Democrats Have a Chance to be Interesting in 2016

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Rather than the coronation of a tired and damaged Hillary Clinton, the Democratic race in 2016 could actually be interesting. Not many contenders seem willing to step up against the Clinton slime-machine, preferring instead to line up for the jobs available afterwards. Many Democratic pundits are trying to coax Elizabeth Warren into the race, and Bernie Sanders has mentioned his interest in running, but either or both would just result in everyone trying our-new-New-Deal each other. Same-old, same-old. The press favorite would be for the sitting Vice President to do the usual thing and throw his hat in the ring – covering a Joe Biden campaign would be a hoot!

The Democratic National Committee is currently going through the self-immolation following their disastrous 2014 mid-terms that Republicans went through following the disastrous 2012 presidential election. Their assessment gathering was aptly titled “What’s a Democrat?”, and Kentucky governor Steve Beshear summed up the atmosphere by stating, “I am here to tell you the Democratic Party has lost its way.” The problems are not with the “Party’s core beliefs,” he said, but relate to “our inability to convey our principles to the American people in a precise and concise way.” It’s the Democratic version of the core problem with today’s politics in general – enough of what we’re against … what the hell are we FOR?”

Democrats, on the national stage, have become urban elites who have lost the white working middle class – small-town and rural America. With all their success in presidential elections (largely GOP’s fault), they can’t win the House (lost 69 seats since 2008), they can’t win the Senate (lost 13 Senate seats since 2008), and they can’t win in the states – legislatures and governorships (lost 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 11 governors’ offices since 2008 – including those in deeply blue Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois). They have traded the presidential electoral votes of mega-cities for overall national appeal. None of this administration’s programs enjoy majority popular support – that’s a red flag.

Democrats have also traded being the party of the “everyman” for identity politics, driven by race, gender and class, rather than good governance, which almost always degenerates into the politics of division, envy and victimhood. It would seem, by their speech and actions, that Democrats favor dividing America into hyphenated sub groups in order to pit Americans against Americans, rather than articulating a vision for a united, better America. “John Doe” as the poster child of the Democrats has morphed into a French-speaking Black single mother of Hispanic descent. “America” gets lost in the shuffle.

There is, however, a most interesting Democrat out there right now: Jim Webb of Virginia. For his personal mantra, he reaches back to his (highly decorated) experience as a Marine – Duty, honor, country. How refreshing. But, like sensible Republicans, reasonable Democrats have little to no chance of getting through the primaries.

Obama’s Secret Deal

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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday March 3rd about two major concerns – Iranian nuclear ambitions and radical supremist Islamism. I will treat the first issue here.

“We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” President Obama proclaimed in his inaugural address on January 20 2009 at the US Capitol. This is where it all started. He was signaling that we would be willing to negotiate with and possibly make concessions to unfriendly nations. Innocent enough, absent knowledge of how good a negotiator our newly minted president is. We knew that our adversaries play hardball and are often mendacious.

It got off to a fast start. On March 6 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a “Reset” button to signify a new start to US-Russian relations. It turned out that the Clinton State Department was devoid of Russian-speakers, and the button was labeled with a Russian word that means “Overcharge”, not “Reset.” The whole exercise has gone as astray as that gesture.

The discord between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu goes back to 2012, when the Obama administration began secret contacts with Iran through Oman. The Israelis were angry that they weren’t informed and insulted that the US would think the Israelis wouldn’t find out through their intelligence channels[1]. The secret meetings weren’t the problem – such discussions always begin thusly – it was the ignoring of Israeli vulnerabilities to such an agreement. Iranian President Ahmadinejad once famously stated that it would take “many, many Israeli nuclear bombs to seriously damage Iran, but one well-placed nuclear bomb would destroy Israel.” And he was right – a 150KT warhead on the Jerusalem side of Tel Aviv would obliterate Israeli leadership and much of its industry. Israel sees an Iran with nuclear weapons as a threat to its very existence, and Iran has expressed, many times, a desire to fulfill that nightmare.

From Clinton through Bush the Younger to the present day, the official American position has been that Iran will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, and that has calmed Israeli fears somewhat. America has always been a valued and trustworthy guarantor of Israeli security. But Prime Minister Netanyahu feels the ground shifting beneath his feet under President Obama’s American leadership.

“[Nuclear weapon] Breakout time is an equation with four variables,” says Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence, “a package consisting of the number and performance levels of the permitted centrifuges, the extent of dismantlement of non-permitted centrifuges and the size of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium[2].” So, to “not permit” the acquisition of nuclear weapons, one would just have to zero-out one or more of those variables – the simplest being to ban Iran from maintaining centrifuge arrays, to ban Iran from enriching uranium at all. This has always been the Israeli position.

The first round of talks ended with the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), agreeing that Iran could keep “a few hundred centrifuges,” thereby legitimizing Iran’s “right” to enrich. Now, to stop the acquisition of weapons grade materials, the world is faced with the much harder task of ensuring a low number of centrifuges and verifying the enrichment level at the end of the cascade. With fewer than a thousand centrifuges, it would take years to produce enough weapons grade U235 to produce a warhead, and the last steps of enrichment would have to be done without inspectors finding out. The other large concern in this area is the heavy water reactor at Arak. Regardless of how you use the reactor’s primary product – high pressure steam – the way in which a heavy water reactor works produces plutonium as a waste product in the spent fuel rods. It’s what the industry calls a “breeder” reactor. The only practical use for plutonium is bomb cores. Any agreement serious about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would insist that the breeder at Arak be leveled. The JPOA leaves it untouched[3].

Obama has repeatedly stated, most recently in his January 2015 State of the Union address, that the interim agreement “halted” the Iranian nuclear program. Or, as he put it in his March 2014 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the “logic” of the JPOA was “to freeze the situation for a certain period of time to allow the negotiators to work.” But the agreement froze only American actions; it hardly stopped the Iranians from moving forward[4]. This has further troubled Mr Netanyahu – the Americans now obviously have no intention of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability, only to delay it. This confirms Israel’s belief that the Obama administration has been duplicitous, arguing against Israeli strikes because “it wouldn’t prevent an Iranian bomb, only delay it.”

According to those privy to the negotiations, the US wants to tie Iran’s hands for a decade until a new generation takes power there[5]. So, without public notice or Congressional consultation, the Obama administration has broken with long-standing American policy of denying Iran nuclear weapons capability, and now wants to limit and contain it. This is not a detail, it’s a paradigm shift. He’s betting Israel’s existence on a hunch that the next Iranian administration will be all better. Such naïveté and chutzpa terrifies Mr Netanyahu. And delights the mullahs.

Ronald Reagan entered office with the idea to end the Cold War – he could see that the Soviets weren’t going to win the war of technology, and that we could make that obvious to Soviet war planners. The Strategic Defense Initiative did the trick. Likewise, Barack Obama entered office assuming that Iran and the United States are natural allies with common interests. He sees “a grand bargain with Iran” as the central goal of his foreign policy. Yes, that’s speculation, but it explains an awful lot of an otherwise inexplicable foreign policy.

It explains why he would secretly shred American assurances that we would not permit a nuclear Iran in favor of, as is currently being discussed, allowing them between 3,000 and 4,000 centrifuges and simply “de-plumbing” the rest (rather then destroying them). An overriding interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region and ameliorating an existential threat to Israel has been scrapped in favor of “a grand bargain” with Iran. The adage of “a bad bargain is worse than no bargain” has been ignored.

This would explain the abandonment of Iraq and Syria to Iranian influence. It would explain his apparent willingness to allow Iran to carry the effort of defeating ISIS (thereby leaving Iran as the dominant military force between Turkey and Saudi Arabia). It explains our yielding the chemical warfare “red line” matter to Russia[6] and our near pathological reluctance to “offend” them over Ukraine (we need their cooperation in dealing with Iran). As I said, it takes a lot of the “whack-a-mole” feeling out of the Obama foreign policy.

If my speculation is wrong, then we are back to a naïve academic swimming with sharks. Back to whack-a-mole.


[1] David Ignatius, Why Netanyahu broke publicly with Obama over Iran, in Washington Post, February 20 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael Doran Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy, in Mosaic Magazine, February 2 2015.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Ignatius, February 20 2015.

[6] It shouldn’t be forgotten that Russia’s only Mediterranean port is in Syria, and that depends on the Assad regime’s largesse.

As I Feared

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Republican leadership of Congress has shown to be politicians first, Republicans second and Americans third. After much talk of showing that the GOP is the party that could govern, the House insists on passing legislation they know can’t pass the Senate, and would be vetoed if it did. This isn’t, in and of itself, a strategic error. That comes in the substance of what they’ve chosen to start off their tenure of “leadership”.

They got off with the Keystone XL pipeline, but then fell into the trap of forcing Senate Democrats to threaten to shut down a department of government, knowing that, regardless of the facts on the ground, Republicans will get blamed. And over an issue that won’t be affected by the shutdown – the amnesty proposal at question is self-financing and impervious to budget constraints. They are still hell-bent on defunding ObamaCare, which won’t get past the Senate, and would be vetoed if passed.

Now they’re diddling with the president’s Authority for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which is more limiting that the 2002 AUMF already in effect, and which President Obama has been using since Day-One. All they would have to do is re-affirm the 2002 AUMF, reminding the president that he free to underutilize that authority should he chose to do so.

And then there is ObamaCare itself. SCOTUS is about to rule (in their June announcements) on King v Burwell, which is better than even-money to strike down federal website generated subsidies, which will kill ObamaCare. Can the Republicans wait to see what happens? No. They’re busy readying the Hatch-Burr plan, which is just ObamaCare-lite. Since the beginning, Democrats have reacted to public outrage over this debacle by taunting Republicans to “come up with something better,” and the Republicans have fallen for it. The problem with ObamaCare is the nationalization of healthcare, not how badly they did it. Republicans don’t have to come up with a “better” ObamaCare, they need to straighten out the systemic problems with health insurance – sales across state lines, portability of work-based insurance, consumer pools to improve rates, tort reform, etc – and figure out a way to transist people from ObamaCare back to market-based health insurance.

These two years could be a golden opportunity to build a Republican platform for 2016, but it is being squandered by giving critics all they need to beat Republicans over the head until Election Day.

Very disappointing.

What Will it Take?

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The murder by immolation of Flight Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Jordanian fighter pilot, by his ISIS captors, represents a wanton brutality not seen since Auschwitz. “And it, I think, will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of a global coalition to make sure that they are degraded and ultimately defeated,” were our President’s brave words. Really?! “Redouble the vigilance”? To make sure that ISIS is “degraded and ultimately defeated”? My God, man – what will it take for you to get mad at what is happening to a religion that you once followed? To act like a man … like the leader of a great nation?

The Jordanians are in this fight at our behest. Mr Obama has endlessly bragged about how he has assembled a broad coalition including Muslim nations, and now, one of those allies has had one of its sons set afire in a cage by these, and I will say this slowly, I-s-l-a-m-i-c T-e-r-r-o-r-i-s-t-s. And they have done this to another Muslim, so there’s little chance that naming the enemy will be confused by other Muslims as a statement against Islam. After all, you can’t defeat an enemy that you don’t admit exists.

This depravity was brought to light while President Obama, once immersed in Islamism, sat across from Jordanian King Abdullah II, said to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. One wonders if the President thought to ask the King what they could do, in response to this Muslim-on-Muslim atrocity, to bring good Muslims into the effort – after the Nazi death camps were discovered, the world, stunned, asked the German people how they could allow this happen? What will Muslims say when world gathers the nerve to ask, “How could allow this to fester in your very mosques?” Have no fear. We’re going to redouble our vigilance. We’re going to ultimately defeat them.

It’s time that our New Agey President realized that he’s dealing with an Old Testament enemy. The Middle East is very much an eye-for-an-eye kinda place. Reasoned debate is used by them to position their troops to cut your throat. Appeals to justice and fairness are lost on those who live by a tribal sense of morality and tend to follow strong leaders, not articulate (read: slick) ones. Colonel TE Lawrence gained the attention of the Bedouin chieftain by telling him of the wonderful things the British could bring to the table in their fight against the Ottoman Turks. He gained the chieftain’s trust by leading a raid on a rail line used by the Turks for troop transfer. Mr Obama hasn’t gotten past the talking stage yet. We have just now reached the number of air sorties flown on the first day of Desert Storm. And we still don’t have combat air controllers on the ground to designate targets. It was under our half-hearted leadership that Lieutenant al-Kaseasbeh’s F-16 went down with mechanical problems.

It’s now clear that Mr Obama’s touchy-feely, reset, reach out, don’t offend those trying to kill you approach isn’t working. Time to act like we’re at war with militant, radical Islamists, and begin to hunt them down and kill them. In great numbers. We need to unleash the capabilities we still have left.