Category Archives: Western Civilization

Obama’s Mideast Vacuum

Another “total disaster” if you want my opinion.
March 26, 2015 7:21 p.m.

An abiding goal of President Obama’s foreign policy has been to reduce America’s role in the Middle East, in the belief that it would lead to greater stability and serve U.S. interests. Has a policy ever been so thoroughly repudiated in so short a time? Mr. Obama has succeeded in his retreat, but the vacuum he’s left has produced a region on fire that is becoming a broad Sunni-Shiite war.

That’s the context for this week’s meltdown in Yemen, which has now escalated with the military intervention of Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies. This follows the rout of a U.S.-friendly government by Houthi militias that belong to the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam and are backed by Iran. What had been a proxy war is in danger of becoming a direct Saudi-Iran conflict.

The Saudi-Gulf Arab intervention is a significant risk, not least of a prolonged guerrilla war. The Saudis have a capable air force, but their ground forces can’t sustain a long fight. Egyptian troops may also participate, but Egyptians well remember how they were bloodied when they last took sides in a Yemen civil war in the 1960s.

The Saudi strategy isn’t clear but one goal seems to be to restore the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in at least part of the country, especially in the south around the port of Aden and including the air base at al-Anad. That won’t end the civil war, but it would prevent either an Iranian proxy or an al Qaeda offshoot from dominating a nation on its southern border.

It’s safe to say the Saudis would never take such risks if they hadn’t given up on the U.S. as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. This resembles their intervention into Bahrain in 2011 to put down a rebellion by its Shiite majority against the Sunni government, but the risks are greater in Yemen.

Iran has denounced the intervention, and Russia has also objected. Tehran probably won’t intervene directly, but you can bet it will supply the Houthis with arms and military advisers. It will try to bleed the Saudis and their allies for as long as possible at a relatively low cost. Tehran’s ultimate goal would be to neutralize if not destabilize the Gulf regimes as part of its plan to dominate the region.

As for the U.S., it needs to abandon its studied retreat and help the Saudis. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the intervention on Thursday, and the White House says the U.S. plans to provide logistical and intelligence support. This is the right side to support, but for a change Mr. Obama should do what it takes to help an ally win.

This should include a warning to Iran that the U.S. will assist the Saudis in stopping Iranian flights that arm the Houthis. Iranian flights over Iraq to Syria helped Assad survive at a crucial moment, but all the U.S. did was complain. This time Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps needs to be told its flights run the risk of being shot down.

Yemen is the home of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, which has targeted the U.S. homeland more than once. The U.S. had run a drone war against AQAP from San’a until the Houthis made that impossible last week. Helping restore the Hadi government would restore that base of operations, while showing the Saudis and our other allies in the region that we’ll back them in a fight.

All of this also makes Mr. Obama’s obsession with a nuclear deal with Iran seem increasingly out of this world. The President seems to think he can strike a nuclear bargain as if it has nothing to do with the region’s strife or Iran’s advances. But the looming pact has facilitated that turmoil and is bound to make it worse.

Israel and the Sunni Arabs are convinced that the deal will leave Iran able to build a bomb more or less at a time of its choosing. They also believe the U.S. has refused to help them depose Syria’s Bashar Assad because Mr. Obama doesn’t want to upset Iran during the nuclear talks.

This in turn has made the Sunni Arabs reluctant to help against Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. Which has forced the Iraq government to rely on Iran and Shiite militias to lead the fight against ISIS. The Iraqis finally asked the militias to back off this week in return for U.S. bombing help in the battle to retake Tikrit from ISIS.

It’s not too much to say that America’s traditional allies in the region fear that Mr. Obama wants to cast them aside and create a new U.S.-Iran alliance.

The temptation in some American circles, including in parts of the right, will be to let the Sunnis and Shiites kill each other until they get tired of it. But that’s what the same sages said about Syria’s civil war, which proceeded to spill into Iraq and midwife Islamic State, which is now gaining adherents around the world. The damage to U.S. interests from a radical takeover of the Gulf states, by either Sunni jihadists or Shiites loyal to Iran, would be even worse.

When the world’s only superpower retreats willy-nilly, bad things happen. Much like Jimmy Carter in 1979 after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Mr. Obama needs to reassess his failing foreign policy before the mayhem spreads even further.


The Study of Military History

The topic as been purged from US university curricula at our peril.
From remarks by Lewis E. Lehrmanat the New-York Historical Society on March 23, when the $50,000 Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History was awarded to Alexander Watson’s “Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I” (Basic Books, 2014):

The study of military history has in fact been purged from many of the faculties and curriculums of the universities of the Western world. How did this happen? Perhaps it is explicable by some form of political correctness; or, parochial specialization; or, the armchair unrealism of the faculty lounge; even ivory tower snobbery—among other related social diseases. . . .

From the emergence of Homo sapiens in northeast Africa about 75,000 years ago, the DNA historians and population geneticists now teach us that there have been only three perennial institutions of human society—War, Trade, and Religion. Mister Churchill, long ago, reminded us that few of the major unresolved issues arising between nations, have been settled by little else than war—and by its consequences in victory or defeat. None has made the point so well as President Lincoln in his last war message to Congress of December 6, 1864. Between the rebels and the Union the unresolved issue “is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory.” This is what President Lincoln said. And this is what he meant.

In a word, the world we inhabit is inscrutable without military history in its deepest and largest understanding.


Conservatives, Please Stop Trashing the Liberal Arts

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Scalia. And I consider myself way on the conservative end of the scale. We don’t diss math because white collar criminals use it. We don’t speak against sex because some men rape women. Why don’t we think and discuss liberal education the same way?

By Christopher J. Scalia
March 27, 2015 6:07 p.m. ET

Dismissing the liberal arts seems to have become a litmus test for conservative politicians.

Earlier this month, addressing the issue of student debt, Sen. Marco Rubio joked that students ought to know in advance “whether it’s worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major. Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight.” His remarks echo North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who in 2013 mocked liberal-arts courses and said, “I don’t want to subsidize [a major] that’s not going to get someone a job.” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have passed legislation encouraging students to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines rather than the liberal arts.

This is an unfortunate trend. Conservatives should be among the strongest defenders of the liberal arts, for at least two reasons: one economic, the other philosophical and political.

A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce did show that unemployment rates for recent humanities and liberal-arts majors are higher than for, say, biology and life-science students. But the difference is not great: In 2011-12 the rates were 8.4% and 7.4%, respectively. The unemployment rate for recent computer-science, statistics and mathematics graduates was 8.3%. So while humanities and liberal-arts graduates are not making out like bandits, the difference between them and their STEM peers is exaggerated.

Income data provide an even stronger rebuttal to the stereotypes. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that humanities and social-sciences majors earn more right after college than students majoring in physical sciences, natural sciences and math. And although they earn less at that stage than peers who major in professional and pre-professional fields, they earn more than those peers by the time they reach the peak earning years of 56-60 years old. (On the other hand, science and math majors earn much more than either group of majors during those peak years.)

Income and employment are surely important, but financial reward is not all that a college education offers to student and the state. By perpetuating this notion, conservatives ignore a long tradition that places the liberal arts in the center of a thriving society and an informed citizenry.

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a broad education could ensure the survival of the new democracy. He recognized that “even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” To defend against this threat, Jefferson wanted “to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purpose.”

The liberal arts, Jefferson recognized, have a practical value that has nothing to do with direct economic benefits: They are linked to the vitality of a commonwealth and the survival of a free people. It’s easy to see how such knowledge could help a politician, but Jefferson encouraged a general education for “the people at large” to protect themselves from politicians.

Considered in light of Jefferson’s argument, Mr. Rubio’s choice of Greek philosophy as a useless major seems especially inapt.

Apart from specific historical and philosophical knowledge, the liberal arts also provide general intellectual tools that reinforce democracy. Liberal-arts professors use the phrase “critical thinking skills” so often that our students could turn it into a drinking game. But we do so because the term conveys a serious and valuable idea: Students who read and comprehend difficult works, engage with sophisticated ideas, and express themselves clearly are well-suited to contribute to a representative government. Such a citizenry is valued by the left—speak truth to power!—but also by the right, which distrusts centralized power and promotes a stronger civil society.

Yes, college is too expensive. Of course, we need to find ways to control tuition and to ensure that graduates don’t find themselves chained by debt. But conservatives won’t solve these problems by scorning the liberal arts. Instead, they will deprive students of our great intellectual heritage and leave them less capable of governing themselves—and that would be profoundly unconservative.

Mr. Scalia is an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, a public liberal arts college.


Fighting to Keep Catholic Schools Catholic

Worth the read. And worth taking a stand for private institutions.
By Ryan T. Anderson And Leslie Ford
March 5, 2015 7:09 p.m. ET

San Franciscans are currently debating a simple question: Should the government respect the right of Catholic schools to be authentically Catholic?

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone thinks so. But eight California senators and assemblymen sent the archbishop a letter last month, saying that his actions in issuing new faculty guidelines “foment a discriminatory environment in the communities we serve.” On Feb. 23, two of the signers even asked the California Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee to investigate the archdiocese’s actions.

Here’s the back story. During contract renegotiations with nearly 500 staff members last month, the archdiocese issued an updated faculty guide for its Catholic high schools. The addendum introduced three new clauses—which staff members are required to “affirm and believe”—denouncing masturbation, pornography, same-sex marriage, contraception and other issues that, in line with Catholic teaching, are described as “gravely evil.”

These beliefs shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Catholic Church—the 2,000-year-old institution has clearly defined its moral teachings throughout the years. Yet lawmakers objected, contending in a Feb. 17 letter to the archdiocese that the new guide is “divisive.” They asserted that by spelling out the teachings of the Catholic Church and requiring high-school staff to not publicly undermine those teachings, teachers could be dismissed for private decisions not in accord with Catholic teaching.

The archbishop responded, calling the idea that the clauses could apply to an employee’s private life a “falsehood” in a Feb. 19 letter. Then he put a question to the lawmakers: “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” Of course they wouldn’t, and Archbishop Cordileone summed up the problem: “I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission. I simply ask the same respect from you.”

Archbishop Cordileone also explained that the mission of Catholic education is to ensure that students receive a complete education: intellectually, spiritually and morally. If teachers are to fulfill this goal, they must be consistent in what they teach in the classroom and in what they advocate in the public square.

American business and civic institutions frequently make choices to remain true to principles even when it is unfashionable or may hurt their bottom line—for example, CVS last year pulled cigarettes from shelves, calling the sale of tobacco “inconsistent with our purpose—helping people on their path to better health.” This choice is even more essential for religious schools, which must be able to have teachers who support—or at least don’t publicly attack—the school’s beliefs. Lawmakers shouldn’t be using threats of governmental investigation to control those decisions.

Yet similar coercion is taking place throughout the country. Last year, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges opened an investigation into Gordon College—a Christian school. The association gave the college a year to review its conduct standards, which ask all members of the Gordon community to live by the Christian virtue of chastity—with the implication that Gordon could be at risk of losing accreditation. Gordon is currently undergoing that internal review and says it plans to submit a report later this year.

Elsewhere, the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate has created a comparable threat for Notre Dame and Wheaton College—both of which are plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits. That mandate forces religious schools to provide and pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization regardless of a school’s religious objection. The law would compel these colleges either to stop offering health insurance altogether—and incur steep fines—or to violate their deeply held beliefs.

In January, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the euphemistically titled “Human Rights Amendment Act.” The bill would compel Washington’s private religious schools to violate their beliefs about human sexuality by recognizing LGBT student groups or hosting a “gay pride” day on campus. The bill is currently under congressional review.

Provided private schools meet basic standards of safety and education, the government shouldn’t be in the business of coercing them to conform to someone else’s moral beliefs. After all, many families send their children to private schools precisely to escape government moral indoctrination. It is because of these schools’ distinctive creeds that families sacrifice to afford sending their children to private religious schools. Government officials should respect the ability of such schools to witness to their faith.

This is why public policy should protect Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to ensure that Catholic high schools retain an authentic Catholic identity. The revisions to the school handbook foster an equilibrium between institutional integrity and personal liberties. This freedom is exactly what allows all Americans—in whichever school they choose to attend—to live in a diverse and civil public sphere.

Mr. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow and Mrs. Ford a research assistant in the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.