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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Herbert Meyer

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Herbert Meyer





Last Build Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2007 14:30:17 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007
 



The War About the War

Tue, 10 Jul 2007 14:30:17 -0600

Perception Two: We're Reaping What We've Sowed There are quite a few people in the world who just don't like the United States and some of our allies because of how we live and, more precisely, because of the policies we pursue in the Mideast and elsewhere in the world. Alas, a small percentage of these people express their opposition through acts of violence. While we sometimes share their opinion of our values and our policies, we cannot condone their methods. Our objective must be to bring the level of political violence down to an acceptable level. The only way to accomplish this will be to simultaneously adjust our values and our policies while protecting ourselves from these intermittent acts of violence; in doing so we must be careful never to allow the need for security to override our civil liberties. There is no middle ground between these two perceptions. Of course, you can change a word here and there, or modify a phrase, but the result will be the same. Either we're at war, or we've entered a period of history in which the level of violence has risen to an unacceptable level. If we're at war, we're in a military conflict that will end with either our victory or our defeat. If we're in an era of unacceptable violence stemming from our values and our policies, we are faced with a difficult but manageable political problem. Splitting the Difference Since the 9-11 attacks, President Bush has been trying to split the difference. It's obvious that he, personally, subscribes to Perception One. Just read his formal speeches about the conflict, such as those he's given to Congress and at venues such as West Point. They are superb and often brilliant analyses of what he calls the War on Terror. Yet he hasn't done things that a president who truly believes that we're at war should have done. For instance, in the aftermath of 9-11 he didn't ask Congress for a declaration of war, didn't bring back the draft, and didn't put the US economy on a wartime footing. A president at war would have taken out Iran's government after overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan -- and then sent 500,000 troops into Iraq, rather than just enough troops to remove Saddam Hussein but not enough to stabilize that country. And a president at war would have long since disposed of Syria's murderous regime and helped the Israelis wipe out Hezbollah. Study history, and you quickly learn that oftentimes events and the responses they generate look different a hundred years after they happen than they look at the time. It may be that history will judge that President Bush performed heroically, doing the very best that anyone could do given the two incompatible perceptions about the conflict that have divided public opinion and raised the level of partisanship in Washington to such a poisonous level. Or, it may be that history will judge the President to have been a failure because he responded to 9-11 as a politician rather than as a leader. Either way, it is the ongoing war about the war that accounts for where we are today, nearly six years after the 9-11 attacks: We haven't lost, but we aren't winning; fewer of us have been killed by terrorists than we had feared would be killed, but we aren't safe. While experts disagree about how "the war" is going, there isn't much disagreement over how the war about the war is going: those who subscribe to Perception Two are pulling ahead. Here in the US, virtually every poll shows that a majority of Americans want us "out of Iraq" sooner rather than later, and regardless of what's actually happening on the ground in that country. Support for taking on Iran - that is, for separating the Mullahs from the nukes through either a military strike or by helping Iranians to overthrow them from within - is too low even to measure. There isn't one candidate for president in either party who's campaigning on a theme of "let's fight harder and win this thing whatever it takes." Indeed, the most hawkish position is merely to stay the course a while longer to give the current "surge" in Iraq a fa[...]



Ronald Reagan: The Crusader

Tue, 16 Jan 2007 10:30:59 -0600

The Toughest Negotiator Reagan was elected president of SAG seven times - which makes him among the most successful union bosses in American history, by the way - and as a result he probably engaged in more negotiating sessions with hard-headed corporate CEOs and egomaniacal prima donnas within the union itself than anyone ever elected to the White House. No wonder that, years later, Reagan ran circles around the Kremlin - and around a Democratic-controlled Congress. (Someone once asked the President if it was tough negotiating with the Russians. Reagan replied, "No, it was tough negotiating with Jack Warner.") Moreover, in the late 1940s and early 1950s SAG was among the communists' top takeover targets. The communists wanted control of all our country's unions, of course, but SAG topped their list simply because it was "Hollywood" and so its influence on American culture was enormous. As Kengor shows, it was Reagan who led the fight to stop the communists. It's an astonishing thought, but Reagan was the only American politician who had blocked a communist takeover of anything before reaching the White House. Thirty years later, had Fidel Castro and the Kremlin's leaders remembered this, perhaps they wouldn't have been so surprised when President Reagan kicked them out of Grenada. Kengor provides a brief but riveting summary of Reagan's public utterances during the decades between the end of his Hollywood career and his White House years. What emerges from the long-forgotten quotes that Kengor has found is not only Reagan's deep interest in and detailed grasp of world affairs - and remember, in these years he had no staffers to brief him or do his research -- but his focus on key symbolic issues long before he held the world stage. For instance, in a 1967 CBS-TV debate with Senator Robert Kennedy - it was later conceded by everyone, including RFK himself, that Reagan had won the debate handily -- Reagan got onto the subject of US-Soviet relations: "When we signed the Consular Treaty with the Soviet Union, I think there were things we could've asked for in return. I think it would be very admirable if the Berlin Wall, which was built in direct contravention to a treaty, should disappear. I think this would be a step toward peace and toward self-determination for all people, if it were." In early June 1987, when the draft of President Reagan's forthcoming speech at the Brandenburg Gate circulated through the National Security Council and the State Department, those officials who tried to edit out the President's now-famous line -- "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" - had no idea how strongly the President felt about this, or even that he had been calling for the Wall's destruction for more than 20 years. Hitting the Kremlin Hard Of course, most of The Crusader deals with the White House years, and Kengor's account of how the Reagan team ended the Cold War peacefully is a masterpiece of geo-strategic reporting. Kengor has gotten his hands on just about the entire series of "NSDDs" - National Security Decision Directives - produced by the Reagan team. And he uses excerpts from these NSDDs to explain, more clearly than any previous historian, that the President's policy initiatives were the result of a carefully thought-through, meticulously detailed strategy based on identification of the Soviet Union's key weaknesses - chief among them its imploding economy - followed by the execution of specific policies designed to take advantage of these weaknesses by putting more pressure on the Kremlin than it could withstand. These included policies to limit Soviet energy exports, thus blocking the Soviet Union's access to desperately needed hard currency, funding and otherwise supporting anti-communist insurgencies, and of course publicly declaring the Soviet Union to be "the focus of evil in the world" - which rallied oppressed citizens from Poland to Vladivostok and which, even more importantly, terrified the Kremlin's ageing leaders because, unlike the President's domestic fo[...]



The Generals are Revolting

Wed, 19 Apr 2006 17:41:19 -0600

The word "crisp" doesn't leap to mind, does it? And Major General Paul Eaton claims now that Secretary Rumsfeld alienated his allies in our own military, ignoring the advice of seasoned officers. This sounds serious, but surely General Eaton could have told us what advice these seasoned officers gave that was ignored. Was it about the war, or about force re-structuring - or about the design of new uniforms? In all, the generals' comments are so muddled--so imprecise and unfocused--that it's tempting to dismiss these generals the way Groucho Marx, as the premier of Fredonia in Duck Soup, dismissed the peasants who had risen against him: Guard: "Sire, the peasants are revolting." Groucho: "They certainly are." But our country is at war and our soldiers' lives are at stake, so it's worth some effort to try and untangle the lines, and to pin down just what it is the generals are trying to say: In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, some former military commanders, members of Congress and civilian analysts voiced concerns that President Bush wasn't committing enough troops to the looming fight. The only active-duty commander who seems to have publicly voiced this concern at the time was Army chief-of-staff General Eric Shinseki, who quickly found himself unwelcome at the Pentagon. (His successor was named unusually early, and it was made clear that Shinseki's term of office wouldn't be extended.) It was a shabby way to treat this honorable officer, and it may well have sent a message to other generals that public dissent wasn't appreciated by Secretary Rumsfeld - or by the President. The "More Troops" Chorus Grew Louder After Baghdad fell and it became obvious that stabilizing Iraq was going to be harder than the Administration had thought, the chorus of those calling for more troops on the ground grew louder. Both the President and Secretary Rumsfeld responded to this criticism by asserting - time and again - that it was our commanders on the ground who determined troop levels in Iraq, and that these commanders had never been overruled by the Pentagon or the White House. To some of us who had either been in the military or had worked with the military, this seemed suspicious. Simply put, none of us had ever met a general who thought he had "enough" troops to accomplish whatever mission had been assigned to him. If our generals in Iraq were insisting that they had enough troops - when it appeared so obvious to so many of us that they didn't - either these generals were different from those we had known, or the President and Secretary Rumsfeld were being disingenuous. One explanation bandied about - in emails, phone calls and over drinks - was that our commanders in Iraq were "bureaucrats in uniform" who knew that asking for more troops would end their careers. After all, look what had happened to Shinseki. So they didn't ask for more troops. This meant the President and Secretary Rumsfeld were - technically - telling the truth when they claimed that they had never rejected a commander's request for more boots on the ground. Now, if any of these six retired generals is claiming that, in fact, he had requested more troops and was turned down by the President or the Secretary of Defense - then this really is big news. It would mean that President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld have been lying. This would lead not merely to Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation - but to the President's impeachment. As best I can tell, however, none of the six has explicitly made this claim. Moreover, none of these six retired generals either held the top slot in Iraq since the invasion or has served as the Army's or Marine Corps' chief-of-staff. This means that all of them reported during wartime not to the President, or even the Secretary of Defense, but to more senior officers. Again, the same question pops up: Are these six retired generals now asserting that while on active duty in Iraq they had asked their superior officers for more troops, and their requests[...]



Why Americans Hate This 'Immigration' Debate

Tue, 04 Apr 2006 00:16:51 -0600

To ordinary Americans, the definition of "immigration" is very specific: You come here with absolutely nothing except a burning desire to be an American. You start off at some miserable, low-paying job that at least puts a roof over your family's head and food on the table. You put your kids in school, tell them how lucky they are to be here - and make darn sure they do well even if that means hiring a tutor and taking a second, or third, job to pay for it. You learn English, even if you've got to take classes at night when you're dead tired. You play by the rules--which means you pay your taxes, get a driver's license and insure your car so that if yours hits mine, I can recover the cost of the damages. And you file for citizenship the first day you're eligible. Do all this and you become an American like all the rest of us. Your kids will lose their accents, move into the mainstream, and retain little of their heritage except a few words of your language and - if you're lucky--an irresistible urge to visit you now and then for some of mom's old-country cooking. This is how the Italians made it, the Germans made it, the Dutch made it, the Poles made it, the Jews made it, and more recently how the Cubans and the Vietnamese made it. The process isn't easy - but it works and that's the way ordinary Americans want to keep it. The Two Hispanic Groups But the millions of Hispanics who have come to our country in the last several decades - and it's the Hispanics we're talking about in this debate, not those from other cultures--are, in fact, two distinct groups. The first group is comprised of "immigrants" just like all the others, who have put the old country behind them and want only to be Americans. They aren't the problem. Indeed, most Americans welcome them among us, as we have welcomed so many other cultures. The problem is the second group of Hispanics. They aren't immigrants - which is what neither the Democratic or Republican leadership seems to understand, or wants to acknowledge. They have come here solely for jobs, which isn't the same thing at all. (And many of them have come here illegally.) Whether they remain in the U.S. for one year, or ten years - or for the rest of their lives - they don't conduct themselves like immigrants. Yes, they work hard to put roofs above their heads and food on their tables - and for this we respect them. But they have little interest in learning English themselves, and instead demand that we make it possible for them to function here in Spanish. They put their children in our schools, but don't always demand as much from them as previous groups demanded of their kids. They don't always pay their taxes - or insure their cars. In short, they aren't playing by the rules that our families played by when they immigrated to this country. And to ordinary Americans this behavior is deeply - very deeply - offensive. We see it unfolding every day in our communities, and we don't like it. This is what none of our politicians either understands, or dares to say aloud. Instead, they blather on - and on - about "amnesty" and "border security" without ever coming to grips with what is so visible, and so offensive, to so many of us - namely, all these foreigners among us who aren't behaving like immigrants. The phrase we use to describe foreigners who come here not as "immigrants" but merely for jobs is "guest workers." And we are told - incessantly - that we need these "guest workers" because they take jobs that Americans don't want and won't take themselves. This is true, but it's also disingenuous. Throughout our country's history, immigrants have always taken jobs that Americans don't want and won't take themselves. For crying out loud, no foreigner has ever come to our country out of a blazing ambition to dig ditches, mow lawns, bag groceries, sew clothing or clean other people's houses. If we hadn't always had a huge number of these miserable jobs available that none of "us" w[...]