Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Republicans and America must provide an alternative

Jerry Stratton, February 28, 2015

Jefferson’s eternal hostility to tyranny: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”; freedom; liberty; Thomas Jefferson; totalitarianism; dictatorship

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

I’ve often complained that politicians sometimes grow in office to desire compromise solely for the sake of compromise and not to further some underlying policy or principle.

While there are certainly opportunities for compromise in the 2015–2016 congress, there are also things that Republicans should simply vote correctly on and pass to the President’s desk despite the short term hit from a guaranteed veto. During the 2013 shutdown Republicans took a short-term hit for holding up government funds in a futile attempt to delay the ACA. But when the ACA turned out to be an expensive boondoggle a few months later in 2014, it was impossible for the press, having shouted Republican opposition to it only months previously, to claim that the ACA was a bipartisan fiasco.

The same is likely the case with releasing the terrorists at Guantanamo: the president will oppose any bill blocking their release. But if Republicans believe that Guantanamo is protecting the U.S. from terrorist attack by those prisoners, they should send him the doomed bill to maintain Guantanamo anyway. They should pass what is right and not allow the press to tie Democrats’ failures to bipartisanship.

This requires, of course, that Republicans not only have principles but believe in them strongly enough to know that they are right even in the face of failure.

Even more critical is Iran. Republicans must provide a loud alternative to President Obama’s appeasement. And it’s important that their alternative be loud. It isn’t enough to oppose bad policies quietly, as Bush and McCain did when trying to reform Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac before the 2008 housing meltdown. It is very difficult for a politician to say “I told you so” without being condescending; it is necessary that they not have to say “I told you so” because everyone knows—as everyone did after the shutdown over the ACA—what they said.

Providing an alternative is important in all areas of politics and world relations. America itself has been an alternative for the oppressed masses yearning to breathe free since its founding, and it should remain so.

One of the problems with our lack of response to radical Islam’s terrorist acts, such as the administration’s snubbing the Charlie Hebdo memorial, and their—and the mainstream medias— lack of will to even name radical Islam, is that we then do not provide an alternative. When our chief adversary was communism, both Democrats and Republicans could name the evils of it and warn the other side when our policies were mimicking the evils of the enemy. Yes, there were pro-communists within the Democratic party1 but they were not the majority.

Soviet-style totalitarianism was our competition, so to speak, in the world market. We—as Americans, not as parties—tried to provide a different product.

But today, Democrats are so far left, are so enamored of pre-World War II fascist progressivism without even any sense of the history that ties progressivism to fascism, that they do not see Islamic terrorists as enemies. The influential left seems to feel that they share too many interests: the terrorists are men of action2, they also disdain the Christianity of the bitter clingers and Democratic governance by the masses too ignorant to vote their best interests. They also understand the necessity to lie for the cause—President Obama’s semi-new Bulworthism is the al-taqiyya of the left—and apostasy demands punishment both in Islam and among the anointed on the left today.

It may be that, having given up the existence of evil, they are unable to face a villain who operates outside of poverty or hunger and solely as evil. A villain that takes the riches of their land and uses it to promote evil rather than raise themselves up, even to the point of destroying those comforts that do not contribute to their evil.

Whether it is their unspoken similarities or not, the left’s leaders refuse to see the evils of radical islam. They do not see the brutal oppression of women, the brutal torture and killing of gays, the brutal repression of education. They refuse to acknowledge that these are evils, and so they are unable or unwilling to place America on a pedestal in opposition to those evils. They are unwilling to see evil anywhere but home, unwilling to make the comparison between us and them that is required for us to provide a global alternative to them.

They have no evil wind to tack against, as we did during the cold war. This, I think, is why our foreign policy seems to change with the wind.

In response to Essential Revolution: The Return of the Republicans: The crime of the day is when you do it again.

August 12, 2015: A tested alternative for Iranian nuclear negotiations
Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei: “Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 24 July 2015”; Iran; Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“On March 21, 2015, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei backed and shouted the phrase ‘Death to America’ while addressing a public gathering in Iran.” (seysd shahaboddin vajedi, CC BY-SA 4.0)

President Obama claims that his administration’s nuclear deal is the only alternative to war. This is a pretty standard debating tactic of the President’s: its his way or some broken-down highway filled with spike-covered reavers, and there’s nothing in between.

In this case, though, the alternatives are probably not that obvious inside the beltway, because they require thinking long-term and thinking about freedom. The obvious non-politico-friendly alternative is to simply wait until a better deal can be negotiated. We are giving Iran a lot in exchange for this deal. If we aren’t getting much of anything in return—if, in fact, Iran is allowed to get as close to nuclear weapons as it wishes without actually touching them, and is allowed to lie about touching them—then why give up that leverage? It may well be useful later.

But there is a third way, besides war and waiting, that has worked in the past. And that is to tie closer relations and/or lessened sanctions to their creating a more open society.

If we require that Iran free their political prisoners, this will make Iran a safer place for the greater voices it has. If we require that Iran stop cracking down on dissidents—cracking down in the old-school way of killing and maiming them—then Iran will in fact be a safer place for the people willing to speak out.

If we require that Iran allow anyone to leave Iran who wants to, Iran’s stranglehold on its dissidents is nearly completely removed.

If we do those simple things—if we believe in the power of freedom to transform—we may well end up with a repeat of the reasonably bloodless revolution that threw down the Soviet Union, as Iran responds to the now visible voices against its tyranny. But even if we aren’t, Iran will be a better place, with more voices, some of whom will end up in government and be more open to negotiating real nuclear reforms. Without Senator Jackson and President Reagan, Gorbachev would not have been Gorbachev.

August 5, 2015: We are not free unless we fight for the freedom of others
Liberty at sunset: The Statue of Liberty at sunset holding the torch of freedom aloft. New York Harbor, Summer, 2007. From	NOAA Photo Library: line 3631, by Mr. Ben Mieremet, NOAA (ret.).
; Statue of Liberty

I am coming to the belief that the old cliché that no one is free unless everyone is free has a very special, and true, meaning for the United States.

There is an old theory in psychology that I’m aware of mainly because it was my faculty advisor’s at Cornell. It is that for many of the ways we see ourselves, we observe ourselves from the outside, and make conclusions about ourselves as if we were an outside observer. If we see ourselves doing kind things, then we see ourselves as kind. If we do free work in favor of some political cause, we will assume that we must support that political cause.

Now, he wasn’t saying that we act randomly and decide what we are based on our random acts; many things we do because we are the kind of person who does them. But many things we don’t. We go along with friends or family or coworkers on things that don’t matter to us, but, his theory goes, when we go along we start to believe that’s who we are.

If we never really thought about a vacuum cleaner, and the vacuum cleaner salesman convinces us to let him into our home, perhaps we really were interested in a vacuum cleaner. Maybe we do need a new one.

That is, we are what we do, rather than we do what we are. I think something similar works on the national level, that we see ourselves, as a nation, based on what we do as a nation. This would mean that linking, Sharansky-style, freedom under tyrants to any deals we make with those tyrants, makes us freer too because we see ourselves as a free country, in opposition to the tyranny elsewhere.

If we link beneficial deals with the USSR to their freeing and not harassing dissidents, then we will value more closely our freedoms at home. And if we position ourselves to pragmatically ignore the tyranny in Iran or Cuba in favor of short-term gain, well, we will be more pragmatic at home as well, and our freedom here will suffer.

We are not free unless we understand the power of freedom to transform.

July 29, 2015: Cuban Cigar Aficionado
President Obama meets with President Castro: “Cuban president Raúl Castro and US president Barack Obama meet in Panama on 4-11-2015”; Barack Obama; Cuba; Raúl Castro

President Obama meets with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro.

Coinciding with me finishing Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, in their May/June issue Cigar Aficionado welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba, and the opportunities for more fine cigars from Cuban tobacco fields. And in their July/August issue, they printed some letters from people who disagreed and would prefer that normalizing relations also require the Castro regime give something in return other than fine cigars.

Dear Marvin,

You are on the wrong side of the life and liberty with your April Cuba policy editorial. When negotiating you always get something back. The Obama policy is simply to give to a brutal dictatorship and get nothing for the oppressed Cuban people.

As a Cuban who lived through Fidel’s revolution I witnessed the confiscation of all the fruits of hard work of generations of industrious Cubans. The fact is that the Cuban people have no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly and no free press. While the elite of the communist party live a good life and have full access to food, entertainment, good housing, clothing, the best beaches, etc., those outside the party have to work as directed and have to settle for whatever is rationed to them. At the same time the Cuban lives in fear of being turned in to Castro’s regime by the numerous party spies spread through all the neighborhoods.

Obama wants to open the flood of money into Cuba, without constraints, but that money will only go to the elite of the communist party and will not benefit the people. Any freedom-loving president would demand, at a minimum, freedom of press and right of free speech in return.

Alberto G. Solana

Editor’s Response: We agree that the people of Cuba do not have access to the freedom so many others enjoy, including those of us who live in the United States. However, we believe that ending the embargo is one way to create needed change. The policies of the past 50 years have not worked. It is time to try something different.

April 19, 2015: Comparing our Iran negotiations to our Soviet negotiations
Iranian protestor: “They killed my brother because he asked, ‘where’s my vote?’” From “27e Khordad (June 17th) Haft-e Tir Square (and around streets)”; Iran; protest

Iranian protestor, June 17, 2009: “They killed my brother, because he asked ‘where’s my vote?’”

Someone a lot smarter than me is noticing that we do not see ourselves as a beacon of freedom, as we did when we opposed the Soviet Union. Natan Sharansky asks, When did America forget that it’s America? He is basically pointing out the same thing I did: that we are not defining civilization as better than barbarism.

As a former Soviet dissident, I cannot help but compare this approach to that of the United States during its decades-long negotiations with the Soviet Union, which at the time was a global superpower and a existential threat to the free world. The differences are striking and revealing.

Imagine what would have happened if instead, after completing a round of negotiations over disarmament, the Soviet Union had declared that its right to expand communism across the continent was not up for discussion. This would have spelled the end of the talks. Yet today, Iran feels no need to tone down its rhetoric calling for the death of America and wiping Israel off the map.

… for example, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan shortly after the SALT II agreement had been signed, the United States quickly abandoned the deal and accompanying discussions.

Today, by contrast, apparently no amount of belligerence on Iran’s part can convince the free world that Tehran has disqualified itself from the negotiations or the benefits being offered therein. Over the past month alone, as nuclear discussions continued apace, we watched Iran’s proxy terror group, Hezbollah, transform into a full-blown army on Israel’s northern border, and we saw Tehran continue to impose its rule on other countries, adding Yemen to the list of those under its control.

Then there is the question of human rights. When American negotiations with the Soviets reached the issue of trade, and in particular the lifting of sanctions and the conferring of most-favored-nation status on the Soviet Union, the Senate, led by Democrat Henry Jackson, insisted on linking economic normalization to Moscow’s allowing freedom of emigration…

Sharansky concludes what I did, but he says it more eloquently: “in today’s postmodern world, when asserting the superiority of liberal democracy over other regimes seems like the quaint relic of a colonialist past, even the United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions.”

Unlike past administrations—across the political spectrum—our current White House does not seem to believe that America stands for anything worth fighting for, and a wide swath of the left appear to agree.

If we had acted, in 1988 and 1989, when people began to rise up against the Soviet Union, the way we acted when people began to rise up against Iran in 2009, the Soviet Union would still exist, would still be an oppressive regime, and would most likely have expanded its circle of oppression while acting more violently against the United States. More of the world would be Cuba, and less of it South Korea. More of it would be Benghazi, and less of it Estonia.

  1. And probably within the Republican Party as well: before the sixties and especially before FDR progressivism crossed party lines.

  2. Against Israel, for example.

  1. <- Lasting reform
  2. Stopping legislative rot ->