Somebody ought to give Bruce Springsteen some oxygen or something.
Posts For: February 1, 2009
A day after the peaceful vote in Iraq, which is the great political triumph of the surge, it was both gobstopping and thrilling to see Gen. David Petraeus, the surge’s designer, tossing the coin at the outset of the Super Bowl. Gobstopping because it appears we have gone from Iraq as the greatest controversy of the decade to a matter so uncontroversial that the savior of the war effort can appear as a pop-culture icon. And thrilling for the same reason.
Results are still being tallied in Iraq’s provincial election, but preliminary returns, as reported by Dubai’s Al-Sharqiyah television, sound on the whole like good news from the standpoint of the United States — and bad news from the standpoint of Iran.
The preliminary results — still subject to change, I should stress — indicate that the big winners are the State of the Law Coalition, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the Iraqi List, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Since Maliki took on Moqtada al Sadr’s thugs last spring, he has been seen as a tough-on-security centrist who is resistant to Iranian attempts to dominate his country. That has been Allawai’s reputation all along.
So it is significant that Maliki and Allawi appear to be running strong in Baghdad, Najaf, Basra, Babil and Diwaniyah provinces — i.e., in the Shiite heartland. Their gains are a blow to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which has been one of the dominant forces, along with the Mahdists, in southern Iraq. Though ISCI has cooperated closely with American officials, it is also the major Iraqi party that is most closely identified with Iran.
Sadr, who at one time looked to be a kingmaker in Iraqi politics, appears increasingly marginalized. He is not even running a political slate in these elections, although his followers have endorsed some candidates. Those Sadr-backed candidates claim to be doing well in Maysan and Babil provinces, but those claims have not been confirmed so far.
Assuming that the preliminary results hold up, it will be another blow to Iran, which already suffered repudiation last year when the Iraqi parliament came to terms on an agreement to allow U.S. troops to remain in their country until at least the end of 2011.
The claims made by so many analysts not long ago that the U.S. war in Iraq was a huge win for Iran are not holding up. Likewise for the claims that an outside power could not possibly create a democracy in the Middle East. While Iraq’s democracy remains fragile and imperfect, it is nevertheless impressive to see its people not only casting votes but apparently selecting fairly centrist, secular candidates who are, by all indications, committed to an alliance with the U.S.
An article in today’s Times of London reports on the most recent absurdity to come from the mouths of those most green. This from Jonathon Porritt, a climate advisor to the British government:
I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate…I think we will work our way towards a position that says that having more than two children is irresponsible.
The Times then offers the following statistic:
The Optimum Population Trust, a campaign group of which Porritt is a patron, says each baby born in Britain will, during his or her lifetime, burn carbon roughly equivalent to 2½ acres of old-growth oak woodland – an area the size of Trafalgar Square.
Human life, you see, is no longer as valuable as preserving the carbon needed to sustain human life. Or, more precisely, there comes a point at which the amount of carbon being emitted by persons surpasses the net value of the added human life.
This is now what extreme environmentalism calls for:
Porritt, a former chairman of the Green party, says the government must improve family planning, even if it means shifting money from curing illness to increasing contraception and abortion.
So, a two pronged attack on population growth: more abortions to prevent
new lives, and fewer cures that risk prolonging the ones underway.
You think you’ve seen everything and then Washington surprises you once again. It turns out that Tom Daschle waited nearly a month after his nomination to fess up to the Obama team about his tax liability. It seems incomprehensible that he could actually be confirmed, especially when you couple that with this one sentence description: “Daschle’s expertise and insights, gleaned over 26 years in Congress, earned him more than $5 million over the past two years, including $220,000 from the health-care industry, and perks such as a chauffeured Cadillac, according to the documents.”
Good government groups are aghast and I bet the public will be, too. But you are left wondering: what are they all thinking? If they don’t actually believe in ethical behavior, they must, at the very least, appreciate how badly this appears to the average voter — and taxpayer. The ho-hum reaction of Senators from both parties is mystifying. They can’t be that oblivious, can they?
Seith Leibsohn writes:
Now we have Geithner and Daschle who realize they owe a lot in back taxes — but they only think of these tax problems when they’ve got a government spot lined up for them and a vet before them. And once that time comes, they are correctible at the eleventh hour, for purposes of confirmation and following the letter of the law. Good thing they were nominated, actually: It seems to be the only way to have gotten them to comply with the laws others have to follow.
We hope that all the “just a speed bump” hooey is the stuff politicians and spokespeople say when they are trying to figure out how to reverse course and get out of a mess. If they really think this is all fine and the public won’t find this odd or hypocritical — or downright appalling — the proposal that this is the savviest, smartest political team in history is due for a rethink.
Will Beijing buy more American debt? Yesterday, Wen Jiabao arrogantly said that President Obama will want to know the answer to this question. Then the Chinese premier announced this: “Whether we will buy more U.S. Treasury bonds, and if so by how much-we should take that decision in accordance with China’s own need and also our aim to keep the security of our foreign reserves and the value of them.”
Premier Wen wants Obama to call, but the American leader doesn’t have to. We already know how the Chinese are going to make their decision regarding purchases of American debt. There are two parts to the Chinese premier’s answer. The first is “China’s own need.” Up until the global crisis, 38 percent of the Chinese economy related to export sales. In 2007, the last year for which figures are available, all but $5.9 billion of China’s overall trade surplus or $262.2 billion related to sales to the United States. So China is forced, as a practical matter, to recycle its export earnings into dollar-denominated assets if it wants to keep selling into the American market.
The second part of Premier Wen’s answer is “keep the security of our foreign reserves and the value of them.” Beijing is sitting on top of substantial unrealized losses on its purchases of American equities, and it would also have had unrealized losses on its purchases of non-Treasury debt had the Bush administration not rescued Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So, to avoid even more losses, the Chinese appear to be restricting their purchases of American debt to the safest instruments around, obligations of the U.S. Treasury.
As American consumers buy less and save more-imports fell a record amount in November and registered a large fall in the last quarter of last year-China will have fewer dollars to invest in Treasuries. Chinese purchases of American debt will drop accordingly. Premier Wen is trying to cloak Beijing’s investment of its dwindling export earnings in mystery, but the basic economics is easy to understand. So, Mr. President, don’t call Mr. Wen and make concessions in the hope he’ll buy more debt. Just pull out your calculator. After you make a few assumptions about trade, you will be able to estimate how much the Chinese will buy this year.
Barack Obama did a great job of cultivating an air of bipartisanship before he was inaugurated. Mostly this was a matter of selecting such centrists as Jim Jones and Bob Gates to senior national security positions while reaching out to Republicans like John McCain. But governing involves making choices, and when it comes to the budget it appears that the choices Obama is making are all too reflective of a man who not long ago had the most liberal voting record in the Senate.
His $825 billion “stimulus” package is loaded with enough budgetary lard to give fiscal conservatives a heart attack. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes :
We’ve looked it over, and even we can’t quite believe it. There’s $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn’t turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts; $400 million for global-warming research and another $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. There’s even $650 million on top of the billions already doled out to pay for digital TV conversion coupons.
Yet at the same time that Obama and the Congressional Democrats are throwing money at their constituencies it appears that they are stiffing the most important government department–the Department of Defense. According to news reports, “The Obama administration has asked the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon’s budget request for the fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent — about $55 billion.”
It’s possible that the president will still overrule this directive from the Office of Management and Budget, which is said to be opposed by Secretary of Defense Gates, but if he doesn’t he could be doing terrible damage not only to our armed forces but also to his carefully cultivated image of moderation.
Lest we forget, there is still a war on, and arguably more than one. The armed forces, and especially the army, have been stretched to the breaking point in recent years. They need vast amounts of money simply to “reset” equipment that has been degraded by the war effort. Beyond that, we need to enlarge the size of the ground forces in order to fight and win in Afghanistan and beyond. With piracy running out of control, we also need a larger navy. And the air force has to continue modernizing to keep ahead of China and other potential threats.
This is not to suggest that there are no cuts that could usefully be made in the Pentagon budget. But it is a myth that you can excise “waste, fraud and abuse” while keeping vital programs. In the real world, muscle gets cut along with fat-and that is something that the United States cannot afford right now.
Just as defense cuts make no sense strategically or politically, they also make no sense economically. Remember, after all, that the administration is desperate to “stimulate” the economy. Well, extra defense spending can provide more of a stimulus than a lot of the boondoggle welfare programs that are currently being funded in the “stimulus” package. As Harvard economist Martin Feldstein notes :
A 10% increase in defense outlays for procurement and for research would contribute about $20 billion a year to the overall stimulus budget. A 5% rise in spending on operations and maintenance would add an additional $10 billion. That spending could create about 300,000 additional jobs. And raising the military’s annual recruitment goal by 15% would provide jobs for an additional 30,000 young men and women in the first year.
If President Obama wants to prove that he really is a centrist, he will overrule his green eyeshade types and tell them that with the nation embroiled in war and recession we should be increasing not decreasing defense spending.
More than ten Qassam rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel this morning. Add these to the rocket launched last week and to the attack on an IDF patrol near the Gaza border, and those claiming that the Gaza operation was a huge success have a problem. The debate, though, is not over. Here’s Martin Kramer:
Israel’s primary objective was to compel a cease-fire by means of deterrence alone, without opening the crossings, thus serving its long-term strategy of containing and undercutting Hamas. This it has achieved, so far.
This will only be a convincing argument, if rockets aren’t fired at Israel. Politically speaking – and 10 days before election day politics is king – the attacks create a whole new problem for Labor’s Ehud Barak, now in the midst of a fight to recover his party’s credentials. It is still too early to know if the Gaza op was a huge success, a minor success, a failure, or a huge failure. Barak initially called the increased hostility from Gaza a “dead-cat bounce,” but has since threatened a “disproportionate response” to the rocket fire.
If the war was a success – Barak is the one getting the credit. If there’s doubt – there’s less credit from which to benefit. And every rocket attack casts some more doubt, this helps Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman.
It’s no wonder Labor politicians were first to go on the airwaves and call for harsh responses to the new attacks:
Following the attack, Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called for an immediate IDF response. “We need to respond severely and immediately… Hamas must pay for this,” he told Army Radio, adding that no one should give the excuse that a smaller faction was responsible for the attack.
Ben-Eliezer is one of Barak’s greatest supporters within the Labor Party. Reading the polls, he knows that Barak’s mini-surge in can also easily become a dead-cat bounce.
Nicholas Kristof pronounces:
President Bush’s problem was that he loved Israel too much. He embraced Israeli leaders even when they responded to provocations by killing more than 1,300 people in Gaza, according to Gaza health officials — in retaliation for shelling that had killed fewer than 30 Israelis since it began in 2001.
This tilted policy was catastrophic for Israelis as well as Palestinians, for it undermined any chance of a peace agreement that is Israel’s best hope for long-term security. Now we’re starting over.
Virtually every word is rubbish. President Bush loved Israel too much? (He wasn’t motivated by his love of America or his understanding of our shared commitment to the war on terror and to check the regional ambitions of Iran and its surrogates?) Well if that’s the case, then so did Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the entire U.S. Senate and nearly all of the U.S. House. (And, for that matter, Egypt and the Czech Republic) All rejected the specious concept of proportionality, all understood Israel’s right of self-defense and all understood that the “peace process” if it is every to be more than an exercise in futility must entail the cessation of terrorist attacks on Israel.
As for that next paragraph, I hadn’t noticed we were on the verge of peace in our time. I hadn’t heard that a viable peace partner for Israel had stepped forward or that Hamas had renounced its intention to destroy Israel. I wasn’t aware that subjecting Israel to a daily torrent of rocket fire brought us closer to peace. And “starting over”? Starting over from what point in the vaunted “peace process” — Camp David, when the Palestinians were offered their own state, contiguous territory, and gobs of American aid?
The rest of Kristof’s column is the predictable gibberish about a freeze in settlements unlocking the prospects for peace and a doable peace deal with Syria. The personal brilliance of Barack Obama and the shuttle diplomacy of that bastion of competence, the U.N. will move the ball down the field. Yes, yes. Of course.
Anyone can choose to live in a fantasyland, but even New York Times columnists can employ some modicum of intellectual honesty and some fidelity to the facts. It appears that neither is required or expected these days.
We’re less than two weeks into the administration of President Barack Obama, and we are already seeing that it will, indeed, be an exceptional time in our history.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an administration make so many exceptions for its own rules and promises so quickly.
During the campaign, Obama constantly denounced the corrosive role lobbyists play in governance. He vowed that no lobbyists would have any place in his administration.
Unless, of course, he really, really needed them.
So far, he has chosen to waive the rule for former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, who is nominated to be Deputy Defense Secretary, and former Goldman Sachs lobbyist Mark Patterson, who is to be Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s Chief of Staff.
Obama also promised that his administration would be the most ethical in history. That apparently provoked pangs of conscience in two of his nominees, the aforementioned Mr. Geithner and Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle, who suddenly discovered they had hefty tax violations that needed to be paid up posthaste.
Mr. Daschle very nearly ran up against the lobbyist problem, too, but he dodged it because he isn’t a lobbyist, his wife is. And that also very nearly caused trouble when Mr. Daschle was the Democratic leader in the Senate, but the couple delicately cleaved to the letter of the law: Mrs. Daschle only lobbied the House.
President Obama also signed an executive order that banned the U.S. from torturing prisoners. But that order had numerous exceptions and loopholes and omissions, rendering it virtually meaningless — it only applies to prisoners taken during armed conflict, only the CIA has to close up its secret prisons, and the term “torture” is never defined.
During the campaign, Obama spoke about the need to conserve energy: “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.” But last week it was explained why Obama was working in the White House without his jacket on — the thermostat was cranked up a bit, well above 72 degrees.
In an odd way, this sort of thing is actually a good sign. It shows a level of maturity and pragmatism in the administration, traits that were sorely lacking in a campaign filled with lofty, empty rhetoric and idealistic, unrealistic promises.
The unanswered question is how those who fervently believed in these things — and invested all their hopes and dreams when they voted for Obama — will react to these “betrayals.”
The MSM is getting antsy about the stimulus plan. It is hard to get around the fact that, as the Washington Post editors confess:
Instead of giving the economy a “targeted, timely and temporary” injection, the plan has been larded with spending on existing social programs or hastily designed new ones, much of it permanent or probably permanent — and not enough of it likely to create new jobs.
And it is hard to square the plan with the heroic presidential figure in whom they invested so much hope and for whom they worked so vigorously to promote. The MSM mumbles that if only Obama knew how bad things were he could swoop in like a Russian czar and intervene. He’s a policy wonk, a healer and one of the smartest presidents we’ve ever had, right? The Post pleads:
What he needs to do now is take charge. Yes, the Republicans can try to spoil things with a filibuster in the Senate. And, yes, Democrats won the November election, so they are entitled to shape policy. But only Mr. Obama has a 67 percent Gallup Poll approval rating. Only he embodies this anxious nation’s hopes for change. No one in Washington can match his clout. He should use it to make sure Congress gives him a stimulus plan that is not only big but coherent and, most of all, effective.
Well, the President seemed to have been quite pleased when the House passed the bill so it would take quite a turnaround for him to savage — and salvage — his own party’s handiwork. And it remains a mystery why he has let things get to this state.
There are several possible explanations for his passivity. First, he might actually like all that spending and be quite delighted to see the liberal agenda, rebuffed for decades, rammed through on a party-line vote. Or, he might be incapable of persuading Pelosi, Reid and company to curb their profligate ways. He hasn’t really shown any LBJ-like tendencies or an ability to start knocking heads. (After all, he’s not going to veto his own bill, right?) And then there is the possibility that he is somehow waiting on the sidelines, ready to rush into action just when . . well, anytime now. Perhaps he has concocted some devilishly clever scheme to swoop in at the end and bring everyone together — just as the Post suggests.
But my, how things have gotten messy. Between the pork-a-thon (and the resulting critical reviews) and the tax cheats and ethics waivers, his administration is on the verge of combining the competency of Carter and the ethics of Nixon. But there is time, as the Post points out. It is easy, really. Dump Daschle. Eliminate the waivers. Start over on the stimulus. The alternative is continued embarrassment, partisan gridlock and failure. I think most people voted to end all that, hoping for a change.
In The New York Times Book Review, David C. Unger, who writes foreign policy editorials for the Times, reviews Martin Indyk’s “Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East.” (Click here to read Dean Godson’s review of Indyk’s book in the February issue of COMMENTARY.)
Unger calls the book a “timely and valuable history” by one of the Clinton administration’s top Middle East specialists. He thinks Indyk’s assessments are all the more relevant in view of the return of Clinton administration people to top foreign policy jobs, after the “disastrous mistakes” of the Bush administration.
The book may be valuable, but not for the reason Unger thinks.
As the old peace processors return to the not-so-new Obama administration, to start multiple new peace processes with Iran and Syria and the truncated Palestinian Authority, we seem to be headed down an old road, driven by the same people who previously failed in those efforts and want to try them again.
But consider this passage from Indyk’s book, about the mindset of the Clinton administration as it decided to put Arab political reform on the back burner, in favor of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”:
We calculated that once we had put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, these Arab authoritarian regimes would be deprived of their excuse for delaying much-needed domestic reforms. . . . Conversely, if Clinton pushed hard for political change at the same time as he sought to promote peace, we feared that he might only succeed in generating instability in what were deeply repressed societies. . . .
It would prove to be a flawed approach . . . At the time, we thought making peace would end the terrorism because we would be turning the key sponsors of terror in the Middle East heartland – Arafat and Asad – into peacemakers. This was another example of our naïveté. Just as Mubarak and Fahd had an interest in diverting American attention to peacemaking rather than internal reform of their societies, we would discover that Arafat and Asad were quite capable of talking peace and encouraging terror at the same time.
We were wed to an idealistic vision of a new, more peaceful Middle East. The leaders of the old Middle East had something else in mind for us. [Page 58]
Yesterday the Iraqis held another successful election, with one of the worst of the old Middle East leaders long gone as a result of American military action. It was a potential milestone on the road to political reformation in the Middle East: even rarer than genuine elections in the region are genuine elections that happen more than once.
If the Iraqi experiment in representative government succeeds, it may eventually be recognized as an historical turning point – the beginning of the real change necessary for a different Middle East. On the other hand, the return of the old “peace process” mindset to the Obama administration may turn out to be a disastrous mistake.
California’s global warming plan, it turns out, is not “cost free” as its proponents insisted. You won’t be surprised that “greens readily cook the books” with phony economic studies that not even sympathetic economists and newspapers buy. The plan will cost a small fortune and further hobble California’s ailing economy. Perhaps the Obama administration should start paying attention to California (which also dumped its universal health care idea as too expensive even for liberal Democrats).
Noemie Emery traces the fall of the House of Kennedy. Princess Caroline and the rest of the dynasty made a cardinal error, mistaking iconic status for political viability: “Politicians seek, icons are sought after. Politicians covet approval, icons confer it. Politicians explain themselves, icons are beyond such indignity. Politicians do things to justify their existence, icons just are. What Caroline does has always been secondary to her simple existence, which, for most people, is more than sufficient.”
Christopher Caldwell on the stimulus bill: “It reflects the pre-existing wishes of the party’s most powerful interest groups more than the pre-existing wishes of the country. Democrats are now liable to be judged by the standard they created when they abandoned the Bush administration over the Iraq war: you break it, you own it.”
If you thought the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which erased any meaningful statute of limitations on employment discrimination claims, was a bad idea, get ready for the Paycheck Fairness Act: “The bill would, for example, expose an employer to liability for paying a woman less than a man in a similar job unless the employer can convince a jury that the differential is ‘job related’ and ‘consistent with business necessity’ — and also that no ‘alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose.’” Throw in unlimited compensatory and punitive damages and plaintiff-friendly class action rules and you have a trial lawyer’s dream and an employer’s nightmare. Aren’t we supposed to be making it easier to hire and employ American workers?
Minority Leader John Boehner points to the CBO analysis that only 22% of the “stimulus” bill is tax cuts — a far cry form the 40% the Obama administration advertised.
David Broder joins the pundit chorus pleading for the President to rework the stimulus plan: “Beyond these policy challenges, there are political considerations that make it really important for Obama to take the time to negotiate for more than token Republican support in the Senate. Nothing was more central to his victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington. He wants to be like Ronald Reagan, steering his first economic measures through a Democratic House in 1981, not Bill Clinton, passing his first budget in 1993 without a single Republican vote.”
And Amity Shlaes brings us back to the central issue: why repeat the New Deal if it didn’t work?
You know things aren’t going well when Maureen Dowd is back to being catty about the White House: “With the equally laconic Tim Geithner beside him, Mr. Obama called it ‘shameful’ and ‘the height of irresponsibility’ for Wall Street bankers to give themselves $18.4 billion worth of bonuses for last year.They should know better, he coolly chided. But big shots — even Mr. Obama’s — seem impervious to knowing better. (Following fast on Geithner’s tax lacunae, Tom Daschle’s nomination hit a pothole when he had to pay $140,000 in back taxes he owed mostly for three years’ use of a car and a driver provided by a private equity firm.)”