Perfectly Cowardly Answer: Publishing Religious Images That May Offend


BN-GK083_Charli_JV_20150112182529Sometimes I wake up thinking, “I could write something serious and original about the state of the world, or I could have a look at The New York Times and spend my morning shooting trout in a barrel.”

In my defense, the weather is quite hot and The Times made it too easy. Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The Times, yesterday tried to explain why the paper chose not to print Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons depicting Muhammad in the wake of the massacre of Charlie Hebdo staffers in Paris.

You may recall that afterward, their surviving colleagues went on television, begging the world media to show the cover of the first edition they published after the murders. They asked this, first, to show that the image was not, in fact, calculated to offend — unless one accepted the precept that any depiction of Mohammed was inherently offensive. Second, and far more important, they noted that if every publication printed the cover, they wouldn’t be singled out as targets. Beyond that argument, there is the further point that, obviously, the cover was newsworthy.

The Strategika Podcast: Tom Donnelly on the Perils of Techno-Optimism in Warfare


In this installment of the Strategika podcast, I talk to Tom Donnelly, co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, about the efforts in recent decades to substitute technology for manpower in military affairs. Tom cautions that the West may have become too seduced by the desire to wage antiseptic warfare — and that the consequences could be perilous. Listen in below or subscribe to Strategika through iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

Environmental Imperialism


shutterstock_146843426The western Left has determined that people around the world must severely restrict their use of fossil fuels. Doing so would condemn billions of people to endless poverty. The “free” biomass fuels — wood, peat, and animal dung — that impoverished people in developing countries are forced to use exact terrible costs: the destruction of whole forests and jungles, loss of habitat and the attendant loss of flora and fauna, and respiratory problems and shortened lives from breathing smoke and fumes. As economist Deepak Lal stated in Poverty and Progress:

The greatest threat to the alleviation of the structural poverty of the Third World is the continuing campaign by western governments, egged on by some climate scientists and green activists, to curb greenhouse emissions… To put a limit on the use of fossil fuels without adequate economically viable alternatives is to condemn the Third World to perpetual structural poverty.

These “Green Imperialists” as Lal has called them, would deny billions of people the energy that has pulled the West out of poverty and that is essential to providing clean air and water, adequate lighting, communications, computer services, and life-saving medical care.

Grecian Formula €1.55 Billion


An ATM in Athens.  The sign says "empty."While we’ve been debating the Supreme Court, there’s been a whole lot of noise going on in Europe over the snap referendum the Greeks have called on their loans from the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank (hereinafter “the troika,” as they are commonly known in Greece and Cyprus — usually with an epithet as a modifier.)

Here’s a guide to what’s happening and what’s at stake, as well as a few thoughts on what we’ll see on Monday.

This is a very odd referendum. Normally, the troika and the Greek government — currently controlled by the left-wing Syriza party that swept to power 8 months ago on a pledge to not borrow more money and get out from under the troika’s economic stabilization plan — would agree to some compromise. Syriza’s leader, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, would go on television, announce the agreement, and ask the people to vote to support it. (Chances are the compromise would include his breaking a couple of promises, so he’d want the people’s blessing to do so.) But no, this referendum comes after Tsipras left negotiations and flew back to Athens without an agreement — and he is putting the troika’s deal on the table.  It is clear he would like the public to vote no.

Unreality and Nihilism


shutterstock_273465104George Kennan’s classic 1947 “X” article, published anonymously in Foreign Affairs under the title The Sources of Soviet Conduct, laid the foundation for more than 40 years of American Cold War policy toward its Soviet adversary. Kennan’s article is a model of analytical clarity and grand-strategic vision, best known for formulating the strategy of “containment”. But while containment was Kennan’s famous – and famously successful – policy prescription for the challenge facing the United States in 1947, what is often forgotten is his thesis, which is hiding in plain sight within the article’s title: if you want to prevail over your adversary, you must first understand what motivates him. What are the sources of his conduct? What is his “political personality”?

In the case of the Soviet Union, Kennan identifies the basic source in Marxist-Leninist ideology, and in particular, two of its key postulates: the innate and irreconcilable antagonism between capitalism and socialism; and the infallibility of Soviet political leadership. All Soviet conduct in foreign affairs flows from these two elements. In light of which, Kennan deduces that “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”

Secretary of State George Marshall and President Truman were persuaded by Kennan’s analysis and, with much public debate, committed the United States to a costly, long-term national effort to contain Soviet Communism. The precise meaning and form of this effort were subject to some disagreement around the edges, but its main contours remained firm and constant for over 40 years. This massive commitment was made while the smoking ruins of World War II still smoldered, and with the catastrophic failure of the major democracies to understand and confront the sources of Nazi conduct still fresh in the minds of America’s leadership class.

Obama Okays Negotiations with Hostage-takers


Militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa provinceOn Wednesday, President Obama will release an executive order to allow the U.S. government to negotiate with terrorists for the release of American hostages, according to CNN.

The White House claims that the government will not pay ransom or make “substantive concessions” to terror groups, but it will no longer prosecute families who wish to pay them.

The payment of ransoms to terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda has long been tolerated, though it is technically illegal. The administration has looked the other way when families of Americans held overseas have paid ransoms.

The Day That Reagan Died


90265714_1It was June 5th, 2004. I had been in the Republic of Georgia for less than a month when I heard that Reagan had died. Reagan had meant a lot to me over the years, and I’d followed his political career since I was eight years old.  Growing up with the Reagan administration made the 40th president my childhood hero.

What I did not expect was how the Georgian people would react. As I was walking in the bazaar of a small provincial town, a man saw me, quickly crossed the dusty street, took my hand and said, “I am so sorry. Your great man died today. I am so sorry.”

I asked him, “Do you mean President Reagan?”

Fun With Files


shutterstock_285175289China has scored an intelligence coup by breaking into the Office of Personnel Management database and making off with the files on millions of current and former government officials. Estimates of the number of officials whose information was taken range from a low of 4 million to 14 million. Of course, the Chinese are not going to be interested in every clerk in the bowels of the Department of Agriculture. But they will have gained access, according to reports, to the background information on all those who held sensitive national security positions in the government.

For those curious what the information contained in these files might be, here is the form for national security clearances. It basically asks for every place you have ever lived, everywhere you have gone to school and worked, any groups you have joined, the names of anyone who has known you in any of these stages of your life, extended family members, contacts with foreigners, medical information, legal affairs, and so on.  The form is 120 pages.

It is then supplemented by an FBI background investigation, which collects all information, truthful or not, unfiltered and unevaluated, about the official. As someone who has held these type of clearances, I don’t have a right to see my own file — although now I guess I can ask the Chinese for it.

Journalism and its Discontents, Part I


Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.06.17Over the weekend, we had an interesting discussion on the Member Feed about journalism as a profession. Southern Pessimist asked me this question: “Give me some ideas,” he wrote, “of what you think needs to be reported that is not being reported.”

My answer to this is so long that I’ll break it into a few parts. What should perhaps precede this post is a detailed historical account of what’s happened to the news industry since the end of the Cold War. I’ll come back to that, though, because the first point I want to make is that these changes have had significant consequences — largely, and surprisingly, bad ones.

So let’s in fact call this Part II. Let me begin by talking about foreign news coverage, since this is what I know best. I wrote this piece a few years ago: How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News. Please do read the whole thing, but these are the key points:

Sovereignty, Technical and Actual


cropped-iStock_000017452286XSmallIn this interview (hat tip to Melissa P), Senator Ted Cruz explains why he believes Senator Jeff Sessions is mistaken in the claim that the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal would undermine America’s sovereignty.

Cruz points out that the international body a trade agreement like this sets up is merely advisory. In a trade dispute, the court would mediate between the two nations to judge whether or not the original agreement has been honored. But it would not be able to enforce its judgement. That lack of force is the difference between a government and … well, that other thing.

It’s not clear why a standing court, theoretically neutral, is superior to mediating disputes more directly or by more spontaneous mediation. I welcome arguments for why an international body might be merited.

The Libertarian Podcast: Epstein on the Supreme Court’s Jerusalem Decision


This week on The Libertarian podcast, Professor Epstein leads us through the intricacies of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, a case nominally about which branch of the federal government gets to determine what’s printed inside your passport — but one that may have profound implications for the separation of powers when it comes to foreign affairs. It’s a typically comprehensive Epsteinian survey that touches on everything from the weaknesses of Justice Kennedy’s interpretive style to the propriety of signing statements. Listen in below or subscribe to The Libertarian via iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

ISIS: Our Non-Strategy and Our Too-Calm Republican Candidates


screenshot 2015-03-17 12.38.59I was flabbergasted to read this morning that we are “embracing a new approach” in the battle against ISIS:

In a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province and send 400 American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi.

Point 1: With all respect to our highly accomplished and experienced men and women in uniform, at this point a force of 400 military trainers in Anbar Province should properly be described as “next month’s hostages.” How could anyone of even cursory familiarity with this region — or the history of warfare, for that matter — fail to think of that immediately?

Supreme Court Turns Minor Case Into a Potential Constitutional Conflict


shutterstock_141934102At first glance, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry — holding that Congress couldn’t force the executive branch to recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel on a passport — seems destined to end up as but a footnote in most constitutional law books. It only decides whether the president or Congress controls the content of U.S. passports. But because Zivotofsky involves the treatment of Jerusalem, it adds to the president’s foreign affairs arsenal and could affect the struggle over U.S. Middle East policy, such as an Iranian nuclear deal.

Zivotofsky upholds the executive’s right to control passports. According to the Court’s decision, the State Department, rather than Congress, decides whether to record the birthplace of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem as “Jerusalem,” rather than “Israel.” All of the justices agree that the president holds a monopoly on the recognition of foreign governments, which stems from his exclusive constitutional authority to “receive Ambassadors” and has existed since President Washington’s 1793 proclamation of neutrality during the French Revolution. Congress, on the other hand, has the authority to control immigration, the borders, and international travel. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion on behalf of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, used an ill-conceived and undefined balancing test to conclude that Congress could not use these powers to contradict the president’s position on Israel’s territorial boundaries. A law using passports to contradict the president’s decision to recognize Israel “would not only prevent the Nation from speaking with one voice but also prevent the Executive itself from doing so in conducting foreign relations.”

It is refreshing to see Democratic-appointed Justices, some of whom criticized President Bush’s right to manage the War on Terror, take a stand in favor of the executive’s authority in foreign affairs (though don’t hold your breath for their embrace of a President Walker’s use of executive power). Their majority opinion, however, skims over the most critical point by mistaking the power over passports as belonging to Congress, rather than the executive. But even if Congress enjoys this power, Justice Kennedy fails to explain why it undermines the executive’s recognition of Israel. His reason — that Congress cannot force the Secretary of State to contradict the president — makes little sense. Regardless of the passport’s listing of birthplace, U.S. recognition of Israel remains unchanged. President Obama can still maintain his frosty relations with Benjamin Netanyahu and even threaten to support Arab and European persecution of Israel at the United Nations, all the while claiming to be Israel’s best friend before domestic audiences. Although Congress’s passport law may reveal that the Republican legislature is far more supportive of Israel than the president, this will only come as news to those who missed Netanyahu’s March address before Congress.

On Constitutional Law and the Storage Costs of Paper Mache Effigies


What do you do when you have an interview with your former boss’s wife?! Answer tough questions with deep imponderables.  For example, I ask: how much rent do protesters pay to store my giant paper-mache effigy? I talk with the Daily Caller’s Ginni Lamp Thomas (wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) about what it’s like for a conservative to live in Berkeley, President Obama’s attack on the separation of powers, and the rising dangers to our national security.

Grand Strategy Podcast: Stephen Krasner on the Future of American Global Leadership


One of my favorite guests on our Hoover Institution podcasts is Stephen Krasner, the Graham H. Stuart Chair in International Relations at Stanford and the Chairman of Hoover’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy. On this show, we discuss America’s role in shaping international order: how we’ve done since World War II, whether our days at the top are coming to a close, and which threats to our preeminence our most acute.

The (Likely) New Status Quo


shutterstock_90596905As you’ve probably heard, three provisions of the USA Patriot Act expired over the weekend, including the controversial bulk-collection of telephone metadata that the courts found wanting last month. In its place, Congress seems likely to pass some version of the USA Freedom Act,* which — among other things — stops the NSA from collecting bulk data but requires telephone carriers to store it on their behalf. In today’s The Wall Street Journal, the editors bring up some legitimate objections to the new legislation, concluding as follows:

So per­haps Sen­ate pas­sage of the House bill is the only re­al­is­tic path to pre­vent even greater harm to U.S. secu­rity. But please spare us the civil-lib­er­tar­ian triumphal­ism. The real story this week is that Con­gress is harm­ing and maybe end­ing an im­por­tant de­fense against ter­ror­ism, while pretend­ing not to.

Triumphalism is neither healthy nor laudatory and the new legislation is hardly beyond reproach, either from a philosophical or a practical perspective. The new process adds layers that will make accountability more difficult when failures occur, and seems to present a logistical nightmare from a data-management perspective. It is at least conceivable that important intelligence might slip through under the new system that would previously have been detected.

The Strategika Podcast: Josef Joffe on Whether the West Will Still Fight


josef_joffeIn this next installment of our new series of Strategika shows on NATO, I’m talking with Josef Joffe, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and publisher/editor of the German weekly Die Zeit. Our topic: is NATO endangered partially by an erosion of will on behalf of both Europe and the United States? And is European reticence different in kind than the American version or just in degree? You can hear the conversation below or by subscribing to Strategika through iTunes or your favorite podcast player.

The Strategika Podcast: Peter Mansoor on NATO, Past and Future


Mansoor-PeterIn the newest installment of the Strategika podcast from the Hoover Institution, I’m talking with retired Army Colonel Peter Mansoor (former executive officer to General Petraeus in Iraq), now the General Raymond E. Mason, Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University. In this first of three podcasts on the future prospects for NATO, Professor Mansoor takes us through the alliance’s history, how it’s adjusted to the post-Cold War world, and what its prospects for survival are given the threats from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Listen in below or subscribe to Strategika through iTunes or your favorite podcast player.