Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My answer to Politico's "Arena" question, "Has Obama bet his presidency on the NYC terror trial?"

It's not so much that Obama has bet his presidency on the outcome of the KSM terror trial, it's that Obama is betting his presidency on being more politically correct than George W. Bush. And that's risky, as all those p.c. pieties are now crashing down amidst an ongoing clash of civilizations, as shots and bombs go off in Fort Hood and Kabul--and all across the "bloody borders" of Islam, as the late Samuel Huntington described them.

But it was Bush, not Obama, who declared, back in 2001, that "Islam is peace." Such sentiments didn't keep the 43rd president from fighting in Iraq, of course, but as part of his liberation theory, he was required to believe that the only thing standing in between Muslims and loving America was a few bad-apple governments. Once Saddam Hussein et al. were gone, Bush believed, things would be fine; Christians, Muslims, and Jews would all get along, serene and secure in their respective democracies.

Such p.c. not only clouded our understanding of the world, it also seeped back into the home front; that's why all the rest of us had to take our shoes off when we got on airplanes. The obvious tools of good security, such as profiling, were off-limits in the Bush era, at least officially.

Needless to say, others in the Bush administration, such as Dick Cheney, were not on board for such p.c. pieties, but it was under Bush's reign that Admiral Mullen got to be chairman of the JCS under Bush 43, declaring that diversity was a "strategic priority," and Gen. Casey got to lead the Army, saying, in the wake of Fort Hood, that it would be a tragedy if we lost our diversity.

So Obama could have swept into power pushing a new broom, applying a neo-realist vision to the challenges of homeland security, as well as national security. After the Fort Hood shooting, he could have guided investigators to the obvious conclusion: that the policies that made America safe for Nidal Hasan were all implemented in the Bush 43 era or before, and that he, Obama, would make the necessary hardnosed changes to make Americans safer.

But that would have been too easy. Instead, our Nobel laureate president must prove that the cure for the ailments of p.c. is more p.c. Indeed, he is going to double down on Ivy League law-school legalism. And so yes, Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

From Politico's "Arena" section this morning:

Putting your enemies on trial is what you do after you win your war. Not before. When you are fighting a war, you need to focus on winning, and there's nothing in Sun Tzu or Clausewitz about due process or right to counsel.

You don't put your enemies on trial during the war, when you have secrets that you want to keep. And you don't put your enemies on trial in New York City, the media hub of the planet, where every protest--to say nothing of any terrorist strike--will be amplified into eternity. (Such terrorist strikes might be "incomprehensible" to President Obama, as he said at Fort Hood earlier this week, but to most of us, the meaning of the attacks is plain enough--they don't like us, and they want to kill us.)

Are we now supposed to say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the other defendants are "innocent until proven guilty"? Do we now have to put "alleged" in front of everything? So it's OK to kill them without a trial in Pakistan, through drones, but if they survive, they can come to America and hang with Ron Kuby and the ghost of William Kunstler?

Indeed, you don't put the lawyers of the, uh, defendants in a place where they can go on TV every night to plead their case, to angle for a mistrial, hype book sales, and generally stir the pot, worldwide.

I thought that getting rid of White House lawyer Greg Craig was supposed to put an end to runaway ACLU-ish proceduralism in the Obama administration. But evidently, all the rest of the Obamans come out of the same Ivy League law school pod.

Attorney General Eric Holder seems determined to make Americans reconsider their 2008 electoral judgment on the presence of Republicans in the Justice Department.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

On the origin of conspiracy theories, from Politico's "Arena" section.

This is how populist conspiracy theories arise: The people see something, and call it the result of conspiracy, while the elites see the same thing, and call it something different--something more benign, or at least more random. Something that won’t rile up the folks.

But the masses will get riled up anyway, because they don’t trust their betters. And so out of that credibility gap, between the masses and their masters, conspiracy theories will flourish.

Most of the media coverage of the Fort Hood shooting, for example, seems scrupulously undecided between various possible explanations for the killer’s motives. Was he overstressed by his experiences at Walter Reed? Or was he a spontaneous jihadist? We might never know, say the chattering clases.

Well, here’s a bet: The American people will know in their own minds. They will conclude that the alleged shooter, Nidal Hasan, was some sort of sleeper terrorist. On Main Street, folks’ll figure that he was part of a sinister network that reaches back to the Middle East.

By conrast, President Obama and the governing caste will be at pains to discern no larger pattern, to draw no larger conclusion about America and the Islamic world. Out of a desire for order--and perhaps more than a little snobbery--they will be quick to label conspiracy theorists as mere paranoid ranters. And so the establishment will see no need for changes in immigration policy, security procedures, or ethnic profiling.

We have seen this conspiracy dynamic before, in the 40s and 50s, as America struggled to comprehend a vast new enemy. And we are seeing it again now. And oh, by the way, American politics changed substantially during that earlier era.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reax on the election, from Politico's "Arena" section this morning:

So now we are seeing the limits of centrifugal politics. It takes Republicans to win big elections that stop Barack Obama in his tracks, not third-partiers.

As I wrote here at “Arena” last week, this year we have been going through a phase of “centrifugal politics”--things flying out from the core, toward the periphery. The core is the two party system, and the establishment in general. The periphery is anti-establishmentarian activists, empowered by the internet and an animating sense of free- radical rambunctiousness. Without a doubt, conservative and libertarian peripherals played a country-saving role this year, stopping Democratic momentum toward more spending, “cap-and-tax” legislation, and Obamacare.

But American politics, at its structural heart, is centripetal-- pulling things back toward the center. And at that center is a two- party system that has dominated American politics since the Civil War. Indeed, human nature is ultimately centripetal; after episodic flirtations with centrifugalism, people return to systems of order and stability.

The elections last night confirm this centripetal trope: The Conservative candidate in New York 23 lost, and the independent gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey fell down into single digits. So much for centrifugalism when and where it counts the most--on Election Day. Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party, centripetal beast that it is, scored huge wins, not only in New Jersey and Virginia, but also in secondary races--in Westchester, NY, for example, a Republican challenger landslided the three-term Democratic county executive out of office.

Obviously, for Republicans, there will inevitably be a night-of-the- long-knives-type score-settling after the NY 23 fiasco, as activists confront establishmentarians with the question, “What were you thinking when you gave a left-wing Republican nearly a million dollars in cash, and millions more in earned media, only to see her turn around and endorse the Democrat?”

But in the end, if conservatives and teapartiers want to win, they will have to restrain their centrifugal impulses and find their place within the stolidly centripetalist Republican Party. Activists can fight within the party, even take the party over, but they need to stay within it. Otherwise, they will win nothing.