Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Sanger

Senators Call for Investigation of WH Leaks

Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

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Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

Both Kerry and Feinstein rejected the idea the leaks were politically motivated, but all signs point to White House authorization for the recent New York Times pieces on cyber warfare and drone strikes. This administration has not been shy when it comes to prosecuting leaks in the past, and yet it’s been notably nonchalant about a breach of this scale.

For example, the author of the Times’s cyber warfare story, David Sanger, told Gawker that “No government agency formally requested that I not publish the story.” The White House obviously knew about the article, and could have asked the Times to hold off if it believed the story was dangerous — but declined to do so. Why? And why call an FBI investigation well after the fact?

What we don’t know is whether the leak originated from the White House in the first place, or whether administration officials simply added additional information to a story that was already being written with help from other government sources or even Israeli officials.

We also don’t know what the White House’s motivation could have been for working with Sanger. Maybe officials talked to him because he agreed to withhold information that was even more sensitive from the final story, or because they wanted to make sure the article did as little damage as possible. But because this is the second big White House leak this spring that plays into the Obama campaign narrative, McCain and Chaimbliss are right to be suspicious.

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Losing His Image, Losing the Center

Even the New York Times sees that, despite Obama’s effort to alter the political and social-welfare landscape, he may have succeeded only in enraging the public. David Sanger writes:

But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something — and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago — the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. …

“Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides,” said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in politics. “It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row. But for his liberal base, it confirms that they were right to believe in the guy — and they had their doubts.”

For that lesson in governing, Mr. Obama paid a heavy price. He nearly lost the health care debate, and pulled out victory only after deferring nearly every other priority and stumping with a passion he had not shown since his campaign. His winning argument, in the end, was that while the political result could run against him — and other Democrats — remaking health care was a keystone of his “Change You Can Believe In” credo.

Well, not quite. His campaign credo opposed mandatory insurance and promised not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000. But this much is clear: Obama has handed his opponents a message and a target. The Republican party will put many internal arguments aside and focus on the objective of challenging and repealing ObamaCare. The Left — when not considering that Obama has now herded Americans into the arms of Big Insurance — may be delighted. But no party can win and govern for long without the vast center of the American electorate. Obama has now ceded that to his political opponents.

Even the New York Times sees that, despite Obama’s effort to alter the political and social-welfare landscape, he may have succeeded only in enraging the public. David Sanger writes:

But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something — and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago — the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

Never in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. …

“Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides,” said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in politics. “It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row. But for his liberal base, it confirms that they were right to believe in the guy — and they had their doubts.”

For that lesson in governing, Mr. Obama paid a heavy price. He nearly lost the health care debate, and pulled out victory only after deferring nearly every other priority and stumping with a passion he had not shown since his campaign. His winning argument, in the end, was that while the political result could run against him — and other Democrats — remaking health care was a keystone of his “Change You Can Believe In” credo.

Well, not quite. His campaign credo opposed mandatory insurance and promised not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000. But this much is clear: Obama has handed his opponents a message and a target. The Republican party will put many internal arguments aside and focus on the objective of challenging and repealing ObamaCare. The Left — when not considering that Obama has now herded Americans into the arms of Big Insurance — may be delighted. But no party can win and govern for long without the vast center of the American electorate. Obama has now ceded that to his political opponents.

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Iran Draws Closer to Nuclear Capability as World Watches

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

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Obama’s Three-Part Path to Failure on Iran

Barack Obama’s friends at the New York Times give us an insight into the president’s strategy for rallying the world behind his Iran policy. In an op-ed by David Sanger that is given the always misleading label of “news analysis” and published in the paper’s news section, we learn that Obama has a three-pronged approach to Iran: first, win international support for tough sanctions; second, win over the Chinese; and third, stop Israel from attacking Iran.

But despite the Times’s puffery, this is nothing but a three-way path to total failure. Failure, that is, if the goal is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear device, as seems certain unless something drastic happens.

Despite the lip service being paid to wider support for sanctions this week in the wake of Iran’s latest provocation — their decision to openly begin enriching uranium for nuclear fuel — the odds that Obama’s low-key approach to Iran will lead to the sort of sanctions that could hurt Iran’s economy and punish the regime so much that it would either give in or be toppled are slim and none. After a year of nonstop talk about talking and deadlines that passed with nothing happening, how can anyone, even those European countries that are actually inclined to support tough sanctions, believe that Obama means business now? And so long as neither Russia nor China supports such sanctions, a UN backing for any real measure is impossible. Right now the Russians are being coy about their opposition, while the Chinese are quite open about theirs, yet both are more interested in thwarting the United States than they are in restraining Tehran.

As for stopping Israel from taking any action to defend itself against the threat of annihilation from an Islamist regime that has spoken of such a crime as a goal, the inclusion of this point in Obama’s three-part plan seems to indicate that his real goal is learning to live with an Iranian bomb, not stopping one. The hucksterism of foreign-policy snake-oil salesmen who urge just such an approach is getting louder and louder, with the op-ed page of the Times providing space for such voices on a regular basis.

The defense for Obama’s feckless diplomacy put forward in the Times article is that Obama had to spend at least a year trying diplomacy so as to convince the world that he tried engagement after the confrontational Bush years. Blaming Bush is Obama’s all-purpose political tactic, but it won’t wash here. Bush not only failed to confront Iran; he also outsourced our diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue to France and Germany in his second term. The utter failure of his engagement effort was clear by Bush’s last year in office, but rather than face the issue and take action, he decided to pass it off on his successor. This James Buchanan–like approach to a critical issue was one of Bush’s genuine failures, and the fact that he spent 2008 similarly vetoing any Israel action on Iran only makes Obama’s dedication to the same cause both ironic and scary. But however badly Bush blundered on Iran, the idea that we needed an additional year of diplomatic failure to justify subsequent action is a joke.

The problem here with Obama’s painful dithering for the past 12 months is not just that we have wasted a precious year that the Iranians used to get closer to their nuclear goal while the West did nothing to stop them. It is that this year of engagement, during which the Islamist leaders of Iran brutally repressed domestic dissenters while Obama refused to speak up for regime change, has convinced the Iranians that Obama is a weakling whose rhetoric will never be backed up by action. At the same time, the engagement process has not only paralyzed momentum for tough sanctions in the West but also lowered the bar for the sorts of sanctions that are to be pursued. Rather than a crippling economic boycott that would stop the flow of oil into or out of Iran, now we are supposed to believe that limited measures aimed only at the Revolutionary Guards will work. The point is, even if Obama were to unite the West behind such a plan — something that would take months to pass and then further time to implement — it wouldn’t be anywhere close to being enough to hurt Tehran, let alone convince it that it must back down.

Obama’s three-point plan is not a path to success on Iran. It is, instead, a plan to allow him to justify failure.

Barack Obama’s friends at the New York Times give us an insight into the president’s strategy for rallying the world behind his Iran policy. In an op-ed by David Sanger that is given the always misleading label of “news analysis” and published in the paper’s news section, we learn that Obama has a three-pronged approach to Iran: first, win international support for tough sanctions; second, win over the Chinese; and third, stop Israel from attacking Iran.

But despite the Times’s puffery, this is nothing but a three-way path to total failure. Failure, that is, if the goal is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear device, as seems certain unless something drastic happens.

Despite the lip service being paid to wider support for sanctions this week in the wake of Iran’s latest provocation — their decision to openly begin enriching uranium for nuclear fuel — the odds that Obama’s low-key approach to Iran will lead to the sort of sanctions that could hurt Iran’s economy and punish the regime so much that it would either give in or be toppled are slim and none. After a year of nonstop talk about talking and deadlines that passed with nothing happening, how can anyone, even those European countries that are actually inclined to support tough sanctions, believe that Obama means business now? And so long as neither Russia nor China supports such sanctions, a UN backing for any real measure is impossible. Right now the Russians are being coy about their opposition, while the Chinese are quite open about theirs, yet both are more interested in thwarting the United States than they are in restraining Tehran.

As for stopping Israel from taking any action to defend itself against the threat of annihilation from an Islamist regime that has spoken of such a crime as a goal, the inclusion of this point in Obama’s three-part plan seems to indicate that his real goal is learning to live with an Iranian bomb, not stopping one. The hucksterism of foreign-policy snake-oil salesmen who urge just such an approach is getting louder and louder, with the op-ed page of the Times providing space for such voices on a regular basis.

The defense for Obama’s feckless diplomacy put forward in the Times article is that Obama had to spend at least a year trying diplomacy so as to convince the world that he tried engagement after the confrontational Bush years. Blaming Bush is Obama’s all-purpose political tactic, but it won’t wash here. Bush not only failed to confront Iran; he also outsourced our diplomatic efforts on the nuclear issue to France and Germany in his second term. The utter failure of his engagement effort was clear by Bush’s last year in office, but rather than face the issue and take action, he decided to pass it off on his successor. This James Buchanan–like approach to a critical issue was one of Bush’s genuine failures, and the fact that he spent 2008 similarly vetoing any Israel action on Iran only makes Obama’s dedication to the same cause both ironic and scary. But however badly Bush blundered on Iran, the idea that we needed an additional year of diplomatic failure to justify subsequent action is a joke.

The problem here with Obama’s painful dithering for the past 12 months is not just that we have wasted a precious year that the Iranians used to get closer to their nuclear goal while the West did nothing to stop them. It is that this year of engagement, during which the Islamist leaders of Iran brutally repressed domestic dissenters while Obama refused to speak up for regime change, has convinced the Iranians that Obama is a weakling whose rhetoric will never be backed up by action. At the same time, the engagement process has not only paralyzed momentum for tough sanctions in the West but also lowered the bar for the sorts of sanctions that are to be pursued. Rather than a crippling economic boycott that would stop the flow of oil into or out of Iran, now we are supposed to believe that limited measures aimed only at the Revolutionary Guards will work. The point is, even if Obama were to unite the West behind such a plan — something that would take months to pass and then further time to implement — it wouldn’t be anywhere close to being enough to hurt Tehran, let alone convince it that it must back down.

Obama’s three-point plan is not a path to success on Iran. It is, instead, a plan to allow him to justify failure.

Read Less

SOTU vs. the Budget

This analysis of the Obama budget is not unlike those circulating from conservative economists, think tanks, and commentators:

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

What is noteworthy is that it comes from the New York Times. It is a stark statement from the media outlet most sympathetic to the administration that the budget is both deeply dishonest and deeply irresponsible. David Sanger nails it when he says:

Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Nor is Obama going to get away with passing this all off on his predecessors. (“with this budget, Mr. Obama now owns this deficit”).

Once again we see the chasim between Obama’s rhetoric and his governance. In the SOTU he delivers a stirring call for fiscal sobriety: “But understand—if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery—all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.” But a week later he delivers a budget that has a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s huge budget and that will launch a path of unsustainable debt, with an ever increasing tax burden on those on whom we must rely to generate economic growth and jobs.

Gerald Seib, not a fire-breathing conservative either, makes the national security argument:

These numbers are often discussed as an economic and domestic problem. But it’s time to start thinking of the ramifications for America’s ability to continue playing its traditional global role.

The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America’s standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

And this is the nub of the problem for Obama. At some point—now, I think—the rhetoric runs out and there are just facts left. He is president, not George W. Bush. His budget is a garngantuan and unsustainable recipe for sucking more and more resources out of the private sector, leaving us deeper in debt than ever. Pundits across the political spectrum and, more critically, voters expect him to align his speeches with his policy agenda and work on solving our problems. Yet he seems incapable of doing more than giving the good speech. When it comes to governance, he simply recycles the same shopworn tax-and-spend liberal policies. But now, the public has reached the point where they expect more. They expect Obama not to pawn off issues on others, or delegate his agenda to Congress, or slip by on trickery (Matt Continetti points out that the discretionary budget freeze comes after an 84 percent hike in discretionary spending last year). If the 2011 budget is any indication, Obama is simply not up to the task.

This analysis of the Obama budget is not unlike those circulating from conservative economists, think tanks, and commentators:

The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output. That is not unprecedented: During the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the United States ran soaring deficits, but usually with the expectation that they would come back down once peace was restored and war spending abated.

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

What is noteworthy is that it comes from the New York Times. It is a stark statement from the media outlet most sympathetic to the administration that the budget is both deeply dishonest and deeply irresponsible. David Sanger nails it when he says:

Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

Nor is Obama going to get away with passing this all off on his predecessors. (“with this budget, Mr. Obama now owns this deficit”).

Once again we see the chasim between Obama’s rhetoric and his governance. In the SOTU he delivers a stirring call for fiscal sobriety: “But understand—if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery—all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.” But a week later he delivers a budget that has a 5.7 percent increase in spending over last year’s huge budget and that will launch a path of unsustainable debt, with an ever increasing tax burden on those on whom we must rely to generate economic growth and jobs.

Gerald Seib, not a fire-breathing conservative either, makes the national security argument:

These numbers are often discussed as an economic and domestic problem. But it’s time to start thinking of the ramifications for America’s ability to continue playing its traditional global role.

The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America’s standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

And this is the nub of the problem for Obama. At some point—now, I think—the rhetoric runs out and there are just facts left. He is president, not George W. Bush. His budget is a garngantuan and unsustainable recipe for sucking more and more resources out of the private sector, leaving us deeper in debt than ever. Pundits across the political spectrum and, more critically, voters expect him to align his speeches with his policy agenda and work on solving our problems. Yet he seems incapable of doing more than giving the good speech. When it comes to governance, he simply recycles the same shopworn tax-and-spend liberal policies. But now, the public has reached the point where they expect more. They expect Obama not to pawn off issues on others, or delegate his agenda to Congress, or slip by on trickery (Matt Continetti points out that the discretionary budget freeze comes after an 84 percent hike in discretionary spending last year). If the 2011 budget is any indication, Obama is simply not up to the task.

Read Less




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