Saturday, July 28, 2007

U.S. plans big arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Yes, that's right, because God knows the one thing the Middle East needs most right now is more weapons--particularly the one country that provides more money to Islamic terrorism than any other, and provided 18 of the 20 men who perpetrated 9/11. If our rationale is to counter the growing influence of Iran, as the State Department official in this article claims, then we sure got off to a piss-poor start by creating a gigantic power vacuum in Iraq that older, smarter Republicans--like George H.W. Bush and his advisors--knew Iran would fill if we ever knocked out Iraq's central government.
One of many ironies is that proponents of this decision will inevitably argue that Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan might fall to Islamic radicals without our support. But that claim runs directly counter to two other claims prominent Republicans have been making since 9/11: 1) that the Middle East is just ripe for liberal democracy, and 2) that the old policy of propping up corrupt, authoritarian regimes in the Middle East was wrong. So again, which is it? And while we're at it, can anyone explain how we make Israel safer by arming its neighbors, any of whom (we are told) might become a radical Islamic state at any moment?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Schwarzenegger on the limits of ideology

While waiting for a haircut the other day, I picked up a recent issue of Men's Health magazine (the one with Steve Irwin on the cover) and perused an interview the magazine did with "The Governator." One comment in particular stood out: in talking about his experiences as governor, Arnold said there were times when his conservative philosophy "fell apart" in front of his eyes; for example, in realizing there were no free-market solutions to after-school programs for kids. It was a remarkably candid and refreshing comment for an elected official to make. Too many politicians of both parties, in my opinion, are prisoners to ideology. Like the president, they tend to ignore facts that don't conveniently fit their ideological preconceptions. Liberals were guilty of this for many years when it came to government welfare programs that were obviously not only failing, but were creating new (and often worse) problems in the process.
Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk believed that conservatism was the antithesis of ideology; that it was, in essence, a more practical orientation that viewed the world as it is, before prejudging how it should be. Of course, what passes for conservatism today is often quite the opposite: deeply ideological, with many articles of dogma that aren't even traditionally conservative at all, like its Wilsonian enthusiasm for military intervention and its casual acceptance (even defense) of massive deficit spending.
No doubt many of today's "conservatives" might argue that ideology can be a good thing if it's the right ideology, but I think such statements are the result of confusing ideology with beliefs, convictions and values. One can have these things without being ideological--a distinction that is sorely lacking today.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Quote of the Week

"How long are we going to allow a person — from any country in the world — to come to our own house to say there's a dictatorship here, that the president is a tyrant, and nobody does anything about it?" -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who said Sunday that foreigners who publicly criticize him or his government while visiting Venezuela will be expelled from the country.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"The Eloquent President"

This morning I finished reading "The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words" by Ronald White, Jr. After painstakingly dissecting Lincoln's most powerful speeches and letters, White concludes with an obvservation that I wholeheartedly second: that words really do matter, and that the ability to speak eloquently and persuasively is a vital ingredient of great presidencies.
It has become fashionable for some modern presidents, presidential candidates and their cheerleaders to downplay this fact, to pretend that self-deprecating humor can compensate for intellectual laziness and lack of speaking ability; certainly we can all agree that speaking ability alone--in the absence of other admirable abilities and character traits--should not be the ultimate measure by which we judge our presidents and presidential candidates. But neither should we dismiss it so readily. Ronald Reagan was no intellectual giant, and he could use self-deprecating humor to good effect, but he was also a gifted communicator who understood the value of words and could use them to good effect (see post below).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Victor Hanson on "the truth of Islam"

I agree with much of Hanson's assessment of Islam, but articles like this tend to beg the question: why are conservatives who are so openly (and rightly) critical of the illiberal, anti-modernist beliefs that Islam engenders, otherwise such optimists when it comes to establishing secular democracies in the heart of the Moslem Middle East? Something doesn't add up here. Either Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority are fertile grounds for liberal democracy--as we have been repeatedly told--or they are not. Which is it?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

U.S. intelligence says Al-Qaeda getting stronger

Of all the news I've heard this year, this is by far the most depressing, and also the least surprising. Fortunately, the president has denied it.
Critics often said of Bill Clinton that he absolutely believed what he said at the moment he said it. After six and a half years, you have to wonder the same about his successor. First, there was the stubborn insistence that there were WMDs in Iraq, even as evidence mounted that there were not. Second, there was the stubborn insistence--primarily from Rumsfeld and echoed by the White House--that there was no insurgency, followed by a trend of continually downplaying its numbers until facts finally overwhelmed fantasy. Third, there was the patently ridiculous statement by the VP that the insurgency was in its "last throes." Fourth, there were a long series of denials that there was any civil war brewing in Iraq, until that too could no longer be denied.
The sad thing is, one of these days the president may actually be right, but his "credibility gap" is so wide now that a majority of the American people--and the Democratic Congress they elected in disgust--will almost certainly not believe him.