Brooks and Krugman

In “When ISIS Rapists Win” Bobo wrings his hands, and wails, and takes a look at the shocking means the Islamic State uses to spread its ideas.  In the comments “soxared04/07/13” from Crete, Illinois had this to say:  “As is usual with you, Mr. Brooks, you cut right to the chase: it’s all President Obama’s fault. His reaction has been quite “incorrect”, and his generals’ game-plans nothing more than chalkboard lectures at the War College. You fail to mention the decidedly inconvenient fact that “the wormhole” back to everlasting darkness was dug by Richard Cheney, who lied W. into signing off on it, an illegal and immoral invasion of a sovereign country that you, remember, approved with the zeal of the newly-converted. … This is, Mr. Brooks, a deeply dishonest column. You blame the present and exonerate the past with your cowardly silence.”  Prof. Krugman takes a look at the “Crash Test Dummies as Republican Candidates for President” and says the contenders are clueless in their China-bashing and bluster over volatile markets.  Here’s Bobo:

The ISIS atrocities have descended like distant nightmares upon the numbed conscious of the world. The first beheadings of Americans had the power to shock, but since then there has been a steady barrage of inhumanity: mass executions of Christians and others, throwing gay men from rooftops, the destruction of ancient archaeological treasures, the routine use of poison gas.

Even the recent reports in The Times about the Islamic State’s highly structured rape program have produced shock but barely a ripple of action.

And yet something bigger is going on. It’s as if some secret wormhole into a different historical epoch has been discovered and the knowledge of centuries is being unlearned.

This is happening in the moral sphere. State-sponsored slavery seemed like a thing of the past, but now ISIS is an unapologetic slave state. Yazidi women are carefully cataloged, warehoused and bid upon.

The rapes are theocratized. The rapists pray devoutly before and after the act. The religious leader’s handbook governing the rape program has a handy Frequently Asked Questions section for the young rapists:

“Question 12: May a man kiss the female slave of another, with the owner’s permission?

“A man may not kiss the female slave of another, for kissing [involves] pleasure, and pleasure is prohibited unless [the man] owns [the slave] exclusively.

“Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty?

“It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century. Western experts have stared the thing in the face, trying to figure out the cause and significance of the moral disaster we are witnessing. There was a very fine essay in The New York Review of Books by a veteran Middle East expert who chose to remain anonymous and who more or less threw up his hands.

“The clearest evidence that we do not understand this phenomenon is our consistent inability to predict — still less control — these developments,” the author writes. Every time we think ISIS has appalled the world and sabotaged itself, it holds its own or gains strength.

Writing in The National Interest, Ross Harrison shows how the ISIS wormhole into a different moral epoch is accompanied by a political wormhole designed to take the Middle East into a different geostrategic epoch. For the past many decades the Middle East has been defined by nation- states and the Arab mind has been influenced by nationalism. But these nation-states have been weakened (Egypt) or destroyed (Iraq and Syria). Nationalism no longer mobilizes popular passion or provides a convincing historical narrative.

ISIS has arisen, Harrison argues, to bury nationalism and to destroy the Arab nation-state.

“It is tapping into a belief that the pre-nationalist Islamic era represents the glorious halcyon days for the Arab world, while the later era in which secular nationalism flourished was one of decline and foreign domination,” he writes.

ISIS consistently tries to destroy the borders between nation-states. It undermines, confuses or smashes national identities. It eliminates national and pre-caliphate memories.

Meanwhile, it offers a confident vision of the future: a unified caliphate. It fills the vacuum left by decaying nationalist ideologies. As Harrison puts it, “ISIS has cut off almost all pathways to a future other than its self-proclaimed caliphate. The intent is to use this as a wedge with which to expand beyond its base in Iraq and Syria and weaken secular nationalist bonds in Lebanon, Jordan and in even more innately nationalist countries like Egypt.”

President Obama has said that ISIS stands for nothing but savagery. That’s clearly incorrect. Our military leaders speak of the struggle against ISIS as an attempt to kill as many ISIS leaders and soldiers as possible. But this is a war about a vision of history. ISIS ideas have legitimacy because it controls territory and has a place to enact them.

So far the response to ISIS has been pathetic. The U.S. pledged $500 million to train and equip Syrian moderates, hoping to create 15,000 fighters. After three years we turned out a grand total of 60 fighters, of whom a third were immediately captured.

It’s time to stop underestimating this force as some group of self-discrediting madmen. ISIS is a moral and political threat to the fragile and ugly stability that exists in what’s left in the Middle East. ISIS will thrive and spread its ideas for as long as it has its land.

We are looking into a future with a resurgent Iran, a contagious ISIS and a collapsing state order. If this isn’t a cause for alarm and reappraisal, I don’t know what is.

He should be horse-whipped.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still, the big market swings of the past week have been a reminder that the next president may well have to deal with some of the same problems that faced George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Financial instability abides.

So this is a test: How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

Take, for example, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Walker was supposed to be a formidable contender, part of his party’s “deep bench” of current or former governors who know how to get things done. So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!

Then there’s Donald Trump, who likes to take an occasional break from his anti-immigrant diatribes to complain that China is taking advantage of America’s weak leadership. You might think that a swooning Chinese economy would fit awkwardly into that worldview. But no, he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.

By the way, five years ago there were real reasons to complain about China’s undervalued currency. But Chinese inflation and the rise of new competitors have largely eliminated that problem.

Back to the deep bench: Chris Christie, another governor who not long ago was touted as the next big thing, was more comprehensible. According to Mr. Christie, the reason U.S. markets were roiled by events in China was U.S. budget deficits, which he claims have put us in debt to the Chinese and hence made us vulnerable to their troubles. That almost rises to the level of a coherent economic story.

Did the U.S. market plunge because Chinese investors were cutting off credit? Well, no. If our debt to China were the problem, we would have seen U.S. interest rates spiking as China crashed. Instead, interest rates fell.

But there’s a slight excuse for Mr. Christie’s embrace of this particular fantasy: scare stories involving Chinese ownership of U.S. debt have been a Republican staple for years. They were, in particular, a favorite of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.

And you can see why. “Obama is endangering America by borrowing from China” is a perfect political line, playing into deficit fetishism, xenophobia and the perennial claim that Democrats don’t stand up for America! America! America! It’s also complete nonsense, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

In fact, talking nonsense about economic crises is essentially a job requirement for anyone hoping to get the Republican presidential nomination.

To understand why, you need to go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed’s efforts would “debase the dollar” and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party’s leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

Now we’ve had a reminder that something like that last crisis could happen again — which means that we might need a repeat of the policies that helped limit the damage last time. But no Republican dares suggest such a thing.

Instead, even the supposedly sensible candidates call for destructive policies. Thus John Kasich is being portrayed as a different kind of Republican because as governor he approved Medicaid expansion in Ohio, but his signature initiative is a call for a balanced-budget amendment, which would cripple policy in a crisis.

The point is that one side of the political aisle has been utterly determined to learn nothing from the economic experiences of recent years. If one of these candidates ends up in the hot seat the next time crisis strikes, we should be very, very afraid.

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