A miniflap recently broke out over a Politico item about a July 9 memo to “Interested Parties” from Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist. Penn’s memo was definitely designed to foster an impression of growing Clinton strength. Politico’s Ben Smith went a step farther in his characterization of the memo, however, saying it implied a Clinton victory was “inevitable.” Penn and Co. disavowed that characterization, and Smith subsequently took out the quotation marks he’d put around “inevitable” in his original post. Thus did the Clinton campaign find itself in the enviable position of having established its humility while pressing the immodest line that the candidate’s “electoral strength has grown in the last quarter and she is better positioned today than ever before to become the next President of the United States.” Continue reading
The following essay is excerpted from the book, The Political Teachings of Jesus
The sermon on the mount has long been rightly understood as both a starting-point and a summation of Jesus ’s teaching. It begins with the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12), in which Jesus delineates the categories of people he says enjoy special favor. The Beatitudes are all familiar to us as sayings, the best known beingblessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. But what, really, are they? Is Jesus merely pronouncing a blessing, offering good wishes to those whom he chooses to single out? In fact, there ’s more to the story than that. Continue reading
When I came to Washington in 1985, it was with the expectation that I would be spending my life fighting the Cold War. At the time, there were, oh, a couple of visionaries out there who looked forward to a world in which the Soviet Union lay on the ash heap of history, such as the man in the Oval Office then. But I figured we had two choices: We could acquiesce in the spread of Soviet influence and communist tyranny. Or we could play for a tie, to preserve the freedom of the Free World (yes, capital letters and without irony) while acknowledging that the Soviet Union and its global influence were permanent features of the political landscape. Continue reading
If, as Karl Marx’s adage holds, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, what happens when the repetition repeats itself?
Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s foray into shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Damascus seems firmly stuck on farce, much in line with a certain former House speaker’s foray into China policy at a comparable point in his tenure. Continue reading
At what level of giving, if any, would the people who contribute money to political candidates begin to feel overstretched? That’s the question that comes to mind as 2008 presidential aspirants release their fund-raising reports for the first quarter of 2007, the first serious test for candidate viability of the presidential cycle.
The Clinton money machine racked up a stunning $26 million, John Edwards came in at $14 million, with other Democratic candidates well down in single digits and Barack Obama unheard from at this writing. The Clinton number is breathtaking. It wasn’t that long ago that Al Gore set a first-quarter record with a measly $8.9 million. It seemed like a lot at the time, evidence not only of Mr. Gore’s front-runner status but of the extent to which he was a beneficiary of the Clinton apparatus as the then-president’s preferred successor.
Now, the same amount would merit status along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who raised $6 million the first quarter and is pretty clearly running not for the top spot on the ticket but for vice president. Even adjusted for inflation, Mr. Gore’s 1999 total would put him about in line with John Edwards as a viable candidate but nobody’s idea of a frontrunner. Continue reading
A literary agent once told me that when you are trying to sell a book to a publisher, you should always keep in mind that it’s not really the book you’re selling, it’s the idea of the book. Your objective is to get people excited about what’s to come. The finished book, even if it’s a very good book, ought to be almost anticlimactic. Otherwise, you haven’t managed to get people as excited as you should have in the first place.
In this respect, indeed only in this respect, the report the Iraq Study Group released at the year’s end was exemplary. The idea that a bipartisan council of eminent persons would take an unvarnished look at Iraq and offer their collective wisdom on a fresh approach to extricate ourselves from our troubles was one whose time had come. Continue reading
Opposition to the Iraq war has understandably led to an anti-interventionist climate in Washington. There has long been such a strain in American public opinion: Walter Russell Mead identified it as the Jeffersonian strain, more interested in cultivating the American garden than in going abroad to slay dragons.
A bumper sticker I saw recently captures the spirit: “I’m already against the next war.” Of course, it’s unlikely that the experience in Iraq is what led the car’s owner to that conclusion. It was almost certainly a preexisting conviction. The opposition to the Iraq war has, however, inflated this sentiment. Continue reading
The Washington Times
I would have joined surge supporters in voting against the House supplemental appropriations bill because of the constraints it seeks to impose on whatever ability we may have to get to acceptable conditions in Iraq, especially the arbitrary imposition of a withdrawal timetable regardless of military needs.
The $28 billion in earmarked domestic spending measures the House Democratic leadership chose to lard on top of the $96 billion for military operations, a premium of nearly a third, served merely to turn a wrongheaded piece of legislation into a disgusting piece of legislation. President Bush was right to threaten to veto it.
The question is whether, from the point of view of increasing the chances of success of the war effort, any good can come out of the Democrats’ quasi-opposition. With regard to those pressing for immediate withdrawal, the answer is no: They prefer a frank acknowledgment of American defeat in a misbegotten cause. They aren’t interested in the possibility that Gen. David Petraeus may actually know how to prevail in a counterinsurgency. And they don’t care what happens in Iraq after we are gone. In the event of killing on a mass scale, they will blame George W. Bush personally.
As for those seeking to attach conditions, benchmarks and a timetable, they divide into two categories. In the first are the people pursuing as quick as possible an American withdrawal by tactical means. They are being realistic in acknowledging that an outright cutoff of funds for the war, exercise of Congress’s ultimate power of the purse, is not in the cards, and they are therefore trying to bring constantly increasing pressure to bear on the White House. Although there is substantial friction between this group and the “Come home, America” crowd, their disagreement is over means, not ends. They agree that we have lost and should leave.
But then there is the group that means business about the setting of benchmarks for the Iraqi government as the condition for a sustained American presence. This argument has been bubbling along among serious-minded Democrats for about two years now. In brief, it goes like this: The presence of the U.S. forces creates a moral hazard for the Iraqis. Because the Iraqi government thinks it can rely on U.S. troops to keep the country from blowing apart, Iraqis are able to defer the hard choices necessary to build up their own capacity to deal with the insurgency. This is true not only in terms of increasing the size and improving the effectiveness of Iraqi military and security forces, but also with regard to the wrenching choices that may be necessary to create political conditions conducive to an end to the violence and disorder.
In other words, until the Iraqis feel they have to step up and become masters of their own destiny, they are unlikely to do so. The only way the United States can encourage them is by devolving substantially more actual responsibility to them as quickly as possible. At the limit, only the prospect of U.S. withdrawal will force the Iraqis to act maximally in their own behalf. The prospect of withdrawal, paradoxically, creates the conditions in which an ongoing U.S. presence can be most effective.
Now, I don’t know if I buy this or not. The reasoning is, in certain respects, unimpeachably sound. The United States has had “free rider” issues from the point at which it began to supply security for others. The Soviet Union had a much smaller problem in this regard because it could, in effect, order the Warsaw Pact nations to deliver militarily. The United States had and has no similar power over democratic governments. Nor are we going to start treating Iraq as a province of our imperial authority.
The question is whether the failure of Iraqis to step up is the main cause of the Iraq problem or whether Iraqis simply lack the capacity to do so without catastrophic consequences. It may be that the catastrophic consequences are the only path to a capable Iraqi government. Is the price worth paying? Or is it better to tolerate the moral hazard while building capacity, now understood to include the U.S. taking action to provide real security? The point is that this is a serious question. And Congress may just be handing Mr. Bush a useful tool. If he can cite to Iraqis not only his personal commitment to them to see the counterinsurgency through but also his concern about mounting congressional pressure for withdrawal, he may be able to create the conditions in which the government lead by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is best incentivized to produce results. If the Iraqi prime minister doesn’t do what needs doing (and I don’t have a checklist, but others do), then declining support in Congress may limit Mr. Bush’s ability to persist.
There is precedent for the executive branch’s effective use of congressional pressure in pursuit of its foreign policy goals: China and Taiwan come to mind. It’s a dangerous game, but these are dangerous times for all concerned.
The Washington Times
When I moved to Washington 21 years ago and decided to live in the District rather than Maryland or Virginia, I knew I was voluntarily choosing to forgo something most Americans take entirely for granted, namely, their say in choosing a representative in the House and two members of the Senate. In truth, I was not especially bothered by this lost opportunity for political participation then, nor am I now.
The Washington Times
It’s hypocrisy season in Washington. No, not that there’s an unusually great amount of posturing and flagrant contradiction of previously stated principles that are no longer politically expedient. The amount of that in Washington is consistently high. I mean that allegations of hypocrisy are in the air, thanks to the guilty verdicts in the Scooter Libby trial.