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Michael Ubaldi, December 8, 2006.
Approaching foreign affairs as an avocation offers much the same experience as any subject will a dabbler. If one writes about it, elementary learning is done at the same time as critical analysis, the review of work by scholars and professionals bringing some moments of feeling vindicated (for having intuited a truth, necessarily without academic direction) or sheepish (for reinvention of the wheel, necessarily without academic direction).
My introduction to former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who died yesterday at age 80, was in Berkeley Breathed's newspaper comic strip Bloom County. Kirkpatrick, an unseen character, had an unlikely and tortuous romance with a reckless Bill the Cat. Breathed, left-of-center but in the latter 1980s able to keep good company with the right, once attributed to his Kirkpatrick a message the real one would have been happy to say: "U.N. sucks eggs!"
Mark the passage of several years and my later investigation into this woman, a Cold Warrior, an ally of Ronald Reagan and the late twentieth century right, whose non-fictional message was that the modern left preferred to "Blame America first." Kirkpatrick condemned the United Nations for what it was and ever will be, a kleptocratic parody of global mediation; and on one hand is credited for an eponymous doctrine that tolerated anti-communist despots for the propulsion of strategy against the Soviet Union, on the other writing a dozen books on world politics and humanity and the morals and obligations therein. Few of Kirkpatrick's written works are to be found in general circulation, though her words can be read. Asked, by the Acton Institute, in the immediately postbellum year of 1992, about "remaining authoritarian regimes," Kirkpatrick answered to confirm the rightness of the Cold War's victor.
"I always assume," she said, "that democracy is the only good form of government, quite frankly, and democracy is always to be preferred. I think that it's always appropriate for Americans and for American foreign policy to make clear why we feel that self-government is most compatible with peace, the well-being of people, and human dignity. We should make that clear and help to achieve it where we can."
Her reservation was one of logistics and prerogative, can't and shouldn't go everywhere at once; meaningfully conservative. Commitment to liberty, however, was for her that by which American greatness was subtended. Thirteen years later, after she joined with other rightists to meet the next assault from authoritarianism, Kirkpatrick spoke again on the subject, testifying to the House of Representatives that "Those of us who enjoy the benefits of freedom should never forget the millions who do not." One may be an optimist, a meliorist, without tripping over a naked Jean-Jacques Rousseau. From what I know of her, which is a little but not much, Jeane Kirkpatrick was canny, her ideals meant to be practiced. There is reading to do.
Michael Ubaldi, December 7, 2006.
The good news for those who continue to support the "forward strategy of freedom," which includes the democratization of Iraq, is that each alternative to maintaining a steady counter-terrorist operation relies on some acceptance of the ludicrous. Maybe totalitarian forces in the region will keep to themselves after Iraq and its citizens have been devoured, maybe the United States will be able to dissimulate abandonment. Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute has added that "Some of the most important training Iraqi Army units get today comes from operating side-by-side with American combat units" — so, following an arbitrary retreat as recommended by the Iraq Study Group, how will an adequate defensive force be instructed? Correspondence course?
As early as March 28, 2003, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regarded Iranian and Syrian paramilitary incursions into Iraq as "unhelpful." As recently as two months ago, that same word was still the only evident response from Washington to either country. Now, the signal proposal from the Iraq Study Group is to plead with Damascus and Tehran — to play the part of the old television Western dupe who gives away the grazing land to the men who have furtively arsenicated his cattle. This most offends those who are not inclined to trust tyrannical governments, and should; it troubles George Bush and Tony Blair, who spoke dubiously of it earlier today, and should. Yet here are two states that have, boldly, tried to hamstring a representative government, killing allied soldiers in the process, and neither Washington nor London take to punitive recourse. What else are James Baker and his panel going to think? Thrown an interpolative question from a BBC reporter — Are you still in denial? — Bush offered the man an appropriately remedial ground assessment. "Historians will look back and say, how come Bush and Blair couldn't see the threat?" A good defense, but the president needs to examine how aligned he is with that premonition.
Michael Ubaldi, December 6, 2006.
His arguments on foreign policy trapped by provincial apperception, John Derbyshire has made his most telling contribution to international subjects through a plan for security: leaving dangerous nations in a supposedly inoffensive "chaos." That, inadvertently, describes the countries to which Islamist fascists, like al Qaeda, are most attracted, given the diminished need of state power to carry out transcontinental terrorism.
This demands some response in kind (last name given its colloquial pronunciation, "DAH-bi-shuh").
Dear, old John Derbyshire,
Michael Ubaldi, December 5, 2006.
One persistent notion of those who either believe a) Near East fascism can be mollified, or that b) terrorism is simply an understandably passionate expression, is that what is regarded as the enemy acts markedly, or primarily, in response to having been provoked. Anger, humiliation, etcetera. And it is usually imputed to Westerners, or whomever is unlucky enough to be within reach. I disagree, countering that violent men are willed to crimes irrespective of others; and I have reasoned and written on the matter.
A fortuitous recommendation sent me to the library after work last night to borrow — along with some Bach, some chanson de geste and a copy of National Review — Richard Reeves' President Kennedy: Profile of Power. Immediately after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Kennedy met with his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The retired general, Reeves tells us, "gave the former lieutenant the tongue-lashing of his life." Tongue-lashings forty-five years ago were maybe a little milder in language than today, as per quaint convention. Eisenhower spoke axiomatically — but having just sixteen years before brought, through strategic direction, victory to the free world, he could.
"Well," Kennedy responded, we felt it necessary that we keep our hand concealed in this affair; we thought that if it was learned that we were really doing this and not these rebels themselves, the Soviets would be very apt to cause trouble in Berlin."
Michael Ubaldi, December 1, 2006.
A little over one month ago I was contacted by David Perlmutter, professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies & Research in the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. Dr. Perlmutter is quite interested in blogging; he maintains a weblog of his own and is writing a book on the popular media, particularly that devoted to American politics. Part of his work necessitated a study of active political bloggers, and to that end Perlmutter is soliciting the opinions of those who make up what is known, less colloquially by the year, as the "blogosphere."
The survey was largely comprised of queries on personal, political and methodological preferences. There was, however, one request for an expositive response. As there was no request for non-disclosure, and I wrote nothing incriminating, my answer to the question "Why did you start blogging?" is reproduced here.
It was only after graduating from college in 2000 that I began following the news in earnest. Having never written with any dedication outside of class assignments, my public opinions were limited to the occasionally printed letter to the editor of Cleveland's primary newspaper, the Plain Dealer. I was familiar with websites and online journals but perceived the work of amateurs as remote, a link here and there to a friend or peer — or to what was ostensibly the proper source for information, press agencies and commentary magazines.
Perlmutter provided a separate survey for readers of weblogs. Good work, such as Perlmutter's, is best rewarded by volunteer participation. So have at it, all five but possibly seven to ten of you!
Michael Ubaldi, November 29, 2006.
Prudently withholding endorsement, National Review's Rich Lowry published a reader's citation of death rates estimated in Iraq today, and those in the American Civil War. Deduction being: three times as many Iraqis die every month than Americans one hundred forty years ago. The correspondent sent quite a paralogism — even if the death rate comparison weren't off by a factor of ten. Motivation and circumstances of death mean everything, otherwise natural disasters or foreign invasions could be bent into conformation with the "civil war" argument. Anything could, even Iraq as is.
First, modern means of asymmetric warfare allow a small group to slaughter many, many people. Al Qaeda agents — non-native to begin with — killed scores of Shiites on Thanksgiving Day inasmuch as they simply targeted them, not because of attrition in a mutually open engagement.
Second, one must consider the dead and their murderers — most dead Iraqis were just that, Iraqis. Most often, they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Confederacy was clearly defined, with boundaries and precepts and institutions athwart the Union. Who are the "Sunnis"? Who are the "Shiites"? Who are their leaders? Where are their bases of operation? What about territory? Livery?
Just from observation, there are a lot of criminally violent men who enjoy concealing themselves and killing for sport. As long as we are actually identifying a real sectarian struggle over polity: none of these criteria can, in Iraq, be flatly satisfied. If, according to estimates, about 13 percent of the American southern population fought in the Confederacy's armies, comparable figures in Iraq would be half a million Sunnis and two million Shiites. Assuming ethnic unanimity, which is untenable, apply this to the country's Shiites. Does Iranian proxy Muqtada al-Sadr command two million, accoutred for war? One million? Five hundred thousand? Ten thousand? Or, as reported, but a few thousand?
The Iraqi Army boasts well over one hundred thousand, uniforms included. Worried Westerners are playing with numbers and semantics, and they are wasting their time.
Michael Ubaldi, November 28, 2006.
Certain enemies abroad — Ba'athists, terrorists both discrete and fostered by Iran and Syria — have been most effective in their detriment of liberal Iraqi sovereignty in the opinions of American intellectuals, even those on the right. Premise: Citizens of Iraq vote trebly but their a) lives are continually disrupted or ended, b) government is infiltrated, c) asseveration for representative government is violently denied; by the actions of said certain enemies. Conclusion from an informal consensus at National Review: Pronounce democratization null and consider indirectly meeting most of the demands of — said certain enemies.
Rightists aren't supposed to blame victims, but then Republicans are nation-building now, so things are already antipodean. Equilibrium, however, is insistent, and traditionalism is, for this topic, an anodyne form of circumlocution.
Contributor Stanley Kurtz made a good argument for a heavier hand in eliminating a despotism's civil and societal framework, and a weak argument against liberal reform. Elections do not make democracy, but since democratization is never undertaken outside of hostile environments, destructive interference is endemic. Editor-in-chief Rich Lowry, proposing a "war for stability," invoked a converse relationship between democracy (free, unstable) and authoritarianism (not so free, stable).
The latter formulation is nonsense, and has manifestly been so for five years. Lowry and his colleagues have fallen so deeply into abstraction that they have disconnected the practical reality of "trad[ing] some of the democratic legitimacy," in the words of the editor. What would that be? A strongman who would, especially in Iraq, hold onto power by silencing the population with gangs and contracted thugs, corrupting all law and jurisdiction, taking all steps to obstruct liberalization — in other words, exactly what Lowry, Kurtz et al. deplore right now.
Why would the United States want another Hosni Mubarak or Pervez Musharraf: Egypt, where nearly thirty years of annual stipends discourage Near East democratists; Pakistan, where half of the government answers to Musharraf and carries out some of Washington's requests, and the other half abets the Taliban, whose 1996 Afghan cabal they oversaw? What about the House of Saud, the "stable ally" with a culture redolent of al Qaeda doctrine? Isn't this a conundrum that National Review already lays on the White House doorstep?
Lowry calls the chosen battlefield a "mess," without considering that this "mess" is how wars must be fought — often blindly, never without error. Were that the case, National Review would have to modify its stance or else, to remain consistent, come out for unconditional surrender to anyone and everything. The magazine would balk at this but if it doesn't want a reductio argument thrown at it, it should take care not to sound absurd.
Michael Ubaldi, November 27, 2006.
President Bush's graceful longanimity towards the strongman Vladimir Putin can be attributed to the Texan's discreet public style but also to the limits of Western influence on the Kremlin's methodical constriction of Russia. Present methods continuing, Moscow becomes familiarly occluded and terse and monophonic; the democracies watch. If supremacy is Putin's end, Bush was right, in 2001, about the Russian's nationalistic determination. So, again, what about the eyes and soul? Permitted our own metaphysical fancy: Bush may have seen his own reflection in the glassy stare returned him, and decided that a redemption of the KGB's mechanical man, however resisted and therefore unlikely, could never be impossible. And he reminds Putin of that from time to time.
Still, Russia is doubling back to where Cold Warriors swore it would never return, and in the few days after Alexander Litvinenko's death somebody offered a sobering definition of Moscow's complicity. If Putin had Litvinenko murdered, then the gentlemanly dictatorship — the one which, by tradition, should be amenable to noblesse oblige — might be the first world actor to use a kind of a dirty bomb. The diplomatic idealists, still known as "realists," who are very interested in appeasement and may this January impel Washington to start making concessions, would need to explain how one form of authoritarianism was ultimately different from another, especially since each proceeds in roughly the same way — at least if someone put the hard question to them. A man who can sleep soundly after a day of bloodily insuring that his voice speaks loudest is incapable of beneficence but through intercessory conversion, and ambassadors can't arrange that. Threats are superficially different, fundamentally similar: Islamist fascism, Arabist fascism, Chinese fascism, Russian fascism, whatever.
Michael Ubaldi, November 26, 2006.
Strictly from one's memory, George Bush said at a press conference in June 2001 that Vladimir Putin's soul was limpid when the Russian was looked in the eye. Recently someone irradiated the man whose name was Alexander Litvinenko and whose occupation, in the service of Moscow, was once espionage. It is one of several attempted and accomplished assassinations of which the Putin regime is inescapably suspect, so the 2001 remark is brought up every time a dissident falls down, if only because of the spiritual perspicacity that struck observers as bold and odd.
Litvinenko's death gives a cue to chortle at Bush. Looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul! Ho-ho! As with most ridicule of the president, context must be ignored. At the time, Bush was one year from annulling the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a treaty which, denuded ten years after Soviet collapse, was yet likened in its gravity to the Seventh Seal. He was also expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over Russian demarcations. These were not the introductory diplomatic gestures of a naif.
What Bush said was in response to Putin's rhetorical question moments before: Can we trust Russia? "I will answer the question," Bush said. "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue." The president's elocutionary skills are not great, but they are so depreciated that one might dismiss, wrongly, the possibility that Bush was speaking as diplomats do. This White House hasn't made many concessions to the Kremlin. Over five years, Bush's expressions of trust in Putin have always been subtly conditional, as if the president were admonishing the Russian autocrat: Come on, Vlad, you are better than that.
Michael Ubaldi, November 24, 2006.
Shortcomings and misfortunes, routine to politics, have visited the settling Democratic majority with such frequency and conveyed such irony that staying dispassionate requires a little restraint. Sure enough, shortly after the midterm elections Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was characterized in print as an "Iron Lady," and with a devilish semantic play one might ask how well the last two weeks will be borne by her according tensile strength. The speaker-elect had her choice of lieutenant rejected two-to-one, straightaway. She faces the possibility of contravention, by party members themselves, of her very premise for the Democratic mandate; as well as the near-certainty of public spectacles staged by a Jacobin wing with seniority.
Representative Jack Murtha, as majority leader, would have caused enough trouble for the party, not least because the man's justification for quitting the Iraqi campaign changes by the sentence, or that his conviction did not extend to a House resolution, or that he in word condemned a number of indicted Marines before trial — but that a lot more could have heard a tape of Murtha evidently deferring a bribe offered in an FBI sting than already had. To be reconciled with Pelosi's "most ethical congress in history," a new chronology would have to supplant Anno Domini. Two-thirds of the Democratic caucus regarded their embarrassment more painful than Pelosi's, and another man, Steny Hoyer, was elected.
Murtha averted, Alcee Hastings incoming. Hastings was a judge; Hastings was impeached for corruption and perjury by persons including Nancy Pelosi; citizens of southeast Florida absolved Hastings and sent him to Congress, presumably so they could check up on him every other year. Hastings is a favorite of a faction to whom Pelosi is reportedly indebted, his appointment as chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence commensurate payment. Oops. Now, the Democratic Party can rely on most networks and newspapers to not coronate the nominee as Impeached Federal Judge Alcee Hastings. And, too, there may be an advantage if every politician is thought to be compromised — one or two caught in the act will be understood as an affirmation of normalcy. What can be done about explaining national security privileges given as a favor is anybody's guess, other than appointing, instead, the otherwise qualified and not-impeached Jane Harman.
From the old guard come Henry Waxman, from whom we can expect a Committee on Government Reform seemingly paid by the subpoena; and Charlie Rangel, from whom we have already heard a peroration on the superiority of armed forces composed of unwilling conscripts; and others.
If this is the legislative session the electorate asked for, God help us. If Democrats benefited from protective coloring earlier this month, God help the Democrats.