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re: More Osloism


Barry Rubin (no relation), a student of Middle Eastern history with a track record of prediction far better than Mr. Scowcroft, suggests it may now be decades before Arab leaders will be ready for another crack at a negotiated settlement. 

More Osloism


Cf. this golden line from Brent Scowcroft’s New York Times essay:

Arab leaders are now keen to resolve the 50-year-old dispute. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel may be as well.

Are we to believe that Bashir Assad, Ismail Haniya, Hassan Nasrallah-the surrounding triad of Arab interlocutors on the West Bank, in Lebanon, and Syria are “keen” to “resolve” the dispute, and a pliable Israeli leader like Olmert only “may be”?

But why should any Arab leader be “keen” to resolve the issue since it has been the most useful red herring for every illegitimate monarch, autocrat, and dictator who have used the Palestinians to rally Arab nationalism and thereby deflect attention from their own glaring failures?


Well, There Is Also...


Another e-mail:

Sure, I guess Miguel Estrada for White House would be cool as White House counsel.  But Erik Estrada would be cooler.

Web Briefing: December 18, 2014



Yes, great news you wanna-cruisers. In addition to our already stellar line-up of speakers coming on the National Review 2007 Alaska Cruise, we’re happy to announce the Maryland’s ace Lt. Governor, Michael Steele, will be joining us.

So will political analyst supreme Dick Morris.
So will unrivalled historian Victor Davis Hanson.

That’s in addition to Arthur Laffer, Bob Bork, Ed Gillespie, Mac Owens, Bill Rusher, Dick Allen, and the NR Gang — KLO, JayNo, RamPo, RichLo, KateO, and JonahGo. And we’re still awaiting RSVPs from some other invited Big Names. This trip is going to be a blast. Be there. For more info, or to reserve your cabin, visit


re: WMR for White House Counsel


He’s most accomplished as businessman and chief exec and I think he has another White House slot in mind, JPod.



From a reader:

You are a bit off on the personnel changes.  Negroponte goes to State as Deputy but only briefly.  Condi becomes VP when Cheney resigns for health reasons(health of the GOP).  Condi announces she has crashed through ceilings of all composition and upstages Nancy P. with her stunning wardrobe.  Meanwhile, Santorum goes to the National Intelligence Director spot and declares it a mess.  He fires most of the  CIA staff after confiming they play solitaire and talk on the phone to the NY Times all day long. He hires Derb, Cliff May and Rich Lowry who consistently provide better analysis and write a heck of a lot better than these God awful leaked Intelligence Assessments.  Miguel goes to the Supreme Court when Ed Whelan explains to Stevens it’s ok to resign because Bush is conservative “just like you.”  I know it’s a bit over the top.  But maybe a series for Warren Bell at PBS!

Re: Admitting You’re Wrong


Okay, not Mitt Romney.

Re: White House Counsel


I say Mitt Romney.

We Know Which America John Edwards Lives In


Seriously Now....


Wouldn’t Miguel Estrada as White House counsel be pretty cool news?



to the U.N.

Fine then. Rick Santorum for White House counsel.

Speaking of Admitting Wrongness


Andy, very nice of you. Much appreciated.

Now, a couple readers have — despite my admission of offering a “fast and loose” — response earlier have objected to my fast and loose response. For example:

I get the main thrust of your point about government and I agree, but
there are critically important areas where the game isn’t zero-sum:

- contract law
- patent law (economists have non-monopoly solutions to this problem,
but that involve law and regulation all the same)
- property rights

The place where I would challenge you is:

“So, if you think the State should fix the lives of group A it will —
as a basic fact of economics — come at the expense of group B. Many
liberals acknowledge this. They just see no problem with taking my
money to do what they think God or some abstract conception of Good or
Progress requires them to do. In short, liberals think they have
sufficient knowledge and moral authority to either take from me things
I do not want to give or to tell me how I should live my life.”

And you write for NR vs Reason magazine because…?

That argument strongly distinguishes you from actual conservatives – I
mean (for example) in the Bush administration, Kurtz, possibly
Ponnuru, and pundits on AM radio and Fox News, and people who listen
to all that stuff. “Conservatives” in 2006 are more than happy to
enshrine in law (a corollary being judicial interpretation of it) how
you ought to live your life. Oh, maybe it doesn’t involve direct
money transfers – but is that the only aspect of life at issue?

Or as another reader put it:


I was suprised at the pizza pie theory of economics that you used to argue that any government aid to A comes at the expense of B. Certainly this can happen but I thought this economic theory was laid to rest long ago.Henry Ford realized it a century ago and and our government aid programs that rebuilt Europe after WWII created huge markets for our manufacturing enconomy. Taking something from A and giving it to B made A a rich nation.Did I read you incorectly?

Me: Touché to a point. I agree that not all government policies are zero sum and I was too glib in suggesting otherwise. Nor am I an outright libertarian. I spoke too fast in order to make a basic point. I agree with Hayek and other Whigs that the State can do more than the bare minimum (prisons, police, armies etc) and still be just. But what you need wherever possible are clear rules that apply to everyone equally. Even Hayek believed you could have laws like minimum wages, pensions etc. (whether he endorsed specific policies — and which ones — on empirical grounds is a different question and outside of my knowledge. Where is my Hayek guy?). And Charles Murray’s most recent book, for example, is a fascinating illustration of a (liberaltarian?) concession to the idea that the state can be bolder about improving society than the zero-summer might believe.

As for the idea that I differ from other conservatives about this stuff, I think there’s too much to contend with at the dinner hour. But I will say this: one advantage of traditional conservatives of the sort the first reader allegedly has in mind is that we know where their moral agenda comes from. Liberal moral dogma is hidden behind a lot of curtains while they proclaim they are merely being “pragmatic” and secular and commonsensical.

Oh, and I thought this was interesting, from a reader:


I read through the post that A. Sullivan linked to attacking you and, once you get past the gratuitous chickenhawk crap, it’s a better argument than Ramesh gave it credit for. The guy (“Dr. X”) is actually a coherent postmodernist, which is a rarity we Claremontsters appreciate. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen a pomo so readably explain pomo principles. He’s even almost persuasive at times.

The nifty bit is that Dr. X says nearly the exact same thing as A. Sullivan regarding certainty, and they both attack your motives (the primary tactic of postmodernism). The difference is that Dr. X calls himself a pomo while A. Sullivan calls himself a conservative. Perhaps they’re both right; or perhaps not.
Me: And now, I’m off to dinner. 

Re: Sigh


My unsolicited two cents, for what they may be worth.

I think we give way too much oxygen to Andrew Sullivan.  What I love about hangin’ on the Corner, and, by extension, what I love about Jonah and Ramesh, is intellectual honesty.  Time after time, I’ve seen them deal critically with positions they’ve taken in the past – to the point of assuming for argument’s sake that they might have been wrong about this or that point, and giving the other guy the benefit of the doubt.  To the point of saying, “I got that wrong,” when they see they might have gotten it wrong.

We all need to do that because we’re all wrong now and then.  This punditry is not what I used to do for a living.  A prosecutor takes mysteries that have already happened and puts together the clues to figure out who-dun-it. 

This, instead, is about doing the best you can to process the past and the present in order to predict the future.  It’s the difference between intelligence and enforcement.  For those into sports analogies, it’s the difference between the chance of kicking an extra-point and the chance of getting a single off Roger Clemens.

I read Jonah and Ramesh because they go about their work with smarts and humility.  Because they write with a sense that they understand what they say needs to be defensible.  Not necessarily right; just their best shot under the circumstances, giving the other side its due.

When I sense that from Andrew Sullivan, I’ll start reading him again.  Until then, Y-A-W-N.

Tommy Thompson for President?


He has a website. Here’s a favorable appraisal from Daily Takes: “While not every aspect of his tenure satisfies my conservative outlook on government, one would be a fool to dismiss Thompson.”

Vox Populi


By far, this reader captures a certain consensus in my email box:

 Dear Jonah: I know you get a superabundance of email on this topic, but obviously, that’s not enough. We, the readers of the Corner, do not give a $&#* about what Andrew Sullivan thinks of you, or anything else. Why would anybody be bothered with the confused, moorless musings of a mind so muddled, as Mickey Kaus points out today , as to support something that he believes will “doubtless lead to genocide and ethnic cleansing on a hideously cruel scale.” I would have written this abusive email to Ramesh too, but he wisely doesn’t link to his email address. Anyway STOP IT. NOW. NOBODY CARES!

Michael Steele


Another reason to attend the NRI conference Kathryn mentioned earlier: perhaps the most compelling GOP candidate of the ‘06 cycle, Michael Steele, will be participating.



I have no doubt Ramesh covers all the bases, so I’m not even going to read Andrew’s attack. It doesn’t sound like there’s anything new there.

But I have been fascinated by the degree to which so many people get angry about what I at least believe to be an entirely sensible and moderate position on certainty. Many of the same people screaming at me in my email, are convinced that torture is always and everywhere wrong. No exceptions. That’s obviously a decent and honorable position to hold. But it smacks of more than a little moral certainty, does it not?

I think the big problem for a lot of people stems from a simple category error. No one really likes a rigid know-it-all. We have problems — I would say outsized problems — with  “judgmental” people. So some people leap from that to the view that because rigid people have bad characters, they must also have bad morals or philosophy or metaphysics. But this strikes me as nonsense. I am certain — morally certain! — that kindness is better than cruelty. I am morally certain that charity is better than greed, that murder is worse than taking a life unjustly, etc, etc, etc, etc. Indeed, what is striking in this “debate” is the fact that so many moral certainties enjoy enormous social consensus. So much so that we don’t even question them. 

Regardless, the trick in life is how we translate these noble certainties into action. This is where skepticism, humility and doubt play important roles. Am I sure that I am applying my principles properly? Am I missing something? Is my small act of kindness actually contributing to a greater cruelty? Does my opponent make a good case that I’m not seeing the bigger picture?

Decent people are open to the possibility that they may have the facts wrong, that what they believe are cut-and-dried moral issues are actually more complicated than it appears. But it strikes me as absurd and dangerous to say that simply because I might be wrong about something that I can never, ever, be absolutely right. 

Lastly, what is so galling about those who claim to be the tender and sensitive enemies of certainty is that they are no such thing. They are merely enemies of other people who have made different judgments, based on different priorities. But they get to cloak themselves in humane-sounding verbiage while they hypocritically use their own moral certainty against others. It’s shabby, shabby, stuff. 

When Intellectual Disaster Strikes


Andrew Sullivan is criticizing Jonah. Two features of Sullivan’s attack are by now expected, but still represent a sad fall from, say, the Sullivan of three or four years ago. First, he attributes Jonah’s views about certainty to his alleged desire to serve the interests of the Republican party. He provides no evidence for this attribution; nobody can disagree with Sullivan honorably, after all! It’s a key tenet of the “conservatism of doubt.” Second, he praises a post that “takes down” Jonah mainly by repeatedly making the chickenhawk “argument” against him. There was a time when that would have been beneath him.

Then there is the intellectual confusion, which admittedly doesn’t represent a fall. The post to which Sullivan links accuses Jonah of conflating the issue of factual certainty with that of moral certainty, but Jonah was clearly defending the proposition that some moral truths can be known for certain. Sullivan seems to think that accepting that proposition amounts to denying that there are limits on what we can know. But that’s just a logical error. Sullivan also takes this proposition to be in tension with conservatives’ wise recognition that acts and policies can have ”unintended consequences”–but here he’s the one who’s conflating factual and moral issues. The conservative arguments to which the phrase “unintended consequences” refers have had to do with the limits of our empirical knowledge; they haven’t aimed at showing that we shouldn’t really believe our moral beliefs.

Bill Bennett Gets It Too


As you might expect.  It’s his #2 resolution for 2007

re: Tracinski


Let me chime in for a second, Rich.  Tracinski penned a thoughtful article, but I disagree with a few points.  If George W. Bush sticks to his declaration that he will not “tolerate” a nuclear-weapon capable Iran, then military force may ultimately be necessary. But, the negatives associated with military force are real; they should only be a last resort.  The critics who point out what Tehran might do in response are not picking their concerns out of a hat—they are real, as anyone who has studied Iranian history or past Iranian actions know.  What a military strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities would accomplish would be delay of the program.  But, absent a comprehensive U.S. strategy to take advantage of the additional time bought, the delay would only be kicking the can down the road resolution of a larger problem.  No administration should order an Operation Desert Fox-type strike on Iranian facilities just to allow itself more time to avoid taking leadership decisions. That would be the ultimate abuse of the men and women in the U.S. armed forces.   

What I was trying to highlight in the New York Daily News column Tracinski references is that we have many robust options not yet tried.  Would these have had more cumulative effect if we had begun them six years earlier?  Yes.  Do we have enough time for them to work?  I don’t know.  Might military force still be needed?  Yes.  And while I do not believe Tehran sincere in its diplomacy for reasons outlined here, to take a more forceful stance against the Islamic Republic will only enhance the U.S. position no matter what the administration chooses.  There is a pattern in the administration and among analysts to do nothing while arguing whether Option A, B, or C is best.  But, if A, B, and C, are not at cross-purposes, why not implement them simultaneously?  Lastly, when discussions of this sort occur, it’s easy to conflate analysis with advocacy.  Discussing the possibility of a military strike on Iran does not mean one wants it to happen.  Nor does discussion of alternative courses of action mean that military options should be off-the-table.


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