Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 18, 2008

Editorial Position Available at Commentary Magazine

COMMENTARY MAGAZINE has an opening for an editor working full-time in our offices in New York City. The right person for the job holds views that are intellectually and philosophically congruent with the magazine and its perspective,  has literary and cultural interests as well, an understanding of Judaism and the history of the Jewish people, and has experience working with writers on conceiving articles, framing them, helping to organize them, line-editing them, and copy-editing them.

Please send resumes to: commentaryeditor@gmail.com.

COMMENTARY MAGAZINE has an opening for an editor working full-time in our offices in New York City. The right person for the job holds views that are intellectually and philosophically congruent with the magazine and its perspective,  has literary and cultural interests as well, an understanding of Judaism and the history of the Jewish people, and has experience working with writers on conceiving articles, framing them, helping to organize them, line-editing them, and copy-editing them.

Please send resumes to: commentaryeditor@gmail.com.

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

Alenda Lux, on Abe Greenwald:

If we’re going to rebuild the Reagan Majority, various types of conservatives are going to have to accept aspects of the other types of conservatives. With the exception of some (like the Huckabee types), social conservatives are willing to accept fiscal conservatism, and often are fiscal conservatives themselves. The top ranked Senators and Congressmen on the Club for Growth’s rating charts all got 100% from Right to Life. Those social cons who don’t practice fiscal conservatism generally do so not because of a principled objection to it (Huckabee) but because they’re power hungry. That hardly can be blamed on social conservatism.

Are fiscal conservatives/social liberals really that opposed to social conservatives? Roberts, Alito, partial birth abortion ban, Born Alive, etc. Are those really that objectionable? Is it really so bad to have a referendum on redefining the institution of marriage? Isn’t that, um, democracy? If we’re going to be a majority again, fiscal conservatives have to be willing to meet social conservatives half way too.

Alenda Lux, on Abe Greenwald:

If we’re going to rebuild the Reagan Majority, various types of conservatives are going to have to accept aspects of the other types of conservatives. With the exception of some (like the Huckabee types), social conservatives are willing to accept fiscal conservatism, and often are fiscal conservatives themselves. The top ranked Senators and Congressmen on the Club for Growth’s rating charts all got 100% from Right to Life. Those social cons who don’t practice fiscal conservatism generally do so not because of a principled objection to it (Huckabee) but because they’re power hungry. That hardly can be blamed on social conservatism.

Are fiscal conservatives/social liberals really that opposed to social conservatives? Roberts, Alito, partial birth abortion ban, Born Alive, etc. Are those really that objectionable? Is it really so bad to have a referendum on redefining the institution of marriage? Isn’t that, um, democracy? If we’re going to be a majority again, fiscal conservatives have to be willing to meet social conservatives half way too.

Read Less

Re: Early Test for Obama

In an earlier post I remarked about the Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman, held in prison by authorities for his free-speaking criticism of the regime. Now another blogger has been arrested, this one in Iran. Hossein Derakhshan is predictably being accused of spying for Israel. Derakhshan’s real crime, however, appears to be his having visited Israel, where he attended a blogger’s conference, and again expressing his criticism of the Iranian regime.

Authoritarian regimes will inevitably silence their critics through force unless there is someone telling them to stop. It costs President-elect Obama little to make a firm statement here — if anything, it will help build confidence in his leadership. Will he speak out?

In an earlier post I remarked about the Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman, held in prison by authorities for his free-speaking criticism of the regime. Now another blogger has been arrested, this one in Iran. Hossein Derakhshan is predictably being accused of spying for Israel. Derakhshan’s real crime, however, appears to be his having visited Israel, where he attended a blogger’s conference, and again expressing his criticism of the Iranian regime.

Authoritarian regimes will inevitably silence their critics through force unless there is someone telling them to stop. It costs President-elect Obama little to make a firm statement here — if anything, it will help build confidence in his leadership. Will he speak out?

Read Less

Blaming Bush for Somalia

Martin Fletcher was feeling a terrible emptiness. With little more than a month left in George W. Bush’s presidency, opportunities to blame further global crises on the most accommodating scapegoat in history were growing thin. Then inspiration struck:

One other debacle should feature prominently . . .

I am referring to the Bush Administration’s intervention in Somalia in the name of the War on Terror. It has helped to destroy that wretched country’s best chance of peace in a generation, left more than a million Somalis dead, homeless or starving, and achieved the precise opposite of its original goal. Far from stamping out an Islamic militancy that scarcely existed, the intervention has turned Somalia into a breeding ground for Islamic extremists and given al-Qaeda a valuable foothold in the Horn of Africa.

It’s got all the hallmarks of a juicy self-righteous accusation against Bush: American military overreach, American ignorance, and dark-skinned victims. Best of all, it allows you to dust off that old treasured “breeding ground for Islamic extremists.” And the fact that this take is substantially wrong on the facts all but guarantees its longevity.

Fletcher writes that the U.S.-supported Ethiopian military effort against Somalia’s ruling Islamist Court government in 2006, “replaced what was, for all its faults, Somalia’s most effective government in memory with a deeply unpopular one led by former warlords . . .” Well, that all depends on your definition of effective. Here’s a 2006 story on Fletcher’s favorite Somali government:

On Friday, around 20 Islamic militiamen raided a wedding party in Mogadishu, flogged a woman and confiscated musical instruments as they enforced a ban on band music in public ceremonies.

On Wednesday, a senior cleric announced that any Somali Muslim who failed to perform daily prayers would be killed.

Gunmen shot and killed two people in central Somalia early this week while quelling a protest against a ban on watching the soccer World Cup at a local cinema.

Effective, no?

And as for the “Islamic militancy that scarcely existed”: that’s the same non-existent entity that helped Somalis kill eighteen American soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu way back in 1993. If Fletcher is looking to blame an American president for letting violent Islamism fester in Somalia, he can start with Bill Clinton, who pulled out our dispirited forces with no plan to revisit the troubled region. Here’s how none other than Osama bin Laden characterized the significance of Clinton’s Mogadishu disaster:

As I said, our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier and they realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger. He was unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to his army, so he fled, and America had to stop all its bragging and all that noise it was making in the press after the Gulf War in which it destroyed the infrastructure and the milk and dairy industry that was vital for the infants and the children and the civilians and blew up dams which were necessary for the crops people grew to feed their families. Proud of this destruction, America assumed the titles of world leader and master of the new world order. After a few blows, it forgot all about those titles and rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers. America stopped calling itself world leader and master of the new world order, and its politicians realized that those titles were too big for them and that they were unworthy of them. I was in Sudan when this happened. I was very happy to learn of that great defeat that America suffered, so was every Muslim. …

You think that might have had an emboldening effect on Islamists and al Qaeda associates over the next few years?

Martin Fletcher was feeling a terrible emptiness. With little more than a month left in George W. Bush’s presidency, opportunities to blame further global crises on the most accommodating scapegoat in history were growing thin. Then inspiration struck:

One other debacle should feature prominently . . .

I am referring to the Bush Administration’s intervention in Somalia in the name of the War on Terror. It has helped to destroy that wretched country’s best chance of peace in a generation, left more than a million Somalis dead, homeless or starving, and achieved the precise opposite of its original goal. Far from stamping out an Islamic militancy that scarcely existed, the intervention has turned Somalia into a breeding ground for Islamic extremists and given al-Qaeda a valuable foothold in the Horn of Africa.

It’s got all the hallmarks of a juicy self-righteous accusation against Bush: American military overreach, American ignorance, and dark-skinned victims. Best of all, it allows you to dust off that old treasured “breeding ground for Islamic extremists.” And the fact that this take is substantially wrong on the facts all but guarantees its longevity.

Fletcher writes that the U.S.-supported Ethiopian military effort against Somalia’s ruling Islamist Court government in 2006, “replaced what was, for all its faults, Somalia’s most effective government in memory with a deeply unpopular one led by former warlords . . .” Well, that all depends on your definition of effective. Here’s a 2006 story on Fletcher’s favorite Somali government:

On Friday, around 20 Islamic militiamen raided a wedding party in Mogadishu, flogged a woman and confiscated musical instruments as they enforced a ban on band music in public ceremonies.

On Wednesday, a senior cleric announced that any Somali Muslim who failed to perform daily prayers would be killed.

Gunmen shot and killed two people in central Somalia early this week while quelling a protest against a ban on watching the soccer World Cup at a local cinema.

Effective, no?

And as for the “Islamic militancy that scarcely existed”: that’s the same non-existent entity that helped Somalis kill eighteen American soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu way back in 1993. If Fletcher is looking to blame an American president for letting violent Islamism fester in Somalia, he can start with Bill Clinton, who pulled out our dispirited forces with no plan to revisit the troubled region. Here’s how none other than Osama bin Laden characterized the significance of Clinton’s Mogadishu disaster:

As I said, our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier and they realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger. He was unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to his army, so he fled, and America had to stop all its bragging and all that noise it was making in the press after the Gulf War in which it destroyed the infrastructure and the milk and dairy industry that was vital for the infants and the children and the civilians and blew up dams which were necessary for the crops people grew to feed their families. Proud of this destruction, America assumed the titles of world leader and master of the new world order. After a few blows, it forgot all about those titles and rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers. America stopped calling itself world leader and master of the new world order, and its politicians realized that those titles were too big for them and that they were unworthy of them. I was in Sudan when this happened. I was very happy to learn of that great defeat that America suffered, so was every Muslim. …

You think that might have had an emboldening effect on Islamists and al Qaeda associates over the next few years?

Read Less

Just Like Old Times!

Word is that Eric Holder may be the pick for Attorney General.  (At the very least the Obama team is counting votes.) Yes, this would be the same Eric Holder who was the number two man in the Clinton Department of Justice. The same Holder who steered Marc Rich to his lawyer (from whom Holder at the time was seeking a job). The same Holder who seemed to give his blessing to the pardoning of Rich (“neutral, leaning toward favorable” was his evaluation). A recap of this sorry chapter in the Clinton presidency and Holder’s role can be found here.

If this report is accurate, it isn’t going to please the crowd who thought they were getting change. It isn’t going to please the good government types, either. But it will please some conservative Senators, who will get to sink their teeth into a nice, juicy confirmation hearing. If such a character came along while Sen. Joe Biden was on the committee, can you imagine what he would say?

Word is that Eric Holder may be the pick for Attorney General.  (At the very least the Obama team is counting votes.) Yes, this would be the same Eric Holder who was the number two man in the Clinton Department of Justice. The same Holder who steered Marc Rich to his lawyer (from whom Holder at the time was seeking a job). The same Holder who seemed to give his blessing to the pardoning of Rich (“neutral, leaning toward favorable” was his evaluation). A recap of this sorry chapter in the Clinton presidency and Holder’s role can be found here.

If this report is accurate, it isn’t going to please the crowd who thought they were getting change. It isn’t going to please the good government types, either. But it will please some conservative Senators, who will get to sink their teeth into a nice, juicy confirmation hearing. If such a character came along while Sen. Joe Biden was on the committee, can you imagine what he would say?

Read Less

The Lieberman Vote

The vote among Democratic senators to keep Senator Joe Liebeman as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee was overwhelming–42 to 13. A Democratic advisor close to the proceedings described to me what occurred. He said there were “very strong presentations by Reid, Dodd, Bayh, and Salazar,” and the “only two negative voices were Leahy and Sanders.” Lieberman, according to this source, described his own experience registering African American voters in Mississippi in 1963, and said that, although he had supported John McCain, President-elect Obama’s victory was “a moving moment for him.” He also acknowledged that his colleagues were upset, but he offered no specific apologies for particular statements made during the campaign. He admitted that he could have said some things differently, but added that other things he’s been accused of saying are either distortions or untruths.

Lieberman, who has continued to fight for the nearly extinct “Scoop Jackson” wing of the Democratic Party, is obviously pleased by the result. For conservatives, it is on balance a very good thing to have him as chairman of a key committee. And, as noted earlier, any day in which the Left is threatening rebellion is not a bad one for the Republican Party.

The vote among Democratic senators to keep Senator Joe Liebeman as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee was overwhelming–42 to 13. A Democratic advisor close to the proceedings described to me what occurred. He said there were “very strong presentations by Reid, Dodd, Bayh, and Salazar,” and the “only two negative voices were Leahy and Sanders.” Lieberman, according to this source, described his own experience registering African American voters in Mississippi in 1963, and said that, although he had supported John McCain, President-elect Obama’s victory was “a moving moment for him.” He also acknowledged that his colleagues were upset, but he offered no specific apologies for particular statements made during the campaign. He admitted that he could have said some things differently, but added that other things he’s been accused of saying are either distortions or untruths.

Lieberman, who has continued to fight for the nearly extinct “Scoop Jackson” wing of the Democratic Party, is obviously pleased by the result. For conservatives, it is on balance a very good thing to have him as chairman of a key committee. And, as noted earlier, any day in which the Left is threatening rebellion is not a bad one for the Republican Party.

Read Less

S.o.S. Hillary

Before, when warning about the possibility of an elected politician (especially Hillary Clinton) becoming Secretary of State, I limited my discussion to the period since World War II. However, as it is appears increasingly likely that Hillary will get the nomination, I’ve taken the time to survey all Secretaries of State who were chosen from the ranks of elected politicians to see if I could draw any conclusions. Here is a quick summary of what they did after stepping down as Secretary. I’ve listed them in reverse chronological order (with the dates of their time in office), since the more recent examples are likely to be more relevant to politics today.

Edmund Muskie (1980-1981)—never ran for office again, served on the Tower Commission, which investigated the Iran-Contra scandal

James F. Byrnes (1945-1947)—elected Governor of South Carolina in 1950

Cordell Hull (1933-1944)—never ran for office or served in government again

William Jennings Bryan (1913-1915)—never ran for office or served in government again; opposed liquor and Darwinism

Charles Evans Hughes (1921-1925)—served as an elder statesman (e.g., co-founded the National Conference on Christians and Jews) and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Philander Knox (1909-1923)—re-elected to the Senate in 1916

James G. Blaine (March 1881-December 1881, 1889-1892)—after his first term as Secretary, was his party’s unsuccessful nominee for President in 1884; he resigned during his second term on the eve of the meeting of the Republican National Convention, but when submitted for consideration by the delegates, his name drew little support; he didn’t serve in office after that

Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen (1881-1885)—never ran for office or served in government again

Hamilton Fish (1869-1877)—never ran for office or served in government again

William H. Seward (1861-1869)—never ran for office or served in government again

William L. Macy (1853-1857)—never ran for office or served in government again (died one month after leaving office)

John M. Clayton (1849-1850)—re-elected to the Senate in 1853

James Buchanan (1845-1849)—served as minister to the Court of St. James; elected President in 1856 (widely thought to be one of our worst Presidents)

John C. Calhoun (1844-1845)—returned to his Senate seat (without re-election, as far as I can tell) in 1845

Daniel Webster (1841-1843, 1850-1852)—after his first term was re-elected to the Senate in 1845 and tried unsuccessfully to get his party’s nomination for President in 1848; after his second term, again tried but failed to get his party’s nomination for President in 1852

Martin van Buren (1829-1831)—elected Vice President (1832) and later President (1836)

Henry Clay (1825-1829)—re-elected to the Senate in 1830; unsuccessfully ran for President five times

John Quincy Adams (1817-1825)—elected President in 1824; after failing to be re-elected in 1828 was later elected to the U.S. House

James Monroe (1811-1814, 1815-1817)—after first term, served as Secretary of War; after second, was elected President in 1816

James Madison (1801-1809)—elected President in 1808, and re-elected 1812

Thomas Jefferson (1789-1793)—elected Vice President in 1796, and then President (1800, 1804)

What to make of this? From 1849 onwards, there have been only twelve ex-politician Secretaries (of a total of 49 who held the job). Of that twelve, only four tried to re-enter politics—and only one ran for President (unsuccessfully).

I think it’s fair to say that the general trend during the last 150 years has been for politicians to end their political careers as Secretary of State, not to use it as a stepping board for high office, let alone still higher office (and there’s not much higher to go). While an actual historian with lots of free time could examine how a Secretary of State’s political ambitions affected his in-office performance, the subsequent careers (or lack thereof) of Secretaries at least suggests how they have perceived their role—i.e., whether as an end in itself or as a means to something else.

To anyone who would point to the noble examples of the early Secretaries of State who went on to become excellent Presidents, I would note that politics and government have changed enormously since that time, and, more importantly, “Quod licet Jovi non licet bovi” (What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to an ox). If you want favorably to compare Hillary—or any other elected politician currently up for the job—with Jefferson, Madison, or J. Q. Adams, be prepared to get laughed out of the room.

If Hillary does receive Obama’s nomination, she is almost a sure thing to be confirmed, especially since the Senate loves to support one of its own (and of course Republicans see the benefits of a Senate seat being opened up). Thus, we might end up witnessing something that hasn’t been seen since Daniel Webster: a Secretary of State who is at the same time a candidate for President. (Of course, Hillary’s case would be even more unusual; she would also be the first Secretary/presidential candidate married to an ex-President.) To those who know far more history than I do: When was the last time any member of the cabinet ran for President or Vice President? It is not a prospect I would like to see.

Before, when warning about the possibility of an elected politician (especially Hillary Clinton) becoming Secretary of State, I limited my discussion to the period since World War II. However, as it is appears increasingly likely that Hillary will get the nomination, I’ve taken the time to survey all Secretaries of State who were chosen from the ranks of elected politicians to see if I could draw any conclusions. Here is a quick summary of what they did after stepping down as Secretary. I’ve listed them in reverse chronological order (with the dates of their time in office), since the more recent examples are likely to be more relevant to politics today.

Edmund Muskie (1980-1981)—never ran for office again, served on the Tower Commission, which investigated the Iran-Contra scandal

James F. Byrnes (1945-1947)—elected Governor of South Carolina in 1950

Cordell Hull (1933-1944)—never ran for office or served in government again

William Jennings Bryan (1913-1915)—never ran for office or served in government again; opposed liquor and Darwinism

Charles Evans Hughes (1921-1925)—served as an elder statesman (e.g., co-founded the National Conference on Christians and Jews) and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Philander Knox (1909-1923)—re-elected to the Senate in 1916

James G. Blaine (March 1881-December 1881, 1889-1892)—after his first term as Secretary, was his party’s unsuccessful nominee for President in 1884; he resigned during his second term on the eve of the meeting of the Republican National Convention, but when submitted for consideration by the delegates, his name drew little support; he didn’t serve in office after that

Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen (1881-1885)—never ran for office or served in government again

Hamilton Fish (1869-1877)—never ran for office or served in government again

William H. Seward (1861-1869)—never ran for office or served in government again

William L. Macy (1853-1857)—never ran for office or served in government again (died one month after leaving office)

John M. Clayton (1849-1850)—re-elected to the Senate in 1853

James Buchanan (1845-1849)—served as minister to the Court of St. James; elected President in 1856 (widely thought to be one of our worst Presidents)

John C. Calhoun (1844-1845)—returned to his Senate seat (without re-election, as far as I can tell) in 1845

Daniel Webster (1841-1843, 1850-1852)—after his first term was re-elected to the Senate in 1845 and tried unsuccessfully to get his party’s nomination for President in 1848; after his second term, again tried but failed to get his party’s nomination for President in 1852

Martin van Buren (1829-1831)—elected Vice President (1832) and later President (1836)

Henry Clay (1825-1829)—re-elected to the Senate in 1830; unsuccessfully ran for President five times

John Quincy Adams (1817-1825)—elected President in 1824; after failing to be re-elected in 1828 was later elected to the U.S. House

James Monroe (1811-1814, 1815-1817)—after first term, served as Secretary of War; after second, was elected President in 1816

James Madison (1801-1809)—elected President in 1808, and re-elected 1812

Thomas Jefferson (1789-1793)—elected Vice President in 1796, and then President (1800, 1804)

What to make of this? From 1849 onwards, there have been only twelve ex-politician Secretaries (of a total of 49 who held the job). Of that twelve, only four tried to re-enter politics—and only one ran for President (unsuccessfully).

I think it’s fair to say that the general trend during the last 150 years has been for politicians to end their political careers as Secretary of State, not to use it as a stepping board for high office, let alone still higher office (and there’s not much higher to go). While an actual historian with lots of free time could examine how a Secretary of State’s political ambitions affected his in-office performance, the subsequent careers (or lack thereof) of Secretaries at least suggests how they have perceived their role—i.e., whether as an end in itself or as a means to something else.

To anyone who would point to the noble examples of the early Secretaries of State who went on to become excellent Presidents, I would note that politics and government have changed enormously since that time, and, more importantly, “Quod licet Jovi non licet bovi” (What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to an ox). If you want favorably to compare Hillary—or any other elected politician currently up for the job—with Jefferson, Madison, or J. Q. Adams, be prepared to get laughed out of the room.

If Hillary does receive Obama’s nomination, she is almost a sure thing to be confirmed, especially since the Senate loves to support one of its own (and of course Republicans see the benefits of a Senate seat being opened up). Thus, we might end up witnessing something that hasn’t been seen since Daniel Webster: a Secretary of State who is at the same time a candidate for President. (Of course, Hillary’s case would be even more unusual; she would also be the first Secretary/presidential candidate married to an ex-President.) To those who know far more history than I do: When was the last time any member of the cabinet ran for President or Vice President? It is not a prospect I would like to see.

Read Less

Nostradamus He’s Not

A month and a half ago–typing, as it were, with fingers crossed–the Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss wrote:

What does the start of a new civil war in Iraq look like? It looks a lot like this:

The Times reports today matter-of-factly on the pattern of assassinations of Sunni members of the Sons of Iraq militia by Shiite death squads:

American military leaders disagree among themselves about whether the assassinations are increasing or whether some of the killings are merely criminal acts. But they are “watching the numbers closely,” said a military official who attends briefings on attacks.

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy piece for The Nation about the likelihood of a new civil war and a new Sunni resistance movement stemming from the sectarian Shiite government’s refusal to make a political deal with Iraq‘s Sunnis.

What does the dashing of Robert Dreyfuss’s most fervent hope look like? It looks a lot like this:

Thousands of members of local militias set up by the Americans to provide neighbourhood security and fight against al-Qaeda’s Iraq franchise are now being paid by the Iraqi government – a key test of what is a cornerstone in US efforts to restore stability.

The US military is highlighting the transition of what it calls the Sons of Iraq programme, saying it is proof the Iraqi authorities are “keeping their word.”

A month and a half ago–typing, as it were, with fingers crossed–the Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss wrote:

What does the start of a new civil war in Iraq look like? It looks a lot like this:

The Times reports today matter-of-factly on the pattern of assassinations of Sunni members of the Sons of Iraq militia by Shiite death squads:

American military leaders disagree among themselves about whether the assassinations are increasing or whether some of the killings are merely criminal acts. But they are “watching the numbers closely,” said a military official who attends briefings on attacks.

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy piece for The Nation about the likelihood of a new civil war and a new Sunni resistance movement stemming from the sectarian Shiite government’s refusal to make a political deal with Iraq‘s Sunnis.

What does the dashing of Robert Dreyfuss’s most fervent hope look like? It looks a lot like this:

Thousands of members of local militias set up by the Americans to provide neighbourhood security and fight against al-Qaeda’s Iraq franchise are now being paid by the Iraqi government – a key test of what is a cornerstone in US efforts to restore stability.

The US military is highlighting the transition of what it calls the Sons of Iraq programme, saying it is proof the Iraqi authorities are “keeping their word.”

Read Less

The Left Loses a Battle

To the chagrin of the netroots, Sen. Joe Lieberman retained his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, as well as his seat on the Armed Services Committee. It might seem obvious to conservatives that the Democrats would see it as foolhardy to pick a fight over an election they won, and lose a seat before the new Senate even convenes. But, apparently, the leftwing ranks hoped that vengeance would be extracted.

It might not be the last disappointment in store for the netroots. The Clintonites are back in droves. Hillary may be heading the State Department. And there is an agreement by the Iraqi government on a pact to allow troops to remain in Iraq up through 2012. “Worse” still, as Abe points out–no war crimes trials!

This is what they hollered, screamed, bullied, and worked so hard for?! Conservatives disappointed by defeat can take a measure of satisfaction in knowing that the Left is slowly realizing that it’s been had.

To the chagrin of the netroots, Sen. Joe Lieberman retained his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, as well as his seat on the Armed Services Committee. It might seem obvious to conservatives that the Democrats would see it as foolhardy to pick a fight over an election they won, and lose a seat before the new Senate even convenes. But, apparently, the leftwing ranks hoped that vengeance would be extracted.

It might not be the last disappointment in store for the netroots. The Clintonites are back in droves. Hillary may be heading the State Department. And there is an agreement by the Iraqi government on a pact to allow troops to remain in Iraq up through 2012. “Worse” still, as Abe points out–no war crimes trials!

This is what they hollered, screamed, bullied, and worked so hard for?! Conservatives disappointed by defeat can take a measure of satisfaction in knowing that the Left is slowly realizing that it’s been had.

Read Less

Sanity Prevails

The netroots will love this:

Barack Obama’s incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government workers who authorized or used harsh interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and humans rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration.

But two Obama advisers said there’s little – if any – chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.

During the campaign, Obama’s official plan to “end” the war in Iraq included this step: “Take immediate steps to confront the humanitarian disaster in Iraq, and hold accountable any perpetrators of war crimes.”

I guess we can safely assume that the President-elect has accurately surmised that there are no “perpetrators of war crimes” in the Bush administration.

The netroots will love this:

Barack Obama’s incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government workers who authorized or used harsh interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and humans rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration.

But two Obama advisers said there’s little – if any – chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.

During the campaign, Obama’s official plan to “end” the war in Iraq included this step: “Take immediate steps to confront the humanitarian disaster in Iraq, and hold accountable any perpetrators of war crimes.”

I guess we can safely assume that the President-elect has accurately surmised that there are no “perpetrators of war crimes” in the Bush administration.

Read Less

The New “Linkage Theory”

The “linkage theory” of Middle East peace is a much reviled theory, as far as Israelis are concerned. It assumes, wrongly, that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict–or more specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–is the key to solving the broader problems of the Middle East. As the Iraq Study Group chose to put it, “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

This is the story Arab leaders try to sell, time and again, to world leaders, mostly from America. What they tell them, in essence, is this: fix the Palestinian situation, and the rest will sort itself out. Not that they themselves believe it. They just know that this answer will buy them some precious time. Philip Zelikow, former advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, described such a mechanism more than two years ago: “For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”

It is also a story quite popular in some quarters of the American foreign policy establishment. People frustrated with U.S. failures in the region; people opposed to the war in Iraq; people angry with the “Israel lobby”; people well-connected to the “Arab lobby” or the “oil lobby”; people preoccupied with Israel’s occupation to the extent that they can’t think of anything else that’s gone wrong in the world; people who just don’t understand the Middle East. All these are easy prey for those selling the linkage theory as the ultimate cure to Middle East troubles.

But something funny has happened to the “linkage theory.” Suddenly, this theory can serve Israelis better than it serves the Arabs, or even Americans and Europeans wanting an end to Israeli “occupation.” Gideon Rachman, in a column for the Financial Times, has touched on this conceptual flip briefly, without even really acknowledging the surprising turn of events:

It is not clear that progress in one area will necessarily unlock the others. Let us say that the Iranians are miraculously persuaded to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Does that automatically lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state? Clearly not. Or put it the other way round: let us say the Israelis are miraculously persuaded to grant the Palestinians a viable state. Does that persuade the Iranians to abandon all thoughts of pursuing nuclear weapons? Clearly not. In fact, linking Iran and Israel-Palestine could inadvertently do the Iranians a favour, by tacitly conceding them a legitimate role in Gaza and in Lebanon.

So, the cat is out of the bag: “linkage” serves the Iranians! But there’s another segment of this theory that (counter-intuitively) serves Israel’s claims: solve the Iran problem, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes much easier to solve. Here’s Rachman again:

[S]ignificant progress in one area would improve prospects in another. So if there were a rapprochement between Iran and the US that involved the Iranians cutting off support for Hamas, the Israelis would feel more secure – and that might make a Middle East peace settlement easier to achieve. Similarly, the establishment of a proper Palestinian state would remove a source of anger and anti-western grievance across the region, and so undermine an angry, anti-western regime such as Iran.

The real difference between the original linkage (Palestine first) and the second (Iran first) is that the second one has a much better chance of actually making peace in the Middle East. Iran, after all–and this is something not even Israel’s critics dispute – is a source of instability across the region. Problems in Iraq: look to Iran. Problems in Lebanon: Iran funds, equips, and trains Hezbollah. Problems with the Palestinians: Iran is the backer of Hamas, the terror group controlling the Gaza strip. Syria? Iran is its principal ally.

If Iran is the hand reaching into so many pockets of trouble, why deal with the problems separately instead of going to the source? Rachman seems to prefer the “separate” approach, thinking–not without merit–that dealing with the region as a package carries the “risk of being over-ambitious.” Other serious scholars concluded, long ago, that “linkages simply don’t exist.” However, if one still believes that “linkage” is the way, dealing with Iran first is the more rational way to go.

Of course, such theories, if offered by Israeli officials, will immediately raise doubts about Israel’s sincerity and seriousness on the Palestinian front. I can already hear the coming complaints: the Israelis are trying to buy time, they are looking for excuses not to do anything, they are dragging their feet, they are overstating the danger of Iran to avoid the tough choices Israel has to make, etc. But hey, Israelis didn’t invent the linkage theory, or encourage others to link Arab-Israeli peace with the general instability of the region.

The “linkage theory” of Middle East peace is a much reviled theory, as far as Israelis are concerned. It assumes, wrongly, that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict–or more specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–is the key to solving the broader problems of the Middle East. As the Iraq Study Group chose to put it, “the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

This is the story Arab leaders try to sell, time and again, to world leaders, mostly from America. What they tell them, in essence, is this: fix the Palestinian situation, and the rest will sort itself out. Not that they themselves believe it. They just know that this answer will buy them some precious time. Philip Zelikow, former advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, described such a mechanism more than two years ago: “For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about.”

It is also a story quite popular in some quarters of the American foreign policy establishment. People frustrated with U.S. failures in the region; people opposed to the war in Iraq; people angry with the “Israel lobby”; people well-connected to the “Arab lobby” or the “oil lobby”; people preoccupied with Israel’s occupation to the extent that they can’t think of anything else that’s gone wrong in the world; people who just don’t understand the Middle East. All these are easy prey for those selling the linkage theory as the ultimate cure to Middle East troubles.

But something funny has happened to the “linkage theory.” Suddenly, this theory can serve Israelis better than it serves the Arabs, or even Americans and Europeans wanting an end to Israeli “occupation.” Gideon Rachman, in a column for the Financial Times, has touched on this conceptual flip briefly, without even really acknowledging the surprising turn of events:

It is not clear that progress in one area will necessarily unlock the others. Let us say that the Iranians are miraculously persuaded to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Does that automatically lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state? Clearly not. Or put it the other way round: let us say the Israelis are miraculously persuaded to grant the Palestinians a viable state. Does that persuade the Iranians to abandon all thoughts of pursuing nuclear weapons? Clearly not. In fact, linking Iran and Israel-Palestine could inadvertently do the Iranians a favour, by tacitly conceding them a legitimate role in Gaza and in Lebanon.

So, the cat is out of the bag: “linkage” serves the Iranians! But there’s another segment of this theory that (counter-intuitively) serves Israel’s claims: solve the Iran problem, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes much easier to solve. Here’s Rachman again:

[S]ignificant progress in one area would improve prospects in another. So if there were a rapprochement between Iran and the US that involved the Iranians cutting off support for Hamas, the Israelis would feel more secure – and that might make a Middle East peace settlement easier to achieve. Similarly, the establishment of a proper Palestinian state would remove a source of anger and anti-western grievance across the region, and so undermine an angry, anti-western regime such as Iran.

The real difference between the original linkage (Palestine first) and the second (Iran first) is that the second one has a much better chance of actually making peace in the Middle East. Iran, after all–and this is something not even Israel’s critics dispute – is a source of instability across the region. Problems in Iraq: look to Iran. Problems in Lebanon: Iran funds, equips, and trains Hezbollah. Problems with the Palestinians: Iran is the backer of Hamas, the terror group controlling the Gaza strip. Syria? Iran is its principal ally.

If Iran is the hand reaching into so many pockets of trouble, why deal with the problems separately instead of going to the source? Rachman seems to prefer the “separate” approach, thinking–not without merit–that dealing with the region as a package carries the “risk of being over-ambitious.” Other serious scholars concluded, long ago, that “linkages simply don’t exist.” However, if one still believes that “linkage” is the way, dealing with Iran first is the more rational way to go.

Of course, such theories, if offered by Israeli officials, will immediately raise doubts about Israel’s sincerity and seriousness on the Palestinian front. I can already hear the coming complaints: the Israelis are trying to buy time, they are looking for excuses not to do anything, they are dragging their feet, they are overstating the danger of Iran to avoid the tough choices Israel has to make, etc. But hey, Israelis didn’t invent the linkage theory, or encourage others to link Arab-Israeli peace with the general instability of the region.

Read Less

Nukes for Easter!

Speaking at a MILCOM symposium in San Diego (MILCOM is a long-running policy conference on military and security issues), Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell had this to say about Iran:

Let me close by just mentioning Iran. Iran is currently pursuing fissile material. We suspect – although we cannot prove – that Iran secretly desires a nuclear weapon, certainly a nuclear device. If Iran achieves such capability, then the stability of the Cold War that was witnessed between the United States and the Soviet Union or NATO and the Soviet Union would be unlikely to be achieved in the Gulf. And that’s going to – at least in this observer’s view – going to set off an arms race in the Gulf that would be very destabilizing and could have global impact.

We are going to be dependant on oil for the foreseeable future. A major portion of it still flows out of the Middle East. And with Iran armed with a nuclear weapon, it would be incredibly, incredibly destabilizing.

His forecast is accurate–if incomplete–and should instill a sense of urgency among those deciding about future measures against the Islamic republic. Especially in light of recent reports about Iran’s nuke timeline, which would put the country in a position to have enough weapons-grade uranium to build a first-generation bomb by Easter 2009.

Of course, McConnell’s views are operational. He emphasized “the importance of a strong, professional, apolitical Intelligence Community.” His thinking is apolitical, like the thinking that produced the NIE on Iran last December. Given the confusion caused by that, and the serious consequences it had on the ability of the Bush administration to threaten Iran, one should consider the meaning of negotiating with a regime whose nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger such a scenario as the one described above.

For those who advocate negotiations with Iran–even as a way to build up enough international consensus for more pressure–this should be a cautionary tale. First, there might not be enough time to try this new strategy. Iran may cross the point of no return before the next administration has had all its foreign policy appointments confirmed in the Senate. Second, talking has been tried extensively, and has only served Iran’s attempts to gain time. And this time around, talking might help Iran get across the finish line. And third, because even after the international community talked to Iran for six years and kept accommodating Iran’s demands and reduced its own, there was no international appetite for real action against Iran. More carrots and more dialogue yielded two outcomes: Iran moved closer to usable nukes, and the international community declared its readiness to give Iran more in exchange for less. Isn’t it a bit silly to re-try a failed policy, already abundantly tested, that gives such bad results?

Speaking at a MILCOM symposium in San Diego (MILCOM is a long-running policy conference on military and security issues), Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell had this to say about Iran:

Let me close by just mentioning Iran. Iran is currently pursuing fissile material. We suspect – although we cannot prove – that Iran secretly desires a nuclear weapon, certainly a nuclear device. If Iran achieves such capability, then the stability of the Cold War that was witnessed between the United States and the Soviet Union or NATO and the Soviet Union would be unlikely to be achieved in the Gulf. And that’s going to – at least in this observer’s view – going to set off an arms race in the Gulf that would be very destabilizing and could have global impact.

We are going to be dependant on oil for the foreseeable future. A major portion of it still flows out of the Middle East. And with Iran armed with a nuclear weapon, it would be incredibly, incredibly destabilizing.

His forecast is accurate–if incomplete–and should instill a sense of urgency among those deciding about future measures against the Islamic republic. Especially in light of recent reports about Iran’s nuke timeline, which would put the country in a position to have enough weapons-grade uranium to build a first-generation bomb by Easter 2009.

Of course, McConnell’s views are operational. He emphasized “the importance of a strong, professional, apolitical Intelligence Community.” His thinking is apolitical, like the thinking that produced the NIE on Iran last December. Given the confusion caused by that, and the serious consequences it had on the ability of the Bush administration to threaten Iran, one should consider the meaning of negotiating with a regime whose nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger such a scenario as the one described above.

For those who advocate negotiations with Iran–even as a way to build up enough international consensus for more pressure–this should be a cautionary tale. First, there might not be enough time to try this new strategy. Iran may cross the point of no return before the next administration has had all its foreign policy appointments confirmed in the Senate. Second, talking has been tried extensively, and has only served Iran’s attempts to gain time. And this time around, talking might help Iran get across the finish line. And third, because even after the international community talked to Iran for six years and kept accommodating Iran’s demands and reduced its own, there was no international appetite for real action against Iran. More carrots and more dialogue yielded two outcomes: Iran moved closer to usable nukes, and the international community declared its readiness to give Iran more in exchange for less. Isn’t it a bit silly to re-try a failed policy, already abundantly tested, that gives such bad results?

Read Less

A Pose by Any Other Name

This statistic is from Bret Stephens’ excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The number of Americans who self-identify as liberals continues to fall, to 21% in 2008 from 22% in 2004, according to CNN. (The number of self-identified conservatives held steady at 34%.)

But that’s because the liberal talking points of 2004 have been completely embraced by the moderates of 2008. Just as the moderate talking points of 2004 are finding favor among the conservatives of 2008. Forget what voters call themselves — this is what it means when a country slides to the Left.

A 2007 study found that 71 percent of Republicans polled identified as conservative. That’s 16 percent more than in 1997. Which means we’re an increasingly conservative country right? Not really. The same study also found that over the ten years, Republicans became more likely to support gays in the military and universal healthcare, and less likely to be “free-marketeers.”

A Rasmussen poll conducted this last July found that libertarians favored Obama to McCain 53 to 38 percent. These are the people who supposedly reject hand-outs as paternal, and larger government involvement as criminal. Yet they overwhelmingly went for the candidate who plans to set up free pre-school for every American three-year-old, and heavily subsidized healthcare for any American who wants it.

This phenomenon is the political equivalent of the shift we’ve seen in religious identification over the past few decades. The self-proclaimed Christians who don’t go to church, the Jews who don’t attend synagogue, the whole “spiritual but not religious” a la carte approach to belief. You can keep calling yourself anything you like, I suppose, as long as you keep updating the term to fit your fancy.

This statistic is from Bret Stephens’ excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

The number of Americans who self-identify as liberals continues to fall, to 21% in 2008 from 22% in 2004, according to CNN. (The number of self-identified conservatives held steady at 34%.)

But that’s because the liberal talking points of 2004 have been completely embraced by the moderates of 2008. Just as the moderate talking points of 2004 are finding favor among the conservatives of 2008. Forget what voters call themselves — this is what it means when a country slides to the Left.

A 2007 study found that 71 percent of Republicans polled identified as conservative. That’s 16 percent more than in 1997. Which means we’re an increasingly conservative country right? Not really. The same study also found that over the ten years, Republicans became more likely to support gays in the military and universal healthcare, and less likely to be “free-marketeers.”

A Rasmussen poll conducted this last July found that libertarians favored Obama to McCain 53 to 38 percent. These are the people who supposedly reject hand-outs as paternal, and larger government involvement as criminal. Yet they overwhelmingly went for the candidate who plans to set up free pre-school for every American three-year-old, and heavily subsidized healthcare for any American who wants it.

This phenomenon is the political equivalent of the shift we’ve seen in religious identification over the past few decades. The self-proclaimed Christians who don’t go to church, the Jews who don’t attend synagogue, the whole “spiritual but not religious” a la carte approach to belief. You can keep calling yourself anything you like, I suppose, as long as you keep updating the term to fit your fancy.

Read Less

The Big Three Make Their Play

Management of the Big Three automakers will be on Capitol Hill today, begging for federal money to bail them out of the mess they are in. Right there beside them will be their partner in failure, the United Auto Workers.

As a general proposition, when an industry and its unions want the same thing from the federal government, the answer should always be no. In the 1970′s, the airlines and their unions fought deregulation. So did the trucking industry and the Teamsters. Both got told no, and the American economy is much better off as a result. In 1980, shipping costs were fifteen percent of GDP. Today they are about ten percent. Translation: when the Interstate Commerce Commission cartel ended, shipping costs declined by a third, reducing the price of goods generally.

The big American automakers once bestrode the world of American capitalism. Charles Wilson, president of General Motors before becoming defense secretary in the Eisenhower Administration, is famously supposed to have said that “what is good for General Motors is good for the United States.” (This takes the world-record for being quoted out of context for political purposes. What Wilson actually said, in a closed Senate committee hearing, was “What is good for the United States is good for General Motors and vice versa,” which is a very different statement indeed.)

But they suffered the fate of becoming a cartel, with the antitrust laws functioning as the necessary enforcement mechanism to prevent attempts to compete for market share. Further, they had the American market entirely to themselves for decades, except for niches like sports cars and the Volkswagen beetle. With virtually guaranteed profits, they shared these profits with the UAW with ever more generous labor contracts. With a guaranteed market, they became fat, lazy, uninnovative, and incredibly bureaucratic.

When the party ended in the early 1970′s, with the first oil shock, they proved unable to compete with the foreign cars that began to pour in from Japan and Europe. While the quality of their cars has improved, they have been struggling ever since to find a business model that works. They remain bureaucratic and uninnovative, while the UAW leadership has found it politically impossible to adapt to the new reality.

Falling oil prices in the 1980′s and 90′s postponed disaster, allowing fat profits from SUV’s and pickup trucks. But the market for gas-guzzlers has dried up with $4.00 gas and the Big Three can’t make money on small cars because of their built in labor costs.

So they and the union have come, hat in hand, to Washington, asking for a bailout. It would, presumably, stave off collapse, but for how long? There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the American automobile industry. Honda opened a brand new plant in Indiana yesterday. What’s needed to save the Big Three, as distinct from the industry as a whole, is to destroy the poisonous legacy of the cartel days. And that is best accomplished–as Jennifer has noted–in bankruptcy court, not with a bailout.

Management of the Big Three automakers will be on Capitol Hill today, begging for federal money to bail them out of the mess they are in. Right there beside them will be their partner in failure, the United Auto Workers.

As a general proposition, when an industry and its unions want the same thing from the federal government, the answer should always be no. In the 1970′s, the airlines and their unions fought deregulation. So did the trucking industry and the Teamsters. Both got told no, and the American economy is much better off as a result. In 1980, shipping costs were fifteen percent of GDP. Today they are about ten percent. Translation: when the Interstate Commerce Commission cartel ended, shipping costs declined by a third, reducing the price of goods generally.

The big American automakers once bestrode the world of American capitalism. Charles Wilson, president of General Motors before becoming defense secretary in the Eisenhower Administration, is famously supposed to have said that “what is good for General Motors is good for the United States.” (This takes the world-record for being quoted out of context for political purposes. What Wilson actually said, in a closed Senate committee hearing, was “What is good for the United States is good for General Motors and vice versa,” which is a very different statement indeed.)

But they suffered the fate of becoming a cartel, with the antitrust laws functioning as the necessary enforcement mechanism to prevent attempts to compete for market share. Further, they had the American market entirely to themselves for decades, except for niches like sports cars and the Volkswagen beetle. With virtually guaranteed profits, they shared these profits with the UAW with ever more generous labor contracts. With a guaranteed market, they became fat, lazy, uninnovative, and incredibly bureaucratic.

When the party ended in the early 1970′s, with the first oil shock, they proved unable to compete with the foreign cars that began to pour in from Japan and Europe. While the quality of their cars has improved, they have been struggling ever since to find a business model that works. They remain bureaucratic and uninnovative, while the UAW leadership has found it politically impossible to adapt to the new reality.

Falling oil prices in the 1980′s and 90′s postponed disaster, allowing fat profits from SUV’s and pickup trucks. But the market for gas-guzzlers has dried up with $4.00 gas and the Big Three can’t make money on small cars because of their built in labor costs.

So they and the union have come, hat in hand, to Washington, asking for a bailout. It would, presumably, stave off collapse, but for how long? There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the American automobile industry. Honda opened a brand new plant in Indiana yesterday. What’s needed to save the Big Three, as distinct from the industry as a whole, is to destroy the poisonous legacy of the cartel days. And that is best accomplished–as Jennifer has noted–in bankruptcy court, not with a bailout.

Read Less

Barack Delano Roosevelt?

Richard Cohen counsels Barack Obama to abandon Lincoln and embrace FDR. Forget about embracing your rivals, he says, and grab FDR’s “willingness to try almost anything.” But, then again, Cohen concedes that “The New Deal did not end the Depression. WWII did.” (Actually, the Depression got worse under FDR, before war preparation jump-started the economy.) So what’s the point here?

There are two: one sensible and one misguided. On the sensible side: yes, optimism does help, and no one wants to see the President mope. Conservatives didn’t much like it when candidate Obama bemoaned the awful state of America, allegedly the land of defeat, deprivation, and worry. So by all means be jaunty and hopeful.

The misguided point has entranced virtually the entire MSM cheering section. The media now pictures Obama quite literally as the next FDR. Unbridled and undisciplined meddling in the U.S. economy, tax hikes, protectionism, and runaway spending — all elements of the New Deal — lead to a deepening recession. It is folly to urge Obama to repeat the errors of the past in haze of nostalgia.

So it is not just comity that might be served by a Lincoln-like employment of rivals in the Obama cabinet. It is an insurance policy against extremism. Some of those rivals may prevent him from the harmful course of action urged on by his liberal base. Some of those Clinton advisors (and Hillary Clinton herself) might implore him to refrain from racking up billions more in debt or abandoning free trade. They might urge that the tax increase be put off.  A smart President hires rivals not simply to impress the country with his generosity of spirit, but to prevent himself from jumping off an ideological cliff.

So the President-elect can and should be as cheery as possible — but that’s about the only aspect of FDR he should mimic.

Richard Cohen counsels Barack Obama to abandon Lincoln and embrace FDR. Forget about embracing your rivals, he says, and grab FDR’s “willingness to try almost anything.” But, then again, Cohen concedes that “The New Deal did not end the Depression. WWII did.” (Actually, the Depression got worse under FDR, before war preparation jump-started the economy.) So what’s the point here?

There are two: one sensible and one misguided. On the sensible side: yes, optimism does help, and no one wants to see the President mope. Conservatives didn’t much like it when candidate Obama bemoaned the awful state of America, allegedly the land of defeat, deprivation, and worry. So by all means be jaunty and hopeful.

The misguided point has entranced virtually the entire MSM cheering section. The media now pictures Obama quite literally as the next FDR. Unbridled and undisciplined meddling in the U.S. economy, tax hikes, protectionism, and runaway spending — all elements of the New Deal — lead to a deepening recession. It is folly to urge Obama to repeat the errors of the past in haze of nostalgia.

So it is not just comity that might be served by a Lincoln-like employment of rivals in the Obama cabinet. It is an insurance policy against extremism. Some of those rivals may prevent him from the harmful course of action urged on by his liberal base. Some of those Clinton advisors (and Hillary Clinton herself) might implore him to refrain from racking up billions more in debt or abandoning free trade. They might urge that the tax increase be put off.  A smart President hires rivals not simply to impress the country with his generosity of spirit, but to prevent himself from jumping off an ideological cliff.

So the President-elect can and should be as cheery as possible — but that’s about the only aspect of FDR he should mimic.

Read Less

Protect the Terps!

The situation in Iraq has improved dramatically, but has it gotten so good that interpreters for U.S. forces can walk around unmasked? The U.S. military seems to think so; it’s ordered “terps” to take off their masks or to take a hike. But the terps themselves have a different view. As reported by the Washington Post, many of these brave Iraqis, who have risked so much to aid U.S. forces, are terrified that they and their families will be killed if they reveal their identities. And with good cause: Many terps and their families have already been targeted by insurgents who know they are a weak link in the U.S. war effort.

The U.S. has not done right by these Iraqi heroes. Our government has done little to protect them, and has dragged its feet on letting them come to the U.S., where many of them desperately seek refuge. Now this. I can see why commanders would not want men in ski masks operating with their troops, but such concerns have to be weighed against the lives in the balance. The U.S. treatment of our Iraqi interpreters once again goes to show what so many Hungarians, Vietnamese, and others have learned over the years: that it can be more dangerous to be America’s friend than to be its enemy.

The situation in Iraq has improved dramatically, but has it gotten so good that interpreters for U.S. forces can walk around unmasked? The U.S. military seems to think so; it’s ordered “terps” to take off their masks or to take a hike. But the terps themselves have a different view. As reported by the Washington Post, many of these brave Iraqis, who have risked so much to aid U.S. forces, are terrified that they and their families will be killed if they reveal their identities. And with good cause: Many terps and their families have already been targeted by insurgents who know they are a weak link in the U.S. war effort.

The U.S. has not done right by these Iraqi heroes. Our government has done little to protect them, and has dragged its feet on letting them come to the U.S., where many of them desperately seek refuge. Now this. I can see why commanders would not want men in ski masks operating with their troops, but such concerns have to be weighed against the lives in the balance. The U.S. treatment of our Iraqi interpreters once again goes to show what so many Hungarians, Vietnamese, and others have learned over the years: that it can be more dangerous to be America’s friend than to be its enemy.

Read Less

Forget the Medal

William McGurn recounts NSC Advisor Stephen Hadley’s courageous role in backing the surge, when virtually no one supported such an approach. McGurn then concludes:

At bottom, Mr. Obama’s war stance boils down to reducing our presence in Iraq and increasing our presence in Afghanistan. The success of the surge permits him to carry out this strategy from a position of strength. In fact, the security pact just approved by Iraq’s cabinet suggests that Mr. Obama is now in a position to achieve most of his Iraq aims without jeopardizing the hard-won gains our troops have made — provided he keeps his word to listen to our commanders on the ground.

Awarding Steve Hadley the Medal of Freedom would cost Mr. Obama nothing, save possibly a few howls from the Daily Kos. Surely it is not beyond a candidate who has already conceded that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams” to bestow the Medal of Freedom on the public servant who made that success possible.

Were President Obama to do so, a good man would receive an honor he richly deserves. The American people would see a new president confident enough to acknowledge the success of a decision he opposed. And the world would know that when the United States does leave Iraq, we intend to walk out with honor instead of being helo’d off an embassy rooftop.

A medal for Hadley might be out of the question, but I am confident he would be quite satisfied with the successful completion of the surge he nurtured. This, perhaps more than any economic decision, is the true test of character and intellectual independence for the President-elect. Is he simply a pawn of the netroots, forever bound to his campaign rhetoric and oblivious to the consequences of victory? Or is he the thoughtful, non-ideologue which many of his supporters assure us he is? If the latter, certainly he would not cast victory aside now — when he has been placed on the precipice of an extraordinary achievement, the establishment of a functioning, stable Iraq and a humiliating defeat of Al Qaeda at the hands of not just the U.S. but another Islamic nation.

We will see which path President-elect Obama takes. To a large extent, his intentions will be revealed by his cabinet picks. Certainly Robert Gates’ retention would be a big hint he doesn’t desire to discard victory, while choosing Chuck Hagel would suggest the opposite. But one thing we learned from the Presidency of George W. Bush: ultimately it comes down to the President. It is his call, and his call alone.

William McGurn recounts NSC Advisor Stephen Hadley’s courageous role in backing the surge, when virtually no one supported such an approach. McGurn then concludes:

At bottom, Mr. Obama’s war stance boils down to reducing our presence in Iraq and increasing our presence in Afghanistan. The success of the surge permits him to carry out this strategy from a position of strength. In fact, the security pact just approved by Iraq’s cabinet suggests that Mr. Obama is now in a position to achieve most of his Iraq aims without jeopardizing the hard-won gains our troops have made — provided he keeps his word to listen to our commanders on the ground.

Awarding Steve Hadley the Medal of Freedom would cost Mr. Obama nothing, save possibly a few howls from the Daily Kos. Surely it is not beyond a candidate who has already conceded that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams” to bestow the Medal of Freedom on the public servant who made that success possible.

Were President Obama to do so, a good man would receive an honor he richly deserves. The American people would see a new president confident enough to acknowledge the success of a decision he opposed. And the world would know that when the United States does leave Iraq, we intend to walk out with honor instead of being helo’d off an embassy rooftop.

A medal for Hadley might be out of the question, but I am confident he would be quite satisfied with the successful completion of the surge he nurtured. This, perhaps more than any economic decision, is the true test of character and intellectual independence for the President-elect. Is he simply a pawn of the netroots, forever bound to his campaign rhetoric and oblivious to the consequences of victory? Or is he the thoughtful, non-ideologue which many of his supporters assure us he is? If the latter, certainly he would not cast victory aside now — when he has been placed on the precipice of an extraordinary achievement, the establishment of a functioning, stable Iraq and a humiliating defeat of Al Qaeda at the hands of not just the U.S. but another Islamic nation.

We will see which path President-elect Obama takes. To a large extent, his intentions will be revealed by his cabinet picks. Certainly Robert Gates’ retention would be a big hint he doesn’t desire to discard victory, while choosing Chuck Hagel would suggest the opposite. But one thing we learned from the Presidency of George W. Bush: ultimately it comes down to the President. It is his call, and his call alone.

Read Less

An Old Threat, Resurgent

The first challenge the nascent United States faced was the problem of the Barbary Pirates, who operated from a collection of city-states along the north coast of Africa. They demanded tribute from all who would ply those waters, and woe unto the vessels bearing the flag of a nation that did not pay the Danegeld.

The youthful United States paid the tribute at first, but beginning with the administration of Thomas Jefferson, that changes. Instead of sending gold, he sent wood and iron and canvas — and men. The United States Navy accepted the challenge of the Barbary Pirates, and crossed the Atlantic to face them down. And it was then that the United States Marine Corps won the battles that are celebrated in the second line of the Marine Hymn: “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Unfortunately, the peace was not a lasting one. Ten years later, the U.S. had to return and remind the Barbary Pirates that the United States was not to be trifled with. In the aftermath, the European nations — who were not currently distracted by fighting among themselves — chose to follow America’s example and assert their own strength.

Piracy fell on hard times for a while, especially through World War II. The Royal Navy was absolute death on pirates, and the Union Jack was feared by those who followed the Jolly Roger. And as other nations’ navies grew and other nations’ empires spread around the world, the German, Japanese, Dutch, and even American flags helped maintain the peace on the high seas — as pirates were declared the enemies of all nations, and all warships regardless of origin were obligated to fight them.

In the aftermath of World War II, the high seas became a somewhat less hostile environment for pirates. The Royal Navy, while triumphant, began a long, slow contraction from its prior status as the preeminent navy in the world. The Japanese Navy was no more. The Dutch Navy was seriously impaired. The Italian Navy was devastated. The German Navy — which had been nearly wiped out during World War I — was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. The only flag that truly commanded the seven seas was the Stars and Stripes — and even then would not last for long.

In the heady days after the end of World War II, the United States Navy rapidly decommissioned a huge percentage of the fleet it had built — mostly during the war. Then, as our attention was drawn to the threat of the Soviet Union, we rebuilt the fleet once more — but this time, in reaction to the nature of that threat, in a different form. Our ships were bigger, more expensive, more advanced, and far more lethal than any in history.

And, consequently, far fewer.

In 1945, 70% of the world’s warships displacing over 1,000 tons flew the Stars and Stripes. We had built literally thousands of warships between 1933 and 1945, and within a few years after that had sent the majority of them to mothballs or the scrap yards. So while American power on the high seas was greater than ever, it was concentrated on fewer ships — meaning that we simply didn’t have the hulls to “show the flag” in as many places.

That pattern continued into the 1980′s, when President Reagan oversaw the rebuilding of the Navy with a proclaimed goal of 600 ships. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decline resumed, until today the United States  has barely 200 warships in commission.

And yet we still are the only true naval superpower. Measured in tonnage, 70% of the world’s warships are American.

As navies have contracted, the return of pirates has gone 0n — with few paying much attention. One group that has made it its role to keep an eye on things is the Interational Maritime Bureau, who serve as a clearinghouse for reports of pirate attacks. And their map of pirate attacks for just this year alone is deeply troubling.

Today’s pirates don’t sail mighty ships. They don’t wield cutlasses and muskets. And they don’t fly the Jolly Roger. Instead, they largely use small, fast boats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. And they are far, far removed from Jack Sparrow and other romantic images of pirates we hold.

And now, they have captured a fully-loaded Saudi supertanker.

This is not going unnoticed by the traditional enemies of pirates. The United States Navy has fought pirates on several occasions off the eastern coast of Africa, and just last week the Royal Navy fought and defeated a group of pirates.

The threat of piracy is small, but it is growing. And there is no concerted international effort to do a damned thing about it. What is needed, more than anything else, is numbers — not high-tech whiz ships that can do anything and everything, but enough small combatants that can be cheap enough to deploy in large numbers to the corners of the globe where pirates are growing the most bold — such as off  the coasts of Africa and around Indonesia.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. It appears that we need to learn once again the lessons of the Barbary Pirates, 200 years later.

The first challenge the nascent United States faced was the problem of the Barbary Pirates, who operated from a collection of city-states along the north coast of Africa. They demanded tribute from all who would ply those waters, and woe unto the vessels bearing the flag of a nation that did not pay the Danegeld.

The youthful United States paid the tribute at first, but beginning with the administration of Thomas Jefferson, that changes. Instead of sending gold, he sent wood and iron and canvas — and men. The United States Navy accepted the challenge of the Barbary Pirates, and crossed the Atlantic to face them down. And it was then that the United States Marine Corps won the battles that are celebrated in the second line of the Marine Hymn: “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Unfortunately, the peace was not a lasting one. Ten years later, the U.S. had to return and remind the Barbary Pirates that the United States was not to be trifled with. In the aftermath, the European nations — who were not currently distracted by fighting among themselves — chose to follow America’s example and assert their own strength.

Piracy fell on hard times for a while, especially through World War II. The Royal Navy was absolute death on pirates, and the Union Jack was feared by those who followed the Jolly Roger. And as other nations’ navies grew and other nations’ empires spread around the world, the German, Japanese, Dutch, and even American flags helped maintain the peace on the high seas — as pirates were declared the enemies of all nations, and all warships regardless of origin were obligated to fight them.

In the aftermath of World War II, the high seas became a somewhat less hostile environment for pirates. The Royal Navy, while triumphant, began a long, slow contraction from its prior status as the preeminent navy in the world. The Japanese Navy was no more. The Dutch Navy was seriously impaired. The Italian Navy was devastated. The German Navy — which had been nearly wiped out during World War I — was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. The only flag that truly commanded the seven seas was the Stars and Stripes — and even then would not last for long.

In the heady days after the end of World War II, the United States Navy rapidly decommissioned a huge percentage of the fleet it had built — mostly during the war. Then, as our attention was drawn to the threat of the Soviet Union, we rebuilt the fleet once more — but this time, in reaction to the nature of that threat, in a different form. Our ships were bigger, more expensive, more advanced, and far more lethal than any in history.

And, consequently, far fewer.

In 1945, 70% of the world’s warships displacing over 1,000 tons flew the Stars and Stripes. We had built literally thousands of warships between 1933 and 1945, and within a few years after that had sent the majority of them to mothballs or the scrap yards. So while American power on the high seas was greater than ever, it was concentrated on fewer ships — meaning that we simply didn’t have the hulls to “show the flag” in as many places.

That pattern continued into the 1980′s, when President Reagan oversaw the rebuilding of the Navy with a proclaimed goal of 600 ships. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decline resumed, until today the United States  has barely 200 warships in commission.

And yet we still are the only true naval superpower. Measured in tonnage, 70% of the world’s warships are American.

As navies have contracted, the return of pirates has gone 0n — with few paying much attention. One group that has made it its role to keep an eye on things is the Interational Maritime Bureau, who serve as a clearinghouse for reports of pirate attacks. And their map of pirate attacks for just this year alone is deeply troubling.

Today’s pirates don’t sail mighty ships. They don’t wield cutlasses and muskets. And they don’t fly the Jolly Roger. Instead, they largely use small, fast boats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. And they are far, far removed from Jack Sparrow and other romantic images of pirates we hold.

And now, they have captured a fully-loaded Saudi supertanker.

This is not going unnoticed by the traditional enemies of pirates. The United States Navy has fought pirates on several occasions off the eastern coast of Africa, and just last week the Royal Navy fought and defeated a group of pirates.

The threat of piracy is small, but it is growing. And there is no concerted international effort to do a damned thing about it. What is needed, more than anything else, is numbers — not high-tech whiz ships that can do anything and everything, but enough small combatants that can be cheap enough to deploy in large numbers to the corners of the globe where pirates are growing the most bold — such as off  the coasts of Africa and around Indonesia.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. It appears that we need to learn once again the lessons of the Barbary Pirates, 200 years later.

Read Less

Pass the Buck on This One

Harvard economist Martin Feldstein explains the benefits of Chapter 11 for the auto industry:

The Big Three pay much higher wages than production workers are paid in the nonunion auto firms and in the general economy. And the health-care costs of current workers and retired union members are an enormous additional burden. The simplest solution is to allow GM and the others to file for bankruptcy. If the companies file under Chapter 11, they would be able to continue producing cars, and the workforce would remain employed while the firms reorganized. The firms would also be able to get short-term credit under bankruptcy protection.

But, aware that the new administration might not be able to withstand the pleas of the auto companies and their allies, he counsels that Congress would be well advised to prescribe the same stiff medicine:

To do that, the government should insist that the unions accept reductions in wages and benefits to levels that allow the firms to compete with imports and with nonunion U.S. auto firms. The trustees of retiree benefits should be required to accept reductions in those benefits. The government should also insist that management eliminate dividends and restrain salaries until the firms return to profitability. Even creditors should have to accept write-downs in the value of their debts.

The government has substantial leverage to ensure that these changes occur. The auto companies’ management, unions, trustees of retiree benefits and creditors would recognize that without government assistance, the firms would be forced into bankruptcy and that the bankruptcy court could require even more severe cuts in incomes, benefits and payments to shareholders and creditors.

Does anyone believe a Democratic Congress and Democratic President   – which collectively received hundreds of millions of dollars in soft and hard campaign money from Big Labor – would have the nerve to insist on this very harsh but needed corrective action? I certainly don’t.

So perhaps the easiest way out politically, which just coincidentally happens to be the smarter economic avenue, is to let GM receive its bitter pills from the bankruptcy court. Hey, it’s those mean Republicans who would not agree to the bailout. The Democrats would have liked to have helped — honest. Really, if the Obama Administration wants to be both fiscally responsible and politically astute, the easiest course may be to let Chapter 11 work its will.

But why not just throw billions more at the Big Three and require some half-hearted reform measures? Because it is obvious, even to Democrats, that GM would burn through that and be back for more (or eventually file for bankruptcy after squandering taxpayers’ money). So long as the Republicans don’t give them cover, they may be unwilling to pursue that folly on their own. Hence the “punt” to January on the auto bailout measure is expected this week, as Democrats discover they have few willing co-conspirators on the other side of the aisle.

So we inevitably come back to the same conclusion. As many others have advocated, George Will declares:

Do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection, so that improvident labor contracts can be unraveled, allowing the companies to try to devise plausible business models.

We’ll see if the Democrats come to the conclusion that GM must revamp its cost structure.

Harvard economist Martin Feldstein explains the benefits of Chapter 11 for the auto industry:

The Big Three pay much higher wages than production workers are paid in the nonunion auto firms and in the general economy. And the health-care costs of current workers and retired union members are an enormous additional burden. The simplest solution is to allow GM and the others to file for bankruptcy. If the companies file under Chapter 11, they would be able to continue producing cars, and the workforce would remain employed while the firms reorganized. The firms would also be able to get short-term credit under bankruptcy protection.

But, aware that the new administration might not be able to withstand the pleas of the auto companies and their allies, he counsels that Congress would be well advised to prescribe the same stiff medicine:

To do that, the government should insist that the unions accept reductions in wages and benefits to levels that allow the firms to compete with imports and with nonunion U.S. auto firms. The trustees of retiree benefits should be required to accept reductions in those benefits. The government should also insist that management eliminate dividends and restrain salaries until the firms return to profitability. Even creditors should have to accept write-downs in the value of their debts.

The government has substantial leverage to ensure that these changes occur. The auto companies’ management, unions, trustees of retiree benefits and creditors would recognize that without government assistance, the firms would be forced into bankruptcy and that the bankruptcy court could require even more severe cuts in incomes, benefits and payments to shareholders and creditors.

Does anyone believe a Democratic Congress and Democratic President   – which collectively received hundreds of millions of dollars in soft and hard campaign money from Big Labor – would have the nerve to insist on this very harsh but needed corrective action? I certainly don’t.

So perhaps the easiest way out politically, which just coincidentally happens to be the smarter economic avenue, is to let GM receive its bitter pills from the bankruptcy court. Hey, it’s those mean Republicans who would not agree to the bailout. The Democrats would have liked to have helped — honest. Really, if the Obama Administration wants to be both fiscally responsible and politically astute, the easiest course may be to let Chapter 11 work its will.

But why not just throw billions more at the Big Three and require some half-hearted reform measures? Because it is obvious, even to Democrats, that GM would burn through that and be back for more (or eventually file for bankruptcy after squandering taxpayers’ money). So long as the Republicans don’t give them cover, they may be unwilling to pursue that folly on their own. Hence the “punt” to January on the auto bailout measure is expected this week, as Democrats discover they have few willing co-conspirators on the other side of the aisle.

So we inevitably come back to the same conclusion. As many others have advocated, George Will declares:

Do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection, so that improvident labor contracts can be unraveled, allowing the companies to try to devise plausible business models.

We’ll see if the Democrats come to the conclusion that GM must revamp its cost structure.

Read Less

Olmert Behaving Badly

How did Ehud Olmert respond to “a new upsurge in fighting” between Israel and the Palestinians? He demonstrated “goodwill,” by promising to release 250 Palestinian prisoners. This is not the first time Olmert’s actions have been dangerous and destructive. But two months after officially resigning his post, the Prime Minister is still compromising Israel’s safety.

How did Ehud Olmert respond to “a new upsurge in fighting” between Israel and the Palestinians? He demonstrated “goodwill,” by promising to release 250 Palestinian prisoners. This is not the first time Olmert’s actions have been dangerous and destructive. But two months after officially resigning his post, the Prime Minister is still compromising Israel’s safety.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.