Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peter Baker

Replacing the White House Economic Team May Not Be Enough

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

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Morning Commentary

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

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Liberal Echo Chamber

Obama has done what was seemingly impossible — he has lost David Brooks and made him into a scathing critic of the Democrats’ delusional thinking. A sample:

Over the past year, many Democrats have resolutely paid attention to those things that make them feel good, and they have carefully filtered out those negative things that make them feel sad.

For example, Democrats and their media enablers have paid lavish attention to Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino, even though these two Republican candidates have almost no chance of winning. That’s because it feels so delicious to feel superior to opponents you consider to be feeble-minded wackos.

On the whole “foreign money killed us” hooey, Brooks is merciless:

They see this campaign as a poetic confrontation between good (themselves) and pure evil (Karl Rove and his group, American Crossroads).

As Nancy Pelosi put it at a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser, “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

Even allowing the menace of secret money, embracing this Paradise Lost epic means obscuring a few inconvenient facts: that Democrats were happy to benefit from millions of anonymous dollars in 2006, 2008 and today; that the spending by Rove’s group amounts to less than 1 percent of the total money spent on campaigns this year; that Democrats retain an overall spending advantage.

But legend rises above mere facticity, and this Lancelots-of-the-Left tale underlines a self-affirming message — that Democrats are engaged in a righteous crusade against the dark villain who tricked Americans into voting against John Kerry.

Oh, and they were always behind, and for nearly a year the American people have been screaming that they didn’t like the Democrats’ agenda.

Brooks is right that the blame-everyone-but-themselves phenomenon is  a bit cringe-inducing. (“Get a bottle of vodka and read Peter Baker’s article ‘The Education of President Obama’ from The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight. You’ll be unconscious by page three.”)

Brooks aptly discusses the phenomenon but not the causes and contributors to this hear-no-danger/see-no-danger modus operandi. It is in large part a manifestation of the president’s own self-regard, a distorted sense of his own ability to mold events, and a conviction that garden-variety leftism in an appealing package = blinding wisdom.

But there is something else at work here. There is an endless loop of self-reinforcing fantasy that goes on among academics, pundits, “news” reporters, and elected Democrats. They feed each other’s prejudices (e.g., Tea Partiers are racists) and affirm one another’s erroneous judgments (Americans will learn to love ObamaCare). By minimizing or ignoring the administrations’ failures or misdeeds (the New Black Panther Party scandal, the abusive use of czars and recess appointments), the media and liberal interest groups contribute to a heady sense of infallibility. “No one cares about this stuff,” concludes the already puffed-up White House aides. “We can do whatever we want,” they tell their colleagues.

And most of all, they agree that those who do report bad news (e.g., Fox) or who do object to harebrained ideas (support for the Ground Zero mosque) are irrational or bigoted — maybe both. It’s always possible that the White House will finally learn the right lessons from the upcoming midterm wipeout. But perhaps it is also time for the liberal echo chamber to consider whether it is doing more harm than good to its own cause.

Obama has done what was seemingly impossible — he has lost David Brooks and made him into a scathing critic of the Democrats’ delusional thinking. A sample:

Over the past year, many Democrats have resolutely paid attention to those things that make them feel good, and they have carefully filtered out those negative things that make them feel sad.

For example, Democrats and their media enablers have paid lavish attention to Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino, even though these two Republican candidates have almost no chance of winning. That’s because it feels so delicious to feel superior to opponents you consider to be feeble-minded wackos.

On the whole “foreign money killed us” hooey, Brooks is merciless:

They see this campaign as a poetic confrontation between good (themselves) and pure evil (Karl Rove and his group, American Crossroads).

As Nancy Pelosi put it at a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser, “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

Even allowing the menace of secret money, embracing this Paradise Lost epic means obscuring a few inconvenient facts: that Democrats were happy to benefit from millions of anonymous dollars in 2006, 2008 and today; that the spending by Rove’s group amounts to less than 1 percent of the total money spent on campaigns this year; that Democrats retain an overall spending advantage.

But legend rises above mere facticity, and this Lancelots-of-the-Left tale underlines a self-affirming message — that Democrats are engaged in a righteous crusade against the dark villain who tricked Americans into voting against John Kerry.

Oh, and they were always behind, and for nearly a year the American people have been screaming that they didn’t like the Democrats’ agenda.

Brooks is right that the blame-everyone-but-themselves phenomenon is  a bit cringe-inducing. (“Get a bottle of vodka and read Peter Baker’s article ‘The Education of President Obama’ from The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Take a shot every time a White House official is quoted blaming Republicans for the Democrats’ political plight. You’ll be unconscious by page three.”)

Brooks aptly discusses the phenomenon but not the causes and contributors to this hear-no-danger/see-no-danger modus operandi. It is in large part a manifestation of the president’s own self-regard, a distorted sense of his own ability to mold events, and a conviction that garden-variety leftism in an appealing package = blinding wisdom.

But there is something else at work here. There is an endless loop of self-reinforcing fantasy that goes on among academics, pundits, “news” reporters, and elected Democrats. They feed each other’s prejudices (e.g., Tea Partiers are racists) and affirm one another’s erroneous judgments (Americans will learn to love ObamaCare). By minimizing or ignoring the administrations’ failures or misdeeds (the New Black Panther Party scandal, the abusive use of czars and recess appointments), the media and liberal interest groups contribute to a heady sense of infallibility. “No one cares about this stuff,” concludes the already puffed-up White House aides. “We can do whatever we want,” they tell their colleagues.

And most of all, they agree that those who do report bad news (e.g., Fox) or who do object to harebrained ideas (support for the Ground Zero mosque) are irrational or bigoted — maybe both. It’s always possible that the White House will finally learn the right lessons from the upcoming midterm wipeout. But perhaps it is also time for the liberal echo chamber to consider whether it is doing more harm than good to its own cause.

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The Art of Discontent

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

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Why Didn’t Chile’s President Thank Barack Obama?

He did, after all, thank Bibi Netanyahu, among others. So why the silence from Sebastian Pinera about Obama? Simple: the mining operation was a shovel-ready project, and Obama told Peter Baker of the New York Times those projects don’t exist.

He did, after all, thank Bibi Netanyahu, among others. So why the silence from Sebastian Pinera about Obama? Simple: the mining operation was a shovel-ready project, and Obama told Peter Baker of the New York Times those projects don’t exist.

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Dems Circle the Wagons

Imagine if a month before the presidential election, the Republican nominee were making trips to Alabama to try to pump up the base. You’d suspect something was very amiss. And so it is with the midterms as the Democrats struggle to get their own supporters engaged in an election that could well spell the end of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as the end of the Obama agenda.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker explains the extent of the problem:

With four weeks until Congressional elections that will shape the remainder of his term, President Obama is increasingly focused on generating enthusiasm within the base that helped put him in the White House two years ago, from college students to African-Americans.

But Mr. Obama has aimed much of his prodding — and not a small amount of personal pique — at the liberals most deflated by the first two years of his presidency. Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.

Baker’s not all that impressed:

At times, though, the message has come across as scolding and testy, in the view of some Democrats. … The White House may be making progress closing the so-called enthusiasm gap with Republicans, according to Democratic strategists who point to improving poll numbers and fund-raising. But the fact that Mr. Obama needs to make such a concerted effort highlights the depth of disaffection among liberals over what they see as his failure to aggressively push for the change he promised.

And with every hyper-partisan speech, Obama sends shivers up the spines of moderate Democrats, who realize it is making their problem with independents even worse. (“‘Even if Democrats close the enthusiasm gap with their base, they still have another enthusiasm gap to close with moderates,’ said Anne Kim, domestic policy program director for [The Third Way]. ‘Democrats don’t have the luxury of leaning on their base to deliver wins because there simply aren’t enough liberals.’”)

Only two years ago, the media excoriated Republicans for playing to a narrower and narrower segment of the electorate. The pundits chastised the GOP for following a misguided strategy — trying to expand the base at the expense of appealing to the bulk of voters in the center of the political spectrum. Now it’s the Democrats’ turn to deploy a self-defeating strategy.

But in the case of the Democrats, this is the only gambit left. By pursuing an extreme agenda and ignoring the concerns of most voters for nearly two years, the Democrats can’t very well charge back to the center, promising restraint, fiscal sobriety, etc. So all they can do is plead with (or holler at) their base and try to scare the voters. In doing so, they reveal themselves to be both desperate and cynical. And that’s not an image that’s likely to get those starry-eyed young voters to the polls, is it?

Imagine if a month before the presidential election, the Republican nominee were making trips to Alabama to try to pump up the base. You’d suspect something was very amiss. And so it is with the midterms as the Democrats struggle to get their own supporters engaged in an election that could well spell the end of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, as well as the end of the Obama agenda.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker explains the extent of the problem:

With four weeks until Congressional elections that will shape the remainder of his term, President Obama is increasingly focused on generating enthusiasm within the base that helped put him in the White House two years ago, from college students to African-Americans.

But Mr. Obama has aimed much of his prodding — and not a small amount of personal pique — at the liberals most deflated by the first two years of his presidency. Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year.

Baker’s not all that impressed:

At times, though, the message has come across as scolding and testy, in the view of some Democrats. … The White House may be making progress closing the so-called enthusiasm gap with Republicans, according to Democratic strategists who point to improving poll numbers and fund-raising. But the fact that Mr. Obama needs to make such a concerted effort highlights the depth of disaffection among liberals over what they see as his failure to aggressively push for the change he promised.

And with every hyper-partisan speech, Obama sends shivers up the spines of moderate Democrats, who realize it is making their problem with independents even worse. (“‘Even if Democrats close the enthusiasm gap with their base, they still have another enthusiasm gap to close with moderates,’ said Anne Kim, domestic policy program director for [The Third Way]. ‘Democrats don’t have the luxury of leaning on their base to deliver wins because there simply aren’t enough liberals.’”)

Only two years ago, the media excoriated Republicans for playing to a narrower and narrower segment of the electorate. The pundits chastised the GOP for following a misguided strategy — trying to expand the base at the expense of appealing to the bulk of voters in the center of the political spectrum. Now it’s the Democrats’ turn to deploy a self-defeating strategy.

But in the case of the Democrats, this is the only gambit left. By pursuing an extreme agenda and ignoring the concerns of most voters for nearly two years, the Democrats can’t very well charge back to the center, promising restraint, fiscal sobriety, etc. So all they can do is plead with (or holler at) their base and try to scare the voters. In doing so, they reveal themselves to be both desperate and cynical. And that’s not an image that’s likely to get those starry-eyed young voters to the polls, is it?

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It’s Not Just Afghanistan

Peter Baker at The New York Times (h/t Peter Feaver) highlights this nugget from Bob Woodward’s book:

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, [Dennis] Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

Let’s unpack this: seven months before the Christmas Day bombing attempt and a year before the Times Square bomber’s failed effort, Blair was trying to raise the red flag about jihadists attacks on the homeland. What he got was a chewing out by the Obama hacks, who think such matters shouldn’t be “put” on them. It’s baffling really — is this above Obama’s pay grade?

Here again, we have the startling indifference to national security and the domination of politics over policy. You can just see the wheels clicking: We don’t want to get blamed. We’ll have no plausible deniability if they don’t keep telling us stuff.

Even Jimmy Carter, shocked by Afghanistan, took national security seriously (albeit, he was hobbled by incompetency). Obama really is in a class by himself when it comes to shirking national-security concerns.

Peter Baker at The New York Times (h/t Peter Feaver) highlights this nugget from Bob Woodward’s book:

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, [Dennis] Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

Let’s unpack this: seven months before the Christmas Day bombing attempt and a year before the Times Square bomber’s failed effort, Blair was trying to raise the red flag about jihadists attacks on the homeland. What he got was a chewing out by the Obama hacks, who think such matters shouldn’t be “put” on them. It’s baffling really — is this above Obama’s pay grade?

Here again, we have the startling indifference to national security and the domination of politics over policy. You can just see the wheels clicking: We don’t want to get blamed. We’ll have no plausible deniability if they don’t keep telling us stuff.

Even Jimmy Carter, shocked by Afghanistan, took national security seriously (albeit, he was hobbled by incompetency). Obama really is in a class by himself when it comes to shirking national-security concerns.

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Obama: ‘I Do Not Want to Screw This Up’

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Baker’s massive front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about Obama as commander in chief. I share some of the disquiet expressed by Jennifer Rubin about the president’s lack of knowledge and interest in defense affairs, but that’s hardly unusual for a chief executive. With his focus on domestic policy and his view that foreign crises are an unwelcome “distraction,” Obama echoes most recent presidents, including both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, of course, shed that outlook after 9/11, whereas Obama hasn’t — yet. I predict he will before long because he will realize what most presidents realize: that they have the greatest impact in foreign affairs and national-security policy, whereas on domestic issues, they have to beg for help from a recalcitrant Congress. So far, Obama has managed to push most of his agenda through the Hill, but that is likely to change after the November elections bring big gains for Republicans; after that he will probably find foreign affairs a relief rather than a burden.

In the meantime, however, I was not wholly depressed by Baker’s article. There were, I believe, some positives in it, including the revelation that it was Obama’s personal brainstorm to replace General McChrystal with David Petraeus in Afghanistan (Bob Gates evidently wanted to keep McChrystal on with a reprimand). That was surely a brilliant stroke and speaks well to his creativity and his ability to be decisive. More than that, I was cheered by this line:

When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: “Guys, before you start, there’s one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up.”

That sentiment — “I do not want to screw this up” — explains a lot. It explains why Obama has gone more slowly on the Iraq withdrawal than the left would have liked and why he has bucked his liberal base to build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For all his obsession with domestic issues, he evidently realizes that losing wars is bad for a president’s reputation. That’s good for those of us who believe that it’s vitally important for the country’s interests to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However reluctantly, Obama apparently has come to share that belief.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Peter Baker’s massive front-page story in the Sunday New York Times about Obama as commander in chief. I share some of the disquiet expressed by Jennifer Rubin about the president’s lack of knowledge and interest in defense affairs, but that’s hardly unusual for a chief executive. With his focus on domestic policy and his view that foreign crises are an unwelcome “distraction,” Obama echoes most recent presidents, including both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Bush, of course, shed that outlook after 9/11, whereas Obama hasn’t — yet. I predict he will before long because he will realize what most presidents realize: that they have the greatest impact in foreign affairs and national-security policy, whereas on domestic issues, they have to beg for help from a recalcitrant Congress. So far, Obama has managed to push most of his agenda through the Hill, but that is likely to change after the November elections bring big gains for Republicans; after that he will probably find foreign affairs a relief rather than a burden.

In the meantime, however, I was not wholly depressed by Baker’s article. There were, I believe, some positives in it, including the revelation that it was Obama’s personal brainstorm to replace General McChrystal with David Petraeus in Afghanistan (Bob Gates evidently wanted to keep McChrystal on with a reprimand). That was surely a brilliant stroke and speaks well to his creativity and his ability to be decisive. More than that, I was cheered by this line:

When he held a videoconference on Iraq on his first full day in office, officials recalled, he said: “Guys, before you start, there’s one thing I want to say to you and that is I do not want to screw this up.”

That sentiment — “I do not want to screw this up” — explains a lot. It explains why Obama has gone more slowly on the Iraq withdrawal than the left would have liked and why he has bucked his liberal base to build up U.S. forces in Afghanistan. For all his obsession with domestic issues, he evidently realizes that losing wars is bad for a president’s reputation. That’s good for those of us who believe that it’s vitally important for the country’s interests to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However reluctantly, Obama apparently has come to share that belief.

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Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970′s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970′s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

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I’m Not Swooning

Peter Baker of The Washington Post writes

It may no longer be surprising to watch so many young people, African Americans and well-off Democrats fall so hard for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as he battles for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it has been fascinating to see so many conservatives swooning over him lately.

Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush speechwriter, calls him “thoughtful” and praises his “classy campaign.” George Will, the columnist and television pundit, describes him as “an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic ‘fights’ against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.” Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House aide, calls Obama “a well-grounded, thoughtful, decent man” whom Republicans “would find it hard to generate much enthusiasm in opposing.”

… Yet when the infatuation wears off, if Obama gets the nomination, will Republicans still think so highly of him? If Obama delivers the knockout blow to the Clinton dynasty, the bete noire of so many conservatives, would they still find reason to think of him as a knight in shining armor? Lost amid all the dramatic primaries and debates of recent days have been a few moments that voters are likely to hear more about in the fall should Obama win the nomination, moments that will remind Republicans that in many ways he is a pretty conventional liberal.

Let me try to disentangle some of this. I certainly have written favorable things about Senator Obama — for his speeches (which are uplifting and moving, if often devoid of a serious discussion of issues), his style of politics (including his color-blind campaign), and the kind of man he seems (by all accounts) to be. Yet in the same op-ed that Baker cites, I went on to write this:

[Obama] is, on almost every issue, a conventional liberal. And while rhetoric and character matter a lot, politics is finally and fundamentally about ideas and philosophy. Whether we’re talking about the Iraq war, monitoring terrorist communications, health care, taxes, education, abortion and the courts, the size of government, or almost anything else, Obama embodies the views of the special-interest groups on the left…If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and fails to take steps such as this [endorsing conservative policies], his liberal views will be his greatest vulnerability. Obama will try to reject the liberal label–but based on his stands on the issues, at least so far, the label will fit, and it will stick.

In other words, I make precisely the point that Baker says will be made about Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But the way Baker’s piece is set up, any future criticism of Senator Obama, on grounds of political philosophy and ideology, will be seen as activating the “Republican attack machine.” And those of us who have said favorable things about Obama will be accused of going “partisan” because we dare say a negative word about the young senator from Illinois.

This piece by Baker illustrates how the media culture often perpetuates what it says it laments (for example, reducing politics to a simplistic level and people to predictable, cartoonish figures). Baker, by using silly words to describe the views of Will, Noonan, and me toward Obama, apparently wants to create a political environment that continues to personalize policy and ideological differences.

We should be able to praise Obama on the grounds we have without being accused of being “infatuated” with him and “swooning over him.” We can recognize his gifts without viewing him as a “knight in shining armor.” The reality is that Senator Obama is an impressive man and a remarkable political talent. He is also a conventional liberal and, on Iraq particularly, I believe his policies are unwise and even reckless. I disagree with him on probably every major issue–and yet I still find him to be an appealing figure.

Those two things aren’t incompatible–and Peter Baker, a fine and often insightful political reporter, should recognize this.

Peter Baker of The Washington Post writes

It may no longer be surprising to watch so many young people, African Americans and well-off Democrats fall so hard for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as he battles for the Democratic presidential nomination, but it has been fascinating to see so many conservatives swooning over him lately.

Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush speechwriter, calls him “thoughtful” and praises his “classy campaign.” George Will, the columnist and television pundit, describes him as “an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic ‘fights’ against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.” Peter Wehner, the former Bush White House aide, calls Obama “a well-grounded, thoughtful, decent man” whom Republicans “would find it hard to generate much enthusiasm in opposing.”

… Yet when the infatuation wears off, if Obama gets the nomination, will Republicans still think so highly of him? If Obama delivers the knockout blow to the Clinton dynasty, the bete noire of so many conservatives, would they still find reason to think of him as a knight in shining armor? Lost amid all the dramatic primaries and debates of recent days have been a few moments that voters are likely to hear more about in the fall should Obama win the nomination, moments that will remind Republicans that in many ways he is a pretty conventional liberal.

Let me try to disentangle some of this. I certainly have written favorable things about Senator Obama — for his speeches (which are uplifting and moving, if often devoid of a serious discussion of issues), his style of politics (including his color-blind campaign), and the kind of man he seems (by all accounts) to be. Yet in the same op-ed that Baker cites, I went on to write this:

[Obama] is, on almost every issue, a conventional liberal. And while rhetoric and character matter a lot, politics is finally and fundamentally about ideas and philosophy. Whether we’re talking about the Iraq war, monitoring terrorist communications, health care, taxes, education, abortion and the courts, the size of government, or almost anything else, Obama embodies the views of the special-interest groups on the left…If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and fails to take steps such as this [endorsing conservative policies], his liberal views will be his greatest vulnerability. Obama will try to reject the liberal label–but based on his stands on the issues, at least so far, the label will fit, and it will stick.

In other words, I make precisely the point that Baker says will be made about Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination. But the way Baker’s piece is set up, any future criticism of Senator Obama, on grounds of political philosophy and ideology, will be seen as activating the “Republican attack machine.” And those of us who have said favorable things about Obama will be accused of going “partisan” because we dare say a negative word about the young senator from Illinois.

This piece by Baker illustrates how the media culture often perpetuates what it says it laments (for example, reducing politics to a simplistic level and people to predictable, cartoonish figures). Baker, by using silly words to describe the views of Will, Noonan, and me toward Obama, apparently wants to create a political environment that continues to personalize policy and ideological differences.

We should be able to praise Obama on the grounds we have without being accused of being “infatuated” with him and “swooning over him.” We can recognize his gifts without viewing him as a “knight in shining armor.” The reality is that Senator Obama is an impressive man and a remarkable political talent. He is also a conventional liberal and, on Iraq particularly, I believe his policies are unwise and even reckless. I disagree with him on probably every major issue–and yet I still find him to be an appealing figure.

Those two things aren’t incompatible–and Peter Baker, a fine and often insightful political reporter, should recognize this.

Read Less

Am I Missing Something?

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

Read Less




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