Don't Expect a Big Change in U.S. Foreign Policy

“A change of leaders is the joy of fools” — Romanian proverb

Here’s a useful, accurate refresher on the history of US foreign policy — by Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh of the University of London.

Want more George W. Bush foreign policy? Elect John McCain – or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Regardless of who wins in November, the current foreign policy will live on in the next White House.

None of the main candidates has disavowed the war on terror. Each has called Mr. Bush tactically deficient. But the debate over the war on terror is over how, where and when. The candidates have all argued that they would do a better job of fighting it.

Administrations bequeath foreign policies to their successors that are then tweaked, but rarely transformed. The seeds of Ronald Reagan’s Cold War strategy were sown in the defense buildup of the later Jimmy Carter years. President Bush’s purported “obsession” with Baghdad began in the hawkish statecraft of Vice President Al Gore. In 1998, Bill Clinton made regime change official U.S. policy, and in 2003 Mr. Bush made it a reality.

The last great liberal hope to win the White House – Bill Clinton – committed more troops to more parts of the globe than any president since World War II. Since the end of the Cold War, America has undertaken at least nine military interventions overseas, under three presidents of both parties in two distinct historical eras (pre- and post-9/11). This history suggests that the next great liberal hope – Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton – would probably continue the trend.

Furthermore, the departure of Mr. Bush will hardly leave the nation’s foreign relationships in tatters. Despite much American introspection, Euro-liberal sniping and Latin American leftist fantasizing, the quantity and quality of America’s formal friendships have endured, if not actually increased, since 2001. Eighty-four governments, out of a world total of some 192, are formally allied with the U.S.

Foreign leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel clearly see that their true interest resides in maintaining and renewing their relationships with the U.S. Few governments have prospered by severing such bonds. In Asia as well, nations are looking to strengthen their ties to America. China needs the U.S. market. India is moving toward America, not away.

The number of America’s foes hasn’t grown under the Bush administration. The actual number of our enemies can be counted on one hand: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela. With the exception of the latter, all these enmities predate Mr. Bush and his successor will inherit them.

Certain aspects of anti-Americanism are essentially immune to what any president does. The U.S. can bomb Christians to protect Muslims, as it did in Bosnia in 1994-1995 and Serbia in 1999, and still somehow augment the fury of radical Islamists.

It’s also important to remember that we’re winning the war in Iraq. A President Obama would risk too much with a precipitous withdrawal, especially if it was just to fulfill an early campaign pledge that was adopted more to establish blue water between him and Mrs. Clinton than to reformulate the war on terror. Mr. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war is empirical – “it didn’t work” – rather than ideological.


Iraq: the change in Bush rhetoric when WMD were not found

Electoral politics aside, I thought it was important for national security reasons that the president refute his critics’ misstatements. The CIA assessments of WMD were wrong, but they originated in the years before he became president and they had been accepted by Democratic and Republican members of Congress, as well as by the U.N. and other officials around the world. And, in any event, the erroneous WMD intelligence was not the entire security rationale for overthrowing Saddam.

Douglas Feith argues that the Bush administration made a public affairs decision that “nearly cost the U.S. the war”. Specifically, in the fall of 2003, when stockpiles of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were not found, presidential speeches “focused almost exclusively on the larger aim of promoting democracy”. Feith also argues that this communications strategy had the side effect of changing the definition of success

…But the most damaging effect of this communications strategy was that it changed the definition of success. Before the war, administration officials said that success would mean an Iraq that no longer threatened important U.S. interests – that did not support terrorism, aspire to WMD, threaten its neighbors, or conduct mass murder. But from the fall of 2003 on, the president defined success as stable democracy in Iraq.

It is interesting how the media has largely forgotten the true history of Saddam’s WMD and the intelligence about same. Certainly the Democrats other than Joe Lieberman have carefully crafted the revisionist history and sold it to the media. This is the origin of the myth “Bush lied”. The true history is simple: Western intelligence agencies were virtually unanimous in their agreement that Saddam continued to pursue order carisoprodol chemical and biological weapons programs; some believed Saddam was probably secretly working on nuclear weapons; most believed Saddam was working on long range missile delivery systems. All of that intelligence work was done during the Clinton administration. Bush officials could not possibly have grafted into the CIA a whole new Iraq scenario.

Saddam’s own generals believed the same as did the British, French, German, and Japanese intelligence services.

Post-Saddam research into the tons of Iraqi government documentation, interviews with both Saddam himself and all of his senior officials — all conclude that Saddam’s strategy was to relaunchB his WMD programs just as soon as the sanctions regime collapsed. Which collapse is exactly what was happening when Bush took the “least worst choice” to invade.

Evidently, none wish to remember the actual reports of David Kay

Upon his return from Iraq, weapons inspector David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), told the Senate: “I actually think this may be one of those cases where [Iraq under Saddam Hussein] was even more dangerous than we thought.” His statement when issuing the ISG progress report said: “We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities” that were part of “deliberate concealment efforts” that should have been declared to the U.N. And, he concluded, “Saddam, at least as judged by those scientists and other insiders who worked in his military-industrial programs, had not given up his aspirations and intentions to continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”

or David Kay’s successor, Charles Duelfer

…According to Mr. Duelfer, “the guiding theme for WMD was to sustain the intellectual capacity achieved over so many years at such a great cost and to be in a position to produce again with as short a lead time as possible. . . . Virtually no senior Iraqi believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever. Evidence suggests that, as resources became available and the constraints of sanctions decayed, there was a direct expansion of activity that would have the effect of supporting future WMD reconstitution.”

There is more background on the true history of the Kay and Duelfer testimony in this post: Duelfer Report – Iraq Study Group. including links to the full text of the Iraq Study Group report.

Obama, Reagan and innovation

I tracked down a transcript of the segment of the January Obama interview that has so enraged the left. This is what he actuallly said:

“I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.

“He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people just tapped into — he tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

“I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times.

“I think we are in one of those times right now, where people feel like things as they are going, aren’t working, that we’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having and they’re not useful. And the Republican approach I think has played itself out.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you’ve heard it all before. You look at the economic policies that are being debated among the presidential candidates, it’s all tax cuts. Well, we’ve done that. We’ve tried it. It’s not really going to solve our energy problems, for example…so some of it’s the times.”

I’m still not sure who Obama is, or what he plans to do with his power besides wield it. But I think it is interesting that he can mention Reagan in the context of positive change; also saying that at one time the “party of ideas” were the other guys.

I think we know that Obama is intelligent, and he seems to be able to innovate in certain areas. The outstanding example of innovation is his Amazing Money Machine. At this time we don’t know whether Obama just fell into this cornucopia of wealth pouring out of Silicon Valley, or whether he somehow made it happen. I lean to the former based on what I know so far, but remain open to the possibility that he is a skilled political innovator as well as a skilled orator and machine politician.

A History of Violence — we're getting nicer every day


Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth. In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion. — Steven Pinker, 2007

So wrote Steven Pinker, 21-year MIT expat and Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. The above quote is from the introduction to Pinker’s 2007 essay for The New Republic [PDF]. While I had heard of Pinker’s not-politically-correct research into the long-term trends of wars and violence, the full impact didn’t arrive until we reviewed his TED 2007 lecture, a compact 20 minute video, including the Q&A.

From the TNR essay, the following excerpt will give you a bit of the flavor of Pinker’s TED presentation:

…At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man’s rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, those ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous. They seem to demonize people in other times and places, license colonial conquest and other foreign adventures, and conceal the crimes of our own societies. The doctrine of the noble savage–the idea that humans are peaceable by nature and corrupted by modern institutions–pops up frequently in the writing of public intellectuals… But,

now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.

To be sure, any attempt to document changes in violence must be soaked in uncertainty. In much of the world, the distant past was a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, and, even for events in the historical record, statistics are spotty until recent periods. Long-term trends can be discerned only by smoothing out zigzags and spikes of horrific bloodletting. And the choice to focus on relative rather than absolute numbers brings up the moral imponderable of whether it is worse for 50 percent of a population of 100 to be killed or 1 percent in a population of one billion.

Yet, despite these caveats, a picture is taking shape. The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon, visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years. It applies over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals. And it appears to be a worldwide trend, though not a homogeneous one. The leading edge has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century.

At the widest-angle view, one can see a whopping difference across the millennia that separate us from our pre-state ancestors. Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts–such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men–suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own. It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher. According to anthropologists like Lawrence Keeley, Stephen LeBlanc, Phillip Walker, and Bruce Knauft, these factors combine to yield population-wide rates of death in tribal warfare that dwarf those of modern times. If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.

That the decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon may be supported by the 2005 Human Security Report [which I noted in this March, 2007 post].

…the number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40 percent since 1992… Over the past dozen years, the global security climate has changed in dramatic, positive, but largely unheralded ways. Civil wars, genocides and international crises have all declined sharply. International wars, now only a small minority of all conflicts, have been in steady decline for a much longer period, as have military coups and the average number of people killed per conflict per year. — Human Security Report, 2005

From the Overview:

The wars that dominated the headlines of the 1990s were real—and brutal—enough. But the global media have largely ignored the 100-odd conflicts that have quietly ended since 1988. During this period, more wars stopped than started.

…There has been a great deal of research on the causes of war, but very little on the causes of peace. Since the end of the colonial era there have been fewer and fewer international wars, while the last 15 years have seen a dramatic decline in civil wars.

The Human Security Report contains extensive source data and useful charts — such as the above-left graphic for recent armed conflicts, for 1816 – 2002 international wars, and 1816 – 2002 civil wars. The reports attempts to identify contributing factors — the credible ones include the rise of democratization, the dramatic decline in global poverty, the demise of colonialism, the end of the Cold War, and a not very well supported hypothesis crediting UN peacekeeping operations.

Man of the year…

Some examples of Time Magazine’s “man of the year”:

1938 Adolph Hitler

1942 Joseph Stalin

2007 Vladimir Putin

I don’t intend to classify Putin, Stalin & Hitler all in the same bin. But simply to point out that the Time editorial board has a VERY different concept of “person of the year” than ordinary people.

I suspect that Gen. David Petraeus has as much respect for Time as I do, so his dis-selection troubles him not at all.

…David Petraeus, No. 4 on Time’s list, has made a much greater—a huger—difference. But Time doesn’t want to acknowledge that, because to do so would be to admit that George W. Bush is not an ignorant tyrant and that the United States is not on the losing side of history. Better to elevate Vladimir Putin to a significance he does not deserve. Shame.

The American idea

The November 2007 Atlantic Monthly celebrates the magazine’s 150th year with a series of essays on “the American idea”. There is the not-surprising contrast between the dreary, sour, outlook penned by the remnants of the old Left and the optimistic views represented by Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google,

…Obviously we face great challenges, but earlier generations have faced far worse: civil war, world wars, childhood diseases like polio. America’s resilience, past and present, is really about culture and values—culture based on equal opportunity, and values based on education and ambition. No one predicted the new gilded age of hedge funds or the scale of the Internet; we can’t predict the future, but we know the American story will continue. This means we can overcome all the challenges we obsess about now—and all the new ones we have not yet invented.

and by the author Tom Wolfe. I think the best of the essays by far is his “Pell-Mell” [behind the subscriber wall]. So remarkably excellent, that I’ve taken the liberty of quoting Wolfe here:

Since you asked … the American idea was born at approximately 5 p.m. on Friday, December 2, 1803, the moment Thomas Jefferson sprang the so-called pell-mell on the new British ambassador, Anthony Merry, at dinner in the White House. Oh, this was no inadvertent faux pas. This was faux pas aforethought. Jefferson obviously loved the prospect of dumbfounding the great Brit and leaving him speechless, furious, seething, so burned up that smoke would start coming out of his ears. And all that the pell-mell did.

Jefferson had already tenderized the ambassador three days earlier. Merry was the first foreign diplomat to take up residence in Washington. Accompanied by Secretary of State James Madison, he shows up at the White House wearing a hat with a swooping plume, a ceremonial sword, gold braid, shoes with gleaming buckles—in short, the whole aristocratic European ambassadorial getup—for his formal introduction to the president of the United States. He is immediately baffled. Jefferson doesn’t come to greet him in the grand reception hall. Instead, Merry and Madison have to go looking for him … Bango! All at once they bump into the American head of state in some tiny tunnel-like entryway to his study. What with three men and a sword in it all at once, the space is so congested that Merry has to back himself and his sword out of it just to have room to shake hands. When he shakes hands, he’s stunned, appalled: The president of the United States is a very Hogarth of utter slovenliness from his head … to his torso, clad in a casual workaday outfit thrown together with a complete indifference to appearances and a negligence so perfectly gross, it has to have been actually studied … down to his feet, which are stuffed, or mostly stuffed, into a pair of down-at-the-heels slippers, literally slippers and literally worn down at the heels in a way that is sheer Gin Lane. “Utter slovenliness,” “negligence actually studied,” “indifference to appearances,” and “down at the heels” were Merry’s own words in the first of what would become a regular jeremiad of complaints and supplications to Lord Hawkesbury, the foreign secretary, all but coming right out and begging him to break off relations with the United States to protest such pointed insults toward His Majesty’s representative. Merry was ready to bail out … and his wife, a notably not-shy woman née Elizabeth Death (yes), even more so.

The introductory insult was on November 29. Merry and his wife were invited to dinner at the White House on the fateful day, December 2. Merry accepted … warily … under the impression that he and his wife would be the guests of honor and that this would be Jefferson’s opportunity to make up for his lapse in protocol. The Merrys arrived at 4:30. Along with the other guests, they were assembled for a reception in a drawing room across the hall from the dining room. The Merrys were left flabbergasted and aghast when Jefferson ignored Mrs. Merry and gave his arm to Dolley Madison, who often served as White House hostess for the widowed president. James Madison gave his arm to an already furious Mrs. Merry. The dining room seems to have had a single large, round table. Jefferson took a seat and gave Dolley Madison the ladies’ seat of honor on his right. James Madison didn’t give Elizabeth Death Merry the seat on the president’s other side, however. That went to the Spanish ambassador’s wife. The already insulted Mrs. Merry, guest of honor presumptive, took it like a kick in the shin when Madison showed her to an obviously back- of-the-pack seat.

Meantime, her husband’s dignity was taking an even worse beating. He was part of an undifferentiated haunch-to-paunch herd of the titled, the untitled, the eminences, and the not-muches entering the doorway. They had no choice but to take their seats pell- mell … any seat—first come, first served. Literally pell-mell referred to a confused, disorderly crowd in a headlong rush, and that was exactly what it felt like to His Majesty’s Ambassador Merry. An outrageous insult was now in progress, but he had only two choices: take a seat or make a scene. So he headed for a chair next to the Spanish ambassador’s wife. But before he could get to it, some crude savage who bore the title “Congressman” lunged past him and took it for himself.

Foreign dignitaries, even the Spanish ambassador, were flashing loaded glances at each other—these Americans—savages!—and muttering behind the backs of their hands. Merry and his wife vowed never to dine at the White House again—and never did. They did accept an invitation from Secretary of State Madison, who had been the good guy in Jefferson’s good-guy/bad-guy team—only to get pell-melled all over again chez Madison. For a time, at least, they refused all invitations from Jefferson’s Cabinet members, too. In due course they officially protested their treatment. But Jefferson had such an aristocratic bearing and presence, was from such a prominent family—in America they didn’t come any better than the Randolphs of Virginia—was so filthy land-rich, so learned—he spoke Latin as well as French and could read classical Greek as easily as Plato and Aristotle ever did—was so sophisticated and urbane, in fact so cosmopolitan—he had been ambassador to France at the court of Louis XVI—no one could very well write him off as one of … “these Americans.”

In addition to being seven or eight other species of the genus Genius, Jefferson proved to be a psychological genius at least a century before all the -ology adjectives entered the English language. He realized that you could write every conceivable radical new freedom into a constitution—freedom of the press and freedom from the heavy hand of an official state religion were very radical notions 218 years ago—and install a democracy with foolproof guarantees, and that still wouldn’t be enough to save Americans from the plight of the masses of Europe. After a thousand years or more of rule by kings who were believed to possess divine rights and by hereditary aristocrats believed to possess demigodly rights at least, ordinary citizens in Europe had been irreparably damaged psychologically and would never recover from it. They had lived their lives as if the fix were in, as if there would forever be a certain class of people above them who were predestined to dominate government, industry, all influential forms of intellectual life, and, needless to say, society.

Even today, in the 21st century, an era of political democracies throughout the West, the great mass of ordinary citizens in Europe remain resigned to their ordinariness because they still feel the presence of “that certain class,” that indefinable but nevertheless eternal status stratum forever destined to be their superiors. In England, France, Italy, Germany, rare are the parents who urge their children to live out their dreams and rise as far above their station as they possibly can. As a result, such dreams, if any, don’t last long. Only in America do visitors to other people’s homes routinely ask their hosts’ children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In every other country on Earth the question would seem fatuous, since it implies that the child might have a world of choices.

Fortunately for America, as Jefferson saw it, British aristocracy had never taken root here in the colonies. Most British toffs didn’t have the faintest urge to depart their country estates and London clubs, their coaches-and-four, their tailors, valets, butlers, ballrooms, peruke-makers, and neck-cloth launderers for a wilderness full of painted bow-and-arrow-bearing aborigines … and no desirable women, unless one were a rather twisted toff who had a thing for granola girls with honest calves and forearms and hands thick as a blacksmith’s from hoeing the corn and black-eyed peas. From the very beginning of his political career, Jefferson was determined to make sure no aristocracy, European- or American-born, would ever be established here. Aristocracy literally means rule by the best, but he knew the proper word was plutocracy, rule by the rich, in this case big landowners who maintained their lordly, demigodly, hereditary rank only by passing their estates down generation after generation—intact—courtesy of the law of entail and the right of primogeniture. As soon as the Revolution was won, Jefferson launched a successful campaign to abolish both. Too bad he couldn’t have lived another hundred years to see just how efficient his strategy was. In America, rare is the plutocrat whose family wields power and influence beyond the second generation. One need only think of the Vanderbilts, Goulds, Astors, Carnegies, and Mellons. Where are they now? On the letterheads of charitable solicitations, at best. They don’t even rise to the eminence of gossip-column boldface any longer. The rare ones have been the Bushes, who have wielded power—a lot of it—into the third generation, and the Rockefellers, who have made it into the fourth … by a thread, the thread being Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. But the odds are 2-to-5—you’ll have to bet $5 to win $2—that within 10 years the last, best hope of even these exceptional families’ next generations will be to start climbing the white cliffs of the disease-charity letterheads.

Jefferson created a radically new frame of mind. In a thousand different ways he obliterated the symbols and deferential manners that comprise aristocracy’s cardiovascular system. Led by Jefferson, America became a country in which every sign of aristocratic pretensions was systematically uprooted and destroyed. The round table where the Merrys suffered their intolerable humiliation? It has been recorded that Jefferson insisted on round tables for dining because they had no head and no foot, removing any trace of the aristocratic European custom of silently ranking dinner guests by how close to the head of the table they sat. “That certain class” does not exist here psychologically.

Jefferson’s pell-mell gave America a mind-set that has never varied. In 1862, 36 years after Jefferson’s death, the government began the process of settling our vast, largely uninhabited western territories. Under the terms of the Homestead Act, they gave it away by inviting people, anybody, to head out into the open country and claim any plot they liked—Gloriously pell-mell! First come, first served! Each plot was 160 acres, and it was yours, free! By the time of the first Oklahoma Land Rush, in 1889, it had become a literal pell-mell—a confused, disorderly, headlong rush. People lined up on the border of the territory and rushed out into all that free real estate at the sound of a starter gun. Europeans regarded this as more lunacy on the part of … these Americans … squandering a stupendous national asset in this childish way on a random mob of nobodies. They could not conceive of the possibility that this might prove to be, in fact, a remarkably stable way of settling the West, of turning settlers into homeowners with a huge stake in making the land productive … or that it might result, as the British historian Paul Johnson contends, in “the immense benefits of having a free market in land—something which had never before occurred at any time, anywhere in the world.” So long as you had made certain required improvements, after five years you could sell all or part of your 160 acres to other people, any other people. It’s hard to be absolutely sure, but where else in the world could ordinary citizens go out and just like that—how much you want for it?—buy themselves a piece of land?

The Jefferson frame of mind, product of one of the most profound political insights of modern history, has had its challenges in the two centuries since the night Jefferson first sprang the pell-mell upon the old European aristocratic order. But today the conviction that America’s limitless freedom and opportunities are for everyone is stronger than ever. Think of just one example from the late 20th century: Only in America could immigrants of many colors from a foreign country with a foreign language and an alien culture—in this case, Cubans—take political control pell-mell via the voting booth of a great metropolis—Miami—in barely more than one generation.

America remains, as it has been from the very beginning, the freest, most open country in the world, encouraging one and all to compete pell-mell for any great goal that exists and to try every sort of innovation, no matter how far-fetched it may seem, in order to achieve it. It is largely this open invitation to ambition that accounts for America’s military and economic supremacy and absolute dominance in science, medicine, technology, and every other intellectual pursuit that can be measured objectively. And it is absolute.

Yet from our college faculties and “public intellectuals” come the grimmest of warnings. The government has assumed Big Brother powers on the pretext of protecting us from Terror, and the dark night of fascism is descending upon America. As Orwell might have put it, only an idiot or an intellectual could actually believe that.

Michael Barone's five best books

A good Christmas shopping list. These two were already on my list:

4. “The Anglosphere Challenge” by James C. Bennett (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

James C. Bennett coined the term “Anglosphere” to describe countries where English is the native language or (as in India) serves as a lingua franca for the well educated. But language is not all that America, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other places have in common. Bennett argues that the peculiar island history of England produced a set of institutions that other advanced nations in Europe and Asia lacked–the common law, respect for private property, continuous representative government, a culture that nurtures civil society and entrepreneurial enterprise. It is thus no accident that the Anglosphere has excelled in innovation and economic growth and, Bennett believes, will continue to do so.

5. “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900” by Andrew Roberts (HarperCollins, 2007).

Andrew Roberts has written excellent biographies of the Marquis of Salisbury (1830-1903) and the Earl of Halifax (1881-1959), but after 9/11 he decided to take up the task of completing the multivolume history of the English-speaking peoples where Winston Churchill left off, at the beginning of the 20th century. The result is an idiosyncratic history reflecting Roberts’s interests–and his opinions. He excoriates Lord Mountbatten, the viceroy of India, whose partition of India led to the deaths of millions and produced a new country, Pakistan, that has proved troublesome to this day. But Roberts remains optimistic. The English-speaking peoples, after dithering, met the challenges of Kaiserism, Nazism and communism–and he predicts that they will, even if now dithering, meet the challenge of Islamist terrorism too.

Cassandra on the True History of Vietnam

The first rough draft of history is getting it all wrong again. Somebody get me rewrite.

Contrary to the countless media stories of crazed vets returning with PTSD, these men are not broken. They endured horrors vastly worse than the average soldier or Marine in today’s conflict. Jeremiah Denton survived nearly eight years in a North Vietnamese prison camp and went on to become a United States Senator for his home state, Alabama. How many people know that?

There is hope. Beliefs matter, but what is more important, standing up for your beliefs matters. The support and respect of your peers matters. But even if you are spat upon when you come home, even if your heroism is never recognized, even if your service is forgotten by a biased press that distorts history, you are not defeated, you are not shamed, you are not broken unless and until you decide to be.

The sad thing is that the past is about to repeat itself. What will future generations know about Iraq and Afghanistan?

The first rough draft of history is getting it all wrong again. Somebody get me rewrite.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East

Michael Totten interviews Michael B. Oren, author of “Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East”. This is an excellent introduction to the book [which I’m currently reading]. Like Oren’s “Six Days of War” this will prove to be one of the four or five most important books on the Middle East. .

MJT: When speaking of the Barbary War you used the word “jihad.” I don’t think you used that word in your book, though, did you?

Oren: No, I didn’t really have to. There was the case in 1785 where Thomas Jefferson is sent to negotiate with the envoy of the Pasha of Tripoli. Jefferson says to him that America only wants peace with the Barbary states. And he says to Jefferson “No, we want war with you. We have a holy book called the Koran which says that we have to conquer and enslave all infidel states. And the United States is an infidel state. And moreover our holy book the Koran tells us that if we are killed in the course of carrying out this war that we’ll go directly to Paradise.” So I didn’t think I even had to put the label jihadist on there. I figured that remarkable report of Jefferson’s at the Continental Congress would suffice to alert contemporary readers what Jefferson was dealing with in the Middle East.

MJT: You have taken the long view of American involvement in the Middle East perhaps more than anyone else in the world. Having done that, are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Oren: As a historian I’m optimistic. Listen, I view the war in Iraq not as a war, but as a battle in a much more protracted war. Iraq is America’s Bull Run in the war in the Middle East. It’s our first losing battle.

It is not Vietnam. You cannot withdraw from Iraq and be confident that the enemy is not going to follow you. Because the enemy is going to follow you. America can’t detach from the Middle East because the Middle East is not going to detach from America. And America’s going to have to learn to fight this fight to win in a much more prudent and effective way. And there are ways America can fight it more effectively.

MJT: What do you suggest?

Oren: I suggest America invest very heavily in intelligence and training an entire generation of service women and men to speak the languages, be conversant in the languages and the cultures of the Middle East. America has to invest much more heavily in intelligence gathering. America has to invest much more heavily in rapid response forces in the Middle East and retain them there.

America has to get involved in theology. We’ve been fighting a theology with an ideology. It doesn’t work. We have to get in the business of promoting a reformist Islam. It’s important. It’s controversial, but important.

MJT: How do we do that? Do you mean by promoting the moderates who already exist?

Oren: Well there are some moderates who exist. They don’t have any places where they can go out and speak and speak free of harm. We can help disseminate their ideas. Right now the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam predominates in schools across Europe. The West has basically given up the field to these people.

Links to numerous reviews of Oren’s latest are here

Is this why I don't remember history?

Sheryl Longin:

Having trouble remembering your history lessons from grammar school? PJM columnist Sheryl Longin is too and thinks she knows why. The wrong things are being taught. Kids are interested in the history of how things work, not stories about Indians. And they should be!

…Now, thinking about history, about what I remember and what I don’t, I have a different reaction. I wonder if we aren’t using a hopelessly irrelevant, archaic framework to teach a subject that is absolutely vital to our children if we care about the future of the modern world. How about basing primary school history education on the evolution of the material, of inventions, of progress? From the evolution of toilet paper will come a thousand other history lessons, touching on everything from economics to politics to religion. And those lessons will be remembered, because they will be answering questions that children (and adults) naturally have.

Imagine a new generation of young people with a working, practical knowledge of the history of progress… We’d better do more than imagine them, because we’re going to need them.