Saturday, October 20, 2012

President Obama Has No Foreign Policy

How can he defend a nonexistent foreign policy?

President Obama has already been exposed as not even an empty suit, but an empty chair. It's time to expose his foreign policy attempts for what they are--empty words.

Almost any set of policies can have enough cohesion to generate a "three-legged stool" analogy. For the Reagan Administration the legs might have been (1) Strength through a military strong enough to be feared, (2) Diplomacy carried out by a State Department that understood where our priorities lay and what they needed to say to please our friends and discomfort our enemies, and (3) Outreach to the world in the form of sensible policies regarding human rights that were beneficent enough to allow the occasional Grenada invasion to go essentially without comment. Not that the Reagan administration would have put it that way, but that's just an example to show how it can be made up out of anything.

Obama's three-legged stool for foreign policy starts with an apology tour

If the Obama administration has a three-legged stool, its legs seem to be (1) Appeasement, and self-condemnation of America while projecting national weakness, (2) Inaction in the face of crisis, and (3) Refusal to face reality in a real world. I don't have to expand much on the first one--we've all seen the bowing to foreign potentates and heard the speeches accepting American blame for all the ills of the world, with shows of strength saved for overmatched attacks on individuals. Not just the killing of bin Laden, but the taking of the pirated ship. Two small victories in the face of a sea of defeats. We are losing our gains in Iraq. We have lost too many men to "green on blue" murder in Afghanistan. We invade Pakistan to get bin Laden, but we won't do anything about the terrorist cells there. We rely on our allies to clean up in Libya, and we do nothing in either Egypt or Syria. Not that we should do something, but Obama can't describe why we shouldn't, and it's clear that Obama doesn't want to lead anything, and that projects weakness.

Obama's Inaction

Obama's Inaction would be laughable if it weren't pathetic. Inaction is the only word to describe our reaction to the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and earlier in Iran. Did his aide actually think he was coining a compliment when he said, "Obama leads from behind"? I have described this inaction as a policy of "Don't do anything and see what happens. Something always does. Then spin it to our political advantage." It's obvious that he follows that path, because he does the same thing in domestic policy, with his lack of leadership after the Deepwater Horizon disaster a prime example. That betrays two flaws in Obama's character: First, it shows a leader unwilling to take any chances at all, always opting to take the "safe" course of doing nothing. This may be a result of his lack of any leadership experience before sitting down in the Oval Office. Any CEO, heck, even any business school graduate, knows that you never have ALL the information you'd like to have and that doing nothing is in fact choosing a path that depends not on your own skill and resources, but on the winds of fate, putting you at the mercy of events. The second flaw revealed is that he is more interested in political advantage than he is in serving the country.

Refusal to face reality

The most serious of the three (if they can be graded--they are all exactly the wrong actions in foreign policy) is his inability (or refusal) to face reality. He has a belief that by changing the words we use we can change the reality they describe. No more "War on Terror;" it's now an "Overseas Contingency Operation." A soldier kills thirteen people on his post and it's called "workplace violence" rather than "treason" and "terrorism." Kill bin Laden and declare that al Qaeda is dead, and voila, it is! An attack on a consulate therefore can't be terrorism, it must be the result of righteously angered Muslims who have heard that somebody else has seen a video on the internet that slanders Mohammed and whose demonstration just gets out of hand and kills four Americans. Further ignoring reality, he thinks he can convince other people of the same story. Compounding the error, he spreads the story of the "video-caused attack" around the world, alerting other outraged Muslims to its existence and that the President of the United States, despite protestations to the contrary, seems to think it a reasonable excuse for demonstrations, if not for murder. He seemingly didn't realize that his words could be used against us.

The Arab Spring is an example of all three legs being exposed.  It's in the interest of the United States to have stability in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East and even in those that don't produce much oil.  We depend on that supply, no matter how many windmills the government subsidizes, so even if Mubarak treated many of his people badly, even if Khaddafi did the same and sheltered terrorists and was our enemy, even if Assad was willing to kill thousands of his own people, it was to our interests to either maintain stability in the area and to make sure the new regime was as "friendly" to us as the old one had been. But the policy of "do nothing and see what happens" doesn't provide for that consideration. The enemy of our "enemy" is not always our friend.

Our President substituted nice words for reality.  He declared that the winds of democracy were sweeping across the Middle East, blowing away the old dictators and replacing them with the will of the people, only that isn't what happened. The old dictators were removed in Egypt and Libya, only to be replaced by new dictators called the Muslim Brotherhood, and these dictators have no interest in stability for the sake of stable relationships and trade; they'd just as soon ALL their own people starved as to help the West in any way. Calling them "democratic popular uprisings" didn't actually make it true. These were no more democratic uprisings than was the rise of the National Socialist Party in pre-war Germany, and it is to ignore reality to claim otherwise.

Ignoring reality, he thinks that he can talk sternly to Mahmoud Achmadinijad and that such talk will convince a hell-bent-for-anihilation Iran to cease its nuclear arms program, the program for which they've been sacrificing their own comfort for years.  First, the phrase is "talk softly and carry a big stick," not "talk sternly and hope nobody notices you're unarmed." Second, even if we had the capacity to be an existential threat to Iran, they still would oppose us because they DO oppose us. As it is, they KNOW President Obama would never use military power on the scale it would need to be applied against Iran, so Obama's words are meaningless. The will to use strength has to be credible for even available strength to be effective.

We can see the same effect on Bashar Assad in Syria--none, and our weakness has led our old enemies of Russia and China to take the sides of Iran and Syria, because they have no fear of us either.

Taking all of this in, the picture emerges that the United States under Barack Obama doesn't have a viable foreign policy.

What's coming?

History teaches that a power vacuum will be filled. By weakening the United States, President Obama has begun to create a power vacuum. It was happening demographically anyway, simply because of the huge population advantage China has over us and its decision to abandon much of Communism, but just as the United Kingdom slipped behind us yet remained prosperous without becoming our enemy after our great 19th and 20th century expansion, there ARE ways to maintain our wealth, dignity, and standard of living without helping the process along by becoming weak intentionally. If we fail to develop our own energy resources, we will be at the mercy of our Middle Eastern trade "partners," and of Canada and Mexico. A reality-based foreign policy is a necessary "leg" for us to stand on. Energy policy is an important support for a successful foreign policy, and our energy policy is far from realistic.

Rules for Presidents

But now another character trait may be Obama's undoing, right before the final debate, which is fortuitously centered on foreign policy. That is his obeisance to Saul Alinsky. Nowhere in Rules for Radicals is there a rule that says, "Tell the truth." In his attempt to spin the recent Benghazi disaster to his advantage, either he or his handlers decided to push that "video-caused attack" story, and now reality is setting in.  Facts regarding what was known by whom and when are coming to light that can't be explained by anything other than "We were lying to hide the truth of our incompetence" or "We weren't really lying because we didn't know the truth but we wanted to be able to tell you a story anyway."

The coming debate

I'd like to hear Governor Romney question President Obama pointedly and directly about the logical contradictions in the stories of the last month.
"You should have known the facts by the next day--your underlings did.  Did you not know, or did you know but choose to not state the facts on purpose? If you didn't know, why didn't you?  Were the facts withheld from you? Why? To this day, you haven't used the words, 'Benghazi was a terrorist attack.' 
This disaster, and it WAS a foreign policy disaster, leaves us with a lot of questions. Why were the requests for more security denied? Who denied them? Did you not believe the danger was present? Why were we still in Benghazi? Even the British had left. Why did you continue to push that "video" story for two full weeks, long after you must have known the truth, long after you must have known there was NO demonstration outside the consulate before the attack? Or did you? Vice President Biden has claimed that your "intelligence was faulty," but Congressional testimony indicates that both "intelligence" and the State Department had it right from the beginning. The identification and capture of the perpetrators is important, but not as important as the answers to questions you have the knowledge to answer today."
Of course, he must be "respectful" to the President, who will attempt to blame the Republican budget.  And that will give Romney an opening to mention the fact that there IS NO BUDGET.

I'd also like to hear Romney say, "As soon as I name an Attorney General, I'll direct him to look into the mysterious process whereby the State of California decided to arrest a legal resident because he produced a movie expressing his political beliefs. I don't believe that it was a coincidence that his parole was revoked so conveniently in the middle of the night with full network news coverage. This seems to be a clear violation of the first amendment."

I'd like to hear him say, "My AG will be directed to find out the real reason that charges were dropped by the DOJ on a voter intimidation case in Pennsylvania after a guilty plea had already been entered."

I'd like to hear him say, "I will sign an executive order stating that those killed and injured at Fort Hood were victims of a terrorist attack. There is no reason that those wounded and surviving service members should not receive the same support that those wounded and killed on the battlefield receive. As a member of the military, the perpetrator may be open to charges beyond murder."

I'd like to hear him say, "I will issue a new Presidential Medal of Valor, equivalent to the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor awarded to New York Port Authority heroes, to each of the passengers and crew killed in that Pennsylvania crash on 9/11/2001.  Their heroism was equally valiant, and was performed as a gift to our country. Rather than sit back and accept fate, they boldly took charge, and averted further sure disaster in our nation's capital, giving their lives in the process."

And I'd like to hear him say, "In my administration, laws will be applied impartially. Speech will actually be free, and political correctness will not hold sway."

Although I sometimes think I can't go wrong by disagreeing with Bill Kristol, I thought he made a reasonable point this morning on Fox News Sunday: Romney should " Presidential.  He has to be less the challenger of the President, the prosecutor of the President's agenda, he has to be the next President of the United States.... Voters... want to see him as someone who is up to being President, with the judgement, the maturity, knowledge, a toughness but sort of soundness to be President. ...not a kind of guy who's arguing with the current President and challenging him and fact-checking him, ...if Romney can be Presidential tomorrow night, I think he's in pretty good shape...."

Chris Wallace: "How do you think he should play Libya?"

Kristol: "...he should stipulate that a terrible thing has happened which has been a real setback for us... the Obama administration hasn't handled it well ...more about what he would do over the next four years and less picking on every flaw of the Obama administration.... the key for tomorrow night is to be less of a prosecutor and more the next President."

I find myself agreeing with him, especially from the standpoint of avoiding driving up Obama's likability ratings and Romney's down. Romney does need a counter to Obama's foreign policy, even if Obama's is a void. Somehow, the Democrats are spreading a meme that Romney is a "warmonger," and Kristol suggested going back to Reagan vs. Carter: "Peace through strength.... Here is why my policies are less risky than the current Democratic President's." A statement like that would require a followup statement of what is different and why would it be less risky.

If Obama tries to claim that he is the man with foreign policy experience, Romney can point out our negotiating failures under Obama, or that his Secretary of State has done all the negotiating. He could even do it in French.

Cross-posted at RedState

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What the (bleep) Is Romney Doing?

How can he be surging after ignoring our suggestions?

The human brain is a marvelous thing.  Each one is unique.  Some work better than others, but many of them see things the same way.  It's evolutionary.  We're programmed to look for patterns, and if a pattern is identified we all tend to see it.  But sometimes what is obvious isn't real.  And sometimes we need to stop and think about what pattern we should be looking for.

Expectations vs. performance

There is an accepted pattern for Presidential campaigns.  Use speeches and TV appearances to attack and counter-attack.  Send out mailings.  Make phone calls.  Knock on doors.  For incumbents, the opportunities are almost endless.  For their opponents, not so much, but we expect them to reply forcefully against whatever the incumbent says.  This wasn't happening for Mitt Romney in June, and mutterings abounded that he was wasting the summer.  In July and August the Olympics were held in London.  Romney dipped his toe in the water and was almost devoured by sharks.  His innocuous but accurate comment in answer to a question about Olympic security in London was spun by the British press into an insult against the British, and amplified by our own So-Called Unbiased Media. Lesson learned, Romney went back to a lower profile for a while.  And still, we who are experts on the ordinary insisted he was wasting time because he wasn't doing what WE would do.

When September 11 rolled around, with it came an attack on our Egyptian embassy and our "consulate" in Benghazi, Libya.  After the Egyptian attack but before the killings in Libya, Governor Romney issued a statement (originally intended to be held until midnight but released earlier), regarding the Egyptian embassy's "tweets" during the attack.  He was himself immediately attacked by the American So-Called-Unbiased-Media for having the temerity to have an opinion about statements published by an embassy.  It mattered not a bit that the White House issued a similar statement later the next day, saying essentially the same thing.  As they did so, they criticized Romney for "shooting before aiming" (an odd metaphor--his aim seemed clear).  But this time, his words were reported more fully, and they stayed in the news long enough to be judged on their own merits.

Debate forecasts and reality

It's now October and we've had two debates.  The first was forecast to be one of high importance to Romney.  Make or break, if he could just hold his own against the great orator he'd have a moral victory and he'd still be in the race. But to do so, he'd have to be hard-hitting, ruthlessly tearing into President Obama's failures and exploiting them for all to see.  He'd also have to provide details of all of his proposals from taxes to health care, and don't forget that RomneyCare would embarrass him.  Anything less and Obama would win simply by virtue of being the incumbent.  Obama was sure to hit him with the dreaded phrase, "47%," and Romney was reported to be memorizing "zingers" with which to come back when stung by Obama.

As it turned out, the pattern we expected to see didn't happen.  Romney was soft-spoken, matter-of-fact, and direct.  He explained his own plans and refuted Obama's attempts to misrepresent those plans as something else.  Romney appeared to be as likable as Obama, or more so.  Obama's vaunted oratory was replaced with a series of misstatements and missteps.  He couldn't explain his own ObamaCare program, although he liked the name.  "47%" never came up, and many of us wished that Romney would have taken some of the many opportunities to attack Obama on his record.  For instance, we would have liked a mention of the missing budgets for 2011, 2012, and 2013.  Still, viewers decided that Romney was the victor by a huge margin, for this sort of thing, and polls the following week confirmed that sentiment had swung towards Romney.

Enter the VP debate and Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan.  It was introduced on Fox News with Bret Baier saying Biden's strategy would be to "drive a wedge in between Paul Ryan and Governor Romney... to set up his boss before the next debate."  Megyn Kelly stressed their almost-30-year age difference without telling us why that would be important.  As it turned out neither was important, and that strategic plan, as near as could be determined between sniffs, wasn't followed.  Earlier speculation was that the meeting would be confrontational, with wonky statistics being used by each to bash the other.  Biden would be sneaky and tricky, and Ryan would come right back at him, giving him references to class and race warfare in return for references to "47%."

In fact, wonkiness was held to a minimum by both men, at least to the extent possible given the questions.  Ryan seemed to be debating two opponents at times throughout the evening, with both moderator Martha Raddatz and VP Biden frequently interrupting an answer to dispute it, or to ask followup questions, or unrelated questions on another topic. Biden DID attack often, but Ryan's usual response was to ignore the tone and answer the substance.  Biden WAS obnoxious, but Ryan responded with detached amusement or not at all, and never with hostility or petulance.  Only once did he allow himself to suggest that the people would be better served if they "both" didn't interrupt each other, although it was clear the only interruptions came from Biden and moderator Raddatz.  And for the second week the nice guy finished in first place.  Not by the huge margin of the prior debate, but far enough in front for Wolf Blitzer of CNN to call it a tie.

So what the (bleep) is Romney doing?

The pattern we saw for weeks didn't match the one we expected and we interpreted it as mistakes on Romney's part.  Throw away that pattern and we saw what a man who is mostly a non-politician can do when he has the skill set of Mitt Romney. I may be thinking wishfully, but my thought is that Romney has been planning his moves from the early summer to maximize the utility of his campaign funds and to expose Obama without sounding strident himself.

While we were hoping to see a little of Thor's hammer used on Obama, Romney was instead setting the President up to look like Larry, Curley, or Moe in a way that his shortcomings would be apparent to independents. By maintaining that low profile, Romney let Obama get the headlines with his mismanagement of the economy, energy, the border, et al.  Since the So-Called-Unbiased-Media didn't care to cover Romney's  speeches, they were left to cover Obama's actions and inactions, which hurt the President more than anything Romney could have said.  Not what we wanted, but maybe more effective.

Why the change?

If ever a political party needed a turnaround, it was the Republican Party after Bush.  The ball got rolling with the Tea Party, a grass roots movement that was inspired by Obama's incompetent handling of the TARP and stimulus monies after they had been granted to him to "save the country."  It was completely independent of the Republican Party; in fact, it took way too long for Republican officials to realize they had been granted a chance at redemption, a chance to atone for too many years of "compassionate conservatism" and nominations of incompetent candidates like Bob Dole and John McCain.

We have now nominated a man who is a specialist in turnarounds.  It's his profession, and he's extremely good at it.  We expect him to be able to save the economy and save the country.  Isn't it just possible that he can run a successful campaign for President that doesn't fit the old pattern, and save the party while he's at it?

It makes sense to let him set the economy and the country aright again, but he knew that he couldn't campaign on that theme.  He recognized that it was in "personal likability" that Obama could beat him if he ran a traditional campaign.  So he first started his turnaround on the Party by abandoning the old pattern and nominating a young, smart Congressman who could help him with both likability and with issues and content.  He picked a man who might have upstaged him, but that didn't matter.  He was improving Party image and Ticket credibility.  Then he continued to campaign without confrontation but by gradually becoming more critical as he pointed out his differences with Barack Obama's failures.

Media look for old pattern

When it became debate time, the objectives were set by the media--for both, energize the base, and for Romney, show yourself capable.  The assumption was that he would do so by attacking Obama directly on his record.  Obama would use his oratorical skills to overwhelm the contender, generating a groundswell of Democrat base support.

But Romney recognized a couple of things that seem to have escaped the media and us as well.  First, the best way for him to energize the base would ultimately be not by attacking the President, it would be by winning the debate.  Second, the best way to win the debate would be to win over independents, and that would also not result from attacks on the President.  So while Obama was playing to his base, Romney was addressing his remarks and demeanor toward independents, who were after all the voters he needed to win over.  If he got them, any waverers in his base would come with them.  He calculated that they'd be more impressed by logic and ideas than by bluster and gotcha.

The Vice Presidential debate continued the theme, except Joe Biden went off the chart with "confidence" that came through as rude, arrogant, and obnoxious.  The Romney-Ryan ticket couldn't have been better served if they had scripted it themselves.

Different targets

Understanding your audience is important to any public speaker.  The Obama campaign decided its target audience was the Democrat base.  That's the way they conducted themselves.  OTOH, the Romney campaign targeted the independents and undecideds, and they did it two ways.  First, they treated the debates as if they were opportunities for serious discussions rather than circus sideshows set up for flexing muscles.  Second, they behaved as mature adults should behave in polite company.

Perhaps they also recognized that their target audience was comprised of people who might not be particularly knowledgeable about the details of the issues they talked about, or even about the existence of those issues, so they tried to provide some context for their arguments rather than simply spout sound bites, while they also introduced themselves for the first time to people who didn't know them.

The Democrats changed targets on the day after the Presidential debate.  We have wondered why the Obama camp appeared the next day with myriad examples of how Romney "lied" during the debate, even though the President didn't seem to notice in real time, and the "lies" were rather questionable. We wondered how these claims could be effective, since they seemed be either inaccurate or based on imaginary statements or proposals.  The answer, I believe, is smart politics on the Democrats' part:  those questionable statements were aimed directly at undecided voters who didn't watch the debate and were therefore wide open to persuasion.  Convince them that Romney lied, cheated, and/or stole and they would not bother to check further.  It's a tactic that can work, and it's aimed at precisely the right demographic--undecided, uninformed voters.

Fortunately for Romney/Ryan, the original target was re-acquired by the Democrats just in time for the Vice Presidential debate.  Biden played to his base, while Ryan played to civility.  For a President who has lectured us all so many times on the need for "civility," he abandoned his interest in it for the first two debates. To some extent, both campaigns hit their targets; the question remains, which target was most productive?

Will the next debate be different?

Will tactics change for the Tuesday, October 16, debate? My guess is that they won't change much.  Perhaps President Obama will choose to highlight some of his policy measures he considers to be successes, and tell us why he thinks so.  If he does, Governor Romney may be more specific in his rebuttals.  If Obama becomes more "aggressive," Romney may be a bit sharper in his replies.  Overall, I believe Obama MUST do whatever he can to maintain his "likability" lead if he still has one.  Behavior like VP Biden exhibited will be a big mistake, even if the devoted left-wing would love to see it.  Acquiescence bordering on somnolence won't do either.  His best bet may be to continue to misrepresent Romney's positions and fight on those grounds rather than to try to defend his own record, just as he did before.  And Romney may simply try to remain calm, cool, and collected, with ready answers and honest criticism for everything but put-downs for nobody.  That gave him a huge bump before and there is little reason to think it won't do so again.

What's important?

In the end, what is said will be forgotten unless it is catastrophically wrong. How it is said, though, is what makes the impression, and it's what drove poll numbers following the debates in the Republicans' direction.

Cross-posted at