Free Markets, Free People
After the election, Righty circles are naturally engaging in some soul-searching, finger-pointing, and bickering. Some of this is unproductive venting, but it’s also the start of the process of working out how to move on and improve, and there’s no time to waste.
My conversations with fellow Righty operatives and bloggers have spurred me to suggest several ways Republicans could simultaneously make the party more attractive (or less repulsive) to voters and achieve more conservative results. This post is about immigration and reversing the trend of Hispanics rapidly abandoning the GOP; the next is about gay marriage; and the final post is about entitlement reform.
First, let’s dispense with the notion agreed upon by many on the Right: seal the border first, so that whatever follows is more controlled and orderly. This is an expensive fantasy. Conservatives need to apply their skepticism of huge, complex, market-distorting government plans to every issue surrounding immigration, starting with any plan to spend tens of billions of dollars on thousands of miles of fence, surveillance, unionized government employees, and a verification system forced on every employer in the country.
It’s a joke that the Republican Party, which is practically defined by marriage, babies, and mortgages, holds at arm’s length a whole demographic (Hispanics, especially foreign-born) that tends to be more religious, marry younger and longer, and have larger families than the average American voter.
Mass immigration could work for the GOP if the GOP went with the tide instead of trying to stop it.
- If Republicans want school choice, they should have natural allies among those who are religious, have large families, and see their children suffer under the worst public schools. When you hear complaints that Hispanic immigrants don’t speak English, suggest vouchers and education savings accounts for private-school English language instruction.
- If Republicans want to revive farms and stop the population drain from rural areas, make legitimate cheap labor more available: open up a bunch of farm worker visas.
- If Republicans want to cut the cost of new housing so that young people can form households and families, make legitimate cheap labor available for that too. Heck, why not try to break various trade unions by inviting enough skilled immigrants to swamp or bypass their system?
- So the entitlement system is a problem? Yeah, Milton Friedman famously said you can’t simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state. Shouldn’t the Republican response be “Bring on free immigration“? If math dooms Medicaid and the subsidized industrial-age hospital model, why not make the math even harder?
- Conservatives have longed to shift taxes away from production and toward consumption. Nobody wants to remove labor tax wedges (AHEM: the payroll tax) as much as someone in a labor-intensive business, the kind that tends to thrive when there’s a lot of cheap labor available. That goes for both employers and the employees whose compensation is tilted toward wages rather than benefits; we know it suppresses the Hispanic savings rate. And the payroll tax, of course, helps to maintain the accounting fiction that SocSec and Medicare are like savings.
Now, about the security problem: is it easier to pick out a genuine security threat in the crowd if everyone just has to pass a security check, or if hundreds of thousands of people are trying to cross the border undetected because the only legal route is a seven-year byzantine process?
Heather Mac Donald at NRO offers a potential counter-argument: Hispanics are more suspicious of Republicans for supporting class warfare than for opposing immigration according to a poll (from March 2011), and a majority favor gay marriage, so they’re not such a conservative bunch. But:
- Immigration may not be most Hispanics’ top concern, but it isn’t trivial either. And because politics is so tribal, there are many ways to alienate a group without actually disagreeing on policy – many of which Republicans blunder into when discussing immigration.
- Republicans shouldn’t cede the class warfare argument either: it wouldn’t hurt if the party focused more on the poor, as Mac Donald’s colleague Kevin D. Williamson exhorts the GOP to do. If you’re a small-government type who reads the previous sentence as a plea to compromise on principle, that reaction is part of the problem.
- Finally: social issues. Mac Donald points out that a majority of Hispanics favor gay marriage. I’ll argue in my next post that conservatives should proactively embrace gay marriage, which should resolve this issue nicely.
Most of us, that’s who. And that’s why, as soon as it was uttered, President Obama came under criticism.
I’m talking about his decision to announce the a troop withdrawal, in a speech he made at West Point some months ago, even while he was announcing a surge of troops (which, btw, is supposed to finally be complete this month).
Marine General James Conway talked about that announcement yesterday at a Pentagon press conference:
"In some ways we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself, in fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, we only have to hold out for so long,’" Gen Conway told a Pentagon news conference.
"I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us," he said of Marines in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.
I’m sure the general will receive the obligatory counseling session and make some sort of retraction – after all, the only area in government where there is actual accountability seems to be the military.
But, as with most of what this administration has done which runs counter to common sense, this was entirely predictable. When you announce something like a drawdown, your enemy adapts to the new announcement. It also turns on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ironic, isn’t it, that of all the promised “hope and change” by this administration, the group benefiting the most is the Taliban.
As for staying on longer, Conway isn’t the first to say that will probably be the case. Petraeus has also been saying the same thing. Whether or not it is true – i.e. the administration bows to the reality on the ground and extends the timeline – it is obvious, for the reasons stated, that the generals want the enemy to think it is true.
Hell of a thing when you have to go behind your CiC cleaning up the mess he’s made, isn’t it?
The consensus among election experts is the 2010 midterm elections are most likely to see Democrats lose seats in both the House and Senate. The question, of course, is how many? And, will they lose enough seats for the Republicans to take control of the House and/or Senate?
Dealing with the Senate first, the answer is “no”. The most likely number of seats picked up by the GOP is 7. That would give them 48 and a very strong minority. That may end up being better, in this case, than a majority. Certainly 48 will give them the power to stop just about anything in the Senate, and, if they so desire, pass legislation only with their amendments attached.
In the House, Republicans need 39 seats to take control. They’ll most likely pick up between 32 and 39. Even if they don’t hit that magic 39, they’ll have a much stronger minority that will have to be reckoned with by Pelosi and company to get anything done there.
You know it’s going to be bad for Democrats, because Joe Biden is sure it won’t be.
What that all means is even if the GOP doesn’t have control of Congress after the midterms (and many argue – to include myself – that perhaps they’re better off not having control), they will have a considerably stronger hand then now in the national legislature.
Which brings us to the emerging campaign strategies of each party. On the GOP side, it appears that Republicans want to “nationalize” the elections. I.e. they want to make the midterms a referendum on the Obama administration. You’ll be seeing they tying everything back to the first 2 years of the Obama presidency, the economy, the oil spill and the out-of-control spending. I don’t think it will be hard to sell.
Given the precedent set under the Bush administration when Democrats successfully made all elections referendums on the presidency, it has become accepted by voters that party equals president and they act in concert. Hence the way you punish the president and his party is to turn out members of Congress that represent that party – or variations on that theme.
Given that, the Democrats will obviously attempt to counter the GOPs strategy by keeping things “local” if possible. How well that will work, given the tumultuous two years of the Obama presidency and the fact it is Congress under Democratic leadership which has passed deeply unpopular legislation, is anyone’s guess. Mine is it won’t work very well. Votes for health care and stimulus, for instance, will be key “national” topics with which GOP candidates will hit incumbent Democrats.
Which then leaves Democrats trying to fashion a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy which they hope will re-create their 2008 electoral victory.
To avoid such losses, the Democratic National Committee has committed to spending tens of millions of dollars to re-create (or come somewhere near re-creating) the 2008 election model, in which Democrats relied heavily on higher-than-normal turnout from young people and strong support from African American and Hispanic voters.
They’re talking turnout here, not percentages – for instance, African-Americans have always voted in the 90% area for Democrats. The percentage they need in this election is 90% of African-Americans showing up at the polls. Same with Hispanic and young voters.
And that is the job the DNC plans on giving Obama in the lead up to the November vote.
The likelihood of that happening, however, is not especially good. We’ve been chronicling the “enthusiasm gap” for months. The far left is let down. Independent voters are disenchanted and the right is very enthusiastic about “change” again.
Funding is also drying up for Democrats. The latest big donors to drop Democrats are from Wall Street – a traditional well-spring of funding for the party.
The bottom line here is the stars seem to be lining up for the GOP in the midterms, barring any unforeseen event which might mitigate their advantage. The question will be have you had enough of hope and change as a billboard in NE Minnesota presently asks. Conventional wisdom says the answer will be a pretty resounding “yes”. The only question is how much they want to change the status quo.
Unsurprisingly, President Obama has fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of our effort in Afghanistan, for remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
That’s unfortunate, but most people saw it as something that had to be done, given the importance of our Constitutional tradition of civilian control of the military. While a great general, his remarks couldn’t be allowed to stand without punishment.
That said, now what? Given the public remarks of McChrystal and his staff, it seems obvious to any fair observer that our Afghanistan strategy isn’t hitting on all cylinders and “team work” at the top is a buzz word, not a reality.
Maybe what would be easier to puzzle out is what shouldn’t happen now. McChrystal was the architect of the present strategy in Afghanistan. What shouldn’t happen, and would most likely spell final disaster there, is to again change strategies. All of the surge troops deployed to push that strategy forward won’t be in place until August. While McChrystal had asked for 40,000 troops, he only received 30,000. Regardless, the surge, in full, has yet to fully begin.
As we all know, the military piece is only a part of the solution, and, frankly, is a relatively minor one when talking about COIN and the peculiarities of the Afghan political landscape. A huge amount of work remains to be done on the civilian side of things there.
And, apparently, McChrystal is the only one who understands how important it is to form a personal relationship with the government and its leaders as a step toward reforming it and getting it to perform properly and competently with the goal of having it become a real national government:
McChrystal may hold the closest relationship of any American in what often has been a strained relationship with the Karzai government, says Jim Phillips, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The Obama administration has been critical of Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, although it has dialed back the rhetoric in recent weeks. “In Afghanistan, personal relations are critical,” Phillips says. “It’s difficult to build trust and working relationships. If McChrystal is suddenly replaced that would be a major blow to the Afghan and American military relationship and the Afghan and American governments’ relationship.”
The civilian team in place – Amb. Eikenberry, Holbrooke and others including the VP – have formed adversarial, even confrontational relationships with Afghanistan’s president and some government ministers. In an honor/shame society, that sort of a relationship is totally counter-productive. Unfortunately, with McChrystal gone, the only buffer to that sort of treatment has been removed as well as any reason for the Afghan government to cooperate.
Despite the remarks that sparked the relief, it apparent that the civilian side of the situation in Afghanistan has not been productive and may be staffed by the wrong people using the wrong approach. A full review of their actions and accomplishments (or lack thereof) to date is more than warranted given how little progress has been made in improving the governing ability of the Karzai government.
But back to the command options. It is critical that the Obama administration signal its intent to continue with the McCrystal/Obama strategy. It appears with the naming of Gen. Petraeus as the new commander, that is exactly the sort of a signal being sent. While it is a little of a step-down for Petraeus, politically and most likely tactically and strategically, it is an excellent choice. He is certainly familiar with the strategy and while he may tweak it, he’ll probably keep it mostly intact.
However, it will be interesting to see how Petraeus interacts with Eikenberry and Holbrooke. Remember the effectiveness of the Petraeus/Crocker relationship. No such dynamic has ever existed in Afghanistan. While the civilian side can probably skate on the McChrystal relationship, they’re going to have a much more difficult time doing the same thing with a more politically savvy David Petraeus, who most people consider to be a national hero.
Secondly, and just as importantly, the administration needs to make it clear that their June 2011 withdrawal date is “conditions based” instead of “firm”. A firm date is a signal to the bad guys that all they have to do is hunker down and wait it out. Making it conditions based makes the point that we’re not going to abandon Afghanistan. That, in and of itself, would go a long way to helping change the attitude in Kabul. If the “firm” commitment is kept, the Karzai government has no reason or incentive to make the effort to cooperate with the US strategy and may go out on its own to make a deal with the Taliban.
Keeping the “firm” withdrawal date can and will do more damage to the effort in Afghanistan than the Taliban could ever do.
Lastly, a caution – it is being reported by numerous sources that “the present strategy is falling out of favor” with many of Obama’s close advisors. Another change in strategy would also be fatal to the effort there.
As it happens, and as mentioned, Petraeus is a good choice both politically and strategically. But our effort in Afghanistan is in more trouble than an intemperate general’s remarks, and if some more big changes aren’t made, mostly on the civilian side, it is going to fail.
It is all fine and good to have a discussion and even a debate about future strategy in Afghanistan. But probably not 6 months after you’ve announced your former strategy. For some reason, dithering has a tendency to be interpreted as a weakness, not a strength. In war, weaknesses are attacked and exploited. And that may be exactly what we’re beginning to see:
Several thousand foreign fighters have poured into Afghanistan to bolster the Taliban insurgency, the country’s defense minister said yesterday as he called for more international troops.
The remarks come as the United States debates whether to substantially increase its forces in Afghanistan or to conduct a more limited campaign focused on targeting al-Qaeda figures – most of whom are believed to be in neighboring Pakistan.
The minister’s comments hit on a key worry of the United States – that not sending enough troops to Afghanistan will open the door again to al-Qaeda. They also suggest that the Afghan government is nervous about the U.S. commitment amid talk of changing the strategy and a surge in violence in recent months.
This isn’t a Senate debate where you can take whatever time you need and if it’s not finished by the nearest recess, you put it off until you come back. Wars can’t be tabled. A war continues with or without a decision made by either side. And, in many cases in history, wars have been lost because decisions were delayed or not made in a timely manner.
The fact that foreign fighters are pouring in now has to be viewed in a particular context. You can’t snap your finger and produce “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan. They have to be recruited, transported, trained and then gotten to A’stan. So for the enemy to have these fighters showing up now would indicate, at least to me, that they have sensed some form of weakness in the American committment (and make no mistake – there is no NATO Afghanistan mission without the US) and they have been able to sell recruits on the idea that they’re about to turn everything around there and win. And note this: the Taliban won’t have any esoteric conversations about whether or not running us off is a “victory” or just “success”. They’ll trumpet to the world that they kicked our butt while they then barbarically subdue, punish and seek revenge on anyone who worked with us. They don’t care how it happens – force of arms or us just pulling out – it is still a victory. And everyone likes to be on the winning side:
“The enemy has changed. Their number has increased,” the defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, told lawmakers in a speech. He said that about 4,000 fighters, mostly from Chechnya, North Africa, and Pakistan, “have joined with them and they are involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.”
The longer the administration continues to dither, the easier it is for the radicals to sell their cause and claim the indecision by the administration indicates that, as they’ve always said, the US hasn’t the political will to finish much of anything that extends over a year or two. Bush would actually be seen as the exception.
Unless and until a decision is made and made rather quickly, recruiting should be good for the radicals.
And of course, good recruiting for them means more losses among our troops. Sure we usually have a high ratio of Taliban kills to every soldier we lose, but that’s not the point. The point is indecision emboldens the enemy and that ends up killing our soldiers.
There is absolutely no reason that a decision could not be reached within a week or two. One of President Obama’s primary jobs is that Commander in Chief. It’s time he started acting like one.
President Obama claims to be dispensing with “straw men” arguments concerning A’stan:
President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general.
Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” as White House officials later described his remarks.
The problem is, that leaves some version of the status quo as a viable alternative, and, as every expert to include the Commanding General there has told us, the status quo isn’t working.
This is what I was talking about when I said he’s just as likely to dither for months making a decision and then make a decision in which he appears to be doing something while not even getting anywhere near to fully resourcing McChrystal’s request. Or said another way, he’ll send more troops, but only enough troops to keep A’stan from getting worse than it is now, but not enough to do the mission McChrystal has outlined.
That’s what he appears to be setting up here. Reading between the line, the implication is that he’s not going to give McChrystal all he wants and he’s building the case by attempting to introduce something less than what most see as the only two viable courses of action – fish or cut bait. All in or fold.
This is what I’ve been afraid of since his election. There’s little will, on his part or that of his party, to do what is necessary in Afghanistan. All the rhetoric about it being the “necessary war” was just that – rhetoric to beat his opponent and their party over the head with.
If that’s the case – then get our troops the hell out of there and deal with the long-term effects of doing that. The effects will be profound. But reinforcing failure, and that’s what I’m hearing here, is just not an option.
Calling the narrowing the choices to the two most viable options “straw man arguments” doesn’t make it so. Certainly Obama has the final say – but the only viable choices remain the only viable choices whether he likes that or not. Doing anything in between is a recipe for continuing failure and will be seen as trading blood for time – political time – because he doesn’t want to make the hard decisions required due to the political implications (I’ve been saying he’ll delay any profound decision, like pulling out, until his reelection is safely in the bag).
The one thing that’s different about the job of President is that when it comes to foreign affairs and the job of Commander in Chief, the people expect the President to put aside all political considerations except what is best for the US. His job is to act in the best interest of the country. We haven’t seen that yet in President Obama’s foreign policy and, unfortunately, I hold little hope as I watch the Afghanistan discussion unfold that politics will be divorced from the upcoming decision on our strategy there.