Michael J. Totten

Friday, June 27, 2003

Our Forgotten Colony

Fox News writes "Liberians Demand U.S. Intervene" as the headline for this story on their front page. (The headline in the actual story is different.)

MONROVIA, Liberia - Angry crowds laid the bloody, maimed bodies of children in front of Liberia's heavily guarded U.S. Embassy on Thursday, shouting blame at U.S. Marines and America for failing to protect Monrovia's people from fighting overrunning the capital.

President Bush joined international leaders calling for Liberia's president, indicted war crimes suspect Charles Taylor, to cede power as promised in a shattered June 17 cease-fire "so that his country can be spared further bloodshed."

Bush gave no hint he intended to offer U.S. military assistance, as some outsiders have urged for Liberia, a nation founded by freed 19th-century American slaves that sees itself as having special ties to the United States.

Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic has more.

Last week, as civil war engulfed their capital, thousands of desperate Liberians besieged the U.S. Embassy. "Take action now in Liberia to end war as they have in Iraq," implored one man, according to the Associated Press. "Send the Marines to guard us," cried a student.

In case you’re wondering why you should care, Mr. Beinart adds the following.

Liberia is as American as Côte d'Ivoire is French or Sierra Leone British. Founded in 1847 by returning American slaves, Liberia's flag resembles the Stars and Stripes. Its capital, Monrovia, is named for America's fifth president. During the cold war, it was America's closest West African ally. Yet the United States, which pledges to bring security and liberty to a vast new sphere of influence in the Middle East and Central Asia, has done nothing of the sort in Liberia, a sphere of U.S. influence for 150 years.

No one wants to think about the horror show in West Africa. Can’t the U.N. handle it?

Well, no, the U.N. can’t. It has botched every job ever assigned to it. Bosnia and Rwanda suffered horrible genocidal onslaughts while the UN “peacekeeprs” stood around and watched with their hands in their pockets.

In Liberia it’s the U.S. or nobody, baby.

Either Liberia will remain a sphere of U.S. influence, or it won’t. George Bush’s wishy-washy stance will not cut it. We either take responsibility, or we don’t.

A decision not to make a decision is itself a decision. And there will be consequences either way. If we are going to remain responsible for Liberia, we must behave responsibly and intervene to put a stop to this fighting. To do otherwise is an abdication of responsibility.

And if we choose not to be responsible for Liberia, we will, again, categorically abdicate responsibility.

Here’s how I’d like to put this: Are we going to be the U.N.? Or are we going to actually do something?

The moral reason for intervention is obvious. Liberians are our fellow human beings in distress, and they look to us first. They feel a close kinship with their American “homeland.”

But what of our national interest? Is it worth the cost in blood and treasure to “build” another nation?

My answer is that I don’t know. Africa is far away, and of little strategic significance. But the same could be said of Afghanistan in the year 2001. And the festering wound from the Taliban spread all the way to New York. So “I don’t know” does not mean “no.”

In the early 1990s, Robert D. Kaplan wrote a chlling piece for The Atlantic Monthly called The Coming Anarchy, which is permanently linked on my right-hand sidebar. He describes the wretched conditions of the states of West Africa that spawn from tyranny, poverty, environmental devastation, out of control population growth, and disease. It’s ugly there. And here’s the bottom line: Over time these conditions will churn out war after war after war in a widening arc of destabilization, violence, and anarchy.

Here is Kaplan:

To appreciate fully the political and cartographic implications of postmodernism--an epoch of themeless juxtapositions, in which the classificatory grid of nation-states is going to be replaced by a jagged-glass pattern of city-states, shanty-states, nebulous and anarchic regionalisms--it is necessary to consider, finally, the whole question of war.

"Oh, what a relief to fight, to fight enemies who defend themselves, enemies who are awake!" Andre Malraux wrote in Man's Fate. I cannot think of a more suitable battle cry for many combatants in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The intense savagery of the fighting in such diverse cultural settings as Liberia, Bosnia, the Caucasus, and Sri Lanka--to say nothing of what obtains in American inner cities--indicates something very troubling that those of us inside the stretch limo, concerned with issues like middle-class entitlements and the future of interactive cable television, lack the stomach to contemplate. It is this: a large number of people on this planet, to whom the comfort and stability of a middle-class life is utterly unknown, find war and a barracks existence a step up rather than a step down.

If there’s one thing to be learned from September 11, it’s that the world’s social dysfunctions now affect everyone. The world has become one place. Everywhere is our backyard now, and even our front yard. The U.S. is no more a self-contained bubble than Liberia is.

Chaos and violence can spring from seemingly anywhere, and ricochet anywhere else.

And so it’s time to be serious.

Maybe it’s time to consider permanent intervention in Liberia. Send thousands of troops, root out the thugs, and build a civil society. And then hold an election. Ask Liberians if they want to be permanently annexed. Put Liberia in Puerto Rico status, and make it American territory. After a long period of time, many years or decades, give them the option of becoming the 51st state. There is no better way to create an anchor of stability and normality in a desperate region.

And if they don’t want territorial status, under no circumstances should we consider imposing it.

There is a decent chance that Liberians would be euphoric. They certainly are not anti-American. They are desperate for help, and they feel like our granny stuffed in the attic.

Liberia would not become our colony any more than it already is. It was settled, after all, by freed American slaves. If there is any country anywhere that logically belongs in our orbit, it is Liberia.

If we don’t want to help them, at the very least we should say so. They need to know, if this is how it goes down, that they had better fend for themselves because we’re leaving them to the wolves.

POSTSCRIPT: Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has an excellent piece on the same theme regarding the Congo. I deal with the theoretical, and Joe gets closer to the nuts and bolts of the operational. He’s very good at it.

Andrew Northrup (aka the frequently hilarious "Poor Man") has a great long essay on the Congo, as well. He won’t make you laugh as he usually does, but don't let that stop you.

UPDATE: Courtney mostly disagrees, and I think she's too hard on Europeans, but she has lots of interesting information about Liberia's history.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Liberal Imperialism

Robert D. Kaplan's brilliant Atlantic Monthly cover story Supremacy by Stealth is not available online (buy the magazine and read it), but the magazine published an online interview with him about it called The Hard Edge of American Values.

I bristle at his use of the words "empire" and "imperialism," but Kaplan has never been a person I agree with all the time anyway. I nevertheless think he is consistently brilliant, and the US military must agree because it pays him to give lectures.

Here is an excerpt from the original piece that tells you what Kaplan envisions. Read the rest to find out how to get there.

No doubt there are some who see an American empire as the natural order of things for all time. That is not a wise outlook. The task ahead for the United States has an end point, and in all probability the end point lies not beyond the conceptual horizon but in the middle distance - a few decades from now. For a limited period the United States has the power to write the terms for international society, in hopes that when the country's imperial hour has passed, new international institutions and stable regional powers will have begun to flourish, creating a kind of civil society for the world. The historian E. H. Carr once observed that "every approach in the past to a world society has been the product of the ascendancy of a single Power." Such ascendancy allows all manner of worldwide connections - economic, cultural, institutional - to be made in a context of order and stability. There will be nothing approaching a true world government, but we may be able to nurture a loose set of global arrangements that have arisen organically among responsible and like-minded states.

If this era of reluctant imperium is to leave a lasting global mark, we must know what we are up to; we must have a sense that supremacy is bent toward a purpose and is not simply an end in itself. In many ways the few decades immediately ahead will be the trickiest ones that our policymakers have ever faced; they are charged with the job of running an empire that looks forward to its own obsolescence.

Winston Churchill saw in the United States a worthy successor to the British Empire, one that would carry on Britain's liberalizing mission. We cannot rest until something emerges that is just as estimable and concrete as what Churchill saw when he gazed across the Atlantic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

No Big Shocker

Part of Saddam's nuke program was found in someone's back yard.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The CIA has in its hands the critical parts of a key piece of Iraqi nuclear technology -- parts needed to develop a bomb program -- that were dug up in a back yard in Baghdad, CNN has learned.

The parts were unearthed by Iraqi scientist Mahdi Obeidi who had hidden them in his back yard under a rose bush 12 years ago under orders from Qusay Hussein and Saddam Hussein's then son-in-law, Hussein Kamel.

No one should be surprised. And no one should have expected Hans Blix to find it.

The anti-warriors are wrong yet again. What will they moan about now?

The New Mainstream

It wasn't long ago that conservatives were uniformly opposed to gay marriage. Even Bill Clinton felt the need to pander to the anti-gay crowd with his bogus and reactionary "Defense of Marriage Act."

How times change. Thomas Forsyth emails:

I just read your post, and I follow the same view you do. Back in my paleoconservative days, prior to becoming an Econ Major and embracing the neoconservative/libertarian line, I was not that comfortable with the notion of same sex marriage, and these days, I don't know what led that. By my sophomore year in College, I was accepting of same sex marriage in civil marriages, while I still had personal reservations about it in my own faith.

Nowadays, I question that. As a Catholic, I know my faith takes a hard line on homosexual activity, but Catholicism is just plain strict about sex. When I consider how many Catholics use artificial birth control , divorce and remarry, or masturbate, I find it hypocritical for one to condemn a monogamous homosexual relationship. I still have some reservations, based on my beliefs, but Andrew Sullivan's essays show a better response as he is also a practicing Catholic.

I for one wonder why supporting same sex marriage is considered a fringe liberal value, when I as a conservative (though like you I am more than just that, though I have a nature that could be described as conservative outside of just politics, especially with how I dress) support same sex marriages, and in some ways, my reasons are quite conservative, like Andrew Sullivan's. I also imagine if Karl Rove thought there was a chance the GOP could get a large percentage of homosexual voters (especially in California and Florida), the GOP would push for same sex marriage and shine a few more lights on the Log Cabin Club, and John Ashcroft would become Secretary of Agriculture, while they work to slowly phase that Dept out.

I just had an amusing thought. The Nation and The American Conservative should be merged to create The Extremist.

My Mind is Made Up

Roger L. Simon says he is strongly in favor of gay marriage.

A reader posted this in the comments section:

The fact that you consider an anti-gay marriage position to be a "horror", even when it is expressed by someone you otherwise respect, betrays a predisposition to a certain way of thinking one may describe as ideological. Am I to believe lots of new information might make you change your mind?

Roger provides his own answer, but I would like to answer it, too, for myself.

I have read every argument against gay marriage I have stumbled across. I pay respectful attention to those who are not blatantly bigoted. Those who oppose gay marriage say they do so in defense of marriage, which has always struck me as hysterical and reactionary, but I have paid honest and fair attention anyway just in case I was missing something important. I got married last year, and anything that might even theoretically threaten my marriage is a problem I take seriously.

I have yet to read a single article against gay marriage that made any sense to me at all.

Promiscuous gay men will (supposedly) make heterosexual men more likely to cheat. By what possible logic? As if promiscuity would be new to the world. As if there hasn't been enough heterosexual cheating for millenia already.

Gay marriage could (supposedly) lead to polygamy. Well, craft careful legistlation then. Define marriage as a union of two people and be done with it.

I'm finished taking in new information and weighing the arguments. I have made a permanent decision that I'm not taking back.

After all the arguments and "data" are stripped away, I am left with this:

My good friend Ezra was in my wedding. He is gay and is going to be "married" this Fall. "Married" get quote marks because the state will not recognize it.

If I were to look Ezra in the eye and tell him, after he participated in my own wedding, that I do not approve of his marriage, and that I don't think anyone else should approve of it either, it would be a betrayal of our friendship. It would be the rudest slap I can imagine. If I were to tell him this and justify myself by saying I am "protecting" myself because his marriage would make me statistically more likely to cheat on my wife, I would be abdicating my own responsibility and making him a scapegoat in advance for a crime that I have not yet committed and that I do not expect to ever commit.

I could never do such a thing. And I promise, Ezra, I never will.

Why "The Nation" is Unreadable

Andrew Sullivan quotes Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, who reveals in two sentences why her magazine is now unreadable and why I let my subscription lapse. (And also why Christopher Hitchens quit as a columnist.)

The other day Bush said, 'I would urge the Iranian administration to treat [the protesters] with the utmost of respect.' Okay, but how about treating your own dissidents with some respect, Mr. President?"

Protesters in Iran are attacked with sticks, knives, iron chains, and guns. Katrina Vanden Heuvel is either an intellectual idiot for not knowing this, or a moral idiot for being unable to make distinctions.

I read The Nation for years and years. I learned so much from reading it. How dismaying now to see the editor respond to Iranian brutality with "Okay, but..."

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I am a Spring Chicken

Benjamin Gefen asks what planet I was on during the 1960s.

I was not on any planet because I was not yet alive.

UPDATE: William Terell emails:

Maybe it's time all the 'sixties people, right as well as left, woke up to realize that we are now 2+1/2 years into the fourth decade after the 'sixties.

Easy enough for me...

Monday, June 23, 2003

If Only...

Some idiot thinks I'm on Israeli payroll.

It just doesn't occur to this person that a "liberal non-Jew" as he calls me might support Israel on his own free will. It must be a conspiracy because there is no other possible explanation.

Listen up, Mr. "Akbarrpg." I am still waiting for my first paycheck from Ariel Sharon. And I am quite emphatically not anti-Muslim or anti-Arab. I am anti-terrorist and anti-fascist. If you think they are one and the same, you are as anti-Muslim and anti-Arab as it is possible for a person to be.

Off the Cliff

David Brooks in The Weekly Standard says many in the Democratic Party have gone over the cliff.

He quotes Bill Moyers.

I think this is deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America.

Yeah, what else to say? Moyers has clearly lost his marbles.

Here is David Brooks:

It's not just that members of the two parties disagree. It's that the disagreements have recently grown so deep that liberals and conservatives don't seem to perceive the same reality. Whether it is across the ocean or across the aisle, powerlessness corrupts just as certainly as power does. Those on top become overly self-assured, emotionally calloused, dishonest with themselves, and complacent. Those on the bottom become vicious. Sensing that their dignity is perpetually insulted, they begin to see their plight in lurid terms. They exaggerate the power of their foes. They invent malevolent conspiracy theories to explain their unfortunate position. They develop a gloomy and panicked view of the world.

Throughout the 1990s Republicans had the same exact problem, which Brooks is honest enough to acknowledge.

IT IS TRUE that you can find conservatives and Republicans who went berserk during the Clinton years, accusing the Clintons of multiple murders and obsessing over how Vince Foster's body may or may not have been moved. And it is true that Michael Savage and Ann Coulter are still out there accusing the liberals of treason. The Republicans had their own little bout of self-destructive, self-pitying powerlessness in the late 1990s, and were only rescued from it when George W. Bush emerged from Texas radiating equanimity.

But the Democratic mood is more pervasive, and potentially more self-destructive.

Mr. Brooks is too kind to his own party.

I don't think the Democratic mood is more pervasive. For whatever reason, I dodged this bullet. I've watched it happen to the right, and now to the left. It's the same phenomenon at the same volume, only the left is less violent. Don't forget all the right-wing militia groups holed up in the mountains. Don't forget Timothy McVeigh. Not in my lifetime has the left produced armed revolutionaries plotting the actual destruction of the government and killing hundreds of people.

If Al Gore were president the right would still be off its rocker. (And the far-right is as loony as ever. It just keeps a lower profile now. A Democratic president would change that in an instant.)

Maybe we need an Independent centrist president to mellow everyone out. Perhaps John McCain will switch parties and run against Bush as a Democrat. A president who is sort-of liberal and sort-of conservative seems just what the country could use right now.

Right now he's the only person I could vote for without worrying that I've made a terrible mistake.

Ideology and the Blogosphere

Is the blogosphere breaking down the old ideologies? Or does it reflect a post-dogmatic culture that had already come into being? Probably a bit of both. At this point, whichever came first (chicken or egg) may not make any difference because each phenomenon reinforces the other.

Here is Roger L. Simon:

Whether we accept it or not, weblogs and related online essays and news sources have already taken over the shaping of opinion in our society, even bypassing television to a great extent. Nearly every journalist and writer confirms, checks and researches his or her work on the Internet constantly. Opinions move at warp speed. There is simply no time for ideology anymore (except in classrooms). It’s so Second Millennium.

What has replaced it is a kind of moving consensus, which may, in its own way, be more democratic and is also highly pragmatic. For example, at the moment, the accepted view in the Blogosphere appears to be in favor of (to pick two disparate issues) intervention in Iraq and gay marriage. Is this liberal or conservative? More importantly, does anybody care?

Mary at Exit Zero has more.

I sure hope bloggers get some more attention - we deserve it - and it's true that there is a group that adapts to new ideas and new technologies – the 'moving consensus' does exist, democratic and highly pragmatic with opinions that move at warp speed.

Then there are the others, those who can grasp the new technology but use it to express political opinions that remain cast in stone – opinions that haven’t changed since Timothy Leary tuned in, turned on and dropped out.

The people who adapt, whose opinions can be shaped by new information are the heretics - moderates, techies, libertarians and liberal hawks who don’t conform to standard definitions of right or left.

The extremists, or stasists, (anti-globalists, Chomskyites, paleo-conservatives, etc.) may use the internet, but they use it to dust off and recycle the same old ideas they’ve had for decades.

I can't imagine the stasists, as Mary calls them, will be able to build a bigger audience. They are like the fragments of a dying comet, hurtling along on the same trajectory while continuing to disintegrate. If the Information Revolution didn't kill them, it will bury them.

(Read the rest from both Roger and Mary.)

The Prejudice of the Doom Mongers

Mark Steyn went to Iraq and on his way back notes that there is no humanitarian crisis there. Which leads him to the following.

There have always been issues on which the differences are so huge that they’re beyond discussion: generally speaking, it’s not worth an American and a European getting into a dinner-party debate over the Israeli/Palestinian question; neither is ever going to change the other’s mind because the shared assumptions necessary to engage in argument don’t exist. The problem now is that the Israeli/Palestinian template has spread to whole other areas, not least Iraq and the war on terror. In October 2001 Faizul-Aqtab Siddiqi, president-general of the International Muslim Organisation, said bombing Afghanistan would create a thousand bin Ladens. It didn’t. In March this year President Mubarak of Egypt said bombing Iraq would create a hundred bin Ladens. So right there you’ve got a tenfold decrease in the bin Laden creation programme. But even that modest revised target wasn’t met. There’s widespread starvation and disease and millions of refugees in Iraq. Except there aren’t. The Baghdad Museum was looted of its treasures. Only it wasn’t.

What all these fictions have in common is the prejudice behind them: the article of blind faith that the Americans are blundering idiots who know nothing of the world.

I read Steyn's The Face of the Tiger, a collection of post-911 essays, and he sure did earn his credibility. He consistently pokes fun at the doom mongers, and is vindicated by hindsight every time. The man may have his prejudices, but anti-Americanism isn't one of them.

The most salient lesson to be learned from Mark Steyn is that since September 11 the doom mongers have always been wrong. Their assumptions are bigoted, their knowledge spotty, their conclusions idiotic.

So let's not hyperventilate too much about Iraq. Until I see some solid evidence that Steyn is full of crap, I'm going to stick with the optimists. They haven't blown it yet.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

A Self-Cancelling Complaint?

Dr. Frank points to this piece by fiery left-winger Johann Hari.

The students of Iran are trying to foment a second Iranian revolution - one in favour of human rights and democracy - and, to my dismay, the very people who should be on their side are more interested in slating George W. Bush...

There is a reason the students in Tiananmen Square built a replica of the Statue of Liberty. There is a reason the Iranian students are so pro-American. They see that US support - and perhaps intervention - might be the only way of breaking the stultifying deadlock they find themselves in.

The US, they know, is not always bad; its people want to do good in the world and its power provides it with the opportunity to do great things. Yet because the Iranian students do not fit into the increasingly popular public view of US-bad, opponents-of-US-good, they are being ignored.

When they do achieve freedom of speech and travel, they will ask what we did to help them. Worryingly, as things stand right now only Amnesty International and George W. Bush - of all people - will be able to say that they backed the cause.

I'll say this about that.

More and more left-of-center people are filing this complaint. It may even reach a point where it becomes self-cancelling, which is fine by me. I'd love to be ultimately wrong about this. Come on, American lefties. You know who your friends are. Right?

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten