State of the world: Year Eight of Barack Obama

By Charles Krauthammer, WaPo

1. In the South China Sea, on a speck of land of disputed sovereignty far from its borders, China has just installed antiaircraft batteries and stationed fighter jets. This after China landed planes on an artificial island it created on another disputed island chain (the Spratlys, claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam). These facilities now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven decades of American naval dominance of the Pacific Rim.

2. Syria. Russian intervention has turned the tide of war. Having rescued the Bashar al-Assad regime from collapse, relentless Russian bombing is destroying the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, creating a massive new wave of refugees and demonstrating to the entire Middle East what a Great Power can achieve when it acts seriously.“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea,” the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command told Congress on Tuesday. Its goal? “Hegemony in East Asia.”

The U.S. response? Repeated pathetic attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to propitiate Russia (and its ally, Iran) in one collapsed peace conference after another. On Sunday, he stepped out to announce yet another“provisional agreement in principle” on “a cessation of hostilities” that the CIA director, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deem little more than a ruse.

3. Ukraine. Having swallowed Crimea so thoroughly that no one even talks about it anymore, Russia continues to trample with impunity on the Minsk cease-fire agreements. Vladimir Putin is now again stirring the pot,intensifying the fighting, advancing his remorseless campaign to fracture and subordinate the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Obama still refuses to send the Ukrainians even defensive weapons.

4. Iran. Last Thursday, Iran received its first shipment of S-300 antiaircraft batteries from Russia, a major advance in developing immunity to any attack on its nuclear facilities. And it is negotiating an $8 billion arms deal with Russia that includes sophisticated combat aircraft. Like its ballistic missile tests, this conventional weapons shopping spree is a blatant violation of U.N. Security Council prohibitions. It was also a predictable — and predicted — consequence of the Iran nuclear deal that granted Iran $100 billion and normalized its relations with the world.

The U.S. response? Words.
Unlike gravitational waves, today’s strategic situation is not hard to discern. Three major have-not powers are seeking to overturn the post-Cold War status quo: Russia in Eastern Europe, China in East Asia, Iran in the Middle East. All are on the march.

To say nothing of the Islamic State, now extending its reach from Afghanistan to West Africa. The international order built over decades by the United States is crumbling.

In the face of which, what does Obama do? Go to Cuba.

Yes, Cuba. A supreme strategic irrelevance so dear to Obama’s anti-anti-communist heart.

Is he at least going to celebrate progress in human rights and democracy — which Obama established last year as a precondition for any presidential visit? Of course not. When has Obama ever held to a red line? Indeed, since Obama began his “historic” normalization with Cuba, the repression has gotten worse. Last month, the regime arrested 1,414 political dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.

No matter. Amid global disarray and American decline, Obama sticks to his cherished concerns: Cuba, Guantanamo (about which he gave a rare televised address this week) and, of course, climate change.

Obama could not bestir himself to go to Paris in response to the various jihadi atrocities — sending Kerry instead “to share a big hug with Paris” (as Kerry explained) with James Taylor singing “You’ve Got a Friend” — but he did make an ostentatious three-day visit there for climate change.

So why not go to Havana? Sure, the barbarians are at the gates and pushing hard knowing they will enjoy but 11?more months of minimal American resistance. But our passive president genuinely believes that such advances don’t really matter — that these disruptors are so on the wrong side of history, that their reaches for territory, power, victory are so 20th century.

Of course, it mattered greatly to the quarter-million slaughtered in Syria and the millions more exiled. It feels all quite real to a dissolving Europe, an expanding China, a rising Iran, a metastasizing jihadism.

Not to the visionary Obama, however. He sees far beyond such ephemera. He knows what really matters: climate change, Gitmo and Cuba.

With time running out, he wants these to be his legacy. Indeed, they will be.

February 29, 2016 | 2 Comments » | 157 views

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  1. Not to the visionary Obama, however. He sees far beyond such ephemera. He knows what really matters: climate change, Gitmo and Cuba.

    This unfortunately shows a dismal state of affairs the world is in with the leadership of the USA.

    I always have said the best form of government is democratic but this shows how imperfect it is. USA has great stability which a wonderful thing but it can Not effect change very easily.

    What will be even a worse disaster is that is very possible that Hillary Clinton will be the next President. Which will compound matters. Making all things Obama enacted permanent.

    It is even possible that the senate ends up being Democratic as many GOP voters stay home because they will not vote for Trump or Hillary. Less likely the House.

  2. Don’t Assume Conservatives Will Rally Behind Trump

    If Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, he’ll have undermined a lot of assumptions we once held about the GOP. He’ll have become the nominee despite neither being reliably conservative nor being very electable, supposedly the two things Republicans care most about. He’ll have done it with very little support from “party elites” (although with some recent exceptions like Chris Christie). He’ll have attacked the Republican Party’s three previous candidates — Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush — without many consequences. If a Trump nomination happens, it will imply that the Republican Party has been weakened and is perhaps even on the brink of failure, unable to coordinate on a plan to stop Trump despite the existential threat he poses to it.

    Major partisan realignments do happen in America — on average about once every 40 years. The last one, which involved the unwinding of the New Deal coalition between Northern and Southern Democrats, is variously dated as having occurred in 1968, 1972 and 1980. There are also a lot of false alarms, elections described as realignments that turn out not to be. This time, we really might be in the midst of one. It’s almost impossible to reconcile this year’s Republican nomination contest with anyone’s notion of “politics as usual.”

    If a realignment is underway, then it poses a big empirical challenge. Presidential elections already suffer from the problem of small sample sizes — one reason a lot of people, certainly including us, shouldn’t have been so dismissive of Trump’s chances early on. Elections held in the midst of political realignments are even rarer, however. The rules of the old regime — the American political party system circa 1980 through 2012 — might not apply in the new one. And yet, it’s those elections that inform both the conventional wisdom and statistical models of American political behavior.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be completely in the dark. For one thing, the polls — although there’s reason to be concerned about their condition in the long-term — have been reasonably accurate so far in the primaries. And some of the old rules will still apply. It’s probably fair to guess that Pennsylvania and Ohio will vote similarly, for example.

    Still, one should be careful about one’s assumptions. For instance, the assumption that the parties will rally behind their respective nominees may or may not be reliable. True, recent elections have had very little voting across party lines: 93 percent of Republicans who voted in 2012 supported Romney, for example, despite complaints from the base that he was insufficiently conservative. And in November 2008, some 89 percent of Democrats who voted supported Barack Obama after his long battle with Hillary Clinton.

    But we may be entering a new era, and through the broader sweep of American history, there’s sometimes been quite a bit of voting across party lines. The table below reflects, in each election since 1952, what share of a party’s voters voted against their party’s presidential candidate (e.g., a Democrat voting Republican or for a third-party ticket). There’s a lot of fascinating political history embedded in the table, but one theme is that divisive nominations have consequences.
    1952 23% 8%
    1956 15 4
    1960 16 5
    1964 13 20
    1968 26 14
    1972 33 5
    1976 20 11
    1980 33 15
    1984 26 7
    1988 17 8
    1992 23 27
    1996 15 19
    2000 13 9
    2004 11 7
    2008 11 10
    2012 8 7
    Share of party’s voters voting against its presidential candidate

    Sources: Gallup (1952-1972), National Exit Polls (1976-2012)

    In 1972, for instance, about a third of Democrats voted for Richard Nixon rather than George McGovern, who won the Democratic nomination despite getting only about a quarter of the popular vote during the primaries. The Democrats’ tumultuous nomination process in 1968 was nearly as bad, with many defections to both Nixon and George Wallace. The 1964 Republican nomination of Barry Goldwater produced quite a few defections. Primary challenges to Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 presaged high levels of inter-party voting in November.

    There are also some exceptions; Republicans remained relatively united behind Gerald Ford in 1976 despite a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan. And there were high levels of Democratic unity behind Obama in 2008, although one can argue that a party having two good choices is a much lesser problem than it having none it can agree upon.

    Overall, however, the degree of party unity during the primaries is one of the better historical predictors of the November outcome. That could be a problem for Republicans whether they nominate Trump or turn around and nominate Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or John Kasich; significant numbers of GOP voters are likely to be angry either way.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that Republicans are bound to lose; I’d agree with David Plouffe’s assessment that a general election with Trump on the ballot is hard to predict and that Trump “could lose in a landslide or win narrowly.” But if I wouldn’t bet on an anti-Trump landslide, I’m also not sure I’d bet against one. The presumption that presidential elections are bound to be close is itself based on an uncomfortably small sample size: While three of the four elections since 2000 have been fairly close, most of them between 1952 and 1996 were not. Furthermore, the closeness of recent elections is partly a consequence of intense partisanship, which Trump’s nomination suggests may be fraying. The last partisan realignment, between about 1968 and 1980, produced both some highly competitive elections (1968, 1976) and some blowouts (1972, 1980).

    Although what voters do will ultimately be more important, it will also be worth watching how Republican Party elites behave and how much they unite behind Trump. On Twitter this weekend, there was a lot of activity behind the hashtag #NeverTrump, with various conservative intellectuals and operatives pledging that they’d refuse to support Trump in November. Rubio’s Twitter account employed the hashtag also, although Rubio himself has been ambiguous about whether he’d back Trump.

    It’s reasonably safe to say that some of the people in the #NeverTrump movement will, in fact, wind up supporting Trump. Clinton, very likely the Democratic nominee, is a divisive figure, and some anti-Trump conservatives will conclude that Trump is the lesser of two evils. Others will get caught up in the esprit de corps of the election. Some of them might be reassured by how Trump conducts himself during the general election campaign or whom he picks as his running mate.

    But I’d be equally surprised if there were total capitulation to Trump. Instead, I’d expect quite a bit of resistance from Republican elites. One thing this election has probably taught us is that there are fewer movement conservatives than those within the conservative movement might want to admit. Rank-and-file Republican voters aren’t necessarily all that ideological, and they might buy into some of the Republican platform while rejecting other parts of it. They might care more about Trump’s personality than his policy views.

    But there are certainly some movement conservatives, and they have outsized influence on social media, talk radio, television and in other arenas of political discourse. And if you are a movement conservative, Trump is arguably a pretty terrible choice, taking your conservative party and remaking it in his unpredictable medley of nationalism, populism and big-government Trumpism.

    If you’re one of these ideological conservatives, it may even be in your best interest for Trump to lose in November. If Trump loses, especially by a wide margin, his brand of politics will probably be discredited, or his nomination might look like a strange, one-off “black swan” that you’ll be better equipped to prevent the next time around. You’ll have an opportunity to get your party back in 2020, and your nominee might stand a pretty decent chance against Clinton, who could be elected despite being quite unpopular because Trump is even less popular and who would be aiming for the Democratic Party’s fourth straight term in office.

    But if Trump wins in November, you might as well relocate the Republican National Committee’s headquarters to Trump Tower. The realignment of the Republican Party will be underway, and you’ll have been left out of it.

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