Dr. K, on the Irony of Obama the Drone Warrior

Early on in the Obama administration, I had a series of blog posts labeled “Bush’s Third Term.”  I meant it in a nice way.  Here’s a snippet from February 2009, five weeks after the inauguration:

After winning in November, Obama co-opted Hillary and her one-time support for the war by naming her Secretary of State. But the clearest indication that the grown-ups would be in charge of the war came when Obama announced that he was retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq. I feel much better about the Obama Presidency now than I did on Election Day.

More than three years have passed since then, and Obama surrogates have taken to crowing that “General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.” The Obama campaign engaged in an unseemly end-zone dance for the first anniversary of the Osama takedown.  As so often happens, it falls to Charles Krauthammer to pull all the pieces together into a sardonic mosaic.  In his column yesterday, Dr. K wrote:

The Osama-slayer card having been vastly overplayed, what to do? A new card: Obama, drone warrior, steely and solitary, delivering death with cool dispatch to the rest of the al-Qaeda depth chart.

So the peacemaker, Nobel laureate, nuclear disarmer, apologizer to the world for America having lost its moral way when it harshly interrogated the very people Obama now kills, has become — just in time for the 2012 campaign — Zeus the Avenger, smiting by lightning strike.

A rather strange ethics. You go around the world preening about how America has turned a new moral page by electing a president profoundly offended by George W. Bush’s belligerence and prisoner maltreatment, and now you’re ostentatiously telling the world that you personally play judge, jury and executioner to unseen combatants of your choosing and whatever innocents happen to be in their company.

This is not to argue against drone attacks. In principle, they are fully justified. No quarter need be given to terrorists who wear civilian clothes, hide among civilians and target civilians indiscriminately. But it is to question the moral amnesia of those whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the Bush methods that kept America safe for a decade — and who now embrace Obama’s campaign of assassination by remote control.

Moreover, there is an acute military problem. Dead terrorists can’t talk.

It’s always hard to decide what to leave out of a Krauthammer cut-and-paste.  Read the whole thing.

It’s Long Past Time to End Public Funding for Broadcasters

This is a roundup of some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the bizarre dismissal of Juan Williams.  Cliff May sets the scene:

Juan Williams

So much for National Public Radio’s commitment to freedom of speech. As just about everyone now knows, NPR fired commentator Juan Williams for expressing not an opinion but a fear — one that millions of Americans almost certainly share.

“When I get on a plane,” Williams told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, “I’ve got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

This reminded me: A few years ago, I was traveling with a government official from the Middle East. His name clearly identified him as a Muslim. We were screened at two airports, and I noticed he was not searched thoroughly. He told me that was not unusual — and he was not pleased by it. Why not? Because, he said, “If they’re not scrutinizing me, who else are they not looking at? I don’t want to get killed in a terrorist attack any more than you do.”

To express that fear in public cannot be a firing offense.

Dr. K cites an unexpected authority to emphasize a similar point:

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I want to start by having people look at this quote from Jesse Jackson about 18 years ago in which he says, I hope we can put it up on the screen, that when he walks down the street, hears footsteps, and he starts thinking about robbery, he looks around and when he sees someone who is white, he feels relieved.  Jesse Jackson is saying this. In other words, if the people he looked at were black, he would feel anxiety or fear.

Now, this — there is nobody in his right mind that is going to say that Jesse Jackson is a racist, anti-black racist. He’s not.

From the left flank, here’s Tim Wise (h/t Tigerhawk):

Yet what had Williams done, exactly? He acknowledged his own biases, and then explained the fallacy embedded therein. He was being honest, and in so doing, demonstrating an important fact that the nice white liberals who predominate at NPR try to deny, especially for themselves. Namely, that even the best of us can be taken in by racism, by religious bias, by ethnic chauvinism, by prejudice. No matter our liberal bona fides, the bottom line is this: advertising works, whether for selling toothpaste, tennis shoes, or stereotypes….

The only difference between Juan Williams and the people who fired him is this: Williams is honest enough to admit his own damage. And importantly, what the research on this subject tells us is that it is precisely those persons who are able to see and acknowledge their biases who are the most likely to challenge themselves, and try valiantly not to act on them. In other words, it is the Juan Williams’s of the world whose self-awareness in this regard will minimize the likelihood of discriminatory behavior. Meanwhile, it’s the liberals who deny to their dying breath that they have a “racist bone in their bodies,” or who swear they “never see color,” or insist that they are open-minded, forward thinking and free of prejudice, who are often unable to see how their internalized biases effect them, and move them around the chessboard of life without them even realizing it. Frankly, those are the ones from whom racial and religious “others” probably need the most protection.

Seth Lipsky in the Wall Street Journal describes the forces aligning against government-subsidized broadcasting:

At least one good thing has come out of National Public Radio’s firing of Juan Williams. NPR’s vice president had barely hung up the phone after informing Mr. Williams that he was being terminated—and refusing to meet with him, a long-time colleague, to discuss the matter—when the calls began for Congress to cut off funding for NPR entirely.

Bill O’Reilly… called for “the immediate suspension of every taxpayer dollar going into NPR.” Sarah Palin issued a Facebook posting called “Juan Williams: Going Rogue,” in which she wrote: “If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it’s time for ‘National Public Radio’ to become ‘National Private Radio.’”

Then South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint issued a statement saying that he would introduce a bill to end federal funding of public broadcasting. Most significantly, the man who may be the next House Speaker, John Boehner, told National Review Online: “We need to face facts—our government is broke. Washington is borrowing 37 cents of every dollar it spends from our kids and grandkids. Given that, I think it’s reasonable to ask why Congress is spending taxpayers’ money to support a left-wing radio network—and in the wake of Juan Williams’ firing, it’s clearer than ever that’s what NPR is.”

Jennifer Rubin:

With over 500 TV stations as well as satellite and over-the-air radio, why in the world do taxpayers need to pay for left-wing propaganda masquerading as news? Seriously, that’s what the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News’s cable competitors are there for.

A Trifecta of Persuasive Punditry

I call myself a blogger, but I’m more like an essayist who uses blogging software.

Many of my posts start out as a simple idea and end up as 600-800 words.  (Except when they end up as 2,000 words.)  I think it’s a self-esteem issue — I’m concerned that someone will mock me, and have the facts on their side.  So I research and try to substantiate every nuance, and the word count grows. (I’m up to 77 so far!)  Then I run out of time or energy, resulting in no posts at all for a week at a time.

So let’s try a classic quickie blog post — little or no analysis from me, just recent quotes from three of my favorite pundits.  Krauthammer:

Leave it to Mickey Kaus, a principled liberal who supports health-care reform, to debunk these structural excuses: “Lots of intellectual effort now seems to be going into explaining Obama’s (possible/likely/impending) health care failure as the inevitable product of larger historic and constitutional forces. . . . But in this case there’s a simpler explanation: Barack Obama’s job was to sell a health care reform plan to American voters. He failed.”

He failed because the utter implausibility of its central promise — expanded coverage at lower cost — led voters to conclude that it would lead ultimately to more government, more taxes, and more debt. More broadly, the Democrats failed because, thinking the economic emergency would give them a political mandate and a legislative window, they tried to impose a left-wing agenda on a center-right country. The people said no, expressing themselves first in spontaneous demonstrations, then in public-opinion polls, then in elections — Virginia, New Jersey, and, most emphatically, Massachusetts.

That’s not a structural defect. That’s a textbook demonstration of popular will expressing itself — despite the special interests — through the existing structures. In other words, the system worked.

Victor Davis Hanson:

Those who accuse former Bush administration officials of criminality for having supported enhanced interrogation techniques are nearly silent about the ongoing and vastly increased targeted assassinations ordered by the Obama administration, and I for one am confused by this standard of attack.

If a suspected jihadist on the Afghan Pakistan border were to be asked his choice, he might very well prefer to be apprehended, transported to Guantanamo, and harshly interrogated rather than blown to bits along with any family and friends who happen to be in his vicinity.

To make things simpler, water-boarding the confessed architect of the murder of 3,000 innocents, on a moral scale, seems less atrocious than executing suspected terrorists, as we are now doing. Since the easy denunciations of criminality are moral rather than legal — no one has actually convicted a John Yoo or a Dick Cheney of anything — surely we should hear something about these capital sentences handed down from the sky on those who, quite unlike KSM, are suspected, rather than confessed, killers.

And Andrew McCarthy (profiled in the New York Times):

“A war is a war,” Mr. McCarthy declared. “A war is not a crime, and you don’t bring your enemies to a courthouse.”

In the debate over how and where to prosecute Mr. Mohammed and other Sept. 11 cases, few critics of the Obama administration have been more fervent in their opposition than Mr. McCarthy, a 50-year-old lawyer from the Bronx who had built a reputation as one of the country’s formidable terrorism prosecutors.

Now he has a different reputation: harsh critic of the system in which he had his greatest legal triumph.

Mr. McCarthy has relentlessly attacked the administration for supporting civilian justice for terrorism suspects. He has criticized the military commissions system and called for creation of a national security court. After the arrest of the suspect in the Christmas bomb plot, he wrote, “Will Americans finally grasp how insane it is to regard counterterrorism as a law-enforcement project rather than a matter of national security?”

Argghh… 659 words.  But I only had to write about 150 of them!

Obama’s National Security Policy Looks Like Bush’s Third Term. Thank Goodness.

George W. Obama at the National Archives yesterday (AP)

George W. Obama at the National Archives yesterday (AP)

Krauthammer today:

The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

Exactly right.  I fear that Obama is busily making a mess of the economy — or rather, more of a mess.  But on national security, it becomes clearer every day that despite Obama’s persistent sniping at his predecessor, we’ve essentially re-elected George Bush, and I for one am grateful.

After starting by retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Obama has begun a surge in Afghanistan, adopted Bush’s timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, authorized repeated Predator drone strikes on al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, affirmed the use of military commissions, and yesterday acknowledged that some terrorists will have to be held indefinitely even though it will not be possible to prosecute them successfully.

Ponnuru:

President Obama and former Vice President Cheney weren’t so much a study in contrast today as a portrait of harmony. Both men agree that the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist policies were largely correct. Cheney signaled his acceptance of this view by vigorously defending those policies. Obama signaled it by largely adopting those same policies and emitting a fog of words to cover up the fact. (See this defense of Obama for a run-down of all the continuities.)

Obama’s fellow Democrats are helping to save him from his ill-advised promise to close Guantanamo within a year — the Senate vote eliminating funding for the closure was 90-6.  On the torture issue, Obama is trying to reclaim the moral high ground for America, and as long as he continues aggressively prosecuting the war, I largely wish him well.  It will give him a means of staking out a genuine policy difference, it may gain us some goodwill abroad, and if a time comes when we once again have a Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in custody smirking that “soon you will know” about imminent terror attacks, I strongly suspect that somebody will find a technique and a justification for doing what needs to be done.

I caught snatches of Obama’s speech yesterday on the radio, and I remember thinking that if I closed my eyes, I could imagine these words coming out of Bush’s mouth:

In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.

This responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.

Of course he quickly slipped back into campaign mode and blamed every problem on the Bush Administration.  But that will get old quickly, even among his supporters.  Meanwhile, look to his deeds, not just his words.

Global Warming and the Anthropogenic Financial Crisis

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?

Even most skeptics about what Taranto calls “global warmism” would concede that there are valid reasons to want to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the resultant greenhouse gases. The debate arises over what measures should be taken, and how urgently. (Now now now now now!)

Similarly, there seems to be widespread consensus that the economy is in terrible shape, and that an increase in economic activity would help. The debate arises over how best to stimulate the economy, and how urgently.

In both cases, proponents of “doing something” now now now now now maintain that there is no time to worry about the possible side effects. But I firmly believe that when everyone around you is clamoring for immediate dramatic action, that’s exactly the right time to take a deep breath and think hard about the consequences. A few years from now the specifics of the stimulus package will be a lot more important than whether the bill was passed in February or March.

The one thing that seems clear to me is that if we are going to make a multi-hundred-billion-dollar effort to stimulate the economy, it should be done through a combination of a) tax cuts for lower-income people (pushing stimulus activity down to the individual level, among people who are likely to spend) and b) accelerating government spending that is destined to occur anyway.

That, of course, is not what the Democrats are planning. Here’s Krauthammer, on the “fierce urgency of pork” behind the “legislative abomination” that is the stimulus bill (emphasis added):

It’s not just pages and pages of special-interest tax breaks, giveaways and protections, one of which would set off a ruinous Smoot-Hawley trade war. It’s not just the waste, such as the $88.6 million for new construction for Milwaukee Public Schools, which, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have shrinking enrollment, 15 vacant schools and, quite logically, no plans for new construction.

It’s the essential fraud of rushing through a bill in which the normal rules (committee hearings, finding revenue to pay for the programs) are suspended on the grounds that a national emergency requires an immediate job-creating stimulus — and then throwing into it hundreds of billions that have nothing to do with stimulus, that Congress’s own budget office says won’t be spent until 2011 and beyond, and that are little more than the back-scratching, special-interest, lobby-driven parochialism that Obama came to Washington to abolish. He said.

Krauthammer was writing about the House version of the bill, but I’ve seen little reason to believe that the Senate compromise reached last night is any better.

Meanwhile, Harvard economist and former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Greg Mankiw describes “My Preferred Fiscal Stimulus“:

I would institute an immediate and permanent reduction in the payroll tax, financed by a gradual, permanent, and substantial increase in the gasoline tax. I would make the two tax changes equal in present value, so while the package results in a short-run budget deficit, there is no long-term budget impact. Call it the create-jobs, save-the-environment, reduce-traffic-congestion, budget-neutral tax shift.

I recognize that some state governments are now struggling in light of the macroeconomic crisis. For the next two years, I would let each state governor have the authority to divert a portion of the payroll tax cut in his or her state and take the funds instead as state aid. This provision would essentially be giving governors the temporary authority to impose a payroll tax on his or her citizens, collected via the federal tax system. Those governors who think they have valuable infrastructure projects ready to go would take the money. When designing a fiscal stimulus, there is no compelling reason for one size fits all. Let each governor make a choice and answer to his or her state voters. It is called federalism.

Note that by allowing governors (and I think you’d have to include state legislators) to determine whether to substitute spending for tax cuts, Mankiw’s proposal would mean that any decision about whether to build schools in Milwaukee would be made in Milwaukee, or at least in Wisconsin. And by gradually increasing the gasoline tax to offset the immediate payroll tax cut, the proposal would even… wait for it… help counteract global warming.

You (Could Have) Read It Here First

Long-time readers (hi Sweetie!) know how much I admire Charles Krauthammer’s writing. I’ve said that when I read his columns, I often wish I had written them first. Well, now that fantasy has partly come true.

Krauthammer’s column today covers some of the same ground as my post Wednesday on Obama’s mixed signals to the Muslim world. (No, I am not so delusional as to think he got the idea from my blog, which weighs in at 213,974th in Technorati’s blog rankings. I’m just tickled that we’re on the same wavelength.)

We both reacted to Obama’s statement that he wants to return to “the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago” by noting that the Iran Hostage Crisis began 30 years ago. Despite Obama’s implication that his predecessor’s administration was hostile to Muslims, we both noted that Bush prominently reached out to Muslims six days after 9/11.

Here’s an additional Krauthammer point that I wish I had made:

In these most recent 20 years — the alleged winter of our disrespect of the Islamic world — America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved — and resulted in — the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Great column, Chuck! I mean Charlie. I mean… Mr. Krauthammer.

(Photo: Univ. of North Carolina)

Israel vs. Hamas: How Much Violence is Enough

A law professor considers the notion of proportionality in Forbes:

The claim is that it is not permissible for the Israelis to kill many individuals, including civilians, to stop sporadic deaths from rocket fire. Sorry. As with individual aggression, proportionality has no place in dealing with deadly force, where the right rule is that all necessary force is permissible.

The Israelis are not required to slowly bleed in Sderot because Hamas is at present only capable of using primitive rockets against it. It need not wait until the attacks become ever more deadly to raise the ante.

Writing in today’s Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer thinks Israel is nearing a successful endgame:

[T]he only acceptable outcome of this war, both for Israel and for the civilized world, is … the disintegration of Hamas rule. It is already underway.

This is not about killing every last Hamas gunman. Not possible, not necessary. Regimes rule not by physically overpowering every person in their domain but by getting the majority to accept their authority. That is what sustains Hamas, and that is what is now under massive assault.

Hamas’s leadership is not only seriously degraded but openly humiliated. The great warriors urging others to martyrdom are cowering underground, almost entirely incommunicado. Demonstrably unable to protect their own people, they beg for outside help, receiving in return nothing but words from their Arab and Iranian brothers.

In the same paper on the same day, Jackson Diehl looks at the same situation and reaches the opposite conclusion:

Every day this war continues, Hamas grows politically stronger, as do its allies in other countries and its sponsor, Iran. Though Israel must defend its citizens against rockets and suicide bombings, the only means of defeating Hamas are political. Palestinians, who have no history of attraction to religious fundamentalism, have to be persuaded to choose more moderate leaders, such as the secular Fatah. In the meantime, Hamas’s existence must be tolerated, and it should be encouraged to channel its ambitions into politics rather than military activity.

So Mr. Diehl, let me get this straight. Israel must defend its citizens from violent attacks… but not through military means. It must tolerate the existence of Hamas… even though Hamas has no intention of tolerating the existence of Israel. Hamas “should be encouraged to channel its ambitions into politics rather than military activity”… even though its ambition is to drive Israel into the sea.

I sure hope Krauthammer is right, because I don’t hold out much hope for Diehl’s approach.

Moral Clarity on Hamas and Gaza, from Krauthammer

Time and again, after reading a Charles Krauthammer column, I find myself thinking, “why couldn’t I have written that?” It’s a combination of my admiration for the man’s craft and my nearly complete agreement, more often than not, with what he has to say.

Today’s column is headlined “Moral Clarity in Gaza.” It’s hard to decide which snippet to quote. But here’s the sentence that resonates most clearly for me, the day after Hamas thug Nizar Rayan died along with the family he used as his human shields:

For Hamas, the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians.

To coin a phrase, you should read the whole thing.

A Golden Opportunity for a Higher Gas Tax

Charles Krauthammer burnishes his credentials as a member of the Pigou Club with a cover story in the January 5, 2009 edition of Weekly Standard, titled “The Net-Zero Gas Tax: A Once-in-a-Generation Chance.” (Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg.)

The Pigou Club Manifesto was Greg Mankiw’s call in October 2006 to increase the gasoline tax significantly, thereby encouraging more fuel-efficient cars, reducing pollution, reducing oil consumption, and reducing the amount of money we send every year to oil-producing countries that hate us. His specific idea was for a $1 gas tax phased in over a decade, which seemed radical then but now sounds like it would barely get anybody’s attention.

Krauthammer dispenses with the phase-in and calls for an immediate $1 a gallon gas tax increase, offset by reducing other taxes so that the overall effect is revenue-neutral (thus the Net-Zero in his headline). The beauty of a gas tax is its simplicity, although there might need to be various offsets and exceptions to make such a system palatable. Krauthammer:

But whatever one’s assumptions and choice of initial tax, the net-zero tax swap remains flexible, adjustable, testable, and nonbureaucratic. Behavior is changed, driving is curtailed, fuel efficiency is increased, without any of the arbitrary, shifting, often mindless mandates decreed by Congress.

This is a major benefit of the gas tax that is generally overlooked. It is not just an alternative to regulation; because it is so much more efficient, it is a killer of regulation. The most egregious of these regulations are the fleet fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards forced on auto companies. Rather than creating market conditions that encourage people to voluntarily buy greener cars, the CAFE standards simply impose them. And once the regulations are written–with their arbitrary miles-per-gallon numbers and target dates–they are not easily changed. If they are changed, moreover, they cause massive dislocation, and yet more inefficiency, in the auto industry.

CAFE standards have proven devastating to Detroit. When oil prices were relatively low, they forced U.S. auto companies to produce small cars that they could only sell at a loss. They were essentially making unsellable cars to fulfill mandated quotas, like steel producers in socialist countries meeting five-year plan production targets with equal disregard for demand.

As Krauthammer notes earlier in his article, the federal gasoline tax in America is 18.4 cents per gallon, while in England and much of Europe the gas tax approaches $4 per gallon. (Hmmm… I wonder why people drive smaller cars in Europe than in the U.S.?) A higher gas tax makes sense on so many levels. But given the car lust that seems to be part of the DNA of so many Americans, I’m not holding my breath waiting for it.

Krauthammer Explains the Election

I’ve argued before that it is deeply ironic that the financial crisis benefited the Democrats this year, since the Democrats drove the reckless expansion of access to mortgages that led to the crisis, while Republicans — specifically, McCain and the Bush Administration — were sounding alarms.

As usual, Charles Krauthammer has the explanation:

This was not just a meltdown but a panic. For an agonizing few days, there was a collapse of faith in the entire financial system — a run on banks, panicky money-market withdrawals, flights to safety, the impulse to hide one’s savings under a mattress.

This did not just have the obvious effect of turning people against the incumbent party, however great or tenuous its responsibility for the crisis. It had the more profound effect of making people seek shelter in government.

After all, if even Goldman Sachs was getting government protection, why not you? And offering the comfort and safety of government is the Democratic Party’s vocation. With a Republican White House having partially nationalized the banks and just about everything else, McCain’s final anti-Obama maneuver — Joe the Plumber spread-the-wealth charges of socialism — became almost comical.

In my next life, I want to be Charles Krauthammer, ideally without the whole paralysis thing. My path from liberal to neocon has paralleled his, and he has an uncanny ability to state, with perfect clarity, insights on current events that are only beginning to rattle around in my head.