Conservatives are gathering from across the country in D.C., and they are doing so in the shadow of an international crisis that will bring seriousness to the speeches they hear and the conversations they have.
For many years now CPAC has been an orgy of finger-pointing as various groups within the conservative movement nod at each other as the root cause of the rise of Barack Obama, never fully grasping that the president's rise was an almost inevitable byproduct of a national withdrawal from the hard realities of a post 9/11 world.
Not just the terrible hardships of Iraq and Afghanistan, though surely those conflicts cost much in blood and treasure. But much more than those: The seeming endlessness of the challenge, its vastness across the globe. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we took ourselves off on a holiday from history, packing only Francis Fukayama's The End of History for reading and not Anne Applebaum's The Gulag: A History. It was supposed to be easy. There was supposed to be a peace dividend. Bill and Hill said so. They lived as it were so.
To borrow a bit from good Dr. Johnson: The prospect of Putin's hangings now concentrates the mind, if the mullahs, the gas attacks, the butchery of Benghazi hadn't already. And hopefully it will concentrate the minds of all the attendees at CPAC.
As homework to convention goers, I assign a few posts.
The first is New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristoif's conversation with me from Wednesday in which he offers the best defense possible of Hillary's bid to be president in 2016. True, on the same show, Jonathan Alter allowed as to how Hillary could very well be very old news by 2016, a tarnished Washington insider of 20-plus years duration. But Kristof summons up the best case for the former Secretary of State.
To set the Kristof defense in context, scan down the various answers offered up to me over theist two months of what --exactly-- Hillary accomplished at State. It is an assemblage of quotes by turns amusing and infuriating. The former- First Lady-turned-senator-turned-SecState did very little good and much harm. Don't believe me. Believe her allies and her friendly watchers in the wings of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite. Read the transcript of my conversation Tuesday with the New York Times' Peter Baker as we cover the five years of Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy serial fiascos.
Note that the witnesses against Hillary and the president are not from the CPAC speaker's line-up. These are MSMers and her friends, the senior management of Hillary Inc, which is preparing its IPO. Maybe an IPO that won't ever happen. As George Will noted to me Wednesday, political people are proud people, and Hillary may recoil from a second smash-up of her presidential ambitions. Hillary's progress towards the White House wonld be anything but smooth, traveling over the ground marked at the start with a shattered reset button and passing through North Korea, the PRC's surging navy, the fiasco in Egypt, the trampling of the Crimea, a near-nuclear Iran and of course the slaughter of Benghazi. "There is much and more to tell" as the saying goes in The Game of Thrones, and all the queen's media can't keep the obvious collapse of her tenure from dominating every debate, every sit-down with the real press and even some with the palace guard.
So great is the pressure, already that Hillary is making unforced errors in places as remote from the serious campaign trail as a ladies lunch in Long Beach where she dropped the H word, summoning the distant crimes of Hitler to put into context the crimes of Putin, which recent crimes were encouraged by...a certain reset button? Shades of the Hoare-Laval Pact, which couldn't be brought up under Godwin's Law save for the former Secretary of State opening the door to a serious analogy extension.
Hillary is reeling because President Obama is reeling, and the United States is reeling because President Obama is reeling and his foreign policy is in a shambles and the debt he has accumulated and the spending he has institutionalized will require enormous Republican wins in both 2014 and 2016 to set right. The Hagel defense budget is worse than a joke appearing as it does at a moment of international crisis and not just in Ukraine, but in the waters separating China and Japan, along a North Korean coast bristling with missiles, in the killing fields of Syria and the nuclear complexes of Tehran. America is in retreat from the world in a way not seen since 1978, but there is as yet no Reagan on the horizon, for no Republican would-be nominee is talking seriously about the need to rearm and reposition our forces after President Obama's disastrous scamper from Iraq and his ham-handed "diplomacy" in Afghanistan leading soon to our ignominious exit there as well.
General al-Sisi has saved his country from the Brotherhood but has concluded --and who can blame him-- that this Administration is not to be trusted and the Saudis feel the same way. Tel Aviv knows there will be no cabining of Iran as a result of American pressure, and all of Europe accepts that Putin does what Putin does and there is no dealing with the marginally-balanced KGB colonel turned-richest-man-in-the-world.
The world is in a very bad way, then, and George Will spelled it out in our conversation Wednesday, one I recommend to you for many reasons. (Not for Will's legendary baseball acumen, for he wrongly judges the best manager at work today.) Will has sound advice for the Republicans, for the rising generation, for Jeb Bush on the anchor that is Common Core.
But mostly Will is in a position to speak from experience on the business of turn-arounds, having famously sat down with Ronald Reagan early in the Gipper's presidency when the new leader of the free world was confidently attired in a brown suit, and fully aware of his own mind and the direction he intended to pursue and of the enormous challenges ahead. Will knows very well the depth of the well America finds itself at the bottom of, but knows as well that a generation is rising perfectly competent to the challenge. Two of those new leaders --Rep. Tom Cotton and Senator Marco Rubio-- penned a crucial piece on the Ukraine crisis this very week, and others are int he wings and ready to lead an American resurgence on the world stage, and Will names Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush specifically. Will rejects despair, embraces realism, encourages resolve.
As should the folks at CPAC, especially with regard to the budget for national security. The sideshows should be shelved, and the focus placed for the week and the next eight months on three issues and three alone: The defense budget and the military strength it provides to cover the foreign policy failures of the president, Hillary and John Kerry, the collapse of Obamacre, and the need for the Senate to be in GOP hands when and if another Supreme Court vacancy arises during President Obama's last 34 months in office. (Read my exchange with Will on this particular point.)
On the question of national defense, the party has many serious voices outside of Congress, including John Bolton,
CPAC 2014 can begin the process of rebuilding the Reagan coalition, including its commitment to a robust national defense that assures the peace and deters the Vladimir Putins, Kim Jung-uns, Assads and Khameneis of the world.