Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 30, 2009

What If There Had Been Social Networking In Ancient Times?

For your pre-Passover reading pleasure, A Facebook Haggadah.

For your pre-Passover reading pleasure, A Facebook Haggadah.

Read Less

Commentary of the Day

CK MacLeod, on Francis Cianfrocca:

And now the US govt is in the position to back car warranties, UAW interests, a gigantic network of car dealerships, and GM itself, with hiring and firing authority from top to bottom. This goes way beyond mere corruption of the political process, into a transformation of public-private relations – even as the Fed is gradually being transformed before our eyes into the 3rd Bank of the United States, and Congress via TARP yields its constitutional responsibilities and powers to virtually unsupervised and uncontrollable executive branch officials.

One hesitates to bring up fascist economics for fear of being branded an alarmist, or Alexander Hamilton and Nicholas Biddle for fear of being declared irrelevant, but it is no exaggeration to see corporatism on this level as a direct threat to American democracy. It doesn’t matter whether or not Barack Obama, Timothy Geithner, and Ben Bernanke are decent, trustworthy men: We’re on the way to oligarchy, under whatever name and in whatever guise.

Ford and others may even like the prospect of competing with Federal Motors — for a while. But it’s already indirectly financing the bailout of its competitor along with the rest of us, and whatever GM is forced to do will distort what Ford can do, even before legislation or future executive fiat (that’s little f Fiat, though the involvement of Fiat is kind of ironic). Can you really sustain a marketplace that’s half-slave and half-free over the long term?

CK MacLeod, on Francis Cianfrocca:

And now the US govt is in the position to back car warranties, UAW interests, a gigantic network of car dealerships, and GM itself, with hiring and firing authority from top to bottom. This goes way beyond mere corruption of the political process, into a transformation of public-private relations – even as the Fed is gradually being transformed before our eyes into the 3rd Bank of the United States, and Congress via TARP yields its constitutional responsibilities and powers to virtually unsupervised and uncontrollable executive branch officials.

One hesitates to bring up fascist economics for fear of being branded an alarmist, or Alexander Hamilton and Nicholas Biddle for fear of being declared irrelevant, but it is no exaggeration to see corporatism on this level as a direct threat to American democracy. It doesn’t matter whether or not Barack Obama, Timothy Geithner, and Ben Bernanke are decent, trustworthy men: We’re on the way to oligarchy, under whatever name and in whatever guise.

Ford and others may even like the prospect of competing with Federal Motors — for a while. But it’s already indirectly financing the bailout of its competitor along with the rest of us, and whatever GM is forced to do will distort what Ford can do, even before legislation or future executive fiat (that’s little f Fiat, though the involvement of Fiat is kind of ironic). Can you really sustain a marketplace that’s half-slave and half-free over the long term?

Read Less

Is It All About Him?

Senator Corker calls the car company takeover “a power grab.” And it also seems to be a grab for the mere sake of asserting the government’s muscle. If this report is to be believed, then this is all an elaborate charade to hide . . .  yes . . . a good old fashioned bankruptcy proceeding:

The Obama’s administration’s leading plan to fix General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC would use bankruptcy filings to purge the ailing companies of their biggest problems, including bondholder debt and retiree health-care costs, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move would in essence split both companies into their “good” and “bad” components. The government would like to see the “good” GM to be a standalone company, according to an administration official. The “good” Chrysler would be sold to Fiat SpA, assuming that deal is completed, this person said.

GM and Chrysler have had bankruptcy attorneys devising plans for such a move in recent months.

President Barack Obama’s task force has told both companies that the administration prefers this route as a way to reorganize the two auto makers, rather than the prolonged out-of-court process that has thus far frustrated administration officials.

So if they are going to use bankruptcy to “cleanse” debt and rewrite labor agreements why not, you know, just do it? Why make this all about the president throwing his weight around and personally firing the head of a major corporation? You got me. Perhaps there is some hidden economic rationale or required bargaining ploy, but it seems that President Bush and then President Obama should have pointed these companies to the bankruptcy courts some time ago, spared the tax payers billions, and gotten started on the needed restructuring. But that wouldn’t place the president in the center of the action, I suppose.

At some point it becomes clear that this administration’s main goal is not recovery but the elevation of the government, and of this president in particular, above all other economic players. Some would say it’s bold. Others would say it’s the road to tyranny.

Senator Corker calls the car company takeover “a power grab.” And it also seems to be a grab for the mere sake of asserting the government’s muscle. If this report is to be believed, then this is all an elaborate charade to hide . . .  yes . . . a good old fashioned bankruptcy proceeding:

The Obama’s administration’s leading plan to fix General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC would use bankruptcy filings to purge the ailing companies of their biggest problems, including bondholder debt and retiree health-care costs, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move would in essence split both companies into their “good” and “bad” components. The government would like to see the “good” GM to be a standalone company, according to an administration official. The “good” Chrysler would be sold to Fiat SpA, assuming that deal is completed, this person said.

GM and Chrysler have had bankruptcy attorneys devising plans for such a move in recent months.

President Barack Obama’s task force has told both companies that the administration prefers this route as a way to reorganize the two auto makers, rather than the prolonged out-of-court process that has thus far frustrated administration officials.

So if they are going to use bankruptcy to “cleanse” debt and rewrite labor agreements why not, you know, just do it? Why make this all about the president throwing his weight around and personally firing the head of a major corporation? You got me. Perhaps there is some hidden economic rationale or required bargaining ploy, but it seems that President Bush and then President Obama should have pointed these companies to the bankruptcy courts some time ago, spared the tax payers billions, and gotten started on the needed restructuring. But that wouldn’t place the president in the center of the action, I suppose.

At some point it becomes clear that this administration’s main goal is not recovery but the elevation of the government, and of this president in particular, above all other economic players. Some would say it’s bold. Others would say it’s the road to tyranny.

Read Less

Re: Video Greetings Aside . . .

Emanuele, further evidence that movement to Plan B (further sanctions on Iran) is under review: a letter regarding Iran was sent to the President at the end of last week, signed by Rep. Steny Hoyer (House Majority Leader), Rep. Howard Berman (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee), Rep. Ike Skelton (Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) and several other prominent House Democrats (Silvestre Reyes, Henry Waxman, Gary Ackerman, and Robert Wexler). The letter stated they “look forward to the results of your policy review and to the early implementation of your policy of engagement,” but noted that “if we truly mean that Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, urgent action is required today.”

The letter urged that talks with Iran not be deferred until after the Iranian election in June, that suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program had to occur “within at most a few months of the initiation of discussions,” and that if talks do not produce the desired result, the President should take immediate steps “within your legal authority,” including: (a) sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran and international banks doing business with Iranian banks, (b) denying access to American ports to shipping companies whose ships call on Iranian ports, (c) sanctioning insurance companies insuring vessels or aircraft going to Iran, and (d) sanctioning energy companies investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector.

The history of sanctions is not an encouraging one. They did not work with Iraq (quite the contrary). They are not working with North Korea (ditto). They have been in place for 50 years in Cuba without producing the desired results. Unless accompanied by a credible threat of Plan C, they are not likely to be taken seriously, although the threat or imposition of them may be sufficient to produce talks (Plan A).

Unfortunately, the talks are not likely to succeed before the nuclear program does — and then we will be in the same place with Iran as we currently are with North Korea.

Emanuele, further evidence that movement to Plan B (further sanctions on Iran) is under review: a letter regarding Iran was sent to the President at the end of last week, signed by Rep. Steny Hoyer (House Majority Leader), Rep. Howard Berman (Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee), Rep. Ike Skelton (Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) and several other prominent House Democrats (Silvestre Reyes, Henry Waxman, Gary Ackerman, and Robert Wexler). The letter stated they “look forward to the results of your policy review and to the early implementation of your policy of engagement,” but noted that “if we truly mean that Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons, urgent action is required today.”

The letter urged that talks with Iran not be deferred until after the Iranian election in June, that suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program had to occur “within at most a few months of the initiation of discussions,” and that if talks do not produce the desired result, the President should take immediate steps “within your legal authority,” including: (a) sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran and international banks doing business with Iranian banks, (b) denying access to American ports to shipping companies whose ships call on Iranian ports, (c) sanctioning insurance companies insuring vessels or aircraft going to Iran, and (d) sanctioning energy companies investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector.

The history of sanctions is not an encouraging one. They did not work with Iraq (quite the contrary). They are not working with North Korea (ditto). They have been in place for 50 years in Cuba without producing the desired results. Unless accompanied by a credible threat of Plan C, they are not likely to be taken seriously, although the threat or imposition of them may be sufficient to produce talks (Plan A).

Unfortunately, the talks are not likely to succeed before the nuclear program does — and then we will be in the same place with Iran as we currently are with North Korea.

Read Less

Was It Something They Said?

Why did the market tank today? Some analysts think the market was overbought in the last few weeks — a typical bear market rally built on little more than the expectation of things improving. Others are more specific:

Over the weekend the Obama administration forced out the chief executive of General Motors and said that the best chance for success for the struggling auto maker and Chrysler may be bankruptcy. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner meanwhile signaled some banks are still ailing and will need further aid from the government.

At 1:50 p.m, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 302 points. GM shares, which have slumped to their lowest levels in decades in recent months, fell 21%. The administration’s auto task force determined neither GM nor Chrysler put forward viable plans to restructure and survive. Chrysler is closely held.

Strategist Bill King, of M. Ramsey King Securities in Burr Ridge, Ill., said investors are skeptical that the government can engineer a turnaround for the car makers. “These guys have no experience running factories and getting their fingernails dirty,” said Mr. King. “But at the same time, you have them running bigger and bigger chunks of the economy.”

Perhaps the notion of Geithner as director of compensation/CEO headhunter/uber-regulator/bank liquidator doesn’t inspire confidence. Or it may be that everyone is getting out of the market ahead of the jobs numbers and other economic indicators which are due out later in the week. It’s going to be a long and slow climb back for investors, consumers, and businesses — especially those who have come on bended knee to the government.

Why did the market tank today? Some analysts think the market was overbought in the last few weeks — a typical bear market rally built on little more than the expectation of things improving. Others are more specific:

Over the weekend the Obama administration forced out the chief executive of General Motors and said that the best chance for success for the struggling auto maker and Chrysler may be bankruptcy. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner meanwhile signaled some banks are still ailing and will need further aid from the government.

At 1:50 p.m, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 302 points. GM shares, which have slumped to their lowest levels in decades in recent months, fell 21%. The administration’s auto task force determined neither GM nor Chrysler put forward viable plans to restructure and survive. Chrysler is closely held.

Strategist Bill King, of M. Ramsey King Securities in Burr Ridge, Ill., said investors are skeptical that the government can engineer a turnaround for the car makers. “These guys have no experience running factories and getting their fingernails dirty,” said Mr. King. “But at the same time, you have them running bigger and bigger chunks of the economy.”

Perhaps the notion of Geithner as director of compensation/CEO headhunter/uber-regulator/bank liquidator doesn’t inspire confidence. Or it may be that everyone is getting out of the market ahead of the jobs numbers and other economic indicators which are due out later in the week. It’s going to be a long and slow climb back for investors, consumers, and businesses — especially those who have come on bended knee to the government.

Read Less

General Petraeus’s Staff Made Me Do It

Since Friday, Joe Klein has written two more posts about me (here and here) over at his blog at Time. He is enraged at me for my responses to some of Tom Ricks’s arguments. In his latest outburst Klein writes that, to the extent that I was right in supporting the new counterinsurgency plan in Iraq in 2007, I was only obeying “an involuntary lizard reflex.” But he, on the other hand, was wrong about the surge because he had doubts planted by “long conversations with members of the Petraeus staff.”

This is rich: Klein blames his fierce opposition to the surge not on his own intellectual or analytical failures, but on General Petraeus’s staff. The implication is that Joe would have arrived at the right conclusion if left on his own; but in the course of his reporting, he was dissuaded from supporting the surge because of conversations with key people who worked for the key architect of the surge. Next time, Klein might be wiser to simply admit he was wrong and let it go at that.

It’s hard to know what would drive a person like Joe to self-parody. Perhaps Klein, who can be a fine political reporter, somewhere along the way decided he was a deep foreign policy thinker. But his efforts at being a Kissingerian figure keep crashing against his own limitations, as well as his erratic writings and analyses.

On one of the most consequential policy matters of our time, the surge, Klein was as wrong as wrong can be. If we had followed his recommendations, Iraq would have become a scene of mass death and possibly genocide. Militant Islam would have won its most important victory. Iran would have been immensely strengthened. American credibility would have been demolished. And more. None of us can know whether the effort in Iraq will eventually succeed or not; the challenges are still considerable. But we do know that if that we had followed Klein’s counsel on the surge, the Iraq war would have failed and rivers of blood would have followed.

It’s important to add two points. First, it’s not as if Klein supported the surge but thought that, despite being the best option, it still might fail. Rather, he ridiculed the idea of the surge. On April 5, 2007, for example, Klein wrote this:

Never was Bush’s adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. “There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as Daddy’s friends coming to the rescue,” a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Read More

Since Friday, Joe Klein has written two more posts about me (here and here) over at his blog at Time. He is enraged at me for my responses to some of Tom Ricks’s arguments. In his latest outburst Klein writes that, to the extent that I was right in supporting the new counterinsurgency plan in Iraq in 2007, I was only obeying “an involuntary lizard reflex.” But he, on the other hand, was wrong about the surge because he had doubts planted by “long conversations with members of the Petraeus staff.”

This is rich: Klein blames his fierce opposition to the surge not on his own intellectual or analytical failures, but on General Petraeus’s staff. The implication is that Joe would have arrived at the right conclusion if left on his own; but in the course of his reporting, he was dissuaded from supporting the surge because of conversations with key people who worked for the key architect of the surge. Next time, Klein might be wiser to simply admit he was wrong and let it go at that.

It’s hard to know what would drive a person like Joe to self-parody. Perhaps Klein, who can be a fine political reporter, somewhere along the way decided he was a deep foreign policy thinker. But his efforts at being a Kissingerian figure keep crashing against his own limitations, as well as his erratic writings and analyses.

On one of the most consequential policy matters of our time, the surge, Klein was as wrong as wrong can be. If we had followed his recommendations, Iraq would have become a scene of mass death and possibly genocide. Militant Islam would have won its most important victory. Iran would have been immensely strengthened. American credibility would have been demolished. And more. None of us can know whether the effort in Iraq will eventually succeed or not; the challenges are still considerable. But we do know that if that we had followed Klein’s counsel on the surge, the Iraq war would have failed and rivers of blood would have followed.

It’s important to add two points. First, it’s not as if Klein supported the surge but thought that, despite being the best option, it still might fail. Rather, he ridiculed the idea of the surge. On April 5, 2007, for example, Klein wrote this:

Never was Bush’s adolescent petulance more obvious than in his decision to ignore the Baker-Hamilton report and move in the exact opposite direction: adding troops and employing counterinsurgency tactics inappropriate to the situation on the ground. “There was no way he was going to accept [its findings] once the press began to portray the report as Daddy’s friends coming to the rescue,” a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission told me. As with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the decision to surge was made unilaterally, without adequate respect for history or military doctrine.

Democrats in Congress, of course, went well beyond ridicule and tried to hobble the effort by engaging in policies that would undermine the surge’s odds of success. Yet Klein was not only missing in action when it came to holding key Democrats to account; he was supportive of their destructive efforts. Does he blame that on Petraeus’s staff as well?

In his post, Klein writes, “Key members of the team opposed the operation, including Petraeus’s top counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen and others, whose names will remain private because our conversations were.” Mr. Kilcullen can answer for himself whether he, like Klein, was mocking the surge as idiotic at the very time it was being implemented. But I did find interesting a recent interview with Kilcullen, in which he said:

Our biggest problem during the surge was a hostile American Congress. They could have killed the thing. There was really nobody except [Senators] McCain and Lieberman arguing for a continued commitment. So I don’t fault President Bush for pushing General Petraeus forward. I think what he was trying to do was to find a figure with sufficient credibility to restore hope within Congress and to gain a measure of support for the effort from the U.S. domestic population.

And when asked if the U.S. military took too long to change course in Iraq , Kilcullen responded:

I think it took them a historically standard period of time. In Vietnam it took three to four years to reorient. In Malaya the British took about the same amount of time. In Northern Ireland they took longer. The British in Iraq took longer than the Americans in Iraq . And again, it was Petraeus. . . . He put forward this whole change movement within the military. We were almost like insurgents within the U.S. government. My marker of success is that when I first arrived, we had to talk in whispers about stuff that is now considered commonplace. The conventional wisdom now was totally unorthodox in ’04, ’05. [emphasis added]

Let’s just say that David Kilcullen’s rhetoric sounds significantly different from Klein’s.

Second, it’s useful to remind people that Klein told the late Tim Russert (on February 22, 2003) that embarking on the Iraq war was probably the right decision — even though years later Klein, perhaps hoping to distance himself from such compromising comments, referred to the war as “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.” So by his own account, Klein supported both the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American president and also passionately opposed a surge that has, he now concedes, “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

I don’t think Klein should be punished for any of this; I do, however, think he should cease writing as if his utterances came from Mt. Sinai. It’s also reasonable to ask whether, based on his track record, Klein has written anything on Iraq that commends his commentary to the rest of us. Perhaps he should stick to writing on urban affairs.

Joe cannot stand the fact that he was wrong on the surge and has been called out on it; he therefore feels he must try to explain it away. Blaming his errors on General Petraeus’s staff ranks among the most creative explanations one could resort to. That Klein did so tells you almost everything you need to know.

Read Less

The President Must Speak Up

AFP reports:

North Korea is preparing to indict two detained US journalists after it accused them of illegally entering the communist country, state media said early Tuesday.

“The illegal entry of US reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

AFP reports:

North Korea is preparing to indict two detained US journalists after it accused them of illegally entering the communist country, state media said early Tuesday.

“The illegal entry of US reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Read Less

Now Apply That Lesson

The president’s get-tough approach with GM and Chrysler is an exercise in decisive “diplomacy.” (Well, it’s bullying, really, but since the government holds the purse strings and the companies and government are phobic about real bankruptcy, here we are.) The current leader of GM cannot remain. He’s an impediment to change. We have to empower new leadership.  It makes no sense to keep doing what we’ve been doing (shoveling money). Fixed deadlines must be imposed, as well as consequences, should auto execs fail to get their act together. So, some mix of regime change, nonnegotiable deadlines, and fearful negative consequences are crafted to put maximum pressure on a recalcitrant actor who hasn’t been amenable to sweet-talking under multiple presidents.

Gosh, perhaps the president could apply that same hard-headed approach to Iran. Really, does it make sense to keep doing what we’ve been doing for years (talking). Isn’t it time for a firm deadline and some consequences? You’d think the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran would require at least the same level of robust action and no-nonsense pressure being applied to a domestic car company.

The president’s get-tough approach with GM and Chrysler is an exercise in decisive “diplomacy.” (Well, it’s bullying, really, but since the government holds the purse strings and the companies and government are phobic about real bankruptcy, here we are.) The current leader of GM cannot remain. He’s an impediment to change. We have to empower new leadership.  It makes no sense to keep doing what we’ve been doing (shoveling money). Fixed deadlines must be imposed, as well as consequences, should auto execs fail to get their act together. So, some mix of regime change, nonnegotiable deadlines, and fearful negative consequences are crafted to put maximum pressure on a recalcitrant actor who hasn’t been amenable to sweet-talking under multiple presidents.

Gosh, perhaps the president could apply that same hard-headed approach to Iran. Really, does it make sense to keep doing what we’ve been doing for years (talking). Isn’t it time for a firm deadline and some consequences? You’d think the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran would require at least the same level of robust action and no-nonsense pressure being applied to a domestic car company.

Read Less

They’re Doing the J Street Jive

In December 2008, two weeks before Hamas abandoned the six-month lull in its rocket war against Israel, the founder and executive director of the new lobbying group J Street delivered a message via YouTube to potential supporters. Appearing in a crisply pressed pale blue button-down, Jeremy Ben-Ami offered a personalized explanation for why, eight months earlier, he had launched a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that hoped to change the way the United States government dealt with Israel. In an earnest, confessional style, Ben-Ami explained that in past years,

I felt that I didn’t have a voice in American politics when it came to Israel and the Middle East. . . . When I came back [from living in Israel in the late 1990’s] and I told people that I favored a Palestinian state, that I was a supporter of peace, and in recent years when I’ve said that I don’t think it makes sense for us to militarily attack Iran, I was told that I was insufficiently pro-Israel. Well, I’ll tell you, I find that unacceptable. I don’t find it Jewish. I don’t find it American to not allow people to express alternative opinions, and I certainly don’t find it to be pro-Israel. . . . I’ve decided that I had to speak out.

The group Ben-Ami founded seeks to be the vehicle for this protest. It has sought to challenge the ascendancy of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the hub of the legendary “Israel Lobby” in Washington that critics of strong American support for Israel see as a key obstacle to their goal of Middle East peace. While J Street is a tiny operation that cannot match AIPAC in terms of influence and money, in its first year of operation it has gained an inordinate amount of largely favorable press coverage.

The inauguration of a President whom J Street openly backed during the campaign has encouraged the group’s supporters to embrace the conceit that they, and not more established groups, will be more in tune with American foreign policy in the future. As such, its rise must be seen as a development whose impact may well affect the future of pro-Israel forces in this country.

Groups allied with J Street, such as Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and even the well-funded Israel Policy Forum, have all previously jousted with the pro-Israel establishment. But they merely fashioned themselves as openly dovish in policy. J Street’s goals are even more ambitious. It seeks to make its advocacy mainstream by re-branding policies that had been thought to be discredited by the demise of the Oslo Accords as moderate, thus effectively labeling the Jewish mainstream as right-wing and self-destructive.

Click here to read the rest of this Special Preview from the April issue of COMMENTARY.

In December 2008, two weeks before Hamas abandoned the six-month lull in its rocket war against Israel, the founder and executive director of the new lobbying group J Street delivered a message via YouTube to potential supporters. Appearing in a crisply pressed pale blue button-down, Jeremy Ben-Ami offered a personalized explanation for why, eight months earlier, he had launched a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that hoped to change the way the United States government dealt with Israel. In an earnest, confessional style, Ben-Ami explained that in past years,

I felt that I didn’t have a voice in American politics when it came to Israel and the Middle East. . . . When I came back [from living in Israel in the late 1990’s] and I told people that I favored a Palestinian state, that I was a supporter of peace, and in recent years when I’ve said that I don’t think it makes sense for us to militarily attack Iran, I was told that I was insufficiently pro-Israel. Well, I’ll tell you, I find that unacceptable. I don’t find it Jewish. I don’t find it American to not allow people to express alternative opinions, and I certainly don’t find it to be pro-Israel. . . . I’ve decided that I had to speak out.

The group Ben-Ami founded seeks to be the vehicle for this protest. It has sought to challenge the ascendancy of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the hub of the legendary “Israel Lobby” in Washington that critics of strong American support for Israel see as a key obstacle to their goal of Middle East peace. While J Street is a tiny operation that cannot match AIPAC in terms of influence and money, in its first year of operation it has gained an inordinate amount of largely favorable press coverage.

The inauguration of a President whom J Street openly backed during the campaign has encouraged the group’s supporters to embrace the conceit that they, and not more established groups, will be more in tune with American foreign policy in the future. As such, its rise must be seen as a development whose impact may well affect the future of pro-Israel forces in this country.

Groups allied with J Street, such as Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and even the well-funded Israel Policy Forum, have all previously jousted with the pro-Israel establishment. But they merely fashioned themselves as openly dovish in policy. J Street’s goals are even more ambitious. It seeks to make its advocacy mainstream by re-branding policies that had been thought to be discredited by the demise of the Oslo Accords as moderate, thus effectively labeling the Jewish mainstream as right-wing and self-destructive.

Click here to read the rest of this Special Preview from the April issue of COMMENTARY.

Read Less

General Motors Situation Boils Over

When we last visited with General Motors, it was the time of Hanukkah nights and Christmas greetings. GM came within a whisker of running out of cash last December, and was bridged by a quick infusion of TARP cash, in Henry Paulson’s waning days as Treasury Secretary. As a condition of that hurriedly-arranged bridge loan, GM was required to come up with a viable business plan, or else be forced to return the TARP money. That was the headline, anyway. And the plans were due on… March 31.

As I wrote in a series of blog posts back then, there was no way on earth for GM to present a viable, standalone operating plan. Why not? Because the GM menagerie includes one stakeholder that enjoys near-complete political protection: the United Auto Workers.

GM has been losing money for years. It became apparent last summer that they faced a serious cash crunch which would require them to arrange new financing, new capital, or both. Their burn rate at the time left them with 12 to 16 months of runway. That was last summer. Starting in October, the North American vehicle market suddenly collapsed, and has not recovered. In each month since then, not only GM but every major automaker operating in the U.S. has seen declines in sales of anywhere from 20% to over 50%. That’s a shockingly rapid deterioration in such a enormous market.

And just as shockingly, GM went from burning about $1 billion a month to more like $5 billion, by my own calculations (which have been borne out by subsequent events). It was evident by early December that GM was out of cash by New Year’s Day.

Read More

When we last visited with General Motors, it was the time of Hanukkah nights and Christmas greetings. GM came within a whisker of running out of cash last December, and was bridged by a quick infusion of TARP cash, in Henry Paulson’s waning days as Treasury Secretary. As a condition of that hurriedly-arranged bridge loan, GM was required to come up with a viable business plan, or else be forced to return the TARP money. That was the headline, anyway. And the plans were due on… March 31.

As I wrote in a series of blog posts back then, there was no way on earth for GM to present a viable, standalone operating plan. Why not? Because the GM menagerie includes one stakeholder that enjoys near-complete political protection: the United Auto Workers.

GM has been losing money for years. It became apparent last summer that they faced a serious cash crunch which would require them to arrange new financing, new capital, or both. Their burn rate at the time left them with 12 to 16 months of runway. That was last summer. Starting in October, the North American vehicle market suddenly collapsed, and has not recovered. In each month since then, not only GM but every major automaker operating in the U.S. has seen declines in sales of anywhere from 20% to over 50%. That’s a shockingly rapid deterioration in such a enormous market.

And just as shockingly, GM went from burning about $1 billion a month to more like $5 billion, by my own calculations (which have been borne out by subsequent events). It was evident by early December that GM was out of cash by New Year’s Day.

That would have precipitated a totally disastrous Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Why not Chap 11? Because that requires bank finance. I asked several senior Wall Streeters at the time whether they would lend money to GM for DiP financing. Few of the answers were even printable. But one gentleman told me that the only way he would lend was with an explicit government guarantee, and given that, why not just let the government do it?

So was hatched an evil and abortive Congressional rescue plan which would have provided for: 1) Explicit government control of GM and Chrysler LLC, including a commitment by the automakers to favor electric-car production 2) A veiled but unmistakable $500 million subsidy for venture-capital-funded darling Tesla Motors, and 3) explicit protections against reductions in labor costs or health benefits.

GM has many problems, and all of them need to be solved together for this company to have a chance. But if labor costs are protected, there’s simply no chance. Senator Corker of Tennessee thus caused the Congressional bailout to die in committee on December 18. UAW representatives were in the negotiating room alongside Congressional Democrats, and they agreed to let the legislation fail without a vote in the full Senate.

Why? Because they knew that Treasury would not let GM run out of cash at holiday-time, and that the incoming Administration would be friendlier to them. Time was on their side.

That brings us up to today. There’s no way that GM CEO Rick Wagoner could bring all the parties (bondholders, dealers, vendors, and labor) together to agree on major cost cutting, as long as the union held the trump card.

What should happen, given the circumstances? GM should be taken into government conservatorship (the rough equivalent of an 11 filing, but with taxpayers funding their losses). The many healthy parts of GM (including the overseas operations and the technology groups, including the Chevy Volt project) should be sold off as market conditions permit, with the proceeds from asset sales to benefit the Treasury.

The common stockholders would be toast. The bondholders would convert to equity at 30 cents. The dealer network would be largely wound down (GM has 6500 dealers; Toyota Motor, with nearly the same U.S. sales volume, has fewer than 1500). And critically, the union would take job losses and wage/benefit cuts.

But that’s not going to happen. Given that Congress is thoroughly unwilling to force the union to suffer, it’s more likely that we’ll see an outcome analogous to the nationalization of British Leyland. That means an open-ended commitment of taxpayer funds to cover the losses of an entity that is insulated from competition, and does its marketing in order to appeal to its government overseers rather than to its customers.

It would be a monumental act of hubris for President Obama to assume that he’s qualified to be an ex officio CEO. Unfortunately, that’s the sense that he’s conveying at the moment.

Read Less

Re: Don Barack

GM’s fired CEO Rick Wagoner deserves no defense and few will offer one. Nevertheless, the notion that the administration is now calling the shots on everything from employee compensation to CEO terminations is a sobering one. As this report notes:

The Obama administration used the threat of withholding more bailout money to force out General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, marking one of the most dramatic government interventions in private industry since the economic crisis began last year.

In wrestling with the economic crisis, the government has demanded the ouster of the head of American International Group Inc., but only as it took a majority shareholder position. In this case, the administration has ousted a major CEO as part of an ongoing restructuring.

The move also indicates that the Treasury Department intends to wade more deeply than most observers expected into the affairs of the country’s largest and oldest car company.

There are a few noteworthy points (in addition to the observation that “private industry” is a quaint but increasingly out-of-date term to describe the supplicants who have come to the government for assistance).

First, the government and car companies made a fuss over the unacceptability of bankruptcy. The company couldn’t possibly file for bankruptcy because consumers would lose faith in the viability of the companies and stop buying cars. But what is this process — cutting bond holders, struggling to pare back union obligations, and decapitating management other than a quasi-bankruptcy (with administration political appointees in the place of impartial judges)?

Second, this is what executives should expect once they come hat-in-hand to the government. They may lose their independence — and ultimately their jobs. At least this administration intends to run the companies it seizes, at great expense to the taxpayers and with multiple and conflicting objectives (e.g., protect unions, create clean cars, make the business profitable). Executives and their shareholders should be forewarned.

Finally, if the government is seeking to substantially downsize these companies (supposedly reducing their workforce as well) why are the taxpayers spending tens of billions of dollars? It is hard to fathom the rationale for spending that sort of money on firms which will  employ fewer and fewer employees and be a smaller and smaller contributor to the overall economy. Really, we could have given each employee a $100,000 in severance and be done with it.

GM’s fired CEO Rick Wagoner deserves no defense and few will offer one. Nevertheless, the notion that the administration is now calling the shots on everything from employee compensation to CEO terminations is a sobering one. As this report notes:

The Obama administration used the threat of withholding more bailout money to force out General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, marking one of the most dramatic government interventions in private industry since the economic crisis began last year.

In wrestling with the economic crisis, the government has demanded the ouster of the head of American International Group Inc., but only as it took a majority shareholder position. In this case, the administration has ousted a major CEO as part of an ongoing restructuring.

The move also indicates that the Treasury Department intends to wade more deeply than most observers expected into the affairs of the country’s largest and oldest car company.

There are a few noteworthy points (in addition to the observation that “private industry” is a quaint but increasingly out-of-date term to describe the supplicants who have come to the government for assistance).

First, the government and car companies made a fuss over the unacceptability of bankruptcy. The company couldn’t possibly file for bankruptcy because consumers would lose faith in the viability of the companies and stop buying cars. But what is this process — cutting bond holders, struggling to pare back union obligations, and decapitating management other than a quasi-bankruptcy (with administration political appointees in the place of impartial judges)?

Second, this is what executives should expect once they come hat-in-hand to the government. They may lose their independence — and ultimately their jobs. At least this administration intends to run the companies it seizes, at great expense to the taxpayers and with multiple and conflicting objectives (e.g., protect unions, create clean cars, make the business profitable). Executives and their shareholders should be forewarned.

Finally, if the government is seeking to substantially downsize these companies (supposedly reducing their workforce as well) why are the taxpayers spending tens of billions of dollars? It is hard to fathom the rationale for spending that sort of money on firms which will  employ fewer and fewer employees and be a smaller and smaller contributor to the overall economy. Really, we could have given each employee a $100,000 in severance and be done with it.

Read Less

The Saudi Hard Sell

The viability of the Saudi Plan for Middle East piece, also known as the Arab Initiative, will be discussed over the coming weeks. One source of the soaring interest is the Doha convention of Arab leaders this week; another source is the coalition agreement between Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor’s Ehud Barak, which explicitly announces the new Israeli government’s commitment “to reach a comprehensive regional peace agreement.”

In the past months, the Saudis have actively tailored their “plan” to win over public opinion. Aside from the public-relations carrots, they have also employed the stick (aimed, as always, at Israel):

If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia — it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

They apparently believe threats can persuade the world, and perhaps even Israelis, to accommodate Saudi intentions. The rhetoric emanating from the Arab League summit in Qatar was certainly in this vein, as exemplified by this paragraph from a proposed statement:

The peace initiative being proposed today will not be on offer for a long time. Arab commitment to this initiative is dependent on Israeli acceptance.

The question is: why? Why is it necessary to time the proposal and resort to such threats? What are they trying to say? What would happen if the proposed initiative isn’t promptly accepted by Israel? Will they have another, better offer? Or are they implying it’s either their way or the highway? Insisting on the need to negotiate quickly is one thing — threatening to take the offer off the table is quite another. In fact, I can’t recall any Israeli leader ever threatening Arabs that Israel will cease to seek peace unless they immediately accept whatever terms Israel is proposing.

The viability of the Saudi Plan for Middle East piece, also known as the Arab Initiative, will be discussed over the coming weeks. One source of the soaring interest is the Doha convention of Arab leaders this week; another source is the coalition agreement between Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor’s Ehud Barak, which explicitly announces the new Israeli government’s commitment “to reach a comprehensive regional peace agreement.”

In the past months, the Saudis have actively tailored their “plan” to win over public opinion. Aside from the public-relations carrots, they have also employed the stick (aimed, as always, at Israel):

If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact – especially its “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia — it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine.

They apparently believe threats can persuade the world, and perhaps even Israelis, to accommodate Saudi intentions. The rhetoric emanating from the Arab League summit in Qatar was certainly in this vein, as exemplified by this paragraph from a proposed statement:

The peace initiative being proposed today will not be on offer for a long time. Arab commitment to this initiative is dependent on Israeli acceptance.

The question is: why? Why is it necessary to time the proposal and resort to such threats? What are they trying to say? What would happen if the proposed initiative isn’t promptly accepted by Israel? Will they have another, better offer? Or are they implying it’s either their way or the highway? Insisting on the need to negotiate quickly is one thing — threatening to take the offer off the table is quite another. In fact, I can’t recall any Israeli leader ever threatening Arabs that Israel will cease to seek peace unless they immediately accept whatever terms Israel is proposing.

Read Less

Does It Matter Yet?

Back in early January (which seems eons ago) Eve Fairbanks opined that the Democratic corruption scandals (then Blago, Bill Richardson, Kwame Kilpatrick, and a sprinkling of Charlie Rangel news) didn’t “matter” because the scandals were on the state or local level, weren’t intertwined, didn’t involve top leadership, and didn’t arise in a political atmosphere where the president was already in political hot water. ( An interesting admission that “The Abramoff stuff [and then, towards the end, Mark Foley] only made a difference because the bloom was already off the GOP rose anyway, thanks to George W. Bush.”) She did allow for these factors to change, and recently they have.

So far damage control isn’t going well for the Democrats. The scandals are increasingly national and do involve top leadership. Charlie Rangel’s problems have multiplied. Chris Dodd (with new scandals breaking every day) is the poster boy for Democrats’ financial scandals, and Jack Murtha is now front and center in a growing web of Abramoff-like corruption.

The New York Times reports on the emergence of lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, head of the lobbying firm PMA Group, as a central player in a network of corruption after a series of FBI raids:

And many on Capitol Hill, recalling the scandal that mushroomed around the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are wondering who else will be ensnared in the investigation as prosecutors pore over the financial records and computer files of one of K Street’s most influential lobbyists, known both for the billions of dollars in earmarks he obtained for his clients and for his open hand toward those he sought to influence.

Former PMA staff members familiar with the inquiry say prosecutors’ initial questions have focused on the possibility that Mr. Magliocchetti used straw campaign contributors — a Florida sommelier and a golf club executive, for example, appear to have given large sums in coordination with PMA — as a front to funnel illegal donations to friendly lawmakers, a felony that could carry a minimum sentence of five years.

Other reports have suggested that the trail of PMA lobbying activities is taking investigators to “Democrats Peter Visclosky of Indiana, Jim Moran of Virginia and others on the defense appropriations subcommittee that Murtha chairs.”

So far we’re three for three on Fairbanks’s list. It’s true that Obama’s polling numbers are nowhere near George W. Bush’s. But they are floating down to earth. More to the point, even a popular president is unlikely to save Congressional colleagues snared in a web of corruption and self-dealing. (Bill Clinton’s popularity was in the mid to high 40s in 1994 when his party lost 54 seats in the House.)

So perhaps the corruption is starting to matter.

Back in early January (which seems eons ago) Eve Fairbanks opined that the Democratic corruption scandals (then Blago, Bill Richardson, Kwame Kilpatrick, and a sprinkling of Charlie Rangel news) didn’t “matter” because the scandals were on the state or local level, weren’t intertwined, didn’t involve top leadership, and didn’t arise in a political atmosphere where the president was already in political hot water. ( An interesting admission that “The Abramoff stuff [and then, towards the end, Mark Foley] only made a difference because the bloom was already off the GOP rose anyway, thanks to George W. Bush.”) She did allow for these factors to change, and recently they have.

So far damage control isn’t going well for the Democrats. The scandals are increasingly national and do involve top leadership. Charlie Rangel’s problems have multiplied. Chris Dodd (with new scandals breaking every day) is the poster boy for Democrats’ financial scandals, and Jack Murtha is now front and center in a growing web of Abramoff-like corruption.

The New York Times reports on the emergence of lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, head of the lobbying firm PMA Group, as a central player in a network of corruption after a series of FBI raids:

And many on Capitol Hill, recalling the scandal that mushroomed around the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, are wondering who else will be ensnared in the investigation as prosecutors pore over the financial records and computer files of one of K Street’s most influential lobbyists, known both for the billions of dollars in earmarks he obtained for his clients and for his open hand toward those he sought to influence.

Former PMA staff members familiar with the inquiry say prosecutors’ initial questions have focused on the possibility that Mr. Magliocchetti used straw campaign contributors — a Florida sommelier and a golf club executive, for example, appear to have given large sums in coordination with PMA — as a front to funnel illegal donations to friendly lawmakers, a felony that could carry a minimum sentence of five years.

Other reports have suggested that the trail of PMA lobbying activities is taking investigators to “Democrats Peter Visclosky of Indiana, Jim Moran of Virginia and others on the defense appropriations subcommittee that Murtha chairs.”

So far we’re three for three on Fairbanks’s list. It’s true that Obama’s polling numbers are nowhere near George W. Bush’s. But they are floating down to earth. More to the point, even a popular president is unlikely to save Congressional colleagues snared in a web of corruption and self-dealing. (Bill Clinton’s popularity was in the mid to high 40s in 1994 when his party lost 54 seats in the House.)

So perhaps the corruption is starting to matter.

Read Less

Don Barack

When the Godfather helps you out, you owe the Godfather. And you’d better comply when the favor is called in. That appears to be the model the Obama administration is following when it comes to companies that accept federal bailout money — and, in one case, the “favors” owed are being called in.

General Motors accepted $9.4 billion dollars in bailout money, and has a request pending for another $16.6 billion. The latter hasn’t been granted, but we now see some indication of the unwritten price for those loans.

First up, the obligatory human sacrifice.

Rick Wagoner was not a great CEO for General Motors. Indeed, it’s arguable that he should have been forced out a long time ago. But it should not have been done by the federal government. That is simply too much power for the government to exert over private industry.

In this case, though, it’s being justified by the government loaning the troubled giant so much money. As the old saying goes, when you take the king’s gold, you play the king’s tune.

Traditionally, such “favors” would include the hiring of various politicians’ and supporters’ relatives, channeling contracts to preferred companies and vendors, and the like. But that’s “old” politics. The Obama administration is all about “new” politics. That means that simple greed takes a back seat to ideology.

Wagoner’s head is most likely the first demand from the Obama administration. It’s not hard to see future demands GM may face:

• The death of SUVs.

• More development resources into hybrid, electric, hydrogen, and other alternative-fuel vehicles.

• More concessions to the UAW and other unions.

• GM changing its tune on a host of issues, such as fuel efficiency standards, tightening emissions, and safety regulations.

In other words,  GM will be used to pay off various Democratic interests and constituencies.

This should come as no surprise. As Obama himself said in justifying his actions, “I won.” To the victor belong the spoils.

The treatment of GM should stand as a stark reminder that all things from the federal government come at a very hefty price. There is no way to calculate that price before you sign away your independence.

When the Godfather helps you out, you owe the Godfather. And you’d better comply when the favor is called in. That appears to be the model the Obama administration is following when it comes to companies that accept federal bailout money — and, in one case, the “favors” owed are being called in.

General Motors accepted $9.4 billion dollars in bailout money, and has a request pending for another $16.6 billion. The latter hasn’t been granted, but we now see some indication of the unwritten price for those loans.

First up, the obligatory human sacrifice.

Rick Wagoner was not a great CEO for General Motors. Indeed, it’s arguable that he should have been forced out a long time ago. But it should not have been done by the federal government. That is simply too much power for the government to exert over private industry.

In this case, though, it’s being justified by the government loaning the troubled giant so much money. As the old saying goes, when you take the king’s gold, you play the king’s tune.

Traditionally, such “favors” would include the hiring of various politicians’ and supporters’ relatives, channeling contracts to preferred companies and vendors, and the like. But that’s “old” politics. The Obama administration is all about “new” politics. That means that simple greed takes a back seat to ideology.

Wagoner’s head is most likely the first demand from the Obama administration. It’s not hard to see future demands GM may face:

• The death of SUVs.

• More development resources into hybrid, electric, hydrogen, and other alternative-fuel vehicles.

• More concessions to the UAW and other unions.

• GM changing its tune on a host of issues, such as fuel efficiency standards, tightening emissions, and safety regulations.

In other words,  GM will be used to pay off various Democratic interests and constituencies.

This should come as no surprise. As Obama himself said in justifying his actions, “I won.” To the victor belong the spoils.

The treatment of GM should stand as a stark reminder that all things from the federal government come at a very hefty price. There is no way to calculate that price before you sign away your independence.

Read Less

Will It Work?

In a must-read piece, William Stuntz argues that historically top-down, micro-management as a mode of governance has been less than successful. More Lincoln and less FDR, he contends, would serve us well. He concludes:

The lesson seems clear enough. Banking on the innovation, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit of ordinary Americans is smart policy. Betting on the wisdom of staffers in the White House and on Capitol Hill isn’t.

Saving the nation’s banks may be an unavoidably complex enterprise that necessarily depends on the judgment of those who craft the relevant strategy. Not so the rest of Obama’s agenda. On health care, John McCain’s campaign proposal offers a good model: Create a working national market for health insurance that is not tied to employers. Then, let the medical and insurance markets work, as they will. With respect to education, Congress could give troubled school systems money for more charter schools–the best education idea of the last generation–then step back and watch test scores rise. As for greener energy, a wise Congress would take two steps. First, fund the construction of nuclear power plants, which would create jobs and provide greener energy than oil and coal. Second, fund energy research. According to Bjorn Lomborg, that is the only cost-effective move on climate change. America has the best scientists in the world. Given the needed funds, there are few problems they cannot solve.

Unfortunately, the president and congressional Democrats are placing a different bet. They seem to believe that America has the best politicians in the world–that, given enough tax dollars, there is no problem they cannot solve. We will see who wins that bet. America’s taxpayers may turn out to be the losers.

(Many would argue that even in the banking crisis, the less wizardry from Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke the better.)

The Obama team is betting that the lack of confidence in the business sector and free markets more generally has given them an opening to try things and expand government in ways which the public would normally not tolerate. But we may, in fact, be experiencing a crisis in confidence in all large institutions and a general skepticism about the ability of government. Certainly, the AIG debacle was not a confidence builder.

But aside from the “Can we get away with it?” query, the Obama administration has spent precious little time arguing whether such massive intervention is likely to produce beneficial results and whether they have the expertise to intervene in every nook and cranny of the economy. They are liberals, so they simply assume it is so.

Stuntz makes an important contribution by raising a fundamental question: why should we believe the Obama administration’s micro-management is going to be any more successful than past efforts?

In a must-read piece, William Stuntz argues that historically top-down, micro-management as a mode of governance has been less than successful. More Lincoln and less FDR, he contends, would serve us well. He concludes:

The lesson seems clear enough. Banking on the innovation, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit of ordinary Americans is smart policy. Betting on the wisdom of staffers in the White House and on Capitol Hill isn’t.

Saving the nation’s banks may be an unavoidably complex enterprise that necessarily depends on the judgment of those who craft the relevant strategy. Not so the rest of Obama’s agenda. On health care, John McCain’s campaign proposal offers a good model: Create a working national market for health insurance that is not tied to employers. Then, let the medical and insurance markets work, as they will. With respect to education, Congress could give troubled school systems money for more charter schools–the best education idea of the last generation–then step back and watch test scores rise. As for greener energy, a wise Congress would take two steps. First, fund the construction of nuclear power plants, which would create jobs and provide greener energy than oil and coal. Second, fund energy research. According to Bjorn Lomborg, that is the only cost-effective move on climate change. America has the best scientists in the world. Given the needed funds, there are few problems they cannot solve.

Unfortunately, the president and congressional Democrats are placing a different bet. They seem to believe that America has the best politicians in the world–that, given enough tax dollars, there is no problem they cannot solve. We will see who wins that bet. America’s taxpayers may turn out to be the losers.

(Many would argue that even in the banking crisis, the less wizardry from Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke the better.)

The Obama team is betting that the lack of confidence in the business sector and free markets more generally has given them an opening to try things and expand government in ways which the public would normally not tolerate. But we may, in fact, be experiencing a crisis in confidence in all large institutions and a general skepticism about the ability of government. Certainly, the AIG debacle was not a confidence builder.

But aside from the “Can we get away with it?” query, the Obama administration has spent precious little time arguing whether such massive intervention is likely to produce beneficial results and whether they have the expertise to intervene in every nook and cranny of the economy. They are liberals, so they simply assume it is so.

Stuntz makes an important contribution by raising a fundamental question: why should we believe the Obama administration’s micro-management is going to be any more successful than past efforts?

Read Less

Video Greetings Aside . . .

For those who think Airforce One is about to land in Tehran, a string of recent statements from Barack Obama’s closest associates tell another story. Not only has the President gone on record in support of tougher sanctions; not only has he reconfirmed Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey to his post as U.S. sanctions pointman against Iran; now President Obama has had two top figures speak officially to pour cold water on the engagers’ enthusiasm.

Speaking on Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union, Af-Pak special envoy, Richard Holbrooke expressed scepticism of any diplomatic breakthrough with Iran at the Afghanistan conference due to take place tomorrow in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, appeared on Fox News on the same day to express his own doubts about diplomacy, indicating a strong preference for sanctions. As reported by AFP, Gates said,”I think frankly from my perspective the opportunity for success is probably more in economic sanctions in both places (Iran and North Korea) than it is in diplomacy.” The Pentagon chief added, “Diplomacy perhaps if there is enough economic pressure placed on Iran, diplomacy can provide them an open door through which they can walk if they choose to change their policies.” Holbrooke said that, “what gets them to the table is economic sanctions.”

If this is the engagement President Obama has in mind, I can’t wait to see it.

For those who think Airforce One is about to land in Tehran, a string of recent statements from Barack Obama’s closest associates tell another story. Not only has the President gone on record in support of tougher sanctions; not only has he reconfirmed Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey to his post as U.S. sanctions pointman against Iran; now President Obama has had two top figures speak officially to pour cold water on the engagers’ enthusiasm.

Speaking on Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union, Af-Pak special envoy, Richard Holbrooke expressed scepticism of any diplomatic breakthrough with Iran at the Afghanistan conference due to take place tomorrow in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, appeared on Fox News on the same day to express his own doubts about diplomacy, indicating a strong preference for sanctions. As reported by AFP, Gates said,”I think frankly from my perspective the opportunity for success is probably more in economic sanctions in both places (Iran and North Korea) than it is in diplomacy.” The Pentagon chief added, “Diplomacy perhaps if there is enough economic pressure placed on Iran, diplomacy can provide them an open door through which they can walk if they choose to change their policies.” Holbrooke said that, “what gets them to the table is economic sanctions.”

If this is the engagement President Obama has in mind, I can’t wait to see it.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Admiral Blair buys into the Blogger Lobby explanation for Chas Freeman’s downfall. Really, did he learn nothing from the episode, even after the paranoid parting missive from Freeman? I suppose no one has yet informed him that Freeman signed a petition in favor of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Michael O’Hanlon offers some constructive criticism and gives a “B+” to Obama’s Afghanistan policy.

Let me get this straight:  the losing 2008 GOP candidate’s preferences for the next race three and a half years from now is news? Puleez.

On a more relevant topic, John McCain does effectively rebut the charge that the GOP is only saying “no”: “Well, we did have an alternative to the stimulus package, we had an alternative to–on the omnibus bill.  We will have an alternative budget.  And so the–I, I understand the White House saying that.  But the White House, in order to have legitimacy to that charge, has got to give me one example where on a major issue we’ve sat across a table negotiating, each putting forth their proposals and reaching a compromise.  As far as I can tell, on any domestic issue that hasn’t happened.”

An interesting take on the New Jersey gubernatorial race: “In the gubernatorial campaign of 2005, Jon Corzine’s Wall Street background was, in figurative terms, an eagle for him, enabling him to fly above the crowd of potential rivals for the governorship.  Four years later, in 2009, his Wall Street background has been transformed by negative events from an eagle into an albatross, which, together with other factors, are literally sinking his reelection campaign.” Corzine’s been trying to spin tales of “his past civil wars within Goldman-Sachs with Hank Paulson.” Good luck with that.

Victoria Toensing warns the corporate titans: “Welcome AIG, Citicorp, GM and other stimulees to the financial controls of the stimulator, the federal government. But wait, it is now not just the recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money and other taxpayer funds who are to be regulated. According to ‘sources,’ the White House is considering salary controls for ‘all financial institutions’ and ‘publicly traded companies,’ not just those receiving ‘federal bailout money.'”

President Obama’s comments on Iraq could have been delivered by President Bush: “I think the plan that we put forward in Iraq is the right one, which is let’s– have a very gradual withdrawal schedule through the national elections in Iraq. There’s still work to be done on the political side– to resolve differences between the various sectarian groups around issues like oil– around issues like provincial elections.”

Bill Sammon on the administration’s uber-regulatory schemes: “I think conservatives are rightly concerned that Obama is using this as a pretext for a wide power grab. Never waste a good crisis seems to be the motto of this administration. And I think the fear is that, A, you can’t — I think conservatives feel they can’t trust this administration to grab that much governmental authority, where you’re regulating not just banks but insurance companies, and hedge funds and a whole host of financial institutions. And B, and perhaps more importantly, can you trust future administrations to do this? Who knows who’s going to be in power in the future? And you’re going to give this broad authority that you’ll never get back.”

How long before the stock market regains all its lost ground? “No one really knows, but that is likely the wrong question. More important to investors than the date we hit bottom is how long the recovery will take. How long will it take for investors to recoup the losses they suffered since October 2007, when the S&P 500 index reached a record high of 1565? Here’s a clue: It will take longer than you think.” Uh oh.

Admiral Blair buys into the Blogger Lobby explanation for Chas Freeman’s downfall. Really, did he learn nothing from the episode, even after the paranoid parting missive from Freeman? I suppose no one has yet informed him that Freeman signed a petition in favor of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Michael O’Hanlon offers some constructive criticism and gives a “B+” to Obama’s Afghanistan policy.

Let me get this straight:  the losing 2008 GOP candidate’s preferences for the next race three and a half years from now is news? Puleez.

On a more relevant topic, John McCain does effectively rebut the charge that the GOP is only saying “no”: “Well, we did have an alternative to the stimulus package, we had an alternative to–on the omnibus bill.  We will have an alternative budget.  And so the–I, I understand the White House saying that.  But the White House, in order to have legitimacy to that charge, has got to give me one example where on a major issue we’ve sat across a table negotiating, each putting forth their proposals and reaching a compromise.  As far as I can tell, on any domestic issue that hasn’t happened.”

An interesting take on the New Jersey gubernatorial race: “In the gubernatorial campaign of 2005, Jon Corzine’s Wall Street background was, in figurative terms, an eagle for him, enabling him to fly above the crowd of potential rivals for the governorship.  Four years later, in 2009, his Wall Street background has been transformed by negative events from an eagle into an albatross, which, together with other factors, are literally sinking his reelection campaign.” Corzine’s been trying to spin tales of “his past civil wars within Goldman-Sachs with Hank Paulson.” Good luck with that.

Victoria Toensing warns the corporate titans: “Welcome AIG, Citicorp, GM and other stimulees to the financial controls of the stimulator, the federal government. But wait, it is now not just the recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money and other taxpayer funds who are to be regulated. According to ‘sources,’ the White House is considering salary controls for ‘all financial institutions’ and ‘publicly traded companies,’ not just those receiving ‘federal bailout money.'”

President Obama’s comments on Iraq could have been delivered by President Bush: “I think the plan that we put forward in Iraq is the right one, which is let’s– have a very gradual withdrawal schedule through the national elections in Iraq. There’s still work to be done on the political side– to resolve differences between the various sectarian groups around issues like oil– around issues like provincial elections.”

Bill Sammon on the administration’s uber-regulatory schemes: “I think conservatives are rightly concerned that Obama is using this as a pretext for a wide power grab. Never waste a good crisis seems to be the motto of this administration. And I think the fear is that, A, you can’t — I think conservatives feel they can’t trust this administration to grab that much governmental authority, where you’re regulating not just banks but insurance companies, and hedge funds and a whole host of financial institutions. And B, and perhaps more importantly, can you trust future administrations to do this? Who knows who’s going to be in power in the future? And you’re going to give this broad authority that you’ll never get back.”

How long before the stock market regains all its lost ground? “No one really knows, but that is likely the wrong question. More important to investors than the date we hit bottom is how long the recovery will take. How long will it take for investors to recoup the losses they suffered since October 2007, when the S&P 500 index reached a record high of 1565? Here’s a clue: It will take longer than you think.” Uh oh.

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.