The American Conservative, October 2009

american conservative october 2009

The cover may suggest an alarmist piece about Pakistan.  The article actually in the issue, though, is precisely the opposite.  Granting that Pakistan is an important country that has very serious problems, it asserts that there is no chance that it will break up, fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden, or launch a nuclear attack.  If the USA sobers up and pursues a more realistic policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan might even make progress on its real problems.

Elsewhere in the issue, Andrew Bacevich quotes Cold Warrior Richard Pipes’ 1979 declaration to the effect that since Afghanistan is a place of no strategic importance, the Soviet invasion of that country must have been a step towards a goal elsewhere.  Bacevich agrees that Afghanistan was without strategic importance when Pipes said that, and says that it continues to be so.  Where he disagrees with Pipes is in his assessment of the rationality of the Soviet leadership of the 1979-1989 period, and indeed of the US leadership of today.  He claims that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan because they believed that showing power there would shore up their empire; in fact, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a significant factor in the eventual collapse of the USSR.  Likewise, America’s leaders want to persist in Afghanistan, not because of they have made any rational calculation indicating that they should, but because they are dare not make a calculation that might indicate that they should not.

This issue includes a piece by always-intriguing, highly eccentric writer Eve Tushnet.  Tushnet has a gift for the lapidary; she describes growing up in Washington, DC as one of very few white children in her neighborhood, albeit one “weird enough that my skin color was not one of the obvious targets of teasing.”  Recounting her childhood Halloweens, she writes that “A mask is above all an attempt to communicate, to create and reshape meaning over the silence of skin.”  Quite a provocative phrase, “the silence of skin.”  On a par with her line from 2008, “by religion, I mean an understanding of the nature of love.”


More from the antiwar Right

The American Conservative, 8 September 2008

Two major articles deal with the fear that haunts many of the “Old Right” contributors to this publication, the fear that America is becoming dependent on foreign powers.  An obituary for Lieutenant General William Odom discusses the testimony the general gave to the US Senate in early April, in which he pointed out that US forces in Iraq depend “on a long and slender supply line from Kuwait, which runs through territory controlled by Shi’ite forces friendly to Iran” [a quote from the obituarist, not Odom’s own words.)  American service personnel in Iraq are therefore hostages at the disposal of Iran. 

Andrew Bacevich attacks American consumerism and its economic consequences.  Our insatiable appetite for luxuries, Bacevich argues, has saddled us with debts and a dependence on imported fuels that we can manage only by maintaining a constant war footing, while our wars serve only to increase our debts and deepen our dependence.   

The American Conservative, 25 August 2008

Remember George W Bush saying that the fall of Saddam Hussein meant that the “rape rooms” in his prisons would forever close?  Abu Ghraib made a sick joke out of that boast.  Well, the return of rape rooms wasn’t the end of it.  Since the current war began in March 2003, well over 2 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes.  Most of them left empty-handed.  How have they been surviving since?  Kelley Beaucar Vlahos shows how; tens of thousands of Iraqi women and girls have been forced into prostitution.  No one in authority is even collecting statistics about these victims of daily rape, much less trying to help them.   On the contrary, when it was revealed that a major US defense contractor was shuttling women and girls between Kuwait and Baghdad to be used as sex slaves, the story went nowhere.  The matter remained so obscure that even Vlahos misreports the name of the whistleblower who revealed it.  She calls him Bruce Halley.  His name is Barry Halley. 


The Atlantic Monthly, October 2008

This issue‘s cover features a controversial picture of Senator Crazy John McCain. 

Hail the Leader!

Hail the Leader!

 The controversy mainly has to do with the photographer’s other images of McCain.  The Atlantic defended the image above. 

The legend, “Why War is His Answer,” seemed eerily apt- the magazine arrived in the same mail as a gift from a friend (thanks, cymast!) a Quaker “War is Not the Answer” bumper sticker. 

Interesting points after the jump.


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.

The American Conservative, 8 October 2007

Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel best known as the author of The New American Militarism, excoriates General David Petraeus’ recent Congressional testimony, pointing out that if Petraeus were correct and the “surge” were working, then his recommendation that it be discontinued would be preposterous.  Bacevich argues that the elite in Washington is driven chiefly by the fear of admitting that it was wrong.  After reviewing Petraeus’ arguments and contrasting his views with the more cautious pronouncements of other senior commanders, Bacevich concludes:

Politically, it qualifies as a brilliant maneuver.  The general’s relationships with official Washington remain intact.  Yet he has broken faith with the soldiers he commands and the Army to which he has devoted his life.  He has failed his country.  History will not judge him kindly.   

American debates on foreign policy are usually conducted in terms of two, and only two, historical analogies: Munich and Vietnam.  Not only do these analogies grow tiresome, but their use in debate rests on an absurd set of oversimplifications.  Those tired of this idiocy may welcome Paul W. Schroeder’s “Fire Fight.”  Schroeder compares the current position of the USA in Iraq to the position of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Italy in the period 1848-1859.  Not only does Schroeder draw out intriguing parallels between the way the Hapsburgs weakened themselves by wasting their resources in an unwinnable war in Italy and the way in which America is weakening itself in Iraq, he also acknowledges what the Munich–Vietnam shouters usually overlook, that an analogy is a comparison between things which are in other respects dissimilar.  Given that definition, a “perfect analogy” is a contradiction in terms.  Schroeder specifies the limits within which analogy is useful. 

 Other highlights include Philip Weiss, keeper of the mondoweiss blog, on the apparent inability of the organization Freedom Watch to specify its relationship with the Bush administration or its policy towards Israel; Kelley Beaucar Vlahos on neoconservatives among the top advisors to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; and Pat Buchanan on the future of Belgium.