The view from the left 0

Hard as it is to believe, this Washington Post column by Fred Hiatt is not satire. He seems seriously to mean what he says.

Gays, immigrants, union leaders, budget hawks, campaign finance reformers, environmentalists, free-traders, human rights activists and civil libertarians all have had cause to wonder whether they were right to trust Obama. The list is familiar, but the explanation remains disputed.

My theory: The culprit is less ideology than Obama’s fidelity to a strategy he can’t, for tactical reasons, publicly acknowledge. Given the hand he was dealt, the evidence suggests he resolved that he had to choose only one domestic and one foreign objective for his first two years in office.

An ambitious set of goals motivated Obama’s candidacy, and early in his presidency the rap was that he was taking on too many. But the legacy of wars abroad and the Great Recession at home threatened his ability to accomplish any of them. Simply managing that bleak inheritance, he realized, might consume his entire term.

To avoid that trap, Obama had to govern with discipline. First, he would have to turn potential negatives into successes. At home, that meant not only engineering a stimulus program to end the recession but also designing financial reform to prevent a recurrence. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it meant charting a path to not just to withdrawal but stable outcomes.

Since both fronts would take enormous energy and political capital, Obama could not afford to squander whatever remained across an array of worthy electives. So over time he subordinated everything to just two: health-insurance reform and blocking Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Anything else, no matter how popular or deserving, had to give way if it interfered with those.

Obama has put enormous energy into repairing relations with Russia, for example, and relatively less into ties with allies such as India, Mexico or Britain because stopping Iran would require Russia’s support of sanctions. Without a new START arms-control treaty, Russia would not play ball on Iran, so Obama worked assiduously to negotiate a new START. The nuclear summit he hosted in Washington this month; playing down trade tensions with China; the relative reticence on North Korea’s nukes; prodding Israel toward peace talks — all of these were crafted with an eye toward Iran.

At home, the mono-focus is more obvious. Obama would like to close the Guantanamo prison, curb traffic of assault weapons crossing the Mexican border, reform immigration laws and reduce carbon emissions. But each would have carried a political cost, to Obama or Democratic allies he needed on health care, so they all had to wait.

I don’t mean to suggest that Obama would go to any lengths to achieve the main objective. He bargained hard on START, for example, insisting that the treaty meet U.S. military needs as well as serve the larger goal.

And it’s not that he has abandoned everything else: Where he could advance other objectives at minimal cost, he has done so, usually by executive action. He wouldn’t fight for labor law reform, but he promulgated regulations that favor unions. He hasn’t replaced No Child Left Behind, but he allowed his education secretary to spur reform by judicious granting and withholding of stimulus funds. There’s no climate change legislation, but the Environmental Protection Agency hiked mileage standards for cars and trucks. And so on.

Obama can’t acknowledge all this. You don’t tell allies, whether gay rights groups or India, that they’ve slipped down your priority list. (That’s especially true now, before an election, as immigration, education and energy advocates jockey to go next.) And the best negotiating strategy to get things you want isn’t always to show how much you want them.

So we may have to wait until Obama writes his memoirs to discover why he elevated these two goals. Was he set on health reform from the start, for instance, or did congressional politics nudge that ahead of, say, coping with climate change?

Abroad, the strategy, with its hope of turning autocracies such as China and Russia into long-term partners, remains at best unproven. At home, it seems to be paying off, with major health reform approved and financial reform in sight. For those at the back of the line — such as the District last week — the opportunity costs are sharply felt. But even at such times, it’s hard not to admire Obama’s focus.

Every statement cries out for exegesis. Some of them – Obama’s “ending of the recession”, his financial reform, his “charting a path to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan” – need at least a paragraph each. But there’s one that clamors for objection above the rest.

“Blocking Iran’s development of nuclear weapons” has been Obama’s foreign policy priority? Everything else except health care has been subordinated to that goal? He’s focussed on it?

Strange – we haven’t noticed that he’s done a damn thing about it. It seems to us that he’s perfectly willing to let Iran become a nuclear-armed power. A series of  “deadlines” have been allowed to pass without there being any penalty for Iran’s ignoring them. Talk of sanctions has been nothing but talk, and those talked of have been steadily weakened. No military option is “on the table”. Obama has begged Ahmadinejad for his friendship, and the poisonous little dictator has gleefully said no over and over again. How come Mr Hiatt hasn’t noticed all that?

How has the START treaty affected Iran? Russia is still not willing to vote for sanctions. And what US military needs have been served by it?  It is plainly to the detriment of the US and the advantage of Russia. Relations with Russia are in no way “repaired”. If changed at all, they’re probably worse. Nor will China vote for sanctions. And Obama’s “reticence” on North Korea’s nukes has resulted in – what?  As for the nuclear summit, Iran wasn’t even mentioned. And “prodding” Israel – that has made the world safe from Iranian bombs? What it has really done is tell Israel that it has “slipped down the priority list”, along with India and Britain and a number of other allies.

Well, we’ve recovered from being flabbergasted by Mr Hiatt’s quaint perspective and now we find it amusing. And it’s gratifying to know that numerous bunches of lefties (but surely “free-traders” and “budget hawks” do not belong among them) feel disappointed by the president of their dreams. From our perspective he has gone fearfully far to satisfy them, with the “executive action” and “regulations” and so on that Mr Hiatt tells us were thrown to them as mere sops or stop-gaps. So apparently he might have gone further and done even worse.

The implication of Mr Hiatt’s apologia for his hero is that when he has succeeded with his two chosen “electives”, he will go further. Now the health care legislation has been forced through, but there still remains the other goal Mr Hiatt believes Obama is focussed on: stopping Iran going nuclear.

If Mr Hiatt is right and the achievement of that goal really stands between Obama and the rest of the far left agenda he’s expected to foist on us, then we can rest easy. Or could, if dread of those bombs wasn’t keeping us awake nights.

But what if Mr Hiatt is wrong? We’ll get the bombs and the radical left agenda.

A pointless yakfest 0

Why did the Dictator hold his “nuclear summit” with heads of state flocking to Washington to pay homage to his great leadership? Since it was about nothing of importance, and nothing of importance came of it, it was probably only to have heads of state flocking to pay homage to his great leadership. Just something His Modesty desired.

With his usual clear sight, Mark Steyn writes:

In years to come – assuming, for the purposes of argument, there are any years to come – scholars will look back at President Barack Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit and marvel. For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia and Thailand …but not even mentioning Germany.

Yet that’s what Obama just did: He held a nuclear gabfest in 2010, the biggest meeting of world leaders on American soil since the founding of the United Nations 65 years ago – and Iran wasn’t on the agenda.

Granted that almost all of Obama’s exciting innovative “change we can believe in” turns out to have been exhumed direct from the sclerotic Seventies to stagger around like a rotting zombie in polyester bell-bottoms from some straight-to-video sequel, there’s still something almost touchingly quaint in the notion of an international summit on nuclear “nonproliferation” in the 21st century. Five years ago, when there was still a chance the world might prevent a nuclear Iran rather than pretending to “contain” it, I remember the bewildered look from a “nonproliferation expert” on a panel I was on after I suggested non-proliferation was a laughably obsolescent frame for this discussion. You could just about enforce nonproliferation back in the Cold War when the only official nuclear powers were the Big Five at the U.N. Security Council and the entry level for the nuclear club was extremely expensive and technologically sophisticated. Now it’s not. If Pakistan and North Korea can be nuclear powers, who can’t? North Korea’s population is starving. Its GDP per capita is lower than Ghana, lower than Zimbabwe, lower than Mongolia. Which is to say its GDP is all but undetectable.

Yet it’s a nuclear power.

That’s what anachronistic nonproliferation mumbo-jumbo gets you. If you read in the paper that New Zealand had decided to go nuclear, would you lose a moment’s sleep over it? Personally, I’d be rather heartened. It would be a sign that a pampered and somnolent developed world had woken up and concluded that betting your future on the kindness of strangers is a helluva gamble. What Obama and his empty showboaters failed even to acknowledge in their “security” summit is the reality of the Post-Big Five nuclear age: We’re on the brink of a world in which the wealthiest nations, from Canada to Norway to Japan, can barely project meaningful force to their own borders while the nickel ‘n’ dime basket-cases go nuclear.

How long do you think that arrangement will last? Iran has already offered to share its nuclear technology with Sudan. Sudan? Ring a vague bell? Remember that “Save Darfur” interpretative-dance fundraiser you went to, where someone read out a press release from George Clooney, and you all had a simply marvelous time? Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed – with machetes. That’s pretty labor-intensive. In the Congo, five and a half million have been slaughtered – and, again, in impressively primitive ways.

But a nuclear Sudan would be a model of self-restraint?

By the way, that’s another example of the self-indulgent irrelevance of Obama. The mound of corpses being piled up around the world today is not from high-tech nuclear states but from low-tech psycho states. It’s not that Britain has nukes, and poor old Sudan has to make do with machetes. It’s that the machete crowd are willing to kill on an industrial scale, and the high-tech guys can’t figure out a way to stop them. Perhaps for his next pointless yakfest the president might consider a machete nonproliferation initiative.

The Obama Happy Fairyland Security Summit was posited on the principle that there’s no difference between a Swiss nuke and a Syrian nuke. If you believe that, you’ll be thrilled by the big breakthrough agreement of the summit: Canada, Chile, Mexico and Ukraine have agreed to reduce their stocks of enriched uranium. Peace in our time! I have here a piece of paper from the prime minister of Canada!

This is the nuclear version of Janet Incompetano’s initial reaction to the Pantybomber – when she banned passengers from having paperback books on their laps for the last 45 minutes of the flight. In an age of freelance nukes, we shouldn’t be banning items but profiling threats. For 30 years, Iran has acted with extraterritorial impunity and without even the minimal courtesies of international relations – seizing embassies, taking out mob contracts on British novelists, seeding terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, blowing up community centers in Latin America. Washington’s pathetic fallback of “containment” is intended to prevent Tehran using a nuke, in the Middle East, Europe or anywhere else within range. There is no strategy for “containing” Iran’s leverage of its nuclear status to advance its interests more discreetly, and no strategy for “containing” the mullahs’ generosity to states and groups more inclined to use the technology. …

As we learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan, stupid, ill-trained illiterates with primitive explosives who don’t care who they kill can inflict quite a lot of damage on the technologically advanced highly trained warriors of civilized states. That’s the “asymmetric warfare” that matters. So virtuously proclaiming oneself opposed to nuclear modernization ensures a planet divided into civilized states with unusable weapons and barbarous regimes happy to kill with whatever’s to hand.

So another grand week’s work for a president pressing full steam ahead into the post-American global order. The good news is that at least you don’t have to worry about a nuclear blitzkrieg from Winnipeg. Sleep easy.

Voices in the dark 0

The press was excluded from  the “nuclear conference” that Obama held with fellow dictators and other heads of state. This surely indicates over-caution on his part – up to now he could obviously rely on most of the press to defend him no matter what outrages he commits. Why did he think they’d let him down this time? Was he saying things that even his shills and sycophants would find hard to spin to his greater glory?

Rich Galen writes at Townhall:

The “leader of the free world” was putting on a clinic for some of the world’s greatest dictators in how to circumvent a free press.

No reporters were permitted in the sessions, and the amount of time the press was permitted to be in contact with any national leader was measured, literally, in seconds.

This was a summit to deal with the control of nuclear materials…

Like them or not, the tiny White House press corps is the eyes and ears for the other 300 million of us. Ignoring, hiding from, shutting out, and refusing to let those handful of people do their jobs on our behalf is a significant – a very significant – red flag.

If Barack Obama were simply exhibiting contempt for the press corps he might find many who agree with him. But, Obama is revealing disdain for the concept of being President in an open society.

The national press corps – whether they want Obama to succeed or fail – cannot ignore his scorn for the First Amendment.

Every other freedom depends upon it.

The Dictator threw a few remarks to the public which he allowed to be conveyed by the press. At RedState, Lori Ziganto comments on one of them:

Yesterday at his nuclear conference, Obama said the following …

“Whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.”

Whether we like it or not. That’s like what Mommies say when telling you to eat your yucky vegetables. Would he prefer that we be vulnerable and weak? Heck of an American Can-Do attitude, Barry!

It is, of course, being spun by those who still insist that we need to be above it all as “Oh, he meant we are drawn into conflicts due to being a superpower.” While perhaps true, one need only look to Obama’s associations and his very actions to see what he truly meant and what he believes.

Obama does not believe in American Exceptionalism and he is actively pursuing its decline. There, I said it. He has surrounded himself with people who hold these same beliefs. Further proof is evidenced by a speech – to young students – that his Science Czar gave the other day.

The Obama administration’s top science and technology official, who has argued for the economic de-development of America, warned science students last Friday that the United States cannot expect to be “number one” forever. “We can’t expect to be number one in everything indefinitely,” Dr. John P. Holdren said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

We can’t expect to be number one in everything indefinitely. Because that would be meany pants, I suppose. And “not fair.” This isn’t the first time John Holdren has espoused such views. … Holdren argues for a redistribution of wealth achieved in part by green policies. Oh yeah, he also says that America isn’t really Exceptional. …

We’ve seen everything that we warned prior to the election coming true. Obama, his administration and the Democrats are trying to Europe-inize us with a federal government involved and in control of every aspect of our lives, a weakened military, attempts to morally equate America with our enemies and a belief that America is not special.

Well, it is special. America IS that shining city on the hill. It is a beacon of light for the rest of the world and it shall remain so, despite their best efforts to “hope and change” that.

The writer goes on to praise the contrasting attitude of a conservative Republican whom we think very highly of:

Liz Cheney called all this at last year’s RedState gathering… Thus, I’ll leave off with her words from the speech she gave last August:

“We know that freedom isn’t free, that America’s armed forces are the best fighting force the world has ever known. And finally, we know that America is the best nation on earth, the best that has ever existed. We believe in her goodness, her strength, her hope and her example — for all who seek freedom in every corner of the world. Those are conservative values. Those are American values.”

There is the difference. We believe in America’s goodness and strength. The Obama administration believes that to be a detriment.

She also said:

“He cannot attempt to stand above America and our enemies. America needs a Commander-in-Chief, not a global community organizer. The purpose of diplomacy is not to be liked. The purpose of foreign policy is not to get applause in foreign capitals. The purpose of having a Commander-in-Chief and pursuing a national security strategy is to defend America’s interests, aggressively, effectively and unapologetically. If the American President doesn’t do this — who will?”

We will, Liz. We, the people, will.

Clear and present danger 0

Jennifer Rubin writes that Obama’s nuclear summit is not serious, since he will not address the truly serious nuclear threat – Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear summit is underway in Washington, D.C. An air of unreality pervades because the greatest nuclear threat of our time goes unaddressed. At times, the degree to which Obama evades the Iranian issue is jaw-dropping. This report explains:

“The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security — both short term, medium term and long term — would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Sunday afternoon. “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al-Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon — a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.”

Actually, the single greatest threat — and the most likely means for a terrorist organization to possibly obtain a nuclear weapon — is the mullahs’ nuclear program. About that, the president offers the moral power of example (i.e., our own disarmament) and watered-down sanctions.

She is right, of course.

But this report indicates that material to make “dirty” bombs is already in the hands of terrorists:

Five people suffering serious burns were hospitalized in West New Delhi this week from contact with radioactive material in a Delhi scrap market identified as Cobalt-60 which may be used for making a dirty bomb. Indian police cordoned off the 200 market stores and sealed nearby establishments up to a one-kilometer radius. Scrap dealer Deepak Jain and his helpers lost consciousness when they cut a piece of scrap metal. A white fluid oozed out causing the burns, Jain’s hair fell out and within minutes his skin turned black. His workers suffered and nausea.

All five are battling for their lives in hospital, setting off a security scare in the Indian capital, with prime minister Manmohan Singh briefed on the incident before leaving for Washington to attend the nuclear security summit which opened Monday, April 12.

Nuclear scientists from the Baba Atomic Research Center and Narora Atomic Power Plant identified the material and are working around the clock to investigate its source. …

Cobalt-60 is used in radiotherapy for treating cancer and welding steel. A US report last year recommended monitoring this material along with Caesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium to effectively counter nuclear terrorism. Unlike a nuclear bomb, a dirty bomb does not involve nuclear fission and can be used like a conventional weapon.

India has been warning that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are in danger of falling into the hands of the Taliban:

The day before the conference, the Indian prime minister met Obama and tackled him about Pakistan’s inaction against Muslim terrorists and exhorted him to jointly combat terror emanating from Pakistan as the most dangerous source of potential nuclear terror… Indian leaders as well as their military and intelligence advisers have repeatedly warned Washington that al Qaeda and Taliban were moving in on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities through their deep penetration of Pakistan’s intelligence service and may soon be in position to take over. …

As the “posture” Obama is taking with regard to nuclear deterrence is apparently proving more frightening than reassuring to Americans, what does the  State Department and the Pentagon have to say to dispel those fears?

Jennifer Rubin continues:

Neither Obama’s credibility nor America’s deterrent capability was enhanced by either the START treaty or the Nuclear Posture Review. So [Secretary of State} Hillary Clinton and [Defense Secretary] Robert Gates took to the airwaves Sunday to assure us that the Obami really weren’t doing great damage to our national security. Hillary seemed to fudge on the “no nuclear response to a NPT signatory’s attack” when she tried to bluster her way through her interview on Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Are non-nuclear weapons so good now, Madam Secretary, that we don’t have to rely on nuclear weapons anymore?

CLINTON: We rely on both, Bob. And I think that’s the point that Secretary Gates is making. We’ve maintained a strong, robust nuclear deterrent as set forth in the nuclear posture review. But we have also in this administration moved toward a global strike capability to enhance our conventional response.

And we have an enormous amount of firepower conventionally. And it is also clear that this is putting everybody on notice. We don’t want more countries to go down the path that North Korea and Iran are. And some countries might have gotten the wrong idea if they looked at those two over the last years. And so we want to be very clear. We will not use nuclear weapons in retaliation if you do not have nuclear weapons and are in compliance with the NPT.

But we leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies. If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off, if these countries have gone to that extent. So we want to deal with the nuclear threat first and foremost, because that’s the one that we face right today.

All bets are off? Well, the nuclear option is, if we believe the Nuclear Posture Review. But maybe it doesn’t say what we mean. Or maybe it’s getting increasingly hard to figure out whether we are serious about deterring rogue states or not. Indeed, the administration is increasingly flighty and obtuse, making it hard to parse the often inconsistent rhetoric. Iran’s nuclear bomb would be unacceptable, but maybe we can’t do anything about it. The greatest threat is a terrorist organization with a nuclear bomb, but we’re increasingly lackadaisical about denying one to the most active state sponsor of Islamic terrorists. We aren’t going to retaliate against an NPT signatory after a devastating chemical or biological attack, but who knows.

If there is any rhyme or reason to this, it no doubt eludes both friends and foes. It does, however, convince many that this president doesn’t really appreciate how to project American strength and keep our adversaries at bay. The summit, therefore, promises not only to be irrelevant but also counterproductive to our national-security interests.