Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Better Jackson’s of Trump’s Nature. By Nicholas M. Gallagher.

The Better Jackson’s of Trump’s Nature. By Nicholas M. Gallagher. National Review, June 13, 2016 issue.


He has tapped into a tradition that has thankfully grown more inclusive. Conservatives must find a way to make common cause with Andrew Jackson’s nationalist heirs.

Donald Trump clinched the GOP nomination by exploiting vulnerabilities few were aware existed. When the 2016 race began, almost no one seemed to have understood that a plurality of the Republican party had a fundamentally different set of policy preferences from those of doctrinaire conservatism. Trump saw this opening and took full advantage.

Trump’s positions follow the contours not of movement conservatism but of American folk nationalism, often known as Jacksonianism. As Walter Russell Mead, my boss over at The American Interest, has noted, Jacksonians characteristically emphasize anti-elitism and egalitarianism while drawing a sharp distinction between members of the folk group and those outside it. In domestic policy, this translates to tough-on-crime stances and stubborn adherence to traditional views on social issues (and, historically, opposition to civil rights), and to advocacy of government assistance for “deserving” members of the folk group. Looking abroad, they are uninterested in Wilsonian nation-building projects or promoting global order, but if they feel the nation is threatened, they are willing to fight back by whatever means are necessary. Sound familiar yet?

Jacksonians don’t fit easily into either the liberal or the conservative camp; they are the “radical middle.” They also don’t comport with regional stereotypes. Jacksonians are not synonymous with southerners or rednecks: Trump has performed best in northeastern states and prospered in cities. And while Trump is supported by racists (especially by the ugly little band of Twitter trolls known as the alt-right), Jacksonians cannot be dismissed as such en masse. In the past, Jacksonians have been found at the heart of the Confederacy, but they also formed the core of the Union Army, and later the one that defeated Hitler. Their motivations and history are too complex — and they comprise too wide a swath of the American public — to be rightly considered atavistic or a sectional rump.

When Jacksonians take up politics, they do so with a vengeance, and Jacksonian uprisings have overturned the American political order more than once. But Jacksonians tend to be quiet politically when things are going well. Much of the time, it’s easy for elites to misread them as supporters of other movements, forget them, or take them for granted.

And that’s exactly what Republicans had been doing. After the “paleoconservatives” and Buchananites were defeated a generation ago, leading GOP politicians minimized and sometimes outright denied tensions between Jacksonian sentiment and conservative ideology. They focused on issues where the two viewpoints overlapped (from an aversion to liberal identity politics to the need to take the fight to the bad guys after 9/11), while politely ignoring (or forgetting) the important differences between the groups. This was made easier by the fact that for much of that period, a rising economic tide lifted all boats and kept the visibility of disagreements to a minimum.

Many Republicans, especially those of the “neocon” persuasion, went a step farther by denying the existence of American nationalism outright. This usually involved their contrasting nationalism, which was something bad that others (usually: Europeans) had indulged in, with patriotism, which was presented as good and American — and universalistic and ideal-based. In his first inaugural address, President George W. Bush declared: “America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens.”

It is true that America is a country uniquely rooted in ideas, with a universal message accessible to all people. It’s also true that Americans are patriotic. But for much of the Right, patriotism — love of country — itself has become identified with reverence for a specific body of ideas, including the classical-liberal, individualist, and universalist Enlightenment ideals enshrined in America’s founding documents. At its most expansive, this can include — and was read as including — a series of classical-liberal economic prescriptions, certain foreign- and domestic-policy assumptions, and even originalist judicial philosophy.

There’s something to this. Lincoln, who revered the Declaration of Independence and used its principles to animate his political views, was a better patriot than Stephen Douglas or Robert E. Lee, even though in some sense all three loved their country. But expansive rhetoric and blurred categories can muddle thinking. The conservative movement, which reveres tradition, forgot that there were other traditions of how to view one’s country and understand what binds us together. The idea that America has never had a sense of national folk identity is just plain false — and making political and policy judgments on that assumption was madness. The reappearance of naked nationalism has been a shock to those who spent decades maintaining that America’s unique and unqualified achievement has been to synthesize love of country and universal democratic ideals. Jacksonians have consistently felt that some combination of ethnicity, where you were born, and (though Bush didn’t mention it) faith unite the American people, though not quite in the same way as — and generally much more expansively conceived than — the European “blood and soil” ideologies to which President Bush alluded.

As a form of nationalism, Jacksonianism has had two saving graces. First, it’s proven to be expandable in a way that no other folk nationalism in history has been. Although it was originally carried to America by the Scots-Irish who settled the frontier, the Jacksonian understanding of the folk group has expanded in time beyond its white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant roots to include millions of immigrants from far-flung places, such as Irish Catholics and Eastern European Jews. If this process was rougher than is sometimes remembered, and if America has not yet achieved total reconciliation on racial matters, nevertheless this record of assimilation is an immense and unprecedented achievement in the bloody annals of a fallen world.

Second, Jacksonianism has usually embraced and supported American idealistic patriotism. It’s an oversimplification to think of these as competing ideologies: One operates (mostly) at the level of feeling and the other at the level of principle. Most Jacksonians would profess to be ardent patriots and lovers of America’s founding principles, and most Americans have at least some Jacksonianism in them.

The tension between the two is nonetheless real and tricky to manage for a conservative movement that is, as it’s suddenly and rudely been reminded, a minority both in the country and within the Republican party. Conservatives need Jacksonian votes to form a governing coalition. Yet from trade to immigration, foreign policy to fiscal policy, Jacksonian instincts are often incompatible with conservative prescriptions.

There are lots of ways to deal with this friction. The least helpful is to pretend it doesn’t exist. Exhibits A and B of this tendency are the proposed immigration bills in 2007 and 2013, which repeated in their essentials the failed 1986 amnesty-for-enforcement bargain. More broadly, party leaders failed to take the Jacksonian base’s positions on economic policy into account or even acknowledge them rhetorically, and they failed also to respond to Jacksonian dissatisfaction with the Wilsonian aspects of the Iraq War. By the time 2016 rolled around, the Republicans — including much of their supposed anti-establishment wing — were acting as though Jacksonianism didn’t exist.

Meanwhile, structural shifts in the economy, from globalization to automation, have been breaking down traditional sources of blue-collar and clerical employment, even as 50 years of mass immigration — a large chunk of it not sanctioned by law — have altered the nature of the American folk group. The latter has weakened social cohesion, and the former not only grates on Jacksonians’ sense of economic security but undermines their very identity as industrial workers and providers. Meanwhile, the perception that the world abroad was threatening and thankless grew even as confidence in the efficacy of conservative foreign and military policy waned. The conditions for a Jacksonian revolt were ripe.

While conservatives are more than within their rights to write off Trump, they would be neither wise nor justified to write off the Jacksonians. They may be disgusted with Trump’s antics, and they may find some Jacksonian positions inchoate, wrongheaded, or unfulfillable. But after the dust from this election settles, it will be urgently necessary to once again fuse patriotic, idealistic, and inclusive conservatism with Jacksonian nationalism.

Ideals need gut instincts and folk tradition on their side in order to be efficacious. The Jacksonian sense of common American identity enables self-governance, charity, and neighborliness; for many — including groups that the GOP has been trying to court for years, such as Hispanic Americans and single women without college degrees — it gives important meaning to life. And Jacksonian support will also be necessary to addressing our pressing foreign-policy problems.

For now, Jacksonianism lies closer to conservatism than it does to the identity-politics Left, and one may reasonably hope for a “best of both” compromise between intellectual conservatism and Jacksonian impulses. It will take some time to work out the details, but time is something we conservatives will have a lot of as we spend the rest of the 2016 presidential campaign in the political wilderness. Consider it the price of ignoring political reality for a generation.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Five Reasons Donald Trump Is Dominating American Politics. By Robert W. Merry.

5 Reasons Trump Is Dominating American Politics. By Robert W. Merry. The National Interest, May 29, 2016.


One remarkable element of American politics is the extent to which unthinkable developments become commonplace once they happen. Consider simply the men who have become president by defying the conventional wisdom that said they could never reach that office, because they weren’t right for the times and the times weren’t right for them. They include Abraham Lincoln, considered a western bumpkin with only a single congressional term under his belt and no discernible sophistication about him. Or Ronald Reagan, considered a failed actor, a man whose detractors felt he was simply too dumb to be president. And let’s not forget Barack Obama, clearly an accomplished and polished politician whose race, it was believed by many, would constitute a barrier because the country wasn’t yet ready for a black president. But when these men actually reached the White House it seemed entirely natural. The country casually absorbed the reality of something that previously had seemed impossible.

Now we have Donald Trump emerging as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a development utterly unthinkable until it happened. When he first announced his candidacy, it was considered a joke. When he emerged as the leader in polls, it was said he would falter as soon as actual voting commenced. When he began winning primaries, we were assured it wouldn’t last. When he kept winning, the party elites mounted plans to outmaneuver him through convention manipulations, because this simply couldn’t happen.

And yet here he is, occupying a position once thought unthinkable. And now it seems possible that he actually could become president. How did this happen? How did the unthinkable become commonplace? Herewith a stab at identifying the five greatest reasons for the Trump emergence, offered with a proviso that whenever the unthinkable becomes reality, there are always understandable and compelling reasons that simply weren’t perceived beforehand.

Political Correctness

The disciplines of this powerful movement had become so entrenched in the American culture that we didn’t really perceive just how much seething anger it was generating among Americans who didn’t view the world as the enforcement legions of political correctness demanded. Of course, everyone now knows how this bludgeon of right thinking has practically destroyed free speech and free thought on American campuses, as spineless administrators have stood by or joined in. That clearly disturbs many Americans, particularly those who want their children to seek an education in an environment that is at least open to political thinking consonant with their own views and principles. But it wasn’t clear until Trump’s emergence just how much ordinary citizens chafed at this cultural phenomenon in terms of the impact on their own everyday lives. Political correctness has sought, with much success, to narrow the range of political discourse by labeling as illegitimate certain views and thoughts that, just a few years ago, were considered entirely acceptable.

Thus, if you believed in secure borders for America, you ran the risk of being labeled a racist or a xenophobe. Same thing if you wondered aloud whether, given the historical antagonism between the West and Islam and the anti-Western fervor of Islamist fundamentalism, it might be best to curb the Muslim inflow into the West. If you harbored traditional views about marriage that, a generation ago, were considered entirely normal by the vast majority of Americans, suddenly you found yourself labeled an extremist or a bigot. If you believed that a civilized society requires a certain respect for law enforcement, you watched in disgust as an assault on the nation’s police generated diffidence among officers and their leaders, and contributed to a sudden rise in crime.

A stark reflection of this could be heard in a radio news report in Seattle recently about a high school youth there who put up a sign saying, “Build the Wall.” He was ordered to take it down, which was appropriate enough if the school had a policy against overt political expression on campus. But the principal had another rationale for the action. “We don’t tolerate racism at this school,” she told the radio station. The student was forced into a groveling apology. Thus did we have a student expressing the views of a politician who had collected nearly 11 million votes in the GOP primaries—yet was forced to recant upon pain of being cast out of polite society as a racist.

Donald Trump stood up to all of that, and he did so with pugilistic resolve. No presidential politician had done that before, and now it’s clear that many Americans were waiting for someone to express their frustrations over the zealous cadres of political correctness. The most stark example was Trump’s call for a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the country, pending a better understanding of the domestic terrorism threat. His suggestion was considered outlandish, if not utterly outrageous, and he was roundly attacked from both left and right. But exit polls during the primary season revealed that significant numbers of Americans agreed. Political correctness may have silenced many of those people, but it couldn’t convert them.


Before Trump’s emergence on the political scene, no politician had demonstrated a credible seriousness about sealing the U.S. border. The country had never really managed to get beyond what might be called the Great Fraud of 1986—amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country in exchange for promises of a sealed border. But then the illegal influx increased dramatically under the noses of inert government officials. Nobody believed their leaders in Washington were really serious about the problem. Meanwhile, liberal commentators and intellectuals delighted in suggesting that the game was up, that the influx of immigrants was transforming the country’s politics in ways that disfavored traditionalists and Republicans and anyone who felt that the old cultural sensibilities of the country were worth protecting and sustaining. So the message was: Get over it. Republican leaders, with their straight-line analysis, generally embraced the view that they would have to get on board this bandwagon or the party would be swamped by newcomers who found distasteful the old Republican principles of self-reliance, nationalism and secure borders.

Then along comes Trump, who not only takes on the globalist elites, with their casualness toward open borders, but does so with force and an open disdain for the political correctness that previously had enveloped the debate. In doing so, he declared unmistakably that this was one politician who took the issue seriously and would do something about it. By transforming the terms of debate on the issue, he transformed also the dynamics of the issue.

Middle-Class Decline

Late last year the Pew Research Center reported that America’s middle class had shrunk to less than half the population, compared to 61 percent in the late 1960s. These are the people who once were considered the bedrock of American society and the engine of much of its growth and progress. Many factors contributed to this decline, but one was the deindustrialization of America. As the country’s industrial base was hollowed out, so was the working class that propelled those industrial factories and enjoyed the fruits of those solid blue-collar jobs. Many of those people traditionally did well even without college degrees. But now that has changed. “Those Americans without a college degree stand out as experiencing a substantial loss in economic status,” said the Pew report.

Research by an MIT professor named David Autor, reports the Financial Times, suggests that “the earnings gap between the median college-educated US male and the median male with a high school education doubled between 1979 and 2012.” This during a time when there wasn’t much overall wage growth in the country at large.

Much has been written about the social havoc this economic decline as wreaked on America’s traditional middle class, with significant increases in divorce, alcoholism, drug use and suicide. Many of these people feel that they have been left out and left behind by the political elites of the country, focused as they are on helping the poor and bringing in immigrants who put downward pressure on wage rates. Few politicians spoke to them or their plight—until Trump. His answer is to attack the deindustrialization of the country through protectionist tariffs. Whether that can work is an open question, but it evinces a concern for those people left out in the cold by the country’s industrial decline.


I have written in these spaces about globalism and nationalism as representing probably the most fundamental political fault line in the country today. Globalists don’t like borders. They believe goods, money and people should be able to move freely around the world without much interdiction or burden. They don’t hold much truck with nationalism—a relic, in their view, of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which codified the recognition of coexisting nation states. Nationalists believe in the nation state, particularly their own. That’s why they believe in borders. Globalists seem enchanted by overseas adventures either to foster American greatness (neoconservatives such as George W. Bush) or to salve the hurts and wounds of humanity (Wilsonian interventionists such as Hillary Clinton). Globalists dominate the country’s elite institutions—the media, academia, big corporations, big finance, Hollywood, think tanks, NGOs, charitable foundations.

But nationalist sentiment is widespread in America, though nationalists have tended to feel frustrated in the face of the barrage of globalist sentiment and advocacy coming from the elite institutions. Now they have an outlet for expressing their frustration—a vote for Trump.

The Coarsening of American Culture

This phenomenon has been seen in a decades-long assault on traditional mores and values relating to sex, drug use, everyday language, marriage, ethics and much more. Nearly three decades ago the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a phrase, “defining deviancy down,” meaning lowering the definition of what once was considered deviant behavior and accepting—even embracing—activity once frowned upon by society. The senator was talking mostly about criminal behavior, but the concept applies to all of society, seen most starkly in the popular culture of movies, TV, popular music and drama. Raunch is in, and getting raunchier.

Trump, of course, has given us his own debasement of political behavior, so his emergence certainly can’t be seen as a reaction to the vulgarization of American culture. Quite the opposite, that vulgarization has cleared the way for his own brand of tawdry politics. But it’s interesting to see Trump’s detractors waxing indignant about his coarse rhetoric as they go about their lives in a sea of vulgarity that brings from them hardly a stir of recognition, let alone indignation. That American middle class, as a bedrock of the country’s economic health in the long-ago past, also strained to enforce certain standards and values of behavior. That middle-class role got crushed by new standards and values enforced through elite institutions and the popular culture.

And so there was no bulwark to stand against Trump’s bad-boy politics. The coarsening of American society had helped pave the way for him.

Bret Stephens: Trump Must Be So Decisively Defeated That “Republican Voters Will Forever Learn Their Lesson.”


Appearing on CNN, an opinion page editor from the Wall Street Journal left no doubt how he feels about presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, saying not only will he not vote for him, but that Trump needs to be crushed in the November election as a lesson to Republicans.

Pressed by host Fareed Zakaria if he was going to get behind Trump as the Republican nominee, conservative columnist Bret Stephens got right to the point.

“I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump,” Stephens began tersely. “I will vote for the least left-wing opponent to Donald Trump and I want to make a vote that makes sure he is the biggest loser in presidential history since, I don’t know, Alf Landon.”

Then Stephens went off: “It’s important that Donald Trump, or what he represents, this kind of quote ‘ethnic conservatism or populism,’ be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party and the Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way, shape or form.”

“So they have to learn a lesson perhaps the way Democrats learned a lesson from McGovern in ’72,” he added.

Asked if the Wall Street Journal would state the same in an editorial, Stephens pointed out the the Journal has not endorsed anyone since Herbert Hoover, adding: “And we will not repeat that mistake.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Andrew Jackson to His Soldiers After the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, April 2, 1814. Manuscript.

Andrew Jackson to Soldiers, April 2, 1814. Manuscript. Andrew Jackson Papers. Library of Congress. Published version.

Image 1:

Image 2:


Fort Williams April 2d. 1814

To the officers & soldiers who have lately returned from the expedition to the Tallapoosa

You have entitled yourselves to the gratitude of your general & of your country. The expedition from which you have just returned, has, by your good conduct, been rendered prosperous beyond any example in the history of our warfare. It has redeemed the character of Tennessee, & of that description of troops of which the greater part of the army was composed.

You have, in a few days, opened your way to the Tallapoosa, & destroyed a confederacy of the enemy, ferocious by nature, & grown insolent by the impunity with which they had so long, committed their depredations. Relying on their numbers—the security of their situation—& the assurances of their prophets, they derided our approach, & already exulted in anticipation of the victory they hoped to obtain over us. They knew not what brave men could effect, when they came to chastise an insolent foe. Barbarians, they were ignorant of the influence of civilization & of government, over the human powers. They hoped to frighten us by their yells & to oppose our progress by fortifications of wood. Stupid mortals! their yells only designate their number & their situation with the more certainty; & their walls become a snare for their own destruction. So it must ever be when presumption & ignorance contend against bravery & prudence.

The fiends of the Tallapoosa will, no longer murder our women & children, or disturb the quiet of our borders. Their midnight flambeaux will no more illumine their council-house, or shine upon the victim of their infernal orgies. They have disappeared from the face of the Earth. In their places, a new generation will arise who will know their duties better. The weapons of warfare will be exchanged for the utensils of husbandry, & the wilderness which now withers in sterility & seems to mourn the desolation which overspreads it, will blossom as the rose, & become the nursery of the arts. But other chastisements remain to be inflicted before this happy day can arise. How lamentable it is that the path to peace should lead through blood & over the carcases of the slain!! But it is in the dispensations of that providence which inflicts partial evil, to produce general good.

Our enemy are not sufficiently humbled since they do not sue for peace. A collection of their forces again await our approach & remain to be dispersed. Buried in ignorance & seduced by their prophets, they have the weakness to believe they shall still be able to maintain a stand against our arms. We must undeceive them. They must be made to atone for their obstinacy & their crimes by still farther suffering. The hopes which have so long deluded them, must be driven from their last refuge. They must be made to know that their prophets are impostors, & that our strength is mighty & will prevail. Then & not till then may we hope for a lasting & beneficial peace.

It is ordered by the commanding general that an extra ration be issued to the troops.

Andrew Jackson
Major Genl—

Harold D. Moser et al., eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, Volume III, 1814-1815 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991), 57-58.

Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully, 1845. National Gallery of Art.

Andrew Jackson with the Tennessee forces.
Library of Congress.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Fragmented Society. By David Brooks.

The Fragmented Society. By David Brooks. New York Times, May 20, 2016.


There are just a few essential reads if you want to understand the American social and political landscape today. Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids,” Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and a few other books deserve to be on that list. Today, I’d add Yuval Levin’s fantastic new book, “The Fractured Republic.”

Levin starts with the observation that our politics and much of our thinking is drenched in nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s. The left is nostalgic for the relative economic equality of that era. The right is nostalgic for the cultural cohesion. The postwar era has become our unconscious ideal of what successful America looks like. It was, Levin notes, an age of cohesion and consolidation.

But we have now moved to an age of decentralization and fragmentation. At one point in the book he presents a series of U-shaped graphs showing this pattern.

Party polarization in Congress declined steadily from 1910 to 1940, but it has risen steadily since. We are a less politically cohesive nation.

The share of national income that went to the top 1 percent declined steadily from 1925 to about 1975, but has risen steadily since. We are a less economically cohesive nation.

The share of Americans who were born abroad dropped steadily from 1910 to 1970. But the share of immigrants has risen steadily ever since, from 4.7 percent of the population to nearly 14 percent. We are a more diverse and less demographically cohesive nation.

In case after case we’ve replaced attachments to large established institutions with commitments to looser and more flexible networks. Levin argues that the Internet did not cause this shift but embodies today’s individualistic, diffuse society.

This shift has created some unpleasant realities. Levin makes a nice distinction between centralization and consolidation. In economic, cultural and social terms, America is less centralized. But people have simultaneously concentrated off on the edges —- separated into areas of, say, concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty. The middle has hollowed out in sphere after sphere. Socially, politically and economically we’re living within “bifurcated concentration.”

For example, religious life has bifurcated. Church attendance has declined twice as fast among people without high school diplomas as among people with college degrees. With each additional year of education, the likelihood of attending religious services rises by 15 percent.

We’re also less embedded in tight, soul-forming institutions. Levin makes another distinction between community — being part of a congregation — and identity — being, say, Jewish. Being part of community takes time and involves restrictions. Merely having an identity doesn’t. In our cultural emphasis and life, we’ve gone from a community focus to an identity focus.

Our politicians try to find someone to blame for these problems: banks, immigrants or, for Donald Trump, morons generally. But that older consolidated life could not have survived modernity and is never coming back. It couldn’t have survived globalization, feminism and the sexual revolution, the rising tide of immigration and the greater freedom consumers now enjoy.

Our fundamental problems are the downsides of transitions we have made for good reasons: to enjoy more flexibility, creativity and individual choice. For example, we like buying cheap products from around the world. But the choices we make as consumers make life less stable for us as employees.

Levin says the answer is not to dwell in confusing, frustrating nostalgia. It’s through a big push toward subsidiarity, devolving choice and power down to the local face-to-face community level, and thus avoiding the excesses both of rigid centralization and alienating individualism. A society of empowered local neighborhood organizations is a learning society. Experiments happen and information about how to solve problems flows from the bottom up.

I’m acknowledged in the book, but I learned something new on every page. Nonetheless, I’d say Levin’s emphasis on subsidiarity and local community is important but insufficient. We live within a golden chain, connecting self, family, village, nation and world. The bonds of that chain have to be repaired at every point, not just the local one.

It’s not 1830. We Americans have a national consciousness. People who start local groups are often motivated by a dream of scaling up and changing the nation and the world. Our distemper is not only caused by local fragmentation but by national dysfunction. Even Levin writes and thinks in nation-state terms (his prescription is Wendell Berry, but his intellectual and moral sources are closer to a nationalist like Abraham Lincoln).

That means there will have to be a bigger role for Washington than he or current Republican orthodoxy allows, with more radical ideas, like national service, or a national effort to seed locally run early education and infrastructure projects.

As in ancient Greece and Rome, local communities won’t survive if the national project disintegrates. Our structural problems are national and global and require big as well as little reforms.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sykes-Picot – The Centennial of an Imperial Curse. By Hisham Melhem.

Sykes-Picot Agreement Map. MPK 1/426, UK National Archives. Wikipedia.

Sykes-Picot – The centennial of an imperial curse. By Hisham Melhem. Al Arabiya English, May 21, 2016.


For my generation of Arabs, the “Asia Minor Agreement”, better known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, came to symbolize imperial betrayal and treachery, a secret scheme signed in May 1916 by Mark Sykes, a British diplomat, and François Georges-Picot his French counterpart representing the two victorious European Empires in WWI to divide the imperial inheritance of the dying Ottoman Empire. In the collective mind of the peoples living in what used to be called Asia Minor and the Fertile Crescent, Sykes and Picot became names that shall live in infamy, for they imposed an imperial construct by etching arbitrary lines and coloring zones of influence on a map, and establishing artificial entities over these regions that have been inhabited by a rich mosaic of peoples, ethnicities, cultures, and religions over millennia of successive civilizations.

The Sykes-Picot scheme, like the subsequent agreements, deals, declarations, conferences born out of the crucible of the First World War to create a new order in the land then known as the Near East, were predicated on denying the agency of the human beings who called these regions home. In the decades following the agreement, “Sykes-Picot” became a convenient excuse, and an attractive shorthand used by successive Arab autocrats, despots and ruling elites to justify their disastrous failures at providing good governance, and to explain all the political and economic ills of the region for a full century. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault is not in the borders, arbitrary as they may have been, but in what the Arabs have done and not done within the borders.

Imperial schemes

Huge amount of ink has been shed on the centennial of the map that was born out of the ashes of the First World War and seems to be unraveling now in a crescendo of similar violent upheavals, calamities and disastrous dislocations. But does “Sykes-Picot” deserve this pride of place in the hierarchy of modern Middle Eastern disasters? To begin with, the Sykes-Picot borders and zones of influence have very little in common with the current borders in the Middle East.

But what makes the Sykes-Picot scheme to slice the carcass of the Ottoman Empire stand out is the fact that it was the first of subsequent attempts by Western powers in the decade that followed the war to divide the region. The British issued deceptive and contradictory promises and declarations (the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence and the Balfour Declaration) for the Arabs and the Zionist movement, and in a series of post-war conferences held in locals with strange names for the peoples of the region; The Versailles Peace Conference, The Treaty of Sèvres, the San Remo Conference and the Treaty of Lausanne, most of the current borders of the Middle East were finalized. Again with no regard whatsoever, to the wishes of the peoples whose futures were being shaped by imperial writ.

But the imposition of these maps did not go unchallenged and in fact inspired Arab and Turkish nationalisms. The Turks under the capable leadership of a former Ottoman officer, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) undermined both the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Treaty of Sèvres which sought to dismember Anatolia. However, the Arabs led by Faisal Bin Hussein who established the independent Arab Kingdom in March1920 encompassing modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and parts of Turkey, could not defend their new brittle realm against the onslaught of France’s Army of the Levant at the battle of Maysalun near Damascus four months later. The French sought to weaken the nationalist impulses in Syria, by the creation of sectarian statelets for the Alawites on the Mediterranean coast, and for the Druze in the South as well as around the historic cities of Damascus and Aleppo. But these cynical plans for divide and rule were resisted by most Syrians.

The shifting, arbitrary and resilient borders

During the last century the legacy of the “artificial” borders spawned by Sikes-Picot was repeatedly assaulted politically and in some places were changed by military force, as was the case following the Arab-Israeli wars, and recently with the rise of the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) which following its control of large swaths of land in both Iraq and Syrian, bulldozed the earthen berms marking the border and declaring “the end of Sykes-Picot”. But decades of grievances against Sykes-Picot elevated it into a mythical status in the minds of many Arabs, a malignant milestone in their modern history, a scapegoat explaining the perennial question asked by generations of Arabs in the last hundred years: what went wrong?

True, the current borders of the Middle East are “artificial”, but most borders in the world are artificial, they are drawn by agreement or as a result of conflicts and don’t necessarily follow natural boundaries like river basins or mountain ranges; and most midsize and large states are heterogeneous with diverse ethnicities, religions and languages. And while the borders of the modern Middle East were arbitrarily drawn, they were not totally without basis, and in fact some borders were somewhat based on the Ottoman vilāyet (from the Arabic Wilaya) administrative system.

Arab and Syrian Nationalists in Syria and Iraq would always complain that they were living in truncated states; but if mandated Syria had included Northeastern Lebanon, Northern Palestine and Alexandretta (in present day Turkey), areas Syrian Nationalists craved because they were at times ruled by Damascus, does that mean that Syria would have developed a just, modern, viable and better representative polity? If the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq had included the old Trans-Jordan and Kuwait, would it follow that Iraq would have followed a radically different political trajectory? We cannot say for sure. But it is very likely, that a larger Iraq and a larger Syria would have ended up where their truncated versions are today. If the Arab Kingdom was not dismantled by the French, in one fell swoop, chances are that it would have gradually unraveled by Turkish Nationalist opposition, and its rejection by the non-Muslim and non-Arab communities within its “artificial “borders. Creating countries with diverse communities, particularly in the aftermath of upheavals and wars, is always arbitrary, violent and messy, particularly if the new entities are led by oppressive or non-representative regimes and if the basic political and cultural rights of the various communities are not recognized. This is the modern tale of Syria and Iraq. The Ottoman Empire ruled the region for four centuries, before the return of the European armies to the Middle East for the first time since the Medieval Mamluk dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria drove the Crusaders from their last coastal outpost in Acre, in 1291, thus ending their long occupation of parts of Anatolia, Syria and Palestine.

Empire and chaos

The defeated Ottoman Empire left behind a devastated Levant and Mesopotamia as a result of war, and famine where whole communities were uprooted and turned into refugees, while others were subjected to mass killings. During the Ottoman centuries the region was controlled by the Sublime Porte in Istanbul through the vilāyet system centered on the historic cities of Damascus, Mosul, Baghdad, and others. Local communities were left to their own devices as long as they paid taxes and did not undermine order. Some communities like the Druse and Maronites of Mount Lebanon enjoyed considerable local autonomy and sometimes decades would pass without these communities encounter a single Ottoman soldier. The various peoples of the region; Arabs, Kurds, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others did mostly co-exist, although there were occasional spasms of religious and ethnic violence and mass killings particularly during the long decline of the Empire in the 19th century. Local leaders representing powerful, domineering feudal families working on behalf of the Sublime Porte, maintained order with an iron fist, and they showed no mercy when confronting social and political protests.

The demise of Ottoman rule exposed a region bereft of political traditions, modern governing institutions and skilled and experienced political elites capable of immediately taking charge of large and diverse societies still reeling from the horrific ravages of a world war. Although the war ravaged and partitioned Anatolia, but the emerging Turkish Republic was able to drive the foreign armies from its territories and establish a modern nation-state in part because it was able to rebuild its state institutions and economy and fostered a strong sense of nationhood and quickly established a strong centralized authority. Most of these attributes were lacking in the fragmented lands of the Levant and Mesopotamia. One cannot but ask an intriguing question in this context. What would have happened, if the British/French mandate system was not imposed on the region following the end of the Ottoman centuries? Would it be a stretch to answer: chaos and violence? We will never know for sure, but given the history of the region, the lack of viable institutions, its breathtaking diversity and its tragic conditions after the war, chaos and violence were likely to ensue in the absence of a dominant power exercising control.

Governance not borders

In the last five years, with Syria and Iraq unraveling and spewing epic catastrophes, and Sunni-Shia sectarian bloodletting is covering an arc stretching from Beirut on the Mediterranean to Basra at the mouth of the Gulf (not to mention Yemen), predicting the demise of Sykes-Picot has become the default position of many analysts of the region. And one could easily see why. There are powerful forces on the ground trying to demolish the old borders or establish new ones by fire and iron. In the past Arab and Syrian Nationalists considered the imposed borders as the original sin committed by the Europeans against the Arabs, and in the process called into question the legitimacy of the new fragile nation- states that were trying to forge distinct national identities. But now disparate forces, some with legitimate grievances like the Kurds who constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a state, and who were denied independence after WWI, and terrorist groups like ISIS, are chipping away at the old borders. One could say with considerable certainty that Iraqi Kurdistan has begun its long journey towards independence in 1991 and it is a question of time when the journey will reach statehood. Vice president Joseph Biden, who proposed a decade ago to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions: Kurdish, Shia and Sunnis, told American diplomats and military personnel in Baghdad recently and without a hint of irony, that the U.S. is trying to keep the peace in “places where, because of history, we’ve drawn artificial lines, creating artificial states made up of totally distinct ethnic, religious, cultural groups, and said: ‘have at it. Live together.’”

Scholars and historians will be writing and speculating about the causes of the current convulsions and the absence of good governance in many Arab lands, not only in the Levant and Iraq, but also in Libya, Yemen and beyond for years to come. What is clear is that borders in themselves, are not the causes of Arab dysfunction, or the reasons why Arab civil societies were stunted and never allowed to develop into vibrancy, even in those countries that had nascent civil societies, a modicum of state institutions and relatively modern educational systems, such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria during the period between the two World Wars. In fact there was in these countries from the 1920’s until the late 1940’s and early 1950’s before the onslaught of the Arab militaries against state and society, a semblance of political life, the beginning of admittedly wobbly parliamentary traditions, vibrant cultural debates, considerable artistic creation, a growing space for free expression with noticeable participation of women and minorities in all of these spheres.

But these fragile societies were not allowed to strengthen their state institutions, allow political parties to fully function as legitimate political forces, and the Judiciary was never allowed by the ruling elites to become truly independent.

Then winter descended on the Arabs in the form of military coups masquerading as revolutions claiming to redress the loss of Palestine, to undo the vestiges of colonialism and imperialism, to revive the glory days of the Arabs of medieval times, to build powerful militarized states, and strong economies. These Arab praetorian forces failed in all endeavors. The leaders of these societies where transformed from autocrats, some of them benign, who would not countenance widespread terror or mass killings, into ruthless and vengeful tyrants more than willing to engage in wanton and gratuitous terror against their own peoples and commit crimes against humanity as we have seen in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

These are the men who waged war on the minorities, some of them with deep roots in the region that predate Arabs and Muslims. In recent decades and long before the season of Arab uprisings, we have witnessed the diminishing of what was left of public spaces, the suffocation of what was left of the basic civil rights of the peoples and even the withering of culture. Those who argue that a different set of borders would have given us different outcomes and good governance should tell us how.

One century after Sykes-Picot we are facing a long nightmare: maintaining the old borders, without a radical rearrangement of the political and social contract in these societies and sawing the seeds of good governance, means perpetual conflict. The paradox is if political solutions are predicated on the reconfigurations of the current borders of Iraq and Syria (the same goes for Libya and Yemen), such change could conceivably spark ethnic and sectarian cleansings, claims and counterclaims and new cycles of violence. The breakup of Sudan is very close to home. Breaking up countries with diverse groups is as messy, violent and uncertain as creating them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lydie Denier, Fiancée of the Late Ambassador Chris Stevens, Interviewed by Steve Malzberg.

Ex-Fiancée: Chris Stevens Planned to Cut Libya Ambassadorship Short. By Jason Devaney. Newsmax, May 23, 2016. With video.

Lydie Denier discusses Amb. Chris Stevens, Hillary, Benghazi. Video. The Steve Malzberg Show. NewsmaxTV, May 23, 2016. YouTube.

Lydie Denier discusses her memory of the the late Amb. Chris Stevens. Video. The Steve Malzberg Show. NewsmaxTV, April 22, 2016. YouTube.

The Future Shape of American Politics. By Michael Lind.

This Is What the Future of American Politics Looks Like. By Michael Lind. Politico, May 22, 2016.


This year, we’re seeing the end of a partisan realignment, and the beginning of a policy one — and U.S. politics is about to change big-time.

For political observers, 2016 feels like an earthquake — a once-in-a-generation event that will remake American politics. The Republican party is fracturing around support for Donald Trump. An avowed socialist has made an insurgent challenge for the Democratic Party’s nomination. On left and right, it feels as though a new era is beginning.

And a new era is beginning, but not in the way most people think. Though this election feels like the beginning of a partisan realignment, it’s actually the end of one. The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.

What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened. The type of conservatism long championed by the Republican Party was destined to fall as soon as a candidate came along who could rally its voters without being beholden to its donors, experts and pundits. The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.

The 2016 race is a sign that American politics is changing in profound and lasting ways; by the 2020s and 2030s, partisan platforms will have changed drastically. You may find yourself voting for a party you could never imagine supporting right now. What will that political future look like?


Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a Midwestern, white, working-class party with its geographic epicenter in the South and interior West. Today’s Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of densely populated blue cities.

In both parties, there’s a gap between the inherited orthodoxy of a decade or two ago and the real interests of today’s electoral coalition. And in both parties, that gap between voters and policies is being closed in favor of the voters — a slight transition in the case of Hillary Clinton, but a dramatic one in the case of Donald Trump.

During the Democratic primary, pundits who focused on the clash between Clinton and Sanders missed a story that illuminated this shift: The failure of Jim Webb’s brief campaign for the presidential nomination. Webb was the only candidate who represented the old-style Democratic Party of the mid-20th century — the party whose central appeal was among white Southerners and Northern white “ethnics.” Even during the “New Democrat” era of Bill Clinton, white working-class remnants of that coalition were still important in the party. But by 2016, Webb lacked a constituency, and he was out of place among the politicians seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, which included one lifelong socialist (Bernie Sanders) and two candidates who had been raised as Republicans (Hillary Clinton and, briefly, Lincoln Chafee).

On the Republican side, the exemplary living fossil was Jeb Bush. Like his brother, Jeb pushed a neo-Reaganite synthesis of support for a hawkish foreign policy, social conservatism, and cuts in middle-class entitlements to finance further tax cuts for the rich. From the Reagan era until recently, the GOP’s economic policies have been formulated by libertarians, whose views are at odds with those of most Republican voters. In March of this year, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters opposed future reductions in Social Security benefits — almost the same amount of support found among Democrats and Dem-leaning voters (73 percent). Republicans who supported Trump were even more opposed to Social Security benefit cuts, at 73 percent. And even among those who supported Kasich, 62 percent opposed cuts in Social Security benefits — even though Kasich, himself, is in favor of cutting entitlements.

As country-and-western Republicans have gradually replaced country-club Republicans, the gap between the party’s economic orthodoxy and the economic interests of white working-class voters in the GOP base has increased. House Republicans repeatedly have passed versions of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which is based on cutting Social Security and replacing Medicare with vouchers.

Except for Trump, all of the leading Republican candidates—Cruz, Bush, Rubio, Kasich—favored some version of the Ryan agenda. By contrast, Trump was the only leading GOP candidate who expressed the actual preference of most Republican voters, declaring his “absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and leave it as is.” Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

If Trump is defeated, what is left of the GOP establishment might try to effect a restoration of the old economic dogma of free trade, mass immigration and entitlement cuts. But sooner or later, a Republican Party platform with policies that most of the party’s core voters reject will be revised or abandoned—over the objections of libertarian Republican party donors and allied think tanks and magazines, if necessary.


Why is this all happening now? Because the decades-long “culture war” between religious conservatives and secular liberals is largely over.

Most culture-war conflicts involve sexuality, gender, or reproduction (for example, abortion, contraception, LGBT rights, and same-sex marriage). The centrality of culture-war issues in national politics from the 1960s to the present allowed both major parties to contain factions with incompatible economic views. For a generation, the Democratic Party has included both free traders and protectionists — but support for abortion rights and, more recently, gay rights have been litmus tests for Democratic politicians with national ambitions. Conversely, Republicans have been allowed to disagree about trade and immigration, but all Republican presidential candidates have had to pay lip service to repealing Roe v. Wade and outlawing abortion.

Social issues spurred a partisan realignment by changing who considered themselves Democrats and Republicans. Over decades, socially conservative working-class whites migrated from the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party, especially in the South. Socially moderate Republicans, especially on the East Coast, shifted to the Democratic coalition. Now, there’s little disagreement within each party on social issues. Liberal Republicans are as rare as Reagan Democrats.

Like an ebb tide that reveals a reshaped coastline, the culture war remade the parties’ membership and is now receding. In its absence, we are able to see a transformed political landscape.

The culture war and partisan realignment are over; the policy realignment and “border war” — a clash between nationalists, mostly on the right, and multicultural globalists, mostly on the left — have just begun.


For the nationalists, the most important dividing line is that between American citizens and everyone else—symbolized by Trump’s proposal for a Mexican border wall. On the right, American nationalism is tainted by strains of white racial and religious nationalism and nativism, reinforced by Trump’s incendiary language about Mexicans and his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

But while there is overlap between nationalists and racists, the two are not the same thing. The most extreme white nationalists don’t advocate nationalism as a governing philosophy in our multiracial country; they hope to withdraw from American life and create a white homeland within the nation-state. Nationalism is different than white nationalism, and a populist American nationalism untainted by vestiges of racial bigotry might have transracial appeal, like versions of national populism in Latin America.

The rise of populist nationalism on the right is paralleled by the rise of multicultural globalism on the center-left.

For multicultural globalists, national boundaries are increasingly obsolete and perhaps even immoral. According to the emerging progressive orthodoxy, the identities that count are subnational (race, gender, orientation) and supranational (citizenship of the world). While not necessarily representative of Democratic voters, progressive pundits and journalists increasingly speak a dialect of ethical cosmopolitanism or globalism — the idea that it is unjust to discriminate in favor of one’s fellow nationals against citizens of foreign countries.

This difference in worldviews maps neatly into differences in policy. Nationalists support immigration and trade deals only if they improve the living standards of citizens of the nation. For the new, globally minded progressives, the mere well-being of American workers is not a good enough reason to oppose immigration or trade liberalization. It’s an argument that today’s progressive globalists have borrowed from libertarians: immigration or trade that depresses the wages of Americans is still justified if it makes immigrants or foreign workers better off.

The disagreements within both parties on trade is a living example of the inchoate policy realignment. Every major Republican presidential candidate supported free-trade agreements — with the sole and major exception of Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee, who routinely slams free-trade deals and has called for the reintroduction of certain tariffs on foreign goods.

Likewise, the current opposition of many Democratic politicians to free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the residual influence of declining manufacturing unions within the party According to a March 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, Democratic voters believe that free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are almost reversed: by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, a majority of Republicans believe free-trade has been a bad thing. Among younger Americans, who tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, support for free trade is high: 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say trade agreements are good for the country. Even progressives who campaign against trade deals feel obliged by the logic of ethical cosmopolitanism to justify their opposition in the name of the labor rights of foreign workers or the good of the global environment.

For the next decade or longer, as the parties’ stances adjust, this “border war” that has succeeded the “culture war” will define and remake American politics.


The outlines of the two-party system of the 2020s and 2030s are dimly visible. The Republicans will be a party of mostly working-class whites, based in the South and West and suburbs and exurbs everywhere. They will favor universal, contributory social insurance systems that benefit them and their families and reward work effort—programs like Social Security and Medicare. But they will tend to oppose means-tested programs for the poor whose benefits they and their families cannot enjoy.

They will oppose increases in both legal and illegal immigration, in some cases because of ethnic prejudice; in other cases, for fear of economic competition. The instinctive economic nationalism of tomorrow’s Republicans could be invoked to justify strategic trade as well as crude protectionism. They are likely to share Trump’s view of unproductive finance: “The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

The Democrats of the next generation will be even more of an alliance of upscale, progressive whites with blacks and Latinos, based in large and diverse cities. They will think of the U.S. as a version of their multicultural coalition of distinct racial and ethnic identity groups writ large. Many younger progressives will take it for granted that moral people are citizens of the world, equating nationalism and patriotism with racism and fascism.

The withering-away of industrial unions, thanks to automation as well as offshoring, will liberate the Democrats to embrace free trade along with mass immigration wholeheartedly. The emerging progressive ideology of post-national cosmopolitanism will fit nicely with urban economies which depend on finance, tech and other industries of global scope, and which benefit from a constant stream of immigrants, both skilled and unskilled.

While tomorrow’s Republican policymakers will embrace FDR-to-LBJ universal entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, future Democrats may prefer means-tested programs for the poor only. In the expensive, hierarchical cities in which Democrats will be clustered, universal social insurance will make no sense. Payroll taxes on urban workers will be too low to fund universal social insurance, while universal social benefits will be too low to matter to the urban rich. So the well-to-do in expensive, unequal Democratic cities will agree to moderately redistributive taxes which pay for means-tested benefits—perhaps even a guaranteed basic income—for the disproportionately poor and foreign-born urban workforce. As populist labor liberalism declines within the Democratic party, employer-friendly and finance-friendly libertarianism will grow. The Democrats of 2030 may be more pro-market than the Republicans.

Of the two coalitions, which is likely to prevail most of the time?

While progressives claim that nonwhite Americans will become a majority, this is misleading for two reasons. To begin with, according to the Census Bureau, from this point until 2060, there will be only limited growth in the African-American population (a rise from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent) and the Asian-American population (5.4 percent to 9.3 percent) as shares of the whole. The growth of the nonwhite category by 2060 is driven overwhelmingly by the increasing Latino share of the population, from 17.4 percent to 28.6 percent.

Second, Latino Americans increasingly identify themselves as white. Between the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census, about 7 percent of Hispanics changed their self-description from “some other race” to “white.” At the same time, according to the Census Bureau, three-fourths of “white population growth” in 21st-century America has been driven by individuals who declared themselves white and of Hispanic origin. If increasing numbers of Hispanics identify as white and their descendants are defined as “white” in government statistics, there may be a white majority in the U.S. throughout the 21st century.

More important than unscientific Census classifications will be how the growing Latino population votes. Trump’s unpopularity among Latino voters is likely to help the Democrats in the short run. But Democrats cannot assume they’ll have a solid Latino voting bloc in the future. In Texas, in particular, Republicans have been successful in winning many Latino voters, all the way back to Senator John Tower and Governor George W. Bush. In Texas’ 2014 elections, Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott won 44 percent of Latino Texans. Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn did even better, with 48 percent.

In the coming decades, it is possible that Latinos will be reliable Democratic voters and condemn the Republican Party to minority status at the presidential level, if not everywhere. But it is also possible that as Latinos assimilate and intermarry, they will move from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, following a trail blazed in the past by many “white ethnic” voters of European descent, including Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans.

The policy realignment of the present and near future will complete the partisan realignment of the past few decades. And though it’s impossible to know exactly how it will end, one thing is clear: In 2016, the old political system is crumbling, and a new American political order is being born.