Charles Krauthammer’s column today in the Washington Post says what needs to be said about a stupid question that “gotcha” journalists are asking presidential candidates.
And he tells them what the right question should be.
Ramadi falls. The Iraqi army flees. The great 60-nation anti-Islamic State coalition so grandly proclaimed by the Obama administration is nowhere to be seen. Instead, it’s the defense minister of Iran who flies into Baghdad, an unsubtle demonstration of who’s in charge — while the U.S. air campaign proves futile and America’s alleged strategy for combating the Islamic State is in freefall.
It gets worse. The Gulf states’ top leaders, betrayed and bitter, ostentatiously boycott President Obama’s failed Camp David summit. “We were America’s best friend in the Arab world for 50 years,” laments Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief.
Note: “were,” not “are.”
We are scraping bottom. Following six years of President Obama’s steady and determined withdrawal from the Middle East, America’s standing in the region has collapsed. And yet the question incessantly asked of the various presidential candidates is not about that. It’s a retrospective hypothetical: Would you have invaded Iraq in 2003 if you had known then what we know now?
First, the question is not just a hypothetical but an inherently impossible hypothetical. It contradicts itself. Had we known there were no weapons of mass destruction, the very question would not have arisen. The premise of the war — the basis for going to the U.N., to the Congress and, indeed, to the nation — was Iraq’s possession of WMD in violation of the central condition for the cease-fire that ended the 1991 Gulf War. No WMD, no hypothetical to answer in the first place.
Second, the “if you knew then” question implicitly locates the origin and cause of the current disasters in 2003 . As if the fall of Ramadi was predetermined then, as if the author of the current regional collapse is George W. Bush.
This is nonsense. The fact is that by the end of Bush’s tenure the war had been won. You can argue that the price of that victory was too high. Fine. We can debate that until the end of time. But what is not debatable is that it was a victory. Bush bequeathed to Obama a success. By whose measure? By Obama’s. As he told the troops at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, “We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” This was, said the president, a “moment of success.” Which Obama proceeded to fully squander. With the 2012 election approaching, he chose to liquidate our military presence in Iraq. We didn’t just withdraw our forces. We abandoned, destroyed or turned over our equipment, stores, installations and bases. We surrendered our most valuable strategic assets, such as control of Iraqi airspace, soon to become theindispensable conduit for Iran to supply and sustain the Assad regime in Syria and cement its influence all the way to the Mediterranean. And, most relevant to the fall of Ramadi, we abandoned the vast intelligence network we had so painstakingly constructed in Anbar province, without which our current patchwork operations there are largely blind and correspondingly feeble.
The current collapse was not predetermined in 2003 but in 2011. Isn’t that what should be asked of Hillary Clinton? We know you think the invasion of 2003 was a mistake. But what about the abandonment of 2011? Was that not a mistake?
Mme. Secretary: When you arrived at State, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been crushed and expelled from Anbar. The Iraqi government had from Basra to Sadr City fought and defeated the radical, Iranian-proxy Shiite militias. Yet today these militias are back, once again dominating Baghdad. On your watch, we gave up our position as the dominant influence over a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” — forfeiting that position gratuitously to Iran. Was that not a mistake? And where were you when it was made?
Iraq is now a battlefield between the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State and the Shiite jihadists of Iran’s Islamic Republic. There is no viable center. We abandoned it. The Obama administration’s unilateral pullout created a vacuum for the entry of the worst of the worst.
And the damage was self-inflicted. The current situation in Iraq, says David Petraeus, “is tragic foremost because it didn’t have to turn out this way. The hard-earned progress of the surge was sustained for over three years.” Do the math. That’s 2009 through 2011, the first three Obama years. And then came the unraveling. When? The last U.S. troops left Iraq on Dec. 18, 2011.
Want to do retrospective hypotheticals? Start there.
Yesterday (March 9, 2015), on Fox TV, Charles Krauthammer pointed out to Bill O’Reilly that the Left now has control of almost all the institutions that shape our culture. He is right.
The chief disseminators of ideas – the universities, the entertainment industry, and almost all the press and TV news media – accept and propound Leftist values and aims almost as naturally and unquestioningly as we breathe air. The only exceptions, as Krauthammer pointed out, are Fox News, “three pages of the Wall Street Journal”, and talk radio. Of course the intolerant dictatorship of the Left wants to silence them. The Left brooks no dissent.
Generation after generation is growing up and becoming the workers and welfare-dependents, the rulers and bureaucrats, the parents and teachers, the writers and preachers of what used to be the free world, convinced to a man and woman – and every one of the other 70-plus genders now compulsorily recognized by the Left – that there is such a thing as “social justice”, that it is supremely desirable, and that it can be attained by government controlling the economy, pretending to control the climate, and tightly regulating how and where and for how long people live their lives.
Leftists really do believe that their dogma is “the truth”, and the only good. Just like religions. Which is why we say that the creed of Leftism, though it does without a traditional divinity, is a religion. It has a god of sorts in History, which it holds to be the uber-director of our destiny, warning us, like the Borg in Star Trek: “Resistance is futile.”
Those of us who still cling to the quaint old-fashioned notion that individuals should be free to live and think and act as they choose, and that their freedom should be protected by the rule of objective law, are a fast diminishing minority. Our own descendants will consider us cranks.
America was founded on the idea of individual freedom protected by the rule of law. Because its people were safe and free, they made the United States the mightiest and the most prosperous country of all time.
It was good while it lasted.
With the facts on the ground now established in Crimea — several thousand facts in the form of Russian troops — the question now becomes: Will sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia work? Will it reverse Vladimir Putin’s adventurism and deter future aggression?
Michael Gerson asks these questions at the Washington Post – as if there would be any sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia.
In any case, his answer is no.
He writes at the Washington Post:
One of [Putin’s] primary foreign policy goals is to relitigate the end of the Cold War. His intervention in Ukraine will press toward that objective until serious resistance is met. Like international aggressors before him, Putin would prefer the fruits of war without its costs.
Does he have reason to believe the resulting isolation of Russia will be sustained? The history of the “reset” says no. The weariness of Congress and the American public with conflict — which Obama emphasizes and encourages in his own rhetoric — says no. America’s humiliating dependence on Russian influence in the Syrian crisis says no. The desire for Russian help in the Iranian nuclear negotiations says no. The dependence of Europe on Russian natural gas says no. European Union vacillation and disunity say no.
It is, perhaps, this confidence that has led Putin not only to intimidate but also to humiliate. To sponsor Edward Snowden. To follow a 90-minute telephone conversation with Obama with troop movements. Many Russian goals in Crimea might have been achieved by intelligence assets and paramilitary forces. The use of Russian troops was intended as a broader message to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East: Don’t waste your hopes on the West.
Criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy are now coming in waves. Its policy is improvised and feckless. Or it consists of cliches (“an interdependent world”) and condescension (“19th-century behavior”).
But Obama deserves more credit for good intentions and intellectual consistency.
Or no credit because of naivety and ignorance? Or – as we read him – an actual desire for America to lose, decline, and fall?
His foreign policy does have a theory. He believes that as U.S. power retreats from the world, a variety of good things will fill the vacuum. Allies and international institutions will take more responsibility. The United States will be better able to promote liberal norms, unburdened by discrediting military power.
If he believes that, then naivety and ignorance is right.
Gerson continues to give him the benefit of the doubt. He puts the best possibly interpretation on Obama’s actions: they may be mistaken but they’re benign.
This vision gives permission for drastic defense cuts, abandoned “red lines,” a scramble for the exits in Afghanistan and the ceding of leadership in crises such as Syria. It dovetails with domestic political imperatives — for Obama to be the ender of wars, focused on nation-building at home. …
The columnist himself has a better grasp of geopolitical realities:
The problem is this: When enlightened liberal norms are divorced from U.S. power, liberal norms do not win out. The vacuum is filled by:
●Radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, which prosper in chaos. In an atmosphere like Syria, the most brutal are the most successful, and eventually become regional and global threats.
●Despots such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who still believe in military solutions — such as using chemical weapons and “barrel bombs,” filled with oil and metal shards, on civilians — because these solutions are working for them.
●Nationalist powers such as Russia and China, which is now throwing its military weight around East Asia. Japan is experiencing an upsurge in nationalism.
In the 20th century, the United States was both unique and irreplaceable because it exercised great power without the blood-and-soil nationalism of Russia, Germany or Japan. It stood for universal, liberal, democratic ideals. We should not expect those humane ideals to thrive in the vacuum left by a retreating America.
He would seem to be using “liberal” in the real meaning of the word, and not as a euphemism for anti-Americanism, statism, and collectivism. In which case, his liberalism isn’t Obama’s liberalism. But he seems to think it is. Which is why, we suspect, he takes so mild a view of the president’s motives and intentions.
Charles Karuthammer, also writing at the Washington Post, is more scathing:
Vladimir Putin is a lucky man. And he’s got three more years of luck to come.
He takes Crimea, and President Obama says it’s not in Russia’s interest, not even strategically clever. Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness.
Really? Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia annexed it 20 years before Jefferson acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.
Now Russia looms over the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin can take that anytime he wants — if he wants. He has already destabilized the nationalist government in Kiev. Ukraine is now truncated and on the life support of U.S. and European money (much of which — cash for gas — will end up in Putin’s treasury anyway).
Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”
This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.
“That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” says Kerry. Makes invasion sound like a breach of etiquette — like using the wrong fork at a Beacon Hill dinner party.
How to figure out Obama’s foreign policy? In his first U.N. speech, he says: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” On what planet? Followed by the assertion that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” — like NATO? — “make no sense in an interconnected world.”
Putin’s more cynical advisers might have thought such adolescent universalism to be a ruse. But Obama coupled these amazing words with even more amazing actions.
(1) Upon coming into office, he initiated the famous “reset” to undo the “drift” in relations that had occurred during the George W. Bush years. But that drift was largely due to the freezing of relations Bush imposed after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Obama undid that pushback and wiped the slate clean — demanding nothing in return.
(2) Canceled missile-defense agreementswith Poland and the Czech Republic. Without even consulting them. A huge concession to Putin’s threats — while again asking nothing in return. And sending a message that, while Eastern Europe may think it achieved post-Cold War independence, in reality it remains in play, subject to Russian influence and interests.
(3) In 2012, Obama assured Dmitry Medvedev that he would be even more flexible with Putin on missile defense as soon as he got past the election.
(4) The Syria debacle. Obama painted himself into a corner on chemical weapons — threatening to bomb and then backing down — and allowed Putin to rescue him with a promise to get rid of Syria’s stockpiles. Obama hailed this as a great win-win, when both knew — or did Obama really not know? — that he had just conferred priceless legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad and made Russia the major regional arbiter for the first time in 40 years.
(5) Obama keeps cutting defense spending. His latest budget will reduce it to 3 percent of GDP by 2016 and cut the army to pre-Pearl Harbor size — just as Russia is rebuilding, as Iran is going nuclear and as China announces yet another 12-plus percent increase in military spending.
Puzzling. There is no U.S. financial emergency, no budgetary collapse. Obama declares an end to austerity — for every government department except the military.
Can Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so?
Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier. …
Next weekend’s Crimean referendum will ask if it should be returned to Mother Russia. Can Putin refuse? He can already see the history textbooks: Catherine the Great took Crimea, Vlad (the Great?) won it back. Not bad for a 19th-century man.
The organizers of an important Conservative conference have banned an atheist organization from attending it and setting out its stall.
The Conservative Political Action Committee, the largest and oldest gathering of conservatives, is run by the American Conservative Union and will be held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland’s National Harbor from March 6 to 8. Last year, the event brought together thousands of activists to listen to dozens of Republican leaders speak about everything from economics and foreign policy to social issues. The event has long been considered a required stop for Republican presidential hopefuls.
That and what follows we quote from CNN’s “belief blog”.
Organizers for the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference will not allow American Atheists to have an exhibition booth …
The decision comes just hours after American Atheists, the outspoken organization that advocates for atheists nationwide, announced that it would have a booth at the event. David Silverman, president of American Atheists, tells CNN that a groundswell of opposition from high-ranking members of CPAC compelled the group to pull the invite.
Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for CPAC, said in a statement to CNN that “American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government.”
“I’m surprised and I’m saddened,” Silverman said in response to the announcement. “I think this is a very disappointing turn of events. I was really looking forward to going … It is very obvious to me they were looking for a reason to say no,” Silverman added. “Christianity is bad for conservatism and they did not want that message out there.” …
Silverman said his group [had] planned to use the booth to bring conservative atheists “out of the closet” and said he was not worried about making the Christian right angry because “the Christian right should be threatened by us.”
Snyder said CPAC spoke to Silverman about his divisive and inappropriate language.
He pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism. People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. …
But yes, Ms Snyder, it is precisely beliefs that ought to be attacked. Continually. Forever.
The critical examination of ideas is the essential task of civilized humankind.
When [earlier] Snyder had confirmed to CNN that American Atheists would be at CPAC, she said in a statement that they were allowed to display at the confab because “conservatives have always stood for freedom of religion and freedom of expression.”
“The folks we have been working with stand for many of the same liberty-oriented policies and principles we stand for,” Snyder said. …
And so, she had thought, did American Atheists. But the decision to include them had outraged some conservatives.
Tony Perkins, president of the Christian conservative think-tank Family Research Council, expressed outrage at the decision, stating that the American Atheists did “not seek to add their voice to the chorus of freedom”. [He said] “CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense.”
Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God? Thomas Jefferson warned against such nonsense. If this is where the ACU is headed, they will have to pack up and put away the “C”‘ in CPAC!” …
The first “C” for “Conservative” we suppose is the one he meant. But why would it need to be packed away if atheists are allowed to have their say? Perhaps Perkins thinks it stands for “Christian”.
American Atheist is well known for its controversial billboards and media campaigns and is considered the in-your-face contingent in the world of atheist activists. The group’s members pride themselves as being the “Marines” of the atheist movement. …
In explaining why the group decided to join CPAC on Monday, Silverman cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found 20% of self-identified conservatives consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. While that does not mean they are atheists, Silverman believes learning more about atheism will make it more likely conservatives will choose to identify with those who believe there is no God.
Just as there are many closeted atheists in the church pews, I am extremely confident that there are many closeted atheists in the ranks of conservatives. This is really a serious outreach effort, and I am very pleased to be embarking on it.
The group has long targeted Republican lawmakers, although Silverman considers the organization nonpartisan.
In 2013, American Atheists launched a billboard campaign against three Republican politicians: former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. All three Republicans have spoken at CPAC in the past.
On one billboard, Santorum is pictured to the left of a quote attributed to him. “Our civil laws have to comport with a higher law. God’s law,” the quote reads. Underneath the graphic is a tagline: “GO GODLESS INSTEAD.”
Comment on this affair comes from National Review, by Charles C. W. Cooke: :
Yesterday, in response to one of the many brouhahas that CPAC seems always to invite, Brent Bozell issued the following statement:
The invitation extended by the ACU, Al Cardenas and CPAC to American Atheists to have a booth is more than an attack on conservative principles. It is an attack on God Himself. American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity?
So Brent Bozell thinks that issuing the invitation was an attack on conservative principles. More, it was “an attack on God Himself”. As such, it was a veritable “atrocity“!
The particular merits of the American Atheists group to one side, this is a rather astounding thing for Bozell to have said. In just 63 words, he confuses disbelief in God for “hatred” for God — a mistake that not only begs the question but is inherently absurd (one cannot very well hate what one does not believe is there); he condemns an entire conference on the basis of one participant — not a good look for a struggling movement, I’m afraid; and, most alarmingly perhaps, he insinuates that one cannot simultaneously be a conservative and an atheist. I reject this idea — and with force.
If atheism and conservatism are incompatible, then I am not a conservative. And nor, I am given to understand, are George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anthony Daniels, Walter Olson, Heather Mac Donald, James Taranto, Allahpundit, or S. E. Cupp. There is no getting around this — no splitting the difference: I don’t believe there is a God. It’s not that I’m “not sure” or that I haven’t ever bothered to think about it; it’s that I actively think there isn’t a God — much as I think there are no fairies or unicorns or elves. The degree to which I’m confident in this view works on a scale, certainly: I’m much surer, for example, that the claims of particular religions are untrue and that there is no power intervening in the affairs of man than I am that there was no prime mover of any sort.
Rrrreally, Mr Cooke?
But, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe in any of those propositions.
Am I to be excommunicated from the Right?
One of the problems we have when thinking about atheism in the modern era is that the word has been hijacked and turned into a political position when it is no such thing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “atheist” as someone who exhibits “disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.” That’s me right there — and that really is the extent of it.
Okay, you can have a booth at any conference we ever organize.
Or have we spoken too soon? Repeat what you were mumbling, please?
No, I don’t dislike anyone who does believe that there is a God; no, with a few obvious exceptions, I am not angry at the religious; and no, I do not believe the devout to be in any way worse or less intelligent than myself. Insofar as the question inspires irritation in me at all it is largely reserved for the sneering, smarmy, and incomprehensibly self-satisfied New Atheist movement, which has turned the worthwhile writings of some extremely smart people into an organized means by which a cabal of semi-educated twentysomethings might berate the vast majority of the human population and then congratulate one another as to how clever they are.
What New Atheist movement? If it exists, we want to join it. What is incomprehensible about it? What suggests that “it” is self-satisifed? What worthwhile writings would those be? Who are these beraters? And are they not - in that they are atheists – cleverer than “the vast majority of the human population”?
Which is to say that, philosophically speaking, I couldn’t really care less … and practically speaking I am actually pretty warm toward religion — at least as it is practiced in America. True or false, American religion plays a vital and welcome role in civil society, has provided a number of indispensable insights into the human condition, acts as a remarkably effective and necessary check on the ambitions of government and central social-planners, is worthy of respect and measured inquiry on the Burkean grounds that it has endured for this long and been adopted by so many, and has been instrumental in making the United States what it is today.…
We would dispute almost every one of those propositions, especially that religion is “worthy of respect” – though of “measured inquiry”, yes, it is worthy, and should be subjected to it mercilessly.
We like most of what he goes on to say next. And he provides some interesting information:
None of this, however, excuses the manner in which conservatives often treat atheists such as myself. George H. W. Bush, who was more usually reticent on such topics, is reported to have said that he didn’t “know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic[because] this is one nation under God”.
Whether Bush ever uttered these words or not, this sentiment has been expressed by others elsewhere. It is a significant mistake. What “this nation” is, in fact, is one nation under the Constitution — a document that precedes the “under God” reference in the Gettysburg Address by more than seven decades and the inclusion of the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance by 165 years. (“In God We Trust,” too, was a modern addition, replacing “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in 1956 after 174 years.)
Indeed, given the troubled waters into which American religious liberty has of late been pushed, it strikes me that conservatives ought to be courting atheists — not shunning them. I will happily take to the barricades for religious conscience rights, not least because my own security as a heretic is bound up with that of those who differ from me, and because a truly free country seeks to leave alone as many people as possible — however eccentric I might find their views or they might find mine. In my experience at least, it is Progressivism and not conservatism that is eternally hostile to variation and to individual belief, and, while we are constantly told that the opposite is the case, it is those [leftists] who pride themselves on being secular who seem more likely and more keen to abridge my liberties than those who pride themselves on being religious. That I do not share the convictions of the religious by no means implies that I wish for the state to reach into their lives. Nevertheless, religious conservatives will find themselves without many friends if they allow figures such as Mr. Bozell to shoo away the few atheists who are sympathetic to their broader cause.
As it happens, not only do I reject the claim that the two positions are antagonistic, but I’d venture that much of what informs my atheism informs my conservatism also. I am possessed of a latent skepticism of pretty much everything, a hostility toward the notion that one should believe things because they are a nice idea, a fear of holistic philosophies, a dislike of authority and of dogma, a strong belief in the Enlightenment as interpreted and experienced by the British and not the French, and a rather tenacious refusal to join groups.
Yes, a conservative should logically be skeptical of ideology as such. And impatient with the irrational. And religions are among the most irrational of ideologies.
Occasionally, I’m asked why I “believe there is no God,” which is a reasonable question in a vacuum but which nonetheless rather seems to invert the traditional order of things. After all, that’s not typically how we make our inquiries on the right, is it? Instead, we ask what evidence there is that something is true. …
A great deal of the friction between atheists and conservatives seems to derive from a reasonable question. “If you don’t consider that human beings are entitled to ‘God given’ liberties,” I am often asked, “don’t you believe that the unalienable rights that you spend your days defending are merely the product of ancient legal accidents or of the one-time whims of transient majorities?” Well, no, not really. As far as I can see, the American settlement can thrive perfectly well within my worldview. God or no God, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are all built upon centuries of English law, human experience, and British and European philosophy, and the natural-law case for them stands nicely on its own.
And he then turns to Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration, and, far from “warning against undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God” as Tony Perkins claims …
… rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested.
Which, as the quoted passage goes on to explain, are none:
“Of the nature of this being,” Jefferson wrote to John Adams in 1817, “we know nothing.”
Logically then, not even its existence, though Jefferson is not recorded as ever having said so.
Obama’s ignorance, his dyed-in-the-wool leftism, his anti-Americanism, his inexperience, should all have disqualified him, if not from a first term as president since the media protected him from any exposure then, but at least from a second term after it had become plain what unsuitable stuff he’s made of.
He gropes for someone to blame: former President George W Bush; the Republicans; little covens of saboteurs inside government agencies such as the IRS; anthropogenic global warming; insurance companies; the tea party; an obscure amateur video; the Koch brothers; … and now – suddenly – Big Government!
Charles Krauthammer sees Obama regarding activities of his own administration, effects of his own policies, messes caused by his own failures, with bewilderment.
We quote from Charles Krauthammer’s column in the Washington Post:
In explaining the disastrous rollout of Obamacare, President Obama told Chris Matthews he had discovered that “we have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly”.
An interesting discovery to make after having consigned the vast universe of American medicine, one-sixth of the U.S. economy, to the tender mercies of the agency bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service.
Most people become aware of the hopeless inefficiency of sclerotic government by, oh, age 17 at the department of motor vehicles. Obama’s late discovery is especially remarkable considering that he built his entire political philosophy on the rock of Big Government, on the fervent belief in the state as the very engine of collective action and the ultimate source of national greatness. (Indeed, of individual success as well, as in “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”)
This blinding revelation of the ponderous incompetence of bureaucratic government came just a few weeks after Obama confessed that “what we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.” Another light bulb goes off, this one three years after passing a law designed to force millions of Americans to shop for new health plans via the maze of untried, untested, insecure, unreliable online “exchanges”.
This discovery joins a long list that includes Obama’s rueful admission that there really are no shovel-ready jobs. That one came after having passed his monstrous $830 billion stimulus on the argument that the weakened economy would be “jump-started” by a massive infusion of shovel-ready jobs. Now known to be fictional.
Barack Obama is not just late to discover the most elementary workings of government. With alarming regularity, he professes obliviousness to the workings of his own government. He claims, for example, to have known nothing about the IRS targeting scandal, the AP phone records scandal, theNSA tapping of Angela Merkel. And had not a clue that the centerpiece of his signature legislative achievement — the online Obamacare exchange, three years in the making — would fail catastrophically upon launch. Or that Obamacare would cause millions of Americans to lose their private health plans.
Hence the odd spectacle of a president expressing surprise and disappointment in the federal government — as if he’s not the one running it. Hence the repeated no-one-is-more-upset-than-me posture upon deploring the nonfunctioning Web site, the IRS outrage, the AP intrusions and any number of scandals from which Obama tries to create safe distance by posing as an observer. …
The paradox of this presidency is that this most passive bystander president is at the same time the most ideologically ambitious in decades. The sweep and scope of his health-care legislation alone are unprecedented. He’s spent billions of tax money attempting to create, by fiat and ex nihilo, a new green economy. His (failed) cap-and-trade bill would have given him regulatory control of the energy economy. He wants universal preschool and has just announced his unwavering commitment to slaying the dragon of economic inequality, which, like the poor, has always been with us.
Obama’s discovery that government bureaucracies don’t do things very well creates a breathtaking disconnect between his transformative ambitions and his detachment from the job itself.
It seems a likely way for a naive ideologue to react to the unintended consequences of trying to play dictator of the USA.
The prime lesson of the last 100 years for political leaders and heads of government is: if you go left you will take your country to economic failure.
It is a lesson that President Obama either has not learnt, or has learnt well and wants just that result.
At his second inauguration (painful words!), “the apostle of the ever-expanding state” delivered “an ode to collectivity”. So Charles Krauthammer writes.
The media herd is stunned to discover that Barack Obama is a man of the left. After 699 teleprompted presidential speeches, the commentariat was apparently still oblivious. Until Monday’s inaugural address, that is.
Where has everyone been these four years? The only surprise is that Obama chose his second inaugural, generally an occasion for “malice toward none” ecumenism, to unveil so uncompromising a left-liberal manifesto.
But the substance was no surprise.
After all, Obama had unveiled his transformational agenda in his very first address to Congress, four years ago. It was, I wrote at the time, “the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.”
Nor was it mere talk. Obama went on to essentially nationalize health care, 18% of the U.S. economy — after passing an $833 billion stimulus that precipitated an unprecedented expansion of government spending.
Washington now spends 24% of GDP, fully one-fifth higher than the postwar norm of 20%.
Obama’s ambitions were derailed by the 2010 midterm shellacking that cost him the House. But now that he’s won again, the revolution is back, as announced in Monday’s inaugural address.
It was a paean to big government. At its heart was Obama’s pledge to (1) defend unyieldingly the 20th century welfare state and (2) expand it unrelentingly for the 21st.
The first part of that agenda — clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — is the very definition of reactionary liberalism.
Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today’s radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that without reform they’ll swallow up the rest of the budget.
As for the second part — enlargement — Obama had already begun that in his first term with ObamaCare.
Monday’s address reinstated yet another grand Obama project — healing the planet. It promised a state-created green energy sector, massively subsidized (even as the state’s regulatory apparatus squeezes fossil fuels, killing coal today, shale gas tomorrow).
The playbook is well known. As Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus once explained, environmentalism is the successor to failed socialism as justification for all-pervasive rule by a politburo of experts. Only now, it acts in the name of not the proletariat but the planet.
Monday’s address also served to disabuse the fantasists of any Obama interest in fiscal reform or debt reduction. This speech was spectacularly devoid of any acknowledgment of the central threat to the postindustrial democracies (as already seen in Europe) — the crisis of an increasingly insolvent entitlement state.
On the contrary. Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. …
For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan.
Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.
In the eye of history, Obama’s second inaugural is a direct response to Ronald Reagan’s first. On Jan. 20, 1981, Reagan had proclaimed: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
And then he succeeded in bending the national consensus to his ideology — as confirmed 15 years later when the next Democratic president declared, “The era of big government is over.”
So said Bill Clinton, who then proceeded to abolish welfare. Obama is no Clinton. He doesn’t abolish entitlements; he keeps old ones and creates new ones to pursue a vision of a more just social order where fighting inequality and leveling social differences are government’s great task.
Obama said in 2008 that Reagan “changed the trajectory of America” in a way that Clinton did not.
He meant that Reagan had transformed the political zeitgeist, while Clinton accepted and validated the new Reaganite norm.
Not Obama. His mission is to redeem and resurrect the 50-year pre-Reagan liberal ascendancy.
And take it as far left as he possibly can. To mold a poorer, more subservient, more weakly defended, mediocre America under dictatorial government.
How far will Americans let him take them in that direction?
Obama may be wrecking the Republican Party, but is he also, in the process, wrecking the economy and so his own legacy?
We think his legacy is already a wreck, and that he being what he is, it couldn’t possibly be anything else. But here is Charles Krauthammer’s view of Obama’s present maneuvers on the edge of the “fiscal cliff”. He thinks that Obama’s aim has long been to use the “fiscal cliff” controversy as a means to wreck the Republican Party, and that he has succeeded.
This quotation is from a transcript in the Daily Caller of an interview with the witty, well-informed, perceptive writer on Fox News.
It’s been very clear from the beginning that [Obama] had no intention to solve the fiscal issues. He’s been using this, and I must say with great skill and ruthless skill and success, to fracture and basically shatter the Republican opposition. The only … redoubt of the opposition is the House. And his objective from the very beginning was to break the will of the Republicans in the House and to create an internal civil war, and he’s done that. How did he do it? By always insisting from day one after the election that Republicans had to raise rates. There’s no reason at all to get the revenue that he needed and that the speaker was offering him that you had to raise rates.
Obama himself … said … you can get $1.2 trillion by eliminating loopholes, which is exactly what Republicans offered him. … So why did he insist on the rates? He said that is what he will insist upon, and that was the ultimatum. He did that because he knew it would create a crisis among the Republicans, and it did. So right up until now Obama has what he wanted, which was a partisan, political success. He’s been less worried about the fiscal issue for two reasons. Number one, he does not care about debt. He hasn’t in the four years. And number two, he thinks he’s a political winner if we go over the cliff. He thinks he’s holding all the cards.
But it is only a temporary success.
I have argued from the beginning that Republicans should hold out, that they had more strength than they thought. That Obama wasn’t holding all the cards. I think he has the advantage obviously because Republicans … are the ones who will take the blame. But nonetheless, the larger issue, if you are Obama, is not who is popular and who is not, he’s won his last election. That doesn’t matter anymore. What Obama does care about — should care about and does care about is his legacy. If you go over the cliff he may get a bump temporarily and the Republicans will take a hit, but his legacy will be his second term. And if he wrecks the economy, as he would, by not being able to remedy the consequences of going over the cliff, then he’s going to have a failed second term and … history will remember him as a failed president.
Now, what he probably thinks, if he can go over the cliff, the Republicans will take a hit, he will have public opinion behind him. … And then he can undo the damage one issue at a time by getting a reduction by a return of the majority of the Bush tax rates, standing unemployment, whatever else he wants to do he can get that one piece of legislation at a time so that he won’t suffer the consequence of a second recession of nine percent unemployment. So I think that’s his calculation. But I do think that he’s putting a lot in jeopardy. If we go over the cliff, it’s going to be a very shaky response probably from Wall Street. Consumer confidence is going to be hit. He could be damaged more economically, and the country would [be more damaged], than I think he imagines. So I think he could be overplaying his hand. I think he’s been doing that in terms of the fiscal issue. …
I think the Republicans will surely have a much stronger hand, assuming we go over the cliff … because Obama then has to worry about the debt ceiling. Now with bravado he says that’s a game I won’t play. He has to play. He’s the president. He’s responsible for the full faith and credit of the United States. And he’s got Republicans in charge of the House. That’s the will of the people. That’s the result of an election, and they have a mandate as much as he does. He can’t walk away and say I’m not interested in negotiating. He’ll have to. He may not like it, but he’ll have to. That’s where the Republicans I think [have] the stronger hand. … We will really hit the wall on the debt ceiling probably the end of February, beginning of March … and that’s when I think they will have the upper hand, or at least an equal hand.
So – unlike Humpty Dumpty – the fractured and shattered Republican Party can be put together again? How pleased should we be if it is, we wonder.
Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust
Die eine will sich von der andern trennen
(Two souls, alas, dwell in my breast
The one would sever itself from the other)
- Goethe: Faust I.
We deplore the ruling of the Supreme Court, issued yesterday, that upholds Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).
Why did Chief Justice Roberts, whose vote decided whether the tyrannous law should stand or fall, vote to let it stand?
A plausible – but not consoling – explanation is offered by Charles Krauthammer.
Chief Justice John Roberts joins the liberal wing of the Supreme Court and upholds the constitutionality of ObamaCare. How? By pulling off one of the great constitutional finesses of all time.
He managed to uphold the central conservative argument against ObamaCare, while at the same time finding a narrow definitional dodge to uphold the law — and thus prevented the court from being seen as having overturned, presumably on political grounds, the signature legislation of this administration.
Why did he do it? Because he carries two identities.
Jurisprudentially, he is a constitutional conservative.
Institutionally, he is chief justice and sees himself as uniquely entrusted with the custodianship of the court’s legitimacy, reputation and stature.
As a conservative, he is as appalled as his conservative colleagues by the administration’s central argument that ObamaCare’s individual mandate is a proper exercise of its authority to regulate commerce. That makes congressional power effectively unlimited. Mr. Jones is not a purchaser of health insurance. Mr. Jones has therefore manifestly not entered into any commerce. Yet Congress tells him he must buy health insurance — on the grounds that it is regulating commerce. If government can do that under the Commerce Clause, what can it not do?
But now government can do it not under the Commerce Clause, thanks to the ruling. Mr. Jones can be ordered to do anything, and be fined if he doesn’t, on the grounds that the fine is a tax.
“The Framers … gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it,” writes Roberts. Otherwise you “undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers.”
That’s Roberts, philosophical conservative.
But he lives in uneasy coexistence with Roberts, custodian of the court, acutely aware that the judiciary’s arrogation of power has eroded the esteem in which it was once held …
National health care has been a liberal dream for a hundred years. It is clearly the most significant piece of social legislation in decades. Roberts’ concern was that the court do everything it could to avoid being seen, rightly or wrongly, as high-handedly overturning sweeping legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.
How to reconcile the two imperatives — one philosophical and the other institutional? Assign yourself the task of writing the majority opinion. Find the ultimate finesse that manages to uphold the law, but only on the most narrow of grounds — interpreting the individual mandate as merely a tax, something generally within the power of Congress.
Result? The law stands, thus obviating any charge that a partisan court overturned duly passed legislation. And yet at the same time the Commerce Clause is reined in. By denying that it could justify the imposition of an individual mandate, Roberts draws the line against the inexorable decades-old expansion of congressional power under the Commerce Clause fig leaf.
Law upheld, Supreme Court’s reputation for neutrality maintained. Commerce Clause contained, constitutional principle of enumerated powers reaffirmed.
That’s not how I would have ruled. I think the “mandate is merely a tax” argument is a dodge, and a flimsy one at that. (The “tax” is obviously punitive, regulatory and intended to compel.) Perhaps that’s not how Roberts would have ruled had he been just an associate justice, and not the chief. But that’s how he did rule.
ObamaCare is now essentially upheld. There’s only one way it can be overturned. The same way it was passed — elect a new president and a new Congress.
So it is up to the voters to decide in November whether they want a government that is their master or their servant.
To choose between tyranny and freedom.
Can the Arab states be democratized? Not just hold elections but firmly establish institutions for government of the people, by the people, for the people ?
Charles Krauthammer thinks it is possible.
He writes (in part) at Investor’s Business Daily:
As the states of the Arab Middle East throw off decades of dictatorship, their democratic future faces a major threat from the new totalitarianism: Islamism. As in Soviet days, the threat is both internal and external.
Iran, a mini version of the old Soviet Union, has its own allies and satellites — Syria, Lebanon and Gaza — and its own Comintern, with agents operating throughout the region to extend Islamist influence and undermine pro-Western secular states. That’s precisely why in this revolutionary moment, Iran boasts of an Islamist wave sweeping the Arab world.
We need a foreign policy that not only supports freedom in the abstract but is guided by long-range practical principles to achieve it — a Freedom Doctrine composed of the following elements:
(1) The U.S. supports democracy throughout the Middle East. It will use its influence to help democrats everywhere throw off dictatorial rule.
(2) Democracy is more than just elections. It requires a free press, the rule of law, the freedom to organize, the establishment of independent political parties and the peaceful transfer of power. Therefore, the transition to democracy and initial elections must allow time for these institutions, most notably political parties, to establish themselves.
(3) The only U.S. interest in the internal governance of these new democracies is to help protect them against totalitarians, foreign and domestic. The recent Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza dramatically demonstrate how anti-democratic elements that achieve power democratically can destroy the very democracy that empowered them.
(4) Therefore, just as during the Cold War the U.S. helped keep European communist parties out of power (to see them ultimately wither away), it will be U.S. policy to oppose the inclusion of totalitarian parties — the Muslim Brotherhood or, for that matter, communists — in any government, whether provisional or elected, in newly liberated Arab states.
We may not have the power to prevent this. So be it. The Brotherhood may today be so relatively strong in Egypt, for example, that a seat at the table is inevitable. But under no circumstances should a presidential spokesman say, as did Robert Gibbs [the bumbling and fumbling White House press secretary – JB], that the new order “has to include a whole host of important nonsecular actors.”
Why gratuitously legitimize Islamists? Instead, Americans should be urgently supporting secular democratic parties in Egypt and elsewhere with training, resources and diplomacy.
We are, unwillingly again, parties to a long twilight struggle, this time with Islamism — most notably Iran, its proxies and its potential allies, Sunni and Shiite. We should be clear-eyed about our preferred outcome — real democracies governed by committed democrats — and develop policies to see this through.
And then the Arab states would become tolerant, pacific, industrious, productive, and prosperous?
We don’t think so. We don’t think they can be democratic as long as they remain – not “Islamist” but – Islamic.
Why? Because Islam and democracy, Islam and liberty, are essentially incompatible. Islam and Western civilization are totally antithetical to each other.
Islam is a dogmatism that forbids doubt – and doubt is the very DNA of our civilization. Doubt alone guarantees the tolerance which makes democracy possible. Doubt starts scientific enquiry, demands experiment and exploration.
Islam cannot be “reformed” to become its opposite.
Charles Krauthammer, whose intelligence must be counted as one of America’s assets (and whose opinion we crave to hear even though we sometimes disagree with it), observes that Obama’s gorgeous cavalcade through East Asia ended up a failure, extending his record of failures in foreign affairs.
From The Corner of National Review Online:
Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands.
And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence, inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty [with South Korea] by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. …
And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.
In the Middle East, he proposes a ban on Jewish construction in Jerusalem, which is never going to happen. And what does it do? After 17 years [of negotiations without any preconditions] it destroys any chance of negotiations.
Again, a combination of [incompetence] — he comes in, I’ll reinvent the world, I know everything — and arrogance. And the result? He gets zero results.
Right. And he’s not likely to become any wiser when his White House advisers are trapped between old dreams and new incomprehension.
From a Washington Post report:
One adviser said they spent the past dozen days “soul-searching.”
Another said that … “people aren’t just sitting around doing soul-searching. They’re gaming out the short, medium and long term.”
“People have given a lot of thought to this,” said that adviser, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss internal deliberations.
But their deliberations are apparently more of a casting about for comfort than a facing up to the election’s message of rejection:
In some ways, they said, the midterms were not as bleak a harbinger as some Democrats fear. Though Republicans took the House and narrowed the Democratic margin in the Senate, Obama’s personal-approval ratings remain high and his core constituencies remain highly supportive. Re-energizing them will be among his priorities.
So he’s happy with what he is, and will do again what he did before.
Advisers also said it will probably take months, if not longer, to develop a strategy for restoring some of the early promise of the Obama presidency, particularly the notion that he was a different kind of Democrat. …
Yeah, sure – further left than most. Though most voters did not realize that taking the country far to the left was part of his early promise.
Although Obama could benefit from a high-profile compromise – perhaps on extending the Bush-era tax cuts or on other tax initiatives set to expire before the end of the year – officials are also prepared to point out any Republican intransigence….
That they can bring themselves to do. But will they point out any intransigence on Obama’s part?
One of the many questions Obama faced immediately after Election Day was whether he “got it” – got, that is, voters’ frustration with his governance and policies. Obama hinted that he did in some respects, noting that his failure to make government more transparent or to curb earmarks did not live up to the high standards he had set.
That’s it? That’s all? They should have been “more transparent” – whatever that means – and Obama should have lived up to some high standards that he had set – whatever they were?
So what’s his plan?
A change of advisers – though not of advice.
A series of upcoming personnel moves – coming as outside critics call for a White House shake-up – will put Obama in a stronger position to make substantive progress, especially on the economy… such as finding a replacement for economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers and getting Jacob Lew confirmed at the Office of Management and Budget. … Axelrod will leave, with former campaign manager David Plouffe moving into the White House to assume a similar role … And Pete Rouse, the acting chief of staff, is about to complete an assessment of the White House bureaucracy that could lead to more personnel shifts. …
“There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,” said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. …
Reset buttons “not their style”? Oh, we thought it was. Can we ever forget Hillary Clinton bustling about with a big red reset button to change American-Russian relations forever? Such fun and games it was, even though perfectly futile.
“They don’t like pivots,” [the strategist said] “and they also believe they’re right.”
There it is, the upshot of all the deliberations. Why should they make any serious changes when they’re certain that their policies are right? To them, it’s the electorate that’s wrong.
Obama, deafened by his arrogance, will not hear what the voters are saying to him.