There’s definitely some truth in this, and it’s something I recall from the aftermath of the 2004 campaign as well. Both elections went through a long phase where, to me, the focus on the race was primarily annoying — it doesn’t really involve writing on the topics I’m most interested in, and it narrows conversation into an unfortunate two-sided combat. But when you get down to the wire for the last couple of months, it’s thrilling despite all that and winds up sucking up a huge amount of emotional energy. Even being pretty tangentially involved in the whole thing, knowledge of the stakes and a sense of having some role to play winds up occupying a lot of time. Then when it’s done, there’s a sense of a bit of a void.
Surveying the challenges that await the new administration, Brian Katulis and Steve Bowden write that “a broader shift of US troops and resources from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan seems likely,” noting that General David Petraeus, the former top US commander in Iraq, “chose Pakistan as his first overseas visit in his new position as the head of the US Central Command covering the Middle East.”
During that visit, Pakistani leaders complained of continued U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan:
After the meeting with General Petraeus, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan said in a statement: “Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counterproductive and difficult to explain by a democratically elected government. It is creating a credibility gap.” [...]
The American missile attacks in the tribal areas were generating “anti-American sentiments” and creating “outrage and uproar among the people,” [Pakistani defense minister Ahmad] Mukhtar said in a statement.
A senior Pakistani military official said the army wanted to “bring home the point that the missile strikes are counterproductive, and that this is driving a wedge between the government and the tribal people.”
This MSNBC report on Pakistani reaction to Obama’s victory also has several respondents condemning U.S. airstrikes:
Akram Zaki, 75, a former diplomat, [said] “It’s time for Pakistan to wake up and shape up and demand the U.S. respect the resolutions of our own democratic Parliament and stop these drone attacks inside our borders.” [...]
A majority of Pakistanis still view the war on terror as America’s war and the missile attacks by unmanned U.S. predator drones on al-Qaida and Taliban targets inside the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border as a violation of their sovereignty.
“Despite billions of dollars that the Bush administration has poured into Pakistan, the U.S. government has not been successful in changing the perceptions of the Pakistanis towards the U.S,” said Imran Javaid, a property developer in Islamabad. “The constant U.S. drone attacks on us have made a considerable dent in our once good bi-lateral relations.”
In terms of containing the spread of Islamic extremism, the Pakistan relationship is arguably the most important one the United States has. The new administration has a tough job ahead between promoting Pakistani stability, encouraging and empowering the Pakistani government to deal with threats emanating from their territory, and doing what has to be done when they can’t or won’t.
As I’ve written before, I think a necessary first step in doing this is dumping the war on terror. Positing U.S anti-terrorism policy as an existential struggle in which there are two sides — A) “with us” or B) “against us” — needlessly puts a potentially unpopular and politically costly choice before those regimes whose cooperation we’re trying to secure. The government of Pakistan has an interest in stopping the spread of Salafist extremism, but it has no interest in signing on to a global war which looks to its own citizens too much like neo-imperialism.
Israeli Foreign Minister and likely Prime Minister Tzipi Livni wastes no time in offering a warning shot to Barack Obama, claiming that opening a dialogue with Iran would signal “weakness.”
To my mind what would signal weakness would be to reverse a major, high-profile campaign pledge that was attacked and defended in both the primary and general elections in response to a foreign politician’s statements and implicit threats of domestic political consequences. Meanwhile, with Obama securing nearly eighty percent of the Jewish vote, and new progressive Israel lobby J-Street helping power pro-peace members of congress to victory, Obama has every reason to think he can afford politically to follow through on his agenda. This is one of those issues where bold measures can be effectively married to bipartisan gestures in order to bring about lasting change.
In 1997, Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan co-founded the Project for a New American Century, a neoconservative organization meant “to promote American global leadership” through “military strength and moral clarity.” The organization, whose statement of principles was signed by right-wing luminaries such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, is largely credited with putting America on the path to a preventative invasion of Iraq.
In an interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday, Kristol said that he would like to set up a similar organization to operate during an Obama presidency:
HH: And I think he will be very concerned with the two issues I’m going to raise with you – national security and immigration. Now I believe the Committee On the Present Danger filled a need in the 70s which we need to reorganize an equivalent now. But what do you think, Bill Kristol?
BK: Oh, I agree, and we did a little of that in the 90s with the Project For the New American Century. And I actually think there are people talking about this. And there’s a lot of good foreign policy and defense thinking on our side, the Fred Kagans and Bob Kagans and Reuel Gerechts of the world, Victor Davis Hanson, et cetera. But a little bit of a political organization for them wouldn’t be bad. And I think we should support Obama, incidentally, if he does the right thing.
Not surprisingly, two of the conservative foreign policy thinkers mentioned by Kristol, Bob Kagan and Reuel Gerecht, were employed by the original PNAC. Fred Kagan and Victor Davis Hanson are currently at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, respectively.
I’m not going to try to pretend to have detailed opinions about all the Democratic heavyweights who’ll be getting jobs in an Obama administration. But now that it’s official, I do think the Rahm Emanuel selection illustrates the kind of line Obama needs to talk to assemble a successful team. On the one hand, he’s promised change and campaigned — at some points very explicitly — on an agenda of offering something more than a third term of the Clinton administration. On the other hand, he’s wisely taken from the missteps of the early Carter and Clinton years the idea that he needs a team that’s not just smart and well-meaning, but that actually knows what it’s doing. And since Carter left office 28 years ago that means, in practice, a heavy reliance on people who served in senior-level posts in the Clinton administration.
But one thing Emanuel has going for him is that though he certainly was a high-level Clinton aid, he hasn’t just been cooling his heels in the private sector or in some sinecure somewhere since leaving. He ran for congress and won. Then he secured a leadership position at the DCCC and helped guide the Democrats to wins in 2006. Then he moved up in the House leadership while keeping a toe in the DCCC side of things. He’s built an independent identity and reputation and achieved success that transcends the fact that Clinton liked him enough to give him an important job. I think that’s similar to what you see if you consider the record of CAP/CAPAF bossman and now transition bigwig John Podesta — he followed his act as chief of staff by building a new important institution from scratch. Along with people like that, Obama seems inclined to avail himself of the expertise of veteran non-Clintonite legislators like Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle to help with congressional relations.
And I think that’s the right lens through which to look at many of these choices — we’re seeing a search for people who are experienced and accomplished, not just graybeard time-servers. People like to pay a lot of attention to left-right ideological tensions, but the reality is that these gaps aren’t especially big and any realistic configuration of the Obama administration is going to leave it to the left of the views of pivotal legislators like the Blue Dog caucus, Max Baucus, Olympia Snowe, etc. The interesting issue is whether the team will be smart and capable enough to get stuff done, not how much hypothetical stuff would they do were they able to operate without constraint.
In a segment on the future of the GOP leadership published today, the Baltimore Sun puts the wrong picture of a South Asian male for its profile of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal’s actual picture is on the right:
The Sun has changed the incorrect picture.
Chris Dodd’s office has a statement out saying he’s going to stay on as chair of the Banking and Housing Committee (some had anticipated a move to HELP) and laying out his priorities, namely:
- Conducting intensive oversight of the Administration’s implementation of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act;
- Creating a 21st century financial architecture that spurs competition domestically and ensures that our financial institutions are properly capitalized, regulated, and supervised;
- Strengthening protections for consumers in the areas of mortgage lending, credit card lending, and investor rights, among others;
- Renewing our focus on the country’s housing needs;
- Addressing critical economic and national security challenges facing our country;
- Crafting a transit bill that helps address pressing national problems from low economic growth to higher gas prices to pollution and global warming.
Obviously, I’m excited about that last point.
Full statement below the fold:
AEI’s Michael Rubin says that “[t]here is reason to take the worst case scenario seriously.” In fact, there is no such reason. Rubin’s “reasoning” goes like this. We should ignore every statement that’s ever been made on this subject by every current and former Iranian official on the grounds that such statements “may be taqiya, religiously sanctioned dissimulation meant to lull an enemy” but we should pay a lot of attention to one statement made once by former president Rafsanjani.
You can read Justin Logan for some debunking of Rubin’s work on this topic and also for the observation that he’s ignoring even cursory elements of scholarship like reviewing existing literature. But also check out Rubin’s gloss of the single statement ever made by an Iranian official that he thinks should be taken seriously:
Amid chants of “Death to Israel,” he declared, “The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. . . . It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.” Even if Israel responded with its own nuclear arsenal, the Islamic Republic has the strategic depth to absorb and withstand the retaliation, and so the price might be worth it. “It will only harm the Islamic world,” he argued.
Consider this alternative, more accurate, rendering of Rafsanjani’s remarks from GlobalSecurity.org:
Hashemi Rafsanjani, president of Iran from 1989 to 1997, gave a speech on 14 December 2001 that was widely interpreted as indicating that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons as a deterrent to Israel. Calling the establishment of Israel among the worst periods of our contemporary history, Rafsanjani stated that, “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. Of course, you can see that the Americans have kept their eyes peeled and they are carefully looking for even the slightest hint that technological advances are being made by an independent Islamic country. If an independent Islamic country is thinking about acquiring other kinds of weaponry, then they will do their utmost to prevent it from acquiring them. Well, that is something that almost the entire world is discussing right now.”
Now of course Rafsanjani’s words are open to interpretation. And of course Rafsanjani could be lying. But nobody in a leadership position in Iran got to that position by behaving in a suicidal manner. Nor has the Revolutionary regime lasted for almost thirty years by engaging in cavalier risks about its hold on power or ever seriously put anything on the line in order to harm Israel. All indications are that those Iranian officials who are seeking nuclear weapons are doing so for the same reason as everyone else — to obtain a deterrent.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a traditionally pro-industry institution, today admitted that the country is in a recession. “We are currently in — or the National Bureau of Economic Research will shortly determine we’re in — a recession,” said the Chamber’s Bruce Josten. He said the recession “will not be a shallow recession” and that unemployment could rise to as high as 7 percent in 2009.
The same New York Times article that mentioned Andray Blatche’s desire to shoot hoops with the new president also contains this less fanciful bit of speculation:
At weekend soccer games, parents wonder aloud which of the city’s exclusive private schools might win the presidential sweepstakes by enrolling Malia and Sasha. (The Obamas could, of course, go the Jimmy Carter route and enroll their daughters in public school; Michelle Obama has said privately that she did not intend to make a decision about school until after the election.)
Obviously, I’m not hear to tell the Obamas how to raise their children. But if you ask me, it would be nice to see them put their money (or, as it were, children) where their mouths are and enroll their children in one of the city’s charter schools, many of which are excellent. There are a few good choices, but Sara recommends Capital City Public Charter School, which has a location that would be more convenient to the White House than any of the fancy private schools, and achieves good results with an economically and racially diverse group of students.