Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 25, 2009

So Much for Spreading Prosperity

After his we-are-the-world speech before the UN, the president headed for the G-20. One of the “pillars” he emphasized at the UN was to increase prosperity by, among other things, having richer nations open their markets. So surely he would carry this message of free trade to the G-20 group, right? Well, no. In fact, he confused and befuddled those in attendance. This report explains:

Though the huge expansion of global trade has been at the heart of “global imbalances” that Obama officials say they want to address, European and Asian officials gathering here say they cannot tell whether Mr. Obama really wants to push for more open trade.

The Group of 20 comprises 19 industrial and emerging-market countries and the European Union.

Mr. Obama and his economic advisers have repeatedly warned against responding to the economic crisis by erecting barriers to imports. But global leaders, noting that Mr. Obama’s words are not always in sync with his actions, wonder if the president is a free trader or a protectionist.

[. . .]

“With Obama’s move on the tire tariffs, the hypocrisy on trade pledges is really quite apparent,” said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “I would expect the other countries to beat up on the U.S., and they deserve it,” Mr. Bergsten said.

And Obama, who is rarely at a loss for words, clammed up when it came to trade. It isn’t hard to figure out why: “One reason for the United States’ hesitation is that trade-opening agreements are extremely unpopular with organized labor, which is always an important Democratic constituency, but is especially vital now because it is providing enormous support for Mr. Obama’s campaign to expand health care coverage.”

So once again, as with the outbreak of cold feet on Afghanistan, Obama must pay homage to a domestic constituency first. Whether it is Afghanistan or trade, the president’s decision-making seems to place a premium on satisfying his base (i.e., the neo-isolationist Left or Big Labor) rather than addressing the issue before him on the merits. There is no reasonable argument that protectionism “works”—either for rich nations or poor nations. There is no viable alternative to a robust counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan. Yet Obama freezes, stalls, and hopes some excuse or another will come along so as to avoid upsetting the sliver of the electorate to which he owes so much.

And all those fine sentiments about helping the poor and building a more united and prosperous world didn’t survive the flight from New York to Pittsburgh. Well, like so much of Obama’s sentiment-driven foreign policy, the gap between rhetoric and reality is striking. And, even more troubling, the president seems to have picked up the nasty habit of evading or concealing his intentions and postponing hard choices. It makes one nostalgic for a plain-spoken president willing to be a “decider.”

After his we-are-the-world speech before the UN, the president headed for the G-20. One of the “pillars” he emphasized at the UN was to increase prosperity by, among other things, having richer nations open their markets. So surely he would carry this message of free trade to the G-20 group, right? Well, no. In fact, he confused and befuddled those in attendance. This report explains:

Though the huge expansion of global trade has been at the heart of “global imbalances” that Obama officials say they want to address, European and Asian officials gathering here say they cannot tell whether Mr. Obama really wants to push for more open trade.

The Group of 20 comprises 19 industrial and emerging-market countries and the European Union.

Mr. Obama and his economic advisers have repeatedly warned against responding to the economic crisis by erecting barriers to imports. But global leaders, noting that Mr. Obama’s words are not always in sync with his actions, wonder if the president is a free trader or a protectionist.

[. . .]

“With Obama’s move on the tire tariffs, the hypocrisy on trade pledges is really quite apparent,” said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “I would expect the other countries to beat up on the U.S., and they deserve it,” Mr. Bergsten said.

And Obama, who is rarely at a loss for words, clammed up when it came to trade. It isn’t hard to figure out why: “One reason for the United States’ hesitation is that trade-opening agreements are extremely unpopular with organized labor, which is always an important Democratic constituency, but is especially vital now because it is providing enormous support for Mr. Obama’s campaign to expand health care coverage.”

So once again, as with the outbreak of cold feet on Afghanistan, Obama must pay homage to a domestic constituency first. Whether it is Afghanistan or trade, the president’s decision-making seems to place a premium on satisfying his base (i.e., the neo-isolationist Left or Big Labor) rather than addressing the issue before him on the merits. There is no reasonable argument that protectionism “works”—either for rich nations or poor nations. There is no viable alternative to a robust counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan. Yet Obama freezes, stalls, and hopes some excuse or another will come along so as to avoid upsetting the sliver of the electorate to which he owes so much.

And all those fine sentiments about helping the poor and building a more united and prosperous world didn’t survive the flight from New York to Pittsburgh. Well, like so much of Obama’s sentiment-driven foreign policy, the gap between rhetoric and reality is striking. And, even more troubling, the president seems to have picked up the nasty habit of evading or concealing his intentions and postponing hard choices. It makes one nostalgic for a plain-spoken president willing to be a “decider.”

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Bennett thinks Matt Latimer is a “worm.” Donna Brazile and Gloria Berger essentially agree.

Former senator Chuck Hagel, sporting his view that every U.S. military encounter bears an uncanny resemblance to Vietnam, will speak at the J Street conference. And he’s the keynote speaker no less. But you have to wonder if anyone told him about this: “Also set to speak at the conference is Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The invitation drew fire because of comments Al-Marayati has made, including his contention that Israel was behind the 9/11 terror attacks and his subsequent apology, which many in the mainstream Jewish community considered half-hearted.”

If Hagel shows up, he will no doubt share his experience with one of his new best friends: Joe Biden. Biden, you see, “carefully considers the opinions of the now-retired Hagel, who, like Biden, is a longtime multilateralist. ‘They share a similar worldview,’ says the former aide.”

All that TV for nothing. Obama’s poll numbers remain flat throughout September, Gallup tells us. “This stability has persisted even as Obama has made a concerted push to increase support for his policies, particularly healthcare reform. On Sept. 9, he delivered a nationally televised address to Congress to outline his arguments for passing new healthcare legislation. And on Sept. 20, he made the unusual step of appearing on most of the major Sunday political talk shows, followed by an appearance on the David Letterman Show on Sept. 21.” Well, the numbers haven’t gotten any worse, but they might have not gotten worse without the TV appearances.

It seems as though an author sympathetic to Obama spills the beans—Bill Ayers sure did help out on that book after all. Do you think all the elite pundits who fawned over his writing prowess will care? Me neither.

What a difference a year makes: “Not so long ago, Democrats were thrilled by the long length of Barack Obama’s coattails. Creigh Deeds would be a lot more thrilled today if he could just step off. Mr. Deeds is the Democratic state senator running for governor of Virginia, and while he’s at it, running away from his commander in chief. It ought to worry Democrats that their top recruit for the year already views their Washington agenda as a liability. It ought to worry Mr. Deeds that there seems no escape.”

Michael Barone on Obama’s foreign policy: “As his record emerges—as he reverses himself on missile defense and perhaps on Afghanistan—his motivating principle seems rooted in an analysis, common in his formative university years, that America has too often been on the side of the bad guys. The response has been to disrespect those who have been our friends and to bow to our enemies.”

Write your own punch line: “Vice President Joe Biden told the nation’s governors Thursday that if the $787 billion stimulus fails, ‘I’m dead.'” And if that weren’t bad enough: “In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would work this well.” Can you remember when the chattering class fretted in the campaign that an erratic, gaffe-prone, uncouth person might become VP? Right concern, wrong person.

Bill Bennett thinks Matt Latimer is a “worm.” Donna Brazile and Gloria Berger essentially agree.

Former senator Chuck Hagel, sporting his view that every U.S. military encounter bears an uncanny resemblance to Vietnam, will speak at the J Street conference. And he’s the keynote speaker no less. But you have to wonder if anyone told him about this: “Also set to speak at the conference is Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The invitation drew fire because of comments Al-Marayati has made, including his contention that Israel was behind the 9/11 terror attacks and his subsequent apology, which many in the mainstream Jewish community considered half-hearted.”

If Hagel shows up, he will no doubt share his experience with one of his new best friends: Joe Biden. Biden, you see, “carefully considers the opinions of the now-retired Hagel, who, like Biden, is a longtime multilateralist. ‘They share a similar worldview,’ says the former aide.”

All that TV for nothing. Obama’s poll numbers remain flat throughout September, Gallup tells us. “This stability has persisted even as Obama has made a concerted push to increase support for his policies, particularly healthcare reform. On Sept. 9, he delivered a nationally televised address to Congress to outline his arguments for passing new healthcare legislation. And on Sept. 20, he made the unusual step of appearing on most of the major Sunday political talk shows, followed by an appearance on the David Letterman Show on Sept. 21.” Well, the numbers haven’t gotten any worse, but they might have not gotten worse without the TV appearances.

It seems as though an author sympathetic to Obama spills the beans—Bill Ayers sure did help out on that book after all. Do you think all the elite pundits who fawned over his writing prowess will care? Me neither.

What a difference a year makes: “Not so long ago, Democrats were thrilled by the long length of Barack Obama’s coattails. Creigh Deeds would be a lot more thrilled today if he could just step off. Mr. Deeds is the Democratic state senator running for governor of Virginia, and while he’s at it, running away from his commander in chief. It ought to worry Democrats that their top recruit for the year already views their Washington agenda as a liability. It ought to worry Mr. Deeds that there seems no escape.”

Michael Barone on Obama’s foreign policy: “As his record emerges—as he reverses himself on missile defense and perhaps on Afghanistan—his motivating principle seems rooted in an analysis, common in his formative university years, that America has too often been on the side of the bad guys. The response has been to disrespect those who have been our friends and to bow to our enemies.”

Write your own punch line: “Vice President Joe Biden told the nation’s governors Thursday that if the $787 billion stimulus fails, ‘I’m dead.'” And if that weren’t bad enough: “In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would work this well.” Can you remember when the chattering class fretted in the campaign that an erratic, gaffe-prone, uncouth person might become VP? Right concern, wrong person.

Read Less

Not a Top Concern

David Brooks takes a rare venture into foreign policy and makes a compelling case for Obama to stick to Obama’s plan to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and follow the advice of Obama’s generals. Brooks acknowledges the habitual desire for a war on the cheap, a remote war where young brave Americans don’t die, and the public’s ire about a difficult undertaking of indeterminate length can be sidestepped. But he observes:

There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.
The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands—that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

And it is tempting to imagine that this particular venue could be avoided. Maybe there is some other place, some other destination for fighting the Islamic terrorists. No, says Brooks: “We should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back—and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither. Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan.”

Nor is the situation hopeless. The finest and most experienced counterinsurgency forces in America, a hated enemy, and a respected Afghan military all weigh in our favor, as Brooks reminds us. So Brooks, in essence, implores the president to buck up, stop looking for easy ways out where there are none, and devote himself and the nation he leads to the war of “necessity” Obama described just months ago.

With all of that, why then is it such a struggle for Obama to make the right call? Well, suffice it to say he’d rather be doing other things. Remarkably, Afghanistan didn’t merit much of a mention in his UN speech. Global warming got paragraph after paragraph. The section on the moribund “peace process” went on interminably.

But Afghanistan doesn’t seem to hold much allure for Obama. It’s an irritation, an expense, and a drain on revenue that could be used to pay for his domestic wish list. He seems never quite willing to go before the public to explain that it is the central front now in a war against Islamic fundamentalists seeking to slaughter Americans. In his feel-good world, conflict, aggression and, yes, evil don’t figure very prominently. So it isn’t surprising that Obama would rather not deal with Afghanistan. But at some point he will have to, and it might be best not to have appeared as a reluctant commander-in-chief whom responsible observers and committed military leaders had to cajole and virtually beg to defend America’s vital interests.

David Brooks takes a rare venture into foreign policy and makes a compelling case for Obama to stick to Obama’s plan to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and follow the advice of Obama’s generals. Brooks acknowledges the habitual desire for a war on the cheap, a remote war where young brave Americans don’t die, and the public’s ire about a difficult undertaking of indeterminate length can be sidestepped. But he observes:

There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.
The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands—that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

And it is tempting to imagine that this particular venue could be avoided. Maybe there is some other place, some other destination for fighting the Islamic terrorists. No, says Brooks: “We should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back—and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither. Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan.”

Nor is the situation hopeless. The finest and most experienced counterinsurgency forces in America, a hated enemy, and a respected Afghan military all weigh in our favor, as Brooks reminds us. So Brooks, in essence, implores the president to buck up, stop looking for easy ways out where there are none, and devote himself and the nation he leads to the war of “necessity” Obama described just months ago.

With all of that, why then is it such a struggle for Obama to make the right call? Well, suffice it to say he’d rather be doing other things. Remarkably, Afghanistan didn’t merit much of a mention in his UN speech. Global warming got paragraph after paragraph. The section on the moribund “peace process” went on interminably.

But Afghanistan doesn’t seem to hold much allure for Obama. It’s an irritation, an expense, and a drain on revenue that could be used to pay for his domestic wish list. He seems never quite willing to go before the public to explain that it is the central front now in a war against Islamic fundamentalists seeking to slaughter Americans. In his feel-good world, conflict, aggression and, yes, evil don’t figure very prominently. So it isn’t surprising that Obama would rather not deal with Afghanistan. But at some point he will have to, and it might be best not to have appeared as a reluctant commander-in-chief whom responsible observers and committed military leaders had to cajole and virtually beg to defend America’s vital interests.

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.