Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joe Biden

Clinton’s Advantage over Biden: She Got Out in Time

The volume of coverage for the 2016 presidential election has put a premium on any analysis that makes an original (but plausible) point. A touch of contrarianism always helps as well, which makes Joel K. Goldstein’s guest column at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball website intriguing. Goldstein argues that the general assumption that the vice presidency is a poor launching pad for the presidency is based on faulty logic and bad numbers.

He references the current corollary, the belief that Joe Biden–already an underdog against Hillary Clinton–simply cannot win in 2016. Goldstein isn’t attempting to boost a Biden candidacy, but he seeks to correct the basis for skepticism toward American veeps. They have a better record, when we account for various important and mitigating variables, than we tend to think. He writes:

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The volume of coverage for the 2016 presidential election has put a premium on any analysis that makes an original (but plausible) point. A touch of contrarianism always helps as well, which makes Joel K. Goldstein’s guest column at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball website intriguing. Goldstein argues that the general assumption that the vice presidency is a poor launching pad for the presidency is based on faulty logic and bad numbers.

He references the current corollary, the belief that Joe Biden–already an underdog against Hillary Clinton–simply cannot win in 2016. Goldstein isn’t attempting to boost a Biden candidacy, but he seeks to correct the basis for skepticism toward American veeps. They have a better record, when we account for various important and mitigating variables, than we tend to think. He writes:

Those who dismiss the vice presidency as a good source of presidential candidates often note that only four of the 47 men who have held the nation’s second office were elected president upon the retirement of the chief executive with whom they served. Yet the 1/12 ratio is a highly misleading measure. Nine of the 47 vice presidents became president through the death or resignation of their predecessor. Accordingly, they could not have been elected directly from the vice presidency. Nor could most of the seven vice presidents who died in office or the two who resigned. (Yes, these numbers include George Clinton and John C. Calhoun, who theoretically could have been elected president before serving a second vice presidential term with a new president. But being passed over for James Madison and Andrew Jackson respectively is hardly a disgrace.) Of the remaining 29 vice presidents, 12 (including Biden) were effectively blocked because a president of their party with whom they served sought another term.

Of the 17 other sitting vice presidents, eight were chosen as a national presidential candidate and four were elected. So once the denominator is reduced by eliminating those sitting VPs who essentially could not have succeeded their predecessor by election, some 47% of America’s sitting vice presidents have been nominated for the presidency (8/17), and 24% of the eligible pool were elected (4/17). Of the nine others, some, like Dick Cheney, credibly disclaimed any presidential ambition.

Though the modern era would seem to be less hospitable to sitting vice presidents than some earlier eras, Goldstein writes that this isn’t so: “since 1953, each of the four sitting vice presidents who sought the presidency following the retirement of the incumbent (Nixon, Hubert H. Humphrey, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore) won the nomination and were either elected (Bush) or ran dead-even races for president against formidable opponents.”

Additionally, he writes, we tend to use arguments against the vice president that we don’t against others. We like to say, for example, that Americans are more likely to elect a governor as president. But we don’t talk about all the governors who don’t become president, or the odds that the successful governor-turned-president had to overcome.

I don’t intend to argue with Goldstein’s numbers. But I would say that one aspect of this that directly affects Biden’s chances has to do with the popularity and perceived success of the administration in which the veep serves. Look at the vice presidents Goldstein mentions. Nixon served Eisenhower, who left office (via Gallup) with a 59 percent approval rating. George H.W. Bush served Reagan, who left office with a 63 percent approval rating. Gore served Bill Clinton, who left office at 66 percent approval. Humphrey served Lyndon Johnson, who left with 49 percent approval.

We don’t know where Barack Obama will fall on that list. But he’s struggling now, and this is of particular concern for Biden because his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, has already left the administration and can thus, in classic Clinton form, ditch unpopular policies and pretend to have had strong strategic instincts from the beginning. Biden cannot.

For example, Biden announced the administration’s “reset” with Russia, which turned out to be an appalling fiasco. But Clinton, as the nation’s chief diplomat, took high-profile stewardship of the reset. The disastrous policy still follows Biden around, as he must survey the wreckage of his administration’s failures and try to contain the damage. Clinton mocked Mitt Romney’s contention about Russia’s geopolitical threat to America, but now, freed from the administration, she can simply pretend she isn’t totally and catastrophically naïve about Russia:

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has urged Canada to forge a unified front with its U.S. neighbour to counter what she portrayed as heightened aggression by Russia in the Arctic.

Speaking to a sold-out crowd in Montreal on Tuesday night, the former first lady and possible future presidential candidate used her podium to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions not just in Ukraine, but closer to Canada’s borders.

Putin is coming for you, Canada! This comes on the heels of Clinton’s comparison of Putin to Hitler. Such verbal gymnastics are not so easy for Biden, who is still serving in this administration and therefore can’t rewrite his own history the way Clinton can. Which makes him much more likely to go down with the ship, as Clinton and her life raft float off in the distance.

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Biden’s Disingenuous NATO Promises

Foreign-policy watchers on Twitter had some fun with the Associated Press when the newswire tweeted this morning: “BREAKING: Vice President Biden says US will respond to any aggression against NATO allies.” It wasn’t exactly “breaking” news that an attack on NATO would elicit a response from NATO. But I think Biden’s proclamation–“breaking” or not–is in fact worth discussing, for two reasons.

First, it should be a given that the U.S. will defend its NATO allies, but in the Obama era of resets and red lines, Washington has sought any excuse possible to avoid confrontation, even if it meant reneging on promises or obligations. Add to that the fact that the Obama administration has undercut America’s relationship with strategic allies–such as Poland, with which Obama has picked unnecessary diplomatic fights–and NATO countries probably do need to hear an explicit promise from the White House that this administration would fulfill its obligations.

But the other reason is that this promise–empty or not–is still a disingenuous sleight of hand. The recent crisis took place in Ukraine, which is not in NATO. This is not a coincidence. In recent years, Putin’s Russia has taken to invading and occupying foreign countries in Russia’s near-abroad under the pretext of “protecting” Russian or pro-Russian populations. These invasions are carried out against non-NATO countries. Had they been against NATO countries, Putin would have sparked wars involving stronger countries–such as the U.S.

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Foreign-policy watchers on Twitter had some fun with the Associated Press when the newswire tweeted this morning: “BREAKING: Vice President Biden says US will respond to any aggression against NATO allies.” It wasn’t exactly “breaking” news that an attack on NATO would elicit a response from NATO. But I think Biden’s proclamation–“breaking” or not–is in fact worth discussing, for two reasons.

First, it should be a given that the U.S. will defend its NATO allies, but in the Obama era of resets and red lines, Washington has sought any excuse possible to avoid confrontation, even if it meant reneging on promises or obligations. Add to that the fact that the Obama administration has undercut America’s relationship with strategic allies–such as Poland, with which Obama has picked unnecessary diplomatic fights–and NATO countries probably do need to hear an explicit promise from the White House that this administration would fulfill its obligations.

But the other reason is that this promise–empty or not–is still a disingenuous sleight of hand. The recent crisis took place in Ukraine, which is not in NATO. This is not a coincidence. In recent years, Putin’s Russia has taken to invading and occupying foreign countries in Russia’s near-abroad under the pretext of “protecting” Russian or pro-Russian populations. These invasions are carried out against non-NATO countries. Had they been against NATO countries, Putin would have sparked wars involving stronger countries–such as the U.S.

The previous instance was Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. In seeking to differentiate the Ukraine invasion from the Georgia invasion–which elicited outrage mostly from the right, as the American left’s anti-Bush hysteria got the better of them and extended to pro-Bush foreign leaders–even some knowledgeable observers have taken refuge in the notion that Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili was goaded “into firing the first shot.”

This is preposterous, and it’s worth reviewing why in order to understand how Putin’s Russia treats its non-NATO neighbors. A good summary of the preceding events is contained in Andrei Illarionov’s essay in a book on the 2008 war, in which Illarionov reviews the Russian preparation for eventual war.

Russia began supplying one breakaway region, South Ossetia, with military equipment–including tanks and ammunition–before Saakashvili became part of the Georgian government. In fact, almost as soon as Putin joined Yeltsin’s government Russia began taking hostile measures against Georgia, which only increased as Putin became president and consolidated power. With tensions rising in 2002, Russia bombed Georgian territory. Soon after that, Putin claimed the right to take military action against Georgia under the guise of anti-terror missions.

Russia then staffed up South Ossetia’s government with Russian defense officials and sent more military equipment. Russia’s defense minister then echoed Putin’s threats to attack Georgia. More military goods along with Russian advisors would follow. The next year, Russia distributed Russian passports to South Ossetians with the declaration that it had an obligation to defend its citizens. More shelling of Georgian territory took place as well as a well-publicized attack on Georgian peacekeepers. Later that year, Georgian power lines were successfully attacked. The following year, a bombing traced to Russia at a Georgian police headquarters killed three.

Russia increased its construction of military bases and its transfer of arms and ammunition to breakaway Georgian territory. The following years had more of the same, with 2007 bringing major shelling of Georgian civilian territory and sustained military attacks. In the days before the war broke out in 2008, South Ossetian forces had begun sustained attacks on Georgian targets and territory. Georgia responded to South Ossetia, and Russia invaded Georgia.

To those who weren’t paying attention, the Russian attack on Ukraine came as something of a surprise. But this is how Russia behaves toward non-NATO states. So Joe Biden’s assurances to NATO states that the U.S. will stand by them is not a show of strength in the face of Russian expansionism. It’s a show of weakness, because it’s an implicit, but unmistakable, declaration that nothing has changed. If you’re not in NATO, you’re on your own. And by the way, the Obama administration doesn’t want you in NATO, whoever you are.

It’s nice to promise protection to states like Poland, which we have a record of betraying and whose leaders probably don’t find it so inspiring when Obama’s fans compare him to FDR. But the question is what to do about non-NATO states. George W. Bush’s preference was to put states like Ukraine and Georgia on the road to NATO membership and fuller democratization. The weak states in the region should ask Biden what he and his boss think they should do since they’re specifically excluded from the White House’s guarantees.

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Romney’s Vindication Is Complete

In the summer of 2012, Politico broke the news that Mitt Romney was planning to travel abroad to make a series of speeches intended to earn some foreign-policy credibility in his effort to defeat Barack Obama. One item on the itinerary was expected to be “a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia.” It made perfect sense: Russia had been causing trouble in its near abroad and in the Middle East, and allies who had been ignored (or worse) by the Obama administration were justifiably nervous.

To Obama-era Democrats, however, obsessed with erasing the Cold War from memory, countries like Poland stopped existing the moment they became independent from Moscow. Obama, in one of his trademark leaden attempts at humor, even dipped into junior-high parlance and taunted Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” (Perhaps he was all out of knock-knock jokes.) Hence all the nonsense about blaming NATO enlargement for Vladimir Putin’s actions, as if the countries themselves should have no say in their own affairs but still be subject to Russia’s veto.

The idea of blaming NATO has been discredited of course, thoroughly refuted by events: Obama froze NATO expansion long before Russia invaded Ukraine, for example. But the idea of even recognizing those countries’ existence is generally treated as preposterous by the left, and so Romney’s proposed itinerary was received in the media as though he were visiting another planet. Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist. She followed that up later that month by devoting an entire story to various Obama administration officials’ equally ignorant snarking about Romney’s trip.

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In the summer of 2012, Politico broke the news that Mitt Romney was planning to travel abroad to make a series of speeches intended to earn some foreign-policy credibility in his effort to defeat Barack Obama. One item on the itinerary was expected to be “a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia.” It made perfect sense: Russia had been causing trouble in its near abroad and in the Middle East, and allies who had been ignored (or worse) by the Obama administration were justifiably nervous.

To Obama-era Democrats, however, obsessed with erasing the Cold War from memory, countries like Poland stopped existing the moment they became independent from Moscow. Obama, in one of his trademark leaden attempts at humor, even dipped into junior-high parlance and taunted Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” (Perhaps he was all out of knock-knock jokes.) Hence all the nonsense about blaming NATO enlargement for Vladimir Putin’s actions, as if the countries themselves should have no say in their own affairs but still be subject to Russia’s veto.

The idea of blaming NATO has been discredited of course, thoroughly refuted by events: Obama froze NATO expansion long before Russia invaded Ukraine, for example. But the idea of even recognizing those countries’ existence is generally treated as preposterous by the left, and so Romney’s proposed itinerary was received in the media as though he were visiting another planet. Laura Rozen tweeted that “his reported itinerary only seems 25 [years] out of date”–a sign that she was a better presidential stenographer than humorist. She followed that up later that month by devoting an entire story to various Obama administration officials’ equally ignorant snarking about Romney’s trip.

There were signs that the media had begun to figure out that they’d been had–that the Obama White House talking points they were parroting were making them look ridiculous. As Russia took center stage on world affairs in recent months, Romney began receiving respectful hearings on liberal cable news outlets and a refrain of “Romney was right” could be heard bouncing around among the left. Now Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Poland on his own reassurance tour and Romney has taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to describe the strategic and diplomatic failures that led to this point. This morning, the New York Times’s Mark Landler tweeted:

Sitting in Warsaw reading Mitt Romney on POTUS: I think we can all agree the 80’s got its foreign policy back.

Romney’s op-ed in the Journal is being discussed as a classic “I told you so,” but Romney’s far too polite to say it. It’s also not necessary. Nonetheless, he certainly does criticize Obama’s leadership, noting that each time a potential crisis turns into an actual crisis, the president throws up his hands and defensively demands just what he’s supposed to do about it. There’s a reason for that, Romney writes:

A large part of the answer is our leader’s terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

If anything, Romney is actually too charitable toward Obama when he writes:

When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.

But in fact it’s not clear the administration knew anything of the sort. The intelligence community leaked that there would surely be no Russian invasion on the eve of the Russian invasion. Romney assumes that because he understands Putin and is therefore able to predict his behavior with some accuracy, the president does as well. The evidence suggests, however, that this isn’t the case. It remains to be seen if Obama finally gets it, now that Putin has made his point impossible to ignore.

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Of Course Joe Biden Will Run in 2016

Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just a bloviating cliché machine when on the stump. He inspires the same qualities in all who seek to write about him. Thus, it’s little surprise that “Joe Biden in Winter,” Glenn Thrush’s lengthy profile of the vice president published today in Politico Magazine, would resort to the usual tags of “happy warrior” and “motor mouth” when describing Biden. But the piece, which mixes agonizing detail with some keen insights about this career politician, does get one big thing right about him that most of those commenting on the likelihood of Biden running for president in 2016 generally don’t: there’s no way Biden is passing on his last chance to achieve a lifelong dream.

Thrush’s history of Biden’s ups and downs with President Obama and his inner circle is the kind of inside baseball account that resonates with a certain kind of political junkie. And policy types will be interested in the fact that he has more in common with his predecessor Dick Cheney in terms of influence than he does with Al Gore. But the only really important facts here are the ones that all point toward a Biden presidential bid in 2016. It’s not just that Biden is seen here quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem in which he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Rather, it’s that every fiber of his still vibrant being has been aiming at a presidency throughout his career. While most of us simply assume, with very good reason, that he has absolutely no chance to beat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run, Biden looks at the situation from a completely different angle. He thinks he should be president. Indeed, he has always thought so and the idea that he would get as close to it as he is now without giving it a try is simply inconceivable if you know anything about him.

After all, there is one pertinent fact about the Biden-Clinton rivalry that virtually everyone seems to forget. Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2008 just as she is in 2016. Leading up to that year, Biden was just a senator, not a heartbeat away from the presidency. And his only previous attempt to win the presidency wasn’t just a flop. His 1988 run was a devastating humiliation that collapsed after it was revealed that he had not only plagiarized his stump campaign speech from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock but also lied about his law school record and seemingly buried his national ambitions forever. But Biden was undeterred and tried again, assuming it was his last shot at the presidency. If he didn’t shy away from taking on Hillary then, why would he do so now as the sitting vice president?

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Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just a bloviating cliché machine when on the stump. He inspires the same qualities in all who seek to write about him. Thus, it’s little surprise that “Joe Biden in Winter,” Glenn Thrush’s lengthy profile of the vice president published today in Politico Magazine, would resort to the usual tags of “happy warrior” and “motor mouth” when describing Biden. But the piece, which mixes agonizing detail with some keen insights about this career politician, does get one big thing right about him that most of those commenting on the likelihood of Biden running for president in 2016 generally don’t: there’s no way Biden is passing on his last chance to achieve a lifelong dream.

Thrush’s history of Biden’s ups and downs with President Obama and his inner circle is the kind of inside baseball account that resonates with a certain kind of political junkie. And policy types will be interested in the fact that he has more in common with his predecessor Dick Cheney in terms of influence than he does with Al Gore. But the only really important facts here are the ones that all point toward a Biden presidential bid in 2016. It’s not just that Biden is seen here quoting Dylan Thomas’s poem in which he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Rather, it’s that every fiber of his still vibrant being has been aiming at a presidency throughout his career. While most of us simply assume, with very good reason, that he has absolutely no chance to beat Hillary Clinton if she decides to run, Biden looks at the situation from a completely different angle. He thinks he should be president. Indeed, he has always thought so and the idea that he would get as close to it as he is now without giving it a try is simply inconceivable if you know anything about him.

After all, there is one pertinent fact about the Biden-Clinton rivalry that virtually everyone seems to forget. Hillary Clinton was the inevitable Democratic nominee in 2008 just as she is in 2016. Leading up to that year, Biden was just a senator, not a heartbeat away from the presidency. And his only previous attempt to win the presidency wasn’t just a flop. His 1988 run was a devastating humiliation that collapsed after it was revealed that he had not only plagiarized his stump campaign speech from British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock but also lied about his law school record and seemingly buried his national ambitions forever. But Biden was undeterred and tried again, assuming it was his last shot at the presidency. If he didn’t shy away from taking on Hillary then, why would he do so now as the sitting vice president?

The point here isn’t just that the thumbnail profile of Biden as a “happy warrior” who can’t conceive of life outside of politics is true. It’s that Biden truly believes he should be president. Biden didn’t run in 2008 simply because he wanted the big desk in the Oval Office. He thought Americans deserved one last chance to do the right thing and make him president, as he thought they should have done in 1988. The fact that they didn’t was, in his estimation, their mistake, not his.

As Thrush correctly notes, Biden was thinking 2016 all through 2011 and 2012, despite the fact that president’s campaign staff refused to let him raise money in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, prime turf for a Democrat. Nor will he be put off by not having a PAC that will be able distribute campaign cash to Democrats who might help him in two years. Being cut out of the budget negotiations in Congress by a jealous Harry Reid hasn’t deflated Biden’s conception of himself as vital to the administration. The same applies to the criticism that has rained down on his head from observers of his often-unhelpful role in shaping U.S. foreign and defense policy during the last five years. Nothing that has happened or could happen will ever convince Joe Biden he shouldn’t be president.

To acknowledge this about him is not to exaggerate his chances of winning the big prize. Even if Clinton doesn’t run, Biden is a one-man gaffe machine and his well-earned gasbag reputation combined with his age (he’ll be 73 during the 2016 primaries) would render him vulnerable to potential Democratic challengers, all of whom will be able to depict themselves as newcomers by comparison. If Clinton does run, his chances of beating her are slim to none. But, as Thrush correctly concludes, that won’t stop him:

The things that make Biden so unfashionable—his affection for politics and the politicians who practice it, his boundless love of bullshitting, the rush he gets from cutting a deal—would, at the very least, offer a stark contrast to Clintonworld’s calculated opacity, palace intrigue and cult of personality.

Biden is the son of a car salesman and has practiced politics like one for over 40 years in public life. Even if he knows he won’t win, he won’t pass up the chance to sell himself to the American people one more time.

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How China Undercuts International Order in East Asia

Since Beijing established its controversial air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large part of the East China Sea last November, the Obama administration has done everything possible to avoid a political confrontation. While U.S. military jets are reported to have ignored the ADIZ and continued regular flights, Vice President Biden very conspicuously refused during his December visit to Beijing to demand that China roll back the zone. Moreover, the State Department advised U.S. civilian airliners to comply with Beijing’s demands. Washington’s actions are part of a larger trend of failing to uphold international order in East Asia.

This week, America’s top commander in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told reporters that the Chinese military has been “acting professionally” in the skies near the disputed Senkaku Islands. Unfortunately, news reports provided little clarity as to just what the Chinese are doing, professionally or otherwise, and where and how often U.S. jets are flying. This is a problem because the Obama administration has consistently refused to explain just why China’s particular ADIZ both conflicts with international law and is highly destabilizing.

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Since Beijing established its controversial air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large part of the East China Sea last November, the Obama administration has done everything possible to avoid a political confrontation. While U.S. military jets are reported to have ignored the ADIZ and continued regular flights, Vice President Biden very conspicuously refused during his December visit to Beijing to demand that China roll back the zone. Moreover, the State Department advised U.S. civilian airliners to comply with Beijing’s demands. Washington’s actions are part of a larger trend of failing to uphold international order in East Asia.

This week, America’s top commander in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told reporters that the Chinese military has been “acting professionally” in the skies near the disputed Senkaku Islands. Unfortunately, news reports provided little clarity as to just what the Chinese are doing, professionally or otherwise, and where and how often U.S. jets are flying. This is a problem because the Obama administration has consistently refused to explain just why China’s particular ADIZ both conflicts with international law and is highly destabilizing.

First, China’s ADIZ is ostensibly applied to both civilian and military flights for purposes of identification, filing of flight plans, and the like. All other ADIZ’s, such as those of the United States, apply only to civilian flights, and only in the case that there is a valid concern that they are acting in a threatening manner towards U.S. territorial airspace. As pointed out by James Kraska, formerly of the U.S. Naval War College, among others, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory, allows “freedom of overflight” on the high seas, including through exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

Beijing is thus trying to change the status quo by warping the commonly accepted definition of an ADIZ. The U.S. has never fully explained that only China is attempting to control the activities of both civilian and foreign military aircraft by expanding the scope of an air defense zone. This is a prime example of what analysts mean when they talk about international “norms” and the danger to them of revisionist states like China.

Second, China’s ADIZ conflicts with the 1947 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which states that interception of civilian aircraft over sovereign territory is permissible only if “reasonable grounds” exist to assume that such flight was not innocent, and that states “must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight.”

Yet in announcing its ADIZ, Beijing said that “emergency defensive measures” would be taken against any aircraft that did not comply with its demands for identification in the international airspace that happened to fall within the ADIZ, regardless of the innocence of the flight. Beijing is thus both conflating sovereign and international airspace and violating the spirit of international law by pre-justifying the use of force. A State Department full of lawyers might have enjoyed pounding this point home, but little if anything has been said about it.

In addition, Beijing is ignoring the fact that all airspace is already divided into “Flight Identification Regions” for the management of civilian flights and is agreed to through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Beijing’s demand that innocent civilian airliners provide information when traveling through its ADIZ violates air traffic practice established more than 50 years ago. Again, Washington has been silent on this point.

Third, Washington should have repeatedly pointed out that only China has established an ADIZ that overlaps with those of other countries. Indeed, a primary reason for China’s zone is to extend its ownership claims over the contested Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Japan. Thus, Beijing set up its ADIZ over Japan’s own zone, which was established decades ago. In addition, China overlapped territory claimed by South Korea. In response, Seoul also extended its ADIZ, so that the East China Sea now has three overlapping air defense zones.

The Obama administration has refused to provide the specifics about how destabilizing this is. Instead, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel merely lamented that what the U.S. was most concerned about was that China established its ADIZ in a precipitous manner without preconsultation. While U.S. military leaders have talked about the potential for accidental confrontation, the real dangers are much broader. In refusing to defend customary practice, international law, and common sense, the administration is playing its part in undermining all of them. It is a steep price to pay for not wanting to antagonize an already antagonistic competitor.

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Biden Still Wrong on Afghanistan

“I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  –Bob Gates on Joe Biden.

Biden is obviously determined to maintain his perfect batting average, to judge from this Wall Street Journal article, which reports: “Vice President Joe Biden has resumed a push to withdraw virtually all U.S. troops from Afghanistan at year’s end, arguing for a far-smaller presence than many military officers would like to see, said officials briefed on the discussions.”

Apparently Biden, who has previously argued for splitting up both Iraq and Afghanistan into multiple countries, would like to see no more than 2,000 to 3,000 troops left behind–which, as the Journal notes, quoting officials who know what they’re talking about, “would be so limited that a full pullout would make more military sense.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine how this handful of troops, presumably dedicated to terrorist hunting, could function if the country were collapsing around their ears.

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“I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  –Bob Gates on Joe Biden.

Biden is obviously determined to maintain his perfect batting average, to judge from this Wall Street Journal article, which reports: “Vice President Joe Biden has resumed a push to withdraw virtually all U.S. troops from Afghanistan at year’s end, arguing for a far-smaller presence than many military officers would like to see, said officials briefed on the discussions.”

Apparently Biden, who has previously argued for splitting up both Iraq and Afghanistan into multiple countries, would like to see no more than 2,000 to 3,000 troops left behind–which, as the Journal notes, quoting officials who know what they’re talking about, “would be so limited that a full pullout would make more military sense.” Indeed, it is hard to imagine how this handful of troops, presumably dedicated to terrorist hunting, could function if the country were collapsing around their ears.

Even the “zero option” is apparently back on the table, thanks in no small part to Hamid Karzai’s infuriating and self-defeating unwillingness to sign the very agreement he negotiated to maintain U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But if all goes well with Afghanistan’s election, Karzai won’t be president much longer. The U.S. would be crazy to hold hostage our long-term policy in Afghanistan and the region to his whims–or to Biden’s misguided policy prescriptions.

If the U.S. were to draw down to nothing, or almost nothing, in Afghanistan, the impact would be catastrophic, as described by International Crisis Group analyst Graeme Smith in this New York Times op-ed. He writes, ” an unraveling of the Afghan state can be avoided, but it will require the international community to stay involved.” Afghan forces still need, he notes, “more helicopters, as well as logistics, intelligence and medical support,” not to mention funding.

None of that will be forthcoming unless there is an American and NATO troop contingent robust enough to deliver it.

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Gates Book Timing Helped Obama

President Obama earned some civility points yesterday by refusing to fire back at Robert Gates after the former secretary of defense disparaged aspects of his leadership style as well as taking shots at Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton in his new memoir. While Obama admitted he was “irked” by the timing of the publication of the book, he praised the former secretary as an “outstanding” cabinet member and friend. Though Democrats were blasting Gates for writing a book that was mined for negative quotes about their two leading presidential contenders in 2016, even a Republican like John McCain said that he should have waited until the administration he served was out of office before writing a memoir.

Gates’s critics may have a point about Washington etiquette, though few liberals protested when Scott McClellan, who had served as George W. Bush’s press secretary, penned a tell-all memoir that blasted his boss and his policies. The notion that there should be a waiting period before those who serve in government can write books seems to be more about good manners than ethics. But despite the nasty nature of some of the exchanges between Gates and administration defenders, the president was right to tread softly on the issue. Though some of the book doesn’t do much to make the president and his colleagues look good on some points, by waiting until Obama was safely reelected before coming clean about Obama’s war leadership, Gates did his former boss a huge favor and the voters a disservice.

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President Obama earned some civility points yesterday by refusing to fire back at Robert Gates after the former secretary of defense disparaged aspects of his leadership style as well as taking shots at Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton in his new memoir. While Obama admitted he was “irked” by the timing of the publication of the book, he praised the former secretary as an “outstanding” cabinet member and friend. Though Democrats were blasting Gates for writing a book that was mined for negative quotes about their two leading presidential contenders in 2016, even a Republican like John McCain said that he should have waited until the administration he served was out of office before writing a memoir.

Gates’s critics may have a point about Washington etiquette, though few liberals protested when Scott McClellan, who had served as George W. Bush’s press secretary, penned a tell-all memoir that blasted his boss and his policies. The notion that there should be a waiting period before those who serve in government can write books seems to be more about good manners than ethics. But despite the nasty nature of some of the exchanges between Gates and administration defenders, the president was right to tread softly on the issue. Though some of the book doesn’t do much to make the president and his colleagues look good on some points, by waiting until Obama was safely reelected before coming clean about Obama’s war leadership, Gates did his former boss a huge favor and the voters a disservice.

Gates’s pious disclaimers about the book controversy being created by sensationalist journalists skimming quotes are patently insincere. Those quotes were highlighted by his publisher and distributed to the press precisely in order to create buzz about the book and increase sales. To that end, they have succeeded brilliantly. The Gates book became a huge political story and though it was quickly overshadowed by Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal, the former secretary’s publishers are crying all the way to the bank over all the free publicity they have received. Had Gates waited until Obama was safely out of office, there wouldn’t be much buzz about the book. Nor would his sales be as great.

But Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe has a far more salient point when he noted that if there is any criticism to be made about Gates, it is that he waited too long to tell the American people about the cynicism of the president toward the armed forces and the truth about both Obama and Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the Iraq troop surge. There appears to be much in the book that would have fueled an important discussion about the president’s conduct during his reelection campaign. Had Gates spoken up during 2012 about the nature of the administration’s decision-making process about the Afghanistan war and other behind-the-scenes details, it would have negatively affected the president’s chances for a second term. While it is doubtful that any book, no matter how much it dishes on Biden and Clinton, will affect the 2016 contest, his Cabinet colleagues will suffer far more than Obama as result of Gates’s indiscretions.

As such, President Obama is probably right to ease up on Gates (who has accurately noted that he was more critical of the president’s aides than of the commander in chief) whose decision to keep quiet this long did him as much good as anything he did while at the Pentagon.

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Bob Gates vs. the White House

After publishing the latest in its series of stories that seemed designed to help burnish Hillary Clinton’s reputation ahead of the 2016 election, the New York Times’s effort had become so transparent, and it had been called out so noticeably, that editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal felt compelled to deny it. He wrote, “let me be clear: We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton.”

Noted. But Vice President Joe Biden might be among those stifling a laugh at Rosenthal’s assertion. Today both the Washington Post and New York Times published revelations from former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’s forthcoming memoir. The Post’s account, written by Bob Woodward, notes that Clinton apparently admitted to President Obama that her opposition to the “surge” was pure politics, since Obama was opposed to the surge and they were in competition at the time. Picking up from that, Woodward’s Post colleague Chris Cillizza speculates on how the excerpt could harm Clinton’s prospects:

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After publishing the latest in its series of stories that seemed designed to help burnish Hillary Clinton’s reputation ahead of the 2016 election, the New York Times’s effort had become so transparent, and it had been called out so noticeably, that editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal felt compelled to deny it. He wrote, “let me be clear: We have not chosen Mrs. Clinton.”

Noted. But Vice President Joe Biden might be among those stifling a laugh at Rosenthal’s assertion. Today both the Washington Post and New York Times published revelations from former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’s forthcoming memoir. The Post’s account, written by Bob Woodward, notes that Clinton apparently admitted to President Obama that her opposition to the “surge” was pure politics, since Obama was opposed to the surge and they were in competition at the time. Picking up from that, Woodward’s Post colleague Chris Cillizza speculates on how the excerpt could harm Clinton’s prospects:

But, remember this is Hillary Clinton we are talking about.  And, the criticism that has always haunted her is that everything she does is infused with politics — that there is no core set of beliefs within her but rather just political calculation massed upon political calculation. Remember that she began slipping in the 2008 Democratic primary when her opponents seized on an overly political answer on giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants during a debate in  late 2o07.

Gates’s version of why Clinton opposed the surge fits perfectly into this existing good-politics-makes-good-policy narrative about the former secretary of state. And that’s what makes it dangerous for her —  and why you can be sure she (or her people) will (and must) dispute Gates’s recollection quickly and definitively.

Whether it hurts Clinton might depend largely on who runs against her in the Democratic primary. But he’s right that the reputation of both Clintons has always been not to say a single word that hasn’t been focus-grouped into the ground. If Clinton was hoping her time as secretary of state would temper that reputation, the Gates memoir is yet another example of how difficult it can be for a politician to shake an entrenched narrative, especially one, like this, that is accurate.

The Post story isn’t kind to Biden either. (It’s brutal toward the Obama White House in general, but Obama has no more presidential elections ahead of him.) Gates accuses Biden of “poisoning the well” against the military, and when Biden and Donilon tried to order Gates around, he apparently responded: “The last time I checked, neither of you are in the chain of command.” The Obama administration was notoriously insular and incurious about the world outside them. But quotes like this, coming from a former defense secretary, still sting:

It got so bad during internal debates over whether to intervene in Libya in 2011 that Gates says he felt compelled to deliver a “rant” because the White House staff was “talking about military options with the president without Defense being involved.”

Gates says his instructions to the Pentagon were: “Don’t give the White House staff and [national security staff] too much information on the military options. They don’t understand it, and ‘experts’ like Samantha Power will decide when we should move militarily.”

The Times, however, goes easier on Clinton and tougher on Biden with its quotes, including this uppercut:

Mr. Gates calls Mr. Biden “a man of integrity,” but he questions the vice president’s judgment. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” Mr. Gates writes.

I suppose it can be argued that the Post’s lack of interest in examining how these revelations might derail a Biden presidential candidacy is it’s own sort of pro-Clinton tilt. The implication is that only one of those candidates has prospects worth protecting (or derailing), and it isn’t Biden.

Unless the reporters who read advance copies of the book missed something juicier, nothing in Gates’s memoir seems likely to spoil anyone’s presidential aspirations, and I doubt Gates has any interest in doing so anyway. Picking out excerpts and anecdotes can easily skew the perception of the book, especially before the public has had a chance to read it. But the splash being made by these (mostly unsurprising) insider claims is a testament to the credibility Gates has earned over his distinguished career, and suggests the considerable authority his account of these last few years will carry.

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China’s Strategic Patience

Because China was not under any serious foreign military threat, its decision to declare an “air defense identification zone” over an area that includes islands claimed by both Japan and China was unnecessary. Because it was unnecessary, there are two obvious ways of looking at it. Either the gratuitous display of power was meant as a prelude to real aggression, or it was a bluff.

If the former, then the second act may have been averted when the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the airspace, causing China to back down. If the latter, the bluff was called for all the world to see. In either of these scenarios, China looks like a paper tiger–a phrase used often in reference to China, but again repeated when it looked like China would do nothing too troublesome to defend the flag it planted. But both these analyses stem from judging events news cycle by news cycle–a typically Western habit exacerbated in the age of Twitter.

There is a third way of looking at it, though, and there is reason enough to think it aligns with how the Chinese government viewed the episode, which is still unfurling with Joe Biden’s visit to China today. This perspective is hinted at on the map of the air defense zone, of which the New York Times has an excellent version here. The Chinese air defense zone is predominantly in conflict with Japan’s airspace claims, but about a third of the zone looks to be encroaching on Taiwanese airspace, which, of course, is much closer to the Chinese mainland. It also overlaps with some airspace claimed by South Korea.

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Because China was not under any serious foreign military threat, its decision to declare an “air defense identification zone” over an area that includes islands claimed by both Japan and China was unnecessary. Because it was unnecessary, there are two obvious ways of looking at it. Either the gratuitous display of power was meant as a prelude to real aggression, or it was a bluff.

If the former, then the second act may have been averted when the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the airspace, causing China to back down. If the latter, the bluff was called for all the world to see. In either of these scenarios, China looks like a paper tiger–a phrase used often in reference to China, but again repeated when it looked like China would do nothing too troublesome to defend the flag it planted. But both these analyses stem from judging events news cycle by news cycle–a typically Western habit exacerbated in the age of Twitter.

There is a third way of looking at it, though, and there is reason enough to think it aligns with how the Chinese government viewed the episode, which is still unfurling with Joe Biden’s visit to China today. This perspective is hinted at on the map of the air defense zone, of which the New York Times has an excellent version here. The Chinese air defense zone is predominantly in conflict with Japan’s airspace claims, but about a third of the zone looks to be encroaching on Taiwanese airspace, which, of course, is much closer to the Chinese mainland. It also overlaps with some airspace claimed by South Korea.

China did not win anything in the near term from the United States, it would appear. But that doesn’t mean China didn’t win anything at all in the near term, or that China didn’t win anything in the long run from the U.S. The opposite seems to be the case. First, from the Times, what the Chinese have won in the near term:

The vice president’s goal appears to be to neutralize the destabilizing impact of the air defense zone in the region by persuading the Chinese authorities to stop scrambling fighter jets or otherwise disrupt the busy air corridors between Japan and China.

China will likely interpret this as to some extent legitimizing China’s right to contest control of the airspace, just not to have that claim recognized as a fact in itself. It’s unclear what, if anything, the U.S. can do beyond this. It’s therefore likely that, far from miscalculating, the Chinese leadership assessed the situation accurately. It may not be a monumental victory, but it’s more than they started with.

And the Washington Post’s writeup of Biden’s visit hints at what China may have won in the long run:

Aides said the vice president’s goals would include getting the Chinese to agree not to establish other such zones without first discussing their intentions with potentially affected countries.

China has reason to view this as a win on two levels: first, that the U.S. will essentially stay out of such regional line-drawing; and second, that “discussing their intentions with potentially affected countries” before rearranging borders is a loophole big enough to fly a B-52 bomber through.

It also suggests the Obama administration knows China is playing the long game. As Harry Kazianis notes at the Diplomat, an air defense zone over the disputed islands with Japan is presumably the opening act:

Beijing could use such wording to openly declare such a new ADIZ in the South China Sea — an area with sovereignty disputes involving multiple claimants. In fact, Beijing has already gone so far to claim 80 percent of the area, effectively taking control of Scarborough Shoal last summer, which is well within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and is pressing its claims now on Second Thomas Shoal. China has also deployed its new aircraft carrier to the region in what could be seen as a show of force (although, let’s be frank, the carrier won’t be operational for sometime, however, the point is still made).

Second, when America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave guidance that U.S. domestic carriers should inform Beijing of their flight plans, Washington not only gave de facto approval of the East China Sea ADIZ, but also suggested that future moves would not be met with strong resistance. Truth be told, the Obama Administration was in a tight bind on the decision — not giving the information to Beijing could have put such flights and American lives in danger, and no one wants to see an accident turn into a crisis that won’t be easy to untangle considering the stakes. Yet, any move that gives this ADIZ declaration on China’s part any legitimacy will certainly be used by Beijing as a sign of acceptance. If we got away with it once, why not try the same move again and again?

President Obama’s openness to granting countries such as Russia and Iran their own spheres of influence will surely invite such challenges, but the Chinese air defense zone declaration is not really about Obama. It’s more about what he represents to some leaders: a weary, inward looking, declining power that at some point will be unwilling to challenge a major act of Chinese aggression either in the South China Sea or Taiwan. That day is not today, but the Chinese leadership is almost certainly curious as to when that will change.

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China’s Problem: Freedom Is Infectious

Pity the leaders of China’s sclerotic Communist government. They thought they had learned the lessons of the breakup of the Soviet Union and managed to allow a degree of economic freedom without giving up a smidge of political power. Many, though not all, Chinese are allowed now to make money in a booming economy that has helped finance a debt-ridden West. But as much as China has made extraordinary economic progress in the last generation, its society still labors under the burden of tyranny that limits its advancement. As is the case with all forms of tyranny, the all-powerful government acts with impunity, encouraging corruption and rendering the rule of law an empty promise. Personal incomes have gone up but the absence of freedom still lingers, as does the Chinese gulag where those who dissent are still sent.

The Communists know all this and by scaling back some of the most onerous restrictions on freedom they hope to not only keep the Chinese people quiescent but to retain their absolute hold on power for yet another generation. That’s why they are considering lifting the infamous “one child” policy in some instances. But, as the New York Times reports today, as popular as the abolition of this despicable law would be, doing so even if only for parents who are both only children is not going to be easy. The problem is that once you start allowing some freedom, the people are bound to want more.

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Pity the leaders of China’s sclerotic Communist government. They thought they had learned the lessons of the breakup of the Soviet Union and managed to allow a degree of economic freedom without giving up a smidge of political power. Many, though not all, Chinese are allowed now to make money in a booming economy that has helped finance a debt-ridden West. But as much as China has made extraordinary economic progress in the last generation, its society still labors under the burden of tyranny that limits its advancement. As is the case with all forms of tyranny, the all-powerful government acts with impunity, encouraging corruption and rendering the rule of law an empty promise. Personal incomes have gone up but the absence of freedom still lingers, as does the Chinese gulag where those who dissent are still sent.

The Communists know all this and by scaling back some of the most onerous restrictions on freedom they hope to not only keep the Chinese people quiescent but to retain their absolute hold on power for yet another generation. That’s why they are considering lifting the infamous “one child” policy in some instances. But, as the New York Times reports today, as popular as the abolition of this despicable law would be, doing so even if only for parents who are both only children is not going to be easy. The problem is that once you start allowing some freedom, the people are bound to want more.

Any discussion of the one child policy must begin with the fact that it has never been some antiseptic commonsense attempt to cope with over-population. The notion that this law is all that stood between China and some “Soylent Green” style Malthusian nightmare is a myth that Beijing apologists have often successfully foisted onto the American imagination. All too many Americans, especially those liberals who have always been willing to give China’s tyrants the benefit of the doubt, have been prepared to accept the notion that one child made sense in China. Even Vice President Joe Biden publicly endorsed it when, in the course of trying to draw a bogus comparison between liberal U.S. economic policies and Chinese dictates, he said:

You have no safety net.  Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I’m not second-guessing — of one child per family.  The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people.  Not sustainable.

Aside from Biden’s characteristically fractured grammar, what he left out of that equation was the reality of mass forced abortions, forced sterilizations and a skewed sex balance that devalues women in a culture which prizes male offspring. One child is at the heart of the terror state that persists in China since it limits a basic human right that not even Stalinist Russia ever directly challenged. While a case could be made that China had to do something to deal with the imbalance between its resources and a growing population, the correct answer to this problem was not less freedom but more. Centralized planning is no match for the benefits of human creativity aimed at expanding wealth and resources. Even in an era in which it has allowed some limited freedoms in its economy, Beijing still seeks to impose the heavy hand of tyranny on the most personal of decisions.

The Communists’ problem is the same as that of every tyrant who seeks to loosen their strangleholds on the lives of their subjects: freedom is infectious. Let it loose in one area and there’s no telling where it will lead. They had thought allowing people to own property would compensate for their lack of say over anything else but sooner or later, human beings will not be satisfied with the crumbs of liberty their masters allow them. While Chinese President Xi Jinping would like to let some families have a second child, once the floodgates are open, it’s not clear that they could be closed.

Ever since President Nixon normalized relations with China, apologists for détente with Beijing have told us that the Chinese people don’t value or don’t want freedom and that discussion of human rights in the planet’s largest tyranny is pointless or unnecessary. But they have always been wrong. China’s freedom fighters have gone to nameless deaths in the laogai but the notion that Communism can suppress a people’s nature longing for freedom even in a culture that values community is a myth. Sooner or later, one child is doomed and the country’s leaders know it. But they also may understand that once the threat of forced abortions and sterilizations is removed, something beyond the population figure will increase in China. Once you give a person back that sort of personal autonomy, there’s no telling what they will ask for, and more will be swept away in the tide that will eventually follow than restrictions on family size.

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Will Biden Strike Back at Hillary on Terror?

Most of the early focus on the 2016 presidential election has been on the Republicans as a gaggle of potential first-tier contenders maneuver for position. But those who thought the cheap shots would be confined to the infighting between Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a long list of other likely candidates were wrong. In what may have been the first shot fired in the Democratic nomination contest, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck a knife in the back of a former colleague who is a possible rival. As Politico reports:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took some indirect swipes at Vice President Joe Biden at an off-the-record gathering, a state representative in attendance told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,” George State Rep. Tom Taylor told the newspaper. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.”

Clinton, a top potential 2016 contender, addressed the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta on Tuesday, where “social media, photography, recording, writing about and/or videotaping” was prohibited, according to guidance released a day earlier.

But Taylor told the newspaper that while answering the question about bin Laden, Clinton depicted herself and former CIA Director Leon Panetta as champions of the raid, while also noting Biden’s opposition to the action. Biden is also a potential 2016 hopeful.

“She took the rest of the time and went over, answering that question,” Taylor, a Republican, said. “She was ready to speak on that.”

Clinton struck a similar theme at another recent speech before the Long Island Association, according to an attendee.

The remarks show that, contrary to the expectations of many pundits who think Biden will stay out if she runs, Clinton clearly believes that Biden is in the race no matter what she does. Rather than play nice and hope that the vice president will choose not to challenge his old allies, Clinton seems to think a no holds barred approach to the most serious potential adversary is in order. As such, and very much in line with the old Clinton “war room” philosophy, she is determined to destroy him even they confront each other in the primaries. But by highlighting her alleged toughness on terrorism, Clinton may be giving an opening to Biden (not to mention Republicans) to ask some hard questions about her role in the Benghazi fiasco, including some behind-the-scenes information that could be problematic for her presidential hopes.

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Most of the early focus on the 2016 presidential election has been on the Republicans as a gaggle of potential first-tier contenders maneuver for position. But those who thought the cheap shots would be confined to the infighting between Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and a long list of other likely candidates were wrong. In what may have been the first shot fired in the Democratic nomination contest, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck a knife in the back of a former colleague who is a possible rival. As Politico reports:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday took some indirect swipes at Vice President Joe Biden at an off-the-record gathering, a state representative in attendance told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I know she’s running for president now, because toward the end, she was asked about the Osama bin Laden raid. She took 25 minutes to answer,” George State Rep. Tom Taylor told the newspaper. “Without turning the knife too deeply, she put it to [Vice President Joe] Biden.”

Clinton, a top potential 2016 contender, addressed the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta on Tuesday, where “social media, photography, recording, writing about and/or videotaping” was prohibited, according to guidance released a day earlier.

But Taylor told the newspaper that while answering the question about bin Laden, Clinton depicted herself and former CIA Director Leon Panetta as champions of the raid, while also noting Biden’s opposition to the action. Biden is also a potential 2016 hopeful.

“She took the rest of the time and went over, answering that question,” Taylor, a Republican, said. “She was ready to speak on that.”

Clinton struck a similar theme at another recent speech before the Long Island Association, according to an attendee.

The remarks show that, contrary to the expectations of many pundits who think Biden will stay out if she runs, Clinton clearly believes that Biden is in the race no matter what she does. Rather than play nice and hope that the vice president will choose not to challenge his old allies, Clinton seems to think a no holds barred approach to the most serious potential adversary is in order. As such, and very much in line with the old Clinton “war room” philosophy, she is determined to destroy him even they confront each other in the primaries. But by highlighting her alleged toughness on terrorism, Clinton may be giving an opening to Biden (not to mention Republicans) to ask some hard questions about her role in the Benghazi fiasco, including some behind-the-scenes information that could be problematic for her presidential hopes.

The substance of this line of attack also shows that Clinton thinks that if running on the death of bin Laden was good for President Obama, it can be just as good for her. Portraying the verbose Biden as a wimp when it comes to giving the order to kill the arch-criminal gives the lie to the vice president’s blood-curdling rhetoric about the same subject in which he has frequently thumped his chest and talked about pursuing the bad guys to the gates of hell.

But in striking the first blow in such a snarky manner, Clinton is more or less daring Biden to either dispute the charge and/or to start dishing about the chaos in the State Department on 9/11/12. The assumption on the part of the mainstream media has always been that Clinton was bulletproof on Benghazi because the only people complaining about the decisions that led to the deaths of four Americans and the lies told about the event afterwards were conservatives. But if Biden starts probing or, even worse, relaying whatever inside gossip about the event that has made its way to the West Wing, it could open the floodgates for liberals to begin asking the questions that have heretofore been solely the province of Republicans. Even if Clinton did nothing wrong other than minimize the importance of the lies (“What difference does it make?”) that will still hamper her efforts and give Biden a boost.

Biden may be a blowhard but he has never been known to shy away from a fight. If Clinton thinks her shots fired in his direction will deter him from running, she’s wrong. If anything, it could have the opposite reaction. While President Obama may want the two 2016 contenders to shut up, this is not likely to be the last blow struck between two Democratic powerhouses. Though Hillary drew first blood, it also could be the beginning of a bumpy ride for a Clinton candidacy that many of us thought would be acclaimed with near unanimity.

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2016 and the Shutdown: Joe Biden Edition

Yesterday I wrote about Harry Reid’s attempt to bench President Obama in the ongoing shutdown showdown. Reid’s justification for this power trip was, according to Democrats, that Reid’s party is concerned Obama might negotiate in good faith and end the shutdown. That put them in direct competition: the president’s responsibility is to govern, and Reid sees his current role as protecting Democrats from having to vote on anything remotely controversial and marginalizing the Republican minority. His aims are incompatible with the president’s.

But removing Obama from the equation seems misdirected. After all, Obama has terrible relationships with the Hill and has made a career out of torpedoing major bipartisan deals rather than implementing them. When the administration needed to make a deal with Republicans in Obama’s first term, the president had to be sidelined so a deal could be struck. It was Vice President Joe Biden who stepped in to negotiate. Wouldn’t Reid, then, have more to gain by keeping Biden away from this showdown? As Politico notes today, he’s done that too:

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Yesterday I wrote about Harry Reid’s attempt to bench President Obama in the ongoing shutdown showdown. Reid’s justification for this power trip was, according to Democrats, that Reid’s party is concerned Obama might negotiate in good faith and end the shutdown. That put them in direct competition: the president’s responsibility is to govern, and Reid sees his current role as protecting Democrats from having to vote on anything remotely controversial and marginalizing the Republican minority. His aims are incompatible with the president’s.

But removing Obama from the equation seems misdirected. After all, Obama has terrible relationships with the Hill and has made a career out of torpedoing major bipartisan deals rather than implementing them. When the administration needed to make a deal with Republicans in Obama’s first term, the president had to be sidelined so a deal could be struck. It was Vice President Joe Biden who stepped in to negotiate. Wouldn’t Reid, then, have more to gain by keeping Biden away from this showdown? As Politico notes today, he’s done that too:

When President Barack Obama laid out his strategy for the current debt-limit fight in a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this past summer, Reid stipulated one condition: No Joe Biden.

And while Biden attended the White House dog-and-pony show meeting last week with congressional leaders, Reid has effectively barred him from the backrooms, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The vice president’s disappearance has grown ever more noticeable as the government shutdown enters its eighth day with no resolution in sight and a debt limit crisis looms. Biden was once Democrats’ deal-maker-in-chief, designing budget pacts with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the summer of 2011 and New Year’s Eve 2013.

Coverage of the shutdown showdown has framed it as a battle of wits between President Obama and congressional Republicans (especially those in the House). The shutdown is centered on the GOP’s efforts to defund ObamaCare and undo what the president considers his signature legacy. In that respect, this is absolutely a contest between the House GOP and Obama personally.

But it doesn’t explain all the factors involved. Reid’s behavior fills in the blanks. Today’s Politico story claims Democrats think the White House–represented by Biden–gave away too much in previous deals. The first question to ask in response to this is: So what? Is the president not the leader of his party? Is it not his name on the policy that’s causing all this friction? And since when does Barack Obama (and by extension, Joe Biden) take orders from Harry Reid?

The answer has a lot to do with the timeline. The 2011 deal that Biden helped strike was before the president’s reelection. The New Year’s deal was right after Obama and Biden won the election and the political capital that comes with it. But Obama isn’t running again. It may seem strange, but Obama’s own party is treating the president as a lame duck far more than Republicans are. The sixth-year midterms traditionally can be uphill elections for the party that holds the White House. And this time it’s Reid’s legacy (somewhat) on the line.

Reid may be an unappealing spokesman for his cause, but his political instincts are still sharp. He’s right that the 2014 congressional elections have supplanted the 2016 presidential primaries as the reference point for trying to gauge the motivations of Republicans. Reid preferred not to vote on separate, piecemeal legislation to fund certain parts of the government during the shutdown, fearing it would cascade into a line-item frenzy that favored the GOP. But when Republicans in the House passed a bill to fund active-service military personnel, Reid allowed the bill to move forward in the Senate. As Byron York writes at the Washington Examiner, Republicans plan to do exactly what Reid hoped to prevent:

GOP rebels want to focus on red-state Democrats, particularly those up for re-election in 2014, and make the shutdown a question of support for veterans. (It’s a tactic that certainly wasn’t hurt by the Park Service’s ham-handed attempts to close down the World War II and Vietnam War memorials on the National Mall.) Cruz’s Growth and Freedom Fund PAC has created a new website, Fundourvets.com, that urges people to tell Senate Democrats that “legislation to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs…needs their support.”

The GOP rebels believe those vulnerable Democrats will eventually cave on veterans’ funding. And if they do, having voted once to keep the military going, and then again to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, what is the rationale for resisting other funding measures?

This dynamic also explains why sidelining Biden was more significant than sidelining Obama. The president may not have another election coming up, but Reid isn’t the only Democrat with electoral considerations. Biden appears to be strongly considering running for president in 2016, and his work in helping craft bipartisan deals in the administration’s first term was seen as resume building.

Obama doesn’t have much to lose by being excluded from these negotiations, especially because Reid would never sacrifice ObamaCare to the Republicans. That’s not the case with Biden, who is enough of a loose cannon to push back on Reid if he deems it necessary. Thus the 2016 presidential election may not be motivating Republicans’ current strategy, but it could easily be a source of conflict for Democrats.

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Biden’s Not Bluffing About 2016

The consensus among political pundits and Democratic operatives is that there is only one way for Vice President Joe Biden to avoid being the first sitting veep since Alben Barkley to be denied his party’s nomination for president: don’t run. Barkley, whose grandchildren invented the term veep to refer to the vice presidency, was a typical example of a No. 2 of that era. He had been put on the Democratic ticket in 1948 for the purpose of geographic balance and was given nothing to do other than to preside over the Senate and go to funerals. The reason why the 74-year-old former Kentucky  senator thought he could win the presidency has been lost to antiquity, but in those days the idea that the post, which was held in general disrepute, was a stepping-stone for the presidency was an eccentric notion. Since then several veeps have won their party’s nominations and a couple have won the presidency (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). Since Barkley’s day, presidents have given their running mates much more responsibility and the job has become far more visible and influential rather than the source of humor.

But with Hillary Clinton gearing up for another presidential run that has most of her party already enthused about the prospect of the first female commander in chief, what chance has Biden got? Polls already show her leading other Democrats by huge margins. So what exactly was Biden’s camp up to feeding the Wall Street Journal the line that the vice president is “confident” and plans to run in 2016 no matter what Hillary does? The front-page story in today’s Journal that cites sources close to Biden and his political team might be interpreted as a tactical message to Democrats that the vice president is ready to run if the former first lady and secretary of state disappoints her loyalists and doesn’t try. Given that most Democrats think the real competition will be for Hillary’s choice to replace Biden rather than the top spot, that makes sense. But I think that’s a mistake. Biden may be a huge underdog who would be at a clear disadvantage against Clinton, but I think his camp’s effort to get this message out in such a prominent forum should be seen as a shot fired over the bow of the Clinton juggernaut. It’s a reminder to Democrats that the man whose ego is bigger than the small state that sent him to the Senate for 36 years isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.

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The consensus among political pundits and Democratic operatives is that there is only one way for Vice President Joe Biden to avoid being the first sitting veep since Alben Barkley to be denied his party’s nomination for president: don’t run. Barkley, whose grandchildren invented the term veep to refer to the vice presidency, was a typical example of a No. 2 of that era. He had been put on the Democratic ticket in 1948 for the purpose of geographic balance and was given nothing to do other than to preside over the Senate and go to funerals. The reason why the 74-year-old former Kentucky  senator thought he could win the presidency has been lost to antiquity, but in those days the idea that the post, which was held in general disrepute, was a stepping-stone for the presidency was an eccentric notion. Since then several veeps have won their party’s nominations and a couple have won the presidency (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush). Since Barkley’s day, presidents have given their running mates much more responsibility and the job has become far more visible and influential rather than the source of humor.

But with Hillary Clinton gearing up for another presidential run that has most of her party already enthused about the prospect of the first female commander in chief, what chance has Biden got? Polls already show her leading other Democrats by huge margins. So what exactly was Biden’s camp up to feeding the Wall Street Journal the line that the vice president is “confident” and plans to run in 2016 no matter what Hillary does? The front-page story in today’s Journal that cites sources close to Biden and his political team might be interpreted as a tactical message to Democrats that the vice president is ready to run if the former first lady and secretary of state disappoints her loyalists and doesn’t try. Given that most Democrats think the real competition will be for Hillary’s choice to replace Biden rather than the top spot, that makes sense. But I think that’s a mistake. Biden may be a huge underdog who would be at a clear disadvantage against Clinton, but I think his camp’s effort to get this message out in such a prominent forum should be seen as a shot fired over the bow of the Clinton juggernaut. It’s a reminder to Democrats that the man whose ego is bigger than the small state that sent him to the Senate for 36 years isn’t inclined to go quietly into the night as the Obama presidency winds down. The vice president has spent his life itching for the Oval Office and if you think he will be deterred from running by long odds, you don’t know Joe Biden.

Handicapping Biden’s intentions for 2016 are really no different than understanding why he ran in 2008. Few gave him much of a chance and his abortive campaign to win the Democratic nomination was a colossal flop. Back in 1988 when he made his first run for the presidency, he had been briefly considered a first-tier contender in a race that was eventually won by Michael Dukakis. But his candidacy didn’t survive when Biden was exposed as a serial plagiarizer. His stump speech was found to be a copy of the one used by Neil Kinnock, then the head of Britain’s Labor Party. It soon came out that he had also plagiarized a law school paper. That seemed to put an end to his presidential ambition, but the fever still burned inside him. When, seemingly close to the end of a lengthy political career, he tried again, it was not the result of any groundswell on his behalf. Rather, it was the act of a politician with enormous self-regard. The 2008 run was not so much his last hurrah as it was Biden deciding to make a sacrifice and give the American people one last chance to do the right thing and make him president. Unfortunately for him, nobody else felt that way.

Barack Obama’s decision that he needed Biden’s gravitas and foreign-policy experience (a laughable notion since virtually every position Biden had taken had been largely discredited) got him closer to his goal than anybody (other than Biden) thought he would achieve. But Clinton’s strength is such that the general assumption is that she would clear the field and run as a virtual incumbent in the 2016 primaries. Given the fact that they would have to draw upon much of the same sources for funding and political support, conventional wisdom would indicate that Biden should step aside rather than get run over. But that sort of thinking does not take into account Biden’s hunger for the presidency or his sense that it is his destiny.

Does Biden have a chance to actually upset Hillary? Not really. He would probably be able to raise enough money to run and, as he has already shown with his trips to the early voting states, will work hard in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Clinton has too much going for her to be stopped by a man who, however much affection he has earned among the Democratic grass roots for his hyper-partisanship, is still generally regarded as an embarrassing gas bag in much of the country. But just as Biden is undeterred by his frequent gaffes, no one should be surprised if he persists in running despite the odds. Joe Biden thinks he should be president, and nothing the Clintons do is likely to persuade him otherwise.

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The Jihad Farm System

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

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Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.

So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.

After the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, the American vice president referred to them as “knock-off jihadis.” Never mind the real bombs, the real deaths, and the real Islamic radicalism—they were wannabe terrorists because only two confused posers could elude the sophisticated security apparatuses of at least two countries and successfully execute a deadly double bomb plot in broad daylight. The point is this: the knock-off-real-deal jihad distinction is one we make for political reasons—acknowledging the scope of the threat would mean expanding the scope of the fight. This distinction is wholly nonsensical to our enemy. Al-Zawahiri doesn’t use the Joe Biden jihad legitimacy test. Give a little, give a lot; the important thing is that you give.

It’s very enterprising of al-Qaeda proper to support and utilize lesser affiliates. It’s also likely to increase as the organization comes to see that Americans won’t wage war on mere knock-offs. 

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Dems Treat Hillary As Their Party Leader

The Hill reports that Democrats are trying to get Hillary Clinton to appear on the campaign trail for midterm elections next year. The second-term congressional elections are often trouble for the party that controls the White House, and the Obama administration is beset by scandals that may curb the enthusiasm of the party’s base and thus liberal turnout on Election Day.

Republicans continue to press their advantage in the House and Democrats will be on the defensive in the Senate as well. If the Democrats’ liberal base is in danger of apathy from the fuss over the NSA’s data collection, the other scandal–the IRS’s targeting of Tea Partiers–is likely to have the opposite effect for many Republicans. That means Democrats may need some extra help in many races, but those same races will be for districts or states where a visit from President Obama won’t help. Often Bill Clinton will pitch in to such efforts, but apparently that’s not the Clinton congressional Democrats have in mind:

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The Hill reports that Democrats are trying to get Hillary Clinton to appear on the campaign trail for midterm elections next year. The second-term congressional elections are often trouble for the party that controls the White House, and the Obama administration is beset by scandals that may curb the enthusiasm of the party’s base and thus liberal turnout on Election Day.

Republicans continue to press their advantage in the House and Democrats will be on the defensive in the Senate as well. If the Democrats’ liberal base is in danger of apathy from the fuss over the NSA’s data collection, the other scandal–the IRS’s targeting of Tea Partiers–is likely to have the opposite effect for many Republicans. That means Democrats may need some extra help in many races, but those same races will be for districts or states where a visit from President Obama won’t help. Often Bill Clinton will pitch in to such efforts, but apparently that’s not the Clinton congressional Democrats have in mind:

“It’s almost universal,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.). “Members would like her to drop by for a visit or two.”

He said he spoke to Clinton about helping Democrats retake the House. 

“I had a conversation with her where she said she needed time to see to some personal interests and I said, ‘The second you are ready — and I do not mean the minute and I do not mean the hour — but the second you are ready, I hope you will call me,’” Israel said.

[Ed] Rendell said if he were running again, he’d want Clinton over Obama to campaign for him because “President Obama is so identified with healthcare” and other controversial policy issues. 

“Hillary comes in as a white knight with little downside.”

That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually a lot to ask of Hillary Clinton. If a Democratic candidate is fighting an uphill battle to hold or win a seat, it doesn’t make much sense for Clinton to swoop in and get associated with the loss. If that happened on a large scale, Clinton would, to follow Rendell’s metaphor, dent her suit of armor. She wants to clear the field of serious primary competition for 2016, and she won’t do that by making the rounds on the campaign trail for losing efforts or controversial or unpopular candidates.

Some candidates will have more of a chance to get Clinton to show up for them, of course, for the same reason others won’t: self-interest. One such politician is New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for reelection in 2014. As the Hill notes: “If reelected, Shaheen is expected to be a major player in the 2016 first-in-the-nation presidential primary in her home state. Her husband, William Shaheen, served as Clinton’s co-chairman of her national and New Hampshire campaigns in the 2008 contest.” In other words, they can call in Clinton because two years later she’ll be calling them for their help.

In fact, not to be cynical about it but the Hill annotates its quotes throughout the piece with helpful hints about the motivations of each person they spoke to on the record. As Jonathan wrote the other day, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill became the first high-profile endorsement for the Clinton campaign that the Clintons insist is not yet a campaign. The Hill notes that McCaskill made a nasty remark about Bill Clinton during her 2006 campaign, and adds:

Some have viewed the Missouri Democrat’s move as a way to make amends with the Clintons, who are known to have long memories. It’s likely that other Democrats who criticized the Clintons during the 2008 race will follow McCaskill’s lead. That group could include lawmakers, lobbyists and Hollywood figures.

Sure, put the band back together. The Hill gets a quote from Ed Rendell predicting a momentum shift within the party to Clinton. But Rendell, we are reminded, “as a staunch Clinton supporter, has an interest in seeing his forecast come true.”

Just as interesting as the names that appear in the story are the names that don’t–the most notable absentee being Joe Biden. Though he is currently the vice president, he doesn’t even merit a mention. Of course, in part that’s because he is representing this White House, but Biden can be much more useful to candidates away from the coasts where his Amtrak-riding, blue-collar appeal can actually help Democratic candidates distance themselves from their party’s coastal elites.

They may resort to asking Biden anyway since Hillary is unlikely to accept the invitations of her party’s underdog candidates. But in the meantime, the coronation of Hillary Clinton seems to be in full swing.

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Good Old Joe and Hillary’s Front Porch

The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”

Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.

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The Washington Post’s flattering profile of Joe Biden that was published today didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the vice president and the consuming ambition that has driven his long career in politics. The big question hanging over the piece is whether Biden will run for president in 2016. But the only line you really had to read in the piece was the one attributed to several of his friends. While acknowledging the long odds facing him if he chose to run for president whether or not Hillary Clinton runs, “For Biden, who has been running for office since his 20s, not running would feel unnatural.”

Unnatural or not, the Post makes clear what has been increasingly apparent: Clinton’s entry into the field would make a Biden candidacy highly unlikely. Though the memory of her “inevitable” election to the presidency in 2008 must not be forgotten, Clinton’s absence from the political fray during four years as a popular if ineffectual secretary of state has given her the kind of commanding position that hasn’t been seen in presidential politics since Dwight Eisenhower bided his time waiting for his opportunity during the Truman administration. The former first lady may not be a hero of the greatest war in history, but her potential to be the first woman president gives her the kind of politically correct status in her party that will make it all but impossible for any serious Democrat to oppose her. That’s why all the speculation about Biden is largely pointless.

As the Post reminds us, the vice president has been an unexpected success in office. While most political observers had come to rightly view him as a poster child for term limits and a gasbag who had flopped miserably in two attempts to win the presidency, it was precisely his conviviality and decades of experience in Washington that made him an essential aide to President Obama. With the cerebral and ice-cold commander-in-chief unwilling or unable to deign to bargain, let alone banter, with members of Congress, it has fallen to Biden to be the prime minister of this administration. It is no exaggeration to say that without him, the slim roster of the president’s legislative achievements would be a great deal slimmer.

But the avuncular “good old Joe,” who can cut a deal with former Senate colleagues, rouse the rabble at Democratic rallies (often by engaging in outrageous hyperbole such as his classic warning to a black audience in Virginia that Republicans were planning to “put y’all back in chains”) and weep on cue when meeting family members of victims of mass shootings, is no match for Clinton in 2016.

The main takeaway from the talk about Biden or any of the lesser Democratic possibilities for 2016 is that Clinton’s continuing absence from the fray is only making her stronger. The more we talk about other Democrats, the more we realize that none of them are positioned to compete with her increasingly untouchable position as the person whose main qualification to be president will be her gender.

That’s the genius of a Clinton strategy that centers on the candidate keeping quiet for as long as possible. Without her in the picture, the discussion about other candidates will remain more about Clinton than her rivals. As long as she is not engaging in the back and forth of political discourse during which her less than perfect temperament and conventional liberal beliefs would hamper her, as they did in 2008, she can sweep the field and persuade all serious opposition to evaporate.

If anything, all this should convince Clinton to keep under wraps these next two years. Other than sallying forth for lucrative speaking engagements, her advisors should be telling her to stay at home–at least until the fall of 2015 if not later. The longer she keeps Democrats waiting, the easier it will be for her to recreate what is essentially a 19th-century presidential campaign dynamic in which the party will beg her to be its nominee, rather than the other way around. There is no more certain template for a Clinton presidential nomination than for her to stay on her front porch and let the nation come to her. Absent ill health or some factor about which we currently know nothing, I think the chances of her not running are minimal. How could anyone as ambitious as Hillary resist a race that will be more of a queen’s coronation than a presidential nomination contest?

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“Knock-Off Jihadis” and Other Pests

Yesterday at a memorial service for Boston bombing victims, Joe Biden described the Tsarnaev brothers as “twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis.”

You know what they say. If it worships like a duck, radicalizes like a duck, plans like a duck, arms like a duck, bombs like a duck, and kills like a duck—it’s a knock-off.

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Yesterday at a memorial service for Boston bombing victims, Joe Biden described the Tsarnaev brothers as “twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis.”

You know what they say. If it worships like a duck, radicalizes like a duck, plans like a duck, arms like a duck, bombs like a duck, and kills like a duck—it’s a knock-off.

It would be nice if the burden of proof for receiving Massachusetts benefits was so tough. Since the only deranged systemic network that authorities have linked the brothers to is the state welfare agency, they’re just pretend jihadists incapable of disturbing Pax Obamacana.

Of course when al-Qaeda-linked groups claim credit for killing Americans these days, that too is deemed the product of inconsequential riff-raff. Jihadist all-stars Ansar al-Sharia bragged of committing the massacre at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. So naturally the administration blamed angry YouTube viewers and arrested a provocative American “filmmaker.” The State Department’s version of coming around to the truth was Hillary Clinton’s angry declaration before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

And at this point? With another four dead Americans, these killed on Patriot’s Day in a great American city, one an 8-year-old, it makes a difference. When innocent Americans are slain in the name of an anti-American idea it demands a measure of bravery and honesty from the rest of us. Calling the suspected perpetrators “knock-off jihadists” is a pretty shabby way to dishonor the dead.

It’s also a poor way to protect civilization. No matter how many thousand bad guys you incinerate with drones, you can’t defeat what you’re too scared to speak of. Forget the words Islamism and jihad. It’s gotten to the point where the administration’s using the word terrorism is perceived as a dangerously aggressive counterterrorist initiative reminiscent of the Bush years.

Last Sunday the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg said that Boston plunged us into the “era of the suspicious package.” Not very resonant, as far as historical eras go. But it does cover the ideological depth of national security thinking in Obama’s America. We’ve moved on from the unacceptable war on terror to a war on luggage. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist is another’s knapsack.

An imitation of leadership can only handle an imitation of jihad. The specter of a committed enemy would bring into focus the commitment on our side, the side of “what difference does it make?” Better to fight knock-offs and luggage than get into all that.

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Obama’s Thatcher Snub

In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:

Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.

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In February 1946, about a month before Winston Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech in Missouri, Churchill had dinner at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Though it would serve both President Harry Truman and Churchill to downplay any hint that Truman approved the content of Churchill’s speech beforehand, neither wanted any surprises. At his dinner with the American ambassador to Cuba, R. Henry Norweb, Churchill spoke plainly about his thoughts on the Soviet Union and the United Nations. Norweb relayed the comments to Truman the following day, in which he described Churchill’s comments on the Soviet Union’s Communist threat as recalling Churchill’s “world-shaking oratory” about the Nazis years earlier. Norweb continued:

Mr. Churchill went on to express his conviction that the only escape from future disaster, the only hope for [the United Nations Organization], lies in the development over the years of some definite working agreement between the American and British Governments. He fully understands, he said, that any formal merger or alliance would doubtless now be impracticable, untimely and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic–but he holds that the sheer pressure of events will of necessity force our two great commonwealths to come together in some workable manner if the peace and order of the world are to be preserved from chaos.

Truman did not object to either point, and the speech became a pivotal moment in the early stages of the Cold War and of the post-war relationship between the U.S. and Britain. (It should be remembered that Churchill was accorded this honor from Truman despite the fact that he was no longer prime minister, though the British government that replaced him did not object to the speech.) In October 1947, Truman wrote to Churchill: “Your Fulton, Mo. speech becomes more nearly a prophecy every day. I hope conditions will warrant your paying me another visit. I certainly enjoyed your stay here immensely…. May you continue to enjoy health and happiness and a long life–the world needs you now as badly as ever.”

I recount this history because it is often forgotten that the special relationship between Britain and the U.S. after World War II and the countries’ close alliance against Soviet Communism was far from inevitable. On the contrary, it took painstaking diplomacy and bold gestures. Which is why the Obama administration’s decision to take the alliance with Britain for granted, marked by its repeated thoughtlessness and insulting behavior toward the British crown and government, is so foolish. And rather than learn from its blunders, the administration appears to be content to continue making such mistakes.

Following on its refusal to recognize British sovereignty over the Falklands or the Falklands residents’ own wishes, the Obama administration decided not to send a high-level official to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral service today. It did not go unnoticed.

Thatcher and Ronald Reagan carried to victory the Cold War partnership begun by Truman and Churchill. The Cold War has always been a sore subject for this administration, which has endlessly taunted those who want to remember the history at all. (This might have something to do with Vice President Joe Biden’s less-than-stellar record during the Cold War.) And since Thatcher rescued her country from the grips of suffocating union dominance and the Western left’s declinist fetish, it’s not too surprising the president would not want attention drawn to that either. But that’s still no excuse.

The whole episode recalls Obama’s decision to skip the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall early in his first term. He sent a videotaped message instead (which he found a way to make about himself, using the message to celebrate the historic nature of his own election). The only upside to today’s absence in London is that, given Obama’s treatment of our British allies thus far, he probably wasn’t missed.

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Just How Weak Is the Democrats’ Bench?

In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.

Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)

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In December, I wrote about the habits that keep the Democratic Party’s bench noticeably shallow. In contrast to the GOP, which is currently hooked on primary competition, the Democrats have relied on their own ruling class, going so far as to replace Barney Frank–who finally gave up his seat after two decades and helping to induce the disastrous housing crisis at the end of his controversial career–with a Kennedy. This was after Democrats had a few years earlier tried to replace Hillary Clinton with a Kennedy.

Now Democrats seem ready to anoint Clinton their nominee for 2016, just 15 years after her husband left the presidency. (To be fair, George W. Bush was elected less than eight years after his father left, but Hillary Clinton shared the White House with Bill Clinton during his presidency and even took part in policy development. So you could say Hillary will aim for the presidential nomination 15 years after she left the White House.)

Recently, David Frum wrote about this theme, and responded to his critics here. The essential question here is whether nominating Hillary Clinton would hold back the development of the Democrats’ young talent in favor of a retread. And although I think the rush to coronate, instead of nominate, Clinton is absolutely part of this trend, in Clinton’s case specifically I will admit to the argument being slightly weaker because, well, there isn’t much young talent she’d be suppressing.

Nominating Clinton would certainly end Joe Biden’s presidential ambitions, but he is not young–he is older than Clinton, and currently the sitting vice president. (A fact many voters no doubt would like to forget, but must be remembered in this context at least.) That is not to say there aren’t young politicians waiting in the wings, but they do not contrast favorably with Hillary Clinton.

The other Democrat who has been most obvious about his desire to run for president in 2016 is Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But his inability to govern is, as we’ve noted before, legendary. And he is running to the left of just about anyone else. As Politico notes:

O’Malley will end up signing a significant hike in the state’s gasoline tax to pay for transportation, though he argues the extra tax burden for an average motorist in 2016 ($1.40 a week) is dwarfed by the price of a cup of coffee. Should O’Malley embark upon a widely-expected 2016 presidential campaign, it’s unclear how other new additions to his record – getting rid of capital punishment and restricting the sale of firearms, for example – would be received by a national audience.

What this means is that O’Malley is charging more for a product of lower and lower quality each year. How much are Maryland residents willing to pay to follow California off the cliffs of fiscal insanity? O’Malley is trying to find out so he can pose the same question to the rest of the country.

Another big name on the Democratic side for 2016 is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. But not only is Cuomo also running to what would likely be Clinton’s left, he has just shown New York residents why he is temperamentally unsuited to be a political executive. After the Newtown massacre in Connecticut, Cuomo tried to exploit the tragedy to rush through a gun ban no one had time to read. The gun ban was almost certainly unconstitutional (though that wouldn’t matter to Cuomo), but it was also unworkable–as Cuomo admitted after signing the bill and, presumably, doing some googling on guns.

The crass exploitation of others’ grief combined with the uninformed policymaking and rash legislating represents all the wrong qualities in a potential president.

There are some intriguing Democratic candidates in the Senate, such as Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. But Gillibrand now holds the Senate seat Clinton vacated and is unlikely to challenge Clinton. Would Warren? It’s difficult to say for sure, but she is a freshman senator without prior political experience. She is also the quintessential class warrior, and the country may be sick of such nonsense by 2016.

Other names would surely emerge, especially if Clinton chooses not to run. And the argument can certainly be made that opening up the process would give younger candidates a chance to get some campaign experience and hone their message with voters. But if Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley are the best of the rest, it’s pretty clear why Democrats seem so set on Clinton.

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Why Biden Won’t Fold on the Gun Ban

Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

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Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”

The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.

Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?

The vice president is following a script heavy on emotion and symbolism and light on practicality. Of course, that’s national politics much of the time. But it hasn’t had much success thus far on the gun control debate. The best example of this failure is not Reid’s decision to pull the gun ban from a bill that might otherwise pass the Senate and at least enact some additional regulation of gun purchases, but rather what happened when New York State passed a gun bun.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed to emotion after the Newtown tragedy and created a crisis atmosphere to force through a restrictive gun ban. The bill Cuomo proudly signed was a perfectly contemptible example of bad governing. He would like it to go on his resume has having taken action on an issue of import, but it really attests to how ill-served voters are to have someone like Cuomo represent them in office. At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson explains:

The NY Gun law effectively banned the purchase of new pistols because pistols are not generally made to hold 7-round magazines, and even if some manufacturers would produce such magazines for the NY market, it still presented a constitutional problem:  Under the Heller and McDonald cases, the state cannot effectively ban handguns either outright or by setting up irrational and onerous obstacles.

Such a law can only be written and supported by someone who doesn’t know much about handguns, constitutional law, or reasonable policy enforcement. So says Cuomo himself, about his own bill:

But after weeks of criticism from gun owners, Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday that he would seek to ease the restriction, which he said had proved unworkable even before it was scheduled to take effect on April 15.

The gun-control law, approved in January, banned the sale of magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition. But, Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday, seven-round magazines are not widely manufactured. And, although the new gun law provided an exemption for the use of 10-round magazines at firing ranges and competitions, it did not provide a legal way for gun owners to purchase such magazines.

The obvious question is: Couldn’t Cuomo have found all this out before signing the bill? And the obvious answer is: Absolutely. But Cuomo saw an opportunity to “do something” and took it. Which brings us back to Biden. The vice president and Bloomberg gave a press conference surrounded by family of victims of the Newtown massacre and urged the political class to pass a gun ban in the name of those victims. Isn’t this exactly what ran aground both in New York and in the U.S. Senate?

It is. But Biden has much more of a stake in passing hearty gun control than even Cuomo, and certainly than his boss in the White House or Harry Reid. Biden was tasked by President Obama with leading the way on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut. Biden is trying to build his own White House resume, independent of Obama’s, because while Obama never has to face the voters again, Biden may want to run for president to succeed Obama. To do that, he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a schmoozer. The only way Biden has a shot is by establishing competence and authority. Biden, unlike Obama, Reid, and even, to a lesser extent, Cuomo, has too much riding on this losing hand to fold.

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