Archive for March, 2006

La Dolce Vita

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

There must have been very bad economic times in Italy in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century for so many Italians to leave their extended families and familiar surroundings for the United States. Large numbers of people do not easily abandon the comforts of a common culture and language for modest economic inducements. However, from 1890 to 1900, over 600,000 Italians immigrated to the United States. In the next decade, the influx accelerated as over 2,000,000 Italians flooded the United States from 1900 to 1910. Included in the latter wave was my paternal grandfather, who ventured to the United States at the age of 17. Most contemporary American 17-year olds are anxious about traveling to college. Imagine the economic privation that could induce many thousands of young Italians to flee their own country. Though many Italians returned after earning money in the United States, a majority remained and assimilated.

However, not all of my family came to the United States so long ago. My mother came to here after marrying my father, a US citizen in the 1950s. She came from the same small town as my paternal grandfather.  Her extended family remains my extended family in Italy. The generation of my contemporaries form a very small scale controlled experiment with respect to opportunity in the United States and modern Europe.

At a casual glance there is little difference in the two contemporary generations. We both have access to the same modern conveniences. Americans owner larger cars and houses, but Italians typically have more style sense. The levels of education are roughly similar. Nonetheless, when I visit my family’s home town, Filadelfia, a wave of gratitude that my parents and grandparents allowed me to be an American washes over me. Although many of my relatives are as successful and ambitious as the corresponding generations of Americans, in my family’s home town one senses an economic and social lethargy one does not find in small town America. A small measure of this lethargy is that for the contemporary generation, four Americans and their families have visited the Italian home town, sometimes more than once. By contrast, only one youngster from the Italian side of the family has visited the United States. A general reluctance to venture forth as opposed to a lack of resources explains this difference behavior.

Unemployment is relatively high in Italy, particularly among the young. There are really two common ways to advance: become a professional like a doctor or an attorney or find a government job.  Government rules make it difficult for small businesses to start, grow and hire young people. There is no reason why even remote regions of Italy cannot become centers of high-tech growth with only modest infrastructure investment. Economic rigidity largely remains an impediment to growth.

To understand the problem more clearly, one only needs to visit bordering France. France’s restrictive labor rules disincline business from aggressive hiring. The labor force unemployment rate is about 10% and closer to 20% for those in their twenties. For the poor, particularly Muslim immigrants, the situation is even direr.

In the hopes of alleviating youth unemployment, the French government has eased some of their more restrictive labor laws. Employers can now dismiss, without going through a formal procedure, employees that have worked for less than two years. The previous law had caused employers to hire very carefully and slowly, knowing that they would be responsible for the employee indefinitely.  It was hoped that removing fear of being burdened by unproductive employees would encourage new hires and reduce unemployment.

The reaction of the French youth has been explosively negative, with large street protests and a scheduled work strike. The irony is that many of the young protestors are middle-class and the price in loss jobs that will insure their job security will be paid for by the poor. If the restrictive work rules are allowed to stand, French economic and political power will continue to decline.

Though high by American standards Italy’s unemployment rate of about 8%, is lower than the French rate. Italians are involved in general elections to be held on April 9 and 10, 2006, to determine if the free market reforms of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, easing work rules and decreasing taxes, will continue.

Visiting Italy it is easy to be entranced by the beautiful history, the stylish women, fine wine and meals, — la dolce vita. Beneath the surface there has been a slow decline that will hopefully be reversed. For too many, the burdens of the welfare state and rigid labor policies have relegated some Italians in la brutta vita.

Jimmy Carter and Just War Theory

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

The Sunday morning news programs were reporting that former President Jimmy Carter had written an op-ed piece in the New York Times. A devout Christian, Carter was arguing that the potential war in Iraq did not fulfill the requirements of the “Just War Theory.” After reading the rather short piece, I am left wondering why no one was able to persuade the former president to re-work his ideas rather than embarrass himself with a rather pedestrian set of arguments. Either Carter does not understand Just War Theory, or he is being deliberately deceptive.

Carter’s first argument is that a majority of religious leaders are opposed to the war. Of course this is not really a self-contained argument at all, it is rather an appeal to authority. Perhaps, Carter is thinking about Pope John Paul II’s stand against this war, given that Catholic history provides the theoretical basis for the Just War Theory. Given Pope John Paul II’s experience as religious leader in an oppressed Poland, the Pope’s words should be given serious consideration. However, the Pope was against the first Gulf War that freed the Kuwaiti people from foreign domination and the War in Kosovo that prevented further ethnic cleansing. The Pope was well-intentioned and wrong on both counts. Although there are questions about the precise role of Pope Pius XII in World War II, it is obvious in retrospect that the Pope should have done more to use his moral authority to oppose Hitler. In the 1980s, the national Catholic leadership in the United States opposed the deployment of intermediate nuclear missiles in Europe and even the idea of “deterrence.” This does not represent a distinguished record of judgment on geopolitical matters.

Carter notes that some “spokesmen of the Southern Baptist Convention” support the war, but then disparagingly suggests that they are “greatly influenced by their commitment to Israel based on eschatological, or final days, theology.” He does not explain why they were wrong, just implies that a commitment to Israel makes it difficult to be objective about the matter. Given Carter’s own relationship with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, would it be fair to dismiss Carter’s subsequent arguments? Surely, Carter could have developed this line of reasoning rather than firing a “drive-by” argument without hanging around to present a complete case.

Carter correctly points out that to be just, a war must represent the last resort. Carter claims, “it is obvious that clear alternatives to war exist.” In a metaphysical sense, this is always true. Acquiescence to a dictator is certainly always a way to prevent the immediate prospect of war. The question is more complex than flippantly presented by Carter. Waiting until the last resort simply means that all realistic efforts to resolve the issue should be exhausted. Is there any question, but that after 12 years Saddam Hussein will not voluntarily disarm, especially when he hasn’t when faced with over a quarter of a million allied troops? Delay would probably ease the pressure and make Hussein’s compliance even less likely.

Just War Theory requires the force must be proportionate and directed at combatants. Carter rewords the argument and stands it on its head: “the war’s weapons must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants,” subtly suggesting that unattainable military perfection is required. Here, Carter gives no guidance as to how to balance the good that will be achieved versus the likely “collateral damage.” Surely, no military in history has been as careful to avoid civilian casualties. Where is Carter’s argument? Why waste valuable space on the New York Times op-ed page if you decline to marshal any facts for your case?

Just War Theory requires, according to Carter, that “violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered.” Carter’s entire argument here, word-for-word is, “Despite Saddam Hussein’s other serious crimes, American efforts to tie Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been unconvincing.” Is that it? Is that his entire argument? No one has argued that this war is to pay back Iraq for 9/11. Rather, it is that the world will be substantially safer if an unbalanced leader, who continues to cooperate with various terrorist groups, is deprived of weapons of mass destruction.

Just War Theory actually requires that the force used be proportional to the good achieved. The way Carter suggests that the “violence must be proportional to the injury” implies violence for the purpose of retribution or vengance, which is not allowed under Just War Theory. Just War Theory requires that the good outweighs the application of violence. Another, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel explains this best, “Saddam Hussein is a murderer. He should be indicted for crimes against humanity for what he has done… I am behind the president totally in his fight against terrorism. If Iraq is seen in that context, I think [Bush] can make a case for military intervention.”

Carter states that Just War Theory requires, “The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society they profess to represent.” This is Carter’s way of saying that unless the United Nations approves, the war is not just. Actually, Carter’s phrasing is disingenuous. Just War Theory requires that to be just, a war must be conducted by a legitimate authority. It does not spell out the nature of this legitimacy. Congress has granted the president the necessary authority. Carter’s argument suggests that the US president with authority granted by Congress does not constitute a legitimate authority unless the United Nations backs the action. Under such a criteria, the War in Kosovo that stopped vicious ethnic cleansing by a modern Fascist, a war not approved by the United Nations, was not just. Did Carter make that argument then? Moreover, when the United Nations did not authorize intervention in Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands were killed, it lost much of its moral authority to sanction anything.

Carter rightly argues that for a war to be just, the peace that is established “must be a clear improvement over what exists.” May I respectfully suggest that for an ex-president safely living in Georgia, life will not be appreciable changed. However, for the people of Iraq, the situation will likely get substantially better. It could hardly get worse.

Nuturing Iraqi Democracy

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

Three years ago just before the war to liberate Iraq began, the iconic Conservative of the age, William F. Buckley, Jr., observed that “What Mr. Bush proposes to do is to unseat Saddam Hussein and to eliminate his investments in aggressive weaponry. We can devoutly hope that internecine tribal antagonisms will be subsumed in the fresh air of a despot removed, and that the restoration of freedom will be productive. But these concomitant developments can’t be either foreseen by the United States or implemented by us. What Mr. Bush can accomplish is the removal of a regime and its infrastructure. The Iraqi people will have to take it from there.”

The United States military, led by President George Bush, accomplished the first task in short order and with minimal destruction and loss of life. The second task is still underway. Though the collective decision of Iraqis in the long run will be dispositive, the burden is not entirely theirs. The likelihood that democracy and freedom will take root depends on the fertility of the Iraqi soil, and, over this, the US has little control. However, in the short run, democratic sprouts need to be protected from the predations of radicals who would prematurely trample these promising seedlings.

The recent sectarian violence provoked by attacks on mosques has raised the question as to whether the spin up of violence will throw apart the fragile association of Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds that were previously forcibly crushed together under the brutal and bloody boot of Saddam Hussein. The media devoted almost hysterical attention to the violence, perhaps too willing to assume the worst. According to General George Casey, Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, the violence has been challenging but exaggerated by press reports.

Nonetheless, the press reports have persuaded Bill Buckley that, despite our best efforts to nurture freedom and representative government, the Iraqis have already chosen violence and authoritarianism. “The great human reserves that call for civil life haven’t proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.” Buckley concludes that the ambitious assumption that democracy would grow under these conditions has now been refuted by the evidence and we need to take a different direction.

However, Buckley’s pessimistic assessment is perhaps premature. Despite the violence, there have been a number of positive signs that are too often neglected. There have been three elections where the Iraqi people bravely endorsed representative government even though voting entailed, in some cases, great personal risk. A constitution has been agreed to and we hope that a new permanent assembly will soon be formed. This progress is remarkable considering that Iraqi democratic muscles have atrophied under decades of forced inactivity.

Violence against people and mosques are hardly the acts of indigenous groups popularly supported by the people. If the insurgents really had deep and wide popular support then elections not violence would be their key to power.

Part of the reason that violence has been directed against civilians is that insurgents have been frustrated in their attacks against Coalition forces. Though the numbers of Coalition deaths per week ebb and flow, they have shown a steady decline in recent months. This decrease in effectiveness against Coalition troops is even clearer in the more statistically reliable injury rates. Violence against civilians represents military and political weakness not strength.

Buckley’s conclusion that the Iraqis are perhaps not ready yet for democracy is perhaps best refuted by the fact that the alternative policy, the policy of acquiescing to tyrants in the region, failed to bring stability in the past. Al Qaeda rose in power to a point of being able to execute a massive terrorist attack killing 3,000 Americans in New York and Washington during a period when the approach of “realism” rather than democracy guided American foreign policy.

Iraqis must still choose the kind of people they want to be and the government they want to have, but our faith that democracy will take hold is a necessary faith. The alternative is a return to the conditions of September 10, 2001.