The big question is: As the deficit reduction in the budget deal turned out to be a mirage, totaling just $352 million despite an initial claim of a $38.5 billion cut, why didn’t last week’s deal collapse? In the end, 59 Republicans voted against it, though they did so, clearly, with a signal from the House leadership that it had enough votes to pass the thing and those 59 could do as they chose (sometimes called a “free no” vote)—and the bill passed comfortably. The answer, I think, is that a) the GOP leadership is still prepared to argue that its cuts are real even if they are not immediate (there’s a good summary of why by the Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack); and b) the Republican party wasn’t going to commit suicide over this. A failure to pass the bill would have led to an immediate shutdown for which there would be no question that the GOP was responsible and for which it would be blamed—and not casually blamed, either.
You have to be a very driven, very confrontational, very ideological person to believe it is best for the country that the government to shut down because legislators have failed to press a point about immediate deficit reduction. Most Americans do not fit that description, and the Republican party would have reaped the whirlwind from them. In the end, this proved an important political test for the GOP majority. The problem for Washington Republicans is that the passage of the legislation will not end the matter; the budget cuts that weren’t could prove a powerful rallying cry for a grassroots movement more radical on these matters that could end up splitting the Tea Party and cause the populist moment to disintegrate into a purity test.
In his budget speech yesterday, President Obama took great pride in talking about how “our economic recovery is gaining strength.” So just how is that wonderful recovery going? According to USA Today, not terribly well.
The paper reports that last year the share of the population that is employed fell to its lowest level since women started entering the workforce in large numbers three decades ago. Only 45.4 percent of Americans had jobs in 2010, the lowest rate since 1983. And just 66.8 percent of men had jobs, the lowest on record.
We’re experiencing one of the most anemic post-recession recoveries in history; this data is simply more confirmation of it. There’s very little economic good news for which the president can claim credit. No wonder he’s going on the attack so soon against the GOP. He has a dismal record to defend.
I have an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on why Donald Trump’s obsession with President Obama’s birth certificate is both silly and pernicious, and why it would be wise for influential voices within the GOP to come out and say so. Among my arguments is this:
In self-governing societies, there have to be unwritten rules by which we abide. Among them is that we accept the outcome of elections and keep our public debates tethered to reality. From time to time people emerge who violate these unwritten codes. They delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, focusing attention on absurdities rather than substantive issues, and stirring up mistrust among citizens. When they do, those they claim to represent should speak out forcefully against them.
You can read the whole thing here.
It is was no surprise to learn today that the other members of the United Nations panel that issued the Goldstone Report disagree with their chairman’s decision to disavow the panel’s main accusation against Israel. Like many of those who applauded a report that was filled with lies and half truths, Hina Jilani of Pakistan, Desmond Travers of Ireland, and Christine Chinkin of Great Britain are too committed to the notion that Israel’s efforts to stop Hamas terrorist attacks is inherently illegitimate to take an honest second look at their work. In a statement issued to the Guardian today, the trio rejected Richard Goldstone’s retraction as well as the justified demands put forth by the report’s critics that it be disavowed by the United Nations panel that sponsored it.
In their statement, the group defends the one-sided nature of their screed by merely saying that theirs was not a judicial proceeding. They also claimed that they had been subjected to “extraordinary pressure,” but avowed they had too much “integrity” to back away from their unfounded and scurrilous charges aimed at Israel. Left to inference is their suggestion that Goldstone has compromised his integrity by caving to such pressure.
President Obama has Rep. Nancy Pelosi to thank for all of his legislative “accomplishments,” but with her clout fading and presidential elections looming, the administration is now eager to get as far away from her as possible. At Politico, Jonathan Allen reports:
Pelosi’s shutout from the biggest deal so far this year is a remarkable comedown for a former speaker who drove the legislative process in the past Congress. Some Democrats also say they’re steamed at the White House for mistreating Pelosi after she delivered the president’s legislative agenda in the past Congress and took lumps for him on the campaign trail. A Pelosi aide insists that during the budget negotiations, “she made it clear to all parties that there was a willingness on the part of House Democrats to work to keep government open.”
You can’t blame Obama for wanting to keep his distance from a politician with a 34 percent approval rating and a reputation as a fierce left-wing reactionary. But she’s still hugely popular on the left, especially since she was seen as the driving force behind Obamacare.
And Obama still needs her to keep House Democrats in line. Pelosi told The Hill this afternoon that she may vote against the spending plan hashed out by Obama, Reid and the GOP leadership. “We’ll see” is all she would say when asked how she would vote.
There’s also another reason why Obama may have problems if he alienates Pelosi. She is an excellent fundraiser. Her active assistance will be important in the lead-up to the 2012 election.
“Pelosi still holds great sway with a critical constituency: rich liberal donors who adore her and write generous checks for Democratic causes when she headlines fundraising events,” Politico reports. “She also remains unchallenged as the Democratic Caucus leader.”
This week the “UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process” issued his report on “Palestinian State-Building,” with a press release asserting that “government functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state.” If you read the report instead of the press release, you might come to a different conclusion.
Take “rule of law”—an area where the Palestinian Authority is “clearly on track” as it finishes up its two-year state-building effort. The report does not tell you much (the PA is “drafting legislation,” issuing “regulations,” providing “improved access” to legal services). You need to go on to the “annex.” There you find that “rule of law” does not mean what you think it means.
At a NATO summit earlier today, the Obama administration reportedly rejected calls to provide more support for the mission in Libya. NATO specifically needs the low-flying planes that the U.S. was previously providing, which extended their capability to identify and target Qaddafi forces. According to an administration source quoted in the Washington Post, the U.S. won’t be giving additional assistance to NATO because they haven’t been asked: “If the commanders feel they need more capability, the commanders will ask for more capability. That’s not what they are doing so far.” The NATO commanders “seem satisfied with pace of the operation and we’re satisfied,” he said.
But France and Britain have been complaining to the media for days that the U.S. and other countries need to bring more to the table. It’s hard to imagine they weren’t raising these same concerns privately.
The U.S. is currently engaged in three active wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya)—four if you count the war on terror, five if you count the war on piracy. We are increasingly hard-pressed to stave off the aggressive military designs of a resurgent China. We have to deter a nuclear North Korea and prevent Iran from going nuclear. We have to prepare for the possibility of an implosion in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed, highly unstable state. We have to maintain free movement across the global commons, meaning air and sea-lanes along with outer space and cyberspace. And at the same time we have to perform myriad humanitarian missions, such as the one currently being conducted by U.S. Pacific Command to assist Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.
Is this any time to cut defense spending? Apparently President Obama thinks so.
The Arab spring is on course to yield many poisonous flowers. This was not inevitable. From the Islamist rise in Egypt to the redoubled brutality of Syria’s crackdown to Qaddafi the superpower slayer, we see the consequences of an absentee America. Days after President Ben Ali was ousted from Tunisia, the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart wrote a column declaring, “The lesson is that even in a post-American world, democracy has legs.” Three months later, it’s clear those legs are being broken by thugs and theocrats.
In the latest issue of the al-Qaeda magazine Inspire, Abu Suhail writes,
This is what your brothers in the al-Qaida Organization and other jihadi organizations have been working for: inspiring the people all over the world to rise up for the Islamic cause of eliminating tyrants so that we have a clear shot at Israel.
It is a collective effort that requires the ummah [community of Muslim believers] to be on the same page. The fat donkey sitting on the pathway however is America. With a weakened America, it will allow us to stride about the lands in honor, with the permission of Allah.
And stride they do.
And people said his presidential ambitions were just a publicity stunt:
If you wonder whether Donald Trump is serious about running for president, tune in to the finale of “The Celebrity Apprentice” on May 15. Trump plans to say on the NBC show that he will be holding a press conference a few days after the May 15th show. At that press conference in the Trump Tower in New York, Trump will be announcing his candidacy for the presidency.
Newsmax’s Ronald Kessler, who broke the story, doesn’t see this as a ratings ploy. “Of all the people on the planet, Donald Trump is the last person who needs more publicity,” wrote Kessler. “And if he is riding a groundswell of support, why would he—or anyone else—decide not to run?”
But of course Trump needs more publicity. It’s part of who he is. Not to mention that the Celebrity Apprentice season premiere in February was down 5 percent in the ratings compared to the 2010 debut. The show’s ratings have been climbing steadily since he began toying with the idea of a presidential run.
Also, the problem isn’t that he’s deciding to run—it’s the fact that he plans to announce it on his reality show, which he directly profits from. The stunt doesn’t exactly dispel the widespread impression that he’s not a serious candidate. And it certainly doesn’t lend gravitas to his presidential bid.
During his speech yesterday, President Obama was ostensibly serious about solving the deficit crisis. According to the president, Washington needs to “act boldly now” and stop “kicking our problems further down the road.”
“Our debt has grown so large,” he said, “that we could do real damage to the economy if we don’t begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order.”
Unfortunately, it’s getting hard to take the president’s urgency seriously anymore. Now he’s allegedly committed to solving the deficit problem. But he also said pretty much the same thing back in 2009, when he outlined his “belt-tightening” plan to slash the deficit in half by 2012:
It is the anniversary that no one remembers, but sixty years ago this week President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur for his grossly insubordinate conduct as the U.S. and UN commander in South Korea. Thus was triggered one of the biggest crises in civil-military relations to rock the republic. It was hardly the last crisis of its kind. There have been no shortage of other tensions in recent years, ranging from General Colin Powell’s outspoken espousal of foreign policy views when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1990s to the firing last summer of General Stanley McChrystal as the commander in Afghanistan after his aides were quoted bad-mouthing senior administration officials to a Rolling Stone reporter. More recently tensions flared over the lifting of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, whose revocation was openly opposed by the Marine Corps.
Ever since its publication in 1957, Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State has been the standard work on the important topic of how our armed forces relate to the civilians they serve. But there have been many important developments in the decades since, and they are ably sketched in by a new book, US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain, just out from Continuum Press.
Its author is Mackubin Thomas Owens, a professor at the Naval War College and a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. “Mac” has long been a level-headed voice of reason in national security debates and this book shows why as he skilfully navigates through such contentious issues as “To what extent should the military influence foreign policy?” and “What kind of wars should the military prepare to fight?” Mac gives all sides in this debate a fair hearing and then draws some eminently reasonable conclusions in his pellucid prose.
US Civil-Military Relations is a short book (210 pages) but it is packed with wisdom and will reward any reader interested in this important topic.