Issue 51 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

From My Diary

Say it with figures: At a recent Council on Foreign Relations meeting, Thierry de Montbrial (president of the French Institute of International Relations) said that Russia’s territory east of the Urals is larger than all of China—but the population is 8 million people compared to China’s 1.25 billion. Igor Yurgens (chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development) added that it’s one person per square kilometer. De Montbrial believes that these figures are bad omens for peace in the region. Should one really add this situation to the list of global challenges? (Before I get an angry note: this meeting of the Council was on the record.)

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The Economist reports, “Since the terrorist attacks of September 2001 Islam in America has flourished. The number of mosques has nearly doubled over the past decade, rising from 1,209 in 2000 to 2,106 in 2011, according to a new report from a multi-faith coalition.” Seems there is less hostility to American Muslims than is often cited.

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Subheading in the Economist: “Egypt wobbles to the finish line of its transition to democracy.” Well, I thought it barely left the gate.

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Michael Deaver advised then-Governor Reagan to swing his suit jacket over his shoulder to be more informal when being covered by a camera crew. Reagan responded that it wasn’t “me” and people would notice that he was uncomfortable. Mitt Romney might take note, as he is trying to “connect” with Southern voters by saying “y’all” and hosting a grits breakfast. (I am not concerned about Mitt’s electability but with those who advise politicians to be even phonier than they instinctively are).

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Say it with numbers: Ryan Lizza, the wunderkind of the New Yorker, quotes Geoffrey Kabaservice, who argues, “The appearance of a Republican Party almost entirely composed of ideological conservatives is a new and historically unprecedented development.” We soon learn that 71% of Republicans are conservative (of any kind, ideological or otherwise). As to the news elements of the story: ten years ago their ranks numbered 62%. That is, the conservative tidal wave concerns 9% of the Republicans. Whether one views this trend as alarming or bracing, it is not a political tsunami.

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Facebook is besting Google, as Steven Levy shows in his masterful book In the Plex, because it bases choices on what friends recommend rather than an aggregation of choices by strangers. That is because Facebook is more communitarian.


The current issue of The New Republic carries our support for a “boots-off-the-ground” strategy. The article is available to subscribers online and will be published in the April 5 issue.

Clinton Global Initiative University

Working Session: The Responsibility to Protect: Preventing Future Genocides and Mass Atrocities

Saturday, March 31, 2012, 10:00AM

George Washington University

Moderator: Rebecca Hamilton

Participants: Michael J. Gerson, Juliana Rotich, Amitai Etzioni

Israeli-U.S. Solomonic Deal

All this has been made mute for now, because according to reports that make a great deal of sense on the face of it, the Obama administration and the Israeli government may strike a deal that works for both sides: Israel would get advanced bunker-busting bombs that  increase the window of opportunity during which it can strike before Iran moves more of its nuclear facilities into a box of immunity, and Israel would get refueling tanker airplanes it badly needs. In turn, Israel may promise not to attack before the elections. Thus, President Obama may not have to worry that Israel will cause a spike in the price of gasoline during the election cycle and the United States would not face another war in the Middle East in 2012. Then if whoever is elected is willing to defang Iran, Israel will be better off. If not, it will be much better equipped to strike on its own.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Iran: Personal Observations

Several years ago, I spent three days in Isfahan, Iran, at a conference organized by the reformers at the Center for Dialogue among Civilizations. Asked to visit the rest of the country, I met with Iranians in Qom, Shiraz, Kashan and Tehran. What struck me most were the little shrines I saw all over the country at the sides of the road and at the entrances and exits of towns and villages. They are dedicated to Iranians—about five hundred thousand—who died young during the eight-year war with Iraq. Pointing to these shrines, my hosts bemoaned their losses the way Germans talk about WWII and the Nazi era: as traumatic experiences that have shaped their psyche and whose repetition they are keen to avoid at almost any cost. The Iranians I met—granted, a few years back, in 2002—were very war allergic.

Read the rest at The National Interest.

Equal or Fair?

Occupy Wall Street is reported to be regrouping and searching for new ways to rekindle the hope on the left that, finally, the masses are awakening and people are lining up to fight against inequality. The slogan “We are the 99%” is held to show that a major leftist progressive theme has caught on. True, many agree OWS has not yet fleshed out its agenda or strategy; however, the energy is there, the commitment is visible, and the rest will come. Well not so fast.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

Recent Publications

“One Size Fits All? Changing the liberal world order.” IP Journal, February 28, 2012.

As Syria descends into civil war, the international community again finds itself debating intervention: an idea that is at odds with the Westphalian norm of sovereignty. While the United States and Europe have shown themselves willing to intervene with force to prevent humanitarian crises and nuclear proliferation, China has largely opposed such measures. Can China be convinced to support the West’s proposed changes to the world order, or will it cling to the traditional Westphalian norm?

The Best Government Money Can Buy

In campaign speeches, Mitt Romney has argued in favor of encouraging students to attend for-profit colleges as a way to drive down education costs. (Click here for a critical take on the for-profit college industry.) One college often mentioned in Romney’s speeches is Full Sail University in Florida. Not mentioned, however, is the fact that Full Sail’s chief executive is a co-chairman of his fundraising team in Florida and has donated $45,000 to a pro-Romney super PAC (as reported by the New York Times).The chairman of the private equity firm that owns Full Sail has also donated tens of thousands.

I Read

David Brooks writes about James Q. Wilson and focuses on some of the more communitarian themes of his writing: “Wilson lived in an individualistic age, but he emphasized that character was formed in groups. As he wrote in ‘The Moral Sense,’ his 1993 masterpiece, ‘Order exists because a system of beliefs and sentiments held by members of a society sets limits to what those members can do.’”

David Ignatius discusses the peaceful transfer of power in Yemen from the 34-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh to Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. He calls it “a counterpoint to the violent and still-uncertain transitions in Egypt, Libya, and Syria” and offers some lessons to be learned.

As part of a special report on financial innovation, the Economistdiscusses the new emphasis being placed on collateralization to provide security for financial instruments. It cautions, however, that “the market does a brilliant job of nurturing and refining instruments that people want. It is less good at planning for when things go wrong.” You have been warned.


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Edited by Julia Milton.