City of Brass

Further to the debate at Talk Islam earlier, I think that it is critical that the broader foreign policy principle of democracy promotion not be discredited by the imperialism-lite of the neoconservative movement.Liberal interventionism is not a purely military effort, but is the “smart power” to which Sec. Clinton referred. The ongoing war in Iraq and the Afghanistan campaign fail to meet the “smart power” test, and can not be characterized as liberal interventions, because they were done with military power as the priority, were mostly unilateral instead of being implemented via a broad coalition of allies, employed aerial bombardment that results in massive collateral damage, and have been riddled with strategic errors in their execution. For all these reasons, the actual promotion of democracy has been hampered, though not prevented outright.

It is important to understand just what “democracy promotion” means, so that in debates (such as the one at Talk Islam) the term can not be misunderstood as being equivalent to the foreign policy of the past eight years alone, but rather seen as a broad umbrella of varying policies. Via the indispensable POMED Wire, there is a very useful overview of all the issues relating to democracy promotion, written by Robert McMahon of the Council on Foreign Relations. POMED summarizes it as follows:

McMahon compiles recommendations from Republican, Democratic, and
nonpartisan foreign policy experts that suggest a shift away from
Bush’s freedom agenda. Recommendations include drawing a distinction
between democracy promotion and regime change, establishing more modest
goals and taking a more realistic approach to democracy promotion in
the Middle East, improving coordination on democracy promotion across
U.S. agencies, increasing involvement with multilateral organizations
that deal with democracy, and emphasizing governance and rule of law
over elections in transitioning countries.

This is “smart power” indeed and I think makes a compelling counterargument to the accusation that Western liberal interventionism is akin to imperialism. It is well-worth a read (here).

Related – excellent opinion piece in the Guardian calling for an end to aerial bombardment. I would go further and argue that the logic of Just War demands that “collateral damage” not be minimized, but be outright forbidden, as a moral imperative.

Guest post by G. Willow Wilson.

Over at TalkIslam, we’ve been having an ongoing debate about the merits of liberal military intervention around the world. The debate was sparked by an entry about the Shabab Islamist group, which is growing in power and influence in Somalia.

A condensed version follows:

Tariq Nelson: I hope that outsiders will just leave them alone this time. As long as
they do their thing inside Somalia and leave the rest of the world
alone then I am fine with that…

Let me clarify. I do not approve of them in the least. However, we
have to stop trying to police the world and establish our way of life
on others. There are plenty of sad atrocities going on all over the
world and we can’t impose our will in all of those places.

I think it is time that we leave well enough alone.

Aziz: As we learned in Afghanistan though, if you let extremism fester, it eventually comes back to bite us on our own shores.

I am an unabashed pragmatic liberal interventionist. I think democracy promotion
is sound policy, not to “impose our values” but because I believe the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights is truly universal and that the
Cairo Declaration falls short. I think this is not “imposing our will”
but rather a moral calling to let people express their own will.

Yes that makes me in some ways akin to the raving nutter neocons.
But there are nuances that are critical. As the new administration
says, it’s “smart power” not soft or hard.

Orwell was right – the history of the world is a boot stamping on a human face, forever. Until we change it.

Thabet: I think AE has slayed this beast

Aziz: oh, quite agreed, American Imperialism = Very Bad ++ungood. And yet, he
signed the Euston manifesto (as did I).

Abou Noor Al-Irelandee: Aziz and Tariq,

Your interchange is bizarre to me because you seem to be talking as
if the U.S. has not been involved militarily in Somalia for many years,
including backing and participating in the Ethiopian invasion of
Somalia which attempted to prop up an ineffective warlord based puppet
regime. Such foreign invasions and occupations will always eventually
lose and the result is that groups like AlShabab only become stronger
and more radicalized.

(see the whole discussion at Talk Islam)

Bill Kristol’s year-long stint as columnist at the New York Times has ended. His last column, entitled “Will Obama Save Liberalism?“, begins with the line:

All good things must come to an end. Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era.

In so doing, Kristol ties himself to conservatism’s swan song, and then takes pains to concern himself with Liberalism’s fate (by suggesting it become more conservative). It’s clever wordplay but ignores the question of explaining what conservatism is/was to the NYT audience, a genuinely precious opportunity upon which Kristol serially failed to capitalize. His writing was factually sloppy (necessitating numerous retractions) and even more of a cardinal sin for op-ed punditry, rather boring. Possibly the only genuinely useful piece he’s written, in terms of analyzing and promoting the conservative movement, was “Let 1000 Republican Flowers Bloom” and that was in the pages of the Weekly Standard, not the NYT.

The idea that the NYT should have an explicitly conservative columnist is a good one. The ideal role of such a columnist would be to present the conservative viewpoint on various issues, and in so doing, seek to persuade the readers of the Times towards that conservative position. By articulating a consistent set of conservative ideas and principles, the columnist could do much to contribute and perpetuate the movement as the Republican Party wanders the political wilderness and grapples with its own identity. The central question of conservatism today, in the wake of two successive historic electoral defeats, is how to integrate the various factions under one tent, or whether they should even try. As Rick Moran writes at an excellent piece at The Next Right, libertarian “small government” conservatives and social “splenetic” conservatives are in a fundamental conflict. Meanwhile, David Frum’s new blog The New Majority seeks to “build a conservatism that can win again” – an explicit admission that the old coalition strategy is no longer viable and that Republicans need to move past old dogmas to appeal to the mainstream. For their part, social conservatives like Rod Dreher and others at Culture 11 are trying to articulate their values in a non-divisive way (using the label, “crunchy cons” – see Rod’s book). The challenge all of these next-generation conservative intellectuals face is to articulate their views and innovate their ideas while remaining within the same, overall conservative framework. Is the tent big enough for all of them?

One of the next-gen conservative leaders who I respect, Patrick Ruffini, has dismissed the idea that conservatives should care who replaces Kristol. When I pressed him on Twitter for who he’d pick, he cavalierly suggested Rush Limbaugh, which is as backwards, pre-2006 a choice as you can imagine. Rufini went on to write the argument for Limbaugh in more detail at The Next Right, which is rather ironic if you think about it. Ruffini argues,

The goal of conservative new media should not be to legitimize the
status quo in media, but to challenge it and shift the balance of
power. To hang on the prestige of a Times appointment is a
mostly useless exercise by navel-gazing pundits whose sole concern is
accurately describing the status quo, not moving the ball forward.

Doubly disturbing is the notion that the Times‘ token conservative should be someone who is acceptable to sensibility of liberal (and hence more civilized) Times readers;
that only a certain type of conservative will do — a “smart,”
“reasonable” figure worthy of dining with President Obama. 

I have a great deal of respect for Bill Kristol and David Brooks (or
for that matter, Charles Krauthammer and George Will), but they play a
very defined role in the process — which is to represent a safe flavor
of Beltway-centric conservatism that is acceptable within the Acela
corridor. I appreciate that someone has to play this role, but by
engaging in this parlor game, we are playing with fire: feeding the
left’s desire to elevate a narrow elite of Times-worthy conservative pundits whose job it is to hold the braying Coulterite masses in check.

We shouldn’t play this game. Either we engage the liberal media on our terms or on none at all. The Times needs
someone who is as far to the right, in as hard-edged and partisan a
way, as Paul Krugman is to the left. The fact that strident left-wing
voices one step voice up from Kos appear on the op-ed page is not
considered a problem, so why shouldn’t the same be true on the right?

This argument is not an objective one, however, but dictated by his certitude that the NYT’s secret agenda is to marginalize conservatism and that the liberal mainstream is equivalent to the progressive left wing. In other words, he makes the same mis-characterization of the Left that he accuses the Left of making towards the Right. By suggesting a “fighter” for the columnist position, he is just perpetuating the same old politics that led to conservatisms’ defeat. This is not how you grow a movement, or even preserve an intellectual heritage. Limbaugh is an entertainer and a provocateur; all his selection would achieve is the cementing of conservatism into the splenetic caricature it has come to be from right-wing radio. If that’s Ruffini’s goal, then why not Ann Coulter instead of Limbaugh? the logic is largely the same.

The choice to replace Kristol should indeed be someone who drives liberals “crazy” – but not in the Limbaugh sense, as Ruffini would have it, but rather as Kevin Drum (a liberal) saysbecause he makes such compelling and hard-to-refute arguments for conservative ideas.” Michael Calderone at The Politico made several suggestions, including Megan McArdle, Ross Douthat and David Frum. However, the problem with all of these is that they already have (print) editorial outlets of their own, which would dilute their voice; McArdle and Douthat at The Atlantic, Frum at National Review. A conservative columnist with no major commitments at present, but with solid pundit credentials, would have the maximum impact.

Also, most of the suggested choices are somewhat detached from the social conservative wing. A true conservative v2.0 voice needs to be one that reaffirms social conservatism as a team player rather than as a minority view that must be accommodated and placated. They also need to have genuine experience in community building online, and be able to leverage the new media and social graph tools for effective dissemination of their ideas beyond the NYT and into the blogsphere, to drive the debate rather than follow behind.

All this is prelude to my own suggestion to replace Kristol, of course. I am of course biased because he is my friend, but I think that Joshua Treviño meets and exceeds the criteria above and would in fact be the ideal advocate for the conservative movement in the Obama era. Josh was a speechwriter for the Bush Administration, served in the Army, and had a brief stint at the Pacific Research Institute, a mid-level conservative think tank. Josh was one of the original conservative bloggers, including founding (though no longer associated with them). He currently is running his own media consultant firm, and has had numerous media appearances on television and guest columns at National Review.

Resume aside, though, what is more important is that on the issues, Josh transcends the raw divisions of the conservative movement. He’s a contributor to Credo, the religion blog at Culture11, and is unabashedly pro-life. Josh has endorsed the Rebuild The Party 10-point plan (focused on technology innovation) and is highly active on twitter (@jstrevino). Despite his loyalty to the Republican brand, he was a conservative critic of the Bush Administration, was skeptical of Sarah Palin and Harriet Miers (to put it mildly) and (with the luxury of being a California Republican) abstained from voting for John McCain. And with respect to the Iraq war, he remains convinced it was the right thing to do, albeit poorly-executed. This places him all over the conservative v2.0 map, which is a good thing if you are looking for someone who can relate to all sides. In the context of the conservative movement identity, however, his most important essay went largely un-noticed at his personal blog – an argument that Obama’s victory did not hinge on the moderate vote:

The conservative defectors to Barack Obama were of all stripes — and
the “values voters” and “social fundamentalist” demographic segments
actually outstripped the rate of defection of conservatives at large.
Whereas 22% of conservatives deserted the GOP, 26% of white Protestant
born-agains and evangelicals did, and 32% of voters explicitly
concerned about “values” did. All told, the numbers more readily demand
a Republican shift toward “social fundamentalism” than away
from it. Tellingly, Whitman and Bostock neglect the most compelling
numbers of all: the decisive victories of popular referenda defending
traditional marriage in Florida, Arkansas, Arizona and California.
That’s two McCain states and two Obama states — and one of the latter
is among the nation’s most liberal. Social conservatism alone is no
panacea for the Republican Party’s ills, but it has the virtue of winning, and without it, what remains is mere administrative technocracy.

Naturally, speaking as a liberal, I disagree with almost everything Joshua writes! But he truly is the kind of conservative writer who “makes compelling arguments for conservative ideas.” Such conservatives strengthen not only conservatism, but liberalism as well – for the good of the nation as a whole. As Bill Clinton said at the dedication of his Presidential library in November 2004,,

“America has two great dominant strands of political thought – conservatism,
which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed;
and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that
should never have been erected.”

And should Joshua be selected by the Times, I have a humble suggestion for the title of his first column: “Will Obama save conservatism?” With Treviño at the Times, the answer might well be yes.

Related – Editor and Publisher rounds up some of Bill Kristol’s greatest hits. Also, RedState’s reaction to Kristol’s assertion about the conservative era’s end kind of proves Kristol’s point, and highlights the need all the more for someone from the ranks of conservatism v2.0 to replace him. Daniel Larison also chimes in, and has been floated as a replacement as well.

The following anecdote is written by my friend Aamer Jamali, via email a few weeks ago (prior to the Inauguration). I have his permission to reprint it here.

Of all the things to remember about my Hajj trip (and there are right
now, too many to recount) an especially illustrative anecdote stands
out in my mind, which may do more to establish a fundamental truth
about our recent election than any number of pundits could.
Medina (the Prophet’s SA city), a group of us from the States were
visiting a number of the Prophet’s SA original mosques.  In Masjid
al-Fateh, a small masjid on a small hilltop, a group of us crowded in
to say our prayers.  Seeing the group of us ascend the hill, two
members of the Moral Authority (Saudi religious police) followed us up,
and shortly after we began our prayers began to usher us out.  Their
ostensible reason?  There was a much larger masjid nearby where we
could pray more comfortably (not built by the Prophet SA).  There was
no doubt that their outward ‘concern’ for our comfort was fueled by a
bitter dislike of Shiites (us) by Wahhabi Sunnis (them). 
we were filing out (after an impressive Arabic shouting match by our
group leader), one of the ladies made a comment that gave away the fact
we were Americans.  Immediately, the policeman stopped everyone to
loudly ask “You are from America?”  Fearing that this lady had made a
comment that would land us a night in jail or worse, we meekly answered
A heated whispering Arabic discussion took place between
the two MA members.  Followed by one of them addressing the lady
“Hussein Obama?” To which she enthusiastically replied “Barack Hussein
Obama!”  At this point, the most amazing thing happened.  The two MA
members, Wahhabis through and through, took pains to turn our group
around, usher our Shiite group back INTO the masjid, and exhort us to
take as long as we wanted to finish our prayers.
We have no
idea what kind of president Barack Obama will be.  He has not even
taken office yet.  But it is becoming clear what the fact that we
elected him says about US, the American people.  And no matter what he
does or doesn’t accomplish, nobody can take that away from us.

Aamer H. Jamali, MD, FACC is a cardiologist in Los Angeles.