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The Long Campaign


My Politico column on the president’s speech last night:
The cynical interpretation is that he is hoping to do enough against ISIL to satisfy domestic political opinion and keep the terror group at bay until he can hand off an incomplete campaign to his successor, who will be left with the difficult choice of whether to truly defeat ISIL.

Fall 2014 Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, Underway


The Brookings Institution publishes a phenomenal series of academic research papers on current issues in economics and economic policy. Papers are published and presented twice a year, and the release of the papers is a major event in the worlds of economics, public policy, and, increasing, media. To learn more about the Brookings Papers, click here.

This fall’s conference is underway. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to make it — duty calls elsewhere. But I will be reading the papers.

I’m especially interested in the papers on….

….labor force participation:

The decline in the labor force participation rate—the number of Americans either working or looking for work as a percentage of the population—is primarily due to the aging population and other structural factors, rather than cyclical weaknesses, and is expected to continue. The finding has implications for policymakers who are grappling with whether the sluggish job market can be improved with government tools, and for the potential growth rate of the U.S. economy through the end of the decade. The rate is projected to decline to 61 percent by 2022—a level as low as the early 1970s.

…the Affordable Care Act:

The number of Americans insured in the individual health insurance market through exchanges and directly through insurers was at least 13.2 million in the second quarter of 2014—larger than reported by the government, which only includes the number insured through exchanges—and at least 4.2 million of them would not have been insured in this market had pre-2014 trends continued, but average per-person premiums increased over 24 percent. This large premium increase stands in contrast to the experience in Massachusetts, which saw premium decreases after its 2006 reform; Massachusetts also saw decreases in markups (premiums minus costs), which have been rare in other states in 2014.

…and European integration

Although each major step forward in European integration has caused popular support to drop, support for the common currency remains strong—mainly out of fear. The paper finds that the so-called father of Europe Jean Monnet’s, chain reaction theory—that partial steps toward unification would generate crises increasing demand for further integration—has worked in fostering that integration, but at the cost of a decline in popularity as well as jeopardizing future sustainability such as increasing the risk of an economic meltdown.

The other papers look fascinating, too.

To find all the papers, paper summaries, and explanatory videos by co-editor Justin Wolfers, click here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at


Ray Rice Fallout


The most famous elevator video in the world continues to shake the football world. Now former FBI chief Robert Mueller will investigate the league’s handling of the matter. If it turns out that Roger Goodell or others lied about the case, there will clearly be resignations coming. 

The video is shocking and even our jaded world has no trouble rising up with righteous indignation. The National Organization for Women has called for “an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community.” Fine. But most men who hurt women these days don’t do it with their closed fists. The far more common method is through the divorce courts or by fathering children they don’t stick around to raise. There’s a new study (and take it, as with all studies, with a grain of salt), suggesting that children of affluent families are even more damaged by divorce than others. Of course the women in these relationships bear some of the blame — let’s say half, though who knows? Still, we all know of situations in which prominent men have fathered multiple children by different mothers, married none of them, and yet are treated as respected members of society. We, and NOW, should spare some righteous indignation for them.

Web Briefing: September 22, 2014

John Kerry: America Isn’t at War with ISIS


Secretary of state John Kerry said the United States is not actually at war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, explaining instead that what we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation.”

In an interview in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Kerry pushed back against CNN reporter Elise Labott’s characterization of the conflict between the Islamic State and the United States as a “war.”

“Is the United States at war with ISIS?” she asked. “Because it sure sounds, from the president’s speech, that we are.”

“I think that’s the wrong terminology,” Kerry said. “What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation. And it’s going to go on for some period of time.”

“If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so,” the secretary continued. “But the fact is, it’s a major counter-terrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.”

CNN anchor Jake Tapper seemed unconvinced by Kerry’s ambiguous wording. “Dropping bombs on a sovereign nation and offering to arm and train rebels who not only oppose ISIS, but oppose the regime that ostensibly rules Syria — to some people, that might sound a lot like war,” he said skeptically. 

The secretary of state’s caveat comes just hours after President Obama announced an expanded air campaign to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” jihadists fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.



Obama’s Speech


We have a strategy to degrade and a hope to destroy.

Authorize It


From our editorial on the president’s speech last night:
If the president’s resolve is in doubt, Congress isn’t covering itself in glory, either. The president asked Congress to authorize his program to aid the Syrian rebels. We would go further: It would be an important statement of national will, a strong signal to our allies, and an act of democratic accountability if Congress voted for military action against the Islamic State in a strong, clean authorization. Instead, Congress has been ducking, in keeping with the belief of too many of its members that their role is to carp from the sidelines without ever taking any responsibility themselves.

Well, They’re Both Painters


D.C. public schools are simultaneously among the worst and most expensive in the country. But sometimes that green-eye-shade critique fails to capture the scope of how bad they are. For instance:

Some D.C. Public School seventh-graders were assigned the rather unpatriotic task this week of comparing Adolf Hitler to former President George W. Bush. But now the school district wants you to know that such an intellectual exercise is not part of the official D.C. curriculum.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a tweet showing the Venn diagram homework assignment circulated, in which students (at McKinley Middle School, according to NBC4) were asked to compare the similarities and differences between the president and the dictator, “two men of power who abused their power in various ways.” The instructions read:

Now that we have read about two men of power who abused their power in various ways, we will compare and contrast them and their actions. Please refer to your texts “Fighting Hitler—a Holocaust story” and “Bush: Iraq War Justified Despite No WMD” to compare and contrast former President George W. Bush and HItler [sic] We will use this in class tomorrow for an activity!

Tribute in Light . . .


. . . slightly shrouded in a cloud last night from downtown Manhattan:

Bill Maher Defends Christian Right


No, it’s not the Onion, it is Bill Maher on the Charlie Rose show pointing out the difference between Islam and Christianity. He is responding to President Obama’s assertion that there is no relationship between Islam and Islamism:

Maher: There are illiberal beliefs that are held by vast numbers of Muslim people –

Rose: A vast number of Christians too.

Maher: No, that’s not true. Not true. Vast numbers of Christians do not believe that if you leave the Christian religion you should be killed for it. Vast numbers of Christians do not treat women as second class citizens. Vast numbers of Christians –

Rose: I agree with that.

Maher: . . .do not believe if you draw a picture of Jesus Christ you should get killed for it.

Thanks, Bill, for noticing. 

The effort by Presidents Bush and Obama to create space for Muslims to reject terrorism and live in peace, like the overwhelming majority of our Muslim fellow citizens do here, is noble and necessary –  I might say downright Christian – if frustrating.

President Obama is right about one thing: Very few people of any religion want the Islamic State. That’s why they have to terrorize their own people to gain power. But terrorists do not need majority support to terrorize, and the Islamic sources of their ideology are a powerful recruiting tool that only Muslims have the power to de-legitimate, or separate from their religion.

Gallup: Obama’s Job Approval Hovers at Bush 2006 Levels


President Obama’s job approval rating, according to Gallup, is hovering near then-president George W. Bush’s numbers at this time in 2006, which turned out to be a disastrous election for the president’s party.

Gallup’s daily tracker shows Obama with a 42 percent job approval, compared with 52 percent of respondents who view him unfavorably. That’s slightly better than Bush’s ratings from September 7–10, 2006, but slightly worse than the September 15–17, 2006, survey results.

From Gallup:

That month, then–Senate majority whip Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) predicted to Bush that his low approval ratings would cost the party on Election Day.

“Mr. President,” Bush quoted McConnell in his memoir as saying, “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress.” 

Republicans went on to lose six Senate seats, the same number they need to gain to win the majority this year.

Tom Ridge: Obama ‘Disingenuous’ for Pretending U.S. Advisers in Iraq ‘Not in Harm’s Way’


Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge rejected the White House’s characterization of its operation against the Islamic State as a painless air campaign, calling it ”disingenuous” to suggest that the approximately 1,600 U.S. special forces on their way to Iraqi battlefields ”are not in harm’s way.”

Ridge appeared on CNN Thursday to react to President Obama’s speech, which laid out a vague strategy to defeat Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria. The first Homeland Security secretary felt compelled to push back against the president’s implication that an antiseptic air campaign — and no “boots on the ground” – will be enough to defeat the jihadists.

“It is disingenuous to say that the men and women that we’re going to send to Iraq are not in harm’s way,” he claimed. ”They’re not wearing sneakers. They’re probably going to help pre-position air strikes. They may be military advisers.” 

“No commander-in-chief wants to send men and women in harm’s way,” Ridge continued. ”But don’t pretend those military personnel, these brave men and women are not going to be caught up in the middle of a violent battle with a violent, medieval, barbaric organization. It’s fiction. They are in harm’s way. There are boots on the ground.” 

“This whole notion that somehow we can do this cosmetically from the air, and just rely on the Syrian moderates and the new coalition army that is going to hopefully resurrect itself under the new leadership in Iraq — that may happen,” he later added. “But let’s not kid ourselves about where these 1,500 men and women are going, and how perilous and dangerous their world is.”

About That ‘Motherhood Penalty’


Kay Hymowitz cuts through journalistic hype.

Taken all together, the available research presents not what Miller calls “a clear-cut look at American culture’s ambiguous feelings about gender and work” but evidence of men and women’s different preferences across cultures and the limits of parity, particularly in a society where single parenthood is commonplace.  But don’t expect to read about any of that in the continuing flow of gender gap journalism.

Mark Udall Tries to Distance Himself from an Imaginary Obama Ground-War Plan, Laughter Ensues


A CNN panel couldn’t help but chuckle at Senator Mark Udall’s reaction to President Obama’s Wednesday night speech on the Islamic State, with the embattled Colorado Democrat expressing opposition to an Iraq strategy the White House has never supported.

Locked in a close reelection fight, against Colorado Republican congressman Cory Gardner, Udall has taken pains to distance himself from an increasingly unpopular Obama. So after the president’s speech, the senator asserted that “any U.S. military role beyond air strikes must be approved by Congress” and that he “will not give this president a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq.”

But President Obama has consistently rejected plans to send conventional ground forces to Iraq, instead promising only to expand an air campaign and send small numbers of non-combat advisers.

“That’s a Democratic senator essentially getting in the face of a Democratic president who has said he’s not going to put boots on the ground,” CNN’s John King said Thursday morning.

“Mark Udall has been trying so hard to run away from the president on so many things,” analyst Peter Hamby said. “The other day in a debate he said, ‘I am the senator that the White House fears most, when they see me marching across the White House lawn.’”

“That is hilariously wrong,” he laughed.

“Poppycock, I believe is the technical term,” King agreed.

The Real Clear Politics poll average gives Udall a slim, three-point lead over Gardner. 

President Obama’s Real Promise—It’s Not to Destroy ISIS


At least President Obama didn’t mention “managing” the Islamic State. At least he said, “We will degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State.

But let’s be clear. That’s not his real promise. 

His real promise was not to use ground troops. He was very clear about that:

As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.

And again:

But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.

The job of the commander-in-chief is to defend our nation, not to promise the most expedient tactics. And while I hope and pray that we can, in fact, “destroy” the Islamic State without “American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” it is premature to make such a promise. What happens if our allies on the ground can’t advance into the Sunni Triangle? What if the Islamic State, despite repeated air attacks, proves every bit as resilient as Hamas — which has weathered years of air strikes yet still maintains its iron grip on Gaza? Then which promise controls? The pledge to destroy or the pledge not to engage in ground combat?

When I heard the president speak of a long air campaign, what I heard was a pledge to kick the can down the road, to “do something” until his successor relieves him of the burden of fighting jihad. In so doing, he’s taking an enormous gamble with the safety and security of the American people. Let’s recall that the Islamic State controls a nation-sized land mass and disperses among the civilian population. Its ranks include hundreds of Americans, Britons, and other holders of Western passports. And let’s also recall that jihadists thrive when they’re seen as surviving and enduring American attacks. 

In the coming days and weeks, it will be interesting to see whether President Obama is even serious about the air campaign. Will we see large-scale mobilization of Air Force, Navy, and Marine assets? Will the air strikes step up, or continue at a minimal to moderate level? Or will the effort wane as media attention wanes, with Americans left to pray that whatever’s been done is enough?

Last night the president made promises. But the most important promise, to destroy our enemy, is the one he seems least willing to keep.

Denver Woman Pleads Guilty to Trying to Join ISIS


A 19-year-old Colorado woman pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a charge that she conspired to provide information and assist the Islamic State.

Shannon Maureen Conley of Denver was arrested in April trying to board a flight to join and help the group in Syria. Conley, who had converted to Islam two years ago, intended to employ her nursing training to aid fighters on the battlefield, as well as provide information about United States military tactics she learned from an Army-affiliated program she took part in, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Her parents alerted authorities of Conley’s potential plan after her father discovered a one-way ticket to the region. Conley’s father believed the ticket was purchased by a 32-year-old Tunisian man she had met online who asked her to marry him and join him in Syria.

Conley will be sentenced in January, according to a U.S. district judge’s decision. In the meantime, he ordered her to undergo further psychological tests.

Impossible Promises


Thirteen years ago today, Islamists based in Afghanistan planned and launched an attack that murdered 3,000 innocent civilians in New York City. Last night, the president again promised to abandon Afghanistan by 2016, while returning to the war in Iraq.

Inconsistent? Not in the president’s view, because the two theaters are not related.

“ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” he said, “is not Islamic.”

By denying the obvious, Mr. Obama dissociated the Islamists in Afghanistan — al-Qaeda and Taliban — from the extremists in Iraq and Syria. Just as the Islamic State is not Islamic, so too purple is not purple.

Islamic extremism is a virulent cultural disease. It will run its course until snuffed out by moderate Muslims. Until then, with small expeditionary forces and steady resolve, America can contain the epidemic. For years, our military has recommended leaving residual forces of about 12,000 in both Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to avoid precisely the collapse that has forced Mr. Obama to return to Iraq.

Instead, Mr. Obama has promised to destroy the Islamic State by bombing — “without any Americans in combat missions.” That is impossible. We won’t drop bombs based on assurances from Sunni tribesmen. Effective bombing will require U.S. Special Forces teams on the ground in combat missions.

In addition to encouraging the Islamists in Afghanistan and focusing upon the tactic of bombing, last night President Obama announced two impossible war-termination goals in Mesopotamia.

First, he said our military support would be funneled through the government in Baghdad. However, it was the oppression of the Sunnis and Kurds by the Shiite political parties — not just one sectarian prime minister — that facilitated the Islamist (Islamic State) takeover. Worse still, the Iranian military — our enemy — is in Baghdad, organizing things behind the scenes.

The Iranians and Shiite parties in Iraq are at war against the Iraqi Sunnis, backed by Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Obama is the wealthy but indecisive poker player who is gambling with no strategy. That makes America the mark in the game about Iraq’s future.

Second, Mr. Obama punted about the core problem: how to resolve a chaotic Syria. To defend the president, Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, said Mr. Obama took “decisive action through [authorizing] precise air strikes by aircraft and drones.” Bombing kills civilians and enemies. But it is not decisive. Air power does not change who controls the territory, the people, and the government. Mr. Obama has no strategy for concluding the war in Syria, the homeland for the Islamic State. He is handing off a simmering, unresolved war to his Democratic or Republican successor. Neither will thank him for his half-hearted, half-baked measures.

The map of Mesopotamia was carved out by England and France during World War I. Before this Islamist war is over, there will be a new map — a breakup of the existing Iraq and the emergence of both a Kurdish and a Sunni state, comprising northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

—  Bing West regularly visits Iraq and Afghanistan and has written six books about the wars in those countries. His latest is One Million Steps: a Marine Platoon at War

VDH: The Video Interview


Here is Hillsdale College student Evan Carter interviewing Victor Davis Hanson on the Middle East, Russia, and the foreign policy of President Obama.



Obama is reportedly claiming that he has the legal authority to make war on the Islamic State under the authorization of force passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks. But the key language of that authorization reads: “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” 

The Islamic State didn’t plan, authorize, commit, or aid the attacks, and didn’t harbor those who did. Unless there’s some better legal argument lying around, Obama ought to go to Congress for a new authorization.

Cruz Resplendent


As you may have heard, Senator Ted Cruz was booed off a stage when he expressed solidarity with Israel. (To read and see all about it, go here.) I thought of Jeane Kirkpatrick, who left a stage at Berkeley, in such a dignified way. That made me love her all the more.

About Ted’s performance, I could write many words. Instead, I’ll write just two: My man. No, let me write a few more: What a display of spine, poise, and grace. Even nobility. As he bade farewell to the booers, he said, “Thank you, and God bless you.”

Way to go (in more than one sense).



Impromptus today is devoted to a “Dallas Journal.” I say a fair amount in this journal, but I’d like to say a little more, because my fingers are itching. I’d like to follow up — just like Helen Thomas at a Reagan press conference. (Well, not just like.)

In the course of my jottings, I mention Dallas’s Robert E. Lee Park. And I say, “Hmmmm. I really don’t think of Texas as having been part of the Confederacy. I know I should. But, strangely, I don’t. I should pause to analyze why someday.”

Well, I’ve thought about it for a second or two. I guess I don’t consider Texas southern, and I equate the Confederacy with the South, which is not inaccurate, but just a little sloppy. (And I realize that East Texas is decidedly southern — in its speech, for one thing.)

I also say something about a Mexican restaurant — where the salsa is just right. I have a further reflection to give you. And it will be “hate speech.” La Raza may send death squads to my door. The Wise Latina and her friends on the Court may imprison me. (How will Kennedy vote?) Okay, here goes:

I have spent many, many hours of my life studying Mexican menus, agonizing over what to order. (Mexican is one of my two or three favorite cuisines.) And the truth is: It all comes out pretty much the same, doesn’t it?

Before the goons arrive, I have time for one more follow-up, I think:

In my journal, I write about Bill Buckley and his largeness, his flexibility, his freedom from ideology or dogmatism. He was like Whitman, containing multitudes, sometimes contradicting himself, etc.

WFB had countless exchanges with readers, and he published many of them, but I think my favorite of all time went something like this: A lady wrote in to say, “You and NR are getting too complicated for me these days. By the time I’m through reading you, I don’t know whether you’re for or against.” WFB responded, “Sorry for the confusion, madam: We’re against.”

There is some deep truth about conservatism in that answer.

And yet, of course, we are for some things — many things — and against some things (many things). Conservatism, in its largeness, is both affirmative and negative. We say yea, yea, and nay, nay.

And now that I’m quotin’ Scripture, I really ought to leave. See you!


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