The Huge Wildcard of the 2016 Election

I subscribe to the ecclesiastical wisdom that “there is nothing new under the sun”, which is a different way of saying that whenever someone says that all of a sudden something is totally different than it has ever been before, it probably isn’t. It would have been hard to sit back over the last ten years and deny that the American electorate, largely for understandable reasons, was “war-fatigued”. And so it should be – war is a fatiguing thing, particularly with all the baggage and controversy associated with the two that were being prosecuted over the last ten years. Political calculus understandably has leaned towards the notion that “he (or she) who runs most in the lane of foreign policy dovishness has the best chance to win”. On its face, reasonable and logical.

Something strange has happened going into the 2016 Presidential season, and that is the time-tested wisdom of not believing that “this time it’s different”. Indeed, Americans have ALWAYS been repelled by war right after fighting one, and they have ALWAYS dialed up their hawkishness when forced to. In a perfect world, would this sort of cyclicality to mood and sentiment level out and not fluctuate as it does? I have no answer to that question, because in a perfect world there wouldn’t even be the need for vigilant national defense. But alas, there is, and I would argue that we are going to see the real American DNA on these very challenging issues resurface in a big way entering 2016.

There has not been a time since 9/11 that I have doubted America’s commitment towards a strong national defense IF another attack were to take place on America’s homeland. Thankfully, and the Patriot Act is probably the single biggest reason for this, no such attack has happened in the 13.5 years since 9/11. I pray for a continuation of such protection, but I am not optimistic. The enemy is committed, and the opportunities simply vast. However, I am both detecting and forecasting a changing of the guard in the political winds right now – a trend that will agitate the Blame America First crowd, the radical isolationist crowd, and the “if we just leave them alone I have to think they will leave us alone” crowd. Those three different crowds have a lot of overlap at points, and there is certainly a spectrum of both moral clarity and intellectual capability amongst the respective groups, but at the end of the day, I think the “peak” for this group’s popular appeal has come and gone. A more enlightened (but not new) perspective is resurfacing just in time for the 2016 election.

Part of this post is mere political handicapping, but part of it is also intense prescription. A poorly prosecuted Iraq war is not the foreign policy zenith, and neither is thoughtless intervention. On that, nearly all Americans agree. But the worldview that denies we are under attack by a radical group of Islamofascist madmen (not a small group, but a massive one) is the worldview that has no traction whatsoever in the lexicon of reasonable grown-ups. The present administration’s efforts to parse words have repulsed the American people who have eyes, have ears, and frankly, don’t buy what they have been sold. From the recent shootings in France to the frequent flow of ISIS beheadings, the idea that Al Qaida has been neutralized, or that the enemy is on equal moral ground to the Americans, has been debunked (and more so, serves as a source of ire to most reasonable people). The political legs to Bush administration inadequacies and exhaustion with foreign “interventions” has run its course. What we face now is rather vanilla.

And it is now that I put aside the politics and polling and mood discussion, and just focus on the vanilla reality we face. American people ought not have any tolerance for refusing to name and claim the enemy we face. They ought not live in denial about the vigilance necessary to exterminate this threat. And they ought not deny the sustainability and longevity of the ISIS threat (and other bacterial spawns of ISIS) if it is not exterminated. The capability necessary to launch a significant attack on American soil is not a hard one to come by., We have been protected by a handful of factors so far which are by no means surefire or foolproof. The great and legitimate task of federal government is to protect citizens from psychopathic movements like ISIS etc. There should be no fluctuation in this objective.

And this brings me to 2016. A hawkish and childish foreign policy looking to get in a gun fight with anyone who looks at us funny is not going to resonate with the American people, but the utter incompetence of a Secretary of State who proclaimed Putin in a reset mode, Assad of Syria a good guy, and fumbled so badly in Libya, Iraq, and Iran is not the 3am phone call TV commercial stuff you dream about. The Ron Paul wing of the right will have to keep their foreign policy wingnutness hidden, as it is now a liability, not an asset. The need is for a sensible, mature, proficient candidate to speak to the threat we face with moral clarity, and understand the 21st century realities of how the threat is growing (which is to say, understands the homegrown domestic threat of radicalization taking place with select American-born sociopaths). There will always be a Michael Moore extreme on the left and a Ron Paul extreme on the right (if that is where you want to locate it), but the vast majority of Americans will enter 2016 fully aware that the Obama administration is delusional or deceptive if they claim the war is over. We are in a war that we did not start. The winning candidate in 2016 needs to be someone prepared to take the necessary steps to end it.

The Political Funeral of Ron Paul

I am not a fan of the three or four time Presidential candidate, Ron Paul. My opinions about the ideology of Ron Paul are well-documented, as are my opinions of many (not all) of his followers. But despite my lack of appreciation for the eccentric ex-Congressman, I also do not look favorably upon gloating or grave-dancing. Ron Paul’s embarrassing results in the most recent Presidential election do not tempt me towards smugness as much as they do provide illumination upon something I have been meaning to write about for a long time. Ron Paul’s political funeral has come and gone – he will not be a part of the political scene in our country any longer, and a decent argument exists that he has never really been a part of our political scene. But based on the level of misunderstanding that I think exists out there about what I really believe regarding the Ron Paul hysteria, I wanted to offer my own political eulogy, if you will, and hopefully clarify a few things as we bid the Congressman goodbye.

Despite some insinuations to the contrary, I really do not dislike all Ron Paul fans. Many of his followers, if you will, were well-meaning and principled folks. His followers were duped, mind you, but they were victims, not accomplices. They wanted a limited government advocate who believes in the principles of the founding; what they got was a conspiracist who hinged his candidacy to some of the most extremist elements in our society.

Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy are wrong, but they are not wrong merely in the same way that a typical paleo-conservative gets national defense wrong. Bob Novak was a paleo-conservative, but his views on American might were nowhere near those of Ron Paul’s. When it comes to Ron’s vocal criticism of the Federal Reserve, he gets a lot of things right, and sadly, gets a lot of things wrong. But again, the Fed has many critics (yours truly among them). Alas, not all Fed critics, though, come from the same place Ron Paul does. My point here is that something further has to be said about Ron Paul from this particular critic than just the mere disagreement I have with him ideologically. It is the source of the disagreement that represents the heart of the matter.

Can you imagine waking up one day and rightly identifying the probems in our society, and then determining that the best way to remedy those problems would be maintaining a multi-decade association with anarchists, pacifists, and academic lightweights like the folks at Lew Rockwell? There is no possible way anyone can tell me that they believe Ron Paul was serious about enacting change in our society, for if he was he has had over 30 years to find moral and effective affiliations to partner with – not bomb-throwers and radicals. The reason Ron Paul went one way and not the other is NOT because he misjudged tactically; it is because he IS one of the bomb-throwers and radicals. He is more at home with the teenagers at LewRockwell than he is the grown-ups at Cato. In his heart of hearts, he REALLY DOES believe that there is a global conspiracy involving the Trilateral Commission, and Rockefeller, and Halliburton, and the Council of Foreign Relations, etc., to, well, to do something. He REALLY DOES believe that IRS agents are looking to pull AK-47 rifles on innocent family men. His enemy is not the ideological reality of leftism and liberalism (though that is my ideological enemy, and most of yours); his enemy is America itself. He REALLY DOES believe that we are a global agitator, and that folks like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, Pol Pot, Osama, and now Iran, were agitated by anglo-aggressors into becoming more feisty. He REALLY DOES believe that evil will stay calm if it is left alone. His foreign policy is morally bankrupt and devoid of any concept of the doctrine of total depravity; but the rest of his ideology is devoid of any logic, reason, maturity, or intelligence.

I commend people for being excited when Ron Paul talks about the grotesque size of government. He is right about that. But that has not been his agenda for the last thirty years. He has never passed any legislation or played any role in slowly or quickly decreasing the size of government. A lot of groups out there desire smaller government – Ron Paul repudiated the vast majority of them. Indeed, the only groups who Ron has been willing to be associated with are groups that owe their existence to the belief that a massive behind-the-scenes conspiracy exists that would shame Birchers for their lack of creativity and ingenuity. I remember when Ben Bernanke shook his head and laughed at Ron Paul (in a gentlemanly kind of way) as Ron Paul asked him about the Fed diverting money for Watergate and Saddam Hussein (etc.). Ben said it was a “bizarre” question, and measured critics of the Fed buried their heads in shame that Ron Paul was being given the authority as “Fed critic-in chief”. Ron Paul’s extreme supporters, though, were proud of him. The idea that the Fed had just gained immeasurable legitimacy because of the asininity of the questions coming from Ron Paul did not occur to them. Indeed, it didn’t occur to Ron himself. Today many folks thing Ron Paul moved the ball downfield because the talk of a Fed audit has gained mainstream acceptance. Ask Ron Paul after a few highballs if he actually thinks this represents any substantive advantage for those who want to see a less manipulated money supply. I PROMISE you Ron Paul does not believe in his heart of hearts that a Fed audit has anything to do with what he has been supposedly advocating. For Ron, this is not an ideological fight about sound economic policy; this is a war against an entrenched and organized opponent who meet behind closed doors with secret handshakes and passwords. That sad reality is what has made moot the efforts Ron Paul has claimed to be advocating throughout his life.

I was repulsed by Ron Paul’s recent tweet belittling the death of a Navy Seal hero, but I was not surprised. To regular folks, this was a man who had committed himself to a sacrificial life of heroism and danger. To Ron, this SEAL is part of the problem. He is part of the system. He is part of the machine.

I have also written in times past on my views of conspiracy theorists. I want this article to be the explanation of my real beef with Ron Paul. At the end of the day, Ron Paul’s political career has been using a cause that I actually believe in as a cover for being a textbook conspiracy loon. This is why he did not and could partner himself with more effective members of the conservative cause – because he required a belief that America was being led by a secret cabal as a prerequisite to his strategic choices and loyalties. This is why Ron Paul has had a political funeral. It is a tragedy, if you think about it. The press gives the largest microphone in a generation to someone talking about limited government, and he uses the mic to talk crazy. Ron Paul supporters should be more outraged than Ron Paul critics.

I apologize for the offense I have caused some of the Ron Paul fans over the years. I can not say that I have published anything in this piece or the aforementioned ones that I do not really believe – as much today as ever – but I am sorry nonetheless. I do, actually, desire to be at peace with all men, and I do wish that I had done a better job over the years articulating the basis for my dislike of Ron Paul. I have said before – it are the things I agree with Ron about that make me so emphatic in the things I do not agree with him. We are in desperate need as conservatives for a leading voice who is not completely unhinged. We are in need of someone who knows both the vocabulary and ideology of right-sized government. And we are in need of that person being someone who can benefit the cause, not undermine it. This is the best summary I can offer you as to why Ron Paul has rubbed me the wrong way.

His son, Rand, is an interesting part of the conversation. On one hand, many of Ron’s more emotional supporters view Rand as a traitor to the cause for his endorsement of Mitt Romney. On the other hand, Rand’s ability to reach a broader audience than it has dad ever has suggest that he could have a more impressive political career than his dad ever did (to that end, Rand has already out-paced his dad by a large margin). Do I suspect Rand is cut from the same cloth as his dad? I suppose I do, but I am open to being wrong. It really will not matter, because if Rand is a sane alternative to what his dad was offering all those years, I will be happy for him to be politically successful; and yet if Rand is actually a mere extension of his dad’s kooky long-term friends, he will surely be sniffed out and eliminated from the political conversation. Time will tell.

With that, I say goodbye to the days of reading about and writing about Ron Paul. I pray for more converts to the cause of conservatism and more converts away from the legacy of the conspiracy fringe. Ron tapped into very real problems in our country and its politics, and many good people understandably followed him; but his loony associations and conspiracy theories undermined any effectiveness he could have had. This is a pity. May Ron spend the remaining years of his life enjoying his family, and may we spend the years in front of us fighting the good fight, seeing the real enemy, and winning in the actual cause.

We Will Never Forget

I talked to my 7-year old son this morning about 9/11. We have talked about it the last couple of years. He is a bright kid, and he is a decent kid, which means that his intuitive response to hearing about the tragedy is not to say, “what did we do that caused them to do this to us?”. Rather, like all people with a semblance of a moral compass, his natural response to hearing of the attack is to ask, “what types of monsters would do this?”. (I should probably add that because he does not suffer from a mental illness, he also did not ask if perhaps we did it to ourselves as part of a conspiracy amongst a few thousand covert operatives who are super sneaky and good at keeping secrets). So between Mitchell’s intuitive rejection of “blame America”-ism and “truther”-ism, he is, at 7-years old, significantly more intelligent and more decent than about 50% of the American population. I am a proud dad.

But here’s the thing – It isn’t funny. I got caught up watching a little video montage deal tonight on Fox after my dinner, and I just could not stay away from my keyboard. The events of eleven years ago today remain the most important event in American life for anyone reading this blog (unless I have increased my audience with folks over the age of 80). It is fascinating to me that for all of the talk about the moral bankruptcy of Wall Street (a patently false generalization for anyone who actually knows the vast majority of the folks who work the trading pits and investment banks of our country), there appears to be far more moral clarity amongst those “bastards” than there is throughout much of American society. Of course, many in the financial community sort of “lived” 9/11, so you can understand why there may be more rememberance, understanding, and conviction amongst them than in other spheres of society. But since when is knowing someone who died a requirement for understanding the horror and immorality of mass murder? Since when is being in the zip code an act of war takes place a requirement for appreciating the reality and gravity of what we face? I have written extensively about my lack of respect for the disgraced politician, Ron Paul, but there is NOTHING that did more to turn me against him and his ilk than their pitiful downplaying of the significance of 9/11 (and for many of his best friends, their celebration of it). I can tolerate political differences with almost anyone about almost anything, but I can not and will not tolerate moral ambivalence about 9/11. The victims of 9/11 were not just the workers in the twin towers and fire-fighters who died trying to save them. The victims were all of us, as never has America and what she stands for been more threatened than on that fateful day. Our 220+ year ability to defend our own borders in the continental United States was undermined, and civilians were killed en masse like never before. A particular vigilance would be required that had never before been considered necessary.

That vigilance is all but gone eleven years later. Sadly, we know what would end up restoring it. I pray with every ounce of breath in my body that it will not take 9/11 Part 2 for Americans to remember the nature of the enemy we face. I pray that the horror of that day will never have to be re-visited. There are two things we all must do to honor the memory of that day: Take on the moral intuitition of my 7-year old son, who simply can’t believe there are people so evil as to have done this; and then, seek to vigilantly defend ourselves against those very people. Today we mourn and remember. Tomorrow, we remember again.

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The World America Made by Robert Kagan

Kagan Robert Kagan is one of those authors who readers never have to worry about. He is not going to throw in a “dog” in a series of solid book projects. He is among the most qualified intellectuals in the world to discuss the international stage, and is a trusted voice when it comes to American history of foreign policy. Whether it be his magnum opus, Dangerous Nation, or other short works like The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Kagan is serious, sober, reliable, and needed. His latest contribution to the conversation surrounding America’s role in the world is The World America Made, and I could not possibly recommend it more fervently.

Kagan is not a neoconservative, though that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been called such by various critics of his work. I think it is safe to say that if you haven’t been called a neoconservative by some ignoramus who hasn’t ever read a book on foreign policy, you probably aren’t doing your job. Blind and sweeping generalizations are a part of the game when discussing 21st century foreign policy, and there are no doubt those who would want to put Kagan into a certain box (a box that not only he does not belong in, nor any of the other people they have put in either). What Kagan contributes to the discussion is an undeniable historical perspective that demonstrates as clearly as can be what America’s historical role has been, and how her presence on the international stage has helped to create the world that we have today.

The book is a 140-page easy read. Kagan’s agenda in the book is not to point out America’s deep history of international interventionism, but rather to explain how reliant the world is on America’s presence as a super-power, at least in deterring and controlling potentially malignant behavior by other potential mini-super powers. Kagan is not an advocate of the “democracy is contagious” view, and he is not advocating for any sort of new and improved aggression from America’s military resources. He is making the case, though, that those who hope to see a more liberal order throughout the nations will not see it without powerful nations that can defend it. I won’t flood my review with quotes and soundbites from the book, as the book is too full of these nuggets to do it justice, and I want readers to make their own determinations. What I will say is this: “The cost of [America] maintaining this position cannot be measured without considering the costs of losing it”. In a day and age where it has become en vogue to romanticize the idea of an America who plays a minor role in international theater, I am so grateful (and we all should be) that there are scholars like Robert Kagan with the imagination and perspective to say, “Be careful what you wish for. You can not imagine how terrifying it would be if you got your wish.”