The Obama meltdown was surely not entirely caused by Obama. However, it would seem that there is more than coincidence at work when the market is down 40% since he took a permanent lead in the campaign, 30% since the election, 25% since the first of the year when he began announcing policy and personnel and 20% since the inauguration. On an absolute scale, this is the most rapid destruction of wealth in history.
Re: his healthcare and energy bait and switch, I could be wrong, but my analogy would be that Obama inherited a boat that needed a significant overhaul including varnish, new sails and, probably, eventually, better food and medical stores. He’s found himself in the middle of a boat threatening hurricane and — great news! — he’s working to get that varnish on.
Posts For: March 6, 2009
Abe, perhaps we owe Tim Geithner an apology. We found it incompressible that a sophisticated man who received and signed multiple acknowledgments of his tax obligations could have “forgotten” to pay his taxes. And we doubted that he could have “forgotten” once he was audited to go back and pay the full tax liability beyond the statute of limitations. We assumed he was a petty thief.
But from everything we’ve seen in the last month Geithner appears to be an easily distracted under-achiever, unable to complete projects (i.e. a comprehensive bailout bill), and entirely incapable of locating good help. He is plainly and painfully overwhelmed — and the markets are entirely underwhelmed. So maybe he was telling the truth. He is not dishonest, he is simply unable to manage his responsibilities — both personal and professional.
I wonder how the senators who voted for the “indispensable man” feel now.
The dust-up over the appointment of Chas Freeman pick for chairman of the National Intelligence Council showed the fault lines along which the pro-Israel and the pressure-Israel lobbies in Washington will divide. As I wrote last week, the willingness of the Jewish left to weigh in on that issue in favor of Freeman showed that the J Street and Israel Policy Forum crowd is determined to back anything that they suspect will undermine the position of Israel’s supporters in the new administration. The battle over Freeman is far from finished. With Democrats like Sen. Charles Schumer now asking questions about him, it’s worth asking what will be the next big battle on this front?
The answer may come from the massive aid-package that Obama is proposing to give the Palestinians to rebuild Gaza. Some $600 million of a $900 million stimulus-package is supposed to be used by the good-guy Palestinians (more specifically, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad) and not by Hamas, but Fayyad has no authority in Gaza. The rest of the money will probably be funneled into the United Nations Relief Works Agency, which means it is likely to aid Hamas one way or the other.
The good news is that some members of Congress, which must approve at least $745 million of the package, are asking questions about how the money will be used and who will get it. The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that Nevada Democrat Shelly Berkley has written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that restrictions be placed on the aid upon receipt of the money. Possible conditions could include the cessation of rocket fire from Gaza into Southern Israel and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Even more to the point, Congress’s demand for transparency could strip away the veil of humanitarianism from what may turn out to be a billion-dollar terrorist boondoggle.
This is an issue that supporters of Israel — Jews and non-Jews alike — should jump on. Americans do not want their tax money going to Hamas surrogates or being used to reinforce Palestinian extremism. On the other hand, we can expect opposition to demands for Palestinian accountability from those who value a peace process concerned only with pressuring Israel.
This may well turn out to be a replay of the 1990′s, when the Clinton administration and some supporters of Israel went all out to oppose any restrictions on aid to Yasser Arafat and his corrupt, terrorist-infested Palestinian Authority. That whitewash of the P.A. set the tone for the follies of the Oslo era. After having seen the price of that policy paid in Israeli blood, will the Obama administration and the Jewish left pick up where Clinton left off? It will be up to those who care about Israel — Democrats and Republicans, Jews and non-Jews — to try and avoid a repeat of that error.
Conservatives may be out of power, but they may not be permanently out of favor. The great danger for conservatives before the onset of the Obama administration (in those heady days when the transition was running smoothly) was not that he’d turn out to be the greatest leftist ever to occupy the White House, but that he’s be a more successful and popular version of Bill Clinton — dominating the vast middle of the political spectrum and pushing the conservatives out onto a sliver of the political landscape.
Had he done that, conservatives would be irrelevant and without purpose or direction. But he chose not to do that. Instead he veered left. Michael Gerson, therefore, has it backwards when he writes:
American conservatism — intellectually ascendant during three decades in which relatively low taxes and a stable money supply produced the greatest accumulation of national wealth in history — is now staring into an abyss. It has been voted to the edge of political irrelevance, assaulted by a European-style budget and overshadowed by a new president of colossal skills and unexpected ambition.
Actually it is liberalism that is staring into the abyss, or, more accurately, over the cliff – where the economy and the markets are heading. The deepening of the recession, the devastation of Americans’ portfolios and 401K accounts, the very real potential for stagflation, and the co-dependent corporate socialism between an incompetent bureaucracy and incompetently managed firms are what lay ahead, if Obama “succeeds.” In that event, it would not be conservatism that’s discredited, but liberalism.
In the meantime, conservatives have found intellectual coherence. You say a movement can’t be based on a negative proposition — “No On Obamaism” ? We forget how instrumental Carterism was to the rise of Reaganism. And, moreover, it has been a long time since conservatives were buzzing about defending free market capitalism, explaining the efficacy of low taxes, and instructing their fellow citizens on the relative growth rates in the U.S. and Europe. Conservatives finally have a purpose and a mission: defense of the free market. That’s as positive a message as a political movement could hope to find.
And if Obama is rebuffed and changes course then conservatives will take pride in having pulled him back from the abyss. And if he plunges on, conservatives will be there to pick up the pieces. Just as Margaret Thatcher did in Britain and Ronald Reagan did in America, as Pete Wehner reminded us. Until you suspend the laws of economics and extinguish Americans’ love of individual liberty, conservatives will not be facing the abyss. Only when they neglect both do they face ruin.
It is my somber duty to relay that, according to Reuters, “The Arctic is warming up so quickly that the region’s sea ice cover in summer could vanish as early as 2013[.]”
I must admit, sad as I am, I’m mostly confused. I read last June that “for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.” “This year” is now last year, and the iceless age never came to pass. Plus, I’ve been prepared for the balmy Arctic of 2013 ever since Al Gore announced last July, “there is now a 75 percent chance that within five years the entire ice cap will completely disappear during the summer months.” However, I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I read in the San Francisco Chronicle the following September: “The consensus of most sea-ice scientists is that the Arctic could be free of ice in the summer between 2030 and 2040.”
Complicating matters further, President Obama said of climate change, “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.”
The president vowed to “restore science to its rightful place.” If that is to mean anything, it should mean restoring skepticism and objectivity to their rightful places within the sphere of scientific inquiry.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing yesterday on “U.S. Strategy on Iran.” In his opening statement, Chairman John Kerry began by striking a note of realism:
[W]e must be honest with ourselves: we will not solve this problem just by talking directly to Tehran. While Iran was just talking to the IAEA and the Europeans, it deftly sidestepped every supposed red-line laid down by the international community.
Then he proposed that the “international community” lay down another red line:
Iran’s leaders need to understand that the full weight of the international community will come down on them if Iran continues to defy the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency. . . .
For diplomacy to succeed, we will need the full backing of our allies in Europe as well as Russia, China and other countries that trade extensively with Iran. We must quickly engage with those countries and construct a robust, sustainable strategy. . . .
In short, we need to act boldly, wisely, and quickly with our allies and partners to win agreement on the way forward, and to engage Iran backed by real consequences for its continued noncompliance.
It was a triumph of adjectival diplomacy: a “robust, sustainable” strategy, with “real” consequences, involving the “full” weight of the international community, with “full” backing for the strategy from every relevant country in the world, leading to actions that are “bold, wise and quick.”
Kerry’s words are not likely to produce concern in Iran, which will read his statement as another indication the U.S. is not prepared to act on its own, nor ultimately to use force (Kerry’s statement did not even include the previously standard reference to all options remaining on the table), and that President Obama’s reference to Iranian nuclear weapons as “unacceptable” can safely be considered just another adjective.
The AP had a (not-so accurate) summary of the Chas Freeman debacle that appeared at MSNBC’s website and in the International Herald Tribune. The latter is a New York Times publication; the Times has avoided any mention of the entire matter. It would seem to be part of a pattern of other appointment glitches – the surgeon general and two treasury deputies — and at least worthy of mention as part of the general theme of “vetting gaffes,” yet the Gray Lady remains mum.
(The MSNBC talking heads did tip-toe into the subject with Madeline Albright who studiously avoided saying anything nice about Freeman.)
Nor is the Washington Post much better. It carried Jonathan Chait’s op-ed and it appeared in its separate Plum Line blog, but the story does not appear in the main publication’s news coverage.
And what exactly is the excuse for the silence? It is a stunning gaffe and a prime example of the ongoing sense that the wheels have fully come off the vetting/appointment bus. One wonders why major publications feel the need to conceal this from their readers.
Following the Obama administration’s foreign policy isn’t easy. The president appears to be simultaneously pursuing both dialogue with and outreach toward Iran, while also trying to isolate the Islamic Republic.
A willingness to talk to the Iranians was a hallmark of the president’s campaign pitch, and the invitation to Tehran to take part in talks on Afghanistan is consistent with that way of thinking. On the other hand, Obama’s not-so-secret letter to Russia, offering to pass on the installation of missile defenses in former Soviet-bloc satellites in exchange for Moscow’s help in stopping the Iranian nuclear program, shows that the administration is aware of the Iranian danger (even if this gambit was absurd in its abandonment of our Eastern European allies or expectation of any aid from Putin). The idea of an opening to Syria (ably explored by Bret Stephens in the March issue of COMMENTARY) is also supposed to be part of the isolation strategy. So, too, was Hillary Clinton’s tough talk about Iran during her tour of the region this week.
Obama apologists will say that exploring all these options is merely prudent. It shows Tehran that we are flexible enough to engage them if they want to talk and tough enough to isolate them if not.
But the problem with this is that the conflicting messages that Washington is sending will most likely convince the Iranians that we aren’t really serious about doing what we must to halt their nuclear ambitions. Do the ayatollahs take Obama seriously? No one thinks this administration will ever use force to stop Iran. And there are indications that, far from being ready to join in a more concerted effort at tougher and more meaningful sanctions, our European allies seem more interested in pushing Israel to talk to Tehran’s ally, Hamas, than doing anything about Iran.
It may be that this administration is far too engrossed in its pursuit of economic folly to present a coherent foreign policy strategy to the world. Obama may wrongly believe that there is no real urgency to doing something about Iran. And he may think letting Clinton and George Mitchell traipse around the Middle East, talking up a peace process that has literally no chance of success, will do no harm. But if the cumulative effect of this scatter-gun approach is to convince our allies that we don’t care enough about what is important (like stopping Iran) and that, even worse, we care a lot about doing things (like pressuring Israel) that will damage our security and that of our allies, the results will be calamitous. Sooner or later, blaming it all on George W. Bush (the administration’s favorite talking point on any issue) will cease to excuse such failures.
Bloomberg isn’t buying the Obama administration’s “not our fault” take on the stock-market crash. So Robert Gibbs will now have to add that entire news service, along with the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, Rick Santelli, and Jim Cramer to his list of supposed know-nothings who are too dense to appreciate the brilliance of Tim Geithner and the efficacy of a spending orgy, tax hikes, nationalization of healthcare and major industries, and cap and trade. Bloomberg reports:
“It’s the Obama bear market,” said Dan Veru, who helps oversee $2.8 billion at Palisade Capital Management in Fort Lee, New Jersey. “We don’t know what the rules are in so many different areas the government is touching.”
[ . . .]
“Obama should be listening to the stock market more than talking to it,” said Kenneth Fisher, the billionaire chairman of Woodside, California-based Fisher Investments Inc., which oversees $22 billion. “He hasn’t gotten out of the gate well.”
Like the old joke: if people tell you that you’re drunk, perhaps it’s time to sit down.
And ABC’s the Note gets into the act with a jab at the PR-obsessed president who might not get the big picture on a day when unemployment hits 8.1%:
From the White House, on the president’s trip Friday: “The President will deliver remarks at the Columbus Police Graduation Exercises. The 25 Columbus police recruits graduating Friday learned in January that instead of being sworn-in as officers, they would be let go. However, Mayor Michael Coleman announced last week that he would use money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pay the recruits’ salaries so they could keep their jobs.”
Yes, 25 jobs. Just wait until that new Arby’s opens out on Route 50. . . .
Yowser. And then on a more serious and entirely cogent note, Rick Klein asks:
On a policy level, how long before the Wall Street tumble and other awful economic news will force a major re-thinking of the Obama economic strategy? (Can you say, “Stimulus: The Sequel”?)
On a political level, how long can the president muster the public support for his prescriptions, without tangible evidence that they’re working? (Can he get there without buy-in from economic commentators?) (And if he can’t stock his Cabinet, can he fix an economy?)
Now, imagine an alternative Obama program: Following the atrocious announcement of 8.1% unemployment, he hits the “reset” button. He announces there will be a two-year moratorium on corporate taxes. He cuts the payroll taxes. He declares he will veto the omnibus spending bill and that he intends to keep government’s share of GDP below 20% so as not to duplicate the pattern of other hobbled economies with enormous welfare-state obligations. He announces a “recovery first” program in which cap and trade, healthcare, and card check will be declared “long-term” goals – but not the focus of his time or attention so long as we are in a recession. And then he replaces Tim Geithner with Martin Feldstein. Would the bear market end? Would 401K values and confidence rise? Would business executives rally to his side?
If you want to be in the business of economic recovery you need to do things to encourage that. If you want to be in the business of conducting a grand social experiment, you ignore the advice and pleas of just about everyone with a stake or expertise in the economy. And then you watch the markets continue to dive.
Timothy Geithner’s pick for deputy, Annette Nazareth, has made “a personal decision” to bow out of the interview and vetting process. At this point, it’s not the particular case of Nazareth that’s newsworthy. As the AP reports:
Five weeks into his tenure, [Geithner] has yet to name a single top deputy or assistant secretary. This has left Treasury with too few people authorized to make decisions or represent the department in meetings with stakeholders.
Thank goodness we all managed to overlook the tax problems of this “indispensable” Obama pick. The AP gets some Wall Street reaction:
“This doesn’t help confidence,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York. “Geithner is stuck there all by himself trying to do everything. They don’t have anybody confirmed, and Treasury is a big shop to try to run with one person, especially right now.”
Wyss, who previously worked at the Federal Reserve, said the administration needed to have made a much bigger push before taking office to get people cleared to take over the top jobs at Treasury so that Geithner could assemble his team quickly.
A bigger push? Why? Just to still the “day-to-day gyrations” of an inconsequential stock market? Hasn’t Wall Street heard? What we need right now is healthcare reform. And that can’t wait on economic recovery. Geithner can continue to relax.
The Obama administration, for obvious reasons, won’t cop to their own radicalism. They are just “pragmatic,” they intone. They really are interested in budgetary sobriety — well not now, but later. All of this stems from a realization that the electorate did not vote for radicalism and, when quizzed on specifics, is not in favor of spending gobs of money or seeing government bailouts. But facts are stubborn things.
Michael Boskin writes:
Mr. Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget blueprint, by his own admission, redefines the role of government in our economy and society. The budget more than doubles the national debt held by the public, adding more to the debt than all previous presidents — from George Washington to George W. Bush — combined. It reduces defense spending to a level not sustained since the dangerous days before World War II, while increasing nondefense spending (relative to GDP) to the highest level in U.S. history. And it would raise taxes to historically high levels (again, relative to GDP). And all of this before addressing the impending explosion in Social Security and Medicare costs.
Mainstream reporters and liberal pundits roll their eyes when conservatives talk about Obama’s desire to drag us toward a western socialist model. But this is precisely what is going on. Deeming the Obama agenda “bereft of rigorous analysis and a careful reading of history,” Boskin concludes:
On the growth effects of a large expansion of government, the European social welfare states present a window on our potential future: standards of living permanently 30% lower than ours. Rounding off perceived rough edges of our economic system may well be called for, but a major, perhaps irreversible, step toward a European-style social welfare state with its concomitant long-run economic stagnation is not.
Democrats may shrink from the label “socialist,” but they can’t deny the scope and direction of the president’s agenda. More important, they’re not embracing a model which has (ever?) succeeded in producing growth and prosperity. So whatever you call it, it is not a recipe for recovery.
I happened to be in Jerusalem last July when a terrorist first utilized a bulldozer to attack civilians. In reaction, I wrote on this blog,
with 3 dead and 57 wounded, a silver lining is difficult to find. But if there’s one, it must be that this attack was not more severe. The terrorist’s means seem to have been limited. Jabr Duwait, the attacker, used a Caterpillar, meant to be used for construction projects, as his murder weapon. This suggests that the Israeli Defense Force is successfully limiting the influx of violent, more deadly, armament–e.g. guns and bombs.
Yesterday, another attack of this kind occurred: a bulldozer indiscriminately targeting anyone in its path was driven down a Jerusalem street. The police and other security personnel were prepared and thus able to neutralize the threat before anyone could be murdered. Only two people were injured, which sounds miraculous considering the driver rammed his bulldozer into a bus filled with school children. The attack was, as the Jerusalem Post notes, “the fourth of its kind in the capital in eight months.”
The best news — if it can even be called that — is what has not happened in the last eight months. There have been neither homicide bombings nor any shooting rampages in Israel’s capital.
Hamas continues to launch rockets into southern Israel, and the necessity of future Gaza operations remains an open question, but one may find some solace in the fact that Israel’s domestic terrorists have been left with little more than construction equipment for weapons.
Obama’s reliance on the teleprompter is unusual — not only because he is famous for his oratory, but because no other president has used one so consistently and at so many events, large and small.
That’s a bit of a non sequitur since that “oratory” was, of course, generally written down and read. But still, should we care?
Well, it is interesting in two respects. First, candidate Obama generated the illusion of competence and fluency on issues without ever imparting much substance. Hope, change, and meeting with Ahmadinejad are not exactly well-developed policy positions. And he got through debates, but as we know these are little more than a collection of pre-prepared soundbites to be thrown out whenever a question wanders into the subject matter of a rehearsed line.
So it shouldn’t come as any shock that a president who had less public-service experience than any previous inhabitant of the White House should need, as Politico so indelicately put it, “a crutch” to keep him from straying off topic or committing a gaffe. And when he briefly does fly “solo,” it gets dicey. Maybe all that thoughtful looking into the distance doesn’t equate to mastery of policy nuance. Once again, this governing stuff is tougher than campaigning.
Second, the press isn’t covering up for him. He used teleprompters quite liberally on the campaign trail — and was ribbed by conservative bloggers. His “umms” and “ahhs” were neatly edited out of transcripts by helpful MSM outlets. But now, as members of the media edge ever so slightly back into their day jobs perhaps it really is time to level with the American people. That would be a nice change of pace.
But whether he uses a crutch or not, the substance of what he says is far more important. Frankly, few conservatives would begrudge a cue card that read, “We need for now to lower taxes” or a teleprompter which spat out, “On second thought, cap and trade won’t do much without China and India in the mix.”
Last night, due to growing opposition, the Senate delayed action on the $410 billion omnibus spending bill, which includes more than 8,500 earmarks. Majority Leader Reid must find one more vote to reach the 60 needed to break a Republican-led filibuster.
This provides President Obama with an opportunity to reboot, at least to some degree, his presidency. As Jennifer has documented quite well, we are seeing moderate liberal and moderate conservatives who in the past have expressed admiration for Obama — people like David Brooks, David Gergen, Stuart Taylor, Christopher Buckley, and others — raise serious concerns about the course and direction of his presidency, especially because of the fiscal path he is pursuing.
If what Barack Obama said during the campaign about his fierce opposition to earmarks was true, this is a terrific chance for him to show it. If he were to veto this legislation, or return it to Congress with stern instructions to rework the legislation in a way that was free of earmarks, it would be a gutsy and admirable thing to do. It would show he is impressively independent of Congressional Democrats and is willing to fulfill his promise of “change” and page-turning politics. It would also be quite popular in the country.
Few people question Barack Obama’s talent. The question for many of us, including those of us who have spoken well of him in the past, is whether his actions as president align with his words as candidate; whether the hope he seemed to embody was real or imagined. The early returns are disappointing, to say the least, whether it involves his massive spending proposals, the violation of his own ethics rules relating to lobbyists, his unwillingness to engage Republicans in a serious bi-partisan way, or his Administration’s childish effort to target Rush Limbaugh and rely on the coarse political tactics of Paul Begala, James Carville, and Rahm Emanuel.
President Obama has a chance to begin to live up to the promise he showed on the campaign trail. Vetoing this legislation is a great place to start.
I’m not into twittering — but this might be a good use for it.
The administration needs a new surgeon general. “Several other candidates are now under serious consideration, including Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, according to people who have been briefed on the situation.” Now if that’s not the perfect preparation for the Obama administration I don’t know what is.
Is all the president’s data on health care as junky as his bankruptcy statistic? Let’s hope not.
Howard Kurtz asks if the Obama adminstration got caught in the Rush Limbaugh gambit with its cynicism and hypocrisy showing.
Pat Toomey is in the Pennsylvania senate race, it is reported. It is debatable whether he or Arlen Specter would have a better chance to hold the seat but the fact of a primary challenge is bringing a smile to the faces of conservatives. Sill, is there really any sign Specter cares about conservative opinion?
“Every time the government tries to do something they make things worse,” says Peter Schiff.
Fred Barnes is onto the scam: “Given the moderate-to-conservative viewpoint of voters, Obama has a motive in pushing to have his uniformly liberal agenda approved by Congress as rapidly as possible–before voters catch on to the fact it’s not what they voted for.”
Or to put it differently, the Wall Street Journal editors conclude that “economies don’t spiral down forever without a reason and without policy encouragement. What’s worrying about the plunge in equities since January 2, and especially in the last week since Mr. Obama released his radical budget, is that it has come amid the unveiling of the President’s policy agenda. Equity prices have reacted to those proposals by signaling that they expect a much deeper and longer recession.”
Max Baucus discovers we are not Canada. Perhaps he could explain to the president we are not Western Europe.
Would card check cost jobs? “For every three percentage points gained in union membership through card checks and mandatory arbitration, the following year’s unemployment rate is predicted to increase by one percentage point and job creation is predicted to fall by around 1.5 million jobs.”
But don’t take that economist’s word for it. Larry Summers knows: “High union wages that exceed the competitive market rate are likely to cause job losses in the unionized sector of the economy.”
It’s about time: “Top General Motors Corp. executives are more open to a speedy bankruptcy reorganization financed by the government, pushing aside earlier concern that such a move would scare away so many customers the company wouldn’t survive, said a person familiar with the matter.”
Did Obama cause the stock crash? A lot of business people think “the honeymoon is over”: ”[A]mong investors, fairly or unfairly, there is griping that the new Obama Administration is at least partly to blame for the recent slide in stocks. Since Nov. 4, Election Day, the broad Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index is off about 25%, and since Jan. 20, when Obama took office, the “500″ is down 15%. . . Obama and Geithner missed the chance—if they ever had such an opportunity—to “wow” the market and help restore some market confidence early in his Administration.”
Dumping the gaffe-prone Virginia state GOP chair would probably be a welcome development for the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
When Republicans stand firm they can at least delay bad things from happening: “Senate Republicans blocked a $410 billion omnibus spending measure on Thursday night, forcing Congressional Democrats to prepare a stop-gap budget resolution to keep the federal government from shutting down. The delay of the bill was a setback for the Obama administration and a striking, if temporary, victory for critics of so-called earmark spending initiatives, who had criticized the bill as bloated with wasteful expenditures.”
Richard Just asks an excellent question: why aren’t Stephen Walt and his ilk more upset about Chas Freeman’s “views on how authoritarian governments should treat their own people–a topic they don’t seem to want to engage”?
Rich Lowry pens a devastating column on Freeman. Apparently Democrats have stopped caring about the politicization of intelligence.
Charles Krauthammer calls Obama on the bait-and-switch: “Clever politics, but intellectually dishonest to the core. Health, education and energy — worthy and weighty as they may be — are not the cause of our financial collapse. And they are not the cure. The fraudulent claim that they are both cause and cure is the rhetorical device by which an ambitious president intends to enact the most radical agenda of social transformation seen in our lifetime.” Actually the proposals not only aren’t the cure, the taxes and regulatory regime which accompany these plans are likely to make things worse.
One can only applaud the enterprise of the Obama administration in trying to formulate new approaches to difficult situations in such places as Russia, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Unfortunately there is scant cause to think they will be successful.
The Russian government has already brushed off the administration’s suggested qui pro quo: that the U.S. would be willing to cancel the missile defense system scheduled to be built in the Czech Republic and Poland if the Russians do more to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
This offer rested on two fanciful assumptions. First, that the Russians could do much to stop the Iranian nuclear program at this late stage when the Iranians already have enough low-enriched uranium to make a bomb. Second, that the Russians genuinely care about the handful of missile-interceptors to be based in Poland. It has been clear all along that this does not present a serious threat to Russia. Putin only raised a hue and cry about it in order to further the myth that Russia is being “surrounded” and “threatened” by the U.S. and its allies — a necessary lie in order to justify his accumulation of dictatorial power. Putin has little incentive to harmonize relations with the U.S., which would deprive him of the enemy he needs to continue ruling Russia. And he has much incentive to keep the Middle East in an uproar, which will help inflate the price of oil, the one commodity keeping Russia from utter pauperhood.
One assumes that the administration’s Syria gambit will be similarly ill-fated, for reasons ably dissected by Bret Stephens in the March issue COMMENTARY.
What about the administration brainstorm to hold an international confab on the future of Afghanistan with all the major players invited-including Iran? The administration seems to think that it can somehow resurrect the brief moment in 2002 when Iran was mildly helpful to efforts in the Bonn Process to create a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This had much to do with Iran’s historical antipathy to the Taliban who, as Salafist fanatics, were (and are) anti-Shiite.