Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 8, 2009

A Foolish Egyptian Non Sequitur

In today’s New York Times, Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany poignantly describes many Egyptians’ initial fascination with President Barack Obama:

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.

This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.

Of course, this is precisely the reaction that many of Obama’s supporters had in mind – that Obama’s symbolism would provide an immediate opening for appealing to Middle Eastern publics.  In turn, his proponents argued, Obama would become a uniquely compelling voice for improving relations with the Muslim world, and would further inspire those struggling for political freedom.

Well, not so fast.  Even before taking office, Obama had already lost al-Aswany – and for reasons that have nothing to do with Egypt.  Check out this logical non sequitur, which al-Aswany serves up with an extra helping of indignant moral fuzziness:

We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.) … We also wanted Mr. Obama … to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.

In this case, you can’t blame President Obama for failing to meet expectations.  After all, al-Aswany apparently anticipated that Obama would not only blame Israel for its counterattack on Gaza, but would further support Hamas’s rocket attacks as “resistance.”  Only a fiction writer (and Stephen Walt) could possibly see such a scenario as possible, let alone morally just.

Still, there is a greater tragedy in al-Aswany’s op-ed – namely, that the Egyptian novelist has favored the Palestinian issue over the plight of his 75 million compatriots, who are struggling under brutal authoritarianism.  This is part of a broader trend: non-Islamist Egyptian dissidents, having lost faith that anything will change in Egyptian politics, have increasingly sought a voice through the Palestinian issue.  Of course, the Egyptian regime welcomes this shift in advocacy: it knows that pro-Palestinian rants such as al-Aswany’s discredit its detractors to American policymakers, which is why the regime only allows dissidents to achieve prominence when they are staunchly anti-Israel.

In turn, al-Aswany has produced a mammoth failure in his New York Times debut: not only will his op-ed fail to generate U.S. support for Hamas, but it will also reinforce support for the very regime that keeps him in its crosshairs.

In today’s New York Times, Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany poignantly describes many Egyptians’ initial fascination with President Barack Obama:

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.

This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.

Of course, this is precisely the reaction that many of Obama’s supporters had in mind – that Obama’s symbolism would provide an immediate opening for appealing to Middle Eastern publics.  In turn, his proponents argued, Obama would become a uniquely compelling voice for improving relations with the Muslim world, and would further inspire those struggling for political freedom.

Well, not so fast.  Even before taking office, Obama had already lost al-Aswany – and for reasons that have nothing to do with Egypt.  Check out this logical non sequitur, which al-Aswany serves up with an extra helping of indignant moral fuzziness:

We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.) … We also wanted Mr. Obama … to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.

In this case, you can’t blame President Obama for failing to meet expectations.  After all, al-Aswany apparently anticipated that Obama would not only blame Israel for its counterattack on Gaza, but would further support Hamas’s rocket attacks as “resistance.”  Only a fiction writer (and Stephen Walt) could possibly see such a scenario as possible, let alone morally just.

Still, there is a greater tragedy in al-Aswany’s op-ed – namely, that the Egyptian novelist has favored the Palestinian issue over the plight of his 75 million compatriots, who are struggling under brutal authoritarianism.  This is part of a broader trend: non-Islamist Egyptian dissidents, having lost faith that anything will change in Egyptian politics, have increasingly sought a voice through the Palestinian issue.  Of course, the Egyptian regime welcomes this shift in advocacy: it knows that pro-Palestinian rants such as al-Aswany’s discredit its detractors to American policymakers, which is why the regime only allows dissidents to achieve prominence when they are staunchly anti-Israel.

In turn, al-Aswany has produced a mammoth failure in his New York Times debut: not only will his op-ed fail to generate U.S. support for Hamas, but it will also reinforce support for the very regime that keeps him in its crosshairs.

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Re: Same Old, Same Old

Others have observed that President Obama seems stuck in campaign mode. Joan Vennochi writes:

As he approaches the three-week mark of his presidency, it’s not surprising that Obama remains somewhat in campaign mode. But it’s campaign mode without an obvious game plan and some of the eloquence that defined him as a candidate.

A president’s acceptance of personal responsibility is a welcome change from the past eight years. But the meltdown around Tom Daschle’s nomination as secretary of Health and Human Services reduced Obama from the elegant to the colloquial: “I screwed up.”

But it worked before, might it not work again? Well, it depends what “work” means. He already has his congressional majority, so it’s not likely a question of getting a bill passed. It will “work” to persuade Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who needed no encouragement anyway, to spend a trillion dollars.  But if  “work” means that the approach will help the economy, then it gets dicier.  As Vennochi points out, “even the supposedly nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is challenging Obama’s premise. It put out word that his plan would help in the short run but would hurt over time, by vastly increasing government debt.”

And if  “work” means creating a super-majority which spans party lines and pushes the GOP out to the extreme right of the political spectrum, that seems unlikely so long as the president keeps pushing the pork-a-thon approach to the recession. The public, in poll after poll, has said they don’t like the current stimulus and want more tax cuts and less spending.

None of this seems remotely like what the Obama team promised during two years of campaigning and up through the transition.  Michael Goodwin chides Obama for resorting to “fear-mongering, a tactic he often accused former President George Bush of using.” He explains:

Nor will it be easy to persuade anyone he is nonideological after his turn to hard partisanship on just his 16th day in office. In a political hot-house atmosphere, he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “our rock” and “an extraordinary leader,” oblivious to her 18% approval rating. He claimed the stimulus she produced reflected “discipline,” meaning he’s either cynical or didn’t bother to read the turkey before embracing it.

He accused critics of pushing “tired arguments and worn ideas,” but there is nothing more tired than Washington’s wasteful spending. He wants to “name and shame” corporate fat cats who abuse taxpayer bailouts, but cheers his Dem mates for an outrageous tab that knows no precedent in our nation’s history.

Who is this guy? Where is the Barack Obama who charmed the country and challenged it to greatness?

Campaign tactics have their limitations, especially once you have beaten the hapless opponent. For now, the ones talking economic principles, arguing for a reasoned debate on the merits and resisting the invitation for a political food fight are the Republicans. It seems it is they, and they alone, who have put away “childish things.” It wasn’t supposed to be this way, we were told.

Others have observed that President Obama seems stuck in campaign mode. Joan Vennochi writes:

As he approaches the three-week mark of his presidency, it’s not surprising that Obama remains somewhat in campaign mode. But it’s campaign mode without an obvious game plan and some of the eloquence that defined him as a candidate.

A president’s acceptance of personal responsibility is a welcome change from the past eight years. But the meltdown around Tom Daschle’s nomination as secretary of Health and Human Services reduced Obama from the elegant to the colloquial: “I screwed up.”

But it worked before, might it not work again? Well, it depends what “work” means. He already has his congressional majority, so it’s not likely a question of getting a bill passed. It will “work” to persuade Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who needed no encouragement anyway, to spend a trillion dollars.  But if  “work” means that the approach will help the economy, then it gets dicier.  As Vennochi points out, “even the supposedly nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is challenging Obama’s premise. It put out word that his plan would help in the short run but would hurt over time, by vastly increasing government debt.”

And if  “work” means creating a super-majority which spans party lines and pushes the GOP out to the extreme right of the political spectrum, that seems unlikely so long as the president keeps pushing the pork-a-thon approach to the recession. The public, in poll after poll, has said they don’t like the current stimulus and want more tax cuts and less spending.

None of this seems remotely like what the Obama team promised during two years of campaigning and up through the transition.  Michael Goodwin chides Obama for resorting to “fear-mongering, a tactic he often accused former President George Bush of using.” He explains:

Nor will it be easy to persuade anyone he is nonideological after his turn to hard partisanship on just his 16th day in office. In a political hot-house atmosphere, he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “our rock” and “an extraordinary leader,” oblivious to her 18% approval rating. He claimed the stimulus she produced reflected “discipline,” meaning he’s either cynical or didn’t bother to read the turkey before embracing it.

He accused critics of pushing “tired arguments and worn ideas,” but there is nothing more tired than Washington’s wasteful spending. He wants to “name and shame” corporate fat cats who abuse taxpayer bailouts, but cheers his Dem mates for an outrageous tab that knows no precedent in our nation’s history.

Who is this guy? Where is the Barack Obama who charmed the country and challenged it to greatness?

Campaign tactics have their limitations, especially once you have beaten the hapless opponent. For now, the ones talking economic principles, arguing for a reasoned debate on the merits and resisting the invitation for a political food fight are the Republicans. It seems it is they, and they alone, who have put away “childish things.” It wasn’t supposed to be this way, we were told.

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Pakistan and China as “Terrorist States”

Yesterday, India’s Congress Party, part of the ruling coalition, suggested that Pakistan be declared a terror state due to the release of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan.  On Friday, Islamabad set the ringleader of a nuclear proliferation gang free after five years of house arrest that followed a hastily arranged confession and pardon.

Khan sold nuclear technology to terrorist states Libya, North Korea, and Iran.  Yet that does not necessarily make him a terrorist, nor does it make his country a terrorist state.  What does, however, is Islamabad’s support for the ongoing series of attacks against India.  It appears, for instance, that the November raid on Mumbai was planned at the highest levels  of the Pakistani intelligence services, specifically the ISI, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.  Islamabad has long supported and protected Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the horrific attack, and Lashkar’s front organization, Jammat-ud-Dawa.  Pakistan is also behind terrorism in India’s Kashmir and in other parts of its rival.  Yet Pakistan is not one of the four nations-Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria-currently on the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states.

Nor is China, which has continually backed both Iran’s campaign of terror against Israel and Pakistan’s campaign against India.  The terrorists attacking Mumbai used Chinese equipment — the distinctively blue Type 86 grenades, manufactured by China’s state-owned Norinco, which has continually supplied terrorists operating inside India.  China has given Pakistan most of the ordinance that the ISI gives to terrorists.  Almost all of the sophisticated communications equipment used by terrorists in India, especially Kashmir, is Chinese-made and was routed through the Pakistani army, which acted as a conduit.  Training the Chinese give to Pakistani personnel is leached to terrorists-with Beijing’s knowledge.  Furthermore, China blocked U.N. sanctions against and censure of Lashkar and Jammat in April and May 2006, May 2007, and August 2008.  And Beijing has worked with terrorist groups, including the Taliban, outside South Asia.

If we are serious about fighting all terrorism, then we need to add Pakistan and China to the State Department list.  And if we’re not serious, we will surely lose the global struggle.  How can we prevail if we cannot even identify our adversaries?

Yesterday, India’s Congress Party, part of the ruling coalition, suggested that Pakistan be declared a terror state due to the release of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan.  On Friday, Islamabad set the ringleader of a nuclear proliferation gang free after five years of house arrest that followed a hastily arranged confession and pardon.

Khan sold nuclear technology to terrorist states Libya, North Korea, and Iran.  Yet that does not necessarily make him a terrorist, nor does it make his country a terrorist state.  What does, however, is Islamabad’s support for the ongoing series of attacks against India.  It appears, for instance, that the November raid on Mumbai was planned at the highest levels  of the Pakistani intelligence services, specifically the ISI, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence.  Islamabad has long supported and protected Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the horrific attack, and Lashkar’s front organization, Jammat-ud-Dawa.  Pakistan is also behind terrorism in India’s Kashmir and in other parts of its rival.  Yet Pakistan is not one of the four nations-Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria-currently on the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states.

Nor is China, which has continually backed both Iran’s campaign of terror against Israel and Pakistan’s campaign against India.  The terrorists attacking Mumbai used Chinese equipment — the distinctively blue Type 86 grenades, manufactured by China’s state-owned Norinco, which has continually supplied terrorists operating inside India.  China has given Pakistan most of the ordinance that the ISI gives to terrorists.  Almost all of the sophisticated communications equipment used by terrorists in India, especially Kashmir, is Chinese-made and was routed through the Pakistani army, which acted as a conduit.  Training the Chinese give to Pakistani personnel is leached to terrorists-with Beijing’s knowledge.  Furthermore, China blocked U.N. sanctions against and censure of Lashkar and Jammat in April and May 2006, May 2007, and August 2008.  And Beijing has worked with terrorist groups, including the Taliban, outside South Asia.

If we are serious about fighting all terrorism, then we need to add Pakistan and China to the State Department list.  And if we’re not serious, we will surely lose the global struggle.  How can we prevail if we cannot even identify our adversaries?

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This Is What a Maverick Looks Like

John McCain, his supporters said, is going to have his best days in the Senate ahead of him. For conservatives, that set off alarm bells. They muttered, “Here it comes, the mavericky sell-out of conservative principles.” But wait. Perhaps his true colors are showing now — a fidelity to fiscal discipline and a loathing of old-style pork barrel legislation. He was on fire on Face the Nation:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he will vote against President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill, calling the legislation “generational theft” in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I thought we were going to have change,” he said, in a shot at Obama’s campaign slogan, “and that change meant we work together. This is a setback. This is a setback to all Americans because you promised Americans we’d work in a more bipartisan fashion, and that certainly is not the case in this bill,” McCain said.

McCain said the bill would saddle Americans with billions in future debt, and contained protectionist provisions that could be damaging to the economy.

“We’re going to amass the largest debt in the history of this country by any measurement, and we’re going to ask our kids and grandkids to pay for it,” McCain said.

“I know we’re in trouble. I know America needs a stimulus, we need tax cuts, we need to spend money on infrastructure and other programs that will put people to work. But this is not it.”

McCain has credibility both with Americans and with fellow Republicans when it comes to fiscal maturity. He might have lost the election, but he might not lose the argument. If indeed he has the ability to reason and cajole with his “moderate” friends in the Senate, perhaps it is not too late to resist the urge to pass a bill junked up with pork and non-stimulative spending.

Oh, but it’s “better now” you say? Not so fast. Larry Summers let the cat out of the bag:”The Senate bill, the House bill, the overlap is 90 plus percent.” McCain has figured that out — the trick will be convincing other Senators and the public that no matter how the Democrats “tweak” it, it’s still the same bag of junky programs which will do more harm than good to the country’s longterm economic interests.

Now, with the pressure of the campaign removed and the shadow of George Bush lifted, McCain may indeed leave his mark. If so, it will be another one of his remarkable political comebacks — from hobbled candidate to principled leader of the opposition party. You can’t say McCain ever fails to surprise.

John McCain, his supporters said, is going to have his best days in the Senate ahead of him. For conservatives, that set off alarm bells. They muttered, “Here it comes, the mavericky sell-out of conservative principles.” But wait. Perhaps his true colors are showing now — a fidelity to fiscal discipline and a loathing of old-style pork barrel legislation. He was on fire on Face the Nation:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he will vote against President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill, calling the legislation “generational theft” in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I thought we were going to have change,” he said, in a shot at Obama’s campaign slogan, “and that change meant we work together. This is a setback. This is a setback to all Americans because you promised Americans we’d work in a more bipartisan fashion, and that certainly is not the case in this bill,” McCain said.

McCain said the bill would saddle Americans with billions in future debt, and contained protectionist provisions that could be damaging to the economy.

“We’re going to amass the largest debt in the history of this country by any measurement, and we’re going to ask our kids and grandkids to pay for it,” McCain said.

“I know we’re in trouble. I know America needs a stimulus, we need tax cuts, we need to spend money on infrastructure and other programs that will put people to work. But this is not it.”

McCain has credibility both with Americans and with fellow Republicans when it comes to fiscal maturity. He might have lost the election, but he might not lose the argument. If indeed he has the ability to reason and cajole with his “moderate” friends in the Senate, perhaps it is not too late to resist the urge to pass a bill junked up with pork and non-stimulative spending.

Oh, but it’s “better now” you say? Not so fast. Larry Summers let the cat out of the bag:”The Senate bill, the House bill, the overlap is 90 plus percent.” McCain has figured that out — the trick will be convincing other Senators and the public that no matter how the Democrats “tweak” it, it’s still the same bag of junky programs which will do more harm than good to the country’s longterm economic interests.

Now, with the pressure of the campaign removed and the shadow of George Bush lifted, McCain may indeed leave his mark. If so, it will be another one of his remarkable political comebacks — from hobbled candidate to principled leader of the opposition party. You can’t say McCain ever fails to surprise.

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No Tit-for-Tat with Tyrants

This is an instructional AP headline: “Russia gives no ground despite US overtures.”

Today, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov praised Vice President Joe Biden’s recent kind words for Russia before making Biden seem foolish for ever uttering them:

“The U.S. administration sent a very strong signal, and the signal was heard-a signal that says they’re ready to resume the Russian and U.S. dialogue frankly and openly,” Ivanov told a news conference on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

But he said Russia did not feel it necessary to immediately reciprocate.

“It is not an Oriental bazaar,” he said. “And we do not trade the way people do in the bazaars.”

I guess Ivanov didn’t get the memo about “smart power.” He said Russia will continue to put up “small bases” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and restated Moscow’s threat to place Iskander missiles in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

There’s no second chance to make a first impression, and the Obama administration has opened up new avenues for American humiliation with Iran and Russia. If President Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary, & co. don’t cut their losses and stop treating uncompromising antagonists as misunderstood adolescents, we can count on a string of these headlines – differentiated only by their opening proper nouns.

This is an instructional AP headline: “Russia gives no ground despite US overtures.”

Today, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov praised Vice President Joe Biden’s recent kind words for Russia before making Biden seem foolish for ever uttering them:

“The U.S. administration sent a very strong signal, and the signal was heard-a signal that says they’re ready to resume the Russian and U.S. dialogue frankly and openly,” Ivanov told a news conference on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

But he said Russia did not feel it necessary to immediately reciprocate.

“It is not an Oriental bazaar,” he said. “And we do not trade the way people do in the bazaars.”

I guess Ivanov didn’t get the memo about “smart power.” He said Russia will continue to put up “small bases” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and restated Moscow’s threat to place Iskander missiles in the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

There’s no second chance to make a first impression, and the Obama administration has opened up new avenues for American humiliation with Iran and Russia. If President Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary, & co. don’t cut their losses and stop treating uncompromising antagonists as misunderstood adolescents, we can count on a string of these headlines – differentiated only by their opening proper nouns.

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“But It’s Different When We Do It!”

When Israel, fed up with constant attacks from Gaza, suspends humanitarian relief shipments, it is called “collective punishment” and is met with protests around the world.
When the UN, fed up with Hamas stealing and re-selling the aid, suspends humanitarian relief shipments, it is called… um… well, nothing.

I’ve stopped counting how many war crimes and crimes against humanity Hamas commits as a matter of course. Could someone please wake me when the folks who howl about alleged Israeli offenses take notice?

When Israel, fed up with constant attacks from Gaza, suspends humanitarian relief shipments, it is called “collective punishment” and is met with protests around the world.
When the UN, fed up with Hamas stealing and re-selling the aid, suspends humanitarian relief shipments, it is called… um… well, nothing.

I’ve stopped counting how many war crimes and crimes against humanity Hamas commits as a matter of course. Could someone please wake me when the folks who howl about alleged Israeli offenses take notice?

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Same Old, Same Old

President Obama has employed the worst kinds of political rhetoric in support of his stimulus bill. His weekly presidential address was a case in point. First, is the politics of fear:

President Obama then warned, “if we don’t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.  Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes, and their health care.  Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold.”

Then came the ad hominem attacks on his opponents and a fairly blatant distortion of their position:

Mr. Obama described his opponents as offering “tired old theories that, in eight short years, doubled the national debt, threw our economy into a tailspin, and led us into this mess in the first place” and “a losing formula that offers only tax cuts as the answer to all our problems while ignoring our fundamental economic challenges…”

The Republicans of course aren’t pleased:

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican’s No. 2 in the Senate, criticized Obama as misrepresenting Republicans’ concerns and accused the president of using “dangerous words” in describing the emergency.

“This is still a very big spending bill,” Kyl said on the Senate floor as an afternoon session got under way. “You can’t fix it by simply shaving a little bit off.”

Perhaps there is a better explanation for why $819 or $827B (or whatever number the conference committee will arrive at) is money well spent. We haven’t heard Obama give a reason why tax rate cuts aren’t viable alternatives to non-stimulative spending in the form of huge transfer payments. We don’t know why defense spending isn’t a part of the plan. All we know is that he won and he’ll get most of what he wants.

Obama is reverting to what he does best: bare knuckle politics. The Washington Post tells us:

Beset by criticism of an alleged ethical double standard over some of his Cabinet choices and an intensifying partisan debate over his economic recovery plan, Obama is attempting a return to the campaign-style approach and aggressiveness that echoes the toughest days of his battle with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And the Obama team is forlorn that “Obama’s honeymoon in Washington evaporated more quickly than his adivsors ever imagined.” That is what comes, I suppose, of treating the Oval Office like campaign headquarters.

Republicans would do well to do what the president has not. First, explain their own reasons for opposing the bill. Second, explain the consequences of spending this much money for so little stimulative impact. Third, decline to return the nasty barbs in kind.

And then the public will judge for themselves. Does the economy bounce back faster than one might expect without all this spending? Do the budgetary and inflationary consequences outweigh any gains achieved? The results of the bill, of course, will be murky because the economy always bounces back — eventually. Did we speed that up appreciably for over a trillion dollars (including interest) in new debt? It’ll be hard to tell.

But some thing have certainly been lost: the hope for a new era of bipartisanship and the establishment of Obama as a transformational figure in American politics. We’re back to the same old, same old.

President Obama has employed the worst kinds of political rhetoric in support of his stimulus bill. His weekly presidential address was a case in point. First, is the politics of fear:

President Obama then warned, “if we don’t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.  Millions of Americans will lose their jobs, their homes, and their health care.  Millions more will have to put their dreams on hold.”

Then came the ad hominem attacks on his opponents and a fairly blatant distortion of their position:

Mr. Obama described his opponents as offering “tired old theories that, in eight short years, doubled the national debt, threw our economy into a tailspin, and led us into this mess in the first place” and “a losing formula that offers only tax cuts as the answer to all our problems while ignoring our fundamental economic challenges…”

The Republicans of course aren’t pleased:

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican’s No. 2 in the Senate, criticized Obama as misrepresenting Republicans’ concerns and accused the president of using “dangerous words” in describing the emergency.

“This is still a very big spending bill,” Kyl said on the Senate floor as an afternoon session got under way. “You can’t fix it by simply shaving a little bit off.”

Perhaps there is a better explanation for why $819 or $827B (or whatever number the conference committee will arrive at) is money well spent. We haven’t heard Obama give a reason why tax rate cuts aren’t viable alternatives to non-stimulative spending in the form of huge transfer payments. We don’t know why defense spending isn’t a part of the plan. All we know is that he won and he’ll get most of what he wants.

Obama is reverting to what he does best: bare knuckle politics. The Washington Post tells us:

Beset by criticism of an alleged ethical double standard over some of his Cabinet choices and an intensifying partisan debate over his economic recovery plan, Obama is attempting a return to the campaign-style approach and aggressiveness that echoes the toughest days of his battle with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And the Obama team is forlorn that “Obama’s honeymoon in Washington evaporated more quickly than his adivsors ever imagined.” That is what comes, I suppose, of treating the Oval Office like campaign headquarters.

Republicans would do well to do what the president has not. First, explain their own reasons for opposing the bill. Second, explain the consequences of spending this much money for so little stimulative impact. Third, decline to return the nasty barbs in kind.

And then the public will judge for themselves. Does the economy bounce back faster than one might expect without all this spending? Do the budgetary and inflationary consequences outweigh any gains achieved? The results of the bill, of course, will be murky because the economy always bounces back — eventually. Did we speed that up appreciably for over a trillion dollars (including interest) in new debt? It’ll be hard to tell.

But some thing have certainly been lost: the hope for a new era of bipartisanship and the establishment of Obama as a transformational figure in American politics. We’re back to the same old, same old.

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You Don’t Say

This throwaway line from a New York Times story on Hamid Karzai caught my eye:

In his seven years in office, Mr. Karzai has successfully presided over the transition of the Afghan state from the devastated, pre-modern institution it was under the Taliban to the deeply troubled but largely democratic one it is today.

From “pre-modern” to “largely democratic.” Imagine the howls of derision, the cartoons, and the late-night monologues had George W. Bush described Afghanistan’s progress in those terms.

Imagine how the New York Times itself would have chastised the president for his insensitivity to traditional Afghan culture and for his delusions about the American led effort.

This throwaway line from a New York Times story on Hamid Karzai caught my eye:

In his seven years in office, Mr. Karzai has successfully presided over the transition of the Afghan state from the devastated, pre-modern institution it was under the Taliban to the deeply troubled but largely democratic one it is today.

From “pre-modern” to “largely democratic.” Imagine the howls of derision, the cartoons, and the late-night monologues had George W. Bush described Afghanistan’s progress in those terms.

Imagine how the New York Times itself would have chastised the president for his insensitivity to traditional Afghan culture and for his delusions about the American led effort.

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Press TV as a Measuring Stick

One outlet that’s particularly keen on holding President Obama to his pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq within his first sixteen months is the Iranian-government backed Press TV. In an article published on its website, Press TV lambastes the newly sworn in president for meeting with Pentagon officials and not imploring the Department of Defense to stick with his campaign pledge:

During Obama’s first meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon last week, he did not mention a 16-month timeline, according to officials who were present.

Well, this is reassuring. Here’s a general rule for the Obama administration: When the tyrants agree with you, be alarmed. But as long as they continue to worry about the presence of American troops, and America’s commitment to a fledgling democracy, you’re on the right side of things.

One outlet that’s particularly keen on holding President Obama to his pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq within his first sixteen months is the Iranian-government backed Press TV. In an article published on its website, Press TV lambastes the newly sworn in president for meeting with Pentagon officials and not imploring the Department of Defense to stick with his campaign pledge:

During Obama’s first meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon last week, he did not mention a 16-month timeline, according to officials who were present.

Well, this is reassuring. Here’s a general rule for the Obama administration: When the tyrants agree with you, be alarmed. But as long as they continue to worry about the presence of American troops, and America’s commitment to a fledgling democracy, you’re on the right side of things.

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What Are All the Ivy Leaguers Doing?

So far, on the foreign policy front we get pablum from the Obama administration. Bill Kristol (echoing Max Boot) reports that Joe Biden said “nothing” in Munich. (Well, at least we can give a gold star to whoever told Biden he wasn’t allowed to take questions.) The Middle East envoy George Mitchell echoes the same overwrought and unhelpful rhetoric about “restarting” the peace process. None of it seems very well thought out, or even indicates that there has been much thought at all about our international challenges.

At home, we get from President Obama embarrassingly reductionist Keynesian rhetoric, which conservatives hope Obama knows better than to believe. Reasoned argument for the merits of a bloated pork-a-thon are replaced by chest-thumping (“I won”) and confusing “patriotism” with support for partisan political objectives. (Hmmm. Who does that sound like?)

Forget for a moment the politics and the competency issues. What happened to the brainiest president we ever elected and all those great thinkers? What precisely are they doing? They’re not making intellectually defensible arguments for their policies or devising any new ones. Instead, we get a mish-mash of warmed over campaign speeches. It’s not very promising for someone who was supposed to dispense with ad hominem attacks and raise the level of discourse in Washington.

Perhaps the advisors, envoys, councils, and boards haven’t really gotten started — despite promising to hit the ground running. But until they set in place the machinery to formulate smart policy ideas and the explanations which must accompany them, it might be wise to stop turning in vain to the Middle East and to the taxpayers. Better first to start thinking hard about what they want to do and whether it’s wise to operate domestic and international policy from leftover 3X5 notecards from the campaign.

So far, on the foreign policy front we get pablum from the Obama administration. Bill Kristol (echoing Max Boot) reports that Joe Biden said “nothing” in Munich. (Well, at least we can give a gold star to whoever told Biden he wasn’t allowed to take questions.) The Middle East envoy George Mitchell echoes the same overwrought and unhelpful rhetoric about “restarting” the peace process. None of it seems very well thought out, or even indicates that there has been much thought at all about our international challenges.

At home, we get from President Obama embarrassingly reductionist Keynesian rhetoric, which conservatives hope Obama knows better than to believe. Reasoned argument for the merits of a bloated pork-a-thon are replaced by chest-thumping (“I won”) and confusing “patriotism” with support for partisan political objectives. (Hmmm. Who does that sound like?)

Forget for a moment the politics and the competency issues. What happened to the brainiest president we ever elected and all those great thinkers? What precisely are they doing? They’re not making intellectually defensible arguments for their policies or devising any new ones. Instead, we get a mish-mash of warmed over campaign speeches. It’s not very promising for someone who was supposed to dispense with ad hominem attacks and raise the level of discourse in Washington.

Perhaps the advisors, envoys, councils, and boards haven’t really gotten started — despite promising to hit the ground running. But until they set in place the machinery to formulate smart policy ideas and the explanations which must accompany them, it might be wise to stop turning in vain to the Middle East and to the taxpayers. Better first to start thinking hard about what they want to do and whether it’s wise to operate domestic and international policy from leftover 3X5 notecards from the campaign.

Read Less

Tyler’s Troubled World

In the New York Times Book Review, British author Adam LeBor reviews Patrick Tyler’s “A World of Trouble:  The White House and the Middle East – From the Cold War to the War on Terror,” published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux – who previously brought us Walt & Mearsheimer’s “The Israel Lobby.”

The review praises Tyler’s book as “authoritative” and “important.”  In fact, it is neither.  We’ve seen this kind of book before.

The book’s “Prologue” opens with an anecdote about a drunken George Tenet in Saudi Arabia mocking neoconservatives in the Bush administration as “the Jews” (an incident, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted, vigorously denied by Tenet and others) and ends with a description of Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith as a “cabal.”

Then the book circles back to Eisenhower’s handling of “Israeli aggression” in the Suez crisis (during which Lyndon Johnson acted “as if [he] were Israel’s attorney”).  Later, as president, Johnson is described as having “put himself in the service of Israel” and “cavorting” with Jewish friends as the Six Day War approached.  In Tyler’s account of the Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger had a “commitment to the Zionist cause” rendering him “deaf to the advice of his more knowledgeable peers,” with Kissinger supporting Israel “to the detriment of U.S. national interest.”

During the Carter administration, foreign policy was run by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“Zbig – that’s what he’s called:  ‘Zzz-BIG'”) with a “lively mind” and “breathtaking clarity.”  With respect to the Clinton administration, Tyler writes that “no objective analysis” of Arafat’s leadership could fail to credit him with pushing the PLO into a “process that he hoped would lead to peace” — but the process failed because Clinton put the U.S. “in the thrall of [Ehud] Barak’s frenetic tactics.”  The chapter on George W. Bush criticizes his “know-nothing approach” and “jumbled view of history,” among other faults.

LeBor’s review identifies several factual errors in the book, but he missed the most instructive one.  Consider this error — exemplifying the style and tone of this book — in Tyler’s description of then Governor Bush’s 1998 visit to Israel (during which Ariel Sharon “imprinted” on Bush the “visual justification for the ‘activist’ or militarist instinct in Israeli policy”):

Sharon had given him “the tour,” that rite of passage in which Israeli leaders seek to indoctrinate American political figures about Israeli’s geographic vulnerabilities.  The retired general dazzled Bush with a helicopter ride north of Tel Aviv to see firsthand the delicate nine-mile-wide “waste” of Israel where the Arab West Bank looms above the plain that runs down to Jewish Netanya on the Mediterranean.  [Page 528].

I think he meant “waist” — but I am not sure.  He may simply have been channeling his inner Walt & Mearsheimer.

In any event, here is a consumer alert for those tempted to purchase this book based on the egregiously misleading Times review:  you can get the same “authoritative” and “important” analysis for free at Daily Kos.

In the New York Times Book Review, British author Adam LeBor reviews Patrick Tyler’s “A World of Trouble:  The White House and the Middle East – From the Cold War to the War on Terror,” published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux – who previously brought us Walt & Mearsheimer’s “The Israel Lobby.”

The review praises Tyler’s book as “authoritative” and “important.”  In fact, it is neither.  We’ve seen this kind of book before.

The book’s “Prologue” opens with an anecdote about a drunken George Tenet in Saudi Arabia mocking neoconservatives in the Bush administration as “the Jews” (an incident, as Jeffrey Goldberg noted, vigorously denied by Tenet and others) and ends with a description of Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith as a “cabal.”

Then the book circles back to Eisenhower’s handling of “Israeli aggression” in the Suez crisis (during which Lyndon Johnson acted “as if [he] were Israel’s attorney”).  Later, as president, Johnson is described as having “put himself in the service of Israel” and “cavorting” with Jewish friends as the Six Day War approached.  In Tyler’s account of the Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger had a “commitment to the Zionist cause” rendering him “deaf to the advice of his more knowledgeable peers,” with Kissinger supporting Israel “to the detriment of U.S. national interest.”

During the Carter administration, foreign policy was run by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“Zbig – that’s what he’s called:  ‘Zzz-BIG'”) with a “lively mind” and “breathtaking clarity.”  With respect to the Clinton administration, Tyler writes that “no objective analysis” of Arafat’s leadership could fail to credit him with pushing the PLO into a “process that he hoped would lead to peace” — but the process failed because Clinton put the U.S. “in the thrall of [Ehud] Barak’s frenetic tactics.”  The chapter on George W. Bush criticizes his “know-nothing approach” and “jumbled view of history,” among other faults.

LeBor’s review identifies several factual errors in the book, but he missed the most instructive one.  Consider this error — exemplifying the style and tone of this book — in Tyler’s description of then Governor Bush’s 1998 visit to Israel (during which Ariel Sharon “imprinted” on Bush the “visual justification for the ‘activist’ or militarist instinct in Israeli policy”):

Sharon had given him “the tour,” that rite of passage in which Israeli leaders seek to indoctrinate American political figures about Israeli’s geographic vulnerabilities.  The retired general dazzled Bush with a helicopter ride north of Tel Aviv to see firsthand the delicate nine-mile-wide “waste” of Israel where the Arab West Bank looms above the plain that runs down to Jewish Netanya on the Mediterranean.  [Page 528].

I think he meant “waist” — but I am not sure.  He may simply have been channeling his inner Walt & Mearsheimer.

In any event, here is a consumer alert for those tempted to purchase this book based on the egregiously misleading Times review:  you can get the same “authoritative” and “important” analysis for free at Daily Kos.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Terry McAuliffe mulls over what to do with Bill Clinton during his Democratic primary. He can, after all, be more trouble than he’s worth. Hillary can commiserate.

You want a targeted, temporary and timely stimulus? Try defense spending, and specifically keeping the F-22 in production.

What’s in the Senate stimulus plan? All we have so far is a summary and a spreadsheet. The specifics of what the money is going to be spent on remains carefully concealed from view. Too bad we didn’t elect an administration which promised to publish the full text of bills in advance of votes. Oh, right.

But we have an agreed upon number: $827B which is indeed more than the House bill. Those Republican moderates are some tough negotiators, huh?

In case you thought there weren’t enough overlapping power centers in the Obama administration, the National Security Council is now growing.

Minority Leader John Boehner visits Iraq. Among his findings: “Major General Kelly reported that Anbar Iraqi Security Forces have assumed full lead in protecting the population, and that the provincial elections occured last week without any violence.  He reported that while the insurgency has largely been defeated (the first 90 yards of the field), the last 10 yards must be won by the government of Iraq.”

Even Tom Friedman concedes success: “Those U.S. soldiers in Iraq can take pride in the recent Iraqi elections, which have strengthened the more secular and centrist parties. But we have to wait and see if the losers in this election take their defeat peacefully and whether the winners can actually produce better governance. The Iraqi elections, though, are a rare example of Arabs getting a chance to build their own future from the bottom up, and I continue to root for them.” Hmm. So war precedes political solutions after all. Good to know next time Friedman and his ilk trot out the “cycle of violence” canard.

The President’s popularity floats downward.

Jim Hoagland writes, “But by the standards of the past — and of the rough neighborhood in which Iraqis still live — the two general elections that Iraq has held in four years stand as paragons of progress and adaptation that others in the region should aim to emulate. That development should not be ignored or minimized, particularly as the United States and Europe wrestle with analogous problems that confront a newly besieged Afghanistan. Even more important than shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan may be shifting counterinsurgency lessons learned. . . The internalizing of Iraq’s strife — as horrible as that strife can be on any given day for Iraqis — makes the region less of a global tinderbox than it was. That the country’s Kurds no longer live under the threat of genocide directed from Baghdad and that the Shiites no longer have to submit to state-organized mass murder on a routine basis constitutes real progress for them and for humanity.” And if the house of Saud can get past its personal pique, we might have a fairly effective and unified counterweight to Iran.

Eleanor Clift roots for Howard Dean for HHS. Well, if you’re looking for partisan bile and more White House rivalries (he and Rahm Emanual don’t exactly get along) he’s just the ticket.

Maureen Dowd is back to excoriating her once-dreamy president, who’s turned out to be less than she (and most liberals) hoped: “It’s a huge, scary moment, with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs flying out the window. Vice President Joseph Biden, in another Cassandra moment, told House Democrats that even if the White House does everything right, ‘there’s still a 30 percent chance we’ll get it wrong.’ The president and his aides seemed a bit snow-blinded by the White House, overwhelmed and slow to understand that they were losing the high ground and the whip hand. They couldn’t even get their pick for commerce secretary, the Republican Senator Judd Gregg, to vote for their stimulus bill; he said he would abstain.” So: is he wrong on substance or execution, or both?

Terry McAuliffe mulls over what to do with Bill Clinton during his Democratic primary. He can, after all, be more trouble than he’s worth. Hillary can commiserate.

You want a targeted, temporary and timely stimulus? Try defense spending, and specifically keeping the F-22 in production.

What’s in the Senate stimulus plan? All we have so far is a summary and a spreadsheet. The specifics of what the money is going to be spent on remains carefully concealed from view. Too bad we didn’t elect an administration which promised to publish the full text of bills in advance of votes. Oh, right.

But we have an agreed upon number: $827B which is indeed more than the House bill. Those Republican moderates are some tough negotiators, huh?

In case you thought there weren’t enough overlapping power centers in the Obama administration, the National Security Council is now growing.

Minority Leader John Boehner visits Iraq. Among his findings: “Major General Kelly reported that Anbar Iraqi Security Forces have assumed full lead in protecting the population, and that the provincial elections occured last week without any violence.  He reported that while the insurgency has largely been defeated (the first 90 yards of the field), the last 10 yards must be won by the government of Iraq.”

Even Tom Friedman concedes success: “Those U.S. soldiers in Iraq can take pride in the recent Iraqi elections, which have strengthened the more secular and centrist parties. But we have to wait and see if the losers in this election take their defeat peacefully and whether the winners can actually produce better governance. The Iraqi elections, though, are a rare example of Arabs getting a chance to build their own future from the bottom up, and I continue to root for them.” Hmm. So war precedes political solutions after all. Good to know next time Friedman and his ilk trot out the “cycle of violence” canard.

The President’s popularity floats downward.

Jim Hoagland writes, “But by the standards of the past — and of the rough neighborhood in which Iraqis still live — the two general elections that Iraq has held in four years stand as paragons of progress and adaptation that others in the region should aim to emulate. That development should not be ignored or minimized, particularly as the United States and Europe wrestle with analogous problems that confront a newly besieged Afghanistan. Even more important than shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan may be shifting counterinsurgency lessons learned. . . The internalizing of Iraq’s strife — as horrible as that strife can be on any given day for Iraqis — makes the region less of a global tinderbox than it was. That the country’s Kurds no longer live under the threat of genocide directed from Baghdad and that the Shiites no longer have to submit to state-organized mass murder on a routine basis constitutes real progress for them and for humanity.” And if the house of Saud can get past its personal pique, we might have a fairly effective and unified counterweight to Iran.

Eleanor Clift roots for Howard Dean for HHS. Well, if you’re looking for partisan bile and more White House rivalries (he and Rahm Emanual don’t exactly get along) he’s just the ticket.

Maureen Dowd is back to excoriating her once-dreamy president, who’s turned out to be less than she (and most liberals) hoped: “It’s a huge, scary moment, with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs flying out the window. Vice President Joseph Biden, in another Cassandra moment, told House Democrats that even if the White House does everything right, ‘there’s still a 30 percent chance we’ll get it wrong.’ The president and his aides seemed a bit snow-blinded by the White House, overwhelmed and slow to understand that they were losing the high ground and the whip hand. They couldn’t even get their pick for commerce secretary, the Republican Senator Judd Gregg, to vote for their stimulus bill; he said he would abstain.” So: is he wrong on substance or execution, or both?

Read Less




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