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Sunday, May 15, 2011

GOD, SEALS, ALLIGATORS AND BIN LADEN

After announcing that he was praying to find guidance on whether or not to run for the Republican presidential nomination, former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee apparently got a "no go" from the deity and announced Saturday that he would stick with his television and radio career. Meanwhile, the 2012 presidential campaign seems to have begun in earnest. Temporarily drowned out by Osama bin Laden's feet first dive from the deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson into the Arabian Sea, the political dance has picked up in tempo. Representative Michelle Bachmann, the current Tea Party queen was in New Hampshire, then in Iowa, then, well who knows but it's sure to be an early primary state. Mitt Romney was recently in Michigan. Donald Trump's rocket has fizzled and though he failed to achieve orbit, he landed in New Hampshire on May 11 and has since taken himself out of the race. Newt Gingrich is on You Tube and Twitter and President Obama was recently in south Texas.

Bachmann is trying to explain why letting the U.S. default on its debt is a good idea. Romney is trying to explain the difference between the Massachusetts health care plan which he signed as governor and ObamaCare which he says should be repealed. Gingrich, finally getting some press after Trump's hard landing, is trying to make the case that in spite of his ethical failures and marriage hopping he has the experience and knowledge to beat Obama, and Obama is singing "Buenos dias; Yo soy tu amigo" to Hispanic voters who aren't so sure anymore.

Bachmann, Romney, and Gingrich have their work cut out for them just to win the Republican nomination, and if God is a Republican, as many in the religious Right think, Huckabee might actually had have the inside track had he gotten a divine “thumbs up”. Perhaps he should have tried Bachmann’s formula for decision making, prayer and fasting. That way even if you don’t get the answer you want you still lose weight. But Obama, who is spared the trials of a primary challenge is traveling the country to shore up the fading support from his 2008 electoral victory. While Hispanic voters, who we are constantly reminded, are the nation's fasted growing minority, aren't likely to vote in large numbers for any Republican candidate, the effort is directed at getting them to vote at all. Obama enjoyed 67% of the Hispanic vote in 2008, based significantly on his promise to enact "comprehensive immigration reform" in his first year in office. In spite of the fact that for his first "two" years he had Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress he failed in that promise. Comprehensive immigration reform today, as actual legislation, has about the same chance as putting New York City's bed bugs on the endangered species list. Of course that doesn't matter when it comes to political campaigning and his approval rating among Hispanics is down to 54% so more visits to "Margaritaville" seem to be a strategy.

There is no question that immigration policies need to be changed. The problem with putting it on the legislative agenda is that the priorities of Obama and the Democrats and that of the Republicans are so far apart. Republicans want the border enforced as the starting point. That is, reduce illegal entry to a trickle and then deal with the eleven to fourteen million illegals presently in the country. Obama claims he has significantly improved border security and thus it is time to move on and create a path to citizenship for the resident illegal aliens. But in fiscal 2010 almost 195,000 illegals were deported which means that a very large number had successfully made it through the "enhanced" security, including almost half who were criminals. Creating a "path to citizenship", which the Republicans describe as "amnesty", without shutting down the border simply creates an unending flow of citizenship seeking immigrants. Thus Obama's plan would make the situation worse not better.

He has suggested that the Republicans will never be satisfied with the state of border security unless the government digs a moat along the southern border and fills it with alligators, presumably only conservative alligators. Of course if the moat followed the same development path as the border fence which after five years and tens of millions of dollars is only partially completed, it would take a gator’s lifetime for them to test out the deterrent value of a toothy grin.

Meanwhile, Obama is enjoying a “bounce” in his job approval over the successful termination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals. Even Republicans have grudgingly given him credit for making the tough political decision to carry out the mission. Some of his political advisors must certainly have reminded him of Jimmy Carter’s failed Iranian hostage rescue in 1980 and its negative effect on his reelection. A failed mission in Pakistan against bin Laden would have had a similar serious affect on Obama’s reelection chances. On the other hand, had the mission been denied and word gotten out that Obama passed up the chance to get bin Laden for political reasons, the effect might have been more disastrous. Still, he took the chance and showed a rare instance of presidential leadership. However, such job approval “bounces” based on single events rarely are sustained and the public will soon refocus on its main concerns which remain jobs, federal deficits and debt.

The effects of bin Laden’s death are hard to compute. Certainly bin Laden had achieved mythological status among the world’s Islamist extremists and his demise will be a significant blow to their morale and hopefully to their dedication to mayhem. It was also fundamentally important to the collective American psyche as he was the face of an attack not only on our economic and defense centers but a blow to the American sense of preeminent power and invulnerability. As such bin Laden was essentially a demon that needed to be exorcised for the American spirit to be revived. In practical terms, the information gathered at the scene may lead to significant further operational damage to the Al Qaeda network, especially in the Middle East. However, since it is widely believed that the terrorist network associated with Al Qaeda had been largely “franchised” into quasi- independent groups, it is highly probable that terrorist attacks in various forms will continue into the future against both Western nations and Middle Eastern governments associated in some way with the United States.
Al Qaeda’ssecond in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri will attempt to reinvigorate the terrorist effort as the new elusive mastermind and this also could mean a new series of international terrorist incidents. In a sense, history has overtaken the Al Qaeda quest to establish a modern day caliphate or theocratic Islamic empire across the Middle East. The popular uprisings in the Arab nations of the region are motivated not by intolerance for individual freedom, as is fundamentalist Islam, but by social and political liberalization, if not identical to, then similar to Western norms, perhaps using Turkey as a model.

The Taliban, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have their own political and ideological agendas which do center on fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, remain the far greater threat to regional stability. Pakistan remains the “tiger’s tail” which the U.S. can’t let go of despite the Pakistan military’s policy of playing both sides and the resulting deterioration of relations with the U.S. A failure of Pakistan’s government in conjunction with a Taliban takeover in neighboring Afghanistan would put that nuclear weapons state in the hands of Islamic extremists. Escalating tensions with nuclear armed India would result making a disastrous conflict with Pakistan a real concern. The U.S. has significant leverage with the Pakistan military and government because of the annual three billion plus aid dollars they receive. Despite the temptation of terminating that aid, the result would eliminate that leverage and would weaken the ability of the Pakistani government to resist the Taliban led insurgency. However, a threat to diminish the levels of aid or the actual gradual reduction in aid could encourage the Pakistani government to step up their efforts to confront the extremists and create a more cooperative relationship with the U.S.

Whether the situation in Afghanistan improves or deteriorates, the Taliban insurgency will continue. The Karzai government is corrupt and the tribal culture will make the creation of any but the most superficial democratic system impossible. The volatile situations in both countries as well as in Iraq and the Arab countries currently experiencing revolts will almost certainly have an impact on the 2012 presidential election. Thus, the ability of Republican candidates to offer some thoughtful analysis and U.S. policies to address these issues will become important. That should at some point eliminate Bachmann and Palin, if she should run, whose names and rhetoric are not commonly associated with “thoughtful analysis”. A meltdown in any of these areas will also hurt Obama since he has the current responsibility for American foreign policy.

At least we are fortunate that we have the Seals; the alligators, well we’ll have to wait and see.

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