So China flew its experimental J-20 stealth fighter jet while Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting President Hu Jintao? It would be hard to think of a more calculated insult--and one that America should, and will, take in stride. The Los Angeles Times reports that China's military didn't even bother to inform the civilian leadership. Gates knew about the test. Hu didn't.
What does that tell you?
The real snub wasn't directed at Gates but at Hu and his associates. Could it be that the real China threat is a military going rogue? It's clear that China's military is balking at pretty much everything the Obama administration wants. It doesn't want to rein in North Korea. It doesn't want strategic talks with America.
The LA Times politely says that Chinese military circles, like some in American ones, see us as a threat rather than a partner. But the situations are different. America is an established power trying to maintain the status quo in Asia, perhaps even to improve it. China, on the other hand, appears to be a rising power, one that wants to upend the status quo rather than preserve it. It could be argued, as some realists doubtless will, that this is simply a tragic collision of interests. The peaceful types will argue that all this can be resolved or that economic ties will supersede any potential conflicts.
There can be no doubting that America has a lot invested in the China relationship. But so does Beijing. In the end, it may come down to money. Obama (and Gates) are trying to shrink the American military without engaging in too much shrinkage of its actual commitments. Perhaps America will even have to enunicate an "Asia First" policy if it wants to maintain its might in the region. Certainly Gates himself is pointing to the danger of a missile threat from North Korea. It would be in Beijing's interest to cooperate with Washington in defanging the North Korea threat.
But the temptation to use North Korea as a weapon to torment Washington may be too much for Beijing's hawkish types to resist. If they cooperated, America would have less incentive to bulk up, or maintain, its forces in the region. Instead, China is, from its own standpoint, perversely encouraging America to remain. But that's what happens when the civilian diplomats get shunted aside by the hawkish military neocons. And for now, it looks as though China's neocons have the upper hand. Like the neocons who wrecked American foreign policy, they may be poised to follow policies that are actually inimical to China's true interests, while arguing that they are pursuing its true ones.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likening American exremists to Islamic ones. Speaking in Dubai, she pointed to the heinous attack in Arizona to draw a kind of moral equivalence between Islamic and American society. According to Clinton,
"Look, we have extremists in my country," Clinton said while taping the show at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. "A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Giffords, was just shot by an extremist in our country. We have the same kinds of problems."
The impulse to make such a statement is understandable on several levels. First, it appeals to the Arab audience by trying to draw it into a kind of complicity with Clinton. The underlying idea is something like this: "Hey, we're not really all that different. We have the same problem." The other messsage is: "If we're not that different, then we're not picking on you or singling you out for criticism. We're just as capable of exercising it on ourselves." Finally, it expresses the hope: "Let's all solve the terrorism problem together."
But there are some significant differences between America and the Middle East (to put it mildly!). While a big debate has erupted in America about the extent of the influence of the radical right, no one is alleging that there is a vast terrorist conspiracy. If anything, Jared Loughner appears to be the classic America assassin--the lone wolf, the loser who takes out his anger by attempting to murder public officials. Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm observes that mental illness, not political rhetoric, more often seems to be at the root of assassination attempts in America.
Given the bizarre nature of Lougner's ramblings, some liberal commentators have adopted the fallback position that the miasma of right-wing rhetoric created the conditions in which he would feel impelled to attack Rep. Giffords and others. There can be no doubting that by putting politicians in the crosshairs Sarah Palin did more than cross a line. She went too far. Way too far.
It's also the case that Lougner's attack definitely was a case of terrorism. He was out to terrorize. He did. Public officials will become even more nervous about their security. So will judges.
But none of this reaches the level of Islamic societies. If America had government preachers and government television and radio networks preaching hatred against liberal values that would be one thing. But it doesn't. Sorry, Hillary, but Fox News is not the ulama of America. Ultimately, Clinton's facile comparison blurs more than it clarifies.
It's springtime for moderation. With unemployment figures remaining dismal, the Clinton administration--I mean, Obama--is steadily moving toward the center. President Obama, in picking former Clinton administration officials William Daley as his chief of staff and Gene Sperling as his economic adviser, is signaling that he's abandoning the liberal program that he advanced during the first two years of his administration.
At least that's the conventional wisdom. There is some truth to it. These are not picks that are going to elate Obama's liberal base. Far from it. Sperling helped engineer Bill Clinton's pro-growth policies. Daley has blasted Democrats for clinging to the illusion that liberal policies received a mandate in 2008:
We’ve really got to listen carefully to the public. Voters are not re-embracing conservative ideology. But we must acknowledge that the left’s agenda has not won the support of a majority of Americans — and, based on that recognition, we must steer a more moderate course.
The appointment of Sperling and Daley, however, will not spell a repudiation of the policies that Obama pursued in his first term, most notably health care. In that sense, the conventional wisdom is misplaced. What Obama is doing is consolidating his gains rather than abandoning what he ground out in his first two years.
But the potential for Obama to pivot on economic policies is high. He may well, in his State of the Union address, pull a David Cameron. Already Defense Secretary Robert Gates is announcing cuts in military spending. The House Republicans, by contrast, backpedaled with twenty-four hours on their promise to cut $100 billion from the budget, reducing it to $50 billion.
Bluntly put, Obama might announce that he wants to cut $150 billion from next year's budget--outflanking the GOP before negotiations even begin. It shouldn't be that hard to find the cuts. That the House Republicans are flinching is a sign of political cowardice.
The stakes have never been higher for the GOP. It would be ironic if the GOP takeover of the House has simply set the stage for Obama's political resurrection.
Liberal political correctness is running amok again. The latest example is the move to censor Mark Twain's Huck Finn. As the Los Angeles Times editorial page observes,
Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University, is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a joint edition of Mark Twain's classics, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer," in which the word "nigger" — used 219 times in "Huck Finn" alone — is replaced by the word "slave." Other politically correct alterations include a name change for menacing villain Injun Joe (now he's "Indian Joe"). Frankly, Scarlett, we give a darn about this kind of bowdlerism.
So do I. So, apparently, does much of America, to judge by the widespread indignation triggered by Gribben's move. The blunt fact is that in effacing the "n" word from Twain's text, the editors are countermanding his own repudiation of slavery as well as rewriting America's past. Anyone who thinks Twain was a racist--a charge sometimes hurled at him--fundamentally misunderstands the novel. The novel is, at bottom, about Huck's own struggle to reconcile his racist impulses with his affection for Nigger Jim.
The literary critic Leslie Fiedler even claimed that there was a homosexual relationship between the two. That's going pretty far. But no one can read the passages in the final section of the novel where Huck and Jim "play" at being master and slave without realizing Twain's profound horror at the South's peculiar institution, one that he understood intimately, having grown up in Hannibal, Missouri.
Twain's text should be revered, not manhandled. Professor Gribbin should probably be defrocked for participating in this travesty.
Robert Gibbs may have been the most annoying member of the Obama administration. Arrogant, complacent, shallow, he represented the worst aspects of a White House press secretary. The news that he is departing should create a thousand hosannas across the land.
Former Democratic national chairman Howard Dean got it exactly right when he observed about Obama's departing aides:
The core issue is the contempt, which not just the progressives were treated by but lots of people were treated by, by senior advisers around the president who have been here for 20 years and thought they knew everything and we knew nothing. That is a fundamental flaw in any kind of administration. As they say, "Don't let the door hit you in the you-know-what on the way out."
Who will Obama appoint to replace Gibbs? It's hard to him imagine doing worse. Some candidates might be picked from the numerous Democrats who were defeated in the midterms. A true pick with the ability to talk to blue collar Democrats would be former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, but he lacks the kind of polish that Obama would be looking for. But the odds are that Obama will pick someone from the inside--perhaps Jay Carney, vice-president Joe Biden's spokesman and a former journalist at Time.
The truth is that Obama almost doesn't need a press secretary. He likes to turn his own press conferences into Ivy League seminars for the edification of the press corp and the nation. He is his own press secretary. In other words, he likes to hear himself talk.
This is difference from Bill Clinton, who was simply garrulous, and George W. Bush, who had trouble uttering a coherent sentence. The only time Bush was able to make the case for the Iraq war was when he had Tony Blair standing next to him to offer a fluent, if specious, argument for it. But even if Obama doesn't want to admit it, the exodus of advisers from the White House does signal that change is afoot after the shellacking of the midterms.
Already Obama has managed to recover some of his footing with his trifecta of legislative successes at the end of 2010. Now Gibbs will be serving as an outside adviser, a role he is probably better suited for than press secretary. It's unlikely that his departure will be widely mourned.
The GOP remains in Reagan's shadow. Ever since the 2008 election, when the presidential contenders vied with each other to stake a claim to Reagan, it's been clear that the Gipper remains the dominant figure in the GOP. Next month marks his 100th birthday, a fresh occasion for Reagan worship.
Roll Call and Talking Points Memo report that Reagan will be feted by a gallery of GOP stars. According to Roll Call,
The Illinois Republican Party hopes to host an all-star lineup of potential GOP presidential contenders at a dinner celebrating President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday next month.
The fundraising event will be held in Chicago on Feb. 5, the day before the late president’s birthday. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) will sign copies of one of his books before the dinner, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have confirmed they will attend, according to an invitation to the event. The party also invited Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. The 12 Republican Members of the state’s 112th Congressional delegation will be special guests.
Would Reagan be pleased by all the attention? Would he have a favorite among the contenders? And can the GOP really reclaim the White House by the equivalent of asking WWRD--what would Reagan do?
There are plenty of reasons to look to Reagan. After all, Barack Obama did during his primary fight, invoking Reagan as someone who changed America's direction. Indeed he did. America was faltering, at home and abroad, when Reagan entered office. But in retrospect Reagan's record was more moderate than his many detractors were prepared to acknowledge. He was loath to send American troops abroad. And he did raise taxes even as he complained about the deficit--which ballooned under his watch.
Reagan represented the sunny side of the street. He wasn't interested in replicating the Coolidge-Hoover wing of the party. He wanted economic growth.
It seems clear that in spirit the Illinois event will replicate Reagan's. It's sure to be a lot of fun. But it's hard not to wonder if the GOP is fixated too much on the past and not enough on the future.
I doubt that the Tea Party has much interest in Reagan. It's looking back to the Founding Fathers. Reagan also has an antiquated feel. How many young voters know much about him?
Nor does President Obama really resemble Jimmy Carter. He's clearly a lot savvier than Carter. Carter would never have cut the budget deal that Obama did. The economy is also recovering. The stock market is up. Obama also is not a shrinking violet when it comes to deploying military might abroad.
So the context of 2012 is going to be different. The GOP is a long way from solving its own identity crisis of establishment versus populist politicians. The primaries will go a long way toward thrashing it out. But invoking Reagan is not going to do much for the GOP other than lull it into complacency about the greatness of the past.
George F. Will is making waves with his comment on ABC's This Week that Sarah Palin and the Republican nominating process would be President Obama's "secret weapon" in 2012. Will sees Palin, widely viewed as the frontrunner in the Republican primaries, as unelectable. His fear is that the Republican base could put her over the top, thereby insuring Obama's reelection.
That is, by and large, the establishment view of Palin. Peggy Noonan and a host of other conservative commentators have made it clear that they violently dislike this Mama Grizzly. According to Noonan,
Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, "an actor." She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, "Dancing With the Stars," etc. This is how she did it: "Wasn't Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn't he in 'Bedtime for Bonzo,' Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor."
Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin.
She's seen as bad news for the GOP--volatile, rambunctious, nuts. The battle lines were drawn by Barbara Bush a few weeks ago when she said that Palin ought to hunker down in Alaska and not disturb her betters. Palin sniped back with words about "blue bloods" trying to fix the primary.
The truth is that Palin may well be tough to defeat. She's on to something in noting that Republicans have been able to coalesce around an anointed candidate. Sometimes it worked (George W. Bush) and then again sometimes it didn't (Bob Dole). In the age of social networking, it may be tougher to stop a populist candidate such as Palin.
The very fact that Will feels compelled to attack Palin is a sign of her enduring strength. Will may well be right. Palin has the potential to upend the GOP. It's hard to fathom her winning a presidential election. But simply becoming the GOP candidate would be a stunning victory for some who only a few years ago was a Governor of Alaska that pretty much no one had ever heard about. She remains Sen. John McCain's most important political legacy.
Paul Pillar is exhorting President Obama to impose a peace on the Israelis and Palestinians. With a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that would amount to a suicide mission. So what will 2011 actually hold?
In the Middle East the Israeli government may think that it's holding the upper hand over Obama. Paradoxically, however, I think that Benjamin Netanyahu is miscalculating. The Obama administration will pull back from the conflict, in essence washing its hands of Israel. But this can't be good for Israel. 2011 may mark the year when he United States began to turn away from Israel, not in anger but simply resignation.
What will happen in Pakistan? Much to everyone's surprise Osama bin-Laden will finally be hunted down by American forces. His capture in May will provide Obama with a brief bump in the polls. Meanwhile, Pakistan will experience a leadership change--the military will oust Asif Ali Zardari, who, vacationing at a French villa, is refused reentry into Pakistan. The Obama administration will publicly deplore the change, while welcoming it privately.
At home Republicans will pummel Obama for failing to promote democracy abroad. Pakistan and Russia will be Exhibit A's for Obama's critics. Tim Pawlenty will emerge as the sleeper candidate, while Sarah Palin is pounded by her rivals. Meanwhile, Bristol will embark upon her own reality show, upstaging her mother, including learning to become a NASCAR driver.
Obama himself will be excoriated by liberals for trying to compromise with the GOP on reducing the federal debt. Will he be able to avoid a resumption of smoking under the pressure? Talk of a third candidate will continue to center on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, though his failed response to a blackout in the summer further tarnishes his reputation after his failed effort during the 2010 snow storm. Bloomberg's credo for the 2012 election, however, terrifies the Obama White House: "We will bury you."
Israel's reputation is not at its zenith these days. Two recent stories testify to the troubles afflicting the country, one the letter sent out by 30 rabbis stating that Jewish girls should not date Arabs, the other the news that by 2040 78 percent of the countries students will consist of orthodox Jews or Arabs. Meanwhile, anger is growing at the Orthodox, who don't serve in the military and, essentially, appear to be on the state dole (which means, by the way, that, ultimately, the American taxpayer, who is sending billions to Israel, is on the hook as well).
But then there's the piece of news that reminds that despite its woes, Israel remains a democracy. The news is that former president Moshe Katsav went down like a ton of bricks. He's been convicted of two counts of rape. When was the last time you saw an Arab leader convicted of molestation? For that matter, when was the last time you saw an Arab leader utter a peep about women's rights?
Not in Iran, whose theocratic regime seems to remain intent on stoning Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani to death. Not in Saudi Arabia. The Middle East countries where women are treated barbarically can be extended almost ad nauseam.
By contrast, Katsav's exposure could not be more complete. Haaretz observes,
The judges listed many instances where Katsav lied in order to better his defense. Several examples noted by the judges were that Katsav claimed he fired A. during the Likud primaries when later it was found out he fired her afterwards, as well as Katsav lying to the court regarding attending a particular meeting and then being forced to admit otherwise when it was mentioned in a document presented to the court.
The judges wrote that Katsav reached an ultimate low when he used his late father's memorial ceremony, which A. also attended, for his defense by lying and saying that the ceremony took place in May in order to show that it would not have made sense that A. was raped in April and then came to his father's memorial a month afterwards.
The trial is a testament to the strength of Israeli democracy. It will have to draw on the same strengths to solve its Palestinian dilemma.
Should policymakers pay attention to academics? Should policy makers actually be academics? No and no. For the most part, policymakers should avoid them like the plague.
These thoughts were first prompted by Justin Logan's column and Paul Pillar's response. Logan bemoaned the fact that academics don't have much sway inside the beltway. Strictly speaking, I'm not sure that's true. Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright were both academics. I guess it depends on what kind of academics we're talking about. Rice and Albright were more grounded in history than in the abstract theorizing beloved of many political science departments. Indeed, to sharpen the distinction more, I would say that SAIS, the Fletcher School, and other such finishing schools for foreign affairs mavens have supplanted traditional political science departments, which became enamored of game and rational-choice theory. The only truly serious discipline in political science is political theory--Aristotle to Weber to Rawls. Is there much in international relations, by the way, that has not already been discussed by Thucydides--a dip into the Sicilian Expedition might have served George W. Bush well before he headed into Iraq.
One telling sign of the decline of political science, with its pretensions to scientific accuracy, is that Fareed Zakaria, a student of Samuel Huntington, did not pursue a career in the academy. It simply wasn't that attractive. Are the best and brightest attracted to political science in the first place? I would wager not.
It would be nice to think that the conundrums of foreign policy would be more easily unraveled by increased colloquy between academics and policy makers. For the most part, however, what political scientists have to offer is worthless. Sometimes it may be worse than worthless. It could be actively harmful. A grounding in history is far more useful for both policymakers and academics.