Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 1, 2009

Again with the Bush Digs

In a smart take on the West Point speech Fred Barnes observes:

I couldn’t be the only person who thought Obama once again both scapegoated and slighted George W. Bush. Early on in his administration, Obama recalled that he had agreed to a “longstanding request for more troops” in Afghanistan, implying that Bush had turned that request down. I don’t think that’s quite accurate.

And Obama praised the military for the success of the “surge” in Iraq without mentioning the person who — against the advice of nearly everyone in Washington — ordered that troop increase, Bush. Obama tacitly acknowledged the surge had worked, though he didn’t seem to remember that he’d insisted that it would worsen conditions in Iraq.

No, he’s not alone. It has become a nervous tic with Obama. Something is wrong, people are upset — blame Bush! Obama is going to need to rely on conservative support to prosecute the war since his own crowd certainly won’t be cheerleading for him. So it would have been politically smart and classy to have credited Bush with the surge or with leaving him the assessment for the Afghanistan war, which he relied on in the spring (the one his team previously denied receiving). But that’s not this president’s style. For reasons that aren’t quite clear — either personal peevishness or political expediency — even in a wartime speech in which bipartisanship would have been essential, he felt compelled to get in his digs. If President Obama seems smaller than candidate Obama it’s because he allows pettiness to get the best of him. He should give it up. He’s now president after all.

In a smart take on the West Point speech Fred Barnes observes:

I couldn’t be the only person who thought Obama once again both scapegoated and slighted George W. Bush. Early on in his administration, Obama recalled that he had agreed to a “longstanding request for more troops” in Afghanistan, implying that Bush had turned that request down. I don’t think that’s quite accurate.

And Obama praised the military for the success of the “surge” in Iraq without mentioning the person who — against the advice of nearly everyone in Washington — ordered that troop increase, Bush. Obama tacitly acknowledged the surge had worked, though he didn’t seem to remember that he’d insisted that it would worsen conditions in Iraq.

No, he’s not alone. It has become a nervous tic with Obama. Something is wrong, people are upset — blame Bush! Obama is going to need to rely on conservative support to prosecute the war since his own crowd certainly won’t be cheerleading for him. So it would have been politically smart and classy to have credited Bush with the surge or with leaving him the assessment for the Afghanistan war, which he relied on in the spring (the one his team previously denied receiving). But that’s not this president’s style. For reasons that aren’t quite clear — either personal peevishness or political expediency — even in a wartime speech in which bipartisanship would have been essential, he felt compelled to get in his digs. If President Obama seems smaller than candidate Obama it’s because he allows pettiness to get the best of him. He should give it up. He’s now president after all.

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They Have to Win Anyway

Writing before Tuesday’s speech Rich Lowry observed:

In Obama’s long review, the fanciful suppositions of the war’s skeptics were systematically knocked down: No, the war couldn’t be waged from afar with drones and Special Forces; no, the Taliban couldn’t be considered a relatively harmless force; no, Afghanistan couldn’t slide into chaos without further destabilizing Pakistan.

The professionals, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and Admiral Mullen, all lined up in favor of some form of the surge. Obama was left without any plausible reason to heed his deepest instincts.

Consequently, he finds himself in rough alignment with all the same hated people who conceived, executed, and supported the Iraq surge, and against the people who opposed it — and elected him.

And so we are embarked on a surge with a reluctant and obviously conflicted commander in chief. The essential policy, with a bit of unnecessary chiseling on the number of troops, is not far off the mark. But part of war strategy is stagecraft and convincing the enemies that they are on the losing side of history. Would the sheiks in Anbar have risked plenty for a “surge… but…” strategy in Iraq? Would al Qaeda’s recruits have dried up there had George W. Bush announced a commencement date for withdrawal in January 2007? We don’t know, and Bush declined to make his own job more difficult by fuzzing up his message. Obama couldn’t resist the urge to do just that.

We may prevail despite the president’s inner turmoil and half-hearted rhetoric. We may win despite the doubts he sowed about our willingness to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to prevail. All Americans should pray that we will, for the president got one thing right:

The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

In other words, it is not a fight amenable to off ramps and limited patience. It’s not going to be won trying to mollify the netroots because in doing so we would project equivocation and irresoluteness. Our military is the finest in the world, and given the resources and direction to accomplish a mission, there is a very good chance we will prevail. But our troops should have a commander in chief who makes their task easier and helps them in the task of undermining and intimidating the enemy. They don’t but will have to win anyway.

Writing before Tuesday’s speech Rich Lowry observed:

In Obama’s long review, the fanciful suppositions of the war’s skeptics were systematically knocked down: No, the war couldn’t be waged from afar with drones and Special Forces; no, the Taliban couldn’t be considered a relatively harmless force; no, Afghanistan couldn’t slide into chaos without further destabilizing Pakistan.

The professionals, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and Admiral Mullen, all lined up in favor of some form of the surge. Obama was left without any plausible reason to heed his deepest instincts.

Consequently, he finds himself in rough alignment with all the same hated people who conceived, executed, and supported the Iraq surge, and against the people who opposed it — and elected him.

And so we are embarked on a surge with a reluctant and obviously conflicted commander in chief. The essential policy, with a bit of unnecessary chiseling on the number of troops, is not far off the mark. But part of war strategy is stagecraft and convincing the enemies that they are on the losing side of history. Would the sheiks in Anbar have risked plenty for a “surge… but…” strategy in Iraq? Would al Qaeda’s recruits have dried up there had George W. Bush announced a commencement date for withdrawal in January 2007? We don’t know, and Bush declined to make his own job more difficult by fuzzing up his message. Obama couldn’t resist the urge to do just that.

We may prevail despite the president’s inner turmoil and half-hearted rhetoric. We may win despite the doubts he sowed about our willingness to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to prevail. All Americans should pray that we will, for the president got one thing right:

The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

In other words, it is not a fight amenable to off ramps and limited patience. It’s not going to be won trying to mollify the netroots because in doing so we would project equivocation and irresoluteness. Our military is the finest in the world, and given the resources and direction to accomplish a mission, there is a very good chance we will prevail. But our troops should have a commander in chief who makes their task easier and helps them in the task of undermining and intimidating the enemy. They don’t but will have to win anyway.

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Re: Three-Quarters of the Way There

Max, others share your concern about the undue attention to the exit ramps. In a statement, Sen. John McCain praised the commitment of troops, but explained:

What I do not support, and what concerns me greatly, is the President’s decision to set an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies — in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region — all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war. A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight.

Success is the real exit strategy. When we have achieved our goals in Afghanistan, our troops should begin to return home with honor, but that withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines. In the days ahead, I will seek to address this and other questions I have about the President’s policy, including my continuing concern about the civilian aspect of our strategy.

We can store that in the “elections have consequences” file. Now certainly, Obama’s speech could have been worse — he could have set a date certain for a pullout. But acknowledging that we were spared an even more harmful address won’t eradicate the doubts and concerns raised by the speech he did deliver. And, as Max points out, this is all for naught. The Left won’t embrace any troop commitment, the Right will once again perceive Obama as short on commander-in-chiefness, and our enemies will rightly see that the president’s heart isn’t in this.

Max, others share your concern about the undue attention to the exit ramps. In a statement, Sen. John McCain praised the commitment of troops, but explained:

What I do not support, and what concerns me greatly, is the President’s decision to set an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies — in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region — all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war. A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight.

Success is the real exit strategy. When we have achieved our goals in Afghanistan, our troops should begin to return home with honor, but that withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines. In the days ahead, I will seek to address this and other questions I have about the President’s policy, including my continuing concern about the civilian aspect of our strategy.

We can store that in the “elections have consequences” file. Now certainly, Obama’s speech could have been worse — he could have set a date certain for a pullout. But acknowledging that we were spared an even more harmful address won’t eradicate the doubts and concerns raised by the speech he did deliver. And, as Max points out, this is all for naught. The Left won’t embrace any troop commitment, the Right will once again perceive Obama as short on commander-in-chiefness, and our enemies will rightly see that the president’s heart isn’t in this.

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Three-Quarters of the Way There

President Obama is giving General McChrystal about three-quarters of what he wants — 30,000 of 40,000 troops. Thus it is appropriate that his speech was about three-quarters good.

The good parts were his signals of resolve and determination. He said, for example, that we have a “vital national interest” in Afghanistan and that we are there “to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.” In the same vein, I loved his conclusion:

And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.

One can easily imagine those words being spoken by Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

The problem is that there is plenty of reason to doubt Obama’s resolve in Afghanistan. On the plus side, he committed to sending more troops than some White House aides wanted, and he committed to sending them at once, refusing to draw out the process by announcing “off ramps” in the deployment plan or “benchmarks” that the Afghan government must meet before we send more forces.

But then he undercut some of the urgency he conveyed by pledging “to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.” If this is such a vital national interest — and it is — why is our commitment so limited? How can he be so confident that the extra 30,000 troops — who will be lucky to arrive in their entirety by next summer — can accomplish their ambitious mission in just a year?

Obama tried to triangulate by adding: “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” He also stressed that he would only begin a drawdown in July 2011, not end it; the pace and length of the exit remain to be determined. Thus he suggested that he might still walk away from the redeployment deadline, just as he walked away from the deadline to close Guantanamo. But the message that’s going out to the Taliban right now is that they just have to wait 18 months and the infidels will be out the door. That may not be accurate, but that’s what our enemies will hear.

The deadline is designed to placate the liberal base of the Democratic party. I predict that won’t work — the left-wing will be incensed by the extra troop deployment, regardless of the time line. So his gambit fails politically as well as strategically. That’s too bad, because otherwise his policy on Afghanistan is fairly sound.

President Obama is giving General McChrystal about three-quarters of what he wants — 30,000 of 40,000 troops. Thus it is appropriate that his speech was about three-quarters good.

The good parts were his signals of resolve and determination. He said, for example, that we have a “vital national interest” in Afghanistan and that we are there “to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.” In the same vein, I loved his conclusion:

And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.

One can easily imagine those words being spoken by Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.

The problem is that there is plenty of reason to doubt Obama’s resolve in Afghanistan. On the plus side, he committed to sending more troops than some White House aides wanted, and he committed to sending them at once, refusing to draw out the process by announcing “off ramps” in the deployment plan or “benchmarks” that the Afghan government must meet before we send more forces.

But then he undercut some of the urgency he conveyed by pledging “to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.” If this is such a vital national interest — and it is — why is our commitment so limited? How can he be so confident that the extra 30,000 troops — who will be lucky to arrive in their entirety by next summer — can accomplish their ambitious mission in just a year?

Obama tried to triangulate by adding: “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” He also stressed that he would only begin a drawdown in July 2011, not end it; the pace and length of the exit remain to be determined. Thus he suggested that he might still walk away from the redeployment deadline, just as he walked away from the deadline to close Guantanamo. But the message that’s going out to the Taliban right now is that they just have to wait 18 months and the infidels will be out the door. That may not be accurate, but that’s what our enemies will hear.

The deadline is designed to placate the liberal base of the Democratic party. I predict that won’t work — the left-wing will be incensed by the extra troop deployment, regardless of the time line. So his gambit fails politically as well as strategically. That’s too bad, because otherwise his policy on Afghanistan is fairly sound.

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LIVE BLOG: Why That Speech?

The speech was weirdly defensive and unduly solicitous of his left wing. Yes, we know he opposed the Iraq war and we know he’d rather work on health care. We know he really doesn’t want to spend his money on wars. But why revisit all that? He is obsessively repeating these themes, as if to assure his base that he really hasn’t gone all neo-con on them. Just a short, finite war, he says. Then we’ll get back to reinventing America. But the audience here isn’t and shouldn’t be Nancy Pelosi. It is our allies, our enemies, and our troops.

Most critically, the amount of time devoted to his determination to limit our commitment was excessive and exceedingly unhelpful to the task at hand. The nuts and bolt may be almost right, but war-fighting and war-leading are more than getting the troop levels right. It was in many ways a self-indulgent and counterproductive effort. He’s not going to win over the Left, and he frittered away a chance to sound like he really does mean to do whatever it takes to win the war.

The speech was weirdly defensive and unduly solicitous of his left wing. Yes, we know he opposed the Iraq war and we know he’d rather work on health care. We know he really doesn’t want to spend his money on wars. But why revisit all that? He is obsessively repeating these themes, as if to assure his base that he really hasn’t gone all neo-con on them. Just a short, finite war, he says. Then we’ll get back to reinventing America. But the audience here isn’t and shouldn’t be Nancy Pelosi. It is our allies, our enemies, and our troops.

Most critically, the amount of time devoted to his determination to limit our commitment was excessive and exceedingly unhelpful to the task at hand. The nuts and bolt may be almost right, but war-fighting and war-leading are more than getting the troop levels right. It was in many ways a self-indulgent and counterproductive effort. He’s not going to win over the Left, and he frittered away a chance to sound like he really does mean to do whatever it takes to win the war.

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LIVE BLOG: The Wrap-Up

With a touch of Camelot ( the Broadway show, that is):

America — we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.

And he is done. A preliminary reaction: it did him no good to go to West Point. It was a bit off-putting to see him not look at us, but at the crowd, for much of it. The crowd only interrupted once and responded finally with polite, subdued applause. He did not gain energy or approval from the crowd.  He obviously felt compelled to embrace the military, but in a very real sense, he should have done it on his own and with the sole focus on his viewing audience.

With a touch of Camelot ( the Broadway show, that is):

America — we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.

And he is done. A preliminary reaction: it did him no good to go to West Point. It was a bit off-putting to see him not look at us, but at the crowd, for much of it. The crowd only interrupted once and responded finally with polite, subdued applause. He did not gain energy or approval from the crowd.  He obviously felt compelled to embrace the military, but in a very real sense, he should have done it on his own and with the sole focus on his viewing audience.

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LIVE BLOG: America in the World

Obama takes some dramatic license in recounting his record:

I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World – one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values – for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not.  That is why we must promote our values by living them at home – which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America’s authority.

It would have been grand had he done all that! But to his credit, he also gives one of his more robust defenses of America’s role in the world:

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades – a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

More of that would be nice to hear — and when he is talking to other nations, and not just to the cadets at West Point.

Obama takes some dramatic license in recounting his record:

I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World – one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values – for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not.  That is why we must promote our values by living them at home – which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America’s authority.

It would have been grand had he done all that! But to his credit, he also gives one of his more robust defenses of America’s role in the world:

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades – a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

More of that would be nice to hear — and when he is talking to other nations, and not just to the cadets at West Point.

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LIVE BLOG: The Nots

He gets this right, and while self-evident to many conservatives, he takes the time to explain, presumably for the benefit of his liberal friends, that this isn’t Vietnam. We were attacked, after all, by al-Qaeda. Well, yes, and we forget that others forget. He also says we can’t maintain the status quo — that’s what we’ve been doing. And then he takes a swipe at the “nation-building” and “endless war” crowd (they are out there, I suppose). And it is here where he sounds the least convincing and the most defensive:

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade.

I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

Yet, he really hasn’t set a time for ending the war. He’s not saying we will bug out at a date certain. So he dislikes the sound of open-endedness, it seems. And again one wonders why he feels compelled to explain that we won’t be in this for as long as is needed to win. It must be because he has other things to do. And indeed he does, with this stark admission:

Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended – because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.

Well, at least he’s honest on that score.

He gets this right, and while self-evident to many conservatives, he takes the time to explain, presumably for the benefit of his liberal friends, that this isn’t Vietnam. We were attacked, after all, by al-Qaeda. Well, yes, and we forget that others forget. He also says we can’t maintain the status quo — that’s what we’ve been doing. And then he takes a swipe at the “nation-building” and “endless war” crowd (they are out there, I suppose). And it is here where he sounds the least convincing and the most defensive:

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade.

I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

Yet, he really hasn’t set a time for ending the war. He’s not saying we will bug out at a date certain. So he dislikes the sound of open-endedness, it seems. And again one wonders why he feels compelled to explain that we won’t be in this for as long as is needed to win. It must be because he has other things to do. And indeed he does, with this stark admission:

Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended – because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.

Well, at least he’s honest on that score.

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LIVE BLOG: What Matters

The heart of what Obama has to say is what we are about to do:

We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways.  First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Despite much of the unnecessary and self-indulgent rhetoric, this is a critical statement of determination. And the “exit ramp”? Well, it is perhaps not as bad as advertised. “The days of providing a blank check are over, ” he says. And yes, he talks about “hastening the day when our troops will leave.” But he is not talking about a date certain for departure. We can be grateful for that.

The heart of what Obama has to say is what we are about to do:

We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways.  First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Despite much of the unnecessary and self-indulgent rhetoric, this is a critical statement of determination. And the “exit ramp”? Well, it is perhaps not as bad as advertised. “The days of providing a blank check are over, ” he says. And yes, he talks about “hastening the day when our troops will leave.” But he is not talking about a date certain for departure. We can be grateful for that.

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LIVE BLOG: Why So Defensive?

Obama seems unduly defensive, first making clear he really didn’t commit himself in March:

That’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian effort. 

And he denies he has deprived our forces of help by his prolonged decision-making:

Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war.

Instead, the review has allowed me ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people – and our troops – no less.

And then he feels compelled to tell us he opposed the Iraq war. Then he feels it necessary to tell us how hard the decision it has been. I fail to see why any of this is helpful to him in rallying public opinion or impressing our adversaries.

Obama seems unduly defensive, first making clear he really didn’t commit himself in March:

That’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian effort. 

And he denies he has deprived our forces of help by his prolonged decision-making:

Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war.

Instead, the review has allowed me ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people – and our troops – no less.

And then he feels compelled to tell us he opposed the Iraq war. Then he feels it necessary to tell us how hard the decision it has been. I fail to see why any of this is helpful to him in rallying public opinion or impressing our adversaries.

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LIVE BLOG: Why We Fight

The president provides a recap of 9/11 and the justification for fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He says we needn’t go through the debate on Iraq. But then he does, explaining how it drained our resources away from Afghanistan. He explains we are now leaving Iraq — avoiding the “V” word, although he concedes we are leaving Iraq “to its people.” So far this speech should have been delivered at a DNC meeting — the Democratic base seems to be his primary concern and audience.

The president provides a recap of 9/11 and the justification for fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He says we needn’t go through the debate on Iraq. But then he does, explaining how it drained our resources away from Afghanistan. He explains we are now leaving Iraq — avoiding the “V” word, although he concedes we are leaving Iraq “to its people.” So far this speech should have been delivered at a DNC meeting — the Democratic base seems to be his primary concern and audience.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama Explains

The president will tell us how we are going to bring this war to “a successful conclusion.” It seems “victory” still does not come easily to Obama’s lips.

The president will tell us how we are going to bring this war to “a successful conclusion.” It seems “victory” still does not come easily to Obama’s lips.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama at West Point

In the lead up to the president’s speech, Charles Krauthammer asks the key question: “How committed is the commander-in-chief?” He and others are concerned that the message will be a muddled one at best — asserting we will get out before we have even begun. After all, we not only need to have a strategy to win; we have to convince our foes that they are destined to lose.

In the lead up to the president’s speech, Charles Krauthammer asks the key question: “How committed is the commander-in-chief?” He and others are concerned that the message will be a muddled one at best — asserting we will get out before we have even begun. After all, we not only need to have a strategy to win; we have to convince our foes that they are destined to lose.

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Heads Begin to Roll

Climategate has claimed its first casualty. The AP is reporting that Phil Jones, the head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, is stepping down “pending an investigation into allegations that he overstated the case for man-made climate change.”

Meanwhile, Michael Mann, another major player, is under investigation at Pennsylvania State University.

The White House, however, is deep in nothing-has-changed mode. That perhaps is inevitable given that the president and 70 other heads of state and government will be arriving in Copenhagen next week to hold a conference on limiting greenhouse gases to stop global warming. But the whole idea of global warming is predicated entirely on the validity of the data that Climategate now brings into very serious question. I reiterate my suggestion that the 70 heads of state forget the conference and just enjoy Copenhagen.

The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate is still on the president’s legislative agenda. But it’s hard to see why any senator would take a political risk voting for it now. It is politically a lot easier — not to mention a lot wiser — to insist on getting to the bottom of all this first. When wisdom and political expediency coincide, politicians can be counted on to be wise.

So the White House might want to consider shifting over to get-real mode. Why? Well, one reason is that “Climategate,” a word that did not even exist two weeks ago, now gets 1,270,000 hits on Google.

Climategate has claimed its first casualty. The AP is reporting that Phil Jones, the head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, is stepping down “pending an investigation into allegations that he overstated the case for man-made climate change.”

Meanwhile, Michael Mann, another major player, is under investigation at Pennsylvania State University.

The White House, however, is deep in nothing-has-changed mode. That perhaps is inevitable given that the president and 70 other heads of state and government will be arriving in Copenhagen next week to hold a conference on limiting greenhouse gases to stop global warming. But the whole idea of global warming is predicated entirely on the validity of the data that Climategate now brings into very serious question. I reiterate my suggestion that the 70 heads of state forget the conference and just enjoy Copenhagen.

The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate is still on the president’s legislative agenda. But it’s hard to see why any senator would take a political risk voting for it now. It is politically a lot easier — not to mention a lot wiser — to insist on getting to the bottom of all this first. When wisdom and political expediency coincide, politicians can be counted on to be wise.

So the White House might want to consider shifting over to get-real mode. Why? Well, one reason is that “Climategate,” a word that did not even exist two weeks ago, now gets 1,270,000 hits on Google.

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China Debunks Obama’s Spin on Iran Diplomacy

Last week the decision of both Russia and China to endorse a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency was touted by the New York Times and others as a victory for the Obama administration’s diplomacy. The Times quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that China’s support of Iran was proof that Obama’s trip to Beijing earlier this month wasn’t the disaster that virtually everyone thought it was. “This is the product of engagement,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was “a direct result” of the trip.

But it appears as though Emanuel’s bloviating was yet another instance of the administration’s believing what it wanted to believe and ignoring the realities of the foreign-policy muddle that it has created. Far from demonstrating that China is ready to join America in a regime of “crippling sanctions” in 2010 against Iran, as Obama hoped, Beijing is doing what it has done for years on this issue: saying just enough to maintain its standing as an opponent of nuclear proliferation but remaining a steadfast opponent of any concrete action to stop Tehran.

That’s the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Iran’s latest provocation: its statement over the past weekend, according to which Iran plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. While Europe and the United States deplored Iran’s raising of the stakes in this standoff and the Islamist regime’s lack of interest in stepping away from the nuclear ledge, the Chinese are back to their old tricks of opposing any measures that might actually compel Tehran to stand down. The Associated Press reports that the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that sanctions “are not the goal” of new UN pressure on Iran. “We should properly resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

In other words, the United States is no closer to achieving Chinese support for sanctions today than a month ago. Obama’s engagement policy and his attempts to appease the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to gain support to stop Iran have been colossal failures. Obama has nothing to show for betraying the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to please Russia or for refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama to mollify the Chinese. His amateurish foreign policy, exemplified by his justly criticized trip to China, can only have convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the West as they get closer to reaching nuclear capability.

Last week the decision of both Russia and China to endorse a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency was touted by the New York Times and others as a victory for the Obama administration’s diplomacy. The Times quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that China’s support of Iran was proof that Obama’s trip to Beijing earlier this month wasn’t the disaster that virtually everyone thought it was. “This is the product of engagement,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was “a direct result” of the trip.

But it appears as though Emanuel’s bloviating was yet another instance of the administration’s believing what it wanted to believe and ignoring the realities of the foreign-policy muddle that it has created. Far from demonstrating that China is ready to join America in a regime of “crippling sanctions” in 2010 against Iran, as Obama hoped, Beijing is doing what it has done for years on this issue: saying just enough to maintain its standing as an opponent of nuclear proliferation but remaining a steadfast opponent of any concrete action to stop Tehran.

That’s the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Iran’s latest provocation: its statement over the past weekend, according to which Iran plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. While Europe and the United States deplored Iran’s raising of the stakes in this standoff and the Islamist regime’s lack of interest in stepping away from the nuclear ledge, the Chinese are back to their old tricks of opposing any measures that might actually compel Tehran to stand down. The Associated Press reports that the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that sanctions “are not the goal” of new UN pressure on Iran. “We should properly resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

In other words, the United States is no closer to achieving Chinese support for sanctions today than a month ago. Obama’s engagement policy and his attempts to appease the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to gain support to stop Iran have been colossal failures. Obama has nothing to show for betraying the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to please Russia or for refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama to mollify the Chinese. His amateurish foreign policy, exemplified by his justly criticized trip to China, can only have convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the West as they get closer to reaching nuclear capability.

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The Imprudent Copenhagen Gamble

Holding to the prevailingly brash tenor of the international climate-change debate, the Australian prime minister equated a delay on the enactment of green policy to outright denial of climate change. In doing so, he set himself — and others — up for trouble in Copenhagen in less than a week.

Speaking in Washington yesterday and specifically referencing his country’s own climate-change policy woes, Kevin Rudd said:

Let’s just be very blunt about it. After ten years of delay on climate change, further delay equals denial on climate change. Delay on climate change equals denial on climate change. And it’s time, instead, we voted in support of this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, because to do so votes to act. A failure to vote, or shall I say a vote to delay on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, is a vote to deny the climate change science. A vote to delay this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is also to deny Australia’s ability to act on climate change.

Rudd is hardly alone in setting dangerously high expectations for concrete and speedy climate-change policy. Across the world, leaders have expressed similar sentiment, and not just on domestic climate-change policy. “We must seal a deal in Copenhagen,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Kyi-Moon. Copenhagen is “capable of delivering the turning point we all want,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And in a news release issued by the White House itself, John Kerry said that “the fact that the President will attend the Copenhagen talks underscores that the Administration is putting its money where its mouth is, putting the President’s prestige on the line.”

But that’s risky rhetoric, and it puts proponents of stricter global-climate-change policy at a disadvantage.

First, an urgent and for-us-or-against-us approach like Rudd’s automatically alienates those who approach the climate-change debate with healthy skepticism or hesitancy. But it’s also hard to believe any international climate-change agreements can be reached without the help of moderates. And given the recent accounts that the scientific and academic community has suppressed climate-change debate and fogged up evidence, the demonization of skeptics should be hardly the message believers like Rudd want to convey. Further, as India and China have made abundantly clear, climate-change policy is also economic policy. This is not the time for a rushed decision, especially given the global recession.

Second, Rudd has opened the door for a public-relations problem for himself and others at Copenhagen. If anything short of action is evidence of denial, then anything less than total victory in Copenhagen must betray enormous international doubt that a climate-change problem actually exists.

Staked reputations should be the last consideration on the agenda in Copenhagen. But climate-change advocates have needlessly put themselves in a prickly position. There’s no longer much room for such outspoken leaders to hedge against the considerable conflicts they will doubtless face. And with such lofty expectations already established, they’d be foolish not to realize that the political, if not the environmental, clock is ticking. Now they have ensured that time is of the essence.

Holding to the prevailingly brash tenor of the international climate-change debate, the Australian prime minister equated a delay on the enactment of green policy to outright denial of climate change. In doing so, he set himself — and others — up for trouble in Copenhagen in less than a week.

Speaking in Washington yesterday and specifically referencing his country’s own climate-change policy woes, Kevin Rudd said:

Let’s just be very blunt about it. After ten years of delay on climate change, further delay equals denial on climate change. Delay on climate change equals denial on climate change. And it’s time, instead, we voted in support of this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, because to do so votes to act. A failure to vote, or shall I say a vote to delay on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, is a vote to deny the climate change science. A vote to delay this bipartisan Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is also to deny Australia’s ability to act on climate change.

Rudd is hardly alone in setting dangerously high expectations for concrete and speedy climate-change policy. Across the world, leaders have expressed similar sentiment, and not just on domestic climate-change policy. “We must seal a deal in Copenhagen,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Kyi-Moon. Copenhagen is “capable of delivering the turning point we all want,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And in a news release issued by the White House itself, John Kerry said that “the fact that the President will attend the Copenhagen talks underscores that the Administration is putting its money where its mouth is, putting the President’s prestige on the line.”

But that’s risky rhetoric, and it puts proponents of stricter global-climate-change policy at a disadvantage.

First, an urgent and for-us-or-against-us approach like Rudd’s automatically alienates those who approach the climate-change debate with healthy skepticism or hesitancy. But it’s also hard to believe any international climate-change agreements can be reached without the help of moderates. And given the recent accounts that the scientific and academic community has suppressed climate-change debate and fogged up evidence, the demonization of skeptics should be hardly the message believers like Rudd want to convey. Further, as India and China have made abundantly clear, climate-change policy is also economic policy. This is not the time for a rushed decision, especially given the global recession.

Second, Rudd has opened the door for a public-relations problem for himself and others at Copenhagen. If anything short of action is evidence of denial, then anything less than total victory in Copenhagen must betray enormous international doubt that a climate-change problem actually exists.

Staked reputations should be the last consideration on the agenda in Copenhagen. But climate-change advocates have needlessly put themselves in a prickly position. There’s no longer much room for such outspoken leaders to hedge against the considerable conflicts they will doubtless face. And with such lofty expectations already established, they’d be foolish not to realize that the political, if not the environmental, clock is ticking. Now they have ensured that time is of the essence.

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Re: Obama Finally Resolute on Afghanistan?

From the briefing held in advance of the speech, Max, there seems to be much to be pleased about. The briefer made clear that the goal is to “disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan,” and this entails stabilizing Pakistan and preventing the Taliban’s overthrow of the Afghan government. Obama will announce a “surge” (yes, they call it that) of 30,000 troops. The briefer did declare that this would be for a “defined period of time.” But conservatives who are wary of endpoints and withdrawal dates may take some comfort in this:

What the President will talk about tonight is a date by which he has given the mission that we will begin to transfer our lead responsibility — that is, the U.S. and NATO lead responsibilities from that operation — to Afghan counterparts. He will not, however, tonight specify the end of that transition process, nor will he specify the pace at which it will proceed. Those variables — pace and end — will be dictated by conditions on the ground.

Again, in the Q & A, the briefer added:

This is the beginning of a process which is not yet defined in terms of the length of the process or the end point. And that’s because the pace of transition from our lead to the Afghan lead, and how long it will take, will be dominated by conditions on the ground, which, because they’re at least 18 months from now, are not possible to foresee with accuracy.

This sounds sober and realistic, like something that could have come out of the mouth of an official in the George W. Bush administration. The process getting here was arduous and frankly damaging to the president’s own standing. If he delivers a compelling speech, he can begin to undo some of that self-inflicted harm.

From the briefing held in advance of the speech, Max, there seems to be much to be pleased about. The briefer made clear that the goal is to “disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan,” and this entails stabilizing Pakistan and preventing the Taliban’s overthrow of the Afghan government. Obama will announce a “surge” (yes, they call it that) of 30,000 troops. The briefer did declare that this would be for a “defined period of time.” But conservatives who are wary of endpoints and withdrawal dates may take some comfort in this:

What the President will talk about tonight is a date by which he has given the mission that we will begin to transfer our lead responsibility — that is, the U.S. and NATO lead responsibilities from that operation — to Afghan counterparts. He will not, however, tonight specify the end of that transition process, nor will he specify the pace at which it will proceed. Those variables — pace and end — will be dictated by conditions on the ground.

Again, in the Q & A, the briefer added:

This is the beginning of a process which is not yet defined in terms of the length of the process or the end point. And that’s because the pace of transition from our lead to the Afghan lead, and how long it will take, will be dominated by conditions on the ground, which, because they’re at least 18 months from now, are not possible to foresee with accuracy.

This sounds sober and realistic, like something that could have come out of the mouth of an official in the George W. Bush administration. The process getting here was arduous and frankly damaging to the president’s own standing. If he delivers a compelling speech, he can begin to undo some of that self-inflicted harm.

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Obama Finally Resolute on Afghanistan?

As President Obama prepares to deliver his West Point address tonight, most indications are positive — surprisingly so, given the public hand-wringing from the White House that has characterized this debate over the past three months. Barring a last-minute change of heart, the president will announce the dispatch of at least 30,000 troops to Afghanistan along with the expectation that our allies will provide at least 5,000 more. According to this New York Times article, Obama “has decided to expedite the deployment … over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.” It may not be logistically possible to dispatch 30,000 extra troops by the summer of 2010, but it’s a good sign that Obama is setting this as a goal. It means he is taking to heart the warnings from General McChrystal that “success will require a discrete ‘jump’ to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”

The key question now is, how much resolve will Obama signal in the address itself? If he spends too much time talking about “off-ramps” (i.e., situations under which reinforcements might be canceled), “benchmarks” that the Karzai government must meet “or else,” or “exit strategies,” he will undo some of the positive impact of his courageous decision to substantially increase the number of American troops on the ground.

Thus, it is worrisome to read in another Times leak that Obama will announce “that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011″ — a curious message to send while announcing a major increase in our war effort. That gives the troops who will be arriving only a year to get the job done, which may or may not be enough time. A far better time line would be “performance-based,” as it was in the case of the Iraq surge: Obama should announce that the troops will stay as long as necessary to get the job done. Even if he has already settled on a time line for withdrawal, he should keep it quiet, lest he encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out.

Nevertheless, despite that disturbing detail, it sounds as if it will be a policy that all those who see the need to prevail in this important war effort can and should support. I will, of course, stay tuned for the speech itself and report back with an initial reaction once I’ve had a chance to hear the president’s words. But I imagine that the nuances won’t become apparent until a few days after the administration has performed its background briefings and Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and other key leaders have testified on Capitol Hill.

As President Obama prepares to deliver his West Point address tonight, most indications are positive — surprisingly so, given the public hand-wringing from the White House that has characterized this debate over the past three months. Barring a last-minute change of heart, the president will announce the dispatch of at least 30,000 troops to Afghanistan along with the expectation that our allies will provide at least 5,000 more. According to this New York Times article, Obama “has decided to expedite the deployment … over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.” It may not be logistically possible to dispatch 30,000 extra troops by the summer of 2010, but it’s a good sign that Obama is setting this as a goal. It means he is taking to heart the warnings from General McChrystal that “success will require a discrete ‘jump’ to gain the initiative, demonstrate progress in the short term, and secure long-term support.”

The key question now is, how much resolve will Obama signal in the address itself? If he spends too much time talking about “off-ramps” (i.e., situations under which reinforcements might be canceled), “benchmarks” that the Karzai government must meet “or else,” or “exit strategies,” he will undo some of the positive impact of his courageous decision to substantially increase the number of American troops on the ground.

Thus, it is worrisome to read in another Times leak that Obama will announce “that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011″ — a curious message to send while announcing a major increase in our war effort. That gives the troops who will be arriving only a year to get the job done, which may or may not be enough time. A far better time line would be “performance-based,” as it was in the case of the Iraq surge: Obama should announce that the troops will stay as long as necessary to get the job done. Even if he has already settled on a time line for withdrawal, he should keep it quiet, lest he encourage the Taliban to simply wait us out.

Nevertheless, despite that disturbing detail, it sounds as if it will be a policy that all those who see the need to prevail in this important war effort can and should support. I will, of course, stay tuned for the speech itself and report back with an initial reaction once I’ve had a chance to hear the president’s words. But I imagine that the nuances won’t become apparent until a few days after the administration has performed its background briefings and Secretary of Defense Gates, the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Mullen, and other key leaders have testified on Capitol Hill.

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Taxes Are Taxes — and So Are Expirations

Political language often frames the public discussion of political issues. “Pro-choice” sounds a lot better than “pro-abortion.” Economic “stimulus” sounds a lot better than government “spending.” The party that better frames the language surrounding the public debate can sometimes win the debate almost by that means alone.

So let me take Jennifer’s perceptive post “Taxes Are Taxes” one step further. It is a mistake to say that Congress is “letting the Bush tax cuts expire.” The proper way of framing the issue is “failing to stop a massive tax increase.” The issue is not tax cuts relative to the 2001 economy, but the prospect of a huge tax increase on the 2010 one.

In April 2008 — long before President Obama engineered an increase in government spending that transformed “billions” into small change, making anything under a trillion a certification of political acceptability (rather than, in Everett Dirksen’s phrase, “real money”) — John F. Cogan and R. Glenn Hubbard described, in an article entitled “The Coming Tax Bomb,” what will happen if Congress fails to act:

This would be the largest increase in personal income taxes since World War II. It would be more than twice as large as President Lyndon Johnson’s surcharge to finance the war in Vietnam and the war on poverty. It would be more than twice the combined personal income tax increases under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The increase would push total federal government revenues relative to GDP to 20%.

All this is before the tax increases the Democrats want to use for cap-and-trade, health care, the Afghan war, etc. — or rather, it is after such tax increases. The strategy appears to be to enact those tax increases first and then engineer another one simply phrased “letting the Bush tax cuts expire.”

It is not too soon to bring this issue to the forefront, even though it will not come to a head until next year. Indeed, as Cogan and Hubbard argued, the prospect of scheduled future tax increases may itself be part of the current economic problem, and making the Bush tax cuts permanent might provide certainty for investors that would spur the economy. In any event, it would be a mistake to defer discussion of this until next year, especially if the debate then is framed as a mere “expiration” of something “Bush” did.

Political language often frames the public discussion of political issues. “Pro-choice” sounds a lot better than “pro-abortion.” Economic “stimulus” sounds a lot better than government “spending.” The party that better frames the language surrounding the public debate can sometimes win the debate almost by that means alone.

So let me take Jennifer’s perceptive post “Taxes Are Taxes” one step further. It is a mistake to say that Congress is “letting the Bush tax cuts expire.” The proper way of framing the issue is “failing to stop a massive tax increase.” The issue is not tax cuts relative to the 2001 economy, but the prospect of a huge tax increase on the 2010 one.

In April 2008 — long before President Obama engineered an increase in government spending that transformed “billions” into small change, making anything under a trillion a certification of political acceptability (rather than, in Everett Dirksen’s phrase, “real money”) — John F. Cogan and R. Glenn Hubbard described, in an article entitled “The Coming Tax Bomb,” what will happen if Congress fails to act:

This would be the largest increase in personal income taxes since World War II. It would be more than twice as large as President Lyndon Johnson’s surcharge to finance the war in Vietnam and the war on poverty. It would be more than twice the combined personal income tax increases under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The increase would push total federal government revenues relative to GDP to 20%.

All this is before the tax increases the Democrats want to use for cap-and-trade, health care, the Afghan war, etc. — or rather, it is after such tax increases. The strategy appears to be to enact those tax increases first and then engineer another one simply phrased “letting the Bush tax cuts expire.”

It is not too soon to bring this issue to the forefront, even though it will not come to a head until next year. Indeed, as Cogan and Hubbard argued, the prospect of scheduled future tax increases may itself be part of the current economic problem, and making the Bush tax cuts permanent might provide certainty for investors that would spur the economy. In any event, it would be a mistake to defer discussion of this until next year, especially if the debate then is framed as a mere “expiration” of something “Bush” did.

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What Now?

Jamie Fly recounts recent statements from China and Russia on the subject of sanctions on Iran and finds:

The only broad consensus on Iran is that between Russia and China and it is that they will not support meaningful sanctions anytime soon. It is important to remember that this comes after Iran was revealed to be building a covert enrichment facility and after the IAEA once again criticized Iran for not providing information about its pre-2003 weaponization research. If that doesn’t convince Russia and China to support sanctions, what will?

The notion that we were going to try diplomacy, proceed to sanctions, and then, if necessary, employ “all other options” was the fig leaf under which the Obami apologists operated. Obama wasn’t naive, we were told. He was methodical!  We had to show deference to the mullahs, avoid taking sides in the election and shove the Iranian democracy advocates under the bus so we could get to the bargaining table with the Iranian regime. Well, that’s proven to be farce. We had been told that we had to “exhaust diplomatic options” to get the Chinese and Russians on board. They aren’t, and won’t be, on board. We have, however, frittered away another year and lost any semblance of credibility on the issue.

The Obami have already tried to talk down any military option: won’t be a permanent solution (what — like a deal shipping out a portion of uranium for enrichment?), very complicated stuff, lots of bad things will happen. We’ve heard the muttering already for some time. So now the threat of a military option must seem a whole lot less credible to the mullahs.

Now that each premise of the Obama approach to Iran has been proven faulty and the Obami have convinced the Iranians of our unseriousness, what next? Well, some of us have expected for a time that we’ll hear a whole lot about “containment” of Iran’s nuclear capability. After all, what options are left? That, one suspects, has been the endgame all along. And if you prefer the other explanation — that the Obami imagined all the genuflecting would actually work — then you must acknowledge this as the greatest national security failure of the Obama administration — or any administration in recent memory.

Jamie Fly recounts recent statements from China and Russia on the subject of sanctions on Iran and finds:

The only broad consensus on Iran is that between Russia and China and it is that they will not support meaningful sanctions anytime soon. It is important to remember that this comes after Iran was revealed to be building a covert enrichment facility and after the IAEA once again criticized Iran for not providing information about its pre-2003 weaponization research. If that doesn’t convince Russia and China to support sanctions, what will?

The notion that we were going to try diplomacy, proceed to sanctions, and then, if necessary, employ “all other options” was the fig leaf under which the Obami apologists operated. Obama wasn’t naive, we were told. He was methodical!  We had to show deference to the mullahs, avoid taking sides in the election and shove the Iranian democracy advocates under the bus so we could get to the bargaining table with the Iranian regime. Well, that’s proven to be farce. We had been told that we had to “exhaust diplomatic options” to get the Chinese and Russians on board. They aren’t, and won’t be, on board. We have, however, frittered away another year and lost any semblance of credibility on the issue.

The Obami have already tried to talk down any military option: won’t be a permanent solution (what — like a deal shipping out a portion of uranium for enrichment?), very complicated stuff, lots of bad things will happen. We’ve heard the muttering already for some time. So now the threat of a military option must seem a whole lot less credible to the mullahs.

Now that each premise of the Obama approach to Iran has been proven faulty and the Obami have convinced the Iranians of our unseriousness, what next? Well, some of us have expected for a time that we’ll hear a whole lot about “containment” of Iran’s nuclear capability. After all, what options are left? That, one suspects, has been the endgame all along. And if you prefer the other explanation — that the Obami imagined all the genuflecting would actually work — then you must acknowledge this as the greatest national security failure of the Obama administration — or any administration in recent memory.

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