Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 25, 2009

The Beginning of the End

Democrats declare themselves unconcerned about a “backlash” in 2010. The public will come to appreciate their health-care handiwork, they suppose. And somehow their supporters will be re-engaged to match the enthusiasm of the apoplectic conservative coalition that is more motivated to defeat Obamaism in 2010 than it was to defeat Obama in 2008. Maybe by then unemployment will have drifted downward. Oh, and there might be a grand bargain with the Iranian mullahs rather than the prospect of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Yes, it sounds far-fetched. Very. And it suggests that the public — which couldn’t be convinced of the benefits of a failed stimulus plan – can be talked into believing the wonders of ObamaCare, talked out of its concerns about taxes and debt, and talked into ignoring the Obami’s leftward lurch. That’s a lot of spinning and misdirection. And who will do it? Obama seems to have lost his ability to sway the public on much of anything (except the Afghanistan surge, suggesting he is more effective in the role of resolute commander in chief than as health-care salesman). All the talk-show appearances and all the speeches haven’t sold the public on a big government takeover of health care. Quite the opposite.

So how is this transformation of the electorate supposed to come about, exactly? Well, starting over or severely downsizing the grossly unpopular health-care bill would help. A pro-jobs agenda (that is more than weatherizing subsidies) with a moratorium on new taxes might help. And a serious determination to control domestic spending might soothe independent voters. It’s not impossible, just unlikely, unless there is a wholesale revolt among vulnerable Democratic congressmen, senators, and governors to turn the agenda back from. . . what’s the word?.. ah. . . the precipice.

And if the Democrats refuse to heed the voters and their own nervous members? Then we will have a major course correction on Election Day 2010. It is now conceivable that the House may fall back into Republican hands and that the Democrats will lose their filibuster-proof majority. And that will be the end of the untrammeled experiment in Obamaism, which can loosely be described as the endeavor to campaign as a moderate and race as far Left as possible until the voters notice.

We will see in 2010 whether the Democrats pull back from that precipice, or whether the voters shove a good number of them over it. Either way, 2010 will be the beginning of a new phase in the Obama presidency. Polls indicate that the public will be relieved, whether that new beginning comes from a voluntary course adjustment or a tidal wave election.

Democrats declare themselves unconcerned about a “backlash” in 2010. The public will come to appreciate their health-care handiwork, they suppose. And somehow their supporters will be re-engaged to match the enthusiasm of the apoplectic conservative coalition that is more motivated to defeat Obamaism in 2010 than it was to defeat Obama in 2008. Maybe by then unemployment will have drifted downward. Oh, and there might be a grand bargain with the Iranian mullahs rather than the prospect of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Yes, it sounds far-fetched. Very. And it suggests that the public — which couldn’t be convinced of the benefits of a failed stimulus plan – can be talked into believing the wonders of ObamaCare, talked out of its concerns about taxes and debt, and talked into ignoring the Obami’s leftward lurch. That’s a lot of spinning and misdirection. And who will do it? Obama seems to have lost his ability to sway the public on much of anything (except the Afghanistan surge, suggesting he is more effective in the role of resolute commander in chief than as health-care salesman). All the talk-show appearances and all the speeches haven’t sold the public on a big government takeover of health care. Quite the opposite.

So how is this transformation of the electorate supposed to come about, exactly? Well, starting over or severely downsizing the grossly unpopular health-care bill would help. A pro-jobs agenda (that is more than weatherizing subsidies) with a moratorium on new taxes might help. And a serious determination to control domestic spending might soothe independent voters. It’s not impossible, just unlikely, unless there is a wholesale revolt among vulnerable Democratic congressmen, senators, and governors to turn the agenda back from. . . what’s the word?.. ah. . . the precipice.

And if the Democrats refuse to heed the voters and their own nervous members? Then we will have a major course correction on Election Day 2010. It is now conceivable that the House may fall back into Republican hands and that the Democrats will lose their filibuster-proof majority. And that will be the end of the untrammeled experiment in Obamaism, which can loosely be described as the endeavor to campaign as a moderate and race as far Left as possible until the voters notice.

We will see in 2010 whether the Democrats pull back from that precipice, or whether the voters shove a good number of them over it. Either way, 2010 will be the beginning of a new phase in the Obama presidency. Polls indicate that the public will be relieved, whether that new beginning comes from a voluntary course adjustment or a tidal wave election.

Read Less

The Worst Decision of Them All

As Charles Krauthammer notes, we have frittered away a critical year with Iran with perhaps the stupidest foreign-policy gambit in a generation: the notion that we could prostrate ourselves before tyrannical regime and thus endear ourselves to it and talk it out of its nuclear ambitions. The timing could not have been worse, as he observes:

We lost a year. But it was not just any year. It was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. In Iran, it was a year of revolution, beginning with a contested election and culminating this week in huge demonstrations mourning the death of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri — and demanding no longer a recount of the stolen election but the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship. . .

Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven.

And apparently we have only begun to deliver the bouquets of legitimacy, as we consider the first high-level visit since the 1979 revolution by an American official — the president’s unofficial secretary of state. (Hillary Clinton will still be busy with agricultural projects in India or with whatever she does when not singing the praises of the Obami’s non-existent human-rights policy.)

It is, in Krauthammer’s words, “unforgivable,” whether from a human-rights perspective or a nuclear-deterrence standpoint, that we should have given sustenance to the mullahs in a year in which depriving them of the same might have made a very big difference. It is what comes from believing that the world’s problems and the threats to the security of the West arise from misunderstandings or from America’s own “belligerence,” which if muffled would bring forth a new era of cooperation. It is the same mentality that supposes that moving terrorists from Guantanamo to Illinois will earn brownie points with would-be terrorists. Just don’t make them mad and we’ll be safer.

As Stephen Hayes explains in a must-read piece, there was zero evidence that this sort of approach would work with Iran:

The problem, it turns out, was not George W. Bush. It wasn’t a lack of American goodwill or our failure to acknowledge mistakes or our underdeveloped national listening skills. The problem is the Iranian regime. This should have been clear from the beginning, and should have been glaringly obvious after the fraudulent election and the deadly response to the brave Iranians who questioned the results. There were plenty of clues: an Iranian president who routinely denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel; a long record of using terrorism as an instrument of state power; the provision of safe haven to senior al Qaeda leaders in the months and years after the 9/11 attacks; and a policy, approved at the highest levels of the Iranian leadership, of trying to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obami deny being naive about the nature of the regime, but the repetition of their disclaimer suggests they are sensitive on the point. Indeed, their policy “of the extended hand, of the gratuitous apology,” has as its central feature the belief that becoming inoffensive makes aggressors less inclined to pursue their aims. But what historical precedent is there for this? The record is replete with examples to the contrary. Pick your favorite — WWII, the Cold War, etc.

Because the policy of engagement is so nonsensical one is left wondering whether the end game is and has always been some form of  “nuclear containment,” which is itself quite preposterous when it comes to a revolutionary Islamic state that has already announced its regional aspirations (including the elimination of the Jewish state) and compiled a track record of terror sponsorship. But it does explain the Obami’s effort to be inoffensive, talk down military options, and defer sanctions until the time line on halting the mullahs’ nuclear program collapses on itself. (Too late!)

These two explanations are, of course, not mutually exclusive. The Obami’s may have thought they’d give engagement their best shot, with the “back up” plan of learning to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Do you feel safer yet?) Regardless, we are in a far worse position at the end of 2009 because we were practicing engagement at the exact moment we should have been pressing for regime change. It was a colossal misjudgment, one which will be viewed, I suspect, (along with the decision to give KSM a civilian trial) as among the worst national-security calls by any president.

As Charles Krauthammer notes, we have frittered away a critical year with Iran with perhaps the stupidest foreign-policy gambit in a generation: the notion that we could prostrate ourselves before tyrannical regime and thus endear ourselves to it and talk it out of its nuclear ambitions. The timing could not have been worse, as he observes:

We lost a year. But it was not just any year. It was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. In Iran, it was a year of revolution, beginning with a contested election and culminating this week in huge demonstrations mourning the death of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri — and demanding no longer a recount of the stolen election but the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship. . .

Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven.

And apparently we have only begun to deliver the bouquets of legitimacy, as we consider the first high-level visit since the 1979 revolution by an American official — the president’s unofficial secretary of state. (Hillary Clinton will still be busy with agricultural projects in India or with whatever she does when not singing the praises of the Obami’s non-existent human-rights policy.)

It is, in Krauthammer’s words, “unforgivable,” whether from a human-rights perspective or a nuclear-deterrence standpoint, that we should have given sustenance to the mullahs in a year in which depriving them of the same might have made a very big difference. It is what comes from believing that the world’s problems and the threats to the security of the West arise from misunderstandings or from America’s own “belligerence,” which if muffled would bring forth a new era of cooperation. It is the same mentality that supposes that moving terrorists from Guantanamo to Illinois will earn brownie points with would-be terrorists. Just don’t make them mad and we’ll be safer.

As Stephen Hayes explains in a must-read piece, there was zero evidence that this sort of approach would work with Iran:

The problem, it turns out, was not George W. Bush. It wasn’t a lack of American goodwill or our failure to acknowledge mistakes or our underdeveloped national listening skills. The problem is the Iranian regime. This should have been clear from the beginning, and should have been glaringly obvious after the fraudulent election and the deadly response to the brave Iranians who questioned the results. There were plenty of clues: an Iranian president who routinely denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel; a long record of using terrorism as an instrument of state power; the provision of safe haven to senior al Qaeda leaders in the months and years after the 9/11 attacks; and a policy, approved at the highest levels of the Iranian leadership, of trying to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obami deny being naive about the nature of the regime, but the repetition of their disclaimer suggests they are sensitive on the point. Indeed, their policy “of the extended hand, of the gratuitous apology,” has as its central feature the belief that becoming inoffensive makes aggressors less inclined to pursue their aims. But what historical precedent is there for this? The record is replete with examples to the contrary. Pick your favorite — WWII, the Cold War, etc.

Because the policy of engagement is so nonsensical one is left wondering whether the end game is and has always been some form of  “nuclear containment,” which is itself quite preposterous when it comes to a revolutionary Islamic state that has already announced its regional aspirations (including the elimination of the Jewish state) and compiled a track record of terror sponsorship. But it does explain the Obami’s effort to be inoffensive, talk down military options, and defer sanctions until the time line on halting the mullahs’ nuclear program collapses on itself. (Too late!)

These two explanations are, of course, not mutually exclusive. The Obami’s may have thought they’d give engagement their best shot, with the “back up” plan of learning to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Do you feel safer yet?) Regardless, we are in a far worse position at the end of 2009 because we were practicing engagement at the exact moment we should have been pressing for regime change. It was a colossal misjudgment, one which will be viewed, I suspect, (along with the decision to give KSM a civilian trial) as among the worst national-security calls by any president.

Read Less




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