Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tehran Calls Bush's Bluff

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly on the conundrum facing Washington over Tehran’s now completely explicit plans to acquire nuclear weapons, James Fallows points out what should be perfectly obvious to everyone outside the Bush White House and its hosanna chorus: Bush’s messianic, Wilsonian-idealist foreign policy has put the US in an impossible situation relative to thwarting Iranian nuclear ambitions and severely weakened America’s hand in the Middle East.

The inconvenient truth of American foreign policy is that the last five years have left us with a series of choices—and all of them are bad. The United States can’t keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, for obvious reasons. It can’t withdraw them, because of the chaos that would ensue. The United States can’t keep prisoners at Guantánamo Bay (and other overseas facilities) indefinitely, because of international and domestic challenges. But it can’t hastily release them, since many were and more have become terrorists. And it can’t even bring them to trial, because of procedural abuses that have already occurred. Similarly, the United States can’t accept Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power, but it cannot prevent this through military means—unless it is willing to commit itself to all-out war. The central flaw of American foreign policy these last few years has been the triumph of hope, wishful thinking, and self-delusion over realism and practicality. Realism about Iran starts with throwing out any plans to bomb.

The ludicrous quest to create – ex Nihilo – a democratic state in a culture that has never produced or sustained a democracy has proven a dismal, bloody failure. It has drained the US treasury, squandered the lives of US soldiers, badly over-stretched the US military and made the US forces vulnerable to attack, thus constraining US options. Worse, it has all but handed Tehran the means to create a loyal Shiite vassal state in Iraq. The dreadful extent of the administration’s foreign policy debacle is immediately obvious to America’s enemies, and is beginning to dawn on America’s political class – even those still vaguely smitten with Bush’s fake brand of conservatism. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Islamists everywhere continue to advance their agendas through ruthless realpolitik, perfectly willing to use America’s new insistence on democracy to their advantage wherever possible.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Marching Toward Disaster

The mass demonstrations by illegal aliens and their supporters across the US over the past few days is a dramatic warning of the potentially catastrophic situation that the US government has permitted to develop inside US borders. When millions march down streets where they have no legal right to be, making demands, their presence and numbers constitute not only an appeal, but a threat. If the US government doesn’t concede to these demonstrators, what will be the result? If the American people resist their demands, what will they do? Will they calmly accept the enforcement of American law? Will they peacefully abide the will of the electorate if it decides against them? The answer, evident from the hundreds of thousands vociferously demanding their rights in a language foreign to the United States is a resounding NO. And it doesn’t require great perspicacity to discern the mounting threat inherent in these marches.

Even the militantly (almost hysterically) pro-immigration John Podhoretz correctly perceives that the demonstrations will have the effect opposite to that he thinks intended by their organizers.

If their purpose is to influence the political debate in a direction favorable to the interests of illegal aliens, then their organizers are deluded. The rapidly rising concern about the issue is a clear indication that the first round of demonstrations a few weeks ago, featuring Mexican flags dominating American flags and wild talk about American imperialism, were self-defeating.

It's pretty simple, really. Whatever illegal aliens are - and I think they are, on balance, a positive presence - they are still in violation of the laws of the United States. The more people demonstrate on their behalf, the more the illegality of their actions is highlighted. Americans are a law-abiding people, and they don't go for that sort of thing. The demonstrations are the best advertisements possible for the idea that America must get tough on illegal immigrants and tighten its immigration policies.

This has poor Podhoretz quite puzzled.

That's what's so peculiar about these demonstrations. There is no chance on earth that Congress is going to adopt a wildly liberal set of policies on illegal immigration. The best hope for those who aren't immigration restrictionists is to lower the temperature on this hot-button issue so it can be discussed in a calm and rational manner - one that takes into account the very real concerns about border security, for example.

Instead, the immigration interest groups and others seem intent on radicalizing the debate, in making it clear to many people who aren't yet committed to one side or the other on this issue that the pro-immigrant side is nuts and the anti-immigrant side is more sensible.

So long used to name-calling and smearing those who called for immigration restriction and enforcement, Podhoretz cannot see the facts plainly in front of his face. The whole point of the demonstrations is to radicalize the illegal immigrants and their supporters, to turn them into a political force with which to pressure and threaten American legislators and cow the US populace. Those behind the marches seek to make illegal immigrants and Latino racial activists aware of the political power inherent in their numbers, and to use that power to back an agenda that would severely damage the US. It’s a very clever game, because the effect will snowball. Once these groups believe they have the power to achieve make demands, they will expect to have those demands satisfied, and will begin to make new demands. Proposals that seem radical and fringe today, will become commonplace as time progresses and the radicals continue to sow their ideas among the mob. The mob senses the unwillingness of Americans to defend their culture and their borders, senses the weakness of America's intellectual defenses, and will exploit those weaknesses to America's detriment.

Podhoretz scorns the Democrats who appeared at the rallies, endorsing the demands of the illegal aliens, contending that doing so will only strengthen the hands of restrictionist Republicans. Of course, restrictionist Republicans are currently at odds with the GOP establishment and White House which favor an open borders policy for exactly the same reason that the Democrats appeared at yesterday’s rallies – courting the Latino vote. The Democrat embrace of illegal aliens serves to demonstrate the final devolution of the party and its final turn away from its former core base of lower and middle class Americans toward its new constituency of ethnic minority groups. The Democrats now only care about the color of one’s skin, not the color of one’s collar. As Rich Lowry points out, this betrays the interests of those who formerly were the Democrats most dependable voters.

The thesis of the Thomas Frank book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? has become gospel for Democrats — that working-class voters in the heartland are misled into voting against their economic interests by supporting Republicans. That argument needs an overhaul now that it is clear that Democrats think there’s nothing the matter with Kansas, or anywhere else, that can’t be solved by more wage-competition from a flood of foreign low-skill workers.

"This is the one issue," said Rosemary Jenks of the pro-enforcement group Numbers USA, "where Democrats sell out all their principles." The party, and its allies in the unions, no doubt see potential new voters and members in the influx of Hispanic newcomers. They are also increasingly in the grip of a grievance-based ethnic politics that champions the rights of illegals, and of a post-national "we are the world" ideology that has little use for nationhood and borders.

There is disagreement about how much the wages of native low-skill workers are depressed by cheap immigrant labor, but it is common sense that as the supply of cheap labor increases, its price declines. Some notable liberal writers — unconcerned with cynical electoral calculations — still view immigration through this prism. Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, and Michael Lind have all noted on the New York Times op-ed page the economic senselessness of bringing more low-skill labor into the country. "The cold reality," Kristof writes, "is that admitting poor immigrants often means hurting poor Americans."

There was a time when liberals writing such things wouldn’t have stood out. The great labor leader Samuel Gompers supported a more restrictive immigration policy in the early 20th century to boost the wages of native workers. Liberal icon Cesar Chavez, the organizer of agricultural workers, excoriated illegal immigration. The end of the "bracero" guest-worker program in the mid-1960s led to a one-time increase in the wages of Chavez’s workers by 40 percent.

Democrats now figure that new immigrants can swell the ranks of their voters. Unions make the same kind of calculation, counting on signing up immigrants to make up for dwindling native membership. As Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies said, "American workers turned their backs on unions, and now unions have turned their backs on them." Even if the AFL-CIO leadership welcomes a massive dose of immigrant labor, its rank and file still knows the economic score. When Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), defended his amnesty plan at a meeting of the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, he was roundly booed.

Lowry and Podhoretz (the latter with displeasure) believe that Republicans can take advantage of the discontent among traditional Democrats and the rising nervousness and anger of average Americans watching their cities overrun by law-breaking foreigners. But with a GOP establishment deeply in thrall to the big-business forces who want a steady stream of cheap labor, and with an increasingly disconnected-from-reality Bush administration clinging fanatically to the ludicrous idea that millions of legalized Latinos are going to vote Republican, the chances of the GOP seizing the advantage appear remote.

But the situation may be even worse than it appears. While earlier protests brought out mostly Mexican immigrants, yesterday’s rallies hinted at the long-term consequences of granting any form of amnesty (call it "path to citizenship", "guest worker" or legalization) to Mexicans illegally residing in the US. As Mark Kirkorian observes, opening the door to Mexicans, opens it to everyone else as well.

And a guest-worker program available to all comers would inevitably result in a shift away from Mexican labor toward workers from Asia and the Middle East. Wages in Mexico are already so high, by world standards, that factories are increasingly moving to China. The illegality of the current flow is actually the only advantage Mexico has, because its proximity makes sneaking into the United States easier.

But once foreign workers no longer have to sneak in, and are instead shipped here by labor-recruitment companies, Mexico’s advantage disappears. Cheap airfares and easy communications guarantee that employers will start looking farther afield for workers even cheaper and more compliant that Mexicans.

Mexico’s per capita income, in purchasing-power terms, is nearly $10,000 a year — putting it near the top of the developing world.

Egypt, on the other hand, is home to nearly 80 million people who make less than half the average Mexican. India and Indonesia together have 1.3 billion people with one-third the average Mexican’s income. And Pakistan and Bangladesh together have more than 300 million people with less than one-quarter the average Mexican’s income.

And how much of Iraq’s working-age population would leap at the chance to get out, regardless of the wages offered?

That’s a lot of "willing workers" who will work cheaper than Mexicans.

The inevitable drift toward Asian and Middle Eastern guest-workers would have important security implications. America has been fortunate to have a comparatively small Muslim population that is well-educated, prosperous, ethnically diverse, and geographically dispersed — all factors making radicalism and alienation less likely. But a new foreign-worker scheme could replicate Europe’s experience, by importing large numbers of poor, uneducated, ghettoized Muslim peasants. And there would be little chance of thorough security screening, given the combination of administrative overload in our immigration agencies and intense pressure from employers to rubber-stamp their cheap labor.

If the US cannot easily assimilate people from a nation that has been on our border for centuries, and whose immigrants now live in linguistically and culturally isolated enclaves within the US, how will we assimilate potentially millions of Asians and Middle Easterners – from vastly different cultures - who will come in the wake of any amnesty? What will the presence of large numbers of such immigrants do to American culture, which is already overwhelmed dealing with Latino immigrants? Of course, those pushing for amnesty programs know exactly what will happen to American culture and US sovereignty under these pressures, which is exactly why they are pushing their agenda. Their intentions can be seen in the banners for La Raza, Mecha and Aztlan. They must be astonished by how many American politicians are willing to help them along.

Aside from cultural disintegration, there is the enormous cost associated with legalizing the millions of aliens illegally in the US. Pro-legalization advocates often cite the tax dollars that could be collected from legalized foreigner workers, but as Steve Camarota from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) points out, any tax benefit would be easily overwhelmed by the costs associated with the legalized aliens.

The kicker for me is, if we legalize illegals and they began to pay taxes and use services like legal immigrants with the same level of education, the cost would roughly triple. An unskilled illegal immigrant is costly but an unskilled legal immigrant is a fiscal disaster because, although presumably he is being paid on the books and he pays his taxes like he’s supposed to, he is now eligible for everything, or a lot of things, but he still doesn't make any money.

That’s the problem. The reason immigrants create a fiscal cost is not because they are illegal. They create a fiscal cost because they have very little education and people with very little education don’t pay much in taxes, because they don’t make very much. But they tend to use a lot in services. If we legalize them, it makes the problem much worse.

Think about this: every unskilled worker who’s paid on the books mostly gets our $32 billion Earned Income Tax Credit. That means that every unskilled worker comes with a bill. That’s one of the reasons the costs explode so much if you legalize illegal immigrants. Right now, I estimate that illegals are getting one-tenth of what they are entitled to but if they began to get the EIT fee like legal immigrants, with the same level of education, well, the costs would go up 10 fold. That’s a welfare program a lot of conservatives like, but it’s also one that’s very expensive.

In short, millions of legalized aliens, far from saving government programs like social security, may drive them into insolvency even more quickly than would happen otherwise.

Yesterday’s rallies were a harbinger of the racial politics that will come to dominate the US if immigration is not brought under control. The rallies measure the extent to which the current US government – White House, Congress and state leaders – have failed to serve the interests of the American people. The rallies have angered and frightened many Americans and have radicalized the illegal immigrants. It is rapidly becoming a toxic and volatile situation. If it is not defused, the threat of violence will grow.

American politicians have spoken with disdain of Europe’s poor policy choices regarding Muslim immigrants and their failure to integrate into European culture. This scorn is laughable considering the way in which American policy encourages Latinos to keep their native language and culture, ensuring their failure to fully integrate. If the amnesty advocates get their way, however, America could wind up with a situation even worse than Europe’s – an America balkanized into multiple ethnic groups, each culturally isolated and all hostile to traditional American ideals. It is the same recipe for disaster that the Romans created for themselves in the third and fourth centuries. And the outcome isn’t likely to be any better this time around.