July 31, 2014

What Sort of World Do You Want to Live In?

It's always quite a challenge to improve on nearly anything VDH writes so I won't even try. My takeaway from this article continues to be the same conclusion I've drawn from Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and others who consistently point out the contributions made by the United States when it is engaged in the world and the dangers that arise when it is not. When the U.S. chooses to use its power, influence, and ideals to further the principles of liberty, free trade, the economic benefits of capitalism, and the empowering elements of forms of governance that encourage education, entrepreneurialism, and innovation the world prospers. When it holds back, the forces of disorder, repression, and authoritarianism try to impose themselves by force leading to collapsed economies, fractured societies, the withering of opportunity, stifling of creativity, and rise of misery. Sometimes we have national leaders that get that; sometimes we don't. But in all cases the American public has the ever-present opportunity to make known what kind of world it wants to live in. And you know what? Elected officials actually respond to public pressure. Hmmm... An informed and involved citizenry really can make a difference. People just have to want to.

Why Is the World Becoming Such a Nasty Place?

by Victor Davis Hanson, July 27th, 2014 - 6:14 pm

Border Disorders

Central American parents send their unescorted children northward in hopes of remittances and eventual anchor amnesty for themselves. Our friend Mexico facilitates the exodus through its own sovereign territory (hoping that no one stops along the transit, and happy that the border is further shredded). Central American governments seem happy too. More money will be sent back home. Fewer mouths will be left to feed. Possible dissidents will emigrate. A new generation of expatriates in the U.S. will grow fonder of and lobby for Central America the longer they don’t have to live there.

We utter “the children,” and discussion about proper culpability, cynical manipulation, and disinformation ends. In such a fantasy world, parents don’t manipulate “the children” as pawns; countries don’t try to export what they see as their surplus population; Mexico doesn’t stir the pot; and liberal activists don’t cynically calculate electoral advantage. There are children in need at the border — but there is a great deal more as well. When the president of the United States renders his nation’s immigration laws irrelevant, people notice. And when he establishes a radical expansion in entitlements, those abroad likewise notice. And when he offers a narrative that “they” are culpable and owe much to the exploited, people arrive.

What If?

Try a thought experiment of extending the logic of the current border disorder. Imagine a growing disequilibrium between Chicago and Canada. (On the other hand, why imagine it since it already exists?) Thousands of the children from the most violent areas of the inner city of Chicago — where shootings are approaching levels in Central America — decide to flee the misery for the chance of something better elsewhere. They head north. Some are preteens; some are teenagers; most are innocents; some gang members; some come with their parents; most do not. Most are poor and without resources and capital. They begin walking or getting on trains to Canada and soon mass there at the border in the thousands, as refugees from horrific conditions of the inner city of Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago. Some gang members have charged them transit fees. Imagine further that U.S. officials, with a wink and a nod, had encouraged them to leave, given the endemic violence, and the social costs of addressing it. Their parents likewise hope that they are adopted by the Canadians, given citizenship and that they soon become anchors for their own emigration out of war-torn Chicago. And imagine what might be the reaction if the children were not welcomed en masse by Canada. Would we then blast and damn Canada as nativist, racist, and uncaring for not openly bringing our “children” into their homes? Would the influx be a moral act on the part of the United States or American parents who willingly facilitated the transit, and would it be a fair charge against Canada for not immediately taking the arrivals in as likely future citizens?

Same Old, Same Old

Vladimir Putin is systematically gobbling up the expanse of the former Soviet Union. He swallows some land, regurgitates a bit, then slowly digests what he gulped down, burps, and then has another slice. Future targeted states, perhaps like Estonia, should understand that they are slated to play the 1939 role of Poland after the earlier Anschluss and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Estonia should consider itself safe because it is a NATO member; but Russia thinks it is most vulnerable precisely because it is a NATO member: what better way to destroy NATO than to champion the Russian minorities of a NATO member as pretext to carving out territory, and to expect nothing at all in response?

The Dutch were outraged that the daughter of Vladimir Putin — whose surrogate thugs just shot down a civilian airliner bound from Holland – was living it up in a penthouse in the Netherlands, but then they quickly apologized for being outraged. It is not like she was Jewish after all. (She finally left.)

Speaking of Jews, mobs of Middle Easterners in the streets of Europe are calling for the destruction of Israel, and at times the completion of the final solution — 70 years after it played out in the streets of Europe. We are told Europeans are worried as these demonstrations become more virulent. But we are confused whether Europeans are worried that their guests are premodern — or instead worried that the world senses their guests are saying things that they would like to say but cannot (yet).

Christians and Jews — So What?
Christians are being exterminated and cleansed from Iraq and Syria. But we seem to think they are equivalent to bible-thumping Texas evangelicals and their killers exotic versions of Che, and so the ethnic cleansing is rarely condemned. If Barack Obama would just close his eyes and envision ISIS, Hamas, or Putin as the Tea Party or Fox News, and then react accordingly, the world would be a safer place.

Israel is trying to figure out an effective policy against Hamas. I say struggling, because Hamas is 7th century: using schools, mosques, and hospitals as missile storehouses, wiring up animals to be suicide bombers, stocking up handcuffs and syringes to capture Israeli soldiers for Aztec-like treatment, urging their civilians to become human shields.

In general, the liberal principle persists that when Arabs on the offense kill lots of Arabs it is normal, but when Jews in defense kill far fewer Arabs it is reprehensible. If Israel were weak, Hamas would do to it what ISIS is now doing to Christians, and the world would react to the rout and slaughter of the Jews with the indifference that it shows to Christians. Wait, it does that anyway.

Yet victory is not an anachronistic ideal; it persists across time and space as long as the human condition remains constant. If the IDF inflicts a great deal of punishment on Hamas, as it did to Hezbollah in 2006, then eventually those whose homes were repositories for missiles and tunnel openings and are now junk will blame (privately) Hamas as much as Israel. Even Hitler lost public opinion once he looked clueless amid the suffering he had caused all those who once cheered him on.

The reputation of Europe, such as it was, is shredded. It weighed Russian commerce and trade versus Russian barbarity, and so far profits have won hands-down. It trashed the interventionism of George W. Bush and now laments the isolationism of Barack Obama — the only constant being whatever America does, it objects to it. What then does Europe want from the U.S.? Apparently a huge American military subject to the dictates of European “soft power,” as an occasional back-up force when European sermons are laughed at abroad (e.g., “If you do not listen to our exalted Athenian logic, then we will turn loose our brutal blood-loving Roman legions on you”). Unfortunately for the Europeans, they got the president they wanted, and now rue that wish. The EU is being exposed as a self-indulgent socialist mess, full of class tensions, increasing racism and anti-Semitism, angry unassimilated immigrants and minorities, and as a proverbial baying lamb with a wolf next door.

United Barbarity
Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon is blasting Israel for retaliating against the barrage of Hamas rockets. He seems content that UN schools were hiding Hamas missiles. The UN has become a de facto ally of Hamas, and Ban Ki-moon’s rhetoric reflects that alliance. In terms of missiles, does he believe that his UN also prevents North Korea from gassing or firing on his homeland — or is South Korean safety due to the presence of the Neanderthal forces of the U.S.? Could not Israel lecture Mr. Ki-moon to be more tolerant of the next over flight of North Korea missiles, to worry less about Pyongyang’s bomb, and to please ask the U.S. to leave South Korean soil?

No-Drama Obama

The U.S. looks at the current global violence and then looks away, after a call for a “pivot” or a flash card calling for Boko Haram to give back the girls it has enslaved. Our generation’s version of the bad memories of the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive is Iraq and Afghanistan. Like our grandparents of the 1930s, we feel that the dead lost abroad in the most recent wars were not worth it — and so ignore the gathering war clouds on the present horizon, as if ignoring them means they must disappear.

Glance about — Central America, Venezuela, China, Russia, Ukraine, Crimea, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Turkey, etc. — and the world outside the West is mostly a nasty place. The three common denominators in all these catastrophes are the usual demagogic leaders blaming someone else for their people’s own self-inflicted miseries, a comfortable West that shrugs that somehow all these depressing things and mean people will just go away — and a tired global enforcer whose community organizer leader went into retirement and offers “make no mistake about it” warnings between swings on the golf course.

Little Boy, the Enola Gay, and the Men Who Turned the Course of History

Not too many years ago I came across a wonderful article in The New Yorker magazine about Atomic John, a “sixty-one-year-old truck driver from Waukesha, Wisconsin, named John Coster-Mullen, who was once a commercial photographer, and has never received a college degree.” Through his own painstaking research over many years, 'Atomic John' was able to piece together just how the first atomic bombs were made and published his findings in a self-published book entitled “Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of LittleBoy and Fat Man.” The book is spiral bound and contains not only the story of Little Boy and Fat Man, told in intricate detail, but also the story of the bombing missions, and the men who flew those missions, over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a fascinating read!

The decisions to develop and use atomic weapons were not easy decisions to make. The historical record is clear that all those involved in the process had a very good idea of what they were committing to and even the long-term consequences of their decision. But their overriding concern was to bring an end to the global war and, hopefully, preclude the enormous casualties expected as a result of the intended Allied Powers' invasion of the Japanese home islands. In fact, operational planners has estimated that casualties might run as high as one million.

While one could spend a lifetime pouring through all that has been written about World War II, the nuclear era that dawned from the Manhattan Project, and the extraordinary stories of the men and women involved, every once in a while there comes along a story or two that provides a nice little peak into all of this. Band of Brothers is one such example in the video world as were Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, among others. Once An Eagle, in the print medium, is a superb fictional work spanning America's experience in war at the personal level, from WWI into Vietnam, in the same way that The Killer Angels or The Red Badge of Courage highlighted the personal perspectives of men engaged in the Civil War.

I'm not claiming that "Atom Bombs" is on such an exalted level but it does provide a peak at the men who were involved with the atomic missions that brought an end to the Second World War, which brings us to this wonderful little story about one of the key crew members of Enola Gay.

There aren't many veterans left from the era that shaped the world we have today. On the one hand the passing of Dutch VanKirk is a simple announcement that there is now one less veteran of that time and one more family that will both mourn the personal loss but also celebrate a life well lived. But on the other, the unique part he played in such an extraordinary story hopefully gives a bit more reason to pause to consider that magnitude of the event, the time, the people, and the issues at stake in that era.

See Last crew member of Enola Gay dies, a brief reporting of the passing of “Dutch” VanKirk, the navigator for the Hiroshima mission and last crew member of the Enola Gay.

July 23, 2014

2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity - Inaugural Edition

The Heritage Foundation has published its inaugural edition of what will be an annual Index on American culture and opportunity intended to track "key social and economic indicators to determine whether important indicators of opportunity in America are on the right track." From the Index:
The 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity tells how social and economic factors relate to the success of individuals, families, opportunity, and freedom. Through charts that track changes, and commentary that explains the trends, the Index shows the current state of some key features of American society and tells whether specific indicators are improving or getting off track.
The Index tracks social and economic factors related to culture, poverty and dependence, and general opportunity in America. In order to monitor trends and measure our country’s progress, this report includes 31 indicators in three categories based on regularly updated national data:
  • Cultural indicators, including data on family, religious practice, and civil society;
  • Poverty and dependence indicators related to marriage and poverty, workforce participation, and welfare spending and participation; and
  • General opportunity indicators, such as measures of education, jobs and wealth, and economic freedom.
 The Overview can be found here.

Short story: America is on the 'wrong track' in 23 of the 31 indicators tracked by the Index across the topical areas of culture, poverty and dependence, and opportunity.

July 20, 2014

The American Idea

"Anyways, it's not a right-left issue, it's a right-wrong issue.
And America's consistently been on the side of what's right.
Because when it comes down to it, this is about keeping faith with the idea of America.
Because America is an idea, isn't it? I mean, Ireland's a great country, but it's not an idea.
Great Britain's a great country, but it's not an idea.
That's how we see you around the world… as one of the greatest ideas in human history.
Right up there with the Renaissance... right up there with crop rotation… The Beatles' White Album...
That idea, the American idea, it's an idea. The idea is that you and me are created equal…
It will ensure that an economic recession need not become an equality recession.
The idea that life is not meant to be endured, but enjoyed.
The idea that if we have dignity… if we have justice… then leave it to us, we can do the rest.
This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it. Because these aren't just American ideas anymore. There's no copyright on them. You've brought them into the world. It's a wide world now.
I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them. And you do. The family tree has a lot of branches. But the thing is… the world has a bit of America in it, too. These truths… your truths… they are self-evident in us."
                                                                - Bono, Georgetown University, Nov 12, 2012
My wife and I saw Dinesh D'Souza's "America" this weekend. I wish he had titled it differently, especially the subtitle "Imagine the world without her" since the movie has nothing to do with how the world would have evolved differently without the influence, workings, and contributions of the United States. Rather, in his paean to our country, D'Souza attempts to refute the various 'charges' made against America (as he identifies them) by various 'America haters' from the liberal academic left and extends his warnings from his last movie, 2016, to draw a damning thread from Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The basic premise is this: the 'haters' believe America stole everything that made its growth possible and has maintained its dominant position by force while D'Souza argues that America's behavior has actually been the opposite of all other great powers throughout history -- defeating enemies but not looting their wealth (in fact, helping them to rebuild); setting into law the foundational principles of equality, justice, the unalienable rights of individuals, and rule of law such that over time they would eventually and consistently trump policies and practices that were antithetical to them (e.g. the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution would eventually work to overturn the practice of slavery and discrimination based on race); and adopting capitalism as the economic foundation for the country such that entrepreneurs, innovators, tradesmen, laborers, and anyone with ambition, a work ethic, and an idea has the opportunity to generate and accumulate wealth unlike any other economic system practiced around the world. 

I think the first part of the movie works as intended in that D'Souza raises facts perhaps not known by the general public while the last part of the movie is a wonderful tribute to the things that America is and what it represents and reminds the viewer of the importance of opposing efforts that would undermine and lessen America. I wasn't too keen on the middle part where he personalizes things too much and for too long but perhaps there just aren't many other ways to point out that there are people in government, academia, and various interest groups who for sundry reasons seek to change America from what it has been to something that would be unrecognizable by those who established her, fought to keep her whole, and who have promoted and protected her for so long. 

Our country is not only an amazing place full of opportunity for anyone with the ambition to 'do something' but the manifestation of an amazing idea that free men and women can 'do anything.' 

The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a system whereby government would be large and powerful enough to do things that private citizens could not, such as defend the country from external threats and establish and enforce a legal framework that protected the rights of citizens and ensured commerce could flow from state to state without undue hindrance but not so large and powerful that it would dominate the people in the very way that the British Crown had to such an extent that the people chose to 'throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Yet people being people, it is common for many to seek an easier path through life, one based on handouts or advantages for which their effort need be minimal if at all, or to fear some other group based on differences in race, ethnicity, religion, or social or economic status. As D'Souza points out, there are those who seek to further their own ambitions by exploiting such tendencies, weaknesses, biases, and prejudices for personal gain whether that is power, influence, profit, and some perverse pleasure in seeing an existing order disrupted just for fun. The challenge, of course, is for the citizenry to see such things for what they are and to have enough awareness, self-discipline, pride, and sense of civic responsibility to reject such charlatans, trouble makers, and selfish opportunists. 

Like any sort of disciplined life--in religion, business, sport, civil society--the fact of the matter is that there are no short-cuts that lead to any sort of sustainable, productive end...at least not one worth having over the long term. The principles woven through the foundational documents of our Nation possess extraordinary power for good, for productivity, for lasting power, and for civic virtue that benefit all of us. But they take time to come to fruition and to have lasting value once in practice. They can withstand numerous abuses as they have within them the mechanisms for correction, but they are not impervious to destruction if the citizenry tolerates too many abuses, too many distortions, and too many false promises for too long a time. 

There are those who are busy turning the various instruments of government against the very people for whom the government is supposed to work. When the IRS is used as a tool for political advantage to intimidate and silence opponents, when the Department of Justice is leveraged to selectively enforce laws based on the preferences of the party in power, or the "bully pulpit" of the presidency or any other elected seat of political power is used to practice the politics of division (race, economic class, social status, ethnicity or country of origin, etc.), when the virtues of our country are used to harm us, exploiting our cultural preferences for altruism, compassion, and an innate desire to help others, Good People should take notice and make clear that our country has served as a beacon for people around the world because of what it is, what it stands for, the IDEA that it manifests. But if that is changed, America can't help but be something else. If those who would change America want America to be like all other countries, then America will be like all other countries. How is that a good thing when the peoples of the world have looked to America precisely because it was different? 

July 18, 2014

Global Crises and the U.S. Defense Budget: Update and Outlook

Given all the reporting about the various crises exploding around the world--Ukraine/Crimea/Russia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Gaza, Libya, China's provocations in the East and South China seas, drug cartels/terrorism/foreign intrusions in Latin America, unsecured borders...you might be curious about our Nation's ability to handle all of it. Well, the picture isn't a pretty one and it gets worse as you look out into the near-future. If you've any interest in why, this video might shed some light. Last week I was asked by the Center for Security Policy to provide an overview of our defense posture and its implications for national security. The presentation is a bit long, about 15 minutes or so, and the Q&A continues from there. I hope it helps illustrate the dangerous consequences of our national budget/spending problem. If it matters to you, contact your representatives in Congress.