Thursday, June 19, 2014

Defending Dick Cheney

Time for some in the GOP to stop wringing its hands over the Iraq War.

It was the right call and by 2009 was close to lasting stability.  Because of that, former Vice President Dick Cheney has every reason to speak from the high ground about Obama's failures there.

Imagine buying a junked car.  You give it extensive repairs with new parts, get it up and running.  It is relatively reliable if you do not put too much pressure on it and sensibly maintain it.

Then you sell it to an irresponsible owner who drives it for six years with no oil changes, no transmission service, no attention to coolant cleanliness or if it even has coolant.

What would you expect to happen?  The car would break down at the most inopportune time.

Iraq at the end of the Bush presidency had held free elections, despite terrorists' intentions to disrupt.  They had assembled a relatively democratic government.  Armed forces were being put together under the tutelage of the US military.  American troops remained in place, keeping terrorists at bay.  Advisers quietly urged the government towards good policy, albeit with mixed success.

Naysayers forget about the cruelty of Saddam, of his backing of terror, of his plans to leave his country's resources and military into the hands of his sadistic and psychopathic sons.  If that day had come, Iraq itself would be a dangerous source of instability in the region.

This Washington Post rebuttal of Cheney's thoughts on Obama and Iraq centers on the Bush Administration's original agreement to keep forces in Iraq until 2011.  It infers that Obama's task in renewing that agreement was impossible.  How hard did the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even try?

The State Department's fixation on oceans for the past few years indicates that its priorities are a bit out of whack.

Over six years, Obama turned his back on the fragile, but still developing government.  He did not negotiate a status of forces agreement to keep US troops in place.  American soldiers are the best ambassadors of our system and our way of life, whether fighting for the Iraqi people or simply talking about the US every day. The enemy also fears US troops, knowing that engaging our soldiers brings a potentially heavy price for them.

Obama sent mixed signals to the Middle East.  President Bush followed the Reagan tradition of using confident expressions of freedom and liberty to inspire the world. Obama went over there and ruminated about mistakes and problems that historically pale in comparison to the good we have done.

His going to Canossa was the first step in destroying the respect carefully constructed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice.

Many will point to complaints, demonstrations, social media rants as proof that American policy was wrong because we were not loved.  They have it wrong.  America needs to be not loved, but respected. Respected for our power and the principles behind its use.

Iraq today stands at the edge of the precipice.  Obama abandoned it to a cruel fate and now considers a rushed last minute rescue, not because it is the right thing to do, but because Iraq's failure would hurt his legacy even more.

America cannot be the world's policeman.  Some situations, however, do call for action. Iraq was one such issue.  Had Bush's successor maintained a foreign policy based on engagement and respect rather than golf and celebrities, Iraq and the Middle East would be on a much firmer foundation today.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Right to Be Unpopular

Among certain circles, Daniel Snyder is not popular.  Okay among most circles outside of his players, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, is not popular.  Although Redskins players, even in retirement, have respect and affection for "Mr. Snyder" this does not extend to reporters, fans, or almost anyone else.

That image contributed to today's ruling by the US Patent and Trademark Office to strip the Redskins of much of their brand trademark protection.  The team and the NFL will no longer have exclusive rights to the word. Whatever one may think of the Redskins, Daniel Snyder, or their name, this bodes ill.

From a business perspective, the team should logically change its name to "Warriors."  The Warrior Road connecting the Iroquois to their Catawba and Cherokee enemies followed US 1 and Interstate 95.  The name makes sense.  But businesses should be able to rely on the law being enforced fairly, regardless of public opinion.

In this case, the Redskins were victimized by a politicized agency.

A business has the right to be unpopular, to fly against public opinion, to try and weather the storms of fashion.  Snyder's team joins other teams with names originally derogatory, like Fighting Irish, Tar Heels, and, yes, Mountaineers.  They deserve honest regulatory decisions, not ones based on someone's feelings being hurt.

Finally, Snyder himself lies at the root of this.  Any player that fumbles as much as his public relations team should be cut.  Snyder himself cuts a haughty figure that does not garner much sympathy. This landmark free speech case is only one of many failings. This bumbling attempt to placate Indians was another. Had Dan Snyder the abilities of a Jack Kent Cooke, or if his teams won, the politicos would not have come after the blood in the water.

The ruling here has much greater implication.  Any brand that offends anyone, anytime, is now at risk.  That is the danger here, the threat of totalitarianism in branding.

Your Reagan May Not Be My Reagan

In the buildup to the 2012 election, conservatives fretted about nominee Mitt Romney. Like the two Bushes before him, he felt the looming shadow of Ronald Reagan at his back.

Reagan biographer Lou Cannon said "it's (hard) to make a Reagan out of Mitt Romney."  The comparisons will be reset for 2016 as Reagan's image stubbornly keeps a hold on many Republican minds.  But which Ronald Reagan?

For conservatives, the epitome of Reagan comes through in "the speech."   This statement of political principles served as the platform for conservative Republicans for the next three generations. Ostensibly crafted to support Barry Goldwater, Reagan made the ideals his own.  They carried him to the California governor's mansion and eventually the White House.

Conservatives don't merely love the text, but also the strident and confident tone, quite unlike the rest of the GOP.  It exuded confidence in the future.  The delivery also convinced many conservatives that Reagan then and for all time was chiseling out conservative commandments in stone.  Somehow, he evolved after his death into a grim sentinel guarding against the idea of deal-making or compromise, hence the negative comparisons with Mitt Romney.

But is this fair?

Both men governed states with electorates to the left of themselves.  Reagan led a state determined to forge ahead on abortion, and he had to compromise with the tide of history.  Was it the right thing to do?  Maybe not.  Would the deal have been worse without his part?  You bet. Reagan also allowed passage of what Cannon described as "mammoth tax increases."

Romney had the same dilemma with Massachusetts, a state determined to get public health care.  Romney crafted a plan that satisfied voters and worked much better than the nationally touted Obamacare.  In fact, Obama's law wrecked Romney's design in his own state.

Between the governorship and the presidency, Reagan forged links with decidedly unconservative figures.  He reached out to the Rockefeller wing of the party during the 1970s to gain support.  In 1976, thinking himself on the cusp of upsetting incumbent President Gerald Ford in the primary, Reagan considered Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania as a running mate.  Schweiker had fully backed labor unions during his tenure (tough to see how he could not in 1970s Pennsylvania and win elections.)  In a conversation with Schweiker, Reagan admitted "I am not a knee jerk conservative."

Tax increases, compromising with abortion, and saying "I am not a knee jerk conservative" would have doomed Reagan among post Reagan conservatives. Romney's "moderation" actually looks farther to the right of Reagan in the late 1970s.

Romney likely saw himself as a disciple of Reagan too, not the firebrand of 1964 or the candidate trying to navigate a diverse GOP ocean in the mid 1970s.  President Reagan likely looked much like aspiring president Romney.  The Reagan of the 1980s told advisers that he would rather get 75 percent of what he wanted than drive his wagon off the cliff all banners flying.  He worked with a hostile Democratic House of Representatives to hammer through a tax reform bill.  Conservatives of the 1980s were even shocked.  West Virginia congressman Mick Staton went so far as to write the president a letter of complaint, wondering if he had lost his way.

Staunch conservatives see themselves as disciples of Reagan.  And in a way, they are right.  But moderates are also right when they claim the same mantle.  No great man remains the same as he grows and changes.  Reagan did adhere to the same principles, but understood as he gained tangible leadership experience that some success was better than all or nothing.

In 2012, the arguments about the GOP nominee often made the perfect the enemy of the good.  All too often, that "perfect" was represented by a Ronald Reagan that never existed, a Reagan image that cobbled together the best parts of 25 years of politics while conveniently ignoring other important attributes.

As we approach 2016, it is time to choose a candidate from this century.  Reagan was great in the same fashion as Lincoln and Washington, and also like them, not an option today.