HOW TO MAKE A BAD DEAL WORSE

Moscow wants written guarantees from our secretary of state that western sanctions for its brutal invasion of Ukraine will not prevent it from trading with Iran.

That’s a joke, right?

This is all about the notorious Iran nuclear deal. The Biden Administration wants it back in place. Ukraine is burning, but everybody’s back at the table. Happily, our side has balked at the request for Russia/Iran trade. It’s bad enough that Bejing and Moscow have sidled up with one another. Add Tehran at this tender point in history and you complete the dark triangle.

There are reports that Robert Malley, U.S. envoy to the nuclear talks, has already pledged to lift a number of anti-terrorism sanctions currently targeting the Iranian regime. The old campaign of maximum pressure appears to have been minimized.

Is the Biden Administraton perchance looking for a badly need foreign policy feather in its cap, and doing so in a “whatever it takes” frame of mind?

This one “takes” common sense.

AT A TIME LIKE THIS…

Just shy of a year ago, there were reports that Russia was amassing troops on its borders with Ukraine. There were other reports that China had sent its largest aerial incursion to that date into Taiwan’s air -defense zone. This was the moment President Biden chose to announce his decreased defense budget proposal for fiscal year 2022.

It came in at $715 billion, a hefty sum, but nonetheless a definite decrease from previoius budgets after accounting for inflation, which, a year ago wasn’t the devouring Pac Man monster it is now.

Why would the President decrease his defense budget at such a perilous time? And, of course, neither he nor anyone in his Administration was ready for the horrible war that was to come and that, all those months ago, was not entirely unforeseen (why else would troops be massing on Ukraine’s border?) Now, in these early April hours of 2022, the world is witnessing war’s atrocious outrages being perpetrated on innocent civilians by Russian soldiers, following days of massive death, destruction and persisent fears that World War III is at hand.

It’s likely, as with anything President Biden does, that he was trying to placade his Party’s Left Wing base which had been lobbying for steep military cuts in order to leave more money for their social agenda. As always happens when Presidents try to quiet a noisy flank of their own Party, Progressives weren’t satisfied. The cuts weren’t deep enough to their mind. Of course not.

At the same time, the final military budget figure contradicted recommendations of a 2018 panel to steadily rachet up defense spending. It was calling for annual increases 3 to 5 per cent above inflation.

Among those serving on that panel was Biden’s deputy secretary of defense, Kathleen Hicks. At the time, she and other experts had issued an ominous warning to Biden: if he failed adequatly to fund national defense, it would “be measured in American lives, American treasure, and American security and prosperity lost.”

I’d add that, combined with the manner of our appalling and shameful exit from Afghanistan, a reduction in U.S. military spending at that hour was sending the wrong message to NATO leaders and to Vladimir Putin, the man Biden and I and much of the world now feel comfortable calling a 21st Century war criminal.

Putin’s genocidal global confrere and war criminal-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, was watching and waiting, too. And he still has his eye on Taiwan.

A DIRE POSSIBILITY

The following comes from NY Times writer German Lopez, writing in the March 27 on-line edition of the paper. But I think it’s a possibility and a prognosis any of us could make at this critical and worrisome juncture in the world’s history. We need to pray it does not come to pass.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could mark a troubling shift: the end of a relatively peaceful global era.
Though it has not always felt like it, the world has since the 1990s endured less war than any other period in recorded history. Wars and resulting deaths plummeted with the conclusion of the Cold War in 1991 — and the subsequent end of direct and proxy conflicts between the world’s great powers.
“The end of the Cold War was the greatest thing to happen to peace in a long time,” said Jeremy Shapiro, the research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
But the world has since changed. After emerging from the Cold War as the lone superpower, the U.S. grew weaker, bogged down by failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Russia and China evolved into more formidable powers; they are now better positioned to challenge a world shaped by American norms and rules.

THE REAL GREEN NEW DEAL

(On the occasion of St. Patrick’s Day, 2022)

“Wherefore then in Ireland they who never had knowledge of God, but until now only worshiped idols and abominations — now there has lately been prepared a people of the Lord, and they are called children of God. The sons and daughters of Irish chieftains are seen to become monks and virgins in Christ.”

St. Patrick’s “Confessions”( first published in 425.)

THE TASTE OF ASHES

At the 1st Synod of Westminster held at Oscott, England in 1852, St. John Henry Newman preached his famous sermon called, The Second Spring. It was delivered during a period of rabid religious persecution and controversy. It was a beautiful appeal for peace and tolerance.

What follows are the sermon’s rhapsodic beginning lines:

We have familiar experience of the order, the constancy, the perpetual renovation of the material world which surounds us. Frail and transitory as is every part of it, restless and migratory as are its elements, never-ceasing as are it changes, still it abides. It is bound together by a law of permanence, it is set up in unity; and, though it is ever dying, it is ever coming to life again….one death is the parent of a thousand lives. Each hour, as it comes, is but a testimony, how fleeting, yet how secure, how certain, is the great whole. It is like an image on the waters, which is ever the same, though the waters ever flow.

So the subject here is obviously of a historical religious nature. But Newman’s words amount to a longing for spring, rebirth, peace and order — and they have an eternal ring and application. In 2022, we are ever so much in need of a Second Spring on every mortal front, from your house to the Ukraine.

It might seem a trite sentiment on the tongue — saying we long for spring. But, then, abiding natural truths when we voice them, or, if you will, taste them, in contrast to their evil opposite (like all spoken supernatural truths AND evils and ALL benevolent realities that struggle to life like spring blossoms despite threatening tangles of malign, poisonous vines) — yes, these, put into words, often DO sound trite. Yes, they do.

But forgive, please, me while I torture another metaphor and say, as this difficult winter in the world draws to a close, that we are longing for that old taste of spring. We fear it may have a stale taste. We like to think it would taste much better if we could only truly bite into it.

In the Ukraine, however, our fear is that it would taste like ashes.

OF THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH

“A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong….I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”

-Socretes, as quoted by his student Plato in the Apology. He had been accused of “corrupting the youth” of Athens and was to become an ancient — and perhaps the first — victim of the “cancel culture”.

On the calculation of whether he’d live or die — they killed him.

UKRAINE REQUIEM

One man and one government is perpetrating this civilizational enormity. It has already laid waste so much of Ukraine and destroyed so many lives that there is no clear point of return. Putin and his government will be judge by history. The Orthodox Patriarch must speak out in the name of God. All humanity must intervene, even if only with our prayers. China is the other half of the pincers of this monster, and it is all so frightening.

Tolstoy is weeping.

WHO HAS THE (GOOD) IDEAS NOW?

Lionel Trilling in 1950:

…it is the plain fact that nowadays,there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation…The conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in actons or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

There you have a seventy-two-year old manifestation of liberal smugness, ignorance, illusion and isolation. But perhaps this was, indirectly, a call to arms for the conservative movement which was underground and burst out in full view in the mid-fifties and, happily, struggles on today between the extremes of Democratic radicalism and Republican fecklessness.

But it is not entirely inaccurate to suggest that genuine conservatism, as opposed to Trumpism, etc., has once again lost its confidence or sense of direction.

Academia and the mainstream media treat conservatism as a kind of mental disorder. And they are likely to confuse the rabble that burst into the halls of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 with conservatism. I submit that this is a willful libel, and that they know better. I guess that action would fall into Lionel Trillings curious and wrongheaded 1950 diagnosis of a “conservative” action, or an “irritable mental gesture” transformed into mass action.

But, in the realm of ideas, look out there and see who really look like the crazy ones.

To be fair, look left and right. But don’t just observe the “irritable mental gestures” or actions of one side. Read! We’re talking about ideas here.

Sadly, however, there may be, as I think about it, much truth in British philsopher Roger Scruton’s diagnosis of the crisis of conservatism as stated in 1980, thirty years after liberal Lionel Trilling offered his two cents worth on the subject. Scruton wrote, Conservatism may rarely announce itself in maxims, formulae or aims. Its essence is inarticulate, and its expresson, when compelled, skeptical.

Conservative New York Times columnist Roger Douthat wrote recently, the ossified Reaganism that the younger conservatives intend to supplant is locked into the world of 1980.

Yes, there are, indeed, new brands of conservatism afoot in the land. Among the exponants of one such brand I might be at a loss to label might be counted Roger Kimbell, an art, culture and political commentator and editor of the journal, The New Criterion. And in the midst of a long analysis of the current state of conservatism in the current issue, he suggests that the election of Donald Trump, “unlikely though it seemed at the time” and given the alternatives, might have amounted to a battle for the soul of the country and, for some scholars and voters, in the current polarized state of affairs, may well have represented “the only chance for national survival.”

Which is why Kimball, an obviously intelligent and cultivated fellow, has spoken and written well elsewhere of Trump’s four years in the White House — of how he cut down illegal immigratiion, cut down on witch hunts on campus under Title IX provisions and mandates and racialist attacks throughout the federal bureacracy under the rubric of “critical race theory.” He’s written of how the 1776 initiative, begun under Trump, aimed at reviving in schools and colleges and, in the culture, an appreciation of our founding ideals — over against the tendendcy to blame America first in Academia, the media and corporate culture.

But, properly speak, he noted, this was more the “populist spirit” than conservatism, strictly speaking. (I’d also note that there is a strong strain of libertarianism in it.) And there were those elements of The Strongman, of which I, for one, remain deeply skeptical, if not fearful, when it occurs on the right or the left. In history, fascism, right and left, always seemed to coalesce around a single person and become a cult.

But what is that “populist spirit” as it is manifesting itself on American soil?

It is anti-globalist, prizes individiual liberty, limited government, distrust of the regulatory and administratie state and identity politics.

Ultimately, it is a case of the powerful influence of the elite in academia, the media and corporations versus the rest of us.

It is, I’ll admit, very odd to have cultivated, conservative intellectuals and historians on the order of Kimball or Victor Davis Hanson vouching in any way for the crass Barbarian Donald Trump. Kimball has merely suggested that Trump is “a narcisist who never managed to learn the subtleties of narcisism.” I read in that an implied comparison with the likes of Trump’s presidential prececessors Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama, though I could be wrong.

Keep in mind that the flagship publication of the traditional conservative movement, The Naitonal Review, founded by the late William F. Buckley, Jr., declared itself in the harshest terms opposed to a Trump presidency even before Trump won the nomination. And that opposition remains in place today. It has been critically suggested, among other things, in the pages of that journal, that Trump shattered the norms of presidential behavior in ways toxic to the body politic. And he’s still out there, aching to get back into power, while Democrats, drifting out to sea in a barque captained by a vain, borderline senescent stooge of those powerful interests enumerated above, pulls out to sea with him.

But, back to ideas. The late conservative scholar Richard Weaver wrote a book called, Ideas Have Consequences. I think I need to read it. Perhaps we all do.

More on all this later. For in 2022, ideas are going to have many consequences.