It was Ronald Reagan's favorite newspaper. Now Human Events, a conservative stalwart publication for decades, has hit the skids. It will maintain an online "presence," as the saying goes, but no more print. Is it an omen of a larger conservative failure, or, to put it more precisely, the collapse, not just of moderate Republicans, but also the traditional establishment right?
The most comprehensive report has been issued by FishbowlDC. Most of the staff has been let go. Subscribers, the FishbowlDC report indicates, won't be left in the lurch: "An internal email at Eagle Publishing obtained by FishbowlDC indicated subscriptions to Human Events will be replaced by subscriptions to Forecasts & Strategies, an investment news letter published by Eagle." An interesting form of compensation, but perhaps Eagle knows its market after all. Younger, more aggressive conservative websites have captured much of the audience that might once have thronged to Human Events, which used to be a lodestar of what conservatives were thinking—a kind of tip sheet to the mind of the right. In the end, it couldn't move fast enough to keep up with the morphing of conservatism into its current incarnations. Human Events was no shrinking violet, but on a more elevated plane, the end of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review suggests some of the dilemmas of conservatism as a calming rather than a raging intellectual force.
The truth is that it is becoming more difficult to discern what the right wants, or whether it even knows what it would really like--where the movement, in other words, would like to move, other than remaining stuck in reverse gear. In a bracing analysis, the redoubtable Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University suggests that conservatives are actually winning many of the political battles in Congress, partly because of the filibuster, partly because of the existence of conservative Democrats. He argues that "the polity is not gridlocked, but instead produces the policies and insitutional changes sought by the conservative majority of voters."
There is something to this. But, as a lengthy piece in the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza on the House GOP and Eric Cantor illustrates, it is hard to avoid the sense that the movement is lurching into incoherence. Demographic changes and the emergence of younger voters who view government more favorably are conspiring to render much of the GOP's program otiose. Indeed, Lizza observes that the GOP faces a big stumbling block into trying to reinvent itself:
The House is rarely the source of renewal for a political party. In the nineteen-eighties, during a low point for the Democrats, it was Democratic governors like Bill Clinton, not the unpopular Democratic-controlled House, who pointed the way out of the wilderness for the Party. Major change almost always comes from a party’s aspiring Presidential candidates, and almost never from the House.
Though Cantor expresses the hope that he can reach a compromise with President Obama, it's a feeble one. Lizza adds, "Days after Cantor told me that he wanted to rise above the budget squabbling, he was back in the thick of the fight over the sequester—a policy that, whether he deems it a sideshow or not, will have a more immediate impact on real Americans than any of the issues he mentioned in his think-tank speech" at the American Enterprise Institute.
The refusal to invite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is now being deemed a pseudo-conservative, to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference is another sign of the tensions roiling the GOP. He may be the most popular GOP Governor, but he is coming into bad odor on the right because of his support for a bailout for the victims of the Hurricane Sandy flood. How long the party can continue to ostracize the moderates in its ranks—and Christie is, at bottom, a conservative—without courting further electoral peril is a question that it seems reluctant to address. Perhaps the most remarkable quote in Ryan Lizza's essay comes from Congressman David Dreier, who is stepping down. Dreier calls himself a "Reagan Republican" which, he says, "makes me left of center in my party."
It can't get any stranger than that. Or can it? The Gipper, it seems safe to say, would not be pleased.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war, Andrew J. Bacevich has adopted the epistolary mode of communication in the latest Harper's, a magazine that can always be counted on for elegantly turned essays, to implore Paul Wolfowitz to come to terms with the conflict that he played a key role in promoting and, moreover, that he really only addressed once in a lengthy interview with Sam Tanenhaus in Vanity Fair, in which he conceded that weapons of mass destruction had been fastened upon by the George W. Bush administration as the most persuasive way to sell the war to the public. Now Bacevich is urging Wolfowitz, more or less, to come clean about the war, to reflect upon what went awry in an intellectually honest fashion. Addressing Wolfowitz as "Dear Paul," a privilege he grants himself based upon the fact that Wolfowitz gave him a job when he needed one several decades ago at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Bacevich has composed a remarkably personal and penetrating missive.
As Bacevich observes, the post, however minor, offered him the chance to participate in meetings led by Zbigniew Brzezinski at SAIS where the great events of the day were discussed with various luminaries. Bacevich says it was a learning experience, not so much for what he learned about foreign affairs but about the people who professed to be expert about them. He reached the conclusion—rapidly, I suspect—that "people said to be smart...really aren't. They excel mostly in recycling bromides. When it came sustenance, the sandwiches were superior to the chitchat." Wolfowtiz, however, was an exception. He was bored with administrative work, Bacevich indicates, but when it came to discussing foreign policy, he had game—"at Zbig's luncheons, when you riffed on some policy issue..it was a treat to watch you become so animated."
The heart of Bacevich's essay, however, is about Wolfowitz's relationship with the legendary strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Bacevich suggests that Wolfowitz was never really a neocon; rather, his "approach owed more to Wohlstetter Inc.—a firm less interested in ideology than in power and its employment." Bacevich outlines what he sees as Wohlstetter's approach to international relations (though in a rare lapse he omits to mention the key role played by Wohlstetter's wife Roberta, the author of a highly regarded scholarly study of Pearl Harbor which had a decisive effect on Dick Cheney's thinking about unexpected threats—indeed, a good argument could be made that she was the more rigorous thinker of the two). As Bacevich presents it, Wohlstetter was interested in dominion abroad and believed that "transforming the very nature of war, information technology—an arena in which the United States has historically enjoyed a clear edge—brings outright supremacy within reach." He adds, "of all the products of Albert Wohlstetter's fertile brain, this one impressed you most. The potential implications were dazzling." Iraq provided the pretext to attempt to implement the Wohlstetter doctrine. A successful conflict would allow America to proclaim without fear of contradiction, "I am the greatest!" It failed.
What would Wohlstetter have made of it all?
Bacevich suggests that the ruthlessly pragmatic Wohlstetter, who died in 1997, would have taken a hard look at what went wrong—the war in Afghanistan dragging on into a second decade, Iran's influence increasing almost daily in Iraq, and U.S. and Israeli security interests "rapidly slipping out of sync." (Still, it's fair to wonder if Wohlstetter himself would have endorsed the war in the first place, which Bacevich appears to assume.) No one among George W. Bush's votaries has offered anything other than valedictory statements. But why not the most gifted of the bunch, Wolfowitz? Why doesn't he take a fresh look? It is incumbent upon him, Bacevich mordantly concludes, to "give it a shot."
My own suggestion: Bacevich and Wolfowitz should carry on a prolonged correspondence about foreign policy that could be turned into a book. Neither of these two perspicuous observers would be able to evade the other. This would surely constitute one of the more illuminating exchanges that Washington, DC has witnessed in many moons.
Martin Peretz is going to war again, or at least he thinks he is. The former owner of the New Republic began his intellectual career as a man of the left before he began drifting towards neoconservatism in the early 1970s. Now his drift appears to have been consummated. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Peretz retails many of the grievances that the neocons historically directed toward his magazine. In the Journal, which appears to be one of the few outlets that will publish him, Peretz complains that his former magazine is becoming a redoubt of leftism. Whether his account amounts to more than peevish rantings, however, is another matter.
Peretz, who most recently got into hot water for his musings about denying American Muslims their constitutional rights and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology, may not be the best judge of what constitutes the appropriate boundaries of debate about race in America. But he doesn't let that stop him. On the contrary, he assails New York Times editor Sam Tanenhaus for publishing a provocative piece that delved deeply into American political history called "Original Sin" about the Republican party and race. Merely raising the topic appears to be taboo for Peretz who declares but does not show why the essay is intellectually wanting. Nor, for that matter, does he acknowledge that Tanenhaus published a number of important pieces during Peretz's own tenure at the magazine.
Nevertheless, for all his indignation over Tanenhaus, Peretz's real aim is to depict himself as the victim of a terrible betrayal. Peretz suggests that he has been betrayed by Chris Hughes, the new owner of the magazine who is trying to revive it. According to Peretz,
What made the "Original Sin" issue unrecognizable to this former owner is that it established as fact what had only been suggested by the magazine in the early days of its new administration: The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.
Yikes! This is quite a claim to advance since only two issues of the magazine in its fresh incarnation have appeared. Peretz, however, is undaunted. He adds, "Mr. Hughes is not from the world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann, the old-school liberals who founded the `journal of opinion' in the hope that it would foment in its readers `little insurrections of the mind.'" But how does Peretz know that? And is the stuffy "world of Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann," as Peretz pretentiously puts it, something that is worthy of aspiration a century later? In any case, his dismissive depiction of Hughes is redolent of the worst kind of intellectual snobbery.
The preening Peretz goes on to boast about his own record as editor, pointing to his support of the Nicaraguan contras and Israel as the kind of heteredox positions on the left that testify to his own bravery. What he does not acknowledge, however, is that his increasing intellectual rigidity and incessant fulgurations ended up running the magazine into the ground. His views were not fresh and surprising and insightful; they were utterly predictable. His revelations were only revelatory to himself. Now that he has been stripped of his blog at TNR, he can only broadcast them occasionally and is lurching ever further into cranky irrelevance. By now Peretz isn't worthy of scorn but pity.
President Obama is ending the no drama phase of his presidency. Ever since his pallid performance against Mitt Romney in the first debate, Obama has been reinventing himself. Last night he emerged as the liberal president that has always been suppressed under his careful carapace of cool and calm. Taking a leaf from George W. Bush, Obama went on the offensive. He ended his speech with a fervent plea for gun control—a moralistic rather than policy-wonk ending that allowed him to claim the moral high ground. The only thing that threatened to overshadow his speech was the spectacle of Christopher J. Dorner engaged in a shootout in a cabin in California with the police.
Despite the nuclear test in North Korea—an ominous move that could portend real trouble for the administration in its second term—Obama treated foreign affairs almost as an afterthought, which, given the tenor of the Senate hearings on Chuck Hagel's nomination, in which Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made the odious suggestion that Hagel may have received tens of millions from North Korea and is, in effect, a communist fellow traveler, Obama might be pardoned for not wanting to tackle. But problems and threats are mounting abroad. But Obama made it clear that his focus will be on domestic policy. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan. No new wars are in the offing.
Obama staked out a firmly progressive program on guns, schools, climate change, and, above all, jobs. For those who proclaimed that he took a prolonged detour in enacting health-care during his first term, Obama made it clear that he's going to focus on employment in his second. And the deficit? Not so much. "Most Americans," he said, "understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue." The line coming from the White House will be that economic growth commands priority over cutting entitlement benefits. The unpleasant task of trimming, or even slashing, benefits for the elderly—something that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans really want to tackle—will be a problem for Obama's successor, whoever he or she may be.
Judging by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul's responses to Obama last night, it won't be either of them. At least if they don't become more polished. Rubio made waves not for what he said, but for his lunge for a water bottle during his response. Rand Paul always looks a little unkempt. Why the GOP, which proclaimed that it was going to speak with one voice, needed two to answer Obama is somewhat mysterious. But infighting among the Republicans is what Obama will rely upon to pass as much of his program as he can squeak through a fractured Congress. The complaint that Obama is promoting "big government" is too vague; the GOP would have to enunicate a program of what it envisions as reviving an economy that remains very much on the artificial life support being supplied by the Federal Reserve. The GOP's boldest move to counter Obama seems to have been to invite the rock star Ted Nugent who once advised him to "suck on my machine gun." But such inflammatory rhetoric was nowhere in evidence as the GOP tries to mount its new charm offensive with voters. It's dropped the searing language and becoming rather goody two-shoes. Senator Mike Johanns told the New York Times: "Good people will show that we're a governing party. You win elections because people believe you can make a difference."
Which is what Obama was trying to demonstrate last night. His new persona is winning him plaudits among liberals. David Corn, for example, observed,
With this address, he didn't hold back. And if he only succeeds in placing this nation on the road to universal preschool, that in itself would be a historic accomplishment of fundamental consequence. With this address—which seemed to bore House Speaker John Boehner—the president was not trying to win over recalcitrant Republicans and nudge them toward the compromises they have by and large eschewed. He was trying to lead.
For all Obama's rhetorical skills on Tuesday night, however, he will be judged not by his efforts on gun control or expanding preschools, but on his ability to improve the economy. If the unemployment rate falls significantly and if inflation remains low and the stock market continues to rise, the rest will follow. If they don't, he could still go down as a very unpopular president.
Karl Rove's mishap on election night, when he insisted that Ohio, contrary to all factual evidence, might end up in Mitt Romney's victory column, is apprently not being held against him at Fox News, where, unlike Sarah Palin, he was recently awarded a lucrative contract extension. But since then the burgeoning civil war in the GOP is starting to raise questions about Rove's own political viability, his status, in short, as a kingmaker inside the party. The proximate cause of the discussion is Rove's avowed aim to target candidates that he views as too extreme to compete effectively in congressional races. Rove is announcing that he will use an organization called the Conservative Victory Project to ensure that Republicans emerge—what else?—victorious in the next round of national elections.
It's an audacious promise from an operative who sunk about $300 million into the 2012 election and ended up with scant results to show for it. In the business world, Rove's performance would have earned him the heave-ho. But in the political world the former wonder boy who stage managed George W. Bush's ascent—an ascension that explains much of the GOP's current woes—is moving on to his next act, which is to try and salvage something from the mess he helped create. Can he do it?
Writing at the Huffington Post, Howard Fineman flatly declares that Rove is "done." The GOP may revive, but it won't because of Rove's efforts:
Tea Partiers rightly ask what Rove and his rich-as-Croesus American Crossroads super PAC have gotten for conservatives or even the GOP. Rove is a master tactician, but not necessarily a great judge of political horseflesh. His taste tends to run to rich guys who can pay him a lot -- which worked out well only in the case of W., and then only by skin of Justice Antonin Scalia's ("get over it") teeth.
Now come the likes of senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky to challenge him: smart, angry and anti-establishment conservatives who loath the country club types and who want to remake the Republican Party in their own uncompromisingly isolationist, anti-governmental, anti-social-welfare and anti-tax image.
As Fineman sees, a battle is erupting between the establishment and Tea Party types. Fineman believes that the establishment may win in the end, harnessing the energy of the grass roots. But Rove will not be the leader of this charge. It will be younger figures in the GOP such Florida Senator Marco Rubio who, like Richard Nixon, will have to perform the act of uniting the two wings of the party.
Maybe so. But over at TalkingPointsMemo, it is possible to glean the animus that animates both wings of the GOP. This is not a fight. It is a blood feud. Here are what some of the principals are saying about each other:
“The Empire is striking back,” warned Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks.
Tea party-backed former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) told TPM he’ll start a super PAC to counter Rove’s effort, declaring, “If Rove wants a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, bring it on.”
In the Georgia Senate race, Congressman Broun vowed not to be “intimidated” by the establishment. In Iowa, Congressman King declared that “[n]obody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest.”
RedState’s Erick Erickson wrote: “I dare say any candidate who gets this group’s support should be targeted for destruction by the conservative movement.”
Brent Bozell of the conservative Media Research Center slammed Rove’s group, calling it “shamelessly” named, arguing that right-wing candidates like Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL), and Pat Toomey (PA) have won Senate seats. In response, Rove’s spokesman Jonathan Collegio called Bozell a “hater.”
The real question is whether the verbal hand grenades that these conservatives are lobbing at each other will revive or annihilate the GOP. The midterm elections will go some ways toward settling that question. If the Tea Party continues to make inroads into the GOP, then the die will be cast. The movement conservatism that began in the 1950s will continue its capture of the GOP, but the question will be whether it is actually capturing anything other than a shell of a party. This time there is no Dwight Eisenhower lurking in the wings to capture the nomination and quash the hard right.
But another possiblity does exist. Perhaps the various factions will end up declaring a truce with Rubio moving toward the center and Tea Party darling Rand Paul running as his vice-presidential candidate. If Rove wants to prove that he isn't finished, maybe he can even preside over the reunification of the GOP. So far, it resembles two warring camps rather than a coherent political party.
Image: Flickr/Llyn Hunter, Bobcat Publishing. CC BY 2.0.
Over a decade ago Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis published a book called The Emerging Democratic Majority. Their argument was that a new "progressive centrism" was emerging and that it was based on demographic and social trends. Then came George W. Bush and Karl Rove. By 2004 Rove was declaring that he had created a new conservative governing coalition. Then came 2006. Rove had failed.
Since the 2012 presidential election, the Teixeira-Judis thesis, once branded empty, is getting a fresh and well-deserved look. And so a new flurry of speculation has emerged about President Obama. Can the Democratic party duplicate his success in the past two presidential elections? Has Obama created a new majority? Are the Republicans doomed to obsolescence?
In an enlightening article in the latest (and final) issue of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review, the magazine's longtime editor Tod Lindberg tackles these questions. Operating at a fairly high level of abstraction—Lindberg never quite defines what or who makes up the "Left 3.0" that he identifies—Lindberg examines the evolution of the Democratic Party and the Left over the past few decades. He doesn't quite put it this way, but he appears to suggest that the Left has grown up, while the Right is in danger of splitting into multifarious factions, each vying for a shrinking slice of the electorate and condemning the other as false to the true faith, whatever it may be.
To be sure, Lindberg argues that there are continuities between the aspirations of the old Left and the new version. But what is most distinctive about his essay is the cool and impartial manner in which he dissects the changes that have taken place in the Democratic party. He echoes David Brooks in concluding that former radicals have largely been domesticated, even turned bourgeois. The radical thing about the Democratic Party, you could say, is that it doesn't believe in old-time radicalism. For example, Lindberg writes that
There are, no doubt, a few aging radicals who still dream of sweeping the whole capitalist system away and starting over. But never in the history of the Left have such views been so marginal. Once the vanguard of the Left, the radicals are now its pets.
Violence on the Left seems largely confined to scuffles during demonstrations, and indeed, the Left is now heavily vested in the proposition that the real danger of political violence comes from the extreme right. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, casts a longer shadow now than any remnant of the Weather Underground. The last thing Left 3.0 would wish to be thought is dangerous.
The Democratic Party may be in a strong position to consolidate its recent gains. For one thing, the infighting among Republicans—the latest example is Karl Rove's establishment of a division of American Crossroads to support more moderate Republican candidates in congressional races, a move that is drawing outraged cries of heresy and treachery from Tea Party circles—is helping to shore up Democratic electoral fortunes. But as Lindberg cogently points out, it is also the case that Democrats are better organized and more attuned to what the electorate actually wants—generational differences, the changes in the demographics are all ensuring that the GOP brand has passed its sell-by date, an argument underscored by a highly informative essay in the January/February issue of the American Prospect by Celinda Lake, Michael Adams, and David Mermin which contains a lengthy analysis of recent polls that show, among other things, that 75 percent of Americans under thirty agree with the statement that "I would be happy if someone in my family married someone of a different race" and 54 percent agree that "It should be primarily government, not the private sector, that is concerned with solving the country's social problems."
According to Lindberg,
A united conservative movement is unlikely any time soon to find itself at one with the Republican Party in the manner in which Left 3.0 is at one with the Democratic Party. First, one would need a united conservative movement, which is difficult to envision in its own right, leaving aside its potential for melding with the gop.
In a broader sense, though, the Left differs from the Right in knowing where it wants to go: in the direction of more equality. Conservatives mostly know where they want to stay: in conditions in which liberty can thrive and the market can work its wonders in creating prosperity. Since the push in the direction of equality will sometimes impinge on liberty and on the market in ways that people will notice and object to, conservative reform will once again have its day. But today belongs to Left 3.0.
Faced with this prospect, the conservative movement might detach itself from the Republican party. Is it possible that conservatism will flourish as a niche industry even as the GOP goes down to electoral defeats? Republicans may think they can simply rebrand their party, but it needs an entire reboot.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Soman. CC BY-SA 2.5.
One of the more lamentable traits of neoconservatism has been steadily to try and lower the bar of who—or what—is deemed anti-Semitic. Elliott Abrams, for example, recently denounced former Senator and Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite, a grave accusation that boomeranged on him as even Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, nominally Abrams' boss, felt constrained to observe that it was a preposterous statement. Now a web site called the Washington Free Beacon, which is edited by Matthew Continetti, a son-in-law of William Kristol, who is the editor of the Weekly Standard, has descried anti-Semitism at the New Republic.
The Beacon alleges that the new owner of the magazine, Chris Hughes, is purging Jewish contributing editors from the masthead. It says,
The New Republic has quietly dropped at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead in a move that may signal the publication’s continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint.
The magazine has launched an aggressive new editorial direction under the ownership of wealthy socialite Chris Hughes, who is best known for sharing a room with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University.
The names of several prominent Jewish writers from both the left and right of the political spectrum were dropped from TNR’s masthead in the latest issue.
Now this would be rather ominous if it were true, if Hughes were really intent on making his new premises Judenrein. But to use vice-president Joe Biden's favorite term, it's malarkey. The fact is that the magazine has periodically trimmed its contributing editor masthead (to which I once belonged). It's an honorific rather than a formal post. Moreover, as Jonathan Chait points out, the Beacon itself notes by the end of its note that a number of other writers are being dropped as contributing editors as well: "the facts of the story turn out to be that a magazine has conducted some routine trimming of its unpaid, ceremonial list, and five of the writers deprived of their ceremonial title are Jewish and seven are not!" It's also the case that Peter Beinart, who has made waves with his criticisms of Israel and its American advocates, is also dropped from the masthead, an inconvenient fact that directly contradicts the already tendentious claims of the Beacon, which are attracting widespread ridicule.
Nevertheless, it does seem clear that in dropping several neocons from its masthead the magazine continues, at least symbolically, to sever its links to the movement whose foreign policy credo it once championed, particularly during the Iraq War. The era of Martin Peretz is over. A new one looms. What the future precisely holds for TNR, which is making a bold attempt to try and revivify itself, remains an open question. But it is clear that the neocons are becoming increasingly shrill as they watch a magazine they once relied on to mainstream their ideas seek out more fertile territory than the arid doctrines of yesteryear. This development has nothing to do with anti-Semitism and everything to do with intellectual honesty.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Knowtex. CC BY 2.0.
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is intent on making a political comeback, has a knack for stirring up controversy. He has repeatedly uttered politically incorrect statements and engaged in outlandish, if not bizarre, behavior. But he has crossed into dangerous territory with his remarks defending the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Milan.
Mussolini began his career as a man on the left and then migrated to the right, where he led the March on Rome to install his personal dictatorship in 1922 as the head of the country's National Fascist Party. His success led Hitler to try and emulate Mussolini's march to power with the Beer Hall putsch in Munich in 1923. It failed. Hitler was put on trial and given a light sentence. But the lesson Hitler drew was that he had to come to power by democratic means. Nevertheless, the example of Mussolini helped embolden Hitler in his belief that he, too, could lead a fascist revolution in Germany.
Mussolini was not intent on mass extermination of the Jews, but that is hardly the measure. Mussolini, three years after the 1935 Nuremberg racial laws, passed his own, and worked, as far as possible, to extrude Jews from Italian society, including interning them in concentration camps in Italy. Whether Mussolini was a hardened fanatic or a ruthless opportunist, as the historian Denis Mack Smith has argued, is not really germane. The result of his alliance with Hitler was catastrophic. Once Hitler occupied Italy in 1943, thousands of Jews were deported to the death camps. In 2013 it should hardly be necessary to recite these well-known facts. But Berlusconi's remarks testify to the lingering attachment of some Italians to neo-fascist sentiments and to the urge to polish up their own history rather than confront the obvious.
Supposedly, Winston Churchill said it was fine that Italy was on the side of England's opponents since "we had them last time"—a jest about the inefficacy of the Italian fighting forces. But the fact remains that Mussolini, a vicious despot, plighted his troth with Hitler and Italians, and particularly Jewish Italians, ended up paying the price. But Berlusconi is engaging in the kind of historical revisionism that the right has sometimes tried to perpetrate in Germany as well—the notion that Hitler, or Mussolini, had their good sides and their bad sides, and that distinctions can be made between their policies, when the truth is that they cannot, and that the two dictators directed everything toward militarism and war, policies that ended up leading their countries into an abyss from which it took them decades to emerge.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Berlusconi announced,
"It's difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time," said Berlusconi, 76, who is campaigning ahead of elections in February.
"Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it," he said. "As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews. The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well."
What Berlusconi and other revisionists will never concede is that racial laws were not incidental to these fascist regimes, but their very essence. Mussolini allied himself not because he was cowering before Nazi Germany, but because he reckoned he would end up on the winning side with all the spoils that would entail. He was wrong. With his historical contortions, which are as pathetic as they are offensive, he is defending the indefensible. Berlusconi, who likely hopes to curry favor with voters on the right, is simply bringing further discredit upon himself and Italy. His remarks offer a reminder of the moral obtuseness of those who would try to efface rather than remember the Holocaust. The sooner this odious man disappears from the political scene, the better.
Image: Left half public domain, right half Wikimedia Commons/European People's Party, CC BY 2.0.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio just made a small but significant move that indicates he is preparing to run for the presidency. He has hired Jamie M. Fly, until recently executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative and a former Bush administration official, to serve as his senior national security adviser. It's a shrewd decision, at least within the context of a Republican party that refuses to acknowledge that the Iraq War was less than a roaring success, and one that further testifies to the mounting dominance of the neocons. By and large, they set the template for the discussion of foreign policy in the GOP. Their ascendance suggests that it is most improbable that a debate, let alone a civil war, will erupt within the GOP over foreign affairs. On the contrary, the neocons appear to be more firmly in control than ever.
The Foreign Policy Initiative is an organization that was created in 2009 by William Kristol to groom new and younger cadres. The organization appears to be a success, boasting no less than three separate leadership programs, with one in New York and two in Washington, DC. Fly is himself a savvy and energetic neocon who has staked out a very hard line in foreign affairs on issues ranging from Syria to Afghanistan to Israel. This past fall, in Foreign Policy, he declared that Obama
has serially alienated allies and failed to speak out on behalf of those oppressed by despotic regimes, even as he engages the tyrants who threaten U.S. interests and crush dissent. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapons capability by the day, the gap between the United States and our ally Israel, grows and terrorist plots and attacks on U.S. personnel ordered by Tehran go unanswered.
His appointment to Rubio's staff attests to the influence of the neocons within the GOP and Kristol's success at promoting his associates.
His most notable publication is an essay in Foreign Affairs co-authored with Gary Schmitt calling for an American attack on Iran:
a limited military strike would only be a temporary fix, and it could actually do the opposite of what it intends—drive the program further underground and allow Iran to retain the ability to threaten the United States and its allies.If the United States seriously considers military action, it would be better to plan an operation that not only strikes the nuclear program but aims to destabilize the regime, potentially resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis once and for all.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that regime change would occur as a result of any air assault, no matter how massive, or, for that matter, that an assault would really be, as Oliver North once put it about the Iran-Contra caper, a "neat idea." It could just send the whole region up in flames or end up bolstering the regime. The more salient point, for now, is that Rubio is clearly staking out his territory—no enemies to the right when it comes to foreign affairs. His move will likely nudge other possible candidates to sign on neocons as well as a proleptic campaign defense measure.
As an important new article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker shows, there has been little effort to reassess America's military stance after the cold war. Lepore, who cites the views of Boston University's Andrew J. Bacevich, a prominent critic of American militarism, makes a simple but fundamental point:
The United States, separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, is, by dint of geography, among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy. Much of the money that the federal government spends on “defense” involves neither securing the nation’s borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy.
It would be difficult to disagree. Obama has pulled America out of Iraq, and is pulling it out of Afghanistan, but no fundamental debate about the power and purpose of America abroad exists either in the administration or on Capitol Hill. Instead, an observer who had missed the past twenty years might be forgiven upon returning for concluding that America remained under the same siege mentality that prevailed during the cold war. Substitute China or Islamic terror for the Soviet Union, and all the same arguments can be heard. The most prominent exponents of ideas such as regime change remain the neocons.But as Lepore suggests, there is increasing unease among the American population with such truculence, not to mention among the military: "Younger veterans are critical, too. A 2011 Pew survey of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq found that half thought the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting, and nearly sixty per cent thought the Iraq War wasn’t." There can be little doubting that Americans are not eager for more warfare in Iran or Syria or other hotspots. These sentiments, however, are not reflected in the GOP. Instead, Obama is signaling that he will elevate diplomacy above truculence in his second term, while the neocons denounce him for his alleged pusillanimity.Speaking on PBS on Tuesday night, for example, AEI's Danielle Pletka denounced the Obama administration in apocalyptic language for ignoring the myriad threats to American security:
I think the entire trend has been troubling. And I think Benghazi was merely a symptom of a larger policy of retreat, of unwillingness to deal with the challenges that we're facing from al-Qaida, because it's not just in the Maghreb. It's not just in Libya and in Mali and in Algeria. It's also in Yemen. It's in Sinai. It's in Iraq. It's, of course, in South Asia and Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The threats are anywhere and everywhere, in other words. Soon enough it is a neocon credo that Marco Rubio, too, will surely espouse. But until the GOP breaks with such shibboleths, it will face electoral ruin.
Flickr/Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.
President Obama, long reviled by the left as a trimmer and the right as a socialist, delivered one of his most impassioned and liberal speeches at the inaugural, a fiery exhortation that sought to shift the cultural ground of America. He made explicit what has always been implicit in his improbable odyssey—his drive to unite America around a new credo of unification, based, in part, on a conception of the federal government itself as a unifying force to foster independent drive and initiative. It was an ambitious vision of a liberal and liberalizing and exceptional America. Obama sounded like Reagan even as he repudiated his disdain for big government. In his radical speech, Obama flung down the gauntlet to the Republican Party, defying it to defy him.
Nor did the radicalism end there. It was in foreign affairs that Obama staked out the most temerarious new ground. He made it clear that he was dispensing, more or less, with the George W. Bush era. For all his evocation of American exceptionalism, Obama essentially denied it in foreign policy. He made it clear that there will be no precipitous attack against Iran, a country that he did not even bother to mention in his speech. Instead, Obama enunciated that the age of warfare that has tormented America for the past decade will come to an end. His lodestar will be diplomacy. Liberal hawks and neocons alike will be disconsolate. The Washington Post editorial page is already decrying Obama for engaging in "wishful thinking abroad." Even "a barrelful" of it. My, my, my. Are matters really so dire? "America's adversaries," we are told, "are not in retreat; they will be watching Mr. Obama in his second term to see if the same can be said of the United States."
Maybe so. But there is a distinction between prudence—between husbanding resources and using them strategically—and promiscuous intervention abroad. Is Mali worth a fight or would it boomerang? Should America become directly involved in the Syrian civil war? What are the consequences of bombing Iran? Obama is not an isolationist. But he has no appetite for embarking upon new land wars in the Middle East in either Syria or Iran. He may also choose to pursue a more detached relationship with Israel. The results of the Israeli election today may well occasion more disquiet in the White House.
But will Obama's approach in domestic and foreign affairs be vindicated in the next four years? Scandals or an unexpected war could completely derail his presidency. His second term could lead to greatness or utter disaster, and the record of second term presidencies has been a shaky one at best. National Interest editor Robert Merry observes that Obama's biggest challenge will be reducing the federal budget deficit and entitlements over the next four years. In his speech Obama elided this problem by declaring that he would protect the elderly, the poor, and children. But there is an inevitable collision between entitlements and protecting the economy to promote greater economic growth. Perhaps Obama will elucidate his stance on the budget more clearly in his upcoming State of the Union speech. For now, he has made it clear, however, that he is in a fighting mood. The GOP has been warned. If it wants to pursue a different path, it will have to outline one rather than simply engage in noisy obstructionism. The GOP has already been caught flatfooted on taxes and on raising the debt ceiling.
But Obama, too, will have to perform a partial U-turn. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus says,
At some point, Obama is likely to need willing collaborators from the opposition—if he hopes to pass an immigration reform law, for example, or negotiate a long-term deal to reduce the deficit.
When that day comes, the president may find himself wishing he had devoted a few more words of his second inaugural address to offering an outstretched hand.
That day is coming soon.
Image: Flickr/Glyn Lowe Photoworks. CC BY 2.0.