Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 2, 2012

The Moral Case for Conservatism

William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal and George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, have intelligent columns (here and here) about Representative Paul Ryan’s address at Georgetown University last week. There are two elements to the speech worth drawing attention to.

The first is a commendable modesty in Ryan’s remarks. While Ryan, a committed Catholic, provided a robust defense of his budget, he readily admits there is plenty of room for differences over the prudential application of Christian principles to matters of public policy. Too often people on both the left and the right insist the New Testament and Hebrew Bible provide a governing blueprint. In fact, they say virtually nothing about what we would consider public policy. They simply do not offer detailed guidance on (to name just a handful of issues) trade; education; welfare, crime; health care; affirmative action, immigration; foreign aid; legal reform; climate change; and much else. And even on issues that many people believe the Bible does speak to, if sometimes indirectly – including poverty and wealth, abortion and same-sex marriage, capital punishment and euthanasia – nothing in the text speaks to the nature or extent of legislation or the kind of prudential steps that ought to be pursued.

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William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal and George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, have intelligent columns (here and here) about Representative Paul Ryan’s address at Georgetown University last week. There are two elements to the speech worth drawing attention to.

The first is a commendable modesty in Ryan’s remarks. While Ryan, a committed Catholic, provided a robust defense of his budget, he readily admits there is plenty of room for differences over the prudential application of Christian principles to matters of public policy. Too often people on both the left and the right insist the New Testament and Hebrew Bible provide a governing blueprint. In fact, they say virtually nothing about what we would consider public policy. They simply do not offer detailed guidance on (to name just a handful of issues) trade; education; welfare, crime; health care; affirmative action, immigration; foreign aid; legal reform; climate change; and much else. And even on issues that many people believe the Bible does speak to, if sometimes indirectly – including poverty and wealth, abortion and same-sex marriage, capital punishment and euthanasia – nothing in the text speaks to the nature or extent of legislation or the kind of prudential steps that ought to be pursued.

One may believe we have a scriptural obligation to be good stewards of the earth, but that doesn’t necessarily determine where one will stand on cap-and-trade legislation. An individual can take to heart the admonition in Exodus not to “oppress a stranger” and still grapple with the issue of whether to grant a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. A person of faith can embrace the words of Deuteronomy – “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” – and be on different sides of the welfare debate. Nor does the Bible tell us whether the 1991 Gulf War or the 2003 Iraq war was the right or wrong decision.

The Christian ethicist Paul Ramsey put it this way: “Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.”

A second observation is that Ryan is making a moral argument for conservatism – laying out, with some precision, an affirmative case for conservatism based on advancing human flourishing for everyone in society, but most especially the poor, the weak, and the defenseless.

For almost as long as I’ve been interested in politics, it has puzzled me why conservatives have (with some honorable exceptions) more or less ceded the ground of compassion and humane politics to the left. A disinterested analysis shows, in my estimation, that conservative policies in economics, crime, welfare, and education — to take just four areas — have done more to save and better individual lives than the progressive movement. That isn’t the case all the time and in every instance, but it’s true often enough to draw certain judgments.

The reason for this rests in part on the awareness that at the core of every social, political, and economic system is a picture of human nature, to paraphrase the 20th-century columnist Walter Lippmann. The suppositions we begin with – the ways in which the picture is developed – determine the lives we lead, the institutions we build, the policies we advance, and the civilization we create.

Conservatives believe in the mixed nature of the human person and the complexity of human society, in the dispersal rather than the concentration of power, in government encouraging excellence and promoting equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcomes, in the principle of subsidiarity and the crucial role played by the family and civic institutions, in eschewing utopianism while embracing reform, in the primacy of a strong national defense and the conviction that America, while an imperfect nation, has been a tremendous force for good in the world.

Those principles, as they work themselves out in the form of achievable policy solutions, will advance the common good, the moral good, and true humanism. That is at the core of what Paul Ryan was saying in his Georgetown speech. It is the frame which conservatives might consider placing around the political battles of the moment.

 

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Betrayal of Dissidents at Core of Realism

Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.

In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.

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Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.

In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.

The UN is little better. It is tragic that this incident from nearly a decade ago has long since disappeared from public consciousness:

“On January 25, 2003, an Iraqi man stopped a UN-marked Land Cruiser right outside the UN compound in Baghdad, pleading, ‘Save me! Save me!’ According to a CNN report of the incident, the unarmed man then boarded the UN car and refused to get out. Appearing agitated and frightened, the young man, with a closely trimmed beard and a mustache, sat inside the white UN-marked SUB for 10 minutes, the Associated Press reported. Then, according to CNN, an Iraqi guard struggled to pull him out, while an unfazed UN inspector watched from the passenger seat.”

The UN handed the man over to Saddam Hussein’s security forces; he has never been seen again. Kofi Annan did not care. For Kofi, Saddam was a man he could do business with (literally), and he wanted nothing to get in the way.

Realists will always find an excuse to ignore dissidents and dismiss their fight for freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, what these realists see as sophistication not only is amoral, but actively undercuts long-term U.S. security.

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Chris Matthews Hero Worships Obama

In 2008, Chris Matthews famously said this after listening to Barack Obama’s speech: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

Let’s hope not.

Now, in 2012, after President Obama’s speech in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Obama Legend grows even larger.

“It was right out of Henry V actually,” Matthews said, “a touch of Barry, in this case, in the night for those soldiers risking their lives over there.”

So Obama, whom his press courtiers have compared to Lincoln, can now take his place next to Shakespeare.

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In 2008, Chris Matthews famously said this after listening to Barack Obama’s speech: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

Let’s hope not.

Now, in 2012, after President Obama’s speech in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Obama Legend grows even larger.

“It was right out of Henry V actually,” Matthews said, “a touch of Barry, in this case, in the night for those soldiers risking their lives over there.”

So Obama, whom his press courtiers have compared to Lincoln, can now take his place next to Shakespeare.

This is only a hunch, but I rather doubt Obama’s speech will be remembered and quoted more than 400 years from now.

Young King Henry V’s speech at Agincourt is one of the greatest in history (here’s Kenneth Branagh delivering it in his 1989 film “Henry V”). For Chris Matthews to compare what Obama said last night at Bagram Air base to the St. Crispin’s day speech is beyond ridiculous. It is to enter a world of fantasy and parody, of obsequiousness and hero-worship, that most of us cannot even imagine.

 

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The Missing Piece in Iran Strategy

Both President Obama and Governor Romney have spoken a good deal about Iran and have outlined general principles if not specific strategies. President Obama believes in the efficacy of diplomacy and continues to place faith that the Islamic Republic wants only nuclear weapons capability and will not take the final half step of actualizing nuclear weapons ambitions. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, on the other hand, declares that he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, although, beyond the campaign rhetoric, how he would go about this is far from clear.

Both Obama and Romney, however, avoid talking about the key to the problem: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is important for several reasons:

  • Custody, control, and perhaps command of any nuclear weapon would be in the hands of the IRGC.
  • The IRGC controls perhaps 40 percent of Iran’s economy.
  • While the Islamic Republic grants the IRGC an annual budget of perhaps $5 billion, since 2007, the IRGC economic wing has won over $35 billion in state contracts; it makes an additional $12 billion annually through its “invisible jetties” and smuggling networks. This means that the IRGC is now financially independent from the control of the very people whom the Obama administration seeks to strike a deal.

The IRGC is not a simple military, but rather an ideological army. Today, it operates as the Supreme Leader’s Praetorian Guard. Since 2007, its chief, Mohammad Ali Jafari, has identified Iranians themselves rather than external armies as posing the greatest threat to the Islamic Republic. It was Jafari’s “mosaic doctrine” and the subsequent reorganization of the IRGC into provincial units which helped the regime put down the 2009 student uprising.

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Both President Obama and Governor Romney have spoken a good deal about Iran and have outlined general principles if not specific strategies. President Obama believes in the efficacy of diplomacy and continues to place faith that the Islamic Republic wants only nuclear weapons capability and will not take the final half step of actualizing nuclear weapons ambitions. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, on the other hand, declares that he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, although, beyond the campaign rhetoric, how he would go about this is far from clear.

Both Obama and Romney, however, avoid talking about the key to the problem: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC is important for several reasons:

  • Custody, control, and perhaps command of any nuclear weapon would be in the hands of the IRGC.
  • The IRGC controls perhaps 40 percent of Iran’s economy.
  • While the Islamic Republic grants the IRGC an annual budget of perhaps $5 billion, since 2007, the IRGC economic wing has won over $35 billion in state contracts; it makes an additional $12 billion annually through its “invisible jetties” and smuggling networks. This means that the IRGC is now financially independent from the control of the very people whom the Obama administration seeks to strike a deal.

The IRGC is not a simple military, but rather an ideological army. Today, it operates as the Supreme Leader’s Praetorian Guard. Since 2007, its chief, Mohammad Ali Jafari, has identified Iranians themselves rather than external armies as posing the greatest threat to the Islamic Republic. It was Jafari’s “mosaic doctrine” and the subsequent reorganization of the IRGC into provincial units which helped the regime put down the 2009 student uprising.

Because the IRGC is both the ideological guardians of the regime, Khamenei’s enforcers, and the group most directly involved in the nuclear program, then it serves to reason that they are the obstacle to any resolution of America’s Iran problem. Pundits and academics can talk all they like about hardliners, reformers, and the Green Movement, but there can be no muddle-though reform so long as the IRGC remains steadfast. Put another way, the end to Iran’s odious regime will not come until the IRGC collapses.

While Pentagon officials, intelligence analysts, and diplomats can convince themselves that deterrence can work; the Iranian regime is not suicidal, they miss two points: It is not the regime in its entirety about which the West must worry, but rather the most elite and ideologically pure units within the Revolutionary Guards. The argument that these are not suicidal is counterfactual. After all, from the time of the Iran-Iraq War to the present, willingness to commit suicide was the key determinant of ideological purity.

Just as terrorism is a tactic, and it’s the ideology underlying its practitioners which should be the target of U.S. policy, the nuclear weapons are less of a problem than the regime which would wield them. The key to U.S. national security is simply regime collapse in Iran. How to hasten that collapse should be the guiding principle of U.S. policy. But, drilling down even further, collapse will not occur without a dedicated policy to neuter and fracture the IRGC. It is discussion of how to do this which is missing from Obama administration discussion and the Romney campaign. Certainly, the IRGC is not monolithic. Some join for the privileges, and only a fraction should be counted as among the most ideologically pure. That the intelligence community focuses on factions among politicians but not among IRGC generals suggests that Director of Central Intelligence David Petraeus is allowing the persistent intelligence failure of his predecessors to continue.

Fracturing the IRGC is difficult. A good place to start would be to publicize and ridicule the IRGC’s abysmal treatment of its veterans, a complaint made quite openly on the streets of Tehran and among the family members of those fallen. Highlighting corruption (and perversions) would be another tactic, not only among the Khatamis, Rafsanjanis, and Ahmadinejads of the political class, but also among the various IRGC flag officers. While Voice of America – Persian Service appears more interested in badmouthing American policy and promoting diplomacy, a more productive strategy would be to launch a steady and dedicated campaign to convince the more opportunistic IRGC members that firing on their brothers, peers, and classmates protesting for liberty are not honor, but treason. There should also be an economic warfare component to seize smuggled goods, freeze assets, and counter IRGC money laundering. Should IRGC hardline commanders find magnet bombs attached to their car doors, I would not complain: After all, if they engage in war against Americans, let them pay the ultimate consequence or make the tough decision that their livelihood requires a new career path.

Much of this should ultimately be the stuff of private decision-making, but unless the U.S. focus is on defeating the enablers of the regime, the Islamic Republic will triumph.

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Report: U.S. Pressured Chinese Dissident to Leave Embassy

Disgraceful beyond words:

Speaking by phone from his hospital room in Beijing on Wednesday night, a shaken Chen Guangcheng told the Associated Press that U.S. officials relayed the threat from the Chinese side.

Chen, who fled to the embassy six day ago, left under an agreement in which he would receive medical care, be reunited with his family and allowed to attend university in a safe place. He says he now fears for his safety and wants to leave.

A U.S. official denies knowledge of the threat, but says Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy.

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Disgraceful beyond words:

Speaking by phone from his hospital room in Beijing on Wednesday night, a shaken Chen Guangcheng told the Associated Press that U.S. officials relayed the threat from the Chinese side.

Chen, who fled to the embassy six day ago, left under an agreement in which he would receive medical care, be reunited with his family and allowed to attend university in a safe place. He says he now fears for his safety and wants to leave.

A U.S. official denies knowledge of the threat, but says Chen was told his family would be sent back home if he stayed in the embassy.

The news that blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng had left the U.S. embassy on his own volition came as a shock this morning. It now appears that it wasn’t the whole story. Why would Chen and his supporters have taken the risks they took in exchange for an “agreement” with the Chinese government that doesn’t guarantee his safety, or the safety of those who helped him escape?

As the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday, this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has turned away a Chinese dissident seeking shelter at the U.S. embassy. And last time it happened, the story did not have a happy ending:

The office of Vice President Joe Biden overruled State and Justice Department officials in denying the political asylum request of a senior Chinese communist official last February over fears the high-level defection would upset the U.S. visit of China’s vice president, according to U.S. officials.

The defector, Wang Lijun, was turned away after 30 hours inside the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and given over to China’s Ministry of State Security, the political police and intelligence service.

Wang has not been seen since Feb. 7 and remains under investigation. His attempt to flee China set off a major power struggle within the ruling Communist Party and led to the ouster of leftist Politburo member Bo Xilai and the arrest of his wife on murder charges.

If U.S. officials actually did pressure Chen into leaving the embassy, they just put him and his entire family in grave danger.

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Lockerbie Terrorist Again Near Death?

On August 20, 2009, a Scottish court released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing; he served 11.5 days for each person he murdered. British and Scottish officials explained that Megrahi’s release was “compassionate.” After all, the doctor who examined him said he had terminal prostate cancer and had only three months to live. Of course, he was wrong by more than a factor of ten, but compassion most likely was not the reason for his release.

Megrahi is once again reportedly near death. But, then again, Western journalists have dutifully reported the same story for years. When Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi fell, reporters raced to interview Megrahi only to be told that he was in the hospital and might never recover, yet he seems to have gone home as soon as cameramen filmed him looking frail in a hospital bed.

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On August 20, 2009, a Scottish court released Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing; he served 11.5 days for each person he murdered. British and Scottish officials explained that Megrahi’s release was “compassionate.” After all, the doctor who examined him said he had terminal prostate cancer and had only three months to live. Of course, he was wrong by more than a factor of ten, but compassion most likely was not the reason for his release.

Megrahi is once again reportedly near death. But, then again, Western journalists have dutifully reported the same story for years. When Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi fell, reporters raced to interview Megrahi only to be told that he was in the hospital and might never recover, yet he seems to have gone home as soon as cameramen filmed him looking frail in a hospital bed.

When Megrahi eventually does die, the families of Lockerbie victims can go to sleep knowing a man responsible for the deaths of their loved ones is no longer among his own friends and families. That he has lived in relative freedom, however, means he will die not only as a terrorist, but also as the poster boy for Western fecklessness.

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Is Egypt Too Big to Fail?

Former Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa leads a field of 13 presidential candidates in Egypt, according to a survey by the Al-Ahram Political Studies Center. Moussa received 41.1 percent of the vote, compared to surging Islamist but ex-Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who took 27.3 percent of the vote. The poll does not reflect the impact of the Salafist Nour Party and Salafist Scholar Shura Council’s endorsement of Abul-Fotouh.

It would be a mistake to get lost in the horse race among the candidates at this point, though. It may be tempting for many to embrace Amr Moussa because he is not an Islamist, but when it comes to any issues about which Western liberals and proponents of Middle East peace and tolerance care, Amr Moussa is little better than his Salafist opponents.

Rather, it’s time the United States look ahead to Egypt’s future. Each candidate has promised their constituents the world. The Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nour rose to victory in parliamentary elections not only on the back of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but also because their representatives could condemn corruption and promise the poor and dispossessed almost anything: Guaranteed jobs, housing, and higher education; good salaries; and set prices in the markets.

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Former Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa leads a field of 13 presidential candidates in Egypt, according to a survey by the Al-Ahram Political Studies Center. Moussa received 41.1 percent of the vote, compared to surging Islamist but ex-Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who took 27.3 percent of the vote. The poll does not reflect the impact of the Salafist Nour Party and Salafist Scholar Shura Council’s endorsement of Abul-Fotouh.

It would be a mistake to get lost in the horse race among the candidates at this point, though. It may be tempting for many to embrace Amr Moussa because he is not an Islamist, but when it comes to any issues about which Western liberals and proponents of Middle East peace and tolerance care, Amr Moussa is little better than his Salafist opponents.

Rather, it’s time the United States look ahead to Egypt’s future. Each candidate has promised their constituents the world. The Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nour rose to victory in parliamentary elections not only on the back of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but also because their representatives could condemn corruption and promise the poor and dispossessed almost anything: Guaranteed jobs, housing, and higher education; good salaries; and set prices in the markets.

Of course, once they are in power, they will not be able to deliver but, by then, it will be too late for ordinary Egyptians. Here, Iran’s Islamic Revolution provides a good analogy. A full ten percent of Iranians took part in the 1979 revolution. They were united in their opposition to the Shah, and read into Ayatollah Khomeini what they wanted. “We were promised an Islamic democracy,” one of my Iranian tutors explained to me when I lived in Isfahan, “but what we got was neither Islamic nor a democracy. By the time we figured this out, though, it was too late and we were already embroiled in war.”

There will be a day of reckoning for the Egyptian government as the country’s tourism sector flatlines and its foreign reserves evaporate. Bread is subsidized in Egypt, and the government will no longer be able to provide. The question for the West at that point will be whether Egypt deserves even more debt forgiveness and aid. The new Egyptian government might be noxious, its management irresponsible, and its positions extreme, but would the world face either a far more extreme Egypt or a failed state if the Egyptian economy collapses?

With one-in-three Middle Eastern Arabs living in Egypt’s narrow Nile River valley, there is a real case to be made that the chaos of state collapse must be averted at any cost. But, while failure would not be pretty, it is time the White House and Congress consider whether U.S. foreign assistance is an entitlement or a privilege. The foreign aid community would differ, but simply put, U.S. foreign aid should never be an entitlement. Egyptians should realize they are accountable for their governments’ actions. If their government leads them down the path to disaster, so be it.

Perhaps rather than subsidizing an Amr Moussa or Abul-Fotouh slow-motion train wreck and rewarding anti-American and anti-Israel incitement, American policymakers would be better off considering how to advance the principles upon which America was founded: freedom, liberty, tolerance, and individual rights.

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Gingrich Now on Board With Romney

That was fast. Newt Gingrich will formally end his campaign in Virginia this afternoon, and he’s reportedly already getting on board with bitter rival Mitt Romney. The Republican National Committee says it’s going to help Gingrich pay down debt, a nice gesture that may at least help keep him in line for the rest of the campaign season:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the eve of suspending his roller coaster presidential bid, said in an interview with USA TODAY that he will embrace Mitt Romney‘s candidacy Wednesday and is ready to campaign for his former rival.

The two men will make a joint appearance in a few weeks, when Gingrich will make an official endorsement. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have offered to be helpful as Gingrich works to retire his campaign debt.

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That was fast. Newt Gingrich will formally end his campaign in Virginia this afternoon, and he’s reportedly already getting on board with bitter rival Mitt Romney. The Republican National Committee says it’s going to help Gingrich pay down debt, a nice gesture that may at least help keep him in line for the rest of the campaign season:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the eve of suspending his roller coaster presidential bid, said in an interview with USA TODAY that he will embrace Mitt Romney‘s candidacy Wednesday and is ready to campaign for his former rival.

The two men will make a joint appearance in a few weeks, when Gingrich will make an official endorsement. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee have offered to be helpful as Gingrich works to retire his campaign debt.

Gingrich had these gracious words for his former opponent in an interview with USA TODAY:

“Mitt Romney met the first criteria of being a good candidate: He won,” Gingrich said. “Now you have to respect that.” He added, “We sure didn’t give it to him. We did everything we could to slug it out with him, and he ended up being tough enough and being good enough at raising money” to prevail.

Ha! Did you see how he masterfully slipped those jabs into a statement that’s framed as a compliment? Romney was a good candidate…because he won. And he won because…he was just too good at raising money. Classic diva concession speech.

Today there will be a big show of unity as Gingrich steps aside and backs Romney, and this is just a hunch, but I can’t imagine we’ll be seeing much of the former Speaker on the trail. Romney doesn’t need a frenemy spouting out backhanded compliments during campaign events, which is obviously what Gingrich would end up doing. Plus, why would Romney want to lend any credibility to Newt, when the Obama campaign has already started using the former Speaker’s own words in its anti-Romney attack ads? It’s probably best for the GOP if Gingrich sits the rest of this game out.

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Voters Reject Idea War on Terror is Over

From a Rasmussen poll taken late last week:

Voters overwhelmingly reject the idea that the war on terror is over one year after the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, although most feel his al-Qaeda terrorist group is weaker today. But a majority also still thinks a terrorist attack is possible in the next year.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 11 percent of Likely U.S. Voters think the war on terror is over. Seventy-nine percent say that war, declared after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, is not over. Another 11 percent are undecided.

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From a Rasmussen poll taken late last week:

Voters overwhelmingly reject the idea that the war on terror is over one year after the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, although most feel his al-Qaeda terrorist group is weaker today. But a majority also still thinks a terrorist attack is possible in the next year.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 11 percent of Likely U.S. Voters think the war on terror is over. Seventy-nine percent say that war, declared after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, is not over. Another 11 percent are undecided.

Will President Obama’s speech last night, hailing the beginning of the end of the “time of war” (formerly known as the Global War on Terror) convince the American people the terror threat is behind us? Despite all that has been accomplished since 2001, including the crippling blows to al-Qaeda that Obama emphasized last night, it’s often difficult to be optimistic. We’re about to enter the bloodiest time of year in Afghanistan. The Taliban may be weakened and desperate, but it is still capable, as we saw from last night’s suicide bombing and last week’s attack in Kabul. And after the spate of attacks on American troops by Afghan soldiers and police, handing off U.S. responsibilities to Afghan security forces seems like an insurmountable challenge.

Obama sounded hopeful last night when he talked about “the light of a new day on the horizon.” But the American public seems to realize that, contrary to the ’60s cliché, war isn’t over just because you want it to be.

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Bring the War to the Taliban

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made diplomacy with the Taliban the cornerstone of their diplomatic strategy in Afghanistan. Never mind that neither the late Richard Holbrooke nor his successor Marc Grossman have ever bothered to conduct lessons learned from the Clinton administration’s disastrous experience talking to the Taliban.

The Taliban launched another attack on the Western presence in Afghanistan overnight as they attacked the Green Village, a major compound housing thousands of Western contractors and NGOs. Rather than being weak, the Taliban are demonstrating renewed vigor and operational capacity in the heart of ISAF territory. The same Taliban groups with whom the Americans and British now negotiate have, since the beginning of dialogue, attacked hotels in Kabul, the British and American embassies, and Afghan government buildings. There appears to be a direct correlation between the urgency of State Department outreach and the boldness of Taliban attacks.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made diplomacy with the Taliban the cornerstone of their diplomatic strategy in Afghanistan. Never mind that neither the late Richard Holbrooke nor his successor Marc Grossman have ever bothered to conduct lessons learned from the Clinton administration’s disastrous experience talking to the Taliban.

The Taliban launched another attack on the Western presence in Afghanistan overnight as they attacked the Green Village, a major compound housing thousands of Western contractors and NGOs. Rather than being weak, the Taliban are demonstrating renewed vigor and operational capacity in the heart of ISAF territory. The same Taliban groups with whom the Americans and British now negotiate have, since the beginning of dialogue, attacked hotels in Kabul, the British and American embassies, and Afghan government buildings. There appears to be a direct correlation between the urgency of State Department outreach and the boldness of Taliban attacks.

Dialogue is an important tool in the U.S. strategic arsenal, but if misapplied, it can extract a high cost. Before engaging in dialogue with enemies, it is important to set the right circumstances. When President Ronald Reagan engaged Mikhail Gorbachev, he did so only after ensuring he could do so from a position of strength.

Alas, the Foreign Service Institute may preach peace and dialogue, but it fails at its job to inculcate strategy. At present, the Taliban see America as desperate, hoping to strike a deal before fleeing, Obama’s speech notwithstanding. The United States has allowed the Taliban to open an office in Qatar—not only giving the group diplomatic legitimacy but also opening new fundraising opportunities—and has offered a series of unilateral concessions to the group, including releasing terrorists and human rights abusers from Guantanamo Bay. In exchange, the United States has gotten absolutely nothing. It should not surprise that the Taliban do not see the Americans as strong.

If the Obama administration wants the Taliban to take diplomacy seriously, it must convince Mullah Omar that the alternative is far worse. If the Taliban seeks to bolster its negotiating position by launching attacks, it is time for American forces to do likewise—not precise attacks to take out a single high value target, but missions to slaughter hundreds of Taliban fighters regardless of their rank and wherever they seek to hide. If diplomacy is to work—and, with an ideological adversary like the Taliban I strongly doubt it will—it is time to presage it with a slaughter, the likes of which the Taliban has never experienced.

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Israel Builds a Wall in the North

Israel just began construction of a high cement wall on its northern border between the Israeli town of Metulla and the Lebanese town of Kfar Kila. The wall will only be a kilometer long, so it’s clearly not being placed there to prevent anyone from crossing the border per se. It’s being placed there to prevent anyone from crossing the border—or shooting across the border—at that specific location.

In 2005, I drove down there from Beirut with a Lebanese woman who grew up in the area. I was thunderstruck when we arrived at Kfar Kila. Israeli houses were mere feet from the border fence. Some of those homes are so close to it that a person could walk right up to an Israeli backyard and, while remaining inside Lebanese territory, throw a hand grenade through somebody’s window. And remember, this is the part of Lebanon that’s controlled by Hezbollah.

If you’re an American, how would you feel if the Taliban set up shop a few feet from your yard? Comfy?

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Israel just began construction of a high cement wall on its northern border between the Israeli town of Metulla and the Lebanese town of Kfar Kila. The wall will only be a kilometer long, so it’s clearly not being placed there to prevent anyone from crossing the border per se. It’s being placed there to prevent anyone from crossing the border—or shooting across the border—at that specific location.

In 2005, I drove down there from Beirut with a Lebanese woman who grew up in the area. I was thunderstruck when we arrived at Kfar Kila. Israeli houses were mere feet from the border fence. Some of those homes are so close to it that a person could walk right up to an Israeli backyard and, while remaining inside Lebanese territory, throw a hand grenade through somebody’s window. And remember, this is the part of Lebanon that’s controlled by Hezbollah.

If you’re an American, how would you feel if the Taliban set up shop a few feet from your yard? Comfy?

The border here used to be open. Until the Israeli army withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000, Lebanese who passed security clearances could cross through Fatima Gate to visit Israel as workers or even tourists. The mayor of Rmeich, one of the handful of Christian towns near the border, told me that nearly every single person who lives there has been to Israel.

Fatima Gate is now shuttered and wrapped with cyclone fencing. No one has been through it for years. Furious tourists like to go down there, though, and throw rocks into Israel.

Frankly, it’s amazing that aside from the war in 2006, rocks are the only projectiles so far to go over that fence. Hezbollah hasn’t picked anyone off in Metulla with sniper rifles, nor has anyone else. It wouldn’t be hard.

I don’t know the precise reason the Israelis have decided to erect a wall now, but I can guess. According to Beirut-based correspondent and author Nicholas Blanford, Hezbollah hopes the next war will be fought more in Israel than in Lebanon.

He quotes its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah in his most recent book, Warriors of God. “The resistance leadership might ask you to lead the resistance to liberate Galilee [in Northern Israel].” “God willing,” a Hezbollah fighter told Blanford, “we will go into Palestine next.” “Next time,” said another, “maybe the UN will ask us to withdraw from Northern Israel rather than Israel withdraw from South Lebanon.”

There’s no chance Hezbollah can seize and hold ground for long without getting smashed, but its fighters can still inflict a considerable amount of damage while martyring themselves on the bayonets of the Israel Defense Forces. If they try, they’ll almost certainly do so in Metulla.

The Israelis are lucky it has not happened yet and should have built the wall a long time ago.

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What Price Friendship?

If President Obama wrote a thesaurus, he’d probably list “friendship” and “respect” as synonyms. When he and his allies seek affirmation for their foreign policy, they cite the friendly relations they have with some of the world’s worst dictators and would-be dictators.

Obama is willing to hand dissidents and defectors back to their oppressors; write human rights off the agenda with Russia; and calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one of his closest friends. Previously, he reached out to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Establishing friendly relations with dictators is not hard: All one needs to do is cede all principle and give them everything they want. Take Kim Jong-un: While even Obama would not go so far, he could make the young North Korean demigod America’s closest ally if only he would abandon South Korea, withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, and provide all the luxury goods money could buy.

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If President Obama wrote a thesaurus, he’d probably list “friendship” and “respect” as synonyms. When he and his allies seek affirmation for their foreign policy, they cite the friendly relations they have with some of the world’s worst dictators and would-be dictators.

Obama is willing to hand dissidents and defectors back to their oppressors; write human rights off the agenda with Russia; and calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one of his closest friends. Previously, he reached out to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Establishing friendly relations with dictators is not hard: All one needs to do is cede all principle and give them everything they want. Take Kim Jong-un: While even Obama would not go so far, he could make the young North Korean demigod America’s closest ally if only he would abandon South Korea, withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, and provide all the luxury goods money could buy.

To court Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Obama effectively throws Great Britain under the bus and suggests merit in her claims to the Falkland Islands. To support the “reset” with Russia, the Obama administration basically allowed Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to dictate terms for the START Treaty; and to better relations with Iran, Obama has ceded Iran not only the right to enrich uranium despite hard-fought UN Security Council resolutions declaring the opposite, but with a nod and a wink decided to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability, basically putting Iran within a week of building a bomb whenever its leaders choose to take that step. That Iranian powers-that-be make clear they will never allow rapprochement with Washington is simply a fact Obama chooses to ignore.

Obama’s embrace of Turkey has been little better: To win Erdoğan’s friendship, Obama not only turned a blind eye to the Turkish populists’ efforts to curtail civil rights and liberties but also his embrace of terrorism and religious incitement. While Obama can point to Turkey’s participation in Afghanistan, the Turks have hardly been onboard with American goals there. To win Erdoğan’s embrace, Obama has had to turn a blind eye toward the prime minister’s loathing of Israel, a deep-rooted hatred which now interferes with U.S. and NATO core interests. With an intelligence chief who openly sympathizes with Iran, and a military which seeks to reverse engineer American technology, military cooperation with Turkey comes at a high price. The only silver lining radar system is a different story, but even that cooperation is less than meets the eye.

The 2012 presidential election will be far more about the economy than foreign policy. Governor Mitt Romney is staking a clear position vis-à-vis both Iran and Israel, but when it comes to countries like Turkey, it might be time for him to explain whether maintaining the ties between Washington and Ankara are worth the cost.

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Obama’s Afghan Policy Speech: Two Halves That Don’t Add Up

You have to hand it to President Obama. He delivered a great speech from Bagram Air Base last night — one that sounded tough yet reasonable, even while skillfully eliding all the tough questions about his Afghan policy.

In fact, he won even before he opened his mouth: the image of the president, standing in front of two hulking MRAP armored vehicles, at a military base in a war zone, was a powerful visual reminder of the stature and power of the commander-in-chief. President Bush certainly made good use of the prerogatives of the office to establish himself in the public’s eye as a strong leader, and Obama showed he was a worthy successor in that regard.

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You have to hand it to President Obama. He delivered a great speech from Bagram Air Base last night — one that sounded tough yet reasonable, even while skillfully eliding all the tough questions about his Afghan policy.

In fact, he won even before he opened his mouth: the image of the president, standing in front of two hulking MRAP armored vehicles, at a military base in a war zone, was a powerful visual reminder of the stature and power of the commander-in-chief. President Bush certainly made good use of the prerogatives of the office to establish himself in the public’s eye as a strong leader, and Obama showed he was a worthy successor in that regard.

The substance of the speech—somber and serious and largely free of election-year politicking—was of a piece with its setting. The headline event was the signing of a U.S.-Afghan Security Partnership Agreement earlier in the day. Obama announced that “the agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone.” He then made an argument for why it is important to stay the course in Afghanistan—”to make sure that al-Qaeda could never again use this country to launch attacks against us.” He also spoke of the progress that U.S. and allied troops are making toward achieving that objective.

It could just as easily have been George W. Bush rather than Barack Obama making those statements. In fact, Obama borrowed the “as you stand up” phrasing from his predecessor.

But the speech was finely balanced so it gave hope to doves as well as hawks. Obama once again iterated that his objectives are relatively narrow—”our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban”—and that he has a clear timeline for bringing troops home: “Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.”

All of that sounds eminently reasonable—until you start to question whether the two halves of his policy add up. Is it actually possible to bring the troops home on the timeline he envisions, while also cutting funding for the Afghan security forces, and still achieve his goal of an Afghanistan secure enough to never again become a haven for al-Qaeda? I hope so, but I have grave doubts. I fear that President Obama may have put his objective of troop withdrawal ahead of his competing objective of stabilizing Afghanistan and “delivering justice to al-Qaeda.”

But Obama remains the master of projecting an air of serious, cerebral centrism—at least when he is not in full Republican-bashing campaign mode. And he was not at Bagram. He was at his best, making a deeply ambivalent policy—a policy at war with itself—seem like the only way to go.

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