“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

3 Essential Takeaways From the Obamacare Decision: Gov't is Still Unlimited, Romney's Still Lame, & Health Costs Still Set to Rise.

So now that the sages of the Supreme Court have spoken about the constitutionality of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, let's get straight to the takeaways:
1. There's no credible way to spin this as a "win" for limited government. Folks such as Wash Post columnist George Will and legal theorist Randy Barnett, to name two of many on the conservative and libertarian ends of things, are working hard to say the real silver lining in the SCOTUS decision is the clear language the court used in limited Congress' use of the Commerce Clause. As Will put it, "At least Roberts got the court to embrace emphatic language rejecting the Commerce Clause rationale for penalizing the inactivity of not buying insurance."
Yeah, well, when Chief Justice Roberts closed a window, he opened a door. Sure, I'd like to have some of what I assume Roberts and the rest of the Supes were smoking when they signed off on the it's-a-tax-not-a-penalty decision, but medical is illegal even in states where it's legal (wha?). That's due to the decision in a slightly older Supreme Court case, Raich v. Gonzalez, which showed the Commerce Clause to be infinitely stretchable when need be.
Will may be right that yesterday's decision may spark a backlash in favor of smaller government (or at least one that calls a tax a tax), but anybody who thinks government at any level will feel even the slightest bit limited by the ruling is flat-out wrong.
2. Hey Republicans: Mitt Romney is the worst possible candidate you could have right now. Before the ruling was even clearly reported, Republican and Democratic "strategists" (can't we call them something more accurate and less flattering?) were all claiming that yesterday's decision sealed the deal for their preferred party.
Let's leave aside the large and unchanged fact that Obamacare remains unpopular (most recent polls show majorities of Americans opposed to it and the number rises among those who say they are "well-informed"). The 2012 election will largely turn on the overall state of the economy, not whether the crux of Obamacare is recognized tax now rather than a mandate (though I must admit that now it's a tax, I kinda miss the broccoli mandate).
More to the point: Obamacare is essentially Romneycare on steroids (hmm, are those covered under the new law?), so having the architect of the latter blasting the former for doing what Romney crowed about doing in the Bay State is a tad confusing. It doesn't help that Romney, whose vagueness when it comes to spelling out anything about any of his policies is muy legendary, is vowing to "repeal and replace" Obamacare immediately upon taking office. The repeal part is self-explanatory (if not fully convincing) but what's he gonna replace it with? And if it's not a real market-driven plan that dismantles not only Obamacare but Medicare, why am I listening?
3. Health care will continue to cost more and more. One of the two major selling points of the new law was that it would "bend the cost curve down." Do Obamacare supporters seriously think that increasing government involvement in health care is going to keep costs low? Medicare, a single-payer system run by the federal government, is the single-biggest factor in rising entitlement costs; by design, the program's payroll taxes and premiums don't cover anything like the full cost of services (indeed, it's something like 50 percent, with the rest be covered by general tax revenue and borrowing). Medicaid is a classic case of Paying More for Less. That is, costs keep going up while outcomes are truly dismal for the folks trapped in the system: "A University of Pennsylvania study, for example, reported that colon cancer patients in Medicaid have a 2.8 percent mortality rate, compared with 2.2 percent for the uninsured. A study of Florida’s Medicaid patients found they were more likely to have late-stages of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma at diagnosis than the uninsured."
As CNN's Erin Burnett noted on OutFront last night, the "Affordable Care Act" has virtually no cost control mechanisms in place and a recent analysis by the firm Bradley Woods projects that insurance premiums will rise about 7.5 percent annually under the law.
Watch Burnett discuss the Supreme Court ruling with me, RedState's Erick Erickson, Buzzfeed's Ben Smith, and CNN's Roland Martin:
Nick Gillespie is co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, now out in paperback with a new foreword. Follow him on Twitter.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"This is an ex-parrot!”

“He's not pining, he's passed on. This parrot is no more. He has ceased to be. He's expired and gone to meet his maker. He's a stiff, bereft of life, he rests in peace. If you hadn't have nailed him to the perch he'd be pushing up the daisies. He's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot!”

Has Obama taxed the under thirties big time?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

John Roberts, Another Stealth Nominee


Ann Coulter

After pretending to consider various women and minorities for the Supreme Court these past few weeks, President Bush decided to disappoint all the groups he had just ginned up and nominate a white male. - -

So all we know about him for sure is that he can't dance and he probably doesn't know who Jay-Z is. Other than that, he is a blank slate. Tabula rasa. Big zippo. Nada. Oh, yeah...we also know he's argued cases before the Supreme Court. big deal. so has Larry Flynt's attorney. - -

But unfortunately, other than that that, we don’t know much about John Roberts. Stealth nominees have never turned out to be a pleasant surprise for conservatives. Never. Not ever. - -

Since the announcement, court-watchers have been like the old Kremlinologists from Soviet days looking for clues as to what kind of justice Roberts will be. Will he let us vote? - -

Does he live in a small, rough-hewn cabin in the woods of New Hampshire and avoid "women folk"?

Does he trust democracy? Or will he make all the important decisions for us and call them “constitutional rights.” - -

It means absolutely nothing that NARAL and Planned Parenthood attack him: They also attacked Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy and David Hackett Souter. - -

The only way a Supreme Court nominee could win the approval of NARAL and Planned Parenthood would be to actually perform an abortion during his confirmation hearing, live, on camera, and preferably a partial-birth one. - -

It means nothing that Roberts wrote briefs arguing for the repeal of Roe v. Wade when he worked for Republican administrations. He was arguing on behalf of his client, the United States of America. Roberts has specifically disassociated himself from those cases, dropping a footnote to a 1994 law review article that said: - -

“In the interest of full disclosure, the author would like to point out that as deputy solicitor general for a portion of the 1992-93 term, he was involved in many of the cases discussed below. In the interest of even fuller disclosure, he would also like to point out that his views as a commentator on those cases do not necessarily reflect his views as an advocate for his former client, the United States.” - -

This would have been the legal equivalent, after O.J.'s acquittal, of Johnnie Cochran’s saying: "Hey, I never said the guy was innocent. I was just doing my job." - -

And it makes no difference that conservatives in the White House are assuring us Roberts can be trusted. We got the exact same assurances from officials working for the last President Bush about David Hackett Souter. - -

I believe their exact words were, "Read our lips; Souter's a reliable conservative." - - From the theater of the absurd category, the Republican National Committee’s “talking points” on Roberts provide this little tidbit: - -

“In the 1995 case of Barry v. Little, Judge Roberts argued—free of charge—before the D.C. Court of Appeals on behalf of a class of the neediest welfare recipients, challenging a termination of benefits under the District’s Public Assistance Act of 1982.” - -

I'm glad to hear the man has a steady work record, but how did this make it to the top of his rà ©sumà ©? Bill Clinton goes around bragging that he passed welfare reform, which was, admittedly, the one public policy success of his entire administration (passed by the Republican Congress). But now apparently Republicans want to pretend to be the party of welfare queens! Soon the RNC will be boasting that Republicans want to raise your taxes and surrender in the war on terrorism, too. - -

Finally, let’s ponder the fact that Roberts has gone through 50 years on this planet without ever saying anything controversial. That’s just unnatural. - -

By contrast, I held out for three months, tops, before dropping my first rhetorical bombshell, which I think was about Goldwater. It’s especially unnatural for someone who is smart and there’s no question but that Roberts is smart. If a smart and accomplished person goes this long without expressing an opinion, they'd better be pursuing the Miss America title. - -

Apparently, Roberts decided early on that he wanted to be on the Supreme Court and that the way to do that was not to express a personal opinion on anything to anybody ever. It’s as if he is from some space alien sleeper cell. Maybe the space aliens are trying to help us, but I wish we knew that. - - If the Senate were in Democratic hands, Roberts would be perfect. But why on earth would Bush waste a nomination on a person who is a complete blank slate when we have a majority in the Senate?! - - We also have a majority in the House, state legislatures, state governorships, and have won five of the last seven presidential elections—seven of the last ten! - -

We're the Harlem Globetrotters now—why do we have to play the Washington Generals every week? - -

Conservatism is sweeping the nation, we have a fully functioning alternative media, we’re ticked off and ready to avenge Robert Bork . . . and Bush nominates a Rorschach blot. - -

Even as they are losing voters, Democrats don’t hesitate to nominate reliable left-wing lunatics like Ruth Bader Ginsberg to lifetime sinecures on the High Court. And the vast majority of Americans loathe her views. - -

As I’ve said before, if a majority of Americans agreed with liberals on abortion, gay marriage, pornography, criminals’ rights, and property rights, liberals wouldn’t need the Supreme Court to give them everything they want through invented “constitutional” rights invisible to everyone but People For the American Way. It’s always good to remind voters that Democrats are the party of abortion, sodomy, and atheism and nothing presents an opportunity to do so like a Supreme Court nomination. - -

During the “filibuster” fracas, one lonely voice in the woods admonished Republicans: “Of your six minutes on TV, use 30 seconds to point out the Democrats are abusing the filibuster and the other 5 1/2 minutes to ask liberals to explain why they think Bush's judicial nominees are ‘extreme.’" Republicans ignored this advice, spent the next several weeks arguing about the history of the filibuster, and lost the fight. - -

Now we come to find out from last Sunday’s New York Times—the enemy’s own playbook!—that the Democrats actually took polls and determined that they could not defeat Bush’s conservative judicial nominees on ideological grounds. They could win majority support only if they argued turgid procedural points. - -

That’s why the entire nation had to be bored to death with arguments about the filibuster earlier this year. - -

The Democrats’ own polls showed voters are no longer fooled by claims that the Democrats are trying to block “judges who would roll back civil rights.” Borking is over. - -

And Bush responds by nominating a candidate who will allow Democrats to avoid fighting on their weakest ground—substance. He has given us a Supreme Court nomination that will placate no liberals and should please no conservatives. - -

Maybe Roberts will contravene the sordid history of “stealth nominees” and be the Scalia or Thomas Bush promised us when he was asking for our votes. Or maybe he won’t. The Supreme Court shouldn't be a game of Russian roulette.

How Will the Court Rule?

What is wrong with this headline?

Why are we ruled by nine wizards in black robes?  How did 315,000,000 people allow themselves to get in this position where nine political hacks, lawyers, recipients of political favors, rule and master over us like ancient demons divining meanings of written works? No ancient king had such power. If we are free, why don’t we prove it?

Where is Mestigoit When we need him?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gay Day in the US Military? Why Do We Need the Pentagon?

Pentagon holds first gay pride event


  • The Pentagon on Tuesday saluted open gays in the ranks, with a civilian lawyer calling on fellow homosexuals to “stretch a little” and become more visible inside the military in the drive for benefits for same-sex couples.
    “We need to be as visible as we can be,” Gordon Tanner, principal deputy general counsel of the Air Force, said at the Defense Department’s first gay pride event. “Let us be a bridge to our straight allies.”
    The Pentagon is not providing benefits to spouses of gay service members because federal law defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
    The Pentagon chose Mr. Tanner and two other gays — a Marine officer and a West Point graduate — to talk about the military during the ban on open gays, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and about the months since its official repeal on Sept. 20.
    “I happen to be gay, but more importantly, I’m a Marine,” said Capt. Matthew Phelps.
    Capt. Phelps told of serving in Iraq with heterosexual officers who would gather Saturday nights to smoke cigars and talk about family back home. He said he had to remain quiet in the back of the room.
    “By virtue of the fact that I wasn’t allowed to say anything, I was actually growing more distant from my unit,” he said. “We hear people talk about unit cohesion and how is the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ going to affect unit cohesion. I would argue it got better.”
    Since enlisting in 2002, he risked being fired. But on June 15, he was at the White House “having champagne with the commander in chief,” he said.
    Capt. Phelps‘ journey from being secretly gay to openly gay included taking his boyfriend to a Marine Corps ball in San Diego in November to celebrate the Corps’ 236th birthday.
    Sue Fulton, who is on the board of visitors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where she graduated in 1980, told a standing-room crowd in the Pentagon auditorium that removing the ban is “not even a speed bump” at the academy.
    The former Army officer is now communications director for OutServe, an organization of active duty and veteran gays with chapters at bases around the world.
    “This is an extraordinary and special day,” Ms. Fulton said. “A lot of people seemed surprised that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal went so smoothly.”
    After recounting the closeted gays she met during her service, she said: “So many of us knew those gay and lesbian soldiers, and we knew at the end of the day this wouldn’t be hard.”
    Jeh Johnson, the department’s general counsel, talked about the pre-repeal surveys and indoctrination during which some troops predicted open gays would lead to a loss of unit cohesion and morality.
    “Based on our review, however, we conclude these concerns about gay and lesbian service members who are permitted to be open about their sexual orientation are exaggerated and not consistent with the reported experiences of many service members,” he said. “In communications with gay and lesbian current and former service members we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the nation subject to the same rules as everyone else.”
    The celebration was broadcast on the Pentagon cable channel with the title “LGBT Pride Month Event.” The initials stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.
    The Pentagon has no figures on the number of gays in the ranks and does not count them.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    Can Barack Obama Rewrite Federal Law?

    If the president can rewrite federal laws that he doesn't like, there is no limit to his power.

    Here we go again. Is the Constitution merely a guideline to be consulted by those it purports to regulate, or is it really the supreme law of the land? If it is just a guideline, then it is meaningless, as it only will be followed by those in government when it is not an obstacle to their purposes. If it is the supreme law of the land, what do we do when one branch of government seizes power from another and the branch that had its power stolen does nothing about it?
    Late last week, President Obama, fresh from a series of revelations that he kills whomever he pleases in foreign lands, that the U.S. military is actually fighting undeclared wars in Somalia and Yemen, and that the CIA is using cyber warfare -- computers -- to destabilize innocents in Iran, announced that he has rewritten a small portion of federal immigration law so as to accommodate the needs of young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and remained here. By establishing new rules governing deportation, rules that Congress declined to enact, the president has usurped the power to write federal law from Congress and commandeered it for himself.
    Immigrants should not be used as political pawns by the government. When government does that, it violates the natural law. Our rights come from our humanity, and our humanity comes from God. Our rights are natural and integral to us, and they do not vary by virtue of, and cannot be conditioned upon, the place where our mothers were physically located at the time of our births. Federal law violates the natural law when it interferes with whom you invite to your home or employ in your business or to whom you rent your property or with whom you walk the public sidewalks.
    When the government restricts freedom of association based on an immutable characteristic of birth -- like race, gender or the place of birth -- it is engaging in the same type of decision-making that brought us slavery, Jim Crow and other invidious government discrimination. Regrettably, the feds think they can limit human freedom by quota and by geography. And they have done this for base political reasons.
    Along comes the president, and he has decided that he can fix some of our immigration woes by rewriting the laws to his liking. Never mind that the Constitution provides that his job is "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed," and that "all legislative power" in the federal government has been granted to Congress. He has chosen to bypass Congress and disregard the Constitution. Can he do this?
    There is a valid and constitutional argument to be made that the president may refrain from defending and enforcing laws that he believes are palpably and demonstrably unconstitutional. These arguments go back to Thomas Jefferson, who refused to defend or enforce the Alien and Sedition Acts because, by punishing speech, they directly contradicted the First Amendment. Jefferson argued that when a law contradicts the Constitution, the law must give way because the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and all other laws are inferior and must conform to it. This argument is itself now universally accepted jurisprudence -- except by President Obama, who recently and inexplicably questioned the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Health Care Act on the basis that it is unconstitutional.
    Nevertheless, there is no intellectually honest argument to be made that the president can pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal preferences. And it is a profound violation of the Constitution for the president to engage in rewriting the laws. That's what he has done here. He has rewritten federal law.
    Only Congress can lay down specifics such as in order to avoid deportation and qualify for a two-year work visa, one must have entered the U.S. prior to age 16 and possess a valid American high school diploma or be a military veteran, as the president now requires. By altering the law in this manner -- by constructing the requirements the government will impose -- the president has violated his oath to enforce the laws as they are written. His second responsibility in the Constitution (the first is to defend the Constitution) is to enforce federal laws as Congress has written them -- hence the employment of the word "faithfully" in the Constitution -- not as he wishes them to be.
    Congress should have enacted years ago what the president is now doing on his own, because it is unjust to punish children for the behavior of their parents, and it is unjust to restrict freedom based on the place of birth. But this can be remedied only by Congress. If the president can rewrite federal laws that he doesn't like, there is no limit to his power. Then, he will not be a president. He will be a king.
    Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written six books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is "It Is Dangerous To Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom."

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    Politics, Pettiness, Personalities and US Troops Dying in Afghanistan

    ‘Little America’: Infighting on Obama team squandered chance for peace in Afghanistan

    By Published: June 24

    Excerpted from “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan.”

    In late March 2010, President Obama’s national security adviser, James L. Jones, summoned Richard C. Holbrooke to the White House for a late-afternoon conversation. The two men rarely had one-on-one meetings, even though Holbrooke, the State Department’s point man for Afghanistan, was a key member of Obama’s war cabinet.
    As Holbrooke entered Jones’s West Wing office, he sensed that the discussion was not going to be about policy, but about him. Holbrooke believed his principal mission was to accomplish what he thought Obama wanted: a peace deal with the Taliban. The challenge energized Holbrooke, who had more experience with ending wars than anyone in the administration. In 1968, he served on the U.S. delegation to the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam. And in 1995, he forged a deal in the former Yugoslavia to end three years of bloody sectarian fighting.
    The discussion quickly wound to Jones’s main point: He told Holbrooke that he should start considering his “exit strategy” from the administration.

    As he left the meeting, Holbrooke pulled out his trump card — a call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was traveling in Saudi Arabia. The following week, Clinton went to see Obama armed with a list of Holbrooke’s accomplishments. “Mr. President,” she said, “you can fire Richard Holbrooke — over the objection of your secretary of state.” But Jim Jones, Clinton said, could not.

    Obama backed down, but Jones didn’t, nor did others at the White House. Instead of capitalizing on Holbrooke’s experience and supporting his push for reconciliation with the Taliban, White House officials dwelled on his shortcomings — his disorganization, his manic intensity, his thirst for the spotlight, his dislike of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his tendency to badger fellow senior officials. At every turn, they sought to marginalize him and diminish his influence.

    The infighting exacted a staggering cost: The Obama White House failed to aggressively explore negotiations to end the war when it had the most boots on the battlefield.

    Even after Obama decided not to fire Holbrooke, Jones and his top deputy for Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, kept adding items to a dossier of Holbrooke’s supposed misdeeds that Lute was compiling. They even drafted a cover letter that called him ineffective because he had ruined his relationships with Karzai, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul and officials in the Pakistani government. Lute told NSC staffers that he and Jones planned to use the information to persuade the president to override Clinton’s objection.

    In the interim, Jones and Lute sought to put Holbrooke into a box. Officials at the National Security Council would schedule key meetings when Holbrooke was out of town. When they didn’t want him to travel to the region, they refused to allow him to use a military airplane. They even sought to limit the number of aides Holbrooke could take on his trips.

    Lute and other NSC staffers cooked up their most audacious plan to undercut Holbrooke shortly before Karzai’s visit to Washington in April 2010. They arranged for him to be excluded from Obama’s Oval Office meeting with the Afghan leader, and then they planned to give Obama talking points for the session that would slight Holbrooke. Among the lines they wanted the president to deliver to Karzai: Everyone in this room represents me and has my trust. The implication would be that Holbrooke, who would not be present, was not Obama’s man. The scheme was foiled when Clinton insisted that Holbrooke attend the session.

    With Clinton protecting him, Holbrooke spent far less time worrying about how to save his job than Lute spent trying to fire him. “Doug is out of his depth fighting with me,” Holbrooke told one of his aides. “The White House can’t afford to get rid of me.”

    Obama could have ordered a stop to the infighting; after all, he favored a negotiated end to the war. But his sympathies lay with his NSC staffers — Holbrooke’s frenetic behavior was the antithesis of Obama’s “no-drama” rule. The president never granted Holbrooke a one-on-one session in the Oval Office, and when he traveled to Afghanistan in March 2010, he took more than a dozen staffers, but not Holbrooke, who was not even informed of the trip in advance. During the Situation Room sessions to discuss Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for more forces in late 2009, Obama kept his views about surging to himself, but he was far less reticent about Holbrooke. At the start of one meeting, Holbrooke gravely compared the “momentous decision” Obama faced to what Lyndon B. Johnson had grappled with during the Vietnam War. “Richard,” Obama said, “do people really talk like that?”
    The president’s lack of support devastated Holbrooke’s loyal staff members, who were just as skeptical of the military’s counterinsurgency strategy as Lute and others in the White House were. “The tragedy of it all is that Richard’s views about all of this stuff — about the surge, about Pakistan and about reconciliation — were probably closer to the president’s than anyone else in the administration,” said former Holbrooke senior adviser Vali Nasr, now the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “If the president had wanted to, he could have found a kindred spirit in Richard.”

    No clear path to peace

    To Holbrooke, a towering man with an irrepressible personality, brokering a deal with the Taliban was the only viable strategy to end the war.

    He was convinced that the military’s goal of defeating the Taliban would be too costly and time-consuming, and the chances of success were almost nil, given the safe havens in Pakistan, the corruption of Karzai’s government and the sorry state of the Afghan army.

    Obama told his aides that he was interested in a peace deal, and less than two months after he took office, the president said publicly that he was open to seeking reconciliation with the Taliban, comparing such an effort to a U.S. initiative to work with former Sunni militants in Iraq who were willing to break with al-Qaeda.

    His comments alarmed top military and intelligence officials. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, thought it was too soon even to talk about talking. They wanted to commit more troops first and then talk, but only to Taliban leaders who agreed to surrender. CIA officials argued that the United States could not negotiate with the Taliban until its leadership denounced al-Qaeda.

    There was no clear path for Holbrooke to achieve peace talks. The Taliban had no office, mailing address, or formal structure. It was not clear that its leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, wanted to talk — in 2009, the Taliban appeared to be winning — or whether he and his fellow mullahs would accept the United States’ conditions for negotiations: that they renounce violence, break with al-Qaeda and embrace the Afghan constitution.
    Even if they did, would the terms be acceptable to the Karzai government? What about Pakistan and other neighboring powers? If Holbrooke was going to have any chance of success, he needed the backing of others in the administration, starting with the president.

    But the White House never issued a clear policy on reconciliation during the administration’s first two years. Instead of finding common purpose with Holbrooke, White House officials were consumed with fighting him. Jones and Lute hated the thought of Holbrooke basking in the spotlight as he did after peace in the Balkans. They wanted him out of the way, and then they would chart a path to peace.

    Staffs at war

    At the White House, most of the day-to-day combat with Holbrooke was led by Lute. He had joined the George W. Bush White House as an active-duty three-star general to serve as the Iraq and Afghanistan war czar. When Obama became president, he had decided to keep Lute around, in part because he could warn them if his fellow generals were trying to pull a fast one on the new crop of civilians.

    Lute spent much of his time organizing meetings and compiling data that showed how the war was being lost. He believed his work was vital, and he thought that Holbrooke needed to follow his lead. But Holbrooke believed Lute needed to take orders from him, not the other way around. Holbrooke began to treat Lute as an errand boy, sometimes calling four times in an hour.

    Lute’s resentment grew with each request that Holbrooke’s office ignored and each State Department memo that had to be revised by the NSC staff. Before long, the two men’s staffs were in open warfare.

    Senior officials at the White House let the fighting persist. Holbrooke had no friends on Team Obama. Denis McDonough, then the NSC chief of staff, had been angered by Holbrooke’s strong-arming of Democratic foreign policy experts to support Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. Ben Rhodes, the NSC’s communications director, claimed to colleagues that Holbrooke was the source of leaks of sensitive matters to journalists. And Vice President Biden’s dislike of him dated to Bill Clinton’s administration.

    With his frequent references to Vietnam and flair for the dramatic, Holbrooke’s style left him the odd man out with White House advisers. If Obama or Clinton was not at a meeting, Holbrooke insisted on dominating the conversation. He was a throwback to a time when men like Henry Kissinger and George Kennan held unrivaled sway over policy.

    “He spoke like a man who just left talking to Kennan — and walked into 2009, still in black and white, with his hat on,” said Vikram Singh, one of his top deputies. “Sometimes it was a bunch of bulls---, and sometimes it was a bunch of wisdom. But if you were this young crowd that came in with Barack Obama, it seemed cartoonish. . . . They weren’t able to hear what he was saying because they were distracted by the mannerisms and the way he did things — and he couldn’t figure that out.”

    The only one who understood him was Clinton. She was indebted to Holbrooke for his support during the 2008 primaries and for delivering peace in the Balkans, the most significant diplomatic breakthrough of Bill Clinton’s presidency. She tolerated his idiosyncrasies because she was confident that he’d deliver a breakthrough in Afghanistan.

    ‘Anybody but Richard’

    As the White House and Holbrooke bickered, promising leads withered.
    In July 2009, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia sent a personal message to Obama asking him to dispatch someone to meet with a group of Taliban emissaries who had opened up a rare line of communication with the Saudi intelligence service. The Saudi intelligence chief had already met with the U.S. ambassador to Riyadh and the CIA station chief there to discuss the initiative, but the Saudis deemed the discussions so promising that Abdullah asked his ambassador to Washington to discuss the matter with Jones. Holbrooke figured the overture was worth pursuing. But the offer languished at the NSC.

    The NSC eventually expressed support for reconciliation in the spring of 2010, but with a twist: Lute favored a U.N. envoy to lead the effort. His preferred candidate was former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi, who had served as a U.N. special representative to Afghanistan. Lute’s plan relegated Holbrooke to a support role.
    Lute argued that Brahimi had Karzai’s trust and that he could deal with Iran and Pakistan in ways that a U.S. diplomat couldn’t. There was also the opportunity to shift blame for failure. “If this doesn’t work,” he told colleagues, “do we want to own it or do we want the U.N. to?”

    It seemed a masterstroke — except that the Afghan and Pakistani governments despised the idea. Everyone in the region wanted the United States to lead the effort. They knew the United Nations was powerless.
    Clinton was furious with Lute. “We don’t outsource our foreign policy,” she declared to Holbrooke and his staff. Then she went to Obama to kill the idea.

    Even with Brahimi rejected, Lute resumed his efforts to find someone else to take charge of reconciliation, this time focusing on retired American diplomats.

    “It was driven by hatred,” said an NSC staffer who worked for Lute. “Doug wanted anybody but Richard.”

    Shift on reconciliation

    As Washington officials quarreled, a quiet shift was occurring at the NATO headquarters in Kabul. While other military leaders opposed reconciliation, McChrystal began softening to the idea. His thinking was shaped by Christopher Kolenda, an astute Army colonel who had been working on a program to provide resettlement and job-training to low-level insurgents who wanted to stop fighting. In December 2009, Kolenda explained to McChrystal how Mullah Omar’s annual messages at the Eid-al-Fitr holiday had become more sophisticated and moderate. The Taliban, he told the general, “is opening the aperture for a different outcome.”

    As spring turned to summer, McChrystal became a believer. He realized that the United States would not be able to get an outright military victory, and the Afghan government would not be able to get an outright political victory, so a peace deal was the only solution. McChrystal didn’t want to let up on the Taliban just yet, but he said he was ready to “clearly show them there’s daylight if you go to it.” In early June, he directed Kolenda to prepare a briefing for Karzai on reconciliation.

    Later that month McChrystal was fired over comments he and some top aides made disparaging American civilian officials. Obama tapped Petraeus, who led the effort to beat back insurgents in Iraq, to replace McChrystal and energize the war effort. When Petraeus arrived in Kabul, he ordered a halt to the military’s reconciliation activities. He told his subordinates that if the Americans applied enough military pressure, the insurgents would switch sides in droves. To some in the headquarters, it sounded as if he wanted to duplicate what had occurred in Iraq’s Anbar province, when Sunni tribesmen had eventually decided to forsake al-Qaeda and side with the United States. Although Obama had mentioned the Sunni Awakening as a possible model in his first public comments on reconciliation, his views had evolved by the summer of 2010. He told his war cabinet that he was open to pursuing negotiations with the enemy, the likes of which never occurred in Iraq. Petraeus’s approach was more akin to accepting a surrender from a rival under siege.

    At the White House, Lute and other NSC staffers were so obsessed with Holbrooke that they failed to marshal support among the war cabinet to force Petraeus to shift course. On a visit to Kabul in October 2010, Holbrooke sought to lobby Petraeus directly.

    “Dave, we need to talk about reconciliation,” Holbrooke said to Petraeus as they got into an armored sport-utility vehicle, according to Holbrooke’s recollection to his staff.

    “Richard, that’s a 15-second conversation,” Petraeus replied. “Yes, eventually. But no. Not now.”

    A desire to negotiate

    Holbrooke died of a torn aorta on Dec.13, 2010. His memorial service in Washington was held on a chilly January afternoon in the packed opera house of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Obama delivered a eulogy. So did Bill and Hillary Clinton and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

    The differences in their speeches revealed how distant Holbrooke’s relationship with Obama had been. The sitting president spoke with eloquence, but his remarks sounded stiff, devoid of a single personal anecdote.

    Hillary Clinton, by contrast, celebrated the very traits that Jones, Lute and others had derided: “There are many of us in this audience who’ve had the experience of Richard calling 10 times a day if he had to say something urgent, and of course, he believed everything he had to say was urgent. And if he couldn’t reach you, he would call your staff. He’d wait outside your office. He’d walk into meetings to which he was not invited, act like he was meant to be there, and just start talking.”

    But it wasn’t until the following month, at a memorial event for Holbrooke in New York, that Clinton said what he really would have wanted to hear: “The security and governance gains produced by the military and civilian surges have created an opportunity to get serious about a responsible reconciliation process.” The United States finally had indicated a clear desire to negotiate with the Taliban.

    Clinton also revealed a crucial shift in U.S. policy. The three core American requirements — that the Taliban renounce violence, abandon al-Qaeda and abide by Afghanistan’s constitution — were no longer preconditions for talks but “necessary outcomes of any negotiation.” That meant the Taliban could come as they were. It was the speech that Holbrooke had sought to deliver for a year. Ironically, the only man in the administration to negotiate an end to a war had been an impediment to ending this war.

    With Holbrooke gone, Lute stopped insisting on an envoy from outside the State Department. The White House empowered Holbrooke’s successor, diplomat Marc Grossman, to pursue negotiations. And Pentagon and CIA officials ceased their opposition to the prospect of talks with the Taliban.

    Although military gains across southern Afghanistan had put the United States in a slightly better negotiating position by that February, nothing had changed fundamentally since Holbrooke’s last push to persuade others in the Obama administration to embrace a peace plan. Nothing except his death.

    For more information about “Little America” and to read another excerpt, go to

    The US has a greater security problem in Philadelphia than Syria or Egypt

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

    The Arab Spring has Sprung

    The Egyptian people wanted to participate in democracy. Obama and Clinton withdrew support from Mubarak and encouraged the "Egyptian people.” Democracy reigns. Now Israel has some real problems.

    Not smoking, eating moderately, and not boozing it up provide greater health benefits than any low-deductible, low-co-pay insurance plan.

    Three Reasons to End Obamacare Before It Begins!

    We're just days away from the Supreme Court's monumental ruling on The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. As we wait on the high court's final ruling, it's a good time to review just why the law is a bad idea from just about every possible angle. "3 Reasons to End Obamacare Before it Begins" was produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie and originally ran on March 25, 2012. Here's the original text for the release:
    As the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - a.k.a. ObamaCare - goes before the highest court in the land, here are three reasons to chuck the whole program even before it gets underway.
    1. It Represents the End of Limited Government. The Supreme Court will issue its verdict later this spring of course, but there's no question that if the government can force you to do something simply because you exist and draw breath,  then the American experiment in limited government is over and done with. Whether it's the mandating of eating broccoli or buying insurance, a government that can make you do whatever it wants just ain't in the American grain.
    2. Its Price Tag is Already Ballooning. The latest government estimate of cost tells us what we already knew. Health-care reform is going to cost us a lot more than the arm and the leg it's supposed to save us. The Congressional Budget Office is now saying that the first full decade of Obamacare is going to cost about $1.8 trillion , or double the original estimate used to sell the program.
    3. Obamacare Won't Make Us Healthier. Health insurance isn't the same thing as health. Most of us might end up paying more for health care under the new law, but there's precious little evidence that coverage itself leads to lower medical costs. A 1993 study by the RAND Corporation found that "for the average person, there were no substantial benefits from free care ." Not smoking, eating moderately, and not boozing it up provide greater health benefits than any low-deductible, low-co-pay insurance plan.
    Produced by Meredith Bragg; written by Nick Gillespie, who also narrates.
    About 1.45 minutes. Go to for downloadable versions. Subscribe to Reason's YouTube channel to get automatic notification when new material goes online.
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