Congratulations, Mr. President: Chapter 2 of My Quadrennial Search for Silver Linings

Whether it's Bush or Obama, if he is not your president, then you are not my countryman

Congratulations, Mr. President.  I voted for the other guy, but I wish you well — and if you had to win, I’m deeply relieved that Florida doesn’t matter this time.

Once again, you’ve inherited a mess from your predecessor.  This time, you won’t be able to get as much mileage from blaming him.  One of the beauties of our two-party system is that eventually, both parties end up sharing the responsibility for every major issue.

Unlike some of your critics, I don’t think your re-election is a disaster.  Even though you’ll continue to be the most powerful person in the world, you are not powerful enough to inflict serious long-term damage on America.  We survived Nixon’s thuggery, Carter’s ineptitude and Clinton’s reckless sexual predation, and we’ll survive Obamacare and anything else you may throw at us.

To me, Obamacare was the most important reason to defeat you.  The day before the election, Christopher DeMuth described the stakes as he saw them:

On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls to choose whether or not to nationalize their health-care system. …

If President Barack Obama is re-elected, ObamaCare’s controls over doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical firms and other providers of medical care will be tightened, and the operations of private insurance companies will be progressively restricted. Everyone involved will know where the process is going—to a single-payer system or one with a few chosen insurers subject to national public-utility controls—and will negotiate the best possible accommodations to it. Within a few years, a new political equilibrium will be in place, making the system irreversible and subject to only marginal adjustment.

The Heritage Foundation has a helpful Obamacare tax chart -- click for more details

Well, maybe.  I sure wish we had elected a Republican president and enough Republican senators to overturn Obamacare altogether, but we did not.  However, opposition to socialized healthcare is not going to go away. When the tax increases start kicking in a few weeks from now, you may find that your predecessor has bequeathed you a healthcare system so deeply unpopular that you may not be able to enforce party discipline to protect it.

I’m also not overly worried about continuing to entrust you with our national security — although again, I would have preferred the other guy as commander-in-chief.  Despite the ridiculous Nobel Peace Prize, you’ve steered well clear of the moral bankruptcy of pacifism.  To your credit, you green-lighted the risky takedown of Osama bin Laden, rather than taking the safer route of a Predator missile — and you’ve used those Predators to take out thousands of enemy combatants.  You retained Bush’s defense secretary and his strategy for Iraq, and mimicked his surge in Afghanistan.

Heck, you even started a totally unnecessary war in Libya, where we had no national interests at stake.  I don’t want to encourage unnecessary wars, but at least this one got rid of a very bad man, and up until Benghazi it seemed to be turning out all right.  Your administration’s inattention to a deteriorating situation cost four brave men their lives in Benghazi.  But at the risk of sounding flip, all presidents make mistakes that get brave people killed.

If America never uses its military strength, then all that money spent on defense truly is wasted.  On balance I think your Libya adventure was probably unwise, but I like my presidents to have a bias toward action in the face of evil people.  When, not if, the war with Iran enters its kinetic phase, I’m confident now (as I was not in 2008) that you will not preemptively surrender.  And despite your occasionally shoddy treatment of our ally Israel, I have no doubt which side you’ll take.  Even during the crucible of the final weeks of the campaign, you’ve already started laying the ground work for war, through joint exercises with Israel and by condoning Israel’s attack on a weapons plant in Sudan.

You have a tough job ahead of you, Mr. President.  So did your predecessor.  However wrong-headed some of your policies may be, I believe you to be a good and decent family man, a person of substance, and a person dedicated to doing what you believe is right for America. I can’t find the link now, but to paraphrase another voice on the right: The fact that our political system has given us a choice of two such candidates is a testament to the enduring strength of America.

Good luck, Mr. President, and may God watch over you and those you serve.

Gaddafi: “Another One Bites the Dust”

.. and another one’s gone
‘nother one’s gone
‘nother one bites the dust

(Hey, maybe I should use song lyrics in all my blog posts! It could be my gimmick!  I wish I knew more song lyrics!)

I still find it astonishing and inconsistent that Mr. Nobel Peace Prize entered a war of choice in Libya.  But as VDH said, “the only thing worse than starting a stupid war is losing it,” and it looks like there is no further danger of losing to Gaddafi.

And the world… will be a better place…

So what comes next in Libya and the region?  Two takes from The Corner, eighteen minutes apart — one hopeful, one non.  John P. Hannah of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is hopeful:

Qaddafi’s inglorious end sends … a powerful reminder that, try as they might, the region’s despots cannot through blood and brutality forever hold off history’s harsh judgement. Assad’s head will rest far less easy tonight. The morale of the Syrian people will receive a much-needed boost to endure the difficult days that no doubt still lie ahead. And perhaps most importantly, the hard men around Assad who have continued to do his dirty work, will have new cause to save their own skins by reassessing their misguided loyalties to a leader who is dragging them and their community ever closer to catastrophe. With a strategic stake in Syria’s fate that dwarfs our interests in Libya, the United States would be well advised to exploit the openings created by Qaddafi’s terminus to re-energize the effort to depose Assad, short-circuit the civil war that he is struggling mightily to ignite, and deliver a crippling blow to the Iranian terror machine that so threatens our interests and those of our allies.

His boss at FDD, Cliff May, almost immediately followed up with a sour note:

If the Great Arab Revolt — “Arab Spring” is a hopeful, not descriptive term — ends up only removing Qaddafi and, from neighboring Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a despot who was, nonetheless, a reasonably pliant client of the U.S., and if Iran’s theocrats remain in power and manage to save the Assad dynasty in Syria while continuing to use Hezbollah to control Lebanon and sponsoring Hamas in Gaza, the lesson will be clear: It is more dangerous to be America’s ally than its enemy.

Such a lesson will carry long-term strategic consequences. If there are strategic planners in the current administration, now would be a good time for them to start worrying.

Is the glass half full or half empty?  The answer is “yes.”  Welcome to the geopolitics of the Middle East.

What a long, strange trip it’s been…

Channeling His Inner Neocon: Did the Nobel Speech Launch the Obama Doctrine?

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

US troops in Afghanistan (AFP/Getty)

I may have been too quick to sneer yesterday at President Obama’s appearance in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

The prize itself is still ridiculous, of course.  (And don’t get me started on the statue.)  But in addition to the obvious point that the honor is unearned, the president has faced critics from his left who believe the recent escalation of Mr. Obama’s War is inconsistent with the prize.

Seeking to answer those critics, Obama used his acceptance speech to issue a ringing declaration of American exceptionalism (although he would not use that term).

In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched one conservative after another find things to praise in the speech.  Neo-neocon (not an Obama fan) called it “the most robust defense of American military action I’ve ever heard him give,” and quoted this passage (my emphasis):

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason…

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.

In a post in The Corner titled “Obama the Neocon,” Michael Ledeen said:

It’s “only a speech,” to be sure.  And there things I wish he hadn’t said, or said differently.  But it’s a very different sort of speech, and it contained many words that are downright neoconnish:

America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements — these movements of hope and history — they have us on their side.

It sure sounds like President Obama just endorsed the Green Movement in Iran.

In a roundup titled “Conservative Praise for Obama Speech,” Politico notes the endorsement of former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich:

It’s already being called the “Obama Doctrine” – a notion that foreign policy is a struggle of good and evil, that American exceptionalism has blunted the force of tyranny in the world, and that U.S. military can be a force for good and even harnessed to humanitarian ends.

“I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn’t be able to have a peace prize, without having [the ability to use] force,” Gingrich said. “I thought in some ways it’s a very historic speech.”

The conservative other conservatives love to hate, Kathleen Parker, wrote in the Washington Post:

The speech was a signal moment in the evolution and maturation of Obama from ambivalent aspirant to reluctant leader.

Rising to the occasion, he managed to redeem himself at a low point in his popularity by reminding Americans of what is best about themselves.

At Contentions, Jennifer Rubin (really not an Obama fan):

But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House.

I could go on and on. (I guess I already have.)  I expect in the future I will continue to have more criticism than praise for Mr. Obama. But while I am always proud to be an American, today I am proud of my President.

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War and Peace in a Complicated World

obama child statue copyA child shall lead them

After President Obama made his ill-advised announcement that he will begin reversing the coming surge in Afghanistan just 18 months from now, I wrote that “he’ll have plenty of time between now and July 2011 to figure out how to explain, if necessary, that the withdrawal must be delayed.”

In Kabul today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates got an early start on walking back that commitment:

“While we hope to transfer power in July 2011, we will have a large number of forces here for some time beyond that,” Gates told the group at Kabul International Airport. “This is the first time in Afghan history when foreign forces are here to help, and we intend to be your partner for a long time.”

Meanwhile, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize nine days after announcing an escalation of what is now Mr. Obama’s War, the president made the best of a bizarre situation by acknowledging the obvious:

Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.

And in Jakarta, Indonesians marked the occasion by unveiling a statue of the Obama Child, swaddled in T-shirt and shorts, embarking on his earthly ministry with the predestined Nobel medallion draped around his neck.

Photo: AFP/Getty

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Old Europe, an Unearned Nobel Prize, and a War of Necessity

250px-EuropeDonald Rumsfeld clung to his failed Iraq strategy for years longer than his boss should have allowed, but Rumsfeld didn’t get everything wrong.  He was on to something when he spoke dismissively of “Old Europe.”

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger discusses the mindset that just awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to a freshman president:

The unanswered question at the center of this odd Nobel is whether Barack Obama admires Old Europe for the same reasons it admires him.

When it was a vibrant garden of ideas, Europe gave the world more good things than one can count. Then it discovered the pleasures of the welfare state.

Old Europe now lives in a world of unpayable public pension obligations, weak job creation for its youngest workers, below-replacement birth rates, fat agricultural subsidies for farms dating to the Middle Ages, high taxes to pay for the public high-life, and history’s most crucial proof of decay—the inability to finance one’s armies. Only five of the 28 nations in NATO (the U.K., France, Turkey, Greece and Spain) achieve the minimum defense-spending benchmark of 2% of GDP.

Old Europe has come to resent the world’s only superpower “merely because it possesses the resources to do something Europe can no longer do, for good or ill” — i.e., protect its citizens.

Al Qaeda and its Islamofascistic fellow travelers have unequivocally demonstrated (Madrid 3/11/04, London 7/7/05) that their enemy is not just America, but Western Civilization itself.  Now that a basic (if tenuous) level of stability has been achieved in Iraq, the front lines of the war have shifted to the Afghanistan theater.

Our European allies clearly have no stomach for the fight.  As America considers sending up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, even the (relatively) stalwart UK today announced plans to send… um… 500.  As in Iraq, it will fall to the United States to achieve any victory (or even stability) in Afghanistan.  It remains to be seen whether President Obama has the fortitude to wage a war that Candidate Obama opportunistically (albeit correctly) described as “urgent.”

(Map of tiny Europe from Wikipedia)

The “Obama Silver-Lining Watch” and the Nobel Peace Prize

noble_medalsWhat to make of the bizarre awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a president who had completed 0.82% of his term at the time the nominations were due?

Or, as Claudia Rosette frames the question, “What Price for Obama’s Nobel Prize?”  Her conclusion:

America, in the course of defending its own freedoms, has long extended to the likes of Norway, Denmark and Sweden a protective umbrella. Under that shelter, too many Europols have come to believe that peace is a function of nothing more than talk and hope and dreams and … premature prizes.

Obama said on Friday morning that he will accept this award as “a call to action.” Action on whose behalf? The five Norwegians who make up the Nobel peace prize committee chose to give him this award, for their own purposes. Obama, and America, owe them nothing. The real hope is that Obama will remember he took an oath (twice) not to serve as global spokesman for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, but “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Before his presidency is over, keeping faith with that oath may require him to do things [that] would knock the stuffing out of the featherbed philosophy of this sanctimonious crowd of Scandinavian free-riders.

To pick a completely unhypothetical example, it may require him to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.  At first blush, the Nobel Prize may seem to make it harder for an Obama administration to do anything involving a projection of American military power.

But there’s another way of looking at it.  While the prize is ridiculous, it’s not Obama’s fault that it was awarded.  At the risk of indulging in wishful thinking, the prize may give him protective cover to act in the long-term interests of peace — even when it involves military action in the short run.  If so, it would be part of the silver lining I’ve been monitoring since Election Day.