Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 1, 2013

Vice Media’s Foolish North Korea Stunt

The New Criterion and PJ Media might have to retire their Walter Duranty Prize named after the infamous New York Times correspondent who whitewashed Joseph Stalin’s crimes during the 1930s. I think Dennis Rodman has earned a lifetime achievement award in this category, as Bethany’s post makes clear. It is hard, certainly, to top his fawning tribute to the current and past dictators of North Korea. As the AP reported:

Ending his unexpected round of basketball diplomacy in North Korea on Friday, ex-N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman called leader Kim Jong-un an “awesome guy” and said his father and grandfather were “great leaders.”….

“He’s proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him,” Rodman said of Kim Jong-un. “Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”

Those words are accompanied by pictures of Rodman yukking it up with Kim Jong-un at a basketball game involving North Koreans and some Harlem Globetrotters that ended in an improbable 110-110 tie.

I am guessing Rodman missed this Human Rights Watch report, which notes:

Read More

The New Criterion and PJ Media might have to retire their Walter Duranty Prize named after the infamous New York Times correspondent who whitewashed Joseph Stalin’s crimes during the 1930s. I think Dennis Rodman has earned a lifetime achievement award in this category, as Bethany’s post makes clear. It is hard, certainly, to top his fawning tribute to the current and past dictators of North Korea. As the AP reported:

Ending his unexpected round of basketball diplomacy in North Korea on Friday, ex-N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman called leader Kim Jong-un an “awesome guy” and said his father and grandfather were “great leaders.”….

“He’s proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him,” Rodman said of Kim Jong-un. “Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”

Those words are accompanied by pictures of Rodman yukking it up with Kim Jong-un at a basketball game involving North Koreans and some Harlem Globetrotters that ended in an improbable 110-110 tie.

I am guessing Rodman missed this Human Rights Watch report, which notes:

Kim Jong-Un’s succession as North Korea’s supreme leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, has had no positive impact on the country’s dire human rights record. More than 200,000 North Koreans, including children, are imprisoned in camps where many perish from forced labor, inadequate food, and abuse by guards. Arbitrary arrest, lack of due process, and torture are pervasive problems. There is no independent media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Government policies have continually subjected North Koreans to food shortages and famine.

Admittedly, Rodman has no reputation to lose to here; this latest foray only reinforces the impression of an out-of-control wild man that basketball fans so vividly remember. But this trip was not just Rodman’s doing. It was underwritten by Vice Media, a documentary film production outfit that is under contract to HBO, a division of the giant Time Warner media empire.

One wonders what Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes thinks about the use of his shareholders’ money to fund a public-relations extravaganza on behalf of the worst regime on the planet? Did the filmmakers clear this little foray with Bewkes in advance, or was he as blindsided as the rest of the world?

Read Less

Why Kazakhstan? Symbolism Matters

The saddest thing about American diplomacy in the age of Obama is that the State Department does not know when the Islamic Republic is laughing at them. Take the previous round of talks: When the Iranian government suggested they would meet in Baghdad on May 24, 2012, the State Department jumped at the opportunity. After all, if the Iranians were willing to talk, who cares when and where the meeting takes place? Dialogue is the most important thing, the logic goes.

Yet, Iranian authorities had a reason for the date and place: May 24, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Liberation of Khorramshahr, once of the most decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq War. In the Iranian mind, Saddam Hussein had far greater American support in that war than reality would suggest (though any American support for Saddam while he occupied Iran was wrong). Therefore, by rebuffing the Americans, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his proxies could claim once again he had won a decisive victory against the Americans against the backdrop of Iraq. From Press TV:

Read More

The saddest thing about American diplomacy in the age of Obama is that the State Department does not know when the Islamic Republic is laughing at them. Take the previous round of talks: When the Iranian government suggested they would meet in Baghdad on May 24, 2012, the State Department jumped at the opportunity. After all, if the Iranians were willing to talk, who cares when and where the meeting takes place? Dialogue is the most important thing, the logic goes.

Yet, Iranian authorities had a reason for the date and place: May 24, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Liberation of Khorramshahr, once of the most decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq War. In the Iranian mind, Saddam Hussein had far greater American support in that war than reality would suggest (though any American support for Saddam while he occupied Iran was wrong). Therefore, by rebuffing the Americans, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his proxies could claim once again he had won a decisive victory against the Americans against the backdrop of Iraq. From Press TV:

Pointing to the liberation of Iran’s city of Khorramshahr from Iraqi occupation on 24 May, 1982, Esma’il Kowsari said, “With the sacrifice of the proud Iranian youths in those times, Khorramshahr brought about a wave of honor for the nation.”  “And now that negotiations with the P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States plus Germany) are being pursued; victory will certainly once again be ours,” the deputy head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, added.

As for the supreme leader, he addressed a military audience on the eve of Liberation Day:

“In ‘The Decade of Progress and Justice’ the pioneering Iranian nation will continue its accelerated movement towards more progress and administration of justice. And in spite of its propaganda, the camp of oppression, arrogance and bullying is in decline… During the Sacred Defense Era, the Armed Forces gained timeless experiences and it is necessary to make use of them.”

The talks were not about nuclear resolution, they were stage-managed American humiliation.

But what about Kazakhstan? Here, the reason was simple. From the Islamic Republic News Agency:

Kazakhstan which is the host of the next round of talks between Iran and the G5+1 is not enforcing US unilateral sanctions against Tehran, a senior Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday. Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Abbas Araqchi, made the remarks while commenting on the reason behind choosing Kazakhstan as the host of the upcoming talks between Iran and G5+1 which is to be held on February 26.

Symbolism matters. And, for all its self-congratulations regarding it cultural sensitivity, it seems that the State Department remains aloof and naïve. Sometimes, the best way to ensure successful diplomacy is a willingness to push back and, if necessary, walk away until the Iranians show conflict resolution rather than propaganda to be their chief goal.

Read Less

Losing Afghanistan

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces to leave Wardak Province following reports—rejected by U.S. forces—that they were involved in the disappearance of nine people. Karzai’s decision—and the apparent willingness of U.S. forces to go along with it—really do signal the beginning of the end. U.S. forces will withdraw not with a mission accomplished, but in defeat. Political and military claims to the contrary are nonsense, and show a profound ignorance of Afghanistan and Afghan history more than a decade into our latest involvement in that country. The defeat need not have been though; it was far more a political decision on the part of the White House than the result of any military weakness.  

As my AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the best analyst of Afghan politics there is in the United States right now, and someone not limited by security to ISAF headquarters or our many Forward Operating Base or otherwise sucked into the military-information bubble—notes Wardak is the gateway to Kabul, the path which Taliban fighters use to infiltrate Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks. The security situation in Wardak has been declining in the past year. The Taliban have prioritized moving into Wardak as foreign forces leave.

Read More

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces to leave Wardak Province following reports—rejected by U.S. forces—that they were involved in the disappearance of nine people. Karzai’s decision—and the apparent willingness of U.S. forces to go along with it—really do signal the beginning of the end. U.S. forces will withdraw not with a mission accomplished, but in defeat. Political and military claims to the contrary are nonsense, and show a profound ignorance of Afghanistan and Afghan history more than a decade into our latest involvement in that country. The defeat need not have been though; it was far more a political decision on the part of the White House than the result of any military weakness.  

As my AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the best analyst of Afghan politics there is in the United States right now, and someone not limited by security to ISAF headquarters or our many Forward Operating Base or otherwise sucked into the military-information bubble—notes Wardak is the gateway to Kabul, the path which Taliban fighters use to infiltrate Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks. The security situation in Wardak has been declining in the past year. The Taliban have prioritized moving into Wardak as foreign forces leave.

The reason why the United States or, more specifically, the Central Intelligence Agency was so interested in Hamid Karzai after 9/11 was that he was a man who had a foot in every camp, and a finger in every pie. When Secretary of State Warren Christopher, for example, wanted to reach out to the Taliban in 1995, the Taliban middleman to whom he turned was … Hamid Karzai. The Afghan president personifies the Afghan trait of never losing a war, only defecting to the winning side.

Karzai’s actions—both the ban on Special Forces in Wardak and the prohibition of NATO airstrikes in civilian areas—are meant to bolster the Taliban. Karzai sees the Taliban as winning, and has convinced himself that he can pivot to represent them and their Pakistani patrons rather than the Americans. In this he is wrong: Pakistan’s ISI trust Karzai about as much as Washington should have, and will not hesitate to dispose of him once the Americans are gone.

So what is the American strategy? Talks. There has been no breakthrough in Qatar, however. This should not surprise. We are talking to the same exact Taliban officials who lied their way to 9/11, yet the State Department has never bothered to assess what went wrong with talks in the 1990s. The Taliban are most interested in springing Taliban prisoners, not political compromise. That Taliban members released from detention in Pakistan have rejoined the insurgency should not surprise, nor should the fact that Pakistani authorities didn’t coordinate their prisoner release with Kabul, let alone Washington.

In 2014, against the backdrop of planned Afghan elections, the United States will abandon Afghanistan. Rhetoric about continuing relations fall short given how such promises fell short with Iraq. Afghans are already preparing for the civil war which will follow. Some, like Karzai, will try to pivot and then grovel in the hope of maintaining their position. Others will flee, their money already safely stowed away in Dubai real estate or Swiss banks. Many tribal leaders and officials have sons in both camps, trying desperately to preserve their family’s security come what may. The notion that the Taliban are only interested in predominantly Pushtun areas is silly. Their occupation of Herat in 1995, Kabul in 1996, and Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997 and again in 1998 should put to rest the idea that their appetite is satiable.

The coming civil war will be bloody. There are more stake-holders than after the “Peshawar 7” ousted Najibullah in 1992. American officials can claim victory, but they are abandoning our Afghan allies and women in a way which will reverberate far beyond the borders of Afghanistan, and have yet to articulate a strategy to ensure that the vacuum that enabled an al-Qaeda presence doesn’t once again open, endangering U.S. national security.

The most dangerous lessons drawn from the Afghanistan war are those already grasped by our opponents and with which the United States will have to grapple for decades to come: First is the fact that it is easy to outlast America, and second is that embraced by Pakistan—distract America with a proxy, because diplomats will always treat that proxy as an independent actor. Under Obama, we have become like a cat, swatting a string and never bothering to look at who is dangling it.

Read Less

Detroit at Bay

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan announced today that he will be appointing an emergency manager to oversee Detroit, which is bankrupt in every way but officially. Its liabilities exceed $14 billion and it is short of cash just to meet current obligations. As Governor Snyder expressed it at a town hall meeting today, “The way I view it, today is a day to call all hands on deck.”

The urban disaster that is today’s Detroit is almost beyond imagination. Just compare it to Hiroshima. In 1945, the latter was flattened by an atomic bomb and Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population of over 1.8 million, the center of its largest and most powerful industry. Today, Hiroshima is a gleaming, modern city and Detroit has a population of 706,585 and ranks 18th, behind such cities as Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Long the arson capital of the United States, whole neighborhoods are now barren wastelands.

Read More

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan announced today that he will be appointing an emergency manager to oversee Detroit, which is bankrupt in every way but officially. Its liabilities exceed $14 billion and it is short of cash just to meet current obligations. As Governor Snyder expressed it at a town hall meeting today, “The way I view it, today is a day to call all hands on deck.”

The urban disaster that is today’s Detroit is almost beyond imagination. Just compare it to Hiroshima. In 1945, the latter was flattened by an atomic bomb and Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population of over 1.8 million, the center of its largest and most powerful industry. Today, Hiroshima is a gleaming, modern city and Detroit has a population of 706,585 and ranks 18th, behind such cities as Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Long the arson capital of the United States, whole neighborhoods are now barren wastelands.

To be sure, the suburbanization of America beginning after World War II has not been kind to the nation’s older cities. Indeed, every city in the country that had a major league baseball team in 1950, which is to say the largest cities in the northeast quadrant of the country, has seen a marked decline in population, with the exception of New York (always the exception). But many of those cities are now bouncing back. Not Detroit. Led by a kleptocracy in league with municipal unions, Detroit continues to hemorrhage population, wealth, and quality of life. It didn’t take an atomic bomb to destroy Detroit. Mayors such as Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick were quite enough.

As the New York Times reports:

The state-appointed manager, who could be selected later this month, would ultimately wield powers aimed at swiftly turning around the municipal government’s dire circumstances — powers to cut city spending, change contracts with labor unions, merge or eliminate city departments, urge the sale of city assets and even, if all else failed, to recommend bankruptcy proceedings.

Because Detroit is the creature of the sovereign state of Michigan, the governor has the power to impose such discipline, whether Detroit’s government likes it or not (needless to say it doesn’t). What a pity no one has the power to impose it on Washington D.C.

Read Less

What the French and Saudis Understand but Obama Doesn’t

The Almaty talks between Iran and the G5+1 have come and gone. And, despite statements to the contrary by American officials, there is no reason for optimism.

(In one chapter in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes which Encounter will publish next year, I compare all the State Department statements evaluating its high stakes diplomacy with Iran, North Korea, and the PLO with declassified contemporaneous accounts and find that in most cases, the State Department spokesman simply lied in order to suggest momentum for future talks).

The United States offered concessions, which Iranian negotiators pocketed before walking away. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s swatting down of Vice President Biden’s offer of negotiations made brief headlines, neither the New York Times nor Washington Post had the institutional memory to recall that, in the wake of President Obama’s outstretched hand, Khamenei had used a speech on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure to say much the same thing and to issue the demand that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf as a precondition to talks.

Read More

The Almaty talks between Iran and the G5+1 have come and gone. And, despite statements to the contrary by American officials, there is no reason for optimism.

(In one chapter in my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes which Encounter will publish next year, I compare all the State Department statements evaluating its high stakes diplomacy with Iran, North Korea, and the PLO with declassified contemporaneous accounts and find that in most cases, the State Department spokesman simply lied in order to suggest momentum for future talks).

The United States offered concessions, which Iranian negotiators pocketed before walking away. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s swatting down of Vice President Biden’s offer of negotiations made brief headlines, neither the New York Times nor Washington Post had the institutional memory to recall that, in the wake of President Obama’s outstretched hand, Khamenei had used a speech on the 30th anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure to say much the same thing and to issue the demand that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf as a precondition to talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry considers himself an internationalist, and President Obama believes strongly in listening to the will of America’s international partners. Perhaps, then, they might want to consider Saudi and French assessments of the talks in Kazakhstan.

Take this February 27 editorial from Al-Madinah, a paper published out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a translation from the Arabic provided by the Open Source Center:

What Iran wants to get from these talks is to waste more time that would allow it to complete its nuclear program, i.e. reaching the capability to produce nuclear bombs. This does not provide much optimism that the new talks would achieve any breakthroughs toward reaching an agreement between the two parties in which Iran would stop proceeding with uranium enrichment beyond 20%.  In view of this reality, the superpowers should by now realize very well that Iran has no intention whatsoever to change its position, especially since the new talks take place a few months before the Iranian presidential elections, making it difficult to imagine that Tehran would offer any concessions.

Or this recent column from Paris’ Le Figaro:

…While maintaining a steadfast posture on the ground, Tehran has not softened its position on the diplomatic front either.  Just two days before the meeting in Kazakhstan, the Iranian authorities warned that they did not intend to make any concessions on their positions.  They set the same two preconditions for starting discussions on their nuclear program — the immediate lifting of the sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council and recognition of their “nuclear rights.”  The authorities are resolved to approach the Almaty talks from a “position of strength.”  In Kazakhstan, the major powers will have to take care “not to repeat past errors,” Said Jalili said, criticizing the sanctions introduced by the international community against his country. At the beginning of the month, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also rejected the proposal made by American Vice President Joe Biden of engaging in bilateral negotiations….

There is a pattern to American diplomacy in which keeping adversaries at the table trumps the cost of doing so. In this case, Obama and Kerry are so determined to pursue a diplomatic path with Iran that they have failed to realize that previous incentives have retrenched Iranian behavior rather than resolved it. Iran can, at any time, resolve the crisis by fulfilling its commitments. The issue really is that simple. How ironic it is that France and Saudi Arabia recognize this, but Obama refuses to recognize any observations or arguments that contradict an ill-thought-out strategy. Not only is he empowering Iran, but he is antagonizing American allies. There was certainly tension between Europe and America’s Arab allies during the Bush years, but whatever the arguments at the time, they recognized that when push came to shove, the United States had their back. No longer.

Read Less

Launching the Congressional Hellenic Caucus

According to JTA, the Israeli Embassy in Washington hosted the new Congressional Hellenic Caucus:

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Israeli ambassador in Washington hosted the launching of a new congressional grouping dedicated to improving Israeli-Greek-Cypriot ties. Attending the launch Wednesday were the co-chairmen of the newly established Hellenic-Israel Caucus, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), as well as lawmakers including Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Greek-Cypriot-Israeli ties have become closer in recent years as tensions between all three nations and Turkey have intensified for varying reasons. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in his remarks at the dinner at his residence touted shared economic and strategic interests among Greece, Cyprus and Israel. 

The reception comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism—and, by extension, the existence of the State of Israel—is a “crime against humanity.” In response to that statement, Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States (and a former Turkish ambassador to Israel) said… Nothing. Requests by journalists for his reaction were ignored.

Read More

According to JTA, the Israeli Embassy in Washington hosted the new Congressional Hellenic Caucus:

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Israeli ambassador in Washington hosted the launching of a new congressional grouping dedicated to improving Israeli-Greek-Cypriot ties. Attending the launch Wednesday were the co-chairmen of the newly established Hellenic-Israel Caucus, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), as well as lawmakers including Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Greek-Cypriot-Israeli ties have become closer in recent years as tensions between all three nations and Turkey have intensified for varying reasons. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in his remarks at the dinner at his residence touted shared economic and strategic interests among Greece, Cyprus and Israel. 

The reception comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism—and, by extension, the existence of the State of Israel—is a “crime against humanity.” In response to that statement, Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States (and a former Turkish ambassador to Israel) said… Nothing. Requests by journalists for his reaction were ignored.

As to the Congressional Turkey Caucus, chaired by Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Steven Cohen (D-TN), and Gerry Connolly (D-VA)? It has yet to issue any statement, although several members did enjoy a reception at the Turkish ambassador’s house. But there has apparently been no statement from the caucus about the recent actions of the Turkish government or the statements of its prime minister.

Congratulations to Representative Bilirakis and Deutch for starting this caucus. Realism requires the United States regularly assess its interests in the region and recognize that U.S. policy is ready for a recalibration. Neither caucus should be about a popularity contest between Greece and Cyprus on one hand, and Turkey on the other, but rather about how to strengthen U.S. national security. Let us hope, therefore, that the Hellenic Caucus will speak up should it ever need to react to provocations from Athens, in a way that the Turkey Caucus has never been willing to do.

Read Less

Humanitarian Aid to Syrian Rebels Won’t Turn the Tide

Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. was sending $60 million in nonlethal assistance to the Syrian rebels was not exactly welcomed by the recipients of that largesse. Even the moderate opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib complained of “an international decision to prevent arming Syrian rebels with quality arms.”

Meanwhile one of the top rebel commanders in Aleppo told NPR: “We have no need for medical supplies or for food stuffs. We need more than this. If they are not going to offer us weaponry, then the least they can do, which we asked for before, is to give us equipment to remove the rubble.”

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. was sending $60 million in nonlethal assistance to the Syrian rebels was not exactly welcomed by the recipients of that largesse. Even the moderate opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib complained of “an international decision to prevent arming Syrian rebels with quality arms.”

Meanwhile one of the top rebel commanders in Aleppo told NPR: “We have no need for medical supplies or for food stuffs. We need more than this. If they are not going to offer us weaponry, then the least they can do, which we asked for before, is to give us equipment to remove the rubble.”

The administration should hardly be surprised that rebels who have been fighting for their lives for the past two-plus years don’t appreciate half steps. At most the administration move suggests that it is beginning to rethink its wrongheaded refusal to provide any help at all to the rebels, for fear that arms might fall into the wrong hands or that providing arms could simply expand the conflict. In reality the American refusal to get more directly involved has provided an opening for jihadists and has allowed the conflict to rage out of control–precisely what the administration wanted to avoid in the first place.

Providing a small amount of nonlethal assistance isn’t going to change the situation on the ground, but a major infusion of Western arms would do that. Even more significant would be a decision to send some Western Special Operations forces to work with the rebels, train them, and possibly even to call in airstrikes to aid their advance as was done in Libya in 2011 and in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. The imposition of a no-fly zone would be another important step toward ending the Bashar Assad regime and stopping the civil war.

It would have been much better if the Obama administration had seen the wisdom of such a strong policy from the start. By delaying for more than two years–quite possibly the most serious foreign policy mistake it has made–the administration is making it difficult to ever put Syria back together again. That country could well be consigned to a decade of Lebanon-style civil war. But even at this late date, some American action is better than none at all.

Read Less

The Republican Path Ahead

I have a column in TIME magazine in which I describe the three different camps Republicans have broken into in the aftermath of the 2012 election, some policy proposals the GOP might consider, and urge Republicans to draw on a conservative tradition that:

seeks to accommodate timeless principles to shifting circumstances, that rejects unyielding orthodoxy and believes prudence, not purity, is the cardinal political virtue. And while it believes in limited government, it is not carelessly antigovernment. The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall elegantly described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way. A chief condition to that end is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under the conditions of time and place.”

I’d add to this several other suggestions.

Read More

I have a column in TIME magazine in which I describe the three different camps Republicans have broken into in the aftermath of the 2012 election, some policy proposals the GOP might consider, and urge Republicans to draw on a conservative tradition that:

seeks to accommodate timeless principles to shifting circumstances, that rejects unyielding orthodoxy and believes prudence, not purity, is the cardinal political virtue. And while it believes in limited government, it is not carelessly antigovernment. The 19th century economist Alfred Marshall elegantly described government as “the most precious of human institutions, and no care can be too great to be spent on enabling it to do its work in the best way. A chief condition to that end is that it should not be set to work for which it is not specifically qualified, under the conditions of time and place.”

I’d add to this several other suggestions.

First, Republicans should make front-and-center their plans to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century. Our health-care and entitlement system, tax code, schools, immigration policies and regulatory regime are outdated, breaking down, and creating substantial wreckage. If I had to boil it down to a single sentence, I’d urge the GOP to develop its reputation as the party of reform and modernization.

Second, Republican leaders at every level need to conduct themselves in a manner that not just reassures voters but appeals to them. As former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has put it, “as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” This is not just a matter of style; it’s a disposition that reflects an approach to the world. And it matters.

Third, Republicans must resist the temptation of defeatism, enervation, and turning against the country. It is entirely within the power of the GOP to both remain principled and appeal to a majority of Americans. An intellectually self-confident party would, in fact, be energized by a challenge of this scale.

But it seems to me that the main reason for Republicans to be confident, and the main reason they should act quickly to revive their party, is that reactionary liberalism is exhausted. It has nothing to offer when it comes to the greatest domestic threats facing America: our massive fiscal imbalance, the impending collapse of our entitlement programs, our insanely complicated and inefficient tax code, and anemic economic growth. By the end of President Obama’s second term, the Affordable Care Act will be viewed as a monumental failure. Liberals will have had nothing useful to say about combating poverty, improving education, energy independence or stabilizing a disordered and dangerous world. The propositions of progressivism will have been tried and found wanting in almost every respect. The public will again turn to the Republican Party.

For the GOP to fully reposition itself will require the right presidential nominee to emerge. But the groundwork needs to begin–has begun–with governors, members of Congress, public intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs.

In 1980, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan admitted, “Of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” As it was, so shall it be again.

Read Less

ObamaCare and the Sequester Ideologues

The administration’s main talking point in the debate about the sequester has been that a “balanced” deal is being stymied by a band of ruthless conservative ideologues in the House of Representatives. This narrative, which has been endlessly echoed in the mainstream media, is based on the idea that conservative opposition to the idea of raising taxes has so distorted the Republican Party that it is unable to do the right thing, strike a deal with a president, and avert the looming draconian budget cuts. There is some truth in the assertion that the current Republican caucus is far more influenced by a desire to adhere to conservative principle than was the case with their predecessors. The problem with that argument is that it has been just as apparent that, far from advocating true balance, the Democrats are just as committed to their own ideological point of view about the budget as the GOP. Since the government has a spending problem rather than one of taxing too little, the White House’s hard line about there being no deal without more revenue has always been a reflection of their own beliefs about the need to expand government rather than shrink it. However, the administration’s attempt this week to scare the country silly about the sequester has revealed even more about the way ideology has influenced their stand.

After a week of doom and gloom predictions from Cabinet secretaries about the world coming to an end if the government is forced to live without spending more than it was shelling out when Barack Obama became president, it looks as if the public isn’t buying the Democrats’ Chicken Little routine. The impact of these cuts will be felt across the board in indiscriminate and often stupid ways, especially those affecting national defense, but it looks as if everyone understands that civilization is not about to come to a standstill because of the sequester. Yet it is highly instructive that amid all the shrieks of grief and horror about the anticipated cuts that may well be implemented by the administration to maximize the pain felt by the public, there is one piece of discretionary spending not already protected in the sequester legislation (which exempts things like military pay and entitlement spending) that will not be halted by the shortfall: the implementation of ObamaCare. As Politico reports today, there are no plans to slow or even postpone the costly expansion of government power no matter how much the administration tries to play the “Washington Monument” game, in which cuts are made so as to emphasize the costs of the measure:

The Obama administration has issued ample warnings how the sequester can have dire effects on health programs. Official talk about fewer vaccines, cuts in medical research grants, less money to treat HIV, fund cancer screenings or respond to outbreaks. But they haven’t been issuing a lot of warnings about how it’s slowing down the rollout of Obamacare.

Because sequester or no sequester, the administration is trying to keep work on the core elements full steam ahead. The Department of Health and Human Services wouldn’t respond to questions about the automatic budget cuts and health law implementation. But both advocates and critics of the law expect HHS to use all the flexibility it can muster to keep it moving — although it could get harder if the sequestration is prolonged.

Read More

The administration’s main talking point in the debate about the sequester has been that a “balanced” deal is being stymied by a band of ruthless conservative ideologues in the House of Representatives. This narrative, which has been endlessly echoed in the mainstream media, is based on the idea that conservative opposition to the idea of raising taxes has so distorted the Republican Party that it is unable to do the right thing, strike a deal with a president, and avert the looming draconian budget cuts. There is some truth in the assertion that the current Republican caucus is far more influenced by a desire to adhere to conservative principle than was the case with their predecessors. The problem with that argument is that it has been just as apparent that, far from advocating true balance, the Democrats are just as committed to their own ideological point of view about the budget as the GOP. Since the government has a spending problem rather than one of taxing too little, the White House’s hard line about there being no deal without more revenue has always been a reflection of their own beliefs about the need to expand government rather than shrink it. However, the administration’s attempt this week to scare the country silly about the sequester has revealed even more about the way ideology has influenced their stand.

After a week of doom and gloom predictions from Cabinet secretaries about the world coming to an end if the government is forced to live without spending more than it was shelling out when Barack Obama became president, it looks as if the public isn’t buying the Democrats’ Chicken Little routine. The impact of these cuts will be felt across the board in indiscriminate and often stupid ways, especially those affecting national defense, but it looks as if everyone understands that civilization is not about to come to a standstill because of the sequester. Yet it is highly instructive that amid all the shrieks of grief and horror about the anticipated cuts that may well be implemented by the administration to maximize the pain felt by the public, there is one piece of discretionary spending not already protected in the sequester legislation (which exempts things like military pay and entitlement spending) that will not be halted by the shortfall: the implementation of ObamaCare. As Politico reports today, there are no plans to slow or even postpone the costly expansion of government power no matter how much the administration tries to play the “Washington Monument” game, in which cuts are made so as to emphasize the costs of the measure:

The Obama administration has issued ample warnings how the sequester can have dire effects on health programs. Official talk about fewer vaccines, cuts in medical research grants, less money to treat HIV, fund cancer screenings or respond to outbreaks. But they haven’t been issuing a lot of warnings about how it’s slowing down the rollout of Obamacare.

Because sequester or no sequester, the administration is trying to keep work on the core elements full steam ahead. The Department of Health and Human Services wouldn’t respond to questions about the automatic budget cuts and health law implementation. But both advocates and critics of the law expect HHS to use all the flexibility it can muster to keep it moving — although it could get harder if the sequestration is prolonged.

The point to be gleaned from this is not just that the administration thinks ObamaCare is so sacred that its funding must be protected even as it claims vital services must be sacrificed because of the sequester (which the White House thought up in the first place). It is that its commitment to its big government agenda is the guiding principle that animates everything it does. That is the sort of thing that leads Republicans to believe that any compromise on their part that provides more revenue to government will go toward furthering the president’s laundry list of new spending projects as well as his signature health care legislation that will deepen our budget woes rather than solve them.

The decision to prioritize the ObamaCare rollout gives the lie to the administration’s phony crisis talk this week. But it also illustrates just how deep the ideological commitment to spending and taxing is inside the White House. There is nothing balanced about an approach to the budget crisis that places the new health care plan on a pedestal that vital services such as air traffic control, border security and education (all of which we have been told will be drastically affected by the sequester) do not merit in the view of the administration.

Having gotten its way on raising taxes in January in the fiscal cliff negotiations, a balanced approach might have impelled the administration to work with Republicans and put talk of more tax increases on the shelf. Instead, imbued with the fervor of true believers, the president and his minions have steered the country into the ditch in the name of their faith in expanding government. They may have fooled their cheerleaders in the press into buying their party line about their opponents being extremists, but everything they have done in the past months has only reinforced the impression that they aren’t serious about cutting spending or balancing the budget.

Read Less

Rodman Inadvertantly Shines Light on North Korean Human Rights

For the first time in at least a decade, the world is talking about former basketball star Dennis Rodman. The former Chicago Bull, known for his “quirky” behavior while winning championships with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, made news this week with a short trip to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

The news out of North Korea, both this month and in general, often revolves around its nuclear program and bellicose threats of violence against its neighbors and the United States. Rodman’s visit has stirred outrage thanks to his outspoken support of the country and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Upon leaving the country, Rodman promised that Kim would have a “friend for life” and declared that Kim Jong-un was an “awesome guy” and that his father and grandfather, other homicidal leaders of the country, were “great leaders.”

Read More

For the first time in at least a decade, the world is talking about former basketball star Dennis Rodman. The former Chicago Bull, known for his “quirky” behavior while winning championships with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, made news this week with a short trip to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

The news out of North Korea, both this month and in general, often revolves around its nuclear program and bellicose threats of violence against its neighbors and the United States. Rodman’s visit has stirred outrage thanks to his outspoken support of the country and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Upon leaving the country, Rodman promised that Kim would have a “friend for life” and declared that Kim Jong-un was an “awesome guy” and that his father and grandfather, other homicidal leaders of the country, were “great leaders.”

What could have prompted this effusiveness from Rodman? Despite the country’s total lack of infrastructure, freedom and food supply, enormous shows and basketball matches were put together for Rodman, the Harlem Globetrotters and their entourage. It’s not likely Rodman was aware of the dire situation for most North Koreans given that as he boarded his flight he tweeted about looking forward to meeting South Korean pop star Psy. Even as he was about to enter the country, Rodman couldn’t differentiate between the poverty-striken North and the affluent and capitalist South.

Many stories in the news media of the visit included reports of the human rights situation in the country. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer declared Rodman achieved a “diplomatic triumph,” however a report from his own network told a different story:

It was unclear whether Rodman, who is accompanied by Globetrotters Bull Bullard, Buckets Blakes and Moose Weekes, will be taken to North Korea’s countryside, where aid groups say malnutrition is rampant.

According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of people remain enslaved in prison camps, which are “notorious for horrific living conditions and abuse.”

It appears the North Koreans provided the group with “a feast” amidst a reported famine. Gawker, a site not exactly known for its moral compass, put together a fantastic “slideshow” of Rodman’s visit, with excited tweets from group members about their hosts interspersed with pictures of starving North Korean babies and children. TIME Magazine had an equally forceful post shedding light on the reality for the average North Koreans Rodman wasn’t allowed to meet. The human rights group Freedom House told BuzzFeed:

“History is cluttered with the examples of academics, philosophers, renowned writers, and eminent advocates of humane ideals who have aligned themselves with or apologized for the world’s most despicable tyrants,” said Arch Puddington, vice president of research. “Given this context, Dennis Rodman’s choice to pal around with a leader who oversees one massive, countrywide concentration camp is very much in the minor leagues of dictator worship.”

“At minimum, however, Rodman should ponder the fact that he is the product of a free society which allowed him to develop his athletic skills, earn millions of dollars, travel the world, and articulate his often very quirky opinions,” Puddington said. “Those freedoms, and especially the last one, are totally absent under the regime of the man he calls his ‘friend for life.’”

Thanks to Rodman’s visit, the world might actually be paying attention to human rights abuses in the country for the first time in a long time.

Read Less

Obama’s Abusive Staff

There’s been a lot of attention to the battle between the White House and Bob Woodward, but this article by National Journal’s Ron Fournier, on the toxic relationship he has with some high-ranking White House sources, is also worth reading.

Last week Fournier sent out a tweet that angered the White House. Here’s what happened next:

Read More

There’s been a lot of attention to the battle between the White House and Bob Woodward, but this article by National Journal’s Ron Fournier, on the toxic relationship he has with some high-ranking White House sources, is also worth reading.

Last week Fournier sent out a tweet that angered the White House. Here’s what happened next:

The official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. “What’s next, a Nazi analogy?” the official wrote, chastising me for spreading “bull**** like that” I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.

As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Politico characterized as a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim,” The Washington Post reporter was told.

Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. “Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote.

I wrote back:

“I asked you to stop e-mailing me. All future e-mails from you will be on the record — publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you. My cell-phone number is … . If you should decide you have anything constructive to share, you can try to reach me by phone. All of our conversations will also be on the record, publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you.”

I haven’t heard back from the official.

This seems to be, in fact, a fairly standard operating procedure in Mr. Hope and Change’s White House. 

Having worked in the White House for seven years, I recognize things can get heated between the press and the president and his staff. But this goes far beyond anything I ever witnessed and certainly anything I ever personally experienced. (I tended to have civil and cordial relations with members of the press during my tenure in the White House.)

Mr. Fournier’s experience is, I think, a good barometer of the cast of mind of the Obamacons. They are a rather thuggish, thin-skinned group who tend to view criticisms as a declaration of war. Many of them seem to view their opponents as enemies. As Fournier’s account shows, they routinely upbraid and insult reporters. Which is why I found his conclusion to be a bit puzzling. “This can’t be what Obama wants,” Fournier writes. “He must not know how thin-skinned and close-minded his staff can be to criticism.”

I actually believe this conduct can be what Mr. Obama wants. He is himself quite thin-skinned and closed-minded, so it makes perfect sense for his staff to be as well. And while the press coverage they get often ranges from favorable to fawning, it is never good enough for them. The job of intimidation is a full-time one, after all, and it clearly works with some journalists.

One of the extraordinary talents the president has is projecting an image of decency and civility while giving home to staffers who are known for being abusive and threatening.

It’s perfectly appropriate to judge a president by his White House staff. And Ron Fournier has done us the favor of lifting the curtain, just a bit, on this one.

It isn’t a pretty sight.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.