Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 3, 2009

Bloomberg Almost Loses

After spending $100 million, Michael Bloomberg is going to eke out a 4-point victory over an incredibly hapless rival, William Thompson, in a race most people expected he was going to win by 15 to 20 points. This may be meaningful. Bloomberg stretched political seemliness to its limits with this run for mayor. He seduced the City Council into effecting a change in the city’s term-limits law to make it possible for him to run for a third time, despite the fact that term limits had been made law as the result of a public referendum. He cleared the field of his most serious challengers by threatening them with his overwhelming personal money advantage. (Right now, it seems possible and even likely that had Rep. Anthony Weiner actually stayed in the race and won the Democratic primary, he would have beaten Bloomberg.) And then he used that money to run a deeply unpleasant and vitriolic personal campaign in the final weeks as his people clearly gauged the seriousness of the possibility that he might lose. So much for the notion that he is a different kind of politician with a different sort of approach. Thompson would not have been a good mayor, so perhaps this was the best possible result. It may actually humble Bloomberg a tiny little bit, and give him more of a sense that voters are uncomfortable with the ease with which he bent the rules to indulge his own ambitions.

After spending $100 million, Michael Bloomberg is going to eke out a 4-point victory over an incredibly hapless rival, William Thompson, in a race most people expected he was going to win by 15 to 20 points. This may be meaningful. Bloomberg stretched political seemliness to its limits with this run for mayor. He seduced the City Council into effecting a change in the city’s term-limits law to make it possible for him to run for a third time, despite the fact that term limits had been made law as the result of a public referendum. He cleared the field of his most serious challengers by threatening them with his overwhelming personal money advantage. (Right now, it seems possible and even likely that had Rep. Anthony Weiner actually stayed in the race and won the Democratic primary, he would have beaten Bloomberg.) And then he used that money to run a deeply unpleasant and vitriolic personal campaign in the final weeks as his people clearly gauged the seriousness of the possibility that he might lose. So much for the notion that he is a different kind of politician with a different sort of approach. Thompson would not have been a good mayor, so perhaps this was the best possible result. It may actually humble Bloomberg a tiny little bit, and give him more of a sense that voters are uncomfortable with the ease with which he bent the rules to indulge his own ambitions.

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Chris Christie, Big Man

This is a glorious day for the avoirdupoisically challenged.

This is a glorious day for the avoirdupoisically challenged.

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Christie Wins New Jersey

Multiple news outlets are calling the New Jersey gubernatorial race for Republican Chris Christie. Yes, this is largely a referendum on the incumbent governor and the tax, corruption, and budget woes that have bedeviled his administration. But this is New Jersey, a Blue State where Obama campaigned hard for the Democratic candidate, Jon Corzine. He made five separate stops. Corzine’s ads looked like Obama ads. Corzine tied himself tightly to Obama, but it helped not at all.

It is a breathtaking change from last year’s overwhelming Obama win. And the independent Chris Daggett? The polls showed him in double digits. But support eventually plummeted, and voters who entered the booth decided not to cast a useless protest vote.

The White House will have a hard time saying this one doesn’t matter. Obama won the state by 14 percent. The Republicans won the state back in a only a year. It means something.

Multiple news outlets are calling the New Jersey gubernatorial race for Republican Chris Christie. Yes, this is largely a referendum on the incumbent governor and the tax, corruption, and budget woes that have bedeviled his administration. But this is New Jersey, a Blue State where Obama campaigned hard for the Democratic candidate, Jon Corzine. He made five separate stops. Corzine’s ads looked like Obama ads. Corzine tied himself tightly to Obama, but it helped not at all.

It is a breathtaking change from last year’s overwhelming Obama win. And the independent Chris Daggett? The polls showed him in double digits. But support eventually plummeted, and voters who entered the booth decided not to cast a useless protest vote.

The White House will have a hard time saying this one doesn’t matter. Obama won the state by 14 percent. The Republicans won the state back in a only a year. It means something.

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It’s Not Fancy

Bob McDonnell gave a solid, if unexceptional, victory speech. In a way, it was appropriate for his campaign. He ran on a fiscally conservative message, not on soaring rhetoric. He is a polished speaker, but it was not charisma that got him this far. He spoke at the outset in Obama-like terms: “We are all Virginians and all Americans!” And his message was one of basic, conservative economic principles, invoking a Jeffersonian call for “wise and frugal government.”

The Democrats have (from the moment the race looked unwinnable for Creigh Deeds) declared that this was a race about mismatched candidates. True, McDonnell was the more articulate and focused. But the real difference: McDonnell ran on something. He ran on a boatload of policy proposals, on a growing sense that Washington is moving too fast and too far Left, and on Virginians’ innate sense of independence and moderation. He reunited a Center-Right coalition. It wasn’t all that complicated, and it didn’t take as long as the pundits predicted.

Bob McDonnell gave a solid, if unexceptional, victory speech. In a way, it was appropriate for his campaign. He ran on a fiscally conservative message, not on soaring rhetoric. He is a polished speaker, but it was not charisma that got him this far. He spoke at the outset in Obama-like terms: “We are all Virginians and all Americans!” And his message was one of basic, conservative economic principles, invoking a Jeffersonian call for “wise and frugal government.”

The Democrats have (from the moment the race looked unwinnable for Creigh Deeds) declared that this was a race about mismatched candidates. True, McDonnell was the more articulate and focused. But the real difference: McDonnell ran on something. He ran on a boatload of policy proposals, on a growing sense that Washington is moving too fast and too far Left, and on Virginians’ innate sense of independence and moderation. He reunited a Center-Right coalition. It wasn’t all that complicated, and it didn’t take as long as the pundits predicted.

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A Party

The crowd here in Richmond, Virginia, is elated, watching the warm-up video for Bob McDonnell. The beach balls are bouncing and the crowd is now packed into the dark ballroom. These people have suffered defeat after defeat in Virginia, at every level and in every office. Their wait is over. They have a winning ticket. They’ve also heard the clarion call: the Republican comeback has begun. And in the White House’s backyard.

The crowd here in Richmond, Virginia, is elated, watching the warm-up video for Bob McDonnell. The beach balls are bouncing and the crowd is now packed into the dark ballroom. These people have suffered defeat after defeat in Virginia, at every level and in every office. Their wait is over. They have a winning ticket. They’ve also heard the clarion call: the Republican comeback has begun. And in the White House’s backyard.

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Bad Exit Polls Yet Again—and What They Might Mean

It appears the exit polls in Virginia may have underestimated the Republican vote by a considerable margin. Word around newsrooms had McDonnell winning by 14. McDonnell, it appears, may have won by 20 points. Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, just cited exit poll data saying that President Obama scored a 56 percent approval rating among registered voters. Given the 33 percent discrepancy between the exit poll and the actual voting tally, one can presume that Obama has fallen considerably below a 50 percent approval rating in Virginia.

It appears the exit polls in Virginia may have underestimated the Republican vote by a considerable margin. Word around newsrooms had McDonnell winning by 14. McDonnell, it appears, may have won by 20 points. Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, just cited exit poll data saying that President Obama scored a 56 percent approval rating among registered voters. Given the 33 percent discrepancy between the exit poll and the actual voting tally, one can presume that Obama has fallen considerably below a 50 percent approval rating in Virginia.

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New York: The Sale

It appears turnout in the New York City mayoral race was astonishingly low. Michael Bloomberg may win with 600,000 votes. That would mean he paid $166 per vote, since he spent $100 million on the race. What does that say about us New Yorkers? At least we’re not cheap dates.

It appears turnout in the New York City mayoral race was astonishingly low. Michael Bloomberg may win with 600,000 votes. That would mean he paid $166 per vote, since he spent $100 million on the race. What does that say about us New Yorkers? At least we’re not cheap dates.

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Headline Writers Are Upset

One thing we’ve been spared with a Creigh Deeds defeat in Virginia—there won’t be any “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” headlines.

One thing we’ve been spared with a Creigh Deeds defeat in Virginia—there won’t be any “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” headlines.

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How Big?

The extent of Bob McDonnell’s win is becoming clear. He is leading by more than 20 percent in a state Obama carried a year ago. He won nearly 60 percent of seniors. (ObamaCare, anyone?) He won back key northern Virginia counties that had trended Democratic — Prince William and Loudoun — and is running neck and neck in Fairfax County, which hasn’t happened since 2004. These are voters who are especially attuned to D.C. politics and for whom the Washington Post is the hometown paper.

Creigh Deeds may not have been the most articulate candidate, but a victory of this magnitude says something beyond the particulars of the two candidates. Democrats would be wise to figure out why, after a year in complete control of the federal government, they have received such a lambasting.

The extent of Bob McDonnell’s win is becoming clear. He is leading by more than 20 percent in a state Obama carried a year ago. He won nearly 60 percent of seniors. (ObamaCare, anyone?) He won back key northern Virginia counties that had trended Democratic — Prince William and Loudoun — and is running neck and neck in Fairfax County, which hasn’t happened since 2004. These are voters who are especially attuned to D.C. politics and for whom the Washington Post is the hometown paper.

Creigh Deeds may not have been the most articulate candidate, but a victory of this magnitude says something beyond the particulars of the two candidates. Democrats would be wise to figure out why, after a year in complete control of the federal government, they have received such a lambasting.

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McDonnell Wins

The Virginia governor’s race has been called for the Republican, Bob McDonnell. The extent of the win is not yet certain, but it will be a large margin. Very large. Republicans will hold all three statewide offices in Virginia and will pick up seats in the House of Delegates. Republicans will immediately begin targeting three to four vulnerable House Democrats.

The spin game has begun. Democrats say it doesn’t reflect on anyone other than the hapless Creigh Deeds, the losing Democratic candidate. Republicans will point to McDonnell’s laser-like focus on a number of Obama policies and his ability to retake, by a huge margin, a state Obama took in a dramatic win a year ago. All the chatter about Virginia turning “Blue” will cease. This is the backyard of the White House, as Karl Rove says on Fox. The White House will have many nervous Democrats to console.

New Jersey’s polls have closed. Now we will see if the Democrats can squeeze by in one of the Bluest states in the country.

So much for permanent majorities.

The Virginia governor’s race has been called for the Republican, Bob McDonnell. The extent of the win is not yet certain, but it will be a large margin. Very large. Republicans will hold all three statewide offices in Virginia and will pick up seats in the House of Delegates. Republicans will immediately begin targeting three to four vulnerable House Democrats.

The spin game has begun. Democrats say it doesn’t reflect on anyone other than the hapless Creigh Deeds, the losing Democratic candidate. Republicans will point to McDonnell’s laser-like focus on a number of Obama policies and his ability to retake, by a huge margin, a state Obama took in a dramatic win a year ago. All the chatter about Virginia turning “Blue” will cease. This is the backyard of the White House, as Karl Rove says on Fox. The White House will have many nervous Democrats to console.

New Jersey’s polls have closed. Now we will see if the Democrats can squeeze by in one of the Bluest states in the country.

So much for permanent majorities.

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Keep an Eye on the Third

Bob McDonnell is racking up a big lead, with northern Virginia’s returns yet to come in. The other statewide Republicans are leading by margins nearly as large. One early indication of the damage to the Democrats: the incumbent Democrat Dan Bowling is losing big to an upstart challenger, Will Morefield, in the House of Delegates race in the 3rd district. The race centered on one issue: cap-and-trade. Sen. Barbara Boxer, are you listening? I suspect her two colleagues in the Senate from Virginia, James Webb and Mark Warner, will be.

Bob McDonnell is racking up a big lead, with northern Virginia’s returns yet to come in. The other statewide Republicans are leading by margins nearly as large. One early indication of the damage to the Democrats: the incumbent Democrat Dan Bowling is losing big to an upstart challenger, Will Morefield, in the House of Delegates race in the 3rd district. The race centered on one issue: cap-and-trade. Sen. Barbara Boxer, are you listening? I suspect her two colleagues in the Senate from Virginia, James Webb and Mark Warner, will be.

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Polls Are Closed

The polls are closed in Virginia. The Republican candidate for governor, Bob McDonnell, is off to a big lead in early returns. The Richmond Marriott is filling up and word is that the race will be called early, with McDonnell coming down for his victory speech in the 9 p.m. range. A press email announced that Gov. Tim Kaine will hold a press conference tomorrow to discuss the transition. Someone in the press gallery cracked, ” Is that out of the governorship or the DNC?” (Kaine is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.) Well, the polls are not yet closed in New Jersey or New York and the extent of Kaine’s worries are not yet known. But he did fail to do what his predecessor did: pass the baton to another Democrat.

The polls are closed in Virginia. The Republican candidate for governor, Bob McDonnell, is off to a big lead in early returns. The Richmond Marriott is filling up and word is that the race will be called early, with McDonnell coming down for his victory speech in the 9 p.m. range. A press email announced that Gov. Tim Kaine will hold a press conference tomorrow to discuss the transition. Someone in the press gallery cracked, ” Is that out of the governorship or the DNC?” (Kaine is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.) Well, the polls are not yet closed in New Jersey or New York and the extent of Kaine’s worries are not yet known. But he did fail to do what his predecessor did: pass the baton to another Democrat.

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Pregame Analysis

Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s governor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, just stopped by. I asked about New Jersey, which from all indications appears to be heading for a photo finish. Barbour says he thinks Republican candidate Chris Christie will pull it out. He maintains that a re-election for an incumbent is a “referendum on that incumbent.” He adds: “But the best the Democrats can do, the best, is to take a state Obama won by 15 and squeak by with less than 50 percent of the vote.” He argues that that would not be “much of an exclamation point” on Obama. The Republican Governors Association, which Barbour chairs, spent big on the two races this year — $7 million in New Jersey and $6 million in Virginia. Barbour says they thought they had “two opportunities,” recalling that in 1993, these were “springboards to 1994 and really helped with candidate recruitment.”

What are the national implications? Barbour’s take is that “Obama’s policies are hurting Democratic candidates.” He says Creigh Deeds, the Virginian running for governor on the Democratic line, wasn’t a bad candidate but “was dragged down by health care and energy policy.” Will that affect upcoming votes in Congress? Barbour answers, “Members of Congress can’t help but notice when the American people have a chance to give their opinion on public policy.” As to whether GOP wins will shift votes on PelosiCare, he answers, “One thing all politicians can agree on — they all want to get re-elected.”

Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s governor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, just stopped by. I asked about New Jersey, which from all indications appears to be heading for a photo finish. Barbour says he thinks Republican candidate Chris Christie will pull it out. He maintains that a re-election for an incumbent is a “referendum on that incumbent.” He adds: “But the best the Democrats can do, the best, is to take a state Obama won by 15 and squeak by with less than 50 percent of the vote.” He argues that that would not be “much of an exclamation point” on Obama. The Republican Governors Association, which Barbour chairs, spent big on the two races this year — $7 million in New Jersey and $6 million in Virginia. Barbour says they thought they had “two opportunities,” recalling that in 1993, these were “springboards to 1994 and really helped with candidate recruitment.”

What are the national implications? Barbour’s take is that “Obama’s policies are hurting Democratic candidates.” He says Creigh Deeds, the Virginian running for governor on the Democratic line, wasn’t a bad candidate but “was dragged down by health care and energy policy.” Will that affect upcoming votes in Congress? Barbour answers, “Members of Congress can’t help but notice when the American people have a chance to give their opinion on public policy.” As to whether GOP wins will shift votes on PelosiCare, he answers, “One thing all politicians can agree on — they all want to get re-elected.”

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From Richmond

I am here at the Richmond Marriott where Bob McDonnell and the other statewide GOP candidates will appear and, in all likelihood, declare victory. The McDonnell team has been mum, but Virginia state GOP Chair Pat Mullins is declaring that a sweep is in the offing.

Mullins played a quiet but key role in the race. Going into the race, the state GOP was in trouble — and not only because it had lost a string of races. Its controversial chairman, Jeff Frederick, had frustrated party regulars with off-the-cuff racially inflammatory comments during the 2008 race and his difficult management style. On background, Republican insiders still practically froth when Frederick’s name is brought up. He created “logjams” and was a “micromanager,” one party official recently told me. But in April, Frederick was ousted at a party convention, a move that McDonnell advisers considered essential to ensure a smooth-functioning campaign. Mullins, together with the Republican Governors Association, is credited by the McDonnell camp with getting the nuts and bolts right, improving get-out-the-vote efforts, and updating the party’s creaky infrastructure.

If Mullins’s optimism is well founded, it will be the state Democratic party that will be in repair mode. What a difference a year makes.

I am here at the Richmond Marriott where Bob McDonnell and the other statewide GOP candidates will appear and, in all likelihood, declare victory. The McDonnell team has been mum, but Virginia state GOP Chair Pat Mullins is declaring that a sweep is in the offing.

Mullins played a quiet but key role in the race. Going into the race, the state GOP was in trouble — and not only because it had lost a string of races. Its controversial chairman, Jeff Frederick, had frustrated party regulars with off-the-cuff racially inflammatory comments during the 2008 race and his difficult management style. On background, Republican insiders still practically froth when Frederick’s name is brought up. He created “logjams” and was a “micromanager,” one party official recently told me. But in April, Frederick was ousted at a party convention, a move that McDonnell advisers considered essential to ensure a smooth-functioning campaign. Mullins, together with the Republican Governors Association, is credited by the McDonnell camp with getting the nuts and bolts right, improving get-out-the-vote efforts, and updating the party’s creaky infrastructure.

If Mullins’s optimism is well founded, it will be the state Democratic party that will be in repair mode. What a difference a year makes.

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Why Some Tyrannies Fall and Others Don’t

The New York Times’s Roger Cohen is still obsessing over the fact that the nice Iran he puffed up in a series of controversial and utterly misleading columns last winter was exposed as a lie in July when a ruthless regime stole an election and then brutally repressed those who dared to challenge it. In his latest online column, Cohen ponders why some nasty regimes fall while others survive. It’s a fascinating question but one that Cohen clearly does not understand.

Cohen recalls the way the Communist government of East Germany collapsed when a border guard in Berlin opened the gate to the West. That was a moment in which a tangible crack in the Iron Curtain became a symbolic step that sent the infamous wall and then the entire Soviet evil empire crashing down in ruins. In contrast to that glorious victory for freedom, Chinese Red Army troops obeyed orders to mow down the Tiananmen Square freedom protesters in Beijing that same year. To the dismay of Cohen and the rest of the world, the same thing happened in Tehran this past July when government forces refused to break ranks with their Islamist masters and the leaders of the protest movement lacked the will to directly confront it as anti-Communist dissidents, such as the Czech playwright and future president Vaclav Havel, did in 1989.

Cohen doesn’t know why these different outcomes happened and seems to put it down to an unkind fate he is sure will someday be reversed, at least in Iran if not China. I share that hope, but it’s not very difficult to understand why tyrants fall in some countries and survive in others.

The most important reason is that history teaches us that repressive regimes only collapse when they embrace measures that loosen their hold on the reins of power, not when they are their most brutal. The Soviet Union collapsed not when it was at its most insanely totalitarian under Stalin or Brezhnev but when it was led by a man who hoped he could put a human face on the inhuman ideology of Communism. So long as China’s leadership as well as the Islamist mullahs of Tehran have no scruples about using force to hold on to power, it isn’t likely they will be ousted.

But part of the process by which these regimes lose their will to fight for their own preservation is accomplished via moral pressure. When the cause of freedom in such places is treated as a priority for the West, it can, when combined with the inevitable economic difficulties that such regimes find themselves in, create a loss of confidence in the regime. The willingness of the West to speak up in support of Soviet dissidents as well as protest movements in its satellite states, such as Poland’s Solidarity, helped isolate these regimes and deprive them of legitimacy. But when protesters are ignored by the West (as has been the fate of Chinese dissidents) or let down by the United States (as was the case with President Obama’s soft-pedaling the outrages in Tehran this year), those movements can be dismissed as irrelevant. Would East German guard Harald Jaeger, whom Cohen celebrates, have acted as he did in 1989 had not the protesters been emboldened and his Communist masters weakened by the willingness of the West to speak up against Communism?

Those who serve such regimes will only abandon them when they feel that tyranny is going under, a state of mind that cannot be encouraged when the president of the United States runs to engage and appease their leaders. Those in the West who bolster the legitimacy of despotic regimes via diplomacy should not be surprised when they observe that people who live in these countries and especially those who guard the tyrants conclude from such behavior that the time is not right to take a stand for freedom.

The New York Times’s Roger Cohen is still obsessing over the fact that the nice Iran he puffed up in a series of controversial and utterly misleading columns last winter was exposed as a lie in July when a ruthless regime stole an election and then brutally repressed those who dared to challenge it. In his latest online column, Cohen ponders why some nasty regimes fall while others survive. It’s a fascinating question but one that Cohen clearly does not understand.

Cohen recalls the way the Communist government of East Germany collapsed when a border guard in Berlin opened the gate to the West. That was a moment in which a tangible crack in the Iron Curtain became a symbolic step that sent the infamous wall and then the entire Soviet evil empire crashing down in ruins. In contrast to that glorious victory for freedom, Chinese Red Army troops obeyed orders to mow down the Tiananmen Square freedom protesters in Beijing that same year. To the dismay of Cohen and the rest of the world, the same thing happened in Tehran this past July when government forces refused to break ranks with their Islamist masters and the leaders of the protest movement lacked the will to directly confront it as anti-Communist dissidents, such as the Czech playwright and future president Vaclav Havel, did in 1989.

Cohen doesn’t know why these different outcomes happened and seems to put it down to an unkind fate he is sure will someday be reversed, at least in Iran if not China. I share that hope, but it’s not very difficult to understand why tyrants fall in some countries and survive in others.

The most important reason is that history teaches us that repressive regimes only collapse when they embrace measures that loosen their hold on the reins of power, not when they are their most brutal. The Soviet Union collapsed not when it was at its most insanely totalitarian under Stalin or Brezhnev but when it was led by a man who hoped he could put a human face on the inhuman ideology of Communism. So long as China’s leadership as well as the Islamist mullahs of Tehran have no scruples about using force to hold on to power, it isn’t likely they will be ousted.

But part of the process by which these regimes lose their will to fight for their own preservation is accomplished via moral pressure. When the cause of freedom in such places is treated as a priority for the West, it can, when combined with the inevitable economic difficulties that such regimes find themselves in, create a loss of confidence in the regime. The willingness of the West to speak up in support of Soviet dissidents as well as protest movements in its satellite states, such as Poland’s Solidarity, helped isolate these regimes and deprive them of legitimacy. But when protesters are ignored by the West (as has been the fate of Chinese dissidents) or let down by the United States (as was the case with President Obama’s soft-pedaling the outrages in Tehran this year), those movements can be dismissed as irrelevant. Would East German guard Harald Jaeger, whom Cohen celebrates, have acted as he did in 1989 had not the protesters been emboldened and his Communist masters weakened by the willingness of the West to speak up against Communism?

Those who serve such regimes will only abandon them when they feel that tyranny is going under, a state of mind that cannot be encouraged when the president of the United States runs to engage and appease their leaders. Those in the West who bolster the legitimacy of despotic regimes via diplomacy should not be surprised when they observe that people who live in these countries and especially those who guard the tyrants conclude from such behavior that the time is not right to take a stand for freedom.

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Peace in Our Time

You’ll want to cue up an old vinyl LP of the Red Army Chorus for this one. Russia, as CONTENTIONS regulars know, held its largest military exercise since the collapse of the Soviet Union this August and September. The maneuvers spanned Russia from the Barents Sea to the Far East, but the most politically significant aspect of this exercise by the combined forces was its intimidating footprint in Eastern Europe.

The European maneuvers, held on the shores of the Baltic Sea (“Ladoga-2009”) and in Belarus (“Zapad-2009”), have been summarized in the last week by independent media observers. For the peoples of the NATO alliance, the view these reports provide of the Russians’ concept and intentions is the opposite of reassuring. Indeed, public opinion might well conclude that Russia’s big exercises in Eastern Europe had something to do with Obama’s decision to scrap the ground-based interceptor site in Poland. It would at least deem Obama’s announcement to be ill-timed, from the standpoint of NATO integrity in the face of Russian challenges.

The first Russian troops arrived in Belarus for Zapad-2009 on September 9, sparking protests from nationalists who favor better ties with the West. Russia moved just under 26,000 total troops into Belarus and Western Russia, avoiding the threshold at which the Conventional Forces Europe treaty would oblige Moscow to invite NATO observers. The number was persuasive to Belarus, however. Minsk had, as recently as June, been resisting inclusion in Moscow’s regional collectives, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). But a month of fraternal amity from the Russian army has put them in a better frame of mind in Minsk, and on October 2 President Lukashenko declared a positive passion for joining the CSTO, a consummation realized today. We can only speculate as to the effect of Obama’s September 17 shift regarding missile-defense policy on Lukashenko’s calculations during that crucial period.

Russian activity on the border of Poland, meanwhile, sent a trenchant political message. Ladoga-2009’s notional pretext for the use of armed forces was an uprising of ethnic Poles in Belarus who, in conjunction with Lithuanian terrorists, were attacking Kaliningrad. The absurd improbability of this was matched by the operational overkill, reflected in Russian media releases, of incorporating air-delivered nuclear weapons and the strategic rocket forces in the fight to retake Russian territory. The battle for Kaliningrad also entailed an amphibious reinforcement operation and the repulsion of a NATO-like force by the 76th air-assault division.

Of course, Dmitry Medvedev says these exercises were “defensive.” Such exercises, as the Wehrmacht of the 1930s would have told us, always are. But it would have been hard for Obama to time his missile-defense announcement any worse. Belarus’s feeble resistance to Russian domination looks to be all but extinguished. Next time, Russia may well take a leaf out of Germany’s 1936 playbook: deploy as many troops as possible for these maneuvers and simply ignore any CFE obligations.

You’ll want to cue up an old vinyl LP of the Red Army Chorus for this one. Russia, as CONTENTIONS regulars know, held its largest military exercise since the collapse of the Soviet Union this August and September. The maneuvers spanned Russia from the Barents Sea to the Far East, but the most politically significant aspect of this exercise by the combined forces was its intimidating footprint in Eastern Europe.

The European maneuvers, held on the shores of the Baltic Sea (“Ladoga-2009”) and in Belarus (“Zapad-2009”), have been summarized in the last week by independent media observers. For the peoples of the NATO alliance, the view these reports provide of the Russians’ concept and intentions is the opposite of reassuring. Indeed, public opinion might well conclude that Russia’s big exercises in Eastern Europe had something to do with Obama’s decision to scrap the ground-based interceptor site in Poland. It would at least deem Obama’s announcement to be ill-timed, from the standpoint of NATO integrity in the face of Russian challenges.

The first Russian troops arrived in Belarus for Zapad-2009 on September 9, sparking protests from nationalists who favor better ties with the West. Russia moved just under 26,000 total troops into Belarus and Western Russia, avoiding the threshold at which the Conventional Forces Europe treaty would oblige Moscow to invite NATO observers. The number was persuasive to Belarus, however. Minsk had, as recently as June, been resisting inclusion in Moscow’s regional collectives, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). But a month of fraternal amity from the Russian army has put them in a better frame of mind in Minsk, and on October 2 President Lukashenko declared a positive passion for joining the CSTO, a consummation realized today. We can only speculate as to the effect of Obama’s September 17 shift regarding missile-defense policy on Lukashenko’s calculations during that crucial period.

Russian activity on the border of Poland, meanwhile, sent a trenchant political message. Ladoga-2009’s notional pretext for the use of armed forces was an uprising of ethnic Poles in Belarus who, in conjunction with Lithuanian terrorists, were attacking Kaliningrad. The absurd improbability of this was matched by the operational overkill, reflected in Russian media releases, of incorporating air-delivered nuclear weapons and the strategic rocket forces in the fight to retake Russian territory. The battle for Kaliningrad also entailed an amphibious reinforcement operation and the repulsion of a NATO-like force by the 76th air-assault division.

Of course, Dmitry Medvedev says these exercises were “defensive.” Such exercises, as the Wehrmacht of the 1930s would have told us, always are. But it would have been hard for Obama to time his missile-defense announcement any worse. Belarus’s feeble resistance to Russian domination looks to be all but extinguished. Next time, Russia may well take a leaf out of Germany’s 1936 playbook: deploy as many troops as possible for these maneuvers and simply ignore any CFE obligations.

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Pre-Spin

If you are a Republican, you are cheered by news that the DNC says the races today are local and without implication for national politics. That’s working the game announcers before the game has begun, of course. No impact on Obama. Nothing to see. Move along.

Let’s be clear: every race is both local and national. But when many, many races go to one party by a wide margin, you either have a wild coincidence of superior candidates and local phenomena favoring one side, or you have an indicator that something more national is afoot. The DNC’s spin is hardest to sell in Virginia, where Bob McDonnell ran against cap-and-trade and card check, to name two issues. But spinning the results is a time-honored tradition, and both sides will be expected to indulge in the game. When it’s all over, however, the truism of politics holds: winning is better than losing.

If you are a Republican, you are cheered by news that the DNC says the races today are local and without implication for national politics. That’s working the game announcers before the game has begun, of course. No impact on Obama. Nothing to see. Move along.

Let’s be clear: every race is both local and national. But when many, many races go to one party by a wide margin, you either have a wild coincidence of superior candidates and local phenomena favoring one side, or you have an indicator that something more national is afoot. The DNC’s spin is hardest to sell in Virginia, where Bob McDonnell ran against cap-and-trade and card check, to name two issues. But spinning the results is a time-honored tradition, and both sides will be expected to indulge in the game. When it’s all over, however, the truism of politics holds: winning is better than losing.

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Virginia Expectations

There is little doubt that Republicans will sweep the statewide races today, but the margins and the down-ticket races will be closely watched. Can Barbara Comstock beat the incumbent in the 34th district, in upscale Blue-ish McLean, running hard on the tax issue? Can the incumbent Democrat in the 3rd district be dislodged over the cap-and-trade issue? Will a flock of Fairfax County Democrats get dislodged in the Republican wave? We will be watching tonight.

One thing is certain: the Republicans are no longer running under a cloud. Recall that Republicans have been on a losing streak in Virginia since Mark Warner won the governorship in 2001. They lost the governorship again in 2005, the state senate in 2007, and both U.S. Senate seats. To be frank, the Bush era was deadly for Republicans in Virginia, who bore the brunt of Katrina, the Iraq war, and other bad-news stories coming out of Washington. Republican-party spokesman Tim Murtaugh, who was spokesman for Jerry Kilgore, who lost to Tim Kaine in 2005, recently told me that there were “two completely different, polar opposite worlds” between an election that foretold the disastrous 2006 election and this year’s race, where he observes that “we now have come full circle.”

Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in northern Virginia, which, as County Party Chairman Anthony Bedell says, is “Washington-centric.” Republicans in Fairfax County were the first to get pulled under by the anti-Bush tide and were the first to show signs of life. Pat Herrity, whose narrow loss in the race for Fairfax County Chairman of Supervisors earlier in the year foretold the GOP comeback, recently explained, “They didn’t want to talk to you if you were a Republican.” But this year, a Republican won a seat on the heavily Democratic Alexandria City Council and on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.

One sensed that Creigh Deeds and the Democrats had hoped to coast on that anti-Republican sentiment, in the mistaken belief that voters were permanently soured on the GOP brand. Former Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate northern Republican whose former seat is now held by a Democrat, told me, “Creigh Deeds never gave Virginians a reason to vote for him. They are still running against George Bush.” Tonight’s results will likely confirm that voters have moved on. Democrats will need to move on also and find reasons for voters to support their liberal agenda. Otherwise, they too will experience what it is to reside in the Virginia political wilderness.

There is little doubt that Republicans will sweep the statewide races today, but the margins and the down-ticket races will be closely watched. Can Barbara Comstock beat the incumbent in the 34th district, in upscale Blue-ish McLean, running hard on the tax issue? Can the incumbent Democrat in the 3rd district be dislodged over the cap-and-trade issue? Will a flock of Fairfax County Democrats get dislodged in the Republican wave? We will be watching tonight.

One thing is certain: the Republicans are no longer running under a cloud. Recall that Republicans have been on a losing streak in Virginia since Mark Warner won the governorship in 2001. They lost the governorship again in 2005, the state senate in 2007, and both U.S. Senate seats. To be frank, the Bush era was deadly for Republicans in Virginia, who bore the brunt of Katrina, the Iraq war, and other bad-news stories coming out of Washington. Republican-party spokesman Tim Murtaugh, who was spokesman for Jerry Kilgore, who lost to Tim Kaine in 2005, recently told me that there were “two completely different, polar opposite worlds” between an election that foretold the disastrous 2006 election and this year’s race, where he observes that “we now have come full circle.”

Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in northern Virginia, which, as County Party Chairman Anthony Bedell says, is “Washington-centric.” Republicans in Fairfax County were the first to get pulled under by the anti-Bush tide and were the first to show signs of life. Pat Herrity, whose narrow loss in the race for Fairfax County Chairman of Supervisors earlier in the year foretold the GOP comeback, recently explained, “They didn’t want to talk to you if you were a Republican.” But this year, a Republican won a seat on the heavily Democratic Alexandria City Council and on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.

One sensed that Creigh Deeds and the Democrats had hoped to coast on that anti-Republican sentiment, in the mistaken belief that voters were permanently soured on the GOP brand. Former Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate northern Republican whose former seat is now held by a Democrat, told me, “Creigh Deeds never gave Virginians a reason to vote for him. They are still running against George Bush.” Tonight’s results will likely confirm that voters have moved on. Democrats will need to move on also and find reasons for voters to support their liberal agenda. Otherwise, they too will experience what it is to reside in the Virginia political wilderness.

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Who Killed Engagement with Iran?

The collapse of President Obama’s daft strategy for “engaging” with the tyrants of Tehran has left his cheering section with some terrible questions. After spending months soft-pedaling Iran’s stolen election, abuse of dissidents, as well as the danger from its funding of terrorists and, of course, the threat from its drive for nuclear weapons, the administration thought it had fixed the problem with the deal it negotiated to have the Iranians ship their enriched uranium out of the country for processing. It was doubtful that the deal would have worked or that the Iranians wouldn’t have cheated. But Tehran’s rejection of the pact that its representatives had negotiated has the Obama camp thoroughly perplexed. Read More

The collapse of President Obama’s daft strategy for “engaging” with the tyrants of Tehran has left his cheering section with some terrible questions. After spending months soft-pedaling Iran’s stolen election, abuse of dissidents, as well as the danger from its funding of terrorists and, of course, the threat from its drive for nuclear weapons, the administration thought it had fixed the problem with the deal it negotiated to have the Iranians ship their enriched uranium out of the country for processing. It was doubtful that the deal would have worked or that the Iranians wouldn’t have cheated. But Tehran’s rejection of the pact that its representatives had negotiated has the Obama camp thoroughly perplexed.

Their problem is that they can’t accept the obvious answer to the question as to why their solution has been sunk. Having been warned by skeptics of engagement that the Iranians’ only objective in negotiations was to prevaricate, the administration now finds itself scrambling for an explanation as to why their goodwill and generous offers have gotten them exactly nowhere. But ready as always with an explanation for their dilemma is the New York Times, which served up a healthy serving of excuses today in an article designed to rationalize both Iran’s stalling and Washington’s failed strategy. The piece, titled “Iran’s Politics Stand in the Way of a Nuclear Deal With the West,” claims that left to his own devices, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would love to ratify the pact and fulfill its requirements. But he can’t, says author Michael Slackman, because Iranian dissidents as well as a pesky school of “pragmatic conservatives” won’t let him get away with it. According to Slackman, liberal foes of the regime such as former presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi, are trying to score points with the public by hammering Ahmadinejad as insufficiently nationalist, while the “pragmatists” to the right of him think he is betraying the Islamist cause by allowing the West to “cheat” Iran.

It is true that no one should imagine that Iran’s “liberals” can be relied upon to push for a change in the country’s confrontational foreign policy or to abandon the quest for nukes. But the idea that Moussavi — whose supporters have been rounded up to be tortured, raped, or murdered in prison or cowed into silence — has much influence on the nuclear decision-making process seems to fly in the face of everything we know about the country. As for those “pragmatists,” it isn’t likely that they would buck the nation’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose control over Ahmadinejad has never been questioned. After the regime’s display this past summer of how it deals with dissidents, how can we be expected to believe that the rejection of the nuclear deal has been stopped by “politics”? If Khamenei and the other mullahs that run the country wanted the confrontation with the West resolved by this deal, there’s no question it would soon be signed, sealed, and delivered.

What then is to be done? The hint comes from one of Slackman’s sources, Flynt Leverett, the director of the Iran project at the leftist New America Foundation, who seems to be our nation’s current academic appeaser in chief on all things Iranian. Leverett, whose voice has been raised against virtually every measure aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program, claims that the loathsome Ahmadinejad really “wants to cooperate with the international community in developing its civil nuclear program, but only under conditions that respect the Islamic republic’s economic and security interests.”

In other words, having already been played for a sucker by Ahmadinejad on enriched uranium, Obama now needs to make more concessions to the Iranians to satisfy their “political” needs. Leverett is right about the next step Tehran wants the United States to take. Having raised the ante, they want the Americans to continue bidding against themselves. But their goal isn’t a sweeter deal but a process that drags the negotiations out indefinitely until Iran’s nuclear progress becomes irreversible.

The problem for Obama is that the countdown to Iranian nuclear capability continues while his engagement policy is hopelessly bogged down. This is something that our European allies seem to sense. Both the French and the Germans are pushing for a harder line on Iran, but they can do nothing without American leadership on the issue. While the Times and the administration may prefer to ponder the intricacies of Iranian politics in order to find out who killed their pet engagement strategy, the already slim chances of heading off the catastrophe of a nuclear Iran are evaporating.

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Now Burma

The premortem analyses on the failure of the Obami foreign policy to date are now dotting the journalistic landscape. There is remarkable similarity in these — engagement hasn’t panned out, the hope that we would unlock the hearts of our foes has been dashed, the settlement-freeze gambit was a bust, our allies are nervous, and the dithering over Afghanistan has unnerved nearly everyone. To their credit, the authors of these critical reviews have not ignored human rights. Well, it would be hard to. The Obami have racked up quite a record, and it’s about to get worse.

Obama has chosen accommodation over clarity with the Iranian mullahs, defunding democracy activists and bestowing legitimacy on the regime. He has snubbed the Dalai Lama while Hillary Clinton put human rights on the back burner with the Chinese leaders. Obama has nary a harsh word to say about human rights in the Muslim World, choosing not to use the Cairo speech to deal with the dicier issues (honor killings, for example) so as not to embarrass his new best friends. We are engaging Sudan, though the criteria for that are secret. Yes, secret.

And now word comes of engagement with another member of the “international community” whose human-rights record has earned it isolation up until now – Burma. This report explains that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, and his deputy are going to meet with the prime minister and an array of government officials, the first such visit since 1995. We are told that this is the new “engagement” policy for Burma:

The United States has traditionally relied heavily on sanctions meant to force Burma’s generals to respect human rights, release imprisoned political activists and make democratic reforms. Washington has said it will maintain its tough political and economic sanctions against the regime until talks with Burma’s general’s result in change. Campbell said last month if Burma doesn’t address U.S. worries, “we will reserve the option of tightening sanctions on the regime and its supporters as appropriate.”

And how will we know if it is “working”? Nobel Prize–winner (deservedly so) Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest. Is her release the test? Rape and displacement are used as weapons against the people of Burma. If there is no inquiry, no accounting, and no change in the brutalization of women, can we say engagement is “working”? Unfortunately for the Obami, the definition of “working” has precious little to do with the real world. Engagement in and of itself is the name of the game for this crowd. So our engagement policy is “working” if the regime is talking to us. But wait, talking to us and ending the regime’s isolation are supposed to be rewards for improved conduct. Oh, well. It doesn’t quite work out in practice, does it?

Having announced the goal of engagement and staked the president’s prestige on our ability to sustain “dialogue” with thuggish regimes, we have given up the leverage, one type of leverage at any rate, necessary to apply pressure. It is now we who are desperate to maintain the dialogue and reluctant to “grade” the despots’ behavior too quickly or too strictly. We have given the regimes legitimacy and prestige and achieved nothing tangible in return.

So if the mainstream press is disappointed in the paltry results of Obama’s foreign policy, imagine how the people of Iran, Burma, Darfur, China, and many other locales must feel. They are, apparently, on their own. The president seems to believe that “success” is measured in the number of meetings he can hold with their oppressors and not the improvement in the lives of those living under despotic governments. One imagines that the human-rights advocates and the imprisoned democracy activists around the world had hoped for so much more.

The premortem analyses on the failure of the Obami foreign policy to date are now dotting the journalistic landscape. There is remarkable similarity in these — engagement hasn’t panned out, the hope that we would unlock the hearts of our foes has been dashed, the settlement-freeze gambit was a bust, our allies are nervous, and the dithering over Afghanistan has unnerved nearly everyone. To their credit, the authors of these critical reviews have not ignored human rights. Well, it would be hard to. The Obami have racked up quite a record, and it’s about to get worse.

Obama has chosen accommodation over clarity with the Iranian mullahs, defunding democracy activists and bestowing legitimacy on the regime. He has snubbed the Dalai Lama while Hillary Clinton put human rights on the back burner with the Chinese leaders. Obama has nary a harsh word to say about human rights in the Muslim World, choosing not to use the Cairo speech to deal with the dicier issues (honor killings, for example) so as not to embarrass his new best friends. We are engaging Sudan, though the criteria for that are secret. Yes, secret.

And now word comes of engagement with another member of the “international community” whose human-rights record has earned it isolation up until now – Burma. This report explains that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, and his deputy are going to meet with the prime minister and an array of government officials, the first such visit since 1995. We are told that this is the new “engagement” policy for Burma:

The United States has traditionally relied heavily on sanctions meant to force Burma’s generals to respect human rights, release imprisoned political activists and make democratic reforms. Washington has said it will maintain its tough political and economic sanctions against the regime until talks with Burma’s general’s result in change. Campbell said last month if Burma doesn’t address U.S. worries, “we will reserve the option of tightening sanctions on the regime and its supporters as appropriate.”

And how will we know if it is “working”? Nobel Prize–winner (deservedly so) Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest. Is her release the test? Rape and displacement are used as weapons against the people of Burma. If there is no inquiry, no accounting, and no change in the brutalization of women, can we say engagement is “working”? Unfortunately for the Obami, the definition of “working” has precious little to do with the real world. Engagement in and of itself is the name of the game for this crowd. So our engagement policy is “working” if the regime is talking to us. But wait, talking to us and ending the regime’s isolation are supposed to be rewards for improved conduct. Oh, well. It doesn’t quite work out in practice, does it?

Having announced the goal of engagement and staked the president’s prestige on our ability to sustain “dialogue” with thuggish regimes, we have given up the leverage, one type of leverage at any rate, necessary to apply pressure. It is now we who are desperate to maintain the dialogue and reluctant to “grade” the despots’ behavior too quickly or too strictly. We have given the regimes legitimacy and prestige and achieved nothing tangible in return.

So if the mainstream press is disappointed in the paltry results of Obama’s foreign policy, imagine how the people of Iran, Burma, Darfur, China, and many other locales must feel. They are, apparently, on their own. The president seems to believe that “success” is measured in the number of meetings he can hold with their oppressors and not the improvement in the lives of those living under despotic governments. One imagines that the human-rights advocates and the imprisoned democracy activists around the world had hoped for so much more.

Read Less




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