Obama’s Syria policy: Weak in review

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Whew, it’s been a while since I did an original political cartoon.  We’ve seen some really terrible developments in American foreign policy this past week or so.  President Obama laid down a “red line” on Syrian chemical weapons use more than a year ago.  Then, last week, he denied setting a red line.  Per the Commander in Chief, the international community set it.

This week, Secretary of State John Kerry assuaged domestic doves and foreign foes as to how “unbelievably small” a U.S. strike on Syria would be.  Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal went to town on that one.

In a glowing review of the President’s Tuesday night prime time speech, Walter Shapiro denied cheerleading for Obama.  This is hardly credible given how extraordinarily painful and opaque the White House’s waffling military machinations have been.

The Commander in Chief about-faced when Russia supplied an out consisting in Assad’s vow to allow inspection and destruction of his massive chemical weapons stockpile.  National security expert Max Boot pointed out the dim prospect of such a solution.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled a world leadership coup with his New York Times op ed.  After reading it, New Jersey senator Bob Menendez confessed that, “I almost wanted to vomit.”  I think this graphic is a little more palatable, and totally apt.

Steve Kelly, Townhall.com

America has for her Commander in Chief that kid who gets picked last for sports games, the one who bullies turn upside down to shake out his lunch money.  Putin was a KGB hot shot; Obama was a community organizer.  This is not good.

When I was in college, literally learning about the politics of peace and war, I was introduced to Win, Lose, or Draw: Domestic Politics and the Crucible of War.  After conducting some game theory research, author Alan Stam recommended a simple strategy for dealing with unfriendly regimes: tit-for-tat.  It’s like the eye-for-an-eye of international relations.

The simple lesson that every American president should remember is this: clear and consistent communication is indispensable to the national security interest.  Speak loud, and carry a big stick; make the other side think you’ll use it.  What the Obama administration has done instead is the opposite.  American officials have telegraphed a lack of resolve, betrayed a sense of hesitation, vacillated between options, and came ill-prepared to the bargaining table.  Our Ship of State must survive three more years with an incompetent helmsman.

American foreign policy hasn’t seen such tragedy and disgrace since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.  I mean it when I ask, pray for the wisdom of America’s leaders.

Immigration reform: of RINOs and Rubio

20130210.huntingrinosIt’s been a couple of weeks since the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight preempted President Obama with a declaration of intent to tackle immigration reform.  I’ve not been totally on top of the news cycle since then, but I have sampled some of the conversation on the Right. I was heartened by Cosmoscon’s punctual endorsement of reform.  Charles Krauthammer’s more recent advice, with its retrospective “I told you so,” is a somewhat welcoming if wary analysis.

Yet, many other conservatives are beside themselves with complaints and grief.  They charge fellow Republicans with foolhardy electoral panic and lament the Charlie Brown naivete of working with Democrats.  In the worst instances, they let loose a cry of RINO–Republican In Name Only–against anyone they want to dismiss as spineless or traitorous.  For any conservative so tempted, do the rest of us a favor.  Vent your frustrations in private.  Try screaming into a thick pillow.  Such name calling has no place in a party of winners.

No one doubts the need for immigration reform.  But the rub lies in the long-running tension between enforcement and “amnesty.”  The National Review’s John O’Sullivan warns Republicans that amnesty would mean decades of Democratic domination.  He wants conservatives to realize that Hispanics vote Democrat for socioeconomic reasons rather than out of ethnic solidarity.  Although an astute observation, it’s only relevant if the proposed reform would result in illegal immigrants readily gaining citizenship.  But since it includes caveats like sending illegals to the back of multiple lines, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Besides, O’Sullivan is working with a straw man.  Who in the GOP is actually contending that bipartisan reform will automatically garner Hispanic votes?

Victor Davis Hanson, also at National Review, lodges his own reform reservations.  He observes that “special interests” (hardly ever an actually helpful term) are too entrenched, whether they be liberal activists working in identity politics or business owners dependent on abusively cheap labor.  As he sees it, committed liberals will never budge for a fence or strict enforcement.  But there’s little reason to think Republicans won’t be able to leverage public support for sensible enforcement measures.  At least as long as any would-be Todd Akins of immigration keep away from the media.  Quick, someone check Tom Tancredo’s whereabouts.

Looming above all this are the career prospects for that shiniest senator of the Gang of Eight, Republican Marco Rubio.  Immigration will figure into his Tuesday response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.  From what I can tell, he won’t fizzle like Bobby Jindal did a few years back.  Rubio seemed to acquit himself well in an interview with the Weekly Standard this past week.

Whether he acknowledges it or not, Senator Rubio remains a very decent prospect for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Maybe a time will come to grill him on his record.  But for now I’d encourage you to channel those prosecutorial energies into Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project.  Consider its effort to defeat a Republican primary candidate who once declared evolution and the big bang to be “from the pit of Hell.” I suspect this puts Rubio’s “I’m not a scientist, man” comment in a slightly better light.  Such a clear-eyed initiative buoys the conservative hope that leaders of Rubio’s vintage will get better with age.  All the more reason for Republican purists to put down their RINO guns.

Let’s get real about immigration. That 11 million people live a shadow existence in America is inhumane to them, dangerous to us all, and completely unsustainable. No conservative wants an “amnesty” like the ill-considered 1986 reform signed by President Reagan. If it comes down to it, we can deal with President Obama’s obstinate political wrangling when we cross that bridge. Until then, let’s show America what good bipartisanship is made of.

The Low Info Express

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Happy New Year!  We’ve gone over the fiscal cliff, thanks to the capable leadership of President Barack Obama.  It was just a tiny pipe dream when Democratic senator Patty Murray urged it a couple of months ago.  Now, it’s a reality.

Republicans have been pretty miserable in the midst of this journey.  Fingers have been pointed at Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.  But who could blame them when the real problem is the weight of public opinion?  Polls showing the public blaming Republicans more than the White House tell us all we need to know.

Among conservatives, the calls for more backbone and a greater articulation of ideas continue.  But Democrats will maintain leverage as long as “low information voters” are in their corner.  They’ve got the bully pulpit and the media.  Meanwhile, the majority of  Americans continue to be concerned with less . . . pressing things.  How can conservatives rally to get America out of its bind?

I was inspired by the simplicity of a book I received as a gift over Christmas: Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl.  If you’ve followed this blog you know that I freely mix politics and apologetics.  I’m not a fan of preaching to the choir, or of drawing out the secret army of people who think like me.  Rather, I take the long view in hoping to persuade others as to their basic beliefs.

As you can surmise from the title, Tactics is primarily about having discussions with others.  What’s striking about Greg Koukl’s approach is that the goal is modest.  When he engages someone in conversation, he’s not out to completely change their views in a half hour.  Rather, he wants to jump start their thought process, or put a stone in their shoe, as he so often says.  After all, most people have not sat down and thought through their most basic beliefs.

Whether it’s politics or religion, the majority of folks are not staunchly rooted in one camp of belief, but are just content to go along for the ride.  Epitomizing these are the low information voters who ushered in President Obama’s second term with all its fallout.

The long slog that conservatives should embrace is the everyday task of gently questioning their neighbors’ assumptions.  This is something that comes on all fronts, from the messages of movies watched and songs listened to, to expectations of government and understandings of human nature.  It helps to be studied up on history and statistics, but even someone with incomplete knowledge, when armed with the right outlook and simple tools of logic, can make a real difference.

On this New Year’s Day, I’d like to propose a toast for a more carefully thought-through 2013.

Return of Taxosaurus Rex

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I was compelled to illustrate some sort of combed-over neck-biting dinosaur after I heard my local morning commute talk host share this bit of candor from Chris Matthews.

To break it down: after a Republican House member tells the difficulties of the fiscal cliff negotiations and of his own hope for comprehensive tax reform, Chris Matthews rebuffs with what amounts to a lurid confession of his own gut feeling.  He motions with clawed finger at his own neck and speaks of his fellow liberals, “they want to see the bite mark on your neck” and “they want to know that you guys defending the rich have paid a price.”

This post-election bloodlust is entirely consistent with what we saw in the 2012 campaign.  From the White House on down, the Left has little regard for the fiscal or cultural health of the country.  Rather, the fires of antipathy must be continually stoked, against the Tea Party, against outmoded geezers pointing to the original meaning of the Constitution, against anyone who would stop the feel good parade that happily coincides with Democratic politicians’ hunger for influence and power.

Please remember this the next time some distasteful news come out of Washington: Conservatives, through the Republican party, want to put an end to this gross manipulation.  Honestly, rolling government spending back to manageable levels does not stem from a desire to bite the neck of food stamp recipients.

Liberals like Matthews would rather keep afloat the long-failed fantasy of big government activism.  Enough elites are sympathetic to this vision to keep it from dying its natural death.  And as long as that is the case, we will all continue to be hurt by the avenging claws of Taxosaurus Rex.

Political prudence for the GOP

It’s been almost two weeks now since the Great Disappointment of 2012.  In 1844, the Millerites were let down in their expectation of divine deliverance.  With the wailing and self-flagellation of some after Romney’s 2012 defeat, one could be forgiven for thinking an event of similar cosmic significance had transpired.

To be sure, there is much to talk about.  And I myself have had some hearty discussions or else tracked the ongoing conversation.  This time of ferment offers a fresh opportunity to applaud realistic thinking as well as call out and smack down the sillier and more destructive ideas.

Two or three days after election, I came across one of the self-flagellation pieces on American Thinker.  The article looks back to the GOP’s post-Gingrich Revolution profligacy.  It seems the author is laying some significant portion of the election blame there.  But these transgressions happened an eternity ago on the political timescale.  It’s a little hard to imagine any number of voters bemoaning Trent Lott’s appropriation decisions from 17 years ago.

Yet the idea persists that Republicans are still suffering from the veto of off-put fiscal purists.  Michael Medved counters this notion with a rhetorical image: where is this mythical army of conservative voters who are withholding for the right candidate?  Only 40% of the country identifies as conservative, and we pretty well turned them out this last time.  The decisive work ahead lies not in squeezing an elusive reservoir of more conservatives but winning more moderates in the middle.  The numbers bear this out.

Meanwhile, a piece from Forbes offers a different message: this latest defeat is a chance to shake free of Karl Rove and the Bush II cadre.  Per the commentary, its high time for true Reaganites, in the Jack Kemp mold, to climb back to power.  I’m not really knowledgeable on the comparative schools of GOP politicos, but I took the editorial with a grain of salt.  Just think of Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”  Certainly, there’s room to criticize of our fellow partisans, but we ought to be wary of taking away such a simplistic narrative.  And we need to watch out for the damage that comes from publicly airing our internecine struggles.

Reading articles is nice, but one doesn’t even have to look that far to examine a slice of the conservative movement.  There’s Twitter for that.  And a lot of what has been floating in the past few days is junk.  There is the talk of secession.  Just dumb.  Neither is a dire outlook of the Republican brand appropriate.  And please, let’s suffer no more talk of RINOs.  This kind of sourness doesn’t help grow the party.  But to Twitter conservatives’ credit, folks seem to be on the ball in registering their disdain for unelectable candidates like Todd Akin.  If anyone needs to be kicked out, it’s brand-destroyers of that vein.

A bright spot in the post-election conservation is Daniel Henninger’s deconstruction of the Obama victory.  He has exposed the repulsive shape of future campaigns that Democrats have pioneered.  It will be in your face, all the time, and begging for every last penny.  Democrats, drawing on the progressive obsession with number-crunching technocratic solutions, have perfected the division and manipulation of the voting populace.

The rank and file of the GOP is too idealistic by comparison.  We’re always waxing about “articulating ideas.”  But I know we have some unsavory electorate-dicing operatives among us; or at least, we ought to.  We need them to act with the resources and range of their Democratic counterparts.

One more take away from post-election discussion comes from Michael Medved.  Per his recent piece, the key to Obama’s reelection victory was voter suppression.  You read that right.  Not Black Panther intimidation or tampering with ballots, though that surely happened too.  The winning strategy was deeply cynical: turn off swing voters, and push your base to the polls at all costs.  There’s nothing magical we can’t replicate there.

I think the GOP definitely has the ability to turn things around in the next few elections.  But even if you disagree, I would implore you to hold the myopic moping, conspiracy theories and intra-partisan vitriol.  Don’t spoil the hunt for the rest of us; too much is at stake.

Obama, Biden inspect “ships that go underwater”

Monday night’s foreign policy debate only continues the existing trend.  Mitt Romney came off as measured, composed, and presidential, while President Barack Obama, pressing with a desperate and full bore attack, looked a little more petty and a little less presidential.

The horses and bayonets dig has backfired, now that folks from Chuck Todd to Tim Cotton have attested to the utility of those helps in modern warfare.

What really got me though was the part about “ships that go underwater.”  Our Commander-in-Chief was by a magnitude of order too self-satisfied in letting off that salvo.  He sounded like he really thought he was talking to a five year old.

A pundit with some military smarts was quick to inform that submarines are referred to in the American Navy as “boats,” not “ships” as the President claimed.  Oh well, what could we expect from a President who doesn’t know how essential bayonets are to the Marine “Corpse?”

Queasy conquistadors

On Wednesday, news broke that a suspect was arrested for plotting to blow up the Federal Reserve in New York.  At first, some political junkies (or maybe just Brian Ross) were asking themselves, was it possibly a deranged gold standard libertarian?  It didn’t take long to learn it was a 20 year old Muslim man who had come to study from Bangladesh.  He identified himself with Al Qaeda.

The way that media and the cultural establishment treat violent Islamic jihad resembles some sort of awkward charades, or maybe musical chairs.  Let it be said here not all Muslims are violent or threatening.  Neither are all acts of jihad, if the term is to be properly understood.  But the relationship between Islam, jihad, and terrorism is another front of America’s culture war that needs work.

It would be nice if our thought leaders–media, politicians, academics–could talk openly about a very real force at war with us, without secretly fearing they’ll have caused some back woods deer hunter to go out and commit a hate crime.  Laura Logan, the CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square last year, and has now called attention to Al Qaeda’s significant Afghan resurgence, seems to be one exemplar uncowed by political correctness.

But for the most part, what we are getting from the influential echelons amounts to denial.  The consequence of a life trajectory totally sheltered by this denial is clear: we get a president and an administration that neglects major world threats, seeing places as friendlier than they really are.  Perhaps it’s quick to judge, but this denial seems a direct contributor to the loss of a uniquely skilled ambassador and three dedicated American personnel at Benghazi.

We don’t have to commit ourselves against a sovereign nation, or a people, but we do need to combat the idea that mobilizes terrorists.  This is something the liberal, progressive worldview–which informs so deeply the Obama administration–can’t do.  The cultural impulses of tolerance and relativism translate into a desire to not offend.  Recall the $70,000 the State Department spent in Pakistan denouncing The Innocence of Muslims, or the timely optics of authorities arresting the film’s creator for a less-than-critical parole offense.  A misdirected attitude of insecurity undermines our current efforts to confront violent Islamism.

While we have the cultural and political Left at the reigns, we have the worst of both worlds.  We’re perceived as cruel imperialists and conquerors, but in reality we lack the benefit of fire in the belly.  Rather, we’re queasy and uncertain.

As I heard the news of the man who plotted to bomb the Fed, I thought of an inverse analogy.  Five centuries ago, technologically and organizationally superior European explorers set forth, confounding and conquering populations they came across.  Now, many see much of the Islamic world as stuck in an earlier time.  But it is they who confound the advanced West today.  Effete and paralyzed by existential anxiety, the descendants of the conquistadors have become queasy, unable to seriously countenance the brutality that has reliably characterized human existence.

Folks like Mark Steyn make gobs of money selling this gloomy narrative.  Nothing wrong with that.  Yet, I can’t help but want to turn the page on this tragic story.  It happens that there is a leader who’s ready to move forward with a full-throated restoration of our moral authority.  He wrote a book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.  The timing couldn’t be better; you can vote him president on November 6.

The Romney dividend

The Presidential debates are three-quarters of the way through, and all sides are bracing for Monday’s foreign policy clash in Boca Raton.  A lot has happened since the transformative first debate on October 3.  The election is far from over, but at the moment the likeliest candidate for the mythic “October surprise” is Mitt Romney himself.

The governor’s numbers have improved on several fronts this month.  His likeability ratings are above water for the first time, showing an ability to beat back this Summer’s flood of negative ads and spin from the Obama campaign.  On October 17, Gallup had Romney besting Obama by seven points (+7) among likely voters nationally.  And looking at recent electoral map changes, it’s obvious President Obama’s September swing state advantage has effectively evaporated.  RealClearPolitics’s electoral projection even broke in Romney’s favor for the first time this cycle.

What impact will the vice presidential and second presidential debates have on the polls? One might conclude that Romney’s momentum has dissipated upon meeting renewed energy in Obama’s executive.  Biden and the president brought vigor to their exchanges, garnering an arguable draw and an arguable win respectively.  But the take away from these middle two contests won’t help their ticket.

More likely to be remembered than any policy point ticked off were the impressions of character: Biden’s dismissive, cartoonish grin and Obama’s finger-pointing truculence.  Yes, Romney was a fighter in round two too.  But aggression comes off better from the challenger than the incumbent, who should be cheerfully defending a good record.  Through three debates now, the Obama presidential ticket has looked unpresidential.

Meanwhile, Romney has benefited from exceeding long-lowered expectations.  He has risen as a sleeper candidate, one who seemed dogged by a failure to galvanize a devoted base in the primaries.  But recalling his GOP rivals–among them Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, and Cain–could we imagine one delivering on the debates with such a combination of discipline and amiability as Romney?  The October boost we’re seeing redounds to the credit of early Romney supporters.  It is the Romney dividend.

In the pivotal October 3 debate, Americans glimpsed a dedicated work horse who knew what to say and when to say it.  But more importantly, they saw an actual human being, not a robot, or some combination of cardboard, wood, and plastic.  The meme of a stiff and aloof Romney will persist as much as Cowboy Bush did among the hard left, and it will be just as untrue.  Still, Aloof Romney will continue to be exploited where the media find it profitable.

But like a raja who parades at the head of a princely procession, Romney has been broadcasting an image of genuine likability, conviction, and competence onto the masses.  This mutual energy between Romney and the electorate was evident at Thursday’s Al Smith dinner, a neutral forum where elites from both sides of the aisle gathered to civilly toast and roast the two candidates.  Romney was very much in his own skin delivering scripted barbs of humor.   The president, while also good, couldn’t help but evince a bit of his trademark professorial unease.  If only for the laughs, it’s worth watching both routines (Romney and Obama).

Surveying the aftermath of October 3, it appears that Mr. Romney is the Happy Warrior and the president is a bit beleaguered.  Of course, the race remains close. But if all goes well, Romney will continue to connect with and persuade voters, capitalizing on a growing desire to send Mr. Obama packing to an early Hawaiian island retirement.

GOP bombs Womenistan

The other day after work I heard a report by Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered.  He was gauging voter sentiment in the swing state of Colorado.  One interviewee who made the cut was a female business owner.  She expressed her indecision thusly (emphasis mine):

“I don’t know that I can, in good conscience, vote for the Republican Party. I mean, it just – it seems to me that they don’t think much of women. But I don’t know if I can vote for the Democrats, because I don’t know that they think much of small business people. So, you know, the things that I hear from both sides, they do affect me. But there is, you know, it’s like a tug of war at this point. I don’t know who to vote for.”

I wish Ari Shapiro would have had the mind or maybe the time to pursue the vague yet provocative claim that Republicans “don’t think much of women.”  What must GOP women make of this statement?  The real story should be how Democrats’ continue to cobble their coalition with the same shopworn, cartoonish tropes for the past four decades.

It’s my fervent hope that voters such as the woman interviewed will think clearly and come to shake off the manipulative “war on women” narrative when they enter the booth come November.

Dependency and entitlement: whose head stuck in the sand?

The 47% video has highlighted a sharp difference in worldview between conservatives and advocates of fairness/social justice.  The deep outrage we’ve seen within the latter group suggests an unwillingness to accept that entitlement and dependency are real phenomena stemming from human experience.

Just as with Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” snippet, we could get lost in parsing what Mr. Romney meant.  But the stakes are different here.  If Mr. Obama is culpable for his quote, it is more a matter of worldview than of character.  But if Mr. Romney is guilty in the way sensationalists claim, then we must believe that he has a shriveled heart that is little more than a black lump of coal.  This is just absurd given his sacrifices and dedication to family, church, and country.  So we can and ought to dismiss this cartoon version of Romney.

The real question is not whether all of the 47% feel entitled and are dependent, but whether anyone in the group could be characterized as such.  Of course no one really thinks grandma or a worker retired on disability suffer from a sense of entitlement.  But this is precisely the interpretation mainstream journalists have been running with all week.

Such a hard prosecution is one half an insidious double standard.  On the one hand, the commentariat is completely okay suggesting that affluent Mr. Romney is out of touch, doesn’t care or relate to everyday struggles, or even that he wants to “pull the ladder up” behind him.  On the other hand, it’s utterly unthinkable to suggest that even one poor or working class person might be beholden to entitlement or dependency.  Per the dictates of political correctness, to do so would be an unconditional surrender to the worst bias and stigma.

This rule cannot persist.  Lest we go the way of Greece, our public discourse must accommodate some way of talking about these very real problems.  Rich, poor, and middle class folks are created equal in a real sense.  Across the dividing lines, all have intuition and faculties of reason.  The discipline of economics operates on the assumption that we are all rational creatures, agents who, whether consciously or not, respond to incentive.  We couldn’t escape it even if we tried.  Yet, big government politicians and guilt-ridden journalists would rather ditch this common sense understanding of humanity for the comfortable materialist fantasy that they took up at university and never quite abandoned.

There are all sorts of ways to describe the perils of incentive that effect the wide umbrella of welfare and entitlement transfers the federal government offers: rent seeking, moral hazard, tragedy of the commons, crowding out, rising expectations.  People’s behavior changes in response to conditions.  The sputtering, moribund economies of many European social democracies attest to what happens when workers secure the right to too generous a menu of entitlements.

Those who have seized on the 47% comments have highlighted a dangerous state of denial in our country.  Dependency and entitlement are heavy clouds that threaten to burst cultural and economic disaster on us.  The way some react to these words though make it seem as if their heads are stuck in the sand.

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