Daniel Larison

Florida Results

Romney’s dreadful inevitability marches on. Improving significantly on Romney’s 2008 showing, he has 47% of the vote with 75% reporting, which is as much support as Romney and Giuliani had combined last time, and he is trouncing Gingrich by 15 points. He improved on McCain’s winning result by eleven points. He seems to have brought together a coalition of old Romney, McCain, and Giuliani voters, led by huge margins among “somewhat” conservative voters (51-32), moderates (59-20), women (51-29), and Latinos (53-30), and he trailed Gingrich only among “very conservative” voters and strict pro-lifers. According to the exit poll, “somewhat” conservative and moderate/liberal voters account for 67% of the electorate. Small wonder that Romney was always the favorite to win Florida.

Gingrich’s attacks on Romney as “anti-immigrant” don’t seem to have registered with his target audience, and his pseudo-populism didn’t boost him very much with lower-income voters this time. The closest he came was with the under-$30K earners, and he still lost by eight. $100K+ earners favored Romney over Gingrich 52-30, and $200K+ earners overwhelmingly backed Romney 61-20% as one would expect.

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The Dangerous Idea of NATO Expansion Will Not Die

Seth Mandel must be joking:

Obama also made a verbal gesture toward Georgia that everyone pretends to be reassured by even though it’s usually utterly meaningless: He reaffirmed American support for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. But in this case, Obama’s NATO comments are actually important, whether the NATO bid goes anywhere or not. That’s because the reasons to keep Georgia out of NATO have disappeared [bold mine-DL], and we’ll find out whether the West’s commitment to its allies and to global security are all, as Obama might say, “just words.”

We certainly hope Obama’s comment was an example of the meaningless pleasantries that a President may sometimes have to use to make his guest feel welcome and to give him a soundbite he can use to placate folks back home. If Obama is serious about supporting Georgian membership at the Chicago summit, we have to hope that the Europeans members that opposed this move four years ago will prevent it again. There was never a good argument for bring Georgia into the alliance. It was always a dangerous, irresponsible idea, and one that the 2008 war should have killed off forever.

If anything, the reasons for keeping Georgia out of NATO are stronger than ever. Trying to bring Georgia into the alliance does not enhance European security in any way, and Russia would still regard it as an intolerable provocation. Just as it did not in April 2008 during the Bucharest summit, Georgia still does not have full control of its territory. It is ridiculous to ask members of the alliance to extend an Article V guarantee to a country with ongoing territorial disputes. Those disputes are farther from being resolved than ever. It is even harder to justify including Georgia in the alliance when its government was largely responsible for escalating the conflict in 2008. Georgia would be an enormous liability for the alliance and would add nothing to it.

Even if we want to treat NATO as a club for friendly democratic states instead of the defensive military alliance it is supposed to be, Georgia still wouldn’t belong. This a one-party state that Freedom House does not consider an electoral democracy. Georgia’s government is characterized (via Lomsadze) by one leading opposition figure as having a “super-centralized, almost neo-Bolshevik style of governance.” That’s hyperbole from one of the government’s political opponents, but it’s not that much of an exaggeration. Georgia has no business being considered for NATO membership, and reviving this issue is a good way to heighten tensions in the Caucasus and between Russia and NATO.

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The Bad Joke That Is Americans Elect

John Heilemann looks at the embarrassing waste of time and money serious political organization Americans Elect:

And so the ultimate viability of the Americans Elect ticket will depend on the quality of the ticket it puts together. Over the past months, Byrd and his colleagues have been meeting quietly with prospective candidates. The names that have been floated are a screamingly predictable bunch of moderates from both parties [bold mine-DL]: Lamar Alexander, Chuck Hagel, and Jon Huntsman from the Republican column; Evan Bayh, Joe ­Lieberman, and Bob Kerrey. Add to that Mike Bloomberg, plus a handful of business leaders such as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and you get a sense, however imperfect, of where Americans Elect may be headed.

There is space in the political debate for a decent showing by an independent candidate, but the maddening thing about Americans Elect, like the equally pointless Unity ’08 before it, is that the people organizing it seem to have no idea what alienates voters from the major party candidates. “Centrist” pundits, pollsters, and politicians believe that the answer to massive public disgust with “centrist” policies is to redouble their commitment to all of the least popular “centrist” positions, which inevitably means adopting unpopular moderate-to-liberal positions on immigration, corporatist views on economics, and hawkishness on foreign policy. This sort of “centrism” thinks that disaffected voters are clamoring for an agenda that in no way threatens any part of the status quo.

The extraordinary thing about the obliviousness of professional “centrists” is that they are dedicated to organizing a third-party alternative with no apparent awareness that every remotely successful third-party alternative began as a more radical version of one of the two established parties. Perot’s challenge was a bit different, but even Perot appealed to the constituencies ignored by Bush and Clinton by making their issues his own, especially popular discontent over NAFTA. By contrast, Americans Elect is an organization dedicated to the proposition that Thomas Friedman has his finger on the pulse of America.


Gingrich, Romney, and “Reckoning with the Base”

Rod comments on the Republican presidential race:

Which do you think is the greater risk to the long-term good of the Republican Party: a Gingrich general-election candidacy and certain crushing defeat this fall, or a Romney general-election candidacy and likely defeat this fall? In the case of the former, the party would be forced to have an ideological reckoning with the base that would probably make it stronger in 2016. In the case of the latter, the pain will be delayed by years, but will eventually come.

One reason I am not persuaded by Packer’s argument about a 2016 backlash is that the more conservative candidates have consistently lost out in most Republican nomination fights, and they have done so once again this cycle. Each time there is frustration among conservatives with the previous nominee, and each time conservatives fragment and split their support among multiple candidates to let the same thing happen all over again. Another problem is that the runners-up in 2000 and 2008 were or were perceived to be to the left of the nominee and/or compromised by a record of moderate-to-liberal positions, and this put new relative moderates in the position of heir apparent and de facto front-runner the next time around. If Gingrich turns out to be the runner-up to Romney in 2012, that will be the third time this has happened in recent history.

That Newt Gingrich now stands in as the champion of the party’s insurgent forces is a measure of how complete conservative defeat has been. After 2008, one might have thought that Republicans would not tolerate the relative moderate in the field winning the nomination, but unless something extraordinary happens today and in the next month that is exactly what will happen. The main difference between 2008 and this cycle is that McCain took some obvious pleasure in distancing himself from rank-and-file conservatives, and Romney still keeps trying to court them. Relative moderates have prevailed in the last five contested Republican fields, and the results have been two victories (including the underwhelming 2000 win) and three losses. My point is that conservatives have had several opportunities before now to do what Packer thinks they might do in 2016 after a Romney loss, and they haven’t done it in a long time.

Something that makes it difficult to analyze the possibility of “an ideological reckoning with the base” is that there is no consensus among conservatives about what that reckoning would look like and what it ought to produce. More “reformist” moderates and conservatives in the GOP think that this reckoning would involve driving Tea Partiers and populists to the margins and developing a more “centrist” governing agenda, whereas many movement conservatives see Bush-era accommodations with the welfare state and so-called “big-government conservatism” as the things to be repudiated and resisted in the future. Dissident conservatives see both groups as too accommodating of the security/warfare state as well as the welfare state. The desired “reckoning” would look different for each group, and there are enough contradictions in Gingrich and Romney to provide justifications for each group to claim that their view has been vindicated by an electoral defeat.

Neither of them has been reliably or consistently conservative, to put it mildly, but both have indulged in their fair shares of inane anti-Obama demagoguery to demonstrate their opposition to the incumbent and to make themselves more appealing to primary voters, and both completely endorse dangerous foreign policy views. If the party chose either one, there would be the same problem of interpretation: did the nominee fail because he was too “centrist” and compromised, did he fail because he was spouting demagogic nonsense, or did he fail because he represented ideologically-driven militarism? A Gingrich nomination and defeat wouldn’t necessarily force a “reckoning with the base,” because conservatives would have ample evidence that Gingrich ran a large part of his presidential campaign to the left of Romney.


Revisiting Gingrich’s Silly Proposal for a Lunar Colony

Jeffrey Lord is unhappy that everyone made fun of Gingrich’s ridiculous moon colony idea:

This appallingly timid and backward response is a decided signal of another GOP Establishment mortgage presidency. It is a flashing red light that signals a complete and utter failure in possessing the conservative ideology and imagination that drives conservatism and drove the Reagan White House. Indeed, it was Reagan’s ability to visualize the Strategic Defense Initiative — Star Wars as his critics quickly tried to derogate it — that resulted in the end of the Cold War.

Lord is beginning to sound a bit like Gingrich. Romney’s response to the moon colony idea isn’t just wrong–it’s “appallingly timid”! If conservatism is what Russell Kirk had in mind, it isn’t an ideology, and it has nothing to do with enormously wasteful, fantastical schemes to inhabit the moon. Talking up SDI was fine as a sort of bluff, and for that reason it had some importance, but as an actual defense system it remains as far-fetched as ever. A 2009 paper by Kathryn Stoner-Weiss and Michael McFaul reviewed the arguments about its significance and concluded:

Although, therefore, SDI and US arms build up under Ronald Reagan in particular may have helped to bring Gorbachev to the negotiating table, the scholarly consensus seems to be that it most certainly did not single handedly bring down the Soviet Union.

So, no, “Reagan’s ability to visualize” SDI did not result in the end of the Cold War, and it isn’t timidity to ridicule an absurd proposal to establish a lunar colony within the next ten years.


Support for Gingrich Is Support for The Quintessential “Establishment” Republican

James Poulos describes the thinking of pro-Gingrich conservatives:

The concentration of anti-establishment conservatives around Gingrich shows what many of them now plainly admit: the stakes are high, and they are willing to risk spectacular defeat. Opting instead for a slow, humiliating political death is no choice at all.

I’m not sure that the term “anti-establishment conservative” means anything when it encompasses the likes of Palin, Cain, and Perry. If there are conservatives who think that backing Gingrich is a way to stick it to the powers-that-be in their party, they have already been defeated. An “anti-establishment” protest that makes Gingrich its standard-bearer has zero credibility. It isn’t just that Gingrich and his recent record embody virtually everything that many conservative activists loathe, but that he is winning some of them over by using the most superficial cultural and rhetorical cues available. Conservative Gingrich supporters are at a point where their identity politics and policy-free pseudo-populism have become self-parodying.

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Can Russia Be Persuaded to Turn Against Assad? Not Very Likely

The Washington Post wants Russia to cooperate in toppling Assad:

As long as it has Russia’s diplomatic and material support, the Assad regime is more likely to hold together. That’s why the high-level lobbying campaign at the Security Council is important, and it’s why the Obama administration should place Russian cooperation on Syria at the top of the bilateral agenda with Moscow.

The editorial’s argument is that Russia should help topple Assad or risk its interests in Syria in the event that Assad’s regime collapses anyway, but this isn’t the way that the U.S. or any other major power would view the prospect of regime collapse in a client state. Essentially, Moscow should gamble with its interests and dump the client that it has in the hope that the next government would be willing to confirm earlier agreements made by the regime that was just overthrown. There is no suggestion here that the U.S. should offer Russia anything to give it an incentive to do this, and it’s not clear what the U.S. or any other Western government could offer to make it worth their while. What is more likely is that the same people urging that the administration make this a top priority with the Russians would be outraged if Obama offered anything to try to win Russian support.

Soner Cagaptay explained earlier this week why the naval base in Syria matters so much to Moscow:

So, “lose Tartus and lose access to the warm waters” is how Moscow views the end of al-Assad’s rule. Having said farewell to all its Mediterranean client states and bases in the past decades – from Egypt, which evicted Russia in the 1970s, to Serbia, which became a landlocked state following the dissolution of the last Yugoslavia in 2003 – Moscow cannot afford to lose Tartus, the last link between Russian foreign policy today and Catherine the Great’s grand strategy.

This makes sense, and it also makes it much less likely that Russia is going to cooperate. Cagaptay thinks that opposition promises of access to the base will bring Russia around, but that may not be the case. Suppose that Russia joins the anti-Assad bandwagon at the Security Council, but Assad and his allies manage to retain power with continued Iranian backing. That would put Russia once again in the absurd position of having created an opening for outside intervention that it strongly opposes. Meanwhile, Russia seems to be interested in going an entirely different route:

Moscow has long feared that any UN move would be a precursor to military action similar to the events that led to the Nato operation in Libya. Gennady Gatilov, deputy foreign minister, told the Interfax news agency that Russia would reject the current draft because “it leaves the door open for intervention”.

In what analysts saw as an attempt to pre-empt the UN debate, the Kremlin said on Monday that it was trying to put together talks in Moscow between Damascus and the Syria opposition.

Those talks will probably not happen, and they might lead to nothing if they did, but Moscow seems uninterested in punitive U.N. measures.

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It Isn’t “Retreat” to End Overseas Commitments That Are No Longer Needed

Col. Chad Manske objects to the reduction of U.S. forces in Europe:

Critics do not recognize that we have significantly reduced our forces and installations in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Of the 1.4 million current US military personnel, only 90,000 are in Europe, or about 6.4 percent. That’s less than one-third the number stationed in Europe in 1991.

I doubt that advocates of withdrawing U.S. forces from Europe don’t recognize this, but consider what he’s saying. 21 years after the dissolution of the USSR, 90,000 military personnel are still in Europe. Col. Manske says that these numbers are needed to fulfill Article V obligations, which skirts the main objection to a large U.S. presence in Europe: there is no threat to NATO members that requires it. Nearly seventy years after the end of WWII and two decades since the end of the Cold War, it is not a “retreat” if the U.S. decides to reduce or end the presence of our forces in Europe.

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Another Tedious “Gathering Storm” Warning from Santorum

Santorum’s presidential campaign may be nearing its end, but we will always have his unique analysis of the international scene:

We’re facing a global alliance that includes Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and of course Cuba. They are outspoken in their desire to weaken us and drive us out of their regions. Some of them–Iran, and the radical Islamists whose rise to power has been facilitated by this president–speak eagerly of destroying us, and our allies, especially Israel.

We have no strategy to deal with this gathering storm. Indeed, our leaders act as if things are getting better every day.

I think Santorum forgot to include Zimbabwe and Burma as members of this Evil League of Evil. Essentially, Santorum has surveyed the globe, found a number of governments he finds offensive in one way or another, and then declared them to be in league against us. This has been his routine for at least the last six years. It is true that these states all tend to take a dim view of U.S. involvement in their parts of the world, and they have relatively better relations with one another than the U.S. has with many of them, but it’s meaningless to refer to all of them as allies. An alliance requires shared goals, legal obligations to the other parties, and formal cooperation to achieve the alliance’s goals. Russia has an interest in retaining access to a naval base in Syria and would like to keep Assad as their client, China has a difficult patron-client relationship with North Korea, the various left-populist governments of Latin America are all quite weak, and Iran’s role in Latin America is not very significant. Many of the leaders in these states like to bluster and indulge in anti-American rhetoric, but the loudest in their verbal attacks on the U.S. also tend to be the weakest. This isn’t a “gathering storm” so much as it is a lot of gusting wind.

Santorum’s plan for toppling the Iranian government is about as well-designed as the planning for post-invasion Iraq:

Some say that this means we have to launch a military attack against Iran. I don’t believe that. I think most Iranian people want to be free of their evil regime, and millions of them have taken to the streets, in the face of security forces all too happy to kill them, to show their contempt for their leaders. It’s a revolutionary force, and we should support it.

We defeated the Soviet Union without using military means. We supported the Soviet dissidents and refuseniks, and the Soviet regime collapsed. I believe we can do the same thing in Iran.

Does it ever bother Santorum that there is no evidence that most Iranians want to overthrow their government? Isn’t it a problem for his plan that the “revolutionary force” he wants to support isn’t actually revolutionary in its goals? Isn’t it a significant obstacle that most Iranians wouldn’t want to be doing America’s bidding by toppling their government at our urging? Does he understand that limited American support for Soviet dissidents and refuseniks wasn’t what caused the dissolution of the USSR?


Even After Cuts, U.S. Ground Forces Will Be Larger Than They Were in 2001

Fred Kagan says that there are bound to be more large-scale deployments of U.S. soldiers overseas in the future (via Andrew):

Yet every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan has ordered tens of thousands of troops into ground combat. Obama himself sent 70,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops have been deployed abroad to wars or peacekeeping operations for 38 of the past 70 years — and nearly continuously since 1989. The argument that next time will be different is unpersuasive.

If we look at the last 23 years, we see a lot of elective and unnecessary deployments. There is no reason to assume that the U.S. will repeat the last twenty years of American hyperactivity abroad, unless one believes that this hyperactivity is normal. Of all the new large deployments since 1989, just one was a war related to the defense of the United States. If the U.S. were more careful to avoid new and unnecessary overseas commitments, the demand on the military would be significantly less than it has been in the last two decades.

Of course, these reductions Kagan opposes aren’t as significant as he makes them sound. Benjamin Friedman explains:

The biggest change in this budget is the beginning in a reduction of ground forces. The document says we will cut eighty thousand troops from the army and twenty thousand from the Marines. The rationale is solid: we are probably not going to be committing large numbers of troops into another occupation of a populous country in revolt any time soon. Yet the cut leaves both forces with more personnel than they had prior to the expansion of ground forces that began in 2008 [bold mine-DL]. A real strategic shift away from occupational warfare would entail a bigger drawdown of army and Marine personnel.

Friedman is correct. Here are the numbers:

The Army would shrink by 80,000 soldiers, from 570,000 today to 490,000 by 2017. That is slightly larger than the Army on 9/11.

The Marine Corps would drop from today’s 202,000 to 182,000 — also above the level on 9/11.

Korb’s response to Kagan is also worth citing:

It will bring the ground forces back to where they were in 2005, and the reductions will be done between now and 2017. Therefore, the reductions can be made primarily by lowering recruitment quotas over the next five years.

Opponents of these reductions essentially want to lock in the growth in U.S. ground forces that occurred over the last decade.

Personnel costs have been driving the growth of the military’s budget in the last decade. Reducing personnel costs is one obvious way to get control of exploding spending. However, as Richard Weitz observes, the Pentagon is reluctant to reduce those costs:

Personnel costs make up a third of the Pentagon’s budget, but the department states that they will represent just one-ninth of the total cuts [bold mine-DL]. If personnel costs are shielded, procurement will probably be cut most heavily, since department briefers insist they intend to preserve readiness in order to avoid a return to the “hollow” military of the 1970s. But how does this square with the Pentagon’s general vision of substituting sophisticated military capabilities for military personnel?

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