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It is the season for political campaign ads again and I both enjoy and hate seeing what the combatants serve to us. When I hate them it is for the distortion and lies. For the most part, I like to watch them to see the often brilliant marketing. Below is a new video built on one of the best marketing campaigns I can remember. What do you think of it?
Here is a video built on the memory of Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning again in America” campaign.
And here is the original motivation for the ad:
Mr. Obama needed the vote of the anti-war left and made promises to secure that vote. Among the promises was a change of focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. This is one of the promises that Mr. Obama has kept.
The bad news is that, in spite of appearing to take Afghanistan seriously and adding combat troops, Mr. Obama has decided to try to win back the anti-war left by naming a date for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. This is a huge strategic blunder. Imagine you are interested in buying a house and the owner tells you that if he can’t sell it for $250,000 by the end of the month, he is dropping the price to $199,000. Is there any chance you would not wait? in Afghanistan, now all that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have to do is wait. Why expend people and resources fighting the Americans when they can plan to attack Kabul once the Americans have left?
This pronouncement, just to buy a few votes, goes beyond stupid. It borders on criminal. Decisions like this need to be made based on a overall international strategy, not on local politics. And rather than announce such plans publicly to buy votes, they should be kept secret to protect our interests.
Whether or not we should be in Afghanistan is a different question. It is probably one worthy of a discussion so here are some thoughts/opinions:
1. Neither Iran, Pakistan, or Russia want the Taliban to become too powerful. It is in the interest of these three to keep Afghanistan in a state of continual civil war. Keeping the USA involved is great for all three countries in that it keeps us occupied and saves them the trouble of dirtying their hands. Russia particularly likes to help us waste money, time, and assets.
2. Pakistan has a fine line to walk. They have enemies at every corner (Iran, India, and potentially the Taliban in Afghanistan. They like having the U.S. around to help them secure their boarder with Afghanistan and when things go wrong the U.S. is a handy scapegoat.
3. Russia is delighted that we are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. It removes us from the international stage. How else would they have marched into Georgia without so much as a show of force from the USA?
4. Iran is delighted that we are involved fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It saves them from having to expend resources to protect their border with Afghanistan. It gives Russia and Iran the opportunity to produce nuclear power in Iran which would likely never have been allowed to happen had the U.S. not been spread so thin.
Here is a report from Stratfor that discusses some of the ramifications of our reaction to 9-11 and the policies that continue today based on the attack 9 years ago. I think it gives a perspective not often debated in the U.S. and one we must consider.
“9/11 and the 9-Year War is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”
By George Friedman
It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. It has been nine years in which the primary focus of the United States has been on the Islamic world. In addition to a massive investment in homeland security, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.
In order to understand the last nine years you must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall your own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the attack was a shock, its audaciousness frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next. The attack had destroyed the right to complacent assumptions. Were there other cells standing by in the United States? Did they have capabilities even more substantial than what they showed on Sept. 11? Could they be detected and stopped? Any American not frightened on Sept. 12 was not in touch with reality. Many who are now claiming that the United States overreacted are forgetting their own sense of panic. We are all calm and collected nine years after.
At the root of all of this was a profound lack of understanding of al Qaeda, particularly its capabilities and intentions. Since we did not know what was possible, our only prudent course was to prepare for the worst. That is what the Bush administration did. Nothing symbolized this more than the fear that al Qaeda had acquired nuclear weapons and that they would use them against the United States. The evidence was minimal, but the consequences would be overwhelming. Bush crafted a strategy based on the worst-case scenario.
Bush was the victim of a decade of failure in the intelligence community to understand what al Qaeda was and wasn’t. I am not merely talking about the failure to predict the 9/11 attack. Regardless of assertions afterwards, the intelligence community provided only vague warnings that lacked the kind of specificity that makes for actionable intelligence. To a certain degree, this is understandable. Al Qaeda learned from Soviet, Saudi, Pakistani and American intelligence during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and knew how to launch attacks without tipping off the target. The greatest failure of American intelligence was not the lack of a clear warning about 9/11 but the lack, on Sept. 12, of a clear picture of al Qaeda’s global structure, capabilities, weaknesses and intentions. Without such information, implementing U.S. policy was like piloting an airplane with faulty instruments in a snowstorm at night.
The president had to do three things: First, he had to assure the public that he knew what he was doing. Second, he had to do something that appeared decisive. Third, he had to gear up an intelligence and security apparatus to tell him what the threats actually were and what he ought to do. American policy became ready, fire, aim.
In looking back at the past nine years, two conclusions can be drawn: There were no more large-scale attacks on the United States by militant Islamists, and the United States was left with the legacy of responses that took place in the first two years after 9/11. This legacy is no longer useful, if it ever was, to the primary mission of defeating al Qaeda, and it represents an effort that is retrospectively out of proportion to the threat.
If I had been told on Sept.12, 2001, that the attack the day before would be the last major attack for at least nine years, I would not have believed it. In looking at the complexity of the security and execution of the 9/11 attack, I would have assumed that an organization capable of acting once in such a way could act again even more effectively. My assumption was wrong. Al Qaeda did not have the resources to mount other operations, and the U.S. response, in many ways clumsy and misguided and in other ways clever and targeted, disrupted any preparations in which al Qaeda might have been engaged to conduct follow-on attacks.
Knowing that about al Qaeda in 2001 was impossible. Knowing which operations were helpful in the effort to block them was impossible, in the context of what Americans knew in the first years after the war began. Therefore, Washington wound up in the contradictory situation in which American military and covert operations surged while new attacks failed to materialize. This created a massive political problem. Rather than appearing to be the cause for the lack of attacks, U.S. military operations were perceived by many as being unnecessary or actually increasing the threat of attack. Even in hindsight, aligning U.S. actions with the apparent outcome is difficult and controversial. But still we know two things: It has been nine years since Sept. 11, 2001, and the war goes on.
What happened was that an act of terrorism was allowed to redefine U.S. grand strategy. The United States operates with a grand strategy derived from the British strategy in Europe — maintaining the balance of power. For the United Kingdom, maintaining the balance of power in Europe protected any one power from emerging that could unite Europe and build a fleet to invade the United Kingdom or block its access to its empire. British strategy was to help create coalitions to block emerging hegemons such as Spain, France or Germany. Using overt and covert means, the United Kingdom aimed to ensure that no hegemonic power could emerge.
The Americans inherited that grand strategy from the British but elevated it to a global rather than regional level. Having blocked the Soviet Union from hegemony over Europe and Asia, the United States proceeded with a strategy whose goal, like that of the United Kingdom, was to nip potential regional hegemons in the bud. The U.S. war with Iraq in 1990-91 and the war with Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1999 were examples of this strategy. It involved coalition warfare, shifting America’s weight from side to side and using minimal force to disrupt the plans of regional aspirants to gain power. This U.S. strategy also was cloaked in the ideology of global liberalism and human rights.
The key to this strategy was its global nature. The emergence of a hegemonic contender that could challenge the United States globally, as the Soviet Union had done, was the worst-case scenario. Therefore, the containment of emerging powers wherever they might emerge was the centerpiece of American balance-of-power strategy.
The most significant effect of 9/11 was that it knocked the United States off its strategy. Rather than adapting its standing global strategy to better address the counterterrorism issue, the United States became obsessed with a single region, the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush. Within that region, the United States operated with a balance-of-power strategy. It played off all of the nations in the region against each other. It did the same with ethnic and religious groups throughout the region and particularly within Iraq and Afghanistan, the main theaters of the war. In both cases, the United States sought to take advantage of internal divisions, shifting its support in various directions to create a balance of power. That, in the end, was what the surge strategy was all about.
The American obsession with this region in the wake of 9/11 is understandable. Nine years later, with no clear end in sight, the question is whether this continued focus is strategically rational for the United States. Given the uncertainties of the first few years, obsession and uncertainty are understandable, but as a long-term U.S. strategy — the long war that the U.S. Department of Defense is preparing for — it leaves the rest of the world uncovered.
Consider that the Russians have used the American absorption in this region as a window of opportunity to work to reconstruct their geopolitical position. When Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, an American ally, the United States did not have the forces with which to make a prudent intervention. Similarly, the Chinese have had a degree of freedom of action they could not have expected to enjoy prior to 9/11. The single most important result of 9/11 was that it shifted the United States from a global stance to a regional one, allowing other powers to take advantage of this focus to create significant potential challenges to the United States.
One can make the case, as I have, that whatever the origin of the Iraq war, remaining in Iraq to contain Iran is necessary. It is difficult to make a similar case for Afghanistan. Its strategic interest to the United States is minimal. The only justification for the war is that al Qaeda launched its attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. But that justification is no longer valid. Al Qaeda can launch attacks from Yemen or other countries. The fact that Afghanistan was the base from which the attacks were launched does not mean that al Qaeda depends on Afghanistan to launch attacks. And given that the apex leadership of al Qaeda has not launched attacks in a while, the question is whether al Qaeda is capable of launching such attacks any longer. In any case, managing al Qaeda today does not require nation building in Afghanistan.
But let me state a more radical thesis: The threat of terrorism cannot become the singular focus of the United States. Let me push it further: The United States cannot subordinate its grand strategy to simply fighting terrorism even if there will be occasional terrorist attacks on the United States. Three thousand people died in the 9/11 attack. That is a tragedy, but in a nation of over 300 million, 3,000 deaths cannot be permitted to define the totality of national strategy. Certainly, resources must be devoted to combating the threat and, to the extent possible, disrupting it. But it must also be recognized that terrorism cannot always be blocked, that terrorist attacks will occur and that the world’s only global power cannot be captive to this single threat.
The initial response was understandable and necessary. The United States must continue its intelligence gathering and covert operations against militant Islamists throughout the world. The intelligence failures of the 1990s must not be repeated. But waging a multi-divisional war in Afghanistan makes no strategic sense. The balance-of-power strategy must be used. Pakistan will intervene and discover the Russians and Iranians. The great game will continue. As for Iran, regional counters must be supported at limited cost to the United States. The United States should not be patrolling the far reaches of the region. It should be supporting a balance of power among the native powers of the region.
The United States is a global power and, as such, it must have a global view. It has interests and challenges beyond this region and certainly beyond Afghanistan. The issue there is not whether the United States can or can’t win, however that is defined. The issue is whether it is worth the effort considering what is going on in the rest of the world. Gen. David Petraeus cast the war in terms of whether the United States can win it. That’s reasonable; he’s the commander. But American strategy has to ask another question: What does the United States lose elsewhere while it focuses on the future of Kandahar?
The 9/11 attack shocked the United States and made counterterrorism the centerpiece of American foreign policy. That is too narrow a basis on which to base U.S. foreign policy. It is certainly an important strand of that policy, and it must be addressed, but it should be addressed through the regional balance of power. It is the good fortune of the United States that the Islamic world is torn by internal rivalries.
This is not dismissing the threat of terror. It is recognizing that the United States has done well in suppressing it over the past nine years but at a cost in other regions, a cost that can’t be sustained indefinitely and a cost that could well result in challenges more threatening than a rising Islamist militancy. The United States must now settle into a long-term strategy of managing terrorism as best as it can while not neglecting the rest of its interests.
After nine years, the issue is not what to do in Afghanistan but how the global power can return to managing all of its global interests, along with the war on al Qaeda.”
Our inertia, and politics, have us stuck in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Isn’t it time to reengage in the world and lessen our commitment to supporting the governments in Kabul and in Baghdad? I know it isn’t a time to be using Afghanistan as a political tool to boost November election prospects.
The first posts were about taxation and the Presidential Election. The most recent posts are about Government policies and the coming off-year elections.
In the interim, there have been 281 posts, only 572 comments, and over 370,000 total views of the page. The busiest day was a bit over 3,000 views and the most stimulating post garnered 21 comments.
I have read back through many of the posts and am happy to say that I have not found many that I would change in any significant way. Some of the comments have caused me to rethink things.
Once this latest election is behind us, I am going to reevaluate whether it is worth the time to continue writing this blog. I may just cut back to writing a post only every few weeks. In any event, this is now and has been a very positive experience.
My only regret is that I have not had more comments – more people join in the conversation. Probably the most interesting thing about writing the blog is that I have spent a lot of time researching issues and it has made me much better informed.
The 1992 Clinton Campaign for President made hay with the statement, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It focussed attention on what the Democrats thought was Bush, Sr’s biggest failing. It turned out to be a story that resonated, and won an election.
It may just be that the Republicans will use the same tactic in the 2012 Presidential Election Cycle. Anyone who thinks that the Democrats and Mr. Obama have handled the economy well, in my view, is drinking the kool-aid.
There may, however, be a more resonant single issue that the Republicans will lever to push Mr. Obama and his team aside. In my view, that may be the “Health Care bill.” Nancy Pelosi famously commented, “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” If we are still discovering new things in the bill a year from now, I think the stage will be set for the Republicans to tell a very convincing story and one that will hurt the Democrats. That story will be about lawmakers and a President with such a cavalier attitude about lawmaking (and spending other people’s money) that they should not hold public office.
This week will go a long way toward determining if this issue does resonate with the general public. The Senate will likely vote on a measure that will repeal part of the ‘healthcare bill.’ It is the part that will require businesses to file a form 1099 on all transactions with other businesses with whom they do over $600 business in a year. If, for example, you are the local fish store or real estate office or bookseller, you will have to save all purchase receipts, add them up, and then send a form 1099 to the office supply and the gas station and the grocer (where you get coffee for your customers), etc., etc. The mountains of paperwork this will create will be enormous. The number of new IRS agents that will be required to sort through all this will be huge. It will be a burden on all businesses that will barely be worth the additional tax revenue it will generate.
And why is this even in the “health care bill”? Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Congress wanted to show that the Health Care Bill would only cost us about $100 Billion over the next ten years. By adding this new requirement and new tax, they could show offsetting revenue of almost $20 Billion. Of course that is not a net $20 Billion. In fact, many believe it is a net negative by many Billion dollars. Think of the costs when you add the expense of the new force added to the IRS and the increased cost of goods and services to the government by increasing business overheads.
And, the White House is fighting hard to defeat this repeal of one small portion of the Health Care Bill. They are very worried that if they lose one stone in the wall, it may all collapse. Like the Administration’s lawsuit against Arizona for its attempt to enforce Federal and State immigration law, like the Administration’s attempts to allow taxes to increase in 2011, like Mr. Obama’s personal appeals to allow a Ground Zero Mosque, this Administration and this Congress are pushing policies that the vast majority of Americans are against.
Will new IRS requirements be the reason that Mr. Obama’s party will go down to defeat in the next election? The 1099 issue will surely cause some people to understand the depths to which Mr. Obama and team will go to get their way. But, my guess is that what will do them in will be the gross mishandling of the economy. Congress and the President seem to have been politically clever in writing the Health Care Bill. They wrote the bill such that all the parts that will hurt the most won’t take effect until after the 2012 elections. They have been anything but clever in their attempts to ‘rescue’ the economy.
At some point I think the majority of voters will get tired of being told to ‘do as they say, not do as they do’ and Congress and the President will be voted out. I hope that day is sooner rather than later. I think that point will come when the majority of people have either seen pay or benefits cut or when they have lost their jobs. Mr. Obama can blame the economy on Mr. Bush all day long, but Mr. Bush can’t change things now. That is Mr. Obama’s job and I think most people are coming to the understanding that he is not up to the task.
Yesterday, in Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Obama marched out his newest plan to stimulate the economy. Included in the $180 Billion plan were two very good ideas: A permanent R & D tax credit, and one time (2011 only) write off for business capital purchases. Both of these ideas are the sort of thing that encourages business to take risk. I am convinced that both of these measures will produce some economic activity. I have the feeling that Congress will want to join the President and pass such measures before the November elections. I don’t have the feeling that they will be able to do so without adding a fair percentage of pork to the bill.
A couple of observations: 1. $180 Billion for this program is one helluva lot of money, yet, with the current Congress and Administration who brought us $800+ Billion in ‘Stimulus’ and untold Billions (probably Trillions) in ‘Health Care Reform’, this seems like a drop in the bucket. 2. This is a complete reversal for Mr. Obama who during the campaign made fun of Mr. McCain’s economic plans which included these two measures.
It makes me wonder. Why would Mr. Obama propose such measures? I see only three possible answers.
First, (color me cynical but this is the first thought that comes to mind) Mr. Obama is trying to buy votes. His choice of venue tells us this is purely political. The timing (wouldn’t you try the $180 Billion fix before the $800+ Billion fix?) appears to be politically motivated. Current polls consistently show that Mr. Obama and the current Congress are starting to take the blame for not fixing the economy. It seems if they attempt some logical steps and don’t fill the measures up with more pork, they might just persuade some folks that they are serious about fixing the economy. This might actually buy some votes from folks who really want to believe in Mr. Obama.
Second, Mr. Obama truly believes these measures will help our economy and he is sincere about doing so. This would either indicate that he has just come to the realization that all the previous programs were not the answer. If that is the case, he is a hopelessly slow learner or exceedingly stubborn. Or, maybe he was just so clueless about how a capitalistic economy works that it has taken him about 3 years to start to come up to speed.
Third, it could be a combination of Mr. Obama wanting to buy votes and wanting to improve the economy. I think this may be the closest to being right. I think that Congress and the President have allowed the economy to get weak enough to increase the power of government to a point where they could get what they want – control (some would say nationalization) of the auto industry, control of the health care industry, and control of the higher education industry. Further weakening the economy would just mean more power over something of less value. It makes me think of slaveholders: the perception is that many of them beat their slaves to gain full control over them but didn’t beat them so much that the slaves could not still do a full day’s work.
If you believe that these moves are not inspired in large part by a desire to buy votes, let me know. I’m convinced they are.
All during his campaign, Mr. Obama harped on the theme that the Republicans were corrupt and that they politicized everything. In his view, the Republicans were the kings of pork or “earmarks.” Mr. Obama’s campaign website claimed: “Barack Obama is committed to returning earmarks to less than $7.8 billion a year, the level they were at before 1994.”
He now admits that he hasn’t been able to control Congress as he had hoped and agrees that “earmarks” have not gone down. He does, however, blame Congress for his failure to live up to his promise.
I find it very interesting that a leader chooses to blame his own team for his inability to live up to his promises. Imagine, if you will, a real leader blaming his team for his own failings. If John Wooden’s UCLA basketball team lost a game, Wooden took responsibility for not preparing his team or for having a poor game plan. Truman didn’t say, “The Buck Stops with those guys in Congress except when it is something for which I want the credit.” I think he said, “The Buck Stops Here.” Leaders take responsibility. They blame themselves and spread among their team members all credit for successes.
So I have a simple solution for Mr. Obama. If he truly wants to change the system and reduce or eliminate porkbarrel politics, all he need do is have a little chat with Congress. His remarks could be very short and very sweet, “I will not sign any legislation that contains any pork (earmarks), period. If the legislation cannot stand without bribing a few Members or Senators with pork, it does not deserve to become law. If you, Nancy Pelosi and you, Harry Reid, want to override my veto, you will have to answer to the American People for the bribery and fraud you are perpetuating.”
Of course, then he would have to follow through and keep his promise. What do you think the chances are he would do that?
I continue to be amazed at the generally low cost and high quality of our Postal Service. I know. You weren’t expecting to hear that from me. And, yes, I do use UPS and FedEx (not DHL which is owned by Deutsche Bundespost -the German Post Office) when I can. But the fact is that if I need to put something in the mail, whether to 5th Avenue New York City, or, to a farm in rural Utah, it gets there quickly and at little cost to me.
If you want a comparison, let’s look at the vaunted efficiency of all things German. The German Post Office will take a letter from Berlin to another city in Germany with similar speed and accuracy as the USPS but they charge the equivalent of US$0.70 for a 20 gram letter (that’s 7/10ths of an ounce). In Canada, known for both Postal Strikes and slow, if haphazard, delivery, a one ounce letter runs the equivalent of US$0.57. So, in my view, the Germans perform about as well as the USPS but at a cost well over twice as high as the USPS. The Canadians seem to perform poorly but are able to do it for only about 30% more cost. Note – I mean no offense to the Canadian Post, but, it is my Canadian friends and customers who tell me that their (lack of) speed and dependability are the main reasons they are about the last choice to send anything.
So why all this talk of how good the USPS is? Isn’t the purpose of the “20 Issues – 40 Weeks” series to point out things candidates should choose to want to reform? No. The series is meant to show positions that I would like to see a candidate hold.
In this case, I think it would be good for a candidate to highlight the Postal Service. This is one Federal Agency that actually provides something quantifiable for our tax dollars. Is it perfect? No. Is is far better run than most agencies in our Federal Government? I think that is the case. Should they stop Saturday deliveries and close many small post offices that are only a few miles from a larger one. I think so. But as Federal Agencies go, I think they set a pretty good example.
Speaking of examples and talking about communications, look at the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. Unlike the Post Office, it is harder to determine exactly what their product is. USPS’s product is timely delivered mail. The FCC’s product is _________ (fill in the blank). They seem to control allocation of bandwidth so that we don’t overrun the airwaves and degrade the quality for everyone. That is probably a good thing and something that is best done at the Federal Level. But I wonder if they need 17 different offices (each with multiple offices within it)within the agency to carry out their mission. They may for all I know about the FCC. In fact, it may be a model agency. What I would like to see from a future Congressperson or Senator is a questioning attitude. I want every government agency to justify what they do, how they do it, and how much it costs. I have to believe it might be tough for the FCC to justify an Office of Workplace Diversity or an office within the Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau called the Office of Native Affairs and Policy.
If I am dead wrong about the FCC, please let me know. I would still like a candidate to wonder why we have all the agencies, bureaus, offices and departments that we do. I’m convinced that we have a bloated government and want my candidate to challenge it to go on a diet, before surgery is required.