Commentary Magazine


Topic: Eastern Europe

More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

Read Less

Wolfowitz on the Convulsions in Egypt

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

Read Less

Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

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RE: Fed’s Plan to Rev Up Printing Press Gets Thumbs Down

The overwhelmingly negative response to the Fed decision to print up $600B to buy bonds is intensifying as Russia and China joined European nations in slamming the move. This report explains:

Mr. Obama returned fire in the growing confrontation over trade and currencies Monday in a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking the unusual step of publicly backing the Fed’s decision to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—a move that has come under withering international criticism for weakening the U.S. dollar.

Gold topped $1,400 an ounce on fears of inflation as investors voted thumbs down on Ben Bernanke’s plan. And the number of critics is growing, leaving the U.S. isolated:

Germany’s criticism echoes that from other countries, including Brazil and Japan, which have complained about potential spillover from the Fed’s action. Printing more dollars, or cutting U.S. interest rates, tends to weaken the dollar and makes U.S. exports more attractive. The accompanying rise in the value of other countries’ currencies tends to damp their exports and can fuel inflation or asset bubbles, as emerging-market officials note. U.S. officials maintain the Fed’s action is about stimulating domestic demand, and that a weaker dollar is a consequence, not an objective.

On Monday, China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said the U.S. isn’t living up to its responsibility as an issuer of a global reserve currency. …

The top economic aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will insist at the G-20 summit that the Fed consult with other countries ahead of major policy decisions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is chairman of the euro-zone finance ministers, also weighed in on the Fed move, saying: “I don’t think it’s a good decision. You’re fighting debt with more debt.”

These concerns are entirely justified. Moreover, one can’t help but appreciate the irony: the “cowboy” George W. Bush was lambasted for “going it alone” and making the U.S. a pariah in the world. But worldwide resentment over the U.S. is surging as Obama is forced to lamely defend his moves as “pro-growth” (which speaks volumes about the administration’s economic illiteracy, for not even his defenders would claim that currency devaluation=growth). We hear that the “blunt criticism of U.S. policy is in large part payback for a longstanding stance by Washington policy makers that the American economy should serve as a model for others. The heated rhetoric also stems from fears that the U.S. may be looking for a back-door way to set exchange-rate policy in a way that favors the U.S.”

Combined with the incessant shin-kicking of our allies (e.g., Eastern Europe, Israel, Honduras, Britain), this latest move certainly strengthens Obama’s critics here and abroad. They contend that through a combination of ill-conceived policies and rank incompetence, Obama is rendering the U.S. less influential and less respected, which is increasing instability in the world. All and all, it is a textbook example of the perils of deploying liberal statism at home and shrinking America’s stature overseas. Unfortunately, this is not a graduate course at Harvard or a symposium at the New America Foundation. It is all too real, and unless we arrest the panoply of bad policies, America and its allies will be poorer and less safe. We already are.

The overwhelmingly negative response to the Fed decision to print up $600B to buy bonds is intensifying as Russia and China joined European nations in slamming the move. This report explains:

Mr. Obama returned fire in the growing confrontation over trade and currencies Monday in a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking the unusual step of publicly backing the Fed’s decision to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds—a move that has come under withering international criticism for weakening the U.S. dollar.

Gold topped $1,400 an ounce on fears of inflation as investors voted thumbs down on Ben Bernanke’s plan. And the number of critics is growing, leaving the U.S. isolated:

Germany’s criticism echoes that from other countries, including Brazil and Japan, which have complained about potential spillover from the Fed’s action. Printing more dollars, or cutting U.S. interest rates, tends to weaken the dollar and makes U.S. exports more attractive. The accompanying rise in the value of other countries’ currencies tends to damp their exports and can fuel inflation or asset bubbles, as emerging-market officials note. U.S. officials maintain the Fed’s action is about stimulating domestic demand, and that a weaker dollar is a consequence, not an objective.

On Monday, China’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said the U.S. isn’t living up to its responsibility as an issuer of a global reserve currency. …

The top economic aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia will insist at the G-20 summit that the Fed consult with other countries ahead of major policy decisions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is chairman of the euro-zone finance ministers, also weighed in on the Fed move, saying: “I don’t think it’s a good decision. You’re fighting debt with more debt.”

These concerns are entirely justified. Moreover, one can’t help but appreciate the irony: the “cowboy” George W. Bush was lambasted for “going it alone” and making the U.S. a pariah in the world. But worldwide resentment over the U.S. is surging as Obama is forced to lamely defend his moves as “pro-growth” (which speaks volumes about the administration’s economic illiteracy, for not even his defenders would claim that currency devaluation=growth). We hear that the “blunt criticism of U.S. policy is in large part payback for a longstanding stance by Washington policy makers that the American economy should serve as a model for others. The heated rhetoric also stems from fears that the U.S. may be looking for a back-door way to set exchange-rate policy in a way that favors the U.S.”

Combined with the incessant shin-kicking of our allies (e.g., Eastern Europe, Israel, Honduras, Britain), this latest move certainly strengthens Obama’s critics here and abroad. They contend that through a combination of ill-conceived policies and rank incompetence, Obama is rendering the U.S. less influential and less respected, which is increasing instability in the world. All and all, it is a textbook example of the perils of deploying liberal statism at home and shrinking America’s stature overseas. Unfortunately, this is not a graduate course at Harvard or a symposium at the New America Foundation. It is all too real, and unless we arrest the panoply of bad policies, America and its allies will be poorer and less safe. We already are.

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Turkey Co-opts NATO Missile-Defense System to Hurt Israel and Help Iran

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

That Turkey has grown unrelentingly hostile to Israel, and cozy with Iran, is no longer news. But it is news, of the most disturbing kind, that Washington has chosen to actively collaborate in both the hostility and the coziness. Yet that’s what emerges from today’s Haaretz report on NATO’s planned missile-defense system: the U.S., it says, has agreed to Turkey’s demand that no information gathered by the system — whose primary goal is countering threats from Iran — be shared with Israel.

President George W. Bush, who conceived the system, had planned to station it in Eastern Europe. But due to Russia’s vehement opposition, President Barack Obama decided to relocate it to Turkey.

Ankara, reluctant to damage its burgeoning romance with Tehran, said it would agree only if four conditions were met. One, Turkish sources told Haaretz, was that “information gathered by the system not be given to any non-NATO member, and especially not to Israel.”

Moreover, the sources said, Washington has agreed to this demand. In other words, Washington has agreed that potentially vital information about Israel’s greatest enemy, gathered by a NATO facility that America conceived and will doubtless largely finance, won’t be shared with Israel.

Nor does the official excuse cited for this capitulation hold water: it’s true that Israel has information-gathering systems of its own devoted to Iran, but that doesn’t mean it has no need for NATO information. The new facility may well have capabilities Israel lacks.

The real reason, as the Turkish sources noted, is most likely that Washington had little choice: without Turkey’s consent, the project couldn’t go forward, and Ankara threatened a veto if its conditions weren’t met. Yet it was Obama’s own choice to relocate the project from two staunch American allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, to an increasingly hostile Turkey that left him vulnerable to this blackmail.

But Ankara posed another condition that may be even more worrying, given its coziness with Tehran: “direct Turkish access to any information gathered by the system.”

In May, Hakan Fidan became the new head of Turkish intelligence. Fidan, Haaretz reported at the time, “played a central role in tightening Turkish ties with Iran, especially on the nuclear issue.” He defended Iran’s nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy Agency and was one of the architects of the uranium-transfer deal that Turkey and Brazil concocted with Iran in May in an effort to avert a planned UN Security Council vote on new sanctions against Tehran.

Thus Turkey wants its intelligence service, whose chief’s main goal has been to tighten ties with Iran, to have direct access to a system whose main goal is to gather information about Iran. Does NATO really want to gamble that Fidan will not pass this information on to Tehran, thereby letting it know exactly what NATO knows about its capabilities?

Under these circumstances, the system could end up doing more harm then good. At the very least, Congress should be asking some tough questions about it — and, even more important, about the utility of continuing the pretense that Turkey is still a Western ally.

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Who Decides What’s ‘Beyond the Pale’ of the Republican Party?

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn’s 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): “It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction.” Daniels went on to add: “That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon’s line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Governor Daniels’s statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is “disqualifying.” Read More

In a speech to the Hudson Institute last week, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in accepting the Herman Kahn Award, spoke admiringly of Kahn. Daniels quoted from Kahn’s 1982 book, The Coming Boom (it can be found near the 27-minute mark): “It would be most useful to redesign the tax system to discourage consumption and encourage savings and investment. One obvious possibility is a value added tax and a flat income tax, with the only exception being a lower standard deduction.” Daniels went on to add: “That might suit our current situation pretty well. It might also fit Bill Simon’s line in the late 70s that the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.”

Governor Daniels’s statement was too much for Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, who said:

This is outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought, and it is only the zone of extremely left-wing Democrats who publicly talk about those things because all Democrats pretending to be moderates wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot poll. Absent some explanation, such as large quantities of crystal meth, this is disqualifying. This is beyond the pale.

Grover has given himself quite a task: defining for the rest of us what is “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought.” What Daniels said is not simply wrong; it is “disqualifying.”

Norquist has been an influential figure in the conservative movement for a generation, but his response to Governor Daniels is almost laughably self-important. He acts as if he were speaking ex cathedra. There is an imperiousness and intolerance to Norquist’s words, an effort to shut down debate rather than to engage it. This approach shouldn’t be used in any case — but to employ it against arguably the nation’s most successful governor is very unwise.

As this article in Human Events (!) points out, Daniels’s record as governor is extremely impressive and quite conservative, from job growth to championing free-market reforms to limiting the size of government to cutting taxes. (Daniels did raise taxes, but overall, Human Events points out, “the tax cuts far outweighed the increases.”)

I’d add that one of Daniels’s more attractive qualities is that he’s an idea-oriented politician. He’s clearly at home in the realm of ideas, can speak knowledgeable and easily about them, and likes to provoke discussion and different ways of thinking. It may well be that what Herman Kahn recommended in the early 1980s is a flawed proposal, but what Daniels said hardly qualifies as heresy. For Norquist, however, Daniels is an apostate (apparently for the second time). He needs to be read out of the movement. Perhaps the same standard would have applied to Ronald Reagan, who in 1982 signed what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history (the TEFRA tax).

Norquist’s words reveal a cast of mind that conservatism would be better to avoid. It is the kind of attitude that has come to define many modern universities, which are among the most illiberal and intellectually rigid and stifling institutions in America. A healthy, self-confident conservative movement doesn’t declare what Daniels said to be “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought”; rather, it allows for and even encourages genuine debate and creative thinking, the probing of ideas and holding them up to scrutiny, self-examination, and self-reflection. Let’s leave it to others to employ the tactics found in a George Orwell novel.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vaclav Havel wrote a powerful essay about Eastern Europe. He spoke about a system committed to “eliminating all expressions of nonconformity” and that had become “ossified.” He went on to speak about the greengrocer who has to put a slogan in his window in order to contribute “to the panorama that everyone is very aware of.” This panorama, Havel went on to write, had a subliminal message: “it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation.”

Conservatism found such a system repugnant then. We shouldn’t begin to borrow from it now.

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S-300: Political Football

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

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Hillary’s World

Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The text can be read in full here. A few observations.

She, unlike the president, seems rhetorically willing to fly the banner of American exceptionalism:

The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century.

Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American Moment. A moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways. A moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination, and devotion to core values — have never been needed more.

Her argument, however, that she and the Obama team have furthered American influence and power is belied by the facts. But this does not deter her from offering disingenuous platitudes. (“From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.” Apparently Britain, Honduras, Israel, India, Eastern Europe, and others don’t understand that their relationship with us has “deepened.”) She touts progress with China, but one is left wondering where this has manifested itself. China has grown more aggressive, not less, and its human-rights abuses have not abated.

Second, the aversion to hard power is obvious. The cornerstones of American leadership according to Clinton are domestic economic strength and “diplomacy.” She has a single line, a throw-away to mollify the easily mollified (“This administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defending our friends and ourselves.”) But in paragraph after paragraph of blather (I spare you the extract) about global architecture and centers of influence, she makes it clear that her idea of foreign policy is: talk, talk, and more talk. And her sole mention of the two wars is this: “Long after our troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, our diplomatic and development assistance and support for the Afghan security forces will continue.” So much for projecting American power and values.

Most troubling, however, is the placement of Iran in the speech and the content. It comes at the very end, suggesting that it really is not at the top of her to-do list. She gives no indication that this is the most pressing issue we face. And she dispenses with even the formulaic “all options are on the table.” None of this suggests that the administration is serious — gone is even the term “unacceptable”:

First, we began by making the United States a full partner and active participant in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran. Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.

Second, we have sought to frame this issue within the global non-proliferation regime in which the rules of the road are clearly defined for all parties. To lead by example, we have renewed our own disarmament efforts. Our deepened support for global institutions such as the IAEA underscores the authority of the international system of rights and responsibilities. Iran, on the other hand, continues to single itself out through its own actions. Its intransigence represents a challenge to the rules to which all countries must adhere.

Third, we continue to strengthen relationships with those countries whose help we need if diplomacy is to be successful. Through classic shoe-leather diplomacy, we have built a broad consensus that will welcome Iran back into the community of nations if it meets its obligations and likewise will hold Iran accountable to its obligations if it continues its defiance.

This spring, the UN Security Council passed the strongest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever on Iran. The European Union has followed up with robust implementation of that resolution. Many other nations are implementing their own additional measures, including Australia, Canada, Norway and most recently Japan. We believe Iran is only just beginning to feel the full impact of sanctions. Beyond what governments are doing, the international financial and commercial sectors are also starting to recognize the risks of doing business with Iran.

Sanctions and pressure are not ends in themselves. They are the building blocks of leverage for a negotiated solution, to which we and our partners remain committed. The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear, even if they attempt to obfuscate and avoid it: Meet the responsibilities incumbent upon all nations and enjoy the benefits of integration into the international community, or continue to flout your obligations and accept increasing isolation and costs.  Iran now must decide for itself.

That is it. The whole thing. It is a shocking, even for them, signal of the nonchalance with which the Obami view the most pressing national-security concern of our time. And much of what she says is simply gibberish. For example: “Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.” What is she talking about? Iran made excuses before, they make them now, and we’ve lost 18 months in fruitless negotiations.

Israelis, I am sure, are listening carefully. While they go through the motions at the save-face-for-Obama Middle East peace talks, they must surely be coming to terms with the fact that their military is all that stands between the West and a nuclear-armed Iran. If Hillary is any indication, they will get no help from us.

Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. The text can be read in full here. A few observations.

She, unlike the president, seems rhetorically willing to fly the banner of American exceptionalism:

The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century.

Indeed, the complexities and connections of today’s world have yielded a new American Moment. A moment when our global leadership is essential, even if we must often lead in new ways. A moment when those things that make us who we are as a nation — our openness and innovation, our determination, and devotion to core values — have never been needed more.

Her argument, however, that she and the Obama team have furthered American influence and power is belied by the facts. But this does not deter her from offering disingenuous platitudes. (“From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity.” Apparently Britain, Honduras, Israel, India, Eastern Europe, and others don’t understand that their relationship with us has “deepened.”) She touts progress with China, but one is left wondering where this has manifested itself. China has grown more aggressive, not less, and its human-rights abuses have not abated.

Second, the aversion to hard power is obvious. The cornerstones of American leadership according to Clinton are domestic economic strength and “diplomacy.” She has a single line, a throw-away to mollify the easily mollified (“This administration is also committed to maintaining the greatest military in the history of the world and, if needed, to vigorously defending our friends and ourselves.”) But in paragraph after paragraph of blather (I spare you the extract) about global architecture and centers of influence, she makes it clear that her idea of foreign policy is: talk, talk, and more talk. And her sole mention of the two wars is this: “Long after our troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, our diplomatic and development assistance and support for the Afghan security forces will continue.” So much for projecting American power and values.

Most troubling, however, is the placement of Iran in the speech and the content. It comes at the very end, suggesting that it really is not at the top of her to-do list. She gives no indication that this is the most pressing issue we face. And she dispenses with even the formulaic “all options are on the table.” None of this suggests that the administration is serious — gone is even the term “unacceptable”:

First, we began by making the United States a full partner and active participant in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran. Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.

Second, we have sought to frame this issue within the global non-proliferation regime in which the rules of the road are clearly defined for all parties. To lead by example, we have renewed our own disarmament efforts. Our deepened support for global institutions such as the IAEA underscores the authority of the international system of rights and responsibilities. Iran, on the other hand, continues to single itself out through its own actions. Its intransigence represents a challenge to the rules to which all countries must adhere.

Third, we continue to strengthen relationships with those countries whose help we need if diplomacy is to be successful. Through classic shoe-leather diplomacy, we have built a broad consensus that will welcome Iran back into the community of nations if it meets its obligations and likewise will hold Iran accountable to its obligations if it continues its defiance.

This spring, the UN Security Council passed the strongest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever on Iran. The European Union has followed up with robust implementation of that resolution. Many other nations are implementing their own additional measures, including Australia, Canada, Norway and most recently Japan. We believe Iran is only just beginning to feel the full impact of sanctions. Beyond what governments are doing, the international financial and commercial sectors are also starting to recognize the risks of doing business with Iran.

Sanctions and pressure are not ends in themselves. They are the building blocks of leverage for a negotiated solution, to which we and our partners remain committed. The choice for Iran’s leaders is clear, even if they attempt to obfuscate and avoid it: Meet the responsibilities incumbent upon all nations and enjoy the benefits of integration into the international community, or continue to flout your obligations and accept increasing isolation and costs.  Iran now must decide for itself.

That is it. The whole thing. It is a shocking, even for them, signal of the nonchalance with which the Obami view the most pressing national-security concern of our time. And much of what she says is simply gibberish. For example: “Through our continued willingness to engage Iran directly, we have re-energized the conversation with our allies and are removing easy excuses for lack of progress.” What is she talking about? Iran made excuses before, they make them now, and we’ve lost 18 months in fruitless negotiations.

Israelis, I am sure, are listening carefully. While they go through the motions at the save-face-for-Obama Middle East peace talks, they must surely be coming to terms with the fact that their military is all that stands between the West and a nuclear-armed Iran. If Hillary is any indication, they will get no help from us.

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Hezbollah’s “Soviet” Southern Lebanon

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

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Iran Doesn’t Just Threaten Israel

As Jonathan pointed out, we’ve gotten sidetracked on an unhelpful guessing game about Israel’s capability and will to carry out an attack on Iran if the U.S. fails to do so. It’s important, I think, to put this in the context of a larger, noxious trend among the Israel-bashers to set America’s interests as distinct from and in conflict with those of the Jewish state.

We have seen this in the assertion that failure to make progress on the peace process (i.e., to force Israel to cough up more concessions) endangers American lives in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We have seen this in the argument that America went to war in Iraq at Israel’s behest. (Don’t bother with facts; this is the left’s fantasy of an America imperiled by the Jewish state.) So naturally, the discussion of what to do about Iran — at least we’ve all agreed sanctions are meaningless — involves an effort to distance the U.S. from Israel and to focus on Israel’s military and political calculus, as if our interests were distinct. On that I’ll be brief: Israel will act if we don’t, for if it does not, the entire Zionist undertaking — a nation of refuge for world Jewry — dissolves.

But the emphasis on the existential threat to Israel ignores a more basic issue for Americans to ponder: a nuclear-armed Iran represents a dagger at the heart of America and an existential threat to our status as a superpower and guarantor of the West’s security. As to the former, Iran is pressing ahead with its long-range ballistic missile program. First the Middle East and Eastern Europe, then all of Europe and, within a matter of years, the U.S. will be within range of Iranian missiles. If those are nuclear and not conventional, what then? We’re not talking about whether Iran is going to be “merely” a destabilizing factor in the Middle East or whether it will set off an arms race with its neighbors or imperil Israel’s existence. We’re talking about whether America will then be at risk (and lacking sufficient missile-defense capabilities if we continue to hack away at our defense budget). The argument about whether mutual assured destruction can really work against Islamic fundamentalists who have an apocalyptic vision becomes not about Israel’s ability to deter an attack but about ours. Those who oppose American military action have an obligation to explain why America should place itself in that predicament.

And then there is the broader issue of America’s standing as the sole superpower and the defender of the Free World. Should the “unacceptable” become reality, the notion that America stands between free peoples and despots and provides an umbrella of security for itself and its allies will vanish, just as surely as will the Zionist ideal. Two administrations have declared the policy of the U.S. to be that Iran must not join the nuclear club. Obama himself has set nonproliferation as a top priority. So if Iran pushes forth, despite these commitments and attains what the U.S. has pronounced “unacceptable,” what ally henceforth would rely on us? What use would our security guarantees be? What meaning would any alliance with the U.S. have?

It is for these reasons, as well as the practical military reasons Jonathan outlined, that the U.S. must act militarily to defang the mullahs. It is not for Israel but for ourselves and the preservation of America’s standing in the world that we must act. The considerable doubt that Obama will do so should disturb every elected leader and the public at large. It is time to have a robust discussion, not about the existential threat to Israel — for that is obvious and has been amply discussed — but about the threat to America. Put in these terms, we should all be asking a single question: will Obama commit the U.S. to use military force to prevent a fundamental threat to the safety and security of the U.S. and the Free World?

As Jonathan pointed out, we’ve gotten sidetracked on an unhelpful guessing game about Israel’s capability and will to carry out an attack on Iran if the U.S. fails to do so. It’s important, I think, to put this in the context of a larger, noxious trend among the Israel-bashers to set America’s interests as distinct from and in conflict with those of the Jewish state.

We have seen this in the assertion that failure to make progress on the peace process (i.e., to force Israel to cough up more concessions) endangers American lives in Afghanistan and elsewhere. We have seen this in the argument that America went to war in Iraq at Israel’s behest. (Don’t bother with facts; this is the left’s fantasy of an America imperiled by the Jewish state.) So naturally, the discussion of what to do about Iran — at least we’ve all agreed sanctions are meaningless — involves an effort to distance the U.S. from Israel and to focus on Israel’s military and political calculus, as if our interests were distinct. On that I’ll be brief: Israel will act if we don’t, for if it does not, the entire Zionist undertaking — a nation of refuge for world Jewry — dissolves.

But the emphasis on the existential threat to Israel ignores a more basic issue for Americans to ponder: a nuclear-armed Iran represents a dagger at the heart of America and an existential threat to our status as a superpower and guarantor of the West’s security. As to the former, Iran is pressing ahead with its long-range ballistic missile program. First the Middle East and Eastern Europe, then all of Europe and, within a matter of years, the U.S. will be within range of Iranian missiles. If those are nuclear and not conventional, what then? We’re not talking about whether Iran is going to be “merely” a destabilizing factor in the Middle East or whether it will set off an arms race with its neighbors or imperil Israel’s existence. We’re talking about whether America will then be at risk (and lacking sufficient missile-defense capabilities if we continue to hack away at our defense budget). The argument about whether mutual assured destruction can really work against Islamic fundamentalists who have an apocalyptic vision becomes not about Israel’s ability to deter an attack but about ours. Those who oppose American military action have an obligation to explain why America should place itself in that predicament.

And then there is the broader issue of America’s standing as the sole superpower and the defender of the Free World. Should the “unacceptable” become reality, the notion that America stands between free peoples and despots and provides an umbrella of security for itself and its allies will vanish, just as surely as will the Zionist ideal. Two administrations have declared the policy of the U.S. to be that Iran must not join the nuclear club. Obama himself has set nonproliferation as a top priority. So if Iran pushes forth, despite these commitments and attains what the U.S. has pronounced “unacceptable,” what ally henceforth would rely on us? What use would our security guarantees be? What meaning would any alliance with the U.S. have?

It is for these reasons, as well as the practical military reasons Jonathan outlined, that the U.S. must act militarily to defang the mullahs. It is not for Israel but for ourselves and the preservation of America’s standing in the world that we must act. The considerable doubt that Obama will do so should disturb every elected leader and the public at large. It is time to have a robust discussion, not about the existential threat to Israel — for that is obvious and has been amply discussed — but about the threat to America. Put in these terms, we should all be asking a single question: will Obama commit the U.S. to use military force to prevent a fundamental threat to the safety and security of the U.S. and the Free World?

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Power Dirge

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

Don’t expect a better description of the world’s unique treatment of Israel. From Mark Steyn: “North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community. Odd. But why? Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved.”

Don’t miss the latest from Lee Smith on appeasing Muslim extremists: “The way Obama sees it, the upside is that it will not be a war without end, like the war on terror. All the extremists in the Muslim world want is money and the power that will flow their way as the consequence of the U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. The faster the United States leaves, the cheaper the cost. This is why the Jewish state is isolated today and why Washington stands with her only reluctantly: Distancing ourselves from Israel is part of the deal we are preparing to strike.”

Don’t expect her to get a cushy White House job after leaving office: “Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has become a symbol that Barack Obama’s got to shake.”

Don’t think Obama’s foreign policy can’t get worse: “The Obama administration is secretly working with Russia to conclude an agreement that many officials fear will limit U.S. missile defenses, a key objective of Moscow since it opposed plans for a U.S. missile defense interceptor base in Eastern Europe, according to American officials involved in arms control issues.” Aside from the inanity of unilateral disarmament, how does he think this is going to get through the U.S. Senate?

Don’t hold your breath. The Washington Post editors go after Obama for his counterproductive timeline in Afghanistan: “It’s time for him to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Don’t imagine Republicans are ungrateful for a speech this bad: “President Barack Obama’s less-than-specific Oval Office address on energy has White House aides and Senate Democrats scrambling to find a way to pass climate change legislation. What it will be — if anything — remains an open question.”

Don’t let your guard down, but Obama finally seems to have been effective at killing some bad legislation: “Senate Democrats emerged from a special caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday with no clear consensus yet on the fate of energy and climate legislation due on the floor before the August recess.”

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Europeans Miss Cowboy Diplomacy

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

Fred Hiatt writes that Obama isn’t making friends in Europe. In fact, the Europeans are on to what many on the right in the U.S. have already figured out: Obama spends more time tending to our foes than cementing relationships with our friends. He notes that Alexandr Vondra (a former dissident and later the Czech Republic’s ambassador to Washington and then foreign minister and deputy prime minister) spoke to the Atlantic Council and declared that “President Obama’s ‘cool realism’ is putting long-standing ties at risk.” Hiatt explains:

Vondra said that the Obama administration rewards rivals — notably Russia and China — with “carrots” while handing out only “tasks” to its allies. He said the U.S. agenda with its allies seems to be driven by U.S. domestic needs and U.S. priorities, especially nuclear disarmament, Iran and Afghanistan, while neglecting the priorities of its allies.

Vondra said that the United States is actively approaching Russia with its offer to “reset” relations. Meanwhile Russia is assertively approaching the Czech Republic and other nations, driven by its enmity to NATO and its belief that it is entitled to hold sway in its own sphere of influence. But the third side of that triangle — between the United States and allies — is inactive, Vondra said, creating a danger that nations and policies less amenable to U.S. values will fill the vacuum.

Ah, one longs for the days when the much vilified George W. Bush was cheered in the Knesset, welcomed warmly in Britain, and enjoyed a productive relationship with India. The about-face in the Obama administration is not going unnoticed among our allies and our enemies. The latter are learning to play us — as Russia did in extracting a free pass on UN sanctions. Our friends (Israel, Eastern Europe) are learning not to trust us. And those despotic states like Syria, China, and Iran realize that it’s not such a bad thing to be a foe of the U.S. — you get lots of inducements, endless offers to negotiate, and a hear-no-evil/see-no-evil stance toward, well, evil. Obama thinks everything is going swimmingly, so there is little chance he will change. But that, as he says, is what elections are for.

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Uh, Mr. Brown, the Microphone’s Live

Shades of Frank Drebin: Gordon Brown may have sunk his chances in Britain’s general election with an unguarded comment into a microphone he didn’t realize he was still wearing. After campaigning in Rochdale in northern England, he muttered, amid a stream of invective directed at his aides, that 61-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a “bigoted woman” for questioning him about the impact on the British job market of immigration from Eastern Europe.

Brown’s since made an in-person apology and e-mailed a fulsome “personal” letter to all Labour activists, but the damage seems to have been done. As one commentator put it, showing a nice grasp of British understatement, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call voters bigots.”

On one level, of course, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Brown. This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re around microphones so much: few of us would want our every comment recorded and aired in prime time. On another level, as Andrew Rawnsley points out, this is just another example of one of Brown’s more unattractive attributes: his volcanic temper and his eagerness to pour vitriol on his aides and anyone else who gets in his way.

But this isn’t really about Brown’s bad luck or his bed temper. Poll after poll shows that immigration is a central issue in the election, or at least a central concern for many voters. There is every reason to believe that it lies behind the erosion of Labour support in places just like Rochdale, where many — like Mrs. Duffy — believe privately that the Labour elite view their concerns with contempt. Brown’s outburst is evidence that they’re right.

Not that more evidence is needed. Back in October, Andrew Neather, who was closely involved in the making of policy on immigration in the early Labour years, was sufficiently outraged by the televised appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to make the following case — and yes, he did think he was making the positive case — for mass migration:

[T]he deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. …

It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone? …

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls … the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

The only thing more arrogant and out of touch than Neather’s acknowledgement that Britain’s immigration policy was covertly run for the benefit of those who employ foreign nannies was his slap at the “unemployed BNP voters from Barking.” His was the worst possible defense of mass migration into Britain because it was so obviously elitist. And all it really did was display at greater length the contempt that Brown spat at his aides and, unknowingly, into the microphone on Wednesday.

And that is the real political significance of Brown’s open-mike flub: it reminded a significant element in the core Old Labour vote — the vote Labour has to win if it’s to have any chance of playing a role in government-making after May 6 — that quite a bit of New Labour’s leadership quietly detests them and regards them as bigots.

Curiously, the real loser in this may be Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, not Gordon Brown. Neither Clegg nor Brown was ever going to form a government on his own, but Clegg badly needs Labour to do well enough to keep the Tories from winning. Every alienated Labour voter that stays home is another constituency that’s in play for the Tories, and therefore another nail in Clegg’s chances.

Shades of Frank Drebin: Gordon Brown may have sunk his chances in Britain’s general election with an unguarded comment into a microphone he didn’t realize he was still wearing. After campaigning in Rochdale in northern England, he muttered, amid a stream of invective directed at his aides, that 61-year-old Labour supporter Gillian Duffy was a “bigoted woman” for questioning him about the impact on the British job market of immigration from Eastern Europe.

Brown’s since made an in-person apology and e-mailed a fulsome “personal” letter to all Labour activists, but the damage seems to have been done. As one commentator put it, showing a nice grasp of British understatement, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call voters bigots.”

On one level, of course, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Brown. This is the kind of thing that happens when you’re around microphones so much: few of us would want our every comment recorded and aired in prime time. On another level, as Andrew Rawnsley points out, this is just another example of one of Brown’s more unattractive attributes: his volcanic temper and his eagerness to pour vitriol on his aides and anyone else who gets in his way.

But this isn’t really about Brown’s bad luck or his bed temper. Poll after poll shows that immigration is a central issue in the election, or at least a central concern for many voters. There is every reason to believe that it lies behind the erosion of Labour support in places just like Rochdale, where many — like Mrs. Duffy — believe privately that the Labour elite view their concerns with contempt. Brown’s outburst is evidence that they’re right.

Not that more evidence is needed. Back in October, Andrew Neather, who was closely involved in the making of policy on immigration in the early Labour years, was sufficiently outraged by the televised appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, to make the following case — and yes, he did think he was making the positive case — for mass migration:

[T]he deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. …

It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone? …

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls … the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. …

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

The only thing more arrogant and out of touch than Neather’s acknowledgement that Britain’s immigration policy was covertly run for the benefit of those who employ foreign nannies was his slap at the “unemployed BNP voters from Barking.” His was the worst possible defense of mass migration into Britain because it was so obviously elitist. And all it really did was display at greater length the contempt that Brown spat at his aides and, unknowingly, into the microphone on Wednesday.

And that is the real political significance of Brown’s open-mike flub: it reminded a significant element in the core Old Labour vote — the vote Labour has to win if it’s to have any chance of playing a role in government-making after May 6 — that quite a bit of New Labour’s leadership quietly detests them and regards them as bigots.

Curiously, the real loser in this may be Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, not Gordon Brown. Neither Clegg nor Brown was ever going to form a government on his own, but Clegg badly needs Labour to do well enough to keep the Tories from winning. Every alienated Labour voter that stays home is another constituency that’s in play for the Tories, and therefore another nail in Clegg’s chances.

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Yet Another Step Backward

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said yesterday that military action against Iran is “off the table in the near term,” effectively walking back President Obama’s position that “all options are on the table.” She prefaced her statement with the banal assertion that “military force is an option of last resort,” which of course everyone knows and which implies by itself that force is off the table for now. But the United States nevertheless just softened its position again on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If the president doesn’t return force to the table, it is going to stay off.

It seems as though the U.S. is trying to look irresolute and nonthreatening lately, but whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s what it looks like, and it isn’t helpful. A credible threat — simple deterrence — can make war somewhat less likely, just as police officers on the street make crime somewhat less likely. The Iranian government won’t cooperate with irresolute and nonthreatening enemies; it will steamroll irresolute and nonthreatening enemies.

Attacking Iran wouldn’t be my next step either. I’m entirely sympathetic to the administration’s aversion to it, and not only on behalf of American servicemen who may be injured or killed. I know lots of Iranians. All are decent people. Not a single one supports Tehran’s deranged government. All have friends and family back home, and it has been obvious for some time now that a very large percentage of their fellow citizens left inside the country feel the same way. I don’t want to see any of these people get killed, especially if they’re killed by us. The very idea fills me with horror.

And that’s before factoring in the Israelis and Lebanese who would also be killed if the war spreads to the Levant — a likely event. I spend enough time in the Middle East that I could even end up in a bomb shelter myself.

We have to be realistic, though. There is only the smallest of chances that the Iranian government will mothball its nuclear weapons program if it does not feel some serious heat. Some people can only be disarmed at gunpoint, and that’s true of nearly all belligerent people.

Yet “off the table” has become the new normal. It will remain the new normal until further notice. The United States looks like it’s in retreat. Hardly anyone in the world believed President Obama would ever order a strike even before this most recent of climb-downs.

The administration seems to forget that threatening military action doesn’t necessarily mean we have to go through with it, that we want to go through with it, that we yearn to go through with it, or that we’re warmongers. Look at Taiwan. It exists independently of China only because the United States has made it clear that an invasion of Taiwan would be punished severely. Chinese leaders find the threat credible and have therefore backed off to let Taiwan live. The U.S. doesn’t have to pull the trigger. It’s enough just to say don’t even think about it.

Former Communist countries in Eastern Europe were similarly placed under Western military protection after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moscow understands perfectly well that its liberated subjects are to be left alone — or else. Saying “hands off Lithuania” by bringing the country into NATO wasn’t cowboy behavior. It was prudent and wise, and it keeps the peace. Russia didn’t like it and still doesn’t like it, but it hasn’t gotten anyone killed.

Deterrence prevents armed conflict by making it clear to the other side that a war would be too costly and shouldn’t be tried. The reverse is true, too. Under certain conditions, war becomes more likely if it looks like there won’t be serious consequences.

Russia invaded Georgia a few years ago, but there is almost no chance that would have happened if Georgia had been a member of NATO. Russia would not have even considered it. The retaliation would have been devastating.

Deterrence might not work with Iran, but it’s even less likely to work if it’s downgraded, put on hold, or smells like a bluff. It’s all but certain to fail once the regime has nuclear weapons and can, short of incinerating cities with weapons of genocide, pretty much do whatever it wants.

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Another Ally, Another Snub

It really doesn’t pay to be an ally of the U.S. these days. That status confers on a nation’s leaders the opportunity to be publicly berated and to see prior agreements evaporate (e.g., the Bush-Sharon settlement deal, the missile-defense arrangement with Eastern Europe). And when it comes to our allies’ security and economic needs, Obama nearly always has some higher priority. A case in point (another one) is South Korea. Fred Hiatt writes:

In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes? That seemed to be the question perplexing President Lee Myung-bak when I interviewed him here last Wednesday, though he described relations at the moment as excellent. …  The two nations have signed a free-trade agreement that Lee believes would — in addition to bringing obvious economic benefit to both sides — seal a crucial alliance and promote stability throughout Northeast Asia. But President Obama has yet to submit the agreement to Congress for ratification or say when he might do so…

Obama has expressed general support for increasing trade with South Korea but hasn’t committed to the pact that he and Lee inherited from their predecessors. Every analysis shows it would benefit most American consumers and industries, but it faces opposition from Ford Motor, some union leaders and some Democrats in Congress.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who took on his party’s special-interest groups, Obama has shown little stomach for standing up to Big Labor. Whether it’s a sweetheart deal on the health-care excise tax, an SEIU lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board, or a free-trade deal plainly in the interest of both the U.S. and a key ally, Obama is not one to tell the labor bosses no.

And so another ally gets the back of the hand. For a group that promised to “restore our standing in the world,” the Obami are going to be hard-pressed to show how it is we do that when their foreign policy consists of systematically stiffing our democratic friends around the world.

It really doesn’t pay to be an ally of the U.S. these days. That status confers on a nation’s leaders the opportunity to be publicly berated and to see prior agreements evaporate (e.g., the Bush-Sharon settlement deal, the missile-defense arrangement with Eastern Europe). And when it comes to our allies’ security and economic needs, Obama nearly always has some higher priority. A case in point (another one) is South Korea. Fred Hiatt writes:

In a world of dangerously failed states and willful challengers to American leadership, South Korea is an astoundingly successful democracy that wants to be friends. But will America say yes? That seemed to be the question perplexing President Lee Myung-bak when I interviewed him here last Wednesday, though he described relations at the moment as excellent. …  The two nations have signed a free-trade agreement that Lee believes would — in addition to bringing obvious economic benefit to both sides — seal a crucial alliance and promote stability throughout Northeast Asia. But President Obama has yet to submit the agreement to Congress for ratification or say when he might do so…

Obama has expressed general support for increasing trade with South Korea but hasn’t committed to the pact that he and Lee inherited from their predecessors. Every analysis shows it would benefit most American consumers and industries, but it faces opposition from Ford Motor, some union leaders and some Democrats in Congress.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who took on his party’s special-interest groups, Obama has shown little stomach for standing up to Big Labor. Whether it’s a sweetheart deal on the health-care excise tax, an SEIU lawyer on the National Labor Relations Board, or a free-trade deal plainly in the interest of both the U.S. and a key ally, Obama is not one to tell the labor bosses no.

And so another ally gets the back of the hand. For a group that promised to “restore our standing in the world,” the Obami are going to be hard-pressed to show how it is we do that when their foreign policy consists of systematically stiffing our democratic friends around the world.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mona Charen spots the Obama blather: “In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term ‘rogue states’ has been sidelined in favor of ‘outliers.’ . . .While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to ‘Islamic extremism,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamic radicalism’ and other such terms.”

Michael Anton spots the Obami misleading us on the START treaty’s lack of linkage to our missile-defense development: “Now we have the worst of both worlds: a missile defense system designed not to defend against a Russian strike but nonetheless formally linked to Russia’s nuclear posture. Worse, the Russian foreign minister has hinted that his country may invoke the treaty’s otherwise standard withdrawal language if ‘the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces.’ Given that the Russians publicly insist (though cannot possibly believe) that virtually anything we do on missile defense affects their strategic forces, this was not encouraging news.”

John Fund spots the fallout from ObamaCare in Michigan: “The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a culturally conservative area that viewed most aspects of the health care bill with suspicion. In 2000 and 2004, the district went easily for George W. Bush, and Barack Obama barely managed 50% of the vote there in 2008. Mr. Stupak is known to have taken a private poll of his district since his health care vote, and his retirement announcement is a likely indication that he feared he might lose to a Republican challenger this fall.Whatever political bounce Democrats thought they would get from passing health care isn’t showing up in national polls. In districts like Mr. Stupak’s health care appears to be a distinct liability.”

Republicans spot another 2012 contender: Rick Perry.

The National Republican Campaign Committee spots another target: “The NRCC dumped nearly $200K into the special election contest to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12) late Friday, according to FEC filings. The total includes nearly $180K for TV ads, and $12K for a poll. It’s the first independent expenditure for either party for the May 18 contest, and follows the DCCC’s $47K investment in the HI-01 special earlier this week.”

Ray Takeyh spots the danger in the Obami assault on Israel: “[S]hould Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance. . . . Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.” One has to ask: why is Obama systematically dismantling any credible threats to the mullahs?

Can you spot Obama’s “bounce” from passing ObamaCare? Me neither —  in Gallup 47 approve, 48 percent disapprove of his performance.

Victor Davis Hanson spots the likely results of Obama’s kick-your-friends foreign policy: “Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia. The EU should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force. Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China. Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez. Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the UN, chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)”

Mona Charen spots the Obama blather: “In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term ‘rogue states’ has been sidelined in favor of ‘outliers.’ . . .While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to ‘Islamic extremism,’ ‘jihad,’ ‘Islamic radicalism’ and other such terms.”

Michael Anton spots the Obami misleading us on the START treaty’s lack of linkage to our missile-defense development: “Now we have the worst of both worlds: a missile defense system designed not to defend against a Russian strike but nonetheless formally linked to Russia’s nuclear posture. Worse, the Russian foreign minister has hinted that his country may invoke the treaty’s otherwise standard withdrawal language if ‘the U.S. strategic missile defense begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces.’ Given that the Russians publicly insist (though cannot possibly believe) that virtually anything we do on missile defense affects their strategic forces, this was not encouraging news.”

John Fund spots the fallout from ObamaCare in Michigan: “The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a culturally conservative area that viewed most aspects of the health care bill with suspicion. In 2000 and 2004, the district went easily for George W. Bush, and Barack Obama barely managed 50% of the vote there in 2008. Mr. Stupak is known to have taken a private poll of his district since his health care vote, and his retirement announcement is a likely indication that he feared he might lose to a Republican challenger this fall.Whatever political bounce Democrats thought they would get from passing health care isn’t showing up in national polls. In districts like Mr. Stupak’s health care appears to be a distinct liability.”

Republicans spot another 2012 contender: Rick Perry.

The National Republican Campaign Committee spots another target: “The NRCC dumped nearly $200K into the special election contest to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA 12) late Friday, according to FEC filings. The total includes nearly $180K for TV ads, and $12K for a poll. It’s the first independent expenditure for either party for the May 18 contest, and follows the DCCC’s $47K investment in the HI-01 special earlier this week.”

Ray Takeyh spots the danger in the Obami assault on Israel: “[S]hould Tehran perceive fissures and divisions in U.S.-Israeli alliance, it is likely to further harden its nuclear stance. . . . Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.” One has to ask: why is Obama systematically dismantling any credible threats to the mullahs?

Can you spot Obama’s “bounce” from passing ObamaCare? Me neither —  in Gallup 47 approve, 48 percent disapprove of his performance.

Victor Davis Hanson spots the likely results of Obama’s kick-your-friends foreign policy: “Karzai or Allawi will look more to Iran, which will soon become the regional and nuclear hegemon of the Middle East. Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics had better mend fences with Russia. The EU should finally start on that much-ballyhooed all-European response force. Taiwan, the Philippines, and South Korea should strengthen ties with China. Buffer states in South America had better make amends with a dictatorial, armed, and aggressive Chavez. Israel should accept that the U.S. no longer will provide support for it at the UN, chide the Arab states to cool their anti-Israeli proclamations, remind the Europeans not to overdo their popular anti-Israeli rhetoric, or warn radical Palestinians not to start another intifada. (In other words, it’s open season to say or do anything one wishes with Israel.)”

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Allies Be Wary

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

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When Does the Realism Kick In?

Many others have noted the drivel emanating from our secretary of state — the platitudinous phrases, the double talk, and the insulation from reality. But it is also correct that we should not be surprised any longer:

In a way, you can’t blame her for her haplessness, secretarially speaking. Her own experience with matters foreign—being “shot at” by Bosnian “snipers,” for one, or, for another, kissing Suha Arafat while Mrs. Arafat’s blood-soaked husband was shoveling the untold millions he’d stolen from his miserable flock into Swiss bank accounts—has been somewhat . . . insubstantial. And in any case, she’s not exactly in charge. The Obamic foreign policy, such as it is, seems to be being formulated and conducted as much (maybe more?) from the West Wing as from Foggy Bottom, and by people even less familiar with the issues than she, who’ve done almost nothing in their lives but run political campaigns—and that’s in Chicago, where a little cold hard cash and some cold stiff bodies voting at graveyard polling stations can get anyone elected—and who are still in essence running a campaign today, though they call it a presidency.

She has declared that “ideology is so yesterday.” But so too is a sense of realism — yes, a true sense of who it is we face in the world, what motivates friends and foes, and what experience has taught us. No wonder the Obami are always “surprised” or “deeply disappointed” or “puzzled.” If you have historical amnesia, every day is a new one, and rebuffs, defeats, and dead ends come as surprises, disappointments, and puzzles.

The Obami, of course, dug themselves a deep hole by repudiating, or trying to repudiate, everything the Bush administration had tried. If the Bush team cultivated a close and productive relationship with Israel, they’d take a different tact. If the Bush administration forged bonds with Eastern Europe and extended our missile defense program, by gosh the Obami wouldn’t have any of that. If George W. Bush spoke movingly about human rights and met with dissidents, the Obami wouldn’t go there. It’s hard to be both reflexively rejectionist and ideology-free, isn’t it?

But the fault surely resides in the West Wing. Obama is a prisoner of so much ideology, it’s hard to keep track. There’s his blind faith in multilateralism. There’s his infatuation with the Left’s notion that an American groveling deficiency is at the root of “misunderstandings” with the “Muslim World.” And let’s not forget the “if we disarm, surely the despotic regimes will” hooey.

Dispensing of this or that hapless adviser might improve matters at the margins. It would be nice to think that we have one administration figure who doesn’t appear foolish when encountering a real interviewer (e.g., Chris Wallace, Candy Crowley). But ultimately, there’s no substitute for a wise, savvy, and resolute president. Until we get one of those, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Many others have noted the drivel emanating from our secretary of state — the platitudinous phrases, the double talk, and the insulation from reality. But it is also correct that we should not be surprised any longer:

In a way, you can’t blame her for her haplessness, secretarially speaking. Her own experience with matters foreign—being “shot at” by Bosnian “snipers,” for one, or, for another, kissing Suha Arafat while Mrs. Arafat’s blood-soaked husband was shoveling the untold millions he’d stolen from his miserable flock into Swiss bank accounts—has been somewhat . . . insubstantial. And in any case, she’s not exactly in charge. The Obamic foreign policy, such as it is, seems to be being formulated and conducted as much (maybe more?) from the West Wing as from Foggy Bottom, and by people even less familiar with the issues than she, who’ve done almost nothing in their lives but run political campaigns—and that’s in Chicago, where a little cold hard cash and some cold stiff bodies voting at graveyard polling stations can get anyone elected—and who are still in essence running a campaign today, though they call it a presidency.

She has declared that “ideology is so yesterday.” But so too is a sense of realism — yes, a true sense of who it is we face in the world, what motivates friends and foes, and what experience has taught us. No wonder the Obami are always “surprised” or “deeply disappointed” or “puzzled.” If you have historical amnesia, every day is a new one, and rebuffs, defeats, and dead ends come as surprises, disappointments, and puzzles.

The Obami, of course, dug themselves a deep hole by repudiating, or trying to repudiate, everything the Bush administration had tried. If the Bush team cultivated a close and productive relationship with Israel, they’d take a different tact. If the Bush administration forged bonds with Eastern Europe and extended our missile defense program, by gosh the Obami wouldn’t have any of that. If George W. Bush spoke movingly about human rights and met with dissidents, the Obami wouldn’t go there. It’s hard to be both reflexively rejectionist and ideology-free, isn’t it?

But the fault surely resides in the West Wing. Obama is a prisoner of so much ideology, it’s hard to keep track. There’s his blind faith in multilateralism. There’s his infatuation with the Left’s notion that an American groveling deficiency is at the root of “misunderstandings” with the “Muslim World.” And let’s not forget the “if we disarm, surely the despotic regimes will” hooey.

Dispensing of this or that hapless adviser might improve matters at the margins. It would be nice to think that we have one administration figure who doesn’t appear foolish when encountering a real interviewer (e.g., Chris Wallace, Candy Crowley). But ultimately, there’s no substitute for a wise, savvy, and resolute president. Until we get one of those, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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