Have You Seen Me?

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Now that “Leading from Behind” is smoldering in Benghazi and his “Reset” of Israeli relations is burning in Gaza and Israel, what will the next four years of American foreign policy look like?

We still have global interests but no global strategy. Our game plans in the Middle East and on the Arab Spring have now been discredited. Our “pivot” to the Western Pacific in the light of a dwindling Navy will leave us choosing what theater to abandon. And don’t forget a teetering and fragmenting Europe. Equatorial Africa still can’t feed itself. Does anyone know what’s happening in South America?

We have a president who has outlived his expertise – running for office. He spent his time in the Illinois Senate running for the US Senate; he spent his time in the US Senate running for President; and he spent his first term running for a second term. He’s outrun his coverage: there’s nothing left to run for. He’s stuck with governing now, and increasingly that’s going to involve the rest of the world: foreign policy.

Ideas matter, and an administration without ideas will drift from one tactical fix to another with no overall direction, no strategic concept, and no understanding of unintended consequences. That pretty much describes our current course. It would be fruitful for the president to give some thought to a view of America that can be articulated, and our place in the world, before merely continuing his whack-a-mole approach to foreign policy. This shouldn’t be surprising. Today’s liberals are bored by foreign policy – it doesn’t involve people who can vote for them, foreign countries aren’t manipulable by social engineering, and the world works according to Realist principles rather than those of Liberal Internationalism[1]. But ignoring the rest of the world won’t make it go away, and Mr Obama’s second term will be increasingly occupied by issues ignored or mishandled during his first.

The epicenter of the withering of American influence is the Greater Middle East – Egypt, actually. During the popular uprising in Tahrir Square [Cairo] in January 2011, President Obama sent former Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner bearing a defined settlement to work out with Mubarak. In outline, Mubarak would agree not to run for office in September so as to facilitate an orderly peaceful transition to a new regime. Ambassador Wisner swiftly accomplished his mission. Meanwhile, back in Washington, in a press conference, Mr Obama publicly called on Mubarak to resign, and to resign “now.” Wisner left Egypt in dismay. His own president had cut the ground out from under him, and we lost a settlement that would have been far more constructive for American interests than what was to transpire.

The lesson wasn’t lost on the Arab world. Mubarak was our longest and most loyal ally in the Middle East. He worked with us on every counterterrorism measure over the last 30 years; he kept the Suez Canal open; he supported the Camp David Accords arranged by his predecessor, Anwar Sadat; and he continued to support efforts to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian compromise, and to that end he even helped blockade Hamas in Gaza. Yet in the first week that Mubarak was in trouble, we backstabed him. What all the regional leaders in the Middle East now believe is that “the minute I get into trouble the same will happen to me.” A prominent Saudi official told an American friend: “Do you think we are ever going to rely on the United States again?”

Well, now the Muslim Brotherhood, who spawned Hamas and from whom al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri comes, is in charge of Egypt and they’re staging demonstrations at our embassy over an artfully-timed airing of “the video” on state television. One shudders to think of the Damoclean Sword of our president’s post-election “flexibility” with ex-KGB colonel Vladimir Putin.

Iran and Israel

Both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have discussed their “Red Lines,” beyond which they “would not allow Iran to cross” in their nuclear program. Understandably, the Red Lines are in different places (and therefore are closing at different rates). Mr Obama has said that our Red Line is “Their decision to make nuclear weapons.” Mr Netanyahu’s Red Line “Their ability to produce a nuclear weapon.”

Basing our stop-gap at the Mullahs’ decision to make nuclear weapons supposes that we will know when the Mullahs decide. That’s a fantasy. What we are really saying is that this administration is committed to allowing Iran to nuclearize, and we will use deterrence and containment – a la the Cold War – to nullify them. There is so much wrong with this approach as to be reckless.

The nuclear threat to Israel is existential – President Ahmadinejad has stated, on many occasions, that it is his desire to destroy Israel – to “wipe it off the map.” So the mere ability to produce a nuclear weapon adds means to the motive-means-opportunity triad of the decision loop. Opportunity then becomes arbitrarily assignable.

“Ability” is defined, by Mr Netanyahu, as having enough low enriched uranium (LEU) to produce enough high enriched uranium (HEU) to produce a bomb. The ancillary skills required[2] have been in-process for a decade or more. At that point, Iran just requires enough time to enrich their LEU, and that’s largely a function of the number of centrifuge-arrays in use.

This difference has import to us because Mr Netanyahu will strike Iran before Mossad thinks their level of LEU is sufficient. Any Israeli strike on Iran will be interpreted by Iranian leadership as a joint American-Israeli operation, whether it is or not. The retaliation will be against all Western interests, focusing on Jewish and American interests. There must be some actual work done between us and the Israelis to put our Iranian policies in sync with one another. I don’t think Team Obama thinks this is necessary, or if they do, their idea of compromise is that Israel adopt our view. There is so much wrong with this approach as to be dangerous.

Iraq and Afghanistan

Barack Obama arrived in office needing only to solidify the post-surge gains made in Iraq, lead in the “nationalizing” of the tribal-oriented population, and bring the Iraqi military up to being able to defend the country. Instead, Mr Obama couldn’t get out of Iraq fast enough (it was the “bad” war, remember?). So, we have al Qaeda re-inserting itself into western Iraq and Iran co-opting the east. Iraq is being used as a highway facilitating the radicalization of the anti-Assad effort in Syria (where Saddam sent his chemical WMD before the invasion). Fractionalization of the Shi’ite, Kurdish and Sunni communities in Iraq is increasing. Mr Obama’s inexperience prevented him from “hitting the ground running” as he entered office, and by intent or ignorance, his fledgling administration has allowed Iraq to slip back into near-anarchy. Our efforts in Iraq have been rendered wasted.

The administration is preparing to duplicate this outcome in Afghanistan (the “good” war, remember?). His own Inspector General for Afghanistan has said that indigenous forces will not be able to cope by 2014, yet we will cut and run anyway, turning the country back over to the Taliban, who have been waiting in the wings since Mr Obama told them that we were leaving on a date-certain in the same speech that he announced the surge. Stupid[3].

This highlights only two situations in one region (the Greater Middle East) that will require non-trivial attention during the next administration. Don’t hold your breath. I don’t see any desire to replace whack-a-mole with anything more substantive. Four more years of being blindsided by events overseas.


[1] That is to say, balances of power tend to drive national behavior rather than seeking to be constrained by webs of treaties, organizations and yielding sovereignty to committees of foreigners. See, for example, the dysfunctional United Nations and the fragmenting European Union.

[2] Micro shaped-charges used to focus the implosion of the core; necessary metallurgy to metalicize the HEU into a machinable state; neutron initiator (nuclear trigger); sequencing electronics, and so forth.

[3] And, as my father loved to point out, “Ignorance can be fixed, stupid is forever.”

a Note to Readers

I have prepared a 21-page report on the Benghazi attack, its context and the administration’s response. Anyone who would like a copy, please include your eMail address in a comment to this article, and I will be glad to send you a copy (as written, or the 27-page 12-point version, or the 20-page PDF version). 

EagleWatch

… Fool Me Twice, …

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It’s Ground Hog Day in America. The American people have spoken, and they have opted for the status quo. Same president, same Congress, European high unemployment and slow growth as an acceptable “New Normal.” On the up-side, the president is finally correct about the previous administration totally screwing up the economy.

OK, that’s out of my system. Let’s look at what happened on Tuesday.

It’s a genuine political mystery how a president facing unemployment near 8%, debt topping $16 trillion and mounting questions over the Libya terror attack was able to win a second term in office.  The answer lies in the fact that Mr Romney was never able to make the election a referendum on the president’s record. And that was intentional on part of the Obama campaign (who had no intention of running on that record).

One Sunday in May, Jim Messina, the manager of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, went to the president along with other top advisers and proposed an unorthodox strategy. The campaign, he said, wanted to spend heavily, starting immediately, on ads trashing Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The idea, explained to the president in a PowerPoint™ presentation in the Roosevelt Room, was to shape voters’ impressions with a heavy expenditure before Mr Romney had the money to do it for himself. It worked. The general election campaign started out with Mr Romney being defined by President Obama’s campaign, early and often.

The first debate was devastating for the president – Mr Romney’s favorables topped his unfavorables for the first time in the campaign, and his “Likeability” ratings rivaled those of the president’s. The second debate was a wash, and the numbers held. The first really serious misstep by Team Romney came in the third debate when the governor failed to ask critical questions about the Benghazi debacle and the administration’s inept reaction to it. Everybody knew the president was prepared for the questions, and probably had a canned response, but it would have been yet another lame excuse (e.g., “I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation,” etc), but like a trial lawyer, you want the jury to hear the question and the weaselly response – it reeks of incompetence and cover-up. The total avoidance of the subject while it was in the news daily was a serious mistake.

The Obama ground game was superb. The get-out-the-vote effort was aided immensely by unions (some of whom fined members if they didn’t work the GOTV effort), who are owned by the Democratic Party. Obama opened 131 offices in Ohio, for example, and had 32,854 volunteers there scheduled for 3-hour shifts. And, of course, the “we-aren’t-a-voting-bloc” Blacks voted as a bloc (as they always do), 93% voting for President Obama. Another bought-and-paid-for Democratic constituency.

The Hispanic vote was more evenly split. I have only been able to confirm numbers for here in Florida, but they probably reflect the general vote. Cuban-American voters went for Mr Romney 50% to 47%, while non-Cuban Hispanics went for President Obama 68% to 32%. That reflects a failure of message on part of the Romney campaign. Hispanics are natural Republicans – religious, family-oriented, rigorous work-ethic, and entrepreneurial by nature. Mr Romney allowed the discussion to focus narrowly on immigration policy instead of why they come here in the first place.

There are many more election statistics available, but these paint the picture – Team Romney just got out-campaigned by Team Obama. That a moderate Republican couldn’t beat an incumbent president with this abysmal record should generate some serious thought by the GOP about what went wrong. I’m sure they’ll do just that, I’m just not convinced they’ll respond calmly.

The RNC should immediately meet with key donors with the idea of setting up two SuperPACs – one that is wholly dedicated to building a national ground game – and that building should start now; the other should concentrate on the primary season, with the idea of massive TV buys against the presumptive Democratic nominee as soon as one becomes obvious. The Republicans should imperil the Democratic brand as soon in an election cycle as it can.

The RNC needs to meet state leaders with the idea of improved vetting of local and state candidates. Leaders must be made to understand that stupid things said at local levels hurt the Republican brand at national levels, and that Republicans will never get fair treatment by the national media – that’s not a talking-point, just something, like bad weather on election day, that needs to be understood at all levels.

As we near the tipping-point of half of the American electorate being on the dole (read: bought and paid for Democrat constituency), Republicans need to realize that America is changing from a “can do” people resentful of federal meddling to an infantilized population that is subservient to federal handouts. This has serious implications for the future conservatism, and that is a messaging problem that must be addressed.

Returning someone to the White House that understands America is going to be increasingly difficult.


Title illustration by Bob Gorrell.

Patrick O’Conner, Carol E Lee and Sara Murray, Big Bet Six Months Ago Paved Way for President, in Wall Street Journal, November 7 2012, p. A1.

Alan Wirzbicki, Obama won Ohio with ground game, in Boston Globe, November 9 2012.

Fox News exit poll summary: Obama’s key groups made the difference, FOX News, November 7 2012.

Stay the Course versus Hope and Change

Stay the Course versus Hope and Change

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Posted at 0944 on Election Day. 

It’s a mirror-image of 2008: continue down a demonstrably unpopular path or jump into the unknown with a challenger. Even on Election Day, the pollsters are torn as to the probable results. The nation remains torn.

Out of the fog of prognostications, four strike me as interesting – Michael Barone, probably the best “numbers guy” in the business; Dr Larry Sabato, head of University of Virginia’s political science department; Erick Erickson, editor of Red State, a right-wing blog; and Karl Rove, a student of the political process. They interest me, not because they favor Mr Romney (Dr Sabato, in fact, predicts an Obama win), but because of the reasoning behind their opinions.

Mr Erickson, an unabashed Romney supporter, on November 2nd, issued a weak prediction that Mr Romney will win, but states that if you asked him the next day, he might reverse himself. So here we have a staunch partisan who closely follows events and trends and is as tied up as the national polling units. Human nature tells me that means he is reading a narrow Obama win, and is trying a “glass-half-full” outlook.

Mr Barone sees a sizable Romney win (315 to 223 electoral votes), projecting Romney wins in target states Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Obama taking the target states of Michiagan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon. Mr Rove projects Romney getting at least 279 electoral votes, based on the faulty methodology of pollsters.

Dr Sabato looks for a 290-248 Romney win, attributing much of the result to Hurricane Sandy interrupting the campaigns, removing Mr Romney from the stage and showing the president being presidential – all of this in the crucial week before the election. This is, he points out, is one of those serendipitous events that no one can initiate or control – they just happen sometimes.

Mr Barone’s prediction is born of the belief that, this more than most, will be an election about economics, and economics are bad right now. A referendum on the Obama administration, not a comparison between incumbent and challenger. No doubt economics will play an important role how people vote today – it always does in presidential elections, and more so if the economy is perceived as being bad. I can’t go as far as Mr Barone does, however, seeing 62% of the target states breaking for Romney on economic issues. If this election turns out to be either basically economic or a referendum, that gives it to Romney, but I think there are other complexities involved.

Mr Rove points out an inconsistency in the standard method of weighting raw polling results used by most major firms – using the most recent jurisdictional election as a model (i.e., the 2008 presidential election). He also laments polling units that use “Voting Age Population” (“Adults”) or “Registered Voters” instead of “Likely Voters.” Those who know me, are familiar with my feeling about using Likely Voters as the most accurate way to project actual voter results. The problem Mr Rove has with methodology is valid – nobody, pollsters included, assume the same degree of Democratic enthusiasm or Republican apathy as occurred in 2008. Why they are modeling their weighting that way mystifies me, and skews the results unnecessarily.

Having said that, realize two things: Republicans are always swimming upstream because historically there are more registered Democrats than registered Republicans; and the power of incumbency is very real in political campaigns.

The registration headwind seems to have been mitigated this cycle, in as much as October showed 39.1% of registered voters being Republican and 33.3% being Democrats (2008 numbers were 33.8% Republicans and 41.4% Democrats). The incumbency challenge has been somewhat ameliorated by Mr Romney being able to have a commercial jet in campaign livery at his disposal – which is at least better than stepping off of a contributor’s Gulfstream with Air Force One parked across the tarmac.

My thoughts are that this is a turnout election – whoever has the best ground game will win this one, and that should favor President Obama, who had the best ground game I have ever seen in 2008. But fueling the ground game is voter enthusiasm, and that edge goes to the Republicans this year. Without going through state-by-state (because this isn’t based on such a calculation), I will call for a Romney win with 273 or so electoral votes. If the lawyers get involved (suits and challenges, etc), all bets are off.


No major program passed by this administration has enjoyed majority support of the American people, and employment remains over 9 million jobs short of where he said we would be by this time. The economy is creeping along at 1% to 2% GDP growth and our foreign policy is in disarray.

A lease and paint job he paid for out-of-pocket.

If President Obama does win the election, I will predict that Mr Romney will win the popular vote.