Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 8, 2009

Our Friends, the Poles

In light of President Obama’s returning home empty-handed after pleading with our European allies to boost their troop commitments to Afghanistan, it’s heartening to see that Poland has announced plans to increase its troop presence in the country by 20%. This is no small thing, considering that the primary threat to Poland is a revanchist Russia and that the diversion of troops and military material anywhere out of the country reduces its defenses against the expansionist power to its east. Poland has been one of America’s most steadfast allies since 9/11, a strong coalition partner in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bedrock of NATO. It’s long past time that this nascent democracy got the respect it deserves.

Though he was much derided for it at the time, Donald Rumsfeld was onto something when, in response to complaints that “Europe” opposed the American-led war against Saddam Hussein’s regime, he spoke of people’s tendency to conflate the entire European continent with what was really just “Old Europe,” and even more specifically, was just France and Germany. The rest of the continent, he said, in particular the once-”captive nations” of the Cold War, are far more pro-American in their attitudes. What might have sounded provincial and simplistic six years ago to some, was in fact quite prescient.

In light of President Obama’s returning home empty-handed after pleading with our European allies to boost their troop commitments to Afghanistan, it’s heartening to see that Poland has announced plans to increase its troop presence in the country by 20%. This is no small thing, considering that the primary threat to Poland is a revanchist Russia and that the diversion of troops and military material anywhere out of the country reduces its defenses against the expansionist power to its east. Poland has been one of America’s most steadfast allies since 9/11, a strong coalition partner in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bedrock of NATO. It’s long past time that this nascent democracy got the respect it deserves.

Though he was much derided for it at the time, Donald Rumsfeld was onto something when, in response to complaints that “Europe” opposed the American-led war against Saddam Hussein’s regime, he spoke of people’s tendency to conflate the entire European continent with what was really just “Old Europe,” and even more specifically, was just France and Germany. The rest of the continent, he said, in particular the once-”captive nations” of the Cold War, are far more pro-American in their attitudes. What might have sounded provincial and simplistic six years ago to some, was in fact quite prescient.

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Commentary of the Day

melk, on Abe Greenwald:

There’s moral equivalence and there’s moral idiocy. No Jew here or anywhere else has sat in her synagogue on a Friday night and listened to her rabbi screeching about Death to the Muslims. And there are plenty of American and Israeli Jews allied with the Palestinian cause.

The President’s position is reminiscent of those who felt that we had gulags and political prisoners just like the Soviets did. Like Mumia, for example. And that Iran is just as terrified of an Israeli nuclear attack as the Israelis are in terms of Iran. Suicide bombers can only be motivated by barbaric Israeli practices. What else could drive people to such despair?

The IDF is just like the Wehrmacht except for the detail that the Palestinian population just keeps growing, unlike those sickly European Jews. Welcome to Bizarro World.

And Happy Passover to all our Muslim friends.

melk, on Abe Greenwald:

There’s moral equivalence and there’s moral idiocy. No Jew here or anywhere else has sat in her synagogue on a Friday night and listened to her rabbi screeching about Death to the Muslims. And there are plenty of American and Israeli Jews allied with the Palestinian cause.

The President’s position is reminiscent of those who felt that we had gulags and political prisoners just like the Soviets did. Like Mumia, for example. And that Iran is just as terrified of an Israeli nuclear attack as the Israelis are in terms of Iran. Suicide bombers can only be motivated by barbaric Israeli practices. What else could drive people to such despair?

The IDF is just like the Wehrmacht except for the detail that the Palestinian population just keeps growing, unlike those sickly European Jews. Welcome to Bizarro World.

And Happy Passover to all our Muslim friends.

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Bow? What Bow?

The White House is now denying Obama bowed before the Saudi King. He is much taller, we are told, so when he grasped the King’s hand  . . .  at that point the spin loses me. Watch for yourself. The man bowed. He may have made a mistake. He might now feel self-conscious. But he bowed.

It really is maddening enough that the president asks us to deny the laws of economics, the tenets of sound national security, and to accept the untruths perpetually tumbling from his lips (e.g. he doesn’t like big government, he is not naive). Now he says everyone else’s eyes deceive them.

Sometime it is best to admit error and move on rather than suggest you are seeking to deceive others. They might get the idea you have lost touch with reality — or are asking them to.

The White House is now denying Obama bowed before the Saudi King. He is much taller, we are told, so when he grasped the King’s hand  . . .  at that point the spin loses me. Watch for yourself. The man bowed. He may have made a mistake. He might now feel self-conscious. But he bowed.

It really is maddening enough that the president asks us to deny the laws of economics, the tenets of sound national security, and to accept the untruths perpetually tumbling from his lips (e.g. he doesn’t like big government, he is not naive). Now he says everyone else’s eyes deceive them.

Sometime it is best to admit error and move on rather than suggest you are seeking to deceive others. They might get the idea you have lost touch with reality — or are asking them to.

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Those Pesky Democrats

The Democrats, if united, wouldn’t need the Republicans to push through the Obama agenda. But time and again we have seen resistance — to reconciliation as a means of pushing through cap-and-trade and health-care, to limits on deductibility of charitable donations, and to card check. Moderate and conservative Democrats have not been shy about speaking up when they think the president is out of step with their constituents. The same may be true on defense cuts. We have this report:

Something to watch for for: Dems in Congress who, worried about cuts to defense programs in their states in the proposed restructuring of the Pentagon budget, cross over into questioning Obama’s commitment to national security.

We now have our first candidate: Blue Dog Dem Dan Boren of Oklahoma.

[. . .]

Now Boren has added his voice to Inhofe’s chorus. “The administration’s announcement today of sweeping changes to key defense programs is a significant concern,” Boren said in a statement posted, tellingly, on Inhofe’s Web site. “Even in tough economic times, providing a strong national defense for the American people should remain a top priority of the federal government.”
Boren added that “it is important that we empower our military commanders by providing the resources they need” and called for the Obama administration to “keep these realities firmly in mind.”
The key is that Boren is treating it as an open question whether strong national defense is a “top priority” for Obama and whether he’s keeping the need to arm military commanders “firmly in mind.” The only other Dem to criticize the overhaul, Alaska Senator Mark Begich, stuck to substantive criticism and didn’t go this far.

Of course Boren’s criticism is substantive — the president is shortchanging defense.

Now on Iraq and Afghanistan the president has abandoned his netroot base and pursued the goals laid out by the Bush administration — a free and functioning Iraq and victory in Afghanistan. But he risks rekindling the same “weak on defense” arguments with which Republicans used to bash Democrats. Some Democrats apparently don’t feel comfortable being on the wrong side of this issue.

Ultimately there are a variety of issues — some parochial and some very “substantive,” which will motivate congress to look carefully at the Obama defense cuts. But if we have seen any consistent pattern it is that moderate and conservative Democrats perceive that their interests don’t coincide with the president’s. A workable centrist  block in congress may emerge on defense spending and other issues. Stay tuned.

The Democrats, if united, wouldn’t need the Republicans to push through the Obama agenda. But time and again we have seen resistance — to reconciliation as a means of pushing through cap-and-trade and health-care, to limits on deductibility of charitable donations, and to card check. Moderate and conservative Democrats have not been shy about speaking up when they think the president is out of step with their constituents. The same may be true on defense cuts. We have this report:

Something to watch for for: Dems in Congress who, worried about cuts to defense programs in their states in the proposed restructuring of the Pentagon budget, cross over into questioning Obama’s commitment to national security.

We now have our first candidate: Blue Dog Dem Dan Boren of Oklahoma.

[. . .]

Now Boren has added his voice to Inhofe’s chorus. “The administration’s announcement today of sweeping changes to key defense programs is a significant concern,” Boren said in a statement posted, tellingly, on Inhofe’s Web site. “Even in tough economic times, providing a strong national defense for the American people should remain a top priority of the federal government.”
Boren added that “it is important that we empower our military commanders by providing the resources they need” and called for the Obama administration to “keep these realities firmly in mind.”
The key is that Boren is treating it as an open question whether strong national defense is a “top priority” for Obama and whether he’s keeping the need to arm military commanders “firmly in mind.” The only other Dem to criticize the overhaul, Alaska Senator Mark Begich, stuck to substantive criticism and didn’t go this far.

Of course Boren’s criticism is substantive — the president is shortchanging defense.

Now on Iraq and Afghanistan the president has abandoned his netroot base and pursued the goals laid out by the Bush administration — a free and functioning Iraq and victory in Afghanistan. But he risks rekindling the same “weak on defense” arguments with which Republicans used to bash Democrats. Some Democrats apparently don’t feel comfortable being on the wrong side of this issue.

Ultimately there are a variety of issues — some parochial and some very “substantive,” which will motivate congress to look carefully at the Obama defense cuts. But if we have seen any consistent pattern it is that moderate and conservative Democrats perceive that their interests don’t coincide with the president’s. A workable centrist  block in congress may emerge on defense spending and other issues. Stay tuned.

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So, How Do Things Sound?

And now Barack Obama’s aid plan for Pakistan falls flat:

U.S. envoys met with Pakistani leaders on Tuesday to ensure that the $7.5 billion that President Obama plans to send their way over the next five years will be used to achieve common goals in the fight against extremism.

But according to a Pakistani newspaper, regional envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen came up empty-handed and received a “rude shock” when a proposal for joint operations against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the volatile tribal regions was rejected.

It’s a clean sweep. Obama’s proposals have been turned down by every foreign government and international body he’s approached — from Pyongyang to Brussels, and assorted points in between.

The U.S. is out of the superpower business. It didn’t happen because we callously stretched our imperium until it snapped. And we weren’t forced out by the ingenuity of rising challengers. We just called it a day.

A week after being inaugurated, President Obama told Hisham Melheman of Al Arabiya television, “[A]ll too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen.” Because, of course, those are the only two options for American statecraft.

The “issues,” in that case, surrounded Middle East peace, but soon enough the president made his more generalized passion for listening sufficiently well known. At the G20 summit in Britain, Obama told reporters that he “came here to put forward ideas but I also came here to listen, not to lecture.” And, so, he listened to European leaders turn down his spending proposals.

He’s listened to Tehran chant death to America. He’s listened to Moscow say no to helping us out with Tehran. He’s listened to the roar of rocket engines in Pyongyang. He’s listened to a stereophonic no, from Beijing and Moscow at the UN Security Council. And, now, he’s listened to Islamabad tell us to get lost.

If only the administration took the latest rebuff as a “rude shock.” That would imply an awakening to reality. But remember, Obama’s theme is “persistence” now; there’s a lot more “no” in our future.

Like so many in the West these days who spend their “adult years” living off their parents’ hard work, the U.S. is going to rest on the accomplishments of preceding generations for a while. Earlier administrations took care of the Nazis, the Soviets, and al Qaeda so that this one can take care of itself, making sure people of the world welcome it kindly and write about it glowingly. Who knows what things we will be listening to over the next four years. Simple “no’s” may sound comforting by comparison. But just as it was juvenile for this administration to think it could come into power and “reset” the motivations and schemes of the rest of the world, it’s folly to think we can hit a reset button on American superpower should we need it in an emergency. There are entities out there making dangerous moves while we content ourselves with listening, and if eventually we have to confront them it won’t be easy making up for lost time.

And now Barack Obama’s aid plan for Pakistan falls flat:

U.S. envoys met with Pakistani leaders on Tuesday to ensure that the $7.5 billion that President Obama plans to send their way over the next five years will be used to achieve common goals in the fight against extremism.

But according to a Pakistani newspaper, regional envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen came up empty-handed and received a “rude shock” when a proposal for joint operations against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the volatile tribal regions was rejected.

It’s a clean sweep. Obama’s proposals have been turned down by every foreign government and international body he’s approached — from Pyongyang to Brussels, and assorted points in between.

The U.S. is out of the superpower business. It didn’t happen because we callously stretched our imperium until it snapped. And we weren’t forced out by the ingenuity of rising challengers. We just called it a day.

A week after being inaugurated, President Obama told Hisham Melheman of Al Arabiya television, “[A]ll too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen.” Because, of course, those are the only two options for American statecraft.

The “issues,” in that case, surrounded Middle East peace, but soon enough the president made his more generalized passion for listening sufficiently well known. At the G20 summit in Britain, Obama told reporters that he “came here to put forward ideas but I also came here to listen, not to lecture.” And, so, he listened to European leaders turn down his spending proposals.

He’s listened to Tehran chant death to America. He’s listened to Moscow say no to helping us out with Tehran. He’s listened to the roar of rocket engines in Pyongyang. He’s listened to a stereophonic no, from Beijing and Moscow at the UN Security Council. And, now, he’s listened to Islamabad tell us to get lost.

If only the administration took the latest rebuff as a “rude shock.” That would imply an awakening to reality. But remember, Obama’s theme is “persistence” now; there’s a lot more “no” in our future.

Like so many in the West these days who spend their “adult years” living off their parents’ hard work, the U.S. is going to rest on the accomplishments of preceding generations for a while. Earlier administrations took care of the Nazis, the Soviets, and al Qaeda so that this one can take care of itself, making sure people of the world welcome it kindly and write about it glowingly. Who knows what things we will be listening to over the next four years. Simple “no’s” may sound comforting by comparison. But just as it was juvenile for this administration to think it could come into power and “reset” the motivations and schemes of the rest of the world, it’s folly to think we can hit a reset button on American superpower should we need it in an emergency. There are entities out there making dangerous moves while we content ourselves with listening, and if eventually we have to confront them it won’t be easy making up for lost time.

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Obama-ism of the Day

At a news conference in Strasbourg, France, earlier this week, President Obama said the following in response to a questioner from Austria:

It was also interesting to see that political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate. There’s a lot of — I don’t know what the term is in Austrian — wheeling and dealing.

You can watch the video here.

This is a perfect Daily Show segment; all Jon Stewart has to do is play the clip and look smugly at the camera with his head in his hands as his audience laughs at the president’s ignorance over Austrians not having their own language but rather speaking German. Of course, had President Bush said this, he would have been laughed off the stage, as he was when he referred to Greeks as “Grecians.” Bush’s occasional verbal foibles were a cottage industry for Jacob Weisberg and supplied the left with a comforting narrative of presidential stupidity. Don’t expect this embarrassing gaffe to lead the ironic, snarky left to criticize its own.

At a news conference in Strasbourg, France, earlier this week, President Obama said the following in response to a questioner from Austria:

It was also interesting to see that political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate. There’s a lot of — I don’t know what the term is in Austrian — wheeling and dealing.

You can watch the video here.

This is a perfect Daily Show segment; all Jon Stewart has to do is play the clip and look smugly at the camera with his head in his hands as his audience laughs at the president’s ignorance over Austrians not having their own language but rather speaking German. Of course, had President Bush said this, he would have been laughed off the stage, as he was when he referred to Greeks as “Grecians.” Bush’s occasional verbal foibles were a cottage industry for Jacob Weisberg and supplied the left with a comforting narrative of presidential stupidity. Don’t expect this embarrassing gaffe to lead the ironic, snarky left to criticize its own.

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We’ve Seen This Before

Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt remind us that gutting defense to pay for massive domestic spending is nothing new:

In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today. Though Mr. Gates said that his decisions were “almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books,” the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise. In fact, he tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the budget plan represented “one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity” — the “necessity” of course being the administration’s decision to reorder the government’s spending priorities.

The size of the reductions proposed by the Obama administration – from the F-22 to missile defense — is all the more startling given the threats we now face. And, as Max points out, the failure to increase troop strength seems to violate candidate Obama’s own campaign pledge and to ignore a growing bipartisan consensus that our current Army is too small for the demands placed upon it. The president might want to ignore the North Korean rocket, but the threats from that and other rogue states (not to mention regional conflicts and a persistently aggressive Russia) are real. It is one thing to take advantage of a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War (however shortsighted that may have been); it is quite another to take a meat axe to defense programs when the threats to the U.S. and our allies are expanding and we are still fighting two wars.

Donald Rumsfeld was vilified for trying to fight a war on the “cheap” and for failing to appreciate that it takes more than high-tech wizardry for a successful modern military. Rumsfeld said, against howls of derision: “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Well, we shouldn’t go into future wars with the Army (Marines, Air Force, or Navy) we “have,” but with the military we need.

The proper starting point for defense spending is not what number will mesh with the president’s extravagant domestic agenda, but what personnel and programs meet our defense needs. Yes, it’s expensive but that is the price one pays for freedom and security.

Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt remind us that gutting defense to pay for massive domestic spending is nothing new:

In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today. Though Mr. Gates said that his decisions were “almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books,” the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise. In fact, he tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the budget plan represented “one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity” — the “necessity” of course being the administration’s decision to reorder the government’s spending priorities.

The size of the reductions proposed by the Obama administration – from the F-22 to missile defense — is all the more startling given the threats we now face. And, as Max points out, the failure to increase troop strength seems to violate candidate Obama’s own campaign pledge and to ignore a growing bipartisan consensus that our current Army is too small for the demands placed upon it. The president might want to ignore the North Korean rocket, but the threats from that and other rogue states (not to mention regional conflicts and a persistently aggressive Russia) are real. It is one thing to take advantage of a “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War (however shortsighted that may have been); it is quite another to take a meat axe to defense programs when the threats to the U.S. and our allies are expanding and we are still fighting two wars.

Donald Rumsfeld was vilified for trying to fight a war on the “cheap” and for failing to appreciate that it takes more than high-tech wizardry for a successful modern military. Rumsfeld said, against howls of derision: “You go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Well, we shouldn’t go into future wars with the Army (Marines, Air Force, or Navy) we “have,” but with the military we need.

The proper starting point for defense spending is not what number will mesh with the president’s extravagant domestic agenda, but what personnel and programs meet our defense needs. Yes, it’s expensive but that is the price one pays for freedom and security.

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Outreach, Indeed

The Obama administration has hired Indian-American actor Kal Penn to work in the White House Office of Public Liaison doing “Asian-American outreach.” Interesting choice.

You can’t say Penn has no experience in the field. He starred in the 2008 comedy “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” which painted a very particular portrait of America’s attitude toward Asian-Americans. Penn’s character Kumar Patel is an American citizen who smokes pot on a plane and winds up in Guantanamo Bay under suspicion of terrorism. Once at Gitmo, there’s forced fellatio and consumption of genital sandwiches. Luckily, some Cuban refugees help the wrongly accused Patel escape. Back on U.S. soil, he does battle with in-bred southerners and the Ku Klux Klan, who detain him under suspicion of being Mexican. Eventually, he ends up on George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, where the former president pardons him based on a mutual affection for marijuana.

Interesting choice.

It kind of sucks some of the gravitas out of Obama’s moral preening on Guantanamo Bay when he hires a guy who made a stoner comedy about the place.

Or maybe not. How might Obama put it? “We are no longer constricted by the false choice between moral seriousness and Hollywood anti-Americanism.”

The Obama administration has hired Indian-American actor Kal Penn to work in the White House Office of Public Liaison doing “Asian-American outreach.” Interesting choice.

You can’t say Penn has no experience in the field. He starred in the 2008 comedy “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” which painted a very particular portrait of America’s attitude toward Asian-Americans. Penn’s character Kumar Patel is an American citizen who smokes pot on a plane and winds up in Guantanamo Bay under suspicion of terrorism. Once at Gitmo, there’s forced fellatio and consumption of genital sandwiches. Luckily, some Cuban refugees help the wrongly accused Patel escape. Back on U.S. soil, he does battle with in-bred southerners and the Ku Klux Klan, who detain him under suspicion of being Mexican. Eventually, he ends up on George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, where the former president pardons him based on a mutual affection for marijuana.

Interesting choice.

It kind of sucks some of the gravitas out of Obama’s moral preening on Guantanamo Bay when he hires a guy who made a stoner comedy about the place.

Or maybe not. How might Obama put it? “We are no longer constricted by the false choice between moral seriousness and Hollywood anti-Americanism.”

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Lieberman’s Legal Problems

Yesterday Avigdor Lieberman was interrogated for the third time since taking office as foreign minister. His various corruption investigations have been dragging on for years — 13 by his count — yet suddenly he’s become the Israeli justice system’s top priority. Why?

One hesitates to jump to conclusions. Yet for years there has been a fairly glaring pattern correlating Israeli leaders’ politics and the frequency and intensity of criminal investigations against them. When Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister, he was under non-stop inquiry — until he announced his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and suddenly the corruption and alleged crimes were largely forgotten. Of course, some might say the logic works in reverse: that Sharon only did the disengagement in order to stop the investigations. Either way, it suggests a very problematic relationship between justice and politics.

Is the same true for Lieberman? Hard to tell, but there is something just too coincidental about how deeply he is despised by the Israeli Left and the sudden rediscovery of his possible wrongdoings. An indictment would almost certainly lead to his stepping down. Without taking anything away from the question of whether he is guilty or innocent, or even whether he is good or bad for Israel as foreign minister, one cannot feel very good about Israeli democracy with this kind of thing going on.

Yesterday Avigdor Lieberman was interrogated for the third time since taking office as foreign minister. His various corruption investigations have been dragging on for years — 13 by his count — yet suddenly he’s become the Israeli justice system’s top priority. Why?

One hesitates to jump to conclusions. Yet for years there has been a fairly glaring pattern correlating Israeli leaders’ politics and the frequency and intensity of criminal investigations against them. When Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister, he was under non-stop inquiry — until he announced his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and suddenly the corruption and alleged crimes were largely forgotten. Of course, some might say the logic works in reverse: that Sharon only did the disengagement in order to stop the investigations. Either way, it suggests a very problematic relationship between justice and politics.

Is the same true for Lieberman? Hard to tell, but there is something just too coincidental about how deeply he is despised by the Israeli Left and the sudden rediscovery of his possible wrongdoings. An indictment would almost certainly lead to his stepping down. Without taking anything away from the question of whether he is guilty or innocent, or even whether he is good or bad for Israel as foreign minister, one cannot feel very good about Israeli democracy with this kind of thing going on.

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“Change” Turns Out To Be Too Expensive and Unpopular

The Obama change machine is grinding to a halt. Politico reports:

Officials are most pessimistic about his energy and global warming plan, with many aides doubting he will win passage of a cap-and-trade emissions reduction system, which is strongly opposed by business and Republicans.

[ . . .]

Congressional and administration aides agree that none of his three biggest agenda items is likely to achieve final passage before this fall.

The Obama team uses consultant-speak to explain their inability to move forward. There is not “enough bandwidth” for all his great ideas and “it is never easy to change Washington.” But it seems never to dawn on them that the items on their agenda are problematic even within their own party. Where is the governing majority in favor of cap-and-trade? There isn’t one. Do moderate Democrats want to raise billions and billions in new taxes to pay for nationalized health care? The public at large certainly isn’t enthusiastic about it.

James Capretta explains the magnitude of the healthcare problem:

Where will the Congressional majority find the money to pay for such an expensive program? The Obama budget plan targeted upper-income households, private health insurers, and drug companies, and suggested some modest Medicare payment reforms as well. But those offsets only totaled $634 billion over ten years, and Congress has already signaled that the suggested limit on the deductibility of home-mortgage interest and charitable contributions for upper-income households, a $300+ billion tax hike, is all but dead. The Medicare payment reforms seem likely to undergo a downsizing too when they are put under the political microscope.

We spent a trillion dollars (including interest) on a stimulus bill that was supposed to keep unemployment below 8%. We are going to have a $3.6 trillion budget. And the rest of the Obama agenda (e.g. card check, nationalized healthcare, cap-and-trade) is fiscally or politically unfeasible. So what is he going to do for the next three and a half years? (Well, other than rid the world of nuclear weapons.) Perhaps he might finally get around to spurring economic growth and job creation.

The Obama change machine is grinding to a halt. Politico reports:

Officials are most pessimistic about his energy and global warming plan, with many aides doubting he will win passage of a cap-and-trade emissions reduction system, which is strongly opposed by business and Republicans.

[ . . .]

Congressional and administration aides agree that none of his three biggest agenda items is likely to achieve final passage before this fall.

The Obama team uses consultant-speak to explain their inability to move forward. There is not “enough bandwidth” for all his great ideas and “it is never easy to change Washington.” But it seems never to dawn on them that the items on their agenda are problematic even within their own party. Where is the governing majority in favor of cap-and-trade? There isn’t one. Do moderate Democrats want to raise billions and billions in new taxes to pay for nationalized health care? The public at large certainly isn’t enthusiastic about it.

James Capretta explains the magnitude of the healthcare problem:

Where will the Congressional majority find the money to pay for such an expensive program? The Obama budget plan targeted upper-income households, private health insurers, and drug companies, and suggested some modest Medicare payment reforms as well. But those offsets only totaled $634 billion over ten years, and Congress has already signaled that the suggested limit on the deductibility of home-mortgage interest and charitable contributions for upper-income households, a $300+ billion tax hike, is all but dead. The Medicare payment reforms seem likely to undergo a downsizing too when they are put under the political microscope.

We spent a trillion dollars (including interest) on a stimulus bill that was supposed to keep unemployment below 8%. We are going to have a $3.6 trillion budget. And the rest of the Obama agenda (e.g. card check, nationalized healthcare, cap-and-trade) is fiscally or politically unfeasible. So what is he going to do for the next three and a half years? (Well, other than rid the world of nuclear weapons.) Perhaps he might finally get around to spurring economic growth and job creation.

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The Good and Bad of Gates’s Agenda

I haven’t commented yet on Bob Gates’s new defense agenda because I’ve been ambivalent about it. I still am, even after having just gotten off a conference call between the defense secretary and some writers.

He proposed many initiatives that make sense. These include spending an extra $2 billion on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities including 50 new Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicles; $500 million more for helicopter operations; and $500 million for training and equipping foreign militaries to fight our mutual enemies. Other valuable increases include more Special Operations Forces, more cyberwarfare specialists, and more Littoral Combat Ships that are especially useful for operations such as hunting pirates and terrorists.

I am also amenable to some of the cuts he proposed. I have never been convinced of the need to buy both the F-22 and F-35, so I think Gates made a perfectly defensible decision to stop buying more F-22s while increasing and speeding up the acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I am also concerned that future Navy ships are ruinously expensive and too vulnerable to low-cost missiles, so his decision to delay the Navy’s CG-X program to develop the next-generation cruiser makes sense. So too I applaud his decision to end the VH-71 helicopter, designed for use by the president, which had become a gold-plated monstrosity.

Gates described his decision to halt and restructure the Army’s Future Combat System as the hardest call he had to make (he said he didn’t reach a final decision until this weekend), but I believe it was the right call. The conceit behind the FCS program — that a single line of lightly armored vehicles could meet all the needs of the army in the future — was always questionable. The army placed too much faith in perfect “battlespace awareness” without sufficiently incorporating the lessons learned about fighting low-end enemies in places like Iran and Afghanistan.  Now those lessons can be more effectively integrated and different types of vehicles can be designed for different needs in the future.

Those are the positives. But from my perspective there are also some negatives.

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

I haven’t commented yet on Bob Gates’s new defense agenda because I’ve been ambivalent about it. I still am, even after having just gotten off a conference call between the defense secretary and some writers.

He proposed many initiatives that make sense. These include spending an extra $2 billion on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities including 50 new Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicles; $500 million more for helicopter operations; and $500 million for training and equipping foreign militaries to fight our mutual enemies. Other valuable increases include more Special Operations Forces, more cyberwarfare specialists, and more Littoral Combat Ships that are especially useful for operations such as hunting pirates and terrorists.

I am also amenable to some of the cuts he proposed. I have never been convinced of the need to buy both the F-22 and F-35, so I think Gates made a perfectly defensible decision to stop buying more F-22s while increasing and speeding up the acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I am also concerned that future Navy ships are ruinously expensive and too vulnerable to low-cost missiles, so his decision to delay the Navy’s CG-X program to develop the next-generation cruiser makes sense. So too I applaud his decision to end the VH-71 helicopter, designed for use by the president, which had become a gold-plated monstrosity.

Gates described his decision to halt and restructure the Army’s Future Combat System as the hardest call he had to make (he said he didn’t reach a final decision until this weekend), but I believe it was the right call. The conceit behind the FCS program — that a single line of lightly armored vehicles could meet all the needs of the army in the future — was always questionable. The army placed too much faith in perfect “battlespace awareness” without sufficiently incorporating the lessons learned about fighting low-end enemies in places like Iran and Afghanistan.  Now those lessons can be more effectively integrated and different types of vehicles can be designed for different needs in the future.

Those are the positives. But from my perspective there are also some negatives.

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Independents Seem to Like the “No” Crowd

We’ve been told almost daily by the Obama team and its media comrades that the Republicans are unlikable, lack ideas, and are torn apart by internal divisions. Yet the Holy Grail of politics — the independent vote — seems to be drifting toward the GOP. National Journal (h/t Red State) reports:

Three recent polls show the GOP gaining ground on the generic ballot question, starting with an NPR survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) that put the two parties exactly square: 42 percent for each. Independents, however, preferred the GOP, 39-30. Democrats led slightly overall, but trailed even worse among independents, in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll out last week that phrased the generic ballot question in terms of curtailing Democratic power.

The latest Diageo/Hotline data gives Dems a little more breathing room, with the generic Democrat leading 37-32. But the trend line was clear: In January, 46 percent favored the generic Democrat; at the beginning of March, 40 percent did so. Independent voters, who at the beginning of March favored Democrats by 3 points, now lean towards Republicans by the same margin.

It might be that independent voters think back fondly on the days of divided government, when gridlock protected them from political extremism and the passage of every bad idea that popped onto the majority party’s agenda. It may be that all that spending and debt really has rubbed them the wrong way. Or maybe all that “We won, lock out the Republicans” stuff isn’t what they had in mind.

But it is worth noting that the president’s popularity, at least for now, isn’t helping his congressional allies. In fact, the party most vigorously opposing him is gaining ground. Perhaps that means something.

We’ve been told almost daily by the Obama team and its media comrades that the Republicans are unlikable, lack ideas, and are torn apart by internal divisions. Yet the Holy Grail of politics — the independent vote — seems to be drifting toward the GOP. National Journal (h/t Red State) reports:

Three recent polls show the GOP gaining ground on the generic ballot question, starting with an NPR survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (R) and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) that put the two parties exactly square: 42 percent for each. Independents, however, preferred the GOP, 39-30. Democrats led slightly overall, but trailed even worse among independents, in a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll out last week that phrased the generic ballot question in terms of curtailing Democratic power.

The latest Diageo/Hotline data gives Dems a little more breathing room, with the generic Democrat leading 37-32. But the trend line was clear: In January, 46 percent favored the generic Democrat; at the beginning of March, 40 percent did so. Independent voters, who at the beginning of March favored Democrats by 3 points, now lean towards Republicans by the same margin.

It might be that independent voters think back fondly on the days of divided government, when gridlock protected them from political extremism and the passage of every bad idea that popped onto the majority party’s agenda. It may be that all that spending and debt really has rubbed them the wrong way. Or maybe all that “We won, lock out the Republicans” stuff isn’t what they had in mind.

But it is worth noting that the president’s popularity, at least for now, isn’t helping his congressional allies. In fact, the party most vigorously opposing him is gaining ground. Perhaps that means something.

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The U.S. Has Obligations of Its Own

In his April 6 speech to the Turkish parliament, President Obama declared that both Israelis and Palestinians “must live up to the commitments they have made” regarding the goal they agreed to in the Roadmap and at Annapolis.  But it is not only the Israelis and Palestinians who have made commitments.  The United States has incurred obligations in connection with that process as well.

In the 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, the U.S. committed itself to “defensible borders” for Israel, and that commitment was reiterated in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the United States and Israel on January 16, 2009.  It is unlikely that any responsible military person, in either Israel or the United States, believes the 1967 borders are “defensible borders.”

Second, the U.S. committed itself in the Bush letter (which was endorsed by Congress in Concurrent Resolution 460) to Israel’s ability to “defend itself, by itself,” and that commitment was also recognized again in the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding.  The phrase is a coded but clear reference to protecting Israel’s ultimate deterrent capability.

Third, the U.S. committed itself to the “Performance-Based Roadmap” as the sole peace plan.  That commitment is particularly clear if one refers not only to the Bush letter, but to the Sharon letter it answered.  Sharon insisted the Roadmap was “the sole means” to make progress and that the peace process had to be “anchored exclusively” in it.  He was concerned that, absent a U.S. commitment to the three-phase Roadmap, a different plan could be forced on Israel by the U.S. or the international community.  The Bush letter promised the U.S. would do its utmost to “prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” (emphasis added).

Annapolis was a failed attempt to “accelerate” the Roadmap by going straight to final-status negotiations, with any agreement to be “subject to” the Roadmap.  The Annapolis commitment was to attempt to reach such an agreement within a year, and that commitment expired by its terms at the end of 2008, when the parties failed.  Any attempt to jump-start final status negotiations now will simply set the parties up for failure again.

A realistic appraisal of the “peace process” must recognize the Palestinians have now rejected a state six times in the last eight years:  in 2000 at Camp David; in 2001 with their rejection of the Clinton Parameters; in 2003 with their refusal to implement Phase I of the Roadmap; in 2005 when they received all of Gaza to show they could live side by side in peace, and turned it into a staging area for rockets and tunnels into Israel; in 2006 when they elected a terrorist government dedicated to Israel’s destruction; and in 2008 when they rejected Olmert’s plea to accept his last best offer in the Annapolis process.

At this point, it is more than the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  A second state is not the opportunity they seek – not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one with defensible borders.  But the U.S. has committed itself to Israel with respect to its borders and defense, and to the nature of the process going forward, and the U.S. “must live up to the commitments it has made.”

In his April 6 speech to the Turkish parliament, President Obama declared that both Israelis and Palestinians “must live up to the commitments they have made” regarding the goal they agreed to in the Roadmap and at Annapolis.  But it is not only the Israelis and Palestinians who have made commitments.  The United States has incurred obligations in connection with that process as well.

In the 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, the U.S. committed itself to “defensible borders” for Israel, and that commitment was reiterated in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the United States and Israel on January 16, 2009.  It is unlikely that any responsible military person, in either Israel or the United States, believes the 1967 borders are “defensible borders.”

Second, the U.S. committed itself in the Bush letter (which was endorsed by Congress in Concurrent Resolution 460) to Israel’s ability to “defend itself, by itself,” and that commitment was also recognized again in the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding.  The phrase is a coded but clear reference to protecting Israel’s ultimate deterrent capability.

Third, the U.S. committed itself to the “Performance-Based Roadmap” as the sole peace plan.  That commitment is particularly clear if one refers not only to the Bush letter, but to the Sharon letter it answered.  Sharon insisted the Roadmap was “the sole means” to make progress and that the peace process had to be “anchored exclusively” in it.  He was concerned that, absent a U.S. commitment to the three-phase Roadmap, a different plan could be forced on Israel by the U.S. or the international community.  The Bush letter promised the U.S. would do its utmost to “prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” (emphasis added).

Annapolis was a failed attempt to “accelerate” the Roadmap by going straight to final-status negotiations, with any agreement to be “subject to” the Roadmap.  The Annapolis commitment was to attempt to reach such an agreement within a year, and that commitment expired by its terms at the end of 2008, when the parties failed.  Any attempt to jump-start final status negotiations now will simply set the parties up for failure again.

A realistic appraisal of the “peace process” must recognize the Palestinians have now rejected a state six times in the last eight years:  in 2000 at Camp David; in 2001 with their rejection of the Clinton Parameters; in 2003 with their refusal to implement Phase I of the Roadmap; in 2005 when they received all of Gaza to show they could live side by side in peace, and turned it into a staging area for rockets and tunnels into Israel; in 2006 when they elected a terrorist government dedicated to Israel’s destruction; and in 2008 when they rejected Olmert’s plea to accept his last best offer in the Annapolis process.

At this point, it is more than the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  A second state is not the opportunity they seek – not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one with defensible borders.  But the U.S. has committed itself to Israel with respect to its borders and defense, and to the nature of the process going forward, and the U.S. “must live up to the commitments it has made.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rich Lowry on Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation speech: “The meme in the press was how the test launch made Obama’s disarmament speech all the more ‘urgent.’ It really makes it all the more childish and dangerous. In setting the goal of ‘Global Zero’ (the program of universal disarmament that sounds a little like a new international Coke product), Obama hitched himself to a project as utopian as Pres. George W. Bush’s ambition to end tyranny in the world.”

The president finally gives credit where credit is due on Iraq.

Jim Tedisco is up by 17, but the absentee vote count starts today. Unless the outcome is really decisive we’ll see lawsuits.

And speaking of lawsuits, Norm Coleman is losing ground in his and is headed for the state Supreme Court. It is unclear how much longer he will be able to keep this up.

Politico reports that Eric Cantor and his caucus are identifying vulnerable freshman House Democrats and engaging — and embarrassing them — on the floor. This is an interesting take: “Democrats are now hip to the scam and rarely take the bait.” So the “scam” is engaging the freshman in substantive arguments for which they are unprepared. Sounds like Cantor found the right targets.

Another horrid poll for Governor Jon Corzine. At some point does he draw a primary challenger?

Larry Kudlow examines whether the Treasury Department is going to allow big banks to return TARP money. ( The inquiry itself tells us how far we have come in the federal government’s intervention in the economy.) He concludes: “How to end the political direction of our banks? Let them get out from under TARP as soon as possible. Let them make their own decisions. Let’s end this sordid chapter of unprecedented government intervention in the market economy.” Easier said than done, I suspect.

Ousted Virginia GOP chairman Jeff Frederick sounds like one angry guy. A good reminder that politics is the art of convincing others it is all about them, not you.

You knew this would follow the announced defense cuts: “Senators and representatives from Georgia, Connecticut, Missouri and other states that house divisions for defense manufacturing were quick to rebuke Gates and said they would fight to retain the programs that have been job engines for their constituents.” I think we finally have an idea of what a “saved” job is — one that is rescued from the Obama Defense Department cuts.

Ted Stevens’s prosecutors are in a heap of trouble.

Rich Lowry on Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation speech: “The meme in the press was how the test launch made Obama’s disarmament speech all the more ‘urgent.’ It really makes it all the more childish and dangerous. In setting the goal of ‘Global Zero’ (the program of universal disarmament that sounds a little like a new international Coke product), Obama hitched himself to a project as utopian as Pres. George W. Bush’s ambition to end tyranny in the world.”

The president finally gives credit where credit is due on Iraq.

Jim Tedisco is up by 17, but the absentee vote count starts today. Unless the outcome is really decisive we’ll see lawsuits.

And speaking of lawsuits, Norm Coleman is losing ground in his and is headed for the state Supreme Court. It is unclear how much longer he will be able to keep this up.

Politico reports that Eric Cantor and his caucus are identifying vulnerable freshman House Democrats and engaging — and embarrassing them — on the floor. This is an interesting take: “Democrats are now hip to the scam and rarely take the bait.” So the “scam” is engaging the freshman in substantive arguments for which they are unprepared. Sounds like Cantor found the right targets.

Another horrid poll for Governor Jon Corzine. At some point does he draw a primary challenger?

Larry Kudlow examines whether the Treasury Department is going to allow big banks to return TARP money. ( The inquiry itself tells us how far we have come in the federal government’s intervention in the economy.) He concludes: “How to end the political direction of our banks? Let them get out from under TARP as soon as possible. Let them make their own decisions. Let’s end this sordid chapter of unprecedented government intervention in the market economy.” Easier said than done, I suspect.

Ousted Virginia GOP chairman Jeff Frederick sounds like one angry guy. A good reminder that politics is the art of convincing others it is all about them, not you.

You knew this would follow the announced defense cuts: “Senators and representatives from Georgia, Connecticut, Missouri and other states that house divisions for defense manufacturing were quick to rebuke Gates and said they would fight to retain the programs that have been job engines for their constituents.” I think we finally have an idea of what a “saved” job is — one that is rescued from the Obama Defense Department cuts.

Ted Stevens’s prosecutors are in a heap of trouble.

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