Friday, August 29, 2008

The Big Lie Of Obama

There was a fair bit of talk about Bill Clinton's speech Wednesday night to the Democratic convention, and Peggy Noonan even went so far as to declare that "The Master Has Arrived." But she is wrong. When it comes to political oratory, the master arrived last night at Invesco Field. Bill Clinton can give a glib speech, but there has always been something missing from his delivery. Try as he might—and he really did try—he was never able to convincingly fake sincerity. Barack Obama can fake sincerity, and that, more than the words of a speech or the pageantry that precedes it, is the key to his power as a speaker.

His speech last night was brilliant and perfect. It is too bad that the whole thing was a lie, which depended on the smoothness and apparent sincerity of Senator Obama's delivery to lull the listener into a state of credulity and prevent him from asking too many questions.

Here's an example that is small but revealing. Obama led with the best sales pitch he has to offer: that he is not George Bush. But of course, Obama is running against John McCain, not Bush. So he attempted to justify the substitution by claiming that "John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time." This statistic has been used throughout the Democratic convention, but it makes no sense. Bush is not a member of Congress and casts no votes there—so how can you compare his voting record to that of McCain?

But don't examine this folly; ask only what it accomplishes. It allows Obama to run against an unpopular president who will not defend himself because he is not actually in the race.

When it came to making the positive case for himself, Obama's first goal was to address the public's concerns about his background, particularly his patriotism and how much he identifies with American values. So he drew, not from his own biography, but from that of his family.

[I]n the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships….

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's the one who taught me about hard work….

I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me.

In addition to identifying himself with the lower-income, blue-collar types who have so far refused to vote for him, Obama is also painting himself as someone with uncontroversial, traditional American values, someone who believes in fighting for your country and improving your life through hard work and perseverance.

This is supposed to make us forget that Barack Obama launched his political career under the spiritual guidance of a pastor who delivered far-left tirades calling on God to damn America—and he launched his first campaign under the patronage of a former domestic terrorist. Theirs are the stories that also shaped Barack Obama—but he wants to write Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers out of his biography.

Worse, he wants us to stop asking questions about this sort of thing.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain. But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism. The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain.

It's awfully generous of Obama to refrain from questioning the patriotism of a war hero. The real purpose of this statement, of course, is not to protect McCain but to protect Obama. Its purpose is to declare off-limits any further questions or discussion about his past association with Wright, Ayers, and all of the other shady characters from Obama's past.

On another area where he is particularly weak, foreign policy, Obama decided that the best defense is a strident offense. He projected a righteous self-confidence intended to make his viewers forget his opposition to the surge and his weak and stumbling response to the Russian invasion of Georgia. In this section, note again the gap between rhetoric and reality—and the willing suspension of critical thought that he requires of his listener.

For example, here is what he has to say on Afghanistan.

When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell—but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

Obama criticizes McCain for allegedly going soft on al-Qaeda—it's a good thing he's not going to question anyone's patriotism—yet all Obama can offer is precisely the policies we are already pursuing: more money and troop for Afghanistan and one-at-a-time special forces strikes against al-Qaeda leaders "if we have them in our sights," which we have been doing for years. What Obama is presenting as a tough and visionary new policy is his support for the Bush administration's status quo. Does he really think that no one will notice?

His statement on Iraq is an even more brazen evasion. He boasts that "today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush administration,…John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war." But all of the current discussion about drawing down troops from Iraq is possible only because of the success of the surge—which John McCain advocated and Barack Obama opposed. He is presenting the success of a military buildup as vindication for a policy of military retreat.

Perhaps his worst line, however, is this one: "You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances." This is a reference to NATO—which has been conspicuously useless in the Georgian conflict, refusing even a symbolic resolution to suspend military cooperation with Russia. This statement is evidence that Obama is not even paying attention to world events. But he expects the viewer to be carried forward by the certainty and stridency of his tone. He asserts with an air of conviction, "don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country"—but he depends on the air of conviction, not any actual evidence, to sway the listener.

Addressing criticisms that he offers soaring rhetoric with no specifics, Obama replies "So let me spell out exactly what…'change' would mean if I am president." But what he presents is mostly a list of aspirations, such as "Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it." Or: "for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East." How is that to be achieved? Is it even possible to achieve it? Obama offers no answer.

Obama's list of specifics continues in this vein, promising everything to everyone in a way that would make the Clintons blush—but with such an earnest sincerity of delivery that it somehow doesn't seem like pandering.

In foreign policy, he promises the miraculous: "I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease." He's going to defeat terrorism with "partnerships"; face down Russian and Iranian aggression with diplomacy; and while he's at it, he will end poverty, disease, and changes in the weather. All of these promises are equally implausible.

As to domestic issues, here is what he promises on energy policy:

I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

Five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced! He'll just snap his fingers and the laws of economics will bend to his will.

Oh yes, and he will "cut taxes for 95% of all working families," but he'll "pay for every dime." How? "I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less—because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy." Does anyone remember the Grace Commission in the 1980s or Al Gore's task force in the 1990s? Eliminating "waste, fraud, and abuse" is a perennial promise made by politicians, but it will never produce significant results, because you can't pare down a $3 trillion federal budget by squeezing out dimes.

But the biggest contradiction papered over in Obama's speech is not about Obama's background, his record, or his policies. It is an ideological contradiction. The theme of his speech is "The American Promise." Here is how he defines it.

What is that promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves—protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology….

That's the promise of America—the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

So we'll be free to run our own lives—except that we are also required to be our brothers' keepers. We will have a free market—except for the vast network of regulations needed to force businesses to live up to a long list of "responsibilities." We will take responsibility for solving our own problems—except those relating to roads, education, health care, water, toys, science, and so on and on.

In essence, Obama is declaring simultaneous loyalty to individualism and to collectivism, to independence and to dependence, to free markets and to state control.

If you wonder which half of this self-contradictory agenda will win out, Obama doesn't leave you in suspense. He criticizes McCain because "For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy—give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else." The references to "two decades" and to "trickle-down economics"—a derogatory term for Ronald Reagan's pro-free-market policies—make his meaning clear. It is the free market that he wants us to regard as "discredited."

What he wants us to forget is what was actually discredited two decades ago by the collapse of the Soviet Union. What was discredited was socialism, not capitalism.

That is what makes this the most dangerous election in many years. It has been almost half a century since the left's ideas have had such an intelligent, charismatic, and appealing advocate. He is now preparing to lead the left's effort to reconstitute itself in the first serious way since the Fall of Communism. He must be defeated.

Obama's acceptance speech is likely to be effective, and we should expect him to have a solid "bounce" in the polls now that the convention is over. But there is a way to defeat Obama. His whole campaign is a beautifully presented illusion, and the way to defeat it is to keep hammering on the difference between illusion and reality. Because the more grandiose the illusion, the more thoroughly it will be rejected when it is revealed as a lie.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Swift Boat Attacks Obama

The ad campaign drawing attention to Barack Obama's intimate connection to bomb-throwing leftist radical William Ayers is this election's equivalent of the "Swiftboat" ads that sank John Kerry's campaign. So the Obama campaign has listened to the conventional wisdom on the left about the Swiftboat campaign: that Kerry's mistake was that he initially ignored the ads rather than fighting back against them.

Hence Obama is mounting a counter-attack. He has put out an ad deriding John McCain as being "stuck in the sixties"—except that these new ads were not put out by the McCain campaign, and the ad does not actually answer the charges against Obama. The problem is that by running ads on the issue, Obama is merely drawing more attention to it, causing voters to wonder: who is this guy Ayers, and what exactly is his connection to Obama? It invites precisely the investigation Obama is attempting to avoid.

The article below describes another, much more ominous line of attack: using campaign finance laws and threats against the broadcast licenses of television stations in an attempt to suppress the ads. This is, of course, an even bigger mistake, because it will now make the Ayers ads into a cause to be defended as a crusade for freedom of speech—and it will make Obama look like he is trying to use the power of the state to cover up a damning fact about his background.

Obama has no good way out of this problem, for the same reason that Kerry had no good way out: there is an un-evadable truth behind both ad campaigns. In the early 1970s, John Kerry really did slander his fellow servicemen while he was an anti-war protester with the anti-American left. And Barack Obama really did launch his political career under the patronage of an unrepentant domestic terrorist.

The main credit for breaking this story goes to blogger Steve Diamond, in posts like this one. Michael Barone has a good overview of the Obama-Ayers connection, which centers around speculation that Ayers—whose father was a friend of Mayor Daley—was Obama's initial political sponsor in the famously corrupt, nepotistic world of the Chicago political machine.

"Obama to DOJ: Block Terrorist Ad," Ben Smith, The Politico, August 25 Obama's campaign has written the Department of Justice demanding a criminal investigation of the "American Issues Project," the vehicle through which Dallas investor Harold Simmons is financing the advertisements….

The project is "a knowing and willful attempt to violate the strictures of federal election law," Obama general counsel Bob Bauer wrote to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Keeney last week in a letter provided to Politico. Bauer argued that by advocating Obama's defeat, the ad should be subject to the contribution limits of federal campaign law, not the anything-goes regime of issue advocacy.

Bauer's letter called on the Justice Department to open "an investigation of the American Issues Project; its officers and directors; and its anonymous donors, whoever they may be."

"This is a sad ploy to circumvent the First Amendment by a campaign who has no arguments with the merits of our ad. It's the classic maneuver: If you can't win on the merits, file a lawsuit," said a spokesman for the American Issues Project, Christian Pinkston, who said his group's non-profit status allowed it to participate in elections as long as it does a majority of policy work, which it plans to do….

Obama's campaign has written a pair of letters to station managers carrying the ads.

The letter calls the ad's attempt to link Obama to terrorism "an appalling lie, a disgraceful smear of the lowest kind on the senator's patriotism and commitment to the rule of law."

Airing the ad "is inconsistent with your station's obligations under Federal Communications Commission regulations," the letter continues, saying Simmons' group lacks formal incorporation….

Simmons, who made his first fortune in chain pharmacies, was a major donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that damaged Kerry in 2004 by questioning his patriotism.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lenin Lives In Democrat Party Convention

This was partly because of the delivery of many of the speakers. The convention organizers were right to put the robotic, hopelessly artificial Nancy Pelosi up first, in the hope that her audioanimatronic performance would be forgotten by the evening's end. But perhaps the biggest surprise was the amateurish speech given by Caroline Kennedy. She delivered a line that sounds great in print and could have been one of the evening's blockbusters—"I have never had someone inspire me the way people tell me my father inspired them, but I do now"—yet it was delivered, by a woman in her forties, in the manner of an awkward and superficial teenager, but without the earnestness of youth.

But the larger problem was the speeches themselves. Conventions like this have a speech-writing "machine," an organization that produces the text that is given to most of the speakers in order to make sure that they stick to the convention's themes and don't say anything embarrassing. But this convention's speech-writers are unusually bland and amateurish, asking their speakers to mouth a series of anonymous bromides that could have been spoken by anyone—and would be spoken by no one, in real life.

From Nancy Pelosi: "America stands at a crossroads, with an historic choice between two paths for our country. One is a path of renewing opportunity and promoting innovation here at home, and of greater security and respect around the world. It is the path that renews our democracy by bringing us together as one nation under God." From Jesse Jackson, Jr.: "[W]hat unites us is greater than what divides us and…America is at its strongest when hard work is rewarded and all of our dreams are within reach." From Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill: "In America, all of us come from different places, but we come together because we want that dream of opportunity for all Americans. That's why it's not just your dream or my dream. It's the American dream."

And so on. It is a series of speeches that all sound as if you've heard them at least a dozen times before.

The big performance of the night was from Michelle Obama. Taking advantage of the opportunity to formally introduce herself to many voters who are just now tuning in to the campaign, her goal was to neutralize some of the negative impressions that she created during the primaries, when she denounced America as "downright mean," complained repeatedly about how hard it is to get by—for a couple of Ivy-League-educated lawyers with six-figure incomes—and famously declared that her husband's campaign made her proud of America "for the first time."

That might help you understand why she placed such emphasis on this line, which almost seemed to pop up out of the blue: "That is why I love this country. And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much." She was going out of her way to present herself as patriotic—and overall, she was trying to seem innocuous and acceptable to the public.

The problem is that she was trying—and it showed. I usually ask my wife to watch speeches like this, because she is uncanny at gauging the sense-of-life aspects of these events: who is being honest and who is being evasive, who is angry and who is comfortable, and so on. In watching Michelle Obama's speech, she identified two "tells" that gave away what was happening. The first was Michelle's habit of making tight, jabbing hand gestures as she spoke; the second was the choppy, forced rhythm of her delivery. To that, I added my own observation. She ended her sentences with a kind of softness of the voice, tinted with a touch of raw emotion, as if she were getting a bit misty-eyed—except that this edge of emotion was added to practically every sentence. It had the character of a deliberate affectation, as if she were reminding herself "I should seem soft and emotionally vulnerable now," rather than having a genuine emotional reaction to what she was saying. Sherri summed it up by saying the overall sense she got was one of tight control. It was the manner of a woman who is not comfortable on stage just being herself—but who has not yet gotten comfortable wearing a public mask. What shows through is the effort of presenting a carefully tailored persona.

As to content of the speech, the persona we were presented was in keeping with the spirit of the night. Michelle Obama presented herself as normal and down-to-earth by means of expressing trite and conventional Hallmark-card sentiments such as this one: "I come here as a mom whose girls are the heart of my heart and the center of my world. They're the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. Their future and all our children's future is my stake in this election." It's a fine sentiment, expressed in the least original words possible. All of this "our children's future and our children's children's future" stuff is the sort of thing career politicians mumble in their sleep.

But it fit the theme of the evening: that Barack Obama is perfectly normal, innocuous, and mainstream, as typically American as apple pie. Nancy Pelosi, if anyone could bear to listen to her, set the theme early on. Forget about Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah "God Damn America" Wright. Forget about Obama's close association with bomb-throwing leftist radical William Ayers, a connection we are just beginning to learn all about. Instead, Pelosi insisted:

Barack Obama's values are enduring American values: a belief in personal responsibility, community, and hard work that brought him to the struggling neighborhoods of Chicago; a faith in God that gives him strength; a patriotic love of America that gives him courage; and his wife Michelle and his entire loving family, inspiring him every day to strengthen and renew this great country.

Hard work, faith, patriotism, and family—are you sure he isn't the Republican nominee?

All of this will do no direct harm to Obama's campaign, but it will not be enough to sell him to the public. Especially given the mass-rally fanfare with which Obama began his run for the presidency, voters don't need to know that Barack Obama and his family are down-to-earth, regular folks. They need to know what he stands for, what he has done, and what he will do that is so special.

The Democrats' biggest problem comes when they move from vague, Hallmark-moment bromides to the specifics of what they stand for. When they did that on Monday night, the answer was always: a socialist welfare state. They harped on the need for the individual to sacrifice for the collective. They repeated stories of their view of modern America, which is apparently populated by agonized and lonely little people suffering through the Dickensian cruelties of a capitalist society, looking for a leader who is "strong enough to bring hope to the mother…worried about her child in Iraq; hope to the man who's unemployed, but can't afford gas to find a job; hope to the student working nights to pay for her sister's health care, sleeping just a few hours a day." They denounced Republicans—repeatedly—for not really caring about anyone but the "super-rich." And in the one specific policy proposal repeated over the evening, they vowed to socialize medicine.

This was the theme of Ted Kennedy's brief appearance. Coming on stage for what may be his last big public appearance as he undergoes treatment for a brain tumor, Kennedy declared:

For me, this is a season of hope…. New hope—and this is the cause of my life—new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American—north, south, east and west, young and old—will have decent, quality, affordable health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege…. With Barack Obama—yes, we can. And finally, finally—yes, we will.

But Kennedy, too, tried to dress this up in classic can-do Americanism.

[W]hen John Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn't say, it's too far, we can't get there, we shouldn't even try. Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge—and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon. Yes, we are Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again.

That's right: can-do American ingenuity can even make socialism work.

The combination of a socialist agenda with conventional American bromides is no coincidence. That's the whole method by which the Democrats have to implement their agenda. A recent poll commissioned by Investor's Business Daily is very revealing in this regard.

In the survey of 856 adults taken Aug. 4-9, Obama supporters overwhelmingly backed an economic system that "emphasizes private property and free markets"—in other words, the capitalist model we have now. The breakdown was 59% in favor of such a system vs. only 11% against….

Conversely, Obama backers by 59% to 15% turned thumbs-down on a socialist system that "emphasizes government control or ownership of industries and the economy."

Yet, when also asked if they personally believe "the government should control or own key industries such as health care and energy," 40% of Obama supporters said yes and 31% said no….

On another tenet of socialism—that government should redistribute wealth and income—Obama supporters disagreed by a margin of 52% to 28%.... Yet when also asked if they were "willing to pay higher taxes to support more social programs," Obama supporters answered yes by a margin of 42% to 31%.

The gap identified in this poll is precisely what Obama and the Democrats seem to be counting on. Socialism is widely discredited—but the moral rhetoric behind it lives on. Most voters are still intimidated by the altruist morality. So they hear a lot of rhetoric about compassion, about the struggles of the proletariat (excuse me, "working Americans"), about all of those evil people who only care about the super-rich—and you don't want to be one of those people, do you?—and they can be browbeaten into accepting the elements of a socialist economy piecemeal. But the whole key is not to tell them that what they are accepting is socialism—and to throw a lot of red-white-and-blue bunting on it for window dressing.

And that is the purpose of the Democratic convention's bland, mom-and-apple-pie bromides: to keep people from recognizing that welfare-state socialism is what they really have to offer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vice President B-I-D-E-N? hahahahahaha!

Biden was chosen for one reason only. It's not because he will deliver his home state; Delaware's few electoral votes will probably go to Obama anyway. It's not because he matches Obama's youth and charisma; he is more famous as a gaffe-prone loudmouth. And it's not because he will deliver a large following among Democratic voters. Biden ended his 1988 presidential bid in 1987—he never even made it into the actual year of the election—and he did only a little better this time around, ending his most recent campaign on January 3, after capturing 1% of the vote in the Iowa caucus.

No, Biden was chosen because he is, in Obama's words, "one of America's leading voices on national security." Obama clearly grasps how much it hurt him to be caught hanging out on the beach in Hawaii—unaware of the significance of world events—while John McCain showed presidential-style leadership in his reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia. So in introducing his running mate, Obama made sure to note that Biden "recently went to Georgia, where he met quietly with the president and came back with a call for aid and a tough message for Russia."

In effect, Obama is acknowledging that he does not have a track record, reputation, or any visible expertise on foreign policy. So he has chosen Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to make up for it.

The theory is a sound one. Its application is a disaster.

It is a good idea for a presidential candidate to choose someone who is strong on the issues where he is weak. So by all means, Obama should pick a serious foreign policy thinker. Unfortunately, Joe Biden is not that man. And the fact that Obama thinks he is that man reveals a lot about how Obama makes decisions.

Biden is only thought of as a foreign-policy deep thinker within a very insular Washington center-left establishment. But consider his judgments on the big issues of war and peace in recent years.

Barack Obama's main claim to superior judgment in foreign policy is his opposition to the initial invasion of Iraq—but Biden voted for the invasion and has repeatedly defended that decision. (NRO's Jim Geraghty provides a useful compilation of Biden quotes on this and other issues.) I agree with Biden and find many of his arguments in favor of the war vote to be valid and convincing. But precisely for that reason, Biden's arguments undermine one of the pillars of Obama's campaign.

John McCain's main claim to superior judgment in foreign policy and military affairs is his early advocacy of the "surge" that has defeated al Qaeda in Iraq and largely pacified the country. But Biden opposed the surge, declaring it "a tragic mistake" when it was first announced and declaring it a "failure" even after it was clearly beginning to work.

As "Allahpundit" at Hot Air observes: "To the extent that public consensus has settled on the notion that the war was wrong but the surge was right, Biden will be the one and only candidate among the final four who'll have voted wrong on both."

But Biden did make one important contribution of his own to the Iraq debate: a harebrained scheme to partition Iraq into three smaller quasi-states based on ethnic and religious differences, and then to rapidly withdraw US forces. As the man who famously denounced Slobodan Milosevic as a war criminal, Biden ought to have known how well a plan for the Balkanization of Iraq would work. Yet in making the proposal, he actually cited Bosnia as his model for Iraq.

But don't take my word for how bad this plan was. Ask the Iraqis. Reuters reports that Obama's choice is not going over well in Iraq.

Senator Joe Biden may be one of the only US politicians [who] can get Iraq's feuding Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish politicians to agree. But not in a good way.

Across racial and religious boundaries, Iraqi politicians on Saturday bemoaned Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's choice of running mate, known in Iraq as the author of a 2006 plan to divide the country into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.

As one Iraqi member of parliament summed it up: "We rejected his proposal when he announced it, and we still reject it. Dividing the communities and land in such a way would only lead to new fighting between people over resources and borders." So much for Obama's promises about showing more respect for our allies. In fact, Biden's proposal hearkens back to the era of Western colonialism, when politicians in London or Washington took it upon themselves to draft plans for how to divide up other people's countries.

That partition scheme was typical Joe Biden. It was a grand and bold gesture, adopted seemingly without five seconds of serious thought about its meaning or consequences. And it is hardly unique. An old profile of Biden shows him at work just a few weeks after September 11, 2001.

At the Tuesday-morning meeting with committee staffers, Biden launches into a stream-of-consciousness monologue about what his committee should be doing, before he finally admits the obvious: "I'm groping here." Then he hits on an idea: America needs to show the Arab world that we're not bent on its destruction. "Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran," Biden declares. He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face.

His staffers raised various objections, presumably including the fact that the Iranians are not Arabs—and that Iran is on the top of the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. "But Joe Biden is barely listening anymore. He's already moved on to something else."

That's the reason Biden comes up with bad foreign policy ideas: because he is a lightweight for whom every issue is really about showing off his own supposed cleverness and sense of his own importance. Famous for his rambling speeches, he puts the "blow" in "bloviate."

I have occasionally referred to a congressional hearing being dominated by the fulminations of Senator Blowhard. I mean it as a generic name for any preening, grandstanding politician. But the concrete example I always have in mind is Joe Biden. He is the kind of politician who thinks that the purpose of any congressional hearing is not its nominal topic, but rather the opportunity for everyone to hear the great and important things that the senator has to say. He's not always sure what it is exactly that he has to say—and his listeners aren't always sure, either—but Biden is always sure that it is great and important.

There are a few people in Washington who are taken in by Biden's showmanship and actually regard him the way he regards himself: as a great statesman. The fact that Obama listened to these people and accepted Biden's inside-the-Beltway reputation shows exactly how much Obama is out of his league.

This is a second-handed selection. It reveals Obama as a man who not only lacks depth of expertise on foreign policy, but who lacks any interest in learning enough about the topic to be able to make independent judgments. So he chose Biden, not because he is some kind of sage, but because he is a safe, Washington-establishment choice.

This is a trend that has clearly emerged across the board. Having sold himself as a political outsider who would bring "change" to Washington, Obama instead staffed his vice-presidential search committee with Washington insiders who—not surprisingly—recommended the ultimate Washington insider. And of course Obama has been tacking sharply to the center for the past few months, attaching himself to the "centrist" conventional wisdom on issues from wiretapping to guns to Iraq. So all of Obama's rhetoric about "change" was just a pose. He did not come to Washington to challenge or sweep away the establishment. He came to join it. Come to think of it, that's what he did in Chicago politics, too, where he enjoyed the favor of the ultimate "machine" politician, Richard Daley.

This vice-presidential selection confirms my overall judgment of who Obama is. He is Peter Keating, the bright, ambitious young conformist from Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead. Like Keating, he is handsome and charismatic and good at figuring out how to make people like him. But he has no substance of his own to offer, so when he actually has to make a decision, he panics and tries to figure out what everyone else thinks he should be doing.

That's why Obama's Freudian slip in his introduction of Biden on Saturday is so revealing. As Biden approached the podium, Obama asked his audience to welcome "the next president," before catching himself and saying "the next vice-president." It indicates that Obama may implicitly regard Biden as the real leader—because he knows, deep down, that it's not him.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Help A Conservative Cartoonist Stay In Business!


8 months ago, DBD readers met DBD's year goal 2008 Fundraising goal of $20K in just 24 hours.

I had to stop it because you met the goal so fast! On that amazing day, $20K was deposited to pay for one year of DBD, as my main job covered the rest of the year's costs of $26K.

In that Fundraiser I said if I could increase business and volume in both jobs, I can ask for less.

Unfortunately, technology finally ended my main job not more than a week after the Fundraiser, which left DBD my only income.

You all know I have continued DBD through some tough times, but I cannot escape economics. And to be honest, I am glad to be doing DBD fulltime for you, however grimly arrived at. But a fulltime DBD requires that other $15,336 be found somewhere (DBD is at 8 months right now).

You didn't sign on to this. You met what was asked for in 24 hours flat. You met a goal that I said would carry DBD for a year. And now, not only do I have to ask again, but there must be a Fundraiser every year. In a time of free content, DBD will live or die by its value to its readers every day, every month, every year.

1031 people came through in the last Fundraiser; according to 'The Long Tail' theory of internet readers, there's usually a core 1% that come through for internet publishers. All donations are critical, and I also ask again of that '1000'. Look what Leonidas did with the 300-except I don't have a 6-pack, I'm not a leader, and the thought of all of you in G-strings frankly worries me a bit.

But we share the same beliefs, I think.

The site's been redone, there's a forum coming up, there's an email subscription, searchable archives, new avatars, a new DBD banner that shows the strip in a popup (so you have more advertising space on your own blog),twitter, free Wowio DBD ebooks, and when you donate to DBD you receive pdfs of never released drawings of DBD's start back in 1998 (yes, 2 years before DBD went up), examples of just how different Jan, Damon, Sam, and Zed were before 2001.

Depending on which of the 4 Donation Levels you select, there is also a DBD Playing Card deck, Sam posters, plus Original DBD hand-written script sheets complete with hand-signed strips that derive from those scripts.

That was the carrot, now for the stick, and...I don't have a stick. I'll still try & get DBD out.

I think you can tell from the strip that I'm something of a minimalist. I drive a Honda that was new when Arsenio was hot. My first vacation in 12 years, and I go to Iraq to research for the characters. This isn't for sympathy, but clarity. I love doing DBD. Every hard-earned dollar you send here is for one purpose-to make it possible for me to improve and continue DBD for you (and me!).

In a PC correct era, DBD's characters speak with you on issues you find important. PC still rules the MSM, whether newspapers, the networks, or well-funded 'pundits'. DBD connects with people directly, the only comic where the readers are the source and the feature. You might depend on DBD, but the reality is DBD depends on you.

Help keep our voice out there. In one day, all of you got DBD more than halfway through 2008. Again, whatever amount is donated, I'll give directly back in DBD strips.

And yes. This time I will leave the Fundraiser up for a month, not a day.


The Pakistan Problem And Solution

I realized, of course, that this was not good enough in the long run. It's my job to come up with ideas about what to do in this kind of situation—especially when no one else is doing so. So I have given the issue more thought, and I have intended for some time to offer a few substantive suggestions about how to deal with Pakistan.

But I have been goaded into putting these thoughts down in writing immediately, for two reasons. The obvious reason is the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's authoritarian dictator who was our on-again, off-again ally against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The more subtle goad has been observing the reaction of many Western commentators to Russia's invasion of Georgia. What has struck me is the ease and complacency with which many pundits, particularly those on the center-left, have declared that there is not much the US can do to stop Russia or support Georgia—and then just left it at that. What this reaction really indicates is that these pundits don't really regard the issue as important and can't be bothered to think too hard about the things that we actually can do for Georgia.

If an issue really has important consequences, you don't just shrug your shoulders and say, as Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly said to the leaders of Georgia, "This is where we are." You try every idea and search for creative solutions to get from where you are to where you need to be.

So you will notice that I have removed the question mark in the title of this article. What happens in Pakistan is significantly more important for American interests than what happens in Georgia, so it is time to come to a definite conclusion about what we can do about Pakistan.

First, let's state the dilemma clearly. The government of Pakistan has largely given up attempting to fight al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their supporters in the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan. Musharraf signed peace agreements with some of the Taliban groups, effectively ceding control of the tribal regions to them, and the new Pakistani parliament has so far not been much better, adopting its own policy of appeasement toward the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Pakistani intelligence service—which seems to operate on its own agenda, independent of both the parliament and the military—has returned to its old policy of covert support for the Taliban.

As a result, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have formed a new safe haven in Pakistan's tribal frontier, which they are using to plan attacks on the West, train operatives, and send thousands of foot soldiers to attack NATO troops in Afghanistan. The slight resurgence of the Taliban in the past year is almost entirely attributable to the increased support coming in from Pakistan.

Under the Bush Doctrine, this would give us a clear justification to send an ultimatum to the government of Pakistan and, if necessary, to invade and occupy the country. But aside from the fact that there is no longer enough public support for such an action—even President Bush has abandoned the Bush Doctrine—such an invasion is also an enormous undertaking which is probably outside our ability to launch without years of preparation. And it would be enormously difficult in any case; Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation that is twice as large as Iraq with almost six times as many people.

There are two other reasons why an invasion and occupation of Pakistan should be avoided, if possible.

Part of our casus belli against Pakistan is that it is aiding a relatively small insurgency in the smaller nation of Afghanistan. So it does not necessarily make sense to solve that problem by enlarging it to include an occupation and counter-insurgency war in the whole nation of Pakistan, too.

The other reason to hesitate in using force directly against the government of Pakistan is because it is no longer ruled by a dictator. The new government of Pakistan has been dithering and ineffectual in dealing with terrorism, partly because it is truly representative of the population, which is half-sympathetic to radical Islam and doesn't want to have to make a choice between Islam and the modern world. But one of the great virtues of representative government is that it is capable of correcting its mistakes, and when it does choose to act, it does so with greater moral legitimacy and hence more effectiveness than a dictatorship. So there is some hope that the government of Pakistan may eventually be convinced to rejoin our war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

But we can't wait. The next al-Qaeda attack on the United States may originate from its safe haven in Pakistan's tribal zone. So the problem is: what can be done to eliminate that safe haven, short of an invasion and occupation? I suggest a three-prong approach.


The first thing we can do is to win against the Taliban (again) in Afghanistan. This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, isn't the problem we're trying to solve—the Taliban's safe-haven in Pakistan—a large part of the reason we're having problems in Afghanistan?

But the success of the surge in Iraq demonstrates that it is possible to win a counter-insurgency war without necessarily defeating the outside power than supports the insurgency. I was very skeptical about this point and thought that the surge would fail if we didn't "go wide" and take the war to Iran and Syria. But it turned out that the surge was enough to break the back of the insurgency. And winning in Iraq has turned out, alas, to be the only really effective thing the Bush administration has done to damage the regime in Iran.

That it is possible to win a counter-insurgency war without defeating its outside supporters should not actually be that big of a surprise, because this is precisely the context in which counter-insurgency usually arises. Most of these wars—particularly in the 20th century—have been contests in which great powers used insurgents and counter-insurgents as proxies to fight one another indirectly, because they viewed fighting each other directly as far too costly.

In this case, it is possible that a "surge" in Afghanistan—if it achieves results similar to what we have seen in the past 18 months in Iraq—could be far less costly than war with Pakistan. The idea would be not only to add to the number of troops in Afghanistan but to shift to a fully executed, integrated counter-insurgency strategy, as we did in Iraq. And this is not at all a pie-in-sky recommendation. We are already increasing our troops in Afghanistan, the mastermind of the "surge" is about to take over the regional command responsible for Afghanistan, and presidential candidate John McCain has had some good things to say about reforming the command structure in Afghanistan to allow for a more effective strategy there.

A successful Afghan surge could have the effect of changing Pakistan's calculations about its interests. Pakistan supports the Taliban partly because they sense weakness. Believing (or hoping) that we are about to lose in Afghanistan, they want to align themselves with the winners in order to influence events in their favor. If we reverse the momentum in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government will feel pressure to drop its support for the Taliban, who will suddenly be seen as a liability that makes Pakistan vulnerable.

But of course, we don't have to wait to turn the Taliban into a Pakistani vulnerability. We can do it right away—and that leads me to my second recommendation.


The success of the recent film Charlie Wilson's War has brought everyone's attention back to the covert war we fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. (If you want a sense for the real facts and the real drama of these events, I recommend the book rather than the movie.) During the 1980s, we supported the Afghan mujahideen with enormous amounts of money and weapons, as well as training and intelligence, while our then-allies in Pakistanis sent large numbers of men to fight.

Why can't we do it all again, but this time in reverse? If a large part of the current problem is that Pakistan is allowing the Taliban to send fighters over the border into Afghanistan, why not return the favor by sending fighters the other way? We should see if it is possible to recruit Afghan proxies (and even Pakistani allies) to send into Waziristan to drive out the Taliban and their supporters, or to force tribal leaders to stop backing the Taliban. We could back these fighters with American funds, American-supplied weapons and training, even with some amount of air support and special forces operations.

By a covert war in Pakistan, I don't mean the sort of thing Barack Obama has proposed, which is one-at-a-time special forces strikes aimed at specific al-Qaeda leaders. We're already doing that, and it's not winning the war. I am suggesting a large-scale, sustained conflict, with the broad strategic goal of uprooting al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Pakistan's tribal regions.

The shift I'm talking about is similar to the change in the Afghan campaign described in Charlie Wilson's War. At first, US support for the mujahideen was seen simply as a way to bleed the Soviets a little and make them uncomfortable, but no one believed that the campaign could actually defeat the Red Army. Charlie Wilson insisted that the goal had to be beating the Soviets, denying them control of the country and forcing them to withdraw.

That's the kind of strategic objective we need for a covert war in Pakistan. And if we do it right, how could the Pakistanis complain? We could maintain "plausible deniability" by claiming that the conflict is just an internecine feud between Pashtun tribes (in the same way we claimed that the mujahideen were a spontaneous, self-sustaining uprising that relied purely on captured Russian weapons). And how could the Pakistanis complain about bloodshed and chaos in the tribal regions, when that is what is already happening under their policies?

And if the Pakistanis get too upset at us, we have some very powerful geopolitical leverage we can use against them.


I have long advocated "playing the India card" by pursuing a commercial, cultural, and military alliance with India, as a strategic counterbalance to China—and to Pakistan, India's bitter rival.

The commercial and cultural connection between the US and India is already strong and growing, and it forms the base for the diplomatic and military aspect of the alliance, which is just beginning to grow. The US has recently concluded a deal with India that will allow US support for India's civilian nuclear energy program, in exchange for our acceptance of India's nuclear weapons. We have also agreed to sell India a decommissioned and retrofitted American aircraft carrier, and we have started a program to train Indian fighter pilots.

Not coincidentally, India has also been courting the Karzai government in Kabul, seeking an alliance with Afghanistan. (This is why a recent terrorist bombing attack in Kabul targeted the Indian embassy.) The irony of Pakistan's support for the Taliban is that it is driving the Afghan government into the arms of Pakistan's arch-enemy.

So we can send a not-so-subtle message to the government of Pakistan: cooperate with us in suppressing the Taliban, rooting out al-Qaeda, and supporting the government of Afghanistan—or wake up in a year or two and find yourself encircled by an Indian-Afghan alliance backed by the United States.

The radical Islamists do not make rational calculations about their interests, because their interests are inherently irrational: as they like to remind us, they love death. But there are enough people in positions of authority in Pakistan—in the military and in parliament—who do make rational calculations, and they will quickly add up the numbers and grasp the situation that we have the power to impose on them.

If they see that the Taliban is a losing cause in Afghanistan, and that the punishment for backing the wrong horse will be the projection of a US-Afghan insurgency into Pakistan, combined with the threat of encirclement by India—then we have every reason to believe that they will suddenly grasp that their interests lie in being good allies to the United States

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Playing The Obama Swift Boat Card

A few months ago, I predicted that Obama was on the way to winning the Democratic Party's nomination because he was entering a month in which he was projected to win a series of small primaries and caucuses. The effect of those primaries was not to deliver him a decisive majority of Democratic delegates, but to deliver him a series of headlines, week after week, that all began "Obama Wins…"—creating a sense of excitement and accomplishment around his campaign, while demoralizing Hillary Clinton's supporters.

Now the tide has turned, and Obama's campaign is suffering through an exact opposite experience. The main topic of discussion among political horse-race watchers this week is the fact that Obama is not winning, with various commentators trying to explain his puzzling failure to sustain a lead in the polls against a much less charismatic opponent in a year when the public declares itself dissatisfied with Republicans.

Commentators on the right are gleefully promoting this discussion. Gerard Baker, The Times's man in America, breaks the news to British readers that Obama "might not win" because, "as cruel geography and the selfish designs of the American Founding Fathers would have it, Europeans don't get to choose the US president."
He offers this explanation for the evaporation of Obama's lead:

The fact is that the 47-year-old Democrat, less than four years in the Senate, is still largely a blank page for American voters: a great orator and an attractive figure, but unknown and untested. The Republicans have been filling in some of the gaps and pointing out how thin his real biography is.

There is a lot of truth to this. As just one example, Obama managed to become president of the Harvard Law Review and a law professor at the University of Chicago without produce a single piece of published legal scholarship that might illuminate his views. The man has gone to extraordinary lengths to remain an ideological cipher.

But this line of explanation only goes so far. The problem is not just that Obama is a cipher. Rather, it is the fact that, to the extent that he has real convictions and a known history, he is a member of the far left. Voters, by contrast, lean slightly to the right. This is the main reason Democrats have had a problem winning the presidency for the past forty-odd years: they represent a leftist party in a right-leaning country.

Obama's far-left background has already been driven home by the exposure of his spiritual mentor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But as I mentioned yesterday, there is another, undisclosed chapter in Obama's biography that is about to be cracked wide open: the full extent of his association with unrepentant leftist terrorist William Ayers.

In fact, I think we have just seen the new "swiftboat" ad of this election cycle: an independent group's advertisement highlighting Obama's relationship with Ayers. (See the video here.) This video is not as powerful and well-made as the original Swiftboat Veterans for Truth ad four years ago, but it will be effective because it is news. Even if the mainstream media attacks the ad as unfair to Obama, they will still be drawing attention to an important fact that makes Obama look bad in the eyes of voters.

In 2004, John Kerry campaigned on his military record while hoping that everyone would forget that he spent the early 1970s slandering his fellow Vietnam veterans. The swiftboat ads were effective because they punctured that conceit. Similarly, Obama has been trying to run as a pragmatic mainstream "centrist" while hoping everyone would forget that all of his old friends are leftist radicals, including literal bomb-throwers like Ayers. This new ad will help puncture that conceit as well.

"Independent Group Plays Ayers Card," Matthew Mosk, Washington Post, August 21 A new Republican-leaning group surfaced today as a player in hardball presidential politics.

Officials with the American Issues Project, a nonprofit that describes itself as a champion of conservative values, say the group will spend $2.8 million to air a stinging television ad that ties Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to William Ayers, a former member of the notorious Weather Underground….

American Issues Project has been in existence since last year, but this ad represents the first project it has produced. "We're doing a series—this is our first—of commercials and other projects that will hit on both political and policy issues that we feel are underreported or glossed over," Pinkston said. "This happens to be a political one, but there will be policy ones as well."

Asked if the group plans more ads targeting Obama, Pinkston said, "We're not announcing exactly what the plan is. I think it's safe to assume there will be more ads."...

"Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, 'Respectable' and 'Mainstream,'" the ad says. "Obama's political career was launched in Ayers' home. And the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The American Leftard Chamberlain Champion

For the past five years, the left has exploited American difficulties in Iraq to resurrect its case for a foreign policy of appeasement, and these new defenders of appeasement have come out in droves to advocate the abandonment of Georgia. A particularly disgusting example comes from a Washington Post blogger who responds to John McCain's declaration of solidarity—"We are all Georgians"—by replying petulantly, "I Am Not Georgian."

The article displays the psychological reaction of a second-hander who resents Mikheil Saakashvili for taking a strong stand and therefore forcing others to make a difficult choice on a controversial issue. It boils down to: "How dare you expect me to stick my neck out for anything."

Even worse is looney leftist Robert Scheer, who puts on his tin-foil hat and claims that the Georgian war is an election-year plot orchestrated by a conspiracy of neo-conservatives to serve the interests of the military-industrial complex.

But the top prize for appeasement can't go to those who merely advocate it. It has to go to an actual practitioner of appeasement. The Neville Chamberlain role in this crisis has to be awarded to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Acting in his capacity as President of the European Union, Sarkozy flew to Tbilisi and Moscow to negotiation a "truce." The agreement he negotiated was such a cave-in to Russia that its immediate result was to embolden Putin to expand Russia's grip on Georgia, citing as justification one of the articles of Sarkozy's truce agreement.

Note that Sarkozy presented this capitulation to the Georgians with a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders, telling them, "This is where we are." That, in a nutshell, is the whole metaphysics of Western European foreign policy: to adjust to conditions made by others—rather than taking action to change conditions in their favor. And that is why Georgia and the Eastern Europeans need a non-fatalist ally like the United States.

"Peace Plan Offers Russia a Rationale to Advance," Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, August 14 It was nearly 2 a.m. on Wednesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced he had accomplished what seemed virtually impossible: Persuading the leaders of Georgia and Russia to agree to a set of principles that would stop the war.

Handshakes and congratulations were offered all around. But by the time the sun was up, Russian tanks were advancing again, this time taking positions around the strategically important city of Gori, in central Georgia.

It soon became clear that the six-point deal not only failed to slow the Russian advance, but it also allowed Russia to claim that it could push deeper into Georgia as part of so-called additional security measures it was granted in the agreement. Mr. Sarkozy, according to a senior Georgian official who witnessed the negotiations, also failed to persuade the Russians to agree to any time limit on their military action.

By mid-morning, European officials were warning of the risks of appeasing Russian aggression, while Georgian officials lamented the West's weak leverage….

The Georgians asked that a timeline be included in the language for these loosely defined Russian peacekeeping operations, but the Georgian official said Mr. Sarkozy's response was that without an agreement, a Russian tank assault on the capital could ensue: "He was saying it's a difficult situation. He said, 'Their tanks are 40 kilometers from Tbilisi. This is where we are.'"

Mr. Sarkozy then tried to call Dmitri A. Medvedev, the Russian president, to amend the point with a timeline. The adviser, who was present, said the Russians did not take the call for two hours. When the French president got through, the proposal was rejected.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Putin Is Not Napoleon

Napoleon famously said, "When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna"—a warning against the risks of failure or hesitation in a military campaign. Vladimir Putin did not listen to this advice.

If Russian tanks had rolled into Tbilisi within the first week of the conflict in Georgia, he could have deposed the Saakashvili government and installed a puppet regime, then presented an unprepared world with a fait accompli. By hesitating, however, he has allowed us to turn Tbilisi into West Berlin, a scrappy little outpost of freedom that we will now support with airlifts, military aid, and diplomatic pressure.

So while the Russians are now gloating because they control much of central Georgia and because they have successfully intimidated the French, their invasion of Georgia is likely to turn out, in the long run, to be a failure.

In fact, the main effect so far has been to embolden Moscow's opponents in Eastern Europe, prompting them to break their ties to Russia and to hasten and deepen their ties to the United States. The appearance of the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia by the side of President Saakashvili in Tbilisi is a sign that Putin's invasion has galvanized a de facto Eastern European alliance against Russia.

Almost immediately, we have seen the results: Ukraine is now threatening to place restrictions on the movements of Russian warships based in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, as a first step toward kicking the Russians out of the port—though it is unclear how the Ukrainians would enforce such an eviction, since Putin's Russia seems to answer only to brute force.

But even more interesting is the sudden approval of an agreement between the US and Poland to install a missile defense base on Polish territory. Putin has succeeded in driving Poland and the US closer together, forming a very formidable core for an anti-Russian Eastern European alliance. Whatever Russia believes it has won in Georgia, it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

"Russia Lashes Out on Missile Deal," Thom Shanker and Nicholas Kulish, New York Times, August 15 The United States and Poland reached a long-stalled deal on Thursday to place an American missile defense base on Polish territory, in the strongest reaction so far to Russia's military operation in Georgia.

Russia reacted angrily, saying that the move would worsen relations with the United States that have already been strained severely in the week since Russian troops entered separatist enclaves in Georgia, a close American ally. At a news conference on Friday, a senior Russian defense official, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, suggested that Poland was making itself a target by agreeing to host the anti-missile system. Such an action "cannot go unpunished," he said.

The deal reflected growing alarm in a range of countries that had been part of the Soviet sphere about a newly rich and powerful Russia's intentions in its former cold war sphere of power. In fact, negotiations dragged on for 18 months—but were completed only as old memories and new fears surfaced in recent days.

Those fears were codified to some degree in what Polish and American officials characterized as unusual aspects of the final deal: that at least temporarily American soldiers would staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia, and that the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO, of which Poland is a member.

Polish officials said the agreement would strengthen the mutual commitment of the United States to defend Poland, and vice versa….

Stop-and-start negotiations over the arrangement that was sealed Thursday had been under way for almost two years, with the Polish government reluctant to press the deal in the face of strong opposition—and retaliatory threats—from Moscow.

For its part, Washington had balked at some of Poland's demands, in particular the sale of advanced air defense systems that were unrelated to shooting down ballistic missiles.

But in a sign of the widening repercussions of the conflict in Georgia, those concerns were cast aside, as the offensive by Russia's military across its borders was viewed around the world as a sign of Moscow's determination to reimpose its influence across the old Soviet bloc….

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Russia's Oil Grab In Georgia

The more I look at the crisis in Georgia, the more I realize how important it is to American interests. It is not just the moral imperative of supporting a free nation against an authoritarian aggressor, and it is not just reassuring the other nations of Eastern Europe that we will support their independence from Moscow. Above all of that, it is important to recognize that the invasion of Georgia is Vladimir Putin's war for oil.

This is not the beginning of Putin's war for oil. I have extensively covered the Putin regime's persecution of independent oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and its subsequent seizure of his Yukos oil company. Having secured the Kremlin's total power over all domestic oil production, Putin has now moved on to the next step: controlling the oil supplies of Russia's neighbors.

The article below describes the importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which links the oil-producing center of Baku in Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan—by way of Tbilisi in Georgia. Putin's Russia is already one of Europe's main suppliers of oil and natural gas, giving him tremendous leverage over the Europeans. This is his attempt to cut off an important independent competitor.

Putin's oil grab would have an impact on both sides of the pipeline. By giving Moscow control over all of the energy transit points between Central Asia and Europe, it would enable Moscow to intimidate the producers of oil on one end and the consumers of oil on the other. It is, in short, a foreign policy disaster almost as big as Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

We must do everything we can practically do to stop it.

"A Pipeline Runs Through It," Investor's Business Daily, August 13 Russia's aggression is not only about toppling a pro-Western democracy and potential NATO member. It's about the only pipeline bringing Caspian Sea oil to the West not controlled by Moscow or Iran.

Georgia is only the latest instance of Russia's plans to reassemble the "evil empire" and neuter NATO expansion, using energy as both a weapon and a means of financing its rapid military expansion. Russia has doubled its military in the past five years, thanks in large part to the "windfall profits" it has reaped from skyrocketing energy prices.

One of the Russian targets in Georgia is a pipeline carrying oil from the Caspian to the West….
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, in which British Petroleum is the lead partner, can carry up to a million barrels of oil a day. It runs from Kazakhstan through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and breaks Russia's stranglehold on supplying energy to Europe. Moscow currently supplies 25% of Europe's energy needs.

Another pipeline, the South Caucasus Pipeline, will carry natural gas along the same route. It has a capacity of 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year and is needed to get Turkmenistan's vast natural gas reserves to European customers.

Georgian officials claimed that Russian aircraft dropped at least 30 bombs but failed to damage or disable the underground BTC pipeline. "The Russian bear is trying to choke the vital east-west energy arteries in the Caucasus, specifically the BTC oil pipeline and the gas pipeline," says Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The New Cold War Berlin: Tbilisi

Do not be in awe of evil. Do not tremble when its power briefly rises to equal a fraction of our own. This is an invalid perspective, and it is a betrayal of confidence in what we all know is the deep well of power that the good can always draws from: that we are right.

We should know our own power. Being right matters. If you don't think so, ask yourself why it is that Russian tanks stopped outside of Tbilisi?

Did the Georgian army destroy Russia's armored columns? No. The tanks were stopped because the Georgians put up a fierce fight for Tskhinvali, the provincial capital of South Ossetia (and for the Kodori Gorge in northeast Abkhazia Province). Georgia's brief defense of Tskhinvali served as a deterrent, not because it was successful (it wasn't), but because it was fierce. The only defense that the small nations of Eastern Europe have ever had against the "big dogs" of Russia and Germany is to make themselves into fierce little porcupines and hope that enough quills delivered into enough noses will cause the dogs to give up the quarry as not worth all the trouble.

The Russians were deterred by the prospect of fighting this same force in a terminal battle in a European capital city of 1.5 million people. Reducing a capital city the way they reduced Grozny in Chechnya is a bit too much evil for the Russians to stomach at this time. Tbilisi is a bit too prosperous. It looks a bit too much like Prague or Vienna or Krakow. And most of all, its people—those who would be murdered in the tens of thousands—are too much like the people walking the streets of Milan, Frankfurt, Manchester, Sapporo, or, for that matter, Chicago. They're too much like us—the 800 million of us who live in Western civilization. Their murder would draw too many of the people of Western Civilization together in a common and militarily hostile front against Russia.

With the assault on the city on hold indefinitely, Tbilisi has become West Berlin, drawing leaders to impudently protest, in public, under Putin's guns. The big rally Wednesday night in Tbilisi of as many as 200,000 Georgians (10% of the refugee-swollen city's population), hosted by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and joined by the presidents of Georgia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia was a spectacle of besieged liberty. It is as good as one more armored division.

It turns out that Georgia's greatest strategic asset is the attitude and the eloquence of President Mikheil Saakashvili. In his written essays, TV interviews, and public speeches he is a lion. We have found that he has Winston Churchill in his soul.

President Saakashvili has Prime Minister Churchill's eloquence and his spirit—and his ideas. Saakashvili proved himself by turning Georgia into an engine of prosperity based on stable republican government, the rule of law, recognition of private property, and the effective suppression of corruption. Georgia's police forces were rated as one of the most corrupt in Eastern Europe, and that is some achievement. Opinion polls showed that only 5% thought that the police were generally trustworthy. Under President Saakashvili's leadership, this year 70% of Georgians polled thought they could trust the police.

With Winston Churchill's good ideas, eloquence, and indomitable spirit came his rashness and his self-promotion. These are traits President Saakashvili shares. We should find no vice in Mr. Saakashvili's grandstanding and little in his impetuousness.

Saakashvili is the greatest strategic asset the West has in Eastern Europe.

Russian hesitation at the brink of mass slaughter inside a European capital city and the inspired leadership of President Saakashvili have given the West the opportunity we need to make a mess of Russia's plans for domination, one at a time, of the former Soviet Republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine.

Enough time, that is, if the US shows decisive leadership.

I am not saying that it is the responsibility of our nation, of our brave young men and women in the military, to go to Georgia to confront Putin's army and to fight. But Georgia is a nation of people—even as small as it is—so determined to defy dictatorship and fight for their freedom even when the odds are grim, that we must join them and fight on their side in some way. If we are American, if we are men, we must do something substantial, something that materially affects the situation on the ground in Georgia—something that begins to change the strategic advantages that Russia has over all of its smaller, liberal neighbors.

In the past few days, the United States has finally entered the conflict in a clumsy and cautious way—but America has entered the conflict, and America is instantly a central part of everything that is going on.

The interesting thing about the way that the US is stumbling into the conflict zone is that we're not being led by George Bush and the command structure at the Pentagon as much as we're being led by the articulate and passionate statements about liberty—a battle cry—by Saakashvili. He is someone we cannot say "no" to without saying "no" to our own identity. Ultimately President Bush, architect of the Forward Strategy of Freedom, cannot say "no" to him either.

Mikhail Saakashvili is our leader now.

Here is the overall foreign policy advice I would offer to the Bush administration on what to do.

Because of America's deep cultural, political, and strategic connection to it, Poland can reasonably count on a major commitment of US military power—including public acceptance of significant and painful military losses—in the event of a Russian invasion. America should exploit our deep military commitment to Poland by encouraging them to serve as the anchor for a new Eastern European military alliance; an alliance that is independent of NATO.

An independent alliance between Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, and Ukraine—an inverse Warsaw Pact—would be a tremendous asset to liberty. With Poland at its base (protected by its NATO membership and the US nuclear umbrella), this alliance could be a strong deterrent to Russia's renewed military expansionism.

(Because Romania and Bulgaria have kept a relatively low profile in the affair with Georgia, their enthusiasm for an anti-Russian alliance is doubtful. The same goes for Hungary and the Czech Republic. The new Warsaw Pact should be made up only of republics that are truly on the edge—the countries that are between NATO and Russia.)

A group of nations in such a difficult place, led by a secure country that is a full member of NATO and assisted by the United States, would be far more willing to use military force than the fratricidal and self-loathing nations of NATO as a whole. Thus, they will produce a far more intense threat, and far more substantial deterrent against Russia—especially if their anchor member, Poland, either had the full strategic commitment of the United States behind it, or their own independent nuclear deterrent.

A core cultural goal right now should be to clear some of the woolly-headed European pacifism from the minds of Eastern Europe's leadership. They need nuclear weapons. Without them, the Russians will be free to probe their border provinces with strong tank and mechanized infantry forces and bomb any defenders that move against them, destroying towns and cities everywhere along their borders from the Baltic to the Caspian. Without nuclear weapons, ineffective resistance to a series of military incursions will enable the Russians to work themselves up to a murderer's only concept of self-confidence: that he can get away with it. When that day comes, Russia will invade and occupy its smaller neighbors.

Nuclear weapons proliferation is a good thing when the good guys get nuclear weapons. The good nations that border Russia should get them as quickly as they can. And the United States of America should help them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Ominous Parallels Between Russia's Invasion of Georgia And Germany's Annexation of The Sudetenland

Dick Morris has picked up on the parallels between Russia's invasion of Georgia and Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, as have many other commentators on the right. It is an obvious parallel, and it is useful because the West's acquiescence in Hitler's conquest of Czechoslovakia, codified in the Munich Agreement, still stands as a symbol of the evils of appeasement.

During the Sudetenland crisis, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the architect of the policy of appeasement, famously complained, "How horrible, how fantastic, how incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing." Yet by abandoning the Czechs, Chamberlain gave Hitler a green light for further aggression, ensuring an even larger war a year later.

But this is a history some are trying to make us forget—so that they can rehabilitate the policy of appeasement. A few months ago, Newsweek carried a prominent article dismissing the "mythology of Munich." Evan Thomas whined that "The lesson of appeasement—that giving in to aggression just invites more aggression—has calcified into dogma," and he insisted that "the familiar tropes—every dictator is Hitler, every negotiation is Munich—do not apply to the challenges facing the next president."

So I supposed it should be no surprise that, when a nearly exact parallel to the Sudetenland crisis actually comes up, you hear so many Western commentators openly dismiss the lessons of Munich and advocate the policies of Neville Chamberlain. Perhaps the worst example comes from a supercilious British writer in the Independent who patronizingly explains to the Georgians that it is a "fact of life" that small nations get pulverized by tyrants and bullies, and that we should all acquiesce to this natural order of things.

Rather than waiting for the Russians to instill the fear of death, the West should have taught Georgia the facts of life. We ought to have reminded them that they were living in a dangerous neighbourhood. A small nation that has only recently become independent from a neighbouring superpower still resentful at many of the changes which have overtaken it must tread warily. Eighty per cent of Georgians would like to join NATO. One suspects that a similar percentage of Taiwanese would like to become fully independent. Neither country is in the position to conduct its foreign affairs by writing letters to Santa Claus.

Over time, the Taiwanese have come to accept this; the Georgians should have been helped to do so.

But I save the dishonor of the main link in this item for TIME's Joe Klein, who goes one step further in trying to write the lessons of Munich out of existence. In effect, he declares that references to the Munich compromise disqualify anyone who makes them, branding that person as a "neocon" warmonger with an unsophisticated, "cartoon" view of the world.

Winston Churchill met with a similar reaction in the 1930s.

I don't meant to imply that it is the 1930s today, or that we are facing a "gathering storm" of the same proportions Churchill warned about. But if we escape the dangers of a new World War with Russia (or Iran), it will be despite the strongest efforts of all of these defenders of appeasement.

"It's Raining Nazis," Joe Klein, Swampland (TIME blog), August 11
When a column starts off like this:

"The details of who did what to precipitate Russia's war against Georgia are not very important. Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama.

"The events of the past week will be remembered that way, too."

...the author has got to be a neoconservative pushing for the next war….

With World War IV—Norman Podhoretz's ridiculous oversell of the struggle against jihadi extremism—on a slow burn for the moment, Kagan et al. are showing renewed interest in the golden oldies of enemies, Russia and China. This larval neo-crusade has influenced the campaign of John McCain, with his comic book proposal for a League of Democracies and his untenable proposal to kick the Russians out of the G8.

To be sure, Russia's assault on Georgia is an outrage….

But it is important, yet again, to call out the endless neoconservative search for new enemies, mini-Hitlers. It is the product of an abstract over-intellectualizing of the world, the classic defect of ideologues. It is, as we have seen the last eight years, a dangerous way to behave internationally. And it has severely damaged our moral authority in the world.... I mean, after the US invasion of Iraq, after Abu Ghraib, after our blithe rubbishing of the Geneva Accords, why should anyone listen to us when we criticize the Russians for their aggression in the Caucasus?