Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 28, 2008

Living in “Remarkably Peaceful Times”

“Rhetoric about transcendent threats and mortal dangers grips the imagination of the American people,” Fareed Zakaria wrote in the middle of September.  “Ever since World War II, the United States has tended to make its strategic missteps by exaggerating dangers.”

We do?  At this moment Mumbai is still burning and counting the dead, now numbering over 150 since the attacks began on Wednesday.  In India’s business capital, it would be hard to find people agreeing with the famous Indian-born Newsweek pundit, who lives in his cherished, cheerful world.

In Zakaria’s world, terrorists are just the misguided products of poverty.  “If America can keep its cool and provide the help that countries really seek-in development, modernization and democracy-building-then we will gain in both security and legitimacy,” he wrote in his September piece.

That’s a comforting thought when the top leadership of the world’s most prominent terrorist organization is composed of educated and wealthy men.  But even if Zakaria is correct, a nation cannot enjoy economic development until it finds, captures, and either imprisons or kills the terrorists lurking within.

“We live in remarkably peaceful times,” Zakaria noted.  We have been fortunate to have lived through a long period of peace that began at the end of the Cold War.  But if we want it to continue, the last thing we should do is think prosperity will buy off the terrorists.

“Rhetoric about transcendent threats and mortal dangers grips the imagination of the American people,” Fareed Zakaria wrote in the middle of September.  “Ever since World War II, the United States has tended to make its strategic missteps by exaggerating dangers.”

We do?  At this moment Mumbai is still burning and counting the dead, now numbering over 150 since the attacks began on Wednesday.  In India’s business capital, it would be hard to find people agreeing with the famous Indian-born Newsweek pundit, who lives in his cherished, cheerful world.

In Zakaria’s world, terrorists are just the misguided products of poverty.  “If America can keep its cool and provide the help that countries really seek-in development, modernization and democracy-building-then we will gain in both security and legitimacy,” he wrote in his September piece.

That’s a comforting thought when the top leadership of the world’s most prominent terrorist organization is composed of educated and wealthy men.  But even if Zakaria is correct, a nation cannot enjoy economic development until it finds, captures, and either imprisons or kills the terrorists lurking within.

“We live in remarkably peaceful times,” Zakaria noted.  We have been fortunate to have lived through a long period of peace that began at the end of the Cold War.  But if we want it to continue, the last thing we should do is think prosperity will buy off the terrorists.

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Obama, More Steinbrenner than Machiavelli

Barack Obama has filled out his Administration with an all-star cast. And it looks great– on paper, at least–for Democrats. If news reports are correct, Obama’s cabinet and top staff will include these names: Rahm Emanuel, the powerful legislator who represented Chicago in the House of Representatives, as chief of staff; Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, as Secretary of Health and Human Services; Janet Napolitano, soon-to-be former executive of the state of Arizona; Bill Richardson, a former presidential contender and former Ambassador and Cabinet member in Bill Clinton’s administration, as Secretary of Commerce; and, of course, Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State.

Obama’s staff is experienced and competent. The above-mentioned individuals each possess a strong understanding of the legislative process. No less strong is their facility with ambition: Rahm Emanuel, Tom Daschle, and, especially, Hillary Clinton are all known for ruthlessly pushing their own agendas whenever necessary. All seek full credit for success, at the expense of recognizing others who might have played a substantial role. They may be the three most ambitious Americans in Washington today. That is, with the exception of Barack Obama. According to David Axelrod, Obama’s choice of strong-headed staff members is in keeping with the President-elect’s M.O.:

I think it’s fair to say that all of these appointees will have the full backing of the president. That’s why he’s selecting them. And the one thing I can tell you from working for six years with Barack Obama – that he is someone who invites strong opinions. He enjoys that – he thinks it’s an important element of leadership. And I think that he’ll have a great working relationship with … his entire Cabinet. They are not going to be potted plants. … They are going to be partners with him in governance, and he is going to encourage that. And I’m sure that that’s the message that he’s given to everyone he’s spoken to about potential positions in the administration.

Interesting take, and good luck with that.

With Emanuel, Clinton, Daschle, and Richardson, one should expect more than strong opinions. It’s the potent egos behind those opinions that could make for a less than “great working relationship.” For all Obama’s political genius, he’s a poor Machiavellian. His attempt to co-opt his Democratic political opponent’s agenda by making her Secretary of State is not likely to destroy Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions. From her point of view, she now has the world stage to use as a proving ground for her abilities. Obama’s plan for domination by elevation is sure to produce some entertaining results.

And his all-star approach is more George Steinbrenner than Machiavelli. If Obama is receptive to so many advisors, he could do worse than to ask the owner of the New York Yankees if the assemblage of an all-star line-up is immediate grounds for success. Packed to the gills with talent (and ego), that club is a model of under-achievement. Season after season, ability is trumped by personal ambition; coherence loses out to subtle and unsubtle rivalries. Occasionally it works, but an all-star team, with the highest profile players at each position, generally produces something less impressive than the sum of all its fancy parts. As opening day hasn’t quite yet arrived, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Barack Obama has filled out his Administration with an all-star cast. And it looks great– on paper, at least–for Democrats. If news reports are correct, Obama’s cabinet and top staff will include these names: Rahm Emanuel, the powerful legislator who represented Chicago in the House of Representatives, as chief of staff; Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, as Secretary of Health and Human Services; Janet Napolitano, soon-to-be former executive of the state of Arizona; Bill Richardson, a former presidential contender and former Ambassador and Cabinet member in Bill Clinton’s administration, as Secretary of Commerce; and, of course, Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State.

Obama’s staff is experienced and competent. The above-mentioned individuals each possess a strong understanding of the legislative process. No less strong is their facility with ambition: Rahm Emanuel, Tom Daschle, and, especially, Hillary Clinton are all known for ruthlessly pushing their own agendas whenever necessary. All seek full credit for success, at the expense of recognizing others who might have played a substantial role. They may be the three most ambitious Americans in Washington today. That is, with the exception of Barack Obama. According to David Axelrod, Obama’s choice of strong-headed staff members is in keeping with the President-elect’s M.O.:

I think it’s fair to say that all of these appointees will have the full backing of the president. That’s why he’s selecting them. And the one thing I can tell you from working for six years with Barack Obama – that he is someone who invites strong opinions. He enjoys that – he thinks it’s an important element of leadership. And I think that he’ll have a great working relationship with … his entire Cabinet. They are not going to be potted plants. … They are going to be partners with him in governance, and he is going to encourage that. And I’m sure that that’s the message that he’s given to everyone he’s spoken to about potential positions in the administration.

Interesting take, and good luck with that.

With Emanuel, Clinton, Daschle, and Richardson, one should expect more than strong opinions. It’s the potent egos behind those opinions that could make for a less than “great working relationship.” For all Obama’s political genius, he’s a poor Machiavellian. His attempt to co-opt his Democratic political opponent’s agenda by making her Secretary of State is not likely to destroy Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions. From her point of view, she now has the world stage to use as a proving ground for her abilities. Obama’s plan for domination by elevation is sure to produce some entertaining results.

And his all-star approach is more George Steinbrenner than Machiavelli. If Obama is receptive to so many advisors, he could do worse than to ask the owner of the New York Yankees if the assemblage of an all-star line-up is immediate grounds for success. Packed to the gills with talent (and ego), that club is a model of under-achievement. Season after season, ability is trumped by personal ambition; coherence loses out to subtle and unsubtle rivalries. Occasionally it works, but an all-star team, with the highest profile players at each position, generally produces something less impressive than the sum of all its fancy parts. As opening day hasn’t quite yet arrived, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

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Except For The Alternatives

Rahm Emanuel let slip the underlying Democratic philosophy: “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” And the Obama administration certainly doesn’t intend to let this financial one slip by. This is the greatest opportunity since Lyndon Johnson for liberal politicians to spend and spend and grow and grow the federal government.

That’s what we have to look forward to as Democrats plan — or rather plan to continue to — the federal government’s massive intervention into, and direction of, what used to be referred to as the private sector. The rationale goes like this : The private sector failed so we need government to “fix it.” But does “government” ( Who exactly — Hank Paulson? Alan Greenspan?) have a track record of getting it right, or doing better than market forces at producing prosperity?

The analysis set forth by Democrats ignores the irrationality which comes with a government-centric economy. Charles Krauthammer explains that with billions at stake and reams of new regulations massive lobbying is sure to follow. But there is more:

That [lobbying] will introduce one kind of economic distortion. The other kind will come from the political directives issued by newly empowered politicians.

First, bank presidents are gravely warned by one senator after another about “hoarding” their bailout money. But hoarding is another word for recapitalizing to shore up your balance sheet to ensure solvency. Is that not the fiduciary responsibility of bank directors? And isn’t pushing money out the window with too little capital precisely the lending laxity that produced this crisis in the first place? Never mind. The banks will knuckle under to the commissars of Capitol Hill. They control the purse. Prudence will yield to politics.

Even more egregious will be the directives to a nationalized Detroit. Sen. Charles Schumer, the noted automotive engineer, declared “unacceptable” last week “a business model based on gas.” Instead, “We need a business model based on cars of the future, and we already know what that future is: the plug-in hybrid electric car.”

The Chevy Volt, for example? It has huge remaining technological hurdles, gets 40 miles on a charge and will sell for about $40,000, necessitating a $7,500 outright government subsidy. Who but the rich and politically correct will choose that over a $12,000 gas-powered Hyundai? The new Detroit churning out Schumer-mobiles will make the steel mills of the Soviet Union look the model of efficiency.

Before we fall in love with the notion that the government will “correct” imbalances and excesses in the private sector, we should consider the real possibility that all that government activity may make things worse. Consider whether the “affordable housing” push helped the housing and financial industries. Think about whether CAFE standards helped the Big Three auto companies. Or better yet, recall the New Deal, which as Mona Charen reminds us, left the economy worse in 1938 than it was in 1930.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we may, after billions and billions are spent, conclude that a market-based economy is the worst system — except for all the alternatives that have been tried from time to time. We are about to explore just how bad those alternatives may be.

Rahm Emanuel let slip the underlying Democratic philosophy: “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” And the Obama administration certainly doesn’t intend to let this financial one slip by. This is the greatest opportunity since Lyndon Johnson for liberal politicians to spend and spend and grow and grow the federal government.

That’s what we have to look forward to as Democrats plan — or rather plan to continue to — the federal government’s massive intervention into, and direction of, what used to be referred to as the private sector. The rationale goes like this : The private sector failed so we need government to “fix it.” But does “government” ( Who exactly — Hank Paulson? Alan Greenspan?) have a track record of getting it right, or doing better than market forces at producing prosperity?

The analysis set forth by Democrats ignores the irrationality which comes with a government-centric economy. Charles Krauthammer explains that with billions at stake and reams of new regulations massive lobbying is sure to follow. But there is more:

That [lobbying] will introduce one kind of economic distortion. The other kind will come from the political directives issued by newly empowered politicians.

First, bank presidents are gravely warned by one senator after another about “hoarding” their bailout money. But hoarding is another word for recapitalizing to shore up your balance sheet to ensure solvency. Is that not the fiduciary responsibility of bank directors? And isn’t pushing money out the window with too little capital precisely the lending laxity that produced this crisis in the first place? Never mind. The banks will knuckle under to the commissars of Capitol Hill. They control the purse. Prudence will yield to politics.

Even more egregious will be the directives to a nationalized Detroit. Sen. Charles Schumer, the noted automotive engineer, declared “unacceptable” last week “a business model based on gas.” Instead, “We need a business model based on cars of the future, and we already know what that future is: the plug-in hybrid electric car.”

The Chevy Volt, for example? It has huge remaining technological hurdles, gets 40 miles on a charge and will sell for about $40,000, necessitating a $7,500 outright government subsidy. Who but the rich and politically correct will choose that over a $12,000 gas-powered Hyundai? The new Detroit churning out Schumer-mobiles will make the steel mills of the Soviet Union look the model of efficiency.

Before we fall in love with the notion that the government will “correct” imbalances and excesses in the private sector, we should consider the real possibility that all that government activity may make things worse. Consider whether the “affordable housing” push helped the housing and financial industries. Think about whether CAFE standards helped the Big Three auto companies. Or better yet, recall the New Deal, which as Mona Charen reminds us, left the economy worse in 1938 than it was in 1930.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we may, after billions and billions are spent, conclude that a market-based economy is the worst system — except for all the alternatives that have been tried from time to time. We are about to explore just how bad those alternatives may be.

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Re: Return of the Root Cause

Abe, you obviously haven’t been keeping up on your foreign policy lessons. The real reason for the Mumbai attacks is that Bush ignored the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for too long.

Abe, you obviously haven’t been keeping up on your foreign policy lessons. The real reason for the Mumbai attacks is that Bush ignored the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for too long.

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The Horror In India

The horror in Mumbai –a city under siege with the death toll mounting — reminds us of certain inescapable facts. Others note that India has lacked the resources to combat the ongoing terrorist threats it faces:

We will learn more in the coming days how terrorists invaded India’s financial capital Wednesday night, killing more than 100 innocents and wounding hundreds more. But there are already two lessons emerging: The war on terror is far from won, and it is migrating to democracies with weak antiterror defenses.

. . .

The attacks are a reminder that India is at the top of the terror target list. In this case the jihadists targeted Westerners explicitly, reportedly seeking out Americans and Britons after they stormed the hotels. But these scenes of horror have often been inflicted on Indians. Since 2005, India has suffered more than 12 attacks. This year alone, New Delhi, the tech capital of Bangalore and the tourist mecca of Jaipur were hit, among others.

One reason is because India is an easy target. Its intelligence units are understaffed and lack resources. Coordination among the country’s 28 state police forces is poor. The country’s antiterror legal architecture is also inadequate; there is no preventive detention law, and prosecutions can take years.

That basic lesson — that weakness invites attack — should not be lost on Americans.

Beyond that, it should be a wake-up call to Americans for whom terrorism has been relegated to an afterthought, or afforded no thought at all. As intoxicated as the American media may be with “change” and the Presidential victory of Barck Obama, the world often takes little notice of American partisan politics. President Obama will face many of the same challenges as his predecessor. Rogue states, terrorist groups, regional conflicts and the like don’t halt to celebrate the arrival of a new President.

Liberals may disdain use of the term “war on terro,r” but it is certainly a war. Whether on foot or plane, when terrorists ravage entire cities and hundreds of civilians are killed and maimed there is no other way to describe it but “war.” If we want to maintain appropriate measures to detect and prevent terrorist activities and pursue guilty parties, we cannot avert our eyes nor kid ourselves that our fears are “exaggerated.”

And try as a President might to focus on other things, he cannot entirely delegate national security policy to advisors, no matter how well regarded they may be. The notion that “the economy will be front and center” only works so long as rogue states and terror groups cooperate. And they rarely do.

If we find that the national security responses and rhetoric of the Obama administration seem somewhat similar to those of the Bush administration, it won’t be because the Left was “sold out.” It will be because reality intervened. President Obama is responsible for the security of his citizens and, like President Bush, is not going to want to be the one who failed to prevent attacks on America. It is one thing to say you want to close Guantanamo, immediately end the war in Iraq and “engage” terror state leaders, but it is quite another to assess those positions from the Oval Office and be responsible for the implications of those measures. The campaign is over — it’s time to get real.

The horror in Mumbai –a city under siege with the death toll mounting — reminds us of certain inescapable facts. Others note that India has lacked the resources to combat the ongoing terrorist threats it faces:

We will learn more in the coming days how terrorists invaded India’s financial capital Wednesday night, killing more than 100 innocents and wounding hundreds more. But there are already two lessons emerging: The war on terror is far from won, and it is migrating to democracies with weak antiterror defenses.

. . .

The attacks are a reminder that India is at the top of the terror target list. In this case the jihadists targeted Westerners explicitly, reportedly seeking out Americans and Britons after they stormed the hotels. But these scenes of horror have often been inflicted on Indians. Since 2005, India has suffered more than 12 attacks. This year alone, New Delhi, the tech capital of Bangalore and the tourist mecca of Jaipur were hit, among others.

One reason is because India is an easy target. Its intelligence units are understaffed and lack resources. Coordination among the country’s 28 state police forces is poor. The country’s antiterror legal architecture is also inadequate; there is no preventive detention law, and prosecutions can take years.

That basic lesson — that weakness invites attack — should not be lost on Americans.

Beyond that, it should be a wake-up call to Americans for whom terrorism has been relegated to an afterthought, or afforded no thought at all. As intoxicated as the American media may be with “change” and the Presidential victory of Barck Obama, the world often takes little notice of American partisan politics. President Obama will face many of the same challenges as his predecessor. Rogue states, terrorist groups, regional conflicts and the like don’t halt to celebrate the arrival of a new President.

Liberals may disdain use of the term “war on terro,r” but it is certainly a war. Whether on foot or plane, when terrorists ravage entire cities and hundreds of civilians are killed and maimed there is no other way to describe it but “war.” If we want to maintain appropriate measures to detect and prevent terrorist activities and pursue guilty parties, we cannot avert our eyes nor kid ourselves that our fears are “exaggerated.”

And try as a President might to focus on other things, he cannot entirely delegate national security policy to advisors, no matter how well regarded they may be. The notion that “the economy will be front and center” only works so long as rogue states and terror groups cooperate. And they rarely do.

If we find that the national security responses and rhetoric of the Obama administration seem somewhat similar to those of the Bush administration, it won’t be because the Left was “sold out.” It will be because reality intervened. President Obama is responsible for the security of his citizens and, like President Bush, is not going to want to be the one who failed to prevent attacks on America. It is one thing to say you want to close Guantanamo, immediately end the war in Iraq and “engage” terror state leaders, but it is quite another to assess those positions from the Oval Office and be responsible for the implications of those measures. The campaign is over — it’s time to get real.

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Return of the Root Cause

The Chief Minister of Mumbai, Vilasrao Deshmukh claims that “British citizens of Pakistani origin” were among the armed terrorists who took over various sites in the city. If true, this puts a new twist on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that “external forces” were responsible for the attack. Time and Newsweek can publish all the articles they want about a “mounting sense of persecution” among Muslims in India, but if Indian businessmen (and foreign tourists) are being slaughtered by loyal subjects of the Crown, I’d say the media’s emphasis is a little off-base.

Islamic terrorists don’t need a regional excuse; Western journalists do. Nothing demonstrates this better than the shell game playing out in India this Thanksgiving weekend. One of the terrorists who seized the Oberoi Trident hotel told an Indian news station by phone, “We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?” and then his colleagues went and set off bombs to kill all the neglectful Indian lawmakers in . . . a Jewish outreach center.

Yet, the terrorist’s claim of injustice will launch a thousand “thoughtful” articles on the plight of today’s Muslims in India. And when the Jewish death toll is determined, it will constitute a sort of somber personal-interest sidebar. Yesterday, Mumbai native, Fareed Zakaria said, “One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last ten years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted.” Fear not, Fareed: It will now be told, and told, and told. And if it turns out that some of the terrorists were in fact British, the story of England’s institutional discrimination of Muslims will be jammed down our throats as well.

The Chief Minister of Mumbai, Vilasrao Deshmukh claims that “British citizens of Pakistani origin” were among the armed terrorists who took over various sites in the city. If true, this puts a new twist on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that “external forces” were responsible for the attack. Time and Newsweek can publish all the articles they want about a “mounting sense of persecution” among Muslims in India, but if Indian businessmen (and foreign tourists) are being slaughtered by loyal subjects of the Crown, I’d say the media’s emphasis is a little off-base.

Islamic terrorists don’t need a regional excuse; Western journalists do. Nothing demonstrates this better than the shell game playing out in India this Thanksgiving weekend. One of the terrorists who seized the Oberoi Trident hotel told an Indian news station by phone, “We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?” and then his colleagues went and set off bombs to kill all the neglectful Indian lawmakers in . . . a Jewish outreach center.

Yet, the terrorist’s claim of injustice will launch a thousand “thoughtful” articles on the plight of today’s Muslims in India. And when the Jewish death toll is determined, it will constitute a sort of somber personal-interest sidebar. Yesterday, Mumbai native, Fareed Zakaria said, “One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last ten years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted.” Fear not, Fareed: It will now be told, and told, and told. And if it turns out that some of the terrorists were in fact British, the story of England’s institutional discrimination of Muslims will be jammed down our throats as well.

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Iran’s Italian Business Partners

Speaking to reporters during his three day official visit of Israel, Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, commented that though Italy has strong trade links with Iran, it scrupulously does its share to implement sanctions. Bilateral trade, according to Napolitano, went down by 22 percent last year as a result of sanctions.   This is heartening and reassuring. Except for one thing: asked about Napolitano’s declarations, Iran’s ambassador to Italy, His Excellency Mr. Fereidoun Haghbin, said that he could not comment because he had not heard them yet. He was busy attending a conference organized by the association of young enterpreneurs from the Italy’s northeastern city of Udine, where he was the keynote speaker. Topic of the conference? “Export and Invest in Iran.”

Udine, granted, is not Milan or even Rome. But we’d like to know, and maybe Italy’s government might wish to clarify, who sets Italy’s trade policy with Iran: the government itself or its enterprises? Because, judging from the figures mentioned by Haghbin, Italy remains Iran’s first commercial partner inside the EU, with a trade volume of 2.943 billion Euro this year. And the message coming out of a conference, organized with the help of the Italian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, is that sanctions or no sanctions, between Iran and Italy, it’s business as usual.

Speaking to reporters during his three day official visit of Israel, Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, commented that though Italy has strong trade links with Iran, it scrupulously does its share to implement sanctions. Bilateral trade, according to Napolitano, went down by 22 percent last year as a result of sanctions.   This is heartening and reassuring. Except for one thing: asked about Napolitano’s declarations, Iran’s ambassador to Italy, His Excellency Mr. Fereidoun Haghbin, said that he could not comment because he had not heard them yet. He was busy attending a conference organized by the association of young enterpreneurs from the Italy’s northeastern city of Udine, where he was the keynote speaker. Topic of the conference? “Export and Invest in Iran.”

Udine, granted, is not Milan or even Rome. But we’d like to know, and maybe Italy’s government might wish to clarify, who sets Italy’s trade policy with Iran: the government itself or its enterprises? Because, judging from the figures mentioned by Haghbin, Italy remains Iran’s first commercial partner inside the EU, with a trade volume of 2.943 billion Euro this year. And the message coming out of a conference, organized with the help of the Italian-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, is that sanctions or no sanctions, between Iran and Italy, it’s business as usual.

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Will It Do Any Good?

David Brooks counts up the $8 trillion or so of “stimulus” over the last year and asks a very good question: is it doing any good? His answer:

The financial system seems to have stabilized, but bank lending is minimal, home prices keep falling, consumer spending is plummeting, and the economy continues to dive.

It could be we just have to endure some fundamental adjustments. Housing prices have to reach a new level. Consumption has to settle on a new trajectory. Until those fundamental shifts are made, no federal sugar rush is going to restore economic health.

That’s not a recipe for doing nothing. It’s a recipe for skepticism.

Indeed. He suggests some constructive alternative ideas — training vouchers, tax credits and accelerated depreciation, etc. Whether you like Brooks’ options or not, he deserves credit for asking whether the whole gigantic Keynsian scheme is helpful. The Republicans aren’t organized enough to come up with a response to Obamanomics. And the critiques from conservative economic thinkers have been sporadic and muted. Many in the mainstream punditocracy plead ignorance and offer no informed criticism of Obama’s economic approach. (Funny, how they never questioned their own expertise in dissecting President Bush’s policies.)

But it seems that more thought and analysis needs to be paid to the underlying premise of Obama’s New Deal II. Avoiding tax increases and restraining protectionist impulse are certainly of benefit. (These fall within the “do no harm” category.)But are a massive deficit, gargantuan public works projects, and perpetual bailouts for failing companies a way to revive the private sector? Or just a scheme to inflate the size of the federal government? It is not as if we don’t have experience in this sort of thing. The original New Deal bequeathed Democrats and their media allies with the mythology that lots of government spending rescued us from the Depression. (It was WWII that did that.)

Perhaps this time, absent Smoot Hawley and 70% + marginal tax rates, we will have a different result. But it is worth asking what all of this activity is meant to accomplish — a revival of the economy or a revival of the liberals’ political myth-making?

David Brooks counts up the $8 trillion or so of “stimulus” over the last year and asks a very good question: is it doing any good? His answer:

The financial system seems to have stabilized, but bank lending is minimal, home prices keep falling, consumer spending is plummeting, and the economy continues to dive.

It could be we just have to endure some fundamental adjustments. Housing prices have to reach a new level. Consumption has to settle on a new trajectory. Until those fundamental shifts are made, no federal sugar rush is going to restore economic health.

That’s not a recipe for doing nothing. It’s a recipe for skepticism.

Indeed. He suggests some constructive alternative ideas — training vouchers, tax credits and accelerated depreciation, etc. Whether you like Brooks’ options or not, he deserves credit for asking whether the whole gigantic Keynsian scheme is helpful. The Republicans aren’t organized enough to come up with a response to Obamanomics. And the critiques from conservative economic thinkers have been sporadic and muted. Many in the mainstream punditocracy plead ignorance and offer no informed criticism of Obama’s economic approach. (Funny, how they never questioned their own expertise in dissecting President Bush’s policies.)

But it seems that more thought and analysis needs to be paid to the underlying premise of Obama’s New Deal II. Avoiding tax increases and restraining protectionist impulse are certainly of benefit. (These fall within the “do no harm” category.)But are a massive deficit, gargantuan public works projects, and perpetual bailouts for failing companies a way to revive the private sector? Or just a scheme to inflate the size of the federal government? It is not as if we don’t have experience in this sort of thing. The original New Deal bequeathed Democrats and their media allies with the mythology that lots of government spending rescued us from the Depression. (It was WWII that did that.)

Perhaps this time, absent Smoot Hawley and 70% + marginal tax rates, we will have a different result. But it is worth asking what all of this activity is meant to accomplish — a revival of the economy or a revival of the liberals’ political myth-making?

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Lessons of Mumbai

The drama in Mumbai is not yet over as I write these words; the fate of hostages at the Chabad House — including, according to the Times of India’s website, as many as 10 Israelis — is uncertain. We can benefit from on-the scene witness bloggers, such as the New York Times Keith Bradsher. But the outlines of both the nature of the attack and the Indian response are becoming more clear.

Despite the New York Times’ protestations to the contrary, this has all the markings of an al-Qaeda attack: This is a well-coordinated, massive, multiple-site assault that looks a lot like Madrid, London, and of course 9-11. It has also been heart-guttingly effective, with over 130 dead at the present count and hundreds more injured, a number that is sure to rise. The terrorists, over 60 of them, arrived in Mumbai by sea, and claim to be part of the group Decca Mujahadeen, a Muslim organizaiton which, according to Indian analysts, is probably a front for the outlawed Pakistani group Lashkar a-Tayeb.

According to Yossi Melman in Haaretz, the Indian response was initially slow, with regular police being given the initial duty, and only later bringing in the military. India has a first-rate army, its special forces enjoying a deep connection with the British, American, and Israeli militaries. But if Melman is right, it raises questions about Western preparedness more generally.

Terror aims to upset daily life. For this, however, they do not need to carry out actual attacks in your country. This week, New York police flooded Penn Station and other transit points in response to a possible terror threat. If you get to the point of having to upset daily life by preemptively shutting down trains or pouring police forces into stations, then terror has already had its say. And every time a massive attack happens around the world, such as in Mumbai, the effect is not only on Indians or the Indian government, but on everybody who has CNN or Fox news, everybody who surfs the web.

As the Israeli experience shows, the only way to really stop terror is through a huge investment in intelligence — not just real-time warnings of attacks, but preventative intelligence, which means having the information you need to neutralize the attackers before they have a chance to launch. As unrealistic as that may sound, that should be the
standard of our intelligence communities: If New Yorkers had to feel the threat, intelligence needs to be working harder. If boats carrying 60 heavily armed terrorists can calmly show up on India’s shores, the failures of intelligence were collossal. 

The drama in Mumbai is not yet over as I write these words; the fate of hostages at the Chabad House — including, according to the Times of India’s website, as many as 10 Israelis — is uncertain. We can benefit from on-the scene witness bloggers, such as the New York Times Keith Bradsher. But the outlines of both the nature of the attack and the Indian response are becoming more clear.

Despite the New York Times’ protestations to the contrary, this has all the markings of an al-Qaeda attack: This is a well-coordinated, massive, multiple-site assault that looks a lot like Madrid, London, and of course 9-11. It has also been heart-guttingly effective, with over 130 dead at the present count and hundreds more injured, a number that is sure to rise. The terrorists, over 60 of them, arrived in Mumbai by sea, and claim to be part of the group Decca Mujahadeen, a Muslim organizaiton which, according to Indian analysts, is probably a front for the outlawed Pakistani group Lashkar a-Tayeb.

According to Yossi Melman in Haaretz, the Indian response was initially slow, with regular police being given the initial duty, and only later bringing in the military. India has a first-rate army, its special forces enjoying a deep connection with the British, American, and Israeli militaries. But if Melman is right, it raises questions about Western preparedness more generally.

Terror aims to upset daily life. For this, however, they do not need to carry out actual attacks in your country. This week, New York police flooded Penn Station and other transit points in response to a possible terror threat. If you get to the point of having to upset daily life by preemptively shutting down trains or pouring police forces into stations, then terror has already had its say. And every time a massive attack happens around the world, such as in Mumbai, the effect is not only on Indians or the Indian government, but on everybody who has CNN or Fox news, everybody who surfs the web.

As the Israeli experience shows, the only way to really stop terror is through a huge investment in intelligence — not just real-time warnings of attacks, but preventative intelligence, which means having the information you need to neutralize the attackers before they have a chance to launch. As unrealistic as that may sound, that should be the
standard of our intelligence communities: If New Yorkers had to feel the threat, intelligence needs to be working harder. If boats carrying 60 heavily armed terrorists can calmly show up on India’s shores, the failures of intelligence were collossal. 

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Flotsam and Jetsam

All of Mr. Anonymous’ flip-floppery and ingratiating with the Left punditocracy is for naught. The latter (like those on the Right) remember, and have been keeping track of the zig-zags. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

The WSJ editors on President-elect’s picks for key national security posts: “With these personnel picks, Mr. Obama reveals a bias for competence, experience and continuity. Hence the caterwauls from his left flank.” But don’t expect the MSM to recognize that “continuity” means continuity with the key policy successes (e.g. the surge) of the Bush presidency.

An odd way to put it: “In exile for eight years, the Democrats have an opportunity to reset the nation on the right track. Mumbai proves how difficult this will be.” Yeah, reality is a drag and its hard to abandon the War on Terror in a world of terror.

The Left is shocked or in denial about the non-Left national security appointments. But let’s be real — they never much care about the pacifist agenda when the Democrats are in the White House. No protests and peace marches about Bosnia, were there?

Are you really surprised about a “precipitous drop in profile” for Joe Biden? It’s well deserved and indicative of the superior talent that the President-elect has at his disposal. Who would you listen to on Iraq — Biden or Robert Gates? On the economy — Paul Volker or Biden?

The White House hails passage of the Iraq security pact by the Iraqi Parliament. It would seem the sort of thing that might be celebrated by the President-elect as well. Perhaps on Monday, when his national security team is announced, we’ll hear some appreciation for the formation of a stable Iraq with improved capacity to govern and eventually defend itself.

Cliff May’s take on the decision to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense is on the money: “By retaining Gates, Obama sends the message that he intends to focus on the economy, that he will be spending most of his time attempting to fix what is broken, rather than tinkering with what’s working reasonably well. Some might see that as a conservative impulse — or maybe just good management. Come to think of it, that does represent a kind of change.”

Brent Bozell observes the media fawn-a-thon and gives Chris Matthews (who declared it his job to aid in President Obama’s success) a backhanded compliment for “the courage to admit the attitude of servitude that his colleagues so piously deny.”

California voted to end gerrymandering by the state legislature. If you think this was utterly ignored by the MSM you are right. If you think incumbents won’t like this you are right again.

All of Mr. Anonymous’ flip-floppery and ingratiating with the Left punditocracy is for naught. The latter (like those on the Right) remember, and have been keeping track of the zig-zags. (h/t Glenn Reynolds)

The WSJ editors on President-elect’s picks for key national security posts: “With these personnel picks, Mr. Obama reveals a bias for competence, experience and continuity. Hence the caterwauls from his left flank.” But don’t expect the MSM to recognize that “continuity” means continuity with the key policy successes (e.g. the surge) of the Bush presidency.

An odd way to put it: “In exile for eight years, the Democrats have an opportunity to reset the nation on the right track. Mumbai proves how difficult this will be.” Yeah, reality is a drag and its hard to abandon the War on Terror in a world of terror.

The Left is shocked or in denial about the non-Left national security appointments. But let’s be real — they never much care about the pacifist agenda when the Democrats are in the White House. No protests and peace marches about Bosnia, were there?

Are you really surprised about a “precipitous drop in profile” for Joe Biden? It’s well deserved and indicative of the superior talent that the President-elect has at his disposal. Who would you listen to on Iraq — Biden or Robert Gates? On the economy — Paul Volker or Biden?

The White House hails passage of the Iraq security pact by the Iraqi Parliament. It would seem the sort of thing that might be celebrated by the President-elect as well. Perhaps on Monday, when his national security team is announced, we’ll hear some appreciation for the formation of a stable Iraq with improved capacity to govern and eventually defend itself.

Cliff May’s take on the decision to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense is on the money: “By retaining Gates, Obama sends the message that he intends to focus on the economy, that he will be spending most of his time attempting to fix what is broken, rather than tinkering with what’s working reasonably well. Some might see that as a conservative impulse — or maybe just good management. Come to think of it, that does represent a kind of change.”

Brent Bozell observes the media fawn-a-thon and gives Chris Matthews (who declared it his job to aid in President Obama’s success) a backhanded compliment for “the courage to admit the attitude of servitude that his colleagues so piously deny.”

California voted to end gerrymandering by the state legislature. If you think this was utterly ignored by the MSM you are right. If you think incumbents won’t like this you are right again.

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Re: Re: Then and Now

I always wonder, when thinking about then and now, whether anyone ever really meant it. The peace process has long since taken on a life of its own. Its constituents never disappear or find something more profitable to do, so there is always pressure to go all the way, over and over again, regardless of previous failure. Immense pressure.

Bush’s involvement seems like a case in point. By 2007, he was battered and weakened by Iraq and looking for traction in the Middle East, especially against Iran, and a means of regaining credibility and public approval. The dynamics that earlier in the administration had allowed a decision against continued investment in the peace process had shifted. And in this weakened state, one of the things Bush and Rice were lectured on most incessantly was the peace process. The Iraq Study Group report, released in December 2006, insisted that the road to peace in Baghdad ran through Palestine. This wasn’t a new idea, but actually a very old one that has been applied to countless examples of unrest in the region. It’s hard to understate the sanctity with which the peace process is viewed in Europe, at the UN, in the State Department, and among an august group of geriatric realists. The president may wish to ignore the peace process, but the peace process will not ignore the president.

(Apropros of nothing, it is always amazing to listen to people criticize Bush for shelving the peace process. They absolutely never talk about the context in which the decision was made. That context was the Karine A, the Iranian arms ship that was captured by Israel in transit to the Palestinian Authority carrying 50 tons of weapons. Israel had also discovered that Arafat was personally directing the terror war. It would have been unfathomable that four months after 9/11, the United States would commence a war on terrorism by insisting that its closest Middle East ally try to make peace with a man who was writing checks to suicide bombers.)

Anyway, I think you both give too much credit to the earnest claims made about the peace process, and too little to the cynical reasons for its existence. It’s not about peace. It’s about catering to the illusions of what has become a self-sustaining diplomatic, bureaucratic, and media industry. The smart way to handle the peace process is not to rail against it (however well-deserved), but to palliate it.

The next administration is certain to pursue something that it will call the peace process. The question is one of ambition and scale. If Obama is smart, this will be a modest operation with humble ambitions that will allow no opportunities for moments of conspicuous failure, such as Camp David and Annapolis. I fear that at this point, railing against the peace process is a bit like railing against fluoridated water or the federal income tax. The best strategy is to try to minimize the harm.

I always wonder, when thinking about then and now, whether anyone ever really meant it. The peace process has long since taken on a life of its own. Its constituents never disappear or find something more profitable to do, so there is always pressure to go all the way, over and over again, regardless of previous failure. Immense pressure.

Bush’s involvement seems like a case in point. By 2007, he was battered and weakened by Iraq and looking for traction in the Middle East, especially against Iran, and a means of regaining credibility and public approval. The dynamics that earlier in the administration had allowed a decision against continued investment in the peace process had shifted. And in this weakened state, one of the things Bush and Rice were lectured on most incessantly was the peace process. The Iraq Study Group report, released in December 2006, insisted that the road to peace in Baghdad ran through Palestine. This wasn’t a new idea, but actually a very old one that has been applied to countless examples of unrest in the region. It’s hard to understate the sanctity with which the peace process is viewed in Europe, at the UN, in the State Department, and among an august group of geriatric realists. The president may wish to ignore the peace process, but the peace process will not ignore the president.

(Apropros of nothing, it is always amazing to listen to people criticize Bush for shelving the peace process. They absolutely never talk about the context in which the decision was made. That context was the Karine A, the Iranian arms ship that was captured by Israel in transit to the Palestinian Authority carrying 50 tons of weapons. Israel had also discovered that Arafat was personally directing the terror war. It would have been unfathomable that four months after 9/11, the United States would commence a war on terrorism by insisting that its closest Middle East ally try to make peace with a man who was writing checks to suicide bombers.)

Anyway, I think you both give too much credit to the earnest claims made about the peace process, and too little to the cynical reasons for its existence. It’s not about peace. It’s about catering to the illusions of what has become a self-sustaining diplomatic, bureaucratic, and media industry. The smart way to handle the peace process is not to rail against it (however well-deserved), but to palliate it.

The next administration is certain to pursue something that it will call the peace process. The question is one of ambition and scale. If Obama is smart, this will be a modest operation with humble ambitions that will allow no opportunities for moments of conspicuous failure, such as Camp David and Annapolis. I fear that at this point, railing against the peace process is a bit like railing against fluoridated water or the federal income tax. The best strategy is to try to minimize the harm.

Read Less




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