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Isolationism on the Left and Right


from The World According to Trump by Charles Krauthammer in National Review:

Both the Left and the Right have a long history of advocating American retreat and retrenchment. The difference is that liberals want to come home because they think we are not good enough for the world. Conservatives want to wash their hands of the world because they think the world is not good enough for us.

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The Loss of American Competitiveness


from The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

Experts on economic competitiveness, like Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, define the term to include the ability of government to pass effective laws; the protection of physical and intellectual property rights and lack of corruption; the efficiency of the legal framework, including modest costs and swift adjudication; the ease of setting up a new business; and effective and predictable regulations.  It is startling to find out how poorly the United States now fares when judged by these criteria.  In a 2011 survey, Porter and his colleagues asked HBS alumni about 607 instances of decisions on whether or not to offshore operations.  The United States retained the business in just 96 cases(16%) and lost it in all of the rest. Asked why they favored foreign locations, the respondents listed the areas where they saw the U.S. falling further behind the rest of the world.  The top ten reasons included:

  1.  The effectiveness of the political system
  2. The complexity of the tax code
  3.  Regulation
  4. The efficiency of the legal frameworks
  5. Flexibility in hiring and firing
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The Hobbesian Optimist

From Bret Stephens at the WSJ,  Barack Obama Checks Out:

Summing up the president’s worldview, Mr. Goldberg describes him as a “Hobbesian optimist”—which philosophically must be the equivalent of a Jew for Jesus. But Mr. Obama has shown that he lacks Hobbes’s understanding that Leviathan must fill the vacuums that will otherwise be filled by an ISIS or a Putin, or an optimist’s belief that American power can shape the world for the better.

The French diplomat Charles de Talleyrand once said of the (restored) Bourbon dynasty that “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Given the mix of score-settling and delusion on display in this interview, that may well be the president’s foreign-policy epitaph, too.

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A Policy of Impatience

stills from film "Fury"

from Victor Davis Hanson in National Review Online, The Costs of Abandoning Messy Wars

Donald Trump has rightly reminded us during his campaign that Americans are sick and tired of costly overseas interventions. But what Trump forgets is that too often the world does not always enjoy a clear choice between good and bad, wise and stupid. Often the dilemma is the terrible choice between ignoring mass murderer, as in Rwanda or Syria; bombing and leaving utter chaos, as in Libya; and removing monsters, then enduring the long ordeal of trying to leave something better, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.The choices are all awful.

But the idea that America can bomb a rogue regime, leave, and expect something better is pure fantasy.

Because we spend more time demonizing the leaders than trying to understand the circumstances of their decisions, we fail to learn the lessons.  Thus those who criticized the Bush decisions in Iraq and only spoke of his incompetence, proceeded to make the same mistake in Libya only a few years later.

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Can The GOP Be Populist AND Realistic

from Daniel Greenfield at Sultan Knish, Conservatism Isn’t Dead:

If conservatives want to win elections, their platform is going to have to be populist and realistic. That means small government, but the cuts have to start with the left’s sacred cows, rather than expecting the bulk of the Republican electorate to suck it up for the greater good. I would love to see a conservative candidate announce a plan to stop plowing more money into failed Democratic cities instead of announcing yet another bright scheme to slash the military or Medicare.

Likewise the “exporting Democracy” school of conservatives were thoroughly discredited by the Arab Spring. Their agenda is mainstream among the establishment, but conservatives need a sensible realistic foreign policy approach that avoids the extremes of nation building and isolationism, that puts national interests first while at the same time recognizing that we are a world power.

Americans have no interest in fighting wars for futile missions to build democracy. But neither are they willing to sit around and watch a group like ISIS take off. What is needed is an approach that emphasizes decisive military intervention against enemies without regard for collateral damage while minimizing American casualties. We should sharply slash much of our foreign aid budget and look at what actually builds influence and what doesn’t. Foreign aid should be closely interlinked with our economic interests, the way that it is in China, and our international interests. We are not a charity.

The Republican Party in general suffers from an inability to communicate its agenda in ways that people can understand. Conservatives are not immune from this problem. During the Obama years, they compensated by doubling down on opposition. But they haven’t produced a positive, coherent agenda that appeals to people. And they haven’t bridged the gap with ordinary people.