Commentary Magazine


Topic: Secretary

Hamas and History

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

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Ronald Reagan on Democracy

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled. Read More

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled.

Still, there is no denying the centrality that freedom and human rights played in American foreign policy during the Reagan years. And those who are consistently skeptical about proclaiming the inalienable and universal rights of all human beings — who when they speak about democracy promotion these days almost always do so in critical terms — are standing shoulder-to-shoulder not with Reagan but with Henry Kissinger.

Secretary Kissinger, after all, downplayed the role of morality in foreign policy. He believed that the United States should largely ignore the human-rights violations of other nations. Democracy promotion for him was a peripheral concern, and sometimes not even that.

Oh, and Dr. Kissinger was (in the 1976 primary challenge against Gerald Ford) Reagan’s bete noire, and the Reagan presidency in important respects a repudiation of Kissinger’s realpolitik.

I admire much about Henry Kissinger. But on this, as on so much else, Ronald Reagan was right.

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Obama’s New Anti-Satellite Weapons Push to Cede Space to the Chinese?

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

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Colin Powell: Budget Cutter

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

On CNN yesterday, in discussing the budget, Colin Powell said that “the real money [is] in the entitlements … and unless we do something about those, you can’t balance the budget.” He added, “You can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts. Nice political chatter, but that doesn’t do it.” And then, putting on his David Stockman cape, Powell said: “Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut, and nobody up there yet is being very, very candid about what they are going to cut to fix this problem.”

Secretary Powell is quite right that entitlement programs are where the real money is. And Powell is also correct when he says that you can’t fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the NEA. Of course, the former secretary of state can’t name a single influential Republican figure who has made such a claim.

The case against NPR and the NEA isn’t that they absorb a huge percentage of federal dollars; it is that they are undeserving of taxpayer money. They don’t have a legitimate claim on public funds. Why should NPR get taxpayer subsidies when no other news outlet does? And why should the federal government be subsidizing such a thing in the first place? Does anyone really believe Diane Rehm or Terry Gross are national treasures who merit taxpayer support?

Beyond that, symbolism matters. Having the House cuts its own budget won’t fix our fiscal imbalance either — but it’s still a worthwhile thing to do, both symbolically and on the merits.

Finally, Powell wants to know specifically what Republicans are going to cut. To which I would say: Patience, Mr. Secretary, patience. In just a matter of months, Representative Paul Ryan is going to produce a detailed budget, and his colleagues on the appropriations committee are going to list specific programs they want to cut. This will cause official Washington to shriek in protest, even though those cuts by themselves won’t be nearly enough. But it will be a start.

I hope conservative lawmakers can count on Powell’s support rather than criticism once they gin up the courage and do what Powell is now demanding of them. As this drama unfolds, will he be arguing for fiscal discipline and limited government — or will he try to ward off cuts in his favorite programs?

I would be delighted — and frankly surprised — if Secretary Powell ends up being a strong, visible ally of genuine budget cutters. But here’s to hoping.

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Saber-Rattling: The New Normal

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

Americans will have to get used to something in the coming years: we are not necessarily the main audience for foreign saber-rattling. When China unveiled its new “stealth” fighter last week, American defense experts were quick to point out that because its design is clunky and primitive, the U.S. need not be overly concerned about this minor triumph. But we would be wrong to imagine the Chinese don’t know that. From their perspective, demonstrating that they have already built a stealth aircraft is more important than impressing American analysts with its characteristics.

The reason for that is simple: an arms-and-power race has been emerging in the Eastern hemisphere — and it’s centered on Asia. The U.S. has had stealth aircraft for years. But Russia announced the prototype test of its first stealth fighter in January 2010, and Japan is pursuing an indigenously designed stealth fighter as well. The Japanese effort has accelerated with the U.S. rejection of Tokyo’s offer to buy the F-22 Raptor. (Secretary Gates reiterated his stance on that in Japan on Wednesday.) India, meanwhile, took delivery this week of its first homegrown fighter jet, billed as the world’s lightest supersonic jet.

There are too many such developments to mention in a brief post for general readers; the fielding of new fighter jets is merely one category. Beyond arms buildups, another category is defense agreements with political, balance-of-power implications, such as the pact now in prospect between South Korea and Japan, or Russia’s cooperation agreements with Vietnam. In a separate category are the territorial disputes heating up between Russia, China, and Japan. Additional factors include the predatory competition between Russia and China for fossil-fuel resources, as well as their competition for clients in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The timing of the Chinese fighter’s first test flight, which coincided with Bob Gates’s visit, was obviously intentional. China wants to reach a U.S. audience with these signals — but not solely a U.S. audience. The theme that Chinese negotiation is backed by thoroughly modern force is intended as much for Asian consumption as for American. And regardless of the intended audience, there is no better “straight man” for that theme than the U.S. secretary of defense.

Falling behind the neighbors has historically had dreadful consequences for Asian nations; since 1945, even our enemies in the region have relied on America’s power and network of alliances to preserve stability. But the principles we have traditionally acted on in defense of that stability are increasingly in question. The Asian nations are already shifting from a posture of maneuvering around the U.S. to one of maneuvering around each other. Not everything is “about” us; American thinking needs to adjust to that emerging reality. But everything will affect us. If we are unwilling to maintain the order we have built over the past 70-odd years, we will have to learn again the ways of a world that operates without effective American leadership.

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Hillary’s Loughner Analysis Gets Even Worse

Politico reports on some surreal comments offered by Hillary Clinton in an interview earlier today with CNN:

Jared Loughner is an extremist because he carried out the Arizona shootings while acting on his “political views,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with CNN while continuing her trip in the Middle East today.

“Based on what I know, this is a criminal defendant who was in some ways motivated by his own political views, who had a particular animus toward the congresswoman,” Clinton said. “And I think when you cross the line from expressing opinions that are of conflicting differences in our political   environment into taking action that’s violent action, that’s a hallmark of extremism, whether it comes from the right, the left, from Al Qaeda, from anarchists, whoever it is. That is a form of extremism.”

Several things are stunning here. First and most obvious, she’s wrong. Loughner is of course the best-known certifiably apolitical American  living today. At least he’s the only one about whom headlines declare:HE DID NOT WATCH TV. HE DISLIKED THE NEWS. HE DIDN’T LISTEN TO POLITICAL RADIO.

Second, since Secretary Clinton already tested out this erroneous analysis on Monday in a town-hall meeting in Abu Dhabi, one can responsibly infer that no member of the administration has gotten her up to speed in the two days since. What kind of systemic disrepair must the Obama administration — or at least the secretary of state’s office — be in to let this happen? Unless Barack Obama makes similarly absurd claims in his speech tonight, the administration’s message discipline is in shambles.

Third, perhaps she is up to speed but is pushing a false narrative in pursuit of a misguided diplomatic strategy. It is one thing to have facts wrong; but it’s still another for the secretary of state to invent an equivalence between organized global jihad and the actions of a mentally ill lone American murderer. It is grotesque to capitalize on the deliberate distortion of this massacre by implying that America is as susceptible to extremism as any country in the Middle East. It is also extremely dangerous. It broadcasts a willful ignorance and a lack of resolve.

No matter what, we are now forced to entertain great doubts about Secretary Clinton’s seriousness on terrorism. Even this far into Obama’s term, some serious foreign-policy thinkers were harboring a vague hope that Hillary Clinton provided a kind of anchor, keeping the naïve administration connected to hard-nosed reality. But her comments on Monday and today paint a picture of a key American official frightfully adrift.

Politico reports on some surreal comments offered by Hillary Clinton in an interview earlier today with CNN:

Jared Loughner is an extremist because he carried out the Arizona shootings while acting on his “political views,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview with CNN while continuing her trip in the Middle East today.

“Based on what I know, this is a criminal defendant who was in some ways motivated by his own political views, who had a particular animus toward the congresswoman,” Clinton said. “And I think when you cross the line from expressing opinions that are of conflicting differences in our political   environment into taking action that’s violent action, that’s a hallmark of extremism, whether it comes from the right, the left, from Al Qaeda, from anarchists, whoever it is. That is a form of extremism.”

Several things are stunning here. First and most obvious, she’s wrong. Loughner is of course the best-known certifiably apolitical American  living today. At least he’s the only one about whom headlines declare:HE DID NOT WATCH TV. HE DISLIKED THE NEWS. HE DIDN’T LISTEN TO POLITICAL RADIO.

Second, since Secretary Clinton already tested out this erroneous analysis on Monday in a town-hall meeting in Abu Dhabi, one can responsibly infer that no member of the administration has gotten her up to speed in the two days since. What kind of systemic disrepair must the Obama administration — or at least the secretary of state’s office — be in to let this happen? Unless Barack Obama makes similarly absurd claims in his speech tonight, the administration’s message discipline is in shambles.

Third, perhaps she is up to speed but is pushing a false narrative in pursuit of a misguided diplomatic strategy. It is one thing to have facts wrong; but it’s still another for the secretary of state to invent an equivalence between organized global jihad and the actions of a mentally ill lone American murderer. It is grotesque to capitalize on the deliberate distortion of this massacre by implying that America is as susceptible to extremism as any country in the Middle East. It is also extremely dangerous. It broadcasts a willful ignorance and a lack of resolve.

No matter what, we are now forced to entertain great doubts about Secretary Clinton’s seriousness on terrorism. Even this far into Obama’s term, some serious foreign-policy thinkers were harboring a vague hope that Hillary Clinton provided a kind of anchor, keeping the naïve administration connected to hard-nosed reality. But her comments on Monday and today paint a picture of a key American official frightfully adrift.

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Don’t Balance the Budget on the Back of Defense

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

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Richard Holbrooke’s Legacy

One of Richard Holbrooke’s most significant intellectual contributions to American diplomacy was an address he gave on June 4, 2007, entitled “The Principles of Peacemaking,” at a conference on “Israel’s Right to Secure Borders” held by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

There is no clearer statement of the principles underlying what Holbrooke called “the most important and celebrated Security Council resolution in the history of the UN.” He noted that “every word of [Resolution 242] is significant” and that:

Likewise, an analysis of the original meaning of the resolution, as opposed to its inadvertent or intentional misconstructions by certain people, is essential. This is especially necessary in light of the fact that numerous publications and media outlets have reiterated the misconception that the resolution calls for full withdrawal from all territories.

After analyzing Resolution 242, Holbrooke contrasted it with the Saudi/Arab “peace initiative,” which had a fundamental flaw:

[T]he Saudi peace proposal … often referred to as a conciliatory proposal by the Saudis, mentions Resolution 242, mistakenly claiming that it calls for withdrawal from all occupied territories — it uses the phrase “full withdrawal from all Arab territories.” More importantly, it sets up a sequence that is in direct contradiction to Resolution 242, demanding Israeli compliance with all demands before offering Israel anything, including normal relations. … More significant, what this proposal really does is to lay out as a precondition for the negotiation the very thing being negotiated: this is a fundamental flaw.

Holbrooke noted that many regarded the Saudi proposal as a very important breakthrough, but that “this is clearly a mistake” — not only because of its fundamental flaw but also because the Saudis were themselves unwilling to participate in the necessary negotiations.

Holbrooke recalled Secretary of State Shultz’s 1988 statement that “Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders,” Secretary of State Christopher’s 1997 letter endorsing Israel’s right to “defensible borders,” the April 2004 Bush letter that repeated that commitment, and the unanimous congressional endorsement of the Bush letter. He concluded that the basis for a lasting peace was a correct interpretation of Resolution 242.

Last night, Hillary Clinton released an eloquent tribute to Richard Holbrooke. But in her December 10 speech at the Saban Center, there was no reference to Resolution 242 — or “defensible borders,” or the Christopher or Bush letters, or even the Roadmap (which sets forth Resolution 242 as the basis for Phase III final-status negotiations). Instead, Clinton praised the “vision” of the Arab Peace Initiative, which she called a “landmark proposal” containing a “basic bargain”: peace between Israel and her neighbors “will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.” She urged Israel to “seize the opportunity … while it is still available.”

It is a little hard to seize an opportunity when negotiations are conditioned on acceptance of indefensible borders as the basis of negotiations, contrary to the underlying principle of the basic document governing the peace process. A more lasting tribute to Richard Holbrooke, and to peace, would be an endorsement by the Obama administration of the position the late ambassador took in his 2007 address.

One of Richard Holbrooke’s most significant intellectual contributions to American diplomacy was an address he gave on June 4, 2007, entitled “The Principles of Peacemaking,” at a conference on “Israel’s Right to Secure Borders” held by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

There is no clearer statement of the principles underlying what Holbrooke called “the most important and celebrated Security Council resolution in the history of the UN.” He noted that “every word of [Resolution 242] is significant” and that:

Likewise, an analysis of the original meaning of the resolution, as opposed to its inadvertent or intentional misconstructions by certain people, is essential. This is especially necessary in light of the fact that numerous publications and media outlets have reiterated the misconception that the resolution calls for full withdrawal from all territories.

After analyzing Resolution 242, Holbrooke contrasted it with the Saudi/Arab “peace initiative,” which had a fundamental flaw:

[T]he Saudi peace proposal … often referred to as a conciliatory proposal by the Saudis, mentions Resolution 242, mistakenly claiming that it calls for withdrawal from all occupied territories — it uses the phrase “full withdrawal from all Arab territories.” More importantly, it sets up a sequence that is in direct contradiction to Resolution 242, demanding Israeli compliance with all demands before offering Israel anything, including normal relations. … More significant, what this proposal really does is to lay out as a precondition for the negotiation the very thing being negotiated: this is a fundamental flaw.

Holbrooke noted that many regarded the Saudi proposal as a very important breakthrough, but that “this is clearly a mistake” — not only because of its fundamental flaw but also because the Saudis were themselves unwilling to participate in the necessary negotiations.

Holbrooke recalled Secretary of State Shultz’s 1988 statement that “Israel will never negotiate from, or return to, the lines of partition or to the 1967 borders,” Secretary of State Christopher’s 1997 letter endorsing Israel’s right to “defensible borders,” the April 2004 Bush letter that repeated that commitment, and the unanimous congressional endorsement of the Bush letter. He concluded that the basis for a lasting peace was a correct interpretation of Resolution 242.

Last night, Hillary Clinton released an eloquent tribute to Richard Holbrooke. But in her December 10 speech at the Saban Center, there was no reference to Resolution 242 — or “defensible borders,” or the Christopher or Bush letters, or even the Roadmap (which sets forth Resolution 242 as the basis for Phase III final-status negotiations). Instead, Clinton praised the “vision” of the Arab Peace Initiative, which she called a “landmark proposal” containing a “basic bargain”: peace between Israel and her neighbors “will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.” She urged Israel to “seize the opportunity … while it is still available.”

It is a little hard to seize an opportunity when negotiations are conditioned on acceptance of indefensible borders as the basis of negotiations, contrary to the underlying principle of the basic document governing the peace process. A more lasting tribute to Richard Holbrooke, and to peace, would be an endorsement by the Obama administration of the position the late ambassador took in his 2007 address.

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Obama’s Cynical Maneuvering on the Health-Care Mandate

In his 42-page ruling that the keystone provision in President Obama’s health-care law — the mandate to force Americans to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson made several powerful arguments. But there is one to which I want to draw particular attention.

On page 25 of his decision, Judge Hudson writes, “Despite pre-enactment representations to the contrary by the Executive and Legislative branches, the Secretary now argues that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is, in essence, a ‘tax penalty.’”

That’s a polite way of saying that the Obama administration willfully misled the public during the health-care debate. In fact, President Obama repeatedly denied that the mandate was a tax — but now, in order to pass constitutional muster, his administration is insisting it is. I urge you to watch the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to see just how emphatic Obama was. When Stephanopoulos says that the mandate is a tax increase, Obama scolds Stephanopoulos. “That’s not true, George,” the president says. “[It] is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Now the president and his administration are arguing exactly the opposite.

This is a deeply cynical maneuver on the part of the man who promised to put an end to cynical political acts. Like so much of what Obama said, this promise was fraudulent. Perhaps the White House press corps will insist that the president and his spokesman explain the inconsistency between what Obama said and what his administration is now asserting.

In his 42-page ruling that the keystone provision in President Obama’s health-care law — the mandate to force Americans to purchase health insurance — is unconstitutional, Judge Henry E. Hudson made several powerful arguments. But there is one to which I want to draw particular attention.

On page 25 of his decision, Judge Hudson writes, “Despite pre-enactment representations to the contrary by the Executive and Legislative branches, the Secretary now argues that the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is, in essence, a ‘tax penalty.’”

That’s a polite way of saying that the Obama administration willfully misled the public during the health-care debate. In fact, President Obama repeatedly denied that the mandate was a tax — but now, in order to pass constitutional muster, his administration is insisting it is. I urge you to watch the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to see just how emphatic Obama was. When Stephanopoulos says that the mandate is a tax increase, Obama scolds Stephanopoulos. “That’s not true, George,” the president says. “[It] is absolutely not a tax increase.”

Now the president and his administration are arguing exactly the opposite.

This is a deeply cynical maneuver on the part of the man who promised to put an end to cynical political acts. Like so much of what Obama said, this promise was fraudulent. Perhaps the White House press corps will insist that the president and his spokesman explain the inconsistency between what Obama said and what his administration is now asserting.

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Cut Defense Spending NOW?

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.

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The Peace Process Letter(s)

Citing “Palestinian sources,” Ynet reports the Palestinians expect their own package of U.S. guarantees and financial incentives to persuade them to return to talks intended to give them a state:

The sources added that the American commitments would include setting the Palestinian state’s borders within three months and solving the refugee problem, including compensation through an international fund comprised of most of the region’s countries (including Israel). The sources also said that the American list of commitment[s] would include financial and diplomatic aid in exchange for returning to the direct negotiations.

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to confirm that something is being considered beyond merely restarting the talks (when a question has to be repeated to Crowley three times, you know he is withholding something):

QUESTION: … I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well … all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. …

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations.  Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well … I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume.  Yeah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: And that plan would be … to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues.  So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations.  We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. … [Emphasis added].

If news reports about what is being offered to Israel are accurate, Benny Avni’s conclusion that it is a bad deal for Israel, unlikely to produce peace, seems right. Moreover, if the letter Netanyahu is negotiating does not begin with “the U.S. reiterates its ‘steadfast commitments’ set forth in the presidential letter dated April 14, 2004,” Israel is making further concessions without confirming what it was already promised in the last presidential letter, given in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

And words should matter.

Citing “Palestinian sources,” Ynet reports the Palestinians expect their own package of U.S. guarantees and financial incentives to persuade them to return to talks intended to give them a state:

The sources added that the American commitments would include setting the Palestinian state’s borders within three months and solving the refugee problem, including compensation through an international fund comprised of most of the region’s countries (including Israel). The sources also said that the American list of commitment[s] would include financial and diplomatic aid in exchange for returning to the direct negotiations.

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to confirm that something is being considered beyond merely restarting the talks (when a question has to be repeated to Crowley three times, you know he is withholding something):

QUESTION: … I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well … all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. …

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations.  Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well … I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume.  Yeah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: And that plan would be … to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues.  So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations.  We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. … [Emphasis added].

If news reports about what is being offered to Israel are accurate, Benny Avni’s conclusion that it is a bad deal for Israel, unlikely to produce peace, seems right. Moreover, if the letter Netanyahu is negotiating does not begin with “the U.S. reiterates its ‘steadfast commitments’ set forth in the presidential letter dated April 14, 2004,” Israel is making further concessions without confirming what it was already promised in the last presidential letter, given in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

And words should matter.

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LIVE BLOG: Reich Whistling Past the Graveyard

Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor and advocate of government industrial policy (that worked out wonderfully) whose Twitter feed is one of the more revealing left-liberal streams of consciousness I’ve seen, offers the following: “I recall White House the morning after ’94 election. All were in shock, like a morgue after a terrible accident. Won’t be as bad tomorrow.” Given that everyone now believes the results tonight will be far worse than the ’94 turnover for Democrats, this is an interesting perspective, to put it mildly. Meanwhile, Reich is saying that Obama must move Left — “Repeat: Obama’s next step isn’t to “move to the center.” It’s to have greater courage of conviction” — while Clinton saved himself from doom in 1996 by moving decisively to the Right. A fascinating glimpse into the confusion of the present moment.

Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor and advocate of government industrial policy (that worked out wonderfully) whose Twitter feed is one of the more revealing left-liberal streams of consciousness I’ve seen, offers the following: “I recall White House the morning after ’94 election. All were in shock, like a morgue after a terrible accident. Won’t be as bad tomorrow.” Given that everyone now believes the results tonight will be far worse than the ’94 turnover for Democrats, this is an interesting perspective, to put it mildly. Meanwhile, Reich is saying that Obama must move Left — “Repeat: Obama’s next step isn’t to “move to the center.” It’s to have greater courage of conviction” — while Clinton saved himself from doom in 1996 by moving decisively to the Right. A fascinating glimpse into the confusion of the present moment.

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Things We Shouldn’t Be Doing with China

Four U.S. senators have registered concern about the proposal of a start-up company, Amerilink Telecom Corp., to upgrade Sprint Nextel’s national network to 4G data-rate capacity using Chinese-provided equipment from Huawei Shenzen Ltd., a company with longstanding ties to the Chinese military. The point made by the senators – Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Jon Kyl, and Sue Myrick – is that China could install a surveillance or sabotage capability in a very large segment of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. The scope of the Sprint Nextel 4G upgrade reportedly encompasses about 35,000 transmission towers throughout the 50 states.

Huawei has been trying to crack the U.S. market for years but has always been blocked by the security concerns of American officials, backed by comprehensive cyber-security reports from intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Huawei hoped to contract directly with Sprint this past summer, but when a group of senators shot that attempt down, a senior Sprint executive left the company to join Amerilink and began planning a new strategy to bring Huawei into the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. The strategy has included developing “insider” connections by recruiting Dick Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to Amerilink’s board, along with former Navy secretary and Defense Department official Gordon England.

Although vigilant senators deflected the Huawei-Sprint bid as recently as August, there’s a reason for disquiet in October. In a move that received little attention outside the tech-industry press, Huawei finally managed this month to contract with a U.S. wireless provider, T-Mobile, to supply handsets to customers. On Monday, Forbes tech writer Jeffrey Carr wondered why this contract was allowed to go through, considering that T-Mobile is a government contractor and supplies handsets and wireless service to federal agencies.

That’s a good question. India, Britain, and Australia have all zeroed in on Huawei (along with Chinese tech firm ZTE) as a source of potential security risks. India’s resistance to penetration has equaled that of the U.S. – and may soon exceed it. America seems to be quietly lowering its guard with Huawei: the announcement of the T-Mobile contract last week came on the heels of an October 11 press release from Huawei Symantec on its plan to sell data-storage platforms and gateway packages to U.S. customers. For a company that has consistently been excluded from the U.S. due to security concerns, that’s a lot of market-entry announcements in one week.

The Stuxnet worm has reminded us of the stealthy and devious methods by which security vulnerabilities can be introduced into the IT systems that control major infrastructure operations. We won’t see the next “Stuxnet” coming, or the one after that; the events of 2010 clarify for us that we can’t rely solely on technical vigilance to protect our critical infrastructure. We also need a basis for trusting suppliers the old-fashioned way. China and its tech companies haven’t met that test.

Four U.S. senators have registered concern about the proposal of a start-up company, Amerilink Telecom Corp., to upgrade Sprint Nextel’s national network to 4G data-rate capacity using Chinese-provided equipment from Huawei Shenzen Ltd., a company with longstanding ties to the Chinese military. The point made by the senators – Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Jon Kyl, and Sue Myrick – is that China could install a surveillance or sabotage capability in a very large segment of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. The scope of the Sprint Nextel 4G upgrade reportedly encompasses about 35,000 transmission towers throughout the 50 states.

Huawei has been trying to crack the U.S. market for years but has always been blocked by the security concerns of American officials, backed by comprehensive cyber-security reports from intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Huawei hoped to contract directly with Sprint this past summer, but when a group of senators shot that attempt down, a senior Sprint executive left the company to join Amerilink and began planning a new strategy to bring Huawei into the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. The strategy has included developing “insider” connections by recruiting Dick Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to Amerilink’s board, along with former Navy secretary and Defense Department official Gordon England.

Although vigilant senators deflected the Huawei-Sprint bid as recently as August, there’s a reason for disquiet in October. In a move that received little attention outside the tech-industry press, Huawei finally managed this month to contract with a U.S. wireless provider, T-Mobile, to supply handsets to customers. On Monday, Forbes tech writer Jeffrey Carr wondered why this contract was allowed to go through, considering that T-Mobile is a government contractor and supplies handsets and wireless service to federal agencies.

That’s a good question. India, Britain, and Australia have all zeroed in on Huawei (along with Chinese tech firm ZTE) as a source of potential security risks. India’s resistance to penetration has equaled that of the U.S. – and may soon exceed it. America seems to be quietly lowering its guard with Huawei: the announcement of the T-Mobile contract last week came on the heels of an October 11 press release from Huawei Symantec on its plan to sell data-storage platforms and gateway packages to U.S. customers. For a company that has consistently been excluded from the U.S. due to security concerns, that’s a lot of market-entry announcements in one week.

The Stuxnet worm has reminded us of the stealthy and devious methods by which security vulnerabilities can be introduced into the IT systems that control major infrastructure operations. We won’t see the next “Stuxnet” coming, or the one after that; the events of 2010 clarify for us that we can’t rely solely on technical vigilance to protect our critical infrastructure. We also need a basis for trusting suppliers the old-fashioned way. China and its tech companies haven’t met that test.

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Pulling Teeth at the State Department

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.] Read More

Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.]

QUESTION: And do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize the aspiration of the people of Israel. It has — it’s a democracy. In that democracy, there’s a guarantee of freedom and liberties to all of its citizens. But as the Secretary has said, we understand that — the special character of the state of Israel.

QUESTION: Is that a yes or no?

QUESTION: P.J., it’s — do you want to answer his question or –

QUESTION: Did you say yes or no to that question from Michel?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Michel’s question was a yes or no sort of question. I was wondering whether that was a yes or no.

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize that Israel is a – as it says itself, is a Jewish state, yes.

The original question had a second part to it: “ … and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?” After a reporter repeated the question, it took Crowley 162 halting words to respond:

QUESTION: … Does the U.S. want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I will be happy to go back over and offer some — I’m trying — I’m not making any news here. We have recognized the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well. But this is the aspiration of the — what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the — a core demand of the Israeli Government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and that is what they want to see through this negotiation. We understand this aspiration and the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that just as they aspire to a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.

Why is it so hard to get the Obama administration to reiterate basic commitments the U.S. has made — in writing — to Israel? The Bush letter stated that the U.S. is “strongly committed to … [Israel] as a Jewish state.” This administration has to be prodded six times to answer whether it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and — after an affirmative response is extracted — cannot give a one-word answer on whether it wants the Palestinians to recognize one as well.

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A Better Choice for the Peace Prize

Aside from giving it to Richard Goldstone (you think I jest, but he was on the short list), the Nobelians could hardly have done worse than last year’s choice for the Peace Prize. In fact, they did a whole lot better, honoring someone who is actually doing something for the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy:

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity.”

The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.

Whenever a totalitarian regime calls something an “obscenity,” you know you’re on the right track. But the irony is great here. During his 2009 visit to China, Obama drew howls of protest from activists because of his lack of focus on human rights. In February of this year, Kelly Currie wrote:

On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement’s Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Liu’s trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.

And just yesterday, U.S. lawmakers were pressing Obama to speak out on Chinese human rights abuses:

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to speak up to China to ensure the safety of two prominent dissidents, one of whom is a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty lawmakers asked Obama to raise the cases of writer Liu Xiaobo, thought to be in contention when the Nobel is announced Friday, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when he meets next month with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

“We write to ask that you urge President Hu to release two emblematic Chinese prisoners of conscience, Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng,” 29 of the House members across party lines wrote in a letter released Wednesday. …

Obama has sought to broaden relations with a growing China on issues ranging from climate change to the global economy. His administration has claimed success, with China last week agreeing to resume military ties with Washington.

But human rights activists have accused the administration of downplaying human rights. In a break with past practice, China did not release any dissidents when Obama paid his maiden visit to Beijing last year.

Could it be that the 2009 Peace Prize winner has done nothing to advance the causes for which the 2010 winner is sacrificing so much?

Aside from giving it to Richard Goldstone (you think I jest, but he was on the short list), the Nobelians could hardly have done worse than last year’s choice for the Peace Prize. In fact, they did a whole lot better, honoring someone who is actually doing something for the cause of human rights, justice, and democracy:

Jailed Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for decades of non-violent struggle for human rights, infuriating China, which called the award “an obscenity.”

The prize puts China’s human rights record in the spotlight at a time when it is starting to play a bigger role on the global stage as a result of its growing economic might.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” and reiterated its belief in a “close connection between human rights and peace.”

Liu is serving an 11-year jail term for helping to draw up a manifesto calling for free speech and multi-party elections.

Whenever a totalitarian regime calls something an “obscenity,” you know you’re on the right track. But the irony is great here. During his 2009 visit to China, Obama drew howls of protest from activists because of his lack of focus on human rights. In February of this year, Kelly Currie wrote:

On Christmas Day 2009, the Chinese regime sentenced writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for “incitement to subvert state power.” His crime was co-authoring and circulating on-line a manifesto for democratic change in China called Charter 08, an intentional homage to the Czech dissident movement’s Charter 77. Charter 08 got Mr. Liu into trouble because it challenged the legitimacy of one-party rule by the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr. Liu’s trial was the usual Kafkaesque totalitarian exercise: brief, closed, and one-sided, with a pre-determined outcome cleared at the highest level of the Chinese regime. The official U.S. response to this outrageous detention was a mild December 24 statement from the Acting Press Spokesman at the State Department. There has been nothing further from either Secretary Clinton or President Obama, despite Liu being among the most prominent dissidents in China and having received one of the harshest sentences in recent memory for a non-violent political crime.

And just yesterday, U.S. lawmakers were pressing Obama to speak out on Chinese human rights abuses:

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to speak up to China to ensure the safety of two prominent dissidents, one of whom is a favorite to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thirty lawmakers asked Obama to raise the cases of writer Liu Xiaobo, thought to be in contention when the Nobel is announced Friday, and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when he meets next month with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

“We write to ask that you urge President Hu to release two emblematic Chinese prisoners of conscience, Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng,” 29 of the House members across party lines wrote in a letter released Wednesday. …

Obama has sought to broaden relations with a growing China on issues ranging from climate change to the global economy. His administration has claimed success, with China last week agreeing to resume military ties with Washington.

But human rights activists have accused the administration of downplaying human rights. In a break with past practice, China did not release any dissidents when Obama paid his maiden visit to Beijing last year.

Could it be that the 2009 Peace Prize winner has done nothing to advance the causes for which the 2010 winner is sacrificing so much?

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Pity the Spinners

We’ve reached the point in the Obama presidency where members of the administration are looking to rescue their own reputations. We saw some of this earlier when Rahm Emanuel or F of RE let it be known that none of the dopey war on terror moves were his idea. With Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s staff actually has a plausible excuse on foreign policy: their boss wouldn’t listen to the evidence and wanted an exit path more than a victory strategy. On that, they have a point.

The staffers who remain and the few hearty Obama spinners outside the White House will have their work cut out. He was a political messiah — so how did it all go wrong? The Republicans are impossible. Or, he’s too good for us. He hobbled our war effort in Afghanistan by setting a counterproductive deadline that smart conservatives were right to oppose — so what kind of commander in chief is he? He sent the troops, so what the leader of the Free World says is no big deal — everyone has tuned him out anyway. Disregard the military men complaining about it and Secretary Gates and Clinton trying to fuzz it up. ObamaCare is a millstone around the Democrats necks’ — isn’t his “achievement” worthless? Just you wait, any day now the public will begin to like it.

It’s not easy to defend the indefensible or to pretend that Obama did not have a unique opportunity both politically (to capture the middle of the political spectrum) and substantively (to wholeheartedly fight that “good” war, attack the entitlement programs, etc). He frittered it away — a function of his lack of managerial adeptness and his political extremism. You wonder whether Obama wishes he could leave with Rahm. Things are so much simpler in Chicago where all the pols are Democrats and you get kudos when the trash gets picked up and the buses are on time.

We’ve reached the point in the Obama presidency where members of the administration are looking to rescue their own reputations. We saw some of this earlier when Rahm Emanuel or F of RE let it be known that none of the dopey war on terror moves were his idea. With Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s staff actually has a plausible excuse on foreign policy: their boss wouldn’t listen to the evidence and wanted an exit path more than a victory strategy. On that, they have a point.

The staffers who remain and the few hearty Obama spinners outside the White House will have their work cut out. He was a political messiah — so how did it all go wrong? The Republicans are impossible. Or, he’s too good for us. He hobbled our war effort in Afghanistan by setting a counterproductive deadline that smart conservatives were right to oppose — so what kind of commander in chief is he? He sent the troops, so what the leader of the Free World says is no big deal — everyone has tuned him out anyway. Disregard the military men complaining about it and Secretary Gates and Clinton trying to fuzz it up. ObamaCare is a millstone around the Democrats necks’ — isn’t his “achievement” worthless? Just you wait, any day now the public will begin to like it.

It’s not easy to defend the indefensible or to pretend that Obama did not have a unique opportunity both politically (to capture the middle of the political spectrum) and substantively (to wholeheartedly fight that “good” war, attack the entitlement programs, etc). He frittered it away — a function of his lack of managerial adeptness and his political extremism. You wonder whether Obama wishes he could leave with Rahm. Things are so much simpler in Chicago where all the pols are Democrats and you get kudos when the trash gets picked up and the buses are on time.

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Back to the Future

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world. Read More

Robert Reich, President Clinton’s secretary of Labor, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which he tries to explain why the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been so sluggish. He fails to do that, but the article is a window into why the Obama administration has failed so dismally in this area: liberals are hopelessly stuck in the past. And in order to remain so, they distort history and manipulate statistics.

As always, Reich blames the rich for making too much money, noting that while the top 1 percent had only 9 percent of total income in the late 1970s, today’s super-rich take in 23.5 percent. These figures are based on adjusted gross income reported in federal tax returns and so should be looked at carefully to see how they square with “compensation,” which is something very different. But Reich simply ignores the fact that whenever there has been a major technological development, from the full-rigged ship in the 15th century to the microprocessor in the 20th, there has always quickly followed an inflorescence of fortunes based on the new technology. This, inevitably, causes income inequality to widen. The poor don’t get poorer, the rich just get suddenly much richer. The more fundamental the new technology is, the more the gap will widen, and the microprocessor is the most fundamental new technology since agriculture 10,000 years ago.

Just look at the Forbes 400 list to see how many brand-new fortunes are based on the microprocessor. Seven of the top 10 are (neither Wal-Mart nor Bloomberg would have been possible without cheap computing power). Any attempt to flatten the income curve in these revolutionary terms and thus reduce inequality would inescapably reduce wealth creation.

He writes, “What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere.” That’s perfectly true. But the rich living in the Cayman Islands, China, and elsewhere do exactly the same thing, often investing in America, which enjoys robust capital inflows as well as outflows. We now have a nearly total global economy, especially when it comes to capital. Any attempt to change that would be disastrous for both the United States and the world.

He writes:

Meanwhile, as the economy grows, the vast majority in the middle naturally want to live better. Their consequent spending fuels continued growth and creates enough jobs for almost everyone, at least for a time. But because this situation can’t be sustained, at some point — 1929 and 2008 offer ready examples — the bill comes due.

This time around, policymakers had knowledge their counterparts didn’t have in 1929; they knew they could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money. But, paradoxically, averting another Great Depression-like calamity removed political pressure for more fundamental reform. We’re left instead with a long and seemingly endless Great Jobs Recession.

The Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.

Where do I begin? The depression that began in 1929 came out of a severe depression in American agriculture, caused by a revival in European agriculture and falling food prices owing to land once devoted to fodder crops for horses and mules being turned over to production of human food as the internal combustion engine took over the transportation and farm-equipment sectors. It did not come out of excess personal debt and a real estate bubble.

They didn’t know in 1929 that you could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money? Here’s what Benjamin Strong, governor of the New York Federal Reserve and effectively head of the Fed, wrote in 1928. “The very existence of the Federal Reserve System is a safeguard against anything like a calamity growing out of money rates. … We have the power to deal with such an emergency instantly by flooding the Street with money.” The problem was that the Federal Reserve didn’t flood the economy with money after the crash in 1929 (Ben Strong died in late 1928) but kept interest rates high. An ordinary stock market crash and economic depression were turned into the Great Depression by horrendous government mistakes, of which the Fed’s was only one.

And if the New Deal was the way back to full recovery, why did it take 10 years (and suddenly vast orders for war materiél) to achieve it? Robert Reich should read Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, which pretty well demolishes the now ancient notions about the New Deal that liberals cling to, sort of like the way people in fly-over country cling to guns and religion.

He writes,

In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes.

Ah, the good old days of 91 percent tax rates on those rascally rich guys! Of course, those were mere nominal rates, the rich didn’t pay anything like that much, because deductions and other tax fiddles were nearly limitless in those days. All interest rates were deductible, for instance, allowing someone in the 91 percent bracket to borrow money and have Uncle Sam pay 91 percent of the interest costs.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

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Setting the Stage

John Boehner’s timing is pretty good. Today, in a pre-election rabble-rousing speech, he called on Obama to can his economic team:

Virtually no one in the White House has run a small business and created jobs in the private sector. That lack of real-world, hands-on experience shows in the policies coming out of this Administration. … We have been told that the president’s economic team is ‘exhausted’ — already, his budget director and his chief economist have moved on or are about to. Clearly, they see the writing on the wall, and the president should too.

President Obama should ask for – and accept – the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council.

He also made other suggestions — retain the Bush tax cuts, veto job-killing bills (e.g., card check, energy tax), and support aggressive cuts in nondefense discretionary spending. And he argued for repeal of ObamaCare’s “1099 mandate”:

The president’s government takeover of health care is already wreaking havoc on employers and entrepreneurs. This is a law that – upon its enactment – triggered the creation of more than 160 boards, bureaucracies, programs, and commissions. By the end of July, Washington had already racked up nearly 3,833 pages of regulations to direct the law’s implementation.

One of the new law’s most controversial mandates requires small businesses to report any total purchases that run more than $600. … What is the point of making employers and entrepreneurs spend $17 billion to send all this paperwork to Washington, where it’s going to cost about $10 billion to log it in and file it away? Talk about overhead.

And on the same day as Boehner’s speech, this news bolstered conservatives’ argument that the economy is still in the dregs:

Housing sales in July plunged to their lowest level in more than a decade, exceeding even the grimmest forecasts. … “Truly gut-wrenching,” said Jennifer H. Lee, senior economist for BMO Capital Markets. July sales were down 27.2 percent from June. It was the lowest rate for existing-home sales, which include houses, condos, co-ops and town houses, since 1999. For sales of single-family homes, it was the lowest rate since 1995.

The chances that Obama will embrace the Minority Leader’s suggestions are nil. But after the November election, there might be something to talk about. Especially if both the economic news and the Democrats’ political fortunes continue to sink.

John Boehner’s timing is pretty good. Today, in a pre-election rabble-rousing speech, he called on Obama to can his economic team:

Virtually no one in the White House has run a small business and created jobs in the private sector. That lack of real-world, hands-on experience shows in the policies coming out of this Administration. … We have been told that the president’s economic team is ‘exhausted’ — already, his budget director and his chief economist have moved on or are about to. Clearly, they see the writing on the wall, and the president should too.

President Obama should ask for – and accept – the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council.

He also made other suggestions — retain the Bush tax cuts, veto job-killing bills (e.g., card check, energy tax), and support aggressive cuts in nondefense discretionary spending. And he argued for repeal of ObamaCare’s “1099 mandate”:

The president’s government takeover of health care is already wreaking havoc on employers and entrepreneurs. This is a law that – upon its enactment – triggered the creation of more than 160 boards, bureaucracies, programs, and commissions. By the end of July, Washington had already racked up nearly 3,833 pages of regulations to direct the law’s implementation.

One of the new law’s most controversial mandates requires small businesses to report any total purchases that run more than $600. … What is the point of making employers and entrepreneurs spend $17 billion to send all this paperwork to Washington, where it’s going to cost about $10 billion to log it in and file it away? Talk about overhead.

And on the same day as Boehner’s speech, this news bolstered conservatives’ argument that the economy is still in the dregs:

Housing sales in July plunged to their lowest level in more than a decade, exceeding even the grimmest forecasts. … “Truly gut-wrenching,” said Jennifer H. Lee, senior economist for BMO Capital Markets. July sales were down 27.2 percent from June. It was the lowest rate for existing-home sales, which include houses, condos, co-ops and town houses, since 1999. For sales of single-family homes, it was the lowest rate since 1995.

The chances that Obama will embrace the Minority Leader’s suggestions are nil. But after the November election, there might be something to talk about. Especially if both the economic news and the Democrats’ political fortunes continue to sink.

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RE: JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

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Annals of Smart Diplomacy

President Obama told a group of columnists last week that it is “important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” What, one wonders, would those steps be?

On Friday, two New York Times reporters interviewed Hillary Clinton and had a certain amount of difficulty getting her to answer that question:

QUESTION: Let me start with something that the President said to the columnists [quotes Obama’s statement]. Now this is quite different from the way the Bush Administration did where they simply said, you know, “They know what they have to do.” …

So our first question is: Have you put forward to them in recent times a new list of what they would have to do? And if so, can you sort of talk us through that list?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [529-word answer about getting Iran’s attention with sanctions].

QUESTION: Okay, but the question was, have you given them sort of a new list now that you’ve gotten their attention? … [H]ave you now gone back to them and said, okay, now that we’ve got your attention, here is the list of things that you could do right away?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [204-word answer about being committed to engagement].

QUESTION: Okay. But there has not been a specific new missive, the President, you, someone has not sent a letter saying here’s a list of three or four things you could do to get this rolling now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, but we have certainly sent … very clear messages … And I was very clear in saying that – to tell them that we remain open to engagement. But they do know what they have to do. They have to reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for.

What a refreshing difference from the Bush administration, which “simply said, you know, ‘They know what they have to do.’” The Obama administration says it’s important to tell them what they have to do, but when asked to sort of talk us through it, it responds that they “know what they have to do.”

President Obama told a group of columnists last week that it is “important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons.” What, one wonders, would those steps be?

On Friday, two New York Times reporters interviewed Hillary Clinton and had a certain amount of difficulty getting her to answer that question:

QUESTION: Let me start with something that the President said to the columnists [quotes Obama’s statement]. Now this is quite different from the way the Bush Administration did where they simply said, you know, “They know what they have to do.” …

So our first question is: Have you put forward to them in recent times a new list of what they would have to do? And if so, can you sort of talk us through that list?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [529-word answer about getting Iran’s attention with sanctions].

QUESTION: Okay, but the question was, have you given them sort of a new list now that you’ve gotten their attention? … [H]ave you now gone back to them and said, okay, now that we’ve got your attention, here is the list of things that you could do right away?

SECRETARY CLINTON: [204-word answer about being committed to engagement].

QUESTION: Okay. But there has not been a specific new missive, the President, you, someone has not sent a letter saying here’s a list of three or four things you could do to get this rolling now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no, but we have certainly sent … very clear messages … And I was very clear in saying that – to tell them that we remain open to engagement. But they do know what they have to do. They have to reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for.

What a refreshing difference from the Bush administration, which “simply said, you know, ‘They know what they have to do.’” The Obama administration says it’s important to tell them what they have to do, but when asked to sort of talk us through it, it responds that they “know what they have to do.”

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