Commentary Magazine


Topic: Copenhagen

Iraqi Clerics May Issue Fatwa — Against Sectarian Violence

This is a promising development. A gathering of Iraqi Sunni, Shiite, and Christian leaders met in Copenhagen today to discuss whether to issue a religious decree condemning the recent tide of violence against Christians, AFP is reporting:

“I hope that we will be able to produce a joint Shiite-Sunni fatwa (religious decree) against violence towards Christians,” said Canon Andrew White, head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) and vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad.

“There is a total unity between the Muslims and Christians: we need to do something radical,” White told AFP on the sidelines of the three-day closed-door meeting that began Wednesday.

The emergency summit at a heavily guarded Copenhagen hotel, organised by FRRME and the Danish foreign ministry, comes on the heels of a string of attacks on Christians in Iraq, as well as in neighbouring countries.

It is time “to think seriously about steps that need to be taken to protect all the minority communities,” White insisted.

And it looks like the summit has drawn some influential participants, including Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem (a top Sunni adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki), Shiite leader Sheik Abduhaeem al-Zubairi (the representative for Iraq’s Assyrian community), and Archbishop Avak Asadourian (leader of Iraq’s Christian Council).

“This group of leaders has the power and influence to negotiate on behalf of the people they represent, to deny legitimacy to the use of violence and to call authoritatively for reconciliation and peaceful solutions,” Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen told the AFP.

It’s interesting that Iraqi leaders are using their own cultural mechanisms to push the liberal idea of religious tolerance. At a time when there’s been a lot of negativity about the influence of Iran over the Iraqi government, this is a good sign for those who remain optimistic about the future of democracy in Iraq.

This is a promising development. A gathering of Iraqi Sunni, Shiite, and Christian leaders met in Copenhagen today to discuss whether to issue a religious decree condemning the recent tide of violence against Christians, AFP is reporting:

“I hope that we will be able to produce a joint Shiite-Sunni fatwa (religious decree) against violence towards Christians,” said Canon Andrew White, head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) and vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad.

“There is a total unity between the Muslims and Christians: we need to do something radical,” White told AFP on the sidelines of the three-day closed-door meeting that began Wednesday.

The emergency summit at a heavily guarded Copenhagen hotel, organised by FRRME and the Danish foreign ministry, comes on the heels of a string of attacks on Christians in Iraq, as well as in neighbouring countries.

It is time “to think seriously about steps that need to be taken to protect all the minority communities,” White insisted.

And it looks like the summit has drawn some influential participants, including Sheikh Abdul Latif Humayem (a top Sunni adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki), Shiite leader Sheik Abduhaeem al-Zubairi (the representative for Iraq’s Assyrian community), and Archbishop Avak Asadourian (leader of Iraq’s Christian Council).

“This group of leaders has the power and influence to negotiate on behalf of the people they represent, to deny legitimacy to the use of violence and to call authoritatively for reconciliation and peaceful solutions,” Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen told the AFP.

It’s interesting that Iraqi leaders are using their own cultural mechanisms to push the liberal idea of religious tolerance. At a time when there’s been a lot of negativity about the influence of Iran over the Iraqi government, this is a good sign for those who remain optimistic about the future of democracy in Iraq.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Read Less

Fear and Loathing in the Far East

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Read Less

Yale Names Its World Fellows

Yale’s just announced its 2010 class of World Fellows, its pallid imitation of the Rhodes. Two biographies caught my eye:

Lumumba Di-Aping (Sudan)

Deputy Permanent Representative, Sudan Mission to United Nations. A diplomat and chief negotiator on financial and economic affairs, Di-Aping represented developing countries as Chairman of the Group of 77 and China at the recent Copenhagen climate change conference.

and

May Tony Akl (Lebanon)

Foreign Press Secretary, Office of MP Michel Aoun. Akl advises former Prime Minister Aoun, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement and the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc. She is a founding member of the Free Patriotic Movement.

So who do we have? We have a representative of the criminal and genocidal Sudanese regime who made headlines earlier in the year when he claimed that the Copenhagen climate-change agreement was “a solution based on values that funneled six million people in Europe into furnaces.” And we have the press secretary for the former Lebanese PM and party allied with Hezbollah.

Great choices, Yale, great choices.

Yale’s just announced its 2010 class of World Fellows, its pallid imitation of the Rhodes. Two biographies caught my eye:

Lumumba Di-Aping (Sudan)

Deputy Permanent Representative, Sudan Mission to United Nations. A diplomat and chief negotiator on financial and economic affairs, Di-Aping represented developing countries as Chairman of the Group of 77 and China at the recent Copenhagen climate change conference.

and

May Tony Akl (Lebanon)

Foreign Press Secretary, Office of MP Michel Aoun. Akl advises former Prime Minister Aoun, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement and the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc. She is a founding member of the Free Patriotic Movement.

So who do we have? We have a representative of the criminal and genocidal Sudanese regime who made headlines earlier in the year when he claimed that the Copenhagen climate-change agreement was “a solution based on values that funneled six million people in Europe into furnaces.” And we have the press secretary for the former Lebanese PM and party allied with Hezbollah.

Great choices, Yale, great choices.

Read Less

Hillary Clinton: Errand Girl for Disastrous Foreign Policy

Michael Hirsh writes a lengthy piece on Hillary Clinton, confirming that she’s not much of a secretary of state. But then we knew that from the results of her handiwork — an unratifiable START treaty, a wrecked relationship with Israel, offended European allies, a Middle East “peace process” that has succeeded only in encouraging Palestinian intransigence, a failed Syrian-engagement gambit, and a dead-end Iran policy. So it’s not surprising that Hirsh focuses on her relationship with Obama — Starsky and Hutch! — and dwells on minutiae. After all, that’s what Hillary does best. The duo’s great accomplishment? Storming a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ultimately meaningless Copenhagen global-warming conference. That’s the best Hirsch can come up with.

It’s hard to hide the problem, namely that she’s really not up to the job. Hirsh writes:

“She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.”

Associates bridle at such condescension, and so do many White House officials, including General Jones. Clinton’s former longtime policy chief, Neera Tanden, sees nothing to apologize for: “She definitely has lists. And she really feels a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility, as part of her general outlook; perhaps it is her Methodism. It’s part of who she is.” Clinton herself ridicules the criticism. “At the end of the day, have you solved the problem or haven’t you? Have you crossed it off the list or haven’t you?”

Hmm. Do you suppose “Thwart Iran’s nuclear program” is on the list? What about “Reorient administration away from Israel”? That one gets a check mark.

Outside observers concede the obvious:

Clinton’s and Obama’s various policies do not yet add up to anything like a doctrine on America’s place in the world. Much of the first year was about “rebuilding the brand, rebuilding political capital,” says one official. And blaming George W. Bush for America’s dire situation, of course. Now, however, fewer world leaders care about the mistakes made by the previous administration. Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.”

So what does she bring? It seems that Obama found the perfect errand girl for his bizarrely counterproductive strategy of cozying up to despots, shoving democracy promotion aside, dissing allies, and focusing on unilateral grand gestures – which suggests that no one in the administration has a workable strategy for promoting American interests and values. Obama imagines himself a great foreign-policy visionary, but the legacy he is creating is an America more estranged from allies and a Middle East on the tipping point of a deadly nuclear-arms race. Hillary might be just the enabler, but she’ll share in that legacy, which for now promises to be the most dismal of any American president’s since (maybe including) Jimmy Carter.

Michael Hirsh writes a lengthy piece on Hillary Clinton, confirming that she’s not much of a secretary of state. But then we knew that from the results of her handiwork — an unratifiable START treaty, a wrecked relationship with Israel, offended European allies, a Middle East “peace process” that has succeeded only in encouraging Palestinian intransigence, a failed Syrian-engagement gambit, and a dead-end Iran policy. So it’s not surprising that Hirsh focuses on her relationship with Obama — Starsky and Hutch! — and dwells on minutiae. After all, that’s what Hillary does best. The duo’s great accomplishment? Storming a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the ultimately meaningless Copenhagen global-warming conference. That’s the best Hirsch can come up with.

It’s hard to hide the problem, namely that she’s really not up to the job. Hirsh writes:

“She has no real strategic vision,” says an NSC official. “But she’ll get done what she has to do. She’s the good little Methodist girl. In the end she’ll have her list of the nine or 10 things she has to do and check them off one by one.”

Associates bridle at such condescension, and so do many White House officials, including General Jones. Clinton’s former longtime policy chief, Neera Tanden, sees nothing to apologize for: “She definitely has lists. And she really feels a sense of obligation, duty, responsibility, as part of her general outlook; perhaps it is her Methodism. It’s part of who she is.” Clinton herself ridicules the criticism. “At the end of the day, have you solved the problem or haven’t you? Have you crossed it off the list or haven’t you?”

Hmm. Do you suppose “Thwart Iran’s nuclear program” is on the list? What about “Reorient administration away from Israel”? That one gets a check mark.

Outside observers concede the obvious:

Clinton’s and Obama’s various policies do not yet add up to anything like a doctrine on America’s place in the world. Much of the first year was about “rebuilding the brand, rebuilding political capital,” says one official. And blaming George W. Bush for America’s dire situation, of course. Now, however, fewer world leaders care about the mistakes made by the previous administration. Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says he doesn’t think Clinton is of the caliber of James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who was perhaps the last real superstar in the job. “She’s very smart,” he says. “She understands all these issues. You can have a good discussion with her on almost any [subject]. But she doesn’t pretend to be, nor is she, a strategist. When she goes to the National Security Council, she doesn’t bring that to the table.”

So what does she bring? It seems that Obama found the perfect errand girl for his bizarrely counterproductive strategy of cozying up to despots, shoving democracy promotion aside, dissing allies, and focusing on unilateral grand gestures – which suggests that no one in the administration has a workable strategy for promoting American interests and values. Obama imagines himself a great foreign-policy visionary, but the legacy he is creating is an America more estranged from allies and a Middle East on the tipping point of a deadly nuclear-arms race. Hillary might be just the enabler, but she’ll share in that legacy, which for now promises to be the most dismal of any American president’s since (maybe including) Jimmy Carter.

Read Less

And What About the Results? (UPDATED)

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Over at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver reviews from recent Washington Post and New York Times profiles on Hillary Clinton the pluses and minuses of her tenure as secretary of state. Pluses: she plays well with others (the president, Robert Gates, the foreign service), and she helped cover up the Copenhagen debacle. (“According to the NYT, Secretary Clinton apparently deserves some credit for salvaging a fig-leaf exit strategy from the ill-fated Copenhagen conference on climate change. Whether the State Department also deserves some blame for the way Copenhagen ran off the rails, the paper does not say.”) That’s it.

The minuses: (1) “Secretary Clinton does not appear to be the key foreign policy player on any topic of importance,” and (2) “Secretary Clinton has yet to help the Obama administration forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.”

Mr. Feaver is perhaps a dry humorist. He wraps up, proclaiming, “Where the positives and negatives will ultimately net out depends on whether the Obama foreign policy begins to bear some positive fruit.” He and these accounts, of course, ignore that Clinton has utterly failed to do her job, which is to “be the key foreign policy player” and “forge and explain a coherent grand strategy, or even coherent interlocking mid-level strategies.” That is the job, after all. Moreover, there are a string of foreign policy mishaps, gaffes, and misjudgments that touch every continent. (OK, not Antarctica.)

She has all the efficiency of an officious hall monitor, all the social skills one could expect of a junior foreign-service officer, and all the pals one could hope for in the elite media. What she doesn’t have is a trace of competence or the force of personality to rise above the gaggle of those who pass for “policy gurus” in this administration. Sort of like saying that except for never wanting to fight, Gen. George McClellan was a great general. Yes, except for the “doing” the job part, Clinton’s been a boffo secretary of state.

UPDATE: A knowledgeable reader suggests that, in fact, Feaver is using understatement to critique Clinton’s performance. Given Feaver’s work on the George W. Bush National Security Council, it is not hard to conclude that he views Clinton’s tenure as less than successful.

Read Less

Next Up: Cap-and-Trade?

Every time you think the Obama administration’s chutzpah has maxed out, you read another story that teaches you that this is a quality that should never be underestimated. According to the Daily Beast, senior aides are telling the press that once they are finished ramming an unpopular health-care package down a reluctant Congress’s throat, they will begin the same process with a raft of legislation aimed at further depressing the American economy and increasing Washington’s control of what will be left: cap-and-trade carbon laws aimed at reducing the threat of global warming.

Though last week some of the same sources were claiming that a long overdue immigration-reform package (a goal that George W. Bush tried and failed to achieve due to resistance from his own party) would be the next step, it makes sense that Obama would be more interested in cap-and-trade, since it reflects his own ideological predilections about increasing government power and deferring to international opinion.

Yet even the sympathetic Daily Beast can’t quite fathom how Obama thinks he will force-feed such a dubious proposal to Congress or the American public. As Richard Wolffe writes of the administration’s hubris: “Obama is even taking up climate change — an issue on which, after an anticlimactic summit in Copenhagen and a scandal that raised questions about whether advocates were skewing the research, the president would appear to be swimming entirely upstream. ‘We were never going to go small,’ said one senior Obama aide, referring to the Clinton strategy after his party’s defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections.”

How do we account for such a lack of realism on the part of the White House? The chances of passing cap-and-trade were already quite small even before the revelation of statistical fraud at the crucial Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University and of false claims made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Does the White House relish being linked to dubious research about melting glaciers in the Himalayas or misleading hockey-stick diagrams purporting to show temperature increases that aren’t there? Does Obama really want to spend the months before the midterm elections watching environmental extremists take center stage as cap-and-trade is debated in Congress? Is he willing to play Sancho Panza to Al Gore as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate jousts with windmills in what would be an obviously futile effort to get Democrats to go along? (Forget about the Republicans ever backing such legislation — especially if they get the opportunity to hand Obama another major defeat before November.)

Perhaps the “senior aides” dishing this story are just blowing smoke at the press, but if true, the idea that global warming is next for Obama shows just how divorced from political reality this administration has become.

Every time you think the Obama administration’s chutzpah has maxed out, you read another story that teaches you that this is a quality that should never be underestimated. According to the Daily Beast, senior aides are telling the press that once they are finished ramming an unpopular health-care package down a reluctant Congress’s throat, they will begin the same process with a raft of legislation aimed at further depressing the American economy and increasing Washington’s control of what will be left: cap-and-trade carbon laws aimed at reducing the threat of global warming.

Though last week some of the same sources were claiming that a long overdue immigration-reform package (a goal that George W. Bush tried and failed to achieve due to resistance from his own party) would be the next step, it makes sense that Obama would be more interested in cap-and-trade, since it reflects his own ideological predilections about increasing government power and deferring to international opinion.

Yet even the sympathetic Daily Beast can’t quite fathom how Obama thinks he will force-feed such a dubious proposal to Congress or the American public. As Richard Wolffe writes of the administration’s hubris: “Obama is even taking up climate change — an issue on which, after an anticlimactic summit in Copenhagen and a scandal that raised questions about whether advocates were skewing the research, the president would appear to be swimming entirely upstream. ‘We were never going to go small,’ said one senior Obama aide, referring to the Clinton strategy after his party’s defeat in the 1994 mid-term elections.”

How do we account for such a lack of realism on the part of the White House? The chances of passing cap-and-trade were already quite small even before the revelation of statistical fraud at the crucial Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University and of false claims made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Does the White House relish being linked to dubious research about melting glaciers in the Himalayas or misleading hockey-stick diagrams purporting to show temperature increases that aren’t there? Does Obama really want to spend the months before the midterm elections watching environmental extremists take center stage as cap-and-trade is debated in Congress? Is he willing to play Sancho Panza to Al Gore as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate jousts with windmills in what would be an obviously futile effort to get Democrats to go along? (Forget about the Republicans ever backing such legislation — especially if they get the opportunity to hand Obama another major defeat before November.)

Perhaps the “senior aides” dishing this story are just blowing smoke at the press, but if true, the idea that global warming is next for Obama shows just how divorced from political reality this administration has become.

Read Less

The Summit to Nowhere? (UPDATED)

This morning Obama, Democrats, and Republicans will gather to discuss an approach to health care — a comprehensive, massive tax-and-spend scheme — that by all accounts is going nowhere and that the public has rejected. A savvy reader asks me, “Isn’t this shining a light on Obama’s own failure?” Well, that may well be the case, for Obama has finally put out a proposal, gathered the players in one room, and gotten the whole country to watch. But unless a dramatic shift in public and congressional opinion occurs, he will not get his bill. Indeed, we now see signs that he realizes this.

This report explains that Obama is preparing an alternative plan to cover 15 million people and do a small fraction of what his ObamaCare scheme envisioned:

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years. …

Such a move would disappoint many Democrats, including Mr. Obama. They have worked for more than a year to pass comprehensive legislation like the plan the president unveiled Monday, which would cover the bulk of the 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., set new rules for health insurers and try to control spiraling health-care costs.

Which leads us back to the central question: why the summit? It seems to have been about as well thought out as the two trips to Copenhagen. But let’s see. Perhaps there’s a devilishly clever plot at work by the Obami to come out victorious. If so, they have certainly concealed it from view.

UPDATE: Obama certainly doesn’t have the public on his side going into this. By a 52 to 39 percent margin, Americans oppose reconciliation to jam health care through. Only 25 percent want a bill similar to the one Obama has proposed to pass, while 25 percent want no more health-care legislation, and 48 percent want the lawmakers to start over. Obama has tried to convince Congress to ignore the voters, but post–Scott Brown, and in an election year, that’s a tall order.

This morning Obama, Democrats, and Republicans will gather to discuss an approach to health care — a comprehensive, massive tax-and-spend scheme — that by all accounts is going nowhere and that the public has rejected. A savvy reader asks me, “Isn’t this shining a light on Obama’s own failure?” Well, that may well be the case, for Obama has finally put out a proposal, gathered the players in one room, and gotten the whole country to watch. But unless a dramatic shift in public and congressional opinion occurs, he will not get his bill. Indeed, we now see signs that he realizes this.

This report explains that Obama is preparing an alternative plan to cover 15 million people and do a small fraction of what his ObamaCare scheme envisioned:

It would do that by requiring insurance companies to allow people up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ health plans, and by modestly expanding two federal-state health programs, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, one person said. The cost to the federal government would be about one-fourth the price tag for the broader effort, which the White House has said would cost about $950 billion over 10 years. …

Such a move would disappoint many Democrats, including Mr. Obama. They have worked for more than a year to pass comprehensive legislation like the plan the president unveiled Monday, which would cover the bulk of the 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., set new rules for health insurers and try to control spiraling health-care costs.

Which leads us back to the central question: why the summit? It seems to have been about as well thought out as the two trips to Copenhagen. But let’s see. Perhaps there’s a devilishly clever plot at work by the Obami to come out victorious. If so, they have certainly concealed it from view.

UPDATE: Obama certainly doesn’t have the public on his side going into this. By a 52 to 39 percent margin, Americans oppose reconciliation to jam health care through. Only 25 percent want a bill similar to the one Obama has proposed to pass, while 25 percent want no more health-care legislation, and 48 percent want the lawmakers to start over. Obama has tried to convince Congress to ignore the voters, but post–Scott Brown, and in an election year, that’s a tall order.

Read Less

Less than Meets the Eye — Again

The thing about Obama is that there is always less than meets the eye. He went to Copenhagen twice, each time with spinners expecting the fix was in and Obama could deliver a huge political win; but there was no game plan; there was no Chicago Olympics or global-warming deal. Obama intends to sweep away Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but not really. There is no executive order. There will be a long study and maybe, sometime, there will be congressional action. Obama had a plan for Iran: prove his bona fides by engagement, pivot to crippling sanctions, and hold military force as an option. Instead, he’s been meandering around in engagement and coming up with mini-sanctions. No cleverly devised plan after all.

Now we hear that the proposal to regulate CO2 by bureaucratic fiat is being whittled down to a mini-gambit that won’t go into effect until after 2010, when, by gosh, we’ll have a new Congress:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pledge Monday to move slowly on the implementation of upcoming greenhouse gas rules may give cover to some Capitol Hill Democrats to vote against blocking climate rules entirely, according to lobbyists and activists.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a letter to a group of Senate Democrats on Monday that upcoming rules to limit emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities won’t take effect in 2010. She also told the eight Democrats — who mostly hail from coal-producing or coal-reliant states — that the rules will initially be narrower than EPA had planned.

On one level, this is another exercise in cynicism. You see, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has a plan to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. But the Hill reports, “One environmental lobbyist said EPA’s action ‘absolutely’ gives Democrats cover to vote against [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski’s plan by providing time for work on climate legislation.” On the other hand, it’s evidence that the Obami aren’t really equipped to push through much of their radical agenda, so they must resort once again to delay, misdirection, and half-measures to avoid wigging out their base. Still, the EPA’s newest mini-gambit isn’t enough to win over some Democrats, especially those from energy-producing states:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who led the letter to EPA from the eight Democrats, is preparing a bill that would temporarily prevent EPA rules while Congress works on a broader climate and energy bill. He praised EPA’s action but said it hasn’t changed his mind. “I am glad to see that the EPA is showing some willingness to set their timetable for regulation into the future — this is good progress, but I am concerned it may not go far enough,” Rockefeller said in a prepared statement.

The environmental lobbyists are squawking about the need to “defend science from politics, defend our children’s future from polluters, and defend our economy from the stranglehold of special interests.” Maybe that sort of thing worked better before Climategate, record unemployment, and Obama’s ratings collapse. But now, it reinforces the chasm between Obama’s agenda and his accomplishments. It is further proof that the Obami have a lot of bark and no bite when it comes to reinventing America or putting in a New Foundation, or whatever they call it these days. That’s very good news indeed.

The thing about Obama is that there is always less than meets the eye. He went to Copenhagen twice, each time with spinners expecting the fix was in and Obama could deliver a huge political win; but there was no game plan; there was no Chicago Olympics or global-warming deal. Obama intends to sweep away Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but not really. There is no executive order. There will be a long study and maybe, sometime, there will be congressional action. Obama had a plan for Iran: prove his bona fides by engagement, pivot to crippling sanctions, and hold military force as an option. Instead, he’s been meandering around in engagement and coming up with mini-sanctions. No cleverly devised plan after all.

Now we hear that the proposal to regulate CO2 by bureaucratic fiat is being whittled down to a mini-gambit that won’t go into effect until after 2010, when, by gosh, we’ll have a new Congress:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pledge Monday to move slowly on the implementation of upcoming greenhouse gas rules may give cover to some Capitol Hill Democrats to vote against blocking climate rules entirely, according to lobbyists and activists.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a letter to a group of Senate Democrats on Monday that upcoming rules to limit emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities won’t take effect in 2010. She also told the eight Democrats — who mostly hail from coal-producing or coal-reliant states — that the rules will initially be narrower than EPA had planned.

On one level, this is another exercise in cynicism. You see, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has a plan to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. But the Hill reports, “One environmental lobbyist said EPA’s action ‘absolutely’ gives Democrats cover to vote against [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski’s plan by providing time for work on climate legislation.” On the other hand, it’s evidence that the Obami aren’t really equipped to push through much of their radical agenda, so they must resort once again to delay, misdirection, and half-measures to avoid wigging out their base. Still, the EPA’s newest mini-gambit isn’t enough to win over some Democrats, especially those from energy-producing states:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who led the letter to EPA from the eight Democrats, is preparing a bill that would temporarily prevent EPA rules while Congress works on a broader climate and energy bill. He praised EPA’s action but said it hasn’t changed his mind. “I am glad to see that the EPA is showing some willingness to set their timetable for regulation into the future — this is good progress, but I am concerned it may not go far enough,” Rockefeller said in a prepared statement.

The environmental lobbyists are squawking about the need to “defend science from politics, defend our children’s future from polluters, and defend our economy from the stranglehold of special interests.” Maybe that sort of thing worked better before Climategate, record unemployment, and Obama’s ratings collapse. But now, it reinforces the chasm between Obama’s agenda and his accomplishments. It is further proof that the Obami have a lot of bark and no bite when it comes to reinventing America or putting in a New Foundation, or whatever they call it these days. That’s very good news indeed.

Read Less

Democrats Seek Distance from Obama

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year? Read More

The Associated Press is the latest to discover the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress:

Almost by the day, Republicans are sensing fresh opportunities to pick up ground. Just Wednesday, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats announced he would try to reclaim his old seat from Democrat Evan Bayh, who barely a year ago had been a finalist to be Barack Obama’s running mate. And Republicans nationwide are still celebrating Scott Brown’s January upset to take Edward Kennedy’s former seat in Massachusetts.

A Republican takeover on Capitol Hill is still a long shot. But strategists in both parties now see at least narrow paths by which the GOP could win the House and, if the troubled environment for Democrats deteriorates further, possibly even the Senate.

The AP is a little less candid about the reasons, however. You see, it’s “the persistent 10 percent unemployment rate, the country’s bitterness over Wall Street bailouts and voters’ anti-Washington fervor. Obama’s party, controlling both the White House and Congress, is likely to feel that fury the most. And it’s defending far more seats than the Republicans.” But why, then, is the generic congressional polling number tilting in the Republicans’ favor, a historic anomaly? Could it have something to do with what the Democrats have done in the last year?

Well those incumbent Democrats struggling for their political lives don’t seem to be so confused. We’ve seen a steady drumbeat of criticism from Democrats on Obama’s anti-terrorism policies. We see that Democratic lawmakers are flexing their muscles, trying to put some daylight between themselves and the Obama-Reid-Pelosi ultra-liberal domestic agenda as well. As this report notes:

A Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri denounced the budget’s sky-high deficit. A Florida Democrat whose congressional district includes the Kennedy Space Center hit the roof over NASA budget cuts. And a headline on the 2010 campaign website of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) blares her opposition to Obama’s farm budget: “Blanche stands up for Arkansas farm families.”

And at least in the days following Scott Brown’s win, we heard a raft of Democrats suggest that maybe now it was time to move on from health-care reform to something voters actually like, maybe some pro-job measures.

The tension between the Reid-Pelosi-Obama trio, fueled by ideological determination and the fear of offending their base, and those Democrats who think that a good deal of the problem they face stems from the very agenda set out by Reid-Pelosi-Obama will, I suspect, increase throughout the year. Obama wants to “punch through” on health care; Red State Democrats want to run for their lives. Obama is touting a massive budget; Sen. Kent Conrad is already throwing cold water on it. And so it will go. The more the leadership pushes to the Left, the greater the risk for those members nervously watching the polls. And the result may well be legislative gridlock. But if the alternative is more big-government power grabs, that might not be a bad thing for at-risk Democrats.

Moreover, there is a growing realization among Democrats that the White House is vamping it — that it lacks a plan to achieve much of anything. The Hill reports that after the TV cameras left, the Democratic senators pounced on the White House aides:

Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. One Democratic senator even grew heated in his remarks, according to the source. “It wasn’t a discussion about how to get from Point A to Point B; it was a discussion about the lack of a plan to get from Point A to Point B,” said a person who attended the meeting. “Many of the members were frustrated, but one person really expressed his frustration.” Senators did not want to press Obama on healthcare reform in front of television cameras for fear of putting him in an awkward spot. “There was a vigorous discussion about that afterward with some of his top advisers and others,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said regarding the healthcare discussion.

Not unlike the debacle in Copenhagen (the first one mostly, but really both), the Democrats are coming to see that the White House lacks a game plan. It is not merely ideologically out of step with the country; it is also incapable of governing, and of leading the party. And that will make already skittish incumbents more likely to make their own political judgments, quite apart from whatever suggestions Obama doles out.

Read Less

Chinese Ire and Obama’s Big Stand

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

The Obama administration deserves credit for finally ending its kowtowing to Beijing. As the New York Times notes, the administration has recently raised the ire of Chinese officials in several ways. The biggest and most recent is the announcement of a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which China claims is simply a breakaway province — a fiction that far too many nations, including the United States, collude in by refusing Taipei formal diplomatic relations.  China has reacted predictably, suspending military-to-military contacts with the U.S. for some unspecified period; other expressions of pique are no doubt coming. The Obama-ites knew this would happen, but they went ahead anyway. Good for them.

The president is also finally going to meet the Dalai Lama, something he refused to do before his visit to China in the fall, where he went to contemptible lengths to please his hosts. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has unveiled a doctrine of Internet freedom that rankles China, which is in the midst of a dispute with Google over Chinese censorship and hacking.

Chalk this up as another area where some of the illusions that Obama and his aides carried into office are being shed as they confront the cruel reality of the world. They had hoped that by making nice with the Chinese, they would win Beijing’s cooperation on issues like global warming and sanctions on Iran. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead of signing up with the Obama agenda, China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, went out of his way to humiliate the American president at the Copenhagen global warming summit. The latest initiatives from the Obama administration can be interpreted as payback.

It’s about time. After his first year in office, Obama gave the distinct impression that he could be pushed around with impunity. That is cheering news for America’s rivals and enemies — and dangerous news for us. Obama needs to do far more to dispel that impression of weakness, but this is at least a start. Next up: Iran?

Read Less

No. Not That.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

Read Less

Looking Back on the Week

The State of the Union revealed little new about the state of the nation, but much about the Obama presidency. We already knew that the economy was hobbled, that the jihadists remain on the prowl, and that we face implacable foes, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a world less impressed with Obama than he imagined. We were not so certain, however, what Obama wanted to do about all that until Wednesday night. Perhaps he had discovered his inner Bill Clinton. Maybe he would declare ObamaCare and the era of hubris-driven big government to be over. Or maybe he would roll the dice and continue his increasingly solitary effort to drive his party over the proverbial political cliff.

To the abject amazement of many conservatives, Obama refused to turn back and delivered an address not so different from his February 2009 speech, in which he laid out the most ambitious liberal platform in many decades. He nevertheless managed to upset liberals, who noticed how low on the priority list was health-care reform and how serious he seemed in conceding that a spending freeze (however limited in scope) was required.

Now, the favorite parlor game in Washington is to guess whether he means to drive his party over the brink. Matt Continetti writes, “It takes time for an administration to change course; maybe Obama will drop his big government agenda and move to the center over the coming year. He doesn’t, however, seem to want to. So Republicans have every reason to be cheerful. Obama persists in laying the foundation for a house nobody wants to buy.” That sentiment — the nagging suspicion that Obama can’t really mean what he says — is not limited to the Right. Democrats who were assured that Obama was the smartest, the savviest, and the most bare-knuckled pol of them all are looking about, wondering if there is not some master plan for extracting them from the downward spiral they now find themselves in.

This is the perpetual plight of hopeful Obama-philes — the desire to believe he is smarter, more creative, and more astute than he reveals himself to be in action and in rhetoric. Oh, he’s got the Olympics in the bag or he wouldn’t go to Copenhagen. Don’t be silly — he’s got a game plan for ObamaCare. Honestly, there is some backstory to explain the Middle East blunders. These and more are the endless justifications that swirl around a president who seems never to live up to the expectations of his most fervent fans.

There have been some impressive second acts in politics. Bill Clinton’s post-1994 presidency was one. Richard Nixon’s return to politics and to the White House in 1968 was another. It’s not impossible. But so far Obama has provided little evidence that he possess the intellectual resourcefulness and the political dexterity to shift gears and rescue his presidency or his party. Obama has a brief window before the midterm elections to restore if not the excitement then at least the impression of minimal competence. If he does not, his congressional allies will continue to scatter, staking out their own positions on key issues and seeking more distance from a president sinking under the weight of misplaced expectations. And those who keep rooting against all evidence for the exceptional president to reveal himself may discover that they have been deceived by pretty packaging and their own wishful thinking.

In surveying the current state of the union, we see that we may well be on the road to economic recovery (albeit with anemic job growth). Our superb military provides reason for optimism that we will achieve victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of the Obama presidency is another story. It is far from certain that he will recover his bearings or remotely meet the expectations of his supporters.

The State of the Union revealed little new about the state of the nation, but much about the Obama presidency. We already knew that the economy was hobbled, that the jihadists remain on the prowl, and that we face implacable foes, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and a world less impressed with Obama than he imagined. We were not so certain, however, what Obama wanted to do about all that until Wednesday night. Perhaps he had discovered his inner Bill Clinton. Maybe he would declare ObamaCare and the era of hubris-driven big government to be over. Or maybe he would roll the dice and continue his increasingly solitary effort to drive his party over the proverbial political cliff.

To the abject amazement of many conservatives, Obama refused to turn back and delivered an address not so different from his February 2009 speech, in which he laid out the most ambitious liberal platform in many decades. He nevertheless managed to upset liberals, who noticed how low on the priority list was health-care reform and how serious he seemed in conceding that a spending freeze (however limited in scope) was required.

Now, the favorite parlor game in Washington is to guess whether he means to drive his party over the brink. Matt Continetti writes, “It takes time for an administration to change course; maybe Obama will drop his big government agenda and move to the center over the coming year. He doesn’t, however, seem to want to. So Republicans have every reason to be cheerful. Obama persists in laying the foundation for a house nobody wants to buy.” That sentiment — the nagging suspicion that Obama can’t really mean what he says — is not limited to the Right. Democrats who were assured that Obama was the smartest, the savviest, and the most bare-knuckled pol of them all are looking about, wondering if there is not some master plan for extracting them from the downward spiral they now find themselves in.

This is the perpetual plight of hopeful Obama-philes — the desire to believe he is smarter, more creative, and more astute than he reveals himself to be in action and in rhetoric. Oh, he’s got the Olympics in the bag or he wouldn’t go to Copenhagen. Don’t be silly — he’s got a game plan for ObamaCare. Honestly, there is some backstory to explain the Middle East blunders. These and more are the endless justifications that swirl around a president who seems never to live up to the expectations of his most fervent fans.

There have been some impressive second acts in politics. Bill Clinton’s post-1994 presidency was one. Richard Nixon’s return to politics and to the White House in 1968 was another. It’s not impossible. But so far Obama has provided little evidence that he possess the intellectual resourcefulness and the political dexterity to shift gears and rescue his presidency or his party. Obama has a brief window before the midterm elections to restore if not the excitement then at least the impression of minimal competence. If he does not, his congressional allies will continue to scatter, staking out their own positions on key issues and seeking more distance from a president sinking under the weight of misplaced expectations. And those who keep rooting against all evidence for the exceptional president to reveal himself may discover that they have been deceived by pretty packaging and their own wishful thinking.

In surveying the current state of the union, we see that we may well be on the road to economic recovery (albeit with anemic job growth). Our superb military provides reason for optimism that we will achieve victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of the Obama presidency is another story. It is far from certain that he will recover his bearings or remotely meet the expectations of his supporters.

Read Less

Climate-Change Skepticism on the Rise

Those who wondered how Climategate and Himalayagate would affect public opinion need look no further. A new study released today by Yale and George Mason researchers reports that since fall 2008, “public concern about global warming has dropped sharply.” Notably, the study finds public trust in both scientists and politicians has also decreased, as has confidence that a climate-change consensus exists among scientists.

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, says the results are not the consequence of Climategate alone — or, as he wryly puts it, “a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct.” Instead, he suggests that unemployment, the health-care debate, and general frustration with Washington have “largely push[ed] climate change out of the news.”

But that’s an unlikely hypothesis, especially given high-profile events like Copenhagen. In fact, the Google News Archives graph seems to show, if anything, an uptick in news coverage about climate change. The fact is, there has been effulgent coverage on climate change lately — and this study suggests that the public doesn’t like what it sees.

Perhaps most interesting is the statement made by Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication:

The scientific evidence is clear that climate change is real, human-caused and a serious threat to communities across America. … The erosion in both public concern and public trust about global warming should be a clarion call for people and organizations trying to educate the public about this important issue.

If Mr. Maibach really believes that the evidence is so clear-cut, he’s absolutely right; in light of the climate-change community’s recent woes, the public would welcome an education from scientists who both present and defend the evidence for climate change.

Those who wondered how Climategate and Himalayagate would affect public opinion need look no further. A new study released today by Yale and George Mason researchers reports that since fall 2008, “public concern about global warming has dropped sharply.” Notably, the study finds public trust in both scientists and politicians has also decreased, as has confidence that a climate-change consensus exists among scientists.

Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, says the results are not the consequence of Climategate alone — or, as he wryly puts it, “a set of emails stolen from climate scientists and used by critics to allege scientific misconduct.” Instead, he suggests that unemployment, the health-care debate, and general frustration with Washington have “largely push[ed] climate change out of the news.”

But that’s an unlikely hypothesis, especially given high-profile events like Copenhagen. In fact, the Google News Archives graph seems to show, if anything, an uptick in news coverage about climate change. The fact is, there has been effulgent coverage on climate change lately — and this study suggests that the public doesn’t like what it sees.

Perhaps most interesting is the statement made by Edward Maibach, director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication:

The scientific evidence is clear that climate change is real, human-caused and a serious threat to communities across America. … The erosion in both public concern and public trust about global warming should be a clarion call for people and organizations trying to educate the public about this important issue.

If Mr. Maibach really believes that the evidence is so clear-cut, he’s absolutely right; in light of the climate-change community’s recent woes, the public would welcome an education from scientists who both present and defend the evidence for climate change.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

Read Less

From Disgusting to Odd

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

A question about Barack Obama is starting to take shape in the American mind: where does this stop? The “this” is the collective hodgepodge of delinquent policy, administrative incompetence, a bottomless capacity for self-delusion, hubris, and the vetoing of American opinion. The “this” is comprised of attempts to harness populist disaffection in order to create a diversion, the presidential campaign that never ends, the 24/7 up-and-down-the-dial interview blitz, the hyper-partisan “post-partisanship,” and, foremost, the compulsion to lay all blame at the feet of the previous president.

Back in October, Charles Krauthammer called Obama’s incessant denunciation of George W. Bush “disgusting.” Three months later, and still going strong, the habit is bordering on eccentric. Not merely in its preponderance, but in kind. Consider that Obama explained away Republican Scott Brown’s Massachusetts victory as resulting from Americans’ anger over the “past eight years.” A Republican won because of the voters’ rage toward Bush?

Also bordering on the eccentric is the president’s endless infatuation with his own story. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama noted how the Soviet Union’s collapse paved the way for his path to the White House. He thought the Olympics would be in the bag if he flew to Copenhagen and recited a tale from the Book of Barack. When he went to Massachusetts to stump for Martha Coakley, he told the audience, “So it’s good to be back in Boston. . . I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well.” This was a reference to the electrifying DNC Convention speech that made him a star. “Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me,” he said, as if the people of Massachusetts were obligated to uphold this benevolent tradition. This time he was heckled and the state took a fatal chunk out of his agenda.

And it is courting eccentricity to remain unable to take a definitive position: to amplify and wind down the same war in the same speech, to simultaneously rescue and punish big banks, to overrule the voters who put him in office and to “never stop fighting” for them.

Early in his presidency, Obama spoke of his belief in persistence. But his dogged effort to force his left-wing square-peg agenda into the moderate round hole of American politics feels more like an unhealthy obsession. He tried to “jam it down Americans’ throats.” Fine. But to keep jamming even after the public has regurgitated in such dramatic fashion?

For all this, Obama makes a tremendous show of his cool nerves. “I don’t rattle,” he said. In a way, that’s true. Blaming Republican failings for the Massachusetts Republican victory, for example, is not a sign of being rattled. It’s a sign of disconnected logic, a much more exotic subconscious defense. It requires a lot of psychological reapportioning not to get rattled while flailing on the world stage. Instead of losing your cool, you indulge in excessive denial or projection or sublimation. Something, after all, has got to give. It’s becoming clear that something is giving. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Sherman Frederick put it, “this kind of weird delusion is consistent with the unbounded hubris of Team Obama.”

During the campaign, we heard endlessly about Barack Obama’s “presidential temperament.” But a few observers thought of it more as a strange placidity. What, in fact, is presidential about terminal aloofness? He’s the chief executive of a country that’s fighting two wars, struggling to get out from under an unprecedented financial breakdown, staring a near-nuclear Iran in the face, and on the constant receiving end of terrorist threats. Yet the most fired up we’ve ever seen Obama was when he decided a Cambridge Massachusetts police officer was “stupid” for inconveniencing his friend with a request to show ID. His second most animated moment came when some nobodies crashed his dinner party. What’s worrisome in this pattern is the president’s attachment to the personal. If we acknowledge that Obama weighs everything first by the degree to which it redounds on him personally, his failings are not so mysterious. If Obama has not conveyed to Americans that he hears their concerns, it may be because he doesn’t hear them. He merely hears pointers for his perpetual image upkeep.

Which makes you wonder where it ends. An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by external force. But for Obama, it’s all internal, personal.

What speaker of truth has the president’s ear? Is there a White House break man to slow this runaway train? Or are there only yes-men, mutes, and passive-aggressive leakers? How welcome some of the old Bush-style administration in-fighting would be right about now.

Of course, the President invites the harshest judgments. By continuing to campaign instead of lead he asks to be assessed as someone who has not yet proven himself. He forces comparisons with those he campaigned against. And so it is no surprise that the public is once again split between the general election tickets. If Obama is in campaign mode, why shouldn’t the electorate follow suit? The difference between today and 2008 is that today Obama can’t have his clean slate back.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Noemie Emery remembers Dean Barnett. Mickey Kaus adds: “This past year I would gladly have traded the entire national staffs of the New York Times, Washington Post and all four TV networks for any two of Barnett, Deborah Orin, Marjorie Williams and Cathy Seipp. They were all immune to Democratic BS.”

Obama’s TSA nominee withdraws (gets dumped?) on a busy news day.

George Will reminds us that the fallout from Obamaism could be much worse than a single congressional election: “Today, Democrats worrying about a reprise of 1994 should worry more about a rerun of the 1966 midterm elections, which began a Republican resurgence that presaged victories in seven of the next 10 presidential elections. The 2008 elections gave liberals the curse of opportunity, and they have used it to reveal themselves ruinously.”

Is Obama bending to reality? “President Barack Obama suggested he’s open to Congress passing a scaled-back health-care bill, potentially sacrificing much of his signature policy initiative as chaos engulfed Capitol Hill Wednesday. Top Democrats said they would press ahead despite growing doubts among rank-and-file members that they can pass a bill they’ve been laboring over for nearly a year. A host of ideas offered in recent days have lost favor.” Lost favor? Perhaps “melted in the aftermath of post-Brown panic” is a more precise description.

Rep. Bart Stupak seems to agree with a scaled-down health-care bill: “Tuesday’s results have created an opportunity for President Obama to deliver a final health-care reform bill. It may mean a scaled back proposal, but a proposal that focuses on the most critical needs of Americans. I remain confident that Congress will pass a health-care bill that finally grants Americans access to affordable, quality health-care coverage.”

Another non-achievement by the Obami: “Just a month after world leaders fashioned a tentative and nonbinding agreement at the climate change summit meeting in Copenhagen, the deal already appears at risk of coming undone, the top United Nations climate official warned on Wednesday.”

If Dennis Blair is on the way out, he’s going out in style, dumping on Obama’s antiterror approach: “The nation’s intelligence chief said Wednesday that the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect should have been treated as a terrorism detainee when the plane landed. That would have meant initial questioning by special interrogators. … Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should be questioned by the recently created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group or HIG.”

But then Blair is forced to walk it back in a late-afternoon statement: “‘The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody,’ the statement said. ‘They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI’s expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational.’” How many Friday news dumps will Blair survive?

More Democratic victims: “Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley Tuesday night altered the national political landscape in the health care debate and could have profound repercussions for the Democratic majority in Congress, including Arkansas’ closely-watched U.S. Senate race. … Two-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose seat will be one of the most hotly contested races in the nation in 2010, continues to lose ground in her favorable ratings as well as her job performance among Arkansas voters.” Overall, only 38 percent approve of her performance, while 56 disapprove.

Noemie Emery remembers Dean Barnett. Mickey Kaus adds: “This past year I would gladly have traded the entire national staffs of the New York Times, Washington Post and all four TV networks for any two of Barnett, Deborah Orin, Marjorie Williams and Cathy Seipp. They were all immune to Democratic BS.”

Obama’s TSA nominee withdraws (gets dumped?) on a busy news day.

George Will reminds us that the fallout from Obamaism could be much worse than a single congressional election: “Today, Democrats worrying about a reprise of 1994 should worry more about a rerun of the 1966 midterm elections, which began a Republican resurgence that presaged victories in seven of the next 10 presidential elections. The 2008 elections gave liberals the curse of opportunity, and they have used it to reveal themselves ruinously.”

Is Obama bending to reality? “President Barack Obama suggested he’s open to Congress passing a scaled-back health-care bill, potentially sacrificing much of his signature policy initiative as chaos engulfed Capitol Hill Wednesday. Top Democrats said they would press ahead despite growing doubts among rank-and-file members that they can pass a bill they’ve been laboring over for nearly a year. A host of ideas offered in recent days have lost favor.” Lost favor? Perhaps “melted in the aftermath of post-Brown panic” is a more precise description.

Rep. Bart Stupak seems to agree with a scaled-down health-care bill: “Tuesday’s results have created an opportunity for President Obama to deliver a final health-care reform bill. It may mean a scaled back proposal, but a proposal that focuses on the most critical needs of Americans. I remain confident that Congress will pass a health-care bill that finally grants Americans access to affordable, quality health-care coverage.”

Another non-achievement by the Obami: “Just a month after world leaders fashioned a tentative and nonbinding agreement at the climate change summit meeting in Copenhagen, the deal already appears at risk of coming undone, the top United Nations climate official warned on Wednesday.”

If Dennis Blair is on the way out, he’s going out in style, dumping on Obama’s antiterror approach: “The nation’s intelligence chief said Wednesday that the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect should have been treated as a terrorism detainee when the plane landed. That would have meant initial questioning by special interrogators. … Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should be questioned by the recently created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group or HIG.”

But then Blair is forced to walk it back in a late-afternoon statement: “‘The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody,’ the statement said. ‘They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI’s expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational.’” How many Friday news dumps will Blair survive?

More Democratic victims: “Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley Tuesday night altered the national political landscape in the health care debate and could have profound repercussions for the Democratic majority in Congress, including Arkansas’ closely-watched U.S. Senate race. … Two-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose seat will be one of the most hotly contested races in the nation in 2010, continues to lose ground in her favorable ratings as well as her job performance among Arkansas voters.” Overall, only 38 percent approve of her performance, while 56 disapprove.

Read Less

The Latest Global-Warming Baloney: Glaciergate

Those busy denying the impact of the Climategate e-mails have a new piece of damaging evidence to downplay: the much publicized claim that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2030 turns out to be another global-warming fraud. The New York Times reports today that the 2007 assertion, made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the group that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore that year), is based on bogus data:

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of the Indian state of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, said in an e-mail message that he was “misquoted” about the 2035 estimate in The New Scientist article.

This new story comes on the heels of the Climategate e-mails, which revealed the fraud behind the global-warming movement’s efforts to suppress opposing voices. As with the data behind the exaggerated claims of increases in world temperatures, this revelation doesn’t mean that there isn’t some evidence that glaciers may be retreating. But there is a big difference between insisting that these glaciers will disappear and a more modest argument that there is evidence that they may be getting a bit smaller. The former reinforces the international hysteria that could lead to developed countries putting costly restrictions on economic activity — exactly what the Left had hoped would happen at the recent failed Copenhagen conference — while the latter would be something that would merely merit further study.

Yet what these revelations do prove, again, is that the groups and individuals attempting to sell the world the idea that “the planet is melting” are, at best, prone to wild exaggerations to scare people into accepting radical plans that would cripple economies and restrict freedom. At worst, they have, again, shown themselves capable of outright fraud in the name of their ideological commitment to cripple capitalism. Though most of the mainstream media continue to downplay or ignore Climategate, we can only hope that this latest story of global-warming baloney reinforces a growing trend of skepticism about the claims of environmental alarmists and puts a brake on damaging plans to “cap and trade” carbon, as well as other draconian measures that will do little about temperature changes but much harm to our future.

Those busy denying the impact of the Climategate e-mails have a new piece of damaging evidence to downplay: the much publicized claim that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2030 turns out to be another global-warming fraud. The New York Times reports today that the 2007 assertion, made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the group that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore that year), is based on bogus data:

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of the Indian state of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, said in an e-mail message that he was “misquoted” about the 2035 estimate in The New Scientist article.

This new story comes on the heels of the Climategate e-mails, which revealed the fraud behind the global-warming movement’s efforts to suppress opposing voices. As with the data behind the exaggerated claims of increases in world temperatures, this revelation doesn’t mean that there isn’t some evidence that glaciers may be retreating. But there is a big difference between insisting that these glaciers will disappear and a more modest argument that there is evidence that they may be getting a bit smaller. The former reinforces the international hysteria that could lead to developed countries putting costly restrictions on economic activity — exactly what the Left had hoped would happen at the recent failed Copenhagen conference — while the latter would be something that would merely merit further study.

Yet what these revelations do prove, again, is that the groups and individuals attempting to sell the world the idea that “the planet is melting” are, at best, prone to wild exaggerations to scare people into accepting radical plans that would cripple economies and restrict freedom. At worst, they have, again, shown themselves capable of outright fraud in the name of their ideological commitment to cripple capitalism. Though most of the mainstream media continue to downplay or ignore Climategate, we can only hope that this latest story of global-warming baloney reinforces a growing trend of skepticism about the claims of environmental alarmists and puts a brake on damaging plans to “cap and trade” carbon, as well as other draconian measures that will do little about temperature changes but much harm to our future.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Charlie Cook says Scott Brown in now favored. Well, one poll has him up almost 10 points.

My, what a difference a year makes. From the Boston Globe no less: “The feverish excitement that propelled Barack Obama and scores of other Democrats to victory in 2008 has all but evaporated, worrying party leaders who are struggling to invigorate the base before Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate race and November’s critical midterm contests, pollsters and party activists said.”

It might help if Obama were as good as Bill Clinton on the stump. Byron York reports that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama’s doors off. Obama’s speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler.”

CNN reports: “Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.” Then going to Massachusetts was sort of like going to Copenhagen for the Olympics (and again for the climate-change confab) — at some point it might be a good idea to stop demonstrating Obama’s ineffectiveness.

Things have gotten so sticky for Democrats that Ben Nelson “offers to give back his ‘bribe’.” Might be too late: his job approval has dropped to 42 percent.

More from the Democrats’ gloom-and-doom file: Friday, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement. Plus, a “SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), a freshman Democrat who represents the Cincinnati area, losing to former Republican congressman Steve Chabot, 56 to 39 percent.” He voted for both ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.

This take from Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds right: “Massachusetts is going to be a very, very close race regardless of who wins. … Regardless of who wins, we have here in effect a referendum on this national healthcare bill. The American people are telling us: ‘Please don’t pass it.’ … I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way.”

Lanny Davis at least doesn’t sound divorced from reality, like his fellow Democrats: “If Democrats lose in Massachusetts, it will simply mean Democrats and President Obama need find a new center to enact health care and other progressive legislation – meaning, they must sit down with Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, John McCain and other GOP Senators with long records of bipartisan legislating — and moderate Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and others –and create a new health care bill that can command broad bipartisan support.” Imagine if Obama had done that from the start — New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts might have looked a whole lot different, and Byron Dorgan might be running for re-election.

Charlie Cook says Scott Brown in now favored. Well, one poll has him up almost 10 points.

My, what a difference a year makes. From the Boston Globe no less: “The feverish excitement that propelled Barack Obama and scores of other Democrats to victory in 2008 has all but evaporated, worrying party leaders who are struggling to invigorate the base before Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate race and November’s critical midterm contests, pollsters and party activists said.”

It might help if Obama were as good as Bill Clinton on the stump. Byron York reports that “it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama’s doors off. Obama’s speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There’s no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler.”

CNN reports: “Multiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe Democrat Martha Coakley is going to lose Tuesday’s special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy for more than 40 years, several Democratic sources told CNN Sunday.” Then going to Massachusetts was sort of like going to Copenhagen for the Olympics (and again for the climate-change confab) — at some point it might be a good idea to stop demonstrating Obama’s ineffectiveness.

Things have gotten so sticky for Democrats that Ben Nelson “offers to give back his ‘bribe’.” Might be too late: his job approval has dropped to 42 percent.

More from the Democrats’ gloom-and-doom file: Friday, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) announced his retirement. Plus, a “SurveyUSA poll shows Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio), a freshman Democrat who represents the Cincinnati area, losing to former Republican congressman Steve Chabot, 56 to 39 percent.” He voted for both ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.

This take from Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds right: “Massachusetts is going to be a very, very close race regardless of who wins. … Regardless of who wins, we have here in effect a referendum on this national healthcare bill. The American people are telling us: ‘Please don’t pass it.’ … I think the politics are toxic for the Democrats either way.”

Lanny Davis at least doesn’t sound divorced from reality, like his fellow Democrats: “If Democrats lose in Massachusetts, it will simply mean Democrats and President Obama need find a new center to enact health care and other progressive legislation – meaning, they must sit down with Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Orrin Hatch, John McCain and other GOP Senators with long records of bipartisan legislating — and moderate Democrats Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and others –and create a new health care bill that can command broad bipartisan support.” Imagine if Obama had done that from the start — New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts might have looked a whole lot different, and Byron Dorgan might be running for re-election.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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