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Posts For: June 22, 2010
The least controversial and most widely accepted comment in the Rolling Stone piece is this:
One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”
This is the worst-kept secret in Washington. For some time now, we’ve been getting hints that Jones is less than effective. More than a year ago, Michael Goldfarb reviewed news reports that Jones was keeping bankers’ hours. (“It seems like Jones’s primary goal as National Security Adviser is to get home for dinner. He doesn’t want to ‘sacrifice his life for his career.’ Is this really the best and the brightest?) In TV interviews, he has not inspired confidence. He was downright incoherent in discussing Iran with Candy Crowley earlier this year.
Moreover, Jones is often front and center in the anti-Israel onslaughts. It was Jones who went to speak to J Street last fall. Again, it was Jones who assembled the “Why not an imposed peace plan on Israel?” confab, and then leaked it to the media.
If the Obama foreign policy team has failed to come up with an effective plan to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a good share of the blame is Jones’s. If we had a prolonged and agonized decision-making proces on Afghanistan war strategy, Jones again bears some of the responsibility. You say that the problem is with Obama? Well, certainly, but only the voters can do something about that. As for Jones, it is no laughing matter to have a national-security adviser who is widely perceived as being so ineffective — if not downright counterproductive to the formulation of “smart” national-security policy.
If Obama decides to follow John McCain’s advice and use the McChrystal gaffe as a housecleaning opportunity, he should include Jones. That move is long overdue. No joke.
“If the president fires McChrystal, we need a new ambassador and we need an entire new team over there. But most importantly, we need the president to say what Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates have both said but what the president refuses to say: Our withdrawal in the middle of 2011 will be conditions based. It’s got to be conditions based and he’s got to say it.”
But McCain says that Obama is worried about the political repercussions of that kind of all-in statement.
“He won’t say this because he’s captive of his far-left base.”
McChrystal may have shot himself in the foot, but he has pulled back the curtain on the Obama team’s dysfunction, which is wreaking havoc on our war effort.
And if Obama doesn’t take the sage advice to look at his own misguided time frame for a troop withdrawal and leaves in place the obviously inept and counterproductive team of civilian officials? Congress can’t win a war, although lawmakers can exercise oversight and demand answers to basic questions — e.g., is the timeline hampering our chances for victory? But ultimately, it is up to the president. He will have to commit himself — or not — to victory. A defeat in war cannot be blamed on a predecessor. It is his responsibility, and it will be his legacy.
McCain’s prediction is most likely accurate. Let’s pray on this one that Obama defies expectations.
Today in New Orleans, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman lifted President Obama’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling:
Government lawyers told Feldman that ban was based on findings in a U.S. report following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast in April.
“The court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium,” Feldman said in his 22-page decision. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”
The U.S. will appeal. In response to the ruling, drilling companies’ shares jumped; Obama’s slumped. This is shaping up to be an exceptionally bad day for the administration. First, the Rolling Stone article exposes the ugly disconnect that has emerged between top civilian and military leaders. Now, the president learns the limitations of executive decree.
It doesn’t end there, however. In Pakistan, where Fareed Zakaria had assured us of “Obama’s Foreign Policy Success,” the prime minister has announced plans to move forward on importing natural gas from Iran, in defiance of Washington’s wishes:
Pakistan’s prime minister promised Tuesday to go ahead with a plan to import natural gas from Iran even if the U.S. levies additional sanctions against the Mideast country.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s comments came two days after the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, cautioned Pakistan not to “overcommit” itself to the deal because it could run afoul of new sanctions against Iran being finalized by Congress.
As if Islamabad wasn’t causing us enough trouble by failing to crack down adequately on the Taliban both in Pakistan and on its border.
This is what it looks like after moral authority erodes and leaves material authority hanging by a thread. In Afghanistan, Obama’s focus has been on finishing up, not winning. In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s been about optics. And in Iran, it’s been about respecting the bad guys. None of that will prove effective among those who know their vital interests to be tied up in what the U.S. has been treating as peripheral concerns.
Up until now, nothing has managed to sway the president from his ideological course and stylistic approach. There is little reason to think the latest succession of mishaps will be any different. If Obama and company have access to a course-correction mechanism, they’re sure holding out for as long as they can. The administration that swore never to let a crisis go to waste has certainly been given plenty to work with.
Amid all the denunciations of General McChrystal (many admittedly deserved), he has gotten a vote of confidence from an interesting quarter. The Washington Post says:
A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, however, issued a statement saying Karzai “strongly supports McChrystal and his strategy in Afghanistan and believes he is the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan over the last nine years,” the wire service reported.
One of McChrystal’s most significant accomplishments has been to establish a good rapport with Karzai — something enjoyed by no other senior American official. Karzai’s statement can be read, among other ways, as a dig at U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was himself one of the American military commanders in Afghanistan. If Obama gets rid of McChrystal, his relationship with Karzai will suffer a significant loss.
General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:
The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.
According to an administration official:
The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.
I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.
Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.
That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.
The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.
Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.
America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.
But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.
One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.
The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.
As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.
But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.
This statement has been issued by Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Joe Lieberman:
“We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation. General McChrystal’s comments, as reported in Rolling Stone, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military. The decision concerning General McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States.”
If McCain, Graham, and Lieberman — three of the most stalwart pro-military voices in the Congress — aren’t willing to back General McChrystal, he is in deep trouble.
Gen. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview was damaging and depressing in all sorts of ways that have yet to play out. The story covers a lot more than the military’s frustration with the White House and State Department. The author, Michael Hastings, pans our counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, makes the case that soldiers are fettered by current rules of engagement, rehashes McChrystal’s involvement in Pat Tillman’s death, and on, and on.
McChrystal exercised extraordinarily bad judgment in granting access and speaking publicly as he did. But if a similar story of military dissatisfaction ran during the Bush administration, the only angle that would have made it through to public debate would have been that even the military brass has had it with the president.
Still, without yet knowing McChrystal’s fate or the impact that the story will have on the future of the war, it’s important to correct the most erroneous propaganda furnished by the great military minds at Rolling Stone. Hastings writes, toward the end of the article, “The very people that COIN seeks to win over – the Afghan people – do not want us there.” Considering that this assertion attempts to undermine the entire strategy of our Afghanistan effort, it’s a particularly egregious fiction to conclude the story on. Moreover, it’s stale. Back in March, Michael O’ Hanlon made quick work of this line in the Washington Post:
Despite downward trends in recent years, Afghans are far more accepting of an international presence in their country than are Iraqis, for example, who typically gave the U.S. presence approval ratings of 15 to 30 percent in the early years of the war in that country. Average U.S. favorability ratings in recent surveys in Afghanistan are around 50 percent, and according to polls from ABC, the BBC and the International Republican Institute, about two-thirds of Afghans recognize that they still need foreign help.
If more Afghans do decide they don’t want us there, it will be because we’ve made it clear we’re not there to finish the job. Broadcasting that dangerous message is made far easier by pieces such as this one in Rolling Stone.
If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”
What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:
“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”
There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.
Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.
McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?
It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.
McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.
There is a direct and disturbing link between the growing anti-Israel radicalism of American unions that J.E. Dyer detailed yesterday and the horrific treatment of union activists in Iran described by columnist Sohrab Ahmari in both the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.
Ahmari told of Mansour Osanloo, who had his tongue slit for the crime of organizing “17,000 transport workers to form Iran’s first post-Revolution independent union” in 2005 and is still in jail today. And of teacher Farzad Kamangar, who was executed along with four others for the crime of organizing a nationwide hunger strike by teachers “to protest unpaid wages and the arbitrary detention of teachers who question state education policy.”
The article concluded with a plea: “The Iranian labor movement deserves the support of Western progressives, just as American unions spoke out in support of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity during the 1980s.”
Doing so, Ahmari noted, could help the entire Iranian people throw off the yoke of their repressive regime: Tehran brutally suppresses union activism precisely because “the mullahs know that it took a massive general strike by Iranian workers to finally topple the shah — and usher in their own rise to power.” But union leaders need not support this larger goal in order to feel sympathy for colleagues being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for the crime of seeking higher wages and child-care allowances for female workers, as Osanloo was — or just for seeking to be paid at all, as Kamangar was.
At least, so one would think. But if any unions have responded to Ahmari’s plea, they have done so too far under the media radar for me to have noticed — or in other words, too quietly to make any difference.
In contrast, I can name a long list of labor unions worldwide that have loudly proclaimed planned boycotts of Israel, including Britain’s University and College Union (representing university lecturers), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario branch), the Swedish Port Workers Union, and an Italian food and retailing union (Flaica-Uniti-Cub). Yet Israel not only has dozens of independent and powerful labor unions of its own but also allows the free operation of dozens of independent trade unions in the “occupied territories.” Israel has not even interfered when Palestinian unions elected leaders affiliated with Hamas, despite deeming Hamas an illegal terrorist organization.
And this, of course, is precisely the problem. All human beings have limited time and energy. Thus if American and European union activists focus all their energy on Israel — where union organizers operate freely, with no fear of jail or torture — they have little to spare for those who need them most: their imprisoned, tortured, and executed fellow activists in Iran.
The irony is that Israel hasn’t even suffered much from all these boycotts. Instead, the price is being paid by the Mansour Osanloos and Farzad Kamangars of the world, whose cries for help are going unnoticed amid the din of all the anti-Israel noise.
The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:
The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.
The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”
Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”
Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.
“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”
Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”
Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”
If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.
McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.
“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘
Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.
As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)
The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.
At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.
Paul Rubin (no relation) writes that, with regard to Katrina:
President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.
State and local efforts—particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly—interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives.
In contrast, Rubin notes: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do.” He explains, however, that local authorities “believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.” Obama and his team have refused to waive the Jones Act and has hassled Gov. Jindal about deploying barges to skim oil.
While the Obama team’s response has been arguably worse that the Bush response to Katrina, Rubin points out, the press criticism of Obama is only now intensifying:
Now Mr. Obama has much more power than did Mr. Bush, but the federal response is ineffective and often stands in the way of those in the best position to know what to do. It is only in the last week or two that the mainstream press has voiced any criticism of Mr. Obama.
This is because the media’s default position for Mr. Bush was “Bush is wrong,” and it sought stories aimed at justifying this belief. For Mr. Obama the media’s default is “Obama is right,” and it takes a powerful set of facts to move it away from this assumption.
The danger for Obama is that the default is changing. It may not be “Obama is wrong” quite yet. But it’s getting there. At the very least, it is “Obama is under siege because the public thinks he’s wrong.” That’s progress, considering the mainstream media’s investment in Obama’s success.
Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:
Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.
The Journal writes:
On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.
Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.
Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).
Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.
I won’t spoil the very clever fictional construct that David Brooks uses to make his point in today’s column, but his conclusion bears repeating:
Surveys showed public opinion drifting rightward on issue after issue: gun control, abortion, global warming and the role of government. Far from leading Americans, Democrats were repelling them. Between 2008 and 2010 the share of voters who considered the Democrats too liberal surged from 39 percent to 49 percent, according to Gallup surveys.
Prospects for the 2010 election are grim. Election guru Charlie Cook suspects the G.O.P. will retake the House. N.P.R. polled voters in the 60 most competitive House districts currently held by Democrats. Democrats trail Republicans in those districts, on average, by 5 percentage points. Independent voters in the districts favor Republicans by an average of 18 percentage points.
By 57 percent to 37 percent, voters in these districts embrace the proposition that “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.”
Instead of building faith in government, the events of 2009 and 2010 further undermined it. An absurdly low 6 percent of Americans acknowledge that the stimulus package created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS survey.
I’ll quibble with “absurdly” if he means irrationally, but he’s accurate on the rest. And his warning is equally on point:
Some Kool-Aid sippers on the left say the problem is that Republicans have better messaging (somehow John Boehner became magically charismatic to independents). Others say the shift to the right is a product of bad economic times. … But the big story is that liberals have failed to create a governing center-left majority. If they can’t do it in circumstances like these, when will they ever?
There is a self-fulfilling quality to the left’s crack-up. The rush to the left and “never let a crisis go to waste” mentality was premised on the view that the window of opportunity to accomplish the liberal agenda was brief. But in piling on one big-government proposal after another, Obama actually shortened the window and gave rise to the conservative resurgence, which threatens to rip up the one significant ”achievement” (ObamaCare) jammed through in the first half of his term. (Sigh, yes, the halfway mark is in sight.) Obama might have prolonged his window of opportunity, kept the conservatives at bay, and preserved many of his party’s seats. But that would have required compromise and moderation in pursuit of his desired remaking of the economy and vast expansion of the federal government.
It was the road not taken — the road many hopeful pundits, including Brooks, were convinced Obama would take. The president has proved to be a lot less moderate, a lot less politically savvy, and as a result, a lot less successful than his boosters had imagined. He was nevertheless an invaluable aid in discrediting liberal statism.
Even when critiquing, indeed indicting, Obama’s serial foreign-policy debacles, many critics feel compelled to attribute fine motives to the president. Mort Zuckerman recently wrote:
Obama clearly wishes to do good and means well. But he is one of those people who believe that the world was born with the word and exists by means of persuasion, such that there is no person or country that you cannot, by means of logical and moral argument, bring around to your side. He speaks as a teacher, as someone imparting values and generalities appropriate for a Sunday morning sermon, not as a tough-minded leader. He urges that things “must be done” and “should be done” and that “it is time” to do them. As the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Les Gelb, put it, there is “the impression that Obama might confuse speeches with policy.” Another journalist put it differently when he described Obama as an “NPR [National Public Radio] president who gives wonderful speeches.” In other words, he talks the talk but doesn’t know how to walk the walk. The Obama presidency has so far been characterized by a well-intentioned but excessive belief in the power of rhetoric with too little appreciation of reality and loyalty.
Perhaps he’s just being polite or trying to draw into the debate those who are disposed to like Obama. Perhaps it is wishful thinking – we’d certainly like to believe our president is pursuing good. But we’ve now reached a point where not only conservatives are suggesting that it may be unwarranted to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Richard Cohen, not exactly a fiery conservative, writes:
[I]t’s not clear that Obama is appalled by China’s appalling human rights record. He seems hardly stirred about continued repression in Russia. He treats the Israelis and their various enemies as pests of equal moral standing. The president seems to stand foursquare for nothing much. …
Foreign policy is the realm where a president comes closest to ruling by diktat. By command decision, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, yet it seems to lack an urgent moral component. It has an apparent end date even though girls may not yet be able to attend school and the Taliban may rule again. In some respects, I agree — the earlier out of Afghanistan, the better — but if we are to stay even for a while, it has to be for reasons that have to do with principle. Somewhat the same thing applies to China. It’s okay to trade with China. It’s okay to hate it, too.
Pragmatism is fine — as long as it is complicated by regret. But that indispensable wince is precisely what Obama doesn’t show. It is not essential that he get angry or cry. It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven’t a clue.
So for Cohen, at best the jury is out on Obama’s motives, and at worst the president seems to be hostile to human rights and democracy. Cohen has a lot of support for the latter assumption on the right, certainly.
As for Obama’s intentions, judging from his actions and public speeches, it certainly is more believable that he would prefer dealing with despots than messy popular uprisings, that he is not simpatico or even patient with Israel, and that he is more than willing to throw human rights and democracy under the bus for the sake of conflict avoidance. He intends, the evidence indicates, not to draw lines with Iran or Russia or the UN. He intends, from his public pronouncements we gather, not to risk war over a nuclear-armed Iran.
Is he then “well-intentioned”? It depends what ends you favor. At some point, one must conclude that it is not simply that Obama lacks the ability to express his passion for democracy, his fondness for the special relationship with the Brits, his devotion to human rights, and his commitment to a warm U.S.-Israel relationship; it is that these are not ends he intends to pursue. He intends to do other things — accommodate the UN, ingratiate himself with despotic Muslim rulers, and appease Russia, to name a few. To many of us, that certainly doesn’t qualify as wishing to “do good” or “meaning well.”
Recently, Iran was allowed onto the UN Commission on the Status of Women with not a peep of protest from the Obama administration. That distinction, I suppose, gives them immunity from scrutiny over this:
Iranian police have issued warnings to 62,000 women who were “badly veiled” in the Shiite holy province of Qom as part of a crackdown on dress and behaviour. Colonel Mehdi Khorasani, the provincial police chief, said police had also confiscated around 100 cars for carrying improperly dressed women and said that “encouraging such relaxations are among the objectives of the enemy.” … By law, women in the Islamic republic must be covered from head to foot, with their hair completely veiled and social interaction is banned between men and women who are not related.
The report explains that Ahmadinejad was opposed to the crackdown (his venom is reserved mostly for Jews these days?), but that he lost that one to “hardliners and several top clerics who have criticised him for opposing the police crackdown.” So the nation that makes pronouncements on other nations’ treatment of women has launched a crackdown on its own women:
Iran’s morality police have returned to the streets in past weeks, confiscating cars whose male drivers harass women, local media say, without clarifying what amounts to harassment. The reports say the police or hardline militiamen have been stopping cars with young men or women inside to question their relationship.
The Obama team is complicit in this farce, by treating the regime as legitimate and as capable of policing others’ human rights records. It is the same mentality that assumes that an international flotilla investigation can be “fair” or “credible” and that led us to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council. In sum, by ignoring evil and by elevating cordiality with despotic regimes over other interests, the U.S. is now a supporting player in the UN farce. That’s damaging to the credibility and standing of the U.S. but tragic for the females of the morality police.
One more thing: if an unmarried woman or a woman married to someone else is in a car with a man, what do we suppose happens to her then? Just asking, because our administration apparently doesn’t care to ask or consider the answer.
We all benefit when Obama goes golfing, says the White House spokesman. But not when Tony Hayward goes sailing.
The U.S. government can certainly crack down on “humanitarian” aid to terrorist groups, says the Supreme Court. But Israel is not permitted the same latitude, points out Elliott Abrams: “As Chief Justice Roberts explained, such support [for training and advice for humanitarian, non-terrorist activities] ‘also importantly helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups—legitimacy that makes it easier for those groups to persist, to recruit members, and to raise funds—all of which facilitate more terrorist attacks.’ Americans inclined to think Israel has gone overboard in stopping flotillas from landing in Gaza might think again.”
Democrats have had enough of Obama’s career-killing agenda and John Kerry’s pestering them about a climate-control bill. But Jonathan Chait mocks politicians’ desire for self-preservation, “Why can’t [Kerry] let us worry about something that really matters, like the midterm election?” It’s curious whom Chait thinks will stand in the way of the conservative resurgence if all these horribly self-absorbed Democrats commit political suicide.
Obama promised that all that stimulus money would create/save millions of jobs. But this handy chart suggests we might have gotten equal or better results with no stimulus at all.
The lefty protesters in San Francisco intended to block the unloading of an Israeli ship. But they got the timing wrong and wound up protesting a Chinese ship. As Jay Nordlinger put it: “But listen, who cares about protesting the PRC — which is merely a one-party dictatorship with a gulag — when you can protest and harass Israel, that nasty Jewish state whose inhabitants (Jewish inhabitants — the Arab ones are cool) can go back to you-know-where! (Of course, when the Jews were in Europe, in great numbers, they were told to go back … to Israel, ancient and eternal land of the Jews.)”
The military and sympathetic observers keep sounding the alarm over Obama’s Afghanistan timeline. But the White House keeps reinforcing it. At some point, we should take the administration at its word.
Obama says he’s doing everything possible to deal with the Gulf oil spill. But he’s refused to waive the Jones Act to allow easier passage of foreign ships between U.S. ports. So Republicans are introducing legislation. Hard to say — as it always is with Obama — whether he’s incompetent in riding herd on the federal bureaucracy or he’s ingratiating himself (again) with Big Labor. Maybe it’s both.
We can be grateful that Peter Beinart has taken a break from Israel-bashing. But his quotient of loopiness to facts is no better when he is writing about Hillary Clinton. He seems intent on debunking ”rampant” speculation (which consists of some bloggers at one website and some Peggy Noonan and Dick Morris musings) that Hillary will run for president in 2012. Well, given the inanity of the topic, he’s not likely to be embarrassed on Fareed Zakaria’s show over it.