barack’s third way

Even as a Republican, I like Obama. I think he’s a nice guy. He provides a sharp contrast to his opponent Hillary Clinton and to the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, both Washington insiders. Barack Obama is indeed a fresh face with a message of hope, optimism, unity, and not much else. What is different about Barack Obama is that he has mixed the attacks on President Bush with the soaring rhetoric and optimism of the Huckster. There’s more than one spoonful of sugar in what Barack’s dishin’ out. In fact, I’m not sure that everything his supporters are taking right now is a legal substance. I joke about this, but how else can you explain the brainless fanaticism by some of his followers(who are enjoying the music while ignoring the lyrics)? May I remind the groupies out front with their raised lighters and massive cardboard signs that we are not electing a rock star? Doesn’t the substance matter with Democratic candidates?

All the comparisons fall short of the mark. Barack Obama is no JFK. He doesn’t have JFK’s political or military experience, and no one has ever accused him of fiscal conservatism (even though he should be given some credit for the attempts at earmark reform). He’s certainly not Ronald Reagan. Obama has too much faith in the usefulness of government to solve the country’s problems. He’s also no Bill Clinton. He has the charisma, but none of the weaknesses of the 42nd president, and that’s a strong point in his favor as far as being the right guy for the Dems this year.

There is one comparison that would be somewhat accurate. It involves another man who was selected to sell the old, failed policies of his party by watering down its hard left origins. That man was former British PM Tony Blair. He too was a talented speaker and salesman. The problem was that Labour had always been a hard-left party, and the reason that Labour had spent so many years in the political wilderness was because people didn’t buy into their socialist policies once they became part of the working class. (They also had various non-photogenic types trying to sell Old Labour, and somehow this brilliant strategy failed…) Then Tony Blair came along, and the party recognized his talent and rhetorical skills, and elevated him to be the face of the party. This was a brilliant move on their part, and with a few tweaks in the wording, the Brits bought into this re-packaged version known as New Labour, and voted the Labour party into power in 1997 with Blair as the new PM.

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blair announces his resignation

Tony Blair will step down on June 27th, handing over the keys to Number 10 to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. It’s not a minute too soon for those who are convinced that he talked Britain and the United States into an unnecessary preemptive war. They are looking for someone to blame for what they see as a failed policy in Iraq, and Tony Blair is a convenient target.

History will be kinder to President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair than we realize. While we are still engaged in this war in Iraq, it is difficult to view the record of these two men through any other prism. Tony Blair will leave Number 10 with a record of achievement that cannot be matched by any previous Labour Prime Minister, and I hope that Gordon Brown intends to keep the US/UK alliance as strong as Blair made it during his time in office.

Blair’s resignation speech is here, but his farewell address is not what we should remember about him. This is.

From a June 2003 speech before Congress:

That is what this struggle against terrorist groups or states is about. We’re not fighting for domination. We’re not fighting for an American world, though we want a world in which America is at ease. We’re not fighting for Christianity, but against religious fanaticism of all kinds.

And this is not a war of civilizations, because each civilization has a unique capacity to enrich the stock of human heritage. We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind – black or white, Christian or not, left, right or a million different – to be free, free to raise a family in love and hope, free to earn a living and be rewarded by your efforts, free not to bend your knee to any man in fear, free to be you so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others. That’s what we’re fighting for. And it’s a battle worth fighting.

And I know it’s hard on America, and in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I’ve never been to, but always wanted to go. I know out there there’s a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, ‘Why me? And why us? And why America?’

And the only answer is, ‘Because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do.’

And our job, my nation that watched you grow, that you fought alongside and now fights alongside you, that takes enormous pride in our alliance and great affection in our common bond, our job is to be there with you. You are not going to be alone. We will be with you in this fight for liberty. We will be with you in this fight for liberty. And if our spirit is right and our courage firm, the world will be with us.

The Economist has a good recap of the Blair years here. Will Gordon Brown be this kind of ally to America? Time will tell, but I’m not optimistic about that possibility.

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beckett’s delusion

I have been watching with great interest the evolution of the Labour party since Tony Blair came to power in 1997. Blair’s victory was proof that one could, with enough charm and personal charisma, convince the British people to buy into a more palatable version of the socialism that was the foundation of Old Labour. Of course, like the American mid-term elections, it may have had more to do with dissatisfaction with the ruling Conservative party than a mandate for the policies of Labour. It’s all in the interpretation, I suppose.

The Iraq war raised Blair’s profile a great deal in the United States when he decided that the UK would support the invasion of Iraq, and not only support it, but also be a passionate defender of that war. This was a unique position for a Labour prime minister to take, since the Labour party has always had the same Achilles heel as the Democrats when it comes to being soft on war. Even though I suspect that the delay and the appeals to the UN were Blair’s price for that support, he still took a political risk for his support of the war, and he deserves credit for this. The international community made the decision that Saddam needed to be dealt with, but they did not have the will to stop him. We can argue all day long about whether Saddam was a threat or not, or whether those WMDs ever existed. The point is that we can’t afford to make a mistake about Iran and its intentions.

What we already know about Iran is scary enough. The delusion that Iran only has good intentions (if only the US, the UK, and the West would stop aggravating those peace-loving mullahs) is a very dangerous one, and we must not get sucked in to their games. I thought that Blair understood the threat of Iran, but I’m not sure his Foreign Secretary does. Margaret Beckett is still trying to convince the British people that the release of the British hostages was some kind of victory for diplomacy.

She says:

This was a victory for patient and determined diplomacy. We got our people out, unharmed, and we got them out relatively quickly. That has to be the measure of success.

In going down this route, we have shown that those who confused diplomacy with weakness were wrong in their analysis and wrong in their advice.

By building support among our allies and Iran’s neighbours, we put a consistent squeeze on the Iranian regime.

In the end, its best option was to look for a way out from an unhappy situation of its own making.

Propaganda wars are winnable without bloodshed, madam Secretary, and Iran has claimed the first round. While I am not suggesting the correct response would have been to bomb Iran, surely there was a solution between concessions and military action. Iran will continue to defy the will of the majority of the international community, including the best intent of the UN, and nothing will happen to them.  That’s the lesson Iran learned from their little stunt, and we must reverse this trend toward appeasing the dangerous, or worse things will happen than the kidnapping of a few British sailors.

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european diplomacy

i don’t think the resolution of the british hostage situation was any kind of success for diplomacy. if so, iran certainly didn’t get that message.

here’s why (hat tip: lgf):

Hardliners in the Iranian regime have warned that the seizure of British naval personnel demonstrates that they can make trouble for the West whenever they want to and do so with impunity.

The bullish reaction from Teheran will reinforce the fears of western diplomats and military officials that more kidnap attempts may be planned.

The British handling of the crisis has been regarded with some concern in Washington, and a Pentagon defence official told The Sunday Telegraph: “The fear now is that this could be the first of many. If the Brits don’t change their rules of engagement, the Iranians could take more hostages almost at will.

“Iran has come out of this looking reasonable. If I were the Iranians, I would keep playing the same game. They have very successfully muddied the waters and bought themselves some more time. And in parts of the Middle East they will be seen as the good guys. They could do it time and again if they wanted to.”

Americans also expressed dismay that the British had suspended boarding operations in the Gulf while its tactics are reassessed.

iran knew exactly what it was doing, and the release of the british hostages had nothing to do with anything tony blair said to ahmedinejad. surely prime minister blair is smart enough to know this, but for some reason he chose to go along with iran’s propaganda stunt. iran has done this before, and if they continue to get away with kidnapping people without any reprecussions, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t do it again in the future. iran learned that no country is willing to hold them accountable for their behavior, and that the UN won’t be able to stop whatever they want to do. this is a dangerous path we are on with iran.

it would be bad enough if iran kept kidnapping foreign sailors for propaganda purposes, but now they will have nukes too, and the UN will not stop them.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday the country’s nuclear fuel production program had reached “industrial” levels, setting Tehran on a fresh collision course with Western governments over its atomic ambitions.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the announcement was “another signal Iran is in defiance of the international community.” Iran has already faced United Nations sanctions over its refusal to back down from developing nuclear fuel.

“Iran has succeeded in development to attain production at an industrial level,” said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing an audience at the Natanz nuclear facility as part of a ceremony marking the anniversary of the start of uranium enrichment at the plant.

“With great pride, I announce that as of today, our dear country, Iran, is among the countries of the world that produces the industrial level of nuclear fuel.”

Ahmadinejad vowed the fuel would be used for energy, “and for the expansion of peace and stability.”

it’s to our credit, i guess, that we are not buying the argument that iran will only use nuclear fuel for energy. we have been here before. the question is: what should we do next? if i’m the leader of a country with a stake in the outcome of this, i would insist on independent inspectors to keep tabs on iran and their progress to ensure that iran is only producing this nuclear material for peaceful purposes. i would also send to the UN a proposal for penalties to be assessed for non-compliance. the problem is that there seems to be no indication that the UN could credibly threaten iran, especially based on what we have seen from the UN in the past.

europe better wake up to the threat iran poses, or iran will continue to defy the international community and suffer no consequences for that defiance.

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kidnapped. not rightfully stolen.

iran has released the british hostages. president mahmoud ahmedinejad says that even though these british sailors deserve to go on trial, he is willing to forgive them and set them free as a “gift” to the british people. sure. why not? he has gotten what he wanted out of this kidnapping, and has proven britain’s new weakness.

i agree with this NRO editorial:

…If there is a glimmer of hope in this shameful denouement, it is the possibility that the sheer brazenness of the kidnappings will shatter some of the widespread naïveté — particularly in the British and American diplomatic corps — about the nature of the Iranian regime. It has never been reasonable to think that this regime, whose guiding purpose is to export its particular brand of Islamism, could be made to act in accordance with the West’s interests. Its latest exercise in hostage-taking-as-foreign-policy underscores the unreasonableness of that view.

It’s right to be glad that the young Britons are headed home. But into that humanitarian feeling irrupts the darker realization that their good fortune comes at an unacceptable price. Unless Britain and her allies act quickly and cleverly to show that they are, appearances notwithstanding, powers to be reckoned with, a great many lives will be at risk for a long time to come.

if we are waiting for this incident to wake up europe and britain to the untrustworthiness of the government in tehran, we better pack a lunch, because it’s not going to happen any time soon. this whole affair doesn’t reflect well on prime minister tony blair, but i’m not sure how much differently the situation would have been handled under the leadership of gordon brown or david cameron. europe has a serious problem with being tough on islamic radicals, and they need to recognize that, and deal with that problem before something more serious happens.

not so fast

for those who would like to characterize tony blair’s withdrawal of british troops from basra as an admission that he was wrong about iraq, here’s an opposing point of view.

gerald baker:

The first point to note, is that, as the prime minister himself said in his statement to the House of Commons, the British troop presence in Iraq – unlike the US – has been on a steady downward trajectory since the initial phase of the war ended in May 2003. At one point total UK military personnel in the region numbered close to 40,000. By the end of 2004, the number stationed in the UK-command sector of Iraq – around Basra in the southeast of the country – was just over 9,000. Two years ago it was reduced to the current level of roughly 7,100. With yesterday’s announcement , the new total will be about 5,500.

This is, obviously, well below the 150,000-plus troops the US will have in Iraq once the new counter-insurgency strategy is fully under way but it is still a long way ahead of the next largest contingent of the coalition, Poland at around 2,000. It hardly represents a retreat or a surrender, still less an abandonment of the US.

more at real clear politics. the brits have been withdrawing troops without anyone noticing it for years now. this is nothing new, and it doesn’t represent a policy shift by the blair government. mr. baker goes on to argue that the basra mission was a different challenge than securing baghdad, and the british troops experienced some success in stablizing that area. that’s good news. there’s still more work to do, of course, but we should give credit to the brits for the work they have done in iraq.

he also mentions that the withdrawal frees up more manpower to continue the struggle against the taliban in afghanistan.  somehow afghanistan has become the forgotten battleground. iraq gets all the headlines, but there are still battles to be won in afghanistan.  we need to finish what we started there.


should tony blair step down?

for some reason i feel compelled to comment on this. 😉

the recent charges against members of blair’s labour government in the cash-for-honours scandal are troubling. it’s hard to imagine how so many people involved with this current scandal could be arrested without cause to do so, which is why it’s surprising that no charges have been brought against those accused of breaking the 1925 Honours Act. when there is an accusation that contributions to a political party directly bought titles or influenced a policy decision, those accusations should be seriously dealt with. no votes should be bought.  the amount given to a political party should not determine who holds positions of power in the party.  in a perfect world, this would be the case, but we don’t live in a perfect world. those with the money have more control over political parties than those who don’t.  that’s just the way it is. 

as for the unfortunate prime minister, it seems to me that the british people have found him guilty until proven innocent.  tony blair has been prime minister in the UK for 10 years. that’s a long time. they want and need an excuse to get rid of him. he has been questioned about this scandal several times now and each time it was as a witness, not as a suspect in the case. he has not been charged with anything, and of course, denies doing anything wrong. i believe him. i’m probably the only one who does. if he is innocent, as i suspect, then he should welcome the investigation.

the bigger question to me is: who will replace tony blair when he chooses to step down? will it be blair-lite david cameron, fan of the nanny state?  will it finally be gordon brown’s turn to live in number 10? will it be some unknown stealing the spotlight from both of these men? the only prediction i feel confident in making is that the next PM probably won’t be a LibDem.



that’s the only accurate way to describe what has happened to british prime minister tony blair recently. some labour MPs are resigning, threatening resignations, writing nasty letters– all to force blair to announce when he is stepping down. it is understandable if the UK was suffering from a bit of blair fatigue. after all, he’s been in office since 1997. this is just not the best way to transition to new leadership of the labour party. all this revolt is doing is emphasizing the deep fissures in the party between blair’s new centrism (“new labour”) and those who hold a starkly different view of foreign and domestic policy. this divide has always existed, but because of blair’s past electoral success, most labour MPs have grudgingly accepted what he’s done.

the war in iraq has caused the same damage to blair in the local polling that president bush has suffered here in the states. in the last general election, labour lost a huge number of seats in parliament, yet still managed to hang on to the majority, due to the inability of the tories to capitalize on perceived weakness. blair has survived so far, but when his party starts to desert him, that’s a sign that he’s in real trouble. it is also a sign that labour is headed toward chaos.

could they lose the next general election to the tories? i could see this happening. gordon brown may be a competent chancellor of the exchequer, but what do we really know about his ability to lead the country, or his willingness to continue blair’s reforms? we don’t know what kind of prime minister gordon brown would be. even with his experience in the current government, gordon brown is still an unknown quantity.

so what are the alternatives? david cameron (leader of the Conservative Party), doesn’t have any significant policy differences from blair. then there’s sir menzies campbell of the Liberal Democrats…who can’t be considered a serious challenger to either brown or cameron. if i was voting in the next general election, i would probably sit it out, because there are no desirable alternatives. maybe things will change in the next year or so.

gordon brown has been waiting for the opportunity to stand for tony blair’s job for years. he better hope that he will be running unopposed by any other labour challengers, or he might be disappointed yet again.

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Every day we hear of the death toll through the fomenting of civil strife, a campaign of murder and kidnapping and brutality, all of it designed to stifle Iraqi democracy at birth, and al-Zarqawi was its most vicious persecutor. The death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and therefore a strike against Al Qaeda everywhere. But we should have no illusions. We know that they will continue to kill, we know that there are many, many obstacles to overcome. But they also know that our determination to defeat them is total, their methods, their ideas, their extremism that seeks to infect the overwhelming desire of the overwhelming majority of people, whatever their religion and whatever their nation, to live together in peace and harmony.

So I do not minimise the enormous challenges that remain in Iraq and elsewhere, but the election of the new government and its full formation today shows a new spirit to succeed, and our task obviously is to turn that spirit, that willingness and desire to succeed into effective action. If we are able to do so then we will have accomplished something that goes far beyond the borders of Iraq.

british prime minister tony blair

zarqawi is dead. this is a very positive development in the war in iraq. iraq’s government is now complete with the appointment of the last three cabinet members. we can also rejoice in that positive step. we still have a long way to go in iraq, but these two developments are certainly something the american people can look at as positive news from iraq. while we are not quite ready for the “mission accomplished” sign, we still should acknowledge the positive when we see it.

others are not so convinced that zarqawi should be dead, however. this blew my mind when i heard the father of nicholas berg, the guy zarqawi beheaded, basically say that it shouldn’t have happened. it’s one thing to forgive the guy that killed your son, but zarqawi was a terrorist and he got what was coming to him.

this was an exhange between charlie gibson of abc and michael berg. (h/t- newsbusters)

Charlie Gibson: “I wonder as you watch this now happening in repetition, if there are feelings of a desire in you for revenge?”

Michael Berg: “I would like these people to be stopped, I would like them to be arrested, I would like them to receive justice. I would not want to see any of them killed and I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to personally attack those people.”

wow. zarqawi was not simply a murderer, he was also a terrorist. being arrested and receiving justice in a court of law is not an appropriate punishment for the many crimes zarqawi has committed against not only nick berg, but others as well. he did receive justice, and that kind of justice was exactly what zarqawi deserved.

iraq was about more than WMDs, although that was part of the case for the invasion of iraq. andy mccarthy makes the case here.

The American people vigorously support, and have always vigorously supported, the deployment of our military for the purpose of capturing and killing terrorists in promotion of American national security—taking the battle to enemy so we don’t need to fight them here. That is the Iraq mission we have always stood behind—more than finding Saddam’s WMD, a lot more than grand democracy-building initiatives, and a whole lot more than crafting new governments that establish Islam as the state religion.

Of course we must support the long-term goals of the democracy project. But we must be realistic that they are long-term goals. Democracy in the Islamic world is a matter of cultural upheaval over years, not just a few elections. Whether the project can ultimately succeed is debatable. One thing, however, is surely indisputable: Like the U.S. national security it is intended to promote, the democracy project cannot be sustained unless the enemy is first defeated.

It was not democracy that killed Zarqawi. It was the United States military.

We began the war on terror with the clear-eyed understanding that Islamic militants cannot be reasoned with; they have to be eradicated. Winning the war on terror will require the resolve to let our forces do their job—despite occasional vilification from fair-weather allies who bask in the protection of American power while shouldering none of its burdens.

Today reminds us that we have the power to get the job done. The remaining question is whether we have the will.

that’s a hard question to answer. when all that we see on the news about iraq seems to be bad news, it’s hard for anyone to believe that there is progress being made there. that doesn’t mean that nothing positive is happening there. the death of zarqawi and the completion of the new government are positive developments for iraq, but will this be enough to convince the american people that it’s worth completing the mission in iraq? i’m not sure that it is.

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new labour and david cameron–a perfect match?

meet the new boss….same as the old boss? when tony blair steps down as british PM, there will be a pitched battle to determine the next occupant of 10 downing street. the upcoming contest between david cameron (conservatives) and british PM tony blair’s hand-picked successor (chancellor of the exchequer gordon brown) may not be the fierce ideological struggle everyone may have expected. the message of “cameronism” sounds familiar– very similar in fact to blair’s “new labour”.

Cameron has put a stake through Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. New Labour has triumphed beyond its wildest dreams: this is Blair’s brilliant legacy – to be outflanked on the left is an extraordinary achievement he should mark as his glory moment. If anyone doubts that Cameron means it, just chortle with glee as the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips shrieks in pain: “This leaves millions of natural conservatives effectively disenfranchised – and, even worse, demonised as dinosaurs by the party that is supposed to represent them, but is now telling them to go hang while it tears up everything they believe in … The ideas in his advertisement appear to define ‘what is right’ as the distorted doctrines of leftwing propaganda.” Tebbit weighs in too. Imagine how the Cameron clan must be whooping as the Mail is left gasping and spluttering. This is exactly what it wants.

polly toynbee in the guardian

i think she’s right that cameron has “put a stake through margaret thatcher’s legacy”. many observers of british political history may see this as a good thing. the baroness would not have signed on to wealth re-distribution through government largesse, an emphasis on global warming, or the idea that “strict ideologies should be foresworn in favor of a flexible approach to politics”(cal thomas). we can argue the overall effectiveness of thatcher’s policies, but at the end of the day, politics will always be about ideology. those who ignore this and choose style over substance do not give the voters what they need, which is a debate on ideas, not on personality.

david cameron isn’t any different from tony blair, at least in any visible way. so maybe that kind of ideological debate can’t take place between blair and cameron. the real question here is whether gordon brown believes in continuing blair’s policies in a future labour government. if brown intends to stay with what has worked under new labour, then i don’t see how cameron provides much of an alternative.

if he really believed that the blair government was ruining the country, he wouldn’t go out of his way to help the PM get his school reforms passed. he talks about fighting global poverty, bridging the gap between rich and poor, and reducing carbon emissions to deal with global warming. the problem cameron has is that he has more in common with tony blair than margaret thatcher. we shall see if the conservatives will follow cameron to the left, or whether they will be resigned to re-electing new labour.
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