Commentary Magazine


Topic: missile-defense systems

Debt Commission Surprises

Yuval Levin writes of the preliminary debt commission report:

If this is the Obama administration’s starting position in the conversation about deficit and debt reduction, it will be a serious position and a constructive conversation. They will obviously need to be willing to move rightward on some key issues (especially the entire health-care question, which is the report’s most glaring and serious weakness, and is at the heart of our crisis of public finances). But on social security, discretionary spending, and many of the proposed tax reforms, this is a very good start.

I would add a few thoughts. If Obama embraces it, this would be a meaningful reach to pick up independent voters’ support. They are among the most aggrieved by the fiscal train wreck (which Obama has worsened). But the president has a problem: his left flank has already rebelled. (The hysterical reaction by Nancy Pelosi tells you there are some really good things in the proposal.) So can Obama risk alienating what shriveled part of the base he still has? At some point, the threat, however remote, of a primary challenge begins to affect these decisions.

Second, it is quite extraordinary that the plan puts forth a credible version of tax reform. Did you expect the commission to come forward with a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a top individual rate of 24 percent? I sure didn’t. This represents a fundamental shift for Democrats, at least those on the panel who embraced the essential principles of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. But, you say, what about the changes to the home mortgage deduction? We’ll have to do the math, but with a drastic reduction in individual rates, they may be “worth it.” And, bluntly, it would also cause people to more closely examine how much house they can afford. (If you trust the market, once the subsidy goes away, demand would lessen and prices should come down, making housing somewhat more affordable.)

And finally, we need to be clear-eyed about the defense cuts. We are fighting a global war on terrorism, may find ourselves embroiled in a military confrontation with Iran, and must continue to build missile defense systems. The cuts have to be assessed in light of our security needs and the threats we face. Republicans who embrace a robust, internationalist foreign policy should be wary.

In sum, I’m mildly shocked it was as good as it was. Conservatives would do well to embrace the chunks of it they can and offer plausible alternatives to the rest (e.g., repealing ObamaCare, for starters).

Yuval Levin writes of the preliminary debt commission report:

If this is the Obama administration’s starting position in the conversation about deficit and debt reduction, it will be a serious position and a constructive conversation. They will obviously need to be willing to move rightward on some key issues (especially the entire health-care question, which is the report’s most glaring and serious weakness, and is at the heart of our crisis of public finances). But on social security, discretionary spending, and many of the proposed tax reforms, this is a very good start.

I would add a few thoughts. If Obama embraces it, this would be a meaningful reach to pick up independent voters’ support. They are among the most aggrieved by the fiscal train wreck (which Obama has worsened). But the president has a problem: his left flank has already rebelled. (The hysterical reaction by Nancy Pelosi tells you there are some really good things in the proposal.) So can Obama risk alienating what shriveled part of the base he still has? At some point, the threat, however remote, of a primary challenge begins to affect these decisions.

Second, it is quite extraordinary that the plan puts forth a credible version of tax reform. Did you expect the commission to come forward with a reduction in the corporate tax rate and a top individual rate of 24 percent? I sure didn’t. This represents a fundamental shift for Democrats, at least those on the panel who embraced the essential principles of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. But, you say, what about the changes to the home mortgage deduction? We’ll have to do the math, but with a drastic reduction in individual rates, they may be “worth it.” And, bluntly, it would also cause people to more closely examine how much house they can afford. (If you trust the market, once the subsidy goes away, demand would lessen and prices should come down, making housing somewhat more affordable.)

And finally, we need to be clear-eyed about the defense cuts. We are fighting a global war on terrorism, may find ourselves embroiled in a military confrontation with Iran, and must continue to build missile defense systems. The cuts have to be assessed in light of our security needs and the threats we face. Republicans who embrace a robust, internationalist foreign policy should be wary.

In sum, I’m mildly shocked it was as good as it was. Conservatives would do well to embrace the chunks of it they can and offer plausible alternatives to the rest (e.g., repealing ObamaCare, for starters).

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Iron Dome into Storage

The case of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system will continue to be instructive. Iron Dome has reportedly performed very well in testing, impressing expert observers and encouraging missile-defense advocates. (See here, here, and here for a taste of the reporting on it.) But the IDF announced this week that it will be putting Iron Dome in storage for the time being, bringing it out for deployment only in the case of dramatic increases in rocket and missile attacks.

Although the IDF complained about Iron Dome’s cost this summer (see link above), the U.S. has added substantial funding for missile-defense systems to our defense package for Israel. The thrust of Obama’s policy response to the threat from Iran is, in fact, expanding missile-defense options for Israel. Putting Iron Dome in storage is therefore unlikely to be a result of simple cost or training concerns. It’s more useful instead to parse this decision in terms of overall national-defense policy.

Other nations seeking to defend their populations with missile shields may well run into the decision factors Israel now faces. So we should pay attention to what they are. There are downsides to keeping Iron Dome constantly deployed: one is simply that terrorist attackers will know where its components are situated and become accustomed to what it looks like. Even if the components were moved around regularly, they would be more susceptible to sabotage and easier to analyze and defeat — particularly if using them from time to time gave attackers a chance to observe them in operation. Israel’s small size only amplifies this drawback.

Two other factors are more political and strategic in nature; they have to do with the environment of expectations in which Israel would operate with a constantly deployed Iron Dome system. The IDF spokesmen quoted in the linked articles above allude to one of these factors: the expectations of the Israeli people about being defended. Iron Dome is unlikely to intercept all incoming rockets or missiles. Its deployment should not create a basis for complacency. But it could easily do so — and thereby produce a new set of mistargeted political pressures on national-security policy.

In the same vein, the defensive promise of Iron Dome could well raise expectations, both inside Israel and abroad, that its deployment obviated the need for Israel to hold key territory and keep it cleared of terrorists and their weaponry. That conclusion would be false, but I imagine most readers see how quickly it would be drawn — and how vigorously it would be advanced as a talking point against Israel’s other irreducible security requirements. This effect on expectations would be felt in the peace-process negotiations but would also be a factor in the international approach to Iran.

A missile shield alone is not all Israel needs for security. And as a general rule, a missile shield should not be used as an excuse to let overall security conditions deteriorate. That outcome would be more than likely if Israel began deploying Iron Dome on a constant basis right now. Missile defense is necessary and useful, but it can’t be a substitute for a multifaceted national defense, one that includes a policy of suppressing threats rather than waiting passively to be attacked. These developing security-policy dynamics are not by any means unique to Israel’s situation. We should watch and learn from them.

The case of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system will continue to be instructive. Iron Dome has reportedly performed very well in testing, impressing expert observers and encouraging missile-defense advocates. (See here, here, and here for a taste of the reporting on it.) But the IDF announced this week that it will be putting Iron Dome in storage for the time being, bringing it out for deployment only in the case of dramatic increases in rocket and missile attacks.

Although the IDF complained about Iron Dome’s cost this summer (see link above), the U.S. has added substantial funding for missile-defense systems to our defense package for Israel. The thrust of Obama’s policy response to the threat from Iran is, in fact, expanding missile-defense options for Israel. Putting Iron Dome in storage is therefore unlikely to be a result of simple cost or training concerns. It’s more useful instead to parse this decision in terms of overall national-defense policy.

Other nations seeking to defend their populations with missile shields may well run into the decision factors Israel now faces. So we should pay attention to what they are. There are downsides to keeping Iron Dome constantly deployed: one is simply that terrorist attackers will know where its components are situated and become accustomed to what it looks like. Even if the components were moved around regularly, they would be more susceptible to sabotage and easier to analyze and defeat — particularly if using them from time to time gave attackers a chance to observe them in operation. Israel’s small size only amplifies this drawback.

Two other factors are more political and strategic in nature; they have to do with the environment of expectations in which Israel would operate with a constantly deployed Iron Dome system. The IDF spokesmen quoted in the linked articles above allude to one of these factors: the expectations of the Israeli people about being defended. Iron Dome is unlikely to intercept all incoming rockets or missiles. Its deployment should not create a basis for complacency. But it could easily do so — and thereby produce a new set of mistargeted political pressures on national-security policy.

In the same vein, the defensive promise of Iron Dome could well raise expectations, both inside Israel and abroad, that its deployment obviated the need for Israel to hold key territory and keep it cleared of terrorists and their weaponry. That conclusion would be false, but I imagine most readers see how quickly it would be drawn — and how vigorously it would be advanced as a talking point against Israel’s other irreducible security requirements. This effect on expectations would be felt in the peace-process negotiations but would also be a factor in the international approach to Iran.

A missile shield alone is not all Israel needs for security. And as a general rule, a missile shield should not be used as an excuse to let overall security conditions deteriorate. That outcome would be more than likely if Israel began deploying Iron Dome on a constant basis right now. Missile defense is necessary and useful, but it can’t be a substitute for a multifaceted national defense, one that includes a policy of suppressing threats rather than waiting passively to be attacked. These developing security-policy dynamics are not by any means unique to Israel’s situation. We should watch and learn from them.

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Saudi Arms Sale: Which War in View?

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

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START Grinds to a Halt

The votes in the Senate aren’t there for the crowning glory of Obama’s “reset” strategy with Russia:

The treaty, called New Start, was supposed to be the relatively quick and easy first step leading to a series of much harder and more sweeping moves to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Instead, a Senate committee on Tuesday shelved the treaty until fall, when it faces an uncertain future in the midst of a hotly contested election season.

The White House remains confident that it will get the pact approved eventually, possibly in a postelection lame-duck session, and it accepted the delay as a way to win over Republican senators who asked for more time to address their concerns. But even if the treaty does pass in the end, the long process of negotiation and ratification has pushed back the rest of Mr. Obama’s program and has raised obstacles to the more controversial measures.

This is a major embarrassment for the president, and yet another sign that he is losing political capital at a frightful pace. Moreover, it’s one more indication that lawmakers will become increasingly resistant to the president’s agenda, as regards both domestic and foreign policy (the Senate already blocked the confirmation of his ambassador to Syria).

It also highlights how inept is his foreign policy team, and how inapt is the administration’s “jam it through” strategy when it comes to national security:

Some conservatives said that Mr. Obama’s agenda was never all that realistic and that he would be wise to seek a broader consensus. “Trying to do treaties and national security policy as if they’re health care is a bad call,” said one such critic, Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “You don’t do this by one vote. You do this by overwhelming majority. They need to learn to work with the other side.”

And at least for now, the Obama team concedes that its dream of a second arms treaty with Russia is kaput.

As a substantive matter, this is a positive development. In addition to the treaty’s other infirmities (most glaring, the impact on our ability to proceed with missile-defense development), there are real constitutional concerns about a treaty that embodies Obama’s fetish for multilateral institutions. Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin explain:

[New START creates] a Bilateral Consultative Commission with power to approve “additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.” The U.S. and Russian executive branches can implement these measures and thus amend U.S. treaty obligations — without returning to the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma.

Could the commission constrain missile defense? It is empowered to “resolve questions related to the applicability of provisions of the Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive arm.” The treaty’s preamble recognizes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” The commission might have jurisdiction over missile defense through this interrelationship. Russia has already warned that it might withdraw from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses. Limits on missile defense systems thus might be “necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”

In short, the Senate should not only be wary of what damage the treaty does to our national security; it should also be concerned about what it does to the Constitution and the Senate’s own powers (“as more authority for making international agreements is transferred to the executive branch and international organizations, the cumulative effect of these arrangements becomes increasingly hard to square with the Senate’s constitutional role in the treaty-making process and, more generally, with separation of powers”).

START is a microcosm of many of the shortcomings of the Obama administration — excessive deference to international rivals, disrespect shown the other branches of government, and political tone-deafness (the Obami really thought this would glide through the Senate?). With lawmakers increasingly willing to flex their own political muscle, the first two of these ailments may be minimized. Unfortunately for the Obami, there’s no magic cure for the third.

The votes in the Senate aren’t there for the crowning glory of Obama’s “reset” strategy with Russia:

The treaty, called New Start, was supposed to be the relatively quick and easy first step leading to a series of much harder and more sweeping moves to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Instead, a Senate committee on Tuesday shelved the treaty until fall, when it faces an uncertain future in the midst of a hotly contested election season.

The White House remains confident that it will get the pact approved eventually, possibly in a postelection lame-duck session, and it accepted the delay as a way to win over Republican senators who asked for more time to address their concerns. But even if the treaty does pass in the end, the long process of negotiation and ratification has pushed back the rest of Mr. Obama’s program and has raised obstacles to the more controversial measures.

This is a major embarrassment for the president, and yet another sign that he is losing political capital at a frightful pace. Moreover, it’s one more indication that lawmakers will become increasingly resistant to the president’s agenda, as regards both domestic and foreign policy (the Senate already blocked the confirmation of his ambassador to Syria).

It also highlights how inept is his foreign policy team, and how inapt is the administration’s “jam it through” strategy when it comes to national security:

Some conservatives said that Mr. Obama’s agenda was never all that realistic and that he would be wise to seek a broader consensus. “Trying to do treaties and national security policy as if they’re health care is a bad call,” said one such critic, Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. “You don’t do this by one vote. You do this by overwhelming majority. They need to learn to work with the other side.”

And at least for now, the Obama team concedes that its dream of a second arms treaty with Russia is kaput.

As a substantive matter, this is a positive development. In addition to the treaty’s other infirmities (most glaring, the impact on our ability to proceed with missile-defense development), there are real constitutional concerns about a treaty that embodies Obama’s fetish for multilateral institutions. Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin explain:

[New START creates] a Bilateral Consultative Commission with power to approve “additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty.” The U.S. and Russian executive branches can implement these measures and thus amend U.S. treaty obligations — without returning to the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma.

Could the commission constrain missile defense? It is empowered to “resolve questions related to the applicability of provisions of the Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive arm.” The treaty’s preamble recognizes “the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms.” The commission might have jurisdiction over missile defense through this interrelationship. Russia has already warned that it might withdraw from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses. Limits on missile defense systems thus might be “necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”

In short, the Senate should not only be wary of what damage the treaty does to our national security; it should also be concerned about what it does to the Constitution and the Senate’s own powers (“as more authority for making international agreements is transferred to the executive branch and international organizations, the cumulative effect of these arrangements becomes increasingly hard to square with the Senate’s constitutional role in the treaty-making process and, more generally, with separation of powers”).

START is a microcosm of many of the shortcomings of the Obama administration — excessive deference to international rivals, disrespect shown the other branches of government, and political tone-deafness (the Obami really thought this would glide through the Senate?). With lawmakers increasingly willing to flex their own political muscle, the first two of these ailments may be minimized. Unfortunately for the Obami, there’s no magic cure for the third.

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Obama’s Lonely Nuclear-Free-World Fantasy

Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan reports that no one is much interested in Obama’s nuclear-free-world fantasy. She writes:

George Perkovich, a prominent nuclear expert, noted in a recent report that nuclear powers such as Russia, China and France had not rallied behind the idea of moving toward global disarmament.

“The result is a talented president ready to lead a long-term campaign to remove the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons, but as yet lacking sufficient colleagues and followers to make it happen,” wrote Perkovich, who is at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In other words, Obama’s wasting his time on something not likely to bear any fruit. Next up on the agenda is another summit — “200 countries are to gather at the United Nations to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” But alas that seems to be a time waster, too (the same 200 are not, of course, scheduled to consider “crippling sanctions” against Iran):

The NPT is a bargain that gives all signatories the right to nuclear power while barring them from getting a bomb; the original five nuclear powers could keep their weapons but were to take steps toward disarming. India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear weapons states, did not sign the treaty and North Korea quit it in 2003.

But it will be difficult to get tougher penalties because the NPT conference operates by consensus. Iran, which is a signatory and maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful, could block changes. To critics, the forum often becomes a place where nuclear have-nots bash the nuclear haves, no matter what they do.

And then at home, the response to the START treaty — another Obama nuclear “accomplishment” — has been underwhelming. The agreement is not likely to be ratified absent confirmation that the treaty doesn’t actually do what it apparently claims to do — namely, put restrictions on U.S. development of missile defense systems.

It wouldn’t be such a source of concern to have a president spinning his wheels if we weren’t experiencing serious threats to our national security. So one can’t help but think that our foes perceive this as confirmation that Obama is indifferent to real provocations and can be diverted into focusing instead on these sorts of largely useless endeavors. An aura of fecklessness, if not foolishness, surrounds this administration. And foes can’t help but take notice — and take advantage.

Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan reports that no one is much interested in Obama’s nuclear-free-world fantasy. She writes:

George Perkovich, a prominent nuclear expert, noted in a recent report that nuclear powers such as Russia, China and France had not rallied behind the idea of moving toward global disarmament.

“The result is a talented president ready to lead a long-term campaign to remove the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons, but as yet lacking sufficient colleagues and followers to make it happen,” wrote Perkovich, who is at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In other words, Obama’s wasting his time on something not likely to bear any fruit. Next up on the agenda is another summit — “200 countries are to gather at the United Nations to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” But alas that seems to be a time waster, too (the same 200 are not, of course, scheduled to consider “crippling sanctions” against Iran):

The NPT is a bargain that gives all signatories the right to nuclear power while barring them from getting a bomb; the original five nuclear powers could keep their weapons but were to take steps toward disarming. India, Pakistan and Israel, all nuclear weapons states, did not sign the treaty and North Korea quit it in 2003.

But it will be difficult to get tougher penalties because the NPT conference operates by consensus. Iran, which is a signatory and maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful, could block changes. To critics, the forum often becomes a place where nuclear have-nots bash the nuclear haves, no matter what they do.

And then at home, the response to the START treaty — another Obama nuclear “accomplishment” — has been underwhelming. The agreement is not likely to be ratified absent confirmation that the treaty doesn’t actually do what it apparently claims to do — namely, put restrictions on U.S. development of missile defense systems.

It wouldn’t be such a source of concern to have a president spinning his wheels if we weren’t experiencing serious threats to our national security. So one can’t help but think that our foes perceive this as confirmation that Obama is indifferent to real provocations and can be diverted into focusing instead on these sorts of largely useless endeavors. An aura of fecklessness, if not foolishness, surrounds this administration. And foes can’t help but take notice — and take advantage.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The party of “no” is ahead in the congressional generic poll.

All that time “engaging” Iran was supposed to prepare the ground for international sanctions. But China and Russia are as unhelpful as ever. China sent only a low-level flunky to the international meeting: “China’s virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.” And Russia thinks there is “still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution.” I wonder if the Czech Republic and Poland can get their missile-defense systems back now.

Martha Coakley tells the Big Lie the weekend before the election, accusing Scott Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals. It is so ludicrous and false (even by Boston Globe standards) that one wonders if that will be the final nail in her coffin.

More bad polling news for Coakley suggests that she was desperate to throw the long bomb.

Let’s get this straight: if ObamaCare proves to be so unpopular that Massachusetts sends a Republican to the Senate, the Democrats will try to force the hugely unpopular bill through with a bare 51-vote majority? Yup: “Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend. … Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats’ reform efforts.” There is no reason to ever listen to the voters, they must figure.

Is there any wonder that there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in Massachusetts?

Obama is now resorting to good old-fashioned business-bashing: “The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama’s new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending? Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington’s year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it. Mr. Obama’s new ‘Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee’—please don’t call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren’t those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.”

Dana Milbank chides the Democrats for meeting in a bunker but then regurgitates the mind-numbingly silly and unsubstantiated mantra that has sent them marching over the political cliff: “They can pass health-care reform and have a losing year, or they can shelve health-care reform and have a disastrous year. Voters may not like the health-care bill, but they’ll punish the majority party even more for dithering and drifting without accomplishing anything.” Actually, I think they’re punishing them for ignoring the voters’ clear message.

The party of “no” is ahead in the congressional generic poll.

All that time “engaging” Iran was supposed to prepare the ground for international sanctions. But China and Russia are as unhelpful as ever. China sent only a low-level flunky to the international meeting: “China’s virtual snub has caused consternation among the four Western powers in the group, which had hoped to use the meeting to reach an agreement on whether to begin drafting a Security Council resolution on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran.” And Russia thinks there is “still time for meaningful political engagement and efforts to find a solution.” I wonder if the Czech Republic and Poland can get their missile-defense systems back now.

Martha Coakley tells the Big Lie the weekend before the election, accusing Scott Brown of wanting to turn away rape victims from hospitals. It is so ludicrous and false (even by Boston Globe standards) that one wonders if that will be the final nail in her coffin.

More bad polling news for Coakley suggests that she was desperate to throw the long bomb.

Let’s get this straight: if ObamaCare proves to be so unpopular that Massachusetts sends a Republican to the Senate, the Democrats will try to force the hugely unpopular bill through with a bare 51-vote majority? Yup: “Democrats are prepared to use a budgetary procedure to pass healthcare reform legislation if they lose a key Senate race on Tuesday, a House leader said this weekend. … Senate Democrats had previously ruled out using reconciliation, reasoning that the maneuver was politically and procedurally risky. The tactic, for instance, leaves it up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether elements of the bill under consideration are relevant to the budget process, risking reforms seen as critical to Democrats’ reform efforts.” There is no reason to ever listen to the voters, they must figure.

Is there any wonder that there’s an “enthusiasm gap” in Massachusetts?

Obama is now resorting to good old-fashioned business-bashing: “The White House has spent months imploring banks to lend more money, so will President Obama’s new proposal to extract $117 billion from bank capital encourage new bank lending? Just asking. Welcome to one more installment in Washington’s year-long crusade to revive private business by assailing and soaking it. Mr. Obama’s new ‘Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee’—please don’t call it a tax—is being sold as a way to cover expected losses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. That sounds reasonable, except that the banks designated to pay the fee aren’t those responsible for the losses. With the exception of Citigroup, those banks have repaid their TARP money with interest.”

Dana Milbank chides the Democrats for meeting in a bunker but then regurgitates the mind-numbingly silly and unsubstantiated mantra that has sent them marching over the political cliff: “They can pass health-care reform and have a losing year, or they can shelve health-care reform and have a disastrous year. Voters may not like the health-care bill, but they’ll punish the majority party even more for dithering and drifting without accomplishing anything.” Actually, I think they’re punishing them for ignoring the voters’ clear message.

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Re: Not an Easy Time for Obama Worshipers

Pete, one feels discomfort watching liberal pundits twist and turn, straining to come up with explanations for the decline in their once beloved Obama’s fortunes. It is embarrassing at times. Jill Lawrence is a case in point. She goes so far as to argue that none of the bad polling is really the Obami’s fault:

So where did they go wrong? What could they have done to avoid what many analysts see as portents of doom for the 2010 House and Senate elections? Probably nothing. In fact, they’d be in even worse shape if they had made different choices.

Really? He’d be in worse shape than if he hadn’t made the choices he made? Frankly, that’s poppycock.  Hard to imagine on foreign policy Obama would be in worse shape if he hadn’t played footsie with the mullahs for a year, engaged in a monumentally stupid settlement freeze gambit in the Middle East, done his best to offend the Brits, yanked missile-defense systems from allies, shoved human rights under the rug, and bowed and scraped before many a monarch. All of those choices have led to widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Then there are Obama’s choices on the war on terror. If he hadn’t decided to end enhanced interrogations, go after the CIA, shutter Guantanamo, move the detainees to Illinois, and give KSM a civilian trial, would he really be worse off? The public hates all of these moves, after all.

Then there is the spending binge, the debt accumulation, and the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Had he not delegated the stimulus plan junk-a-thon drafting to Nancy Pelosi and backed a huge energy tax and regulatory bill just when the public was losing patience with global-warming hysteria, would Obama’s poll numbers be lower than they are now? And had he not backed a health-care plan that Americans despise, could he have been worse off? It seems as though Obama’s recent decline in polling has tracked the plunge in support for Obamacare. To borrow a phrase, he’s fallen off the precipice and is now below 50 percent approval in virtually every poll.

Liberal pundits are reluctant to admit that Obama is increasingly unpopular because his extreme liberal agenda is unpopular — and because he’s proven to be a cold and huffy personality. During the campaign and the opening months of the administration, the liberal spinners alternately told us that he wasn’t that liberal or that the policies would neatly fit with the public’s shift leftward. But the public didn’t shift Left. And after telling us that Obama was a “sort of God,” the media cheerleaders are now hard pressed to cheer for a president who has managed to be both ubiquitous and unlikable.

So they spin and contort, disregard available evidence, and suggest that Obama is not really responsible for his own unpopularity. But the excuses are lame, not even George W. Bush can be tagged for Obama’s policy choices and the public has wised up. Most of the country doesn’t seem to buy the notion that it’s all someone else’s fault.

Pete, one feels discomfort watching liberal pundits twist and turn, straining to come up with explanations for the decline in their once beloved Obama’s fortunes. It is embarrassing at times. Jill Lawrence is a case in point. She goes so far as to argue that none of the bad polling is really the Obami’s fault:

So where did they go wrong? What could they have done to avoid what many analysts see as portents of doom for the 2010 House and Senate elections? Probably nothing. In fact, they’d be in even worse shape if they had made different choices.

Really? He’d be in worse shape than if he hadn’t made the choices he made? Frankly, that’s poppycock.  Hard to imagine on foreign policy Obama would be in worse shape if he hadn’t played footsie with the mullahs for a year, engaged in a monumentally stupid settlement freeze gambit in the Middle East, done his best to offend the Brits, yanked missile-defense systems from allies, shoved human rights under the rug, and bowed and scraped before many a monarch. All of those choices have led to widespread criticism from across the political spectrum.

Then there are Obama’s choices on the war on terror. If he hadn’t decided to end enhanced interrogations, go after the CIA, shutter Guantanamo, move the detainees to Illinois, and give KSM a civilian trial, would he really be worse off? The public hates all of these moves, after all.

Then there is the spending binge, the debt accumulation, and the ultra-liberal domestic agenda. Had he not delegated the stimulus plan junk-a-thon drafting to Nancy Pelosi and backed a huge energy tax and regulatory bill just when the public was losing patience with global-warming hysteria, would Obama’s poll numbers be lower than they are now? And had he not backed a health-care plan that Americans despise, could he have been worse off? It seems as though Obama’s recent decline in polling has tracked the plunge in support for Obamacare. To borrow a phrase, he’s fallen off the precipice and is now below 50 percent approval in virtually every poll.

Liberal pundits are reluctant to admit that Obama is increasingly unpopular because his extreme liberal agenda is unpopular — and because he’s proven to be a cold and huffy personality. During the campaign and the opening months of the administration, the liberal spinners alternately told us that he wasn’t that liberal or that the policies would neatly fit with the public’s shift leftward. But the public didn’t shift Left. And after telling us that Obama was a “sort of God,” the media cheerleaders are now hard pressed to cheer for a president who has managed to be both ubiquitous and unlikable.

So they spin and contort, disregard available evidence, and suggest that Obama is not really responsible for his own unpopularity. But the excuses are lame, not even George W. Bush can be tagged for Obama’s policy choices and the public has wised up. Most of the country doesn’t seem to buy the notion that it’s all someone else’s fault.

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“Dear Mr. Dictator. . .”

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

Read Less

Nuking Ukraine

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin threatened to nuke Ukraine over the deployment of America’s missile defense systems. “It is horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine,” the outgoing Russian president said. “Imagine this just for a second.”

Talk about imagining things. Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, and Washington has not asked Kiev to host missile shield facilities. Yet it’s not too hard for us to imagine that the Kremlin would raise the prospect of incinerating nearby countries. Putin has already threatened to obliterate Poland and the Czech Republic over their tentative agreements to host missile defense radars and interceptors.

We say missile defense is intended to stop Iran, but the Russians seem to think our ten-interceptor system is aimed only at them and that it can bring down every one of their almost 800 missiles. In order to convince us that we are the ones who are being duplicitous, Moscow is now saying that Iran poses no threat to anybody. Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Iranians will need ten years to develop a long-range missile. “Our position is based on facts, and the facts are as follows: Iran, which is thought to be the main threat, does not have and will not have missiles from which one has to protect itself in the long term.”

Thanks, Sergei, but Iran hopes to put a satellite into orbit by next March and has been testing its intermediate-range missiles with distressing regularity. And just yesterday you said this: “We do not approve of Iran’s action in constantly demonstrating its intentions to develop its rocket sector and continue enriching uranium.”

So don’t look for consistency in Kremlin pronouncements. Russia, which is helping Iran arm itself with the ultimate weapon, does not want us to try to protect ourselves. In a campaign reminiscent of its efforts to stop the deployment of the Pershing missile in Europe in the 1980s, it is willing to say anything, no matter how ludicrous. It is, therefore, time for the Bush administration to stop trying to placate Putin and force him to make a choice: either accept missile defense in Europe or help us stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It is not surprising that he is trying to make inconsistent arguments to get whatever he wants, but it is not acceptable that we let him.

And one more thing. We need to tell Putin, in public, that he must stop threatening Ukraine—or others—with his nukes. And if he should continue, it is up to us to remind him of our ability and willingness to use all the weapons we possess. The best way to slide into worldwide war is to ignore autocrats when they make unprovoked threats of unimaginable devastation.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin threatened to nuke Ukraine over the deployment of America’s missile defense systems. “It is horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine,” the outgoing Russian president said. “Imagine this just for a second.”

Talk about imagining things. Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, and Washington has not asked Kiev to host missile shield facilities. Yet it’s not too hard for us to imagine that the Kremlin would raise the prospect of incinerating nearby countries. Putin has already threatened to obliterate Poland and the Czech Republic over their tentative agreements to host missile defense radars and interceptors.

We say missile defense is intended to stop Iran, but the Russians seem to think our ten-interceptor system is aimed only at them and that it can bring down every one of their almost 800 missiles. In order to convince us that we are the ones who are being duplicitous, Moscow is now saying that Iran poses no threat to anybody. Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Iranians will need ten years to develop a long-range missile. “Our position is based on facts, and the facts are as follows: Iran, which is thought to be the main threat, does not have and will not have missiles from which one has to protect itself in the long term.”

Thanks, Sergei, but Iran hopes to put a satellite into orbit by next March and has been testing its intermediate-range missiles with distressing regularity. And just yesterday you said this: “We do not approve of Iran’s action in constantly demonstrating its intentions to develop its rocket sector and continue enriching uranium.”

So don’t look for consistency in Kremlin pronouncements. Russia, which is helping Iran arm itself with the ultimate weapon, does not want us to try to protect ourselves. In a campaign reminiscent of its efforts to stop the deployment of the Pershing missile in Europe in the 1980s, it is willing to say anything, no matter how ludicrous. It is, therefore, time for the Bush administration to stop trying to placate Putin and force him to make a choice: either accept missile defense in Europe or help us stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It is not surprising that he is trying to make inconsistent arguments to get whatever he wants, but it is not acceptable that we let him.

And one more thing. We need to tell Putin, in public, that he must stop threatening Ukraine—or others—with his nukes. And if he should continue, it is up to us to remind him of our ability and willingness to use all the weapons we possess. The best way to slide into worldwide war is to ignore autocrats when they make unprovoked threats of unimaginable devastation.

Read Less




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