Thursday, December 20, 2012

Obama's Style

The amount of excitement generated by the election of America's first biracial president focused attention on his first few days in office. How would he govern? Historian Edward Klein notes that, early in his administration,

Obama indicated that he had a preference for a corporatist political system in which the economy would be collectively managed by big employers, big unions, and government officials through a formal mechanism at the national level. Also known as state capitalism, it is a system in which the government picks winners and promotes economic growth.

Barack Obama expressed a preference for what is commonly called "crony capitalism," which is very different than free market capitalism. In a free market, all the players take risks: they all have the same chances to win or lose. In Obama's "crony capitalism," the government intervenes in the market to favor one company over another.

Edward Klein interviewed a guest who had attended a dinner at the White House - the guest spoke on the condition of anonymity - who said that

Since the beginning of his administration, Obama hasn't been able to capture the public's imagination and inspire people to follow him. Vision isn’t enough in a president. Great presidents not only have to enunciate their vision; they must lead by example and inspiration. Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the individual. He and Ronald Reagan had the ability to make each American feel that the president cared deeply and personally about them.

That quality has been lacking in Obama. People don't feel that he's on their side. The irony is that he was supposed to be such a brilliant orator, but in fact he’s turned out to be a failure as a communicator. And his failure to connect with people has had nothing to do with the choice of his words or how well he nothing to do with the choice of his words or how well he delivers his speeches. It's something much more fundamental than that.

The American people have come to realize that, in Barack Obama, they elected a man as president who does not know how to lead. He lacks an executive sense. He doesn't know how to run things. He's not a manager. He hasn’t been able to bring together the best and brightest talents. Not to put too fine a point on it, he’s in over his head.

Experienced leaders share this view of Obama. Secretary of State James Baker, seeing the chaos in the White House as different advisers and appointees strove to keep themselves informed, noted that

All this comes from the fact that, before he became president, Obama never had the responsibility for running anything. He’s a policy wonk; he's very smart, very knowledgeable. But he was a community organizer, and a community organizer doesn’t have the lines of authority that you have when you're running an organization.

Voters had been fascinated by the fact that Obama would be the nation's first biracial president. After he took office, the public saw his policies gradually take shape, and his management skills put to the test. Edward Klein writes:

Obama's handling of the 2009 fiscal crisis showed an alarming lack of experience and a complete ignorance of how Washington works. For instance, during the presidential race, Obama campaigned against earmarks — the notorious legislative gimmick used by congressmen and senators to allocate funds for favorite projects in their home districts. Yet, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent an omnibus spending bill with $8 billion worth of earmarks to the White House, Obama naïvely believed Pelosi and Reid, who told him that that was the only way he could get his $800 billion stimulus bill passed. Obama signed the omnibus spending bill with all the earmarks intact, signaling that the barons of Capitol Hill could roll the amateurish president.

Whether his comments during the campaign were made out of idealism or out of calculation, when Obama was in office, the public gained a more accurate perception, both of his ideals and of his skills.

Black Leaders Criticize Obama

America's first biracial president, Barack H. Obama, has not met with the enthusiastic response he expected from the nation's black community. Having based his campaign on, and having been elected because of, his race, many people assumed that he would enjoy the full cooperation of the African-American leaders in the United States. But this is not the case.

For example, Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, took issue with Obama's handling of Project Labor Agreements. These deals direct government contracts to labor unions. The problem? African-Americans are underrepresented among union workers. President Bush had eliminated these PLAs; Obama reinstated them. Alford commented:

President George W. Bush eliminated PLAs from federal contracting and his main reason was ‘unions discriminate against small business, women, and minorities.’ So here we were with the first black president who deliberately discriminates against small business, women, and minorities. How ironic!

Harry Alford was not the only black leader expressing doubts about Obama. The White House knew that it would need to do fix the situation if Obama was to be reelected. Historian Edward Klein writes:

As he headed into his fourth year in office and began to gear up for his reelection campaign, Obama was forced to face an uncomfortable fact: he was profoundly unpopular with black leaders, who found him cold and distant, an inauthentic “brother.” If he hoped to generate a large black voter turnout in 2012, something had to be done to counter this growing disenchantment. He had to rally his base.

Obama's problem was that he was at ease with an oil executive - like one of the many father figures who destabilized young Barack's childhood by casually drifting in and out of it - or with the vice president of a bank - like his grandmother - or with a room full of white university professors - like his college experiences - or with the people from an exclusive private school - like those which he attended instead of ordinary public schools. He was more comfortable with elite white people than with a gathering of ordinary African-Americans.

This feature of Obama's personality made itself known among the leaders of America's black community. He would need to repair his image among the nation's African-Americans in order to be reelected. Edward Klein reports:

Suddenly, I started hearing from prominent blacks, whose phone calls and emails to the White House had gone unanswered for three years.

"I wanted you to know that I finally got an invitation to the White House — I was asked to attend the White House Christmas party," one of Obama's severest black critics told me. Others confirmed that the White House had undertaken a full-court press to win black approval.

But it was too little and too late. As it turned out, Obama would be reelected in 2012, but by white voters. The black vote for Obama declined precipitously from 2008 to 2012. The African-Americans were not impressed with Obama.

Obama: African-American, But Not Black?

One might have expected that America's first biracial president would have been a master at race relations. One might have expected that, being the son of a white mother and a black father, he would have been perceptively attuned to issues of race. But Barack Obama has found the African-Americans to be one of his most challenging constituencies.

There are many reasons why it might be difficult for Obama to connect intuitively with the African-American community. Some arise from his childhood, much of which was spent in Indonesia, where he was surrounded by many Asians and a few ex-patriot Europeans, but not by people of African heritage. The few Africans he might have seen there would not have been African-American, but rather properly African, and therefore not part of the American black experience.

During those few childhood years he spent in the U.S., mainly in Hawaii, his grandmother's wealth - she was the vice president of a bank - ensured that he was sent to exclusive private schools, away from ordinary black people, and away from ordinary public schools.

This childhood did not equip Obama to relate to the culture and experience of African-Americans, whether rural or urban. This inability to connect to black voters gave rise to difficulties in the Obama administration. Maureen Dowd, a newspaper columnist whose ideas are generally similar to Obama's, wrote:

The Obama White House is too white. It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran. But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand "the slave thing," as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.

The firing of Shirley Sherrod revealed how badly Obama's administration could bungle race relations. She was fired from the Department of Agriculture based on media reports, on public perceptions, and on urban legend. The administration did no fact-checking. Not only was she fired based on what turned out to be a false narrative, but the White House was not aware of her status as a leader in the African-American community. Dowd write that Obama's staff wasn't

familiar enough with civil rights history to recognize the name Sherrod. And they didn’t return the calls and e-mail of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong. Charles Sherrod, Shirley’s husband, was a Freedom Rider who, along with the civil rights hero John Lewis, was a key member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the ‘60s. As Lewis, the longtime Georgia congressman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he knew immediately that something was amiss with the distorted

narrative percolating through the media. Obama and his staff were utterly out of touch with the intuitive reaction of the larger African-American community. Historian Edward Klein wrote that Dowd's "blistering rebuke of Obama" was a logical consequence of

how badly America's first black president had bungled his relations with black America.

Although the Sherrod incident was indicative of Obama's inability to understand black American, it was not an isolated occurrence:

The Sherrod Case was a turning point in relations between Obama and the black leadership. No longer were blacks willing to bite their tongues when speaking about the black president. By the summer of 2011, the Congressional Black Caucus was openly warning Obama that black voters were frustrated by his administration's unwillingness to address black joblessness, which was more than double the national average, and which rose as high as 40 percent in urban centers like Chicago and Detroit. The message was clear: although Obama would probably still get more than 90 percent of the African-American vote in 2012, he couldn't count on the kind of black turnout he had generated in 2008.

The numbers in 2012 confirmed this: although Obama's 2008 election had been primarily the result of white voters, his 2012 reelection was even more so. A precipitous decline in black voter turnout revealed that the African-American community was no longer enthusiastic about Obama.

"I'm frustrated with the president, I'm frustrated with the Senate, I'm frustrated with the House," Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, a Missouri Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "The president and his White House team [are] trying to minimize the discussion of race as it relates to job creation."

Although his 2008 campaign and election were based primarily on the fact that he was biracial, Obama continued to be tone-deaf to the views expressed by black leaders.

Emanuel Cleaver's complaint was echoed by Maxine Waters, a former chairman of the caucus. "The worry should be that are [black] people going to be enthusiastic about getting to the polls, or are they not going to be as enthusiastic."

African-American leaders were frustrated with Obama; he in turn was frustrated with them. This mutual annoyance arose from a cultural divide. Ann Dunham, Barack Obama's mother, had raised Obama in the company of wealthy white businesspeople: oil executives, bankers, professors. The non-whites in Obama's early life, Asians and a very few blacks, were from the comfortable and educated classes. Whatever vague notion of blackness the young Obama had, it was removed socially, culturally, and economically from the African-American experience.

Obama compounded his problem with African-Americans in August 2011, when he set off on a three-day bus tour through the Midwest to talk about his push to create jobs. With his approval ratings at an all-time low of 39 percent, Obama campaigned before all-white audiences in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. This set off a chorus of criticism from black leaders, who wanted to know why the president had avoided African-American communities.

Obama may have been comfortable with individuals of African heritage - people with dark skin - but many of the one's he'd actually known were not from the United States and not part of America's black culture.

Stung by all this criticism, Obama appeared before the Congressional Black Caucus in September 2011 and gave a no-holds-barred speech chastising his critics. He told the attendees at the gathering to "take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes" and "stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying."

In response, Maxine Waters deftly put the president in his place. "I've never owned a pair of bedroom slippers," she said.

Many African-American leaders came either from the rural south or the urban industrialized north. Obama grew up among wealthy people in Hawaii and Indonesia. More than one black leader noted that Bill Clinton was more able to understand their concerns than Barack Obama. Edward Klein recalls his interviews with various black leaders:

If relations between Obama and black politicians were touchy, they were downright contentious with black businessmen. I spoke with Harry C. Alford, the president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which represents the nearly two million black businesses in the United States.

"When Obama became president, we were all happy about the symbolism — America’s first black president," Alford told me. "We didn't really care about his position or views on anything. We just wanted a black president no matter what. We should have been more careful, as his views on small business, especially black business, are counter to ours.

"His view of business is that it should be a few major corporations which are totally unionized and working with the government, which should also be massive and reaching every level of American society,” Alford continued. "Thus, his first Executive Order was the reinstatement of Project Labor Agreements in government contracting. PLAs give labor unions an exclusive [option] in construction jobs — all participating firms must use union labor or, at least, pay union wages and abide by union rules. This activity, in effect, discriminates against blacks, Hispanics, and women per se, as trade unions deliberately under-employ them."

Obama is quite comfortable with the leadership of the Democratic Party - a largely white group of individuals. He's also comfortable with the leadership of unions - again, a group the majority of which is white. His experiences in school - all the way through graduate school - were in environments populated mainly by white people. Obama is simply not comfortable around black people.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Obama and the Politics of Race

Every American president - George Washington included - has had to address questions of race. Barack H. Obama is no exception. For all of these men, the question includes political, moral, and personal considerations. For Obama, the personal dimension of this question is obvious yet unclear. It is more than obvious, inasmuch as he is the first American president to have half of his heritage - his bloodline, his family tree - from Africa, and half from Europe: the first biracial president. It is unclear, inasmuch as Obama's relationship to his biracial lineage is somewhat uncomfortable.

The son of a white woman and a black man, Obama was raised in social circles which were conspicuously free of African influences. Abandoned by his father as an infant, he was raised largely by his mother and her parents: his mother's mother was the vice president of a bank and able to fund a nice lifestyle and private schools for young Barack. Of the other men who would temporarily function as father-figures for Obama, none were of African descent, and all would casually leave Barack and his mother, moving on, and further destabilizing Obama's self-image.

Ann Dunham, Obama's mother, carefully managed his career and early childhood. Much of his childhood was spent outside the United State, primarily in Indonesia. When he was on United States soil, she arranged for him to attend private schools. Thus he did not attend an American public school - the very institution which he encourages for all American children. This was one factor in a larger dynamic in which Ann Dunham kept Barack largely apart from African-Americans. Attending schools in Indonesia, he was surrounded largely by Asians, and by a few ex-patriots of European descent, but not by students of African heritage.

Randall Kennedy, an African-American scholar and law professor at Harvard, notes that

Early on in his presidency, Obama was pressed by some activists and politicians to offer race-specific policies to address the disproportionately high rates of unemployment that have long plagued black and other racial-minority communities. He steadfastly refused to do so.

Responding to requests from black voters, Obama said,

"I can't pass laws that say I'm just helping black folks," he responded when asked about Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) criticism of his employment policy. "I'm the president of the United States. What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those that are most vulnerable and most in need. That in turn is going to help lift up the African American community."

While alienating himself from black voters - fewer of whom would vote for him 2012 than in 2008 - Obama also revealed a procedural muddle: as president, he has little to do with "passing laws," because that is primarily Congress's task.

"Here Obama was engaging in the old trick of creating a straw man to knock down," Kennedy continued. "The CBC was not requesting policy aimed at 'just helping black folks.' It was requesting policy that would be intended to assist Americans as a whole but 'particulary those who are most vulnerable' in economic downturns."

Like Professor Kennedy, many black voters who supported Obama in 2008 were disappointed after the president was inaugurated. Historian Edward Klein writes:

Despite Obama's failed economic policies, grievances between black leaders and the black president were kept under wraps for quite some time. White Americans were hardly aware of the family squabble. But those grievances finally surfaced in a dramatic way in the summer of 2010, when Shirley Sherrod, the black Georgia state director of rural development for the United States Department of Agriculture, was forced to resign under orders from the Obama White House.

In a large-scale example of the urban legend phenomenon, the media and the public nurtured the belief that Sherrod had discriminated against white farmers and directed federal aid toward black farmers. The Obama administration ordered Sherrod fired, without examining the strength of the accusations against her, and before evidence emerged suggesting that she might not have given preferential treatment to black farmers.

By firing Sherrod without looking into the matter more carefully, Obama once again revealed himself to be politically inept. Unknowingly, he had picked a fight with the wrong black person, for not only was Shirley Sherrod falsely maligned by the White House, but it turned out that her husband, Charles Sherrod, had played a significant role in the 1960s civil rights movement. Charles Sherrod had been a Freedom Rider along with John Lewis, a prominent member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a longtime Georgia Congressman.

The disconnect between Obama and the African-American community is not only a question of political ineptness, but also of a fragmented personal identity in Obama's psyche. Although his campaign for the presidency was based upon the fact that he is an African-American, his administration has demonstrated a lack of perceptiveness toward black concerns.

As might be expected, the African-American political elite quickly came to the defense of the Sherrods. "I've known these two individuals - the husband for more than fifty years and wife for at least thirty-five, forty - and there's not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies," Congressman Lewis said.

One may well imagine that the blacks who voted for Obama in 2008 did not imagine that they would be defending their fellow African-Americans against Obama's unjust treatment: unfair and racially-motivated treatment. In Obama's mind, formed as it was by his mother's planning, the blacks in America are "them" - not "us" - Obama does not view himself as part of their community: and perhaps rightfully so, having attended white private schools, paid for by his grandmother's large salary from the bank at which she was vice president. Obama may have African-American genes, but he is not the product of the American black experience.

"I don't think a single black person was consulted before Shirley Sherrod was fired - I mean, c'mon," said Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, who had ditched Hillary Clinton to support Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign. "The president is getting hurt real bad. He needs some black people around him."

But Obama isn't comfortable with some black people around him. That situation wasn't a part of his formative years - not as a child, an undergraduate, or a graduate student. Congressman Clyburn continued by saying that

"some people over there [in the White House] are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don't think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite."

The CBC has many voices agreeing in this assessment of Obama:

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the representative from the District of Columbia, concurred: "The president needs some advisers or friends who have a greater sense of the pulse of the African-American community, or who at least have been around the mulberry bush."

Only when the farce threatened to hit the national media, and threatened to erode Obama's reelection bid, did he clumsily move to repair the damage.

Never one to graciously admit his mistakes, Obama finally phoned Shirley Sherrod and spoke to her for a grudging seven minutes. Obama said that he felt that the incident had been blown up way out of proportion, and he refused to apologize personally for the national humiliation Sherrod had suffered. When he offered Sherrod another job in the Agriculture Department, she politely declined.

The telling fact is that in 2012, fewer blacks voted for Obama than in 2008. Why? The pre-election polls did not guarantee Obama an easy victory; so they didn't stay home because of confidence in his certain reelection. Clearly, many African-Americans are less than enthusiastic about him than they were in 2008, and not satisfied with his performance in office.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kennedy vs. Obama

The word 'dynasty' has been often used to refer to the Kennedy family. In American politics, given the lack of a royal house, the Roosevelts, the Clintons, the Bushes, and the Adams have made a collective impact on our political system, but few families have made more headlines than the Kennedys.

Yet the Kennedy family is not always monolithic. During the 2008 primary season, patriarch Ted and his niece Caroline supported Obama, while his nephew Bobby supported Hillary Clinton. Once Obama obtained the party's nomination, there was little to do but calculate the role the Kennedys would play during Obama's first term.

Have prominently supported Obama during the campaign, Caroline, according to historian Edward Klein,

wanted to secure a position as an adviser on education to the new administration. With that in mind, she sent the White House a long memo on education funding reform, which was based on her first-hand experience with the New York City Board of Education. She ended the memo by saying that she hoped to meet with the president to discuss her ideas.

Obama's relation to the Kennedy clan is complex. They cannot directly lay claim to having given Obama his position. That was done by a different set of people - those who handle and manage Obama. But there is no denying that Caroline's support was very helpful to Obama, both in getting the party's nomination, and in winning the general election. And it is also clear that a united effort by the Kennedys to keep Obama out of the White House would probably have succeeded. So, while the Kennedys did not, and do not, manage Obama directly, they are still powerful inside the party, and one might think that it would behoove Obama to acknowledge them. But

she never got a response. Not even an acknowledgement that he had received the memo.

The death of Teddy Kennedy may have given Obama the feeling that he no longer needed to calculate the political dynamic of the Kennedy family.

Then, in the summer of 2011, Caroline asked Maurice Templesman, her mother's longtime companion and a major player in the Democratic Party, to arrange a meeting with the president and his political advisers on Templesman's 70-foot yacht the Relemar, which was docked on Martha's Vineyard, where the president was vacationing. It was Caroline's hope that such a meeting would further her late uncle Teddy's dream of forming a close bond between the Kennedys and the Obamas.

If Obama is interested in forming his own dynasty, he's not interested in doing so by merging with the Kennedys. It is clear that Obama wants to break with major threads within the Democratic Party tradition. He is perhaps akin to those who stormed the 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago, eager to dismantle the machine in favor of an approach modeled after Saul Alinsky.

Once again, the White House spurned Caroline's overture. The president didn't even make an effort to see Caroline, whose home on Martha's Vineyard, Red Gate Farm, was not far from the house the president was renting. A presidential snub had turned into an insult.

It is not clear what Obama's agenda is in this case; on the one hand, he seems to want to fit into the mold of the patriarchs of the Democrat Party - vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, displaying his Ivy League credentials - but on the other hand, he seems not to want to take a place in the pantheon of Democrat Party Aristocrats, but wishes rather to play the role of the iconoclast - raging against the machine. It's as if the radicals who rioted at the '68 Democrat convention in Chicago also wanted memberships in the country clubs where leaders of the Democrat party play golf - and golf is another air which Obama happily wears, while casting himself as the antithesis of golfing politicos.

The White House meted out similar treatment to Ethel Kennedy, the matriarch of the family. During the presidential primaries and general election, Ethel was so gung-ho for Obama that she stopped talking to her son Bobby, because he was an Obama critic. After Obama won the election, Ethel invited the new president to stop by her house in the Kennedy Compound. Her request was met with stony silence.

Having absorbed the political support of Teddy, Caroline, Ethel, and other members of the Kennedy family, Obama was content to ignore them after entering office. This may yet earn him the united ire of the Kennedys. Anonymously interviewed by Klein, one member of the family said that

our family has spies all over the Obama administration. There are a lot of Kennedy loyalists from Ted's old office and his connections throughout Washington who are in high positions in the White House agencies. People like Melody Barnes, the direct of the Domestic Policy Council; Kenneth Feinberg, the special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund; James Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state; and Greg Craig, the former White House counsel under Obama. Through these and other people, Caroline heard back that there was a lot of nasty shit being said about the Kennedys by the president and Michelle. There were catty remarks about how badly the Kennedy women dressed, and how their houses were shabby and threadbare. Caroline got the impression that most of this negativity was coming from Michelle, who didn't want the Kennedys to be part of the administration for fear that they would have too much influence over the president. Gradually, Caroline began to change her tune and side with Bobby and Kathleen [Kennedy Townsend] against the Obamas. Unlike Jackie, who was completely apolitical, Caroline is a liberal with a capital L. When Obama didn't raise taxes to balance the budget, Caroline marked him down. In her eyes, he's a mess because he doesn't follow the liberal bible on politics. More important, Caroline discovered that the Obamas didn't give a damn about her or her support. For instance, she was not invited to the state dinners at the White House hosted by the Obamas, or to the president's forty-ninth birthday celebration in Chicago. It really annoyed Caroline when comparisons were made by the media between Michelle and Jackie. Caroline had a word for such comparisons; she called them 'odious.' She really got annoyed. And when she began to fall out of love with the Obamas, love was replaced by outright scorn. Now she says things about Obama like, 'I can't stand to hear his voice any more. He's a liar and worse.'

Perhaps the only thing worse than being snubbed or ignored by the Obamas is being invited by them - when it is clear that the invitation is purely for form's sake, and utterly insincere.

On Halloween, 2011, Caroline Kennedy received an invitation to attend a reception celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the White House Historical Society. She could hardly have been ignored in this case because it was her mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who had restored many parts of the White House and established the White House Historical Association in 1961.

The meeting between Michelle Obama and Caroline Kennedy was orchestrated to be understated and downplayed.

The reception was closed to the press. Michelle Obama posed for a photo with Caroline, which was released later. But that was it. There was no invitation to the Family Quarters, where Caroline had lived and played as a child. After the photo, Michelle spun on her heels and left.

A Kennedy family adviser reports Caroline's experience:

Caroline said that shaking hands with Michelle was like shaking hands with a cold fish. Caroline had the feeling she wasn't really wanted there. Michelle gave the distinct impression that she doesn't like her. Caroline can be pretty standoffish herself, but she was surprised at how cold Michelle was to her. The only thing personal about the meeting was when Michelle turned to Caroline and said, 'the president is going to put the Keystone Pipeline project on hold and wouldn't Bobby like that?' In response, Caroline said, 'Bobby would like to meet with the president about the Keystone Pipeline being not only delayed, but being aggressively attacked and killed.' Michelle looked stricken. She said, 'Bobby should call the White House,' meaning that he would have to go through channels like everybody else. Caroline's attitude about the 2012 election is that, as a loyal Democrat, she has nowhere to go, no one else to possibly support except Obama. What really pisses her off is that the Obamas know that she has nowhere else to go, so they see no point in being nice to her.

Obama wants to establish himself and his regime as something apart from the heritage of the Democrat Party. He's willing to use the Kennedys or the Clintons when they are useful, but he will do so in way which holds them at arm's length, and when they've ceased being useful, he'll drop them. Part of this is ideological: he's not looking to establish a Kennedy-esque Camelot of traditional American liberalism; he's looking to decisively undermine and weaken the United States, both politically and economically. Part of this is personal: as someone damaged when abandoned both by his father and by a string of father-figures who temporarily paired up with this mother, confused about his identity as his mother directed him through a serious of educational institutions which kept him largely outside of the Black community and the mainstream of the African-American experience, his own self-concept is incomplete, lacking a core identity which is especially necessary in the pressure-cooker of presidential politics, and therefore lacking the ability to form certain types of relationships. He's insecure, and not quite sure how he would relate to the Kennedys, and so simply chooses not to do so.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Misery Index

Economists use a large number of statistical measures to gauge the economic health of a nation. The 'misery index' is among these, and attention paid to this index from the 1960's through the 1980's was responsible for a shift by policy-makers in Washington - a shift from an emphasis on fiscal policy to an emphasis on monetary policy. Fiscal policy concerns how, and how much, the government taxes and spends the people's money. Monetary policy concerns how much money is in circulation in the economy.

Starting roughly with FDR, influenced by John Maynard Keynes, fiscal policy was seen as the best way for the central government to help the economy. That would change, in part because of ideas advanced by economist Milton Friedman. Phillip VanFossen writes:

The use of monetary policy to stabilize the economy was put to the test in the late 1970s. Early in that decade, the economy received a shock when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an oil embargo on the United States and other oil-importing countries. Supplies of oil dwindled, driving up the price of gas. The inflation rate, which had already reached worrying levels, soared into double digits. As the economy struggled with rising prices, business activity slowed, and the unemployment rate climbed. The result was an unhappy economic situation known as stagflation.

Such situations often tempt leaders to violate the simple principle of free markets. Rather than reducing regulation and allowing the economy to organically work its way back toward equilibrium levels, governments often hope to intervene and nudge the economy quickly back to health. But by violating the free action of the market, things are made worse by these well-intentioned regulations.

President Nixon tried to curb inflation by imposing temporary controls on wages and prices. As soon as the controls were lifted, however, prices shot up again. In 1974, President Gerald Ford launched an anti-inflation crusade called Whip Inflation Now, or WIN, but inflation remained a problem. While running for president in 1976, Jimmy Carter scolded Ford for letting the "misery index" rise to more than 13 percent. The misery index is the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. But after taking office, Carter watched helplessly as the index climbed to more than 20 percent.

Nixon's wage and price controls failed to make things better, and succeeded at making things worse. Ford, although criticized by Carter, actually succeeded in nudging the "misery index" lower by the end of his brief time in office. Carter's actions, in retrospect, seem confused and erratic. Carter encouraged Americans to use less energy and simply adopt "lower expectations" - the voters were unimpressed, and refused to give Carter a second term in office.

In contrast to Carter's attempt to simply persuade the American public to get used to a lower standard of living, get used to using less energy, and get used to having less wealth, Ronald Reagan was chosen by the voters in the 1980's. Seeking economic solutions, Reagan worked with

Paul Volcker as chair of the Federal Reserve Board to bring inflation under control. Influenced by Friedman's writings on monetary policy, Volcker set out to slow the growth of the money supply. The result of his slow-growth policy was a far faster reduction in the inflation rate than most economists thought possible. Inflation dropped from 13.6 percent in 1980 to 3.2 percent in 1983.

Reagan orchestrated a shift from fiscal policy to monetary policy. The result was an era of prosperity for the nation. Volcker's work used a short-term contraction in the money supply - or at least in the growth of the money supply - to lead to long-term growth in the economy. The 1980's were an era of rising incomes for all Americans and a rising standard of living for all demographic groups. By creating wealth, the Reagan economy created more employment at higher wages.

Politicians, more than economists, fall prey to fallacy of the "zero-sum game" view of wealth. In calculating and projecting the possible impacts of various policy options, one must remember that the total amount of wealth can, and should, increase. The objective of policy should be to create an environment - by reducing regulations - which allows for maximum wealth creation. An economy can grow the most wealth by getting the government out of the way - and maximizing the market's freedom.

To be sure, neither fiscal policy or monetary policy is a panacea; neither is the perfect solution to cure all economic woes. Reagan's prosperity, while enriching Americans at all income levels, took longer to come into effect. At first, under Volcker's contraction of the money supply, interest rates rose, business activity stalled, and unemployment actually increased. After this transitional effect, however, inflation fell, unemployment fell, and business activity created rising wages.

Policy makers and economists continue to ponder the mix of fiscal policy and monetary policy. The ideal mix is to reduce government intervention in both areas and let the economy find its own organic equilibrium. But political realities often trump economic common sense.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pretending to Be a Professor

A number of significant political leaders in the history of the United States have been academics: President Garfield was a professor, as were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to name just a few. But others have found ways to attach themselves to universities or colleges without actually pursuing scholarship; among these would be Barack Obama.

Douglas Baird, who has held the posts of both Dean and Professor at the University of Chicago's Law School, can reasonably be understood as a an academic, having passed up opportunities to make more money in private-sector law practices, or wield more power in government posts. Historian Edward Klein reports Baird's first encounter with Barack Obama:

"I made a cold call to the Harvard Law Review and spoke to Barack," recalled Baird, who is no longer the dean of the Chicago Law School but is still a member of its faculty. "I asked him, 'Do you have an interest in teaching law?' and he said, 'No. My plan is to write a book on voting rights.' And I said, 'Why don't you write that book here at the University of Chicago. I can give you an office and a word processor and make you a Visiting Law and Government Fellow.'

Merely because he was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, he was offered a cushy position at the University of Chicago (were unions involved, the term would be 'feather-bedding'). To compound the superficiality, he was not the first person of color to be president of the Harvard Law Review; Edward Klein that this

distinction belongs to Raj Marphatia, who was born and raised in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), India, and who had become the Review's president four years earlier. But while Marphatia's presidency went largely unnoticed, Obama's attracted a great deal of attention.

The distinction between Marphatia and Obama merits consideration: while Marphatia faced at least some obstacles, and so his narrative contains at least some element of overcoming, Obama was essentially transported into the Harvard Law Review. To be sure, Marphatia was not a barefoot and starving villager in India, but nonetheless, his appearance at the Review in the 1980's was still something of an overcoming. By contrast, Obama had already been identified as a telegenic young man who might be groomed into a political figure; his handlers and funders had begun directing his path. They had grander visions for the young Barack than he could have had for himself - given his damaged psyche and an identity as a child abandoned by a variety of father-figures.

Aside from Obama's personal formation, however, Douglas Baird might have thought that someone who'd taken the job of president of the Harvard Law Review had some interest in legal scholarship. But Obama, despite holding a job as head of an academic publication, had no desire to do research or teach. He did, however, take the job at the University of Chicago:

"He accepted," Baird continued, "and several months after he arrived, he came to my office and said, 'Boss' - he called me boss - 'that book I told you about - well, it's taken a slightly different direction. It's my autobiography.' I was astonished. He was all of thirty years old and he was writing his autobiography!"

Even if we imagine for a moment that a twenty-nine year old had both cause and substance to write his memoirs - a huge assumption - the fact soon become very clear that Obama had no interest in being part of the university. On the contrary, he had an interest in projecting the image that he was part of the university:

For the next twelve years, Obama taught at the Law School - first as a Lecturer, then as a Senior Lecturer. He earned about $60,000 a year and was given an office, a secretary, and health benefits. He was, by all accounts, a ghostly presence on the faculty - rarely seen and virtually never heard from.

Obama was happy to absorb a salary and benefits from the university, and happy to wear the title 'lecturer' - but not to engage in the life of a scholar.

"You just never saw him at a lunch or at a workshop," said Richard Epstein, who was made interim dean of the Law School in 2001, while Obama was still there. "I did not see any signs of intellectual curiosity or power. He did not have a way of listening to you that drew you in. But it was rarely the case that you could figure out what he thought. An inaccurate story was published that claimed Obama was given a tenured offer to join the faculty. But it never came to the faculty for approval. How could make a tenured offer to a man who had never written a scholarly article?"

To be a faculty member of a major university and never write a scholarly article - to never be published in peer-reviewed professional journal - is either career suicide, or it is an indication that one has no interest in an academic career. The latter is clearly the case with Obama. But despite his lack of interest in an academic career, he - or his handlers - wanted him to have the trappings of an academic career. To have the University of Chicago on his resume, and to have the ability to mimic the professorial tone, would be assets in a political campaign. To which extent Obama wanted the University of Chicago on his resume, and to which extent he was talked into it against his will, we may never know.

"At the time," Epstein continued, "Obama saw himself as a serious intellectual, which he definitely was not. His course was very popular and he was an engaging teacher, but not one with a serious academic set of interests. The members of the faculty reserved a round table for ten in the Quadrangle Club, where we had lunch and engaged in an intense intellectual exchange. We had a no-sports and no-politics rule and a single-topic rule. Everybody bashed everybody. You put yourself once more into the breach and prepared to have the guillotine come down on your head."

Part of the academic life is debate. Scholars love debate. Intellectual disagreement does not entail personal animosity. Often harsh intellectual combatants enjoy personal friendships. Obama, however, was not interested in ideas. Richard Epstein recalls:

"But Barack Obama never attended these lunches. I firmly believe that his systematic withdrawal from engagement with other members of the faculty stemmed from his not wanted to put himself at intellectual risk. He was always a political actor with many irons in the fire."

Obama's engagement with the University of Chicago Law School was purely mercenary. Following the ideas of his mentors, Saul Alinsky and Frank Marshall Davis, Obama - or his handlers - decided that wearing the university label would be helpful to his eventual campaign. Devoting any effort to university work would be a waste of time, and committing any ideas to paper would leave evidence that could later resurface to be used against him.

Douglas Baird concurs that Obama was AWOL as a faculty member:

"I should also say that, like Richard, I'd have liked it if Barack had been more involved," Baird said. "But that wasn't what he was about."

To be sure, Obama was somewhat popular as an instructor - students were thankful to have a lecturer who was fun, who easily gave good grades, and who didn't take the whole thing too seriously. Having an occasional interesting classroom discussion does not equal serious legal scholarship; students may find the class enjoyable, and learn to mimic the instructor's convictions, but they have not been challenged to engage in higher-level critical thinking. On the contrary, they have learned, like their instructor, to imitate the verbiage of those who think critically.

"Of course, I grant you that it's one thing to be a charismatic figure and walk into a room and excite students, and quite another thing to be a leader - to hire people, motivate people, and manage decision-making. That's not something Barack experienced or learned at the Chicago Law School. I know people in the White House, and I don't get a sense from my conversations with them that there's anything in Barack's experience as a law professor that prepared him for the leadership part of the presidential job."

In sum, although Obama has been ceaselessly marketed as an 'intellectual' by his campaign staffs, he made no measurable impact on the academic community among either students or fellow faculty members.

Obama's Personal Physician

Every person who comes into contact with a famous person becomes a source of historical data - classmates or teachers from school, neighbors and family members, coworkers, even barbers. Thus historian Edward Klein interviewed David Scheiner, and reports that

Scheiner was Obama's personal physician for twenty-two years - from the mid-1980's, when Obama was a community organizer, until he was elected president of the United States.

In addition to caring for Barack Obama's physical health, Dr. Scheiner had some informal contact with Obama on policy matters. Scheiner belongs to an

organization that lobbies for single-payer national health insurance - or, in Dr. Scheiner's own words, "socialized medicine." He had great hopes for Obama in the White House, because when Obama was his patient he made no secret of the fact that he favored the kind of socialized medicine that is practiced in Canada and Western Europe.

Like many who supported Obama, David Scheiner had high hopes for Obama as president. But by 2012, Scheiner had a different view. Given Scheiner's political views, Klein

expected him to be a champion of his former patient. To my surprise, however, he turned out to be one of Obama's most severe and unforgiving critics.
One of Obama's challenges has been trying to keep his base happy and fulfill the agenda of his handlers. His base - the left wing of the Democrat Party and others who voted for him - hoped that his first four years in office would constitute a quicker move toward socialism than he has in fact produced. His handlers - the people who discovered him at a young age, recognized his telegenic potential, obtained degrees and credentials for him, and moved him through a career path designed to make him nationally-viable candidate - hoped that he would be able to inflict even greater damage on America's economy and global diplomat stature than he has in fact been able to wreak. Thus a longtime supporter like his personal physician is vocal:

"I look at his healthcare program and I can't see how it can work," Scheiner said. "He has no cost control. There would be no effective cost control in his program. The [Congressional Budget Office] said it's going to be incredibly expensive ... and the thing that I really am worried about is, if it is the failure that I think it would be, then health reform will be set back a long, long time.

In some mysterious political harmony, disaffected elements within Obama's base agree, at least on this one point, with elements of his opposition: his healthcare plans focus of who's paying for healthcare, but fail to address ways in which the price of healthcare might be reduced.

"When Barack Obama planned this health program, he didn't include on his healthcare team anyone who actually practiced medicine in the trenches the way I do," Dr. Scheiner continued. "I'm an old-fashioned doctor. I still make house calls. I still use the first black bag that I got out of medical school. My patients have my home phone number. It's true that Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the brother of Rahm Emanuel, was on the healthcare team, but Ezekiel is a medical oncologist, not a general physician."

The mention of Rahm Emanuel - an expert at political corruption, bribery, extortion, and organized crime, to name only a few of his skills - highlights another question about Obama: was Obama's health program the sadly mistaken and incompetent product of a genuine goodwill - a naive progressivism yielding the failed social experiments usually produced by such progressivism? Or was Obama's healthcare program the result of a cynical calculation to direct power and funding to those who manage him, and to fulfill their desire to weaken the United States? There are substantive arguments on both side of this question.

"My main objection to Barack Obama is that he is a great speaker and a lousy communicator," Dr. Scheiner said. "He isn't getting his message across to people. He isn't showing that he really cares. To this day he hasn't communicated with members of Congress."

Obama can give stirring vocal performances. But lacking a rehearsed script to present, he lacks substance. His lack of press conferences - he gives fewer than the average modern president - and his granting of interviews only to those reporters who toss "softball" questions to him - indicate that the real thought is taking place behind the scenes, and Obama is functioning as the mouthpiece for the group which has financed and managed him for many years now.

"He's got academic University of Chicago-type people around him who don't care. Where is our Surgeon General, the obese Dr. Regina Benjamin? Why hasn't she said anything during this healthcare debate? Ronald Reagan had C. Everett Koop as his surgeon general. Believe me, Regina Benjamin is no Everett Koop. In fact, Obama's whole cabinet has been a disappointment. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is a joke."

Obama's advisors are often pulled from academia, but are sadly not the professors and researchers who made breakthroughs there. Rather, they were administrators, political hacks who got adjunct faculty positions as payoffs for political favors, future candidates being groomed for campaign by spending a semester or two lecturing, or remnants from the hippy days of the 1960's and 1970's. In short, these advisors and appointees have lots of academic-sounding credentials on their resumes, but are not scholars.

So it is Michele Obama, not the Surgeon General, who scolds and nags the American public about eating properly. The nation's comedians would doubtless be delighted with the plethora of material which would result if Regina Benjamin would make public statements on the topic. But more substantively, why was she essentially out of the loop in the formation of the Obamacare program, and largely silent during the public debate about it? Apparently, she either had nothing to say on the matter - revealing that she was a purely political appointment lacking competence - or her comments were not welcomed by Obama's handlers, meaning that they prefer to keep the decision-making and power-wielding behind the scenes, and allow the official cabinet-level appointees exist merely as figureheads.

Obama can project a personality in a speech, but whether he in fact has one is a different matter. He would not be the first; there have been many people who made good candidates but incapable leaders. David Scheiner muses on Obama the man:

"I can really relate to people, but I never really related to him. I never had the closeness with him that I had with other patients. It was purely a professional relationship. He was always gracious and polite. But I never really connected with him. He was distant. When I think of why he's had problems in the White House, I think there is too much of the University of Chicago in him. By which I mean he's academic, lacks passion and feeling, and doesn't have the sense of humanity that I expected."

Having been parked in university by his handlers - ostensibly as adjunct faculty, but the record shows that he devoted minimal effort to teaching, and even less to research - Obama adopted the airs of academia. He learned to appear professorial without being an actual scholar. He learned to appropriate the tone of a lecturer without having devoted himself to textual research.

The chameleon-like ease with which Obama can wear a persona - modulating quickly from the lecture-hall docent to the street-corner community organizer - points to a deeper lack of self. Being in very real ways a damaged person - abandoned by his biological father, impacted by a string of short-term father-figures during his childhood, steered by his mother into an identity of her choosing - Obama perhaps never developed a sense of self incubated in the stable, secure environment of unconditional love and of a solid family culture. Abandoned by various adult men who might have been step-parents, and enrolled by his mother into a variety of educational institutions which carefully avoided the common public school, he became able to conform to various environments, but unable to reliably identify himself. Unable to clarify himself to himself, he was and is unable to clarify himself to others.

"Obama has an academic detachment," he continued. "I treat many patient from the University of Chicago faculty, and I've been able to crack through their academic detachment. Not Obama. We never got to the point where we'd discuss intimate things. For instance I never heard anything about his family life. Other patients invited me to dinner and their homes, but Obama never did. Obama invited his barber to his inauguration - his barber! But I wasn't invited. Believe me, that hurt."

Although revealing his own Obama-esque egocentrism, David Scheiner identifies a troubling pattern in Obama's symbolic gestures. Scheiner is not an African-American, and Obama failed to invite him to the inauguration. Obama's barber, an African-American, was invited. This is not an isolated incident; it's a consistent pattern. The Obama administration has orchestrated quite a few purely symbolic gestures around African-American citizens. In doing so, they have reduced many situations to over-simplified racial equations. They have also spent enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars (Obama's Chicago barber is flown to Washington regularly, where he stays in a hotel - all at taxpayer expense). To which extent Obama is part of these decisions - he probably requested the barber because of the personal relationship, but other gestures which were less personal were probably arranged for him by his handlers - is not clear, given that he seems to make only a few administrative decisions personally.

In sum, what Obama's former personal physician thinks about his healthcare policy isn't that significant. But in examining that opinion, we begin to see the deeper weaknesses in Obama and his administration. David Scheiner's personal sour grapes are merely that, but the troubling indicators that the damaged individual who is Barack Obama is being surreptitiously managed by shadowy figures gives us an insight into the Obama administration.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Postwar World - a New Mindset

By 1945, not only the United States, but the entire world, had been through three decades of horrifying and amazing events. The First World War had shocked the planet by displaying the full terror of mechanized and industrialized warfare, killing humans on a massive scale never before seen, and fueled by a variety of ideologies which had grown in the soil of a Europe which had abandoned its own spirituality in favor of competing socialist and nationalist drives.

The postwar malaise was expressed in artworks which had their seeds in prewar visionaries like Franz Kafka, Arnold Schönberg, and Georg Trakl. Kafka published as early as 1908; Schönberg in the 1890's, and Trakl in 1912, with During the war, this sense of meaninglessness gave rise to Dadaism, and after the war, grew in a number of different stylistic directions. The hoped-for ideals proposed by progressivist movements were seen as unreachable utopias.

Pounding metaphorical nails into the coffin of a society perfected by technocrats and rationalists, the Great Depression demonstrated that humans could not manage their way out of painful realities.

When the horrors of WWI reappeared in WWII, amplified further by technological advances and by even harsher versions of industrialism, nationalism, and communism - versions which stepped in to fill a spiritual vacuum produced by Europe's failure to embrace and digest its sacred heritage, the stage was set for an intellectual reexamination. Rejecting the naive optimism of rationalist progressivism, postwar thinkers needed a framework which would acknowledge man's inclination toward evil, and yet offer hope for society. A sober realism which would claim that, humans being what they in fact are, a perfect world is impossible, but a better world is within reach.

Describing this "shift in the intellectual climate," historian Ross Douthat considers the example of poet W.H. Auden and other mid-twentieth century artists, noting

that the same feelings that had impelled Auden back to Christianity were at work in society as a whole. After the death camps and the gulag, it was harder to credit the naive progressive belief that the modern age represented a long march toward ever-greater enlightenment and peace, or that humanity was capable of relying for salvation on its own capacities alone. Instead, there was a sudden demand for writers who could revise the story that modernity told about itself - explaining what had gone wrong, and why, with reference to ideas and traditions that an earlier generation's intelligentsia had dismissed as irrelevant and out-of-date.

Auden left England and settled permanently in America, being himself a microcosm of the era's intellectual development: leaving behind his Wilsonian leftism, embracing a more reverent approach to the Judeo-Christian heritage and a less idealized view of human nature. The world was following a similar trajectory, stinging from revelations about Hitler's butchery and Stalin's willingness to kill millions in the gulag. A new mindset for the postwar world was required.

A host of thinkers answered this call. Not all of them were explicitly religious; their commitments ranged from the idiosyncratic European traditionalism of Eric Voegelin to the antitotalitarian liberalism of Hannah Arendt, from the continental socialism of Theodor Adorno to the very American conservatism of Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk. But they all contributed to a mood of historical and philosophical reassessment, in which the Christian past was mined for insights into the present situation, and the religious vision of a fallen world was suddenly more intellectually respectable than it had been for decades.

America, from the end of World War Two to social upheavals of the mid-1960's, was shaped by this intellectual reassessment. Kafka, Trakl, Dadaism, and Schönberg had cleared away the debris of a sadly failed Wilsonian utopianism, and culture was again being constructed during the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower. Progressivists, stung by their failures, accused the era of superficiality. A view of life as based on norms simultaneously transcendent and immanent - eternal yet concrete - was, however, being constructed: a view which had enough resilience to survive the tumult of the 1960's and later decades, and to provide again a foundation for the reconstruction of civilization after the raging of destructive worldviews.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Teddy" Kennedy - Why He Endured

Senator Edward Moore Kennedy - known as "Ted" or "Teddy" - occupied a seat in the United States Senate from 1962 to 2009. His nearly fifty years in office prompted his campaigners to market his as "the lion of the Senate" in his reelection bids. Such longevity is all the more noteworthy when one takes into consideration his alcoholism, womanizing, and most seriously his implication in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

Born February 22, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy was brought into the U.S. Senate on the coattails of his brothers: Robert Francis Kennedy and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who were respectively, at the time, Attorney General and President of the United States. Along with his brothers, two other forces pulled him into the Senate: his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a million in the 1920's and 1930's who smuggled liquor as part of an organized crime ring; and the Democrat party, which understood the Kennedy family to be a sort of dynasty.

Ted Kennedy's main interests were sports (he played tennis and hockey, but focused mainly on football), women, and liquor. After being placed into the Senate, the most significant event in his career was the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, and the coverup of that death. Historian Ann Coulter writes:

In 1969, married U.S. senator Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne when he drove his car off the Cahppaquiddick bridge following a party on Martha's Vineyard. Kennedy escaped the car and left Mary Jo behind, where she was trapped in the car and drowned. He then returned to his hotel to engage in ostentatious behavior to create an alibi for the time of the accident. Since no one else would take responsibility for his accident, Kennedy was eventually forced to admit he was the driver of the car that plunged Mary Jo Kopechne to her death. Luckily for him, the Kennedy

family has especially strong political influence in Massachusetts; the Democrat Party used its influence on his behalf, that party also being powerful

in Massachusetts, so he only pled guilty to a minor infraction and never served a day in jail.

Historians will note the parallels to the case of Tarquin the Proud: Ted Kennedy would correspond to Sextus Tarquinius, and Mary Jo to Lucretia. Teddy and Sextus were protected by political machines which kept them from facing the consequences for the crimes committed against Lucretia and Mary Jo. Yet Kennedy's guilt lingered in many minds:

In 1980 - just a little more than ten years after he killed Kopechne - Teddy Kennedy ran for President. After running in the 1960 presidential election, Richard Nixon went on an eight-year hiatus just for losing an election. The Chappaquiddick incident seems to have colored the morals of the entire Democratic Party. The party has become practiced at defending the indefensible. One imagines Bill Clinton thinking

that if Kennedy survived the Chappaquiddick event, Clinton could surely stonewall his way out of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Similarly, Obama didn't let his documented chronic marijuana habit stand in the way of a presidential campaign (reported by the press as "the choom gang"). Kennedy's criminal behavior tainted seemingly unrelated aspected of his party's platform. Concerning those Democrats who worked to create a moderate image of their party, Ann Coulter asked,

if the Democrats want to stay in the middle of the road, why do they keep sticking with Teddy Kennedy? Didn't he have some trouble staying in the middle of the road?

The cynicism with which the party continually embraced Kennedy, despite the public's knowledge of his guilt, and the insincerity of the party's praise of Kennedy's ethics, left the party open to criticism by means of irony. Hailing Kennedy as a moral hero while knowing of his criminality exposed the Democratic Party to sarcastic assessments:

Teddy Kennedy crawls out of Boston Harbor with a quart of Scotch in one pocket and a pair of pantyhose in the other, and Democrats hail him as their party's spiritual leader.

Light was continually directed toward Kennedy's misdeeds, exposing him, and by association, the Democratic Party, because he steadily maintained a transparently false air of innocence, surrounded by vague and evasive language, and because he avoided any legal or significant consequences for his misdeeds:

It's not as if Democrats can say: Okay, okay! The man paid a price! Let it go! He didn't pay a price. The Kopechne family paid a price. Kennedy weaved away scot-free.

After causing the death of an innocent young woman, Ted Kennedy spent thirty-nine years in the Senate, plagued by alcohol problems and by credibility problems. His party's attempt to use him as an icon in struggle to claim "moral high ground" in its ideological battles - an attempt motivated in part by the memory of his brothers - was doomed to fail because of the raging internal contradictions involved in viewing Ted Kennedy as some type of ethical leader.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Formation of Clarence Thomas

How does a Supreme Court Justice arrive at his mature legal views? Like every other human being, he absorbs a variety of experiences and influences, and processes them with his own rational categories. Some of this is in the setting of formal legal education, and some of it is through life experiences. Clarence Thomas grew up in the home of his grandparents - he called his grandfather "Daddy" - and assimilated the worldview of the African-Americans in the deep south. He recalls:

I had come to feel that virtually every discussion of race in America was fundamentally dishonest. The continuing controversy over busing was a prime example. Many whites were crying foul about school busing, saying that they wanted "neighborhood" schools for their children. This, of course, was nothing more than what blacks had wanted during segregation - the chance to attend good schools near their homes instead of being carted across town to all-black schools. Why, then, should they now wish to be carted across town to all-white schools? Daddy and I were at loggerheads about most things, but we found ourselves in full agreement when it came to busing. Even in a segregated world, education was our sole road to true independence, and what mattered most was the quality of the education that black children received, not the color of the students sitting next to them. "Nobody ever learned anything on a bus," Daddy said. Nor did either of us believe that busing would somehow help ease white racism. What made anyone think that white people who didn't want to eat with us were going to like our children any better? We both saw busing as a tragic digression from the quest for real equality: the ostensible means of achieving a desirable end had become the end itself.

Justice Thomas captured not only the Black understanding of the situation, but also the social structures which prevented Blacks from expressing that understanding openly. There was a cultural mechanism which inhibited African-Americans from speaking on the issue:

I felt sure that Daddy and I weren't the only blacks in America who doubted the value of bussing, but only black nationalists and separatists, it seemed, were allowed to say so in public. The rest of us, we were told, didn't speak for blacks, thus making us irrelevant. Those who dared to speak out anyway were written off as sellouts or Uncle Toms. Why, I asked myself, did the advocates of busing answer all objections to their views not with reasoned arguments but contemptuous ad hominem attacks - and what made the media so willing to go along with them? I couldn't see what made these people so sure of themselves, yet whenever I shared my doubts with a supporter of bussing and pressed him to explain why I was wrong, I was fobbed off with the non-argument that no black person had a right to think the way I did. The popular political answers of the day, I saw, had hardened into dogma, making anyone who questioned them a heretic.

Later, in Washington, these same insights would make themselves felt in a different setting. Clarence Thomas was witness to a meeting between Coretta Scott King and Senator Jack Danforth. Danforth had been a longtime supporter of Morehouse College, sitting on its board of trustees, and helped to create the Martin Luther King Foundation. Clarence Thomas noticed that Coretta Scott King took it as obvious that, despite his valuable service to the Black community, many African-American voters did not support him, and voted for his opponents, merely because he was a Republican.

It didn't surprise me, for I, too, had reflexively disliked most Republicans (John Bolton had been an exception) prior to going to work for Senator Danforth in Jefferson City. Still, I found it hard to accept. "Black is a state of mind," one black Democratic staffer told me, by which I assumed he meant being a liberal Democrat. That king of all-us-black-folks-think-alike nonsense wasn't part of my upbringing, and I saw it as nothing more than another way to herd blacks into a political camp. But some of the black staffers I met on Capitol Hill were so sensitive to criticism that they found it necessary in conversation to elaborately disavow the positions of the Republican congressmen or senators for whom they worked, and I liked that even less. If I hadn't felt at ease with Senator Danforth's political views, I would have found myself another job.

Frustrated by the lockstep mentality which dictated that all Blacks owed allegiance to the Democrat Party - even when it harbored unrepentant segregationists - and by the imposition upon Blacks that they dare not vote for Republicans - even though GOP legislators passed the Civil Rights Acts over Democrat opposition - Clarence Thomas began to forge his own political path, and to the meet other African-Americans who were willing to defy the leadership of the Democrat Party and think for themselves.

I saw a memorable demonstration of this kind of hypocrisy when Thomas Sowell met with a group of black Capitol Hill staffers in 1980. By that time I'd read most of his books and many of his articles, and I wasn't surprised to hear him express in no uncertain terms his opposition to school bussing, racial quotas, and increasing the minimum wage, all of which he believed to be bad for blacks. His bluntness ruffled more than a few feathers; in the eighties these were all hot-button issues for black politicians and community leaders. What bothered me was that some of the questions from the Republican staffers were both hostile and embarrassingly uninformed. That didn't fluster Sowell. (As I was to learn, nothing flusters him.) He defended his positions with cool, clearheaded logic, and though his questioners grew emotional, none of them was able to refute his arguments.

On the bench, Justice Thomas continued to think for himself, not being prey to political pressure groups or the organized intellectual thuggery of the Democrat Party. Breaking ranks with the leftist dogma that the federal government should grow in power, and that state and local governments should yield ever increasing amounts of that authority to the national government, he voted to allow more flexibility for states to shape their own sentencing guidelines. Understanding that "states' rights" is not a synonym for racism, he wrote in Kansas vs. Marsh (2006) that

decades of back-and-forth between legislative experiment and judicial review have made it plain that the constitutional demand for rationality goes beyond the minimal requirement to replace unbounded discretion with a sentencing structure; a State has much leeway in devising such a structure and in selecting the terms for measuring relative culpability, but a system must meet an ultimate test of constitutional reliability.

Likewise seeing that phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance does not constitute any binding religious creed, he wrote in a 2004 opinion about school recitation of the pledge that

Through the Pledge policy, the State has not created or maintained any religious establishment, and neither has it granted government authority to an existing religion. The Pledge policy does not expose anyone to the legal coercion associated with an established religion. Further, no other free-exercise rights are at issue. It follows that religious liberty rights are not in question and that the Pledge policy fully comports with the Constitution.

Justice Thomas sees the 'under God' phrase as innocuous and benign, and in no way presenting cause for a civil suit under the first amendment. The life of Clarence Thomas has been one of refusing to submit to pressure in his academic career, in his legal career, and in his spiritual life. He explores the breadth of the definition of the word 'independence.'

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Black Man's Courage

Clarence Thomas was born in 1948 into a African-American family in Pin Point, Georgia. Like his life, his hometown in many ways encapsulates the Black experience in America: the town was founded by ex-slaves at the end of the Civil War, was an example of communal interdependence and diligent self-reliance, and was bitterly poor, with no paved roads or sewage system.

The life of Clarence Thomas is a microcosm of the African-American experience: sent by his parents to live with his grandparents after the family home burned to the ground; inspired by his grandfather's diligence and inventiveness as a small business founder; enrolled as the only Black student in his high school.

Learning from the role models of creative independence and communal mutual support, Thomas saw that African-Americans were being harmed by the "Great Society" programs meant to help them. Although well-intentioned, these entitlements and public assistance programs dampened exactly that spirit of creative independence which inspires inventiveness and ingenuity in economics, business, and engineering: young Black men were informed that, rather than try to excel in a profession or technical field, they could rely on the "system" to support them. Clarence Thomas saw that these programs also starved the communal spirit of the African-Americans, who, instead of helping each other by means of the local neighborhood or town, were taught to turn to a social worker or government office.

Determined to return autonomy and dignity to Black communities, Clarence Thomas, after graduating from Yale law school, served as Assistant Attorney General of Missouri. In this role, he writes,

as a criminal-appeals attorney, I would have to argue in favor of keeping blacks in jail. I still thought of most imprisoned blacks as political prisoners. I had no facts to back up this opinion, a reflex response left over from my radical days, and didn't need any: I knew that anything "the man" did to black people was oppression, pure and simple. What changed my mind was the case of black man convicted of raping and sodomizing a black woman in Kansas City after holding a sharp can opener at the throat of her small son. Perhaps he and the woman he'd brutalized had both been the victim of racism, but if that were so, then she'd been victimized twice, first by "the man" and then by the thug. This case, I later learned, was far from unusual: it turned out that blacks were responsible for almost 80 percent of violent crimes committed against blacks, and killed over 90 percent of black murder victims. This was a bitter pill to swallow. Until then I'd ignored the obvious implications of black-on-black crime rates. After I worked on that case, I knew better than to assume that whites were responsible for all the woes of blacks, and stopped throwing around the word "oppression" so carelessly. I also grew more wary of unsupported generalizations and conspiracy theories, both of which had become indispensable features of radical argument.

Redesigning his legal thought, Clarence Thomas discovered that African-Americans, deprived of the dignity of responsibility, deprived by the dependency culture generated by the welfare state, were being turned into thugs by the LBJ-era "Great Society" programs which were supposed to ennoble them. Putting this discovery into action meant, for Clarence Thomas, that when he happened to be relocating to a new state, he was also realigning his political views. This came at a high price: the Democrat Party views Black voters as its property. Anger - and sometimes violence - is directed at any African-American who is skeptical of the Democrat Party. Clarence Thomas recalls summoning his courage to defy the white leaders of the Democrat Party who assumed that should always vote for their candidates:

In the fall of 1980, I changed my voter registration from Missouri to Maryland - and registered as a Republican. I had decided to vote for Ronald Reagan. It was a giant step for a black man, but I believed it to be a logical one. I saw no good coming from an every-larger government that meddled, with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens, and I was particularly distressed by the Democrat Party's ceaseless promises to legislate the problems of blacks out of existence. Their misguided efforts had already done great harm to my people, and I felt sure that anything else they did would compound the damage. Reagan, by contrast, was promising to get government off our backs and out of our lives, putting an end to the indiscriminate social engineering of the sixties and seventies. I thought that blacks would be better off if they were left alone instead of being used as guinea pigs for the foolish schemes of dream-killing politicians and their ideological acolytes. How could I not vote for a man who felt the same way?

Years later, as a Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas would take steps to curb the government's tendency to interfere in the lives of its citizens. His rulings and opinions support the individual's rights to freedom of religion, to freedom of speech, and to freedom from government intervention in economic activities. Thomas has also shielded the political processes inside each state from federal interference.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Letters from Westmoreland

Two memoranda from the office of General William Westmoreland have gained the attention of historians. Both memos were written by Westmoreland’s senior staff, one sent out with Westmoreland’s signature, and the other with his approval: this pair of documents sheds light on a decisive moment in the war.

In late 1964 or early 1965, Westmoreland was one of the architects of “Rolling Thunder” and saw how LBJ had weakened the bombing program, reducing its effectiveness. Historians Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski report that, as Rolling Thunder failed to produce a decisive result, Westmoreland in mid-1965 advised, from his vantage point in Vietnam, that LBJ quickly commit large numbers of ground troops. Johnson gave Westmoreland almost as many troops as he requested, but placed strict rules of engagement on them, and refused to mobilize the home front either in terms of calling up reserves or in terms of the economy, a sign that he wanted “the military to fight a real war without appearing to do so.” Despite LBJ’s lack of supportiveness, Westmoreland managed some early victories by developing a “search and destroy” strategy, using the tactic of helicopter-driven mobility. Given “the superb performance of the first Marine and Army battalions,” the U.S. “threw the NVA on the defensive and sent it scurrying.” The war’s three sectors – northern provinces, central provinces, and the area northwest of Saigon – grew to four sectors as Westmoreland began operations in the Mekong Delta south of Saigon. As the war grew, so did the need for troops, but LBJ continued to understaff the Army. Westmoreland made use of troops from The Army of the Republic of Vietnam; “ARVN units could show as much ferocity as their Communist brethren,” although Westmoreland saw to it that they were always supervised by U.S. units. Again, Westmoreland did well despite LBJ: he “had thrown the NVA on the defensive, but” was continually hampered by the lack of troops. In early 1968, the so-called “Tet Offensive” did not catch Westmoreland by surprise: Army intelligence had caused him to place units on alert. It did, however, surprise the ARVN. The Tet Offensive ended when “the Communists suffered a catastrophic battlefield defeat.” LBJ still refused to send the needed troops, and managed to snatch “defeat from the jaws of victory.” Westmoreland was re-assigned stateside in the same year, and drawn-out denouement began.

Historian Russell Weigley offers a similar synopsis of Westmoreland’s career. By early 1965, Westmoreland, on the ground, saw that South Vietnam would probably not survive without quick significant amounts of American intervention. Weigley’s account is similar to the one offered by Millett and Maslowski: Westmoreland never got enough soldiers from LBJ, wanted to seize the initiative and offensive, and was hindered by LBJ’s rules of engagement.

The two documents, unearthed by historian John Carland, give an inside view of the narrative summarized above. Written in September and December of 1965, they highlight Westmoreland’s insights into the situation. Carland explains:

Despite its misleading title, the first document — “Tactics and Techniques for Employment of US Forces in the Republic of Vietnam” — contains a vigorously written, well-crafted, full-fledged theory of victory. Dated 17 September 1965, it laid out the necessary conditions for achieving victory and provided to senior American commanders and units practical steps and guidance, presented in a methodical and logical way, to achieve the necessary tactical, operational, and strategic objectives to defeat their Communist adversaries. Moreover, it made clear that when military victories were won, their significance lay in the degree to which they advanced and supported South Vietnam’s pacification/nationbuilding effort. Westmoreland and his senior subordinates knew that if they failed to integrate the “fighting” war with the “other” (i.e., pacification) war, they would not succeed — their efforts and sacrifices would be for naught.

Westmoreland understood that he needed to do more than “fight a war” – that this conflict would include a political effort which would ultimately be as important, or more so, than the military effort. If the population of South Vietnam embraced the view that it had a trustworthy government, a trustworthy ally in the U.S., a very real chance of winning, and an enthusiasm for its own democratic development, they could win the war. But if the people in the south fell to communist propaganda, to pessimism about U.S. support, and to defeatism about its own cause, defeat was likely or certain. Ten years before the fall of Saigon, Westmoreland grasped the larger situation well. The September document states that “the mission” of the U.S. “to defeat” the Communists, but equally to “facilitate effective governmental control,” and that the war “is a political as well as a military war.”

The second document, issued on 10 December 1965, followed logically on the first. Titled “Tactical Employment of US Forces and Defensive Action,” it represented a critique of American ground forces’ operations and combat to date. Westmoreland concluded that despite considerable accomplishments in the war without fronts, “we are not engaging the VC with sufficient frequency or effectiveness to win the war in Vietnam.” The U.S. troops had shown themselves to be superb soldiers, adept at carrying out attacks against base areas and mounting sustained operations in populated areas. Yet, the operational initiative — decisions to engage and disengage — continued to be with the enemy. Through intelligence developed in operations and from other sources, American commanders had to find better ways to take the fight to the enemy. Only by doing so could U.S. forces make the best use of America’s twin advantages of firepower and mobility.

In more military terms, Westmoreland knew that this would be “a war without fronts,” requiring the “search and destroy missions” by U.S. forces, but also requiring U.S. forces to defend against guerilla war. The September document notes that “the conduct of U.S. troops must be carefully controlled at all times,” in order “to minimize battle casualties among those non-combatants who must be brought back into the fold.” The December document, alerting commanders to the needs of all servicemen – quartermasters and cooks, Air Force and Navy personnel – to defend their bases and installations, and reviewing U.S. performance in the field, offers the belief that “the average American has amply demonstrated that he is instinctively an effective fighter with small arms.”

Reading fifty years after the fact, Westmoreland appears to be caught in a Kafkaesque tragedy. Although responsible historians should not dabble in counterfactual speculations (“what would have happened if ...”), yet one cannot help but hypothesize that the U.S. really could have won the war if Congress and LBJ had done a few things differently.

Many readers now living had family members and friends who served in Vietnam, were eligible for the draft, or were only a few years to young to be of age during the war. Unlike Korea and WWII, Vietnam is near enough in time that it carries experiential and emotional impact; many readers recall watching Walter Cronkite and video clips of the war. Some were too young then to understand the complex tangle of political maneuverings which informed LBJ’s policies, but looking back, they can understand why Donald Rumsfeld, a member of the House of Representatives, sponsored the Freedom of Information Act as a tool for Republican Congressmen to get LBJ to give them solid data about Vietnam.

In any case, John Carland has given us two important primary text documents which shed light on a capable military leader who was never given the chance to implement his plans.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Cautious Victory - Desert Storm

Whether wars in the second half of the twentieth century have been more politicized than earlier conflicts depends, in part, which earlier conflicts one chooses for a comparison basis. In any case, the pattern established by the Korean and Vietnam wars – the pattern in which civilian leaders in Congress and in the White House made significant strategic and tactical decisions – was continued by the brief 1991 “Gulf War” which liberated Kuwait. Historians Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh tell us that the Bush administration, leading an international coalition, was “obliged to follow a version of graduated response in order to develop a domestic and international consensus supporting direct military action.” Despite a self-conscious effort to avoid ‘another Vietnam’ – LBJ’s failure in the 1960’s

could be attributed to in part to the policy of graduated response, understood as a strategy of incremental pressure, with a series of restrictions on targets that were imposed by the politicians. At each stage, the opponent was to face a choice between compliance and further pressure until eventually its breaking point was reached. The critique of this strategy argues that these small steps merely provide the opponent with time to adjust and develop forms of counter-pressure.

Developing a command structure in which civilians had only enough information to gauge policy, but not enough to affect strategy, was part of avoiding ‘another Vietnam’ – in this structure,

to avoid charges of micro-management, civilian officials avoided amending the target list for the air campaign (which practice had been judged to be a particular fault of the Johnson administration), although the commanders were expected to show political sensitivity. It was reported that Bush was not informed of the detailed target set.

The noble intentions about keeping civilians out of the planning was compromised at certain points in time, however: “the commanders were expected to show political sensitivity” in selecting targets, and at one point, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney ordered the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, to review target lists, and remove soft targets which “might have contained large numbers of civilians.” Thus, despite a deliberate effort to avoid civilian political entanglements which could lead to ‘another Vietnam,’ precisely that type of influence entered military planning. Happily, although it could have caused ‘another Vietnam,’ it did not do so.

Looking at the war from the other side, Saddam’s goals in the war made Iraqi resistance to coalition forces less effective. Saddam’s goals skewed the range of tactical options available to Iraqi commanders: his foremost goal was his own political survival; other goals included damaging, vandalizing, and booby-trapping Kuwaiti oil fields, murdering Kuwaiti citizens, and possibly striking Israeli nuclear facilities. While Saddam’s politicization of war goals may have constrained Iraqi commanders, one issue which did not – surprisingly – cause their defeat was technology. Despite media coverage of the U.S.’s high-tech weaponry, e.g. guided missiles hitting targets within centimeters after hundreds of miles of flight, Freedman and Karsh contend that the Iraqi defeat “was mainly the outcome of more ‘traditional’ factors, such as poor combat performance along with incompetent politico-military leadership and war strategy.” It was, then, “Saddam’s personality” which was, in the final analysis, the cause of Iraq’s defeat. General Norman Schwarzkopf noted that Saddam was neither a strategist nor a soldier. Saddam may have been lulled into expecting an easy victory against Bush’s coalition because it had experienced victories over the Iranian army. But the Iranian army was “poorly-equipped and ill-trained,” and not a good comparison basis for the international coalition. Finally, the Iraqi army faced large-scale desertions during the brief war. War is never easy, but the Bush’s coalition attained a victory very quickly, and with “extraordinarily light” casualties.

Saddam Hussein’s strategy leading up to the war was first to prevent actual war – a form of extreme brinksmanship – and second, if actual hostilities began, to end them as quickly as possible. Such a strategy made sense, given a realistic assessment of Iraq’s military capabilities. In fact, the reason for which he invaded Kuwait was to try “to shore up his regime in the face of dire economic straits created by the Iran-Iraq War.” His economy and his army were not strong. Saddam made, however, two strategic mistakes which cost him dearly: first, he released hostages, hoping to buy goodwill, but instead merely giving Bush’s coalition the knowledge that it was no longer vulnerable in that way; second, he failed “to preempt by attacking coalition forces in Saudi Arabia,” a move which would have given him the operational initiative and possibly caught coalition forces by surprise. In anticipating a ground war, Saddam relied “on his defenses around Kuwait and the cost that could be imposed on coalition forces if they could be drawn into killing zones.” The enemy was to be drawn into these killing zones by forcing General Schwarzkopf to direct his forces according to “extensive fortifications along the Saudi-Kuwait border” which the Iraqis had constructed. This strategy failed, however, because the “fortifications could be outflanked by a desert attack through Iraq, so suffering the same fate as the Maginot Line.” Saddam’s forces were stretched thin, because they were deployed for “the protection of Iraq as a whole and not just the new Kuwaiti acquisition, and the threats involved did not come simply from the United States. Significant forces had to remain deployed along Iraq's borders with its Iranian, Turkish, and Syrian neighbors.” The Iraqis simply did not have “enough forces for a wide front.” Saddam’s best troops, “the Republican Guards were kept back as, at best, a strategic armored reserve,” and were so not ready to be effective at the actual point of contact when fighting started. Another weakness in the Iraqi military “was the lack of air support.” Although, on paper, “Iraq's air force was substantial,” it was ineffective because Saddam was reluctant to risk his air force, and he was timid to have it engage the enemy.

Saddam underestimated the coalition’s “precision-guided munitions,” smart bombs, and other high-tech munitions. He saw, however, his own “missiles as his most reliable means” of damaging the coalition’s forces. He hoped to direct them against Israel and against facilities in Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that his missile attacks on Israel would exacerbate “the prospective war's stresses and strains on the political cohesion of the coalition” by inflaming tensions between Israel and the various Arab states. In general, Iraq’s strategy relied “on deterring and if necessary rebuffing the central thrust of the enemy campaign, by” such political tensions. Saddam’s strategy was, therefore, as much political as military. He assumed that the U.S. had an “extreme sensitivity to casualties,” and would flinch in the face of actual land battles.

President Bush, meanwhile, continued his determination “not to repeat the mistake of the 1960s,” which meant “not to get trapped in an un-winnable war,” and “not allow civilians to impose artificial restrictions” on tactics and strategy. Bush kept the coalition focused on the “primary objective,” which “was to liberate Kuwait.” By maintaining focus on this goal, the U.S. could avoid ‘another Vietnam’ by avoiding the wrong goals, e.g., nation-building (‘Vietnamization’): “it would be extremely unwise to be seen to try to change the regime in Baghdad,” because it would arouse the suspicion of the Arab states and it would commit the U.S. to a long-term occupational force in the area.

Another “presumed lesson of Vietnam was that the public would be intolerant of high casualties.” Whether this assumption was true – and if true, to what extent – remained to be seen. Saddam hoped that the public would turn against the war, seeing even a small number of casualties. Coalition planners, therefore, worked cautiously and conservatively, to keep coalition casualties to a minimum. Working with a range of assumptions, planning for everything from best-case to worst-case scenarios, it turned out “extremely optimistic assumptions” would “in fact approximate the actual state of affairs.” Some planners wanted to “avoid a ground war” altogether, and thereby avoid casualties, and rely solely on air power. Among those who favored the air-only option, there were different scenarios about how such a war would go. But in the end, although the early phases of the war were primarily reliant on air power, it would not be an exclusively air war, and there would be major infantry and armored involvement. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, gave three reasons for rejecting the air-only option: first, it would give the Iraqis the operational initiative for any ground action; second, Powell saw this option as indecisive, in light of the fact that Saddam would sacrifice numerous Iraqi lives to absorb coalition bombing, and Powell probably saw it as not focused clearly on the coalition’s stated objective; third, by adding a ground element, Powell could force Saddam to fight a two-front war: air and land.

Powell rejected, however, any frontal assault or over-the-top type of ground attack. Ground action would follow extensive aerial bombardment, and more sophisticated ground strategies would minimize casualties.

Bush’s international coalition had several strategic advantages: access to ports, petroleum, and airfields; lack of harassment by Iraqi troops as Saddam held off in his strategy of waiting; time to prepare and organize as Saddam refused to begin the fight; and shortages of critical war material in Iraq during the embargo. The coalition faced two unknowns: although they knew that Iraq had not yet developed nuclear weapons, it was known that they had chemical weapons; would they use them? A second unknown whether Saddam’s missile force was as well-developed as he claimed. In sum, the coalition’s “priorities would be to achieve air superiority, eliminate missiles and Iraq's small fleet of fast patrol boats, interdict supply lines, and then engage in a fast and mobile desert campaign based on maneuver rather than attrition,” and to utilize “flanking maneuvers rather than direct assaults on Iraqi fortifications.”

The war began on January 17, 1991, with massive aerial bombardment by the coalition, and little reaction from Iraq – only a small amount of relatively ineffective anti-aircraft fire. Electronic countermeasures reduced Iraqi anti-aircraft fire further. The main tactical question at this time was targeting: “The dividing line between civilian and military targets was a thin one. There were clear rules on avoiding religious and cultural sites.” But the distinction was not always clear-cut, especially in Saddam’s fascist or totalitarian state. Bad weather, and Iraqi missile strikes against Israel and Saudi Arabia, stretched the planned air campaign from thirty to thirty-nine days. Iraq took a pounding, with little retaliation.

“To salvage his strategy Saddam would have had to draw the coalition into a premature ground offensive in Kuwait to bring the war into a quick end, even at the cost of many Iraqi lives,” but he did not orchestrate any provocative ground action. He did initiate one small raid, on the Saudi town of Khafji, which had already been evacuated. His raiding party was decisively defeated, but as Freedman and Karsh report, the coalition did not take the bait and “play into Saddam’s hands” by prematurely beginning a major ground offensive.

In the air war, there were few civilian casualties. Paradoxically, because there were so few civilian deaths, these fatalities received all the more media attention. An attack on Amiriya left a number of civilians dead in a command bunker, but the distinction between civilian and non-civilian was again blurry, inasmuch as these were employed in a military command station.

The air war having been so successful, the ground war which followed it lasted one hundred hours!

In sum, the coalition leaders – Powell, Schwarzkopf, and Bush – planned cautiously, while Saddam Hussein was rather unrealistic. The victory of Iraq was amazingly swift and decisive.