Author Archives: Henry Srebrnik

Henry Srebrnik: Conservative Republican Barry Goldwater Lost the Presidential Election in 1964

The march of conservative Republicans to the White House, which culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, began fifty years ago this summer.

Barry Goldwater, the U.S. senator from Arizona, was nominated by the Republican Party as its presidential candidate in July 1964. He faced Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who had become president after John Kennedy’s assassination a year earlier.

Goldwater rose to prominence in conservative circles with the 1960 publication of his book The Conscience of a Conservative. It explored the perils of power, states’ rights, civil rights, taxes and spending, and the welfare state.

But this was the era of liberal activism, and Johnson’s social reforms, collectively known as the “Great Society,” were designed to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period.

A number of eastern establishment moderate Republicans tried to stop Goldwater in 1964, but to no avail. He did gain the backing of then Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, who gave a well-received televised speech supporting Goldwater.

Already targeted by Johnson as a dangerous right-wing radical, Goldwater responded with this famous retort at the convention: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Most famous of Johnson’s attempts to scare the electorate into rejecting Goldwater was the so-called “Daisy Girl” television ad, which featured a little girl picking petals from a daisy in a field, counting the petals; it then segued into a launch countdown and a nuclear explosion.

Goldwater lost to Johnson in a landslide, winning only five southern states along with his home state of Arizona. But Goldwater’s disastrous campaign planted to seeds for an eventual conservative takeover of the Republican Party. Two years later, Ronald Reagan won election as governor of California.

In 1976 he was narrowly defeated in his bid for the Republican nomination for president by Gerald Ford, who went on to lose the Jimmy Carter. However, Reagan succeeded four years later, and then bested Carter in the 1980 presidential election. The rest is history.

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Henry Srebrnik: Can Rand Paul win the White House?

Study after study has demonstrated that, when it comes to foreign policy, there is a wide gap between American elite decision-makers and the wider public. While America’s leaders are internationalists, most Americans are more concerned with domestic matters, including their own economic welfare and security.

Will this lead to a new wave of isolationism, a recurring theme in U.S. politics?

The Republican Party was historically isolationist, but the Cold War saw a sea change in Republican attitudes, and they became committed to a world-wide system of alliances.

Even so, it was Republican Dwight Eisenhower who ended the Korean War after his election in 1952, and it was Richard Nixon who slowly wound down the Vietnam War.

All of this changed with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Europe.

The 1991 Gulf War saw Washington engage in warfare in Iraq, followed by Bill Clinton’s wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. But George Bush’s wars after 2001 have led to war-weariness.

Barack Obama won election against John McCain in 2008 as the “anti-Bush,” but his own foreign policy is totally incoherent. The civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the disputes between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and the Palestinians, are headaches he wishes would go away.

So what now? If we assume that Hillary Clinton gains her party’s nomination, where does that leave those Democrats who seek a less aggressive foreign policy? Unlike Obama, she’s more of a foreign policy “hawk” than he is.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, is in the midst of a real period of soul-searching. It still has voices who call for a more robust military policy abroad, but it also now contains many who feel America has over-stretched itself and faces huge problems at home.

So the long-dormant isolationist wing of the party may be reviving, and coalescing around the improbable candidacy of libertarian Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Paul has long been wary of foreign intervention and also has spoken out against foreign aid programs. He has recommended that Washington shouldn’t take sides in Iraq’s civil war.

Paul would face long odds, including opposition from the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned Americans about as he left office. Still, stranger things have happened.

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Henry Srebrnik: The Gaza War is Taking its Toll on Israel

Israel’s “Iron Dome” defensive system has proved remarkably efficient in destroying missiles and rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza – though one rocket that landed near Ben Gurion International Airport did manage to stop much airplane travel to the country for a few days. But this is no casualty-free fight, despite overwhelming Israeli military superiority.

Given that the Palestinian death toll in Gaza in this war between Hamas and Israel has now topped 1,100, the Israeli deaths, at the moment numbering 56, may not sound like much. But we should put that number in context:

Israel’s population stands at about eight million, of which 6,135,000 are Jewish. Assuming all 56 deaths are Jews (as Israeli Arabs do not serve in the military), as a percentage of the population this is the equivalent of about 2,800 American fatalities in a population of 314 million.

In other words, Israel has proportionately lost more people in this three-week conflict than the U.S. has suffered in thirteen years in Afghanistan – where a total of some 2,300 Americans have died. That gives us some perspective as to why Israel wants to stop further Hamas attacks.

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Henry Srebrnik: Why does the West blame Russia for the Civil War in Ukraine?

On July 21, an editorial in the Washington Post carried the headline “The West needs a strategy to contain the world’s newest rogue stateRussia.” Calling Moscow’s policies regarding Ukraine “barbaric,” it asserted that Vladimir Putin now heads a “dangerous outlaw regime that needs to be contained.”Two days earlier, an article in England’s Daily Telegraph by John Kampfner called Putin a “pariah” who “must now be treated as such.”

This all came after the disastrous downing of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, presumably by so-called pro-Russian “rebels” or “separatists.” But such rhetoric is truly alarming, the tropes reminiscent of anti-Soviet statements at the height of the Cold War. Is Russia now to be consigned to a new “axis of evil,” in the company of regimes such as the one in North Korea?

The Russians are being accused of presenting propaganda to justify their actions, but we’re not getting the whole story.

The Ukrainians are bombing civilians in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kramatorsk, and Slovyansk. There are probably several hundred thousand refugees that have left these cities. So the airplanes the “rebels” have been shooting down are Ukraine’s military warplanes that have come to bomb the women and children of these cities. Hence the Malaysian Airlines disaster.

In 1999, an American-led alliance bombed Serbia for 78 straight days, in order to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, to topple Saddam Hussein, accused of harboring “weapons of mass destruction.” These countries were thousands of miles from American shores, nor were any Americans there in danger.

I don’t recall any American newspapers calling the U.S. a rogue state.
Eastern Ukraine, on the other hand, borders Russia, and has a substantial population of ethnic Russians who fear the new nationalistic regime in Ukraine. And they have reason to do so.

The Russians must rue the day when they allowed NATO to move eastwards after the collapse of the Soviet Union, incorporating not just former Warsaw Pact countries but even the Baltic states, formerly part of the USSR itself.

While the Ukrainian military shells towns and drops bombs in eastern Ukraine, the West holds Putin responsible for the carnage. Double standards anyone?

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Henry Srebrnik: The 2003 Iraq War Was Welcomed by Many

For decades I have kept newspaper clippings on virtually every country in the world. This week I was thinning out my Iraq files. Eleven years after the American invasion, many read like fantasy and wishful thinking.

As early as Dec. 28, 2001, the National Post printed an article by Rich Lowry, “The Liberal Case for Attacking Iraq.” He provided six reasons: Saddam Hussein was flouting numerous UN resolutions (including the calls to destroy his “weapons of mass destruction”); women had little freedom in Iraq; 500,000 children had died since 1991 due to UN sanctions, so the “truly humanitarian position” was to overthrow Saddam; it was also necessary for effective arms control, would allow Muslims to practice their religion in peace; and allow for proper nation-building.

On Aug. 15, 2002, TV personality Ezra Levant, in another National Post column, “Why Canada Should Declare War,” chided “our pusillanimous European allies” as a bunch of fearful pacifist appeasers.

As war loomed, the National Post’s Andrew Coyne on March 7, 2003, in “12 Arguments Against the War; Rebutted,” did Lowry six better. It would not be a unilateral American action since “more than 30 countries” had declared their support. It met the standards of international law, since Saddam had failed to comply with at least 17 UN Security Council resolutions, and Iraq had “massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.”

Four days later in the National Post, University of Toronto political science professor Clifford Orwin made the case for a pre-emptive war. In “America is Justified in Striking First,” he suggested that the “military aspect of the war on terror does not lend itself to other means.” And the continued oppression of the Iraqi people would end with “their liberation at the hands of the Americans.”

National Post journalist George Jonas, in his March 12, 2003 commentary “Why This Kosovo Dove Became an Iraq Hawk,” also pointed to Iraq’s many violations of UN resolutions.
As the war was winding down, Washington Post correspondent Antony Shadid filed an article on April 10, 2003, “Hussein’s Baghdad Falls,” in which he wrote of residents pouring into the streets “to celebrate the government’s defeat and welcome the U.S. forces in scenes of thanks and jubilation.”

How did so many get it so wrong?

The Hustings