Commentary Magazine


Topic: Commander in Chief

Rep. Ryan Wrong to Question Generals?

The progressive movement – which I seem to remember accusing a certain general of betraying the country in a full-page New York Times ad a few years back – is suddenly apoplectic that Rep. Paul Ryan would dare suggest that Pentagon leadership may not be expressing their full reservations about President Obama’s defense budget cuts.

The Rachel Maddow blog slams Ryan’s “unbridled chutzpah,” and concludes:

And finally, there’s the biggest, most jaw-dropping angle of them all: Paul Ryan, who has never served in the military a day in his life, believes he knows better than the U.S. military leadership what funding levels are needed to “keep people safe.”

Amazing. Just amazing.

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The progressive movement – which I seem to remember accusing a certain general of betraying the country in a full-page New York Times ad a few years back – is suddenly apoplectic that Rep. Paul Ryan would dare suggest that Pentagon leadership may not be expressing their full reservations about President Obama’s defense budget cuts.

The Rachel Maddow blog slams Ryan’s “unbridled chutzpah,” and concludes:

And finally, there’s the biggest, most jaw-dropping angle of them all: Paul Ryan, who has never served in the military a day in his life, believes he knows better than the U.S. military leadership what funding levels are needed to “keep people safe.”

Amazing. Just amazing.

This, from a pundit who just published a book this week premised on the idea the U.S. needs to shrink national defense – and who also has no military experience. Maybe not the best time to be throwing stones.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey disputed Ryan’s remarks, and said he stood by his support for the defense cuts:

“There’s a difference between having someone say they don’t believe what you said versus … calling us, collectively, liars,” Gen. Dempsey told reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft after a four-day visit to Latin America.  ”My response is: I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy-driven process to which we mapped the budget.”

Gen. Dempsey said the budget “was a collaborative effort” among the top officers of the military branches as well as combat leaders.

It didn’t sound like Ryan was calling the generals liars or questioning their integrity, but simply acknowledging that they work at the behest and under the authority of the Commander in Chief. And that could limit what they feel they can say publicly.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano, who has served in the Pentagon, defends Ryan’s comments:

Why is the brass signing off on this? Well, that’s their job. I know well how this works. I saw it first hand serving in the Pentagon. The Constitution establishes civilian supremacy over the military. The president is commander in chief. He defines strategic requirements, so the way he gets the military leaders to agree is simple: He just lowers the bar of expectations. He dumbs down the requirements.

So when Congress asks the brass, “Do you have enough?” They have no choice but to answer “yes.” It is like telling marathoner who has not had time to train that he only has to run a 5-K race. Sure, he’s ready—unless he actually has to run a marathon.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when the military rubber-stamps the president’s budget. Nor should we be surprised when Congress questions them. That is the job of the Congress.

That doesn’t mean Ryan didn’t make a mistake here. His comment was still poorly-worded, giving his opponents fodder to attack him and distract from the issue. He also put military leaders in an uncomfortable position, forcing them to defend their previous statements on budget cuts to the media. But his broader argument wasn’t necessarily inaccurate.

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One More Reason Why the Military Is Among the Most Trusted of Institutions

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

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Palin’s Got Bigger Problems Than Charles Krauthammer

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

Last night on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the FOX News host asked Sarah Palin what she thought about columnist Charles Krauthammer’s observation that the former Alaska governor’s reality TV show, in which she hangs out with fellow TLC network reality star Kate Gosselin, wasn’t exactly presidential.

Palin could have merely responded that she and the eminent analyst had a lot in common lately, as both have been critical of the Republican congressional leadership’s tax deal with President Obama, and that her qualifications for the presidency should be judged by her conservative policy stands, not a television show that everyone knows is meant as entertainment intended to boost her public profile.

But, as even those of us who have been inclined to judge her more favorably than much of the chattering class have come to understand, Sarah Palin is every bit as thin-skinned as the man she’d like to replace in the White House. Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is. I know she probably isn’t reading his columns (which ought to be required reading for every serious student of politics and policy, no matter where they are on the political spectrum), but you’d think she watches the network where both appear regularly.

But Palin has bigger problems than Krauthammer. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of registered voters said they would “definitely not consider” voting for Palin for president and that she would lose to President Obama in a head-to-head match-up by a margin of 53-40 percent.

Palin’s popularity among Republicans continues to be high, and she will be a formidable contender for the GOP nomination if, as appears likely, she runs. But her appeal is limited to those who already share her views. Palin’s resentment of the Washington establishment and perhaps even of such intellectual gatekeepers of the conservative movement as Krauthammer may resonate with many conservative voters, but her attitude (which is the opposite of conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s genial responses to hostile media) alienates everyone else.

Everything she does and says lately seems geared toward reinforcing the negative opinion of that 60 percent already convinced that she isn’t qualified to be the commander in chief. And there’s simply no way that a person that six out of 10 voters wouldn’t vote for under any circumstances can be elected president.

So, rather than taunting people like Krauthammer, who merely said aloud what so many others are thinking about her unpresidential demeanor, maybe Sarah Palin ought to be waking up to the fact that she is simply unelectable.

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Just Hold Them

Benjamin Wittes of Brookings and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration (of which he was a sometimes critic), make a compelling case: forget civilian trials and military tribunals for enemy combatants. Their logic is sound:

Many critics of civilian trials claim that this problem would not have occurred in a military commission, but that is very probably wrong. The legal standard for excluding such evidence in military commissions would depend on the military judge’s sense of the “interests of justice.” The government would be foolish to rely on military judges’ willingness to admit evidence obtained – even in a derivative fashion — as a result of coercion. There is not much reason to think that the government would have had an easier time against Ghailani on this score if it had proceeded in a commission.

There is, however, reason to think that a commission trial would have presented problems not present in Ghailani’s civilian trial. One central problem is that the conspiracy charge on which Ghailani was nabbed might not be valid in military commissions; three sitting Supreme Court justices have said as much, and many scholars agree. On this and other issues from evidentiary and procedural rules to fundamental constitutional questions, military commissions raise legal uncertainties that have yet to be sorted out by appellate courts.

Instead, just hold the terrorists indefinitely. It’s tried and true and perfectly legal:

The government has a lesser burden in justifying military detention before a habeas corpus court than it has in convicting a terrorist of a crime at trial. The courts broadly accept that Congress has authorized military detention and that it is a perfectly legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. … Military detention was designed precisely to prevent such fighters from returning to the battlefield. It is a tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, court-blessed, resource-saving, security-preserving, easier-than-trial option for long-term terrorist incapacitation.

Oh the jaws that will drop in European salons! Oh the howls from the ACLU! But at this point, these are precisely the sorts of elites that the Obama administration should dismiss with a back of the hand. The American people and our enemies abroad look at the Obama detention operation with a mix of astonishment and contempt. The White House, however, created the fiction that only civilian trials are true to our “values” but now has figured out that they may be inimical to our national security. It has puffed and postured about closing Guantanamo but has now discovered its utility.

So what better time to wipe the slate clean, declare that Guantanamo will remain in operation for the “worst of the worst,” and relegate KSM and the rest to indefinite detention? That would redound to Obama’s political benefit and restore some oomph to a commander in chief badly in need of some; moreover, it would finally recognize the obvious: we’re at war, and combatants are not criminal defendants.

Benjamin Wittes of Brookings and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration (of which he was a sometimes critic), make a compelling case: forget civilian trials and military tribunals for enemy combatants. Their logic is sound:

Many critics of civilian trials claim that this problem would not have occurred in a military commission, but that is very probably wrong. The legal standard for excluding such evidence in military commissions would depend on the military judge’s sense of the “interests of justice.” The government would be foolish to rely on military judges’ willingness to admit evidence obtained – even in a derivative fashion — as a result of coercion. There is not much reason to think that the government would have had an easier time against Ghailani on this score if it had proceeded in a commission.

There is, however, reason to think that a commission trial would have presented problems not present in Ghailani’s civilian trial. One central problem is that the conspiracy charge on which Ghailani was nabbed might not be valid in military commissions; three sitting Supreme Court justices have said as much, and many scholars agree. On this and other issues from evidentiary and procedural rules to fundamental constitutional questions, military commissions raise legal uncertainties that have yet to be sorted out by appellate courts.

Instead, just hold the terrorists indefinitely. It’s tried and true and perfectly legal:

The government has a lesser burden in justifying military detention before a habeas corpus court than it has in convicting a terrorist of a crime at trial. The courts broadly accept that Congress has authorized military detention and that it is a perfectly legitimate form of terrorist incapacitation. … Military detention was designed precisely to prevent such fighters from returning to the battlefield. It is a tradition-sanctioned, congressionally authorized, court-blessed, resource-saving, security-preserving, easier-than-trial option for long-term terrorist incapacitation.

Oh the jaws that will drop in European salons! Oh the howls from the ACLU! But at this point, these are precisely the sorts of elites that the Obama administration should dismiss with a back of the hand. The American people and our enemies abroad look at the Obama detention operation with a mix of astonishment and contempt. The White House, however, created the fiction that only civilian trials are true to our “values” but now has figured out that they may be inimical to our national security. It has puffed and postured about closing Guantanamo but has now discovered its utility.

So what better time to wipe the slate clean, declare that Guantanamo will remain in operation for the “worst of the worst,” and relegate KSM and the rest to indefinite detention? That would redound to Obama’s political benefit and restore some oomph to a commander in chief badly in need of some; moreover, it would finally recognize the obvious: we’re at war, and combatants are not criminal defendants.

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Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

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Time to Be the Not-Not Bush Commander in Chief

Michael Gerson sums up where the moral preener has left us: “Under Holder’s influence, American detainee policy is a botched, hypocritical, politicized mess.” Botched because a mass murderer has been acquitted of all murder-related charges. Hypocritical because the Obama administration is unlikely to release him after his sentence is up. (In other words, who cares what the judicial system says: the man’s a terrorist!) And politicized because decisions were made by the agenda-driven leftist intention of proving that the Bush administration was composed of a bunch of knuckle-draggers — legally and morally unsophisticated.

But as it turns out, the things that work in the war against Islamic fascism are the policies that the Bush team employed (staying the course in Iraq, indefinite detention — Bagram or Guantanamo, what’s the difference?), and the things that don’t work (closing Guantanamo, using civilian courtrooms for terrorists, second- and third-guessing intelligence operatives) are generally the missteps the Bush team sidestepped. Who’s the more unsophisticated commander in chief?

Bush had no trouble deciding that waterboarding in limited circumstances to extract actionable information was preferable to letting Americans die. The press is still horrified. Obama concludes that the use of drones to kill terrorists and, inadvertently, some civilians is a necessary wartime strategy. He’s commended for his no-nonsense approach to the war. Does Obama occupy any higher moral ground?

The lesson of the past two years is that there is no benefit in playing to the sensitivities of European elites and university professors. If the administration is going to lose its reputation for being feckless and inconsistent, it should drop those tactics designed merely to distinguish it from the previous administration and stop applying the American legal system in inappropriate contexts in order to demonstrate its superiority. Oh, and of course, Eric Holder needs to go. He has proved politically tone-deaf and legally incompetent. What good is he to the administration, or to the country?

Michael Gerson sums up where the moral preener has left us: “Under Holder’s influence, American detainee policy is a botched, hypocritical, politicized mess.” Botched because a mass murderer has been acquitted of all murder-related charges. Hypocritical because the Obama administration is unlikely to release him after his sentence is up. (In other words, who cares what the judicial system says: the man’s a terrorist!) And politicized because decisions were made by the agenda-driven leftist intention of proving that the Bush administration was composed of a bunch of knuckle-draggers — legally and morally unsophisticated.

But as it turns out, the things that work in the war against Islamic fascism are the policies that the Bush team employed (staying the course in Iraq, indefinite detention — Bagram or Guantanamo, what’s the difference?), and the things that don’t work (closing Guantanamo, using civilian courtrooms for terrorists, second- and third-guessing intelligence operatives) are generally the missteps the Bush team sidestepped. Who’s the more unsophisticated commander in chief?

Bush had no trouble deciding that waterboarding in limited circumstances to extract actionable information was preferable to letting Americans die. The press is still horrified. Obama concludes that the use of drones to kill terrorists and, inadvertently, some civilians is a necessary wartime strategy. He’s commended for his no-nonsense approach to the war. Does Obama occupy any higher moral ground?

The lesson of the past two years is that there is no benefit in playing to the sensitivities of European elites and university professors. If the administration is going to lose its reputation for being feckless and inconsistent, it should drop those tactics designed merely to distinguish it from the previous administration and stop applying the American legal system in inappropriate contexts in order to demonstrate its superiority. Oh, and of course, Eric Holder needs to go. He has proved politically tone-deaf and legally incompetent. What good is he to the administration, or to the country?

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It’s the Everything, Stupid

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up. Read More

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up.

What happened could not have been predicted: the campus progressivism and the incompetence fused. Obama pushed through an enormous fiscal stimulus and a calamitous healthcare policy, both of which were not only unapologetically redistributive but structurally unsound as well. As Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron said of the stimulus, “even the components with a plausible justification were designed in the least productive and most redistributionist way possible.”  A labyrinthine bureaucratic architecture and a tangle of regulatory loose ends similarly doomed ObamaCare.

On foreign policy, the same thing happened. President Obama not only approached foreign provocateurs with harmful progressive notions of Western guilt and omni-directional empathy; his green foreign policy team bungled overtures and gambits, so that world leaders ceased to take America seriously, even as an apology nation.  While antagonists forged greater alliances, friends complained about the un-seriousness of American policy. The world took the measure of the commander in chief and pronounced him a lightweight.

Now, with the waiting game over and with the midterm elections having hemmed in the administration, we have a president who is, halfway into his term, ineffective. At this point, he’s likely to pivot to foreign affairs where he’s less constrained by the conservative realignment in Congress. But look at how that’s going. During a 10-day tour of Asia, Obama failed to secure a key trade agreement with South Korea and got nowhere with China on its harmful currency devaluation. At the same time, Obama’s ill-conceived personal request that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani step aside and allow Iyad Allawi to become Iraq’s new president was immediately rebuffed. Even as our troops make progress in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai tells the Washington Post, “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan… to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.” A burst of military success is not enough in Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to be in for the long haul, so that our allies don’t cut survival deals with our enemies. If we’re not staying long enough to keep Afghanistan on course, Karzai wants his waiver too. Many pundits are misinterpreting Obama’s foreign policy headaches. It’s not that world leaders are responding to Americans’ midterm disapproval; it’s that they too are unimpressed.

No American should be pleased about any of this. Those who were initially afraid of Obama’s power and his ideological designs now have a new concern of equal importance: his powerlessness.  Recently, Walter Russell Mead wrote at his American Interest blog, “No president in my lifetime has fallen from heaven to earth as rapidly as President Obama.” If he keeps falling, he takes us with him. Waivers are a start, but the enormous work of reversal and restoration has not yet properly begun. We’d all do well to hope for a little of that early executive determination and sense of purpose.

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Who’s the Least Self-Reflective of Them All?

It is a delightful coincidence for fans of George W. Bush that his memoirs and accompanying media onslaught should come just as Obama is in full funk mode following his midterm shellacking. What is even more amusing than the return of  the Decider to the public limelight is the reaction of the media, which have greeted the book precisely as one would expect. The press continually “misunderestimated” him, and they do so again.

A case in point is the Los Angeles Times book review, which finds Bush’s tome to be an “unexpectedly engrossing memoir.” Unexpected by those who considered him a simpleton. Like so many on the left, the Times‘s reviewer, Tim Rutten, is bothered that Bush wasn’t more bothered about waterboarding terrorists to save American lives. For liberals, the decision was reprehensible, or at the very least agonizing. For Bush, it was straightforward: waterboard KSM or risk American lives. That the press can’t understand the moral imperative for the president to act as he did tells us as much about mainstream journalists as it does about Bush.

Likewise, because their caricature of Bush so colored their perceptions, the media elites are amazed to find out how respectful Bush was of opponents:

Given the contentious political use Karl Rove and other Bush aides made of abortion, readers also may be interested in the former president’s unfailingly respectful discussion of the abortion-rights advocates with whom he disagrees. …

Actually, one of the impressions that arises repeatedly in “Decision Points” is how much civility and bi-partisan cooperation matter to Bush. “The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs, was deeply disappointing,” he writes.

Shocking to the left, I suppose. But let’s be blunt: the Bush=Hitler derangement syndrome never embittered Bush, nor did he ever imagine it was the role of the president to be the partisan in chief.

Yes, the contrast with Obama is great. Bush wasn’t “eloquent,” we were told, yet he managed to communicate with great clarity where he stood and what he stood for. Bush was “divisive,” we were instructed, yet he was respectful and exceptionally kind to aides, foes, and average Americans. Bush was “isolated” and “stubborn,” but he turned around a losing war strategy, kept his composure after the 2006 midterms, and never blamed the voters for his political misfortunes. You would think the media would now consider whether their evaluation of Bush was wrong. But no, they prefer to be “surprised” or even confounded by a book that reveals their take on Bush to be badly out of sync with the real man.

And even worse for the liberal intelligentsia, they have to concede that Obama looks remarkably bad in comparison. Howard Kurtz writes that “it felt like we were watching The Decider vs. The Agonizer.” There is the halfhearted attempt to make agonizing a virtue, but really, is Hamlet the model we want for commander in chief?

The irony is delicious. The press objects that Bush was simple-minded and not reflective. Umm, I think it’s called “projection” when one’s critique of others amounts to a spot-on self-diagnosis. The media would do well to reflect a bit more on whether their own coverage of Bush was accurate or remotely fair. But that’s not their style. They are, as Rutten would put it, “singularly unapologetic.”

It is a delightful coincidence for fans of George W. Bush that his memoirs and accompanying media onslaught should come just as Obama is in full funk mode following his midterm shellacking. What is even more amusing than the return of  the Decider to the public limelight is the reaction of the media, which have greeted the book precisely as one would expect. The press continually “misunderestimated” him, and they do so again.

A case in point is the Los Angeles Times book review, which finds Bush’s tome to be an “unexpectedly engrossing memoir.” Unexpected by those who considered him a simpleton. Like so many on the left, the Times‘s reviewer, Tim Rutten, is bothered that Bush wasn’t more bothered about waterboarding terrorists to save American lives. For liberals, the decision was reprehensible, or at the very least agonizing. For Bush, it was straightforward: waterboard KSM or risk American lives. That the press can’t understand the moral imperative for the president to act as he did tells us as much about mainstream journalists as it does about Bush.

Likewise, because their caricature of Bush so colored their perceptions, the media elites are amazed to find out how respectful Bush was of opponents:

Given the contentious political use Karl Rove and other Bush aides made of abortion, readers also may be interested in the former president’s unfailingly respectful discussion of the abortion-rights advocates with whom he disagrees. …

Actually, one of the impressions that arises repeatedly in “Decision Points” is how much civility and bi-partisan cooperation matter to Bush. “The death spiral of decency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs, was deeply disappointing,” he writes.

Shocking to the left, I suppose. But let’s be blunt: the Bush=Hitler derangement syndrome never embittered Bush, nor did he ever imagine it was the role of the president to be the partisan in chief.

Yes, the contrast with Obama is great. Bush wasn’t “eloquent,” we were told, yet he managed to communicate with great clarity where he stood and what he stood for. Bush was “divisive,” we were instructed, yet he was respectful and exceptionally kind to aides, foes, and average Americans. Bush was “isolated” and “stubborn,” but he turned around a losing war strategy, kept his composure after the 2006 midterms, and never blamed the voters for his political misfortunes. You would think the media would now consider whether their evaluation of Bush was wrong. But no, they prefer to be “surprised” or even confounded by a book that reveals their take on Bush to be badly out of sync with the real man.

And even worse for the liberal intelligentsia, they have to concede that Obama looks remarkably bad in comparison. Howard Kurtz writes that “it felt like we were watching The Decider vs. The Agonizer.” There is the halfhearted attempt to make agonizing a virtue, but really, is Hamlet the model we want for commander in chief?

The irony is delicious. The press objects that Bush was simple-minded and not reflective. Umm, I think it’s called “projection” when one’s critique of others amounts to a spot-on self-diagnosis. The media would do well to reflect a bit more on whether their own coverage of Bush was accurate or remotely fair. But that’s not their style. They are, as Rutten would put it, “singularly unapologetic.”

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Congress, Israel, and Iran

In addition to the areas that Max has pointed to, there is much Congress can do both rhetorically and with the power of the purse regarding Obama’s wholly ineffective efforts to stop Iran from going nuclear. Rigorous oversight hearings, resolutions declaring that the U.S. remains committed to denying Iran nuclear weapons, and full funding for human rights and dissident groups would all be useful. Next, defund the UN Human Rights Council. As to Israel specifically, here too oversight hearings and the power of the bully pulpit can be employed to confront and hopefully modify Obama’s aggressive stance toward the Jewish state.

None of these suggestions are suitable substitutes for a wise commander in chief, but Congress can do its best to curb the Obami’s worst instincts.

In addition to the areas that Max has pointed to, there is much Congress can do both rhetorically and with the power of the purse regarding Obama’s wholly ineffective efforts to stop Iran from going nuclear. Rigorous oversight hearings, resolutions declaring that the U.S. remains committed to denying Iran nuclear weapons, and full funding for human rights and dissident groups would all be useful. Next, defund the UN Human Rights Council. As to Israel specifically, here too oversight hearings and the power of the bully pulpit can be employed to confront and hopefully modify Obama’s aggressive stance toward the Jewish state.

None of these suggestions are suitable substitutes for a wise commander in chief, but Congress can do its best to curb the Obami’s worst instincts.

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How Will the GOP Be Able to Influence Foreign Policy After the Election?

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

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RE: “Yes We Can, But…”

As Pete pointed out, the president’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show was a telling one. It’s not only we conservatives who think it was a bad outing for Obama. Dana Milbank observes:

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.

In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.

But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.

As Pete pointed out, the president’s appearance on Jon Stewart’s show was a telling one. It’s not only we conservatives who think it was a bad outing for Obama. Dana Milbank observes:

The president had come, on the eve of what will almost certainly be the loss of his governing majority, to plead his case before Jon Stewart, gatekeeper of the disillusioned left. But instead of displaying the sizzle that won him an army of youthful supporters two years ago, Obama had a Brownie moment.

Obama may have thought that he’d get the “cool kid” treatment — the condescending left is full of his kind of people, after all — but, instead, he was the butt of the joke. Milbank continues:

“In fairness,” the president replied defensively, “Larry Summers did a heckuva job.”

“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart recommended with a laugh.

Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.

And yet he wound up looking neither cool nor presidential. Milbank suggests that this was an attempt to compensate for a lousy MTV outing. (Then, “he was serious and defensive, pointing a finger at his host several times as he quarreled with the premise of a question.”) But it was really an attempt to compensate for a lousy two years.

In a real sense, Obama has tried to maintain two contradictory roles. On the one hand, he wants to be the darling of the left and of the cultural elites. He sneers at middle America, turns up his nose at “triumphalism” (as he described pride in the Iraq war effort), finds shoddy our record on human rights, attacks Wall Street, and finds American exceptionalism gauche. But he is also president, commander in chief, attempting to encourage an economic revival, leader of a major national party, and — most important from his perspective — up for re-election in 2012. The darling of the left runs headlong into thechief executive/presidential 2012 candidate. We saw the dramatic clash of these two roles in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. Obama and the leftist elites vs. everyone else.

But here’s the thing about the leftist elites — nicely personified for this purpose by Jon Stewart. They don’t like a loser. Cool kids are not losers. Their spin doesn’t get by the cynics and the wisecrackers. So, pretty soon, the cool kids have something in common with the rest of America: they conclude that this president is a bumbler and not, after all, the change they were hoping for.

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A Month Out

Four weeks from today (less, in states with early voting), Americans will stream to the polls and deal a blow to Obama and his agenda. That’s the conclusion of the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll. ABC sums it up this way:

Increasingly disenchanted with President Obama’s work on the stalled economy, registered voters by an 8-point margin say they’d prefer to see the Republicans take control of Congress — the clearest sign yet of GOP opportunities and Democratic risks in the 2010 midterm elections. A year and a half into his presidency, 51 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll would rather have the Republicans run Congress “to act as a check on Obama’s policies,” vs. 43 percent who want the Democrats in charge to help support those policies. That’s accompanied by a 7-point, one-month drop in approval of Obama’s handling of the economy, to a career low. While Democrats are most at risk, the danger’s not theirs alone. Registered voters by 62-26 percent are inclined to look around for someone new for Congress rather than to re-elect their current representative — the broadest anti-incumbency on record in ABC/Post polls since 1989. …

[Obama’s] job approval rating has slipped to 50 percent, tying his career low in ABC/Post polls, with 47 percent disapproving. Those who “strongly” disapprove outnumber strong approvers by 7 points, the widest such margin to date.

A few highlights: independent likely voters (who outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the poll) favor GOP candidates by an astounding 53-36 percent margin. The president’s performance on the economy is at the root of the problem (only 43 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the most important issue to voters), but ObamaCare is none too popular either (only 45 percent approve). On every major domestic issue (health care, financial regulation, the economy, and the deficit), voters disapprove of Obama’s performance by between 50 and 56 percent. Seventy-three percent think the economy is staying the same or getting worse. His only bright spot: 55 percent approve of his performance as commander in chief.

Individual races will depend on the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates, but the landscape is set, and it is extremely unlikely that the electorate’s mood will change. Democrats can spin all they like, but there is no sign of improvement in their fortunes. What is left to be determined is the extent of the damage and how successfully Obama can deflect blame for the implosion of his party.

Four weeks from today (less, in states with early voting), Americans will stream to the polls and deal a blow to Obama and his agenda. That’s the conclusion of the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll. ABC sums it up this way:

Increasingly disenchanted with President Obama’s work on the stalled economy, registered voters by an 8-point margin say they’d prefer to see the Republicans take control of Congress — the clearest sign yet of GOP opportunities and Democratic risks in the 2010 midterm elections. A year and a half into his presidency, 51 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll would rather have the Republicans run Congress “to act as a check on Obama’s policies,” vs. 43 percent who want the Democrats in charge to help support those policies. That’s accompanied by a 7-point, one-month drop in approval of Obama’s handling of the economy, to a career low. While Democrats are most at risk, the danger’s not theirs alone. Registered voters by 62-26 percent are inclined to look around for someone new for Congress rather than to re-elect their current representative — the broadest anti-incumbency on record in ABC/Post polls since 1989. …

[Obama’s] job approval rating has slipped to 50 percent, tying his career low in ABC/Post polls, with 47 percent disapproving. Those who “strongly” disapprove outnumber strong approvers by 7 points, the widest such margin to date.

A few highlights: independent likely voters (who outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the poll) favor GOP candidates by an astounding 53-36 percent margin. The president’s performance on the economy is at the root of the problem (only 43 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the most important issue to voters), but ObamaCare is none too popular either (only 45 percent approve). On every major domestic issue (health care, financial regulation, the economy, and the deficit), voters disapprove of Obama’s performance by between 50 and 56 percent. Seventy-three percent think the economy is staying the same or getting worse. His only bright spot: 55 percent approve of his performance as commander in chief.

Individual races will depend on the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates, but the landscape is set, and it is extremely unlikely that the electorate’s mood will change. Democrats can spin all they like, but there is no sign of improvement in their fortunes. What is left to be determined is the extent of the damage and how successfully Obama can deflect blame for the implosion of his party.

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RE: The Half-Hearted Commander in Chief

In the Charles Krauthammer column that Jen refers to, Krauthammer ends by quoting Bob Woodward, author of Obama’s War, who earlier this week said of the president, “He is out of Afghanistan psychologically.”

Here’s the full Woodward quote:

The president’s committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, “We need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I’m not going to do 10 years.” He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander-in-chief, don’t you have to be kind of the guy who’s up there, “Yes, we can, we’re going to win.”?

Mr. Woodward’s assertion seems to align with the facts as we now know them. So here is the situation we face: the president escalated a war about which he is profoundly ambivalent. His passion isn’t to succeed in Afghanistan; it is to leave from there. Mr. Obama clearly considers the war an unwelcome distraction from his domestic ambitions; he has devoted almost none of his time convincing the country and his party that the Afghanistan war is something that is worthy of our support. And the president’s statement that “I can’t lose the whole Democratic party” is damning.

How many times in American history have we had a president who was out of a war psychologically, even as he was sending more young men and women to fight and to die? And how many times has it ended well?

I have praised President Obama in the past for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. New facts have come to light since then. And, arguably, I should have better understood the true nature of the man in the Oval Office. Either way, the president, rather than distancing himself from the July 2011 draw-down date, has doubled down on it. He has said things in meetings and on the record that underscore his equivocation, his doubt, and his lack of fortitude when it comes to this war. And so it is fair, I think, to render a judgment I much rather would not: What President Obama is now doing – both escalating and undermining a war at the very same time — is not only unwise; it is contemptible. He has a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to choose one path or the other – to prosecute the war with commitment and resolve or to leave.

The president still has time, but not much.

In the Charles Krauthammer column that Jen refers to, Krauthammer ends by quoting Bob Woodward, author of Obama’s War, who earlier this week said of the president, “He is out of Afghanistan psychologically.”

Here’s the full Woodward quote:

The president’s committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, “We need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I’m not going to do 10 years.” He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander-in-chief, don’t you have to be kind of the guy who’s up there, “Yes, we can, we’re going to win.”?

Mr. Woodward’s assertion seems to align with the facts as we now know them. So here is the situation we face: the president escalated a war about which he is profoundly ambivalent. His passion isn’t to succeed in Afghanistan; it is to leave from there. Mr. Obama clearly considers the war an unwelcome distraction from his domestic ambitions; he has devoted almost none of his time convincing the country and his party that the Afghanistan war is something that is worthy of our support. And the president’s statement that “I can’t lose the whole Democratic party” is damning.

How many times in American history have we had a president who was out of a war psychologically, even as he was sending more young men and women to fight and to die? And how many times has it ended well?

I have praised President Obama in the past for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. New facts have come to light since then. And, arguably, I should have better understood the true nature of the man in the Oval Office. Either way, the president, rather than distancing himself from the July 2011 draw-down date, has doubled down on it. He has said things in meetings and on the record that underscore his equivocation, his doubt, and his lack of fortitude when it comes to this war. And so it is fair, I think, to render a judgment I much rather would not: What President Obama is now doing – both escalating and undermining a war at the very same time — is not only unwise; it is contemptible. He has a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to choose one path or the other – to prosecute the war with commitment and resolve or to leave.

The president still has time, but not much.

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The Half-Hearted Commander in Chief

Charles Krauthammer sums up conservatives’ horrified reaction to Bob Woodward’s book:

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president’s public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes.

You would think the left, which wasn’t game on the war anyway, would be equally horrified. But they are in a state of shock as it is. I suspect as Obama’s position erodes, they’ll be heard from, as well.

As Krauthammer notes, the president is concerned primarily, maybe exclusively, with keeping his party together. Aside from the impropriety of elevating partisanship over matters of national security, it is exceptionally passive:

Is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health-care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement.

But he would do so only if he were committed to victory and understood the ramifications of defeat. Plainly, he doesn’t — and that is the source of the problem and the real lesson to be learned Woodward’s book. Where we go from here — a more fulsome devotion to victory, or a stubborn adherence to his 2011 deadline? We don’t know. We can only hope that with a Republican House (and possibly Senate) that his domestic agenda will be thwarted — and he therefore will turn to matters on which he can maintain his relevance and rescue his legacy. To do that, of course, he’s going to have to make sure we win.

Charles Krauthammer sums up conservatives’ horrified reaction to Bob Woodward’s book:

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

Until now, the above was just inference from the president’s public rhetoric. No longer. Now we have the private quotes.

You would think the left, which wasn’t game on the war anyway, would be equally horrified. But they are in a state of shock as it is. I suspect as Obama’s position erodes, they’ll be heard from, as well.

As Krauthammer notes, the president is concerned primarily, maybe exclusively, with keeping his party together. Aside from the impropriety of elevating partisanship over matters of national security, it is exceptionally passive:

Is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health-care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement.

But he would do so only if he were committed to victory and understood the ramifications of defeat. Plainly, he doesn’t — and that is the source of the problem and the real lesson to be learned Woodward’s book. Where we go from here — a more fulsome devotion to victory, or a stubborn adherence to his 2011 deadline? We don’t know. We can only hope that with a Republican House (and possibly Senate) that his domestic agenda will be thwarted — and he therefore will turn to matters on which he can maintain his relevance and rescue his legacy. To do that, of course, he’s going to have to make sure we win.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

Not going to happen: “Specifically, the smartest thing Obama could do in replacing outgoing Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would be to pick an outsider who can address some of the obvious weaknesses his administration has. … It is critically important that Emanuel’s replacement have strong ties to the business community, a history of good relations with both parties in Congress, and the independence and integrity to be able to tell the president ‘no’ when he is wrong.”

Not going to be a good Election Day for Virginia Democrats. Three of the  four at-risk House Democrats trail GOP challengers, two by double digits. The fourth Republican trails narrowly.

Not close: “Republican Marco Rubio continues to hold an 11-point lead over independent candidate Charlie Crist in Florida’s race for the U.S. Senate. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Florida finds Rubio with 41% support, while Crist, the state’s current governor, picks up 30% of the vote. Democrat Kendrick Meek comes in third with 21%.”

Not even handpicked audiences like him. In Iowa: “Holding the latest in a series of backyard meetings with middle-class voters, Obama heard one small businessman’s fears that his tax plans could ‘strangle’ job creation. The president also fielded concerns about high unemployment and the impact of his healthcare overhaul. It was a marked contrast to the enthusiastic university crowd that greeted Obama on Tuesday in Wisconsin when he sought to fire up his youthful base of support, and showed the obstacles his Democratic Party faces in the Nov. 2 elections.”

Not only Sen. Joe Lieberman is calling for Obama to get tough on Iran: “Barack Obama’s policy to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is under pressure from members of Congress, who argue that Washington should make clear it will consider military action unless sanctions yield swift results. … Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said recently the administration had ‘months, not years’ to make sanctions work. He added that military action was preferable to accepting an Iran with nuclear weapons capability.”

Not encouraging: “One of the most remarkable aspects of Bob Woodward’s new book, ‘Obama’s Wars,’ is its portrait of a White House that has all but resigned itself to failure in Afghanistan.” In fact, it is reprehensible for the commander in chief to order young Americans into war without confidence and commitment in their mission.

Not a fan. David Brooks on Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “I can’t imagine what Murkowski is thinking. The lady must have too many admiring conversations with the mirrors in her house.” Ouch.

Not a vote of confidence from one of Soros Street’s more sympathetic observers: “Will J Street even be around in its current form in coming days, now that it is enveloped in a scandal (more of a cover-up than a crime, in the traditional Washington style)?”

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Lieberman: It’s About American Interests

Sen. Joe Lieberman gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was everything the Obama Middle East policy is not — realistic, attuned to America’s national interests, and bold.

He smartly began describing the nervousness that has greeted the administration’s “smart diplomacy”: “I have been struck as I have traveled in the region in recent months by what seems to me to be a heightened uneasiness about the future of American power there. Behind closed doors, one hears an unmistakable uncertainty about our resolve and staying power.” He enumerates several reasons, but it is clear what the primary problem is:

I believe, the major geopolitical driver for the heightened anxiety about America’s staying power in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran — more specifically, its determined push to become the dominant power in the region and tilt the balance of governance there towards Islamist extremism — and whether the United States has the will to stop that push. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability cannot be separated from its long-term campaign of unconventional warfare, stretching back decades, to destabilize the region and remake it in its own Islamist extremist image.

Or, to put it bluntly, the problem is the administration’s seeming unwillingness or inability to thwart the rise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. It’s not about Israel; rather, it is about the U.S.: Read More

Sen. Joe Lieberman gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations. It was everything the Obama Middle East policy is not — realistic, attuned to America’s national interests, and bold.

He smartly began describing the nervousness that has greeted the administration’s “smart diplomacy”: “I have been struck as I have traveled in the region in recent months by what seems to me to be a heightened uneasiness about the future of American power there. Behind closed doors, one hears an unmistakable uncertainty about our resolve and staying power.” He enumerates several reasons, but it is clear what the primary problem is:

I believe, the major geopolitical driver for the heightened anxiety about America’s staying power in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran — more specifically, its determined push to become the dominant power in the region and tilt the balance of governance there towards Islamist extremism — and whether the United States has the will to stop that push. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability cannot be separated from its long-term campaign of unconventional warfare, stretching back decades, to destabilize the region and remake it in its own Islamist extremist image.

Or, to put it bluntly, the problem is the administration’s seeming unwillingness or inability to thwart the rise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state. It’s not about Israel; rather, it is about the U.S.:

If Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, it would severely destabilize the Middle East, a region whose stability has been an important long-term American national and economic security goal.

It would also damage America’s ability to sustain the commitments we have made in the Middle East: our commitment, dating back to the Carter and Reagan administrations, to prevent the domination of the Persian Gulf by a revisionist or extremist power; our commitment to secure lasting peace and security between Israel and its neighbors; and our commitment to deter, disrupt, and defeat state-sponsored Islamist extremist groups, who would suddenly be able to wage attacks from under the protection of Iran’s nuclear umbrella. …

That is why the single most important test of American power in the Middle East today is whether we succeed or fail in stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. How we do on that test will significantly affect our standing in the rest of the world.

It is particularly telling that as Lieberman identifies the principle concern in the region (arguably anywhere), the Obami are flitting about trying to get Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, where nothing much has or will be accomplished.

Lieberman praises the “cascade” of sanctions, but cautions: “Iran’s nuclear efforts are continuing forward. Despite some apparent technical difficulties, Iran’s centrifuges keep spinning, and its stockpile of fissile material continues to grow.” In other words, the sanctions have failed, and we now need to consider other measures.

Sensing that the Obami are excited by the prospect of new talks with the mullahs, he warns: “The test is not whether the Iranian regime is talking, but what the regime is doing.” So what do we do?

Our sanctions effort should therefore increasingly aim not just to add pressure on the existing regime, but to target the fissures that already exist both within the Iranian regime itself and between the regime and Iranian society.

This should include much more robust engagement and support for opposition forces inside Iran, both by the United States and like-minded democratic nations around the world. The Obama administration missed an important opportunity in the wake of last year’s election in Iran. But it is certainly not too late to give strong support to the people in Iran who are courageously standing up against their repressive government.

In addition to regime change, we — not tiny Israel —  must make clear we will use force if need be:

It is time for us to take steps that make clear that if diplomatic and economic strategies continue to fail to change Iran’s nuclear policies, a military strike is not just a remote possibility in the abstract, but a real and credible alternative policy that we and our allies are ready to exercise.

It is time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table. It is time for our message to our friends and enemies in the region to become clearer: namely, that we will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability — by peaceful means if we possibly can, but with military force if we absolutely must. A military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities entails risks and costs, but I am convinced that the risks and costs of allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability are much greater.

There should be no effort to “outsource” this task, Lieberman explains. “We can and should coordinate with our many allies who share our interest in stopping a nuclear Iran, but we cannot delegate our global responsibilities to them.”

This is a powerful, mature speech that, I would suggest, should and can be the basis of a bipartisan policy. The new Congress as well as private citizens and groups concerned about the rise of a nuclear-armed Iran should make every effort to persuade the administration of the wisdom of Lieberman’s approach. There is no substitute for a determined commander in chief, but the president should know that resigning ourselves to a nuclear-armed Iran or another round of fruitless talks are non-options and will garner no public or congressional support. Moreover, Obama should know that the blame for a nuclear-armed Iran will fall on him.

A final note: Lieberman never uttered the word “Israel.” Israel certainly has a greater stake than any nation in disarming Tehran, but what the country and Obama must understand is that America’s national security is the primary issue.

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The Hacks Weren’t the Problem

Michael Gerson sums up Bob Woodward’s portrait of Obama:

The more we know about Obama’s views of the Afghan war, the less confidence he inspires. Is there a historical precedent for an American president, in time of war, hoping to convey an impression of studied, professorial ambivalence about the war itself? Is it possible to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman purposely cultivating such ambiguity?

Yes, President Obama has sent more skilled, well-led troops to Afghanistan. But he has also created a strategic challenge for America. Our enemy is patient and determined. Our president, by his own account, is neither.

Gerson describes Obama as “reluctant,” which is a generous characterization of a commander in chief who never seemed to grasp the distinction between political horse-trading and military strategy. (“Are we supposed to be reassured that a president, of no proven military judgment, driven at least partially by political calculations, imposed a split-the-difference approach only loosely related to actual need or analysis?”)

It’s neither sufficient nor accurate to blame the political hacks in the room. Granted that “Generals” Emanuel and Axelrod had no business dragging political concerns into war-planning. But the biggest problem was the president himself. As Gerson notes:

It is the most basic duty of a commander in chief to pursue the national interest above any other interest. The introduction of partisan considerations into strategic decisions merits a special contempt.

So it wasn’t reluctance on Obama’s part so much as dereliction of his duties. We all would like to think that our presidents behave admirably in matters of war and peace, and that they understand the grave responsibility that goes with the office. But it’s time to give up the fiction that Obama is thoughtful or nonideological. He’s neither. He’s simply a Chicago pol who has risen above his abilities.

Michael Gerson sums up Bob Woodward’s portrait of Obama:

The more we know about Obama’s views of the Afghan war, the less confidence he inspires. Is there a historical precedent for an American president, in time of war, hoping to convey an impression of studied, professorial ambivalence about the war itself? Is it possible to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman purposely cultivating such ambiguity?

Yes, President Obama has sent more skilled, well-led troops to Afghanistan. But he has also created a strategic challenge for America. Our enemy is patient and determined. Our president, by his own account, is neither.

Gerson describes Obama as “reluctant,” which is a generous characterization of a commander in chief who never seemed to grasp the distinction between political horse-trading and military strategy. (“Are we supposed to be reassured that a president, of no proven military judgment, driven at least partially by political calculations, imposed a split-the-difference approach only loosely related to actual need or analysis?”)

It’s neither sufficient nor accurate to blame the political hacks in the room. Granted that “Generals” Emanuel and Axelrod had no business dragging political concerns into war-planning. But the biggest problem was the president himself. As Gerson notes:

It is the most basic duty of a commander in chief to pursue the national interest above any other interest. The introduction of partisan considerations into strategic decisions merits a special contempt.

So it wasn’t reluctance on Obama’s part so much as dereliction of his duties. We all would like to think that our presidents behave admirably in matters of war and peace, and that they understand the grave responsibility that goes with the office. But it’s time to give up the fiction that Obama is thoughtful or nonideological. He’s neither. He’s simply a Chicago pol who has risen above his abilities.

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Pity the Spinners

We’ve reached the point in the Obama presidency where members of the administration are looking to rescue their own reputations. We saw some of this earlier when Rahm Emanuel or F of RE let it be known that none of the dopey war on terror moves were his idea. With Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s staff actually has a plausible excuse on foreign policy: their boss wouldn’t listen to the evidence and wanted an exit path more than a victory strategy. On that, they have a point.

The staffers who remain and the few hearty Obama spinners outside the White House will have their work cut out. He was a political messiah — so how did it all go wrong? The Republicans are impossible. Or, he’s too good for us. He hobbled our war effort in Afghanistan by setting a counterproductive deadline that smart conservatives were right to oppose — so what kind of commander in chief is he? He sent the troops, so what the leader of the Free World says is no big deal — everyone has tuned him out anyway. Disregard the military men complaining about it and Secretary Gates and Clinton trying to fuzz it up. ObamaCare is a millstone around the Democrats necks’ — isn’t his “achievement” worthless? Just you wait, any day now the public will begin to like it.

It’s not easy to defend the indefensible or to pretend that Obama did not have a unique opportunity both politically (to capture the middle of the political spectrum) and substantively (to wholeheartedly fight that “good” war, attack the entitlement programs, etc). He frittered it away — a function of his lack of managerial adeptness and his political extremism. You wonder whether Obama wishes he could leave with Rahm. Things are so much simpler in Chicago where all the pols are Democrats and you get kudos when the trash gets picked up and the buses are on time.

We’ve reached the point in the Obama presidency where members of the administration are looking to rescue their own reputations. We saw some of this earlier when Rahm Emanuel or F of RE let it be known that none of the dopey war on terror moves were his idea. With Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s staff actually has a plausible excuse on foreign policy: their boss wouldn’t listen to the evidence and wanted an exit path more than a victory strategy. On that, they have a point.

The staffers who remain and the few hearty Obama spinners outside the White House will have their work cut out. He was a political messiah — so how did it all go wrong? The Republicans are impossible. Or, he’s too good for us. He hobbled our war effort in Afghanistan by setting a counterproductive deadline that smart conservatives were right to oppose — so what kind of commander in chief is he? He sent the troops, so what the leader of the Free World says is no big deal — everyone has tuned him out anyway. Disregard the military men complaining about it and Secretary Gates and Clinton trying to fuzz it up. ObamaCare is a millstone around the Democrats necks’ — isn’t his “achievement” worthless? Just you wait, any day now the public will begin to like it.

It’s not easy to defend the indefensible or to pretend that Obama did not have a unique opportunity both politically (to capture the middle of the political spectrum) and substantively (to wholeheartedly fight that “good” war, attack the entitlement programs, etc). He frittered it away — a function of his lack of managerial adeptness and his political extremism. You wonder whether Obama wishes he could leave with Rahm. Things are so much simpler in Chicago where all the pols are Democrats and you get kudos when the trash gets picked up and the buses are on time.

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A Devastating and Depressing Portrait of Obama

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

The Washington Post’s story on Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, Obama’s Wars, includes these passages:

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.” … At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

So we finally found the one institution where Barack Obama is frugal and interested in cost-savings: the military during time of war.

It is quite revealing that this most profligate of presidents — whose spending is nearly limitless when it comes to health care, stimulus packages, bailouts, and non-defense discretionary program — has found his inner Barry Goldwater when it comes to spending on defense matters.

There are two problems for Obama. The first centers on Article II, Section II, of the Constitution, which states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.” The president’s primary responsibility, as envisioned by the Founders, is to serve as commander in chief, not as the tax collector for the welfare state. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 3, “is that of providing for their safety seems to be first.”

Mr. Obama seems to have his priorities upside down — largely indifferent to those areas he’s responsible for and hyper-active in areas he’s not.

Second, the military, more than any other branch of the federal government, is showing remarkable results for its work. It has reformed and modernized itself in important respects, advanced the cause of liberty, delivered lethal blows to our enemies, and protected us from harm. Yet with America engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, where the consequences of failure would be catastrophic, President Obama has decided to be hyper-thrifty with his spending. He repeatedly limits what his generals, including General Petraeus, believe they need to successfully prosecute the war.

Quite apart from being reckless, Obama is reinforcing almost every bad impression of his party: keen on raising taxes, spending record amounts on domestic programs, centralizing power, and expanding the size and reach of the federal government. When it comes to war, though, Obama is conflicted and uncertain, in search of an exit ramp more than victory, and even willing to subordinate security needs to partisan concerns (most especially by insisting on an arbitrary drawdown date of July 2011 in order to please his political advisers). As Politico reports,

the president’s timetable to begin a real drawdown … is considerably more concrete than once thought. The book … has Obama warning the Pentagon that he won’t tolerate a 10-year war that sacrifices American troops, bleeds the treasury or drains his own popularity with the Democratic base.

By most accounts (see here and here), the White House is pleased with how the president is portrayed in Obama’s Wars. It shouldn’t be. The president comes across, at least in the stories released so far, as a man deeply uncomfortable in his role as commander in chief.

It is a devastating, and depressing, portrait.

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Beyond Shame — They Like the Book!

David Ignatius uses a peculiar adjective to describe Obama’s portrayal in Bob Woodward’s new book: “poignant.” An odd word choice, considering Ignatius’s otherwise apt description:

By Woodward’s account, Obama was looking for an exit from Afghanistan even as he sent 30,000 more U.S. combat troops there.

That’s an untenable position. If the president doubted his strategy, he shouldn’t have sent the troops. If he believes his war plan stands a chance of stabilizing Afghanistan so that he can transfer responsibility to the Afghans starting next July, then he must rally the public so that it understands and supports what he’s doing.

Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That’s the one thing a president must not do: Sacrifice lives for a policy he doesn’t think can succeed.

Poignant or shameful? Poignant or irresponsible? Poignant is George Bush, an increasingly reviled figure in the White House making a decision for the sake of the country and the Free World that he knew would politically harm him and his party.

The Obami are so lacking in common sense and self-awareness that they apparently like Obama’s portrayal. Honest:

Many of Obama’s senior advisers have already obtained and read the book, “Obama’s Wars,” and are satisfied with the image it conveys of the president, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

“The President comes across in the [Afghanistan] review and throughout the decision-making process as a Commander in Chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role,” the official said in an e-mail.

They are incapable of being shamed — beyond embarrassment. Not even the “absorb 9/11″ part seems to upset them. Well, to a crew that thinks ObamaCare is a political winner, the economy is in recovery, and the Tea Party is a fringe group, I suppose you can’t be surprised by a book documenting that Obama cares more about politics than winning the war (“I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party,” Woodward quotes him as declaring). And yet it is shocking. We simply don’t  imagine — and find it hard to stomach — a presidency conducted on these terms.

David Ignatius uses a peculiar adjective to describe Obama’s portrayal in Bob Woodward’s new book: “poignant.” An odd word choice, considering Ignatius’s otherwise apt description:

By Woodward’s account, Obama was looking for an exit from Afghanistan even as he sent 30,000 more U.S. combat troops there.

That’s an untenable position. If the president doubted his strategy, he shouldn’t have sent the troops. If he believes his war plan stands a chance of stabilizing Afghanistan so that he can transfer responsibility to the Afghans starting next July, then he must rally the public so that it understands and supports what he’s doing.

Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That’s the one thing a president must not do: Sacrifice lives for a policy he doesn’t think can succeed.

Poignant or shameful? Poignant or irresponsible? Poignant is George Bush, an increasingly reviled figure in the White House making a decision for the sake of the country and the Free World that he knew would politically harm him and his party.

The Obami are so lacking in common sense and self-awareness that they apparently like Obama’s portrayal. Honest:

Many of Obama’s senior advisers have already obtained and read the book, “Obama’s Wars,” and are satisfied with the image it conveys of the president, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

“The President comes across in the [Afghanistan] review and throughout the decision-making process as a Commander in Chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role,” the official said in an e-mail.

They are incapable of being shamed — beyond embarrassment. Not even the “absorb 9/11″ part seems to upset them. Well, to a crew that thinks ObamaCare is a political winner, the economy is in recovery, and the Tea Party is a fringe group, I suppose you can’t be surprised by a book documenting that Obama cares more about politics than winning the war (“I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party,” Woodward quotes him as declaring). And yet it is shocking. We simply don’t  imagine — and find it hard to stomach — a presidency conducted on these terms.

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