23 February 2011

Change we can believe in, part 112

President Obama seems hellbent on convincing me to vote for "generic Republican" in 2012.

Despite a Republican opposition whose leadership has done little but obstruct for two years, Obama continues to remind Americans why John McCain was the correct choice in 2008.

Most recently, Obama's astounding entrance into the Wisconsin standoff between public employees and Republican Gov. Scott Walker demonstrates three things about him.

First, the president can't help but engage in small-bore firefights that have typically been beneath his predecessors. This strange obsession has manifested itself in the White House's battles with Fox News and Politico, and the president's awful commentary on Harvard Professor Gates, which culminated in the offensively juvenile "Beer Summit." There are some fights the president simply should stay out of -- and a budget battle in a state deep in the red is one.

Second, his reflexive, unfettered support for unions demonstrates that, as Chris Matthews pointed out a few months ago, Obama acts like he's still the liberal Democratic senator from Illinois, not the President of the United States. The same tired liberal streak that led him to introduce union-backed killer amendments to the McCain-Kennedy immigration compromise in the Senate continues to reappear in spades in the White House, no matter what the facts might be. Wisconsin is facing a staggering budget shortfall, and its state employees enjoy some of the most generous benefit packages in the nation. Gov. Walker was popularly elected to cut spending and fix Wisconsin's budgetary issues. He is not a dictator. He was given a mandate, and he is carrying it out.

Third, and most critically, it demonstrates that Obama has absolutely no conception of the seriousness of our country's fiscal problems. He passed a trillion dollar "economic stimulus" bill that was little more than a Christmas tree for liberal interest groups, defrayed most spending until the following calendar year and was laughably ineffectual. He put together a blue-ribbon deficit-reduction commission, and when its proposals received broad bipartisan support, he completely ignored them. He just proposed a budget that would run a deficit of more than $1.5 trillion. That's trillion, with a "T". When Republicans began to discuss entitlement reform, he engaged in rank demagoguery. He has managed to govern with an even worse fiscal agenda than that of George W. Bush, who was arguably the most fiscally disastrous president in history.

A crisis is sweeping the country. Not just Wisconsin, but Florida. California. New York. New Jersey. And yes, Obama's home state of Illinois. Governments everywhere have made lavish promises to their employees, and the bill is coming due. The same is true at the federal level with respect to Social Security, which will not be solvent by 2042. Period. This is not in dispute. And instead of seriously -- and nobly -- considering the Simpson-Bowles framework, which was floated months ago, Obama pretends that there isn't a crisis at all. These issues will bring the federal and state governments to their knees. It's already happening, right under our noses. And the president either doesn't care or is too fundamentally stupid to realize it.

Inexperienced, weak and gutless. Barack Obama is all three.

22 February 2011

Mike Huckabee would be a terrible president

But for those of you pining for a third Bush term, he unquestionably remains your man.

Earlier this week in a telephone conference with reporters, Huckabee strongly implied that he had neither the funding nor appetite for a 2012 presidential run.

On the one hand, Huckabee would be the most direct threat to a Sarah Palin candidacy, and would deeply cut into her support among the egghead wing of the GOP. These are the Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins-type culture warriors, who believe that the Republican Party should be the political wing of Christianity, whose allegiance to Israel outpaces their allegiance to the United States, and whose only qualification for membership in the GOP is that they don't want gay people to get married. This, unfortunately, is a huge feather in the cap of the Palin camp.

On the other hand, Huckabee would be a terrible president.

After his upset win in Iowa in 2008, he said that his victory was likely propelled by the same power that took five loaves of bread and two small fish and fed thousands of people.

As George Will wryly asked, "God so loves Huckabee's politics that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf?" Will spoke for reasonable people everywhere when he said that someone so delusional shouldn't come anywhere near nuclear weapons.

Mike Huckabee was a fundamentally unconservative governor. In his eight years at the helm in Arkansas, spending went up a total of 66 percent -- three times the rate of inflation. During his last two years in office, the Cato Institute gave him a "D" and an "F." Huckabee claims that he cut taxes 90-plus times as governor, but policy wonks have pointed out that many of those "cuts" were very small-bore measures that had little to no impact. The fact is that he had to raise taxes repeatedly to pay for his expansionistic agenda.

Huckabee represents the worst of the Republican Party -- a singular focus on social issues; mouthing support for Ronald Reagan while spitting on the Gipper's legacy with statist solutions that would make many Democrats blush; and a condescension toward an educated mind.

Huckabee may be entertaining on the stump and play a mean bass guitar, but he would make a terrible president.

11 February 2011

The folly of democratization, Ctd.

Daniel Larison over at The American Conservative -- perhaps the web's foremost purveyor of realpolitik -- has informed my thoughts on Middle Eastern democratization more than any other writer.

Larison has written a number of compelling columns about why "free and fair elections" in Egypt are a fool's errand, one of which we cited on February 8 that in fact references President Reagan's policy toward democratic forces (and the pro-American dictators the forces were seeking to overthrow) in Nicaragua and the Philippines.

In short, I agree with nearly all of Larison's points when it comes to American foreign policy abroad. The policy pushed by the Bush administration post-9/11 of "square-peg/round-hole" democracy -- and America's role as democracy's deliverer to the oppressed -- is a terrible idea for many reasons. First, the American military -- as demonstrated by the obstacles encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is simply not capable of toppling repressive regimes, then engaging in long-term nation-building, one country after another. Less than half of the world's recognized states even pretend to be democratic, and short of drafting another 10 million adults into the armed forces, there is simply no way to functionally put this "democracy agenda" into practice. Second, post-9/11 proponents of democracy -- and those who cheer the Egyptian protesters in the streets -- completely ignore the consequence of what has happened when Arab peoples have been afforded "free and fair elections." In Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq (al-Sadr), Iran (Ahmadenijhad) and Gaza (Hamas), serious anti-American forces have gained a foothold on power anytime they have secured a place on a ballot.

As Larison noted, time and again, Bushian democratizers ignore the consequence of leaving governance to Arab popular opinion.

In a 2009 poll of Egyptians conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, 60% of respondents believed that government "should be based on a form of democracy that is unique for Islamic countries." Seventy-five percent of respondents agreed that "there should be a body of senior religious scholars that has the power to overturn laws when it believes they are contrary to the Quran." And 34 percent said that a non-Muslim should not be allowed to run for president. In a more recent poll by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a very narrow plurality of Egyptians (36 percent to 29 percent) believe their country should have good relations with the United States, and over half of respondents say they do not trust America at all. A clear plurality of respondents (34 percent to 19 percent) believed that Egypt should either abrogate its peace treaty with Israel "and join as a full partner in the 'resistance front' against the Zionist entity" or distance itself from its relationship with the United States, versus opposed maintaining American ties. Similarly, nearly as many respondents (15 percent to 19 percent) said Egypt should restore full, friendly relations with Iran and Syria versus maintaining its relationship with the United States.

As Larison has implied, in many cases in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan and probably Egypt as the most noteworthy -- autocracies are in the best interests of the United States because, quite simply, ruling regimes are much more friendly toward the United States compared to the Arab street. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, this fact is actually quite obvious based on the above survey results from Egypt. Additionally, as Larison has expressly pointed out, when democracy is tried in developing or Middle Eastern countries, often the more extremist candidates seem to rise to power.

I genuinely empathize with the aspirations of those brave Egyptians who have taken to the streets. But I am an American, and my sole allegiance is to the country I love so deeply.

If it is in America's best interests that an autocrat remain in power, then it must be so.

08 February 2011

On Egypt and democratization

With President Mubarak's recent announcement that he will not run for re-election in September, the popular energy dedicated to regime change in Egypt has begun to dissipate. To be sure, some protesters have vowed to remain in the streets until Mubarak leaves, but at this point, that appears to be a futile exercise. The strongman has agreed to step down, and the incoming leadership -- however fragmented by opposition factions -- will likely replicate many of the same policies that Egypt has followed during the Mubarak era. This ostensibly includes maintaining the existing peace treaties with Israel, and more critically, maintaining a cordial relationship with America. As Fareed Zakaria astutely noted in an excellent cover story on the Egyptian uprising, the popular Egyptian military will serve as a buffer to ensure that any change in civil society is only incremental.

This is an exceptionally good result for the United States. Certainly, bleeding-heart liberals and the Bushian pro-democracy/square-peg-round-hole crowd are frustrated by the fact that the wishes of the Egyptian populace will be largely unrealized. But while many of Mubarak's tactics in quelling the uprising have been reprehensible, the fact remains that Mubarak has been a tremendously valuable ally in stabilizing the Middle East, thwarting radical Islamist extremist elements in his own country and co-existing with Israel. It is simply in America's strategic interests that his regime, or a similar one, stays in power.

In virtually every place this "democratization" has been tried in the Middle East, regimes have appeared with serious and severe anti-American sentiments and policies. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is the dominant political party. In Iraq, the Iranian-backed Mutdaqa al-Sadr wreaks havoc. In Afghanistan, the Taliban remains reasonably popular. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadenijhad enjoys support among the poor, the uneducated and the deeply religious. And in Gaza, the Palestinians are governed by Hamas. Each of these political parties or figures is enormously antagonistic -- sometimes outright hostile -- to America. It is patently obvious that it would be in the best interests of the United States if, for instance, a Mubarak-like strongman came to power in Lebanon, displacing the democratically elected Hezbollah.

In short, to say that as a general rule, democracy promotion in the Middle East is in America's national interest simply ignores the results of democratic elections.

Just two days past Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, it's important to remember what shaped the Gipper's foreign policy. As Daniel Larison noted, he was most certainly not a Bushian democratizer, but rather evaluated every foreign regime with one question in mind: What is in the best interests of the United States?

Larison writes:

Far from supporting Nicaragua’s ostensibly popular (and, post-1984, elected) government, Reagan was dedicated to overthrowing it. One of the main examples Guardiano uses to praise Reagan shows that Reagan was not only unsympathetic to popular movements when they posed a perceived threat to U.S. policy, but also that he actively tried to defeat them. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood remained only one force among many in a new regime, a new Egyptian government would almost certainly be much less interested in security cooperation with the U.S., and some or perhaps most members of any new government are going to look askance at U.S. policies. Put another way, the less influence the military has on any future Egyptian government, the less cooperative it is probably going to be. For some Americans, that is an argument in favor of regime change, but it simply doesn’t make sense to argue that empowering the Muslim Brotherhood helps “roll back radical Islam.” If “rolling back radical Islam” is the goal, it is hard to see how empowering some fairly radical Islamists will do that.

03 February 2011

Newt Gingrich is an idiot

Once the smartest man inside the Beltway, the former Speaker's stunning descent into the deep end of Palinesque egghead populism continues.

Today, when asked his opinion of the Obama administration's response to the upheaval in Egypt, Gingrich said "I don't think they have a clue. It's very frightening to watch this administration."

I can't imagine a place on the internet more bitingly critical of President Obama's domestic policy and his assaults on civil liberties than this site. But to say that he's operated in a "frightening" manner is just plain demagoguery.

To this point, the administration has carefully avoided both extremes -- calling for Mubarak's immediate ouster (which would raise the ire of King Abdullah of Jordan and the Saudi royal family -- both enormously important American allies, and create a huge power vacuum that, as Gingrich and many others on the Right have noted, might be filled at least in part by the Muslim Brotherhood) and standing with Mubarak due to his relative passivity toward Israel (which would throw the Arab street into an anti-American uproar). Obama has done plenty wrong thus far in his presidency, but he has thus far managed a delicate balance between expressing support for both the protesters publicly, and a besieged American ally privately.

As Daniel Larison correctly noted, Egypt is a sovereign nation of more than 80 million people. Exactly how much do administration critics think Obama can accomplish by meddling in its affairs?

If Gingrich is going to criticize Obama's conduct, then he has to tell us what he would do instead.

He can't. That's the problem. Since he reemerged on the political scene a few years ago, Gingrich has done little other than critique and demagogue. Does he have the capacity to do anything else?

As if cheating on his second wife while railroading President Clinton through impeachment proceedings and calling a sitting president a "Kenyan anti-colonialist" weren't enough, Newt Gingrich has given voters yet another reason to ignore his laughable case for the presidency.

02 February 2011

Joe Lieberman's police state rolls on

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins continue to push an awful bill that would give the president "emergency powers" to shut down the internet.

Presumably, such powers would only be exercised in a "national cyber emergency."

Or, as Conor Friedersdorf pointed out, they could be exercised anytime the president wants to engage in a wanton abuse of power, because the bill expressly prohibits judicial review.

Remember: The recent history of presidential abuses in the White House is remarkable. Richard Nixon covered up a break-in of the Watergate building and resigned the presidency in disgrace as the House was about to impeach him. Bill Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with a White House staffer and similarly obstructed the ensuing federal investigation. He became the second president in American history to be impeached. And George W. Bush brazenly broke federal wiretapping laws and continues to brag about it.

The introduction of the Lieberman-Collins bill -- especially in the wake of the horrendous theories of executive power created by the Bush administration -- demonstrates a complete and utter ignorance toward the natural proclivities of our elected leaders to engage in gross (arguably criminal) misconduct while in office.

The Lieberman-Collins bill also evinces another terrible excess of the Bush years -- the desire to shield the president from any semblance of judicial review. Under this bill, the president's authority to shut down the internet could not be reviewed by any court in the nation. Bush argued that his "commander in chief" power could not be limited by judicial review, and Dick Cheney argued that the president alone determined the scope of his powers under Article II. Barack Obama's Justice Department has engaged in similar attempts to shield executive power abuses from judicial review, arguing that the president can unilaterally order the assassinations of American citizens abroad, and by using the "state secrets" doctrine as an affirmative defense to any action that challenges the president's conduct of the War on Terror.

And now this? Giving the president the power to shut down the internet?

Coincidentally, we wrote in this space last week about Lieberman's lust-filled obsession with federal power. Whether it's forcing citizens to engage in private enterprise, allowing the president to break federal law without consequence, or giving the president the power to completely shut down the internet, Lieberman's ideal of America has more in common with the Soviet Union than it does the country envisioned by the Founders.

Joe Lieberman is the ultimate enemy of individual liberty.

THIS -- not Obamacare or the scary congressman from Wisconsin who wants to take away your Social Security -- is the ultimate threat to liberty in the 21st century. Anyone who thinks otherwise (Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, House Democrats) is a fool.

Hats off to the likes of Friedersdorf, Radley Balko and the folks at Reason and Cato for highlighting these abuses, and doing the work that the American news media shirks.