Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The State of the War

Ronald Tiersky, at Real Clear Politics, draws on Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese war strategist, for advice on defeating ISIS. One particularly informative excerpt in a very interesting piece overall is this:
The war against the Islamic State turned in favor of coalition forces late last year. Right now it’s probably going better than the public is being told. An outsider such as this writer can be provocative: In spite of several spectacular terrorist bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Islamic State’s situation in the Middle East looks grim. Possibly fewer than 20,000 or even 15,000 fighters with a decimated leadership structure are hunkered down in defensive occupation positions over a large territory, essentially waiting to be attacked and killed.

Only specialists remember the frighteningly plausible map issued two years ago revealing ISIS’s ambition to conquer most of the Middle East, Eurasia, and North Africa, or its plan to overthrow the House of Saud and incite internecine war in Muslim countries. The likelihood of such events unfolding has abated to zero, and even the mediatized individual and mass beheadings no longer keep international opinion awake at night.

What advice would Sun Tzu give concerning a plan for anti-Islamic State coalition military operations? A few more aphorisms from “The Art of War”: Instill confusion and conflict in the enemy, “throw them into disarray … Wait for them to become decadent and lazy … Cause division among them,” and disorganize their internal unity by working to intensify conflicts among their leaders, their fighters, and among each other.

Disorient leadership and chain of command and communication (which is already being done rather successfully). Sun Tzu also advises disrupting their “system of rewards and punishments.” Act surreptitiously to encourage killing among them. If punishments are immoderate, “there will be slaughter that does not result in awe.” Crucially, encourage conflict between those who, abandoning the ideology of martyrdom, at this point want to live, and those who will insist on being killed.

Use old tactics and new: Drop leaflets and use social media to demoralize fighters and give heart to the local population. Hack and troll their social media operations -- this is much more important than de-radicalization propaganda. Emphasize over and over again that the cause is lost and that ISIS has become a historic disgrace of Islam rather than its resurrection.

Detail how many top leaders have been killed and give names. (Local fighters may be uninformed.) Emphasize the decline in number of new recruits (now reportedly 200 monthly, down from 2000 in 2014-2015). Emphasize the dismemberment of ISIS’s international terrorist network in Europe. Show that the strategic retreat to Libya is not succeeding. Emphasize deadly drone strikes by the United States, with dozens killed at a time.

The strategic goal is to eliminate the choice the leaders set at the beginning: only victory or a martyr’s death. Denying Islamic State this “success” -- i.e. they win even if they lose -- is the formula for getting them to move, to do something. Sitting under siege with no hope of new success [is a] drag on fighters’ enthusiasm.
It certainly seems to be true that ISIS is a spent force struggling to hold on to a portion of the territory they conquered in Iraq and Syria two years ago, but a spent force can still perpetrate horrors on the populations they do control. To get an idea of the depravity of the savages preying on helpless victims under the banner of the Islamic State see here, here, and here.

In case you don't have the time to check out the links the first describes how ISIS executed 25 suspected spies by lowering them into a vat of nitric acid. The second describes how they tortured children who were suspected of having insulted Allah, which is ironic since the greatest insult to Allah has to be their invocation of him to justify their atrocities. Indeed, there's no evil so extreme that these loathsome orcs are not capable of it.

If even pacifists like Albert Einstein thought it was important in the 1930s and 40s to defeat Hitler, how much more important is it that the world unite to defeat the Islamic barbarians whose cruelties would have repulsed even the Nazis.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Socialism Has Achieved

Bernie Sanders supporters, indeed, Democrats in general would do well to read this article in the UK Telegraph about what's happening today in Venezuela. Venezuela is a once-prosperous country which, having been run by socialists since 1998, stands today on the brink of utter ruin. The calamity is the consequence of a conflation of socialist economic policies and the collapse of oil revenues, each exacerbating the other. Here are some excerpts from the Telegraph's report:
Led by Hugo Chávez, the country’s firebrand former president, the country embarked on a wave of expropriation and redistribution with the charismatic leader offering cut-price fridges, appliances and even new homes to poor Venezuelans.

Chávez wanted to create a socialist paradise, an ideology that has been reinforced by his successor [Nicolas] Maduro following his death in 2013.

But the oil price collapse a year later served as a wake-up call for a country that chose profligacy over prudence in the hope that a rainy day would never come.

Oil accounts for 98% of total exports and 59% of fiscal revenues, but Moya-Ocampos says the price slide isn’t the country’s only problem.

“Even under Chavez and $100 a barrel oil, debt was rapidly rising and there were already food shortages,” he says, “This is ultimately to do with an interventionist model that is not sustainable and has reached a tipping point.”

Maduro’s declaration of a fresh three month state of emergency has sparked fears that the government will try to seize control of more private companies.

Many Venezuelans have already left the country, including Francisco Flores. “Venezuela has taken good working companies, given them to the poor but not equipped them with the skills to run them so they go bankrupt,” he says. “That’s just a recipe for destroying a country.”

The NHS therapist, who now lives in London, says the regime is based on a principle of keeping everyone “equal but poor”.

“This way, the state becomes a nanny and everyone loses the power to do anything because they are so dependent on it.”

Venezuela is now suffering from the effects of a deep recession and hyperinflation as the government prints money to try to plug a gap between revenues and spending that is on course to hit 25% of gross domestic product (GDP) next year.
The principle of keeping everyone "equal but poor" could be said to be what animates much of our own Democratic party which has drifted far to the ideological left since the days of John F. Kennedy. It certainly seems to be the consequence of, if not the motivation behind, certain of Barack Obama's policies as well as the economic philosophy of Bernie Sanders.

I wonder how many Venezuelans thought, when they voted for Chavez, that they were voting for "A Future to Believe In." It would be good to take the time to read the rest of the article. It could be a portent of our own future if we continue rambling down the path of big government socialism.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

What's the Difference?

NBC News reports that on his death bed former Senator Robert Bennett told his son that he desired to apologize to any Muslims who might be in the vicinity for the "anti-Muslim" rhetoric of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump has been roundly criticized for voicing an opinion, probably shared by many, actually, that not vetting Muslim refugees before allowing them into the country is foolish. The president took an oblique slap at Trump when he declared in a rcent graduation speech that voicing serious concerns about Muslim immigration is "not who we are."

Well, yes and no.

Surely we should not hate Muslims. Surely we should help those who are suffering from the Syrian civil war (although it would be nice if the Obama administration showed as much concern for Syrian Christians who are the object of ISIS's genocidal cruelty as he does Syrian Muslims), and yet .... and I know someone whose reading comprehension languishes at elementary school levels is going to accuse me of hatefulness and bigotry here .... it must be said that there's an awful lot of twaddle being circulated about this issue.

Let's do a thought experiment: Suppose a liberal progressive, someone who is appalled by Trump's "Islamophobic" rhetoric, were to learn that hundreds of thousands of members of some white supremicist group, say, the Ku Klux Klan, were being imported into the country, and that many would be resettled in that liberal's community. Would he or she not find this to be at least a little unsettling? Would anyone think it scandalously bigoted to express anxiety that bigots, abetted by the government, were going to be populating one's schools and neighborhoods? Would anyone think it hateful if someone voiced reservations about KKKers moving in next door?

Probably not. In fact, our newspapers would doubtless be running editorials condemning the beliefs of the KKKers and saying things like "their beliefs have no place in our community," and "people like this aren't who we are." They certainly wouldn't be lecturing us on how we should accept the Klan with open arms and embrace the new arrivals in the name of cultural diversity.

And yet - tell me what I'm missing - I'm hard-pressed to find much significant difference between the beliefs of the average Klan member, at least one of whom I've known personally, and the average devout Muslim, several of whom I've known personally.

Both tend to be xenophobic, they're both often anti-semitic, they both reject belief in human equality, and they both consider homosexuality to be a contemptible perversion. Let us grant that neither the average Klansman nor the average devout Muslim would perpetrate violence on those with whom they disagree, yet probably neither would be terribly outraged if someone else did.

In fact, the average devout Muslim holds views that most liberals find much more offensive than they do the views of the average Klan member. Many pious Muslims, for example, are extremely patriarchal, treating women as second class human beings. They think homosexuals should be executed, and are scornful of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the concept of the separation of church and state.

This is not just how radical extremists think, it's how many mainstream Muslims view the world as Muslims themselves are happy to acknowledge:
So, my question to my liberal friends is this: If profound concern over a policy that would increase the presence of white supremicists in one's community is understandable and proper, why is concern over a policy that increases the presence of devout Muslims an unconscionable manifestation of bigotry for which we should apologize? What's the salient difference? Help me out here.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nothing to Boast About

Quick Quiz:

1. Which American President holds the record for the longest period of time during his presidency in which the nation was at continuous war?

2. Which American president has presided over the longest continuous period of economic stagnation since the Great Depression?

The answer to both questions is Barack Obama, but perhaps these dubious achievements should not be held against him. Consider that, on the positive side of the ledger, no president has done more to insure that your daughter can share a restroom with a grown man who thinks he's a woman.

Anyway, The New York Times expatiates on the first question:
President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.

If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term — a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria — he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and spent his years in the White House trying to fulfill the promises he made as an antiwar candidate, would have a longer tour of duty as a wartime president than Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon or his hero Abraham Lincoln.
If you're interested in reading about Mr. Obama's economic record there's this:
Obama will end eight years in office without presiding over a thriving economy of the sort America enjoyed in the past. It also suggests that even the mediocre growth of recent years depended on high oil prices, which have collapsed by more than half.

This is the bitter fruit of creationist economics, the erroneous belief that government activity can somehow conjure new wealth and value.

Obama clings to the belief he brought with him into office, that he can legislate and regulate economic activity into existence. He promoted and signed a much-touted stimulus law that gave taxpayers' money to items on a Democratic wish list and to well-connected businesses, while doling out microscopic tax refunds to some workers. Beyond that, Obama's economic policy has consisted of imposing greater burdens on business in the form of labor rulings, environmental regulations, and mandates that increase the cost of job creation.

Higher minimum wages, new mandatory health costs, obligatory paid leave, and new powers for corrupt labor unions all hamper economic growth. For workers to get a larger piece of pie, the pie must grow. And right now, it is growing by only five thousandths per year.
According to Louis Woodhill, growth during Obama's tenure places him near the bottom of American presidencies, an "accomplishment" made the more remarkable by the fact that he came into office during a recession which should have enabled him to achieve higher levels of growth than had he entered during a time of prosperity.

So why does Hillary Clinton think it's a good idea to campaign as the one candidate who'll continue Mr. Obama's economic legacy?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

50th Anniversary of a Horror

Helen Raleigh is a Chinese woman who lived through China's "Cultural Revolution" in the late 1960s and currently resides in the United States. Ms. Raleigh describes some of her personal experiences of the Revolution in a short essay at The Federalist.

Her story is not only one of pathos, tragedy and human cruelty, it's also a cautionary tale about what lies in store for a people whose government erases all individual freedom, all civil rights, and subordinates everything to the state. It describes the logical endpoint of the leftist, statist dream of total centralized control of every aspect of life.

She begins with this:
May 16 marked the 50-year anniversary of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, a movement that was probably the darkest chapter in China’s history. The name Cultural Revolution is very misleading. It should be called “Cultural Destruction,” as it aimed to control every aspect of an individual’s life: how much one could eat; what, if any, education one could get; whom one could work for; where one could live; what entertainment one could have; what thoughts one could have.

The Cultural Revolution brought ordinary people nothing but suffering. There was a shortage of everything: food, cooking oil, cloth, bicycles, and so on. Everything was rationed via stamps. For instance, every person, adult or child, received an allotment of three ounces of cooking oil each month. Meat was hard to come by. Families who were fortunate to get hold of some pork would use the pig lard to supplement cooking oil.
She goes on to describe some of the personal suffering and horrors her family faced during these years. It's a brief but gripping account which I hope you'll read.

If you do, keep in mind that political leaders in this country are not immune to the totalitarian virus which infected the Maoists in the communist Chinese government and drove them to perpetrate the horrors Raleigh recounts. The desire to squelch freedom is manifest in every bureaucratic edict from Washington and every executive order which by-passes the legislature and defies the will of the people. Every negotiation based on lies (like the Obamacare bill and the Iranian nuclear accord), every economic statistic which distorts the truth (like the unemployment numbers released by the White House), every speaker who's shouted down on university campuses, every governmental sanction placed on what you can say and do, and every speech by a political leader which presents just one side of the complete story, every instance of any of these is another step, if even just a small one, toward totalitarianism.

The temptation to arrogate power to oneself and to control others is powerful, and a supine, uniformed, apathetic citizenry which only cares about receiving more and more benefits and free stuff from the state makes it all the easier for the totalitarians on the ideological left to realize their dreams.

That's why it would be marvelous if George Orwell's novels were more widely read, especially in schools, than they are. Studying Animal Farm and 1984 would go a long way toward immunizing a citizenry against the machinations of the statists who think they can "transform the country" and engineer a utopia if only they managed to acquire sufficient control over the people.

Indeed, the corpses of one hundred million persons murdered in the twentieth century in pursuit of the totalitarian ideal in Europe, Asia, Africa, Central America, Cuba and elsewhere give silent testimony to the futility and blasphemy of their dream, yet they remain undeterred. They're determined to succeed no matter the human cost, nodding in agreement with Vladimir Lenin who declared that if you're going to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs, but everywhere these men have tried to build their totalitarian paradise they've created instead a hell. It will happen again if we let it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guess Who Said This

Quick Quiz: Which prominent American politician said the following (I paraphrase):
[T]here are some areas that the federal government ... should address and address strongly. One of these areas is the problem of illegal immigration. After years of neglect, I will take a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders. I will increase border controls by 50 percent and increase inspections to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants. I will also sign an executive order to deny federal contracts to businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

I want to be very clear about this: We are still a nation of immigrants; we should be proud of it. We should honor every legal immigrant here, working hard to become a new citizen. But we are also a nation of laws.
If you said Donald Trump give yourself an F. If you ascribed the passage to any Republican at all give yourself another F. The correct answer is President William Jefferson Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union address. You can see the video here.

It's funny that there was no apoplexy on the left when President Clinton promised to crack down on illegal immigration, but when Donald Trump, or anyone else for that matter, criticizes the Obama administration for not securing our border and allowing millions of illegal entrants into the country, progressives respond as though Trump had endorsed torturing puppies.

There's an interesting psychology at play in this double standard that can perhaps be summed up this way:

When a liberal Democrat says we need to enforce our immigration law he's principled. When a moderate Democrat says we need to enforce our immigration law she's practical. When a Republican says we need to enforce our immigration law he's a pig-headed bigot.

Or, to say the same thing, whether we agree with what's being proposed or done all depends on who it is who's proposing or doing it. This is, unfortunately, a kind of tribal thinking typical of adolescents and intellectual primitives, but it should have no place among those who lead our nation and influence its policy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A New Liberal Party

A friend wrote to commend to me a serious article by Robert Tracinski in The Federalist suggesting that conservatives create a third party, one that would embody the conservative principles the Republican party has abandoned. The idea has a lot of appeal for me, but a third party is not only quixotic, it undermines what I think to be the most important political priority at this point in our nation's history.

Before I explain let me give you a couple of excerpts from Tracinski's column:
[T]he two major parties are offering us historically unpopular candidates. A two-way contest between them is likely to be pretty close, but only because it’s so hard to tell which candidate is more repulsive. The only person Donald Trump could possibly beat is Hillary Clinton, and the only person Hillary Clinton could possibly beat is Donald Trump. That means a big chunk of voters might be looking for a palatable alternative.

Trump manages to alienate nearly every ideological faction of the Right: serious foreign-policy hawks who realize our allies are vitally important and Vladimir Putin isn’t one of them; religious conservatives who don’t trust Trump on abortion and still hold the quaint notion that a candidate’s personal character matters; free-marketers who don’t like big-government cronyism; pro-business Republicans who like trade and don’t like defaulting on the national debt.

That leaves us with the interesting question of what to call the potential new party. ... I want to make the case for an American right-of-center Liberal Party.

But wait, I hear you shout, the “liberals” in American politics are the Left! Yes, and that has been one of the great historical mistakes we need to correct. There’s nothing “liberal” about today’s Left.

That’s becoming increasingly obvious now that the Left is openly the faction of illiberalism, in favor of cracking down on personal freedom and autonomy in every area of life. They’ve always been the party of government intrusion in our economic lives. Now they’re also the party of feminist neo-Puritanism, repressive speech codes on campus, and “safe spaces” purged of ideological opposition. They’re the party of forcing people to bake cakes or dispense birth control in violation of their conscience and religious liberty.

the word “liberal” comes from the Latin word for “freedom.” To be the Liberal Party is to be the pro-freedom party. That’s how the word was historically understood and what it still means in much of the world.

Calling our new right-of-center party the Liberal Party would have the advantage of bringing a certain amount of confusion and disarray to our opponents on the Left. As I told a left-leaning friend today, part of the purpose of doing this is to make people like her uncertain about what to call themselves — to make them question whether they are truly “liberals” and what the idea even means. More to the point, part of the goal should be to entice centrist Democrats who still believe in freedom of speech and who haven’t quaffed Bernie’s socialist Kool-Aid. We should offer those people a new home as a moderate faction of the Liberal Party.

The point is to seize control of a name the Left has begun to abandon — they prefer to call themselves “progressives” now, despite being conspicuously opposed to most forms of economic and technological progress — and to steal an agenda they have turned against.

Let us openly fly the flag of our pro-freedom agenda by calling ourselves Liberals — and let’s set an agenda that will define the meaning of that word on our own terms. It might work a lot better, in the long run, than trying to rehabilitate the Republican Party after a loud-mouthed real-estate huckster is done running it into the ground.
I have to say that I'm torn. I agree with just about everything Tracinski says, and consider myself a candidate for membership in a new "Liberal" party, but I can't bring myself to concede this election to Hillary Clinton, which is what a third party comprised of conservatives would do. Trump is awful and may do awful things. Hillary is awful and certainly will do awful things.

Trump may do the right thing on Supreme Court appointments, immigration, national defense, Obamacare, and cabinet appointments. Hillary will almost surely give us more Elena Kagans and Sonia Sotomayors, open borders, impulsive foreign adventures like Libya and the Iranian nuclear deal, more government intrusion into our lives, and a cabinet stocked with left-wing ideologues like Van Jones, Loretta Lynch, Eric Holder, Lois Lerner, and John Koskinen. Her foreign and economic policies will be tailored to suit whomever has contributed the most money to her "charitable" Foundation. A Clinton administration will mean higher taxes and crony capitalism on steroids.

Moreover, she may well be abetted by a Democrat-controlled Senate led by Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer.

Given all that, plus the fact that Ms. Clinton may yet be indicted for felonies committed while Secretary of State, I think the more important project at this point in history is to stop Hillary rather than to devote resources to building a third party. Even so, I'd be happy to sign up after the election next November.