So what’s on the Middle Eastern agenda for the Obama administration?
Frankly that’s the question being asked by a lot of foreign policy watchers right now, especially since President Obama has added Saudi Arabia to his trip itinerary for an upcoming trip to the area. Originally scheduled to first make a stop in Cairo for a speech, he is now stopping in SA first. This, of course, has the Egyptians a bit miffed. Egypt was touting his trip and speech to Cairo as a sort of vindication of their foreign policy as well as their resurgent leadership role among Arabs in the area. Now that’s not quite as easy to claim.
One group sees it as tied closely to the Israeli-Palestinian track, focusing on the Arab Peace Initiative and the coming unveiling of the Obama approach to Israeli-Arab relations. Another sees it as tied more closely to Iran, preparing the Saudis for the coming engagement (or confrontation) with Tehran.
I happen to think it is a little bit of both, but mostly tied to Iran. NoKo has popped a nuke (and we’re aware of the ties between Pyongyang and Tehran). Iran has fired a long range missile. Intelligence says Venezuela and Bolivia are providing Iran with uranium (which both deny). That requires a bit of a change in focus of the mission from one exclusively focused on Israel/Palestine. Iran has heated up and the Arabs are not friends of Iran, certainly feel threatened by them and darn sure don’t want to see Iran establish itself as a regional (and nuclear) power. SA would be a logical stop for discussions on that issue.
As to the Israel/Palestine question, Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy magazine wonders:
… will he reinforce or challenge the “moderates vs resistance” frame which he inherited from the Bush administration? The Arab leaders he has been meeting, like the Israelis, are perfectly comfortable with that approach, dividing the region between Israel and Arab “moderates” vs Iran and Arab “resistance” groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. That’s the easy path. If followed it is likely to fail badly, destroy the hopes for change which his engagement policy has raised, and leave the region right back where Bush left it.
I think there is no question he plans to shake up the status quo. But how he chooses to broker “change” in the engagement policy, his change may face the same risk of abysmal failure other policies have produced. The Hill is reporting that Obama plans on challenging Israel’s plan to continue to allow West bank settlements to grow.
“Each party has obligations under the road map,” Obama said after referencing his meeting last week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama said he has been “very clear” on the need to stop settlement and outpost activity, and he also said Israel has obligations to ensure a viable Palestinian state emerges from the peace process.
Israel has rejected that portion concerning the settlements on the West Bank. That rejection came after the Netanyahu/Obama meeting in Washington DC.
Netanyahu has set out the Israeli negotiating position:
“The government of Israel under my leadership is committed to the political and international agreements signed by the governments of Israel, and we expect others to honor their commitments as well,” Netanyahu told the Knesset. “We want an end to the conflict, and we want reciprocity in the claims on both sides and their implementation. Unfortunately, in this we are also being innovative. We should not have to innovate; it should have been obvious. However, when we are asked to recognize our international commitments, I say yes, and I want others to respect their commitments as well.
“We are prepared to act, and we will take concrete steps towards peace with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu continued. “We also expect the Palestinians to take such concrete steps on their side, and it would be good if the Arab countries joined in the effort towards peace, and take both concrete and symbolic steps towards normalization, and not later, but right now. They are asking us to act now, and so the Palestinians and the Arab countries should also be asked to act now.”
Or shorter Israeli stance – if we’re required to live up to international commitments, the same demand must be made of (and accepted by, and acted upon) by others included in these negotiations.
Right now, one of the major obstacles to any such negotiations is not with the Israelis, but among Palestinians:
The Palestinian Authority faces its own challenges in brokering a peace deal, namely the split between Hamas and Fatah — and, therefore, between Gaza and the West Bank — that essentially renders a two-state solution a three-state solution. Since the violent splinter between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, the U.S. has dealt only with Abbas.
So does the US change its policy and actively enter into negotiations with a terrorist group in hope of brokering a reconciliation? The chances of such a reconciliation seem remote. And of course, the splintering within the Palestinians makes the talk of a “two-state solution” an exercise in unachievable rhetoric for the time being. Why should Israel enter into serious negotiations about such a solution when they are unachievable as it stands today?
This will be an interesting trip to monitor.
More to come.
Edit: Changed Ecuador to Bolivia – thanks for the catch, looker.
Another emerging hallmark of Obama rhetoric are the startling inconsistencies to be found there. For instance, his speech at the National Archives where he invoked the founding documents as the keepers of our fundamental rights and values and condemned the previous administration for its egregious violations of those right and values. All of it sounded lofty and certainly rhetorically satisfying. But then, within a few paragraphs, Obama trots out his policy plan for indefinite detention for those who we even suspect of wishing to do violence against the US.
And it was the past administration which did what that was so bad?
Even Sen. Russ Feingold can’t quite stomach the inconsistency:
While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.
Gitmo is a place. And places can be shut down. But what Obama is talking about is a policy – a policy of government – in which people can be incarcerated without charges and held for as long as the government deems necessary. How again is that a difference from the previous administration? How is that better?
Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security.
I had to laugh at this – “resist such a temptation”? For heaven sake Senator, his administration is suggesting the policy! Why would he “resist the temptation” when it is obvious that his administration sees it as a necessary tool to combat threats against the US?
Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues….
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Once it becomes policy – once it is enshrined in law (and I’m not, at this point, at all sure how the SCOTUS would rule on such a law although I’m certainly sure on how I think they should rule) it is open to use and abuse by government. So while we may or may not agree with what the previous administration did, in this regard, they never tried to make it policy and an legally blessed (but morally wrong) method of handling those we capture and incarcerate in this war against Islamic extremism.
Anyone monitoring what Barack Obama has been saying since taking the oath of office who doesn’t see a rather large authoritarian streak in the man hasn’t been paying attention. What he is suggesting is blatantly worse than what the Bush administration did. Unfortunately, it is mostly being lost in the ground clutter of the financial crisis. But it is certainly there for those who take the time to look.
The more I listen to Obama, the more of an ideologue I realize he is and how willing he is to use any opportunity to “justify” his agenda, even those that don’t fit. For instance:
In a sobering holiday interview with C-SPAN, President Obama boldly told Americans: “We are out of money.”
C-SPAN host Steve Scully broke from a meek Washington press corps with probing questions for the new president.
SCULLY: You know the numbers, $1.7 trillion debt, a national deficit of $11 trillion. At what point do we run out of money?
OBAMA: Well, we are out of money now. We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we’ve made on health care so far. This is a consequence of the crisis that we’ve seen and in fact our failure to make some good decisions on health care over the last several decades.
This is about as twisted a bit of reasoning as I’ve seen in a while. We’re “out of money” because of “health care decisions?”
What total nonsense. This is a politician using a crisis unrelated to “health care decisions” to push his ideology (i.e. that it is government that is the answer in all areas of life). As Glenn Reynolds says:
“I’ve bankrupted the nation, so now your only hope is to pass my healthcare plan.” That goes beyond chutzpah to the edge of pathological dishonesty. Except, I guess, that it’s not pathological if you get away with it. And so far, he has.
Very true – but at some point, as his favorite pastor likes to say, the chickens have got to come home to roost.
From the same interview:
SCULLY: States like California in desperate financial situation, will you be forced to bail out the states?
OBAMA: No. I think that what you’re seeing in states is that anytime you got a severe recession like this, as I said before, their demands on services are higher. So, they are sending more money out. At the same time, they’re bringing less tax revenue in. And that’s a painful adjustment, what we’re going end up seeing is lot of states making very difficult choices there..
Painful choices? But for the federal government – unprecedented spending spree. The cognitive dissonance there is mind boggling.
A very interesting piece in the LA Times about some European muslims who failed at the job of “holy warrior – or did they?
Pakistan is discovering that their unwelcome guests in the Swat Valley are harder to get rid of than cockroaches.
Apparently Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the outspoken Democratic chairman of the Agriculture panel, isn’t happy with the Waxman/Markey Cap-and-Trade bill and is promising trouble.
It seems even the NY Times is catching on to the Obama rhetorical devices. Helene Cooper points out that some of Obama’s “enemies” are “straw men” and Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes that many of Obama’s “nuanced” positions would be flip-flops if it was anyone else. Of course both articles were published in the Saturday NY Times, so its not like they’re really calling Obama to task.
The Washington Post, examining Venezuela strong man Hugo Chavez’s latest attempt to destroy any domestic opposition, wonders if the Obama administration’s silence on the matter constitutes sanction by silence. Well if that’s the case, what does Nancy Peolsi’s silence about the use of waterboarding constitute?
A porn star is considering a run for the US Senate from Louisiana. Given the fact that she’s only worked in a different type of porn than what goes on in the US Senate, she ought to fit right in.
The NY “bomb plot” has apparently degenerated into an “aspirational” one.
And finally, it looks like Brits are finally fed up. According to reports, a big “vote the bums out” movement is taking shape in the UK. We should be so lucky.
Yesterday Jon Henke challenged the Right to come up with policies that are popular, viable, workable, transformational and sustainable. (Follow the link to see what he means by each of those.) I’ve previously suggested a broad-based agenda that I thought could be sold as an alternative to the Democrats’ agenda, but I think a few of the specific policies are particularly strong, and they stick to a consistent theme.
Libertarian paternalism — which means that certain initial decisions are made for you, but you are left a way to opt out — can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the status quo. If the status quo is freedom, I’d just as soon not add in an element of paternalism in virtually any case. But if the status quo is paternalism, then libertarian paternalism is a step in the right direction. Fortunately, giving people more options is much more popular than changing their status quo decision.
I propose that the Right should target existing paternalism and offer as many opportunities to opt out as we can devise. My main two examples are education and entitlements.
I consider education to be any political coalition’s #1 long-term priority. If your opponents control education, chances are you will eventually lose on everything else. So, what policies should the Right pursue on education?
Vouchers aren’t a new idea, but we on the Right could be pursuing them in much more creative ways than we are now, to build a broad working alternative to state schools. With variable-cost vouchers and pilot programs that target the “victim classes”, the Right can play full court press on vouchers in every school district.
In every school district across the country, we should have vouchers at least equal to the variable cost of sending one extra child to public school. Democrats have argued for a long time that we need more spending per student to give kids smaller class sizes and better materials such as textbooks, and have used that to justify countless bond measures and tax increases to increase public school funding.
If a voucher just covers the variable cost of an extra student, then a voucher helps create smaller class sizes and increases the amount of money the public school can spend on each student.
You can see how a voucher for variable costs puts the Left in a Catch-22: Every extra dollar they want to spend per student is an argument for a bigger voucher, and an opportunity for the private sector to spend the dollar more efficiently than the public sector.
Make Friends in Low Places
We can do even better: pilot voucher programs should very openly target kids who are performing worst in the current system, in part because proposing vouchers for them undercuts the argument that vouchers just skim the cream of the crop.
Voucher proponents have already focused on several low-income and minority populations, using needs-based criteria and simple geography; the Right should be pushing this smart strategy much more aggressively – it undercuts Democrats’ arguments against vouchers beautifully, and makes a direct play for the Left’s base. The apparent success of the DC voucher system has made attempts to cut the program very embarrassing for Democrats; we need more of that.
Moreover, the Right should propose vouchers that help children who score on the bottom half of the test-score distribution. The research I’ve read indicates that these children show the greatest gains from voucher programs. For the same reason, target kids with histories of disciplinary problems and special-needs children (paging Sarah Palin).
It would be a bridge too far for the Democrats to argue that these kids enhance the performance of public schools after using the opposite argument to fight vouchers for so long.
And finally, the Right should propose voucher programs to target the many minors who have already dropped out of school. Kids who have outright given up on the public school system, or who rarely show up, aren’t doing anything to improve the performance of those schools. If Democrats want to keep up the pretense that they care about these kids, they shouldn’t have any problem with helping these kids become part of a new private education market.
Those are just a small number of ways we can turn the Left’s most popular arguments against them and start to build a real market in education. In the meantime, the Right would be demonstrating that markets can work better than state-administered programs, and help the “little guy” who’s been screwed by the public system.
Where necessary to make the policy viable, the Right could be flexible on the matter of vouchers for church-founded schools (like Catholic schools); the first priority is building a broad education market outside of the state.
Here’s another place where reform would be truly transformational. The Right should push for an opt-out for the major entitlements – Medicare and Social Security. A reform doesn’t have to be a full privatization to accomplish a great deal of good.
Many people are currently collecting benefits from Medicare and SocSec, and we can assume that they will turn out to vote against anything that takes away those benefits. The Right can start making progress on reducing our crushing long-term obligations by (once more for effect) giving everyone as many opportunities to opt out as possible.
Why not allow people to adjust their expected benefits, with higher or lower individual taxes to compensate for the change from the “standard” level? The SSA could set a minimum level of contributions to guarantee its promised benefits, so that the legislation becomes non-threatening to beneficiaries, and thus politically viable. To get the greatest tax cut, you opt out of all retirement benefits; you can change your mind later, but your benefit and/or tax level must be adjusted appropriately. And the more people who opt out, the lower the minimum tax rate can go; that rate could be adjusted at periodic intervals, perhaps once a year.
Similarly, why not allow people to adjust their expected retirement age, again paying higher or lower taxes to compensate?
Both of these adjustments would introduce flexibility along with a price mechanism.
Yes, this means that some people might choose to pay the minimum tax and find themselves at age 67 regretting their earlier decisions, but everyone would know that they made a conscious choice to change from the status quo. And in the meantime, those who opt out don’t feel like such direct stakeholders.
Medicare and other state medical benefits
To get more people off the rolls, allow them to opt out of Medicare eligibility and other state medical benefits in exchange for some mix of:
- lower payroll taxes
- tax-free health savings accounts
- a tax cut on their individual health insurance
- vouchers for private insurance and private disability coverage
… as long as the total cost of the mix is lower than the expected cost of Medicare benefits. This way, the Right can not only cut into the massive expected costs on the near horizon, but also get fewer people to feel like stakeholders in the future of the state-administered system.
The most effective arguments against reform are allegations that people will lose the benefits they have now. Psychologically, we regret losing a dollar more than we regret not acquiring that dollar in the first place. That’s a big part of how the Right beat universal health care under Clinton: by telling the American people that they would lose their current insurance, with which most of them were satisfied.
Whether we like it or not, it is stupid to do a frontal assault on a hardened position. Instead, we should apply libertarian paternalism to divide and conquer by giving our opponents as many chances to defect as possible.
I don’t know if this is a bit of clever semantics or a real shift in policy, it’s just too early to tell, but if true, it may signal the beginning of a move toward sanity as it concerns drugs:
The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.
In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.
“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”
But, of course, that’s precisely what a “war on drugs” has to be – a war on users, suppliers, growers, processors and the supporting network of people who get it from A to B. That’s precisely what we’ve been fighting from its inception and it is a war that’s being lost. It is time to consider the problem again and approach it with a different strategy. After all if input (I) + process(P) = output(O) and you never vary I or P, how can you expect O to ever be any different?
The Obama administration is likely to deal with drugs as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice alone, with treatment’s role growing relative to incarceration, Mr. Kerlikowske said.
Drugs are only a “criminal justice” problem because government chose prohibition – a policy that had been tried and failed miserably decades before – over a more rational and sane approach to drug use. There is no reason that a program that is much less of a threat to all of our freedoms and liberty shouldn’t be tried in the face of the miserable failure of the “war on drugs”. Perhaps then we’d see the violence inherent in the market created by government prohibition, as well as world record incarceration rates, subside dramatically. We can do this much, much better than we’re doing now.
My latest Examiner column about the usual – the law of unintended consequences.
Turbo Tax Tim Geithner tells us:
Social Security’s annual surpluses of tax income over expenditures are expected to fall sharply this year and to stay about constant in 2010 because of the economic recession, and to rise only briefly before declining and turning to cash flow deficits beginning in 2016 that grow as the baby boom generation retires.
Of course what Geithner and the Democrats want you to believe is this sudden problem with both Social Security and Medicare has been brought on by the recession and, of course, that means it’s Bush’s fault.
But I took the opportunity to hit the QandO archives and found a couple of interesting live blogs Dale did. The first was the State of the Union address from February 3, 2005.
Thirteen years from now, in 2018, social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year, the annual shortfall will get larger…By 2042 the system will be bankrupt.
That line, of course, was met by Democratic jeers.
A couple of months later at one of his rare news conferences, Bush again emphasized the point and adjusted the dates. As Dale live blogged it:
—Social Security will start spending more than it take in 2013. By 2040, it’ll be bankrupt. Like, you know, it’s not bankrupt now, really.
Again, that was met by Democratic jeers. That’s because Bush mentioned private accounts. Incredibly, much to the horror of many on the right, he also mentioned means testing. But still, the Dems were more interested in blowing off the impending crisis as fiction than addressing it.
The same story was told the next year with the same results.
Our boy Harry Reid in May of ’06:
In a statement released Monday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the trustees’ report “confirms that, despite White House scare tactics, Social Security remains sound for decades to come.”
According to Reid, “The real threat to Social Security comes from Republicans, most of whom support and voted for privatizing Social Security.”
As it turns out Medicare/Medicaid is in much worse shape than Social Security, and deserves some discussion as well – but the Social Security question is instructive. This isn’t some ‘sudden’ problem brought on by the recession. This is one that was identified years ago and ignored by the very same people who are now trying to lay blame elsewhere. Just something to remember when they stand in front of the microphones, look directly into the cameras and lie through their teeth.
Sometimes the little surprises life hands you are the most pleasant. While in Houston at the Offshore Technology Conference, my trip sponsored by API, I happened to meet another blogger who introduced himself to me as a “raging liberal”. In the course of three days and a few good beers, Chris Nelder and I had some very enjoyable and interesting conversations. And, interestingly, Chris and I agree on where the policy debate stands as it pertains to energy. Chris wrote an outstanding article detailing his observations about the current situation, and, for the most part, I agree completely with his well thought out assessment. Here is his list of “10 Inconvenient Truths” that he feels all policy makers must understand before they can effectively plan for the future:
1. We have extracted nearly all of the world’s easy, cheap oil and gas, and now we’re getting down to the difficult, expensive stuff. The largest untapped resources that remain are in extreme places like deepwater and the Arctic, and marginal formations like shale. As a result, global oil production has for all intents and purposes peaked. Natural gas production will also peak in 10 to 15 years. Neither technology nor high prices will change that. Therefore we must begin to replace those fuels with renewables, and use what remains much more efficiently, with the expectation that most of the world’s oil and gas will be gone by the end of this century.
While I agree with Chris’s point about renewables, I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that “most” of the world’s gas and oil will be gone by the end of the century, especially if we make progress developing cheap, renewable and clean alternatives. That’s not to say he might not be right, but I continue to look at the improvements in technology and the fact that the same sort of predictions have been made for decades and here we are. But on the main point of gearing up renewables, we agree completely. We must prepare for the possibility Chris is right and we need to do that now.
2. Drilling for oil and gas drilling in the OCS and ANWR must and will be done; our need for those fuels is simply too great to pass them up. An additional 2-3 mbpd will put a dent in the roughly 12 mbpd we now import, but if we drill for it now, it won’t come to market for 10 years or more. By that time, it probably won’t even compensate for the depletion of conventional oil in North America, nor will it do much to reduce prices. But it will be crucially necessary, and producing it won’t make an ugly mess of the environment.
You see someone on the left here who has studied the problem, understands the processes used and has formed an opinion that is outside his side’s political mainstream. He understands that technology has advanced to the point that the oil and gas industry can drill for oil and gas safely and with a very small footprint. In fact, advances in sub sea technology are almost to the point where the entire process can be safely and productively located under the waves. So, in a “comprehensive” scheme, the left has got to drop its almost knee-jerk resistance to such drilling and understand it must be a part of an overall energy solution.
3. Renewables are clearly the long-term answer, as is an all-electric infrastructure that runs on its clean power. However, it will likely take over 30 years for renewables to ramp up from a less than 2% share of primary energy today to 20% or more. They probably won’t even be able to fill the gap created by the decline of fossil fuels. Oil and gas currently provide about 58% of the world’s primary energy, and they will remain our primary fuels for a long time to come.
To believe “green fuels”/renewables are the immediate and total answer to today’s energy needs is to deny reality. We have to remember that there is going to be a growing energy gap as more and more nations come on-line in the first-world and demand more energy as a result. Oil, gas, nuclear and coal are going to play a large and significant part of bridging that gap even as we work to develop renewables. As a nation we cannot afford that sort of short-sighted thinking. It is critical that everyone understand that while the preference is for renewable, clean fuels, the reality is they’re still quite a ways off, while the energy demand continues to grow unabated and certainly with no concern for our personal energy preferences.