Culture, International Relations

Tom Friedman: Losing The Future

Tom Friedman phones it in again, in yet another New York Times column filled with the same old cliches we’ve heard a thousand times. This time, instead of kissing the asses of the Butchers of Beijing, Tom Friedman decides to give the GOP some unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Apparently, what the Republican Party needs to do is just agree with the Democratic Party on everything, and all will be well.

The problem with Friedman’s ideology is that we’re already watching it fail. The blue-state model is failing here, and the European welfare-state model that the Democrats want to emulate is teetering on the edge of chaos. (Just observe the inevitable end-state of the European welfare state as exemplified in Greece.)

Friedman argues that we need spend more on infrastructure and education—the same old cliched thinking we’ve heard before. The problem with such spending is that it doesn’t produce anything: it’s the equivalent of digging ditches to keep people busy. Take “high speed rail,” the fetish of statophiles everywhere. Nearly every rail project in this country goes massively over-budget and few people ride in them. Yet we spend billions of dollars developing “solutions” no one wants to problems no one has. But that’s how America is supposed to compete in the 21st Century.

What we don’t need is more bureaucratic pipe-dreams. We don’t need more top-down initiatives made by Washington D.C. that have no basis in the needs of real people. Have we learned nothing from the 20th Century: central planning does not work. No government agency, no matter how well-functioning, has the level of knowledge necessary to make better economic decisions than the people who are actually effected by those decisions. Trying to direct the economy from afar does not work, never has worked, and won’t work in the future.

And of course, Friedman wants to “raise revenue” to fulfill all of his dreams of high speed trains and elaborate (and pointless) fights against global warming. The problem with “raising revenue” is every dollar taken out of the productive economy and put into wild-eyed government initiatives is a dollar that can’t be invested in something actually worthwhile—the fact is that the “Keynesian multiplier” is a myth and $1 in government spending does not magically produce more than $1 in growth.

And that’s why we shouldn’t listen to people like Tom Friedman. It’s not that the Republican Party lacks ideas, it’s that the Democratic Party is threatened by change. The poles of American politics have reversed. From the union battles in Wisconsin to the 2012 Presidential race, it’s been the conservative upstarts trying to overturn the sclerotic and malfunctioning status quo while the left tries to defend their fiefdoms from substantive change.

Friedman doesn’t want to embrace the 20th Century, he wants to repeat its mistakes. The 21st Century is all about the decentralized over the centralized, autonomous and intelligent networks over large institutions, the agile over the cumbersome. And there is nothing that is less agile, less intelligent, and less willing to delegate power and authority than the United States federal government. Yet Friedman and his ilk would imbue that same broken system with more and more power over every facet of our lives. It’s like arguing that we should take down the Internet and put everyone on Minitel.

If the United States is to be successful in the 21st Century, it can’t emulate the failed policies of the last century. If there’s one side in this equation that is horribly out of step with the times, it’s the one embracing the failed strategies of the past. Perhaps it’s President Obama and his cast of Clinton-era retreads that should simply give up.

International Relations, North Korea

Kim Jong-Il: Death Of A Dictator

Kim Jong-Il, the tyrant that ruled over North Korea has finally died at the age of 69. He likely died from a heart attack or stroke, although the North Korean propaganda machine has claimed that he died from “overwork.” Under his leadership, North Korea continued to be a concentration camp writ on a nightmare scale. While Jong-Il dined on expensive Japanese sushi (imported directly from Japan through his personal chef) and drank French cognac, millions of North Koreans died of starvation and disease. On every measure of societal development, North Korea comes dead last, thanks to a regime that is the living embodiment of paranoia, xenophobia, and totalitarianism.

What is most frightening about the situation in North Korea is not that it’s so bad, it’s that it could be even worse. The Kim regime placed thousands of artillery pieces in the hills surrounding the Korean DMZ, and possesses chemical, biological, and crude nuclear weapons. The North Koreans have the means to devastate much of Seoul with a barrage of artillery, or even launch attacks against targets in Japan with medium-range missiles. The Kim regime may appear insane, but appearances are decieving: if anything, the Kim regime were coldly calculating, deftly weaving Korean legends and Marxist claptrap into a net that has kept 25 million people enmeshed in a living nightmare.

The scenes of North Koreans crying over the death of their persecutor mirrors the scenes of 1994 when Kim Il Sung died-—there too was a massive show of grief, staged or not. And what is even scarier to contemplate than these scenes being staged is that the Kim regime has so completely brainwashed the people of North Korea that the grief is real.

As terrible as the situation in North Korea is, it is made even more terrible by the fact that there is no acceptable endgame to this situation. Even if the regime were to collapse, it would be a humanitarian nightmare for the region and for the world. China has no interest in absorbing 25 million starving North Koreans. As much as the United States may wish to see a unified and democratic Korean Peninsula, that would be a project that could take decades, and the South Korean government may not be so willing to accept the cost of trying to lift the North out of its medieval state.

Heir to a Madman

But a collapse is all too possible. Kim Jong-Un has been designated by the Kim regime as the “Great Successor,” but he is not even 30, has never served in the military, and has only been groomed for leadership for a year. In contrast, the transition from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong-Il occurred only after Kim Jong-Il had 25 years of experience in taking on leadership tasks. The North Korean military is the only power in the country that could do anything to stop the Kim regime, and it’s not certain whether senior military officials are willing to be led by a 20-something with no military experience and little credibility.

Little is known about Kim Jong-Un, including his actual birthday, his background, his education, his outlook on affairs, or how he might choose to lead the DPRK. What we do know is that he was educated in Europe where his classmates observed a shy boy with a love for basketball. He was not interested in engaging in diatribes against the United States, but drew portraits of Michael Jordan and collected pictures of himself with NBA stars. What this means for his outlook on the world is unknown. But what is known does not paint a picture of someone who has the leadership abilities or cunning of his father or grandfather.

It may well be that Kim Jong-Un is little more than a placeholder—rumors are that the heir apparent to the madman’s throne is hardly up to the task. It may well be that his aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui may be secretly running things behind the scenes. There are a million rumors, and because North Korea is so secretive and isolated from the rest of the world, it’s impossible to know what is really going on.

No Good Options

The problem with North Korea is the same that it has ever been: there are simply no good outcomes at this point. If the Kim regime continues under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, then the North Korean people will remain mired in a living nightmare for years more. If Kim Jong-Un falls, then the only power that could keep the country from sliding into anarchy is the military, and they could very well end up provoking World War III if given the chance. And if both fall, then there is nothing left in the country to hold it together. North Korea would fall into anarchy, and the human costs would be beyond comprehension. Not since World War II would the world have seen such a refugee crisis.

The best that anyone can do is prepare for the day when the regime finally collapses, and hope for the best. That is not a sound policy, but that’s the only remaining option left. The chances that Kim Jong-Un will set North Korea on a path of openness and moderation are slim to none, and even if he were to try, it’s not at all certain that the military would support him in that endeavor.

The fact is that we would like to think of the leadership of North Korea is being insane, but the reality is that it is sociopathic, but not crazy. Kim Jong-Il was a rational actor playing a rational game—bloody, intransigent, and evil, but rational all the same. Both he and his father knew that North Korea could not compete except by playing great powers against each other, which was accomplished by seemingly irrational actions like threatening war and shelling South Korean targets. So long as the DPRK could threaten the world, it could extract concessions that it would never have gotten by playing nice.

We simply do not know if Kim Jong-Un is smart enough to keep playing this game, or there’s some member of his inner circle that can. What is scarier than a coldly rational and insane-seeming North Korea is an irrational North Korea willing to risk it all on a dangerous whim. One of the best options may be that North Korea becomes a de facto Chinese protectorate, with Beijing keeping the country in line. As distasteful as that option may be, it is better than having an unstable North Korea with both an ongoing humanitarian crisis and plenty of weapons of mass destruction that could fall into terrorist hands.

Kim Jong-Il is dead, and roasting in a hell that he richly deserves. What we must hope for is that he doesn’t take the entire Korean peninsula down with him.

International Relations

Obama’s Dangerous Deception In The Middle East

Martin Peretz has a powerful article in The New Republic on why Obama’s Middle East policies are in utter tatters. Peretz observes the rise of a new fundamentalism in Turkey, one of the most important countries in the region and once a strong U.S. ally. But thanks to President Erdogan, Turkey appears to be moving away from the U.S. and the West and towards becoming a hegemonic Islamic state.

The reason why President Obama appears to be so blind to Turkey’s new ambitions is that Obama is making the same mistake that many others have made in assessing the Middle East: thinking that the Israel/Palestine situation actually matters. Israel is the excuse given in the Middle East (and throughout the Muslim world) for a whole host of sins, as though the mere existence of Israel gave reason for Syria to murder its own people, Saudi Arabia to embrace the 14th Century, or Iran to destabilize its neighbors. But ultimately the Palestinian issue is a sideshow, a distraction from larger concerns. What is sad is that the West consistently plays into the Israel delusion, and Obama has embraced that delusion with full force. As Peretz puts it:

This conundrum of a non-negotiated state for the Palestinians appeals to the ardent déclarateurs. It ignores the fact that free and responsible politics has never been a habit in the Arab world. Read me right: never. There is nothing in Palestinian history to have made the Arabs of Palestine an exception to this stubborn commonplace now being played out again in virtually every country in the region. A commitment is never a commitment. A border is never a border. A peace is never long-lasting. Turkey has now added its serious mischief to the scenario. Erdogan himself will now unravel Cairo’s peace with Jerusalem, as Erdogan has already locked the PA into phantom international politics.

Poor Barack Obama. His adoring view of Erdogan has stimulated the Turkish regime to be a force not for stability in Cairo or reason in Ramallah. What’s more, Obama’s Palestinian initiatives have all collapsed. But the most striking collapse of his Arab politics has been in Syria where he posited that there were sensible and dependable men with whom Israel could make peace. Of course, that would entail giving up the Golan Heights (which are not the Great Plains) to Dr. Assad. The administration courted the family tyranny and its epigones. Responsible, reasonable, reserved. Two smart-assed Jewish boys were dispatched to play computer games with the Damascus elite. They were also enthused by the possibilities. I know that none of these people pulled the triggers on any of the thousands who are now dead. They just encouraged the clan to think they will get away with murder forever.

In the last few years, the Middle East has been at a crossroads. The democratic revolutions throughout North Africa could have spread into a full-on wave of democratization across the region. But that was not going to happen without the support of the West in picking the side of democracy. Instead, we have sat on the sidelines, content to let things play out as they may. The problem with that is that democracy in a delicate flower, and it can all too easily be crushed in the treads of a tank. Right now, Libya could easily become another enclave for al-Qaead, Egypt is a de facto military dictatorship, and the Syrian regime feels free to kill without fear of anything other than a few choice words.

Meanwhile, President Obama is playing the same old fool’s game of trying to negotiate a settlement between the most democratic state in the region and a loose-knit confederation of cast-offs who would like to see nothing more than the destruction of their democratic neighbor. There will be no solution to the Israel/Palestine problem until the Palestinians truly recognize the right of Israel to exist. Only then can the conditions for a lasting piece and Palestinian statehood exist. President Barack Obama is not going to talk them into that, no matter how much he thinks of his oratorical skills.

While the world occupies itself with the prospect of the UN recognizing a Palestinian state, the Middle East becomes increasingly dangerous after years of hope. Turkey’s sudden turn towards becoming a regional Islamic hegemon, Syria’s continued brutalization of its own people, and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons are all more important than playing into the Palestinian mythos. Until the U.S. and other world powers stop playing into the idea that Palestine is the be-all-end-all of Middle Eastern affairs, the Middle East will not change for the better. What is sad is that Peretz is right—Obama thoroughly misunderstands the Middle East, and it will cost us in the long run.

International Relations, Political Philosophy, Politics

Passing Blame To The Wrong Party

Daniel Larison, of the paleo-con American Conservative takes a look at the woes of the GOP and the conservative movement and puts the blame on national-security conservatives.

It wasn’t that the Bush Administration went on an orgy of spending that made a mockery of conservative principles, or that social conservatives had a message that tended to alienate rather than include, it’s that the the strong national security message of the GOP caused them to lose:

Like their short-sighted cheerleading for a “surge” in Iraq, which failed on its own terms, and their subsequent carping this year that the Pentagon budget increase is too small, the mainstream right’s apologies for torture are not only morally bankrupt but also divorced from the reality of the intelligence, or lack thereof, these methods provided. Much as liberals needed their internal critics to challenge the welfare status quo over the last three decades, conservatism desperately needs similar internal dissent concerning the warfare state. But there is almost none.

One reason for the lack of dissent and accountability is that the majority of the GOP was deeply implicated in supporting and defending the war in Iraq, the signature failure of national security conservatives. To a large extent, the party has defined itself around the ideological fictions used to justify and continue the war long after the country had turned against it. This process was aided by the disappearance of antiwar Republicans in Congress. Never numerous in the first place, most have been replaced by Democrats during the past two cycles.

Now, this argument is wrong, but it isn’t fundamentally wrong. It is wrong on the facts. The surge did work, it worked better than had been expected, and as a testament to how well it worked, the Obama Administration has not disavowed it. President Obama, were the Iraq issue as toxic as it is claimed, could have withdrawn all U.S. troops ASAP. Instead, Obama’s war strategy is not that much different than what a President McCain’s strategy would have been—a gradual and conditional withdrawal over the next year to two years. Moreover, the Obama Administration is hardly rejecting the idea of a hawkish foreign policy. During the debates, Obama needled McCain about getting bin Laden. Hardly the act of someone who wants to push for a more restrained war. Obama has been sending more drones into Pakistan, even though such actions may be dangerous. Rather than de-escalation, Obama plans to put more troops into Afghanistan and has signaled a muscular U.S. foreign policy.

The truth of the matter is, doves don’t win elections in the U.S. Muscular foreign policy is widely accepted by both political parties in the United States. The idea that the GOP lost because they embraced “hegemony” is something only someone inside the intellectual bubble of academia could take seriously.

Moreover, Larison divides the GOP into three wings: social, fiscal, and national security conservatives. The reality is that both social and fiscal conservatives also tend to be national security conservatives. There isn’t a separate wing of conservatives that believe in a strong national defense but not social issues or fiscal ones. Rather, both socially-minded and fiscally-minded conservatives tend to be interested in national security issues. That’s why it’s not that surprising that Evangelicals tend to be supportive of “torture” against suspected terrorists—there is no hard and fast line between social conservatives and national security conservatives. The Reagan coalition was largely built around national security issues, and a strong national defense has been one of the common issues shared by a vast majority of Republicans and conservatives.

There is, however, an element of truth here as well. The GOP lost in large part due to the war in Iraq, a war that was never convincingly explained by the President and suffered from poor management from 2003–07. The “surge” was the product of the Administration finally listening to the people fighting the war rather than dictating from the top down. President Bush never convincingly explained why we were in Iraq so long and why the sacrifice of American blood and treasure was worth it. There was truth in the adage that we were “fighting them over there rather than over here,” but that logic was never followed through.

The GOP has many problems, but “interventionist” foreign policy is not one of them. The Obama Administration continues to play lip service to the idea of a more “humble” foreign policy while still engaging in interventions abroad. Isolationism has not played a major role in U.S. politics since the end of World War II, and for good reason. America’s superpower status demands world leadership, and we can’t have one without the other. If the GOP becomes a policy that abrogates its positions on a muscular U.S. foreign policy, they will lose. While Iraq hurt the GOP in 2006 and 2008, the GOP’s foreign policy positions helped re-elect President Bush in 2004 when Kerry’s weakness on national security proved to be fatal.

The real lesson here is that if you’re going to fight a war, fight it well and keep the American people fully engaged in the conflict. To argue that the lesson conservatives should learn from the last election cycles is to abandon a deeply-held and popular principle of conservatism and embrace a discredited and dangerous isolationism is to learn exactly the wrong lesson.

Campaign 2008, Idiotarianism, Politics, War On Terror

Obama: The Surge Was A Failure, Let’s Do Another

Sen. (not President, despite the way he is carrying his campaign) Obama’s position on the surge still does not make a great deal of sense. As with everything Obama says or does, what really matters is not consistency, logic, or good policy, but cheap politics.

First, Obama can’t deny that the surge has produced results. It clearly has. The violence in “unwinnable” Iraq is now down, and the gains that have been made are finally on a solid foundation.

What did Sen. Obama say about the surge?

We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, uh, we can send 15,000 more troops; 20,000 more troops; 30,000 more troops. Uh, I don’t know any, uh, expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to, uh, privately that believes that that is gonna make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.

He also made this remark:

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.

That was January of 2007. Later that year, Obama said this:

Here’s what we know. The surge has not worked. And they said today, ‘Well, even in September, we’re going to need more time.’ So we’re going to kick this can all the way down to the next president, under the president’s plan.

There’s no doubt that throughout 2007, when Sen. McCain was risking his political future in supporting the surge, Sen. Obama held the position that the surge would not, and could not, work. Now Obama has had to scramble away from that position in recent days. His position that even knowing what he knows now, he would not support the surge is preposterous—and by his own words is based on his dislike of Bush rather than substantive reasoning.

His statement to ABC News’ Terry Moran was that he would still be against the surge because “we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one I just disagreed with” is childish. His argument is that since he disagrees with Bush, he would do the opposite of what Bush did even if what Bush did was actually effective. It is tempting to remind Sen. Obama that Bush was elected President in the hope that he’d drop out of the race and spare us from more of his endless political vanity.

There is a reason why the surge worked. It worked because security is absolutely necessary for political compromise. The Sunnis and Sh’ia could never make political concessions when they had every reason to fear each other. You can’t have political compromise when the parties are trying to kill each other. That such a concept is radical to some is a little distressing and shows how political rhetoric has become so divorced from thinking about the real world. The surge worked because it helped restore order. Obama’s plan would have failed because it would have put the cart before the horse in terms. Pushing for political compromise would have been foolish when the Sh’ia feared al-Qaeda and the Sunnis feared the Sadrists. People don’t tend to make deals with people that they think are going to kill them.

If logic isn’t enough, that Obama is endorsing a virtual replay of the surge in Afghanistan should make it clear. To be fair, Afghanistan is not quite like Iraq. It has never been a truly “modern” country, and while it has had moments of peace, for most of its history it has been a place wracked with violent conflict. Obama’s strategy of replaying the surge in Afghanistan is probably the right call, but there is no reason to believe that Afghanistan is truly the central front in this war. Al-Qaeda isn’t in Afghanistan, they are hiding next door in Pakistan, where we cannot go.

If the surge supposedly didn’t really do the job in Iraq, why should it work in Afghanistan? The Afghan government is weaker than Al-Maliki’s. President Karzai has little effective control outside Kabul, and there’s no reason for many of the distant tribes outside the cities to submit to him. Afghanistan is a tribal state, not a democracy, and it will be generations (if not longer) before that will change. Defeating the Taliban is a good thing, but that doesn’t help us fight al-Qaeda, which is a different group entirely.

Don’t expect answers from the Obama camp. More vague platitudes about “hope” and “change” are enough to pack in the throngs of admirers, and that’s all he will deliver. With Obama, style and ambition continue to trump substance, and like Bill Clinton what matters is not what the best policy is, but what does the most to stroke the ego of the candidate. That kind of feckless egotism was fatal to American interests throughout the 1990 as al-Qaeda metastasized, Pakistan got the bomb, and America’s enemies saw us as a venal paper tiger. They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A President who fails to learn from history can doom us all.

Iraq, War On Terror

Tough Words, Weak Logic

Barack Obama has written an op-ed in The New York Times previewing his strategy in the Global War on Terrorism. The first thing to be noted is how suspect the timing is. Later this summer, Sen. Obama is planning to finally return to Iraq and get a first-hand look at the country and meet with the commanders in the field. By releasing his position now, it suggests that he should avoid expending the CO2 since he has apparently already decided his policy. To publish this piece now is not only bad timing, but insulting to the commanders on the ground who could have advised him.

Were his policies actually sound it would be one thing—but Sen. Obama makes the same predictable mistakes that Democrats keep making, and contradicts his own positions more than once:

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we’ve spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

Sen. Obama said that the surge would fail and that there was no long-term military solution. Like the rest of the Democratic leadership, he misunderstands the purpose of the “surge.” Security is an absolute prerequisite to political reconciliation. People who have every reason to fear their neighbors have no reason to engage in political compromise. Obama’s policies would have taken Iraq into utter chaos. Without the breathing room that the surge provided, Iraq’s descent into civil war would have continued unabated. On the surge, Sen. Obama was categorically wrong, while Sen. McCain’s political bravery was constant and recent events have vindicated his then-controversial stand.

As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 — two years from now, and more than seven years after the war began. After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

We may be able to remove our troops in 16 months, but only if the conditions support it. To do otherwise is irresponsible. Obama’s insistence on an arbitrary timetable is much like Prime Minister Maliki’s—unrealistic, designed for domestic consumption, and quickly to be abandoned.

There is little doubt that the security gains are making a withdrawal more tenable each day—and now Sen. Obama is going against his own position his own policy of “immediate” withdrawal and embracing a weakened plan that will likely happen regardless of who takes office. It is a better bet for the country to embrace someone who was right from the beginning than someone who is running against their own policies from only a few months ago.

Sen. Obama also misunderstands the conflict in Afghanistan as well:

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won’t have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

If Afghanistan is not the central front in the war on terror then al-Qaeda was unaware of that “fact” as they themselves believed that it was. Sen. Obama forgets that al-Qaeda is an Arab group. It’s heart is not in Afghanistan, but in the Arab world. Obama’s plan to defeat al-Qaeda by reinforcing Afghanistan is analogous to saying that you would raid the gangsters at their hideout after they had already left.

The rise in violence in Afghanistan is a byproduct of our victory in Iraq. The skills we have learned in years of vigorous counterinsurgency will serve us well in Afghanistan and in future conflict. We do need to reinforce Afghanistan, but not because of al-Qaeda. The Taliban are a threat, but only to the Afghans. We have a moral imperative to help them, but that does not make Afghanistan central to this war.

Pakistan is the major breeding ground for al-Qaeda, and the reason that it is that al-Qaeda knows we can’t risk the fall of the Musharraf government to take them out. Thanks to Pakistan’s nuclear capability, no sane President would authorize a cross-border raid and risk the outbreak of World War III unless absolutely necessary. Having troops in Afghanistan at best puts them closer to al-Qaeda, but as close as that border may be, it is still too far to do much good.

A truly enterprising journalist would ask Sen. Obama why al-Qaeda would risk going into Afghanistan, a country that is crawling with US and allied troops, when Pakistan offers them a relatively safe haven. Sadly, few journalists are that enterprising.

In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender.

For a poker player, Sen. Obama has an obvious tell. Whenever he talks about something negative his political adversaries are saying about him, chances are he is telegraphing his own political weaknesses. The facts remain, Sen. Obama’s position up until it became political expedient was that we should surrender in Iraq. He changed his position when it he needed to paint an image of himself as being tough on terrorism. The American public cannot be sure where the political winds may take Sen. Obama. If the going gets tough in Afghanistan (as it likely will), can we trust Barack Obama not to give in?

Sen. McCain took a politically brave stand when it was not expedient for him to have done so. He took the heat because he was willing to stand on principle. While Barack Obama pre-judged the surge (as he now pre-judges the current situation), John McCain stood firm. McCain demonstrated political bravery, while Sen. Obama continues to change his position.

There is a reason why so many more Americans trust John McCain as Commander in Chief—because McCain has already shown a willingness to take the hard stands. Behind Obama’s rhetoric lies the reality of a neophyte politician who doesn’t want the facts to get in the way of his spin. We don’t need more of that in Washington. A true leader takes a stand based on a principle higher than political ambition. McCain has consistently done so, and that is why for all of Sen. Obama’s tough words, his logic is weak.

Idiotarianism, Iran, War On Terror

Biden’s Servile Foreign Policy

Sen. Joe Biden (in an response to Sen. Lieberman’s must-read piece on Democrats and the war) writes on his critique of America’s post-9/11 foreign policy. His arguments are reasonable, but the problem is that the world he describes has little to do with the world in which we all actually live. For example:

At the heart of this failure is an obsession with the “war on terrorism” that ignores larger forces shaping the world: the emergence of China, India, Russia and Europe; the spread of lethal weapons and dangerous diseases; uncertain supplies of energy, food and water; the persistence of poverty; ethnic animosities and state failures; a rapidly warming planet; the challenge to nation states from above and below.

Instead, Mr. Bush has turned a small number of radical groups that hate America into a 10-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.

The problem with Biden’s analysis is that all those problems are being dealt with: the Bush Administration has been the most progressive administration in this century in terms of Africa policy. We were the first on the scene for the Indonesian tsunami. We’ve been in the lead on trying to get aid into Burma. The list could go on.

What Biden is trying to do is downplay the reality that terrorism is the central problem we face. Terrorism is one of the factors making our energy supply uncertain, it perpetuates poverty in places like Iraq, and it feeds of failed states. That doesn’t mean that terrorism is the sole problem, but it is the most significant, and a focus on terrorism is by necessity a focus on doing things like preventing failed states.

Al-Qaeda wasn’t turned into a monster by President Bush. They launched the first significant attack on continental America since 1812. They massively destabilized our economy and our way of life. And they would just love to do so again. The confluence of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction is the greatest foreign policy threat we face—not the phantom menace of “a rapidly warming planet.”

And what would Sen. Biden do? The same policies that failed the Carter Administration:

Last week, John McCain was very clear. He ruled out talking to Iran. He said that Barack Obama was “naïve and inexperienced” for advocating engagement; “What is it he wants to talk about?” he asked.

Well, for a start, Iran’s nuclear program, its support for Shiite militias in Iraq, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

And exactly what leverage to we have to get Iran to change, Senator? Exactly what would talking achieve. Does anyone believe that Ahmadinejad or Khameini is going to agree to a deal in which Iran stops developing nuclear weapons? Are they going to stop spreading their influence because we ask nice?

That is the central, failed conceit of current Democratic foreign policy: it is hopelessly naïve. The Iranians cannot be negotiated out of supporting Hamas and Hizb’Allah. Why should they stop, unless we have a credible threat of force to back us up. Should a President Obama go to Tehran, does anyone really think that the mullahs would give a damn about what he said? They would have no reason to—they know damned well that he would never use force against them, so why would they bother to hold themselves to their own promises?

We tried this approach with North Korea. It didn’t work there, it’s still not working, and it won’t work with Tehran. At best, talking delays the inevitable. Teddy Roosevelt said we should talk softly and carry a big stick. The Democrats want us to go into Tehran, but they also want us to put away the stick.

Beyond bluster, how would Mr. McCain actually deal with these dangers? You either talk, you maintain the status quo, or you go to war. If Mr. McCain has ruled out talking, we’re stuck with an ineffectual policy or military strikes that could quickly spiral out of control.

Except talking doesn’t work. We may not have any choice but to go to war, but we’re not at that point yet. Sen. Biden misses another option: making the costs involved in challenging us too high to countenance.

We need a Machiavellian foreign policy, and the Democrats want us to act like Barney the Dinosaur and pretend that we’re all friends. You want to make Tehran not develop nuclear weapons? You make sure that the costs of doing so are high. We defeated the Soviet Union not through talks, but by making it very clear to the Soviets that if talking failed, we were perfectly willing to wipe them off the face of the globe.

Biden’s arguments on Iran don’t get any better:

It also requires a much more sophisticated understanding than Mr. Bush or Mr. McCain seem to possess that by publicly engaging Iran – including through direct talks – we can exploit cracks within the ruling elite, and between Iran’s rulers and its people, who are struggling economically and stifled politically.

Iran’s people need to know that their government, not the U.S., is choosing confrontation over cooperation. Our allies and partners need to know that the U.S. will go the extra diplomatic mile – if we do, they are much more likely to stand with us if diplomacy fails and force proves necessary.

The Bush-McCain saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable. It achieves nothing. But it forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders. And it spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right from American wallets into Tehran’s pockets.

What is the alternative? It’s clear that talking is not going to help. The world community is not going to turn against Iran. Russia will not. China will not. Even Europe would balk.

A foreign policy based on meaningless words back with no credible threat of force is a foreign policy damned to fail—just as it did when Jimmy Carter did it. Under his watch, the Iranian regime was founded. We cannot afford such a disaster again.

We have to deal with Iran, but pretending that talk will solve anything is futile. Iran, like the rest of the Middle East, respects strength and laughs at the weak. The Democrats continue to advocate for a foreign policy of weakness in which a servile United States goes to our enemies and begs them to play nice.

Americans don’t beg, we lead from strength. That is how Reagan led this country to the end of the Cold War and how a President McCain will help lead this country to an end to the War on Islamic Terrorism.

Campaign 2008, International Relations, Politics

Is This How We Improve Our Image Abroad?

John Fund writes on the Democrats’ opposition to free trade with Colombia. In a time when both Democratic candidates are promising to improve our foreign relations, both are flunking this key test of leadership.

Colombia is a democratic ally fighting off a vicious Marxist insurgency being aided by the autocratic regime of Hugo Chávez. President Alvaro Uribe is fighting to keep his country from becoming a tool of Chávez’s hegemonic ambitions and trying to prevent narcotics from funding terrorism. He has done a great deal to stop the violence that has ravaged Colombia—the murder rate has dropped precipitously under his leadership, and the Marxist FARC guerillas have been unable to destabilize the government and turn Colombia into a Communist puppet state.

Yet the Democratic Party has decided to turn against Colombia—for reasons that reek of politics rather than substance:

President Uribe made clear how disappointed he was that the Democratic front-runner had chosen domestic politics over geopolitical stability: “I deplore the fact that Sen. Obama . . . should be unaware of Colombia’s efforts,” he said in a statement. “I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia’s reality.”

The simple truth is that the opposition to the trade agreement–from the Democratic presidential contenders to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi–has nothing to do with reality. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, admitted as much recently: “It’s not the substance on the ground–it’s the politics in the air.”

The reality is that Colombia is not a threat to American workers. The free trade agreement submitted for ratification lowers trade barriers on both sides and gives US manufacturers greater access to Colombia’s markets. 90% of good coming from Colombia are already imported duty-free. The argument that this bill would be injurious to the interests of American workers has absolutely no basis—nor do the attacks against President Uribe accusing him of attacking union organizers in Colombia.

The Democratic Party has developed a knee-jerk reaction to anything that resembles free trade—and for a party that claims the “progressive” mantle that sort of isolationism is a throwback to the days of nativist protectionism. What’s worse is that it compromises the Democrats’ promises that they will “restore America’s reputation” abroad—exactly why should anyone trust us if we’re willing to slander one of our strongest regional allies in Latin America?

If the Democrats’ rhetoric on international relations was more than empty words, they would be working to ensure that President Uribe is not threatened by his neighbors and would be pledging to support his democratic government. Instead, both candidates are engaged in a war of words against an American ally. That is hardly the way to go about restoring our image abroad.

Campaign 2008, Politics

Huck And Foreign Affairs

Daniel Drezner reads through Mike Huckabee’s Foreign Policy statement and finds it rather lacking:

The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee’s campaign — there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it’s just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.

In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee’s Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy.

The more one looks at Huckabee the less substance there seems to be. If this guy gets the nomination, it’s lights out for the GOP’s chances in 2008. No wonder the Democrats are pushing for him—he’s the one candidate that makes Obama seem prepared. (A Huckabee-Obama race would be the most vapid Presidential contest in recent history.) His appeal is that he’s a good-old-boy Evangelical, which is enough for about 25% of the GOP electorate, but not enough to win the White House. It won’t even be close.

Thankfully, I don’t think Huck will make it through the nomination process. He’s peaked too early, and now people are asking questions about his record. The Wayne DuMond pardon is just the tip of the iceberg for Huckabee. You can’t be a governor of Arkansas without a few skeletons in your closet, and Huckabee is no exception to that rule.

Huckabee is not Presidential material. He may be a nice guy, he may be a devout Christian, and he may be the sort of person you’d like to have a beer with, but that doesn’t make him someone who could face down Ahmadinejad or work with Congress on solving our Social Security problems. Republican primary voters need to think about which candidate can actually use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to advance conservative ideas—and that will mean working with a hostile Congress and trying to advance American values in an increasingly hostile world. Huckabee’s vapid piece in Foreign Policy demonstrates that not only is Huckabee unprepared, but he possesses a naïvete that is downright dangerous. The GOP can do better than that, and hopefully they will.

SEE ALSO: James Joyner takes a detailed look at what he calls Huckabee’s “Sunday school” foreign policy.

UPDATE: Even Andrew Sullivan gets in on the act. He’s right, though. Huckabee’s statement basically consisted of throwing out the names of two foreign policy theorists that Huckabee could recall off the top of his head, not even realizing that the two stand for essentially opposite concepts of American foreign policy.