Archive for the 'When others say it so well' Category
We have a category that highlights the brilliance of others. This is just such an occasion. Thought Krauthammer always qualifies, this one in particular is worthy of note.
By Charles Krauthammer
It does not have the drama of the Inchon landing or the sweep of the Union comeback in the summer of 1864. But the turnabout of American fortunes in Iraq over the past several months is of equal moment — a war seemingly lost, now winnable. The violence in Iraq has been dramatically reduced. Political allegiances have been radically reversed. The revival of ordinary life in many cities is palpable. Something important is happening.
And what is the reaction of the war critics? Nancy Pelosi stoutly maintains her state of denial, saying this about the war just two weeks ago: “This is not working. . . . We must reverse it.” A euphemism for “abandon the field,” which is what every Democratic presidential candidate is promising, with variations only in how precipitous to make the retreat.
How do they avoid acknowledging the realities on the ground? By asserting that we have not achieved political benchmarks — mostly legislative actions by the Baghdad government — that were set months ago. And that these benchmarks are paramount. And that all the current progress is ultimately vitiated by the absence of centrally legislated national reconciliation.
I can understand Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, saying that the central government needs to seize the window provided by the surge to achieve political reconciliation. We would all love to have the leaders of the various factions — Kurd, Shiite and Sunni — sign nice pieces of paper tying up all the knotty questions of federalism, de-Baathification and oil revenue.
What commander would not want such a silver bullet that would obviate the need for any further ground action? But it is not going to happen for the same reason it has not already happened: The Maliki government is too sectarian and paralyzed to be able to end the war in a stroke of reconciliation.
But does the absence of this deus ex machina invalidate our hard-won gains? Why does this mean that we cannot achieve success by other means?
Sure, there is no oil law. But the central government is nonetheless distributing oil revenue to the provinces, where the funds are being used for reconstruction.
Sure, the de-Baathification law has not been modified. But the whole purpose of modification was to entice Sunni insurgents to give up the insurgency and join the new order. This is already happening on a widening scale all over the country in the absence of a relaxed de-Baathification law.
As for federalism, the Kurds are running their own region, the Sunni sheiks in Anbar and elsewhere are exercising not just autonomy but control of their own security, and the southern Shiites are essentially governing themselves, the British having withdrawn in all but name.
Yes, a provincial powers law would be nice because it would allow for provincial elections. We should push hard for it. But we already have effective provincial and tribal autonomy in pivotal regions of the country.
Why is top-down national reconciliation as yet unattainable? Because decades of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarianism followed by the brutality of the post-invasion insurgency destroyed much of Iraq’s political infrastructure, causing Iraqis to revert to the most basic political attachment — tribe and locality. Gen. David Petraeus’s genius has been to adapt American strategy to capitalize on that development, encouraging the emergence of and allying ourselves with tribal and provincial leaders — without waiting for cosmic national deliverance from the newly constructed and still dysfunctional constitutional apparatus in Baghdad.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is in disarray, the Sunni insurgency in decline, the Shiite militias quiescent, the capital city reviving. Are we now to reverse course and abandon all this because parliament cannot ratify the reconciliation already occurring on the ground?
Do the critics forget their own arguments about the irrelevance of formal political benchmarks? The transfer of power in 2004. The two elections in 2005. The ratification of the constitution. Those were all supposed to be turning points to pacify the country and bring stability — all blown to smithereens by the Samarra bombing in February 2006, which precipitated an orgy of sectarian violence and a descent into civil war.
So, just as we have learned this hard lesson of the disconnect between political benchmarks and real stability, the critics now claim the reverse — that benchmarks are what really count.
This is to fundamentally mistake ends and means. The benchmarks would be a wonderful shortcut to success in Iraq. But it is folly to abandon the pursuit of that success when a different route, more arduous but still doable, is at hand and demonstrably working.
While Sadat’s visit to Israel, Reagan and Gorbachev’s first meeting and Milli Vanilli being stripped of their Grammy were all important events, in their own way, today’s date will and should always be associated with one event: President Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the dedication ceremony for a cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
When the top spymaster at Britain’s supersecret MI5 comes out from the shadows to warn that things are dire and getting worse in jihadland, it’s prudent to be very afraid of what tomorrow may bring.
Jonathan Evans, in an extraordinary public appearance, reports his outfit is watching more than 2,000 terrorism supporters in the U.K., homegrown and otherwise, a number that is up exponentially over a year ago. And building. It’s clear, Evans says, that Al Qaeda masterminds are recruiting hordes of disaffected youngsters and have “a clear determination to mount terrorist attacks.”
Pooh, predictably yawns a member of Britain’s opposition party: nothing but “breathless talk.” There’s a lot of that going around. In America, for example, one presidential hopeful thinks any mention of Islamic extremism is just “the politics of fear.”
But fear is what’s called for in the face of an epic uprising of murderous fanatics who want all the planet as their gleaming caliphate. Standing in their way, fortunately, are people sensible enough to be alarmed. Like Evans. And Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. And, for that matter, rock star Bono, who recently startled a Rolling Stone interviewer with his unexpectedly illiberal opinion that jihadists are a real problem.
“There is an imminent threat,” says Bono. “It’s real and grave. It is as serious a threat as Stalinism and National Socialism. Let’s not pretend it isn’t.” Exactly. Be afraid.
The National Education Association and various state affiliates are spending $millions in an effort to overturn a school choice plan in Utah – even though, as George Will explains, it would result in more money per pupil in the government schools.
While this seems illogical, the union bosses are probably being smart. They understand a statewide school choice program would provide additional evidence that private schools do a better job than government schools.
Mark Steyn is simply the best writer around, and since it’s a busy day we’ve gone the route of using other’s words.
Last Thursday, Congress attempted to override President Bush’s veto of the SCHIP debate. SCHIP? Isn’t that something to do with health care for children? Absolutely. And here is Rep. Pete Stark, California Democrat, addressing the issue with his customary forensic incisiveness:
“The Republicans are worried that they can’t pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don’t care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you’re telling us today? Is that how you’re going to fund the war? You don’t have money to fund the war on children, but you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people? If he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.”
I’m not sure I follow the argument here: President Bush wants to breed a generation of sickly uninsured children to send them to Iraq to stagger round the Sunni Triangle weak and spindly and emaciated and rickets-stricken to get their heads blown off? Is that the gist of it? No matter, Mr. Stark hit all the buzz words – “children,” “illegal war,” “$200 billion,” “lies”, etc. – and these days they’re pretty much like modular furniture: you can say ’em in any order and you’ll still get a cheer from the crowd.
Mr. Stark is unlikely ever to be confused with Gen. John Stark, who gave New Hampshire its stirring motto, “Live free or die.” In the congressman’s case, the choice appears to be: “Live free on government health care or die in Bush’s illegal war.” Nevertheless, in amongst the autopilot hooey the Stark raving madman did use an interesting expression: “the war on children.”
One assumes he means some illegal Republican Party “war on children.” Nancy Pelosi, as is the fashion, used the phrase “the children” like some verbal tic, a kind of Democrat Tourette’s syndrome: “This is a discussion about America’s children. … We could establish ourselves as the children’s Congress. … Come forward on behalf of the children. … I tried to do that when I was sworn in as Speaker surrounded by children. It was a spontaneous moment, but it was one that was clear in its message: we are gaveling this House to order on behalf of the children.”
So what is the best thing America could do “for the children”? Well, it could try not to make the same mistake as most of the rest of the Western world and avoid bequeathing the next generation a system of unsustainable entitlements that turns the entire nation into a giant Ponzi scheme. Most of us understand, for example, that Social Security needs to be “fixed” – or we’ll have to raise taxes, or the retirement age, or cut benefits, etc. But, just to get the entitlements debate in perspective, projected public pensions liabilities are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 per cent of U.S. gross domestic product. In Greece, the equivalent figure is 25 percent – that’s not a matter of raising taxes or tweaking retirement age; that’s total societal collapse.
So what? shrug the voters. Not my problem. I paid my taxes, I want my benefits. In France, President Sarkozy proposes a very modest step – that those who retire before the age of 65 should not receive free health care – and the French are up in arms about it. He is being angrily denounced by 53-year-old retirees, a demographic hitherto unknown to functioning societies. You spend your first 25 years being educated, you work for two or three decades, and then you spend a third of a century living off a lavish pension with the state picking up every health-care expense. No society can make that math add up.
And so in a democratic system today’s electors vote to keep the government gravy coming and leave it to tomorrow for “the children” to worry about. That’s the real “war on children” – and every time you add a new entitlement to the budget you make it less and less likely they’ll win it.
A couple of weeks ago, the Democrats put up a 12-year old SCHIP beneficiary from Baltimore called Graeme Frost to deliver their official response to the president’s Saturday-morning radio address. And immediately afterward Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and I jumped the sick kid in a dark alley and beat him to a pulp, or so you would have thought from the press coverage: The Washington Post called us “meanies.” Well, no doubt it’s true we hardhearted conservatives can’t muster the civilized level of discourse of Pete Stark. But we were trying to make a point – not about the kid, but about the family, and their relevance as a poster child for expanded government health care.
Mr. and Mrs. Frost say their income’s about $45,000 a year – she works “part-time” as a medical receptionist and he works “intermittently” as a self-employed woodworker. They have a 3,000-square-foot home plus a second commercial property with a combined value of more than $400,000, and three vehicles – a new Suburban, a Volvo SUV, and a Ford F250 pick-up.
How they make that arithmetic add up is between them and their accountant. But here’s the point: The Frosts are not emblematic of the health-care needs of America so much as they are of the delusion of the broader Western world. They expect to be able to work “part-time” and “intermittently” but own two properties and three premium vehicles and have the state pick up health-care costs.
Who do you stick the bill to? Four-car owners? Much of France already lives that way: A healthy, wealthy, well-educated populace works a mandatory maximum 35-hour week with six weeks of paid vacation and retirement at 55 and with the government funding all the core responsibilities of adult life.
I’m in favor of tax credits for child health care, and Health Savings Accounts for adults, and any other reform that emphasizes the citizen’s responsibility to himself and his dependants. But middle-class entitlement creep would be wrong even if was affordable, even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover it every month: It turns free-born citizens into enervated wards of the nanny state.
As Gerald Ford liked to say when trying to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”
But there is an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn’t big enough to get you to give any of it back. As I point out in my book, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow is enjoying the fruits of Euro-style entitlements, he couldn’t give a hoot about the general societal interest. He has his, and who cares if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence?
That’s the real “war on children”: in Europe, it’s killing their future. Don’t make the same mistake here.
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.
From THE CORNER
The new poor [Mark Steyn]
Over the weekend, I posted a couple of things re Graeme Frost, the Democratic Party’s 12-year old healthcare spokesman. Michelle Malkin reports that the blogospheric lefties are all steamed about the wingnuts’ Swiftboating of sick kids, etc.
Sorry, no sale. The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game. As it is, the Dems do enough cynical and opportunist hiding behind biography and identity, and it’s incredibly tedious. And anytime I send my seven-year-old out to argue policy you’re welcome to clobber him, too. The alternative is a world in which genuine debate is ended and, as happened with Master Frost, politics dwindles down to professional staffers writing scripts to be mouthed by Equity moppets.
But one thing is clear by now: Whatever the truth about this boy’s private school, his family home, his father’s commercial property, etc, the Frosts are a very particular situation and do not illustrate any social generality – and certainly not one that makes the case for an expensive expansive all-but universal entitlement.
A more basic point is made very robustly by Kathy Shaidle: Advanced western democracies have delivered the most prosperous societies in human history. There simply are no longer genuinely “poor” people in sufficient numbers. As Miss Shaidle points out, if you’re poor today, it’s almost always for behavioral reasons – behavior which the state chooses not to discourage but to reward. Nonetheless, progressive types persist in deluding themselves that there are vast masses of the “needy” out there that only the government can rescue. An editorial in Canada’s biggest-selling newspaper today states:
A total of 905,000 people visited food banks across the Greater Toronto Area in the past year.
The population of Toronto is about two-and-a-half million. Is the Star suggesting one in three citizens of one of the wealthiest municipalities on earth depends on “food banks”? Or is it the same one thousand people getting three square meals a day there? Or ten thousand people swinging by a couple of times a week? And, in that case, how many of them actually “depend” on food banks? Only the Star knows. But the idea that 905,000 Torontonians need food aid is innumerate bunk.
So, in the absence of real need, we’ve persuaded ourselves that we need to create more and more programs for the middle-class and wealthy. Several correspondents have written to scoff at the idea that the Frosts are wealthy, citing family friends who suggest the grandparents chip in for the private-school fees.
But hang on. That’s as it should be. That’s the kind of healthy transgenerational solidarity without which no society can survive (see Europe). Graeme Frost’s maternal grandfather died last December, and The Baltimore Sun reported:
At Bendix, he helped develop the first microwave landing systems for commercial aircraft and worked on NASA’s manned space program from 1960 to 1977. For the next decade, he worked in management at Bendix facilities in Iowa, Florida, New Jersey and Baltimore. From 1989 to 1991, he was vice president of engineering at Nurad Technologies, which manufactures antennas.
Mr. Sebring never officially retired, serving as an engineering consultant for the Navy for 15 years, assisting with communication systems between helicopters and surface ships.
So executive vice-presidents’ families are now the new new poor? I support lower taxes for the Frosts, increased child credits for the Frosts, an end to the “death tax” and other encroachments on transgenerational wealth transfer, and even severe catastrophic medical-emergency aid of one form or other. But there is no reason to put more and more middle-class families on the government teat, and doing so is deeply corrosive of liberty.
And, if the Democrats don’t like me saying that, next time put up someone in long pants to make your case.
[UPDATE: Mister Innumerate, heal thyself. The population of the “Greater Toronto Area” – rather than the city itself – is, in fact, about five million. A reader writes:
So that would imply that about 1 in 6 people in the Greater Toronto Area visited a food bank in the past year. Is that so hard to imagine?
Er, yes, it is. One in six people in the Greater Toronto Area visited a food bank? At the very trough of the Depression, one in four American workers was unemployed and the lines at the soup kitchens snaked down the streets. If one in six Torontonians needed food from food banks, you’d notice it.]