A Few Friday Syria Links

Update:  Obama’s decided the U.S. should take military action in Syria, and will seek Congressional approval.

Adam Garfinkle at the American Interest: ‘Painted Into A Corner, Obama Ponders Cosmetic Strikes:’

‘If the Obama Administration really sees a need to degrade and deter the Syrian regime, if it’s not just mumbling speechwriter-quality bullshit for press consumption, it’s got to order up some really serious violence to bend the will of those who are consummate connoisseurs of it. If it’s not prepared to do that, and to risk the consequences that entails, it should shut up and stand down.’

These guys are ready to fight.

From a Ryan Crocker interview at Defense One:

“I was ambassador there for three years during the time when the old man [Hafez al Assad] died, Bashar took over. They have been getting ready for this type of thing for three decades, ever since the Hama massacre in February ’82,” Crocker said. He was in neighboring Lebanon during the massacre.

“They finished off the Muslim Brothers, maybe 100 of them and they killed up to 10,000-15,000 innocent city civilians in the process. It was pretty horrific,” he recalled. “So, they’ve known that the day of vengeance might come and they’re ready for it. They’ve built a security apparatus, an intelligence apparatus, a military just to be ready for what they’re facing now.  And they know they’re in a fight for their lives so they’re going to stick together and I’d say they have a better than even chance of prevailing.”

Many years ago, now, Charles Hill to some extent, and Fouad Ajami more so, argued for some action in Syria, as part of a larger strategic vision, a bolder, Trumanesque step that would define a new age of American influence (addition: or at least maintain our influence.  We are signaling to the world that we are no longer leading and pursuing our interests, supporting freedom as we understand and want to see it, and we probably won’t like the world we’ll see).  Agree or disagree, they’ve got some things right:

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A quote from Hill’s forward to Ajami’s new book on Syria as discussed in the video:

“[The] greatest strategic challenge of the twenty-first century is involves “reversing Islamic radicalism”‘

What is our mission here?  What is the larger strategy?

Related On This Site: …From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

From NPR: ‘How California Is Turning The Rest Of The West Blue’

Full post here.

Thanks to a reader for the link.  Culture and ideas matter, as many Californians are fleeing California, looking for jobs and economic growth elsewhere.

As to these wanderers:

‘Nevertheless, they also tend to be fairly progressive on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion — and overall may be more liberal than their new neighbors in other states.

“You see that in other parts of the country, too,” says Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic demographer at the Center for American Progress. “You have the phenomenon of relatively conservative people leaving a liberal state and moving to a conservative state where they’re relatively liberal.”

Colorado has been a hotspot, as well as Nevada.

On Joel Kotkin’s thinking:

‘As progressive policies drive out moderate and conservative members of the middle class, California’s politics become even more left-wing. It’s a classic case of natural selection, and increasingly the only ones fit to survive in California are the very rich and those who rely on government spending. In a nutshell, “the state is run for the very rich, the very poor, and the public employees.’

Well, California has Silicon Valley, a strong tech sector, tourism, immigration, the call of manifest destiny, great port cities, great weather, the entertainment industry, rich natural resources as well as many other things going for it.

It’s been the operating theory of this blog that NPR’s ideals, similar to ideas active in California culture and politics, are a natural consequence of liberalism and are part of the trade-offs that come with liberalism, harboring progressivism and 60’s idealist collectivism within itself.  Such ideologies can lead to the same problems driving many people away from California at the moment:  Strict environmental laws, strong public sector unions, a progressive culture of multiculturalism and abstract equality which rewards activism through the laws.

In California, these ideals have come to dominate education and health-care in particular, and large swathes of public sentiment more broadly. In practice, this has led to one-party control of the political process, economic stagnation, bloated bureaucracy, deficits, race and identity group politics and a shrinking pie.

So for all the free-thinking Jerry Brown displays in the video below, the practical politics that result from these ideas are another matter:

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Other parts of the country are NOT California of course, full of more rooted, generally more traditional people, but the whole country, regardless of political ideology, is facing global competition for jobs, rapid technological change and loss of manufacturing and other low-skilled jobs, municipal defaults in many areas, and have not figured out how to fulfill the promises they’ve made for their citizens.

Walter Russell Mead suggests this is emblematic of the failure of the ‘blue model’:

‘The frustration and bitterness that fills American politics these days reflects the failure of our current social, political and economic institutions and practices to deliver the results that Americans want and expect.’

Victor Davis Hanson’s advice for California may be true of what’s increasingly part of the furniture for our national politics and liberalism more generally:

Soon, even the Stanford professor and the La Jolla administrator may learn that illegal immigration, cumbersome regulations, and the terrible elementary schools affect them as well.

The four-part solution for California is clear:  don’t raise the state’s crushing taxes any higher; reform public-employee compensation:  make use of ample natural resources: and stop the flow of illegal aliens. Just focus on those four areas-as California did so well in the past-and in time, the state will return to its bounty of a few decades ago.  Many of us intend to stay and see that it does.’

I know where much of what’s become of mainstream liberalism will likely pull the culture: Towards this collectivism, solidarity, activism and Statism, and it’s arguable how liberal this really is.

***See Matt Welch’s piece here on how the New Republic has gone full progressive in many ways.  In this blog’s opinion, neo-liberalism is more like that of Will Wilkinson, or can be found at the Economist.

They’ve got to keep up with the times: A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama

 Ken Burns makes a good documentary, but he’s also arguing he absolutely needs your tax dollars in service of what he assumes to be a shared definition of the “common good” as he pursues that art.  The market just can’t support it otherwise. Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?…We’re already mixing art and politics, so…

California’s anti-union and anti-immigration democrat-Full video and background on Mickey Kaus here.

A good post on Robinson Jeffers from Malcolm Greenhill, which highlights how the rugged and vast beauty of California makes it easier to imagine what culture is, and what it ought to be on this outpost of Western Civilization.

Conn Carroll At The Washington Examiner: ‘California In Crisis’

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-A link for Michael Lewis’ article about California politics, public pensions and Schwarzenegger’s time in office.

-A map from Immodest Proposals on how to divide California.  Topographic crime map of San Francisco. 

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest

Related On This Site:  Victor Davis Hanson Via Youtube Via Uncommon Knowledge: ‘The New Old World Order’Victor Davis Hanson At The City Journal: ‘California, Here We Stay’

Dream big: Via Reason: ‘California’s Public Transportation Sinkhole’ A great city deserves great art extravaganzas…: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

The people who promise solutions to poverty and homlessness seem to be engaged in a utopian cost-shifting exercise which favors their interests and overlooks crime, violence and personal responsbility…hardly a way to balance the budget: Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Some concentrated wealth on top, a stalled legislature with members who know how to play the game…and a service sector beneath…that probably can’t go on forever: …From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

Onward we go.

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Looming Strike Against Syria’

Full piece here.

Does it come down to the ‘red line’ comment, backing himself into fewer options with Iran?

If Obama doesn’t enforce this, he’ll also lose credibility on the other red line he’s drawn in the Middle East—the one against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

He desperately wants to convince Iran to abandon that program without going to war. The only way that’s even remotely possible, however unlikely, is if the Iranian government believes he’ll declare war if it doesn’t stop at some point. So if Assad gets to step over his red line, Tehran’s rulers will have every reason to believe they can step over theirs.

The regime in Iran is using Syria as a proxy, trying to create a Shia crescent (constantly meddling in Iraq), and trying to become the big-dog in the region.  They State-sponsor terrorism, through Hizbollah and other outlets, and are still aiming to arrive at deliverable nuclear weapons.   Very little the Iranian regime says or does can be remotely trusted, and a nuclear Iran greatly destabilizes a region roiled by an Islamist resurgence (Russia sees Iran as a proxy-ally, which is why the Russians are arming Assad).

Very little economically or politically is likely going to stop the Iranians from getting what they want, including technological warfare.

Obama seems willing to use our military, and the threat of force, for his favored ideals, which are liberal internationalist, and human-rights based.  Obama’s stick is still our military, but he’s very reluctant to use it except for those ideals.  In the case of Iran and Iran via Syria, he may have committed himself to using it to some extent, while he’s still trying to form a coalition based on those ideals, which does not seem forthcoming.

Aren’t you glad Saddam’s gone?  Gadhafi?  bin-Laden?

At what cost?

How do we best protect, promote and pursue our interests going forward?

Addition: Cameron loses war vote.  Not much of a coalition here.

Another Addition:  Don’t worry, Obama’s got this.

From Walter Russell Mead who has been watching for quite some time, and still supports some kind of American action:

‘This kind of decision is exactly the kind of split the difference thinking that has gotten the President into trouble in the past. Surge in Afghanistan—but pre-announce your withdrawal. Attack Syria, but make it clear to everyone that you don’t mean anything serious by it.

That kind of thinking will not impress America’s wavering Middle East allies. It will likely not impress Butcher Assad or his friends in the Kremlin and Teheran. It will not strengthen the moderates in the Syrian opposition. It will not stop or even slow the killing. It will not bolster the President’s credibility at home. King Tarquin got a better deal.’

Many Americans may not have the stomach for it, but he finishes with:

‘The situation in Syria demands a serious response from the United States. Let’s hope that President Obama has realized at long last just how dangerous the horror in Syria has become, and that whatever steps he announces in the coming days will be only the first pieces of a coherent and hard headed approach to the steadily deteriorating situation in a region of vital interest to the United States and its allies around the world.’

Related On This Site: …From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Best Case Scenario in Syria’

Full piece here.

You know, there may have been a chance of avoiding such a region-destabilizing Civil War, but that moment, should there have been such a moment, has long passed:

‘As the White House repeated this Monday, the conflict in Syria will only end with a political solution. In other words, the United States should use the leverage it has, in the form of continued pressure and looming military strikes, to help get all sides to the table.’

Could a bomb Saddam-like campaign work?

Joshua Landis at Syria Comment disagrees:

The US, however, should avoid getting sucked into the Syrian Civil War. Thus, it should punish Assad with enough force to deter future use of chemical weapons, but without using so much force that it gets drawn into an open-ended conflict’

But his solution strikes me as the same kind of liberal internationalist, U.N. one worlderish-type thinking that helped get us to this point:

‘The US should strive to persuade all parties to reach a power-sharing agreement to end the war. This can only happen with the cooperation of Russia and other players, such as Iran.’

That’s good for a laugh.  We kept a lid on the region.  We were the muscle, and now the Saudis, partially due to fracking, partially due to our withdrawal from the region without plans for our replacement, are turning to Moscow.  With so many players, including Iran and Russia fighting a proxy war Syria, this sounds pretty unworkable.

This is also why John Kerry’s appeal as to the moral awfulness of chemical weapons, and the need to draw a ‘red line’ and call others to action, while reasonable and historically accurate, still rings so hollow.  Geneva conventions do not a peaceful world make:

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Are we still the world’s policeman?  Stay tuned.

Addition: Ramesh Ponnuru at the National Review, dissents:

‘This is not a military action that we are undertaking to defend ourselves from attack or to protect a core interest. The congressional power to declare war, if it is not to be a dead letter, has to apply here. And it seems to me exceedingly unlikely that Congress would vote to commit us in Syria, because the public manifestly opposes it. This is a war with no clear objective, thus no strategy to attain it, no legal basis, and no public support. I dissent.’

Related On This Site: …From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘Syria’s Regime Not Worth Preserving’James Kirchik At The American Interest: 

Michael Totten’s piece that revisits a Robert Kaplan piece from 1993, which is prescient:  “A Writhing Ghost Of A Would-Be Nation”.  It was always a patchwork of minority tribes, remnants of the Ottoman Empire

I just received a copy of Totten’s book, Where The West Ends, and it’s good reading.

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’

Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Why Education And Healthcare Cost So Much’

Full piece here.

McArdle responds to Ezra Klein:

‘Right now, elite institutions compete to exclude as many kids as possible, a process that allows them to cherry-pick better inputs (students), and therefore charge more tuition for producing their output (graduates with a valuable diploma).

Outside the elite, many schools don’t cherry-pick, but take all comers; they compete on volume, trying to get as many students as possible, even if that means selling worthless degrees to students who are unlikely to complete the program. These two strategies are direct tradeoffs: The best way to maximize volume is to give up on affluent kids with the social resources and preparation to deploy a college degree most effectively; the best way to compete on quality is to get kids who barely need the degree to succeed, which means being as exclusive as possible.’

There is a guild system in place, as well, and one of accreditation.

Comments are worth a read.  On a common progressive assumption:

‘If the demand for a good is inelastic, the free market cannot possibly provide that good “fairly”.   Therefore — government needs to step in and fix that market.’

Also, in higher ed, there have been all sorts of new administrators to ensure ‘other goals.’  Those other goals, while worthy, simply may not achieve their desired outcomes.

From the comments:

‘Really?  You’ve never heard of “Affirmative Action”?  Because I promise you the average black student admitted to Harvard had far worse grades and SAT scores than does the average white student, let alone the average Asian student.’

Thomas Sowell argued that affirmative action can pluck smart, ambitious black students out of middling schools, place them in an entirely different culture, and suddenly in over their heads at Harvard with the best of the best.   This can be a very inefficient way to address historical circumstances and to develop minds.

He also argues that this creates fewer job opportunities on the low end of the market by twisting incentives for businesses to hire overqualified black candidates.  In the long-rung, perhaps this is more likely to produce a rather elite, small black upper-middle class, but can harm, in many cases, the people it’s most designed to help, which is most black folks.

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As a non-economist, I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on in higher ed. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

From The American Conservative Blog:  The false promise of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). Reihan Salam At Reuters: ‘Online Education Can Be Good Or Cheap, But Not Both’

Analagous to old media? What to change and what to keepFrom The Arnoldian Project: ‘Architecture, Campus, And Learning To Become’

Should you get a college degree, probably, but you also probably shouldn’t lose sight of why you’re going and divorce yourself entirely from the cost:  Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?…Charles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational Romanticism

Steve Coll At The New Yorker On Whistleblowers: ‘A Test Of Confidence’

Full post here.

How much protection should journalists have when pressured to reveal their sources?

‘In 2003, Risen learned of a tangled C.I.A. program, called Operation merlin, that was designed to feed faulty nuclear-weapons blueprints to Iran, in order to mislead that country’s scientists. According to court filings, George Tenet, the director of the C.I.A., and Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser, asked the Times not to publish Risen’s scoop, because it might endanger the life of a C.I.A. contact and harm national security’

Risen may be looking at prison time for not giving up who gave up this information to him.  The current administration is following through on his prosecution.

A little while back, there was also the case of James Rosen, Fox’s North Korean correspondent, in which the current Justice Department got a search warrant to tap Rosen’s phone and head off any potential leaks at the pass.

How much protection does a journalist get when it comes to issues of national security?  Who do you trust to determine just who the press is, and is thus afforded 1st amendment protection?:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Can anyone commit an act of journalism these days?  This also will be an important question echoing down the road.

Coll’s plea:

‘If nothing else, Holder would demonstrate to the world that the Obama Administration perceives the difference between a professional reporter’s dissenting acceptance of the rule of law and the rejection, by Assange and Snowden, of American law’s essential reliability’

Will they make that distinction?

As readers know, I think many of the ideals that guide the current administration do not necessarily maintain a liberal society, but rather lead to a less dynamic, more closed society with a majoritarian, populist politics, at best.

That chosen class of our ‘betters’, no matter how wise, technologically or scientifically able, nor full of promises of equality, are at best fallible human beings working with incomplete knowledge, the stuff of human nature, and their own ideology.  That ideology hasn’t worked out important issues between the collective and the individual.   As always, follow the money, political coalitions, and patronage to see how this works out in practice.

As for Assange, he seems to me an anarcho-Left Australian with high aptitude, a bit of a revolutionary techno-utopian hacker fighting the global hegemon, suspecting the U.S. Government of being one of the biggest threats to the kind of world he imagined ought to be.  He didn’t end up so open himself.  Surprise.

Snowden seems less anarchic and more of an idealistic, likely Left-Of-Center type, perhaps imagining a different type of dark, dystopian future with too much power in the hands of any one man or group.  When viewed most favorably, he saw a potential conflict of interest between the American public, Moore’s Law, and what the NSA is still doing as we speak.  We likely wouldn’t be talking and thinking about this issue so openly without him.

Neither man has been willing to answer to the laws and systems they sought to change.

Addition:  A reader points out that there’s a lot of case law to establish a precedent that journalists can expect potential legal action and prison time if they don’t reveal their sources.

Related On This Site: Jack Shafer At Reuters: ‘Edward Snowden And The Selective Targeting Of Leaks’Richard Epstein At Defining Ideas: ‘Drone Wars’

Repost: Trevor Butterworth At Forbes Via The A & L Daily: ‘Beware The Internet As Liberation Theology’

From CATO@Liberty: Julian Sanchez On ‘Wikileads And Economies Of Repression’

Sunday Photo And A Poem By Emerson-‘Boston’

Boston-Skyline copy-1

Boston

(Sicut Patribus, sit Deus Nobis)

The rocky nook with hilltops three 
Looked eastward from the farms, 
And twice each day the flowing sea 
Took Boston in its arms; 
The men of yore were stout and poor, 
And sailed for bread to every shore. 

And where they went on trade intent 
They did what freeman can, 
Their dauntless ways did all men praise, 
The merchant was a man. 
The world was made for honest trade,- 
To plant and eat be none afraid. 

The waves that rocked them on the deep 
To them their secret told; 
Said the winds that sung the lads to sleep, 
‘Like us be free and bold!’ 
The honest waves refuse to slaves 
The empire of the ocean caves. 

Old Europe groans with palaces, 
Has lords enough and more;- 
We plant and build by foaming seas 
A city of the poor;- 
For day by day could Boston Bay 
Their honest labor overpay. 

We grant no dukedoms to the few, 
We hold like rights and shall;- 
Equal on Sunday in the pew, 
On Monday in the mall. 
For what avail the plough or sail, 
Or land or life, if freedom fail? 

The noble craftsmen we promote, 
Disown the knave and fool; 
Each honest man shall have his vote, 
Each child shall have his school. 
A union then of honest men, 
Or union nevermore again. 

The wild rose and the barberry thorn 
Hung out their summer pride 
Where now on heated pavements worn 
The feet of millions stride. 

Fair rose the planted hills behind 
The good town on the bay, 
And where the western hills declined 
The prairie stretched away. 

What care though rival cities soar 
Along the stormy coast: 
Penn’s town, New York, and Baltimore, 
If Boston knew the most! 

They laughed to know the world so wide; 
The mountains said: ‘Good-day! 
We greet you well, you Saxon men, 
Up with your towns and stay!’ 
The world was made for honest trade,- 
To plant and eat be none afraid. 

‘For you,’ they said, ‘no barriers be, 
For you no sluggard rest; 
Each street leads downward to the sea, 
Or landward to the West.’ 

O happy town beside the sea, 
Whose roads lead everywhere to all; 
Than thine no deeper moat can be, 
No stouter fence, no steeper wall! 

Bad news from George on the English throne: 
‘You are thriving well,’ said he; 
‘Now by these presents be it known, 
You shall pay us a tax on tea; 
‘Tis very small,-no load at all,- 
Honor enough that we send the call.’ 

‘Not so,’ said Boston, ‘good my lord, 
We pay your governors here 
Abundant for their bed and board, 
Six thousand pounds a year. 
(Your highness knows our homely word,) 
Millions for self-government, 
But for tribute never a cent.’ 

The cargo came! and who could blame 
If Indians seized the tea, 
And, chest by chest, let down the same 
Into the laughing sea? 
For what avail the plough or sail 
Or land or life, if freedom fail? 

The townsmen braved the English king, 
Found friendship in the French, 
And Honor joined the patriot ring 
Low on their wooden bench. 

O bounteous seas that never fail! 
O day remembered yet! 
O happy port that spied the sail 
Which wafted Lafayette! 
Pole-star of light in Europe’s night, 
That never faltered from the right. 

Kings shook with fear, old empires crave 
The secret force to find 
Which fired the little State to save 
The rights of all mankind. 

But right is might through all the world; 
Province to province faithful clung, 
Through good and ill the war-bolt hurled, 
Till Freedom cheered and the joy-bells rung. 

The sea returning day by day 
Restores the world-wide mart; 
So let each dweller on the Bay 
Fold Boston in his heart, 
Till these echoes be choked with snows, 
Or over the town blue ocean flows.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.

-Click through for more photos.