Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

Is Putin winning the confrontation with NATO?

The Guardian thinks he is

It’s different for dictators or authoritarian regimes. Flick a switch, pull a lever, and things happen, often instantly. Which is one reason why the Putin-versus-Europe contest in Ukraine is so one-sided; why one side acts and the other struggles to react; why one side is consistently ahead of the curve, the other behind it – in the short-term, at least.

Six months after the Kremlin stunned Europe with its land grab in Ukraine, a Nato summit in Wales unveiled its ideas for shoring up security in eastern Europe. For more than two decades, the alliance had been beset by self-doubt. Having won the cold war, what was the point any more?

Putin gave the military planners at Mons and the armies of bureaucrats in Brussels a new lease of life. Nato’s core purpose – facing down and containing Russia – was newly legitimised.

The summit decided to put a spearhead force at brigade strength, more than 5,000 men, into Poland and the Baltics at short notice: small units of special forces within hours, bigger reinforcements within days, at the first hint of trouble.

That was six months ago. But since the September summit, the plan has atrophied, bogged down in endless circular discussions of who does what, when and where. Who pays for it? Where is the kit coming from? Will the Americans step up to relieve the Europeans? Who will be in command?

First of all, NATO did not win the cold war, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did for the exact reasons mentioned.  It won’t win this conflict unless the United States has a stronger foreign policy and from what we have seen from Barack Obama, it will have to come from the next President.

Why did the U.S. invade Iraq?

It was hubris

So what’s the best explanation for why America invaded Iraq? Hubris born of success. From Panama to the Gulf War to Bosnia to Kosovo, America spent the decade preceding 9/11 intervening successfully overseas. As a result, elites in both parties lost the fear of war they felt after Vietnam. In 1988 Reagan had been so afraid of another Vietnam that he refused to send ground troops to Panama. In 1990 John McCain had responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by declaring, “If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think [public] support will erode significantly … We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.” In his emotional 1991 speech opposing the Gulf War, John Kerry had mentioned Vietnam 10 times. In his 2002 speech supporting the invasion of Iraq, by contrast, he mentioned Vietnam only once.

It wasn’t only military success that by 9/11 had eroded America’s caution. It was economic and ideological success, too. By 2001 the boom of the late 1990s had turned America’s budget deficit to surplus. For top Bush officials, the lesson was that just as America had overcome the deficits Reagan amassed while fighting the Cold War, America could easily overcome whatever temporary debt the Bushies incurred fighting the “war on terror.” As Dick Cheney declared during the run-up to Iraq, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

The final ingredient was ideological success. In the 1980s, before democratization swept across Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Latin America, prominent liberals and conservatives would have found the idea that democracy could take root in a country like Iraq utterly fanciful. As late as 1983, Irving Kristol, the “godfather” of neoconservatism, was writing that “the traditions—political, religious, cultural—that shape Latin American thinking and behavior are such as to make it exceedingly difficult for the countries of Southern America to proceed along the [democratic] lines followed by Northern America and Western Europe.” By 2001, however, “neoconservatism” had been redefined by ideological optimists like Paul Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams, and Irving’s son, William, men shaped by the very democratic transformations that Irving Kristol had deemed impossible.

Obviously, it took 9/11 for the Bush administration to rally the public behind the Iraq war. But had the success of the 1990s not bred so much military, economic, and ideological overconfidence on both sides of the aisle, it’s unlikely they would have tried.

The key thing that has changed in the decade since America invaded Iraq is not Barack Obama’s election. It’s the collapse of American hubris. Far fewer people in either party now claim that America can easily topple and occupy distant lands. Far fewer believe we can conduct foreign policy as if “deficits don’t matter.” Far fewer believe that the peoples of the Middle East yearn for secular, liberal, pro-American democracies. That doesn’t mean the United States has stopped acting like a superpower. We’ve simply turned to methods that cost less money and fewer American lives.

It’s an old story. After Korea left the United States exhausted, Eisenhower told the CIA to overthrow leftist Third World governments because it could do so more cheaply than the Marines. When Richard Nixon could no longer sustain a large U.S. ground presence in Vietnam, he began bombing ferociously from the air. Now Obama has pulled U.S. ground troops from Iraq, is pulling them from Afghanistan, and is fighting al Qaeda with drones instead.

There’s nothing particularly glorious, or moral, about empire on the cheap. But at least war will no longer cost America so much money and so many young American lives. Maybe we’ve grown wiser over the last 10 years. Or maybe we’ve just lost the epic ambition that true tragedy requires.

The Rise of Ted Cruz

The New Yorker has a long profile on Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz, the Republican junior senator from Texas, has heard the line about how the Party needs to become more moderate to win Presidential elections. “It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats,’ ” he told me. “That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that we lose.” Cruz then offered a short history of recent Presidential politics. Richard Nixon ran as a conservative, twice a winner; Gerald Ford, moderate, loser; Ronald Reagan, also twice a winner. “President George Herbert Walker Bush ran as a strong conservative, ran to continue the third term of Ronald Reagan, continue the Ronald Reagan revolution,” Cruz went on. “Then he raised taxes and in ’92 ran as an establishment moderate—same candidate, two very different campaigns. First one won, second one lost. In 1996, you got Bob Dole; 2000 and 2004, you have George W. Bush; 2008, John McCain; 2012, Mitt Romney. And what does the entire D.C. Republican consulting class say? ‘In 2016, we need another establishment moderate!’ Hasn’t worked in four decades. ‘But next time will be the time!’ ”

Great speech but factually incorrect.  If Reagan was in power now, he would be lambasted by guys like Cruz for being too liberal and a RINO, a Republican in Name Only.

Who broke the U.S. government

David Frum answers this over at CNN.

Politics is a contest, limited by certain unwritten rules. And over the past two decades, old rules have broken down.

Under the old rules, there were certain things that political parties did not do — even though theoretically they could. If one party controlled the Senate and another party controlled the presidency, the Senate party did not reject all the president’s nominees. The party that controlled the House did not refuse to schedule votes on the president’s budgets. Individual senators did not use secret holds to sway national policy. The filibuster was reserved for rare circumstances — not as a routine 60-vote requirement on every Senate vote.

It’s incredible to look back now on how the Reagan tax cut passed the Democratic House in 1981. The Democratic House leaderships could have refused to schedule votes on Reagan’s tax plans. Instead, they not only allowed the tax plan to proceed — but they allowed 48 of 243 Democrats to break ranks on the key procedural vote without negative consequences to their careers in the Democratic party. (Rep. Dan Glickman of Kansas, for example, who voted for the tax cuts would rise to become Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton.)

My new job

Statue of Ronald ReaganFor those of you who haven’t heard, I am quitting my job at the Salvation Army Community Services, quitting my column at The StarPhoenix and pursuing something really important in life*.  My divine calling is not to help the homeless and the oppressed or talk about urban and geo-political and economic issues in The StarPhoenix; it is this.  My new goal in life is to put a statue of Ronald Reagan in every county in the United States and establish February 6th as Ronald Reagan Day which will hopefully become a national holiday.  Once I am done that, my goal is to move north of Canada and have a statue of Saskatchewan MP Len Blork put in every riding in Western Canada.  The question is where do I put the statue in Saskatoon.  Beside Ghandi or Gordie Howe?

 

* I’m joking.

Column: Focus Campaign On Real Issues

My latest in The StarPhoenix

When I was growing up, the United States was larger than life.

It was the peak of the Cold War and we thought at the time only Ronald Reagan, the United States military and our Canada Cup hockey team was standing between us and the evil Soviets.

Fast forward and I am now reading that much of the U.S. Navy is rusting out because they can’t afford maintenance or spare parts (how very Canadian of them).

S & P downgraded the U.S credit rating, and the government just cut $900 billion dollars from its annual budget.

Many economists think this could send the country back into recession. China is now saying it is growing tired of buying up U.S. debt.

In more tangible terms, one third of American high school students don’t graduate or graduate late. In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers released a report card on U.S. infrastructure, giving the U.S. a D, with the highest mark being C+ for solid-waste handling.

One in five Americans are now on food stamps. The country no longer looks so large or powerful.

Europe is in worse trouble. Greece seems about to topple, Portugal and Spain are teetering, and Italy’s debt is 120 per cent of its GDP – around $3 trillion.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown said that he sees G20 and IMF intervention coming to the continent very soon.

In Asia, China is battling inflation at home, which is generally fought with higher interest rates and a reduced flow of investment capital.

If Goldman Sachs is right and the United States does head into another recession, Saskatchewan will probably escape this downturn in a similar way to how we did the last one. Demand for our potash, oil, and food will remain constant if not increase, which means maintaining the status quo will be pretty tempting.

Foreign investment dollars will tighten up, however. Expect tourism and manufacturing to face some challenges due to a weak U.S. dollar and foreign markets struggling because of austerity programs abroad.

Despite our strengths and good luck, Saskatchewan is a $46-billion conomy in a $62-trillion world, which means if the world markets convulse and shudder, we will feel it.

While we can’t totally avoid what is happening out there, we can take this time to figure out how to come out ahead. Former prime minister Paul Martin told the Globe and Mail recently that Canada will attract the best and brightest from around the world because of our stability. He also added that investments in infrastructure and education would continue to push the Canadian advantage.

We have the time to figure out how to make the right investments. It took Canada and Saskatchewan almost a decade to find our way out from our economic crises of the 1990s, and expect it to take at least that long for the U.S. to recover.

Saskatchewan elections are typically pretty mundane affairs. We tend to look at election issues and promises for the short-term view. We have an election coming up in November that doesn’t have many issues that either party seems to be able to use.

Instead of creating fictional quotes for radio ads, why not talk about some of the more substantial issues facing the future of the province? What should Saskatchewan look like in 2031 and how do we get there?

We need to ask what it will take to attract the top talent to Saskatchewan. How do we create an atmosphere of innovation and entrepreneurship in a province historically dominated by Crown corporations?

What role does the University of Saskatchewan play in our future and what resources does it need to fill that role? Do we have industries or technologies where targeted investment would allow them to take off ?

What do race relations look like in 2031? Are our public schools preparing children adequately for the future?

How are we going to pay for it? Do we use non-renewable royalties to fund government operations now or should we be creating our own version of Alberta’s heritage fund once the oil and other nonrenewables are gone?

I guess the first question we should ask is: "Are we are ready to have an election about real issues or should we settle for one dominated by fear mongering, childish stunts and ridiculous debates?"

I would prefer forwardlooking election platforms and some real vision from both parties to figure out where we are going and how will we get there.

Times like this only come by once in a lifetime.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Column: There has to be more than tax cuts

My latest column in The StarPhoenix.  I’ll add in some extra link later today but for now I need to get some work done for my other employer.

The Star Phoenix Since the end of the Super Bowl, I have been following the National Football League lockout and the litigation surrounding it. I have concluded that the hard-line owners and the players association leaders are the stupidest group of people not working in the National Hockey League’s front office.

That all changed last week, when both the Republicans and the Democrats started to talk openly about defaulting on the debt of the United States – something that seemed so preposterous that I thought I was reading a headline from News of the World.

Sadly it wasn’t. If a deal isn’t struck soon, the U.S. will default on debt – something that neither Canada nor most western nations have ever done – and it will cause economic chaos around the world, again. Why has it come to this? You can blame George W. Bush or Barack Obama, but this one rests with the Tea Party.

Almost everyone agrees that the U.S. budget has to be cut.

Incredibly, President Bush cut taxes at the start of his first term and then, while the world changed after the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. tax rate did not.

Rather than raise taxes to pay for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush kept the rates low and borrowed, as if there were no tomorrow.

In case you haven’t taken time to think about how expensive wars can be, the U.S. spent $20.2 billion to provide air conditioning alone in Afghanistan and Iraq last year. By contrast, Canada’s massive Economic Action Plan had just $12 billion in new infrastructure spending.

On top of the wars, the Great Recession hit. Then, to control long-term health costs, Obama brought in health-care reform. It wasn’t universal care, but better than what Americans had. Suddenly people started talking about seceding from the union. Apparently helping people with their health problems is unconstitutional.

Somehow, out of all of this, the Tea Party was formed and has decided to fight raising the debt ceiling.

Conservative columnist David Brooks calls the Tea Party a "psychological protest," and I tend to agree. You would dismiss the partiers as wing nuts if they didn’t hold the balance of power.

In the 2010 midterm elections, the Tea Party was quite willing and able to defeat any Republican incumbent who compromised on increases to spending or taxes. The result is that Republican Congressmen know they will face a tough primary challenge from the right if they step out of line and compromise.

The result? A possible debt default.

What I find interesting about this is not the politics but the psychology. Tea Party supporters see taxes and government as evil: No tax increase can ever be justified.

I complain about taxes like everyone else. I howl every year when the mill rate goes up, but after 13 years of making weekly mortgage and property tax payments, my payments are now $130, up from $114 a week in 1998. Even if the city reduced its tax rate to the 1998 level, my gain would be about $15 a week. I cheered when the GST was lowered to five per cent from seven per cent, but I haven’t noticed the price go down on anything I have bought.

While I don’t especially like paying taxes, I also know they go toward making our city and our country a better place to live. Even the great icon of conservatism, Ronald Reagan, raised taxes when more revenue was needed. Brian Mulroney’s hated GST was a component that allowed the Chretien Liberals to balance the budget.

Yet to balance the budget the Tea Party demands only spending cuts, which will largely hurt the poor, rather than seeking to close tax loopholes for the rich. They propose gutting Medicare, which could hurt seniors across the nation.

It’s something you hear often and it boils down to: "If I can make it, so can everyone else." It’s based in a deep ignorance of the social, medical and geographic realities of how we are raised, the opportunities we are given or the geography we settle in. In Saskatchewan, where prosperity often has come because of the soil conditions of the homestead, we understand this.

Spending cuts are often deemed to be courageous and noble and at times they are. But so is ensuring the less fortunate are taken care of. We’ve always known that as a city and a province. I hope we won’t forget that, as others have.

Do the Liberals need a national primary?

Liberal Party of Canada logoJohn Ibbitson thinks they do.

Mr. Rae is touring the country and consulting what political types like to call the grassroots, though Alykhan Velshi, a former aide to Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, astutely calls them the grasstops. The grasstops are the riding executives, policy wonks, activists and other need-to-get-a-life types who make up the infrastructure of a political party. They’re not the grassroots. You’re the grassroots, and you wouldn’t be caught dead at a Liberal (or Conservative or NDP) barbecue.

Many grasstops belong to one or more of the special interests that weigh down the Liberal Party. The youth commission, the seniors commission, the aboriginal commission, the women’s commission. You can’t swing a dead cat in that party without hitting a commission.

Toss them all out, party executive, and toss yourselves out while you’re at it. But before you go, put forward this proposal for the January convention. Have the next leader chosen through a series of primary contests across the country, in which any Canadian who wants to can cast a ballot.

Right now, the Liberal leader is directly chosen by party members. But it costs money to join and who would want to? People who belong to political parties aren’t entirely normal.

In the United States, you have to register to vote. Everyone who registers as a Democrat or a Republican has a say in that party’s leadership contest through the primaries and caucuses.

This weakens the party elite because outsiders such as Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter) can do an end run around the establishment by appealing directly to voters. Because the weaker a party gets, the more powerful its few surviving poobahs become; a strong party will have a broad base and a weak elite, the very opposite of today’s Liberal Party.

Renewal could come for the Liberals if a leadership contest galvanized hundreds of thousands of people to, say, take out a free one-day party membership so they could vote in the New Brunswick primary, which everyone would be watching because the Northern Ontario primary the week before had vaulted an unknown but charismatic minority candidate into the front ranks of the contest.

Who has the best resume?

Timothy Egan points out that the best looking resume doesn’t always make the best leader.

Harry S. Truman was ridiculed as a haberdasher — a wonderful old word that fell out of use as men’s clothiers gave way to big-box retailers. He was also the only 20th-century American president without a college degree.

Yet Truman finished the war against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan and oversaw plans that got Europe back on its feet. He racially integrated the armed forces by executive order. History has been kind to him. And, by the way, he was a failed haberdasher at that; his store went bankrupt.

Ronald Reagan, that B-list actor — what could he know about running the most powerful nation in the world? Instinctively, he knew enough to make peace with a cold war adversary at the right moment rather than push him into a nuclear corner.

1983: The Brink of Apocalypse

An interesting full length documentary by Channel 4 about how close the west and the Soviet Union came to nuclear Armageddon in 1983.   Reagan’s rhetoric, $1 trillion in defense spending, Pershing II missiles, the new cruise missiles, a breakdown in Soviet detection technology (high altitude clouds set off Soviet early warning satellites), the American invasion of Grenada, a NATO communication war game, paranoia over the Nazi attack 1941 happening all over again, lack of understanding between both sides about each other (and a shortage of double agents) all brought both sides really close to nuclear war in 1983.

It mentions the SIOP which is the integrated plan for fighting a nuclear war.  In Reagan’s version, the expectation was that America would lost 150 million dead at a minimum.