Commentary Magazine


Topic: steel

Obama and Egypt vs. Reagan and the Philippines

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.” Read More

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.”

Reagan drafted an appeal to Marcos not to use force and attended a meeting in the Situation Room on February 23, 1986. “We agreed that it was inevitable that Marcos would have to give up power,” Reagan wrote. “He no longer had the popular support to remain in office. … Everyone agreed that we had to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Manila; we didn’t want to see it come down to a civil war. I also wanted to be sure we did not treat Marcos as shabbily as our country had treated another former ally, the shah of Iran. At the same time, I knew it was important to start off with a good relationship with the new government of the Philippines.”

Reagan’s diary entries from the period are even more interesting. On February 23, the day of the Situation Room meeting, Reagan wrote, “It was a long meeting with no disagreement but lots of frustration. President Marcos is stubborn and refuses to admit he can no longer govern. I made the point that a message from me must appeal to him on the grounds that if there is violence I’ll be helpless to continue support for the Philippines.”

On February 24, Reagan’s diary reads: “The situation in the Philippines is deteriorating. … We’ve agreed that he [Marcos] should be told I’m recommending he step down and we’ll take the lead in negotiating his safety and offering him sanctuary in the US. He says he wants to live out his life in the Philippines. Well, we’ll try to negotiate that.”

On February 25, Reagan’s diary entry reads this way: “The call this morning was at 6:45. President Marcos and his family and close circle I was told are in our Clark Air Force Base.”

Now the situation in Egypt compared with that in the Philippines is different in important respects. Among other things, there was an obvious successor to Marcos, while there’s no obvious successor to Mubarak. And Reagan admitted that he didn’t want to push Marcos too hard. “We should lay down the facts and let [Marcos] make the decision we wanted him to make” is how Reagan put it.

The point is that, within 48 hours of Reagan’s laying down the facts, Marcos was gone. This development wasn’t the result of Reagan’s charm; it was the result of Reagan’s steel.

What happened to Marcos in the Philippines has to be to our goal with Mubarak in Egypt. Time is of the essence. The Egyptian dictator must leave. And it falls on President Obama to do what needs to be done to get him to exit, sooner rather than later, in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months. Otherwise Egypt might explode.

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Why Woodward’s Portrayal Is So Devastating

Eliot Cohen’s must-read column looks at the way various figures — from President Karzai to Bibi to our generals — would regard the portrait of the White House painted in Bob Woodward’s book. The most compelling comes from a hypothetical general. A sample:

The president fired one of our truly great commanders not for things that he said but for tolerating indiscretion, disloyalty and disrespect among his subordinates — but do these people apply anything remotely like that standard to themselves?

If the president felt he was getting bad advice, why didn’t he just stop his review until he got real options? Or fire the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Why does he write a six-page memo that reads more like a prenuptial agreement written by a pessimistic lawyer than a strategy document?

… He says that if he continues with the war he can’t carry the Democratic Party with him. Has he tried? When was the last speech he gave on Afghanistan? Does he understand that leading soldiers, including generals, means not just being smart and picking an option as if he were ordering from a menu at a Chinese restaurant but also giving us some steel in the spine and fire in the belly when we begin to lose hope?

Other fictionalized reactions include Ahmadinejad and Bibi, who both must regard Obama as weak. It also, most poignantly, includes the father of a lance corporal. (“They’re sending my son where a bomb or a bullet may tear a limb or his life away. Do the people in the White House still believe in this ‘war of necessity’? And if not, can any of them look me in the eye?”)

Cohen captures the sense of bewilderment experienced by serious people (determined enemies, stressed allies, beleaguered generals, etc.) upon recognition (or confirmation) that our president is decidedly unserious.

Obama, in his public actions, has confounded supporters and infuriated critics. Why set a counterproductive deadline? Why beat up on our allies? Why telegraph that we want out of Afghanistan? He has confused supporters and opponents because they have given the president, to be blunt, too much credit. What Woodward has shown us, by pulling back the curtain, is a president who is exceedingly indifferent to facts, unmoved by professional advice, and driven almost entirely by concerns for managing his liberal base. In short, he behaves as if he is still running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Couple that with an excessive stubbornness, and you have an administration that refuses to adjust to reality. The settlement-freeze moratorium has driven Middle East talks into the ground? No, never mind. Keep at it. The generals and his cabinet insist the Afghanistan war troop deadline is helping our enemies? Whatever. Repeat it in a nationally televised speech. The same is true in domestic policy. The stimulus is a bust? Come up with a slogan instead. (“Recovery summer.”) The public hates ObamaCare? Assume the voters are dolts and tell them they’ll learn to love it.

It is ironic. The left painted George Bush as an inflexible and hyperpartisan. He was portrayed as an isolated know-nothing. In reality, he was none of these things. But Obama certainly is. And once you understand that, it becomes a whole lot easier to predict and understand what he’s up to.

Eliot Cohen’s must-read column looks at the way various figures — from President Karzai to Bibi to our generals — would regard the portrait of the White House painted in Bob Woodward’s book. The most compelling comes from a hypothetical general. A sample:

The president fired one of our truly great commanders not for things that he said but for tolerating indiscretion, disloyalty and disrespect among his subordinates — but do these people apply anything remotely like that standard to themselves?

If the president felt he was getting bad advice, why didn’t he just stop his review until he got real options? Or fire the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Why does he write a six-page memo that reads more like a prenuptial agreement written by a pessimistic lawyer than a strategy document?

… He says that if he continues with the war he can’t carry the Democratic Party with him. Has he tried? When was the last speech he gave on Afghanistan? Does he understand that leading soldiers, including generals, means not just being smart and picking an option as if he were ordering from a menu at a Chinese restaurant but also giving us some steel in the spine and fire in the belly when we begin to lose hope?

Other fictionalized reactions include Ahmadinejad and Bibi, who both must regard Obama as weak. It also, most poignantly, includes the father of a lance corporal. (“They’re sending my son where a bomb or a bullet may tear a limb or his life away. Do the people in the White House still believe in this ‘war of necessity’? And if not, can any of them look me in the eye?”)

Cohen captures the sense of bewilderment experienced by serious people (determined enemies, stressed allies, beleaguered generals, etc.) upon recognition (or confirmation) that our president is decidedly unserious.

Obama, in his public actions, has confounded supporters and infuriated critics. Why set a counterproductive deadline? Why beat up on our allies? Why telegraph that we want out of Afghanistan? He has confused supporters and opponents because they have given the president, to be blunt, too much credit. What Woodward has shown us, by pulling back the curtain, is a president who is exceedingly indifferent to facts, unmoved by professional advice, and driven almost entirely by concerns for managing his liberal base. In short, he behaves as if he is still running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Couple that with an excessive stubbornness, and you have an administration that refuses to adjust to reality. The settlement-freeze moratorium has driven Middle East talks into the ground? No, never mind. Keep at it. The generals and his cabinet insist the Afghanistan war troop deadline is helping our enemies? Whatever. Repeat it in a nationally televised speech. The same is true in domestic policy. The stimulus is a bust? Come up with a slogan instead. (“Recovery summer.”) The public hates ObamaCare? Assume the voters are dolts and tell them they’ll learn to love it.

It is ironic. The left painted George Bush as an inflexible and hyperpartisan. He was portrayed as an isolated know-nothing. In reality, he was none of these things. But Obama certainly is. And once you understand that, it becomes a whole lot easier to predict and understand what he’s up to.

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Why Does He Look So Uncomfortable?

Forget for a moment the substance of Obama’s Iraq war speech. A number of observers remarked that he looked plain uncomfortable and that his speech was “flat.” (Said one: “Why bother with a speech filled with the same vague generalizations he’s been saying about Iraq for the past nineteen months?”) And Michael Gerson (his excellent critique should be read in full) notes:

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained — “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions — but this was not one of them.

So too with his BP oil spill speech, which was even more somnolent than Tuesday’s offer. Then the left piled on, distressed by the image of a once thrilling (to them) political figure shrunken and fairly dull.

It is no mystery why in the technical aspects of speech-giving Obama’s skills are so diminished, especially in the Oval Office. For starters, things are going poorly. Obama is — and seems — defensive. He is not a man who has shouldered adversity in public life, and it is to be expected that he now is prickly and tense.

Moreover, Obama has already told us, in a 60 Minutes interview, that he disapproves of “triumphalism.” So the speech Tuesday night, which was to recognize the successful conclusion (conservatives like “victory”) of our military operation after enormous adversity, was restrained, if not cramped. He did have words of praise for the troops, but then he demonstrated in his de minimus praise for George W. Bush that this is really not the standard for evaluating a president. Others, like Juan Williams, have conceded that Obama is not good in a crisis. And unfortunately, right now we have nothing but. Neither in war nor oil spills does he enjoy a comfort zone. He is in that regard the anti–Rudy Giuliani, who thrived in a crisis.

And we come back to the central Obama dilemma: he is much better on the stump than in office. When he goes out on the road in campaign-style gatherings, he may not be substantively any more convincing (e.g., no one has bought the “summer of recovery” despite a bazillion speeches), but he certainly is cheerier and more relaxed. Sitting behind that big desk, he is decidedly neither. Ed Morrissey aptly put it this way: “Barack Obama took office as supposedly one of the most well-read, inspirational figures of our time. With each speech, Obama diminishes in stature, essentially mailing in his efforts and seeming to care little if anyone notices it.”

The Obama phenomenon — great candidate/poor executive — can’t be concealed. When he speaks in the very place that personifies executive power, it becomes all too evident. Perhaps he should keep the Oval Office visits to a minimum and spend his time reflecting on why things have gone so badly. Then he might be able to regroup and rescue the final two years of his presidency.

Forget for a moment the substance of Obama’s Iraq war speech. A number of observers remarked that he looked plain uncomfortable and that his speech was “flat.” (Said one: “Why bother with a speech filled with the same vague generalizations he’s been saying about Iraq for the past nineteen months?”) And Michael Gerson (his excellent critique should be read in full) notes:

Obama’s speeches are oddly lacking in a sense of historical drama. His manner is always impressive and presidential. His words often are not. For the most part, the president’s language last night was flat and over-worn. The middle class is the “bedrock” of prosperity. We need to “shore up the foundation” of the economy. And when the rhetoric tried to rise, it strained — “a new beginning could be born,” “the steel in our ship of state.” Obama has a tendency to celebrate memorable historical moments with unmemorable speeches. There are exceptions — but this was not one of them.

So too with his BP oil spill speech, which was even more somnolent than Tuesday’s offer. Then the left piled on, distressed by the image of a once thrilling (to them) political figure shrunken and fairly dull.

It is no mystery why in the technical aspects of speech-giving Obama’s skills are so diminished, especially in the Oval Office. For starters, things are going poorly. Obama is — and seems — defensive. He is not a man who has shouldered adversity in public life, and it is to be expected that he now is prickly and tense.

Moreover, Obama has already told us, in a 60 Minutes interview, that he disapproves of “triumphalism.” So the speech Tuesday night, which was to recognize the successful conclusion (conservatives like “victory”) of our military operation after enormous adversity, was restrained, if not cramped. He did have words of praise for the troops, but then he demonstrated in his de minimus praise for George W. Bush that this is really not the standard for evaluating a president. Others, like Juan Williams, have conceded that Obama is not good in a crisis. And unfortunately, right now we have nothing but. Neither in war nor oil spills does he enjoy a comfort zone. He is in that regard the anti–Rudy Giuliani, who thrived in a crisis.

And we come back to the central Obama dilemma: he is much better on the stump than in office. When he goes out on the road in campaign-style gatherings, he may not be substantively any more convincing (e.g., no one has bought the “summer of recovery” despite a bazillion speeches), but he certainly is cheerier and more relaxed. Sitting behind that big desk, he is decidedly neither. Ed Morrissey aptly put it this way: “Barack Obama took office as supposedly one of the most well-read, inspirational figures of our time. With each speech, Obama diminishes in stature, essentially mailing in his efforts and seeming to care little if anyone notices it.”

The Obama phenomenon — great candidate/poor executive — can’t be concealed. When he speaks in the very place that personifies executive power, it becomes all too evident. Perhaps he should keep the Oval Office visits to a minimum and spend his time reflecting on why things have gone so badly. Then he might be able to regroup and rescue the final two years of his presidency.

Read Less

Lining Up Against the Mosque

The liberals are pleading to make the whole Ground Zero mosque controversy go away. The excuses are endless. First, it was deemed to be unimportant. Then it was fomenting Islamophobia (so not unimportant). But mostly, and continually, Mayor Bloomberg has explained to the American people, “Shut up.” And the left did the equivalent: “You are a bigot if you oppose this.” So, yes, shut up. But the debate isn’t over; not by a long shot.

It was and remains a gash across the American landscape — liberal elites on one side and everyone else on the other. (Note to file: Obama may have “brought America together” in common revulsion over everything from the Ground Zero mosque to the debt, but in doing so he has magnified the chasm between his elite clique and the country.)

The image of a dividing line makes Mark Helprin’s suggestion all the more appropriate:

The Constitution is a marvelous document, and a reasonable interpretation of it means as well that no American can be forced to pour concrete. No American can be forced to deliver materials. No American can be forced to bid on a contract, to run conduit, dig a foundation, or join steel.

And a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that the firemen’s, police, and restaurant workers’ unions, among others, and the families of the September 11th dead, and anyone who would protect, sympathize with and honor them, are free to assemble, protest and picket at the site of the mosque that under the Constitution is free to be built.

A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that no American can be forced to cross a picket line in violation of conscience or even of mere preference. Who, in all decency, would cross a picket line manned by those whose kin were slaughtered—by the thousands—so terribly nearby? And who in all decency would cross such a line manned by the firemen, police and other emergency personnel who know every day that they may be called upon to give their lives in a second act?

Oh my, can you imagine? On the line, quite literally, in defense of the sacred memory of our fallen and in recognition that we are in a war on our civilization waged by jihadists (for whom symbolic architecture is a powerful recruiting tool) would be a sampling of America: the fireman and the widow, the conservative pundit and the steelworker. It would be a sight to behold. And that’s why the mosque will never happen, not there at any rate.

But think about this for a moment. The picket line is virtual right now — that great cross section of Americans are arrayed in opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, although they have no need yet to physically congregate at designated times. And on the other side is Mayor Bloomberg, Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the left punditocracy. Not remotely an even match is it?

The liberals are pleading to make the whole Ground Zero mosque controversy go away. The excuses are endless. First, it was deemed to be unimportant. Then it was fomenting Islamophobia (so not unimportant). But mostly, and continually, Mayor Bloomberg has explained to the American people, “Shut up.” And the left did the equivalent: “You are a bigot if you oppose this.” So, yes, shut up. But the debate isn’t over; not by a long shot.

It was and remains a gash across the American landscape — liberal elites on one side and everyone else on the other. (Note to file: Obama may have “brought America together” in common revulsion over everything from the Ground Zero mosque to the debt, but in doing so he has magnified the chasm between his elite clique and the country.)

The image of a dividing line makes Mark Helprin’s suggestion all the more appropriate:

The Constitution is a marvelous document, and a reasonable interpretation of it means as well that no American can be forced to pour concrete. No American can be forced to deliver materials. No American can be forced to bid on a contract, to run conduit, dig a foundation, or join steel.

And a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that the firemen’s, police, and restaurant workers’ unions, among others, and the families of the September 11th dead, and anyone who would protect, sympathize with and honor them, are free to assemble, protest and picket at the site of the mosque that under the Constitution is free to be built.

A reasonable interpretation of the Constitution means that no American can be forced to cross a picket line in violation of conscience or even of mere preference. Who, in all decency, would cross a picket line manned by those whose kin were slaughtered—by the thousands—so terribly nearby? And who in all decency would cross such a line manned by the firemen, police and other emergency personnel who know every day that they may be called upon to give their lives in a second act?

Oh my, can you imagine? On the line, quite literally, in defense of the sacred memory of our fallen and in recognition that we are in a war on our civilization waged by jihadists (for whom symbolic architecture is a powerful recruiting tool) would be a sampling of America: the fireman and the widow, the conservative pundit and the steelworker. It would be a sight to behold. And that’s why the mosque will never happen, not there at any rate.

But think about this for a moment. The picket line is virtual right now — that great cross section of Americans are arrayed in opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, although they have no need yet to physically congregate at designated times. And on the other side is Mayor Bloomberg, Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the left punditocracy. Not remotely an even match is it?

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Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

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The Ever-So-Convenient Myth

In an interesting article on the real reason behind ObamaCare — wealth redistribution — in today’s Washington Examiner, Byron York quotes Senator Max Baucus.

Health reform is “an income shift,” Democratic Sen. Max Baucus said on March 25. “It is a shift, a leveling, to help lower income, middle income Americans.”

In his halting, jumbled style, Baucus explained that in recent years “the mal-distribution of income in America has gone up way too much, the wealthy are getting way, way too wealthy, and the middle income class is left behind.” The new health-care legislation, Baucus promised, “will have the effect of addressing that mal-distribution of income in America.”

York quotes several others, including Howard Dean, to the same effect. This opinion, nearly universal on the Left, is implicitly based on one of the oldest, biggest, and dumbest fallacies in economics: that an economy is a zero-sum game, that for someone to get richer, some — or many — have to get poorer. Poker is a zero-sum game. So is robbery, which is why it’s illegal. And Honoré de Balzac is widely but incorrectly supposed to have said that “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” Well, Paul McCartney was born into a poor family in rundown Liverpool and is now one of the richest men in England. Whom, exactly, did he rob?

The rich have certainly been getting richer in the last thirty years. In 1982 it took a measly $80 million or so to make it onto the Forbes 400 List. Today it takes over a billion. But this is an artifact not of crime but of the technological revolution the world is undergoing, thanks to the microprocessor. Every major technological development has produced an inflorescence of fortune making. The Industrial Revolution produced so many new rich that Benjamin Disraeli had to coin the word millionaire in 1827 to describe them. Railroads, steel, oil, automobiles, the movies, television, all produced prodigious new fortunes.

But the people who rode the railroads and automobiles, watched the movies and television didn’t get poorer by doing so. Just like the millions who so willingly bought Paul McCartney’s music, they got richer too. They had quicker, cheaper transportation, and better and cheaper entertainment. No one forced them to buy the product, which is a good deal more than can be said for ObamaCare.

As the rich got richer, of course, their tax bills got bigger, a lot bigger, and both the federal tax revenues and the percentage of those revenues paid by the top ten percent and, especially, the top one percent, have been growing swiftly. But as long as the Left clings to the ever-so-convenient myth of the zero-sum economy, that isn’t enough.

In an interesting article on the real reason behind ObamaCare — wealth redistribution — in today’s Washington Examiner, Byron York quotes Senator Max Baucus.

Health reform is “an income shift,” Democratic Sen. Max Baucus said on March 25. “It is a shift, a leveling, to help lower income, middle income Americans.”

In his halting, jumbled style, Baucus explained that in recent years “the mal-distribution of income in America has gone up way too much, the wealthy are getting way, way too wealthy, and the middle income class is left behind.” The new health-care legislation, Baucus promised, “will have the effect of addressing that mal-distribution of income in America.”

York quotes several others, including Howard Dean, to the same effect. This opinion, nearly universal on the Left, is implicitly based on one of the oldest, biggest, and dumbest fallacies in economics: that an economy is a zero-sum game, that for someone to get richer, some — or many — have to get poorer. Poker is a zero-sum game. So is robbery, which is why it’s illegal. And Honoré de Balzac is widely but incorrectly supposed to have said that “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.” Well, Paul McCartney was born into a poor family in rundown Liverpool and is now one of the richest men in England. Whom, exactly, did he rob?

The rich have certainly been getting richer in the last thirty years. In 1982 it took a measly $80 million or so to make it onto the Forbes 400 List. Today it takes over a billion. But this is an artifact not of crime but of the technological revolution the world is undergoing, thanks to the microprocessor. Every major technological development has produced an inflorescence of fortune making. The Industrial Revolution produced so many new rich that Benjamin Disraeli had to coin the word millionaire in 1827 to describe them. Railroads, steel, oil, automobiles, the movies, television, all produced prodigious new fortunes.

But the people who rode the railroads and automobiles, watched the movies and television didn’t get poorer by doing so. Just like the millions who so willingly bought Paul McCartney’s music, they got richer too. They had quicker, cheaper transportation, and better and cheaper entertainment. No one forced them to buy the product, which is a good deal more than can be said for ObamaCare.

As the rich got richer, of course, their tax bills got bigger, a lot bigger, and both the federal tax revenues and the percentage of those revenues paid by the top ten percent and, especially, the top one percent, have been growing swiftly. But as long as the Left clings to the ever-so-convenient myth of the zero-sum economy, that isn’t enough.

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Re: Leveretts Revealed

In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.

Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:

The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…

For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.

Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.

The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.

UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”

In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.

Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:

The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…

For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.

Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.

The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.

UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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Hillary Compares Outsourcing to the Holocaust

In what may be the most appalling rhetorical gambit of her political career, and perhaps the worst of any candidate this entire campaign season, Hillary Clinton  yesterday effectively analogized the loss of American jobs to the destruction of the Jews:

At the union hall in Gary, she grew so animated in describing the plight of old-line industrial workers that she described them in language from the oft-repeated poem, attributed to the German pastor Martin Niemöller, about the victims of Nazism. “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist,” goes the version inscribed on a wall at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. After coming for the trade unionists, it continues, “they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.”

In Mrs. Clinton’s version, she intoned: “They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced, and nobody said anything.”

“So this is not just about steel,” she finished.

I guess, following the logic here, that “the loss of professional jobs that could be outsourced” is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, then. Is everybody really OK with this?

In what may be the most appalling rhetorical gambit of her political career, and perhaps the worst of any candidate this entire campaign season, Hillary Clinton  yesterday effectively analogized the loss of American jobs to the destruction of the Jews:

At the union hall in Gary, she grew so animated in describing the plight of old-line industrial workers that she described them in language from the oft-repeated poem, attributed to the German pastor Martin Niemöller, about the victims of Nazism. “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist,” goes the version inscribed on a wall at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. After coming for the trade unionists, it continues, “they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.”

In Mrs. Clinton’s version, she intoned: “They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced, and nobody said anything.”

“So this is not just about steel,” she finished.

I guess, following the logic here, that “the loss of professional jobs that could be outsourced” is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, then. Is everybody really OK with this?

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Good(ish) News from Iran

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

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Which Is It?

You can read up here, if so inclined, on the back and forth between the Clinton and Obama camps on the topic of the Hillary Clinton “3 a.m.” ad. The visuals made me think it was an ad for kids’ cold medication –the type that are now believed to be totally ineffective. There’s a metaphor for you.

This just confirms that the Clinton campaign has a bad case of message confusion, that affliction which affects campaigns that are losing the lead in a key state and which are continuing to get horrible press. (The solution to the latter, they have convinced themselves, is to yell at the media, accusing them of failing in their professional obligations. Good luck with that one.) The image of the sturdy, dependable and inordinately competent gal with nerves of steel and skilled judgment who is going to protect your kids from terrorists does not somehow seem to mesh with the poor dear who whimpered at the last debate that she was forced by those mean moderators to answer questions first. If you are going to be tough-as-nails defender of the homeland, fine. If you are going to be beleaguered woman up against the forces of injustice and toiling on the night shift, fine. But you really can’t be both. If you try, you leave voters confused, and worse, convinced it is all a contrivance.

All of that said, she is not doing all that poorly in Texas and seems steady in Ohio. It is not inconceivable that she could win one or even both states. But figuring out a coherent message should be first on the to-do list for Wednesday morning, provided she is still in the race.

You can read up here, if so inclined, on the back and forth between the Clinton and Obama camps on the topic of the Hillary Clinton “3 a.m.” ad. The visuals made me think it was an ad for kids’ cold medication –the type that are now believed to be totally ineffective. There’s a metaphor for you.

This just confirms that the Clinton campaign has a bad case of message confusion, that affliction which affects campaigns that are losing the lead in a key state and which are continuing to get horrible press. (The solution to the latter, they have convinced themselves, is to yell at the media, accusing them of failing in their professional obligations. Good luck with that one.) The image of the sturdy, dependable and inordinately competent gal with nerves of steel and skilled judgment who is going to protect your kids from terrorists does not somehow seem to mesh with the poor dear who whimpered at the last debate that she was forced by those mean moderators to answer questions first. If you are going to be tough-as-nails defender of the homeland, fine. If you are going to be beleaguered woman up against the forces of injustice and toiling on the night shift, fine. But you really can’t be both. If you try, you leave voters confused, and worse, convinced it is all a contrivance.

All of that said, she is not doing all that poorly in Texas and seems steady in Ohio. It is not inconceivable that she could win one or even both states. But figuring out a coherent message should be first on the to-do list for Wednesday morning, provided she is still in the race.

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Down the (North Korean) Rabbit Hole

A couple of months ago I blogged about a news report that North Korea had bought some giant rabbits from a German breeder as seed stock, apparently in the hope of alleviating its dire food shortage.

Although the starvation of Koreans is anything but funny, here in a capsule was the entire story of Communist economics. Despite its professed humanitarian motives, the Marxist model was entirely mechanistic, blind to the role of human invention and incentive in creating wealth. Planners could simply draw blueprints of abundance and—abracadabra—their word would become flesh.

Stalin, for example, decided that it would be more efficient if some of the rivers of the Soviet Union reversed direction, so he tasked his engineers to turn them around. Mao calculated that China could industrialize overnight if each citizen made his own steel, so millions of backyard furnaces were created. And this year the minions of Kim Jong Il figured out that national starvation could be solved by means of larger rabbits, each of which could feed many more humans than ordinary examples of that species.

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A couple of months ago I blogged about a news report that North Korea had bought some giant rabbits from a German breeder as seed stock, apparently in the hope of alleviating its dire food shortage.

Although the starvation of Koreans is anything but funny, here in a capsule was the entire story of Communist economics. Despite its professed humanitarian motives, the Marxist model was entirely mechanistic, blind to the role of human invention and incentive in creating wealth. Planners could simply draw blueprints of abundance and—abracadabra—their word would become flesh.

Stalin, for example, decided that it would be more efficient if some of the rivers of the Soviet Union reversed direction, so he tasked his engineers to turn them around. Mao calculated that China could industrialize overnight if each citizen made his own steel, so millions of backyard furnaces were created. And this year the minions of Kim Jong Il figured out that national starvation could be solved by means of larger rabbits, each of which could feed many more humans than ordinary examples of that species.

By Communist standards, the plan was good—easier than reversing rivers or smelting backyard steel. But alas, the timing was bad. Apparently, the rabbits arrived in North Korea just before the Dear Leader’s birthday, an occasion of jubilant feasting—at least by him. According to a new report, the German breeder of the giant bunnies has told reporters that the creatures disappeared before they could begin reproducing. Karl Szmolinksy, who had contracted to come to North Korea to help manage the rabbits’ propagation, has said that as far as he can discover they were requisitioned for the celebratory dinner table. “North Korea won’t be getting any more rabbits from me. They don’t even need to bother asking,” said the indignant man.

Considering the millions of human beings that perished in other Communist projects, the loss of a few rabbits is no cause for mourning—except that the North Korean people are still starving. Perhaps next, instead of larger rabbits, their Dear Leader et al. will try breeding smaller citizens.

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