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Posts For: August 4, 2011

Cutting Defense Spending Could Hasten America’s Decline as a World Power

I am thoroughly alarmed about the cuts in the defense budget–both those already decided upon ($350 billion-$400 billion during the next ten years) and those that could still come in the fall (another $600 billion–$750 billion unless congressional negotiators can agree on a different menu of spending cuts and revenue enhancers). But not all share my alarm. Some positively welcome the prospect of deep defense cuts. They include, apparently, Fareed Zakaria, one of our most intelligent and provocative foreign policy commentators–and a committed centrist. Because Zakaria is hardly a wild-eyed pacifist, it makes sense to seriously consider his argument for cutting defense which are similar to those being made by other pundits and lawmakers.

He begins a recent Washington Post column by noting: “The Pentagon’s budget has risen for 13 years, which is unprecedented. Between 2001 and 2009, overall spending on defense rose from $412 billion to $699 billion, a 70 percent increase, which is larger than in any comparable period since the Korean War.”

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I am thoroughly alarmed about the cuts in the defense budget–both those already decided upon ($350 billion-$400 billion during the next ten years) and those that could still come in the fall (another $600 billion–$750 billion unless congressional negotiators can agree on a different menu of spending cuts and revenue enhancers). But not all share my alarm. Some positively welcome the prospect of deep defense cuts. They include, apparently, Fareed Zakaria, one of our most intelligent and provocative foreign policy commentators–and a committed centrist. Because Zakaria is hardly a wild-eyed pacifist, it makes sense to seriously consider his argument for cutting defense which are similar to those being made by other pundits and lawmakers.

He begins a recent Washington Post column by noting: “The Pentagon’s budget has risen for 13 years, which is unprecedented. Between 2001 and 2009, overall spending on defense rose from $412 billion to $699 billion, a 70 percent increase, which is larger than in any comparable period since the Korean War.”

He goes on to argue: “It is not unprecedented for defense spending to fall substantially as we scale back or end military actions. After the Korean War, President Dwight  Eisenhower cut defense spending 27 percent. Richard Nixon cut it 29 percent after Vietnam.”  He notes: “Lawrence Korb, who worked at the Pentagon for Ronald Reagan, believes that a $1 trillion cut over 10 to 12 years is feasible without compromising national security.”

Zakaria urges conservatives to “examine the defense budget, which contains tons of evidence of liberalism run amok.” He decries not only the usual “waste” in the defense budget but also calls it “a cradle-to-grave system of housing, subsidies, cost-plus procurement, early retirement and lifetime pension and health-care guarantees.”

Finally he argues: “Defense budget cuts would also force a healthy rebalancing of American foreign policy,” correcting a problem he sees of the Defense Department having many more resources than the State Department. “The result,” he concludes, “is a warped American foreign policy, ready to conceive of problems in military terms and present a ready military solution.”

Let’s take these arguments one at a time.

True, defense spending is high in absolute terms–but for good cause. We’ve been fighting at least two wars for the past decade. With our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq declining, defense spending is also going down–next year’s budget, even before the recent cuts, called for $670 billion in spending, down from $701 billion this year. But looking at nominal spending figures only gives a distorting impression. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP is low. The president’s own budget charts show, even if the supplemental spending for ongoing wars is included, all “defense and international” spending consumes just 5.1 percent of GDP compared to 8.1 percent for Social Security and Medicare–just two of the government’s many social welfare programs. Other federal payments to individuals take another 7.3 percent of GDP. If you seek the source of our budget woes, look at these entitlement programs–not at defense, which consumes a much lower percentage of GDP than it did during the Cold War (roughly 7 percent) even in periods when we were not involved in shooting wars.

Moreover, comparing defense spending today with spending during earlier decades–say, during the Korean War–is not a fair comparison. Until 1973 we had a draft, which meant personnel costs were relatively low. Since we went to an all-volunteer force, the government had to start paying competitive wages and benefits to attract and keep qualified recruits. The Defense Department benefits–medical care, schooling, etc.– that Zakaria decries as “liberalism run amok” are nothing of the kind. They are better understood as the kind of corporate benefits package offered to employees in lieu of a straight salary. Those benefits are not an entitlement; they are earned by men and women who risk their lives in our defense. Which is what makes these compensation packages so difficult to cut. Congress naturally feels a sense of gratitude to veterans and wants to reward them for their heroic service. The Defense Department is also keenly aware of the need to keep up the quality of its service people. Both concerns argue against drastic cuts in pay and benefits packages.

Another major difference between defense spending today and spending decades ago is that weapons systems have become monumentally expensive. Until the 1970s, the U.S.did not have much of a technological edge over our adversaries; our equipment was roughly comparable to that of the Soviets. But thanks to the Information Revolution of  the 1970s, the U.S. defense establishment began to emphasize quality over quantity. Our industrial sector produced best-in-the-world systems ranging from Stealth bombers to, more recently, Predator drones. These weapons have given us a huge edge over all adversaries we have faced and have allowed us to vanquish our foes at much lower cost in American blood than was the case in the past. But, as they used to say at NASA, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” Keeping at the technological edge isn’t cheap–and it’s getting more costly all the time.

Zakaria might decry the high cost of new weapons systems. So do I. But I have no idea how to procure top-of-the-line weapons systems for less, and neither does he. Nobody does. Washington has been implementing “procurement reforms” for years, but many of them have made weapons more expensive, not less. It seems fair to say the pressure of today’s budget crisis will not produce a magic wand someone like Zakaria could wave to miraculously cut the cost of our weapons while maintaining their superlative quality. Like it or not, we must take it as a given weapons will continue to be costly. The choice is whether we pay or not—and that choice will not be avoided by painlessly erasing the (nonexistent) line item for “waste, fraud and abuse.”

Zakaria should know better than to cite my former Council on Foreign Relations colleague Larry Korb for evidence you can cut $1 trillion from the defense budget without doing real damage. As Zakaria well knows, Korb may have served in the Reagan administration, but he is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic Party think tank. He is hardly a doctrinaire conservative who just happens to think you can cut a lot from defense today. He has been arguing for defense cuts for decades. Luckily, his advice was not listened to by Ronald Reagan, who increased defense spending to bring down the Evil Empire.

Unfortunately, Zakaria is right—as wars wind down, we usually do wind up spending less on defense. We certainly did in the 1950s after the Korean War, in the 1970s after the Vietnam War and in the 1990s after the Cold War. But is this really an example we should emulate in the future?

The parsimonious Eisenhower defense budgets of the 1950s left us overly reliant on a nuclear deterrent (the “New Look”) and ill-prepared to fight low-intensity conflicts such as the one in Vietnam. The cutbacks of the 1970s produced a “hollow army” and encouraged our adversaries’ aggression—this was the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Sandinistas’ triumph on Nicaragua. Later, the rush to spend the “peace dividend” in the 1990s left us ill-prepared to fight the post-9/11 wars: It’s impossible to send enough troops to pacify both Afghanistan and Iraq when the size of the active-duty army has been reduced by a third.

Simply because something has happened in the past doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the future. And if history shows anything, it is there are few ideas worse than cutting defense spending precipitously. What is likely to happen as a result is we will not be ready for some unexpected crisis. While we slowly build up our resources, we will suffer needless defeats and our troops will spill needless blood—as we have in wars ranging from the Civil War to World War II, Korea and most recently, Iraq.

As it happens, I share Zakaria’s concern about American foreign policy becoming “unbalanced.” I believe we should spend more on diplomacy and foreign aid; I have long argued we need greater civilian nation-building capacity which could come from a U.S. Agency for International Development on steroids. But I am at a loss to see how cutting defense will benefit the State Department or any other civilian agency. Zakaria is dreaming if he thinks budget negotiators will cut defense but leave the foreign aid budget alone. Foreign aid has almost no constituency in Washington; it is always among the top items on any budget-cutter’s list. And it is certain to suffer in the current negotiations.

Indeed, foreign assistance is apparently wrapped into a broad category of “security spending,” which is subject to devastating automatic cuts along with the Defense Department. The gap between military and diplomatic spending may close slightly, but only because defense will be cut back—not because diplomats will have more resources. They won’t. And you can bet among the cuts that will occur at the Pentagon are precisely those programs—e.g., Foreign Area Officers or exercises with foreign militaries—that have the least obvious purely military impact but pay the biggest dividends for American diplomacy.

Fareed Zakaria—and Larry Korb—may be sanguine about the prospects of massive defense cuts but not so the leaders of the Defense Department. During his confirmation hearing to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey warned cutting $800 billion from defense would be “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” Perhaps cynics say what else do you expect from a senior general? Isn’t he just defending a wasteful and inefficient bureaucracy? Harder to dismiss is the warning from Leon Panetta, a veteran budget hawk who has no emotional attachment to the Defense Department, an agency he only took charge of in July.

On August 3, Panetta posted a letter on his website warning against automatic, across-the-board defense cuts, which “would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the  nation.” “I am determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past,” he wrote—mistakes such as “after the Vietnam War,” when “our government applied cuts to defense across the board, resulting in a force that was undersized and underfunded relative to its missions and responsibilities. This process has historically led to outcomes that weaken rather than strengthen our national security – and which ultimately cost our nation more when it must quickly rearm to confront new threats.”

Panetta is right, and  Zakaria is wrong. I only hope congressional negotiators grasp that fact and avoid the kind of ruinous defense cuts that could hasten America’s decline as a world power.

 

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Bulgaria Becomes the Latest Ally to Get the Obama Treatment

In what’s becoming something of a pattern for the Obama administration, the way we’re conducting relations with Bulgaria is increasingly indefensible. Sofia is a NATO ally, an EU member state and has contributed troops to our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But–like so many other allies who made a point of supporting us in the early years of the Global War on Terror–treatment at the hands of U.S. Ambassador James Warlick has fallen somewhere between condescending neglect and active alienation.

Frustration with Warlick spans the the political spectrum. Things got so bad a few months ago that someone started a new media initiative calling for “A Day Without Warlick.” When asked about the campaign, the ambassador “laughed and pointed out it was part of democracy, which is a marvelous thing.” The dripping paternalism was about as well-received as you’d expect.

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In what’s becoming something of a pattern for the Obama administration, the way we’re conducting relations with Bulgaria is increasingly indefensible. Sofia is a NATO ally, an EU member state and has contributed troops to our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But–like so many other allies who made a point of supporting us in the early years of the Global War on Terror–treatment at the hands of U.S. Ambassador James Warlick has fallen somewhere between condescending neglect and active alienation.

Frustration with Warlick spans the the political spectrum. Things got so bad a few months ago that someone started a new media initiative calling for “A Day Without Warlick.” When asked about the campaign, the ambassador “laughed and pointed out it was part of democracy, which is a marvelous thing.” The dripping paternalism was about as well-received as you’d expect.

Last April, Warlick blasted the independent Bulgarian judiciary for dishonesty and corruption, adding in the process that Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s center-right coalition needed to “pay special attention” to their own laws. When asked to walk back his attack, Warlick very pointedly declined, insisting he had just been trying to “provoke a discussion.”

Sometimes there’s a purpose behind the Obama administration’s diplomatic offensives against democratically-elected allied governments. There are times when the White House prefers dealing with a country’s opposition and tries to unseat ruling coalitions. But Warlick has not limited himself to attacking the sitting GERB party. He’s also engaged in extended feuds with Bulgaria’s powerful center-left Socialist opposition — the Socialist former Interior Minister recently lashed out at him as “trash” and demanded his recall with the leader of the hard-right Ataka party. He recently took a meeting with breakaway opposition MPs from across the political spectrum and was reported to have “expressed his admiration of the independent MPs for the bravery to part ways” with their parties.

That accounts for Bulgaria’s right, center and left — an alienation hat trick that would be difficult to pull off even if you were trying — plus the top figures of the Bulgarian Supreme Court and Parliament.

That’s a problem. If regional dynamics continue unfolding the way they’re going to continue unfolding, Bulgaria is set to become a literal front line in a realigned geopolitical order. Sofia’s support for the West has already made it a target for jihadist incitement, with IslamOnline accusing Bulgarians of assisting in “many episodes of ethnic cleansing by the crusaders.” A Wikileaks cable concluded that “Bulgaria’s participation in U.S.-led action in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased its profile as a potential target for Islamic terrorist groups” and that “Islamic extremism in Bulgaria is a very real concern.” Last year, national security forces raided and broke up extremist groups involved in the financing of more than 150 mosques. And so on.

The more pressing geopolitical issue is how the region will respond to the increasingly open neo-Ottoman ambitions of AKP-dominated Turkey. Ankara has indicated it considers the presence of Bulgarian-Turkish Muslims on Bulgarian soil to be a justification for interfering in Bulgaria’s internal affairs. That population is a leftover from the blood-soaked Ottoman occupation that included some of the 19th century’s worst atrocities, from the the Batak massacre of 5,000 civilians to a broader campaign of mass slaughter the New York Times identified as the horror of the century. Instead of showing circumspection about the near-genocidal colonization of parts of Bulgaria, earlier this year, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister committed Ankara to supporting Bulgarian Turks in “preserving [their] ethnic roots.”

Turkey’s regional ambitions are unlikely to erupt into armed hostility even in the medium term – although the Cyprus situation counsels caution – but it’s easy to imagine a scenario where Ankara triggers a diplomatic crisis by backing border villages that suddenly announce strong inclinations toward “self-determination.”

Even if a flashpoint never emerges between Bulgaria and Turkey, the tide of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in Turkey will force us to look to Bulgaria as a key regional ally. Sofia is already offering to host NATO missile defense assets that Turkey seems set to reject, something we suddenly need as we try to build a missile defense architecture in Eastern Europe. As our alliances in the Middle East crumble, Bulgaria might be as close to that critical part of the world as we can get our bases and some of our assets.

That’s exactly why the Wikileaks cables emphasized the need to solidify the country as a geostrategic asset and to integrate its armed forces more fully into NATO’s force structure. Instead, the current U.S. ambassador is acting as if his role is that of a diplomatic social worker, and in the process he’s weakening our relationship with the current government and all of the potential governments that might replace it. How many more times are we going to repeat this game before the administration pivots from losing allies to something different?

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Unions Ditching Obama?

The labor unions warned Obama they weren’t happy with his economic policies last spring, and the president managed to alienate them even more with his approach to the debt ceiling deal and his failure to concentrate on solving the jobs crisis. But is the AFL-CIO furious enough to cut off Obama’s reelection campaign? Ben Smith reports:

In a sign of the labor movement’s disengagement from the 2012 federal races, my colleague Jonathan Allen reports that a new AFL-CIO Super PAC will be devoted to state legislative contests.

“Labor gave up on federal races,” said a senior Democratic official. Down-ballot races are “where their money is going,” said the source. “That tells you all you need to know about what kind of coattails the president is going to have.”

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The labor unions warned Obama they weren’t happy with his economic policies last spring, and the president managed to alienate them even more with his approach to the debt ceiling deal and his failure to concentrate on solving the jobs crisis. But is the AFL-CIO furious enough to cut off Obama’s reelection campaign? Ben Smith reports:

In a sign of the labor movement’s disengagement from the 2012 federal races, my colleague Jonathan Allen reports that a new AFL-CIO Super PAC will be devoted to state legislative contests.

“Labor gave up on federal races,” said a senior Democratic official. Down-ballot races are “where their money is going,” said the source. “That tells you all you need to know about what kind of coattails the president is going to have.”

If the anonymous Democratic official is right about the labor movement, this is a massive blow to the Obama campaign. In 2008, labor unions reportedly spent up to $400 million to help Obama get elected. That includes both direct contributions to the campaign from unions and members, as well as outside spending on advertisements.

If a substantial amount of this money dries up in 2012, Obama will need to make up for it by bringing on other contributors. The problem is, what other groups are out there that aren’t unhappy with the president for one reason or another? He’s managed to alienate allies on both the left and in the center, and there’s no doubt it will make a dent in his fundraising numbers.

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Huntsman for Secretary of State?

The internal drama of the Huntsman campaign revealed today was, many people reasoned, a good story struggling desperately to find an audience. After all, with Huntsman polling closer to zero than to any of the top candidates for the Republican nomination, even a complete implosion of his campaign would barely register an impact on the race.

Well, Daniel Drezner has done the story’s author–Jonathan Martin–a favor. Drezner, writing at his ForeignPolicy.com blog, says we should “expect decent odds that Huntsman would be the secretary of state in any incoming GOP administration (quick, name me an alternate candidate with sufficient gravitas). Even if he’s a sideshow to the current GOP nomination, he wouldn’t be if a Republican won in 2012. A story like this, on the other hand, might not help his chances to land a cabinet post.”

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The internal drama of the Huntsman campaign revealed today was, many people reasoned, a good story struggling desperately to find an audience. After all, with Huntsman polling closer to zero than to any of the top candidates for the Republican nomination, even a complete implosion of his campaign would barely register an impact on the race.

Well, Daniel Drezner has done the story’s author–Jonathan Martin–a favor. Drezner, writing at his ForeignPolicy.com blog, says we should “expect decent odds that Huntsman would be the secretary of state in any incoming GOP administration (quick, name me an alternate candidate with sufficient gravitas). Even if he’s a sideshow to the current GOP nomination, he wouldn’t be if a Republican won in 2012. A story like this, on the other hand, might not help his chances to land a cabinet post.”

This raises an interesting question. The most commonly offered justification for Huntsman’s campaign is to raise his national profile enough for a run in 2016 if President Obama is reelected. But what if he left his post as ambassador to China early, expecting neither to be president in 2013 or 2017, but rather to angle his way into a Republican administration in 2013?

I’m not sure I’m ready to buy into this. While it makes sense Huntsman could be a leading candidate for secretary of state, couldn’t he have been so without leaving his former job? In fact, you could argue he might have been better off staying put. Being current ambassador to China is better than being former ambassador to China if a Republican wins the 2012 election. And it would allow him to hedge his bets; if Obama is reelected, something tells me Huntsman isn’t the first choice to get his old ambassadorship back, and he’d never be secretary of state in a Democratic administration. (Or perhaps he could be–but not after quitting on the president to run against him.)

One other obstacle for Huntsman: his foreign policy views, while not in Ron Paul territory, are far from those of the GOP’s two front-runners—Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. In some cases, they’re closer to Obama’s. I’m not sure this makes him completely radioactive to the eventual GOP nominee—this is the State Department, not DoD—but foreign policy hawks would almost certainly oppose his nomination.

Drezner also notes we shouldn’t necessarily discount Huntsman even now, since Hillary Clinton’s campaign was arguably even less organized than Huntsman’s, and she is, of course, the secretary of state. But I can’t help thinking if Huntsman’s real hope was to run the State Department in any administration, he has not done much to bring him closer to his goal.

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Who Will Be the Double-Dip Scapegoat?

Today’s falling stock prices appear to comprise the biggest percentage drop since September 2008–the crash that ensured Barack Obama would be elected president that fall. At that time, there was no question who the public would blame for the calamity: lame duck President George W. Bush and anything and anyone associated with his eight years in office, including the Republican Party. This week, investors are apparently scared stiff about the continuing debt problems of Europe as well as by the after effects of the debt ceiling showdown in the United States. But the sword hanging over everything is the very real possibility the tepid recovery from the 2008 collapse may morph into another deep recession.

The question political observers must ask now is whether or not President Obama can evade responsibility for the disastrous economic situation?

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Today’s falling stock prices appear to comprise the biggest percentage drop since September 2008–the crash that ensured Barack Obama would be elected president that fall. At that time, there was no question who the public would blame for the calamity: lame duck President George W. Bush and anything and anyone associated with his eight years in office, including the Republican Party. This week, investors are apparently scared stiff about the continuing debt problems of Europe as well as by the after effects of the debt ceiling showdown in the United States. But the sword hanging over everything is the very real possibility the tepid recovery from the 2008 collapse may morph into another deep recession.

The question political observers must ask now is whether or not President Obama can evade responsibility for the disastrous economic situation?

As to who is to blame, there is little question that in a stroke of irony worthy of a great novelist, Democrats will attempt to make the Tea Party the scapegoat for a collapse that was created by governments living beyond their means. While it is true the decision to take a stand on raising the debt ceiling may have helped fuel the uncertainty afflicting the markets, the idea the recent confrontation is the reason why the economy is falling apart is absurd. Yet, that is probably going to be the key talking point for Democrats in the coming days, weeks and months as they attempt to explain why their president and party ought not to take responsibility for what has happened.

It bears repeating the tragic unemployment and growth figures that foreordained the coming slowdown preceded the debt ceiling standoff. Nor can the parlous situation in Europe — where the debt problems afflicting Greece as well as those of Spain and Italy continue to spook the market — be in any way attributed to the desire of a large faction of Republicans to decrease spending and hold the line against higher taxes.

The demonization of the Tea Party has been the prime objective of liberals for more than a year. Despite being smeared as racists or violent extremists, this broad-based grassroots movement helped catapult the Republicans to victory in the 2010 elections. Yet, some Democrats seem to think calling the Tea Partiers “terrorists” will do the trick in the next election cycle. It is to be expected this week’s stock market dive will be linked in such arguments to portray congressional hardliners as the successors of Herbert Hoover or at least George W. Bush.

We don’t know for sure whether such efforts will work, but to assume they will is to believe the American people haven’t paid attention to the last decade of history. Our current sad state of economic affairs is the result of years of government profligacy the Tea Party and like-minded conservatives have long opposed. To believe that those who wish government to live within its means will take the blame for a collapse caused by the failure to do so requires a creative leap of imagination. That does not correspond to the generally sober attitude of the American people to such things. The voters deserve more credit. The notion President Obama can evade responsibility for a double-dip recession by ranting about the Tea Party is a Democratic pipe dream.

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Re: No Plan, No Problem

Abe refers to a White House press release in which the Obama administration proudly announced today that to deal with the problem of mass atrocities, it is creating “an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board.”

This just shows the extraordinary incompetence of the Obama White House. They should have called it the Atrocities Prevention Panel.

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Abe refers to a White House press release in which the Obama administration proudly announced today that to deal with the problem of mass atrocities, it is creating “an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board.”

This just shows the extraordinary incompetence of the Obama White House. They should have called it the Atrocities Prevention Panel.

Then, when one of the Bashar al-Assads of the world slaughters his citizens (or somebody else’s) by the hundreds, the White House could say, “Mass atrocity? We have an APP for that!”

 

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The “Fierce Urgency of Now” Seems Less Fierce These Days

During his fundraising trip to Chicago last night, President Obama said,  “When I said ‘change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say ‘change we can believe in tomorrow.’ Not change we can believe in next week. We knew this was going to take time because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.”

I went back and read Obama’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner remarks. This is the speech that did the most to catapult Obama to his victory in Iowa, which in turn helped catapult him to the Democratic nomination and, eventually, the presidency.

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During his fundraising trip to Chicago last night, President Obama said,  “When I said ‘change we can believe in,’ I didn’t say ‘change we can believe in tomorrow.’ Not change we can believe in next week. We knew this was going to take time because we’ve got this big, messy, tough democracy.”

I went back and read Obama’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner remarks. This is the speech that did the most to catapult Obama to his victory in Iowa, which in turn helped catapult him to the Democratic nomination and, eventually, the presidency.

Funny, but I missed the caveats and qualifiers in Obama’s speech. What I did read is this:

I am running in this race because of  what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” Because I believe that there’s such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost upon us.

The “fierce urgency of now” seems to be somewhat less fierce these days. And so many of the things Obama didn’t want to wake up four years from now and see are not only not better; they are significantly worse.

“In this election — in this moment — let us reach for what we know is possible,” Obama told an enraptured audience. “A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.”

Now the president has been reduced to asking for more time because we’ve got this “big, messy, tough democracy.” Who knew American democracy was like that?

There is something plaintive in Obama’s words these days. We are witnessing a man of enormous self-regard wrestle with a record of amassing and undeniable failures. This is creating a kind of cognitive dissonance – a huge mental processing problem — for the president. And so the difficulties we face rest not with Obama but with others, including with the impatience of others. That is of course nonsense; Obama himself made a series of promises at the outset of his presidency regarding job growth, unemployment, the deficit, and much more, all of which he has fallen far short of. Now he says he needs and deserves more time. My guess is the American people will respectfully dissent. They have seen quite enough already.

 

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Notes From the Huntsman Non-Drama

In a lengthy story published today in Politico, Jonathan Martin spills the bean on a riveting “drama” tearing apart the campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman. According to the story, campaign guru John Weaver is a big part of the problem. He is spreading the same magic of good will and efficiency that characterized his past efforts on behalf of John McCain, whose hopes of gaining the 2008 GOP nomination were not resuscitated until he jettisoned Weaver. Apparently, many close to Huntsman are begging the candidate to fire Weaver, but so far he is refusing to do so.

This is all fascinating, but the problem with the tale is the notion it is only the disunity within the Huntsman camp that has so far sabotaged his candidacy. Weaver may be poison, but not even a brain trust of the greatest political minds of the last century could transform Huntsman into a serious contender for the 2012 Republican nomination. Though some elites liked the idea of a wishy-washy dove on foreign policy who seemed to think ill of the GOP masses as the party’s standard-bearer, his was a pipe dream from the start.

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In a lengthy story published today in Politico, Jonathan Martin spills the bean on a riveting “drama” tearing apart the campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman. According to the story, campaign guru John Weaver is a big part of the problem. He is spreading the same magic of good will and efficiency that characterized his past efforts on behalf of John McCain, whose hopes of gaining the 2008 GOP nomination were not resuscitated until he jettisoned Weaver. Apparently, many close to Huntsman are begging the candidate to fire Weaver, but so far he is refusing to do so.

This is all fascinating, but the problem with the tale is the notion it is only the disunity within the Huntsman camp that has so far sabotaged his candidacy. Weaver may be poison, but not even a brain trust of the greatest political minds of the last century could transform Huntsman into a serious contender for the 2012 Republican nomination. Though some elites liked the idea of a wishy-washy dove on foreign policy who seemed to think ill of the GOP masses as the party’s standard-bearer, his was a pipe dream from the start.

If Huntsman were actually someone who had the ability to appeal to key GOP constituencies, the internal discord would still be a problem. But the main obstacle to his presidential ambitions remains the fact he has no compelling vision for the country that resonates with most Republicans. The problem is not simply the shoddy staff work and conflicts between various factions within the Huntsman camp. Huntsman’s polling figures have been consistently miniscule at a time when other Republican presidential wannabes–such as Michele Bachmann or even the yet-undeclared Rick Perry–have soared.

Knowing which figures inside the stillborn Huntsman campaign are speaking ill of each other and the futile attempts of the candidate to calm things down is interesting in a sort of “inside baseball” way, but tells us nothing about why Jon Huntsman never had a chance to succeed. While Huntsman’s personal wealth may keep his candidacy chugging along for a few more months in the same way Newt Gingrich can still be seen wandering the countryside, it’s not clear why he is still bothering. But the story of how his forlorn hope unraveled sounds more like comedy than “drama.”

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Refusal to Fund FAA Shows Democrats’ True Ideological Priorities

Alana’s post about the Democratic spin on extending FAA funding – that Republicans are “holding it hostage” – is simply surreal. It’s surreal not just on its face, inasmuch as House Republicans have sent two different reauthorization bills to the Senate only to have them both rejected. There’s an even more fundamental hypocrisy that, set against the endless Keynesian lectures from the political and intellectual left, is almost impressive in its sheer brazenness.

There are two overarching impacts to the partial FAA shutdown. First, the government has lost more than one billion dollars in ticket taxes, and is set to lose more. Second, tens of thousands of construction jobs have been suspended (23,000 to 80,000 depending on whose number you use). The shutdown means, then, the government has been forgoing budgetary revenue and infrastructure expenditures for two weeks. You’ll recall those as the two elements that we’ve been told – endlessly, without pause – are the fundamental pillars of responsible fiscal policy.

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Alana’s post about the Democratic spin on extending FAA funding – that Republicans are “holding it hostage” – is simply surreal. It’s surreal not just on its face, inasmuch as House Republicans have sent two different reauthorization bills to the Senate only to have them both rejected. There’s an even more fundamental hypocrisy that, set against the endless Keynesian lectures from the political and intellectual left, is almost impressive in its sheer brazenness.

There are two overarching impacts to the partial FAA shutdown. First, the government has lost more than one billion dollars in ticket taxes, and is set to lose more. Second, tens of thousands of construction jobs have been suspended (23,000 to 80,000 depending on whose number you use). The shutdown means, then, the government has been forgoing budgetary revenue and infrastructure expenditures for two weeks. You’ll recall those as the two elements that we’ve been told – endlessly, without pause – are the fundamental pillars of responsible fiscal policy.

It’s interesting to inquire, then, what could be so important Senate Democrats would reject no less than two funding bills from the House?

The original sticking point had to do with GOP objections to a union-boosting decision by the National Mediation Board. The NMB plays the role of the NLRB for airlines and trains, setting the terms for union elections. For 75 years NMB rules stipulated that employees could unionize only if a majority of all company employees – not a majority of employees who actually voted – punched their cards in favor. That prevented small groups of pro-union partisans from holding badly publicized rush elections, and it also quelled any union enthusiasts who might be inclined to “encourage” known opponents to stay home on voting day. Protections are especially important because airline unionization is a one-way street, with no provision for decertification.

Then in 2010, the NMB flipped the rule on a unilateral 2-1 board decision.

The entire sordid affair is covered in the context of the White House’s Congress-circumventing power grabs in Democracy Denied, the upcoming book by Americans for Prosperity VP Phil Kerpen. There was an outcry from within the NMB itself, with a figure no less central than NMB Chairman Elizabeth Dougherty blasting it. Senate Republicans tried to overturn the decision and failed. Then last April, FAA reauthorization landed on the desk of Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Mica took the opportunity to insert language overturning the NMB decision and sent the funding authorization to the Senate. Democrats promptly rejected the bill, holding the FAA hostage on behalf of unions. As the deadline neared, the Republicans gave in. Mica dropped the NMB provision and sent over a short-term authorization bill.

That second bill, however, included language defunding subsidies received by 13 rural airports under the Essential Air Service, a program that shovels money to airports with too few passengers to be otherwise sustainable. Some of the targeted airports, to be sure, were in the states of Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Max Baucus, and Jay Rockefeller. That’s their bad luck for funneling money home using a program that even lefty TIME blogger Michael Grunwald branded as “embarrassing… environmentally destructive and economically ridiculous,” and that travel blog View From The Wing described as so wasteful “it really can’t be made more effective.” It’s pure pork.

Mica bet Democrats would have to swallow the cuts, because who would try to shut down the FAA over funding for empty airports? Interesting question.

Reid initially caved, gamely admitting while he does his “best to protect the state… sometimes you have to be reasonable.” Not so much with Rockefeller, who as the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has primary jurisdiction. He held out until Reid had to reverse himself out of party solidarity. The senator from Nevada is now back to incoherently blaming the GOP for the impasse, to the point where he’s demagoguing the union provision that isn’t even in the extension any more.

So to recap the Democrats’ budget philosophy: revenue and jobs are important–but not as important as pork spending and union power.

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White House Releases Vague Plan to Combat Homegrown Extremism

In a shining example of why the House Homeland Security Committee’s hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community are so essential, the White House has released its long-awaited plan to combat homegrown extremism which provides almost no specific proposals for law enforcement officials.

The 12-page plan recommends law enforcement concentrate on combating extremism in local communities, but it’s careful to advise that no specific communities be singled out. “Any solution that focuses on a single, current form of violent extremism, without regard to other threats, will fail to secure our country and communities,” reads the plan.

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In a shining example of why the House Homeland Security Committee’s hearings on radicalization in the Muslim community are so essential, the White House has released its long-awaited plan to combat homegrown extremism which provides almost no specific proposals for law enforcement officials.

The 12-page plan recommends law enforcement concentrate on combating extremism in local communities, but it’s careful to advise that no specific communities be singled out. “Any solution that focuses on a single, current form of violent extremism, without regard to other threats, will fail to secure our country and communities,” reads the plan.

Of course, such a broad approach would be almost impossible to execute, and the purpose of the plan seems to be about maintaining the politically-correct façade that radicalization within the Muslim community isn’t a unique problem. Meanwhile, the federal government will likely continue to focus the brunt of its anti-radicalization efforts on the Muslim community. They just clearly don’t want to say this out loud.

“While the paper is only 12 pages long, the administration’s strategy could be summed up even more concisely: “Tapping mosques, executing stings, and talking nice,” writes Adam Serwer at the American Prospect. “I doubt the administration sees any contradictions in speaking softly and swinging a big stick.”

But unfortunately, this approach ends up being more confusing than helpful. While the feel-good plan will satisfy fringe groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations, it doesn’t help promote the open and honest dialogue we need to have about radicalization. Terrorist recruiters prey on young Muslim Americans – especially immigrants – and this issue needs to be acknowledged and condemned publicly by the administration. When the White House ignores that radicalization is a growing crisis within the Muslim community, they’re also failing the numerous victims within that community.

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The Greatest Threat to Obama’s Re-election

For more evidence the debt ceiling debate has damaged the Obama presidency, consider this: A new Quinnipiac University poll shows the national debt ceiling deal did not “rescue President Barack Obama’s crashing job approval rating in Florida.” In fact, it has done the opposite.

According to the poll, Obama’s approval ratings are 44 percent approval v. 51 percent disapproval. Moreover, Florida voters surveyed after the deal say, by a margin of 50 v. 42 percent, Obama does not deserve to be re-elected. (He carried Florida by almost three percentage points in 2008.) As a point of comparison, Obama’s approval-disapproval rating was 47-46 percent before the deal, and as recently as late May Florida voters, by a margin of 50 percent v. 44 percent, supported Obama for re-election.

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For more evidence the debt ceiling debate has damaged the Obama presidency, consider this: A new Quinnipiac University poll shows the national debt ceiling deal did not “rescue President Barack Obama’s crashing job approval rating in Florida.” In fact, it has done the opposite.

According to the poll, Obama’s approval ratings are 44 percent approval v. 51 percent disapproval. Moreover, Florida voters surveyed after the deal say, by a margin of 50 v. 42 percent, Obama does not deserve to be re-elected. (He carried Florida by almost three percentage points in 2008.) As a point of comparison, Obama’s approval-disapproval rating was 47-46 percent before the deal, and as recently as late May Florida voters, by a margin of 50 percent v. 44 percent, supported Obama for re-election.

“President Barack Obama’s numbers in the key swing state of Florida have gone south in the last two months,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The president’s drop off is huge among independent voters who now disapprove almost 2-1.”

That this isn’t surprising is what is so worrisome for the president. The hemorrhage of support Obama is experiencing among independents is the single greatest threat to his re-election.

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Kristof Recycles Old and Discredited Nonsense About Israel and America

It can get repetitive to criticize every Nick Kristof column that dishonestly maligns Israel, but his column in today’s New York Times goes after American supporters of Israel–and falls flat.

It is based on J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami’s new book, and is a particularly illuminating example of the pretzel-like shape you’d have to twist yourself in to demonstrate some vague presence of support for the Kristof-Ben-Ami approach to Israel.

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It can get repetitive to criticize every Nick Kristof column that dishonestly maligns Israel, but his column in today’s New York Times goes after American supporters of Israel–and falls flat.

It is based on J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami’s new book, and is a particularly illuminating example of the pretzel-like shape you’d have to twist yourself in to demonstrate some vague presence of support for the Kristof-Ben-Ami approach to Israel.

Kristof first chastises Congress for overwhelmingly passing resolutions in support of Israel’s right to defend herself, taking specific aim at Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s counteroffensive in the month just before Obama’s swearing-in. Despite Israel’s vast popularity among the people’s representatives, Kristof seeks to paint them as being out of step with American opinion:

American Jews have long trended liberal, and President Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008. Yet major Jewish organizations, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, embrace hawkish positions.

That’s because those Jews who vote and donate based on Israel are disproportionately conservative (the same is true of Christians who are most passionate about Israel issues). Ben-Ami argues that “the loudest eight percent” have hijacked Jewish groups to press for policies that represent neither the Jewish mainstream nor the best interests of Israel.

Those two statistics Kristof throws at us are intended to show support for Israeli hawkishness is at most 22 percent, but probably much closer to Ben-Ami’s ridiculous 8 percent.

Since Kristof puts the fish in the barrel for us, we might as well do the rest, and point out that public opinion polls show Kristof, not the hawks, to be the outlier. One poll by Stan Greenberg during Cast Lead showed Americans blamed the Palestinians for the Gaza conflict by a margin of 56 percent to 18 percent. A Pew poll at the same time asked the same question and found that 41 percent blamed Hamas while only 12 percent blamed Israel. But here’s the kicker:

The Pew poll also found that Americans approve of Israel’s actions in Gaza by a 40-33 margin, but 50 percent of those surveyed said Israel had “responded about right” compared to 24 percent who felt the Jewish state had “gone too far.” And only 9 percent of those polled felt the United States should publicly criticize Israel, while 39 percent said the U.S. should give Israel public support and 38 percent felt it should “say or do nothing.”

Kristof is simply lying to his readers when he suggests policy is being driven by a few “loudmouths,” in Kristof’s words. Kristof and Ben-Ami remain in the vocal, but utterly discredited, minority.

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What Will Obama’s Taxpayer-Funded Bus Tour Look Like?

Later this month, Obama will take his pivot-to-jobs act on the road with a bus tour across the Midwest. Since the battleground-state bus excursion sounds suspiciously similar to a campaign event, CNS News asked the White House whether taxpayers or the Obama campaign would be funding the trip.

Take a guess at the answer:

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Later this month, Obama will take his pivot-to-jobs act on the road with a bus tour across the Midwest. Since the battleground-state bus excursion sounds suspiciously similar to a campaign event, CNS News asked the White House whether taxpayers or the Obama campaign would be funding the trip.

Take a guess at the answer:

CNSNews.com asked Carney, “Is that a campaign event or a presidential event?”

Carney answered, “Negative. That is an official event.”

CNSNews.com followed, “So it is being funded by taxpayers in battleground states?”

Carney responded, “He’s the president of the United States.”

Another reporter followed up about whether there was a political nature to the trip.

“The air of cynicism is quite thick,” Carney shot back. “The idea that the president of the United States should not venture forth into the country is ridiculous.”

Nobody’s questioning whether Obama should be allowed to travel across the country, but since when does the president of the United States set off on official bus tours that aren’t campaign-related?

Apparently since April, when the Secret Service plunked down $2.2 million for a fleet of armored buses specifically meant to be used by the president during his cross-country campaigning (one of the buses will also be available for use by the Republican nominee). Candidates will not have to reimburse the Secret Service for the use of the vehicles.

Before this, presidential campaigns would typically rent their own buses, and the Secret Service would outfit them with the necessary protection. Not anymore. Last April, Talking Points Memo reported these buses will be used for official presidential business as well:

And they wouldn’t only be used on the campaign trail — the Secret Service said the multipurpose vehicles will be useful whenever a protectee travels into rural areas.

“The reality is that we’re overdue for having this type of protective asset in our fleet,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told TPM. “We’ve had protectees in buses since at least 1980. Ronald Reagan, Gov. Reagan, was in a bus during the campaign. It’s overdue because designing our own vehicle really gave us a level of security which we don’t get when we lease a bus.”

It seems likely Obama will use one of these armored buses during his upcoming jobs tour – which raises questions about whether that’s a fair use of the resource. It certainly gives him a benefit over the current Republican candidates, who still have to pay for their own bus tours. However, unlike a regular campaign bus, these won’t display campaign logos because they’re government vehicles (here’s a photo).

But fair campaigning aside, the outrage over Obama wasting taxpayer money is a little overblown, especially if he’s riding in one of the Secret Service buses. According to the TPM article, the buses will be available to the White House for at least the next 10 years, and after that, they’ll be used at the Secret Service training facility. So it sounds like the equipment might have been necessary in the long run anyway.

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No Plan, No Problem

As Mark Steyn pointed out a couple weeks ago, in Washington, announcing you have a plan absolves you from actually needing to have one. He was talking about Obama and the runaway debt, but the principle applies across the policy spectrum. Hence, today’s White House “Fact Sheet” on “new steps to prevent mass atrocities and impose consequences on serious human rights violators.” It states, in lyrical Do-Nothingese:

Today, President Obama is directing a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities.  The President’s directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities.

In English: “We have a plan.” This means, of course, that no plan is needed. Obama will promote his “Atrocities Prevention Board,” while doing nothing to prevent atrocities in Syria, where Bashar Assad has turned his military against thousands of innocents. All that’s needed is an Atrocities Czar to oversee the whole thing, and he can put this baby to bed.

As Mark Steyn pointed out a couple weeks ago, in Washington, announcing you have a plan absolves you from actually needing to have one. He was talking about Obama and the runaway debt, but the principle applies across the policy spectrum. Hence, today’s White House “Fact Sheet” on “new steps to prevent mass atrocities and impose consequences on serious human rights violators.” It states, in lyrical Do-Nothingese:

Today, President Obama is directing a comprehensive review to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities.  The President’s directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities.

In English: “We have a plan.” This means, of course, that no plan is needed. Obama will promote his “Atrocities Prevention Board,” while doing nothing to prevent atrocities in Syria, where Bashar Assad has turned his military against thousands of innocents. All that’s needed is an Atrocities Czar to oversee the whole thing, and he can put this baby to bed.

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Re: Standing up to Anti-Muslim American Bias

I agree with Pete’s stand on prejudice against Muslims. Herman Cain’s comments about his unwillingness to appoint a Muslim to high office were outrageous. I wrote as much myself (here and here) and even told Cain this to his face on the air when we were both guests on the “John Stossel Show” last month. This sort of bias is contrary to our values and interests as a nation, and Pete is right to take to task any conservative who adopts such a stance.

But though I concur it is encouraging that a leading conservative like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would stand up against prejudice, the criticisms voiced by some conservatives about his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to a judgeship cannot be compared to Cain’s bias. The objections to Mohammed had nothing to do with absurd charges about sharia law. More importantly, Christie’s defense of the appointment on grounds of religious liberty is an attempt to divert attention from the appointee’s connections as well as the governor’s own questionable intervention to prevent the deportation of a known supporter of Hamas.

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I agree with Pete’s stand on prejudice against Muslims. Herman Cain’s comments about his unwillingness to appoint a Muslim to high office were outrageous. I wrote as much myself (here and here) and even told Cain this to his face on the air when we were both guests on the “John Stossel Show” last month. This sort of bias is contrary to our values and interests as a nation, and Pete is right to take to task any conservative who adopts such a stance.

But though I concur it is encouraging that a leading conservative like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would stand up against prejudice, the criticisms voiced by some conservatives about his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to a judgeship cannot be compared to Cain’s bias. The objections to Mohammed had nothing to do with absurd charges about sharia law. More importantly, Christie’s defense of the appointment on grounds of religious liberty is an attempt to divert attention from the appointee’s connections as well as the governor’s own questionable intervention to prevent the deportation of a known supporter of Hamas.

As I wrote back in January, Sohail Mohammed’s religion is not the issue. Nor would his role as a defense attorney for those who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror groups disqualify him for the bench. What is of interest is his role as a board member of the American Muslim Union, an extremist group that has its own questionable record in terms of rationalizing terror attacks and supporting others who do so. Of particular importance is one of Mohammed’s clients: Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the AMU. Qatanani is a Palestinian supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. He also admitted to being a member of Hamas when Israeli authorities arrested him in 1993. Qatanani lied about all of this when he subsequently came to this country. But he evaded deportation in 2008 because his lawyer was able to persuade a judge to accept his unproven claim the Israelis had tortured him.  He also benefitted from the intervention on his behalf by, of all people, the man who was then United States Attorney for New Jersey: Chris Christie.

Acting on the behest of Mohammed and the American Muslim Union, Christie spoke out on Qatanani’s behalf and even appeared at his mosque and praised the Hamas supporter as a “man of great good will.” Christie’s willingness to make nice with the AMU and help keep Qatanani in this country had very little to do with opposition to religious prejudice and everything to do with an effort to gain sympathy among New Jersey Muslims during the prelude to his campaign for the governorship in 2009.

I happen to agree with Governor Christie that much of the discussion about sharia law in this country is absurd and possibly based in prejudice. While the effort to impose Muslim religious law on non-Muslims is a critical issue in Africa and Asia where the threat of Islamist theocracy is real, in most instances sharia is probably no more of a problem for the American justice system than is Jewish religious law.

But the questions raised about Sohail Mohammed, the American Muslim Union and Christie’s own conduct in the Qatanani case have nothing to do with such nonsense. Rather, this is about the willingness of some Americans to turn a blind eye to the prominent role of Islamists and terror supporters like Qatanani and to the political influence of fixers like Sohail Mohammed. Smearing as bigots those who have posed questions about Christie’s bad judgment is not the same thing as standing up against religious prejudice.

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Standing up to Anti-Muslim American Bias

One of the troubling tendencies that has recently arisen among conservatism is an unfair animus toward Muslim Americans. This has found its most disturbing expression in GOP presidential candidate (and Tea Party favorite) Herman Cain, whose anti-Muslim bias runs so deep that it overrides his regard for our Constitution (see here:) Cain, for example, has declared he would not appoint a Muslim either to his cabinet or as a federal judge and also insisted on a “loyalty proof” for Muslim Americans.

Thankfully, this anti-Muslim strain isn’t dominant within conservatism. But what is discouraging is how few GOP lawmakers and conservative voices have been willing to confront it. Which is why I’m grateful New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke out in defense of his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to a state bench.

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One of the troubling tendencies that has recently arisen among conservatism is an unfair animus toward Muslim Americans. This has found its most disturbing expression in GOP presidential candidate (and Tea Party favorite) Herman Cain, whose anti-Muslim bias runs so deep that it overrides his regard for our Constitution (see here:) Cain, for example, has declared he would not appoint a Muslim either to his cabinet or as a federal judge and also insisted on a “loyalty proof” for Muslim Americans.

Thankfully, this anti-Muslim strain isn’t dominant within conservatism. But what is discouraging is how few GOP lawmakers and conservative voices have been willing to confront it. Which is why I’m grateful New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke out in defense of his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to a state bench.

“Ignorance is behind the criticism of Sohail Mohammed,” Governor Christie told reporters asking him about the complaints that Mohammed defended Muslim Americans who were wrongly arrested in the aftermath of the September 11  attacks. “He is an extraordinary American who is an outstanding lawyer and played an integral role in the post-September 11 period in building bridges between the Muslim American community in this state and law enforcement,” Christie said, adding he was “disgusted, candidly, by some of the qustions he was asked by both parties at the Senate Judiciary Committee. I thought it was awful.”

Governor Christie, being Governor Christie, didn’t stop there. When asked about concerns about sharia law in the context of the Mohammed appointment, Christie added, “Sharia law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. The guy’s an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in the state of New Jersey swearing an oath to uphold the laws of New Jersey, the Constitution of the state of New Jersey, and the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Sharia law has “nothing to do with Sohail Mohammed,” Christie added emphatically. “It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background, and that’s what it’s because of.”

If any individual of any faith is engaging in activities that threaten the well-being of Americans, that is, of course, a serious concern. But remember this, too: one of the remarkable achievements of America is our tolerance and respect for people of different faiths. To put the burden of proof on Muslims to prove their loyalty to America, simply because they are Muslim, is the antithesis of the spirit of the American founding. And to target people simply because of their religious faith – to assume that (in Michael Gerson’s words) every Muslim is a recruit for sedition – is a direct assault on the very Constitution conservatives say we revere.

It’s one thing, and a laudable thing, not to participate in this ugliness. But it’s another thing, and a far more admirable thing, to stand against it. My former boss, President Bush, did this in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And now, thankfully, Governor Chris Christie has as well.

 

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Smear Campaign Targeting Perry Finds New National Advocates

One of the nastier elements of local politics is the frequency with which rumors and smear campaigns play a role in elections. And one of the challenges for national candidates–especially for the presidency–is to contain the amplification of those whisper campaigns when they inevitably hit the pages of the country’s political gossip sites.

Though not officially in the race yet, Rick Perry is already finding himself confronted with exactly those types of smears. First was the rumor Perry is gay–pushed by Democratic opponents in Texas but rebroadcast in a Politico story in June. It turned out the unnamed source for the story might have been a liberal anti-Perry activist who has a history of targeting Perry with false accusations. Now comes a second story about Perry’s past that opponents are once again hoping will gain traction.

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One of the nastier elements of local politics is the frequency with which rumors and smear campaigns play a role in elections. And one of the challenges for national candidates–especially for the presidency–is to contain the amplification of those whisper campaigns when they inevitably hit the pages of the country’s political gossip sites.

Though not officially in the race yet, Rick Perry is already finding himself confronted with exactly those types of smears. First was the rumor Perry is gay–pushed by Democratic opponents in Texas but rebroadcast in a Politico story in June. It turned out the unnamed source for the story might have been a liberal anti-Perry activist who has a history of targeting Perry with false accusations. Now comes a second story about Perry’s past that opponents are once again hoping will gain traction.

The story centers on Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man who was tried and convicted of killing his children by setting fire to their house. He was executed for the crime, but post-trial examinations of the evidence show him to have been almost certainly innocent. Despite that, a 15-member Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Willingham’s request for clemency just days before he was executed.

Challenging the conviction and execution of Willingham is reasonable and constructive, both for the sense of justice and for the lessons to be learned for similar cases in the future. While this is decidedly not a smear itself, one publication led its readers to believe Perry had bragged about the execution of an innocent man–a false and particularly vicious smear. Yesterday, The New Republic tweeted:

Words that should stick with #RickPerry for the rest of his political life: “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

The obvious implication of the tweet was that Perry had said those words. And indeed, for all those who saw the tweet but didn’t go to the magazine’s website or dig any further, that would have been the takeaway. The New Republic directed readers to its own blog post quoting and reframing the original story, also using that quote as the headline of the post. It is when the blog post quotes the original story that we get a more accurate picture of what happened.

During the 2010 Texas governor’s race, Perry’s rival Kay Bailey Hutchison had asked a focus group about the Willingham case to see if they could exploit the issue to damage Perry, who was governor at the time of Willingham’s execution. The quote is apparently what Hutchison’s campaign claimed one of the citizens in the focus group said when told Willingham may have been innocent of the charges. The blog post accused Perry of being “essentially an accessory to murder” and said this demonstrates how “morally demented” the Texas political culture is around Perry–based on one quote, by one person with no association with Perry, passed along by Perry’s rival.

The smear campaign has one advantage for Perry, though: it’s happening so early in the process, his opponents may be out of ammunition by the time the contest really heats up.

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A Recession Is Being “Priced In” on Wall Street

With the Dow Jones and SP500 on a downward slide so dramatic that we might see trading curbs installed before the close of day, talk in political circles has turned mordantly to the debt-ceiling deal—about which no one is enthusiastic and which therefore is already serving as an ideal scapegoat for everything that might go wrong over the next month. That’s sheer provincialism emanating from the political chattering classes. In fact, the debt deal came to fruition at exactly the same time as a series of devastating economic reports that indicate we will be lucky if the current moment is only a “slowdown” and not the beginning of—maybe even the middle of—a double-dip recession. You don’t need an economics degree to see the disaster in these numbers. Lower consumer confidence means less consumer spending, which means less demand, which means less economic activity, which means no improvement in employment figures and very possibly a worsening of unemployment. What we are seeing on Wall Street this week is that a coming recession is being “priced in.”

Businesses are not comfortable hiring, taking on new projects, or doing much of anything because they have no way to predict what kinds of policies politicians will enact over the next couple of years and the effect those policies will have on them. What I’ve been hearing over the past week from major investors in the markets in New York is that to a man, CEOs and others with whom they speak regularly are frightened and paralyzed when it comes to new projects. They all echo the alarming things said by the casino magnate Steve Wynn, an important Democratic donor: “I’m saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress and job creation in my lifetime. And I can prove it and I could spend the next 3 hours giving you examples of all of us in this market place that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our healthcare costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right.”

Grim days.

With the Dow Jones and SP500 on a downward slide so dramatic that we might see trading curbs installed before the close of day, talk in political circles has turned mordantly to the debt-ceiling deal—about which no one is enthusiastic and which therefore is already serving as an ideal scapegoat for everything that might go wrong over the next month. That’s sheer provincialism emanating from the political chattering classes. In fact, the debt deal came to fruition at exactly the same time as a series of devastating economic reports that indicate we will be lucky if the current moment is only a “slowdown” and not the beginning of—maybe even the middle of—a double-dip recession. You don’t need an economics degree to see the disaster in these numbers. Lower consumer confidence means less consumer spending, which means less demand, which means less economic activity, which means no improvement in employment figures and very possibly a worsening of unemployment. What we are seeing on Wall Street this week is that a coming recession is being “priced in.”

Businesses are not comfortable hiring, taking on new projects, or doing much of anything because they have no way to predict what kinds of policies politicians will enact over the next couple of years and the effect those policies will have on them. What I’ve been hearing over the past week from major investors in the markets in New York is that to a man, CEOs and others with whom they speak regularly are frightened and paralyzed when it comes to new projects. They all echo the alarming things said by the casino magnate Steve Wynn, an important Democratic donor: “I’m saying it bluntly, that this administration is the greatest wet blanket to business, and progress and job creation in my lifetime. And I can prove it and I could spend the next 3 hours giving you examples of all of us in this market place that are frightened to death about all the new regulations, our healthcare costs escalate, regulations coming from left and right.”

Grim days.

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Democrats Won’t Budge on FAA Bill

Democratic lawmakers are reportedly frustrated the media won’t just swallow their claims that the Republicans are “hostage-takers” who are blocking Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding and keeping 74,000 industry employees out of work. Of course, that’s because their claims are complete nonsense.

The FAA has been forced to partially shut down – and shed thousands of jobs in the process – because Democrats have blocked a House bill that would have funded the agency until after lawmakers return from recess. Democrats oppose the bill because it cuts subsidies to 13 rural airports in Sens. Harry Reid and John Rockefeller’s districts.

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Democratic lawmakers are reportedly frustrated the media won’t just swallow their claims that the Republicans are “hostage-takers” who are blocking Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding and keeping 74,000 industry employees out of work. Of course, that’s because their claims are complete nonsense.

The FAA has been forced to partially shut down – and shed thousands of jobs in the process – because Democrats have blocked a House bill that would have funded the agency until after lawmakers return from recess. Democrats oppose the bill because it cuts subsidies to 13 rural airports in Sens. Harry Reid and John Rockefeller’s districts.

Instead of compromising with Congress, Democratic leaders are seeking to paint Republicans as terrorists, cults, blackmailers, etc., because the GOP won’t yield to their demands.

“It’s the issue of hostage taking. And that is not fair and that is not right,” Sen. Charles Schumer said yesterday. “It’s as if someone puts a gun to your head and says, ‘Give me your money,’ and then you say, ‘Why won’t you give them your money?’ You leave out the whole context that there’s a gun being held to your head and that is not fair and that is not right.”

Harry Reid took the “hostage” rhetoric to another level:

“If one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet,’ ” Reid said, quoting Paul Krugman. “But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

“The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster.”

As Conn Carroll notes at the Washington Examiner, Reid’s sudden objection to the subsidy cuts in the House bill are pretty ironic, considering the senator’s recent openness to the idea:

On Tuesday, Reid told reporters, “The Essential Air Service is a program that I believe in, but I also believe that $3,500 per passenger is a little extreme. That’s what Ely, Nevada is. And I do my best to protect the state, but sometimes you have to be reasonable.”

But that was Tuesday. Now that the Democrats liberal base is apoplectic about the Democrats’ surrender on the debt deal, Reid has changed his tune.

Holding up FAA funding for purely arbitrary political reasons? I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the Democrats’ job-creation strategy entails.

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Qaddafi Threat of Islamist Alliance Should Change Some Minds About the Conflict

In the latest bizarre twist to the civil war still raging in Libya, the son of dictator Muammar Qaddafi announced the regime was allying itself with local Islamists. Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi told the New York Times this new alliance will drive liberals from the country, vowing: “Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?”

This is a strange turn of events, because the Qaddafis have spent most of the past few months attempting to portray the rebels as being in bed with Islamists, a line of argument taken up by many American critics of the NATO intervention in that country. It also comes only a week after Britain and France indicated  they could live with a settlement which allowed Qaddafi to remain in the country, a concession that could only be seen as sign the West believes the regime is unlikely to be defeated on the battlefield.

So what does this startling statement portend?

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In the latest bizarre twist to the civil war still raging in Libya, the son of dictator Muammar Qaddafi announced the regime was allying itself with local Islamists. Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi told the New York Times this new alliance will drive liberals from the country, vowing: “Libya will look like Saudi Arabia, like Iran. So what?”

This is a strange turn of events, because the Qaddafis have spent most of the past few months attempting to portray the rebels as being in bed with Islamists, a line of argument taken up by many American critics of the NATO intervention in that country. It also comes only a week after Britain and France indicated  they could live with a settlement which allowed Qaddafi to remain in the country, a concession that could only be seen as sign the West believes the regime is unlikely to be defeated on the battlefield.

So what does this startling statement portend?

The interview with the Times does give us, as the paper said itself, a “rare glimpse into the defiant, some say delusional, mentality of the Qaddafi family at a time when they have all but completely retreated from public view.” But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as the ravings of a regime about to fall. Qaddafi has spent most of the last 40 years in power dealing with and aiding terrorists, so the idea he would go into business with this faction is not a stretch.

While it is always a perilous leap of faith to read too closely into any statement made by the Qaddafi family, the most straightforward interpretation of these remarks is they are an attempt to split the rebel coalition that has always included Muslim religious parties. The recent death of the rebel’s leading military commander may have opened up fissures in the Benghazi government that Qaddafi seeks to exploit.

But this gambit may also make sense if we see it as an attempt to raise the stakes in the standoff between Tripoli and the West. It could be the talk of allying themselves with Islamists is a way to signal unless NATO accepts the permanence of the regime, it will pay a higher price in terms of terrorism than anyone had counted on.

The intervention in Libya has been hampered by the half-hearted support of the United States and the fact the rebels are clearly incapable of defeating Qaddafi even with NATO air support. But this latest statement from Qaddafi’s son amply illustrates the danger of allowing his regime to survive a Western challenge. A revived Qaddafi regime allied with Islamists would pose a strategic threat to NATO and the United States. Enthusiasm for the Libyan conflict has been in short supply both here and in Europe. But those who have expressed justified concerns about what a post-Qaddafi Libya would look like need to consider that the alternative might be far more dangerous for the West.

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