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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Mulhern

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Mulhern

Last Build Date: Mon, 01 Oct 2007 09:30:48 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Why Fred Thompson Will Win

Mon, 01 Oct 2007 09:30:48 -0600

John McCain's candidacy may not be dead, but then again, neither is Ariel Sharon. McCain has been at war with the Republican Party for a decade. The idea that he could win the GOP's presidential nomination was never more than a fantasy. His presence in the race will soon become an embarrassment, if it isn't one already. Mitt Romney oscillates between the low teens and single digits in national polls. He does better in Iowa and New Hampshire where he has spent a great deal of time and money in the hope that he can ride a wave of early momentum to victory. It won't happen. The only evidence that Romney can generate significant support comes from states where he has campaigned essentially unopposed by kicking his effort into high gear months before anyone else. In the last few weeks before the voting starts the political landscape will be very different and much more crowded. Romney can't sustain the support he currently shows in Iowa and New Hampshire unless he can make himself considerably more appealing that he has managed to be so far. Even his greatest admirers usually concede that he is too slick and too packaged to seem entirely trustworthy. As the polling data so far indicates, the great majority of Republican voters are going to choose somebody else when they judge him alongside their other choices. Oddly, Mitt Romney gives me new insight into Bill Clinton's career. I always used to wonder how much of Clinton's appeal, such as it was, depended on his flaws rather than his strengths. Could Clinton have been so charming to so many without the selfishness, the total lack of self-discipline, the sexual incontinence, the dishonesty, the flabby physique and the swollen nose? Did he depend on his repulsive and dysfunctional traits to humanize him? Romney's struggle to connect with voters suggests that he did. Sorry Governor, the voters just don't warm to guys who are classically handsome, athletic, rich, intelligent, decent, and also ambitious enough to be supple about their political principles. You could try taking a personal interest in some interns, but that probably won't work for a Republican. Romney would do better, despite his slippery persona, if he could only learn to communicate without dropping into MBA speak. Everything for Mitt is a PowerPoint presentation to potential investors. Consider his approach to the central problem facing our war planners - what to do about Iran? He has a five point plan: Specifically, we must: - First, continue to tighten economic sanctions. - Second, impose diplomatic isolation on Iran's Government. - Third, have Arab states join this effort to prevent a nuclear Iran. - Fourth, make it clear that while nuclear capabilities may be a source of pride, it can also be a source of peril. The military option remains on the table. - Fifth, integrate our strategy into a broader approach to the broader Muslim world--including working with our NATO allies and with progressive Muslim communities and leaders to build a partnership for prosperity. This is drivel. The fourth point is supposed to be a threat, but it sounds pro forma. The rest of it is perfect nonsense which leaches away any impact the anemic threat might have had. There are no meaningful sanctions to tighten. We can't impose diplomatic isolation on Iran and if we did the Iranian government wouldn't care. Arab states can't do anything to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions and even if they could they wouldn't dare. As for number five, what is he talking about? Dumping money on an Arab world already awash in petrodollars? If I were one of the mad mullahs I wouldn't be losing any sleep for fear that Mitt Romney might be the next Commander-in-Chief. As a voter, I can't see any reason to entrust my family's safety to him. He plainly isn't the guy to inspire a nation at war. What about America's Mayor? After the McCain campaign went on life support, conventional wisdom converted from the belief that Republicans would anoint McCain because it was "his turn" to a new and equally irrational faith. The cat[...]

Can Giuliani Help Social Conservatives?

Mon, 19 Mar 2007 08:30:13 -0600

All these questions are interesting but the most engaging political question at this stage in process of picking our next president has to do with Rudy Giuliani. - Can America's mayor win support from enough social conservatives to win the Republican nomination? Maybe not, but social conservatives should think long and hard before they decide to pass on Giuliani. This may be difficult advice to credit. Giuliani is thoroughly alienated from the dominant concerns of the social right. The bundle of social issues that provoke so much vitriol in our politics arise out of the effort to reverse society's moral decay. Social conservatives see a country with declining respect for the value of human life, and they don't want government to hasten the decline by celebrating abortion and indiscriminately funding the destruction of human embryos for research. They see a country that no longer understands what sex is for and they don't want government promoting further confusion by equating homosexual alliances with traditional marriage. Giuliani's career in electoral politics began in New York City where moral decay was both far enough advanced to be immune from direct attack and eclipsed by other more immediate concerns. Giuliani couldn't have done any good by preaching to New Yorkers about the value of human life and the teleology of sex. They needed someone to protect their lives from rampant crime and their livings from a local government that had been determined to beggar them all. Mayor Giuliani delivered what they needed most. He reclaimed New York City from the toxic leftism of his predecessors but in the process identified himself with the moral elements of their leftism. He proclaimed himself "pro-choice" and even indicated he would vote against banning partial birth abortion. He has been open to "civil unions" and doesn't seem to understand the downside of giving a government stamp of approval to homosexual relationships. All of this is disturbing, but social conservatives are concerned about social rot and Giuliani is one of the very few executives in the history of the world with a record of reversing rot. This is appealing. On September 11, 2001 and the days that followed he auditioned for commander in chief and the audition went well. This too is appealing. If we don't bestir ourselves to win our war with Islamic fascism, the moral state of our civilization won't matter. We won't be around to wallow in sin. Giuliani's upside has earned him front-runner status in the opening months of the presidential election process. Conventional wisdom says, however, that Giuliani will stumble when socially conservative Republican primary voters get to know his record. Conventional wisdom is usually wrong and this time is unlikely to be an exception. Social conservatives will probably be drawn to Giuliani in ever greater numbers as the campaign progresses. Many of them will conclude that he is more likely to advance their agenda than nearly anyone else their party could nominate. They will reach this conclusion because it is probably true. A president who fully grasps both the value of human life and the destructive nature of the homosexual "rights" movement isn't necessarily of much use to the social right. Consider the example of the present incumbent. George W. Bush has socially conservative opinions but he avoids confrontation with the cultural left the way cats avoid water. Even when he does the right thing he feels compelled to do it in an apologetic, almost cringing way that empowers his enemies and dispirits his supporters. He will nominate sound judges (most of the time) but never make the case that Roe v. Wade needs to be overturned because it is the cornerstone of the left's profoundly destructive jurisprudence of judicial supremacy. He will stand against federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research but never articulate the strong libertarian basis for that stand or attack the callous disdain his political opponents show for the inherent value of human life. He will say as little as[...]

Will the Next Attack Get Our Attention?

Wed, 17 Jan 2007 14:30:52 -0600

The whole relevant political spectrum from Nancy Pelosi to George W. Bush has misled the American public about our enemies. Nobody who matters has been willing to identify the people we need to fight, describe their motivations accurately and explain how we can defeat them. Instead we remain embroiled in a sterile debate about how to control the violence in Iraq. President Bush has just unveiled his "new way forward" which involves more troops and more aggressive and tenacious tactics in trouble spots. He hasn't announced any plans to engineer regime change in either Syria or Iran. Democrats are gearing up to make a lot of noise in support of ignominious withdrawal from Iraq before gracelessly accepting the inevitable reality that the Commander in Chief calls the shots in wartime. This way they hope to appease their defeatist constituency without having to take the fall for yet another surrender and the blood bath that would certainly ensue. The entire discussion is surreal. The public debate gives very little indication that our troubles in Iraq are just one part of a much larger strategic problem. It is as if the allies, having conquered Sicily in August 1943, agreed that the troops should all come home without bothering to invade the mainland of Europe, either in Italy or France. Try to imagine Franklin Roosevelt reduced to arguing with congressional critics over whether American forces should leave the Sicilian quagmire immediately or stick around long enough to eradicate the Mafia and teach the Sicilians to rise above traditional vendettas. When a war leader has to engage in that sort of debate, things aren't going well. Pacifying Iraq is not now and never has been an important end in its own right. A peaceful and cooperative Iraq might be useful in our ongoing struggle against the terror masters in Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran. But, apart from George Bush's insubstantial notion that Iraq can be a democratic inspiration to the rest of the Arab world, our leaders don't seem to have any idea how we can use the conquest of Iraq to undermine our enemies in the surrounding countries. They have no apparent intention of doing so. President Bush doesn't talk about using the conquest of Iraq as a weapon against Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Instead he never misses an opportunity to claim that our goal in Iraq is to create the conditions that will make it possible to bring our forces home. But the idea that we have a job to do in Iraq that will come to an end any time in the foreseeable future is absurd. We may establish a political equilibrium in Iraq that looks very much like peace but that equilibrium will last only as long as we have significant forces there to maintain it. When we insisted on a democratic Iraq we ensured that Iraq would remain dependent on American troops indefinitely. Apparently, the Bush administration either forgot or never learned that most "democracies" look a lot like two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner. Without our supervision any elected Iraqi government will rapidly degenerate into an extraordinarily well-equipped sectarian militia serving the interests of the Shiite majority. Sunnis, with the support of friendly neighboring governments, will fight to resist Shiite domination. Kurds will seize whatever advantage they can from the resulting chaos as will Iraq's neighbors, in particular Iran. The result will be a humanitarian disaster. It will also be a fatal blow to our war against militant Islam. It doesn't matter whether we leave Iraq in chaos or leave after order is established and then watch it lapse back into chaos. Either way we will suffer a catastrophic defeat. We have taken on an imperial role in Iraq and Great Britain's imperial history is instructive. When you assume the task of running a foreign country there is no tidy way to disengage. The British East India Company conquered India starting in 1757. After the Sepoy Mutiny a hundred years later, the British Government took over and ran India for 89 years.[...]

The Way Forward

Fri, 12 Jan 2007 10:06:16 -0600

For three long years the President has stuck with a strategy of treading lightly and leaving barely discernible footprints. The idea was that if we avoided rubbing Iraqi noses in the brutal fact that we had conquered their country the "insurgency" would die out for lack of fuel. It doesn't take hindsight to realize that this idea was foolish. Mr. Bush and Michael Moore shared a diagnosis of the problem to be solved in Iraq. The porcine propagandist viewed Iraqi insurgents as latter day minutemen fighting for their freedom. The President and his national security team adopted this theory when they decided that we could disarm the insurgency by making our forces conspicuously benign. Of course violence in Iraq was never the result of resentment created by our occupation. It was the natural result of ancient hatreds combined with a power vacuum. Sunni and Shia will kill each other given half a chance. A disconcerting number of Muslims of either stripe will kill Americans given half a chance. When we took Iraq but shrank from controlling it we gave killers the chance to kill. The President's new way forward seems to recognize this, which represents significant progress. But on a number of key points his message is fuzzy. At last, the President says, we are committed to filling the power vacuum and controlling Iraq. Our troops will have less restrictive Rules of Engagement. This is encouraging, but the President didn't tell us much about precisely how the ROE in Iraq will change. The President also says we will defend Iraq against the outside interference that has fueled the fighting there. Here again, it is not at all clear what he means: Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq. If this means we're going to start striking targets in Iran and Syria and sending captured Iranian terrorists to Club Gimo, the new way forward will truly be a turning point. Unfortunately it probably means no such thing and it may mean nothing at all, the recent raid on an Iranian consulate notwithstanding. Imagine the outcry that would arise if the terrorist infrastructure in Syria started falling prey to precision guided munitions. The more likely any tactical or strategic innovation is to work the more passionately Democrats will fight it. The President is also vague about another crucial aspect of his new approach to Iraq. He says, quite correctly that we cannot accept failure in Iraq. He says that the Iraqi government has to perform better if we are to succeed and that "our commitment is not open-ended." If the Iraqi government can't do what needs to be done it "will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people." This is widely-interpreted as a threat that America will bug out of Iraq if Prime Minister al-Maliki and his cohorts don't get their stuff together at last. But this interpretation makes complete nonsense of the President's argument. If we can't accept failure in Iraq our commitment is open-ended and we can't punish the Maliki government for failure by upping stakes and leaving it to stew in its own juice. If that's what the President is threatening he is making a mistake every parent has made at least once. If, for example, your child isn't doing well enough in school you can't say "education is vitally important and if you don't do better I'm pulling you out of school and shipping you off to work in a Pakistani rug factory." Even dim-witted kids can recognize a contradiction. Maybe t[...]

A Democrat Restoration?

Wed, 15 Nov 2006 14:40:45 -0600

Victory will make them feel better the same way that morphine eases a terminal patient's pain. But like morphine, victory won't change the long-term prognosis and it may even push the patient over the edge. The Democrats' life-threatening disease is a cancer of the left. Their core constituency consists of extremists who repel the overwhelming majority of American voters. Much as Democrats try to balance the game with hysterical assaults on "the religious right," Republicans have no analogous political problem. American politics has never been the battle between left an right that most observers imagine it to be. Ours was a liberal nation at its founding and it remains so today. No major political party has ever stepped out of that tradition toward the right. European blood and soil conservatism has no place here; our politics has no scary right wing, despite the fervid imaginations of some on the left. But we do have a left wing which has rejected the American liberal tradition. In a bizarre example of newspeak we call the enthusiastic supporters of that wing "liberals." They are, in fact, bitterly disappointed socialist/collectivists. The 20th Century put paid to their utopian dreams and left them with no positive vision to pursue. After Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, et al., collectivism just won't sell in the U.S. Unfortunately collectivists haven't given up politics. Instead they use politics to commit cultural vandalism, doing what they can to destroy the civilization that spoiled their dream. The real battle lines in American politics are drawn between the socialist vandals and people who see a fragile civilization under attack and try to defend it. The great bulk of the American electorate occupies the no man's land between these camps and tries to avoid giving offense on either side. Americans value our civilization and its liberal tradition but most of them have no idea how fragile those things are and barely an inkling that they are under attack. The Democrats are in an untenable political position because most of their votes come from Americans who want to protect and preserve our civilization, while their intellectual and financial support comes principally from people who want to destroy it. This coalition can't last. The effort to keep all their constituent parts together has already twisted the Democrats into knots and their situation will only get worse. Of course "liberals" don't admit that they are trying to destroy civilization. This, however, is the only hypothesis that makes sense of their strange assortment of policy prescriptions both foreign and domestic. On the domestic side, the left works tirelessly to promote the importation of Latin America's corrupt, collectivist political culture through unrestrained immigration and lax enforcement of the rule that only citizens can vote. Leftists also work to expand the welfare state which enervates and infantilizes the electorate. Above all, they work to demolish the moral underpinnings of our freedom and prosperity. Our civilization has succeeded in large part because Christianity got morality right, and the left has devoted itself to uprooting Christian morality. It has also devoted itself to separating Christianity from our public life. No civilization has ever survived cut off from its moral and spiritual traditions, but this doesn't seem to bother the left. Consider two principles grounded in Christian theology, central to our civilization's success and under relentless attack from the left. First, the principle that God made us in his image and loves each of us individually. Second, Christian monogamy and the principle that our sexuality is good when, and only when, it serves the purpose of creating and sustaining families. The first of these principles is the spring from which all human rights flow. It teaches us that humanity is inherently precious and that human life and dignity demand respect. The second stabilizes our civiliz[...]

Finding Wisdom in the Wreckage

Thu, 09 Nov 2006 14:27:50 -0600

Voters didn't like events in Iraq two years ago and they put President Bush on probation. They gave him a dangerously narrow reelection victory against an inept candidate with a long history of anti-American activism, a figure who should have been buried under a landslide that would make 1972 look like a squeaker. Two years later nothing had changed except that the voters were out of patience. In the anticipation, I believed that voters, however disgruntled, would vote more or less as they did in 2004. We all knew they were exasperated about Iraq but the Democrats couldn't propose anything other than defeat, either phased or immediate. The choice between an unsatisfactory status quo and an uncertain but plainly worse alternative seemed to me like a no-brainer. The voters saw it differently and their judgment deserves respect. Republicans need to look back, consider where they went wrong and chart a new course for the future. The Iraq PR Disaster Why did Iraq become a public relations disaster? Answering this question has become an inside the beltway cottage industry. It was a disaster instead of a decisive victory, we are told, because the Bush administration committed this, that or the other blunder. It didn't send enough troops, it disbanded the Iraqi army, it didn't adopt just the right counter-insurgency tactics, and so on. Critics of every stripe harp particularly on our troop commitment. There is now a bipartisan consensus that we are failing in Iraq because we never had enough Soldiers and Marines on the ground to succeed. In Washington there is no more reliable indicator of error than a bipartisan consensus. The problem in Iraq is much larger than mere short-staffing and it isn't a question of tactics. The problem in Iraq goes back to 1999 when Republicans, desperate for a presidential win, overlooked the intellectual incoherence of "compassionate conservatism" and embraced Governor Bush of Texas as their nominee. George W. Bush is a genuinely decent man. The compassionate part of his approach to politics isn't sales patter. It is a profound part of the man he is. Cold calculation doesn't come naturally to him. In domestic politics this means, for example, that he can't even seem seriously to consider whether a Medicare prescription drug benefit will make our health care financing system better or worse. When someone is hurting the government must move because, well, because it must. The same blinding compassion is disabling for Bush the war leader. In the aftermath of 9/11 any minimally responsible American government would have had to topple Saddam Hussein. We were at war with Hussein (yes, a real shooting war) and we were losing. When the twin towers fell we all knew, at some level, that the Arab world had challenged us. We couldn't respond to that challenge by losing a war to our most vocal and visible Arab enemy. We had to assert our dominance, and Iraq, a major, oil-producing enemy just above the Arabian Peninsula, was the logical place to do it. George W. Bush was not the man for this job. Instead of pivoting out of Afghanistan and descending on Iraq like a biblical plague, he took a long detour through the United Nations to argue about flouted resolutions and weapons of mass destruction. The Blunder When we finally got around to an invasion we had to put a humanitarian gloss on an essential demonstration of our power. Instead of Operation Arab Smackdown we got Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was the true blunder that turned Iraq from a political asset into a liability. This blunder belongs to George W. Bush and George W. Bush alone, even though Don Rumsfeld has now paid for it with his job. Most Americans intuitively understand that our survival depends on maintaining our dominant position in the world and that to do so we have to answer all challengers and leave no serious enemy standing. To be the World's hyperpower is to wear a target. With technology thre[...]