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Appeasing Iran

Tuesday, September 22, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Are the Iranian fanatics impressed with a Letterman appearance?

While the president was chatting with Dave about various small and very small matters, Ahmadinejad was sounding increasingly, well, crazy.

Days after again denying that the Holocaust occurred, Iran’s president declared that “Our armed forces are ready to confront the forces of darkness. If anybody wants to shoot a bullet at us from anywhere, we will cut off his hands.”

Iran’s front man fanatic isn’t getting invited to Columbia University during this trip to the U.N. In fact, one venue canceled an entire dinner when it learned that Ahmadinejad was to be the guest of honor. Well done, Gotham City.

But he will still get get an American audience for his rantings at the U.N., and his government is getting by in its massive and deadly crackdown on dissidents with hardly a word from the big names in the Obama Administration.

Israel is boycotting Ahmadinejad’s speech tomorrow, and if the U.S. had a lick of sense, it would do so as well. The Iranian regime is a menace to the world of course, but its brutal crackdown on the forces of democracy within the country should remove the hesitation of our government to publicly brand the mullahs in power as illegitimate brutes. A million people marched for freedom in Iran last Friday, and the regime is increasingly desperate and cornered, but the U.S. continues to attempt to engage the mullahs in a “we are the world” exercise designed to burnish President Obama’s rapidly diminishing foreign policy credentials.

“We will make clear that if they are serious, we need to have more substantive engagement,” Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg told the Washington Post. “This may be the beginning of something — or it may not.”

This is the language of appeasement, and against the backdrop of the massive demonstrations rocking Tehran the display of cringing weakness by the United States is appalling. (Andrew Sullivan has a reader e-mail that underscores the significance of the demonstration.)

Yesterday Iran joined Russia’s Putin in applauding the U.S. decision to throw Poland the Czech Republic under the wheels of the Obama bus, another sign that Tehran has taken the measure of the new team leading U.S. foreign policy and found that there’s nothing to worry about.

Israel, yes. It’s own people, yes. But the United States? Not a problem.

“Through their popular uprising, the Iranian people have mounted the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in its 30-year history,”writes John Hannah, former national security advisor to Vice President Cheney, in the Weekly Standard. “The regime is frightened and confused, on the defensive, never closer to unraveling. The United States should do nothing that needlessly risks relieving that pressure and giving comfort to Iran’s rulers. At a minimum, speaking up loudly about human rights will increase U.S. leverage in any forthcoming negotiation. At maximum, it could help sustain a movement whose ultimate success in toppling Iran’s anti-American theocracy holds out the best hope of ending the nuclear crisis short of war.”

The president is making noises about abandoning Afghanistan even as he spends hours trying to resurrect a disastrous health care policy fiasco. His approval ratings are plummeting to near first-year Clinton levels, and he has so overplayed his media cards that he may be down to the county fair circuit soon.

What the president should be is focused and firm on the four big three issues of his presidency: Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq abroad, and domestic security at home. (The outlines of the latest plot that are emerging should refocus not just the president but the country on the fact that the radical jihadists didn’t get their motivation from President Bush.)

President Obama’s speech to the U.N. offers him a chance to reset his foreign policy to “serious” and to warn the mullahs that he will not cooperate in their attempts to shore up their regime. If he speaks to the Iranians seeking freedom, he will have earned a great deal of bipartisan respect.

But if he glides over the Iranian regime’s thuggishness and its evil ambitions vis-a-vis Israel and the world, he’ll have branded his foreign policy as appeasement’s second act.

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The War Matters Most, Mr. President. There Isn’t Even A Distant Second Priority

Monday, September 21, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

My Washington Examiner column today recaps the health care debate I conducted in Denver on Thursday night with University of Denver Law School Professor Pail Campos.

The reason behind President Obama’s frantic retail television yesterday has to be that every debate over Obamacare everywhere in the country has to be going just as mine did. Proponents of Obamacare from the president down to Obamacare advocate in a two person discussion on a park bench are not just losing the argument. They have lost it. Decisively. And no series of interviews, no matter how gentle the questions or advantageous the setting, are going to persuade anything close to a majority of Americans that it makes sense to trade in their health care for whatever it is that the president, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have behind Door Number 3.

With his health care drive now dependent only upon the willingness of vulnerable House and Senate Democrats –an increasing number thanks to the president– to sacrifice their jobs for his agenda, the president next must decide whether to throw Afghanistan under the bus with Poland and the Czech Republic.

General McChrystal wants to win, and says it can be done: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.” What the general needs is more troops, and the president should give them to him and quickly. As with Iraq, President Bush left President Obama the opportunity to secure two fronts in the war against radical jihadism –a war which we have been reminded remains very real and very close to us– and his presidency will be defined not by the health care initiative, but by his willingness to secure those fronts and thus his impact to the country’s national security.

The president’s betrayal of Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense does not bode well for his decision on whether to retreat from Afghanistan and Iraq in the face of difficult circumstances. Putin’s threats were just words, and the president’s party wasn’t demanding retreat from Warsaw in the way it is from Kabul. President Obama may even wrongly believe that he’s got to focus all his energy and assets on the increasingly self-destructive demand for a health care overhaul that majorities of Americans and huge majorities of seniors don’t want. As Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei write in this morning’s Politico, the president will also get a big push from the left on cap-and-trade, increasing the pressure of the White House to continue its counterproductive push on deeply divisive domestic issues for which nothing close to majoritarian support exists.

The slow collapse of his domestic agenda has got to be deeply frustrating given the president’s own high regard for his own abilities, but he should recognize that, even as George Bush’s ambition to be the “education president” was upended by the realities of the war, so too does his agenda have to yield to the nature of the threat to the country from abroad –a threat we ought to have been reminded of all too clearly these past few days.

FBI agents arrest reputed Al Qaeda terror cell operative Najibullah Zazi in Aurora, Colo.

The threat is real and it isn’t going to be wished away. Asked whether the FBI had grabbed all the suspects in the latest terror plot, a senior counterterror official responded: “They’re still looking…nobody knows the answer for sure.”

If the president abandons Afghanistan or Iraq, he will be giving license to the forces behind 9/11 –and every other plot up to and including this latest one– to reform, regroup and resume the largely unimpeded export of more plots.

Give up the FDR dream, Mr. President, and start acting like Truman. It is a war, and it won’t go away by your pretending that it can be ignored or downgraded.

“Heard at Two Conferences: Global Unease about the Obama Administration”

Monday, September 21, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The Monday column from Clark Judge:

Heard at Two Conferences: Global Unease about the Obama Administration

By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group in Washington and former Special Assistant and Speechwriter to President Reagan

As luck would have it, for the last ten days, just as the Obama Administration was upending America’s global relationships, I was in Europe and attended two conferences on international politics. Together these conferences gave a good cross section of opinion about Mr. Obama and the U.S. in policy centers around the world. It proved not what you would expect.

The first conference was the annual Global Security Review of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. It was held in Geneva two weekends ago and brought together current and former senior foreign policy officials, journalists and scholars from around the world.

The second took place this past weekend in Stockholm and commemorated “The 20th Anniversary of the Liberated and Reunited Europe.” Its sponsors were the Swedish free market think tank Timbro and the Institute for Information on the Crimes of Communism. Speakers included the former prime minister of Estonia, a prominent Polish editor and fellow dissident with Lech Walesa during the Solidarity years, and the current editor-in-chief of Radio Free Europe and, with another speaker, speechwriter for Prime Minister Thatcher. I was there to talk about President Reagan.[# More #]

The first conference ended days before the announcement of that the United States was cancelling the missile deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, the second was held the day after.

Geneva:

* The most surprising constant of this most mainstream of global policy gatherings was the wide skepticism about President Obama. Mr. Obama is four times as popular around the world as was President Bush, said one globally prominent journalist. But, the journalist continued, Machiavelli said it is better to be feared than loved; Mr. Obama is loved.

* I doubt that any delegate other than myself would have preferred George W. Bush making U.S. global policy decisions. But the disquiet came down to an impression of Mr. Obama that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is said to have offered to a private gathering some months ago (apparently leaking is as much a pastime in Paris as Washington), that Mr. Obama is weak.

* Putting together a remark here and an aside there, the impression emerged for me that Mr. Obama’s riveting rhetoric is in danger of turning from a plus to a minus, at least in very senior global policymaking circles. His language, many thought, is not anchored in reality. One former foreign minister only recently out of office made a disparaging reference to pointless rhetoric “no matter how elegantly expressed.”

* Unease was particularly pronounced regarding U.S. relations with Russia.

* Looking over my notes, I wonder if one Russian plenary session panelist might not have known at the time (as I said, several days before the announcement) that the Polish-Czech missile deal would be cancelled this week. He was based in Moscow but worked for an American think tank. He asserted that, despite their protests, the Russians were not so concerned about missiles in Poland. What they really feared, he said, were thousands of sea-based interceptors. The Administration has trumpeted sea-based and other mobile systems as the substitute for the program they are cancelling. Was this remark to soften the reaction of U.S. allies to the Obama decision? Or was it to signal that the Russian gimme list runs longer than a defensive missile and a radar site?

* Whether he had foreknowledge or not, this speaker also noted that Russia saw three threats coming from the U.S.: 1) ballistic missile defense; 2) precision guided weapons; 3) NATO enlargement.

* The president’s announcement took care of number one and almost surely had an impact on number three. For the first time ever, Central European governments may now doubt whether NATO membership is such a good idea.

* One other observation from Geneva: We hear this a lot, but it is surprising to see it so personally. In dozens of ways, small and large, nations around the world look to the U.S. for leadership. Again and again discussions turned to the need for American direction on this or that matter. We cannot underestimate the ramifications of the United States ceasing to be a trusted compass and partner.

* As the conference was adjourning, I made a list of those countries that (judging by the speakers from them) were uneasy about a confusion or weakness in America. They included Japan, India, Israel (of course), the Palestinians (surprising), France (equally surprising), Britain, and anyone focused on the global economy. Who wanted American wings pinned back? The Russians.

Stockholm:

* As you might imagine, the White House announcement surprised and concerned almost everyone at this conference.

* The general view was that Central European confidence in the United States as a reliable ally and guarantor against a return of Russian hegemony would be shattered.

* Whatever the technical advantages or disadvantages of one missile system or another, the missiles were seen as a political fact even more than as a military fact. And as a political fact, the cancellation of the deployment was considered alarming.

* The question was asked of a panel of speakers: Do you believe the White House knew that they were announcing the decision on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland? Of course, one said. But another doubted it, thought that historical knowledge in this White House doesn’t run deep. The suspicion was voiced that the Russians suggested the date and the Administration walked into the trap.

* Another former official observed that the Russians are playing with a losing demographic and economic hand: declining ethnic Russian population; rising populations of other groups; alcoholism everywhere. Yes, a knowledgeable veteran of the Cold War said, and that’s why they are pushing to reestablish elements of empire-to get a base capable of sustaining a military effort that once more could be topping 25 percent of GDP.

* The conference superstar was Mark Laar, former prime minister of Estonia and historian. He argued that the Soviet Union would have fallen in 1953 with the East German uprising or in 1956 with the Hungarian one. Both times, he said, rebellions had started in the other nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltic. But with no help from the West, they could not succeed. The difference in the years before the Soviet collapse, he added, was leadership: most notably Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Repeatedly, he emphasized that leadership matters. It was hard to miss the implication that the West suffers from a leadership deficit today.

Why Doesn’t D.C. Get It?

Saturday, September 19, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

A commentary from the Christian Science Monitor from Em Powers Hunter.

Day three of a trip to Colorado, and after a town hall debate with a proponent of Obamacare, a speech to business folks, a visit to Colorado Christian University for the school’s annual gala and campaign events with Tom Lucero who is working to take back a GOP seat in Colorado’s 4rth Congressional District —and you can help in this important race via an online contribution— I can pretty safely say that if Obamacare passes it will be over the deep-seated and widely-held opposition of a very solid majority of Americans.

There are some special interest groups supporting Obamacare, of course, and the president and his Congressional allies are doing their best to cover their plummeting support for the legislative train wreck, but the sort of sustained and passionate opposition anyone who asks finds in very different audiences –with almost no countervailing opinions– isn’t the product of selective sampling but a reflection of a general, broad consensus that Obamacare is a bust.

Democrats proceed at their political peril. As Powers’ commentary suggests, Beltway contempt for the opinions and lifestyles of ordinary Americans is very real, but it is usually much better disguised than a jam down of Obamacare would display.

Your thoughts are welcome at the Hughniverse.

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