I stopped reading George Will’s column with any frequency about five years ago, after he penned such an absurdly misleading column about global warming that two reporters at his own newspaper took the extraordinary step of contradicting it in a news story. They might not have felt compelled to do so if a fact-checker had fixed the column before it ran, or if Will’s editor hadn’t stubbornly stood behind him (and actually allowed the misinformation to continue). It’s one thing to have your doubts about a writer, while still trusting their editors to correct basic errors and ensure integrity. But once you’ve lost faith in the integrity of both a writer and their editors, it’s hard to think of reasons to keep reading. There are only so many hours in the day, and there’s too much good stuff out there.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved President Obama’s plan to combat ISIS by training and arming the moderate Syrian opposition. Skeptics of the plan include members of the President’s own party, particularly those progressives who are stunned to see the U.S. engaged, once again, in military action in Iraq. On Thursday, I spoke with Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress (CAP), who has researched the Syrian opposition and other national-security topics, and who wrote about progressive foreign policy for Democracy earlier this year (“Against Disengagement,” Issue # 32). About a week ago, Katulis argued that Obama’s plan, “with all of its details to be filled in and shortcomings, is pretty much the only game in town for now.” Katulis co-wrote a CAP report that interviewed over 50 representatives from the Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and others. The report concluded that partnerships with the Syrian opposition—for the short-term goal of fighting ISIS and the long-term goal of removing Assad from power—are still possible, but that they will require careful sequencing, diplomatic coordination, and patience. “It will take time—perhaps several years,” the report warns, “to turn vetted opposition groups into an effective fighting force capable of taking on both ISIS and the Assad regime.”
Katulis and I spoke about the President’s ISIS strategy, the formation of his foreign policy legacy, and the state of foreign policy thinking on the left. A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows.
Simon van Zuylen-Wood’s excellent profile of Dinesh D’Souza, just out in the new issue of National Journal, wisely allows the subject to speak for himself—yielding the delightful headline “Dinesh D’Souza Is Winning.” Like Tucker Carlson and Matthew Continetti, D’Souza is a conservative writer whose intellectual pretensions were eventually overwhelmed by his cruder instincts (the profile memorably dubs him the onetime “enfant terrible of conservative thought”). Once, his views on culture-war topics like campus leftism received respectful hearings in serious liberal publications. Now, D’Souza is mostly an object of ridicule. In recent years, he’s gone so far as to blame 9/11 on the decadent American left (expressing a measure of conservative solidarity for Islamic extremists in the process), and to accuse President Obama, acting from a supposed Kenyan anticolonial worldview, of sabotaging America from within. On top of all that, he’s now facing possible jail time after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations in New York. What happened?
There’s trouble afoot in Texas, where a recent watchdog review of proposed new social studies textbooks for Grades 6-12 has found a whole slew of problems. Some of the findings, reported by The Washington Post, are of the normal right-wing revisionism variety (one-sided celebrations of laissez-faire capitalism, flirtations with neo-Confederate rewritings of Civil War history, undue skepticism regarding the separation of church and state). Others, especially for 2014, are less subtle (there’s at least one reference to “the Negro race”). Of late, this blog has spent a good deal of time covering the politics of knowledge production, which can be a fraught and complex topic. In this case, as the report by the Texas Freedom Network explains, things are a little simpler:
New polling from Scotland shows a marked increase in support for independence—meaning next week’s referendum is likely to be extraordinarily close. Now that a Scottish decision to separate from the UK seems distinctly possible, the question of currency has gained new urgency. Will Scotland establish its own currency, join the euro, or remain on the English pound? The pro-independence camp, as Matt Yglesias notes, has promised to keep Scotland on England’s pound sterling—but as Yglesias writes, while “a rump United Kingdom couldn’t stop Scotland from using sterling,” it would nonetheless “have no particular reason to make institutional changes that would make a sterling union more workable for the Scots.” Paul Krugman concurs, adding this warning: “everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous.”
Sunday’s New York Times included a big front-pager on foreign governments funding research at supposedly independent American think tanks, “transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington.” Daniel Drezner says not to worry:
Before we cry havoc and let slip the dogs of hypocrisy charges, it’s worth considering that think tanks have to get their funding from somewhere. One can argue for greater transparency in revealing their sources, but the important point is that the sources are pretty narrow: foreign governments, the U.S. government, foundations, large corporations, or really wealthy individuals. I suspect that exactly none of these actors are funding think tanks out of the goodness of their heart — they all have policy agendas that they want to further.
Yesterday was the first day of school in New York City, and attending classes for the first time were 51,500 4-year-olds, the first enrollees in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten education in the city. The city’s expansion is a high-profile attempt to realize a longtime liberal priority. President Obama has called (in the State of the Union, no less) for a nationwide expansion of pre-K, but in this era of gridlock, the policy will be tested first at smaller levels of government.