Empire

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No, women shouldn’t have to sign up for Selective Service (or fight in war!)

Feminists, rejoice!

Horace’s dictum, “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” will soon no longer be exclusive to American males. Sometime in the near-future, women will have the honor of being forced to leave their families, enter bullet-ridden battlefields, and risk having their limbs blown apart.

Surely, Virginia Woolf is cheering in her grave.

Last week, the chief of staff of the Army and the Marine Corps commandant came out in favor of lifting the exclusion of women from the Selective Service. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Robert Neller, the highest ranking U.S. Marine Corps member, told lawmakers, “it’s my personal view that, based on this lifting of restrictions… every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft.”

Congress must act to lift the males-only condition for Selective Service. But is there any doubt this will eventually happen? In the name of equality, Democrats will joyfully embrace the proposition. Republicans are already coming around: A bill to lift the female draft restriction was just introduced in the House of Representatives by two GOP reps who also served in the armed forces.

It’s only a matter of time before girls, upon turning 18, sign up for the draft. And just like that, we will have slipped further into the brave new world where men and women are interchangeable cogs in the machine of society.

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Getting serious about getting serious about terrorism

One of the frustrating lines of punditry we’ve seen in the wake of the Paris attacks has been the idea that we have to “get serious,” which means paying less attention to the number of non-combatants we kill in airstrikes. I’m not mischaracterizing their position. Ted Cruz, for example, said ISIS, “will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties.”

Consider this: “During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

Or this: “Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.”

Or this:

Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

The president’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted.

Or this:

Based upon the averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation, the Long War Journal, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been an estimated 522 U.S. targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 9/11, which have killed 3,852 people, 476 (or 12 percent) of whom were civilians.

What percentage of civilian casualties would Ted Cruz find more acceptable? 15? 20? More? How high could he get away with before his boosters withdrew their support?

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Will America lose the upcoming Cold War?

World War III is coming.

If you think I kid, just read Max Fisher’s write-up about the approaching U.S. confrontation with Russia. It’s enough to make you soil yourself.

Here’s the rationale: Not yet deterred from the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin is actively restoring Russia’s sphere of influence. He has made a point of invading Ukraine to access his country’s port in Sevastopol. Now he’s openly defying the U.S. by aiding the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Now, I’m no wide-eyed Bill Kristol disciple. I don’t think America needs to keep its empire status. But at the same time, I see a need for order in an uncertain world. There will always be a domineering force on our planet. And, like it or not, that global bully is America. So it’s better to err on the side of caution and to, in the words of Michael Oakeshott, “prefer the familiar to the unknown,” and root for the home team.

The question is: with Barack Obama soon to leave the White House, what presidential candidate is best fit to stand up to aspiring leaders like Vladimir Putin? Who will put the ex-KGB spy and Russian leader in his place?

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A question for conservatives about religious liberty and unjust wars

The political right in America seems to have decided that “religious liberty” is a banner they can rally around. With Kim Davis’s jailing, they have their first hero.

But what is this new thing we claim to value, and what are its limits? Consider a Romanian Catholic infantryman from Ohio, on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, who receives this letter from his bishop:

Because such a moment of moral crisis has arisen for us, beloved Romanian Catholics, I must now speak to you as your bishop. Please be aware that I am not speaking to you as a theologian or as a private Christian voicing his opinion, nor by any means am I speaking to you as a political partisan. I am speaking to you solely as your bishop with the authority and responsibility I, though a sinner, have been given as a successor to the apostles on your behalf. I am speaking to you from the deepest chambers of my conscience as your bishop, appointed by Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church, to help shepherd you to sanctity and to heaven. Never before have I spoken to you in this manner, explicitly exercising the fullness of authority Jesus Christ has given his Apostles “to bind and to loose,” (cf. John 20:23), but now “the love of Christ compels” me to do so (2 Corinthians 5:14). My love for you makes it a moral imperative that I not allow you, by my silence, to fall into grave evil and its incalculable temporal and eternal consequences.

Humanly speaking, I would much prefer to keep silent. It would be far, far easier for me and my family simply to let events unfold as they will, without commentary or warning on my part. But what kind of shepherd would I be if I, seeing the approach of the wolf, ran away from the sheep (cf. John 10:12-14)? My silence would be cowardly and, indeed, sinful. I believe that Christ, whose flock you are, expects more than silence from me on behalf of the souls committed to my protection and guidance.

Therefore I, by the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See Bishop of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, must declare to you, my people, for the sake of your salvation as well as my own, that any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin. Beyond a reasonable doubt this war is morally incompatible with the Person and Way of Jesus Christ. With moral certainty I say to you it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just war theory.

 Thus, any killing associated with it is unjustified and, in consequence, unequivocally murder. Direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion. For the Catholics of the Eparchy of St. George, I hereby authoritatively state that such direct participation is intrinsically and gravely evil and therefore absolutely forbidden.

What would today’s defender of religious liberty say to this soldier? Should he quit? Should he be allowed to sit this one out? Should he be jailed for insubordination? Why, or why not?

It’s worth noting that if a government only waged just wars, this conflict would not arise. It also seems untenable to allow soldiers to abstain from certain wars based on religious convictions and still keep their jobs. (Update: Some have pointed out the U.S.’s relatively generous standards for conscientious objectors, however, that status is usually only granted to people who object in principle to all wars — the Selective Service Act is written this way — not just certain bad ones.)

I have doubts that most of the supporters of religious liberty for Kim Davis would support it in this case, but maybe I’m wrong.

The Butcher Doctrine

CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM

To: The office of the President
Cc: The office of the Sec. of State; the office of the Sec. of Defense; the office of the Chief of Staff
Bcc: The office of the Sec. of the Interior; the office of the Sec. of Homeland Security
Re: The present discontents

Dear Mr. President:

It is a great disappointment to me that no one in your administration could have foreseen the development upon which you’ve called me to advise. But far be it from me to accuse anyone of being willfully misinformed of the present state of the country they are tasked with running, and far be it from me to set a distinguishing line between relevance of and distraction with expansion-friendly policies outside of its borders. They always tell us we never stop learning, I guess they just left it to us to find out just how hard the lessons get.

On the other hand, the striking subtlety of the development of the crisis is rather unique. It seems even residents of the states in question did not take notice when display of the stars and stripes was re-raised under or replaced with state flags on all public buildings, or that some of those state flags had been markedly redesigned. Nor, it seems, did they bat an eye at the third party waves that swelled in their midterm elections. And they practically shrugged off decrees “nationalizing” the pharmacies, flouting drug laws, FDA regulations, and any vestige of education reform in equal measure. I suppose it was when the tire road blocks went up on their sections of the interstate highways that things started to look off. Or perhaps it was that YouTube video of that cardboard cutout of you being dragged by a pickup truck, being shot at with crossbows, and then roasted on a spit. No one was taking over the post offices so no alarm bells—literally or figuratively—went off. If this is a phase, as some pundits are suggesting, it is looking to be a drawn out and expensive one.

But these things you already know. You ask for advice on dealing with them and you shall have it.

First let me dispel any anxiety you may have that I or anyone else question your confidence or abilities. Clearly this is not the case. Yes, I didn’t actually vote for you myself, but clearly many others did. Every four years American voters go into the ballot booths, their minds alight with fires consuming every corner of the nation, and look to determine which of the two most credible candidates will extinguish them most ably. A clear majority left it to you to be the extinguisher. And no doubt for your part were you imagining yourself extinguishing those very same fires, perhaps even practicing Rooseveltian turns on your iPhone on the campaign bus. This is natural for every American, whether candidate or voter. The overlap here is very rare and would be precious if it didn’t feed into this particular problem.

America’s history is chain-linked with destruction-redemption narratives. If it is not a trait unique to us it is certainly a habit. This puts pressure on a chief executive to distinguish him or herself in the pantheon of his or her predecessors. It sends Presidents off on hunting expeditions for the next great nation-defining existential crisis, or worse it attracts singularly obsessive sociopaths to the office. These Presidents, however, are a few and privileged sort. For the rest of them, crises come with the timing of their stays. There is a reason, for instance, why James Madison is chiefly remembered for fathering the Constitution and why James Buchanan is barely remembered for anything at all. Your administration is being defined on this line as I am writing. Since subversion of the union is your crisis, I suspect people have been directing you to look to Lincoln. I would advise that you look carefully.

Seeing as how you—and several other candidates you defeated—announced your candidacy on April 2015, amid the 150th anniversaries of the Confederate surrender and Lincoln’s assassination, that legacy could not have been far from your or any other hopeful’s mind. But in your position you’ll need to search within yourself to see if you’re able, and not just willing, to meet the demands of a Lincolnian situation. Lincoln was a remarkably self-aware dictator, but he was a dictator all the same. He stretched the role of the executive beyond previously accepted confines. Under his leadership, the side being rebelled against was more radical than the side rebelling. The self-inflicted cosmetic surgery of that war was almost Ballardian really. Beneath his soothing, merciful rhetoric lays the longstanding trauma of his victory. The federalized republic is no less fictive than Westeros compared to the centralized superstate that has since emerged. To modern Americans, the indivisibility of the country is fact; its continental contours are granted; executive power is enshrined; they themselves are willingly chained to its ground in binds of satin.

Lincoln’s America has been one with a ferocious hunger for changes social, cultural, ancestral, and material, held together by his sentiment and his war’s trauma. If those seem like unworkable contradictions for a country as vast as ours that’s because they are. Congratulations, Mr. President, the trauma has been overcome, and the darkness has fallen on your watch. At least you have some choice in whether it shall be followed by dawn or by pitch blackness.

The situation, then, calls for a solution of Lincolnian magnitude, and here you can be the first President to actually not make the error of confusing Lincolnianism for simply repeating what Lincoln did but on a larger scale. The Civil War was a transgressive act; your policy for wringing order out of disorder must be also.

Allowing for secession is out of the question. Forget the Supreme Court; the American people will not tolerate any state or region to leave the Union. There would surely be a new name for the panic to be felt by those Americans who still believe in the enforced neighborliness between the states. The armed forces will be stretched to their limits containing both your own citizens and the rebelling citizens.

Unilateral expulsion, on the other hand, is an untried but far worthier alternative. If there is nothing in American history on which to found its logic we, like some of our federal judges, can look to other nations for precedent. Many forget that Singapore came into existence by being expelled from Malaysia. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are the results of a bitter but amicable “divorce.” Even if the partition of Northern Ireland was almost entirely out of Ireland’s hands, lifting it through consent alone seems ever more remote. It can, and in this case, must be implemented here. You would do well not to expel all the conflicted states, perhaps one or two at first, maybe those with the least to be gained from you resource-wise if you’re not feeling too risky. This will send the message to the rest of them of your seriousness, and also prevent them from confederating. They will own their resources, they will own their social and economic conditions, they will own all the military equipment we gave their police departments that they would surely use against us if we came to blows.

Your authority grants this, and your resolve in doing so will decide how easily it can be questioned. The object of your conflict, if one has not yet been determined, is preservation of individual life and property. You yourself once tweeted that “America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory.”

A great President distinguishes him or herself from a caretaker President by being less concerned with reelection prospects and more concerned with being the last President, period. If this policy makes you just that, there’s little that can be done besides owning up to it. Encouraging and preserving harmony between current and former Americans is the task left to you, whether you want it or not. They will, in all likelihood, stand athwart you, and vanquish you, hopefully in just the polls. They will demonize you and try to erase your very being from its history. They will call you “America’s butcher,” though that is still a notch up from “American butcher”. If dealt with properly, with mercy and self-awareness, this will subside. Lincoln will have been overcome by a new New Birth of Freedom. And after a long line of American Churchill aspirants, an American Gorbachev is preferable to, say, an American Humungus.

[Author’s note: this piece was adapted from an entry of my newsletter, Black Ribbon Award, which you can subscribe to here, if you’re so inclined.]

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The Socialist Party and the Old Right

The text of my talk last night at the National Press Club is now online over on the Porch, here’s some of it:

Greetings. As the token conservative on the panel, I intend to get to what the Socialist Party has to say to us, but I’d like to begin, true to form, by complaining about the liberal media.

In September of last year, the New Republic released a 100th anniversary anthology with a more insurgent title than the magazine has ever earned, called “Insurrections of the Mind,” curated by their recently deposed editor Franklin Foer. In it he offers a succinct summation of what one might call Crolyism for the 21st Century: “the marriage of welfare statism and civil liberties is essentially the definition of American liberalism.”

In the Baffler this month, the estimable left-wing writer George Scialabba corrected him, noting the marriage in question “has actually been a love triangle,” with interventionist foreign policy as the third leg.

As the New Republic and its counterpart the Nation go through their anniversary retrospections, one in its 101st year and the other in its 150th, both have published long essays taking stock of their past. In the New Republic’s case, we might have hoped for a critical reevaluation of its mostly unbroken century of interventionism, before both World Wars right up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Instead, what we have is an extended mea culpa of a cover story about the magazine’s support for welfare reform and its failure to hire a diverse enough staff. Whatever the merits of this newfound sensitivity, to focus on that to the exclusion of the magazine’s militarism seems like a cop-out. In 2015, to diversify a magazine will earn you plaudits from all corners of respectable society. To question war and empire, on the other hand, usually means sacrificing one’s reputation.

Read the rest here. Photo above courtesy JD Gordon