Sunday, July 22, 2007
Nathanael mentioned me because of Elizabeth Kantor's citation of me in her "Conservative Book Notes" blog, when she cited a quote of T.S. Eliot that she first heard from me.
I thank Nathanael for his compliments and perhaps keen observation - an observance that even I am starting to take notice of every time I venture into D.C. or attend a conservative conference... Although I am going to start betting that many conservatives could claim the same of our mutual friend, Brendan Steinhauser, of FreedomWorks. Let the vast-right wing conspiracy continue... (vast?)
Monday, July 16, 2007
Read more about how Brownback may surprise everyone, including the media, in Iowa: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/WireStory?id=3373429&page=1
Also, check out this YouTube video where "Brownback rides in on a tractor" to an Iowa event held in a barn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-13UheKpAA
This conservative is loudly supporting Brownback.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
When the Cold War ended, the United States found itself as a global hegemon, writes Owen Harries. Throughout history, there have been plenty of regional hegemonies, but "there has never before been one that dominated the whole system."
According to Harries, when hegemons form, normally other "strong states" have typically joined with one another against the prospective hegemon. So his comments beg the question, should the United States be wary of other such powers today joining forces to oppose us as the only global hegemon? History tells us that we should. To strengthen his argument, Harries goes back to Thucydides' discussion of the causes of war between Athens and Sparta. "What made war inevitable," said Thucydides, "was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in the Spartans."
Why the fear? Because unchecked power creates its own motives and sets its own agenda. So, it seems that Harries is saying - through Thucydides - that whether we like it or not, our own power needs to be checked, or others will ally themselves against us through fear and check it in perhaps a more dangerous way.
"America's emergence as a hegemonic power came not by deliberate effort, but inadvertently, by the default of the Soviet Union," Harries reminds us. The U.S. dominates the world economically and militarily, but mostly with "soft power" as a cultural hegemon.
Harries takes a swipe at Charles Krauthammer's suggestion that between the end of the Cold War (roughly 1990) and September 11, 2001, the United States took a ten-year "holiday from history." But Harries reminds us that during the 1990s, U.S. military forces were more active than during any other time since Vietnam - in the Gulf and in Iraq, in Somalia, in Haiti, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, in Colombia, and in Kosovo. "Far from thinking the United States was on vacation during these years, other countries were increasingly aware of its dominant presence."
Harries then suggests that what he thinks Krauthammer really meant by his notion that the U.S. took a "holiday from history" during these years, was that the U.S., having become the sole remaining superpower, had failed to develop a grand strategy. Most countries might not feel the need for such a thing, but Americans do. We have had the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, and the Reagan Doctrine. While our forces were deployed many times for various operations under George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton, neither administration had outlined any kind of post-Cold War grand strategy doctrine. And, George W. Bush had campaigned against the idea of nation-building. But then 9/11 happened. "How the Bush administration's foreign policy would have developed in the absence of the Sept. 11 attack, we shall never know," writes Harries. "But in an instant the terrorists gave the country the clear purpose it had previously lacked."
The effort that has been pursued since 9/11 has become too ideological for Harries. A global grand strategy to combat the enemy on various battlefields may have been appropriate, but the heavy emphasis on the ideology of spreading democracy has perhaps led us with too high ambitions and goals that are not realistic. The post-9/11, 31-page National Security Strategy of the United States of America was a document that was supposed to outline a "strategy," but as Harries points out, "for a document concerned with strategy, it puts an extremely heavy emphasis on ideology in defining America's purpose."
Harries points out some keys to this new doctrine: (1) it invites a "double standard" mentality, where the U.S. enforces arms control on other nations, but strengthens its own; (2) it abandons the policy of deterrence, which Harries suggests was vital to dealing with the Soviets; (3) it is unilateral in its insistence that "we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary."
Given the whole history of international politics, Harries points out how foolish it is to think that other nations will be willing to accept the double standard that the U.S. says it must live by. Will other states make the U.S. the exception in all of history simply because we claim to be a "benign hegemon?" Highly doubtful.
So, back to Iraq. Harries does not think our high goals for Iraq will be successful. If it is, the current struggles will be seen as a learning experience and a "breaking-in period" for a revolutionary new doctine. But if this project is not successful, if the U.S. finds that bringing about a decent political order is beyond its capacity - then the limits of U.S. power will be made evident, and the inclination for other powers to resist the U.S. will be greatly strengthened.
In some further arguments about the idea of exporting democracy and nation-building, Harries echoes the conservative comments made by James Kurth. He then points to building economic institutions as a better solution to helping a democracy grow. Military implementation will not be the answer for "democracy cannot be exported ... to be viable, political institutions and political cultures require a long, organic, indigenous growth ..."
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Ajami is reacting to President Bush’s most recently televised speech on Iraq. He says the speech’s tone reflects the unspoken message “that no great American project is being hatched in Iraq. If some of the war’s planners had thought that Iraq would be an ideal base for American primacy in the Persian Gulf, a beacon from which to spread democracy and reason throughout the Arab world, that notion has clearly been set aside.”
Ajami then talks about how this great project of spreading democracy to the Arab world might have been a mistaken notion, even when he had supported that notion before the war. “We were strangers in Iraq, and we didn’t know the place … we expected a fairly secular society in Iraq … Yet it turned out that the radical faith – among the Sunnis as well as Shiites – rose to fill the void left by the collapse of the old despotism.”
Ajami points out that in the immediate post-war period, when we toppled Saddam, we let the victories speak for themselves and our enemies in the region were taking notice. But now (as of May 2004) “our enemies have taken our measure; they have taken stock of our national discord over the war. We shall not chase the Syrian dictator to a spider hole, nor will we sack the Iranian theocracy.”
Ajami then says, “Back in the time of confidence, we had (rightly in my view) despaired of the United Nations and its machinery and its diplomatic-speak. But we now seek a way out, and an Algerian-born envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, is the instrument of our deliverance. So we are all multilateralists now, and the envoy of a world organization entangled in its own scandal in Iraq – the oil-for-food program it administered and is now investigating – will show us the way.”
I'm not sure I agree completely here, but I do think that he is right, we are all mostly searching to get other allies involved in the process of bringing order to Iraq.
Ajami continues, “We take our victories where we can … The subdued, somber tone with which the war is now described is the beginning of wisdom. In its modern history, Iraq has not been kind or gentle to its people. Perhaps it was folly to think that it was under any obligation to be kinder to its strangers.”
I agree. Perhaps it was folly. But we, as freedom-loving people, bought in to this notion that all people could handle freedom and greet those that opened the door to freedom as liberators and friends. I think the reaction is more complicated than Ajami presents it, but certainly many people do not want us there.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
After hearing his press conference in the White House, George Will blasts President Bush for suggesting that critics of the war that are making a cultural argument are in fact making a racist argument. In that press conference in May 2004, Bush had said, “There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily – are a different color than white can self govern.”
Well, this is an interesting argument. Three years later, in 2007... based on the experience of Iraq and many other books and articles I have read about cultural, institutional history, etc, I am beginning to believe that culture is important in building a free society or "democracy" as the pro-democracy crowd will say.
Just a day or so after Bush made these statements, George Will attacked his notion on many levels. First, he pointed out that not all Americans are “white” – and we can self govern, so this "cultural" argument, if it is made in the way Bush is suggesting, isn’t a racist argument because America is made up of many different people who can live in a free society.
Will then quotes the late Senator Patrick Moynihan who once said that “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Will follows, Will says, “Here we have the real issue about Iraq …” In this, Will is suggesting the experiment in "spreading democracy" by force is a liberal project, not a conservative one.
Finally, he cites Condoleeza Rice’s view, when she says that there is scholarly evidence that democratic institutions do not merely spring from a hospitable culture, but that they can help create such culture. He agrees that they can, but he says that “it would be reassuring to see more evidence that the administration is being empirical, believing this can happen in some places, as opposed to ideological, believing that it must happen everywhere it is tried.”
Will is making a realist argument about the idealistic goals the Bush administration has for Iraq. He quotes Hamilton, who said “I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they out to be.” Will says, “This is the core of conservatism … This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the (neo) prefix.”
Thursday, June 07, 2007
However, on that night, Senator Brownback could not get out of Washington, D.C. because of his duties in the U.S. Senate: the Senate was still in the deliberating process on the immigration reform bill. So, they needed someone to speak on his behalf. Somehow, I happened to be at the right place at the right time (don't I always seem to be?) and they asked me to do it.
So, I did. Not only did I give a 10-minute speech on his behalf, but I do so in a room of over 300 people and in front of other Presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Tommy Thompson, and others. C-SPAN was also there to film it. It has already aired at least once and may air on national tv again and again. Below is a link to the C-SPAN online video from the dinner. My speech is 1 hour, 7 minutes into the dinner. Notice how Governor Romney spoke before me - I guess you can say he was my opening act.
Here's the link:
Note: This content may require the latest RealPlayer, which is not available on Windows 95, Mac OS9 or Linux systems.
Monday, May 28, 2007
David Brooks follows up with another column just a few weeks later that describes a potential "Crisis of Confidence" emerging in the U.S. because of the Iraq war. This almost echoes was James Kurth was getting at a few months earlier, that this war will cripple us from taking other, perhaps more-needed actions.
Brooks: “It’s pretty clear we’re passing through another pivot point in American foreign policy. A year ago, we were the dominant nation in a unipolar world. Today, we’re a shellshocked hegemon. We still face a world of threats, but we’re much less confident about our own power.”
He says that we still have the greatest military force in the world. “We can topple tyrants, but we don’t seem to be very good at administering nations.”
Because of the bloodbath that Iraq has become, it has put us into a situation where we are now less confident about decisions we are making. In fact, he goes further. “We are on the verge of a crisis of confidence … No matter how Iraq turns out, no president in the near future is going to want to send American troops into any global hotspot …"
But he reminds us that "Unfortunately states will still fail … Tyrants will still aid terrorists. Genocide will still occur … What are we going to do then? … If you were one of those people who thought the world was dangerous with an overreaching hyperpower, wait until you get a load of the age of the global power vacuum.”
So, now we are in a predicament. Even though our decision to go to war in Iraq has created a problem when it meant to solve on, Brooks argues that we can’t stoop to the level of inaction. Instead, he says that “the U.S. has to make it clear that it is considering fresh approaches.”
By the end of the column, I feel like Brooks is merely just telling us where we are and giving us a pep talk - perhaps to boost our confidence. “We’ve got to reboot. We’ve got to come up with a global alliance of democracies to embody democratic ideals, harness U.S. military power, and house a permanent nation-building apparatus, filled with people who actually possess expertise on how to do this job.”
So, in conclusion, he still thinks nation-building can be done, if we go about it properly - perhaps with alliances. He also says the U.N. is a failure and we can't depend on an organization that is made up of nations that don't know what democracy is. When will Brooks finally see that perhaps nation-building itself is the problem. Are there really experts on it? Perhaps the British, but I think we can rest assured that those days are over from our friends in the UK. Perhaps for a reason.
The trend of the neo-cons backing down just a bit continues here with David Brooks' column on April 17, 2004. Brooks admits he was too optimistic about Iraq in the run-up to the war. “I never thought it would be this bad … I didn’t expect that a year after liberation, hostile militias would be taking over cities or that it would be unsafe to walk around Baghdad.”
“I did not appreciate how our very presence in Iraq would overshadow democratization.” In April 2004 he begins to understand how it must feel to be occupied. He says that he now understands that “while the Iraqis don’t want us to fail, since our failure would mean their failure, many don’t want to see us succeed either. They want us to bleed, to get taken down a notch, to suffer for their chaos and suffering. A democratic Iraq is an abstraction they want for the future; the humiliation of America is a pleasure they can savor today.”
He also voices some criticisms of how the the Bush administration approached the war and the ability to restore order in the post-war period. He says that the administration did not pour the “men and materiel” into Iraq that he and his colleagues at The Weekly Standard had argued for if a war in Iraq was to be pursued. “The failure to establish order was the prime mistake, from which all other problems flow.”
Yet, he is still a believer. “Despite all this – and maybe it’s pure defensiveness – I still believe that in 20 years, no one will doubt that Bush did the right thing.” He thus concludes that, “We hawks were wrong about many things. But in opening up the possibility for a slow trudge towards democracy, we were still right about the big thing.”
So, this is mostly a modest gripe, a modest change of heart, but as of April 2004, he still feels that he and his fellow hawks got the big picture right. His argument could be summed up as this: Iraq was the right war, it has just not gone as planned, mostly due to a lack of proper preparation. And, the experience has shown him that a U.S. presence in Iraq is perhaps as much of a roadblock as it is a necessity in bringing democracy to a people used to tyranny.
In response to the Editors of National Review (who posted their article online on April 16, 2004), Andrew Sullivan of the New Republic, posted an article on New Republic Online just a few days later. He labels the editors of National Review "Quitters" and says that "the war to depose Saddam was always an unlikely war for conservatives." In this, Sullivan, a neo-conservative in the original sense, means that there has always been a balance of national interest and isolationist skepticism in conservatism’s approach to foreign policy. But, he says, such isolationist strains were muted, for the most part, in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
He continues: “But there was, perhaps, always a moment when conservatism was bound to begin to resist more aggressively what is, indisputably, a liberal project of nation-building in Iraq. Perhaps that moment has now arrived with National Review's latest Tory editorial, which makes all the right noises about seeing the conflict in Iraq through to a democratic conclusion, while laying the groundwork for a conservative argument to cut and run at the first opportunity.”
Next, he goes about criticizing NR's points. First, ge tackles their statement “an end to illusion.” He says he does not remember one serious conservative supporter of the war in Iraq who believed democracy would flourish immediately. Only one year in, and NR is already retreating.
Sullivan says that we have not reached the level of “abyss” the NR editors claim. “… however much Iraqis rightly want to live in a country without 130,000 foreign troops, they don’t want a return to either dictatorship or the chaos of civil war. The only thing preventing that now is American power. There is no abyss beckoning here, except the abyss that would undoubtedly occur if America were to lose nerve and retreat.”
Of course, while Sullivan doesn't expect a quick success, he does place some blame on post-war planning on the Bush administration, particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Sullivan criticizes Rumsfeld for having far too troops that was needed for the post-war order.
But he also reminds us that the U.S. military has a very delicate task of keeping order while winning “hearts and minds.” Sullivan also argues that before the Iraq war, “None of our options … were pretty. But we had learned on September 11 that mere observation could not shield us from devastating attack. In that context, the Iraq gamble – and it was a gamble – was regarded as one worth taking.” Again, we see an argument here that is consistent with some other arguments: in a post-9/11 world, we could not afford the risk of inaction.
Sullivan also takes on NR's notion that this was not a neo-conservative-led war. And he does it with boldness and pride. “The constituency for war against Saddam was not primarily made up of conservative realists. They were there – but their realism was tempered by the view that without radically altering the culture of the Islamicized Middle East, realism would be defunct as an option. There are times when ideological movements have to be confronted ideologically – and Islamo-fascism was and is just such a movement. This recognition doesn’t junk realist conservative thought; but it provides an essential complement. Blind realism is no realism at all. In some ways, neoconservatism is currently a hyper-realist doctrine because it has incorporated the role of ideas into the need to be vigilant against threats to national security.”
Interesting argument: neo-conservativism as realism. While it at first strikes me as defensive of neo-con foreign policy, it actually begins to look like an interesting argument: the neo-cons were able to provide an ideological basis for war at a time when an ideology was needed to confront a totalitarian ideological movement.
Finally, Sullivan concludes that we have to commit to be in Iraq for the long haul: “I see no way we can make a success of Iraq without a minimum commitment of a decade at least. To have supported the invasion of Iraq only now to support as quick an exit as possible is to give us the worst of both worlds.” In essence, the bottom line goal that the "quitters" over at NR have is not enough and isn't fair to the Iraqi people. I think we begin to see a divergence here between the "realists" over at NR and the "neo-conservatism" of Andrew Sullivan - at least where they both were in 2004.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
After reading from such great scholars like VDH, James Kurth, Kissinger, William Kristol and Donald Kagan, the May 2004 article by the Editors of National Review was quite a dissappoint - intellectually. Of course, it was merely a short editorial, while the previous articles were longer and more in-depth. But, NR didn't quite say anything intriguing or enlightening.
Instead, they merely admitted to making a pre-war "Wilsonian mistake" - as far as their own pre-war expectations for Iraq. They mention how things could have gone better - for example, more troops would have helped the security situation. But they admit that they, and many others, underestimated the difficulty of implanting democracy in alien soil and overestimated the sophistication of what is fundamentally still a tribal society and one devastated by decades of tyranny.
They argued, however, that “... Iraq was not a Wilsonian – or a ‘neoconservative' – war. It was broadly supported by the Right as a war of national interest. The primary purpose of the war was always to protect U.S. national security, by removing a destabilizing and radical influence in the strategically crucial Persian Gulf and eliminating a potential threat to the United States.”
They go further still to distance themselves from their previous Wilsonian mistake and state that in light of recent events of violence, going forward we should downplay expectations of implanting a democracy in the Middle East. They give us a bottom line of what success in Iraq now means: "If we leave Iraq in some sort of orderly condition, with some sort of legitimate non-dictatorial government and a roughly working economy, we will be doing very well.”
At least their backtracking still leaves us with a goal.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
After hearing from neo-conservatives and a traditionalist, we now turn to a man who defines the words real politik: Henry Kissinger. In this April 2004 article in The Washington Post, "Intervention With a Vision," Kissinger offers us a realist perspective.
Kissinger points out the two competing visions in American foreign policy: a value-based foreign policy vs. interest-based foreign policy. He argues that the current doctrine of global democratic interventionism faces the obstacle of that its ideology (the idea that democracy should be pursued because democracies do not harm each other) has not been really tested. But he also argues that a policy based on “interest” alone requires perfect flexibility and an instant readiness to adjust to changed circumstance.
According to Kissinger, what marks the 21st century as unprecedented is the fact that as state power weakens, non-state terrorist groups fill the vacuum for the purpose of threatening the state system itself.
America, the leading power in the world, is engaged in a wide range of activities in the name of democracy and human rights (publishing reports, applying sanctions, bringing about regime change, etc.) No other country has treated human rights and the support of democracy as so central or has permitted so direct a role to so many elements of its public opinion in the implementation of a specific aspect of its foreign policy.
But because democracy must be rooted in domestic factors, it will thrive only where it reflects cultural, historical, and institutional backgrounds. Kissinger argues that America needs urgently to develop a concept of political evolution that combines the authority required for economic progress with the human rights required for a democratic evolution.
"Iraq is turning into the test case," he says. "Regime change was impelled by strategic imperatives together with moral convictions. But, the conditions we had in Germany and Japan are nearly reversed. In Iraq, the ethnic and religious divisions are so deep, that in its early stages, democracy threatens to become a form of communalism." Sound familiar? He's on to the same historical points that James Kurth dived deep into, and perhaps the same eery predictions.
But he diverges from Kurth there. To solve the crisis in Iraq, Kissinger argues that “an extended period of American involvement is required and some degree of internationalization. But whatever the process, its prerequisite is America’s willingness to see it through. Success is the only exit strategy.”
He continues with long-term implications for American foreign policy, offering critiques to both the neo-cons and the traditionalists. "The advocates of an interest-based foreign policy must recognize that support for democracy is a fundamental goal that has to be built into American policy. The proponents of a value-based foreign policy need to understand that their challenge is no longer to establish their principle but to implement it, and that down their road beckons not only democracy but ungovernable vacuums. The advocates of the important role of democracy in American foreign policy have won their intellectual battle. But institution-building requires not only doctrine but a vision recognizing cultural and historical circumstance. Such humility is not an abdication of American values; it is the only way to implement these values effectively."
As far as I can tell, Kissinger is saying intervention is sometimes required, but that we need prudent interventions. At the time, Iraq seemed like the right intervention and that carrying a moral conviction to implement a kind of democracy or human rights element into our foreign policy was the American thing to do, as America is so caught up in human rights on all kinds of levels. But, Kissinger stops short there by also saying that implementing a democracy is very difficult and requires institution building that is rooted in historical and cultural values. This will not happen overnight - as VDH and Kurth already told us from their own perspectives.
Kissinger offers some kind of a prescription here, but is not detailed enough about what exactly must be done in Iraq. The only solution he offers for Iraq is that we must not fail. If we fail, that will be a victory for the jihadists over Western values. In effect, he is saying to those that want to pull out of Iraq: whether you think we should be there or not, going forward from here, we must make sure that "success is our only exit strategy." With that point, I wholeheartedly agree. The next question, three years later in 2007, is defining what we will mean by "success."
In March 2004, Professor James Kurth of Swarthmore College, published an article in Pat Buchanan's recently emerging magazine, The American Conservative. The article, "Iraq: Losing the American Way," makes a strong argument that the U.S.-led war in Iraq is a sharp departure from the traditional American way of going to war.
First, there was a difference in traditional U.S. diplomacy. The Bush Administration made a sharp departure from the long-standing U.S. diplomatic practice of obtaining some form of international approval and legitimization for our wars and military interventions. While we had some allies, our most traditional allies and much of the world's other major powers were not with us.
The second break was with the way of war itself. We deployed U.S. forces unusually few in number and now stretched far too thin. It had been long-standing practice to use overwhelming mass and material to overwhelm the enemy. Thirdly, we perverted the traditional American way of democratization by promoting liberal democracy while imposing military occupation. Kurth argues that the diplomatic damage might be overcome, but the war has caused a more long-term injury to the U.S. military and the U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad.
By end of the 20th century, historians and military strategists agreed that the classical American way of war was characterized by such advantages as: (1) overwhelming mass and materiel, (2), wide-ranging mobility (transportation and communication), (3) high-technology weapons systems, and (4) high public support for the war. The classic examples of this were the way we approached World War II and the Persian Gulf War.
The classical American way of war has no obvious answer if the military challenge comes from guerillas and insurgents. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the Weinberger/Powell doctrine emerged saying “no more Vietnams” and “when the United States goes to war, it should do so as a nation defending its vital national interests against another nation, and when the U.S. Army goes to war, it should do so as an army fighting another army.”
Kurth comes down hard on the Rumsfeld Transformation Project which “seeks to reduce the role of mass and to accentuate the role of mobility.” In other words, Rumsfeld's approach to reshaping the military was a sharp departure from the classcial American way of war.
The only task that the new Rumsfeld Army, with its lighter, more mobile configuration, can perform better than the old classical Army, with its heavy armor and artillery configuration, will be operations against an enemy that is even more light and mobile, such as guerillas and insurgents. “The Rumsfeld project seeks to transform the U.S. Army into an instrument which will fight for peripheral, imperial interests, and not just for vital national ones. As such, the new way of war can be seen as the neoconservative way of war," says Kurth.
The guerilla threat that needed to be dealt with by U.S. military forces did not exist before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The U.S. occupation of Iraq has created, for the first time since the Vietnam War, the very problem that the Rumsfeld transformation project was supposed to solve.” The long established, lighter, more mobile ground force had always been the U.S. Marines, but this is the very force that Rumsfeld has turned the U.S. Army into, thus leaving the new army with the inability to perform the tasks the old army could perform so well.
In regards to "democratization," Kurth argues that because the 20th century was the American century, it was also the century of democratization. Iraq is just the latest chapter in a grand American narrative that has been underway for more than a hundred years.
Kurth points out that the U.S. efforts to use force to democratize foreign countries hasn’t worked. The only examples the Bush administration and the neoconservatives provided as examples, Germany and Japan, are the only exceptions, but those exceptions are exceptions for the following reasons: (1) They had prior liberal-democratic experiences, (2) they had greater foreign threats (other than the U.S.) and so allowed the U.S. to lead the way, and (3) they had an ethnically homogenous population.
Iraq, on the other hand, “was always an unstable equilibrium, a partition waiting to happen, artificially held together by the iron bonds of an authoritarian and brutal regime … One could have an Iraq, but without democracy. Alternatively, one could have democracy, but without an Iraq. But one could not have both.” I think the prediction Kurth was making in 2004 perhaps is being seen today in 2007. While Iraqis have voted in elections and set up a Parliament, the difficulty in the new Iraq is securing order amid sectarian violence.
Kurth says that if we want a closer geographic, sociological and contemporary circumstance of how Middle Eastern Iraq might react to democracy, we should look to the Near Eastern former Soviet Balkan states. “In virtually every country in the communist world where there was ethnic heterogeneity, democratization – which included free elections – was followed immediately by secession and partition.”
Based on historical circumstances, Kurth predicts that the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq will fail because of one or all of the following reasons: (1) the cultural values, social conditions, and historical experience for democracy do not exist there, (2) the Iraqi people will come to associate democracy with U.S. occupation and thus reject it, and (3) because there is no "Iraqi" people at all, but three peoples who will use democracy to break away from each other.
And then Kurth comes to an even more frightening conclusion of where this interference in Iraq may lead us: “The failure of democratization in Iraq will discredit similar U.S. efforts elsewhere. The damage will be the greatest in the Middle East and in the Muslim world more broadly, where Islamism will be left as the only valid ideology and Islamization as the only vital political and social project.”
Will the U.S. effort to take international threats more seriously in the post 9/11 world, such as we did with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, lead moderate Muslims to reject U.S. occupation and turn to radical Islam, which in turn will bring on more anti-Americanism? That is the question of the hour.
In February 2004, William Kristol and Robert Kagan published an article in The Weekly Standard, "The Right War for the Right Reasons." Published nearly a year after the war in Iraq began, the article seems to have been published to explain why the war was still just even if no weapons of mass destruction are found. In a sense, they are restating the case for war, minus the WMD argument. They argue, in fact, that WMD was never the main reason to go into Iraq and that there were multiple factors at play. Let's dissect their rationale.
First, they argue that liberating the Iraqi people from a brutal totalitarian regime would have been "sufficient reason" to remove Saddam. They argue that "such a rationale is not 'merely moral.' As is so often the case in international affairs, there was no separating the nature of Saddam’s rule at home from the kinds of policies he conducted abroad.” They also talk about Saddam's ambition to dominate the Middle East, both economically and militarily by trying to control the region's oil supply and intimidate its neighbors.
Next, they go back to the Clinton years and they show us the evidence that President Bill Clinton and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, are on record as saying that containemtn of Saddam Hussein would not be enough. It was the Clinton Administration that concluded that the longer the standoff with Saddam continued, the harder it would be to maintain international support against him. For these reasons, Berger and the Clinton Administration had concluded that it would be necessary at some point to move beyond containment to regime change. If the status quo persisted much longer, the U.S. would have continuing difficulties of determining whether or how fast the risk from Saddam was increasing.
Kristol and Kagan then show us the steps the U.S. took to get to war. These steps began with the Clinton Adminstration when the U.S. Congress passed the 1998 Iraqi Liberation Act. Signed by Clinton, the Act made it official U.S. policy to “support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”
Fast forward to September 11, 2001. While there may have been no connection between Saddam and 9/11, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 made the Bush administration take a closer look at international threats, as it became clear to all of us that we had been too sanguine about such threats prior to 9/11. The Bush administration concluded that it had to remove Saddam’s regime after all, just as Clinton and Berger had suggested might someday be necessary.
Bush then went on to gain sweeping support from both Republicans and Democrats. Kristol and Kagan point out that the majority of the Democrat Party supported the war, not because they were misled by rhetorical hype or by faulty U.S. intelligence. They were presented with the same rhetoric (if not with less hype) that had been presented by the Clinton administration. Most of what they and everyone knew about Saddam’s weapons programs we learned from the U.N. inspectors, not from U.S. intelligence.
After the war, David Kay spent about 8 months looking for weapons, interviewing Iraqis, and concluded there were "no stockpiles of weapons." And the drive-by media was all over this statement. But, Kristol and Kagan ask us to look at the rest of what Kay presented. Kay testified that Saddam's regime was “in clear material violation of 1441.”
So, even if we are to make a case based on WMDs, Kagan and Kristol conclude with a question: “If the world had known in February 2003 of Kay’s findings, that there were no stockpiles of weapons, but that Iraq continued to pursue weapons of mass destruction programs and to deceive and conceal these efforts from the U.N. inspectors led by Blix during the time allocated by Resolution 1441 – wouldn’t there have been at least as much, and probably more, support for the war?”
They then remind us that before the war, everyone agreed and assumed Saddam had weapons, this was not part of the argument to go to war. “Indeed, the fact that he had the weapons, some argued, was all the more reason why the United States should not go to war. After all, it was argued, the likeliest scenario for Saddam’s actually using the weapons he had was in the event of an American invasion.” I remember this being precisely my main reason not to go to war with Iraq. Why give Saddam the opportunity to use his weapons on our troops?
They tackle the question of imminence and use a quote by Tom Daschle, who after voting to support the war in October 2002, said, “The threat posed by Saddam Hussein may not be imminent, but it is real, it is growing, and it cannot be ignored.”
Finally, Kagan and Kristol ask whether this was a war of choice or a war of necessity. They argue that in some sense, all of America’s wars were wars of choice. “But when viewed in the context of history and international circumstances, they were all based on judgments about the costs of inaction, the benefits of action, and on strategic calculations that action then would be far preferable to action later in less favorable circumstances. In other words, war was necessary to our national interest, if not absolutely necessary to the immediate protection of the homeland.”
I think they make the case that this war was the right war for the right reasons. I don't think we have to agree with their case necessarily, but it is a well-grounded argument for the reasons to go to war. The biggest strength of their case, I believe, was their argument that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 made the Bush administration take a closer look at international threats. Before 9/11, our biggest international conflict was with Saddam. We had a 10-year status quote and by 2003 it became a 12-year status quo. International support to take out Saddam was crippling as time went on. In retrospect, we probably "should have" pursued regime change in 1991.
Perhaps if we had done nothing to take out Saddam in 2003, today Saddam could have a real WMD - a nuclear weapon. And, we could be looking back to 2003 and saying, we "should have" taken him out then. (In fact, this is the situation we now seem to be in with North Korea and Iran - once they have a WMD, it's makes things more difficult). And if we had taken no action against Saddam, today we'd have a 16-year status quo and perhaps more uncertainty on what to do with him.
Kristol and Kagan are right about the fact that the United States has pretty much always had a "choice" whether or not to go to war. History is made on certain decisions. And whether or not we like the decisions we made in the past - in 1991 or in 2003 - we have to live with them and make decisions today based on history and based on our contemporary circumstances. But, of course, we should always have an eye to the future - for decisions have consequences.
Friday, May 04, 2007
In January 2004, Victor Davis Hanson published an article in Commentary magazine, "Iraq's Future - And Ours." In this article, VDH reflected back on the first 8 months of how the U.S. has confronted the post-war operation. He notes the irony that a quick and stunning military success brings: a long and trying process to secure the peace (and order). "Of course, we must not wish the war would have lasted that long in order for us freely to destroy Saddam’s remnants, but we must at least appreciate that short wars by their very nature often require messy clean-ups.”
What could we have done better to prepare for the "messy clean-up?" The most critical mistake we made during the war and in the immediate aftermath was our tolerance of looting and our disbanding of the Iraqi army. VDH points to these factors, which led to the creation of the Iraqi resistance, in forms of cash, weaponry, and manpower. Now (as of January 2004), the enemy is combining their 8th century technology and our 21st century technology to use weapons against us in creative ways.
He also notes that Iraq has had its own history and its own problems, which they are still confronting. He also points out the many false perceptions that the American public and media have including the fact that most Americans believe that war is the worst thing that can happen to human beings (it's not).
The most important aspects of his article deal with the the problems that a materially wealthy, prosperous, humanitarian, democratic nation such as the United States has with war. It is a conflict. He says that “Post-bellum Iraq reminds us how much we are geared not to taking but rather preserving lives – including, quite naturally, our own.” He continues, “One dead American causes far greater distress, not just among the American public but in the military itself, than the satisfaction prompted by the knowledge that dozens of Baathist murderers were killed in return.” In World War II, he argues, we were much more willing to sacrifice lives, if we knew many more lives on the enemy's side were being taken. It was a strategic sacrifice and many Americans were willing to make it.
Today, on the other hand, Americans are more detached from war than ever. Part of this reason lies in our government's response to the anti-war protests that were sparked during the Vietnam era. Today, "... as our government seeks – often successfully – to wage war with as little upheaval at home as possible, it never troubles to tap the inner reserves of the American people, who might well rise to the challenge of a long and difficult struggle against those who seek to kill us all. We are thus caught in yet another paradox: the more lethal and adroit an even smaller number of American soldiers become, the more detached an ever greater number of Americans can be from the wars waged in their names.”
This is indeed a serious problem. While the media brings the war home to us, sometimes with live pictures, we distance ourselves from the war. Most of us go on with our daily lives here in the prosperous nation we live in, and we probably forget that our nation is at war; we forget about the soldiers who are sacrificing their lives every day; we might pity the images on television or in the newspaper, but we go on each day as if they are just images, but not real. What are we doing to connect with the war? To make our own sacrifices for it?
If we are more connected with the war, with the people fighting it, and with the knowledge of lives being lost, victories being won, will we be more in support of it? More willing to join the military? More willing to sacrifice our time, our efforts, our material wealth? This is an interesting question VDH poses and I'm not sure if I have the answer. I will say that several friends of mine who have gone to Iraq have come back and they have made this point: Americans here at home don't realize how evil the enemy is. One friend told me how the enemy in Iraq sometimes positions themselves in or near schools so that the Americans will either not fire back or if they do, they will risk killing innocent children.
VDH is then right about one thing for sure: Americans, including the military, are so concerned about humanity, while our enemy is not. We value a culture of life, our enemies do not. Even in fighting a war, we try to avoid casualties, even if that forces us to do things the long, hard way.
Finally, VDH closes his article with the following statement, “In an era of the greatest affluence and security in the history of civilization, the real question before us remains whether the United States – indeed, whether any Western democracy – still possesses the moral clarity to identify evil as evil, and then the uncontested will to marshal every available resource to fight and eradicate it. In that sense, our willingness to use unremitting force to eliminate vast cadres of proven killers, in Iraq and elsewhere, is a referendum on modern democracy itself.”
Do we still have the will to fight? And, is this war a necessary part of that fight? Is this an ultimate test for a liberal democracy? For Western Civilization? Or does VDH have it all wrong? Maybe we don't want to fight because we are we there for the wrong reasons. Did we bring this fight to ourselves? Is the government detaching us from the war for some other reason? Or does the government realize that Americans are no longer willing to make such a sacrifice that is necessary to win a war? What will this generation of Americans be ready and willing to fight for?
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Throw Pat Buchanan in that first group, Henry Kissinger in that second group, and William Kristol in the third group. But where do I throw myself? I typically think of myself as a "realist" but I would also subscribe to the "traditionalist" mindset. After all, in the past four years, I have become a big fan of the works of Russell Kirk, perhaps the intellectual leader of tradtionalists. Kirk always spoke of a "prudent foreign policy," meaning that at times we must take action if they are in our national interest, but that we also must consider the long-term implications of such actions, for that is even more vital to our national interest.
Rosen poses many questions for us to consider as we dive through the 21 chapters of this book, which are articles that come from a mix of traditionalist, realists, and neo-conservatives.
What does American history teach about the nature and limits of U.S. power? Are deterrence and containment still viable national-security doctrines in an age of suicide terrorism and weapons of mass destruction?
What value should we attach to stability in parts of the world where the social and political status quo abets violent extremism? Should the U.S. – can the U.S. – be an agent for democratic change? Does such an agenda demand more cooperation with other nations, or less?
Does the promotion of American principles serve American interests? If not, how should the two be reconciled?
These are the questions under review. Perhaps I'll be able to provide some answers for them by the end of the month. The key question that I'll be keeping in mind: what solution will best help us defend the U.S. from Islamic terrorists and other potential foreign threats? Has the war and U.S. occupation in Iraq been a positive step in this effort or a step backward?
I have been a supporter of the war since it began, and I still support the U.S. and coalition efforts there. But, sometimes it seems like I'm the only one still supporting this war. I had my doubts about the war during the six months leading up to it back in 2002-2003. But, the President's 2003 State of the Union Address fully convinced me that this was "the right war for the right reasons." The speech laid out a broad vision and many reasons why the U.S. had to keep the pressure on Saddam and take him out if necessary.
After debating the necessity of going to war with myself then, I found this speech convincing and I have supported our efforts for regime change ever since. Once you decide to go to war, I believe, you must go and you must finish the job. The problem with "regime change" is that it holds us accountable and responsible for helping bring a new, stable regime to Iraq.
But, it has now been four years since we invaded and occupied Iraq. A lot has been accomplished in so short of a time, but as with all occupations, the occupied get restless. The debate here in the U.S. has heated up again, with the Democrats demanding a time table for withdrawal and with Bush again standing his ground that he will not accept their lack of a plan to finish the job. Bush's decision to stay committed to his goal has meant a political disaster for the Republican Party, as there is really no other reason to vote for the Democrats. They hardly offer anything positive these days. So, is staying in Iraq worth risking continued political losses for the Republican Party? For the conservative movement?
With all this on my mind, I want to take up the Iraq war debate again and this book, The Right War?, looks like an intriguing, open way to do that, especially from a conservative perspective. It features articles from over 20 conservatives debating whether this was the right war for the U.S. to get involved with. The writers include: Victor Davis Hanson, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, James Kurth, Henry Kissinger, the Editors of National Review, Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, George Will, Fouad Ajami, Owen Harries, Fareed Zakaria, Max Boot, Andrew Bacevich, Norman Podhoretz, Francis Fukuyama, Charles Krauthammer, Patrick Buchanan, Robert Ellsworth, Dimitri Simes, Charles Kesler, Eliot Cohen, and Reuel Marc Gerecht.
The articles re-published in this book were all written between 2004-2005, so it was when the violence in the post-war Iraq began. I also take up this debate because I have seen and know many conservative intellectuals, including ISI speakers and some of my ISI collegues now coming to similar conclusions about the war that I saw some of my Leftist professors at Maryland coming to when I was there back in 2001-2004. Of course conservative intellectuals and Leftist academics start from different first principles (and perhaps have different end goals in mind), but often their policy positions are not far off from each other.
So, once again, they are encouraging me to take a look at the arguments and whether this war was in America's best interest at this time. Over the next 22 days, I hope you will join me as I blog about the many arguments used by these cast of conservative characters. Each day, I will blog about each of the 22 chapters that I read from The Right War? I will display their main arguments, write my reaction, and tell you what I agree with and what I disagree with, and whether or not the authors have strengthened my support for the war, or made me rethink it.
I am going to try to be as open-minded about this as possible, but I will fully acknowledge now that I have been a strong supporter of this war all along and still hope to see the U.S. succeed, despite the challenges. We'll see how I feel in 22 days. I encourage you to respond to any posts. I'd love to hear opinions. At the end of this whole thing, I plan to write a long reaction of my own and present the best arguments I can find for whatever conclusion I come to (if I come to one).
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I gave a presentation about ISI and tried to talk about the purpose of higher education. Nick and his professor have been trying to get a "Great Books" program off the ground here. Nick is a 26-year old first year student. He spent the past 5 years in the Navy and did some community college, but really wants a "Great Books" education. He wanted to go to St. John's College in Annapolis or Santa Fe, where that exists, but he was called to go to Liberty. He now wants to make it his purpose here to start and lead a Great Books program, where students like himself are immersed in the canon of the Western tradition.
I think there was a lot of interest at the soiree, for both ISI and the Great Books program. About 15 new members signed up and they gobbled up the sandwiches and the free literature that we provided, including the ISI Student's Guides series, which are themselves a way for students to get their own Great Books education - as we introduce them to the best of what's been thought and said in each field.
A few of the professors (long time ISI professors) in the Jesse Helms School of Government at Liberty took me by the government department. It's one of the nicest departments on campus, very spacious offices and a really nice "roundtable" for meetings. They also have a timeline on the wall of memorable moments from the life of Jesse Helms.
Liberty is a good school, but not a great school. These folks all want to make it great. It has the potential, as it has the desire to seek truth through Christ. But, it needs to understand what John Henry Newman preached - that faith and reason compliment each other. For if reason brings us to the truth, then it will surely guide us to the truth of Christ. There's no reason to be afraid of reason - especially if you have such a well-cultivated foundation to think from.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
It was a good, fun group and they seem really excited about ISI and the intellectual side of conservatism. Their school is almost all conservative, they say, "except the faculty." Go figure. We had dinner at a local place called Charlie's on the Waterfront in Farmville, VA (about 5 miles from their campus). I never actually did get to see the campus. And come to think of it, I don't thing Charlie's was actually on any waterfront.
They just hosted a speaker last month, Anthony Esolen, who spoke on Manliness, but I think the group, which has been around for less than a year, is really just beginning to take its own form. Almost all the guys that showed up were sophomores, the other was a freshman, so they have a lot of time to grow the group and develop it into what they want it to become. You'd think they have a big challenge with a campus that is almost not in need of more conservativism, but in a way, it is. They have the real opportunity to challenge the faculty and show the rest of the campus what it means to be not just a conservative, but an intellectual one. They're off to a great start and are very motivated. I look forward to seeing some of them at the ISI conference in Charlottesville this Saturday.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Then, I got down to the campus of Virginia Tech. Let me reiterate how beautiful the drive down was - mountains, pastures, cows grazing in them, just beautiful. Almost something from a movie. And the roads just seemed to glide through them with ease. No traffic, no buildings. Just God's country. It may have been one of the most scenic drives I've taken and I can't imagine when spring is really blooming or when the fall leaves are changing colors how this must look.
Well... the campus of Virginia Tech is very pretty as well. I took a 2-3 mile run around it this afternoon. I'm staying at "The Inn at Virginia Tech" which is right on campus and is a great place. Very accessible, affordable, and comfortable.
Tonight, I met up with 8 students from VA Tech. Only 2 of them were members before the meeting - the rest didn't really know much about ISI before. But, now they do and now they're members. I was a bit nervous about this visit down here for the past week as we were going to attempt an ISI soiree, but we couldn't get a room secured and I wasn't sure what the turnout was going to be tonight. But, to my surprise, the turnout was great and the students were very enthusiastic and bright. Sometimes ISI is hard to explain or to understand, but they seemed to really get it.
One student, who is an ISI Campus Representative and only a sophomore, might just start a group and he wants to keep it separate in focus from the College Republicans (of which he is not a part). 5 of the students that came are a part of the CR's here, but they also seemed to be very open to the idea of an ISI chapter and keeping it distinct. Before this visit, ISI had very little presence at VA Tech, but I am hopeful that some of the students I met with tonight are going to change that. Sometimes days will turn around on you unexpectedly - and sometimes in a good way. This was certainly one of those days.
I wasn't expecting the good turnout and the enthusiastic spirit among them. I also wasn't expecting such a scenic drive (even though I sort of was, but it was much more than I had hoped for!) Days like this confirm for me that there is a God. He is the one that brings people together, puts purpose in our lives, and provides so much natural beauty for us to enjoy. He gives us joy - and that is something that can't be appreciated enough.
Monday, March 19, 2007
One professor, Eduardo Velasquez (and ISI author of a forthcoming title, The Consumer's Guide to the Apocalypse) claimed he was "a liberal with something to conserve." He urged the students to take up a study in the great books, in a broad liberal arts education because what we ultimately have to preserve is liberty, but that liberty is something that has to be learned. As "the governed" we are told we "consent" to the government - but we really weren't asked for our consent. Rather, we learn how to work within the system of government that was passed on to us - or we emigrate (if we can).
Professor Lucas Morel compared the view of education by two prominent African-Americans, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. Washington has expressed a more utilitarian view of education at the turn of the twentieth century, mostly the education for survival (training). DuBois on other hand said something like, the university is not a place to make men into carpenters, but rather carpenters into men. Morel stressed the importance of diving into the great books and getting involved with ISI for these reasons - to form oneself. Velasquez agreed but more in terms of how to liberate oneself through books and ideas.
About 20 students attended and there was a lot of enthusiasm for ISI and the great books. A few of the students there were also from the Spectator, the Collegiate Network publication here. They seem to be doing good work but just need to publish more frequently. Most of the students on campus, they say, are conservative, so it's tough to get people writing about issues (not enough liberal bias to write about I guess). But, they have a great group of professors that are dedicated to the cause of preserving liberty through education. It sounds like a great school to go to... and it is an absolutely beautiful campus here in Lexington, VA.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The panel was called "Storming the Last Bastian of Liberalism" (in reference to the univeristies). I was the moderator and my fellow panelists included Ron Robinson, President of Young America's Foundation; Morton Blackwell, founder and President of The Leadership Institute; Elizabeth Kantor, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature; and Professor Mike Adams, of UNC-Wilmington and a regular columnist for Townhall.com.
On Monday, March 5th, the panel was aired on C-SPAN 3. You can check it out here: http://www.c-spanarchives.org/videolibrary/cache/RAM_196940-2-0-0.ram
The panel lasted about 45 minutes, and I speak during the first 5 minutes and a little bit during the Q&A at the end, but C-SPAN cut off part of the Q&A.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The ACU touted this CPAC as the "most successful ever" based mostly on the numbers. Over 6,000 people attended this year's conference. But as I remind students, numbers aren't everything. In fact, David Keene reminded us that at the first CPAC in the 1970s, when Ronald Reagan spoke, only 125 people were there. I bet the discussion was much more elevated.
This year, the high turnout is likely the result of all the GOP Presidential hopefuls speaking - all but John McCain. He claimed he didn't need to be there, that his conservative credentials are unquestionable. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney made it known that he needed to be there - to try to persuade the conservative movement that he is conservative. Well, some people are drinking the kool-aid. And Rudy Giuliani basically stated he didn't agree with many conservatives on some of the core issues (life, family, marriage, guns), but that they should elect him because he knows that it takes to defend this country against Islamic fascists.
I have to give a shout out to some real conservatives that showed up: Sam Brownback, who made a very impressive showing in the CPAC Straw Poll and now appears to be gaining some steam. There were also Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, James Gilmore, and Mike Huckabee. As far as I can tell, these are mostly men of principle and their conservative credentials, unlike some of the "top tier" candidates are unquestionable. But we'll see if the activist base will go back to the base or keep drinking the "I am so scared of Hillary I'll vote for anyone that will win" kool-aid.
And then, there is Ann Coulter. Why does she still get standing-room, line-out the door crowds? She's a nut. And she blew it again. Late last year she said that certain widows of 9/11 were "enjoying" their husbands deaths too much, this time she called a former Senator and current Presidential candidate a "faggot." Yes, this movement has stooped to name-calling.
Where are the Kirk's, Hayek's, Weaver's, Meyer's, or even Reagan? This movement needs to return to a more elevated level of dialogue and still be able to communicate with the average American. Well, ISI tried to elevate some discussion at CPAC and one student told me afterwards, "ISI seems to be the only group that cares about the intellectual (and not just political) life of the movement."
On Friday at 4pm, at the precise time Ann Coulter was speaking in the Regency Ballroom at the Omni Shoreham, ISI held a "State of Campus Conservatism" lecture by the Senior Editor of ISI Books, Dan McCarthy. While the "barbarians" outside the gates (or rather door) were screaming at the top of their lungs, "We Love Mitt! We Love Mitt," McCarthy's point about being more concerned with the intellectual rather than the political side of the movement was hitting home with the 70 students that attended.
On Saturday morning at 10am, about 50 students came to a session of "Conservatism 101" with Mark Henrie, in which he described the history of the intellectual conservatism. He broke down the differences between traditionalists, libertarians, anti-communists, and neo-conservatives and talked about how "anti-communism" was the "glue" that held the different factions of the conservative movement together. He also talked about how different it is to fight against communism than it is to fight against a terrorism fueled by Islamic fascism. Communism is of the Left, Islam is of the Right.
On Saturday at 1pm, I was on a CPAC panel called "Storming the Last Bastion of Liberalism." I'll blog about that on its own in my next entry. And the last act of the day was Newt Gingrich. He was incredible and the crowd was so electric during his speech. Despite his personal flaws, this man could and should be President. He's a intellectual conservative that can communicate ideas effectively.
While there were some hopeful things at this year's CPAC, it all just seemed to be one big circus that housed self-described conservatives inside. If the movement doesn't get itself together, it will either cease to be or cease to be of any relevance.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
On Saturday, the convention lasted all day, beginning about 9am. There were a range of speakers, but the main one I was able to hear was talk radio host Neil Boortz. All I can say is pick up one of his books: The Fair Tax (a best seller) or his new one, Somebody's Gotta Say It. The first one is about what this country desperately needs: all encompassing tax reform. It's a genius (yet simple) plan. The latter title goes after something this country needs less of: political correctness. The speech his gave was flat out HILARIOUS. I've never laughed so hard during a conservative intellectual speech. He is entertaining and I wasn't planning on buying the only title they had avaiable (the new one), but I felt that I had to reward the man for such entertainment and perhaps take some of that entertainment home with me through his writings.
The Young Conservatives of Texas are always a funch bunch of conservative activists. They know how to piss off the Left and have a good time doing it. They also know how to have a good time generally, as is always evident at their gatherings.
On Sunday, I went to mass at a church near downtown Houston and then I joined my friend James O'Keefe (also from LI) for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Houston. As James took off in his car, I prepared to head to the airport. Once I got there, I found out my flight was cancelled (doh!) After 17 days on the road, I was really looking forward to my own bed. But, the snow in Philly prevented me from getting back.
I was at the Southwest Airlines counter and the customer service agent was describing the conditions in Philly (reading from her monitor). It sounded yucky. It was in the 20s, snowing, and less than 2 miles visibility. Meanwhile, in Houston, it was about 75 degrees and sunny. I told her, "maybe I don't want to go back yet." So, I grabbed a room at the aiport hotel and got a good night's sleep and was able to catch the next flight on Monday morning. Once I was back in Philly, the airport shuttle brought me directly to ISI, where I worked the rest of the afternoon. About 18 days in a row working... and there was no telling when I would stop.
I had just 2 days to prepare for CPAC - the largest annual gathering of conservatives that takes place each year in D.C. And I am the "go to guy" for ISI at CPAC. Another full week ahead.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
I didn't spend too long in College Station, but I will say it was a remarkably beautiful day. It must have been 75 degrees. After the soiree, I departed towards Houston. There's literally nothing out there between College Station and Houston. But, the "sprawl" of Houston starts a good 30 miles out. I got to my hotel around 9:30pm and the next morning, I slept in and did some work from the hotel room.
On Thursday night, I visited the campus of Rice University, where ISI Campus Representative Sarah Duke (the daughter of former ISI staff member, Eileen Duke) hosted an ISI soiree. Students from the College Republicans, libertarians, and others attended, as did two faculty members from other campuses, a professor of history froma the University of Houston and another ISI Faculty Associate from Houston Baptist University, who was once an ISI Weaver fellow (I swear I've met about 100 of the 500 former Weaver fellows). I used the technology savvy classroom at Rice University to show the students the ISI history video, walk them through features on ISI’s website, and talked to them about the history of conservatism and how they can get involved with the future of conservatism with ISI.
Some of the students there are already planning a Right-leaning publication on campus, bringing together conservative and libertarians to explore “free thought” on campus. I spoke to them about the Collegiate Network and showed them examples of other CN papers on the CN’s website. We gave out an assortment of materials, including ISI’s Student’s Guides, brochures, journals, and free books. Several students expressed interest in the ISI honors program. Before this visit, we had virtually no activity going on at Rice University, so I am hopeful that this group of students are really developing something nice here. Things certainly seemed promising.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
A year later, the group is off and running, thanks mostly to Michael's efforts. Around 15-20 students have been attending meetings regularly and they are working their way through Russell Kirk's Redeeming the Time. UD faculty members have been instrumental in leading the group through some of the essays. The group also plans to add a service dimension to the group, so that their ideas about cultural renewal do not stop at the end of a page, but instead extend to people in their community. Michael mentioned getting the group involved in the activities of Habitat for Humanity, of which he has been a part of in his home state of Louisiana.
Also on my last visit to Texas last year, I had met several students from Southern Methodist University at the 2006 Young Conservatives of Texas State Convention. After those students attended a workshop I led on how to start a conservative campus publication, they went back to the campus and formed one! They have published ten issues and have just applied for membership with the Collegiate Network. The paper is a small newsletter called The Mustang Post. On this year’s trip, I was able to go back to this campus and visit with the culprits: Reed Hanson, Andy Hemming, and some others.
We put together an ISI soiree. Only about 6 or 7 students attended, but I reminded them that a movement is not just about numbers, in fact, history has been made by small numbers of people and I recounted the biblical idea of a "remnant" that Albert J. Nock points out to us in his Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. According to Nock, even one person could carry on a tradition. So, I told them, "be a remnant!" They're doing a great job at SMU, where right now they are in a big fight to get the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Apparently about 150 of the faculty signed a petition against it. My thought: who wouldn't want a Presidential library on their campus! Another example of partisanship over education.
During my time in Dallas, I had the opportunity to get together with another former ISI student and former LI field rep, Brian Bodine. He is now a grad student at UT-Dallas and he met up with me two evenings in a row to discuss the latest in the conservative world. It was also good for him to meet and get reintroduced to the students at SMU. Brian has quite a bit of experience leading conservative groups from his time down at UT-Austin with those other culprits, Brendan Steinhauser and Charlie Ganske.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I arrived around 11am and the BBQ was not until 5pm, so I had made plans to meet up with Adam Buhrman and his wife Rosa. Adam is the brother of my good friends Rick and Steve Buhrman (an incredible trio). Adam is also a member of a great emerging band, Goldcure. We had a great lunch conversation that mostly involved talking about the culture at large. I've seen Goldcure perform twice, both down in Florida. They are really good. They've only recently moved to Austin for more exposure, and from the sounds of it, people are beginning to notice.
In the afternoon, we held the ISI BBQ. We started at 5pm and lasted until midnight. Throughout the course of the evening, about 40 people attended, where they were treated to great Texas BBQ with plenty of sides. Among our many guests were Chris Simcox of the Minuteman project and Jeff Frazee of the Leadership Institute. The best part about this bbq event, is that ISI brought together various groups "on the Right" at UT-Austin and there was even discussion between some of the members of these groups about collaborating on building an ISI reading group on the nation's largest campus. ISI seems to be the "fusionist" organization at UT-Austin - bringing together the YCT chapter, the Libertarian Longhorns, the CN paper (Contumacy), Catholic Longhorns for Life, College Republicans, and members of various service groups.
On Sunday, Jeff Frazee and I attended mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Austin and then enjoyed a great lunch at an Irish pub. The weather was fantastic, and we sat by the open window, which overlooked Sixth Street. After that, we departed, but I couldn't avoid the temptation to go peer inside the Texas State Capitol, so I did. I really liked seeing the mural on the floor inside the dome: in the center was a large circle representing the "Republic of Texas." Then there were 5 smaller circles surrounding that one that read: Kingdom of Spain, Republic of France, Republic of Mexico, Confederate States of America, and United States of America. These were all the nations that Texas had been a part of (and during one period, they were their own "Republic of Texas")
After that adventure, I drove up to Waco and met up with my ol' ISI colleague, Brian Embry, who put me up at his place for the night. We met for dinner with the ISI Group at Baylor University, which maintains its status as a “secret society” at Baylor and anonymously publishes the Iconoclast, a journal which provokes conservative thought and discussion on campus. I met with this group last year and so I knew most of them already and knew what I was getting into. One member of the group read two poems which he composed, while another member read his thoughtful editorial on the problems of race, sin, and human nature.
My first weekend of my 9-day trip to Texas was complete... more to come!
Friday, February 16, 2007
After that adventure, we departed and I traveled across "Alligator Alley" to Naples, where I met up with the former ISI Membership Director and now a current ISI Campus Representative, Tom Harmon, who hosted an ISI soiree at Ave Maria University. Students at the soiree were interested in applying for the honors program, hosting an ISI lecture on campus, and possibly associating a campus group with ISI. It's a very conservative, Catholic school that will soon be moving to its permanent location later this year about 10 miles from the temporary campus in Naples. The new location will be in the new town: Ave Maria, Florida.
After the soiree, I traveld about 2 1/2 hours north to Tampa, where I crashed at my hotel. The next morning, Friday, February 16, I had lunch with three students at Florida College, a small Christian-based liberal arts college in Temple Terrace. ISI Campus Representative Joseph Bingham brought two other students to lunch to introduce them to ISI (his girlfriend and younger brother). By the end of the lunch, they were talking about the possibility of starting an ISI Group at Florida College, where they said most students were Christian and conservative – except for Joe, who leans libertarian.
Later that evening, I met up with former ISI Campus Representative at CU-Boulder, Ian Vanbuskirk, who is now an ISI alumnus living and working in Tampa. He's working hard and we got together for a happy hour meal in Tampa. It was good catching up. Ian tried to convince me why voting for Rudy Giuliani would still be considered a prudent choice for conservatives in 2008. I'm not so sure about that, but I heard him out. I'm still touting Brownback, I told him. If that ship goes down, my next guy is Newt. And I think with Newt, not only can Republicans win, but conservatives can as well. If both of those guys go down, I don't know who I'll vote for.
Well, enough contemplating that... my 8 days in Florida were now closing to a halt. It has been mostly in the 70s, slightly getting up to the 80s for a day or two. But it was cooling down in Tampa to 40s/50s at night, but beautiful during the day. Now it was time to head to Texas where the temperature looks to be about the same.
Novak talked about the abandonment of federalist principles, but of course couldn't stay away from discussing 2008. He said it didn't look good for conservatives or Republicans. But he said if he had to put money on who would win the Republican nomination, he'd put it on Romney.
On Monday, February 12, I traveled down to the University of Miami, where the ISI Group, the “Advocates of Conservative Thought,” hosted an ISI soiree on campus. While only a handful of students attended, I met with the leadership of the group and we discussed how to build a larger and more effective group. I also introduced them to all of ISI’s resources and how they could effectively utilize these resources on their campus. The students expressed a strong desire to bring speakers to campus through the ISI Lecture program, as the university is bringing former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore on back-to-back days this March - UM's President is a former Clinton staffer, so go figure.
On Tuesday, February 13, FAU Faculty Associate Marshall DeRosa invited me to his afternoon political science class to discuss ISI and conservatism, where I gave a 30-minute lecture on the roots of the American conservative movement, introducing students to the thought of F.A. Hayek, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, and Whittaker Chambers. I also passed out ISI literature, including student’s guides and membership brochures and gave a brief history of ISI and the purpose of “educating for liberty.”
Later that evening, I gave presentations about ISI to two political science classes taught by another FAU Faculty Associate, Dan O’Connell. In these classes, I focused on higher education’s failure to “educate for liberty,” and provided results from ISI's Civic Literacy report and stressed the importance of getting a broad liberal arts education and learning the principles of self-government, set out by our founding fathers. I gave a similar presentation at Professor O’Connell’s political science class at Palm Beach Community College the next evening.
On Wednesday, February 14, ISI Campus Representatives Christopher Hinyub (Honors Fellow 2006-2007) and Kathryn Davis put together an ISI lunchtime soiree at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Most of the students that attended are enrolled in PBA’s honors program, previously established by ISI Faculty Associate Richard Gamble (who now teaches at Hillsdale College). Students were treated to a presentation about ISI, where I also walked them through the features on the ISI website via a projection screen in the classroom. Chris spoke about his great experience on the ISI Honors Fellowship program and encouraged other students to apply. Several students told me they were definitely going to apply for the ISI honors fellowship program.
On Thursday, February 15, I attended the ISI Donor Seminar in Fort Lauderdale (my mom was able to attend to!) ISI’s Senior Vice President, Jeff Cain, and former ISI Weaver Fellow and Weekly Standard editor, William Kristol delivered remarks at a luncheon. About 50 people attended, mostly donors, but a few students and recent grads from the area were there too.
Kristol, known more for his neo-conservative foreign policy, has not really impressed me before. But this time he was very impressive. He spoke candidly about higher education and its weaknesses, but gave mostly an optimistic and hopeful outlook that "the situation is getting better." He spoke about his experience teaching classes at Harvard, where the professors are liberal but the students are open-minded and open to conservative ideas. While his talk was mostly focused on higher education, he too could not stay away from talking about 2008.
The biggest thing he said was whether you agree/disagree with the front runners on the Republican ticket, you have to admit they all have impressive resumes and backgrounds. He said that each of us have at least one problem with almost every candidate, but that whoever is chosen, it will be a man of distinction. Newt, McCain, Romney, and Giuliani were who he discussed in this category. He also said 2008 was one of the most pivotal elections in our lifetime, as it really will shape the country's outlook and agenda for the next 20-30 years.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) spoke at the ISI Young Alumni Association's "Conservatism on Tap" on Monday night, February 5th at the District Chophouse in Washington, D.C. Read more.
I'm on board. Call me a Brownbacker.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
This year's speakers included Hadley Arkes, Michael Novak, Darryl Hart, Michael Barone, Michael Cromartie, Daniel Dreisbach, Jean Bethe Elshtain, and Marvin Olasky. They all gave their take and by the end of the day one could certainly agree with historian Philip Jenkins who has said that America is the story of a Christian nation becoming an even more Christian nation. However, also in that story is the fact that some secularists are trying to wipe religion and its symbols (i.e. Wren Cross at W&M) from the public square.
I've almost reached the point where I'm tired of this debate and I remember back to the times when Christians simply persisted as "remnants" and carried on the traditions despite persecution. Whether or not our religion is in the public square, allowed in the public square, or is banished from the public square, what is much more important is that we seek to follow Christ in our hearts and be witnesses to Him where we can. But, it is still great to see these discussions taking place in such a civil, academic environment. That is rare in these times, and Regent University is one of the few places in this country where that discussion can still take place.
Monday, February 05, 2007
D'Souza destroyed him and made the case for religious freedom on the campus. You can watch it here .
Sunday, January 21, 2007
But, our generation isn't taking this decision sitting down. About 10 years ago, the American Collegians for Life, a student-run organization, began. They had an annual conference that only 5 years ago, attracted just 70 students on the Saturday. Last year, that number grew to over 300. This year, about 500 attended the conference. This is a conference they have to pay $65 to attend and travel from across the country. What struck me most about this year's conference was the amount of HIGH SCHOOL students I saw.
At last year's conference, it was announced that the organization would have a new name: Students for Life of America. They received some major donations and are now able to hire some full-time employees to staff their offices and 8 field reps to travel the nation. Their purpose is to promote pro-life education and activism on college campuses, and now they are extending that mission to include high schools as well. ISI co-sponsors this conference each year and I was proud to have a table there. My purpose was to introduce these pro-life students to ISI. I signed up 52 new members on-site, but all 500 attendees received a conference bag that included ISI literature and an ISI advertisement in their program. So, hopefully we reach them that way.
I was simply happy to be a part of this conference and perhaps the most important "issue" movement in America. The youth of America are the most vocal advocates of the pro-life cause. I think this is so because it was their lives that were the most threatened by abortion. As one t-shirt I saw put it, "My death authorized on 01-22-1973."
"The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion, because if a mother can kill her own child what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between." - Mother Teresa