Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Excerpts from an interview with Charles Krauthammer about Obama
The interviewers are German and if you read the whole interview you get the impression that they think Krauthammer is from outer space. As you see, however, Krauthammer has some good answers
SPIEGEL: Why do Europeans react so positively to him?
Krauthammer: Because Europe, for very understandable reasons, has been chaffing for 60 years under the protection, but also the subtle or not so subtle domination of America. Europeans like to see the big guy cut down to size, it's a natural reaction. You know, Europe ran the world for 400 or 500 years until the civilizational suicide of the two World Wars. And then America emerged as the world hegemon, with no competition and unchallenged. The irony is America is the only hegemonic power that never sought hegemony, unlike, for example, Napoleonic France. Americans are not intrinsically imperial, but we ended up dominant by default: Europe disappeared after the Second World War, the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, so here we are. Of course Europeans like to see the hegemon diminished, and Obama is the perfect man to do that.
SPIEGEL: Maybe Europeans want to just see a different America, one they can admire again.
Krauthammer: Admire? Look at Obama's speech at the UN General Assembly: "No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation." Take the first half of that sentence: No nation can dominate another. There is no eight year old who would say that -- it's so absurd. And the second half? That is adolescent utopianism. Obama talks in platitudes, but offers a vision to the world of America diminished or constrained, and willing to share leadership in a way that no other presidency and no other great power would. Could you imagine if the Russians were hegemonic, or the Chinese, or the Germans -- that they would speak like this?
SPIEGEL: Is America's power not already diminished?
Krauthammer: Relative to what?
SPIEGEL: To emerging powers.
Krauthammer: The Chinese are rising, the Indians have a very long way to go. But I'm old enough to remember the late 1980s, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" by Paul Kennedy and the prevailing view that America was in decline and Japan was the rising power. The fashion now is that the Chinese will overtake the United States. As with the great Japan panic, there are all kinds of reasons why that will not happen.
Look, eventually American hegemony will fade. In time, yes. But now? Economically we now have serious problems, creating huge amounts of debt that we cannot afford and that could bring down the dollar and even cause hyperinflation. But nothing is inevitable. If we make the right choices, if we keep our economic house in order, we can avert an economic collapse. We can choose to decline or to stay strong.
SPIEGEL: Do you really believe that Obama deliberately wants to weaken the US?
Krauthammer: The liberal vision of America is that it should be less arrogant, less unilateral, more internationalist. In Obama's view, America would subsume itself under a fuzzy internationalism in which the international community, which I think is a fiction, governs itself through the UN.
SPIEGEL: A nightmare?
Krauthammer: Worse than that: an absurdity. I can't even imagine serious people would believe it, but I think Obama does. There is a way America will decline -- if we choose first to wreck our economy and then to constrain our freedom of action through subordinating ourselves to international institutions which are 90 percent worthless and 10 percent harmful.
SPIEGEL: And there is not even 1 percent that is constructive?
Krauthammer: No. The UN is worse than disaster. The UN creates conflicts. Look at the disgraceful UN Human Rights Council: It transmits norms which are harmful, anti-liberty, and anti-Semitic among other things. The world would be better off in its absence.
SPIEGEL: And Obama is, in your eyes, …
Krauthammer: He's becoming ordinary. In the course of his presidency, Obama has gone from an almost magical charismatic figure to an ordinary politician. Ordinary. Average. His approval ratings are roughly equal to what the last five presidents' were at the same time in their first term. Other people have already said he's done and finished because his health care plans ran into trouble; but I say they're wrong. He's going to come back, he will pass something on health care, there's no question. He will have a blip, be somewhat rehabilitated politically, but he won't be able to pass anything on climate change. He will not be the great transformer he imagines himself to be. A president like others -- with successes and failures.
SPIEGEL: What major mistakes has Obama made?
Krauthammer: I don't know whether I should call it a mistake, but it turns out he is a left-liberal, not center-right the way Bill Clinton was. The analogy I give is that in America we play the game between the 40-yard lines, in Europe you go all the way from goal line to goal line. You have communist parties, you have fascist parties, we don't have that, we have very centrist parties.
So Obama wants to push us to the 30-yard line, which for America is pretty far. Right after he was elected, he gave an address to Congress and promised to basically remake the basic pillars of American society -- education , energy and health care. All this would move America toward a social democratic European-style state. It is outside of the norm of America.
SPIEGEL: Yet, he had promised these reforms during the campaign.
Krauthammer: Hardly. He's now pushing a cap-and-trade energy reform. During the campaign he said that would cause skyrocketing utility rates. On healthcare, the reason he's had such resistance is because he promised reform, not a radical remaking of the whole system.
SPIEGEL: So he didn't see the massive resistance coming?
Krauthammer: Obama misread his mandate. He was elected six weeks after a financial collapse unlike any seen in 60 years; after eight years of a presidency which had tired the country; in the middle of two wars that made the country opposed to the Republican government that involved us in the wars; and against a completely inept opponent, John McCain. Nevertheless, Obama still only won by 7 points. But he thought it was a great sweeping mandate and he could implement his social democratic agenda.
SPIEGEL: Part of the problem when it comes to health care is the lack of solidarity in the American way of thinking. Can a president change a country?
Krauthammer: Yes. Franklin D. Roosevelt did it. Back then, we didn't have a welfare state, we didn't have old age pensions, we didn't have unemployment insurance. This country was the Wild West until FDR. Yes, you can change the spirit of America.
SPIEGEL: If Obama is so radical, why is the left wing of the Democratic Party so unhappy with him?
Krauthammer: They are disillusioned because he has ignored some of their social agenda, such as gay rights; continued some of the Bush policies he had once denounced, such as the detention without trial for terrorists; and on his large agenda for education and energy, where he has had no success.
SPIEGEL: You have called him a "young Hamlet" over his hesitation about making a decision on Afghanistan. However, he's just carefully considering the options after Bush shot so often from the hip.
Krauthammer: No. The strategy he's revising is not the Bush strategy, it's the Obama strategy. On March 27, he stood there with a background of flags, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on one side and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the other, and said: "Today, I'm announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." So don't tell me this is revising eight years of Bush, he's not. For all these weeks and months he's been revising his own strategy, and that's okay, you're allowed to do that. But if you're president and you're commander-in-chief, and your guys are getting shot and killed in the field, and you think "maybe the strategy I myself announced with great fanfare six months ago needs to be revised," do it in quiet. Don't show the world that you're utterly at sea and have no idea what to do! Your European allies already are skittish and reluctant, and wondering whether they ought to go ahead. It's your own strategy, if it's not working, then you revise it and fix it. You just don't demoralize your allies.
SPIEGEL: Is Afghanistan still a war of necessity, still a strategic interest?
Krauthammer: The phrase "war of necessity and war of choice" is a phrase that came out of a different context. Milan Kundera once wrote, "a small country is a country that can disappear and knows it." He was thinking of prewar Czechoslovakia. Israel is a country that can disappear and knows it. America, Germany, France, Britain, are not countries that can disappear. They can be defeated but they cannot disappear. For the great powers, and especially for the world superpower, very few wars are wars of necessity. In theory, America could adopt a foreign policy of isolationism and survive. We could fight nowhere, withdraw from everywhere -- South Korea, Germany, Japan, NATO, the United Nations -- if we so chose. From that perspective, every war since World War II has been a war of choice.
So using those categories -- wars of necessity, wars of choice -- is unhelpful in thinking through contemporary American intervention. In Afghanistan the question is: Do the dangers of leaving exceed the dangers of staying.
SPIEGEL: General Stanley McCrystal is asking for more troops. Is that really the right strategy?
Krauthammer: General Stanley McCrystal is the world expert on counterterrorism. For five years he ran the most successful counterterrorism operation probably in the history of the world: His guys went after the bad guys in Iraq, they ran special ops, they used the Predators and they killed thousands of jihadists that we don't even know about, it was all under the radar. And now this same general tells Obama that the counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan will fail, you have to do counterinsurgency, population protection. That would seem an extremely persuasive case that counterterrorism would not work.
SPIEGEL: You famously coined the term "Reagan Doctrine" to describe Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. What is the "Obama Doctrine?"
Krauthammer: I would say his vision of the world appears to me to be so naïve that I am not even sure he's able to develop a doctrine. He has a view of the world as regulated by self-enforcing international norms, where the peace is kept by some kind of vague international consensus, something called the international community, which to me is a fiction, acting through obviously inadequate and worthless international agencies. I wouldn't elevate that kind of thinking to a doctrine because I have too much respect for the word doctrine.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that diplomacy always fails?
Krauthammer: No, foolishness does. Perhaps when he gets nowhere on Iran, nowhere with North Korea, when he gets nothing from the Russians in return for what he did to the Poles and the Czechs, gets nowhere in the Middle East peace talks -- maybe at that point he'll begin to rethink whether the world really runs by international norms, consensus, and sweetness and light, or whether it rests on the foundation of American and Western power that, in the final analysis, guarantees peace.
SPIEGEL: Do you basically think Obama is going to be a one-term president?
Krauthammer: No, I think he has a very good chance of being reelected. For two reasons. First, there's no real candidate on the other side, and you can't beat something with nothing. Secondly, it'll depend on the economy -- and just from American history, in the normal economic cycles, presidents who have their recessions at the beginning of their first term get reelected (Reagan, Clinton, the second Bush), and presidents who have them at the end of their first term don't (Carter, the first Bush). Obama will lose a lot of seats in next year's Congressional election, but the economy should be on the upswing in 2012.
SPIEGEL: Is the conservative movement in the United States in decline?
Krauthammer: When George W. Bush won in 2004, there was lots of stuff written that about the end of liberalism and the death of the Democratic Party. Look where we are now.
SPIEGEL: A Democrat is back in the White House, the party also controls Congress.
Krauthammer: Exactly. We see the usual overreading of history whenever one side loses. Look, there are cycles in American politics. US cycles are even more pronounced because we Americans have a totally entrepreneurial presidential system. We don't have parliamentary opposition parties with a shadow prime minister and shadow cabinets. Every four years, the opposition reinvents itself. We have no idea who will be the Republican nominee in 2012. The party structures are very fluid. We have a history of political parties being thrown out of the White House after two terms -- as has happened every single time with only one exception (Ronald Reagan) since World War II. The idea that one party is done in the US is silly. The Republicans got killed in 2006 and 2008, but they will be back.
A rejoinder: Why cap and trade will devastate the US economy :Irrespective of green claims to the contrary Obama's energy policy would devastate the US economy and savage living standards.
US economy and credit contraction: Has the Fed reversed monetary policy from inflation to deflation? : "The pace of monetary pumping by the US central bank is starting to fall sharply, there is a growing likelihood that the fall in commercial-bank lending out of thin air will cause actual deflation
Obama's tax and spend policies are dooming sustained economic growth:Given the administration's horribly irresponsible budget policy, its destructive energy proposals and the flood of taxes it plans to let loose on the economy I cannot for the life of me see how the US can restart the process of capital accumulation
A wave of Marxist tyrants is rising in Central America : So long as Obama and his leftwing cronies see evil only in those who resist becoming democratic zombie states - and there's worse on the horizon. Tiny Honduras, which stood alone to prevent dictatorship, remains ostracized, bullied and reviled by the Obama administration. So why is Obama fostering tyranny?
Obama uses tax payer money to destroy the free market :America became a great country by letting its people be all they can be without interference from government. In just less than a year all this has changed. We have seen the government dictate everything from toilets to light bulbs and take ownership interests in private enterprises in major segments of our economy
Rednecks : Many of the traits that are associated with the redneck culture have since died out in England, and many parts of the south. But many of the black Americans who chose to follow the media anointed spokespersons for blacks, Revs. $harpton and Jackson, have kept the redneck culture alive in many parts of America's inner-cities and ghettos
TX: Planned Parenthood director quits after watching abortion on ultrasound: "The former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in southeast Texas says she had a ‘change of heart’ after watching an abortion last month — and she quit her job and joined a pro-life group in praying outside the facility. Abby Johnson, 29, used to escort women from their cars to the clinic in the eight years she volunteered and worked for Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. But she says she knew it was time to leave after she watched a fetus ‘crumple’ as it was vacuumed out of a patient’s uterus in September. … Johnson said she became disillusioned with her job after her bosses pressured her for months to increase profits by performing more and more abortions, which cost patients between $505 and $695.”
Death penalty case returns to high court: "The US Supreme Court is considering, for the third time, the case of a California man who was sentenced to die in 1982 for the brutal killing of a young woman. The California Supreme Court affirmed a death sentence for Fernando Belmontes 20 years ago, but since then the case has bounced back and forth in the federal courts. Three times this decade, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Belmontes’ death sentence. The case is the latest skirmish in the battle between California prosecutors and the Ninth Circuit over the death penalty — and it helps explains the oddity of capital punishment in California. While death sentences are common, executions are rare.”
GOP eyes 3-state sweep of key contests: "Voters on Monday prepared to cast ballots in the first major elections since President Obama took office, offering a glimpse into how they think the president and his party have handled issues such as health care and the economy. Republicans and their conservative allies were buoyed by late polls showing they could sweep the three biggest electoral prizes of 2009: the Virginia and New Jersey governors' mansions and New York's 23rd Congressional District seat."
Is the Music Industry Biting the Hands that Feed Them?: "A new survey has taken one big step toward breaking a (perhaps) misapplied industry association — that music file sharers and downloaders are stealing music instead of buying it. The survey, commissioned by a UK-based firm called Demos, shows that those who share files tend to spend 75 percent more on music than the non-sharing types that the industry tends to embrace. It may indeed be the case that file sharers are just more interested in music."
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Posted by JR at 1:36 AM