Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Afghan Commandos

This Washington Post article on the emergence of Afghan Commandos is good. While the details are very interesting, here is the crux: "The creation of a 4,000-strong Afghan commando force marks a major evolution for U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. After small teams of Green Berets spearheaded the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, they took the lead in combat, with the disparate Afghan militia forces they trained and paid playing a supporting role. Today, by contrast, the Special Forces advisers are putting the Afghan commandos in the lead -- coaching a self-reliant force that U.S. commanders say has emerged as a key tool against insurgents."

Kipling and civilization

This is a fine essay by Roger Kimball in the latest New Criterion on Rudyard Kipling’s "memorable speech" (Auden’s definition of poetry). Kimball reminds us of many his memorable lines, I only need to focus on this: "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke." Kimball’s last paragraph, albeit more prosaic than I would have, is worth quoting:

"The key word is ’civilization.’ Kipling was above all the laureate not of Empire, but of civilization, especially civilization under siege. Henry James once sniffed that there was only one strain absent in Kipling: that of ’the civilized man.’ It’s a frequent refrain. But in a deeper sense, Kipling was about almost nothing else—not the civilization of elegant drawing rooms, but something more primeval and without which those drawing rooms would soon be smashed and occupied by weeds. Kipling, Evelyn Waugh wrote toward the end of his life, ’believed civilization to be something laboriously achieved which was only precariously defended. He wanted to see the defenses fully manned and he hated the liberals because he thought them gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.’ Kipling endeavored to man those defenses partly through his political oratory, but more importantly through a literary corpus that taught the explicit lessons and the implicit rhythms of emotional continence and restraint."

Oh Obama, Now Don’t you Lie to Me . . .

Senator Obama reminds us of the old joke: "How can you tell when a politician is lying?" (Hat tip, David Freddoso).

And Obama keeps saying that he’s tired of sound bite politics and "gotcha games." Chutzpah, thy name is Obama.

A Human Person, Actually

Here’s my appreciation of Robby George’s powerful defense of the embryo as a being with rights.

Thinking About the "American Way of War"

The current issue of National Review
(May 5) carries my review of a very important book by Brian Linn, a historian at Texas A&M, which looks how the United States Army has envisioned war since the beginning of the Republic. An expanded version of the review appears on the Ashbrook site here.

Brian takes issue with the idea that "ways of warfare" arise primarily from the experience of war itself, the view of the late Russell Wiegley in his influential The American Way of War. Instead, Brian argues, the concepts of war that have shaped the American military experience are less the result of actual combat than of ideas that have arisen during long periods of peace. Thus when it comes to the way Americans have thought about war, "military intellectuals" such as Joseph Totten, Emory Upton, and Donn Starry have played a more important role in establishing an American way of war than practitioners such as Grant or MacArthur. He shows that it is the latter group that has been responsible for defending their services’ martial identity, identifying their missions, determining professional standards, and creating distinct ways of war. The current debates about what kind of military we need follow the patterns that have gone before.

I was happy to review the book because I will have the pleasure of teaching a course on the "American Way of War" with Brian for the Ashbrook Master of American History and Government during the last week in June. Our syllabus is here.

The course is an overview of US military history with a focus on how the nation thinks about, prepares for, and conducts warfare. As such it examines the interaction of the military, cultural, social, material, institutional, and international factors that have shaped the "American way of war." The course will address several main questions: 1) How has the American form of government shaped the way the United States fights its wars? 2) How have those responsible for the actual conduct of war, especially the military profession, thought about war as a phenomenon? 3) Has the intersection of these two questions produces a uniquely "American Way of War?"

If Brian’s book is any indication, it should be fun.

The U.S. V. Carter?

Former President Carter is at it again. He’s meeting with leaders across the Middle East, and trying to shape policy.

If memory serves, the Logan Act is still on the books:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

To be sure, the act has not been enforced since 1803. Henry Adams made a mildly tongue in cheek reference to it in his History of the United States. Adams noted that in 1803 the law, passed in 1799, "still stood on the statute book (as it did in 1889 when Adams published his chef d’oeuvre.

Even so, the principle is important. In a constitutional republic such as our’s, the federal government is the sole rightful authority in foreign affairs.

Several remarkable statements

For a variety of reasons, I’m just now getting around to reading and noting the public exchange between President Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, both of whom insist upon the catholicity of "American" principles.

Here’s a snippet from President Bush:

Here in America you’ll find a nation that welcomes the role of faith in the public square. When our Founders declared our nation’s independence, they rested their case on an appeal to the "laws of nature, and of nature’s God." We believe in religious liberty. We also believe that a love for freedom and a common moral law are written into every human heart, and that these constitute the firm foundation on which any successful free society must be built.


In our nation, faith and reason coexist in harmony.


In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred, and that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved"...and your message that "each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary."

In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this "dictatorship of relativism," and embrace a culture of justice and truth.

And here’s Pope Benedict XVI:

From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God.

The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time, too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideas and aspirations.


Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience -- almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.

In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.

Only in America....

I can’t resist also noting a more "parochial" statement, to Catholic educators, which I will not quote, but which will repay a close and careful reading.

Also noteworthy is this statement, which reminds us that pluralism isn’t a prelude to a war of all against all only if there is a genuine subject that calls for reasonable conversation.

The Real First Thanksgiving . . .

I have recently found myself reading Jerome Reich’s very good, but also rather expensive, Colonial America textbook.

Anyway, here’s an amusing incident from Plymouth, not long after the Pilgrims landed: "An English-speaking native American named Samoset walked into Plymouth and casually asked for beer." Who knew?

I Knew It . . .

No comment necessary.

Pitchforks and Torches

Apparently the Chinese aren’t reacting at all well to Western expressions of human rights concerns in these months before the Beijing Olympics.

Demonstrations in Europe that disrupted the international Olympic torch relay fanned the flames: The torch is seen here as a symbol of the summer Olympic Games, which are a source of intense national pride.

And did you know that the modern torch relay owes it origins not to the Greeks, but to the Nazis?

Book Swapping

I once knew a professor who used to make the case (only half joking, I think) that it was permissible to steal books. He used a convoluted argument (borrowed and bastardized from Aristotle) about how the rightful owner of a thing is the person who will use it best. But we modern souls can now look to technology for our salvation. Because of this website it’s no longer necessary to teeter on the brink of this temptation. Paperback Swap allows members (and for now, membership is free) to post books with which they are willing to part and receive--also for free--books they wish to read. The only catch is that you have to pay for postage . . . something like $2 per book. So, there is no catch. You don’t pay postage for the books you get, however. Instead, you pay postage for the books you send. When you send a book, you earn a credit. You get two credits just for joining. One credit=one book. Audio books require two credits. There are over 2 million books already posted on the site. I encourage all NLT readers to join.

The Greatest Play in Baseball

Thanks to Mickey Craig for sending along this fabulous video showing the "greatest play" in Major League Baseball history. In it, Rick Monday is seen rescuing an American flag from a couple of guys who crashed the field with the intention of burning it. He is greeted by wild applause and a spontaneous outburst of "God Bless America."

Clinton losing ground

This Los Angeles Times Poll shows Clinton losing ground in Pennsylvania, where she is up by only five points, and losing by five points in Indiana. And this poll shows this: "She has lost trust among voters, a majority of whom now view her as dishonest." In May of ’06 52% viewed her as honest and trustworthy, but now it is down to 39%. "Nearly six in 10 said in the new poll that she is not honest and trustworthy." The argument I made to some folks yesterday, most were Democrats, that Obama’s comments in San Francisco is going to hurt him among small town voters because he will be seen as an Adlai Stevenson-like egghead, wasn’t well received. There is an amazing and deep animus against Clinton and it is based on the fact that she has not gained people’s trust. Or, whatever trust she had, has been lost. The Bosnia issue was revealing, according to these folks. An elitist is one thing, but a habitual liar is another, that is very serious, said one. Will Clinton stay in the race if she wins Pennsylvania by less than double digits? It is interesting that those who claim to know Democratic operatives and officials maintain that she will stay in until the end; that no poor showing, no pressure, will be sufficient to push her out before the convention.

Education’s End

R.R. Reno offers a solid review of an impassioned and interesting (but, when it comes to religion, ultimately flawed) book.

Gerson on Obama

A characteristically nice turn of phrase:

Looking back over recent months, there is a common thread in Obama’s response to both the Wright revelations and his "bitter" gaffe. In his Philadelphia speech on race, Obama talked of "the anger and the bitterness" of Wright’s oppressed generation. He referred to "a similar anger" existing within "the white community" that politicians have routinely exploited on issues such as crime and welfare. America, in this view, is beset by anxiety and fear and resentment and racial stalemate, which can be overcome by Obama’s broad understanding and audacious hope.


Obama’s political approach is wearing poorly. Obamaism seems to consist of the belief that the candidate transcends the understandable but confused anger of black and white Americans. And so Obamaism requires an unfavorable comparison of the American people to Obama himself.

Don’t know much about...anything other than gaming systems?

Mark Bauerlein throws some numbers about remediation at us. What percentage of high school graduates can make sense of them?

New Generation of Action Hero is . . . a Girly Man?

This story notes the passing of the torch in Hollywood from manly action stars like Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson to guys like . . . Ryan Phillippe(?). According to actor turned "director" (and one time John Kerry devotee) Ben Affleck, "Heroes today more reflect the real world. They don’t single-handedly bring down a building full of bad guys. They’re real people with real issues, like juggling a career and home life or working on their romance." In other words, they’re women. H/T: Libertas.

The Gay Divorcée

It’s one thing for a gay couple not to be able to get married. But, what’s even worse, according to some gay couples who have moved away from the state where their unions were "celebrated," is that now they can’t seem to get divorced. If a state does not permit same-sex marriage, then it cannot grant a divorce for a marriage it does not recognize. Couples who have moved away from the states where they celebrated their nuptials find that they need to return--in some cases for at least a year--in order to celebrate their termination. Accordingly, some lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation permitting "gay divorce," even if the state does not otherwise permit gay marriage. Critics charge that this is just a back door entry point for gay marriage legislation . . . um . . . well, you know what I mean.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Here’s my analysis of our manly scientists.

Dreams from Obama’s Father Surface

Politico reports that a long lost article authored by Barack Obama’s father in 1965 for the obscure, East Africa Journal has emerged. In the article, it is reported that Obama Sr. argued for a moderate version of socialism to ease the transition to African independence. The article can be read here. What any of this has to do with Barack Obama and his politics is left to speculation. He has made no comment on the article, though Politico did make a request of the campaign for a comment. I’m not sure that it is fair to pin the views of an absent father onto his son or to suggest as some bloggers have that this paper is a missing link in understanding the development of Barack Obama’s political thought. That may be making too much out of it. Still, it is not uninteresting--particularly when put into the context of his subsequent actions and stated opinions--to note the ways in which there may be similarities between father and son.

UPDATE: Ben Boychuk has some interesting thoughts on this over at RedBlueAmerica.

Compassion Forum again

MOJ’s Greg Sisk offers his "outsider’s" (read: Republican) impressions of Sunday’s event. His conclusion: HRC’s approach to religion is more spiritual and less instrumental than Obama’s. In his view, she gets something about religious faith that Obama doesn’t. Whether that impression is colored by Obama’s unfortunate comments about "clinging" is unclear, but I think that everything that he has said about his faith journey indicates that his approach is, in a way, postmillenial.

While I’m at it, let me call your attention to Peter Wehner’s dissection of the "off the record" Obama:

Increasingly, Barack Obama appears to be the Candidate of Illusion. He presents himself as post-racial — which is harder to accept than it once was, given his intimate, longtime relationship with a pastor and church that harbor deep and obvious racial anger toward whites. Obama presents himself as post-partisan — even though in his time in the Senate he has done nothing to bridge the partisan divide, which explains why he has been endorsed by the rabidly partisan Obama presents himself as post-ideological — even though he was named the Senate’s most liberal member in 2007 by the respected National Journal. Obama is a public critic of free trade — yet his chief economic adviser is quoted by a Canadian official as saying that Obama’s position on NAFTA is politically motivated and insincere. Obama speaks about the importance of religious faith in his life and the life of the nation — yet when speaking to a group of rich liberals, he implicitly denigrates people of faith, pairing them with people who have “antipathy to people who aren’t like them” and who harbor “anti-immigrant sentiment[s].” He paints religious believers as folks clinging to crutches to better deal with their desperate lives — only to insist last night that his words were actually a tribute to people of religious faith. So sayeth Barack Obama, “healer of broken souls.”

The Obama Saga, Chapter ??

Blogger/law professor Stephen Bainbridge offers a useful roundup of acute criticisms of Obama’s proto-Marxism.

This is SO Wrong

I think this very nearly constitutes a human rights violation: The Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Choir sing "Sweet Home Alabama."

The Lincoln Shrine

As chance would have it and af

An Elitist Victim

In a letter addressed to potential donors for Barack Obama’s campaign for President, campaign manager David Plouffe, takes advantage of the recent verbal flop of his candidate. Plouffe asks donors to consider that the real "elitists" are Clinton and McCain because their dollar support is coming from PACs and special interests whereas Obama’s funding is coming from the little people . . . in increments as little as $5. "There’s nothing elitist about a movement of more than a million people standing up for a different kind of politics," says Plouffe. Well, to be fair, no one said that the broad base of Obama’s support was elitist. They’ve said that Obama himself is the elitist. Perhaps all those $5 donors may reconsider their support in light of his regard for them.

Not satisfied with this lame rebuttal, Plouffe goes on to assert that Obama is not an elitist because, "[h]e was raised by a single mother with help from his grandparents." Now I have a question. Why is it that liberals only view single motherhood as problematic and disadvantageous when one of their candidates can "boast" of being victimized by it? Of course, Obama would certainly answer (and no doubt answer beautifully) that he was not "victimized" by the fact that he was raised by a single mother. But here again, his own words (in Dreams From My Father among other places) would belie him. Indeed, if we believe his words, it seems that his whole life story has been one big existential crisis confronting his attempt to overcome his feelings of abandonment at the hands of his father and his confusion with respect to the meaning of race when it comes to his mother. But Barack Obama is a clever man. He’s aware of the special status victims can be accorded in certain circles. And he’s done a fairly decent job (until now) of sticking close to those circles.

The problem for him now is that he’s had to step away from those circles. In stepping away, he’s also stepped in it. He dared to trade on that victim status and he’s questioned the decision of people (who probably have a better claim to it) not to so trade. So in a certain sense, Obama is right to suggest that people who "cling" to their guns and their God are a bit backward. After all, they don’t realize how powerful one can become when he whines about being a victim. What’s wrong with these people, anyway? They have dared to put their trust in something higher than government . . . God and liberty? Those fools!

Morning Music

Am I the only one who thinks that classical music stations ought to know better than to play Pictures at an Exhibition when people are just waking up in the morning? (Update: typo fixed).

Freedom for me, but not for thee

These folks are after John Yoo’s head--well, at least his tenured position at the Berkeley law school. Some are comparing him to Ward Churchill, which strikes me as ridiculous.

To their credit, there are folks on the left, including Christopher Edley, the Berkeley dean, and Brian Leiter (certainly not someone to suffer conservatives gladly), who are defending Yoo’s academic freedom.

Democratic candidates and religion

Last night, there was a "Compa