Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 21, 2013

Dick Cheney: Behind the Music

Thought you knew everything about Vice President Dick Cheney? Think again. From the COMMENTARY Roast of Dick Cheney:

              

Thought you knew everything about Vice President Dick Cheney? Think again. From the COMMENTARY Roast of Dick Cheney:

              

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Is Kerry Precipitating Another Intifada?

To say that few Israelis think the current peace negotiations going on with the Palestinians have a chance of success is an understatement. In response to the passage by the Knesset of a bill to make it more difficult for the government to divide Jerusalem in the future, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich mocked the proceedings as a futile exercise. Wasting time on it was ludicrous she said, “as if peace were in the offing … when we know talks are crawling.” But not everyone is taking the talks that were forced upon the parties by Secretary of State John Kerry as a total non-event. Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, is claiming that the net result of the slow-motion failure of Kerry’s attempt to create momentum for peace when virtually no one thought the time was propitious could be another outbreak of violence.

Diskin, whose views put him on the left of Israel’s political spectrum, said that the recent upsurge in anti-Israel violence in the West Bank may show that another intifada may be in the offing next year once Kerry’s folly finishes running its course: “All of the conditions exist in our situation for the Palestinian masses to rise up,” Yuval Diskin told a conference at the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division. “In the West Bank, the intense tension and frustration is worsening among the Palestinians, who feel that their land is being stolen from them, that the state they strive for is getting further away, and the economy is no longer something that they can take comfort in.”

Diskin’s views about what his country should be doing about the stalemate are outside the mainstream since he advocates concessions that most Israelis are currently unwilling to make. But his fears about the way the process is unfolding and Kerry’s error in judgment in excluding neighboring countries from the talks may reflect a wider consensus:

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To say that few Israelis think the current peace negotiations going on with the Palestinians have a chance of success is an understatement. In response to the passage by the Knesset of a bill to make it more difficult for the government to divide Jerusalem in the future, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich mocked the proceedings as a futile exercise. Wasting time on it was ludicrous she said, “as if peace were in the offing … when we know talks are crawling.” But not everyone is taking the talks that were forced upon the parties by Secretary of State John Kerry as a total non-event. Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, is claiming that the net result of the slow-motion failure of Kerry’s attempt to create momentum for peace when virtually no one thought the time was propitious could be another outbreak of violence.

Diskin, whose views put him on the left of Israel’s political spectrum, said that the recent upsurge in anti-Israel violence in the West Bank may show that another intifada may be in the offing next year once Kerry’s folly finishes running its course: “All of the conditions exist in our situation for the Palestinian masses to rise up,” Yuval Diskin told a conference at the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division. “In the West Bank, the intense tension and frustration is worsening among the Palestinians, who feel that their land is being stolen from them, that the state they strive for is getting further away, and the economy is no longer something that they can take comfort in.”

Diskin’s views about what his country should be doing about the stalemate are outside the mainstream since he advocates concessions that most Israelis are currently unwilling to make. But his fears about the way the process is unfolding and Kerry’s error in judgment in excluding neighboring countries from the talks may reflect a wider consensus:

“We must bring in Egypt and Jordan to the early stages of the negotiation process. Their entrance into this story will give [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas legitimacy to make critical decisions.”

It is doubtful that anything could move Abbas to gamble with his future by agreeing to anything that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn in any accord. The same Palestinian sentiment that is driving a demand for more violence is, as I wrote yesterday, providing the one spark of hope remaining for Abbas’s embattled Hamas rivals. It also gives Hamas and other intransigent elements within Abbas’s Fatah Party a virtual veto over peace that the PA leader challenges at his peril.

But the main point to be gleaned from Diskin’s warnings is that what Kerry has done is to set in motion a chain of events that may have consequences that are unpredictable. The presence of the Egyptians and Jordanians will not help stiffen Abbas’s spine. But in raising the hopes of the Palestinians without the means of satisfying them in the absence of evidence that their society has undergone the sea change needed for peace to be possible, Kerry has made violence more likely. The administration has at times acted as if the secretary’s initiative is a cost-free endeavor that the president can walk away from without consequences. But as Diskin rightly points out, the price of Kerry’s folly may be paid in blood.

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Haneen Zoabi’s Threat to Nazareth’s Christian Heritage

At first glance, Haneen Zoabi might seem a strange candidate for Israeli efforts to burnish its democratic reputation abroad. Zoabi spends much of her time and energy trying to tear down Israel’s public image, and would have you believe Israel is no democracy at all, but rather an apartheid, fascist state. But that very same behavior is, to many, sufficient to disprove Zoabi’s claims.

That’s because Zoabi makes those claims from her perch as an Arab Muslim member of Israel’s Knesset. She keeps that lofty place in the parliament while doing far more than agitating against Zionism: her actions speak louder than–though still in concert with–her words. In 2010, Zoabi and another Arab legislator were passengers on the infamous Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship of armed activists attempting to break Israel’s military blockade of Gaza and to help the Hamas government of the Gaza Strip.

Now Zoabi is attempting to make a related career move, though this one would concern Israel’s Christian minority more than its Jewish majority. The New York Times notes that Zoabi’s entry into the Nazareth mayoral election threatens to unseat its mayor of 20 years as well as stir up local tensions:

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At first glance, Haneen Zoabi might seem a strange candidate for Israeli efforts to burnish its democratic reputation abroad. Zoabi spends much of her time and energy trying to tear down Israel’s public image, and would have you believe Israel is no democracy at all, but rather an apartheid, fascist state. But that very same behavior is, to many, sufficient to disprove Zoabi’s claims.

That’s because Zoabi makes those claims from her perch as an Arab Muslim member of Israel’s Knesset. She keeps that lofty place in the parliament while doing far more than agitating against Zionism: her actions speak louder than–though still in concert with–her words. In 2010, Zoabi and another Arab legislator were passengers on the infamous Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship of armed activists attempting to break Israel’s military blockade of Gaza and to help the Hamas government of the Gaza Strip.

Now Zoabi is attempting to make a related career move, though this one would concern Israel’s Christian minority more than its Jewish majority. The New York Times notes that Zoabi’s entry into the Nazareth mayoral election threatens to unseat its mayor of 20 years as well as stir up local tensions:

There is a lot to be said for tradition and continuity in a city revered by Christians as the childhood home of Jesus. Though the city’s population of 80,000 is now about 70 percent Muslim, much of the economy of Nazareth, considered the capital of Israel’s Arab minority, depends on the tourism generated by its Christian past.

“This is one of the most well-known cities in the world, the place where Christianity started,” said Mr. Jaraisi, a Christian, whose hair and mustache have turned white on the job.

But others in Nazareth say it is time for change. Mr. Jaraisi has been elected mayor four times, with the votes of both Muslims and Christians, he is quick to point out. Now, in the municipal elections scheduled for Israel’s local authorities on Tuesday, he is facing a serious challenge.

Even if the city weren’t majority-Muslim there would be nothing inherently upsetting, one would hope, about the prospect of a Muslim candidate defeating a Christian candidate for the mayoralty. Nazareth is symbolic of Israel’s Christian minority; that they happen to be a minority in Nazareth isn’t exactly shocking.

But the Times projects an air of nervousness in the city about Jaraisi’s possible defeat at Zoabi’s hands, and this has much to do with how Zoabi personifies two trends in the Arab world that have not been too kind to Christians. The first, and most obvious trend, is referred to outright in the Times piece:

One of the challenges that Mr. Jaraisi is facing is what Wadie Abu Nassar, an Arab Israeli political analyst, calls “the Arab Spring argument — that it is time to change.” Another is an accusation of mismanagement, Mr. Abu Nassar said.

As just the latest brutal attack on Egyptian Copts attests, the Arab Spring does not conjure images of freedom for the Christians of the Arab world. It has instead been open season on this persecuted minority, and any suggestion that the tide of the Arab Spring would come to Nazareth would be a frightening prospect, to say the least.

And Zoabi has long been at the forefront of the other trend, though the Times’s subtle presentation of it shows its mainstream appeal:

Nazareth, Ms. Zoabi said, should be a cultural center for the 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel. “Nazareth is not just a city,” she said. “It is a symbol of the homeland that we lost.”

Notice that first part is not in quotes. The reporter, Isabel Kershner, simply writes that Israel’s Arabs are all Palestinians. The identification of Israeli Arabs as Palestinians is not automatic or universal. Israeli Arabs who consider themselves Palestinians tend to either claim roots in Mandatory Palestine before 1948 or consider the entire State of Israel occupied territory and an illegitimate state. (Or both.)

Zoabi embraces this merging of the Palestinian identity with the Israeli-Arab identity–which, in many cases, simply replaces Arab identity with Zoabi’s ideology of armed resistance against the state in whose parliament she serves. It erases, for example, the identity of Israel’s Arab Christians who don’t identify with the Palestinian cause.

In July, a group of Greek Orthodox Christians in Israel formed a political party to support Arab participation in the Israel Defense Forces. The group was led by a Christian Arab from Nazareth and had the support of Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest against whom Zoabi reportedly led a vicious campaign and who was banned from entering Nazareth’s famed Church of the Annunciation for his show of patriotism and loyalty to Israel.

These Arab Christians from Nazareth (and elsewhere) proudly identify as Israelis. Zoabi and the New York Times plainly ignore that and label them Palestinian. The only way, in fact, that the categorization of all Israel’s Arabs as Palestinians could make any sense (to use that term loosely) is to someone who believes that the entire land is rightfully and legally Palestine. That Zoabi seems to buy into this bodes ill for Nazareth’s Christians. That the Times plays along suggests the media’s attitude toward the plight of Christians under the Arab Spring, which often borders on indifference, will only continue.

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Can GOP Win Budget Language War?

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

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There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

At the heart of this problem for Republicans is the fact that their opponents’ demands have been every bit as ideological as their own in the various budget negotiations. If Republicans are adamant that spending must be reined in and that, as McConnell rightly asserts, the country’s problem isn’t that taxes are too low, then how can that position be branded as extremist when Democrats are digging in their heels, demanding that entitlement programs be preserved intact and that taxes must go up? Rather than merely rail at the unfairness of it all, it’s time conservatives started calling out Obama in the same manner that they have been labeled.

Can it work?

Well, as some on the right would be the first to point out, it doesn’t matter what they say if it is only being transmitted to much of the public via the filter of mainstream liberal publications and broadcast outlets. But such a defeatist attitude fails to take into account that earlier generations of conservatives—in particular Ronald Reagan—managed to change the way the country thought about the welfare state in an even more hostile media environment. If Reagan could convince Americans that government was the problem in an era when national television news meant three liberal talking heads and without the help of Fox News and conservative talk radio, how is it that those who claim to be his successors are incapable of changing the way contemporary issues are framed?

It may not be fair to compare anyone to the “Great Communicator,” but the lesson here is not that Republicans need another Reagan. That would be nice, but a more realistic hope is for their talking heads and leaders to concentrate their fire on the unwillingness of the president and his supporters to drop their addiction to taxes and spending. Language not only counts, it is decisive in determining the outcome of political battles. Tea Partiers who are currently obsessed with anger at those on the right who understood that the shutdown was a fiasco need to refocus their ire at the White House. If Republicans hope not to be schooled again by Obama, they’d better start following McConnell’s lead and turning the hostage metaphor around.

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Immigration Reform’s Death Certificate

Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

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Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

Even as he disavowed any interest in persuading House Republicans to adopt his bill or to trust the administration to implement it or any other measure, Rubio still defended his decision to take part in the gang of eight. He rightly noted once again that the “amnesty” for illegals that conservative critics of reform decry better describes the status quo than a future in which they would be brought in from the shadows after paying fines and placed at the back of the line. He’s also right that the country desperately needs reform of a broken system and that those who favor stricter enforcement should applaud the Senate bill’s emphasis on the subject, which some have even dubbed overkill.

But even though he’s sticking to his guns as to why the bill was right on policy, Rubio is finally conceding that it is politically impossible.

Earlier in the year, many conservatives, including those who support immigration reform, thought President Obama wanted the bipartisan bill to fail so he could cynically continue to use the issue to hammer Republicans in the next election cycle. But the president wisely kept silent through much of the spring and stayed out of the Senate fight, enabling the bill’s passage. By claiming that the president has undermined bipartisanship even on this topic, Rubio is declaring that bipartisanship on any issue has become impossible in the current political environment.

There will be those who will blame this on the GOP architects of the shutdown strategy and there will be some truth to that assertion. But partisan gutter fighting is a two-way street. By ruthlessly choosing to exploit his advantage and not negotiate with Republicans over the shutdown and the debt ceiling, the president has made trust across the political aisle a thing of the past.

While there may be months of bitter wrangling over immigration ahead of us, Rubio’s statement makes it clear that Congress is no more capable of crafting a compromise on this issue than they were on other topics. That’s bad for those who care about this issue and bad for those Republicans who, like Rubio, knew this was an opportunity for their party to jettison the anti-immigrant sentiments that are undermining its future.

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Yes, Excessive Defense Cuts Are Imprudent

Conventional wisdom is that after previous conflicts the U.S. has cut defense spending too much. As President Obama said in 2012: “We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past—after World War II, after Vietnam—when our military policy was left ill prepared for the future.” In the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia historian Melvyn Leffler, a Cold War specialist, would beg to differ. He claims that cutting the defense budget has actually been a good thing for American security—it has forced “Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush,” and it has not left us “vulnerable to attack.” Therefore, he suggests, the current round of budget cuts, which amount to $1 trillion over the next decade, are a good thing.

If only he were right. In fact his article does not make a remotely persuasive case for his far-fetched proposition.

For one thing, even based on Leffler’s own account, defense resources were constantly out of whack with defense strategy over the past century. For example, in writing about the post-World War II drawdown, he notes that Truman’s “military chiefs told him that the United States’ commitments now far exceeded its capabilities and that US moves and Soviet countermeasures made war more likely.” Leffler concludes, “They were correct on both counts.” Later, in writing about the post-Cold War drawdown, he writes, “Given the austere domestic fiscal environment, the [George H.W.] Bush administration’s strategic concept—preparing for uncertainty, shaping the future, thwarting regional instability—guaranteed another growing gap between means and ends.”

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Conventional wisdom is that after previous conflicts the U.S. has cut defense spending too much. As President Obama said in 2012: “We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past—after World War II, after Vietnam—when our military policy was left ill prepared for the future.” In the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia historian Melvyn Leffler, a Cold War specialist, would beg to differ. He claims that cutting the defense budget has actually been a good thing for American security—it has forced “Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush,” and it has not left us “vulnerable to attack.” Therefore, he suggests, the current round of budget cuts, which amount to $1 trillion over the next decade, are a good thing.

If only he were right. In fact his article does not make a remotely persuasive case for his far-fetched proposition.

For one thing, even based on Leffler’s own account, defense resources were constantly out of whack with defense strategy over the past century. For example, in writing about the post-World War II drawdown, he notes that Truman’s “military chiefs told him that the United States’ commitments now far exceeded its capabilities and that US moves and Soviet countermeasures made war more likely.” Leffler concludes, “They were correct on both counts.” Later, in writing about the post-Cold War drawdown, he writes, “Given the austere domestic fiscal environment, the [George H.W.] Bush administration’s strategic concept—preparing for uncertainty, shaping the future, thwarting regional instability—guaranteed another growing gap between means and ends.”

Leffler seems to believe that these gaps should have been resolved not by increasing defense spending but by decreasing defense commitments. But he never suggests how this should have been accomplished—either in the past or the present day. Should the U.S. give up the defense of Europe? Asia? The Middle East? Stop fighting terrorists? Pirates? Weapons proliferation? Gross human rights abuses? He doesn’t say, and neither have policymakers in Washington. History suggests that there has been and will be no appetite for seriously trimming U.S. defense commitments even as defense spending plunges.

The more important issue with Leffler’s article is that he never refutes the popular—and accurate—notion that U.S. defense cuts encouraged foreign aggression in the past and got the U.S. embroiled in wars which it was poorly prepared to fight. He claims, “Given the absence of threats in the 1920s and the constraints on British, German, and Japanese forces until the mid-1930s, US defense policies were not imprudent in the aftermath of World War I.” Oh really? This is how the renowned military historian Rick Atkinson describes the state of U.S. Army readiness in 1939:

When the European war began in earnest on September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland, the U.S. Army ranked seventeenth among armies of the world in size and combat power, just behind Romania. It numbered 190,000 soldiers. (It would grow to 8.3 million in 1945, a 44-fold increase.) When mobilization began in 1940, the Army had only 14,000 professional officers. The average age of majors—a middling rank, between captain and lieutenant colonel—was nearly 48; in the National Guard, nearly one-quarter of first lieutenants were over 40 years old, and the senior ranks were dominated by political hacks of certifiable military incompetence. Not a single officer on duty in 1941 had commanded a unit as large as a division in World War I. At the time of Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, only one American division was on a full war footing.

Some American coastal defense guns had not been test fired in 20 years, and the Army lacked enough antiaircraft guns to protect even a single American city. The senior British military officer in Washington told London that American forces “are more unready for war than it is possible to imagine.” In May 1940, the month that the German Blitzkrieg swept through the Low Countries and overran France, the U.S. Army owned a total of 464 tanks, mostly puny light tanks with the combat power of a coffee can.

There was also a mental unreadiness in many quarters. In 1941, the Army’s cavalry chief assured Congress that four well-spaced horsemen could charge half a mile across an open field to destroy an enemy machine-gun nest, without sustaining a scratch. This ignored the evidence of not only World War II, which was already two years underway, but also World War I.

 If this level of readiness—or lack thereof—was “not imprudent” it is hard to imagine what that awkward phrase might denote. Likewise, the U.S. Army was so ill-prepared for the Korean War in 1950 that Task Force Smith—the first U.S. Army unit sent to staunch the North Korean onslaught—was mauled. It didn’t even have enough ammunition, much less enough training. It’s hard, again, to imagine how this could be judged “not imprudent.”

What might the world have looked like if the U.S. had maintained more robust levels of military spending and readiness? No one knows, but if a large U.S. military force had been left in Europe in 1919, as occurred after 1945, Nazi Germany might have been deterred from aggression. Likewise if the U.S. Navy in the interwar period had spent more, Imperial Japan might have been deterred at least from attacking Pearl Harbor. And if the U.S. had maintained more robust defense spending after 1945 and made clear its commitment to the defense of South Korea, Kim Il Sung might never have sent his army to invade the south.

These are all counterfactuals, of course, and can never be proven one way or another. But it is a bit surprising that Leffler does not even address such scenarios. He seems to have started from an unconventional premise—that U.S. defense austerity is a great thing because it supposedly promotes great strategic thinking—and tailored his brief history to support this conclusion. But the preponderance of the evidence suggests a rather different conclusion—namely that in this area, as in so many others, the conventional wisdom is right: Excessive defense cuts have been dangerous in the past and they are dangerous today, at a time when the army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, is warning that only two brigades are combat-ready.

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Christie’s Gay Marriage Punt and 2016

On its face, Governor Chris Christie’s decision not to go down fighting the legalization of gay marriage in New Jersey was merely bowing to the inevitable. Though he has always opposed gay marriage and even vetoed a bill authorizing it that came out of the legislature, Christie told his attorney general to drop a planned appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling that had refused to delay the start of gay marriage in New Jersey. Given the unanimity of the court and the wording of the preliminary decision, Christie was right to think that even if he continued to fight it, the court was going to do what the legislature had failed to do: overrule the governor and institute gay marriage. But, as Politico notes, there are going to be some conservatives who will add this decision to a list of reasons why they will oppose a Christie run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Yet as with the governor’s recent flip-flop on in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, Christie is clearly not approaching policy questions demonstrating any worry about appealing to conservative Christian voters who play a large role in GOP presidential primaries. Indeed, as Politico notes today, Christie may have already decided that gestures toward pleasing that group may do his prospects more harm than good. Even though comparisons with Rudy Giuliani’s disastrous 2008 presidential candidacy are unfair since Christie is far more conservative on social issues than the former New York City mayor, Christie is clearly acting as if the same forces that doomed that moderate’s hopes cannot do the same to him.

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On its face, Governor Chris Christie’s decision not to go down fighting the legalization of gay marriage in New Jersey was merely bowing to the inevitable. Though he has always opposed gay marriage and even vetoed a bill authorizing it that came out of the legislature, Christie told his attorney general to drop a planned appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling that had refused to delay the start of gay marriage in New Jersey. Given the unanimity of the court and the wording of the preliminary decision, Christie was right to think that even if he continued to fight it, the court was going to do what the legislature had failed to do: overrule the governor and institute gay marriage. But, as Politico notes, there are going to be some conservatives who will add this decision to a list of reasons why they will oppose a Christie run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Yet as with the governor’s recent flip-flop on in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, Christie is clearly not approaching policy questions demonstrating any worry about appealing to conservative Christian voters who play a large role in GOP presidential primaries. Indeed, as Politico notes today, Christie may have already decided that gestures toward pleasing that group may do his prospects more harm than good. Even though comparisons with Rudy Giuliani’s disastrous 2008 presidential candidacy are unfair since Christie is far more conservative on social issues than the former New York City mayor, Christie is clearly acting as if the same forces that doomed that moderate’s hopes cannot do the same to him.

To argue that Christie’s decision will enable his opponents to label him pro-gay marriage seems a stretch. After all, Christie has been a firm opponent of the measure and even now says he believes the court was wrong to impose its view on the state rather than to let it be subject to the usual constitutional process for legislation. If anything, this chain of events enables Christie to make an argument about the destructive impact that activist judges have on the country, something that should appeal to conservatives.

There will be some who will claim that he should have gone down fighting preventing gay marriage. But though he has an impeccable pro-life record, he will never outdo some of his prospective conservative rivals in that respect. More than that, Christie may feel that the culture is changing on attitudes to gays so quickly that the issue won’t be a real factor even in a Republican primary. That’s especially true if the conservatives will be battling each other for the same social-issues voters while Christie has, as was the case with Mitt Romney in 2012, little competition for more moderate Republicans.

That said, no one should underestimate the hard feelings against Christie that are brewing on the Republican right. While Christie can rightly claim to be a tough-minded critic of liberals and their institutions, such as teachers’ unions, as well as having governed as a conservative in a blue state, some Tea Partiers seem to think of him as a creature of the left. In a political atmosphere that has grown more toxic as the GOP tears itself apart in the wake of the government shutdown, Christie may well become the hard right’s piñata and, along with Senator Mitch McConnell, their favorite scapegoat for all conservative defeats.

The expectation all along has been that once Christie is safely reelected next month, he will begin the process of drifting to the right in order to set up a presidential campaign. But his gay marriage decision may be one more piece of evidence that Christie has already made his peace with the fact that the right will fight his candidacy in 2016 and that he believes he can beat them anyway.

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Don’t Let Technocrats Set the Terms of the ObamaCare Debate

Now that the utterly disastrous rollout of ObamaCare has outlasted the government shutdown, it’s the Democrats’ turn for some unflattering time in the media spotlight. But the conservative reaction to the ObamaCare belly flop risks letting Democrats shift the conversation onto more favorable terrain, and demonstrates the extent to which some big-government victories cannot be completely rolled back.

Conservatives have noted that ObamaCare’s early failures are indicative of a broader failure of the technocratic approach to governing. This is undoubtedly true, but I don’t expect this argument to lead where many conservatives think it leads. The federal government has failed in the past and will fail again–the latter point being key. The government will at some point get the chance to attempt a massive top-down reform that centralizes power in the hands of well-meaning but completely incompetent technocrats because of the simple reality of modern American politics.

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Now that the utterly disastrous rollout of ObamaCare has outlasted the government shutdown, it’s the Democrats’ turn for some unflattering time in the media spotlight. But the conservative reaction to the ObamaCare belly flop risks letting Democrats shift the conversation onto more favorable terrain, and demonstrates the extent to which some big-government victories cannot be completely rolled back.

Conservatives have noted that ObamaCare’s early failures are indicative of a broader failure of the technocratic approach to governing. This is undoubtedly true, but I don’t expect this argument to lead where many conservatives think it leads. The federal government has failed in the past and will fail again–the latter point being key. The government will at some point get the chance to attempt a massive top-down reform that centralizes power in the hands of well-meaning but completely incompetent technocrats because of the simple reality of modern American politics.

The inadvisability of the expansion of the welfare state was clear before ObamaCare became law. But it was enacted anyway because Democrats had enough votes in Congress to approve it, and because Democrats held the White House, thus preventing a veto. Give the technocrats some credit: they may not be able to build a website (in 2013!), but they can do basic math. They also know that voters don’t like to give up entitlements, no matter the condition of the federal budget or the efficacy of the programs.

Medicaid is a perfect example of the latter, because studies show its beneficiaries are better off without it, health-wise. Medicaid also has some relevance to the ObamaCare debate because that failed program is a key component of this new one: ObamaCare expands insurance in part by expanding Medicaid. We have the data on Medicaid, yet we also got ObamaCare. Why? Because the people to whom it is possible to discredit big-government technocracy are not elected Democrats.

Now, it’s true that the discrediting of left-liberal technocrats can prevent a recurrence of federal power grabs in the near term, not least by capitalizing on the initial voter opposition to the expansion of the welfare state before it’s too late to kick the habit of the latest entitlement and thus turn Democrats out of office in favor of non-Democrats. But how is that working for the GOP these days? ObamaCare has been unpopular all along, yet its namesake president was reelected and the Democrats held the Senate.

Ross Douthat gets at this reality in his insightful Sunday column, but only hints at the underlying dynamic. He writes that if the ObamaCare web portal doesn’t get fixed and the individual mandate must be delayed, the much-feared “death spiral,” in which only the least healthy–and thus most expensive–sign up for insurance, causing the system’s financial collapse, could ensue. If that happens, Douthat writes, “there will be a lot of schadenfreude on the right at the spectacle of technocratic failure. But the wreck of the exchanges may actually be worse for conservative policy objectives than a more successful rollout would have been.” The reason for that is:

In that scenario, the Democratic Party would probably end up pushing, not for the pipe dream of true single payer, but for a further bottom-up/top-down socialization, in which Medicare is offered to 55- to 65-year-olds and Medicaid is eventually expanded even more.

Meanwhile, the task for serious conservative reformers — already not the most politically effective bunch — might actually become harder, because they would have to explain how their plan to build an effective, exchange-based marketplace differed from the Obama White House’s exchange fiasco.

Implicit in this explanation is the partisan divide. Douthat, a conservative reformer himself, worries that health-care technocrats will be discredited–on the right. This goes back to my earlier point: big-government technocracy can only be discredited among one of the country’s two major political parties today. That doesn’t mean it will be discredited completely on the right. Mitt Romney was, after all, the party’s presidential nominee a year ago.

So Douthat is left with what strikes me as an unbelievably depressing conclusion:

So while Republican politicians may be salivating over a potential Obamacare crisis, the conservative policy thinkers I know are not. They’re hoping, as I’m hoping, that this isn’t as bad as it looks. The chance to say “I told you so” is always nice, but not if the price is a potentially irrecoverable disaster.

That boils down to: the Democrats are in the process of at least partially ruining a major American industry; if the project goes off the rails, the Democrats will in all likelihood completely destroy the industry.

And herein lies the admittedly modest victory of ObamaCare, and the left more generally. The core argument against ObamaCare was not that it would fail, but that it was unconstitutional. Even John Roberts seemed to agree, otherwise he would have had no reason to take the objectionable step of rewriting the law from the bench in order to uphold its legality.

And what did Americans discover about ObamaCare long before the fact that its web design seemed to be sketched by crayon on a placemat? They found out that it mandated contraception coverage, yet another violation of Americans’ constitutional rights. Is the argument against the birth-control mandate that it is too expensive? Perhaps that argument can be made, but it is obviously not the real issue. The real issue is that it is a brazen violation of the First Amendment.

To be sure, ObamaCare is also unlikely to be a success, though that of course depends on the metric used make such a judgment. But the birth-control mandate is quite likely to be “successful,” in that it will do exactly what Democrats designed it to do and put the government in the bedroom of every American so that it can pay for what transpires therein. And in that case, its very success is the reason to argue against it: the law tramples on basic American rights.

There is, certainly, something attractive about arguing against technocracy based on numbers instead of principles. The media doesn’t take seriously the principled arguments because the American left thinks the basis for the Bill of Rights is inoperable and inherently ridiculous. When Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro debated CNN’s Piers Morgan on gun control, Shapiro posited that the Founders believed the individual right to bear arms was a guard against tyranny. CNN’s website offers this recounting of part of the exchange:

“They need them for the prospective possibility of resistance to tyranny,” he explained.

“Where do you expect the tyranny to come from?” wondered Morgan.

“It could come from the United States,” came Shapiro’s answer.

“Do you understand how absurd you sound?” asked the host.

It is quite true that the Founders envisioned constitutional rights as a bulwark against the rise of a tyrannical government. But the left seems to believe that those rights don’t go into force until tyranny is imminent; therefore, any suggestion that we do something because the Constitution advises it is itself an accusation that the government is already casting the shadow of tyranny over the republic.

Conservatives can and should argue that the technocratic impulses of the left lead to bad policy. They plainly do. And the right’s options may be limited now that ObamaCare has survived the individual mandate’s Supreme Court challenge. But conservatives will be making a mistake if they decry technocrats yet allow them to set the boundaries of political debate.

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ObamaCare Denial Bigger Than Tech Surge

President Obama was expected to address the problems undermining the rollout of his signature health-care legislation today. But instead of a sober analysis of the problems and a plan for how they will be addressed, the president delivered yet another campaign speech extolling the virtues of his plan and denigrating its critics. Though he was forced to admit that there have been problems in the rollout of the scheme, a speech that was supposed to address them forthrightly turned into an infomercial for ObamaCare. Sounding at times more like a television pitchman for kitchen utensils than the leader of the free world, Obama promised that we would “save money” and get a “good deal” if only more of us called the 1-800 number and purchased the “good product” he was offering us out of the goodness of his heart. Rather than restoring confidence in a dysfunctional program, the president made it clear again that despite the “glitches” and “kinks” that have turned the Affordable Care Act’s debut into a nightmare for Democrats, he seemed like a man who was still in denial about this fact, not a leader who was prepared to honestly evaluate what has gone wrong.

The problem with ObamaCare right now seems to be that the president really thinks the only thing wrong with the bill is a long checkout line at the cash register. Instead of addressing directly how this disaster happened, the president is still trying to sell the country on something that we were repeatedly told over the last month was the established “law of the land.” Though the tech surge the White House had promised over the weekend might eventually make things better—though the scale of the problems is so large that it may take many weeks or months for them to be fixed—there was no sign that the president was prepared to think about whether these problems were the result of a faulty structure, bad leadership (Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius?), or how it was that this was the best his team could do after three years of preparation. Nor does he seem interested in thinking about whether this has anything to do with the bill being hastily thrown together or worried about how the implications of the glitches that are built into it are only just now being felt throughout the economy.

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President Obama was expected to address the problems undermining the rollout of his signature health-care legislation today. But instead of a sober analysis of the problems and a plan for how they will be addressed, the president delivered yet another campaign speech extolling the virtues of his plan and denigrating its critics. Though he was forced to admit that there have been problems in the rollout of the scheme, a speech that was supposed to address them forthrightly turned into an infomercial for ObamaCare. Sounding at times more like a television pitchman for kitchen utensils than the leader of the free world, Obama promised that we would “save money” and get a “good deal” if only more of us called the 1-800 number and purchased the “good product” he was offering us out of the goodness of his heart. Rather than restoring confidence in a dysfunctional program, the president made it clear again that despite the “glitches” and “kinks” that have turned the Affordable Care Act’s debut into a nightmare for Democrats, he seemed like a man who was still in denial about this fact, not a leader who was prepared to honestly evaluate what has gone wrong.

The problem with ObamaCare right now seems to be that the president really thinks the only thing wrong with the bill is a long checkout line at the cash register. Instead of addressing directly how this disaster happened, the president is still trying to sell the country on something that we were repeatedly told over the last month was the established “law of the land.” Though the tech surge the White House had promised over the weekend might eventually make things better—though the scale of the problems is so large that it may take many weeks or months for them to be fixed—there was no sign that the president was prepared to think about whether these problems were the result of a faulty structure, bad leadership (Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius?), or how it was that this was the best his team could do after three years of preparation. Nor does he seem interested in thinking about whether this has anything to do with the bill being hastily thrown together or worried about how the implications of the glitches that are built into it are only just now being felt throughout the economy.

The president did say that he was mad about Healthcare.gov’s problems. But that anger didn’t seem to be connected to any solutions other than to draft more tech and IT people to work on a website. The technical problems appear formidable. According to the New York Times, “as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.” But the problems go deeper than technical issues.

One major problem slowing repairs, people close to the program say, is that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency in charge of the exchange, is responsible for making sure that the separately designed databases and pieces of software from 55 contractors work together. It is not common for a federal agency to assume that role, and numerous people involved in the project said the agency did not have the expertise to do the job and did not fully understand what it entailed.

That means this is not just a question of “glitches” and “kinks.” Rather it is one that is just as much about governance, incompetent bureaucracy, and accountability. But all the president wants to talk about it how great his plan is and how unfair it is that everyone is talking about its website.

Let’s also put to rest the notion that this is comparable, as the president and his defenders keep insisting, to problems that private sector companies have in rolling out new programs or websites. After all, Americans can choose to purchase a new product or to reject it, as they like. But many of us aren’t going to be given a choice here. Registering for ObamaCare and buying it will be compulsory if you fall into certain categories. That makes the question of the interface between the public and “the product” not just a technical issue but also one that goes to the heart of the state mandate compelling its purchase. The fact that the ObamaCare website has the feel of every other citizen-government interaction most of us are used to is a signal that perhaps Washington shouldn’t be in charge of health care.

Some Americans will benefit from ObamaCare, but others are losing their existing coverage and being forced to choose among inadequate alternatives. Many others are seeing the price of insurance go up. Others are losing jobs as companies cut back in the face of punitive employer mandates. Even more troubling is the prospect, as with so many other entitlement programs that the president is prepared to defend to the death, of government-mandated generational theft as young Americans are forced to bear the burden for other, generally wealthier sectors of the population.

But even after having won his battle with Republicans in Congress over the issue in the government shutdown, President Obama is still unwilling to address these concerns or concerns about the impact the rollout will have on the economy. Instead, he prefers to do what he does best: campaign. That’s why we heard far more today about how wonderful ObamaCare is than about why it’s going so badly or how that can be corrected.

Democrats have long been certain (and some Republicans feared) that once in place, ObamaCare would work so well that it could never be overturned or cut back. The president spoke today as if he knew that this myth is dying quickly and must be resuscitated if the plan is to survive. But if the White House thought today’s event would quiet fears about an unfolding disaster, they were wrong. Until the president calls those in charge of this mess to account, and convene experts to study whether the structure put in place to administer this fiasco is adequate to the task, a mere tech surge won’t fix what ails ObamaCare. And until he stops trying to sell it as if he is the pitchman-in-chief and starts thinking more about how it is malfunctioning, Americans won’t trust him to administer it fairly or competently.

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