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Monthly Archives: July 2008

A Summer of War and Politics

July 28th, 2008 - 12:34 pm

Why Do Europeans Love Obama?

Let us count the ways:

1) Obama’s tax code, support of big government programs and redistribution of income, and subservience to UN directives delight the European masses—especially at a time when their own governments are trying to cut taxes, government, seek closer relations with the US, and ask a petulant, pampered public to grow up.

2) He offers Euros a sort of cheap assuagement of guilt—in classic liberal style. When Obama says falsely that he does not look like other Americans who have addressed Germans (cf. Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice who have represented US foreign policy abroad the last 7 years), Europeans feel especially progressive—and therefore need not worry that no one of African ancestry would ever become a European Prime- or Foreign-Minister.

3) Europe is weak militarily and won’t invest in its own defense. But with Obama, they believe the US will subject its enormous military strength to international organizations—usually run by utopian Europeans. So they will play a thinking-man’s Athens to our muscular Rome. They especially lap up Obama’s historical revisionism in which he lectures about the world’s effort to feed Berlin or tear down the communist wall, never the solitary, lonely efforts of a Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan to confront the evils of communism when almost everyone else preferred not to.

4) Style, style, style. Remember socialist Europe is where we get our designer eyeglass frames, Gucci bags, and French fashions. Instead of a strutting, Bible-quoting Texan, replete with southern accent and ‘smoke-em’ out lingo, they get an athletic, young, JFK-ish metrosexual, whose rhetoric is as empty as it is soothing. The English-only Obama lectures America on its need to emulate polyglot Europe; while a Spanish-speaking George Bush is hopelessly cast as a Texas yokel.

5) Obama reassures Europeans that they, not American right-wingers, “won” the classical debates of the 1990s over economics, foreign policy, and government. He is a world citizen, who buys into human-created massive global warming, wind and solar over nuclear and clean coal, high taxes, and cradle-to-grave entitlements, and resentments of the rich. There is a certain European “We told you so” that comes with his election. In short, we elect a world citizen with a European view, and put behind us the embarrassments of a Texan or cowboy actor.

The final irony?

The hated George Bush is still around; Chirac, Schroeder, Villapin et al. are history. Iraq is secure. Iran is becoming isolated. North Korea supposedly is denuked. And America is reassuring a jittery Europe that we will stick by them in a world of bullying Russians and Chinese.

A Modest Prediction

In 5 years, Europeans will prefer George Bush to a “We are right behind you” Obama.

What a difference a year makes!

A little more than a year ago most Americans—and nearly all the Democratic opposition in Congress—opposed the surge of troops into Iraq and Gen. David Petraeus’s change of tactics.

The conventional wisdom after four long years of war was that we were stuck in the middle of a hopeless civil war. There was no American military solution to quell the violence. The Iraq government was not only incompetent, but proof that democratic government itself was incompatible with Middle Eastern culture and religion.

Pundits were advocating trisecting the country into separate Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish enclaves. Our presence in Iraq caused us to have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, while empowering Iran, and helping al Qaedi to gain new recruits in a new theater of operations. Democratic presidential candidates were hammering each other over Iraq and demanding that those who had voted to authorize the invasion apologize for their vote. Barack Obama wanted all American troops out by March 2008.

A New Political Reality

And now? July is closing with the fewest number of American combat fatalities since the war started. There is no civil war. The Maliki government has put down Shiite militias and won back Sunnis into the elected administration, and, as an autonomous and confident government, is in tense negotiations with the US over future basing of American troops. Al Qaeda has been humiliated and routed from Iraq. American troops, versed in counterinsurgency, are being redeployed to Afghanistan to reapply what worked against jihadists in Iraq. Iranian-backed militias are being disbanded or have fled back into Iran. The additional surge troops are now out of Iraq. Democratic opponents suddenly concede that the withdrawal of American troops should be predicated on conditions on the ground. Anti-war activists critique Iraq more as a possibly successful war not worth the human and material costs rather than an effort long ago lost.

What Happened?

So what happened in the last twelve months to cause such a radical turn-about in Iraq and here at home? The surge added some needed troops, but more importantly sent the symbolic message that the United States was not leaving, but determined—militarily—to defeat terrorists and give the Iraqi government critical time to consolidate its authority.

The so-called Anbar awakening in which Sunni tribal leaders turned on al Qaeda and joined forces with us was not caused directly by the surge, but would have failed without the confidence more Americans were on the way to support their fight against al Qaeda. Americans began to turn from counter-terrorism to counterinsurgency tactics that meant dispersing combat troops out of compounds and into Iraqi neighborhoods where they could protect Iraqis who resisted terrorism.


Don’t Forget …

Two critical developments are relatively unappreciated, but likewise proved critical. The first was the continual growth and improvement in the Iraqi security forces that now include many veteran units that have learned to confront and defeat terrorists.

Second, between 2003-7 American forces took an enormous toll on jihadists. We have heard mostly how many Americans have been lost, rarely how many of the enemy they have killed or wounded—but the aggregate number is in the tens of thousands. Even in postmodern wars, there are finite numbers of skilled combatants—and many of them simply did not survive their encounter with American troops.

Nothing New

None of this volatility is new in American military history. The American Revolutionary War ebbed and flowed for nine years, variously pronounced won, lost, and won again. The Union thought it had won, then had lost, and finally won the Civil War during the last 16 months of the conflict. The Philippine insurrection, in various phases, lasted 14 years, often praised as won and condemned as lost. No war was more mercurial than the Korean between 1950-53, in which the American public was convinced the war was hopeless before it ended in1953 with the preservation of South Korea.

In most of these struggles, the efforts of just a few rare individuals—a Washington, Grant, Sherman, Ridgway—proved crucial. We remember their names, not the thousands of pundits who declared them incompetent and their wars lost. Long after a Seymour Hersh, Moveon.org, Code Pink, Cindy Sheehan, Harry Reid and others are forgotten, Americans will still remember what David Petraeus did for our country. Amen to that!

Our Many Messiahs

July 22nd, 2008 - 12:46 pm

The Energy Wake-up

The more we size up the current energy crisis, the more it seems like we are waking up from a long coma. Yet it turns out that even in our decline we still pump 8 or so million of our 20 million plus imported barrel daily appetite. We have some of the world’s largest deposits of coal, tar sands, and shale. We could get another 5 million barrels per-day off our coasts, off the continental shelf, and in ANWR. And we still are the world’s largest nuclear producer, and could produce 50% of our energy with such clean power plants. Wind and solar will help, especially as in the Pickens’ plan to divert natural gas and/or propane to transportation. Our engineers are the best in crafting enhanced conservation in our homes and cars, and the country is mobilizing to stop the annual trillion dollar wound.

The point? That for all Al Gore’s notion that we will soon be plugging our battery-powered caterpillars and semis into wind-generated electrical sockets at night, the future is still not, well, that bleak. I think if we use ALL our resources, and don’t fall into Gorish fundamentalism, we could cut 14 million barrels of daily imported oil within 15 years through conservation, flex-fuels, natural-gas and electric cars, oil, coal, tar sands, shale, nuclear, wind, solar, and geothermal. Like Obama, though, with Gore it’s a certain pie-in-the-sky liberal fundamentalism from the 1960s: you are either for the apocalyptic vision of current greed and the need for massive government planning, or you are a hopeless naïf.

The Demonization of Oil

I have written for some five years critically of our dependence on oil from the Middle East in general, and particularly the huge cost of buying it from odious regimes. That said, oil per se, like it or not, was the linchpin of the huge creation in American wealth the last fifty years. Oil won WWII (had we not had it, we would have lost). Oil gave us comfortable homes and easy transportation. Oil was relatively clean-burning, easily refined, and a high-powered energy. The recent notion that it somehow heated up the planet and ruined the environment and is thus toxic can only be made by those such as Gore who continue to rationalize their own serial reliance on private, oil-derivative fired jets, and huge waiting SUVs at the tarmac.

The Iraqification of Obama

Irony: Obama opposes the surge, insists its various manifestations were irrelevant to the cessation of most violence in Iraq, and is now, as senior statement in Iraq, safely traveling due to changed conditions, and promoting its benefits—even as the Maliki government (18 months ago on the ropes and desperate for a stubborn George Bush to rescue his country when his own Shiite-dominated security forces could not) compliments Obama on their shared strategy. I wrote a lot of columns predicting, and spoke to a few Democrats in Congress suggesting, that one day wise Democrats would reinvent themselves as saviors of Iraq along the following lines: our principled criticism of “their” war led to necessary changes, which, due to “our” constant vigilance, forced “them” to get out at a pace “we” always advocated.

The Obama enigma

Listening to a rare extemporaneous moment of his, I was struck not that Obama is hesitant, ill-informed, and unsure, but that he sounds exactly like one who had little national experience and drew largely from the echo-chamber of Harvard, Chicago, and Trinity for his world view—no better, no worse.

But one enigma. When one reads about hostile populations in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the West Bank, and Venezuela all rooting for Obama, it seems to be predicated on the notion that, given their impression of his background and career thus far, he will radically alter the course of American foreign policy and at home turn us toward the world’s accepted model of European socialism. Thus the 64K question arises if he is elected: will our belligerents cease their animus, given that we are devolving to their worldview, or is their hatred such that they will sense weakness and try to exploit even Obama’s rehabilitated America. (That’s a rhetorical question, since the answer I think is clearly the latter.)

Obama in Ambar [from the NRO Corner this morning]

The more a coy Obama speaks to enthusiastic crowds and gives soundbites and photo-ops to slavish reporters, the more everyone wants more of a piece of him, especially in interviews and press conferences.

But the more he dispenses his impromptu wisdom, the more he sounds like, well, a rookie senator whose collective experience derives from the utopianism of the Harvard Law Review, the gravy-train of Chicago entitlement politics, and the world view of Trinity Church.

Yet, the more his handlers treat him like fossilized amber, the less experience he gains, guaranteeing that on almost every rare ex tempore moment he will suggest something that doesn’t compute—that he might be president for 10 years, or that we need a civilian version of the Pentagon with the same $500 billion annual budget, or that someone like a Centcom commander like Petraeus doesn’t have his strategic comprehensive view, or that the Anbar awakening and the Surge were not, at least in part, connected (as if the signal that we were not pulling out, [as Obama advocated] or that we were changing tactics to ensure the safety of those in the neighborhoods who would help us, did not reassure tired Sunnis to join with us in expelling al Qaeda.)

For someone who has made the case that Bush in general is responsible for everything from the mortgage to energy crises, it’s jarring to hear such particularism and contextualization about the Surge’s irrelevance.

Summer Madness

July 17th, 2008 - 10:37 am

“This is our ethanol”

So an exasperated Sen. Barbara Boxer screams that the farm-belt senators better support her regional selfishness in opposing California off-shore drilling against the national interest, in the same manner she went along with the ethanol boondoggle. Odd that she was so brazen in her confessional.

Jackson’s N-word

I give some credit to Barack Obama. His ‘hope and change’ mantra drives some to near madness and has proved a wrecking ball of liberal careers. First, in 90 days he destroyed the Clinton political machine, leaving Bill’s past 7-year effort at PC rehabilitation, after Monica and the pardons, in shambles. Now his success has enraged Jackson to the point of making a fool of himself and, once more, revealing himself as a hypocrite as well— and all but marks the end of that demagogue’s pernicious career of professional victimization as a shake-down artist.

Central California Haze

Some of the worst air experienced in my life (right up there with 1970s Athens and Cairo) lingers over the San Joaquin Valley this summer, all of it brought on by ocean winds that blew in coastal forest fire smoke from the central coast, along with a few nearby foothill and Sierra blazes. But for all the health alerts, there is oddly not a word about the ensuing carbon footprint, and the heat and soot destroying the environment.

I think we have more ash in the air than what a coal plant in Fresno would have produced in 20 years. And yet no one is talking about better forest management and the culling of trees and brush, or the need to store more water in new or heightened dams.

In the same manner that black-on-black violence does not earn the liberal outcry that the much rarer white-on-black violence garners, in the same manner that a “Men Working” sign is proof of pernicious sexism in a way that global female circumcision and honor killings are not, so too when nature proves a horrendous polluter, soot and ash are not soot and ash—but a logical byproduct of nature dealing with forest overgrowth, and a much needed refurbishing of floral ecosystems.

VP

McCain has certain requisites: the VP must be younger, more vigorous, have executive gubernatorial experience, know a great deal about the economy, be previously vetted and cross-examined, be more conservative and appeal to the base, be a proven campaigner without propensity to say silly things, have fundraising appeal and/or access to capital. If one were to collate all that with what’s on the shelf, then Romney seems the only likely choice.

Hillary snoozing but coiled

I think Hillary is still coiled. Given Obama’s sudden out-of-the-blue pronouncements, he is one “typical white person” slur or “clingers” rant away from jeopardizing the nomination. So she sits ready to strike, if he flubs up before the convention and terrifies his fund-raising base. One line can be lethal. Ford lost an election over his implication that communist Eastern Europe was free. Kerry’s “I was for it before I was against it” mish-mash doomed him. Carter’s loss of his inordinate fear of communism came back to haunt him in the 1980 election.

Hope and Change

To the degree Obama can call for “hope and change” in front of huge crowds in teleprompted set cadences, he will win; to the degree he at last must debate, do town halls, and do tough interviews, he will lose.

Who wouldn’t be for hope and change given the dismal news about the anemic dollar, the two wars, the huge trade deficits, the mortgage crisis, and so on?

But the problem with Obama’s relief package is that it seems to make things worse not better. Why pull out of Iraq now when a stable government is in sight and US casualties have nosedived? A trillion in new taxes to fund a trillion in new entitlements is not going to reduce the annual deficit, but it will stifle economic growth. In times of slow growth, the idea that we would raise simultaneously income, payroll, capital gains, and inheritance taxes makes no sense. More “oppression studies” and ethnic theme charter high schools are exactly what we don’t need for our undereducated youth—unless one thinks more therapy and less knowledge-based learning will save our students.

More competition and personal responsibility and initiative, not more centralized government control, is essential to reduce health care costs. As for NAFTA, FISA, gun control, campaign financing reform, capial punishment, late-term abortions, etc. you figure out what Sen. Obama wants, since I cannot. As far as bipartisanship, McCain has the record (ask his furious conservative base), Obama the rhetoric.

No blood for what?

One of the strangest things about the antiwar opposition is the charge that the Iraq war caused the oil price explosion. I say strange, since heretofore the Left had argued that we went into Iraq to guarantee cheap oil!

But more to the point, the supply of oil has not decreased since 2003, but grown by about 5 million per day. Even Iraqi oil is now in greater supply than before the war. The most likely culprit is instead increased demand—fueled by the growing appetites of India and China over the last five years, the global economic expansion and its need for energy, and traders’ perceptions that US demand would always increase while our production would continue to decrease. From time to time, incidents in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, or Iran can spike prices, but the rise was due to more fundamental problems.

Note as Iraq quiets down and its government stabilizes, there will not be a corresponding decline in oil prices on the theory the region is stable.

ANWR

There are a number of reasons to drill in ANWR:

1) The logic of “it only might provide a million barrels a day” is flawed when we beg the Saudis to pump another 300,000 to calm markets that are jittery and deal often in symbolism. The US willingness to drill there and add another million to the global pot would reverse the present psychology that we will always use more and ask the world to provide us with the increase.

2) “It will take ten years.” Such a reductionist answer could be applied to every liberal nostrum from global warming to solar and wind. The point is that should we start now on solar, wind, ANWR, coastal and shelf drilling, tar sands, shale, coal, nuclear, so that very soon each year, each new asset will kick in and soon we won’t have a nearly trillion dollar foreign energy bill. At some point do we have any national pride–giving away $140 a barrel to those who hate us and who pump it at $5 a barrel and who did not find or develop it?

3) We need to cease our hypocrisy in which we won’t drill for environmental reasons that only puts increased pressures on those who will for money and with absolute no concern about the global environment. And we should drill as much as possible both to collapse the world price and help the poor here, as well in Africa and Latin America, and to ensure that as much oil as possible is extracted under American environmentally sound practices.

4) At $140 a barrel, a million barrels per day will add, at a time of reoccurring economic difficulty, well over $50 billion to the nation’s economy each year.

Anonymous nonsense

I have often been the target of Michael Scheuer, the former CIA analyst, and author of Imperial Hubris. In his latest blast, he includes me with a list of those who he claims have “dual loyalties” to the United States, and suggests that writing for National Review and the Wall Street Journal is typical of a “fifth column” who in traitorous fashion have essentially sold out the interest of the United States on behalf of Israel. I didn’t know that I had become an Israeli stooge out in the country, 20 miles south of Fresno, not exactly known as a hotbed of Zionist activity.

Those are serious charges, and Scheuer, of course, can adduce no proof to substantiate them other than my past support, along with tens of millions of other Americans, for existing U.S. policy to support the democratic state of Israel, since it is in our political, ethical, and historical self-interest (and, remember, simultaneously we give about the same number of billions in aggregrate to Jordan, Egypt and until recently the Palestinians.) But then I have been for years confused by Scheuer’s creepiness. I could not fathom how an active CIA analyst was allowed to write a tell-all book, while on the job, damning his own government, with sometimes anonymous sources, and, in Joe-Klein-fashion, under the pseudonym “Anonymous.” I have some regrets in this life, but not signing my own name to my own work is not one of them.

But even more confusing are Scheuer’s amazing statements over the years that Al Qaeda is not a terrorist organization, that its grievances are understandable and center on Israel, that “Iraq is finished” (as in failed), and, most reprehensibly, that “the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability (sic) to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust.”

He was once delegated to find and take care of bin Laden; and then wrote books blaming almost everyone else for the subsequent failure. Al Qaeda and Iraq were once linked, we were told, and then after the invasion, of course not. And on and on and on with the same old, same old tired trope since 9/11 that everyone is a fool except Scheuer. He ended up hating his doppelgänger Richard Clark— which made perfect sense given that their “they did it, not me” modus operandi, inability to stop or hunt down terrorists, and subsequent celebrity careers dovetailed.

The Long Hot Summer

July 12th, 2008 - 9:08 pm

McCain, where art thou?

The good news is that the so-called Newsweek poll went from having McCain 15 points down to just 3. That said, McCain is going to have to focus his campaign on just 3-4 themes, and then sharpen them, simplify them, and contrast them with Obama. E.g…

The War: Our aims are victory, and we will leave each region of Iraq as our victory on the ground allows us to turn another province over to Iraqi security forces. While my opponent Senator Obama flips and flops to match the polls, I am constant in my views—Iraq is winnable and the surge is working to an astonishing degree. That’s why the Iraqi democracy is stabilizing and reclaiming control from the terrorists. My opponent wanted all US troops out by March 2008 which would have led to our defeat five months ago and the victory of al Qaeda.

Money: Tax cuts led to greater aggregate revenues. Deficits grew due to uncontrolled federal spending. I’ll keep the money-earning tax stimuli and cut spending; my opponent will raise taxes that will stifle economic growth and cut our income, and yet spend even more money on dubious expanded federal entitlements, as our deficits grow even larger.

Energy: I’m as much for wind, solar, and conservation as Barack Obama. But for now at present rates of consumption and production, we will go bankrupt in the transition to green energy. So I will drill off the coast, develop tar sands and shale, use clean coal, and build more refineries and nuclear power plants to ensure that we don’t keep sending trillions to our enemies, that we don’t leave our poor without transportation and heating, that we don’t allow sloppy foreign state energy companies to pollute the planet, and that we don’t bankrupt our treasury. My opponent is captive to radical environmentalists whose restrictive policies helped to get us into this mess; he’ll talk about green power, as we go broke and run out fuel listening.

Illegal Immigration: We can talk all we want about “comprehensive immigration reform” but it won’t matter if we don’t close the border—now. I will; my opponent won’t. Close the border now, and all the contentious issues—amnesty, guest workers, fines and deportation—can be dealt with as the pool of illegal aliens shrinks rather grows.

Tony Snow, rip…

In 2003 I was the visiting Shifrin Professor at the US Naval Academy, and did a few Sunday morning appearances and other things with Tony Snow in the DC Fox studio. I remember how he came in with cut-offs and a tie and coat above for the camera, with an infectious laugh and aw shucks persona. I liked him a lot, and later did his radio show a few times, and saw him at some DC events. The chorus that he was “a nice guy” is exactly the impression I got every time. But one thing I noticed was that he had an excellent memory and could remember the exact details of our past conversations despite months in-between.

His decision to lecture nonstop while very very sick to take care of his family reminds me of Grant with throat cancer refusing opiates so that he could finish his memoirs (after the disastrous collapse of Grant and Ward that bankrupted him). He did just that and the royalties kept his family going years after Grant died (remember the sad photo of Grant under a blanket writing furiously at Mount MacGregor).

Nothing is more demanding than the lecture circuit (up at 5 AM to fly 9 hrs in and out airports, the mandatory pre-talk dinner, the lecture, the hostile questions, the media interview, and often the next day teaching a class or additional meetings, and then the travel back [I’d rather disk on a Massey for 14 hrs in the summer than fly to NY for a university lecture and fly back]). How Snow kept at with metastasized colon cancer and radiation/chemotherapy is almost inexplicable.

In the last two (wierdly bad) years, I’ve had a ruptured appendix and the resulting mess taken out on a wooden table in a Red Crescent clinic in Libya, , and subsequent peritonitis, and another operation for kidney stones, in addition to passing 5-6 jagged stones in the last 12 months and having 15 root canals and crowns since December in an effort to save my teeth (apparently soft teeth connected with the stone-making), all the while speaking about 35 times out-of-state per year. On bad days, I would often think of Snow and realize how minor my own ailments were in comparison–and again wonder how he did it.

Drilling is the thing

Almost every argument against more drilling, shale, tar sands, etc. is a loser in political terms. Saying it will take “10 years” and therefore not worth it is equally applicable to claiming cutting carbon emissions will take “20 years” and therefore silly. The notion that ANWR will only shave off a few cents from the price of a gallon of gas is equally bankrupt given the multifarious sources–coast, continental shelf, shale, etc.–we could draw upon for another million barrels a day each. And “we can’t drill our way out of it” is equally stupid, since no one is advocating increased production in a vacuum–but rather concurrent conservation, wind and solar, electric cars etc. Drilling is a transitional solution to get us to new energies without going bankrupt and empowering our enemies.

This is an explosive political issue–”To Drill or Not to Drill—that is the question!”
I wonder…

1. When universities open their for-profit, cash-garnering campuses in the oil-rich Middle East, do they extend their “oppression studies” curriculum as well. I mean does a Saudi petroleum engineering major, like his American counterpart, take a gender studies requirement, mutatis mutandis, learning how his gender-apartheid society harms women? Do Dubai pre-medical students in US overseas campuses learn about the evils of slavery in an African-experience course, especially how 11 million African slaves were shipped to the Arab, Muslim world? Or is such instruction left behind at the American shore, money trumping the gospel of multi-culturalism? If you think about it, a certain sort of truth emerges—that such oppression studies are felt even by those who peddle them to be unserious, since they wouldn’t dare offer them to those who in theory might need them the most. Business trumps PC?

2. How many of Barack Obama prescriptions for a better America apply to himself? Does he live a healthy lifestyle of the sort he advocates for the rest of us? A cold home, no SUV , smaller portions of food (smoking is a taboo subject)? Does he speak Spanish as the rest of us are supposed to? Is he multilingual, speaking French in Paris, Italian in Rome? Or is he simply glib, sputtering two words of French as he castigates Americans with the typical stereotypes, the notion that the Ivy Leaguer need not speak foreign languages since elite liberalism is in itself a sort of annoited creed that exempts its adherents from living the life one advocates for others?

3. How many celebrity spokespeople for environmental causes, whether an Al Gore or Laurie David or various English rock-stars, have made a pledge not to fly on private jets, live in homes larger than 3000 square feet, or drive Lexus, Mercedes or Volvo SUVs?

I could go on and on, but we all get the picture. The problem this time is that while Obama is very much a condescending Kerry redux, the Bush problem, the Congressional Republican collapse, and Obama’s racial transcendence rhetoric give him advantages Kerry never had.

Good and Bad Times

July 8th, 2008 - 9:01 pm

General Betray Us?

Obama said not a word last autumn about the Moveon.org slander of Gen. Petraeus when he was running hard left of Clinton and the Moveon.org crowd was essential to his candidacy. But now? After West Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, etc. he realizes two things: there are no longer any rivals to the left, but quite a lot to the right who are turned off by him. So Moveon.org goes the way of Rev. Wright, while his grandmother, the flag lapel, guns, death penalty, Iraq, FISA, and NAFTA climb back on the bus—until he is elected (when some go back off and others get to climb on again).

A Time for Reflection

News today that al Qaeda is now reeling even in Mosul, their last stronghold, should make us all stop and ponder. For all the talk of a worn-out military, a cruel Pentagon that treats its veterans poorly, and the general Democratic notion of our soldiers as victims of an immoral war and brutal militarism, a few thousand Americans, with vast odds against them, have nearly crushed Islamic fundamentalists, won the hearts and minds of Arab Muslims in the ancient caliphate, stabilized a constitutional government, and silenced their critics here at home and abroad. The American expeditionary army and marines in Iraq, and its commander David Petraeus, surely must be regarded as one of the most capable militaries in recent memory—all to the relative silence in our mainstream newspapers, network news, and opinion journalists.

Such a strange age…

The country goes into a fevered state over whether there was or was not yellowcake for sale to Saddam down in Niger. The result is that a Special Prosecutor—charged with finding out who leaked the name of a CIA employee as retaliation for her husband’s (wrong) finding that Niger did not wish to sell yellowcake—knew who leaked Ms. Plame’s identity, and knew that she was not a covert agent anyway. Instead Prosecutor Fitzgerald indicts someone else—who happens to be the real target of a hysterical Washington media. Meanwhile with no more than a tsk, tsk, we learn that 1.2 million pounds of Saddam’s yellowcake have been sitting all the time in storage in Iraq, and are now quietly sold off to the Canadians. Dispute over a few ounces of yellowcake in Africa tie up DC for a year, while tons of the stuff sit quitely in Iraq in leaky drums.

No, it is a crazy age…

Worried about Congressional rankings in the single digits, Democratic Senators and Congress people are parading out to news conferences to assure us that “we can’t drill our way out of this energy crisis” (who said we could?), and that what little oil we would find off our coasts (no mention of the natural gas) would “take ten years” and only shave “pennies” off a gallon of gas.
Examine the logic: we don’t develop these resources because of the time lag? But isn’t there a time lag in creating a viable electric battery, a hydrogen car, solar and wind farms, a new nuclear plant? And the logic is puerile: we simply freeze and assume a fetal position since the results of our labors are only of long-term use?

As for a “few pennies.” Well, a few pennies here, a few there really do add up. In other words, a million barrels in Anwr, a million off our coasts, a million from tar sands, a million in shale, a million on the continental shelf, a million from conservation and pretty soon we have saved trillions in imported oil costs, and provided the necessary bridge, the critical breathing space for electric cars or flex-fuels, or whatever. No supporter of drilling thinks we are going to return to the days of the gas-powered Yukon and Hummer. But we need to preserve our civilization and not mortgage it to the Arabs, Russians, Iranians, and Venezuelans in the process of going green.

The Messiah

First we were told to be on guard for fainting at Obama rallies. Then we were apprised that his candidacy marked the historic moment when the planet healed and the oceans ceased to rise. Then we were told the convention hall was simply too small for the “people” to listen to the gospel of St. Obama. And now the Germans are asked to give him the traditional Presidential podium in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The strange thing is that the elite Left that has always warned us that hoi polloi are prone to groupthink and frenzied hysteria when hypnotized by mass-appeal rhetoricians.

Global whatever

Now we are lectured that climate change is threatening civilization and we must do this and that. Twenty years ago I remember it was the Aids epidemic that was just about to break out among the heterosexual population in the fashion it had devastated the San Francisco gay community. Thus we needed to quit envisioning the virus as largely specific to gays and IV-drug users, and instead mobilize to protect the entire population from a mass epidemic. A few voices in the wilderness who argued that the mechanisms of so-called normal heterosexual sex (while perhaps conducive in their unprotected modes to all sort of venereal diseases) were nevertheless often different from both the apparent frequency and nature of homosexual sex practices, and very different from the blood exchanges of shared-needles, were derided as either illiberal, homophobic, or unhinged.

The country seems to go through these ‘we are on the brink of extinction’ panics about every 20 years or so. We all remember the 1960s population bomb and how 3-billion-person India would be starved into oblivion by now, or Ronald Reagan’s desire for a nuclear winter (remember the made-for-TV movies about a Reagan-inspired nuclear holocaust), or again the take-over of Japan, Inc. as everything from Rockefellar Center to Pebble Beach was lost to the Yellow Peril. I remember my high-school science teacher lecturing about a global ice-age to come, and we humans going the way of the dinosaurs.

I don’t think our planet overheating in the near future is going to kill off billions, but I wonder whether the entire neglect of energy questions for last 20 years, especially the need to develop shale, tar sands, more clean coal, nuclear, and drilling oil to transition us to cleaner fuels, has nearly bankrupted American civilization. Our dependencies have siphoned off trillions from our productive economy in de facto cash grants to very unproductive exporters, who see as their birthright $140 a barrel oil that cost them $4-5 to pump—after someone else provided them the know-how and expertise to find, pump, and ship it.

We seem to panic about imaginary beasts, when real monsters quietly devour us.

The Campaign Heats Up

July 4th, 2008 - 10:35 pm

Oh, how I miss them…

I watched the other night Shane and Hombre, and realized how much I missed Jack Palance and Richard Boone (both Stanford attendees at one time). They were renaissance veterans, multi-talented, and in some tragic sense not fully utilized by Hollywood. Add in a Lee Marvin as well. In all candor, I don’t think a Kevin Costner, Brad Pitt, or any of the younger Hollywood generation measures up. And how could they—given the generation that came of age in WWII and the sort of country this was at the time?

The voices of Boone, Palance, and Marvin seem lost in film these days, as well as the air of disdain and tragic nobility they projected as actors.

CNN Looks at the Candidates

I was watching a rerun of the Anderson Cooper biographical documentaries of McCain and Obama. In the McCain piece here’s what I think we got in the end: Cindy McCain’s a former drug addict, a stroke victim, and fought false rumors their adopted child was an illegitimate offspring of her husband’s liasons, and is the only-child of zillionaires; McCain was knee-deep in the Keating Five, took on and then caved to the Religious Right.

In contrast, in this National Enquirer-type approach, the Obamas were blessed from the beginning—no mention (as there should not have been) of Obama’s admitted drug use, his radical past, nothing about Michelle’s divisive speeches, Princeton thesis.

Result: here is the contrast, a 42 year old who lied about his age married a princess who lied about hers, then lived apart, and then she spiralled downward while he got caught in ethics problems and flip-flops; meanwhile the super couple were drug-free, hardly privileged, and have a true partnership based on their model parenting and meritocratic-based education excellence.

In short, not even the pretense of even-handedness.

Is the Thrill Gone?

Listening to the recent various Obama speeches, I was struck by his two or three now reoccurring themes: His world-view of America is an amalgam of various victimized groups or rival interests—racial minorities, gays, and women—rather than a united citizenry that transcends its particularly tribal differences. When he talks of the military, there is almost nothing about the courage, audacity, and, yes, competence, of the US military that has done the near impossible in Iraq.

Instead the military is framed in terms of a vast group of victims in need of more government help, those who were not given adequate equipment, those suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, those with wounds, those in need of more benefits. All that may be in part true, but it is not the whole story, and at some point it must be balanced by mention that our soldiers on the battlefield have largely defeated al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq, and have achieved an amazing victory that has altered the entire calculus in the Middle East and made us safer from the threat of radical Islam.

A second theme seems the self-referential Obama himself. All politicians exaggerate and frame events around themselves. But Obama’s references to his landmark legislation, whether supposed welfare reform or foreign-policy initiatives, are simply not entirely supported by his brief tenure and meager record in the US Senate. One can just now begin to notice the subdued applause and crowd unease when he showcases himself at the center of all great issues of the last two decades—when he was in fact a rookie Chicago legislator. That, of course, is the source of the Bill Clinton pique: although Obama now takes credit for what liberal nostrums emerged in the late 1990s, they in fact were due almost entirely to Clinton’s rhetorical skills and Dick Morris’s art of triangulation. Yet Obama not only gives Clinton’s eight-year tenure absolutely no deference at all, but insidiously seems to incorporate it into his own paltry legislative record.

Third is a sort of growing irrelevance of his boilerplate criticism in the vein of Bush doesn’t do diplomacy, and the result is a sort international anger at a “unilateral” cowboyish America. But then he is faced with a Korea that is beginning to be corralled by diplomatic efforts, a growing united front against Iran, and a return of the UN to Iraq, with sympathetic governments–and suddenly the rhetoric seems stale and dated. What exactly right now would Obama do differently with China, South America, Sarkozy, Merkle, the Italians or the Brits, India? Iraq? Iran? Nafta? Not much.

Flip-flopping Along
I wrote the following on the corner today about Obama’s flopitis:
Four of July Flopitis [Victor Davis Hanson]
The question is no longer on what has Obama backtracked, but rather on what has he not?

The political problems with Obama’s flopitis are twofold: one, it is coming late in the season. To defeat Hillary he went hard left in the void left by Edwards. But the primary dragged on so long, that when he just recently flipped and flopped to leave the hard left on NAFTA, Trinity Church, Rev. Wright, FISA, gun control, campaign financing, death penalty, Iran, Iraq, Jerusalem, etc. he did so in the near summer, not late winter. The result is that his formerly left positions were showcased longer than most go-to-the-center politicians and thus his abandonment of them more striking and fresh in our memories.

For each inoperative “I can no more disown Rev. Wright” statement, there comes another each day about not quite pulling out of Iraq or wire-taps sorta OK, or NOT meeting John McCain “anywhere, anytime.” Every opportunist knows that in presidential politics such shamelessness should be over and done with by March.

Second, to employ a well-known Obamism, Obama ‘raised the bar’ so high with his ‘hope and change’ sophistry about transcending lobbyists, tawdry campaign financing, et al. that he is now being hoisted by his own petard — flip-flopping is the normal sort of rank opportunism, but for a messiah it is tantamount to sacrilege and heresy.

Some of us have been ad nauseam suggesting Democratic buyer’s remorse soon, and still stand by that prediction. The problem is not that the Left will abandon him; they won’t, and will gladly put up with an Iraqi war-fighter, huge private cash raiser, wire-tapper, free-trader, and gun-rights/death penalty advocate if he brings them all back to power. (But watch their furor if Obama sinks below McCain in the polls.) Instead the rub is that Obama’s new legions of hopers and changers won’t register, work, and turn out in sufficient numbers if they feel that they’ve been had and made to look silly, and Obama is just another Jimmy Carter/Walter Mondale/John Kerry. Nor will all this triangulation necessarily win the “clingers” vote, even though the about-faces are done on their behalf.

What’s going on? Obama’s handlers knew that their candidate had boxed himself into orthodox left-wing positions during the primary, but they counted on his prophet-like charisma and landmark “new candidate” appeal charming almost anyone as he ‘evolved.’ We will see whether such brazenness will necessarily work with either tough-minded Ohio or Michigan working people or cynical you-tubers.

Usually the in-party gets blamed for all the bad news—in this case gas prices, wars, weak dollar, shaky stock market, financial instability, mortgage crisis—but if a magnetic candidate like Obama loses in a made-for-order year like this, Democrats will have to call in Bill Clinton to relearn the art of triangulation, and how to disguise the liberal agenda with a southern accent, bubba aw-shucks populism, and trivialities like school-uniforms and Sister-Souljah moments.

In his defense, we forget that Obama is trying to be the first liberal Northern Democratic candidate to make it since JFK—and I don’t think, for all his talents, he is quite a JFK.

Next flip? I expect he will soon “refine” his view of lifting the Social Security tax ceilings—once we start hearing about 60%-plus state and federal tax bites.

07/04 10:23 AM

More Newsweek Rehash

July 1st, 2008 - 8:27 pm

Newsweek is running an old story of 2007 by Evan Thomas suggesting that the 300 was a sort of racist propaganda, and he thinks that it reflects the administration’s Manichean views that derive from ancient Greece/Persia faultlines. Most of the essay is moronic and simplistic, and when he gets to me, he gets everything wrong. Here’s an excerpt:

Still, the cultural significance and popular appeal of “300″ reach beyond the thrill of watching pixilated decapitations. The Persians in “300″ are the forces of evil: dark-skinned, depraved and determined to terrorize the West. The noble, light-skinned Spartans possess a fierce love of liberty, not to mention fierce six-pack abs. “Freedom is not free,” says the wife of Spartan King Leonidas. The movie was adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller (“Sin City”). Miller’s post-9/11 conservatism (he is reportedly working on a new graphic novel pitting Batman against Al Qaeda, titled “Holy Terror, Batman!”) suffuses his comic-book fantasies. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that “300″ resonates for some real warriors. At a theater near Camp Pendleton outside San Diego, cheers erupted at a showing of “300,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The Marines (“The Few, the Proud”) identify with the outnumbered Spartans. In fact, “Gates of Fire,” a novelized version of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield, is on the Marine Corps commandant’s recommended reading list.

The analogy between the war on terror and the death struggle of ancient Greece with Persia has not been lost on some high administration officials either, especially Vice President Dick Cheney. (A White House spokesman declined to comment about the film.) In the months after 9/11, a classics scholar named Victor Davis Hanson wrote a series of powerful pieces for the National Review Online, later collected and published as a book, “An Autumn of War.” Moved by Hanson’s evocative essays, Cheney invited Hanson to dine with him and talk about the wars the Greeks waged against the Asian hordes, in defense of justice and reason, two and a half millennia ago.

Newsweek long ago became a caricature of a news magazine. It is now overtly partisan, and its style is rumor (cf. the Periscope allegation of a flushed Koran in Guantanamo that led to rioting and death abroad), the unidentified anonymous source, and the usual Bush-did-it story. I wrote an essay once about the shoddy journalism at Newsweek, which is now pretty much the communis opinio—sad because it once under prior generations was a reliable and sober magazine.

On more than one occasion, Newsweek editors have called me to ask about the Cheney dinner (and one other hilarious occasion after the Cheney hunting accident, as if I would know anything about the VP’s game hunting apparently since I, perhaps like thousands of others, had been on one occasion at a large dinner table with him). Each time I got a Newsweek call, I said the same thing: (1) I won’t comment on the specifics or offer any quotations or verbatim rehash, since it is uncivil to blab to the press conversation at private dinners, but almost everything they were asking was completely erroneous to the point of being silly; (2) the VP in 2002 invited all sorts of historians, of all sorts of persuasions to comment on past and present events. My invitation was just one of very many. (3) There were several people there on my single visit, and it was not a one-on-one conversation, and I most definitely did not lecture about “Asian hordes,” and there was nothing at that dinner (five years before the 300) that would suggest a US obsession with the “hordes” of Iran. Since neither I nor the guests in October 2002 ever spoke about the dinner, and since Thomas never claims anyone did, how would he know that I supposedly lectured about “Asian hordes” rather than, if the conversation for a moment turned to the present, the need to go to the UN and emphasize the 20-something Congressional authorizations that were under debate in October 2002 in the lead-up to the Iraq war?

But no matter—the cardboard cut-out is too tempting for the smug Newsweek editor: one-dimensional soldiers applaud a corny good versus evil comic book tale. I suppose we should instead watch a travesty like Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great, or perhaps a more balanced, sophisticated take on Iraq like Redacted?

I wrote about Greece/Persia in a review of Tom Holland’s book on the Persian War, and two brief essays on the 300 that outlined the comic book/semi-animated genre. I’ll let the reader decide whether these are rah-rah pieces about the dark hordes of 480 BC. And I wrote on a number of occasions why it was unwise to bomb Iran.

One does not need to believe in the overt bias of the Washington press corps to realize it is a wise thing, to quote the ancient Greeks, to keep as much distance from such creepy folk as possible.