November 29, 2010

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Wikileaks’ newest leaks brought Toby Harnden back from vacation.

… Overall though, there is little to justify the screaming headlines of American foreign policy in crisis or being turned upside down. Instead, it’s a case of so far, so blah.

But you can see here the tantalising dates, subjects and places of origin of tens of thousands of other cables.

It seems to me that Assange is teasing Obama. Whereas the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs could be largely dismissed as Bush era material that didn’t really reflect on Obama, the State Department cables are different.

They go up to 28 February 2010, offering a potential window on Obama’s foreign policy which may well not show it in the sainted light he would prefer.  It seems to me that Assange is teasing Obama, letting him know what WikiLeaks has and making him sweat.

Today was round one and the action was pretty tame. But there are plenty more rounds to come and Obama is on the back foot.


In Chequerboard, Pejman Yousefzadeh posts how Jimmy Carter’s ideas on North Korea would be detrimental to foreign relations.

“The United States should engage in ‘diplomatic niceties’ by accepting the North Korean demand for bilateral talks with the U.S., irrespective of the fact that by doing so, we would cut out the other four parties to talks concerning North Korea . . . including South Korea.”  – Jimmy Carter

In return for all of this, we are supposedly promised that discussion concerning an “array of centrifuges” from an advanced nuclear facility in North Korea would be “on the table.” Of course, “on the table” does not mean that “the North Koreans will agree with American demands concerning nuclear policy,” but Carter elides that point. He also elides the fact that even if–as is likely–the North Koreans balk at American demands concerning the development of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang, the precedent for bilateral talks will be established, the six-party talks will be dead, the United States will have no formal process (and likely no informal one either) to bring pressure to bear on North Korea via cooperation with China, Russia, and Japan, and South Korea will be permanently undercut. Pulling the plug on South Korea’s participation in this issue, by the way, would only serve to confirm North Korea’s contention that South Korea’s armed forces–and much of its foreign policy, by implication–are “controlled from Washington,” an argument as silly as Carter’s contention that “our close diplomatic and military ties with South Korea make us compliant with its leaders’ policies”; apparently, South Korea, along with Israel, robs the United States of the ability to formulate and implement policies that are in accord with our national interest. …


Jennifer Rubin blogs on “desperate” times at the White House.

The most common adjective used to describe the administration these days is “desperate.” It is desperate to get a New START deal, and get it now. It is “desperate” to restart the non-direct, non-peace talks. It has made common cause with the Fed’s “desperate” bond-buying scheme.

The increasingly frantic policy gambits can be attributed to the attempt to convince the voters that Obama is not a failed president. If only he can get a deal on — fill in the blank — then he’ll cut the losing streak and regain his political mojo. The theory is as, well, desperate as are the individual schemes. The president’s difficulties stem from his jobs-killing agenda, his misunderstanding of the Middle East and most other foreign policy conflicts,  and his inability to relate to voters. Should he manage to force through a largely irrelevant New START treaty or eke out another 90 days of Middle East talks, would this restore his luster? Hardly. And in the meantime, most especially in his enthusiasm for the Fed’s decision to rev up the printing press, Obama reveals his own political weakness, economic illiteracy, and foreign policy fabulism. In short, none of it is helping.


Rubin also comments on a couple aspects of the stalled Middle East peace process. We highlight the lack of trust that the Obami have engendered:

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. …

…Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.


Charles Krauthammer writes an excellent article on the foolishness of Obama’s stance on nuclear reduction and START.

…President Obama insists that New START is important as a step toward his dream of a nuclear-free world. Where does one begin? … We voluntarily disarm while the world’s rogues and psychopaths develop nukes in secret. Just last week we found out about a hidden, unknown, highly advanced North Korean uranium enrichment facility. An ostensibly nuclear-free world would place these weapons in the hands of radical regimes that would not hesitate to use them – against a civilized world that would have given up its deterrent.

…Obama’s New START treaty is 90 percent useless and 10 percent problematic. One difficulty is that it restricts the number of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. But because some of these are dual-use, our ability to deliver long-range conventional weapons, a major U.S. strategic advantage, is constrained.

The second problem is the recurrence of language in the treaty preamble linking offensive to defensive nuclear weaponry. We have a huge lead over the rest of the world in missile defenses. Ever since the Reagan days, the Russians have been determined to undo this advantage. The New START treaty affirms the “interrelationship” between offense and defense. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has insisted that “the unchangeability of circumstances” – translation: no major advances in U.S. anti-missile deployment – is a condition of the entire treaty.

The worst thing about this treaty, however, is that it is simply a distraction. It gives the illusion of doing something about nuclear danger by addressing a non-problem, Russia, while doing nothing about the real problem – Iran and North Korea. The utter irrelevance of New START to nuclear safety was dramatically underscored last week by the revelation of that North Korean uranium enrichment plant, built with such sophistication that it left the former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory “stunned.” It could become the ultimate proliferation factory. Pyongyang is already a serial proliferator. It has nothing else to sell. Iran, Syria and al-Qaeda have the money to buy. …


Caroline Glick assesses Obama’s foreign policy, in the Jerusalem Post.

…In the midst of all these crises, Obama has maintained faith with his two central foreign policy goals: forcing Israel to withdraw to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines and scaling back the US nuclear arsenal with an eye towards unilateral disarmament. That is, as the forces of mayhem and war escalate their threats and aggression, Obama’s central goals remain weakening the US’s most powerful regional ally in the Middle East and rendering the US incompetent to deter or defeat rapidly proliferating rogue states that are at war with the US and its allies.

…A US president’s maneuver room in foreign affairs is always very small. The foreign policy establishment in the Washington is entrenched and uniformly opposed to bending to the will of elected leaders. The elites in the State Department and the CIA and their cronies in academia and policy circles in Washington are also consistently unmoved by reality, which as a rule exposes their policies as ruinous. …

…Given the threats Obama’s radical policies are provoking, it can only be hoped that through hearings and other means, the Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives will take an active role in curbing his policies. If they are successful, the American people and the international community will owe them a debt of gratitude.


Abe Greenwald draws parallels between what North Korea is and what Iran may become if the US does not act.

…Our paralysis on North Korea, therefore, makes one thing clear: we cannot, for any reason, allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. The only good option today is to ensure that we do not end up with “no good options” when faced with an aggressive and unpredictable nuclear Islamic Republic. If guessing at Kim Jong-il’s motives makes fools of us all, just imagine trying to react to a nuclear theocratic thug-state perpetually sponsoring regional terror and frozen in a cold domestic revolution. …Worst of all, where the cult of Kim is unpredictable, the doctrine of Khomeinist Islamism is not. Pyongyang may ultimately only want goodies or talks or an unfettered palace ascendancy. For the leaders in Tehran, however, everything is a means to defeating America and her allies.

On Saturday, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic-energy organization, announced that the country’s first nuclear power plant, in Bushehr, has been completely fueled. As Stephen Bosworth would put it, we are not surprised by this. Whether we are prepared to do anything about it remains to be seen. …


David Harsanyi thinks it’s time to start asking questions, and getting answers, about the Fed’s actions.

…now that the Fed has begun a second round of “quantitative easing” — colloquially known as QE2, or “printing a load of money and giving it to big banks” — it will drop another $600 billion into the economy even though the first round of more than $1 trillion failed to do much of anything. In fact, more than $3 trillion has been thrown into the economic mix since we started fixing the recession.

Many economists argue that this kind of policy has the potential to feed economic bubbles, distort trade, push nations to engage in competing devaluations, cause long-term inflation at home and transform your dollar into something … well, less.

…Why are these kinds of far-reaching decisions regarding our economic future immune from political debate and legitimate public scrutiny? In no other sphere of public policymaking is anyone as inoculated from accountability…

…Another letter from two dozen experts — including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director, and Stanford University Professor John Taylor, the man who designed monetary-policy formula on interest rates used by the Fed — laying out concerns went ignored.

…Now, the argument for Fed autonomy is based on the importance of monetary stability. But to the columnist, it seems that the Fed is causing more unease, unpredictability and concern among investors and citizens than ever. Once the Fed instigates volatility, doesn’t the argument for political intervention dissipate? …


Peter Schiff discusses the conflicting policy mandates of the Fed.

Given the opposing views of the potentially parsimonious new Congress and the continuously accommodative Federal Reserve, there is a movement afoot among Republicans to eliminate the Fed’s “dual mandate.” Prior to 1977, the Fed only had one job: maintaining price stability. However, the stagflation of the 1970s inspired politicians to assign another task: promoting maximum employment. This “mission creep” has transformed the Fed from a monetary watchdog into an instrument of social policy. We would do well to give them back their original job.  

…The best way for the Fed to ensure maximum employment is to focus on its one true job – creating price stability. The irony of the dual mandate is that by trying to satisfy both, the Fed ensures that we will get neither.

… the Fed lowers the cost of labor through inflation. However, this inefficient solution to a simple problem creates negative consequences for the economy. While wages may go up with inflation, goods prices usually rise faster. The net result offers no benefit for workers. By tricking workers into accepting lower wages, the Fed allows politicians to claim meaningless victories. 

…The real reason that prices rise, for both goods and wages, is that the Fed creates inflation. This policy undermines the economy by destroying both current savings and the incentives to accumulate future savings. Since savings finance capital investment, lower savings equal weaker economic growth. …


More on Al Gore’s ethanol reverse. WSJ editors have it.

Anyone who opposes ethanol subsidies, as these columns have for decades, comes to appreciate the wisdom of St. Jude. But now that a modern-day patron saint—St. Al of Green—has come out against the fuel made from corn and your tax dollars, maybe this isn’t such a lost cause.

…”It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol,” Al Gore told a gathering of clean energy financiers in Greece this week. The benefits of ethanol are “trivial,” he added, but “It’s hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going.”

No kidding, and Mr. Gore said he knows from experience: “One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for President.”

Mr. Gore’s mea culpa underscores the degree to which ethanol has become a purely political machine: It serves no purpose other than re-electing incumbents and transferring wealth to farm states and ethanol producers. Nothing proves this better than the coincident trajectories of ethanol and Mr. Gore’s career.

…Meanwhile, the greens have slowly turned against corn ethanol, thanks to the growing scientific evidence that biofuels increase carbon emissions more than fossil fuels do. …

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