‐ In light of the unspeakable horrors they have suffered, please take a moment today to pray for the victims and survivors of Yale.
‐ Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sparred over immigration. Cruz blasted Rubio’s 2013 bill, which would have let many illegal immigrants apply for citizenship; Rubio responded that Cruz himself favored letting many illegal immigrants get legal status; Cruz denied that he had ever said he favored it. Our own view is that neither legal status nor citizenship should be on offer to illegal immigrants until we are quite sure that we are shrinking the illegal population through enforcement. Otherwise these offers could act as magnets for more illegal immigration. Since abandoning his bill, Rubio has sometimes talked about an enforcement-first approach. He needs to do more to win conservative trust. Cruz starts from a much better position because he criticized the 2013 bill, and he has recently outlined a fairly strong plan for enforcement. He has also walked away from his past support for raising legal-immigration levels significantly, a policy that our economy does not need and that threatens to hinder assimilation. Both men have clearly shifted some of their positions; the good news is that they are shifting in the right direction.
‐ Sugar rots teeth, and has also corroded Senator Rubio’s free-market principles. Florida politicians typically defend sugar subsidies, but even former governor Jeb Bush says they should be phased out. Rubio says that we can’t get rid of them unless other countries do. Otherwise our agricultural land will be lost to development and we will lose our “food security.” It is a testament to the senator’s political skills that he keeps a straight face as he says this. In one of the recent debates, Ted Cruz criticized the sugar program, which costs Americans $2 billion annually. A Rubio aide afterward said that only a tiny fraction of voters would understand the issue. Right: That’s what the sugar industry counts on.
‐ Polls and heat rise together. High-riding Ben Carson took fire from Donald Trump and the press. Trump has slammed Carson before, calling him “low-energy” and slyly dissing his Seventh-day Adventist faith. Now, fastening on Carson’s admission that his youthful temper caused him to stab a friend (whereupon he became devout and self-controlled), Trump struck again, calling rage a “pathological” affliction, like child molesting. What then shall we call boobish slander? CNN questioned the stabbing incident too, after interviewing ten childhood friends, none of whom could recall hearing anything about the attempted stabbing or Carson’s temper (CNN evidently knows very little about temper, which can be intermittent, or about proof, which is not supplied by the absence of evidence). The Wall Street Journal questioned another Carson story, that he had refused a scholarship to West Point. Carson never applied, and West Point gives no scholarships per se (all cadets attend for free). Yet bright young men are often encouraged to apply, assured that admission will be certain. Carson declined, wanting to be a doctor instead. If the candidate showed a hint of his old temper when denouncing the press for these stories, we can’t deny he was provoked.
‐ The new speaker of the House is Paul Ryan. Ryan is an intelligent and imaginative policy wonk. Mitt Romney tapped him as his running mate to give his ticket even more intellectual heft and more conservative credentials; Ryan’s previous leadership slots were as chairman of the Budget and the Ways and Means committees. His predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, honest and solid but hard-handed and somewhat unimaginative, left facing the prospect of a revolt from tea-party and Freedom Caucus members. Ryan will enjoy maybe six minutes of peace with them. Make that twelve — he promised not to bring up an immigration bill while Obama is president (Ryan is an immigration enthusiast). The torment, and the glory, of the American system is that no single branch can run the show by itself. Keeping a liberated lame-duck president in check and a large, feisty caucus happy will now be Speaker Ryan’s tasks.
‐ Boehner said that he wanted to “clean the barn” for his successor as speaker of the House. But his eleventh-hour budget deal with President Obama was a pigsty-worthy mess. The former speaker advertised the deal as a necessary debt-limit increase offset by spending cuts and entitlement reforms. In reality it was a “clean” debt-ceiling increase appended to a bill breaking the budget caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the notorious “sequestration” that has proven about the only fiscal discipline of which Washington, D.C., is capable. Under the deal, the federal borrowing limit — currently $18.1 trillion — is suspended through March 15, 2017. Meanwhile, the law increases total spending by $80 billion over the next two years — $50 billion the first year, $30 billion the next, split equally between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Spending cuts far in the future are included as a fig leaf. Republicans may welcome escaping the prospect of more budget fights during this president’s last year, but the law gives the president billions of dollars to throw at his pet projects and has created further precedent for Congress to renege on its spending commitments. We have looked on John Boehner’s speakership more kindly than many other conservatives have done. This was a disappointing way for him to go out.
‐ Conservatives have traditionally been suspicious of value-added taxes. Their burden is hidden: paid in higher prices or wages never seen. So they may prove too easy to raise, as they appear to have been in Europe. If anyone could dispel these fears, it would be Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, both of whom are trusted as limited-government stalwarts and both of whom have proposed VATs as part of the tax-reform plans they are hawking on the presidential hustings. In both plans, a VAT plus a low, flat income tax would replace today’s payroll tax, corporate tax, and income tax. Their tax cuts are more restrained than those of most of their competitors in the primaries: They would lose less money, and cut middle-class tax bills less. But they would improve incentives to work, save, and invest. Paul says that wage-earners would come out way ahead because he gets rid of the payroll tax; they would have to read the fine print to know that the VAT takes away most of that gain. Cruz says that families making less than $36,000 a year would pay no tax: In reality, they would pay no tax they would see. The advertising pitches, understandably, hide what’s unattractive in the plans; it’s the ease with which they hide it that should concern conservatives who want to avoid a future of tax increase after tax increase.
‐ Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi confirmed what many have long suspected: By the evening hours of September 11, 2012, the Obama administration knew that the deadly assault on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was a planned terrorist attack, yet for several days afterward it attributed the attack to a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video. Shortly after 11 a.m. on September 11, then–secretary of state Clinton sent an e-mail to her daughter, Chelsea, lamenting that “two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al-Qaeda-like group.” The next day, on the phone with Egyptian prime minister Hisham Kandil, she dismissed the video explanation completely: “We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack, not a protest. . . . Based on the information we saw today, we believe that the group that claimed responsibility for this was affiliated with al-Qaeda.” Yet more than a week passed before she made similarly categorical statements to the American public. Predictably, Democrats have dismissed the revelations as “old news.” But it is always newsworthy when we acquire evidence that a leading presidential candidate dissembled about a terrorist attack that killed four Americans.
‐ So when a 3 a.m. call about ISIS comes to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, how will they respond? At the Democratic debate in Des Moines, the former secretary of state was asked whether the administration in which she served had underestimated ISIS. In a rambling answer, she said ISIS “cannot be contained, it must be defeated,” then added that doing so “cannot be an American fight.” As for underestimating, she refused to say. Bernie Sanders said that climate change is our greatest national-security threat, and “directly related to the growth of terrorism.” But the worst foreign-policy moment of the evening was Mrs. Clinton’s, when she defended her Wall Street fundraising by saying that on 9/11 “we were attacked in downtown Manhattan, where Wall Street is.” It was a bit of flag-waving so absurd and shocking that everyone pummeled her for it, right and left. After Paris, the Democratic field got smaller — almost as small as the man they hope to succeed.
‐ Sanders found himself accused in October of sexism and racism. Clinton was able to detect more than a whiff of both in comments the senator from Vermont had made about gun control in the first Democratic debate. Sanders had protested that “all the shouting in the world” wouldn’t keep guns out of the wrong hands — a line he’d been using regularly on the stump. Clinton responded at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner: “I haven’t been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it’s shouting.” Sanders had also said that his rural constituents took a different view of gun control than people living in more urban states. Clinton suggested to members of a South Carolina chapter of the NAACP that this was a racial dog whistle. For anyone wondering how much Clinton plans to play the race and gender cards this campaign season, she’s tipped her hand.
‐ One trait that Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan shared was the gift of being underestimated: Strangers and even supporters thought Lincoln was a rube; they found Reagan simple-minded, even (as he aged) senile. Recently the two presidents have shared a second trait: Bill O’Reilly has written dodgy books about them. Killing Lincoln recycled long-exploded conspiracy theories (e.g., that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was involved in his assassination). Killing Reagan argues that John Hinckley’s non-fatal 1981 bullet somehow tipped Reagan into his mental decline. Some decline: America enjoyed a seven-year boom and victory in the Cold War. George Will slammed this best-seller as “nonsensical history”; O’Reilly called Will a “hack.” Reagan’s record has been examined, and praised, by impartial historians (John Patrick Diggins, H. W. Brands). Bill O’Reilly should stick to TV.
A Bleak Future?
Interest rates have been so low for so long that younger readers of National Review might wonder why anyone would ever bother to put money in a bank account or invest in a bond. This lengthy period of low interest rates is of course partly attributable to price-fixing in bond markets. The Federal Reserve has kept its key policy variable, the federal-funds rate, close to zero for nearly seven years. But as the world economy inches back toward normal, and the Fed does likewise, it is natural to inquire, “What is a normal interest rate?” There is a chance, after all, that we might observe one again someday.
Many attribute the introduction of the notion of a long-run rate of interest to Swedish economist Knut Wicksell’s 1898 essay “The Influence of the Rate of Interest on Commodity Prices.” In the years since, economists have studied the concept at length, and, as with the more widely recognized concept of the natural rate of unemployment, it has become a key consideration for policymakers. In the long run, economists assume, the labor market is at the natural rate of unemployment, and in the long run the interest rate is at its natural or “equilibrium” real rate as well.
Since 2012, the Federal Reserve has published the long-term interest-rate forecasts of the individual members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). It publishes this set of economic projections alongside many others, such as those for growth and inflation. While these receive little focus, they provide citizens with the predictions of a sophisticated group about something conceptually similar to the natural rate of interest.
As can be seen in the chart, the average FOMC forecast for the longer-run interest rate at the time of the first data release in January 2012 was 4.20 percent. As of the last data release this past September, it had fallen to 3.46 percent.
This drop is extremely noteworthy but has scarcely received attention. How should one interpret this reduction of the long-run interest-rate forecast? The macroeconomics literature on the topic points to one conclusion: The Fed has increasingly become very, very, very gloomy about the future of economic growth.
There are two main channels that associate lower rates of interest with lower growth. The first comes from businesses and the second from consumers. As the level of expected economic activity decreases, businesses ratchet down their investment plans, reducing the demand for credit. As consumers expect lower growth, they save more today to preserve their standard of living in the future. Both effects link lower growth to lower interest rates.
And if the FOMC members are reducing their forecasts for the interest rate over the long run, abstracting away from the influence of temporary shocks, then they are anticipating that the current gloom will persist. The minutes of the most recent FOMC meeting, in September, corroborate this view. “The [Federal Reserve] staff left its forecast for real GDP growth over the second half of the year little changed but lowered its projection for economic growth over the next several years. The staff also further trimmed its assumptions for the rates of increase in productivity and potential output over the medium term,” the most recent round of released minutes noted.
Apparently, in the minds of the FOMC, the U.S. economy is running on fumes. Could the Fed turn out to be wrong? For that to happen, productivity would have to surprise on the upside, driving up firms’ demand for credit and reducing the savings of investors. The good news is that if these figures returned to normal levels, a textbook model would yield a natural interest rate at least a percentage point or two above the current Fed projection. The bad news is that growth has disappointed so much for so long that the Fed’s pessimism is not clearly irrational. The euro–dollar futures market allows us to calculate what the market thinks the long-run natural rate of interest is, and it is below even the Fed’s current forecast — by a full percentage point. It’s hard to imagine sentiment being any darker, which perhaps suggests impending dawn.
‐ The Obama administration has, as expected, blocked the Keystone XL pipeline project after six years of dithering. What is interesting is that the administration, now safely beyond any election, revealed its real rationale for opposing the project: The administration opposes energy development per se. The statement on its decision did not dwell on any particular aspect of the Keystone project or any environmental concerns unique to it; rather, it insisted that we must “keep some fossil fuels in the ground,” period. The alternative, the administration argued, is rendering some corners of the world uninhabitable because of global warming. This is nonsense: The lack of a pipeline isn’t going to keep that Canadian shale oil from being consumed, and will in truth ensure that it is consumed in less efficient ways that bring no benefit to Americans. Environmentalists have opposed every piece of energy-infrastructure development on the table outside of a few daft wind-farms, because their aim is to limit energy consumption as a way to limit economic development: They believe that human flourishing in material terms is a crime against Earth.
‐ Ahmed “Clock Boy” Mohamed had a banner month. At the tail end of his global victimhood tour in October, the wunderkind enjoyed red-carpet treatment from Omar al-Bashir, the military dictator largely responsible for 2.5 million dead Sudanese since his reign of terror began in the early 1990s; visited the White House; and received the “American Muslim of the Year” award from the Council on American–Islamic Relations. Then, days later, his father announced that the family would be moving to Qatar, “a place where my kids can study and learn and all of them [be] accepted by that country.” Yes, we realize how trying it has been to be fêted by Silicon Valley CEOs and United Nations dignitaries and heads of state. So to the Mohamed family we can only say: Godspeed.
‐ New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman’s office is investigating Exxon for the crime of holding and speaking the wrong views about global warming. This is part of a long campaign by the Left to criminalize dissent on the subject of carbon dioxide emissions and the desirability of their regulation, a campaign embraced by Democratic politicians and progressive activists such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The persecution of Exxon is modeled on the case against tobacco companies some years back, and it assumes that if Exxon took certain positions in the light of certain knowledge, or if it donated money to groups that did so, then this somehow constituted fraud at the expense of the public health. Exxon is an odd target for this: The company has long taken an unremarkable view on the science of global warming in line with the scientific consensus, and it has among other things advised its shareholders that rising temperatures could disrupt its business in the Arctic. It has also forthrightly opposed many regulatory proposals and U.S. entry into the Kyoto Protocols, an international emissions pact, on the grounds that these are bad policy. This is part of a very worrisome trend: Led by Harry Reid, Senate Democrats in the summer of 2014 voted to repeal the core of the First Amendment so that they could forbid certain political criticism on threat of imprisonment. Now, Exxon is to be looted for holding non-conforming policy preferences. The case should be thrown out. So should New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman.
‐ Houston’s battle over transgender-toilet regulation has been a remarkable thing to behold. In a thriving city that is beset with some genuine challenges, Houston’s big political fight has been over whether the city should potentially dispatch police officers to enforce rules about who is permitted to use which restroom or whether businesses can work that out for themselves, with the assumption that Bob’s Children’s Bookstore and Bob’s Gay Bar might end up with different procedures. Houston mayor Annise Parker, the first openly lesbian woman to serve in the role for a major U.S. city, is a ridiculous social warrior. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — “HERO,” inevitably — had previously been thrown out by the state’s supreme court on the grounds that it had been improperly enacted, with the city making an illegal end-run around certain requirements. But Parker et al. kept at it, with the mayor taking the extraordinary — and plainly improper — step of issuing subpoenas for the sermons of local clergymen whom she suspected of failing to support her on the legislative matter. The ordinance recently went to a vote, and the largely Democratic and overwhelmingly non-white city came out in large numbers to defeat it by a 20-point margin. The usual activist groups got their dresses over their heads and threatened a boycott and other retaliation against Houston, but, so far, nothing. Fairness sure takes a lot of bullying.
‐ Long before the Paris murders, sensible people knew what was needed to stabilize Europe’s immigration crisis: establishment of processing centers outside the EU; distinguishing between refugees and migrants; national-border controls; strict deportation procedures; and keeping genuine refugees near the places they had fled from. Yet the EU and most national governments moved in the opposite direction, and nations that sought to control the influx were denounced in moralistic terms. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, issued an unlimited invitation to Syrian refugees, whereupon the numbers of migrants — most of them neither refugees nor Syrians nor especially poor — began to rise; people across Europe began to resist; and governments began to close their borders. Then came Paris. Some of the murderers entered Europe through Greece, and all moved through the borderless Schengen zone without hindrance. How did Europe’s ruling class ignore this horrendous risk? Why are some even now resisting the popular pressure to close borders? Leaders of Europe’s mainstream parties cleave to a Euro-utopianism that embraces open borders, mass immigration, and multiculturalism. Average citizens, however, recognize reality and are forcing their governments to close their borders and seize control of migration policy from Brussels. It will be a long battle: European institutions are designed to limit democracy and protect European integration from the voters. But when governments override their citizens’ wishes to the point of exposing them to mass murder, they have lost contact with more than reality.
‐ Almost every day one or two Palestinians attempt to kill Israelis, driving a car at them, throwing rocks, or drawing a knife for stabbing — hence this bout of violence is known as “the knife intifada.” Most of them are detected and shot dead as they approach. The numbers aren’t clear, but seemingly a dozen Israelis have been murdered, while five or six times as many Palestinians have lost their lives and about half as many again have been wounded or captured. They seem to be inspired by the example of the suicide bombers in the nearby Islamic State. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, praises the perpetrators in just such a religious idiom: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah.” He further accuses the Israelis of contaminating the great and holy Al-Aqsa mosque with their “filthy feet” as a prelude to destroying it. Commentators, Secretary of State John Kerry among them, suppose that Israeli settlements on the West Bank are provoking this mendacious and costly incitement. More likely, Abbas hopes that playing this card will keep at bay Hamas, his deadly Palestinian Islamist rivals in Gaza.
‐ The leftist Liberal party has made a comeback in Canada, winning the general election. The Liberal leader, the energetic and effusive Justin Trudeau, becomes prime minister at the age of 43. A dynasty is born. His father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1984. In 1972, President Nixon paid a state visit to Canada and at a dinner in his honor raised a toast to Justin, then a baby in arms, “the future prime minister of Canada.” Stephen Harper, the long-serving outgoing prime minister, made the mistake of campaigning on the slogan that Justin was “just not ready,” much too feeble to halt the return of Trudeaumania or, to put it in more prosaic terms, the misgovernment of Canada.
‐ If the European Parliament is good for anything, it is for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, established in 1988. Some very good people have received this prize, including some who would be very unlikely to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — specifically, Cuban dissidents. This year, the Sakharov Prize has gone to a most worthy and needy recipient: Raif Badawi, a Saudi political prisoner. Calling for human rights in his country, he was imprisoned in 2012 and publicly caned: He was hit with 50 blows outside a mosque. A thousand more blows are promised. According to reports, Badawi is in dire physical and mental health. Perhaps the Sakharov Prize will prolong his life.
‐ In a great victory for human rights, the organ-harvesting, gulag-operating brutes in Beijing have decided that Chinese women may have two children before they are forced into abortion at gunpoint, rather than the previous standard of one child.
‐ Umea, a city in northern Sweden, holds commemorations of Kristallnacht, that precursor to the Holocaust that occurred in Germany in 1938. This year, the Jewish community was not invited to the commemoration. Why? A local official explained, “In previous years, we have had a lot of Palestinian flags at these rallies, and even one banner where the Israeli flag was equated with a swastika. The Jewish community wasn’t invited because we assumed they might be uncomfortable around that sort of thing.” Yes, a good assumption. But why is anyone else comfortable?
‐ In November, the land of John Stuart Mill took yet another wrong turn. After a minor celebrity named Ursula Presgrave took to Facebook to share her hideous opinion that children with Down syndrome should be killed, British police responded to the outrage by arresting her and slapping her with a “malicious communications” charge. Following a short investigation, Presgrave was also accused of possessing on her cellphone a series of “memes” that might be offensive to the disabled. She pleaded guilty to both charges and so will go to jail for up to six months. Naturally, Presgrave’s views are abhorrent and she would benefit greatly from some sustained moral reflection. But it is not the role of Her Majesty’s government to ensure that everyone holds views palatable to the majority. The state exists to protect us from violence, not from hurtful sentiments or ill-thought-out words. Once the British understood this in their bones; now, they do not.
‐ In June 2014, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius convened a gathering of television meteorologists — and ordered them to highlight the dangers of climate change in their broadcasts, in anticipation of the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) set to begin at the end of 2015. Instead, meteorologist Philippe Verdier wrote Climate Investigation, accusing climate scientists, politicians, and the environmental lobby of exaggerating the threat of climate change, which he says amounts to a “global scandal.” The book was published in October, and Verdier was immediately put “on leave” by his bosses at channel France 2. In early November, he was fired. “I put myself in the path of COP21, which is a bulldozer, and this is the result,” he told a French radio station. Welcome to the new scientific method.
‐ Liberals within the Catholic hierarchy have been trying to let people who are divorced and remarried receive communion, even if the Church has not annulled their old marriages. The proposed change is presented as a charitable relaxation of discipline, but it would amount to a change in Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Advocates of this change tried to rig a synod of bishops to issue a recommendation that their course be followed; or, failing a wholesale change, to let local bishops do as they please. A revolt led by African bishops prevented any such recommendation. Pope Francis closed the synod with a speech that expressed unhappiness about the tone of some of the criticism of the liberals — or, to some ears, bitterness about the liberals’ defeat. If the pope decides to go ahead with one of the liberal proposals, he will be dividing his flock for no obvious reason, since localities so inclined are already lax about enforcing communion rules. As he prayerfully reflects on his choice, among the things he should consider is whether the Holy Spirit is acting through the African bishops to protect the Church.
‐ Dalton Trumbo is a hero of the Left, and they have duly heroized him in a new movie. Simultaneously, they have vilified or mocked his critics. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten and an ardent Communist. He loved Stalin, and he loved, or at least defended, Hitler, too, before the latter was rude enough to break the Hitler–Stalin pact. After the war, Trumbo was equally ardent for Kim Il Sung in Korea, who would establish what remains the worst state on earth. At the University of Colorado, you will find a Dalton Trumbo Fountain Court. The accompanying plaque says, “CU Student, Distinguished Film Writer, Lifelong Advocate of the First Amendment.” What Trumbo advocated was nothing like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or the First Amendment. He served an ideology that has killed tens of millions of people and enslaved hundreds of millions more. But don’t expect Hollywood to understand, or to give a fair portrayal of his life.
‐ As readers of our previous issue know, National Review is celebrating its 60th anniversary. We would now like to pay tribute to an older brother and two younger brothers. The older brother is Commentary, born in 1945. But it was born as a conservative magazine later, when Norman Podhoretz, the editor, moved right. Commentary is now ably edited by Norman’s son, John. City Journal was born in 1990, and is therefore 25. The magazine of the Manhattan Institute, it has been shaped by such figures as Myron Magnet, Heather Mac Donald, and the current editor, Brian Anderson. The Weekly Standard was born in 1995, edited, then as now, by William Kristol (son of the great editor Irving). Every time they appear, these magazines enlighten, console, and delight us. Conservatives are lucky for this richness, and so is the world at large.
‐ Fred Thompson had several careers, and he was good at all of them. A lawyer, he was tabbed by Tennessee senator Howard Baker, his mentor, to serve as Republican counsel to the Watergate committee. He shone in that role. Soon, he was doing movies. In the 1990s, he himself ran for the Senate, successfully. While in the Senate, he was chairman of the committee investigating the Clinton White House’s shady fundraising practices. Democrats blocked him at every turn, but he did his best. He was thought to be a natural for president in 2000. He declined to run, for an interesting reason. That era was a time of peace and prosperity, however shakily grounded. And “I don’t want to spend several months trying to convince people they’re not as well off as they think they are.” He starred in a television series, Law & Order. He did run for president the next time the Republican nomination came open, in 2008. He did not fare well, but he was rugged, charming, and intelligent, as always. He was a favorite on National Review cruises. And he was a true and exemplary American. He has now died at 73, leaving behind millions of well-earned fans. R.I.P.
‐ German chancellor from 1974 to 1982, Helmut Schmidt was one of the great men of his time. After experiencing the Hitler Youth and the wartime Wehrmacht, he took up politics for the sole purpose of making Germany a normal democratic country. The terrorism of the Red Army Faction and the Baader-Meinhof gang was an internal threat to stability that he confronted head on. The Soviet Union and Communist East Germany took every opportunity for subversion. While making it plain that personally he despised President Carter, Schmidt nevertheless was the firmest of allies with the United States, overriding left-wing opposition to put in place a defensive missile system. The same wish to make friends and stand by them led him to work for a single European currency. After leaving office, he became a publisher and author, speaking his mind with the authority of an elder — and very human — statesman. Interviewers never failed to mention that he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Born in Hamburg, he has died there at the age of 96. R.I.P.
‐ The “nouveaux philosophes” — which is to say, the new philosophers — were absolute bogeymen when they arose out of bohemian Paris in the student froth of 1968. There were three or four of them, but none more frightful than André Glucksmann. A Marxist and a Maoist, he was a friend of Michel Foucault, already a philosopher famous for making everyone feel guilty for being themselves. At some point in the 1970s, unlike Foucault, he grew up. Perhaps Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s three volumes documenting the murderous Soviet Gulag were responsible for it; perhaps it was Arab hostility to Jews. At any rate, he now savaged what he had previously praised, and praised what he had savaged, for instance the policies of Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush. The transformation of the revolutionary into a French neoconservative is truly a fable for these times. Aged 78, he has died of cancer. R.I.P.
On the very day after President Obama declared ISIS to be “contained,” it reached hundreds of miles outside what he supposed were its limits and struck the heart of Paris. Concert-goers, diners, soccer fans: Any random group of infidel civilians was fair game. ISIS’s murderers took more than 120 lives; dozens more were injured critically. French president François Hollande called the attacks, correctly, an “act of war.”
This carnage is what happens when terrorists are given safe havens, when they have time and space to recruit and train new fighters, and when they have time and funds to organize attacks. In short, the West forgot a principal lesson of September 11: that terrorists cannot be given respite.
In a short span of weeks, ISIS has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Beirut, downing a Russian passenger jet, and — now — a multi-pronged urban assault in the heart of one of the West’s great cities. It promises to bring the war to the United States (“American blood is best,” ISIS cackled, post-attack). The idea that ISIS could be “contained” was folly from the beginning. Every day that ISIS exists is another day that it recruits sex-starved and violence-addicted young fanatics from abroad, inspires them in their home countries, or infiltrates them into the mass of migrants now flowing from the Middle East through the open borders of Europe. Indeed, it is reported that one of the attackers was registered as a refugee in October.
Obama wants to hold with his existing strategy, which is itself a holding pattern. In a press conference at the G-20 summit in Turkey, he said he was “not interested in . . . pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning,” which he dismissed as mere slogans; he instead was “too busy” protecting Americans, our allies, and the people of the Middle East. Well, Mr. President, sending a few dozen troops to advise and assist, making whack-a-mole air strikes such as the one that killed British terrorist Jihadi John, or relying on under-equipped Kurdish fighters is not doing the job.
A serious war requires a serious strategy. That means defeating ISIS in the country where the United States has the most power and influence — Iraq. This begins with a more robust campaign from the air that is free from current overly restrictive rules of engagement (they seek to prevent all civilian casualties) and that hits every possible ISIS target. It means special forces operating on the ground in conjunction with our air power. It means buttressing Iraqi forces for the fight to retake Ramadi, and then Mosul, which could require thousands more U.S. troops. (The U.S. political debate focuses overwhelmingly on numbers of troops, although what is most important is to have a strategy first — then provide the resources necessary to carry it out.)
Syria, a quagmire of competing jihadist groups, is a much more complicated proposition. We should avoid the impulse to fall into the arms of the Russians and the Assad regime, whose blunderbuss tactics and strategic goal of entrenching the Alawite dictatorship will only fuel the Sunni resentment that fuels ISIS. Certainly, we can do more from the air to support Kurdish allies.
At home, vigilance above all. Americans have left the country to fight for ISIS, and dozens have returned. Moreover, ISIS has proven that it can inspire homegrown terrorists. Much of the national-security debate over the past year has failed to take account of the growing threat: We crimped the NSA, and the president is still hell-bent on closing Guantanamo. Former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly’s surveillance of local mosques should be a model.
The massacre at Paris may push Europe to the right — a ragged move, since the established parties of the center-right have ceded questions of national identity and security to fringe figures. Here it may impart some welcome seriousness to the clown car of this election cycle. Americans are understandably weary of war, but jihadists aren’t, and wars do not end when one side grows tired of battle.
We suffered terribly on 9/11 from al-Qaeda’s fixation on grand strikes, yet once we learned the pattern, we were able to prevent new ones (Australia, India, and Europe were not so fortunate). ISIS has shifted to a new pattern, a kind of international intifada. We must, as Winston Churchill said after Pearl Harbor, “teach them a lesson which will not be forgotten in the records of a thousand years.”
Without the excuses of fearing a draft or savoring a brand-new counterculture, America’s college campuses are experiencing a spasm akin to that of the late Sixties.
The proximate causes of the present uproar were hardly momentous. At the University of Missouri, student-government president Payton Head said he was the object of a racial taunt (since he later repeated outlandish accounts of National Guardsmen and even Klansmen on campus, he shouldn’t be considered a reliable narrator). A swastika drawn with feces was later reported on a bathroom wall — by whom or for what reason was never established. Meanwhile at Yale the wife of the master of one of the residential colleges sent out a memo urging students not to treat Halloween costumes as provocations. At Claremont McKenna College two students posted a Halloween picture of themselves wearing sombreros. The horror.
All three campuses went nuts. When protests at Mizzou were joined by members of its (stumbling) football team, the president and the chancellor had to resign. The dean of students at Claremont McKenna did likewise. At Yale the college master was berated by shouting students, a performance that went viral.
Protesters demanded safe spaces in which to vent. That meant no interference and no scrutiny. Missouri students tried to prevent a student journalist, Tim Tai, from photographing them, and Melissa Click, an assistant professor of mass media, no less, asked for “muscle” to keep another reporter away. At Dartmouth a mob paraded through the library, demanding that students stand up in solidarity and shoving the reluctant into walls.
Here and there the nouveau goons got some pushback. An editorial in the Claremont Independent urged students not to be “scared into silence.” They are scared because the twin tides of hysteria and conformity are locally strong. The Left has tied its fortunes to identity politics, which, student protests to the contrary, is quite safe on college campuses. Yet the haven of group-think is clearly an intellectual dead end. Students expect to be coddled; when they believe they aren’t, they feel oppressed. Shame on those adults who quiver before them.