Had a bunch of lefty friends for Christmas dinner. It’s really quite amusing to hear them express all their hopes for the Obama Administration, how he’ll have a “clean, smart Cabinet who will run a clean, open government” – as if the Chicago machine and Blago’s seat auction didn’t exist, and Obama had a track record for cleaning up anything.
Even more amusing was to hear them express their gay/lesbian friends’ “hurt, pain & dismay” at Obama choosing Warren for the invocation. I kept asking, how could they be so upset at that? What exactly was the “betrayal”, since Obama has never publicly supported gay marriage? Obama clearly is still “shopping” for a national pastor, since Wright’s far under the bus. The answer: “but gay/lesbians supported him” (ignoring Obama’s position on the issue dearest to them – they just assumed he was lying, in order be mainstream enough to get elected!).
Lots of disillusionment coming down the pike, I’m afraid….
Posts For: December 26, 2008
Shmuel, it is an important observation that the Saudi/Arab plan is a set of principles rather than a plan. But it also needs to be noted that it is not a very good set of principles:
Move back to the Auschwitz borders, give up the Old City, and recognize the right of return: after that, we’ll recognize you.
The difference between a “plan” and a “principle” is that one is presumably negotiable and the other presumably is not. The Saudis/Arabs have yet to indicate that their principles are negotiable, and their “plan” contradicts the principles to which the U.S. committed itself in the April 14, 2004 letter to Israel: no return to those borders, and no right of return to Israel.
So far, it appears that incumbent Sen. Mel Martinez would complete his term. That would seem to be a fine idea for at least two reasons. First, it would separate Jeb Bush from the dynastic appointment epidemic which is both distasteful and potentially harmful to the 2010 re-election prospects of those elevated without benefit of an election. Second, it will allow him to critique the progress of the new administration and the Democratic Congress over the next two years. If we don’t stage a miraculous recovery and the Obama administration’s plans don’t work out quite as planned, Bush and other 2010 challengers will be in an ideal spot.
But what of the “child of dynasty” snark from the media? Isn’t this problematic — especially for the brother of a horribly unpopular president? In a word, “no.” Unlike Caroline Kennedy, Jeb Bush was a successful public servant and has defined ideas, relevant experience and no problem mixing it up with the media. He’s not claiming the seat as a birthright, he’ll gain it, if he does, in spite of his bloodline. And as for the George W. Bush connection, Florida voters I think are savvy enough to discern the difference between the two. With President Bush out of the White House, Jeb will not be compelled to defend every or really any aspect of his brother’s presidency. Jeb has been quite clear that he’s a “smaller” if not exactly a ”small” government conservative. ( Read: “”I’m not a compassionate conservative — whatever that is.”)
Republicans don’t have much to be cheery about these days, but they could do worse than to gain an articulate, experienced conservative to help shape the image and agenda of the party.
Of the tens of thousands of foreign events this tumultuous year, here are my top ten, ranked more or less in ascending order of importance:
1. Russia’s signaling in September of its willingness to provide nuclear technology to Venezuela, thereby raising the prospect of a South American bomb.
2. The failure this month of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea, an event highlighting the general collapse of American anti-proliferation policy.
3. Iran’s test firing of missiles in the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, reminding the world of the importance of keeping the Persian Gulf open.
4. The Iraqi parliament’s ratification last month of the agreement to keep American troops in the country until 2012, a sign of the success of Washington’s recent policies.
5. The successive devaluation of the ruble, signifying the spreading of the global financial crisis.
6. The October signing of the U.S.-India nuclear pact, an event symbolizing the growing ties among the Pacific democracies.
7. The summit between Russia and China in Beijing in May, a cementing of relations among the authoritarian states.
8. Last month’s Mumbai attack, which is now leading to growing hostility between New Delhi and Islamabad.
9. The passage in September of the Security Council’s toothless resolution on the Iranian nuclear program, a clear indication of the failure of multilateral action to stop one of the gravest threats to international stability.
10. Russia’s August invasion of Georgia.
The New York Times‘s Michael Slackman sees the Middle East’s young Islamists as a bunch of misguided hippies:
Across the Middle East, young people like [Jordanian college student] Mr. Fawaz, angry, alienated and deprived of opportunity, have accepted Islam as an agent of change and rebellion. It is their rock ‘n’ roll, their long hair and love beads. Through Islam, they defy the status quo and challenge governments seen as corrupt and incompetent.
Well, yes and no. Among Middle Eastern youth, radical Islam does serve a social and psychological function similar to the one rock ‘n’ roll once served in the West. It provides the comfort of groupthink, the imposition of an aesthetic, and the blueprint of an identity. But that’s where the similarities end.
Even at its most aggressive, rock ‘n’ roll is toothless. At its most transgressive, it’s commercial gold. Chances are, if thirty years ago you were on stage spitting beer and screaming about anarchy, today you’re sipping tea and crying about taxes. The goal of pop music is entertainment. You can spice up rock culture with a dash of anarchy or communism or black power, but in the end it’s just elevated fandom. And when the demands of adult life come calling, the fandom is abandoned.
Jihad is for life. And, of course, death. Young Islamists in Jordan and elsewhere have a very specific idea about how to “challenge governments seen as corrupt and incompetent,” and it doesn’t involve song. If only sharia was nothing more than the Muslim equivalent of Beatlemania.
As more and more rockets and mortars are launched into Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a thought occurred to me: imagine the international reaction if a group of Israelis, independent from their government, started building their own home-made rockets and fired them back into Gaza, on a one-for-one basis, in response to incoming fire.
There would be massive condemnation, of course, but Israel could simply shrug and say “we can’t control the actions of certain rogue elements — and besides, we’re just returning some of the scrap they’ve been sending to us for years.” Hamas would threaten dire consequences, but that’s pretty much their response to anything and everything.
Of course, this would and could never happen. For one, the Israeli people have an innate cultural aversion to attacking random people. For another, the Israeli government would never tolerate it — they learned at the very creation of Israel that one of the defining elements of a nation-state is that the government must hold a monopoly on the use of force.
No, it would never happen. And it should never happen. Israel’s refusal to engage in such tit-for-tat random killings is one of the most powerful arguments for their moral superiority in the conflict. But as a thought experiment, it’s revealing.
Paul Krugman hopes that President-elect Obama set out not just to make government “cool,” but clean. (“Barack Be Good,” he implores of the next President.) Krugman suggests lots of government inspectors and auditors to monitor the bzillions to be spent on the “stimulus” plan. Okay, I suppose. He warns against earmarks. Hmm, better check the list of junk projects going into the “stimulus” package. And then there’s the “F.D.R.-like bond” with the American people. This has Krugman worried:
And I have to say that Democrats are off to a bad start on that front. The attempted coronation of Caroline Kennedy as senator plays right into 40 years of conservative propaganda denouncing “liberal elites.” And surely I wasn’t the only person who winced at reports about the luxurious beach house the Obamas have rented, not because there’s anything wrong with the first family-elect having a nice vacation, but because symbolism matters, and these weren’t the images we should be seeing when millions of Americans are terrified about their finances.
Well, I think Krugman is missing a few of the bigger issues here, even beyond the physical impossibility of preventing graft and corruption with a trillion dollar program of “gotta do ‘em fast” projects. (And the Obamas, as far as I am concerned, can vacation any where they darn please.)
The real issue: creepy anti-democratic politics is breaking out all over. It’s not just the potential selection of the undeserving Caroline Kennedy, but Joe Biden’s gambit to “hold” his seat for his son. Then there is President-elect Obama’s silence on a special election to fill his old senate seat (and the resulting partial disenfranchisement of his former constituents).
And we’re not getting much clean and transparent government from either the Democratic Congress or the President-elect. We have the Democrats’ toleration of serial tax and ethics miscreant Charlie Rangel as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And we’ve also witnessed President-elect’s holier-than-thou fudging on his own involvement with Blagojevich. None of this is very “F.D.R-like-bond” enhancing.
Krugman is right that “the Obama team needs to be thinking now, when hopes are high, about how to accumulate and preserve enough political capital to see the job through.” But Krugman and, more importantly, the Obama team seem oblivious to the most striking examples of anti-good government behavior. Before there is any more dilution of political capital, it would be a good idea to junk the Chicago Way once and for all.
The Saudi plan for Middle East peace – now known as the “Arab peace initiative” – is an interesting, if somewhat suspicious idea. The Saudis have always invested more in the public relations component of the plan than in taking practical steps toward it its implementation. Thus, it is no wonder that the plan started not with a proposal to the Israeli government but with an article by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Since the appearance of that article, any progress on the plan has been more symbolic than substantive. The article by Turki al-Faisal in today’s Washington Post is just another link in a long PR chain.
Al-Faisal is a well informed figure in the DC, having served as the Saudi Ambassador to Washington for two years (he is now chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies in Riyadh). But his article misses an important mood-shift: while al-Faisal aims to convince Obama that he should “not miss this critical opportunity,” he neglects to notice that the new Washington has very little patience for those refusing to “engage” their opponents and enemies in direct talks. Obama is willing to sit for a chat with the Iranians, but Al-Faisal does not show a similar openness to engaging Israel :
At this point, the Saudi government is constrained from direct talks with Israel. Egypt and Jordan have been commissioned to meet with Israel on behalf of the Arab world. Once agreements between Palestine, Lebanon and Syria are reached with Israel, Saudi Arabia will join fully in ending hostilities and establishing diplomatic and normal relations with Israel.
This is a position that the Obama administration has good reason to reject. The Saudis can’t reasonably applaud change in the American approach while playing the same old Middle East game on their end. However, their plan is interesting, and presents some opportunities worthy of pursuit. A new booklet of articles published by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Prevent Breakdown, Prepare for Breakthrough: How President Obama can Promote Israeli-Palestinian Peace) contains some illuminating recommendations, including some references to the Saudi plan. In the introduction, the Institute’s Rob Satloff recommends Obama “look for regional keys to unlock the bilateral impasse, in part by working to adapt (not simply adopt) the Arab Peace Initiative.” Wendy Chamberlin, President of the (more Arabist) Middle East Institute writes an article advocating the plan as a way to avoid a “dangerous impasse”:
Even in the current environment, the Arab Peace Initiative – adopted at the Arab League’s Beirut summit in March 2002 and since reaffirmed – provides an opportunity to advance final-status negotiations in a manner that could guarantee Israel’s security and help build a viable Palestinian state.
And while acknowledging that “The initiative is a statement of principles, not a detailed proposal, and much work would lie before the parties in terms of bridging gaps and defining the details of implementation” – Chamberlin believes that, “There is encouraging evidence of Arab commitment to engage in a meaningful peace effort with Israel-an effort that would be strengthened if it were collective.”
In the concluding chapter – the one containing the detailed recommendations for the next administration – the book’s editor, David Pollock points to some of the flaws inherent to the current state of the Arab Initiative:
[T]he Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel recognition under certain conditions. On the other hand, many of the same Arab governments that made this offer also give various forms of material, moral, and political support to Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and dedicated to supplanting the rival Palestinian government that has formally offered to make peace.
Still, Pollock calls the plan “a valuable point of departure” and believes that both Israel and the U.S. should “echo this appraisal, without endorsing any details.” He calls for the following steps: Israel can say it’s ready to negotiate on the basis of the plan, should promise to maintain full freedom of access to the holy places in Jerusalem (this should be easy), and declare a moratorium on settlement activities (to see if such a thing can happen we need to wait first for a new Israeli coalition). But Pollock has some demands for the Arab side – demands that al-Faisal (in the Washington Post) does not see as essential: practical support for the solving of the refugee problem, ending the state of war as a “first step”, ending incitement, and an agreement to accept a reality of border modifications and recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Last, Pollock writes this:
[I]n November 2008, Saudi Arabia hosted a UN symposium in New York with senior Israeli officials in attendance. Why not hold another such event in a major Arab city, or accept a return invitation to Israel? Why not encourage Iran to participate as well?
Compare this suggestion to the half-hearted approach presented in the Al-Faisal article:
The Arab world is willing to pay a high price for peace, not only recognizing Israel as a legitimate state but also normalizing relations and putting a permanent end to the state of hostilities that has existed since 1948.
A “high price”? That’s an odd way to put it. Ending hostilities is not a price the Arabs will be paying – it’s the reward they will be getting, that we will all be getting, if an Israeli-Arab agreement is achieved.
President-elect Obama’s transition team is promising that its $700 billion, or $850 billion, or $1 trillion, or whatever it now is “stimulus” won’t include pork-barrel spending. They must not have talked to the nation’s mayors, who recently responded to Mr. Obama’s request to compile their priority list of “shovel-ready” projects.
By all accounts, the $73 billion wish list may be the largest collection of parochial spending projects in American history. Strolling through the 800 pages, we found such beauties as: $1 million to upgrade the Los Angeles County Convention Center elevated “catwalk” for cameras and lighting; $350,000 for an Albuquerque, N.M., fitness center; $94 million for a parking garage at the Orange Bowl in Miami; $4.5 million for Gretna, Florida, to bottle water with recyclable bottles; a $35 million music hall of fame in Florissant, Missouri, and $3.1 million for a swimming pool in Tulsa.
Let’s at least be honest: none of this has much to do with lauded goals of speeding an economic recovery or “creating” jobs. The WSJ editors remind us:
They may put a few people to work for a while, albeit while taking money out of the private economy to pay for them. But the test for a useful public project should be whether it contributes to a net increase in productivity after accounting for that lost private investment.
All of these boondoggle projects and the whole notion of “shovel-ready” projects seem awfully outdated — hardly the stuff of the new economy and the new politics many pundits saw coming with the Obama administration. We’re back to nationalizing industries, creating make-work projects of dubious value and piling up a mound of debt. It sounds like a compilation of the worst ideas of the last seventy years.
If President Obama is simply going to become defender of the Old Liberalism, that leaves some running room for Republicans to be the champions of the Really New Politics. That would mean the junking of bad old ideas (e.g. the WPA), the revival of good ones (e.g. free trade, reducing the tax on labor and capital), the rejection of special interest politics (e.g. card check) and, finally, reforming how the government delivers essential services (e.g. education). It sure beats racking up a trillion more in debt for swimming pools and catwalks.
We seem to be heading towards another major blowup between Israel and Hamas. Hamas has announced that it has ended its “truce,” and is ready to fight to the bitter end with Israel.
It is elucidating to hear these blowhards’ braggadocio, and try to reconcile it with their actual deeds.”Every Palestinian is a potential target of Israeli crimes,” Hamas officials said. That sounds tragic . . . until you remember that every single person in Israel already is a target of Hamas. There’s no “potential” involved, especially when it comes to the rockets and mortars routinely fired into Israel. Indeed, Hamas often times the firings to coincide hours of high civilian exposure, such as when schools are starting and letting out.
As Laurence Simon points out, while the leaders of Hamas talk tough about their willingness to become martyrs, they don’t act overly eager. They have a history of making their public appearances surrounded by women, children, and other innocents to make Israel hesitate before pulling the trigger.
As an exercise, consider what would happen if Israel were to use the same tactic. If anything, Hamas would be more motivated to attack and rejoice in the greater body count.
While global organizations routinely condemn Israeli action, no one is interested in viewing Hamas’s tactics through the lens of international agreements. For how could Hamas sympathizers continue to defend the targeting of innocents – a flagrant violation of international law? Such things simply don’t fit the accepted narrative of the brave, noble resistance warriors struggling for the freedom of their people.
The narrative is all. And facts that get in that way — pesky, stupid, inconvenient facts — need to be shoved under the carpet, if not rewritten.
A cogent explanation by Megan McArdle of the difference between a banking rescue plan and an auto bailout. (Should we have foreseen the herky-jerky implementation of the former and its illegal conversion into the latter? “Perhaps,” as to the first and “no,” as to the second, I think.) If McArdle is right on the merits of the original bank rescue, I concede that it is nevertheless difficult to prove since there is no parallel history in which we all could observe a non-bailout scenario play out – and witness the potential failure of hundreds of banks (which its supporters contend would have occurred).
As far as bailouts go you’d have to look hard to find a sillier one than ethanol. But that’s where we’re headed: “Like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ethanol is a business created by Congress that now has to be bailed out to save Congress from embarrassment.”
The Princess Caroline backlash builds. The “handlers are screwing it up,” insists Ed Koch. You betcha. Governor Paterson has gotten miffed, finally realizing he’s being bullied by the Kennedy machine. But isn’t there an obvious solution? If she has now discovered her deep-seated desire to serve she might consider finding an open seat for something in 2010, boning up on the issues, and earning the voters’ respect and approval. It’s how mere politicians usually get into office. Even Hillary Clinton!
This report gives a peek of what’s in store for those caught up in Blago-gate: “An attorney for the Illinois governor has asked the legislative committee considering whether to impeach the governor to subpoena President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming chief of staff and a senior adviser.Ed Genson told the Chicago Sun-Times for a report published on Thursday that testimony from Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett — and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. — would help Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s claim that he did nothing wrong in trying to fill Obama’s vacant Senate seat.” And away we go.
Haley Barbour looks to 1992 for guidance for Republicans. Unless the RNC chairmanship requires something other than media skills, a record of success, organizational prowess, and a superb political temperament, he’d seem to be the sort of person whom the RNC should be looking for.
The mortgage relief plan, Hope for Homeowners turns out to be a bust. Naturally the Obama administration will try something even more expensive. But this statistic really should give everyone pause: “half of the loans modified in the first three months of the year fell back into delinquency within six months.” It seems that one can’t solve this housing crisis, which was created by lending to people who couldn’t afford their homes, by keeping those people in homes they can’t afford. At some point the right borrowers have to be in homes and the uncreditworthy need to be renting. The quicker we sort that out the better.
Bobby Jindal might not have closed the door to a 2012 presidential run after all. But how does he run for governor in 2011 and then for president in 2012? Easy — virtually none of the effort expanded by GOP presidential candidates before 2008 made any difference. Just ask Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney if the millions spent, the field operatives hired and the dozens of trips to Iowa and New Hampshire in 2007 mattered.
Yes, it really is a New York Times article touting a Bush administration achievement in health care for the poor. “Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas. For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.” One wonders why you never heard much about this before — even from the Bush administration.
Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department director of policy planning, writes in “We Must Talk Iran Out of the Bomb” that Iran’s nuclear program “may well constitute the Obama administration’s first foreign policy crisis.”
The reason is simple. Iran is well down the path to being able to enrich uranium on a large enough scale to produce a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency just reported that Iran may well reach this point in 2009.
An Iran with a nuclear weapon or the ability to produce one or more bombs in short order poses a true danger. Still, one path for the new American administration would be to adopt the “North Korea option” and live with the threat. The risk is that doing so would make an already unstable Middle East even more so.
Haass explains that a second option — an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations – also involves “serious risks and costs”: (1) the nuclear capability might survive or be rebuilt, (2) there could be retaliation in Iraq and Afghanistan, (3) Iran might “unleash” terrorist attacks “throughout the region and the world,” (4) the flow of oil could be interrupted, and (5) the price of oil could go to $200 per barrel.
Haass recommends a diplomatic course — persuading Iran to “freeze or suspend its nuclear efforts or, better yet, give up an independent capability to enrich uranium.” He would allow Iran a “small” enrichment program subject to “highly intrusive inspections,” with a three-part diplomatic package: access to nuclear energy (but not nuclear materials), eased economic sanctions, and normal relations with “security assurances.” If Iran refuses, he would threaten additional sanctions that would finclude Russia and China.
Henry Kissinger once said every memo he received at the State Department had three options: (1) nuclear war, (2) unilateral disarmament, and (3) a third option, favored by the author of the memo. The options in Haass’s article fit that template: (a) accepting a nuclear Iran, (b) bombing its nuclear facilities, or (c) the Haass diplomatic option.
His diplomatic package is highly likely to fail, since it (a) has already effectively been rejected by Iran, (b) relies on sanctions that are rarely effective or enforceable, (c) requires Russian and Chinese support, necessitating separate negotiations with (and significant foreign policy concessions to) each of them, and (d) gives Iran exactly what it wants — more time in 2009 to complete its nuclear program while “negotiations” proceed.
Barack Obama has repeatedly said a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable.” But that does not leave, as the only remaining option, bombing Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. There are other military options, including easier ones that Iran would fear more. They are discussed extensively in “The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action Against Iran.”
It would be useful for Iran to read an active discussion by American foreign policy experts of the various military options, since diplomacy not backed by a credible threat of force cannot succeed. One of the surest roads to failure is to signal Iran, through an article by the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, that U.S. experts have weighed the risks of force and selected the usual State Department option: toothless talk.