Posts Tagged ‘walter russel mead’

That Torture Report and the Jacksonians

December 19, 2014

The recent release of a report detailing the “enhanced interrogation” techniques doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on public opinion, according to the Washington Post.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center is the first to gauge reactions to last week’s big CIA report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” — what agency critics call torture.

And the reaction is pretty muted.

The poll shows people says 51-29 percent than the CIA’s methods were justified and 56-28 percent that the information gleaned helped prevent terror attacks.

The word “torture,” it should be noted, isn’t mentioned in the poll, but it has been associated with much of the coverage of the issue. And the numbers align nicely with polls on the use of torture, which shows that relatively few Americans are concerned about it — especially when you bring the prospect of combating terrorism into the mix.

That lack of real concern about what the CIA was doing is also reflected in the amount of interest in the story. While newspapers and broadcast news across the country devoted a huge amount of coverage to the Senate intelligence committee report last week, just 23 percent of Americans say they are following the story “very closely,” while 50 percent are following it “not too closely” or “not at all.” That ranks it behind the Ferguson/Eric Garner protests and stories about the U.S. economy.

And it’s not just that people who aren’t concerned about torture aren’t tuning in. Those who have followed the story the most, in fact, approve of the program 59-34 percent.

Even Democrats are pretty split on the justification for the program. While 37 percent say it was justified, 46 percent say it wasn’t. Liberal Democrats disapprove 65-25 percent, but moderate and conservative Democrats approve 48-32 percent.

Given the images that were conjured by the report — “rectal feeding,” etc. — that’s not much of a reaction. Indeed, this is not the kind of public outcry that demands big changes to how the CIA conducts business.

I can’t say that I am very surprised by the results of this poll. I would expect a certain tolerance  for the harsh treatment of people perceived to be enemies by the American people, especially among that segment of the American population which could be described as the Jacksonians.

Who are the Jacksonians? Some years ago,Walter Russel Mead wrote an essay describing four factions of American public public opinion of foreign policy and war. According to Mead, these factions are the principled, pacifistic Jeffersonians with an emphasis on human rights, the moralistic Wilsonians who favor international organizations such as the United Nations,the pragmatic Hamiltonians who want a foreign policy based on “realism”and balances of power, and the populist Jacksonians, who might prefer to ignore foreign policy altogether unless America’s vital interests or honor is at stake. Mead spent the bulk of his essay describing the Jacksonians.

English: Andrew Jackson - 7 th President of th...

English: Andrew Jackson – 7 th President of the United States (1829–1837) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot summarize Mr. Mead’s essay in a way that would do it justice. You ought to read the whole thing. There are a few excerpts I would like to share that might be relevant in understanding why torture might be acceptable to a large segment of the American people.

Jacksonians are concerned with honor.

To understand how Crabgrass Jacksonianism is shaping and will continue to shape American foreign policy, we must begin with another unfashionable concept: Honor. Although few Americans today use this anachronistic word, honor remains a core value for tens of millions of middle-class Americans, women as well as men. The unacknowledged code of honor that shapes so much of American behavior and aspiration today is a recognizable descendent of the frontier codes of honor of early Jacksonian America. The appeal of this code is one of the reasons that Jacksonian values have spread to so many people outside the original ethnic and social nexus in which Jacksonian America was formed.

Jacksonian honor must be acknowledged by the outside world. One is entitled to, and demands, the appropriate respect: recognition of rights and just claims, acknowledgment of one’s personal dignity. Many Americans will still fight, sometimes with weapons, when they feel they have not been treated with the proper respect. But even among the less violent, Americans stand on their dignity and rights.

They see themselves as part of a larger community with a line drawn between those who are inside and those who are outside the community.

Jacksonian society draws an important distinction between those who belong to the folk community and those who do not. Within that community, among those bound by the code and capable of discharging their responsibilities under it, Jacksonians are united in a social compact. Outside that compact is chaos and darkness. The criminal who commits what, in the Jacksonian code, constitute unforgivable sins (cold-blooded murder, rape, the murder or sexual abuse of a child, murder or attempted murder of a peace officer) can justly be killed by the victims’ families, colleagues or by society at large—with or without the formalities of law. In many parts of the United States, juries will not convict police on almost any charge, nor will they condemn revenge killers in particularly outrageous cases. The right of the citizen to defend family and property with deadly force is a sacred one as well, a legacy from colonial and frontier times.

The absolute and even brutal distinction drawn between the members of the community and outsiders has had massive implications in American life. Throughout most of American history the Jacksonian community was one from which many Americans were automatically and absolutely excluded: Indians, Mexicans, Asians, African Americans, obvious sexual deviants and recent immigrants of non-Protestant heritage have all felt the sting. Historically, the law has been helpless to protect such people against economic oppression, social discrimination and mob violence, including widespread lynchings. Legislators would not enact laws, and if they did, sheriffs would not arrest, prosecutors would not try, juries would not convict.

The lines have been broadened in recent years to include minorities formerly excluded, especially if they share Jacksonian values. Mead points out that Jacksonian values are prevalent in the African-American community and this has helped to make the Civil Rights movement acceptable to Jacksonians.

The underlying cultural unity between African Americans and Anglo-Jacksonian America shaped the course and ensured the success of the modern civil rights movement. Martin Luther King and his followers exhibited exemplary personal courage, their rhetoric was deeply rooted in Protestant Christianity, and the rights they asked for were precisely those that Jacksonian America values most for itself. Further, they scrupulously avoided the violent tactics that would have triggered an unstoppable Jacksonian response.

Although cultures change slowly and many individuals lag behind, the bulk of American Jacksonian opinion has increasingly moved to recognize the right of code-honoring members of minority groups to receive the rights and protections due to members of the folk community. This new and, one hopes, growing feeling of respect and tolerance emphatically does not extend to those, minorities or not, who are not seen as code-honoring Americans. Those who violate or reject the code—criminals, irresponsible parents, drug addicts—have not benefited from the softening of the Jacksonian color line.

Jacksonians are the true realists in foreign policy.

Given the moral gap between the folk community and the rest of the world—and given that other countries are believed to have patriotic and communal feelings of their own, feelings that similarly harden once the boundary of the folk community is reached—Jacksonians believe that international life is and will remain both anarchic and violent. The United States must be vigilant and strongly armed. Our diplomacy must be cunning, forceful and no more scrupulous than anybody else’s. At times, we must fight pre-emptive wars. There is absolutely nothing wrong with subverting foreign governments or assassinating foreign leaders whose bad intentions are clear. Thus, Jacksonians are more likely to tax political leaders with a failure to employ vigorous measures than to worry about the niceties of international law.

Indeed, of all the major currents in American society, Jacksonians have the least regard for international law and international institutions. They prefer the rule of custom to the written law, and that is as true in the international sphere as it is in personal relations at home. Jacksonians believe that there is an honor code in international life—as there was in clan warfare in the borderlands of England—and those who live by the code will be treated under it. But those who violate the code—who commit terrorist acts in peacetime, for example—forfeit its protection and deserve no consideration.

And they have clear ideas about how wars are to be fought.

Jacksonian America has clear ideas about how wars should be fought, how enemies should be treated, and what should happen when the wars are over. It recognizes two kinds of enemies and two kinds of fighting: honorable enemies fight a clean fight and are entitled to be opposed in the same way; dishonorable enemies fight dirty wars and in that case all rules are off.

An honorable enemy is one who declares war before beginning combat; fights according to recognized rules of war, honoring such traditions as the flag of truce; treats civilians in occupied territory with due consideration; and—a crucial point—refrains from the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Those who surrender should be treated with generosity. Adversaries who honor the code will benefit from its protections, while those who want a dirty fight will get one.

There is a lot more, but I think this is enough to explain the matter. From the Jacksonian point of view the victims of the CIA’s methods are outsiders who have violated any code of honor. They follow a strange religion which seems to encourage acts of violence against the innocent. They are not one of us. They forfeited any claims to human rights when they decided to fly planes into the sides of buildings or behead Christians in Iraq. The Jacksonian is not interested in exporting democracy to the Middle East. They do not care if the people who want to destroy America are denied their civil rights or are treated poorly. They do not want decades long wars in the Middle East. The Jacksonians believe that enemies must be defeated and then, they can go back home and live their lives.

I am not sure where I stand in Mead’s arrangement. I am certainly not a Wilsonian or a Jeffersonian. Perhaps I am mostly a Jacksonian with a tinge of Hamiltonianism. I really don’t have much of a problem with what the CIA has been doing. It is deplorable, to be sure, and it would be better if such things were not necessary, but, like the Jacksonians, I am not inclined worry too much about the welfare of people who are trying to kill me.

More on the Recall

June 7, 2012

I don’t want to dwell too much on the recall election last Tuesday, but reading through all the commentary, it occurs to me that the biggest mistake the Democrats made was having the recall at all. I imagine that even many voters who disapproved of Scott Walker nevertheless believe that the recall was expensive and unnecessary. They might have been wiser to wait until Walker was running for reelection in 2014 and made his fight with the  public-sector unions a major issue. They might also have made it an issue this November, which might have helped Obama’s reelection effort, and the Democrats in Wisconsin generally, or perhaps not. The public was clearly on Walker’s side in the recall, and there is no reason to believe that would have been any different this November. Still, at least they would not have wasted all of that money and effort.

Walter Russel Mead, as usual, has a good analysis of the implications of this election.

The American left as we have come to know it suffered a devastating blow in Wisconsin last night. The organized heart of the left gave everything it had to the fight against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: heart, shoe leather, wallet and soul. The left picked this fight, on the issue and in the place of its choice; it chose to recall Walker because it believed it could win a showcase victory. That judgement was fatally flawed; it is part of a larger failure to grasp the nature of American politics and the times in which we live.

The left gave this fight everything it had. It called all the troops it could find; it raised all the money it could; it summoned the passion of its grassroots supporters, all the moral weight and momentum remaining to the American labor movement and every ounce of its strength and its will.

And it failed.

The tribes of the left danced and rallied in the streets of Madison. They knocked on doors. They staffed phone banks. They passed fliers. They organized on social media. They picketed. They sang. They brought in the celebrities and the stars; they marched seven times around the city blowing the trumpets and beating the drums. They hurled invective; they booed; they cheered.

And they failed.

For labor, this was a key test of strength and clout. Scott Walker attacked the American labor movement where it lives: the public sector unions are the only bright spot in the dismal world of modern American unions. They have the growth, they have the money, they have — or they had — the hope.

In terms of his ideas about the Blue social model and its increasing inability to provide answers to the difficulties of our postindustrial information age economy and society, the public-sector unions must surely be the bluest of the blue.

In terms of the blue social model, they are the party of the bitter clingers: the power of public sector unions among Democrats is a power that inhibits Democrats from putting forward innovative, future-facing ideas (about schools, health care, and so on) and keeps them focused firmly on the defense of the past.

Mead provides a link to a delightful piece by Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post.

Indeed, we are witnessing the first major battle between astronomical numbers of people and astronomical amounts of money.

As I write this, Walker leads in the polls, and if progressive turnout is merely ordinary, he will likely win. On the other hand, if we see the same groundswell today as on the days that led to this one, Walker can be defeated. Yet, big as this election is, it is only the first test of the progressive response to an electoral landscape overrun with money from corporations and wealthy individuals.

By attacking labor unions, flooding Wisconsin with outside cash and trying to cleanse the electorate of people who don’t look, earn or think like him, Walker has taken aim at more than a single campaign cycle or a series of policies; his real targets are the pillars of American progressivism itself. With the Romney campaign gearing up, and super PACs taking to the national airwaves, we face an unprecedented, well-funded assault on our basic values.

But progressives aren’t backing down. They’re just getting started.

Just like the South was on the path to victory after the Battle of Gettysburg, or the Germans after Stalingrad, or the Japanese after Midway. Or maybe not. They all lost the war after those setbacks. We haven’t won the war yet, but this may be the turning point.

I haven’t read anything from the Left explaining their rout yet, but I suspect that most of the commentary will resemble vanden Heuvel’s. They were beaten by money from sinister corporations and out of state wealthy individuals. Most likely the Koch brothers and Karl Rove were behind the whole thing. It couldn’t possibly be because people actually agreed with the governor that in tough times, it is not asking too much to expect even people in the public sector to tighten their belts a little.

This, of course, is a variation of the arguments in Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas. Those bitter clingers in flyover country should vote for the Democrats who have their best interests in mind, but instead are bamboozled into voting for Republicans, against their own interests. For people who claim to be on the side of the little people, Liberals are remarkably condescending towards anyone who doesn’t see the world their way.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament

December 3, 2011

Walter Russel Mead has been awaiting the arrival of the Jewish Annotated New Testament, which he has ordered from Amazon.com. This is a look at the New Testament by prominent Jewish scholars. As Mead puts it;

This is a book that any serious Christian student of the New Testament will want to consult; anytime a familiar text is read from an unfamiliar angle, new insights are likely to come.  More to the point, rabbinical Judaism and Christianity are the two great religious legacies of first century Palestine.  Learning to see Jesus through Jewish eyes is a way for Christians to encounter another side of the man we recognize as son of God and savior.

Considering that all but one of the authors of the books of the New Testament are believed to be Jews (Luke was the exception). and that Jesus and his disciples were all Jews, it is amazing that no one ever thought of doing a project like this before. Well, perhaps not since the mutual antagonism between these two great faiths has only declined this century with the lessening of anti-semitism among many Christians. As Mead points out, this process began with the Protestant Reformation and the reformers’ translation of the Bible into vernacular languages.

This began to change with the Reformation — although Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism helped embed some deeply destructive memes in German culture.  First and foremost, the translation of the whole Bible into the vernacular languages coupled with the invention of printing put the Jewish scriptures into the hands of ordinary Christians for the first time.  In Medieval Christian preaching and liturgy, the New Testament got more attention than the Old, the gospels got more than the epistles of Paul, and the Passion narratives got more attention than the rest of the gospel story.

 

The consequence was that most Christians spent most of their time with the parts of their Bible in which Jesus was engaged in theological controversy with Jewish religious leaders, or being handed over to the Romans for execution by a faction of the Jewish religious leadership of the day.  Every Sunday the liturgy of the Mass retold the story of the crucifixion; every year reached its religious climax with the intense focus on the sufferings of Christ in the last week of his life — arguing with Jews, and ultimately dying at the instigation of his (Jewish) enemies.

But as Christians encountered more of the Bible, this picture began to change.  Calvinists and others who believed in the literal and eternal truth of the Word of God came to believe that the promises God made to Abraham were still valid today: that the Jews still had a place in God’s plan, that the gift of the Holy Land to the physical descendants of Abraham remained valid, that Jews would return to that land before the end of history, and that God commanded the rest of mankind to bless and help Israel, rather than to curse and attack it.

More, acquaintance with the Old Testament exposed Christians to Jewish heroes of faith: to kings and prophets and warriors who walked with the God of Abraham and from whose teachings and experiences Christians had much to learn.  Where Calvinist, Anabaptist and Quaker influence was strong, Christian parents began to give their children names from the Jewish scriptures: Hannah, Caleb, Esther, Josiah, Ruth, Joshua, Ezekiel, Rebecca, Ezra, Nathaniel, Naomi, Seth and Sarah entered the English speaking world.

This includes the Puritans who settled New England. An archeologist of the future who examined cemeteries of seventeenth century Massachusetts might well come to believe that the colony was settled by Hebrews based on the names on the grave stones.

I think that I will get this book too, if it can be gotten for the Kindle. I have no idea what Jewish scholars might have to say about the New Testament but I am sure that their insights will be interesting and profitable. I would be especially interested in reading how the teachings of Jesus related to the various Jewish factions of his day.

 

Mein Kampf

July 19, 2011

Walter Russel Mead commemorates the publication date of Hitler’s masterpiece with this essay on the continuing problem of anti-Semitism. Although Hitler made it unfashionable to openly hate Jews, at least outside the Moslem world, there are still plenty of supposedly enlightened people who hold the nation of Israel to a standard they would never think to hold any other country too, except perhaps America. But they are not anti-Semites, just anti-Zionist.

Mead says it better than I ever could. The only reason I bring it up is to mention that I have tried to read Mein Kampf, once or twice. I swear it really is unreadable. I don’t know if the English translation does the German justice. If so, I wonder if any Nazis ever got around to reading it all the way through.

If you want to try, Amazon.com does have it. Why spend money though? You can download it for free from all sorts of places since the Hitler family gave up the copyright after World War II.

Yes, the Hitler family is still around. I read an article about them a long time ago. One branch of the family emigrated to England before World War I and a cousin of Hitler’s even fought on the British side. They’ve changed their names, though.

Can This Presidency be Saved?

June 17, 2011

Walter Russel Mead asks the question.

Can the Obama Presidency still be saved?

To some, the question may seem premature or even insulting.  President Obama’s personal popularity remains high and the most recent RealClearPolitics poll average has him at a more than respectable 47.6 percent approval; while the President’s popularity is drifting lower, congressional Republicans have been losing ground to their Democratic rivals in recent polls, and the Republican primary field remains both uninspiring and polarized.  Small government, libertarian and Jeffersonian Paulites, globalist ‘great nation’ conservatives, conservative social activists and Jacksonian hyperpatriots are united only in their antipathy to the Obama administration and it is not yet clear whether a GOP candidate can unify this agitated but inchoate mass of energy into a strong and focused campaign.

Nevertheless it seems increasingly clear that the Obama presidency has lost its way; at home and abroad it flounders from event to event, directionless and passive as one report after another “unexpectedly” shows an economy that refuses to heal.  Most recently, the IMF has cut its growth forecast for the United States in 2011 and 2012.  With growth predicted at 2.5 percent this year and 2.7 percent next, unemployment is unlikely to fall significantly before Election Day.  On the same day, the latest survey of consumer sentiment shows an “unexpectedly sharp” dip in consumer confidence.  The economy is not getting well; geopolitically, the US keeps adding new countries to the bomb list, but the President has fallen strangely silent about the five wars he is fighting (Iraq, Afghanistan, tribal Pakistan, Libya and now Yemen).

The problem is only partly that the President’s policies don’t appear to be working.  Presidents fail to be re-elected less because their policies aren’t working than because they have lost control of the narrative.  FDR failed to end the Depression during two terms in office but kept the country’s confidence through it all.  Richard Nixon hadn’t ended the Vietnam War in 1972 and George W. Bush hadn’t triumphed in what we still knew as the Global War on Terror in 2004.  In all these cases, however, the presidents convinced voters that they understood the problem, that they were working on it, and that their opponents were clueless throwbacks who would only make things worse.

Barak Obama was elected largely because he was a blank slate on which the electorate could project their hopes and dreams. He was a good campaigner who took full advantage of that fact. He has not been so good at actually governing or leading. He seems to be in far over his head, which is no surprise since the presidency is the first job he has held in which he has actually had to manage anything. He is more inclined to blame the country’s problems on the previous administration than to create new policies to resolve them. And, as Mead has been writing, what he calls the “Blue Social Model” has been breaking down and it is not entirely clear what will replace it. The times call for strong leadership and we are not getting it.

Americans are realistic enough to understand that the breakdown of the blue social model is a messy process and that perhaps no president can deliver a pain free transition to the next stage.  But what they aren’t hearing from President Obama is a compelling description of what has gone wrong, how it can be fixed, and how the policies he proposes will take us to the next level.

What they hear from this administration are defensive responses: Hooveresque calls for patience mingled with strange-sounding attacks on ATMs and sharp, opportunistic jabs at former President Bush.  The White House has responded to strategic challenges at home and abroad with tactical maneuvers.

Voters sense that we live in historic times that demand leadership of a different kind.  What does President Obama think about the fiscal squeeze forcing trade-offs between state employee benefits and services to the poor?  How much trouble is the American middle class in — and what changes are needed to save it?

The President of the United States has to own this conversation.  His vision, his initiatives must dominate the political scene.  His opponents may fight him and defeat his proposals in Congress — that is not the worst thing that can happen.  Harry Truman did very well running against a ‘do-nothing’ Congress in 1948.

At a time of historic anxiety and tension like the present, the President of the United States cannot be an administrator, a fence-sitter, a finger-pointer.  He must first and foremost stand for something — and he must be able to make that something resonate with the voters.  The President’s job is to lead.

So, can this presidency be saved? Do we really want to? My answer to both questions is no.

Gloomy Greens

April 17, 2011

Back from his trip to Brazil, Walter Russel Mead has some rather harsh words to say about the Greens and their stupidity.

I went to Rio in 1992 for the environmental summit, the disastrous meeting that focused the world’s attention on the first giant misstep of the climate change movement: the misbegotten Kyoto Protocol that consumed two decades of green political energy around the world, alienated the United States from its European allies and at great cost achieved absolutely nothing worthwhile.  Global warming was not slowed, greenhouse gas emissions were essentially unaffected, green credibility took the first in a series of crippling hits, and opposition in the US to the global green agenda hardened.

That’s what happens when green Malthusian panic meets the political system.  At Rio back in 1992 I first began to dimly suspect what now seems sadly clear: that green political activists are afflicted with a kind of reverse Midas curse.  Whatever they touch turns to — compost.

In the twenty years I’ve been tracking the global green movement since the Rio summit,  the scientific evidence for climate change, still controversial and incomplete, became more convincing — even as the evidence that the environmental movement is headless and clueless became overwhelming. There is far more evidence that environmentalists in general have no idea how to address climate change than there is that the climate is actually changing.  Between the greenhouse gasses emitted by green activists globetrotting to international conferences and the unexpected side effects of green policy fiascoes (like the ethanol from corn program in the US), the environmental movement as a whole may well be responsible for a modest net increase in greenhouse gas production over the last twenty years.  The planet, in other words, might be slightly cooler if the greens had all just shut up and stayed home.  Certainly the world’s taxpayers would be better off.

We would also likely be closer to some kind of reasonable policy mix if the green activists had spent more time perfecting their home composting techniques and less time pushing a hopelessly unworkable global agenda.  (It’s not the fault of the greens that environmental problems don’t have easy and simple solutions, by the way.  I don’t blame greens for giving us magically easy and popular solutions.  But green ideas tend to be the opposite: greens habitually propose clumsy, expensive and unwieldy programs that won’t work and will ultimately go down in flames.)

Mead is not a conservative and is broadly sympathetic to the environmentalists’ goals. He is not, however sympathetic to the kind of cluelessness and panic that leads the Greens to propose solutions that have no chance of being enacted. To put it bluntly, no sane politician is going to support policies that will lead to a drastic reduction in their constituents standard of living. Not even the Chinese are going to do that, at least not since they’ve abandoned the “let’s kill people by the millions” brand of Communism in favor of a more humane “let’s get everybody rich and hope they don’t notice they have no freedom” type of Neo-Fascism. The Greens should listen to people like Mead.

Of course the problem is that too many people in the environmentalist movement are either political activists, more interested in imposing Socialism, than in saving the earth, or adolescents, who would rather feel good than take effective action.


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