Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 30, 2011

Herman Cain?

Dissatisfaction with the other candidates and his own strong performances in the debates has lifted Herman Cain from who-do-these-guys-think-they-are territory to a-long-shot-but-who-knows land. Certainly a mark of that new status is yesterday’s Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henninger.

The main objection to Cain is that he has never held public office. Given the fact that Barack Obama has never held anything but, I’m not sure that that is such a disqualifying attribute.

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Dissatisfaction with the other candidates and his own strong performances in the debates has lifted Herman Cain from who-do-these-guys-think-they-are territory to a-long-shot-but-who-knows land. Certainly a mark of that new status is yesterday’s Wall Street Journal column by Daniel Henninger.

The main objection to Cain is that he has never held public office. Given the fact that Barack Obama has never held anything but, I’m not sure that that is such a disqualifying attribute.

Potential presidents’ résumés are usually judged according to political experience, executive experience, and foreign-affairs experience. Cain has only the executive experience, and did pretty well at it, according to Henninger. But are the other two so vital? Of the last six presidents, only George H. W. Bush and Obama can claim “foreign-policy experience,” and Obama’s consisted of nothing more than two years as a Senate backbencher (the last two years of his Senate career consisted almost entirely of running for president). Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, and Carter had all been governors.

And, of course, the dirty little secret about foreign affairs is that they are a lot less complicated than domestic affairs, however fraught with peril. Presidents must deal with 300 million citizens, but only about 190 countries. And, when push really comes to shove, only about ten countries, the Great Powers, must be really taken into account.

So I don’t find Herman Cain’s résumé fatally defective. And his nomination would have two big plusses. One, it would rip the race card right out of the Democrats’ hands and two, it would set up a race between—in Glenn Reynolds marvelous phrase—Cain and Unable.

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Justice Brought to Awlaki

David Petraeus developed a reputation for preaching a softer-side of counterinsurgency but it is important to remember that in Iraq and Afghanistan he was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of Islamist militants—more than any other American, I would wager. Now in his new capacity as CIA director he has notched another important kill: A CIA drone fired a Hellfire missile in Yemen which blew up Anwar al-Awlaki, the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is very much to President Obama’s credit that he authorized the dispatch, without any legal proceedings, of the American-born Awlaki—something that the ACLU no doubt deplores and that a fainter-hearted president would have shied away from. And it is very much to the CIA’s credit that it managed to track him down and kill him.

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David Petraeus developed a reputation for preaching a softer-side of counterinsurgency but it is important to remember that in Iraq and Afghanistan he was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of Islamist militants—more than any other American, I would wager. Now in his new capacity as CIA director he has notched another important kill: A CIA drone fired a Hellfire missile in Yemen which blew up Anwar al-Awlaki, the head of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is very much to President Obama’s credit that he authorized the dispatch, without any legal proceedings, of the American-born Awlaki—something that the ACLU no doubt deplores and that a fainter-hearted president would have shied away from. And it is very much to the CIA’s credit that it managed to track him down and kill him.

This is of great importance because since the decline in capacity of al-Qaeda’s central organization in Pakistan, AQAP has emerged as its most threatening affiliate, and the one with the greatest interest in, and capacity for, staging attacks against the American homeland. Awlaki was also a high profile, English-speaking inspiration for lone-wolf jihadists such as the Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. His demise is a victory for justice and a blow to AQAP. But there is no reason to believe that the blow will be fatal.

In the past, terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, Hamas, and Hezbollah have been able to replace their leaders after they were killed. AQAP may well have a similar regenerative capacity. It is helped by the political chaos that grips Yemen, a land that is lightly governed in the best of times. Taking advantage of this turmoil, AQAP has been able to carve out control of territory in southern Yemen, with hopes of expanding its sphere of influence. It also has links to the Shabab in Somalia, which similarly controls large swathes of land. When terrorist groups manage to control territory, they are unlikely to be destroyed by the mere loss of their leaders. There must be a state powerful enough to exert control on a 24/7 basis, something that doesn’t exist in either Yemen or Somalia.

We should by all means celebrate Awlaki’s demise but we should not assume that AQAP died with him.

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Anyone Seen 20,000 Libyan Missiles?

ABC News reports that Muammar Qaddafi’s surface-to-air missile stockpiles have gone missing without much of a trace. This nightmare cuts to the most dangerous problem with Barack Obama’s lead-from-behind Libya strategy: it’s bad.

The word “triumphalism” came to be synonymous with the Bush administration and the Iraq war. But Tripoli had barely fallen when Obama supporters like Fareed Zakaria declared the effort, literally, a model victory: “The Libyan intervention offers a new model for the West,” he wrote in Time, explaining that it was “a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution.” And to own about 20,000 of their dictator’s missiles.

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ABC News reports that Muammar Qaddafi’s surface-to-air missile stockpiles have gone missing without much of a trace. This nightmare cuts to the most dangerous problem with Barack Obama’s lead-from-behind Libya strategy: it’s bad.

The word “triumphalism” came to be synonymous with the Bush administration and the Iraq war. But Tripoli had barely fallen when Obama supporters like Fareed Zakaria declared the effort, literally, a model victory: “The Libyan intervention offers a new model for the West,” he wrote in Time, explaining that it was “a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution.” And to own about 20,000 of their dictator’s missiles.

“I think the probability of al-Qaeda being able to smuggle some of the stinger-like missiles out of Libya is probably pretty high,” says former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. If the great risk of American assertiveness was that it caused supposed “blowback” among impacted populations, the problem with American constraint is one of terrorist facilitation. In Libya we were only ever half in, at best. We took our time and kept our distance—and left weapons stockpiles out for the taking. At the UN last week, Obama cited Libya as “a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.” It sure is.

And something tells me the international community wouldn’t mind a return of the American World Police right about now. Terrorists use surface-to-air missiles to target internationalism itself, in the form of air travel. In response to the crisis, the U.S. is going to expand its presence in post-Qaddafi Libya, something my colleague Max Boot wisely recommended a long time ago.

In a perfect tragicomic remark, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro told ABC News, “We’re making great progress and we expect in the coming days and weeks we will have a much greater picture of how many [missiles] are missing.” If figuring out how bad off you are is great progress, then we’re all moving toward a smashing success.

This disaster is also a lesson on American interests. In a post-9/11 world, vital national interests are not what they used to be. In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said of Libya, “I don’t think it’s a vital interest of the United States.” In the traditional sense of neighborhood, power, and reach, he was right. But if 20,000 stinger missiles were at risk of disappearing in the island nation of Tonga, that dot in the South Pacific would become a vital interest for America. This is a burdensome reality that can’t be wished away or shared with an under-resourced international community.

There are still responsibilities that can’t be seen to with drone strikes, troop withdrawals, diplomatic gestures, or multilateralism. If America continues to shirk its global duties, terrorists and other bad actors will continue to see their fortunes rise. That this is a new model for the West is undoubtedly true.

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Barack Obama’s War on Human Excellence

I wanted to add to Alana’s comments on the postby a major finanacer supporter of President Obama, Ted Leonsis, in which he takes the president to task for Mr. Obama’s repeated appeal to class warfare.

“I say this as I read all of the rhetoric about Class Warfare, the rift that is being created between economic middle and lower class and as the President said ‘those millionaires and billionaires,’” according to Leonsis. “The real rift in philosophy though is do you want the Government to create jobs and stimulate the economy or do you want America’s small business to be the engine of growth?”

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I wanted to add to Alana’s comments on the postby a major finanacer supporter of President Obama, Ted Leonsis, in which he takes the president to task for Mr. Obama’s repeated appeal to class warfare.

“I say this as I read all of the rhetoric about Class Warfare, the rift that is being created between economic middle and lower class and as the President said ‘those millionaires and billionaires,’” according to Leonsis. “The real rift in philosophy though is do you want the Government to create jobs and stimulate the economy or do you want America’s small business to be the engine of growth?”

Mr. Leonsis goes on to say this:

This is counter to the American Dream and is really turning off so many people that love America and basically carry our country on their back by paying taxes and by employing people and creating GDP. This is a bad move all designed by some pollster who said this is the way to get votes during the re-election. It should be stopped. We should be healing and creating teams NOT dividing and pitting people against one another… I voted for our President. I have maxed out on personal donations to his re-election campaign. I forgot his campaign wants to raise $1 billion. THAT is a lot of money–money–money–money! Money still talks. It blows my mind when I am asked for money as a donation at the same time I am getting blasted as being a bad guy!

The obvious question, of course, is what on earth was Mr. Leonsis expecting when he supported Mr. Obama in the first place. But set that aside for now. Mr. Leonsis’ core insight, which is that those who achieve financial success are viewed by the Obama administration (and most liberals) as a suspect class, bordering on being an enemy of the state, is quite important. So is his warning that the president is seeking to divide us by income and class.

All of this is of course very much at odds with how Abraham Lincoln (among others) understood the American Dream, which is based on upward mobility and ensuring equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. “The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed,” Lincoln said.

Now it’s important to point out that an argument over the tax code and the relative burdens we place on people with different incomes is fully appropriate. A progressive tax system is defensible in my view and, more importantly, in the view of Adam Smith.

But what Mr. Obama is doing is something well beyond that. He is stoking the embers of class resentment. He views financial success with skepticism and wariness (a pass is given to Mr. Obama himself and other rich liberals). “Profits” is synonymous with greed. One of the primary functions of the state is to level out differences among citizens. Income needs to be redistributed. And the tax code is an instrument to achieve “fairness,” which the left views through a moral rather than an economic lens.

But there is something else going on here as well: The Obama presidency, animated by a progressive impulse, wants to punish success. The president wants to use the state to discourage high aspirations and high achievement. And this has radiating, injurious effects.

One of the concerns the philosopher Leo Strauss had about modern regimes was a lack of concern for human excellence. He believed, in the words [http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1075/article_detail.asp] of Tom West, “that government’s most important task is to help the citizens live the good life by promoting the right ideal of human excellence.”

That is in many respects an alien concept to our current president. He believes in using government, as well as his bully pulpit, to bludgeon those who excel in business and commerce. They need to punished, targeted, and marginalized. The fact that this is contrary to prosperity and flourishing matters hardly at all. To find this sentiment in a university professor would be predictable. To find it in an American president is quite rare – and quite pernicious as well.

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