Tag: mitt romney

Obama Visits Afghanistan, Perpetuates Misguided Policy

President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan shows that he is determined to use the bin Laden killing to his political advantage. He also hopes to win points for ending two unpopular wars.

That is understandable. If nothing else, it allows him to draw distinctions between both his predecessor, who failed to find bin Laden, and the eventual GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, who argues against withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

But the policy that President Obama is pursuing in Afghanistan is still at odds with what most Americans desire. The strategic partnership agreement signed by Obama and President Hamid Karzai embodies this policy.  He chose to expand the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in 2009, and will now draw down to levels at or near those when he took office. That doesn’t go far enough: a majority of Americans want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan within a year, and a large-scale military presence isn’t needed to continue to hunt al Qaeda. The organization is a shadow of its former self, and has shifted its operations and tactics to many other places. We are still spending tens of billions of dollars in a desperate nation-building mission; this money could be spent much more effectively elsewhere, including here in the United States.

Moreover, President Obama lacks the authority to make the promises that he has extended to the Afghan government and people. For example, he pledges to leave some unspecified number of troops in the country until well past the end of his second term (if there is a second term), but Congress determines funding for overseas military operations, including troop deployments, and there is no reason to believe that future Congresses (or future presidents) will feel bound by Barack Obama’s promises.

After 9/11, the American people rightly demanded that the U.S. government hunt down Osama bin Laden, and perhaps even to move heaven and earth to do it. It made sense to punish al Qaeda and degrade the organization’s ability to carry out another attack. Those tasks have been fulfilled. The mission of preventing the Taliban from rising again in Afghanistan is a hopelessly quixotic crusade, and one that we would be wise to abandon.

Why al Qaeda May Never Die

The first anniversary of the murderous raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideaway presents an opportunity to evaluate the threat al Qaeda now poses. For its part, the Obama administration/reelection campaign seems more interested in using the event to score political points against Mitt Romney. But terrorism alarmists are more focused on al Qaeda itself and are in peak form explaining that, although the organization has been weakened, it still manages to present a grave threat.

Various techniques, honed over a decade, are applied to support this contention. If they are accepted as valid, al Qaeda will cease to exist or be “defeated” only when we run entirely out of tiny groups or individual nuts operating with al Qaeda-like aspirations.

One technique is to espy and assess various “linkages” or “connections” or “ties” or “threads” between and among a range of disparate terrorists or terrorist groups, most of which appear rather gossamer and of only limited consequence on closer examination.

Another is to darkly elevate the vague and the distinctly aspirational as if there were some tangible potential there. Thus, al Qaeda’s “ideology of the global jihad” still “survives,” we are told, and the group is “making provisions for the long term,” is “poised to survive,” “is regrouping,” is “not entirely isolated,” might work with Iran because “they share a common enemy,” has been “embraced” by a Nigerian group with purely local concerns, has provided “strategic advice,” has “inspired” a number of inept would-be amateur terrorists here and there, and has been thinking about plotting the assassination of Barack Obama.

A third technique is to exaggerate the importance and effectiveness of the “affiliated groups” linked to al Qaeda central. In particular, alarmists point to the al Qaeda affiliate in chaotic Yemen, proclaiming it to be the “deadliest” and the “most aggressive” of these and a “major threat.”

Insofar as it threatens the United States, the Yemen group has been elevated by two efforts at international terrorism, both of which failed abysmally.

It apparently supplied the 2009 underwear bomber with an explosive that he was unable to detonate, one that, a test by the BBC suggests, might not have downed his plane even if it had gone off.

The other failure is the foiled effort to set off bombs contained within laser printers on planes bound for the United States in 2010. The organization explained that one of their packages contained a copy of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations to express its optimism about the operation’s success even as the group promised more such attacks. The optimism, and thus far the promise, have gone unfulfilled.

With that track record, the group may pose a problem or concern to the United States. But it scarcely presents a “major threat.”

Much of the alarmist perspective has been generated in opposition to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s contention last year that “we’re within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.” Insofar as this declaration can be decoded, it actually seems to be supported by the alarmists’ own admission that “the organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone” and that it no longer plays “a major strategic and operational role.”

More important, however, is to supply some degree of quantitative heft to an evaluation of the “threat.”

To the administration’s claim that it is trying “to keep our country safe,” Associated Press intelligence writer Kimberly Dozier rhetorically observes, “How safe remains in question.”

But there is a perfectly valid method for assessing the question and for measuring the risk international terrorism presents to the United States. At current rates, an American’s chance of becoming a victim of terrorism in the United States is about 1 in 3.5 million per year. In comparison, that same American stands a 1 in 22,000 yearly chance of becoming a homicide victim, a 1 in 8,000 chance of perishing in an auto accident, and a 1 in 500 chance of dying from cancer.

These calculations are based, of course, on historical data. However, the terrorism data include not only 9/11, but also the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and alarmists who would reject such history need to explain why they think terrorists will suddenly become vastly more competent in the future.

But no one seems to be making that argument. Indeed, notes Dozier, U.S. officials say al Qaeda has become less capable of a large attack like 9/11.

She also discloses that these officials made this brave disclosure only on condition of anonymity because they feared that “publicly identifying themselves could make them a target” of terrorists. Meanwhile, however, terrorism specialist Peter Bergen observed to Dozier in heroic full attribution mode that “The last terror attack (in the West) was seven years ago in London,” that there “haven’t been any major attacks in the U.S.,” and that “they are recruiting no-hopers and dead-enders.”

The problem is that there is an endless supply of no-hopers and dead-enders out there.

And also, it appears, of terrorism alarmists.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

If Only Politicians Were More Like Good Parents

Sometimes I wish politicians were more like good parents. I know that doesn’t sound very libertarian – the last thing we want is for politicians to become humanity’s moms and dads – but there’s at least one thing good parents do that most politicians constantly avoid: saying “no.”

When kids want their food pyramids to have a base of candy, center of ice cream, and peak of ice cream with candy sprinkles, good parents say “no.”

When young ‘uns want to show off their mumblety-peg skills with the Bowie knife they found in dad’s old camping gear, good parents say “no.”

And when the children want to borrow the family sedan for a little off-road speed competition, good parents say “no.”

Of course, saying no all the time doesn’t make life with the kiddos easy or fun. The kids get angry. Mom and dad fume. “I hate you” may even be uttered. But refusing to help the children seriously endanger their arteries, digits, or worse – even if it makes the parents’ life tougher – is what good parenting is all about.

If only our politicians would exercise the same restraint. But they don’t, with the latest case-in-point being the drive to keep interest rates on subsidized federal student loans at super-low levels.  It will be the centerpiece of a three-state presidential tour beginning today.

Currently, interest rates on subsidized loans – loans on which Washington pays the interest while a borrower is in school and for a six-month period after graduation – are at 3.4 percent, a surface-skimming level reached after the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 cut rates in half over a five year period. Rates are scheduled to return to 6.8 percent in July.

The argument proffered for keeping the rates at 3.4 percent is that interest rates generally are at historic lows, and 6.8 percent would simply be too high. Much more important, though, seems to be the political reality: President Obama appears intent on currying favor with both college students and, frankly, any voters looking at exorbitant college prices and asking “how the heck am I going to pay for that?”

But it’s not just the current president who appears to be playing politics. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP challenger to Mr. Obama, yesterday also urged Congress to freeze the rate at 3.4 percent.

This certainly looks like election-year politics, and no doubt the unusual focus on student loan rates – not exactly a political thriller – stems from that. But the reality is that policymakers have been lavishing cheap money on students for decades because it helps keep relations cordial with the kiddos. The ultimate result, however, hasn’t been greater college affordability, but damage inflicted on millions of Americans.

First and foremost, all the cheap aid has enabled colleges to raise their prices at breakneck speeds, rendering the aid largely self-defeating and college pricing insane.

Second, giving dirt-cheap ducats to wannabe students – no matter how poorly prepared they are, or how little they actually want to tackle college work – has resulted in massive overconsumption and noncompletion of postsecondary education, and left millions without the earnings-upping degrees they need to pay their college debts. At four-year institutions more than 40 percent of first-time, full-time students fail to complete their studies within six-years, and in community colleges almost 80 percent don’t finish in three years. Most not done in those time frames will never finish.

Finally, there’s the cost to taxpayers. Overall, federal student loans originated in just 2010-11 involved $104 billion in taxpayer money, and if those loans don’t get paid back, or interest rates are slashed, it is taxpayers who will take the hit. That, of course, seems unfair at any time, but making it even worse is that the nation is facing a nearly $16 trillion debt. But good luck getting the politicians to pin down the cuts that will offset the billions of bucks that will be lost if student loan rates are kept at 3.4 percent. Sure, you’ll get uber-confident promises that the move won’t cost taxpayers “one nickle,” but you sure won’t find anything concrete in the legislation that would keep rates low.

Federal student aid is, frankly, a classic example of garbage parenting. No matter how much damage the policies inflict, the politicians do anything they can to stay best friends with the kids.

Romney and Russia: Complicating American Relationships

Mitt Romney has become the inevitable Republican presidential candidate.  He’s hoping to paint Barack Obama as weak, but his attempt at a flanking maneuver on the right may complicate America’s relationship with Eastern Europe and beyond.

Romney recently charged Russia with being America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”  As Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest pointed out, this claim embodies a monumental self-contradiction, attempting to claim “credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, on the one hand [while] predicting dire threats from Russia on the other.”  Thankfully, the U.S.S.R. really is gone, and neither all the king’s men nor Vladimir Putin can put it back together.

It is important to separate behavior which is grating, even offensive, and that which is threatening.  Putin is no friend of liberty, but his unwillingness to march lock-step with Washington does not mean that he wants conflict with America. Gordon Hahn of CSIS observes:

Yet despite NATO expansion, U.S. missile defense, Jackson-Vanik and much else, Moscow has refused to become a U.S. foe, cooperating with the West on a host of issues from North Korea to the war against jihadism.  Most recently, Moscow agreed to the establishment of a NATO base in Ulyanovsk.

These are hardly the actions of America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” Romney’s charge is both silly and foolish.

This doesn’t mean the U.S. should not confront Moscow when important differences arise.  But treating Russia as an adversary risks encouraging it to act like one.

Moreover, treating Moscow like a foe will make Russia more suspicious of America’s relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact and republics of the Soviet Union—and especially Washington’s determination to continue expanding NATO.  After all, if another country ostentatiously called the U.S. its chief geopolitical threat, ringed America with bases, and established military relationships with areas that had broken away from the U.S., Washington would not react well.  It might react, well, a lot like Moscow has been reacting.

Although it has established better relations with the West, Russia still might not get along with some of its neighbors, most notably Georgia, with its irresponsibly confrontational president.  However, Washington should not give Moscow additional reasons to indulge its paranoia.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Romney’s National Security Problem

It appears some Republicans want to return to their familiar national security play book in their pursuit of the White House, accusing a Democratic president of gutting defense spending and undermining national security. An Associated Press story predicts that Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign may feature the “hawkish and often unilateral foreign policy prescriptions that guided Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.” But the calls from Republican operatives and GOP hawks for Romney to slam Obama for cutting the military and drawing down in Afghanistan are hollow. Focusing on national security isn’t likely to score Romney any political points. To the extent that foreign policy matters in this election, Romney’s policies are both misguided, and at odds with what the American people want.

For one thing, Romney’s prescriptions for Afghanistan aren’t so different from Barack Obama; where they are different, they are politically unpopular. From yesterday’s New York Times:

For Mr. Romney, the evolving politics of the Afghan conflict suggest that he “wouldn’t get a lot of juice for making the argument to stay,” said Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University. “The problem he’s got is, how he can criticize the president by adopting a policy remarkably similar to the president. He’s obviously got to criticize him, but he doesn’t have that much to work with.”

But the problem extends beyond Afghanistan. The more Romney talks about “staying the course” in an unpopular war, the more he sounds like the last GOP presidential nominee. John McCain’s campaign boast that he would rather lose an election than lose a war should haunt the party: he delivered neither a political victory for Republicans, nor a military victory in Iraq. Romney’s embrace of the Afghan quagmire could seal the GOP’s fate as the party that happily defies the wishes of the American people in order to fight costly and interminable nation-building missions in distant lands.

On defense spending, Romney’s approach has been “Fire. Ready. Aim.” He has accused Obama of short-changing the military, and pledges to spend at least 4 percent of the nation’s GDP on the Pentagon’s base budget, a promise that would bring spending to levels unprecedented since the end of World War II. Romney has yet to spell out what other spending he would cut, or what taxes he would increase, in order to make up what I estimate to be $2.5 trillion in additional spending over the next decade. Or he could just add to the deficit, as George W. Bush did. Team Obama would be smart to press Romney for clarification.

But Obama himself is to blame for misleading the public about military spending. Although he boasts of having cut $487 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade, his budget submission for FY 2013 represented only a slight decline below the previous year, and is still above the average during the Bush years. If Obama gets his way, the Pentagon’s budget would rise to near historic highs again by the end of the decade. (For more on this, see here.)

Therefore, far from believing that Obama has gone too far in cutting military spending, as Romney contends, many Americans believe that the cuts could go much deeper. That is the take away from Yochi Dreazen’s story in this week’s National Journal. Noting that we have the biggest and second-biggest air forces in the world (the Air Force and the Navy, respectively) and 11 aircraft carriers to China’s one (which isn’t exactly state-of-the-art), Dreazen quotes an exasperated T.X. Hammes, a professor at the National Defense University, and a 30-year Marine veteran, “the services keep saying that we need to be big. What’s the justification? Based on what threat? I’m just not sure I see the logic.”

A companion story at NJ by George E. Condon Jr. shows that Hammes isn’t alone. A recent Gallup poll found that 41 percent of Americans think we spend too much on the military as opposed to just 24 percent who think we don’t spend enough. It is that latter segment of the population, presumably, that Romney has locked up with his four percent promise. But it is hard to see how his stance will win over the war-weary public that isn’t anxious to repeat our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures, and that isn’t looking to boost military spending, either.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Ed Gillespie, Flip Flopper

In the March/April issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie opened an article titled “How to Beat Obama” with this paragraph:

In an American election focused on a lousy economy and high unemployment, conventional wisdom holds that foreign policy is one of Barack Obama’s few strong suits. But the president is strikingly vulnerable in this area. The Republican who leads the GOP ticket can attack him on what Obama mistakenly thinks is his major strength by translating the center-right critique of his foreign policy into campaign themes and action. Here’s how to beat him.

There are two basic themes here: 1) that the conventional wisdom that foreign policy isn’t a big issue in this election is wrong, and 2) that foreign policy can and should be a winning issue for the GOP candidate. They go on to outline how [Mitt Romney] should try to make foreign policy an issue. Then, oddly, the article circles back around to this paragraph:

Absent a major international crisis, this election will be largely about jobs, spending, health care, and energy. Voters do, however, want a president who leads on the world stage and a commander in chief who projects strength, not weakness.

Now one of Romney’s foreign policy advisers is going on offense, saying that Obama’s approach to strategy could be characterized as a game of “Mother, may I?

So–should the GOP try to make foreign policy an issue or not? The idea that foreign policy can be a winning issue for Romney was interesting to me, and I criticized the Rove/Gillespie article here (with Rob Farley) and here in a podcast. So I was intrigued when Chris Wallace asked Gillespie on Fox News Sunday, “In one paragraph, two or three sentences, what’s the choice for voters?” Here’s Gillespie’s response:

The choice for voters is if we are going to have a dynamic pro-growth economy based on free enterprise, that creates jobs, that lifts people out of poverty, that provides upward mobility for someone like my father who was an immigrant, who came to this country and was able to become a small business owner, versus a government-centered society – one that requires, you know, to meet mandates and comply with regulations and fill out forms and seek waivers, and try to get your subsidies, where people in Washington, D.C. are making decisions about how people their spend money, as oppose to free enterprise and personal religious freedom and personal freedom that has made this country great and has helped to create more jobs than anything, any government we’ve ever seen.

Not a word about foreign policy. It will be interesting to see if Rove and Gillespie prevail on Romney and get him to try to make foreign policy an issue. Beyond inchoate laments about Obama not understanding American exceptionalism, not “leading” and nonspecific rhetoric like that, I’m betting they won’t.

Gingrich Campaign Responds: Newt Counsels States to ‘Resist’ Implementation of ObamaCare

Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign has responded to my post, “Gingrich Adviser Urges States to Implement ObamaCare,” in which I responded to David Merritt’s Daily Caller op-ed calling on states to create ObamaCare’s health insurance Exchanges. According to Gingrich campaign spokesman Joe DeSantis:

Mr. Merritt is still an advisor to Speaker Gingrich, but he was not writing this article as a representative of the campaign. Newt receives advice from a large number of people. That does not mean he always agrees with the advice he is given. In this case of states implementing ObamaCare as a precaution, he explicitly disagrees with Mr. Merritt. He believes states need to resist the implementation of the law because it is a threat to our freedom.

That’s welcome news. There’s probably nothing that would give a bigger boost to the repeal effort than for states to refuse to create health insurance Exchanges.

Now that we’ve got the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrich on board, perhaps Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul could emphasize to state officials the importance of not implementing ObamaCare.