Posted on

Take Our 2020 Reader Survey

We want to hear from you!

Dear Reader,

Last week The American Conservative launched our reader survey to get feedback from readers like you. Thank you to those of you who have already taken the survey–looking over the responses so far, we clearly have a diverse and thoughtful group of readers. Your thoughts and opinions really do matter to us, and help us plan our programming in the year to come.

If you have not yet completed the reader survey,  please do so today.

By taking our reader survey, your concerns and the issues you care about will be better reflected in TAC.

As a reminder, all survey respondents can enter to win a $150 Barnes & Noble gift card.

Thank you for taking the time to complete the survey, and for your readership and support of The American Conservative.

Posted on

NFL Veteran Connects Race and Abortion

A documentary from former football star Benjamin Watson discusses an inconvenient truth: the abortion industry targets black people.

Benjamin Watson has been a regular speaker at prominent events like the March for Life for years, but Divided Hearts of America is the soft-spoken NFL star’s most significant foray into pro-life advocacy to date. More fundamentally, as our disagreements over the rights of the unborn occur in the context of increasingly irreconcilable philosophical divisions, the new documentary is also a window into the story of our looming national crack-up. Abortion, says one of the film’s interviewees, “is our new civil war. . . in many ways, it’s a great moral battle for the soul of this country.”

Divided Hearts is distinct from other pro-life films not just for its production quality, which is significantly higher than comparable documentaries in the genre, but also for the unique perspective it offers: Watson, a devout Christian and father of seven, is joined by a collection of other leading black pro-life voices—Tim Scott and Ben Carson both feature prominently—to examine the question of legal abortion in the context of the African-American experience. “Black Americans are only 12, 13, 14 percent of the population tops, and yet we’re responsible for between 28 to 36 percent of all abortions in the United States of America,” activist Walter Hoye tells viewers. “That’s not an accident. That’s genocide.” One can draw a direct line from the dehumanization of the black body in chattel slavery to the dehumanization of the black body in the womb.

The racist history of the billion-dollar abortion industry will be all too familiar to committed pro-lifers, but the eugenic origins of organizations like Planned Parenthood—persistently reflected today in cities like New York, where more black babies are aborted than born alive every year—are largely unknown to the average American. This comes as no surprise. The link between abortion and the oppression of black Americans is conspicuously absent from the mainstream narrative for the same reason that activists shroud the procedure’s inherent violence in abstract terms of “choice,” “autonomy” or “reproductive justice.” The contention that the pro-choice position is the obviously socially conscious policy—one of the basic claims of its proponents—is undermined by the dirty underbelly of the abortion rights movement.

The documentary’s most significant contribution to the pro-life cause, then, is its exposition of this shameful and racist past, which has long languished in relative obscurity. Its excavation of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement’s widespread opposition to abortion, for example, serves as a rebuke to the contemporary idea that “pro-choice” is the default social justice position. (“We’ve been asking for the right to decent housing, the right to education, in fact the right to healthcare—and all we’ve been given, free of charge, is the right to kill our unborn child,” pro-life civil rights activist Dolores Grier says in an old, grainy clip featured in the film). In describing the inherent moral value of unborn life from the African-American perspective, Watson and his counterparts tie the struggle for racial equality to the push to protect children in the womb, depicting both as inextricably connected aspects of the fight for a society built around human dignity.

Simultaneously, the retelling of this dark history effectively gets to the heart of what abortion is: the methodical and institutionalized deprivation of basic rights from an entire class of people, accomplished through a systemic dehumanization in both our legal system and our culture writ large.

America’s darkest moments have always been characterized by a failure to extend the universal dignity guaranteed by our system to those whom we have seen as less than human. “As long as you can paint a person as a non-human—as in the days of slavery in America or any period in the world with slaves—you…can do whatever you want to do to them,” says Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the central pro-life voices in the film.

The parallel is illuminating: In 1852, the now-infamous Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford upheld slavery by holding that African-Americans were not eligible for the basic rights of citizenship enshrined in our Constitution; in 1973, Roe v. Wade upheld abortion using a similar justification as it pertained to unborn children. In his majority opinion in Roe, Justice Harry Blackmun admitted that the decision was founded on a denial of fetal personhood, conceding that “If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”

At its core, then, the debate over abortion is really a debate over one’s view of the human person. This essential fact is something that abortion rights advocates persistently try to avoid, but Divided Hearts of America succeeds in showing how one’s view of the issue is fundamentally a reflection of their view of the humanity of the unborn child: “You find a lot of pro-abortion people always talking about ‘it’ or ‘the cells’ or ‘the mass’ – they don’t want to personify it,” Ben Carson tells Watson toward the end of the film. And yet, he adds: “No one will ever convince me that what’s inside of a woman’s uterus is a meaningless bunch of cells.”

Nate Hochman (@njhochman) is a Young Voices associate contributor and a senior at Colorado College.

Posted on

The ‘Adults in the Room’ With Trump Weren’t Adults at All

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster attends a meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

When President Donald Trump took office, his aides promised there would always be adults in the room. Especially when it came to foreign policy, learned, stable professionals would ensure responsible and intelligent actions.

Except the adults turned out to be idiots. They fought the president at every turn when he sought to withdraw from endless wars. They insisted that Washington remain allied to the worst of the worst, supporting the vile Saudi regime in its aggressive and murderous war against Yemen. They urged policies that treated Russia as a permanent enemy. They backed American dominance of every existing alliance and relationship, infantilizing America’s friends and maximizing Washington’s obligations.

Now former national security adviser H.R. McMaster has reminded Americans that many members of the infamous Blob, the foreign policy elite, are brain dead. Their thinking about the world ended decades ago. They mouth hypocritical platitudes while seeing everything through an antiquated prism.

For instance, McMaster recently charged that Tehran, a political, economic, and military wreck, has “hegemonic designs.” He made this claim after serving at the center of foreign policymaking in the world’s dominant power which is determined to be the global hegemon in control of every region on earth, essentially imposing the Monroe Doctrine on every continent. Supportive policymakers insist that the U.S. should intervene everywhere while no one else can intervene anywhere. Indeed, in their view America is entitled to meddle at any time for any reason.

Within the administration, McMaster orchestrated American support for Saudi Arabia, which did far more than Tehran to play regional hegemon. The antediluvian royals invaded one neighbor, deployed troops in a second, supported jihadist rebels against a third, kidnapped the prime minister of a fourth, launched a diplomatic/economic offensive against a fifth, and are promoting a civil war in a slightly more distant sixth. Riyadh’s behavior is reckless, dangerous, criminal, and, yes, hegemonic.

But it is in deploying the Munich comparison that McMaster, once thought to be an innovative military thinker, demonstrated that his time in government apparently killed off some of his once-abundant gray matter. In this he is not alone. Virtually every minor dictator in the most distant and underpopulated lands has been compared to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler at least once. If we avert our glance for merely a moment, we are warned, Dictator X in Country Y is likely to launch a campaign of conquest across Continent Z. Or something similar. Thus only American intervention can prevent the onset of a new global dark age.

McMaster has been on a book tour promoting his latest tome with its utterly conventional demand for a harder line against, well, everyone. And why not? After all, surely America has money to burn after running a $3.1 trillion deficit during the 2020 fiscal year. With the federal debt already over 100 percent of GDP. Another $2 trillion or more in red ink expected in 2021. And the total “COVID deficit” predicted to run between $8 trillion and $16 trillion. But why worry: it’s only money!

Anyway McMaster was asked about President Donald Trump’s negotiation with Afghanistan. Is it America’s “Munich agreement” and “a policy of appeasement with Taliban”? Yes, replied McMaster.

It is hard to believe that McMaster doesn’t understand the concept of appeasement or know Munich’s circumstances. More likely, he doesn’t care about the facts and preferred to take a cheap shot at Trump, always an easy target.

First, appeasement is a time-tested and oft-successful strategy. It usually is better to make a deal than go to war. A little more appeasement before World War I involving Austro-Hungary and Serbia, which armed the gang that assassinated the Hapsburg heir, an obvious casus belli, might have forestalled a global conflict that consumed around 20 million lives and ultimately led to the Munich agreement and the far deadlier and more destructive World War II.

Second, on its face, Munich was a sensible attempt at appeasement. It redressed the World War I injustice of treating millions of ethnic Germans as pawns in a global chess game. At the Versailles Treaty conference, the oh-so-moral allies grabbed territorial plunder here, there, and everywhere, while prattling about self-determination. Hitler did not arise in a vacuum; allied avarice and myopia helped bring him to power.

Munich was a tragedy because the allies sought to appease the one person in Europe who could not be satiated. The pact transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany the Sudetenland, which was taken by Prague from the long-gone Austro-Hungarian Empire against the wishes of its ethnic Germans residents. Berlin won, yet Hitler was irritated that the settlement denied him the war he desired. He invaded Poland the following year. However, Germany was not as well prepared for conflict in 1938 and Hitler might have been removed by his own military, which was contemplating a coup because of his apparent recklessness.

The short lesson of the agreement: the problem was Hitler, not appeasement. Most Europeans probably believed that preserving the continent’s peace warranted shifting to Germany territory filled with people who should not have been given to Czechoslovakia in the first place. In the abstract, Britain and France had good reason not to back Prague in a war over what were frankly ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, London and Paris didn’t understand who and what they were dealing with—but they were not alone in sharing that delusion.

As for Afghanistan, one must hope that McMaster is not confused by the difference between Nazi Germany and the insurgent Taliban. A generation earlier, the Germans demonstrated their ability to wreak continental and even global murder and mayhem. In contrast, the Taliban’s motley mix of Islamists and opportunities at most threaten to gain control over additional territory in an impoverished, isolated land, located thousands of miles from America, which never had a strong central government to begin with.

Nevertheless, McMaster declared that “We will pay the price, and we’ll be back. We’ll have to go back, and at a much higher cost.” Why? Central Asia has no intrinsic value for America. The Taliban want to rule their villages and values, not threaten the U.S. at home.

Moreover, Afghanistan has no inherent connection to terrorism; the link was Osama bin Laden, who was initially involved there fighting the Soviets. After the U.S. intervened, he fled to and operated from Pakistan, a nominal American ally. And of course, he now is dead. Al-Qaeda’s remnants could operate anywhere, as do many of its spin-offs today. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, located in Yemen, has long been viewed as the most dangerous affiliate.

In any case, the region matters far more to the powers nearby, which have an incentive to promote a reasonably stable if not liberal Afghanistan. They do not want to see the return of terrorism. In fact, Christian Russia, Hindu India, and Shia Iran all have been targeted by Sunni terrorists. Communist China, busy locking up Sunni Uyghurs in reeducation camps, could be next on the terrorists’ target list. This gaggle of states has the makings of a good coalition to guard against growth in the Islamic State and revival of al-Qaeda, neither of which is in the Taliban’s interest, which would not want to trigger another round of U.S. retaliation.

As for humanitarian considerations, America has spent more than 19 years at war trying to create a liberal, centralized government where none previously existed. That is more than enough commitment of American lives and wealth.

McMaster’s strategic judgment is no better than his historical analysis. He complained that Trump’s exit plan “renders the war unjust, because we no longer have defined a just end.” It’s not clear why he believes leaving makes the conflict unjust. The U.S. got in for good reason, to retaliate against both al-Qaeda and the Taliban for the 9/11 attacks, sending the clear message that attacking America and hosting terrorists that strike America is a very bad idea. Washington foolishly stuck around for another 18-plus years trying to make Afghanistan into a better place, a theoretically moral but highly imprudent objective. And now, years late, an administration is finally trying to stop wasting American lives and wealth.

In the end, McMaster sounds like just all the other policymakers who misled the public over faux progress in Afghanistan year after year. As the Washington Post reported in its devastating “Afghanistan Papers” project nearly a year ago: “U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.” Yet upon these claims, Washington wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

That is the true immorality, the shocking injustice, the criminal misconduct.

President Trump has gotten much wrong. But on Afghanistan he is far closer to the truth than the faux adults who surrounded him throughout his time in office. During McMaster’s next PR event for his book, he ought to be asked why purported leaders like him have so much trouble confronting their own failures.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Posted on

How a Conservative Looks at History

Taking the long view about our current chaos

The story goes that when Chinese Communist Premier Zhou Enlai was asked what he thought the impact of the French Revolution had been, he answered “Too soon to tell.” Prick the flesh of most senior Maoists, and you’ll find they bleed Confucian. History is a complicated thing, and its arcs are very long. Key historical events do not stand alone, but rather in relationship to many others, and can scarcely be interpreted at the time except by prophets of the caliber of Burke.

Philosophical conservatives should pay heed to this principle. I say “philosophical conservatives” because political conservatives never do so heed; the political conservative is all too often the true fulfillment of Chesterton’s great jibe: The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.

The political conservative either spends their time calmly defending an obviously wretched institution, or law, because it was considered wise 30 or 50 or 80 years ago; or, if put on the back foot for too long, they are so enervated by the actions of the Progressives that they desire dramatic revolutionary change in favor of – the gamestate of 30 or 50 or 80 years ago. The political conservative snapshots the past and valorizes the crumbling edifice. The philosophical conservative (and I will imaginatively assume that you, like I, are one) looks differently at the matter – they defend the permanent things, those universals about the human experience the enjoyment of which renders us truly human; they therefore passionately believe in objective morality, whilst recognizing real cultural variety; they see history as a garden, not an edifice. The passage of history is a story of unified and organic growth, with great events and ideas serving as trees, which grow for hundreds or thousands of years. And – it is key to note – the garden keeps on growing. There are fundamental and transcendent principles to be applied in every age; there are objective moral truths to uphold irrespective of their passing temporal popularity; there are seeds to plant and tend.

How ought this affect our reflection on history? And what difference does this make in practice? We will read much more widely, and seek much more connectedness; we will know that to understand the pre-eminence in Europe of Germany, and its longstanding love-cum-rivalry with Russia, we can’t simply look at 1989 or 1870 or 1815 or 1740, but we will look to Poltava and Westphalia and Breitenfeld and Brunnbäck’s Ferry, all the way back to the Partition of the Frankish Empire. We desire to know the way the plant grows, so as to know the way it will grow in future; we desire to know what climate it enjoys, what soil it requires. A great deal more time must be spent amidst old books, whether on history or philosophy or other subjects.

We will understand that the present moment cannot be analyzed by reference solely to—say—“zombie Reaganism” or “the Russian Revolution” or “the end of the British Empire.” We won’t analyze Trump’s rise chiefly by discussing the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney, which are merely symptoms rather than causes of the death of the old GOP. We will know, in essence, that 1914 is a more important date than 1945, and 1789 more important than either—that understanding current affairs requires a very “long” view of history. Every analysis of current affairs will send us away from current affairs. At the conceptual level, this should draw us out of a consuming obsession with current affairs—a constant desire to hear the news, regurgitate it, argue about it, “analyze” it. Of course we will be interested in it, and it will be worthwhile to consider matters – but I wonder whether philosophical conservatism might be better served by spending less of its energy in endless Twitter thread and blog responses to some recent moral catastrophe, but rather spending the heart of its effort in the trans-temporal realm.

This sounds unrealistic; it is not. A task of historical understanding is necessary to see how cultural movements become dominant—if we desire the permanent things to ascend again in Western cultural life, we must learn how to build and grow. Demosthenes wrote fine Philippics tearing down the tyrant; Demosthenes lost. Philip and his son, in an incredibly short period, changed the world permanently. They had a vision of the future, and built it, even if their dynasty did not survive to enjoy it. Philosophical conservatives must stop reacting, and start reflecting – and a long view of history aids this. By drawing the sting of present pains, it allows positive envisioning. The founder of permaculture, Bill Mollison, said of his despair whilst working in government at governmental incompetence in protecting the environment: “I soon decided it was no good persisting with opposition that in the end achieved nothing. I withdrew from society for two years; I did not want to oppose anything ever again and waste my time. I wanted to come back only with something very positive.”

Mollison studied the soil of the earth, seeking methods of creating resilient and regenerative agriculture (permaculture stems from the words permanent agriculture, or permanent culture—a fitting touchstone for the philosophical conservative). We study the soil of time, testing the humus and finding what will grow—or what is needed to make the soil fertile again. Of course we cannot cease to oppose evil whilst we study, but we must, as it were, take ourselves away to an anchorage from time to time, and reflect. Out of silent Citeaux came the clarion of St. Bernard and the gentle wisdom of St. Aelred; why should we not seek our own “new, and doubtless different” St. Bernard in the study of history?

This long view will not merely alter our speech and our thought, but our actions. If philosophical conservatives in the West come to realize that this is a centuries-long project we are undertaking, of re-founding amidst the ruins, then we will stop leaping aboard every passing political battle-bus seeking salvation. I suspect virtually every conservative reaction to the phenomenon of Trump is motivated by presentism; either “Only Trump can change things! He is the chaos factor!” or “Supporting Trump is a uniquely destructive thing to do to the conservative movement! Even if he wins he’ll destroy us long term!”

In all likelihood, Donald Trump will be remembered by history as a divisive, sometimes destructive, sometimes intuitively insightful demagogue. His legacy will be judged as we now judge any historical leader: Antoninus Pius or Li Yuan or Gustavus Adolphus or, indeed, Zhou Enlai. Barring an accident with nuclear missiles, “the Trump moment” will be of the same significance in 200 years of – at most, Bonaparte, significant but limited in scope; or, perhaps more likely, of the Presidency of John Adams, or the reign of Henri II of France, or some other interesting but secondary period, surrounded by greater events.

Owen Edwards is a missionary and writer in the North-East of England. God has blessed him with a fine wife and two vigorous young sons, and he occupies his spare time with reading and tending to a smallholding.

Posted on

The Election Monsters Next Door

Politics in 2020 is all about hating the other side, yet that isn’t compatible with how most people live, among the near and the familiar.

“Trump-Pence” signs and banners are seen on a street in Olyphant, just outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, on August 11, 2020. (Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Northampton County in Pennsylvania was a bellwether in the 2016 election, lurching from Barack Obama four years earlier to Donald Trump. Located in the east of the state, bordering New Jersey and the Delaware River, it has a little of everything: tony suburbs, rolling farms, preserved downtowns, the deindustrialized hulks of Bethlehem and Allentown that Billy Joel so lamented, sprawling warehouses, busy highways to New York, quieter roads north into the Poconos.

This year, Northampton is once again a swing county, and when I visited family there last week, it wasn’t hard to tell. Walking through a neighborhood in Bethlehem, I saw about equal parts Trump and Biden gear, but louder and more in-your-face than anything in deep-blue Northern Virginia where I live. Pick-up trucks roared down state routes with both American and Trump 2016 flags billowing off their beds. Fake tombstones and crashed witches mingled with Biden lawn signs. The commercial breaks in between NFL games were pileups of negative campaign ads, anti-Trump then anti-Biden then anti-Trump then anti-Biden. One man had a “Trump for President” banner in his yard so large that someone joked you could see it from space.

In another country, this might have seemed strange, even alarming, evidence of an election that had lost all sense of proportion. Yet what struck me was how utterly normal it felt. Americans have always had a rowdy tradition of democratic engagement, have always been quick to slap bumper stickers on their cars—the signs in Bethlehem wouldn’t have been out of place four or even 30 years ago. What’s different now is the sense of dread that’s come to color such a quotidian scene. From off the news come warnings that the national mood is unusually tense. Typically sober commentators wonder whether political violence is in our future, even another civil war. You listen to this, you stare at those lawn signs, you hear the chilly October breeze rustling through the leaves, and you start to wonder whether something darker lurks beneath, whether the people in those quiet homes might be willing to fight in the streets should their candidates lose.

The data are grim. An Axios poll from two years ago found that 23 percent of Republicans think Democrats are evil, while 21 percent of Democrats think the same of Republicans. About one in three on both sides now say violence might be justified to advance their parties’ goals, up significantly in recent years. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Frank Luntz, a respected GOP political consultant, told the Washington Post. “Even the most balanced, mainstream people are talking about this election in language that is more caffeinated and cataclysmic than anything I’ve ever heard.” On the right, Trump voters see the president as a shield of last resort against a radical left that wants to abolish gender, take their guns, and tear down statues of their civic heroes. On the left, Trump is seen as a Franco from Flushing, a braying fascist whose very presence threatens to undo decades of hard-won progress.

There isn’t much wiggle room in between those perceptions, much space to weigh your opinions against those of the other side. If the face of your political opponents is a black-masked rioter or a reincarnated Falange, then the choice is either win or die. And if that’s the choice, you start to wonder how anyone could possibly oppose you, why they would ever align themselves with what you see as the forces of hell. Who are these monsters who side with Antifa? How ghoulish do you have to be to vote for a Nazi nectarine? The film critic Pauline Kael once said of the 1972 election (the quote is often butchered), “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken.” Now the other side can seem not just outside our ken but outside our species.

Why this sudden openness to political violence? There are many reasons, but surely one is that it’s much easier to entertain thuggery against those you regard as less than human. The internet doesn’t help here, flattening us all into names and avatars on social media sites, obscuring our common personhood. But another source of this dehumanization is that, whether we want to admit it or not, voting for either side in this election is a fairly radical act. Trump is unique in American history, trampling on norms while blowtorching his opponents with unprecedented rhetorical heat. Biden seems more familiar, but then to many the status quo from which he emerged was itself deeply disruptive, as are some of his newer ideas like halting fracking permits and rolling back the Obamacare contraception exemption for nuns. Such radicalism can rule out any common ground that might have been found, making the other side difficult to comprehend, even to relate to.

Of course, bitterly contested campaigns are nothing new—I don’t think there’s been a presidential election in my adult life where at least one candidate hasn’t seemed to loathe the other. But this one feels different, like if the wrong side wins, the monsters are going to swarm out into the streets and run wild. We’ve talked a lot about the widening class divide in America, how wealthy and educated coastal elites are shifting towards the Democrats, while poorer high school graduates in flyover states back Trump. But as with any abstract explainer of politics, that’s much too simple. In places like Northampton County, the vampires live next door. Those you’re supposed to fear are your neighbors. Whatever realignment has taken place isn’t so thorough as to preclude conservatives and liberals from having to live with each other.

And maybe that’s consolation amid all this chaos. It’s one thing to say you would consider violence against those who think differently; it’s quite another to actually carry it out against those who are close to you.

Of course, you could, if you’re furious enough. But outside of cable news and Twitter, the sentiment I’ve heard expressed most often this campaign season isn’t fury. It’s exhaustion. People have grown sick of the omnipresence of politics, the endless debates, the apocalyptic premonitions. The stakes in this election are high, but for God’s sake, they can’t be that high. For months now, analysts have surmised about an “exhausted majority,” a cohort of relatively non-ideological voters who are fed up with the entire spectacle. They’re said to be backing Biden, since Trump is the more tiring personality, though I know many on the right who feel the same way. The demands of 2020 engagement, with its 24-hour outrage spin cycle and shots of contempt right into the vein, simply aren’t compatible with how most people live their lives, which is to say among the real and near and human.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imperishable horror story Young Goodman Brown, the titular character loses faith in everything—his church, his wife—after supposedly witnessing a satanic ritual in the woods. In the last line, Hawthorne says of Brown, “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.” It’s because those next door aren’t sinister devil worshippers that we may not yet go that way. And if we don’t, it will be because we knew the neighbors weren’t monsters all along; the real freaks were those who did nothing but salivate over a depressing and wretched election.

Posted on

Will President Biden’s Likely Secretaries of State End Forever Wars?

ROCK HILL, SC – AUGUST 29: Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at a town hall event at Clinton College on August 29, 2019 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Biden spent Wednesday and Thursday campaigning in the early primary state. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

As the election nears, politicos and prognosticators are hotly debating whether a Joe Biden presidency will echo the national security policies of Obama, to what extent Biden will be beholden to the far left, and who he will choose to lead the State Department. 

The Bernie Sanders wing of the left had an outsized role in crafting the Democratic National Committee (DNC) platform. They included a series of pledges sought by the progressive left: scaling back open-ended counterterrorism conflicts, ending the “forever wars” and U.S. military support for the Saudi Arabian-led military campaign in Yemen, and ceasing the Trump administration’s attempts at regime change in Iran and beyond.

Afterinterviewing more than a dozen Democrats familiar with Biden’s transition process, Politico reports that the Biden campaign is attempting “to assemble a center-left amalgamation of personnel designed to prioritize speed over ideology in responding to the coronavirus and the resulting economic ruin. Think Susan Rice, but also Elizabeth Warren. Pete Buttigieg, but also Karen Bass.”

Politico reports that in discussions with various foreign policy observers, they “heard around 10 names” mentioned, “from Foreign Service luminaries such as William Burns to way-outside-the-box picks like Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.”

“Does it mean that the chief of staff won’t be [longtime Biden advisers] Ron Klain or Steve Ricchetti or something? No, but it does mean you’re going to see some unusual suspects in the government, I think,” said one Democratic strategist.

However, what policies are actually pursued, and what are left on the cutting room floor, will likely be determined by whoever is chosen to lead the State Department. That pick will largely largely determine whether U.S. foreign policy will plunge us back to the days of ill-fated missions against Gaddafi in Libya, the arming of Syrian rebels, and further foreign deployments.

Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE.) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) are both actively pursuing a starring role in leading a Biden administration’s national security policy. They’ve both been busy penning opeds and appearing on foreign policy panels and cable news shows.

Sen. Chris Coons

Coons has been praised by the media as a moderate that is the “GOP’s favorite Democrat,” allegedly in the same vein as Biden. That’s also earned him the wrath of progressives, who put up a challenger against him arguing “he’s not running on how he’s used his power to make our state better” and that instead his campaign has been “very much about Donald Trump… not about the things that he’s actually done for us.”

Coons has served for ten years in the Senate seat once held by Joe Biden, and has spent 10 years on the Foreign Relations Committee and is a leader of the bipartisan Senate Human Rights Caucus. Coons spoke in favor of Biden at the Democratic National Convention in August on the same night that Biden accepted his party’s nomination.

“The United States does not have to choose between being the world’s policeman and total retrenchment: it can engage the world more selectively, in principled and pragmatic ways that better serve the interests of working Americans,” writes Coons in an oped written a year ago titled, “A Bipartisan Foreign Policy Is Still Possible” published in Foreign Affairs.

Despite saying this, Coons goes on to criticize what he calls Trump’s “precipitous withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan [announced] by tweet before consulting with our partners or Congress, much less his own advisers” and he believes that Putin’s Russia is “a persistent danger to our democracy, to our European allies, to democracy globally, and to the rule of law… Putin will only stop when we stop him.” 

He argues that the Trump administration’s break from traditional foreign policy has been a disaster, and that the U.S. needs to return “the assumption that alliances make the United States stronger, that removing trade barriers benefits U.S. consumers, that democracy and human rights belong at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, and that the liberal international order created after World War II benefits the United States as much as it does the rest of the world.”

Instead, U.S. leaders should “lead the United States to take actions overseas that make American families more secure and that promote the common good,” writes Coons.

Coons says that most Americans support countering China, and that this tops his list of priorities. He strongly disagrees with Trump’s trade policies, as he believes they’ve poisoned the relationship with U.S. allies in Asia and strengthened President Xi’s hand.

In a statement provided by Coons, he comes very close to openly admitting he wants the job of Secretary of State.

“Joe Biden and I have very similar, closely aligned views on foreign policy. He’s got a lot of great folks from whom to choose, but if he were to consider me as well, I’d certainly be honored.”

Coons has received conservative commentator George Will’s stamp of approval: “As secretary of state, Coons’s placid temperament, his robust proclamations that his nation represents universal values … equip him to repair the recent damage to his nation’s prestige and security.”

Sen. Chris Murphy

Meanwhile, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has positioned himself as the progressive alternative on foreign policy. Just this year, he has authored several articles on the subject, and appeared in a variety of foreign policy forums, including a panel hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. In “Rethinking the Battlefield,” a policy document authored by Murphy, the Senator suggests a number of changes to current foreign policy, including an enormous increase of employees at the State Department and USAID.

Earlier this year, Murphy met with Iran’s foreign minister over Trump’s objections. He has also authored legislation that limits U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its involvement in the Yemen war.

In August, Murphy reintroduced legislation designed to prioritize the federal government’s purchase of American-made goods that closes loopholes and increases the domestic content percentage requirement from 50 percent to 60 percent for products to be labeled as American-made.

Murphy was also quick to leap into the fray on China. In an opinion piece for War on the Rocks, Murphy frames President Trump’s decision to defund the World Health Organization as a decision rooted in a too-soft approach to China. He argues that Trump sides with “China apologists.” He suggests changes in U.S. policy that pit America precariously close to a cold war with China. 

In a piece for USA Today, Murphy again blasts the Trump administration’s China policy, arguing that Trump’s withdrawal from the WHO and his trade policies have strengthened President Xi’s hand.

“Trump’s China policy has been a gold-leaf wrapped gift to Beijing,” he writes. The Trump administration has destroyed relationships with  Japan and South Korea, moving them closer to China while bolstering the hand of dictators like Duterte in the Philippines, he argues.

“Four more years of Trump’s disastrous China policy will likely help vault Beijing into a position of global prominence from which it may never be dislodged. If Trump wants to make China policy a centerpiece of the coming campaign, his opponents should welcome it,” Murphy wrote.

A piece in The Atlantic Murphy wrote a year ago offers several clues on his foreign policy thinking.

In “How to Make a Progressive Foreign Policy Actually Work” Murphy argued that “the test of any Democratic presidential candidate’s foreign-policy ideas should not be ‘How different are they from Obama’s?’ Democrats running in 2020 shouldn’t be shy to pine for a return to the basics of Obama’s foreign policy, which led America to actively defend democracy and human rights abroad, invest in nuclear and climate diplomacy, nurture allies, and improve its reputation in nearly every corner of the world. Obama left a lot of work undone, but his basic philosophy of global engagement is a foundation that should be built upon, not torn down.”

Murphy writes that “there are also ways that the next Democratic president can thoughtfully pivot from the strategy employed by the Obama administration.”

For those that are opposed to constant American military interventions overseas, Murphy offers some reassuring words.

He writes:

“First, progressives should insist on compliance with the War Powers Resolution and require all major military action overseas to be explicitly approved by Congress… No more massive, unconstitutional, open-ended grants of military power to the president.

Second, progressives should get the United States out of the business of waging secret wars. The Cold War practice of covertly arming or training rebels abroad doesn’t work (see Syria). Hell, America has trouble overtly training and arming government forces (see Iraq and Afghanistan)…  And while we’re at it, America’s drone-strike campaign is not delivering actual security gains. Studies show that in Pakistani tribal areas where the most drone strikes hit, Sunni insurgent groups grew the fastest. We kill one, two more sign up….”

Murphy writes that the U.S. shouldn’t support foreign military intervention if the ultimate problem we are trying to solve is fundamentally a political, rather than military, nature, citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an example where the U.S. invaded a political problem, and was unprepared to deal with the complicated tribal, sectarian, and political fallout of regime change. Today’s crises in Syria, Yemen and Venezuela should not tempt American military intervention, because they are ultimately political problems.

“Progressives should be humble and realistic about the limits of U.S. military power. The 2011 American airstrikes in Libya, which led to the toppling of the Gaddafi regime, are a stark example of a well-intended military intervention turning into a massive failure…. The civil war that erupted in the wake of Gaddafi’s downfall is still ongoing eight years later…. Sometimes, military restraint, though it may feel unsavory in the face of evil, is still the best policy. Military action can create more new problems than it solves.”

Despite these conciliatory overtures to non-interventionists, one must remember that even senators that strongly opposed war have notoriously changed their positions when they entered the White House, as Obama did.

Murphy’s flurry of activity in the foreign policy space “has not gone unnoticed by people in and around the Biden campaign,” Politico reports. Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as vice president suggests that when it comes to a seat within his administration, he is susceptible to Sens. Murphy and Coons’ style of self-promotion.

Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice

Any list of Secretary of State contenders would not be complete without mention of Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser who was rumored to be under consideration as Biden’s vice president. She’s frequently mentioned as guaranteed a top seat in Biden’s cabinet.

On Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, Rice was at the table for every Obama debacle. Rice’s influence on the Obama administration was strong, and she used it to push for the bombing of Libya and Syria. She also supported aid to so-called free Syrian rebels, as well as an escalation in Afghanistan.

Biden had worked closely with Rice in the White House, but he was not as persuaded to her positions as Obama became. In his first few months as vice president, he strongly protested Obama’s decision in 2009 to commit 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan.

“The Pentagon’s strategy was too broad, too expensive, and too focused on the Taliban insurgency, instead of al-Qaeda,” he argued.

“I wish I could say Biden was a student of history and understood how problematic nation-building would be in Afghanistan,” said one an anonymous former top Obama Pentagon official. “That’s not Biden. He has gut instincts.”

Biden also opposed the bombing of Gaddafi in Libya, advised Obama not to launch the risky raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and urged Obama not to offer his famous “red line” announcement if Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons.

Other possible Secretary of State candidates in a Biden administration include Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of State now working as a top Biden campaign aide.

Historically, Biden has been all over the map on the biggest issues of war and peace, which should give voters pause when considering whether a Biden administration would further enable U.S. interventions overseas.

He voted against George H. W. Bush’s Gulf War, then argued the U.S. should have removed Saddam Hussein after the liberation of Kuwait. After Biden came back from a trip to the Balkans in 1993, he lambasted President Bill Clinton for ignoring the slaughter of besieged Muslims. 

Later, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden voted to give President George W. Bush the broad authority to go to war in Iraq. But he didn’t just vote for the war—he helped sell it to the American public, even though the majority at the time did not support taking immediate military action.

Biden didn’t call the war in Iraq a “mistake” until 2005—not because he thought his vote for it was wrong, but because in his estimation we should have sent more troops. Obama’s former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates complained in his memoir “Duty” that Biden was wrong on “nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Unlike his plagiarism, Biden’s foreign policy decisions had far-reaching, devastating international consequences.  If he becomes president, that will be doubly true. It remains to be seen if his Secretary of State pick can ensure that cooler heads prevail, or whether they will enact their own set of disastrous foreign policy initiatives.

Posted on

Turkey’s Hateful Neo-Ottoman Campaign Against the Armenians

For the past four weeks, the people of the Armenian republic of Artsakh, more commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh, have been indiscriminately shelled by Azerbaijan, which is militarily and politically backed by Turkey, a NATO member and a European Union candidate.

Some 50 percent of Artsakh’s population has been forced to flee, the region’s rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan told the AFP news agency on October 7.

Why are these two nations, whose total population is 100 million, targeting Artsakh and Armenia, two blockaded, landlocked, and genocide-survivor states with a total population of around three million?

The director of communications of the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, shared a video of what he called the “Red Apple” anthem on his Twitter account on August 24. He wrote:

For us, the Red Apple means great and strong Turkey. It is the sacred march of our nation that made history from Manzikert to July 15. The Red Apple is a great plane tree that provides shade for the downtrodden to refresh. The Red Apple is what the entire humanity has longed for from Gibraltar to Hedjaz and from the Balkans to Asia.

The video presents the Turkish military and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as heirs to the medieval Turkic Seljuk dynasty, as well as to the Ottoman Empire, and portrays Turkish conquerors praying in the “Hagia Sophia mosque,” a historically Greek Christian cathedral/museum reconverted into a mosque on July 10.

The video also glorifies the Turkish invasion of the then-Armenian city of Manzikert (today’s Malazgirt) in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire during the 11th century. Turkic military leader Sultan Alparslan, originally from Central Asia, invaded Manzikert and massacred the Christian locals there. The video says in part:

This blood is Sultan Alparslan, who reared up at Manzikert, Osman I, at the founding. The Sultan of the world, who was given good news of conquests and the child heroes at Gallipoli. This same blood comes from the ancestors. It is writing legends again in resurgence. The world is waiting for “There is no God but Allah.” The destination is the Red Apple, we will not despair. Like Alparslan who reared up at Manzikert, like our ancestors, who wrote history with victories, like our grandfather, who closed one age and opened another, our goal is the Red Apple. Forward march!

The video also includes the recital by Erdogan of the first verses of the Surah al-Fath. Erdogan says: “Indeed, we have given you a clear conquest… And Allah may grant you a mighty victory.”

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) explains:

The lyrics mix religious and nationalistic imagery and refer to the Kızıl Elma (“Red Apple”), a concept from Turkish mythology that has sometimes been used to refer to world domination and at other times has referred to a particular military goal by a Turkish state and, once that goal has been achieved, some other goal becomes the “Red Apple,” making it ever-elusive.

A month after the government video was publicized, Azerbaijan, an ally of Turkey, targeted another Armenian territory: Artsakh, a historically Armenian (yet diplomatically unrecognized) country in the South Caucasus.

Since September 27, Azerbaijan has launched a massive military offensive against Artsakh, targeting civilian populations in the region’s capital, Stepanakert, and other towns. This is the largest military assault by Azerbaijan since a ceasefire was signed between it and Armenia following the 1991-1994 war.

Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s violent claims on Artsakh are unsubstantiated: Artsakh is one of the provinces of historical Armenia and has retained an ethnic Armenian majority throughout the centuries. It has mostly remained a semi-independent entity and was never part of independent Azerbaijan. As author Ruth Kupeian notes:

Artsakh (or Nagorno-Karabagh) is part of historical Armenia, inhabited by Armenians even from before Roman times. It has often experienced invasions and wars and massacres over the centuries. But the historical monuments, churches and manuscripts which have been excavated, discovered and restored attest to the resilience of these people who continued to cultivate and care for their land in spite of all opposition and strife.

Artsakh fell under the rule of the Russian Empire with the 1813 Gulistan treaty. In the early 1920s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin arbitrarily annexed it to Soviet Azerbaijan despite the fact that the majority of the population consisted of ethnic Armenians who voted to reunite with Armenia. Under Azeri control, Armenians of Artsakh and Azerbaijan were subject to political pressures and physical attacks.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Artsakh declared independence. Azerbaijan rejected Artsakh’s right to self-determination and launched a violent war against it that lasted until 1994 and cost the lives of an estimated 30,000 people.

Twenty-six years later, Artsakh is once again under attack by Azerbaijan, Turkey, and jihadist terrorists reportedly deployed by Turkey from Syria.

As of October 18, 710 members of the Artsakh military have lost their lives, according to the Armenian media. Azerbaijan does not disclose its military casualties. The International Committee of the Red Cross said, “Civilian deaths and injuries, including of children, have been reported on both sides of the line of contact, and in Armenia.”

“Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are facing an existential threat,” Armenian prime minister Nichol Pashinyan said on October 16 in an interview with France 24, urging the international community to recognize the region’s right to independence. “Turkey returned to the South Caucasus a hundred years later to continue the genocidal policy against the Armenians,” he added.

Pashinyan was referring to the 1913-23 Christian genocide by Ottoman Turkey, which targeted Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks. Objective historians, including the International Association of Genocide Scholars, agree that this genocide is a historic fact. Turkey, however, still aggressively denies or excuses it.

For instance, at a symposium in Ankara on April 24 of last year—the 104th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—Erdogan described it as a “reasonable relocation.” He added: “The relocation of the Armenian gangs and their supporters who massacred the Muslim people, including women and children, in eastern Anatolia, was the most reasonable action that could be taken in such a period.” That quote was then posted on the official Turkish presidency Twitter feed.

Turkey not only denies the genocide but frequently engages in hate speech against Armenians. A report prepared annually by the Hrant Dink Foundation found that Armenians were the group most frequently targeted by hate speech in Turkish media in 2019.

The situation in Azerbaijan is equally alarming, if not worse. The Office of Artsakh Republic Human Rights Defender (ombudsman) issued a report in 2018 entitled Armenophobia in Azerbaijan: Organized Hate Speech and Animosity Towards Armenians. It documented instances in which Azerbaijani government officials were themselves involved in fueling anti-Armenian hatred, calling for violence against Armenians and referring to them as a “cancerous tumor,” a “disease,” and “parasites,” among other epithets. Some other examples include:

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliev: “If you do not want to die, then get out of Azerbaijani lands. …We must and we do wage a more active struggle with Armenia. We have isolated it from all international and regional projects.”

Elnur Aslanov, head of the Political Analysis and Information Department: “Armenia has turned into ‘a cancer tumor’ in the region.”

Ziyafat Asgarov, first deputy speaker of parliament: “Unless this disease is not treated, its complications gradually become more serious and it will harm only Armenians. The so-called genocide is groundless from historical, legal or spiritual point of view. Simply, Armenians live with this fantasy and disease.”

Armenophobic statements are also uttered frequently by political leaders, scholars, and journalists, among others. A few examples from the report:

Amrali Ismailov, an Azerbaijani scholar: “If an Armenian does not lie, then it is not an Armenian before you. The Armenians lie, sham, steal, betray. Despite them being cut from loathsome fabrics, there are still many sincere, honest, and decent people in the world who believe in the Armenians, who can see also a human in an Armenian.”

Farid Teymurkhanli, an Azerbaijani journalist: “The inherent meaning of the word Armenian is clear to everyone but the Armenians of course. It is meanness, it is cowardice, it is treachery. Apparently, God was in bad mood when creating them, as he has rewarded them with the most abominable qualities.”

Habil Aliyev, the founder and editor-in-chief of the Gundelik Baku newspaper: “I consider the Armenians my eternal enemies. Wherever I see Armenians, I will cut their tongues off and will call them perverts. Even if I am torn into pieces, I will always hate them. …If I go to war again, I will not pity even the Armenian children.”

Kemal Turan, the Azerbaijani National-Socialist movement leader: “The Armenians are our enemies. No peace is possible with them! …The Armenians are not the type of a nation with whom peaceful talks could be held. They are a nation of parasites!”

Part of the problem, according to the report, appears to be the Azeri educational system, which says: “Anti-Armenian xenophobia is also deeply embedded in Azerbaijani educational materials and literature, ensuring that anti-Armenian sentiments are injected and nurtured with the population from early childhood.”

Many Azerbaijanis proudly display their murderous aspirations towards Armenians even outside of Azerbaijan. On October 16, Azeris protested in Washington D.C. for war, playing loud music calling for “jihad.”

This hateful indoctrination is evident in the actions of many Azeris. During the ongoing war, on October 16, Azeris beheaded an Armenian soldier, posted the photo on social media, and called the dead soldier’s brother to taunt him, as reported in the Armenian media.

Turkey is actively involved in the war against Artsakh. Turkey and Azerbaijan refer to their bond as “one nation, two states.” Azerbaijan is a Turkic Shiite-Muslim country that has close linguistic, cultural, and historical ties to Sunni Muslim Turkey. Erdogan said on October 5 that “Turkey is committed to using all its means” to support Azerbaijan. On October 19, Azerbaijan’s president Aliyev said “his brother” Erdogan’s support was “a clear message to the world.”

Political analyst Akshay Narang explains the reason behind Turkey’s intense involvement in the war:

What is Turkey doing in Azerbaijan? It is following the same neo-Ottoman ambitions which go as far as claiming Jerusalem. For Turkey, the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict has a Central Asia link. Turkey lacks a direct link to Central Asia, and the only roadblocks are Armenia and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. Attacking Armenia and taking control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region is, therefore, a part of Erdoğan’s dreams to unite the Turkic world from Central Asia to Turkey under Ankara’s leadership.

It is no secret that Erdogan’s government aims to revive some sort of reincarnation of the Ottoman Empire by expanding Turkey’s territory. Some maps of Turkey that have circulated on social media in recent years have themselves reclaimed some of the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire.

MEMRI reported that in a speech on August 26, Erdogan said:

In our civilization, conquest is not occupation or looting. It is establishing the dominance of the justice that Allah commanded in the [conquered] region…. Turkey will take what is its right in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Aegean Sea, and in the Black Sea… This is why we are determined to do whatever is necessary politically, economically, or militarily. …We want everyone to see that Turkey is no longer a country whose patience is to be tried or whose determination, capabilities, and courage are to be tested. …If there is anyone who wants to stand against us and pay the price, let them come.

Erdogan’s statements are not only for “domestic consumption.” The Turkish government has been actively working to expand its territory. It has been violating Greece’s and Cyprus’s territorial waters in an attempt to search for oil and gas. It has deployed military personnel and Syrian fighters to Libya to take over the country even as Egypt and other Sunni Arab states have pushed back. It has already invaded Syria, which the international community ignores. And now it is supporting Azerbaijani aggression against Armenia and Artsakh.

“[Erdogan] pursues a very concrete pragmatic purpose,” Armenian prime minister Pashinyan said in an interview on October 16. “Because Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last obstacle to his expansionist policy…. If this fact [Turkey’s expansionist aspirations] is not properly assessed, Europe should wait for Turkey near Vienna.”

It was a reference to the Ottoman sieges of the Austrian capital of Vienna in 1529 and 1683. The West should take note.

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in The Washington TimesThe American SpectatorThe Christian Post, and The Jerusalem Post. Her work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics and history, religious minorities in the Middle East, and antisemitism. Follow her on Twitter: @bulutuzay_.

Posted on

The Founders Believed in a National Economic Strategy

Our doctrinaire dedication to free trade has been sapping our power for 30 years as we single-mindedly pursued trade for wealth creation. 2020 stripped naked the emaciated figure of American industry, revealing the depth of our dependence on foreign manufactures for everything from face masks, respirators, ventilators, to pharmaceuticals.

Driving this weakness was an underlying condition in our body politic: American statesmen unserious about and unschooled in the arts of power. If we value America’s peace, and thus the power necessary to uphold it, we must practice the first principle of foreign policy, which is to bring our commitments and capabilities into balance.

Edmund Burke described political society as a contract between the dead, living, and those yet to be born. But American society has settled for a contract exchanging production for consumption, long-term prospects for near-term profits, and commonwealth for private wealth. Call this the “Economist View” of the national interest, which prioritizes wealth and consumer interests. For those who take the Economist View, this emphasis on wealth as the purpose of political economy creates ambivalence about the statesman. The essence of the Economist View is that, excepting immediate national defense, statesmen do not bring a unique perspective to political economy that justifies raising costs to consumers.

This has starved us of an older, richer account of political community that subordinates economics to politics. It also fails to appreciate higher realities of statecraft and one of America’s oldest strategies for political economy in the national interest. Call this richer account the “Statesman View,” which prioritizes national power for safety and independence and seeks through politics to balance domestic interests that are in conflict. The essence of the Statesman View of the national interest is that there is a statesman at the helm of government building up the body politic for the good of the whole people. His statecraft forges national unity from sectional difference, reconciles private interests for the public good, and protects against political disruptions from foreign trade. Economics and politics are not divorced in the Statesman View because political economy is the union of a people’s economic means and political ends.

Many people think America always held to the Economist View and free trade in this debate. In fact, America has adapted trade to the national interest, and protectionism was the first and eventually dominant strategy of building economic power and independence. Reversing course on global free trade is thus not a betrayal of permanent American principle. The agenda before American statesmen of the next 30 years is to apply a grand strategy of rebuilding our power to secure our peace. Getting our history right is important to liberate ourselves from convictions about free trade that otherwise inhibit creative economic statecraft in the face of our current geopolitical challenge.

Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in his 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures took the Statesman View of trade in the national interest. The Report is emphatic that the deepest job of a statesman is to protect the safety and independence of the whole body politic:

Not only the wealth; but the independence and security of a Country, appear to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufactures. Every nation, with a view to those great objects, ought to endeavour to possess within itself all the essentials of national supply. These comprise the means of Subsistence, habitation, clothing, and defence.

The Washington Administration and Federalist Party adopted Hamilton’s protectionism, eventually defending the cause of economic nationalism through the “American System,” a protectionist program opposed to the so-called British System of free trade. Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans and then Andrew Jackson’s Democrats championed free trade, however, as the cause of Southern planters, farmers, and landed gentry reliant on British markets for cotton, tobacco, and textiles.

The American System was a grand strategy of nation-building pursued through the 1820s-1840s. By the 1840s, America’s success at achieving economic independence attracted the praise of German-born Friedrich List, who pointed to the American System as a demonstration of the maxim of statecraft that power makes wealth. The Republican Party completed the American System by making protectionism the national policy for over 50 years and birthing the industrial Northeast, which became the core of America’s manufacturing might and the GOP’s political bastion well into the 20th century.

America in its Western leadership from 1946-1991 liberalized trade for reasons of high politics, but it never lost sight of trade’s power effect nor became doctrinaire about globalization. World War Two taught America the ways of economic warfare, and our postwar economic statecraft continued to extend or deny trade based on a friend-enemy distinction. In the early Cold War, freer trade fortified the Western Alliance through a liberal international order that aimed to outcompete the Soviet bloc, serving a double pronged strategy that fused geopolitics and economics into geoeconomics. With one arm we were opening the veins of our industrial bloodstream to friends while trying to choke economic life from our enemies with the other. For example, America from 1947-1951 dispersed 2 percent of its gross national product annually to European allies and later tolerated their discrimination against our agricultural and manufactured exports.

Later, the U.S. reduced trade barriers on manufactures and extended preferential treatment to exports from less developed countries. Liberalization with developing countries on less than reciprocal terms served our national interest because the Third World was, after Europe, the main theater of U.S.-Soviet influence competition in the 1960s-70s. Meanwhile, administrations from Truman to Nixon fought rearguard battles with domestic and European business interests over liberalizing East-West trade. President Nixon finally conceded to a liberalized U.S. embargo, but he linked it to Soviet commitments on strategic arms limitations as part of détente and in 1971 also lifted import controls on China to drive further the Sino-Soviet split.

Ironically, the American economic strategy of rebuilding allies and opening our home market to their exports succeeded so well that West Germany and Japan by the 1970s were outcompeting American industry. Foreign trade’s penetration into the U.S. economy, eased by low tariffs, produced new winners and losers in the South, West, and Northeast due to uneven patterns of economic integration with the world. The Cold War economy had industrialized Western and Southern states for the first time and built communities with stable military-industrial jobs. New constituencies formed there from booming aerospace, electronics, agribusiness, construction, oil, and real estate industries that were export competitive in the 1960s-70s, which predisposed the West and South to free trade.

These disruptions realigned America’s political geography and reversed Republican positions on trade and the national interest. By the 1970s, the Northeast’s decline unglued the old Northern-Southern Democratic alliance and created an opening for a new Western-Southern Republican coalition that in the 1980s emerged triumphant. Democrats became a Northeastern party voicing that aging region’s protectionist instincts while Republicans became a Southern and Western party whose new bastions profited from free trade. As the party of Ronald Reagan championed liberalization more uniformly, Republican leaders espoused the Economist View of wealth and consumers as the objects of trade and the national interest. This completed a revolution in Republican statecraft on political economy, which for a century had been guided by the Statesman View of governing for the public good by way of balancing interests. President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech in 1961 may be the last time a GOP president set forth the Statesman View explicitly.

Out of the Reagan Revolution came an array of conservative movement groups and libertarians united by doctrinaire belief in the laissez-faire gospel of wealth and consumption, sporting neckties patterned with miniature busts of Adam Smith. The history of America’s rise to industrial power through Hamiltonian, Whig, and Republican protectionism was rewritten with a Jeffersonian, free-trading gloss and justified by vehement gestures at the bad old Smoot-Hawley Tariff. By the 1980s, free trade became unbending doctrine for the Republican Party. From the 1990s to the mid-2010s, a bipartisan Washington consensus favored regional free trade agreements, globalized finance, and the rise of foreign direct investment and intrafirm trade by multinational corporations.

So, what is the legacy of all this liberalization? Free traders emphasize consumer savings from reduced tariffs and economic efficiencies from globalized supply chains that hone specialization in a country’s alleged comparative advantage. However, at possibly the zenith year of free trade and globalization in 2001, Princeton economist Robert Gilpin noted estimates that trade barriers lowered since the 1960s put an additional $1,000 annually into the pockets of American consumers! But what of the opportunity cost? If the American consumer pocketed only $1,000 a year in exchange for the Northeast’s deindustrialization since the 1970s, the offshoring of American industry in the 1990s-2000s, and our dangerous dependence on Chinese manufactures and supply chains in 2020, I submit we need a return of statecraft for political economy in the national interest.

We now have a badly eroded defense industrial and technological base that is causing the Defense Department to ring the alarm. For example, the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 2020 warned that Chinese shipyards could outpace the U.S. in replacing naval losses during a war. Tim Cook said that Apple manufactures iPads and iPhones in China because of the skilled talent there for advanced and precision tooling, whereas “In the U.S., you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure you could fill a room. In China, you could fill multiple football fields.”

The truth is, almost all governments except the United States practice direct industrial policy for desired outcomes in strategic economic sectors. China practiced geoeconomics very well, to the surprise of naïve American elites. In exchange for access to its market, China for years extracted a pound of flesh from U.S. firms—requiring technology transfers, joint venture restrictions, and localized production—then cloned their business DNA and subsidized homegrown corporate replicants that grew strong enough to push the U.S. firms out of China.

This gives the lie to the liberal notion that the public good arises spontaneously from businessmen following self-interest. Important U.S. multinationals favor free trade most because of corporate interests abroad, but geoeconomic rivals can manipulate them to political advantage. For example, Google infamously refused to renew contracts with the Defense Department on artificial intelligence research while maintaining contracts on similar work with the Chinese government that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff claimed in 2019 directly benefitted the Chinese military.

* * *

The first step to rebuilding American power in 2020 and beyond is to affirm that statesmen, not economists and not businessmen, interpret the national interest. Statesmanship requires seeing the world in terms of power flows, much as economists see it in terms of money flows. These power flows, negative or positive depending on the balance of our commitments and capabilities, determine the solvency of our position in the world. Where does America have negative balances draining, and positive balances refilling, our reserves of power and prestige? Our statesmen must set about finding and fathoming these sinkholes and fountains of American power.

The next step to rebuilding American power is for our statesmen to keep one eye on our geopolitical position through sound foreign strategy, and the other eye on our general welfare through sound political economy. This entails integrating foreign and domestic policies that reinforce a consistent, overarching balance of national capabilities. The object of foreign affairs strategy should be plugging the sinkholes and channeling the fountains of our power through adjustments in our commitments and capabilities. But any foreign strategy must rest on a political coalition durable enough to provide statesmen a stable interpretation of the national interest.

Forming that coalition is the hard work of domestic statesmanship. In 2020 and probably beyond, America’s political geography is ripe for realignment. The question for domestic statesmanship is: how to weld a winning coalition for a new consensus on the national interest that frees statesmen to respond to our geopolitical challenge with a better grand strategy?

A logical approach from the Statesman View would be an effort of economic nationalism to build up the union of the body politic over its sectional divisions. The argument to press on free-trader skeptics is: if American industrial and manufacturing powers necessary to 21st century economic independence have been reduced to an infantile state, and we are dependent for national safety again on foreign manufactures, then the original reasoning for protecting infant industries applies again. In other words, the descriptive case Hamilton made in his 1791 Report could be updated for 2020, but his normative case stands well in principle now as then. The ends of this strategy would be protection of economic sectors vital to the national interest, for the purpose of reshoring and rebuilding productive powers for national safety and independence when the next emergency or war comes.

As the American peace that flowed from America’s victory in the Cold War erodes, a single-minded pursuit of wealth through trade takes on new dangers for the nation’s position. The global supply chains feeding domestic consumption begin to look more like the chains of foreign dependence. To expect any reversal in our country’s fortune, our statesmen must again become serious about, and schooled in, the arts of power. A political economy serving the national interest will disrupt and reform American statecraft. But for statesmen to do anything less is a failure of duty. The only alternatives are serving sectional interests (i.e., domestic factions), which is less than statesmanship, or foreign interests, which is betrayal.

This statesmanship is conservative in character, almost by definition. It is a task of national conservatism with a vision to the future. Preserving the means for next generations to become more safe, inventive, prosperous, and happy is the only justification for imposing on private interests in the name of a national interest. This national conservatism transcends liberal time conceptions, which span only the lives of those presently walking about. The interest in conserving the productive powers of future generations of citizens is a task beyond the lifetime of effort of any individual, voluntary association, or commercial venture. We may expect people to serve the welfare of their own children and their investments to pay off for the present generation. But only the nation is the proper vehicle for conserving the general welfare. Only the nation serves the society of strangers in our midst, our fellow citizens, who will outlast us when we are dead through their children yet to be born.

Nathan Hitchen is a graduate of the Institute of World Politics, Johns Hopkins SAIS, Rutgers University, and is an alumnus of the John Jay Institute. He serves on the board of directors for the Equal Rights Institute.

Posted on

Americans Can’t Get Enough Guns

My local gun dealer’s website has a huge banner in the middle of the homepage that

says, LIMITED INVENTORY—CALL AHEAD. So, a few weeks ago, that’s what I did.

“Hey,” I said, “Do you guys have any Remington 870s?”


“How about a Ruger SP101?”


“Smith and Wesson M&P?”

He just laughed.

Back in March, fear that COVID-19 would bring down the American economy drove firearms sales through the roof. Our citizens (quite sensibly) wanted to be sure that, should the United States devolve into a Mad Max-style warlord state, we could defend our canned beans and toilet paper—with lethal force, if necessary. Riots following the death of George Floyd in May further drained the supply of pistols and rifles commonly used for self-defense.

Now, the 2020 election is just one week away, and most polls are predicting a comfortable Biden victory. The former vice president has promised to confiscate “assault weapons,” which is a scary-sounding name Democrats give to automatic and semiautomatic guns. That includes every rifle that fires more quickly than a blunderbuss and every pistol more advanced than a flintlock. Since most Americans don’t fancy the idea of defending their homes with muskets, stockpiling continues to intensify.

One would assume that industry giants are on cloud nine, but not everyone is pleased. Soaring demand has created an incredibly unstable market, and gun-makers have no idea how to respond. A similar boom in demand during the 2016 cycle led to an immediate bust after Election Day. Then, too, conservatives feared a President Hillary Clinton would enact new restrictions on firearm ownership. Those industry giants hired a wash of new workers to meet demand but, when Donald Trump (rather unexpectedly) won the day, those companies were forced affect major layoffs as their stock values dropped precipitously.

So, maybe it’s not surprising that Winchester and Glock are wary of ramping up production. Yet this shortage has been worsening for the better part of a year, and most pollsters predict a blowout for the Democrats. If the Blue Wave does hit on November 3rd, gun sales are only likely to increase. So, does Sig Saur know something we don’t? Is there some internal poll circulating the offices of Big Gun that shows the President winning handily?


Alas, probably not. Alan Rice, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America, tells me that firearms sales have surged before every election dating back to at least 1988. True: the bump in 2016 election was extraordinary, even by election-year standards. Yet demand for guns has been growing steadily over past decades, and manufacturers were already struggling to keep up their supply in 2019.

I also spoke about the deficit with Mark Olivia, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the largest trade associations for firearms manufacturers in the country. “They’re working hard to keep up with this demand,” Mr. Olivia assures us. “They’re adding third shifts. And you need lead time to order raw materials. Even if we returned to pre-COVID demand tomorrow, it would take six months to back stock inventory.” Mr. Rice agrees. “I’ve been told that manufacturers are running at capacity, but raw materials are becoming difficult to source.”

As it happens, some friends and I were out hunting last weekend when we drove past the Ruger factory in Newport, New Hampshire. I counted six huge banners along the road that said, “We’re hiring!” According to Glassdoor, that factory pays between $45,000 and $75,000 per annum. The Ruger website also lists competitive benefits, including life insurance and prescription drug coverage. That’s nothing to spit at, especially here in the Granite State. Like virtually every company in America, they’re probably having difficulty finding workers who are willing to show up on time and work hard.

Still, demand is going to keep growing. Right now, America is living through the largest buyup of firearms in known history. So far this year, the FBI has conducted over 15.4 million background checks on citizens looking to buy a new gun. That means the American people are purchasing between 1.6 and 2.2 million guns every month. For perspective, there were 15.7 million background checks in all of 2016. “I’d bet my paycheck that we’re going to blow through that 2016 record,” says Mr. Olivia. No doubt.

I asked Mr. Olivia what’s causing the surge in demand; he points to the civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd. “People became very concerned with their safety,” he points out. “Police were saying they weren’t going to respond to every 9-1- 1 call because they don’t have the manpower.”

Mr. Rice feels the same way. His organization, the Gun Owners of America—a smaller, more hardline version of the NRA—is seeing an explosion in membership. “We’ve seen the COVID pandemic cause police departments to say that responses to calls for service will be limited. The riots in many cities have spurred many people who have never owned a firearm to purchase one. People are fearful, they are buying more guns and more ammunition for self-defense.” The Biden campaign certainly isn’t helping. “We have never seen a presidential candidate stand on the debate stage and threaten to confiscate weapons,” says Mr. Oliva. “They’re not just coming after your individual rights. They’re coming after the industry.”


“I’ve been good for gun manufacturers,” President Obama joked in 2016. His attempts to heavily restrict the ownership of firearms did indeed cause a surge in sales, as did Bill Clinton’s in 1994.

But for gun owners, the the prospect of a Biden presidency is no laughing matter. Gun Owners of America takes note of Mr. Biden’s promise to confiscate so-called assault weapons—though they don’t think it will be quite as easy as it sounds. “It’s doubtful that the people who are buying all these guns, magazines and ammunition are going to willingly surrender them to a Biden gun confiscation department run by Robert Frances ‘Beto’ O’Rourke,” Mr. Rice notes.

For many in the firearms industry, the Biden campaign’s rhetoric is personal. “They called us the enemy,” Mr. Rice says. “Look, I spent 25 years in the Marines. I served active duty in the Middle East. And Joe Biden called me the enemy. Our industry is full of veterans, and he called us the enemy. We take him at his word.” The Left might dismiss such talk as civil-warmongering, yet the fact remains that Americans love guns. In fact, there are more privately-owned firearms in this country than there are private citizens. Those firearms are distributed among 40 percent of American households, and that percentage is growing rapidly. On this issue, at least, Mr. Biden is badly out of step with American voters. According to Gallup, 56 percent of us want gun-ownership rights to be relaxed or stay the same. That number, too, is growing.

And little wonder.

Admiral Yamamoto once said, “You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” He was right. From Virginia’s yeoman farmers to the cowboys of Arizona, Americans have always prized self-reliance above all other virtues, and self-defense is integral to self-reliance. Events of the last few months seem to be reawakening that spirit of “rugged individualism” in the hearts of our countrymen.

Not a moment too soon, either. Guns make America great, and America makes great guns. We just can’t get enough of them.

Posted on

Allies Aren’t Friends and Clients Aren’t Allies

Our founders warned of the dangers of entangling alliances, but the U.S. has misunderstood the nature of international relationships for far too long.

The U.S. has had so many formal alliances and informal partnerships for so long that many of our political leaders have forgotten the reason why we have allies and partners in the first place. Our government forms alliances with other states because there is supposed to be some mutual benefit to our security and theirs, but over time these alliances have hardened into unquestionable idols that have to be supported whether they serve any useful purpose or not. It is commonplace for presidents and presidential candidates to declare that this or that relationship is “unbreakable,”“eternal,” or “sacred,” but by its nature every alliance has to be breakable, temporary, and open to challenge and criticism.

Many partnerships are of even more questionable value, but they are frequently described as alliances when they are not and there is tremendous political pressure to treat them as if they deserved U.S. protection. The U.S. needs to reassess which relationships are worth preserving, and it needs to remember the reason why we have these relationships. That will mean reducing some commitments and ending others when they have outlived their usefulness.

In modern Washington, D.C., limited security relationships are transmuted into alliances, and alliances are made into sacred cows that must not be threatened no matter what. When Washington and Jefferson warned us against permanent and entangling alliances, these were some of the pitfalls that they hoped the U.S. would avoid, but instead we have spent the last eighty years adding more commitments than we can possibly uphold and conflating our interests with the interests of dozens of other countries all over the world. It has reached a point where many Americans no longer recognize where American interests end and those of other states start, and our leaders tend to treat local and regional threats to minor clients as if they were endangering America’s vital interests.

This leads our government into a series of corrupting arrangements with authoritarian governments in the name of a never-ending “war on terror,” and it commits the U.S. to risk major wars over small rocks in the ocean and indefensible countries on the European frontier. Alliances are supposed to make both the U.S. and our allies safer, but in practice they have sometimes become the excuse for unnecessary interventions that have nothing to do with collective defense. Partnerships that were once considered temporary expedients are absurdly elevated into “crucial” relationships that have to be indulged despite the harm they are doing to U.S. interests.

There is a tendency to sentimentalize our relationships with allies, clients, and partners by claiming them as our “friends.” There are no friendships between states. There may be better or worse relationships, and there may be friendly working relationships between individual leaders, but it isn’t possible for governments to have friends and it is a mistake to think of our ties to other countries in these terms.

Americans have had the luxury of misunderstanding our relationships this way because our country is extraordinarily secure in a way that few others are, but it is a dangerous error to perceive even our closest allies as friends. It blinds us to divergences of interests and prevents us from changing our policies as circumstances require. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are among the many politicians that fall into this bad habit of seeing foreign policy in simple terms of supporting friends and punishing enemies. Sen. Harris summed this up in one of her statements at the vice presidential debate when she said:

Foreign policy: it might sound complicated, but really it’s relationships there – just think about it as relationships. And so we know this, in our personal, professional relationships – you guys keep your word to your friends. Got to be loyal to your friends. People who have stood with you, got to stand with them. You got to know who your adversaries are, and keep them in check.

The U.S. should seek to keep its word when it gives it, but that also means that it must be much more discerning when it makes binding commitments. Other states are not our friends, and we are not theirs, and we should not allow past cooperation to make us feel obliged to do things that make no sense for our security. For example, many supporters of intervention in Libya in 2011 insisted that the U.S. somehow “owed” European allies for their support in Afghanistan, and that was used to make it seem as if refusing to wage a war of choice in North Africa amounted to a betrayal of our “friends” that had fought alongside us elsewhere. In the end, this bad argument prevailed and the U.S. enabled the misguided Anglo-French scheme, and the intervening governments have had reason to regret their involvement ever since. Earlier, the U.S. tried to guilt and browbeat its European allies into backing the illegal and unjust invasion of Iraq by appealing to the role that the U.S. had played in defending western Europe during the Cold War. In both cases, the hawks that sought to manipulate allies with appeals to the past were masking the lousy case for intervention. The skeptics that rejected this emotional blackmail were right not to join these wars, and the leaders that went along with these campaigns later realized the error of their ways.

Today the U.S. is confronted with somewhat different problems. Many of our political leaders and analysts intentionally misrepresent the nature of some of our client relationships to make them seem more important and unquestionable than they are. Catering to the whims of Saudi Arabia is the chief example of this error, but the same goes for U.S. relations with Egypt, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. There are no formal treaties that oblige the U.S. to defend these countries, and they are likewise under no obligation to aid the U.S. These relationships are nothing like our treaty alliances, but they are routinely described and defended in this way. The U.S. has also tended to give these clients blank checks to behave as outrageously and destructively as they want without having to worry about losing Washington’s backing.

The most recent instance of this misrepresentation was Kenneth Pollack’s defense of what he called the Saudi “alliance.” No such alliance exists, and the U.S. owes the Saudis nothing, but you would never know that from reading Pollack’s account. The Saudi relationship is a significant test of our ability to reassess the value of a partnership when it has long since become a liability. So far, with some honorable exceptions in Congress and among the public, the U.S. is failing that test. U.S. and Saudi interests have been diverging for the last decade, and they began quickly moving in opposite directions beginning in 2015 with the accession of Salman as the new king with his reckless son Mohammed in tow.

The peril in talking about allies as friends comes from encouraging more of what Barry Posen has called reckless driving. If clients are wrongly labeled as allies and allies are mistaken for friends, these governments will believe that they can expect U.S. support no matter what. Patrick Porter and Josh Shifrinson call attention to this danger in a recent article:

Equally important, the approach risks undermining international stability by giving U.S. partners ill-placed faith in U.S. commitments. After four years of the Trump administration’s bullying, allies from Canada to Germany to South Korea worry about American reliability and seek a course correction. In pledging fidelity to its “friends,” however, the Biden approach risks going too far in the opposite direction. It could create a false expectation among allies of a restored friendship with Washington without conditions. It could even tempt allies to take U.S. support for granted and behave recklessly.

Permanent alliance structures create perverse incentives for the most reckless members, and the other members of the alliance are then stuck with them because there is no mechanism for expelling the troublemakers. Today Turkey goes out of its way to poke fingers in the eyes of many of its putative allies by stoking conflict in Syria and Karabakh, threatening Greece, and meddling in Libya, but NATO finds itself powerless to discourage this behavior or penalize Turkey for what it has done. There are even some hawks that are urging the the U.S. take the side of Azerbaijan in its offensive in Karabakh because the attack has Turkey’s support, and Turkey is technically an ally. Turkey’s government today is clear proof that allies aren’t friends, and it is showing that even a formal treaty ally can effectively cease to be a real ally with its aggressive and irresponsible policies.

The U.S. needs to cut back the support it provides to reckless clients, and it needs to reevaluate seriously which of its formal allies deserve the protection that our government has promised them. It is long past time that we stopped venerating alliances and client relationships and started looking at them critically. This will become even more important in the coming years, when there will be a concerted effort from Washington to “restore” all of these relationships.