I can’t wait for Barack Obama’s second term

I can't wait for Barack Obama's second term. 

Oh I know, 2013 is a long time from now and it would be nice to have decisive leadership to help deal with the odd double dip recession, Iranian nuclear threat, massive fiscal imbalance, remaking of the world order, that sort of thing.

But honestly, I just don't expect it. It is clear from events of the past few weeks that while it's July in most of America, it's already November in Washington. Every decision is cast in the context of the mid-term elections. No risk is too small to sidestep. No decision is too trivial to triangulate.

Getting reports of growing unemployment rolls? Compounding them with signs of sluggish growth and appalling developments in the housing market? A time for action? You might think so. But instead this president and this Congress hem and haw and propose effectively nothing. It's not just the Republicans blocking with appalling callousness the extension of unemployment benefits (while also fighting hard to ensure that big banks don't have too much of a tax burden). It's that the Democratic leadership is content to let the Republicans beat back the bill figuring they can use it against them in the election. 

Lost in all this? Oh, right, the 9.5 percent of Americans who are "officially" unemployed not to mention the almost equally large number who don't make it into government statistics. 

Is the reason for this fear of the exploding budget deficit? While one can debate the merits of government intervention vs. battling that deficit, we know the president and his team are not letting the economically disenfranchised suffer purely for reasons of economic orthodoxy. We know because there are no moves to do anything about the deficit either, other than some not terribly believable statements at the recent G20 Summit by the president that he'd hold the rest of the world to their word that they address deficit problems. In fact, credible rumors have it that Peter Orszag left in part because he did not get a warm fuzzy feeling from the president that he was going to do anything about deficit reduction any time soon. 

On energy, we had a White House meeting with congressional leaders this week that featured the passionate leader of the Senate on these issue, John Kerry, offering to compound past compromises with future ones and observations by participants that despite the president's statements regarding wanting a price for carbon there was no real belief he was going to go to bat for anything on this front prior to the election. 

On Afghanistan, following the musical chairs at HQ, we returned to the doubletalk about deadlines that aren't deadlines and exits that aren't exits and commitments that aren't really sustainable commitments?

Why? Effectively because the bumper stickers for the fall have already been printed, the commercials are running, the canned, superficial narratives determined and attentions have shifted away from policy to politics. The Dem leadership figures they'll be lucky to hold on to a margin of 10 seats in the House and four in the Senate, and they will have to fight hard for that. Once Elena Kagan becomes Justice Kagan, there is a Senate vote on financial reform and a bit of a charade on some energy initiative (which is just a place holder to kick the process into conference where the real work will be done on a bill that might have a slim chance of passage during a possible lame duck session ... but only a slim one) ... once that's done, then it's off to the vacation and then a fall of campaigning. 

Obama once said that he'd rather be a one-term president, tackle the tough problems and then move on if the political cost was too high. Well, of all the little white lies of his campaign that one has proven ... predictably ... to be the biggest. He and his team are not the first to observe that the only way to wield power is to have it ... and hold on to it. And so it is predictable that one minute past midnight on election night of this year, their attention and the attention of their potential rivals, their parties and the press will turn to the 2012 election. And everything that will or will not be done in the Congress and in Washington at large in 2011 and 2012 will be oriented toward positioning for that election. With tight margins on the Hill and an overabundance of political caution at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it is likely that precious little will get done in those years other than fighting fires and going through the motions.   Sadly America will suffer the consequences of having a political class that is more concerned with scoring on the other side than on doing so on behalf of their constituents.

But what might we expect in 2013 if Obama wins? All the intelligence of Obama plus four years of experience he didn't have when he started. An experienced team and most importantly, a focus on legacy that might drive him to think bigger ... and historically often drives presidents to be more creative and effective on the foreign policy front. Obama was a formidable candidate and has been an earnest first-term president. But relieved of concern about his own reelection and fueled by his great reserves of ambition, he could be a great second termer. 

Admittedly, this is looking for a silver lining in the face of great frustration that   America's leadership has "gone fishing" at a time of real leadership and bold ideas and actions are most needed. But the alternative is depression on the eve of America's birthday (which depression has in my case been compounded by Brazil's devastating defeat at the hands ... er, feet ...of the Dutch). So I will look forward to Obama 2.0 ... and while I'm at it, perhaps I'll start a little movement here to consider and embrace that cornerstone of Mexican politics: the sexenio ... one six year term which produces presidents with time enough to work and no burden of concerns about re-election.

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David Rothkopf

Maybe those Russian spies aren't so comical after all

If I understand this correctly, Russia directed its elite intelligence assets to spend the better part of the past decade trying to infiltrate the New York club scene and the Montclair, New Jersey PTA.  

In the scheme, Russian master spies were also trained to ingratiate themselves with influential members of the think tank community in order to glom on to secrets about U.S. foreign policy. While this might seem a futile exercise to some (such as anyone who has ever met a member of the think tank community), there is a greater intellect at work beneath the veneer of palpable insanity which has been cleverly concocted by the heirs to Lavrentiy Beria in the Kremlin. Because any spy that could actually find an influential member of the think tank community would be capable of ferreting out any secret anywhere--including those lurking in the heavily shadowed corners of the Montclair school system. In fact the much rumored but never seen influential think-tanker was alleged to be the focus of the Da Vinci Code until it became clear that it would be much more plausible to actually find the Holy Grail instead.

What's more, of course, should such a spy be able to learn anything at all about U.S. foreign policy when even some of those in the White House who are framing it are clearly clueless about the subject then that spy would deserve at least an Order of the Bare-Chested prime minister with a Double Oak Leaf Cluster. At the very least they would certainly deserve to have a movie made about them.

And with all due deference to the producers of the new Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt who seem to be so actively promoting this spy scandal as a tie-in to their film that I actually think they might be behind the whole thing, this really needs to be another movie. And I don't just say this just because I've never gotten over the way Angelina and Brad abused poor Jen.   

No this is a different kind of movie altogether. Something more in the vein of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming or almost anything with Peter Sellers in it.  Clearly, Emmanuelle Chriqui needs to play Anna Chapman and while that would probably be enough to get me to go buy a ticket, the rest of the story lends itself to a big comedy and some whacky chase scenes involving mini-vans and secret messages delivered to a playground drop site in an iCarly lunch box.  Jason Bateman also deserves a key role, but that's due in part to the fact that he should be in almost any movie.  In fact, maybe it should be Judd Apatow's first thriller and he can bring along his wife, Leslie Mann, and Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill and Jason Siegel and the whole gang.  Alternatively I vote for passing it along to Kevin Smith who already has an impressive track record of bringing the Garden State to the cinema (who deserves eternal credit for the genius behind Dogma and the inspired casting of Alanis Morissette as the deity.)

Joking aside, however, there is something seriously disturbing about this scandal. And it's not that the Russians have kept spying. Anyone who for one moment thought that they had stopped is so naïve that they probably don't believe that Vladimir Putin sits at home at night -- still bare-chested, flexing his pecs in the mirror and stroking a giant white Persian cat  while conspiring with Verne Troyer about how to sabotage the Mall of America roller coaster. No, what's disturbing to an inside-the-beltway denizen like me is that Russia thinks all the action is happening somewhere else. They are more interested in trying to infiltrate accounting firms as a path to connecting themselves with private equity moguls in New York than they are reaching out to real Washingtonians. You think Anna Chapman couldn't have done some damage down here? Don't they read the papers? She'd be First Lady by now. Or at least she'd be on Oprah talking about how she and John Edwards are going to make it work. 

Come to think of it, maybe those Russians aren't as silly as they appear. They seem to recognize the difference between real power and the power haircuts that dominate so much of Washington today.

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