Judging Cuba Normalization by an Unfair Standard

The Washington Post absurdly declares that normalization with Cuba is “failing” because it hasn’t yet dramatically changed the country’s political system:

Yet there is scant evidence so far of a sea change in Cuba — perhaps because Mr. Obama continues to offer the Castro regime unilateral concessions requiring nothing in return.

It makes no sense to judge normalization with Cuba this way. Even if it were appropriate, it is far too soon to pass judgment on the effects of a policy that has been in place for less than a year. Opponents of normalization have been content to defend a policy of isolation that achieved nothing for the last five decades, but they are not prepared to wait even five years to see what comes from having normal relations with Cuba. The Post‘s editors also fail to grasp that the purpose of U.S. relations with another government is not to facilitate political change in the other country, but to secure the interests of our country and to promote cooperation in securing shared interests.

The chief argument for restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba is that it gives the U.S. more influence to advance its interests in relations with Havana. If a diplomatic opening helps to improve Cuba’s political system, that is a welcome side-effect, but it is a mistake to judge the merits of diplomatic engagement so quickly and to hold it to such an unrealistic standard. The U.S. shouldn’t need to have a reason to establish normal relations with one of its closest neighbors. This is something that should exist as a matter of course. It may be that having an improved relationship with Havana will eventually allow Washington to have some constructive influence on Cuban political change, or it may not, but either way having normal relations with Cuba is a good thing for both countries.

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Via:: American Conservative


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Character Is Destiny, But Not Straightforwardly

Michael Gerson writes in the Washington Post:

Leadership is often evidenced in relatively small things. Shortly after his election in 2000, I was with President George W. Bush in the family theater at the White House where he was practicing his first address to Congress. For whatever reason, the military is charged with teleprompter operation, and the operator had messed up his job. An angry Bush said, “Call me when you get your act together” and stalked out of the room. The young man was distraught. But a few minutes later, Bush returned and apologized to the operator, saying: “That is not the way the president of the United States should act.”

A small thing, but I remember it. The office confers an awesome power to elevate the lives of those around a president, or to destroy them.

And therefore, we shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump, who is a total jerk.

This is what’s so frustrating about the Trump thing. I think George W. Bush is exactly the decent man Gerson says he is. And I think Trump is just as piggish as Gerson says he is. What’s more, I agree with Gerson that temperament in high office matters.

And yet, all of Bush’s personal decency did not stop him from making colossal errors in judgment, most of all with Iraq, but not only with Iraq. That honorable gentleman, George W. Bush — and I’m not calling him that snarkily, note well — blundered the nation into its worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. And all his personal decency did not stay his hand as a torturer. Jimmy Carter was probably one of the most decent men ever to hold the office, but it availed him nothing as a leader. Gerson cites Richard Nixon’s paranoia as an example of how a president’s temperament can affect his performance in office. He’s right: character really is destiny.

But it’s not always destiny in predictable ways, is it? The people who back Trump know he’s a jackass — and that’s what they like about him. They see it as a character strength, as in, “this guy is not going to let himself be taken advantage of, and he’s not going to let America be taken advantage of.” I think it’s a pretty serious risk to take, going with Trump, but holding up George W. Bush’s admirable gentlemanliness as a counterargument to Trump’s low character does nothing to bolster the case against Trump. Ronald Reagan was a famously nice guy, but by the end of the woeful Carter years, the American people were ready for an SOB, as long as he was a competent SOB.

…read more

Via:: American Conservative


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Bunga Bunga Billionaire Nation

Ladies and gentlemen, from the Howard Stern Show, the odds-on favorite to be your Republican Party nominee for president, Donald Trump, in a long 1997 interview with shock-jock Howard Stern, in which he discusses, among other things, how he avoided sexually transmitted diseases, how he could have had Princess Diana, whether or not he masturbates and … well, watch the whole thing, but beware, it’s very NSFW.

Prior to Trump, it was impossible to imagine a presidential contender with this kind of thing in his past. Can you imagine the fun Democrats would have mining Trump’s endless vulgar statements for attack ads? As we now know, though, this is not a bug with Trump, but a feature. People either don’t mind it, or they appreciate how Trump just doesn’t give a rat’s rear end what people think of him. Watch that Howard Stern interview, and it’s easy to see Trump as an American version of Silvio Berlusconi, the “bunga-bunga” billionaire elected to office in Italy, in part because all his traditional party opponents were seen as weak and ineffectual. A friend and reader of this blog e-mails:

In one of your articles you ask if Trump ever loses.

Depends on what you call losing.

To some, he loses huge, but they don’t notice it really.

For most people, they don’t take the big risks because the big thing they are afraid to lose is popularity. They are afraid of losing the pats on the backs, the flattery, and the crap of human sentiment, and when I say “crap” of human sentiment, I do not mean human sentiment is crap. I mean, human sentiment that runs on emotion of whether I like you today because you kissed my a*s or not and gave me what I wanted and told me what I wanted to hear is crap. It’s nothing, and, yet, people are afraid to lose it. They are afraid of being criticized, not getting enough “likes” on their Facebook page, and being the bad guy. They are afraid to rock the boat because someone might suggest tossing them overboard. And if we are honest about it, those people are pandering to the populace because they have neither a solid moral compass or any real idea of who the hell they really are. They need the populace to talk to them because they need the populace to dictate identity.

Trump does not give a rat’s rear end about any of the above because he is none of the above.

He knows who he is. He knows what he stands for. He has a clear compass point for where he is and where he wants to go, and he doesn’t need anyone telling him he is right. And, if he gets tossed overboard, he’ll find another way to swim. He simply does not need the populace to be himself, and because of that, he bets big, and he wins big.

Does he ever lose? Actually, he loses big, too. He loses popularity because people don’t …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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How Dante Can Make Your Lent

Image by Michael Hogue/Photo by Rod Dreher

Image by Michael Hogue/Photo by Rod Dreher

I hear from time to time from people who say they liked my book The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, but they didn’t pick up How Dante Can Save Your Life because they don’t really care about poetry or literary analysis.

Well, I’m not much on poetry or literary analysis either. And How Dante is not the book they think it is.

You might call it “literary self-help” for people who don’t buy self-help books. I was (am) that kind of person. And I rarely buy books of poetry. I consider that a character flaw, but that’s how I am. Yet I stumbled into The Divine Comedy when I was lost, depressed, and sick as a dog. I believe that God used that incomparable poem to heal me. Through it, the poet Dante systematically led me on an examination of conscience, and revealed to me sins, and patterns of sinfulness, that I had concealed from myself. Through prayer, confession, therapy, and plain old repentance (the hardest thing!), I slowly found my way back to the straight path, and was restored. Dante, in his poem, showed me the way out of the dark wood into which my own failures, disappointments, and passions had led me. How Dante is a story about hard-won victory.

With Lent almost upon the Christian West, it occurs to me this morning that some of you might want to take up How Dante as part of your Lenten reading. There’s a little bit of literary analysis in it, of course, but the overwhelming thrust of the book is about how to apply the insights in the poem to your own life struggles. In my own case, there wasn’t a lot I discovered in the Commedia that I didn’t already know at some level — that is, in terms of right and wrong — but because Dante embedded these moral and theological truths, and truths about human nature — in a fantastic story, that made all the difference in the world. In the book, I take Dante’s story and graft my own story onto it, and in so doing hope to inspire the reader to see his or her own life story, and struggles, in light of Dante’s adventure in the afterlife.

If you want a book that explores the literary qualities of the Commedia, mine is not a book for you. This is a book that shows you how to use the Commedia to achieve what the poet himself said he wanted his masterpiece to achieve: to bring the reader from a state of despair to a state of bliss.

There is no better time than Lent to read How Dante Can Save Your Life. You do not have to be Catholic, nor you do not have to have read the Commedia to get into the book. It is written for people who know the Commedia, and for people who have never cracked its covers. Dante’s Commedia, written in the early 14th …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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Trump Plucked The Populist Apple

Take a look at the 2005 Political Typology report by the Pew Center. Note well that this came out over a decade ago. That is, before the economic crash of 2007-08, and before disillusionment with the Iraq War and the Bush administration had taken hold.

Here are the relevant takeaways:

A total of 46 percent of registered voters — Republicans and Republican-leaning independent — had in 2005 a political profile that fits with the Trump brand.

Those Pew defined as “Social Conservatives” were 13 percent of all voters in 2005. Pew defined them as: “While supportive of an assertive foreign policy, this group is somewhat more religious than are Enterprisers. In policy terms, they break from the Enterprisers in their cynical views of business, modest support for environmental and other regulation, and strong anti-immigrant sentiment.”
Only 10 percent of registered right-of-center voters — Enterprisers, the most conservative Republicans — had a 2005 profile that would reject Trump utterly.
Those Pew defined as “Conservative Democrats” — that is, social and religious conservatives who are the New Deal types, and who almost entirely lean Democratic — comprised in 2005 fifteen percent of the electorate. Pew described them this way: “Older women and blacks make up a sizeable proportion of this group (27% and 30%, respectively). Somewhat less educated and poorer than the nation overall. Allegiance to the Democratic party is quite strong (51% describe themselves as “strong” Democrats) but fully 85% describe themselves as either conservative or moderate ideologically.”
The “Partisan Poor” are the most financially disadvantaged of all the typologies, and vote heavily Democratic. A third of them are black, and they favor government services but are skeptical of government, and hostile to business interests. They were at the time 10 percent of registered voters.

So, consider this: A Republican candidate back then that could have pulled just half of the “Conservative Democrats” and half of the “Partisan Poor” would have had a working voting coalition of nearly 60 percent. He could have afforded to have lost some of the Independent and Social Conservatives to a Democrat, and still been in a strong position.

Consider this too: in both the GOP and Democratic cases, the party elites were more aligned with the most extreme on their own sides. Among the Republicans, the strongly pro-business conservatives were only 11 percent of registered voters, and a distinct minority among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters.

But they called the shots.

And they still called the shots after the 2007-08 crash.

Point is, 11 years ago, the basis for a Trump-like candidacy was there. A candidate that was broadly socially conservative, favored government programs but was broadly skeptical of government, and broadly wary of big business: that was where the great center of American politics was.

Nobody could really take advantage of it. The parties were too ideologically rigid, and redistricting favored the most ideologically rigid candidates.

In 2011, Pew had rejiggered its typological categories, and found that surprising numbers of conservatives — even in the hardest core — were a lot more skeptical of Wall Street …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

The presidential campaign is ISIS’ latest victim. Michael Cohen shows how constant fear-mongering and threat inflation regarding terrorism has warped the perceptions of voters.

America should stop reassuring Saudi Arabia. Doug Bandow explains why continued U.S. enabling of the Saudis is misguided.

The forgotten benefits of offshore balancing. Paul Pillar reminds us of a time when the U.S. tried to avoid committing itself to wars i the Near East.

The case against more military advisors. Daniel Davis makes the case against further attempts to train the Iraqi army.

Is Bernie Sanders really naive about Iran? Peter Beinart counters the Clinton campaign’s criticism of Sanders’ support for improved relations with Iran.

…read more

Via:: American Conservative


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Rome, Reformation, & Right Now

I thought the Republican debate last night went better than expected, absent Donald Trump sucking all the air out of the room. It didn’t make me like any of the candidates any better, but it felt more like a real debate than these events have been. I did come away with these thoughts:

What a shame that Rand Paul hasn’t done better in this campaign.
Alan Keyes + Jeff Spicoli + 2 Demerols + 1 Jack & Coke = Dr. Ben Carson
Chris Christie will make an excellent Attorney General in the next GOP administration
Ted Cruz is cold, dark, calculating, intelligent, ideological to the fingertips — and therefore very troubling. I cannot shake the image of him trolling suffering Middle Eastern Christians for the sake of boosting his appeal to Evangelicals. I see him and an insult Churchill directed to a rival comes to mind: “He would make a drum out of the skin of his mother to sing his own praises.”
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have learned nothing from Iraq. Nothing. All this talk about how under the leadership, the US is going to go in and bite the heads off of ISIS and suck their brains out, etc. — all of that requires going back to war in the Middle East. Is that really what they are proposing? If so, let’s hear the rationale. And Cruz’s line about how he’s going to carpet bomb the Mideast to rid it of ISIS — really? You’re going to wipe out tens of thousands of innocent people for this cause? Cruz’s lines attempting to link ISIS’s success to the material decline of the US military was outrageous — as if ISIS succeeded because the US wasn’t spending enough money on defense. But it tells us that a Cruz administration will mean a windfall for defense contractors.
Cruz saying that he was going to be the Second Coming of Reagan, and was going to cut taxes and get the economy moving again, so all boats can rise. It is eternally 1980 with these ideologues. They have no answer at all for our economy.
I believe Rubio said that in his overarching plan, we would work with Sunnis in the region to construct some sort of stable, post-ISIS political entity, and we would train anti-ISIS Syrians to fight the radicals. What world has Marco Rubio been living in? Did he not see that the US spent $500 million trying to train those anti-ISIS Syrians, and we only found four of them? Has Rubio not seen how well our attempts at state-building have gone in Iraq?

Maybe Donald Trump hurt himself after all by not showing up. I guess the caucuses will tell us. What last night’s event told me, though, is that with Cruz and Rubio, we pretty much get the same old GOP stuff, just a different election cycle.

Let’s turn to David Brooks’s column today, which focuses on a speech that the Tory Prime Minister David Cameron recently gave, about the future of Britain. In it, Cameron …read more

Via:: American Conservative


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