President Obama delivered a call for more democracy in a speech in Egypt. Over a year later Egypt is in turmoil. Does Obama actually want Egypt to go democratic?
George W. Bush tried to unleash democracy by invading Iraq. But the reputation of America took a nosedive. Democracy, in any case, turned out to be a mixed bag. Hamas took over in the Gaza strip. Lebanon remains a mess. The big bang that W. Tried to create may blow up in America's face. It would be no small irony if the neocon crusade ended up creating the conditions for a anti-American Middle East.
Now Egypt, following in the path of Tunisia, is experiencing a revolt against a repressive regime, as Hosni Mubarak tries to install his son as his successor. Twitter, Facebook, and the like are the new printing presses of the educated, disseminating the call to revolution. But truly democratic revolutions are rare (see Iran).
The possibility exists that the uprising in Egypt may also turn oitt to be an anti-American one. Who, after all, is Mubarak's financial sponsor? Israel, too, is undoubtedly viewing the events in Cairo with apprehension. It could be that the moderate regimes in the Middle East go under, while the hardline ones like Iran benefit.
Obama has much to ponder. But pondering is pretty much all he will be able to do. America is a bystander in Egyptian domestic politics even as it financially props up Mubarak's rickety regime.
My new hero is Rep. Chris Gibson. Gibson, a Tea Party member, laid it on the line the other day at a congressional hearing. While other Republicans bluster about maintaining spending, Gibson, who served in the military, observed that the growing national debt is itself a threat to our national security.
He's right. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion for 2011. This cannot continue. The Los Angeles Times ran a cartoon the other day about America's impoverishment showing President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the state dinner eating McDonald's hamburgers and shakes. Hu says, If you needed more money, why didn't you just say so?
So far creditors have been willing to buy T-bills at amazingly low interest rates. But at some point interest rates will have to go up. The debt will soar. Then what? Already Japan is being buffeted as investors take a closer look at it's ability to service it's debts. Most of the solutions being proposed by the House Republicans are gimmicks.they have no more desire than Obama to engage in real cuts. If the proposals of the debt commission that Obama created get a serious hearing, however, real progress could be made. But with the 2012 election looming, any solution would have to be bipartisan.
At this point the Tea Party can play a valuable role. It will have toss force the GOP to stop trying to exempt the military from budget cuts. It can also raise questions about America's imperial strategy abroad.
The military can no more be shielded from scrutiny than any other government agency or program. Rep. Gibson is on target. The greatest threat to America may well be its indebtedness. And there's no reason to feel gratitude to anyone about that. Profligacy, hubris, and complacency are the culprits.
President Obama keeps returning to his theme of a reunited union. In the aftermath of the Arizona shootings, it has become a popular, if somewhat vague, political theme. Obama, in his gauzy invocation of a return to American greatness, sounds increasingly like Ronald Reagan. His 2012 campaign theme may be that it is dawn in America again.
But Reagan had a real plan--cut taxes, beef up the military, deal with the Soviet Union, stay out of foreign wars. Does Obama? So far his approach is simply to split the difference or, better yet, dodge the big issues. Social Security. Tax reform. Nary a word. Obama will shove off those issues. He wants to get reelected.
The GOP faces a potentially perilous political road in focusing on debt. Republicans could end up sounding like the new Herbert Hoovers. Obama, meanwhile, will stimulate his way to another term.
Obama was most forceful on foreign policy. Benjamin Friedman asks on this website if the GOP will go isolationist, and says no. Obama is turning out to be in almost lockstep with it. He almost sounds like George W. Bush as he vows to prevail in Afghanistan. Even as Pakistan appears to be going bloody. The wife of Pakistan's president, by the way, had to pay 100,000 pounds in VAT on the diamonds and other jewelry she recently bought in London, according to Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books.
Ah, our fItful ally Pakistan. Confronted with so much bad news, it is scarcely surprising that Obama opted to deliver sunnier message. Essentially, it was work a little harder, invest in solar power, and America can make its comeback. We shall see, and soon.
Frank Gaffney, a prominent neoconservative, knows a lot about missiles. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration and resigned to protest its outreach to the Soviet Union. Whether he knows much about Muslim terrorism is another question.
Gaffney is the co-author of a new book detailing another threat to America. He is alleging, among other things, that Suhail Khan, a member of the board of the American Conservative Union, is a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood. Khan is a former senior George W. Bush political appointee and exactly the kind of exponent for moderate Muslim outreach that America needs. He also claims that Grover Norquist, also on the board of the ACU (and of the Nixon Center) is acting in a nefarious fashion to help the Brotherhood. Gaffney argues, if that term can be used here, that it is axiomatic that the Brotherhood would attempt to infiltrate the conservative movement. There is no reason that conservatives would be exempt from the wiles of Islamic malefactors, so Gaffney argues. Khan, it must be said, conducted himself with the greatest dignity as he countered Gaffney, who alleged that his father was a bad actor. In fact, as Suhail patiently observed, he is simply a former high-tech engineer.
This is weird stuff. Like the old Senator from Wisconsin, Gaffney is peddling a farrago of dates, so-called facts, and assertions that end up as what the the political scientists like to call a nonfalsifiable hypothesis. But for Gaffney it does not even seem to be a hypothesis, but justified alarms being sounded by a true-blue patriot. As Anderson Cooper observed Gaffney's contentions appear to be on the lines of having encountered or interviewed someone who committed a robbery. Cooper, by Gaffney's logic would be in cahoots with the perpetrator. Gaffney's aim is to suggest that the CPAC conference itself is hopelessly tainted by Khan and Norquist.
In short, Gaffney is hurling wildly hurtful accusations. Khan and Norquist will easily survive them. The only reputation that Gaffney is shredding is his own.
Did the Palestinian Authority almost engage in a Munich? Was it about to sellout Palestinian national interests in 2008?
That is the gist of the accusations being lodged by the unfriendly local government in the Gaza strip known as Hamas. Al Jazeera is reporting that it has uncovered, or acquired, documents revealing that negotiator Ahmed Ourei was ready to sanction most Jewish settlements in Jerusalem. This has elicited howls of protest from Hamas, real or feigned, which is seizing upon the chance to pose as the true defender of Palestinian national interests.
In one sense this gets the issue out into the open. In another it shows how intractable negotiations remain. The Europeans are outing a draft UN security council resolution to reaffirm the illegitimacy of the Israeli settlements. But Israel remains contumacious. Such a resolution will probably only cause it to dig in. Literally.
President Obama can only lose by getting involved. It would be surprising if he even mentions the Israeli and Palestinian conflict in his State of the Union address. There is little left to negotiate. Both sides have done it ad nauseam. They know, more or less, what the final terms will look like. But that hardly means they will agree to them.
Seymour Hersh has always had a gift for stirring up controversy. But his latest remarks in Doha, Qatar alleging that the American military is run by Christian fundamentalist "crusaders" are undermining his reputation as a leading investigative journalist. Hersh himself appears to see a conspiracy, led by neoconservatives in league with members of the Knights of Malta, who, he wrongly says include Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to convert the Muslim world to Christian values.
Hersh, of course, is entitled to spin whatever theories he likes. But it is doubly unfortunate that Hersh would ventilate half-baked theories about the American military and neocons in a talk in Qatar. The Arab world is already swirling with conspiracy theories about American and Jewish influence in foreign affairs. It doesn't need fresh ones from American journalists.
As the Washington Post reports,
Neoconservative advisers to President George W. Bush took the attitude that "'we're gonna change mosques into cathedrals,'" Hersh, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, said in the speech. "That's an attitude that pervades, I'm here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command." The command is the part of the military focused on targeted missions to kill enemy leaders, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its operations are almost always secret.
He added: "This is not an atypical attitude among some military—it's a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They're protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function."
Far be it from me to downplay the influence of the neocons, but I'm afraid that in this instance Hersh, the exposer of conspiracies, is seeing ghosts. There is no evidence that the military leadership is filled with fundamentalist Christians. It's not clear, either, why the Knights of Malta would attract Hersh's ire. It's primarily a charitable organization, focused on helping provide medical assistance in places like Namibia. Or is that just a smokescreen for neocon influence?
Hersh goes on to declare about President Obama that "Just when we need an angry black man, we didn't get one."
So Obama is supposed to conform to a stereotype of black men. Can you imagine anything more patronizing?
The most intriguing revelation is that Hersh himself says that he's working on a book about the neocons. Another book about neocons! Soon there will be more volumes about the movement than there are neocons.
Hersh has long been a thorn in the side of the neocons. He broke enormously influential stories about the Pentagon and neocon influence during the George W. Bush administration. But now he seems to be once more trying to squeeze the neocon lemon for a fresh story when it's already gone dry.
There was something poignant about watching Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has served faithfully in the Senate for decades, making his resignation speech surrounded by his family. Actually, I lied. There wasn't anything poignant about it at all. Thank goodness, Lieberman is vacating his seat, which he probably would have lost in 2012.
Lieberman liked to present himself as a kind of detached Solon--wise, sagacious, prudent, thoughtful. Instead, he was the incarnation of the senatorial blowhard. He also had the usual delusions of grandeur, convinced that the country owed him the presidency. It didn't. He was no JFK even if he was convinced that he represented a continuation of his spirit, in domestic and foreign policy.
He says he is looking for "new opportunities that will allow me to serve my country." How about he heads over to Iraq or Afghanistan, the wars he has so lustily championed, indignant that many Democrats view them with apprehension. Maybe he could convince Hamid Karzai that shutting down parliament isn't such a neat idea. Or he could serve as a politician in Israel, persuading the country that maybe targeting human rights organizations as traitorous isn't such a swift idea, either.
The best thing that Lieberman could probably do, however, would just be to go away. He isn't a bad man. He's simply a mediocre one.
Whether his successor will be any better is an open question. But it seems improbable that Connecticut can come up with anyone who rivals Lieberman's smug and entitled and complacement sense of self-importance. In many ways, he was a pure neocon, in bluff and bombast. Lieberman was thus the last neocon in the Democratic party, which he abandoned to win reelection in 2010. Now his Senate career has reached its crepuscular stage with little to show for it.
Rare is the magazine that has not suffered upheaval in the past few years. Newsweek was dumped by the Washington Post. The National Journal has reinvented itself, shedding numerous writers and editors. Now Harper's, the proud bastion of traditional liberalism, is cracking up.
In a piquantly illuminating piece in New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman, who cut his journalistic teeth at the New Republic, discloses that Harper's, whose staffers view it as ceding too much ground to the Atlantic, confronts a homegrown revolt in the form of a union, a development that publisher Rick MacArthur, who has poured millions into keeping the enterprise going, apparently views with horror. MacArthur, as Sherman is not slow to point out, is hoist on his own petard, having entered the lists previously to bemoan the decline of "middle-class unionism."
According to Sherman,
The Harper's union has been locked in a bitter dispute with MacArthur since July. And now he's trying to lay off Harper’s' literary editor, Ben Metcalf, who’s worked at the magazine since the mid-nineties and who played a key role in the union drive—a move the union says is pure retaliation.
The current crisis began a year ago, when MacArthur fired the magazine's editor-in-chief, Roger Hodge. The two men had once been close, but their relationship had frayed as the red ink mounted: Newsstand sales dropped, MacArthur's appetite for losses waned, and Hodge tried to defend the staff from cuts. According to Harper’s'most recent tax filing in 2009, MacArthur invested $4.4 million into the magazine. (In 2006, his losses were only $2.9 million.)
Obviously, it's tempting to paint MacArthur as a hypocrite. But there is a reason that he's right to recoil at his staff's manuevering. Essentially, MacArthur is running a philanthropic enterprise. He's not out to make money. He's trying to prevent his magazine from going under. Magazines such as Harper's resemble racehorses or yachts—they're the playthings of wealthy owners who run them as they please. The latent tensions in such an arrangement, of course, are exposed in a time of economic crisis, when the owner, eager to stanch the fiscal bleeding, starts lopping off staffers, which is apparently what MacArthur, who already terminated editor Roger Hodge, the author of a new book called The Mendacity of Hope that excoriates President Obama for straying from the true faith.
Now the Harper's staff is making the same charge about MacArthur, lamenting that, unlike the Atlantic, he's been far too tardy in embracing web innovations such as the iPad. But he's committed to hiring topnotch writers Tom Frank and Zadie Smith. It could be that MacArthur keeps Harper's afloat to maintain the critique of capitalism by himself resorting to free market principles—outsourcing. With outside contributors and a minimal staff, he might be able to keep Harper's alive, if not thriving. The surprising thing may not be that MacArthur is trying to save Harper's, but that he has kept it going as long as he has. For that alone he deserves more credit than he is receiving.
In his memoir Decision Points, George W. Bush barely alludes to Dick Cheney. But the former vice president is not so easily avoided as that. In an interview with Brian Williams on NBC, he discusses President Obama, terrorism, and his heart problems. Like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe, he seems almost impossible to ignore. No matter how hard you try.
As Cheney mouthes off, it's hard to avoid the impression that he has nothing to offer the GOP. He seems more a testament to the discredited past than a trailblazer into the Republican future. He is offering a path straight into the morass. It's remarkable how little he has to say that's new. This is a man who is intellectually stuck on repeat mode.
What's most telling is that he rehearses the same old lies in new dress about terrorist policies. Thus Cheney observes about Obama,
I was concerned that the counterterrorism policies that we'd put in place after 9/11 that had kept the nation safe for over seven years were being sort of rapidly discarded. Or he was going to attempt to discard them. Things like the enhanced interrogation techniques or the terror surveillance program.
They'd been vital from our perspective in terms of learning basic fundamental intelligence about al Qaeda, about how they operated, who they were, where we could find them. And we were able to put in place a successful policy that did prevent any further major attacks against the United States over all those years. And he campaigned against all of that.
As I say, I think he's found it necessary to be more sympathetic to the kinds of things we did. They've gotten active, for example, with the drone program, using Predator and the Reaper to launch strikes against identified terrorist targets in the various places in the world.
Here's the problem. There is no evidence that the Bush waterboarding program elicited any useful information from terrorists. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was apparently waterboarded no less than 183 times. All that the CIA agents got for their exertions was a man coughing up, not secrets, but water.
The Predator program, by contrast, represents the kind of focus on Afghanistan that the Bush administration, obsessed with a bogus threat from Iraq, ignored. Who let Osama bin Laden hotfoot it out of Tora Bora? The blunt fact is that Obama appears to be more serious about stopping terrorism than the Bush administration. Writing in the New York Times about a new book by Peter Bergen, Tom Ricks notes that "Cheney appears less a brooding presence and more a red-faced buffoon, which may well be how history comes to regard him."
Cheney has other advice to dispense about health care being the program that will bring Obama down and ensure that he is a "one term" president. Not so fast. The GOP will have to field a candidate who is looking toward the future with a real program rather than simply opposing Obama. It's interesting that Mitt Romney has been keeping a low profile rather than getting embroiled in the controversy over Arizona.
Meanwhile, Cheney is working on his memoirs. He likes to pontificate about world events. He takes himself very seriously even if no one else should. It's a pity that he found someone in Bush who not only listened to him, but handed over the presidency for six years to his nominal subordinate. Bush belatedly asserted himself in his final, and best, two years. But there's no reason for anyone else to pay attention to Cheney now that he's exited office. He may look slimmer, but he remains a buffoon.
(Photo by Paul Balcerak)
Perhaps the most one can say for RNC chairman Michael Steele, who looks set to lose his post, is that he didn't prevent the GOP from reclaiming the House. His biggest event seems to have been going on an extended "Fire Pelosi Bus Tour," which he chronicled on his rather leaden blog. By the time November 2 rolled around, the GOP was ready to topple Steele as well as the Democrats.
In many ways, he did his best to trip up the GOP, with his goofy comments (though he did coin the slogan "Drill, baby, drill" at the 2008 Republican convention) and zeal for collecting big bucks for the speeches he gave to groups around the country. Meanwhile, the RNC itself spent money like water--it's 20 million in debt. Steele, you could say, wasn't steeled for combat.
Talking Points Memo has even collected Steele's most notable remarks over the past few years. He came in promising to create a hip-hop friendly GOP. TPM remarks, "All in all, he sounded a lot like a middle-aged man trying to sound cool for his kids -- and failing miserably."At another point he said abortion was a matter of choice at the state level.
Now comes the revenge. But is electing a guy to head the RNC named Reince Priebus, a former ally of Steele's, going to be any better? What kind of a name is that? It almost sounds like Prius. Priebus is promising to restore fiscal order at the RNC whose finances seem almost as catastrophic as the federal government's.
If Priebus wants to seize on an issue he ought to look at Washington, DC itself, where the chief advocate of raising taxes on those making more than $250,000, one Michael Brown, who lives in a $1.4 million home in Chevy Chase, turns out to be, as the Washington Post reports today, a serial tax scofflaw, in arrears to the DC government for failing to pay his property taxes. The Post says,
Despite the controversy, Brown said he will not let questions about his personal finances or taxes get in the way of pushing ahead with his proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy to try to prevent deep cuts to social service programs. "I will continue to be the chief advocate," he said. "One thing has nothing to do with the other.'"
In fact, it looks as though a number of council members have gotten into hot water on the issue of paying taxes.
Still, even if a new order looms at the RNC, Steele has to get some points for his amazing tenacity, either out of sheer obtusness or grit. It's surprising that he made it through an entire term. And despite a chorus of condemnations from inside the party, he went for a second term. But before the GOP celebrates his ouster, it might ponder this question: Is the volatile Steele even more dangerous outside the tent than inside it?