Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 17, 2008

Tarantino’s Scalps

Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, which starts filming momentarily, looks interesting:

Inglorious Bastards, in a nutshell, focuses on the escapades of eight Jewish-American soldiers who are parachuted behind enemy lines and ordered by their commanding officer to “git me 100 Nazi scalps”. It is not a Holocaust movie, as such. But it uses the death camps as a touchstone and therein lies the danger.

Of course, this would have to be made by a Gentile. A Jewish filmmaker would have the soldiers scalp some Nazis and then agonize over the moral implications of their actions for six hours, rather than getting on with the important business of scalping more Nazis.

Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, which starts filming momentarily, looks interesting:

Inglorious Bastards, in a nutshell, focuses on the escapades of eight Jewish-American soldiers who are parachuted behind enemy lines and ordered by their commanding officer to “git me 100 Nazi scalps”. It is not a Holocaust movie, as such. But it uses the death camps as a touchstone and therein lies the danger.

Of course, this would have to be made by a Gentile. A Jewish filmmaker would have the soldiers scalp some Nazis and then agonize over the moral implications of their actions for six hours, rather than getting on with the important business of scalping more Nazis.

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The Perils of Personal Diplomacy

Few remarks in President George W. Bush’s presidency have been mocked as roundly as his effusive praise for Vladimir Putin early in his first term: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Even Bush’s conservative allies must now admit — especially in light of the recent events in the Caucasus — the shallowness of this observation.

Many critics of Barack Obama say that he will be like Jimmy Carter all over again. There are certainly similarities between the two. But on the subject of diplomacy, Obama seems to possess some of the negative traits of Bush. Last November, Obama promised “aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran, and though he has tried, repeatedly, to alter his original promise, he has had trouble escaping the pledge to meet personally with a variety of anti-American leaders. And this is a reason — a prime one among several others — that so many people on the left are enthusiastic about his candidacy.

Now, of course, promising “aggressive personal diplomacy” with the leaders of countries that pose strategic threats to the United States does not mean, ipso facto, that Obama will fall for authoritarian thugs as Bush did so early on with Putin. But Obama’s conceit — that what American foreign policy suffers from first and foremost is the lack of presidential-level summitry with such leaders — is not only a false one but displays the sort of hubris that leads a leader into thinking he can change the world by dint of his personality and charm.

Few remarks in President George W. Bush’s presidency have been mocked as roundly as his effusive praise for Vladimir Putin early in his first term: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Even Bush’s conservative allies must now admit — especially in light of the recent events in the Caucasus — the shallowness of this observation.

Many critics of Barack Obama say that he will be like Jimmy Carter all over again. There are certainly similarities between the two. But on the subject of diplomacy, Obama seems to possess some of the negative traits of Bush. Last November, Obama promised “aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran, and though he has tried, repeatedly, to alter his original promise, he has had trouble escaping the pledge to meet personally with a variety of anti-American leaders. And this is a reason — a prime one among several others — that so many people on the left are enthusiastic about his candidacy.

Now, of course, promising “aggressive personal diplomacy” with the leaders of countries that pose strategic threats to the United States does not mean, ipso facto, that Obama will fall for authoritarian thugs as Bush did so early on with Putin. But Obama’s conceit — that what American foreign policy suffers from first and foremost is the lack of presidential-level summitry with such leaders — is not only a false one but displays the sort of hubris that leads a leader into thinking he can change the world by dint of his personality and charm.

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Confidence From A Summer Well Spent

Chuck Todd gets to the nub of the matter, commenting on the McCain team’s new attitude and willingness to overlook grousing from ex-advisor John Weaver who is concerned about sullying Joohn McCain’s image and going too negative:

They listen to that and they laugh and they say, “Hey, everybody told us we were going to be down double digits this summer going into the conventions. Everybody said this guy was going to overwhelm us financially. All we’ve done is stay dollar-for-dollar with him financially. All we’ve done is brought this race even.” They, they are, they are borderline cocky right now in how they feel. They feel like they have brought Obama down a notch. They feel that they’ve–this celebrity stuff has been so effective against Obama that they’ve already, they’ve already beaten down the hype of the Denver speech. The fact that he’s moved it to a football stadium, they already feel like they, they–“See, there he goes again, Mr. Rock Concert Guy, Mr. Rock Star.” It isn’t–they, they already feel as if they’ve lightened up his persona and, and really softened him up. So I think it’s got Democrats a little–look, you talk to some in the Obama campaign and they’ll say, you know, “Maybe we haven’t been tough enough on McCain. McCain’s been very tough on us. We haven’t gone out and gone after him enough.” So right now, you know, the McCain camp will look at what John Weaver’s saying and say, “You can back seat drive all you want. Look at the numbers. And the numbers say this race is a lot closer now than a lot of people thought it would be.”

I would add a couple of thoughts. John McCain has not just taken it to Barack Obama. He  also done something entirely positive — project a credible and impressive image of a commander-in-chief. The McCain team has made the most of McCain’s national security credentials which have figured prominently because of two national security issues which have dominated the news — the surge and the Georgia crisis. Second, the McCain team got lucky and made the most of it when their opponent essentially blew it on energy policy. Again, McCain did not just dismantle Obama; he presented a very positive and popular energy policy. The importance of this issue and McCain’s response shouldn’t be discounted. And finally, McCain benefits from low expectations. He is not that bad a speaker or candidate, yet the media always says his good performances are “unexpected.” It is always good to be underestimated in politics. McCain, in this regard, is helped by the mainstream media’s infatuation with his opponent.

So McCain has certainly done better than most — certain the media — expected. And part of that success has come from ignoring bad advice. We’ll see if he can keep it up.

Chuck Todd gets to the nub of the matter, commenting on the McCain team’s new attitude and willingness to overlook grousing from ex-advisor John Weaver who is concerned about sullying Joohn McCain’s image and going too negative:

They listen to that and they laugh and they say, “Hey, everybody told us we were going to be down double digits this summer going into the conventions. Everybody said this guy was going to overwhelm us financially. All we’ve done is stay dollar-for-dollar with him financially. All we’ve done is brought this race even.” They, they are, they are borderline cocky right now in how they feel. They feel like they have brought Obama down a notch. They feel that they’ve–this celebrity stuff has been so effective against Obama that they’ve already, they’ve already beaten down the hype of the Denver speech. The fact that he’s moved it to a football stadium, they already feel like they, they–“See, there he goes again, Mr. Rock Concert Guy, Mr. Rock Star.” It isn’t–they, they already feel as if they’ve lightened up his persona and, and really softened him up. So I think it’s got Democrats a little–look, you talk to some in the Obama campaign and they’ll say, you know, “Maybe we haven’t been tough enough on McCain. McCain’s been very tough on us. We haven’t gone out and gone after him enough.” So right now, you know, the McCain camp will look at what John Weaver’s saying and say, “You can back seat drive all you want. Look at the numbers. And the numbers say this race is a lot closer now than a lot of people thought it would be.”

I would add a couple of thoughts. John McCain has not just taken it to Barack Obama. He  also done something entirely positive — project a credible and impressive image of a commander-in-chief. The McCain team has made the most of McCain’s national security credentials which have figured prominently because of two national security issues which have dominated the news — the surge and the Georgia crisis. Second, the McCain team got lucky and made the most of it when their opponent essentially blew it on energy policy. Again, McCain did not just dismantle Obama; he presented a very positive and popular energy policy. The importance of this issue and McCain’s response shouldn’t be discounted. And finally, McCain benefits from low expectations. He is not that bad a speaker or candidate, yet the media always says his good performances are “unexpected.” It is always good to be underestimated in politics. McCain, in this regard, is helped by the mainstream media’s infatuation with his opponent.

So McCain has certainly done better than most — certain the media — expected. And part of that success has come from ignoring bad advice. We’ll see if he can keep it up.

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Italy’s Past Terror Ties

The former president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, has admitted that under his authority as interior minister and later president in the 1970s and 1980s, his country allowed Palestinian terror organizations freely to organize, form bases, and store weapons in his country. In an interview in Corriere Della Serra, quoted on YNet, Cossiga lays it out:

“According to the deal, the Palestinian organizations could establish bases in Italy, enjoyed freedom of movement when entering and exiting the country, and could move around without undergoing mandatory security checks because they were protected by the secret service,” Cossiga explained.

“During my time as interior minister I learned that PLO people were holding heavy artillery in their homes and protected by diplomatic immunity as representatives of the Arab League. I was told not to worry and I managed to convince them to lay down their heavy artillery and make do with light weaponry.”

Cossiga made headlines in 2007 when he asserted that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the CIA and the Mossad. And if I’m not mistaken, he was already president when the Achille Lauro was hijacked in 1985 by the Palestinian Liberation Front, and was involved in the struggle that ensued over the fate of the hijackers, whose plane was diverted to Italy but then was allowed to keep going — letting the hijackers and, probably, their leader Abu Abbas, get away.

The former president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, has admitted that under his authority as interior minister and later president in the 1970s and 1980s, his country allowed Palestinian terror organizations freely to organize, form bases, and store weapons in his country. In an interview in Corriere Della Serra, quoted on YNet, Cossiga lays it out:

“According to the deal, the Palestinian organizations could establish bases in Italy, enjoyed freedom of movement when entering and exiting the country, and could move around without undergoing mandatory security checks because they were protected by the secret service,” Cossiga explained.

“During my time as interior minister I learned that PLO people were holding heavy artillery in their homes and protected by diplomatic immunity as representatives of the Arab League. I was told not to worry and I managed to convince them to lay down their heavy artillery and make do with light weaponry.”

Cossiga made headlines in 2007 when he asserted that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the CIA and the Mossad. And if I’m not mistaken, he was already president when the Achille Lauro was hijacked in 1985 by the Palestinian Liberation Front, and was involved in the struggle that ensued over the fate of the hijackers, whose plane was diverted to Italy but then was allowed to keep going — letting the hijackers and, probably, their leader Abu Abbas, get away.

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The Age of Authoritarianism?

“History, it seems, is back, and not so obviously on our side.” So writes the thoughtful Bill Keller in today’s New York Times. And who could disagree? At this moment, Russian tanks are occupying helpless Georgia, China is putting on awesome displays of national prowess at the Olympics, Iran is defiantly enriching uranium and testing long-range missiles. The world’s hardline states are banding together, and the West is split, dismayed and disheartened. As the Financial Times’s Chrystia Freeland wrote last Tuesday, “We have entered the Age of Authoritarianism.”

In that age, the dominant narrative is that “the sole superpower” is in decline. Other nations will, if not take our place as hegemon, marginalize us. Nobody calls this period “the Second American century.” It belongs to China, maybe Asia. Or as Freeland argues, the tone in this era will be set by resurgent authoritarians.

Perhaps. We are, as analysts recognize, at one of those junctures in history, a period of discontinuous change. Yet the time we are entering will not necessarily be dominated by autocrats. Yes, dictators this month have seized initiative, dominated headlines, and put the West on the defensive, but history never travels in straight lines.

Authoritarianism has flourished in recent years because the Western democracies have let it. Worse, we have abetted the rise of hardline states in the hopes that, as they integrated themselves into the international system, they would become enmeshed in it and change for the better. That generous approach, of course, would be the right one to take if history in fact had ended, as the now-notorious Francis Fukuyama argued in his then-influential 1989 essay. Yet as we watch events unfold, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our indulgent approach has failed because the authoritarians are now using new-found strength to reorder the world by force and coercion.

Fortunately, the democracies will adjust their course. The invasion of Georgia, for instance, will inevitably lead to first a reassessment of Russia policy, then a questioning of the theory of engagement, and finally to a renewal of commitment to ideals.

So, yes, the world is changing. We are entering an age of extended turbulence and conflict. Yet it will not be the Age of Authoritarianism as long as citizens in free societies defend fundamental principles, as they must and as they will.

“History, it seems, is back, and not so obviously on our side.” So writes the thoughtful Bill Keller in today’s New York Times. And who could disagree? At this moment, Russian tanks are occupying helpless Georgia, China is putting on awesome displays of national prowess at the Olympics, Iran is defiantly enriching uranium and testing long-range missiles. The world’s hardline states are banding together, and the West is split, dismayed and disheartened. As the Financial Times’s Chrystia Freeland wrote last Tuesday, “We have entered the Age of Authoritarianism.”

In that age, the dominant narrative is that “the sole superpower” is in decline. Other nations will, if not take our place as hegemon, marginalize us. Nobody calls this period “the Second American century.” It belongs to China, maybe Asia. Or as Freeland argues, the tone in this era will be set by resurgent authoritarians.

Perhaps. We are, as analysts recognize, at one of those junctures in history, a period of discontinuous change. Yet the time we are entering will not necessarily be dominated by autocrats. Yes, dictators this month have seized initiative, dominated headlines, and put the West on the defensive, but history never travels in straight lines.

Authoritarianism has flourished in recent years because the Western democracies have let it. Worse, we have abetted the rise of hardline states in the hopes that, as they integrated themselves into the international system, they would become enmeshed in it and change for the better. That generous approach, of course, would be the right one to take if history in fact had ended, as the now-notorious Francis Fukuyama argued in his then-influential 1989 essay. Yet as we watch events unfold, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our indulgent approach has failed because the authoritarians are now using new-found strength to reorder the world by force and coercion.

Fortunately, the democracies will adjust their course. The invasion of Georgia, for instance, will inevitably lead to first a reassessment of Russia policy, then a questioning of the theory of engagement, and finally to a renewal of commitment to ideals.

So, yes, the world is changing. We are entering an age of extended turbulence and conflict. Yet it will not be the Age of Authoritarianism as long as citizens in free societies defend fundamental principles, as they must and as they will.

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“Authoritarian Great Powers”

As Robert Kagan pointedly remarks, the war in Georgia demonstrates the growing power of newly crafted economically reformed but politically authoritarian regimes:

In the long run, rising prosperity may well produce political liberalism, but how long is the long run? It may be too long to have any strategic or geopolitical relevance. In the meantime, the new economic power of the autocracies has translated into real, usable geopolitical power on the world stage.

So, Kagan thinks the difficulty is short-term–still highly problematic, but one that will eventually decrease in time.

This article, published last summer in Foreign Affairs by the brilliant Israeli scholar Azar Gat, suggests otherwise. When the “The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers” was published, I thought it was an eye-opening and highly depressing essay. The war in the Caucasus has made it even more relevant and more depressing. For those CONTENTIONS readers who weren’t exposed to it at the time of publishing, here are some relevant quotes:

Although the proponents of radical Islam find liberal democracy repugnant, and the movement is often described as the new fascist threat, the societies from which it arises are generally poor and stagnant. They represent no viable alternative to modernity and pose no significant military threat to the developed world. It is mainly the potential use of weapons of mass destruction — particularly by nonstate actors — that makes militant Islam a menace.

The second, and more significant, challenge emanates from the rise of nondemocratic great powers: the West’s old Cold War rivals China and Russia, now operating under authoritarian capitalist, rather than communist, regimes. Authoritarian capitalist great powers played a leading role in the international system up until 1945. They have been absent since then. But today, they seem poised for a comeback.

Capitalism’s ascendancy appears to be deeply entrenched, but the current predominance of democracy could be far less secure….The reasons for the triumph of democracy, especially over its nondemocratic capitalist rivals of the two world wars, Germany and Japan, were more contingent than is usually assumed. Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy’s ultimate victory — or future dominance.

It is widely contended that economic and social development creates pressures for democratization that an authoritarian state structure cannot contain. There is also the view that “closed societies” may be able to excel in mass manufacturing but not in the advanced stages of the information economy. The jury on these issues is still out, because the data set is incomplete… All that can be said at the moment is that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest that a transition to democracy by today’s authoritarian capitalist powers is inevitable, whereas there is a great deal to suggest that such powers have far greater economic and military potential than their communist predecessors did.

Disturbing, no? Read the whole thing.

As Robert Kagan pointedly remarks, the war in Georgia demonstrates the growing power of newly crafted economically reformed but politically authoritarian regimes:

In the long run, rising prosperity may well produce political liberalism, but how long is the long run? It may be too long to have any strategic or geopolitical relevance. In the meantime, the new economic power of the autocracies has translated into real, usable geopolitical power on the world stage.

So, Kagan thinks the difficulty is short-term–still highly problematic, but one that will eventually decrease in time.

This article, published last summer in Foreign Affairs by the brilliant Israeli scholar Azar Gat, suggests otherwise. When the “The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers” was published, I thought it was an eye-opening and highly depressing essay. The war in the Caucasus has made it even more relevant and more depressing. For those CONTENTIONS readers who weren’t exposed to it at the time of publishing, here are some relevant quotes:

Although the proponents of radical Islam find liberal democracy repugnant, and the movement is often described as the new fascist threat, the societies from which it arises are generally poor and stagnant. They represent no viable alternative to modernity and pose no significant military threat to the developed world. It is mainly the potential use of weapons of mass destruction — particularly by nonstate actors — that makes militant Islam a menace.

The second, and more significant, challenge emanates from the rise of nondemocratic great powers: the West’s old Cold War rivals China and Russia, now operating under authoritarian capitalist, rather than communist, regimes. Authoritarian capitalist great powers played a leading role in the international system up until 1945. They have been absent since then. But today, they seem poised for a comeback.

Capitalism’s ascendancy appears to be deeply entrenched, but the current predominance of democracy could be far less secure….The reasons for the triumph of democracy, especially over its nondemocratic capitalist rivals of the two world wars, Germany and Japan, were more contingent than is usually assumed. Authoritarian capitalist states, today exemplified by China and Russia, may represent a viable alternative path to modernity, which in turn suggests that there is nothing inevitable about liberal democracy’s ultimate victory — or future dominance.

It is widely contended that economic and social development creates pressures for democratization that an authoritarian state structure cannot contain. There is also the view that “closed societies” may be able to excel in mass manufacturing but not in the advanced stages of the information economy. The jury on these issues is still out, because the data set is incomplete… All that can be said at the moment is that there is nothing in the historical record to suggest that a transition to democracy by today’s authoritarian capitalist powers is inevitable, whereas there is a great deal to suggest that such powers have far greater economic and military potential than their communist predecessors did.

Disturbing, no? Read the whole thing.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

John Edwards’ money man and “spontaneous” gift giver to his former (I think?) mistress certainly has helped a lot of Democrats. They may regret it.

Learning from errors is a good presidential quality.

Ouch: “Yet oddly, the bumptious [Rick] Warren seems to have a stronger grasp of what separation of church and state has actually meant in the American political tradition, both historically and philosophically, than my vastly more erudite colleague.”

Not a Freudian slip: this is how Democrats talk about the GOP in private.

Now the Democrats have figured it out: there is not much there, there on Barack Obama’s domestic agenda. (If you don’t count a bunch of tax increases.) The Florida GOP Chairman hits the nail on the head: we’re not electing a “motivational speaker.”

This makes more sense than Tim Kaine.

Frank Rich says the problem is that we don’t know John McCain well enough. Right diagnosis, wrong patient. But the McCain team would be thrilled if the Obama camp believed that. (Somehow I think the latter isn’t that dim.)

This seemed incredibly lame: doesn’t he have a view? Some “meaningful” response would have been nice.

This takes wishful thinking to a whole new level: hoping the New York Times editorial board understands the gravity of the age and the danger posed by our foes.

Nancy Pelosi may allow an offshore drilling vote, but will never consider ANWR. John McCain might.

John Edwards’ money man and “spontaneous” gift giver to his former (I think?) mistress certainly has helped a lot of Democrats. They may regret it.

Learning from errors is a good presidential quality.

Ouch: “Yet oddly, the bumptious [Rick] Warren seems to have a stronger grasp of what separation of church and state has actually meant in the American political tradition, both historically and philosophically, than my vastly more erudite colleague.”

Not a Freudian slip: this is how Democrats talk about the GOP in private.

Now the Democrats have figured it out: there is not much there, there on Barack Obama’s domestic agenda. (If you don’t count a bunch of tax increases.) The Florida GOP Chairman hits the nail on the head: we’re not electing a “motivational speaker.”

This makes more sense than Tim Kaine.

Frank Rich says the problem is that we don’t know John McCain well enough. Right diagnosis, wrong patient. But the McCain team would be thrilled if the Obama camp believed that. (Somehow I think the latter isn’t that dim.)

This seemed incredibly lame: doesn’t he have a view? Some “meaningful” response would have been nice.

This takes wishful thinking to a whole new level: hoping the New York Times editorial board understands the gravity of the age and the danger posed by our foes.

Nancy Pelosi may allow an offshore drilling vote, but will never consider ANWR. John McCain might.

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Reality Is So 2006

George Will has some fine advice for John McCain and some probing questions for Barack Obama:

He should ask Obama to join him in a town meeting on lessons from Russia’s aggression. Both candidates favor NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, perhaps Vladimir Putin’s next victim. But does Russia’s behavior cause Obama to rethink reliance on “soft power” — dialogue, disapproval, diplomacy, economic carrots and sticks — which Putin considers almost an oxymoron? Does Russia’s resort to military coercion, and its arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, cause Obama to revise his resistance to missile defense? Obama, unlike McCain, believes Russia belongs in the G-8. Does Obama think Russia should be admitted to the World Trade Organization? Does Obama consider Putin helpful regarding Iran? Does Obama accept the description of the G-8 as an organization of the largest “industrialized democracies”? Does he think China should be admitted?

McCain, like Republicans generally, reveres Ronald Reagan. But such reverence seems to involve an obligatory sunniness, which suits neither McCain nor this moment. A great political thinker of the last century, Raymond Aron, was right: “What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error.” McCain must convince voters that Obama’s complacent confidence in the taming abilities of soft power is the effect of liberalism’s scary sentimentalism about a dangerous thing, human nature, and a fiction, “the community of nations.”

McCain is hardly the change many people have been eagerly waiting for, but Putin is part of the change we must confront. Until Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it seemed that not even the Democratic Party could lose this election. But it might if McCain can make it turn on the question of who is ornery enough to give Putin a convincing, deterring telephone call at 3 a.m.

It does not help Obama when reality is introduced into the presidential race because reality — the world of aggressive dicatators, nuclear ambition, neo-imperialist enemies, and recalcitrant rogue states — is not where Obama shines. He shines where everyone is amenable to high-flying rhetoric, everyone snickers at non-urbanites and agrees rural Americans are bumpkins, and no one asks him hard questions. In other words, he shines in academic settings, with young voters (untouched by reality themselves) and in front of pundits who so want to believe in The One. But it’s not just that he functions better in the latter settings, it is that he functions so poorly or not at all in the real world.

Whether the challenge is to recognize what has happened (e.g. the surge), what is happening (e.g. Russian aggression) or what will happen (e.g. Iranian nuclear capability), Obama is at a loss when dealing with those who don’t agree and won’t be cajoled. If General Petraeus is opposed to a fixed timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops, he’s just a “small picture” guy whose views don’t matter. If John McCain is more cogent in his analysis of Russian ambition, then Obama attacks McCain’s advisor as a pro-Georgian stooge. And if people are talking about his legislative record in Illinois, they are just “liars.”

When conflict arises, in other words, the opponent’s arguments aren’t met and rebutted, the opponent is assaulted. It is ironic that Obama developed a reputation for respecting others’ opinions; in fact he is the king of the ad hominem attack.

George Will has some fine advice for John McCain and some probing questions for Barack Obama:

He should ask Obama to join him in a town meeting on lessons from Russia’s aggression. Both candidates favor NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, perhaps Vladimir Putin’s next victim. But does Russia’s behavior cause Obama to rethink reliance on “soft power” — dialogue, disapproval, diplomacy, economic carrots and sticks — which Putin considers almost an oxymoron? Does Russia’s resort to military coercion, and its arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, cause Obama to revise his resistance to missile defense? Obama, unlike McCain, believes Russia belongs in the G-8. Does Obama think Russia should be admitted to the World Trade Organization? Does Obama consider Putin helpful regarding Iran? Does Obama accept the description of the G-8 as an organization of the largest “industrialized democracies”? Does he think China should be admitted?

McCain, like Republicans generally, reveres Ronald Reagan. But such reverence seems to involve an obligatory sunniness, which suits neither McCain nor this moment. A great political thinker of the last century, Raymond Aron, was right: “What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error.” McCain must convince voters that Obama’s complacent confidence in the taming abilities of soft power is the effect of liberalism’s scary sentimentalism about a dangerous thing, human nature, and a fiction, “the community of nations.”

McCain is hardly the change many people have been eagerly waiting for, but Putin is part of the change we must confront. Until Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it seemed that not even the Democratic Party could lose this election. But it might if McCain can make it turn on the question of who is ornery enough to give Putin a convincing, deterring telephone call at 3 a.m.

It does not help Obama when reality is introduced into the presidential race because reality — the world of aggressive dicatators, nuclear ambition, neo-imperialist enemies, and recalcitrant rogue states — is not where Obama shines. He shines where everyone is amenable to high-flying rhetoric, everyone snickers at non-urbanites and agrees rural Americans are bumpkins, and no one asks him hard questions. In other words, he shines in academic settings, with young voters (untouched by reality themselves) and in front of pundits who so want to believe in The One. But it’s not just that he functions better in the latter settings, it is that he functions so poorly or not at all in the real world.

Whether the challenge is to recognize what has happened (e.g. the surge), what is happening (e.g. Russian aggression) or what will happen (e.g. Iranian nuclear capability), Obama is at a loss when dealing with those who don’t agree and won’t be cajoled. If General Petraeus is opposed to a fixed timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops, he’s just a “small picture” guy whose views don’t matter. If John McCain is more cogent in his analysis of Russian ambition, then Obama attacks McCain’s advisor as a pro-Georgian stooge. And if people are talking about his legislative record in Illinois, they are just “liars.”

When conflict arises, in other words, the opponent’s arguments aren’t met and rebutted, the opponent is assaulted. It is ironic that Obama developed a reputation for respecting others’ opinions; in fact he is the king of the ad hominem attack.

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The Reaction to Saddleback

From skeptical conservatives to many of the MSM outlets to Obama defenders (if the most ardent admirer of Obama signaled a “draw” you can bet it’s a sign of a bad night for his guy), the reaction to the Rick Warren forum last night was rather uniform: John McCain was surprisingly good, darn good. It is also apparent that Barack Obama made two big errors.

First, he insulted Clarence Thomas for lack of experience. . . or was it for lack of qualifications (or judicial smarts)? Either way, this is a horrid issue for Obama to raise (let’s go down the experience/qualifications route if he wants) and one simply lacking in factual support. If he objects to Thomas on philosophical grounds, fine. But his churlish accusation that the former head of the EEOC and a sitting Federal Circuit Court judge was unfit for the Supreme Court suggests all his talk of respecting his intellectual opponents is, well,  just talk.

What the event suggests is also something much more fundamental and more troublesome for Obama. Of all the opponents he could possibly have drawn, McCain is probably the most difficult for him to handle. Obama’s lack of experience, his glibness, his absence of depth and personal gravitas might not be as noticeable against another type of candidate.  These deficits are glaring, shocking almost when McCain is the opponent, in a way they were not against Hillary Clinton and might not have been against one of the other GOP contenders. A side-by-side comparison leaves Obama seeming lighter than air. It will be hard to disguise that from the voters.

And this suggestion is dead on: McCain doesn’t need to wow the crowds; he only needs to remind them that he possesses a seriousness of purpose and depth of experience his opponent does not.

From skeptical conservatives to many of the MSM outlets to Obama defenders (if the most ardent admirer of Obama signaled a “draw” you can bet it’s a sign of a bad night for his guy), the reaction to the Rick Warren forum last night was rather uniform: John McCain was surprisingly good, darn good. It is also apparent that Barack Obama made two big errors.

First, he insulted Clarence Thomas for lack of experience. . . or was it for lack of qualifications (or judicial smarts)? Either way, this is a horrid issue for Obama to raise (let’s go down the experience/qualifications route if he wants) and one simply lacking in factual support. If he objects to Thomas on philosophical grounds, fine. But his churlish accusation that the former head of the EEOC and a sitting Federal Circuit Court judge was unfit for the Supreme Court suggests all his talk of respecting his intellectual opponents is, well,  just talk.

What the event suggests is also something much more fundamental and more troublesome for Obama. Of all the opponents he could possibly have drawn, McCain is probably the most difficult for him to handle. Obama’s lack of experience, his glibness, his absence of depth and personal gravitas might not be as noticeable against another type of candidate.  These deficits are glaring, shocking almost when McCain is the opponent, in a way they were not against Hillary Clinton and might not have been against one of the other GOP contenders. A side-by-side comparison leaves Obama seeming lighter than air. It will be hard to disguise that from the voters.

And this suggestion is dead on: McCain doesn’t need to wow the crowds; he only needs to remind them that he possesses a seriousness of purpose and depth of experience his opponent does not.

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