Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 25, 2009

How Big Is Big?

The spending numbers become meaningless after awhile. This helpful guide puts things in perspective:

$787 billion would buy 4.6 million homes here in the US at the most recent median price of $170,300 for January 2008.

$787 billion would send a check for $2,623 to every man, woman and child in the US.

$787 billion would fund 7.7 million four year scholarships to the average private university in the US at current tuition rates.

$787 billion would fund 30 million full four year scholarships to the nation’s public universities.

$787 billion would buy 27.7 million cars at the average price of an automobile sold last year in the US.

$787 billion would fund four full months of a tax holiday in the US.

This not only helps clarify how much we are spending, but how poorly we are allocating taxpayer dollars. If we actually did a couple of these things there might be broader support even among conservatives for the stimulus or the other spending projects Democrats have in mind. However, who thinks we’re going to get much value or immediate productive economic activity from the $787B?

You have the sense that, if they tried, they couldn’t spend the money in a more inefficient and less productive fashion. And you’d be right. The Democrats’ goal is to expand the public sector and pet liberal projects, not to worry about efficiency and productivity.They’re doing a fine job.

The spending numbers become meaningless after awhile. This helpful guide puts things in perspective:

$787 billion would buy 4.6 million homes here in the US at the most recent median price of $170,300 for January 2008.

$787 billion would send a check for $2,623 to every man, woman and child in the US.

$787 billion would fund 7.7 million four year scholarships to the average private university in the US at current tuition rates.

$787 billion would fund 30 million full four year scholarships to the nation’s public universities.

$787 billion would buy 27.7 million cars at the average price of an automobile sold last year in the US.

$787 billion would fund four full months of a tax holiday in the US.

This not only helps clarify how much we are spending, but how poorly we are allocating taxpayer dollars. If we actually did a couple of these things there might be broader support even among conservatives for the stimulus or the other spending projects Democrats have in mind. However, who thinks we’re going to get much value or immediate productive economic activity from the $787B?

You have the sense that, if they tried, they couldn’t spend the money in a more inefficient and less productive fashion. And you’d be right. The Democrats’ goal is to expand the public sector and pet liberal projects, not to worry about efficiency and productivity.They’re doing a fine job.

Read Less

Morning in America?!

The top headline on CNN’s website this morning declared last night’s presidential address before Congress “Morning in America.”  Indeed, despite President Barack Obama’s commitment to increase the scope of government considerably, CNN’s Alan Silverleib saw something Reaganesque in the speech: namely, its “defiantly optimistic tone.”  And so the gushing pours forth: “It is morning in America again,” Silverleib writes, “A new day has dawned.”

One has to wonder exactly which America Silverleib is examining.  My guess: Silverleib wasn’t looking at the America in which the stock market has dropped 8.5 percent since President Obama took office, including 1.1 percent the day immediately following Obama’s supposedly hopeful oration.

Rather, Silverleib was probably watching the version of America that CNN — his employer — likes to show.  Of course, this is the America in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preemptively applauds the president’s every line, jumping around like a desperate cheerleader.  It’s also the America in which fawning congressmen line up for the President’s autograph as if he were a celebrity, as opposed to a colleague.

But, most importantly, CNN’s America is the one where “analysts” descend into blatant partisanship.  In this vein, check out David Gergen’s sycophancy:

The first half of the speech was FDR fighting for the New Deal. And the second half was Lyndon Johnson fighting for the Great Society. And we have never seen those two presidents rolled together in quite this way before.

And his biased questions:

I would be interested of what our team thinks about this — I thought it was almost pitch-perfect, in terms of listening to the and responding to the different audiences, coming out with the confidence, reassuring people.

And Gergen’s profoundly uncomfortable metaphors:

But I thought in terms of talking to the country at large, ambitious, inspiring. I just think it’s going to be politically one of the most helpful things he’ll do. It’s a wonderful forum for him. It’s an emotional warm bath.

So, in short, I’m not surprised that Alan Silverleib believes that it’s “Morning in America.”  I just wish that he’d channel surf once in a while to get a more complete view of things.

The top headline on CNN’s website this morning declared last night’s presidential address before Congress “Morning in America.”  Indeed, despite President Barack Obama’s commitment to increase the scope of government considerably, CNN’s Alan Silverleib saw something Reaganesque in the speech: namely, its “defiantly optimistic tone.”  And so the gushing pours forth: “It is morning in America again,” Silverleib writes, “A new day has dawned.”

One has to wonder exactly which America Silverleib is examining.  My guess: Silverleib wasn’t looking at the America in which the stock market has dropped 8.5 percent since President Obama took office, including 1.1 percent the day immediately following Obama’s supposedly hopeful oration.

Rather, Silverleib was probably watching the version of America that CNN — his employer — likes to show.  Of course, this is the America in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi preemptively applauds the president’s every line, jumping around like a desperate cheerleader.  It’s also the America in which fawning congressmen line up for the President’s autograph as if he were a celebrity, as opposed to a colleague.

But, most importantly, CNN’s America is the one where “analysts” descend into blatant partisanship.  In this vein, check out David Gergen’s sycophancy:

The first half of the speech was FDR fighting for the New Deal. And the second half was Lyndon Johnson fighting for the Great Society. And we have never seen those two presidents rolled together in quite this way before.

And his biased questions:

I would be interested of what our team thinks about this — I thought it was almost pitch-perfect, in terms of listening to the and responding to the different audiences, coming out with the confidence, reassuring people.

And Gergen’s profoundly uncomfortable metaphors:

But I thought in terms of talking to the country at large, ambitious, inspiring. I just think it’s going to be politically one of the most helpful things he’ll do. It’s a wonderful forum for him. It’s an emotional warm bath.

So, in short, I’m not surprised that Alan Silverleib believes that it’s “Morning in America.”  I just wish that he’d channel surf once in a while to get a more complete view of things.

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

Stuart Rose, on Ted R. Bromund:

Britain is in the grips of full blown appeasement. In a real sense, schools that urge their students to show imaginative sympathy for the “bombers” are doing more to weaken Britain’s resolve to fight Islamism than its decision to ban someone like Wilders. Dousing impressionable children in false ideas of what motivates jihadist violence and encouraging them to see the West as culpable for terrorist attacks ensures that the next generation of Brits won’t be able to resist the Islamist threat.
And, of course, while the government- national and local- are busy not offending official Muslim groups, they do a disservice to the many Muslims in Britain who don’t wish to be a protected national group, minded and bossed around by fundamentalists.

Stuart Rose, on Ted R. Bromund:

Britain is in the grips of full blown appeasement. In a real sense, schools that urge their students to show imaginative sympathy for the “bombers” are doing more to weaken Britain’s resolve to fight Islamism than its decision to ban someone like Wilders. Dousing impressionable children in false ideas of what motivates jihadist violence and encouraging them to see the West as culpable for terrorist attacks ensures that the next generation of Brits won’t be able to resist the Islamist threat.
And, of course, while the government- national and local- are busy not offending official Muslim groups, they do a disservice to the many Muslims in Britain who don’t wish to be a protected national group, minded and bossed around by fundamentalists.

Read Less

Just Because

The AP reports that Eric Holder was impressed with Guantánamo Bay.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Guantanamo detention center is a well-run, professional facility that will be difficult to close-but he’s still going to do it.

Well, naturally. The Obama administration is only interested in keeping poorly run enterprises going. There’s more:

He said he did not witness any rough treatment of detainees, and in fact found the military staff and leadership performing admirably.

“I did not witness any mistreatment of prisoners. I think, to the contrary, what I saw was a very conscious attempt by these guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way,” he said.

Talk about being a “coward.” The head legal advisor of the United States government witnesses our most important detention facility being run efficiently, legally, and humanely, and can’t even bring himself to question its gratuitous closing. After all, President Obama’s executive order calling for the shuttering of Gitmo alludes to problems that are vitiated by Holder’s assessment. The executive order states:

In view of the significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo and closure of the facilities in which they are detained would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.

How’s that for vague? These “significant concerns” are never identified, nor are the supposed national security benefits of shutting down Guantánamo. This administration, we’ve learned, need not explain itself, get into specifics, or justify its actions. Spending a few hundred million dollars of taxpayers’ money on digital cable is good just because — next question. Federal rationing of healthcare is good just because — next question. Closing an above-board, admirably run detention facility is good just because — next question.

Accountability in government requires, at the very least, a cover story to explain actions. The Obama administration isn’t even bothering with transparent “official” explanations. Things are too dire, and the president is too smart, so we’ll just have to marvel at this “new era,” stand in awe of Barack Obama’s eloquence and say yes to everything — even in the face of contradictory evidence. Next move: leaving Iraq just because.

The AP reports that Eric Holder was impressed with Guantánamo Bay.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Guantanamo detention center is a well-run, professional facility that will be difficult to close-but he’s still going to do it.

Well, naturally. The Obama administration is only interested in keeping poorly run enterprises going. There’s more:

He said he did not witness any rough treatment of detainees, and in fact found the military staff and leadership performing admirably.

“I did not witness any mistreatment of prisoners. I think, to the contrary, what I saw was a very conscious attempt by these guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way,” he said.

Talk about being a “coward.” The head legal advisor of the United States government witnesses our most important detention facility being run efficiently, legally, and humanely, and can’t even bring himself to question its gratuitous closing. After all, President Obama’s executive order calling for the shuttering of Gitmo alludes to problems that are vitiated by Holder’s assessment. The executive order states:

In view of the significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo and closure of the facilities in which they are detained would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.

How’s that for vague? These “significant concerns” are never identified, nor are the supposed national security benefits of shutting down Guantánamo. This administration, we’ve learned, need not explain itself, get into specifics, or justify its actions. Spending a few hundred million dollars of taxpayers’ money on digital cable is good just because — next question. Federal rationing of healthcare is good just because — next question. Closing an above-board, admirably run detention facility is good just because — next question.

Accountability in government requires, at the very least, a cover story to explain actions. The Obama administration isn’t even bothering with transparent “official” explanations. Things are too dire, and the president is too smart, so we’ll just have to marvel at this “new era,” stand in awe of Barack Obama’s eloquence and say yes to everything — even in the face of contradictory evidence. Next move: leaving Iraq just because.

Read Less

It’s Not Just Santelli

The snippy White House press secretary would like us to believe that Rick Santelli doesn’t know what he is talking about. Unfortunately for the White House, Santelli does — and other people have figured out what is going on too. Joel Stein in TIME explains:

The only people affected by plummeting real estate prices are the ones who bought a house that cost more than they could afford, hoping for a spike in value so they could sell at a profit or take out a new loan based on an increased value. Their home wasn’t just a place to live; it was an investment they thought they could liquefy at will. If we’re saving these poor souls from the 26.7% drop in their investment, we should give twice as much aid to everyone who has lost approximately 50% in the stock market since its peak. Especially those in Vanguard’s Tax-Managed Capital Appreciation Fund.

Meanwhile, mortgages held by the responsible people Obama says he is trying to help only go into foreclosure when the owners lose their jobs. But the best way to help them is through increased unemployment benefits and job creation.

In short, the entire purpose of the mortgage bailout is to help out people who made ill-advised economic decisions and aid them in escaping from the consequences of their decisions. It is not simply some misplaced sense of morality which cautions against this tactic. It is the realization that many of these people will still default after the government aid and that in the process we will have further impaired the stability of our banks and kept more credit worthy people out of homes. We will, in short, prolong and spread the pain.

Among the most dishonest statements in the president’s speech last night was his claim that his housing plan “won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford.” Actually, it will only help those people. (Even the AP figured this out.) The ones who bought the house they can afford and are continuing to make payments on it (regardless of the market price of their home) — over 90% of homeowners — don’t need to be rescued. And poor people (mostly renters) get nothing out of this.

If you believe taxpayer money is endless, there are no bad consequences from propping up overextended homeowners and an economic recovery can begin before asset values have settled out then the president’s plan seems like a grand idea. But more and more people are beginning to understand Santelli’s objections to the mortgage plan. The question is whether the president does.

The snippy White House press secretary would like us to believe that Rick Santelli doesn’t know what he is talking about. Unfortunately for the White House, Santelli does — and other people have figured out what is going on too. Joel Stein in TIME explains:

The only people affected by plummeting real estate prices are the ones who bought a house that cost more than they could afford, hoping for a spike in value so they could sell at a profit or take out a new loan based on an increased value. Their home wasn’t just a place to live; it was an investment they thought they could liquefy at will. If we’re saving these poor souls from the 26.7% drop in their investment, we should give twice as much aid to everyone who has lost approximately 50% in the stock market since its peak. Especially those in Vanguard’s Tax-Managed Capital Appreciation Fund.

Meanwhile, mortgages held by the responsible people Obama says he is trying to help only go into foreclosure when the owners lose their jobs. But the best way to help them is through increased unemployment benefits and job creation.

In short, the entire purpose of the mortgage bailout is to help out people who made ill-advised economic decisions and aid them in escaping from the consequences of their decisions. It is not simply some misplaced sense of morality which cautions against this tactic. It is the realization that many of these people will still default after the government aid and that in the process we will have further impaired the stability of our banks and kept more credit worthy people out of homes. We will, in short, prolong and spread the pain.

Among the most dishonest statements in the president’s speech last night was his claim that his housing plan “won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford.” Actually, it will only help those people. (Even the AP figured this out.) The ones who bought the house they can afford and are continuing to make payments on it (regardless of the market price of their home) — over 90% of homeowners — don’t need to be rescued. And poor people (mostly renters) get nothing out of this.

If you believe taxpayer money is endless, there are no bad consequences from propping up overextended homeowners and an economic recovery can begin before asset values have settled out then the president’s plan seems like a grand idea. But more and more people are beginning to understand Santelli’s objections to the mortgage plan. The question is whether the president does.

Read Less

Don’t Mention the Jihadists

One of John Cleese’s finest moments came in his Fawlty Towers episode on “The Germans,” in which, as concussed hotel owner Basil Fawlty, he practices his people skills on a party of visiting Germans.  Eager to avoid offense, his rule is “Don’t mention the war!”  Being Basil, he mentions it relentlessly, and ends a screaming tirade with the inevitable “Who won the bloody war anyway??  It just goes to show that a desperate desire to please, coupled with a determination to avoid saying what’s on your mind, can have perverse consequences.

 

The Times Literary Supplement reports a remarkable example of this perversity in its latest issue.  The headline sums it up: “Pupils told: think as bombers.”  Yes, a local authority — in West Yorkshire — has produced a teaching aid on “life in multicultural Britain, highlighting links between communities.”  Those links include the violent ones: the section on the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 and injured 700, tells students to “prepare a brief presentation on the 7/7 bombings from the perspective of the bombers.”

 

And what was that perspective?  Well, needless to say, it’s got nothing to do with jihadism.  Indeed, as the resource’s author explained, “fundamentalists come in all different forms.”  That’s the multicultural left’s coded way of creating equivalence between jihadists and democrats who believe that human rights are basic and non-negotiable.  Except, of course, it’s not even equivalence: the big problem is that “the impact of 7/7 has been how people stereotype individuals,” and the essential need is to ask honestly whether extremism is right, wrong, or “justified.”

 

The aid has been a huge success: police forces have adopted it, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families has put it online to “help teachers tackle extremism.”  And inevitably, the Muslim Council of Britain has weighed in, with the helpful reminder that, while bombings are not morally justified, students who are asked to fantasize about themselves as terrorists should “talk about foreign policy or other grievances.”  So we arrive at the normal conclusion of the community cohesionists: terror is not right, exactly, but it’s a natural result of grievances provoked by British racism and foreign policy.

 

Here’s a novel idea: Why not, instead of requiring students to fantasize about the motivations of Islamists, assign materials terrorists actually read, or show videos they actually watch?  Instead of defining violent deviancy down with the relativist mantra that extremism comes in many forms, why not state, forthrightly, that Britain is a democracy, that it is the homeland of religious toleration, and that anyone who uses violence to subvert it will be met with overwhelming force?  The answer, regrettably, is that the will to say such things is entirely lacking: polite euphemisms are easier, though more dangerous in anything but the short and cowering run.

One of John Cleese’s finest moments came in his Fawlty Towers episode on “The Germans,” in which, as concussed hotel owner Basil Fawlty, he practices his people skills on a party of visiting Germans.  Eager to avoid offense, his rule is “Don’t mention the war!”  Being Basil, he mentions it relentlessly, and ends a screaming tirade with the inevitable “Who won the bloody war anyway??  It just goes to show that a desperate desire to please, coupled with a determination to avoid saying what’s on your mind, can have perverse consequences.

 

The Times Literary Supplement reports a remarkable example of this perversity in its latest issue.  The headline sums it up: “Pupils told: think as bombers.”  Yes, a local authority — in West Yorkshire — has produced a teaching aid on “life in multicultural Britain, highlighting links between communities.”  Those links include the violent ones: the section on the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 and injured 700, tells students to “prepare a brief presentation on the 7/7 bombings from the perspective of the bombers.”

 

And what was that perspective?  Well, needless to say, it’s got nothing to do with jihadism.  Indeed, as the resource’s author explained, “fundamentalists come in all different forms.”  That’s the multicultural left’s coded way of creating equivalence between jihadists and democrats who believe that human rights are basic and non-negotiable.  Except, of course, it’s not even equivalence: the big problem is that “the impact of 7/7 has been how people stereotype individuals,” and the essential need is to ask honestly whether extremism is right, wrong, or “justified.”

 

The aid has been a huge success: police forces have adopted it, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families has put it online to “help teachers tackle extremism.”  And inevitably, the Muslim Council of Britain has weighed in, with the helpful reminder that, while bombings are not morally justified, students who are asked to fantasize about themselves as terrorists should “talk about foreign policy or other grievances.”  So we arrive at the normal conclusion of the community cohesionists: terror is not right, exactly, but it’s a natural result of grievances provoked by British racism and foreign policy.

 

Here’s a novel idea: Why not, instead of requiring students to fantasize about the motivations of Islamists, assign materials terrorists actually read, or show videos they actually watch?  Instead of defining violent deviancy down with the relativist mantra that extremism comes in many forms, why not state, forthrightly, that Britain is a democracy, that it is the homeland of religious toleration, and that anyone who uses violence to subvert it will be met with overwhelming force?  The answer, regrettably, is that the will to say such things is entirely lacking: polite euphemisms are easier, though more dangerous in anything but the short and cowering run.

Read Less

Obama Yawns as Iran Fires Up First Nuke Plant

Iran might not have rated a single mention in the president’s address to Congress last night, but that doesn’t mean nothing interesting is happening there.

Today, the New York Times reports that Iran has started tests on its first nuclear power plant in Bushehr. The Russian-built plant will begin loading its nuclear fuel later this year but we are assured the Russians will not let any of that fuel be used for illicit purposes.

However, Israel isn’t reassured. Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that Iran’s announcement that it had increased the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at the Bushehr plant to 6,000 constitutes a stage in the creation of a substantial existential threat to Israel, adding that time was running out on preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Barak is right. Iran’s clear progress toward nuclear capability is something it’s not bothering to conceal anymore. Moreover, the news that earlier this month Tehran launched into orbit a satellite on a domestically-built rocket ought to scare those advocates of “engagement” who keep claiming Iran has no way to deliver a bomb even if it made one.

While we don’t doubt the economy is President Obama’s top priority these days, the short shrift given to national-security concerns in his speech to Congress highlights the fact that this administration has not taken the threat from Iran seriously. But the news about the nuclear progress Iran is making serves as yet another reminder that the White House cannot ignore this issue indefinitely. At some point, and it may be sooner rather than later, Obama is going to have to make a decision about what he will actually do to stop Iran’s push for nukes. Talking about talking will not be enough. The Bush administration spent years trying to lure Tehran into talks about stopping its nuclear programs and largely outsourced this problem to our European allies — who failed.

While there are no attractive options here, Obama should think about whether he wants his foreign policy legacy to be America’s resignation to an Islamist regime’s gaining the ability to “wipe Israel off the map” with one weapon.

Iran might not have rated a single mention in the president’s address to Congress last night, but that doesn’t mean nothing interesting is happening there.

Today, the New York Times reports that Iran has started tests on its first nuclear power plant in Bushehr. The Russian-built plant will begin loading its nuclear fuel later this year but we are assured the Russians will not let any of that fuel be used for illicit purposes.

However, Israel isn’t reassured. Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that Iran’s announcement that it had increased the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at the Bushehr plant to 6,000 constitutes a stage in the creation of a substantial existential threat to Israel, adding that time was running out on preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Barak is right. Iran’s clear progress toward nuclear capability is something it’s not bothering to conceal anymore. Moreover, the news that earlier this month Tehran launched into orbit a satellite on a domestically-built rocket ought to scare those advocates of “engagement” who keep claiming Iran has no way to deliver a bomb even if it made one.

While we don’t doubt the economy is President Obama’s top priority these days, the short shrift given to national-security concerns in his speech to Congress highlights the fact that this administration has not taken the threat from Iran seriously. But the news about the nuclear progress Iran is making serves as yet another reminder that the White House cannot ignore this issue indefinitely. At some point, and it may be sooner rather than later, Obama is going to have to make a decision about what he will actually do to stop Iran’s push for nukes. Talking about talking will not be enough. The Bush administration spent years trying to lure Tehran into talks about stopping its nuclear programs and largely outsourced this problem to our European allies — who failed.

While there are no attractive options here, Obama should think about whether he wants his foreign policy legacy to be America’s resignation to an Islamist regime’s gaining the ability to “wipe Israel off the map” with one weapon.

Read Less

What Are They Thinking?

Marty Peretz unleashes some righteous anger over the appointment of Chas Freeman as proposed Charmian of the National Intelligence Council, calling the move “stunning as in bigoted and completely out of sync with the deepest convictions of the American people.” After reviewing Freeman’s infatuation with the Saudi regime, his high regard for Hamas, and penchant to “kow-tow to authoritarians and tyrants,” Peretz gets to the nub of the matter:

But Freeman’s real offense (and the president’s if he were to appoint him) is that he has questioned the loyalty and patriotism of not only Zionists and other friends of Israel, the great swath of American Jews and their Christian countrymen, who believed that the protection of Zion is at the core of our religious and secular history, from the Pilgrim fathers through Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. And how has he offended this tradition? By publishing and peddling the unabridged John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, with panegyric and hysteria. If Freeman believes that this book is the truth he can’t be trusted by anyone, least of all Barack Obama. I can’t believe that Obama wants to appoint someone who is quintessentially an insult to the patriotism of some many of his supporters, me included.

So what does this say about the president? We are left to wonder if the president, like Pope Benedict XVI (who claimed ignorance of Bishop Richard Williamson’s Holocaust denial), is ignorant of his designee’s venial views. If so, that bespeaks a scary level of detachment. But if Freeman’s judgment and intellectual independence are in fact celebrated and respected by the president, that would be even worse. Then we’d have elected a president with no moral compass or discerning intellect.

This is no small matter. And the White House’s reaction to the widening sense of outrage will speak volumes as to where American foreign policy is headed.

Marty Peretz unleashes some righteous anger over the appointment of Chas Freeman as proposed Charmian of the National Intelligence Council, calling the move “stunning as in bigoted and completely out of sync with the deepest convictions of the American people.” After reviewing Freeman’s infatuation with the Saudi regime, his high regard for Hamas, and penchant to “kow-tow to authoritarians and tyrants,” Peretz gets to the nub of the matter:

But Freeman’s real offense (and the president’s if he were to appoint him) is that he has questioned the loyalty and patriotism of not only Zionists and other friends of Israel, the great swath of American Jews and their Christian countrymen, who believed that the protection of Zion is at the core of our religious and secular history, from the Pilgrim fathers through Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. And how has he offended this tradition? By publishing and peddling the unabridged John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, with panegyric and hysteria. If Freeman believes that this book is the truth he can’t be trusted by anyone, least of all Barack Obama. I can’t believe that Obama wants to appoint someone who is quintessentially an insult to the patriotism of some many of his supporters, me included.

So what does this say about the president? We are left to wonder if the president, like Pope Benedict XVI (who claimed ignorance of Bishop Richard Williamson’s Holocaust denial), is ignorant of his designee’s venial views. If so, that bespeaks a scary level of detachment. But if Freeman’s judgment and intellectual independence are in fact celebrated and respected by the president, that would be even worse. Then we’d have elected a president with no moral compass or discerning intellect.

This is no small matter. And the White House’s reaction to the widening sense of outrage will speak volumes as to where American foreign policy is headed.

Read Less

A Global New Deal

“We need a global New Deal–a grand bargain between the countries and continents of this world,” said Gordon Brown on Sunday.  At a time when the European Union cannot agree on stimulus measures and the Doha Trade Round is failing, the concept of planetary cooperation sounds a bit far-fetched.  So strike the British prime minister off the list of people who can end the global crisis.

And who does that leave?  Don’t look to Vladimir Putin, who is helplessly watching the ruble collapse and his economy slide.  And how about Hu Jintao, who presides over the authoritarian superstate that supposedly owns this century?  He cannot even stop his subjects from smuggling out billions of dollars a day to the outside.  As Tom Friedman, one of the apostles of American decline, wrote this morning, there is only one place that people are looking for answers at this moment.  “Only the U.S. can lead the world,” he quotes a South Korean official as saying. “We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”

That assessment is not quite right, because America was relatively more powerful in the moments immediately following the Second World War than it is today.  Yet the South Korean gets at a fundamental truth.  In Friedman’s “flat world,” America was being marginalized by globalization and authoritarian states were on the march.  In this worldwide crisis, however, no one feels the authoritarians have any answers.  In short, there is no nation but the United States to turn to, and that’s more true than it was six decades ago, when some thought the Soviets had a fine model.  “At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important,” Friedman notes.

So as humanity turns from prosperity to poverty, Washington has an opportunity to put the international system back on course.  “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” Ronald Reagan told us.  Yes, now would be an excellent time to do so.

“We need a global New Deal–a grand bargain between the countries and continents of this world,” said Gordon Brown on Sunday.  At a time when the European Union cannot agree on stimulus measures and the Doha Trade Round is failing, the concept of planetary cooperation sounds a bit far-fetched.  So strike the British prime minister off the list of people who can end the global crisis.

And who does that leave?  Don’t look to Vladimir Putin, who is helplessly watching the ruble collapse and his economy slide.  And how about Hu Jintao, who presides over the authoritarian superstate that supposedly owns this century?  He cannot even stop his subjects from smuggling out billions of dollars a day to the outside.  As Tom Friedman, one of the apostles of American decline, wrote this morning, there is only one place that people are looking for answers at this moment.  “Only the U.S. can lead the world,” he quotes a South Korean official as saying. “We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”

That assessment is not quite right, because America was relatively more powerful in the moments immediately following the Second World War than it is today.  Yet the South Korean gets at a fundamental truth.  In Friedman’s “flat world,” America was being marginalized by globalization and authoritarian states were on the march.  In this worldwide crisis, however, no one feels the authoritarians have any answers.  In short, there is no nation but the United States to turn to, and that’s more true than it was six decades ago, when some thought the Soviets had a fine model.  “At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important,” Friedman notes.

So as humanity turns from prosperity to poverty, Washington has an opportunity to put the international system back on course.  “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” Ronald Reagan told us.  Yes, now would be an excellent time to do so.

Read Less

But What About the Recovery?

At TNR, Simon Johnson of MIT describes a fundamental disconnect, some would say a bait-and-switch, inherent in the president’s speech:

Are we in danger of losing a decade or not? If we are, then pulling the economy out of its slump should be the top priority and explaining the full strategy for recovery could easily occupy an hour in a major speech. We need to know more, for example, about how the administration wants monetary policy to be handled (as the Fed will listen), and what its global economy strategy will be (because this is a worldwide problem).

If we start to lose a decade–think about zero employment growth for a moment–and don’t have an exit strategy, then no amount of energy, health, and education planning will make a difference.

Well, that’s the heart of the political calculation here. Either the Obama team isn’t sure how to get us out of the slump or figures it will all work out anyway (as these things usually do). Or perhaps they figure that Tim Geithner’s genius will kick in to solve the underlying financial crisis. But the bottom line is the president doesn’t want to spend his time talking about reviving the economy. He spent 90% of his time talking about what he wants to do after or in spite of the recession.

Because, let’s face it: healthcare and education are important topics and key issues, but they have precious little to do with solving our current economic recession. Healthcare coverage may become more problematic in a recession, but it’s not the root cause of our problem. Nor are education or energy policy, for that matter. That’s the “good stuff” Obama wants to skip to by creating huge new programs, expanding the role of government, enhancing dependence on public healthcare, etc.

But we do have to recover first, right? Oh, that. Well, that might involve restoring confidence in the private sector and spurring investment and private job creation. A more focused (“targeted,” I think Larry Summers called it) stimulus might have helped. Some pro-business and pro-investor tax cuts may have aided the process. But now we’re back to hoping Geithner gets his act together and the markets don’t continue their tail-spin. So you can see why Obama would rather talk about other things.

At TNR, Simon Johnson of MIT describes a fundamental disconnect, some would say a bait-and-switch, inherent in the president’s speech:

Are we in danger of losing a decade or not? If we are, then pulling the economy out of its slump should be the top priority and explaining the full strategy for recovery could easily occupy an hour in a major speech. We need to know more, for example, about how the administration wants monetary policy to be handled (as the Fed will listen), and what its global economy strategy will be (because this is a worldwide problem).

If we start to lose a decade–think about zero employment growth for a moment–and don’t have an exit strategy, then no amount of energy, health, and education planning will make a difference.

Well, that’s the heart of the political calculation here. Either the Obama team isn’t sure how to get us out of the slump or figures it will all work out anyway (as these things usually do). Or perhaps they figure that Tim Geithner’s genius will kick in to solve the underlying financial crisis. But the bottom line is the president doesn’t want to spend his time talking about reviving the economy. He spent 90% of his time talking about what he wants to do after or in spite of the recession.

Because, let’s face it: healthcare and education are important topics and key issues, but they have precious little to do with solving our current economic recession. Healthcare coverage may become more problematic in a recession, but it’s not the root cause of our problem. Nor are education or energy policy, for that matter. That’s the “good stuff” Obama wants to skip to by creating huge new programs, expanding the role of government, enhancing dependence on public healthcare, etc.

But we do have to recover first, right? Oh, that. Well, that might involve restoring confidence in the private sector and spurring investment and private job creation. A more focused (“targeted,” I think Larry Summers called it) stimulus might have helped. Some pro-business and pro-investor tax cuts may have aided the process. But now we’re back to hoping Geithner gets his act together and the markets don’t continue their tail-spin. So you can see why Obama would rather talk about other things.

Read Less

No Criticism Allowed

In his blog over at the New Yorker, George Packer writes this:

Unfortunately, [David] Brooks’s fair-minded critique is rare on the right. Most conservative critics of Obama’s first month are not hoping to be proved wrong, as Brooks says he is. Far from it: their dice were loaded from the start. Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, Peter Wehner, and others have already concluded that Obama is a failure, even as they pretend to reserve final judgment. Given the amount of wrongheadedness and damage pundits like these have inflicted on the country in its recent history, the decent thing for them to have done is say nothing for at least six months. They might even have learned something.

Let’s untangle Packer’s arguments.

1. Packer claims that I have “already concluded that Obama is a failure” — even though in the piece he cites, I wrote this:

[W]hile Obama has sent of jolt of energy through the GOP, which is in far stronger shape than anyone could have imagined just a month ago, I hope Obama and his administration can adjust in time. After all, the fate of our country is now tied in large measure to his actions. It’s a bad thing to have as our commander-in-chief a person with, in Krauthammer’s vivid phrase, a “kick me” sign on his back. The first month has been ragged, and some disturbing signs have arisen. It’s still very early — Obama has yet to complete his first full month in office, after all — and he may get his sea legs soon.  He remains a formidable political figure. And sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, while done in a somewhat haphazard way, was reassuring.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

In his blog over at the New Yorker, George Packer writes this:

Unfortunately, [David] Brooks’s fair-minded critique is rare on the right. Most conservative critics of Obama’s first month are not hoping to be proved wrong, as Brooks says he is. Far from it: their dice were loaded from the start. Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, Peter Wehner, and others have already concluded that Obama is a failure, even as they pretend to reserve final judgment. Given the amount of wrongheadedness and damage pundits like these have inflicted on the country in its recent history, the decent thing for them to have done is say nothing for at least six months. They might even have learned something.

Let’s untangle Packer’s arguments.

1. Packer claims that I have “already concluded that Obama is a failure” — even though in the piece he cites, I wrote this:

[W]hile Obama has sent of jolt of energy through the GOP, which is in far stronger shape than anyone could have imagined just a month ago, I hope Obama and his administration can adjust in time. After all, the fate of our country is now tied in large measure to his actions. It’s a bad thing to have as our commander-in-chief a person with, in Krauthammer’s vivid phrase, a “kick me” sign on his back. The first month has been ragged, and some disturbing signs have arisen. It’s still very early — Obama has yet to complete his first full month in office, after all — and he may get his sea legs soon.  He remains a formidable political figure. And sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, while done in a somewhat haphazard way, was reassuring.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Larry Lindsay observes of the stimulus bill: “As soon as it was passed, the administration started backpedaling on how stimulating it will actually be. Instead of January’s projection of 4 million jobs and unemployment peaking in the third quarter of 2009, White House officials are now on the talk shows saying that it will take years for its positive effects to show up. That is kind of late for admitting that their critics’ observations about the bill were right.”

Gabriel Schoenfeld explains who Chas Freeman is and concludes: “Either way, if those complaining loudest about politicized intelligence have indeed placed a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government, it is quite a spectacle. The problem is not that Mr. Freeman will shade National Intelligence Estimates to suit the administration’s political views. The far more serious danger is that he will steer them to reflect his own outlandish perspectives and prejudices.”

More bad economic news: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had decreased moderately in January, declined in February, reaching yet another all-time low.”

Would Congressional Democrats really try to kill school vouchers for poor kids in D.C. by a legislative sleight of hand? Yup.

Maybe the markets are sliding and consumer confidence is down because the public has caught on: the Obama team is obsessed with expanding government, not reviving the private sector. As Craig Shirley put it: “The Obamanoids are singularly indifferent to the productive members of society and are using this economic fiasco as an excuse to grab more power for themselves.” Well, they’ll figure it out sooner or later.

54% of Americans want no more bailouts, according to Rasmussen.

The Democrat in the NY-20 race to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, in addition to having some tax problems, has said some nasty things about the military.

In case you missed it, Tim Geithner and Hillary Clinton had diametrically opposite messages for the Chinese.

Sen. Dick Durbin says of Roland Burris: “People want this Blagojevich burlesque to end.” Well, then Durbin and his colleagues can expel Burris. And all the complaining is getting tiresome — it’s the Democrats own darn fault they have this guy instead of an elected substitute for Obama.

Gallup shows Obama below 60%.

The Democratic Governor of Tennessee is thinking he may not accept the stimulus money for unemployment insurance. I await the “Stimulus Causes Rift Among Democratic Governors” headlines.

Isn’t it time for the MSNBC budget to be listed as an in-kind gift to the DNC? Really, introducing Governor Bobby Jindal with “Oh, God” sort of destroys the illusion that they are in the news business.

Before that unfortunate display, Michael Gerson wrote: “Fairly or unfairly, media and intellectual elites (including some conservative elites) regard Gov. Sarah Palin as an inhabitant of another cultural planet. Jindal, while also religious and conservative, speaks the language of the knowledge class and will not be easily caricatured or dismissed.” Oh yes he will, it seems.

President Obama managed to scare even the Washington Post’s editors: “His priorities for fundamental reform, the causes that animated his campaign, are admirable ones. Yet we cannot help wondering: Isn’t the most critical task to ensure a swift and effective response to the stomach-churning downturn? Does a new, understaffed administration have the capacity to try so much so fast? And does the political system have the bandwidth to accommodate all that Mr. Obama is asking from it?”

Larry Lindsay observes of the stimulus bill: “As soon as it was passed, the administration started backpedaling on how stimulating it will actually be. Instead of January’s projection of 4 million jobs and unemployment peaking in the third quarter of 2009, White House officials are now on the talk shows saying that it will take years for its positive effects to show up. That is kind of late for admitting that their critics’ observations about the bill were right.”

Gabriel Schoenfeld explains who Chas Freeman is and concludes: “Either way, if those complaining loudest about politicized intelligence have indeed placed a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government, it is quite a spectacle. The problem is not that Mr. Freeman will shade National Intelligence Estimates to suit the administration’s political views. The far more serious danger is that he will steer them to reflect his own outlandish perspectives and prejudices.”

More bad economic news: “The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had decreased moderately in January, declined in February, reaching yet another all-time low.”

Would Congressional Democrats really try to kill school vouchers for poor kids in D.C. by a legislative sleight of hand? Yup.

Maybe the markets are sliding and consumer confidence is down because the public has caught on: the Obama team is obsessed with expanding government, not reviving the private sector. As Craig Shirley put it: “The Obamanoids are singularly indifferent to the productive members of society and are using this economic fiasco as an excuse to grab more power for themselves.” Well, they’ll figure it out sooner or later.

54% of Americans want no more bailouts, according to Rasmussen.

The Democrat in the NY-20 race to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, in addition to having some tax problems, has said some nasty things about the military.

In case you missed it, Tim Geithner and Hillary Clinton had diametrically opposite messages for the Chinese.

Sen. Dick Durbin says of Roland Burris: “People want this Blagojevich burlesque to end.” Well, then Durbin and his colleagues can expel Burris. And all the complaining is getting tiresome — it’s the Democrats own darn fault they have this guy instead of an elected substitute for Obama.

Gallup shows Obama below 60%.

The Democratic Governor of Tennessee is thinking he may not accept the stimulus money for unemployment insurance. I await the “Stimulus Causes Rift Among Democratic Governors” headlines.

Isn’t it time for the MSNBC budget to be listed as an in-kind gift to the DNC? Really, introducing Governor Bobby Jindal with “Oh, God” sort of destroys the illusion that they are in the news business.

Before that unfortunate display, Michael Gerson wrote: “Fairly or unfairly, media and intellectual elites (including some conservative elites) regard Gov. Sarah Palin as an inhabitant of another cultural planet. Jindal, while also religious and conservative, speaks the language of the knowledge class and will not be easily caricatured or dismissed.” Oh yes he will, it seems.

President Obama managed to scare even the Washington Post’s editors: “His priorities for fundamental reform, the causes that animated his campaign, are admirable ones. Yet we cannot help wondering: Isn’t the most critical task to ensure a swift and effective response to the stomach-churning downturn? Does a new, understaffed administration have the capacity to try so much so fast? And does the political system have the bandwidth to accommodate all that Mr. Obama is asking from it?”

Read Less

Choosing Friends

Ted Bromund has a very insightful read on the foreign policy portion of last night’s address:

What was most striking about Obama’s remarks on Afghanistan – and Pakistan – was that he defined the problem as defeating Al Qaeda and combating extremism. The latter may, certainly, be a code word for the Taliban. But, equally, by failing to mention the Taliban, Obama has laid the foundations for an attempt to redefine the challenge as one posed by Al Qaeda alone.

If so, the comprehensive strategy that he promises may be one that seeks to reconcile with the Taliban while continuing isolated strikes against terrorist safe havens.

It may seem like a lot to read into the use of one word, but when our president gives us only gaseous pronouncements about responsible withdrawal and fighting the real fight, this kind of analysis is our only recourse. If Bromund is right, it sure will be interesting to see how reconciliation with the most illiberal party in the world will be spun by the most liberal White House in modern times.

Bromund also picked up on some interesting omissions:

This was not an isolationist speech. But it was one in which, with the sole and neutral acknowledgment of Israel, American stood entirely alone. The support of Britain, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands in Afghanistan went unmentioned, as did all of America’s allies in East Asia.

I suppose in cozying up to the Taliban we’d have less need of our long-standing liberal friendships. So much for reestablishing America’s international ties.

Ted Bromund has a very insightful read on the foreign policy portion of last night’s address:

What was most striking about Obama’s remarks on Afghanistan – and Pakistan – was that he defined the problem as defeating Al Qaeda and combating extremism. The latter may, certainly, be a code word for the Taliban. But, equally, by failing to mention the Taliban, Obama has laid the foundations for an attempt to redefine the challenge as one posed by Al Qaeda alone.

If so, the comprehensive strategy that he promises may be one that seeks to reconcile with the Taliban while continuing isolated strikes against terrorist safe havens.

It may seem like a lot to read into the use of one word, but when our president gives us only gaseous pronouncements about responsible withdrawal and fighting the real fight, this kind of analysis is our only recourse. If Bromund is right, it sure will be interesting to see how reconciliation with the most illiberal party in the world will be spun by the most liberal White House in modern times.

Bromund also picked up on some interesting omissions:

This was not an isolationist speech. But it was one in which, with the sole and neutral acknowledgment of Israel, American stood entirely alone. The support of Britain, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands in Afghanistan went unmentioned, as did all of America’s allies in East Asia.

I suppose in cozying up to the Taliban we’d have less need of our long-standing liberal friendships. So much for reestablishing America’s international ties.

Read Less

False Choices, Indeed

Conservatives aren’t the only skeptics when it comes to the president’s grandiose plans. Ruth Marcus writes:

President Obama’s plan to put the country on a sustainable fiscal path hinges on three huge bets. First, that the government can get health-care costs under control even while expanding coverage. Second, that enacting a cap-and-trade emissions plan would generate revenue along with easing global warming. Third, that the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts can be a forcing mechanism to write a saner tax code and bring in more revenue.

Sounds great, but I wouldn’t risk the kids’ college funds on it — if there were any money left in their college funds.

For starters, the goals are mutually contradictory and devoid of realism. Putting in place cap-and-trade regulations for every business limits economic activity. The notion that you’re going to make money on this proposition is analogous to a quack diet promising that you will lose weight eating chocolate cake four times a day. Paying for healthcare for tens of millions of new beneficiaries costs lots of money. You can say you want more healthcare and want to pay less for it, but just saying it and crossing your fingers doesn’t make it remotely feasible.

All of these endeavors require exquisite, near superhuman skill, unlimited funds, and a belief that the people who decided to save AIG and let Lehman Brothers fail, unleashed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae on the subprime lending market, and currently support entrenched special interests (e.g. trial lawyers and Big Labor) are going to get this all “right” — and save money, to boot.

I think Obama was the one who talked about “false choices.” But the notion that you can have it all by government fiat without incurring huge economic cost and wrecking a vibrant economy is the greatest falsehood of them all.

Conservatives aren’t the only skeptics when it comes to the president’s grandiose plans. Ruth Marcus writes:

President Obama’s plan to put the country on a sustainable fiscal path hinges on three huge bets. First, that the government can get health-care costs under control even while expanding coverage. Second, that enacting a cap-and-trade emissions plan would generate revenue along with easing global warming. Third, that the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts can be a forcing mechanism to write a saner tax code and bring in more revenue.

Sounds great, but I wouldn’t risk the kids’ college funds on it — if there were any money left in their college funds.

For starters, the goals are mutually contradictory and devoid of realism. Putting in place cap-and-trade regulations for every business limits economic activity. The notion that you’re going to make money on this proposition is analogous to a quack diet promising that you will lose weight eating chocolate cake four times a day. Paying for healthcare for tens of millions of new beneficiaries costs lots of money. You can say you want more healthcare and want to pay less for it, but just saying it and crossing your fingers doesn’t make it remotely feasible.

All of these endeavors require exquisite, near superhuman skill, unlimited funds, and a belief that the people who decided to save AIG and let Lehman Brothers fail, unleashed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae on the subprime lending market, and currently support entrenched special interests (e.g. trial lawyers and Big Labor) are going to get this all “right” — and save money, to boot.

I think Obama was the one who talked about “false choices.” But the notion that you can have it all by government fiat without incurring huge economic cost and wrecking a vibrant economy is the greatest falsehood of them all.

Read Less

About Last Night

Some thoughts about last night’s address to a joint session of Congress:

1. President Obama is a person of extraordinary, and in some respects phenomenal, political skills. In this regard, he ranks among the best we have seen in the last half-century. It’s not simply his capacity to deliver a speech well; it’s his ability to both frame and explain issues, to employ just the right pitch, to sound reasonable and reassuring. We witnessed a young man at the height of his political power, supremely confident and self-possessed, who is determined to rush through his extremely ambitious agenda. He will probably succeed in getting a lot of it pushed through.

2. The danger for Obama lies in the gap between his command of the theater and aesthetics of politics v. the substance and execution of policy.  The former matters some; the latter matters most, especially when you are attempting to reorganize huge segments of the American economy. And here, I think, is where Obama is vulnerable. The markets — which are not seduced by charm, a million watt smile, and a nice turn of phrase — have reacted quite negatively to Obama’s plans, or in some instances (like banking policy) his failure to produce a plan at all. As one person in the financial world told the Washington Post yesterday, “Basically, the market’s giving you no vote of confidence on the Obama administration’s approach to solving the economic woes the country is facing.” The gap between how Obama described the so-called stimulus bill and the actual legislation underscores my point; contrary to promises of a new approach to politics, the bill embodied the worst of Congress (ramming through a 1,000 page bill, the most costly in our history, without a single member having read it) and the worst of the modern Democratic Party (using an economic crisis to fulfill a decades-old spending wish list). There are costs to things like this. At some point, reality intrudes, and it can be jarring.

3. What was perhaps most striking in the speech is what it ignored: national security. It is kind of extraordinary, really: last week President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, yet there was no effort in last night’s speech to put this decision in any larger context. The same is true of Iraq; almost nothing was said about it. It was almost as if America was not at war and militant Islam has evaporated as a threat. It hasn’t, of course. We can only hope that Obama’s lack of rhetorical interest on national security affairs doesn’t reflect a governing indifference to it. If it does, there are grounds to be quite alarmed. Obama is the only commander-in-chief we have; he cannot simply continue to pretend that part of his job description is an after-thought. As William Kristol put it, “This was not the speech of a man who thinks of himself as a war president. But he is.”

President Obama remains the dominant, and even the overwhelming, political figure in America today. He owns the stage and the spotlight. He also owns the economy and many of the hotspots in the world. When it comes to policy, he is getting his way. We’ll see soon enough if his theories and approach to government are vindicated.

Some thoughts about last night’s address to a joint session of Congress:

1. President Obama is a person of extraordinary, and in some respects phenomenal, political skills. In this regard, he ranks among the best we have seen in the last half-century. It’s not simply his capacity to deliver a speech well; it’s his ability to both frame and explain issues, to employ just the right pitch, to sound reasonable and reassuring. We witnessed a young man at the height of his political power, supremely confident and self-possessed, who is determined to rush through his extremely ambitious agenda. He will probably succeed in getting a lot of it pushed through.

2. The danger for Obama lies in the gap between his command of the theater and aesthetics of politics v. the substance and execution of policy.  The former matters some; the latter matters most, especially when you are attempting to reorganize huge segments of the American economy. And here, I think, is where Obama is vulnerable. The markets — which are not seduced by charm, a million watt smile, and a nice turn of phrase — have reacted quite negatively to Obama’s plans, or in some instances (like banking policy) his failure to produce a plan at all. As one person in the financial world told the Washington Post yesterday, “Basically, the market’s giving you no vote of confidence on the Obama administration’s approach to solving the economic woes the country is facing.” The gap between how Obama described the so-called stimulus bill and the actual legislation underscores my point; contrary to promises of a new approach to politics, the bill embodied the worst of Congress (ramming through a 1,000 page bill, the most costly in our history, without a single member having read it) and the worst of the modern Democratic Party (using an economic crisis to fulfill a decades-old spending wish list). There are costs to things like this. At some point, reality intrudes, and it can be jarring.

3. What was perhaps most striking in the speech is what it ignored: national security. It is kind of extraordinary, really: last week President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, yet there was no effort in last night’s speech to put this decision in any larger context. The same is true of Iraq; almost nothing was said about it. It was almost as if America was not at war and militant Islam has evaporated as a threat. It hasn’t, of course. We can only hope that Obama’s lack of rhetorical interest on national security affairs doesn’t reflect a governing indifference to it. If it does, there are grounds to be quite alarmed. Obama is the only commander-in-chief we have; he cannot simply continue to pretend that part of his job description is an after-thought. As William Kristol put it, “This was not the speech of a man who thinks of himself as a war president. But he is.”

President Obama remains the dominant, and even the overwhelming, political figure in America today. He owns the stage and the spotlight. He also owns the economy and many of the hotspots in the world. When it comes to policy, he is getting his way. We’ll see soon enough if his theories and approach to government are vindicated.

Read Less

Big News at State

Monday evening, the State Department released an announcement that Dennis Ross — who had originally been expected to handle the Iran portfolio for the Obama administration as an ambassador-at-large — will be “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Gulf and Southwest Asia.”

Diplomatically speaking, it was about as quiet as an announcement could be: an after-hours web posting about the intention to “integrate our policy development and implementation across a broad range of offices and senior officials in the State Department.”  Iran was not mentioned in the announcement.

About half of yesterday’s State Department press briefing was taken up with questions about the announcement.  The spokesman described Ross’s role as providing Hillary Clinton with “strategic advice” and ensuring “coherence in our policies and strategies across the region.”  He confirmed that Iran (along with a lot of other countries) is part of the region.  Asked if Ross would have a “specific role in the Iran review,” the spokesman said Clinton “will certainly seek out his advice with regard to, you know, Iran.”

But the spokesman seemed most anxious to make clear what the role will not involve:

Let me be clear, he’s not an envoy. He will not be negotiating. He’ll be working on regional issues. He will not be – in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process. But again, he is going to be advising the Secretary on long-term strategic issues across the region.

Why the emphasis on so many things Ross will not be doing?  There are several possible answers, but one of them undoubtedly lies in the pre-reaction of the country not named in the announcement.  Earlier this month, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Iran had raised a lot of questions about Ross:

In Iran, Mr. Ross has been vilified as too hawkish and too close to Israel and pro-Israel lobbies in the US to be effective.

Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper called Ross, who is Jewish, a “pioneer of the American-Zionist lobby,” whose pick would be an “insult.” [. . .]

A Ross appointment would be “dangerous” and amounts to “shooting the confidence building with the Iranians,” says [former Iranian ambassador to Paris Sadegh] Kharazi, adding that Iranian officials will be reluctant to deal with Ross. [. . .] Iranians are not happy [about] this.”

Iranians are probably happier now.

Monday evening, the State Department released an announcement that Dennis Ross — who had originally been expected to handle the Iran portfolio for the Obama administration as an ambassador-at-large — will be “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the Gulf and Southwest Asia.”

Diplomatically speaking, it was about as quiet as an announcement could be: an after-hours web posting about the intention to “integrate our policy development and implementation across a broad range of offices and senior officials in the State Department.”  Iran was not mentioned in the announcement.

About half of yesterday’s State Department press briefing was taken up with questions about the announcement.  The spokesman described Ross’s role as providing Hillary Clinton with “strategic advice” and ensuring “coherence in our policies and strategies across the region.”  He confirmed that Iran (along with a lot of other countries) is part of the region.  Asked if Ross would have a “specific role in the Iran review,” the spokesman said Clinton “will certainly seek out his advice with regard to, you know, Iran.”

But the spokesman seemed most anxious to make clear what the role will not involve:

Let me be clear, he’s not an envoy. He will not be negotiating. He’ll be working on regional issues. He will not be – in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process. But again, he is going to be advising the Secretary on long-term strategic issues across the region.

Why the emphasis on so many things Ross will not be doing?  There are several possible answers, but one of them undoubtedly lies in the pre-reaction of the country not named in the announcement.  Earlier this month, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Iran had raised a lot of questions about Ross:

In Iran, Mr. Ross has been vilified as too hawkish and too close to Israel and pro-Israel lobbies in the US to be effective.

Iran’s hard-line Kayhan newspaper called Ross, who is Jewish, a “pioneer of the American-Zionist lobby,” whose pick would be an “insult.” [. . .]

A Ross appointment would be “dangerous” and amounts to “shooting the confidence building with the Iranians,” says [former Iranian ambassador to Paris Sadegh] Kharazi, adding that Iranian officials will be reluctant to deal with Ross. [. . .] Iranians are not happy [about] this.”

Iranians are probably happier now.

Read Less

The Insular President

It wasn’t a State of the Union speech, so perhaps it is understandable that the president did not dwell on foreign policy. And it is true that the economy takes front and center these days. But as Bill Kristol notes, the president was so perfunctory in his remarks on national security as to be unserious.

Granted, when you are busy dismantling private enterprise there isn’t much time left in the day for other things, but this is no joke. We have troops on two battlefields, we face two despotic regimes with ambitions for nuclear weapons, and we have unratified and outstanding trade agreements. And all we get is a few campaign throwaway lines about ending the war in Iraq and closing Guantanamo.

The question remains why Obama would just rather not discuss it. Well, he might be uninterested. Or maybe it’s an unpleasant reminder that we need to keep spending money on things other than taking over healthcare and giving cradle to grave education. (Remember the good old days, when it was only cradle to grave healthcare that politicians promised?) It might be that he’d rather not remind the netroots that his national security policies don’t diverge all that much, at least not yet, from his predecessor’s. But it’s a dangerous game to leave the public and the rest of the world in the dark about our obligations and intentions. They might conclude we are unserious or uncommitted.

Interesting, isn’t it, that George W. Bush, who committed to liberating tens of millions of Iraqis, tirelessly advocated free trade, spent billions fighting AIDS in Africa, and negotiated a breakthrough agreement with India, was accused of being insular or disinterested in the world around him. It seems insularity and indifference to a dangerous world are now perfectly acceptable. And it is unnerving.

It wasn’t a State of the Union speech, so perhaps it is understandable that the president did not dwell on foreign policy. And it is true that the economy takes front and center these days. But as Bill Kristol notes, the president was so perfunctory in his remarks on national security as to be unserious.

Granted, when you are busy dismantling private enterprise there isn’t much time left in the day for other things, but this is no joke. We have troops on two battlefields, we face two despotic regimes with ambitions for nuclear weapons, and we have unratified and outstanding trade agreements. And all we get is a few campaign throwaway lines about ending the war in Iraq and closing Guantanamo.

The question remains why Obama would just rather not discuss it. Well, he might be uninterested. Or maybe it’s an unpleasant reminder that we need to keep spending money on things other than taking over healthcare and giving cradle to grave education. (Remember the good old days, when it was only cradle to grave healthcare that politicians promised?) It might be that he’d rather not remind the netroots that his national security policies don’t diverge all that much, at least not yet, from his predecessor’s. But it’s a dangerous game to leave the public and the rest of the world in the dark about our obligations and intentions. They might conclude we are unserious or uncommitted.

Interesting, isn’t it, that George W. Bush, who committed to liberating tens of millions of Iraqis, tirelessly advocated free trade, spent billions fighting AIDS in Africa, and negotiated a breakthrough agreement with India, was accused of being insular or disinterested in the world around him. It seems insularity and indifference to a dangerous world are now perfectly acceptable. And it is unnerving.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.