Entries from December 2007

Dangerous Indifference

David Frum December 29th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

For weeks, the U.S. presidential campaign has been unfolding with truly disturbing indifference to the outside world and its dangers. That changed with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been wrestling to determine whether her (non-existent) “experience” should matter more than his (self-invented) “identity.”

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee has surged to first place in Iowa as a “Christian leader,” despite repeated demonstrations of his utter unpreparedness in–and radical indifference to–world affairs. Now however the world has returned, and with a vengeance.

The Bhutto killing should force the candidates to confront some dangerously neglected facts:

1) Without Pakistan’s acquiescence, the NATO position in Afghanistan would be unsustainable. Yet Pakistan is a desperately unstable state, whose institutions are deeply penetrated by radical Islam.

2) Unstable Pakistan owns some dozens of nuclear bombs. For months, all eyes have been focused on Iran, for fear that the radical Islamic republic might become a nuclear-weapons state. Yet it is equally possible that the nuclear-weapons state of Pakistan might become a radical Islamic republic.

3) To fend off the Islamists, the U.S. and its allies have lent backing to the military regime of Pervez Musharraf. There are worse governments in the world than Gen. Musharraf’s. Tolerant of minorities, liberal in its treatment of the media, the regime has also presided over important economic reforms and impressive economic growth: an average of 6.5% per year since 2003. The World Bank reports that under Musharraf, poverty in Pakistan has declined “significantly.”

On the other hand, alliances with unelected rulers are always devil’s bargains. Sooner or later, the strongman falls or dies, and when he does, his foreign supporters get the blame for his sins, real and alleged.

4) Many had hoped that Musharraf might bring about a transformation, not only of Pakistan’s economy, but also of Pakistani society. President Bush used to muse privately about Musharraf as a Pakistani “Ataturk”–paying homage to Kemal Ataturk, the modernizing ruler of Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s.

But Pakistan has seen modernizing strongmen before. Ayub Khan, the general who seized power in Pakistan’s first coup, in 1958, was also once hailed as a potential Pakistani Ataturk. Ayub Khan too presided over impressive economic growth. Ayub Khan likewise tried to haul Pakistani Islam into the modern age, suppressing both polygamy and the right of husbands to abandon their wives by pronouncing the formula, “I dismiss thee” three times. And in a final possible parallel, Ayub Khan’s regime ended in failure and a swerve back to fundamentalism.

5) Above all, the Bhutto killing should remind us of this grimmest reality: the force we call Islamic extremism–or jihadism–or, simply, “terrorism” is as much a function of the failure of Pakistan as it is of the troubles in the Arab Middle East or the scheming of the mullahs of Iran.

Minus Pakistan, there would have been no Taliban in Afghanistan. Minus Pakistan, no campaign of terrorism against India–a campaign that has claimed even more innocent lives than have been lost to Arab terrorism against Israel. Of all the Islamic communities in Europe, the Pakistani diaspora in Britain is far and away the most militant and violent.

More troubling still, Pakistani extremism is not a purely indigenous phenomenon. By one much-cited estimate, the Saudi government has spent US $70 billion since 1979 to spread Wahhabi Islam. The single largest destination for this money: Pakistan. Private individuals have donated uncounted billions more. Saudi money financed the Pakistani nuclear bomb program launched by Benazir Bhutto’s father, former prime minister Zulfikar Bhutto.

Nor is the threat posed by Pakistani instability a purely local one. Pakistan and India came to the verge of nuclear war in 1999 and again in 2002–the last narrowly averted by intense American diplomatic work. While Musharraf seems to have made a strategic decision in favour of peace, that decision may last only as long as he does–and he has been the victim of at least three serious assassination attempts, the most recent in July, 2007.

To date, the presidential candidates have offered only the haziest generalities about South Asia. The one exception to the hazy rule–Barack Obama’s July, 2007 suggestion that as president he might send U.S. troops into Pakistan’s tribal areas–got bad reviews. OK, it may have been a dumb idea. But at least it represented the beginning of thinking in an election year that demands more thinking than most–but has been hearing less.

Truth Among The Fiction

David Frum December 22nd, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

A decade ago, Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pittman proposed an arresting explanation of the story of Noah’s flood:

Eight thousand years ago, what is now the Black Sea was a freshwater lake, much smaller and much shallower than today’s inland ocean. Early farming communities grew up on the shores of this lake.

As they planted and reaped, however, these early farmers faced environmental disaster. The ice age had ended. The great glaciers that had once covered Europe and Russia were melting. It was the runoff from these glaciers that had filled the Black Sea with fresh water. But now that same runoff was raising ocean levels worldwide. As the Mediterranean rose, the land barrier between the Med and the Black Sea shrank. Until one day, about 5600 BC, the waters of the Mediterranean overtopped this last barrier, and–well, here is what Ryan and Pittman hypothesize happened next:

“Ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, 200 times what flows over Niagara Falls. The Bosporus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least 300 days.”

According to Ryan and Pittman, 60,000 square miles of land were inundated by waters rising perhaps 20 feet per day. Villages and farms would have been irretrievably ruined, their inhabitants left to wander as refugees.

Ryan’s and Pittman’s thesis has been confirmed by some archaeological evidence, including traces of primordial shoreline, freshwater snails and submerged river deltas 300 feet under the present surface of the Black Sea.

For biblical literalists, this archaeology offers no comfort. The flood did not cover the whole world; it did not extinguish all life; and it seems very unlikely that anybody would build a huge wooden boat to escape a flood that could be escaped by walking.

On the other hand, Ryan’s and Pittman’s work does suggest that the story of Noah preserves the memory of something real, an actual event that genuinely reshaped human civilization.
From such work, and work like it, there is real inspiration to be drawn by those of us who want to adapt religious faith to modern times.

Very few of the stories of the Bible can be taken as literally true. If, for example, the kingdom of Egypt had been wracked by 10 terrible disasters followed by the exodus of thousands of freed Hebrew slaves, you would think that somewhere some Egyptian chronicle would have alluded to the fact. Yet no Egyptian source yet discovered ever drops a hint that anything like the Exodus ever occurred.

There is no extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of David and Solomon, a remarkable omission for rulers of a mighty Near Eastern empire. By contrast, we have a very good working chronology of the list of Hittite kings stretching back as far as 1430 BC.

The Christian Bible faces equally severe problems. The plot device that Luke uses to shift the birthplace of Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem is very dodgy. (The Romans do seem to have carried out a census in Palestine, but the earliest possible date for that census is at least a decade after the birth of Jesus, and there is no way that the practical Romans would ever have ordered millions of Jews to return to their ancestral villages, when they could be taxed just as well by leaving them where they were.)

And yet, for all these doubts, there remains some germ of truth. Semitic tribesmen did wander into and out of ancient Egypt. There was a great Hebrew kingdom based on Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate did govern Judea, Roman censuses were carried out, and it is hard to imagine that Jesus did not exist to inspire his followers to believe him the prophesied Messiah.

How should modern-minded people reconcile their knowledge and their faith? Each of us will arrive at our own answers. To my way of thinking, at least, wisdom begins with rethinking how holy books were meant to be read. I don’t have to accept the literal accuracy of the Book of Kings to be taught by the prophets who upbraided those kings.

The Bible is the work of ancient people who thought about the world and its history very differently from the way we moderns do. They taught lessons, not facts. Of course, we must test their lessons against our own conceptions of morality and justice. If a religion justifies cruelty and violence, then we do not need to consult the archaeological record to say that religion is false. And when we encounter truth and beauty and meaning in an ancient text, it is no refutation of that text to observe that it deviates from the archaeological record. The truths that should guide our lives are not written on potsherds or buried under dust.

Foggy Bloggom

David Frum December 19th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

MY NAME is David Frum, decease and I am a blogger. Every day I post some hundreds of words of commentary at the National Review website-often (to fulfill the clichŽ) while still wearing my pajamas. But I am also a proud, ailment suit-wearing member of the foreign-policy community, recipe with my very own office in a think tank to prove it.

There is no avoiding the sad truth that my two communities despise each other.

The foreign-policy community (henceforward, “FPC”) values moderation of views and modulation of tone. It insists upon formal credentials, either academic or bureaucratic (ideally both). It respects seniority, defers to office, mistrusts overt self-promotion and is easily offended by discourtesy.

As for the bloggers-well, theyÕre pretty much the opposite, arenÕt they?

Here, for example, is the popular left-of-center blogger known as Atrios complaining that:

[Presidential] candidates are judged by the rather arbitrary rules of the “foreign policy community” which demand they engage in these absurd rhetorical dances so they can fit themselves into the Grand Foreign Policy Community Consensus. Anyone who just tells them to shove it is doing the right thing.1

And hereÕs another left-of-center blogger, Matthew Yglesias, quoting a third, Steve Clemons:

“People like me,” [Clemons] says, “were being fed quite a bit of inside information from people who were every bit as horrified” [about Iraq] but very few people said anything. And itÕs true-alongside the famously pro-war elements of the establishment, thereÕs a shockingly large number of people at places like Brookings, csis, the cfr, etc. where if you try to look up what they said about Iraq it turns out that they said . . . nothing at all.

His perspective, he says, is that Washington is “a corrupt town.” From that perspective, he says that “the political-intellectual arena is essentially a cartel”-a cartel thatÕs become extremely timid and risk-averse in the face of a neoconservative onslaught-and “blogs allow smart people to break the cartel.” That all seems very true to me, and IÕm not sure what I have to add.2

Finally, here is Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com:

The Foreign Policy Community . . . is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any “good result,” and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.3

Such criticisms-so personal, so rude and so imperfectly grammatical-elicit only countervailing scorn from their targets.

In the summer of 2007, The Economist invited Gideon Rose to guest host their blog, Democracy in America. Rose is the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, and thus ex officio a member in highest standing of the FPC, or at any rate, its recording secretary.

He responded at considerable length to accusations like those of Atrios, Yglesias, Clemons and Greenwald. HereÕs just a bit:

The lefty blogosphere . . . has gotten itself all in a tizzy over the failings of the “foreign policy community.” The funny thing is…hell, IÕll just come out and say it: the netrootsÕ attitude toward professionals isnÕt that different from the neoconsÕ, both being convinced that the very concept of a foreign-policy clerisy is unjustified, anti-democratic and pernicious, and that the remedy is much tighter and more direct control by the principals over their supposed professional agents.

The charges the bloggers are making now are very similar to those that the neocons made a few years ago: mainstream foreign-policy experts are politicised careerists, biased hacks, and hide-bound traditionalists who have gotten everything wrong in the past and donÕt deserve to be listened to in the future. . . .Back then, the neocons directed their fire primarily at the national security bureaucracies-freedom-hating mediocrities at the cia, pin-striped wussies at the State Department, cowardly soldiers at the Pentagon. Now the bloggersÕ attacks are generally aimed at the think-tank world.4

Because the “neocons” are regarded as public-enemy number one by both lefty bloggers and most of the FPC, RoseÕs words put the cat among the pigeons. For all their ferocity, the bloggers as a group are intensely sensitive to criticism. They crave the very thing for which they vilify the FPC: respectability. Nothing infuriates them more than its withholding. With shrewd intuition, then, members of the FPC go out of their way to make clear their lack of regard-that is, on those rare occasions when they deign to take notice of the bloggers at all.

Here, for example, is a marvelous demonstration of the mutual torment practiced upon each other by the bloggers and the FPC.

On August 14, 2007, Brookings Institution scholar Michael OÕHanlon was asked on a radio show about Glenn GreenwaldÕs lengthy and highly personal attacks upon him. He replied,

Well, I donÕt have high regard for the kind of journalism that Mr. Greenwald has carried out here. IÕm not going to spend a whole lot of time rebutting Mr. Greenwald because heÕs had frankly more time and more readership than he deserves.

This put-down was featured on the left-leaning website CrooksandLiars.com and provoked 71 responses, including this one:

Dear Michael OÕHacklon, Armstrong Williams wants his job back, the one that you are currently occupying. . . .Anyway, there never seems to be a shortage of your special brand of treasonous frauds running around. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.

And this one:

Oh my goodness Mr. OÕHanlon, so sorry the caviar was not up to your supreme standards. WeÕll have the beluga beaten immediately.

And this one:

two words for you oÕhanlon: f— you (sorry for the language C&L)

glenn greenwald is a true patriot, working to ensure the continued viability of our ever-so fragile democracy. and, ohanlon? nothing but a blowhard caught in inaccuracies and, like armstrong williams and gannon/guckert, a tool of the administration. the question i have for oÕhanlon is just how much money it took for you to sacrifice your integrity.

good job mikey, you have done serious damage to the brookings institute. from now on any ÔfindingÕ or opinion stemming from this now-compromised “think” tank will be followed by an asterisk, saying: beware, some brookings fellows spew govt propaganda and try to pass it off as independent conclusions. . . .5

Bitter! And also strange. Michael OÕHanlon, as readers of The National Interest will know, is the editor of the Iraq Index, a source relied upon by people of almost all points of view. He served in the Congressional Budget Office during the last Democratic majority and has strongly criticized the Bush Administration almost from Inauguration Day. What makes him such a detested target?

To find the answer, revert for a minute to a key point in Gideon RoseÕs above-quoted paragraphs: The bloggersÕ attacks are generally aimed at the think-tank world. Which is to say: at members of the FPC who are currently out of power. Which is to say: at Democrats. Especially at moderate Democrats, internationalist-minded Democrats, Democrats who in 2002-2003 expressed support for the Iraq War. The bloggers hurling the invective are Democrats too, usually more liberal Democrats.

The blogosphere of 2007 is a predominantly liberal and Democratic place. This was not always the case: As recently as 2005, former Vice President Al Gore castigated “digital brownshirts” who bullied and intimidated critics of George Bush. He would have no such complaint today. Today, it is the critics of George Bush who do the brown-shirting.

Thus, the generally liberal journalist Joe Klein complained in June 2007 of the

fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere. Anyone who doesnÕt move in lockstep with the most extreme voices is savaged and ridiculed-especially people like me who often agree with the liberal position but sometimes disagree and are therefore considered traitorously unreliable.6

While online readership surveys are notoriously unreliable, such data as exists suggests that the liberal site Daily Kos outdraws Rush LimbaughÕs website. Traffic on participatory conservative sites like Free Republic and Red State has plunged, and as this election cycle opens, one senses greater energy and sees more comments on big liberal blogsites like TalkingPointsMemo.com and the WashingtonMonthly.com than on their conservative counterparts. Technologically, liberal sites like the HuffingtonPost and MediaMatters seem a generation ahead of counterparts like Drudge and the Media Research Project.

So when we talk about the antagonism that has arisen between bloggers and the FPC, we are really talking about liberal bloggers and the Democratic half of the FPC. This is a family feud, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to the great Democratic schism over Vietnam.

Back then, it was the partyÕs intellectuals who revolted against its regulars; J. K. Galbraith, Richard Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger against George Meany and Richard Daley. This time, it is the regulars who are rebelling against the intellectuals.

Then as now, the incumbents belittled the influence of the insurgents. John Roche, serving in the Lyndon Johnson White House, dismissed critics of the Vietnam War as a “bunch of Upper West Side Jacobins.” (The journalist to whom he issued the dismissal, Jimmy Breslin, unfamiliar with French history, transcribed the word as “jackal bins.” The next day, the story goes, half the Upper West Side found itself wondering, “What the hell is a jackal bin?”)

Now as then, however, the insurgents are slowly shifting the incumbents. Just as the post-1968 Democratic Party came to look more like Eugene McCarthyÕs movement than Hubert HumphreyÕs coalition, so todayÕs liberal FPC is gradually adopting not only many of the actual views, but much of the tone, style and manner of the left blogosphere.

FEW PRESIDENTIAL candidates have drawn more support from the liberal FPC than Barack Obama. Obama has been endorsed by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and advised by Harvard professor Samantha Power, Clinton counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke and even George W. BushÕs former NSC Senior Director for the Middle East, Bruce Riedel. Compared to ObamaÕs, Hillary ClintonÕs foreign-policy team looks a little like a gala performance in Branson, Missouri: all the names you remember from decades ago. (“Madeleine Albright is still fabulous!”)

And yet as Obama has struggled to come from behind in Iowa and New Hampshire, this once-irenic candidate now hurls accusations with the brio of a blogger on the Daily Kos.

Here is Obama on the SenateÕs Kyl-Lieberman amendment, a non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution urging the administration to designate IranÕs Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, a resolution that won the votes of a majority of Senate Democrats:

Why is this amendment so dangerous? Because George Bush and Dick Cheney could use this language to justify keeping our troops in Iraq as long as they can point to a threat from Iran. And because they could use this language to justify an attack on Iran as a part of the ongoing war in Iraq.

Three years ago, Barack Obama was willing to contemplate outright war against Iran. Running for Senate in 2004, he told interviewers that he regarded an Iranian nuclear bomb as a “worse” outcome than air strikes against Iran. Now, though, he has been pushed toward the blogger view that war is not to be contemplated, period. And he has adopted the blogger habit of attributing deceit and bad faith to anyone who disagrees with him-or even to anyone who agrees today with the positions he used to hold yesterday.

THE BLOGOSPHERE exerts its influence in two ways-one as hard as cash, the other as whispery as a mirage.

In two consecutive presidential election cycles, the Internet has proven itself the most effective fundraising technology since the advent of direct mail. The last cycleÕs Internet darling, Howard Dean, raised money at the fastest pace ever seen: a million dollars a week, almost all of it in very small gifts, in the second two quarters of 2003. In the first quarter of 2007, Barack Obama matched Hillary ClintonÕs astonishing fundraising totals by tapping almost twice as many donors: 100,000 against her 50,000. On November 5, 2007, Ron Paul used the Internet to raise the largest one-day total in the history of political fundraising, $4.5 million.

Any medium that lucrative is bound to hold the attention of politicians. And bloggers look very much like the custodians of the political Internet.

The more whispery power comes from the strange echo-chamber effect of the Internet. The blogosphere links people all over the planet. It can generate volumes of comments and email that feel like a tidal wave to those accustomed to the milder responsiveness of the print medium. When I worked on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal, then the largest circulation newspaper in America, a very provocative article might have elicited as many as a hundred letters to the editor. Today, an exciting post on a major blog can generate thousands of posted comments and emails. Few people possess the internal fortitude to stand up to a seeming barrage like this. (Joe Klein, whom I cited above as a special target of the left blogosphere, has retreated under pressure into something very like the party-line liberalism he once disdained.)

For those who participate in it, the blogosphere takes on the scale and reality of an alternative world-a world whose controversies and feuds are so absorbing, whose alliances and enmities burn with so much passion, that only the most level-headed of the participants ever seem to remember that somewhere between 97 and 98 percent of American voters have never looked at a blog in their lives.

THE VIRTUAL-REALITY quality of the blogosphere accounts for one of the most puzzling traits of the left-wing bloggers: their ability to believe simultaneously in a) the supreme importance of winning elections for Democrats and b) the supreme importance of moving the Democratic Party to the left-”Running as a progressive will lead to victory”, predicts Matt Stoller, one of the left blogosphereÕs leading voices-in flat contradiction of four decades of post-1968 experience that running as a progressive leads Democrats only to disaster.

But if everyday progressives sustain themselves in a hothouse atmosphere of positive feedback-if any murmur of doubt or skepticism is met with a barrage of abuse-if all the human instincts toward tribe and clan are harnessed to a partisan cause, then such things as historical experience or cautionary opinion polls can easily be shrugged aside.

Or anyway, shrugged aside up to the point where reality becomes undeniable.

And perhaps it is the power of undeniably adverse reality that prevents the right blogosphere from using the kind of force and power on foreign policy that its left counterpart exerts.

Any Republican attuned in any way to current events knows that the party faces grave difficulties and dangers going into 2008. Republicans cannot afford to indulge the illusions with which progressives can entertain themselves this cycle. (I should say: most Republicans. There is the countervailing example of the Ron Paul fanatics, who have convinced themselves that their man can sweep to victory on a platform that last won a presidential election in 1836.) For this reason, the Republican field is led by two men, who each in their way offer a new centrism.

The conservative blogosphere scored its last great triumph in 2005, when it led the rebellion that forced the withdrawal of the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. Its next great cause-exposing the pervasive faking of images in the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah war and the probable forgery of the video purporting to show the shooting of Muhammad al-Dura-has not achieved anything like such success. One Reuters photographer was caught in the act and forced to resign, but the creation of doctored images, like the al-Dura video, continues to command wide acceptance even in the West.

THE BLOGOSPHERE is a place of anger and enthusiasm. In 2007, Republicans are less angry and enthusiastic than Democrats, and so their share of the territory is both smaller and less energetic. That will not always remain true. If Democrats do less well in 2008 than they now anticipate, some in the party will blame the blogosphere for pushing the party too far to the anti-war extreme. Alternatively, if Democrats capture the White House, the left blogosphere may well lose the energy of opposition, as conservative talk radio did after Bill Clinton left office.

Yet there is reason to think that the gravitational effect exerted on the liberal FPC by the left blogosphere will extend across party lines-and beyond the current political cycle.

Through the twentieth century, the management of American foreign policy has time and again been snatched away from the mandarins who regard themselves as its proper custodians. A populist eruption thwarted the hopes of the liberals around Woodrow Wilson in 1919-20. After the defeat of the Versailles Treaty, public interest waned-and Republican presidents were left free to conduct “dollar diplomacy.” Another populist moment deterred Franklin Roosevelt from responding to the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, until Pearl Harbor put the experts back in control again. There they stayed until Korea and Joe McCarthy dethroned them-and back onto the throne they scrambled again during the “thinking the unthinkable” years from 1955 to 1965. And so it has continued into our own time. The frustrations over Iraq have triggered a reaction very similar to that generated by the stalemate in Korea, creating an audience for similar kinds of explanations-with “neocons” this time taking the part once assigned to the “striped-pants boys” in the State Department, and the high-toned Professors Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer reinterpreting the role formerly played by William Knowland and Senator McCarthy.

Yet on each round of the cycle, the spread of education and the improvement of communications have raised the level of debate. The populist protesters of 2007 are far more informed and far more sophisticated than their predecessors of 1973, who were in turn a major improvement over those of 1950, 1935 and 1920. And the foreign-policy community that guided U.S. foreign affairs in the 1990s was a much larger and more diverse group than the corresponding elites that wielded power in the quiet days of the 1950s, who were in turn a less cloistered club than that of the 1920s.

It is, as was famously predicted by Yeats, a widening gyre. And it can safely be predicted that when todayÕs controversies simmer down, and the blogging energy turns to health care or climate change or issues as yet unforeseen, the “foreign-policy community” that reassumes its former ascendancy will likewise be an expanded and enlarged community. The expertise and sophistication of the FPC at its best will always be needed by a country whose natural tendencies are inward-looking and isolationist. And that expertise and sophistication can only be enhanced when todayÕs FPC is reinforced, as surely it will be, by young people who gained their first introduction to foreign affairs when they were inspired by 9/11 to join the military or enter academia or learn a foreign languageÉor (why not?) start a blog.





In the interest of fair disclosure, I should add here that Gideon RoseÕs piece includes some indirect criticism of me personally. I did not notice this criticism until after I had finished work on the above article. The criticism did not influence my thinking, and I did not alter the text after reading it.

That said, I might add here that the criticism was tendentious. Rose complained that unnamed persons “expelled” Iraq War dissenters from the conservative movement. He then linked to an article by me in National Review that explicitly welcomed debate over the Iraq War-but that criticized those conservatives whose radical alienation from their country had led them to oppose the entire War on Terror from its very inception after 9/11. One suspects he had not actually read the piece to which he linked-a very bad blogging practice!



A Problem-solver Whose Time Is Now

David Frum December 17th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

This is a difficult hour for the United States. ItÕs not just the strain of war. On domestic issues, cure too, discontent runs strong. The incomes of ordinary Americans have stagnated over the past six years. Health-care and energy costs have surged. In many cities, gang violence has surged. Over two-thirds of Americans now describe the country as “on the wrong track” – astonishing for a non-recession year.

In this difficult hour, the Bush administration seems to have lost its way – and its nerve. On issues ranging from the reconstruction of New Orleans to the Iranian bomb, the administration seems paralyzed, crippled almost as much by a lack of positive ideas as by the presidentÕs record-scraping personal unpopularity.

Historically, Americans have trusted Republicans as the party of prudence and sound management. Iraq, Katrina, earmarks, and airport body searches of Eagle Scouts and wheelchair-bound grandmas have corroded that reputation. As a party, we are now widely perceived as uncaring, improvident, corrupt, and incompetent. Republican identification has sharply slumped, and Democrats enjoy large advantages in almost every way pollsters can measure.

The conditions are all in place for an epochal Republican disaster in 2008. Unless something happens to change the game radically, we are looking at a real possibility of a big Democratic presidential win combined with gains in both houses of Congress, an outcome that has not occurred since 1964. Democrats are beginning to talk of a new government health-care monopoly paid for by canceling the Bush tax cuts.

These are not pleasant facts, but they are facts all the same. They present us as conservatives and Republicans with the toughest challenges we have faced in years. How can we hold the line on government while addressing AmericaÕs genuine health-care needs? How can we sustain the competitiveness of the American economy against a Democratic Congress quivering to impose new taxes and new regulations? How can we win a war on terror that the congressional majority seems already to have written off as lost?

Rudy Giuliani is the answer to these challenges.

No living elected official has solved more public problems with more outstanding success than Rudy Giuliani. If there is one person Americans associate with competence in government, it is Rudy. As the primary race has warmed up, some have tried to diminish the mayorÕs accomplishments. But in fact, the closer you look, the more amazing they become.

Yes, the crime rate for the whole country declined in the 1990s. But New York, with a little less than 3 percent of the nationÕs population, accounted for 15 percent of the nationÕs decline in homicides. Much of the improvement in former high-crime zones like Chicago, Washington, and Miami occurred precisely because New YorkÕs success inspired other mayors to follow where Giuliani had led.

It is not just crime. Giuliani restored civility to New YorkÕs public spaces, reformed welfare, broke the grip of organized crime on trash collection and food wholesaling, restored academic standards in the city university system, chased the sex industry off the streets, held the line on taxes, and set in motion one of the greatest property booms in city history.

In 1963, President Kennedy challenged those who suggested that Communism could out-compete freedom: “Let them come to Berlin.” Today, Republicans can challenge those who assert that liberals can out-manage conservatives: “Let them come to New York.”

Giuliani achieved his success by combining a fierce commitment to core values with an impressive flexibility in his methods. He listened to advice, tried experiments, built on what worked, discarded what did not work. He showed that a leader can be strong without being rigid.

GiulianiÕs accomplishment was put to the ultimate test on 9/11. Compare what happened in New York that day with what happened in New Orleans four years later. The mayor did not panic. Public order was consistently maintained. There was no looting, no

GiulianiÕs record is the best possible reply to Democratic criticisms of Republican governance. It is also the best hope to recover lost supporters. GiulianiÕs urban ethnic background resonates in key states like Florida and New Jersey, where local polling suggests he does best among the leading Republicans in head-to-head matchups against Hillary Clinton.

Romney, Thompson, McCain, and Huckabee are candidates of many excellences. But they cannot possibly hope to win in a year like 2008. Rudy Giuliani can do more than hope.

If elected, Rudy Giuliani would start his presidency with more knowledge of world leaders and world problems than almost any of his recent predecessors started with. He has been dealing with terrorism since his days as a federal prosecutor; he led a city where one out of every ten private-sector workers is employed by a foreign company. True, he lacks the gilded foreign-policy rŽsumŽ of a George H. W. Bush. But compared with any other recent president, Giuliani has traveled more, met more foreign leaders, and thought more deeply about international problems. He will carry forward the foreign-policy goals declared by President George W. Bush – but with enough distance from that administration that he will be able to try new methods. This is not a contest that conservatives can afford to take lightly: To lose the 2008 election is probably to lose the war in Iraq.

Most Republicans agree with most of these positive assessments of Giuliani. Yet many continue to hold back, for reasons like those forcefully articulated by Hadley Arkes in an influential recent article: “The nomination and election of Rudy Giuliani would mark the end of the Republican party as the pro-life party in our politics.”

This is exactly wrong. Yes, there are Republicans who want to chase pro-lifers and other social conservatives out of the party. But Giuliani has emphatically taken a very different view. He has extended welcome to pro-life conservatives in almost every way a candidate for president can. He has promised to appoint federal judges who take the Scalia-Thomas-Roberts-Alito view of the Constitution. He has pledged that as president he would do his utmost to persuade Americans to turn away from abortion and toward adoption. He has declared his personal revulsion at abortion. He has stated over and over that pro-life conservatives will have his respect and attention.

Giuliani may not speak about life issues with the fervor and eloquence of a George W. Bush. But for all practical purposes, what he would actually do would look very similar to what George W. Bush actually has done. Maybe even better: Remember, Giuliani will be taking advice on judges from Theodore Olson – whereas BushÕs first choice for the Alito seat was Harriet Miers.

Arkes offers pro-life conservatives this practical advice: “It is conceivable, then, that from the standpoint of the pro-lifers it might be better to lose to Hillary Clinton than to win with Rudy Giuliani.”

Does this make sense? Here we are at a breakthrough moment for the pro-life cause. Four judges on the Supreme Court believe Roe was wrongly decided. A fifth is approaching his 90th birthday. The number of abortions carried out annually in America has dropped by about 300,000 over the past 15 years, and public opinion is slowly shifting in a pro-life direction. And this is the moment you want to lose?

Think what the consequences of losing would be for the pro-life cause: The next eight years are likely to see the first beginnings of scientific tinkering with the human genetic code. Neo-eugenics will become a real possibility. We may have, luckily, escaped an ethical dilemma on stem cells, but there are plenty more dilemmas to come. The rules that get written in 2009-2017 are likely to set the nationÕs moral compass for a long time to come. Do you really want Hillary Clinton to be the president who writes those rules?

Remember, we will probably face Democratic Congresses at least until 2013. The pro-life cause will be on defense – and when you are under fire, isnÕt Rudy Giuliani the guy you want on your side? HeÕs the candidate who brings the gun to the knife fight, who defies pressure groups, and who makes it a point of honor not just to demand loyalty – but to return it.

Something similar might be said about Giuliani on gun rights. ItÕs true that as mayor of New York, in the middle of a crack war, Giuliani supported restrictions on automatic weapons. ItÕs equally true that since 1994, gun control has vanished as an issue in federal politics – very largely because Americans are so much less frightened of crime than they were in 1994. It was GiulianiÕs success in New York that did more than anything to take guns off the Democratic agenda. In practical political terms, Rudy Giuliani is the best friend gun owners ever had.

On same-sex marriage, GiulianiÕs view is identical to that of most Republican politicians – and indeed most of the editors of National Review: civil unions yes, marriage no.

On immigration, GiulianiÕs views are more permissive than most of us at National Review would prefer. But they represent a huge improvement over the status quo. Today, the immigration laws are barely enforced at all: By 2008, some 10 million people will have migrated to the U.S. during the Bush years, more than half of them illegally. The large majority will be very low-skilled people who will consume much more in benefits than they will pay in taxes. Over the longer term, we need to shift from lower-skilled to higher-skilled immigration. But the immediate need is to stop illegal migration by effective enforcement of existing laws, using new technologies that identify who is and who is not entitled to work in the United States. Giuliani has promised to do that – and if there is one thing he has proven he can do, it is enforce laws.

This is a wartime election. It is an election that will decide between a free, competitive health system and a government monopoly. It will decide whether taxes rise, whether the swing seat on the Supreme Court goes to a liberal or a conservative, whether illegal aliens get enforcement or amnesty. This is not an election that conservatives can afford to lose. But it is an election we will lose if we refuse to face realities.

We must avoid the mistake we made in 1996, when we picked a candidate because he made us feel comfortable – with little regard to how the majority of Americans would feel about him. When Americans look at our array of candidates on the stage, they see only one president up there. ThatÕs the president we should offer them.

Don’t Take Populism Too Far

David Frum December 15th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Since the 1960s, conservatives have chafed and seethed against liberal elitism.

Liberals have used their influence in the courts and government bureaucracies to win political victories they never could have won at the ballot box. Conservatives have reacted by turning to populism–to a defence of the commonsense wisdom of ordinary voters against the pretensions of know-it-alls.

Conservatives have drawn strength from populism. But you can overdo any good thing–and I am beginning to think that on this one, we’ve zoomed the car into the red zone.

For me, the lights started flashing in 2005, during the battle over the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court of the United States. Defenders of the president’s under-qualified nominee began attacking the concept of qualification. One wrote: “The GOP is not the party which idolizes Ivy League acceptability as the criterion of intellectual and mental fitness. Nor does the Supreme Court ideally consist of the nine greatest legal scholars.” Harriet Miers, we were told, had a good Christian heart. That was enough.

In the end, it was not quite enough for Ms. Miers. But it may be enough for many voters in 2008. Look, for example, at the state of the Republican presidential race.

The currently front-running candidate in Iowa, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, has built his campaign on a plan to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax.

Economists and tax experts virtually unanimously agree that the plan is beyond unworkable–that it is downright absurd. (It does not help that it was originally drafted by the Church of Scientology.)

The idea was taken up by the radio talk-show host Neil Boortz (“the mouth of the South”), who published a book called The Fair Tax in 2006. Governor Huckabee read the book–and was sold on the spot.

Now you might expect a presidential candidate to do a little more thinking about his top domestic policy proposal than reading one pop best-seller. But you’d be wrong!

Just a little lower down in the polls is a libertarian candidate named Ron Paul. Paul is best known for his vehemently isolationist foreign policy views. But his core supporters also thrill to his self-taught monetary views, which amount to a rejection of everything taught by modern economists from Alfred Marshall to Milton Friedman.

Huckabee and Paul have not the faintest idea of what they are talking about. The problem is not that their answers are wrong–that can happen to anyone. The problem is that they don’t understand the questions, and are too lazy or too arrogant to learn. But say that aloud and their partisans will shout back: Elitism!

On its face, this retort is ridiculous. How exactly is it elitist to expect a candidate for president to be immune to obvious flim-flam? Or to submit his ideas to criticism–and change them if they cannot stand up?

And yet it also has to be admitted: Many of us on the conservative side have fed this monster. (Rightly) aghast at the abuse of expertise by liberal judges, liberal bureaucrats and liberal academics, we have sometimes over-reacted by denying the importance of expertise altogether.

“‘Heart’ is crucial,” one of George W. Bush’s early evangelical supporters argued in a 2005 newspaper column. This same writer accused those conservatives who questioned Bush’s “faith-based initiative” of having “holes in their souls.”

So now instead of holes in our souls, we conservatives are getting candidates with holes in their heads.

Here’s the lesson to learn: It’s always important to respect the values and principles of the voters. But politicians who want to deliver effective government and positive results have to care about more than values–and have to do more than check their guts. They need to study the problem, master the evidence, and face criticism.

It’s not only conservatives who succumb to gimmicks of course. The left still feels a lingering attachment to socialism, the most disastrous gimmick of them all. Tough-minded conservatives slashed that illusion to pieces decades ago. But since then, we have begun to go a little easy on ourselves. And over the past half dozen years, the consequences of our militant anti-elitism has come home to roost.

If elitism means snobbishness, then of course it is a vicious thing. If it means being impressed by credentials instead of evidence, then again: good riddance. But if it is elitist to expect politicians to be able to see through glaringly false and stupid ideas–well in that case, call me elitist.

No Nukes, No War

David Frum December 12th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

America’s new intelligence estimate on Iran changes nothing–and it changes everything. Last week, the Bush administration released large portions of its latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program. The NIE concluded that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The NIE cautioned that there remained much to worry about. Iran could revive its weapons program at any time. And Iran continues to enrich uranium to levels that could serve as the fuel for a nuclear weapon.

Still, the NIE went far to lift the mood of imminent threat. The Iranian nuclear problem remains a huge problem–but maybe not an urgent problem.

Some have questioned the value of the NIE. No question, intelligence is a very imperfect art. Intelligence agencies often have institutional biases. The CIA in particular has been waging a long-term insurgency against the Bush administration through damaging leaks.

But an NIE is not a CIA product. An NIE represents the consensus view of the 16 U.S. national intelligence agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the high-tech listening specialists at the National Security Agency. This particular NIE seems to owe a great deal to information provided by Ali Reza Asghari, the Iranian deputy minister of defense who defected to the United States in February, 2007. It would be very unwise and irresponsible to mark the NIE down as the work of disgruntled internal political opponents in the bureaucracy.

The NIE is a foundational political fact that will make it politically impossible for the Bush administration to launch a strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Now in one sense, this changes nothing. Hype aside (and as I’ve been writing for 18 months) the Bush administration has never had any real intention of striking the Iranian nuclear facilities. The new intelligence estimate makes it politically impossible to do something that was not going to happen anyway.

Yet the estimate also changes everything. So long as the world believed that the administration might strike Iran, nobody attached much weight to the administration’s utter lack of non-military policies toward the Islamic Republic.

But with force off the table, suddenly the world is noticing that nothing much else is on the table.

Into the void have rushed a thousand policy suggestions. (For those interested, I posted my own at frum.nationalreview.com last Wednesday.)

But few of these suggestions begin with a clear view of what the West needs to accomplish in Iran.

The problem in Iran is not the regime’s weaponry: It is the regime itself.

Even without nuclear weapons, Iran supports terrorism worldwide. Between 1992 and 1996, Iran embarked on a terrorist rampage, carrying out attacks that killed some 200 people in Argentina, Germany and a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia, among other targets. The terror campaign temporarily subsided after 1996, only to resume in 2001, this time targeting first Israel and then Iraq and Afghanistan.

The idea that there is some kind of deal to be done with this regime is highly unrealistic.

The Western goal, rather, should be to drive a wedge between the regime and its disaffected population–in the way that the Reagan administration worked to isolate and discredit Eastern European communist regimes in the1980s.

That means reassuring the Iranian population that the United States intends no violence against them–while maintaining economic pressure against the regime and supporting dissident broadcasting and political movements.

Despite rising oil prices, the Iranian regime is in terrible economic shape. (That may be one reason it suspended its costly nuclear program.) Wages are stagnant, inflation is worsening, unemployment is high, gasoline is in short supply. Foreign investors shun Iran not only because of economic sanctions, but also because the country offers a dangerous and unpredictable business environment.

With oil at $100 a barrel, the regime can probably afford to buy enough support to survive. But as it becomes clear that Washington is not planning to attack Iran, that price should decline–as oil prices always do when threat of war subsides. At $60, $50, $40, $30, the regime becomes steadily less durable; the population increasingly impatient; and the chances for change increasingly promising.

Change should be the goal of U.S. policy. Economic pressure and communications operations should be the methods. A “grand bargain” is the dead end to avoid. And war should be seen as what it always is: a sign of policy failure, rather than a tactic to be used for failure to imagine anything better.

Killing Ourselves With Food

David Frum December 1st, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released some rare good news in the struggle against obesity: For the first time in a generation, things are not getting worse.

One-third of all American men–and more than one-third of American women–are obese. Not just a little large, but seriously fat.

That’s more than twice as many as in 1980. Over the past quarter-century, fatness has emerged as America’s number one public-health problem–and not just America’s. People are getting fatter throughout the developed world, including Canada. About one-quarter of all Canadians now bust the scales, as do one-quarter of all British people, more than one-quarter of Australians and 15% of Germans. Only the Japanese and Koreans seem exempt from this problem, at least so far.

Some might be tempted to attribute this fat explosion to the ageing of the population: As more of us become middle-aged, more of us are starting to carry around a few extra pounds. But obesity is growing as fast among children and teenagers as among adults.

Nor is obesity the same thing as being casually overweight. Health experts define obesity as a body-mass index of more than 30. To put that more visually, a woman standing 5′ 6″ would be considered obese if she weighed more than 186 pounds.

The health consequences of obesity are huge. The obese are more likely to suffer accidents and injury, to absent themselves from work, and to suffer depression and other mental illnesses. The CDC estimates the phenomenon is responsible for almost $100 billion in extra health-care spending per year, about one U.S. health dollar in 10.

Obesity harms the economy in other, unexpected ways as well: In 2000, U.S. airlines spent $275 million more on jet fuel than they would have had passengers weighed the same as they did in 1990. (Environmentalists will note that the airlines also emitted an extra 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide as a result of transporting this extra human freight.)

Obesity may explain the growing gap between U.S. life expectancies and those elsewhere in the advanced world. In 1990, Americans lived almost half a year longer than the advanced-world average. By 2003, they had fallen more than half a year behind.

Never mind the proverbially healthy Swede: The average American now lives less long than the average Greek, Portuguese or Spaniard. Despite the climate, the booze and the bad roads, even the Irish now live longer than the Americans.

Nor should Canadians be complacent: While the advanced world as a whole has added three years to average lifespans since 1990, Canadians have added only two.

Why is this happening? Why so much worse in the U.S. than in the other English-speaking countries, and so much worse in the English-speaking countries than elsewhere in the developed world?

I hear you say: “People are eating too much!” Well yes, that’s certainly the beginning of the answer. But only the beginning.

Food is cheaper relative to income in the United States than in any other country. Cities are less walkable; gasoline more affordable. Americans work longer hours than other English-speakers, who in turn work longer hours than Europeans, creating greater demand for prepared foods.

But above all, there is the problem of social attitudes. As people get fatter, they redefine what it means to be normal. Nobody wants to cause hurt feelings. Yet important new research finds that by accepting obesity, we are almost certainly aggravating it.

According to a major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this summer, if even one of your friends becomes obese, your own odds of becoming obese rise by 57%. The impact of a friend’s weight gain is much greater than that of a sibling or a spouse–and it holds true whether your friend lives around the corner or a five-hour drive away. The more intimate the friend, the greater the effect.

In that sense, obesity is contagious–and the battle against obesity has to begin by fighting the contagion.

Acknowledge the problem. Let schools and public health authorities speak explicitly about what constitutes healthy weight. Stop fretting about the hugely exaggerated problem of anorexia–and instead candidly tell young people that the “eating disorder” that most threatens them is eating too much, not too little.

Perhaps what is needed above all is a crusading leader, somebody who will make obesity a cause like drunk driving and anti-smoking.

And as it happens, we have the very guy: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who lost–and kept off–100 pounds. Huckabee has moved from nowhere in the polls to the probable Republican vice-presidential nominee on the strength of his wit and charm. Now he needs a cause. Why not this?