Cella's Review
Politics, Culture, the Public Square

“. . . And beer was drunk with reverence, as it ought to be.” — G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, December 31, 2002  

Noah Millman, no knee-jerk enemy of the Bush administration, looks at the menacing bravado of North Korea and the American meely-mouthed response, and arrives at a conclusion even harsher and starker than mine:

I fear we’re going to become a laughingstock. The administration policy of downplaying the Korea threat is going to seriously undermine its case on Iraq. This is the scenario everyone was worried about when we abandoned the “two war” policy of the first Bush administration and reduced force levels to the point where we expected only to “win-hold-win” (and that, it seems, is optimistic). This administration is moving in the direction of being more appeasement-minded that the Clinton Administration, allowing North Korea to openly go nuclear with no consequence whatsoever. And it is revealing to the world that (a) America cannot handle two problems at once; (b) once you have nuclear weapons, America will be decisively deterred from attacking you. We are also suggesting, incorrectly, that our war in Iraq stems from ulterior motives.

This can’t go on. The United States military has got to start making visible preparations for fighting two wars at once. The North Koreans have got to start worrying that if they start up their plutonium reprocessing facility, we will blow it up. And we have got to start lining up the diplomatic ducks —- not for a round of negotiations with North Korea, but for the reentry of weapons inspectors, peacefully if possible but by force if necessary. The Chinese need to get the message: we will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea. And we will not rely on the regime to “declare” itself non-nuclear. We will rely only on Western observers, on the ground, with full access to the country, to prove that there’s no nuclear program going on. If the Chinese don’t want a military confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea, they should have a confrontation of their own.

This, it seems to me, is the minimum for us to be credible. It is the minimum for us to be able to launch the necessary war against Iraq with at least a fig-leaf of international support, and the minimum to keep North Korea from coming to the conclusion that it is home-free and blackmail will always work. In which case, triple the list of countries on the list to buy some of that North Korean nuclear technology. If we keep going down this road, I’m afraid John Derbyshire is going to be proved right on Iraq, and that Iran is going to go nuclear within months, with North Korean help. That’ll leave us 0 for 3 against the Axis of Evil at the dawn of 2004.

Saying so gives me no pleasure, but: ‘tis all too true. As Mr. Millman concludes acerbically, “Happy New Year.”

posted by Paul Cella | 11:38 PM |

Commentary printed my letter to Victor Davis Hanson, and the legendary man replied! Please indulge me in a reprint:

To the Editor:

Victor Davis Hanson contributes a solid and thoughtful discussion of American-European relations, but I am mildly alarmed by the equanimity with which he treats the prospect of European military independence from the United States. If Europe’s impulse toward political and economic unification largely derives, as I think it does, from opposition or hostility to the U.S., then it is fair to suppose that a prospective military consolidation would as well.

That would be an altogether ominous development. It is not difficult to imagine a future Europe, unleashed from its dependence on U.S. military might, pivoting toward an anti-American coalition with China, or even with resentful Muslim states whose emigrants have moved north and west in sufficient numbers to establish a sizeable constituency for a pro-Muslim foreign policy.

For America to encourage European integration and military independence strikes me as thoroughly unwise. We would be better served by strengthening our ties with the more friendly Europeans —- the British, but also the Spanish and the Italians —- and thereby resisting the EU’s consolidation.

Paul J. Cella III
Atlanta, Georgia


[. . .]

I share Paul J. Cella’s worry about a rearmed Europe, but do not feel that it is in the United States’ ability or prerogative after a half-century to prevent particular states, if they so wish, from seeking military power commensurate with their population, economic strength, and cultural influence —- or that a more muscular stance is always deleterious to American interests. If, after 50 years, Europe has not learned to refrain from destroying itself or turning on us, I am afraid we can do little by stationing vast American military assets there in perpetuity —- besides further fueling a European sense of inferiority cum resentment. A better policy is to remain engaged diplomatically, emphasize our common interests, seek strong bilateral ties as Mr. Cella suggests, and then, in contrast to the prevailing naiveté of either 1914 or 1939, maintain strong American military preparedness, both for our own protection and for support of those individual —- especially Eastern —- European states that feel comfortable with American friendship. [. . .]

posted by Paul Cella | 10:53 PM |

Friday, December 27, 2002  

John Zmirak contributes some fine reflections on immigration in this essay, including the brilliant and almost shocking metaphor of counterfeit citizenship:

When we foster illegal immigration, and legitimize it later through inevitable amnesties, we are cheapening irreparably the value of citizenship —- a privilege for which thousands of people have worked and waited patiently, something which men in the past have enlisted in the U.S military and risked their lives to earn [. . .]

U.S. citizenship, or even residency, is not a basic human right. It is a limited good, a precious and scarce commodity —- like currency, except in time of mass inflation. Good capitalists used to understand the importance of a sound currency —- which makes it all the more puzzling that the people at The Wall Street Journal don’t understand how irresponsibly they are behaving when they promote open borders.

They would solve the illegal immigration question by licensing everyone on earth to print U.S. citizenship papers. Are they really so blinded by ideology that they can’t see what this would mean? It’s like turning the Federal Reserve over to the General Assembly of the United Nations, so that other countries could inflate the dollar out of existence.

Now that is an effective polemic. And as Henry Kissinger would say, it has the additional virtue of being true. Mr. Zmirak’s whole essay is worth careful reading, as it is a thoughtful, humane and erudite discussion of a volatile and intimidating question. —- Volatile and intimidating precisely because it bulks so simultaneously huge and stealthily in the public square. It is the proverbial elephant in the living home of half a dozen difficult and blistering policy questions; and it is the question that so often cannot be asked because it appears suddenly out of the gloom not as a question at all but as a rowdy and truculent assertion. Immigration policy, that is.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:56 PM |

Okay. From where I sit North Korea is a more dangerous than Iraq. It probably has all the ghastly weapons that Iraq does, plus many more, including, perhaps, ballistic missiles that can reach California. It is tyrannized by an authentic madman; an amalgam of Communist, nationalist and nepotistic psychosis and unadulterated cruelty. It deploys a huge military, which has been described in frightening detail by Eric S. Margolis:

North Korea has been steadily expanding its million-man army, which has 4,000 tanks and 12,000 heavy guns or rocket launchers. The North’s equipment is obsolete, but its army is tough, aggressive, and dug into fortified positions, caves, and tunnels —- including one this writer visited, driven under the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that allowed a full 12,000-man North Korean infantry division to pass in short order under U.S. and South Korean defenses.

North Korea also fields the world’s largest commando force: 100,000 crack special forces whose prime mission is to infiltrate South Korea in wartime from the air, land, and sea and deliver suicide assaults against all ten of the vital U.S. and South Korean airbases and headquarters on the peninsula and to strike U.S. air and naval bases in Japan, Okinawa, and even Guam. The North’s Scuds and No-dong missiles, armed with chemical warheads, are also targeted on airbases in South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa. Pentagon war games have shown that if North Korea can quickly neutralize these vital air bases, it can occupy all of South Korea before U.S. reinforcements can arrive.

In addition, 10,000 North Korean heavy guns and rocket launchers along the DMZ are poised to deliver a torrent of conventional explosives, chemicals, and germs down on the 37,000 U.S. troops of the 2nd Infantry Division along the border and on other units further south. Seoul’s 10.6 million people are also within range of North Korean artillery. Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened to “burn” Seoul and the American troops stationed in South Korea and quite clearly has the capability to do so.

Appalling, no? Fifty years ago, American servicemen were fighting, bleeding and dying on the Korean Peninsula. We came within a hair’s breadth of losing the whole peninsula in the summer of 1950 following a surprise offensive by the Communists and before reinforcements were hastily deployed. After General Douglas MacArthur’s disastrous rush north and the treacherous intervention of the Chinese, the war settled into almost two years of World War I-style butchery in the trenches.

I have argued before that one of the most enervating consequences of America’s quasi-imperial stance over the last half century (most of that stance being sadly unavoidable) has been the decline of strong, assertive allies. Japan and South Korea are rich and stable nations, largely so because of American perseverance and generosity; they should be fully capable of defending themselves, but the presence of sizable U.S. military assets makes possible a near-total complacency about defense expenditures. It is objectively absurd that we must play “bad cop” to the appeasement-minded South Koreans and Japanese. Our natural role should be that of deal-broker. And the resentment fueled by our (sometimes subconsciously) humiliating position vis-à-vis our allies is not inconsiderable: Hardly a week goes by without an anti-American demonstration by ungracious South Koreans whose freedom is vouchsafed by American blood and treasure.

The situation is a perilous, unpredictable mess; a real nuclear tinderbox. The most recent 007 movie centers in part around the threat of a second Korean War. Dear God, may it not have been strangely, horribly prophetic…

posted by Paul Cella | 7:28 AM |

Take a good look at this breathtaking map, and then read Radley Balko's pithy comments on it.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:18 AM |

Thursday, December 26, 2002  

With some sharp words about the “hypocrisy of charity’s friends on the right,” Matthew Yglesias encapsulates rather briskly the impression or notion of charity which reigns among progressives and liberals.

It’s nice that many churches of all political persuasions do manage to find the time for one month a year to remember that fighting poverty might be more important than fighting sodomy, but if you believe in an obligation to help the poor then you should be working to make sure that the government obliges people to help the poor through it’s public policies. Otherwise you’re just treating helping people as some kind of neat hobby or something.

Now hypocrisy is of course a well-nigh universal trait among men, and rears its grubby head perhaps most often to emulate and dampen the virtue of charity. But that is no excuse to abet the peculiar steady effacement of the virtue itself, which is what the modern world has to a large degree undertaken. Mr. Ygelsias seems to hold out hope that the coercive force of the state will reinvigorate the mendicant virtues through a sort of fanciful collectivist alchemy. But it would be better that men abandon a virtue than that they destroy one; that they stand in robust absolute defiance of charity on principle than that they transform it into insouciance. For what Mr. Yglesias proposes is not charity but more nearly self-reverence or complacency. It is an attempt to make the natural active duty of one man to another into a hopelessly passive thing. It tenders the impossible illusion that we do something by not doing anything at all; specifically, that we “do unto others” by doing precisely nothing, by merely acquiescing in a certain set of prescriptions for the political economy.

Mr. Yglesias’s “charity” consists in having income never seen by its earner extracted mechanistically by hypothetical stranger A and delivered to hypothetical stranger B, during the bureaucratic process of which, most of said income vanishes. A strange definition of a beautiful word we have arrived at, a definition which says to men: “you are doing something great and important by doing nothing.”

In fact coercion is incompatible with charity, the latter being mortally dependent on the freely-chosen act of an individual. The bright and transcendent human virtues, the things that endure and stand out as exceptional, are obliterated when we attack the core of their being by making them extant only under compulsion by the state. A man need feel no shame at resenting the anonymous dispossession of his property, his income, to aid a still-speculative abstraction referred to reverentially as “the poor.” But he rightly feels agonizing shame when he begins to treat real poor people as abstractions easily compartmentalized, ignored or despised.

And I would like to say gently, respectfully, that maybe there is more charity in allowing a man to keep his hard-earned income, that he might support his family and educate his children while simultaneously caring for, say, an elderly and sickly mother whose medical bills are ruinously expensive. This is real charity. It is not sufficient charity, because men owe duties greater than family. But it is real, it is freely-given, and it seeks not to transform itself into another thing. In other words, it honors yet another human virtue: humility.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:17 AM |

Wednesday, December 25, 2002  

One might say that the principal conservative insight —- the most perdurable and the most universal —- is this: all concentrations of power except the divine will engender abuse. Of Burke, the ample and brilliant British historian Paul Johnson put it thusly: “His public life was devoted to essentially a single theme —- the exposure and castigation of the abuse of power.” Opponents of the conservative party, wherever and in whatever guise it assembles itself, are generally those who conceive of some portion of the social or political order as exempt from this rule. For many it is simply the State, however constituted; for others, the demotic spirit of that ubiquitous abstraction, “the people”; for still others, a romanticized vision of yet another abstraction, the Nation; and a great many others simply look to themselves, the vanguard elite of the proletariat or some such thing, as arbiters of perfect virtue. Whatever it is that specifically inebriates them, modern radicals —- or, more provocatively, modern heretics —- share in their fundamental organizing principle a stonefaced declaration: our Vision is incorruptible, our Man pristine.

Not infrequently, ostensibly “conservative” movements and parties themselves become inebriated by some fleeting or enduring heresy. The Spanish Inquisitors, for instance, regarded the earthly church-state hierarchy as incorruptible, and the resulting abuse is the stuff of waking nightmare for a hundred thousand secularists and materialists to this day. When conservatives absolve themselves of their own accountability to the first principle affirmed above, they can be quite as dangerous as the radicals they confront. Indeed, it is implied by a full understanding of that very principle that a man should mistrust first and foremost himself —- mistrust not so much his reason as his motives. “Power attracts the corruptible,” wrote Frank Herbert, author of the vast, fascinating and majestic science fiction series Dune. “Suspect all who seek it. We should grant power over our affairs only to those who are reluctant to wield it, and only then under conditions that increase the reluctance.”

It is precisely this principle of distrust for concentration of power, I contend, that forms the backdrop to the American Constitution and the political science that frames it. Some debris must be cleared first to get a clearer picture of this. A distrust of power does not naturally lead to a kind of libertarian anarchy (or anarchic libertarianism) —- that “our enemy, the state” attitude which decries all exercise of governmental authority. The American founders were rather intensely curious about government —- specially, self-government —- and they developed republican institutions to harness and mold the raw concentration of power in the state; to instruct its operators and reanimate those virtues that will countervail its abuse; but they did not hate it or seek to destroy it. The source of evil is not in the state; it is in men. And so, they counsel, we must look to institutions to manage and contain the power that will corrupt men and amplify their intrinsic vices, defeating the delicate balance of the commonweal, and impinging on the rights of individuals. The state should be strong, but limited —- the latter descriptor being the essence of the founders’ wisdom. The Constitution enumerates powers of the government: you may do this, but no more; here, and no further. “Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” —- That is the Tenth Amendment, which embodies concisely the “enumerated powers” principle; and I think it is fair to say that to the extent that this indispensable clause has been obliterated we can delineate the decay of what is the unique genius of American political science.*

The genius, namely, of calling forth, from an admixture of the teachings of the ancients and the fertile ground of the English liberal tradition, the materials of an ordered liberty with which to assemble a humble Republic of virtuous people. I think the political science of the founders a profoundly conservative thing; certainly in contrast to the bloodbath and cacophonic tyranny of the French Revolution, the American predecessor was moderate, deliberative and sensible indeed. It therefore should not surprise us, I don’t think, to discover that the founders’ political science has been subtly disdained, besieged, assailed, disparaged, and despised by so many haughty innovators. I say subtly because rarely have the innovators taken it on directly —- too daunting and treacherous a task, that. Rather, they have employed indirect methods. One is to curse the founders for the sins of their age: “slave-owners have nothing to tell us about liberty and virtue.” As damaging as this charge appears, to accept its conclusion one must consent to disregard the whole of the Christian era and philosophy, which centers redemption in the life of the world of men, declares unapologeticallly that sinners will be servants of God, and begins with the great persecutor of Christians (St. Paul) who became their evangelical champion. And one cannot help but wonder, if it is true that the sins of an era liquidate everything of value to emerge from it, how our age of gas chamber and gulag and legalized infanticide and famine-as-instrument-public-policy will fare. Will sophisticated people three hundred years hence remark: “Yes, they landed on the moon and built the Internet, but everywhere they treated human beings as so much raw material to be sacrificed to whatever suited their fancy; and therefore they have nothing to teach us”?

Another common method of deprecating the founders’ genius is that mild and agreeable intoxicant which falls under the pronouncement of the Constitution as “a living document.” The Constitution was appropriate for the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, this dulcified polemic goes, but it is now outmoded, ill-adapted for the exigencies of the modern world. Today the Constitution, brilliant though it once was, stands in the way of progress. Blah, blah, blah. How utterly tedious this argument is! how stale and lifeless and brittle! It should be enough to say merely that the Constitution verily bristles with formulas and instruments for amendment and adaptation —- above and beyond the obvious constitutional amendment process; or to say that as discerning an observer of democracy as Tocqueville was astounded by the “instability of legislation” in America, that is, its impermanence and rapid adjustment to the “not only preponderant but irresistible” will of the majority. One mechanism for adaptation or source of legislative instability that strikes me as pertinent today is Article III, Section 2:

In all other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and such under such Regulations as the Congress shall make” [my emphasis].

Therein lies the solution to the judicial usurpation of politics, one might think; or at least the point of departure for an eventual solution.

In fact the Constitution is already an astonishingly adaptive document: it has remained in force longer than any written constitution in the world. France is on its fifth Republic since its Revolution in 1792, and may soon be subsumed altogether into the behemoth European Union superstate. The British constitution is very old, but it is unwritten, almost metaphorical only, and Parliament pretty much does what its majority wants. No, when progressives speak of our Constitution as a “living document” they more nearly mean a dead one; that is, a parchment discarded in fact, preserved only in oratory and symbol —- discarded because it thwarts their ambitions, which usually cannot be swiftly carried out constitutionally. The progressives and innovators desire the power to impose their designs of a good society on us, and the Constitution restrains them. Therefore, the Constitution stands in the way of progress. Q.E.D.

There is yet another method of attacking and eroding the American political genius, and that is simply to pretend it includes things that patently it does not. For example, a “right to privacy,” which might more accurately be called a right to abortion as a method of contraception, and a free speech jurisprudence which protects graphic bestiality, but does not protect a prayer before a graduation ceremony. Perhaps the most infamous example of this means of usurpation is the oft-quoted “mystery passage” of the Supreme Court’s concurring opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Man is the measure of all things. Here we have, in this garbled moral gibberish, the Supreme Court grafting onto the American political tradition a concept so alien to that tradition it is probably fair to say that the tradition itself is effaced by it. In point of fact the heart of liberty is truth, to which all men are accountable, and unmoored from which men are consigned to bondage.

By whatever method, the object ultimately is the same: the transformation of a constitutional state of limited powers into an administrative state of ramifying powers, addressing itself to “new” social problems as they arise or are perceived by the administrators. Thus the powers of government cannot be limited because we cannot anticipate what problems will arise. And as this vision plays out with darkening gloom, the administrative state becomes the socialist state. It becomes again the tyrant. The administrative state, consolidated and supreme, concentrates power in its hands, justifying each excess on the grounds that its will and its purpose are purely benevolent; and its operators —- the innovators, malcontents, revolutionaries, heretics and progressives who constructed it, who plundered the riches of the American genius, who strip-mined the resplendent veins of virtue and tradition to erect their leviathan, who dispossessed the political science of their forefathers and sowed ruin where once there was humble imagination —- they will forever think themselves incorruptible. We’ve seen it all before. I do not think we have heard the last of tyranny among the enlightened.

And so conservatives must set ourselves —- our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to the same task that Edmund Burke did when the guillotine resounded a bloody chorus across the English Channel: to expose and castigate the abuse of power.


* I will discuss the profound and difficult topic of enumerated powers in a later post. Its brilliance deserves separate treatment.

posted by Paul Cella | 4:42 AM |

Saturday, December 21, 2002  

Some have not yet lost their nerve:

(CNSNews.com) —- A Catholic home for troubled children refused to let the governor of California onto its premises because he supports abortion. “We don’t let any pro-abortion people in our grounds here,” Monsignor Edward Kavanagh was quoted as saying. Kavanagh, the director of St. Patrick’s Home for Children in Sacramento, said Gov. Gray Davis “should get his life together and he should change his whole philosophy on the unborn.” Gov. Davis planned to visit the home dressed up as Santa Claus to hand out presents to the kids —- a tradition carried on by previous governors. Instead, Davis invited the children to come to the state Capitol to pick up their gifts. Wire reports quoted Gov. Davis as saying that the home's director is entitled to his point of view, just as Davis is entitled to his. “I’m unapologetically pro-choice and I’m not changing my position,” Davis said. “Having said this, the tradition is about children, not grown-ups. I didn’t want the kids to be disappointed.”

(Thanks to Musings for this.)

posted by Paul Cella | 4:33 AM |

Friday, December 20, 2002  

A characteristic masterpiece from James Lileks about the anti-Christmas half-wits.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:13 AM |

Thursday, December 19, 2002  

Here is the sage and shrewd Karl Rove’s heel of Achilles: immigration policy, with regard to which, it seems, Mr. Rove has convinced himself of the quite fanciful notion that total lawlessness, incompetent, half-hearted pandering, serene, destructive complacency, and intellectual impoverishment will (a) be good for the country and (b) yield Republican votes. I am not persuaded, as I've said before. And neither are the American people: a recent poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations revealed that, among other things,

While 53 percent of the public said [President Bush’s] handling of foreign policy overall was excellent or good, on immigration only 27 percent said his handling of immigration was good or excellent; moreover, 70 percent rated Bush as poor or fair on immigration, the lowest rating he received on any foreign policy-related issue.

Nevertheless, the administration seems committed to going ahead with some sort of amnesty or guest-worker program. ProjectUSA has some recommendations for making such a piece of legislation more sensible and workable.

The question for immigration realists is not whether to support guest worker programs, the question is how to ensure that the new program is an improvement over the status quo, rather than a deterioration of it [. . .]

  • Management. A new tamper-proof identification card must be devised that includes a biometric identifier, and an easily accessible national databank must be created through which employers could check the legal status of potential employees.

  • Enforcement. To ensure the integrity of the program, local law enforcement must be given the training and resources necessary to assist an overwhelmed INS (or its successor).

  • Time limits. Temporary foreign workers must be limited to a six-month stint, and then they must return to their homes and families for a period of at least six months in order to give someone else a chance to use the program.

  • Required savings. Twenty percent of the workers’ salaries while they work in the United States must be set aside in a special account collectible only upon return to their country of citizenship.

  • Health care. U.S. employers who use temporary foreign workers must provide them with health insurance.

  • Anchor babies. The misinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants automatic citizenship to babies born in the United States to temporary workers, illegal aliens, and tourists, must not apply to guest workers (as it likewise does not apply to the children of foreign diplomats).

  • Proper sequence. In order to avoid encouraging and rewarding illegal immigration, the temporary foreign worker program must contain a start-up phase that would limit use of the program only to those illegal immigrants already in the country.

These sound reasonable to me, but one wonders whether the Open Borders inquisitors will move aggressively to stamp out even this drift toward irrevocable heresy from their utopian creed. (Thanks to Parapundit for these fascinating links.)

posted by Paul Cella | 7:30 AM |

I saw The Two Towers last night. Highly recommended. Even Director Peter Jackson’s innovations on the original Tolkien plot were generally palatable; and his deft management of several disparate storylines was superb, more successful than anything since Return of the Jedi. As with The Fellowship of the Ring Mr. Jackson refrains from overburdening the film with too much special-effects gadgetry, while nevertheless providing a feast for the eyes. Gollum was splendidly done; the Helms Deep battle will probably go down as among the greatest battle-scenes in recent movie history; and the Ents were quite serviceable, rising to glory near the end. The standout element for me was Eowyn, niece of King Theoden (played with subtlety and surprising power by Miranda Otto); given more time on screen, she would have stolen the show. Perhaps she will in the third installment. Eowyn also uttered the central, distinctive words of the film, appropriately taken directly from the book: “It takes but one to make war, not two, and those who do not have swords may still die upon them.”

posted by Paul Cella | 4:34 AM |

Historian Arthur Herman has penned a commanding piece about some other less-remembered facts about the suddenly prominent 1948 presidential election. Specifically, he offers a sharp corrective judgment of that portentous election and “the other Democratic renegade who ran for president, a liberal renegade whose candidacy should be more of a political millstone around the necks of modern liberals than the old Dixiecrats can ever be for modern conservatives.” [my emphasis]

Attentive readers will recall that 1948 may be accurately demarked as the formal beginning of the Cold War. Attentive readers will also recall that the Soviet Union under Stalin was among the cruelest regimes ever to darken the realm of men. Attentively unconventional readers will, finally, recall that Soviet agents, throughout the early- to middle-decades of the twentieth century, had penetrated virtually every level of American society and government, with the implacable goal of violently overturning said society and government and replacing it with a revolutionary regime which would have soaked the land in blood, just as it had Russia. The political campaign of Mr. Herman’s “other renegade” Democrat, Henry Wallace, he writes, “was the closest the Soviet Union ever came to actually choosing a president of the United States.”

Mr. Herman goes on, and minces no words:

Let us be clear. The segregationist South, into which Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott were both born and raised, wreaked great injustice on its black inhabitants and lynched nearly 5,000 people from 1882 to 1951 —- out of which 3,500 were black. The Soviet Union, which Joseph Stalin helped to create and then ruled for three decades, put nearly 20 million to death. In 1948 Strom Thurmond looked at the first and saw no evil; Henry Wallace looked at the second and reached the same conclusion. Wallace himself was not a Communist; nor was he a conscious Soviet agent. But the famous Venona decrypts do reveal that his favorite speechwriter, Charles Kramer, was an active NKVD [the Soviet intelligence agency] spy who kept in regular contact with his Russian superiors. And Wallace knew more about what was really going on than his public denials of Reds under the Progressives’ bed implied. In fact, when Hubert Humphrey complained about the prominent role Communists were playing in the election, Wallace blithely told him to go talk to the Russian embassy —- it had more influence over his campaign officials than he did.

Henry Wallace has received many plaudits and encomia over the years, from many prominent men and women —- including a later Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, twenty-four years later.

The legacy of toleration and propitiation for the monstrous, organized inhumanity of international Communism is as black a mark on history as was segregation in the American South.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:32 AM |

Wednesday, December 18, 2002  

It looks like, with Al Gore out, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2004 may be Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a conventional Northeastern liberal. One hilarious anecdote for you non-political junkies out there: At the height on the anti-war movement in the 1970s, Kerry, recently returned from Vietnam as a decorated veteran, ostentatiously went to the steps of the Capitol and threw away his medals, as a show of protest. But then it turned out they weren’t his medals. Tells you about all you need to know about Senator John Kerry.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:24 AM |

Two more reminders (as if any more were needed), one large and severe, the other minor but telling, that there is no justice in this world: (1) Israel occupies, sometimes quite brutally, the Palestinian West Bank, and it is a cause célèbre for every malcontent with too much time on his hands the world over. Next-door Syria occupies, with sustained, uniform, implacable brutality, Lebanon, particularly Christian Lebanon, and nary a word of protest from anyone. (2) Both Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev have won Nobel Peace Prizes, but not Ronald Reagan.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:11 AM |

A sad day in the blogosphere: Christopher Badeaux is closing up shop. We here at Cella’s Review, at the very least, will not forget his Letter to Australia.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:40 AM |

Saturday, December 14, 2002  

A blogger’s demurral: Below I called Senator Trent Lott a fool. I stand by that judgment, but I must part ranks with most of my fellow right-wing bloggers as they plow ahead with this endeavor, which has taken on a dismaying level of hysteria. I have no affection for Lott, to be sure, but this thing was hardly a story before right-wing pundits started ranting and raving. The question strikes me: do the more vociferous critics believe that Mr. Lott should step down simply because they think him a weak leader, as many seem to suggest, or rather because his statements were too offensive to countenance? If it is merely the former, ought there not be a traditional party leadership challenge without the expedient of all this racial self-righteousness, which does no one any good? Lott’s statements were unquestionably stupid, and they may have contained a certain subtext, as, for example, Peggy Noonan observes, that will be interpreted in an expected way by particular people; but why are National Review, Andrew Sullivan, et al., lending heft to racialist political correctness so as to remove a disliked politician? It seems a very perilous sort of cynicism to me.

On the other hand, a great many people sincerely believe that this kind of statement is, as it were, beyond the pale, principally because it reflects a racist heart. If Lott is indeed a racist, then he should go; that is true. But if he is not, if he is merely a fool —- injudicious with his words and in his associations —- than are we not amplifying some of the trends we so often, and rightly, decry? Namely, that certain thoughts are crimes; that public “insensitivity” is a grave crime; and that to commit such a crime is to anathematize oneself.

Let me say again: Trent Lott said an astonishingly dumb thing, an appalling thing; but unless we really do believe that his words reflect his heart, that is, reflect the fact that he is a racist, then I don’t see how we can justify his ouster on political grounds. I would welcome a challenge to Lott’s leadership from within the GOP ranks —- from Bill Frist or Mitch MCConnell —- but ought we not think twice about giving our imprimatur to what it is difficult to describe without the use of words like hysteria and witch hunt and inquisition?

If Sen. Lott must go, then it seems to me that it must be done by a leadership challenge from within the party, not by a media-inspired wave of mass hysteria.

posted by Paul Cella | 5:49 AM |

Thursday, December 12, 2002  

Writing for The American Prowler, George Neumayr is frank about his impatience with a certain tendency to whitewash comfortable facts. He addresses a column penned by Mr. Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council objecting to characterizations by non-Muslims of Islam as a “violent faith.”

But what if Muslims themselves define Islam as violent? Does he object to that? After all, powerful Muslim clerics schooled in the Koran have reached the same conclusion as the non-experts Al-Marayati criticizes: Islam authorizes violent jihad against the infidel. Are these Koranic experts wrong? Are they Muslim heretics? Or are the Muslim heretics those who would explain away the Koran's call for jihad?

Most Muslim clerics say that militant Islam is orthodox Islam. Are they wrong? To say Islam is nonmilitant is to say that most Muslims don’t understand their own faith. Herein lies a form of Western arrogance Muslims should consider the most offensive. The chatter about “reforming Islam” is nothing more than a liberal exhortation for Muslims to abandon their religion. By “reforming Islam,” liberal westerners mean taking Islam out of Islam and replacing it with liberalism.

Many of the same people who call Islam a religion of peace also call for a reform of Islam. Which raises the question: Why does it need to be reformed if it is peaceful? What they are really saying then is, “Islam should be a religion of peace and we will make it so.” Liberals seek to remake Islam in their own image, just as they have been trying to pressure Catholicism and traditional Judaism into exchanging their doctrines for political correctness.

It’s a good essay Mr. Neumayr has produced. Hard truths are in it; truths most are deeply reluctant to face down and assimilate, despite the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:53 AM |

There are solid reasons why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is among the most admirable men in public life. One of those is his deadpan wit, so often deployed in the service of a bracing candor. In an interview for CNN, Mr. Rumsfeld, stone-faced, contributed this epigrammatic reply to a question about anti-Americanism: “I’ve always understood that people have different views. But I’m very comfortable with the idea that it’s not a good thing for people to think they can go around murdering thousands of innocent men, women and children. And to the extent that’s being taught, to the extent that’s believed, to the extent that’s being implemented I’ll be opposed to it.” To the extent that people murder innocents, “I’ll be opposed it.” A classic Rumsfeldism.

posted by Paul Cella | 6:08 AM |

“It is a fact,” muses David Frum in his Diary, “that people with segregationist backgrounds found their way into the Republican party in the 1970s and 1980s. It is also a fact that people with communist and fellow-traveling backgrounds made their way into the Democratic party at the same time.” With those two facts in hand, we are offered one proposal: “We Republicans will continue to demand that our leaders publicly denounce segregation and racial discrimination, if Democrats will begin to demand that their leaders publicly repudiate fellow-traveling and appeasement.”

It’s a splendid deal, but I, for one, will not hold my breath for consummation.

posted by Paul Cella | 1:10 AM |

“Freedom is in the long run inconsistent with freedom.” So says Fred Reed with his usual provocativeness, hilarity, and independence. This his conclusion after sketching out the slow-motion decay of liberty into bondage —- bondage, albeit, of a distinctly modern variety, but bondage nonetheless.

And so the rural character-filled county becomes another squishy suburb of pallid yups who can’t put air in their own tires. The rugged rural individualists become cogs in somebody else’s wheel. Their children grow up as libidinous mall monkeys drugging themselves to escape boredom. The county itself is a hideous expanse of garish low-end development. People’s lives are run from afar.

What it comes to is that the self-reliant yeoman’s inalienable right to dispose of his property as he sees fit (which I do not dispute) will generally lead to a developer’s possession of it. The inalienable right to reproduce will result in crowding, which leads to dependency, intrusive government, and loss of local control.

I’d like to live again in [the yeoman’s] world. Unfortunately it is self-eliminating. Freedom is in the long run inconsistent with freedom, because it is inevitably exercised in ways that engender control. As a species, we just can’t keep our pants up. But it was nice for a while.

I am tempted to say that this is, in microcosm, the trajectory of modernity: the allure of security achieved by the subtle, gradual obliteration of liberty is too strong, and Man’s love of independence and freedom too weak. The strenuous life appeals largely in abstract; the pampered life dominates reality. (Thanks to Steve Sailer for pointing out this essay.)

posted by Paul Cella | 1:09 AM |

Wednesday, December 11, 2002  

Arguing for the merit of unification between the neighboring, and newly-independent, states, Publius in The Federalist affirms:

If these states should be either wholly disunited, or only united in partial confederacies, a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations, who can seriously doubt that the subdivisions into which they might be thrown, would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests, as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.

There is in the tone of that huge and solemn document of practical political philosophy a prevalent air of moral realism; an unflagging appeal to the gritty “accumulated experience of ages” which strikes the modern reader as mildly discordant. Not so much because of the substance of the realism, or even because of the many cited examples now obscure to our ears, from the Peloponnesian War to the Venetian commercial republic; but more because of the ease and facility with which Publius turns to this device and rests his arguments on the foundation of a darkened and untrustworthy world. For him, nothing could be more obvious than that “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” He goes on,

Have we not already seen enough of the fallacy and extravagance of those idle theories which have amused us with promises of an exemption from the imperfections, the weaknesses, and the evils incident to society in every shape? Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?

Not merely the “foolish” or “illusory” dream of a coming age of “perfect wisdom and perfect virtue,” but verily the “deceitful dream”! At times The Federalist reads almost like a hardheaded set of prescriptions for assimilating the Fall into human political institutions, which, to a certain broad and unfashionable way of thinking, the Constitution, and Publius’s once-dominant interpretation of it, in fact is. There was little doubt in the minds of the men who framed the political institutions of this country that Man is a fallen creature —- that he is a creature of pride and avarice and lusts and envies and moral vulnerabilities, which power only tends to exacerbate.

And therefore it should come to us as no large surprise that modern liberals quietly despise The Federalist, disdain to adduce it, though they dare not disparage so revered an essay publicly; and neither that university students hardly even read it anymore, not, at least, in its totality; for its pages were infused with a serene but lucid and resolute, perhaps even irrefutable, repudiation of the “progressive” worldview of ideological liberalism. I speak of that worldview which conceives, complacently or implacably, of human nature as readily malleable by directed political action; for this sort of “Utopian speculation” Publius has no patience. And his brilliance in coldly dismantling its incontinent assumptions; his sly importunate appeals to logic and history and humane intellect, drawing the reader along gradually to the inevitable conclusion —- his genius of argument is simply unpalatable to the modern liberal imagination.

But note well that only a man tone-deaf to political affections and the attachments of tradition and spirit would openly take on so venerated a thing as The Federalist. It cannot be sneered at or denigrated brazenly without the author of the sneer risking self-marginalization, even at this late date. Instead, it must be ignored, and subtly deprecated as mere “propaganda” which aimed at convincing the American people of the merit of ratifying the proposed Constitution. That is how most history books treat The Federalist; but rarely do they acknowledge, for example, that ratification was “in the bag,” so to speak, before the bulk of the essays which comprise the text were composed or published. And this is because, of course, the authors who wrote under the pen name Publius (note also how rarely anyone refers to the author as such, but rather as the three individual writers: Hamilton, Madison and Jay; this, we might dare to imagine, to assist the dismemberment of what is in point of fact a complete and coherent whole) were aiming not at persuading Americans to do a thing which they had already solemnly resolved to do, but rather at initiating, and guiding, the nascent process of interpretation of the soon-to-be ratified Constitution. Guide it he did. I think it was Willmoore Kendall who wrote that, so potent was the force of his interpretation, it is actually “Publius’s Constitution” that we address ourselves to (to the extent, of course, that we actually address it).

Publius’s contribution was unparalleled, and we should be thankful for it —- not least because of its steadfast grounding in moral realism.

posted by Paul Cella | 12:32 AM |

Tuesday, December 10, 2002  

Trent Lott is a fool. Noah Millman has perhaps the definitive summary of his foolishness. Tacitus muses cogently about the souls of the modern American political parties. Meanwhile, Ben Domenech takes a more detached and philosophical view of the matter, and concludes with this thoughful comment:

I think what Thurmond and Lott illustrate, to great degree, is that Walker Percy was right when he wrote to the effect that the chief problems in modern race relations were not in the South, but the North. The South, Percy argued, has recognized its problem, shed blood over it, and come through scarred, yet wiser. The North, on the other hand, never recognized it had a problem in the first place.

The problem with what Trent Lott said wasn’t just that it implied support for segregation. It's that his comment was a dumb, rude, Yankee-style mistake. The South isn’t willing to tolerate either.

posted by Paul Cella | 10:36 PM |

Saturday, December 07, 2002  

John J. Miller pens an astute little column on The Lord of the Rings.

Christians have been good at appropriating pagan traditions for their own ends--scheduling Christmas and Easter on pagan holidays, for instance. Tolkien moves in the reverse direction, taking Christian values and pouring them into a pagan world. His heroes aren’t Christians because the truth of Christianity hasn’t been revealed to them. But they do have inklings of it, as when Aragorn ponders mortality: “We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

posted by Paul Cella | 5:04 AM |

In a recent issue of National Review, the assiduous Ramesh Ponnuru contributes an admirable essay (not online) on the estate tax, which he rightly identifies as a source of “more withering scorn” than any other single element of the Bush administration’s policies.

Liberals underestimate the cost of the estate tax by looking only at the 2 percent of estates that pay it. The tax generates costs for non-payers too. It’s a major source of complexity in the tax code. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that 40 percent of its members have spent more than $100,000 each on estate-tax planning. The complexity of the tax also means that it is levied less on the basis of the size of a man’s estate than on the shrewdness of his planners. In the late 1990s, estates worth between $2.5 and $5 million dollars that paid the tax actually paid a higher average tax rate than estates worth more than $20 million that paid [. . .]

Is the estate tax nevertheless necessary to raise funds for the federal government? No. The estate tax brought in $26.5 billion —- around 1.4 percent of federal revenues —- last year. And that’s an overestimate. In the 1980s, Stanford economist B. Douglas Bernheim concluded that because of its wealth-destroying effects, the estate tax probably caused federal revenues to be lower than they would be without the tax. Needless to say, the pro-tax pundits do not grapple with the possibility that the estate tax is revenue loser.

I would add something Mr. Ponnuru does not say explicitly: The estate tax is a rather ruthless assault on property rights. Every cent taxed under it has already been taxed at least once, and probably two and three times —- as personal income, as corporate income, as dividend, or as a capital gain. It forces the most enterprising, the most frugal, the most energetic among us into severe contortions merely to pass on the fruits of their hard work and industry to their heirs; and it invades their privacy to do so. It has always been a puzzle to witness all the clamor for a vaguely-articulated “right to privacy” vanish like so much mist when the discussion turns to personal property. The privacy advocates seem little distressed by the annual intrusion of the IRS into the private life of every income-earning American. The estate tax is state-sponsored confiscation; and it is difficult to see how anything other than plain dreary envy motivates it. Perhaps plain dreary inertia also contributes. Opposition to it, by and large, is based on principle, not avarice.

posted by Paul Cella | 3:46 AM |

Thursday, December 05, 2002  

Recently Jay Nordlinger, whose rip-roaring little blogcolumn “Impromptus” is one of the highlights of the internet, gently admonished the President, recommending that he emphasize the self-defense aspect of the war against Saddam’s “cockroach regime” (that is John Derbyshire’s pungent appellation) more routinely. Mr. Nordlinger is surely right; indeed, I would go farther and say that it is precisely the question self-defense that makes our efforts just or unjust: not the machinations of international bureaucracies engorged on ideology and pseudo-authority, or the violations committed against treaties emanating from those selfsame bureaucracies. These things have their place, to be sure, but not in the question of the justice of war.

And here I think we touch on a tremendous and irreducible principle routinely overlooked in the frenzy of immediate commentary and discussion: that of the practical reason why defensive war is just (I speak here without a mind to plunge into the vast and radiant philosophical and theological literature on just war theory; merely on the practical level). We hear with mind-numbing frequency and in wearisome volume these days about the objective evil of war, how it brings only destruction and death and misery. Now only a fool would deny that war contains evil, even thrives on evil; but the latter statement can only be regarded as true through a kind of lobotomizing of the intellect, through a process of staring feverishly, so to speak, at Night without thinking even for a moment of Day, of taking to the streets about the blackness of Black without acknowledging the equally remarkable and true whiteness of White.

For in a very real sense, war waged in self-defense is not destructive; it is resistance to destruction, maybe even in a way the opposite of destruction. When America took up arms against the Nazis, and later, in less comprehensive ways, against the Communists, she did so to deliver herself and the world specifically from destruction. Much was destroyed, yes —- so that all might be saved. It is therefore inaccurate in a deep and ineradicable way to conceive of warfare as exclusively, that is, always and everywhere, a negative phenomenon. None can say sensibly that the Second World War was a good thing, or that it did not produce horrible destruction; but once the Nazis (and the Communists) had begun their march across the land, their bloody trail of dismemberment and genocide, it was incumbent upon those of responsible moral imagination to act to stop them, and to not recoil from what was necessary to escape from final destruction of a Christian civilization, which is of course what the Nazis and Communists had in mind.

To look only at what war destroys and not at what it saves is to crudely flatten the moral life of man; it is to sacrifice past and future to the a sort of idolatry of the Present Moment; it is to hoard like the miser those things reckoned most vital and precious at the expense of all those others things from which the vital and the precious spring. We might best call it a monomania; an idolatry, yes, which in its natural state or rank in the order of things is well and good, but which elevated to the exclusion of everything else becomes perverse and debilitating and, finally, lethal.

A man accosts me on the street with a weapon and in a moment of bloodlust or fear, resolves to strike me dead; but, lucky for me, a second man intervenes and saves my life; and his intervention, swift and sure, leaves my attacker dead. Here my rescuer has destroyed human life; he is, in the narrow sense promulgated by the monomaniacs, a killer; but he is also, when we broaden our vision to include things left undone as well as those done, a savior. My life is no less real than the life of my attacker; what is saved is no less real, therefore, than what is lost.

I write this not as a deliberate case for favoring war against the Iraqi regime, for opponents in that endeavor would simply reply that such a war is not just because it is not defensive. But there is this spiritually-enervated but bombastic pacifism loose among us —- a kind of glib and veiled moralizing which, as I say, takes into consideration only one side of the ledger and stubbornly scorns the other: That is my target with this discursive, derived polemic. I let it stand with all its own inadequacies, for I do think that it drives at an important point.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:00 AM |

Planned Parenthood has once again incensed those brave enough to speak for the most disdained and voiceless of classes: the unborn. Their Christmas card this year reads, “Choice on Earth,” which, to put in the most mild of terms, is in miserably poor taste; in stronger terms it is a deliberate affront to the world’s largest religion on one of its most holy days —- the kind of affront that no proper-thinking liberal would countenance with regard to, say, Islam or Wicca. Ben Domenech makes a shrewd point on this:

Just to keep this in perspective: Planned Parenthood receives approximately $60 million in government grants and contracts from the federal government each year, as well as additional public funding from states and localities. At the same time, their PAC —- the Planned Parenthood Action Fund —- spends millions of dollars on TV ads each election year against pro-life candidates. They spent $1.2 million in Illinois alone this cycle.

That’s nothing short of a special interest money laundering scheme, taking funds from the government to subsidize the organization while redirecting private funds from the local clinics to the issue advocates at the PAC. It must be stopped. And with Republicans in charge of the House and Senate, there’s no reason it can’t be.

So what say you, boys?

posted by Paul Cella | 6:23 AM |

How about some mid-week edification? The Claremont Institute reprints a commanding essay by Thomas G. West which compares two of the true giants in political philosophy today: Harvey Manfield and Harry Jaffa. Their debate? The vast and tremendous subjects of Equality, Self-Government and the American Founding. (Thanks to Kevin Holtsberry for discovering this one.)

posted by Paul Cella | 2:51 AM |

Wednesday, December 04, 2002  

Stephen Schwartz has some sharp questions for the Saudi spin doctors. A sample:

8. If, as [Saudi foreign-policy advisor] Adel al-Jubeir claims, “we have not found a direct link between charity groups and terrorism,” why is it that the Muslim government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with much smaller resources, found such links and completely shut down the Saudi-based charities so involved? Al-Jubeir has the nerve to claim that Bosnian branches of Islamoterrorist charities had nothing to do with their Saudi home offices, as if the Bosnians started this activity on their own. The Bosnians are poor and have no charity to dispense. They never supported Wahhabism. The attempt to divorce Saudi-Wahhabi charities in Bosnia from their Saudi origin is absurd. So is the claim al-Jubeir has made that the Bosnian charities were busted thanks to the Saudis. It was the Bosnians who busted the Saudi terror charities, not vice versa.

Don’t hold your breath for any real answers.

posted by Paul Cella | 11:11 PM |

John DiIulio’s letter to Esquire magazine makes for interesting reading. Mr. DiIulio was the Bush administration’s policy expert on faith-based initiatives, and in this memorandum he has warm praise and sharp criticism alike for the President and his men. His basic frustration is that the Bush White House favors public relations at the expense of policy; that it is driven too much by polls and posturing, and often gives only shallow and incomplete deliberation and discussion to the complicated intricacies of public policy questions.

The memo has provoked a tempest of commentary and debate in the blogosphere, some of it a bit unfair or dismissive, some of it remarkably supple and intriguing. I’m not going to delve into this deeply, in part because so much that I would say has already been said [Ed: Has that ever stopped you before? No, but . . . oh, hell.], in part because Mr. DiIulio seems to have backed away from much of the thing.

But I do want to say that I admire and respect John DiIulio as a writer and a thinker. I have read his work for years, in First Things, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. Never have I read an essay by him that was uninteresting or unserious; many have been memorable and personally influential. I hope this does not harm him permanently.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:16 AM |

Monday, December 02, 2002  

The ongoing scandal of Saudi support and succor for Islamofascists coupled with American support and succor for Saudi deceivers grates on the patience of honorable people. The newest revelations, and the attendant sycophancy of US officials, induce even stalwart friends of the Bush administration like Mark Steyn (glittering from the pages of a new website) to question its seriousness about protecting those whom it has been entrusted to protect.

The Saudi embassy say they’ve only received queries about this matter from the media, not from the FBI. Odd that. The federal government claims it needs vast new powers to track every single credit-card transaction and every single email of every single American, yet a prima facie link between the terrorists and [Saudi Ambassador] Prince Bandar’s wife isn’t worth going over to the embassy to have a little chat about. I doubt very much whether Princess Haifa is deliberately bankrolling al-Qa’eda, but I’m not so sure one could make the same confident claims of those embassy staffers running the begging letters past her. And, even if their hands are clean, the widespread support for Osama among Saudis at home and abroad means it’s only a degree or two of separation from hardcore terrorists via their supporters to the Saudi royal family. The fawning legions of ex-ambassadors to Riyadh have been all over the TV assuring us that, oh, no, al-Qa’eda hate the House of Saud and want to overthrow it. But, interestingly, though Osama’s boys are happy to topple New York landmarks, slaughter Balinese nightclubbers, blow up French oil tankers, kill Philippine missionaries, take out Tunisian synagogues and hijack Moscow musicals, you can’t help noticing they do absolutely zip against the regime they allegedly loathe. There are 6,000 Saudi princes, but none of ’em ever gets assassinated. And, if anything mildly explosive goes off in the Kingdom, it somehow manages to get blamed on Western bootleggers. Statistically speaking, if you’re looking for the spot on the planet where you’re least likely to be blown to shreds by an al-Qa’eda nutcake, it’s hard to beat Riyadh. If al-Qa’eda hated the rest of us the way they supposedly hate King Fahd and co., the world would be as harmonious as a Seventies Coke commercial.

Now, obviously the leek of this inconvenient little stunner —- the Saudi ambassador’s wife indirectly funding two of the 9/11 hijackers —- during preparations for military action in the Middle East was not intended to aid the administration’s preparatory diplomacy. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that it was designed precisely to injury said diplomacy; and therefore, by extension, said military preparations. The President’s Iraq policy is not popular among foreign policy elites, even those within his own government. Tactical leeks like this at delicate moments can be devastating.

But this obsequiousness before the Saudis is nothing new: Why, oh why, does the administration persist in protecting the Saudis from criticism? Why is it so horrified by the idea of a serious rift in relations between them and us? To put it in the most mild of terms, one might say that something like a rift has already occurred —- when fifteen Saudis incinerated 3,000 Americans.

Oil is at best an incomplete answer, I think. What we are talking about here is a strain of deep rot in our government, a corruption at the heart of the decision-making matrix vis-à-vis the Middle East: Saudi money (oil money) has so suffused American foreign policy and diplomatic circles that confronting Saudi perfidy confounds even the most energetic and honorable of efforts.

This privileged access to America begins with Prince Bandar. The humdrum rank of “ambassador” hardly begins to cover the special status the prince enjoys in Washington. For one thing, the title implies a posting, and Bandar isn’t going anywhere: he’s the longest-serving ambassador in town; he’s held the job for two decades and he’s still only in his early fifties; he has more homes in America than most Americans do; he’s seen Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton come and go, and he’s figuring on seeing the back of George W. too. By comparison, American ambassadors in Riyadh are passing fancies. At the specific request of the Saudi government, no Arabic speakers are appointed to the post, a unique self-handicap by the US. Their chaps in the Kingdom spend a couple of years out there getting everything explained to them by the royal inner circle, and then they come home and serve out their day’s shilling for the House of Saud on Middle Eastern think-tanks lavishly subsidized by Riyadh. That’s the way Bandar likes it. “If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office,” he once said, “you’d be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office.” Just so. The columnist Matt Welch observed a while back that, if you close your eyes, America’s ex-ambassadors sound like they’re Saudis. Effectively, there’s no US ambassador to Saudi Arabia but a whole platoon of Saudi ambassadors to the US —- Prince Bandar and full supporting chorus.

But even that does not settle the thing, not in my mind. There is something more profound at work. Confronting the Saudis means confronting more forthrightly and sturdily the species of fanaticism that courses through the veins of Islam as it collides with the modern world in all latter’s splendor and dissipation and iniquity. It means, in other words, confronting Islam itself, and risking —- because our discernment is limited, always limited, and our motives not always pure —- the very “clash of civilizations” which provokes such hand-wringing all around us. And for such a task —- a task of reflection, courage, and great peril —- we moderns, despite all our wealth and technical mastery, seem congenitally unsuited.

To confront bodily the House of Saud is to emphatically take sides in the internal struggle of a great religion; it is to say emphatically that the Wahhabi sect is unacceptable as a human enterprise; it is, therefore, to our modern sensibilities, to be intolerably intolerant. Wahhabism, it seems clear, would be nothing but a fringe lunacy, a rump fanaticism, were it not for the Saudi oil wealth. The scholar Stephen Schwartz enucleates laconically: “Arabian oil became a key factor in global economics, and —- for Wahhabism —- an asset comparable to Hitler’s military industries. Imagine Microsoft headed by a president of the United States —- who also happens to be a follower of David Koresh —- and you’ll have an idea of Wahhabism’s material base.”

As I’ve said, a task such as this is not only sharply unpalatable to the spirit of our age, but also tortuous in its lineaments and dangerous in its opportunities for failure or even disaster. What is asked of us, it appears, is to shallow our crippling, pulverizing self-doubt, a monumental undertaking —- one might say that self-doubt has been the defining feature of Modern Man since the Great War —- and then face squarely the hijacking of a religion by fanatics. And defeat them.

Too much, I say, with a certain crawling despondency; this we cannot do; we have not the strength of spirit. But we need not give in to despair, because these conditions are not permanent. The oil wealth is not infinite; nor is it monopolized by the Saudis. What was frothing fanaticism in one generation may rather inexplicably degenerate into incoherence or apathy in the next. Moreover, few seem to have perceived the trend which may in thirty years dwarf the rise of extreme Islam: the explosive growth of Christianity: a misshapen old pope still draws to whichever city he travels the greatest crowds in that city’s history. Recall the words of that magnificent hymn:

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside thee
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

Returning to the cluttered world of human affairs, I repeat my piercing disappointment at the pusillanimity and corruption of our leaders in the face of source of the ideology that threatens us. If the Democrats had any principled shrewdness, they would make the Bush administration’s tolerance of Saudi mendacity a central component of their criticism. They would point out that while Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, as stalwart an ally as we have, has never been invited to the President’s redoubt in Crawford, Texas, Saudi schemers have reclined there numerous times. They would voice sincere outrage at the brazenness which inspires Saudi princes, proprietors of perhaps the most venomous state propaganda organs around, to lecture us about the irresponsibility of our (free) press in reporting inconvenient things. As readers know, I am the first to criticize what passes for American journalism these days, but to hear such things from these Wahhabi enablers is an affront to the intelligence of reasonable men. This is the point of weakness the opposition should be looking for in order to throw some doubt on the President’s commitment to national security. I support President Bush, but here is a consummate example of the value of a strong, principled opposition.

posted by Paul Cella | 7:57 PM |

My daughter now has full command of the Lord’s Prayer, with two innovations which I deem worthy of communicating. Here is her version: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, I will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation [that word tends to get a bit mangled], but deliver us from needles. For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” Pretty good for a three-year-old, in my wholly impartial view; and frankly I’m twenty-four and still scared of needles.

posted by Paul Cella | 2:39 PM |
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