Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2009

Courage, Mr. Holder?

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and co-founder of Keep America Safe and 9/11 Never Forget U.S., eviscerates Attorney General Holder in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. Not surprising, she objects to KSM’s being given a civilian-court trial. But the gravamen of her complaint is Holder’s particularly galling defense of his incomprehensible decision, namely that critics are “afraid” to give KSM a trial. Burlingame lets Holder have it. A portion:

How dare this man, who didn’t have the decency to notify victims’ families of his decision to bring these monsters here, imply that we lack courage. Courage is carrying on after watching your loved ones die, in real time, knowing that they burned to death, were crushed to death, or jumped from 100 flights high. Courage is carrying on, even as we waited, in some cases years, for something of our loved ones to bury. More than 1,100 families still wait.

How dare the attorney general suggest that the firefighters who oppose this trial need to “man up” and let this avowed enemy of America mock their brother firefighters in the country’s most magisterial setting, a federal court.

Nor is she going to let his comment about the “trial of the century” go unaddressed: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has put you on notice. He’s going to give it to you. His trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom.”

Burlingame notes that more than 100,000 people immediately signed her group’s letter of protest to Holder (he apparently has not responded). I suspect she’ll have more before this is through.

Holder’s decision to afford KSM all the constitutional privileges of a criminal defendant was entirely unnecessary and will, I suspect, come back to haunt the administration if not reversed in some fashion. But as bad as the decision was, Holder’s roll-out and defense of it, as Burlingame points out, have been even worse.

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, and co-founder of Keep America Safe and 9/11 Never Forget U.S., eviscerates Attorney General Holder in an op-ed in the New York Daily News. Not surprising, she objects to KSM’s being given a civilian-court trial. But the gravamen of her complaint is Holder’s particularly galling defense of his incomprehensible decision, namely that critics are “afraid” to give KSM a trial. Burlingame lets Holder have it. A portion:

How dare this man, who didn’t have the decency to notify victims’ families of his decision to bring these monsters here, imply that we lack courage. Courage is carrying on after watching your loved ones die, in real time, knowing that they burned to death, were crushed to death, or jumped from 100 flights high. Courage is carrying on, even as we waited, in some cases years, for something of our loved ones to bury. More than 1,100 families still wait.

How dare the attorney general suggest that the firefighters who oppose this trial need to “man up” and let this avowed enemy of America mock their brother firefighters in the country’s most magisterial setting, a federal court.

Nor is she going to let his comment about the “trial of the century” go unaddressed: “Well, Mr. Attorney General, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has put you on notice. He’s going to give it to you. His trial will be lawyer-assisted jihad in the courtroom.”

Burlingame notes that more than 100,000 people immediately signed her group’s letter of protest to Holder (he apparently has not responded). I suspect she’ll have more before this is through.

Holder’s decision to afford KSM all the constitutional privileges of a criminal defendant was entirely unnecessary and will, I suspect, come back to haunt the administration if not reversed in some fashion. But as bad as the decision was, Holder’s roll-out and defense of it, as Burlingame points out, have been even worse.

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Re: “Look Where We Are Today”

The latest from Robert Gibbs on the Iranian declaration that they not only don’t want to be engaged but are also getting a divorce and changing the locks:

The Iranians have been rebuked for their actions by a single international voice through a strong vote in the IAEA Board of Governors. If they make a decision to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations, then the international community would welcome that. If they decide not to fulfill those responsibilities and obligations, then all I can say to the Iranians is: “Time is running out.”

I didn’t see the presser, so I can’t say whether this missive was accompanied by any finger-wagging, eye-rolling, or deep sighs. One wonders if the White House actually thinks this is productive. Apparently, no one around there has the nerve to say: “You know, we sound ridiculous saying this sort of thing. They just announced they are building 10 enrichment sites, so time really has already run out.”

The administration is plainly busy with the Afghanistan roll-out, but they need to do better than a series of pathetic, impotent-sounding threats and predictions. Or if they don’t have anything productive to say, perhaps it is best to say nothing at all.

The latest from Robert Gibbs on the Iranian declaration that they not only don’t want to be engaged but are also getting a divorce and changing the locks:

The Iranians have been rebuked for their actions by a single international voice through a strong vote in the IAEA Board of Governors. If they make a decision to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations, then the international community would welcome that. If they decide not to fulfill those responsibilities and obligations, then all I can say to the Iranians is: “Time is running out.”

I didn’t see the presser, so I can’t say whether this missive was accompanied by any finger-wagging, eye-rolling, or deep sighs. One wonders if the White House actually thinks this is productive. Apparently, no one around there has the nerve to say: “You know, we sound ridiculous saying this sort of thing. They just announced they are building 10 enrichment sites, so time really has already run out.”

The administration is plainly busy with the Afghanistan roll-out, but they need to do better than a series of pathetic, impotent-sounding threats and predictions. Or if they don’t have anything productive to say, perhaps it is best to say nothing at all.

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E.J. Dionne’s Glaring Double Standard

The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has a peculiar little habit. He discovers the importance of civility in political discourse only when a Democratic president is on the receiving end of heated attacks. That was true when Bill Clinton was president — and it’s true again now that Barack Obama is. “The most surprising and disappointing aspect of our politics,” Dionne writes, “is how little pushback there has been against the vile, extremist rhetoric that has characterized such a large part of the anti-Obama movement.” It’s all just so nasty, isn’t it?

And yet when President Bush was on the receiving end of attacks far worse than what Obama has had to endure — I document a few of the higher-profile examples of calumny here, including former Vice President Al Gore’s charges that Bush “brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon” and that Bush had “betrayed this country” and was a “moral coward” — E.J. was nowhere to be found. It would have been nice to hear from the defenders of civility at that time.

Mr. Dionne was, in fact, a fairly harsh and relentless critic of President Bush himself — and if Dionne ever upbraided influential Democrats and those on the Left for their vile, extremist attacks on Bush, it’s news to me. Assuming I’m right, Dionne’s newfound outrage should be ignored. For him, civility seems to be a means to an end, a tool to advance liberalism. Ideology and partisanship determine just how delicate his sensibilities are. After all, if that were not the case, we would have heard from E.J. sometime during the Bush era, when it would have required (to use a Dionne phrase from his most recent column) “an immoderate dose of courage.” We didn’t — and so his lectures on the vital role that comity should play in our civic life are now hard to take seriously.

There is a case to be made for civility in public discourse — but E.J. Dionne is not in the strongest position to make it.

The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has a peculiar little habit. He discovers the importance of civility in political discourse only when a Democratic president is on the receiving end of heated attacks. That was true when Bill Clinton was president — and it’s true again now that Barack Obama is. “The most surprising and disappointing aspect of our politics,” Dionne writes, “is how little pushback there has been against the vile, extremist rhetoric that has characterized such a large part of the anti-Obama movement.” It’s all just so nasty, isn’t it?

And yet when President Bush was on the receiving end of attacks far worse than what Obama has had to endure — I document a few of the higher-profile examples of calumny here, including former Vice President Al Gore’s charges that Bush “brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon” and that Bush had “betrayed this country” and was a “moral coward” — E.J. was nowhere to be found. It would have been nice to hear from the defenders of civility at that time.

Mr. Dionne was, in fact, a fairly harsh and relentless critic of President Bush himself — and if Dionne ever upbraided influential Democrats and those on the Left for their vile, extremist attacks on Bush, it’s news to me. Assuming I’m right, Dionne’s newfound outrage should be ignored. For him, civility seems to be a means to an end, a tool to advance liberalism. Ideology and partisanship determine just how delicate his sensibilities are. After all, if that were not the case, we would have heard from E.J. sometime during the Bush era, when it would have required (to use a Dionne phrase from his most recent column) “an immoderate dose of courage.” We didn’t — and so his lectures on the vital role that comity should play in our civic life are now hard to take seriously.

There is a case to be made for civility in public discourse — but E.J. Dionne is not in the strongest position to make it.

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Detainee Abuse Photo Case

In some legal news today, the Supreme Court in a per curium opinion tossed out a second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had ordered the disclosure of  detainee-abuse photographs in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The Court told the lower court to consider a federal law under which Secretary of Defense Gates in mid-November exercised his authority to prevent the photos’ release. If you recall, with advice from Eric Holder’s Justice Department, Obama at first didn’t oppose the release of the photos. When critical public opinion and outrage in the military surfaced over the potential to incite violence against our troops, the administration reversed course.

This is noteworthy on a few grounds. First, it demonstrates just how faulty and biased is the “legal” advice coming from the DOJ. Holder’s lefty lawyers first advised that, in effect, the president had no choice but to turn over the photos. Maybe that was the answer the White House wanted, but it was wrong and in fact an easy solution was arrived at. (An executive order would have been an even easier solution.)

Second, decisions are reversible if they prove foolhardy. Just as the photos need not be released, Guantanamo may remain in operation, and the president can put the kabosh on KSM’s civilian trial. The president really is in charge and if he can be persuaded that earlier advice was bad, there is usually a means of correcting any error. And finally, this episode should remind the administration that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by currying favor with the netroot crowd. Unless the administration wants to imperil national security and risk the wrath of the military and the majority of voters, it really won’t be able to keep the ACLU and its ilk happy. So it should stop trying.

UPDATE: Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham who co-sponsored the provision allowing Gates to block the photos issued a statement praising the ruling.

In some legal news today, the Supreme Court in a per curium opinion tossed out a second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had ordered the disclosure of  detainee-abuse photographs in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The Court told the lower court to consider a federal law under which Secretary of Defense Gates in mid-November exercised his authority to prevent the photos’ release. If you recall, with advice from Eric Holder’s Justice Department, Obama at first didn’t oppose the release of the photos. When critical public opinion and outrage in the military surfaced over the potential to incite violence against our troops, the administration reversed course.

This is noteworthy on a few grounds. First, it demonstrates just how faulty and biased is the “legal” advice coming from the DOJ. Holder’s lefty lawyers first advised that, in effect, the president had no choice but to turn over the photos. Maybe that was the answer the White House wanted, but it was wrong and in fact an easy solution was arrived at. (An executive order would have been an even easier solution.)

Second, decisions are reversible if they prove foolhardy. Just as the photos need not be released, Guantanamo may remain in operation, and the president can put the kabosh on KSM’s civilian trial. The president really is in charge and if he can be persuaded that earlier advice was bad, there is usually a means of correcting any error. And finally, this episode should remind the administration that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by currying favor with the netroot crowd. Unless the administration wants to imperil national security and risk the wrath of the military and the majority of voters, it really won’t be able to keep the ACLU and its ilk happy. So it should stop trying.

UPDATE: Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham who co-sponsored the provision allowing Gates to block the photos issued a statement praising the ruling.

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Re: The Unmasking of Barack Obama

Pete, your smart critique raises two key points, which supporters of the president might want to mull over as they consider whether a course correction is in order.

First, the roundup of international public opinion highlights what the Obama team often forgets: the whole world is watching wherever the president goes and whatever venue or crisis is occupying him at that moment. The Russians pay attention when he bows in Japan. The Iranians perk up when he meekly agrees to avoid free encounters with Chinese dissidents. The Syrians watch closely when the Obami try to finesse the reaction to the Goldstone report. And the North Koreans breathe a sigh of relief as they watch the farcical negotiations in Iran unravel. One senses that the Obami don’t quite grasp this, that they believe they are simply catering to this or that despot, trying as best as they can to ingratiate themselves and meet the “concerns” of whichever thugocracy occupies their attention that day. But in fact everyone watches everything, and the portrait of accommodation and concession is taken in by many audiences. That image of irresoluteness becomes fixed in our adversaries’ minds, even when they are not the immediate subject of the president’s focus on that visit or in that particular negotiation. Slowly, our adversaries begin to learn and to test us again and again, motivated by a sense that this president can be pushed and intimidated. The task of keeping foes at bay and allies in line becomes more difficult as a result.

Second, Pete observes: “Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president.” And when national security does rise to the top of the list of voters’ concerns, it is generally because the public is becoming very, very alarmed. In the case of Obama, a real question is brewing: Is he making us less safe? Well, a year-long campaign of suck-uppery and burying our heads in the sand regarding the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions has made us less safe, many will conclude. Others will wonder whether the president missed a key opening after the June 12 elections and in fact helped to cement the rule of the Revolutionary Islamic regime. And then there is the inexplicable series of decisions on the war on terror — to investigate the CIA, cease enhanced interrogation techniques, close Guantanamo and offload detainees to places like Yemen, and try KSM in a civilian court where he can preach jihad and put the U.S. government on trial for years. The average voter may look at all that and recoil. What is he doing?

Foreign policy is rarely the top issue unless it is the top issue. In the case of Obama, it is plainly becoming a top issue. And considering his track record, that is a very bad thing for the president. His supporters might want to consider how to turn this around.

Pete, your smart critique raises two key points, which supporters of the president might want to mull over as they consider whether a course correction is in order.

First, the roundup of international public opinion highlights what the Obama team often forgets: the whole world is watching wherever the president goes and whatever venue or crisis is occupying him at that moment. The Russians pay attention when he bows in Japan. The Iranians perk up when he meekly agrees to avoid free encounters with Chinese dissidents. The Syrians watch closely when the Obami try to finesse the reaction to the Goldstone report. And the North Koreans breathe a sigh of relief as they watch the farcical negotiations in Iran unravel. One senses that the Obami don’t quite grasp this, that they believe they are simply catering to this or that despot, trying as best as they can to ingratiate themselves and meet the “concerns” of whichever thugocracy occupies their attention that day. But in fact everyone watches everything, and the portrait of accommodation and concession is taken in by many audiences. That image of irresoluteness becomes fixed in our adversaries’ minds, even when they are not the immediate subject of the president’s focus on that visit or in that particular negotiation. Slowly, our adversaries begin to learn and to test us again and again, motivated by a sense that this president can be pushed and intimidated. The task of keeping foes at bay and allies in line becomes more difficult as a result.

Second, Pete observes: “Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president.” And when national security does rise to the top of the list of voters’ concerns, it is generally because the public is becoming very, very alarmed. In the case of Obama, a real question is brewing: Is he making us less safe? Well, a year-long campaign of suck-uppery and burying our heads in the sand regarding the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions has made us less safe, many will conclude. Others will wonder whether the president missed a key opening after the June 12 elections and in fact helped to cement the rule of the Revolutionary Islamic regime. And then there is the inexplicable series of decisions on the war on terror — to investigate the CIA, cease enhanced interrogation techniques, close Guantanamo and offload detainees to places like Yemen, and try KSM in a civilian court where he can preach jihad and put the U.S. government on trial for years. The average voter may look at all that and recoil. What is he doing?

Foreign policy is rarely the top issue unless it is the top issue. In the case of Obama, it is plainly becoming a top issue. And considering his track record, that is a very bad thing for the president. His supporters might want to consider how to turn this around.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this. Read More

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this.

On almost every front, progress is nonexistent. In many instances, things are getting worse rather than better. The enormous goodwill that Obama’s election was met with hasn’t been leveraged into anything useful and tangible. Rather, our allies are now questioning America’s will, while our adversaries are becoming increasingly emboldened. The United States looks weak and uncertain. It’s “amateur hour at the White House,” according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Carter administration. “Not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken,” according to Michael Hirsh at Newsweek. When even such strong Obama supporters as Gelb and Hirsh reach these conclusions, you know things must be unraveling.

It’s no mystery as to why. President Obama’s approach to international relations is simplistic and misguided. It is premised on the belief that American concessions to our adversaries will beget goodwill and concessions in return; that American self-abasement is justified; that the American decline is inevitable (and in some respects welcome); and that diplomacy and multilateralism are ends rather than means to an end.

Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president. With every passing month, Barack Obama looks more and more like his Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter: irresolute, unsteady, and overmatched. The president and members of his own party will find out soon enough, though, that Obama the Impotent isn’t what they had in mind when they elected him. We are witnessing the unmasking, and perhaps the unmaking, of Barack Obama.

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Memo to the U.S. Senate: Wake Up!

In 2009 the federal deficit was 11.2 percent of GDP. And that was the deficit if you count the Social Security and other trust-fund surpluses as income, which the government does. The national debt in 2009 increased by 11.7 percent of GDP.

The reasons given for this enormous deficit are the financial crisis and the recession it caused. But the last year in which unemployment hit its current level of 10.2 percent, in 1982, the deficit was only 5.5 percent of GDP. In 1933, when a financial crisis was so severe that the president closed the country’s banks and the stock exchange remained closed for 10 days, the deficit was 4.61 percent of GDP. Only when the nation was fighting a great war has the deficit hit anything like its current level. In 1942, the deficit was 11.6 percent of GDP and reached 27.5 percent in 1943. Beginning in fiscal 1947, the first year of peace, the government began running surpluses (4.6 percent of GDP in 1948).

That’s not going to happen in the near future. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit will decline from 11.2 percent of GDP this year to 9.6 percent in 2010, 6.1 percent in 2011, and 3.7 percent in 2012. The CBO foresees its remaining above 3 percent for as far as the green-shaded eye can see. If the economic projections of the CBO turn out to be even a little too optimistic (and they are, in reality, only guesses), it could be far worse.

In a new Newsweek article that is well worth reading, the distinguished economic historian Niall Ferguson discusses the possible consequences of a national debt that rises to a dangerous level. Those consequences aren’t pretty. As he points out, when interest payments on the debt of Great Powers have risen above 20 percent of government revenues, trouble has always been on the way. Thanks to very low interest rates right now, interest on the debt will be 8.38 percent of the budget in fiscal 2009. But interest rates are sure to rise if economic recovery is robust and the federal government (and other national governments) continues to run up big deficits. It is by no means unlikely that we could find ourselves at the danger level in another decade. In a decade after that, we could be going the way of 17th-century Spain, 18th-century France, and 20th-century Britain, with our power to protect American interests severely curtailed.

The public is aware of the situation and in poll after poll puts deficit reduction as its No. 1 priority. So what will the greatest deliberative body in the world — as the U.S. Senate loves to call itself — spend the month of December deliberating about? The greatest expansion of the federal government’s responsibilities since Lyndon Johnson left the White House 40 years ago.

The best argument against the health-care bill now before the Senate is, simply, that we can’t afford it. The public increasingly knows that. Why doesn’t the Senate?

In 2009 the federal deficit was 11.2 percent of GDP. And that was the deficit if you count the Social Security and other trust-fund surpluses as income, which the government does. The national debt in 2009 increased by 11.7 percent of GDP.

The reasons given for this enormous deficit are the financial crisis and the recession it caused. But the last year in which unemployment hit its current level of 10.2 percent, in 1982, the deficit was only 5.5 percent of GDP. In 1933, when a financial crisis was so severe that the president closed the country’s banks and the stock exchange remained closed for 10 days, the deficit was 4.61 percent of GDP. Only when the nation was fighting a great war has the deficit hit anything like its current level. In 1942, the deficit was 11.6 percent of GDP and reached 27.5 percent in 1943. Beginning in fiscal 1947, the first year of peace, the government began running surpluses (4.6 percent of GDP in 1948).

That’s not going to happen in the near future. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit will decline from 11.2 percent of GDP this year to 9.6 percent in 2010, 6.1 percent in 2011, and 3.7 percent in 2012. The CBO foresees its remaining above 3 percent for as far as the green-shaded eye can see. If the economic projections of the CBO turn out to be even a little too optimistic (and they are, in reality, only guesses), it could be far worse.

In a new Newsweek article that is well worth reading, the distinguished economic historian Niall Ferguson discusses the possible consequences of a national debt that rises to a dangerous level. Those consequences aren’t pretty. As he points out, when interest payments on the debt of Great Powers have risen above 20 percent of government revenues, trouble has always been on the way. Thanks to very low interest rates right now, interest on the debt will be 8.38 percent of the budget in fiscal 2009. But interest rates are sure to rise if economic recovery is robust and the federal government (and other national governments) continues to run up big deficits. It is by no means unlikely that we could find ourselves at the danger level in another decade. In a decade after that, we could be going the way of 17th-century Spain, 18th-century France, and 20th-century Britain, with our power to protect American interests severely curtailed.

The public is aware of the situation and in poll after poll puts deficit reduction as its No. 1 priority. So what will the greatest deliberative body in the world — as the U.S. Senate loves to call itself — spend the month of December deliberating about? The greatest expansion of the federal government’s responsibilities since Lyndon Johnson left the White House 40 years ago.

The best argument against the health-care bill now before the Senate is, simply, that we can’t afford it. The public increasingly knows that. Why doesn’t the Senate?

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Re: Sixty, Again and Again

As we start the health-care debate in the Senate, Gallup tells us: “Americans currently tilt against Congress’s passing health-care legislation, with 49% saying they would advise their member to vote against a bill (or they lean that way) and 44% saying they would advocate a vote in favor of the bill (or lean toward advising a yes vote).”

The “good news” for ObamaCare backers is that there are still undecided voters out there: “Proportionately more independents (27%) and Democrats (24%) than Republicans (14%) are undecided, which at least improves the odds that legislation could wind up getting majority public backing.” The bad news is that the “trend has been in the opposite direction, with opposition growing.” Indeed, each time we get into a more vigorous discussion of the details of ObamaCare, support for a government takeover goes down. Nor is Obama likely to help matters for his own cause: “The poll also finds 40% of Americans approving of President Obama’s handling of health-care policy, while 53% disapprove. This is slightly more negative than what Gallup found from July through September, and represents his worst review to date on this issue.” Again, the more the public hears from him, the less they like what he is trying to sell.

Either Obama and the Democrats, with all the advantages of one-party rule and a sympathetic media to help steer the discussion, have experienced a monumental failure in communication or the public simply doesn’t want to see the liberals’ decades-long dream of government health care come to pass. Liberals in the White House and Congress may not care what the public wants, but moderates and conservatives in both Houses still may fret. Is it worth losing their jobs over something their constituents don’t want? We’ll find out.

As we start the health-care debate in the Senate, Gallup tells us: “Americans currently tilt against Congress’s passing health-care legislation, with 49% saying they would advise their member to vote against a bill (or they lean that way) and 44% saying they would advocate a vote in favor of the bill (or lean toward advising a yes vote).”

The “good news” for ObamaCare backers is that there are still undecided voters out there: “Proportionately more independents (27%) and Democrats (24%) than Republicans (14%) are undecided, which at least improves the odds that legislation could wind up getting majority public backing.” The bad news is that the “trend has been in the opposite direction, with opposition growing.” Indeed, each time we get into a more vigorous discussion of the details of ObamaCare, support for a government takeover goes down. Nor is Obama likely to help matters for his own cause: “The poll also finds 40% of Americans approving of President Obama’s handling of health-care policy, while 53% disapprove. This is slightly more negative than what Gallup found from July through September, and represents his worst review to date on this issue.” Again, the more the public hears from him, the less they like what he is trying to sell.

Either Obama and the Democrats, with all the advantages of one-party rule and a sympathetic media to help steer the discussion, have experienced a monumental failure in communication or the public simply doesn’t want to see the liberals’ decades-long dream of government health care come to pass. Liberals in the White House and Congress may not care what the public wants, but moderates and conservatives in both Houses still may fret. Is it worth losing their jobs over something their constituents don’t want? We’ll find out.

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Wooing the Israeli Center

The 10-month settlement freeze announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week entails obvious risks, from the danger of being perceived as vulnerable to pressure to the time bomb of what happens when the 10 months end. And if the goal is to placate the Palestinians, Arab states, Europe, or the U.S., it also entails few rewards: all have already declared it insufficient (though some deemed it a “positive” first step).

But the freeze, like Netanyahu’s speech last June outlining his principles for a two-state solution, is probably aimed first and foremost at a domestic audience. And on this level, it may be sound tactics.

One lesson Netanyahu learned from both his first term as prime minister and his time in Ariel Sharon’s government was the importance of keeping the Israeli Center behind him. He currently faces two major problems — a nonexistent peace process and a likely need to order military action against Iran — that are liable to result in widespread international condemnation, escalated anti-Israel terror, pressure for potentially dangerous concessions, and perhaps even sanctions. To withstand this, he will need solid domestic support, which means he must convince the Israeli majority that neither problem is his fault: that he truly tried to restart peace talks and thereby also spur international action on Iran, given the West’s claim that such action would be easier if peace talks were progressing.

Faced with similar circumstances — a stalled peace process, a looming Iranian threat, growing international pressure, and consequent eroding domestic support — Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. That achieved its goal: it got the Israeli Center behind him. But the price, in terms of both security and Israel’s image (as January’s Gaza war showed), was horrific.

The settlement freeze is a far smarter means of achieving the same goal. The only security risks it poses are those that stem from being perceived as easily pressured. Yet it is a concession no previous Israeli prime minister ever offered, and a substantial one: it even applies to settlement blocs that Israel wants to keep under any agreement and where even the moderate Left deems continued construction no impediment to peace.

Thus even if it fails to satisfy the Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, Netanyahu’s hope is that it will satisfy most Israelis: that when the world begins condemning Israel for the lack of progress toward peace and demanding additional, more dangerous concessions, the Israeli majority will not blame Netanyahu’s “intransigence” — after all, he has shown great flexibility — but rather the Palestinians’ unwillingness to respond to his gesture, and the world’s unwillingness to pressure them to do so instead of once again pressuring Israel. And it will therefore back him in refusing to make further concessions.

The freeze is a high-stakes gamble and could easily prove to be just the first of many Netanyahu capitulations to pressure. But if it pays off in mainstream Israeli support for confronting the difficult challenges ahead, it will be well worth the price.

The 10-month settlement freeze announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week entails obvious risks, from the danger of being perceived as vulnerable to pressure to the time bomb of what happens when the 10 months end. And if the goal is to placate the Palestinians, Arab states, Europe, or the U.S., it also entails few rewards: all have already declared it insufficient (though some deemed it a “positive” first step).

But the freeze, like Netanyahu’s speech last June outlining his principles for a two-state solution, is probably aimed first and foremost at a domestic audience. And on this level, it may be sound tactics.

One lesson Netanyahu learned from both his first term as prime minister and his time in Ariel Sharon’s government was the importance of keeping the Israeli Center behind him. He currently faces two major problems — a nonexistent peace process and a likely need to order military action against Iran — that are liable to result in widespread international condemnation, escalated anti-Israel terror, pressure for potentially dangerous concessions, and perhaps even sanctions. To withstand this, he will need solid domestic support, which means he must convince the Israeli majority that neither problem is his fault: that he truly tried to restart peace talks and thereby also spur international action on Iran, given the West’s claim that such action would be easier if peace talks were progressing.

Faced with similar circumstances — a stalled peace process, a looming Iranian threat, growing international pressure, and consequent eroding domestic support — Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. That achieved its goal: it got the Israeli Center behind him. But the price, in terms of both security and Israel’s image (as January’s Gaza war showed), was horrific.

The settlement freeze is a far smarter means of achieving the same goal. The only security risks it poses are those that stem from being perceived as easily pressured. Yet it is a concession no previous Israeli prime minister ever offered, and a substantial one: it even applies to settlement blocs that Israel wants to keep under any agreement and where even the moderate Left deems continued construction no impediment to peace.

Thus even if it fails to satisfy the Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, Netanyahu’s hope is that it will satisfy most Israelis: that when the world begins condemning Israel for the lack of progress toward peace and demanding additional, more dangerous concessions, the Israeli majority will not blame Netanyahu’s “intransigence” — after all, he has shown great flexibility — but rather the Palestinians’ unwillingness to respond to his gesture, and the world’s unwillingness to pressure them to do so instead of once again pressuring Israel. And it will therefore back him in refusing to make further concessions.

The freeze is a high-stakes gamble and could easily prove to be just the first of many Netanyahu capitulations to pressure. But if it pays off in mainstream Israeli support for confronting the difficult challenges ahead, it will be well worth the price.

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Disappointment Abounds

Many a liberal pundit swooned over Obama’s Cairo speech. The mere utterance of Obama’s words was already “changing the Middle East,” we were told. The speech was heralded as a great act of truth-telling. He really “got” the Muslim World and was somehow going to inspire and challenge them. He was going to unlock the peace process. But alas, Obama did none of those things. Instead, he wound up disappointing all but the reactionary regimes of the Middle East — the very crowd you’d expect to be rocked by the hope-n-change president.

Jackson Diehl makes the case that Obama’s counterproductive effort to jump-start the Middle East peace process (“Arabs who were led by Obama’s rhetoric to believe that the United States would force Israel to make unprecedented unilateral concessions — like a complete end to all construction in Jerusalem — were bitterly disappointed”) was not his only failure. It seems that Middle East reformers and pro-democracy activists soon learned that human rights and democracy didn’t rate very high with the Obami. Hillary Clinton let on that, yes, democracy promotion was all well and good, but “‘they have a lot of other things on their plate.’ For Arab liberals, the translation is easy, if painful: Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include ‘a new beginning’ in the old political order.”

Arab liberals aren’t alone. “No new beginning” is really the message of the day in China, Iran, and Russia, too. Human rights have been downgraded. The message is clear that thuggish regimes need not clean up their acts to enjoy robust relations with the U.S. In fact, we won’t even embarrass them or challenge them when our president arrives. They can breathe easier as they proceed to imprison, censor, and brutalize their own people.

It’s not exactly what starry-eyed Obama fans around the globe expected. They thought they were getting someone in Obama who’d motivate young people, cajole old regimes into reforming themselves, and tout the blessings of freedom. They thought all that hope-n-change stuff might apply to them. Instead they have a cynical crowd in the White House who imagines that its role is to be as inoffensive as possible with despotic regimes and avoid confrontation. “Getting along” is now the watchword. “Hope and change” are out.

Not unexpectedly, the Obami have nothing to show for their efforts.  The Middle East peace process is stalled. The Iranian mullahs are firmly in power and flexing their muscles, looking forward to joining the club of nuclear powers. The Chinese flaunt their disregard for human rights. At this rate, we’ll have a more dangerous and a less free world. The Arab reformers are right to be disappointed — and they have plenty of company.

Many a liberal pundit swooned over Obama’s Cairo speech. The mere utterance of Obama’s words was already “changing the Middle East,” we were told. The speech was heralded as a great act of truth-telling. He really “got” the Muslim World and was somehow going to inspire and challenge them. He was going to unlock the peace process. But alas, Obama did none of those things. Instead, he wound up disappointing all but the reactionary regimes of the Middle East — the very crowd you’d expect to be rocked by the hope-n-change president.

Jackson Diehl makes the case that Obama’s counterproductive effort to jump-start the Middle East peace process (“Arabs who were led by Obama’s rhetoric to believe that the United States would force Israel to make unprecedented unilateral concessions — like a complete end to all construction in Jerusalem — were bitterly disappointed”) was not his only failure. It seems that Middle East reformers and pro-democracy activists soon learned that human rights and democracy didn’t rate very high with the Obami. Hillary Clinton let on that, yes, democracy promotion was all well and good, but “‘they have a lot of other things on their plate.’ For Arab liberals, the translation is easy, if painful: Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include ‘a new beginning’ in the old political order.”

Arab liberals aren’t alone. “No new beginning” is really the message of the day in China, Iran, and Russia, too. Human rights have been downgraded. The message is clear that thuggish regimes need not clean up their acts to enjoy robust relations with the U.S. In fact, we won’t even embarrass them or challenge them when our president arrives. They can breathe easier as they proceed to imprison, censor, and brutalize their own people.

It’s not exactly what starry-eyed Obama fans around the globe expected. They thought they were getting someone in Obama who’d motivate young people, cajole old regimes into reforming themselves, and tout the blessings of freedom. They thought all that hope-n-change stuff might apply to them. Instead they have a cynical crowd in the White House who imagines that its role is to be as inoffensive as possible with despotic regimes and avoid confrontation. “Getting along” is now the watchword. “Hope and change” are out.

Not unexpectedly, the Obami have nothing to show for their efforts.  The Middle East peace process is stalled. The Iranian mullahs are firmly in power and flexing their muscles, looking forward to joining the club of nuclear powers. The Chinese flaunt their disregard for human rights. At this rate, we’ll have a more dangerous and a less free world. The Arab reformers are right to be disappointed — and they have plenty of company.

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Congratulations to the Little Country That Could

Throughout the Honduran “crisis” — the removal of the Honduran president by order of a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court, supported by the virtually unanimous approval of the Honduran Congress — many noted there was an easy remedy for the alleged “coup”: hold the already scheduled election between the already selected candidates and install an undeniably democratic government.

Instead, President Obama labeled what had happened a “military coup,” cut off aid to one of the poorest states in the hemisphere, revoked the visas of the entire Honduran Supreme Court, and resisted for months the obvious solution to the “crisis.”

On Friday, the State Department finally endorsed the election, describing it in terms that would have made Simon Bolivar blush:

The electoral process — launched well before June 28 and involving legitimate candidates representing parties with longstanding democratic traditions from a broad ideological spectrum — is conducted under the stewardship of the multi-party and autonomous Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which was also selected before the coup. The electoral renewal of presidential, congressional and mayoral mandates, enshrined in the Honduran constitution, is an inalienable expression of the sovereign will of the citizens of Honduras.

Honduras now holds the Guinness record for shortest Latin American “coup” ever. Yesterday, the election officials announced that more than 61.5 percent of registered Hondurans went to the polls, a historic record turnout:

The announcement from the TSE [Tribunal Supremo Electoral] received a standing ovation from the attentive room of official observers and spectators.

The TSE stated they would welcome any international audit of the results.

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally recognizing that its misguided policy had reached a dead end and reversing course before it was too late. It is a lesson the administration could profitably apply in other foreign-policy areas as well.

Throughout the Honduran “crisis” — the removal of the Honduran president by order of a unanimous Honduran Supreme Court, supported by the virtually unanimous approval of the Honduran Congress — many noted there was an easy remedy for the alleged “coup”: hold the already scheduled election between the already selected candidates and install an undeniably democratic government.

Instead, President Obama labeled what had happened a “military coup,” cut off aid to one of the poorest states in the hemisphere, revoked the visas of the entire Honduran Supreme Court, and resisted for months the obvious solution to the “crisis.”

On Friday, the State Department finally endorsed the election, describing it in terms that would have made Simon Bolivar blush:

The electoral process — launched well before June 28 and involving legitimate candidates representing parties with longstanding democratic traditions from a broad ideological spectrum — is conducted under the stewardship of the multi-party and autonomous Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which was also selected before the coup. The electoral renewal of presidential, congressional and mayoral mandates, enshrined in the Honduran constitution, is an inalienable expression of the sovereign will of the citizens of Honduras.

Honduras now holds the Guinness record for shortest Latin American “coup” ever. Yesterday, the election officials announced that more than 61.5 percent of registered Hondurans went to the polls, a historic record turnout:

The announcement from the TSE [Tribunal Supremo Electoral] received a standing ovation from the attentive room of official observers and spectators.

The TSE stated they would welcome any international audit of the results.

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally recognizing that its misguided policy had reached a dead end and reversing course before it was too late. It is a lesson the administration could profitably apply in other foreign-policy areas as well.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

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Making Conservatism Seem Fresh Again

Obama and his team rode into office banking on the recession to help shift the country leftward. The private sector would be discredited, they figured. The public would turn to government. And they and their hyper-liberal agenda would be the beneficiaries. But they missed the mark on two counts.

First, the essential center-right political orientation of Americans was not altered by the downturn. Voters were in fact wary after eight years of Republican rule and some significant mismanagement. They might have been prepared for some corrective regulatory action, but they hadn’t given up on the free market or their suspicion of big government, and candidate Obama was more than anxious to assure them that he, too, was a fan of the private sector and had no desire to reorient the relationship between the private and public sectors. Had Obama not appealed to that political sentiment throughout the campaign (going line by line through the budget, for example) and not vigorously disputed critics who spied him as a extreme liberal, it is unclear whether he would have won. The election would certainly have been closer had he revealed just how radical a domestic agenda he was considering.

Second, if you’re going to push big government, you’d better be prepared to show that you are up for the task. As Ross Douthat writes:

Recessions, it seems, only benefit liberals when an activist government is perceived to have answers to the crisis. When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don’t seem to be working — or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man — then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets.

All the Obami have to show for their hopey/changey revolution is a failed stimulus plan and a load of debt. It inspires only queasiness, not faith in empowering government to do more and more. Independents are moving rightward, concerned about massive spending and debt. The signature piece of legislation, a takeover of health care, is now in doubt and will pass only if lawmakers ignore public opinion.

The result of the Obami’s misreading of the public and gross underperformance has been a revitalization of their opponents and a renewed interest in a message of fiscal conservatism. The Obami may yet recalibrate their vision or improve their execution. But if they don’t do both, the Obama era may ironically mark the rebirth of a conservative agenda that had grown increasingly stale and muddled. There is, after all, nothing like liberal excess to make low taxes, spending restraint, and regulatory moderation seem like the basis for a refreshing new agenda.

Obama and his team rode into office banking on the recession to help shift the country leftward. The private sector would be discredited, they figured. The public would turn to government. And they and their hyper-liberal agenda would be the beneficiaries. But they missed the mark on two counts.

First, the essential center-right political orientation of Americans was not altered by the downturn. Voters were in fact wary after eight years of Republican rule and some significant mismanagement. They might have been prepared for some corrective regulatory action, but they hadn’t given up on the free market or their suspicion of big government, and candidate Obama was more than anxious to assure them that he, too, was a fan of the private sector and had no desire to reorient the relationship between the private and public sectors. Had Obama not appealed to that political sentiment throughout the campaign (going line by line through the budget, for example) and not vigorously disputed critics who spied him as a extreme liberal, it is unclear whether he would have won. The election would certainly have been closer had he revealed just how radical a domestic agenda he was considering.

Second, if you’re going to push big government, you’d better be prepared to show that you are up for the task. As Ross Douthat writes:

Recessions, it seems, only benefit liberals when an activist government is perceived to have answers to the crisis. When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don’t seem to be working — or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man — then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets.

All the Obami have to show for their hopey/changey revolution is a failed stimulus plan and a load of debt. It inspires only queasiness, not faith in empowering government to do more and more. Independents are moving rightward, concerned about massive spending and debt. The signature piece of legislation, a takeover of health care, is now in doubt and will pass only if lawmakers ignore public opinion.

The result of the Obami’s misreading of the public and gross underperformance has been a revitalization of their opponents and a renewed interest in a message of fiscal conservatism. The Obami may yet recalibrate their vision or improve their execution. But if they don’t do both, the Obama era may ironically mark the rebirth of a conservative agenda that had grown increasingly stale and muddled. There is, after all, nothing like liberal excess to make low taxes, spending restraint, and regulatory moderation seem like the basis for a refreshing new agenda.

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Scoffed Power

Noah Pollak has at least found some comic relief in Obama’s “Israel ploy” with China. The old “my buddy here is crazy, don’t know if I can hold him back” routine is as well-worn a device in the soft-power toolkit as it is in Hollywood scriptwriting. We should not, however, buy the credulous, one-dimensional implication of the Washington Post story that a veiled threat to unleash Israel got the Chinese on board for censuring Iran. In Beijing they have plenty of their own intelligence on the Middle East, and they also know a ploy when they see one.

We find a much better explanation for China’s cooperation in this November 19 piece from Reuters on the prognosis for sanctions. It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, possibly because of the title, “West lowers sights for new Iran sanctions at UN.” It clarifies quite baldly how the cost of bringing East and West together in the P5+1 is being lowered: by accommodating Russia and China and dropping the idea of targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Out in the real world, China is obviously not taking a harder line with Iran. The day before joining the censure motion, the Chinese inked a $6.5 billion gasoline refinery contract with Tehran, the fourth major oil-and-gas contract between the two countries in 2009. China continues to supply gasoline to Iran, as it has been doing openly since September. Beijing’s actual trade posture with Iran has not shifted by even an inch.

Trade may be involved in this drama in another form, however: deal-making with U.S. tariffs. President Obama, under pressure from the unions, has been threatening China with punitive tariffs on key imports, including auto tires and manufactured steel pipes. China strenuously opposes the tariffs, of course, and relief from them is a high priority. In what was very possibly a quid pro quo, the approved tariff schedule for steel pipes — announced simultaneously this past week with China’s agreement to censure Iran — reflected a top rate of only half what the Department of Commerce had proposed in September.

Soft power is all about the horse-trading, of course. But it’s hard to find the “smart” power in this deal. If it was a horse trade, we paid too much. Whether the bait we used was the “Israel threat” or U.S. tariffs, the deal was ultimately set up by lowering to zero the cost of China’s participation. The censure motion is a meaningless gesture that carries no guaranteed consequences, a concession so costless to China that we should have paid nothing for it.

Undeterred, Iran is doubling down on its recalcitrance by announcing plans for new uranium-enrichment sites. We might almost suppose that the Iranian regime was scoffing at all this fascinatingly clever soft power — or at least smirking a little.

Noah Pollak has at least found some comic relief in Obama’s “Israel ploy” with China. The old “my buddy here is crazy, don’t know if I can hold him back” routine is as well-worn a device in the soft-power toolkit as it is in Hollywood scriptwriting. We should not, however, buy the credulous, one-dimensional implication of the Washington Post story that a veiled threat to unleash Israel got the Chinese on board for censuring Iran. In Beijing they have plenty of their own intelligence on the Middle East, and they also know a ploy when they see one.

We find a much better explanation for China’s cooperation in this November 19 piece from Reuters on the prognosis for sanctions. It didn’t get much play in the mainstream media, possibly because of the title, “West lowers sights for new Iran sanctions at UN.” It clarifies quite baldly how the cost of bringing East and West together in the P5+1 is being lowered: by accommodating Russia and China and dropping the idea of targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Out in the real world, China is obviously not taking a harder line with Iran. The day before joining the censure motion, the Chinese inked a $6.5 billion gasoline refinery contract with Tehran, the fourth major oil-and-gas contract between the two countries in 2009. China continues to supply gasoline to Iran, as it has been doing openly since September. Beijing’s actual trade posture with Iran has not shifted by even an inch.

Trade may be involved in this drama in another form, however: deal-making with U.S. tariffs. President Obama, under pressure from the unions, has been threatening China with punitive tariffs on key imports, including auto tires and manufactured steel pipes. China strenuously opposes the tariffs, of course, and relief from them is a high priority. In what was very possibly a quid pro quo, the approved tariff schedule for steel pipes — announced simultaneously this past week with China’s agreement to censure Iran — reflected a top rate of only half what the Department of Commerce had proposed in September.

Soft power is all about the horse-trading, of course. But it’s hard to find the “smart” power in this deal. If it was a horse trade, we paid too much. Whether the bait we used was the “Israel threat” or U.S. tariffs, the deal was ultimately set up by lowering to zero the cost of China’s participation. The censure motion is a meaningless gesture that carries no guaranteed consequences, a concession so costless to China that we should have paid nothing for it.

Undeterred, Iran is doubling down on its recalcitrance by announcing plans for new uranium-enrichment sites. We might almost suppose that the Iranian regime was scoffing at all this fascinatingly clever soft power — or at least smirking a little.

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“Look Where We Are Today”

As Max and John remarked, the Iranian regime’s declaration that it will proceed with 10 more enrichment sites is quite a rebuke for those who fancied that “engagement” would bring results. Well, results we do have: a level of contempt and brazenness heretofore not seen from the Iranians. As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors put it:

The regime scoffed at Mr. Obama after he delivered a conciliating message for the Persian New Year in March, scoffed again after he mildly criticized its post-election crackdown and killing spree in June (following days of silence), and scoffed a third time by rejecting the West’s offer last month to enrich Iran’s uranium for it. Yet the Administration insists the enrichment deal is still Iran’s for the taking. “A few years ago [the West] said we had to completely stop all our nuclear activities,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last month. “Now look where we are today.”

Those are the words of a man who believes he has Mr. Obama’s number.

We see once again that Obama’s worldview, which is premised on the notion that our enemies are insufficiently respected and understood, has proved dangerously faulty. We have given the Iranians nearly a year to proceed with their program as well as, and more important, the impression that we do not have the will to challenge their nuclear ambitions. They do not feel the need to play along with negotiations or even offer to enter spurious, unverifiable agreements. It was, it seems, not lack of respect or an insufficient dose of American humility that was the root of the problem. It was the nature of a regime determined to become a nuclear power that can press for regional hegemony.

Each step we took — shrinking from confrontation, defunding democracy protesters, bad-mouthing the military option — only emboldened the Iranians and will make any future threats and sanctions less credible. Obama’s Iranian-engagement policy will rank as one of his team’s worst foreign-policy blunders, in an administration replete with errors, misjudgment, and gaffes. America and its allies are less safe as a result and will rightly hold the president responsible for having done much to encourage the mullahs.

As Max and John remarked, the Iranian regime’s declaration that it will proceed with 10 more enrichment sites is quite a rebuke for those who fancied that “engagement” would bring results. Well, results we do have: a level of contempt and brazenness heretofore not seen from the Iranians. As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors put it:

The regime scoffed at Mr. Obama after he delivered a conciliating message for the Persian New Year in March, scoffed again after he mildly criticized its post-election crackdown and killing spree in June (following days of silence), and scoffed a third time by rejecting the West’s offer last month to enrich Iran’s uranium for it. Yet the Administration insists the enrichment deal is still Iran’s for the taking. “A few years ago [the West] said we had to completely stop all our nuclear activities,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last month. “Now look where we are today.”

Those are the words of a man who believes he has Mr. Obama’s number.

We see once again that Obama’s worldview, which is premised on the notion that our enemies are insufficiently respected and understood, has proved dangerously faulty. We have given the Iranians nearly a year to proceed with their program as well as, and more important, the impression that we do not have the will to challenge their nuclear ambitions. They do not feel the need to play along with negotiations or even offer to enter spurious, unverifiable agreements. It was, it seems, not lack of respect or an insufficient dose of American humility that was the root of the problem. It was the nature of a regime determined to become a nuclear power that can press for regional hegemony.

Each step we took — shrinking from confrontation, defunding democracy protesters, bad-mouthing the military option — only emboldened the Iranians and will make any future threats and sanctions less credible. Obama’s Iranian-engagement policy will rank as one of his team’s worst foreign-policy blunders, in an administration replete with errors, misjudgment, and gaffes. America and its allies are less safe as a result and will rightly hold the president responsible for having done much to encourage the mullahs.

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Sixty, Again and Again

Health-care debate in the Senate gets underway this week, as this report explains:

The debate is expected to last at least several weeks. Democrats would like to pass a bill by Christmas, but have yet to find a formula that can win 60 votes, the number required to conclude debate. Complicating the situation, lawmakers from both parties are planning to introduce dozens of amendments, addressing issues from a government-run health-care plan to medical malpractice lawsuits to abortion and taxes. The aim isn’t just to shape the bill but also to make political points.

One “point” would be that Harry Reid wants to slash hundreds of billions out of Medicare. Another is that Mary Landrieu wants to raise hundreds of billions in new taxes. Still another is that Blanche Lincoln is opposed to tort reform. Well, lots of Democrats will be taking these very toxic positions, but those three are up for re-election in less than a year, as are Michael Bennett of Colorado, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — all of whom will face well-funded and serious opposition by candidates who will run on these votes. And if each of these controversial votes takes 60 to pass, then all will walk the plank to keep Reid’s bill intact. And then there are senators like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman whose terms aren’t up in 2012 but who have voiced principled opposition to the idea of a government takeover of health care.

We saw it wasn’t easy for Reid to get 60 votes, only to start the vote when lawmakers had the excuse that they simply wanted the “process to go forward.” Now we get to the merits, and we’ll see if there are 60 votes — again and again — to pass the components of an increasingly unpopular bill. And all by the end of the year? I’m thinking probably not.

Health-care debate in the Senate gets underway this week, as this report explains:

The debate is expected to last at least several weeks. Democrats would like to pass a bill by Christmas, but have yet to find a formula that can win 60 votes, the number required to conclude debate. Complicating the situation, lawmakers from both parties are planning to introduce dozens of amendments, addressing issues from a government-run health-care plan to medical malpractice lawsuits to abortion and taxes. The aim isn’t just to shape the bill but also to make political points.

One “point” would be that Harry Reid wants to slash hundreds of billions out of Medicare. Another is that Mary Landrieu wants to raise hundreds of billions in new taxes. Still another is that Blanche Lincoln is opposed to tort reform. Well, lots of Democrats will be taking these very toxic positions, but those three are up for re-election in less than a year, as are Michael Bennett of Colorado, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — all of whom will face well-funded and serious opposition by candidates who will run on these votes. And if each of these controversial votes takes 60 to pass, then all will walk the plank to keep Reid’s bill intact. And then there are senators like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman whose terms aren’t up in 2012 but who have voiced principled opposition to the idea of a government takeover of health care.

We saw it wasn’t easy for Reid to get 60 votes, only to start the vote when lawmakers had the excuse that they simply wanted the “process to go forward.” Now we get to the merits, and we’ll see if there are 60 votes — again and again — to pass the components of an increasingly unpopular bill. And all by the end of the year? I’m thinking probably not.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Evan Bayh on a war surtax: “I don’t think it’s a good idea, not at this point, Chris.” He observes that “if ultimately you’re going to have to start talking about raising taxes, you shouldn’t do it until the economy is robust and really on its — on some pretty good footing.” Er … what about the hundreds of billions in the health-care bill?

Dana Perino on what conservatives will probably do if Obama gives Gen. Stanley McChrystal most of what he wants: “I think they’ll have to set aside the fact that they think it was a really sloppy process, that he undermined President Karzai, that he alienated General McChrystal, and say, ‘This is the right thing to do. We wish he wouldn’t talk about exit ramps so soon, but this is the right thing to do,’ and providing the generals what they need.”

Robert Gibbs issues a distressingly comical statement on news that Iran is about to embark on building 10 more enrichment sites, pronouncing that “time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.” Good grief. Could they possibly sound any more inept and unserious? Perhaps double secret probation is next.

Mike Huckabee says he likes his TV gig and sounds not too serious about running in 2012. But remember, in 2005 we hadn’t a clue who really was and wasn’t going to run in 2008, so perhaps it’s best to wait a year or three before assessing the field.

ObamaCare seems to have a negative impact on its supporters: “When survey respondents are informed that AARP does support the health care plan, the number with a favorable opinion of the group falls 10 percentage points from 53% to 43%. Knowing of AARP’s position on health care legislation, 53% offer an unfavorable opinion of the group. The number with a Very Unfavorable view nearly doubles from 20% to 38%. Those with a negative opinion include 52% of senior citizens and 59% of those aged 50-64.”

Bibi makes clear where the problem rests in the non-peace process: “I see preconditions being laid that never before existed. I see legal steps being taken at the international court to advance that absurd thing called the Goldstone report. You can’t reach peace if the horizon is moving away.”

Richard Allen on the West Point venue for Obama’s speech: “An announcement on which so much rests must be made from the President’s own unique and highly symbolic center of authority, The Oval Office. It has meaning. It should be made by him alone, without the props of thousands in an audience and the hoopla of presidential travel and a massive press entourage. This President surely does not need the device of an audience to authenticate and legitimize his message or to bolster apparent support. But it would appear that he will seek solace, if not a measure of safety, in a large audience over which he has command.”

Another fight in the Senate: “The vote on increasing the debt will come just as Congress tries to put the finishing touches on a trillion-dollar plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system and President Barack Obama considers a possible escalation in the war in Afghanistan that could cost another trillion dollars over the next 10 years. A bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators is threatening to vote against an increase in the debt limit unless Congress passes a new deficit-fighting plan.” Maybe they should just not vote for the trillion-dollar health-care plan.

Mark Steyn bursts the “peer review” balloon: “The trouble with outsourcing your marbles to the peer-reviewed set is that, if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it’s that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the ‘peer-review’ process. When it comes to promoting the impending ecopalypse, the Climate Research Unit is the nerve-center of the operation. The ‘science’ of the CRU dominates the ‘science’ behind the UN’s IPCC, which dominates the ‘science’ behind the Congressional cap-and-trade boondoggle, the upcoming Copenhagen shakindownen of the developed world, and the now routine phenomenon of leaders of advanced, prosperous societies talking like gibbering madmen escaped from the padded cell, whether it’s President Obama promising to end the rise of the oceans or the Prince of Wales saying we only have 96 months left to save the planet.”

Sen. Evan Bayh on a war surtax: “I don’t think it’s a good idea, not at this point, Chris.” He observes that “if ultimately you’re going to have to start talking about raising taxes, you shouldn’t do it until the economy is robust and really on its — on some pretty good footing.” Er … what about the hundreds of billions in the health-care bill?

Dana Perino on what conservatives will probably do if Obama gives Gen. Stanley McChrystal most of what he wants: “I think they’ll have to set aside the fact that they think it was a really sloppy process, that he undermined President Karzai, that he alienated General McChrystal, and say, ‘This is the right thing to do. We wish he wouldn’t talk about exit ramps so soon, but this is the right thing to do,’ and providing the generals what they need.”

Robert Gibbs issues a distressingly comical statement on news that Iran is about to embark on building 10 more enrichment sites, pronouncing that “time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.” Good grief. Could they possibly sound any more inept and unserious? Perhaps double secret probation is next.

Mike Huckabee says he likes his TV gig and sounds not too serious about running in 2012. But remember, in 2005 we hadn’t a clue who really was and wasn’t going to run in 2008, so perhaps it’s best to wait a year or three before assessing the field.

ObamaCare seems to have a negative impact on its supporters: “When survey respondents are informed that AARP does support the health care plan, the number with a favorable opinion of the group falls 10 percentage points from 53% to 43%. Knowing of AARP’s position on health care legislation, 53% offer an unfavorable opinion of the group. The number with a Very Unfavorable view nearly doubles from 20% to 38%. Those with a negative opinion include 52% of senior citizens and 59% of those aged 50-64.”

Bibi makes clear where the problem rests in the non-peace process: “I see preconditions being laid that never before existed. I see legal steps being taken at the international court to advance that absurd thing called the Goldstone report. You can’t reach peace if the horizon is moving away.”

Richard Allen on the West Point venue for Obama’s speech: “An announcement on which so much rests must be made from the President’s own unique and highly symbolic center of authority, The Oval Office. It has meaning. It should be made by him alone, without the props of thousands in an audience and the hoopla of presidential travel and a massive press entourage. This President surely does not need the device of an audience to authenticate and legitimize his message or to bolster apparent support. But it would appear that he will seek solace, if not a measure of safety, in a large audience over which he has command.”

Another fight in the Senate: “The vote on increasing the debt will come just as Congress tries to put the finishing touches on a trillion-dollar plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system and President Barack Obama considers a possible escalation in the war in Afghanistan that could cost another trillion dollars over the next 10 years. A bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators is threatening to vote against an increase in the debt limit unless Congress passes a new deficit-fighting plan.” Maybe they should just not vote for the trillion-dollar health-care plan.

Mark Steyn bursts the “peer review” balloon: “The trouble with outsourcing your marbles to the peer-reviewed set is that, if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it’s that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the ‘peer-review’ process. When it comes to promoting the impending ecopalypse, the Climate Research Unit is the nerve-center of the operation. The ‘science’ of the CRU dominates the ‘science’ behind the UN’s IPCC, which dominates the ‘science’ behind the Congressional cap-and-trade boondoggle, the upcoming Copenhagen shakindownen of the developed world, and the now routine phenomenon of leaders of advanced, prosperous societies talking like gibbering madmen escaped from the padded cell, whether it’s President Obama promising to end the rise of the oceans or the Prince of Wales saying we only have 96 months left to save the planet.”

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Tivoli Gardens, Anyone?

That whooshing sound you hear in the distance is the air coming out of the balloon called Anthropogenic Global Warming.

It began with the hacking of a computer network at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, one of the premier climate-research centers in the world, on November 17. The hacking (or perhaps it was a whistleblower leak — as far as I know, it is not yet clear which) resulted in the posting of more than a 1,000 e-mail messages among scientists at the very center of the AGW alarm. They were, to put it mildly, embarrassing, revealing narrow-mindedness, the deliberate attempt to suppress the publication in the peer-reviewed literature of articles that did not fit the AGW agenda, and attempts to keep dissenting scientists from seeing the basis of their conclusions. A good summary of events up to now can be found here.

But these e-mails , however damaging, were not a smoking gun, just evidence of bad behavior. Scientists, of course, can be careless with word choice, nasty, vindictive, and driven to win the argument at all costs, just like the rest of us.

But today the Times of London has published a revelation that, if not a smoking gun, is pretty close. The University of East Anglia scientists had refused numerous attempts by other scientists they regarded as unfriendly to see the raw data. But when confronted with a freedom-of-information-act request (Britain now has a FOIA, too), they were forced to admit that they had thrown away much of the raw data upon which their conclusions regarding global warming over the past 150 years had been based.

In order to make such data consistent, it needs to be adjusted in various ways, and there is nothing nefarious about that. (The adjustment might be as simple as converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. Or say a weather station that had been located out in a potato field when it was installed in 1927 now finds itself behind a strip mall in a densely populated suburb. The data over the past 82 years would obviously need to be adjusted to take into account the fact that a suburban strip mall is inherently more heat-producing than a potato field.)

But without the raw data, it is impossible to check the work, and checking each other’s work lies at the very heart of the scientific method. Without the raw data, the adjusted data is useless. So if the destruction of the raw data was accidental, it was inexcusable. If it was deliberate, it was a scientific felony. If the data is now irretrievably lost, it is a tragedy.

Roger Simon suggests calling off the meeting  in Copenhagen scheduled for December 7, as the delegates really have nothing to discuss. That would be a blow to Copenhagen, to be sure, as the delegations from 192 countries will be spending a lot of money. But, as Roger points out, Copenhagen is a city with many charms, and Tivoli Gardens is well worth a visit on its own. Better they enjoy those charms at our expense than cost the world trillions in foregone economic growth for no good reason.

That whooshing sound you hear in the distance is the air coming out of the balloon called Anthropogenic Global Warming.

It began with the hacking of a computer network at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, one of the premier climate-research centers in the world, on November 17. The hacking (or perhaps it was a whistleblower leak — as far as I know, it is not yet clear which) resulted in the posting of more than a 1,000 e-mail messages among scientists at the very center of the AGW alarm. They were, to put it mildly, embarrassing, revealing narrow-mindedness, the deliberate attempt to suppress the publication in the peer-reviewed literature of articles that did not fit the AGW agenda, and attempts to keep dissenting scientists from seeing the basis of their conclusions. A good summary of events up to now can be found here.

But these e-mails , however damaging, were not a smoking gun, just evidence of bad behavior. Scientists, of course, can be careless with word choice, nasty, vindictive, and driven to win the argument at all costs, just like the rest of us.

But today the Times of London has published a revelation that, if not a smoking gun, is pretty close. The University of East Anglia scientists had refused numerous attempts by other scientists they regarded as unfriendly to see the raw data. But when confronted with a freedom-of-information-act request (Britain now has a FOIA, too), they were forced to admit that they had thrown away much of the raw data upon which their conclusions regarding global warming over the past 150 years had been based.

In order to make such data consistent, it needs to be adjusted in various ways, and there is nothing nefarious about that. (The adjustment might be as simple as converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. Or say a weather station that had been located out in a potato field when it was installed in 1927 now finds itself behind a strip mall in a densely populated suburb. The data over the past 82 years would obviously need to be adjusted to take into account the fact that a suburban strip mall is inherently more heat-producing than a potato field.)

But without the raw data, it is impossible to check the work, and checking each other’s work lies at the very heart of the scientific method. Without the raw data, the adjusted data is useless. So if the destruction of the raw data was accidental, it was inexcusable. If it was deliberate, it was a scientific felony. If the data is now irretrievably lost, it is a tragedy.

Roger Simon suggests calling off the meeting  in Copenhagen scheduled for December 7, as the delegates really have nothing to discuss. That would be a blow to Copenhagen, to be sure, as the delegations from 192 countries will be spending a lot of money. But, as Roger points out, Copenhagen is a city with many charms, and Tivoli Gardens is well worth a visit on its own. Better they enjoy those charms at our expense than cost the world trillions in foregone economic growth for no good reason.

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Obama’s Foreign-Policy Naivete Is Making War More Likely

John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.

Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.

It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.

John has already commented on the news that Iran has announced plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. I want to stress how humiliating this news is, or should be, for the Obama administration, indeed for the entire Democratic party’s foreign-policy establishment. For years the Democrats’ wise men and wise women were bitterly critical of the Bush administration’s alleged failure to reach out to Iran, even though in the second term there was actually quite a bit of outreach, with U.S. representatives meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva and Baghdad. But never mind. The Democratic establishment somehow talked itself into believing that the real problem was American enmity toward Iran. If only the U.S. would reach out some more, they suggested, Iran would surely give up or at least suspend its nuclear ambitions. Barack Obama’s genius during the campaign was to take the most extreme version of this position, with his promise to meet personally with the leaders of Iran and other anti-American dictatorships during his first year in office — another campaign pledge that, mercifully, appears unlikely to be fulfilled. Hillary Clinton, back when she was a presidential candidate, criticized Obama correctly for his naiveté, but she too put her faith in diplomacy with Iran.

Now after almost a year in office we see where Obama’s outreach has gotten us: nowhere. Actually that’s not quite accurate. The administration has made an impact: if the latest pronouncements from Tehran are to be believed, Obama’s policies are making the problem worse, not better, because they are leading to an expansion of the Iranian nuclear program. This should hardly be a surprise. Toothless as the Bush policy was toward Iran, at least there was an element of deterrence as long as George W. Bush himself was in the White House. The mullahs could always sweat a little as they imagined that they might be next in line to feel American military power after Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, there was evidence that they temporarily suspended parts of their nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There is no such concern now. The odds of U.S. military action against the Iranian nuclear program — probably the only thing that could serve as serious deterrent — have gone from remote to nonexistent. Obama’s efforts at glad-handing have been interpreted, correctly, as evidence of American weakness and a further spur to nuclear development. Khameini and Ahmadinejad & Co. aren’t even bothering to be polite as they brush aside offers, such as the one to export their uranium for enrichment abroad. They wear their contempt for the West quite openly because they are not afraid of suffering any repercussions.

It is just possible that the Iranians have overplayed their hand. Perhaps the latest Iranian outrages will prompt a rethink in the White House as occurred during the Carter administration when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked another naive president into realizing that his own goodwill would not be enough to overcome determined adversaries. But at the moment, that is a faint hope. The best we can expect in the short term is more toothless Security Council resolutions with sanctions that will do nothing to slow down the Iranian march toward its nuclear dreams. That, in turn, means that an Israeli strike against Iran is getting more likely, even though Israel probably does not have the capability to disrupt the Iranian program for more than a limited period. In sum: through his determination to avoid a conflict with Iran, Obama is making war more likely.

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Iran Speeds Up

Iran has announced its intention to build 10 new nuclear-enrichment sites. What? How could this be? Surely the international community’s outrage at Iran’s deception, which then led last week to a really strong letter to the editor — excuse me, scolding from the International Atomic Weapons Agency — was going to teach the Persians a thing or two!

It would seem logical to assume the purpose of these multiple sites is to make a successful military strike to downgrade or destroy Iran’s nuclear-bomb-making capacity difficult to the point of impossibility. It would be hard enough for Israel or the United States to stage a complex series of simultaneous surprise aerial bombings against four locations; from four to 14 would certainly be beyond Israel’s capacity and would significantly strain our own.

Remember when everybody was saying, including in the Democratic primary for president, that it would be unacceptable for Iran to get the bomb? Remember when President Bush said those who allowed Iran to get the bomb would enjoy the same reputation in the annals of history as the Western leaders at Munich?

Iran has announced its intention to build 10 new nuclear-enrichment sites. What? How could this be? Surely the international community’s outrage at Iran’s deception, which then led last week to a really strong letter to the editor — excuse me, scolding from the International Atomic Weapons Agency — was going to teach the Persians a thing or two!

It would seem logical to assume the purpose of these multiple sites is to make a successful military strike to downgrade or destroy Iran’s nuclear-bomb-making capacity difficult to the point of impossibility. It would be hard enough for Israel or the United States to stage a complex series of simultaneous surprise aerial bombings against four locations; from four to 14 would certainly be beyond Israel’s capacity and would significantly strain our own.

Remember when everybody was saying, including in the Democratic primary for president, that it would be unacceptable for Iran to get the bomb? Remember when President Bush said those who allowed Iran to get the bomb would enjoy the same reputation in the annals of history as the Western leaders at Munich?

Read Less




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