Commentary Magazine


Topic: The Financial Times

Fight Off, Don’t Pay Off, Pirates

Good for South Korea. Last week its commandos staged a daring assault on a freighter ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia. Eight pirates were killed, five captured. All 21 hostages were released; only one of them — the captain of the ship — was wounded.

This raid comes only a few months after the ship in question, the Samho Jewelry, was freed by Somali pirates from a previous period of captivity. South Korea reportedly paid a ransom $9.5 million — the highest ever. Ransom payments to the pirates have been going up dramatically. According to the Financial Times: “A recent study from the US-based One Earth Future foundation showed the average ransom paid to Somali pirates rose nearly 60 per cent from 2009 to 2010, reaching $5.4m. The average ransom paid in 2005 was $150,000.”

The experience of the Samho Jewelry should  confirm that paying off pirates is not a wise move. Fighting them makes more sense. After all, the Somali pirates are lightly armed; professional military forces like South Korea’s can make mincemeat of them. The problem is that most of the countries that have sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia have been reluctant to give them the kind of robust rules of engagement that would allow them to take the fight to the pirates. Too often, even when pirates have been captured, they have been released because Somalia has no functioning courts and no other country is eager to try them. Shipping lines have operated under the assumption that it’s cheaper to cooperate with pirates than to fight them. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that piracy has grown and grown? If the risk is low and the payoff high, it’s safe to expect that more Somalis will take to the seas to take down merchant shipping.

The key to securing this vital shipping lane is to unleash all the naval power that is already in the region. The U.S. and our allies should give our fleets shoot-on-sight orders when they detect suspected pirates — the same kind of order our troops operate under when dealing with armed insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not take many gunfights, I suspect, to deter all but the most foolhardy or daring pirates from continuing with their criminal racket.

Good for South Korea. Last week its commandos staged a daring assault on a freighter ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia. Eight pirates were killed, five captured. All 21 hostages were released; only one of them — the captain of the ship — was wounded.

This raid comes only a few months after the ship in question, the Samho Jewelry, was freed by Somali pirates from a previous period of captivity. South Korea reportedly paid a ransom $9.5 million — the highest ever. Ransom payments to the pirates have been going up dramatically. According to the Financial Times: “A recent study from the US-based One Earth Future foundation showed the average ransom paid to Somali pirates rose nearly 60 per cent from 2009 to 2010, reaching $5.4m. The average ransom paid in 2005 was $150,000.”

The experience of the Samho Jewelry should  confirm that paying off pirates is not a wise move. Fighting them makes more sense. After all, the Somali pirates are lightly armed; professional military forces like South Korea’s can make mincemeat of them. The problem is that most of the countries that have sent naval vessels off the coast of Somalia have been reluctant to give them the kind of robust rules of engagement that would allow them to take the fight to the pirates. Too often, even when pirates have been captured, they have been released because Somalia has no functioning courts and no other country is eager to try them. Shipping lines have operated under the assumption that it’s cheaper to cooperate with pirates than to fight them. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that piracy has grown and grown? If the risk is low and the payoff high, it’s safe to expect that more Somalis will take to the seas to take down merchant shipping.

The key to securing this vital shipping lane is to unleash all the naval power that is already in the region. The U.S. and our allies should give our fleets shoot-on-sight orders when they detect suspected pirates — the same kind of order our troops operate under when dealing with armed insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not take many gunfights, I suspect, to deter all but the most foolhardy or daring pirates from continuing with their criminal racket.

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WikiLeaks Debunks History for Stupid People

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

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Britain’s Dwindling Defense Budget

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

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Democrats Discover Raising Taxes Is a Bad Idea

It seems the Democrats inside the Beltway, some of them anyway, are nervous. The economy is tanking, the recovery isn’t happening, and they are going to get run out of town by the voters. So what was an election-season stunt is now a “no, nevermind.” The Washington Post reports:

With the economy rapidly weakening, some senior Democrats are having second thoughts about raising taxes on the nation’s wealthiest families and are pressing party leaders to consider extending the full array of Bush administration tax cuts, at least through next year.

This rethinking comes barely a month after Democrats trumpeted plans to stage a high-stakes battle over taxes in the final weeks before the November congressional elections.

It seems they’ve discovered that raising taxes in a hobbled economy is a bad idea. (“A growing cadre of Democrats – alarmed by evidence that the recovery is losing steam and fearful of wounding conservative Democrats in a tough election year – are advocating a plan that would permanently extend tax cuts benefiting the middle class while renewing breaks for the wealthy through 2011, senior Democratic aides said.”) The left is going bonkers at the possibility that the Democratic Party would concede a central philosophical point and give up a last-minute gambit to save legislators’ skins. They are worried about the debt all of the sudden:

In an op-ed this week in the Financial Times, John Podesta of the Center for American Progress and Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argued that extending the high-income tax breaks even temporarily would send a bad signal to investors worried about rising U.S. debt.

No concern about the debt while Obama was on a spending spree. And didn’t they argue the stimulus was too small? Oh, consistency and the hobgoblin of little minds, and all that.

Not to fear, dear leftists, the president is with you: “Obama administration officials and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, meanwhile, say they are determined to stay the course and still hoping to spend September and October on a debate that forces Republicans to defend expensive tax breaks for a tiny, wealthy minority.” Economic literacy has not been their strong suit, and neither has winning elections.

It seems the Democrats inside the Beltway, some of them anyway, are nervous. The economy is tanking, the recovery isn’t happening, and they are going to get run out of town by the voters. So what was an election-season stunt is now a “no, nevermind.” The Washington Post reports:

With the economy rapidly weakening, some senior Democrats are having second thoughts about raising taxes on the nation’s wealthiest families and are pressing party leaders to consider extending the full array of Bush administration tax cuts, at least through next year.

This rethinking comes barely a month after Democrats trumpeted plans to stage a high-stakes battle over taxes in the final weeks before the November congressional elections.

It seems they’ve discovered that raising taxes in a hobbled economy is a bad idea. (“A growing cadre of Democrats – alarmed by evidence that the recovery is losing steam and fearful of wounding conservative Democrats in a tough election year – are advocating a plan that would permanently extend tax cuts benefiting the middle class while renewing breaks for the wealthy through 2011, senior Democratic aides said.”) The left is going bonkers at the possibility that the Democratic Party would concede a central philosophical point and give up a last-minute gambit to save legislators’ skins. They are worried about the debt all of the sudden:

In an op-ed this week in the Financial Times, John Podesta of the Center for American Progress and Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, argued that extending the high-income tax breaks even temporarily would send a bad signal to investors worried about rising U.S. debt.

No concern about the debt while Obama was on a spending spree. And didn’t they argue the stimulus was too small? Oh, consistency and the hobgoblin of little minds, and all that.

Not to fear, dear leftists, the president is with you: “Obama administration officials and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, meanwhile, say they are determined to stay the course and still hoping to spend September and October on a debate that forces Republicans to defend expensive tax breaks for a tiny, wealthy minority.” Economic literacy has not been their strong suit, and neither has winning elections.

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It’s Getting Ugly for the Democrats

Earlier today, I quoted William Galston telling the Financial Times: “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

In the New Republic, Galston, after analyzing the data, writes this:

As if things weren’t bad enough for Democrats, something I didn’t believe possible six months ago has happened: The Senate is now in play. … It’s entirely possible that when the dust settles this November, Republicans will have hit the trifecta — President Obama’s former seat, Vice President Biden’s former seat, plus the Senate majority leader’s seat.

Professor Galston has been sounding the midterm alarm bell for months now while many of his fellow Democrats engaged in self-delusion. That self-delusion is now giving way to panic and recriminations. It’s getting ugly — and it will get uglier still.

Earlier today, I quoted William Galston telling the Financial Times: “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

In the New Republic, Galston, after analyzing the data, writes this:

As if things weren’t bad enough for Democrats, something I didn’t believe possible six months ago has happened: The Senate is now in play. … It’s entirely possible that when the dust settles this November, Republicans will have hit the trifecta — President Obama’s former seat, Vice President Biden’s former seat, plus the Senate majority leader’s seat.

Professor Galston has been sounding the midterm alarm bell for months now while many of his fellow Democrats engaged in self-delusion. That self-delusion is now giving way to panic and recriminations. It’s getting ugly — and it will get uglier still.

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Former Clinton Officials Pessimistic About November

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

The Financial Times, in a story titled “Obama faces growing credibility crisis,” quotes two former Clinton administration officials. Their words will not reassure Democrats.

“If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” according to William Galston, a former domestic adviser to President Clinton. “Just as BP’s failure to cap the well has been so damaging, Obama’s failure to cap unemployment will be his undoing. There is nothing he can do to affect the jobless rate before November.”

Not to be outdone, Rob Shapiro, another former Clinton administration official and a supporter of Obama, said, “The bottom line here is that Americans don’t believe in President Obama’s leadership. He has to find some way between now and November of demonstrating that he is a leader who can command confidence and, short of a 9/11 event or an Oklahoma City bombing, I can’t think of how he could do that.”

Messrs. Galston’s and Shapiro’s pessimism is fully warranted. As was said earlier this week, sometimes the sky really is falling. That is the case right now for Democrats — and it’s hard to see how things will get better for them between now and November 2. All the data point to a crushing loss for Democrats in the midterm election. It turns out that to be a Democratic lawmaker in the Age of Obama is a very dangerous thing. And the days of referring to Barack Obama as the next Lincoln and FDR, a “sort of God,” and a “black Jesus” appear to be over, don’t they?

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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Cameron Willing to Take Obama’s Shilling to Be a Loyal Soldier Against Israel

Jewish Ideas Daily provides a brief guide to the upcoming British elections for supporters of Israel, but the short answer to the question of which of the three contending political parties will be friendlier to the Jewish state is “None of the Above.” The current Labour government has shown itself to be no friend to Israel, and the Liberal Democrats who hope to play the spoilers on May 6 is home to an even greater proportion of Israel-haters than is the Labour hard-Left. As for the Conservatives, JID gives them some credit: “The tone of party pronouncements on Israel are notably sympathetic. William Hague, a former party leader and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticized Labor for not voting against the Goldstone Report.”

However, Melanie Phillips points out in her Spectator blog that Tory leader David Cameron, whom she prefers to call “David Obameron,” is promising to line up as a loyal soldier in the Obama administration’s diplomatic war on Israel. As evidence she cites the following in an interview with Cameron in the Financial Times published on March 31 (subscription required):

FT: Yes. You managed to tell Mr. Netanyahu that he might want to revise his position on settlements.

DC: I have. Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said, most ministers don’t dare say. So, yes, I thought I had quite an argument when I was in Israel with Tzipi Livni about settlements and I think Obama is right to take a robust line. I think we have to but it is depressing how little progress is being made right now.

So Cameron — whose skimmed-milk New Age version of conservatism may wind up pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in the coming ballot — not only brags about his disdain for a united Jerusalem and his disagreement with the leader of the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the fate of Jerusalem but expresses support for Obama’s diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state. It may well be that trying to identify himself with Obama may be good British politics right now, but this stand seems to conform with the rest of Cameron’s worldview, which is anything but friendly to Israel or the long-term interests of the West. Barack Obama may well be able to count on him in his campaign against Israel while doing nothing about the nuclear threat from Iran.

The bottom line: while some American conservatives may instinctively favor the defeat of a Labour government by the party of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is no Thatcher. As for friends of Israel, they’ve no rooting interest at all in the outcome.

Jewish Ideas Daily provides a brief guide to the upcoming British elections for supporters of Israel, but the short answer to the question of which of the three contending political parties will be friendlier to the Jewish state is “None of the Above.” The current Labour government has shown itself to be no friend to Israel, and the Liberal Democrats who hope to play the spoilers on May 6 is home to an even greater proportion of Israel-haters than is the Labour hard-Left. As for the Conservatives, JID gives them some credit: “The tone of party pronouncements on Israel are notably sympathetic. William Hague, a former party leader and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, criticized Labor for not voting against the Goldstone Report.”

However, Melanie Phillips points out in her Spectator blog that Tory leader David Cameron, whom she prefers to call “David Obameron,” is promising to line up as a loyal soldier in the Obama administration’s diplomatic war on Israel. As evidence she cites the following in an interview with Cameron in the Financial Times published on March 31 (subscription required):

FT: Yes. You managed to tell Mr. Netanyahu that he might want to revise his position on settlements.

DC: I have. Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem. The Foreign Office bod who was with me said, most ministers don’t dare say. So, yes, I thought I had quite an argument when I was in Israel with Tzipi Livni about settlements and I think Obama is right to take a robust line. I think we have to but it is depressing how little progress is being made right now.

So Cameron — whose skimmed-milk New Age version of conservatism may wind up pulling defeat from the jaws of victory in the coming ballot — not only brags about his disdain for a united Jerusalem and his disagreement with the leader of the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the fate of Jerusalem but expresses support for Obama’s diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state. It may well be that trying to identify himself with Obama may be good British politics right now, but this stand seems to conform with the rest of Cameron’s worldview, which is anything but friendly to Israel or the long-term interests of the West. Barack Obama may well be able to count on him in his campaign against Israel while doing nothing about the nuclear threat from Iran.

The bottom line: while some American conservatives may instinctively favor the defeat of a Labour government by the party of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron is no Thatcher. As for friends of Israel, they’ve no rooting interest at all in the outcome.

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Obama’s Empty Nuclear Posturing

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

Thus, I don’t attach much significance to the Obama administration’s narrowing the categories under which the U.S. would supposedly use nuclear weapons. As the Washington Post account notes:

Under the new policy, the administration will foreswear the use of the deadly weapons against nonnuclear countries, officials said, in contrast to previous administrations, which indicated they might use nuclear arms against nonnuclear states in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack.

But Obama included a major caveat: The countries must be in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations under international treaties. That loophole would mean Iran would remain on the potential target list.

I suppose the administration gets credit for resisting liberal pressure to foreswear any first use of nukes, but, to my mind, any such policy, whether it remains on the books or not, is not terribly credible. It’s fine to keep a small nugget of deterrence alive by not formally burying it, but it’s hard to imagine the U.S. ever using nukes unless it had first been attacked with WMD – meaning nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. The Obama review says that countries that employ only biological or chemical weapons won’t be nuked unless they’re out of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation treaties. Actually, the administration is leaving even more wiggle room than that. According to the New York Times:

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

The Financial Times published a piece, “Don’t Be So Sure Invading Iraq Was Immoral,” written by Professor Nigel Biggar of Oxford, a leading theologian and moral philosopher. According to Professor Biggar:

The decisive issue in evaluating the Iraq invasion is not whether it was morally flawed or disproportionate or illegal, but whether it was really necessary to stop or prevent a sufficiently great evil.

No one disputes that Saddam Hussein’s regime was grossly atrocious. In 1988 it used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in what, according to Human Rights Watch, amounted to genocide; and from 1988 to 2003 it murdered at least 400,000 of its own people. Critics of the invasion would presumably not tolerate such a regime in their own backyard; and an effective international policing authority would have changed it. Is the coalition to be condemned for filling the vacuum? Yes, there have been similar vacuums that it (and others) have failed to fill – Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Darfur. But is it not better to be inconsistently responsible than

consistently irresponsible?

Now add the concern about weapons of mass destruction. This was sufficiently grave to rouse the UN to litter the period 1991-2003 with 17 resolutions calling on Saddam to disarm permanently. Given the shocking discovery in the mid-1990s of Iraq’s success in enriching uranium and coming within 24 months of nuclear armament, and given the regime’s persistent flouting of the UN’s will, there was good reason to withhold benefit of doubt and to suppose that it was developing WMDs. It was not just Messrs Bush and Blair who supposed this. So did Jacques Chirac, then French president, and Hans Blix, the UN’s chief weapons inspector.

We now know this reasonable supposition was mistaken and that the problem was less urgent than it appeared. But it was still urgent. Saddam was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and support for containment was dissolving. David Kelly, Britain ’s chief expert on Iraqi WMDs, famous for being driven to commit suicide, is less famous for being convinced that the problem’s only lasting solution was regime-change.

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

Well said. And that it was said is further evidence, I think, that we are seeing a climate change when it comes to the debate about the Iraq war.

The Financial Times published a piece, “Don’t Be So Sure Invading Iraq Was Immoral,” written by Professor Nigel Biggar of Oxford, a leading theologian and moral philosopher. According to Professor Biggar:

The decisive issue in evaluating the Iraq invasion is not whether it was morally flawed or disproportionate or illegal, but whether it was really necessary to stop or prevent a sufficiently great evil.

No one disputes that Saddam Hussein’s regime was grossly atrocious. In 1988 it used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in what, according to Human Rights Watch, amounted to genocide; and from 1988 to 2003 it murdered at least 400,000 of its own people. Critics of the invasion would presumably not tolerate such a regime in their own backyard; and an effective international policing authority would have changed it. Is the coalition to be condemned for filling the vacuum? Yes, there have been similar vacuums that it (and others) have failed to fill – Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Darfur. But is it not better to be inconsistently responsible than

consistently irresponsible?

Now add the concern about weapons of mass destruction. This was sufficiently grave to rouse the UN to litter the period 1991-2003 with 17 resolutions calling on Saddam to disarm permanently. Given the shocking discovery in the mid-1990s of Iraq’s success in enriching uranium and coming within 24 months of nuclear armament, and given the regime’s persistent flouting of the UN’s will, there was good reason to withhold benefit of doubt and to suppose that it was developing WMDs. It was not just Messrs Bush and Blair who supposed this. So did Jacques Chirac, then French president, and Hans Blix, the UN’s chief weapons inspector.

We now know this reasonable supposition was mistaken and that the problem was less urgent than it appeared. But it was still urgent. Saddam was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and support for containment was dissolving. David Kelly, Britain ’s chief expert on Iraqi WMDs, famous for being driven to commit suicide, is less famous for being convinced that the problem’s only lasting solution was regime-change.

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

Well said. And that it was said is further evidence, I think, that we are seeing a climate change when it comes to the debate about the Iraq war.

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The “System” Failed or the Liberals Did?

Evan Bayh’s departure is unmistakably rotten news for Democrats. As the Washington Post report puts it:

Bayh dealt a triple blow to his Democratic Party and to President Obama with his announcement Monday that he is sick of the partisanship in Washington and will not seek a third term. The decision put his seat — and, some forecasters said, possibly his party’s Senate majority — in jeopardy, sent a discomforting message to already demoralized Democrats about this year’s political climate and reminded voters that Obama has yet to usher in the post-partisan era, a major theme of his 2008 campaign.

But liberals can’t accept the underlying message — that Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed to govern and are chasing moderates out of the party. So the battle is on to make this about the “system” or “partisanship” — floating and amorphous defects untraceable to Obama or any particular Democratic leader. Then there are the Republicans — the Party of No. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors sum up the spin:

Democrats have responded by blaming “obstructionist” Republicans, who lack the votes to block anything by themselves; or a failure to communicate the right message, though President Obama is a master communicator; or even Madison’s framework of checks and balances, though this system has worked better than all others for some 225 years.

John Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and heads the Center for American Progress that has supplied the Administration’s ideas, summed up the liberal-media mood last week when he told the Financial Times that American governance now “sucks.” If you can’t blame your own ideas, blame the system.

Ruth Marcus is a case in point, whining, “The Senate, with its endless holds and 60-vote points of order, may be the epitome of a place that knows neither victory nor defeat.” She talks to Bayh, who obliges with a generic slam on the system: “The way Congress is working right now, I decided I could make a better contribution to my state and country on a smaller stage. … There are some ideologues in the Senate. There are some staunch partisans. The vast majority are good, decent people who are trapped in a system that does not let that goodness and decency translate itself into legislative accomplishments.”

So no one is responsible, or everyone is. And it’s all a generic downer. But is this right? It seems that the essence of leadership — what Obama is supposed to be providing — is to forge an agenda, corral Congress, and get stuff done. All this smacks of Obama’s “It is hard” complaint about the Middle East. Well, yes, but he also isn’t up for the job, based on what we’ve seen.

And then there’s the substance of what Congress has been doing for the past year. It’s been pursuing a far-Left agenda in the face of polling and election returns showing that the public disapproves, and strongly so, of its course. Congress then hit the wall when Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate. So now it’s stymied — no idea what to do. Gridlock is proclaimed. Well, why not head for the Center, pass that bipartisan jobs bill and a limited list of health-care reforms? Oh, can’t do that, because Reid-Obama-Pelosi won’t allow it. This then is an error of overreach and inept leadership by three Democrats who can’t shed their ideological rigidity. The system hasn’t failed — liberal rule has been repudiated. There’s a difference.

But fine. If liberals admit failure and claim that the country is ungovernable, then voters can choose another set of lawmakers and another direction. It only works, you see, to claim that the system is a mess when you don’t control everything. Otherwise, it’s an admission of incompetence.

Evan Bayh’s departure is unmistakably rotten news for Democrats. As the Washington Post report puts it:

Bayh dealt a triple blow to his Democratic Party and to President Obama with his announcement Monday that he is sick of the partisanship in Washington and will not seek a third term. The decision put his seat — and, some forecasters said, possibly his party’s Senate majority — in jeopardy, sent a discomforting message to already demoralized Democrats about this year’s political climate and reminded voters that Obama has yet to usher in the post-partisan era, a major theme of his 2008 campaign.

But liberals can’t accept the underlying message — that Obama and the Democratic leadership have failed to govern and are chasing moderates out of the party. So the battle is on to make this about the “system” or “partisanship” — floating and amorphous defects untraceable to Obama or any particular Democratic leader. Then there are the Republicans — the Party of No. The Wall Street Journal‘s editors sum up the spin:

Democrats have responded by blaming “obstructionist” Republicans, who lack the votes to block anything by themselves; or a failure to communicate the right message, though President Obama is a master communicator; or even Madison’s framework of checks and balances, though this system has worked better than all others for some 225 years.

John Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama’s transition and heads the Center for American Progress that has supplied the Administration’s ideas, summed up the liberal-media mood last week when he told the Financial Times that American governance now “sucks.” If you can’t blame your own ideas, blame the system.

Ruth Marcus is a case in point, whining, “The Senate, with its endless holds and 60-vote points of order, may be the epitome of a place that knows neither victory nor defeat.” She talks to Bayh, who obliges with a generic slam on the system: “The way Congress is working right now, I decided I could make a better contribution to my state and country on a smaller stage. … There are some ideologues in the Senate. There are some staunch partisans. The vast majority are good, decent people who are trapped in a system that does not let that goodness and decency translate itself into legislative accomplishments.”

So no one is responsible, or everyone is. And it’s all a generic downer. But is this right? It seems that the essence of leadership — what Obama is supposed to be providing — is to forge an agenda, corral Congress, and get stuff done. All this smacks of Obama’s “It is hard” complaint about the Middle East. Well, yes, but he also isn’t up for the job, based on what we’ve seen.

And then there’s the substance of what Congress has been doing for the past year. It’s been pursuing a far-Left agenda in the face of polling and election returns showing that the public disapproves, and strongly so, of its course. Congress then hit the wall when Massachusetts sent Scott Brown to the Senate. So now it’s stymied — no idea what to do. Gridlock is proclaimed. Well, why not head for the Center, pass that bipartisan jobs bill and a limited list of health-care reforms? Oh, can’t do that, because Reid-Obama-Pelosi won’t allow it. This then is an error of overreach and inept leadership by three Democrats who can’t shed their ideological rigidity. The system hasn’t failed — liberal rule has been repudiated. There’s a difference.

But fine. If liberals admit failure and claim that the country is ungovernable, then voters can choose another set of lawmakers and another direction. It only works, you see, to claim that the system is a mess when you don’t control everything. Otherwise, it’s an admission of incompetence.

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Threatening Israel Isn’t Enough Anymore

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did. Read More

Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei posted a comment on his website (yes, even he’s doing it now) predicting the inevitable destruction of Israel, a task he generally delegates to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Definitely, the day will come when nations of the region will witness the destruction of the Zionist regime,” he wrote. “How soon or late … depends on how Islamic countries and Muslim nations approach the issue.”

Israelis should be pleased to hear they’ll be allowed to exist a bit longer if Saudi Arabia dithers. And Saudi Arabia is going to dither for a long time.

According to the Financial Times, a majority of citizens in 18 Arab countries think Iran is more dangerous than Israel. And according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a substantial number of Saudi citizens are even willing to support military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.

A third of Saudi respondents say they would approve an American strike, and a fourth say they’d back an Israeli strike. The actual number is almost certainly higher. Supporting Israel is taboo in the Arab world, and that goes double when Israel is at war. This is not the sort of thing most Arabs are comfortable admitting to strangers, yet one-fourth of Saudis just did.

(Intriguingly, a clear majority of Saudis interviewed in the same survey think their own terrorism and religious extremism is more troubling than either Iran or Israel. There may be hope, at least in the long run, for that region yet.)

Iran’s rulers constantly threaten Israel with violence and even destruction because they know the Arabs are against them. They need to change the subject to something they all can agree on. Ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979 and voided Iran’s treaty with Israel, regime leaders have believed they’ll meet less resistance while amassing power for themselves in the region by saying, Hey, we’re not after you, we’re after the Jews.

It isn’t enough anymore. Even arming and bankrolling terrorist organizations that fight Israel isn’t enough anymore. Most Arabs simply do not believe Ahmadinejad and Khamenei when they not-so-cryptically suggest that their nuclear weapons will be pointed only at Israel. By a factor of 3-to-1, Saudis believe Iran would use nuclear weapons against either them or another Arab state in the Persian Gulf before using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Most Arabs hate or at the very least have serious problems with Israel, and I expect that will be true for the rest of my life, even if the Arab-Israeli conflict comes to an end. Yet the Middle East is forever interesting and surprising, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” even applies to an extent when “the enemy of my enemy” is the “Zionist Entity.”

This was made abundantly clear during the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, when Sunni Arab regimes tacitly took Jerusalem’s side by blaming Hezbollah for starting it and saying nothing, at least initially, about the Israeli response. The war was fought in an Arab country, but it was a proxy war between two non-Arab powers. Lebanon merely provided the battle space.

The Sunni Arab “street,” so to speak, didn’t take Israel’s side. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah managed to turn himself into a heroic big shot for a while by taking the fight to the enemy, but the most recent victims of Hezbollah’s violence were Sunnis in Beirut in 2008, and no one in the Middle East has forgotten it.

With only a few exceptions, the region has been firmly controlled by Sunni Arab regimes since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, yet none of these governments are strong enough to project power abroad. As author Lee Smith notes, they can’t even defend themselves. A number of analysts have pointed out in the last couple of years that the political agenda in the Arab Middle East is now set by non-Arabs in Jerusalem, Tehran, Washington, and to a lesser extent, Ankara. Syria’s Bashar Assad helps set the regional agenda as the logistics hub in the Iranian-Hezbollah axis, but he’s a non-Muslim Alawite, not a Sunni, and he’s doing it as a mere sidekick of the Persians. If all that weren’t enough, the Sunnis now depend on Israelis to defend them, and they’re not even sure the Israelis will do it.

We’ll know Iran’s power play is actually working if and when Sunni Arab governments issue not just boilerplate denunciations of the “Zionist Entity” but actually join the Iran-led resistance and fight Israel like they used to. In the meantime, they’re falling in behind their enemy, although they dare not admit it to anyone.

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Liberals Pin Their Hopes on an Obama Attack on the GOP

One liberal trope after the speech, voiced by Chrystia Freedland of the Financial Times on Charlie Rose, is that Obama is putting Republican politicians on notice he will go after them as the do-nothing impeders of progress. Republicans should pray this is the case, and it may be the case. The model here would be Harry Truman’s 1948 war on the “Do Nothing Congress.” The problem is that Truman was running against a Republican Congress. Obama will be asking the country to believe that some weird amalgam of a minority party in the House and Senate and the Fox News Channel is mystically interfering with the will of the people. The delusion that a the president in charge of a party with a 50-seat majority in the House and a nine-seat advantage in the Senate can successfully claim that the minority is in charge  is just that—a delusion. You don’t have to be following these matters closely to know that Democrats won a blowout two years ago and that this is their political moment. If Obama cannot get what he wants, everybody will know it will be due to his inability to convince the country of the rightness of his policy aims. That liberals like Freedland and Andrew Sullivan can’t see this, because they too are fogged over by their rage with a conservative vitality they did not expect, offers up the tantalizing possibility that the White House will be similarly blinded to reality, and will march with authority and vigor right over a political cliff.

One liberal trope after the speech, voiced by Chrystia Freedland of the Financial Times on Charlie Rose, is that Obama is putting Republican politicians on notice he will go after them as the do-nothing impeders of progress. Republicans should pray this is the case, and it may be the case. The model here would be Harry Truman’s 1948 war on the “Do Nothing Congress.” The problem is that Truman was running against a Republican Congress. Obama will be asking the country to believe that some weird amalgam of a minority party in the House and Senate and the Fox News Channel is mystically interfering with the will of the people. The delusion that a the president in charge of a party with a 50-seat majority in the House and a nine-seat advantage in the Senate can successfully claim that the minority is in charge  is just that—a delusion. You don’t have to be following these matters closely to know that Democrats won a blowout two years ago and that this is their political moment. If Obama cannot get what he wants, everybody will know it will be due to his inability to convince the country of the rightness of his policy aims. That liberals like Freedland and Andrew Sullivan can’t see this, because they too are fogged over by their rage with a conservative vitality they did not expect, offers up the tantalizing possibility that the White House will be similarly blinded to reality, and will march with authority and vigor right over a political cliff.

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The Economy Drive

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

The parlous state of Britain’s economy and budget and the necessity of cuts in government spending should be common knowledge. The British public certainly grasps the situation. Its one manifestation is the data by the polling firm Ipsos-MORI. In its latest monthly “Issues Index,” which invites interviewees to name as many issues of concern as they care to, “Economy/Economic Situation” stands at 49%.

By contrast, issues that Labour might be thought to own, such as “Pollution/Environment” (8%), “Poverty/Inequality” (7%), and “Low Pay” (3%) are of distinctly tertiary importance to the public. Given today’s statement by Pimco’s Head of Global Portfolio Management that Britain stands a better than 80% chance of losing its AAA credit rating, on the grounds that the government’s debt reduction plan “is lacking in conviction and . . . is lacking in details,” focusing on the economy makes a good deal of sense.

As Pimco’s criticism of the government implies, the only man not willing to grasp the nettle of reality is Gordon Brown. Mike Smithson, the proprietor of the lively Political Betting blog, points out that in a weekend interview with Andrew Marr, Brown refused to acknowledge even the possibility of cuts in government spending.  As Smithson puts it, “The interviewing trait where Mr. Brown is at his most vulnerable is when he seeks to deny something that is clearly the case. Less charitable people than me might use the word ‘porkie.’ The problem is that he does this when it is so obvious.”

A big part of dealing with the problem of government spending will be reducing the size and cost of the British civil service. This is a problem in the U.S. as well, as publications such as the Economist and columnists like Michael Barone have pointed out recently, but anything the U.S. does in this context, the UK can do worse. The most recent Sunday Times notes that in 2009, 21.1% of all UK labor was employed by the state, and that – measured by hours on the job, rate of wage inflation, or salary – it is almost always better to be paid by the government than by a private employer. Even in the highest paid job, the private sector pays better salaries, but the government offers a much larger pension.

What’s more, some British ministries have become increasingly top heavy: more generals, fewer privates. In the Ministry of Defense, for instance, the number of workers in the lowest two pay grades has fallen by about 19,000 since 1997, while the upper tiers have increased by 2,000. I have my suspicions about just how real the headcount reductions are – you can achieve seeming miracles by contracting out, as the MoD has done extensively under Labour – but even if you take the cuts seriously, they’ve not stopped total civilian pay from rising 13% from 2003/04 to 2008/09, as against a 12% rise for pay to the forces. The cost of the senior grade pay and pensions must be a major part of that increase, which is particularly scandalous given Labour’s general cheapness when it comes to defense spending, and what should have been the effect of a substantial decrease in the size of the MoD.

The pension question is particularly interesting and dangerous. The Institute of Directors estimates that the unfunded cost of public-sector pensions in Britain over the next 50 years is about 335 billion pounds. Given the relative sizes of their economies, that’s even larger than the $2 trillion shortfall the U.S. faces, according to the Financial Times. And every time Brown or Obama hires someone else, that shortfall gets a little bigger, and the size of the productive economy gets a little smaller.

It makes me think, first, of the superb “Yes Minister” episode on “The Economy Drive,” in which Sir Humphrey proves to Jim Hacker that, in order to achieve increased efficiency, you have to hire more people. And, second, of Margaret Thatcher.  The UK National Archives have just released some of her early Prime Ministerial memos. Her first priority: cut the civil service by at least 5%, and preferably by 20%. “What,” she asked, “are we doing with 566,000 that can’t be done with 500,000?” An excellent question, then and now.

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Terrorist Recidivism

I recall visiting Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago and being briefed by Saudi officials on their program to reeducate and rehabilitate Islamist extremists in their prisons. The program had long been seen as a model effort; it influenced a similar program created in the U.S. detention system in Iraq that is now being replicated in Afghanistan. But recent events suggest the Saudi program was not all it was cracked up to be.

As the Financial Times notes, “The revelation that two of the alleged leaders of the plot to blow up a US passenger jet were released by a Saudi militant rehabilitation centre has thrown a renewed spotlight on the programme and the kingdom’s response to terrorism.” That includes Said bin Ali al-Shihri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Overall, the FT reports, 120 inmates from Guantanamo were released to the Saudis under the Bush administration. The result? The paper quotes Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Middle East program: “Of the Guantánamo prisoners, about 26 are wanted, in custody or killed – it is about [a] 20 per cent failure rate.”

That should be of great concern. The Obama administration is right to suspend repatriations of detainees to Yemen; perhaps it should suspend sending them to Saudi Arabia, as well. The Saudis have done an impressive job of cracking down on terrorists within the kingdom, but the suspicion remains that they deal with some of these troublemakers by encouraging them to emigrate to countries like Yemen or Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the problems there — and potentially here in the United States as well. The real issue is not the fate of Gitmo; it is whether we are locking up dangerous terrorists, whether on Cuban or American soil. Continued detainee releases — which, it should be noted, started under the Bush administration — are endangering our safety.

I recall visiting Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago and being briefed by Saudi officials on their program to reeducate and rehabilitate Islamist extremists in their prisons. The program had long been seen as a model effort; it influenced a similar program created in the U.S. detention system in Iraq that is now being replicated in Afghanistan. But recent events suggest the Saudi program was not all it was cracked up to be.

As the Financial Times notes, “The revelation that two of the alleged leaders of the plot to blow up a US passenger jet were released by a Saudi militant rehabilitation centre has thrown a renewed spotlight on the programme and the kingdom’s response to terrorism.” That includes Said bin Ali al-Shihri, second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Overall, the FT reports, 120 inmates from Guantanamo were released to the Saudis under the Bush administration. The result? The paper quotes Chris Boucek of the Carnegie Middle East program: “Of the Guantánamo prisoners, about 26 are wanted, in custody or killed – it is about [a] 20 per cent failure rate.”

That should be of great concern. The Obama administration is right to suspend repatriations of detainees to Yemen; perhaps it should suspend sending them to Saudi Arabia, as well. The Saudis have done an impressive job of cracking down on terrorists within the kingdom, but the suspicion remains that they deal with some of these troublemakers by encouraging them to emigrate to countries like Yemen or Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the problems there — and potentially here in the United States as well. The real issue is not the fate of Gitmo; it is whether we are locking up dangerous terrorists, whether on Cuban or American soil. Continued detainee releases — which, it should be noted, started under the Bush administration — are endangering our safety.

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Obama’s Achievements?

I commented the other day on Jessica Matthews’s defense of Obama’s foreign-policy record, which I found highly unconvincing. I am more impressed by this article by the Financial Timess Washington bureau chief, Ed Luce. Straying from the realm of security policy, he gives Obama credit for helping to stabilize the American economy — indeed, the global economy:

Mr. Obama began his term in the midst of the biggest economic maelstrom in two generations and a climate of panic. He ends his first year on the calm seas of an economy that has returned to moderate growth and a financial system returned to solvency (in the case of bonus pools, too much solvency for most people’s liking).

I think that’s right, and it’s an achievement that should not go underestimated. In this instance, Obama proved a deft crisis manager. But Luce also underscores the lack of substantive achievements from Obama’s stress on “diplomacy” as opposed to the presumed war-mongering of his predecessor. He concedes (as Matthews does not):

Mr. Obama’s trip to China last month looked amateur when it became clear his hosts interpreted his warm “G2” overtures as a sign of weakness. His attempts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process were sincere but they have been badly handled. And Iran is no closer to coming to the negotiating table.

That’s right too. And the “grudging agreement” reached by participants in the Copenhagen climate-change conference won’t change that judgment substantially. As the New York Times notes: “Even President Obama, a principal force behind the final deal, said the accord would take only a modest step toward healing the Earth’s fragile atmosphere.”

I commented the other day on Jessica Matthews’s defense of Obama’s foreign-policy record, which I found highly unconvincing. I am more impressed by this article by the Financial Timess Washington bureau chief, Ed Luce. Straying from the realm of security policy, he gives Obama credit for helping to stabilize the American economy — indeed, the global economy:

Mr. Obama began his term in the midst of the biggest economic maelstrom in two generations and a climate of panic. He ends his first year on the calm seas of an economy that has returned to moderate growth and a financial system returned to solvency (in the case of bonus pools, too much solvency for most people’s liking).

I think that’s right, and it’s an achievement that should not go underestimated. In this instance, Obama proved a deft crisis manager. But Luce also underscores the lack of substantive achievements from Obama’s stress on “diplomacy” as opposed to the presumed war-mongering of his predecessor. He concedes (as Matthews does not):

Mr. Obama’s trip to China last month looked amateur when it became clear his hosts interpreted his warm “G2” overtures as a sign of weakness. His attempts to revive the Arab-Israeli peace process were sincere but they have been badly handled. And Iran is no closer to coming to the negotiating table.

That’s right too. And the “grudging agreement” reached by participants in the Copenhagen climate-change conference won’t change that judgment substantially. As the New York Times notes: “Even President Obama, a principal force behind the final deal, said the accord would take only a modest step toward healing the Earth’s fragile atmosphere.”

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Why We Will Not Make the Soviets’ Mistakes in Afghanistan

The Financial Times has interviewed veterans of the Red Army’s war in Afghanistan who argue that the American war effort will be a replay of their woes. Actually, their comments suggest the opposite. Here is how the FT describes Soviet tactics:

The Soviet 40th Army comprised 120,000 troops at the height of the war, and operations focused on manoeuvring helicopter-borne paratroopers on to mountains, to control high ground, and then moving tanks through the valleys. …

“The war, all 10 years of it, went in circles. We would come and they [the insurgents] would leave. Then we leave, and they would return,” Gen [Igor] Rodionov [commander of the 40th Army] said. …

“The 40th army was a highly armed and trained force. It answered every shot directed at them with 10 shots. They created many casualties among civilians.

“We would bomb a village because there were one or two Mujahideen there. Women and children would die and this created the insurgent movement. It was a classic partisan war.”

If these Red Army veterans think that NATO forces are repeating their mistakes, they haven’t been paying attention. The methods they describe are completely different from those being employed by General McChrystal. The reason he has requested more troops is so his forces don’t get into a pattern of entering areas and then leaving them. He wants to stay and provide population security. He has also imposed tight clamps on the use of firepower so our troops don’t cause the kind of collateral damage that can turn the population against them.

The whole mindset of the Red Army veterans is highly conventional — employing helicopter assault forces and tanks. That works against a conventional army; it doesn’t work against guerrillas. McChrystal realizes that, which is why he’s trying a different strategy — the same one that has been vindicated in counterinsurgencies from Malaya to, more recently, Colombia and Iraq. Anyone who offers a mindless Soviet analogy to suggest that we are doomed to failure in the supposed “graveyard of empires” — and I have heard many such arguments in the past few days — should ponder the profound differences between the Soviets’ tactics and those of NATO. There is no comparison.

The Financial Times has interviewed veterans of the Red Army’s war in Afghanistan who argue that the American war effort will be a replay of their woes. Actually, their comments suggest the opposite. Here is how the FT describes Soviet tactics:

The Soviet 40th Army comprised 120,000 troops at the height of the war, and operations focused on manoeuvring helicopter-borne paratroopers on to mountains, to control high ground, and then moving tanks through the valleys. …

“The war, all 10 years of it, went in circles. We would come and they [the insurgents] would leave. Then we leave, and they would return,” Gen [Igor] Rodionov [commander of the 40th Army] said. …

“The 40th army was a highly armed and trained force. It answered every shot directed at them with 10 shots. They created many casualties among civilians.

“We would bomb a village because there were one or two Mujahideen there. Women and children would die and this created the insurgent movement. It was a classic partisan war.”

If these Red Army veterans think that NATO forces are repeating their mistakes, they haven’t been paying attention. The methods they describe are completely different from those being employed by General McChrystal. The reason he has requested more troops is so his forces don’t get into a pattern of entering areas and then leaving them. He wants to stay and provide population security. He has also imposed tight clamps on the use of firepower so our troops don’t cause the kind of collateral damage that can turn the population against them.

The whole mindset of the Red Army veterans is highly conventional — employing helicopter assault forces and tanks. That works against a conventional army; it doesn’t work against guerrillas. McChrystal realizes that, which is why he’s trying a different strategy — the same one that has been vindicated in counterinsurgencies from Malaya to, more recently, Colombia and Iraq. Anyone who offers a mindless Soviet analogy to suggest that we are doomed to failure in the supposed “graveyard of empires” — and I have heard many such arguments in the past few days — should ponder the profound differences between the Soviets’ tactics and those of NATO. There is no comparison.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this. Read More

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this.

On almost every front, progress is nonexistent. In many instances, things are getting worse rather than better. The enormous goodwill that Obama’s election was met with hasn’t been leveraged into anything useful and tangible. Rather, our allies are now questioning America’s will, while our adversaries are becoming increasingly emboldened. The United States looks weak and uncertain. It’s “amateur hour at the White House,” according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Carter administration. “Not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken,” according to Michael Hirsh at Newsweek. When even such strong Obama supporters as Gelb and Hirsh reach these conclusions, you know things must be unraveling.

It’s no mystery as to why. President Obama’s approach to international relations is simplistic and misguided. It is premised on the belief that American concessions to our adversaries will beget goodwill and concessions in return; that American self-abasement is justified; that the American decline is inevitable (and in some respects welcome); and that diplomacy and multilateralism are ends rather than means to an end.

Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president. With every passing month, Barack Obama looks more and more like his Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter: irresolute, unsteady, and overmatched. The president and members of his own party will find out soon enough, though, that Obama the Impotent isn’t what they had in mind when they elected him. We are witnessing the unmasking, and perhaps the unmaking, of Barack Obama.

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Europe and The Swiss

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980’s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

My seatmate at the Commentary Fund dinner, Max Boot, has already commented on some of the historical deficiencies and contemporary dilemmas inherent in the argument that Europe can safely play the role of “giant Switzerland”, as Gideon Rachman has described it in the Financial Times. Of course, Rachman is revisiting Robert Kagan’s “Mars and Venus” thesis about the U.S. and Europe: the Europeans are unassertive (appeasing, even) because they are weak, and they are weak because they delegitimized the use of force after 1945 and have been protected by the U.S. since then.

But, pace Max, today’s problem is not that the U.S.’s share of the burden of defending the Free World is “huge.” A hundred years from now, historians will not be amazed that the U.S. fought two wars while spending 5% of its GNP on defense: rather, they will be amazed that the world’s sole superpower was able to get away with spending ONLY 5% of its GNP on defense while fighting those wars and simultaneously doing much of the heavy lifting for the world’s other democracies. Clearly, some level of defense spending is too much, but there is no good reason to think that we are close to it. The problem in the U.S. today lies not in our inherent capacity, but in our willingness to draw upon it to any great extent.

And that is the real problem with Europe being Switzerland: the US will not forever be willing to defend those who do not defend themselves. European weakness cannot be supplemented indefinitely by American strength, not because we are not strong enough, but because we will become disgusted by the job. This was precisely the argument that European leaders in the early 1980’s drew on to make the case for deploying the Pershing II missiles in Europe: if the European allies did not make a public, visible commitment of their willingness to make a few sacrifices in the cause of their own defense, the U.S. would lose patience with their selfishness.

So far, the U.S. has stayed engaged. Though the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, to which Rachman alludes in a carefree way, suggest what might happen if Europe faced a threat–deriving, maybe, from North Africa–that did not appear to pose any direct challenge to immediate U.S. interests. But if the instincts of weakness are now deeply ingrained in Europe, the tradition of isolationism is even stronger in the U.S. As Daniel Halper has pointed out, our allies are already taking alarm at Barack Obama’s neo-protectionism. The very last thing our friends should want to do is to give us a reason to indulge our worser instincts.

Rachman sheds some depressing light on how this dynamic will play out: he alludes to the wars “the U.S. has launched” in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and claims that the far-too-limited European involvement in Afghanistan “actually increases the terrorist threat to Europe.” Apart from all its other justifications, the current war in Afghanistan is, simply put, the most legally correct war in human history: it flows directly from NATO’s invocation of Article 5 after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and from many UN Security Council resolutions.

If fulfilling those obligations encourages terrorism in Europe, then that is just too bad for Europe. But it is the idea that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”–a bad choice, it is of course implied–that is truly damaging. Rachman is part of the slow, steady drizzle that has caused the NATO force in Afghanistan to be caveat-ed into ineffectiveness, and will soon, in European eyes, deprive the war against the Taliban of its last shred of legitimacy. And if Europe is not willing to stick with the fight against them, then only the Swiss should be insulted by Rachman’s comparison.

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Scaring Them Already

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown’s] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown’s] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

Read Less




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