I just returned from an NR seminar about going forward in the Middle East under President Trump. It was not as good a forum as it could have been, because John Podhoretz, the moderator, a frontline #NeverTrumper struggled a bit with Trump’s victory, which showed in his questions. Still as is the case for all the #NeverTrumpers who are speaking on this trip, he was gracious. No weeping, no wailing, no rending of garments. Not even a safety pin.
A slight deviation here about those safety pins. For the larger part of the 20th century, safety pins were primarily associated with one thing: diapers. I think it’s telling that the Left, a group of people I’ve repeatedly castigated for being infantile and obsessed with all things fecal has finally find its true symbol: A simplistic mechanism used to protect adults from baby poop.
The questions I would have liked Podhoretz to have asked would have required first stating this premise:
Back in May, David Hasanyi (sp?), isolated and articulated Obama’s Middle East doctrine, one that he kept secret, not just from the American voters, but from his own cabinet. The article was long and rich with proof, but as I read it, it boiled down to one simple proposition: Obama had decided without public debate that America’s involvement in the Middle East was a bad thing, and that he would resolve the problem by handing it (and its oil) over to Iran and Russia, in the process abandoning to its fate Israel, which has been America’s most loyal ally for decades.
From that premise, I would have asked two-and-a-half questions:
Question 1: How should a new American president, one cognizant of American national security and loyal to a long-time ally, respond to the Middle East as Obama has remodeled it?
Question 2: Based upon what we know about President-elect Trump (e.g., his statements to date and the people with whom he’s surrounded himself), what do the panelists predict Trump will actually do and, as a sub-question, what advice would they give him?
That would have been an interesting discussion, because the panelists were interesting: John Hillen, Bing West, David French, and Andrew McCarthy. West, like Podhortez, was somewhat disabled by his manifest dislike for Trump. It made it difficult for him to deal with political abstracts, rather than his personal disappointment. West is an entirely laudable and honorable man, though, and one who has consistently and honestly reported from the middle of the action for the last 13 years, so I forgive him his pique. I suspect that same honor will have him honestly considering the facts on the ground as President Trump’s Middle Eastern policy unfolds. His basic point, as best as I understood it, was that Trump policy is incoherent in that “bombing them” is not a solution.
As for the remaining panelists, they mostly came up with their own information. For that reason, rather than trying to recreate the questions and answers during the seminar, let me just try (without notes) to sum up the nub of what each said.
Hillen’s point, repeatedly, was that the military is eminently capable of handling what’s on the ground, especially if the rules of engagement are loosened under the new administration. He believes that our military is also well able to handle the constantly shifting alliances that are a given in the Middle East and are, indeed, eager to do so because that’s the military’s purpose.
His last major point was that we have special forces on the ground all over the world, keeping track of and asserting America’s interests, and that it would be a major mistake for the new administration to remove them. You cannot protect America’s interests from afar nor can you cultivate allies that way.
French said that American idealism under the last two presidents has been misplaced and that we need to go in for pragmatism in the future. The Bush administration romanticized the ordinary Middle Eastern Muslims, imagining them as Rousseau-ian individuals in chains yearning to be free. The Obama administration romanticized the violent Middle Eastern Muslims, imagining them as rational Marxist masses yearning to be relieved of the burden of capitalism and colonialism.
Both were wrong, says French. In fact, when it comes to Middle Eastern Muslims (and we’re talking the bulge of the bell curve here), they come in two flavors: (1) monstrous radicals screaming for blood and (2) sharia-types who support an ideology that is entirely antithetical to Western democracy and, especially, the Constitution, so much so that the two cannot simultaneously occupy the same space. As matters currently stand, nation-building is not an option nor is pretending that, if we humble ourselves, the extremists will go away and play nice. Foreign policies based upon either delusion are bound to fail.
McCarthy’s views about religious Muslims matched French’s. He made an interesting point about a major fail in America’s domestic policy towards Islam, one that we settled into in the early 1990s; namely, a policy holding that the only people America is interested in tagging and catching are violent jihadists. Those who merely espouse the overthrow of America in Fabian terms (slow, steady, non-violent) are “moderates.”
In fact, though, because of sharia’s inconsistency with the Constitution, the so-called “moderates” are just as dangerous as the jihadists, because whether killers move swiftly or Fabians move slowly, the end result is the same: The destruction of a constitutional republic and its replacement with a sharia caliphate. Additionally, the so-called “moderates” are the perfect petri dish for those willing to shed blood. In this vein, McCarthy pointed out that in all of the past terrorist attacks, it turned out that the FBI had interviewed or been aware of the terrorists and passed on them because, before they indulged in an actual orgy of violence and death, they had fit the definition of “moderate.”
Regarding law enforcement’s role in identifying trouble before it begins, both McCarthy and French bemoaned the fact that the Obama administration completely destroyed New York City’s incredibly good terrorism task force on the grounds that it was Islamophobic and terrorized “good” Muslims. Both McCarthy and French pointed out that the reality on the ground is that radical mosques make no secret of their radicalism. Everyone knew (and still knows) which mosques are radical. Moreover, law enforcement, knowing which mosques are radical, has no interest in wasting time, money, and manpower infiltrating and harassing truly moderate mosques.
A few dominant threads arose from the confusion Podhoretz’s wandering non-questions generated:
It’s a good thing that Trump appears willing to walk back the Obama administration’s pretense that there is no such thing as radical Islam and that the real problem behind domestic terrorism and foreign wars is a combination of individual bad actors and societies suffering serious root cause issues flowing from Western imperialism.
Trump probably won’t be able to stick to his “I’ll just bomb them” agenda because that is a measure, not a plan. America needs a presence in this volatile area, because it’s ultimately dangerous to America’s interests to abandon it (as Obama wants to do) to Russia and Iran.
A presence, though, is not the same as nation-building. As Andrew McCarthy pointed out, Sunni and Shia will unite against America and Israel. When America and Israel are not around, they fight each other — something, he implied, that is constant situation with which we need not interview.
Muslim terrorism is not a law enforcement issue; it’s a national security issue.
Trump is not serious because he’s castigated as wrong both Bush’s decision to go into Iraq and Obama’s decision to pull out. To the panelists (especially West) these statements are mutually exclusive, because Trump has talked himself into a corner from which he cannot act. I don’t agree. One can think Bush was wrong to go into Iraq in 2003 and still believe that, in a post-Obama America, it may one day be necessary to invade another Middle Eastern nation.
Likewise, saying that Obama’s pull-out was a disaster (which it was) doesn’t mean that, once in a Middle Eastern country, Trump will never withdraw. One would like to think that any sentient person other than Obama would understand that you don’t just walk away from a wartime victory. Instead, you reduce forces while keeping a strong presence to preserve victory. In that way, you’re no longer actively fighting a hot war, but you’re not unilaterally walking back everything your troops fought and died for.
One thing about which all the panelists and the moderator agreed is that it’s concerning that, even as Trump allows America to acknowledge that there’s a problem with radical Islam, the Democrats appear poised to elevate Keith Ellison to chair the DNC. Ellison is essentially CAIR and, while he makes nice with a few individuals (such as pro-Israel Sen. Chuck Schumer) and a few Jewish institutions, his voting record means that he must be understood to be extremely hostile to Israel.
What’s fascinating to me is that, even as the Democrats elevate to a high, powerful position one of the most Israel-hostile people in American politics, the New York Times and other Leftist outlets are still shilling the lie that Trump is antisemitic and anti-Israel. They’re so locked into the false NYT news cycle, and so blinded by their ideology, that they take no lessons away from the fact that the first person Trump called was Netanyahu, while the first person the Democrat Party called was Keith Ellison.
And that’s all I remember because, as I said, I didn’t take notes. This afternoon’s seminars will be about the current state of urban and rural America.
I’ll repeat here what I’ve already said over the past two days, which is that I am enjoying the mental stimulation on this trip. I don’t always agree with panel members (a healthy thing, I think, as opposed to Progressive lockstep) and much of what they say is similar to things we’ve said at this blog for years, but I am so happy to listen to thoughtful, intelligent, and informed people who generally share my world view.
The same is true for my fellow passengers. I’m meeting people from all over America, most from backgrounds I never come across in Marin. Last night, for example, my dinner companions included a retired Presbyterian minister, a retired Episcopalian priest, and a former nun — and they were all conservative. To the extent one meets people in Marin who have religious backgrounds, they’re Progressives.
I also met a trio of grandmother, mother, and daughter. Lovely women and it’s so charming to see them traveling together and so happily engaged in all of this political thought.
I guess I’ll end by quoting Martha Stewart’s catch-phrase to describe my experience so far: It’s a good thing.