A stinging rebuke from a prominent editorial board that twice endorsed Barack Obama for president (and, I'd wager, would do so again):
For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.” That’s a nice thought, and we all know what he means...Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power.
Especially interesting is the Post's passing reference to President Obama's recently-announced plans to dramatically -- "radically," in these editors' judgment -- decrease the size and capability of the United States military. Those proposals were unveiled exactly one week ago, five days before Putin's forces invaded Ukraine. The merits and specifics of downsizing and reshaping America's armed forces should be examined and debated, but the timing of this controversy fuels a calcifying narrative: America has embarked upon a self-guided path to decline, and the world is taking notice. The core "fantasy" of Obama's international posture is that moral preening, a softer touch, and obsequious deference to the oft-touted "international community" would telegraph a "we're not Bush" message to the world -- and that the world would embrace them for it. We'd be loved again, thanks to the goodness in our hearts and the power of Obama's rhetoric. Such is the thrust behind "smart power," the centerpiece of which, alas, was the spectacularly failed Russian reset. Thus, what is evidently enough to earn a Nobel Peace Prize from star-struck Europeans does little to soften malevolent global actors. In some cases, it does the opposite. The Post's editors continue:
Since the Syrian dictator crossed Mr. Obama’s red line with a chemical weapons attack that killed 1,400 civilians, the dictator’s military and diplomatic position has steadily strengthened. The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, “Maximalist.” There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.
The Syria misadventure is acutely relevant today. Vladimir Putin essentially ran that show, siding with Assad, conveniently pretending to respect the United Nations and international consensus as sacrosanct, and baiting the US into embracing an accidental "solution" that ultimately strengthened the regime in Damascus. The Syrians, meanwhile, have failed to live up to their end of the disarmament bargain, and Moscow continues to run interference on Assad's behalf. President Obama drew a line in the sand, vacillated once that line was breached, and ended up doing virtually nothing at all. Putin witnessed America and Western Europe's fecklessness and indecision firsthand, and concluded that the coast was clear to start flexing Russia's muscles, in violation of international law. Putin reasoned that if the West wouldn't follow through on its tough words against a rogue regime using chemical and conventional weapons to slaughter its own people by the tens of thousands, the free world's bluster would be equally empty if the Russian military invaded a neighboring country for the second time since 2008. While the Obama administration appears to be preparing to take (non-trivial) action to isolate Putin and pressure his government, some Ukrainians may be wondering what happened to the Budapest Memorandum. That's the 1994 agreement (signed by the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine) stipulating that in exchange for handing over its Soviet-era nukes, Ukraine received security guarantees from the other signatories.
As I mentioned earlier, the Obama administration reaffirmed America's commitment to defending Ukrainian sovereignty under the treaty as recently as 2010, stating: "The U.S. recognized Ukraine’s unique contribution to nuclear disarmament and reconfirmed that the security assurances, recorded in the Budapest Memorandum with Ukraine of December 5, 1994, remain in effect." Virtually nobody in American politics has any appetite for a military intervention in Crimea. Nevertheless, concerns are mounting that the currency of America's word is being badly eroded. This administration canceled long-planned weapons systems in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of its elaborate and failed effort to favorably "reset" relations with the Kremlin. It effectively erased a presidential "red line" over the barbarity of a Middle Eastern thug. And the extent to which it will uphold the Budapest Memorandum in any meaningful way remains to be seen. Our friends and adversaries are watching. Diplomacy often entails the hard work of heading off armed conflict, and in order for it to succeed, its practitioners must command trust and credibility. The Budapest Memorandum was hailed as a triumph of diplomacy because it furthered the goal of nuclear disarmament. Ukraine was willing to forfeit a powerful deterrent because it believed that the other parties would take their resulting obligations seriously. If foreign nations and leaders reach the determination that the United States talks a good game but won't follow through when push comes to shove, that perception severely undermines the efficacy of future diplomatic efforts, and may well make war more likely. Pointing out these difficult realities isn't a war cry; it is, however, a reminder that "weakness is provocative" is more than a cliche. It's a truism.
UPDATE - Serious talk of sanctions and harsh denunciations:
Those are welcome developments, but will words move Putin? Let's see what action is taken. Also, a writer at the liberal New Republic magazine is acknowledging that Mitt Romney was right about Russia. And the Democrat/media machine that laughed at him were dangerously wrong.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been praised for her record on human rights, but some are criticizing her for not doing enough.
Sure, she helped negotiate U.S. asylum for Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and even received the Lantos Foundation Human Rights award for “her tireless efforts to promote human rights for women around the world and her groundbreaking work on promoting human rights through Internet freedom.” But on other pressing human rights issues, activists say she was silent.
[A]ctivists at the Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy, hosted last week by United Nations watchdog group UN Watch, gave a very different assessment of the former secretary of state, telling the Washington Free Beacon that she was silent and passive on some of the most pressing human rights issues during her tenure at the State Department.
Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of an American Christian pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran since the summer of 2012, said the State Department under Clinton all but ignored her husband’s case, and did not take an active role until Secretary of State John Kerry took over last year.
“For Hillary Clinton to have been completely silent, and not have done anything when my husband was taken, and knowing … it was strictly on a human rights issue, really bothered me because I expected otherwise from my government,” Abedini said. [...]
“It was just very cold,” Abedini said about her initial call to the State Department. “[One official] said ‘We’re not Hollywood—we can’t just fly in there and save people.’”
And then there’s North Korea and Syria.
Ahn Myong-Chol, a North Korean (DPRK) dissident whose descriptions of the country’s prison camps played a major role in this month’s harrowing UN report on the regime’s human rights abuses, said he “really preferred John Kerry compared to Hillary Clinton” at the State Department.
While Ahn said he believed Clinton would get “a lot of people’s votes [if she runs for president in 2016] because she could be the very first female president of the United States,” he added that he disliked “Hillary Clinton’s passive actions when it comes to the DPRK.”
Clinton’s early efforts at outreach with North Korea were rebuffed by the authoritarian regime and the State Department made no progress on dismantling the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program under Clinton’s leadership.
Moayad Iskafe, a Syrian journalist and opposition activist who helped smuggle reporters into the country after civil war broke out in 2011, said he was initially optimistic about Clinton’s position on Syria.
“She said Bashar Assad [should] go,” Iskafe said. “But after that I did not hear [her] voice. After that, she said we can’t do anything for Syria … she said we will not take our army to Syria … we will do nothing.”
“For the Bush administration, they used to send strong messages with strong gestures,” Ahn said, reports The Washington Free Beacon. “The Obama administration only puts verbal pressure.”
Yesterday on Fox News Sunday House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announced Lois Lerner, former head of tax exempt groups at the IRS, would be back in front of Congress this week to testify about the inappropriate targeting of conservative, tea party and patriot groups. Issa cited Lerner's attorney, William Taylor, as the source of confirmation of her agreement to testify on Wednesday, March 5.
Shortly after that appearance, Taylor told POLITICO an agreement Lerner would testify was not made, that he didn't know where Issa was coming from and that Lerner would continue to plead the Fifth.
“As of now, she intends to continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” Taylor said. “I do not know why Issa said what he said.”
Emails show otherwise and indicate a willingness by Lerner to wave her Fifth Amendment rights. In an email dated Saturday March 1 at 3:10 p.m., less than 24 hours before Issa's announcement on Fox News, Taylor confirmed Lerner would be willing to testify, but wanted a one week delay. The emails also show an agreement to testify came without a guarantee of immunity. What isn't clear in the email exchange is whether Taylor agreed Lerner would testify in front of a public hearing or to the Committee behind closed doors as part of a deposition.
"As a general practice, the Oversight Committee does not disclose discussions with representatives of private citizens about possible public testimony," Oversight Committee spokeswoman Becca Watkins tells Townhall. "In the case of Ms. Lerner, correspondence is being made available to set the record straight on offers made by her attorney about her willingness to testify and answer questions without any grant of immunity."
Lerner was subpoenaed last year after admitting the IRS targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny. She has a legal obligation to show up to the public hearing on Wednesday, but it is unclear if she is legally obligated to answer questions.
This post has been updated.
President Obama will be making a trip up to New England this week to appear with four Democratic governors pressing Congress to make moves.
The President will be in Connecticut on Wednesday to make this appearance to stump for an increase in the minimum wage. This will come one day after he releases his 2015 budget proposal, which will call for increased spending on manufacturing and early childhood education, while also calling for a minimum wage hike.
The governors that President Obama will be appearing with represent both parties, and they are all concerned with Congress’ ability to act. Three of the four governors have said they have worked hard to get close to the President’s wishes of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017.
President Obama’s initiative to raise the minimum wage is likely to fail in the House, where Speaker Boehner has promised to oppose minimum wage hikes.
The Speaker’s opinion makes sense here as the non-partisan CBO found that raising the minimum wage would cost a half a million jobs. It will be interesting to see how President Obama tries to justify his plans this week.
What will the governors have to say about how this new law would affect their states?
Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives after November's elections would officially usher in the lame duck years of Barack Obama's presidency. Democratic party elders seemed to bow to the inevitable in late January when they began openly discussing the possibility of hoisting the white flag on Congress' lower chamber. That strategic retreat, they said, would allow the party to marshal its resources and defend its imperiled Senate majority via triage. In spite of this 'desperate times' approach, one would assume that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) would at least put on a brave face and offer perfunctorily upbeat assessments of Democrats' chances. They, after all, have donors to motivate, candidates to encourage, and incumbents to persuade to hang on for another cycle. So what to make of this?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its initial list of top 2014 races Monday. The 19 districts and 16 individual candidates who won the committee's "Red to Blue" designation show which races are drawing early attention from the party, but they also demonstrate, along with races not on the list, how difficult it will be for Democrats to capture the House majority. First of all, the DCCC named 16 initial Red to Blue candidates this week, but the party needs to net 17 House seats for a majority. Plus, three of the designees are for seats that Democrats already hold, and retirements by two Democrats in conservative areas—Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina—put the party in an even deeper hole. Republicans are expected to win those seats without much of a fight. If last year is any indication, some of the 19 second-tier "Emerging Races" districts the DCCC also identified Monday will get promoted as the cycle goes on, but the initial list outlines how difficult it is for Democrats to win the House.
Democrats need to net 17 seats to regain a House majority -- a tall order, especially given the fact that the GOP believes it can expand its majority by picking off a number of Democrat-held seats. It's telling that the DCCC could only dream up 16 "red to blue" candidates to list as prime targets. Even if Democrats managed to guide every single one of those 16 to victory, that still wouldn't be sufficient to win the House. As National Journal also notes, three of the 19 overall "red to blue" races, er, aren't red; they're seats that would stay blue if Democrats prevail. Perhaps it's not too difficult to see how an electoral model run last month determined that Democrats' chances of recapturing the House topped out at...one percent. The DCCC's Republican counterpart (NRCC) is calling attention to an interview that aired on MSNBC this morning, in which DCCC chairman Rep. Steve Israel served up a conflicting and confusing message about his party's chances this fall. Among other things, Israel said it is "too early to say" whether his party will secure a House majority. That cautious response may seem prudent today, but it's a stark reversal from what Israel told USA Today just a few months ago:
The leader of the DCCC has gone from "I think we have a good chance of winning the House" in November, to "oh, it's just too early to say, really" in March. That's not a subtle shift. Democrats can read the writing on the wall, which is why they're sprinting toward a "save the Senate!" approach. Speaking of which, Republicans recruited an excellent candidate in Colorado's Senate race, in which incumbent Sen. Mark Udall looks more vulnerable than ever. The GOP actually managed to strategize successfully, effectively clearing the field for talented up-and-comer Rep. Cory Gardner. Winning Udall's seat is by no means a slam dunk for Republicans, but Gardner will be a strong candidate -- and numbers like this can't be shrugged off:
Lest you think that's a rosy red, home-cooked GOP polling result, recall Quinnipiac's recent numbers in the Rocky Mountain state. According to a statewide survey released last month, President Obama's approval rating is deep underwater in Colorado, and Udall's re-elect number was in the low 40's. Democrats are going to have to work hard to successfully defend this seat, and resources are finite. Every dollar that goes to Denver is a dollar that isn't headed to Little Rock, or Raleigh, or Baton Rouge, or Anchorage, or Detroit, or Helena, or....
Last week we were told by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa that Lois Lerner, former head of tax exempt groups at the IRS, would be recalled to testify this week about the improper targeting of conservative, tea party and patriot groups. Issa reassured Lerner would testify during an appearance yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Now, despite being issue a subpoena, Lerner's attorney is telling POLITICO she will not testify and will continue to exercise her right to plead the 5th as she did last summer when called to testify about the scandal.
That attorney, William W. Taylor, said Issa is wrong.
“As of now, she intends to continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” Taylor told POLITICO. “I do not know why Issa said what he said.”
For months there have been rumblings of Lerner demanding immunity in exchange for her testimony, despite saying under oath she has, "done nothing wrong." Earlier this morning Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz stated that Lerner's testimony and response to a subpoena is not negotiable.
"She knows a lot about this case. We have issued a subpoena. We have voted on this, this is not an optional activity. We're not giving her immunity, she's going to come testify in front of Congress," Chaffetz said during an interview on Fox News.
"They agreed to come Wednesday and they agreed to answer our questions," South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy said in a later interview on the network. "She is coming Wednesday and there's no question about that."
Democrat Governor Jerry Brown opposed marijuana legalization during an interview on Meet the Press Sunday. By advertising and codifying the drug, Brown feared its acceptance and use could lead to a less alert and less competitive population.
The problem with anything, a certain amount is okay. But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world's pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996.
Brown said he will be closely watching Colorado and Washington, two states where recreational pot has been legalized.
Watch the interview here:
As President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry continue to drown in their own foreign policy failures, Russia is demanding Ukrainian troops in Crimea surrender or face a military storm. More from the BBC:
The Russian military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea until 03:00 GMT to surrender or face an assault, Ukrainian defence sources have said.
The head of Russia's Black Sea Fleet Aleksander Vitko set the deadline and threatened an attack "across Crimea".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier said Russia was responding to "ultra-nationalist threats".
Western powers have condemned Moscow's decision to send troops as a "violation of Ukraine's sovereignty".
And from Sky News:
“If they do not surrender before 5am tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea," Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Commander Alexander Vitko told the Interfax news agency Monday, Sky News reports.
The question now becomes: Does this cross the "line" the White House referred to last week?
The Obama administration on Friday told Russia not to cross a “line” in Ukraine, though officials wouldn’t speculate about what the U.S. will do if Moscow disregards the warning about its politically chaotic neighbor.
“We are watching to see … whether or not Russia is doing anything that might be crossing the line in any way,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday.
Vice President Joe Biden reportedly had a phone conversation this morning with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about the ongoing stand-off. No word of flexibility.
Meanwhile here's some more great news, China is backing Russia on its invasion of Ukraine.
China has backed Russia in a tense standoff with the US and Europe that has erupted following the pro-West revolution in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the unfolding crisis in its southern neighbour in a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
"The foreign ministers of both countries exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine. They noted the coincidence of positions on this aspect," a spokesperson for the Russian ministry said, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
There is a lot of important news today. So it seems silly to write about the fact that Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar "selfie" succeeded in breaking the record set in 2012 by the President after his re-election.
But actually, it's not silly and here's why: The fact that a couple of movie stars were able spontaneously to generate more retweets than the world's most powerful man is a reminder that our politics follows our culture. That means that conservatives will not ever truly prevail in American politics unless we find a way to engage constructively and successfully with the culture.
No one has made this point more compellingly than Andrew Klavan in his pamphlet "The Crisis in the Arts":
[T[he conscience of a race is forged in the soul of a nation’s artists, and it is from that conscience that legislation and politics arise. By the time a fight becomes political — by the time its outcome depends on an election — it is often too late to win by means of rational argument. The battle has already been decided in movies and on television, in novels and in popular songs that, over time, create a general sense — an atmosphere — of what is right and what is wrong, what is cool and what is not, what it takes to be, in Joseph Conrad’s phrase, “one of us.”
Klavan has some innovative ways that conservatives can try to influence the culture. One thing is certain: It's not enough for us to be adversarial (although that can be fun, and certainly is often easy!). It's time for us to start creating some new and intelligent ways to reach those who are infinitely more likely to retweet a celebrity photo than a political one.
I don’t what it is about that “Dallas Buyers” cast, but they proved to be pretty classy guys at last night’s Oscars. Lead actor winner Matthew McConaughey praised God for his first Oscar win – a breath of fresh air during a night in which He seemed to be all but forgotten. But, before McConaughey praised the Almighty, his costar Jared Leto also shared a beautiful message in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor.
Leto, like McConaughey, was a first time Oscar winner last night. As such, he took advantage of the opportunity to share his mom’s courageous story:
In 1971, Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she manage to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say ‘I love you mom, thank you for teaching me to dream.’
I want to thank Jared Leto for using the Oscar stage to recognize and appreciate his mother’s life giving decision. She proved that even as a teenage, high school dropout, she could succeed as a mother. She had no idea her son would win an Oscar one day.
Does this not prove that every human life has potential? Even if it was not his intention(a quick Google search suggests the actor is pro-choice), I hope Leto’s speech will encourage other scared, young women out there who are debating what to do about their pregnancies, to give their unborn child a chance. Their son or daughter may thank them on stage one day.
Watch Leto's whole speech here: