Franco-Jihadis.

French Muslims have been bent out of shape for some time.[1] In theory, France is a “secular” country that pays no attention to religion and allows no obvious expression of religious affiliation. In 2004, the government banned the wearing of veils by school-girls. As an afterthought, they also banned the (visible) wearing of crucifixes and yarmulkes, but everyone knew it had been directed against Muslims. In 2005, rioting broke out in the Parisian “banlieues” (suburbs) after the police chased a teen-age punk to his death in an electrical power distributor.[2] More than 10,000 cars were burned in the rioting—unemployed young Muslims not owning many cars. In 2011, the government banned wearing the “niqab” or the “burka” (which cover a woman’s face). It is illegal to deny the Holocaust, but is acceptable to mock the Prophet Muhammad. In January 2015 came the “Charlie Hebdo” massacres and in November 2015 came the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Now, an estimated 1,200 French Muslims have gone to join ISIS. Is France a hot-bed of radical Islam, and, if so, why?

After the First World War France recruited a lot of foreign labor from southern and eastern Europe (Russkies, Poles, Spaniards, Italians) to make up for the huge wartime casualties.[3] After the Second World War, France recruited a lot of labor from its North African colonies to make up for a short-fall in births in the Thirties and Forties.[4]

France is a “secular” country that pays no attention to religion. So, it is hard to tell exactly how many Muslims live in France. The best guess appears to be about 7.5 percent of the population. That turns out to be about 5 million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Europe. So, 1,500 jihadists out of 5 million people is a pretty small share. Today there are about 1.5 million people of Algerian origins, 1 million of Moroccan origins, and 400,000 of Tunisian origin. Most of the so-needed immigrants ended up in the tower housing blocks on the outskirts of French cities, especially Paris.[5]

How well do European countries assimilate Muslims? It varies. If you look at unfavorable views of Muslims (not Islam), then 63 percent of Italians and 46 percent of Spaniards, but only 27 percent of Frenchmen have an unfavorable view. However, 74 percent of Frenchmen also thought that Islam is incompatible with France’s secular values. (Curiously, in November 2015, only 56 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values.[6] Marine Le Pen, head of the National Front party, compared the Muslim population to the German occupation of France during the Second World War.

This may be the source of concrete phenomena. One 2010 inquiry found that job applicants of African origin who claim to be Christian are 2.5 times more likely to be asked back for an interview than are Africans who claim to be Muslim. The national unemployment rate in France is 10 percent, but the unemployment rate in the “banlieues” heavily populated by the descendants of Muslim immigrants is 20 percent. The unemployment rate in the “banlieues” for those aged 15-24 is 40 percent. Some 60 percent of the prisoners in French prisons are Muslims. “Religion is all we have left,” said one French Muslim.

[1] “France’s alienated Muslims,” The Week, 30 January 2015, p. 11.

[2] As is the case in the United States, being a punk is not formally a capital crime.

[3] So much for the Republican chicken-hawk derision of France. “How many troops does it take to defend Paris? No one knows. It’s never been tried.”

[4] OK, French people who “aren’t in the mood” is not a cultural stereotype. Still, it happened.

[5] Just for fun, see, “B-13:”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHSoPTJNfPE

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 17.

In re: Donald Trump as crazy person.

Three months ago, Paul Krugman pointed out that Donald Trump is the only Republican candidates who is willing to raise taxes on the rich and who has something to say in favor of universal health care.[1] While Krugman goes on to denounce Trump for “his implicit racism” what is really interesting about Krugman’s analysis comes later in the column. Krugman argues that, when it comes to economics, Trump is voicing what a lot of the Republican base actually believes. However, their views have never been articulated in recent years because the Republican Party’s elected representatives are chained to a demonstrably failed economic ideology. The chains are campaign donations from wealthy donors.[2] The Republican politicians have been living in a fool’s paradise. Trump is rich enough in his own right to run for president while speaking his own mind. Even if Trump doesn’t capture (Please, oh please) the Republican nomination, his campaign is likely to shift the terms of debate inside the party, and not necessarily in the way that Democratic pundits have been predicting.

What if Donald Trump is also articulating what a lot of Americans think on other issues?

Opinion polls in October 2015 revealed that almost half of Americans (46 percent) supported building a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico.[3] A slightly larger share (48 percent) opposes building a wall. Six percent aren’t sure. While the core of the base for building is Republican (73 percent of them approve it), there are also a good number of Democrats (perhaps a third) and fewer than half (less than 48 percent) of Independents. Nothing in the polling reveals how much voters assign primacy to this issue in comparison to other issues.

In 2011, 47 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values. By November 2015, 56 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values.[4] In late November 2015, 56 percent of Americans were against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States. In contrast, 41 percent favored accepting Syrian refugees.[5] That leaves only 3 percent who “aren’t sure.” In sum, on these issues at least, America is divided into two big and solid blocks. To my mind, President Obama is right in his belief that Muslims and America are compatible and in his willingness to accept Syrian refugees. However, right at the moment, he isn’t with the country on these issues.

Well, he doesn’t have to be. He’s a lame-duck president facing a Republicans opposition in control of both houses of Congress. He isn’t going to get any legislation passed unless it’s in line with what Republicans want. He is likely to rely on executive orders and regulatory changes that get tied up in the courts, and on public excoriation of the voters for not “getting it.”

What if the Republican Party isn’t the only party whose leaders are tied to an ideology that its voters really don’t accept? What if, just for the sake of speculation, there are a bunch of Democrats who are social progressives, but economic moderates? Bernie Sanders appeals to social and economic “progressives.” In November 2016 that seems likely to be a small slice of the pie. It’s easy and comforting to think that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. Can she?

[1] Paul Krugman, “Trump Is Right on Economics,” NYT, 7 September 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/07/opinion/paul-krugman-trump-is-right-on-economics.html?_r=0

[2] This suggests that Republican voters have supported people who don’t share their economic beliefs because the alternative would be to vote for Democrats who might share some of their economic beliefs, but whose views on social issues they reject. So much for Marxism.

[3] This is a separate question from who should pay for such a wall.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 17.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 4 December 2015, p. 19.

Climate of Fear XX.

The global temperature has risen by 1 degree over the pre-industrial level (c. 1750). As a result, glaciers and sea ice are melting and weather patterns are changing. What will happen if the globe’s temperature rises by more than 2 degrees Celsius/3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the pre-industrial level? The sea-level will rise by at least two feet as polar ice melts. In addition, climate scientists predict record high heat, drought, and famine.[1]

Is there a way to prevent these misfortunes? Yes/No. Global warming is caused by the emission of the “greenhouse gas” carbon dioxide as the result of burning carbon for energy. Currently, the world is headed toward emitting 59 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. This would push global temperatures over the 2 degrees Celsius mark, probably to 4 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. Climate scientists and the government officials whom they have persuaded of the danger hope that an international agreement will reduce emissions to 40 billion tons per year by 2030. That is a one-third reduction in emissions over the next fifteen years. However, that probably would hold the temperature rise to a 2.7-3.5 degrees Celsius rise above the pre-industrial mark. In short, well beyond the tipping-point.

A conference on climate change is scheduled for Paris in December 2015. In the run-up to the conference, the United Nations asked all 195 countries to submit a specific target for their reduction in emissions by 2030. The United States has committed to cut emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level by 2025 through shifting energy production from coal to solar and wind, and by increasing the fuel-efficiency of vehicles. China has committed to reaching peak carbon-burning and drawing 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. In addition, 148 other countries have submitted targets for reducing emissions.

Fine, that’s the good news. What’s the bad news? There’s plenty.

First, the Obama Administration doesn’t want the agreement reached in Paris to be a “treaty” that would be legally binding on its signers. Treaties have to be approved by the Senate. President Obama knows that he couldn’t get such a treaty through the Republican-dominated Senate.[2] However, that would leave the application of the agreement to whoever wins the election in 2016. In short, it would be no commitment at all. For that matter, the US reductions themselves are to be implemented by executive orders and regulatory changes, not legislation.

Second, India will not play ball. All it has is coal and 1.3 billion people (most of them very poor) who want a better life. Although it is already the third-biggest coal burner, India plans to double its coal production by 2020.

Third, very recently, China was “shocked, shocked to discover” that it has been burning far more coal than it had told the world. Hence, it’s commitment to reach peak carbon burning by 2030 is starting from a much higher base than had been supposed and the peak will be correspondingly higher still.

In sum, whatever agreement is reached at Paris in time for Christmas, isn’t likely to hold the line against climate change. Either an even more serious and costly effort will have to be made in the future or we’re just going to adapt to a changed environment.

The Woodrow Wilson-Barack Obama and the Versailles Treaty-Paris Climate Accord analogies will soon be flying like snow-flakes. Well, they would be if global warming hadn’t messed up the weather.

[1] “A crucial climate summit,” The Week, 4 December 2015, p. 13.

[2] For one thing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is incensed by President Obama’s plan to wreck the major industry in his state.

The Eastern Question(s).

In what language were the warnings to the Russian pilots issued? The Turks claim that the warnings were made in English (which I understand to be the international language of air traffic control). Still, the Department of Defense needs to release the recordings and soon.

Who cares what the President of Turkey wants? On the one hand, Erdogan has been attacking the EU through the refugee crisis. Domestically, he’s been playing the nationalist card in order to increase his own authority and re-design the constitution. First, his hostility was directed against the Kurds. Now he’s getting into air-battles with the Russians and calling on NATO to back him up. On the other hand, he’s deeply worried about the rise of a Kurdish proto-state in northern Iraq. He has legitimate reason to be worried about this danger to the future integrity of Turkey. The US attack on Iraq in 2003 looks worse and worse with the passage of time. Which is saying something.

ISIS made its spectacular gains last summer in operations against two states (Iraq and Syria) rotted by internal conflicts in which many people were estranged from their governments and the governments forces were back on their heels. Despite the bitterness in the press announcements, there is a certain congruence of policy. American policy has been to try to reduce internal strife in Iraq by evicting the Shi’ite president and getting his Shi’ite successors to tone down their anti-Sunni policies. Russia has chosen to try to reduce the internal strife in Syria by helping the Alawite government defeat their Sunni opponents. Both the Americans and the Russians are doing much the same thing, if only the Americans would see it: stop the further collapse of the front-line states opposing ISIS. The chief difference here is that the Russians have made a clear choice to back the Shi’ite side in that civil war in alliance with Iran and the government of Iraq, while the Americans are trying to straddle the Shi’ite-Sunni civil war. President Obama’s proposal to stage a new Libya in Syria—overthrowing the government, then walking away as the place burns, which is what the US did a few years ago—is not going to improve the situation. (See: Obama versus Putin.) The Russians aren’t the ones who need to get their act together.

Rant.

In terms of GDP the United States has the largest economy in the world: $17 trillion. China’s GDP is $10 trillion, with 2-3 times as many people, so China’s per-capita GDP is pathetic compared to the US.[1]

In terms of after-tax household income, the US just wipes the floor with other countries: the US average is $41,355, while the median for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries is $27,630. So the US is like 50 percent higher than the median. That means that it drags the median upward by its high household income, so most OECD countries have family incomes even lower than in the US. .

People are quick to point out that American success is all quantitative, rather than qualitative. Americans work way more than do “normal” people: an average of 46.7 hours a week. They get less sleep, have less family time with their ingrate kids, have wives who have let themselves go, and about 35 percent of Americans are obese.[2] American society may be rich, but it is very unequal, which may be a factor in high poverty rates. Also, there are signs of “moral decay”: Americans trail only Mexico and Chile in pregnancy rates among 15-19 year-olds. Then there is all the violence: only Mexico has a higher murder rate per 100,000 people—and Mexico has drug gangs run amok. Only 74 percent of Americans, Serbs, or Egyptians felt safe walking alone at night.

Is there an alternative model? Yes, either Scandinavia or Central America. Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica all out-pace the US in reports of “daily positive experiences such as smiling and laughing, feeling enjoyment, and feeling treated with respect each day.”[3] More concretely, Scandinavians (Danes, Norwegians, Swedes) accept paying much higher taxes generally than do Americans in return for a comprehensive social safety net.[4] Top earners pay 57 percent, but—and this will freak-out Democrats—middle-income earners pay up to 48 percent of their income in taxes.[5] Consequently, the price of consumer goods is higher and the purchases of consumer goods are less. On the other hand, if you’re playing by the rule that “the one with the most toys when he dies wins” or if you listen to economists who argue that the great American demand for consumer goods is what drives the world economy, then you have to hate the European approach.

Regardless of what European leftists insist, the American definition of happiness isn’t just about quantitative measures over qualitative measures. Americans value individual freedom and choice more than do people elsewhere, and this makes them insist on the importance of individual self-reliance and accountability more than do people elsewhere. Americans believe that progress in life, measured in economic terms, validates an open society and a competitive economy. This is why the “recent [economic] unpleasantness” has been such a trial for Americans. It is astonishing that most of the Republican presidential candidates can’t see this.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q49NOyJ8fNA

[1] “How America rates,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 11.

[2] Only 4 percent of Japanese are obese and that’s including all those sumo wrestlers.

[3] This explains all the reports of Yankees getting caught trying to cross into Mexico. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-N9L3ZXWPA

[4] Actually that term is deceptive. Americans mean that they have to catch and carry the screw-ups. Scandinavians mean a system for enabling each person to live a productive and socially-useful life. These different meanings reflect different beliefs about human character. Jury is out in my view.

[5] So, good-bye “middle class tax cuts” beloved of both parties and the Obama confirmation of 98 percent of the George W. Bush tax cuts looks politically expedient without being fiscally prudent.

CrISIS 4.

There’s this story I read. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the German Federal Republic, isn’t afraid of most things (she grew up in the German “Democratic” Republic), but she is afraid of dogs. She went to meet Vladimir (“Vlad the Impaler”) Putin. Putin made sure that there were a couple of big, aggressive dogs present. Why? Because he’s a son-of-a-bitch, that’s why. Merkel didn’t bend at the meeting. Still, that is who President Obama is up against.

Putin wants President-for-Life Bashar al-Assad to keep running Syria. Assad is opposed by a bunch of conservative Sunni Muslim rebels (some associated with Al Qaeda), and some “moderates” who keep disintegrating every time the US tries to stand them up as a fighting force, and ISIS. Putin seems determined to use Russian air power to beat up on the non-ISIS rebels to reduce the pressure on Assad. Once that goal is accomplished, then they can think about what to do about ISIS. Well, that seems to have been the plan until ISIS claimed responsibility for the crash of the Russkie airliner flying out of Sharm el Sheikh.[1] Now Putin probably is thinking about the brilliant “montage” work done by Francis Ford Coppola for “The Godfather.”[2]

Then ISIS appears to be behind the Paris terrorist attacks. Yes, this has got Americans hyperventilating. However, it has got the French thinking about wasting somebody and the sooner the better. You don’t want to get your ideas about the French from Republicans[3] or from Warner Brothers’ cartoons.[4] If they can’t get the answer they want from President Obama when French President Francois Hollande visits Washington, then he will be on the next thing smoking for Moscow. They aren’t likely to get the answer they want in Washington.[5]

What to do? First, recognize that the US is not leading the coalition against ISIS. That coalition consists of Shi’ite Iran, Shi’ite-ruled Iraq, the Kurds (who are fighting for the existence of an independent Kurdish state more than anything else and who will send in their bill as soon as ISIS is beaten), the Russkies (regardless of how Josh Earnest phrases it), the British, and the French. Even the Germans may be compelled to take a role. Who isn’t in that coalition? The Sunni Gulf States and Turkey. None of the above give rip about what the US wants. This is a matter of real importance for these countries, as opposed to a political debating point in the US.

Second, recognize that defeating ISIS will do nothing to end our long-term problem with radical Islam. Al-Qaeda gave rise to Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQIM). AQIM gave rise to ISIS. On the one hand, there are a host of similar organizations in the Middle East springing up like jack-in-the-boxes. More will arise after ISIS is defeated. Radical Islamist organizations elsewhere (Al Shabab in Somalia, Bozo Haram in Nigeria, and possibly the “Third Intifada” that appears to be rising in Palestine) show that there is no central head-quarters. On the other hand, radical Islamist movements recruit their fighters from the alienated Muslim youth of Europe and—especially—the “failed states” of the Muslim world.

We’re in for a very long haul. Sad to say, the Cold War analogy may turn out to be useful. So, “containment” or “roll-back”?

[1] Still, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_apartment_bombings#Theory_of_Russian_government_conspiracy

[2] See: Sergei Eisenstein, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laJ_1P-Py2k; see “The Godfather,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfbYp9oaIT8

[3] “Freedom fries,” “Freedom doors,” and “Freedom kisses,” etc.

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJfI3KnmSHc The Department of Defense ordered this movie shown before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Not because it wanted to encourage soldiers to misbehave but because it recognized—as the people in the White House did not—where we might be led.

[5] One recent poll found that 76 percent of Americans oppose sending in regular ground troops to Iraq and 66 percent opposed sending in even Special Forces troops to spot for the air-strikes that are our most useful role.

Some context for the shift in the American attitude toward Muslims.

Recently, commentators have contrasted the public discourse at the time of 9/11 with the anti-Muslim discourse today.  How can we explain this shift?  There are a couple of things to think about.

First, 9/11 produced national unity.  Events over the fourteen years since then have produced deep polarization.

The Presidential elections in 2004, 2008, and 2012 included vicious debates over national security and the Middle East, as well as many other things.  In light of his subsequent wholesale adoption of Bush Administration policies, Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address(with its blistering critique of Obama’s predecessor, who was sitting on the platform behind the President-Elect) looks particularly gauche.  On the other hand, the right-wing denunciations of Obama as a secret Muslim and a traitor are vastly worse.  They remind one of previous conspiracy theories (like the de-monetization of silver–dear to the hearts of Democrats as the “Crime of 1873”–or that FDR knew in advance about Pearly Harbor–dear to the hearts of Republicans for several decades–to take but two examples).

Then the illegal immigrants issue actually does bear on this.  The southern border of the US turns out to be incredibly porous.  Inflows of people from Mexico dropped after the beginning of the “Great Recession.”  No one thinks that this is because the border has been tightened up in a significant way.  If Hispanic-Mexicans wanted to enter the US, then they could.  But this is also true of Middle Eastern terrorists.

Second, after 9/11 it was possible to argue that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were a numerically insignificant element within the Muslim world.  President George W. Bush emphatically made this case.  Now, years of terrorism and conflict with Muslims may have produced a much deeper fear of Muslims as a group.

The Iraq insurgency revealed that lots of Muslims didn’t welcome Americans with bouquets of flowers.  Instead, we had the appalling reports of IEDs and traumatic brain injuries.

The Iraqi civil war between Shi’ites and Sunnis had a lot of horrible things happen.  (See Dexter Filkins’ observation that you could always tell a Sunni killed by Shi’ites because a power-drill had been used.)

Zarkawi.  Lots of suicide bombers who came from all over the Muslim world.  There were bombings of NGOs like the UN Mission in Baghdad that killed Sergio de Mello.

Then there is the basic weaseliness of Pakistan.  Whose side is our “ally” actually on?  OK, Americans got sold a bill-of-goods on this.  All the worse then that it is apparent that Pakistan is an Islamist state armed with nuclear weapons and cruise missiles.

Then, there were terrorist bombings in Madrid (2003) and London (2004).  The basic lesson was that Islamist terrorists could reach out to Western capitals.  The “Charlie Hebdo” massacre (January 2015) and the recent attacks in Paris (November 2015) added more examples.  Most of these terrorists were “home-grown” radicals, instead of emissaries from some other place.

“Well, at least they can’t get to the United States.”  Except that a truck bombing of Times Square in New York City failed for technical reasons rather than from having been prevented by national security organs.  The “shoe bomber” and the “underwear bomber” who tried to bring down airliners failed because passengers and air crews stopped them, not because the government prevented them from boarding the air planes.

Then there is ISIS.  On the one hand, there is the savagery of its methods.  Captives get beheaded (without recourse to sending to France for a headsman as happened with Ann Boleyn) or burned to death in a cage.  On the other hand, there are the tens of thousands of young Muslim men–and woman, if today’s New York Times is to be believed–who flock to Syria and Iraq to enlist in the jihadist cause.  They come from Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East mostly, but also from Western Europe and the United States.  They are all evidently bent out of shape with Western countries for reasons that we do not well understand.

People seem happy to spin this state of mind as either “just being realistic” or as “more xenophobia.”  Thinking about it as a historian, rather than as a polemicist, it seems to me that we should all try to reduce the recriminations.  We have hit a lot of emotional chuck-holes. We haven’t fully absorbed or understood them. That is probably not going to produce a good policy outcome.