Useful Idiots

Ours is an age that places a great deal of emphasis on authenticity. Coupled with the inherent relativism of popular phrases like “my truth”  and “lived experience” it is meant to obliterate the idea that there is an objective reality. What really matters in this version of events is how an event is perceived. Feelings trump reason. 

Hence the importance of Lenin’s memorable description of the naive Westerners who supported him; he referred to them as useful idiots. Nowhere is that description more apt than when it is used to describe Western supporters of Hamas and other jihadist groups in their war against Israel. 

Let us assume absolute sincerity on the part of students at elite universities who support Hamas; politicians like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; the leaders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); various peace organizations, and the rapper Macklemore. They all denounce Israel for exercising its right of self-defense in the wake of the Oct 7 attacks by Hamas. (America is also held responsible for supporting the “Zionist entity.”) The proclamations of Hamas are treated as gospel truth while anything the Israelis or Americans say is attacked as propaganda.

So why don’t we take a look at what Hamas and other Islamist leaders are actually saying, rather than what their apologists claim they are saying. One thing that often happens is that Jihadists say one thing in Arabic, but whitewash it in English for Western audiences. Elliot Kaufman has done a great service by publishing a piece in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about an organization named the Middle East Media Research Institure (MEMRI) that tracks, publishes and translates into English speeches and articles by these Islamist leaders. The article can be found at the link to the Wall Street Journal, above. 

The screen shot below is from a short video on MEMRI’s website. It clearly demonstrates what Israel and the West are really up against. It’s worth visiting the website while pondering the applicability of the phrase “useful idiots.”

JFB

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The State of Play

Question: What are the serious challenges the United States currently faces?

Hint: The answer does not include specifying pronouns.

The answers should be more than obvious. (1) America faces perhaps the most important foreign policy challenges it has ever faced. (2) America’s public finances border on catastrophic and need to be put on a corrective path before it is too late. (3) The mono-culture being promoted by elite institutions is not only an affront to the primacy of reason; it is illiberal and authoritarian.

Let us consider each of these challenges in turn.

Foreign Policy


Through arms sales and financial support we are indirect participants in both Ukraine’s war of self-defense against Russian aggression and in Israel’s war of self defense against Hamas. We are also an ally of Taiwan and the Philippines, both of which are increasingly threatened by China. In any of these situations, we could easily be drawn into playing an active military role.

Note that arrayed against the liberal democracies of the West plus Japan and South Korea, is an alliance of authoritarian and militaristic regimes. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are supplying various types of aid to each other, as well as to Iran and its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other Islamist groups. Note too that Hamas, by last count, still holds 9 American hostages as well as over 100 hostages of other nations.

The attacks on American military assets and commercial shipping in the Red Sea make clear that American military power has not served to deter Houthi aggression in Yemen (another Iranian proxy group). Nor has China been dissuaded from building up its military capability in the South China Sea where it continues to harass Taiwanese and Philippine assets.

Add to this the fact that the Biden Administration was unaware of the location of the Secretary of Defense for going on a week while the US was actively engaged in shooting down drone and missile attacks in the Middle East. And that Republicans, egged on By Donald Trump, have increasingly adopted an isolationist McGovernite “come home America” attitude toward more funding for Ukrainian aid. And that the Democratic Party, internally riven by barely disguised antisemitism, is rapidly backtracking on its support for Israel.

Add them all up and we have an inchoate foreign policy presided over by a ward healer at a time of maximum risk to national security.


US Public Finance

By the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 accumulated federal debt held by the public grew to about $27 trillion. For FY 2023, the annual US budget deficit grew to between $1.4 trillion (Brookings) and $2 trillion (Tax Foundation). The difference depends on the methodology used for taking into account the Supreme Court’s nixing the Biden Administration’s plan for student debt forgiveness.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the annual deficit will be about $2 trillion per year for the next 10 years. Which implies that we have now budgeted, meaning we have planned as a matter of policy to spend $20 trillion more than we expect to raise through taxation over the next 10 years. That would bring the total debt in public hands at about $47 trillion.

To put this in perspective, consider that current Social Security spending ($1.2 trillion) exceeds the Defense Department budget ($751 billion) and is about the same as Medicare spending ($747 billion). Those figures do not include Medicaid. Nor do they include what the government euphemistically calls income support programs.

It should be blindingly clear that this is simply unsustainable. Not only is it unsustainable from a financial standpoint; if the United States remains on its current fiscal path, it will be unable to modernize the military to meet the challenges presented by an expanding array of illiberal and hostile nation-states.

Further we ought to at least be cognizant of the fact that the fiscal situation we are in is taking place during a period of historically low 3.7%unemployment and relative low interest rates (notwithstanding the wailing in the press). As a result, in the event of a recession the US has precious little macro-economic maneuvering room.

The solution to the military-readiness problem is clear. Increase military spending sufficient to attain military readiness. The solution to the fiscal situation is equally clear. (1) Reform entitlement programs, primarily by raising the retirement age for payouts to begin. (2) Reduce social spending. (3) Simplify and flatten the rates in the tax code. (4) Deregulate the economy.

It is difficult to imagine the 4 reforms listed above becoming law because, among other things, we have a bipartisan agreement of whistling past the graveyard to avoid even suggesting curbing the free stuff the citizens mistakenly believe they are actually getting for free.

The Political Culture


Which brings up the problem of culture; specifically the nonsense currently being peddled at elite institutions. Under the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) an academic bureaucracy has become the enforcement mechanism for a rigid conformity of acceptable viewpoints.

Speech that doesn’t hew to the DEI line is characterized as “hate speech” and therefore suppressed; facts that put the lie to the party line are supposedly “misinformation” or “disinformation” regardless of accuracy. The judges of all this are the bureaucrats that run the DEI departments and the mob that stands behind them. “My Truth” reigns supreme; “the Truth” doesn’t exist.

As Nietzsche said “There are no facts, only interpretations”. And so what remains is the will to power (also Nietzsche), which the DEI bureaucracy has in spades. Feelings prevail over reason. And for feelings to dominate effectively, force must be used to correct wrong-think.

That is why we have cancel culture, brought to us by elite institutions that serve as our cultural gate-keepers. But they are so prone to fads that we need to be cognizant of what George Orwell once said,”Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them”. What else explains college sophomores chanting in favor of Hamas killing babies because you know, babies can be settler-colonialists too.

Let’s not get too depressed about the current state of affairs. It was pretty dreary in 1979 too. Inflation was soaring; the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan; the Iranian government held American hostages. And then along came a guy named Ronald Reagan. And in the end the Soviet Empire collapsed under its own weight with a nudge from the West.

America has to decide whether it wants to step up as it did in 1980. Or whether it wants to elect one of the two ignoramuses who currently lead in the polls. In the end the elections in 2024 will not just be about the fortunes of individual politicians; the elections will tell us what type of America we actually live in.

I intend to vote for Nikki Haley if she gets the Republican nomination for President. If Ron DeSantis gets the nod, I will vote for him. If Trump is the recipient of the nomination, I will write-in Nikki Haley. Under no circumstances will I vote for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. Let’s see what happens. As Churchill once noted, America always makes the right decisions after exhausting all the alternatives.

JFB

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Free Speech

A bipartisan group of 74 Congressman urged Harvard, MIT and UPenn to dismiss their respective presidents a few days after their Congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. Representatives  Elise Stefanik (R., NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D., Fla) actually co-authored a letter in which they “demanded”  that the boards of the three schools immediately remove Harvard president Claudine Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth and UPenn president Liz Magill. In so doing Congress once again provided us with an example of why we should be skeptical of (1) bipartisanship, (2) consensus and (3) government power.

Let’s stipulate from the outset that the nation’s elite universities are, not for the first time, caught up in an academic fad and that they suffer from a leadership problem.  That however is not a problem that should be addressed by Congress. Let us also note that, unbeknownst to the public at large, universities are run by the faculty not by the “management”.  This suggests that changing a university president will have little effect. It also suggests a simple solution to the problem: don’t attend a university whose management is repellant. Unless that is, the purpose of attending a particular university is simply to acquire credentials rather than an education. In which case all the wailing and gnashing of teeth is mere virtue signaling. 

More importantly, the testimony provided by the now infamous university presidents was, on the surface, largely correct. However, the underlying message was drenched in hypocrisy. In their testimony the three university presidents pretended to be defenders of free speech. But actions speak louder than words. University administrations have routinely engaged in silencing dissents from orthodoxy. And they have created the machinery for doing so with the establishment of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) bureaucracies. 

All of this suggests that university administrations should defend free speech for real instead of throttling challenges to orthodoxy while  masquerading as free speech advocates.  And in the wake of the resignation of UPenn’s Liz Magill, “conservatives” ought not celebrate the collection of another scalp. In doing so they are guilty of the same free speech violation that they loudly complain about when they are on the receiving end. 

Finally, there is a far more important issue at stake here than an academic or political career. It is the bipartisan trampling of the first amendment. The relevant section reads “Congress shall pass no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” Let me acknowledge that Congress did not pass a “law” requiring that certain university presidents be terminated. That doesn’t matter. Congress provides huge amounts of funding for U.S. universities and consequently has considerable leverage over them. Already at least one Congressional committee has announced it will investigate the “learning environments at Harvard, UPenn and MIT”. 

In general, Congress is supposed to hold hearings, investigations etc that have a legislative purpose. If Congress, in its wisdom, is going to begin legislating on the learning environments at schools, it is awfully hard to square that with the first amendment. In fact it is awfully hard to square the letter writing campaign of Elise Stefanik (chair of the House Republican Conference) and Jared Moskowitz with the spirit of the first amendment.  

It should be noted that upon the resignation of UPenn’s Magill, Stefanik went into celebratory mode and posted her thoughts, such as they are, on X. Consider what she wrote in full. 

“One down. Two to go,” Stefanik posted to X Saturday. “This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most “prestigious” higher education institutions in America. This forced resignation of the president of @Penn is the bare minimum of what is required. These universities can anticipate a robust and comprehensive Congressional investigation of all facets of their institutions negligent perpetration of antisemitism including administrative, faculty, funding, and overall leadership and governance.” 

“@Harvard and @MIT do the right thing. The world is watching,” she added.

So make no mistake, Stefanik and presumably other Congressmen, intend to shape the speech of university presidents to their liking. That is specifically prohibited by the first amendment, which was adopted in part to protect the natural law rights of people from the likes of Elise Stefanik. 

It is well worth noting the articulation of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis of the case for free speech when he wrote a concurrence in Whitney v. California (1927). He said in part “If there be time to expose through discussion, the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Actually the whole opinion in Whitney should be read. It can be found here

JFB

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The War on the West

It seems that a lot of people view the recent explosion of antisemitic activity on the campuses of elite universities and western cities as a sort of anomaly. After all, haven’t Jews been a reliable partner in many causes dear to the left. For instance, what about climate change, civil rights, abortion rights, affirmative action, feminism, Black Lives Matter and labor unions to name a few. Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to a lot of people on the left that progressive support for Hamas—and that is what it is—stems from progressive ideology. It is not anomalous at all. 

If you draw a Venn diagram of the causes listed above and include support for Hamas as a factor you will likely see broad overlap. The question is: why?

Permit a broad generalization. Progressives look at the world through the lens of “intersectionality” which is a creed—and it is a creed—that categorizes people according whether they belong to group defined as “oppressors” or “oppressed”.  Note that the definitions are  not only completely arbitrary, they are subject to redefinition at will, and, most importantly, the individual counts for nothing. Only the group and its arbitrary definition as oppressed or oppressor matters. 

Accordingly, intersectionality is merely an update of the classic Marxist class struggle. Call it Marx V2.0. You can also throw in Marx’s cousins, the fascist ideologues who made racial purity the dominant criteria for group membership. Again it is an abstraction, the group, that matters, not an actual person. 

With respect to the Israeli-Hamas war both the racial purity of fascists and Marxian intersectionality are in the mix. Hamas (and its principal backer Iran) has made it clear over and over again that its seeks to exterminate not only the State of Israel, but Jews wherever they live. So that rips away the phony distinction between Zionism and Jewishness. Palestinians are deemed oppressed and Jews (not “just” Israelis) are the oppressors. Further, the philosophy animating Hamas is necessarily totalitarian and based on religious and racial purity. Israel, by contrast, is pluralist. So Hamas and its backers have declared war on Western Liberalism. 

Once the totalitarian roots of Hamas are clear it is obvious why their allies are a rogues gallery that includes Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and Turkey (a NATO member state!).  It also becomes clear that the U.S. has several challenges it must face head on if the West is to defend its civilization. 

First, and most immediately, the U.S. must once again be the arsenal of democracy as it was during WW2. That will also require changing public finances to (1) emphasize defense and (2) cut lots of largely ineffectual social spending.

Second the U.S. must face the reality that Hamas, Hezbollah etc are merely Iranian proxies. Iran must be dealt with and deterred. Iran’s mullahs will not be bought off. Russia and China will be paying close attention. As will Taiwan. 

If the U.S. acts with sufficient dispatch to deter Iran, the U.S. may be able to avoid being drawn into a shooting war. The alternative to acting firmly and decisively, however belatedly, is to accept and affirm the ascendance of totalitarian rivals while abandoning Western Liberalism.    

Third, the rot of progressivism that has taken root throughout the education establishment must be addressed. That is much easier said than done; freedom of speech must be preserved. Saved actually. We cannot be in the business of destroying villages to save them, Lyndon Johnson style. One way to begin is to aggressively foster education choice by supporting vouchers, charter schools, home schooling and parochial schools. The idea is that the money flows through to the student, not a government monopoly school.  

Further, there is no reason for colleges and universities to fund DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) departments with taxpayer money. These operations clearly seek the opposite of what they claim to seek, instead imposing a rigid orthodoxy on students and professors alike. And at the very least their activities are constitutionally suspect. 

Additionally, civil rights laws should be enforced as written. It should be the government’s responsibility to see to it that public universities guarantee equal opportunity, not equal results. 

This is only the very beginning of what America must do if it is to preserve and protect Western Civilization and liberty. Thus far the only politician who seems to understand both the stakes and the need to articulate a vision for dealing with the challenge is Nikki Haley. Let us hope she succeeds. None of the rest of them has come close to demonstrating the leadership or vision that America clearly needs. 

JFB

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The Argentinian Election

The New York Times today published a fairly typical hit piece. Typical in that it does most of its work by innuendo and guilt-by-association. The object of the piece is Javier Milei, the victor in Argentina’s presidential race. 

The Times described Mr. Milei’s election as “a victory for the global far-right movement” that was strengthened by Donal Trump and “similar” politicians including Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. The supposed similarities Mr. Milei shares with other “similar” politicians go largely unexplicated. 

Other examples cited by the Times as testament to the horror of Mr. Milei include the assertion that Spain’s “far-right” Vox party has cheered him on; that Tucker Carlson interviewed him, and that after Milei’s victory, Elon Musk said that “prosperity is ahead for Argentina”.  The horror. 

The Times does concede, in a back-handed way, that the “far-right” Mr. Milei, an economist by training, is strongly libertarian. And that he is in favor “in theory” of open immigration and drug decriminalization. Does that sound like Donald Trump to you?

Mr. Milei, an economics professor and adherent of the Austrian school, also supports freedom of choice in such areas as prostitution, marriage, sexual preference and gender identity. He has come out strongly in favor of a school voucher system. Pretty right wing. 

He has come out against both abortion rights and euthanasia. His critics consider this to be an example of his “far-right” repressive agenda. But that is, of course, nonsense. A libertarian is naturally repelled by the use of violence against a third party, and that is precisely what abortion and euthanasia amount to. 

The NY Times has referred to Milei as a “Mini-Trump” largely because of what the paper describes as his bellicose style. But that is to confuse style with substance. Sure, from a stylistic standpoint his utterances  have been less than genteel. But that is where the similarities to Mr. Trump grind to a halt. Donald Trump doesn’t have a libertarian bone in his body. 

And while we are on the subject of style and substance, somehow or other the NY Times hasn’t displayed much concern over the rhetorical bellicosity, much less violence, of left wing interest groups like Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Jane’s Revenge, or environmental groups that spike trees. 

What is really on display here is the progressive terror of individual choice. Progressives are convinced that they know what’s best for you.  And they will continue to use the power of the State to enforce their will. And if you disagree, tough. Eat your spinach and shut up. After all, we wouldn’t want freedom of choice to disrupt the successes of urban public schools. 

Or would we? 

JFB

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Hamas Has Declared War on the West

The savage attack Hamas launched on October 7 against Israel, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was an attack on Western civilization itself.  Perhaps even more shocking than the attack on Israel has been the response of cultural elites. Across the West, arbiters and gatekeepers of the culture, including many at elite institutions—universities, media outlets, activist organizations and NGOs—celebrated the barbarism that Hamas put on display.  This while the Israelis were still sifting through the ruins trying to identify all those who were murdered by Hamas. 

Predictably enough, there is now a call—by the same crowd—for a “pause” in Israel’s military action designed to root out and destroy Hamas. All for humanitarian reasons, of course. But—we have to ask—where is the call for Hamas or Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad or any of Iran’s other proxies to stop launching attacks on perfectly innocent civilians? The silence is deafening.

As for the shortage of supplies in Gaza, Hamas is not experiencing a shortage of food, water, medicine or for that matter—ammunition. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is the handiwork of Hamas, which blocked civilians from leaving by way of safe corridors. Hamas also continues to make a habit of building its launch sites and command and control centers in or underneath schools and hospitals. Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties for propaganda purposes.  

But you probably knew all that. The question is the significance of the event. And here it becomes apparent that this is not simply another skirmish in a long-standing territorial dispute. It is a fight for survival for both Israel and the West. Israel is an outpost of Western civilization; it is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The fight will not be won by tanks and guns alone, although they are important elements. The war is a war of ideas and it is a war we must win. 

The war of ideas is one that has been raging for a very long time. Over the last 20 years or so, what were once thought to be relatively harmless academic fads have seeped into the mainstream. And these ideas, e.g. post colonialism, deconstructionism, post modernism are anything but harmless. They may be as incoherent as ever, but they are fervently believed by many and are promulgated by our most prestigious institutions.  They must be resisted and challenged at every step of the way.

Bari Weiss, cofounder of The Free Press, gave the annual Barbara K. Olsen Memorial Lecture at the Federalist Society on this topic. It can be, and should be seen (available on You Tube) by anyone who considers himself to be educated in world affairs. It can be seen below.

JFB

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Natan Sharansky, Hamas and the Will to Power

In an interview published by the Wall Street Journal, Natan Sharansky, the famous Soviet refusenik and Israeli politician, made a telling point. Hamas terrorists displayed pride in their depravity by broadcasting their crimes on the internet using GoPro cameras. “…Even the Nazis…” Sharansky says…”tried to hide their killing from the world. Here they [Hamas] tried to show to all the world what they were doing to these Jews.” 

According to Sharansky, Hamas evidently believed that they would “win sympathy and support from one part of the world, and understanding from the other part.” Hamas figured that the Islamic part of the world, including Muslim populations in Europe would provide support. The Western left—the other part—would be sympathetic. 

Unfortunately Sharansky—and Hamas—were correct in their assessments. A key question for the West is this.  Why did the global left lend not just its sympathy, but also its support, to Hamas? And make no mistake: that is what they did. 

To be clear, by the global left, I mean elite Universities and professariats; much of the establishment press; non-governmental organizations (NGOs), cultural and artistic groups, and international organizations like the U.N. 

These organizations are important culture shapers in the modern world. And they should remain free to attempt to remain so, provided they are peaceful and the market for ideas is free and open. Unfortunately freedom of speech, necessary for a free market in ideas, is becoming less tolerated by Western culture shapers.  And while the global left is busy demonstrating its tolerance for violence as we speak, it has also enthusiastically embraced cancel culture, which serves to protect its privileged position via coercion. 

The evidence for the proposition that progressive elites are sympathetic to Hamas is all around us, at least for the clear eyed. Take for instance the numerous demonstrations in support of Hamas in New York City. Then there are the NYU students who have been active ripping down photos of Hamas held hostages. Nellie Bowles of the Free Press in her TGIF column writes of protesters from NYU screaming “We don’t want no two-states, we want all of it”. 

Not to be outdone, the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Council released a letter condemning anyone who described Hamas’s behavior as “terrorism”.  At Wellesley, a student leader of a residential house wrote to the entire dorm she overseas that “We firmly believe that there should be no space, no consideration, and no support for Zionism within the Wellesley College community.” 

Similar tales could be told of pro-Hamas activity at Harvard, Stanford, George Washington University, Cooper Union and other elite schools. Then add consideration of the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America). According to their messaging guidance “liberating colonized land is a real process that requires confrontation by any means necessary…All of it is legitimate and all of it is necessary.”  

Let’s not leave out another of the “new” left’s thinkers, Hasan Piker, formerly of the Young Turks. He actually justified Hamas’s killing of babies during its rampage. According to Piker “[killing babies] is a matter of law and maybe if you agree with this, a matter of morality: Palestinians have the legal ground to violently seize back their own homes from these settlers.” He went on to say that it was quite OK for Hamas to kill babies because, after all, they are “settlers”. According to Piker (I am not making this up) “There are baby settlers as well, there are baby settlers as well. There are babies in the settlements.” 

I could go on, but you get the point. There is widespread approval of Hamas and its behavior across the hard left, and maybe some across the not-so-hard left. Why?

It is easy, too easy, to point the finger at antisemitism. No doubt that plays an important role here. But while antisemitism is an important ingredient, it doesn’t explain similar behavior undertaken by other Hamas supporters.

For instance, there is the genocide China is carrying out against the  Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, where about 1 million people are now forcibly ensconced in re-education camps and subject to forced sterilizations among other things. Also note that while the Uyghurs are overwhelmingly Muslim, they receive no support from Hamas’s paymaster Iran, thus putting the lie to the claim that this is primarily a religious dispute.

North Korea also has a wide network of re-education (read concentration) camps.   

And then there is Russia’s behavior in Ukraine where among other war crimes,  it has reportedly abducted and shipped to Russia as many as 20,000 Ukranian children, presumably to Russify them, minus their parents of course. 

All it takes is a look at the global supporters of Hamas to understand why the global left is enthusiastically lending its support. No doubt ignorance and naiveté play a big part. But look below the surface and what you will see is a will to power that crucially depends on central planning and State control. 

What you will not see is a commitment to freedom, the rule of law and the natural rights of individuals. The will to power combined with contempt for the idea of natural rights that are independent of State power is the key. 

With its support for Hamas’s most recent assault on decency, the global left has ripped away the mask covering its real aim, which is to create a socialist utopia, by force if necessary. Like all prior efforts, it is bound to be a tremendously expensive failure both in terms of human suffering and economic retrogression.  

We should remember the warning that Nobel prize winner Friedrich Hayek gave us back in 1944 when he published his most famous work titled, “The Road to Serfdom.”  Socialism leads to the collapse of Liberalism and results in tyranny.  

The question remaining is how will America respond? Will America change course and reassert its power to defend the values of Western civilization? Or will America shun the burden of leadership, turn to isolationism and cede preeminence to illiberal, hostile and tyrannical regimes? 

The choice is America’s because only America has the means to continue to preserve what Henry Luce, in the post war era, dubbed as “the American Century”.  Will America summon up the will to do so? I certainly hope so. 

JFB

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The West and its Enemies

With the Israelis still sifting through the rubble looking for victims of Hamas’s savage attack, the global left has responded by backing the Hamas killers. In so doing they have stepped out from behind the mask to show their true colors. In some cases they have backtracked under withering criticism, but that just represented a tactical retreat. It doesn’t change the underlying dynamic. 

Across the globe, but especially in the United States, the justifications of the violence often take the form of  “putting the violence in context” (which invariably means placing at least some if not all of the blame on Israel). Incredibly enough, a not inconsiderable number of people are actually cheering on the wholesale murder of civilians, including children, by Hamas.  

The proffered justifications include the usual rhetoric, adjusted for the current situation. Hamas, we are told, has justifiably responded to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian homeland; it is all part of the decolonization effort, which seeks to overthrow the remaining vestiges of Western neoliberalism. What we really need is an immediate cease fire (by Israel of course) and a return to peace negotiations to secure a Palestinian state. 

And who, exactly, are the people who are either naive enough or cynical enough to believe, or pretend to believe,  all that? Who, for example, seriously believes that, among other things, murdering 4-year olds is a justifiable element of a so-called decolonization effort? 

Well, let’s see. Historically speaking, King Herod nicely fits the bill. And speaking of mass murderers we have  Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Benito Mussolini, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Pol Pot among others. On a more contemporary note, there is Vladimir Putin; Xi Jinping; Kim Jong Un; Ali Khamenie and Bashar-Al-Assad to name but a few. 

So we might ask what these figures have in common, other than the admiration of quite a few American students at elite universities. Actually there is a very important trait that they share with American radicals.  Without exception, they know (or knew) what’s best for you.  To a man they were collectivist social engineers looking to create the “New Man” of the future. And naturally enough, they all wanted their utopian plans directed by a central administration that they controlled.  

This is the basis of the ideology that elite universities, the main stream press, left wing think tanks and NGOs are selling in their naiveté. One would hope that the savagery of the Hamas attacks, to say nothing of the implicit backing for them by the likes of Iran, Russia, North Korea, Syria and China among others would give them pause for thought. 

But thought has little to do with it. President Biden has already declared that while Hamas must be eliminated, “there must be a path to a Palestinian state.” As if the lack of a Palestinian state is why Hamas decided to slaughter innocents. As if Hezbollah wasn’t at the ready in the north. As if Iran wasn’t the puppet master behind all this. And as if the ultimate target of the fanatics wasn’t the United States, AKA “The Great Satan”. 

There should be no doubt that antisemitism is a driving force in this, but antisemitism is a particular variety of an evil whose collectivist roots are currently in vogue. It is a now ascendant collectivist, totalitarian ideology. These ideologies may vary in their particulars from time to time, and place to place, but in essence they are the same. They all view man through the lens of class, whether class is defined as race, religion, social status, sex, genes or whatever else they dream up next. None of them think of men as individuals with agency; none believe that natural rights adhere to individuals; none care about freedom, property rights or the rule of law. What dominates is the will to power. 

America must confront the reality that we are in a civilizational war. The attack on Israel is but one front in that war. If a Liberal global order is to prevail, America must rapidly build up its defense capabilities; instill fear in its enemies; dismantle the unaccountable bureaucracy of the welfare state bureaucracy and stress individual choice, rights and responsibilities. In other words, get back to basics.

The reason is simple. In a globalized world political economy, merits aside (and they are nil) it is simply impossible to maintain an “America First” Donald Trump style isolationism without being a hostage to events.  The world needs a Liberal hegemon to defend its civilizational values, by force if necessary. And the only candidate capable bearing that burden is America. 

While in the short run it will be necessary to build up our defense capabilities, in the longer run it will be necessary to alter the suicidal culture Western elites have (perhaps unwittingly) adopted. That is a tall order. 

Students at elite universities, for instance, are routinely described as highly educated.  But for the most part they are not even close to being highly educated.  Indoctrinated is more like it. A better description would be people who attend brand name schools that are important shapers of the culture. Which is one reason why it will be so difficult to reform our institutions.  

But reformed they must be if a culture of liberty is to be reawakened. Elite institutions have been captured by collectivist fanatics who wish to silence opposition—in the name of democracy no less.  Not only do these institutions maintain a cultural monopoly, their influence ripples out to other institutions. A challenge to that order is long overdue.  

Fortunately, some challengers are on the way. A new private school, the University of Austin, has been proposed to do just that. On its roster it includes Larry Summers, Glen Loury, Jonathan Haidt, Arther Brooks and a whole host of academic luminaries.  It is also the case that ever since the Covid pandemic, public schools have been losing students to private schools, thereby weakening the educational establishment’s grip on the system. Further, despite fierce opposition from teachers’ unions, 12 states now have full school choice programs; twenty one states have partial school choice programs. 

A return to an emphasis on the importance of the individual; of natural rights and responsibilities and the search for truth would be just what the doctor ordered. 

It will be a long and arduous path; success is by no means guaranteed. But there are glimmers of hope.

JFB

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Posted in Political Philosophy, Politics | Comments Off on The West and its Enemies

Israel at War

The Hamas attack on Israel, an attack that deliberately targeted Israeli civilians, was fully backed by Iran. In fact. Iran continues to celebrate the attack, with posts on X like the one below. 

“God willing, the cancer of the usurper Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the Resistance forces throughout the region.” #AlAqsaStorm pic.twitter.com/XDyxoTT4gw

It would be reasonable to think that, if nothing else, the sheer savagery of the attack would give a moment’s pause to the progressive left as well as the Trumpkin right. But reasonableness was left in the dust a long tome ago. Already we are seeing the usual moral equivalence and calls for “restraint”. 

Congresswoman Cory Bush, an expert in moral equivalence, posted a statement on X that read in part: 

 ”I am heartbroken by the ongoing violence in Palestine and Israel… following attacks by Hamas militants on Israeli border towns and Israeli military bombardment of Gaza… I urge an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation to prevent further loss of life.”

Which translated into English means that Hamas should be free to attack Israel and its citizens without fear of retribution. And just in case anyone missed the message, she went on to say: 

“As part of achieving a just and lasting peace, we must do our part to stop this violence and trauma by ending U.S. government support for Israeli military occupation and apartheid.”

Then there is Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), who was recently caught on tape pulling a false fire-alarm to slow down Congressional proceedings. He weighed in with this gem of moral equivalence: 

“We need a way to end this deadly violence that is killing and traumatizing generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike—including the blockade of Gaza.”

Maybe it is time to call this what it is. Hamas, for one, is a terrorist organization; in fact terror is its raison d’etre. For example during the attack, Hamas gunmen knocked on Israeli doors and when Israeli citizens answered, assuming it was Israeli police officers, the Hamas terrorists gunned them down. The reason why is obvious; the Hamas gunmen wanted to instill terror in the Israeli civilian population. 

The attack, which apparently caught the Israeli intelligence services by surprise, was no spur of the moment affair; it had to be planned far in advance. Probably for symbolic reasons the planners chose the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war to launch their attack.  The fact that it will almost certainly disrupt and delay an Israeli—Saudi rapprochement was just icing on the cake. 

Soon we will see more calls for “restraint” on the part of the Israelis; for “cool heads” to prevail, for engaging in “dialogue” and for preserving what we laughingly refer to as the “peace process”.  Needless to say, Hamas, Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies will show no interest in any kind of restraint at all. They intend to wipe Israel off the face of the map. 

Iran a totalitarian state, has, through its proxies, launched a war against Israel, a democratic state. They did so for the express purpose of “eradicating the Zionist regime” as the Ayatollah puts it. While there should be little doubt that the mullahs are in a panic over the prospect of an Israeli—Saudi peace agreement, we should not be under any illusion that Iran is interested in peace under any circumstances. They simply want to destroy Israel and they are not going to quit trying. Nor are they shy about it. 

The Israelis are no doubt aware of this, even if a good portion of the West is not. Which begs the question, What is Israel going to do about it? 

The source of the problem has to do with the totalitarian nature of the Iranian state and (of course) its proxies. There is no discussion and no dissent. We are left to assume that the powers that be in Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and their fellow travelers speak for the Palestinian people. But since dissent is dealt with harshly, sometimes by imprisonment or even execution, it is impossible to know.

All of which makes Israeli decisions extraordinarily difficult. They can, for instance, obliterate the infrastructure Hamas maintains in Gaza. But that is not a permanent solution. A permanent solution requires dealing with Iran. Which also suggests that Israel is going to have to think long and hard (again) about the ramifications of a nuclear Iran, facilitated by Western naiveté. That in turn will lead to a decision about whether to decisively attack Iran with the intent of bringing down the mullahs. It should be fairly clear that time is not on the side of the Israelis. 

A final consideration is that maybe, just maybe, this latest episode will knock some sense into the empty (and mostly) Republican heads of Congressmen and Senators who are hesitant about providing more aid to Ukraine. 

It should be obvious that with Iran waging a proxy war in the Mideast, Russia launching a war of aggression in Ukraine, China building up its war machine and making noises about Taiwan, that the America needs to build up its defense capabilities and solidify its alliances. 

The idea that America is stretched too thin to accomplish this is patently absurd. U.S. GDP for  2023 is projected to be a shade under $26 trillion, per capita it’s about $80 thousand. Russia’s GDP (PPP) is estimated at about $5 trillion, per capita (PPP) is about $28 thousand. Iran’s GDP (PPP) is projected to be about $1.7 trillion, per capita (PPP) GDP is about $20 thousand. China’s GDP (PPP) is projected to be a bit below $19 trillion, per capita (PPP) GDP is about $11.5 thousand.

In a nutshell: the aggregate GDP’s of China, Russia and Iran combined are less than that of the U.S. On a per capita basis the combined GDPs of Iran, Russia and China amounts to about $60 thousand—which is 25% below America’s. 

Assuming that the current administration, despite its best efforts,  doesn’t succeed in running the economy into the ground, America has the wherewithal to fully defend itself and still be a beacon for democracy, the rule of law and free markets. It’s simply a matter of choice. Let’s hope that America makes the right one. 

JFB

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Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Israel at War

On Ukraine

In a front page story titled “Weary Soldiers, Unreliable Munitions: Ukraine’s Many Challenges”,  the New York Times reports that the Ukraine war is essentially stalemated. That the war effort is turning into a quagmire should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Neither side has shown itself to have the decisive advantage needed to end the conflict on its preferred terms. 

Despite, or maybe because of, occasional nuclear threats from the Kremlin, the state of affairs now resembles that of the trench warfare that was WWI. Which is to say that we now have a war of attrition on our hands. Why?

There are a number of plausible answers. Botched policy is one. After all, how is it that we are backing a significantly smaller Ukraine against Russia in a war of attrition? Ukraine’s population is only 37 million; Russia is almost 4 times as large at 144 million. Measured by purchasing power parity, Ukraine has a per capita  GDP of $12,500; Russia’s is $14,500.  Ukraine’s land mass is 600 thousand square kilometers; Russia at 17 million is 28 times the size of Ukraine. 

Ukraine, after all, is not officially a part of NATO, although arguendo,  Mr. Biden made it a de facto member. Moreover, Ukraine is famously corrupt. By itself, it does not hold strategic significance for the U.S. But the lion’s share of the aid is coming from the U.S. In fact, at $ 77 billion America has supplied 9 times as much aid as Great Britain, the next largest donor. So the question must be asked: What exactly is the U.S. getting for all the largess? Or more precisely, what does the U.S. intend to get from all this? 

Ideally, to the extent that U.S. is, or ought to be,  backing a combatant, the U.S. should have a clear sense of what its goals are.  And let’s keep in mind that Ukraine is not a member state of NATO so the U.S. has no obligation to defend her territorial integrity. So what exactly is the U.S. trying to accomplish, and why hasn’t it been articulated by the Commander-in-Chief, who after all committed us to a proxy war for “as long as it takes”. 

There are a couple of plausible explanations. The first is that President Biden is making policy on the fly as he goes along without any clear sense of goals or strategy for achieving them. This, unfortunately, seems like the most likely explanation. Recall that Mr Biden has spent a good deal of time explaining what he isn’t going to do (shortly before he ultimately does it) because he is afraid of escalation. Sounds a lot like Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam, one of the many wars we lost since WWII.  

A second possibility is that Mr Biden does have a strategy, but it is so cynical that he is hesitant to say it out loud. This second possibility is that he wants to weaken Russia by fighting a proxy war using Ukrainian troops financed by American dollars.  

However, aside from the dubious morality of this proposition, it presents a philosophical problem for  Mr Biden and his progressive friends. For one thing,  it requires envisioning the U.S. as a global hegemon, whose mission is the protection of a  Liberal world order. A world order backed by U.S. military, financial and political might.  A world order that embraces global free trade, the rule of law and recognizes the sovereign nation-state as the organizing unit of world politics. 

Those conditions are light-years away from what Mr Biden and progressives actually believe (or profess to believe). Take global free trade. Mr Biden, like his predecessor, thinks that trade is a zero-sum game in which the “winner” is a country that sells more stuff abroad than it buys. 

That, of course is just flat out wrong. As early as the first part of the 19th century David Ricardo had developed the theory of comparative advantage that posited that free trade was beneficial to all. Francis Edgeworth, the Anglo-Irish political economist and philosopher provided the mathematical proof in the late 1800s. 

Nevertheless, the untutored, like Messers Biden and Trump and a whole lot of progressives, insist on believing that they can “manage” trade with tariffs and barriers more efficiently than the market. They have no place for a free trade regime. Rather, they prefer industrial policy, which essentially means showering tax dollars on favored constituencies and hoping for the best. 

Similarly, as to the rule of law, it only applies to the laws they like. Mr Biden is routinely slapped down by the courts for his aggressive and unlawful use of executive power, at which point he resorts to  looking for another (unlawful) avenue to take. Like forgiving student loans for instance. And not to make too fine a point of it, Mr Trump has already been indicted twice, with at least a 3rd indictment probably right around the corner. 

(I know, I know that Trump has not been proven guilty, yet, in a court of law. So I’m supposed to say allegedly somewhere. But let’s get serious for just a minute. Trump is about as innocent of obstruction  of justice as OJ Simpson was of murder.) 

Returning to the substance: As a practical matter Mr Biden has resisted the substantial increase in military spending that is needed to counteract China and Russia. Moreover he keeps trying to find ways to throw money at Iran as part of resurrecting the Obama Administration’s nuclear arms deal with the mullahs.  But Mr Biden does not hesitate to toss trillions (yes trillions) of U.S. dollars around toward pet causes that substantially weaken U.S. public finances and thus U.S. political power abroad. 

And when it comes down to it, there is a philosophical problem. Progressives continually complain that the U.S. is systematically a white supremacist, racist and oppressive country. Why would they want the U.S. to be the global hegemon? 

Consider though one fact that puts the lie to the progressive line about systemic racism. The fact is that the vast majority of immigrants to the U.S. are both non-white and eager to become citizens in spite of the alleged white supremacy and racism; a detail that seems to have escaped the attention of the would be immigrants. 

So when all is said and done we are acting under the policy direction of a Commander-in-Chief who risks nuclear war but resolutely refuses to explain why or what the goal is. And terrible destruction continues in the heart of Europe on a daily basis and threatens to stalemate. 

The obvious solution, call it the JFK / Ronald Reagan solution, is for the U.S. to clearly articulate its policy goals and take the necessary steps to implement them. Kennedy said “wherever freedom is threatened we will defend it”. Reagan said “We win. They lose.” 

That sounds about right. 

JFB

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Posted in Politics | Comments Off on On Ukraine