Free Markets, Free People

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Has the world fallen out of love with Obama?

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World report writes a blistering piece that certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. Zuckerman says the world sees Obama as “incompetent and amateur” and that on the world stage he is “well-intentioned but can’t walk the walk”. That’s a nice way to say he’s a lightweight in an arena where only seasoned heavyweights prosper.

Zuckerman’s opinion is not one to be taken lightly. He was a huge Obama backer. He voted for him. His newspaper, the NY Daily News, endorsed him and was enthusiastic in his support of the Obama candidacy.

Now, 16 months into his presidency, he’s obviously very disappointed in his choice. And, it would appear, has come to understand that which he didn’t know or didn’t bother to find out about Obama at the time – that he has no leadership skills or abilities and is, in fact, more of an academic than a Commander-in-Chief.

Zuckerman is a keen and long time observer of American foreign policy, and as such he has the ability to compare and contrast what American foreign policy has seemed like under different presidents and under this one. He begins his critique of Obama by saying he actually inherited a “great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent US president.”

Of course to hear Obama talk about it you’d think he’d been handed the worst mess in the world. But even assuming that, what has Obama done? Not much – and that’s beginning to become evident to the rest of the world. Says Zuckerman:

Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America’s offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.

So success in the field that is exclusively the President’s has been elusive. Then there’s Obama the “leader”:

The reviews of Obama’s performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America’s role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world’s leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America’s foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one’s own tribe while in the lands of others.

Seems to be common sense to the rest of us, yet it is hard for anyone, even his most ardent supporters, to deny he’s engaged in more of that than any useful diplomacy.

Zuckerman also notes something I commented on months ago. He has no personal relationship with any of the world’s leaders. And that is critical to success in foreign diplomacy:

In his Cairo speech about America and the Muslim world, Obama managed to sway Arab public opinion but was unable to budge any Arab leader. Even the king of Saudi Arabia, a country that depends on America for its survival, reacted with disappointment and dismay. Obama’s meeting with the king was widely described as a disaster. This is but one example of an absence of the personal chemistry that characterized the relationships that Presidents Clinton and Bush had with world leaders. This is a serious matter because foreign policy entails an understanding of the personal and political circumstances of the leaders as well as the cultural and historical factors of the countries we deal with.

His meeting China was also a disaster and he was treated almost disrespectfully there. And he’s all but deep sixed our “special relationship” with the UK and certainly isn’t much loved by Sarkozy of France. Don’t even begin to talk about Israel.

These sorts of problems and perceptions have an effect in international affairs. A perfect example?

Recent U.S. attempts to introduce more meaningful sanctions against Iran produced a U.N. resolution that is way less than the “crippling” sanctions the administration promised. The United States even failed to achieve the political benefit of a unanimous Security Council vote. Turkey, the Muslim anchor of NATO for almost 60 years, and Brazil, our largest ally in Latin America, voted against our resolution. Could it be that these long-standing U.S. allies, who gave cover to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, have decided that there is no cost in lining up with America’s most serious enemies and no gain in lining up with this administration?

So they go their own way in the absence of US leadership. This week, Russia’s President Medvedev criticized the US for placing additional sanctions on Iran, above and beyond the UN’s rather pitiful ones.

Obama has been a foreign affairs disaster to this point, and as Zuckerman points out, this has sent a very clear message to many of those out there who wish us ill as well as those who count themselves as allies:

America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, “We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends.”

I think at this point, that’s a perfectly defensible and accurate assessment. This is why I continue to say that there are some pretty heavy storm clouds brewing on the international horizon. US leadership is seen as missing or weak – a perfect time for those who take advantage of power vacuums to step forward and make their particular grabs for power.

Don’t be surprised to see it happen soon.

~McQ


History Is A B*tch

Why?  Because history is what it is and resists attempts to rewrite it for political reasons.

A week or so ago, I pointed to an attempt by Ezra Klein to change the history of the Civil Rights bill of 1964 by claiming that the Democratic Senators in the South were a “third party” with which the real Democrats formed a coalition. Of course, as I pointed out, that’s pure nonsense.

Today we see an attempt to whitewash the same period in history. In an article in The Hill, J. Taylor Rushing discusses the latest attempt by the Senate majority (the Republicans talked about it when they were in the majority as well) to do away with the filibuster. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will introduce a bill to take away the minority’s power to filibuster. Of course, it takes 67 votes to change that rule, something highly unlikely to happen.

But within Rushing’s story where the history of the filibuster was being recounted, I noticed this sentence:

In the 20th century, Southern senators used it to block civil rights legislation supported by a majority of the Senate.

Here, let me fix that so it accurately reflects what happened:

In the 20th century, Southern Democratic senators used it to block civil rights legislation supported by a bi-partisan majority of the Senate.

Al Gore, Sr. Robert Byrd. Richard Russell. William Fullbright. Etc. All staunch Democrats – never anything else. All filibustered the Civil Rights act of 1964 as Democrats.

There is no chance that the Senate filibuster is going to be ended by Harkin’s bill. And there’s equally no chance that I’m going to let any attempts to whitewash this portion of history escape my attention.  The conventional wisdom about which party is the friend of civil rights is a myth.  And I intend to take every opportunity availed me to point to the actual history of that event, not the contrived one.

~McQ


Anti-Semitism and Anti-Capitalism

Ann Althouse is watching the propaganda so you don’t have to. Something in her review of the new Michael Moore agitprop, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, struck me as interesting:

The most striking thing in the movie was the religion. I think Moore is seriously motivated by Christianity. He says he is (and has been since he was a boy). And he presented various priests, Biblical quotations, and movie footage from “Jesus of Nazareth” to make the argument that Christianity requires socialism. With this theme, I found it unsettling that in attacking the banking system, Moore presented quite a parade of Jewish names and faces. He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

Am I wrong to see Moore as an anti-Semite? I don’t know, but the movie worked as anti-Semitic propaganda. I had to struggle to fight off the idea the movie seemed to want to plant in my head.

I may be alone in this observation, but for quite some time I’ve viewed anti-semitism and anti-capitalism as basically one and the same. Said another way, hatred for Jews appears to me to be closely tied to their historical affiliation with capitalist enterprises.

Certainly the anti-semitism found in the Middle East is somewhat different, in that there are religious and historical factors mixed in to that particular bigotry. And Christian Europe was never terribly friendly to the Jews either, with religious rivalry and illogical scape-goating (i.e. holding Jews responsible for killing Jesus, even though it was the Romans who actually did it, and Jesus was supposed to die according to the scriptures) being played out in large part there as well. Even so, I think there is definitely an anti-capitalist element to anti-semitism.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, Jews were often forbidden from owning land, or entering certain professions, which relegated them to doing the work that the Christians wouldn’t do. Lending money for interest had long been considered to be an awful enterprise, so much so that it was forbidden for Christians to engage in it (much as it is still so for Muslims). Therefore the Jews, who had no strictures* against charging interest, settled into those roles (as well as tax collectors, accountants, rent collectors, and other money-centered jobs), and for quite some time were the only lenders around. During the Roman Empire they were both reviled and tolerated for the practice. Of course, being the only lenders in town meant that when defaults happened, it would be a Jew who would looking for his “pound of flesh” and that did not make them any more desirable. Maybe it was during this time that the capitalist enterprises of making a profit from the use of money became closely associated with Jews, or perhaps it occurred much earlier, but before the term “capitalism” even existed there were Jews performing those functions.

Antisemitic Judensau from 18th Century Frankfurt

Antisemitic Judensau from 18th Century Frankfurt

With the rise of socialism in the industrial age, especially during the Progressive Era, all those capitalistic endeavors in which Jewish families had staked their claims started to fall into disfavor (even as they were employed with great abandon). Charging interest for money, always historically suspect, and all other occupations concerned with amassing capital were looked upon with increasing scorn. These were anti-social behaviors engaged in by the “greedy” who placed money above all else, and especially human well-being. It wasn’t uncommon for Jews to be treated as the face of these unsympathetic capitalist sorts.

In the age of industrialization vast sums were risked in building factories and the like, and huge fortunes were made, while regular working stiffs found themselves displaced from their idyllic farms and shacked up in dirty tenements, teeming with poverty (or so the story goes). As in medieval times when the Lord came up short on his payments, and couldn’t provide for those who depended on him, the Jewish lenders made for an easy target when industrialists failed. Wealthy bankers such as the Rothschilds and the Warburgs often came under scrutiny (and still do today) because of their Jewish heritage and massive family fortunes, and many conspiracy theories concerning Jewish attempts to control the world through their financial houses flourished. Indeed, during this ironically anti-capitalist period (ironic because of capitalism’s rapid spread during this time, raising the living standards of millions upon millions of people), political parties and community groups were sometimes formed based quite openly on their antisemitism. As an acceptable social prejudice, anti-semitism was often found to be quite politically useful in Europe and here in the United States. At the same time, prevailing political winds were blowing strongly in the direction of scientific socialism, and decidedly against capitalism and individualism.

Again, I don’t know how or when anti-semitism and anti-capitalism became so intertwined, but for at least the last 150 years I think it’s safe to say they share common space. If you were to replace the words “multinational corporations” with “the Jews” in the popular anti-capitalist screeds of today, I don’t think one would see much of difference in coherence (be that as it may) or objection from purveyors of these conspiracy theories.

Bringing it full circle, I think that close connection between anti-semitism and anti-capitalism is why Althouse gets this feeling from Michael Moore’s film:

He never says the word “Jewish,” but I think the anti-Semitic theme is there. We receive long lectures about how capitalism is inconsistent with Christianity, followed a heavy-handed array of — it’s up to you to see that they are — Jewish villains.

In some ways, the bigotries may be inseparable.

* To be sure, the Bible does prescribe certain regulations for lending, one of which has been interpreted as meaning that Jews were forbidden from charging interest to other Jews, while doing so for loans to gentiles was perfectly acceptable. As I understand it, however, these Biblical restrictions treat “lending” as a sort of charity (that may or may not be paid back), in which Jews were encouraged to be free with their money in the service of their tribe, while having no compunction to be so charitable with “outsiders” (although, there too, be charitable when possible is encouraged). In short, it is a “take care of you family” sort of restriction on lending and not a “screw anyone who’s not Jewish” policy that it is sometimes made out to be.

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