The US government shut down all US embassies in the Middle East for the first weekend in August and notified all US persons traveling abroad that they face extra danger of being set upon by terrorists. Because, says the official announcement, US Intelligence detected “increased chatter” among suspected terrorists that contained “specific threats.” The closings and warnings are dreadful policy. The intelligence on the basis of which the policy was made suffers from a lack of quality control – counterintelligence in the language of the trade – so serious as to expose US policy makers to being manipulated by foreign enemies.
Russia offers asylum to Edward Snowden, who publicized the extent of the U.S. government’s domestic espionage, thereby presuming to teach America a lesson about civil liberties. Iran demands that the U.S. government secure justice for Trayvon Martin, (whose death a jury ruled to have resulted from self defense), thereby presuming to teach us about tolerance of minorities. The ludicrous character of these gratuitous demarches highlights the contempt for America from which they flow.
In international affairs, contempt is highly dangerous. The sense that a nation may be outraged without serious consequence has always been the sine qua non of war.
Remarkable is the extent to which ruling class consensus can blot out common sense.
The headlines tell us that more and better US missile defense devices are being tested and deployed to keep pace with Iran’s and North Korea’s increasing capacity to deliver nuclear-armed ballistic missiles on ourselves and our allies. Secretary of Defense Hagel said that these improvements “make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression.” The underlying reality however is that these devices, intentionally designed to be marginally adequate, are inadequate for their minimal purpose. Much less can they safeguard our lives and interests against serious threats from serious quarters: Russia, China, and whatever hostile forces might come into possession of Pakistan’s arsenal.
Far from being a cornerstone of our national defense, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has proved to be an even worse idea than opponents feared when it passed in 1978. By providing judicial pre-authorization for many of our national security bureaucracies’ actions, it is habituating them to dysfunctional practices. By fostering the creation of a secret body of common law regarding civil liberties, it is perverting the American legal system. To repeal it, however, would require confronting the reasons why the security bureaucracies demanded the law in the first place and why they are increasingly attached to it.
The Egyptian people’s rejoicing over the armed forces’ overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s looming dictatorship was mixed with…anger at the American people – anger sure to trouble our relations with the Muslim world’s vital center; trouble which our foreign policy establishment richly earned by playing sorcerers’ apprentices in Egyptian politics. This meddling is neither new nor confined to Egypt. Breaking this half-century old destructive habit is essential to restoring our peaceful relations with the rest of mankind.
Full disclosure: I emigrated to America as a teenager, and became a US citizen in 1962.
While America once grew greater and better by assimilating the world’s most disparate peoples, during the past generation immigration has troubled America deeply. The US Senate’s immigration bill, far from “fixing” anything that is “broken” leaves intact the troubles’ sources. Indeed it gives the US government new powers to slice, dice, and dissimilate the American people into categories the more easily to rule us. Herewith an account of why immigration turned from an engine of strength to one of destruction.
Early America was all about immigration. Here immigrants would find more food, and more of the wherewithal of prosperity than anywhere. But they would have to pay for it by accepting unprecedented insecurity and unremitting work. Benjamin Franklin warned prospective immigrants that America is “the land of labor.” This peculiar bittersweet mixture drew self-selected millions to these shores.
From Barack Obama to Karl Rove, the ruling class is in unison: The NSA’s collection of data on virtually all Americans is essential to preventing you from “being blown to smithereens on your morning commute” – as the Wall Street Journal editorial put it. In the words of General Keith Alexander, director of NSA, this surveillance has “helped to prevent” “dozens of terrorist events.” Later, the tally rose to “over fifty.”
Who wins and loses in Syria’s civil war is not in our interest and is beyond our control. Because that has been obvious since that war started two years ago, the American people’s consensus has been that the US government should steer clear of it. Now the Obama Administration seems to have decided to help the rebels, conveying its decision to the public indirectly and framing it in generalities: ending the slaughter and asserting America’s role in the region. But since its intervention cannot decide the struggle, it can only diminish America’s influence.