Archive for June, 2009

Don’t Overlook the Good News in Iraq

Iraq soldierIn the midst of Bernie Madoff, Governor Sanford, cap-and-tax, unrest in Iran and the continuing deceasement of MJ, take a moment to note a happy milestone: The orderly, scheduled withdrawal today of American troops from major cities in Iraq, turning over primary responsibility to the Iraqi security forces.

Here’s Ralph Peters today in  the New York Post:

The “cradle of civilization” is rising from the grave again.

Yes, sectarianism, old grievances and the greed for power may deliver future crises — even an eventual civil war. An unnatural state with grossly flawed borders, Iraq has more obstacles to overcome than any of its neighbors except Lebanon.

But our achievement remains profound: We gave one key Arab state a chance at freedom and democracy. We deposed a monstrous dictator who butchered his own people and invaded two foreign countries. And we didn’t quit, despite the scorn of the global intelligentsia.

Update: Peter Wehner has a similar, more detailed take at Commentary.  His conclusion:

The ultimate wisdom in initiating the Iraq war is still to be validated by contingent events still to unfold. What is happening today is a transition, not a final triumph. And while Iraq is today a legitimate, representative, and responsible democracy, it remains fragile. Hard-earned progress can still be undone. The Iraqi military will have to prove it can provide security to its citizens. Relations between the Iraqi government and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in the north, particularly over the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, are tense. None of us can foretell the future, and almost all of us have been wrong about some aspect of the war or another.

Still, it is worth pointing out that those who wrote off the war as unwinnable and a miserable failure, who made confident, sweeping arguments that have been overturned by events, and who had grown so weary of the conflict that they were willing to consign Iraqis to mass slaughters and America to a historically consequential defeat — they were thankfully, blessedly wrong. And the Land between the Rivers, which has known too much tyranny and too many tears, may yet bind up its wounds.

(Photo of Iraqi soldier by AP)

http://www.nypost.com/seven/06302009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/bye_bye__babylon_176790.htm

Madoff Hoped for Eventual Freedom

Bernie Madoff got the maximum sentence of 150 years in prison for stealing billions in what the judge called his “extraordinarily evil” Ponzi scheme. Probably it should now be renamed a Madoff scheme — Mr. Ponzi has been dead since 1949, and his take was denominated in mere millions. He was sentenced to only five years in prison in his initial trial for the scheme that made him famous, and upon release he promptly returned to a life of crime.

Madoff, 71, will never draw another free breath, and that’s probably the way it should be.  I hereby repent from my smug earlier post, “Sorry, No Tears Here for Madoff’s Clients,” written just days after Madoff’s arrest, when it seemed like the victims were primarily high-rollers who got too greedy chasing returns that were too good to be true.  It turns out many of the victims are clearly worthy of sympathy, and besides, even high-rollers don’t deserve to be cheated in a highly sophisticated scheme.

Interestingly, Madoff’s attorney had suggested a sentence of 12 years, a duration one year shorter than his expected lifespan according to the actuarial tables.  You know you’re in trouble when your own lawyer wants to put you away for 12 years.

R.I.P., President Obama’s Honeymoon

minus-2 - obama_index_june_22_2009It’s been a while since I’ve updated the Honeymoon-Over Watch.  According to David J. Rothkopf at Foreign Policy, this should be the last update needed:

Mark it on your calendars.  It was in June 2009 that Barack Obama’s honeymoon officially ended.  And to be more specific, it was this past week.  Through some mysterious alchemy, this was the week that Bush’s economy became Obama’s, Bush’s wars became Obama’s, and the ups and downs of a real workaday relationship with the press also introduced Obama to a more accurate sense of what life was like for Bush and for all his other modern predecessors.

Last week was when Obama’s Presidential Approval Index, as measured by Rasmussen Reports, slipped into negative territory, although it has since recovered to +1 as of today’s report.  Rasmussen focuses on “strongly approve” vs. “strongly disapprove.”  I’m not sure whether this is more significant than measuring total approval vs. total disapproval, but it works against Obama, who in every poll (including Rasmussen’s) is firmly in positive territory on a total approval basis.  (Near the end of the Bush Presidency, GWB logged in at -30 on Rasmussen’s strong-opinion index.)

I’m no Obama-hater, nor do I want him to “fail,” but I’ve been rooting for the end of the honeymoon since before the inauguration.  The media’s near-deification of “The One” has been, at its worst, nothing less than appalling.  Open-minded skepticism (as opposed to cynicism) is generally the right starting point for a journalist, and more of them are getting there, as seen in additional “honeymoon-over” coverage from around the web.

In Newsweek – among the worst Obama up-suckers, as parodied by National Review — Howard Fineman focuses this week on Obama’s evolving relationship with the White House press corps:

Bottom line: things are getting a little testy and are about to get more so. … [T]he problem is that they are too cute by half. They assume they can manipulate, manage and guide the media flawlessly. They think they can ride the wave all the way every time. And why shouldn’t they? Obama’s presidential campaign, after all, was perhaps the shrewdest, most disciplined message machine ever assembled in modern electoral politics. And the coverage, overall, was often close to hagiographic. The presidency is a harder course, and the risk is that, by over-managing, the president and his aides will damage their own credibility with the press and, more important, with the public.

Europeans famously preferred Obama to McCain last fall, but the honeymoon may be over on the other side of the pond as well.  According to Der Spiegel, which James Lileks aptly called the world’s most German-sounding newspaper, America has gone from the “war president” to the “debt president”.  The newspaper predicts a day of reckoning soon:

It is often said that the Chinese and the Japanese will buy [U.S.] government bonds. But the truth of the matter is that trust in the gravitas and reliability of the United States has suffered to such a great degree that fewer and fewer foreigners are purchasing its government bonds. That’s why the Federal Reserve is now buying securities that it has printed itself. The Fed’s balance sheet has more than doubled since 2007, making the US central bank one of the world’s fastest-growing companies. The purpose of this company, though, is to create money out of thin air. …

The German response to the excesses of the Bush era was refusal and obstinacy. Gerhard Schröder refused to go to war in Iraq with America and he organized a European resistance front the reached from Moscow to Paris.

Germany still hasn’t provided its response to the Obama administration’s fiscal policy excesses. Perhaps its time for Merkel to take her cue from Schröder.

Professor Julian Zelizer of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School:

If there is any new dip in the economy, the public will blame President Obama rather than President Bush. This is exactly what happened with the recession in 1937, which FDR’s opponents called the “Roosevelt Recession,” using the downturn to diminish the number of New Deal liberals in the House and Senate in 1938.

Quoting Jonah Goldberg, who’s quoting others:

Thanks to a few pointed questions from the press corps at a White House news conference, the long Obama captivity of the media is at an end. The Hotline, an inside-the-Beltway tip sheet, proclaimed June 23 “The Day the Love Ended.”

The New York Daily News’s Michael Goodwin celebrates the press corps’s ability to channel the mood of the country: “By peppering the President with forceful questions . . . and by challenging some of his slippery answers, reporters captured the changing tone in the country. Like the end of a real honeymoon, blind infatuation is giving way to a more accurate view of reality.”

“The press corps gets it,” Goodwin writes. “For Obama, the hard part begins now.”

I’ll end with two more passages from the Rothkopf essay I started with, which is titled “The definitive, final, once and for all, Obama’s honeymoon-is-over story.” He helpfully includes a mini-roundup of other publications and websites that have declared this week that the honeymoon is over:

Of course, people have been writing about the end of Obama’s honeymoon since the day he arrived in office. [Pikers! My Honeymoon-Over Watch started January 15! - KP.] But let me offer 10 solid pieces of evidence that it was over by this week.  And I say this despite the unnerving fact that the Daily Kos seems to agree with my assessment…and shored up by the fact that NBC’s Chuck Todd, CNN’s Jack Cafferty, CQ, the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, and a host of other media outlets all seem to agree by having grappled with the issue…or, depending on how you look at it, succumbed to the conventional wisdom…in the past week or 10 days.  Just goes to show: even the conventional wisdom is right every once in a while. …

[details snipped]

The honeymoon is done. Time for a real life marriage. For better or for worse.

And for richer or poorer.  Fortunately, America doesn’t marry its leaders “until death do us part.” And no, dammit, I’m not wishing anybody dead.  I’m celebrating the fact that in three-plus years, our system will give us an opportunity for a course correction under new leadership, if enough Americans come to believe one is needed. In the meantime, Mr. Obama is my president, and on some level at least I wish him well.

slow_d16Once again the Democrats in Congress are trying to push through a hugely expensive and controversial bill that nobody — literally nobody — has read.

In February, as Congressional leaders and the Obama Administration were twisting arms to gather the votes they needed for the $800 zillion porkulus bill, I wrote this:

When listening to President Obama’s dire predictions of “catastrophe” if a stimulus bill is not passed now now now now now, is anyone else reminded of the global warming debate?

Now that comparison has come full circle, as the House yesterday passed a bill that not only had not been read by anybody — it hadn’t even been collated after 300 pages of amendments were added at 3:09 a.m.

In both episodes, House Minority Leader John Boehner stood in the well of the House and denounced the rush and the process.  Take 36 seconds to watch the clip from the porkulus fight:

And here’s 1:26 of Boehner v. Waxman yesterday on the climate-change bill:

And for old time’s sake, here’s candidate Obama promising greater transparency in government:

Here’s hoping the Senate takes a closer look at cap-and-trade.

He was three days younger than me.

Self-absorbed, I suppose, but that’s what came to mind first when I heard of Michael Jackson’s death.  He’s indexed in my mind along with Madonna and Prince, who are a few weeks older, in a file labeled “People My Age.”

I was never a huge fan, but as my college friend Joel Achenbach wrote today on his Washington Post blog, “he was part of the soundtrack of our lives for the past 40 years.”

Jackson was of course a deeply troubled soul, but his talent, at least, was admirable.  Here’s how I want to remember him:

Requiescat in pace.

Obama 6-23-09 news conf
While much of Barack Obama’s national security policy has, thankfully, looked like a continuation of the Bush administration, his rhetorical response to the crisis in Iran thus far contrasts sharply with what we would have expected from his predecessor.

Bush turned the heat up under Iran by naming the regime to his “Axis of Evil.”  Obama, who painted himself as the anti-Bush during the campaign by pledging to negotiate with Iran “without preconditions,” initially responded to globally televised evidence of the regime’s  evil by voicing “deep concern” while maintaining neutrality between the regime and the demonstrators.

It took several days for him to express support for the demonstrators, and only yesterday did he forthrightly denounce the regime’s crackdown, using the words “appalled,” “outraged,” “condemn” and “deplore.”  Well put.  (I was rooting for “evil,” the word behind this blog’s name, but I guess that’s too much to expect.)

But even yesterday, the Washington Post reports,

the president and his aides made it clear that the extraordinary events in Iran have not caused the administration to rethink its desire to engage with the Iranian government in order to achieve a deal that would resolve international concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Which leads us to a troubling similarity between Bush and Obama — an apparent penchant for clinging to a policy long after overwhelming evidence shows the folly of that policy.

In Bush’s case, the folly I’m talking about is not the decision to overthrow Saddam Husein.  Like roughly a third of all Americans, I continue to believe Bush was right to go to war in Iraq.  Rather, I’m talking about Bush’s stubbornly prolonged support for Donald Rumsfeld’s “light footprint” approach, in which we sent enough troops to depose Saddam but not enough to pacify the country.  The uncontrolled looting in the spring of 2003 made the shortfall clear, but it took until the 2006 election for Bush to replace Rumsfeld, and months more to launch the “surge” that now seems to have been decisive.

I just hope it doesn’t take Obama three years to understand the perils of engagement with the Iranian regime.

(Photo: New York Times)

jonesing-2

Andrew Sullivan posted his latest update from the #iranelection Tweetstream at about midnight last night, indicating confusion about whether the national strike is planned for Tuesday or Wednesday.  Now it’s 8:15 a.m. on the US East Coast — 8.5 hours later in Iran means the normal work day must be almost over.  No sign of any strike headlines on CNN, MSNBC, NYT, WaPo, USAToday websites.  What’s going on?

I may be getting too close to this story.

I think President Obama’s expression of support Friday for Iranians “seeking justice in a peaceful way” in Iran set the proper tone.  I’d give it a B+, with points deducted for tardiness, as it could and should have been said days earlier.  Obama is right to be wary of appearing to meddle in Iranian affairs, but proclaiming American support for democracy and non-violence isn’t meddling.  Calling for a new election would have been meddling.

Some commentators give the President an F — one of them literally using the word “failure.”  In the lead-in to a broader article on the Obama Administration’s alleged “Abandonment of Democracy,” Commentary magazine writes:

Failure to use the bully pulpit to give the Iranian people as much support as possible is morally reprehensible and a strategic blunder for which he will not be forgiven.

Wow.  “Reprehensible” is way over the top, and the  “will not be forgiven” part sounds like wishful thinking.  The lengthy article actually has some serious things to say about the administration’s apparent de-emphasis (not “abandonment”) of Democracy, but the article’s florid lead-in undercuts its credibility.

Credit where credit is due: President Obama yesterday said unambiguously “we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way” in Iran.

And then, after days of complaints about the president’s lack of public support for the demonstrators, CBS, which had Obama’s words on tape in an exclusive interview, edited that statement out of the clip that ran on the CBS Evening News. (Hat tip: Allahpundit.)

The complete transcript is on the CBS News site, and the headline indicates that somebody at CBS knows what the news is: “Obama: Iran Proestors ‘Seeking Justice’“.

Here’s the text that was edited out, with Allahpundit’s highlighting:

What you’re seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and – and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we’ve seen violence out there. I think I’ve said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that’s a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for…

But the last point I want to make on this – this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran. This is an issue of the Iranian people. The fact that they are on the streets under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there’s something in that society that wants to open up.

I don’t see why Obama couldn’t have said that five days ago, but I’m glad he said it yesterday.  Maybe today CBS will run the good parts.

Charles Krauthammer today, taking aim at Obama’s tepid expression of “deep concern about the election”:

Moreover, this incipient revolution is no longer about the election. Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren’t dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.

This started out about election fraud. But like all revolutions, it has far outgrown its origins. What’s at stake now is the very legitimacy of this regime — and the future of the entire Middle East.

A quibble: I think — I hope — that what’s at stake is the future of the regime.  I don’t think it has ever had any legitimacy.

Time to pick a side, Mr. President.  I don’t buy the idea that the Iranian protesters would somehow be undermined if Obama expresses support for democracy.  It may once have made pragmatic sense to try to make nice with the theocracy, but only because the regime’s power was unquestioned.  Now there’s an opposing force within the country.

Michael Ledeen, from yesterday:

I think that many pundits insist on thinking about the Iran-that-was-five-days-ago, instead of the bubbling cauldron that it is today.  The same mistake is repeated when people say that Mousavi, after all, is “one of them,” a member of the founding generation of the Islamic Republic, and so you can’t expect real change from him.  The president made that mistake when he said that he didn’t expect any real difference in Iran’s behavior, no matter how this drama plays out.

I think that is wrong;  at this point, Mousavi either brings down the Islamic Republic or he hangs. If he wins, and the Islamic Republic comes down, we may well see the whole world change, from an end of the theocratic fascist system, to a cutoff of money, arms, technology, training camps and intelligence to the world’s leading terrorist organizations, and yes, even to a termination of the nuclear weapons program.

I think that, whatever or whoever Mir Hossein Mousavi was five days ago, he is now the leader of a mass movement that demands the creation of a free Iran that will rejoin the Western world. And yes, the wheel could turn again, this revolution could one day be betrayed, all kinds of surprises no doubt await the Iranian people.  Yes, but.  But today, there is a dramatic chance of a very good thing happening in Iran, and thus in the Middle East, and therefore in the whole world.

Update — Rich Lowry today:

Obama says he wants to avoid stoking a nationalist backlash. A legitimate, but overblown, concern. Iranians surely can understand the difference between the U.S. sending CIA operatives into the country to help stage an anti-democratic coup — as Obama constantly reminds the world we did in the 1950s — and speaking up against repression. Without undue “meddling,” Obama could note that governments in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan honor election results, and exhort Iran to lead the democratic wave rather than resist it.

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