State of the Union

Wikileaks and Our Weak-Kneed Congress

The controversy over the 92,000 classified war documents leaked to major newspapers through WikiLeaks hardly presented a bump in the road for congress, which passed $59 billion in supplemental defense funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday. This is not surprising because 1) congress has shown absolutely no backbone in contesting the war spending proposed by either a Republican or Democratic White House since 2002 and 2) the Wikileaks story, like everything else, has been politicized and so far neutralized by Washington and its dutiful mainstream media so that short of revelations that President Karzai himself has been stoned out of his mind bringing down U.S helicopters with Iranian-manufactured MANPADs (surface-to-air missiles), every pundit and lawmaker with a microphone this week has been resigned to dismiss the contents of those 92,000 pages as “old news.”

“Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed, either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government, for quite some time,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told the press on Monday. Sure, I can remember plenty of “public discussion” over the Taliban taking down Chinooks with heat-seeking missiles, and an entire Marine company being thrown out of Afghanistan (but not officially disciplined) for covering up the killing spree of 19 Afghan civilians in March 2007. But that’s just old news. My favorite is from Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who not surprisingly lost his one nerve from Monday to Tuesday, saying two days ago that the documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and then yesterday warning reporters that it’s all a bunch of raw data with no context. Huh?

Not that the leaks haven’t produced some much needed panic on Capitol Hill, mostly over Pakistan, whom the American taxpayer has been foolishly larding with billions of dollars for decade, the most recent overture coming in the form of $500 million (part of a $7.5 billion, 5-year aid package)  announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week. But the notion that our aid is in part going to the Pakistani Intelligence Services (ISI), which is in turn aiding the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, did not deter everyone. “I argue that the revelation of this WikiLeaks, you know, thousands and thousands of documents, is evidence that we need to work to continue to build (Pakistan’s) democratic institutions,” insisted Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. When slap-chop Republicans weren’t busy taking this angle, they were blaming WikiLeaks for harming national security with revelations they insist “everyone knew about anyway.” Go figure.

But while Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul attempted valiantly to use the WikiLeaks storm as leverage for their last-ditch resolution to withdraw from Afghanistan for good, congress caved — on the withdrawal, (vote: 65-356-9), and the spending (vote: 308-114). Four Republicans did vote with Kucinich and Paul on the withdrawal: Reps. John Duncan (Tennessee), Rep. John Campbell (California), Rep. Tim Johnson (Illinois) and Rep. Walter Jones (North Carolina), all staunch conservatives but long-time war critics. Eleven Republicans voted against the final spending bill.

With familiar shills in the media declaring the Wikileaks story as “nothing new here, move along,” (The Daily Show last night captured one British talker calling it a ‘tempest in a teacup’), our wobbly lawmakers get enough cover to duck the war question through another round of staggering taxpayer spending. For now. Wikileaks’ Julian Assange says more damning documents are on the way. Karzai with a Kalashnikov? We’ll have to wait and see.

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Who Voted for War With Iran, Mr. Obama?

House of Representatives resolution 1553, introduced by Congressional Republicans, and currently working its way through the system will endorse an Israeli attack on Iran, which would be going to war by proxy as the US would almost immediately be drawn into the conflict when Tehran retaliates.  The resolution provides explicit US backing for Israel to bomb Iran, stating that Congress supports Israel’s use of “all means necessary…including the use of military force”.  The resolution is non-binding, but it is dazzling in its disregard for the possible negative consequences that would ensue for the hundreds of thousands of US military and diplomatic personnel currently serving in the Near East region.  Even the Pentagon opposes any Israeli action against Iran, knowing that it would mean instant retaliation against US forces in Iraq and also in Afghanistan.  The resolution has appeared, not coincidentally, at the same time as major articles by leading neoconservatives Reuel Marc Gerecht and Bill Kristol calling for military action.  AIPAC thinks it is wonderful.

Ironically, the push against Iran comes at a time when the National Intelligence Estimate on the country is being finished.  It might come out as soon as August, but it will be secret and its conclusions will either be leaked or released in summary.  My sources inside the intelligence community insist that it will support the 2007 NIE that concluded that Iran no longer has a weapons program.  The White House has delayed the process seeking harder language to justify a range of options against Iran, including a military strike, but the analysts are reported to be resisting.  So we spend $100 billion on intelligence annually and then ignore the best judgments on what is taking place.  Might as well use a Ouija board.

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Courage at 10 Downing

Britain’s newly elected conservative prime minister, David Cameron, has just described Gaza – under Israel’s control–as an open air “prison camp” , and sharply criticized Israel’s attack on the Turkish organized humanitarian aid flotilla.  Who will be the first neocon to complain about British “surrender monkeys”?  First commenter to guess correctly wins a small prize.

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TAC Goes Nonprofit — and Needs Your Help

As you can see, The American Conservative is in the midst of a fundraising campaign. Like most small political magazines, we don’t survive on subscriptions and advertising alone. Our deficit is much smaller than those of establishment and neocon publications — outlets like The Atlantic lose millions of dollars a year — but it’s larger than what our publisher and associate publisher can make up by themselves.

The good news is that TAC recently acquired nonprofit status, which means that contributions are now tax-deductible. And we have several fundraising efforts under way. Our webathon only needs to generate $25,000 — but that’s no small sum for a first-time Web campaign. If you enjoy this blog, Jack Hunter’s podcasts, Daniel Larison, our online articles, or just stirring up trouble for the bipartisan big-spending, big-war party, please give generously.

There are great things coming down the line if we’re able to meet our need, including a revamp of the website and a new electronic edition of the print magazine (which will be compatible with e-readers and iPads). We would also like to begin doing a few regional TAC events — a lecture here, a mini-conference there. Now that a gap has begun to open between the neoconservatives and the grassroots Right, there is much to be achieved by educating conservatives anew about their best traditions.

There’s no other magazine like The American Conservative. And there would be no American Conservative without your help. If you enjoy TAC, keep us going strong by making a donation.

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Reading the tea leaves

I want to find  reason  to be hopeful  about the Tea Party–  and hope  that somewhere in its analysis of the factors bankrupting the United States is the high cost of pursuing a  neoconservative foreign policy, adhered to by Obama as much as Bush.  These  hopes received a hard knock  by reading here that a lion’s share of GOP congresspeople with Tea Party ties signed on to an idiotic  resolution endorsing  an Israeli military strike on Iran.  The resolution is dumb in the first place, because Israel would only attack Iran if it had assurances that the US would step in to clean up the mess, and basically continue the war Israel started.  But since that war would probably immiserate the United States with oil price spikes, plus ramp up the casualties in Iran and Afghanistan, it’s a bad deal.  (Of course if you think maintaining Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Mideast is an absolutely vital  US interest, no matter the cost,  you probably  think differently.)  Anyway, sorry to see the Tea Party folks be so easily led, though I’m not that surprised.  Not only is Ron  Paul not part of this nonsense, I doubt his son Rand would be either.  But until the movement matures, it’s impossible to say whether it will be  a neocon cheering section with middle American roots or something more promising.

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Does it matter who is President?

If certain Tea Partiers and Tea Party groups have come under fire for alleged racism, it may be due to the fact they’ve couched their opposition to the Obama Administration personally. They don’t just oppose the Administration, they oppose the man himself.  This is what happens when persons, especially on the Right, still believe in the Cult of the Presidency.

The Cult, as we know, is where people believe the President is more than just the leader of the Executive Branch of government, as embodied in the Constitution. They believe he embodies all their hopes and dreams and personifications and can also win wars and stop oil spills in a single bound.  It the Cult that led to the Clinton-bashing years of the right from 1992-2000 where, despite accused of murder, theft and rape, Clinton is still an important figure politically whose wife is Secretary of State while the Right suffers from lack of new ideas because activists, think tankers, pundits and writers spent most of their time, money and energy on hunt for the White Whale rather than offering coherent critiques on Clintonism.  (The exact opposite took place in the last decade as the Right spent most its time acting as the Bush Administration’s Praetorian Guard.) Sadly, the same phenomenon is happening again and the fact Obama is half-black make such attacks even more difficult because the boundaries are even more narrow.

And yet when we realize, from the recent Washington Post series on the enormous secret government  interlocking with big business that has risen in the wake of 9-11, the President himself as a person is dwarfed by the system that surrounds him. Whether its all the intelligence agencies that have been created since 9-11 (and I thought the whole reason 9-11 took place was the problem of too many intelligence agencies) or military-industrial complex, the President in reality, instead of being a wundermenschen  may well very be just prisoner in his own palace.  The system has a way of multiplying and acting upon its own wishes, forcing our leaders down the roads it wishes they would go, offering choices only it lays out, creating boundaries and structures of government that are sacrosanct. This is what Eisenhower feared would happen.  This may be true for Bush II and Obama, it may be have been true for any number of Presidents. 

If Tea Partiers focused their critiques and attacks to the system (or big government, the military-industrial complex or the empire, or the establishment whatever you want to call it) itself instead of the figureheads engulfed in it, then maybe such charges of racism, while probably not going away, will become ridiculous and maybe more and more people who also feel that their government has become the grotesque spawn of both fear and power and wealth will become Tea Partiers rather than be put off by them.

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The Dire Strait

According to reports last week, Taiwan is about to buy some serious American steel to update its defenses against China.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou ordered the country’s defense ministry to draft a draw up a shopping list of weapons that include MK-54 torpedoes, dozens of M1A2 tanks and amphibious landing vehicles.

If acquired, the Taipei daily reported, the torpedoes will be used to replace Taiwan’s aging MK-46s.

The decision comes despite an easing of tense relations between China and Taiwan in recent years.

The move also follows a decision by the Taiwan government to press ahead with a controversial $6.4 billion purchase of U.S. missiles, helicopters and ships despite the public stated wrath of China. The package includes an estimated 60 Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot air-defense missiles and supplies for Taiwan’s aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Until the last few years, a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan provided a lot of fodder for commentary. This 2003 editorial by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan is typical of what we used to see. In it, we’re told that it is extremely important for the United States to make bold rhetorical commitments to Taiwanese democracy, to speak loudly about the big stick you are carrying.

But if Taiwan and China go through another round of updating their armaments, is this kind of rhetorical commitment (and implicit military commitment) even worth talking about? Neither China nor the U.S. want to test each other over Taiwan. But no amount of American bluster can possibly conceal how overstretched our military has become. It seems that showy displays of our resolve are more likely to invite a test. And we can’t afford that now.

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Respect Which Authorities?

Public confidence in Congress has plummeted to the lowest level of any institution since Gallup began asking the question in 1973. One-half of all Americans have little or no confidence in the Congress.

Only 11 percent have a “great deal” or “a lot of” confidence in what is, given its place of primacy in the Constitution, the first branch of government and the branch most representative of the people.

The house of such giants as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Henry Cabot Lodge, the greatest legislative body in the world that was home to John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” who decided the questions of war and peace, Reconstruction and civil rights is now looked upon with pervasive mistrust.

Of the 16 major institutions of which the question was asked, Congress’ closest competitor for the least trusted was HMOs.

And this poll was taken after President Obama achieved what is being hailed by his party as the greatest legislative accomplishment since Medicare and Social Security.

Not only is this bad news for the Democratic Party this fall, it is reflective of the disdain if not contempt in which the nation’s political class is held by those they govern. Three times as many Americans have confidence in the Supreme Court as have in Congress.

And though Obama has been through a rough patch, three times as many Americans retain confidence in his office as have confidence in the Congress. Even when Bush was at his nadir, in 2008, 26 percent professed a high level of confidence in the presidency, more than twice those who today have confidence in the institution led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

This would also seem to be bad news for democracy, as the closest competitor to Congress in public disregard was the 2008 Congress that enjoyed the trust of only one in eight Americans.

But the poll reveals even more about us as a people.

Only three institutions of the 16 have the solid confidence of the nation with more than 50 percent saying they have high confidence or a lot of confidence in them: the military at 76 percent, down from 82 percent a year ago, small business at 66 percent and the police at 58 percent. Read More…

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Comic Relief From the NAACP

After a week of exceptional racial tension for the chattering classes comes some much needed levity, courtesy of the Los Angeles NAACP:

It’s a heartening comment on the decline of prejudice in America if auditory hallucinations induced by electronic greeting cards are the worst kind of racism the LA NAACP has to worry about. Though on the flipside, after hearing so much about right-wing anti-government paranoia from the media and Obama administration over the past year, one wonders when someone is going to report on the paranoia of a left-leaning group that evidently believes a company as saccharine as Hallmark is deliberately placing racist messages in graduation cards. But I suspect the NAACP is just pulling a very deadpan joke.

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Webb vs. “Diversity”

James Webb had a sensible op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago criticizing “diversity” affirmative action which often privileges recent immigrants over working class whites:

I have dedicated my political career to bringing fairness to America’s economic system and to our work force, regardless of what people look like or where they may worship. Unfortunately, present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.

In an odd historical twist that all Americans see but few can understand, many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations. These programs have damaged racial harmony. And the more they have grown, the less they have actually helped African-Americans, the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action as it was originally conceived.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about Webb’s article but it has provoked some interesting responses. Stephen Green of Pajamas Media thinks that it is some sort of broadside against the White House. He asks, “Why now? Why write this column today? What brought this particular issue out at this particular moment?” I’m guessing that Green has little experience with real writing or publishing, or he would know that Webb didn’t simply get up one morning and and decide to post his thoughts at the Wall Street Journal. Editors make these decisions, and Webb’s article may have been written weeks ago. And I’m not really sure as to why it is a “virtual declaration of war on President Obama.”

Glenn Reynolds quotes a reader’s conspiracy theory that can charitably be described as absurd. “Let’s not get so worked up over Sen. Webb’s comments on race and affirmative action programs. Its very likely that his Op Ed was calculated by the White House as an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of white voters and to bring enough of them back into the democrat party’s fold to rescue their candidates in November.” Of course, Webb appears the sort of spineless milk toast willing to attach his name to ideas that he doesn’t endorse because the president demands it.

Reynolds also links to a whiny screed from Moe Lane who may still be smarting from Webb’s defeat of George Allen in 2006. Lane predicts that the Webb will be punished for committing a “thoughtcrime” and he linked to a mildly critical post from NPR. It seemed like weak evidence, so I checked some liberal blogs and found sympathetic posts from John Cole and Kevin Drum. I’m sure that there are some leftist diversitycrats out there who disagree with Webb, but I see no evidence that they have the power to, as Lane puts it,  “utterly destroy Jimmy Webb’s career.”

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