Book Review: James Kirchick’s “The End of Europe”

New piece in Nations & States.

Nations & States

While slightly more than a decade old, Jeremy Rifkin’s The European Dream reads today as a primary source for a discredited utopian movement. An American scholar with profound affection for the European Union, Rifkin wrote how, contra Reagan and Winthrop, the “old continent” of Europe, not the United States,now reigned as the shining “city on the hall.” Between generous welfare states, a healthier work-life balance, and rigorous environmental standards, the communal superiority of “The European Dream” over the rugged individualism of the U.S. model was uncontested.

While the United States retained narrow attachments to God, country, and hard military force, Europe’s cosmopolitan, secular, and pacifist zeitgeist previewed a new“global consciousness for a globalized world.” Other scholars, perhaps yearning for solace from the Bush presidency, offered similar praise. Consider other titles of the mid-2000s: T.R. Reid’s The United States of Europe, Mark Leonard’s Why Europe Will Run the…

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Jerusalem Day 1 – 4.9.2017

To cluster my observations of Israel over the next two weeks, I decided to pick around five to six photos for each day and use them as a source of inspiration.

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Searching for an escape from the claustrophobia induced by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (see below), I found a wonderful view of East Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock, and Mount of Olives. Beside me were two IDF soldiers (Air Force and intelligence) enjoying their free weekend before Passover. Given both my own (and Israeli!) blutness on political and cultural controversies, we quickly delved into some interesting discussions on religion-state relations in Israel, BDS boycotts, settlements, and American Evangelicals’ views of Israel. Interestingly, our opinions on Israeli politics mostly aligned, as I applauded their support of Yair Lapid’s new centrist party. One was Ashkenazi and the other had family hailing from the Middle East, making for some interesting debates. The former complained that Israel was becoming too “Eastern” and “oriental” in culture, a claim his friend vigorously contested. As clearly patriotic soldiers with IDF, they spoke quite movingly, even amidst a generally calm, quiet “status quo” – all the more attractive in comparison to nearby regional catastrophes – about the urgency of the two state solution. On a lighter note, one offered hilarious annecdotes about his cultural shock as a camp counselor in the United States, where he was puzzled by the extreme fragility of the kids and staff. “What’s with all the medications and allergies?”

A group of young Israeli Arabs came by to play, and one soldier took out his chess set and tried to teach them. Interestingly, they could only communicate in broken English, as the kids apparently do not learn Hebrew in their schools. I asked my new IDF friends what jobs these young people could acquire without Hebrew. “They will probably learn English and then work with tourists in the markets here in the Old Quarter”. Not an awful prospect, to be sure, but certainly one ought to hope for greater possibilities.

Before returning to their home village, they kindly recommended and dropped me off at a favorite restaurant with the best hummus ever. If only the various actors in the Middle East power games could heed this sign, no?

 

 

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After recovering from my 6 am flight to Tel Aviv (and overnighter in the Bucharest airport), I took on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

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This statue is hardly famous in a labyrinth of multidenominational chapels and liturgies, but it deserves note. It honors St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. Between his death bed conversion and earlier murder of both a wife and son, Constantine’s Christian commitments can be put in doubt. That cannot be said of Helena, whose piety was credited with helping to stir the Roman emperor into tolerating and then favoring the new religion. Helena would turn this site, only just making the transition from pagan temple to Church, into Christianity’s beating heart through her visit and discovery here of the “piece of the true Cross”. One can only ponder what she would make of the daily throngs of pious (fanatical?) believers and selfie-stick wielding heathens falling over one another here.

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The church took its final form in the 12th Century under the Crusader kingdoms. It is collectively used by six communities: four from the Oriental Orthodox tradition (Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, and Ethopian), Greek Orthodox, and Catholics. I spoke to an Irish friar who described the church as a fragile “ecosystem” where only a few acts of arrogance or mean-spiritedness could disrupt the entire order. His analogy: “Imagine if six different families needed to use the same kitchen?” And that was only for most days of the year: “Now they must share it for the same holiday celebration” (Holy Week). Tensions apparently rose up earlier in the day with some clashing liturgies; apparently the “bells” of the Armenians made it impossible for Catholic visitors to hear during Mass. But all the priests here have a wider perspective; the friar visited his Coptic brothers to offer condolences that morning following the bombings in Egypt. I will certainly be back for the services here on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It is Easter!

Here is the tomb! A long line and a sad amount of cutting, arm-twisting, and pushing by the Christian faithful. Honestly, I had two seconds inside, so I barely remember what it looked like in retrospect. But I loved hearing the spontaneous chanting by different tour groups of Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox! After a year in Greece, I easily could sing along to Christos Annesti! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Humbled Neoconservatism’s Rebirth? Reading Eliot Cohen’s “The Big Stick”

Nations & States

In the aftermath of the U.S. quagmire in Iraq, many writers proclaimed neoconservatism’s rightful place in “the ash heap of history.” This intellectual movement played a major role in the second Bush administration’s foreign policy with calls for nation-building and democracy promotion, muscular, unilateral United States global leadership, and a ideological and physical struggle against fundamentalist forms of Islam comparable to earlier confrontations with fascism and communism. Its death seemed all but confirmed during the 2016 Republican primaries when Donald Trump vanquished rivals who argued for a more active U.S. role in the world. Such candidates and their intellectual allies at conservative journals and think-tanks looked on as former supporters of George W. Bush cheered Trump’s denunciations of the Iraq War. First Things columnist Peter Spiliakos explains, voters applauded Trump’s awareness of the invasion’s folly; meanwhile, interventionist Republicans “never gave the impression that they had learned anything that would…

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The Promise (and Limits) of Ukraine’s “Finlandization”

Nations & States

Ukrainians would have better luck reading tea leaves than recent U.S. actions to discern President Trump’s intentions for their country. Fears of an immediate embrace by the new administration of Putin hardly materialized. Following a dramatic spike in violence in Eastern Ukraine, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley offered a firm condemnation of Russian aggression. A joint meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini maintained a united line on sanctions and demanded full Russian compliance with the Minsk II agreement. With National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s resignation, the leading advocate of warmer relations with Russia is out the door. Facing a press fixated on his campaign’s Kremlin contacts, a potential Senate investigation, and a deeply skeptical intelligence community, Trump’s ability to hand Putin a clear victory in Ukraine may be severely limited.

But Ukrainians oriented to…

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Deciphering the Bannon Doctrine

Nations & States

Time’srecent cover story asks: Is Steve Bannon “the second most powerful man in the world?” The former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood producer transformed the news website Breitbart into a media powerhouse for the Right. For detractors, Breitbart is a platform for racist and nativist clickbait. Bannon lauds it as “a global, populist, anti-establishment news website,” courageously challenging global elites. As campaign CEO in the election’s final months, Bannon pushed Trump to double down on populist rhetoric. Both Bannon and his candidate took a gambleand won.

Most expected Bannon, now Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, to be one force among many in the administration. But the fiery “America First” philosophy preached during Trump’s inaugural speech not only echoed Bannon’s worldview, it was written by him and his closest ally Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior advisor on policy. The pair developed the explosive executive orders…

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Like a Thief in the Night, Corruption has come to reign (even more) freely in Romania

romericanjourney

Romania’s democracy is in dire straits. Romania is experiencing its largest protests since the fall of Communism in its 1989 Revolution,  exceeding 300,000+ protestors all over the country this past week, particularly in Bucharest (150.000), Cluj Napoca (35.000), Timisoara (25.000), Iasi (20.000), Sibiu (20.000), and many other smaller cities. On the evening of January 31st, Romania’s government signed a late-night emergency executive ordinance at 10PM, granting clemency for officials convicted of corruption and decriminalizing offenses that cause less than 200,000 lei ($47,8000) in financial damage with added measures of leniency to the penal code. Under this measure, the government proposed to release 3,000 prisoners (to reduce overpopulation in prisons they say, to free its former colleagues convicted of corruption say the rest). In other words, no need to worry about facing prison charges if you swindle a mere $40,000 from the government.

Many in the PSD ruling party stand to gain from clemency and measures of leniency, as do 2,000…

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Book Review: Ryszard Legutko’s “The Demon in Democracy”

My new piece in Nations and States. A great blog to add to your weekly reading.

Nations & States

If the liberal world order needed to market a highlight reel of its greatest achievements, Poland would arguably stand first through its post-1989 transformation. In the eyes of many American and Western European commentators and politicians, however, the election and policies of the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) may bring this great ascendancy to a tragic close. Its government supposedly embarks on the “breaking of [its] constitution, in letter and spirit,” and barrels towards “Putin-like leadership.” As the Polish people rejected the heavy hand of Soviet domination, their faces turned to Western Europe as an alternative model of humane relations among peoples. For the Law & Justice Party that now governs and its supporters, the strong criticism from outside journalists and European Union institutions forces Poland again into submission by powerful neighbors.

Wise leadership may not be enough to bridge the chasm between Western European liberals and nationally…

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