Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Eternal Truth That Sets America Apart. By Janet Daley.

The eternal truth that sets America apart. By Janet Daley. The Telegraph, August 31, 2013.


If the US loses its sense of historic purpose, then what is it? Just a place to go to get rich?
There is only one winner in the ongoing shambles of the West’s policy on Syria, and it is not Bashar al-Assad. Mr Assad and his regime are now locked into the familiar slow suicide march of the modern dictatorship which ends eventually in execution or exile. That will come later rather than sooner because of the shameful political gamesmanship of the countries on which his victims should have been able to rely, but – count on it – it’s just a matter of time. No, the grand-slam, record-breaking, knock-out winner of the past week has been Vladimir Putin, who graciously thanked the British Parliament on Friday for its support in his quest for global domination. Surely every British and American politician who declares that military intervention would be acceptable only with the permission of the United Nations must know that he is handing Mr Putin – with his blocking vote on the Security Council – the power to run the world? Or at least, to determine the fate of some of the most oppressed parts of it.
Yes, the broken-backed nation that is post-communist Russia – so degraded in its economic and military stature that many commentators are ready to write it out of the world script altogether – has checkmated the “winners” of the Cold War. For a defunct power, it is proving remarkably competent at protecting its client states and maintaining its regional influence. Our side may be learning a critical lesson: a dying superpower is more dangerous than it was at its zenith because it has less to lose. Its leaders (particularly the present one) will take wild risks to prove that they are still in the game. Russia must now be regarded as a potentially unstable, irresponsible rogue state which will fling itself against the might of the West for the sheer bombastic joy of it.
Which brings us to the current clear loser: the West, and all of those who believed in its capacity to defend humane values and the rule of law. Even assuming Barack Obama gets Congress to agree to his minimalist no-regime-change, no-nation-building, in-and-out-in-a-couple-of-days intervention (maybe with a teeny-tiny bit of help from France), what sort of impact will the leader of the free world have made on the criminal Syrian regime? It is difficult to know precisely what effect he intends his carefully circumscribed and meticulously pre-announced actions to have. Short of providing the precise date and time of his rocket launches, and a map of the exit routes from proposed targets, he could scarcely have been more helpful to the Syrian government in keeping the damage to a minimum. If the White House sees this elaborate warning arrangement as a way of avoiding civilian casualties, then it is very naive: ruthless dictatorships are more likely to plant civilians in the proposed target areas for propaganda purposes, than to remove them to safety.
So what would Mr Obama’s foray into the military assault business – assuming it goes ahead – be designed to accomplish? The President and his spokesmen take a rather different tone from that of Secretary of State John Kerry, who has made very eloquent statements indeed about the abomination of the Assad regime and the moral imperative to prevent further atrocities. Mr Obama himself speaks as if he were engaged in a public-relations war rather than a shooting one: the US intervention (when it happens) will be all about “sending a signal” to the Syrian government that its use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, blah, blah. Sending a signal? As I write, the US is lining up its warships: they will be sending missiles, not signals. If they are properly informed and aimed, the missile systems will eliminate stores of chemical weapons and the Syrian government’s capacity to use them: the White House is now describing its plan as a “deter and degrade” mission. So this would be an act of war, not a “signal” or a gambit in a moral debate.
What does the president think he is doing when he talks misleading spin-doctor gobbledegook? He has clearly been told by his own intelligence advisers that it is absolutely necessary for America to step up and do what it has done before, whether willingly or reluctantly: accept responsibility for being the world power whose role is to defend the idea, as the founding documents say, that all men are born with unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. As every American schoolchild is taught, those rights are to be regarded as universal and not simply the birthright of one nation. What would an America be like that did not expect to be called upon to support and defend oppressed people? A haven – within its own borders – for the persecuted and the dispossessed? A land of opportunity for economic migrants? Maybe.
But its citizens have always been educated to see themselves as more than this: not just the fortunate residents of a lucky country but bearers of an eternal truth – a model for the world of how men should live. The United States was the embodiment of the Enlightenment concept of natural rights. Its citizens took part in a conscious social contract in which they accepted the rule of law in return for a guarantee of personal liberty. And that agreement implied a commitment to the belief that this arrangement – this set of civil values – was one to which all the peoples of the world were entitled. The reason that the US always ends up repenting of its isolationist phases (which is what the Obama administration is in the process of doing) is because an America that does not see itself as a model for the world can not make sense of its own identity. In his statement on Friday, Mr Kerry said, “We are the country that tries to honour [the] universal values around which we organise our lives . . . This is who we are.”
If America loses that sense of its historic purpose, what is it? Just a place where people go in the hope of getting rich? No president – particularly not this one – wants to speak of the country in anything less than idealistic terms. It is startling to European ears to hear the endless references in US politics to the Founding Fathers and to the greatness of the American system. Whether you find this admirable or embarrassing, it is fundamental to the way the country and its leaders understand their global obligations. For the past few years we have had a glimpse of what a world would be like without that sense of obligation: in which Americans became just one more self-preserving, inward-looking populace obsessed with entitlements and welfare programmes like so many cynical war-weary Europeans.
That was the Obama brand of isolationism: what Europe used to call the “peace dividend” was to be spent on building a social democratic order at home. The idealistic values would be purely for domestic consumption. But the vacuum that was left by America’s retreat has been filled by cowardice and prevarication. The United States is going to have to step up again.

Liberal Education in Authoritarian Places. By Jim Sleeper.

Liberal Education in Authoritarian Places. By Jim Sleeper. New York Times, August 31, 2013.

New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, opened in 2010.