Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 19, 2013

The MSM Is Disappointed in Itself

In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

Read More

In May 2012, the Washington Post published the findings of its deep dive into Mitt Romney’s past. The paper had been working on a big investigative journalism piece that would finally reveal what no one else could uncover about Romney. Utilizing the resources that only major dailies can marshal, and proudly speaking truth to power and defending the people’s right to know, the Post threw the 2012 election into pure chaos, upending everything voters thought they knew about the candidates.

Mitt Romney, as a youngster, once cut someone else’s hair.

It didn’t sound like such a bombshell at first blush, but then the Post–in a bid to make this as embarrassing as possible for the family of the victim–openly speculated about his sexuality. The family of the victim (who has since passed away), thoroughly humiliated by the Post’s behavior, denied the Post’s story and asked the newspaper to please stop spreading stories about their family “to further a political agenda.” Indeed, it was one of the low moments of the 2012 cycle. So why do I bring this up now? Because that same Washington Post reports today on a new Pew study showing that the media is increasingly echoing, instead of investigating, politicians. The Post, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy about this:

“Campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans,” according to the report. “Only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans.” …

When news organizations are pushed out of the information pipeline, voters alone are left to sort through messages that are tested in focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. And on the heels of a presidential campaign in which one candidate’s pollster said he refused to let the campaign be dictated by fact-checkers, such a strategy is growing easier to execute.

The facts are these: Campaigns and candidates have more power than ever before to frame both their positive narrative and their opponents’ negative one.  And, if the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending much more time on the negative side of the ledger — at least in 2012.

Think of those numbers the next time you run down the role of the political media.

Yes, you think about that the next time you feel like complaining about front-page stories in papers like the Post. In fact, you’ll probably have that opportunity again soon, because like clockwork the Post identifies the Republican it deems most dangerous to the liberal agenda and fires off a gobsmackingly absurd–and often factually incorrect–story about them. The Post usually follows that story with an article about its previous story, in which it drums up a fake controversy and then drums up fake outrage about it.

The truth is, if the Post is unhappy about the press acting “as megaphones, rather than investigators,” it only has itself to blame. Before Romney was the target, Democrats felt threatened by Texas Governor Rick Perry. So the Post published a story meant to be damning toward Perry’s character, in which it breathlessly reported the existence of a hunting property leased by Perry’s family that once had a rock with a racial epithet painted on it but which no one can find today. Before the Post went after Perry, the paper decided to weigh in on the 2009 Virginia governor’s race by attacking Bob McDonnell’s 20-year-old college thesis and publishing about a story a day on it for the first week or so. McDonnell won the election easily, needless to say. And the Post tried to dig up dirt on Marco Rubio, found nothing, and pretended it found something anyway. The Post story was quickly debunked.

None of this is to suggest that modern newspapers publish only nonsense. They do plenty of good work. And the fading of investigative journalism–a function of tightening budgets and lack of resources, mainly–is to be mourned. But too often investigative journalism as currently practiced discredits just this kind of reporting–especially when election season rolls around.

Read Less

Chavez’s Absence Emboldens Opposition

With a little under a month to go before Venezuela’s presidential election on April 14, the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, is starting to exhibit the boldness that many wished he’d displayed when he challenged the now deceased Hugo Chavez last October.

Addressing a college rally earlier today, Capriles declared that in the event of his victory, the long-standing Chavista commitment to provide subsidized oil to Cuba would end. “Not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros,” he told the crowd.

It’s hard to overstate the consequences of such a move. Assisting the Cuban Communists to maintain their grip on power was the most cherished foreign policy imperative of the Chavez years; abruptly removing the Cuban oil crutch would deal a death blow to one of the foundations of chavismo. For the Cubans, meanwhile, the prospect of a future without subsidized Venezuelan oil conjures up memories of the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Read More

With a little under a month to go before Venezuela’s presidential election on April 14, the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, is starting to exhibit the boldness that many wished he’d displayed when he challenged the now deceased Hugo Chavez last October.

Addressing a college rally earlier today, Capriles declared that in the event of his victory, the long-standing Chavista commitment to provide subsidized oil to Cuba would end. “Not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros,” he told the crowd.

It’s hard to overstate the consequences of such a move. Assisting the Cuban Communists to maintain their grip on power was the most cherished foreign policy imperative of the Chavez years; abruptly removing the Cuban oil crutch would deal a death blow to one of the foundations of chavismo. For the Cubans, meanwhile, the prospect of a future without subsidized Venezuelan oil conjures up memories of the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

From 1991 onwards, Cuba, unable to afford Russian oil at market prices, drastically reduced its oil imports by around 10 million barrels per year. When Chavez came to power in 1999, he staved off Cuba’s growing immiseration by providing the island with preferentially-priced oil that typically saved Fidel Castro between $2 and $4 billion annually. While it’s true that Castro learned from the Soviet experience by not becoming exclusively dependent on Chavez–the value of Cuba’s trade with Venezuela is perhaps half of what it was with the Soviet Union–any regime change in Caracas would certainly accelerate a similar process in Havana.

During his election campaign last year, Capriles complained that the relationship with Cuba was hopelessly one-sided. At one point, he calculated that the oil subsidies were five times more expensive than Cuba’s reciprocal provision of doctors and other healthcare professionals to Venezuela. However, Capriles stopped short of bluntly announcing–as he did today–that Chavez’s ideologically-loaded largesse toward Cuba would continue no more.

In other recent duels with the regime, Capriles has shown a previously unglimpsed mettle. In 2012, Chavez’s supporters seized upon both Capriles’ unmarried status and his Jewish origins to denounce him, variously, as a Zionist and a homosexual. Confronted with the latter assault, Capriles preferred to leave such blockheaded homophobia unchallenged, drawing attention instead to the string of glamorous women he’d dated in the past. But when, last week, Chavez’s appointed successor Nicolas Maduro tried the same tack, Capriles responded by denouncing “the homophobic declarations made by Nicolas,” which smacked, he added, of “fascism.”

Indeed, the tone with which Capriles addresses Maduro is noticeably different from that he adopted with Chavez. For example, Capriles would never have called Chavez “chico”–”boy”–as he did when he reminded Maduro, the current acting president, that the Venezuelan people hadn’t voted for him. Equally, the Capriles of last year was distinctly reticent about drawing attention to the role of the armed forces in backing the Chavistas. This year, he took to Twitter to label Venezuelan Defense Minister Admiral Diego Molero, who violated the country’s ban on military involvement in politics in pledging support for Maduro, as a “disgrace to the armed forces.”   

In adopting this confrontational strategy, Capriles is betting that it’s easier to beat a phantom Chavez than a live one. The longer Maduro presents himself as the embodiment of Chavez’s legacy, the easier it is for Capriles to lampoon him as a mediocre impostor who anxiously hangs on every word uttered by his real political master, Raul Castro. And Maduro does, to be sure, seem very nervous: his latest bout of conspiracy theorizing involves the claim that two former Bush Administration officials, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, were engaged in a “far right” plot to assassinate none other than Capriles himself (thus inviting us to conclude that this particular ruse would end with an American invasion of Venezuela.) Without the bombastic, earthy Chavez to declaim such nonsense, Maduro looks forlorn, more than anything else.

Capriles isn’t buying the assassination scare, tweeting that should anything happen to him, the responsibility would lie with Maduro. The State Department–which issued a typically disinterested rebuttal to Maduro’s accusations against Noriega and Reich–should carefully note that statement.

Read Less

Kerry’s Incoherence on Syria

Perhaps U.S. policy toward Syria could be more incoherent and ineffectual, but it’s hard to see how. Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry made what it is in essence the pro-intervention case. He said:

The longer the bloodshed goes on, the greater the prospect that the institutions of the state of Syria implode.  And therefore the greater the danger is to the region and the world that chemical weapons fall into the hands of really bad actors. We do not want that to happen…. 

Right now, President Assad is receiving help from the Iranians, he is receiving help from al-Qaeda-related – some elements, he’s receiving help from Hizbollah, and obviously some help is coming in through the Russians. If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem, and the world has a problem.

That’s precisely what those of us who have been in favor of arming the moderate factions of the Syrian rebels—and perhaps supporting them with Western airpower—have been arguing for the past two years. Yet what conclusion does Kerry draw from his premise?

Read More

Perhaps U.S. policy toward Syria could be more incoherent and ineffectual, but it’s hard to see how. Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry made what it is in essence the pro-intervention case. He said:

The longer the bloodshed goes on, the greater the prospect that the institutions of the state of Syria implode.  And therefore the greater the danger is to the region and the world that chemical weapons fall into the hands of really bad actors. We do not want that to happen…. 

Right now, President Assad is receiving help from the Iranians, he is receiving help from al-Qaeda-related – some elements, he’s receiving help from Hizbollah, and obviously some help is coming in through the Russians. If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem, and the world has a problem.

That’s precisely what those of us who have been in favor of arming the moderate factions of the Syrian rebels—and perhaps supporting them with Western airpower—have been arguing for the past two years. Yet what conclusion does Kerry draw from his premise?

This the punchline: “President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that made a decision to provide arms, whether it is France or Britain or others.”

Huh? 

The administration position seems to be that we need to alter Assad’s calculations by arming the opposition—but we won’t provide the arms ourselves. Instead we will applaud our allies for arming the rebels. 

This is almost a caricature of “lead from behind” foreign policy. What is the point of letting our allies do the heavy lifting? It’s not even the case that they will risk their soldiers’ lives and we won’t—funneling arms doesn’t require any foreign military personnel to be on Syrian soil. Nor are we saving money since the funds we are currently providing for nonlethal assistance could just as easily be redirected to pay for what the rebels most desperately need–weapons.

I just can’t understand the administration thinking at all, unless the current policy is simply a split-the-difference approach between those in the administration who want to arm the rebels and those who don’t. If so, this demonstrates again the danger of policymaking by committee and highlights the continuing indecision on the president’s part which has allowed the Syrian crisis to get worse and worse.

Read Less

Obama Visit Signals Nadir of Israeli Left

Many on Israel’s right are viewing the arrival of President Obama in their country with suspicion. They look at his record of antagonism toward the Netanyahu government and his past attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and think no good can possibly come from an event that will give someone they view as inherently hostile to the Jewish state a bully pulpit from which to put forward his ideas. They may be right about Obama’s long-term intentions toward Israel. But for a better idea of who are the real losers as the president puts the country in the spotlight, it might be better to look at what pundits on the left are saying about it. As unhappy as some right-wingers might be about the arrival of what has undoubtedly been the least sympathetic toward Israel of any president in the last generation, it is the left that is really unhappy.

Look at just about any one of the many opinion columnists writing in the left-wing Haaretz or read the lament of veteran journalist and author Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect and you quickly realize that the left understands that the presidential agenda signals the nadir of their influence in Israeli politics and policymaking. A couple of years ago they would have cheered an Obama visit, certain that the president would use the occasion to bash the Netanyahu government and strong-arm it into far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians. Now they read of his decision to put the peace process on the back burner and concentrate instead on making sure the two countries are on the same page on Iran, and tell him to go home. The uncontroversial nature of the Obama visit and the lack of expectations that it will do a thing to advance the moribund peace process means the decades-old hope of the Israeli left (cheered on by Jewish liberals in the United States like the J Street lobby) that America will “save Israel from itself” is officially dead.

Read More

Many on Israel’s right are viewing the arrival of President Obama in their country with suspicion. They look at his record of antagonism toward the Netanyahu government and his past attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and think no good can possibly come from an event that will give someone they view as inherently hostile to the Jewish state a bully pulpit from which to put forward his ideas. They may be right about Obama’s long-term intentions toward Israel. But for a better idea of who are the real losers as the president puts the country in the spotlight, it might be better to look at what pundits on the left are saying about it. As unhappy as some right-wingers might be about the arrival of what has undoubtedly been the least sympathetic toward Israel of any president in the last generation, it is the left that is really unhappy.

Look at just about any one of the many opinion columnists writing in the left-wing Haaretz or read the lament of veteran journalist and author Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect and you quickly realize that the left understands that the presidential agenda signals the nadir of their influence in Israeli politics and policymaking. A couple of years ago they would have cheered an Obama visit, certain that the president would use the occasion to bash the Netanyahu government and strong-arm it into far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians. Now they read of his decision to put the peace process on the back burner and concentrate instead on making sure the two countries are on the same page on Iran, and tell him to go home. The uncontroversial nature of the Obama visit and the lack of expectations that it will do a thing to advance the moribund peace process means the decades-old hope of the Israeli left (cheered on by Jewish liberals in the United States like the J Street lobby) that America will “save Israel from itself” is officially dead.

Obama will undoubtedly pay lip service to the two-state solution, say he’s against settlements and call for a return to the peace table. Some of that will grate on Israeli ears, since the vast majority of the country understands the Palestinians (either the “moderate” Palestinian Authority or the “extremists” of Hamas) have shown they have no interest in peace and won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But they will also enjoy the symbolism of the reaffirmation of the alliance that the visit will accomplish. And they will also pick up on the fact that whatever the president might say about peace, he isn’t there to pressure Netanyahu on the subject. Right-wingers will lament the government’s decision to go along with Obama on the question of giving more time to diplomacy to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. That may, as Jeffrey Goldberg rightly points out in Bloomberg News, place Israel’s fate in his hands rather than those of its government. But even there Obama will be going out of his way to reassure Israelis that he means what he says about stopping Iran even if it’s not clear the Iranians believe him. 

Yet the main takeaway from this visit may well be the absence of rancor on the peace process that has so divided the two governments for the past four years. For most Israelis, this is a blessing. But for an Israeli left that has long cherished the dream of having an American president force the nation to accept policies that its voters have rejected, it’s a nightmare. The recent election was almost entirely fought on domestic issues, with even the Labor Party de-emphasizing the peace process. Today, the advocates of the “peace now” agenda that roughly correlates with the J Street crowd in America are marginalized in the Knesset. Obama might be sorry about that, but this week he will show that he won’t lift a finger to do anything about it.

This means that although the president will underwhelm many Israelis, his visit will be a symbolic acceptance of the concept that the U.S. can’t dictate policy to its Israeli ally. That’s a boost for Israeli democracy, but very bad news for Israelis and their American cheerleaders who want Obama to override the verdict of the electorate.

Read Less

A Ted Cruz Response

In response to my post on Senator Ted Cruz’s confrontation with Senator Dianne Feinstein, I heard from an adviser to Senator Cruz, who believes I provided an inaccurate and incomplete account of Senator Cruz’s views.

What Senator Cruz believes, I was told, is that (a) the weapons Senator Feinstein wants to ban fall under the category of “common use of the time,” which would make her ban unconstitutional; (b) that the itemized list Feinstein proposes raises serious constitutional issues; and (c) the Texas senator is fully aware of the meaning and implications of the Heller decision. I’m happy to relay those clarifications, as well as a link to an appearance on Fox News by Senator Cruz.

Read More

In response to my post on Senator Ted Cruz’s confrontation with Senator Dianne Feinstein, I heard from an adviser to Senator Cruz, who believes I provided an inaccurate and incomplete account of Senator Cruz’s views.

What Senator Cruz believes, I was told, is that (a) the weapons Senator Feinstein wants to ban fall under the category of “common use of the time,” which would make her ban unconstitutional; (b) that the itemized list Feinstein proposes raises serious constitutional issues; and (c) the Texas senator is fully aware of the meaning and implications of the Heller decision. I’m happy to relay those clarifications, as well as a link to an appearance on Fox News by Senator Cruz.

People can read my original post, watch the link I provided to the Cruz v. Feinstein confrontation, and then watch Senator Cruz’s post-hearing interview and decide for themselves how clear and effective his line of questioning was and the merits of my critique. I simply wanted to convey the views of Senator Cruz, to be sure readers were aware of them.

Read Less

Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, and Libertarians in the GOP

Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:

garyjohnson

Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.

Read More

Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:

garyjohnson

Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.

Johnson ran as a third-party candidate for president, against the GOP after first attempting to win the GOP nomination and being generally ignored. But Johnson had another option in 2012: instead of running for president as a third party to take away votes from the Republican ticket, he could have run for Senate in his home state of New Mexico. Johnson was a popular two-term governor of the state and there was an open seat in the 2012 elections, which the Democratic candidate won. In 2011, Johnson was asked by a libertarian blogger why he wouldn’t consider running for the Senate seat. Here is that blogger’s write-up of the response:

Gary told me he would not consider making a Senate bid because he considers the role of Senators to “shoulder up to the trough” and bring home money to their constituents. He says they’re part of the problem, and that he doesn’t think he can make a difference in that position like he could as president.

Paul effectively proved him wrong. Johnson is marginalized now instead of possibly having been able to join Paul in his filibuster from the Senate floor. Not only is Paul a leading libertarian voice in the Senate on an array of issues on which he doesn’t hesitate to challenge party leadership, but he is also considered a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That is, it would not be shocking for this libertarian contrarian to be crowned as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer three years from now.

Working within the GOP is the surest way for libertarians to influence national policy and politics. That may sound obvious–and it should. The GOP may not have a spotless record on libertarian issues, but of the two major parties it is the only place for someone like Rand Paul, who is a pro-life libertarian. Liberals consider such a politician to be at once a raging theocrat and Ayn Randian anarchist-lite. Rand Paul’s very existence is a source of horror and confusion to most Democrats. And a Senator Gary Johnson would have been justly welcomed by the national GOP. Indeed, Johnson’s–and other libertarians’–insistence on the White House as the only path to power in American politics shows he has fallen prey to what libertarians themselves rightly call the “cult of the presidency.”

Just before November’s presidential election, libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the creation of the Libertarian Party was a mistake. He made the correct point that Libertarian Party voters only make it more likely that a Democrat will be elected, and that since the Republicans have more in common with libertarians, the latter’s success will mean pro-libertarian policies become less likely. I find idealism, especially in Washington, to be an often-admirable antidote to modern political cynicism, but libertarians of all people should have a handle on the real-world unintended consequences of quixotic political action.

In his latest column, James Antle points out the extent to which attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference–not necessarily representative of the GOP overall but certainly a barometer of grassroots enthusiasm–agreed with Rand Paul on a whole host of issues. Paul seems to have reminded libertarians of a basic rule of politics: you can, and must, win the argument. Antle makes a key point when he writes:

It’s easy to see how this libertarian moment could be undone: elect a sufficiently hawkish Republican president and much of this sentiment on the right could recede. It’s also possible that this wing of the party tries to rise too fast for its own good. If Justin Amash were to run for Michigan’s open Senate seat next year and lose, followed by Rand Paul pushing forward with a competitive but unsuccessful presidential campaign rather than running for senate reelection in 2016, the movement could be without its two most prominent elected leaders.

There still may be a ceiling over the heads of libertarians in the GOP, which is staunchly pro-life and generally socially conservative, not to mention more hawkish on foreign affairs than Rand Paul (and much more so than his father’s legion of followers). That’s to the GOP’s credit. But if libertarians want influence in the party and on the national stage, they’ll need to work to elect libertarian voices to offices besides the presidency. Just ask Gary Johnson.

Read Less

Hope for the GOP’s Digital Strategy with New RNC Report

Unlike previous, informal autopsies on GOP data and digital performance, yesterday’s release from the RNC, a 100-page report on the future of the Republican Party, comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. Following the election, former digital managers for the Romney campaign joined with DC operatives and consultants for a cheerleading session. These meetings were like letting a murderer conduct the autopsy of his victim, making it impossible to draw meaningful lessons from the election’s many failures. This latest report acknowledges the “unique position” the RNC is in to initiate and execute a transformation in how digital efforts are regarded, funded and staffed in the future.

The RNC’s report details the path forward for a party that has lost the popular vote five out of the last six elections. Its scope is wide, discussing outreach, digital, data, and policy. It’s a document that makes clear that the leadership of the party recognizes that serious changes need to be made in order to prevent it from becoming a permanent minority. Many of the report’s recommendations have made conservatives nervous, especially the language pertaining to immigration. On the data and digital fronts, however, a highly-reported failure of the Romney campaign, there is room for hope.

Read More

Unlike previous, informal autopsies on GOP data and digital performance, yesterday’s release from the RNC, a 100-page report on the future of the Republican Party, comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. Following the election, former digital managers for the Romney campaign joined with DC operatives and consultants for a cheerleading session. These meetings were like letting a murderer conduct the autopsy of his victim, making it impossible to draw meaningful lessons from the election’s many failures. This latest report acknowledges the “unique position” the RNC is in to initiate and execute a transformation in how digital efforts are regarded, funded and staffed in the future.

The RNC’s report details the path forward for a party that has lost the popular vote five out of the last six elections. Its scope is wide, discussing outreach, digital, data, and policy. It’s a document that makes clear that the leadership of the party recognizes that serious changes need to be made in order to prevent it from becoming a permanent minority. Many of the report’s recommendations have made conservatives nervous, especially the language pertaining to immigration. On the data and digital fronts, however, a highly-reported failure of the Romney campaign, there is room for hope.

Yesterday TechPresident interviewed several GOP operatives who, unlike the consultants involved with the Romney campaign, were warning of the failure of those on the right to keep up technologically long before the election. The experts TechPresident spoke with all expressed cautious optimism at the plan’s vision for the future of the Republican Party’s commitment to digital and data strategy. Some aspects were taken straight from the pages of the publication and others like it, specifically consultants who have long been warning that the talent pool for technology on the right was filled with political operatives who were also interested in tech, not the other way around.

The best executed aspects of the Obama campaign’s digital efforts were developed by recruits hired directly from Silicon Valley. These were technologically focused individuals who had little outside experience in politics before the Obama campaign. Yesterday’s RNC report suggested replicating that success, reaching out to youth not just for their votes, but also their expertise. RedState’s Erick Erickson and other conservative activists have long warned about the dangers of the consultant class and its ability to stifle innovation within the party. While the report, as Erickson noted today in an op-ed for Fox News, neglects to address this issue specifically, the fact that the RNC is actively looking to recruit in San Francisco, Austin, New York and Denver holds the promise that the talent pool that the conservative movement draws from would be infused with fresh faces and ideas.

Other experts, like the Heritage Foundation’s Rob Bluey, expressed concern that the party would be centralizing the digital efforts of the movement within the party. Bluey told Raw Story, “When it comes to data, I don’t know if there should be a central repository that the RNC is only going to share with the candidates of its choice, instead of letting the market pick the winners.” This is a legitimate concern that should be addressed as the RNC continues to grow its digital footprint. But if the right candidates are chosen (as Jonathan rightly cautioned was the most essential element of a successful Republican Party), they will be able to compete on par with Democratic nominees in 2016 and beyond if the RNC follows through with the plans set forth in the Growth and Opportunity Project.

Read Less

The Future of Nation Building

There are two essential lessons one can draw from the Iraq War: either that we should never get mired in counterinsurgency or “nation-building” operations in the future or that, if we do get involved, we should do a better job of achieving our objectives. The prevailing wisdom in Washington adheres to the former position, but I believe the latter lesson offers more useful guidance for the future.

No less an eminence than Bob Gates, on his way out the door as secretary of defense, proclaimed, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Although he subsequently walked back that statement, it is fair to say that Gates’ view is now the conventional wisdom.

Read More

There are two essential lessons one can draw from the Iraq War: either that we should never get mired in counterinsurgency or “nation-building” operations in the future or that, if we do get involved, we should do a better job of achieving our objectives. The prevailing wisdom in Washington adheres to the former position, but I believe the latter lesson offers more useful guidance for the future.

No less an eminence than Bob Gates, on his way out the door as secretary of defense, proclaimed, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Although he subsequently walked back that statement, it is fair to say that Gates’ view is now the conventional wisdom.

But is it—to borrow the favored term of Gates and others—“realistic” to argue that we will never get involved in another major ground war? No one could have imagined on September 10, 2001, that we would shortly be fighting in Afghanistan, nor can anyone imagine what the future will bring. Suffice it to say, when one looks at the wide arc of instability stretching from West Africa to Central Asia, it is hard to rule out in advance that U.S. ground troops will ever be dispatched into harm’s way.

And even if we don’t fight another major ground war anytime in the near future—something that we should of course avoid if at all possible—the likelihood is that U.S. forces will be involved in helping foreign governments in such nations as Mali, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen to fight terrorist groups that threaten not only their interests but ours. That will require maintaining a significant capacity for nation building and counterinsurgency, even if the bulk of the work on the ground will be done by indigenous forces, not Americans. 

I know that “nation-building” is anathema in Washington, but there is simply no way to prevent terrorist groups from setting up training camps and hatching plots unless the local government can assert control over its territory. To achieve even that modest goal will require building up substantial governance capacity in chaotic nations.

All of this suggests to me that we need to maintain the hard-won counterinsurgency skills gained by the armed forces over the past decade—and we need to enhance our capacity for state building. That difficult task has fallen willy-nilly on the military because the civilian agencies of government have been MIA. It is high time to create, as I have been arguing since 2003, a dedicated state-building agency, perhaps by retooling the U.S. Agency for International Development to focus on this task. 

Such proposals are opposed by many in Washington because politicians figure that if we develop capacity for state building we will have to do more of it. But if history teaches anything it is that we will be forced into state building in a wide variety of scenarios no matter what. Just since the end of the Cold War, we have undertaken this task in nations such as Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and, more indirectly, from the Philippines to Colombia. 

The question is not whether we will do nation building and counterinsurgency or not. The question is if we will do it well or badly. So far we have done it badly and paid a heavy price—witness the early setbacks in Iraq. This is a national-security weakness we need to fix because the demand for these skill sets is not going away.

Read Less

Rand Moves the Ball on Immigration

Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.

Read More

Rand Paul couldn’t be more out of sync with the eight members of the bipartisan group of senators that presented an immigration reform plan in January. While he has little in common with the four Democrats, he is particularly at odds with three of the four Republicans in the group. Paul is already seen as one of the chief rivals of Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential race. More than that, in the weeks since the plan was unveiled, the Kentucky senator has become embroiled in a public feud with John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both ridiculed his filibuster about the possibility that the U.S. government could use drone attacks on American citizens and McCain even called Paul a “wacko bird.” But today Paul will announce his support for the key element of their immigration proposal that has drawn the most fire from conservatives: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

While Paul is not endorsing the gang of eight’s draft, the plan he unveils this morning will be similar on the most contentious elements of the immigration debate. This shows that although Paul appears to be at war with the bulk of the GOP caucus on foreign policy and views the attempt of the Republican National Committee to streamline the presidential nominating process as a direct threat to his candidacy, he is on board with both groups when it comes to a key issue on which many in the party believes it must change if it is to have a chance to win national elections in the future.

Many on the right took aim at the autopsy of the 2012 election presented by the RNC yesterday. They were not just mad about the proposed changes to the 2016 presidential race that angered Paul’s supporters, but were also offended by its conclusions that the party must embrace immigration reform if it is to have a chance to win the Hispanic vote. But if a lot of conservatives are still digging in their heels on what they consider an “amnesty” plan put forward by McCain, Graham and Rubio, Paul seems to agree with the so-called GOP establishment that demonizing illegals is not a coherent approach to the problem or good politics.

Paul’s endorsement of a path to citizenship makes sense because the draconian view of immigration taken by many conservatives is at odds with his libertarian principles. It also makes sense for a man who hopes to expand the narrow if fervent following that supported his father Ron’s presidential campaigns. Like other Republicans who are serious about winning the White House in 2016, Paul knows getting Hispanic votes is crucial to his party’s future.

While Paul can’t really compete with a son of Cuban immigrants like Rubio for the love of Hispanic voters, his speech—which will be peppered with Spanish phrases, his love for Hispanic culture and mentions of his own immigrant forebears—shows that he is nonetheless interested in presenting himself as a truly national candidate.

With so many conservatives still unwilling to drop their opposition to a path to citizenship for illegals, this can’t be viewed as a new consensus within the Republican Party. But with Paul putting himself on the same side as his antagonists on foreign policy on this issue, it’s becoming increasingly clear that opposition to immigration reform is the past, not the future of the Republican Party. With the right’s new hero embracing the same position on immigration as the men he described last week in his CPAC speech as being “stale and moss-covered,” Paul has moved the ball on immigration a bit farther down the field.

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.