. . . And so it begins

January 22, 2009

Two days into the Obama Administration, the first call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan hits the Op-Ed page of the Washington Post, courtesy of George McGovern.

What the former South Dakota Senator says is almost irrelevant, in no small part because it’s almost entirely incoherent.  By the time one reaches the end of the piece, the mystery of how Richard Nixon could ever win 49 states is solved.

No, what matters here is that the opponents of the Afghanistan war, which polling has shown include a majority of Democrats, are finally bold enough to speak out.  No doubt this is due to President Obama’s ascension to the White House; the president himself couldn’t even use the word “victory” in his inauguration when discussing Afghanistan, preferring instead the wobbly “hard-earned peace.”  The Democrats pulled a similar move on Iraq in 2006, keeping the desire to end (and, if necessary, lose) the Iraqi conflict under wraps until all the votes were in.

McGovern will be the first of many doves to come out of the woodwork; the president all but sent them an engraved invitation in his inaugural address.  Unless I seriously miss my guess (as well as my previous six guesses on this subject), President Obama will bring our commitment in Afghanistan to a premature end, with a resurgent Taliban and a reinvigorated al Qaeda in its wake.


Call it the stimu-late bill

January 21, 2009

The Congressional Budget Office throws cold water on the Great Stimulus (National Review Online - The Corner):

A report by the Congressional Budget Office found that only about $136 billion of the $355 billion that House leaders want to allocate to infrastructure and other so-called discretionary programs would be spent by Oct. 1, 2010. The rest would come in future years, long after the CBO and other economists predict the recession will have ended.

To be fair to the new president, this would run counter to his desire for all the spending to be done before 2011.  Still, this is looking more and more like a massive big-government spending spree.

Because, well, it is.


On Obama’s Inaugural

January 21, 2009

Honestly, there isn’t much to say.

As a fellow who is more obsessed with substance and policy than anything else, I tend to take little out of inaugural addresses.  The only memorable ones were Carter in 1977 (he of the “inordinate fear of communism,” which broadcast his weak foreign policy) and Reagan in 1981 (“Government is the problem”).

Obama 2009, by contrast, was what one would expect: a cacophony of centrism and leftism, with some historical references sprinkled in (unusual for any Democrat except the President) and wrapped in the high-flying rhetoric for which he is already famous.

I’m guessing Obama’s first or only term will be measured by the actions of the remaining 1,460 days, not the words of the first.


One last thing about President Bush

January 20, 2009

As the Bush Administration comes to an end, Peter Wehner (NRO - The Corner) reminds me of something that we should never forget – and for which we should always be grateful to George W. Bush:

 Cutting taxes several times and never, not even once, raising them.

As a reminder, this makes George W. Bush the first President since Jack Kennedy never to propose or enact a tax increase (Ford proposed a tax increase, but it was never enacted; even Ronald Reagan proposed tax increases in 1982, and agreed to them in later years).

George W. Bush will be criticized heavily for excess spending - and rightly so - but as bad as things are, they would have been much worse with a tax increase.  Bush refused to do that, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.


Has Dr. Kidd been paying attention?

January 20, 2009

Christopher Newport University professor Dr. Quentin Kidd talked to J.R. Hoeft about Virginia politics over at Bearing Drift.  If that sixteen minutes passed for “analysis,” then the Democrats could be in for a rude shock this November.

Kidd had the usual conventional wisdom – that the Republicans have to stop being the “Party of No.”  It’s a nice, compact line.  Trouble is, the Republicans have not been the “Party of No” over the last year; Kidd just doesn’t know it.  In fact, Dr. Kidd flat out got key facts wrong.

Kidd’s first error comes in his narrative of recent Virginia politics:

If you go back over the last several elections cycles, we’ve had deadlock on policy, particularly as related to transportation, but we’ve also had a couple of cycles of budget problems, and in each situation, the Governor has proposed a plan – either Governor Warner of Governor Kaine – has proposed a plan, either to cut budgets, or to deal with transportation.  The State Senate has largely gone along with the Governor’s plan - you know, they’ve tinkered around the edges but they’ve largely gone along with it - and in each instance, the House has essentially said no, or they said – you know – we’re not willing to accept this component of that plan, which meant the plan was killed.

Is that so, Dr. Kidd?  Then how does one explain HB3202 (whatever one thinks of this disaster, it sure wasn’t saying “no”)?  Or the last version of HB6055 during the special session (now HB1579 in this session), a highly innovative plan to base transportation funding on economic activity?  The only time House Republicans said “no” on transportation was to a tax increase from Senate Republicans in 2006 – and even Tim Kaine said “no” to those.

Moving right along (or in Dr. Kidd’s case, sinking deeper) . . .

And then in each case, the Governor could come out of the session, go to the voters and say, “the Democrats put forward a plan; I put forward a plan.  We’re trying solve the problems that Virginians have, and it’s those Republicans in the House that keep saying ‘no.’”

Again, the facts simply do not bear this out.  Governor Kaine had no plan in either 2006 or 2007 on transportation.  The first and only plan has presented was in 2008.  As for the budget, this is his first real controversial budget proposal of any kind.

In fact, the Republicans suffered losses in 2007 not because they had no plan, but because voters rejected the plan.  It was in the two places where the “plan” had its most profound effects (Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads) that the GOP suffered its losses (outside of these regions, the party actually gained one seat in 2007).

Kidd then goes on to get the current budget debate wrong:

The Governor has come up with a proposal to cut $2 billion out of the state budget.  Part of that proposal involves a tax increase on tobacco – about a million and a half dollars worth of tax increase (sic).  That may have to be done as far as the Governor is concerned, but it’s good politics as well, because he probably knows that the Republicans in the House of Delegates won’t accept it, which means that they have to come up with another way to pay for that $150 million cut, unless they want to be on the hook for cutting some program, or raising taxes in some other way, they’re probably not going to come up with anything.

Wrong!

As JR’s fellow BD blogger Brian Kirwin has pointed out the $150 million is not going to plug a budget gap, but rather for new spending.  Kaine and the Democrats are simply hoping Virginia voters don’t noticed, and if Dr. Kidd is any indication, they’ve succeeded, for now.

The rest is faulty analysis, largely because it is based upon these incorrect assumptions.

As for what really has happened to the Virginia GOP over the last eight years, I think it’s fairly obvious.  The party strayed from its low-tax, limited government standards in 2002 (with the NoVa and HR tax referenda) and the betrayal got worse with each legislature (Warner’s tax increase of 2004 and the disastrous HB3202 of 2007).

Finally, if saying “no” was so terrible, why did the most tax-hike-resistant House Republicans (Tom Gear, Mark Cole, Bob Marshall, and Jeff Frederick) actually gain support in 2007 from their opposition to everything (actually, Cole slipped in support – from 62.5% to 62.3%)?

There is some value from Dr. Kidd’s interview: it shows the House Republicans, from Howell on down, that they must present and defend HB1579 at every opportunity, so Virginia voters and pundits understand that the Republican Party of Virginia does indeed have creative solutions for today’s problems – solutions that do not involve forcing Virginians to pay more in taxes.

If they can get that message out, the House Republicans will do far better this November than pundits, from Dr. Kidd on down, expect of them.


How President Bush will be remembered

January 19, 2009

The Bush Administration has less than 24 hours left, and the “first draft of history” is already being written on it (and it’s not good).  Yet historians in future generations may – and probably will - think very differently about President George W. Bush.

We tend to forget how much perceptions of presidents can change with time.  Andrew Jackson was largely beloved when he left office in 1837; today the verdict on his two terms is mixed at best.  In 1849, James Knox Polk would leave office having accomplished each of his major objectives in one term, yet he is largely remembered more for helping destroy the country (by forcing a discussion of slavery in the Mexican conquest) than by enlarging it (just about everything west of the Rockies was acquired during his presidency).  Calvin Coolidge went from formidable to forgotten.  Even FDR, for years untouchable among historians, is coming under harsher review from those with some economic training for New Deal policies that are increasingly looking useless and even counterproductive.

Other presidents have seen their stature rise over time.  John Adams has been on a two-century long rehabilitation; his son regained is hallowed reputation while he was still alive (albeit for actions after his Administration).  Harry Truman’s reputation grew with every year after he left office.  His successor (Eisenhower) saw his reputation rise until his death in 1969, after which it began a glide downward.

So history’s “verdict” on President George W. Bush will likely take at least a generation to even be known.  Still, one can make some educated guesses.  So here we go.

Foreign Policy and Defense: Given 9/11, this will be the chief benchmark of the Bush Administration – the fact that no one saw it coming beforehand notwithstanding (it should be noted that the number of wartime presidents who were first elected during the war that would define their tenure was exactly one – Richard Nixon in 1968).  On the plus side, history will smile upon the fact that no attacks have occurred since September 11, 2001.  It will also note the success of Iraq.   While most contemporaries are focusing on the initial mistakes in Iraq, several presidents suffered setbacks in conflicts before righting the ship (Madison, Lincoln, and even Roosevelt saw victory – or in Madison’s case, an avoidance of defeat - only after battlefield issues that forced serious reassessment).  Historians will be less sanguine about Afghanistan, especially if his successor (Obama) stays the course and wins.

Meanwhile, Bush completely revamped our relationship with India, turning it into a close friend and ally.  As the global focus continues to shift from Europe to Asia, this will loom larger and larger as a triumph of farsighted statecraft.

The biggest failure of this Administration, in my view, is the paucity of effort to preserve political support for the war at home.  Every other wartime president took the time to convince the American people of the merits of putting their fellow citizens in harm’s way.  Lincoln and FDR were probably the best; Bush will likely go down as one of the worst.

The economy: This one is a little trickier to figure out.  We tend to forget that Herbert Hoover engineered the most dramatic economic intervention by government up to that time.  Of course, FDR quickly set his own mark in that regard.  Bush, as strange as this seems now, may have his own dramatic interventions forgotten – or discounted.  Remember, Barack Obama’s “stimulus” is already larger than Bush’s financial and auto bailouts combined.

Add to this the growing FDR revisionism, and it’s hard to say how anyonein future years will react to Obama or Bush.  Today. many believe Bush didn’t do enough to stave off recession, while other believe he should not have done nearly as much as he already did.  Either view could become future conventional wisdom.

Social policy: George W. Bush was the first Republican president for whom social issues were a defining partisan issue – and he may, ironically, be the last.  Again, however, it will be the future that will decide how the present is viewed.  Bush could b seen as ahead of his time or behind it on nearly every social issue.  Again, the past is precedent.  Anti-slavery was considered a farsighted and noble position in 1800, radical nonsense in 1830, both at once in 1860, and once again a farsighted and noble position in 1870.  Prohibition was was an idea whose time had come in 1920 – and had gone ten years later.  Even recent issues like gun control and abortion have seen ebbs and flows over the last twenty years.  How these issues are finally settled - if they’re settled – will likely determine how Bush is viewed.

In other words, it will be difficult to say just what verdict history will give to the Administration of Bush the Younger; odds are, though, hindsight will be kinder to him than his contemporaries on foreign affairs.


Sunni and Shiite Muslims never cooperate – unless it’s Iran and al Qaeda

January 18, 2009

The U.S. Treasury and the Wall Street Journal revealed more evidence of what yours truly has always stated: that the Iranian mullahcracy and al Qaeda are allies.

First, we have the Treasury Department courtesy of Bill Roggio (via the Weekly Standard Blog):

The U.S. Treasury Department dropped a bombshell today when it sanctioned four al Qaeda operativesknown to be operating in Iran. Osama bin Laden’s son Sa’ad along with Mustafa Hamid, Muhammad Rab’a al Sayid al Bahtiti, and Ali Saleh Husain have been designated as terrorists under Executive Order 13224. All four men serve on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Mustafa Hamid’s dealings with Iran, which the Treasury provides great detail, are especially interesting.

A senior U.S. military intelligence official who tracks al Qaeda told me that Hamid is both “al Qaeda’s emir of Iran” and “al Qaeda’s ambassador to Iran.” Here is how the Treasury described Hamid:

 

While living in Iran, Hamid was harbored by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which served as Hamid’s point of contact for communications between al Qaeda and Iran…

In the mid-1990s, Mustafa Hamid reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many al Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan.

In the late 1990s, Mustafa Hamid passed communications between Osama bin Laden and the Government of Iran. When tensions were high between Iran and Afghanistan, Mustafa Hamid traveled multiple times from Kandahar to Tehran as an intermediary for the Taliban.

In late 2001, Mustafa Hamid was in Tehran delivering messages from the Taliban to the Government of Iran. Hamid also negotiated on behalf of al Qaeda in an attempt to relocate al Qaeda families to Iran. As part of this effort, senior al Qaeda member Abu Hafs the Mauritanian traveled with Hamid and two IRGC members to Tehran for meetings. Beginning in late 2001, the family of a senior al Qaeda military commander lived with Mustafa Hamid’s family in Iran. Separately, in 2002 Mustafa Hamid facilitated contacts between the IRGC and another senior al Qaeda military commander.

Roggio also notes, and debunks, the mullahs’ attempts to pass themselves off as al Qaeda foes by arresting anyone tied to the group in mid-2003.  Trouble is, more than a few al Qaeda members “operated from Iran and moved freely throughout the Middle East and South Asia well after 2003.”

Meanwhile, the mullahcracy also has its hands in the Taliban:

 Back in October 2007, the Treasury sanctioned the Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for providing “material support to the Taliban, Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).”

As for the WSJ, they caught wind of a special errand run by Osama bin Laden’s son Sa’ad (Roggio in his own blog, The Long War Journal):

Osama bin Laden’s son coordinated communications between al Qaeda’s second-in-command and Iran’s Qods Force, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Sa’ad bin Laden facilitated communications between Ayman al Zawahiri and Qods Force, the notorious special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, in September 2008 after the deadly attack on the US embassy in Yemen.

Sa’ad entered Pakistan’s northwest to meet with Zawahiri in Pakistan sometime in early September, according to Mike McConnell, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence. Sa’ad’s whereabouts is currently unknown, but he is still thought to be with al Qaeda’s senior leadership inside Pakistan. Sa’ad, his brother Hamza, and other senior al Qaeda leaders are known to routinely travel back and forth between Iran and Pakistan.

Zawahiri spoke directly to Qods Force commander Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal, confirming the account in The Wall Street Journal.

The al-Q Number Two was apparently trying to make sure a side deal with the Yemeni government didn’t mess up the group’s links to the mullahcracy.

With the new Administration less than 72 hours away, and a lot of people desperate to keep their heads in the sand on this, expect nearly all of this information to go down the memory hole as the “Sunni and Shiite don’t cooperate” myth resurfaces.  Don’t believe it.


This is what I call a win-win

January 14, 2009

The kerfuffle surrounding Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner is priceless (Riley at VV):

Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury Sec. put forward by Pres.-elect Obama (and who as SecTreas would oversee the IRS), turns out to have some significant tax problems.

Geithner failed to pay self-employment taxes for money he earned from 2001 to 2004 while working for the International Monetary Fund, according to materials released by the committee Tuesday.

He paid some of the taxes in 2006, after an IRS audit discovered the discrepancy for taxes paid in 2003 and 2004. But it wasn’t until much later – days before Obama tapped him to head Treasury late last year – that Geithner paid back most of the taxes, incurred in 2001 and 2002. He did so after Obama’s transition team found that Geithner had made the same tax mistake his first two years at the IMF as the one the IRS found he made during his last two years there.

Between unpaid taxes and interest, Geithner had to cough up over $42K.

Of course Sen. Dem Leader Harry Reid called this simply a “hiccup.”  Never mind that a brand-new, entry-level IRS agent would be dismissed from his job were this uncovered in his past.  Will this be yet another instance where the rules only apply to “the little people” when it comes to Democrat “ethics”?

Riley’s points are sound, but I personally think this is a win-win.  If Geithner goes down, then score one for accountability, good government, etc.

However, if he gets confirmed, he becomes the poster-boy for tax reform and simplification.  The ads write themselves, but I’ll start with this one: America’s tax code is so complicated it even stumped the Treasury Secretary.

See what I mean?


Joe Murray’s performance is already sending shockwaves

January 14, 2009

Tim Craig‘s last line actually said it all “Score one, finally, for the Virginia GOP.”  Of course, he said a lot more, here are some of the juicier lines (for Republicans, anyway):

. . . the Virginia Democratic Party was outflanked by the GOP. Murray won the absentee ballot precinct with nearly 80 percent of the vote, a clear sign that Herring and the Democrats got beat in the all-important organizing effort..

For weeks, Murray and Alexandria Republicans have been telegraphing that they thought Murray could pull off an upset with just a few hundred votes.

Democrats never took it seriously, and they will now suffer the consequences.

What are those consequences, you ask?  Craig answers in detail (emphasis added):

True, Herring appears to be the winner. And when the Democratic nominee stands for election to a full term in the fall, they will likely easily prevail. (Will it be Herring?)

But Murray’s strong showing is a huge coup for Virginia Republicans. With all 100 House seats up for election this fall, the Herring-Murray race becomes the last election that reporters and pundits have to evaluate the political landscape for state House races heading into the fall.

Instead of stories about the undeniable Democratic trends in Northern Virginia, pundits will have to leave open the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the GOP isn’t dead in Northern Virginia after all.

If Murray can nearly pull off an upset inside the Beltway, how can anyone conclude that Fairfax County Republican Delegates David B. Albo, Thomas Davis Rust or Timothy M. Hugo are underdogs this fall? Or what about Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick’s (R-Prince William) open seat?

. . .

From now until that election, the Herring-Murray race will be mentioned in news stories and GOP candidates will use it to bolster fundraising.

And Democratic incumbents in Northern Virginia will feel a need to redouble their own reelection efforts just to be on the safe side. That will drain resources away from other competitive races.

In other words, the 46th just completely reversed the political script in Richmond.  Democrats will be on the defensive for the first time in almost ten years.  Meanwhile, on the all important matter of stopping tax increases, this could very well be what keeps Dave Albo in line (I think Hugo would have been solid in any event, while I fear Rust is a lost cause).

The only issue I take with Craig’s post regards this statement:

No, Moran shouldn’t be blamed for failing to do more to prevent Democrats from suffering an embarrassing result in a district that President-Elect Barack Obama carried with 75 percent of the vote two months ago. As a candidate for governor in a tough race, Moran didn’t have the luxury of personally visiting Alexandria Democrats around the holidays to remind them to vote in a special election.

I’m not sure I agree with that.  More to the point, I’m all but certain Terry McAuliffe and Creigh Deeds won’t agree with it.  Both can look to their respective regional Democrats (to say nothing of Southside, HR, and Central VA ones) and ask: “Do you really want to have our ticket led by the guy who nearly lost his own House seat – in a district where Barack Obama won nearly 3 in 4 votes?”

In fact, I would humbly submit that Creigh Deeds and Terry Mac were probably the only Virginia Democrats who had a good night.


“They endorsed me; I didn’t endorse them”

January 14, 2009

That’s how Ronald Reagan reacted in 1966 when, as a candidate for Governor of California, he was endorsed supported (see comments) by the John Birch Society.  The line was a direct response to Richard Nixon, who advised Reagan to reject the endorsement.

I’m alternating between that and my favorite quip (“Every broken clock is right twice a day”) in reaction to this from Mike Huckabee’s PAC:

Ken Cuccinelli is the Huck PAC endorsed candidate for Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He believes strongly in the 2nd amendment, the sanctity of all human life, that marriage should be a protected union between one man and one woman. To learn more about Ken Cuccinelli, please visit his website.

One would think that the former Arkansas Governor – firmly conservative on social issues and dangerously all over the map on economic ones – was an automatic Brownlee guy.  That Cuccinelli can win him over is a clear sign of who has broader reach within the party and is better able to keep it together in November.

Still, it was quite the surprise, especially for yours truly.

Then again, I can only imagine how these guys feel.


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