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The Intellectual Dishonesty of William Kristol

10:02 am in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

No American with a basic understanding of this country’s military history could not have been anything but taken aback by William Kristol’s intellectually dishonest criticism of this statement in President Obama’s second inaugural speech: “But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.” Kristol, the public face of the Neoconservatives, who like most of his likeminded peers, is lacking in military experience, regularly advocates a muscular use of American military power abroad. Thus few would be surprised that he might construct his own historically inaccurate critique of the president’s remarks: “Two points: First, our forebears were only able to “win the peace” because they first crushed our enemies in war. But under President Obama we’re not committed to winning our wars. We’re committed to ending them. Does Obama really think we’re going to win the peace after not winning the war? Second, think about the formulation-”and not just.” Surely President Obama should have said this: “we are also heirs to those who won the peace as well as the war…” But he didn’t say that. The formulation Obama chose-”and not just the war”-suggests that Obama believes that it’s no big deal to win a war, and the greater achievement is winning the peace. With respect to World War II, this view is ludicrous. With respect to today’s world, this view is dangerous.”

First and foremost the very notion that our forbearers regularly “crushed our enemies in war” doesn’t correspond too closely with accepted history. The truth is that the majority of wars fought by America were settled with negotiated peace treaties that left our defeated enemies more or less intact as nation states. In the American Revolution, where victory was anything but certain, it was the introduction of French forces, especially naval, combined with significant material aid from Britain’s European adversaries that turned the tide in favor of the American cause and which led to the British surrender at Yorktown. Moreover, it was a vote taken in the House of Commons in April 1782 that provided the impetus to finally end the politically unpopular war in the colonies rather than any crushing defeat of British military forces in North America. Even in defeat, Britain with the rest of its empire intact could hardly be seen as having been crushed. Following the American Revolution two wars with the piratical Barbary States in North Africa were ultimately settled through negotiation. The final military measures which lead to the long term demise of pirate activity in North Africa was a function of British, not American, naval action. The Quasi-Naval War with France from 1798 to 1800 ended in a negotiated settlement which left Napoleon Bonaparte anything but “crushed.” The War of 1812 devolved into a stalemate where Washington D.C. was burned, American invasions of Canada failed and the new American Navy won impressive victories at sea and on the Great Lakes. The negotiated settlement that ended the War of 1812 happened to fall between two important military victories for the British. In 1805 Horatio Nelson defeated the French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar thereby assuring British naval supremacy and in 1815 Wellington would defeat Napoleon at Waterloo thereby eliminating Britain’s chief land rival in Europe. Again with Britain militarily ascendant and its empire intact, no one but a fool would claim that the Americans had “crushed” the British.

The War with Mexico comes closer to Kristol’s idea of America crushing an enemy but even then we forgave or alleviated the defeated Mexican government’s $30 Million dollars in owed reparations. In the American Civil War Union forces definitely crushed the small government states’ rights advocates of the Confederacy and in all of the Indian Wars that preceded it and took place thereafter the American Army certainly crushed the Native Americans in ways that many of us would find questionable today. In the Spanish-American War we defeated obsolete Spanish naval squadrons in the Caribbean and in the Pacific but our ultimate victories in Cuba and the Philippines were greatly aided by long running and deep seated indigenous insurgencies in both theaters and which saw Filipino’s not Americans doing almost all of the fighting ashore. While Spain lost its feeble grip on its overseas possessions Spain itself was never invaded nor was its more modern home fleet ever challenged at sea. Again, based on history, it’s hard to see the negotiated outcome of the Spanish-American Wars as one in which the enemy was crushed.

In World War I the entrance of the United States into the conflict finally tipped the balance in the favor of the Allies but Germany’s war machine had run up against so many failures to break through the stalemate on the Western Front that continuing was no longer tenable. Beset by internal dissent at home and a breakdown in trust between the Army and the ruling autocrats an armistice was sought. Germany itself was never invaded and German arms had put Czarist Russia out of the war, thrown back the Italians on their southern flank, defeated the Romanians and with the Turks, stymied the British and French in Asia Minor. With the British and French forces doing most of the fighting and dying it is again, hard to conceive of the Germans having been essentially “crushed” by America alone. Kristol’s image of America crushing its enemies certainly obtains a high degree of historical accuracy when analyzing World War II in the Pacific, particularly if you downplay British Commonwealth operations in Burma and the war in China. America along with Britain and Russia certainly crushed Nazi Germany and beat the Italians into submission in Europe. But while British and American bombers pulverized Germany from the air and their navies chased the Germans from the sea, one can’t ignore the fact that 80% of all of the German soldiers who perished in WWII were killed by a Russian. That said it would be intellectually as well as historically dishonest to claim that America alone or even largely crushed the European Fascists. In the immediate postwar period, the Korean War ended in a stalemate, settled in negotiated armistice. Despite the fact that every major city, village and town in North Korea was heavily bombed, one could hardly say the Communist regime in North Korea had been crushed, certainly not when they’re toying with nuclear weapons today as I write this post. The only parties crushed in the Vietnam War were our allies the South Vietnamese and the Cambodians. George H. W. Bush showed definite restraint in refraining from invading Iraq after dislodging Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait even though we decisively won the First Gulf War. While we seriously degraded Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1991 we didn’t crush his Baathist regime until the Second Gulf War. In Afghanistan we routed the Taliban out of the country and into Pakistan ten years ago on George W. Bush’s watch but based on the continued threat posed by them one could not contend that they’ve been crushed. Retiring theater commander General John Allen has recently said that the Pakistan based Taliban remains the single most significant operational threat facing American forces and the long term stability of Afghanistan.

Likewise Kristol is historically far afield when he tries to portray Obama as being uniquely “not committed to winning our wars.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, a national war hero, traveled to the Korea just weeks before his inauguration, determined the war unwinnable and then came home to set in motion the military and diplomatic actions that would lead to an armistice. That settlement would leave a badly battered Communist regime in power in the north. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger telegraphed to the diplomatic community at the time that they had no intention of trying to win the war in Vietnam when they said that their goal was to affect “a decent interval” within which military operations could be turned over to the government of South Vietnam. The ultimate political goal, citing Stanley Karnow, author of “Vietnam: A History” was to create enough space for America to disengage from the conflict leaving its ally in Saigon to fend for itself thereby absorbing alone any defeat that might follow. George Veith in a more recent book on the fall of South Vietnam titled “Black April” detailed the many factors that contributed to the fall of the Saigon government. Among those factors was Nixon’s failure to honor the pledge to intervene with massive air and naval support and how the drastic reduction in material aid would result in southern forces losing air mobility due to a shortage of spare parts and fuel. In 1983 Ronald Reagan was quick to pull American Marines out of Lebanon after their barracks were bombed and showed little interest in trying to forge a victory in that country choosing instead to cut his losses and change direction.

Kristol’s notion that it was only by crushing our adversaries that we were able to “win the peace’ is also to be seen to be anything but accurate in historical hindsight. While we had little to worry about from Mexico after 1848 the westward expansion resulting from our victory only served to fuel the slavery / states’ rights controversy that would eventually boil over into the American Civil War. The Federal victory over the Confederacy far from eliminated problems of race and discrimination in the southern states. The crushing of Indian tribes east of the Mississippi did little to convince those to the west to surrender without a fight. Our victory over Spain in the Philippines in 1901 was followed by an insurrection against occupying American forces that didn’t end until 1913. Few would consider the peace won in 1918 to be anything but a setting of the stage for a more horrific war in 1939. One could hardly see the Iraq affair as anything but a misadventure in which no one apparently has won the peace, not unless your idea of peace comes with regular car bombings and domestic terror or one in which the power of our arch enemy in the region, Iran, has been greatly enhanced. With regard to Afghanistan the jury of history is still out but the prospects for a lasting peace there are far from bright.

Nothing in the foregoing is meant to downplay the triumphs of American arms or the sacrifice of American fighting forces from the founding of the country to the present. Nor is it meant to give short shrift to the benefits that many in this world have derived from those sacrifices and triumphs which have done so much to further the cause of democracy and freedom through the ages. Those who know American military history are well aware of those achievements and there is nothing new in the way of knowledge for them to gain in paying serious attention to William Kristol. Kristol is best viewed as a man who is forlornly pushing a much discredited Neoconservative agenda that has been seen to have largely failed. Anyone who is in search of a good overview of American military history has more than enough in the way of good scholarly research from which to choose and suffice it to say the writings of Bill Kristol wouldn’t be listed among them.

What is at issue here is either a deliberate misuse of history for the purpose of furthering a now discredited political agenda or a willingness to engage in intellectual dishonesty in a continuing campaign of perpetrating lies and falsehoods related to the actions and character of the president. This sort of behavior needs to be called out so as to prevent these ill-conceived ideas from gaining any further currency in the nation’s political discourse. It goes without saying that neither of the aforementioned motives does anything to advance the cause of freedom and the esthablishment of democracies. Kristol’s commentary can only be seen for what it ultimately is, the musings of a malcontent whose chief political accomplishment to date was to advocate for a war that is considered, thus far, to be America’s greatest foreign policy disaster. Kristol is a man who continues to be adversely obsessed with the political success of Barack Obama, unable or unwilling to see the president as anything but a political bogeyman. Kristol continues to advocate for a type of foreign policy that is unsustainable in the current fiscal and political environment. The American people, as a whole, are war weary and defense budgets are being cut back around the world with few exceptions. Of late the Neoconservatives can add yet another failure to their track record and that would be their role in the failed presidential campaign of Mitt Romney where they dominated his foreign policy staff. As one would recall, beyond Romney’s ill-advised comments about the 47%, his trips abroad and his positions on foreign policy turned out to be among those most damaging to his prospects for electoral success. That said is it any wonder as to why Bill Kristol and the Neoconservatives continue to fade in importance on the political scene both here and abroad. Is there any reason for the informed among us to pay them any mind? I think the answer to that question is more than obvious at this point in time.

Steven J. Gulitti

February 25, 2013

Mitt Romney’s Lehman Moment?

3:21 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

Did Mitt Romney, in his ill timed and ill conceived commentary on the violence in North Africa, just doom his presidential aspirations the way John McCain did in 2008 when he said that the economy was on sound footing just as Lehman Brothers collapsed? In a twinkling of a political eye Mitt Romney through his remarks on the death of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans has taken his focus off of the one topic where he has an advantage over Barack Obama, the economy, and redirected it to foreign policy, a subject where his campaign performance thus far has been woefully inadequate if not outright abysmal. As a result Romney has introduced the issues of his own lack of foreign policy heft and judgment into the race at what couldn’t be a worse time.

By now it is more than evident that Romney jumped to conclusions, those based on an absence of chronologically verifiable facts, in framing his condemnation of the president for a statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The subject statement appeared six hours before the first protests and well over twelve hours before the deaths of American diplomatic personnel in Libya. The chronology of those events can be found in “What They Said, Before and After the Attack in Libya”, referenced below. This raises three fundamental questions. One, was Romney compelled to act in haste in addressing developments in Libya and Egypt as a result of the scathing criticism that he received from the far right and those conservatives who had raised questions about his chances of success only the day before, particularly those who suggested that he hasn’t been forceful enough? Or is it the case that Romney just doesn’t have the requisite background and temperament to adequately deal with fast moving foreign policy issues and as a result is prone to poor decision making when these issues are front and center? Lastly, is Romney too influenced by a claque of Iraq War era Neoconservatives who have him simply parroting those old canards that Obama is an “apologist” for America, a sympathizer who cares more about radical Islam than his own country and someone who doesn’t truly believe in American Exceptionalism?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions then Mitt Romney has proven one thing to the American people and that is that he is a deeply flawed candidate when it comes to foreign policy and crisis management and thus ill suited to be this country’s Commander-in-Chief. It’s more than a bit ironic that after doubling down on his ill conceived comments, Romney has yet to come out and condemn the man who produced the controversial film that mocks the Prophet Mohamed or the incendiary pastor, Terry Jones, whose previous actions in threatening to burn Korans set off a wave of earlier violence across the Muslim world. Political columnist Howard Fineman, appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball, summed up Romney’s performance as follows: “He got the facts wrong. And it’s a classic case of jumping out ahead of a fast-moving story, chasing what you think is some kind of immediate political gain. He [Obama] never sympathized or apologized. Mitt Romney is pursuing a political strategy that is so nakedly and obviously political…I don’t see Mitt Romney having studied his career as that much of a foreign policy guy. He never has been. He was plugged into the NeoCon view in about 2007, and that was the beginning of his foreign policy education, and that’s still where he is.” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson appearing on the same program stated that Romney’s actions gave rise to questions about his overall judgment and character.

Another ominous development for Romney’s is the almost total silence on Capitol Hill and among the Republican establishment where almost no one has come to his defense. In fact most of the support Romney has received thus far has come from the very critics who just three days ago where suggesting that his campaign was doomed to failure. In stark contrast to the questionable support Romney is getting from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham et al., is the flak he taking from those on the right who you would expect to be in his corner. Here are several examples. Reliable Republican cheer leader Peggy Noonan: “When you step forward in the midst of a political environment and start giving statements on something dramatic and violent that has happened, you’re always leaving yourself open to accusations that you are trying to exploit things politically.” Mark Salter, a former McCain operative and regular critic of Obama’s foreign policy none the less criticized Romney’s actions: “However, his [Obama's] policies are not responsible for the attacks on our embassy in Cairo and our consulate in Benghazi or the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. In the wake of this violence, the rush by Republicans — including Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and scores of other conservative critics — to condemn him for policies they claim helped precipitate the attacks is as tortured in its reasoning as it is unseemly in its timing…Moreover, the embassy’s statement was released before the attack, and was not, according to administration officials, approved by the State Department. If that’s true, it cannot be fairly attributed to the president…I understand the Romney campaign is under pressure from some Republicans to toughen its attacks on the president…But this is hardly the issue or the moment to demonstrate a greater resolve to take the fight to the president. Four good Americans, brave and true, have just died in service to their country…Nothing said or done by the president or anyone in the U.S. government is responsible for the violence that led to their deaths.” The National Journal’s Ron Fournier: “Romney’s actions are ham-handed and inaccurate.” Ben Smith of BuzzFeed: “If you think the eye-rolling at Romney is just coming from the MSM, call up some Republican foreign policy hands.” Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough: “I’ve been inundated with emails and calls from elected GOP leaders who think Romney’s response was a mistake.” Bush era Ambassador Nicholas Burns: “I was frankly very disappointed and dismayed to see Governor Romney inject politics into this very difficult situation, where our embassies are under attack, where there’s been a big misunderstanding in the Middle East, apparently, about an American film, where we’re trying to preserve the lives of our diplomats — this is no time for politics.” Conservative writer David Frum: “The Romney campaign’s attempt to score political points on the killing of American diplomats was a dismal business in every respect.” And even Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly: “I’m not sure the governor is correct on that. The embassy was trying to head off the violence” with their statement.” The bottom line is this, Mitt Romney has violated a cardinal rule of American politics, one promoted by Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, that politics stops at the shoreline.

As serious a mistake as Romney has made this week it’s hardly an isolated incident. Earlier in the year when the Obama administration was locked in a controversy with the Chinese Government over a dissident who had taken refuge in the American Embassy and who then left it as part of a diplomatic deal, Romney inserted himself into the proceedings, again jumping the gun on events, saying that it “was a day of shame for the Obama administration. Romney was rebuked for his “foolish” remarks by none other than William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard. The dissident is now residing in the United States. Romney’s misguided approach to understanding foreign policy was on display again when he stated that Russia is America’s primary foreign policy concern: “Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe”; a statement that would lead to Colin Powell’s blunt rebuke: “I don’t know who all of his advisers are, but I’ve seen some of the names, and some of them are quite far to the right, and sometimes they, I think, might be in a position to make judgments or recommendations to the candidate that should get a second thought. For example, when Governor Romney not too long ago said, you know, the Russian Federation is our number-one geostrategic threat. Well, c’mon Mitt, think. It isn’t the case.” Earlier this summer Romney would question to what extent President Obama understood our special relationship with Great Britain only to then embarrass himself by publicly criticizing the London Olympics which, in turn, resulted in his being publicly scolded by the both the British Prime Minister and the Mayor of London. The remainder of Romney’s European tour was marred by misstatements and missteps culminating in a world wind tour of self inflicted political pratfalls.

Romney has been peddling the fantasy that if he were president or if elected that somehow he’d be able to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. At the same time he’s blaming Obama for the nuclear progress that Iran has thus far made. This of course, on its face, is seen to be an act of intellectual dishonesty coming from a candidate who is willingly ignoring the facts. In the words of veteran foreign affairs correspondent David Sanger, “The economic sanctions Mr. Obama has imposed have been far more crippling to the Iranian economy than anything President Bush did between the public revelation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities in 2003 and the end of Mr. Bush’s term in early 2009. Covert action has been stepped up, too. Mr. Bolton has called efforts to negotiate with Iran “delusional,” but other advisers — mostly those who dealt with the issue during the Bush administration — say they are a critical step in holding together the European allies and, if conflict looms, proving to Russia and China that every effort was made to come to a peaceful resolution.” Sanger in his op-ed “Is There a Romney Doctrine?” lays waste to the claim that the president has pursued a policy of appeasement showing how “the arrival of the general election requires Mr. Romney to grapple with the question of how to attack a Democratic president whose affection for unilateral use of force — from drones over Pakistan and Yemen to a far greater role for the Special Operations command — has immunized him a bit from the traditional claim that Democrats can’t stand the sight of hard power.” To this one should add the fact that Obama engineered the removal of Muammar Gaddafi without a single American casualty and that from Osama bin Laden down to rank and file Al Qaeda operatives the Obama Administration’s actions have killed hundreds of America’s enemies. This alone stands in stark contrast to conservative claims that Barack Obama is prone to appeasement. Sanger in the “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power”, published in 2009, detailed how both Iran and North Korea had greatly expanded their nuclear programs as America was distracted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That said it’s somewhat odd that Romney has resurrected the saber rattling of the now discredited NeoCons in calling for a more muscular American military posture overseas and that just when two thirds of Americans feel that the war in Iraq did nothing to make the country safer and at a time when America’s infrastructure is in need of serious investment at home. With regard to relations with Israel Romney’s criticism amounts to nothing more than the same old sound bites on the one hand and a pandering to the Jewish vote on the other. This is hardly the commentary of one experienced in the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict and certainly not one that accounts for the changed political landscape of the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring.

In his quest for the Oval Office Mitt Romney has attempted to sell himself to the American people as an accomplished businessman who would use the skills acquired in private equity to better run the business of government. Yet to date there has been little in the way of “actionable intelligence” that would lead the American voter to see Mr. Romney’s electioneering as anything other than a plea to take a leap of faith in casting one’s vote for him. This is particularly true with regard to his ability to intelligently address matters of foreign policy as Commander-in-Chief, a role where the president can affect events far more significantly than he can when dealing with economic affairs. For you see America isn’t a corporation where a CEO is beholden only to shareholders. A president has roles and responsibilities to fill that are far beyond the scope of a corporate leader. We’ve elected businessmen to the presidency before, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush and none of them have been considered in the long run to be great presidents. Romney has now come under fire from John McCain for failing to articulate his own detailed foreign policy program. Then again Romney hasn’t detailed anything in the way of a detailed program as to how he would turn the economy around, an area of his supposed expertise, so why would anyone be surprised that he’s not even outlined one for foreign affairs, a subject where he has proven himself to be wholly out of his league? David Ignatius of the Washington Post described Mitt Romney as a man having “no grasp of foreign affairs” whose approach to the subject amounts to a “series of sound bites” all of which portray a candidate who knows little about a subject of the utmost importance. With Mr. Ignatius’ observations in mind I believe we may have reached a tipping point in the 2012 election much the same as we were in September of 2008. The latest polls show Romney falling behind the president in key swing states and events in the Muslim world may still go against Barack Obama. However, the poll results that hit the newswires this morning are based on data that predate Romney’s latest gaffe and as a result Americans may still favor Obama when the see the next round of polling and especially when they consider this latest episode in a recurring series of Romney foreign policy disasters.

Steven J. Gulitti

9/14/12

Sources:

What They Said, Before and After the Attack in Libya; http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/09/12/us/politics/libya-statements.html?ref=politics

Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones backs anti-Muhammad movie; http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/guy-koran-burning-pastor-terry-jones-backs-anti-muhammad-movie-article-1.1157522

Hardball with Chris Matthews for Wednesday, September 12th, 2012; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49021234/ns/msnbc-hardball_with_chris_matthews/

Peggy Noonan: “Romney Is Not Doing Himself Any Favors”; http://www.buzzfeed.com/dorsey/peggy-noonan-romneys-not-doing-himself-any-favo

Noonan: Romney not helping himself; http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2012/09/noonan-romney-not-helping-himself-135300.html

Don’t Politicize Embassy Attacks; http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/09/12/dont_politicize_embassy_attacks_115416.html

Romney and Foreign Policy; http://thepage.time.com/2012/09/12/romney-and-foreign-policy/?xid=newsletter-thepagebymarkhalperin

Even As Experts, GOP Figures Criticize Romney’s Embassy Statement, Right-Wing Pundits Blame “The Media”; http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/09/13/even-as-experts-gop-figures-criticize-romneys-e/189862

Mitt Romney Response To Libya, Egypt Attacks Called ‘Irresponsible,’ ‘Craven,’ ‘Ham-Handed’; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/mitt-romney-libya-egypt-media-reactions_n_1877266.html

Bloody Bill Kristol Calls Romney’s Attacks Over Chinese Dissident ‘Foolish’; http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/heather/bloody-bill-kristol-calls-romneys-attacks-o

Romney: Russia is our number one geopolitical foe; http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/26/romney-russia-is-our-number-one-geopolitical-foe/

Why Colin Powell Bashed Mitt Romney’s Foreign-Policy Advisers; http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/why-colin-powell-bashed-mitt-romneys-foreign-policy-advisers/

David Sanger : Is There a Romney Doctrine?; http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/sunday-review/is-there-a-romney-doctrine.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all

Marist Polling: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/

9/13: Obama Leads Romney by 7 Points in Ohio

9/13: Obama with Advantage Over Romney in Florida

9/13: Obama Up Five Points Over Romney in Virginia

Rasmussen Reports; http://www.rasmussenreports.com/

The Flawed Logic of William Kristol

8:10 am in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

In a recent Washington Post article titled “A Good Time to be a Conservative”; Mr. Kristol made a bold assumption, claiming the “center of gravity” within the Republican Party would shift farther to the right, propelled in that direction by a collection of conservative personalities from beyond the Beltway. Indicating a lack of faith in the G.O.P.’s elected leadership, Kristol says: “Even if Republicans pick up the House in 2010, the party’s big ideas and themes for the 2012 presidential race will probably not emanate from Capitol Hill. The center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and activists at town halls and tea parties. Some will lament this — but over the past year, as those voices have dominated, conservatism has done pretty well in the body politic, and Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats in test ballots.” Kristol’s logic is derived from two polls. First, the Gallup Poll of October 26, 2009 that puts the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as conservatives at 40 percent, and an earlier Rasmussen Poll indicating that the only 2012 Republican presidential prospects polling double digits are Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. When one looks inside the numbers, it would appear that there are more than a few flaws in Mr. Kristol’s math and intuitive reasoning.

The Gallup results show that the net increase in the percentage of people identifying as conservatives had taken place within that subset of the electorate classified as independents. Quoting Gallup: “Changes among political independents appear to be the main reason the percentage of conservatives has increased nationally over the past year: the 35% of independents describing their views as conservative in 2009 is up from 29% in 2008. By contrast, among Republicans and Democrats, the percentage who are "conservative" has increased by one point each.” In spite of the shift in independents identifying as conservatives, the actual percentage of voters who identify with the G.O.P., which is the defacto conservative party, has fallen to historical lows. The latest political identification polling results available on Pollster.com reveals that just 25 percent of those polled identify themselves as Republicans. That percentage improves when registered and likely voters are polled, but the G.O.P. still trails the Democrats here as well. To date, had independents firmly embraced the principles of the conservative movement generally or the G.O.P. in particular, the percentage of voters identifying as Republicans would show a marked increase and so far that is not the case. I would argue that the shift to the right among independent voters is far from solid and is conditional, being subject to a set of factors that will likely change by the time of the 2012 election. In fact an even newer Gallup Poll reveals just how transient independent political attitudes actually are. That poll: “Race for 2010 Remains Close; Democrats Recover Slight Lead”, which came out on December 14 states: “The current generic-ballot results are similar to those Gallup found in July and October of this year, and indicate that the Republican gain observed just after the Nov. 3 elections was not sustained. Shifts in candidate preference for Congress typically occur primarily among independents, whose "unanchored" status makes them much more vulnerable to short-term events in the political environment than are those who claim allegiance to either major party.” I would go beyond the latest Gallup findings to suggest that the number of independents identifying as conservatives will decrease proportionately to the degree to which the G.O.P. moves to the right, especially if the Republican Party finds its public image welded to the personalities of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party crowd.

In his reliance on the results of the above cited Rasmussen Poll, Mr. Kristol is in effect betting the house on a collection of would be candidates that, in spite of polling in the double digits, leave much to be desired when it actually comes to getting elected. Kristol is one of Sarah Palin’s most passionate cheerleaders, but in suggesting that the future of the conservative movement might lie in the fortunes of Ms. Palin, he seems to be gambling on a horse not worth the wager. Mid-December poll results from both Pollster.com and Polling Report.com show Palin registering an unfavorable rating of 48 percent. An ABC poll of November 15th showed that 53 percent of respondents would not vote for Palin with 60 percent saying she was not qualified to be president. More damaging still is a CBS poll of November 15, which revealed that 62 percent of those Republicans polled felt that Palin lacked the ability to be an effective president. At the time of Palin’s resignation from elected office, Republican strategist Mike Murphy opined: “If the Sarah Palin we perceive today wins the nomination in 2012, the G.O.P. will lose. Most Americans don’t think Palin is ready to be President. The base loving you is not enough to get you elected.” Conservative columnist Michael Gerson, reflecting on Palin’s resignation said: “She really alienated women and the college educated on both coasts and that is not how you rebuild the Republican Party.” The reality is that the Republican Party cannot hope to win without the support of independent voters, whom Palin clearly alienates and whose ranks are, according to Pew Research, now at a seventy-year high. Recently, two Republican heavyweights: Haley Barbour, former Chairman of the RNC, and Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA) both declined to endorse a 2012 Palin presidential bid when they appeared on MSNBC and Fox News.

In spite of the fact that Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have double-digit support among Republicans, none of them breaks a 40 percent favorability rating among voters generally, except Huckabee. However, Huckabee’s 40 percent approval rating was registered before Maurice Clemmons, an inmate pardoned by Huckabee, gunned down four police officers in late November. That said, we might see a decline in Huckabee’s overall standing in the polls. Poll numbers aside, in the 2008 Republican primaries, Huckabee was only able to win in the south and thus his viability as a national candidate is questionable. Furthermore, Huckabee’s past equivocation on the topic of evolution works to his detriment when it comes to appealing to that large segment of the population that believes in science as well as religion. Mitt Romney, as a result of his Mormon faith, had problems with the evangelical base of the G.O.P., which plays a crucial role in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. Moreover, Romney may well run into formidable headwinds from the far right as a result of his relatively moderate approach to politics and policy positions. Newt Gingrich, who’s favorable ratings are the lowest, at 14 percent, has a closet full of skeletons of his own which led in 1998 to his stepping down as the Speaker of the House and his departure from Congress altogether. Needless to say these issues will surely be resurrected and they will be in the forefront of the debate in the event that Gingrich becomes a serious presidential contender.

It is in his rather absurd suggestion that the G.O.P.’s center of gravity might travel further to the right as a function of the influence of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or the Tea Party Movement, that Kristol, having slipped his moorings to reality, has embarked on what can only be considered a voyage of political fantasy. Neither Limbaugh nor Beck are particularly compelling personalities beyond the realm of their audience. Both traffic in the sensational, often blurring the lines between fact and fiction with their primary purpose being incendiary commentary rather than legitimate hard news analysis. The media watchdog, Media Matters for America has compiled fifty-three pages of citations detailing Limbaugh’s distortion of facts or their deliberate misrepresentation for political purposes. For Glenn Beck there are forty-two pages. The latest NBC/WSJ poll (June 2009), which I was able to find on Limbaugh’s popularity, showed that 50 percent of those responding viewed him in a negative light. A similar poll in September showed Glenn Beck registering a positive rating of just 25 percent. In spite of the fact that both Limbaugh and Beck have a committed following, accurately measuring the true size and composition of their respective audiences and the extent to which they actually reflect more than a thin slice of this country’s political spectrum is almost impossible. Paul Farhi of the Washington Post attempted to plumb the length and breadth of Limbaugh’s audience and therefore his influence, in a March 2009 article: “Limbaugh’s Audience Size? It’s Largely Up in the Air.” Relying on interviews with media industry sources, Farhi claims that Limbaugh’s audience fluctuates between 14 to 30 million, depending on the issues of the day. Quoting Michael Harrison of “Talkers Magazine”, Farhi puts Limbaugh’s average audience at 14.25 million listeners per week, which is just under 5 percent of the population. Glenn Beck’s audience is far smaller and his largest audience to date was roughly 3.4 million viewers on September 15, 2009, which amounts to just 1.1 percent of the population.

When it comes to the Tea Party Movement, it is equally difficult in coming to an agreement as to just how many people are involved here and to what extent they really reflect more than a microcosm of American political life. According to the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, a pro-Tea Party group, just 578,000 people participated in the 2009 April Tax Day Protests. Their website does not display figures for the July 4th protests nor does FreedomWorks.com or any other pro-Tea Party website that I came across. The largest number I remember seeing is in the neighborhood of 215,000 protestors. Regarding the September 12th Washington D.C. protest rally, Talking Points Memo described the turnout as follows: “FreedomWorks, the main organizers of the Tea Party event in Washington this past weekend, has dramatically lowered its estimate for the size of the crowd at the event from 1.5 million, a number the group now concedes was a mistake, to between 600,000 and 800,000 people — though this is still substantially more than the tens of thousands that most mainstream media outlets have estimated, and which FreedomWorks wholeheartedly rejects.” Thus if we add up the total attendence at all three Tea Parties, using the higher estimates, we come up with a gross attendence of roughly 1.6 million or just one half of one percent of the population.

What the math reveals is that the actual number of people who either participate in Tea Parties or who listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, presumably many do both, is a rather small percentage of the overall population, even considering that portion that would identify as conservative. That said, its a bit of a strectch to assume that such a statistically insignificant number of people is either enough to move the Republican Party further to the right or that it is likely to do so.

There is one final flaw in Kristol’s analysis and that is his ignoring the rising tide of moderates within the party that are opposing any suggestion that the G.O.P. needs to be purified of any moderate tendencies via litmus tests that even Ronald Reagan would fail, that political orthodoxy should be the face of the G.O.P. or that Republicans can only win elections when they embrace ultra conservative ideas. The now formidable array of moderates seeking to stem any drift to the far right encompasses a spectrum of Republican notables from sitting Senators to strategists and political commentators including: Olympia Snowe, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Bob Inglis, Mickey Edwards, Christie Todd Whitman, Newt Gingrich, Tom Ridge, Colin Powell, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, Kathleen Parker and a host of Republican strategists. Gingrich, appearing on Meet the Press (5/24/09) stated that the G.O.P. has to be “broad enough to incorporate divergent views and can’t be purged to the smallest conservative base.” Tom Ridge stated that the G.O.P. “needs to be less shrill and less condeming of those who don’t hew to a far right view.” Following the departure of Arlen Specter from the Republican Party, Olympia Snowe, in a New York Times editorial opined: “There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and contiuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities.” At an April debate over the future of the G.O.P. Lindsey Graham made the following observation: “We are not losing blue states and shrinking as a party because we are not conservative enough. If we pursue a party that has no place for someone who agrees with me 70 percent of the time, that is based on an ideological purity test rather than a coalition test, then we are going to keep losing.” I could go on, but anyone who has been paying any attention to the civil war within the Republican Party knows that there are more than enough voices and intelligent arguments being made to more than call into question the logic and wisdom of people like Bill Kristol and their fanciful notions that the redemption of the G.O.P. lies in the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or the rank and file Tea Party participant. All one has to do is examine the results of the 2009 off-year elections and what is evident is that where Republicans won elections, in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, they did so by running moderate campaigns that played to the centrist voter. In contrast, the great and financially costly effort by the far right in trying to influence the congressional election in New York’s 23rd Electoral District resulted in a conservative failure with a Democrat capturing a seat held by the G.O.P. since as far back as the Civil War.

Over the course of his career, William Kristol is a man who has backed more political losers and also-rans than winners and it would be nothing less than disastrous for the Republican Party to heed his advice or put any stock in his predictions. Kristol worked for former Secretary of Education William Bennet, the voice of personal responsibility during the Reagan Administration, who subsequently lost much of his credibility when he admitted to losing over a million dollars in Las Vegas slot machines. He was Vice President Qualye’s Chief of Staff. Kristol managed the failed Senatorial campaign of Alan Keyes in 1988 and Keyes would go on to fail twice more in seeking a seat in the Senate and then two more times when running for president. Kristol championed the pardon of Scooter Libby and the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate, a decision that McCain’s staffers would later admit to be his single biggest mistake. But it is in an examination of Kristol’s unabashed cheerleading for the War in Iraq that his predictive abilities are revealed to be so totally lacking. It was Kristol who predicted that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power would unleash a chain reaction of democratic reform across the Middle East that to date has failed to materialize.

Bill Kristol represents that desperate sort of conservative that can’t abide the dynamics of political change wrought by the election of Barack Obama. Likewise, the relatively rapid decline in the influence of Neoconservatives since the 2004 election can’t bring him much joy either. To my mind, Bill Kristol falls into that category within the Conservative Movement that is firmly wedded to the notion that their orthodox ideology is the only one acceptable for America and that anything else is either politically irrelevant or treasonous. Kristol’s faulty logic gives rise to the notion that he is engaged more in wishful thinking than objective political analysis. His prediction as to future direction of the G.O.P. amounts to nothing more than a political “Hail Mary pass” in hoping beyond hope, that somehow or other the Republican Party can be moved to embrace the orthodoxy of the far right. In my opinion, having watched him over the past decade and read his articles, he seems to be increasingly assuming the role of a shill for ultra conservative ideas, becoming as a result less objective in his political analysis. Republicans would be well advised to part company with Mr. Kristol, least they find themselves facing a future of continued electoral defeat and a decline in the party’s appeal among that now indispensable factor in American politics, the unaligned independent voter.

Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
12/17/2009