Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The CIA and the “Arab Mind.” By Dina Rezk.

The CIA and the “Arab Mind.” By Dina Rezk. War on the Rocks, November 21, 2014.

Orientalism and Intelligence Analysis: Deconstructing Anglo-American Notions of the “Arab.” By Dina Rezk. Intelligence and National Security, published online September 3, 2014.

“Face” Among the Arabs. By Peter A. Naffsinger. Studies in Intelligence, Summer 1964. PDF.

Rezk [CIA]:

From the Iranian revolution to the Arab Spring, the United States has consistently been accused of misunderstanding the politics and culture of the Middle East. The Intelligence Community has come under especially strong fire for its Western-centric mindset in its analysis of players as diverse as al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Amongst a long list of analytical misdemeanors, the problem of “mirror imaging” (using one’s own rationale to interpret the actions or intentions of one’s opponent) is undoubtedly the most common.

It was, for example, regarded as common sense that Saddam Hussein would deny possessing WMD if Iraq was not in fact procuring such controversial weaponry. The possibility that Saddam was being intentionally elusive about Iraq’s capabilities in order to maintain “face” against its regional rival, Iran, went entirely unconsidered. It was a classic failure to enter the psyche of one’s adversary. Endless commentaries plastered across newspapers and blogs chastise the CIA for failing to learn languages and familiarize itself with other cultures, power structures, customs and mentalities.

What few people realize, however, is that the CIA recognized and sought to remedy this pitfall exactly half a century ago. A once-classified article from its in-house journal Studies in Intelligence written in 1964 and now available at the Agency’s Freedom of Information Act website reveals an early, and remarkably frank attempt to pin down the significance of “Arab culture.” The author, Peter Naffsinger, surely never anticipated that the document would one day be made available for public scrutiny. It is a predictably controversial read.

In 1964 the Arab World was still a relatively new and unfamiliar battleground in the Cold War. Soviet penetration of the Middle East began with the signing of an arms deal between Czechoslovakia and President Nasser of Egypt in 1955, forcing the United States to engage its analytical prowess in territories where it had little prior experience. The now declassified article, entitled “’Face’ among the Arabs,” reflects the challenges analysts perceived themselves to face and their prescriptions for dealing with Arab “otherness.”

As the title suggests, the overall message of the intelligence assessment was that “face,” or honor, was the predominant cultural imperative in the region, a value to which all other values were subordinated. The introduction to the piece immediately evokes the patronizing Orientalism that Edward Said famously brought to our attention in his groundbreaking book some 40 years ago. Naffsinger’s assessment begins:
George Washington, American children are told, having cut down his father’s favourite cherry tree, showed his sterling character by confessing to the deed. An Arab hearing this story not only fails to see the moral beauty of such behaviour but wonders why anyone would ever compromise his integrity by admitting thus his guilt.
The stereotyping is obviously crude. While the American demonstrated “an uncompromising willing to face objective truth and fact,” the Arab was obliged to adhere to the “social veneer of non-guilt” in a society “which has no place or respect for one whose faults or errors come to public knowledge.” There is no denying Said’s assertion that an objective, superior Western “self” is clearly elevated above a subjective, inferior Arab “other” in this passage.

Naffsinger looked at the Arab World and saw a political culture apparently devoid of moral courage. He attributed this to an all-encompassing Islam. “All of Muslim theology conveys the feeling that God is so all pervading and at the same time so far above and removed from the individual that all human actions and their consequences are but the sequels of God’s doing.” He noted that attempts to chastise Arab trainees were more often than not met with noncommittal responses. The Arab “dismisses both blame and censure with a casual ‘min allah’ – ‘It is from God.’ To the remonstrance that it had better not happen again he answers ‘inshallah,’ ‘If God wills it,’ with exasperating nonchalance.”

But a more detailed look at the piece also reveals some important nuggets beyond merely a denigrating Orientalism. For instance, Naffsinger tells the story of an “Arab who caught another man in bed with his wife and levelled a gun at them, but instead of shooting he offered to let the man off if he would keep the affair secret.” He writes that “the double murder that might have been the outcome in Western cultures would have made newspaper headlines, a result diametrically opposed to the Arab’s priority considerations.” Whilst much of the document underlines the inferior nature of Arab political and social behavior, this example looks much more like a critique of the West’s destructive individualism.

More importantly, Naffsinger highlights the importance of cultural relativism, making the case that other cultures can only be understood according to their own contexts and value systems. This theoretical recognition of “otherness” as “different but equal” likely reflected broader intellectual currents at the time such as the civil rights movement and the dramatic expansion of the UN to incorporate new, decolonized states.
Entertaining delusions of grandeur, claiming to be persecuted, magnifying faults in others than one wants to hide in oneself, calling constantly for resurgence of past greatness – all this is behavior typical of paranoia, but it is manifested in every Arabic political newspaper and among individuals in day to day intercourse. It cannot be considered abnormal in the Arab cultural setting.…The Westerner who, recognizing in the Arab the personality traits which in Western culture signify paranoia or inferiority complex, is pleased with himself for being able to ‘see through the Arab’s attempts at deceit and trickery and his lies’ shows his lack of appreciation of the face concept in the Arab culture. [Emphasis added]
Naffsinger’s admission of relative definitions of “normal” is clear. He also warns that imposing Western cultural frameworks on Arab behavior will lead to “frustrations and impasses.” Indeed though written half a century ago, it is striking how resonant some of these ideas about “Arab culture” continue to be. In the early days of the Syrian conflict one of the most popular suggestions by seasoned observers such as Patrick Seale was that Assad be given an “honorable” exit strategy.

So what can we learn from the CIA’s early and admittedly clumsy attempts to conceptualize Arab culture? To this day there remains an overwhelming tendency to see culture as a self-evident fact: an amorphous combination of history, geography and politics that ultimately shapes, if not determines, how people will act.

What the CIA (unsurprisingly) failed to recognize is that culture is a remarkably malleable concept. Recent scholarship has shown the complex ways in which expressions of culture interact with power and human agency, reshaping that very culture in the process. Notably Patrick Porter’s definition of culture as “an ambiguous repertoire of competing ideas that can be selected, instrumentalized, and manipulated” is an excellent antidote to essentialist, static conceptualizations of otherness in any form. His book is a powerful reminder that culture is nebulous, fluid and contested — a tool frequently deployed in the service of ever-changing political goals.

It is striking, for instance, that today the most blatant examples of contemporary Orientalism stem from within the Middle East itself: the notion that the people of the region are “not ready for democracy” has been loudly propagated by Arab elites invested in the status quo, not least during the tumultuous transitions of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

Where, therefore, does the balance lie between blind universalism and stereotypical determinism? If ideas about culture are always in some way politicized constructions, is the quest for cultural understanding ultimately a waste of time? However unsophisticated the CIA’s early attempts to make sense of Arab culture appear to us today, we can be sure of one thing. It is only by bringing our assumptions about “otherness” to the surface, and articulating them explicitly that they can be subject to debate and challenge. To our politically correct ears, this document invokes the intellectual reverberations of fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. But there is surely a more worrying prospect: that implicit, unspoken assumptions about either sameness or otherness achieve the dangerous status of “common sense” in the minds of policy makers and publics alike.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Yes, America Should Be the World’s Policeman. By Bret Stephens.

Yes, America Should Be the World’s Policeman. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2014. Also here.


Bush did too much and Obama too little—but a ‘broken-windows’ model of U.S. foreign policy can be just right.

When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, Americans must sometimes feel like Goldilocks in the three bears’ house. The porridge that was President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda”—promising democracy for everyone from Karachi to Casablanca—was too hot. The mush that has been President  Barack Obama’’s foreign policy—heavy on rhetoric about resets, pivots and engagement but weak in execution and deeply ambivalent about the uses of U.S. power—is too cold.

What we need instead, as the fairy tale has it, is a foreign policy that is just right—neither too ambitious nor too quiescent, forceful when necessary but mindful that we must not exhaust ourselves in utopian quests to heal crippled societies.

The U.S. finds itself today in a post-Cold War global order under immense strain, even in partial collapse. Four Arab states have unraveled since 2011. The European Union stumbles from recession to recession, with each downturn calling into question the future of the common currency and even the union itself. In Asia, China has proved to be, by turns, assertive, reckless and insecure. Russia seeks to dominate its neighbors through local proxies, dirty tricks and even outright conquest. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and Iran’s effort to develop one tempt their neighbors to start nuclear programs of their own. And even as the core of al Qaeda fades in importance, its jihadist offshoots, including Islamic State, are metastasizing elsewhere.

As for the U.S., the sour experience of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has generated a deep—and bipartisan—reluctance to interfere in foreign conflicts, on the view that our interventions will exact a high price in blood and treasure for uncertain strategic gains. One result is that aggressive regimes seem to think that they can pursue their territorial or strategic ambitions without much fear of a decisive U.S. response. Another is that many of our traditional allies, from Israel to Saudi Arabia to Japan, are quietly beginning to explore other options as the old guarantees of the postwar Pax Americana no longer seem as secure as they once were.

How should an American president navigate through this world of ambitious rogues and nervous freelancers? How can the U.S. enforce some basic global norms, deter enemies and reassure friends without losing sight of our global priorities and national interests? How do we conduct a foreign policy that keeps our nightmares at bay, even if we can’t always make our dreams come true?

When it comes to restoring order in places widely assumed to be beyond the reach of redemption, there is a proven model for us to consult. But it has nothing to do with foreign policy; it has to do with policing our toughest inner cities. And it has brought spectacular—and almost wholly unexpected—results.

The year 1991 was a year of foreign policy triumphs for the U.S., from victory in the Gulf War to the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it was the annus horribilis for American crime, with nearly 1.1 million aggravated assaults, 106,590 forcible rapes and 24,700 murders. In every category, crime was up from the year—and the decade—before. As late as 1995, some criminologists were predicting that a new wave of “super-predators” would descend on American neighborhoods. “If current trends continue, the number of arrests of juveniles for violent crimes will double by the year 2010,” reported the New York Times, citing a Justice Department report.

“Current trends” did not continue.

In 1990, New York City registered a homicide rate of 30.7 murders for every 100,000 people. By 2012, it had fallen to a rate of 5. A similar, if slightly less dramatic, story unfolded in every other major U.S. city. The social deliverance happened despite the fact that many of the factors often cited to explain crime—bad schools, broken homes, poverty, the prevalence of guns, unemployment—remained largely the same from one decade to the next.

What happened? The crack epidemic crested in the early 1990s. The police began developing new techniques to track and control patterns of criminal activity. Between 1992 and 2008, the number of law enforcement personnel rose by 141,000, a 25% increase, and from 1990 to 2000, the adult incarceration rate nearly doubled. More cops on the streets; more bad guys behind bars. It was bound to have an effect.

But something else was at work. In 1982, George Kelling, a criminologist at Rutgers, and James Q. Wilson, a political scientist at Harvard, wrote an essay for the Atlantic Monthly titled “Broken Windows.”

Their core insight turned on a social-science experiment conducted in 1969 by Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford. Dr. Zimbardo parked a car on a street in the Bronx, with the hood up and without license plates. Within 10 minutes, vandals begin to pick the car clean of its valuables: battery, radiator, tires. By the next day, people began destroying the car, ripping up pieces of upholstery and smashing windows.

Dr. Zimbardo then conducted the same experiment in tony Palo Alto, Calif., near the Stanford campus. This time, the car—also with the hood up and the license plates removed—sat untouched for several days. So Dr. Zimbardo smashed a window with a sledgehammer. “Soon, passersby were joining in,” wrote Drs. Kelling and Wilson. “Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed.” What to conclude?

“Disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence,” Drs. Kelling and Wilson argued. It had long been known that if one broken window wasn’t replaced, it wouldn’t be long before all the other windows were broken too. Why? Because, they wrote, “one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”

The idea that the mere appearance of disorder encourages a deeper form of disorder cuts against the conventional wisdom that crime is a function of “root causes.” Yet municipalities that adopted policing techniques based on the broken-windows theory—techniques that emphasized policing by foot patrols and the strict enforcement of laws against petty crimes and “social incivilities”—tended to register sharp drops in crime and improvements in the overall quality of life.

We are disposed to think that, over time, order inevitably dissolves into disorder. But the drop in crime rates reminds us that we can go the other way—and impose order on disorder. Could it be that there’s a “broken windows” cure not just for America’s mean streets but for our increasingly disorderly world?

President Obama often talks about rules. After Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used sarin gas to murder more than 1,000 people near Damascus in August 2013, Mr. Obama warned that “if we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.” After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, he denounced the Kremlin for “challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident, that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force.”

The language is elegant; the words are true. Yet the warnings rarely amount to much. The U.S. succeeded in getting Mr. Assad to give up much of his chemical arsenal, but the Syrian dictator goes on slaughtering his people, sometimes using chlorine gas instead of sarin. The president’s immediate response to the seizure of Crimea was to sanction a handful of Russians, send a few fighter jets to Poland and Lithuania, and refuse Ukrainian requests for military support.

This is how we arrive at a broken-windows world: Rules are invoked but not enforced. Principles are idealized but not defended. The moment the world begins to notice that rules won’t be enforced, the rules will begin to be flouted. One window breaks, then all the others.

The most urgent goal of U.S. foreign policy over the next decade should be to arrest the continued slide into a broken-windows world of international disorder. The broken-windows theory emphasizes the need to put cops on the street—creating a sense of presence, enforcing community norms, serving the interests of responsible local stakeholders. It stresses the need to deter crime, not react to it, to keep neighborhoods from becoming places that entice criminal behavior.

A broken-windows approach to foreign policy would require the U.S. to increase military spending to upward of 5% of GDP. That is well above the 3.5% of GDP devoted to defense in 2014, though still under its 45-year average of 5.5%. The larger budget would allow the Navy to build a fleet that met its long-stated need for 313 ships (it is now below 290, half its Reagan-era size). It would enable the Air Force to replace an aircraft fleet whose planes are 26 years old on average, the oldest in its history. It would keep the U.S. Army from returning—as it now plans to do, over the warnings of officers like Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno —to its pre-World War II size.

The key to building a military ready to enforce a broken-windows policy is to focus on numbers, not on prohibitively expensive wonder-weapons into which we pour billions of research dollars—only to discover later that we can afford just a small number of them.

Broken-windows foreign policy would sharply punish violations of geopolitical norms, such as the use of chemical weapons, by swiftly and precisely targeting the perpetrators of the attacks (assuming those perpetrators can be found). But the emphasis would be on short, mission-specific, punitive police actions, not on open-ended occupations with the goal of redeeming broken societies.

The central tragedy of the Iraq war is that it took nine months, at a cost of some 480 American lives, to remove Saddam Hussein from power and capture him in his spider hole—which ought to have been the central goal of the war. Yet we spent eight years, and lost an additional 4,000 Americans, in an attempt to turn Iraq into a model of Arab democracy—a “root cause” exercise if ever there was one. There’s a big difference between making an example of a regime like Saddam’s Iraq and trying to turn Iraq into an exemplary state.

A broken-windows foreign policy would be global in its approach: no more “pivots” from this region to that, as if we can predict where the crises of the future are likely to arise. (Did anyone see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine coming?) But it would also know how to discriminate between core interests and allies and peripheral ones.

As Henry Nau of the George Washington University notes in a perceptive recent essay in the American Interest, we should “focus on freedom where it counts the most, namely on the borders of existing free societies.” Those are the borders that divide the free countries of Asia from China and North Korea; the free countries of central Europe from Russia; and allies such as Israel and Jordan from many of their neighbors.

A broken-windows foreign policy wouldn’t try to run every bad guy out of town. Nor would it demand that the U.S. put out every geopolitical fire. American statesmen will have to figure out which of those fires risks burning down the entire neighborhood, as the war in Syria threatens to do, and which will probably burn themselves out, as is likely the case in South Sudan.

Then again, foreign crises rarely present a binary choice between doing nothing and conducting a full-scale military intervention. A cruise-missile strike against a single radio tower in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide could have helped to prevent Hutus from broadcasting instructions for murdering Tutsis, potentially saving thousands of innocent lives at minimal cost to the U.S. Bomb strikes by NATO to lift the siege of Sarajevo helped to turn the tide of the war in the former Yugoslavia against Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, also at no serious cost to the U.S. Perhaps it is time for a strategy that enshrines the principle that preventing tragedy should enjoy greater moral legitimacy than reacting to it.

In his famous 1993 essay, “Defining Deviancy Down,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed how Americans had become inured to ever-higher rates of violent crime by treating as “normal” criminal activity that would have scandalized past generations of Americans. “We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” the senator from New York wrote. Twenty years later, the opposite has happened. We have defined deviancy up. But having done so, we have tended to forget how much better things are now than they were before.

Americans have lived in a relatively orderly world for so long that we have become somewhat complacent about maintaining it. Perhaps that explains why, in recent years, we have adopted a foreign policy that neglects to do the things that have underpinned that orderly world: commitments to global security, military forces adequate to those commitments, a willingness to intervene in regional crises to secure allies and to confront or deter aggressive regimes.

In recent months, however, and especially since the rise of Islamic State and the beheading of American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, Americans have begun to rediscover certain truths about Pax Americana: If our red lines are exposed as mere bluffs, more of them will be crossed. If our commitments to our allies aren’t serious, those allies might ignore or abandon us. If our threats are empty, our enemies will be emboldened, and we will have more of them.

In other words, if the world’s leading liberal-democratic nation doesn’t assume its role as world policeman, the world’s rogues will try to fill the breach, often in league with one another. It could be a world very much like the 1930s, a decade in which economic turmoil, war weariness, Western self-doubt, American self-involvement and the rise of ambitious dictatorships combined to produce catastrophe. When President Franklin Roosevelt asked Winston Churchill what World War II should be called, the British prime minister replied, “the unnecessary war”—because, Churchill said, “never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” That is an error we should not repeat.

To say that the U.S. needs to be the world’s policeman isn’t to say that we need to be its preacher, spreading the gospel of the American way. Preachers are in the business of changing hearts and saving souls. Cops merely walk the beat, reassuring the good, deterring the tempted, punishing the wicked.

Not everyone grows up wanting to be a cop. But who wants to live in a neighborhood, or a world, where there is no cop? Would you? Should an American president?

This essay is adapted from Bret Stephens’s new book, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder, published  by Sentinel.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Barack Obama’s Assault on America. By Robert W. Merry.

Barack Obama’s Assault on America. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, November 22, 2014.


There is a solution to the country’s immigration crisis that makes sense. But, to be sound and durable, it must be arrived at through the country’s traditional democratic procedures and processes.

I present these musing under the rubric, “Requiem for the American Republic.” I do so with a profound sadness at the destruction wreaked upon our civic system through the decades-long phenomenon of uncontrolled immigration. In presenting his new policy of granting illegal immigrants legal status through executive action, President Obama said he did so in part because of “who we are as Americans.” Who we are is a nation of laws. Our government has ignored the law for a generation or more in allowing law-breaking immigrants to enter the country. Now the president doubles down on that assault on American law by promulgating an unconstitutional executive order.

Inevitably, those who are unconcerned about the flow of illegal immigrants—either through humanitarian impulses or because they see a political realignment in the making (or both)—can’t perceive why anybody would view the president’s action as the least bit malign.

But this is a brazen assault on the separation of powers doctrine of our Constitution. When the president says his action is “just like [what] law enforcement does every day,” he heralds the arrival in distilled form of Orwell’s “Newspeak.”  Newspeak is a corrosive force, as Orwell made clear, because it contributes to the slow erosion of verities, such as the fundamental elements of the American Creed.

In allowing this flow of illegal immigrants into our country through misfeasance and nonfeasance for the past thirty years (since the last amnesty), our political leaders have driven a wedge through the nation. We now have over 11 million such people in our midst, struggling to make their way through society while grappling with pressures and adversities imposed by their illegal status. This situation is untenable, of course. The president is correct when he says, “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character.”

But that isn’t the issue. The issue is whether any effort to craft a reasonable pathway to legal status or citizenship for America’s illegal immigrants will also include provisions designed to protect our borders into the future. Most Americans know that a nation that can’t control its borders is a nation whose very definition is under assault. That’s the trade-off: protect the borders first, then deal with the 11.5 million illegals.

Obama argues that all this fuss could have been avoided if the Republican-controlled House had embraced the bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate during the current Congress. But many House members, all duly elected by constituencies back home and answerable to those voters, felt that the bill didn’t sufficiently embrace the trade-off. Not enough border security in exchange for the pathway to legal status.

But there’s another factor here that seldom gets serious attention, in part because left-leaning participants in the debate have sought to delegitimize their opponents’ arguments on it. President Obama hinted at this factor when he said, “I know some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel they’ve gotten a raw deal for over a decade.”

Leave aside the economic factors enumerated (the threat to jobs or the feeling of middle-class families that they have gotten a raw deal) and focus for a moment on the concern that uncontrolled immigration could “change the very fabric of who we are.” The late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington explored this phenomenon in his 2004 study, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. He said America’s identity, over its history, had been composed at various times of  four elements—ethnic, racial, cultural and political. Over the decades, the ethnic and racial components of the nation’s identity have been cast aside. The country no longer defined itself in these terms. That left the cultural and political components.

America’s traditional culture has been what Huntington calls “Anglo-Protestant.” He explains this by posing a question:
One has only to ask: Would America be the America it is today if it in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been settled not by British Protestants, but by French, Spanish or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico or Brazil.
In 1789, John Jay identified six central elements of what Americans had in common—ancestry, language, religion, principles of government, manners and customs and war experience. Of these, common ancestry was the first to go, as more and more immigrants came from countries other than Britain. Over the decades, there was an erosion in some of the others. For example, the religious component in Jay’s day would have been Protestantism; that later was broadened to Christianity. But generally, these cultural norms persisted throughout much of the twentieth century. As Will Kymlicka wrote in 1995, prior to the 1960s, immigrants “were expected to shed their distinctive heritage and assimilate entirely to existing cultural norms.”

That began to change toward the end of the twentieth century, and the single largest factor was immigration. Hence, it isn’t surprising that there should be an underlying concern on the part of many Americans about the impact of immigration—particularly uncontrolled illegal immigration—on the cultural norms of the country. Such concerns are dismissed as illegitimate by many pro-immigration forces in the country.

If the cultural component erodes entirely, as it seems to be doing, then America’s single remaining element of common identity will be the American Creed—principles of governance such as liberty, equality, democracy, individualism, human rights, the rule of law and private property. Huntington raises the question whether mere creed is sufficient to hold a nation together over extended periods of time.

In any event, the fate of America’s cultural identity is not a matter of mere frivolous concern, as many liberals argue. It is fundamental, which is why it unleashes strong emotions in many parts of the country. And these emotions are heightened by the phenomenon of more recent immigrants being increasingly reluctant to shed their own distinctive elements of heritage and increasingly inclined to shun the concept of assimilation.

All of this makes the immigration issue one of the most emotional and threatening issues to appear on the American scene in many decades. Given that, it isn’t an issue with which to be trifled. It is too serious, too delicate, too closely tied to the American identity.

And yet that is what President Obama has done. He has trivialized this most emotional of issues facing the American polity by circumventing the structures of American democracy in favor of a unilateral solution, or partial solution. In doing so, he not only has assaulted the American cultural identity, as others have been doing for some time, but he also has assaulted the country’s identity of creed—the delicately balanced structures of governance designed to preserve the hallowed principles of liberty, rule of law, justice and fair opportunity.

Of course, there is a solution to the country’s immigration crisis that is humane, balanced and protective of the country’s fundamental elements of identity. But, to be sound and durable, it must be arrived at through the country’s traditional democratic procedures and processes. Obama’s assault on those procedures and processes, if they stand, will hasten the decline of the American republic.

Obama’s Big Immigration Miscalculation. By Walter Russell Mead.

Obama’s Big Miscalculation. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, November 21, 2014.


President Obama’s new initiative is unlikely to succeed politically—in part because Democrats are overconfident that rising Hispanic immigration will deliver them a permanent, left-leaning majority.

Frank Fukuyama, no howling partisan, has tagged President Obama’s decision to circumvent Congress on immigration as a “bad call,” and while the President’s limited offer of a three-year temporary work authorization for people in the country illegally was not the worst or the most radical step he could have taken, Frank is right. This was the wrong step at the wrong time. At the very minimum, the President should have given the new Congress ninety days to act before going it alone. Failing to do so isn’t just a slap in the face of his Republican opponents; it is a slap in the face of the voters who no longer trust the President and his party on the big issues of national life.

If the new Congress proved unable or unwilling to act, the President’s step would have had at least an element of political legitimacy to it. As it is, this half-hearted, hobbled amnesty will likely join President Obama’s flawed health care law as a toxic legacy that will haunt the Democratic Party for years to come. Just as the President’s poor reputation was a millstone around the neck of many Democratic candidates in 2014, future Democratic candidates are going to run away from Obama’s memory, and their opponents will work to tag them with the heavy burden of a presidency that most Americans will want to forget. As a political brand, the name “Barack Obama” now risks drifting into Jimmy Carter territory and becoming  a label that blights the prospects of the Democratic party and its candidates for years.

Moreover, as with the health care law, the President’s immigration policy doesn’t solve the underlying problems it addresses and makes the task of real reform more difficult. As often happens with our careful and deliberative President, he’s balanced so many concerns so nicely and split so many hairs so finely that the final product doesn’t get much done.

That said, I cannot help but sympathize with the President’s intentions. Through a combination of bad policy (such as the Reagan amnesty), poor enforcement of our border controls, and the existence of a large underground economy, millions of foreigners have been living, working, marrying, and having children among us for decades outside of the law. As a human problem, this demands a response. The development of a class of illegal alien workers who lack the full and equal protection of the law is an affront to the ideal of human equality and undermines the well-being of the legal workers who have to compete with underpaid illegals in the marketplace. The children of such people who are born in the United States have committed no crime and both common decency and our own laws demand that such people receive education, health care, and the basic services that government provides. President Obama did not create the tangled morass of the failed American system of managing and regulating immigration, and both as President of the United States and as a human being under the judgment of a just God he has unavoidable obligations to seek a humane solution to the problems we face. The solution he chose may be a poor one, and it exposes both the nation and future immigrants to more trouble, but the situation is real and no perfect solution to a problem this messy exists.

The President, like many Democrats, has reached his position on immigration out of political calculation as well as humanitarian concern. For many liberal Democrats (as well as for some of their Republican opponents) two key beliefs about immigration shape their political strategies. The first is that Latinos are the new blacks: a permanent racial minority or subgroup in the American political system that will always feel separate from the country’s white population and, like African-Americans, will vote Democratic. On this assumption, the Democratic approach to Hispanic Americans should be clear: the more the merrier. That is a particularly popular view on the more leftish side of the Democratic coalition, where there’s a deep and instinctive fear and loathing of Jacksonian America (those “bitterly clinging” to their guns, their Bibles, and their individualistic economic and social beliefs). The great shining hope of the American left is that a demographic transition through immigration and birthrates will finally make all those tiresome white people largely irrelevant in a new, post-American America that will forget all that exceptionalism nonsense and ditch “Anglo-Saxon” cultural and economic ideas ranging from evangelical religion to libertarian social theory.

Hispanic immigration in this view is merely the largest and most promising of a broader program of planned social engineering through immigration law: “globalizing” the American population by raising the number of immigrants and ensuring that, unlike 19th-century U.S. immigration, late 20th and 21st century immigrants come from non-European societies.

The second key belief about immigration driving the vision of much of the American left today is that immigration is unstoppable. The borders cannot be controlled, and even if they could be, they won’t be. The more immigrants there are in the United States, the more they influence the vote. And the more immigrants influence the vote, the more support for immigration there will be in our politics. There is thus little fear of a backlash; if, Democratic lefties reason, Republicans are so angry about the President’s steps to ease conditions for illegal immigrants that they push for tougher immigration laws, the GOP will merely accelerate its demographic death spiral into irrelevance.

For Democratic lefties, these are comfortable ideas that reinforce an idea of inevitable historic progress toward the kind of America they would like to see—a country that in its values and institutions would look more and more like the rest of the world and less and less like some kind of exceptional maverick. Both ideas could well prove to be true, but if American historical experience is any guide, both will turn out to be false. The current wave of immigrants will follow an ethnic rather than a racial path toward growing assimilation into American society and culture, and if and as immigration passes a certain threshold level, opposition to further immigration will rise—even and in some cases especially among recent migrants—and at some point the political system will mandate dramatic cuts in the rate of new migrants.

The great wave of European immigrants that came between 1880 and 1924 was once seen both by liberals and conservatives as something very like the wave of Hispanic immigrants we’ve had in the last generation. Unlike earlier waves of immigrants from countries like Germany, England, Scotland, and (even) Ireland, the turn of the century immigrants came predominantly from countries like Russia, Italy, Greece, the Balkans and Syria. (Many Arab-Americans came to the United States during this era.) With Jews, Poles, Sicilians, Hungarians, Russians, and Czechs pouring into American ports, there was a sense among many descendants of earlier waves that the new arrivals were both racially and culturally alien. “Swarthy” immigrants from countries like Greece, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire were not considered “white” by many native-born Americans. Eastern Jews from the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were feared as alien, unassimilables. Well into the 1930s and 1940s, the American hard left believed that the new immigrants would lead American society away from the antiquated individualism of earlier generations into the brave new world of socialist collectivism they saw rising in the future.

Those hopes fizzled out. The European immigrants may have voted for the New Deal, but many went for Eisenhower in the 1950s and Nixon in 1968, and their children and grandchildren became the “Reagan Democrats” of the 1980s. The United States did not become a socialist or even a social democratic utopia, and the descendants of the immigrants blended into the American people at large.

It seems more likely than not that Hispanic immigrants and their kids will follow a similar path. In many ways Latinos face less prejudice than Jews or Italians did in the 1880s, and have more opportunities to integrate into American society at large than those earlier generations of immigrants did.
The evidence if anything suggests that Hispanic immigrants are more open to the cultural influences of American political and social ideas than were earlier waves. While very few Italian, Jewish or Greek immigrants, for example, converted to evangelical Protestantism, 24% of hispanic adults in America are now former Catholics. Hispanics are a large and varied group, but by and large they are learning English, starting businesses, joining Protestant churches and voting Republican at levels that suggest that they are anything but a permanently alienated racial underclass in formation.

Past history also suggests that liberal Democrats may be misreading the politics of immigration. In American history, opposition to immigration (including opposition among relatively recent arrivals) tends to rise in response to large waves of immigrants. The Know Nothing movement (nativist, anti-Irish, anti-Catholic) rose in response to the surge in Irish immigration at the time of the Potato Famine. The KKK revival of the 1920s as an anti-immigrant rather than just an anti-black movement came in response to the post 1880 immigrant tsunami.

More to the point, the successful anti-immigration movements (first aimed at Chinese and Japanese immigrants and then, in 1923–24, at dramatically reducing immigration of all kinds) came as the foreign born surged as a percentage of all adults. Instead of sparking the formation of a powerful lobby that kept the gates of immigration permanently open wide, the migration surges of the late 19th and early 20th century led to a forty-year immigration hiatus. Not until the late 1960s did the country begin to reopen the door to significant flows of new immigrants.

Far from being a losing political issue for its advocates, immigration restriction was one of the most popular political initiatives of its day. The anti-immigration Republican Party swept from one landslide to another until the Great Depression, and polls showed intense and widespread popular opposition to more immigration all through the 1930s and 1940s. Many of those who opposed new immigrants were the sons and daughters of immigrants themselves; with U.S. wages and job opportunities under pressure during the Depression, workers did not want competition from desperate migrants willing to undercut U.S. wage levels.

Again, history would suggest that instead of playing catch-up with Democrats on immigration, Republicans would do better to reach out to new immigrants on economic grounds. Fighting the green/NIMBY nexus, for example, that makes single family home construction prohibitively expensive in states like California, locking new immigrants out of both jobs and homes, might be a smarter strategy than shouting “Me too!” on immigration reform.

Today’s public concern about the rate of immigration, including but not limited to illegal immigration, is coming after a long period of rapid immigration, and it comes when working class Americans are increasingly worried about wages and jobs. It may pass away, like the Know Nothings, or it may build into the kind of national political consensus that kept immigration to a trickle for much of the 20th century. But whatever happens, the Democratic confidence that an ever rising tide of Hispanic immigration will create a permanently left-leaning America is likely misplaced. As a piece of political engineering, President Obama’s immigration initiative is unlikely to succeed.

The President, however, is absolutely right that our current immigration system is broken with too many domestic workers facing low wages and reduced job opportunities, too many employers unable to attract the skilled labor they seek, and too many immigrants condemned to a shadow life on the fringes of legality. Better border enforcement, smarter policy, and a more focused concern for the well-being of working Americans are the keys to a more sustainable immigration regime than what we now have. If Republicans are smart they won’t let themselves be goaded into a frenzy of opposition and reaction by the President’s actions; they will advance a smarter agenda on their own.

Either way, most recent immigrants, like most of their predecessors, have come to this country because they believe that, flawed as they may be, our institutions and our way of life offer more hope and more opportunity than the countries they have left. The best way to support our new neighbors and help them become valuable, contributing members of American society is to prove them right.

From an Era of Refugee Millions, Only Palestinians Remain. By Andrew Roberts.

From an Era of Refugee Millions, Only Palestinians Remain. By Andrew Roberts. Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2014.


The 1940s and ’50s saw huge forced moves of population groups—people who put down roots and started over.

On Tuesday, as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza celebrated the murder in a Jerusalem synagogue of five Israelis, the Spanish Parliament happened to be passing a nonbinding motion urging its government to “encourage the recognition of Palestine as a state.” Last month, Sweden became the first European Union member to officially recognize Palestine as a state, and parliamentarians in England and France have similar legislation in the works.

As anti-Israel sentiment grows in Europe—and in the U.S., where the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement has taken hold on many college campuses—calls for an immediate resolution to the Palestinian “refugee” problem abound. To hear some in the anti-Israel movement today, one might imagine that the Palestinian exodus was a unique occurrence in modern history, that no other people have ever been moved off what they considered to be their ancestral lands.

The truth is that such movements—including that of the Palestinians—happened so often in the mid-1940s to early 1950s that it is surprising that the plural of the word exodus—exodi?—is not used in reference to this period.

For all sorts of reasons, ethnic groups were either forcibly or voluntarily moved during that troubled period, and usually in far worse circumstances and for far longer distances than the Palestinians. There were no fewer than 20 different groups—including the Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus of the Punjab, the Crimean Tatars, the Japanese and Korean Kuril and Sakhalin Islanders, the Soviet Chechens, Ingush and Balkars—many in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who were displaced and taken to different regions.

Yet all of these refugee groups, except one, chose to try to make the best of their new environments. Most have succeeded, and some, such as the refugees who reached America in that decade, have done so triumphantly. The sole exception has been the Palestinians, who made the choice to embrace fanatical irredentism and launch two intifadas—and perhaps now a third—resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

After Germany lost World War II in 1945, more than three million of its people were forced to leave their homes in the Sudetenland, Silesia and regions east of the Oder and Neisse rivers—lands that their forefathers had tilled for centuries. These refugees embarked on a 300-mile journey westward under conditions of extreme deprivation and danger with only what they could carry in suitcases.

One can’t be expected to sympathize too much with people who had enthusiastically supported Adolf Hitler, but among them were children who were not responsible for the sins of their fathers. Having reached the new borders of East and West Germany, as delineated by the victorious Allies, they settled and made no irredentist claims to Poland and Czechoslovakia, the countries they had left. Today those once penniless refugee children include some of the most successful people in Germany, a country they helped make a prosperous, model democracy.

Across the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, the paranoiac evil of Joseph Stalin ensured that entire peoples, sometimes numbering in the millions, were moved from one side of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. to the other. Some, like the Cossacks who had fought for Hitler, were massacred wholesale when they fell into the hands of Stalin or his satellite henchmen, such as Yugoslavia’s Marshal Josip Tito.

Millions of other people, as part of Communist schemes unrelated to the war, were “relocated” to Siberia, the Crimea or Central Asia, often many hundreds of miles from their ancestral lands and under the harshest conditions short of genocide. In all, forced internal migrations of the Tatars, Volga Germans, Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, Meskheta Turks and other ethnic groupings numbering some six million led to the deaths, according to the Soviets’ own figures, of up to 1.5 million, including 46% of the Crimean Tatars. Yet there are no appreciable irredentist movements among these former Soviet citizens today. They made the best of a new reality rather than carrying on a decades-long and ultimately hopeless struggle to return.

Similarly, the late 1940s saw massive population transfers in the Punjab and Northwest Frontier territories of India when the British brought their empire there to a close in 1947. Some 16 million people crossed between the new states of Pakistan and India, leading to the deaths of between one-half and three-quarters of a million people in the communal massacres that ensued.

Yet while there are severe border disputes still between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, practically no one from the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities is today agitating for restitution of the lands their forefathers farmed or owned in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier or elsewhere. There is distrust, but modern Indians and Pakistanis have moved on. The same is true of other parts of the world, such as Burma and South Africa, which also saw ethnic upheaval in the late-1940s.

Sadly, it has been the Arab states’ cynical and self-interested policy for nearly seven decades to keep the Palestinians boiling with indignation. No one can doubt that for those who have continued to live in camps intended for long-ago refugees, the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, when thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled, was indeed a catastrophe. But many other peoples have learned to deal with equal or worse by moving onward and upward; calling them refugees several generations after their forebears’ upheaval would be unthinkable. The lessons of history are rarely enunciated more clearly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ben Stein: America’s Real Race Problem Is a “Pathetic, Self-Defeating Black Underclass.”

Ben Stein: America’s Real Race Problem Is “Pathetic, Self-Defeating Black Underclass.” By Matt Wilstein. Mediaite, November 10, 2014. Video at YouTube. Also at Breitbart. Salon. Daily Caller.


You would think, if you read the liberal mainstream media, that the main problem with race in America was poor innocent black people being set upon and mistreated by the police. That’s just nonsense. I mean, the real problem with race in America is a very, very beaten-down, pathetic, self-defeating black underclass that is, uh, just can’t seem to get its way going in the way that blacks were able to before the scourge of drugs and the scourge of gangs.

I mean, it’s an amazing thing — blacks were on their way in this country, even after the horrors of slavery, and then drugs came in, the destruction of families came in, and the crisis in the black community is just absolutely unbelievable. And that, it seems to me, is something that Mr. Obama could have addressed, and he has ignored it completely.

Kirsten Powers: Ben Stein’s Comments on Black Underclass “Racist.” By Josh Feldman. Mediaite, November 11, 2014. Video at YouTube.

The Democratic Party’s Civil War Is Here. By Daniel Greenfield.

The Democratic Party’s Civil War Is Here. By Daniel Greenfield. FrontPage Magazine, November 6, 2014. Also at Sultan Knish.

Obama Has Destroyed His Party. By Rush Limbaugh., November 10, 2014.

Two Midterm Elections Have Hollowed Out the Democratic Party. By Dan Balz. Washington Post, November 8, 2014.

Boss Rangel and the Spirit of 1876. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, March 5, 2010.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Syria Expert Joshua Landis: Partition Syria Between Assad and a Sunni State.

Fareed Zakaria goes 1-on-1 with Syria Expert Joshua Landis to discuss and innovative solution to the ongoing Syria crisis. Video. Syria Comment, November 8, 2014. Also at CNN Video and Farred Zakaria GPS.

GPS Transcript:

ZAKARIA: To most American officials, pundits, scholars, Syria is a problem with no good answers. I for one have never heard a sensible solution until now. My next guest is in my opinion the top Syria scholar in the United States and he is a man with a plan. Joshua Landis is the director of the University of Oklahoma Center for Middle East Studies. Josh, let’s go through this because everybody has heard so much about Syria. Let’s start with the map of what Syria looks like right now, and explain to us what those colors mean.

JOSHUA LANDIS: The colors are that the government led by Bashar al Assad in Damascus in the South rules over this purplish color in the South. The ISIS, this new big state that has formed, dominates the east and the north –

ZAKARIA: But a lot of that is just desert, right?

LANDIS: Yes, much of that is desert, it’s not the big populated areas. And then you have the blue which has also rebel activity. Now, you’ve got to remember, that there are over 1,000 militias in Syria according to the CIA.

ZAKARIA: So, let’s understand why you think that the solution that so many people keep pushing, which is that the United States supports those rebels in the blue areas and that they will, therefore, win, they will establish control, create perhaps a Democratic Syria, why is that not going to work?

LANDIS: Well, it’s not going to work because most of the blue area are dominated by the big rebel groups which are al Qaeda and the Islamic Front, which are Jihadist, very anti-American groups. The pro-American militias just got wiped out in the northern blue spot Jablazawi (ph). They just got pushed aside by al Qaeda, and so they’re very small. They may own perhaps one or two percent of Syria today, the rebels that are being backed by the United States. So to turn those two percent into winners that would not only wipe out ISIS, but take on Assad would be a gargantuan undertaking.

ZAKARIA: So, they have to beat al Nusra and al Qaeda and Khorasan, then they’ve got to beat ISIS, then they’ve got to beat ...

LANDIS: It’s not going to happen. And we’ve – we’ve only – President Obama has given them half a billion dollars. Now, that, you know, at the University of Oklahoma we have an endowment of much more than $1 billion and we can’t even pay the students to go for free. So, they’re not going to build an army for that kind of money. This is just chump change that's there to satisfy, I presume, people who are criticizing the president.

ZAKARIA: So, let’s go to what you think the – the reality is emerging toward and what could be a stable outcome.

LANDIS: What could be an outcome is leaving Assad in southern Syria. Assad, although he owns less than 50 percent of the territory, he owns over 60 – about 65 percent of the population because Damascus, in the big cities and all the cities on the coast are still under his control largely. So if you just left him there, these lines, battle lines have been more or less static for the last two years. The north is the problem. That’s where we’re bombing. That’s what’s dominated by ISIS and al Qaeda. What one would have to do if they want to solve this problem and not just make a narrow counterterrorism approach to it, would be to try to draw the Turks into Syria with Saudi, American backing, and NATO backing to try to disarm the militias and set up a government that was a good government that everybody could get behind and pour money into for development and try to fix this problem so it wouldn't be a festering, radical ...

ZAKARIA: But recognize that the forces who support Syria are simply not going to live under that Sunni north and the Sunni north is not going to live under Assad.


ZAKARIA: And so create a clean break.

LANDIS: Because what people are talking about now and are emerging is autonomous regions with a political solution where the Alawites and us ought to sit down with rebels who are very Islamist and come up with some agreement. That’s just never going to happen. These different groups have radically different visions of where Syria should be.

ZAKARIA: And then we look at the map that shows us what would happen to the Kurds over there. So you keep them in autonomous region which is much like the one they have in Iraq and then finally where the Alawites are already clustered, right? So, this is what Syria would look like. It would be stable. The Kurds would be – would have their area. The Alawites would have their area

LANDIS: No, the Alawites would be under Assad. Alawites – Bashar al- Assad, the president is an Alawite. And he dominates today. You wouldn’t – you couldn’t build an Alawite enclave. People thought of that in the beginning, but it’s indefensible. If Bashar Assad loses the rest of Syria, they are going to storm – and conquer the cost. That’s why he’s kept these cities.

ZAKARIA: So, finally, the map of 1919 that the British and French drew was wrong. This is a map that reflects the realities of sectarianism and is possibly more stable.

LANDIS: Yes, it is. And what we see today if you were to pan back and look at a map of what the Islamic State has built from Baghdad, which stretches from the edges of Baghdad all the way to Aleppo today, is a Sunni state, and it’s already emerged, and what America is doing by bombing it is trying to destroy this state that is there, and it’s going to be a very hard thing to do from the air.

ZAKARIA: So you say, you know, accept reality, don’t try to ...

LANDIS: Accept reality, accept that state, but try to get better rulers for it, not ISIS.

ZAKARIA: Joshua Landis, as I say, the single best solution to the Syria problem I have heard.

What Would a Post-Assad Syria Look Like? Video with Joshua Landis. DU Center for Middle East Studies, February 4, 2013, YouTube.

Joshua Landis Speaks at the World Affairs Council of Houston. Video. World Affairs Council Houston, October 22, 2014, YouTube.