Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conservative v. Liberal Foreign Policy--Or Why Iran and Russia Seem to be Taking Obama for a Ride

I caught a snippet of an interview of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton on the Dennis Prager show today, and their conversation crystallized a thought that had been flitting on the boundaries of my consciousness, regarding the difference between liberal and conservative foreign policy.

President Barack Obama, as exemplified by his speech before the United Nations, is a classic foreign policy liberal in the mode of President Woodrow Wilson. President Obama is an extraordinarily intelligent person. He is also extraordinarily articulate and charismatic. He believes that his abilities at rational argument and persuasion should be enough to sway international leaders to support his policy objectives. He is wrong, and he is wrong because he is buying into a liberal foreign policy illusion--that nations will act rationally in the best interest of the entire international community.

Conservative foreign policy theorists for the most part believe differently. They believe that nations act in their own self-interest, as perceived by their political leadership. This has always been the prime motivator of foreign policy and always will be. As goes the aphorism attributed to Henry John Temple Viscount Lord Palmerston (photo above right), who served as Great Britain's Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister during the reign of Queen Victoria, nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. And, it should go without saying, one nation's leaders may not perceive the interests of their own country to coincide with that of the international community.

And so Iran, in reaction to President Obama's campaign promise of unconditional engagement and dialogue, uses the opportunity of the extra time it affords to delay international action while it aggressively pursues its nuclear weapons program. The Obama Administration may have considered such a reaction to be irrational, and not in Iran's long-term interests. To Iran's ruling mullahs, it was in their short-term interest, and that is what mattered.

Russia had complained long and hard during the George W. Bush Administration about U.S. plans to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. President Obama reversed U.S. policy, and has abandoned the missile defense system, without any known quid pro quo from Russia (one may hope that there is an unknown one) and without prior consultation with Poland and the Czech Republic. The Poles and the Czechs feel betrayed by the U.S., which appears to be willing to sacrifice their security interests in order to placate Moscow. No doubt Georgia and other Balkan and former Soviet satellite nations share that concern.

Now, it is possible that the U.S. in fact secretly negotiated an agreement with Russia, for Russia to strongly back meaningful sanctions against Iran in return for the termination of the U.S. Eastern European missile defense program. If Russia comes through over the next three months, I may withdraw my criticism. That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, however, imagine how a vulnerable nation such as Israel views recent U.S. fecklessness in foreign policy. As John Bolton has observed, world leaders are beginning to suspect that the Obama Administration will treat its friends worse than its enemies. Maybe that is why Israeli Prime Minister recently visited Moscow--he may be looking for a more reliable ally.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's only 2009 and we are already talking about the 2012 presidential election?

I'm afraid so. I myself have succumbed to the tempation. It's all on Article VI Blog and yes, I do have some thoughts about Mitt Romney and "the Mormon factor."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Swiss healthcare: A model for the USA?

During the healthcare reform debate (which is really an insurance reform debate) we've heard a lot about the British National Health System (almost totally socialized and roundly criticized) and a little about the French system (less socialized, less criticized). I recently heard a suggestion that the Swiss system might be a model that would work in the USA. I have some more thoughts and information about all this at True North, including a summary of how that little alpine country approaches health insurance.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Senator Max Baucus claims it's "too difficult" to put his proposed healthcare bill online so citizens can review it:
A proposal by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., that would have required the Senate Finance Committee to post the final language of the $900 billion health care reform bill, as well as a Congressional Budget Office cost analysis, on the committee’s website for 72 hours prior to a vote was rejected 12-11.
Too difficult. Yeah, right.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

UN Goldstone Report on Gaza Threatens US as well as Israel

Not that Israel needed any more confirmation. What is new is that in recent months Israel has felt that its one reliable trustworthy ally, the United States, is also slip sliding away. Witness the remarks of President Barack Obama before the UN yesterday.

It is true that he re-affirmed the commitment of the United States to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. However, he also said, "we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

What the President Obama should realize (and either does realize or suffers from alarming naivete), to the so-called "moderates" in the Arab world, the words "Israeli settlements" mean all Israeli neighborhoods or towns beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines (often mis-described as the "June 1967 borders"--they were not internationally recognized borders). That would include areas such as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion block of towns, all of which are Jewish areas that were captured by the Jordanians in the 1948-49 war that broke out upon Israel's creation. For some reason, the capture of Jewish lands by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948 makes those lands Palestinian lands (even though Jordan did not create a Palestinian state when it had the chance), while the recapture of them in 1967 does not reverse the process. If someone can explain that distinction to me in terms of international law, it would be deeply appreciated.

It gets worse. To much of the Arab and Islamic world, including Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and their ilk, all of Israel is an illegal settlement. The Palestinian Authority takes that position as well in its public pronouncements. Consequently, they may wonder whether President Obama is sending a coded signal that he concurs with their position.

No U.S. President has ever stated publicly that in a permanent peace settlement Israel must return to the 1949 ceasefire lines. Indeed, it has been extensively documented that the U.S. delegation that crafted U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which ended the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, contemplated that a permanent peace treaty would include border adjustments.

But I digress, my subject was the UN Goldstone Report on Gaza. I was gratified to read yesterday pleased to read that the Obama Administration initially indicated to Israel and American Jewish leaders that it would block any effort by the Palestinians to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court on the basis of the Goldstone Report. According to JTA:
A top White House official told Jewish organizational leaders in an off-the-record phone call Wednesday that the U.S. strategy was to "quickly" bring the report -- commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council and carried out by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone -- to its "natural conclusion" within the Human Rights Council and not to allow it to go further, Jewish participants in the call told JTA.

The reason for that sound position is not sympathy for Israel, but rather enlightened self-interest on the part of the United States (which by-the-by should always be the basis for United States foreign policy). The causes of the civilian deaths in Gaza are indistinguishable from the situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters and leaders take refuge in civilian areas, often leading to deaths and injuries of non-combatants in U.S. and NATO attacks. An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal points that out, and also provides an excellent description of the inacurracies and bias manifest throughout the report.

However, true to its perplexing diplomatic style, the Obama Administration has already flip-flopped on its earlier assurances. JTA reports that Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, called JTA to say that the White House official quoted in the earlier JTA article had "mispoke." Vietor said that the Administration's official position on the report remains as articulated last week by Susan Rice, the U.S. Abassador to the United Nations. She condemned the report as biased, but said nothing about the U.S. blocking an International Criminal Court action against Israel. So the U.S. has left Israel dangling in the wind, even at the expense of America's own interests.

This is why polls in Israel show that the percentage of Israelis who trust in the good intentions of the Obama Administration toward Israel has dropped to 4%. As former UN Ambassador John Bolton commented to Fox News yesterday, the Obama Administration is sending out signals to the world that it will treat enemies of our country better than it will treat our friends.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What do Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, Mark Levin and Mitt Romney all have in common?

They're all conservatives. But there are some very important differences. I blog a bit about that over on True North. See what you think.

Also, my co-blogger John Schroeder and I have some thoughts about the Value Voters Summit at Article VI Blog. I guess I am all over the place today.

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Friday, September 18, 2009


"Today is the birthday of the World!" May Almighty God, whose kingship the Jewish People affirm and acclaim on Rosh Hashonah (which begins this evening) inscribe and seal you and yours for a happy, healthy, blessed, sweet year!

Obama Fiddles While Israel Burns

In an opinion column published September 15 in the Wall Street Journal, entitled "Obama is Pushing Israel to War," Bret Stephens writes that as Iran moves increasingly closer to the capacity to assemble nuclear warheads within months, and defies the West, the Obama Administration dithers and effectively compels Israel to risk a military strike at Iran's nuclear facilities. It is certainly in the national interests of both the U.S. and Israel, to say nothing of the rest of the world, to stop Iran's march toward nuclear weapons. It may well not be in the interest of either nation for Israel to attack Iran, but, Stephens writes, the feckless behavior of the Obama Administration is leaving it with little choice.

At the G-8 Summit in Italy in July, Iran was given a September deadline to re-start negotiations over its nuclear programs. The answer Iran finally gave last week was, in effect, "Go pound sand." Its response was a 5-page document that offered talks with on a plethora of topics, but did not even mention nuclear weapons. The bold U.S. response to this defiant challenge was ... to agree to start talks with Iran on October 1. Stephens writes:

All this only helps persuade Israel's skittish leadership that when President Obama calls a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable," he means it approximately in the same way a parent does when fecklessly reprimanding his misbehaving teenager. That impression is strengthened by Mr. Obama's decision to drop Iran from the agenda when he chairs a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 24; by Defense Secretary Robert Gates publicly opposing military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities; and by Russia's announcement that it will not support any further sanctions on Iran.

Israel has naturally concluded that neither the U.S., nor the international community, plans to lift a finger to stop Iran from acquiring weapons that will threaten the very existence of the tiny Jewish State, weapons that Iran's leaders have already broadly hinted they will employ. That leaves only the risky military option, which may well not succeed and will only further isolate Israel diplomatically.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A 9-11 Remembrance

This one happens to be from the perspective of a man who survived the attack. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I think his perspective is universal to all believers:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will Disappointment with Obama Finally Turn American Jews Away from Liberalism?

Norman Podheretz, the former editor of the Jewish neo-conservative journal Commentary, and the author of a new book entitled "Why are Jews Liberal?", asks that question on today's Wall Street Journal. My impression is that he is asking the question more in hope than in optomism. Indeed, my perception is that outside the Orthodox Jewish community, which was never thrilled with Barack Obama in the first place, most Jews, and especially liberal Jews, are not disappointed with President Obama except to the extent that he has not been liberal enough. They suppport President Obama on healthcare. They support putting pressure on the Netanyahu government to freeze settlement activity, even to the extent of halting construction in existing settlements. They support pressing Israel to make compromises that may carry serious security risks. In those respects, American Jewish liberals have now alienated themselves from the vast majority of Israelis, except for a fringe of the most leftwing 10% of the Israeli electorate. That is the percentage of Israelis who have expressed confidence that President Obama is truly concerned about Israel's security.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

When Smelt Count More Than People

In the 1930's, Oklahoma farmers fled the Dust Bowl to resettle in California's Central Valley, a migration portrayed most famously in John Steinbeck's classic novel "The Grapes of Wrath." They helped turn the Central Valley into the nation's truck garden, an area that provides the United States with half of its vegetables.

Now the Central Valley itself is becoming a dust bowl, largely due to federal government environmental policies that favor the preservation of the delta smelt over the preservation of one of this nation's prime agricultural centers. As described by Ben Shapiro at Townhall.com, unemployment in the town of Mendota hovers around 41 percent, and at 15% for all of Fresno County in July (a figure that will climb once temporary employees are let go after the summer harvest).

Ben explains that this disastrous situation is directly attributable to a decision by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2008 to shut down the operations of water pumping stations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, because they jeopardized the continued existence of the delta smelt. The result, according to Ben:
The farmers whose ancestors built the canals to irrigate the Central Valley have been totally cut off from their water supply, even though they're still paying bills for it. Hundreds of acres of prime farming land lie fallow, crops withered and dead.

A warning to the reader of Ben's column--the title, "Obama's Failure to Help May Spring from Racism," which Ben probably did not compose, misstates the essential thrust of the column. Ben's main point is that this is a government-made disaster, resulting from a policy decision that (although he does not mention this point) was made during the final days of the George W. Bush Administration and could now be readily rectified with courageous action by the Obama Administration.

I understand that there are two sides to every question, and if any readers are aware of the economic impact of dwindling populations of delta smelt, such as a decline in fisheries, I would be happy to hear about it.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, the reader will note that I uncharacteristically refer to Ben Shapiro (photo, below right) as "Ben" rather than "Mr. Shapiro."
That is because I am friends with his parents, watched him grow up, and am proud that he and his wife reside today in our North Hollywood Jewish community. I still "shep naches" from a Hannity & Colmes interview with Ann Coulter, broadcast on July 8, 2005, when Alan Colmes asked Ms. Coulter who she would favor for nomination to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Coulter responded that she would pick Ben Shapiro, who "just finished his first year at Harvard Law, 21 years old." For the record, Ben has since graduated from Harvard Law, summa cum laude. He also plays a mean violin.