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Saturday, July 31, 2010

WIKICRIME

     As if the Obama Administration didn’t have enough domestic political problems to worry about prior to the November congressional elections, the unauthorized release of thousands of pages of classified documents, mostly military field reports from the Afghan war, is another huge and largely uncontrollable event. The web based organization WikiLeaks posted the documents and released them to the New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German newspaper Der Spiegel.


     WikiLeaks founder, an Australian citizen named Julian Assange claims that his organization is doing a public service by promoting “transparency” in government. It does this by encouraging individuals with access to confidential or classified documents to, in effect, steal these documents and send them to WikiLeaks under a promise of anonymity.

     While it is almost “conventional wisdom” that the U.S. government and the military, “over classify” information, data and analysis, the huge volume of information collected by the military and intelligence organizations provides an incentive to “err on the side of caution”, thus classifying more than is necessary to protect the national interests.

     Individuals like Assange choose to ignore the broader implications of their acts while they pursue what in his case is an apparent left wing ideological orientation that involves a basic disdain for the military and civilian political authorities engaged in military operations. Assange claims that his goal is to “reveal unethical behavior by governments and corporations.” The problem that ensues with that individualistic approach is that he, his small group of employees and the individuals in government service that he convinces to violate their oaths to “uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States“, are arbitrarily imposing their own interpretation of “ethical behavior” which also may simply be a cover for personal notoriety or financial gain.

     Facts disclosed so far from the thousands of pages of reports offer little in terms of new or important information. It has been widely believed that the Pakistan intelligence service, the ISI, has been colluding with the Pakistani Taliban at the same time the Pakistani army has been conducting operations against them. However that recent assertion appearing in the world’s prominent newspapers has caused diplomatic difficulties between Pakistan and the U.S. which WikiLeak did not consider. Also, the fact that civilian casualties occur during combat operations in Afghanistan is widely known. This regrettable but inevitable result of the nature of insurgency warfare where the enemy is often indistinguishable from non-combatants is a sensitive topic for the weak Afghan government. U.S. and NATO forces are taking extraordinary measures to limit such casualties and making an unofficial public issue of it is irresponsible.

     The problem of independent sources using their own judgment and personal motives for releasing classified military data has no better example than the case of Army PFC Bradley Manning who sent WikiLeak a video of a helicopter attack in which a number of civilians were mistakenly targeted. The video did not make it clear that the helicopter was engaged in support of a ground operation or that one of those killed was seen to be carrying a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Here is a case of a twenty-two year old private making a personal judgment without regard to larger political issues that he could not possibly understand and ignoring or not knowing the complete facts of the episode. Clearly this is not how military information should be released to the public. Private Manning is now under arrest by military authorities.

     While those sympathetic to WikiLeak might argue that the information released so far has not seriously compromised national security and should have been made public by the military or administration, the danger is that if this informal process is allowed to continue, more individuals motivated by personal issues will release important information or intelligence that is genuinely harmful. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has expressed concern in this case, that military tactics, and intelligence sources and methods as well as the names of Afghan citizens working with NATO forces have been compromised.

     While the New York Times is protected by Constitutional First Amendment rights, it is not clear whether WikiLeak and Julian Assange are culpable under laws against receiving stolen property or conspiracy laws. The possibility of criminal charges against him is also complicated by the fact that he is a foreign citizen residing outside the U.S. However, the individual in the Pentagon who released the classified material is in clear violation of U.S. law, in particular the Espionage Act of 1917 which specifically prohibits such an act. He or she should be tracked down and prosecuted. To not do so just opens the door to continued and more serious violations.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SUMMER DOLDRUMS

     It is easy to see that there’s little of importance going on in Washington, D.C. as the congressional recess approaches and attention turns to the August election primaries and November elections. Why else could a story about a minor official of the Dept. of Agriculture in rural Georgia being fired for what seemed to be self- described racial bias in 1986, stimulate such a media and political frenzy. The short version and the essence of the issue is best described by an anonymous blogger.

       “One day, the U.S. agriculture secretary forced an official to resign after she was portrayed as treating whites worse than blacks. The next day, Tom Vilsack (Sec. AG) apologized and offered to rehire Shirley Sharrod, saying he had acted in haste as the result of an out-of-context video.”

     That’s it. That’s all there was to it.

     Unfortunately the post’s commentator adds this: “What lessons can be learned here?”
     Nothing deep and heavily intellectual is required. There’s always: “Haste makes waste.” “Look before you leap.” How about the old carpenter’s adage: “Measure twice, cut once.”

     But the media, political pundits and party officials have launched into their typical racial hysteria, mostly contrived, in an effort to blame individuals, groups, and parties, in their self righteous efforts to make this minor episode a “teachable moment”. One liberal “teacher” called it a “high tech lynching”, a transparent and plagiaristic borrowing of a phrase made famous by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his contentious confirmation hearings in 1991. David Harsany of the Denver Post laments; “how easily a reckless charge of racism can destroy someone.” True indeed. Just ask former

     Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott who made the “racist” mistake of praising now deceased former 1948 Dixiecrat, then Republican, Senator Strom Thurmond at his 300th or so birthday party. While the charge against Sharrod was indeed “reckless” as was soon revealed, she was hardly “Lotted” much less “destroyed” and is now another instant heroine, although she has done nothing, either good or bad.

     The Sunday television news shows all featured interviews and panels who engaged in collective hand wringing and over-analysis, some even reviewing the entire history of race relations in the U.S. from the 1965 Civil Rights Law and before, and all seeking to “teach” the presumably “uninformed” and perhaps “insensitive” viewers the “truth” about race relations in the U.S.

     The Washington Post on 7/26/10 had three separate commentaries about the issue as well as a panel of no less than nine “experts” to discuss the meaning of the incident. In Washington D.C. , eager to be angry about something, street protesters dressed in the valentine-like motif of the ever loony feminist/anti-war group Code Pink waved signs proclaiming their “love” for Shirley, although they didn’t bother to explain why.

     The underlying irony of the whole thing is that Shirley Sharrod is black and the overly quick reaction of the Agriculture Secretary was a symptom of the Democrat’s own permanent infection with political correctness. One wonders if Sharrod had been white, if the calls for contextual accuracy which led to her rapid reinstatement would have generated any media or administration reaction at all. That question will never be answered. For now, Sharrod can bask in the warm glow of her brief victimization and tell her grandchildren how the President of the United States called her with a personal apology. Apparently she just missed out on a Rose Garden “beer summit” with Obama and Vilsack.

     For genuine context the more common sense observers at the British Broadcasting Company offer this: the episode reflects “. . .the absurdity of the spin cycle in which American journalists and politicians are intertwined, and about the febrile atmosphere that surrounds any story about race.”

     But this is America and there must be a book deal about Shirley’s life somewhere in the works and then who knows, maybe she’ll run for governor of Alaska.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

DEFICITS AND DEFENSE

     The Obama administration has just announced that the federal deficit for this year will exceed 1.4 trillion dollars. That would imply that all government expenditures are, or should be on the table for cuts. So far the Democrats in the Congress prefer to ignore these stratospheric numbers and talk about billions more in additional “stimulus” funds. Others return to the worn out “strategy” of “taxing the rich” i.e. a new estate tax or a return to the pre-Bush tax rates.

     Two different bipartisan commissions are studying ways to deal with the deficit/debt, however, their conclusions will be obvious. Increased revenue i.e. taxes, plus reductions in government spending, are the only tools available. Neither alone, is likely to have a significant impact. The problem is that in a state of recession, economists generally agree that tax increases are counterproductive. Thus serious spending reduction will have to be addressed in this Congress (unlikely) or the next. When that occurs, the largest areas of expenditure cannot be ignored. That makes the annual defense appropriation bill a likely target. Republicans will have to get on board. There is no reason that cuts in defense spending can’t be accomplished at the same time that the Congress continues to “support our troops” in Iraq and Afghanistan with separate funding. Secretary of Defense Gates has talked about cuts but his plan is to hold the overall defense budget “ increases” to 1% per year. Logically, there should be plenty of room in the defense budget for cuts. Everything from the military’s 161 golf courses world wide to big ticket Cold War era weapons systems need to be examined. The Pentagon periodically engages in long term strategic threat assessments and the weapons systems and force levels necessary to deal with those threats.

     Although two thirds of defense spending goes to personnel costs, and this may make such things as active duty benefits and veteran’s health care vulnerable, Gates and top military officials are reluctant to reduce the size of the force. That leaves weapons systems as the most likely targets. Gates opened to door to reduced spending priorities by limiting production of the Air Forces F-22 air superiority fighter to 187 from the initial order for 243. The cost per copy of this fighter ranges from $142.3 million to $196.3 depending on the inclusion of development and end of production costs. The F-22, with its stealth characteristics, high performance and enhanced target acquisition capabilities clearly is the worlds best air superiority fighter. However, it became operational in 2005 and has never seen combat despite our continuous engagement in two wars since then. The reason of course is the nature of the opposing forces; Iraq essentially had no air force and the war in Afghanistan is a counter insurgency effort. It was designed as an answer to Russian and Chinese aircraft with whom aerial combat is extremely unlikely but which might be made available to foreign air forces who are potential adversaries to the U.S. i.e. Iran. Secretary Gates believes that 187 F-22s should be sufficient to meet this threat. The existing inventory of F15E, F16 and F18 strike aircraft plus the new F-35 are better suited for the type of air to ground combat currently being conducted and for the foreseeable future.

     Also, the dynamics of international security continue to change, as the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty exemplifies. Thus the need for new ballistic missile submarines should be reviewed. The current inventory of eighteen SSBN Ohio class subs cost $2 billion per copy and have an annual operating cost of $50 million per sub. While the Navy is reluctant to give up any asset, these nuclear deterrence platforms may soon become weapons looking for a mission, even as the Navy prepares to spend millions of dollars unnecessarily retrofitting them to accommodate female personnel in the name of “fairness”.

      The nuclear deterrence requirements created by a nuclear armed Iran and North Korea can be met by land based and air launched weapons and by the fourteen existing SSBNs each carrying 24 multiple warhead (MIRV) missiles, (four have been modified to launch conventional guided missiles and cruise missiles and have been designated SSGNs). No new Ohio class SSBNs are contemplated but the next generation missile sub is already in the early design stage. The Future Follow-on SSBN-X is estimated to cost between 4 and 6 billion dollars each. The current, or next administration will have to decide if these extraordinarily expense subs can pass a cost/benefit evaluation.

     Cutting defense spending is political challenge as even liberal members of Congress who generally oppose military spending find their “ inner warrior” when it comes to closing bases or curtailing weapons systems manufactured in their districts or states. President Obama has recently announced that the 2011 defense budget, counting special appropriations for the wars in the Middle East, will be $719.2 billion. While this represents about 4.9 percent of GDP and is significantly less than the 6.0 percent expenditures of the Cold War period, the real numbers when considered in the context of a 1.4 trillion dollar federal deficit, are significant. The financial and political imperatives of deficit and debt reduction are likely to bring about significant changes in both military strategy and equipment in the next decade.

Monday, July 19, 2010

OBAMA: HAT TRICK OR ONE FOR THREE?

     Democrats and liberal commentators are crowing about Obama's legislative success with "bold" and "ambitious" plans. The "successes" cited are the Economic Stimulus, the Health Care Reform bill and now the Financial Reform bill. Certainly, the simple fact that these bills made it through Congress in the face of strong GOP opposition puts them in the "good win" column. But with legislative majorities in both houses and just enough Republican moderates in the Senate to preclude filibusters, it would seem that passage of major legislation should be expected especially since Obama is in the first two years of his administration and Democrats who might disagree with parts of each bill are loath to shoot him in the foot and add to the wide spread impression that he is a few bricks short of a load in the leadership area. It is true that the scope of these bills is enormous and will profoundly effect the U.S. economy for decades.


     But what exactly do these legislative "successes" mean? Have they established Obama as a powerful and effective President?; a visionary who will leave a legacy of accomplishments beneficial to the American people? Will they give him a strong platform on which to run for a second term in 2012? Celebrating Democrats may want to save their champagne for New Year's Eve.

     According to the July, 2010 CBS News Poll, three fourths of Americans said the Stimulus bill had not improved the economy. The Gallup Poll in July found that only 30% of Americans felt that the economy was getting better while 65% said it was getting worse. On a more personal level, two thirds said Obama's economic policies had no effect on them versus only thirteen percent who said they had been helped by them. Thus, only 40% of Americans approve of Obama's "handling of the economy".

     While some Democrats are talking about a second stimulus bill in the face of stubbornly high unemployment figures, in answer to the polling question: "Which is better for getting the economy moving again?", only 37% of Americans said more "government spending", while 53% agreed with the Republican position which is "cutting taxes".

     While the Health Care Reform bill has receded into the background for now, largely because it's major provisions don't kick in until 2013-14, this "legislative success" only has the support of 38.3% of the people while 50.5 percent oppose it (Real Clear poll averages).

     So that leaves the Financial Reform bill which has just passed both houses of Congress.

     It's hard to say how big a role Obama played in the formulation or passage of this bill. It is Senator Chris Dodd's (D-CT) bill. He and his staff wrote it, and while that alone may give some cause for concern, it is clear that ignoring the circumstances and regulatory insufficiencies that contributed to the melt down of the financial and banking industry in the U.S. would be sheer folly. The Republican leadership is still in political opposition mode and thus have, as expected, harshly criticized the bill. But their criticism has been fairly non-specific and comes across as the much over done generalization of "all government regulation is bad". Only three Republican senators voted for the bill, the two moderate lady senators from Maine, Senators Snowe and Collins, and the newly elected senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown. Again, the Republican leadership hopes to make the bill a 2010 election issue, condemning it as an anti-business intrusion, but they may be on the wrong side of this one. The CBS News Poll found that 57% of people feel that "bank regulation should be increased" while only 35% disagree. The bill is no doubt overly broad, and may give to much rule making discretion to bureaucratic regulators but no one could logically argue that the banking and investment industry hasn't dramatically changed over the last decade and that the government's regulatory role needs to catch up. The economy won't wait and a flawed recovery would put the whole weakened system at risk once again. Republicans, if they manage to gain majorities in Congress can make modifications to the legislation once it has a chance to be evaluated.

     Simply put, the main provisions of the bill address the worst recent failures of the financial system.

1. A council of senior regulators is established to "detect risks to the financial system."
2. A new consumer protection bureau along with new regulations is established.
3. New powers to constrain or dismantle troubled companies are established.
4. More financial companies will be brought under government oversight.
5. The new and "exotic" realm of derivatives which played such havoc in the recent crisis, will be subject to regulation.

     Of course, any effort can be overdone or abused but a framework which can be improved is better than no framework at all, so Obama and the Democrats, with the public on their side, can claim a policy "victory" on this one. Whether it represents a positive political trend is more problematic. Obama's overall job approval is still only 44% with 46% disapproving and perhaps, more foreboding is the new Washington Post-ABC News poll that found that 6 in 10 voters lack confidence in the president to “make the right decisions for the country’s future.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

OBAMA VS. ARIZONA: POLITICAL POSTURING

     The Obama Administration has recently filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn and stay the application of the anti-illegal immigration bill passed by the Arizona legislature. The petition makes the claim that the law is unconstitutional because it conflicts with existing federal law, and federal law as described in the "supremacy clause" of the Constitution (Article VI Clause 2) pre-empts state law. The Arizona legislature acted within the long term context of federal government failure to enforce federal law with respect to border control and apprehension of illegal immigrants. The estimated 400 thousand illegal immigrants residing in Arizona is a testament to that fact. In recent months violence has escalated on Arizona's border with Mexico resulting in deaths of border patrol agents, Arizona residents and illegal aliens. Nonetheless, the government’s petition says that a "state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws. The supremacy clause of the Constitution is a powerful tool which the federal courts routinely uphold.
    
     However, the case is not completely clear cut. A law professor who helped write the Arizona law points out that it only prohibits "conduct already illegal under federal law." Also, the Arizona law requires local law enforcement officials to turn over suspected illegals to the Border Patrol. Thus, it can be argued that the law does not contradict or "interfere" with federal law, it merely complements those laws. Also, given the level of violence and criminal behavior attendant with illegal immigration, Arizona might also argue that their law is a public safety issue for which they have primary responsibility. Harvard law professor Gerald Neuman believes that Arizona could also argue that it has overlapping authority in law enforcement. Examples of this would be bank robberies and drug enforcement measures in which federal, state and local authorities cooperate and have dual jurisdiction.

     Whatever the legal nuances of the case may be, the underlying political issues are no doubt driving the Obama Administration's decision to file the law suit. They have not attempted to explain who besides the illegals would benefit from overturning the law. Since the Administration is requiring that "comprehensive immigration reform" be passed by the Congress before it undertakes any enhancement of border control, it is clear that nothing will be done for the foreseeable future to deal with the financial and law enforcement problems in the border states. The political motivations for this are obvious. The Democrat party is the home of a wide spectrum of pro-immigration and quasi-open border advocates. Organized labor sees millions of new members in the construction and service trades if the current 11-12 million illegals residing in the U.S. are granted some kind of "amnesty" with a path to citizenship, as well as millions more coming across the border each year. The Catholic Church sees millions of new parishioners and a talent pool for the ever decreasing priesthood. "Humanitarian" groups believe that it is a human right to be an illegal immigrant and are openly disdainful of the economic impact and law enforcement issues. Domestic Hispanic groups have formed or adopted agendas supportive of what would essentially be an open border policy. The Democrat Party sees millions of new members from a group which, although somewhat culturally conservative, are predominately under educated, low wage workers, susceptible to big government theories of income redistribution and advanced welfare state programs. The government of Mexico encourages and assists illegal immigration. Exporting millions of their poorest citizens relieves social and economic pressures on municipal and state governments as well as the federal government of Mexico. A bonus for the federal government is the remittance of several billion dollars each year from illegal workers in the U.S. to their families in Mexico; a decided shot in the arm for the perpetually weak Mexican economy. In fairness, it should be pointed out that there are large as well as small employers in the U.S. who benefit from illegal immigrants willing to work for low wages and no benefits. Agriculture, construction, meat packing and the service industries lobby against strict border control. This of course makes the best solution to illegal immigration obvious. Strong penalties for employing illegals would dry up the labor market and discourage wholesale immigration. A guest worker program for temporary employment with secure identification cards that had to be periodically renewed would reduce the sudden employment impact of strict employment legislation on U.S. businesses. A central government computer base for employers to check social security cards for accuracy would identify legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. The border would still have to be secured because of the widespread entry of drug dealers and other criminals. All of this is not enough for many of the pro-immigration groups mentioned above so the battle will have to be fought out in the Congress.

     The political question is thus, which cost-benefit analysis will turn out to be the most accurate; the Democrats who see political advantage in resisting and or ignoring the illegal immigration issues and now are taking a stand as the defender of the interests of Hispanics whether illegal or not, or the Republicans who see an advantageous electoral issue in the Administration's position. While a large majority of Democrats approve of the Administration's lawsuit, a larger majority of Republicans oppose it. Nationwide, and without regard to party affiliation, fifty percent of Americans oppose the government's lawsuit and only thirty-three percent approve. While Obama and the Democrats have demonstrated in enacting the recent health care legislation, that ideology trumps public opinion, that position may well come back to haunt them. Disdain for border enforcement may just add to their electoral problems this November and in 2012.

Friday, July 9, 2010

WHO SPEAKS FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY?

     If voters today were given a word association test for the words "Republican Party", chances are their quick responses would include; "Tea Party"; Sarah Palin; Glenn Beck; and Rush Limbaugh. A runner up might well be "party of no". Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner, and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain make the rounds of the Sunday news shows but are largely overshadowed by the more visible and more noisy Tea Party and the individuals mentioned above. Since losing control of Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008 the Republican Party in Congress has followed a strategy of simple opposition to Democrat initiatives and President Obama's few big public policy proposals. Considering the flaws in the health care plan, the energy bill ("cap and trade") and the financial reform bill, opposition is not without merit. However, current polls show that Republicans are poised to regain control of the House and have a shot at the Senate. Obama's popularity continues to slide and independents continue to be attracted towards the idea of a Republican president in 2012. Any of these outcomes would put the Republican Party in an enhanced leadership position where they would be expected to have solutions to the issues that are currently causing the voting public to lose confidence in the Democrat Party and the Obama Administration. But who are the voices and the faces of the Republican Party who will bring these ideas to the anxious public?


     The Tea Party is a collective voice of discontent with a broad set of ideals i.e. lower taxes; lower federal budget deficits; and smaller government. But the Tea Party has neither an identifiable spokesman, nor a public policy agenda crafted to achieve their goals. Now, if the Republicans do achieve greater numbers in the Congress, they will face the responsibility for specific solutions and they simply cannot defer to traveling critics and talk show hosts to be the voice of the party.

     Currently, Michael Steele, the Chairman of the Republic National Committee has tried to transform what has traditionally been an administrative and fund raising job into his version of spokesman for the Party. The results have not been good. In a kind of Joe Biden sound alike act, Steele compared Republicans in Congress to "drunks in need of a twelve step program." He made it worse by then comparing them to "the mentally ill". In a classic case of "lips gone wild" he promised to do a "hip hop makeover" of the Republican Party that would "even attract one armed midgets". Without explaining the importance of the one armed midget vote, he went on to get into a food fight with conservative talk guru Rush Limbaugh by allowing reporters to trap him into responding to some of Limbaugh's dumber comments. Steele made the correct observation that Limbaugh was an "entertainer", implying that he was not to be taken seriously. However, this caused a distracting debate on Limbaugh's part and resulted in an apology on Steele's part which made it seem that Limbaugh does indeed have a role as party spokesman. Since Limbaugh is motivated by ratings and controversy, he is a "loose cannon" who Democrats find a tempting "Republican" target with each "Rushism".
     Limbaugh pins the target to his own chest with such comments as this on the effects of the Gulf oil spill, which are sure to endear himself, and the party by association, with the residents of the Gulf states:

     "The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and (the oil)left out there. It's as natural as the ocean water is."

     Always sensitive to the female vote, Limbaugh made Republican politicians wince with: "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." And: "I love the woman's movement, especially when walking behind it."

    Of course there is always the black vote which a few black conservatives are struggling to attract in greater numbers to the GOP. Rush is there to help.

     ". . .the NFL all to often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."

     However "entertaining" these comments might be, it's clearly time for Republican officials to establish some distance between the party and Limbaugh.Meanwhile, Steele keeps talking. He recently contradicted the party position on Afghanistan, saying that the war was "a war of Obama's choosing" and implying that it was unwinnable. Obama himself has said the Afghanistan invasion was a war of necessity as did George Bush who initiated it. The Republican position has been that it is “winnable” given the necessary troops and the right strategy.

     Then there's the Palin phenomenon. While only thirty-two percent of the public, according to recent polls, seriously consider Palin as a presidential candidate in 2012, she nonetheless travels the country giving speeches and is embraced by Republican candidates, including incumbents. Palin's public speaking style is that of a high school cheer leader:

     "Gimme an S!: Gimme a P!: Gimme a $100 thousand speaker's fee"

     She then goes on to recite the latest anti-Obama bumper stickers before traveling on to endorse Republican female candidates as "mama grizzlies". Clearly in need of a speech writer and a staff of researchers, this is the woman who thinks there is a "Department of Law" in the White House that would protect her from ethics violations if elected president. Here is a party "spokeswoman" who had to be told during the presidential campaign that there were two Koreas. The depth and breadth of her ignorance about the world and the political system is astounding and her rambling incoherence makes one suspect that Wasilla, Alaska high school should offer a course in "English as a second language". Devoid of policy ideas, unfortunately for the GOP, she continues to attract more media coverage than the would be policy makers in the Congress. These conservative politicians must prove that they deserve an enhanced role in solving the numerous problems the country faces and they should not have to waste time distancing themselves from the steady stream of nonsense coming from those on the periphery who have no responsibility to get things done or any accountability for failure.

     It's time for the Republican Party in Congress to establish a unified voice, get together and define specific policy alternatives to the Obama agenda. The country is feeling a profound sense of disappointment after the emotional high of the 2008 election. Republican victories in November and in 2012 without a common sense agenda enumerated by common sense spokesmen, could bring about the same reaction.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

THE PALIN/BIDEN PRIZE III

     The Palin/Biden Prize is given periodically to editorialists, columnists, commentators, and bloggers who produce articles which are especially factually or intellectually challenged; lack coherence; reflect an obvious ideological purpose; upon sober reflection by the author, are likely to cause a queasy feeling of embarrassment and the desire for retraction; or are just plain dumb.

     A wise man once said: "Your point of view depends on where you stand."

      Robert Kagan must have been standing just outside the door to the Oval Office when he imagined "Obama's Five Foreign Policy Victories", the subject of his recent commentary in the Washington Post.

     These "victories" supposedly all occurred in the month of June and thus, according to Kagan, "deserve recognition", although he doesn't explain why. When one thinks of foreign policy victories a list might include Truman's success in getting the young United Nations to authorize a response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950. Or Eisenhower's successful negotiation of the armistice that ended hostilities in that conflict three years later. Kennedy's successful resolution of the Cuban missile crisis in 1960 comes to mind. Nixon's China initiatives; Carter's Camp David Accords in 1979 which resulted in the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel; the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union during the Reagan Administration all deserve the accolade of "foreign policy victory".

     OK, so let's take a look at Obama's "victories" which somehow didn't get the recognition they deserve.

     First, according to Kagan there was "Obama's biggest move", naming General David Petraeus to be the new commander in Afghanistan. Uh.? . . . . . . . .(dramatic pause signaling incredulity). This foreign policy "victory" was a hastily contrived fall back position after the existing Afghanistan commander and his senior staff were exposed as having little if any, respect for Obama, the Vice President, the Ambassador to Afghanistan, the National Security Advisor and the Obama's Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a smart choice but being ridiculed by one your top commanders in the field and being forced to make a change in the midst of an interminable war hardly describes a foreign policy victory. It sounds more like putting a band-aid on a wounded pride and an attempt to make the pubic forget the underlying problem.

     But of course there's always number two on the list: the "UN Security Council resolution on Iran." Well, Russia and China did cooperate by not vetoing the resolution which imposed a sort of economic sanctions against that recalcitrant state. But Russian and China signed on for a reason. The sanctions impose no real discomfort on Iran , do not seriously disrupt on-going Chinese and Russian financial and military dealings with Iran and Russian leaders quickly said that attempts to impose stronger sanctions would cause Russia to abandon cooperation on the current sanctions. Iran dismissed the sanctions resolution as meaningless. More punishing sanctions might come from U.S. and European Union cooperation but without Russian and Chinese cooperation even these will have limited effect. Imposing real sanctions that hurt i.e. an embargo on refined petroleum into Iran, are dismissed as being"too painful" for the Iranian people, which of course is the reason for sanctions in the first place. So this might be a "victory" in relative terms, compared to previous failures but in actual objective reality not much was accomplished and Iran continues its nuclear weapons program.

     Maybe "victory" number three is better.

     There has been an ongoing dispute with the government of Japan over a U.S. Marine air base located in an urban area of the island of Okinawa. The citizens of the area are concerned with the noise, safety issues and a sad history of U.S. military personnel committing crimes against Japanese females. Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama promised to close the base but negotiations and commitments by previous Japanese administrations stood in the way. Sensitive to failure, and as is the Japanese custom, Hatoyama resigned. This then is Obama's third "foreign policy victory". Kagan goes on to say that this victory resulted in "Japanese reaffirmation of its commitment to the U.S. alliance." But then he admits that: "This has more to do with Japan's fear of China than anything else, but the administration deserves credit for helping steer it in the right direction."

     In truth, Japanese dependence and acceptance of the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the U.S. was never in doubt and credit should be given to the nuclear armed nut case in North Korea whose behavior is as strange as his hair style. Too bad about Hatoyama, but great victories have their price.

     Let’s hold our relief and exultation while we examine foreign policy victory number four.

     “. . . .President Obama signaled a new determination to achieve a free-trade agreement with South Korea. After many hollow claims by administration officials that the United States "is back" in Asia, this would be the first actual evidence.”

     Exaggerated praise for what hasn’t happend yet makes one wonder if Kagan had a vote for the Nobel Peace Prize which was handed to Obama with fingers crossed by a committee of confused Norwegians back in December, 2009. Kagan mentions that the main opposition to the South Korea Free Trade Pact will come from union protecting Democrats in Congress so this victory may have to wait for a Republican majority.

     Stand by for the checkered flag.Victory number Five is a real stunner.

     The "White House declared that the "Obama Administration continues to have serious disagreements with the Russian government over Georgia." And?

     " We continue to call for Russia to end its occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

     Kagan's "victory" interpretation: "The word 'occupation' is a clear sign that the administration has not swept this issue under the rug. Maybe Obama understands that the 'reset' (with Russia) will never be a success so long as Russian troops continue to occupy their neighbors' territories."

     So "continued disagreements" are now "victories? That makes the Obama Administration a virtual "victory garden" with sprouts popping up like dead voters in Chicago. There are "victories" in Israel, Mexico, Syria, etc. etc. Kagan must be positively giddy with Obama's success at disagreeing with the world's governments.

     Anyway, June was quite a month alright. First Obama climbed the foreign policy mountain and planted his flag in General McChrystal’s foot which was firmly stuck in his mouth and then demoted General Petreaus from Commander of Central Command to NATO Commander in Afghanistan. Then he succeeded on getting the UN Security Council to approve toothless sanctions against Iran; caused a change of government in Japan while maintaining the status quo with a Marine base; announced “new determination” to achieve a free trade pact with South Korea; and “made clear signs to Russia” over their occupation of parts of Georgia.

     Stand by for even more victories in months to come.