According to a few who attended a recent small gathering with Bernard Lewis, regarded as the “dean” of Islamic scholars in the U. S., he made the chilling statement that the West is today at a point with the Iranian regime almost exactly where we were with the Nazi regime in 1938. This is a striking realization, and one that we had best take seriously. In his 2002 “axis of evil” address, in which he identified Iran as one of three regimes comprising this axis, President Bush also said this: “I will not wait on events, while dangers gather…..The USA will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons…..” Any number of our leaders from the President on down, have labeled Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapons capability “unacceptable”, which is certainly appropriate rhetoric. My question is whether or not, in all of its implications, we really mean that. If we do, then we should very soon be at the “this will not stand” stage of Iranian diplomacy, a la Kuwait in 1991, and Congressional leaders, in this election year, should be called by their constituents to declare whether or not an Iranian nuclear capability is truly unacceptable.And let’s face it—we won’t have any more allies in this confrontation than with the war in Iraq and, while we all recognize that a confrontation with Iran would be much easier to contemplate with a significantly improved situation in Iraq, neither of these facts change by one iota the nature of the threat nor should they alter our response to it.
Thinking about various recent events and spectacles in higher education—the Ward Churchill fiasco, the shameful dismissal of President Larry Summers at Harvard, affirmative action marketing to the GLBT community at my own alma mater, Yale admitting as a student a former ambassador-at-large of the Afghan Taliban, and the deliberations of the Department of Education’s higher education commission—led me back to a classic of almost twenty years ago. Allan Bloom stunned the academic world in 1987 with his The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, not just because of its sweeping indictment of our elite institutions of higher learning, but also because of the unusually resounding commercial success of a scholarly work by such an intellectual.No doubt it is an extraordinary analysis of the state of the American university and the mind of the students who populate the most elite of the institutions. It is also an in depth survey of the intellectual history leading to the present condition, which is difficult slogging, but very instructive and rewarding for the effort. Essentially, the crisis of liberal education and American intellectual life, according to Bloom, who was certainly no right-wing reactionary, is that no one is prepared to ask or answer the big questions about the nature of man and of good and evil. We have so “closed” the mind of the American student to these philosophical pursuits that we have impoverished their minds as well as their souls and rendered them incapable of determining the nature of man and moral truth. The result is that the large majority of students are “unified only in their relativism and their allegiance to equality, and their greatest fear is not error but intolerance……….
Openness, and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth, is the great insight of our times, and the true believer is the real danger.”The American system of higher education is the envy of the world in engineering, business, and professional education but, in the humanities, where we pursue the answers to the question, who are we?, there has clearly been a relentless hollowing of our core. According to Bloom, more than a century of evolution in higher education standards brought us to this point, but the great ungluing came in the late 1960’s, when university governance completely capitulated to the forces of postmodernism, “openness” was victorious over natural rights, civic education turned away from concentrating on the Founding and the result was the denigration of the core curriculum and the pursuit of philosophical truth. The trend since then, which no one save groups like the Association of College Trustees and Alumni and the National Association of Scholars are doing anything to change, has been anything but encouraging and Bloom, who died about five years ago, would say he told us so. A great read, but not for the beach.
While hotly debating U. S. immigration policy, no one doubts that the public policies of Mexico are at least as important in resolving the immigration crisis in this country as any we adopt here. This is what makes the upcoming presidential election in Mexico critical for the future of this problem and at this point a beneficial outcome there seems iffy at best. If the winner is a leftist in the mold of Venezuela’s Chavez, all bets are off, and a return to power of the PRI wouldn’t be much better.The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, is instructive in terms of the policies necessary for Mexico to close the economic gap with the U. S. and decrease the incentive for illegal immigration. The annual report surveys 157 countries, grading such things as property rights protection, regulatory environment, tax rates, fiscal policy, government intervention in the economy, monetary policy, and trade policy. Currently, there are nineteen countries in the “free” category, with the U. S. ranked ninth overall. Mexico is in the “mostly free” category and ranks sixtieth overall (of 71 countries in the free or mostly free categories). The gap between these two categories is huge—an average GDP per capita of over $30,000 for the former versus $13,000 for the latter—which is a big reason for the huge incentive to cross national borders illegally. So what does this mean for American policy? Should we attempt to influence the Mexican elections? Absolutely not. However, we can and should make it clear that certain changes in their economic policies will be necessary in exchange for such things as our willingness to continue to accommodate their poor and unemployed who cross on a legal basis as guest workers, our willingness to allow the current illegal population to find a pathway to U. S. citizenship, and the degree to which we begin levying a remittance tax on their legal and illegal workers in this country. What policy changes should we suggest? That should be pretty easy—just look at the economic freedom survey and pursue policies that reverse the negative scores on the current policies that are drags on freedom and growth. And I would add one more mandatory policy change, suggested by Irwin Stelzer in The Weekly Standard—remove the ban on foreign investment in Mexico’s oil industry. Nothing would free the patrimony of Mexico’s poor and underemployed to create economic growth, not to mention enhancing an alternative to Middle Eastern sources, more than opening Pemex to American capital and oil and gas production expertise. Is this a form of early twentieth century “gunboat diplomacy” by other means? Maybe so, and Teddy Roosevelt would not have hesitated to use it.
We are clearly very near our third generation of economic illiteracy in this country, shamelessly exploited by over the top demagoguery on energy policy. I have never seen such duplicity combined with cowardice and pandering, topping even the late 1970’s in foolishness. The reasons this is so are legion and I won’t recap them here, except to say that the elected officials who are making the most noise about oil company price “gouging” and “excess” profits are exactly the same people who have thwarted every major policy initiative over the past twenty years that would have enhanced U. S. sources of oil supply and improved the allocation and reduced the cost of existing refined product supplies. The biggest disappointment is that some of the old hands at this have now been joined by Republican leaders who, I can only assume, are afraid to boldly defend the principles of supply and demand in an election year, and to explain that government is not the solution, but rather the cause of much of the market distortion currently adding to the higher prices. So we’ll have our price gouging investigation and our hearings and our photo ops and the empty speeches masquerading as probing questions to cowering oil executives. To what end? The exact same end as all of this that went before—oil is a commodity the price of which is determined by the conditions of supply and demand in the world market, unless government intervenes in its myriad ways to screw it up.
The loud criticism of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by a handful of retired military generals is contrary to good order, conduct unbecoming of an American officer, damaging to our mission, and is alien to the spirit of our constitutional heritage of civilian command of the military. These men should be strongly reprimanded. Of course, I don’t expect such word from anyone on the irresponsible left because the criticism serves their purpose of continually discrediting the Bush administration’s war policies, even at the expense of sowing discord that has the effect of aiding the enemy. The disappointment is that there is not enough criticism of these generals coming from Republicans or from the mainstream “commentary class”; in short, a disgraceful performance across the board that will come back to haunt us.