Archive for Thu, Sep 24, 2009

The War Matters Most, Mr. President. There Isn’t Even A Distant Second Priority

My Washington Examiner column today recaps the health care debate I conducted in Denver on Thursday night with University of Denver Law School Professor Pail Campos.

The reason behind President Obama’s frantic retail television yesterday has to be that every debate over Obamacare everywhere in the country has to be going just as mine did. Proponents of Obamacare from the president down to Obamacare advocate in a two person discussion on a park bench are not just losing the argument. They have lost it. Decisively. And no series of interviews, no matter how gentle the questions or advantageous the setting, are going to persuade anything close to a majority of Americans that it makes sense to trade in their health care for whatever it is that the president, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have behind Door Number 3.

With his health care drive now dependent only upon the willingness of vulnerable House and Senate Democrats –an increasing number thanks to the president– to sacrifice their jobs for his agenda, the president next must decide whether to throw Afghanistan under the bus with Poland and the Czech Republic.

General McChrystal wants to win, and says it can be done: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.” What the general needs is more troops, and the president should give them to him and quickly. As with Iraq, President Bush left President Obama the opportunity to secure two fronts in the war against radical jihadism –a war which we have been reminded remains very real and very close to us– and his presidency will be defined not by the health care initiative, but by his willingness to secure those fronts and thus his impact to the country’s national security.

The president’s betrayal of Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense does not bode well for his decision on whether to retreat from Afghanistan and Iraq in the face of difficult circumstances. Putin’s threats were just words, and the president’s party wasn’t demanding retreat from Warsaw in the way it is from Kabul. President Obama may even wrongly believe that he’s got to focus all his energy and assets on the increasingly self-destructive demand for a health care overhaul that majorities of Americans and huge majorities of seniors don’t want. As Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei write in this morning’s Politico, the president will also get a big push from the left on cap-and-trade, increasing the pressure of the White House to continue its counterproductive push on deeply divisive domestic issues for which nothing close to majoritarian support exists.

The slow collapse of his domestic agenda has got to be deeply frustrating given the president’s own high regard for his own abilities, but he should recognize that, even as George Bush’s ambition to be the “education president” was upended by the realities of the war, so too does his agenda have to yield to the nature of the threat to the country from abroad –a threat we ought to have been reminded of all too clearly these past few days.

The threat is real and it isn’t going to be wished away. Asked whether the FBI had grabbed all the suspects in the latest terror plot, a senior counterterror official responded: “They’re still looking…nobody knows the answer for sure.”

If the president abandons Afghanistan or Iraq, he will be giving license to the forces behind 9/11 –and every other plot up to and including this latest one– to reform, regroup and resume the largely unimpeded export of more plots.

Give up the FDR dream, Mr. President, and start acting like Truman. It is a war, and it won’t go away by your pretending that it can be ignored or downgraded.

“Heard at Two Conferences: Global Unease about the Obama Administration”

The Monday column from Clark Judge:

Heard at Two Conferences: Global Unease about the Obama Administration

By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group in Washington and former Special Assistant and Speechwriter to President Reagan

As luck would have it, for the last ten days, just as the Obama Administration was upending America’s global relationships, I was in Europe and attended two conferences on international politics. Together these conferences gave a good cross section of opinion about Mr. Obama and the U.S. in policy centers around the world. It proved not what you would expect.

The first conference was the annual Global Security Review of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. It was held in Geneva two weekends ago and brought together current and former senior foreign policy officials, journalists and scholars from around the world.

The second took place this past weekend in Stockholm and commemorated “The 20th Anniversary of the Liberated and Reunited Europe.” Its sponsors were the Swedish free market think tank Timbro and the Institute for Information on the Crimes of Communism. Speakers included the former prime minister of Estonia, a prominent Polish editor and fellow dissident with Lech Walesa during the Solidarity years, and the current editor-in-chief of Radio Free Europe and, with another speaker, speechwriter for Prime Minister Thatcher. I was there to talk about President Reagan.[# More #]

The first conference ended days before the announcement of that the United States was cancelling the missile deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, the second was held the day after.


* The most surprising constant of this most mainstream of global policy gatherings was the wide skepticism about President Obama. Mr. Obama is four times as popular around the world as was President Bush, said one globally prominent journalist. But, the journalist continued, Machiavelli said it is better to be feared than loved; Mr. Obama is loved.

* I doubt that any delegate other than myself would have preferred George W. Bush making U.S. global policy decisions. But the disquiet came down to an impression of Mr. Obama that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is said to have offered to a private gathering some months ago (apparently leaking is as much a pastime in Paris as Washington), that Mr. Obama is weak.

* Putting together a remark here and an aside there, the impression emerged for me that Mr. Obama’s riveting rhetoric is in danger of turning from a plus to a minus, at least in very senior global policymaking circles. His language, many thought, is not anchored in reality. One former foreign minister only recently out of office made a disparaging reference to pointless rhetoric “no matter how elegantly expressed.”

* Unease was particularly pronounced regarding U.S. relations with Russia.

* Looking over my notes, I wonder if one Russian plenary session panelist might not have known at the time (as I said, several days before the announcement) that the Polish-Czech missile deal would be cancelled this week. He was based in Moscow but worked for an American think tank. He asserted that, despite their protests, the Russians were not so concerned about missiles in Poland. What they really feared, he said, were thousands of sea-based interceptors. The Administration has trumpeted sea-based and other mobile systems as the substitute for the program they are cancelling. Was this remark to soften the reaction of U.S. allies to the Obama decision? Or was it to signal that the Russian gimme list runs longer than a defensive missile and a radar site?

* Whether he had foreknowledge or not, this speaker also noted that Russia saw three threats coming from the U.S.: 1) ballistic missile defense; 2) precision guided weapons; 3) NATO enlargement.

* The president’s announcement took care of number one and almost surely had an impact on number three. For the first time ever, Central European governments may now doubt whether NATO membership is such a good idea.

* One other observation from Geneva: We hear this a lot, but it is surprising to see it so personally. In dozens of ways, small and large, nations around the world look to the U.S. for leadership. Again and again discussions turned to the need for American direction on this or that matter. We cannot underestimate the ramifications of the United States ceasing to be a trusted compass and partner.

* As the conference was adjourning, I made a list of those countries that (judging by the speakers from them) were uneasy about a confusion or weakness in America. They included Japan, India, Israel (of course), the Palestinians (surprising), France (equally surprising), Britain, and anyone focused on the global economy. Who wanted American wings pinned back? The Russians.


* As you might imagine, the White House announcement surprised and concerned almost everyone at this conference.

* The general view was that Central European confidence in the United States as a reliable ally and guarantor against a return of Russian hegemony would be shattered.

* Whatever the technical advantages or disadvantages of one missile system or another, the missiles were seen as a political fact even more than as a military fact. And as a political fact, the cancellation of the deployment was considered alarming.

* The question was asked of a panel of speakers: Do you believe the White House knew that they were announcing the decision on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland? Of course, one said. But another doubted it, thought that historical knowledge in this White House doesn’t run deep. The suspicion was voiced that the Russians suggested the date and the Administration walked into the trap.

* Another former official observed that the Russians are playing with a losing demographic and economic hand: declining ethnic Russian population; rising populations of other groups; alcoholism everywhere. Yes, a knowledgeable veteran of the Cold War said, and that’s why they are pushing to reestablish elements of empire – to get a base capable of sustaining a military effort that once more could be topping 25 percent of GDP.

* The conference superstar was Mark Laar, former prime minister of Estonia and historian. He argued that the Soviet Union would have fallen in 1953 with the East German uprising or in 1956 with the Hungarian one. Both times, he said, rebellions had started in the other nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltic. But with no help from the West, they could not succeed. The difference in the years before the Soviet collapse, he added, was leadership: most notably Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Repeatedly, he emphasized that leadership matters. It was hard to miss the implication that the West suffers from a leadership deficit today.

Why Doesn’t D.C. Get It?

A commentary from the Christian Science Monitor from Em Powers Hunter.

Day three of a trip to Colorado, and after a town hall debate with a proponent of Obamacare, a speech to business folks, a visit to Colorado Christian University for the school’s annual gala and campaign events with Tom Lucero who is working to take back a GOP seat in Colorado’s 4rth Congressional District —and you can help in this important race via an online contribution— I can pretty safely say that if Obamacare passes it will be over the deep-seated and widely-held opposition of a very solid majority of Americans.

There are some special interest groups supporting Obamacare, of course, and the president and his Congressional allies are doing their best to cover their plummeting support for the legislative train wreck, but the sort of sustained and passionate opposition anyone who asks finds in very different audiences –with almost no countervailing opinions– isn’t the product of selective sampling but a reflection of a general, broad consensus that Obamacare is a bust.

Democrats proceed at their political peril. As Powers’ commentary suggests, Beltway contempt for the opinions and lifestyles of ordinary Americans is very real, but it is usually much better disguised than a jam down of Obamacare would display.

Curb Your Enthusiasm, indeed

Pittsburg knows well how global summits help the local economy – why, plywood sales are through the roof. Prudent businesses board up the windows before the protestors can lob a rock though the glass. (The glazier trade does well after the summit, too.) In the protestors’ minds, the G-20 participants are waddling clones of Moneybags the Monopoly Man, a happy plutocrat in top hat and tales, using his cane to clear a path through the alms-seekers to the meeting room, where they can get on with the business of impoverishing the world for kicks ‘n’ grins. Hence the rock. If you throw some granite into a Starbucks, you might stop global capitalism in its tracks; if you fling a trash barrel stuffed with burning dog offal through a bank window, the Overlords might realize the game’s up, the people have arisen, and we’d best chuck it all for a barter economy.

Hasn’t worked yet, but hey, 327th time’s the charm, as they say.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned, though. The air is full of warnings about the climate of violence, and what all this uncivility might lead to. Speaker Pelosi, responding to someone out there saying something or other, reminded us the other day that these are difficult times, and we had better watch what we say:

“We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance,” Pelosi said. “I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late 70s in San Francisco.

“This kind of rhetoric was very frightening and it gave — it created a climate in which violence took place and so I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made.”

Obligatory comparison: If Bush had said such a thing the left would have emitted a fine mist of blood from their ears, convinced he’d just hinted to all via dog-whistle frequencies that he was suspending the First Amendment so people wouldn’t google “alternatives to missionary position.” (It’s all about sex for the left, which is why they think it’s all about sex for the right.) But coming from Congressmadam P., it’s a frank, sensible reminder of the trade-offs of a civilized society. You can’t shout LIAR in a crowded theater, after all.

Given that the speaker’s intellectual candlepower is somewhere between a keyfob light and a burnt match, it’s possible she believes Harvey Milk was killed by a deranged Republican instead of a deranged guy with a personal beef. We can be certain that’s her baseline for political violence, in any case. The mid-seventies. The dark nightmare of the Ford Putsch. The years of endless bloodshed – mostly from people stabbing themselves trying to put on a Whip Inflation Now pin, granted, but bloodshed nonetheless.

But who is violent? Who takes to the streets? For that matter, which side has a romantic notion of recent history as the chosen ones, the holy boomers, the street-takers who went up against the Man to ensure Vietnam could be hastened to its Golden Era of collectivism and re-education camps? Ah, but the cause was just in the 60s. History, if not several important Oscar-winning movies, have proved that for good. Since the enthusiastic days of the Vietnam protests, the left has produced nothing but civil, rational, reasoned discourse, and it’s been the right that foams and howls HITLER.

No, the left’s constant critiques of capitalism haven’t inspired window-breakers in every town where the WTO gets together. Eco-panic talk, a stock in trade of the segment of the hard left that want to kneecap the West and reduce us back to vegan tribes squatting in hemp yurts, have had no influence on the Earth Liberation Front. Gentle persuasion has always been the left’s stock in trade: if you’d put your throat in this yoke, Mademoiselle Antoinette. Merci beaucoup.
When Howard Dean said he hated the Republicans and everything they stood for, he was making an intellectual case against a set of ideas, not blurting out his own blunt contempt for people who dare to have different view of marginal tax rates.

But sometimes you wonder.

This story – appearing in one of those crazy right-wing scandal sheets published by Village Voice Media – says the FBI thinks the Weather Underground was behind the bombing. Just to restate the case: police officer killed. By a bomb. Planted by domestic left-wing totalitarians. In San Francisco. In the seventies.

A reminder of the way the seventies really were, Congressperson Pelosi’s recollections to the contrary:

In 1972 alone, the FBI attributed 1,500 bombings within the United States to “civil unrest” from domestic radical groups. Noel, the retired San Francisco FBI agent, said police officers routinely searched their patrol cars for bombs before starting their engi


As for the Weather Underground’s collaborators:

The BLA collaborated with former Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert in a 1981 armed robbery in Nanuet, N.Y., that ended with the deaths of two police officers and a Brink’s armored truck guard. Ayers and Dohrn have also expressed their fondness for members of the BLA in surprisingly personal ways. Their son, Zayd Dohrn, is named after BLA member Zayd Shakur, who died in a shootout with New Jersey state troopers in 1973.

Lovely people. The article names Bernadette Dohrn – spouse of Bill Ayers – as one of the people suspected in the bombing.

Apparently Speaker Pelosi forgot about the sixties. The next time she finds herself at a conference where Ayers and Dohrn are speaking, she might ask for a refresher course. Over drinks. In a swank hotel bar. Or any other such place the Weather Underground wanted replaced with camps to exterminate anyone who listened to Lawrence Welk and wanted to own a piece of land to call their own. It would be sweet irony if they were having a civil chat while a WTO protest took place, and a molotov cocktail landed in Ayers’ lap. He’d probably throw it back.

An Enemy of the People? He could justify it in heartbeat. Someone has to lead the revolution, you know. All that cognac you liberate isn’t going to drink itself.

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September 2009