Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves




Well after a wild and well-spent weekend, both my kids are home sick.

I’d promised my little girl that Saturday we could go to Thermopolis, Wyoming. Thermopolis as the name suggests, is a town built around natural hot springs. My children’s favorite park has water slides and large pools filled with warm mineral water.

Next day they wanted to go swimming at the local rec center. So a great time was had by all.

Monday morning they’re vomiting, coughing and complaining of headaches. I keep them home from school. The girl installs herself in front of the television, big brother retires to bed with his computer.

How nice to know he’ll have a profession he can practice if he’s ever disabled (said Daddy, voice dripping sarcasm).

These days I’m working out of home so I don’t have to worry about checking up on them constantly.

On the other hand my writing schedule is shot and in the midst of running to the store for ginger ale (settles the stomach) and cucumbers (for my daughter the picky eater) their mother emails with links to articles about a new and ominous enterovirus that’s going around.

“Going around” these days means a total of about a thousand kids over a ten-state area have contracted it, a handful seriously. This is not what I’d call a pandemic but it’s enough for a journalist to view with alarm.

So I’m late with my column, have just made my second trip to the grocery store in 30 minutes and have just noticed that suspicious feeling of stuffiness in the sinuses on one side of my face.

Well here I am, about to spend another not very productive day out of the six months I’ve rationed myself for writing projects and looking up statistics about guys in the same boat.

The first thing I found out was, I was wrong about how many of “us” there are. By “us” I mean single fathers. I had thought 17 percent of single-parent households were headed by single dads.

Nope. According to Pew Research Center, a source I trust because they often come up with results they don’t like, of single-parent households 24 percent are headed by dads.

Out of all households with minor children, single dads head eight percent as of 2011, up from one percent in 1960.

In raw numbers that’s about 2.6 million, up from 300,000 in 1960.

During that same period single-mother households increased from 1.9 million in 1960, to 8.6 million in 2011.

Pew said, “Single fathers are more likely than single mothers to be living with a cohabiting partner (41% versus 16%). Single fathers, on average, have higher incomes than single mothers and are far less likely to be living at or below the poverty line—24% versus 43%. Single fathers are also somewhat less educated than single mothers, older and more likely to be white.”

Well let’s see. Living with a cohabiting partner – no, and it ain’t gonna happen. Any lady I bring home will be thoroughly vetted. Till then there’s a fire wall between my kids and anyone I may date. Any day now. Line forms to the right.

Oh, and did I mention dates have to end early enough for me to tuck my kids in? No coming home at 1 p.m.

Income and poverty line?

Well since I’m currently working at home on a highly speculative literary venture I have no income, so poverty line.

Pfaugh! We don’t act poor or feel poor. Sometimes we’re broke though.

Education? Masters degree.

Older? Check. I could be their grandfather. A fact they tease me about often.

White? Well yes, unless you go by the “one known drop” rule.

So what else do we know about single-dad households?

Virtually nothing.

We know the effects of single-mother headed households. A generation of young men more prone to failure in school and in life in every significant metric: education, prison, drug use, divorce, etc.

This is NOT to denigrate the huge number of single moms doing a great job under difficult circumstances. I know many of them, and as an honorary single mom have been part of their support circles/child care collectives. But there’s not a one of them who wouldn’t tell you they wish it were different.

But single dads are flying blind. As best I can tell there is little to no research as to parenting outcomes. Perhaps because up to recently there hasn’t been a large enough sample size.
How wonderful! My kids and I are participating in cutting-edge research.

Pfffffffffffff! (Bronx cheer.)

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Well we lost another one. Journalist Steven Sotloff was beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) early this week, two weeks after fellow-freelancer James Foley was decapitated by the same unlovely bunch.

I frankly don’t know how I feel about this right now. It could be that I’ve been enjoying life on the road with my kids so much I’ve been mostly ignoring the news. It could be that getting the kids into school and taking care of all those details I’ve left for the last minute is so consuming it leaves little energy to pay attention.

And it could be that I’m still numb.

In 2005 I was studying journalism at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at Oklahoma University on a fellowship. I’d gotten into journalism quite by accident while I was working as an English teacher in Poland.

I started out writing “adverticals,” i.e. advertising thinly disguised as articles for The Airport Magazine, a bilingual publication for tourists. As a bennie they’d publish articles I was proud of about the history and culture of the country.

I also contributed articles about the events in that exciting time for “journals of much passion and small circulation,” in Prince Kropotkin’s elegant phrase.

After writing stories such as an interview with the widow of a murdered dissident in Belarus, and covering the election that brought down the Milosevic regime in Serbia from the streets of Belgrade I thought, “I’ve got to get back to the States, get some formal training and turn pro.”

So there I was, getting that training and exercising my bragging rights back in my old university.

It was there that I made the email acquaintance of Steven Vincent.

Vincent was an art critic of all things, until the day he saw the twin towers go down on 9/11.

He was a supporter of the Iraq War, but felt obligated to go and see for himself. He self-funded and went as a freelance journalist to Basra, Iraq, reporting for The Christian Science Monitor, National Review, Mother Jones, Reason, Front Page and American Enterprise, and others.

I contacted him via email and described a project I had started with friends, to organize English-teaching summer camps using the best writings in the English language to explain the principles of political liberty and free markets. That project, The Language of Liberty Institute, is still ongoing in the capable hands of my friend Glenn Cripe.

I thought we could get Vincent to come to one of our camps in Eastern Europe, and maybe he might share our dream of a camp in Iraq someday.

We were never more than correspondents, but I really looked forward to the day I could meet and become friends with this man I admired so much.

Then a day after our last email exchange I got up in the morning, switched on CNN, and read on the news feed that Vincent had been murdered in Basra.

It was like waking up from a pleasant dream to find a nightmare crouched at the foot of your bed.

Ever since then I’ve thought, I should have warned him.

I’ve traveled and worked in some dicey places. But unlike Vincent, Foley and Sotloff I generally go where I don’t look different from the locals at first glance. I usually blend in fairly well if I keep my mouth shut, and in a couple of instances I could just start speaking Polish and let people assume what they will.

What happens to you in these appalling countries where ordinary people are trying to hang on to some semblance of a normal life amidst the horror, is you come to love and respect them – and you feel you have to share their danger or no longer call yourself a man.

What you forget is that these people have a lot more experience dealing with that $#!+ than you do. And that can make you hesitate when it’s time to cut and run.

Vincent, Foley and Sotloff were freelancers, the kind we need these days when the profession of foreign correspondent has almost disappeared, and let’s face it the major corporate news organizations are corrupt and lazy.

They will be hard to replace after this.

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Buy your kids experiences, not things

We’re coming to the end of a longish road trip from Wyoming to Oklahoma and back, and what a trip it’s been.

We spend nights on the road in our tent, though last night we splurged on a cabin at KOA in Limon, Colorado. It’s still half the price of an inexpensive motel.

Since the kids are going to school shortly after we get back (Boo!) we took our time, didn’t try to cover too much ground in a day and stopped at a lot of places that looked interesting.

Yesterday we stopped at a family-run petting zoo sort of thing. We saw two live five and six-legged cows, lots of prairie dogs, goats, pigs – and a cage full of rattlesnakes.

Of course my kids wanted to spend my money on lots of things.

“Nope,” I said.

Well not entirely. I don’t stint on reading material and I have given in to requests to supplement their allowances to buy a few keepsakes. But most pleas I deny, to teach them discipline, that there is not an infinite supply of things they can have.

But what I don’t stint on is experiences. Things like that petting zoo, or a zipline ride, or tickets to the Children’s Museum in Seminole and Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma where their great-grandparents lived.

As I write this my kids are outside trying out some reclining tricycles the campground has for rent.

What I am buying them is memories. Things that will last longer than any thing I might buy them. Longer than I will last in truth.

Perhaps someday they’ll have some little thing they treasure, something they’ll tell their children Daddy bought them. But things get lost or broken, these memories they’ll keep. And they’ll know how to do the same for their children.

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It’s a riot!

“Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!”
- The Riot Act, in force August, 1715

It seems like old times to this child of the ‘60s. Ferguson, Missouri, population 21,000 is burning. A curfew has been declared and as of this writing the Missouri National Guard has been called out to do the job a highly militarized police force, and the Missouri State Police couldn’t handle.

The immediate cause was the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a city police officer. Circumstances are still under investigation but a depressing series of revelations all seem to point in the general direction of exonerating the officer.

Would it were otherwise! Why oh why can’t he be a sadistic psycho bigot who somehow slipped through the screening process? Then we could arrest him and after a decent interval and the motions of a trial have him hanged, drawn and quartered in the city square.

If in fact it turns out the officer was assaulted by a huge man with a long rap sheet for offenses including theft and assault with grievous bodily injury then the officer will be exonerated. After which he’ll be hounded to his death with further trials for violating the civil rights of the deceased and endless wrongful death lawsuits. That is if he’s not murdered in his home whose location the media conveniently found and reported.

And of course, following the verdict there’ll be more riots.

In the course of the riots police will stand by while the businesses that make Ferguson an even marginally viable community are looted and destroyed.

Unless more business owners stand at the entrance to their property with guns and say, “Not here you don’t.”

And what if one of them has to shoot, and yet another “good boy who’d been in some trouble but was turning his life around” gets killed?

Al Sharpton may just have to move to Ferguson.

The fact is, the riot could have been stopped on day one. Draw up a line of armed men in the street where the mob is assembled and “read them the Riot Act,” i.e. command them in no uncertain terms to disperse, give them a stated time to do so, then back up the threat with deadly force.

Follow up by arresting the Revs. Sharpton, Jackson and New Black Panther Minister-of-Whatever and charge them with inciting to riot.

Of course we can’t do that.

The brutal reality is it would be career suicide, and very possibly real suicide for anyone who gave such an order. And perhaps this is a good thing. With all the surplus military equipment being handed out like party favors to local police forces this might start to look like the easy option whenever a crowd got out of hand.

What can we do? Isn’t there some way to address those fabled “root causes” of riots?

Here’s the root cause we’re all too polite to talk about. Rioting, looting and destroying property are fun.

Does any other explanation make sense? Does destroying the source of jobs and livelihood do anything to address poverty, unemployment and injustice?

What they’ll do is try to contain the damage as much as is possible with the tepid levels of force they can use and wait until the mob has had all the fun it can stand, for now.

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Old Buildings

I spent July 4 on the road this year. I had some business to attend to out of state on the 5th so I decided to take off early and spend a few days covering a few hundred miles at a leisurely pace and take the time to see some of small town America.

I packed my tent, cot, sleeping bag and of course my laptop and Kindle. That’s my notion of “glamping” (“glamour camping”), almost any campground is going to be about a fourth or a fifth the price of the cheapest motel.

As I drove down the Interstate I’d see small towns with populations measured in the low hundreds, some only barely within eyeshot of the highway. When the mood struck me (often) I’d pull off and drive through the town, note the houses and businesses and wonder why people lived here and what they did for a living.

In this part of the country many small towns are all about serving the needs of the surrounding farms whose business keeps small grocery stores, equipment dealerships and fix-it places alive.

I stopped in Medora, North Dakota, to check out the summer residence/hunting lodge built by the Marquis de Mores to run a failed cattle business from. (Hint: Monsieur Marquis, if you’re going to run a cattle business out west you need to be here more than three months a year and dispense with the lavish lifestyle while the business is starting up.)

A little further east I diverted down “The Enchanted Highway,” 32 miles of two-lane blacktop festooned with eight of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures. It’s a work in progress developed by local artist Garry Greff starting in 1989.

The so-called highway ends in a town with a population of less than 200.

Some of the towns were quite forgettable. Some were quite charming. At least one looked like a piece of hell. There’s something about a very wide main street in the hot glaring sunlight gives that impression.

As I toured I reflected on what makes a small town livable. What makes it a place people what to come back to and raise their children after they’ve sampled the bright lights and big city?

Some reasons are intangible. Motivated people who get together with other people to organize and run things: a community center, a baseball team, a park committee, a local museum or library.

A town needs these kind of people, and they need projects to occupy their time or they tend to become awful busybodies.

In this day and age, some reasons are technological. Cable/satellite TV, video rentals and lately streaming video give people access to movies and entertainment that used to be available only in larger population centers.

On the one hand this keeps people in small towns from feeling out of touch with popular culture. On the other hand it tends to be solitary entertainment, not a community activity.

But there’s something I’ve noticed about towns I drive through that makes me think, “I could live here.” They have trees, a center and old buildings.

Tree-lined streets give shade in the hot summers and mute the effect of harsh sunlight on houses that highlights the imperfections and age-spots. Moreover old trees show that people have lived here a while, and all that while they’ve taken care of those trees.

A center is usually pointed out with signs that say, “Business district.” Even better is when they say, “Historic business district.” That usually means the businesses will be housed in brick buildings that are connected down the length of each block. Here is where the cafes where people gather for coffee and conversation are.

Nothing says “built to last” like brick. Even if the building has to be gutted, with minimal care the shell will last centuries. And there’s something about being able to stroll down a row of businesses without having to pass an alley entrance.

Outside of the business district, old houses. In the decades bracketing 1900 people came to the rural west and built beautiful Victorian homes with turrets, porches and fancy woodwork trim.

Sometimes you find houses like that preserved by the local historical societies. It’s better still if they have owners who live in and care for them.

In the larger small towns with small colleges the last stage of a big house’s life is when the owner turns it into student apartments. After which you might as well burn it down. I just moved from a town that lost three of its oldest, most elegant houses that way. Touring the ruin while workmen salvaged what they could of the antique fixtures

I could see they used to be beautiful. And I wonder, can’t we build like that anymore?

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Taking chances

“He either fears his fate too much, or his deserts are small, who dares not put it to the touch, to win or lose it all.”
- James Graham, Earl of Montrose

Recently I made one of those decisions.

Yes, one of those decisions. One that feels so right, except for the odd times when something shouts in your ear, “Are you blankety-blank crazy?”

A few things happened first. One was a friend died. Not an extremely close friend, but a dear lady who graciously took care of my children when I was a new single parent and trying to get our lives together.

She did it for a ridiculously low price while I worked during that first summer. Loved my kids and they loved her.

She had just seen her first married daughter present her with her first grandchild. Though she wasn’t very old, she died of congestive heart failure.

This reminded me that all flesh is grass, and we do not in fact have enough time to accomplish everything we want to.

While reflecting on this I realized something that had been bothering me about an old friend I’ve known… a very long time.

My friend, to put it mildly, is a pill.

Everything and anything in the news is evidence of what a thoroughly awful country we live in, how everything in the world is our fault and always has been.

He calls himself a libertarian, but in fact he’s a right-wing progressive. Since he believes we could achieve Utopia, anything less is not worth having.

His negativity is intensely irritating. My guess is he’s unhappy with what he’s accomplished in life and blaming it on the world.

I don’t want to be like him. So I’m quitting my job and taking six months off to write a book I’ve been talking about for a decade.

It’s not totally half-baked. I’ve had a working outline for a while, and the main points have been written up and published in various places.

My job as I see it, it to reorganize it and write it up in a more readable form. Looking back, I see that my writing has improved over the past ten years.
I also see there has never been a better time to get it done.

The working title is, “The Progressive Mind: Reflections on the Suicide of a Civilization.”

The theme is that in America in particular, and Western Civilization in general, the most affluent and privileged classes absolutely loathe the civilization that made them arguably the most fortunate people in all of human history.

This sounds seriously crazy, but I believe I know why, and I believe I can explain it.

I’m giving myself six months to write it before I have to return to regular work. I have the resources to live on, and beyond.

My children won’t suffer because of Daddy’s eccentric quest, quite the contrary. I’m going to set up a work schedule for the school year: take kids to school, write for three hours, exercise for health maintenance.

After school time and weekends are for my children, because that’s the other thing about being mortal.

I’ll also devote more attention to my neglected blog and continue to write columns and take the occasional freelance assignment.

Then we shall see if my “battle plan” survives contact with the enemy: sloth, procrastination and self-doubt.

With the responsibility of two children I can’t undertake adventures like I could when I was young, pack a bag and go.

But I can I hope, set them an example they’ll remember when I’m gone.

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Remembering the Eagle

“Here Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind.” – Plaque on the Apollo 11 landing module left on the moon.

On this day in 1969, the late Neil Armstrong made history by taking “one small step” onto the surface of the moon.

The first words Armstrong spoke upon landing were actually the terse, “Tranquility Base here. the Eagle has landed.”

When the time came to utter the words Armstrong knew would resonate through history forever, he muffed his line, leaving out one crucial word.

“It’s one small step for Man, a giant leap for mankind,” should have been, “one small step for a man.”

Or perhaps the line was garbled in the spotty transmission. Armstrong himself said cryptically, “We’ll never know.”

And though it is claimed Armstrong decided on his line in the six-and-a-half hours between touchdown and exiting the craft, the suspicion naturally arose that the line was scripted when an Air Force choir came up with a hymn using the line with suspicious rapidity.

Point being, very seldom do men know with absolute certainty they are making history at any given moment. Often the history-maker’s famous lines are scripted for them after the fact by helpful biographers with the advantage of hindsight.

Armstrong knew the step he took represented the first step in an endless journey the human race was only beginning. He knew he carried the hopes and fears of an army of scientists, technicians, and engineers who built the craft they would never embark on.

And the hopes and dreams of a nation as well.

I watched the moon landing with two of my closest friends. We had just graduated from high school and were about to go our separate ways. I think our conversation was puerile and more than a little stupid. Because we were touched by awe, and like adolescent boys covered it up with idiot bravado.

But we knew what Armstrong was doing, because we were like him in one crucial way. We three boys with no accomplishments yet to our name, and the former Navy pilot, Korean War veteran, engineer, and astronaut who had already made less dramatic history by performing the first spacecraft docking maneuver, were alike in one way. We read science fiction. We knew what Armstrong was doing changed the history of the human race forever. We knew what he was doing might ensure there would be a human race into the far future, perhaps forever.

Robert A. Heinlein science fiction author and guest commentator for Walter Cronkite during the Apollo 11 landing, once said, “Earth is too fragile a basket for the human race to hold all its eggs in.”

His colleague and friend Sir Arthur C. Clarke observed, “If man survives for as long as the least successful of the dinosaurs—those creatures whom we often deride as nature’s failures—then we may be certain of this: for all but a vanishingly brief instant near the dawn of history, the word ‘ship’ will mean— ‘spaceship.’”

Armstrong took that first step for mankind, and generations yet unborn will follow him, and remember.

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On the Border

We appear to have a problem on our southern border.

Huge numbers of children are showing up unescorted, and rather than seeking to evade Las Migras (Border Patrol) they are seeking them out and surrendering. They are then taken to holding facilities where though crowded, they’re at least getting three hots and a cot.

Among those “children” are an unknown though certainly significant number of teens who appear to have gang tattoos.

It’s hard to tell how many because the press has been denied access to the detention centers. This is the kind of thing the press likes to rise up in righteous wrath against but so far the silence has been deafening.

In a town called Murrietta, California, attempts to relocate some of these detainees in Border Patrol facilities were met by demonstrators who have forced buses to turn back. For now.

The actions of the citizens of Murrietta have been decried by all generous and right–thinking people who live near the border.

The Canadian border that is.

What seems to have happened is that word has reached the southern parts of our hemisphere that the U.S. is no longer enforcing border controls.

Furthermore the hordes of hopefuls seem to have gotten the impression from somewhere that the U.S. has a very generous social welfare system they are perfectly welcome to partake of.

I wonder where they got that idea?

The results are about what you’d expect when your rich uncle invites all his poor relatives to move in, stay as long as they like and help themselves to whatever is in the fridge.

It’s not like they’re entirely unwanted. Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks they’re so adorable she wants to take them all home. Where they can work in her Napa Valley vineyard and look forward to becoming citizens and registered Democrats.

But there are plenty of Republicans ready with offers of low-wage labor and a piece of the American dream.

What to do? What to do?

I have a question. I have lost count of how many times I have asked this question.

Does anybody else see how seriously weird it is we’re even having this debate?

Every country in the world, with us as the only exception, regards their right to control their border as a given. Not even up for discussion!

It’s pretty much what defines a country. A line, your laws on your side, our laws on our side.

And yet there is serious opposition to the idea that we have a right to control our territory, to admit or exclude who we chose.

In the past the criteria we declared and enforced were often mean-spirited and racist. But the general idea was, were you willing to become an American, to assimilate, learn the national language, the history, the laws?

I have friends from Europe and Asia who are of the first American-born generation of their families, who quite unself-consciously speak of “our Revolution” and “our Civil War.”

And of course they are quite right. Being American, almost unique among the nations of the world, is not a matter of birth but a relationship with a philosophy of liberty and self-government.

I have helped defecting Chinese find their way to a new life in America. I’ve helped Iranian refugees get legalized. I worked with Mexican kids who came out of the shadows during the Reagan amnesty.

I’ve also lived in a country, former Yugoslavia, which tore itself apart over ethnic and linguistic divisions I couldn’t even see. I lived in the Baltic States where the citizens were terrified by the presence of large Russian minorities settled there when they were under the Soviet occupation.

My children’s mother is an immigrant.

So you could say I’ve seen the best and the worst of immigration. Will you then take my word that everything I’ve seen of this crisis looks bad, and in the long run possibly fatal for our country and all we’ve achieved?

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The went and did it

Well, they went and did it.

The Red Mesa High School on the Navajo Reservation in Red Mesa, Arizona, a public school with a student body nearly 100 percent Navajo Indian was forced to change their team’s name.

Their name is “The Redskins.”

Nah, just kidding.

What really happened was the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, acting on orders from On High cancelled six trademarks owned by the Washington Redskins after deeming them offensive.

Note this likely doesn’t affect the football team in any meaningful way. It’s their trademark registration that got cancelled. Trademark registration makes life easier in some ways but there is still a recognized association in common law with the team and their name and logo. The owner can still sue anyone who infringes them with every expectation of winning.

The issue of Indian sports team names has been building for some time now. The only problem is, nobody really took it very seriously before.

I think most people, like myself, just said, “OK, I don’t think it was meant to be offensive but if I’m wrong and you find it so, then let’s change it. It’s just a football team.”

And how do we know if most Indian people find it offensive?

Well that could be a problem. You see, saying “Indian” is like saying “European.” It covers a lot of languages and cultures as different from each other as Scotsmen are from Albanians.

We could ask the various tribal governments to conduct opinion polls. In my youth in Oklahoma that was done over the issue of “Little Red” the traditional Indian dancer who performed at Oklahoma University football games way back when.

The polls appeared to show the majority of Indian people in the state were rather proud of the association, but enough people made a fuss about it that it was deemed not worth the trouble and the institution was abolished.

Incidentally it broke the heart of the young man chosen to be Little Red that year who’d dreamed of it all his life, but he was doubtless suffering from “false consciousness.”

I don’t know what polling Indian people would show these days, if opinions have changed or if they differ from tribe to tribe.

My attitude has been it’s not worth the trouble. Change the names if it bothers you, and if other Indian people disagree, sort it out amongst yourselves.

Maybe it’s one of those things like the N-word, OK for the in-group, not OK for the out-group.

Then the government had to get involved. And make no mistake, it won’t stop at the Patent and Trademark Office. What certain opportunistic white folks on the hard left are after is to cripple the First Amendment protections of free speech.

What this decision does is force free speech advocates to defend something that looks either silly or offensive. And yes it must be defended, assaults on liberty almost always start with issues most people find trivial, or downright distasteful.

I’m old enough to remember when assaults on free speech came mostly from the right, and usually concerned pornography.

So defend this we must, but we’d better realize we’ve been backed into a corner on this particular free speech issue.

Well played lefties, well played.

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A world without America

As I write this Russian tanks have reportedly crossed into Ukraine, and an unlovely group called The Islamic Republic of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is advancing towards Baghdad shooting and decapitating prisoners and posting pictures of their handiwork on social media.

The American Embassy in Baghdad is preparing for their Vietnam 1975 moment.

In Afghanistan the Taliban are waiting on the announced withdrawal of all but a symbolic number of American forces next year.

I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but it seems to me the most likely outcome over the next year or two is: Russia seizes a big chunk of eastern Ukraine, Iraq breaks up in civil war, and the Taliban takes Afghanistan.

The good news is, a lot of people in America and abroad are getting what they want, an America that stays home and minds its own business.

An old saying about being careful what you wish for comes to mind.

Democrats are blaming George Bush. “If he hadn’t lied us into Iraq this wouldn’t be happening.”

No it wouldn’t, and Iraq would still be ruled by a murderous psychopath and his loathsome sons.

I’m not being sarcastic here (or maybe just a little), there are thoughtful arguments made by people like military strategist Edward Luttwak that in the long run it’s best to let local civil wars burn themselves out.

Republicans are blaming Barrack Obama for allowing another debacle like, well like Vietnam 1975.

Obama does seem eerily disconnected from what happens outside the U.S. but this is not entirely fair either.

The fact is, the whole country is sick of foreign semi-wars that seem to accomplish nothing.

And not just on the left either, there are substantial factions on the right that heartily wish the rest of the world would go hang.

In Europe any number of harsh critics of American foreign policy will damn us whichever way it breaks.

If we re-intervene in Iraq we will be condemned for American imperialism. If we don’t, we will be blamed for the chaos and casualties.

When Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, countries which have contributed troops will wonder why they ever backed us to begin with.

As for Ukraine, there is pretty much nothing we can do but we’ll be blamed anyway.

But there is something that should be noted about this. Years of living in Europe convinced me that the Europeans don’t want America to totally renounce military interventions, they want us to intervene in ways they approve of.

A good friend of mine in Lithuania for example, thinks America’s invasion of Iraq was Stalinism pure and simple. And if you know how Stalin treated Lithuania, that’s not an idle criticism.

I don’t think he’ll mind an American intervention when Russia tries to reabsorb the Baltic coast though.

What do I think?

I think that in hindsight there are two viable strategies when it comes to invading other countries which have given us legitimate reasons to retaliate – such as harboring and supporting terrorists who have attacked us.

One is to invade, remove the regime and get out. Perhaps as John Bolton suggested, leaving them a copy of The Federalist and wishing them the very best of luck.

The other is the imperial strategy of staying, repairing the infrastructure, and building all the institutions of civil society: bureaucracy, police, army etc.

The disadvantage of the first is it might leave them in a position to rebuild and re-attack, as Germany did after World War I.

The disadvantage of the second is that it realistically takes at least a generation of continuous occupation, with all the expense and casualties that entails. We evidently haven’t got the patience for that, which is rather a pity because the experience of occupying the Philippines, Germany and Japan seems to show we’re rather good at that kind of imperialism.

Imperialism is one of those things that, if it can’t be done right, shouldn’t be done at all. And perhaps the world will breathe a sigh of relief when America withdraws from those messy foreign interventions.

And then again, when the two biggest countries who have no such scruples about intervening in other peoples affairs are Russia and China, perhaps not.

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