Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Poll Position: If WMDs are used in Syria, should U.S. intervene?

Everyone waiting for an “October surprise” from the Middle East has tended to focus on Israel and Iran. But earlier this week, U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war was put on the table — by President Obama.

Unlike in Libya, where potential mass killings of civilians by forces loyal to then-dictator Moammar Gadhafi prompted Europe and the U.S. to side with the rebels, Syria’s 1.5-year-old conflict has already claimed 20,000 lives, more than half of whom reportedly were civilians. Monday, in a rare Q&A session with the White House press corps, Obama warned both sides in the conflict against using weapons of mass destruction:

We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region, that that’s a red line for us, and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front, or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.

It was the strongest indication from Obama yet about what it …

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From Flanders fields, warnings about Europe’s crisis

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

These closing lines of John McCrae’s poem have haunted many a student of literature. History, too: Voices from the graves in Flanders fields, where “poppies blow/Between the crosses, row by row,” seem to admonish us about the human cost of war McCrae saw 97 years ago, in the tragically misnamed “war to end all wars.”

They are more haunting still for a visitor to the cemeteries in Flanders fields, in the Ardennes, at Normandy. And these are just the American memorials, just a few of them.

“Never again” is the feeling that overcomes a visitor to these gravesites. It is also the mantra that for 55 years has led the peoples of Belgium, France, Germany and beyond to band together and extricate themselves from millennia of war. World War I did not “end all wars” in Western Europe, but economic cooperation, beginning with the free trade of coal and steel in 1957, has. So far.

As another …

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Beware of Greeks who can’t bear to govern themselves

The hazards of having a parliamentary system in a bitterly divided country (from Reuters):

Greece abandoned a nine-day hunt for a government on Tuesday and called a new election that may hand victory to leftists who might cut the nation’s financial lifeline, pushing it closer to bankruptcy and out of the euro zone.

After six rounds of fruitless wrangling, party leaders emerged from a final session at the presidential mansion to gloomily declare that deep divisions over a 130-billion-euro foreign bailout package had killed any hope of a coalition deal.

“We shouldn’t have reached this point,” said Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who personally negotiated the rescue package from the European Union and IMF which the hard left says has imposed too harsh an austerity regime. “For God’s sake, let’s move towards something better and not something worse.”

The last elections were held just nine days ago.

In case you’re wondering what’s the difference between the “leftists” …

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There’s austerity in Europe, all right — of the taxing sort

The austerity debate is back, with American liberals pointing to shrinking European economies as evidence against the wisdom of cutting government spending here.

Typical is this argument from a column by the New York Times’ Paul Krugman last month: “Europe has had several years of experience with harsh austerity programs, and the results are exactly what students of history told you would happen: such programs push depressed economies even deeper into depression.”

Indeed, nine of the European Union’s 27 member-countries were in technical recession by the end of 2011 or the first quarter of 2012 (not all countries report first-quarter data at the same time).

There’s just one problem: There have been no such austerity programs, at least not of the type Krugman and other liberals warn against.

In five of the nine recessionary countries, governments cut spending in 2011. In four, they didn’t. There were another three European countries in which public spending fell without …

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Obama to Russian leader: I’ll cave after I’m re-elected

Just a reminder, to those ambivalent about President Obama’s track record in his first term, of the kinds of things that could await us once he no longer has to run for re-election. From ABC News’ Jake Tapper:

At the tail end of his 90 minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Monday, President Obama said that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him “space.”

The exchange was picked up by microphones as reporters were let into the room for remarks by the two leaders.

The exchange:

President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you …

President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this …

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Could a French Socialist throw an economic wrench into Obama’s re-election?

Of all the external factors that might affect the presidential race, I doubt many people saw President Obama being hurt by an honest-to-goodness European Socialist. But the intention of Francois Hollande, the French Socialist challenger to President Nicolas Sarkozy, to renegotiate the painstakingly struck European bailout could send shivers through economies over there and here.

From an interview Hollande gave German news site Der Spiegel:

I want to renegotiate it. Not all of it — some things seem reasonable to me. I’ve already committed myself to a balanced budget and better economic governance. But what bothers me most is that there is nothing about growth in the fiscal pact. And then there is some uncertainty with regard to the automatic sanctions — that is, what is expected of countries to reduce their deficits.

Hollande is right in a very narrow sense, that growth is key to balancing budgets in Europe (and here as well). But his proposal to attain that growth by issuing …

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Big government goes wrong — again, and again

Herewith, two more entries for the voluminous annals of big government gone wrong. First, from a New York Times piece related to our recent discussion of Range Fuels:

When the companies that supply motor fuel close the books on 2011, they will pay about $6.8 million in penalties to the Treasury because they failed to mix a special type of biofuel into their gasoline and diesel as required by law.

But there was none to be had. Outside a handful of laboratories and workshops, the ingredient, cellulosic biofuel, does not exist.

Fear not, gentle reader: Washington has an answer for requiring fuel companies to use a biofuel that doesn’t exist. And that answer is — wait for it — to require them to use even more of the still-non-existent biofuel in 2012. (Range Fuels, fwiw, makes a cameo appearance in the penultimate paragraph of the Times’ piece.)

Our second example comes from the locale of the logical conclusion of social-welfarism, Greece. As the Associated Press reports:

Greek …

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The world loses one great man, then rids itself of a tyrant

Have we even seen a day in which we learned two men of such great political stature — stature, that is, which they obtained for diametrically opposite reasons — died, unrelatedly, as we did yesterday? (Note: This has been edited to reflect the updated information that, although we learned of Kim Jong Il’s death Sunday, he actually died Saturday.)

First came the news about Vaclav Havel, the great Czech playwright-turned-political activist who led the completely peaceful overthrow of Czechoslovakia’s communist regime in 1989. From the New York Times’ obituary:

A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist …

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This week, the action is overseas

This week is a good time for a brief reminder that the most important decisions in the world aren’t always made in Washington, D.C.

As I write this, the governments of the two countries (currently) at the center of Europe’s fiscal-financial-political-currency crisis appear to be up for grabs. Greek politicians are still negotiating the appointment of a new prime minister and formation of a new cabinet. Only after they do so will European leaders decide whether to fork over billions more in bailout funds — which in turn will help determine whether, or maybe just how quickly, markets around the world jump back on the roller coaster.

And if Greece is a stone plopped into the world economy, with ripple effects far beyond itself, Italy is a relative boulder set to make an even bigger splash. Silvio Berlusconi, the man who Italians, in their wisdom, have given political life after political life during the past two decades, is trying to hang onto power. My friend Alberto Mingardi

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Obama abides by Bush’s timeline for leaving Iraq, although you wouldn’t know that to hear him tell it (video)

Less than an hour ago, President Obama announced we will abide by the agreement the Bush administration struck in fall 2008 to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Oh, wait — that’s not what he said?

As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end…. After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011. … So, today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

That’s what the president said (video here and below). He made no mention of the Status of Forces Agreement from October 2008, ratified by Iraqi lawmakers in November 2008, that stated, in pertinent part:

All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.

Surely, that part of “as promised” matters at least as much as …

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