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Monday, October 29, 2012

Hot and Cold Civil Wars

Mr. Andrew Sullivan has declared “a Cold Civil War” in America. He makes a persuasive case that the battle lines of this red versus blue war approximate the ones of the original Civil War. It is worth pointing out that the Cold War has also been described as a global civil war that few could escape. How new or unique is Mr. Sullivan’s war? America has always hosted a Kulturkampf of varying character and dimensions; there has never been a single American worldview; and its adversarial, almost Manichean, tradition is second to none. Its ideological map has always resembled its geographic one: the line of the frontier; with us or against us; New versus Old; slave versus free; cowboys versus Indians; and so on. The protagonists almost always proclaim themselves to be under existential threat from the antagonists; the country is never big enough for both of them. Still, the country and its constitution have survived.

So, Talleyrand thinks it’s too soon to tell whether this latest battle is another skirmish or a real war. His mind is attracted to other parallels: the invasion of Baghdad in 2003 bore no better resemblance than to the capture of Mexico City in 1847: from the slipshod planning to the extended supply lines during the initial march to the capital, to the sheer luck of the thing. A campaign of “regime change” resulted in occupation and conquest. U.S. Grant, who saw his first real combat in the Mexican War, later said that the U.S. Civil War was God’s punishment for that earlier adventure, one he regarded as unnecessary and immoral. Many people have suggested that a reckoning has yet to come for Iraq. Perhaps there are more Civil Wars in store…

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Playing with Fire

David Cameron is an interesting figure. He seems trying most of the time to be a posh John Major: a decent, ordinary bloke doing his best for his country. At other times—during his duo act with Nicolas Sarkozy over Libya, for example—he does his best Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair: possessed, hectoring, moralistic and transparently hypocritical in the best British sense.

What is he up to now? He’s supported a referendum on Scottish independence and on membership in the European Union. Is there also a David Lloyd George or Stanley Baldwin tucked inside that soft shell of a home counties politician? Does he have a secret, devious plan to rig these votes? Is he that much more ruthless than he looks? Or will he go down as the prime minister who shrank the size and influence of the UK to their smallest since the 18th century? Talleyrand is sympathetic with the small-is-beautiful conservative instinct. But are the British people? It appears that some of them will have their say.

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