Slouching Toward Damascus

This was a week of some surprises and some perfectly foreseeable consequences of forces which have been in play for some time.

The fiscal cliff talks have gone nowhere, to the surprise of only the most daft who do not realize that the President does not want a pragmatic solution. He's fixated on soaking "the rich", stirring up class hatred and trying to drive a wedge between his opposition forces.

Among the surprises is this: Michigan, long seen as the showplace home of America's industrialized unions, has voted to become a right to work state. Its Governor Rick Snyder said -- despite massive union protests -- he could sign the legislation into law as early as next week, after which labor contracts in that state could no longer provide automatic deduction of union payments from employees regardless of whether or not they'd joined unions.

Another surprise to me this week involves the GM bailout, which turned American property law on its head to pay off the UAW, but may well be reversed. Judge Robert Gerber believes that when he approved the sale agreement he was not informed of a "lock-up agreement" by which, on the eve of entering bankruptcy, the company spun off its liabilities to "old GM" , used the multi-billion dollar bailout to create a new company which now had assets and no liabilities. The suit was brought by the "old GM" trustees against the hedge funds at the heart of the agreement.

Accounts of the hearing indicate Judge Gerber was not happy with the secret deal

He has expressed deep frustration with the company for failing to disclose the deal, leading some to speculate that he may overturn one of President Barack Obama's signature achievements.

"When I approved the sale agreement and entered the sale approval order I mistakenly thought that I was merely saving GM, the supply chain, and about a million jobs. It never once occurred to me, and nobody bothered to disclose, that amongst all of the assigned contracts was this lock-up agreement, if indeed it was assigned at all," Gerber said in July.

"The judge has made it very clear that he is greatly dissatisfied with the process," one analyst told the Washington Free Beacon in October. "He's basically implying that GM hid it from him and that reopening the sale is a possibility."

If Gerber takes that course the company could be forced to return the $30 billion taxpayer bailout that it received through the course of bankruptcy, on top of the new liabilities.[snip]

"The Treasury Department, which oversaw the auto bailout, did not return emails for comment.

The company is taking the possibility of a negative ruling from Gerber very seriously. GM attorneys filed court documents saying that the lawsuit "could create a chaotic situation for GM Canada, spawn new litigation in other forums, and potentially provide a windfall to the noteholders."

The bankruptcy expert said if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on Thursday, Gerber could preside over one of the most historic rulings in bankruptcy court history."This has tremendous implications for future of American business and bankruptcy precedent," he said. "It means more than just GM -- this is the rule of law and how creditors are treated in the United States legal system."

Not surprisingly, given its thorough corruption, rotten education system, high unemployment and feckless handling of the public purse, Detroit, home of the UAW and GM, is now considering bankruptcy.

I proposed last year that the almost emptied out city be remade into a national park named after the Italian Marxist whose views so influenced America's intellectuals to work to hollow out existing civil institutions and dominate them. 

Maybe we should turn Detroit into the first ever urban National Park where people can tour deserted neighborhoods and "feral houses" returning to nature. Detroit's perfectly located along a river and near the Canadian border to make it a lovely spot for summer family vacations. I know feral dog packs now live in the abandoned buildings. Surely wolves and coyotes will follow if they have not already done so. Let's call it [Antonio] Gramsci Park in tribute to those who made it what it is today. 

This year the idea looks even better to me.

If the events in the Middle West are sometimes surprising, those in the Middle East, which grow ever more bloody and chaotic, are not. I never shared the view that these countries could go from backward autocratic states to democracies in the time frame the cheerleaders for the "dignity revolution" imagined. I did not see that it was in our interest to unceremoniously dump Mubarak or aid those who were deposing Gaddafi, both of whom, it seemed to me, were cooperating with us as much as could be expected at the time they were deposed.

I think Americans as a general rule, and this administration in particular, vastly underestimate the preconditions necessary for successful democracy, These are, as Matthew R.J. Brodsky writes

"a vibrant civil society, state institutions, a strong middle class, respect for the rule of law, concepts of individual liberty, and an independent judiciary."

To these factors, I'd add the ability to self-organize and take initiative to accomplish general ends for the betterment of society at large, not just one's family or tribe.

A quick review of the state of matters in the Middle East shows that the Arab Spring, the hope of so many, has been a gigantic flop, a diplomatic Solyndra in which for ill-considered ideological reasons we poured a lot into a cause that was hopeless from the outset.

It began in Tunisian towns. As William Jacobson notes, those in the West who supported the uprising, like Roger Cohen of the New York Times, asserted the phrase "the Arab street" was no longer relevant and hailed the country's multiple advantages as the harbinger of a democratic Arab society:

Tunisia has a lot going for it in this quest: high levels of education, emancipated women encouraged over decades to use birth control, manageable size, and an Islamist movement that Michael Willis, a North Africa expert at St. Antony's College, Oxford, described as "perhaps the mildest and most pragmatic around." Their exiled leader, Rached Ghannouchi, has been multiplying conciliatory statements. A democratic Tunisia can do the Turkish thing. There will, in coming weeks, be agents provocateurs bent on the worst, and the usual Muslim-hating naysayers. Arab democracy is threatening to a host of vested interests and glib clichés.

Today, as Jacobson observes, the country is an Islamist nightmare. It is undemocratic. It no longer has a thriving tourist industry; there is no improved constitution, where once the economy was corrupt, at this point it is simply tanking. What human and women's rights once existed are now in jeopardy. The citizens are worse off than before, they are jobless and angry and out of patience.

In Libya, the attack on our facilities in Benghazi and murder of our ambassador and three other Americans in an event about which our own government has been serially lying, doesn't inspire confidence that the Islamists will fail to take over. This week the New York Times awoke from its dream world long enough to note that some of the weapons we provided to the Libyan rebels have, in fact, fallen into the hands of Al Qaeda.

And then there is Egypt and Syria about which Dan Greenfield at FrontPage paints a grim, but I think accurate, picture:

In Egypt, protests followed by elections were enough to allow the Salafis, a category that includes the Muslim Brotherhood, to take over. That was also true in Tunisia. In Libya, a new American client, the government put up a fight, little realizing that Obama wasn't Putin. Instead of getting American backing, Gaddafi got American bombs, and the Islamist militias, armed and funded by Qatar with Obama's blessing, got Libya. In Benghazi they repaid the help they received from Obama and Stevens by humiliating the former and murdering the latter.

In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood's militias are racing the Al-Qaeda linked militias to the finish line in Damascus, while Western pundits prattle reassuringly about a moderate and secular Syrian opposition, which is as moderate and secular as Egypt's Morsi.

Declining empires want stability without war and they are willing to cut a deal with anyone on the way up who has a large enough army and will promise to keep the peace. It's hard to imagine a more decadent strategy than trying to outsource your defense policy to the least evil of your enemies, but variations on that theme have been the American defense strategy since the Salafi terror attacks of September 11.[snip]

After a decade of trying to divide the Islamist sheep from the Islamist goats, feeding billions to Pakistan to fight terror, extraditing Gitmo terrorists to revolving door rehabilitation programs run by Saudi Arabia, setting up a Palestinian state, making nice to Muslim Brotherhood front groups at home and then setting up the Muslim Brotherhood with a few choice countries of their own in the Middle East; the United States is less secure than ever for trying to appease its way out of the Salafi crusade.

This week Egypt's Morsi was forced out of his palace by crowds infuriated at his effort to geld the judiciary and grant himself and his Islamist backers ever-greater sway over his countrymen. In Syria it appears that Assad's forces may be about to use chemical weapons (apparently shipped him by Saddam Hussein as Iraq was being invaded) against his own people. He's been forced out of the capital. Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor and Obama campaign bundler who did so much to soften Assad's image, is reputedly in line to be nominated for an ambassadorship. Presumably not to Syria.