falling demographics of the socially dominant groups and rising tide of 'the Others' give fears of civilizational collapse from within made possible by non-integration and alleged foolish mult-cultural relativism. The immigration issue is merely one manifestation. Externally, the implications of demographic trends are compounded by comparing our birthrates to the Islamic word, China and India.
And the third cylinder is the fear that (as Fox News so memorably put it about Iran recently) we are already in a war of civilizations with Islam. This fear is not the typical Neocon/Ralph Peters kind of romantic notion. Insightful conservatives thinking along these lines were among the first to oppose the Iraq misadventure and now warn against current Iranian policy. Their concern? That a failing West and internally decaying America are ill-equipped to prosecute a war of civilizations to a victorious outcome without significant investment at home and potentially sweeping social re-engineering.
'We Had To Destroy The Culture To Save It!! Sir!
he preliminary differences are marked by whether one is an optimist or a pessimist. The very terms are now AgitProp tools. No one ever concedes they are not 'optimists' in American public life without risk. So ignore self-appointed labels and look beneath the hood.
Both groups aver support for Rationality and the Enlightenment. The 'Cultural Hobbesian' pessimistic view seemingly — and the Stiftung again underscores that this is only its initial perception — believes that the crisis of Modernity may force an essential compromise with Counter Enlightenment elements to pacify, molify or even co-opt them as the more numerous if non-rational component of the American electorate. The tactical political view also accepts the essential pessimism of human nature and the belief that current trends towards social chaos call for redefined rigidities and certainties. Not only to combat Modernity's crisis, but to organize society better against external challenges. This compromise with Nativist authoritarians it is argued likely is necessary and wiser than submitting to authoritarians and foreign culture imposed from without.
The 'Neo Lockean' view, while not wholly unsympathetic, would assert that circumstances at home and abroad are not nearly as dire as depicted and do not alter the essential Lockean tradition in creation of America. I.e., that the state's role is limited by social contract by the people to protect, and not to control, the empowered individual. That the American Idea is individualism, freedom and change over the old communitarian, authoritarian and tradition-based tools of governing.
The 'Cultural Hobbesian' critique of the multi-cultural possibilities has merit. A Neo Lockean view, however, is that American capacity for assimulation of divergent cultures and backgrounds remains strong. Certainly control of borders is important. As is enforcement of the laws. (See Po Valley post elsewhere). Assimilation can be strenghtened by removing bi-lingual education and the integrationist success of the initial public school system at the turn of the century recalled.
As real as the situations we face today are, they do not require compromise with Nativist authoritarians. To do so willingly for notional emergencies would be to destroy the American Idea to save it. A Nativist authoritarian America at best would be not 'American' as we know it but a weird amalgamation of Franco-ism (or some other Continental offshoot) and kitsch. The consumer base might call itself American. They may even watch a Super Bowl. But to a 'Neo Lockean' (like the Stiftung), such a culture would be a mere golem, a hollow simulacrum.
Perversely, here the 'Cultural Hobbesian' might very well say — 'America can recover as a liberal democracy after the emergency is past. She is resilient and has the cultural memory of democray as ballast. We are the optimists in the end, you the pessimist'.
Read more »
March 25, 2006
uture historians looking back on our time will likely marvel at the incoherence of American grand strategy in the new century. One would not be surprised if the judgment will be 'Modern history had not seen such a divorce of prioritization, resource allocation and means analysis from strategic thought and execution. Moreover, the American fixation on and confusion between operational-level success and strategic end states ensured that American efforts were frustrated by their own conceptual flaws as much as any countervailing action.'
It seems that way to us.
Consider: the U.S. is currently conducting five separate strategic grand offensives: (a) the roll back of the old Soviet imperial periphery across Eastern Europe, down through the Russian 'Near Abroad' of Ukraine and Georgia and Central Asia; (b) the on again off again stuttering efforts to isolate China as the new 'Peer Competitor' across both the Asian Pacific rim and also in Central Asia; (c) conduct an international war on 'terrorism' (such as it is); (d) lead new international cooperation regarding nuclear and WMD proliferation; and (e) bootstrap the Middle East into modernity through unilateral American force of arms. (Sprinkle 'democracy' on all of the above).
The post 2000 organizational collapse of American national security planning and decision-making is well documented by Trainor, Gordon, Rothkopf and others. No surprise, therefore, that each campaign often produces conflicts with objectives in others. After all, International policy is often interdependent. Trade offs are always to be made.
The discontinuity is that each campaign above is by itself an undertaking of World Historical significance. Each would be worthy of the focused commitment of the political, economic and diplomatic/bandwidth resources of a Superpower. Five together without even the most basic clear prioritization of objectives, calibration of resources and ends/means analysis present unique challenges. Even if each campaign was deemed vital, prioritization of objectives and a means analysis would require adjusting the policy tools and their implementation.
Self Indulgence As Strategy
o far the Administration still indicates that it is pursuing the 5 campaigns on its own terms. The results? Strategic incoherence. The underlying conceptual flaws had been obscured by sheer momentum and dynamism. Absent adjustment, continued prosecution will not be sustainable beyond even the medium term.
A sign of the breakdown was noted by Jim Pinkerton
, who observed Rice's prolix but unsuccessful efforts to paper over conflicting strategic priorities most recently on Tim Russert's show. As Jim Pinkerton notes, the Administration, rather than recalibrate, simply falls back on AgitProp repetition.
The scale of the U.S. undertaking since 2001 is mind boggling. The campaigns, for example, dwarf the more focused, separate, rival wars fought by Nimitz and the U.S. Navy across the Central Pacific and the U.S. Army and MacArthur up through New Guinea. Even in WW II, while Nimitz and MacArthur each got their own war, the U.S. decided to prioritize the European theater. Of the above campaigns, which is our clear, unequivocable priority? Which is secondary? Which is tertiary?
The natural response in the Imperial City is one of our current banal slogans: 'Superpowers must multi-task' or 'We will not flinch from the challenges of our time'. While comforting, such slogans are a dodge from analysis. Of course policy activity is not zero sum or even serial — i.e., initiaives can and should unfold in parallel. An excellent example would be the PSI initiative launched in 2003
— states that opposed the U.S. on Iraq cooperate quite well within that framework. States have since time immemorial comparmentalized self interest in layers — competing with each other while cooperating on other levels.
Complicating the U.S. task is that each of the five campaigns above is essentially a world changing effort. On its own, each presents players in the international order with unique trade offs on core issues of security, self identity, prestige and future aspirations within regional or global scales. As prosecuted since 2001, taken together as 5, the matrix of choices and tradeoffs presented to other actors with their own domestic constituencies and actors could well be insoluable.
As we wrote before, the case of Iran poses a stark test case. Recent setbacks in U.S. efforts to seek Russian and Chinese support for the latest UN initiative on Iran should be instructive. How realistic is it to seek Russian and Chinese buy in to U.S. strategy on Iran that will solidify the U.S. led international order? That could well add yet another American military action on the Eurasian periphery and astride the world's petroleum reserves? While we simulataneously seek their strategic encirclement and in the case of China, containment as a peer competitor (as set forth in the latest QDR)? Even assuming that Russia and China should be able to compartmentalize competition and cooperation, to assume their acquiesence is narcissim of the highest order.
Aside from conceptual geopolitical ambitions, both Russia and China have growing economic and other transactional reasons for engagement in Iran. What is the American offer other than 'virtue is its own reward' to quote Brent Scowcroft in the latest National Interest? Scowcroft's suggestion that their buy in could be negotiated by offering guarantees to buffer any energy price surge or resource constraint resulting from confronting Iran at least is a start in the right direction. It is fairly clear, however, that the ultimate price likely will be far higher than barters on commodities. Priorites, again.
Replacing Incoherence With Focused Prioritization
case can be made (and often is) for the necessity for each of the 5 campaigns listed above. Any of you, Dear Reader, probably have half a dozen more to add. Regardless, prioritization must take place. And within each, certainly continued healthy debate over tactics. But more effort need to be devoted to clarifying what a victorious end state is. This will help the U.S. get out of its current rut of viewing matters all too often through the prisim of operational level militarized concepts such as technology and battlespace dominance.
There are powerful internal incentives to forestall or preclude such an audit of power beyond just muddled thinking. As Cindy Williams from MIT wrote recently
THE HOUSE of Representatives last week voted to add $68 billion to Defense Department coffers to help defray this year's costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together with the $536 billion in outlays already planned for national defense, the emergency appropriation will bring total defense spending this year to some $600 billion. Adjusting for inflation, that is substantially more than the United States spent on defense in any year since World War II.
The military industrial complex is far more robust than most Americans can imagine. That is a complicating factor not to be trifled with.
But we may not have any choice. As Williams notes, we are borrowing most of this money. Interestingly, as many now recognize, from the very power in Beijing the Pentagon urges us to contain. Such extravagant spending is not sustainable for a victory in a 'Long War' that the Administration tell us will last a generation if not longer. Maintaining these debt loads for that period of time is simply impossible. The ultimate arbiter on American rationality may well be the constraints imposed by our profligacy. A first step will be the looming scissors crises in procurement that will present unavoidable choices over the next 5 years — even with these staggering outlays.
It is not too late to begin a new meta-strategy: sanity. And it begins by choosing.
March 22, 2006
Slightly tweaked 25.03.06)
See Comment based on email feedback).
The Existing Gasoline In Our Politics
ong time readers of this site know our basic prism. Since 2001 we have pursued the essential premise throughout the Imperial City that the Administration is a front for disparate strands of radical political thought. Together, these strands represent most of the American anti-rational, anti-Enlightenment authoritarian 'Movement'.
The Stiftung has known the 'Movement' for decades. It is a familiar part of Republican circles since the 1970s. What changed is that by the end of the Clinton Administration, the various strands within the 'Movement' coalesced into a tail that wagged the dog. It was clear to the Stiftung early on that the Administration as the embodiment of the 'Movement' was a different political phenomenon in the American political experience, although it spoke to us through familiar and comfortable mechanisms like the Republican Party.
Even before 9/11 the disdain for liberal democracy and rationality was clear to those who dealt with it. As was the ruthless intolerance for 'deviationism' from authoritarian direction — although this imposition of group think was camouflaged by more familiar notions of 'it is just Bush family loyalty'. If you were on the ground in South Carolina in 2000 you had a foretaste of what was to come.
9/11 conflated all this latent authoritarianism into a national phenomenon. To raise these issues within the Imperial City in 2001 and 2002 was difficult. Mostly it was done via furtive whispered mutterings at cocktail parties, meetings on the Hill or elsewhere. We never did have one conversation about it in the Pentagon, naturally. Such was the fear and overwhelming pressure to conform not only within Republican and conservative circles but across the political spectrum.
Some did speak up, of course. The anti-war movement deserves much credit for its willingness to take on the Administration. But even those opposed to the Administration say in 2002 and 2003 often did not see the mosaic for the tile. Moreover, they didn't want to. The issue was never really 'the war' (or the battle in Administration parlance) but the fundamental political phenomenon of the Administration and the strands within it. Even policy intellectuals opposed to the Administration until recently did not want to think in these terms.
In one laughable instance, a member of a D.C. think tank vented on the Stiftung at length in a monologue about how we should not raise this premise (or even use the very name of Stiftung Leo Strauss). The reason? Because of the death and horror associated with the anti-Enlightenment ideological history. To link such anti-rationalist ideological traditions and history to the 'Movement' and Administration was 'immoral' — the exact word. Then, without blinking, this 'savant' then went on to blast Neocons and the Administration as 'Leninists'. We were, to put it mildly, both bemused and appalled at the ignorance. (He chose to ignore the body count under the Red Flag, the GULAGs, the mass starvations under Mao or Stalin, etc.)
Even as late as 2005 and 2006, intelligent, well-read and nationally known allegedly conservative commentators were unwilling to look at the Administration within the wider ideological trends — probably for career reasons. But now the flood gates are open. Promiment commentators as diverse as Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett, and Kevin Phillips join the fray using more or less the precise terms employed by the Stiftung (Phillips calls the Administration and the Movement 'disEnlightenment'). We feel some vindication. Talking about the Enlightenment and the basis of the liberal democratic tradition is no longer Old Skool.
Immigration As The Match
he diagnosis is merely the first step. The second is to apply it.
And one topical issue to keep an eye on is how the 'Movement' and its apologists use immigration. Don't be distracted by the split between the Nativist strand of the 'Movement' — Buchanan et al. — and the Neocon internationalist strand. While they disagree over Iraq and international revolution as the basis for sustainable foreign policy, both are united in their contempt for liberal democracy and disdain for actual participatory politics. Both also manipulate and demonize 'The Other' for internal cohesion and as a means to inculcate subordination of the individual to Belief, Authority and Feeling over empiricism.
Illegal immigration and foreigners are the perfect foil as an 'Other'. The failure of 'the law' to deal with the 'crisis' is increasingly invoked as a justification for 'emergency measures'. And of course the whole package is a perfect rhetorical cudgle to attack any who oppose the Agitprop construct speak up as 'Anti-American' or Buchanan's preferred slur of the Davos/Globalist/UN set.
The Administration's incompetence on enforcing immigration law is a double danger to the country because it provides a pretext for the 'Movement' to take matters into their own hands. We saw already how vigilante groups along the border have become 'mainstreamed' by Hannity
and others on Fox. Yet these sentiments are not uncommon
“It should be legal to kill illegals,” said Carl, a 69-year old retired Special Forces veteran who fought in Vietnam and now lives out West. “Just shoot 'em on sight. That's my immigration policy recommendation. You break into my country, you die.”
It is true on the policy level that the schizophrenia in the Administration between its 'Movement' strands and its corporatist elements does not help. And the Mexican government is, as documented by Lou Dobbs and others, exacerbating the situation greatly. But the Administration's operational incompetence in securing the borders merely creates pretext for the 'Movement' and groups within it to urge disregarding the law, government and legal institutions to take matters into their own hands.
The Po Valley Lesson
he Po Valley in Italy 1920-22 is a perfect example of the political dangers when activated 'Movement' elements mix with discredited and ineffective government. There, landowners were faced with a labor crisis after the war and the central government refused to intervene. Local authorities were either socialists and thus sympathetic to the labor fronts or too intimidated to get involved. The Black Shirts were glad to step in to this vacuum and provide security and force for the landed interests. But more than force came with them, They began to supplant the government not only as users of force but also as provider of jobs, infrastructure and other social services. The Black Shirts essentially wedged themselves into mainstream life and in effect became a parrallel governmental apparat. This success did much to legitamize the Black Shirts and helped make the March on Rome in 1922 possible and successful.
Immigration as an issue has the possibility of offering openings in the American context. How that expression manifests itself will also have distinctly sui generis
elements. Direct historical analogy is both unwise and unworkable. But the cautionary template remains a valid concern. As does the lesson that a liberal democratic state must preserve its legitimacy and monopoly on justice, government functions and force. The Administration's incompetent enforcement and policy equivocation are the worst of all worlds. Paramilitary and vigilante groups seeking to fill this space should not be tolerated. The federal and state governments must maintain their monopoly on law and force.
he Adminsitration is undermining liberal democratic institutions across the board, no question. Most of that is a deliberate and conscious effort to roll back the American Present to the anti-liberal democractic past. The Neocons have their own agenda for doing so, Buchananites another, Christian Reconstructionists still another, and so on. But the common effort remains.
The danger for us all is that history suggests that the Administration, for all of its certitude, could well be merely a transition phenomenon. After all, the Administration is the vehicle. The 'Movement' will endure long after it is gone. And the unintended consequences created by the Administration's activation of the 'Movement' and its opening as now legitimized political actor may be of even more concern. The real danger? Those that come after, building on the possibilities laid open. To help forestall this eventuality, a rational dialogue on immigration that defuses the issue for the 'Movement' is critical. Most importantly, all must seek the exclusion of extra-governmental organizations from usurping legal and enforcement roles. If an indirect beneficiary might be the Administration in the short term, that is a small price to pay for avoiding a Po Valley-esque situation to develop here at home.
March 21, 2006
esponding to our good friend Global Paradigm's comments on 'V for Vendetta' (in case you haven't noticed, we both really liked it) earlier today got us into a Johnny Lydon frame of mind. You know:
I am an antichrist
I am an anarcist
Don't know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the passer by cos I
I wanna BE anarchy !
No dogs body
Anarchy for the U.K it's coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time stop a traffic line
your future dream is a shopping scheme cos I
I wanna BE anarchy !
[sic] (Yes, we know it was all a send up and shrewd social hack by McLaren. And yes, they couldn't play to save their lives. We agree PiL was more interesting, too).
oday's general theme seemed to be anarchy — whether in movies, fiction, Bakunin's writings. A theme in almost Bach-like counter fugue to the 'We Love Authority' press conference Bush conducted in West Virginia seeking to gloss over events in Iraq. The Pistol's faux anarchy, V's more authentic sentiments and events in Iraq have one thing in common: the inability of States to stop them.
And here is where Martin van Creveld comes in. As we noted back in November 2005, he wrote a terrific column about the Iraq War,“Costly Withdrawal Is The Price To Be Paid For A Foolish War”
. The famed military historian wrote this widely cited close:
For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins.
Given Bush's claim this week that 'future presidents' will deal with withdrawal, van Creveld's thinking behind the November 2005 statement is worth pondering. A future presidency means not only prolonging the war in absolute temporal terms. A risk is that a new team may believe they, unlike this crowd, have figured out a way to 'win' or have 'peace with honor'. And van Creveld's point would be no.
To him, Iraq and Vietnam are, to use the terminology he used in his book “The Transformation of War”, non-trinitarian conflicts. The future of war, according to him, is non-trinitarian, non-Clausewitzian, and probably not winnable by organized state armies
. He notes that almost all countries that tried to fight such wars from 1941 to the present lost. Most pointedly, the U.S. lost two such campaigns: in Vietnam and Somalia. Van Creveld asks, “Why should the war in Iraq end up differently?”
He explained it this way in 2004
Read more »
March 19, 2006
evin Phillips was promoting his new book “American Theocracy”
on CNN the other nite. Summarizing his analysis in one sound byte, he said that his research indicates that the overwhelming majority of American evangelicals and other sects of the Religious Right no longer care about deficits, economics, the environment or even competent government. According to Phillips, this majority of voting Americans is now waiting in one form or another for the imminent End Times or Rapture. Alan Brinkley, reviewing Phillips in the Times, says:
If there is a single, if implicit, theme running through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.
John Morris Roberts touched on this obliquely in his “History of the World” and the companion “A Short History of the World”. With events fractalizing increasingly rapidly, turning to works such as Roberts' can provide some altitude and perspective. For this post, the narrow issue is Roberts' brief summary of anthropological research on hominids' evolution giving rise to humans 2 million years ago in Africa.
Read more »
March 17, 2006
e live in cynical and debased times. No doubt.
Rampant and transparently synthetic Condi-mania 2006 pushes the envelope even in the egregiously sycophantic Imperial City. A future policy discourse based on truth however cannot begin with falsifying the past. And that is precisely what is happening.
Almost anyone opposed to the Administration's reckless abuse of the Nation's strategic, moral and financial capital welcomes Condi's 'people skills'. Her intuitive recoil from results of the Neocon noontide flood 2001-2003 and its detritus is also welcome. But it is wrong to cross the line and succumb to the seduction that one might be or become a 'player' in these struggles by mischaracterizing Rice's own complicity in the strategic predicament we face today.
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March 15, 2006
ne of the more entertaining aspects of being an Administration Oppositionist is watching some define down 'Realism'. We always enjoy Global Paradigms' speculation 'How low can they go?'
The recently released “National Security Strategy of the United States” (NS) and the announcement that Zalmay Khalilzad is opening narrowly constrained communications with Iran re Iraq spark some like Ivo Daadler at TPM Cafe to speculate “the Bush revolution is over”.
In a word? No.
Flexible Tactics Do Not
Equal Change In Fundamental Ideology
echnique or process is not the underlying ideology contra to some recent writing. Process can constrain, enshrine, or enforce an ideology (even if by default). But process at best remains the expression, the vessel, not the contents.
The Administration by all evidence is still committed to pursuit of largely unconstrained application of power. How it goes about doing so may be less clumsy. Disdain for people and their integrity as a participant in political discourse remains. 'People' and now 'democracy' are still tools and props. Thus there is no contradiction between using democracy as an Agitprop tool and disregarding its actual manifestation in Palestine or elsewhere. The essential illiberal, anti-democratic elitism remains.
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March 14, 2006
ack in 1983 an article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Jerome Nriagu, a geochemist, sparked a renewed debate about the mythical 'fall' of Rome, arguing that “lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman empire.” The article and subsquent book caused a minor flurry before being disproved.
So it is tempting to be wary at least of biological interpretations for the state of social discourse 2006. But a national commentator and Stiftung Reader notes in private correspondence that he is puzzled by the failure of linear logical conversation on the Great Issues of Our Time. A month, a season, a year one could explain away. But 5 years? Recourse to linear logic, the Stiftung Reader relates, “is a fool's game” today.
Read more »
March 13, 2006
ne perpetual psychological 'acting out' in recent Western history that has recurring tragic consequences is the so-called 'crisis of masculinity'. This 'crisis' seemingly repeats itself every generation since the 19th Century. (The Stiftung recommends From Chilvarly to Terrorism
by Leo Braudy for a tour d'horizon).
In post 2001 America, influential Neocons and Administration Agitprop flaks similarly try to resurrect the shibboleth of masculinity 'in crisis'. La Noonan made paens to 'masculinity' a minor career since September 11th. And now comes Neocon intellectual Harvey Mansfield with his new tome “Manliness” (Yale Press 2006). We would be wise to reject them.
Crisis? What Crisis?
he alleged 'crisis'is far more than insecurity with the transition from a pre-modern, paternalistic society to a modern society of peers. (If you are an adherent of the Frankfurt School of Marxist interpretation, by all means use their term, 'fatherless society'. The terminology is not vital). The 'crisis' is and always has been a reactionary political tool of AgitProp. The consequences of its acceptance? Almost always fatal.
The 'masculinity' cult is a tool of reactionary authoritarianism because of its tripartite composition. It's first prong certainly embraces the obvious martial, aggressive and 'bold' aspects of male stereotypes. Coincident is the fanatical fear and denigration of the feminine as degenerate. A source of weakness to be controlled and kept at arms length even in coital embrace. Finally, the cult celebrates essential irrationality — as Neocon intellectual Harvey Mansfield calls 'manliness' — “a quality hardly obedient to reason”.
Reactionary circles have always used the 'crisis of masculinity' as a pretext to seek restoration of paternal authoritarianism: as a political device, the language is a return to tradition, to hierarchy, to stability and national greatness. Political use of the 'crisis' as an AgitProp tool was a major element of the resurgent anti-democratic forces from 1890-1945. In Italy and Germany during the early 20th century, fascism used manliness both as an ideal and in a practical manner in order to strengthen its political structure. But the irrationality celebrated by Mansfield supra
is used for the Ur-Raison d'etre
— devotion to the higher cause of secular Nationalism.
The 'Crisis' and the American Present
se of the 'masculine crisis' as a tool is not a historical footnote. Its use as an AgitProp instrument in Serbia post Yugoslav dissolution is noteworthy. And here.
Not surprisingly, societal forces which combat or threaten the cult of masculinity are often labelled 'degenerate' ( This term was first used perhaps by anti-democrat and racist Comte de Gobineau in his Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines
(1855)). You may not even recognize the campaign as it swirls around you in 2006. The code word 'family values' centered around family structures in which the male was dominant over both women and children takes on new meaning. So do recent campaigns to marginalize any social forces that threaten the hierarchy of the social structure and the DNA reproductive role of procreative process — such as gays or childless marriages.
Mansfield's campaign likely will land on fertile soil. Take one microcosm. You would be surprised at how many self described national security intellectuals (allegedly non Neocon in spirit) are already converts. They sit in the Imperial City today and fume. At Rice? Bush? Hardly. At Buffy the Vampire Slayer
as a subversive to American virility. Imagine listening to 25 minute harangues on how Buffy
is destroying America. Or how 'disgusting' it is being forced to endure 'vaginal' TV such as 'Friends' with their wives. The pining for an outlet and release of romantic violence is intense - even while they denounce the Neocons for doing so.
Similarly, the Stiftung is always startled to hear Imperial City types murmur over hors d'ourves
that the American 'race' needs more babies and fecundity. (By 'American' they mean white and Christian, of course.) If it were merely paranoid fretting by a few insecure wonks, that would be one thing. But the Stiftung finds these essential beliefs (if rarely articulated in public) fairly widespread in the Imperial City, beyond the bar at the Capitol Hill club.
Back in the day — this was pre-9/11 remember — before Crowe's telephone incident made him a psychotic punchline, the Stiftung noted that sometimes policy wonks would get together over wine or beer and one would hear the joking by-word, “Strength and honor”. The popularity of the phrase among pale, feeble, often bloated wonks speaks volumes about the transcedent appeal of the call to romantic violence.
Welcome to Mansfield's 'Manliness.'
March 12, 2006
ome Stiftung readers are still activists in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. The Stiftung used to count them as friends. For them, bashing Neocons (and associated code words such as 'cabals' and 'cosmopolitans') here is all fine and good in 2006. Pile on. All the more so because the Neocons are passe.
These same activists want to draw the line at the Neocons. They are uncomfortable when one points out that the Neocons were and are a minor strand in the anti-Rationalist, anti-liberal democratic 'Movement' lurking in the Administration.
Are these friends, like La Noonan, committed to irrational belief, emotion and riled demos? Not all. Bruce Bartlett explained at CATO last week why even rationalist conservatives keep mum. People marching in the 'Movement' he said simply do not want to endure the cognitive dissonance of having to examine their belief systems, their intellectual oeuvre
or their paychecks. He could have added — but didn't — that many if not most of the others are quite happy with the 'Movement' reign in America 2001-2006. Criticism or exposure not welcome.
et the signs are clear that this anti-Rationalist Movement poses a far graver danger to liberal democracy than the Neocons ever did or could. In fact, their anger at the Neocons is in large part because they allegedly involved the President in a failed war which threatens the Movement's domestic transformation agenda here at home. It takes John McLaughlin to look Buchanan in the eye and use the 'N' word to call him out: nativist.
Buchanan and the other Nativists should calm down. The Administration has not taken its eye off their larger prize. The President issued this executive order: “Executive Order 13397 of March 7, 2006, Responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security With Respect to Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.”
Six months and a scathing House of Representatives report exposed systemic dysfunction involving Bush himself, Chertoff, and HLS beyond 'Heckuva Job' Brownie for disaster relief. And the Administration responds with an order that Chertoff stand up a faith based center in 45 days. This is a White House priority now.
The Center has the assignment of streamlining and facilitating faith-based interaction with HLS, including how to 'streamline' contracting opportunities. Specifically,
c) propose initiatives to remove barriers identified pursuant to section 3(a) of this order, including but not limited to reform of regulations,procurement, and other internal policies and practices, and outreach activities;T
(d) propose the development of innovative pilot and demonstration programs to increase the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal as well as State and local initiatives . . .
he Neocons are largely yesterday's news. Indeed, with Cheney's eclipse, even more so. A military confrontation with Iran, should it come, is no longer limited to a Neocon issue. The Administration's weak geopolitical hand is being forced to some extent by the prairie fire of irrational and bellicist instincts it started. As with the ports deal.
This is what confronts us now. Andrew Sullivan called the Administration's ideology as 'Christian Socialist' at CATO. He was partially correct. The Administration, with its cult of Executive Power, contempt for democracy, and invocation of religion to promote intolerance, hierarchy and obedience is a Schmittean anti-democratic phenomenon.
There was a time when conservative intellectuals had the wisdom and honesty to recognize the danger before them. Now, it seems that they are as much a danger as the 'Movement' to which they turn a blind eye.
March 10, 2006
avid Rothkopf's piece in the Washington Post on the end of the Cheney era 2001-2005
frames the vital issue via
Zbig: “The question really is whether the administration's new look amounts to merely a toning down of past policies or whether it is really the beginning of something new.”
The Stiftung acknowledges Rice's people skills. Better people skills than Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. are a step in the right diretion. But as we have written, she has never demontrated an inclination or capacity for systemic strategic thought. Moreover, Rice is entrenched in the Bush Administration's addiction to narrative control over effecting actual events.
For if Rice is to be the center of “something new” beyond tactical people skills, the Stiftung does not see it coming from her. Phil Zelikow or others around her at State are not noted for grand strategic thinking. So where does that leave us post-Cheney's dominance?
Drift As Dangerous As 2001-2005?
f Rice despite her prominence is unable to provide a coherent strategic vision for the role and purpose of U.S. power in the world, it will not be coming from the National Security Council either. As Rothkopft correctly notes, the NSC under Hadley has largely disappeared into a functional supportive null zone — essentially an adjunct to State. (Hadley was Rice's deputy at NSC 2001-2005). The NSC's diminishment, combined with Cheney's eclipse and the President's intellectual passivity, creates a dangerous void at the center of U.S. decision-making.
Behind Rice's people skills — Bushism with a 'human face' — a post-Cheney era may pose a different danger to U.S. national interests: cosmetic drift. Clearly State celebrates their return from policy Siberia. Yet the Nation needs not only an antidote for Cheney's Wilhelmine bellicosity, but an integrated and effective coordinating process for any President. Rice via State can not serve this function effectively. DoD still is determined to pursue its own independent foreign and strategic policy. Treasury, the intelligence community, all need a seat at the table. Integrated coordination is more vital than ever today to deploy constrained U.S.power as effectively as possible.
So while we celebrate the passing of the Cheney era, and acknowledge 'people skills', more is needed. A void can be as dangerous in its own way as Cheney et al. Sadly, one almost wishes that Dr. Phil could stage an intervention on the Administration. It at least would make for entertaining television.
March 07, 2006
The Stiftung pauses to sniff some roses. To celebrate great news regarding some of our favorite people. We take a back seat to no one's schadenfreude
at the Administration's hapless condition, of course. But such transient joys should not distract from savoring the authentic thing:
Roxanne, over at Rox Populi has been asked to guest blog this weekend at Washington Monthly
, sitting in for Kevin Drum. The Stiftung is jealous that Roxanne will be blogging there from SXSW. If you can, stop by Washington Monthy
this weekend and say hello to her.
Roxanne as you may know was also recently nominated for a Koufax Award for best humorous blog posting in 2005. Her hilarious send up of Malkin
is a thing of beauty.
Meanwhile, over at Global Paradigms (GP), the Stiftung congratulates Leon Hadar for an outstanding review of his book Sandstorm in the Middle East Policy Journal by Martha Kessler, a retired CIA Middle East analyst.
Kessler's postive review explains how Hadar lucidly deconstructs unconscious American policy assumptions left over from the Cold War and demonstrates why a successful American policy in the region is foreclosed until U.S. policy makers do the same. Kessler's nuanced assessment of Hadar's research and analysis is supported by the positive Amazon reviews, available by clicking the book in the sidebar to the left.
We also recommend reading GP's Condi Isn't Dean Acheson.
In all the friends-shot-in-the-face, ports deals-blowing-up, polls-at- 34% frenzy, many have failed to notice Rice's flop on her recent Middle East tour. Her pal Karen Hughes did the same just beforehand. Maybe Condi got some Ferragamo shoes in the Duty Free shop as a consolation.
The Stiftung also gives a nod to Michael Berube for an historic achievement last week. Michael is listed on Frontpage.com's poll of 'worst professors in America' - a gimmick to flog the ex-Ramparts, Trotskyite and now Neocon David Horowitz's 'book' on the same theme.
But the Neocons continue to fail spectacularly at running elections and polls. In the span of two days, Michael amassed over 300,000 votes at the website. How? Are there that many 'subversives' in America today? No, Frontpage just got Freeped.
Frontpage's poll allowed vistors to vote as often as they wanted. Just click away. (In a bizarre juxtaposition, the poll is right next to an advertisement for an outing with VDH and Horowitz).
Armed with many twitching fingers, Michael and friends in the blogosphere obliged. (He got more votes than soldiers Sixth Army lost at Stalingrad, just for comparison purposes).
In typical Soviet style, however, Frontpage simply airbrushed Michael's achievement out of existance, changed their poll features, and took the fun out of the whole thing. But the achievement — and Frontpage's ineptitude — remain.
March 03, 2006
Fox's '24' is now in its 5th season. Although a huge hit in Japan for years, '24' only now seems to be breaking through to mainstream American pop consciousness. Suddenly, everyone from the wingnuts at Powerline and LGF to other bloggers now try to divine the state of the American self image through Jack Bauer, the laconic Captain Kirk-esque protagonist.
Not the Stiftung.
Unlike the despairing wingnuts, we don't care that '24' now seems vaguely anti-Administration in subtext. For example, a 2006 plot line of Neocon-esque underlings who set up a weak president to hijack American foreign policy and force his hand? That is so 2003.
Nor do we care about Bauer's righteous use of torture and force to put the hurt on 'terrorists'. John McCain may refer to Bauer's always justified need to 'save the world in the next ten seconds, so start talking' schtick as an exception to his legislation.
But the Stiftung knows Bauer and '24' can't survive contamination with reality — not like that. To go down that path? Everyone
knows that Bauer would have left the government years ago, joined CSC (or Dyncorp before the acquisition) and showed back up at work the next day sporting a green badge at double his salary.
What Really Is Unrealistic About '24'?
The most annoying implausibility to the Stiftung is Jack Bauer's outrageously good cellular connectivity.
Think about it. No matter where Bauer is — in an elevator, in a moving car, in a cement bunker — his PDA is magical. He always gets good signal with fat ultra good broadband connectivity. Now that is obviously totally unrealistic. But then compare Bauer's magic Palm Treo with the Stiftung's HTC Windows Mobile device. Here's Bauer's PDA:
Today, meanwhile, the Stiftung tried to update this blog while on the go. Granted, 5.56 mm rounds were not winging overhead, Sentox nerve gas was not about to be released, and a small army of techno nerds back at Bauhaus-styled HQ were not at the Stiftung's beck and call. But could we post an update? No such luck.
(Yes, Dear Reader, the Stiftung tries to monitor the bunker and answer your email while on the move — in meetings, in taxis — all in a day's work).
Just for once, while Bauer has another 'bad day', the Stiftung would like to see his PDA go down. Then, the Stiftung could relax and exclaim 'Finally, some realism on this damn show!'
07/03/06 — After last night's episode, wherein terrorists simply walked into CTU headquarters with deadly nerve gas and poisoned the entire complex, you might ask, 'Isn't that far more implausible than Jack's cellphone connectivity?' Sadly, we refer you to this.
That was possibly the most
Oh. And on the PDA list above? Guess you can scratch 14, too.
March 01, 2006
Pity poor Duncan Hunter. A man who still believes he (and we) alone control our destinies.
“Dubai cannot be trusted,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “I intend to do everything I can to kill the deal,” Hunter said. Moreover, Hunter thinks he will pass legislation requiring all critical infrastructure in the U.S. to be owned by Americans. Is Hunter right about Dubai? Who knows. But it won't matter.
Duncan Hunter is about to get rolled. Not by the Administration. Or the media. But by Adam Smith's invisible hand. Why?
The Stiftung will not launch into a dry discourse about current account imbalances and the staggering overhang of dollar denominated holdings overseas. But here's a simple truth: the only way the U.S. can maintain (a) our indulgent consumptive deficits (federal and private sector) and (b) the power of the dollar as the international reserve currency is to allow this deal, however modified, to go forward. We have no choice but to allow foreign dollar holdings to recycle back into the U.S. through purchase of U.S. assets.
It really is that simple. If we don't sell our stuff — ports, companies, people — those abroad like the UAE will dump their dollar holdings into the Euro, the Yen, or other reserve yet to be created. And blocking this deal will send the signal to everyone from Beijing, Tokyo, Frankfurt and the Middle East that their dollar holdings are hostage to political whim on the Hill.
Should the flight from the dollar really happen — the impact on the U.S. global position, economy, political stability and power will be staggering. A defeat of World Historical significance.
Because of our prolifigacy, our hand is forced. Cheney et al. may proclaim that they have repealed economics and “deficits don't matter”. And Duncan Hunter may think he can make decisions. But they do so only without understanding that they do not have the last word.
This also is another echo of what Corelli Barnett warned about, discussed in a previous post.
Since 2001, in the Administration's eyes, international power has been reduced to buying and threatening to use expensive toys to blow things up with real time video feeds. But true international power resides with strong fiscal and financial health and an appreciation for how everything leverages from there.
There once was a time when the U.S. understood that.
04.03.06 — U.S. raises its $8.81 trillion debt ceiling to avoid government shut down.
A small story offered as a prism for a larger truth:
Corelli Barnett is the English historian who has written widely on Great Britain's industrial decline and resulting collapse of its global position. Some of his better known books are The Collapse of British Power
and The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation
. Both of the Stiftung's copies appear to be on permanent loan to someone over at New America Foundation — but at least they are being used.
A recurrent theme of Barnett's is how British elites lost touch and familiarity with the sinews of modern global power. In the 20th Century, he notes in great details how British leaders reaped the disasterous rewards of a change in the late 18th Century. Then, Britain, facing challenges from the rising Germany and American technological and industrial cockpits, chose to place emphasis on values shaped by evangelical and radical Christianity. Accordingly, they did not understand the nature of their competitive environment and could not fashion policies accordingly.
The results? Well known.
The issue is more than simple allegory to today. Too frighteningly easy, appropriate and glaringly obvious. Moreover, to make the comparison interesting, the effort is more than a mere blog post.
The promised 'small story' will have to suffice.
Read more »