The American Conservative, 24 March 2008

A remarkable story on the cover.  John Derbyshire writes that US foreign aid to Africa has produced enthusiastic crowds to greet George W. Bush on his recent visit to the continent and high approval ratings for America and Americans in polls of African opinion.  However, he expresses doubts as to the real value of such aid.  Citing Peter Bauer’s 1970’s-vintage definition of foreign aid as “transfer of wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people on poor countries” and economic studies by Bauer and other supporting that characterization, Derbyshire argues that changes in foreign aid programs in recent years have been at best cosmetic and that aid continues to make matters worse for the countries that receive it.  Going beyond narrowly economic arguments, Derbyshire points out that foreign aid, like big oil reserves, free a government from the need to finance itself by taxing its people, and thus from the need to win that people’s support or respect.  Thus aid, however nobly intended,  undermines democracy.  Quoting Africans who resent the rich world’s gifts to their countries and prefer the more straightforward exchanges businesses from China make in Africa, Derbyshire speculates that the short-term popularity aid may buy donors will come at the cost of an overall loss of influence.  Derbyshire mars this very interesting and tightly-argued article with some paragraphs near the end wherein, for no apparent reason, he brings up James Watson and the question of race and IQ.  A well-known exponent of the nativist hypothesis, Derbyshire evidently could not write anything at all about Africa without indulging himself in this rather unseemly preoccupation of his.  Still, the article as a whole makes a powerful case against the rich world’s patronage of the poor. 

A review of recent books on the history of the American right points to an historical cleavage of considerable importance.  Before the mid 60’s, the most prominent right-wing intellectuals in the USA were men whose education had been primarily in philosophy, history, and literature, and whose chief goal was to give true answers to the main questions of the day.  The following generations were men (and a few women) whose education had been primarily in the social sciences and whose chief goal was to formulate policies that right-wing politicians could implement.  The two groups could not understand each other- the older group were mystified as to what the younger ones really wanted, and the younger group thought the older ones were foolish to care so much about being right.  This is a story that The American Conservative should tell often, since the word “neoconservative” is so easy to spin as an anti-semitic slur.  By exploring this history, the magazine could enrich the word and avoid veiled bigotry. 

Eric Margolis contrasts the Iranian president’s recent highly publicized, multi-day, triumphal procession through thecities of Iraq with the brief, unannounced visits American leaders pay to US military bases and to highly guarded sites in the quietest corners of the country.  This contrast suggests to him that the US has already lost any hope of competing with Iran for influence in the future Iraq. 

Elsewhere in the issue,  Andrew Bacevich tries to talk himself and other disillusioned conservatives into voting for Barack Obama; Leon Hadar speculates on how Obama and McCain would handle crises stemming from Kosovo’s recent declaration of “independence”; and William S. Lind explains how past Balkan crises led to World War One, and finds inexcusable hubris in western governments’ failure to see a renewed disaster brewing in the region.

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