State of the Union

Tim Tebow?

What do American Conservative readers think about Tim Tebow?  I have just finished watching the Denver Broncos’ come from behind victory over the Chicago Bears in which Denver, losing 10-0, scored a touchdown and field goal in two minutes to tie the score and then made an amazing defensive play in overtime that led to a field goal to win.  Tebow was incredible.  He is now 7-1 as a starter, with many of the victories coming at the very end, even though he would appear to have none of the traditional skills required of an “NFL quarterback.”  The first thing he said after the win was to thank Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and even the studio pundits at Fox sports were clearly stunned by what had happened. So was I.  It brought tears to my eyes.

I would describe myself as a cultural Catholic in that I subscribe to the church teachings on an ethical/moral basis but I am far from sure that something that we might call God really exists.  I rarely go to church and I find organized religion suffocating.  But what is it with Tebow?  A guy who so clearly is a believer and who bases his life and all his values on that belief and who draws incredible strength from that…  Is there something there?  Are we heading for a Superbowl in which Jesus is the “twelfth man?”

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Gingrich the Statist

Steve Chapman has partly anticipated my argument when he describes Newt Gingrich as a “conservative, sort of.” Chapman is astonished that “conservative” Republicans have turned to Newt “in their hour of need.” This “onetime house speaker is a consistent conservative like I’m a duckbill platypus. In a contest with Romney for the most zigzags, Gingrich can more than hold his own.” Gingrich has taken and abandoned positions the way some people change underwear.

He was vocally in favor of added social programs and played down rapid increase of the national debt during the Bush presidency. Back then Gingrich was helping himself to a million and a half dollars in Freddie Mac handouts as a “history consultant,” later he exploded against his federal benefactors when the Dems took over the presidency. As Chapman shows, Gingrich has been running back and forth on the Libyan intervention, depending on how he could use this issue against Obama. Then in between attacks on the Democrats for deficit spending, Gingrich went after Paul Ryan’s “heartless” plan to lower government costs over a number of years. Newt may forget what he proclaims from one day to the next, but he does have a way of coming back to spilled milk. His call for amnestying long-resident illegals may contradict other impressions he’s conveyed, but it is consistent with what he said at some point in the past, if one looks back far enough. Read More…

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Daily Round-up: Drone Wars, Rand vs. Rubio, Israel’s Lobby

Daniel Larison writes about the impact of conservative evangelical Christians on U.S.-Israel policy. This base, he says, dictates the common discourse among Republican politicians.

Patrick Buchanan looks at Marco Rubio’s recent attempt to bring Georgia in NATO. He examines how neoconservative foreign policy in this arena could manifest into an even more precarious situation in the tense chess game of U.S.-Russian relations.

Philip Giraldi writes about the recently downed U.S. drone, now held in possession by the Iranian government. The use of these drones, he says, will become the standard in a new era of warfare.

Shooting down a drone does not produce a Francis Gary Powers U-2 type incident and it can always be claimed that the pilotless vehicle was off course for technical reasons, a form of the plausible denial always sought in covert operations. But intrusion into someone else’s airspace is nevertheless an act of war and can have unintended consequences when things go wrong. CIA briefly considered launching a rescue mission for its downed drone in Iran in an attempt to keep its high tech avionics, surveillance capabilities, and stealth technology from falling into Tehran’s hands. If that option had been pursued, it might well have resulted in a shooting war.

Rod Dreher says it’s deeply disconcerting that Mohamed Elibiary is advising the DHS on counter-terrorism practices. Elibiary, he writes, is a Muslim activist who has publicly praised the Ayatollah Khomeini, and other figures of radical Islam.

How, exactly, does the US government’s DHS choose to take advice from a man who publicly encouraged Americans to read the work of Qutb, whose teachings the 9/11 Commission cited as a prime motivator of Al Qaeda’s ideology, so that all may “see the potential for a strong spiritual rebirth that’s truly ecumenical allowing all faiths practiced in America to enrich us and motivate us to serve God better by serving our fellow man more”? It’s amazing.

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Marco Rubio vs. Rand Paul

In August 2008, as the world’s leaders gathered in Beijing for the Olympic games, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, hot-headed and erratic, made his gamble for greatness.

It began with a stunning artillery barrage on Tskhinvali, capital of tiny South Ossetia, a province that had broken free of Tbilisi when Tbilisi broke free of Russia. As Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers fell under the Georgian guns, terrified Ossetians fled into Russia.

Saakashvili’s blitzkrieg appeared to have triumphed.

Until, that is, Russian armor, on Vladimir Putin’s orders, came thundering down the Roki Tunnel into Ossetia, sending Saakashvili’s army reeling. The Georgians were driven out of Ossetia and expelled from a second province that had broken free of Tbilisi: Abkhazia.

The Russians then proceeded to bomb Tbilisi, capture Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin, and bomb Georgian airfields rumored to be the forward bases for the Israelis in any pre-emptive strike on Iran.

The humiliation of Saakashvili was total, and brought an enraged and frustrated John McCain running to the microphones.

“Today, we’re all Georgians,” bawled McCain.

Well, not exactly.

President Bush called Putin’s response “disproportionate” and “brutal,” but did nothing. Small nations that sucker-punch big powers do not get to dictate when the fisticuffs stop.

What made this war of interest to Americans, however, was that Bush had long sought to bring Georgia into NATO. Only the resistance of Old Europe had prevented it.

And had Georgia been a member of NATO when Saakashvili began his war, U.S. Marines and Special Forces might have been on the way to the Caucasus to confront Russian troops in a part of the world where there is no vital U.S. interest and never has been any U.S. strategic interest whatsoever.

A U.S war with Russia — over Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia — would have been an act of national criminal insanity.

Days later, there came another startling discovery.

McCain foreign-policy adviser Randy Scheunemann had been paid $290,000 by the Saakashvili regime, from January 2007 to March 2008, to get Georgia into NATO, and thus acquire a priceless U.S. war guarantee to fight on Georgia’s side in any clash with Russia.

What makes this history relevant today?

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, rising star of the Republican right, on everyone’s short list for VP, called for a unanimous vote, without debate, on a resolution directing President Obama to accept Georgia’s plan for membership in NATO at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

Rubio was pushing to have the U.S. Senate pressure Obama into fast-tracking Georgia into NATO, making Tbilisi an ally the United States would be obligated by treaty to go to war to defend. Read More…

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The Changing Face of War

There is a new normal in warfare developing as drone technology becomes more widespread.  The downing of a CIA drone is the most recent episode in the secret war against Iran and it is to be presumed that American drones are also flying out of Turkish bases to monitor developments in Syria.  In the past, the use of drones both to monitor and to kill has been justified by Washington in situations where the local government presumably does not have the resources to police its own territory.  As least that has been a major part of the argument in Pakistan and Yemen, where it has been claimed that terrorists would proliferate if they were not under siege by the drones.  But that is clearly not the case with either Iran or Syria, so the presumption has to be that drones are now being used as a weapon of choice to intervene in those situations where there is neither war nor peace.  Shooting down a drone does not produce a Francis Gary Powers U-2 type incident and it can always be claimed that the pilotless vehicle was off course for technical reasons, a form of the plausible denial always sought in covert operations.  But intrusion into someone else’s airspace is nevertheless an act of war and can have unintended consequences when things go wrong.  CIA briefly considered launching a rescue mission for its downed drone in Iran in an attempt to keep its high tech avionics, surveillance capabilities, and stealth technology from falling into Tehran’s hands.  If that option had been pursued, it might well have resulted in a shooting war.

The question of how and when America should send its sons and daughters into armed conflict is answered in the Constitution of the United States, which stipulates that only Congress has the power to declare war.  Since World War 2, however, the executive has been the decider, involving the nation in one undeclared war after another.  The use of drones, which lower the threshold for becoming engaged aggressively with a foreign power, makes it all too easy to enter into conflicts that are essentially bloodless for a high tech Washington therefore requiring little in the way of justification or explanation.  They also tend to be invisible, fought largely in secret and making it impossible for the American public to know what is going on in its name.

One of the most discouraging aspects of the current Republican presidential candidate debates is the discussion of drone warfare, or rather the fact that it is not being discussed at all except to approve of the practice.   Only Congressman Ron Paul has disagreed.  There is clearly an underlying assumption, shared by Republican and Democrat alike, that the United States has the freedom to use its high tech armed forces to attack anywhere and at any time whenever there is any perception of an emerging threat.  That assumption challenges efforts made over the past hundred years to make wars less frequent and more humane and it creates a new principal of world disorder in which the United States is judge, jury, and executioner whenever a foreign nation, group, or individual steps out of line.  It is not a development that anyone should necessarily welcome.


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Why Is Primary Punditry So Bad?

If you believe the conventional wisdom of Internet punditry — and at this point Internet political commentary is conventional wisdom, as surely as print and television commentary used to be — the Republican primary race has been a real rollercoaster, with Perry and Cain in turn rising to seemingly insurmountable heights only to come crashing to the ground. And now Newt Gingrich is finally at the top, and he’s just invincible: unless he self-destructs, he’s sure to crush Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then he’ll take the nomination. This is being reported as not only a probable scenario, but a nigh inexorable one.

Well, it’s not. The new conventional wisdom isn’t entirely false, but it’s not the complete truth, either. The polls on which so much of this commentary has been based for the past six months have largely been polls of registered voters or of mere “adults” — categories that must be understood as “unlikely voters” where any primary or caucus is concerned. Less than half of adults are registered to vote, and although the numbered of registered voters who bother to turn out for primaries and caucuses varies from cycle to cycle and state to state, the figure rarely gets much above 60 percent. (A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the record turnout for the 2008 New Hampshire primaries, which included open contests in both parties, was about 62 percent of registered voters.) The “likely voters” polls do count, and many of those have Newt soaring, but a great deal of skepticism still needs to be applied. Look at the RealClearPolitics polling average for Dec. 7, 2007: at this time in the last presidential cycle, Rudy Giuliani had an almost seven-point lead over his next closest rival, Mike Huckabee. McCain trailed in third. A month later, Giuliani finished sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire; McCain and Romney were the top finishers in the Granite State. The December polls accurately picked up on Huckabee’s surge, but overall they were a poor guide to the shape of the 2008 primary season.

So how much better are the polls and attendant hype this year? Rather worse, I suspect, since my impression is that the hype is much greater this time around, with pundits frenzied by dubious upticks in Perry, Cain, and Newt support. (Meanwhile, the hard groundwork of campaign building, which Romney, Paul, and seemingly Huntsman have been focusing on, has been deprecated.) A Nate Silver would have to crunch the numbers for us to know with more confidence, but it looks to me as if the instability of the Republican pre-primary season has been largely a creation of the media. Not entirely: Romney doesn’t excite the base, and Tea Party activists high on passion and low on experience may indeed be swept up by crazes for comedy candidates like Cain and Newt. But a reality check is in order.

Republican voters in 2012 are above all going to be interested in who can beat Obama. The greatest number of primary voters and caucus goers are going to be GOP regulars who aren’t highly ideological — the people who historically nominate Bushes, Doles, and McCains — and the second largest group will be religious voters who aren’t thrilled about either Romney or Gingrich. The Tea Parties are a wild card; my best guess is that because no single candidate galvanizes them, they simply won’t organize and turn out in large numbers. In New Hampshire, voters prefer candidates they’ve seen in person and who’ve invested real time in the state, a predilection that favored McCain in 2008 and probably favors Romney come January. It’s hard to see how there’s a storyline for Gingrich in any of these campaign-reality fundamentals. A story derived from polls of people who won’t vote just isn’t worth much, yet that’s the story we’re hearing incessantly.

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Delayed Reaction

Conor Friedersdorf repeats an adage about the Tea Party that I have heard before but I find hard to swallow:

The Tea Party wasn’t just a reaction to President Obama or the financial industry bailouts. As Jonah Goldberg puts it, “a major motivating passion of the tea-party movement was a long-delayed backlash against George W. Bush and his big-government conservatism.” Support for the War on Terrorism and the invasion of Iraq caused many conservatives to stay loyal to Bush. But that didn’t mean they liked No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, the attempt at a guest worker program, TARP, or the Harriet Miers nomination. Especially after the defeat of John McCain, many on the right insisted they’d never again support Bush-Rove conservatism.

How convenient that all of this opposition to Bush policies only came to head when Dubya was safely back in Texas, especially when you consider the fact that Medicare Part D passed six years before (with the support of Tea Party favorite Paul Ryan, by the way) angry mobs began protesting against socialized medicine.

If foreign policy kept the Right in line all of those years, why doesn’t it mute their criticism of Barack Obama? In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the President hasn’t exactly turned out to be a George McGovern “Come Home America” style peacenik.

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Daily Round-up: Cold War 2.0, Ron Paul Rises, Newt Takes the Lead

Micheal T. Klare from TomDispatch says that Obama’s policy of American buildup in the Pacific Rim could be stirring up a 21st-century sequel to the Cold War, this time with China.

…moves certain to arouse alarm in Beijing and strengthen the hand of those in the ruling circle (especially in the Chinese military leadership) who favor a more activist, militarized response to U.S. incursions.

Patrick Buchanan takes a look at George Nash’s Freedom Betrayed and asks whether Franklin Roosevelt provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Daniel Larison thinks Ron Paul can win Iowa. Polling in second behind Newt Gingrich, with a ground game that is snowballing in strength, his chances are looking better and better.

As the field continues to be unsettled by the rise and fall of one anti-Romney after another, Paul has consistently been building his organization and climbing in the polls to become the natural alternative to a Romney coronation. Read More…

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Did FDR Provoke Pearl Harbor?

On Dec. 8, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt took the rostrum before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war on Japan.

A day earlier, at dawn, carrier-based Japanese aircraft had launched a sneak attack devastating the U.S. battle fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Said ex-President Herbert Hoover, Republican statesman of the day, “We have only one job to do now, and that is to defeat Japan.”

But to friends, “the Chief” sent another message: “You and I know that this continuous putting pins in rattlesnakes finally got this country bit.”

Today, 70 years after Pearl Harbor, a remarkable secret history, written from 1943 to 1963, has come to light. It is Hoover’s explanation of what happened before, during and after the world war that may prove yet the death knell of the West.

Edited by historian George Nash, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, is a searing indictment of FDR and the men around him as politicians who lied prodigiously about their desire to keep America out of war, even as they took one deliberate step after another to take us into war.

Yet the book is no polemic. The 50-page run-up to the war in the Pacific uses memoirs and documents from all sides to prove Hoover’s indictment. And perhaps the best way to show the power of this book is the way Hoover does it — chronologically, painstakingly, week by week.

Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.

Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States. Read More…

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Daily Round-Up: Schoolyard Sex Scandals, Iranian Assassinations, and Ron Paul in the Lincoln Era

Schoolyard scuffle? Well this is 2011, so now it’s a sexual harassment. Rod Dreher looks at the out-of-hand absurdity surrounding today’s bully appeasers. On the subject of pettiness, Dreher says Chick-Fil-A is being ridiculous, suing a man for selling shirts with the slogan “Eat More Kale:”

Boo, Chick-fil-A! I’m going to order an Eat More Kale shirt, and we’re not going to eat Chick-Fil-A until they back off. Come on, Chikins, you’re supposed to be Christians of some sort. You make $3.5 billion per year, yet you’ve sicced your lawyers on this hippie because he uses the words “eat more”?

Daniel Larison discusses U.S.-Iranian policy. How would the U.S. react to the targeted killing of American scientists?

It is the best way if the only other possible alternative is openly attacking Iranian facilities. If that is the case, our Iran policy is so intellectually and morally bankrupt that there isn’t much else to say about it. Read More…

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