S— My President Says.

The following is excerpted word for word from a Lonely Planet guidebook.

US currency is used for all transactions over a few dollars. The official currency, the Liberian dollar, only used for small items costing less than US$5

Pavement is generally uneven or nonexistent.

Stay at upmarket hotels if you require a lift or reliable electricity.

Homosexual acts in Liberia are punishable by one year in jail, and the government has floated the idea of making a same-sex relationship a felony crime (punishable with a 10-year prison sentence). LGBT campaigners in the country have also been targets of violence. Needless to say, gay travellers need to be extremely cautious travelling here.

Malaria is endemic and prophylactics are recommended. Typhoid is also relatively common, so get vaccinated and always take care to wash your hands before eating. You will need a valid yellow-fever vaccination certificate in order to enter Liberia. Other vaccinations to look into include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningococcal meningitis and boosters for tetanus, diphtheria and measles.

The tap water in Liberia is not safe to drink. Buy bottled water and use it for everything including brushing your teeth.

Take: Insect repellent; Water filter;

Wear lightweight, breathable clothing, in particular clothing that covers arms and legs to the ankles.

The security situation is somewhat stable, although it’s wise not to walk in Monrovia after dark and be vigilant about staying in secure lodging.

Electric shocks are common in badly wired buildings; wear shoes before plugging in appliances.

Public toilets range from standard toilets (often with a bucket to flush) and squat toilets to holes in the ground, with the latter being more common in rural areas. Always carry toilet paper. Upmarket hotels and restaurants will have Western-style toilets where you may or may not be allowed to flush the paper.

In Monrovia, adequate hospitals are available, but in rural areas you may need to travel for at least a day to the nearest doctor.

Be sure to obtain reliable travel insurance before arrival, including insurance that covers emergency evacuation.

Among the recommended attractions is Monkey Island.  This small archipelago is home to chimpanzees that were evacuated from a hepatitis research lab during the war.

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Letting the Grime Settle.

Center Square in Easton, Pennsylvania is home to a particularly fine monument to the men who fought for the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865).[1]  The monument was erected in 1888, and formally dedicated in 1900.  Herein lies a puzzle (for me).  Does the monument commemorate the men who fought in the war (1861-1865) or does it commemorate the ideas of 1888-1900?

During the 1850s, the Whig Party disintegrated and the Republican Party rose up to rally under its umbrella all the opponents of slavery and of the expansion of slavery into previously “free” lands.  “And the war came.”  The Civil War ended with the North’s concept of nationalism victorious over the South’s concept of nationalism.[2]  During “Reconstruction”[3] the victors enforced a policy of racial equality and the political enfranchisement of African-Americans on unwilling Southern whites.  This led to the election of Republican state governments in many Southern states.  Southern resistance often took the form of the Ku Klux Klan, but it did not limit itself to either clandestine violence or fraud at the polling place.

Then the election of 1876 ended with dispute and contest.[4]  The Democrat, Samuel Tilden, and the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, both claimed victory.  In brief compass, the Democrats agreed to accept the Republican as president if the last federal troops were withdrawn from the remaining Southern States and (while never formally stated) the abandonment of the freed people to the rule of the former traitors.  This “Compromise of 1877” consolidated the rule of the Southern Democrats (backed by the Northern Democrats) in the South.

African-Americans were disfranchised and lost political representation.  Excluded from the voter rolls, they were excluded from juries recruited from those rolls.  Extra-legal violence terrorized African-Americans.  Separate institutions served blacks and whites, with the black institutions being gravely under-funded by white elected officials.  .Twenty years later, in 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal” in its decision on “Plessy v. Ferguson.”

So, what do the Northern Civil War memorials of this era represent except the abandonment of the Freedmen to Southern “justice”?

Should they not come down too?

[1] NB: my great-great-grandfather, Sylvester G. Hill, was killed leading his troops at Nashville in December 1864.

[2] “You can’t leave” versus “We can leave.”  Essentially, Otto von Bismarck’s concept of nationalism triumphed.

[3] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Era

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1876#Electoral_disputes

Ground Up in Iraq.

Iraq is a weak country that is being ground up in the struggles of other, stronger countries.  In 1979, the Iranian Revolution created an anti-American Shi’ite republic that soon was at daggers drawn with both the United States and with the Sunni monarchies on the Arabian peninsula.  Saddam Hussein attacked Iran.  His regime survived this misjudgment in large part because Saudi Arabia and Kuwait bankrolled Iraq’s war effort with loans.  When Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused to forgive the debt—“they hired the money didn’t they?”—Hussein sent his army into Kuwait to exert pressure on the Saudis.  Much to Hussein’s discomfort, the Americans pounded his army to bits in the “Hundred Hours War.”  However, the George H. W. Bush administration pulled itself up short of invading the country, but Iran remained implacably hostile.  In 2003, the George W. Bush administration abandoned prudence.  The Americans invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein.

Whatever—tyrannical—system for maintaining social cohesion created by Saddam Hussein fell with him after the American invasion in 2003.  Shi’te fell out with Sunni, and both fell out with the Americans.  Eventually, a kind of peace returned, the American left, and Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government went to oppressing the Sunni minority while stealing everything officials could get their hands on, from oil earnings to soldiers’ pay.

Meanwhile, civil war fractured Syria.  Iran offered its support to the Assad regime against the Sunni rebels.  Then ISIS invaded Iraq from its base in eastern Syria.  Many Iraqi Shi’ites turned to Iran for support, while the American shouldered their way back in, mostly by supporting Kurdish fighters in both Iraq and Syria.  The government of Haider al-Abadi leaned rather more away from Iran and toward the Saudis and the Americans.  The Obama administration—sensibly determined to slow Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and recognizing that the American people didn’t want to participate in another large war in the Middle East—refused to choose sides in the Sunni-Shi’ite split.  The Russians had no such obstacles: forged an alliance of convenience with Iran in order to aid their Syrian client, Assad.

Now ISIS is beaten.  People are looking around at the aftermath of the storm.  It is an ugly sight.  Recent elections toppled Abadi’s party from first place to third.[1]  The anti-Iranian and anti-American party of Moqtada al-Sadr came first, followed by an anti-American, pro-Iranian party.  Sadr quickly began plastering over these cracks by issuing emollient statements and forging a coalition with the anti-American, pro-Iranian second place finishers.  “We believe in setting up an Iraqi government in the way that protects Iraq from all regional and international conflicts, making it immune from the hostility between the U.S. and Iran, or between Iran and Saudi Arabia,” announced one Iraqi politician.  More than that, they profess to want to end the sharing-out of government ministries on a party basis.  This played a role in the patronage and corruption that undermined both public support for the government and economic progress.

This sounds like a good plan, if a very ambitious one.  It also would have sounded like a good plan in 2003 or 2012.  Have the minds of Iraqis changed enough to make it possible?  Beyond that, will Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States be content to stand down from their own rivalries in Iraq?

[1] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Iraq Faces Diplomatic Balancing Act,” WSJ, 15 June 2018.

My Weekly Reader 14 June 2018.

Well before the arrival of Europeans on the Eastern seaboard of North America, the Native Americans had advanced far beyond simple bands of wandering hunters-and-gatherers.  They had become settled hunters-and-farmers; their communities had grown from bands to confederations of tribes.  It would be easy to portray their situation as an Eden and the Europeans as the snake in the Garden.  This over-simplifies things.

First, the Native Americans were Stone Age people whose lives could be very hard.  Europeans were an Iron Age people whose axes, knives, cooking pots, and muskets could ease those hard lives.  Second, many tribes disputed with others.  Trading with Europeans gave them access to European technology, but alliances could give them the bulge on rivals.  Cooperation co-existed with conflict between .Europeans and Native Americans.

Yet conflict became endemic.  The two different peoples despised one another.  The Europeans—Spanish, French, Dutch, and English—were all monotheists, believing themselves to be in the left lane of the highway to Heaven and everyone else to be taking the off-ramp to Hell.  Endlessly busy in pursuit of gain, the Europeans found the Native Americans to be an idle lot.  The Native Americans were commonly animists, believing that each living thing possessed a spirit.  Lacking much material wealth, the Native Americans couldn’t comprehend the acquisitiveness of the Europeans.

The imbalance in real strength between the two sides doomed the Native Americans.  Certainly, the Europeans possessed an immense technological advantage over the Native Americans.  Sailing ships, firearms, and iron tools all surpassed anything Native Americans could produce.  More importantly, there were just a lot more Europeans who wanted to live in North America than there were Native Americans who might want to keep them out.  The spread of European diseases compounded, but did not cause, the imbalance.

The first American “way of war” rested on the English understanding of the Native Americans.  The Native Americans could not stand and fight against heavily armed and armored Europeans.  They faded away into the forest at the English approach.  So march to a stockaded village, burn it down along with stored food and crops in the field, then go home.  On occasion, the English could trap the enemy inside their stockade.  Then they applied fire and sword.

An early war in New England illustrates these realities.[1]  Before 1600, the Narragansett confederacy had dominated southern New England.  Then the Pequot tribe intruded itself into the Connecticut River valley.  In 1622, they had expanded their territory by defeating the Narragansett.  In 1630, the Puritan settlers began to arrive in Massachusetts Bay.   Conflicts arose between the Narragansett and the English from time to tie, but the Narragansett understood the danger to themselves.  In 1636, they palmed off the murder of a rough-around-the-edges merchant ship captain by some of their own allies as the handiwork of the Pequot.  Then they sent a bunch of warriors to fight with the English against the Pequot.  The war ended with a gory massacre of many Pequot trapped inside their own stockade at Mystic.  Some of the survivors became slaves of the Narragansett.  Forty years later it would be the turn of the Narragansett in King Philip’s War (1675-1678).

[1] James A. Warren, God, War, and Providence (2018).

Public Opinion on Donald Trump.

It has been a good six months for President Donald Trump.  He has transitioned from an insurgent Republican to the un-contested face of the party.  Public opinion polls suggests that his base represents about a third of the electorate.  Thus, a little over a quarter (27 percent) of Americans are proud to have Trump as president and think (29 percent) that Trump is “a good role model for children.”[1]  Just under a third (31 percent) approve his handling of the Russia investigation.[2]  Almost a third (32 percent) found Trump more credible than James Comey on Comey’s allegations.[3]  More than a third (36 percent) of all voters would vote for Trump over a Democrat.[4]  More than a third (37 percent) of Americans think that Trump is a better president than was Barack Obama.[5]  More than a third (37 percent) believe that Trump is competent to deal with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in a summit meeting.[6]  Half of Republicans don’t want another Republican candidate to stage a primary challenge to President Donald Trump in 2020.[7]  Two thirds (67 percent) of Republicans approve his handling of the Russia investigation.  Almost all (86 percent) Republicans approve his performance as president.[8]  It looks like Trump has a lock on re-nomination.

But could he be re-elected?  At least for the moment, Trump’s potential for re-election extends well beyond his narrow base.  Americans are pretty evenly divided—and on partisan lines–on some of Trump’s policies.  On policy toward Israel: 41 percent approve and 43 percent disapprove.  Some 80 percent of Republicans approve, while 72 percent of Democrats disapprove.[9]  On his suggestion to arm teachers: 44 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove.  Some 68 percent of Republicans approve and 74 percent of Democrats disapprove.[10]

Two thirds of Americans approved his decision to meet Kim Jong Un, despite misgivings about his abilities as a diplomat.[11]  Over half (52 percent) approve his management of the economy.[12]  Well over half (57 percent) of Americans believe that the country is on the right track.[13]  That is the highest figure since 2007.  In all these cases, his appeal extends beyond his core base and wins over some Democrats.  Whether that is true in a general election might well depend upon which Democrat gets the nomination.  No Hillary or Obama look-alike?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 February 2018, p. 17.  Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of Republicans think him a good role model.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 March 2018, p. 17.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 April 2018, p. 17.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 8 June 2018, p. 17.

[5] In a different poll, 21 percent ranked Obama as the worst president to serve since 1945.  “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 March 2018, p. 17.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 May 2018, p. 17.

[7] On the other hand, 38 percent of Republicans do want someone to challenge Trump, which means that 12 percent aren’t sure.  There remains a hard core of “Never Trump” Republicans who remain unpersuaded as well as a good number of doubters.  John McCain will not run against Trump in a primary, but Jeff Flake might well run.

[8] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 April 2018, p. 17.

[9] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 25 May 2018, p. 17.  So 28 percent of Democrats either approve or aren’t sure.

[10] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 March 2018, p. 17.  So, 26 percent of Democrats either approve or aren’t sure.

[11] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 May 2018, p. 17.

[12] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 18 May 2018, p. 17.  A halt to new regulations and a big tax cut for those who shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden, especially business.

[13] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 18 May 2018, p. 17.

Spy Stories 1.

During the Fifty Years War, the opponents spied on each other by every means possible.  The Soviet Union possessed marked advantages over its enemies in this arena.  On the one hand, it was a brutal police state that could tightly control its frontiers and limit the contacts between its own “citizens” and foreigners.  Soviets who went abroad were closely watched.  On the other hand, this reality did not penetrate the minds of many foreigners.  Foreign Communists and progressive-minded “fellow travelers” clung to an idealized view of the Soviet Union as rough-around-the-edges place where socialism and democracy were being constructed.  Actually going there did nothing to alter their opinions in most cases.[1]  During the “Devil’s Decade” of the Thirties, the Soviet intelligence services recruited many Western agents.[2]

The most effective (so far as we can tell) and attention-grabbing of these spies were the so-called “Cambridge Five”: Harold “Kim” Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony (one is tempted to go the Full-Brideshead and call him “Antoine”) Blunt, and John Cairncross.  They were recruited while undergraduates, then allowed to develop over time.  During the Second World War they came to occupy important positions in British government.  The British intelligence community only caught on in the 1950s.  It chose to cover-up more than expose.[3]

The most satisfying book on Philby explores the dense network of friends and colleagues, British and American, he exploited.  Everything depends upon the barriers to entry and the acuity of the gatekeepers.  Once you are on the “inside” of a group, people tend to see your behavior as congruent with your supposed function.  If you seem to be good at what you do, then trust increases.  What if Jesus was actually the son of Satan?  What if Judas found him out?[4]

Intelligent, ordinary people surround spies.[5]  Often they see nothing unusual in the behavior of the spies.  Geoffrey Hoare[6], previously and subsequently the Middle East correspondent for the Times of London, lived near Donald and Melinda Maclean in Washington, D.C., then was in Cairo when Donald Maclean’s drinking got him sent back to London for “health reasons.”  He was on the same flight to London as Maclean, but saw no sign that Maclean was under immense psychological pressure.  “He had none of the external signs of someone suffering from a severe nervous breakdown.”  Later on, Hoare befriended Melinda Maclean, who had been left behind when Maclean and Guy Burgess disappeared in 1951 before they could be questioned by British security officers.  He was very surprised when she did a bunk herself in 1953.[7]  Tim Milne, a long-time friend of “Kim” Philby and himself a senior officer in MI-6, saw no hint of treason in him.[8]

On the other hand, there was Guy Burgess.  Burgess provided endless scandals: he was an outrageous drunk and an outrageous homosexual at a time when the former seems to have been common and the latter a felony.  The British security services turned a blind-eye in the worst version of Nelson.  “Surely he can’t mean goats” said one security officer briefed on the “peculiar tastes” of Guy Burgess.  Burgess managed to be recalled from Washington and this allowed him to tell Donald Maclean that they were buggered and had to bolt for the Soviet Union.[9]  The two, followed eventually by Melinda Maclean, simply disappeared for a bit.

Burgess and the Macleans reappeared in Moscow in 1956.  Then “Kim” Philby disappeared from Beirut in 1963.  Much gnashing of awful British teeth followed.[10]  Rebecca West had written one version of a book, The Meaning of Treason, in 1947.  It was all about the “quislings” and collaborators of the Second World War.  “A rum lot, what?”  Her second version, The New Meaning of Treason, in 1964, was all about the Soviet spies.  She lambasted the security service (MI-5) and the in-breeding of the upper classes who filled up the diplomatic service.[11]  While understandable and valid, her criticisms didn’t get at the heart of the matter.  Much later it was revealed that Anthony Blunt, a highly-esteemed art expert, had been among the “Cambridge Spies” who had been recruited by the Soviets in the 1930s.  His life revealed the essential puzzle.  How can someone hate a society so much that he would betray its secrets to another country, but still insist on enjoying all the fruits of that society?[12]

[1] Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society (1997).

[2] Notably the members of the “Red Orchestra” in Germany and France, the Gold-Rosenberg group in the United States, and the “Cambridge Five” in Britain.

[3] At least three of the men—Maclean, Burgess, and Philby—were alcoholics.  Did this make them particularly adept at deception, rather than vulnerable to error and exposure?

[4] I’m not trying to get fired from my job at a Catholic college.  I’m just trying to illustrate a psychological tendency.  In any event, see Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (2015).

[5] “Roland Philipps on the Cambridge spies,” WSJ, date misplaced; “Jason Matthews on secret agents of the Cold War,” WSJ, ditto.

[6] Husband of the remarkable Clare Hollingsworth.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clare_Hollingworth#Personal_life

[7] Geoffrey Hoare, The Missing Macleans (1955).

[8] Tim Milne, Kim Philby (2014).

[9] Andrew Lownie, Stalin’s Englishman (2014).

[10] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOHiPvl2mWk  Unless you have British relatives from earlier generations.  Then you already know what I’m talking about.

[11] Rebecca West, The New Meaning of Treason (1964).

[12] John Banville, The Untouchable (1997).