State of the Union

Obama’s Libyan War

On March 19, 2011, the eighth anniversary of the Iraq War, Barack Obama started the Libyan War. Those who might claim that it was not the President, but Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi who started this war, ignore that it only became our fight the moment Obama decided to intervene. Those who support our bombing of Libya to enforce a no-fly zone claim that these actions will not lead to a larger or more entrenched conflict. This claim not only contradicts most of America’s foreign policy history, but proves that our political establishment has learned virtually nothing from the lessons of Iraq.

Syndicated columnist George Will is an exception to the Washington rule. When he was asked by ABC’s This Week host Christiane Amanpour if he believed Obama’s bombing of Libya was the “right thing to do,” Will replied: “I do not. We have intervened in a tribal society, in a civil war. And we have taken sides in that civil war on behalf of a people we do not know or understand, for the purpose—not a vow, but inexorably our purpose—of creating a political vacuum by decapitating the government. Into that vacuum, what will flow we do not know and cannot know.”

Will is right, and it is typically unforeseen circumstances that perpetuate the excuses for perpetual war. US forces remain in Iraq today precisely because we fear what kind of regime might arise in our absence—yet there was very little discussion of this important issue before the invasion. After taking the fight to the Taliban in 2001 as payback for 9/11, we remain in that country a decade later out of fear of a resurgent Taliban. Much of the discussion concerning Afghanistan today is whether we can ever leave due to this eternal concern. Similarly, instead of benefitting in the long term from Obama’s shortsighted military action in Libya, there is far more potential that America will now be involved in yet another prolonged Middle Eastern war. Read More…

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Gaddafi Manipulates the CIA

One of the key arguments for rehabilitating Muammar Gaddafi during the Bush presidency was advanced by the Central Intelligence Agency, which claimed that the Libyan government had good access to information on al-Qaeda which it would share if Washington were to restore relations.  Even those making Gaddafi’s case conceded, however, that the Libyan leader was a ruthless killer and an international pariah by any normal standards.  Well, the results are in:  Colonel Gaddafi was so appreciative that he has in fact provided absolutely no useful information whatsoever on al-Qaeda, which has led some former senior officials at CIA to wonder where they went wrong in their analysis.  Intelligence officers are supposed to be masters of deception and manipulation but they are often blinded by ambition and the desire to obtain information on “hard” targets. In this case they were fooled by a man that they knew to be a world class rogue.

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Libyan Scenarios

Some of my fence-sitting friends tell me my initial thoughts about the Libyan war were far too pessimistic. Gaddafi doesn’t really have any support, they say — never mind all evidence to the contrary — the U.S. will take a back seat to France, Britain, and maybe the Arabs in the war; and our involvement won’t escalate into anything more than the no-fly zone and a bit of bombing.

Just as in the run-up to the Iraq War I could see no realistic scenario in which Saddam Hussein could pose a threat to the United States, try as I might I cannot envision how my critics’ hopes can be justified. What they, and some of the outright hawks, are saying is that as long as Gaddafi is deprived of his jets, the rebels will be able to beat him swiftly. A humanitarian catastrophe will be averted, and Libya will have liberated itself, with just the slightest tip of the scales from outsiders.

Let’s look at what’s actually likely to happen. Gaddafi’s ground forces are better trained and equipped than the rebels. Gaddafi has plenty of money to hire additional mercenaries to augment his force further. Even with his air force grounded and Western arms going to the rebels, the advantage appears to be very much Gaddafi’s, at least in the immediate term.

The no-fly zone might be able to check his advance — right now it’s not clear that even that much is true. But if the no-fly zone can do for Benghazi what a no-fly zone did for Iraq’s Kurds in the 1990s, what happens next? The no-fly zones over Iraq did not loosen Saddam Hussein’s grip on power. This outcome amounts to a stalemate, one that must be continually enforced by outside powers. Sanctions are usually part of this policy mix as well, and those will impose a terrible cost on the Libyan people, as they did on the people of Iraq 20 years before. And don’t forget how the Iraqi no-fly situation was finally resolved: with an American invasion. Is it worth repeating all of that? Read More…

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Obama the Nullifier

I was traveling last week and missed this Radley Balko article, in which he argues that the president should not order the Solicitor General to defend laws he believes to be unconstitutional before the Supreme Court, as President Obama recently chose to do with the Defense of Marriage Act:

The usual response to criticism of an administration’s positions in Supreme Court cases is that the solicitor general’s mission is to advocate on behalf of the government. It only makes sense, then, that the office would regularly urge federal appeals courts to limit constitutional rights and expand the powers of police and prosecutors. This was the conventional wisdom during the confirmation hearings for Justice Elena Kagan, whose defenders cautioned against drawing conclusions about her positions on constitutional rights and criminal law based on her work as solicitor general. When Chief Justice John Roberts was asked at his own confirmation hearings about positions he took while working in the Office of the Solicitor General during the Reagan administration, he replied that as a Supreme Court justice he probably would approach those questions differently than he did as a legal advocate whose client was the federal government.

It is true that the solicitor general’s role conventionally has been understood in this way. But I’m not convinced that it ought to be. As a client, the federal government is quite different from an accused murderer or a patient in a medical malpractice case, because it is supposed to represent the interests of all Americans. And while it’s true that one of the president’s main responsibilities is to enforce the country’s laws, he also has a duty to uphold and defend the Constitution, which is not the same as latching onto whatever interpretation of the Constitution favors the government.

Imagine a president who is elected on a platform that stresses the Bill of Rights, arguing that the government routinely flouts the Fourth Amendment and disregards the rights of criminal defendants. (Bear with me here.) According to the conventional view of the solicitor general’s role, the idealistic new president would be expected to staff the office with the country’s brightest legal minds and task them with convincing the Supreme Court to interpret these constitutional protections as narrowly as possible.

I agree with Balko that the president should not support laws he believes to be unconstitutional, but what he doesn’t explore is the similarity of this idea to the doctrine of nullification wherein states refuse to enforce laws their legislators or voters believe to be unconstitutional. True, failing to defend a law before the Supreme Court is less radical than refusing to enforce it–as nullification would demand–but it grants the idea that the federal judiciary is not, and should not be, the sole arbiter of constitutionality. If the Solicitor General was no longer expected to defend all federal laws, it would give the president the ability to launch a constitutional review of all federal legislation.

Some may worry that this increases an already powerful executive, but the key difference between this and other recent assertions of executive power such as signing statements and warrantless wiretaps is that this is a purely negative power. The president cannot expand the power of the federal government with this power; he could only limit it. The net effect would be fewer laws in effect, and I fail to see how any supporter of limited government–or anyone with a minimum of sense, for that matter–can see that as a bad thing. Does anyone really believe that what this country needs is an increasingly complex legal code?

If we want to constrain the power of the government, we need to give more institutions–the president, state legislatures and electorates, etc.–this kind of constitutional veto over federal legislation. It’s abundantly clear that the extant checks on federal power have failed, and nothing in the Constitution forbids presidential or state nullification, so why fight new impediments to federal power?

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Sarah Palin: The End of the Affair

It now appears to be official that the neocons have turned on Sarah Palin, as illustrated by this exchange between Peter Wehner and Daniel Larison.  Wehner, an old-line Straussian, is always a good weather vane for where the neocon party line is heading.  Lately, he has been out in front tacking “moderate”, among the most vocal to repudiate Glenn Beck and now also warning against a government shut-down.

We should bear in mind that a week is a long time in politics.  This week, it does indeed appear that the establishment will get its nominee yet again, but we shouldn’t assume by any means that Palin is down and out just yet.  Back in 2009, when it was so confusing to see the neocons jump on the Tea Party bandwagon, I ultimately concluded that this is what it must have been like to see the Humphrey Democrats turn sharply against the Vietnam War in 1969.

If the neocons are in fact moving dramatically away from the Tea Party conceit and back to the moderate conceit, it is an incredible testament to their abilities to stick with a party line.  Yet that can’t be the whole story.  Bill Kristol, having been one part Henry Higgins and two parts Lenin in the rise of Sarah Palin, has yet to make his move.  At a minimum, we can assume that Kristol’s core operatives such as Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb will be with Palin for the long haul.

This may or may not mean that there is a serious rupture in the neocon ranks.  I have long believed that the reason David Frum has been so stubborn in his domestic heterodoxy of late, while also being as stubborn as ever on foreign policy, is because, given his family background among other things, he cares far more deeply about Israel than an operator like Kristol, and therefore knows what a disaster it would be for Sarah Palin to become the face of support for Israel in American politics.  We already know that others, notably David Brooks, were aghast at what Kristol was cooking up through her from the beginning.

It would not be surprising if the realization of a looming disaster has now spread far more widely in the neocon ranks.  At the very least, their increasing anxiety about the weakness of the Republican field shows how much their panicking now that they’ve made their bed.

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The Real Conservative Movement

The following speech was delivered by Jack Hunter at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, Friday Feb. 11, 2011. The event was sponsored by Young Americans for Liberty.

Considering that we’re at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference it might be worth reflecting on what it means to be a conservative, at least in the popular sense. After all, the term is not static and let’s face it, throughout most of the last decade being a mainstream conservative pretty much meant one thing—support for the War on Terror. There was little outrage from conservatives when a Republican president doubled the size of government and the national debt, gave us the largest entitlement expansion since Lyndon Johnson in the form of Medicare Plan D, and through “No Child Left Behind” doubled the size of the Department of Education, something Ronald Reagan once pledged to abolish. Under the so-called “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, a Republican administration that controlled all three branches of government for a significant period of that time delivered virtually nothing recognizably conservative, socially, fiscally or otherwise.

It was always easy for conservatives to say, mostly implicitly but sometimes explicitly, that in a time of war none of this big government stuff matters, but sadly for most of the last decade the only thing that mattered to conservatives was war—the promotion of it and complete devotion to a president willing to wage it. It was a strange dynamic considering that conservatives, by the very nature of their philosophy, are supposed to question government, and yet just a few short years ago the Right would lash out most viciously at anyone who dared question President Bush and his foreign policy. Just ask Ron Paul.

Yes, while a strict constitutionalist like Congressman Paul wasn’t even allowed in the door at the 2008 Republican National Convention, Al Gore’s former running mate Joe Lieberman was given a prime time speaking role. Talk host Sean Hannity would constantly call Lieberman his “favorite Democrat,” and when Hannity wasn’t campaigning for socially liberal Republicans like Rudy Giuliani for president, the former New York mayor could always count on conservative cover from men like evangelical leader Pat Robertson, who endorsed Giuliani for president. So why was there so much conservative love for fairly liberal guys like Lieberman and Giuliani? Because they agreed with Bush’s foreign policy. Why was there so much vitriol for a genuine conservative like Ron Paul? Because he dared to dissent. Read More…

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Obama’s Irrelevance

“This will not stand!” declared George H.W. Bush.

He was speaking of Saddam Hussein’s invasion, occupation and annexation of the emirate of Kuwait as his “19th province.”

Seven months later, the Iraqi army was fleeing up the “Highway of Death” back into a country devastated by five weeks of U.S. bombing.

When Bush spoke, the world sat up and listened.

Consider the change.

“It’s time for Gadhafi to go,” said President Barack Obama two weeks ago. “So, let me just be very unambiguous about this. Col. Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave.” And did he go?

Receiving Obama’s ultimatum, Gadhafi rallied his troops and took the offensive. His army is now 100 miles from Benghazi.

Obama urged the king of Bahrain not to crush the peaceful protest in Pearl Square and to accommodate the legitimate demands of its Shiite majority.

The Saudis, seeing a threat to their oil-rich and Shiite-populated eastern province should the Bahraini monarchy fall, sent 2,000 troops across the King Fahd Causeway. Bahrain then brutally swept the “outlaws” from the streets of its capital, Manama.

Among the few things that may be said with certainty about the Arab revolution of 2011 is that it has revealed the rising irrelevance of President Obama in that part of the world.

With impunity, Benjamin Netanyahu defied his demand that Israel cease to build on the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, despite Obama’s pleas, then went ahead with a U.N. resolution condemning Israel.

Caught flat-footed by the uprising in Tunisia, the White House could only offer belated congratulations to the demonstrators who had deposed and driven out our longtime ally, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

After Tunisia, Vice President Joe Biden insisted the embattled Hosni Mubarak was not a dictator in Egypt. Obama sided with Mubarak and then said he ought to go. Then, when the Saudis and Israelis protested that we were abandoning a friend of 30 years, Obama concluded Mubarak should stay. Read More…

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The Raj Strikes Back

The UN has authorized intervention in Libya—which in practice is going to mean an American-led war. We’re not only talking about a no-fly zone but bombing as well, and “advisers” on top of that. This might be a good time to start a betting pool on when the ground war officially begins. Tomorrow we’ll have an essay by Gary Brecher—the War Nerd—exposing the folly of ostensibly small wars such as this. (The essay comes from our new issue, which went to press last week, but Brecher nails exactly what is happening now.)

Let me make a few impolitic observations at the outset. First, a number of the usual interventionist suspects—here’s looking at you, National Review—held off as long as they thought the anti-Gaddafi insurgents had a prayer of surviving, even winning. Why was that assumption wrong? Because it turns out Gaddafi has more support in Libya than anyone in the West was willing to believe. The insurgency could have and should have toppled him, if rosy estimates of Libyan solidarity against the dictator were true. But no.

What this means for Western intervention is that we won’t be liberating a country from a universally despised dictator, we will be taking sides in a civil war. Indeed, a civil war in which Gaddafi is not only the strongest force but quite possibly the most popular one. Nobody wants to believe that, but Gaddafi has not held onto power and so easily rolled up his opposition simply because he has shipped in sub-Saharan mercenaries.

Second, large-scale Western intervention will destroy the fragile Middle East revolution, and the Arab street will long remember this. The West is not talking about intervening against Bahrain, after all, to bail out protesters there. But it’s not just Western selectivity that’s at issue—anyone can see that Gaddafi is far worse than the Bahranis or Yemen’s Saleh. Rather, Western intervention, even if successful, will preclude certain outcomes in Libya. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and other more or less intensely religious forces can vie for power with other protesters (as well as with the still-in-place military establishment, of course). Egypt gets a choice in its destiny. Will Libya under UN/NATO/U.S. peacekeepers? By limiting Libyan options, should Gaddafi fall, to possibilities that are comfortable to the West, our interventionists will discredit whatever pro-Western (or at least, non-anti-Western) revolutionaries there are and enrage the Islamists. The only people who will wind up reassured are the kleptocratic rulers of the Arab world. In effect, what Eric Margolis describes as the American Raj is taking an action that will allow clients like the Saudis to survive, while unruly protesters in Bahrain are stamped out and Libyans are told they may only choose a Karzai — or a Mubarak? — to succeed Gaddafi. Read More…

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Rise of the Southern Avenger

TAC’s own Jack Hunter has been profiled in a cover story for the Charleston City Paper.

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Defund NPR? What About Fox?

Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern argues that taxpayer dollars should not go “for advertising on the partisan, political platform of Fox News.” The Washington Examiner‘s David Freddoso agrees — indeed, end all federal television advertising. “When there is a legitimate issue for the public’s attention, the news media publicizes it. When there’s an emergency, we have the emergency broadcast system. But advertising, that’s just a waste of money — welfare for Madison Avenue.”

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