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2007 May 04 Friday
Greg Cochran Examines Neocon Twilight Zone

Gregory Cochran examines the Bush Administration's weak grasp on history and offers a novel explanation.

You see, the president and his associates keep referring to historical events that never happened, at least not as they did in the fields we know. And they keep referring to the same ahistorical events. Over and over, the secretary of state and the (now former) secretary of defense have referred to guerrilla warfare in Germany after the Nazi surrender. But there just wasn’t any. You can’t find it in the history books or in the memories of people who were there at the time. My uncle was in Bavaria in the summer of 1945: no trouble. Secretary Rumsfeld repeatedly talked about the similarities between today’s Iraq and America after the Revolutionary War, but again, I’m pretty sure that there aren’t any. I don’t believe we found tortured corpses in the streets of Philadelphia every morning back in 1784. And why does President Bush keep saying that Saddam refused to admit those UN arms inspectors back in 2002 and early 2003? Why did Condoleezza Rice, in 2000, say that Iran was probably backing the Taliban, when in fact the two had almost gone to war in 1998?

Now some might say that these statements were just talking points—that is, lies—but I sure wouldn’t want to accuse anyone of lying. More to the point, there have been many ahistorical statements that are just strange and don’t seem to advance any particular political agenda. For example, when President Bush said that the Japanese lost two carriers sunk and one damaged at the Battle of Midway (instead of losing all four, which is what actually happened), who gained? When POTUS said that Sweden has no army (it does), what political argument was advanced?

Read the full article for Greg's entertaining theory on why the neoconservatives and Bushies make so many ridiculous and obviously false claims. It is well worth your time.

By Randall Parker    2007 May 04 06:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2007 February 08 Thursday
Bush Parallels On Budget And Iraq

The Bush Administration has just released another budget proposal based on rosy scenarios and improbable sequences of events. David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal examines the question of whether the Bush policies toward Iraq and the US federal budget are based on a similar tendency to embrace an unrealistic vision and stick with it even as it becomes harder to reconcile with reality.

William Gale of the Brookings Institution think tank -- populated by deficit-fearing Democratic wonks who have been trying to find common ground with deficit-fearing Republican wonks -- has been thinking a lot lately about the parallels between Mr. Bush on Iraq and Mr. Bush on the budget.

"The Bush administration's two signature policies have been the war in Iraq and consistent pressure for tax cuts," he argues. "On the surface, they look quite different and were advocated by different parts of the administration. Look a little deeper and some common patterns emerge -- so maybe this says something about the principles or management style of the Bush administration."

It is a provocative and illuminating exercise. Let Mr. Gale kick it off: The president took the U.S. into Iraq with "falsely rosy scenarios" about the post-Saddam landscape there, he says. Mr. Bush built his tax cuts in 2001 on a similarly unrealistic hope that the budget surplus was large enough to cut taxes without creating deficits.

Let us keep going. As Iraq proved different and more difficult than anticipated, and contingency planning was regarded by the Bush White House as a sign of weakness, rather than prudence, Mr. Bush vowed to "stay the course." When then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan argued for "triggers" to undo tax cuts if budget reality didn't match projections, the White House scoffed. Even when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drove spending on homeland security and the military far above projections, Mr. Bush didn't revisit his fiscal strategy.

A similar criticism was made of Reagan during the 1980s on the budget and the Cold War. But Reagan had factors in his favor that Bush lacks. First off, the Soviet Union was in deep trouble and its ideologues had ceased to believe in its secular religion. By contrast, the Middle East has no lack of faithful believers in Mohammed, Allah, and Jihad,

Also, Reagan's spending on defense and stirring rhetoric helped catalyze a collapse of the Soviet Union that yielded a huge dividend in lower needed defense expenditures. So Reagan's spending ended up acting like a sort of investment. By contrast, Bush's approach to the Middle East is making the US military more expensive to maintain. But this won't make US defense cheaper down the road.

During the Reagan era the demographic problems in the United States were still a more distant gathering storm. Reagan raised taxes to put off the reckoning with the aging population economic problems. But the decade after Bush leaves office is when the baby boomers retire in large numbers. Also, the average skill level of the remaining workers will decline. Reagan steadfastly opposed the biggest external threat to the United States. Bush embraces the big immigration surge that is doing so much to make our demographic situation worse. Bush even refuses to see Islam as a negative force. By contrast, Reagan always saw the nature of communism as evil.

By Randall Parker    2007 February 08 10:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2006 November 12 Sunday
Liberal Democracy Is Not A Universal Desire

Lawrence Auster observes an exchange between conservative Carol Iannone and neoconservative Michael Rubin on National Review blogs.

At the Phi Beta Cons blog at NRO, Carol Iannone expresses her astonishment at the Vanity Fair interview of the seven pro-war neocons who attacked President Bush’s Iraq policy (the interview was discussed by me here and here). Where, she asks, did the neocons get the idea that freedom is the universal desire of all mankind, and that this desire could be the basis for building a democracy in Iraq? At the Corner on November 11, Michael Rubin, one of the Magnificent Seven, replies disingenuously to Iannone. First he says he has nothing to do with the rest of the Magnificent Seven. Yeah, right, all seven of them just happened to agree at the same time to be interviewed by a left-liberal magazine for a sensational article on how prominent neocon war-supporters are turning against President Bush. Then Rubin accuses Iannone of portraying neocons as a sinister cabal. In fact she didn’t say anything about the neocons as political actors, she was talking about their ideas.

Isn’t it amazing, that when the neocons want to tout their accomplishments and influence, they blanket the conservative press with such triumphalist articles as “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” “The Neoconservative Moment,” and “The Neoconservative Convergence,” but when someone criticizes the neoconservative ideology, the neocons turn around and accuse the critic of inventing a neocon cabal or of using “neoconservative” as an anti-Jewish code word? In effect, when neoconservatism is attacked, the neocons claim that there is no such thing as neoconservatism. For the neocons, the word neoconservatism can only be used in a positive, celebratory sense. If you use it in a negative sense, you’re either a conspiracy theorist or an anti-Semite.

Read the rest of it.

The neocons have run from their own label because it has come to have such a pejorative meaning in the minds of millions. But the current generation of neocons (as distinct from the much more empirical first generation social scientist neocons who had moved rightward) represent a distinct school of thought which they purport is on the Right. It is not conservative in any way that Edmund Burke would have recognized. It is a sort of hawkish ideological right wing liberalism which places great importance on the defense of Israel.

Then in an exchange with readers Larry gets at what he thinks drives Jewish neoconservatives to claim that democracy is the universal aspiration of all mankind: fear of discrimination against Jews.

Yet, at the same time, the basic, crazy idea was there: all people can assimilate to America. That’s the root of it, and it is related to the idea that no discrimination can be allowed, because all discrimination is indivisible (as I discuss in my article, “Why Jews Welcome Moslems”). Then, with the post 2001 situation, the idea, all people can be assimilated into America, got expanded to: all people desire to be democrats. Once again, the universalism of the claim is connected with the idea that there must be no discrimination. To say that any particular people are not suited for democracy is an act of condescension and racism. All people are equally suited.

So, in the neocons' mind, if they admit that not all people can be democrats, that’s tantamount to admitting that not all people can be assimilated into America, which is tantamount to admitting that America may be justified in not admitting every type of immigrant into America, which, in their minds is tantamount to admitting that the old discrimination against Jews may have been justified.

Normal people can see that there is a difference between how well Jews fit into the West and how well Muslims fit into the West. But in the minds of Jews in general and neocons in particular, to admit that Muslims don’t fit into the West is to say that Jews don’t fit in either. Thus, in the neocons’ mind, to say that Muslims cannot be democratized is to say that Jews don’t fit into the West. And that is why they are so absolute and unthinking and unyielding in their democratism. Their democratism is not based on evidence. It is based on an instinctive (if distorted and incorrect and destructive) notion of Jewish self-protection.

This irrational fear is putting Jews more at risk, not less. They've driven themselves to embrace and promote extremely wrong assumptions about human nature and with disastrous results which can be seen every day in the war news from Iraq. Their assumptions also lead them to support immigration policies that are disastrous here at home.

I agree with Larry. The neoconservatives have made their intellectual movement into a menace.

The neocons and Bush just cost the Republicans control of both houses of Congress. This is a positive thing for US foreign policy. But for US domestic policy and in particular for immigration policy this is a disaster. The Democratic Party agrees with most neocons on immigration: more is better and it doesn't matter who comes. This is a crazy wrong position. Our odds of getting both an amnesty and guest worker program have gone up greatly. The House of Representatives is no longer a brake on the ambitions of the Senate and President.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 12 03:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
Amir Taheri Advocates For Regime Change In Iran

Writing in the Jewish political opinion publication Commentary magazine secular Iranian exile writer Amir Taheri makes familiar arguments for regime change in Iran.

Bush had concluded that the terrorist attacks on the U.S. had flowed out of six decades of American support for a Middle East status quo dominated by reactionary and often despotic regimes. To ensure its own safety, America now had to help democratize the region. The Islamic Republic, by contrast, saw the elimination of its two principal regional enemies as a “gift from Allah,” and an opportunity to advance its own, contrary vision of the Middle East as the emergent core of a radical Islamist superpower under Iranian leadership.

But who eliminated Iran's chief enemy, Saddam Hussein's regime? George W. Bush acting on his on incorrect gut feeling and with the very strong backing of a chorus of neocons writing and talking in favor of this policy.

Also, Taheri simply states Bush's conclusion about the cause of the terrorist threat as it if is a correct starting point for later analysis. Never mind the last few years of terrible events in Iraq which discredit Bush's analysis. Taheri just skips over that part since it works against the argument he's trying to build for regime change in Teheran.

Next Taheri tries again to make an appeal to authority to claim that Iran is the chief obstacle to Bush's democratization strategy.

By the start of the second term, however, the Bush administration had identified the Islamic Republic as a principal obstacle to the President’s policy of democratization.

News flash for Amir Taheri: The principal obstacle for the democratization fantasy for the Middle East is that the Arabs hold beliefs and have values that are incompatible with even semi-liberal democracy. The neocons can blame Iran all they want but the Shias and Sunnis who are slugging it out in Baghdad are not doing so at Iran's behest. They needed no outside help in order to see each other as rivals for control of Iraq.

In fact, the slugfest in Iraq makes Iran's geopolitical ambitions even less likely to be realized. The Sunnis going to Iraq to fight in the insurgency are fighting for fellow Sunnis and against Shias. Well, the Sunnis are the majority of all Arabs on the Arabian peninsula. Iran's ambitions are checked by the fact that the Iranians are not Sunnis and Iranians are not Arabs. The Arab Sunnis are not going to accept Iran as the leader of the Middle Eastern Muslims.

Luckily, not only is democratization of the Middle East a fool's errand but it is also not necessary in order to greatly reduce the threat of terrorists to the West. The United States and its allies, working much more vigilantly to root out terrorists and to disrupt terrorist networks, have managed to go over 5 years without another terrorist attack on US soil. We could do even better by keeping Muslims from entering the West and by sending home many who are already here. But you won't read that in Commentary.

Notably, the biggest Middle Eastern terrorist threats now emanate from Pakistan which has a populace too supportive of Al Qaeda for elections to be held there. The Bush Administration complains not a peep that Pervez Musharraf rules there as a military dictator and it speaks volumes of the Bush Administration's current thinking that the US government is not on a campaign to restore democracy to nuclear power Pakistan.

Those Pakistani terrorist plotters in Pakistan are surpassed as threats by Pakistani British citizens living in democratic Britain as sources of real terrorist plots. Somehow the liberal democracy and freedom of Britain does not produce British Pakistanis with friendly and benevolent feelings toward non-Muslim native British. That fact speaks very strongly against the idea that democracy is some kind of panacea against Islamic Jihadist terrorism.

Next Taheri tries to paint a picture of the Iranians orchestrating a big threat against the Gulf Arab emirates.

By now, indeed, Tehran had become actively engaged in undermining the U.S. position in both Afghanistan and Iraq, while creating radical Shiite networks to exert pressure on such American allies as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Radical Shia networks opposed to Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia? Suppose this is true. Um, we should favor the hostile non-Muslim-hating Wahhabis over the Shias why exactly?

But near as I can tell from reading many news stories the bombs that go off in Saudi Arabia are Sunni bombs set off by more radical Wahhabis or Salafists who think the Saudi royals haven't gone far enough merely by keeping the sexes separated, banning female driving, making women stay totally covered in tents, and the like. The Shias do not figure in this. If the Shias are going to become a threat to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia they will do so as a result of the primal forces that the neocons were instrumental in unleashing in Iraq.

Next Taheri tries to analyse the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Nor was that all: the Islamic Republic was gaining influence over radical Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, by supplying them with funds and weapons. Israel’s seizure of the cargo ship Karine A, caught smuggling Iranian arms to a terrorist group tied to Yasir Arafat, and the discovery of seventeen terrorist cells preparing to attack Israel from Jordan in 2002, were clear signals that, where the Palestinian issue was concerned, the Islamic Republic had moved onto the offensive.

Who was instrumental in bringing Hamas to power in the Territories? You might expect Taheri and the neocons to say that Iran played a big role. But those neocon nutters need to go look in the mirror because they and not Iran did the most to make Hamas more powerful.

I hear you asking, the neocons brought Hamas to power? Yes. Natan Sharansky wrote a book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror that made the neocon argument for democracy as the panacea for making Middle Eastern governments and societies more liberal and less terrorist supporting. Sharansky would like us to believe that democracy would change Middle Eastern Muslims so that they would stop joining the Jihad to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel and Western countries. Bush read that book and bought it hook line and sinker. Following the message of that book Bush and Rice then applied pressure to hold elections in the Palestinian Territories. Hamas swept to power democratically helped along by Sharansky, Bush, and the neocons!

I thought perhaps Sharansky was sincere and therefore in error. But a noted political commentator (I can't share his name since I do not have permission to do so) told me this book was Sharansky's idea of being clever. Sharansky set out to make a seemingly highly principled argument about how Israel should never negotiate with a corrupt dictatorshp. Only a democracy could possibly be pure enough of motive to negotiate peace with the Israelis in good faith. The goal of the book, according to this commentator, was to let Israel off the hook so the Israeli government would not have to negotiate with the Palestinians. Whoever thought the President of the United States would take it serious enough to make Palestinian elections happen?

The problem with Sharansky's book is that Bush took it literally. Bush believes like many liberals that liberal democracy is the universal aspiration of all humanity. As some have now learned from the Iraq Debacle (and which was already obvious anyway), no, liberal democracy is not the universal aspiration of mankind and probably not of womankind either. But Bush took the advice of the neoconservatives and supported the election that brought Hamas to power.

This is my whole problem with any argument for some course of action that comes from the neocons. Their track record is just so bad at this point, they've been so wrong so many times on such a monumental scale, that if they make an argument for some course of action it becomes immediately suspect in my mind.

Next Taheri tries to make us think the Iranian mullahs have any sort of chance of extending the area they rule.

To this day, Ahmadinejad has never lost an opportunity to reiterate that the Islamic Republic is as committed to fighting Western democracies as it was when it came to power almost three decades ago. Claiming that he is preparing the ground for the return of the Hidden Imam, a messiah-like figure of Shiite lore, Ahmadinejad considers a “clash of civilizations” to be both inevitable and welcome. Of course, he is ready to talk—so long as the Islamic Republic is not required to make any concessions. In a speech in Zanjan over the summer, Ahmadinejad assured his listeners that the United States would never be permitted to create “an American Middle East.” “The new Middle East,” he told the cheering crowd, “will be Islamic.”

Nor is Ahmadinejad a lone wolf. Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Meshkini, president of the Assembly of Experts and thus, after the “Supreme Guide,” the regime’s second most senior clerical figure, further clarified the extent of Tehran’s ambitions in a September speech to the assembly. The only legitimate government on earth, proclaimed the ayatollah, is the Islamic Republic, and the entire world, starting with the Muslim nations, must be put under the rule of the “Supreme Guide.”

Well, the communists wanted to put the whole world under the dictatorship of the vanguard of the proletariat. They obviously didn't succeed or even come close to succeeding. The United States held more cards and won the Cold War. The imbalance of power between the West and the Iranians is so extremely lopsided (making the Cold War seem like a close race by comparison) that talk of the world coming under the rule of the "Supreme Guide" is just fantasy by the leaders of the faithful.

The biggest obstacle we face to better protecting ourselves from Muslim jihadists comes not from the Muslims but rather from our own neoconservative and liberal leaders. Muslim immigrants have created a huge security threat in Britain and some other European countries. The solution to the Muslim terrorist threat is simple enough: Keep them away from us. Keep them out. Make them stay in their countries and at the same time minimize our own involvement in their civilization. Good fences make good neighbors.

Taheri doesn't see the point of talking with the mullahs because talking with the mullahs has not turned them into fluffy puppies (okay, my phrasing but accurate enough in meaning).

There can be little doubt that Ahmadinejad, Meshkini, and the others have been encouraged in their belligerence by Western statesmen and pundits who insist that no realistic alternative exists to “dialogue” with the Islamic Republic, even if this appears to play into the hands of the regime. As we have seen, however, “talking to the mullahs” is a strategy thoroughly tested over the last quarter-century and repeatedly found wanting. Every U.S. administration has maintained some level of communication, often behind the scenes, with the leadership in Tehran. None of it has succeeded in influencing its fundamental tenor or curbing its radical ambitions.

As a liberal-minded Iranian it is natural that Taheri should be unhappy with the type of government that rules Iran. But that government reflects the Iranian people far more than Taheri would probably admit. He can wish for a better regime in Tehran. But that does not mean that American blood and treasure should be wasted in a futile attempt to change the character, values, and beliefs of the Iranian people.

He claims the Iranian regime behaves as a revolutionary cause.

For as long as the Islamic Republic continues to behave as a revolutionary cause, it will be impossible for others, including the United States, to consider it a partner, let alone a friend or ally.

This is wrong. It behaves as a fundamentalist Shia regime. But the passage of years and the succession of leadership has made it more like states with bureaucracies more interested in their perks and status than in grand causes. Iran's power on the world stage is small.

Taheri undermines his own argument when he concedes the revolutionaries have lost their fervor.

A third harbinger is that the regime’s coercive forces have become increasingly reluctant to defend it against the people. Since 2002, the regular army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the professional police have refused to crush workers’ strikes, student demonstrations, and other manifestations of anti-regime protest. In many instances, the mullahs have been forced to deploy other, often unofficial, means, including the so-called Ansar Hizballah (“Supporters of the Party of God”) and the Baseej Mustadafeen (“Mobilization of the Dispossessed”).

In a nutshell: The neoconservatives oppose the Iranian regime because it advocates (from a safe distance) the destruction of Israel and because Iran has a nuclear weapons program. All the extensive verbiage about Iran and its supposed threat to US interests or its supposed ability to export its revolution is just a smokescreen. The Iranians aren't going to overthrow any other government. They aren't going to invade another country. If they can become a threat to anyone it is only with nuclear weapons.

So the debate about Iran comes down to a simple question: Should anyone be worried if Iran gets the bomb? Should Israel worry? Should the US worry? Should the Saudis worry?

I remain unconvinced that the mullahs would use nukes against Israel. They'd be signing their own death warrant and guaranteeing the end of their regime if they did so. I also remain unconvinced that the mullahs would give nukes to terrorists. If they did that and this was discovered they wouldn't be toast. They'd be a bunch of individual molecules floating in a mushroom cloud in the atmosphere. Again, I do not think they want that outcome.

Still, I do not like the idea of letting yet another Muslim nation get the bomb. Why? Because Islam is an enemy of free societies. The more power enemies of free societies get the worse off we are. But I'm not ready to follow the neocon fools on yet another half-baked scheme of theirs to fix what ails the world.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 12 11:55 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
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