Issue 61 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.” – A communitarian excerpt from President Obama’s election night speech

* * *

With the fiscal cliff fast approaching, a coalition of liberal activist groups, unions, and lawmakers, are mobilizing to oppose potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In the coming weeks, President Obama will have to negotiate with congressional leaders in the hopes of striking a deal to avoid a set of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could push the economy back into recession. House Republicans are demanding that any agreement include cuts to entitlements, and liberal groups are concerned that Obama agrees. The coalition has therefore planned a rally at the capitol to urge Obama to hold the line against demands for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

For our view, see “Rationing by Any Other Name.” Policy Review 173 (June & July 2012) p. 19-28.

* * *

Yiddish Curses for Republican Jews – Andrzej Lubowski sent me these curses. A sample follows. Click here for more.

May you live to a hundred and twenty without Social Security or Medicare.

May you find yourself lost and stranded in a village ofPalestinian Muslims, and may you be treated only with dignity, kindness and respect.

May God give you a daughter-in-law who is as kind as she is beautiful, as patient as she is rich, as wise as she is devoted, a virtuous woman in every way. And then may a ballot initiative invalidate her marriage to your fat lump Rebecca.

May the state of Arizona expand their definition of “suspected illegal immigrants” to “anyone who doesn’t hunt.”

* * *

European leaders, such as those in Spain, who are now moving to bail out banks, which refuse to help people who have trouble to pay their mortgages, should instead issue each household a mortgage reduction voucher, an idea I first suggested in the context of the American housing collapse. Because these vouchers could be used only to pay off mortgages, they will help the banks by helping the people, rather than hoping that by saving the banks they will bail out the people. Think about it as trickling up, instead of down. Households that have no mortgages will be able to sell them. All must be cashed in within 60 days.

Recent Publications

Petraeus: Much Less Than Acclaimed

I do not want to dump on a general who has just been pushed off his pedestal by a jealous mistress. However, the nation deserves consolation — the loss to America is much smaller than the media has made it out to be. General Petraeus has been depicted as a great military thinker — a Ph.D. from Princeton! — who came up with the strategy that won the war in Iraq. He famously replaced CT (counterterrorism) with COIN (counterinsurgency) which sought to win the hearts and minds of the local population — in other words to help us, and turn against those who are fighting us.

Well, it did nothing of the sort. The turning point in Iraq actually came only after the surge, which increased our boots on the ground, and the Sunni Awakening, in which we bribed the tribal chiefs of several Sunni communities to work with us. It helped that they finally realized that they would be unable to bring back the Saddam regime during which they lorded over the Shia, and that they will have to learn to live in a country governed by a Shia majority. All the other stuff, the many scores of billions the U.S. spent on building schools and clinics (but not providing salaries for teachers and nurses), paving roads, digging wells and so on mainly enriched American contractors, but swayed few Iraqi minds.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

Reader comments

Apparently, David Petaeus does not walk on water after all.”

– exmate

Most military officers had little respect for either General Petraeus or Allen. Both were political generals with little else to offer. Both should leave gracefully now in the interest of moral and good discipline. A Marine

– digger smith

The missing factor in COIN is pretty obvious to anyone with even 1/4 of a brain. If the population didn’t invite you in in the first place, they don’t want you there! You can’t make friends with the people whose country you invaded (YES, INVADED!). You also cannot “export” democracy for imposition on a population which did not ask for and isn’t prepared for it, as in Iraq. COIN may have worked beautifully in WW II Europe, where the people went wild over American soldiers, but Petraeus was woefully out of date, especially for such a great “thinker”. All he was, in the end, was a BS artist, a trained, career killer and a philanderer. I say Good Riddance!”

– Rothomaha

China Feeling Its Oats

I just returned from participating in the Beijing Forum, an annual event that takes place at the beautiful campus of Peking University. Hundreds of public intellectuals and academics from many nations engaged in this particular talkfest, which seeks to highlight the softer side of China.

My roundtable—on the topic of core values—was off the record. A Chinese colleague explained that, “we hope next year we will be able to have it on the record.” Another told the panel that each year he asks the American students that take his class whether their parents approved of their coming to China. He reported that most say “no” and that he tells them “good you came, there is nothing to fear.”

The chair of the meeting chuckled and added that “maybe the secret police is so secret no one can see it.” Later, over drinks and with a much smaller group, he allowed that the budget of the internal security apparatus was larger than that of the military. And when I asked for help when the computer in my room seemed not to work, the hotel staff explained that I could only access Chinese websites and blogs. The reality seems to lag considerably behind the PR.

Read the at The National Interest.

The Next Four Years: Higher Growth

President Obama should not allow conservatives to define the agenda for the next four years. The very high priority granted to dealing with the fiscal cliff is a distraction because it defines the issue in terms of how much spending to cut and how much taxes ought to be raised. The true issue Obama is facing is the same one he faced four years ago: How to make the economy grow at a higher rate and reduce unemployment. This in turn requires (a) more, not less, stimulus now and (b) fixing the housing market — not adding drags to the economy by cutting spending and raising taxes at this point in time. Even taxing the rich a “bit more” (as the president put it) is of secondary concern. It will not raise much money nor bring much justice. In contrast, reducing unemployment and ending foreclosures, will be much more consequential on both fronts. (Though, of course, taking more from the rich to support public goods is called for).

Read the rest at The Huffington Post.

Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012) by Amitai Etzioni — hot off the presses.

Costumer Reviews

“One of the sharpest and most inquisitive minds in America looks at the key U.S. foreign policy and global moral challenges and asks questions that many of us ask ourselves and search painfully for answers. Is China a definite foe or could it become a friend? How should we respond to its ascendance? What are the risks of nuclear Iran? How did the Arab spring affect the position of the United States? Are we right to assume that for a nation to be democratic it must adopt our kind of institutions, including the separation of religion and state? What are the lessons of Libya?

Political, economic and military considerations are accompanied by moral ones. Imagine that Taliban offers America a deal: “we put an end to all terrorist activities and guarantee that no attack on America is launched from our territory – if we don’t deliver, you could bomb us to oblivion. But get out of here and accept that we run the country they way we like it, end all that schooling for girls, sending them back home, where they belong. The sharia law is instituted in Afghanistan”. What is our response? How do we balance our national security interests with the global moral obligations, if we have any?
The book informs, stimulates and forces to reflect on complexities of contemporary world and our place in it.” – 
Rascal (alias)

“I wish there would be some forum in which one could debate the main thesis of Etzioni’s new book, The Hot Spots. If he is half right the U.S. is about to commit another major strategic blunder, of special interest to those of us in the Middle East. It shifting its focus and military resources from the Middle East to the Far East, especially to face off China. Etzioni shows, in ways I at least find deserve more attention, is that the main threat to U.S. security is Pakistan, in which terrorists already made several attempts to get their hands on nuclear arms. Next is Iran which is threatening not merely Israel but also Saudi Arabia and other so called `Sunni’ states. And Afghanistan is far from stable.

In contrast Etzioni shows that China is preoccupied with its own domestic problems, hence no global designs of the kind the USSR had, and a weak military. To be fair, Etzioni does not deny that China may become one day a threat, however he argues that there is time for what he calls the `China hedge’ in which one can try to work with China to deal with many issues in which East and West have shared interests. He hence calls the shift to the Far East “premature”.
As I said, there may be good reasons for the `pivot’ to the Far East, for this latest major change in strategy by the U.S. -however one wonders if it has been thought out or merely is the result of the pressure to find an enemy, now that the US is being driven out of the Middle East.”

Tzvi Gutman

See the book’s name index here.

Israel doesn’t swing Jewish voters

Mitt Romney is trying to cut into the considerable lead President Obama had among Jewish voters by showing that he is even more of a supporter of Israel than his rival.

After suggesting the Obama administration threw Israel “under the bus,” Romney made an even stronger warning to Iran not to go nuclear, and pledged to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Romney is hardly the only one who believes that the Jewish vote swings to the candidate in presidential elections who is the most fervent supporter of Israel. The same position was given voice in a 2007 book by two highly regarded political scientists, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which suggests that Jews have undue influence over U.S. foreign policy by making campaign contributions, pressuring members of Congress, and by casting their votes to support Israel.

Keep reading on

I Read

Robert D. Kaplan, a leading “dragon slayer,” who is promoting hostility to China with his ‘partial geographical determinism,” get his comeuppance in a must read essay by Adam Gopnik in the Oct. 29/Nov. 5 issue of The New Yorker. Most authors would sell their typewriter after such an expose.

Jackson Diehl is a very savvy and well informed columnist. Hence his criticism of the off-shore balancing (boots of the ground) strategy, which was successfully applied in Libya, is particularly surprising. He argues, on the basis of one report, that the four Americans killed recently in Benghazi might be alive if instead of following Obama’s “light footprint doctrine,” the U.S. had stabilized Libya, “disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up””—a policy that would have required many boots on the ground. He does not respond to the obvious aberration—that more Americans are killed each week in Afghanistan, where we have been following the boots on the ground strategy. For more about the folly of nation building, see this article on The National Interest.

Upcoming Events

SASE 25th Annual Conference – States in Crisis

June 27-29, 2013 – University of Milan

SASE is organized into “networks,” one of which is dedicated to communitarianism and is run by José A. Ruiz San Román. Colleagues interested in presenting a paper or author, or organizing a session should promptly contact Professor Román at [email protected]


David Cohen

Senior Congressional Fellow, Council for a Livable World
Washington, D.C.

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