Elian Wants To Return To America


InselianIt’s been just over 15 years since federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez at the home of his Miami relatives. The story of the six-year-old boy’s escape from Cuba and the resulting high stakes custody battle dominated headlines in the first half of 2000. In the wake of Bush v Gore later that year, many pundits speculated that the Clinton Administration’s insistence on repatriating Elian may have swung Florida, albeit narrowly, over to George W Bush.

The story was largely forgotten after 9/11. In the years since, occasional interviews with Juan Miguel, Elian’s father, and carefully staged photo-ops between Elian and senior officials in the Cuban regime, acted as reminders of the Gonzalez tragedy. Typical accounts of the saga recall the story as “polarizing” and note that a majority of the American people wanted Elian returned to his father. Much of the Cuban-American community, which opposed the repatriation, was widely vilified by the mainstream press for putting ideology ahead of family.

An ABC interview aired last night is the first the now-adult Elian Gonzalez has given:

Decision Time Again in Iraq


640px-IS_insurgents,_Anbar_Province,_IraqLast September, President Obama announced to the world that the United States would “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. Though Congress never approved a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force as Obama requested, their relative inaction until now — coupled with the Administration’s belief that such an authorization is not actually required — has served as a de facto, if reluctant, endorsement.

That mission does not appear to be going well. Despite enduring a limited American air campaign, losing most of its infrastructure and industry, and goading most of the region into declaring war against it, the Islamic State seems hardly degraded let alone destroyed. And while it’s worth noting that Baghdad’s immanent collapse has been erroneously predicted before, it’s hard to spin the fall of Ramadi as anything other than very serious and very bad news.

The United States made a very public and very clear promise to destroy the Islamic State and protect Iraq. Whether or not this was a good decision — and who is to blame for the circumstances that precipitated it — is an important matter for another day. On the assumption that an air campaign is not up to the task, the question for today is whether the costs and risks of fulfilling this mission outweigh the costs in the loss of honor, trust, and fear in either continuing our half-hearted efforts, or just giving up and making a cut-and-run.

What to do with Muslim Refugees?


Rohingya Refugees

Nicholas Kristof has a heart-rending column in the New York Times about the plight of refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma). Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted by their government and rounded up into concentration camps. Thousands are fleeing by sea, but no government — including ours — is willing to take them in. Often, refugees are sent back to Myanmar to almost certain death. This week, even the Muslim country of Indonesia ordered two vessels carrying hundreds of Rohingya pushed back to sea.

The story is much the same in the Mediterranean as refugees from Libya and Syria desperately try to escape the fighting that is destroying their countries.

When Doves Cry: The Decline and Fall of the New Isolationists


shutterstock_259520312Like the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, American foreign policy isolationists have tinkered with a number of name changes over the years. Prince tried calling himself TAFKAP, The Artist, and “unpronounceable Love Symbol,” before finally resettling on “Prince.” Foreign policy isolationists – that is to say, those who favor dismantling U.S. strategic commitments worldwide – have tried calling themselves non-interventionist, anti-interventionist, and now, most improbably, “realist.” But none of it seems to be working.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Following years of U.S. warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, some leading venues on the right — including the Cato Institute, The American Conservative, and Reason magazine — made the case for a new U.S. policy of strict military disengagement overseas. As popular opposition to those wars grew, the argument seemed superficially plausible. Most Americans came to view the war in Iraq as a mistake. But this was never the sum of the New Isolationist position.

What many of the New Isolationists argued, quite explicitly, was not only that George W. Bush had erred in Iraq, but that the whole edifice of international U.S. alliance commitments built up since the 1940s needed to be brought down. (See for example the 2008/09 Cato Handbook for Policymakers, pages 201, 507, and 561.)

Radical Thoughts About Iraq


SaddamStatue“Knowing what you know now, would you have invaded Iraq in 2003?”

This question, posed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly to potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush, created a stir this week when Bush first answered “Yes, of course” (I paraphrase) only to later claim that he wasn’t listening closely to the question and had mis-answered. This appears to have been an honest mistake (although a dumb one). Bush evidently was listening for the question as to whether he would have invaded Iraq if he had been in his brother’s shoes at the time. Given what we all know now, however, he absolutely would not have gone to war.

The whole kerfuffle was all just a misunderstanding. But it was instructive and depressing nevertheless.

The Ghosts of America’s Allies


070326_r16050b_p465There are people in this world who, though they are not American, believe in the justice of America’s cause. It sometimes happens that they commit their lives to an unkind fate by becoming America’s allies. This has happened in Iraq. Those who most loved America face the cruelest fate. Americans are represented by politicians who are the artisans of this fate.

Like avant-garde art, American foreign policy sometimes is designed to shock decent people. The spectacle of slaughter; the fear for one’s wife or child; the sure humiliation of being foolish about America; petty things and terrible things come together to form a whole; there is nothing to be done but to say what one sees or fears; there is nothing then left but to see those fears come alive.

Today I read this article by National Review‘s Mr. Nordlinger, who seems to moonlight as conservative America’s man of honor. He remembers and says all the things people with their busy lives cannot remember and say. How does that man live–knowing so many shameful things?

“Knowing What We Know Now”


Much is being made of Jeb Bush’s mishearing of Megyn Kelly’s question on Fox News whether “knowing what we know now” would he have invaded Iraq? Brit Hume’s analysis (IMO) is just right: Bush had a particular point he wanted to make about the intelligence failures (and Hillary’s support for the war) and was looking for an opportunity to make it. He just picked the wrong question to use for that point.


Israel and Her Neighbors


shutterstock_23337061On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence. If you are interested in the difference between the state established by the Palestinian Jews 67 years ago today and its neighbors – and you have a strong stomach – consider the case of Samir Kuntar.

Kuntar is a Lebanese member of the Palestine Liberation Front terrorist group. On April 22, 1979, Kuntar and three chums landed on a beach in Nahariya, Israel. After finding an Israeli policeman and killing him, Kuntar broke into an apartment belonging to Danny Haran, his wife, Smadar, and their daughters (Einat, 4, and Yael, 2). While Smadar and Yael hid in a crawlspace, Kuntar led Danny and Einat down to the beach. There, according to witnesses, he executed Danny in front of his four-year-old daughter and drowned him in the Mediterranean to make sure that he was dead. Then he smashed the girl’s skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. Back in the crawlspace, Smadar smothered her two-year-old to death in a desperate attempt to silence her.

In the decades since this terrorist attack, we have gotten used to baroque levels of violence and sadism in the Middle East, so that Kuntar’s crimes seem almost quaintly old-fashioned by comparison. But here is my point. Kuntar was captured, convicted of murder, and spent 30 years in an Israeli prison. (Israel has the death penalty, but it is reserved for those who commit genocide; it does not apply to men who smash the skulls of four-year-old girls). While in prison, Kuntar married Kifah Kayyal, an Israeli Palestinian woman. While they were married, she received a monthly stipend from the Israeli government, an entitlement due to her as the wife of a prisoner of Israel. Also while in prison, Kuntar took online courses from the Open University of Israel, which granted him a Bachelor’s degree in Social and Political Science. In 2008, the Israeli government released Kuntar and four other Lebanese prisoners in exchange for two coffins containing the remains of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped, tortured, and executed by Hezbollah.

“Who is a Proper Muslim?”


640px-AQMI_Flag.svgOne of my first pieces for Ricochet was “The Last Jew in Pakistan.”  It was about a friend I made over Twitter named Fishel Benkeld, a resident of Karachi, who is commonly thought of as, literally, the last Jew in the entire country, population 187 million. We chat over Twitter direct message, and sometimes, I wonder if it’s the last time we will ever talk.

On Wednesday morning, Karachi was the scene of unimaginable carnage. Several members of the Islamist radical group, Jundallah, shot into a bus full of minority Muslim Ismailis. At least 40 were killed, and 20 were injured.

The New York Times has more:

Do We Still Need Aircraft Carriers?


08_uss_nimitz_cvn_68Have you seen Mr. Jerry Hendrix’s writing against aircraft carriers in National Review? I’m a sucker for speeches against the sophisticated, so I took the time to read the 2,700-word piece. Then I found this reply by Mr. Seth Cropsey, whose work I read as often as I can, and Mr. Hendrix’s rejoinder.

These capable, honored men are quarrelling about the status of the aircraft carrier in American strategy. World War II, the Cold War, and the coming Chinese war are the past and imagined political conflicts in which the aircraft carrier features prominently.

The argument against the dominance of the aircraft carrier among American arms is this: The technology is becoming outdated; the use of the weapon is thus reduced; and it is politically compromised–Americans could not deal with the news that one or two were sunk with some ten thousand men returning in ten thousand coffins decorated with flags. War around China makes carriers next to useless, in short. Taiwan is lost.

The Nature of Defiance


MuhammadThere is an argument about Pamela Geller’s cartoon contest, favored by Bill O’Reilly as well as by many garden variety liberal pundits, that goes like this:

Of course the right to free speech is sacred and the murderers who wish to infringe on that right are vile criminals. Our vigor in the defense of free speech, however, (equally obviously) does not mean that we agree with the speech we are defending. The cartoons that Geller assembled are insulting to 1.5 billion, predominantly peaceful Muslims around the world. We can judge Geller offensive or (as Bill O’Reilly does) “stupid” for deliberately mocking the religion of the benign majority just in order to taunt the violent minority.

I can embellish this argument.

Jihadi Vampires, Jihadi Zombies


GarlandThe attack in Garland appears to confirm the observation that there are two kinds of terrorist attacks. The first kind – which we saw on 9/11, the London Tube and Madrid train attacks, the Mumbai attack, and in the Charlie Hebdo massacre – are made by hardened, patient, and well-trained semi-professionals, whose activities are funded (and often directed) from overseas. In contrast, the second kind — think of the Tsarnaevs or Major Hasan — is typified by amateurishness, lack of planning, and poor impulse control. Moreover, it seems that failure to join the ranks of the former often leads to the latter.

As if their nearly complete failure wasn’t evidence enough, the news in this New York Times piece should confirm that the Garland attack was a strong instance of the latter:

But any secret ties that officials might find may be less important than the public exchanges of messages on Twitter by one of the gunmen, Elton Simpson, in the weeks before the attack. Mr. Simpson, a convert to Islam with a long history of extremism, regularly traded calls for violence on Twitter with Islamic State fighters and supporters, as well as avowed enemies of Pamela Geller, the organizer of the cartoon contest.

More on Iran’s Illegal Seizure of the Maersk Tigris


Maersk-TigrisLast week, Claire posted about Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship, MV Maersk Tigris. To recap, the Iranians decided to demonstrate, yet again, that the U.S. is a worthless ally by seizing a cargo ship flagged by a country that we pledged to defend. It appears that the seizure is based on an Iranian court judgement against Maersk, which chartered the vessel.

Eugene Kontorovich, on the excellent Volokh Conspiracy blog, analyzes Iran’s legal claims for seizing the Maersk Tigris and concludes that the country doesn’t have a leg to stand on:

Maritime law in fact allows nations to arrest foreign vessels for certain kind of claims, or maritime liens, and the cargo dispute between Iran and Maersk qualifies. However, the arrest of ships engaged in innocent transit is limited under the United Convention of the Law of the Sea, and general custom, to a limited set of claims involving the vessel itself…

Your Top Two, Number-One Priorities


William_CaseyLast week, I suggested that Republicans should identify a short list of easy, low-risk, political victories with a mind toward establishing credibility and gaining momentum toward bigger, riskier, more important projects. That begs the question of what those bigger priorities should be, and that makes for some difficult decision making. As my dad’s former boss, Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey, once explained to him:

If you’re brilliant, you can accomplish one thing. If you’re a genius you can accomplish two. The trick is to figure out the two things you want to get done, forget everything else, and be willing to take the beating you’ll get when everyone complains about all the things you didn’t get done.

So, Ricochetti, what are the two policy priorities the Republicans should pursue in 2017, should they win the presidency and hold congress? Bear in mind that we can only expect one of them to get done if the new president and congress are brilliant.

W: ‘So, Yeah… I Was Pretty Much Right All Along’


620x349For six long years George W. Bush has kept opinions about Obama’s policies to himself. While Cheney has more than made up for the absence of the last administration’s feelings, W was of the mindset that it is “unpresidential” to speak badly of other Presidents. Maybe he is right, but certainly to the chagrin of Conservatives.

That was until Saturday night when W spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. During his speech he stated the obvious (to us Conservatives) but nonetheless, it was refreshing to hear it from the man who has been the bane of every political bomb thrower, blamer and punchline.

Selected statements as reported from Bloomberg:

Rosatom: Russia’s One Bright Spot (Thanks to Hillary?)


MedvedevIn a depressing address to glum members of the Duma last week, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev enumerated a long list of crises and problems confronting the Russian economy. Medvedev blamed the country’s dire economic conditions on the double whammy of sanctions and falling energy prices, and laid out the anti-crisis measures that his government is taking to prop up banks, municipalities, small and medium-sized business, and the automotive industry, among others.

Two-thirds through his speech, Medvedev turned to two pieces of good news: a record harvest and the successes of the nuclear energy industry, under the umbrella of Rosatom (“Russian atomic energy”), which builds nuclear power plants and weapons. Medvedev proudly characterized Rosatom as “stable” and praised that stability as “of critical importance” to Russia. Per Medvedev, Rosatom’s portfolio of nuclear power plant contracts rose from 12 in the previous year to its current 29. Medvedev praised Rosatom’s technology as cutting edge (contrary to its backward reputation from the Chernobyl era).

Medvedev, of course, did not mention any possible contributions Bill or Hillary Clinton may have made to Rosatom’s success, but the Kremlin propaganda machine claims Hillary Clinton either (A) had nothing to do with Rosatom’s acquisition of uranium reserves in North America or (B) that the transaction was America’s reset gift to Russia to promote warm relations.

In Defense of Bush’s Second Inaugural


Bush_delivers_his_second_Inaugural_addressAt Ricochet’s recent Nashville Meet-up, the subject of George W. Bush’s speech came up, with — if I remember correctly* — none other than Troy Senik dismissing it as utopian. To my mind, that is precisely what inaugurals are for. I had a brief debate with Frank Soto about whether democratization of the planet would be complete within 20 years. On reflection, though, the debate missed the point. Even if it takes 40 years to bring about universal peace on an international scale, that’s the sort of grand project that benefits from markers being laid down.

I stray even further from confidence in attributing Gary McVey’s thoughts to Troy, but his this comment eloquently captures the most common reason for believing the speech to be ill-considered. “Blame Kristol and Barnes for that universal hunger for democracy line, but plenty of us believed it. Dad knew it was baloney. He was right.” This appears true at a trivial level; there are people who appear to prefer dictatorship to democracy, and they’re not all dictators (although the role and the outlook do appear to correlate).  I believe that the overwhelming bulk of humanity hears what the Inaugural called the call to freedom, but many of them also have other concerns.

Francis Fukuyama, in his Origins of Political Ordercompares and contrasts Magna Carta with Ivan the Terrible. In both instances, the nobility found itself with the power to rewrite the constitution. In England, power was tilted to the barons and, to a lesser extent, the people. In Russia, the barons chose to give up their power. Their oppression by their neighbors was so great that they willingly piled domestic oppression on their own heads in order to mitigate it. In England, peace and prosperity gave rise to a desire for decentralized power and freedom. Fukuyama emphasizes that the Russian instinct was not wholly irrational by noting that Hungary had a moment similar to the Magna Carta at about the same time. The Hungarians were not secure, and the decentralization worked out for them pretty poorly.