31 January 2011

Crisis in Cairo

The Chairman remarked to me yesterday that of all the foreign policy crises of the past five years, the upheaval in Egypt is probably the most difficult to navigate.

As a purely theoretical matter, I'm sympathetic to the Bushian ideal of imposing democracy the world over. But what Bushians, compassionate conservatives, neocons and the idealist Left seems to ignore is that, where democracy has taken hold in the Middle East, the results have been directly adverse to America's interests. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been in power for years. When Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were afforded free elections in 2006, they chose Hamas -- a legitimate terrorist organization -- as their ruling party. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadenijhad still enjoys strong support among the poor, the uneducated and the deeply religious. In Iraq, Mutdaqa al-Sadr -- an enormously popular opposition figure who rose to prominence in the wake of the American invasion -- has ordered attacks that have killed hundreds of American servicemen, not to mention thousands of innocent Iraqis. The Taliban is still well-represented in the Afghani parliament.

Democracy has consequences. And the most likely consequence in the event of a Mubarak exit is that the Muslim Brotherhood -- elements of which are highly threatening to Israel and avowedly anti-American -- would fill the power vacuum. Because the Brotherhood has done its work underground during the repressive Mubarak regime, it has by far the best-organzied opposition group.

At this stage, backing Mubarak is fool's errand. If the Obama administration does this, it will both inflame the Arab street and prop up a regime that is likely to fall anyway. Mubarak has sent his family to England, disbanded almost the entire Egyptian cabinet and does not have sufficient control over the military to quell the unrest in his streets. The better course of action is to privately express appreciation for Mubarak's allegiance to the United States over the past three decades, work to ensure his public yet uninhibited exit, begin negotiating with Mohamed ElBaradei and other key opposition figures, and move quietly to help an interim government -- helmed by ElBaradei or someone else -- set up some sort of election scheme in 6-12 months.

28 January 2011

Hats off to Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator unveiled a budget proposal this week that would slash the federal budget by half a trillion dollars. Included in his proposal are, among other things, a $20 billion reduction in foreign aid -- which includes eliminating the $3 billion in military aid that the United States provides to Israel annually.

No doubt, we'll hear the Bill Kristols, Joe Liebermans and Norman Podhoretzes of the world shrieking about the invaluable linkage between the two nations, and some likely will suggest that Sen. Paul's proposal evinces anti-Semitism. To many pundits, there is nothing more important than the American-Israeli relationship, and they are offended anytime anyone -- from any party -- questions why this relationship is so expensive.

I suppose Sen. Paul and I are on the wrong side of American popular opinion, but I frankly don't care -- and I hope he doesn't either. Israel, like Britain, Australia and our other close allies, is a sovereign nation with plenty of resources and a stable economy. It has arguably one of the three most powerful militaries in the world and is more than capable of defending itself. Additionally, if given the choice, most Americans would likely support a wide number of programs, both domestic and foreign, because their irresponsible elected leaders haven't explained that such programs have to be paid for.

America's fiscal house is in disarray, and hats off to Sen. Paul -- a legitimate, true-blue conservative -- for sticking his neck on the line for something he believes in.

While his proposal probably has no chance of passing, his candor is refreshing, and I hope more Republicans follow his lead.

At the very least, a discussion of our blind, blank-check support of Israel is one worth having.

25 January 2011

Good riddance, Joe Lieberman

A few days ago, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman -- once, this site's preference for Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential nominee in 2008 -- has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2012.

In light of his announcement, pundits from both sides have lauded Lieberman's "bipartisanship" and "centrism" in an age of increasing partisan polarization.

For those of us who believe in individual liberty, however, Lieberman was a nightmare.

On domestic issues, Lieberman is a clear-cut liberal, voting in lockstep with the Democratic Party on virtually every major issue of import. His 2008 rating (on a 100 scale) from the American Conservative Union was eight. His lifetime rating is a shade over 16, putting him, unbelievably, to the left of Harry Reid (lifetime rating of 18). That is absolutely absymal -- because it means that for 21 years, he has voted for the liberal position more than four times in five. Recently, Lieberman voted for the bloated, wasteful "economic stimulus" of 2009 and was a key cog in securing the passage of Obamacare early last year. He has been a careerist booster of labor unions. He has favored government censorship of movies and video games. The NRA has given him a lifetime rating of "F." He has opposed even partial privatization of Social Security.

In short, Republicans who give Lieberman credit as some sort of palatable centrist who only goes off the reservation occasionally are kidding themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lieberman has co-opted the worst excesses of the 21st Century Republican Party. He openly supported the Bush Administration's position that the Geneva Convention does not apply to al Qaeda -- a legal fiction rejected by the Supreme Court in 2006. In the wake of the Wikileaks scandal, Lieberman used his Homeland Security chairmanship to pressure various American media outlets into not publishing certain leaked documents, and to pressure websites like Amazon.com into ending business activities with Wikileaks -- actions that bordered dangerously close to full-on censorship. Since 9/11, has urged the United States to go to war against not just Iraq, but also Syria, Yemen and Iran. This past July, Lieberman co-sponsored the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which would give the president "emergency powers" over the internet -- and in arguing for the bill's passage, Lieberman argued that because the communist Chinese government has a similar power, the president should too. Equating the American presidency with a totalitarian dictatorship is nothing short of outrageous.

This isn't to say Lieberman shouldn't be commended for certain stands -- it took genuine political courage to endorse McCain over Barack Obama in 2008 and support the surge in Iraq in 2007. Lieberman, like McCain, understood that once we were in, withdrawal in Iraq would sink the country into a certain civil war. He was among the Gang of 14 that has been so celebrated on this site. These positions undoubtedly made him very unpopular among the liberal base.

But by and large, Lieberman's record taken as a whole represents everything that has gone so horribly wrong with public policy. He has consistently supported a bloated, activist government in both the domestic and foreign-policy arenas, one without any reasonable limitations -- by its ability to coerce you to engage in private enterprise (Obamacare), by pressure on news outlets to censor news stories (Wikileaks) and its desire to deny you the most basic due process rights (virtually every civil liberties issue of the last ten years).

Joe Lieberman's America is not an America in which I would want to live -- where the federal government has the power to snoop, imprison and torture without consequence; where private citizens can be coerced into engaging in private economic activities; where a growing welfare and entitlement state aggregates revenue like a cancer; and where the American vision of the Framers is consigned to the ash heap of history.

By supporting the absolute worst excesses of both parties, Lieberman somehow became a champion of the Beltway class. It's a sorry statement about the state of our political affairs that Joe Lieberman is greeted as a hero in virtually every corner of Washington.

The country will be better off -- and the Constitution will be safer -- with Lieberman back in Connecticut.

Good riddance, indeed.

18 January 2011

Obama's year ahead

Happy New Year.

We've seen an encouraging post-Election Day trend from President Obama -- namely, that he seems to be following President Clinton's lead and moving toward the center. Evidence of this is abundant -- the tax-cut compromise, a free trade agreement with South Korea, a non-proliferation agreement that received the blessing of virtually the entire Republican foreign-policy establishment, and a final report from his Deficit Reduction Commission that was embraced by most deficit hawks (including Tom Coburn).

We wrote in 2008 that due to the myriad crises facing the country at his inauguration, Obama would have the chance to be a very good president. In short, he could be as Clinton, but without the moral/ethical problems. Unfortunately, Obama refused to compromise on either the budget-busting stimulus or the healthcare bill, blowing through his political capital, angering Republicans and leading to a historic defeat at the polls. Simultaneously, he managed to take a page from the Jimmy Carter playbook and ignore the stagnant economy, instead focusing his attention on healthcare, a colossal error in judgment.

Obama must realize that he can't accomplish much of anything without considerable Republican support, as the GOP now controls the House and 7 more seats than they did last month in the Senate.

As a result, I expect that the president will actually have a very good year, and his approval ratings will stay above 50 percent. His response to the Tuscon shooting was presidential and gave him a much deserved (albeit perhaps short-lived) bump in the polls. A Republican Congress will serve as a check on his liberal excesses, and it's likely he will find common ground on issues like tax reform and education policy. Replacing Rahm Emanuel with Bill Daley (fresh off his stamp of approval from the Chamber of Commerce) was encouraging.

I've believed all along (and written in this space before) that Barack Obama is a shape-shifter -- the second coming of Bobby Kennedy to leftists (borne out clearly by his Senate record), a messiah to formerly disengaged college kids, the great hope of the black community and a post-partisan healer to independents and Republicans. During his journey to the White House -- and really, throughout his entire political career -- Obama has tried to be all things to all people, and in November 2008, these disparate factions coalesced around him and delivered the presidency.

He has largely failed at the business of governing. However, he has shown himself to be nothing if not adaptable to circumstance, which is why I expect a Clinton-like move shuffle toward the center. Already, we've seen an uproar in the liberal blogosphere over his tax-cut sellout and an uproar from big labor on the South Korea free trade agreement. Paul Krugman and Nancy Pelosi opposed the recommendations of Simpson-Bowles. Obama simply realizes that if he wants a second term, he must co-opt the center. At least, I hope he realizes it.

I haven't approved of the job the president has done thus far, but there clearly is plenty of time for him to turn it around.

As a consequence, the Republican primary -- which will begin in earnest in just a few months -- will be critically important. Will Republicans trot out an old retread, like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee or Rudy Guiliani? Or will they nominate a pragmatic fresh face like Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels or John Thune? Will they nominate a wonkish problem-solver (Pawlenty, Daniels, perhaps Romney on a good day) or a hysterical reactionary (Gingrich, Palin)? WIll the message appeal to independents, or will it simply be about tax cuts, guns and "repeal-and-replace"?

History has showed us that voters don't like to change presidents mid-stream, and tend to favor letting incumbents return to the White House during uncertain times. This was true with Bill Clinton in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2004. Bush was busy bungling a war, and voters still gave him a second term. This means that the GOP must nominate a serious, pragmatic candidate who can match Obama's rhetoric and personal appeal and win over the independent voters who decide every election.

Republicans underestimate Obama at their peril.