Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 10, 2009

Keeping His Word

Former Senator Bob Kerrey is urging Obama (for whom he campaigned and invested much hope for Muslim World bridge-building and a smooth Iraq-war wind-down) to buck up — and live up to his word. He offers some praise for the president. (This is the price one pays perhaps for getting the attention of those in the White House who might influence the president.) But he then delivers a rhetorical jujitsu: Can’t he be more like George W. Bush? He writes of Bush’s courage in pursuing the surge in Iraq in the face of Republican losses and a media firestorm:

Failure in Iraq loomed, as public opinion for the effort to help the democratically elected government survive had faded thanks to a series of tactical blunders and inaccurate assessments of what would be needed to accomplish the mission. Then, against all reasonable predictions, President Bush chose to increase rather than decrease our military commitment. The “surge,” as it became known, worked. Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. From what I have seen, President Obama has the same ability to step outside the swirl of public opinion and make the right decision.

What is at stake, Kerrey argues, is whether Obama can cut through the cant about another Vietnam (the war hero explains: “This war is not Vietnam. The Taliban are not popular and have very little support other than what they secure through terror”) and keep his word. He argues: “When it comes to foreign policy, almost nothing matters more than your friends and your enemies knowing you will keep your word and follow through on your commitments. This is the real test of presidential leadership.”

But on that score, Kerrey may be more than a little late. If any single element has characterized Obama’s foreign policy, it has been his unwillingness to stick by American commitments, to keep our word. An agreement between the U.S. and Israel on settlements? Oh that was then; not sure it applies now. Poland and the Czech Republic were promised missile-defense sites, a sign of the alliance between the U.S. and the democracies that emerged from the ash heap of the Soviet Union. Well, never mind. We have to ingratiate ourselves with the Russians. So keeping our word seems not all that important to the president.

Now maybe Obama doesn’t consider the promises of his predecessors to be binding on him. After all, he remarked after sitting through a Daniel Ortega rant that he didn’t want to be held responsible for the Bay of Pigs, which occurred when he was 3 years old. In other words, he may not see himself as the successor to previous presidents’ obligations. He stands above and apart from mere parochial Americanism. He is in essence a free agent, without the burden of deals, understandings, and obligations undertaken by those who came before him, and most particularly George W. Bush.

But Afghanistan is different. He was the one who defined it as a critical war. He was the one who set the strategy to defeat the Taliban. He was the one who hired Gen. Stanley McChrystal to come up with an alternative to the losing counterterrorism strategy. So it’s not merely a case here of stepping apart from his predecessors’ promises, but from his own. If he can’t manage to do even that, friends and allies soon will see America as unreliable and untrustworthy. It will be the dawning not of an age of multilateral nirvana, but of every-country-for-itselfism. The result will be a more dangerous and less predictable world. And it won’t be at all what the Nobel Committee had in mind.

Former Senator Bob Kerrey is urging Obama (for whom he campaigned and invested much hope for Muslim World bridge-building and a smooth Iraq-war wind-down) to buck up — and live up to his word. He offers some praise for the president. (This is the price one pays perhaps for getting the attention of those in the White House who might influence the president.) But he then delivers a rhetorical jujitsu: Can’t he be more like George W. Bush? He writes of Bush’s courage in pursuing the surge in Iraq in the face of Republican losses and a media firestorm:

Failure in Iraq loomed, as public opinion for the effort to help the democratically elected government survive had faded thanks to a series of tactical blunders and inaccurate assessments of what would be needed to accomplish the mission. Then, against all reasonable predictions, President Bush chose to increase rather than decrease our military commitment. The “surge,” as it became known, worked. Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat. From what I have seen, President Obama has the same ability to step outside the swirl of public opinion and make the right decision.

What is at stake, Kerrey argues, is whether Obama can cut through the cant about another Vietnam (the war hero explains: “This war is not Vietnam. The Taliban are not popular and have very little support other than what they secure through terror”) and keep his word. He argues: “When it comes to foreign policy, almost nothing matters more than your friends and your enemies knowing you will keep your word and follow through on your commitments. This is the real test of presidential leadership.”

But on that score, Kerrey may be more than a little late. If any single element has characterized Obama’s foreign policy, it has been his unwillingness to stick by American commitments, to keep our word. An agreement between the U.S. and Israel on settlements? Oh that was then; not sure it applies now. Poland and the Czech Republic were promised missile-defense sites, a sign of the alliance between the U.S. and the democracies that emerged from the ash heap of the Soviet Union. Well, never mind. We have to ingratiate ourselves with the Russians. So keeping our word seems not all that important to the president.

Now maybe Obama doesn’t consider the promises of his predecessors to be binding on him. After all, he remarked after sitting through a Daniel Ortega rant that he didn’t want to be held responsible for the Bay of Pigs, which occurred when he was 3 years old. In other words, he may not see himself as the successor to previous presidents’ obligations. He stands above and apart from mere parochial Americanism. He is in essence a free agent, without the burden of deals, understandings, and obligations undertaken by those who came before him, and most particularly George W. Bush.

But Afghanistan is different. He was the one who defined it as a critical war. He was the one who set the strategy to defeat the Taliban. He was the one who hired Gen. Stanley McChrystal to come up with an alternative to the losing counterterrorism strategy. So it’s not merely a case here of stepping apart from his predecessors’ promises, but from his own. If he can’t manage to do even that, friends and allies soon will see America as unreliable and untrustworthy. It will be the dawning not of an age of multilateral nirvana, but of every-country-for-itselfism. The result will be a more dangerous and less predictable world. And it won’t be at all what the Nobel Committee had in mind.

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Re: Krauthammer Nails It

I agree with Pete Wehner about the brilliance of Charles Krauthammer’s address on “Decline Is a Choice,” which I was privileged to witness as one of the attendees at the Manhattan Institute’s annual Wriston Lecture. In essence, Krauthammer takes President Obama to task for taking actions — from weakness on the foreign front to excessive growth of government on the home front — that could lead to American decline. I couldn’t agree more with Krauthammer about the beneficial role of American hegemony in safeguarding the international system. I also agree with him in his indictment of many specific Obama policies. But I would add two modifications.

First, I think Krauthammer is placing too much stock in Obama’s words renouncing American dominance and exceptionalism and apologizing for past American misdeeds. Krauthammer writes that “the fundamental consequence” of Obama’s speeches “is to effectively undermine any moral claim that America might have to world leadership, as well as the moral confidence that any nation needs to have in order to justify to itself and to others its position of leadership.” I think that’s right, but — and here is the wrinkle that Krauthammer seems to miss — I also don’t think it’s intended. Obama’s speeches spotlighting a new, humble America are, paradoxically, a ploy designed to enhance American power. The president seems to believe that his public presentation of a “kinder, gentler” America (to borrow the formulation of his favorite Republican president) will make other nations more likely to accept our leadership on the issues he cares about — from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to global warming to cutting a deal with Iran. His policy priorities are not those that I would choose or that Krauthammer would choose, but nevertheless they reflect a desire for America to maintain a leadership role in world affairs.

The Nobel Peace Prize is likely to confirm Obama in his view that he is succeeding in winning over the world. The problem is that, while he is undoubtedly winning a popularity contest in Europe and other regions, he has not had much success in translating his personal popularity into policy success — not even with minor forays such as trying to win the Olympics for his hometown.

Second, I am so fundamentally bullish on America that I doubt whether Obama’s policies, no matter how deleterious, can seriously affect our primacy for the next few decades. The U.S. economy remains the most dynamic among all the industrialized nations; our defense budget remains the largest in the world — bigger, by some measures, than the rest of the world put together; and our population remains young and energetic — not aging as rapidly as Europe, Russia, Japan, or even China. Perhaps I am being overly sanguine, but I tend to think that the president’s ability to tamper with these fundamental ingredients of American success are limited. Even if he makes disastrous policy choices, the political system will quickly correct — as it did in 1980, with Reagan’s election after four years of Carter “malaise,” and in 1994, with the Republican congressional landslide after two years of Clinton missteps on health care, gays in the military, and Somalia.

While America has tremendous underlying strength, all our potential competitors have great weakness. Even China, which is widely (and probably correctly) pegged as the only country that can knock us off our perch, must deal with corruption, pollution, social unrest, an aging population, and myriad other complications that could interrupt the straight-line growth it has witnessed over the past three decades. I would not go so far as to claim that American dominance is predetermined and inevitable. Certainly disastrous policy choices could shake our hegemony; just imagine the consequences of terrorists setting off a series of nuclear bombs in American cities. But the Obama presidency will have to be a disaster on an unprecedented scale to do terminal damage to a country that has been the mightiest in the world economically since 1900 and militarily since 1942.

I agree with Pete Wehner about the brilliance of Charles Krauthammer’s address on “Decline Is a Choice,” which I was privileged to witness as one of the attendees at the Manhattan Institute’s annual Wriston Lecture. In essence, Krauthammer takes President Obama to task for taking actions — from weakness on the foreign front to excessive growth of government on the home front — that could lead to American decline. I couldn’t agree more with Krauthammer about the beneficial role of American hegemony in safeguarding the international system. I also agree with him in his indictment of many specific Obama policies. But I would add two modifications.

First, I think Krauthammer is placing too much stock in Obama’s words renouncing American dominance and exceptionalism and apologizing for past American misdeeds. Krauthammer writes that “the fundamental consequence” of Obama’s speeches “is to effectively undermine any moral claim that America might have to world leadership, as well as the moral confidence that any nation needs to have in order to justify to itself and to others its position of leadership.” I think that’s right, but — and here is the wrinkle that Krauthammer seems to miss — I also don’t think it’s intended. Obama’s speeches spotlighting a new, humble America are, paradoxically, a ploy designed to enhance American power. The president seems to believe that his public presentation of a “kinder, gentler” America (to borrow the formulation of his favorite Republican president) will make other nations more likely to accept our leadership on the issues he cares about — from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to global warming to cutting a deal with Iran. His policy priorities are not those that I would choose or that Krauthammer would choose, but nevertheless they reflect a desire for America to maintain a leadership role in world affairs.

The Nobel Peace Prize is likely to confirm Obama in his view that he is succeeding in winning over the world. The problem is that, while he is undoubtedly winning a popularity contest in Europe and other regions, he has not had much success in translating his personal popularity into policy success — not even with minor forays such as trying to win the Olympics for his hometown.

Second, I am so fundamentally bullish on America that I doubt whether Obama’s policies, no matter how deleterious, can seriously affect our primacy for the next few decades. The U.S. economy remains the most dynamic among all the industrialized nations; our defense budget remains the largest in the world — bigger, by some measures, than the rest of the world put together; and our population remains young and energetic — not aging as rapidly as Europe, Russia, Japan, or even China. Perhaps I am being overly sanguine, but I tend to think that the president’s ability to tamper with these fundamental ingredients of American success are limited. Even if he makes disastrous policy choices, the political system will quickly correct — as it did in 1980, with Reagan’s election after four years of Carter “malaise,” and in 1994, with the Republican congressional landslide after two years of Clinton missteps on health care, gays in the military, and Somalia.

While America has tremendous underlying strength, all our potential competitors have great weakness. Even China, which is widely (and probably correctly) pegged as the only country that can knock us off our perch, must deal with corruption, pollution, social unrest, an aging population, and myriad other complications that could interrupt the straight-line growth it has witnessed over the past three decades. I would not go so far as to claim that American dominance is predetermined and inevitable. Certainly disastrous policy choices could shake our hegemony; just imagine the consequences of terrorists setting off a series of nuclear bombs in American cities. But the Obama presidency will have to be a disaster on an unprecedented scale to do terminal damage to a country that has been the mightiest in the world economically since 1900 and militarily since 1942.

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Neville Chamberlain . . . Never Got a Dinner

The late actor and comedian Red Buttons had a routine he performed regularly at celebrity roasts in which he would bemoan the fact that the guest of dishonor was being recognized by his peers when great personages throughout history went through their whole life . . . and never got a dinner.

Well, somewhat in that vein, the Nobel Committee’s website has a page dedicated to the men and women who throughout the past century have been nominated for Nobel Peace Prizes but were finally found wanting.

Some at first blush would appear to have been no-brainers, at least from Oslo’s perspective: Mahatma Gandhi, for example, or even Maria Montessori.

But some nominees should definitely be filed under I’M SORRY BUT YOU MUST SPEAK LOUDER.

Adolf Hitler was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swedish parliament, who later thought better of it when he was warned by the Austrian minister for travel that once Hitler is invited to your country, he never leaves.

Juan and Eva Peron were both nominated, as was Benito Mussolini (no doubt for teaching East Africans better living through chemistry).

Even Joseph Stalin was nominated — twice — for his efforts to bring World War II to an end, primarily by occupying Eastern Europe.

It doesn’t seem fair that Barack Obama should have been nominated after only 11 days in office — and then actually awarded the prize — when Nevile Chamberlain, the man who secured peace in our time . . . never got a dinner.

The late actor and comedian Red Buttons had a routine he performed regularly at celebrity roasts in which he would bemoan the fact that the guest of dishonor was being recognized by his peers when great personages throughout history went through their whole life . . . and never got a dinner.

Well, somewhat in that vein, the Nobel Committee’s website has a page dedicated to the men and women who throughout the past century have been nominated for Nobel Peace Prizes but were finally found wanting.

Some at first blush would appear to have been no-brainers, at least from Oslo’s perspective: Mahatma Gandhi, for example, or even Maria Montessori.

But some nominees should definitely be filed under I’M SORRY BUT YOU MUST SPEAK LOUDER.

Adolf Hitler was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swedish parliament, who later thought better of it when he was warned by the Austrian minister for travel that once Hitler is invited to your country, he never leaves.

Juan and Eva Peron were both nominated, as was Benito Mussolini (no doubt for teaching East Africans better living through chemistry).

Even Joseph Stalin was nominated — twice — for his efforts to bring World War II to an end, primarily by occupying Eastern Europe.

It doesn’t seem fair that Barack Obama should have been nominated after only 11 days in office — and then actually awarded the prize — when Nevile Chamberlain, the man who secured peace in our time . . . never got a dinner.

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Should Have Given It to the Hope and Change Crowd

One bright sliver of sunshine for conservatives  in the nine months of the Obama administration has been the voice of the Washington Post opinion editors, who have rather consistently taken exception to Obama’s nonstop assault on American exceptionalism, disdain for human rights, anything-but-smart diplomacy, and refusal to mount robust responses to despotic regimes. They do so again, lampooning the Nobel Prize ( “It’s an odd Nobel Peace Prize that almost makes you embarrassed for the honoree”). And they suggest that this isn’t such a boon to the gravitas-challenged president:

If anything animates Mr. Obama’s critics in this country, it is the impression that he is the focus of a global cult of personality. This prize, at this time, only feeds that impression, and thus does him no favors politically.

But the Post editors are right that Obama didn’t pick the winner — the clueless Nobel Prize Committee did. In that regard, they blew it by not selecting a deserving figure:

A posthumous award for Neda [Agha Soltan], as the avatar of a democratic movement in Iran, would have recognized the sacrifices that movement has made and encouraged its struggle in a dark hour. Democracy in Iran would not only set a people free, it would also dramatically improve the chances for world peace, since the regime that murdered her is pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community.

As the Post editors note, Obama made reference to Neda without speaking her name as part of his speak-cringingly-before-power approach to rogue states. The decision to give the award not to Neda but to the president, who persistently and shamefully refused (and still refuses) to put the full weight and prestige of the American government behind Iranian democratic activists, speaks volumes about the unspoken pact between Obama and the “international community.” The pact is simple: don’t rock the boat, Iran is getting nukes, don’t “destabilize” Iran (or other repressive regimes), and for goodness sakes don’t empower or encourage human rights activists.

It is, ironically, a pact dedicated to the status quo of tyranny and repression. No change and not much hope. Everyone is going to be polite, exquisitely polite. No one will bring up unpleasant facts. Everyone will convene in ornate conference rooms and talk. But no one will do much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and no one is seriously going to contemplate assisting those who might topple the regime, thereby obviating the need for those “crippling sanctions” or for military action.

The opportunity to have such a cool spokesman for such an unseemly cause doesn’t come along very often. So the international community of miscreants (excuse the repetition, but any nation proudly claiming membership in the “international community” tends not to be in the group labeled “allies” or “democracies”) is delighted; consequently, they gave him a prize. And the Iranian people learned a tough lesson: neither the U.S. nor the “international community” is on their side.

One bright sliver of sunshine for conservatives  in the nine months of the Obama administration has been the voice of the Washington Post opinion editors, who have rather consistently taken exception to Obama’s nonstop assault on American exceptionalism, disdain for human rights, anything-but-smart diplomacy, and refusal to mount robust responses to despotic regimes. They do so again, lampooning the Nobel Prize ( “It’s an odd Nobel Peace Prize that almost makes you embarrassed for the honoree”). And they suggest that this isn’t such a boon to the gravitas-challenged president:

If anything animates Mr. Obama’s critics in this country, it is the impression that he is the focus of a global cult of personality. This prize, at this time, only feeds that impression, and thus does him no favors politically.

But the Post editors are right that Obama didn’t pick the winner — the clueless Nobel Prize Committee did. In that regard, they blew it by not selecting a deserving figure:

A posthumous award for Neda [Agha Soltan], as the avatar of a democratic movement in Iran, would have recognized the sacrifices that movement has made and encouraged its struggle in a dark hour. Democracy in Iran would not only set a people free, it would also dramatically improve the chances for world peace, since the regime that murdered her is pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community.

As the Post editors note, Obama made reference to Neda without speaking her name as part of his speak-cringingly-before-power approach to rogue states. The decision to give the award not to Neda but to the president, who persistently and shamefully refused (and still refuses) to put the full weight and prestige of the American government behind Iranian democratic activists, speaks volumes about the unspoken pact between Obama and the “international community.” The pact is simple: don’t rock the boat, Iran is getting nukes, don’t “destabilize” Iran (or other repressive regimes), and for goodness sakes don’t empower or encourage human rights activists.

It is, ironically, a pact dedicated to the status quo of tyranny and repression. No change and not much hope. Everyone is going to be polite, exquisitely polite. No one will bring up unpleasant facts. Everyone will convene in ornate conference rooms and talk. But no one will do much of anything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and no one is seriously going to contemplate assisting those who might topple the regime, thereby obviating the need for those “crippling sanctions” or for military action.

The opportunity to have such a cool spokesman for such an unseemly cause doesn’t come along very often. So the international community of miscreants (excuse the repetition, but any nation proudly claiming membership in the “international community” tends not to be in the group labeled “allies” or “democracies”) is delighted; consequently, they gave him a prize. And the Iranian people learned a tough lesson: neither the U.S. nor the “international community” is on their side.

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Listening to Riedel

Bruce Riedel is a career CIA officer who is now at the Brookings Institution. He was an adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and earlier this year served as head of the “Afpak” policy review for the administration, which resulted in the dispatch of 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. He is, in short, not a person who can be dismissed as a conservative ideologue, so his views on the current Afghanistan debate are particularly noteworthy.

In this interview with the Council on Foreign Relations website (full disclosure: I work for the Council), he defends President Obama for doing another review just six months after the one that he completed, but he also warns,  ”At some point there is a cost to delay. And that cost comes in how our partners and how our enemies respond. Our NATO partners are already a bit squeamish. The Pakistanis are already beginning to wonder about the seriousness of the American commitment.”

He also dismisses as a “fairy tale” the notion that the Taliban could be separated from al-Qaeda or that al-Qaeda could be eliminated simply by bombing its leaders in Pakistan — both notions that are said to be gaining traction in the White House. “It’s a fairy tale,” Riedel concludes, “and it’s a prescription for disaster.”

I can only hope the president is listening to him again, as he did back in March.

Bruce Riedel is a career CIA officer who is now at the Brookings Institution. He was an adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and earlier this year served as head of the “Afpak” policy review for the administration, which resulted in the dispatch of 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. He is, in short, not a person who can be dismissed as a conservative ideologue, so his views on the current Afghanistan debate are particularly noteworthy.

In this interview with the Council on Foreign Relations website (full disclosure: I work for the Council), he defends President Obama for doing another review just six months after the one that he completed, but he also warns,  ”At some point there is a cost to delay. And that cost comes in how our partners and how our enemies respond. Our NATO partners are already a bit squeamish. The Pakistanis are already beginning to wonder about the seriousness of the American commitment.”

He also dismisses as a “fairy tale” the notion that the Taliban could be separated from al-Qaeda or that al-Qaeda could be eliminated simply by bombing its leaders in Pakistan — both notions that are said to be gaining traction in the White House. “It’s a fairy tale,” Riedel concludes, “and it’s a prescription for disaster.”

I can only hope the president is listening to him again, as he did back in March.

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Cowboys No More

Critics of President Obama’s Nobel award are wrong when they say he hasn’t done anything yet. If you think the world would be safer with Russia having an effective veto over NATO’s missile defenses, you will agree Obama has already accomplished a lot.

There is more to be done, however. Russian delight over Obama’s decision to scrap the missile-defense sites in Europe is fading quickly. As many predicted, Moscow dislikes the sea-based missile-defense concept as much as it did the ground-based interceptors. One problem with a sea-based missile defense is that Aegis warships have to be deployed to set it up. Defending Europe against missiles launched from Iran dictates deploying warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, or Baltic Sea, areas Russia is notoriously sensitive about.

But the other problem is the same one the Russians raised with the sites in Europe. Wherever we propose to put Aegis ships, Moscow will suspect that they can intercept missiles launched from Russia and will accuse the U.S. of “targeting Russia” with our missile defenses. This is exactly what Russia’s envoy to NATO is now doing, mere weeks after Obama’s policy concession. Indeed, Moscow now evinces an eye-opening air of entitlement to explanations on this head.

NATO, meanwhile, is renewing its search for greater cooperation with Russia on missile defense, with implications for the tactical ground-based systems assumed to be options in the Obama plan. Technological disparities between NATO and Russia make meaningful integration doubtful in the short run. This could give more prominence to technologically awkward, politically driven “solutions,” such as NATO accepting a role for Russia’s premier S-400 air defense system in its southern European defenses. Russia is already in negotiations with both Turkey and Greece over the S-400 and thus has an existing interest that is in direct competition with the U.S. Patriot. If Turkey and Greece host upgraded tactical missile-defense systems for NATO, those systems may not be ours.

A NATO missile-defense system over which Russia can exercise an inside veto is a Nobel-worthy experiment indeed. One thing we can say is that few cowboys would take a chance on it.

Critics of President Obama’s Nobel award are wrong when they say he hasn’t done anything yet. If you think the world would be safer with Russia having an effective veto over NATO’s missile defenses, you will agree Obama has already accomplished a lot.

There is more to be done, however. Russian delight over Obama’s decision to scrap the missile-defense sites in Europe is fading quickly. As many predicted, Moscow dislikes the sea-based missile-defense concept as much as it did the ground-based interceptors. One problem with a sea-based missile defense is that Aegis warships have to be deployed to set it up. Defending Europe against missiles launched from Iran dictates deploying warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, or Baltic Sea, areas Russia is notoriously sensitive about.

But the other problem is the same one the Russians raised with the sites in Europe. Wherever we propose to put Aegis ships, Moscow will suspect that they can intercept missiles launched from Russia and will accuse the U.S. of “targeting Russia” with our missile defenses. This is exactly what Russia’s envoy to NATO is now doing, mere weeks after Obama’s policy concession. Indeed, Moscow now evinces an eye-opening air of entitlement to explanations on this head.

NATO, meanwhile, is renewing its search for greater cooperation with Russia on missile defense, with implications for the tactical ground-based systems assumed to be options in the Obama plan. Technological disparities between NATO and Russia make meaningful integration doubtful in the short run. This could give more prominence to technologically awkward, politically driven “solutions,” such as NATO accepting a role for Russia’s premier S-400 air defense system in its southern European defenses. Russia is already in negotiations with both Turkey and Greece over the S-400 and thus has an existing interest that is in direct competition with the U.S. Patriot. If Turkey and Greece host upgraded tactical missile-defense systems for NATO, those systems may not be ours.

A NATO missile-defense system over which Russia can exercise an inside veto is a Nobel-worthy experiment indeed. One thing we can say is that few cowboys would take a chance on it.

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So Much for the Pundits of 2008

This comes from the thesis-gate mongers at the Washington Post (scrambling to avoid the post-election accusations that it had tried but failed to carry Creigh Deeds over the finish line):

Virginia Republicans are heading into the homestretch of a campaign season with a level of enthusiasm unparalleled in recent years as gubernatorial hopeful Robert F. McDonnell surges ahead in the polls and gives hope to a party that has experienced a series of demoralizing defeats over the past decade.

It turns out that McDonnell is not just ahead but that his voters are pumped up. Forty-one percent of McDonnell’s voters in the recent Post poll are enthusiastic about their candidate, while only 21 percent of Creigh Deeds’s supporters are. Some anecdotal evidence:

The enthusiasm gap has been evident at county fairs, back-to-school nights and other spots in Northern Virginia that typically overflow with campaign volunteers. McDonnell backers were quicker to blanket highway median strips with signs. In Fairfax County, a community that has solidly backed Democratic candidates in recent years, more than 300 activists attended a recent GOP breakfast pep rally — triple the number at a similar event last year, and so many that the pancakes ran out.

Judging from my Fairfax county neighborhood, the number of Deeds signs is a fraction of those that were out for Obama. (Virtually no one, it seems, is affixing what may be a hard-to-remove Deeds bumper sticker to his car.) And it’s no longer considered shocking to put out signs for Republican candidates.

Virginia Republicans sense victory — and an opportunity to stop the Blue surge that took both Senate seats, a majority of the House seats, and the governorship in the space of just a few years. But it’s more than simply the prospect of reclaiming Virginia or of unearthing a conservative candidate with some crossover appeal. It’s the hope that the road back for the GOP nationally begins here, in the state that the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate carried for the first time since LBJ did it in 1964. If Obama not only can’t help but actually hinders candidates in swing states after less than a year in office, Republicans begin to wonder: Could it be that the sojourn in the political wilderness is already coming to an end?

What we have learned in the past 11 months is that events matter. Politics is played on a real field with actual players who either deliver or don’t, who either cement their base or chase those voters off. Pundits can argue endlessly about how to “reinvent” the party or which constituency to throw out to somehow expand the party’s appeal. But in the end it’s about finding attractive candidates, mounting a decent campaign, and pointing out the other side’s errors, missteps, and excesses — and the more of those we see, the stronger the backlash.

McDonnell is running on bread-and-butter issues, as an unapologetic conservative and in opposition to the Obama agenda. Nothing fancy and no group expelled from the party. He hasn’t redefined himself or the party nor come up with a new economic theory. His platform has been rather straightforward: lower taxes, less regulation, fiscal sobriety, and, most of all, opposition to liberal agenda items (e.g., card check and cap-and-trade) that would be job killers.

And if he wins in a few weeks, he’ll make much of  last year’s punditry seem downright silly.

This comes from the thesis-gate mongers at the Washington Post (scrambling to avoid the post-election accusations that it had tried but failed to carry Creigh Deeds over the finish line):

Virginia Republicans are heading into the homestretch of a campaign season with a level of enthusiasm unparalleled in recent years as gubernatorial hopeful Robert F. McDonnell surges ahead in the polls and gives hope to a party that has experienced a series of demoralizing defeats over the past decade.

It turns out that McDonnell is not just ahead but that his voters are pumped up. Forty-one percent of McDonnell’s voters in the recent Post poll are enthusiastic about their candidate, while only 21 percent of Creigh Deeds’s supporters are. Some anecdotal evidence:

The enthusiasm gap has been evident at county fairs, back-to-school nights and other spots in Northern Virginia that typically overflow with campaign volunteers. McDonnell backers were quicker to blanket highway median strips with signs. In Fairfax County, a community that has solidly backed Democratic candidates in recent years, more than 300 activists attended a recent GOP breakfast pep rally — triple the number at a similar event last year, and so many that the pancakes ran out.

Judging from my Fairfax county neighborhood, the number of Deeds signs is a fraction of those that were out for Obama. (Virtually no one, it seems, is affixing what may be a hard-to-remove Deeds bumper sticker to his car.) And it’s no longer considered shocking to put out signs for Republican candidates.

Virginia Republicans sense victory — and an opportunity to stop the Blue surge that took both Senate seats, a majority of the House seats, and the governorship in the space of just a few years. But it’s more than simply the prospect of reclaiming Virginia or of unearthing a conservative candidate with some crossover appeal. It’s the hope that the road back for the GOP nationally begins here, in the state that the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate carried for the first time since LBJ did it in 1964. If Obama not only can’t help but actually hinders candidates in swing states after less than a year in office, Republicans begin to wonder: Could it be that the sojourn in the political wilderness is already coming to an end?

What we have learned in the past 11 months is that events matter. Politics is played on a real field with actual players who either deliver or don’t, who either cement their base or chase those voters off. Pundits can argue endlessly about how to “reinvent” the party or which constituency to throw out to somehow expand the party’s appeal. But in the end it’s about finding attractive candidates, mounting a decent campaign, and pointing out the other side’s errors, missteps, and excesses — and the more of those we see, the stronger the backlash.

McDonnell is running on bread-and-butter issues, as an unapologetic conservative and in opposition to the Obama agenda. Nothing fancy and no group expelled from the party. He hasn’t redefined himself or the party nor come up with a new economic theory. His platform has been rather straightforward: lower taxes, less regulation, fiscal sobriety, and, most of all, opposition to liberal agenda items (e.g., card check and cap-and-trade) that would be job killers.

And if he wins in a few weeks, he’ll make much of  last year’s punditry seem downright silly.

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Time to Knock Off the Ugly-American Routine

Sen. Jim DeMint evaded Sen. John Kerry’s best efforts to prevent him from going to Honduras. We now know why. DeMint is back with an informative firsthand account. First, a few facts to remind us that the administration is fighting to prevent a free and fair election:

The presidential election is on schedule for Nov. 29. Under Honduras’s one-term-limit, Mr. Zelaya could not have sought re-election anyway. Current President Roberto Micheletti—who was installed after Mr. Zelaya’s removal, per the Honduran Constitution—is not on the ballot either. The presidential candidates were nominated in primary elections almost a year ago, and all of them—including Mr. Zelaya’s former vice president—expect the elections to be free, fair and transparent, as has every Honduran election for a generation.

Nearly everyone in Honduras –  from the Supreme Court to the Catholic Church to business leaders — is in favor of going forward with the new elections. Well, except the U.S. ambassador, who is waving an opinion, not to be shared with the public, from none other than Harold Koh. It declares Zelaya’s removal to be a “coup.” (DeMint observes, “On the other hand, the only thorough examination of the facts to date—conducted by a senior analyst at the Law Library of Congress—confirms the legality and constitutionality of Mr. Zelaya’s ouster.”)

So the stalemate endures. But let’s not be too hard on Koh. After all, one can suspect that this opinion was ordered up to justify the Obama knee-jerk support for Hugo Chavez’s apprentice. And let’s suppose Koh is right — what justification is there for not proceeding with the planned election, which will take place under the auspices of an independent tribunal? That’s not a legal call but a political one. It’s a spasm of political stubbornness by a president who is now a prisoner of his own misguided policy.

One would have thought that the president would embrace democratic elections and not seek to impose an American solution (which is what — returning the lunatic to the presidency to make mischief in advance of the election?) on a another country. Not very Nobel-ian of him, is it?

Sen. Jim DeMint evaded Sen. John Kerry’s best efforts to prevent him from going to Honduras. We now know why. DeMint is back with an informative firsthand account. First, a few facts to remind us that the administration is fighting to prevent a free and fair election:

The presidential election is on schedule for Nov. 29. Under Honduras’s one-term-limit, Mr. Zelaya could not have sought re-election anyway. Current President Roberto Micheletti—who was installed after Mr. Zelaya’s removal, per the Honduran Constitution—is not on the ballot either. The presidential candidates were nominated in primary elections almost a year ago, and all of them—including Mr. Zelaya’s former vice president—expect the elections to be free, fair and transparent, as has every Honduran election for a generation.

Nearly everyone in Honduras –  from the Supreme Court to the Catholic Church to business leaders — is in favor of going forward with the new elections. Well, except the U.S. ambassador, who is waving an opinion, not to be shared with the public, from none other than Harold Koh. It declares Zelaya’s removal to be a “coup.” (DeMint observes, “On the other hand, the only thorough examination of the facts to date—conducted by a senior analyst at the Law Library of Congress—confirms the legality and constitutionality of Mr. Zelaya’s ouster.”)

So the stalemate endures. But let’s not be too hard on Koh. After all, one can suspect that this opinion was ordered up to justify the Obama knee-jerk support for Hugo Chavez’s apprentice. And let’s suppose Koh is right — what justification is there for not proceeding with the planned election, which will take place under the auspices of an independent tribunal? That’s not a legal call but a political one. It’s a spasm of political stubbornness by a president who is now a prisoner of his own misguided policy.

One would have thought that the president would embrace democratic elections and not seek to impose an American solution (which is what — returning the lunatic to the presidency to make mischief in advance of the election?) on a another country. Not very Nobel-ian of him, is it?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mike Huckabee tells conservatives not to “whine” about Obama’s Nobel Prize. (Uh, it’s ridicule, not whining, actually.) Tim Pawlenty thinks the prize is swell and congratulates Obama. Conservatives looking for an easy test of solid ideological instincts, a political Rorschach test (can you spot the Leftist absurdity in this scene?), may take note. Really, if Ruth Marcus thinks it’s a joke, there really isn’t any need for those on the Right to excuse the three-ring circus. If a conservative wanna-be leader doesn’t have anything appropriately disdainful to say, better to remain quiet.

The voters don’t share lawmakers’ priorities: “Thirty-three percent (33%) of voters say new spending for health care reform is more important. But 54% rate middle class tax cuts as the priority over more health care spending. Thirteen percent (13%) aren’t sure.”

Pat Toomey may be the first Senate candidate to make Iran an election issue. He chides Democrats Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak, who haven’t signed on to sanctions legislation: “In politics, it is rare to see such overwhelming bipartisanship, but the wide range of support from Republicans and Democrats demonstrates how critical this issue is. The consequences of doing nothing are simply too great. I would be proud to join Democratic Senators Schumer and Dodd and the bipartisan majority in the Senate in supporting this legislation.”

Mother Jones or National Review? “Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize? What for? Says here it’s in recognition of ‘his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.’ I’m going to head out into the blogosphere and see what people think of this. But before I do, I just want to say that this is ridiculous.”

Michael Gerson or Michael Tomasky? “Did Barack Obama earn this Nobel peace prize? Obviously not. The world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons (the main specific area of his ‘work’ named in the citation) hasn’t decreased by one that I’m aware of since he took office. He hasn’t made a dent in the Middle East yet. Iran hasn’t suddenly seen the light. . . . So you have to wonder whether the Nobel committee has its tongue part-way up its cheek here. Or that the prize needed some star power. Or that they just really hated George Bush and wanted to make a point. Or something. I see that the fellow in charge said that ‘it was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve.’ ”

Peter Robinson or Peter Beinart? “He’s done nothing to deserve the prize. Sure, he’s given some lovely speeches and launched some initiatives—on Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace, climate change and nuclear disarmament—that might, if he’s really lucky and really good, make the world a more safe, more just, more peaceful world. But there’s absolutely no way to know if he’ll succeed, and by giving him the Nobel Prize as a kind of ‘atta boy,’ the Nobel Committee is actually just highlighting the gap that conservatives have long highlighted: between Obamamania as global hype and Obama’s actual accomplishments.”

John Dickerson or John McCormack? “Having worked at Time magazine when it occasionally named a Person of the Year who evoked a similar ‘Huh?’ reaction, I recognize this language: It the sound of words groaning for a rationale. The committee can, of course, pick whomever it wants. But in his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go ‘to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.’ “

Mike Huckabee tells conservatives not to “whine” about Obama’s Nobel Prize. (Uh, it’s ridicule, not whining, actually.) Tim Pawlenty thinks the prize is swell and congratulates Obama. Conservatives looking for an easy test of solid ideological instincts, a political Rorschach test (can you spot the Leftist absurdity in this scene?), may take note. Really, if Ruth Marcus thinks it’s a joke, there really isn’t any need for those on the Right to excuse the three-ring circus. If a conservative wanna-be leader doesn’t have anything appropriately disdainful to say, better to remain quiet.

The voters don’t share lawmakers’ priorities: “Thirty-three percent (33%) of voters say new spending for health care reform is more important. But 54% rate middle class tax cuts as the priority over more health care spending. Thirteen percent (13%) aren’t sure.”

Pat Toomey may be the first Senate candidate to make Iran an election issue. He chides Democrats Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak, who haven’t signed on to sanctions legislation: “In politics, it is rare to see such overwhelming bipartisanship, but the wide range of support from Republicans and Democrats demonstrates how critical this issue is. The consequences of doing nothing are simply too great. I would be proud to join Democratic Senators Schumer and Dodd and the bipartisan majority in the Senate in supporting this legislation.”

Mother Jones or National Review? “Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize? What for? Says here it’s in recognition of ‘his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.’ I’m going to head out into the blogosphere and see what people think of this. But before I do, I just want to say that this is ridiculous.”

Michael Gerson or Michael Tomasky? “Did Barack Obama earn this Nobel peace prize? Obviously not. The world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons (the main specific area of his ‘work’ named in the citation) hasn’t decreased by one that I’m aware of since he took office. He hasn’t made a dent in the Middle East yet. Iran hasn’t suddenly seen the light. . . . So you have to wonder whether the Nobel committee has its tongue part-way up its cheek here. Or that the prize needed some star power. Or that they just really hated George Bush and wanted to make a point. Or something. I see that the fellow in charge said that ‘it was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve.’ ”

Peter Robinson or Peter Beinart? “He’s done nothing to deserve the prize. Sure, he’s given some lovely speeches and launched some initiatives—on Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace, climate change and nuclear disarmament—that might, if he’s really lucky and really good, make the world a more safe, more just, more peaceful world. But there’s absolutely no way to know if he’ll succeed, and by giving him the Nobel Prize as a kind of ‘atta boy,’ the Nobel Committee is actually just highlighting the gap that conservatives have long highlighted: between Obamamania as global hype and Obama’s actual accomplishments.”

John Dickerson or John McCormack? “Having worked at Time magazine when it occasionally named a Person of the Year who evoked a similar ‘Huh?’ reaction, I recognize this language: It the sound of words groaning for a rationale. The committee can, of course, pick whomever it wants. But in his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go ‘to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.’ “

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