Politics & Policy

The Fiscal Cliff and the Middle East

Washington is so broken that our enemies no longer need to make things up to embarrass us.

When your dissolute political establishment sinks to the point of being fit for lectures from Chinese Communists on spending restraint, and from erstwhile Soviet revanchists on foreign-affairs modesty, you are at rock bottom. Welcome to Washington.

Remember two summers ago, the depths of the last Beltway debacle on out-of-control borrowing that charted the course for today’s latest Beltway debacle on spending and taxes. It was then that China’s rulers blasted Uncle Santa for our “debt addiction,” our failure to observe “the commonsense principle” that a nation, like a family, must “live within its means.” At the time, U.S. sovereign debt — of which China is, not coincidentally, a major holder — had been downgraded below triple-A for the first time ever.

The Obamedia, fearing that their hero would be irreparably harmed by this signature achievement, reliably promoted a false narrative: Conservative “extremists” were refusing to extend the president’s tapped-out credit line, sending shivers through the bond markets. In reality, the explanation for the downgrade was not the contretemps over the statutory “debt ceiling”; it was the astronomical debt itself. The ceiling was significant only because it occasioned convincing proof that Washington is not serious about addressing our spending crisis. When you are borrowing to pay the interest on prior borrowing, it is time to cut spending — drastically. Washington won’t even consider it. That is what signals to creditors that our “full faith and credit” may not be credible. When you are burning through other people’s money because you’ve already spent your own people’s money for the next few generations, promises to pay are not very reliable.

So dire are our straits that the stated national debt — an obscene $16.4 trillion — does not even begin to reflect the actual national debt, which probably exceeds ten times that amount when unfunded liabilities and bankrupt, bailout-craving states are factored in. The government annually spends over a trillion dollars more than the enormous $2.4 trillion it takes from us in taxes. Structurally, our “mandatory” spending (entitlements plus interest on the accumulated debt) puts us in a perennial deficit hole of $250 billion (and rising fast) before one thin dime is spent on “discretionary” items . . . such as the $700 billion defense budget. You may remember national defense — not wealth-redistribution, health care, or running commercials to recruit new food-stamps recipients — as the reason we actually have a federal government.

Washington’s current “fiscal cliff” farce results inevitably from the craven failure to confront geometrically unsustainable spending. We are already over the cliff. The public has seen fit to reelect as president a hard-nosed movement leftist who revels in chaos. For Obama, spending, which expands his taker-base, can never be high enough, so taxes will always have to rise. Beltway Republican leaders keep mistaking him for a conventional Washington Democrat with whom they can negotiate. But with the wind at his back thanks to his fellow statists in the press corps, Obama keeps pocketing GOP concessions, pushing for more, and relying on the media to depict Republicans as intransigent sentries for the “millionaires and billionaires.”

Last time, Republicans caved on the debt ceiling and joined Democrats in paving a road to hell — the looming explosion of tax hikes and indiscriminate defense cuts — with good intentions: Pushed to this brink, they assumed, the president would have to negotiate reasonably because his self-interest lay in the well-being of the nation. But no, the president’s self-interest is in the transformation of the nation along socialist lines. Diving over the “fiscal cliff” suits him just fine — after all, you can’t have transformation without tumult.

So this time, House conservatives told their leadership, “No.” The conservative punditocracy, which often seems more interested in cheerleading for the GOP than advancing conservative positions, is in something of a snit. Yet the calculation of conservatives who are accountable to an angry, anti-Washington base is simple: It makes little sense to cave on tax hikes, as Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” would have them do, when (a) Obama is offering nothing in return, nothing, on the only issue that matters — spending; (b) raising taxes on the top 1 percent of earners is a populist gimmick that does absolutely nothing to address our crisis; (d) Plan B has zero chance of being enacted; and (c) Obama has the media in his pocket, so it is pointless to take a futile, principle-breaking step in the hope of avoiding political blame — Republicans will be scapegoated regardless of what happens.

There is only one way to deal with a leftist revolutionary like Obama: Take away his credit card. We have again crashed into the debt ceiling. Because Republicans have not caved again on the ceiling as Obama was demanding, they have leverage: The Treasury Department, within a few weeks, will be out of accounting tricks to stave off a shut-down. There will be enough tax money streaming into the till to make bond payments, so — despite media scaremongering to the contrary — our full faith and credit will remain intact. So let Obama figure out how to run Leviathan on $2.4 trillion — which is over half a trillion more than the federal government was spending at the end of the Clinton years that Democrats portray as the golden era of fiscal responsibility.

To shriek over a contrived “fiscal cliff” when we are already immersed in a sea of red ink is foolish — but, alas, no more so than acting out the clinical definition of insanity on the world stage. With reelection secured and all eyes on the “Taxmageddon” drama, Obama is also intervening more directly on behalf of the anti-American Sunni Islamists who seek to topple the despicable, Iranian-backed Assad regime in Syria.

It is remarkable. If there were no Syrian civil war, we would be thumbing our chins, wondering if there were any way to weaken all our enemies by turning them against each other. Syria has done just that. Not only is Assad teetering and Iran being bled; Sunni Islamists are at the throats of Shiite Islamists, Iraq and Turkey are squabbling, a wedge has been driven between Hezbollah and Hamas, and even the PLO is riven as Assad’s supporters in the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine butt heads with the Islamist factions.

All this, and we haven’t had to do a thing except stay out. Now, however, with the usual urging from Washington’s progressive bipartisan phalanx of “Islamic democracy” builders, Obama is openly colluding with Islamist regimes — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar — to show Assad the door and install the Brotherhood. The administration is hell-bent on creating yet another “Islamic democracy” even as the one it midwifed in Egypt shoves a sharia constitution down the throats of persecuted Copts and other beleaguered minorities.

The president has been helping the Syrian Brotherhood from the sidelines (“leading from behind”) all along. The pretext for his current, stepped-up efforts is the stated fear that Assad will use his inventory of chemical and biological weapons against “his own people” — a euphemism for “Sunni Islamist opposition” that enables the media to skirt the inconvenient fact that Syria’s religious minorities prefer Assad, the devil they know, to the specter of persecution under Brotherhood rule. But there is no more WMD danger than there has ever been — Assad is a rogue, so the fact that he has such weapons has always been a big problem. Moreover, the overthrow of Assad would mean his WMDs end up in the hands either of his Hezbollah allies or his al-Qaeda-affiliated enemies. Those outcomes are even worse for us.

In fact, weapons falling into the wrong hands was precisely the outcome of Obama’s Libya catastrophe. There, the president joined with Sunni Islamists to overthrow a regime that, though unsavory, was cooperating with the United States. The result was jihadists raiding Qaddafi’s high-powered arsenal; the installation of a feckless government that cannot control its tribal and Islamist enclaves; the destabilization of North Africa; and the eventual murder of four Americans, including our ambassador, on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

With regard to that latter massacre in Benghazi, a State Department report issued this week could not help but condemn the reckless security lapses even as its authors whitewashed the culpability of Secretary Clinton. They also sidestepped the simple, central questions to which Washington, after three months, cannot produce answers: How and when during the seven-hour terrorist siege did President Obama learn about it, and what orders did he give to mobilize available military assets to protect the Americans who were under attack?

Outside of Washington, the similarities between the mess Obama’s Islamist-empowerment strategy made of Libya and the mess it is likely to make of Syria are not lost, even on such neo-imperialists as Vladimir Putin. At a news conference in Moscow this week, the Russian strongman explained his opposition to military intervention against Assad by pointing to Libya as evidence that such adventures can do more harm than good. Ripping the Obama administration, Putin blamed the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi on the president’s policy of ousting Qaddafi in favor of a “state that is falling apart” as its “interethnic, inter-clan, and intertribal conflicts continue.”

It should go without saying that Putin is being disingenuous. The Russians, their disclaimers notwithstanding, are aligned with Syria and Iran. Ever the champion of anti-American dictators, they are determined to prop Assad up. Analogously hypocritical, the Chinese who presume to lecture us on debt are themselves close to imploding.

Still, the impurity of their motives does not invalidate their observations. Our debt is a travesty. Our facilitation of the Brotherhood is self-destructive. Those are facts. Washington is so broken that our enemies no longer need to make things up to embarrass us. Rock bottom.

 Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which was published by Encounter Books.


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