Commentary Magazine


Topic: foreign policy

Why Hillary Must Run Away From Foreign Policy

There was something missing from Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy. Though she ran in 2008 as the adult who could be trusted to take a 3 a.m. crisis call and the most substantive item on her long resume is her term as secretary of state, nary a mention was made of foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this strikes her team as a smart strategy, but the most important is the fact that at a time when the world looks to be falling apart, her ineffectual frequent-flyer routine during her tenure at the State Department is a good argument for voting against Clinton, not voting for her.

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There was something missing from Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy. Though she ran in 2008 as the adult who could be trusted to take a 3 a.m. crisis call and the most substantive item on her long resume is her term as secretary of state, nary a mention was made of foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this strikes her team as a smart strategy, but the most important is the fact that at a time when the world looks to be falling apart, her ineffectual frequent-flyer routine during her tenure at the State Department is a good argument for voting against Clinton, not voting for her.

As John wrote earlier, Clinton’s expected $2 billion dollar election blitz is starting off with a mom and apple pie routine that is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “morning in America” campaign. Americans like their leaders to be optimists, not downers who are constantly telling us we’re doomed (note to file for Rand Paul). It’s also a safe play for someone with no serious competition for her party’s nomination.

Nevertheless, the emphasis on economic issues and income inequality is more than just a bow in the direction of the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. It’s an insurance policy aimed at ensuring that the one person who could derail her coronation in the summer of 2016 at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia doesn’t run: Senator Elizabeth Warren. The liberal activist core is clamoring for a challenge to Clinton, a candidate they don’t trust, but in the absence of a credible challenger, she’ll be able to devote her campaign war chest to demonizing the top Republican challengers.

But in spite of these good reasons to stick to domestic issues, the complete absence of even a mention of foreign policy at a time with the Middle East in crisis, terrorism surging, Russia threatening the independence of Ukraine and the Baltic states, and President Obama fully engaged in selling his nuclear deal with Iran is remarkable.

The irony here must be difficult for Clinton to accept. Her personal approval ratings were never higher than during her four years at State, but the mere mention of her tenure there is embarrassing.

Above all, it is a reminder that although Clinton would like to be able to fully engage the same voters that turned out in droves to elect and reelect Barack Obama, she doesn’t necessarily want to remind voters that she was supposedly in charge of administration foreign policy for four years. Running for a third term of an incumbent president would be a difficult task for even a skilled retail politician, but Hillary has shown us repeatedly that this is not her strength. As I wrote yesterday, running for the third term of either Obama or her husband is a thankless task that complicates her efforts rather than easing her path to the presidency.

Though she boasts of her international advocacy for women and girls, the record on most other substantive topics is dismal. The comical “reset” with Russia was the prelude to Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. In the Middle East, Clinton presided over a policy that neglected a war-torn Syria and bugged out of Iraq enabling the rise of ISIS. And that’s not mentioning the debacle in Libya (the one example where Clinton’s alleged advocacy of a more muscular foreign policy was heeded) and the catastrophe in Benghazi that still hangs over her reputation. Being in the room with Obama when Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs won’t be enough to burnish her reputation at a time when it is clear that the president’s boasts about the end of al-Qaeda were false.

Ignoring foreign policy is also a way to escape having to take a stand on Obama’s appeasement of Iran. Iran is a tricky question for a politician who is simultaneously seeking to wrap up the liberal base and appeal to general-election voters. She can’t oppose the president but she also doesn’t want to appear as an extension of his efforts since that damages her ability to present herself as something new, even though she is very much yesterday’s news.

Clinton is correct if she thinks that bread-and-butter issues are always going to influence more voters than foreign affairs even in a time of crisis. But 2016 looks to be more of a foreign-policy election than most and that puts the former first lady at a distinct disadvantage because it is the one area where her record can be taken apart.

The putative Democratic candidate must, like GOP contender Rand Paul, pray that the next year brings no new crises and things become quieter in the war against ISIS and the confrontation with Iranian-backed terrorists in the region. But if not, she’s in trouble. Clinton may try to run away from foreign policy in the next year and a half, but she won’t be able to hide from it.

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Jeb’s Identity Crisis Fuels Rubio Challenge

According to the New York Times, it’s a tale of Shakespearean dimensions. The decision of Senator Marco Rubio to run for the presidency rather than defer to the candidacy of his onetime mentor and close friend Jeb Bush is depicted as a tragedy for those Floridians who know and like both of them. Two men, one older and one younger, united by their conservative principles and belief in reform of big liberal government are now locked in what may prove to be a bitter battle that may, in the heat of what promises to be a long hard fight, eventually turn into a personal grudge match. That’s one way to look at it and no one should doubt that the competing narratives of a young man who wouldn’t wait his turn or an older one whose time and family dynasty is part of the past rather than future is a big part of the story. But there’s another, perhaps more important way to understand why Rubio felt there was no reason to defer to Bush: the latter’s identity crisis has left many Republicans wondering why, other than a chance to fulfill family destiny, he is running at all.

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According to the New York Times, it’s a tale of Shakespearean dimensions. The decision of Senator Marco Rubio to run for the presidency rather than defer to the candidacy of his onetime mentor and close friend Jeb Bush is depicted as a tragedy for those Floridians who know and like both of them. Two men, one older and one younger, united by their conservative principles and belief in reform of big liberal government are now locked in what may prove to be a bitter battle that may, in the heat of what promises to be a long hard fight, eventually turn into a personal grudge match. That’s one way to look at it and no one should doubt that the competing narratives of a young man who wouldn’t wait his turn or an older one whose time and family dynasty is part of the past rather than future is a big part of the story. But there’s another, perhaps more important way to understand why Rubio felt there was no reason to defer to Bush: the latter’s identity crisis has left many Republicans wondering why, other than a chance to fulfill family destiny, he is running at all.

Part of this identity crisis is on display as Jeb Bush’s large and seemingly unwieldy campaign is undergoing something of a civil war when it comes to foreign policy. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Bush is seriously considering appointing Elbridge Colby, a think tank veteran who is an advocate of containing a nuclear Iran rather than seeking to forestall this awful possibility, as foreign policy director of his campaign. If this happens, it will be interpreted as a sign that the so-called realists have prevailed at the expense of their hawkish rivals within Bush’s camp.

Though many of those listed as his foreign policy advisors take a much stronger stand on Iran than Colby, it did not escape the attention of pundits that Bush also listed former Secretary of State James Baker on the roster of those he is listening to. Bush may be a faithful Bush family retainer who served President George H.W. Bush in a variety of capacities but he is also one of the leading “realists” in the country with foreign policy stands on Iran and Israel that more closely resemble those of President Obama than his Republican antagonists. Jeb Bush tried to disassociate himself from Baker’s decision to endorse Obama’s threats to Israel when he spoke at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. But Colby’s appointment will only fuel speculation that, at least on foreign policy, he will closely resemble his father, who had a poor relationship with Israel.

On domestic policy, Bush seems similarly torn between conservative reformist positions such as his sensible proposal to privatize elements of veteran’s health care and stands on issues that seemed designed to provoke his party’s base on immigration and education. He may see no contradiction between the sensibilities of the Tea Party and advocacy for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and the Common Core curriculum but most conservative activists beg to differ. Bush was a conservative governor of Florida when Rubio was one of his able lieutenants in the state’s legislature but he has drifted to the center on some issues.

The former governor remains a font of interesting ideas and proposals and always takes a thoughtful and intelligent approach to resolving problems. But there seems no driving vision behind his candidacy as there is for other contenders such as Rubio, who will attempt to combine a strong foreign policy vision (in direct contradiction to the stands of Baker and Colby) with a more conservative fiscal approach that made him a Tea Party favorite when he first ran for the Senate in 2010.

Ambition and personal issues may be important parts of the puzzle as to why these two former allies are now at odds over who should be the next Republican presidential nominee. But Rubio can hardly be blamed for not stepping aside in favor of a man who, for all of his many virtues, seems to have no compelling rationale for his candidacy other than it being his turn. As the leading moderate in the race and with a large organization and all the money he can spend, Bush’s chances for the nomination shouldn’t be discounted. But his “shock and awe” launch has failed to cow the field or convince anyone of his inevitability. Unless and until he can explain why we need a third President Bush beyond dynastic considerations, he shouldn’t be surprised that former allies feel no compunction about elbowing him aside.

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MSNBC’s Favorite Republican Can’t Win

Yesterday was Rand Paul’s big day as the Kentucky senator announcement his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Like any baseball team on opening day, in theory his chances are as good as any other candidate, and given the expected crowded field competing for the nod, that’s still true. But though his Louisville announcement bash went smoothly, what followed hasn’t gone quite as well. Some of that is due to Paul’s personality turning media appearances sour. But just as important is the way the basic contradiction in his campaign strategy is undermining his chances almost from the start. Though Paul has money, an ardent cadre of supporters, and a rationale for his quest, it’s hard to imagine a path to victory for him. While his rival Ted Cruz’s launch seems to have validated the notion that he is being underestimated by pundits, Paul’s start may be proof that those who see him as a lock to be a first-tier primary candidate next winter and spring are the ones who are making a mistake.

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Yesterday was Rand Paul’s big day as the Kentucky senator announcement his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Like any baseball team on opening day, in theory his chances are as good as any other candidate, and given the expected crowded field competing for the nod, that’s still true. But though his Louisville announcement bash went smoothly, what followed hasn’t gone quite as well. Some of that is due to Paul’s personality turning media appearances sour. But just as important is the way the basic contradiction in his campaign strategy is undermining his chances almost from the start. Though Paul has money, an ardent cadre of supporters, and a rationale for his quest, it’s hard to imagine a path to victory for him. While his rival Ted Cruz’s launch seems to have validated the notion that he is being underestimated by pundits, Paul’s start may be proof that those who see him as a lock to be a first-tier primary candidate next winter and spring are the ones who are making a mistake.

What’s fascinating about these two launches is the way both candidates have gone against the stereotype about their personalities and styles. Cruz is viewed as a bomb-throwing, extremist agitator, yet he came off in the usual round of interviews on the news and broadcast channels as being thoughtful and soft-spoken even as he remained unyielding about his conservative views. By contrast Paul, whose reputation is of being a low-key intellectual, showed a brittle nature as he responded to questions about flip-flopping with anger and condescension toward media figures. Granted, nobody on the right will blame Paul for tearing into Today’s Savannah Guthrie, but it struck a contrast to the supposedly off-balance Cruz’s patience when subjected to similar sorts of questions.

Though GOP voters tend to sympathize with their leaders when they are under attack from the media, voters tend not to like presidential candidates who can’t keep their cool. For Paul to unravel so quickly with the glow of his announcement still on him doesn’t bode well for how he will hold up in the long haul through primary season.

But the problem with the flip-flopping charge goes deeper than Paul’s thin skin.

The reason he’s upset about being questioned about the way he has gradually drifted a bit to the center on foreign policy and security issues is that he knows that his formerly rigid libertarian views are out of step with his party and the general public. Paul’s instinctive antagonism toward security measures and a robust U.S. defense seemed to reflect the post-Iraq/Afghanistan wars mood of the country in early 2013 when he gained attention with a well executed Senate filibuster about the use of drone attacks. But with ISIS on the march and the key issue of the day being President Obama’s appeasement of Iran, his attempt to square the circle on these points falls flat.

The contradictions were evident even in his announcement speech, as at one point he pledged to “do whatever it takes” to defeat terrorism but then returned to more familiar rhetoric a few moments later as he lambasted some of the security measures that give law enforcement the ability to stop the terrorists.

Just as important, the looming problem for Paul is that his basic foreign-policy approach still has its roots in the extremism of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul. It is true that, as the candidate says, he shouldn’t be held accountable for his father’s views (a good thing since it is hard to imagine the elder Paul staying silent during the campaign) and that he disagrees with him on some issues. But try as he might to demonstrate distance from the White House on all issues, it’s still obvious that he is running for a Republican nomination while espousing views that are actually largely to the left of those of President Obama on foreign policy.

That was always true of Ron Paul, but a vignette on MSNBC yesterday demonstrated just how comfortable the denizens of that left-wing cul de sac are with the Kentucky senator’s approach to foreign policy. Paul’s announcement and the attacks that are being launched against him by conservative opponents of his foreign-policy views prompted the channel’s Chris Matthews to launch into an impressive rant about how the candidate is more reflective of the views of most of the country than his GOP opponents. But instead of leaving it at that, Matthews insisted that the attempt by “neocons and piggish money” that want to fight more wars for Israel to oppose Paul speaks well for the candidate. Matthews stopped just short of overt anti-Semitism, though his line about “cloth coat Republicans” (a nod to Richard Nixon’s “checkers speech”?) that send their kids to war while the neocons don’t seemed an obvious and inaccurate shot at supporters of Israel.

Rand Paul isn’t responsible for what crackpots on the ultra-left MSNBC say about him, but what is significant is that a candidate that can draw sympathy from that sector is poorly placed to win mainstream support among Republicans. Considering that some of his father’s hard-core backers are becoming disillusioned with Rand’s apostasies about foreign aid and defense spending, there just aren’t enough libertarians to help Paul win. Tea Partiers have other choices with Cruz and Scott Walker. Nor is he well placed to compete for conservative Christian voters.

That adds up to a steep hill for him to climb. Though no one with this much name recognition and the ability to raise money can be written off on day one of his candidacy, the limitations to his appeal are actually greater than those of the supposedly more extreme Cruz. MSNBC’s favorite Republican may not be as much of a lock to be a first-tier primary candidate as some pundits think.

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Can U.S. Slash Military Budget When Russia’s Preparing for War?

The battle over sequestration continues, as Congress mandates that the Pentagon continue to slash the U.S. army down to pre-World War II levels. Meanwhile, the Iranian military is resurgent, peace deal or not, with the Islamic Republic increasing its defense budget by some 33.5 percent. Then, again, being militarily active in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq takes money.

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The battle over sequestration continues, as Congress mandates that the Pentagon continue to slash the U.S. army down to pre-World War II levels. Meanwhile, the Iranian military is resurgent, peace deal or not, with the Islamic Republic increasing its defense budget by some 33.5 percent. Then, again, being militarily active in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq takes money.

Perhaps President Obama believes he has solved the Iran problem, or is well on his way to doing so. But even if his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to insist her “reset” policy with Russia worked, Russian President Vladimir Putin poses an increasing threat to international security, as anyone in Georgia or Ukraine can attest. Obama may believe the situation has stabilized—after all, press attention has moved on—but it looks like the situation might soon go from bad to worse.

According to this analysis in The Interpreter, Russian military spending has increased sharply. Of course, it is pretty certain that the real budget is even higher than the official, sanitized version. According to the article, based on the analysis of Russian economist Andrey Illarionov as published on opposition leader Garry Kasparov’s website:

Between the time that Putin came to power up to January 2014, the Moscow economist and commentator says, Moscow has spent on average 2.5 to 3.2 percent of GDP on the military, with the figure tending to rise over time. During the first 13 years of his rule, Illarionov says, spending in constant prices went up 2.6 times…. After Putin made his final decision to intervene in Ukraine in February 2014, he says, Moscow’s military expenditures “were increased by more than twice,” a figure that suggested the Russian government intended not only to seize and occupy Crimea but all of what it calls “Novorossiya.” In February, March and April of last year, Russian military spending amounted to 6.7 percent of GDP and 27.7 percent of all budget expenditures.

The situation is getting worse. Here’s the alarming section:

According to Illarionov, official Russian government figures show that “the situation radically changed” in the first two months of this year, the latest period for which figures are available. Average monthly military spending increased 2.3 times, compared to the May-December 2014 period, 3.3. times compared to the last pre-war period, and 8.8 times compared to 2000. For those two months alone, he says, military spending was more than 1.3 trillion rubles – that is, more than 20 billion US dollars – and it constituted 43.3. percent of the federal budget and 12.7 percent of Russia’s admittedly diminished GDP.

So, the Russian economy is getting worse, yet Putin is rapidly expanding his defense budget. The question is to what end? Alas, it seems not to be a question which the White House cares to consider, although certainly the leaders of the Baltic States and Poland are. Perhaps Congress should as well, because continuing sequestration is leaving the United States dangerously unprepared to face a mounting crisis which, if Illarionov’s analysis is true, seems to be looming ever larger. Vladimir Putin exploits weakness and indecision, characteristics which for too long Obama has projected. The United States cannot afford sequestration. Rather than resolve budget deficits, sequestration will make them worse because such weakness is encouraging dictators to aggression in a manner which no U.S. president will be able to long ignore.

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Obama Comes to His Senses on Egypt

Since coming to office President Obama has made a series of disastrous decisions that have alienated allies and empowered foes around the globe. In the Middle East, his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran has undermined the security of moderate Arab nations and Israel while also undermining his supposed goal of nuclear non-proliferation. But his hostility to allies goes deeper than his resentment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or his impatience with Arabs who rightly fear the consequences of an Iran nuclear deal. Among the most egregious examples of the administration’s mishandling of America’s friends was the case of Egypt, the region’s most populous country. But even as he digs deeper with Iran and has threatened to isolate Israel, the president seems to have come to his senses on this one topic. Yesterday’s announcement that Obama was lifting the freeze on arms sales to the Egyptian government is a rare instance of good sense on the president’s part. The decision to try and repair the damage he had done in the last four years is late but perhaps not too late to help the Egyptians as they seek, along with the Saudis, to push back against the advances of both ISIS in Libya and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

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Since coming to office President Obama has made a series of disastrous decisions that have alienated allies and empowered foes around the globe. In the Middle East, his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran has undermined the security of moderate Arab nations and Israel while also undermining his supposed goal of nuclear non-proliferation. But his hostility to allies goes deeper than his resentment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu or his impatience with Arabs who rightly fear the consequences of an Iran nuclear deal. Among the most egregious examples of the administration’s mishandling of America’s friends was the case of Egypt, the region’s most populous country. But even as he digs deeper with Iran and has threatened to isolate Israel, the president seems to have come to his senses on this one topic. Yesterday’s announcement that Obama was lifting the freeze on arms sales to the Egyptian government is a rare instance of good sense on the president’s part. The decision to try and repair the damage he had done in the last four years is late but perhaps not too late to help the Egyptians as they seek, along with the Saudis, to push back against the advances of both ISIS in Libya and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

The arms freeze dates back to the military’s overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in the summer of 2013. Since then, Obama has given President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the Netanyahu treatment, making no secret of his distaste for Sisi’s methods in rooting out the Brotherhood and even choosing not to enthusiastically back Egypt’s attacks on ISIS in Libya and decision to help the Saudis fight the Houthis in Yemen.

The ostensible justification for the freeze on weapons to Egypt was the military’s human-rights violations. There is no denying that Sisi’s government has acted ruthlessly and shown little respect for human rights since coming to power. But while his actions must be viewed with distaste, Obama’s belief that there is a third, democratic alternative to the Islamists of the Brotherhood or the military was a delusion. Though the Arab Spring made it possible for some to dream that democracy might flower in Egypt, the ability of the Brotherhood to take advantage of the fall of the corrupt Mubarak regime gave the lie to any such hopes.

The history of the administration’s conduct in Egypt is a case study in failure driven by ideology. President Obama greeted the Arab Spring protests with enthusiasm but little understanding of the impact they might have on both the cause of human rights or regional security. Though Mubarak would have fallen with or without the push he got from Obama, the president can be blamed for hastening the collapse and for the pressure he brought to bear on the military to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to eventually succeed that authoritarian regime. Once it took office, the president seemed to embrace the Islamist movement whose sole goal was to ensure that the democratic process it had used to take power would never be used to oust it. Unlike the coercive methods he used on the military both before and after the Brotherhood was in office, the administration treated the Islamists with kid gloves even as its actions alienated most Egyptians.

Rather than support the protests of tens of millions of Egyptians who called for the Brotherhood’s ouster, the president treated the military coup that ended their misrule with disdain. He quickly made it clear that he was unhappy with this turn of events and used the considerable leverage that the U.S. has over Egypt via an annual aid package of more than $1 billion per year to undermine Sisi.

Fortunately these administration efforts failed and Sisi has consolidated his hold on Cairo. What he has created is no democracy and no respecter of the rights of dissidents or Islamists, but it is stable and, in the view of most Egyptians, far preferable to the Brotherhood’s drive to create a far more repressive state. But for the better part of two years, Obama has waged a cold war against a government that shared America’s concern about the spread of Islamist terrorism. Instead of backing Sisi as he sought to isolate the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza and fighting other terrorists in the Sinai, Washington has made no secret of its anger about the coup.

What did it take to wake Obama up to the necessity of repairing relations with Cairo? Sisi’s flirtation with Russia was unsettling but left the president unmoved. So, too, did Egypt’s decision to bomb ISIS targets in Libya after Egyptian Christians working there were murdered. In the end, perhaps it was the chaos in Yemen where Iranian-backed rebels seem to be on the verge of taking over the strategic country. Though the Egyptians should be wary of a major military commitment in a country that was the graveyard of dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser’s ambitions in the 1960s, Egyptian forces are badly needed to reinforce Saudi efforts to retrieve the situation there. Ending the arms freeze now was not so much an admission that everything the U.S. has done in Egypt for years was a mistake as an emergency measure as the region fell apart due to Obama’s mistakes.

Ending the Egyptian arms freeze cannot make up for the colossal blunder being committed with Iran or other mistakes in Syria and Iraq. But it can be the start of a return to a sane policy of backing allies rather than isolating them. For this the president deserves a modicum of credit. Let’s hope it is not an isolated example of wisdom in an administration whose remaining time in office seems fated to be one of foreign-policy disaster.

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Did Martin O’Malley Go Off-Script?

Earlier this month I noted the growing Democratic refrain that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would both benefit from Hillary having some real competition for the nomination in 2016. For Hillary, she could test out her responses to various lines of questioning and sharpen her debating skills. For Democrats, they’d get a better nominee or possibly even a different nominee if something emerged to knock Hillary from the race. (Better in the primaries than in the general.) I also noted that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did not seem to be auditioning for the role of genuine rival. But maybe that’s changing.

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Earlier this month I noted the growing Democratic refrain that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would both benefit from Hillary having some real competition for the nomination in 2016. For Hillary, she could test out her responses to various lines of questioning and sharpen her debating skills. For Democrats, they’d get a better nominee or possibly even a different nominee if something emerged to knock Hillary from the race. (Better in the primaries than in the general.) I also noted that former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did not seem to be auditioning for the role of genuine rival. But maybe that’s changing.

On Sunday’s This Week, O’Malley took a couple shots at the Democratic frontrunner:

“Let’s be honest here,” O’Malley said. “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

O’Malley also hinted that a Clinton nomination is not a sure thing, possibly alluding to the 2008 primary, when she was also thought to have had it locked down.

“History is full of times when the inevitable frontrunner is inevitable right up until he or she is no longer inevitable,” he said.

Yet as Jesse Walker notes, not only did O’Malley not name Hillary, he demurred when pressed and spoke in generalities about the campaign. “This just isn’t the way an insurgent candidate talks,” Walker wrote.

Isn’t it? I’m not convinced this wasn’t O’Malley’s own timid, slightly goofy way of trying to dispel the notion that he’s the Mikhail Prokhorov of Clinton’s coronation. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose, but I think the subject of O’Malley’s comment is telling.

There are two kinds of criticism of Hillary Clinton from her fellow Democrats. The first is issue-based, designed to portray Clinton as out of touch with the party’s true political identity. For example, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, may run in the Democratic primary as a way to trumpet the issue of inequality. “Today, in my view, the most serious problem we face as a nation is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality,” Sanders told the Brookings Institution last month. “This is a profound moral issue. It is an economic issue, and it is a political issue.”

Bernie Sanders, like most of the potential Democratic candidates, does not pose a serious threat to Hillary’s chances. But Clinton is simply not a credible advocate of the kind of economic-justice policies the far left would like to see. Not only is she too close to Wall Street for the redistributive left, but the entire raison d’être of her current career appears to be to massively increase the amount of money in politics, including from foreign (and deeply illiberal) sources. Hillary’s fine with Sanders’s candidacy, because she’ll always look like a more serious Democrat when running against an actual socialist.

There is, as we’re reminded endlessly, a more threatening version of a populist candidacy: that of Elizabeth Warren, who could actually beat Hillary. But Warren does not seem any closer to actually running today than she was yesterday or the day before, so the smart money’s on Hillary avoiding this particular trap.

Another issue-based critique of Hillary from the left will be her hawkishness. Clinton is a liberal interventionist, a proponent of the kind of light-footprint military intervention we saw in Libya. She is also more open to humanitarian missions than Barack Obama is, and she knows she’s somewhat vulnerable on matters of war and peace because that’s precisely the contrast Obama was able to draw in 2008.

But she wouldn’t be running against Obama. She might be running instead against former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. When he announced his exploratory committee, he said the U.S. must “redefine and strengthen our national security obligations, while at the same time reducing ill-considered foreign ventures.” It’s the sort of broad platitude he repeats from time to time, and it won’t harm Hillary.

Even Webb’s supporters are (for the most part) realistic about this. “Jim Webb, I acknowledge, is probably not going to become our next president,” wrote the Nation’s William Greider. “But he has the possibility of becoming a pivotal messenger.” And Hillary’s just fine with that: any candidate who makes her look more like a centrist without actually threatening her chances to win the nomination, and therefore doesn’t force her to her left during the primaries, is more of a help than a hindrance anyway.

But there’s a second kind of Clinton critique: one that has less to do with policy and more about character. And this one can potentially hurt Hillary even coming from someone who won’t defeat her in the primaries. That’s because the kinds of stories that stick are ones that conform to a preexisting narrative, unfair as it often is. Hillary is nearing the end of her career, which means her public persona is close to set in stone–no matter how many different ways she programs herself to laugh.

Had O’Malley kept his criticism to economic policy or even climate change, it would have been unexceptional. But pointing out Hillary’s sense of personal entitlement and her family’s stature as American royalty risks reminding even some Democrats that they don’t really like the idea of Hillary’s candidacy as much as they’d like to, even if they like her personally.

So is the key takeaway from O’Malley’s comments that he refused to use Hillary’s name–or that he didn’t have to? It’s a distinction that may tell us more about whether he’s really willing to take on the Clintons, or merely aiming to share in the spoils of what he hopes is her eventual victory.

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Stale Hillary Won’t Benefit From Start of GOP Race

After a steady stream of bad news for Hillary Clinton over the past year, Democrats are taking heart. Senator Ted Cruz’s formal announcement for the presidency officially began the competition for the Republican presidential nomination and that means Hillary’s fans are hoping the public’s focus will no longer be on Clinton’s emails, her gaffes, or the embarrassing sense of entitlement that she seems to have about both her party’s nomination and the presidency itself. Instead, they’re hoping that the internecine warfare between Cruz and the large field of fellow Republicans who will soon be following in his footsteps and announcing their candidacies will be all we’ll be hearing about, leaving Clinton free to fade out of the public consciousness until sometime in 2016 when she can begin her campaign in a manner of her own choosing. That’s the conceit of a Politico piece that claims Cruz will be a “wrecking ball” whose scorched earth attacks on other Republicans will be helping Hillary more than the cause of the Texas senator. But while there’s some truth to this idea, Democrats are wrong to believe Clinton will benefit from the start of the GOP race. That’s because the Republicans will be attacking her as much as each other and the increased attention paid to the race will keep the pressure on the former first lady in a way that she has already shown she doesn’t handle well.

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After a steady stream of bad news for Hillary Clinton over the past year, Democrats are taking heart. Senator Ted Cruz’s formal announcement for the presidency officially began the competition for the Republican presidential nomination and that means Hillary’s fans are hoping the public’s focus will no longer be on Clinton’s emails, her gaffes, or the embarrassing sense of entitlement that she seems to have about both her party’s nomination and the presidency itself. Instead, they’re hoping that the internecine warfare between Cruz and the large field of fellow Republicans who will soon be following in his footsteps and announcing their candidacies will be all we’ll be hearing about, leaving Clinton free to fade out of the public consciousness until sometime in 2016 when she can begin her campaign in a manner of her own choosing. That’s the conceit of a Politico piece that claims Cruz will be a “wrecking ball” whose scorched earth attacks on other Republicans will be helping Hillary more than the cause of the Texas senator. But while there’s some truth to this idea, Democrats are wrong to believe Clinton will benefit from the start of the GOP race. That’s because the Republicans will be attacking her as much as each other and the increased attention paid to the race will keep the pressure on the former first lady in a way that she has already shown she doesn’t handle well.

Democrats are relishing the prospect of Cruz tearing into his Republican rivals and they’re not wrong about the fact that he may leave scorched earth behind him. In turn, other GOP candidates will respond and attack each other and the resulting donnybrook may not always be an edifying spectacle. Conservatives will lambast Jeb Bush for his alleged moderation as well as for his stands on immigration and Common Core while each of the possible non-Bushes hoping to be the standard bearer for the right will attack each other. Meanwhile, someone like Scott Walker may fire in both directions as he seeks the sweet spot in between the Tea Party and the establishment constituencies to which he simultaneously appeals.

In theory, that ought to make things easier on Hillary, but she and her Democratic supporters are forgetting a couple of important details.

One is that while Republicans will certainly be regularly violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment about not attacking fellow Republicans, they will also be concentrating their fire on the former first lady. It’s a given that all those running for the GOP will be lambasting President Obama and all his works, particularly ObamaCare. But they won’t ignore the person that each of them hopes to be opposing in November 2016.

Part of the problem for Hillary is that the collapse of Obama’s foreign policy with Russian aggression, the rise of ISIS, and appeasement of Iran serves as a reminder that Clinton spent four years as the 44th president’s secretary of state. Clinton and her admirers like to think that her tenure at Foggy Bottom is a great asset to her candidacy as it lends her both experience and gravitas. It’s also true that compared to her disastrous successor John Kerry, Clinton comes across as the second coming of Henry Kissinger or John Foster Dulles. But the Benghazi attack wasn’t the only disaster on her watch. The tragicomically Russian “reset” was her idea and it looks worse every month as Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine continues. Clinton will also have to ask questions about what she was doing when ISIS was filling the vacuum left by her boss’s bug out from Iraq and failure to act on the crisis in Syria. In what is shaping up to be the first foreign-policy election since 2004, Clinton’s experience at State is looking increasingly like a liability.

Just as important, the lack of credible Democratic challengers to Clinton ensures that she, along with President Obama, will be a staple of GOP presidential stump speeches. And the House Committee investigating Benghazi will keep probing for possible scandals. It was their efforts that turned up the shocking story about her private email server. Clinton should also expect to be hit hard about foreign donations to her family foundation as nations sought to curry favor with a sitting secretary of state and a possible president.

All this means that while a Republican civil war will take up a lot of airtime, there will still be plenty of interest in Clinton’s problems and shortcomings. Ted Cruz may attack other Republicans, but if Clinton is expecting the next several months to be a vacation from criticism and coverage of her foibles, she’s dreaming.

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Japan Makes Slow, Steady Moves in Asia’s Geopolitical Chess Game

Just a decade ago, only fantasists would have dreamed up headlines such as “Japan, Indonesia Strengthen Defense Ties,” or “Australia-Japan Military Ties Are a ‘Quasi-Alliance.'” The common perception that Tokyo was utterly dependent on its alliance with Washington, and failed to take any initiative to reshape its security relations in Asia, was not inaccurate. No longer, however, can the changes on Asia’s geopolitical chessboard be ignored.

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Just a decade ago, only fantasists would have dreamed up headlines such as “Japan, Indonesia Strengthen Defense Ties,” or “Australia-Japan Military Ties Are a ‘Quasi-Alliance.'” The common perception that Tokyo was utterly dependent on its alliance with Washington, and failed to take any initiative to reshape its security relations in Asia, was not inaccurate. No longer, however, can the changes on Asia’s geopolitical chessboard be ignored.

The driver of all this change, of course, is China. Its rapid military development, combined with a coercive approach to regional disputes, has alarmed its neighbors, particularly in Southeast Asia. Those smaller nations find themselves with limited options to protect their interests, and by default, have waited and hoped for the United States to play a larger role. Yet many of them, while welcoming the so-called U.S. “pivot” to Asia, have been disappointed with the lack of substance behind it.

Into this gap Japan has gingerly stepped. Tokyo cannot play the same security role in Asia that Washington does, nor does it want to. What it is seeking, however, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is to slowly reshape regional security relations. The goal, in effect, is to create a de facto coalition against China, so as to make Beijing temper its behavior.

The latest example of this approach is this week’s announcement between Prime Minister Abe and new Indonesian President Joko Widodo. Jokowi, as the Indonesia leader is known, visited Tokyo for his first state trip as president. That alone is a sign of Japan’s influence in Southeast Asia and the concern over China. While in Tokyo, Jokowi and Abe announced an enhanced security relationship, particularly on maritime issues, where the two both face challenges from China. In this, Abe is following up on a pact with Australia to co-produce advanced submarine technology (which has had a rocky start), the selling of maritime patrol vessels to Malaysia and the Philippines, and a deepening of defense ties with India.

None of this is to suggest a formal alliance, nor a NATO-type coalition of forces. What Abe is doing, however, is making it clear that Japan is a potential security partner to nations throughout the region, offering an alternative to simply acceding to Beijing’s policies. Over time, the weight of this community of democratic nations may well lead to a permanent change in the perception of the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, if not the actuality of it. Washington would be well advised to start taking advantage of the initiative of its key Asian ally, and the willingness of other nations to begin thinking of how to take the initiative in Asia’s great game.

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No More Foreign Policy Amateurs in the White House

Last week, our Seth Mandel wrote an interesting piece about the way radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt might shape the 2016 Republican presidential contest both by hosting a GOP debate and through his probing no-holds-barred interviews with the contenders. Yesterday, as if acting on cue to prove Seth’s point, Hewitt had Dr. Ben Carson on his show in what should be considered one of the first real tests of the likely candidate’s mettle. Rather than lob softballs at the good doctor as most conservative talkers would do, Hewitt not only asked tough questions but paid particular attention to what was likely to be Carson’s weak spot: foreign policy. The results were illuminating and should alert those right-wing populists who think Carson is ready for the presidency that he is anything but.

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Last week, our Seth Mandel wrote an interesting piece about the way radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt might shape the 2016 Republican presidential contest both by hosting a GOP debate and through his probing no-holds-barred interviews with the contenders. Yesterday, as if acting on cue to prove Seth’s point, Hewitt had Dr. Ben Carson on his show in what should be considered one of the first real tests of the likely candidate’s mettle. Rather than lob softballs at the good doctor as most conservative talkers would do, Hewitt not only asked tough questions but paid particular attention to what was likely to be Carson’s weak spot: foreign policy. The results were illuminating and should alert those right-wing populists who think Carson is ready for the presidency that he is anything but.

A famed neurosurgeon, Carson is surely as intelligent as anybody who’s ever run for president. He’s not completely ignorant about foreign policy and seems to be a supporter of a strong America and an opponent of terrorism. But he was soon tripped up by faulty knowledge of some basic facts about the world and history. Though quick to offer opinions about what to do about Russia, Carson didn’t know that the Baltic States are already NATO members. When asked to identify the roots of Islamic terrorism he replied by citing the Biblical conflict between Jacob and his brother Esau, failing to realize that Islam is only 1,400 years old and not “thousands” as he claimed. He also cited the possibility that Shia and Sunni Muslims would unite against the United States when in fact the two factions are at each other’s throats in a conflict that is fueling Iran’s quest for regional hegemony.

Carson says he’s planning on studying the issues more closely in the future and seems to regard this as a minor detail that can be corrected but as Hewitt said:

I want to be respectful in posing this. But I mean, you wouldn’t expect me to become a neurosurgeon in a couple of years. And I wouldn’t expect you to be able to access and understand and collate the information necessary to be a global strategist in a couple of years. Is it fair for people to worry that you just haven’t been in the world strategy long enough to be competent to imagine you in the Oval Office deciding these things? I mean, we’ve tried an amateur for the last six years and look what it got us.

Hewitt is right. Americans elected a man in 2008 with no foreign policy experience. President Obama is an ideologue that thought he could solve problems by virtue of his personality and doesn’t listen to advice. Carson rightly answered that Obama “has been able to accomplish a great deal,” albeit in a negative way. But even he might have made fewer mistakes if he had firmer grip on the issues when he started.

Carson’s defenders will say this is “gotcha” journalism but I’m hoping Hewitt gives the same grilling to every other presidential candidate. The point is, though presidential elections are almost always decided by domestic and economic issues, it’s important to remember that the one government activity that any president has almost unlimited power is on foreign policy. And though the economy is always going to be the issue of greatest concern to most voters, most presidents are inevitably being frustrated by their limited ability to influence domestic affairs and wind up spend most of their time on foreign and defense issues.

That would apply to just about any point in history but it is especially true of our current situation in which President Obama’s feckless policies have helped lead to the rise of ISIS terrorists and his blind pursuit of détente with Iran has increased the likelihood that Tehran will acquire a nuclear weapon. In other words, this no time for a foreign policy amateur in the White House who will be overly dependent on advisors and lacks the knowledge or experience to respond adequately to crises.

Carson isn’t the only one with this problem. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be the new putative GOP frontrunner but as his recent London interview illustrated, he isn’t prepared to lead on foreign policy issues the way he is on those concerning governance, budgets and taxes.

The point is it’s up to Hewitt and others with access to these candidates to push them hard on the one topic that we truly do hire a president to manage. Nor is it sufficient for those, like Carson, who aren’t up to snuff to claim that the press is targeting them for unfair scrutiny.

Carson and anyone else who won’t know which countries are in NATO or the basic facts about the Middle East need to do more than study. Learning about war and peace issues on the fly is a hit and miss business. Even a policy wonk like Mitt Romney found himself not entirely prepared to answer President Obama in his 2012 foreign policy debate. Whoever wins the nomination will find themselves matched up against Hillary Clinton, a woman with a record of foreign policy failure but who won’t be caught in an obvious mistake, in the fall of 2016. The GOP will have to do a lot better than Ben Carson if they hope to prevail in that contest.

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Jeb Bush’s James Baker Problem

Last month, Governor Jeb Bush unveiled a foreign-policy team with a number of Republican heavy hitters from the past three Republican administrations, and soon thereafter delivered a foreign-policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The big question that many analysts asked was whether Jeb Bush would lean more toward his father’s vision of foreign policy than toward his brother’s. The underlying spin behind that question was that the elder Bush had more foresight with regard to the application of military force and understood the limits of power. While both men oversaw an invasion of Iraq, many foreign-policy analysts and journalists approve of Operation Desert Storm but consider Operation Iraqi Freedom to have been a historic mistake. That’s something historians will decide. But a better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

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Last month, Governor Jeb Bush unveiled a foreign-policy team with a number of Republican heavy hitters from the past three Republican administrations, and soon thereafter delivered a foreign-policy address at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The big question that many analysts asked was whether Jeb Bush would lean more toward his father’s vision of foreign policy than toward his brother’s. The underlying spin behind that question was that the elder Bush had more foresight with regard to the application of military force and understood the limits of power. While both men oversaw an invasion of Iraq, many foreign-policy analysts and journalists approve of Operation Desert Storm but consider Operation Iraqi Freedom to have been a historic mistake. That’s something historians will decide. But a better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

Jeb Bush gave a fine speech, even if a bit anodyne. Sure, Jeb criticized Obama’s “inconsistent and indecisive” leadership on the world stage, but that’s an issue of style and competence, not philosophy. Pretty much any successor to Obama, whether Democrat or Republican, will do better on the world stage. The same holds true for Jeb Bush’s insistence that red lines should matter. Few presidents would disagree, Obama being the exception. Calling for greater economic growth at home is also a no-brainer: Would any president really want moribund growth? Greater defense spending is a step in the right direction, as so many military and national-security experts and scholars across the partisan divide recognize.

While it may be commendable that Jeb Bush has hired folks who represent different sides of past policy debates, former Secretary of State James Baker who, alongside former Secretary of State George Shultz, is Jeb’s most senior and, perhaps because he is not fishing for a job himself, most influential advisor, has a track record of policy recommendations that hone closer to what Obama has implemented than the clean break Jeb Bush suggests he wants.

Baker was co-chair back in 2006 of the Iraq Study Group, better known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission which, in the darkest days of the Iraq war, not only counseled the type of retreat which George W. Bush refused but also blessed the idea of unilateral retreat which Barack Obama implemented. Baker went further, however, and worked into the report a call for Israel to make concessions under fire and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to be rewarded. Both a latent hostility to Israel and a benign reading of the Syrian regime have long been characteristic of Baker’s philosophy, as they have been Obama’s. Remember, Obama came into office believing Assad was a reformer and, despite the horrific civil war in subsequent years, now appears ready to again legitimize Assad as a partner. Baker also sought to partner with Iran in order to resolve difficulties in Iraq, leading to this brilliant David Zucker parody featuring Baker.

If there’s one thing that the past decade should have made clear it is that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not central to the divisions and problems which undercut Middle Eastern stability and American national security. The whole Iraq Study Group was a put-up job, with Baker and Lee Hamilton stroking the egos of those testifying all the while ignoring the substance of their input while aides wrote a pre-ordained report. As such, Baker should be held fully accountable for the report’s often counterproductive and self-defeating recommendations.

Alas, the Baker-Hamilton report was the rule rather than the exception. Against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential campaign, Baker traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he appeared to give an endorsement of the type of diplomacy with rogue regimes which George W. Bush shied away from, but which Obama had made the centerpiece of his campaign. Then, again, this merely restated the policy which Baker blessed as secretary of state with regard to North Korea. In The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War, and Peace, 1989–1992, he explained, “Our diplomatic strategy was designed to build international pressure against North Korea to force them to live up to their agreements.” In reality, however, Baker pioneered a philosophy which Obama has now perfected; that is, a belief that a bad deal is better than no deal, even if it means turning a blind eye toward an enemy’s cheating. As the State Department negotiated with Pyongyang, Baker accepted North Korea’s insistence that limited inspections regarding North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure to sites “agreed upon between the two sides,” in effect giving Pyongyang a veto. Baker offered this concession even though the CIA had warned that North Korea was hiding parts of its nuclear program. Such a philosophy laid the groundwork for a process that culminated during the Clinton administration in “The Agreed Framework,” an achievement celebrated in Washington but treated disdainfully in Pyongyang as the North Korean regime pocketed associated aid and accelerated its drive toward a nuclear bomb. Baker, however, bragged in his memoirs (published after the Agreed Framework was signed) that “American diplomacy [was] directly responsible for an end to six years of intransigence by the North.”

Much of Baker’s positive reputation comes from how he and George H.W. Bush handled Operation Desert Storm. And, for this, they deserve plaudits. What is interesting, however, is how Baker was for Saddam before he was against him. On February 15, 1990, after the Voice of America broadcast an editorial into several Arab countries celebrating the collapse of dictatorship in Eastern Europe and castigating Iraq as belonging to a club whose leaders maintained power “by force and fear, not by the consent of the governed,” Saddam was furious. Rather than defend the premise and maintain moral clarity, the Bush administration apologized and decided that the secretary of state, James Baker, would personally clear future editorials. Again, instinct matters.

Baker has been outspoken in his support for Jeb Bush. While Baker is friendly with Jeb Bush’s father, that did not stop the former secretary of state from signaling his displeasure with the governor’s brother. It is hard to imagine Baker giving such full-throated support to Jeb Bush unless he sees in Bush a kindred spirit. If that’s the case, then there is much to worry about as Jeb Bush develops his foreign policy.

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Antonio Weiss, Elizabeth Warren, and the Spirit of the Constitution

When Elizabeth Warren led a campaign of misleading demagoguery against President Obama’s nominee for an under secretary of the treasury job, she was trying to make a point at the expense of someone else’s career. But since her success was temporary and Antonio Weiss has, as predicted, joined the administration anyway, Warren’s populist stunt has inadvertently raised questions about the entire premise of the Senate’s role in approving executive branch nominees.

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When Elizabeth Warren led a campaign of misleading demagoguery against President Obama’s nominee for an under secretary of the treasury job, she was trying to make a point at the expense of someone else’s career. But since her success was temporary and Antonio Weiss has, as predicted, joined the administration anyway, Warren’s populist stunt has inadvertently raised questions about the entire premise of the Senate’s role in approving executive branch nominees.

To recap: Obama chose Weiss, but his background in investment banking irked Warren, who loudly opposed the nomination in ways that proved her ignorance of the relevant issues but increased her celebrity and her rabid fan base. It was precisely the type of behavior that should not be rewarded, but unfortunately it’s also the type of behavior that works. So Weiss withdrew his nomination.

But that was not going to be the end of it. Here is what I wrote last month about how this would end: “Weiss will join the Treasury anyway, and give the same advice, not be much undercut by whoever eventually fills the under secretary seat. … Warren’s victory is, then, entirely symbolic. It will have no effect on policy. All it will do is act as an implicit threat to future nominees, pour encourager les autres.”

And that’s precisely what happened. As Bloomberg reports:

Eight days after joining the Treasury Department as an adviser, Antonio Weiss was the lead U.S. official listed at a meeting with Wall Street executives. It’s a role typically played by the undersecretary for domestic finance — the same post Weiss lost after Democratic senators stymied his nomination.

Weiss’s presence at that Feb. 3 meeting on quarterly debt sales shows him diving into many of the same tasks that would have come with the undersecretary’s job. The former Lazard Ltd. global head of investment banking is now working on issues ranging from debt management to housing finance and global market developments. One big difference: his job as counselor to Secretary Jacob J. Lew doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

The question–and it’s a fair one–is this: Does Antonio Weiss’s current job description violate the spirit of the separation of powers and the Senate’s advise-and-consent role in executive branch appointments?

Over at National Review, Charles Cooke says yes. Cooke writes that quality of candidate–and, by extension, the truthiness of the campaign against him–is beside the point: “Ultimately, I couldn’t care less whether Weiss is a better choice than Elizabeth Warren’s preferred candidate. If the Senate didn’t want him, he doesn’t get the job.”

He explains:

At first blush it must seem rather suspicious that the only functional difference between Weiss as undersecretary for domestic finance and Weiss as counselor to Secretary Lew is that the latter position “doesn’t require” the Senate confirmation that Weiss was so publicly denied. But first blushes are for schoolboys and bigots and haters, and for those wild-eyed radicals who would happily risk seeing into what sort of proto-Somalian hellhole the United States might fall if the Treasury secretary were to be denied an adviser for a few weeks. Here, as so often, we should presume that the president knows better than the other co-equal branches, and conclude that politics must not be permitted to intrude upon his getting his own way. Apologies to Elizabeth Warren and Dick Durbin, who made it their business to block Weiss’s nomination; but you know not what you do.

I support Cooke’s general defense of procedure here, but I don’t think it’s being violated in this case, for three reasons.

The first is that process matters. There is no way to prevent a government official from soliciting the advice he’s looking for. Having a Senate-confirmed spot in government is about more than hiring. It’s why it’s not inappropriate that Susan Rice landed at the exceptionally powerful National Security Council when opposition to her from the Senate chased the administration away from making her secretary of state. Yes, it’s a different job title, but so is Weiss’s. And since policy is made in the White House, Rice is arguably more influential toward the shape of American foreign policy as national security advisor than she would have been at State.

The second is that the purpose of the opposition matters. The truth is that Rice would likely have been confirmed. The problem for Obama was that Republicans wanted to use the confirmation hearings to press the administration (and especially Rice) on Benghazi. For Weiss, it wasn’t clear Warren had the votes to reject his nomination. What she wanted was to make a point about the administration’s supposedly too-cozy ties to Wall Street and demonstrate her growing clout in the Democratic Party. So yes, Weiss was hired this way to avoid the Senate’s “advice and consent” (mostly “advice”), but neither is it fully accurate to say that, in this case as in many others like it, “the Senate didn’t want him.”

The third reason is that you could say the same about recess appointments. But wait, you object, the recess power is in the Constitution! Indeed it is. And what is its purpose? If the purpose is to prevent debilitating vacancies while the Senate is out of session, then its popular use today unquestionably violates the spirit of that process.

Presidents use recess appointments for controversial nominees who would be otherwise “unconfirmable” by the Senate. Does this not trash the very concept of the Senate’s role in choosing nominees? If we follow this line of thinking, we should oppose any appointment that would otherwise go through the Senate. (Cooke may in fact agree; I’m not claiming to know, merely making a broader point.)

And if the spirit of the Constitution is not violated by recess appointments made for this purpose, then the case for Weiss is even stronger. We can then say that the framers allowed for the workaround in cases other than coincidental recess.

And we might glance at the way presidents choose their advisors for some perspective. If we must oppose Weiss’s hiring in this case for these reasons, then we might as well indict the executive branch’s general conduct in foreign policy. Was the diplomatic opening to Cuba arranged by the American secretary of state or even Foggy Bottom appointees? No it was not; it was arranged by presidential advisor (and Susan Rice deputy) Ben Rhodes, whose position is not subject to Senate confirmation. And we could say the same about the entire system of “special envoys” through which presidents approach foreign affairs.

There is a danger here, without question. And the growth of the administrative state and its army of unaccountable bureaucrats would surely horrify the framers, for a variety of reasons. But Weiss’s hiring is probably not one of them.

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Jeb’s Strength Is Also His Weakness

Jeb Bush traveled to Chicago today to give a speech on foreign policy that demonstrated a good command of important issues as well as some cogent critiques of the Obama administration. But most observers were parsing each line in the speech seeking the answer to the question on seemingly everyone’s mind: Would a third President Bush be more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? Jeb’s answer is that he will be his own man even as he presented a list of foreign-policy advisors peppered with figures from both of those presidencies setting up the possibility that a Bush 45 administration would be divided between realists like James Baker and neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz. But while his ability to summon such broad support from the GOP foreign-policy establishment is a clear strength, like much else about his candidacy it is also a weakness. In a year in which the Democrats will be trying to recycle the Clinton magic of the 1990s, the prospect of a third Bush presidency won’t provide a strong contrast that a fresh face might provide.

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Jeb Bush traveled to Chicago today to give a speech on foreign policy that demonstrated a good command of important issues as well as some cogent critiques of the Obama administration. But most observers were parsing each line in the speech seeking the answer to the question on seemingly everyone’s mind: Would a third President Bush be more like Bush 41 or Bush 43? Jeb’s answer is that he will be his own man even as he presented a list of foreign-policy advisors peppered with figures from both of those presidencies setting up the possibility that a Bush 45 administration would be divided between realists like James Baker and neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz. But while his ability to summon such broad support from the GOP foreign-policy establishment is a clear strength, like much else about his candidacy it is also a weakness. In a year in which the Democrats will be trying to recycle the Clinton magic of the 1990s, the prospect of a third Bush presidency won’t provide a strong contrast that a fresh face might provide.

As Politico notes today, the rollout of Jeb’s foreign-policy platform was just as professional and well thought out as the rest of his campaign. “Shock and awe” is a good way to describe the Bush blitz that drove Mitt Romney out of the race and has put other challengers on notice that if they wait much longer to line up staff and donors, Bush will have stolen a march on them they may not be able to make up.

Moreover, the same applies to Jeb’s foreign-policy views. His speech projected strength both in terms of his unabashed desire to “take out” ISIS terrorists and to reject engagement and appeasement of Iran. Putting his finger on a key problem of the Obama administration’s approach, he said that he, like many Americans, had come to doubt whether the president thinks U.S. power “is a force for good.” He rightly noted that the administration’s record is one that has caused it to be no longer trusted by friends or feared by allies.

Nor was he shy about mentioning Iraq, the memory of which is considered to be his greatest weakness as many voters might blame Jeb for the unpopular war his brother took the U.S. into. He correctly praised the 2007 surge that essentially defeated al-Qaeda and left W’s successor with a war that was won. Obama, whose abandonment of Iraq led to both the rise of ISIS and the strengthening of Iran, squandered that victory. Bush also took aim at Obama’s handling of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, a problem that his brother punted on during his time in power. He correctly accused him of seeking to “manage” the nuclear threat rather than to solve it.

Moreover, in a clear shot across the bow of the White House, Bush said he was interested in hearing what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had to say about Iran when he speaks to Congress next month and that he felt the U.S. had already given away too much to Tehran in the nuclear talks.

All this positions Bush as a serious foreign-policy voice that compares favorably to most of his rivals for the nomination. Bush’s ability to articulate a traditional GOP message of international strength contrasts particularly with Rand Paul’s views, which bear a troubling resemblance to those of Obama. It also shows him to be better prepared to be commander in chief than the pack of governors and former governors lined up against him, including fast-rising Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who refused to answer questions on the topic when in London last week.

But Bush’s speech also reminded us why there is good reason to be skeptical about his front-runner status. Though his mother has finally come around to supporting the idea of another member of her family becoming president, Jeb needs to win over the party’s grass roots too. Bush comes into the race as not only the leading member of his party’s establishment but as the candidate who is already pledged to run against the base on issues like immigration and common core. That may ultimately help him win the general election, but it might make it difficult for him to gain the GOP nomination.

In a year when terrorism and Obama’s weakness has elevated foreign policy to the front burner of American concerns, Bush’s foreign-policy competence gives him a clear leg up on virtually every other Republican contender with the possible exception of Marco Rubio. But his ability to summon the party mandarins on his behalf is also a sign that he needs to provide a rationale for his candidacy that is more compelling than it being his turn in the family rotation.

Today was a good start for Bush. But merely saying that he’s going to be his own man even as he lines up his father and brother’s men behind him will not be good enough to convince voters that there is a reason to vote for Jeb. The coming year will give him plenty of opportunities to prove that he really is something different despite the Bush brand in a contest that will ultimately place him up against another retread like Clinton. Shock and awe is all well and good for the beginning of a war, but it will take more than that to carry him through a crowded primary field.

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ISIS’s Rise Means 2016 May Be a Foreign-Policy Election

In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

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In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

As our Max Boot termed it, Obama’s proposal for authorizing U.S. actions against terrorists in the Middle East is “a classic muddle.” By attempting to balance the administration’s allergic reaction to a U.S. commitment that might actually defeat ISIS while providing a legal basis for its ongoing half-hearted efforts, the president has provoked criticism from both the right and the left. But rather than being a compromise that makes sense, it merely confirms for those who weren’t already convinced that the president has no real strategy for eliminating ISIS or even for significantly “degrading” it.

It’s not clear what exactly will come out of the Congress as both House and Senate leaders struggle to come up with a formula that makes more sense than the administration’s attempt to set up one with limitations that ensures the U.S. can’t prevail in the conflict. But while his critics may demand that the president demonstrate that he has a path to victory over ISIS, they have very little leverage over his choices. No matter the outcome of the votes on a force authorization, nothing can make the president prosecute this war with conviction. Indeed, the U.S. is increasingly showing signs that the president is more interested in making common cause with Iran than in actually rolling back ISIS’s vast territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. That means the connection between Obama’s equivocal approach to the nuclear talks with Iran is not only worrisome in and of itself but a sign of an overall strategy in which the U.S. will acquiesce to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state and obtaining regional hegemony in return for cooperation against ISIS.

All this makes it even more important than it normally might be that potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates have more to say about foreign policy than platitudes. In 2008 the presidential contest—or at least the Democratic nomination that year—was essentially decided on the basis of Barack Obama’s adamant opposition to the Iraq war. Yet every new ISIS atrocity and terror attack is going to make it harder for anyone—whether on the right or the left—to run on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of the Middle East or to avoid conflicts.

For Democrats, this might make it even harder for those outliers with the temerity to challenge the Hillary Clinton juggernaut to get some traction by outflanking her on the left with another anti-war campaign. For Republicans, the more attention paid to ISIS murders of Americans, the harder it will be for Rand Paul to break out from the ideological box that his libertarian isolationist base has put him.

Nevertheless, Republican candidates need to do more than merely carp at Obama or issue ringing rhetoric about fighting terror. Unlike in 2008 and 2012, when many Americans thought they were electing a president to get them out of unpopular wars, the force authorization vote ensures that whoever wins next year will be leading a war effort that may well dominate their presidencies.

Unless something very unexpected happens in the next year, Republican candidates will be competing in primaries where they will be expected to tell us how they are prepared to beat an enemy that is, contrary to President Obama’s assurances, very much not on the run. That gives an advantage to a candidate like Senator Marco Rubio, who has been speaking with some authority on foreign policy throughout his first term in the Senate. Jeb Bush will have to also show whether his approach to foreign policy is, as some reports have indicated, a knockoff of his father’s “realist” policies that may not provide much of a contrast with Obama’s equivocations. By contrast, it puts those GOP governors that many of us have been assuming will be formidable candidates on the spot to quickly get up to speed on foreign policy. Walker is not the only one who fits in that category, but after his recent surge in the polls in Iowa, it’s obvious that if he wants to stay on top, he’s going to have to say something more than “no comment” about Iran.

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Obama’s Anti-ISIS AUMF: A Classic Muddle

Yesterday I wrote “here we go again” with President Obama agonizing over another major foreign-policy decision–whether or not to arm Ukraine–even as our enemies push ahead with great determination and cunning. Today we are seeing yet another Obama MO: the tendency, once endless administration deliberations are finished, to produce a split-the-difference solution that doesn’t accomplish as much as it should.

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Yesterday I wrote “here we go again” with President Obama agonizing over another major foreign-policy decision–whether or not to arm Ukraine–even as our enemies push ahead with great determination and cunning. Today we are seeing yet another Obama MO: the tendency, once endless administration deliberations are finished, to produce a split-the-difference solution that doesn’t accomplish as much as it should.

I refer to the president’s request to Congress to pass an Authorization for the Limited Use of Military Force (ALUMF) against ISIS. Now, the U.S. has been bombing ISIS since August and the administration has been talking about how to produce an AUMF that will allow Congress to weigh in without unduly cramping the president’s options. The result of all these deliberations? A request that allows the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces.” So far so good: this is the kind of robust authority that the president needs to fight this band of jihadist fanatics.

But then come the limitations. First, the authority does not extend to “the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground operations.” Second, the authority will expire in three years. Presumably these are sops intended to appeal to Democrats in Congress and a few Republican isolationists who are upset about the prospect of the U.S. waging “another” war in the Middle East. But do they make any sense?

The way the first restriction is worded–what the heck is an “enduring offensive ground operation” and how does it differ from a “temporary defensive ground operation”?–will, admittedly, make it largely meaningless. But still: the intent is clear and it’s to prevent the U.S. from engaging in ground combat against ISIS even if there is no good tactical alternative to such action.

Likewise the deadline–a favorite Obama limitation on the use of military force–is not as binding as it sounds. After all, if Obama has been able to fight ISIS for more than six months based on his executive authority and with no AUMF, it stands to reason that a future president could continue such action even after the AUMF expires. But the symbolism is clear–it is meant to imply that the U.S. will end its anti-ISIS operation within three years, whether that group is defeated or not.

This may be welcome to the ears of anti-war Democrats, but to our allies and enemies in the Middle East this, along with the restriction on the use of ground combat forces, sends a message of irresolution that will make it tougher for our troops to accomplish their mission.

At least we can be grateful that Obama is not seeking the repeal or rewrite of the unlimited post-9/11 AUMF against al-Qaeda, something he has been talking about doing since at least 2013. The last thing the U.S. military and intelligence community need are greater limitations on their ability to combat the monsters who burn and behead hostages.

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Obama’s Words v. Reality

“This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order. ” — President Obama, September 10, 2014

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“This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order. ” — President Obama, September 10, 2014

“The United States is closing its embassy in Yemen to the public until further notice, the embassy said in a statement on Monday amid political turmoil after that nation’s government resigned last week under pressure from the Houthi rebel movement. ‘The U.S. Embassy will be closed to the public until further notice out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting the Embassy. We are continuously analyzing the security conditions and will resume consular operations as soon as our analysis indicates we are able to do so safely,’ the statement said.” — Reuters, January 26, 2015

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“Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free. Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli. This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights. Now, all of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.” — President Obama, September 21, 2011

“The United States shut down its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli as fighting intensified between rival militias, the State Department said. ‘Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,’ spokeswoman Marie Harf said.” — the Daily Mail, July 26, 2014

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“We’re demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy. We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, as we were reinforcing our presence with frontline states, Mr. Putin’s aggression it was suggested was a masterful display of strategy and strength. That’s what I heard from some folks. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.” — President Obama, January 20, 2015

“Unexpectedly, at the height of the Ukrainian winter, war has exploded anew on a half-dozen battered fronts across eastern Ukraine, accompanied by increasing evidence that Russian troops and Russian equipment have been pouring into the region again… The renewed fighting has dashed any hopes of reinvigorating a cease-fire signed in September and honored more in name than in fact since then. It has also put to rest the notion that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, would be so staggered by the twin blows of Western sanctions and a collapse in oil prices that he would forsake the separatists in order to foster better relations with the West. Instead, blaming the upsurge in violence on the Ukrainians and the rise in civilian deaths on ‘those who issue such criminal orders,’ as he did on Friday in Moscow, Mr. Putin is apparently doubling down, rather than backing down, in a conflict that is now the bloodiest in Europe since the Balkan wars…. newly emboldened separatist leaders have abandoned all talk of a cease-fire. One of the top leaders of the Russian-backed rebels said Friday that his soldiers were ‘on the offensive’ in several sectors, capitalizing on their capture of the Donetsk airport the day before.” — New York Times, January 23, 2015

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“And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission [to defeat the Islamic State] by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority.” — President Obama, January 20, 2015

‘“The analogy we use around here sometimes [in describing ISIL], and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,’ Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. ‘I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.'” — President Obama, quoted in the New Yorker, January 27, 2014

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“We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.” — President Obama, January 20, 2015

“With ‘respect to Syria,’ said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has ‘always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.’”–“Obama on the World,” Thomas Friedman, New York Times, August 8, 2014

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“I mean, words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.” — Barack Obama, September 6, 2008

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The Smartest Guy Ever to Be President Isn’t Quite As Smart As He Thinks

Barack Obama is really, really smart. I know, because he told me so during his State of the Union address. Our president is especially smart on foreign policy. I know because Mr. Obama told me that, too. “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership,” the president said. “We lead best when … we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. And around the globe, it is making a difference.”

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Barack Obama is really, really smart. I know, because he told me so during his State of the Union address. Our president is especially smart on foreign policy. I know because Mr. Obama told me that, too. “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership,” the president said. “We lead best when … we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. And around the globe, it is making a difference.”

Of course it is.

Take how smart the president has been in combating ISIS (aka ISIL and the Islamic State). On Tuesday night Mr. Obama informed us that he was asking Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State. This comes precisely a year after our really, really smart commander in chief referred to ISIS as a “jayvee team.” That prediction was so prescient that the president decided to deceive us about it.

Here are some other examples of the shrewdness of the president. In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama declared, “We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort [to defeat the Islamic State], and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.” This comes after the president said last August that the notion that arming Syrian rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.” The president apparently believes that supporting what he deemed a fantasy–one military official told the press they are calling the moderate Syrian opposition “the Unicorn” because they have not been able to find it–now qualifies as Kissingerian.

The president also declared on Tuesday that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance.” That would be good news–if it were true. But just last week a senior defense official was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “certainly ISIL has been able to expand in Syria.” According to the Journal, “More than three months of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent Islamic State militants from expanding their control in that country, according to U.S. and independent assessments, raising new concerns about President Barack Obama’s military strategy in the Middle East.” NBC’s chief foreign-policy correspondent, Richard Engel, in reacting to the president’s address, said, “Well, it sounded like the President was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in but which is very different than the world that you just described with terror raids taking place across Europe, ISIS very much on the move.”

The president added, “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.” Now in commenting on those safe havens we’re denying terrorists, is it indecorous to point out that the Islamic State, located in the Middle East, is the best-armed, best-funded terrorist group on earth and that it “controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations,” in the words of Janine Davidson of the Council on Foreign Relations? I hope not, since even Mr. Obama’s own secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, has said ISIS is “beyond anything we have ever seen.” (That’s some jayvee team.)

Mr. Obama was also brainy enough to declare his foreign policy a terrific success on the very day that a Shiite militia group took over the presidential palace in the Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, “sparking fresh concerns about a country that has become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.” Which reminded me of how President Savant held up Yemen as a model of success only last September, telling us, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Which in turn reminded me of Libya.

It was in the fall of 2011 when President Obama, speaking to the United Nations and announcing yet another of his grand achievements, declared, “Forty two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free.” Mr. Obama went on to say, “This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.” And what a success it was. Just last summer, in fact, the United States, because of rising violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias, shut down its embassy in Libya and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort. Earlier this month King’s College George Joffe wrote, “Libya seems finally to be about to descend into full blown civil war.” Call it another Model of Success during the Obama era.

Our percipient president also declared in his State of the Union speech, “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.” That assertion is so reality-based that (a) the Washington Post fact-checker declared “there is little basis” for the president’s claims and (b) the highest ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, said the more he hears from Mr. Obama and his administration about Iran, “the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” Oh, and the president made his announcement on the very day that we learned that Russia and Iran are more aligned than ever, having signed an agreement on military cooperation between the two nations.

I also thought it was really smart of the president to declare that “we stand united with people around the world who have been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris”–especially since Mr. Obama was one of the very few leaders in the free world who didn’t stand with the people in the streets of Paris during a three-million-person-plus solidarity march there two weeks ago. The president stayed away even though there was no conflict with his schedule, apart from NFL playoff games, of course. And the president wisely saw fit not to send the vice president, his wife, or a member of his Cabinet to attend the rally, but rather sent as his representative the American ambassador to France. (Give yourself a gold star if you can name her without first googling her.)

For us lesser mortals, the president’s foreign policy–country by country, region by region, crisis by crisis–looks to be a disaster. But it turns out it’s actually a fantastic success. How do I know? Because “the smartest guy ever to become president” told us it is.

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Obama Makes Clear: No Foreign-Policy Recalibration Coming

Listening to President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address last night, I was more struck by what was missing rather than by what was included. The speech, naturally, featured a long wish list of domestic policy proposals (free community college, etc.) that have no chance of passing a Republican Congress. The president, as commander in chief, has more executive authority in foreign policy and yet foreign policy was by and large missing from the speech. By my count it consumed only 1,100 words out of a 6,800-word text–in other words, only 16 percent. It was sandwiched between domestic policy and global warming which are obviously areas that Obama feels much more passionately about.

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Listening to President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address last night, I was more struck by what was missing rather than by what was included. The speech, naturally, featured a long wish list of domestic policy proposals (free community college, etc.) that have no chance of passing a Republican Congress. The president, as commander in chief, has more executive authority in foreign policy and yet foreign policy was by and large missing from the speech. By my count it consumed only 1,100 words out of a 6,800-word text–in other words, only 16 percent. It was sandwiched between domestic policy and global warming which are obviously areas that Obama feels much more passionately about.

This focus is perhaps understandable given that the economy is looking up and Obama wants to claim credit, whereas there isn’t much to claim credit for in foreign affairs. Mainly Obama tried to claim credit for what he isn’t doing–“Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.”

This was, once again, a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor, George W. Bush, and his current critics, such as Senator John McCain, implying that they are warmongers. The implication became even clearer in the section where he promised to veto further sanctions on Iran: “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies, including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”

Obama is right that he has avoided repeating Bush’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead he’s made his own, allowing Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen to spin out of control. All of those countries are consumed in violent civil wars where America’s enemies, both Shiite and Sunni, are gaining ground. Obama was just flat-out wrong to claim that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership, including our military power, is stopping ISIL’s advance.” ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State may be stopped in Iraq but it hasn’t been rolled back, much less “destroyed,” and in Syria it hasn’t even been stopped–it’s been gaining ground since the U.S. began dropping bombs back in August.

Not surprisingly Obama omitted any mention of Somalia or Yemen, which in September he had cited as a model for fighting ISIS. That model is looking like an Edsel amid recent reports that the Houthis, a Shiite militia backed by Iran, have overrun Yemen’s capital.

Nor, predictably, did Obama make any mention of Boko Haram, which has carved out its own Islamist caliphate in Nigeria much like the Islamic State caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Remember when Michelle Obama joined the hashtag campaign to #BringBackOurGirls? Neither does her husband. The girls are still missing, and Boko Haram has been killing thousands of people but it did not merit a mention in the address.

Also ignored was the U.S.-aided campaign to combat the homicidal Lord’s Resistance Army–a campaign that resulted in U.S. Special Forces capturing top commander Dominic Ongwen, but that has not led to the capture of Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony who was the subject of another hashtag campaign (#Kony2012). In fact the only mention of Africa was a well-deserved shout-out “to our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola, saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.”

Likewise Asia–once a key area for the administration, which touted its Pacific Pivot–all but disappeared from the address. No mention of “rebalancing” our military commitments–only an anodyne sentence about how “in the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief.”

Ultimately what was missing from the State of the Union is any hint that Obama is prepared to rethink the “lead from behind” policies that have diminished American power and made the world–especially the Middle East–a much more dangerous place. There was no sign that, a la Jimmy Carter, this president had been mugged by reality and would become a born-again hawk. Instead he sounded confident, energetic, even arrogant in defending his (failed) record. Any recalibration of American foreign policy, it is clear, is at least two years away. That’s a long time given how dangerous the world looks right now.

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Free Bobby Jindal!

In the last couple of days, two quotes from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made the rounds. Neither quote was particularly noteworthy in itself, but the juxtaposition shows why Jindal, who is testing the waters for a presidential campaign, seems to be plagued by false starts. There are two Bobby Jindals, and they are getting in each other’s way.

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In the last couple of days, two quotes from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made the rounds. Neither quote was particularly noteworthy in itself, but the juxtaposition shows why Jindal, who is testing the waters for a presidential campaign, seems to be plagued by false starts. There are two Bobby Jindals, and they are getting in each other’s way.

On Monday, Reason’s Nick Gillespie called attention to a curious statement from Jindal as the governor was courting religious leaders in Iowa: “The reality is I’m here today because I genuinely, sincerely, passionately believe that America’s in desperate need of a spiritual revival.” Jindal added: “We have tried everything and now it is time to turn back to God.”

Gillespie countered that “What ails the government is not a deficit of religiosity but a nearly complete failure to deal with practical issues of spending versus revenue, creating a simple and fair tax system, reforming entitlements, and getting real about the limits of America’s ability to control every corner of the globe.”

I’d add that when we think about the character of the citizenry, it isn’t just about what government policies force people to do (or not to do), nor do we need the president to be the country’s spiritual leader. Politicians who instinctively lean on government action as a way to regulate behavior often forget the ennobling role of freedom in America. Religious freedom has strengthened spiritual practice here in comparison to most other Western nations, and the American ethic of personal responsibility does more to cultivate moral seriousness than presidential speeches about spiritual malaise.

But of course Jindal doesn’t need to be told this. He knows it, and even nods to it in other speeches. Over at the Weekly Standard, Daniel Halper posts a preview of a forthcoming speech on foreign policy that Jindal will deliver in London. Jindal will criticize Hillary Clinton’s “mindless naiveté” in her call for American leaders to “empathize” with our enemies. And the speech challenges Muslim leaders to defend their faith (and their reputations) from the extremists among them. But he will also say this:

In my country, Christianity is the largest religion. And we require exactly no one to conform to it. And we do not discriminate against anyone who does not conform to it. It’s called freedom.

Now, to be fair, Jindal’s two comments are not mutually exclusive. He can believe we need to turn back to God and also that we’re all free to decline to do so. But the spirit of his remarks really calls attention to his great weakness as a candidate: inauthenticity.

Jindal is a wonk–not in the American leftist mold, but actually smart. And he’s a good governor. I suspect this is part of Gillespie’s frustration with Jindal, though I wouldn’t put words in his mouth. Gillespie opens his post with a rundown of Jindal’s accomplishments and conservative bona fides. Here is how Gillespie’s post begins:

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) has proven to be one of the most effective and incorruptible legislators that the Bayou State has had. Unlike a long line of pols from Louisiana, he is neither a demagogue, a racist, nor simply a criminal willing to take bribes and cut shady deals for his pals. A few years back, he pissed off Republicans by rightly insisting that the GOP stop being “the stupid party” when it came to policy debates.

He’s worked hard to help reform school finance in a way that accelerates not just choice for students and parents but better results too; he’s privatized and contracted-out many states services at great savings; and he’s pushed for common-sense policies such as making birth control available without a prescription.

Jindal has also presided over a period of strong economic growth. Last year, when challenged by an MSNBC commentator over his economic record, Jindal said: “In Louisiana, we now have more people working, highest incomes in our state’s history. Larger population than ever before. And the president can’t say all those things about the country. Our economy has grown 50 percent faster than the national GDP, even since the national recession.”

Salivating at the prospect of catching Jindal in a lie, the “fack-checker” site PolitiFact looked into Jindal’s claim and found that “Jindal actually understated the comparison.” Jindal was more right than even he knew. Jindal’s position on domestic energy production is admirable as well.

So Jindal has a fluent grasp of the issues and is fully comfortable discussing them at length. He also has a record to run on. But when Jindal takes his campaign national, he lapses into a particularly striking habit of pandering, perhaps because pandering on identity politics doesn’t come so naturally to him.

Conservatives and libertarians who appreciate what Jindal brings to the table on policy want the campaign to let Jindal be Jindal. Not Mike Huckabee at home and John Bolton abroad. Other prospective candidates fill those roles (such as, well, Huckabee and Bolton).

Jindal isn’t wrong in his critique of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. And he obviously shouldn’t leave any issue completely to his rivals; if he wants to be president, he needs to display a well-rounded political philosophy. But he also needs to be himself. He’s a terrible panderer, and that is one of his finest virtues: he doesn’t know how to pretend to be something he’s not. And so he should stop trying.

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Free Soldiers Make a Free Nation

The godfather of the All-Volunteer military, Martin Anderson, died a few days ago at the age of 78. Anderson was a colleague of mine at the Hoover Institution, but he was working to end the draft before most of us were born. In 1967, he urged presidential candidate Richard Nixon to support the All-Volunteer army in the form of a 27-page technical memo and relentlessly nudged Nixon to make the issue central to the 1968 election. As another colleague, David Henderson, documented, “Anderson wrote the anti-draft speech that Nixon gave on CBS radio during the 1968 election.” After the election, Anderson was the key White House adviser that overrode Pentagon resistance, that organized the famous Gates commission, and that coordinated the legislation ending conscription once and for all in January 1973.

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The godfather of the All-Volunteer military, Martin Anderson, died a few days ago at the age of 78. Anderson was a colleague of mine at the Hoover Institution, but he was working to end the draft before most of us were born. In 1967, he urged presidential candidate Richard Nixon to support the All-Volunteer army in the form of a 27-page technical memo and relentlessly nudged Nixon to make the issue central to the 1968 election. As another colleague, David Henderson, documented, “Anderson wrote the anti-draft speech that Nixon gave on CBS radio during the 1968 election.” After the election, Anderson was the key White House adviser that overrode Pentagon resistance, that organized the famous Gates commission, and that coordinated the legislation ending conscription once and for all in January 1973.

Martin Anderson is a role model for policy wonks–both a brilliant scholar and a successful practitioner who made America a more perfect union. And yet, a staunch few critics still doubt the wisdom of voluntary military service. In the last month of Anderson’s life, two major magazines published cover stories questioning the change. The modern Pentagon personnel system has some alarming flaws, to be sure, but the question is whether we go back to a coercive, conscripted “citizen” army or go further forward to a total volunteer force that gives even more agency to soldiers.

James Fallows is concerned about the cultural chasm widening between Americans who choose to serve in the military and the citizens who don’t or can’t. His cover story for the Atlantic shows a toy soldier, of the monochrome green plastic mold, dropping his rifle, limbs splayed in agony under fire, backlit on black space, overlaid with a promise to explain inside why the “Best Soldiers in the World Keep Losing.”

As a veteran, I can say that Mr. Fallows has our attention. If for no other reason, we’re curious, what does he think we lost? Bosnia? South Korea?

The essay is in places brilliant, poignant, insightful, and flat-out informative. One line to savor: “Of Americans born since 1980, the Millennials, about one in three is closely related to anyone with military experience.” In contrast, three-quarters of Baby Boomers were. This fact is central to the important and ongoing national conversation about the civilian-military gap.

Unfortunately, Fallows makes some large leaps of logic trying to connect that fact to his thesis, which is that America has become a Chickenhawk Nation, in his words. Chickenhawk is a derogatory term applied to politicians who support war but avoid(ed) or take care that their children avoid military service. There’s a whole chickenhawk sub-plot to the never-ending debate among Baby Boomers, some who avoided the draft (e.g., Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Fallows, who wrote about his shame famously in 1975) and others who didn’t (e.g., John McCain, Colin Powell, John Kerry). So, let’s set that aside. What is unfortunate is the logical overstretch: Chickenhawk Nation is ridiculous and tautological all at once.

The tautology is that Fallows thinks the All-Volunteer force (AVF) is a failure because it makes war too easy to start and then too easy to ignore. So if you support violence but don’t practice it, you’re a chickenhawk hypocrite. By extension, you cannot support police unless you personally hunt criminals.

Fallows claims the voluntary nature of military service fosters a public far too safe and cozy and therefore careless about military spending and unwinnable wars. He further asserts that Iraq and Afghanistan are being lost, which is the responsibility of a disengaged democracy. This is where the argument is open to ridicule.

First, the American public was hardly indifferent to the plight of their military in 2004 or 2008, elections centering largely on the Iraq war. In fact, a sign of the piece’s inherent inconsistency is when Fallows himself writes “Hillary Clinton paid a price for her vote to authorize the Iraq War, since that is what gave the barely known Barack Obama an opening to run against her in 2008.” Central premise, self-refuted.

Second, Vietnam was a far less winnable war in the 1960s and ’70s when the draft was in place. Iraq, in contrast, was largely won because the AVF generation of generals (James Mattis, David Petraeus, and many more) pushed the White House to change strategies after 2006. Indeed, Iraq was lost only after 2012, for reasons that have nothing to do with the composition of the force. It has everything to do with who was commander in chief, his withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country, and his impatience with long-term engagement.

I respect the judgment of those who question the strategic value of America’s troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though I disagree. But let’s at least consider some partial successes. No repeat of 9/11-like attacks, albeit for now, is victory. More importantly, no human on earth doubts that America’s enemies are in grave danger, nor that attacks on our soil will be not be doubly answered. That’s credibility.

A deeper kind of success about which I have recently written here in COMMENTARY (“The Good Country”) is that the American strategy of patient, forward deployment, even and especially when it is not self-interested, has benefitted our allies and the world. America’s engagement in Asia and Europe since 1945 created a security umbrella fostering peace and unprecedented prosperity. If this model were applied to the Middle East–supporting allies rather than hunting monsters–it would reshape the Middle East’s future, and on this Fallows might agree.

The best part of Fallows’s reporting is how the Pentagon personnel bureaucracy has become risk-averse and careerist, a transformation invisible to the admiring public. This arguably feeds into a military-industrial complex far harder to crack than Eisenhower could have imagined. His in-depth coverage of the F-35 cost is fantastic. But ask yourself this: Would weapons acquisitions be more efficient and transparent in a conscripted military? Not likely. The real answer, I believe, is that acquisitions officers should be given more autonomy and flexibility, exactly the kind of expertise that could develop in a Total Volunteer Force.

Fallows reports some good news for reform: a new, bipartisan crop of federal legislators after the 2014 elections will double the number of veterans in Congress. There is a raging debate inside the ranks about how to fix the Pentagon personnel system. Most everyone favors a talent management evolution to fix what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the “institutional concrete,” and these new legislators will be the key to breaking it up. Freshman Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ), a retired USAF officer and of America’s first female combat fighter pilot, spoke in favor of the total volunteer force concept at a Hudson Institute forum in early 2013 and could be the legislative champion that active duty troops have been hoping for.

The Atlantic cover story rightly challenges Americans to think carefully about the civilian-military gap. My own mind is not made up about the gap, not how to fix it nor even sure how serious it is. But I have a sense that fixing the gap and fixing the personnel system are opposite sides of the same coin.

One thing I am confident about, though, is that Fallows’s preference for a return to the pre-1973 practice of conscription is the wrong direction. Over 90 percent of active duty troops and recent veterans are of the same mind–we do not want to serve alongside conscripts. A draft army is less competent, making the nation less secure as it makes service more deadly because it relies on constantly turning over two-year enlistees instead of 20-year professionals. Draft proponents want the public more hostile to foreign wars by threatening its children with coercive service, at the price of making army life more lethal to all soldiers because of draftee incompetence. Is that a moral tradeoff?

It is worth deconstructing the Fallows essay here, which opens with the author watching a televised speech by President Obama while waiting for a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The speech concerned Syria’s civil war, a flash point of debate nationally and within the White House about whether and how to engage with American ground troops. It is an explosive issue. Fallows was riveted. So were the 1.4 million men and women on active duty. In contrast, his fellow air travelers barely cared; they “went back to their smartphones and their laptops and their Cinnabons as the president droned on.”

The entire essay hinges on this moment. Fallows equates the other travelers’ disinterest with the president’s speech to indifference with the military. More likely, most Americans had tuned out what an omnipresent, unpopular president was saying during the 2014 campaign. He suggests that Americans’ deep admiration for the troops is counterintuitive proof of their indifference. In this narrative, civilians admire too much. Where’s the evidence? He cites a handful of distinguished veterans who agree that civilians are fawning, therefore uncritical, therefore (here’s the error) indifferent. That’s a bridge too far.

What Fallows offers next is a comparison of movies and TV shows during the Boomer era versus the modern era. We’re told that 1970s films M*A*S*H and The Deer Hunter show a balance of respect and skeptical insight whereas this decade’s Lone Survivor and Restrepo show an imbalance of admiration and ignorance. Really?

I’m torn here. I find myself agreeing, as many veterans do, that the public is not critical enough of the Pentagon. I think there’s a valid point that public admiration greases wasteful spending. One irony is that overspending on hardware means underspending on people in uniform, with very serious long-term consequences for military manpower. That said, I just don’t buy the argument that the public is out of touch with the military. Deconstructing Hollywood is glib and subjective at best. But even using Hollywood as a barometer, Black Hawk Down and more recent films strike me as telling the same story as the 1970s classics: good men and women bonding together through the adversity of war and the incompetence of the larger bureaucracy, sometimes triumphantly, other times tragically.

The argument that a smaller, professional military also fuels indifference does not wash. Fallows notes that American farmers outnumber soldiers three to one (a stock versus flow comparison, but I quibble) and therefore are exotic territory to the public. By this measure, professional athletes are exceedingly rare. So also are astronauts and Olympic athletes. Are we indifferent to them?

There is a gap between civilians and the military that should worry us, but it’s the opposite of what worries Fallows. The military’s AVF shift toward multi-decade service careers means that senior officers have become self-segregated, not from society, but definitely from modern workplaces. They have adopted the worst of modern bureaucracy but none of the nimbleness of contemporary entrepreneurial culture.

My favorite example of the current Pentagon rigidity is that George Washington would never be allowed to serve as a general in today’s Army. He was a farmer for over a decade before rejoining the ranks and leading the Continental Army. Today, anyone who leaves the ranks is not allowed back in, with rare exceptions. Eisenhower, Lee, Nimitz–none would make flag officer today. This is where we should focus our attention on closing the gap.

If the military was open to re-hiring veterans, even those out of uniform for a decade, it would create what people in the Pentagon are calling a “continuum of service” that could quickly and flexibly supply critical skills–think cyber, database management, cryptography, and bio warfare. It would also break down the wall between civilian and military experiences.

Another sophisticated critique of the AVF comes from James Kitfield: “For their part, members of Congress have not exercised their constitutional prerogative to declare war since World War II. They increasingly seem inclined to cede decisions on the use of military force to the executive branch, preferring to criticize and score political points from the sidelines. For the generations of Americans who have come of age in the all-volunteer era, war has become an abstraction, something best left to the professionals.” Kitfield’s lengthy cover story in National Journal last month was titled “The Great Draft Dodge,” and it also worries about invisible troops, echoing his essay’s protagonist, retired Army three-star General Karl Eikenberry.

The desire to reinstate conscription is based entirely on a vision of a fairer sharing of the burden of military service. Kitfield describes “the accumulating burdens of a decade of conflict.” Fallows talks about the “burdens placed upon” the American military tribe.

In theory, a draft would randomly select young men and women, treating everyone from every community fairly. Advocates ignore the reality of conscription which, in all countries and eras it is utilized, exploits poorer and less educated citizens by granting numerous exemptions. That was the Vietnam experience. I challenge anyone to read Fallows’ powerful 1975 story about escaping the draft and wish its return. “They walked through the examination lines like so many cattle off to slaughter…. While perhaps four out of five of my friends from Harvard were being deferred, just the opposite was happening to the Chelsea boys.”

Critics warned that the volunteer force would be even worse. A young James Fallows, among others, called attention to the skyrocketing percentages of poorer, less-educated enlistees throughout the 70s. He wrote in 1980 that America needed to return to the draft. The fairness critique evaporated, however, when the newly elected Reagan administration gave volunteer soldiers significant pay raises. By the time Reagan left the White House, the quality and reliability of our volunteer troops was far superior to previous eras, and has stayed high ever since, a point President Obama makes all the time. Instead of the low-quality recruits Fallows and other AVF critics warned about, a valid point in 1979 when half of enlistees had no high school diploma, modern enlistees have more education than the typical civilian.

So the critique has changed, if not the critic. Now, we are given little sermons about the “burden.” Always the burden. What if the troops who volunteer don’t think of their service as a burden, but rather think of it as an honor? To wear the Marine uniform is not imposed on any American today. Quite the contrary. Most Americans cannot qualify, let alone attempt to earn the stripes that Marines wear.

The simple truth is that a draft is a burden, but voluntary military service is a privilege. Certainly for the past decade, the millions of Americans who enlisted did so by choice. They chose to fight these wars. I think we who discuss military service should keep that in mind and speak a bit more respectfully about it. To be sure, serving in uniform is hard work, but it’s not a yoke to be shared in the way that so many writers assert.

America is a free country. Freer by definition when military service is voluntary. Any other kind of service isn’t service, after all. It’s servitude.

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The Right’s Unwise Eisenhower Nostalgia

There is something to be said for the desire to be seen as a political reformer in America today. It suggests energy and creativity, and often reveals a welcome intellectual curiosity. Reform conservatives–“reformicons”–have justly earned this reputation, putting forth serious policy proposals and demonstrating a mastery of details. Some on the right have now come forward to claim the reformicon mantle for foreign policy, in the process adding momentum to the latest trend in Republican foreign-policy thinking: misplaced nostalgia for Dwight Eisenhower.

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There is something to be said for the desire to be seen as a political reformer in America today. It suggests energy and creativity, and often reveals a welcome intellectual curiosity. Reform conservatives–“reformicons”–have justly earned this reputation, putting forth serious policy proposals and demonstrating a mastery of details. Some on the right have now come forward to claim the reformicon mantle for foreign policy, in the process adding momentum to the latest trend in Republican foreign-policy thinking: misplaced nostalgia for Dwight Eisenhower.

To be sure, there is much to admire in Eisenhower. But it doesn’t add any clarity to conservative policy planning to admire things about Eisenhower that didn’t actually exist. This week two of the right’s foreign-policy minds, Colin Dueck and Roger Zakheim, wrote a piece for National Review Online sketching out what they say is a reform-conservative foreign policy with a GOP candidate “who will play Eisenhower” as its avatar. As sensible as many of their principles are, the article contains neither much reform nor an accurate portrayal of Ike.

They pitch the coming GOP foreign-policy debate as a modern-day battle between Eisenhower and Taft. They cast Rand Paul as the champion of the Taftites, but I don’t think they’re being quite fair to Paul when they say those on his side of the debate “see American military power itself — rather than external challenges such as Russia, China, or the Islamic State — as the single greatest threat to American interests.” His father, Ron Paul, probably believes this. Rand believes in strategic retrenchment that, I think, underestimates the repercussions of such retrenchment but which does not replicate the noxious rhetoric of his father’s acolytes.

So what would a reform-conservative foreign-policy doctrine look like? Here’s their description:

It would preserve uncontested U.S. military supremacy. It would make clear distinctions between allies and adversaries, while supporting the former and resisting the latter. It would work from the understanding that the United States faces a range of serious international competitors that are not about to disappear anytime soon. It would look to push back against our adversaries through robust, coherent strategies of pressure. It would take great care before committing America’s armed forces to combat — and then do so, when finally required, in a deadly serious way.

This sounds almost exactly like … the reigning conservative foreign-policy consensus. I’m not sure what about that description is “reform”–which is fine with me, because those are sound principles. They just happen to be sound principles that have been guiding most conservative foreign-policy thinkers. It’s such a general description, in fact, that I could imagine it appearing on any GOP 2016 candidate’s issues page.

But the authors see this as a back-to-our-roots conservative reform. They write: “President Eisenhower, for example, pursued a national-security policy very much in keeping with the principles cited above.”

He most certainly did not.

The obvious hole in this plot is the second in their list of principles: “It would make clear distinctions between allies and adversaries, while supporting the former and resisting the latter.” If this sounds like Ike to you, we’re having a very strange foreign-policy debate.

Two of the most famous foreign-policy incidents on Ike’s watch were the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian uprising. Eisenhower fumbled the attempt to keep American partnership in the Aswan Dam and influence on the Suez Canal, which Egypt then nationalized. And he forcefully opposed the allies’ attempts to break Nasser’s hold.

In his recent book on postwar American foreign policy, Stephen Sestanovich writes: “Suez was no mere transatlantic disagreement, but a strategic defeat from which Britain and France never recovered. This was, in a sense, Eisenhower’s goal. He and Dulles now went beyond merely wanting American allies to fail. The United States actively and decisively promoted their failure.” Ike’s public stand against Britain, France, and Israel later in the crisis “combined outrage with undisguised pleasure at the chance to join world opinion against old-fashioned imperialism.”

Ike’s decision not to intervene in the Kremlin’s quashing of the Hungarian uprising certainly has many defenders, but I doubt it qualifies as making “clear distinctions between allies and adversaries, while supporting the former and resisting the latter.” Ike’s foreign policy was muddled, improvised, confused, and often shallow. Eisenhower’s caution was followed by the next Republican president, Richard Nixon. It wasn’t until Reagan that Republicans had a foreign policy consistent with the principles Dueck and Zakheim lay out.

Of course, the Iraq War is the elephant in the room, and Dueck and Zakheim choose to acknowledge it this way:

Those of us who are reform conservatives on national-security issues respond to a different set of circumstances than did President George W. Bush more than ten years ago. We have cut our teeth on the debates of the past few years — not prior eras. We did not mastermind Bush’s war in Iraq.

That seems really to be what this is about: the foreign-policy factory worker’s ritual denunciation of Bush. I don’t have a ton of patience for this. I wasn’t part of this supposed evil cabal of warmongers that led us into Iraq either. I was a sophomore in college when the 9/11 attacks enduringly changed our foreign-policy debate. But I don’t feel the need to claim clean hands every time I expound on foreign affairs.

Conservatives who believe that the principles that guided much of Bush’s foreign policy are perfectly acceptable unless they’re held by people who actually served in Bush’s inner circle are engaging in school-cafeteria politics. And transferring Bush’s principles to Eisenhower in order to launder political capital is not constructive. Ike was a hero, and he deserves to be remembered as one. But as president, his foreign policy was eventually left behind for a reason.

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