Monday, December 22, 2008

Senate seat

Well, I had been meaning to comment on this earlier, but Charles Krauthammer beat me to the punch this past weekend. That I was on the same wave-length as a big-shot syndicated columnist like Mr. Krauthammer might speak really well for me, or it might just mean I think I'm a lot more original than I am :P
But anyway, I've had some thoughts in watching Caroline Kennedy and her supporters descend on Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat representing New York. Yes, there's a certain romanticism about the idea of the only daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy assuming such high public office, and she has something of a reputation in NYC as a positive leader and contributor to the community, being involved in charities, education, as well as foundations connected to her dad.
But the fact is, I'm tired of the sense of entitlement the Kennedys seem to feel for high elected office. This country was founded, in large part, on resistance to a hereditary, aristocratic leadership class. That her father was one of the most impactful U.S. presidents of the last century is certainly a distinguished and respectable heritage. It is NOT a qualification, in and of itself, for the upper house of our national legislature. I'm certain you could find a host of people, in NYC alone, with a resume to match hers- and while it's great what they do for their communities, they're not qualified to be Senators, either. But Caroline Kennedy has a name, and that seems to be enough for many in the Left and the media.
An interesting point was also made by columnist Jonah Goldberg last weekend concerning Ms. Kennedy's sudden prominence, which I'll paraphrase here. This is not the first time this year that a likeable but hugely inexperienced woman has aspired to high national office. The other woman is, of course, Alaska governor and former Republican Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. She had at least some years of experience in elected office, and in fact was very well-respected for her performance during that time, compared to Ms. Kennedy's zero. Despite the Left's infatuation with with the concept of 'making the American Dream a reality for all,' Gov. Palin was essentially trashed for being a perfect example of it- a self-made, reform-driven elected official with about as Blue-collar roots as you could ask for (raising a family in a small Alaska town with her steel-worker husband while at the same time managing the state). For what it's worth, and I've said it before, I don't think she was experienced enough to be VP either. But her leftist critics have been exposed as partisan frauds; any objection to her on the grounds of her inexperience as a disqualifier, coming from them at least, lost any credibility in the way they've practically beatified Caroline. Gov. Palin's real liability was that she wasn't 'their kind' of female candidate; but Caroline Kennedy is.
Ms. Kennedy has spent no time whatsoever in elected office of any kind, received the Ivy-League education characteristic her privileged upbringing, and has lived largely out of the spotlight. Given the tragedies that have plagued her family, an aversion to exposure is certainly understandable. But it doesn't take from the contention that her nomination is based on the fact that as far as the Democratic establishment is concerned, its royal family's political bloodline needs to be preserved as well as can be done. Her uncle Ted's long Senate career in coming to a close as he battles a malignant brain tumor, and while I mean no disrespect to his situation or the myriad trials that his family has indeed faced, his departure seems to signal an even greater need for the family's supporters to gloss over her nonexistent political resume and get her into that seat while it's open to begin the next dynasty. Democrats love to imagine that every Kennedy is going to be another John F., regardless of how much or little each individual family member has done to deserve the honor, trust, and responsibility that comes with the positions they aspire for.
While the Constitution specifically prohibits the bestowal of "titles of nobility" (Article I, section 10), apparently when it comes political office, some just deserve it more.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


The UN this week took steps toward full authorization for a multinational maritime force to combat the increasing threat of the hijacking of ships in the Gulf of Aden by Somali pirates. This is a big deal, especially considering that China, who almost never participates in military actions overseas, committed to a deployment of its PLA Navy to the area. This is great overall, in that it shows at least a certain willingness to take a stand as a world body against threats as they present themselves (next step is standing up to renegade nation-states), as well as the communal spirit, which has been somewhat wanting in recent months and years (the US bears some responsibility for this but we're hardly alone), that is bolstered slightly by the shouldering of responsibility by individual member nations. Yes, this action was largely brought about by indiscriminate and un-ignorable threats to nations' financial interests on a huge scale- typically running in the tens of millions of dollars per hijacking- but it's a start.
I am concerned, however, that the international community is focusing solely on the part of the problem that has a negative impact on them- not a surprise and hardly the only instance of it's kind, just one of the most obvious- without taking an active approach to dealing with the underlying cause. There is not a more visible example to be found anywhere of the fact that the last thing a poor country is is a stable country. I'm honestly surprised there aren't more countries in the world like Somalia. It's been more than a decade since Somalia had a functioning national government, hard-line Islamic militias run rampant, and the country is so deep in civil war that the international community is literally afraid to intervene. These pirates are a product of the condition of their country.
I feel that this multinational naval fleet is a good first step, but regarding it as anything other than a first step- implicit of further steps to follow- is a recipe for disaster. So much more needs to be done. A military force with the international community's full backing and the teeth to get the job done will at some point in the near future be necessary to get the armed and violent elements of the Somali populace under control. Immediately thereafter- as close to simultaneously as possible, really- an administrative system capable of substantially tackling the broken nation's infrastructure problems and shortages would have to be put in place. Food, medical resources, and sanitation systems would have to provided on as big a scale as has ever been done. In the (much) longer-run, issues such as refugees, human rights, education and a functioning judiciary would have to be addressed. Such an administrative entity would probably have to be made up primarily of outsiders, at least at first, much like the Coalition Provisional Authority that managed Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein (minus the corruption and incompetence that plagued it). Somali officials would need to be included to the extent possible, both to lend legitimacy to the governing body and to give the Somalis the skills and experience necessary to effectively lead their country. Also to that end, as many Somalis without a major history in the factional violence and that are willing to remain loyal to the new national government (with Somalia in the condition it's in, a steady paycheck would probably provide more than sufficient motivation in most cases) as can be found need to be trained and employed as national military and police. If the forces charged with long-term peacekeeping aren't at least predominantly Somali, their credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of their countrymen would be in serious jeopardy. These are all lessons we learned the hard way in Iraq.
If meanigful action is not taken beyond putting cruisers in the Gulf of Aden to protect oil shipments (the profits of which are very unlikely to be seen anywhere near Somalia, I might add), the result will not just be the continuance of the unpleasant status-quo. Sure, merchant-shipping will be safer, but Somalia will continue to be wracked with civil violence, Somalis will continue to be punished simply for having been born there, the Islamic militias will gain more expansive and unchallengeable power, and Somalia could potentially become a new haven for terrorists in the image of pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Propoganda will be spread all over the world (even more than it is now) that the UN and its most powerful member-nations are only interested in the inhabitants of the poor and desperate corners of the world when said inhabitants are killing them and plundering their fortunes just to eat. Worse still, arguments to the contrary will not have a leg to stand on.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Strange happenings

I'm going to be honest, while I truly appreciate the historic nature of Barrack Obama's election, there's been a strange 'other side' that just keeps adding to itself. While he was still a candidate, we couldn't seem to come to a respectable, or even definite, conclusion about his associations with the likes of radical-leftist-terror-bomber-turned-educator Bill Ayers, radical-black-activist-America-hating Reverend Jeremiah Wright, or convicted felon Tony Rezko. Now that he's been elected (of course), the simple matter of his birthplace has been cast into unexpectedly-persistent uncertainty. And to top it all off, his now-vacant Senate seat was, until recently, for sale to the highest bidder by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (who himself had proven ties to Rezko). He's not the first president to bring baggage to the Oval Office, public or not, but this is starting to get bizarre. I'm not going to assume he's guilty just because of ideological differences, we get enough of that in this country. Honestly I doubt he has a hand in any serious wrongdoings, at least to the extent that someone as removed from the situation and the evidence as me can assume such standpoints, but I'm open to surprises, as unpleasant as they would be.
But at least as unsettling as the fact that these things keep coming up (true or not) is the back-bending the news-media has been doing to keep Obama's image as pristine and Messianic as it knows Obama's supporters want it to be. They've subtly (or not) created an atmosphere in which people who actively wonder about these allegations cannot without great difficulty be viewed as anything other than idiots, whacked-out conspiracy theorists, or simply conservative partisans with an axe to grind over losing the election. The Left and their news outlets, over the last 8 years, could not have made more of a scene every time it perceived government actions as sugar-coating or glossing over some potentially incompetent or even corrupt practice, hailing themselves as crusaders for liberty, justice, government by the people, all that as they did so. They've got their chance to be better than that- to show they're more concerned with what's right than with who's right, that they're committed to having uncomfortable conversations when it means getting to the truth, that they're more open to being disagreed with than they've made their conservative foes out to be, and they're blowing it FAST.
These are all questions that we need answers to, and it's obvious why we're not being allowed to look into them: the Obama camp is being careful what they wish for.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New appointments, new blog

Oy. Well, owing to some technical difficulties with my first blog, I've had to set up a new one. David the American can still be viewed, just there won't be any new updates on it and it will probably be discontinued at some point because of inactivity; I just can't do anything with it.
Anyway, a lot's been going on since I was last able to write. I've got some catching up to do. A host of selections have been made in the soon-to-be Obama administration. Let's just move down the list:
The Foreign Policy/National Security Team
Not wholly surprisingly, Hillary Clinton was chosen to be Secretary of State, America's face to the world. While no Hillary fan by any stretch, I have to concede that within the context of an Obama presidency, she's not a horrible choice. She has unique experience in statesmanship, serving in official and unofficial responsibilities while First Lady, she serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and she's no fool. At least as likely to get her taken seriously, I think, is her association with her significant other, Bill. While it's sickeningly ironic that America's top diplomat-to-be is known for a less-than-diplomatic style, the unfortunate compromise we have to make with her is that when it comes to it, in a job like hers, it's more important to be respected than liked. The real question is whether she'll cooperate with Obama. I don't think a major rift between the President and Secretary of State of the United States- one of them being Hillary Clinton- is something that can be kept secret for long. It wasn't long before the Bush-Powell 'difference of opinion' was common knowledge, so I think we'll be the first to know when there's an issue.
His choice for UN Ambassador was kind of out of Left Field, but really has to be viewed the same way we view the president-elect himself: with cautious optimism. Susan Rice, a young former Assistant SecState for African Affairs with solid academic credentials, is experienced but isn't, much the same way Obama is. By that I mean they've delivered definite results in their respective spheres to this point, just they're kind of limited spheres and they haven't been in them for very long. The UN seems a little out of her league, but I'm willing to be surprised.
Presently-serving Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked to stay on for a little while, and has accepted. Obama did promise bipartisanship, and it can't be denied that he's followed through. But more than that, I think this was a good move because he's the head of the military, proven effective, and there's a war on. A change of the hand at the helm now could potentially result in, well, chaos. I'd say the same thing if this was a Democrat on a Republican team, if they were willing to play ball, and I'm sure Gates will be.
Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was chosen, as expected (by me at least), to head the Department of Homeland Security. As the governor of a Border State who was the first to use the National Guard in response to a flood of illegal crossings from Mexico, I'd say she has the experience and the proven commitment to doing what needs to be done to keep this country secure.
Lastly, he's chosen retired Marine Corps Commandant and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Jim Jones to be National Security Advisor. Interestingly, prior to John Negroponte, Condi Rice offered Gen. Jones the position of Deputy Secretary of State, which he declined. I don't know what that's about, if he's an unofficial Democrat or what, but I have enough respect for his credentials that I don't really care, honestly. Only an idiot would have a problem with him getting this job.
The Economic Team
Timothy Geithner was the interesting choice for Treasury Secretary. I say interesting (not necessarily bad) because he is currently the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I don't think it will ever be clear how close he was to the action that sparked this economic downturn. My guess is close enough to have seen the writing on the wall, though probably not bearing any serious responsibility. He kind of embodies the conundrum Obama faces in having to balance insider experience with outsider freshness when it comes to ending our financial woes.
New Mexico Governor-and defeated Obama opponent- Bill Richardson was chosen to be Secretary of Commerce. I daresay he's almost overqualified for this job, but there are worse things I guess. In truth, I would have liked to see him get a more prominent position (like replacement for newly-jettisoned VP Joe Biden, as per my fantasy)-though considering his star-power and the current economic situation, he may bring the Commerce Department into a bigger spotlight (not that that's a priority or anything). He's been a member of Congress, served in sensitive diplomatic assignments including UN Ambassador, been a Cabinet Secretary, and now a governor. I don't think there are many politicians with as long a list of real qualifications anywhere. Well, lame post though it is, let no one expect a poor performance from him.
What IS worth bearing in mind is that in appointing Clinton and Richardson to his Cabinet, Barrack Obama has effectively eliminated his main competition in 2012. They're not imbeciles, so even if that's why they were chosen, we can at least be confident they won't screw things up too badly.
The Domestic Team
Attorney-General-designate Eric Holder is honestly the only of Obama's selections (so far) that I have serious reservations about. As Deputy AG under President Clinton, he played major roles in the legally-dubious seizure and deportation of 10-year-old Cuban immigrant Elian Gonzales and Clinton's last-minute pardon of fugitive Marc Rich. The latter case is still being debated, but in both scenarios, Holder is widely viewed as having demonstrated what could be charitably described as extremely poor judgement. Yeah yeah, he's the first African-American to be named to the post, blah blah hooray. We'll see how this works out.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was selected to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Health care has apparently become his pet project since leaving elected office, and considering this is not a very political post, it's hard to have particularly strong feelings on this appointment. He's an experienced statesman, and if Obama wants to give him this job, I say why not.
Honestly, the most interesting (sorry, I use that word a lot) of Obama's selections was of Eric Shinseki for Veterans' Affairs. Shinseki, I think, is Obama's nod to the far-left elements of his voter base, to whom he owes quite a bit for getting him elected so overwhelmingly. The reason is that Shinseki, a former 4-star general, was forced out as Army Chief of Staff in 2003 over differences with the Bush administration on Iraq policy. As such, he is kind of seen as Donald Rumsfeld's archnemisis; Obama can't easily justify choosing a partisan from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party for a Cabinet seat- they would quickly prove too divisive even if they got confirmed- but what he can do is appoint the enemy of their enemy. That Gen. Shinseki knows the military can't be rationally denied, and I'm sure he'll do a perfectly acceptable job. But of all the people to put in, President-elect Obama probably could not have gone with a more subtle-but-not-really repudiation of the course taken on Iraq and of the outgoing establishment generally. And I refuse to believe that was an accident.
For me at least, the shock of the election is starting to wear off, and it's nice to see the future starting to take shape, at least because not knowing naturally creates anxiety, if not because I'm actually thrilled with the direction we're avowedly headed. Barrack Obama has an agenda, and his team looks competent to implement it so far. But only time will tell.