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Susan Estrich - Barack Obama's lucky day

It's not often that you can turn what looks like a foreign policy disaster into an international triumph. But President Barack Obama, who has had his share of bad days, caught some luck this week. Maybe Secretary of State John Kerry was just tripping over his words when he suggested that there might be another way out. Maybe the Russians never meant to provide it. Maybe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, well, who knows about Assad? But he did manage to get his own story out with Charlie Rose.

Yesterday, it all looked like a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen: The president draws a red line before checking the polls to realize that, actually, the country is not behind him, tosses it to Congress, except Congress is not really behind him, either, leaving him the options of defying everyone or looking very weak, and kaboom! Is there a solution?

Maybe.

Hopefully.

And not just for Obama, but for the idea that we live in a civilized world where there are some vestiges of rules, respect for human life, lines we don't cross.

It remains to be seen whether the details can be worked out. There will be many who say, with some reason, that Obama just got lucky, that he was on a fool's course here, that the Russians got lucky, too, that it's too bad we have to make Russian President Vladimir Putin into the world's leading diplomat (too bad, but better than plunging the Middle East into who knows what) to get out of this mess.

All true.

This was not the president's finest hour. If it was all just an accidental stroke of luck (so much for highfalutin diplomacy), then maybe we were due for a good one. The reviews of the president's speech suggest that absent the "new starter" of turning over the weapons, the president was on his way to defeat in Congress.

Why? Blame Bush. Seriously.

It is a measure of the price we are still paying, in so many ways, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that "weapons of mass destruction" — even when there is proof that they were used in the suburbs — are not enough to convince Americans to get "involved." The old dichotomies of American politics wherein Democrats were "doves" and Republicans were "hawks" and the Democrats used to stand around in corners worried that no one would believe we ever would be willing to use force are now officially ancient history.

As I listened to the various comments and commentators, I couldn't help but laugh a little at all the Republicans who worried that the strikes wouldn't be effective, that we shouldn't go it alone in the use of military force. Was that really a Republican invoking the United Nations?

But here's the bottom line — whether or not you like Obama, whether or not you're a Republican or a Democrat, whether or not you even care who is killing who in Syria. It may be by accident, but it actually seems, at least for today, that world leaders are doing what they're supposed to do: trying to work out a peaceful and less dangerous way to address problems.

If we can eliminate, at least for right now, the threat of chemical weapons being used in Syria without military strikes that could destabilize the already unstable Middle East; if we can prevent children from being killed because they were born in the wrong suburb; if we can find a way for the United States and Russia to work together to solve one problem, then who knows?

Maybe — and I'm not saying for sure or even that it's likely — but maybe we could find some way to make this a safer world for our children. Maybe, just maybe, it isn't just a lucky day for Obama, but the beginnings of an example of how a dangerous and divided world can when necessary be a little less dangerous and divided.

Anyway, I'll take it.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Pat Buchanan - America says 'no' to a Beltway-driven war

Last week, hell came to the tiny Christian village of Maaloula where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

"Rebels of the Free Syrian Army launched an assault aided by a suicide bomber from Jabhat al-Nusra," the al-Qaida-linked Islamic terrorist group, writes the Washington Post.

The AP picked up the story: One resident said bearded rebels shouting "God is great!" attacked Christian homes and churches. "They shot and killed people. ... I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street."

Maaloula is now a "ghost town." Christians left behind were told, "Either you convert to Islam or you will be beheaded." "Where is President Obama?" wailed a refugee. And, indeed, where is Obama?

He is out lobbying Congress for authority to attack the Syrian army that defended Maaloula as John McCain beats the drums for a Senate resolution to have the U.S. military "change the momentum" of the war to the rebels who terrorized the convent nuns of Maaloula.

If we strike Syria and break its army, what happens to 2 million Syrian Christians? Does anyone care?

Do the Saudis who have signed on to Obama's war — but decline to fight — care? Conversion to Christianity is a capital offense in Riyadh.

Do the Turks, who look the other way as jihadist killers cross their frontier to set up al-Qaida sanctuaries in northern Syria, care?

Do the Israelis, who have instructed AIPAC to get Congress back in line behind a war Americans do not want to fight, care about those 100,000 dead Syrians and 400 gassed children?

Here is Alon Pinkas, Israel's former general consul in New York, giving Israel's view of the Syrian bloodletting: "Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death. That's the strategic thinking here."

According to two polls reported this weekend by the Jerusalem Post, Israelis by 7-1 do not want Israel to go to war with Syria. But two-thirds of Israelis favor the United States going to war with Syria.

Peggy Noonan writes that the debate on war on Syria "looks like a fight between the country and Washington." She nails it. The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard are all up for air strikes. In the think tanks of D.C., the corridor talk is all about "On to Teheran!"

But what of the soldiers who will fight the neocons' war? Major General Robert Scales speaks for our next generation of wounded warriors. Our fighting men, Scales writes, "are tired of wannabe soldiers who remain enamored of bloodless machine warfare ... Today's soldiers know war and resent civilian policymakers who want the military to fight a war that neither they nor their loved ones will experience firsthand."
Enthusiasm for war is likely higher at Cafe Milano in Georgetown than in the mess hall at Camp LeJeune.

Why is opposition to the war surging? Because the case for war is crumbling.

U.S. credibility is on the line, we are warned. If we do not attack Syria to punish a violation of Obama's "red line," no one will believe us again. Our allies will no longer have confidence that America will come over and fight their next war for them.

Yet George Bush blustered in his "axis-of-evil" State of the Union that "the world's worst dictators" would not be allowed to get "the world's worst weapons." And Kim Jong Il went out and tested an atom bomb and built an arsenal of nuclear weapons. And what did The Decider do? Nothing. Did our alliances collapse because "W's" bluff was called?

Should Congress really authorize a war on Syria because Hillary Clinton and Obama said "Assad must go!" and Obama said his "red line" has been crossed? Or should Congress use this vote as a teaching tool for Baby Boomer Bismarcks by declaring: "We are not taking our country to war because you blundered in issuing ultimata you had no authority to issue. Rather than go to war, you should admit your mistake, as real leaders do, and take responsibility."

How many Syrians should we kill to restore the credibility of Barack Obama? How many Syrians should we kill to impress upon Iran how resolute we are? How many Syrians should we kill to reassure nervous allies that Uncle Sam will forever come fight their wars for them?

In America, before we put a man to death, we prove him guilty of murder "beyond a reasonable doubt." Should we not set as high a standard of proof before we kill a thousand Syrians and plunge the United States into another war?

Where is the evidence Assad ordered a gas attack? German intelligence says it intercepted orders from Assad not to use gas. Congressmen coming out of secret briefings say the case is inconclusive.

The American people do not want war on Syria, and such a war makes no sense. Who is trying to stampede Congress into war on Syria, and then on Iran — and why? Therein lies the real question.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Monday, 09 September 2013 11:16

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Michael Barone - Obama's 'red line' undermines U.S. power

Blunder after blunder. That's been the story of President Barack Obama's policy toward Syria.

In April 2011, Obama said dictator Bashir al-Assad "had to go." But he did little or nothing to speed him on his way.

At an Aug. 20, 2012, press conference, in campaign season, he was asked about Syria's chemical weapons and said "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus."

On Aug. 21, 2013, a year and a day afterwards, chemical weapons were used in large quantities in the Damascus suburbs a 20-minute drive from United Nations inspectors.

Last week, all signs — strong statements by Secretary of State John Kerry, leaks of detailed military plans — indicated that Obama would soon order what he described as "a shot across the bow."

But on Saturday, Aug. 31, he announced that he would ask Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the use of military force — even though he believed he had authority to do it unilaterally. That means delay until Congress assembles Sept. 9 — time for Assad to put his military assets out of harm's way.

There are strong arguments for voting against a resolution, the exact wording of which is not established at this writing.

Obama's "limited, tailored" approach seems certain not to destroy Assad's chemical weapons and may well not deter him from using them. And we have the president's word that he is not seeking "regime change."

In the unlikely event that air strikes do undermine the Assad regime, we have no assurance that an alternative would be preferable. Al-Qaida sympathizers may gain the upper hand.

At the same time, there are strong arguments against a vote countering a resolution. Undermining the power of even a feckless American president risks undermining the power of the presidency — and of America — for years.

Crossing a president's "red line," however improvidently drawn, should carry consequences, however limited.

Many in Congress, and not just Republicans, surely resent being called upon to authorize an action that public opinion polls indicate is widely unpopular, particularly among the Independent voters who can determine election outcomes in many states and congressional districts.

If a vote were taken this week, the resolution would be rejected — just as a similar resolution was, unexpectedly, rejected in the British House of Commons Aug. 29.
Some Democrats want the resolution to strictly limit the president, while Republicans like Sen. John McCain want a broader permit that would allow for regime change.

Presidents usually prevail on issues like this, where they can argue that national security is at stake, and the administration can probably round up enough votes in the Democratic-majority Senate.

That will be much harder in the Republican-majority House. Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have both endorsed a resolution.

But Boehner and Democrat Chris Van Hollen have both called this a conscience vote and said their parties will not whip the issue. The White House will have to do the hard work of rounding up the votes.

At midweek The Washington Post listed only 17 House members favoring military action and 130 opposed or leaning against.

Most House Democrats voted against the Iraq War resolution in October 2002, when most voters favored it. Their party has dovish instincts going back to the Vietnam War and has been largely ignored by the administration since it lost its House majority in 2010.

House Republicans, the object of Obama's continued denunciations and disdain, are not inclined to trust him at all. Many surely believe they're being set up as fall guys for a president whose chief political goal is regaining the House majority for Democrats in 2014.

That suspicion was surely enhanced in Sweden on Wednesday when Obama said, "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line."

But the world is not clamoring to enforce it. The only nation contemplating joining the United States in military action is France. That's 38 fewer allies than joined the United States after the supposed unilateralist George W. Bush, with congressional authorization, ordered troops into Iraq.

Former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams has argued that Obama's foreign policy is designed to restrain and reduce America's power in the world. The twists and turns of his policy toward Syria certainly seem to be having that effect.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Friday, 06 September 2013 07:36

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Susan Estrich - From a line in the sand to a debate in Congress

I was just fine with the line in the sand. In a civilized world, there must be some line. If not chemical weapons, where?

So when the president stood up and said we will not tolerate such brutality, I was thinking about the young Americans who would deliver that message halfway around the world and was feeling proud to be a citizen of a country that stands for something. No, we shouldn't be in the regime-change business. No, we can't stop civil wars everywhere. But no leader should think he can use chemical weapons against his own people with impunity.

Unless Congress thinks differently, of course.

Within a 24-hour period, the administration went from announcing military action as a matter of principle (in far more detail than we needed to know) to deciding that, actually, the president would wait to see what Congress has to say when it comes back from vacation next week (no rush there).

What happened? Is there some new piece of intelligence that we don't know about but would perfectly explain what otherwise appears to be a fairly classic demonstration of political weakness?

I hope so. Otherwise, the administration's actions are pretty much impossible to defend.

This is not, I should add, a matter of constitutional law.

As commander in chief, the president could have ordered the sort of limited strike the administration has been talking about without getting approval from Congress. He didn't need Congress; he needed the public. And when it became clear that he did not have that support, he needed cover, which is when he decided to go to Congress. At least that's how it looks, which is why I would prefer to believe in some new piece of intelligence, even though logic tells me that if there were new intelligence, the way things have been leaking here, that would have been leaked, too, if for no other reason than that it would make the administration look less weak for changing course.

So what happens next?

The president is meeting with congressional leaders to try to line up support for the line in the sand. Members of Congress, many of whom would prefer not to have to cast an unpopular vote (and it will be an unpopular vote for many, because the district is dominated either by liberals who oppose the use of force or by conservatives who are angry that the president delayed action), are now being forced by the president's odd dance to do just that. But if it's not an easy vote for some members of Congress, the danger is even greater for the president.
He could narrowly "win" with the help of Republicans, which doesn't help Democrats heading into the midterms, or he could "lose" because his own party doesn't support him, which doesn't help Democrats, either. He is liable to be blamed for whatever goes wrong, and something certainly will, whether we act or not.

Is there another alternative? Could this be a magic "turning point" in American politics, where the gladiators put aside their weapons and come together to debate whether there is any room left in real politics for lines in the sand, for matters of values, for taking a stand for its own sake, even if it will not end the war or lead to the fall of an evil ruler? Could this be an occasion to put partisanship aside to try to grapple with a fundamental and difficult question, respecting each other in the process because there are no easy answers?

Don't bet on it.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 212

Bob Meade - Actuarially speaking

How many readers would like to buy their auto, home, health, or life insurance from a company that does not make a profit? Probably not many. What if that unprofitable company offered better rates than anyone else? While some might be tempted to accept the lower rate offer, good judgment would probably lead most people to purchase their policy from a more stable, and profitable, company.

The first rule of insurability is that the insured's risk cannot cause loss to the multitude simultaneously. By pooling large numbers of people across a broad base into insurable risk categories, no one, or many, individual losses can cause loss "to the multitude, simultaneously". It's the work of the insurance company actuaries to determine the odds on how many of the insured in their pool will suffer loss at any given time.

The reason for mentioning actuaries, and their importance, is to highlight how those actuarial functions change, or cease to exist, in the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare". Some examples.

— Under Obamacare, no one can be denied insurance based on a pre-existing condition. Without question, no one wants to deny insurance to someone who needs it. However, without question, the increased cost to the insurance companies will result in increasing the premium cost to other, more healthy people.

Another issue is, what if a young healthy person decides to pay the "fine" rather than purchase insurance? Later, that individual becomes seriously ill and requires very costly surgery or other medical care. It appears that under Obamacare, that person cannot be denied coverage on demand. If that's the case, the insurance companies will have to include that potential into their actuarial calculations, thereby forcing those who do comply with the law to essentially pay for those who don't.

— The president has told us that under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must pay out in benefits, a minimum of 80 percent of what monies are collected in premiums. This presidential edict that insurance company overhead cannot exceed 20 percent of the premiums collected sounds good, but is it really? Years ago I took some insurance courses. One of the things I learned was that (at that time) 65 percent of the first year's premium went to underwriting, policy issuance, claim processing, and sales commissions, etc. While there may be some difference in today's numbers, the only way the insurance companies can comply with the edict is to have a relatively low turnover in policy holders. If a business seeking health insurance for their employees has a high personnel turnover rate, an insurance company simply cannot provide insurance without substantially increasing premium costs. It is for this reason that MacDonald's was given a presidential waiver, early on.

— Another much talked about issue is to be able to buy insurance "across state lines". This "sounds good" solution is a nightmare and kills off any semblance of actuarial input. Under Obamacare, no mention is made of "tort reform". However, without such reform the rising costs of malpractice insurance will continue to grow. For example, a number of OB-GYN physicians have decided to retire because, depending on the state and location, the cost of malpractice insurance is excessively high.

For example, (using 2009 numbers) internal medicine physicians in Minnesota would pay about $4,000 a year for malpractice insurance but in Florida, their cost would be $56,000. For general surgeons in Minnesota, malpractice insurance would be in the $10,000 range, but in Florida, $90,000. One of the most costly coverage is for OB-GYNs. In Minnesota they paid about $17,000, while in Florida, the annual premiums were upwards of $200,000. Of course the physicians have no choice but to set their prices to their patients to cover these costs.

In these examples, if Florida's doctor's (or Florida's citizens) rushed to buy their insurance across state lines in Minnesota, actuarially, Minnesota's insurers would have to raise their premium rates to reflect the Florida realities, which would thereby increase the rates paid by the Minnesota (and other state's) physicians. Of course these increases would be imposed on the patients in those other states.

— This leads to the need for "tort reform", which been totally ignored. Litigation costs are a healthy part of medical expenses. The examples cited above are not fairy tales, they are reality. While the federal government has ignored the litigation problems, the State of Pennsylvania enacted some fairly simple tort reform laws that have caused malpractice lawsuits to drop over 40 percent yearly. These two measures weren't draconian, they were common sense. The first rule change was that attorneys had to obtain a certificate of merit showing that medical procedures in a case didn't meet accepted standards before they could file their case. The second was that they could only file the lawsuit in the county in which the alleged malpractice took place; ergo, no "venue shopping". Can you imagine the impact on malpractice insurance costs if those two simple rule changes were made across all the states?

The choice becomes, do we let insurance companies continue to make actuarially sound judgments, or do we let the government simply raise taxes to cover their naively poor judgments?

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 1033

 
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