Posted on June 28, 2011 in Countdown

The Ceiling, the Ceiling, the Ceiling’s on Fire!
Remember the days under President Clinton when we had a couple hundred billion dollars in budget surplus? You miss those days, don’t you? Today, Washington is panicking, trying to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling in order to pay for essentials. Since no one likes the idea of raising the debt ceiling without figuring out a plan to reduce our debt in the near future, money had to be made somewhere to justify the move. Republicans strictly wanted nothing but cuts in federal spending. When Democrats pushed last week for “closing loopholes in the tax code and eliminating subsidies” for certain individuals and corporations, GOP negotiators described it bluntly as a “tax hike” and walked out of the talks. But the White House is still pushing, and Republicans (primarily those who signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to never raise any taxes under any circumstances) are still holding out, turning this into the classic ideological clash between Republicans and Democrats on the economy.

What Makes a Policy Bad? If the President is Pursuing It
President Obama thinks the tide of war is receding, justifying plans to draw down in Afghanistan. He supported, however belatedly, the uprising in Egypt and called for Mubarak’s ouster. In Syria, he has had tough words for the Assad regime, but is not aggressively campaigning for its overthrow. The dispute with Pakistan following the Bin Laden raid is being calmly handled. What do all these policies have in common? According to Newt Gingrich, they are all terrible. Gingrich said violence was in fact increasing, that the direction in which Egypt is going is worrisome, that the President has been “strangely quiet” about Syria, and that “this administration is crippling the United States and every country in the world by failing to protect those who help us.” Indeed, he described the Obama administration’s foreign policy as “immoral and…destructive.” So what would Gingrich do differently from the President’s policy in Afghanistan? “I refuse to comment directly on the Afghanistan decision because I think if you don’t put it in context, it makes zero sense,” was his answer. In short, the attitude is: I don’t know what the right policies are, but if this administration is pursuing certain policies, they must be wrong.

And Speaking of Afghanistan . . .
In a primetime speech to the nation last Wednesday, President Obama promised a reduction of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the fall of 2012. Five thousand troops are being withdrawn immediately, with an additional 5,000 to be removed by the end of the year. Though Obama has framed the decision as part of his campaign commitment to wind down the war in Afghanistan, astute observers have noted that Obama was also responsible for the 30,000 troop surge in early 2010. So really, the math breaks down like this – troops in Afghanistan in 2008: 68,000. Troops in Afghanistan in 2012: 65,000.  At this rate, we’ve only got 91 years to go!

His Ads Might as Well Be Chinese
Jon Huntsman, former U.S. Ambassador to China has a different way of thinking. Unlike some of his vociferous GOP counterparts running for President, Huntsman is refusing to name names and throw punches at Obama or his fellow GOP candidates. Despite this very commendable ethic, especially considering how hyper-partisan and downright belligerent political rhetoric has become, an important question beckons: Do nice guys really finish last? Huntsman's neutral diction is raising questions over whether or not he can contend in today's political climate. The Huntsman campaign, currently plagued by low name recognition, most notably among fellow Republicans (only 36% know who he is) faces an uphill PR battle. His ad team has struggled, releasing unusual ads that are certainly getting attention, though not sure the kind the campaign wants. But no matter what, at least Huntsman is the only candidate for president who can speak Chinese, and that will almost certainly come in handy in the future.

To Bomb or Not To Bomb?
The Senate and House of Representatives wrangled with the Libya question last week, with a resolution in the Senate supporting NATO action and a bill in the House demanding that we immediately pull our funding. Yes, that is what we just said. Senate Resolution 194, sponsored by Senators Johns, McCain, and Kerry, “supports the limited use of military force by the United States in Libya” but also includes Boehner-pleasing provisions asking Obama to “submit to Congress a description of United States policy objectives in Libya” and “consult regularly with Congress.” The resolution was referred to committee. Meanwhile, Congressman Tom Rooney’s bill to deny all funds appropriated in support of NATO operations in Libya failed to pass on Friday, with a vote of 123–295.

Simon Says... But Will They Listen?
Steve Simon has officially taken over for Elliott Abrams as the Middle East and North African director for the National Security Council. Simon is expected to take a slightly different tack than his predecessors, Abrams and Dennis Ross, both of whom were known for their “expertise” in Israeli-Palestinian issues. Simon’s background is more rooted in “terrorism and larger regional dynamics”, and he holds a number of views deemed controversial, including support for negotiations with Hezbollah. Good luck Steve, you’re going to need it!







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