Free Markets, Free People

Hillary Clinton

Hillary jumps under the Obama bus … or was she pushed?

Seriously.  After spending 8 years holding Bush responsible for everything from 9/11 (it was an “inside job”) to a Pelosi’s hangnail, we now have the left settling on “it’s Hillary’s fault”?

Truman’s “buck” stops at the State Department now?

The point, of course, as any good commander in the military knows, is that everything that happens or doesn’t happen while you are in command is your responsibility.

So this doesn’t cut the mustard:

“I take responsibility,” Clinton said during a visit to Peru. “I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They’re the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision.”

Hillary, for political reasons, is trying to fall on Obama’s sword for him.  Someone has to take the blame (and Bush is unavailable for this one) so Obama can once again seem faultless. He does no wrong, you know.  And besides, he has a debate tonight and he wants someone to point his finger at when the subject is inevitably brought up.  Now he has her.

Jumped?  Or pushed?

This episode illustrates how spot on Eastwood’s empty chair metaphor really is.  John McCain, the stopped clock that is right twice a day, actually gets this one right:

“The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the commander-in-chief. The buck stops there.”

Of course the left first tried to blame it on the GOP claiming they’d cut millions from State’s security budget.

Here’s the bottom line on that line of attack: If you have a security contingent of Marines in the Embassy at Barbados, but not Tripoli or Benghanzi, your problem isn’t “funding”.  It’s resource allocation and politics.

Secondly, when something like this happens, you don’t act like a politician, you act like a leader.  IF you’re a leader.

This past weekend we were treated to the spectacle of David Axlerod avoiding answering Chris Wallace’s direct question about whether or not Obama met with his national security advosors and State in the aftermath of the murder of the US ambassador in Libya.

We all knew the answer before Wallace finished the question.  And Axlerod’s non-answer answer confirmed it.

Hell no, he was late for a political fund raiser in Las Vegas, and besides, these are just “bumps in the road”.

Leadership?

While Clinton’s attempt will seem courageous and loyal to some, it is pure, calculated politics.  Hillary knows that by 2016 this will be well behind here and, actually, an advantage, since she’ll have stepped up into the leadership void and acted like a leader.  Obama?  Not so much.

And make no mistake, as the state of the world and our foreign policy have announced loudly this past month – we are indeed suffering from a leadership void.

The empty chair we now have must be filled.  We, nor the world, can afford 4 more years of it remaining empty.

~McQ

Indicators — Will a disappointed left turn out for Obama in 2012?

There are any number of indicators that point out that perhaps the left is both dispirited and disappointed with Obama.   That may translate into low turnout in 2012.  And while many will argue his campaign money machine will overcome that, we’ve seen examples where money was lavished on campaigns but the results of elections were less than expected.

Take the recent Wisconsin recall election for example.   Unions and outside liberal interests pumped in more than $35 million dollars to opposed 6 Republican Senators.  The goal, despite the spine the left is now trying to establish, was to oust enough to take back the majority in the Senate and block Governor Walker’s agenda.  The result was the recall of 2 and allowing the GOP to keep their Senate majority.  The $35 million spent on these 6 elections was almost double the $19 million spent on all 115 recent Wisconsin legislative elections and just a couple million short of the governor’s election total.

What that indicates is an inability, in a reliably liberal state and despite the money spent, to motivate enough voters to go to the polls and turn out the Republican.  We’re repeatedly told that polls indicate Republicans are exceedingly unpopular, but the only poll that counts – this time in Wisconsin – doesn’t bear that out.

If the union machine can’t reliably turn out voters in a mostly liberal state for an election like this, what does that portend for Obama?

Gov. Scott Walker faces a recall election soon and polls are claiming it will be close.  Maybe.  But here’s a little clinker for the left.  It appears his “agenda” is working and doing what it is supposed to do.

Indicator two:   Talk of a primary opponent for Obama.   I’m not sure it will happen, but it does indicate deep dissatisfaction with the incumbent.  The Daily Beast reports this anecdote:

At a New York political event last week, Republican and Democratic office-holders were all bemoaning President Obama’s handling of the debt-ceiling crisis when someone said, “Hillary would have been a better president.”

“Every single person nodded, including the Republicans,” reported one observer.

The entire point of the article was to highlight the 18 million Hillary supporters saying “I told you so”.  They weren’t particularly enthusiastic about voting for Obama last election.  How enthusiastic will they be in 2012?

Indicator three:  Town Hall meetings.  In 2010 they were the venue in which the Tea Party’s anger was vented.   And we saw a wave election follow.  This year, indications are that the Town Halls may be dominated by dispirited and complaining liberals, if what Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) experienced becomes common.

On Tuesday night, McCollum’s fellow Democrats packed a music recital hall at St. Catherine University to give the six-term congresswoman an earful about their disappointment with Obama and his economic and military policies.

The crowd of about 150 was largely friendly and civil, but they were passionate about their opposition to the conservative policies flowing from the Republican-controlled Congress and what they consider an all-too-conciliatory White House.

John from St. Paul wanted to know why Obama has moved to the right. "Whose side is he on?" he asked. "What are progressives telling him?"

Just what Democratic members of Congress want to have to do, defend an increasingly unpopular president’s record.   Just ask the GOP how well that works.  What one can expect to see is an attempt by many Democrats to distance themselves from Obama if they feel he is a liability come election time.   Oh, and a little clue as to the major issue in this next election (as if anyone paying attention really needs a clue) came out during the question and answer session:

While liberals dominated the question-and-answer session, a woman who identified herself as a fiscal conservative received a warm ovation when she told the congresswoman, "You’ve got to look for ways to live within your means."

She bottom-lined it for them.   Now liberals in Congress have got to find a way to do what the woman said while trying to save their favorite welfare programs. 

These indicators, all preliminary at this point, give a picture of an incumbent president in trouble.  His base is dissatisfied and dispirited.  Even in an election which the left raised to national prominence and spent lavishly on, they were unsuccessful in accomplishing their goal.  The 18 million Hillary supporters who loyally pulled the lever for him last time aren’t at all happy with him and may not show up to vote for him this time around.  And liberals in general are expressing their dissatisfaction with his performance.

Worst of all, Barack Obama has to actually run on a record for the first time in his life.  And that record is certainly nothing to brag about.   2012 should be a very interesting election season.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Hillary Clinton and patriotism

I swear I think politicians are like geese – they wake up in a new world everyday and are both irony impaired and have no concept of hypocrisy.

Remember Senator Clinton in 2007?

[Mrs.] Clinton, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has since May requested a briefing from Pentagon officials as to whether they have undertaken any serious planning for a future withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

On Thursday she received a response from the Pentagon that she told ABC News was “outrageous and offensive.”

The letter from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman did not mince words. “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies,” he wrote.

“I deeply resent the administration’s continuing effort to impugn the patriotism of those of us who are asking hard questions,” Clinton told ABC News.

The other day, at a press conference in Jamaica, it was she who was being asked the hard questions.  Her response?

QUESTION: […] We’ve entered a situation in Libya that looks increasingly quagmire-like. And it’s starting to create a political headache for the Administration with Republican leaders arguing that the actions were inappropriate in the sense that they circumvented congressional approval for them. What is the – your vision for the endgame, a medium-term plan for U.S. involvement in Libya? And what do you make of House Speaker Boehner’s remarks?

SECRETARY CLINTON: […] I have to take issue with your underlying premise. I think that there is very clear progress being made in the organization and the operational ability of the opposition, the Transitional National Council, the military efforts on the ground. I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that Qadhafi and the people around him have their backs against the wall. The kind of support that we saw forthcoming for the Libyan opposition at the recent Libyan Contact Group meeting in Abu Dhabi was very heartening. Money is flowing, other support is available.

So I know we live in a hyper-information-centric world right now, and March seems like it’s a decade ago, but by my calendar, it’s only months. And in those months, we have seen an international coalition come together unprecedented between not only NATO, but Arab nations, the Arab League, and the United Nations. This is something that I don’t think anyone could have predicted, but it is a very strong signal as to what the world expects to have happen, and I say with all respect that the Congress is certainly free to raise any questions or objections, and I’m sure I will hear that tomorrow when I testify.

But the bottom line is, whose side are you on? Are you on Qadhafi’s side or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them? For the Obama Administration, the answer to that question is very easy.

The irony?  She’s questioning those who oppose her point of view’s patriotism.  The hypocrisy?  She’s essentially saying “you’re either with us, or against us” – something she roundly condemned in her previous life.

Oh, and of course as she rejects underlying premises, let me do my fair share.  I reject the premise that says if you oppose the illegal war in Libya it is because you are “pro-Qadhafi”.  But of course any thinking person should know it’s a false premise to begin with.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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Why Libya’s precedent is dangerous

I talked about it yesterday, but to reiterate, this is an action blessed by the UN and Arab League – and no one else.  But there are those among our leadership who see it as a precedent to pretty much do whatever we want under the principle espoused by the UN – “Right to Protect” or R2P.  This new “principle”, according to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the UN, gives the UN the “right” to go after governments that are killing their own citizens.    And not just with aircraft (something Sec. of State Clinton used to differentiate what was happening in Libya and Syria as an excuse not to move on Syria).

To illustrate my point, one only has to go to the Sunday shows for an example:

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said the events transpiring in Libya should send a strong message to the Syrian dictator.

“If he turns his weapons on his own people, he runs the risk,” Mr. Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“There is a precedent now. … We’re not going to allow Assad to slaughter his own people.”

Of course my first question is “who is ‘we’, Mr. Lieberman?”

In the case of Libya, certainly not the American people.  They were never consulted (though their representatives).  If ever there was a unilateral decision to go to war, this provides the example.

Secondly, this is precisely what the Neo-cons were accused of championing – and it now seems it has evolved as a policy of the Obama administration.  The irony is incredible.  Especially after we saw the same administration pretend like the slaughter of protesters in Iran by the government was something to essentially ignore.

And I can’t help but observe that this smacks of more than anything is international bullying.   Pick on a weak country that displeases others for whatever reason, come up with a high sounding reason to intervene and go to war.  Who you are backing and what they are or stand for isn’t as much of a priority as establishing the precedent of the “right” to act internationally without worrying about those pesky legal impediments such as Constitutions and such.   But if the country is strong militarily or has supporters in the region (Syria and the Arab League), make excuses for not applying the same standard to them. That’s precisely what we’re seeing with Syria.

One of the laugh out loud reasons for not applying the same standard to Syria was Clinton’s contention that the Syrian dictator Assad is a “reformer”.

That had the Syrian protesters shaking their head in wonder.

Ammar Abdulhamid, who has emerged as an unofficial spokesman in the West for the activists organizing the Syrian protests, said, however, that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrong to refer to Syrian President Bashar Assad as a reformer on CBS News on Sunday.

“It was ridiculous to call Bashar Assad a reformer. She should not have done that,” he said.

I’m reminded of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recent speech at West Point where he said that any president who committed us to another war in the Middle East should have his head examined.  

Frankly, I agree.  The unfortunate thing is this “precedent” as Joe Lieberman correctly identifies it, sets us up to commit to an unlimited number of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – just so we manage to get a sanction of some sort of NGO or another in the process.   We’re officially in the “others volunteering our military” business, the “world policeman’s league” with this action  – and as I understood it that was something Democrats and left objected too strenuously.

What happened to that?

~McQ

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Quote of the Day–liberal war ideal edition

Ross Douthat, who I rarely quote, manages to nail it in terms of Libya and the left:

In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.

One minor correction, there is no – none, zip, nada – connection, not even a tenuous one, to American national security and the war on Libya.  There may be afterward, if Gadhafi survives and decides he needs to find a way to strike back at the US in the “long war” he’s promised to wage.  But going in?  Nope – none.

The quote above fought with this other Douthat quote for top QotD honors:

But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

And keep in mind that once the first Tomahawk flew, whether we call our participation limited and of short duration, we’re into it up to our hips as far as the Arab world is concerned.  So whatever happens there which might turn the “Arab street” against the US yet again, any argument made by the administration that most of the mission has been conducted by others isn’t going to change a single mind.

Also keep in mind, as Douthat implies, that this “consensus war” depends on the committee who are conducting it staying together.  Can’t have them deserting and then renouncing the Western powers committed to seeing this through – can we?  Already the Arab League is a bity antsy.

Finally – watch for mission creep.  The ostensible reason for this little foray is humanitarian.  But then, so was Somalia, Kosovo and Yugoslavia. 

I predict there will be boots on the ground, whether ours or others.  It will become necessary if I have any read on Gadhafi at all.  Why?  Because he will precipitate a humanitarian crisis of some sort – on purpose.

Then what?  What if he forces a “put up or shut up” moment?

Well the fair weather supporters will go home, that’s a given.  And those who see a downside risk politically will go home.  And I promise you the Arab members will say bye bye.

And who will that leave to deal with it?

The two quotes from Douthat are very instructive in understanding the liberal philosophy of war and why it is dangerously utopian, likely to fail and not at all in the best interests of this country, or any country, to pursue.

If you haven’t met your irony quotient for the day, here’s our present Secretary of State while a former Senator talking about the “civil war” in Iraq and how we should not take part in what is going on no matter the level of the violence:

“No one wants to sit by and see mass killing,” she added. “It’s going on every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity I can imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem — we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."

Of course that was then … apparently Libya is an international problem, not a Libyan problem, and we can save the Libyans from themselves, unlike the Iraqis.

Of course …

~McQ

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How the decision was made to press for a No Fly Zone

It was made without the apparent participation of the United States in the early decision making process. From Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meetings in Paris with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday left her European interlocutors with more questions than answers about the Obama administration’s stance on intervention in Libya.

Inside the foreign ministers’ meeting, a loud and contentious debate erupted about whether to move forward with stronger action to halt Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s campaign against the Libyan rebels and the violence being perpetrated against civilians. Britain and France argued for immediate action while Germany and Russia opposed such a move, according to two European diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.

Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration’s position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.

"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.

Clinton’s unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.

"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."

I’m beginning to understand the phrase "above the fray" or "stayed out of the fray" as essentially means refusing to involve or commit to anything much less make a decision. And that’s precisely what happened at the G8 meeting.

What worried diplomats even more was this:

On the same day, Clinton had a short meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which Sarkozy pressed Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya. She declined Sarkozy’s request, according to a government source familiar with the meeting.

Sarkozy told Clinton that "we need action now" and she responded to him, "there are difficulties," the source said, explaining that Clinton was referring to China and Russia’s opposition to intervention at the United Nations. Sarkozy replied that the United States should at least try to overcome the difficulties by leading a strong push at the U.N., but Clinton simply repeated, "There are difficulties."

One diplomat, who supports stronger action in Libya, contended that the United States’ lack of clarity on this issue is only strengthening those who oppose action.

That “lack of clarity” can be translated as a lack of leadership on the issue.  Casting around in the G8 minister’s meeting for some sort of consensus toward action or inaction, both sides looked to the US to commit.  It simply refused to do so.  Whether you support or oppose a NFZ, you have to be concerned that we had no strategy or apparent game plan when we entered that meeting.

Hillary Clinton tries to spin it as it being a matter of venue:

In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday in Cairo, Clinton pointed to the U.N. Security Council as the proper venue for any decision to be made and she pushed back at the contention by the British and the French that the U.S. was dragging its feet.

"I don’t think that is fair.  I think, based on my conversations in Paris with the G-8 ministers, which, of course, included those two countries, I think we all agree that given the Arab League statement, it was time to move to the Security Council to see what was possible," Clinton said.  I don’t want to prejudge it because countries are still very concerned about it.  And I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something.  But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done and can be passed."

"It won’t do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it," Clinton added.

But that is patent nonsense.  You had most of the movers and shakers there.  In fact, it was the prefect venue to get preliminary negotiations underway, make a case one way or the other and then use the UN as the final place to seal the deal.  Diplomacy 101.

Now, this is important – note the day the BBC interview was done: Wednesday.  Note the day the G8 meeting was: Monday. 

So what happened Tuesday?

Ah, glad you asked.

At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?

The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.

"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.

You may be saying, “wohoo, he finally made a freakin’ decision”.  Well yeah, he could see how it was going and he could see where it would probably end up, so you have to wonder, was it a decision or was it more of a rationalization?

My guess it was the latter.  And it is the third “strategy” for the region that the US has displayed in as many months.

But Obama’s stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention – instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.

"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."

Bingo – Clemons is dead on the money.  There is no well thought out strategy for the Middle East – this is just someone winging it, figuring out where world (or regional opinion lies) and giving himself enough space for deniability should something go wrong.  The cool kids in the world want to bomb Libya, so hey, we should probably do it too now that they’re committed – but we shouldn’t be seen as leading it in case it turns out badly”.

The rationalization for backing the action comes from the realization that it is probably going to happen, and unlike the US, France and the UK aren’t going to let Russia and Germany decide it for them without ever engaging in a fight. 

So we now trot out our 3rd “realignment” of “our interests and values”?  Really? Pray what are they?  And what were they?

Clemons point about the fact that this points to a reactive presidency shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It’s part of leadership, or lack thereof.  Leaders have a strategy and a plan.  You may not like it, but they have one.   And since it has to do with foreign affairs, it should address the best interests of the US.  Three different strategies driven by who knows what in a three month period does not argue for a comprehensive or coherent strategy, much less a plan.

This is the ultimate in finger in the wind diplomacy and another in a long line of indicators highlighting the dangerous lack of leadership under which this country is now suffering.

~McQ

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Hillary Clinton: Al Jazeera shaming US Media

In a defense of the State Department budget, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says “we are in an information war and we’re losing that war”.

Further, Clinton claimed that the private media isn’t up to the task of winning it saying, “Our private media cannot fill that gap”.

The message – we need more money for government propaganda and media.

Interestingly she then goes on to cite a private media network as “winning”:

"Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened up a global English language and multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English language network. I’ve seen it in a couple of countries and it’s quite instructive."

There is a place (and need) for government propaganda and it isn’t on a private media network (although in some cases you’d be hard pressed to believe that given that some of our private news networks seem to be entities dedicated to the unquestioning republishing of government press releases).  So propaganda operations should be conducted via government means – many of which are in place today.

Clinton seems to be calling for a government news network to compete with other government news networks (Russian and Chinese).  Yet she uses Al Jazeera as the example of who is winning the information war.

Al Jazeera is kicking butt in the coverage of the Middle East and N. Africa.   If you haven’t checked out their live blogs, you’re missing the inside scoop.  For instance did you know that Hugo Chavez has offered to mediate the crisis in Libya and Gadhafi has accepted (I’m not sure what that means, since there is no mention of the other side in this mediation, but still).

But Clinton is doing a little bait and switch – Al Jazeera (private) is kicking the US (private) media’s rear when it comes to ME coverage, the US media (private) is not up to the job, therefore we need more money to set up a government outlet (what?). 

Yeah, nothing could go wrong with that, could it?  

And again, more government (and more spending) is the answer to a perceived private sector deficit (Al Jazeera is located in the ME – that’s their beat).

Of course all of this sort of depends on how you define the function of a news organization, doesn’t it?   Sounds to me that Ms. Clinton thinks they should be “aiding and abetting” government in the functions it deems important – like propaganda.  And they should be covering the stories she deems important.  She’s not at all pleased with how the media here has covered the news in the Middle East apparently.

And then there was this little nugget:

“Our private media, particularly cultural programming often works at counter purposes to what we truly are as Americans. I remember having an Afghan general tell me that the only thing he thought about Americans is that all the men wrestled and the women walked around in bikinis because the only TV he ever saw was Baywatch and World Wide Wrestling."

So because some Afghan general prefers to see grown men wrestle and beautiful women prance around in bikinis, our private media is deficient and presents a picture that is at "counter purposes to what we truly are as Americans". Sounds like someone really, really, really wants a government propaganda channel set up so we can present what we "truly are as Americans". My bet, though, is that Afghan general will still be watching wrestling and bikinis when all is said and done … and spent.

~McQ

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As Egypt burns: has the administration picked a side? And some on the left are still in “moon pony” land about the Muslim Brotherhood and the potential for a Muslim state emerging

I’m not sure how you might interpret this, but it seems to me, given what Secretary Hillary Clinton has been saying, that we’ve picked a side in Egypt.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Sunday for “an orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt, stopping short of telling its embattled president, Hosni Mubarak, to step down but clearly laying the groundwork for his departure.

Granted it doesn’t tell Mubarak to give it up, it certainly doesn’t openly support the protesters, but make no mistake, in diplo-speak, this is pretty close to doing both.  I’m not judging it one way or the other, I’m just sayin’.

Stipulating that, who does the administration think will lead the transition to that country having more “economic and political freedom?”

Well, she doesn’t say, but my guess is the administration would find Mohammad ElBaradei to be an acceptable choice.  The question is does he really have the support to actually take power or, as many worry, if Mubarak flies off to Saudi Arabia – the country of choice for ousted dictators – will ElBaradei suddenly find himself on the outside looking in as more powerful factions compete for control?

Of course, there are those on the left here who are pretty sure that the Muslim Brotherhood running some sort of anti-American Muslim state is just a myth and nothing to worry about.  Meanwhile, in the real world, Haarretz reports:

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group,is in talks with other anti-government figures to form a national unity government without President Hosni Mubarak, a group official told DPA on Sunday.

Gamal Nasser, a spokesman for the Brotherhood, told DPA that his group was in talks with Mohammed ElBaradei – the former UN nuclear watchdog chief – to form a national unity government without the National Democratic Party of Mubarak.

The group is also demanding an end to the draconian Emergency Laws, which grant police wide-ranging powers The laws have been used often to arrest and harass the Islamist group.

Nasser said his group would not accept any new government with Mubarak. On Saturday the Brotherhood called on President Mubarak to relinquish power in a peaceful manner following the resignation of the Egyptian cabinet.

So the moves within the opposition are beginning to become visible.  Meanwhile useful idiots like ElBaradei are necessary to calm the rest of the world to give the “revolution” an acceptable face until power can be consolidated.  And leave it to ElBaradei to cooperate fully, given the hubris of the man:

Speaking to CNN later Sunday, ElBaradei said he had a popular and political mandate to negotiate the creation of a national unity government.

"I have been authorized — mandated — by the people who organized these demonstrations and many other parties to agree on a national unity government," he told CNN.

A couple of things to remember – the Muslim Brotherhood has been the opposition in Egypt, not ElBaradei.  The MB is closely identified with the revolutionary nationalism that is now evident, ElBaradei has been in “exile”.  The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned from having seats in the Egyptian Parliament, yet they’ve still successfully run candidates as “independents” to capture a portion of seats.

Also remember that Egyptian prisons have been the incubators of Islamic jihad and that the MB has been well represented in those prisons.

Or, to put it more succinctly, look for the MB to make its moves when Mubarak is safely out of the country and the consolidation of power is near complete (and one way they will do that is by refusing Mubarak’s party any part in a new government).  At that point, Mr. Useful, ElBaradei, may not be useful enough to keep around as the MB will be powerful enough to control Egypt without caring much how acceptable they seem to the rest of the world.

~McQ

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Foreign policy the venue for Obama to regain “political momentum? Really?

A blurb from the Washington Post that I find somewhat ironic:

Obama’s return to Washington from 10 days in Martha’s Vineyard and a quick stop in New Orleans to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will begin with an address to the nation marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Days later, he will preside over the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks in Washington.

Both events offer Obama some political opportunities to help end a frustrating summer on a more positive note. But each is fraught with expectations that could prove difficult to meet in the long run, especially as the White House begins planning a reelection campaign next year.

And a week-long focus on foreign policy — timing driven largely by events outside of the president’s control — could seem oddly out of step during an election season that has been dominated by concerns over the national economy.

I guess “political opportunities” is in the eye of the beholder.  The Post goes on to say that the timing of the foreign policy events is mostly “outside of the president’s control” meaning, obviously with the elections in November rapidly approaching, one would normally not look to foreign policy as a place he would gather “political momentum” as the Post’s title says.

There are a couple of reasons for that in Obama’s case.  First he’s probably the least qualified president we’ve ever had in the foreign policy arena.  Certainly the most inexperienced.  And to this point, it’s rather difficult to point to any achievements in that area.  So it seems to me to be a good deal of wishing and hoping by the Post’s Michael Shear if he thinks this is the arena in which lay Obama’s best chance for gathering “political momentum” again.

Secondly, Iraq can hardly be considered an accomplishment of his administration.  The drawdown has been accomplished there in accordance with a timeline negotiated and agreed to (the SOFA agreement) by the Bush administration, before Obama ever took office.  Ironically, we never hear Obama saying he inherited that.

As for the peace talks in the Middle East, it will most likely be the usual political theater with little accomplished.  Turkey’s entrance into the ME debate on the side of the Arabs has had, I would think, a very profound effect on the possibility of such negotiations succeeding.  I don’t think that impact is yet fully understood, but I suspect we’ll get an inkling of that when these talks begin. 

If foreign policy is Obama’s best hope for regaining political momentum, then he’s in real political trouble.

Speaking of irony, this also caught my eye:

Forty-eight percent (48%) of U.S. voters now regard President Obama’s political views as extreme. Forty-two percent (42%) place his views in the mainstream, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

By comparison, 51% see the views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as mainstream. Thirty-five percent (35%) think Clinton’s views are extreme. Fourteen percent (14%) are undecided.

Incredible to think that the person who first tried to nationalize health care is seen as less extreme than the guy who did.  The poll speaks to a possibility though.  If Obama’s job approval numbers continue to decline (now at 43%) and if the numbers that consider him extreme continue to climb, I can see a possible challenge from the left in 2012 from Hillary Clinton.

And, btw, if there are any “successes” in foreign policy, you can bet that Ms. Clinton will be sure that she gets her share of the credit.

But you have to chuckle a bit about the noted poll numbers – Hillary Clinton, who was certainly regarded by at least a plurality and possibly a majority of being an extreme leftist is now considered by the majority as being “mainstream”?  I guess that’s relatively true in the context of Mr. Obama, but I doubt that it is true in reality.  She’s hidden herself well – ideologically speaking – these last few years, you have to give her that.

Oh, and speaking of extremist views, the Rasmussen poll didn’t just concentrate on Democrats:

Among five top contenders for the White House in 2012, only former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is viewed as more extreme than the president. Just 38% say Palin’s views are mainstream, while 55% regard them as extreme.

Mitt Romney, the ex-Massachusetts governor who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, is considered mainstream by 45% and extreme by 33%. Twenty-two percent (22%), however, are not sure about his views.

Forty-four percent (44%) say the views of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, another unsuccessful 2008 GOP hopeful, are in the mainstream. Thirty-eight percent (38%) think Huckabee is extreme, and another 18% are not sure.

It’s important to note that the questions did not define “mainstream” or “extreme.”

Love the last line – yup, I guess “extreme” is something only an individual can define based on his personal ideology (and we all have them).  It is like pornography – you know extreme when you see extreme.

Anyway, back to Obama and foreign policy.  If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t bank on foreign policy being the area that pulls his political fortunes out of the ditch.  He’s certainly, to this point, shown us nothing that would indicate he has a grasp on the situations around the globe and much to demonstrate he hasn’t.  I can’t imagine how his political momentum is going to be restarted in an area in which he spends so little time and effort.

~McQ

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So was the Obama administration looking for a fight with Israel?

An odd set of circumstances and an ill timed Israeli announcement has evoked a very high profile and seemingly bitter denunciation of Israel by the US.  And, instead of stepping it down, after the initial condemnation, the US seems to be continuing to step it up.

It all comes after a visit to Israel by VP Joe Biden coincided with an Israeli announcment that it had approved the construction of 1600 housing units in Jerusalem.  The US chose to take that personally – literally.   Variously described as an “insult”, a “slap in the face” and “affront” to the Vice President and the administration, the problem was escalated by a phone call by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to PM Benjamin Netanyahu.  This weekend David Axelrod kept the controvery alive on the Sunday talk shows.

So what’s up with all of this?  Certainly its fair to say that Biden was embarrassed by the announcement, something he had no idea was going to be made, much less coincide with his visit.  And it is certainly clear, after you read about the announcment and how it was made, that no one was more embarrassed and surprised than Netanyahu.  As he’s admitted subsequently, that it was ill timed and shouldn’t have been made while Biden was there.

End of problem?  Hardly.  It continues to grow, fester and escalate.   But the announcement, other than its timing, isn’t something which should surprise anyone.  We’re not talking about the West Bank here – where Israel has promised not to build.  We’re talking about East Jerusalem in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood.   It is an area over which Israel has adamently refused to negotiate.  This is not something of which the US is unaware:

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Thursday defended Israel’s decision to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, saying sovereignty over the capital has never been negotiable and that Israel would not make any more concessions for peace.

Again, if true that “sovereignty over the capital has never been neotiable” why, other than the diplomatic embarrassment, has the decision suddenly become a matter of concern soliciting demands from Clinton to include one that reverses the housing decision?

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary thinks that part of the reaction is simply indicative of the personality of this administration. Its temperment, if you will:

It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

I certainly think that’s part of it. But it still doesn’t explain it all. That’s more about style – and while I think it is a fair description of this administration’s style, I’m still not convinced that answers the mail in this regard. As Rubin goes on to remind us, 15 years ago the official US policy declared that Jerusalem should be the “undivided capital of Israel”. It seems a little odd to get this excited about the internal zoning decisions concerning that city if that’s our policy.

So what else is it? How does an embarrassing situation become escalated into a diplomatic confrontation with an ally? Well, there’s an interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine that says it is much more than just a matter of embarrassment. And, if I read it correctly, the US was, most likely, looking for the diplomatic equivalent of a fight with Israel if this is true:

On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus’s instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. “Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling,” a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. “America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding.

You connect the dots.  Was this rather minor problem the perfect excuse to try and recover our image of strength?  As many of us have been saying, 2009 was a year of assessment when other world leaders took stock of the new administration.  It looks like the Arab world’s verdict is in.

The briefing went further to say that the weakness and Israeli “intransigence” (as described by the various Arab leaders) was actually putting the lives of our soldiers in the CENTCOM theater at further risk.

This briefing and its revelations has been mostly unreported, although Jake Tapper did hint at it when questioning David Axelrod on ABC’s “This Week”:

TAPPER: All right, last question. Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem. President Obama was said to be very upset about it. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it. Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk? And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD: Well, look, what happened there was an affront. It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing. What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process. We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally. The bonds run deep. But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave. That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president. I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER: I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD: I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms. But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

Tapper raised the issue brought up by the CENTCOM briefing and Axelrod simply avoided it.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have taken the escalated diplomatic row as an excuse to bail on the peace talks again much to no one’s surprise.

Is this row all about posturing for the Arabs in reaction to the findings of the CENTCOM briefing?  Is it an attempt to strengthen our image in those circles? If so this is a pretty poor way of doing that.  It accepts the premise that Israel is the only problem and therefore it is only Israel that must concede to solve the problem.  Read Clinton’s demands if you doubt that’s not the case.   It also identifies as a problem something that has previously never been considered one.

In the meantime, much like the people of the US, Arab leaders are not going to be impressed by only talk – something the administration is long on.  It is going to demand action – something which puts the administration in a very awkward position given what they’re now demanding vs. what Israel may be willing to do.  And even if Israel capitulates, it will simply mean more demands – all to the detriment of our strongest ally in the region.

A very interesting situation brought on by perceived weakness and a diplomatic style akin to a pit bull at a cat show.  It will be interesting to monitor the situation and see what comes of it, but, as one Israeli envoy noted, US/Israel relations are at their lowest ebb in 35 years.  And I doubt this has substantially increased our image among the Arabs.

~McQ

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