Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 8, 2008

Commentary of the Day

RFM, on Jennifer Rubin:

It’s difficult to add much to CK MacLeod’s thoughtful posts. But I will try to advance one point.

While I greatly enjoy reading and for the most part agree with Ms. Rubin’s posts on Contentions, I respectfully disagree with her that Guiliani’s candidacy was a meaningful test of the viability of a pro-choice, federalist, anti-Roe position within the GOP. Guiliani’s abortion position seemed more like a facile rejoinder to a debate question that a well-thought-out and heartfelt position. While most people took him at his word that he’d appoint SC justices like Roberts and Alito, that just wasn’t enough.

Had Guiliani engaged social conservatives directly, and argued his position more persuasively, he likely would have gotten the respect of folks like Douthat. If he was perceived as not doing any harm at the federal level, and in fact aligned with pro-life forces in being anti-Roe, it might have been enough to make his candidacy viable.

Instead, Guiliani chose to run away from socon’s in Iowa, retreating to Florida in hopes of finding safer ground there. How could socon’s respect him, if he wouldn’t even have a dialog with them?

RFM, on Jennifer Rubin:

It’s difficult to add much to CK MacLeod’s thoughtful posts. But I will try to advance one point.

While I greatly enjoy reading and for the most part agree with Ms. Rubin’s posts on Contentions, I respectfully disagree with her that Guiliani’s candidacy was a meaningful test of the viability of a pro-choice, federalist, anti-Roe position within the GOP. Guiliani’s abortion position seemed more like a facile rejoinder to a debate question that a well-thought-out and heartfelt position. While most people took him at his word that he’d appoint SC justices like Roberts and Alito, that just wasn’t enough.

Had Guiliani engaged social conservatives directly, and argued his position more persuasively, he likely would have gotten the respect of folks like Douthat. If he was perceived as not doing any harm at the federal level, and in fact aligned with pro-life forces in being anti-Roe, it might have been enough to make his candidacy viable.

Instead, Guiliani chose to run away from socon’s in Iowa, retreating to Florida in hopes of finding safer ground there. How could socon’s respect him, if he wouldn’t even have a dialog with them?

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Gitmo Won’t Easily Disappear

The Obama camp is seeing shades of gray in more Bush policies they had thought so clearly repugnant. Here’s Reuters:

President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to shut the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, presents policymakers with a Gordian Knot of political, legal and logistical questions that would preclude quick results.

Human rights advocates have called on Obama to seal the prison’s fate with the stroke of a pen by signing an executive order on the day he takes office.

But the Obama transition team has said that no decision has been made on how to move ahead on the president-elect’s commitment to shutter the facility. Analysts warn there is a host of complex issues that would need to be settled first, including what to do about the current military commissions system and ongoing trials.

No kidding. You mean the change we’ve been waiting for isn’t simply us, after all? Guantanamo is a Gordian knot, alright. But it’s a Gordian knot that Obama and Co. tied. By continually elevating their hyperbolic condemnations of President Bush, the Left painted itself into an untenable corner. On Iraq, gays in the military, interrogation techniques, and closing Gitmo, Obama’s team is now wondering how to turn demagoguery into policy. When it comes to ending the war, integrating the armed services, getting the most information from suspected terrorists, and relocating detainees, “yes we can” is a universe away.

As the Reuters piece points out, closing Guantanamo isn’t a matter of chaining up the door and walking away. It will require extensive legislation, the creation of a whole new system to hold and try suspects, and the designation of a new facility to house hundreds of terrorists. These are uncharted waters and they don’t much resemble anything our military or legal officials have navigated before.

In the end, of course, Gitmo does more than fill a national security void. There are humanitarian considerations that make something like the detainee center necessary. Repatriating the approximately 60 detainees who have been approved for return to their countries of origin risks subjecting them to torture under their own governments. These prisoners may remain the U.S.’s responsibility forever.

Democrats intent on demonizing George W. Bush were never big on offering practical alternatives to Bush policies. In one sense, they got away with their delinquency: Barack Obama is now the President-elect. But in the most important respect, they’re arriving at square one tragically late. Lack of planning is only a partial explanation for the string of broken campaign pledges headed our way. Obama’s biggest obstacle in effecting change will continue to be the realization that President Bush often made  wiser choices than previously suspected.

The Obama camp is seeing shades of gray in more Bush policies they had thought so clearly repugnant. Here’s Reuters:

President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to shut the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, presents policymakers with a Gordian Knot of political, legal and logistical questions that would preclude quick results.

Human rights advocates have called on Obama to seal the prison’s fate with the stroke of a pen by signing an executive order on the day he takes office.

But the Obama transition team has said that no decision has been made on how to move ahead on the president-elect’s commitment to shutter the facility. Analysts warn there is a host of complex issues that would need to be settled first, including what to do about the current military commissions system and ongoing trials.

No kidding. You mean the change we’ve been waiting for isn’t simply us, after all? Guantanamo is a Gordian knot, alright. But it’s a Gordian knot that Obama and Co. tied. By continually elevating their hyperbolic condemnations of President Bush, the Left painted itself into an untenable corner. On Iraq, gays in the military, interrogation techniques, and closing Gitmo, Obama’s team is now wondering how to turn demagoguery into policy. When it comes to ending the war, integrating the armed services, getting the most information from suspected terrorists, and relocating detainees, “yes we can” is a universe away.

As the Reuters piece points out, closing Guantanamo isn’t a matter of chaining up the door and walking away. It will require extensive legislation, the creation of a whole new system to hold and try suspects, and the designation of a new facility to house hundreds of terrorists. These are uncharted waters and they don’t much resemble anything our military or legal officials have navigated before.

In the end, of course, Gitmo does more than fill a national security void. There are humanitarian considerations that make something like the detainee center necessary. Repatriating the approximately 60 detainees who have been approved for return to their countries of origin risks subjecting them to torture under their own governments. These prisoners may remain the U.S.’s responsibility forever.

Democrats intent on demonizing George W. Bush were never big on offering practical alternatives to Bush policies. In one sense, they got away with their delinquency: Barack Obama is now the President-elect. But in the most important respect, they’re arriving at square one tragically late. Lack of planning is only a partial explanation for the string of broken campaign pledges headed our way. Obama’s biggest obstacle in effecting change will continue to be the realization that President Bush often made  wiser choices than previously suspected.

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Re: Iran’s Quick Rejection of Obama

In his interview on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, President-elect Obama said this about Iran:

Well, I’ve said before, I think we need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran, making very clear to them that their development of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable, that their funding of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, their threats against Israel are contrary to everything that we believe in and what the international community should accept, and present a set of carrots and sticks in, in changing their calculus about how they want to operate. You know, in terms of carrots, I think that we can provide economic incentives that would be helpful to a country that, despite being a net oil producer, is under enormous strain, huge inflation, a lot of unemployment problems there. They could benefit from a more open economy and, and being part of the international economic system. But we also have to focus on the sticks, and one of the main things that diplomacy can accomplish is to help knit together the kind of coalition with China and India and Russia and other countries that now do business with Iran to agree that, in order for us to change Iran’s behavior, we may have to tighten up those sanctions. But we are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and, and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or, or the easy way.

So this is the change we’ve been waiting for? Obama’s statement could have been made–and in some version, has already been made–by Secretary of State Rice.

We have tried both carrots and sticks, precisely along the lines mentioned by Obama (from providing an incentive package to threatening to impose economic sanctions). The main difference between Obama’s approach and the Bush administration’s is that Obama treats “direct negotiations” as necessary to “diplomacy,” while the Bush Administration has treated “direct negotiations” as part carrot and part stick. In any event, a “clear choice” has been given to the Iran regime. The notion that the Iranians don’t know what is required of them is simply silly.

Gordon Chang’s quote from the spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hasan Qashqavi, is fairly typical: “The carrot-and-stick policy has no benefit,” he said, adding that “[w]hen they [the U.S.] stick to their past view regarding suspending uranium enrichment, our answer will be: Iran will never suspend uranium enrichment.” Qashqavi seems immune to the charms of Obama. Does anyone care to bet a dinner at Le Cirque that this won’t change over time?

The harsh reality is that Iran, in pursuing its nuclear ambitions and supporting terrorism, is acting in a manner it believes to  be in its own self-interest. Also, nations like Russia and China have been a huge problem when it comes to placing tough sanctions on Iran.

To take just one example: A UN Resolution, drafted by Britain, France, and Germany in 2006, would have ordered all countries to halt the sale and supply of materials and technology that could contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. It would also have frozen the assets of companies and organizations involved in those programs and imposed a travel ban on Iranian officials involved in the nuclear program. But Moscow, backed by China, insisted that such sanctions went too far, and would isolate Iran while hindering efforts to find a negotiated solution. The United States, meanwhile, believed the European proposals were too weak to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

If Mr. Obama believes his and Hillary Clinton’s magnetic personalities or stern lectures will alter the mindset and plans of Iran or Russia and China, they will experience a rude awakening.

Interestingly, if the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear weapons program is accurate, in 2003 Iran suspended (for a time) its nuclear weapons effort. That just happens to be the same year that the United States deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is also the same year that Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi abandoned his (previously secret) nuclear weapons program.

The Obama Administration may soon find out that direct negotiations will simply encourage the Iranians to hold out for further concessions. And even if this doesn’t happen, direct negotiations will do nothing to change the situation in any fundamental way.

The difficult part will come when Obama discovers that (a) the Iranians will not forgo their nuclear ambitions and (b) other nations central to a successful sanctions regime are unwilling to do their part. At that point, Obama–having stated that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable”–will have to decide if he is a man of his word. If he is, then a conflict might well arise, because it might be the only way to stop Iran. And if he’s not, then a nuclear Iran will make our life, and the lives of our allies in the region, tremendously more complicated. Egypt and Saudi Arabia may soon follow Iran’s lead, and the most volatile area the world will become magnitudes more dangerous.

I don’t pretend for a moment that the challenge and options President-elect Obama faces are easy ones. But the days of pretending that diplomacy and vague incantations will solve this matter are about to end. Starting at noon on January 20, Barack Obama will be the responsible party. The burden will be on him to solve this vexing problem. And he is about to discover that solving problems is a good deal harder than critiquing and complaining about them.

In his interview on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, President-elect Obama said this about Iran:

Well, I’ve said before, I think we need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran, making very clear to them that their development of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable, that their funding of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, their threats against Israel are contrary to everything that we believe in and what the international community should accept, and present a set of carrots and sticks in, in changing their calculus about how they want to operate. You know, in terms of carrots, I think that we can provide economic incentives that would be helpful to a country that, despite being a net oil producer, is under enormous strain, huge inflation, a lot of unemployment problems there. They could benefit from a more open economy and, and being part of the international economic system. But we also have to focus on the sticks, and one of the main things that diplomacy can accomplish is to help knit together the kind of coalition with China and India and Russia and other countries that now do business with Iran to agree that, in order for us to change Iran’s behavior, we may have to tighten up those sanctions. But we are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and, and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or, or the easy way.

So this is the change we’ve been waiting for? Obama’s statement could have been made–and in some version, has already been made–by Secretary of State Rice.

We have tried both carrots and sticks, precisely along the lines mentioned by Obama (from providing an incentive package to threatening to impose economic sanctions). The main difference between Obama’s approach and the Bush administration’s is that Obama treats “direct negotiations” as necessary to “diplomacy,” while the Bush Administration has treated “direct negotiations” as part carrot and part stick. In any event, a “clear choice” has been given to the Iran regime. The notion that the Iranians don’t know what is required of them is simply silly.

Gordon Chang’s quote from the spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Hasan Qashqavi, is fairly typical: “The carrot-and-stick policy has no benefit,” he said, adding that “[w]hen they [the U.S.] stick to their past view regarding suspending uranium enrichment, our answer will be: Iran will never suspend uranium enrichment.” Qashqavi seems immune to the charms of Obama. Does anyone care to bet a dinner at Le Cirque that this won’t change over time?

The harsh reality is that Iran, in pursuing its nuclear ambitions and supporting terrorism, is acting in a manner it believes to  be in its own self-interest. Also, nations like Russia and China have been a huge problem when it comes to placing tough sanctions on Iran.

To take just one example: A UN Resolution, drafted by Britain, France, and Germany in 2006, would have ordered all countries to halt the sale and supply of materials and technology that could contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. It would also have frozen the assets of companies and organizations involved in those programs and imposed a travel ban on Iranian officials involved in the nuclear program. But Moscow, backed by China, insisted that such sanctions went too far, and would isolate Iran while hindering efforts to find a negotiated solution. The United States, meanwhile, believed the European proposals were too weak to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

If Mr. Obama believes his and Hillary Clinton’s magnetic personalities or stern lectures will alter the mindset and plans of Iran or Russia and China, they will experience a rude awakening.

Interestingly, if the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear weapons program is accurate, in 2003 Iran suspended (for a time) its nuclear weapons effort. That just happens to be the same year that the United States deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is also the same year that Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi abandoned his (previously secret) nuclear weapons program.

The Obama Administration may soon find out that direct negotiations will simply encourage the Iranians to hold out for further concessions. And even if this doesn’t happen, direct negotiations will do nothing to change the situation in any fundamental way.

The difficult part will come when Obama discovers that (a) the Iranians will not forgo their nuclear ambitions and (b) other nations central to a successful sanctions regime are unwilling to do their part. At that point, Obama–having stated that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable”–will have to decide if he is a man of his word. If he is, then a conflict might well arise, because it might be the only way to stop Iran. And if he’s not, then a nuclear Iran will make our life, and the lives of our allies in the region, tremendously more complicated. Egypt and Saudi Arabia may soon follow Iran’s lead, and the most volatile area the world will become magnitudes more dangerous.

I don’t pretend for a moment that the challenge and options President-elect Obama faces are easy ones. But the days of pretending that diplomacy and vague incantations will solve this matter are about to end. Starting at noon on January 20, Barack Obama will be the responsible party. The burden will be on him to solve this vexing problem. And he is about to discover that solving problems is a good deal harder than critiquing and complaining about them.

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One Way to Make News

In an effort to squash the buzz about their candidate’s membership in an all-white country club, supporters of South Carolina state GOP Chair Katon Dawson’s run for head of the RNC circulated a letter from a black friend saying that Dawson is a terrific guy. And that club? Dawson’s friend offers up this:

A few months ago, a local newspaper wrote an article about a country club where Katon was a member. The article pointed out that the club did not have any minority members. There was some confusion about whether or not it was club policy or a longstanding deed that prohibited minority members — none of that really matters. What matters is this: Katon Dawson tried to change the club’s practices to allow minority members. When he realized that things were not likely to change, Katon resigned his membership.

Well, Dawson himself has never disputed the orignal report that the club had a whites-only deed, and his objection to the club’s membership policies seemed to come about only within the last few months, once his campaign for RNC chair got underway. My query to Dawson’s spokesman on both points wasn’t answered.

The response to this damage control effort didn’t exactly have the effect of clamping down on the controversy. Phil Klein weighed in, disparaging the “I have a black friend” (whom I suppose couldn’t get into the club) defense. Jim Geraghty also suggested the news coverage of Dawson and the club would likely be disastrous:

If Dawson is the nominee, it is extremely likely you will see CNN and MSNBC camera crews outside the country club, recording B-roll footage. If there’s any footage of Dawson ever participating in a charity golf tournament, you’ll see it. The question of whether the Forest Lake Country Club is all-white because of a deed, or an official policy, or an unofficial policy will be sorted out and analyzed in depth. At the height of the storm, Dawson could discover the cure for cancer and the news would run on page A3.

The media’s coverage of a Dawson victory in the RNC chair race would, in all likelihood, not be fair to him or the party. But it doesn’t mean the potential fallout should be ignored, either.

I suppose those 168 men and women who will decide the next RNC Chairman will need to consider this — as well as how effective all the candidates might be in handling brewing controversies. It is quite a skill to kill a gathering storm, rather than magnify it.

In an effort to squash the buzz about their candidate’s membership in an all-white country club, supporters of South Carolina state GOP Chair Katon Dawson’s run for head of the RNC circulated a letter from a black friend saying that Dawson is a terrific guy. And that club? Dawson’s friend offers up this:

A few months ago, a local newspaper wrote an article about a country club where Katon was a member. The article pointed out that the club did not have any minority members. There was some confusion about whether or not it was club policy or a longstanding deed that prohibited minority members — none of that really matters. What matters is this: Katon Dawson tried to change the club’s practices to allow minority members. When he realized that things were not likely to change, Katon resigned his membership.

Well, Dawson himself has never disputed the orignal report that the club had a whites-only deed, and his objection to the club’s membership policies seemed to come about only within the last few months, once his campaign for RNC chair got underway. My query to Dawson’s spokesman on both points wasn’t answered.

The response to this damage control effort didn’t exactly have the effect of clamping down on the controversy. Phil Klein weighed in, disparaging the “I have a black friend” (whom I suppose couldn’t get into the club) defense. Jim Geraghty also suggested the news coverage of Dawson and the club would likely be disastrous:

If Dawson is the nominee, it is extremely likely you will see CNN and MSNBC camera crews outside the country club, recording B-roll footage. If there’s any footage of Dawson ever participating in a charity golf tournament, you’ll see it. The question of whether the Forest Lake Country Club is all-white because of a deed, or an official policy, or an unofficial policy will be sorted out and analyzed in depth. At the height of the storm, Dawson could discover the cure for cancer and the news would run on page A3.

The media’s coverage of a Dawson victory in the RNC chair race would, in all likelihood, not be fair to him or the party. But it doesn’t mean the potential fallout should be ignored, either.

I suppose those 168 men and women who will decide the next RNC Chairman will need to consider this — as well as how effective all the candidates might be in handling brewing controversies. It is quite a skill to kill a gathering storm, rather than magnify it.

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Re: Middle East Advice for Hillary

Of the advice offered to Hillary Clinton from former Secretary of State James Baker, on which Shmuel commented earlier on the most shocking statement of all is perhaps this: “I happen to believe that both her husband and President George W. Bush waited too long.”

So Clinton waited too long? Let’s see. . .

September 13, 1993: Clinton hosts the Oslo accords ceremony at the White House.

May 4, 1994: His Secretary of State Warren Christopher contributes to the finalizing of the Cairo Agreement in an all-night session that leads, after a famous last minute onstage Arafat dance, to the signing of the Gaza-Jericho deal.

June 25, 1994: Presides over the signature of the Washington Declaration, a statement that formed the basis for the later peace accord between Israel and Jordan.

October 26, 1994: Attends the signing ceremony of the Jordan-Israel peace agreement.

September 28, 1995: Hosts the signing of the so-called Oslo-II agreement in Washington.

November 6, 1995: Flies to Israel to attend Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral and delivers an emotional speech to the world.

March 13, 1996: Attends the Sharm El Sheikh “Peacemakers” summit to rally support for beleaguered Israeli PM Shimon Peres after four horrific terror attacks have undermined his bid for re-election in Israel.

April 30, 1996: Hosts Peres in Washington in a high-profile meeting designed to help Peres’s election bid.

October 2, 1996: Summons Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and King Hussein to the White House for a two day emergency summit to quell violence between Israel and the PA.

October 15-22, 1998: Hosts a week of talks at the Wye River Plantation that finally yield–thanks to the continuous presence and active engagement of the President–the Wye Accords.

February 8, 1999: Attends King Hussein’s funeral in Amman

December 8, 1999: Opens the Shepherdstown talks between Israeli and Syrian delegations.

March 27, 2000: Flies to Geneva to meet Syrian President, Hafez el Assad, in an effort to seize an agreement between Syria and Israel.

June 1, 2000: Meets with Israel’s PM Ehud Barak in Lisbon for two hours.

July 12-24, 2000: Hosts Camp David Summit (and delays his departure for the G-8 Summit in Japan), giving his active input throughout the talks.

October 8, 2000: Sends Madeleine Albright to Paris to help resolve the outbreak of the Intifada.

October 17, 2000: Attends the Sharm El Sheikh summit designed to seize a ceasefire between Israel and the PA.

23 December 23, 2000: Issues the “Clinton Parameters” for peace in the Middle East.

On top of all this, Clinton was the first U.S. president to have visited Israel twice in his time in office. He was the only U.S. President ever to visit Gaza, where he addressed the Palestinian Legislative Council in December 1998. Yasser Arafat was the most frequent visitor to the White House under his presidency: 12 times in 8 years. His two secretaries of State came to the region dozens of times, and his special envoy to the Middle East, Ambassador Dennis Ross, was in Israel, the territories, and adjacent countries perhaps hundreds of times.

A fact-check would have led Baker to realize that Clinton was involved in the peace process very frequently, very passionately, very intensely–and perhaps very naively–from almost the first day of his presidency.

Baker said Clinton waited too long to take action. But the record shows he took, perhaps, too much action. And for what? The lessons learned from the Clinton presidency should be a cautionary tale for President-elect Obama: who, after all, wants another failure such as that one so early in their presidential term?

Of the advice offered to Hillary Clinton from former Secretary of State James Baker, on which Shmuel commented earlier on the most shocking statement of all is perhaps this: “I happen to believe that both her husband and President George W. Bush waited too long.”

So Clinton waited too long? Let’s see. . .

September 13, 1993: Clinton hosts the Oslo accords ceremony at the White House.

May 4, 1994: His Secretary of State Warren Christopher contributes to the finalizing of the Cairo Agreement in an all-night session that leads, after a famous last minute onstage Arafat dance, to the signing of the Gaza-Jericho deal.

June 25, 1994: Presides over the signature of the Washington Declaration, a statement that formed the basis for the later peace accord between Israel and Jordan.

October 26, 1994: Attends the signing ceremony of the Jordan-Israel peace agreement.

September 28, 1995: Hosts the signing of the so-called Oslo-II agreement in Washington.

November 6, 1995: Flies to Israel to attend Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral and delivers an emotional speech to the world.

March 13, 1996: Attends the Sharm El Sheikh “Peacemakers” summit to rally support for beleaguered Israeli PM Shimon Peres after four horrific terror attacks have undermined his bid for re-election in Israel.

April 30, 1996: Hosts Peres in Washington in a high-profile meeting designed to help Peres’s election bid.

October 2, 1996: Summons Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and King Hussein to the White House for a two day emergency summit to quell violence between Israel and the PA.

October 15-22, 1998: Hosts a week of talks at the Wye River Plantation that finally yield–thanks to the continuous presence and active engagement of the President–the Wye Accords.

February 8, 1999: Attends King Hussein’s funeral in Amman

December 8, 1999: Opens the Shepherdstown talks between Israeli and Syrian delegations.

March 27, 2000: Flies to Geneva to meet Syrian President, Hafez el Assad, in an effort to seize an agreement between Syria and Israel.

June 1, 2000: Meets with Israel’s PM Ehud Barak in Lisbon for two hours.

July 12-24, 2000: Hosts Camp David Summit (and delays his departure for the G-8 Summit in Japan), giving his active input throughout the talks.

October 8, 2000: Sends Madeleine Albright to Paris to help resolve the outbreak of the Intifada.

October 17, 2000: Attends the Sharm El Sheikh summit designed to seize a ceasefire between Israel and the PA.

23 December 23, 2000: Issues the “Clinton Parameters” for peace in the Middle East.

On top of all this, Clinton was the first U.S. president to have visited Israel twice in his time in office. He was the only U.S. President ever to visit Gaza, where he addressed the Palestinian Legislative Council in December 1998. Yasser Arafat was the most frequent visitor to the White House under his presidency: 12 times in 8 years. His two secretaries of State came to the region dozens of times, and his special envoy to the Middle East, Ambassador Dennis Ross, was in Israel, the territories, and adjacent countries perhaps hundreds of times.

A fact-check would have led Baker to realize that Clinton was involved in the peace process very frequently, very passionately, very intensely–and perhaps very naively–from almost the first day of his presidency.

Baker said Clinton waited too long to take action. But the record shows he took, perhaps, too much action. And for what? The lessons learned from the Clinton presidency should be a cautionary tale for President-elect Obama: who, after all, wants another failure such as that one so early in their presidential term?

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Richard Clarke’s “Agenda for 2009″

Former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke has changed his tune over the past month. Here was Clarke on November 19, still in the throes of Obamamania:

Obama’s election has taken the wind out of al Qaeda’s sails in much of the Islamic world because it demonstrates America’s renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights, and international law. It also proves to many that democracy can work and overcome ethnic, sectarian, or racial barriers.

Obama’s commitment to withdraw from Iraq also takes away an al Qaeda propaganda tenet: that the U.S. seeks to occupy oil rich Arab lands. His commitment to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan also challenges their plans. Most of all, by returning to American values the world admires, Obama sets al Qaeda back enormously in the battle of ideas, the ideological struggle which determines whether al Qaeda will continue to have significant support in the Islamic world.

Here’s Richard Clarke yesterday:

Seven years after 9/11, the United States has neither eliminated the threat from al-Qaeda nor secured Afghanistan, where bin Laden’s terrorists were once headquartered. To accomplish these two tasks, we must now eliminate the new terrorist safe haven in Pakistan. But that will require effective action from a weak and riven Pakistani government. It might also depend upon dealing with the long-standing India-Pakistan rivalry. On balance, al-Qaeda’s agenda for 2009 looks to be the easier one.

What accounts for Clarke’s new pessimism? Well, he was in the running to be Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary – until it became clear that the job was going to Janet Napolitano. But far be it from me to imply that a policy “expert’s” national security assessment could turn on something like dashed personal employment prospects.

Former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke has changed his tune over the past month. Here was Clarke on November 19, still in the throes of Obamamania:

Obama’s election has taken the wind out of al Qaeda’s sails in much of the Islamic world because it demonstrates America’s renewed commitment to multiculturalism, human rights, and international law. It also proves to many that democracy can work and overcome ethnic, sectarian, or racial barriers.

Obama’s commitment to withdraw from Iraq also takes away an al Qaeda propaganda tenet: that the U.S. seeks to occupy oil rich Arab lands. His commitment to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan also challenges their plans. Most of all, by returning to American values the world admires, Obama sets al Qaeda back enormously in the battle of ideas, the ideological struggle which determines whether al Qaeda will continue to have significant support in the Islamic world.

Here’s Richard Clarke yesterday:

Seven years after 9/11, the United States has neither eliminated the threat from al-Qaeda nor secured Afghanistan, where bin Laden’s terrorists were once headquartered. To accomplish these two tasks, we must now eliminate the new terrorist safe haven in Pakistan. But that will require effective action from a weak and riven Pakistani government. It might also depend upon dealing with the long-standing India-Pakistan rivalry. On balance, al-Qaeda’s agenda for 2009 looks to be the easier one.

What accounts for Clarke’s new pessimism? Well, he was in the running to be Barack Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary – until it became clear that the job was going to Janet Napolitano. But far be it from me to imply that a policy “expert’s” national security assessment could turn on something like dashed personal employment prospects.

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Iran’s Quick Rejection of Obama

Yesterday, President-elect Obama outlined his carrots-and-sticks approach to Iran’s leaders. “We are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or the easy way,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The carrot-and-stick policy has no benefit,” said Hasan Qashqavi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, today, responding to the Obama initiative. “It is unacceptable and failed.” And to make sure there was no doubt where Tehran stood, he added this: “When they stick to their past view regarding suspending uranium enrichment, our answer will be: Iran will never suspend uranium enrichment.”

Apparently, the mullahs are choosing the hard way. So, Mr. Obama, what are you now going to do about the most important foreign policy challenge facing the United States?

Yesterday, President-elect Obama outlined his carrots-and-sticks approach to Iran’s leaders. “We are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or the easy way,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The carrot-and-stick policy has no benefit,” said Hasan Qashqavi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, today, responding to the Obama initiative. “It is unacceptable and failed.” And to make sure there was no doubt where Tehran stood, he added this: “When they stick to their past view regarding suspending uranium enrichment, our answer will be: Iran will never suspend uranium enrichment.”

Apparently, the mullahs are choosing the hard way. So, Mr. Obama, what are you now going to do about the most important foreign policy challenge facing the United States?

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A Drag on EU-American Relations

One possible additional sign of improvement in transatlantic relations come January 20th: America will have a president whose habits are much more distinctly European – he still smokes.

One possible additional sign of improvement in transatlantic relations come January 20th: America will have a president whose habits are much more distinctly European – he still smokes.

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Iraq at the End of the Surge

Last week I wrote that many Americans and Iraqis I spoke to in Baghdad recently expect a surge of violence after American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities as stipulated by the recently signed Status of Forces Agreement. Many readers seemed surprised by that pessimistic forecast and wondered, after two years of good news, if it could even be true. “Your report and that of Michael Yon,” Richard Everett wrote in the comments section, “published on the same day on the same subject are at so great variance that one has to ask; ‘are you two in the same country?’ He is positive, you are not. Why the extreme difference?”

Michael Yon did, indeed, publish an upbeat report on the same day called The Art of the End of the War. I encourage everyone to read it. Yon’s work is always accurate and informative, and this time is no exception. Richard Everett is right to point out that my piece was gloomy while Yon’s piece was not, but Iraq is complex. Iraq produces good news and bad at the same time.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

Last week I wrote that many Americans and Iraqis I spoke to in Baghdad recently expect a surge of violence after American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities as stipulated by the recently signed Status of Forces Agreement. Many readers seemed surprised by that pessimistic forecast and wondered, after two years of good news, if it could even be true. “Your report and that of Michael Yon,” Richard Everett wrote in the comments section, “published on the same day on the same subject are at so great variance that one has to ask; ‘are you two in the same country?’ He is positive, you are not. Why the extreme difference?”

Michael Yon did, indeed, publish an upbeat report on the same day called The Art of the End of the War. I encourage everyone to read it. Yon’s work is always accurate and informative, and this time is no exception. Richard Everett is right to point out that my piece was gloomy while Yon’s piece was not, but Iraq is complex. Iraq produces good news and bad at the same time.

Read the rest of this COMMENTARY web exclusive here.

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Not the President We Expected

This interview with President George W. Bush by the National Review staff is noteworthy on a few counts. Not surprisingly, the President evidences pride in seeing the Iraq war through. But he singles out National Security Advisor Steven Hadley–perhaps the least written about member of the administration–for “getting to the bottom of this thing” when the existing strategy wasn’t working. His own level of involvement in monitoring the war’s progress (which the interview makes clear) is obviously at odds with the MSM caricature of a disengaged and remote President. And he defends what is surely one of the most nettlesome criticisms of his foreign policy–that we have lost friends around the world. (In Western Europe? In India? In Iraq? His critics never really say.)

But those expecting some recognition of his domestic failures will be disappointed. He gives hearty cheers for “compassionate conservatism” (one wishes he would explain how it differs from standard-fare liberalism), his ineffective effort to reform social security, and even his Harriet Miers pick. (He oddly declares that he wished he had a third Supreme Court pick. Which Justice he wished would have dropped from the scene, he doesn’t say. Yikes.)

This was the virtue and in many instances the flaw of President Bush–the indefatigable belief in the rightness of his positions. It comes in handy when you need to withstand uninformed or misguided criticism (e.g. on the surge), but it is, of course, a great failing when a policy revision is in order. The other great shortcoming of the Bush administration, many would agree, was the President’s excessive loyalty and faulty personnel picks beyond Miers (e.g. Alberto Gonzales, Michael Brown, the nearly forgotten Treasury Secretaries who preceded Paulson). It is perhaps a useful reminder that prior executive and business experience doesn’t necessarily make one a great Chief Executive.

And then there is the economy. Oh, that. The interview doesn’t touch on whether he assigns himself any blame in the financial collapse or would, in retrospect, have pushed harder to rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or to regulate risky financial instruments that were too little understood and too widely used. But that is nevertheless likely to be the first line in his biographical summary. ( “President George W. Bush presided over the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.”) It is the greatest of ironies that his most significant accomplishment to counterbalance that huge negative is likely to be the victory in Iraq (along with his perfect record of defending the homeland after 9-11).

His presidency is replete with contradictions. The businessman who didn’t manage. The “disengaged” commander-in-chief who righted the Iraq war strategy. The free marketeer who authored the most sweeping intervention into the nation’s financial system, ever. The “reformer with results” who had far more administrative scandals than reforms. And on it goes. So if President Barack Obama doesn’t turn out exactly as expected, don’t be surprised. He’ll be in good company.

This interview with President George W. Bush by the National Review staff is noteworthy on a few counts. Not surprisingly, the President evidences pride in seeing the Iraq war through. But he singles out National Security Advisor Steven Hadley–perhaps the least written about member of the administration–for “getting to the bottom of this thing” when the existing strategy wasn’t working. His own level of involvement in monitoring the war’s progress (which the interview makes clear) is obviously at odds with the MSM caricature of a disengaged and remote President. And he defends what is surely one of the most nettlesome criticisms of his foreign policy–that we have lost friends around the world. (In Western Europe? In India? In Iraq? His critics never really say.)

But those expecting some recognition of his domestic failures will be disappointed. He gives hearty cheers for “compassionate conservatism” (one wishes he would explain how it differs from standard-fare liberalism), his ineffective effort to reform social security, and even his Harriet Miers pick. (He oddly declares that he wished he had a third Supreme Court pick. Which Justice he wished would have dropped from the scene, he doesn’t say. Yikes.)

This was the virtue and in many instances the flaw of President Bush–the indefatigable belief in the rightness of his positions. It comes in handy when you need to withstand uninformed or misguided criticism (e.g. on the surge), but it is, of course, a great failing when a policy revision is in order. The other great shortcoming of the Bush administration, many would agree, was the President’s excessive loyalty and faulty personnel picks beyond Miers (e.g. Alberto Gonzales, Michael Brown, the nearly forgotten Treasury Secretaries who preceded Paulson). It is perhaps a useful reminder that prior executive and business experience doesn’t necessarily make one a great Chief Executive.

And then there is the economy. Oh, that. The interview doesn’t touch on whether he assigns himself any blame in the financial collapse or would, in retrospect, have pushed harder to rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or to regulate risky financial instruments that were too little understood and too widely used. But that is nevertheless likely to be the first line in his biographical summary. ( “President George W. Bush presided over the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.”) It is the greatest of ironies that his most significant accomplishment to counterbalance that huge negative is likely to be the victory in Iraq (along with his perfect record of defending the homeland after 9-11).

His presidency is replete with contradictions. The businessman who didn’t manage. The “disengaged” commander-in-chief who righted the Iraq war strategy. The free marketeer who authored the most sweeping intervention into the nation’s financial system, ever. The “reformer with results” who had far more administrative scandals than reforms. And on it goes. So if President Barack Obama doesn’t turn out exactly as expected, don’t be surprised. He’ll be in good company.

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Expert Advice

Foreign policy experts Richard N. Haass and Martin Indyk have an essay in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “Beyond Iraq: A New U.S. Strategy for the Middle East.” The essay contains many paragraphs comparable to this one, which explains their suggestion for a “significant” reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq (“perhaps to half their pre-surge levels”) by mid-2010:

The timing and pace of the drawdown will be critical: too rapid a reduction could regenerate instability and create opportunities for Iran and al Qaeda, whereas too slow a reduction would leave U.S. forces tied down in Iraq and unavailable for other tasks. Still, a well-executed drawdown of U.S. troops should enable Obama to make clear to Iraq’s leaders and neighbors that he is shifting responsibility to their shoulders while demonstrating to the American people that their country’s involvement in the Iraq war is coming to an end. [Emphasis added]

Not too rapid, not too slow, and make it well-executed. It reminds me of the helpful advice Fred Astaire reportedly gave to Ginger Rogers before one of their dances: relax, but don’t make any mistakes.

Foreign policy experts Richard N. Haass and Martin Indyk have an essay in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “Beyond Iraq: A New U.S. Strategy for the Middle East.” The essay contains many paragraphs comparable to this one, which explains their suggestion for a “significant” reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq (“perhaps to half their pre-surge levels”) by mid-2010:

The timing and pace of the drawdown will be critical: too rapid a reduction could regenerate instability and create opportunities for Iran and al Qaeda, whereas too slow a reduction would leave U.S. forces tied down in Iraq and unavailable for other tasks. Still, a well-executed drawdown of U.S. troops should enable Obama to make clear to Iraq’s leaders and neighbors that he is shifting responsibility to their shoulders while demonstrating to the American people that their country’s involvement in the Iraq war is coming to an end. [Emphasis added]

Not too rapid, not too slow, and make it well-executed. It reminds me of the helpful advice Fred Astaire reportedly gave to Ginger Rogers before one of their dances: relax, but don’t make any mistakes.

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Whoppers of Mass Destruction

Anti-hamburger activists are up in arms over Burger King’s new ad campaign.

The fast feeder has created a set of new of 15-second teaser spots driving people to a website, Whoppervirgins.com, in its latest zany marketing ploy hatched by Burger King’s agency of record, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the MDC Partners creative shop credited with campaigns like “Whopper Freakout” and “Subservient Chicken” for Burger King.

“To find out about America’s favorite burger, we had to leave America,” proclaims the site, which this weekend will premiere a documentary depicting the world’s “Whopper Virgins,” who apparently include Thai villagers and Transylvanian farmers, taking their first-ever bite of burger.[…]

“I just dislike the idea of going to some remote place and feeding indigenous tribes or impoverished people burgers that are full of fat, trans-fat and calories,” another commented on the blog Walletpop. “While it would be nice to help those around the world who are starving, passing them heart attacks in a bun is not the way to do it!”

How dare Burger King display some good old-fashioned American ingenuity, incorporate far flung nations into an ad campaign, and feed a few people in the process! In Dana Spiotta’s novel Eat the Document, a character observes that big corporations used to have to sell lethal weapons in order to earn protests, now they just have to be big corporations. But if you’ve devoted your life to ruining everyone’s cheap lunch, a Whopper Jr. is a lethal weapon:

Meanwhile, Sharon Akabas of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University asks: ‘What’s next? Are we going to start taking guns out to some of these remote places and ask them which one they like better?’

It used to be “guns or butter”? But in the world of Ivy League Filet-o’-Fishology, that’s just a false choice.

Anti-hamburger activists are up in arms over Burger King’s new ad campaign.

The fast feeder has created a set of new of 15-second teaser spots driving people to a website, Whoppervirgins.com, in its latest zany marketing ploy hatched by Burger King’s agency of record, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the MDC Partners creative shop credited with campaigns like “Whopper Freakout” and “Subservient Chicken” for Burger King.

“To find out about America’s favorite burger, we had to leave America,” proclaims the site, which this weekend will premiere a documentary depicting the world’s “Whopper Virgins,” who apparently include Thai villagers and Transylvanian farmers, taking their first-ever bite of burger.[…]

“I just dislike the idea of going to some remote place and feeding indigenous tribes or impoverished people burgers that are full of fat, trans-fat and calories,” another commented on the blog Walletpop. “While it would be nice to help those around the world who are starving, passing them heart attacks in a bun is not the way to do it!”

How dare Burger King display some good old-fashioned American ingenuity, incorporate far flung nations into an ad campaign, and feed a few people in the process! In Dana Spiotta’s novel Eat the Document, a character observes that big corporations used to have to sell lethal weapons in order to earn protests, now they just have to be big corporations. But if you’ve devoted your life to ruining everyone’s cheap lunch, a Whopper Jr. is a lethal weapon:

Meanwhile, Sharon Akabas of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University asks: ‘What’s next? Are we going to start taking guns out to some of these remote places and ask them which one they like better?’

It used to be “guns or butter”? But in the world of Ivy League Filet-o’-Fishology, that’s just a false choice.

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Identity Abortion Politics

Ross Douthat makes the argument that the pro-life movement has already adopted many tactical compromises, but remains doctrinaire only on the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Both of which, which he correctly points out, prevent any significant restriction on abortion and any further compromise that might be reached in the political realm with pro-choice proponents. But I think he overstates the case that it all boils down to Supreme Court doctrine.

One need only recall the Republican primary in which Rudy Giuliani pledged to appoint orignialist judges and even keep in place pro-life measures such as the Hyde Amendment (limiting federal funding of abortion) and the Mexico City accord (preventing funding of international groups which provide abortions). We were told over and over again (by pundits, activists and other candidates) that this certainly wasn’t enough to win over the hearts and mind of pro-lifers. He was going to create a civil war in the party, his election would mean millions of social conservatives would stay home and it was unfair to expect social conservatives to give up their heart-felt positon. In short, Douthat’s thesis that legal conservatism would be sufficent for pro-lifers was roundly rejected. It was simply unacceptable to have anyone who carried the label “pro-choice” even if he had migrated to an effective pro-life position in practice.

I think Douthat underestimates the degree to which pro-life politics has become identity politics. Sarah Palin was lauded not because of her moving and repeated speeches condemning abortion ( there weren’t any), but because she identified herself strongly as “pro-life” and “lived the pro-life message” in her decision to take on the challenges of a Down’s Syndrome child, we were told. Had she been elected and by some tragedy ascended to the presidency the actual decisions she might have made, on judges for example, likely wouldn’t have been that different from those made by a President Giuliani. But you won’t convince pro-life activists of this.

So while I might agree with Max that the GOP might do well to consider some “adjustment” in this area, I think we’ve seen, despite Douthat’s gloss, that this isn’t an easy propostion. When, as Giuliani showed, it is not enough to merely reaffirm the proper role of the courts or to pledge a legislative status quo, it is clear that there’s not much room for compromise.

Ross Douthat makes the argument that the pro-life movement has already adopted many tactical compromises, but remains doctrinaire only on the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Both of which, which he correctly points out, prevent any significant restriction on abortion and any further compromise that might be reached in the political realm with pro-choice proponents. But I think he overstates the case that it all boils down to Supreme Court doctrine.

One need only recall the Republican primary in which Rudy Giuliani pledged to appoint orignialist judges and even keep in place pro-life measures such as the Hyde Amendment (limiting federal funding of abortion) and the Mexico City accord (preventing funding of international groups which provide abortions). We were told over and over again (by pundits, activists and other candidates) that this certainly wasn’t enough to win over the hearts and mind of pro-lifers. He was going to create a civil war in the party, his election would mean millions of social conservatives would stay home and it was unfair to expect social conservatives to give up their heart-felt positon. In short, Douthat’s thesis that legal conservatism would be sufficent for pro-lifers was roundly rejected. It was simply unacceptable to have anyone who carried the label “pro-choice” even if he had migrated to an effective pro-life position in practice.

I think Douthat underestimates the degree to which pro-life politics has become identity politics. Sarah Palin was lauded not because of her moving and repeated speeches condemning abortion ( there weren’t any), but because she identified herself strongly as “pro-life” and “lived the pro-life message” in her decision to take on the challenges of a Down’s Syndrome child, we were told. Had she been elected and by some tragedy ascended to the presidency the actual decisions she might have made, on judges for example, likely wouldn’t have been that different from those made by a President Giuliani. But you won’t convince pro-life activists of this.

So while I might agree with Max that the GOP might do well to consider some “adjustment” in this area, I think we’ve seen, despite Douthat’s gloss, that this isn’t an easy propostion. When, as Giuliani showed, it is not enough to merely reaffirm the proper role of the courts or to pledge a legislative status quo, it is clear that there’s not much room for compromise.

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Middle East Advice for Hillary

Five former Secretaries of State have offered Hillary Clinton advice via the LA Times, and two of them have identified the Israeli-Arab peace process as the first order of business.

Jim Baker, famously obsessed (admirers will probably prefer “preoccupied”) with the Israeli-Arab peace process since the days he was Secretary, does not mention Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, or Iraq in his to-do list. He doesn’t mention any of the other issues serious observers would consider important. Note Baker’s warning about the “domestic political standpoint” in his advice for Hillary Clinton:

I think it’s important for Sen. Clinton to tackle the Arab-Israeli issue early. I happen to believe that both her husband and President George W. Bush waited too long. The temptation is to wait because it is a very tough issue from a domestic political standpoint. Now there seems to be more desire for a secure, negotiated peace on the part of the Israeli body politic than there has been in the past. I think the stars are right. But you don’t get peace between Arabs and Israelis unilaterally. So that’s one I think she might undertake productively.

So Baker’s advice is this: deal with Arab-Israel peace urgently, and if you don’t, we’ll know why you’ve hesitated (or, in other words, forget New York).

George Shultz also cites the Arab-Israeli peace process in a cautionary tone. But for him, it’s is not the “domestic” pressures one should be afraid of (when exactly did such pressure prevented a U.S. administration from achieving peace?). Shultz is worried about something else. He is worried (without mentioning him by name of course) about people like Baker who think they know the answer to every problem:

Anyone can write an answer to the Israel-Palestine problem, but it doesn’t mean a thing. You’ve got to get people to agree, and that’s hard. You just have to work at it, and if you work and keep things from sliding backward, you make a little progress. You make life a little better, and gradually something may emerge. 

Although Hillary is the new darling of the Right (“foreign policy is the one area in which her ideas seem somewhat in line with those of conservatives,”wrote Noemie Emery of the Weekly Standard), it remains to be seen whether she narrows her options down to a choice between the conservative Baker-way or the conservative Shultz-way — or if she takes another route altogether.

Five former Secretaries of State have offered Hillary Clinton advice via the LA Times, and two of them have identified the Israeli-Arab peace process as the first order of business.

Jim Baker, famously obsessed (admirers will probably prefer “preoccupied”) with the Israeli-Arab peace process since the days he was Secretary, does not mention Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, or Iraq in his to-do list. He doesn’t mention any of the other issues serious observers would consider important. Note Baker’s warning about the “domestic political standpoint” in his advice for Hillary Clinton:

I think it’s important for Sen. Clinton to tackle the Arab-Israeli issue early. I happen to believe that both her husband and President George W. Bush waited too long. The temptation is to wait because it is a very tough issue from a domestic political standpoint. Now there seems to be more desire for a secure, negotiated peace on the part of the Israeli body politic than there has been in the past. I think the stars are right. But you don’t get peace between Arabs and Israelis unilaterally. So that’s one I think she might undertake productively.

So Baker’s advice is this: deal with Arab-Israel peace urgently, and if you don’t, we’ll know why you’ve hesitated (or, in other words, forget New York).

George Shultz also cites the Arab-Israeli peace process in a cautionary tone. But for him, it’s is not the “domestic” pressures one should be afraid of (when exactly did such pressure prevented a U.S. administration from achieving peace?). Shultz is worried about something else. He is worried (without mentioning him by name of course) about people like Baker who think they know the answer to every problem:

Anyone can write an answer to the Israel-Palestine problem, but it doesn’t mean a thing. You’ve got to get people to agree, and that’s hard. You just have to work at it, and if you work and keep things from sliding backward, you make a little progress. You make life a little better, and gradually something may emerge. 

Although Hillary is the new darling of the Right (“foreign policy is the one area in which her ideas seem somewhat in line with those of conservatives,”wrote Noemie Emery of the Weekly Standard), it remains to be seen whether she narrows her options down to a choice between the conservative Baker-way or the conservative Shultz-way — or if she takes another route altogether.

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Pawlenty on the Bailouts

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is often mentioned as a possible Republican contender for 2012. Whether or not he runs, he’s a voice of sanity on economic matters. He was in very good form on Sunday on CNN. He was complimentary of President-elect Obama personally, but also critical of Obama’s approach and constructive in his criticism:

Well, first of all, we appreciate the gracious invitation he extended to all the governors to come and meet with him and the open-minded and constructive tone that he set at that meeting. . . .As to the substance of what he seems to be proposing, there’s one small problem with the whole concept and that is by any reasonable accounting standard, the federal government of the United States is broke. They’re using credit card debt to pay off credit card debt. They’re constructing their own Ponzi scheme that’s going to make the subprime crisis the federal equivalent of that I think 10 or so years down the road.

All of that being said, the country is in crisis. We need to do something. They’re throwing massive amounts of money at it. I think Wolf, in Minnesota’s case, we’re a net contributor to the federal government. We pay in way more than we get back. So some aid I think would be appropriate for our state. But as they do that, as they do that, please don’t tie our hands from reforming the system.

For example, if we’re going to do infrastructure, don’t make it pork barrel projects where members of Congress get to pick things over merit. If we’re going to fix Medicaid and send us a little money on Medicaid, please don’t tie our hands from reforming and fixing the problem because structurally it’s unsustainable. Those are the kinds of red tape or bureaucracy that the federal government might visit on us and we want to make sure that concern is heard as well.

As for the stimulus-mania, he sounded a note of caution:

Well, just as a quick side note, the debt at $11 trillion, I believe is more than $35,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. So, yes, most economists are concerned or many are about the possibility of deflation in the near term. So doing things to help the economy as it relates to the federal government is a wise idea. But why not focus on things like — what about some additional tax breaks for small businesses who are the back bone of job growth in the country? Not the large businesses or the ones that have particular interest groups around them.

So, why aren’t we talked about that? But more broadly, Wolf, if we continue down this path, we’re going to have a government equivalent of the sub prime crisis because I believe this amount of debt is unsustainable. The other day, we had the leader of a Chinese hedge fund and a Chinese finance official tell the United States of America that if we continue on this path, they’re not going to continue to invest in our country.

Meanwhile, Governor Ed Rendell was assuring us that President Obama’s WPA efforts are “going to create jobs right away. ” Yeah, righhht. Depends on the meaning of “create” and “right away,” I suppose.

And on the car bailout Pawlenty offered:

I think the big three automakers are in three different conditions. You have Chrysler is owned by some of the wealthiest people in the world and they just bought a little over a year ago with their eyes opened. Ford said right now they don’t even need the money, they may need a line of credit next year. And General Motors is a basket case. And so I don’t know why for them, Chapter 11 or at least some sort of pre-structured Chapter 11 wouldn’t be a viable alternative rather than the taxpayers bailing them out.

All in all he was quite effective –sober, grounded in reality, and offering at each opportunity the conservative alternative, without antagonism or hyper-partisanship. That seems to be a good model for his fellow Republicans. It does them no good to impugn motives or predict disaster. It does them plenty of good to be clear about what’s misguided in the Democrats’ approach. It may not carry the day, but it’s all the minority party can offer — so they better practice doing it well.

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is often mentioned as a possible Republican contender for 2012. Whether or not he runs, he’s a voice of sanity on economic matters. He was in very good form on Sunday on CNN. He was complimentary of President-elect Obama personally, but also critical of Obama’s approach and constructive in his criticism:

Well, first of all, we appreciate the gracious invitation he extended to all the governors to come and meet with him and the open-minded and constructive tone that he set at that meeting. . . .As to the substance of what he seems to be proposing, there’s one small problem with the whole concept and that is by any reasonable accounting standard, the federal government of the United States is broke. They’re using credit card debt to pay off credit card debt. They’re constructing their own Ponzi scheme that’s going to make the subprime crisis the federal equivalent of that I think 10 or so years down the road.

All of that being said, the country is in crisis. We need to do something. They’re throwing massive amounts of money at it. I think Wolf, in Minnesota’s case, we’re a net contributor to the federal government. We pay in way more than we get back. So some aid I think would be appropriate for our state. But as they do that, as they do that, please don’t tie our hands from reforming the system.

For example, if we’re going to do infrastructure, don’t make it pork barrel projects where members of Congress get to pick things over merit. If we’re going to fix Medicaid and send us a little money on Medicaid, please don’t tie our hands from reforming and fixing the problem because structurally it’s unsustainable. Those are the kinds of red tape or bureaucracy that the federal government might visit on us and we want to make sure that concern is heard as well.

As for the stimulus-mania, he sounded a note of caution:

Well, just as a quick side note, the debt at $11 trillion, I believe is more than $35,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. So, yes, most economists are concerned or many are about the possibility of deflation in the near term. So doing things to help the economy as it relates to the federal government is a wise idea. But why not focus on things like — what about some additional tax breaks for small businesses who are the back bone of job growth in the country? Not the large businesses or the ones that have particular interest groups around them.

So, why aren’t we talked about that? But more broadly, Wolf, if we continue down this path, we’re going to have a government equivalent of the sub prime crisis because I believe this amount of debt is unsustainable. The other day, we had the leader of a Chinese hedge fund and a Chinese finance official tell the United States of America that if we continue on this path, they’re not going to continue to invest in our country.

Meanwhile, Governor Ed Rendell was assuring us that President Obama’s WPA efforts are “going to create jobs right away. ” Yeah, righhht. Depends on the meaning of “create” and “right away,” I suppose.

And on the car bailout Pawlenty offered:

I think the big three automakers are in three different conditions. You have Chrysler is owned by some of the wealthiest people in the world and they just bought a little over a year ago with their eyes opened. Ford said right now they don’t even need the money, they may need a line of credit next year. And General Motors is a basket case. And so I don’t know why for them, Chapter 11 or at least some sort of pre-structured Chapter 11 wouldn’t be a viable alternative rather than the taxpayers bailing them out.

All in all he was quite effective –sober, grounded in reality, and offering at each opportunity the conservative alternative, without antagonism or hyper-partisanship. That seems to be a good model for his fellow Republicans. It does them no good to impugn motives or predict disaster. It does them plenty of good to be clear about what’s misguided in the Democrats’ approach. It may not carry the day, but it’s all the minority party can offer — so they better practice doing it well.

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IgNobel

2005 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Mohammed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency are once again gathering attention — and once again, not in a good way. They are being criticized by Israel for their utter failure to provide any meaningful check on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This should come as no surprise. This is the same IAEA that watched North Korea set off a kinda-sorta nuclear bomb, had no clue that Syria was building a bomb factory until Israel converted it into a crater, and was caught completely off guard by Libya’s nuclear program when it announced it had turned the whole kit and kaboodle over to the US.

But they’ve been very, very attentive to Israel’s nuclear program, which — by definition — is none of their business, as Israel never signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Unlike, say, the above-mentioned nations. Or India and Pakistan, for that matter, who have also joined the nuclear club.

This is, sadly, entirely to be expected from the IAEA. It seems, especially in the last 30-odd years or so, that the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize can best be described as ineffective. At worst, it is a cynical recognition of people who have done horrendous things in their past and now, it is hoped, might be somewhat less monstrous in the future.

A look at the list of some of the laureates can be educational:

1973: American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho for the end of the Vietnam War, which led to some truly epic purges and genocides in Southeast Asia.

1978: Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin for signing the Camp David Accords, at which Egypt allowed itself to be bribed into ending open war against Israel.

1985: The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, for their efforts in pushing the United States not to confront the Soviet Union, withdraw nuclear weapons from Europe, and in general not impeding the expansion of the Soviet Union. They focused their attention on the U.S., as they knew full well what sorts of things happen to such protesters behind the Iron Curtain and had no interest in spending time in scenic Siberia.

1988: United Nations Peacekeepers, the force that helped redefine the international color for surrender from white to baby-blue, and developed a reputation for sheer ineffectiveness that put the French to shame. In their off hours, they raped and exploited the refugees they were supposed to protect and turned a blind eye (at best) to terrorists.

1991: Mikhail Gorbachev, for allowing the Soviet Union to expire with a whimper and not go out with a bang.

1994: Yassir Arafat. Enough said.

2001: Khofi Annan and the United Nations: Again, enough said.

2002: Jimmy Carter. I’m still laughing over this one.

2007: Al Gore and his International Panel on Climate Change. For concocting the whole “anthropogenic global warming” fantasy out of whole cloth and scaring large chunks of the world into believing in it.

So the Nobel Prize-winning IAEA is utterly ineffective? That should be a relief. Considering the harm caused by some of their fellow laureates, I think that “ineffective” is about the best we can hope for.

2005 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Mohammed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency are once again gathering attention — and once again, not in a good way. They are being criticized by Israel for their utter failure to provide any meaningful check on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This should come as no surprise. This is the same IAEA that watched North Korea set off a kinda-sorta nuclear bomb, had no clue that Syria was building a bomb factory until Israel converted it into a crater, and was caught completely off guard by Libya’s nuclear program when it announced it had turned the whole kit and kaboodle over to the US.

But they’ve been very, very attentive to Israel’s nuclear program, which — by definition — is none of their business, as Israel never signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Unlike, say, the above-mentioned nations. Or India and Pakistan, for that matter, who have also joined the nuclear club.

This is, sadly, entirely to be expected from the IAEA. It seems, especially in the last 30-odd years or so, that the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize can best be described as ineffective. At worst, it is a cynical recognition of people who have done horrendous things in their past and now, it is hoped, might be somewhat less monstrous in the future.

A look at the list of some of the laureates can be educational:

1973: American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho for the end of the Vietnam War, which led to some truly epic purges and genocides in Southeast Asia.

1978: Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin for signing the Camp David Accords, at which Egypt allowed itself to be bribed into ending open war against Israel.

1985: The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, for their efforts in pushing the United States not to confront the Soviet Union, withdraw nuclear weapons from Europe, and in general not impeding the expansion of the Soviet Union. They focused their attention on the U.S., as they knew full well what sorts of things happen to such protesters behind the Iron Curtain and had no interest in spending time in scenic Siberia.

1988: United Nations Peacekeepers, the force that helped redefine the international color for surrender from white to baby-blue, and developed a reputation for sheer ineffectiveness that put the French to shame. In their off hours, they raped and exploited the refugees they were supposed to protect and turned a blind eye (at best) to terrorists.

1991: Mikhail Gorbachev, for allowing the Soviet Union to expire with a whimper and not go out with a bang.

1994: Yassir Arafat. Enough said.

2001: Khofi Annan and the United Nations: Again, enough said.

2002: Jimmy Carter. I’m still laughing over this one.

2007: Al Gore and his International Panel on Climate Change. For concocting the whole “anthropogenic global warming” fantasy out of whole cloth and scaring large chunks of the world into believing in it.

So the Nobel Prize-winning IAEA is utterly ineffective? That should be a relief. Considering the harm caused by some of their fellow laureates, I think that “ineffective” is about the best we can hope for.

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The Goldilocks Recession

President-elect Obama is walking a fine line. On one hand, he is warning us that the economy “is going to get worse before [it] gets better.” But still, it’s not the Great Depression, he concedes. You can practically see the wheels of political calculation clicking round and round.

As Rahm Emanuel said, the Obama administration isn’t about to allow a serious economic crisis go to waste. They will use it for all its worth — to expand government, enact nationalized health care, fill the ranks of the unions with new members, serve up plenty of public jobs programs, and re-regulate and direct the economy. So the economy has to be fairly bad.

Plus, the expectations game is tricky. Unless voters are convinced George W. Bush did quite a number on the economy, they might expect things to be better fairly soon. If employment, growth, and the stock market are not measurably improved in six months or a year, they might wonder why all the billions in bailouts are not delivering prosperity. So again, the economy has to be in the dumpster.

But then again  it can’t be too awful, or rather President Obama can’t say that it’s too awful. Because markets, investors, entrepreneurs, and others might take him seriously, further dampening recovery prospects and thereby making it less likely we will pull out of the tailspin in time for — what else? — the next election. So really, folks, just calm down. It’s not like people are selling apples on street corners.

It’s a precarious balance, not easily sustained as he tries to juggle multiple constituencies and political audiences. But in the end it really doesn’t matter what he says. It is what he does that will determine how we fare. Will he raise taxes and hew to protectionist policies? Or will he discover that a new Works Progress Administration  isn’t really the way to promote recovery? In the end, the voters will see for themselves whether things are better or worse — and will hold the party in power responsible, just as they did in 2008.

President-elect Obama is walking a fine line. On one hand, he is warning us that the economy “is going to get worse before [it] gets better.” But still, it’s not the Great Depression, he concedes. You can practically see the wheels of political calculation clicking round and round.

As Rahm Emanuel said, the Obama administration isn’t about to allow a serious economic crisis go to waste. They will use it for all its worth — to expand government, enact nationalized health care, fill the ranks of the unions with new members, serve up plenty of public jobs programs, and re-regulate and direct the economy. So the economy has to be fairly bad.

Plus, the expectations game is tricky. Unless voters are convinced George W. Bush did quite a number on the economy, they might expect things to be better fairly soon. If employment, growth, and the stock market are not measurably improved in six months or a year, they might wonder why all the billions in bailouts are not delivering prosperity. So again, the economy has to be in the dumpster.

But then again  it can’t be too awful, or rather President Obama can’t say that it’s too awful. Because markets, investors, entrepreneurs, and others might take him seriously, further dampening recovery prospects and thereby making it less likely we will pull out of the tailspin in time for — what else? — the next election. So really, folks, just calm down. It’s not like people are selling apples on street corners.

It’s a precarious balance, not easily sustained as he tries to juggle multiple constituencies and political audiences. But in the end it really doesn’t matter what he says. It is what he does that will determine how we fare. Will he raise taxes and hew to protectionist policies? Or will he discover that a new Works Progress Administration  isn’t really the way to promote recovery? In the end, the voters will see for themselves whether things are better or worse — and will hold the party in power responsible, just as they did in 2008.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

With no election to win, President-elect Obama remains opaque as ever when quizzed on his knotty policy positions. Does he just hate to part with widespread praise (which inevitably dissipates when some voters learn you aren’t doing what they want) or doesn’t he know what he wants to do? Once he’s sworn in we’ll find out whether ambiguity is a tactic or a malady. But note: relying on “what my advisors recommend” only works when they all agree.

If Tom Brokaw believed in asking hard follow-up questions he would have asked the President-elect whether, given his admission that General Eric Shinseki was “right” to ask for more troops in Iraq, candidate Barack Obama was wrong to oppose more troops. Nevertheless, I think the surge argument has been won, if not conceded by the other side. (Like the Norm Coleman Senate race!)

“Maybe they should go out of business,” says Juan Williams (!) about the Big Three auto companies. He wants to know that what $15 billion will do for them — other than string them and the taxpayers along for more of the same next year.

The headline reads “Georgia Win Dims Franken’s Prospects,” but the story itself gives no indication that Democrats are giving up despite Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s win (which put a filibuster-proof total of 60 seats out of reach). Perhaps they will eventually get it, but for now losing the election and the recount are merely bumps in the road as far as Democrats are concerned.

David Gregory has a way to go in the gravitas department. He can start by kicking the habit of repeatedly looking down, as if searching for notes.

The Tribune company gets ready to file for bankruptcy. Now before you get excited, it doesn’t mean the Los Angeles Times will shut down. Not unless the judge is a media critic.

Pennsylvania women have a message for Chris Matthews about a potential Senate run: don’t.

One report on the car bailout: “General Motors Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner is coming under increasing pressure from outside the company to resign as part of any broad bailout of the auto maker by the federal government.” That would seem to be a necessary but hardly sufficient step on the way to improving GM’s chances of survival.

Jane Hamsher and I agree on virtually nothing except on the prospects for Caroline Kennedy as New York’s next Senator: “But simply being well-known and a member of the ‘American nobility’ in a celebrity-driven society shouldn’t be enough to axiomatically entitle her to be a member of the US Senate.”(h/t Glenn Reynolds).

And I don’t often agree with Paul Krugman, but here again I find commonality: “Nobel economics prize winner Paul Krugman said Sunday that the beleaguered U.S. auto industry will likely disappear.” Well, unless the Big Three can refashion themselves to compete with competitors producing cars in the U.S. (e.g. Honda).

Karl Rove is going list the names of the “Bush haters” in his book. How long is this tome going to be?

With no election to win, President-elect Obama remains opaque as ever when quizzed on his knotty policy positions. Does he just hate to part with widespread praise (which inevitably dissipates when some voters learn you aren’t doing what they want) or doesn’t he know what he wants to do? Once he’s sworn in we’ll find out whether ambiguity is a tactic or a malady. But note: relying on “what my advisors recommend” only works when they all agree.

If Tom Brokaw believed in asking hard follow-up questions he would have asked the President-elect whether, given his admission that General Eric Shinseki was “right” to ask for more troops in Iraq, candidate Barack Obama was wrong to oppose more troops. Nevertheless, I think the surge argument has been won, if not conceded by the other side. (Like the Norm Coleman Senate race!)

“Maybe they should go out of business,” says Juan Williams (!) about the Big Three auto companies. He wants to know that what $15 billion will do for them — other than string them and the taxpayers along for more of the same next year.

The headline reads “Georgia Win Dims Franken’s Prospects,” but the story itself gives no indication that Democrats are giving up despite Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s win (which put a filibuster-proof total of 60 seats out of reach). Perhaps they will eventually get it, but for now losing the election and the recount are merely bumps in the road as far as Democrats are concerned.

David Gregory has a way to go in the gravitas department. He can start by kicking the habit of repeatedly looking down, as if searching for notes.

The Tribune company gets ready to file for bankruptcy. Now before you get excited, it doesn’t mean the Los Angeles Times will shut down. Not unless the judge is a media critic.

Pennsylvania women have a message for Chris Matthews about a potential Senate run: don’t.

One report on the car bailout: “General Motors Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner is coming under increasing pressure from outside the company to resign as part of any broad bailout of the auto maker by the federal government.” That would seem to be a necessary but hardly sufficient step on the way to improving GM’s chances of survival.

Jane Hamsher and I agree on virtually nothing except on the prospects for Caroline Kennedy as New York’s next Senator: “But simply being well-known and a member of the ‘American nobility’ in a celebrity-driven society shouldn’t be enough to axiomatically entitle her to be a member of the US Senate.”(h/t Glenn Reynolds).

And I don’t often agree with Paul Krugman, but here again I find commonality: “Nobel economics prize winner Paul Krugman said Sunday that the beleaguered U.S. auto industry will likely disappear.” Well, unless the Big Three can refashion themselves to compete with competitors producing cars in the U.S. (e.g. Honda).

Karl Rove is going list the names of the “Bush haters” in his book. How long is this tome going to be?

Read Less

Feeding The Crocodiles

Two developments in the last week have brought American immigration policy back to the fore. First up, the Department of Homeland Security was dealt an embarrassing blow when Lorraine Henderson, the Boston area port detector for the Customs and Border Protection Agency, was caught employing three illegal aliens from Brazil as housekeepers.

While that story is good for a chuckle or two, a far more interesting story is unfolding just south of our borders. For years, Mexico has been a staunch opponent of our immigration policies. They have decried our efforts to check the flow of illegal aliens from Mexico into the U.S., assisted those who were trying to sneak across the border (both tacitly and openly), and fiercely championed its citizens who run afoul of our laws, even those who have committed crimes that have earned them the death penalty.

Mexico’s attitude towards its northern border stands in stark contrast to its practices along its southern border. While it argues for essentially open border into the United States, it guards its own southern border with a zeal that would make the most raging xenophobe step back and say “whoa, dude, somebody call the ACLU.” Now, thanks to Michelle Malkin, we see that Mexico is sounding a lot more like Pat Buchanan than La Raza. They’re not only cracking down on illegal immigrants (from Cuba), but they’re talking about bringing back the death penalty.

Mexico is vaguely reminiscent of Pakistan and Lebanon, in a way — all are theoretically independent nations threatened by powerful, armed groups within its borders that are intent on causing trouble in other nations. And both governments aren’t directly threatened by these groups as long as inaction continues to let them thrive. It’s not that far removed from the Saudi Arabian approach to their troublemakers — give them money and encourage them to go abroad and cause problems for anyone else.

Winston Churchill once described appeasement as “feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last.” A solid observation (as one can always expect from Sir Winston), and an apt description of how Mexico, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are dealing with the vipers at their throats.

And it’s not too much of a stretch to compare it to the United States’ own policy towards illegal immigration and border control.

Two developments in the last week have brought American immigration policy back to the fore. First up, the Department of Homeland Security was dealt an embarrassing blow when Lorraine Henderson, the Boston area port detector for the Customs and Border Protection Agency, was caught employing three illegal aliens from Brazil as housekeepers.

While that story is good for a chuckle or two, a far more interesting story is unfolding just south of our borders. For years, Mexico has been a staunch opponent of our immigration policies. They have decried our efforts to check the flow of illegal aliens from Mexico into the U.S., assisted those who were trying to sneak across the border (both tacitly and openly), and fiercely championed its citizens who run afoul of our laws, even those who have committed crimes that have earned them the death penalty.

Mexico’s attitude towards its northern border stands in stark contrast to its practices along its southern border. While it argues for essentially open border into the United States, it guards its own southern border with a zeal that would make the most raging xenophobe step back and say “whoa, dude, somebody call the ACLU.” Now, thanks to Michelle Malkin, we see that Mexico is sounding a lot more like Pat Buchanan than La Raza. They’re not only cracking down on illegal immigrants (from Cuba), but they’re talking about bringing back the death penalty.

Mexico is vaguely reminiscent of Pakistan and Lebanon, in a way — all are theoretically independent nations threatened by powerful, armed groups within its borders that are intent on causing trouble in other nations. And both governments aren’t directly threatened by these groups as long as inaction continues to let them thrive. It’s not that far removed from the Saudi Arabian approach to their troublemakers — give them money and encourage them to go abroad and cause problems for anyone else.

Winston Churchill once described appeasement as “feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last.” A solid observation (as one can always expect from Sir Winston), and an apt description of how Mexico, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are dealing with the vipers at their throats.

And it’s not too much of a stretch to compare it to the United States’ own policy towards illegal immigration and border control.

Read Less




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