Mitt Romney is the most impressive performer this evening, striking a judicious tone of urgency and fluency. His one remarkable statement was that he likes government mandates, and that they work. This is a startling deviation from his effort to position himself as the perfect conservative Republican. But as a matter of performance solely, he is far and away the best and he’s delivered it when he needed it most. UPDATE: John McCain, just after the halfway point, is hammering effectively at Mitt Romney for changing his tune on McCain’s own immigration plan and Romney is not doing as well with it.
Posts For: January 5, 2008
Of all the candidates on the stage, by far the least specific and substantive is Mike Huckabee, who offers bland generalities with sweet rhetoric. His candidacy therefore poses an interesting question: Does substance matter? Since 1992, when Bill Clinton proudly displayed his book-length list of solutions to every problem under the sun, candidates in both parties have become policy wonks full of deadly-dull detail about their proposals (and that includes George W. Bush, who loves to throw around numbers in his press conferences). Huckabee offers a new model of vagueness. If it is seen to work, watch for presidential candidates here on in to go for the music and ditch the lyrics.
Rudy Giuliani, in answering a question about his beliefs, offered an extremely efficient snapshot of core Republican goals. He said he would have a card on his Oval Office desk with his “beliefs” that he would work every day to impose: Keep on offense against the terrorists, end illegal immigration, solve health care through private options, reduce taxes, reduce the size of government on the civilian side, expand the military, and appoint strict constructionist judges.
My word. Mitt Romney not only mentioned meeting with Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the surge and a COMMENTARY contributor, but even brought in the name of radical Islamic theorist Sayyid Qutb. So one can believe him when he told Mike Huckabee he actually read Huckabee’s article about foreign policy in Foreign Affairs, about which Huckabee expressed skepticism on the debate stage. Perhaps that’s because since Huckabee surely didn’t write it, he couldn’t imagine any of the other candidates might actually have read it.
The first question in the debate among Republican presidential candidates was about George W. Bush’s foreign policy and the Bush Doctrine of preemption. Mike Huckabee, whose Foreign Affairs article attacked the Bush administration’s “arrogance” and “bunker mentality,” responded as president he would have used 400,000 troops to invade Iraq. That’s 100,000 more troops than even the fabled Gen. Shinseki said we would need to win the war.
In response, and quite strikingly in response, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney all went to great lengths to defend George W. Bush against the phrasing of the question and the direction of Mike Huckabee’s criticism. John McCain, in particular, said, “I’d like to give President Bush a little credit…after September 11, every expert said there would be another attack….America is safer, America is not safe, and we should give him credit for that….I strongly disagree with the strategy employed by Secretary Rumsfeld, and I’m the only one on this stage who disagreed at the time….We should give him credit for changing the strategy.”
What was extraordinary about this is that it may be the first time in memory that any major politician has stoutly defended George W. Bush in public.
Stay here for coverage tonight of the two party debates in New Hampshire.
“Rehabilitating a pariah state is never easy or without distasteful aspects,” writes the New York Times today in an editorial. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, yesterday the Libyans demonstrated once again just how hard it is for democracies to work with hardline regimes, even ones that appear to be on the right track.
On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice met with her Libyan counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, in Washington in the highest level talks between the two countries in 35 years. After the one-hour meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Secretary Rice had asked Libya to improve its human rights, which are “an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship.” Yesterday, however, Tripoli contradicted Washington’s account of the meeting. “There was absolutely no mention of the human rights situation in Libya during the discussions in Washington,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The State Department refused to comment on Tripoli’s denial except to say that there had been no change in McCormack’s version of events.
Why should we care about this disagreement? After all, as diplomatic imbroglios go, this one registers about zero on the Richter scale. Nonetheless, these days almost everything involving Libya is important to us. The North African nation, whether it likes it or not, has offered itself up as a test case for the world. In an era of rapid nuclear proliferation, it gave up its weapons program, and in a decade of global terrorism, it stepped back. So if the West cannot guide this nation toward a more open society, then we will be confirming the strength of an authoritarianism that is sweeping region after region and rolling back the clock. In short, Muammar Qaddafi’s state has become a weathervane at a time when the Western democracies need to show that they—and not the Chinas or the Russias—represent the trend of history. Libya has only six million people, yet they can inspire the two billion others who are not free.
It was clear, even before the flap following Rice’s meeting this week, that Qaddafi is reluctant to moderate his despotic rule. Who can blame the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution” for failing to go forward after pocketing the initial round of benefits for re-engaging the international community? It is up to the West to put even more effort in making sure that he addresses human rights concerns. After all, the liberalization of Libyan society is as important to us as it is to the Libyans. As the Times reminds us, working with repugnant rulers can be unpleasant. In Libya’s case, it is also essential.
Robert Worth has a couple of fascinating dispatches in the New York Times from the frontlines of the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world.
In this article, he reports that Al Jazeera has been muzzled by its owner, who also happens to be the ruler of Qatar—Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Before, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rivalry, Al Jazeera used to be fierce critic of the Saudi royal family. No longer. Now, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rapprochement in the face of a common threat from Iran, Al Jazeera is giving the Saudis a pass even when, as with the recent case of a rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes, they richly deserve criticism.
In this article, Worth reports on how Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera’s chief rival, has shaken up satellite television news in the Middle East. Thanks in part to Al Arabiya’s influence, its director, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, says that Al Jazeera is taking a more neutral tone in coverage that used to be pro-jihad and anti-American:
He runs through a list of changes: the insurgents in Iraq are no longer called the muqaawama, or resistance; instead they are musulaheen, or armed men. Iraqis killed by Americans are not necessarily “martyrs.” Now, they are just civilians who have been killed.
“Three years ago, most of the TV stations — and you can add to that the newspapers and Web sites — were taking one side on most issues,” he says. “They were very much for the resistance in Iraq.” As for Al Qaeda, “it was, if not celebrated by the media, then accepted, and in a big way defended by them.”
Today, that is no longer true. “Now Jazeera is a very soft, reasonable station when it comes to the Iraqis,” Mr. Rashed says, with an ironic twinkle in his eyes.
This might also be seen as evidence of how Al Qaeda’s atrocities have redounded against the terrorist organization, costing it support in the Middle East. Perhaps Al Qaeda’s biggest mistake, however, was to launch an offense against the Saudis in 2003. That changed the Saudi official attitude toward jihadism from being positively encouraging to being more worried about its destabilizing effects on the kingdom. Al Arabiya, in case you hadn’t guessed, is owned by the Saudis. As someone who has been (and remains) pretty critical of the regime in Riyadh, I have to give them credit where credit is due, even if their actions are entirely self-interested.