Entries from September 2005

From Overseas: Lessons, And Reasons For Hope

David Frum September 29th, 2005 at 12:00 am 1 Comment

We’ve come a long distance from the Third Way. In the 1990s, a new generation of left-of-centre figures replaced the conservatives who had dominated the 1980s. Bill Clinton defeated a worn-out George Bush in the White House. A stumbling John Major lost power to the young and dynamic Tony Blair. Corpulent Helmut Kohl gave way to sleek, mediagenic Gerhard Schroeder. And while nobody would describe Canada’s Jean Chretien as dynamic or mediagenic, his triumph in 1993 confirmed an apparent global electoral trend away from the right.

Nearly a decade later, the pendulum has swung back. Another George Bush holds the White House, this time backed by a Republican House and Senate–concentrating more power in Republican hands than at any time since 1953. Bush’s most important allies, Tony Blair, Australia’s John Howard and Japan’s Junichiro Koizumi, have all won smashing re-elections.

But when the history of this period comes to be written, the short-term pendulum swings of politics will surely look a lot less important than the long-term intellectual trend of the times. Consider:

– Oil prices have shot up as high as US$70 per barrel. In the 1970s, most of the big democracies responded to rising oil prices and inflation by imposing some kind of price controls. Have you heard anybody even mention such an idea today? Not for 100 years has the consensus in favor of market prices held as powerful a hold as it does today.

– Throughout the world, nations are moving away from government-guaranteed pensions to individual retirement accounts: Poland, Chile, Britain and China are some of the countries leading the way.

– In 1980, four-fifths of humanity lived in closed and controlled economies. Today, while the work of reform remains partial and unfinished, four-fifths of humanity has joined the free-trading global economy.

– In North America, the number of abortions performed each year has dropped by about 20% from the level of the 1980s. Crime is declining. Home ownership has reached an all-time high. In the United States, divorce rates have stabilized and the proportion of women working outside the home has actually dipped since 1998: the first time that has happened since 1900. The United States is now the only developed country with a birth rate high enough to replace the existing population–higher than China’s, as a matter of interest.

The point is not that the right wins all the arguments. The right often loses. But when it loses, it loses to fear of change and the force of inertia. It does not lose to the ideas of the left, because the left no longer has any.

All of this may sound strange to Canadian ears. True, by the usual measures of political science, Canada looks like a society that ought to be receptive to the ideological right. Almost two-thirds of Canadian households own their own homes, only slightly less than in the United States. Canada’s public sector is the third-smallest in the G-10 on a per-capita basis, after the United States and Japan. Canadians rank second in gun ownership, again after the United States. Private ownership of stocks and bonds is widespread, unionization is low and church attendance is relatively high. The average Canadian works some 1,750 hours per year, 300 hours more per year than the average French or German worker–the third-longest working year of any advanced democracy after the United States and Australia.

Yet property-owning, church-attending, hard-working Canada has the least competitive centre-right party of any major industrial country.

The United States has had a Republican president for 33 of the 60 years since 1945. Britain has had Conservative prime ministers for 40 of those 60 years. Australia has been ruled from the centre-right for 40 of the 60 postwar years.

Of the eight German chancellors since 1949, five have been conservatives, including the two longest-serving, Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl. (This analysis includes Angela Merkel, assuming she takes office.) All but one of the five presidents of the Fifth French Republic have likewise come from the more conservative party. Italy’s Christian Democrats and now Forza Italia have ruled nearly uninterrupted since 1947; the misnamed Liberal Democratic party has dominated Japan since the end of the American occupation in 1955–and indeed has just won one of the biggest victories in its history.

By comparison, Canada’s Conservative party has been shut out of power at the federal level since 1993 and has held power for a grand total of 16 of the 60 years since the end of the Second World War. Even now, with the Liberals pummeled by the worst political scandal in the country’s modern history, the Conservatives can count on the votes of only about one in four Canadians. Perhaps the only other major democratic country in which the right-of-centre party has performed so consistently poorly is Sweden.

Some will say that Canada’s Conservatives score so poorly because Canada is a fundamentally left-wing nation. Yet at the provincial level, those left-wing Canadians have elected and re-elected leaders like Mike Harris and Ralph Klein.

These provincial victories are not small facts. If Canadians truly prefer high taxes to low taxes, grants to opportunities, and permissiveness to law enforcement, why are they so often willing to elect and re-elect premiers who offer them just the opposite?

The tough truth is that the troubles of the federal Conservatives in Canada tell us much more about Canadian federalism than about Canadian Conservatism.

The federal Conservatives lose elections not because Canadians want an expensive government, but because Canada is a divided nation. Right-of-centre parties are at bottom nationalist parties. They are the parties voters turn to in times of war or danger, the parties they trust to defend the nation, its culture, its unity.

Canada, though, is a country with two national identities, not one. And a very great many people in the more numerous Canadian nation–the one that speaks English–fear that too overt an expression of their national identity will drive the other nation–the one that speaks French–to secede. And so over the past four decades, Canada has changed its flag and its national anthem. It has ceased teaching its history and obliterated the memory of its heroes and its battles. Patriotic Canadians have over the years absorbed the lesson that the best way to protect their nation is by eliminating their own nationhood.

In such a political environment, conservatives will always be suspect. Where would the U.S. Republicans be–or the British Conservatives or the French Gaullists or John Howard’s Australian Liberals–if the rules of the political game required them to agree that America, Britain, France or Australia were defined only by tolerance and diversity–and that the only things that could be called distinctively American, British, French or Australian were a set of malfunctioning social programs? Under those conditions, those triumphant parties would be just as sickly as the Canadian Conservatives.

The crisis of Canadian conservatism is the crisis of the Canadian nation. The challenge for Canadian conservatism is the challenge of the Canadian nation. And if in the end, there is no hope for one–then there won’t be any hope for the other either.

Divided They Stand

David Frum September 28th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

It’s no secret that conservatives have divided ferociously over the decision to go to war to topple Saddam. The dispute was evident early on, when the national security adviser to the first President Bush, Adm. Brent Scowcroft, published an article in The Wall Street Journal attacking the foreign policy of his former boss’s son, the second President Bush–and also of his own favorite protŽgŽe, Condoleezza Rice.

The divisions haven’t healed since. Lining up behind Gen. Scowcroft is a battalion of former ambassadors and uniformed military men, of Republican lobbyists and business executives. And cheering them on is a small but noisy coterie of neoisolationist writers who have effectively depicted George W. Bush’s foreign policy as the work of a cabal of secretive “neoconservatives.”

To illuminate this debate Gary Rosen has gathered articles from conservative magazines and journals, some fully approving of the war and its execution, some mildly critical, some harshly so. Among the volume’s two-dozen commentators are Robert Kagan, Norman Podhoretz, Eliot Cohen, Andrew Basevich, George Will, Andrew Sullivan, Dimitri Simes and Patrick Buchanan. For continuity and timeliness Mr. Rosen has limited his selection to writings from 2004-05, after the “initial volleys of opinion” had ended and the war was well under way.

Without a doubt “The Right War?” makes a valuable contribution both to intellectual history and to the battle of ideas that is still raging in the nation’s op-ed pages. But the book is a much more ambitious project than it might immediately appear. The debate over the Iraq War is not ultimately a debate over Iraq. It is a debate over the whole shape and content of American policy in the Middle East.

Those Republicans who opposed the Iraq War certainly believed that Iraq was not a sufficient threat to American security to require military action. But that is only the beginning of what they believed. Many have been appalled by the whole course of U.S. policy since 9/11 and only grudgingly accepted the intervention in Afghanistan.

As they saw it, the fundamental cause of the rise of anti-American extremism in the Muslim world has been the increasingly visible American presence in the region since 1990–and the best response to terrorism would have been a quick thrashing of the Taliban followed by a swift lowering of the American profile and a conspicuous return to work on the Palestinian problem. Many of these critics may personally doubt that the Palestinian problem can ever be solved. But they know that every hour of presidential time devoted to the Palestinians is an hour that won’t be used to embarrass or inconvenience the Saudis, the Egyptians and other powers whom they regard as American allies or potential allies.

Thus to examine the conservative debate by referring to Iraq alone is to risk misunderstanding the most serious arguments of the war’s opponents. Mr. Rosen notes in his thoughtful introduction that much of the writing about Iraq has been “irresponsible” and “hysterical.” “The Right War?” high-mindedly excludes this material. But this high-mindedness risks distorting the historical record.

Omit the accusations that the war was a Jewish plot foisted on a stupid president by scheming neoconservatives and you omit something important about the mental atmosphere in which the intramural conservative debate over Iraq has been conducted. The article by Mr. Buchanan that appears in “The Right War?” is a relatively anodyne one. But he also wrote this, in the March 23, 2003, issue of the American Conservative: “Cui Bono? For whose benefit these endless wars in a region that holds nothing vital to America save oil, which the Arabs must sell us to survive? Who would benefit from a war of civilizations between the West and Islam? Answer: one nation, one leader, one party. Israel, Sharon, Likud.” This line of thinking can be found only a little way below the surface among some of the most respectable war opponents.

“The Right War?” points to another aspect of the Iraq debate: the growing difficulty of defining who counts as a “conservative” in foreign policy and who does not. The Iraq War has unsettled everybody’s mental map of American politics. You hear Democrats warning that Arabs are culturally unready for democracy and Republicans thundering against the isolationists of the 1930s. Two out of the three senior editors of The American Conservative magazine voted against President Bush–and the three owners of the liberal New Republic almost certainly all voted for him.

Meanwhile many critics of the Iraq War insist that those who support the war are not “conservatives” at all but risk-taking Jacobins. They point to President Bush’s often startling speeches, which have criticized Western governments, including presumably the U.S. government, for 60 years of “excusing tyranny in the region, hoping to purchase stability at the price of liberty.” Yet if this kind of idealistic talk excommunicates George W. Bush from the church of conservatism, it likewise must bar Ronald Reagan, who spoke the same language.

In politics, nothing lasts forever. Just as Pearl Harbor brought down the curtain on American isolationism for decades to come, so 9/11 seems to have discredited sentimental liberal multilateralism. What remains is a debate among forms of conservatism. This debate is encapsulated in Mr. Rosen’s timely, intelligently selected and highly recommended book.

Bush Is Incurious And Dogmatic, But He Is Still The Right Leader

David Frum September 27th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

This has been a very bad month for the Bush presidency, maybe the worst to date: Hurricane Katrina, bad news from Iraq and grumbling from within the president’s own party over spending and immigration. The man who once scored the highest approval numbers in the history of U.S. presidential polling is now scoring some of the lowest.

There is no denying that much of the trouble is the president’s own fault. He chose to appoint Michael Brown to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He chose to spend lavishly on highways and farmers and a new prescription drug benefit at the same time as he was fighting a global war on terror. And of course it is he who remains the final decision-maker on national security.

I will say, though, as one who worked for the president and still critically supports him, that I find the sudden surge of public disenchantment with Mr. Bush very difficult to understand. If you were looking for a diligent manager of the office of the presidency, a close student of public policy, a careful balancer of risks and benefits–George W. Bush would never be your man. But is this news?

The case for President Bush has never been that he was a master of detail. The case is the opposite: that he is a leader who dares greatly and accepts risks from which most politicians would flinch.

Political pundits too often praise risk-taking and bold leadership in the abstract. Then, when things go wrong or prove difficult, those same pundits cluck and condemn. But risk-takers never enjoy 100 per cent success. That’s why it is called “risk”.

So let us interrupt the post-Katrina Bush-bashing for a moment to measure the boldness of the risks this president has run.

Look first at Mr. Bush’s Social Security reform proposals. His immediate predecessor, Bill Clinton, had used the slogan “save Social Security first” to beat back Republican tax-cut proposals. It was an ingenious tactic, and it worked–tactically.

But Mr. Clinton’s clever maneuvers did nothing for the program he was ostensibly defending. It remained just as bad a deal for America’s young workers as ever. Its finances remained just as unsustainable as ever.

If anything, Mr. Clinton’s political success actually aggravated the program’s problems, by intensifying the taboo against talking honestly or sensibly about the future of the Social Security program.

The plan to reform Social Security now seems to be stalled in Congress, and Mr. Bush’s detractors can call this a failure if they wish.

But those who have followed this debate will remember that as recently as 1982, personal accounts in Social Security were condemned as an idea from the outer fringe–so much so that when a whiff went around that Ronald Reagan might favor them, the “Great Communicator” hastily convened a commission under Alan Greenspan to distance himself from anything like the suggestion of reform.

Mr. Bush has moved personal accounts from the fringe to the centre of the American debate. His proposals have faltered for now. They will return–and next time, the momentum for reform will be much stronger.

Or consider tax reform. Many economists believe that the ultimate solution to the problems of pensions and healthcare in aging societies must begin by shifting the burden of taxation from production to consumption. This idea, also, has been virtually taboo as a public discussion topic in the US until now.

But Mr. Bush’s tax reform commission will soon report, and it is a good bet that it will recommend just such a change. Congress may act on the report or not. But the debate has been transformed–and forever.

All this holds true most of all for Mr. Bush’s security policy. It was Mr. Bush who rejected America’s former policy of treating terrorism as essentially a legal rather than a military policy. It was Mr. Bush who declared that henceforth, the US would call to account not only individual terrorists, but the states that sponsored them.

The real danger after the attacks of September 11 2001 on America was not that the US would “overreact”–how can a nation overreact to a devastating terrorist attack on its greatest city?–but that it would under-react by persisting in the failed methods of the past.

Instead, and for the first time, the US deployed a response commensurate to the injury and insult that had been perpetrated.

And after a decade of hesitation, Mr. Bush did what his predecessors kept saying it was necessary to do, but somehow never got around to doing. He removed from power the Middle East’s most dangerous and aggressive dictator, its most persistent supporter of terrorism and seeker of weapons of mass destruction: Saddam Hussein.

The aftermath of the war has been nasty indeed. But does anybody ever stop to consider where the world would be now had Mr. Bush opted to leave Mr. Hussein in place?

The Iraqi leader would be by now earning an oil income of billions of dollars a month. The inspections regime authorized by the United Nations in 2002 would long ago have collapsed, as it did in 1998. Sanctions would have dwindled away. An enriched Mr. Hussein would be poised to exploit the opportunities created by the stresses and strains of the global war on terror.

There is an almost perfect opposite case to Iraq in the form of Iran and the controversy over the country’s nuclear program. There, Mr. Bush has followed the advice of his European allies. He has taken the matter to the UN. He has followed the conventional rules of the game.

The result: an emerging policy failure that will be far more catastrophic than anything that is happening in Iraq–an Iran that has defied an ineffectual international community to pursue an arsenal of nuclear weapons. To paraphrase John Milton: “Inaction hath her defeats, no less ignominious than action.”

In a 2003 book about Mr. Bush, I offered this assessment of his personality: Mr. Bush is “a good man who is not a weak man. He is impatient, quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic, often uncurious, and as a result ill-informed . . . (but) outweighing the faults are his virtues: decency, honesty, rectitude, courage, and tenacity”.

That appraisal still seems accurate to me. It was on that basis I dubbed Mr. Bush “the right man”.

His multiplying critics may disagree with that verdict–but surely they must agree, even in this season of trouble, that George W. Bush has at least dared to ask the right questions and accept the right challenges.

Marching Against War–and Jews

David Frum September 27th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

In Washington last weekend, tens of thousands of people gathered in the largest protest to date against the Iraq war. The tally has to be approximate: The National Park Service no longer provides estimates of attendees at rallies and demonstrations, and counts by the groups themselves are notoriously unreliable. But there is no denying that the 9/24 event was large and active. So it’s worth asking: Who were these demonstrators? And what do they stand for?

Byron York of National Reviewdescribed one group of protesters, college students, who marched from a subway station to the Ellipse, near the White House. They chanted: “From Palestine to New Orleans, No more money for the war machine!” Then, as they got more excited, they changed their slogan to: “How are Israeli soldiers paid? Only through U.S. aid!”

York continued: “Someone in the group carried a sign advertising a Web site, nowarforisrael.com. The site’s homepage carried the headline, “Meet just a few of your Jewish Supremacist Warmongers,” above photos of William Kristol, Richard Perle, Ari Fleischer, Ariel Sharon, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams and Douglas Feith.

It was not just conservatives who noticed the protest’s anti-Jewish focus. At dailykos.com, perhaps the most widely visited left-wing Web site in the United States, one blogger posted this comment:

“Watching clips of the Answer Anti-War Rally, all I see are things that I want nothing to do with. I am a staunch supporter of Israel, and its fundamental right to exist. I bet you that the majority of Americans who are against the war are too. Yet I watch this rally and see people basically supporting Hamas, etc., and the suicide killings of innocent Israelis in cafes, on buses, etc. If you want to break down the coalition of people against the war, turning this into a hate the Jews/Israel party is an easy way to do it.”

One of the speakers at the rally was the British MP George Galloway, ejected from the Labour party in 2003 for his outspoken support for Saddam Hussein. In 1994, Galloway led a delegation to visit Saddam and opened the meeting with this greeting: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory until Jerusalem.” In May, 2005, a U.S. Senate committee issued a report naming Galloway as the recipient of money diverted from the oil-for-food program by Saddam. In interviews, Galloway has described Israel as “this little Hitler state on the Mediterranean.”

Another speaker was Lynne Stewart, the New York lawyer who represented Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheik convicted in the 1995 plot to blow up New York City landmarks including the United Nations and the Holland Tunnel. Stewart herself was convicted in February, 2005, of aiding terrorism by relaying orders from the sheik to his followers to commit new attacks. (She was able to attend the rally because she is out on bail pending sentencing.)

Also speaking was Michael Shehadeh, one of the famous “Los Angeles 8″–illegal residents of the United States whom the Immigration Service detained and sought to deport for their fundraising work on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group that hijacked the Air France flight to Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. The group is still active: In 2002, Israeli intelligence barely foiled a PFLP plot to blow up a Tel Aviv skyscraper with a car bomb.

One would like to believe that characters like Galloway, Stewart and Shehadeh are fringe figures in the anti-war movement. It is troubling to imagine that one could find thousands of Americans willing to be represented in such a way. But if they are fringe characters, why are they speaking from the rostrum?

Yet it could also be said that by featuring such people, the anti-war movement in the United States is performing a true public service. It is revealing something that it is important for all of society to know. It is revealing that at the core of these so-called peace marches you will find a leadership that strongly supports acts of war targeted against Americans and Jews. You will see that the radical left and extremist Islam–while they may disagree ideologically–can find common cause, as the hard leftist Lynne Stewart found common cause with Sheik Rahman.

Galloway’s least favorite stop on his current U.S. cross-country speaking tour must have been his appearance at Baruch College in New York to debate Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, himself an escapee from the hard left, knows as much about its workings and its psychology as any living man. During the debate, Galloway repeated one of his favorite lines: “Some of you in this hall may believe that those airplanes on Sept. 11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us.”

And Hitchens’ reply to those words at Baruch should stand as the ultimate verdict on the true purposes of the strange coalition of hard leftists, jihadists and eternal anti-Semites who now claim to speak for “peace”: “This is masochism. But it is masochism offered to you by sadists.”

Older And Wiser?

David Frum September 26th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The first issue of The Weekly Standard appeared in September 1995, part way through the Clinton administration, and less than a year after the Republican victory in the congressional elections of 1994. The pressing foreign policy issue of the day was Bosnia. The world seems a very different place today. To mark the magazineÕs 10th anniversary, it invited several of its valued contributors to reflect on the decade past and, at least indirectly, on the years ahead. More specifically, it asked them to address this question:

“On what issue or issues (if any!) have you changed your mind in the last 10 years- and why?” The responses of AEIÕs David Frum and Reuel Marc Gerecht follow.

David Frum:

Ten years ago, I thought of immigration as a technical and law-enforcement issue, easily dealt with. Back then, I was already concerned that the skill level of legal immigrants had dropped off sharply since 1970. (Before 1970, foreign-born Americans on average earned higher wages than native-born over their lifetimes; after 1980, they began to earn substantially less.) I was concerned too about the rise in illegal immigration, despite the tough new enforcement measures promised as part of the immigration amnesty of 1986.

It seemed to me then, though, that the worst was probably past. Americans were so very obviously angry about the harm done by misconceived immigration policies that some politician was sure to come along and reclaim the issue from the xenophobes, just as Richard Nixon had reclaimed law-and-order from George Wallace in 1968.

Was I wrong!

Over the past decade, the will to enforce immigration rules has collapsed to something close to zero. Imagine if the United States enforced its drug laws the way it enforces its immigration rules. Local governments would be building open-air drug markets the way they now build hiring halls for “day labor.” The federal government would forbid private employers to use drug tests, as it now forbids them to ask non-English-speaking employees for proof of legal residence. It would make it as easy to relabel illegal drugs as legal as it now makes it for illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and other identity papers. When it intercepted a shipment of drugs, it would charge the smuggler–and then release the drugs back onto the market for resale. It would be nonsense then to talk about “illegal” drugs, wouldn’t it?

The fact is that the United States has a single immigration policy, of which illegal immigration is regarded by the authorities as simply the lowest-paid component. The commitment to the non-enforcement of the law is so strong that not even 9/11 could shake it. And so today the United States is debating yet another amnesty and a guest-worker program that would in effect open the borders to pretty much anybody who wished to enter.

My own thinking, since that’s the question here, has evolved in this direction: The immigration laws need to be enforced. As acts of Congress, they stand as the supreme law of the land, and state and local governments cannot be allowed to ignore and defy them. Talk of amnesty and guest-worker programs is not only premature, but profoundly improper. Legal immigration should be reoriented as a way to recruit skilled labor and mitigate shortages in specific labor categories. The total number of immigrants to be accepted should be set in line with the birth rate. The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that births to immigrant mothers now account for one out of every four American births; births to illegal mothers, for one out of every ten. Like wine with food, immigration is splendid as an accompaniment to natural increase, dangerous as a substitute. Refugee admissions should remain generous–the United States, Canada, and Australia have a special role to play as the ultimate refuge for people and groups under threat–but asylum should be focused on situations of true and acute danger and should not be allowed to expand into yet another route around the law, as has happened in Europe.

Is this a change of mind? Maybe it would be more accurate to describe it as an opening of the eyes.

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

Reuel Marc Gerecht:

Ten years ago, I believed reluctantly in the unavoidability of dictatorship in the Middle East. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the Saudi royal family, and the Algerian military junta were all, so it seemed to me, better than the alternative: Islamic militants who would bring an even less liberal order.

The perversions of these regimes were already evident–all had, through both oppression and support, given rise to nasty strains of Islamic fundamentalism. But the Saudis had played a special role. In their great fear of Iran’s radical revolution–whose chiliastic appeal had provoked a nearly successful murderous assault upon the royal family in the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979–the Saudis went into hyper-drive promoting Wahhabism, their state creed and the most lethally anti-Shiite and anti-Western form of Sunni fundamentalism. It was enormously difficult then to stomach the historical nonsense that one often heard from foreign-service officers at the Department of State, from senior U.S. military officers attached to the Middle East-centered Central Command, and from executives of American oil companies, to wit: The Saudi royal family was a great friend of the United States, and Saudi Islam was a traditional faith that did not threaten its neighbors. (Oil company executives and military officers who rarely know Arabic or much Islamic history can be forgiven their views; towards foreign-service officers–who went to school to learn Arabic and could, if so inclined, leaf through the voluminous tracts of Wahhabi literature published by the Saudi government and distributed worldwide–it is harder to be charitable.)

Ten years ago it was evident that the Saudis, and the Wahhabi religious establishment to which the family is wed, had gone far to destroy the tolerance traditional in Sunni Islam throughout the Middle East. Especially significant was the change in once-great religious schools like al Azhar in Cairo, a onetime staunch and successful opponent of the hatred that marauding Saudi warriors and their missionaries had always brought with them for two centuries. Oil money, notably in the form of Wahhabi-funded religious scholarships and stipends, and the strategic eminence that the United States helped give to Saudi Arabia, degraded the Middle East’s more humane and forgiving ethics, descended from the Ottoman empire. By the 1990s, the double assault of Wahhabism and Arab nationalism (another historic love of many foreign-service officers in the Near Eastern Bureau) had made the modern Arab Middle East a truly ugly place.

Yet despite all of this, it was intellectually difficult to move past the fear of another Islamic revolution. For those of us raised on European, especially Anglo-Saxon, history, which underscored (and esteemed) the slow evolution of democratic institutions and sensibilities, it was particularly hard to see the building blocks for democratic societies in the Muslim Middle East. It appeared to many, including me, that an AtatŸrkist approach–enlightened dictatorship ushering in a secular, democratic, liberal order–was the more likely route for a democratic evolution in Arab countries.

September 11 demolished this view (which, admittedly, was pretty shaky). Dictatorships that both encouraged and suppressed Islamic militancy had in great part given us Osama bin Laden and his new diehard holy-warrior creed. Waiting for an Arab AtatŸrk had become a lethal cul-de-sac. Islamic ethics were evolving in a catastrophic direction. September 11 opened my eyes to a widespread internal Muslim evolution that I should have seen before. It was blatantly obvious in Iran, where the revolution’s democratic and theocratic aspirations were in a death struggle, and the latter were clearly losing, among the people and the clergy. A democratic reformation of Shiite thought was well underway. And if one bothered to look, the same process, not as far advanced, was happening in the Sunni Muslim world.

The 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has kicked this democratic discussion into high gear. As in Shiite Iran, in Sunni Arab countries democracy will eventually succeed if the traditional community–particularly the religious classes and what is often called, somewhat inaccurately, the fundamentalist movement–becomes part of the great democratic debate. This is exactly the opposite of what I expected: liberal or dictatorial secularists’ leading the way to democracy in the Middle East.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow at AEI.

Germany Needs A Jolt

David Frum September 20th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

German voters have just elected a parliament that will not address the country’s most important problems, that cannot make strong decisions and that will put off until tomorrow actions that desperately need to be taken today.

That’s bad news for Germany’s five million unemployed. It’s bad news for Europe as a whole, slumped in economic malaise. And it’s bad news for North Americans, who are facing a future in which the democracies of Europe will matter less and less–and an aggressive and possibly hostile China will matter more and more.

Two years ago, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies published an alarming study of the German economy’s long-term problems. Since 2002, it has not grown at all. In the 10 previous years, from 1992 to 2002, it grew at the dismal rate of 1.4% per year, after inflation. Germans cannot fairly blame the costs of reunification for their troubles: In the last decade before reunification, 1980-89, the German economy grew at a rate of only 1.9%–far behind the United States and the United Kingdom, and below average even for Western Europe.

What’s holding Germany back?

Just as an example, consider its laws on shopping hours. Until the mid-1990s, all German stores, including food stores, were obliged to close by 6 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Sunday shopping was banned altogether. In 1996, one small reform allowed stores to open longer during the Christmas season. In 2002, reformers gained another small victory: Shops could stay open until 8 p.m. during the week. But even now, it remains illegal to sell bread on Sundays or to buy a dress after 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Few Germans will defend their outmoded laws–but the power of trade unions and small shopkeepers has again and again prevailed over public opinion.

It’s not just shop hours. German business is a maze of rules, regulations and restrictions that discourage innovation and job creation. The German welfare state offers lavish sick leave and disability benefits, tempting workers to quit their jobs despite the world’s highest average pay and benefits. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of the German adult population at work declined by an average of 0.7% per year.

And once a German leaves his job, it is hopeless to expect him to move to find another. In order to discourage real estate speculation, the German government charges a 10% tax on the purchase or sale of a house or apartment–which makes moving to another town or neighborhood a very expensive gamble for a job-seeker.

Meanwhile, high housing costs contribute to the collapse of the German birth rate: Today there are more Germans over age 60 than under age 20.

Germany desperately needs a jolt. What it was offered instead was a choice between the reactionary Gerhard Schroeder and the listless Angela Merkel. True, Schroeder introduced some tentative welfare reforms in 2002, when he was still trying to position himself as the Teutonic Tony Blair. He quickly figured out, however, that there was far more political profit in opposing change than advancing it. So he seized on the Iraq war as an opportunity to speak up for the anti-Americanism that still ran strong in eastern Germany.

Earlier this year, the cover of the in-house magazine of Germany’s largest union, IG Metall, ran a cartoon that caricatured American investors in German companies as bloodsucking mosquitoes. Some noted that the image in the cartoon hearkened back to a famous image of the Nazi era. Guido Westerwelle, the leader of Germany’s pro-immigration, free-market party, the Free Democrats, spoke out against the caricature at a public meeting: “I say this as a liberal, with the greatest clarity: I am against hate of foreigners from the right, but I am also against hate of foreigners from the left.” But Schroeder did not rebuke his allies: Instead he called for new regulations to punish foreign investors who tried to rationalize German businesses.

These methods worked. In May, Schroeder stood almost 20 points behind the Christian Democrat Merkel in the polls; on Sunday, they ran almost exactly even.

Merkel did not help her own cause. While constantly arguing for the need for radical change, she offered few specifics of what she had in mind. Her vagueness allowed Schroeder to get away with accusing her of harboring all kinds of scary secret agendas, while she herself never offered a vision of the future exciting enough to overcome Schroeder’s mindless defense of the failed status quo.

So the status quo will continue, and Germany will fall further and further behind, dragging the rest of Europe with it. For the rest of the West, this implies a future that is far more lonely and dangerous than it might otherwise have been. When Europeans and Germans blame Americans for “unilateralism,” they might from now on ask themselves a little more searchingly whose fault it really is that the Americans so often feel that they have no one but themselves to rely upon in an increasingly threatening world.

Mulroney Has Much To Be Proud Of

David Frum September 17th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

When U.S. President Harry Truman got mad, he would write an angry letter to the person who had offended him, seal it in an envelope, put a stamp on it–and then wait until the next morning and throw it away. Brian Mulroney would have been well advised to try this technique. Instead, he talked and talked and talked into a tape recorder in the hands of Peter C. Newman. Newman has now used those tapes in just the way that anybody could have predicted.

The question is: What use should Canadians make of these tapes? Newman has given Canadians a glimpse of Mulroney at his most unguarded. That is not necessarily the same as giving Canadians a glimpse of the man as he really was. Newman offers Canadians secret, titillating revelations. But the most important truths about the Mulroney government have always lain open to public view.

In nine years in office, Brian Mulroney put an end to Pierre Trudeau’s disastrous experiments in state control of the economy. He re-opened the border to foreign investment, liberated the energy sector, and began the privatization of Petro-Canada. He shifted the border of taxation from production to consumption, by cutting income taxes and introducing the GST.

It was Brian Mulroney who extracted from the U.S. the 1991 deal that radically reduced emissions of pollutants that cause acid rain: In 2005 a panel of 10 environmentalists reluctantly voted Brian Mulroney the title of the greenest prime minister in Canadian history.

He negotiated a U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement in 1988, which later grew into the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some suggest that any 1980s prime minister would have put through an FTA. Well, to borrow an old radio-era joke, “I vas dere, Sharlie,” and it did not look so automatic at the time. Opposition to the FTA was hysterical, really often close to insane. Opponents charged that it would force Canada to abolish medicare, to scrap unemployment insurance, to ship the waters of Lake Superior to Arizona, to sell the wombs of Canadian women to American corporations in search of surrogate mothers.

Instead, cross-border trade surged from US$192-billion in 1989 to US$441-billion in 2003. By 2003, one Canadian job in three was sustained by exports to the U.S.–and thus by Mulroney’s Free Trade Agreement. And no, medicare did not disappear. Indeed, it’s arguable that Mulroney’s trade agreement may have saved–or anyway postponed the day of reckoning for–the Canadian welfare state.

Even many of those who broadly supported Mulroney’s economic policies condemn him for the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional accords. But let’s remember please the challenge Mulroney faced. During the 1980 Quebec referendum, Trudeau had promised major constitutional reform if Quebec voted “no.” Quebecers did as asked–and Trudeau then pushed through a constitutional package that the government of Quebec refused to ratify. This would seem like rather a large problem for Canada, not to mention a serious breach of faith.

Meech attempted to solve this problem. It failed, and since its failure, separatists have dominated the politics of Quebec. They didn’t quite win their second referendum in 1995, but they are poised to try again in another year or two. Probably they will lose, but maybe not. It all seems a very high price to pay to uphold Trudeau’s dreamy utopian vision of what a constitution should look like if only language, ethnicity, history and culture mattered as little to the rest of humanity as they did to him.

Was Brian Mulroney a good prime minister?

He never did dare cut spending very much, and so despite solid economic growth, Canada’s debt continued to grow–one reason that the 1991-92 recession hit Canada harder than any other major industrial economy. His political coalition fell apart, the Liberals returned to power, and balanced the books by imposing crushing taxes on Canadian families. They also engaged in an explosion of patronage and corruption that make Mulroney look like Archibald Cox by comparison.

So the record is very far from perfect. But then it always is, isn’t it? In politics, everything is a matter of balance, triumphs against defeats, courage against opportunism, human flaws against human nobility. And weighed in that balance, Brian Mulroney ranks among the very best leaders Canada has ever had, certainly the best since Louis St. Laurent. And if he ranks behind the very greatest, behind for example that boozy, cunning, patronage-dispensing old rascal John A. Macdonald–it may well be because Macdonald had the sense never to trust a Peter C. Newman.

The Decline Of Old Europe

David Frum September 13th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

COLMAR, France–Visiting this charming Alsatian town for a conference on European defense, I tuned into French TV 5 for half an hour on Sunday evening. I caught the final segment of a program called Ripostes, a French-language Crossfirewith three on a side.

The topic for debate: “Is the United States a superpower with feet of clay?” The program was dominated by Emmanuel Todd, a French intellectual who has made a large reputation for himself in France with lip-smacking predictions of an imminent collapse of American power.

The effect of Todd’s warnings was spoiled a little by the commercials that punctuated the show. One moment there was Todd, a handsomely coiffed French writer in a splendidly tailored shirt urging the nations of the world to join together to reject American hegemony.

The next minute, a big glass of orange juice is being poured as Louis Armstrong sings “It’s A Wonderful World” in English. Immediately after that, five young people chant “one, two, three, four, five” in English as they pile into a new Honda. Now it’s an advertisement for ring tones for your mobile phone: a choice of the best of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, and other American rappers. Once the commercials end, it’s time for the evening’s movie: Rocky IV.

One of the best books I read this summer was Philippe Roger’s The American Enemy, a history of French anti-Americanism. With immense scholarship and shrewd wit, Roger argues that French anti-Americanism has very seldom had very much to do with America as it exists: Indeed, many of the most celebrated of France’s anti-American intellectuals have known little if anything about the United States.

They may talk about America, but they are thinking of France.

And right now, the French political class is deeply anxious and pessimistic. The economy is performing badly: The official unemployment rate exceeds 10% and would be far worse but for a series of ingenious tricks. (The French have created a category of “intermittent” workers–actors for example–who draw benefits from the government when not at work, but who are not counted as unemployed. Ditto for the 32-year-old graduate students extending their educations indefinitely. Ditto for the displaced factory workers who get themselves classified as “disabled.” Ditto for workers in the electrical and natural gas monopolies who are permitted to retire at age 55.)

Off the job, things are not going much better. French cities feel increasingly disorderly and dangerous. The French majority is not bashful about expressing its fear and resentment of the Muslim minority. The minority in turn does not disguise its alienation and hostility. French security officials say that France cannot expect to be spared an attack from within like those which struck Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

Unhappiness with the status quo has weakened the authority of France’s political leaders. In June, French voters rejected the draft European constitution–a project more or less invented by the French state. Critics had attacked the constitution (absurdly) as an “Anglo-American” document–but in retrospect, even many former critics are lamenting that the French non marks the end of French political dominance within the European Union.

Decline-and-fall, then, is a topic much on the minds of people here.

How very comforting, then, to hear that what is declining and falling is . . . the United States.

Whatever else you may say about America, it is a superb all-purpose excuse for the failures of socialism. Across the Rhine in Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder–who presides over an even more troubled economy–is trying to repeat his 2003 come-from-behind political victory by again campaigning against the United States.

Every time his Christian Democratic opponent Angela Merkel scores against him for economic mismanagement, he replies–as he did in last week’s television debate–that to vote against him is to vote for George Bush, the war in Iraq, and the floods in New Orleans. Six weeks ago, Schroeder seemed headed for political obliteration, but since he began sounding his blame-America themes, his poll numbers have risen steadily.

Europe’s problems are obvious: slow economic growth, ageing populations, extremism in its immigrant communities. The solutions are unfortunately equally obvious: lower taxes to encourage business creation and family formation, deregulation to reduce the cost of living for ordinary people, a firm determination to assimilate newcomers to prevailing European values and norms. Obvious as those solutions are, however, they are also unpalatable and unmentionable.

And so rather than mention them, Europe’s political and intellectual leaders fill the airwaves with fond announcements of the doom of the superpower whose success might remind European voters that their countries could do better. It’s not very honest. It’s not very admirable. It is, though, to quote somebody who truly did foresee and warn against so much of what has gone wrong for Europe over the past hundred years: “human, all too human.”

Who Are We?

David Frum September 12th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Who are we? ItÕs an eternal human question, and though it is only three words long, it can be posed in three radically different ways. “Who are we?” can be the question of the newly independent country or the newly liberated group: Where do we come from, what is our story? “Who are we?” can also be the question of the troubled or the uncertain, the question of conscience. And finally, “Who are we?” can be the question of the nation at war or the group under attack: Where is the boundary to be drawn between us and those who threaten us–who is in the group and who is out?

Phrased that last way, this eternal human question has suddenly become immediate and urgent for the nations of Europe. At the Labour partyÕs national conference nine days after the first London bombing, British prime minister Tony Blair offered a powerful and memorable answer: “The spirit of our age is one in which the prejudices of the past are put behind us, where our diversity is our strength. It is this which is under attack. Moderates are not moderate through weakness but through strength. Now is the time to show it in defense of our common values.”

Some might scoff that Blair is putting the prejudices of the past behind us in order to vacate more room for the prejudices of the present. But unpack BlairÕs words more fully, and you do get a coherent proposition. What is under attack, says Blair, is a “spirit of the age,” the spirit that hails “diversity” as “our strength.” The attackers are Islamic extremists who “demand the elimination of Israel; the withdrawal of all Westerners from Muslim countries . . . ; the establishment of effectively Taliban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.” And from there, Blair could have added, ultimately to all the world–for the London bombers very much envision Britain as a subject territory of the new caliphate.

All true, and all well said. But what about the attacked? What are these common values they share? What do they believe? Who are we?

Uniform Diversity

From the very beginning of the 9/11 conflict between radical Islam and the West, these hard questions have haunted national leaders, strategists and writers, and the general public. In the early days of the War on Terror, there used to be a species called “the liberal hawk.” George Packer (himself one of the most impressive of the species) wrote an article about them for The New York Times Magazine. The species is endangered now. These birds turned out to be highly susceptible to even the slightest change in the climate of their native habitat. They fell victim too to the disease of anti-Bush distemper, and over the past few months almost all of them have shed their once bold plumage, changed their colors, or disappeared altogether.

In their heyday, however, the liberal hawks offered a bold definition of the issue at stake. It was, Paul Berman argued, a battle of liberalism against terror. Or, as Andrew Sullivan argued in October 2001: “This surely is a religious war–but not of Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. Rather, it is a war of fundamentalism against faiths of all kinds that are at peace with freedom and modernity. This war even has far gentler echoes in AmericaÕs own religious conflicts–between newer, more virulent strands of Christian fundamentalism and mainstream Protestantism and Catholicism.”

The liberal hawks offered many opinion leaders a war they could understand and welcome: Round CCCLV of the ongoing struggle between the forces of enlightenment on one hand and religious obscurantism on the other. Ecrasez lÕinf‰me, as Voltaire demanded so long ago–and as the American Civil Liberties Union is still busily attempting to do. “Crush the infamous thing”–that thing being the Christian Church and especially the Catholic Church. You may have caught echoes of this line of argument in your daily life. “You oppose same-sex marriage? So how are you different from those Islamic extremists?” Or: “Hey, I would have thought you would approve of the way the Taliban treated women.” Think of all those jokes about the “Taliban wing” of the Republican party.

Tony Blair was the original liberal hawk, albeit one endowed with rather more staying power than most of the breed. Still, you can catch a continuing echo of the Old Labour way of thinking in his July 16 speech to the Labour-party conference: They believe in the global caliphate; we believe in . . . diversity, which is to say, in everything, which is again to say, in nothing. ThatÕs why Blair refers to “our common values” without dropping any hint as to what those values might be. To name them would be to exclude others, and to exclude things is to acknowledge limits to our diversity.

But of course all societies are diverse, and in many respects more diverse than our own. Compare Britain to, say, Egypt. Egypt is home to English-speaking Harvard graduates with second homes in Switzerland–and to illiterate peasants who have seen little more of the world than the backside of an ox. The differences between rich and poor, urban and rural, men and women, adults and children, the military and civilians, the religious and the secular, those connected to modern technology and those cut off from it, those with access to the law, banks, and education and those denied it, those who support the social and political status quo and those who oppose it–all of these are vastly greater in Egypt or almost any Middle Eastern country than they are in Western Europe or North America.

You could even argue that the most arresting thing about modern Western societies is their stupendous absence of diversity. An American can travel 3,000 miles from coast to coast while speaking the same language, using the same money, watching the same television programs in identically laid out hotel rooms, eating the same dishes at the same national restaurant chains, his property and rights protected by the same legal code, meeting people who share more ideas, more habits, more assumptions, more of everything with him than at any previous time in the nationÕs existence. The same is increasingly true from one end of Europe to the other.

Those liberal hawks who sought to define their society by its tolerance, by its openness, by all the things of which it was not certain, by all the things that it did not believe–they were on to something, yes, but not the most important thing. Beneath all those uncertainties and doubts, and supporting them, were the things in which that society did believe: believed so strongly that it never articulated them, did not even know were there.

The Islamic extremists speak for deeply humiliated people. They say: “We may be poor, we may be backward, we may lack technology and lose wars. We may no longer write anything the world cares to read or produce anything the world cares to buy, except for the oil under our soil that your geologists found and for which your engineers developed a use. But none of that matters. We have the truth–and you do not.” Those who define Western society by all that we do not believe: DonÕt they rather agree with these Islamic extremists? “Yes, we are rich, we are advanced, we have technology, and we win wars. The whole world wants to have what we have. But you are right: We have no truths to offer, only doubts and guilt.” The debate over same-sex marriage perfectly exemplifies this bizarre tacit agreement.

The Islamic extremists accuse the West of lacking any sexual morality. Indeed, the alleged immorality of the West–the indecent liberty of women, the lewd explicitness of entertainment– is one of the principal grievances of Islamic radicals in the West. (One of the perpetrators of the second London bombing, Somali-born Yasin Hassan Omar, was also offended that alcohol was sold in Western cities in violation of Islamic law.) They think: The West believes in nothing but personal whim. Anything goes! And those Westerners who draw comparisons between Islamic extremists and defenders of traditional marriage–donÕt they think just the same thing? Yes! We believe in nothing but personal–well, not whim, that sounds…whimsical–but choice. Anything goes!

Women and the West

But “we” do believe in something more than choice, or did. “We” believed that relations between men and women were governed by a moral code that acknowledged both the differences between the sexes and the equality of the sexes. We believed in companionate marriage because we believed that the sexes were complementary: different in ways that sparked desire, similar in ways that made possible lifelong intimacy and friendship. “We” had an affirmative vision of relations between the sexes that was both egalitarian and moral–moral, precisely because it was egalitarian. Indeed, as Edward Said complains at some length in his famous book Orientalism, from the 18th century until recently a long Western literary and artistic tradition dwelt lingeringly on the lascivious fantasies summoned by the subordination and segregation of women in the Middle East. When 19th-century painters wished to fill their canvases with voluptuously naked women, they set the scene in an Ottoman harem. The reality, of course, was more brutal than titillating–both then and now.

That reality was vividly expressed in a June 19 television interview with a Saudi cleric, Sheikh Abd al-Muhsin al-Abikan, as transcribed and translated by the indispensable MEMRI.org. Bear in mind here that al-Abikan is one of the good guys of Saudi Islam: a critic of terrorism who has ruled the suicide bombings in Iraq a violation of Muslim law.

Abikan: [We should] expose the false slogans spread by the West, claiming that they are the people of democracy, of justice, and of freedom, and that their regimes bring about good for all mankind. If we compare these societies to Muslim society, Muslim society would be superior in all aspects. In fact, they are more advanced than we are only in modern technology and material development, but at the expense of social behavior. These societies lack many things. The women . . . They say there must be equality between men and women? Equality in what way? For example, they talk about equality in how they are treated, but, in fact, they have no equality. The woman is more advanced than the man. The husband opens the car door for his wife, and lets her speak before him. Is this equality? No, itÕs the opposite. This is advancing the woman before the man. Western men should object to this.

Host: She has the same rights as others.

Abikan: Western men should say: “YouÕve given women preference instead of equality.” Equality should mean, for example, that the woman has to walk next to the man. If they enter a place, they should enter together, or whoever gets there first. Why should he open the door for her? Why should he carry the bags, while she walks ahead? You see such things. The woman walks ahead, and the man lags behind with the bags. Is this equality? They are spreading empty and false slogans. This is not equality but rather the opposite. They have turned upside down what religious law has decreed with regard to men and women in Islam. If we compare the status of women in our society and in the West, we find that our women enjoy a status of respect. The woman is honored, protected, and respected, and she enjoys the full rights accorded to her in Islam, whereas in other societies she is persecuted. She goes out to public places like men, and serves the men, and works twice. At home, she has an important task–raising her children. SheÕs burdened by hardship of working outside, as well as the hardship of working at home. Who is supposed to prepare the meals and make the home suitable for living and for a happy marital life? Who will carry out this task? The woman, of course. Is she a servant? In this case, she wonÕt be able to do this work. This is a womanÕs basic work, and if she goes out it is more work. In other words, they have burdened her with more work, on top of her basic work, and they have oppressed and exploited her. On the other hand, in our society, she is honored and respected, thank God.

As migration from the Middle East and North Africa brings West and East together in the same European cities, imported brutalities have begun to occur under the jurisdiction of Western police and Western courts: “honor killings,” forced marriages, and the below-the-horizon pressure for the tacit legal recognition of polygamy. BritainÕs Inland Revenue acknowledged in December 2004 that it was considering legal changes that would permit a husband to divide his estate tax-free among more than one wife. In at least one U.K. case (A-M v. A-M, 2001), British courts have held that polygamous marriages contracted outside Britain could be recognized as valid by British authorities. Although it remains a crime in Britain to enter into a second marriage before the first is dissolved, senior Muslim officials estimate that up to 4,000 British Muslim men have multiple wives. And one British Muslim group plans to launch a challenge to British marriage laws before the European Court of Human Rights.

These imported arrangements are often excused on grounds of choice. Reading through half a dozen handbooks of Islamic family law, one finds strikingly similar language recurring again and again: “Polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man.” Although one may entertain doubts about the reality of this “consent,” at least theoretically it could be true that multiple marriage could occur as a result of the free choice of consenting adults.

What happens then? Will “we” make a place for this new way of life as just the latest tile in the “gorgeous mosaic” of our diversity? Or will some kinds of diversity prove just too diverse for “us”? Back in 2001, back when the liberal hawks were arguing that the War on Terror was a war of enlightened liberalism against religious obscurantism, I wondered: Would anybody point out that enlightened liberalism itself rested on a religious foundation? And that when severed from that religious foundation, enlightened liberalism might discover that it had severed itself from the strength it needed to survive in a world of harsh competing systems of belief? Quickly it became apparent that while many might think so, few cared or dared to say so.

And of course the situation in Europe is even worse. Now, as Europeans struggle to find the words to justify their self-defense–as they scramble to persuade themselves that they are worth defending–they must wake up to this hard thought: National survival in the age of terror is not just a matter of intelligence operations and security measures. ItÕs not just a job for armies and police. National survival depends on the willingness and ability of the targets of terrorism to assert and defend a national identity: an identity that is more than a catalogue of self-doubts and self-criticisms, an identity that is more than a statement of disagreements and diversities–an identity that can say, in English, in French, in German, on behalf of the nations of the Atlantic community on both sides of the ocean, This is who we are–and we are prepared to fight for it.

Ignatieff Appeals To Old School Liberals

David Frum September 6th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

National Post reader Angelo Zenga generously nominated me for prime minister of Canada in a letter to the editor last week. I appreciate the compliment, but the campaign consultants can quit working on their Power Point sales pitches: I’m not running.

Mr. Zenga was responding to the rumours swirling about Michael Ignatieff as a potential candidate for the Liberal leadership. I possess no special insight into the mind of the new University of Toronto professor, but I will venture this guess: He’s not running either, not really or anyway not for long.

And yet I can understand why numerous Liberals are attracted to the hope of an Ignatieff candidacy. Michael Ignatieff is a man of ideas — a commodity of which today’s Liberal party is utterly bereft.

Many Liberals remember the Trudeau years nostalgically. Back then, their party introduced new ideas seemingly every week. The National Energy Plan, multiculturalism, direct government investment in private-sector companies, law reform, Canadian content regulations, regional development subsidies, wage-and-price controls, the “Third Option” in foreign policy and so on and on and on. Politics then was exciting for Canadian Liberals and even, as they saw it, ennobling. Their party stood for something more than self-enrichment and corrupt campaign practices (although of course even then they did plenty of both). Ignatieff conjures up fond memories of those vanished days. He represents to a certain kind of Canadian Liberal what Louis Napoleon represented to French Bonapartists after Waterloo and St. Helena: a dream of remembered glory in a shabby and reactionary time.

But could it ever be more than a dream? On the evidence: Not likely.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Liberals had a coherent vision of the kind of society they wanted to build: a united, bilingual society with a powerful central government leading the economy and redistributing wealth — all in hope of building a nation strongly distinct from the United States.

The trouble is that the vision didn’t work — as the Liberals themselves had to acknowledge. Bilingualism did not weaken Quebec separatism. The powerful central government horribly mismanaged the economy. The redistribution of wealth laid crushing taxes on the Canadian middle class. Nationalist economic policies invited American protectionist responses.

Today, the Liberal party is a schizophrenic political beast. It has its real policy: balance the budget, oppose new social programs, keep Quebec in line through bribery and patronage, open the border to U.S. trade and do more or less as the Americans ask on security matters. And it has its pretend policy: invoke social justice, promise lavish new programs, spout poetry about Canadian unity and needle the Americans.

The party has ideals and it has policies. But it keeps each rigidly separated from the other.

Those Liberals who hanker after an Ignatieff candidacy imagine that this one man can somehow bring their ideals and policies back into alignment. Highly intelligent as Mr. Ignatieff is, however, this project seems beyond even his ingenuity.

In March, 2005, he spoke to a Liberal policy convention in Ottawa, (You can read his speech at www.goodreads .ca/lectures/ignatieff.) The thing that leaps to the eye is the way in which Ignatieff carefully balances seemingly irreconcilable opposites. He duly quotes the old adage that to govern is to choose — and yet he himself painstakingly tiptoes away from choices. Thus he proposes a massive national commitment to post-secondary education — while also calling for a more “sensible” level of taxation. He called for joining the American missile defence program while opposing the militarization of space. He denounced Quebec separatism while praising the highly centralizing Trudeau policies that gave Quebec separatism life in the first place. This approach to politics was cuttingly described by a Canadian poet five decades ago:

He skillfully avoided what was wrong

Without saying what was right,

And never let his on the one hand

Know what his on the other hand was doing.

The inescapable fact is that modern liberalism is an intellectual mess. It is not and cannot be a politics of ideas. It is a politics of the reactionary defence of things as they are — spiced up by random give-aways to powerful interest groups. That is why it expresses itself so vaguely: It knows it cannot stand up to close scrutiny.

And here’s a way to test the point, and without the trouble, expense, and ultimate absurdity of an Ignatieff-Frum election: Why doesn’t somebody — the University of Toronto, maybe, or Global TV — invite the two of us to share a platform somewhere and debate whether liberalism and the Liberal party any longer have anything concrete to offer to solve Canada’s pressing problems: stagnating standards of living, the weakness of Canada’s democratic institutions, security in an age of terrorism, rising disorder in Canadian cities?

At the Liberal convention in Ottawa, Mr. Ignatieff endorsed “deep and passionate” debate. In recent years, the Liberal party has owed its survival to its success in dodging that very thing — and to a canny reliance instead on insincere promises and the cynical stoking of fear. Would an Ignatieff candidacy alter that sorry record? I’d be happy to meet him in any public forum to put the proposition to the test.