Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Cameron

Obama’s Private Assurances on Falklands Not Good Enough

There’s been a lot of comment around the Internet about the Obama Administration’s refusal to back Britain in the growing tensions with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Now comes word that, supposedly, the President has thought better of this folly: according to David Cameron, he and Obama “briefly” discussed the issue, and, as Cameron says, “the U.S. position is that they support the status quo, they don’t argue against the status quo and that is very welcome . . .. They are content with the status quo; they are not challenging the status quo.”

So, summing up, Obama = status quo. Though that’s not quite the way the New York Times puts it, which, without giving a direct quote, asserts that Obama said the U.S. “would stop prodding Britain and Argentina to talk to each other, but stick to its historic position of neutrality.”  If so, that is actually a change of the Administration’s previous policy of backing negotiations over the status of the islands. But without a direct statement, it is impossible to be sure, and, frankly, a policy of neutrality is just not good enough.

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There’s been a lot of comment around the Internet about the Obama Administration’s refusal to back Britain in the growing tensions with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Now comes word that, supposedly, the President has thought better of this folly: according to David Cameron, he and Obama “briefly” discussed the issue, and, as Cameron says, “the U.S. position is that they support the status quo, they don’t argue against the status quo and that is very welcome . . .. They are content with the status quo; they are not challenging the status quo.”

So, summing up, Obama = status quo. Though that’s not quite the way the New York Times puts it, which, without giving a direct quote, asserts that Obama said the U.S. “would stop prodding Britain and Argentina to talk to each other, but stick to its historic position of neutrality.”  If so, that is actually a change of the Administration’s previous policy of backing negotiations over the status of the islands. But without a direct statement, it is impossible to be sure, and, frankly, a policy of neutrality is just not good enough.

Having won the 1982 war with Argentina, and with the islands settled almost exclusively by Britons, Britain should demand nothing less than a recognition by the United States of its sovereignty, on the basis of both its historic claim and the expressed will of the people of the Falklands. The fact that this current crisis was ginned up exclusively by Argentina for domestic political reasons, and that they are still escalating it – even as Cameron spoke, Argentina announced that it would pursue legal action against oil and shipping firms that operate in Falklands waters – gives Britain, if possible, an even stronger case.

The entire Obama policy toward the Falklands makes no sense on the surface, but when governments do something that seems to make no sense, there’s usually a reason for it. The most charitable explanation would be to invoke Occam’s Razor, and to suggest that the problem is one common to all administrations: career State Department officials – perhaps on the Argentina desk — writing briefs and driving policy in ways that make their life easier, but that don’t actually reflect the policies the higher-ups want to adopt, if they took a moment to think about it. I would like to believe that, partly because every administration faces the problem of trying to get State to stop making policy on its own, and partly because – if Cameron really did make a break-through – it would give him credit for raising the issue, and Obama credit for recognizing that his subordinates were making a mess of things.

But I’m afraid I can’t accept that explanation. The parade of senior officials who spoke on the record urging negotiations between Britain and Argentina has been too long for it to be a case of unguided subordinates.  It was back in March 2010, two years ago, when the Secretary of State herself kicked off the parade by stating, in a press conference in Argentina with Argentine President Kristina Kirchner that: “We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way.”

And as recently as last month, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland repeated that message: “We are encouraging Argentina and the UK to work this out peacefully, to work it out through negotiations.”

So my explanation is more along the lines of Peter’s comment about Obama and gas prices: the Administration’s policy is purely cynical. It figured it could get credit in Argentina by sounding sympathetic to it, but that the actual risk of an Argentine invasion was limited, so nothing much would happen that would actually hurt British interests.  The only flaws in this approach are that Argentina can cause a lot of headaches for Britain and the islands without invading, that egging on Argentina’s domestic populism is rampantly irresponsible and runs the risk of encouraging a war, that it imposes on Britain a further cost for defending the islands, and that it gets the British very annoyed and encourages an unhelpful British suspicion of the U.S.

So until I hear President Obama state, on the record and publicly, that the U.S. sees no reason for negotiations over the Islands because it recognizes British sovereignty over them, I am going to take this brief, private interchange reported at second hand for what it is worth: not very much at all.

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Obama to Tap Strategic Oil Reserves?

Reuters reported yesterday that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron inked a deal to tap into the strategic oil reserves, a move that would lower the price of gas in the U.S. during an election year. The White House denied the report, but it could potentially be a trial balloon for the administration. Today, liberal Democratic members of Congress started calling for President Obama to go ahead with the plan. The Hill reports:

Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), longtime proponents of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said Friday they are gathering support for the letter and hope to send it to Obama next week. …

“We are writing you because we believe that it is essential that the United States have an aggressive strategy for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat the speculators capitalizing on the fear in oil markets and to send a message to Iran that we are ready, willing and able to deploy our oil reserves,” the letter says.

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Reuters reported yesterday that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron inked a deal to tap into the strategic oil reserves, a move that would lower the price of gas in the U.S. during an election year. The White House denied the report, but it could potentially be a trial balloon for the administration. Today, liberal Democratic members of Congress started calling for President Obama to go ahead with the plan. The Hill reports:

Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), longtime proponents of releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said Friday they are gathering support for the letter and hope to send it to Obama next week. …

“We are writing you because we believe that it is essential that the United States have an aggressive strategy for releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat the speculators capitalizing on the fear in oil markets and to send a message to Iran that we are ready, willing and able to deploy our oil reserves,” the letter says.

And, of course, the plan would banish one of the major obstacles to Obama’s reelection:

Moving to tap the four giant Gulf Coast salt caverns that hold 700 million barrels of government-owned crude would still almost certainly knock global oil futures lower, delivering some relief at the pump for motorists and helping Obama in the November election if he can prevent gasoline from rising above $4 a gallon nationwide.

It would also be an unprecedented exploitation of presidential power for election-year gain. The U.S. has tapped into strategic oil reserves in the past, but only when there have been significant disruptions to the global oil supply – for example, during Desert Storm and Hurricane Katrina. This would be the first case in which the reserves would be used to deal with a politically inconvenient spike in gas prices, CNN reports:

Each case included a major disruption in global oil supply.

The market is tight today, but there is no major supply disruption to speak of.

The real driver of rising prices is geopolitical risk associated with Iran. Concerns over the country’s nuclear program have sparked a new round of sanctions by Western countries, and Iranian retaliation could put a major kink in global crude supply.

But supply isn’t being hit now, making any preemptive release look like an effort to keep the economy on solid footing during an election year.

Not only would this set an alarming precedent, it also carries risks. Dipping into the strategic oil reserves in a non-emergency situation means  there will be less resources in the event of a real, long-term disruption in the global oil market – a possibility that’s not hard to imagine considering the situation in Iran at the moment.

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Reagan and Thatcher, Cameron and Obama

Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

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Ted Bromund’s post about the cringe-producing exchange of jokes between President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron reminded me — in a contrasting way — of the exchange between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher 31 years ago, at a dinner at the British Embassy that capped Thatcher’s February 1980 Washington trip. She was the first foreign visitor during the Reagan administration; Reagan was in his first month and Thatcher in her first year.

The toasts were included in the batch of documents released last year by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, after the required 30-year delay. The exchange featured a good deal of historical humor, and a historical courage that can be more fully appreciated from our vantage point, three decades later. Here are excerpts from the toasts, followed by the concluding portion of Obama’s toast this week to Cameron:

[The Prime Minister]: Mr. President, an earlier visitor to the United States, Charles Dickens, described our American friends as by nature frank, brave, cordial, hospitable, and affectionate. That seems to me, Mr. President, to be a perfect description of the man who has been my host for the last 48 hours. (Applause.) …

Charles Dickens, like me, also visited Capitol Hill. He described the congressmen he met there as “striking to look at, hard to deceive, prompt to act, lions in energy, Americans in strong and general impulse.” Having been there and agreeing with Dickens as I do, I’m delighted to see so many Members of Congress here this evening. And if Dickens was right, relations between the legislative and executive branches should be smooth indeed over the next four years. After all, “prompt to act and lions in energy” should mean, Mr. President, you’ll get that expenditure cutting program through very easily indeed. (Laughter. Applause.) …

California, of course, has always meant a great deal to my countrymen from the time, almost exactly 400 years ago, when one of our greatest national heroes, Sir Francis Drake, proclaimed it New Albion in keeping with the bravado of the Elizabethan Age. This feeling of community and curiosity that we have about California exists in the present age when another of our household names made his career there, one of the greatest careers in show business. I refer to Mr. Bob Hope, who is here this evening, and whom we like to claim is partly ours because he was born in the United Kingdom, though he decided to leave when he was only four years old. (Laughter.) …

I hope you didn’t feel ill at ease as you came up the stairs and passed under the gaze of George III. (Laughter.) I can assure you that we British have long since come to see that George was wrong and that Thomas Jefferson was right when he wrote to James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” (Laughter.) …

It’s not the time, Mr. President, for me to talk at any length about the relations between our two countries except to say that they are profoundly and deeply right. And beyond that, we perhaps don’t have to define them in detail. …

There will, of course, be times, Mr. President, when yours perhaps is the loneliest job in the world, times when you need what one of my great friends in politics once called “two o’clock in the morning courage.” There will be times when you go through rough water. There will be times when the unexpected happens. There will be times when only you can make a certain decision. It is at that time when you need the two o’clock in the morning courage. … And what it requires is a knowledge on your part that whatever decision you make you have to stick with the consequences and see it through until it be well and truly finished. …

I want to say this to you, Mr. President, that when those moments come, we here in this room, on both sides of the Atlantic, have in you total faith that you will make the decision which is right for protecting the liberty of common humanity in the future. You will make that decision that we as partners in the English-speaking world know that, as Wordsworth wrote, “We must be free or die who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.”

[The President]: Bob Hope will know what I mean when I speak in the language of my previous occupation and say you are a hard act to follow. (Laughter. Applause.) … And may I say that I do know something about that “two o’clock courage,” but I also know that you have already shown that two o’clock courage on too many occasions to name. (Applause.) …

[Y]ou know, Prime Minister, that we have a habit of quoting Winston Churchill. Tell me, is it possible to get through a public address today in Britain without making reference to him? It is increasingly difficult to do so here, not just because we Americans share some pride in his ancestry, but because there’s so much to learn from him, his fearlessness, and I don’t just mean physical courage. I mean he was, for instance, unafraid to laugh. I can remember words attributed to Churchill about one somber, straight-laced colleague in Parliament. Churchill said, “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” (Laughter.) …

When he addressed Parliament in the darkest moments after Dunkirk, Churchill dared to promise the British their finest hour and even reminded them that they would someday enjoy, quote, “the bright, sunlit uplands,” unquote, from which the struggle against Hitler would be seen as only a bad memory. Well, Madam Prime Minister, you and I have heard our share of somber assessments and dire predictions in recent months. I do not refer here to the painful business of ending our economic difficulties. We know that with regard to the economies of both our countries we will be home safe and soon enough.

I do refer, however, to those adversaries who preach the supremacy of the state. We’ve all heard the slogans, the end of the class struggle, the vanguard of the proletariat, the wave of the future, the inevitable triumph of socialism. Indeed, if there’s anything the Marxist-Leninists might not be forgiven for it is their willingness to bog the world down in tiresome cliches, cliches that rapidly are being recognized for what they are, a gaggle of bogus prophecies and petty superstitions. … I wonder if you and I and other leaders of the West should not now be looking toward bright, sunlit uplands and begin planning for a world where our adversaries are remembered only for their role in a sad and rather bizarre chapter in human history.

The British people, who nourish the great civilized ideas, know the forces of good ultimately rally and triumph over evil. That, after all, is the legend of the Knights of the Round Table, the legend of the man who lived on Baker Street, the story of London in the Blitz, the meaning of the Union Jack snapping briskly in the wind. Madam Prime Minister, I’ll make one further prediction, that the British people are once again about to pay homage to their beloved Sir Winston by doing him the honor of proving him wrong and showing the world that their finest hour is yet to come, and how he would have loved the irony of that. How proud it would have made him.

At the beginning of his administration, Obama returned Churchill’s bust to Britain, insulted its prime minister on his trip to Washington (with no state dinner nor even a full-blown press conference), gave him a demeaning set of DVDs for a gift, and stayed silent as a State Department official explained “there’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.”

This week, in his toast at the state dinner for Cameron, Obama did not mention Reagan or Thatcher, or what they achieved together. He did, however, mention Churchill:

So, in closing, let me just say that I intended to make history tonight. I thought that I could be the first American President to make it through an entire visit of our British friends without quoting Winston Churchill. (Laughter.) But then I saw this great quote and I thought, “Come on, this is Churchill!” (Laughter.) So I couldn’t resist.

It was December 1941, and the attack on Pearl Harbor had finally thrust America into war, alongside our British friends. And these were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners: “I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.”

And so I’d like to propose a toast:  To Her Majesty the Queen, on her Diamond Jubilee; to our dear friends, David and Samantha; and to the great purpose and design of our alliance. May we remain, now and always, its faithful servants. Cheers, everyone.

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Who Writes This Stuff?

Going from Churchill’s subtle and magisterial “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, on which Seth commented yesterday, to Obama’s remarks at the White House in welcome to David Cameron is like going from Paganini to the village fiddler. Honestly, who writes this stuff? The joke about the British burning the White House in 1814 was funny enough when Tony Blair used it in 2003 in his speech to a joint session of Congress:

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is kind of late, but sorry.

But no joke stays funny if it gets recycled often enough, and a decade later, it’s become a lame and tiresome jest. And yet Obama, that modern master of rhetoric, and Cameron, who must have groaned when he read the script, used it again yesterday. Quoth Obama:

It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.)

This isn’t a presidential welcome – it reads, and it sounded, like a third-rate stand-up comedian living on stolen jokes.

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Going from Churchill’s subtle and magisterial “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, on which Seth commented yesterday, to Obama’s remarks at the White House in welcome to David Cameron is like going from Paganini to the village fiddler. Honestly, who writes this stuff? The joke about the British burning the White House in 1814 was funny enough when Tony Blair used it in 2003 in his speech to a joint session of Congress:

On our way down here, Senator Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where, in 1814, the British had burnt the Congress Library. I know this is kind of late, but sorry.

But no joke stays funny if it gets recycled often enough, and a decade later, it’s become a lame and tiresome jest. And yet Obama, that modern master of rhetoric, and Cameron, who must have groaned when he read the script, used it again yesterday. Quoth Obama:

It’s now been 200 years since the British came here, to the White House – under somewhat different circumstances. (Laughter.) They made quite an impression. (Laughter.) They really lit up the place. (Laughter.)

This isn’t a presidential welcome – it reads, and it sounded, like a third-rate stand-up comedian living on stolen jokes.

And Cameron’s reply was equally cringe-inducing:

So I am a little embarrassed, as I stand here, to think that 200 years ago – (laughter) – my ancestors tried to burn the place down. (Laughter.)  Now, looking around me, I can see you’ve got the place a little better defended today. (Laughter.)  You’re clearly not taking any risks with the Brits this time. (Laughter.)

Please, make it stop.

I decided a long time ago that Obama is only a great speaker if you like him before he opens his mouth. His oratory serves not to persuade, or to inspire, but to affirm. Unlike Churchill, who always presented an argument when he spoke, Obama usually speaks to present a conclusion. If you don’t agree with his conclusion, there’s nothing in his words to make you change your mind, and his reliance on jokey humor in his more informal remarks doesn’t help.

Look – writing welcoming remarks must be a tedious job, and I wouldn’t like to do it for anything. But would it be too much to ask that his speechwriters avoid obvious solecisms? If you’re going to use the tired “the British burned the White House” joke, don’t follow it up, two paragraphs later, with the claim that “through the grand sweep of history, through all its twists and turns, there is one constant – the rock-solid alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.” So, except for the whole burning thing, it’s a constant?

No one is a more enthusiastic supporter of the Anglo-American alliance than I am, and I mean that literally. But it’s just not true that the alliance is a constant. It reflects, yes, shared interests, but it was also made, with considerable effort and by taking real political risks, by leaders like Churchill. That was the point of the speech at Fulton – not to celebrate the war-time alliance, but to make the case for its continuance in the nascent Cold War.

But when Obama says that “the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the strongest that it has ever been,” just after his administration has announced a “strategic pivot” to Asia and refused to back Britain over the Falklands, he’s not taking any risks, or making any effort, for the alliance at all. He’s just talking. And truly great speakers, like Churchill, don’t believe that assertions can substitute for arguments or actions.

 

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Churchill, Truman, and the Origins of a Modern Alliance

In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

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In October 1945, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King came to see Winston and Clementine Churchill at their new London townhouse. Churchill’s party had lost the elections in a landslide earlier in the year, just as Churchill was trying to negotiate postwar Europe at Potsdam. When the butler brought them vodka sent as a gift from Moscow, Clementine told him to throw it out and bring brandy instead.

“King would soon discover the symbolism of this,” writes Philip White, as he recounts the story in his new book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. The symbolism was that Churchill was about to begin in earnest his post-premiership mission: to alert the world of the threat of Soviet Communism and forge a hardy alliance with the United States. Though the speech is among the most famous modern addresses, the background and analysis White offers are valuable. And there are two stories with immediate relevance as British Prime Minister David Cameron spends the day in Washington today with President Obama, awaiting his state dinner tonight.

We remember Harry Truman as a hero and a visionary–and rightly so–but Truman was himself in awe of Churchill. When Truman met Churchill in Missouri, and the two prepared to spend a train ride in conversation, Truman asked Churchill to call him Harry. Churchill said he would, but only if Truman would call him Winston. Truman balked. “I just don’t know if I can do that,” he said. “I have such admiration for you and what you mean, not only to your people, but to this country and the world.”

Humble giants, they were. Today we are lucky to just get the humility from our leaders. The second story is one of nuance–something Churchill wasn’t known for, certainly, but at one point in his famous Fulton speech deployed with utter genius. Here is an otherwise forgettable and forgotten paragraph from the speech:

The president has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom, and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams. Let me however make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see.

In a footnote, White adds that when he discussed that last line with Larry Arnn, the latter pointed out the subtle brilliance of it. As White writes:

What the audience saw was the former prime minister flanked by the president of the United States and his leading advisers. So, if they focused on “nothing” but what was in front of them, they, and Stalin, could not fail to behold unity between Churchill and Truman–and, ergo, Britain and America.

The symbolism of that, too, is important. So is the seemingly insignificant incident of the Obama team’s removal of the bust of Churchill kept in the Oval Office during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama White House explained that “every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.” Indeed they do.

We also have the Obama administration’s failure on two separate occasions to support British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. This is a painfully easy call, and you would have to go out of your way to get it wrong and needlessly insult our allies–which Obama did.

The Republican candidates for president have been critical of the president’s dismissive attitude toward the British, so you might imagine Cameron, leader of his country’s conservatives, would drop them a line to say hello, the way Gordon Brown met with Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election when he came to visit Bush. The Telegraph reports this is not to be the case, though Cameron will be meeting important figures, such as “the actor starring in the American television series ‘Homeland.’” The Telegraph explains:

Downing Street aides insist that there is no “snub” to the Republicans by not meeting the presidential candidates. Senior sources say that the schedule was organized by the White House.

If only Cameron had a scheduler of his own! Or access to a phone. But don’t fault Cameron for his priorities, for although he does not arrive bearing the bust of Winston Churchill or with the promise of support over the Falklands, Obama did give him a lift on Air Force One.

As in 1946, “There is nothing here but what you see.” A bit less inspiring today, however.

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Did Netanyahu’s “Bluff” Bring Obama and the Brits Together?

Israel isn’t the only American ally that was spurned for the first three years of the Obama administration. President Obama made no bones about his disdain for Britain after being elected president. But after making it clear that as far as he was concerned the “special relationship” between the two countries was as unwelcome as that bust of Winston Churchill he chucked out of the Oval Office, the president is finally getting around to making nice with Prime Minister David Cameron, with a state dinner in his honor and a trip with Obama to an NCAA basketball tournament game. Cameron, whom British pundit Melanie Phillips aptly nicknamed “David Obameron” as he shed conservative ideology during his less than scintillating election campaign, wants Obama’s embrace but isn’t too eager to be seen as under American influence as an unpopular war in Afghanistan winds down. But he and the president do seem to have one policy position very much in common: an ardent desire to prevent Israel from attacking Iran.

Along with France, the Brits have been talking much tougher about Iran in the last year than Obama. Under their leadership, the European Union is preparing to embargo Iranian oil, something the United States has not yet committed to. According to the New York Times, Cameron will urge Obama to escalate American support for sanctions on Iran which currently lag behind those imposed by Europe. But one of the main themes of his conclave with Obama appears to center on an almost hysterical fear that Israel will act on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear threat that both the United States and Britain have agreed poses a danger to the world. Britain’s stand on Iran as well as its embrace of the latest diplomatic initiative that would embroil the West in further negotiations with the Islamist regime appear to be motivated primarily by a desire to avoid an Israeli attack at all costs. All of which means that Israel’s signals that it is prepared to strike have at the very least resulted in getting the West to take the issue seriously.

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Israel isn’t the only American ally that was spurned for the first three years of the Obama administration. President Obama made no bones about his disdain for Britain after being elected president. But after making it clear that as far as he was concerned the “special relationship” between the two countries was as unwelcome as that bust of Winston Churchill he chucked out of the Oval Office, the president is finally getting around to making nice with Prime Minister David Cameron, with a state dinner in his honor and a trip with Obama to an NCAA basketball tournament game. Cameron, whom British pundit Melanie Phillips aptly nicknamed “David Obameron” as he shed conservative ideology during his less than scintillating election campaign, wants Obama’s embrace but isn’t too eager to be seen as under American influence as an unpopular war in Afghanistan winds down. But he and the president do seem to have one policy position very much in common: an ardent desire to prevent Israel from attacking Iran.

Along with France, the Brits have been talking much tougher about Iran in the last year than Obama. Under their leadership, the European Union is preparing to embargo Iranian oil, something the United States has not yet committed to. According to the New York Times, Cameron will urge Obama to escalate American support for sanctions on Iran which currently lag behind those imposed by Europe. But one of the main themes of his conclave with Obama appears to center on an almost hysterical fear that Israel will act on its own to forestall an Iranian nuclear threat that both the United States and Britain have agreed poses a danger to the world. Britain’s stand on Iran as well as its embrace of the latest diplomatic initiative that would embroil the West in further negotiations with the Islamist regime appear to be motivated primarily by a desire to avoid an Israeli attack at all costs. All of which means that Israel’s signals that it is prepared to strike have at the very least resulted in getting the West to take the issue seriously.

At this point, it is impossible to argue that absent Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public willingness to contemplate the use of force to end the Iranian nuclear threat the U.S. and the Europeans would have committed themselves to the issue as much as they already have. In Bloomberg today, Jeffrey Goldberg hypothesizes that perhaps this is all the result of a gigantic bluff on Netanyahu’s part. He wonders whether all the speculation about an Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities was just a ploy intended to scare Obama, Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy into doing the right thing. If Goldberg were correct about this, then even Netanyahu’s critics would have to admit his bluff has worked, at least up until this point.

But the problem with that thesis is it is obvious neither Cameron nor Obama are that eager to actually go to the mat with the Iranians on the nuclear issue. Though Israel’s threats have brought the U.S. and the European Union to tiptoe up to the crippling sanctions that might get the attention of the ayatollahs, they have also prepared themselves an escape hatch via negotiations. With Iran having already demonstrated that they regard such talks as nothing more than an excuse to run out the clock while their nuclear program gets closer to the finish line, the question now is whether the West’s commitment to diplomacy is open-ended or not. If it is, then all that will have been accomplished is to have put off an Israeli attack, perhaps beyond the point where success would be possible. Netanyahu knows this and though he is rightly reluctant, as Goldberg insists, to pull the trigger on an attack, he may be forced to do so sooner or later because the West’s strategy of sanctions and diplomacy is unlikely to succeed.

Bluff or not, Netanyahu has brought the United States and Britain together at least for now. Whether their alarm at the prospect of Israel defending itself will lead to any real action to stop Iran — as opposed to posturing intended to prevent Israeli action — is yet to be seen.

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Britain Shows No Sign of Shaking Addiction to Debt, Taxes and Regulations

With British Prime Minister David Cameron’s impending state visit next week, we can expect to hear a good deal about – though see nothing very much done about – Afghanistan, the NATO Summit, Libya, and Syria. But we’re also likely to get a smattering of commentary about Britain’s parlous fiscal position. If we’re lucky, the media will talk about “Tory spending cuts.” If we’re really lucky, they’ll call them “savage.”

Writ large, it’s useful to remember one thing about these spending cuts: they don’t exist. While some departments have indeed been trimmed, others – such as debt interest, healthcare spending, foreign aid, and contributions to the EU– have expanded. The net result is that state spending in Britain has not been cut – it is still going up. Most of the noise about cuts – nay, even savage cuts – simply reflects the media’s and the left’s definition of austerity, which they understand as meaning any increase that is not as large as they wish, or as a previous government had planned.

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With British Prime Minister David Cameron’s impending state visit next week, we can expect to hear a good deal about – though see nothing very much done about – Afghanistan, the NATO Summit, Libya, and Syria. But we’re also likely to get a smattering of commentary about Britain’s parlous fiscal position. If we’re lucky, the media will talk about “Tory spending cuts.” If we’re really lucky, they’ll call them “savage.”

Writ large, it’s useful to remember one thing about these spending cuts: they don’t exist. While some departments have indeed been trimmed, others – such as debt interest, healthcare spending, foreign aid, and contributions to the EU– have expanded. The net result is that state spending in Britain has not been cut – it is still going up. Most of the noise about cuts – nay, even savage cuts – simply reflects the media’s and the left’s definition of austerity, which they understand as meaning any increase that is not as large as they wish, or as a previous government had planned.

In Britain’s CityAM business newspaper, entrepreneur Alex Cheatle offers an increasingly common complaint: the Conservative led coalition government talks a good game on promoting growth, but it does too little. And that is the sad truth. Or almost the sad truth.  The full sad truth is that what few actions the government has taken have almost uniformly made matters worse. When the government came into power in 2010, its priority was to restore order to Britain’s finances. Given the course of events in Greece, Italy, and France, among others, that was a sensible point of emphasis. Unfortunately, it took the IMF-approved green-eyeshade bean-counter approach – an approach highly congenial to the Liberal Democrats, for entirely different reasons.  Thus, they decided that taxes needed to go up, while regulations could not go down. In a nation where the World Economic Forum finds that most problematic factors for business include high tax rates, an inefficient government, tax regulations, and a restrictive labor market, and where Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom charts similar problems, that was a bad decision.

In February, the Institute for Fiscal Studies announced the unsurprising results: cuts to non-investment spending are by 2016-17 supposed to do almost 50 percent of the work of bringing Britain’s budget into balance, but only 6 percent of those cuts have actually happened. Cuts to benefits are supposed to contribute just shy of 15 percent of the total effort: only 12 percent of those cuts have happened. The only area where the government has showed a Stakhanovite commitment to carrying through on fiscal consolidation is, predictably, in the realm of taxation, which was supposed to contribute 20 percent of the consolidation, 73 percent of which has already happened. The net result is this: overall, Britain has barely slowed the growth in spending, and though some reforms in the realms of education and welfare are promising, there has been no bonfire of controls on the supply side. Instead, in the teeth of a fragile economy, Britain has persisted in doing the one thing that governments are really good at: raising taxes. In the circumstances, it is not surprising the British economy is doing poorly.

In recent days, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne made headlines by stating bluntly that “The British Government has run out of money.” The U.K. offers an object lesson in the fact that, if you make enough bad choices, you soon get to a point where, as Osborne recognizes, there are no attractive choices left. With almost all the tough cuts left to make, the political road for the coalition looks as rocky as the economic path of a nation that shows no sign of shaking its addiction to debt, taxes, and regulation. So when Cameron comes calling, anyone who talks about savage Tory cuts should be met with a sigh, and a muttered “if only.”

 

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Britain’s “Isolation”

One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.

I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.

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One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.

I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.

Another small mystery is why David Cameron’s rejection of the fiscal union has touched off such a firestorm of contempt among the intelligentsia. “Britain isolated!” shriek the FT, the New York Times, and virtually ever other organ of the wise and the great, who in their smug wisdom declared the Euro a sure thing a decade ago. These claims about isolation are, frankly, nonsense. Britain is no more isolated than Canada. Britain is a member of the world’s foremost security alliance, NATO, and of its foremost trading organization, the WTO, as well as a myriad of other institutions. It is obviously less “isolated” than Norway or Switzerland. The only way Britain is isolated is if the EU is the world, which gives you a pretty clear sense of how Europhiles think about Brussels. What’s less clear is why anyone else should adopt that delusion.

The paradox of David Cameron is that, having devoted the better part of a decade to trying to get the Tory Party to shut up about Europe, at the cost of considerable unhappiness among a lot of Tory MPs, he now finds his popularity soaring because he stood up to Europe. The bounce in the YouGov polling from December 7 to December 13 is a nine point swing, about the same as Obama got when bin Laden was killed. There’s a slogan for you: “The EU: Now as popular in Britain as Osama!” Unfortunately, Cameron has never understood that Europe is not an issue merely because crazy Tories talk about it. It’s an issue because Europe is, actually, an issue. It’s not frequently a salient issue, and there is something to be said for Cameron’s belief that rambling on about Europe at all times is not the way to win elections, but if there was ever a moment for Cameron to tack right and hold a referendum repatriating powers from Brussels, this is that moment.

To me, the funniest – and most revealing – part of the entire affair is the argument that Britain will suffer for its “isolation.” The nicer version of the argument holds that the EU is about to make a lot of rules – or, to be more exact, about to make even more rules – that will be bad for Britain, and Britain needs to be at the table to mitigate the damage they’ll do. The less nice version of the argument is that the EU, long generous and forbearing towards an ever-wayward Britain, will now lose patience and wreak a mighty vengeance upon it. Given the EU’s current difficulties, this makes me chuckle. No matter which version of the argument is proffered, though, it comes down to the underlying assumption that the EU is akin to a hostage-taker who punishes disobedience by his captives. That may be so. But if it is so, why stick around at all?

Because Britain needs to keep on contributing a net billions of pounds to the EU? Because, in a WTO world, it fears trade discrimination? Because Europe, desperate to sell its debt and attract investment, is going to shut out the City of London? Because Britain needs the regulatory burden the EU imposes, or wants to be part of Europe’s mini-reset with Russia? The problem with the semi-disguised threats the EU’s self-proclaimed friends in Britain (and the U.S.) are now dispensing is they tend to suggest that Cameron has not yet gone nearly far enough.

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British Pol Echoes CAIR Talking Point About Islamists

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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RE: Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

I entirely agree with Pete that conservatives must get serious about federal spending, à la David Cameron. And a wholesale reduction in the number of government agencies, boards, commissions, etc., a major part of Cameron’s program, would be a great place to start.

But I’m reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh, Lord, make me good, but not yet.”  To be sure, I have a shorter time frame in mind than the author of The City of God, to wit, two weeks. In a sound-bite and attack-ad age, a proposal to gore some particular interest group’s ox right before an election can be fatal, especially if there is not time to effectively respond. And it is always easier to attack than defend in a 30-second ad.

On Fox News Sunday this week, Carly Fiorina rightly resisted Chris Wallace’s repeated attempts to get her to be specific on how she would cut federal spending. Had she mentioned, say, reforming the federal school-lunch program, Barbara Boxer would have had an ad on the air in 24 hours saying, “Do you want children starving in the streets? Then vote for Fiorina!” Several Republican candidates have been hammered recently for having had nice things to say regarding the so-called fair tax, which would abolish the personal income tax and substitute a 23 percent sales tax. The ads being run against them, of course, mention the 23 percent hike in prices that would be the result, without mentioning the fact that paychecks would increase dramatically with the end of withholding.

So I recommend getting serious immediately after the election. That’s when Cameron got serious. As the late Mo Udall was fond of saying when he was running for the Democratic nomination in 1976, “It takes two things to be a great president. First, you have to be great. Second, you have to be president.”

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Time for Conservatives to Get Serious About Fiscal Responsibility

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Tomorrow Prime Minister David Cameron, who heads a coalition government, is expected to announce the results of a Comprehensive Spending Review of all government expenditures — a review that will result in unprecedented cuts. The goal is to slash the budget deficit from over 10 percent of GDP to almost zero in five years — and in the process to (a) reduce the “crowding out” effect of big government, (b) restore market confidence in government finances, and (c) encourage private business to invest and hire people, which will in turn fuel economic growth.

The cuts in public spending will probably exceed anything either Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or President Reagan ever attempted.

In the past, David Cameron was chided by some American conservatives for being a faux conservative because of his stands on the environment, the National Health Service, and social issues like gay rights (see David Frum’s fine commentary here). But facing the preeminent domestic threat to the West these days — unsustainable budget deficits and the amassing debt – Cameron is wielding a budget axe. Unlike, say, David Stockman, it’s not something Cameron seemed terribly eager to do; he envisioned himself in a different role. But to Cameron’s credit, he is facing reality in a far more responsible manner than the president of the United States, who has made things considerably worse with his spending agenda (President Obama has added $3 trillion to the debt in his first two years in office).

In the end, the truest measure of how serious American conservatives are about governing will be how they address the entitlement crisis. Will they follow the path charted by David Cameron (with the caveat that the UK’s fiscal problems are somewhat different in scope and nature from ours)? Or will they wilt when it comes to reforming entitlement programs by raising the retirement age (for people under 55), tying benefits to prices rather than to wages, means-testing Social Security and Medicare, and turning Medicare into a defined contribution (instead of a defined benefit) program (see here).

Having served in three different administrations, I realize that dealing with entitlements is not an easy task. Republicans need to put forward plans that are gradual, responsible, and prudent. Impaling itself on entitlement reform is not a reasonable demand to make of a political party. Nevertheless, there needs to be a governing strategy that gets America from where we are (an unsustainable fiscal path) to where we need to be (reconfiguring entitlements).

That will need to be done incrementally rather than all at once. But what the Republican Party cannot do is to speak endlessly about the virtues of limited government and the need to cut spending in the abstract — but avoid the hard choices in the particulars. Sooner rather than later, the GOP is going to have to address head on this issue of entitlements (as Representative Paul Ryan has done). Failing to do so would damage its credibility, its cause (conservatism), and its claim that it is serious about fiscal responsibility.

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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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Inconvenient Facts About Israel

George Will has been on a roll when it comes to Israel and debunking the Israel-haters. He’s not Jewish, and he’s no neocon, so this may be hard to explain for the “Israel Lobby” hysterics. Actually, he’s just looked at the facts:

In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis. As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America’s eight years in Vietnam. During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take “risks for peace.”

Yes, that’s a phrase thrown around by those living thousands of miles away, whose biggest problem is how to convince the public that their uninterrupted criticism of the Jewish state is just “tough love.”

There are some inescapable, stubborn facts, which Will highlights. (“Israelis are famously fractious, but the intifada produced among them a consensus that the most any government of theirs could offer without forfeiting domestic support is less than any Palestinian interlocutor would demand. Furthermore, the intifada was part of a pattern. As in 1936 and 1947, talk about partition prompted Arab violence.”) You can understand why Obama left such details out of his Cairo speech.

Will is right when he argues:

Palestine has a seemingly limitless capacity for eliciting nonsense from afar, as it did recently when British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Gaza as a ‘prison camp.’ In a sense it is, but not in the sense Cameron intended. His implication was that Israel is the cruel imprisoner. Gaza’s actual misfortune is to be under the iron fist of Hamas, a terrorist organization.

In May, a flotilla launched from Turkey approached Gaza in order to provoke a confrontation with Israel, which, like Egypt, administers a blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. The flotilla’s pretense was humanitarian relief for Gaza — where the infant mortality rate is lower and life expectancy is higher than in Turkey.

But these are more inconvenient facts, which neither the administration nor the anti-Israel left (and certainly not the “international community”) cares much about. That, in a sense, is the real tragedy of Obama’s Muslim outreach. At a time when he did command the international and national stage, when Americans and the world had not figured out that there was less to him than meets the eye, when he could have injected some realism into the Middle East, when he could have elucidated the Wahhabists tentacles seeking to strangle Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and when he could have begun to wean the Palestinians from their victimology and rejectionism, he instead misrepresented history, ignored the evidence, turned a blind eye toward Islamic human-rights abusers, and encouraged anti-Israel animosity. (Who can resist the urge to attack a Jewish state “condemned” by the U.S.?)

Will concludes:

In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called “the Arab world,” Israelis have never known an hour of real peace. Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.

That’s actually an apt description for the administration’s Middle East policy.

George Will has been on a roll when it comes to Israel and debunking the Israel-haters. He’s not Jewish, and he’s no neocon, so this may be hard to explain for the “Israel Lobby” hysterics. Actually, he’s just looked at the facts:

In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis. As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America’s eight years in Vietnam. During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take “risks for peace.”

Yes, that’s a phrase thrown around by those living thousands of miles away, whose biggest problem is how to convince the public that their uninterrupted criticism of the Jewish state is just “tough love.”

There are some inescapable, stubborn facts, which Will highlights. (“Israelis are famously fractious, but the intifada produced among them a consensus that the most any government of theirs could offer without forfeiting domestic support is less than any Palestinian interlocutor would demand. Furthermore, the intifada was part of a pattern. As in 1936 and 1947, talk about partition prompted Arab violence.”) You can understand why Obama left such details out of his Cairo speech.

Will is right when he argues:

Palestine has a seemingly limitless capacity for eliciting nonsense from afar, as it did recently when British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Gaza as a ‘prison camp.’ In a sense it is, but not in the sense Cameron intended. His implication was that Israel is the cruel imprisoner. Gaza’s actual misfortune is to be under the iron fist of Hamas, a terrorist organization.

In May, a flotilla launched from Turkey approached Gaza in order to provoke a confrontation with Israel, which, like Egypt, administers a blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. The flotilla’s pretense was humanitarian relief for Gaza — where the infant mortality rate is lower and life expectancy is higher than in Turkey.

But these are more inconvenient facts, which neither the administration nor the anti-Israel left (and certainly not the “international community”) cares much about. That, in a sense, is the real tragedy of Obama’s Muslim outreach. At a time when he did command the international and national stage, when Americans and the world had not figured out that there was less to him than meets the eye, when he could have injected some realism into the Middle East, when he could have elucidated the Wahhabists tentacles seeking to strangle Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and when he could have begun to wean the Palestinians from their victimology and rejectionism, he instead misrepresented history, ignored the evidence, turned a blind eye toward Islamic human-rights abusers, and encouraged anti-Israel animosity. (Who can resist the urge to attack a Jewish state “condemned” by the U.S.?)

Will concludes:

In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called “the Arab world,” Israelis have never known an hour of real peace. Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.

That’s actually an apt description for the administration’s Middle East policy.

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Turkey and the Other MIT

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization is known by the initials for its Turkish name: MIT.  It has focused for decades on internal security, but its recently appointed director, 42-year-old Hakan Fidan, intends to change that. A University of Maryland graduate, Fidan had multiple NATO assignments during his military career and wrote a doctoral thesis comparing Turkey’s foreign intelligence with America’s and Britain’s. He’s a long-time intimate of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the architect of Erdogan’s regional outreach policy.

In many ways, Fidan is an emblem of Turkey’s foot in the West. But peel back the veneer a little, and he also symbolizes Turkey’s unique position straddling East and West. Before assuming his post at MIT in June, Fidan was deeply involved in Turkey’s efforts to broker agreements on Iran’s nuclear program. Observers describe him variously as having “close knowledge” of Iran and being an admirer and supporter of the Islamic Republic. Government sources in Israel are reportedly concerned that he has been instrumental in souring ties between Ankara and Jerusalem and that he may have been a key government player behind the Turkish-sponsored May flotilla. Meanwhile, Turkey’s military — long the guardian of “Kemalist” secularism at the pinnacle of national power — views him with misgiving as an Islamist, like Erdogan, whose control of domestic intelligence will consolidate the ruling AKP’s growing hold on the courts, media, and civil communications. Comparisons of Fidan with the intelligence-service henchmen of 20th-century totalitarians can’t help but arise.

Given these trends, Michael Rubin wonders at NRO if it’s a good idea to put a new missile-defense radar in Turkey and sell the Turks the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there appears to be a more immediate vulnerability opening up, with this weekend’s news that Turkey and Iran will be sharing “real-time intelligence” on Kurdish separatists. In the intelligence world, this is a major advance in information sharing. It implies a daily routine: a means of constant communication involving low- or mid-level functionaries. The routine is certain to be administered, moreover, through closer ties between the two intelligence services: regular meetings, exchanges of personnel, ministerial-level interest in the product at both ends of the exchange pipeline.

Western intelligence professionals should recognize opportunity here along with danger. It might not be a bad thing to have a NATO ally in privileged contact with Iran’s intelligence service. But making use of such a connection requires a clear-headed, unsentimental approach, one that must start with the premise that Turkey’s loyalties are already divided.

It should be obvious at this point that they are; or, more accurately, that Erdogan’s loyalty is to a vision of a resurgent Turkey that wields an increasing influence in both the East and the West. But it shouldn’t surprise us that Erdogan’s Turkey is out for itself. There is nothing to be gained from addressing Turkey in a fatuous manner, as Obama and the U.K.’s David Cameron both have, but neither would it be wise to repudiate Turkey for its emerging connections to the East. The U.S. and our European allies should continue to be more interesting and rewarding partners than Russia or Iran; we should encourage liberalism and the modern legacy of secular government in Turkey; and we should firmly separate the issues of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs from our relations with Turkey and resist any efforts by the Erdogan government to meld them together.

Meanwhile, for each of our regional security arrangements in which Turkey has a featured role (e.g., the missile-defense radar), we should have a backup plan.

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Prime Minister Cameron’s Slander Against Israel

In a speech in Ankara, Turkey, British Prime Minister David Cameron said this:

I know that Gaza has led to real strains in Turkey ‘s relationship with Israel. But Turkey is a friend of Israel. And I urge Turkey, and Israel, not to give up on that friendship. Let me be clear. The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told PM Netanyahu, we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp. But as, hopefully, we move in the coming weeks to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians so it’s Turkey that can make the case for peace and Turkey that can help to press the parties to come together, and point the way to a just and viable solution.

Prime Minister Cameron’s claim that the “Israeli attack” on the Gaza flotilla was “completely unacceptable” is utter nonsense. As I argued at the time:

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt , by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

All of these facts are highly relevant, yet Cameron mentions none of them. I wonder why.

As for Gaza being a “prison camp”: if that’s what it is, Gaza is a prison camp of the Palestinian leadership’s own making.

It cannot be said often enough: in 2005, Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — in unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza — did for the Palestinians what the Turks (and, among others, the British, Egyptians, and Jordanian rulers of Palestine) never did: it granted them sovereign control in Gaza (see more here). Rather than build a peaceful and prosperous state, however, Hamas — which seized control of Gaza — decided to launch thousands of rocket and mortar attacks against unarmed Israelis. Israel responded as any sane, sovereign state would with measures including a blockade. Yet Cameron has no words of condemnation for Hamas. This sounds like midsummer madness.

The truth Cameron cannot abide is that the responsibility for the suffering in Gaza lies not with the Israelis but with Hamas and the Palestinians. And for the Prime Minister of Great Britain not only to deny this truth but also to engage in a smear of an estimable and admirable nation like Israel — all to establish a “new partnership” between Britain and Turkey and, in the process, to win applause from Turkey’s increasingly radicalized leadership — is troubling and disappointing. Prime Minister Cameron’s approach is morally offensive and strategically foolish.

On this matter at least, the British prime minister knows not of what he speaks.

In a speech in Ankara, Turkey, British Prime Minister David Cameron said this:

I know that Gaza has led to real strains in Turkey ‘s relationship with Israel. But Turkey is a friend of Israel. And I urge Turkey, and Israel, not to give up on that friendship. Let me be clear. The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told PM Netanyahu, we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp. But as, hopefully, we move in the coming weeks to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians so it’s Turkey that can make the case for peace and Turkey that can help to press the parties to come together, and point the way to a just and viable solution.

Prime Minister Cameron’s claim that the “Israeli attack” on the Gaza flotilla was “completely unacceptable” is utter nonsense. As I argued at the time:

The blockade was justified by international law. (Egypt , by the way, had also imposed a blockade on Gaza because of the threat from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which illegally seized control of Gaza in 2007.) The Israeli navy first tried to warn the ships off verbally. The “peace activist” on board assaulted Israeli commandos (who were armed with paintball guns) with clubs, knives, metal pipes, stun grenades, and handguns; it turns out that many of them were recruited specifically to attack Israeli soldiers. The “humanitarian relief” the flotilla was supposedly bringing to Palestinians in Gaza was in fact no such thing (food, medicine, relief supplies, and electricity continue to pour into Gaza on a daily basis). And the “charity” that helped organize the flotilla was in fact the radical Turkish group IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which has longstanding ties to Hamas and the global jihadist movement. Yet somehow, some way, it is Israel that is condemned when it acts in its own self-defense.

All of these facts are highly relevant, yet Cameron mentions none of them. I wonder why.

As for Gaza being a “prison camp”: if that’s what it is, Gaza is a prison camp of the Palestinian leadership’s own making.

It cannot be said often enough: in 2005, Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — in unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza — did for the Palestinians what the Turks (and, among others, the British, Egyptians, and Jordanian rulers of Palestine) never did: it granted them sovereign control in Gaza (see more here). Rather than build a peaceful and prosperous state, however, Hamas — which seized control of Gaza — decided to launch thousands of rocket and mortar attacks against unarmed Israelis. Israel responded as any sane, sovereign state would with measures including a blockade. Yet Cameron has no words of condemnation for Hamas. This sounds like midsummer madness.

The truth Cameron cannot abide is that the responsibility for the suffering in Gaza lies not with the Israelis but with Hamas and the Palestinians. And for the Prime Minister of Great Britain not only to deny this truth but also to engage in a smear of an estimable and admirable nation like Israel — all to establish a “new partnership” between Britain and Turkey and, in the process, to win applause from Turkey’s increasingly radicalized leadership — is troubling and disappointing. Prime Minister Cameron’s approach is morally offensive and strategically foolish.

On this matter at least, the British prime minister knows not of what he speaks.

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Can Americans Count on the New Brit Coalition?

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

While one of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been the trashing of the formerly “special” relationship between the United States and Britain, it is interesting to speculate what would happen in the event that Washington really needed London’s help. While Gordon Brown’s Labour government could be relied upon as America’s pal in a pinch even if Obama treated the dour Scot like a dog, what would be the reaction from the coalition duo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg to a call for assistance from Obama, especially in the not-altogether-unlikely event of a crisis in the Middle East, involving Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

That’s the question Daniella Peled asks in today’s Guardian. Her answer is that it is far from certain how the new British coalition will respond. The problem lies in the competing agendas of the two parties as well as in their differing attitudes toward the United States.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Cameron has already demonstrated how desperate he is to buddy up with Obama, and the president, who clearly didn’t think much of Brown, isn’t averse to a warmer friendship with the new UK leader. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron is eager to become the junior partner on foreign-policy initiatives to the Americans that Tony Blair was, even if the current resident of the White House is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush. As for the Conservative Party itself, Peled quotes one party leader as saying “we’re just not that interested” in the Middle East one way or another.

Their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, however, have a very different attitude toward foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. The Lib-Dems want to distance the United Kingdom from America even more than Obama wants to distance the United States from Israel. Not only are they unhappy about continuing to fight the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; they are also virulently anti-Israel. All of which means that the Lib-Dems are unlikely to support any measures intended to seriously pressure Iran on the nuclear issue. As Peled states, this means there is a huge potential for conflict within the new government on key foreign-policy issues.

However, the notion that the new UK coalition will crack up over a 3 a.m. request from Obama to assist a strike on Iran is more fantasy than anything else. The Obama administration is more likely to learn to live with a nuclear Iran than to fight to remove the existential threat against Israel and the destabilization of the region. And for all of his desire to cozy up to Obama, Cameron’s desire to hold on to his place at No. 10 Downing Street probably outweighs anything else.

But even if we take such an apocalyptic scenario out of the discussion, there is no question that even a White House as devoted to multilateralism and engagement as that of Obama must understand that the new British government cannot be considered as reliable an ally as its predecessor. Neither the Tories nor the Lib-Dems aren’t interested in being portrayed as Obama’s poodles. Nor do they care much about Iran, Hezbollah, or Hamas. For all of his disdain for Gordon Brown, there may come a day when Barack Obama will wish the special relationship he helped destroy could be brought back to life.

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The Worst Brit PM: Loser of the Colonies or Appeaser of Hitler?

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

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Iran Disarray: What Happens When Multilateralism Runs Amok

Obama’s fetish for multilateralism and nuclear nonproliferation reached the inevitable and farcical result that any policy which ascribes good motives to evil regimes must. Obama — if we take him at his word — suggests that multilateral institutions like the UN and paper agreements among democratic regimes will have an impact on the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons. But neither those institutions or those scraps of paper are up to the task. Rather, they provide ample room for the mullahs and their genocide-cheering president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to run circles around the Obami. As Bret Stephens notes of the UN:

As for the effect of the administration’s gesture politics, it probably hasn’t been what Mr. Obama envisioned. A biting U.N. sanctions resolution on Iran is nowhere in sight. The regime’s nuclear bids proceed undeterred. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are openly entertaining doubts about U.S. seriousness—while entertaining nuclear futures of their own.

[I]t turns out that when it comes to a U.N. beauty contest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beats Barack Obama every time. Twenty-four countries walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday. Another 168 remained in their seats, including those virtuous Scandinavians.

And of course the administration contributes to the mullahs’ aura of legitimacy and to Israel’s pariah status in that august body by remaining silent as Iran joins UN bodies without U.S. objection and Obama entertains the possibility of an abstention on a resolution that would vilify Israel for building homes in its capital.

When it comes to the NPT, once again, Iran seems to get the better of the deal:

Now Iran, in connivance with the usual Middle Eastern suspects (and their useful idiots in the West), is trying to use the NPT as a cudgel to force Israel to disarm. That makes perfect sense if you subscribe, as Mr. Obama does, to the theology of nuclear disarmament. It makes no sense if you think the distinction that matters when it comes to nuclear weapons is between responsible, democratic states, and reckless, unstable and dictatorial ones. Nobody lies awake at night wondering what David Cameron might do if he gets his finger on the U.K.’s nuclear trigger.

There is no mystery as to why our Iran policy is in disarray. It is what happens when we cast off the instruments of American power, place faith in international bodies that don’t share common interests or values, and assume our adversaries will respond to grand gestures and acts of goodwill.

Obama’s fetish for multilateralism and nuclear nonproliferation reached the inevitable and farcical result that any policy which ascribes good motives to evil regimes must. Obama — if we take him at his word — suggests that multilateral institutions like the UN and paper agreements among democratic regimes will have an impact on the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons. But neither those institutions or those scraps of paper are up to the task. Rather, they provide ample room for the mullahs and their genocide-cheering president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to run circles around the Obami. As Bret Stephens notes of the UN:

As for the effect of the administration’s gesture politics, it probably hasn’t been what Mr. Obama envisioned. A biting U.N. sanctions resolution on Iran is nowhere in sight. The regime’s nuclear bids proceed undeterred. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are openly entertaining doubts about U.S. seriousness—while entertaining nuclear futures of their own.

[I]t turns out that when it comes to a U.N. beauty contest, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beats Barack Obama every time. Twenty-four countries walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday. Another 168 remained in their seats, including those virtuous Scandinavians.

And of course the administration contributes to the mullahs’ aura of legitimacy and to Israel’s pariah status in that august body by remaining silent as Iran joins UN bodies without U.S. objection and Obama entertains the possibility of an abstention on a resolution that would vilify Israel for building homes in its capital.

When it comes to the NPT, once again, Iran seems to get the better of the deal:

Now Iran, in connivance with the usual Middle Eastern suspects (and their useful idiots in the West), is trying to use the NPT as a cudgel to force Israel to disarm. That makes perfect sense if you subscribe, as Mr. Obama does, to the theology of nuclear disarmament. It makes no sense if you think the distinction that matters when it comes to nuclear weapons is between responsible, democratic states, and reckless, unstable and dictatorial ones. Nobody lies awake at night wondering what David Cameron might do if he gets his finger on the U.K.’s nuclear trigger.

There is no mystery as to why our Iran policy is in disarray. It is what happens when we cast off the instruments of American power, place faith in international bodies that don’t share common interests or values, and assume our adversaries will respond to grand gestures and acts of goodwill.

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Not Your Father’s Tories

In the British general election to be held on Thursday, the latest polls show the Conservative Party in the lead. Normally, that would gladden the hearts of American conservatives, who have long regarded the Tories as their closest compatriots overseas. But this is not your father’s Conservative Party. It has been remade as a “centrist” (i.e., liberal) party by David Cameron. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of defense. The Tories have been opportunistically attacking the Labor government for not doing enough for the troops. But what are the Tories going to do? If this Reuters report is to be believed, they will slash defense spending, which is already too low, to meet British commitments around the world:

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in London has said the most optimistic scenario would mean the Ministry of Defense could face a cut in its budget of around 11 percent in real terms over the six years to 2016/17.

The Tories claim they can make such cuts while enhancing military capabilities by slashing wasteful spending. Count me as skeptical. The British defense budget has already been cut to the bone, with the Royal Navy down to its lowest size in centuries. There is a desperate need to spend more — not less. If the Conservatives carry out this catastrophic program, it will have serious repercussions for the U.S. because we will be able to count on even less support from our closest ally. That, in turn, will mean more unilateral operations in places like Afghanistan.

In the British general election to be held on Thursday, the latest polls show the Conservative Party in the lead. Normally, that would gladden the hearts of American conservatives, who have long regarded the Tories as their closest compatriots overseas. But this is not your father’s Conservative Party. It has been remade as a “centrist” (i.e., liberal) party by David Cameron. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of defense. The Tories have been opportunistically attacking the Labor government for not doing enough for the troops. But what are the Tories going to do? If this Reuters report is to be believed, they will slash defense spending, which is already too low, to meet British commitments around the world:

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in London has said the most optimistic scenario would mean the Ministry of Defense could face a cut in its budget of around 11 percent in real terms over the six years to 2016/17.

The Tories claim they can make such cuts while enhancing military capabilities by slashing wasteful spending. Count me as skeptical. The British defense budget has already been cut to the bone, with the Royal Navy down to its lowest size in centuries. There is a desperate need to spend more — not less. If the Conservatives carry out this catastrophic program, it will have serious repercussions for the U.S. because we will be able to count on even less support from our closest ally. That, in turn, will mean more unilateral operations in places like Afghanistan.

Read Less




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