Sunday, December 28, 2008

In "The National Interest": Flight of the Neocons

Flight of the Neocons, by Jacob Heilbrunn
The National Interest, Dec 19, 2008

It can’t be quite called a victory lap because the victories have been too scarce and the defeats too prominent. Instead, President Bush’s remarks at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Thursday left the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank marveling at the transformation of a president who, he observed, “seems to be a walking confession booth.” Bush’s appearance was part of his attempt to shape his legacy and restore his reputation by projecting a more accommodating, thoughtful image than that of the imperious Decider.

But it also marked a return to the think tank that provided a good deal of the intellectual firepower for his administration. Like Bush, however, the think tank itself seems to be undergoing some changes that are causing consternation in the ranks of neoconservatives. Just as Bush veered more toward the center in his second term on foreign policy, so AEI appears to be attenuating its commitment to the neoconservative credo. The neocon world has been rocked by recent events at AEI. Numerous neocons told me that a vicious purge is being carried out at AEI, spearheaded by vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies, Danielle Pletka.

There can be no doubting that change is afoot at AEI. Recently, Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht have departed AEI. Joshua Muravchik is on the way out as well. Other scholars face possible eviction. Both Muravchik and Gerecht are serious intellectuals who have published prolifically. Muravchik has never been as unbridled in his writings as some other neocons. To put it another way, he does nuance. As the Soviet Union was collapsing, for example, he wrote an article stating that perhaps Mikhail Gorbachev was a Menshevik even as other neocons such as Norman Podhoretz condemned Gorbachev. Muravchik’s main mission has been to forward the democracy crusade. His first book criticized the human-rights policy of the Carter administration. His anticommunist views put him out of fashion in the Democratic Party and he never secured a position in the Clinton administration. I myself do not agree with his current endorsement of bombing Iran, but a recent piece in World Affairs, in which he gave a guarded endorsement to President Bush’s foreign policy, underscored that he is not simply a cheerleader for the administration.

Muravchik has been at AEI for two decades. Gerecht has been there for a much briefer period, but he has written extensively and provocatively on intelligence matters. Gerecht is currently at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which, along with the Hudson Institute, where Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby and Douglas J. Feith are fellows, seems to functioning as something of a safe haven for neocons.

What do these developments actually add up to? They undoubtedly signal a splintering taking place in the neocon world. Pletka has been closely identified with neocon positions on Iraq and Iran. But now there is tremendous hostility toward her among neocons, who allege that, as a former staffer for Jesse Helms, who embodied more traditional Republican foreign-policy precepts, she is out to extirpate neocon influence at AEI. In this version of events, Muravchik was ousted for not being a true Republican. It would be very unfortunate if that were the real cause. What the conservative movement needs is ferment, not an ideological straitjacket—something that neocons have themselves sometimes tried to enforce.

The neocon movement will survive these changes. It will continue to stir up debate. Its real misfortune was to be able to exert power in the Bush administration, where officials such as Paul Wolfowitz and Feith made a hash of things. The notion of a liberated Iraq being the first freedom domino to fall in the greater Middle East was always a pipe dream. The strength of the neocons is to generate ideas, but whether they should actually be implemented is often another matter.

If neocon influence really is on the wane at AEI, however, it would signal the end of its domination over the think tank over the past several decades. Like Bush, AEI may be on the verge of trying to reinvent itself. The change that Obama promised during the campaign seems to be reaching Washington in unexpected places.

Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.

Carnivore Bonobos and Human Nature

Of Monkeys and Utopia, by Lionel Tiger
The state of nature is not a state of pacifism.
WSJ, Dec 27, 2008

Reveries about human perfection do not exist solely in the enthusiastic systems confected by Karl Marx, or in the REM sleep of Hugo Chávez, or through the utopian certainties of millenarians. There has been a persistent belief through countless societies that life is better, much better, somewhere else. In some yet-unfound reality there is an expression of our best natures -- our loving, peaceful, lyrically fair human core.

Anthropologists have been at the center of this quest, its practitioners sailing off to find that elusive core of perfection everywhere else corrupted by civilization. In the 1920s, Margaret Mead found it in Samoa, where the people, she said, enjoyed untroubled lives. Adolescents in particular were not bothered by the sexual hang-ups that plague our repressive society. Decades later an Australian researcher, Derek Freeman, retraced her work and successfully challenged its validity. Still, Mead's work and that of others reinforced the notion that our way of life was artificial, inauthentic, just plain wrong.

Enter primatology, which provided yet more questions about essential hominid nature -- and from which species we could, perhaps, derive guidance about our inner core. First studied in the wild were the baboons, which turned out to have harsh power politics and sexual inequity. Then Jane Goodall brought back heartwarming film of African chimps who were loving, loyal, fine mothers, with none of the militarism of the big bad baboons. But her subjects were well fed, and didn't need to scratch for a living in their traditional way. Later it became clear that chimps in fact formed hunting posses. They tore baby baboons they captured limb from limb, and seemed to enjoy it.

Where to look now for that perfect, pacifistic and egalitarian core? Franz de Waal, a talented and genial primatologist, observed the behavior of bonobos at Emory University's primate lab in the 1980s. These chimpanzees, he found, engaged in a dramatic amount of sexual activity both genital and oral, heterosexual and homosexual -- and when conflicts threatened to arise a bout of sex settled the score and life went on. Bonobos made love, not war. No hunting, killing, male dominance, or threats to the sunny paradise of a species so closely related to us. His research attracted enormous attention outside anthropology. Why not? How can this lifestyle not be attractive to those of us struggling on a committee, in a marriage, and seeking lubricious resolution?

Alas, Mr. de Waal also hadn't studied his species in the wild. And, with a disappointing shock in some quarters, for the past five years bonobos have been studied in their natural habitat in a national park in the Congo.

There, along with colleagues, Gottfried Hohman of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has seen groups of bonobos engage in clearly willful and challenging hunts. Indeed, female bonobos took full part in the some 10 organized hunts which have been observed thus far.


Mr. Tiger is the Charles Darwin professor of anthropology at Rutgers University.

TNYT believes it is necessary to expand the Army by 65,000 soldiers

Recruiting the Best
TNYT Editorial, December 28, 2008

As commander of the Army recruiting station in Patchogue, N.Y., Sgt. Clayton Dickinson sees firsthand why it is so hard to staff his military service at the prescribed levels. His station recruited 65 new soldiers in 2007-8, missing its target by 10.

Of the young people in his largely middle-class community who express interest in an Army career, roughly 70 percent do not qualify, he says. They either have criminal charges against them, cannot pass the drug test or cannot pass the military qualifying test, which measures math and verbal proficiency. “It’s pretty rare to find that one perfect individual,” he admits.

And those are the ones who want to join. Many of the young people Sergeant Dickinson and his fellow recruiters try to woo at high school career fairs and in telephone canvassing have one reaction: No way. They don’t want to fight in Iraq. Neither do their parents want them to fight.

We believe it is necessary to expand the Army by 65,000 soldiers to help rebuild the world’s best ground force after an extraordinary period of overuse. That expansion could magnify recruiters’ problems far into the future if steps are not taken quickly to address them.

The Army, which must remain an all-volunteer force, has borne the brunt of seven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan —repeated and long-term deployments, disrupted families. More than 4,000 service members have died; thousands more have been injured.

Unlike the Marines, Navy and Air Force, the Army has had trouble meeting its recruiting targets since 2004 and fell short in 2005 by about 8 percent, or 6,400 recruits. After that, national targets were met, but only by lowering standards. In 2007, only 79 percent of recruits had high school diplomas; in 2008, the figure was 83 percent. This key measure of whether soldiers will complete their enlistment period is down from 92 percent in 2003.

The Army is also granting an increasing number of “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal records. In 2007, this affected some 14,000 Army recruits (18 percent) compared with an average of less than 6 percent annually between 2003 and 2006.

Retaining officers, especially majors but also lieutenant colonels and captains, is also a struggle. That is because of the two wars, which have kept upward of 200,000 troops on the battlefield, and because of a failure to recruit enough officers in the post-cold-war drawdown of the 1990s. Even officers produced by West Point — the cream of the crop — have been leaving at an accelerated rate after their obligatory five years of service. The way the Army restructured itself — expanding from 33 brigades to 42 smaller brigade combat teams — added more stress by increasing the demand for more officers.

To meet the need, the Army has accelerated promotions of junior officers (tapping some before they are ready) and has retained officers passed over for promotion, who in normal times would have been retired involuntarily. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment says this has led to a decline in overall quality.

The economic crisis and sharp cuts in private-sector jobs, especially if prolonged, could make military careers more attractive. Recession could also persuade soldiers to stay on until retirement. That is no long-term solution. President-elect Barack Obama should consider these steps to ensure the high-quality Army America needs:

¶A democracy of 300 million led by an inspirational leader should be able to find high-quality recruits. Mr. Obama should fulfill his campaign pledge to call on Americans to contribute to the nation’s security, including serving in the military. By withdrawing troops from Iraq and pursuing a foreign policy that shuns such ill-advised wars, he could both reduce the stress on troops and make service more attractive. More forces are being shifted to Afghanistan, but the total is not expected to approach the commitment in Iraq.

¶All qualified Americans who wish to serve should be embraced. That means dropping the ban on women serving in combat and repealing the insulting “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that has marginalized gays.

¶Consider expanding a pilot program under which foreigners who have been living in the United States on student or work visas or with refugee or political asylum status are recruited as doctors, nurses and linguists. They should be given an accelerated path to citizenship. Noncitizens have served in the military since the United States was founded.

¶According to most experts, military pay and civilian pay are nearly comparable after a decade of steady Pentagon increases. Keep military pay competitive and invest in new inducements that are more cost-effective: more in cash benefits, less in non-cash benefits like pensions; more in re-enlistment and other bonuses, less in across-the-board raises. Most potential recruits and serving personnel are far more drawn to immediate cash benefits than deferred non-cash benefits, studies show.

¶Create more flexible personnel management systems so the services have more leeway to vary compensation and length of assignments according to individuals and the job slots needed to be filled.

¶Easier, quicker promotions may be a short-term necessity but should be ended as soon as practical. West Point and the Reserve Officer Training Corps are the best sources of top leaders and should be expanded.

All the fancy planes, helicopters and high-tech weaponry mean nothing without competent forces. A military increasingly dependent on technological advances must maintain an increasingly well-educated and well-trained force. People are the Army’s best assets. They must be managed accordingly.

In The New Republic On Israel War Against HAMAS

Very Disproportionate, Indeed. By Marty Peretz
The New Republic Blogs. Saturday, December 27, 2008 9:22 PM

From January 1 until December 21, Hamas and its allies had launched exactly 1,250 rockets across the border between Gaza and Israel. Then the escalation really started: on Wednesday 70 projectile missiles landed in the Negev and its populated areas. On Thursday, more of the same. On Friday, two Palestinian girls, cousins of 5 and 12 years, were killed by a rocket that was launched in the Strip and landed in the Strip. But these unfortunates were not the targets of fire. It was just another day of blast offs into the Jewish state.

The government in Jerusalem had made it unmistakably clear that it would no longer tolerate this fire power aimed at innocent civilian life. It had been saying this for months to an increasingly skeptical and apprehensive, not to say, restive public. And to Hamas which didn't seem to care. Instead, it threatened Israel by word and follow-up deeds that confirmed the recklessness - as if confirmation was needed- of also this Palestinian "liberation" movement, the last in the long line of terrorist revolutionaries acting in the name of pathetic and blood-thirsty Palestine.

So at 11:30 on Saturday morning, according to both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz, as well as the New York Times, 50 fighter jets and attack helicopters demolished some 40 to 50 sites in just about three minutes, maybe five. Message: do not fuck with the Jews. At roughly noon, another 60 air-attack vehicles went after other Hamas strategic positions. Israeli intelligence reported 225 people dead, mostly Hamas military leaders with some functionaries, besides, and perhaps 400 wounded. The Palestinians announced 300 dead, probably as a reflex in order to begin their whining about disproportionate Israeli acts of war. And 600 wounded.

Frankly, I am up to my gullet with this reflex criticism of Israel as going beyond proportionality in its responses to war waged against its population with the undisguised intention of putting an end to the political expression of the Jewish nation. Within hours, Nicolas Sarkozy was already taking up the cudgel of French righteousness and pronouncing the actually quite sober Israeli response to the continuous war on its borders "disproportionate." Enough. What would be proportionate, oh, so so proportionate apparently, are those tried-and-true half measures to contain Hamas that have never worked. Remember that in 2005 Israel ceded Gaza to the Palestinians waiting and hoping that they would make something of a civil society of their territory, civil for their own and civil to their neighbors. It was not to be.

There is only small likelihood that Hamas has learned its lesson. These Sunni fanatics are still supported by the Shi'a fanatics in Iran. And they are also backed by the House of Saud which cannot be seen to be turning its back on Sunni piety. Gaza is the only place in the Middle East where Tehran and Riyadh are allied. In both Lebanon and Iraq, they are the bankrollers (and more than bankrollers) of hostile sectarian forces engaged in killing each other. Thus, Hamas has still some rope with which to play. Cash, after all, is a great deluder.

The current warfare will go on a bit longer. If there is a pause and if I were giving advice to the Israelis, this is what I would say to Hamas and to the people of Gaza: "If a rocket or missile is launched against us, if you take captive one of our soldiers (as you have held one for two and a half years), if you raise a new Intifada against us, there will be an immediate response. And it will be very disproportionate. Proportion does not work."

No sooner had I written these last words that Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader exiled in Damascus (which also apparently pines to make peace with Israel), announced the beginning of the Third Intifada.

TNYT On President-elect Barack Obama's Immigration Policy

Getting Immigration Right
TNYT Editorial, December 26, 2008

It’s way too early to tell whether the United States under President-elect Barack Obama will restore realism, sanity and lawfulness to its immigration system. But it’s never too early to hope, and the stars seem to be lining up, at least among his cabinet nominees.

If Mr. Obama’s team is confirmed, the country will have a homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, and a commerce secretary, Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who understand the border region and share a well-informed disdain for foolish, inadequate enforcement schemes like the Bush administration’s border fence. And it will have a labor secretary, Hilda Solis of California, who, as a state senator and congresswoman, has built a reputation as a staunch defender of immigrants and workers.

The confluence of immigrants and labor is exactly what this country — particularly, and disastrously, the Bush administration — has not been able to figure out.

In simplest terms, what Ms. Solis and Mr. Obama seem to know in their gut is this: If you uphold workers’ rights, even for those here illegally, you uphold them for all working Americans. If you ignore and undercut the rights of illegal immigrants, you encourage the exploitation that erodes working conditions and job security everywhere. In a time of economic darkness, the stability and dignity of the work force are especially vital.

This is why it is so important to reverse the Bush administration’s immigration tactics, which for years have attacked the problem upside down and backward. To appease Republican nativists, it lavished scarce resources solely on hunting down and punishing illegal immigrants. Its campaign of raids, detentions and border fencing was a moral failure. Among other things, it terrorized and broke apart families and led to some gruesome deaths in shoddy prisons. It mocked the American tradition of welcoming and assimilating immigrant workers.

But it also was a strategic failure because it did little or nothing to stem the illegal tide while creating the very conditions under which the off-the-books economy can thrive. Illegal immigrant workers are deterred from forming unions. And without a path to legalization and under the threat of a relentless enforcement-only regime, they cannot assert their rights.

It’s a system that the grubbiest and shabbiest industries and business owners — think of the hellish slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, running with immigrant child labor — could not have designed better. Through it all, the Bush administration’s response to criticism has been ever more enforcement.

Ms. Solis, whose father immigrated from Mexico and was a Teamsters shop steward and whose mother, from Nicaragua, worked on an assembly line, promises a clean break from that past. She lives in El Monte, a Los Angeles suburb where two compelling stories of immigrants and labor have emerged in recent years.

The first was tragic: a notorious 1995 raid at a sweatshop where Thai workers were kept in slave conditions behind barbed wire. The second is less well-known but far more encouraging: a present-day hiring site for day laborers at the edge of a Home Depot parking lot. The Latino men who gather in that safe, well-run space uphold an informal minimum wage and protect one another from abusive contractors and wage thieves. It’s good for the store, its customers and the workers.

Ms. Solis is a defender of such sites and has opposed efforts in other cities to enact ordinances to disperse day laborers and force them underground. She understands that if day laborers end up in our suburbs, it is better to give them safe places to gather rather than allow an uncontrolled job bazaar to drive wages and working conditions down.

That’s a bit of local wisdom that deserves to take root in the federal government.