Martin O’Malley Launches Quixotic Run For The White House

Martin O'Malley is running for President for some reason.

Martin O'Malley

Former Maryland Governor Martin O”Malley became the latest entrant into the Presidential race today, but like most of the other recent entrants, his campaign seems to be rather obviously quixotic:

BALTIMORE — In another campaign year, Martin O’Malley’s résumé and good looks might be irresistible to Democratic primary voters. He is a former big-city mayor whose story of renewal in Baltimore seemed well tailored to an increasingly urban and minority party. He is a former two-term governor of Maryland — and the lead singer and guitarist in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

But Mr. O’Malley is running in an election cycle in which Democratic elected officials and donors have overwhelmingly focused attention onHillary Rodham Clinton. And he already faces competition from SenatorBernie Sanders of Vermont for the support of liberals who dislike Mrs. Clinton or merely want to see her pushed further to the left.

After a two-year exploratory phase, Mr. O’Malley, 52, on Saturday began to make a case for why Democrats should bet on him instead of on Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Sanders, who has captured early enthusiasm among progressives as an authentic populist.

His argument was both economic and, in a clear contrast with his significantly older Democratic rivals, generational.

“Today, the American dream seems for so many of us to be hanging by a thread,” he said in formally announcing his candidacy before hundreds of supporters under a baking sun in Federal Hill Park in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, with the towers of the city’s downtown behind him.

“This is not the American dream,” he added. “It does not have to be this way. This generation of Americans still has time to become great. We must save our country now. And we will do that by rebuilding the dream.”

His aides say Mr. O’Malley is a true progressive, one who became involved early on the issue of same-sex marriage, and a scrappy underdog who takes to tough political fights. He staked out early ground on an immigration overhaul in 2014, accusing the Obama administration of heartlessness in deporting children who had crossed the border from Mexico.

But Mr. O’Malley was also a staunch supporter of Mrs. Clinton in her 2008 presidential campaign, and he rose to prominence as a tough-on-crime mayor in Baltimore, a city scarred by drugs and violence. In two years of travels to Iowa and New Hampshire, he has frequently been reluctant to discuss Mrs. Clinton or to draw a pointed contrast with her, doing so only obliquely — faulting unnamed politicians for “triangulation,” for example, a word associated with the Clintons’ up-the-middle political calculations since the 1990s.

It is also unclear whether Mr. O’Malley can aggressively raise funds without a devoted base of support, which Mr. Sanders can draw on, or a raft of major donors, which Mrs. Clinton enjoys. His aides have declined to say whether he has a single backer who would be willing to contribute millions of dollars to a “super PAC” to keep him afloat.

In his remarks on Saturday, Mr. O’Malley seemed to have made peace with that, as he portrayed the financial industry in harsh light.

“Recently the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either Bush or Clinton,” Mr. O’Malley said, referring to Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate, and Mrs. Clinton. “I bet he would!”

“Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street,” Mr. O’Malley added as the crowd cheered. “The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth, by you, between two royal families. It is a sacred trust to be earned from the American people and exercised on behalf of the people of these United States.”

Still, Mr. O’Malley faces challenges gaining traction even in his home state: Maryland’s two senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, have already endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

But his team believes he fills a natural void in the Democratic primary, and Mrs. Clinton’s aides acknowledge that a significant portion of the primary electorate is likely to favor someone else.

“Here you’ve got a clear generational divide, and a lot of Americans think about that,” said Gary Hart, a former Colorado senator and Democratic presidential candidate. “They are less inclined to divide themselves in the world between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives,’ and more between the past and the future.”

That, Mr. Hart said, would give Mr. O’Malley an advantage.

As a general rule, Gary Hart is hardly a person from whom I would take political analysis without a very large grain of salt, and in this case he couldn’t be more incorrect in his perception of O’Malley’s chances. To put it simply, there’s absolutely no indication that Democratic voters are at all displeased with the idea of Hillary Clinton being their presumptive nominee. There are segments of the party that have backed people such as Elizabeth Warren, or who are currently backing Bernie Sanders and may back O’Malley himself, but for the most part these are not people who are opposed to the idea of Hillary Clinton being the Democratic nominee in 2016. Instead, they are by and large people who are to Clinton’s political left and want to see her pushing issues such as income inequality and banking reform that she isn’t necessarily emphasizing. Backing Warren, Sanders, or O’Malley himself is basically their way of trying to push the debate inside the party to the left and force Clinton to be more forceful on the issues that they care about. Given that, it seems incredibly unlikely that O’Malley’s arguments are going to resonate with many Democrats other than those who want to use his candidacy for these purposes. In the end, O’Malley could only become a contender if there was a sizable segment of the Democratic electorate that was opposed to the idea of Clinton as the nominee. Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, the idea that O’Malley, or anyone else for that matter is going to be anything other than a token opponent for Clinton is hard to believe.

Even if there were Democrats looking for an alternative to Clinton, O’Malley seems particularly ill-suited to be the person that they would rally around. As Dan Balz notes, there really isn’t anything about O’Malley that distinguishes him from Clinton on the record, and the fact that he was a strong supporter of Clinton’s campaign seems to be a pretty good indicator of that fact. Additionally, it’s unclear what t is about O’Malley’s record that Democratic voters would find compelling. His time as Baltimore’s Mayor was also the time during which many of the worst practices of the Police Department in that city became entrenched, and he did very little about them. While he was elected twice as Maryland’s Governor, that is hardly an impressive accomplishment in a state that is generally reflectively Democratic, and it becomes even less impressive when you look at his actual record, which left the state’s budget a mess and was apparently so bad that his own Lieutenant Governor was unable to win election. Finally, for a two-term Governor he is, as Harry Enten notes, decidedly unpopular among the Maryland voters that would seem to know him best. Given all of this it is not surprising that O’Malley is at the bottom of the polls both nationally and in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. Absent something entirely unexpected, these numbers will probably not change very much going forward.

O’Malley isn’t the only person who entered the Presidential race this year. Earlier this week, former New York Governor George Pataki and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum entered the race on the Republican side, and Bernie Sanders, who had already announced his candidacy, had what I suppose passes for his first campaign rally in his native Vermont. Much like O’Malley, these candidates are also-rans who are unlikely to have any real impact on the Presidential race. We’ll get some more of this next week when Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham enter the Republican race and Lincoln Chafee enters the Democratic race. Much like O’Malley, these areha all men who are unlikely to have any real impact on the race but which we will nonetheless be forced to pay attention to for some brief period of time.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Policing, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. gVOR08 says:

    Auditioning for veep. Hillary will have to pick someone.

  2. Ian says:

    I would assume that the recent Baltimore riots would be a massive problem for O’Malley’s political prospects. He’s probably more of a VP contender. He’d make a good counterbalance.

    I think Hillary can beat anyone in the GOP at the moment. Of course, “can” isn’t “will”. Plenty of time until election day. If she loses, my guess is that it’ll be due to the death of thousand cuts, many self inflicted.

  3. CSK says:

    Maybe O’Malley’s auditioning for VP. But I’ve had the feeling that Clinton would rather have Cory Booker. Or possibly Deval Patrick. Patrick declined to run again for governor of Mass. in 2014, and he wouldn’t have had to face term limits.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Along with Jim Webb, O’Malley is as irrelevant as all of the Republicans running for president. The only difference is that O.Malley could possibly be a cabinet member or maybe an Ambassador someday unlike everyone running for President as a Repubican.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Johnny could only sing one note
    Poor Johnny one-note

  6. michael reynolds says:

    He’s running on his record as mayor of Baltimore? Really?

    There are Democrats who don’t like Hillary, but they’ll vote for her. No one should have any illusions about that. We know what the other team has to offer.

  7. Ian says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That’s a loser if I ever saw one. It doesn’t help that the Democrats have run Baltimore for the past 50 years, and thus I have little sympathy for them taking the political hit. Baltimore is not going to be a talking point that they should play up.

    Same for independent voters. Hillary might be sleazy, but she is sane, and corruption is always preferable to incompetence or ideological fanaticism. I hold little affection for Hillary and the modern day Democrats in general. I also seriously question whether Hillary will fix a lot of our problems in foreign policy that have built up over the past couple of decades coherently, and ditto domestically, even though I do think she is a better choice and a better politician/leader than Obama. But they are the lesser evil, in my estimation, assuming that the GOP doesn’t nominate a coalition builder cum political genius that seriously alters many of the party positions, which I don’t see happening. They seem to live in a strange world in which it’s the 80s forever and incantations to plutocrats and religious hucksters can get the white working class to vote Republican. If I have little sympathy for the Democrats, I have absolutely none for the Republicans.

    From a personal standpoint, I’ve never been a person who enjoys partisan politics for its own sake and I hold no emotional attachment to either party that seems to be the case for many. But there is no denying which party has had a major section go off the deep end in the past 20 something years. I can swallow Hillary. I can’t swallow some of the people that the GOP takes seriously. I’m guessing that a lot of Americans who dislike what our political environment has become agree, and that’s a pretty weighty factor nowadays.

  8. Ian says:


    I will confess to having a secret crush on Jim Webb. And actually, I think he could do OK in a general election, probably better than Warren could.

    But he has no chance against the Hillary Mammon machine.

  9. CSK says:

    The ironic bit is that O’Malley looks the part, or at least like the Hollywood presidential stereotype: tall, lean, silver-haired. He’s just what a casting director would pick to portray the chief executive.

    Which would make for an interesting campaign slogan: “I’m not the president, but I’ve played him on tv.”

  10. Paul Hooson says:

    Only, and by that I mean, only if Hillary becomes such damaged goods by scandal does Martin O’Malley possibly become the reasonable alternative for the voters. Otherwise, this is a train ride to nowhere…

  11. Tillman says:


    If I have little sympathy for the Democrats, I have absolutely none for the Republicans.

    That’s been my politics for about a decade now. 🙂

  12. Ian says:


    Political orphans of the nation, UNITE! There are more of us than ever. We might not agree on everything, but we can at least be confident that we can’t handle it worse than Congress does now. 😀

    In all seriousness, it’s incredibly weird to be voting Democrat along with ex-McGovernites as something of a Disraeli/Bismarck style conservative, but politics leads to strange bedfellows. If only a third party could rise…

  13. edmondo says:

    I guess Doug should have had a post in 2007 that had the headline, “Barack Obama is running for president for some reason.”

  14. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I hate feeling like I am repeating myself, but… Dude. You are a shoe in to be a Senator. You make zero sense as a VP candidate. WTF are you doing?

  15. Ian says:


    Completely different situation. 2008, we had a great recession, a failed war in Iraq, and a strong dissatisfaction with the Republicans. People wanted “change”. Hope. To make over our image abroad. Perfect conditions for Obama or somebody like him, an insurgent that has the strong admiration of much of the professional classes.

    With ISIS, Putin, and social tensions, 2016 is going to be about cold strength and competence and being a wisened political operator that can fight back. That’s Hillary. Obama 2.0 isn’t going to get anywhere in 2016.

    Sort of like the difference between ’60 and ’68, when you think about it.

  16. Stonetools says:

    Count me in as one of those who thinks O’Malley is auditioning for a Veep or Cabinet post . Nothing Wrong with that, really. He just might make it.

  17. Gustopher says:

    He’s not completely implausible. He could well be a heartbeat away from the nomination.

    Or a bimbo eruption away (Hillary could probably weather revelations of a man on the side, and everyone would say “seems fair”, but if she had a woman on the side her candidacy would be doomed)

    Or perhaps it will be discovered that the Clinton Foundation was behind the attack in Benghazi.

  18. stonetools says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I think that there is no Maryland Senate spot open for O’Malley. I think Congressman Chris Van Hollon has has the Mikulski seat sewed up, and Cardin isn’t going anywhere.
    O’Malley is definitely swinging for the fences, but he ‘s hoping to end up in the Clinton Administration, instead of just sitting around waiting for 2020 or 24. That’s a defensible strategy for someone who aspires to national office.

  19. Hal_10000 says:


    Agree with a lot of that. I disagree with Clinton a lot and I can’t stand the idea of having more of the Clintons in public life. But I don’t think she’ll be a disaster. And I do think the Democrats are going to nominate her, barring a serious health issue.

  20. Stonetools says:

    As a young man and even back in 2008, I was really hoping for a political candidate that would meet my ideals. Now I just hope that they will be not be terrible, and will fulfill at least the majority of their promises. According to Politifact, Obama actually did fulfill the majority of his promises. But he didn’t quite live up to all my ideals, probably because he would have had to be the Green Lantern, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King rolled up in one to do that.

  21. wr says:

    @CSK: “Which would make for an interesting campaign slogan: “I’m not the president, but I’ve played him on tv.””

    Only if he wanted to risk pointing out that someone else played him on TV, too, and Tommy Carcetti from The Wire is not a comparison he’s going to be eager to explain… or have David Simon out doing it.

  22. Ian says:


    I think a lot of people expected Obama to be Jack Kennedy mixed in with Jesus Christ and MLK. Some still think he is. Others still think he is the anti-Christ, no matter how much of a moderate he is in many areas. It has a lot more to do with what he represents, and that’s even moreso given the extreme divide in the US between Right and Left these days.

    It has everything to do with style and what he represents image wise, in my opinion. Nixon and Clinton were similar. That kind of irrational hatred isn’t policy related.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    Yep. When the menu has two offerings, one of which is a cheap cut of beef indifferently prepared, and the other of which is a bowl of razor blades on a bed of anthrax, that flank steak looks pretty darned good.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    I used to be able to manage some idealism and hope around candidates, but as I’ve gained experience in dealing with all sorts of professionals – agents, editors, lawyers, accountants – I’ve come to recognize that while they may be useful tools, they are never perfect ones.

    A lot of people expected miracles from Mr. Obama, forgetting that “black” isn’t actually a superpower. Having had less exaggerated expectations I’ve been generally pleased with Obama. I no longer have to fear being rendered destitute because I got sick and my insurer decided it was a pre-existing condition. My son just turned 18 and I can keep him covered through college and beyond. I like that we still make cars in this country. I like that the economy didn’t fall all the way into an actual depression and that we are slowly crawling out of that hole. I like pushing for a deal with Iran and staying out of Syria’s war.

    I have a feeling Hillary’s agenda is going to seem a little off to me, because I suspect she’s going to be aiming at the women’s vote as her core demo. I think she’s going to run as national grandmother, sensible, experienced, unexciting and devoted first and foremost to the idea of family. It’s about time. My own personal slogan for this race is After 44 Dicks It’s Time For A C*nt. Hillary is sincere, awkward, a bit graspy, smart and impossible to intimidate. Not a perfect tool, but I trust her enough.

  25. Ian says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I literally could not care less if she is a woman. What I care about above all is having a coherent realist, balance of power based foreign policy. Man or woman, white or black, straight or gay, religious or atheist, Democrat or Republican, don’t give a damn.

    Hillary strikes me as a little Albright esque. That’s not bad in comparison to Bush II or Obama, but that’s still not what I’m particularly after. She represents much of the neoliberal elite consensus on foreign policy-not nutty, but not skilled. She’ll probably be somewhat to the right of Obama, but she won’t be very coherent unless she’s hidden something from everybody. Her record and statements there does not fill me with a bunch of hope-she doesn’t a grand design, and her policy statements on East Asia and the Middle East are something I disagree with.

    But that all being said, she’s better than another neocon, and the people who I think would be better in foreign policy-Webb-have no chance of winning. And she’s tougher than Obama, which is definitely a plus. She’s more of a realist, assuming that she can put stupid statements on feminism and human rights in China, Russia or the Arab World away. Obama’s biggest problem is that *no one* abroad takes his threats seriously (the not-so-red line) or values his friendship. It’s a cold, cruel game, geopolitics. Woe betide a US leader who isn’t respected, particularly when dealing with Moscow, Tehran, or Beijing.

    She at least will try her best to make sure there is peace. I don’t see another Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon or George Bush the Elder on the horizon soon, so I’ll have to make do with that foreign policy wise.

    Domestically, she’ll probably govern to the left of Obama given public sentiment and the fact that she’s a far better politician(she won’t take the crap Obama has taken. That’s her strong point for me overall and why I would have preferred her back in 2008), but that’s a separate debate.

  26. stonetools says:


    Oddly, all of the guys you mentioned got us into wars :-). Theodore was quite the imperialist warmonger, so I’m fine with Clinton not being a TR.
    I think Clinton will be a Harry Truman to Obama’s FDR. Just as Truman defended the New Deal, The UN, and Roosevelt’s “Atlantic Charter” policy, so Clinton will defend the ACA, opening to Iran, and rapprochement with Cuba. She’ll strike out with new policies of her own, like advocating for Family Leave and children, but she won’t get far with those because the right wing crackpot Republican House, who think that women should go back to 1947, if not 1907.
    Clinton will be a little more hawkish than Obama, but I think the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will restrain her from going too far. I don’t see her putting boots on the ground anywhere for an extended time.

  27. Ian says:


    TR: Meh, man of his of time.

    Truman: Korea. Good call. Seoul is not lined with statues of Kim Il Sung. Though I was more referring to Berlin and the Marshall Plan.

    Nixon: No? It was Johnson who put 550,000 soldiers into Vietnam, and that was because Truman, Eisenhower, and most of all Kennedy kicked the long festering can to him.

    Bush Senior: Yep. And then showed the wisdom that his son didn’t have by not toppling Saddam. He had a clear objective, built a coalition in the Middle East of all places, and got the job done with minimal casualties and objectives achieved. Can’t ask for much more in terms of effectiveness.

    I’m concerned that she doesn’t let the radioactive mess she is getting poison the world. The key is this-can she parametrize and limit the now inevitable arms race in the Middle East, and can she turn that perhaps to American advantage? Will she order a concentrated bombing campaign and special ops in tandem with other players in the region, which will be the only way to get rid of ISIS? How will she tackle Russia after 20 years of basically no coherent policy toward it? Will she try and correct the stupidity that was the “Pivot to Asia” while still enhancing relationships with other players on that part of the globe? Will she reverse Obama’s insane Turkish policy? What is her attitude, in the long run, on the Korean peninsula?

  28. stonetools says:


    I was discussing Clinton veep picks on Twitter ( a frustrating, but enlightening affair) and I argued that Clinton should pick no Senators. One of the problems with President Kumbah Yah back in 2009 is that he stripped out several Senators ( Biden, Sibelius ) and Senatorial possibilities ( Napolitino) and put them in his Administration, because he figured that hey, this was going to be an era of Reasonable Bipartisan Compromise, and it really isn’t going to matter if the Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate or not.
    We now know better, and we know that we will need every Democratic Senatorial vote we can muster after 2016, because SCOTUS! So no Sherrod Brown, Mark Warner, or Tim Kaine.
    I think possibilities include ex-governors like O’Malley and Deval Patrick and Cabinet officers like Castro. None of those are great choices, but there is no perfect veep candidate out there, and Clinton has to think long term and strategically. Really, she should be thinking succession. It would be great if her veep candidate could be someone who could step up to the top spot after she is gone.

  29. stonetools says:


    Well, Nixon did put a bunch of soldiers secretly into Cambodia, setting the stage for Pol Pot later, so, no, Nixon did get us into a war. And IIRC, Bush the Elder was part of the policy team on that one. Anyhow, Bush the Elder did OK in the first Persian Gulf war, but let’s face it, he did set a precedent and left unfinished business for his son to screw up.
    HRC has a daunting set of problems, but then so does every American President. I expect she’ll do well with some, fail with others, and generally muddle through (again, my expectations are low). I don’t think she’ll “fix” the Middle East, because the ME can’t be fixed: it can only be managed. I think the pivot to the Pacific makes sense, because economically, that’s where our future is. As to Russia, I’m hoping that Putin can be convinced to stop in east Ukraine. To be blunt, we shouldn’t have extended NATO so far east, and we are paying for our hubris there.

  30. Ian says:


    How do you figure that? Apart from the Cambodian Incursion, which ended on June 30th, US troops never set foot in Cambodia. And that was expressely meant to take care of the North Vietnamese, who had been there since 1965. Sihanouk’s own officials had been kicked out by the late 60s-it was de facto North Vietnamese territory.

    As a digression, to blame the Cambodian Incursion for Pol Pot is miss the forest for the trees, to be blunt. Certainly Freedom Deal-the aimless carpet bombing of half the country after the Lon Nol coup, not to be confused with the more limited Operation MENU, which take place under Sihanouk in 1969-didn’t help in rural PR and Nixon has a share in that mess. But as is often the case in the Cold War, indigenous factors are overlooked. There were long simmering tensions between rural and urban Cambodia. Sihanouk’s toleration of the traditional ethnic rival strongly stoked Khmer nationalism, which both Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge attempted to use. The coup took the US by surprise. Given the goals and the strategic reality, there was little choice but to support Lon Nol. Lon Nol’s coup and Sihanouk-who was *revered* among rural Cambodians-alliance with the Khmer Rouge had far more to do with the rise of the Khmer Rouge than any foreign action. There was also the influence of the North Vietnamese, who launched Campaign X on the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge and played a non-trivial role in their victory-North Vietnam made it clear from the beginning that it wasn’t tolerating the Lon Nol government. Our ability to influence Indochinese internal politics was limited, as seen by the concurrent fall of Saigon. Lon Nol’s coup probably was more responsible than anything for it in the long haul.

    Why? There was nobody forcing Clinton to launch Operation Desert Fox and to pin the locus of our efforts against Saddam rather than looking at him as a buffer player. Saddam never built up his conventional capacity again. Let him strut around like a peacock with his feathers taken off. To say that Bush I is responsible for what Bush II did is hackery.

    There is no simple engineering solution to the Middle East, but there is room for us to increase our pivoting room that can lead to breakthroughs. I just hope that there still is when a new administration comes to power. There might not be.

    Why antangonize China? They aren’t invading anybody, unlike Russia. Why make a grand show of a “Pivot” to Asia right when Putin invades Eastern Ukraine and the Middle East blows up, particularly when there is no hope in hell we can recount any sort of military shift and we haven’t invested the proper amount on a lower level with Vietnam, Indonesia, and the like. We don’t need to bring our rivals together, and that’s what we’ve done.

    He isn’t going to be convinced to stop by Obama, I can tell you that. Hope is no strategy. Putin oozes contempt for the West. He views it as feeble, feminine, and dying. He clearly is interested in making a global anti-Western coalition. However, Putin is by far the least worst option in terms of ruling Russia, and Russia has interests elsewhere with Turkey and the Middle East that in some areas match ours. However, the Ukraine isn’t going away. It’ll be tough to reverse a decade of insanity in US-Russo relations. It would take a geopolitical master and someone who has something of a maverick, non postmodern ethos that might gain his interest. Of course, supporting the Orange Revolution was stupidity, but you can’t fix that now.

  31. michael reynolds says:


    I think it matters a great deal that she’s a woman. I think she fact that she’s a woman will give her weight on issues like abortion, SSM, daycare, student loan debt, equal pay, what we’ve typically thought of as the softer side of politics. I think she’ll be able to shift the conversation and the priorities. And I think she could precipitate the come-to-Jesus moment for the GOP.

    I don’t think this is the time for a grand design in foreign policy. We have macro threats (perhaps China in 20 years) and micro threats (terrorism) and odd-ball threats (cyber attack.) We don’t have a lot of opportunities for forging new alliances, we don’t have the organizing principal of an ideological opponent, there are no major wars on the horizon. it’s a very disorganized picture. I think when things are this lacking in direction improvisation is best.

  32. stonetools says:


    To say that Bush I is responsible for what Bush II did is hackery.

    Its a good thing I didn’t say that, then. I think it’s undeniable that Gulf War 1 set the stage for Gulf War2, even if it didn’t make it inevitable.

    There is no simple engineering solution to the Middle East, but there is room for us to increase our pivoting room that can lead to breakthroughs.

    We shouldn’t even think in terms of “breakthroughs” in ME. I’d just settle for keeping the inevitable wars , refugees, and other dysfunctions contained to the area. Sadly, that’s the best we can expect for the foreseeable future.

    Why antangonize China? They aren’t invading anybody, unlike Russia.

    I think you misunderstand the pivot idea. Obama is quite clearly thinking of a trade and economic pivot to the Pacific, not a MILITARY pivot. That’s what the TPP is all about.

    He isn’t going to be convinced to stop by Obama, I can tell you that. Hope is no strategy. Putin oozes contempt for the West. He views it as feeble, feminine, and dying. He clearly is interested in making a global anti-Western coalition.

    So far, Putin has in fact been stopped or at least slowed in Ukraine. He certainly hasn’t launched a full fledged invasion, which seemed on the cards a few months ago. And Obama has certainly been effective in organizing wide ranging sanctions against Russia which have hurt the Russian economy. I think his policy to Russia is more effective than you admit, even if it lacks the saber rattling that you seem impressed with. In any case, I’m not sure saber rattling would be helpful. No one is interested in fighting a land war with Russia over Ukraine. That’s just a fact, like 2+2=4. Any policy toward Russia is going to have to take that into account. How effective has Putin been in organizing an antiWestern coalition? He’s got zilch. In the end, though we may not be able to save Ukraine from becoming a Russian satellite. The good thing is that we can live with that.

  33. An Interested Party says:

    It doesn’t help that the Democrats have run Baltimore for the past 50 years, and thus I have little sympathy for them taking the political hit. Baltimore is not going to be a talking point that they should play up.

    Certainly not to defend Democrats, but the decline of Baltimore involves many factors (the disappearance of manufacturing and racism/white flight among others) and has a lot more to do with those than it does with Democrats running it for the past 50 years…

  34. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The problem with her being a woman that I see is that she may be tempted to “act tough” on the international stage, in order to prove that she isn’t “feeble” or “feminine”. Apparently, some here blame Obama for not doing more of that. Its indeed possible that Obama’s no drama, say little and get it done approach has cost him political points. Certainly if you go by Ian, I think maybe Obama should have wrongfully invaded a country or two or at least landed on an aircraft carrier. Maybe then Putin would have backed down in Ukraine, or ISIS would have turned tail in Iraq.

    My preference would be that HRC continue in restrained Obama fashion, but sadly, I think she’ll be tempted to do some John Wayne theatrical sh!t, which is OK, I guess. Just so long as American blood doesn’t get spilled over some nonsense.

  35. stonetools says:

    @An Interested Party:

    O’Malley will probably talking much more about his successful tenure as governor of Maryland, which did quite well under him. Doug just hates Democrats and liberals (I guess because he is truly independent or something), so he’s repeating conservative talking points about Baltimore.
    Now I’ve lived in Baltimore, and it certainly isn’t the horror show that’s portrayed in popular culture. David Simon, a liberal, took a long and unsparing look at Baltimore with shows like “Homicide” and “The Wire” in order to get the government to take action. The unfortunate result is that it’s become the poster child for liberal failure and for the the argument that the government can and should do NOTHING to help cities like Baltimore-which is not what Simon had in mind. As usual, liberals underestimate the mendacity of their conservative foes by thinking naively, that if they just put the truth out there, then ta da! people will come to the right conclusions and do the right things. So far, so wrong.

  36. superdestroyer says:


    Jim Webb is a natural introvert and really has no business being in politics. He has a prickly personality and does not like being around people. He was a one term senator who won during an election cycle when Republicans could not win any election.

  37. Ian says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think the next decade will prove if we can shift to a peaceful true multipolar world or not, in which the myth of American exceptionalism *finally* get laid to rest, and if we get lucky, we take on a British role as center manipulator. If we don’t, we’ll just be another power. But this isn’t going to come without work or a grand strategy for this. The fact of the matter is, we are what is preventing a lot of nasty things from happening around the globe. It’s already falling apart.

    So if we don’t do this correctly, it could get pretty ugly, to say the least. It’s of great importance.

    The good news is, there is room in an administration for domestic, foreign, and political policy wonks. 🙂

    Aaaah…. This introvert who loves policy hates a lot of “fluff” of politics really really hates to say this, but I see your point. 🙁

    I personally think the crustiness and prickliness can be put to use electorally among an electorate sick to death of lies and fake smiles, but I will confess that this is of the heart, not of the head.

    @An Interested Party:

    I see your point and think that GOP economic policies are nuts, as a disclaimer. But the whole (corrupt) city machine, the political power, the political infrastructure is theirs, and it has been for a long time, so I’m not falling for the GOP cabal causing the Democrats to fail in Baltimore.

  38. Ian says:


    How, though? There was no law of nature saying we couldn’t just let Saddam strut around like a featherless rooster, nor was it inevitable that we invade.

    Glad to see we agree on that in the ME. Especially Israel/Palestine and Egypt-people are looking for engineering solutions that don’t exist.

    No, it involves dipolomatic and military components.

    I actually agree that this is largely important-particular Southeast Asia-in the long term. And in part this is something of a fait accompli ever since the 90s. I approve of strong ties to Vietnam, a relatively new partner, and Indonesia, an older relatively newly democratic one, in particular. But you shouldn’t just announce it when everything is going to hell elsewhere. The problem with that is that it’s an empty threat of shifting focus. Ukraine and the Middle East are going to be on the front burner for the future, near as I can tell. You’d be better off by simply doing it on a local level. You’d be surprised how much countries are open to shifts of policy by back channel.

    You could have fooled Beijing anyway by announcing this. If there is one thing that’s bad for the US geopolitically, it’s Sino-Russian cooperation. To an extent, that’s inevitable, given the fall of the Soviet Union and the need for a natural check on the USA, but things like this cause them to get closer.

    It’s not Ukraine per say that I’m worried about, to be honest. For Ukraine, conventional invasion was never Putin’s plan. He’s not stupid-he thinks that if he relies off a piecemeal game, he’ll get what he wants in the end. The days of open tanks spreading across the border to Kiev are gone. He’s relying on “Special War” and Russian backed rebels now. In the long term, we don’t care about Ukraine, and neither does Europe. (And should we? The problem is what comes afterwards and what happens if NATO turns out to mean nothing.) Putin is counting on geopolitics to trump that-again, see China, among other things. He’s interested in building a coalition that opposes the West, in part due to severe alienation from the political swings in the US and the erraticness of both wings of our political spectrum. And right now, ordinary Russians are fine with dealing with the sanctions, which is all he cares about. They are used to tough conditions that Westerners can’t imagine and love the idea of sticking the middle finger up at the US. And especially at the current President who seems to unleash a visceral reaction from military/intelligence men around the globe(this is going way off topic, but I have something interesting cultural theories about this). This isn’t 80s South Africa where the whites are tired of not being able to compete in sports around the globe.

    I don’t think he will succeed in the long term for a host of reasons ranging from economics to the unwieldiness of a coalition bound together by nothing but anti-American and culturally conservative sentiment, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do damage beforehand. Russian intelligence is working at higher levels than at the Cold War. The European far right is on the Kremlin’s bankroll(and Putin comes from Russian intelligence, where creating problems to solve them is an ancient tradition), and they are starting to win elections with millions of disaffected Europeans who prefer Moscow’s vision to Brussels even if they don’t particularly like Russians. Fiscally, the EU is running into problems as well. It’s not a particularly pretty scenario, and not something we have any realistic shot at ignoring.

    I COMPLETELY agree with you in that our Russian policy has been one giant mistake since 1995, with few exceptions, especially on the lack of economic ties and the support of the Orange Revolution specifically. But what is done can’t be undone, and we gotta live with the reality.

  39. stonetools says:


    How, though? There was no law of nature saying we couldn’t just let Saddam strut around like a featherless rooster, nor was it inevitable that we invade.

    Indeed, it wasn’t inevitable. But intervention creates the possibility of more intervention. GWB did think that Saddam would fall shortly after the Gulf War, which is why he called on the Iraqis to rise up(Remember what a fiasco that was?) Then there was an intervention to rescue the Kurds , then continuation of the no fly zones, etc., and finally the sanctions.But the sanctions regime was indeed leaking more and more by 2002, and Saddam was just showing an ability to outlast whatever attempts the Americans were making to dislodge him-and there were attempts. You don’t want to admit this, because you ( like most Americans ) want to see Gulf War 1 as an unalloyed triumph. But Gulf War ended in an unsatisfactory and messy fashion, and the plain fact is that the the seeds of the Iraq Wr were sown in Gulf War 1, just as the seeds of WW2 were sown in WW1. It’s worth noting that General Colin Powell originally opposed Gulf War 1 because he feared that kind of continuing entanglement in the region.

    No, it involves dipolomatic and military components.

    Well, that’s true but the pivot to the Pacific is seen as chiefly an economic and trade policy move. You seem to see it as mainly an attempt to militarily restrain China, and while that’s there, that’s not the main focus.

    I don’t see the Putin anti Western coalition going anywhere. I do see the sanctions having an effect on the Russian economy, and in the long run that can’t be good for Putin or the Russians. It may be that Ukraine may end up partitioned , or back in the Russian orbit. That may be bad for Ukrainians, but the plain fact is that we can live with that. I think that a direct attack on NATO allies by Russia is way off the charts right now, but then I also think NATO should have never been extended that far east.

    Long term, I think the EU is in better shape than Russia (economically way better). Germany is still Germany, and in Angela Merkel it has one of the best leaders it ever had. There are lots of problems with its southern periphery , but the EU still fundamentally makes sense.

  40. michael reynolds says:


    I keep hearing that we need a grand strategy and I keep seeing no real suggestions from any quarter as to just what that strategy should be. About the only thing that reaches consensus is a vague desire to be free of terrorism.

    The problem in formulating a strategy is to first decide what end state we hope to achieve. If that end state is the post-WW2 British role you suggest, good luck getting support in Congress. Any open discussion of end-states will start with the assumption that 100 years from now we must still be number one, the sole superpower, unchallengeable. There will be no discussion of a possible future in which we focus on some less grandiose goal. We are now prisoners of our own propaganda.

    Given our national psychology, our narcissistic focus on our own unquestionable wonderfulness, and given as well the way in which foreign policy is covered by cable news and partisan web sites, I do not believe it is possible to contemplate the formulation of a grand strategy at this time. The situation itself is too undefined and we no longer have the ability to come together as a nation and impose our agenda on the rest of the world.

  41. Ian says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Well… I sort of have one, actually. My end goal is what I’ve mentioned along with a few other things, and to achieve that, we (among other things) need to play all other relevant players off each other as well as stop looking at the world at an ad hoc basis by region. As well as a strategy for implementing it-boiled down very basically, it’s a combination of in the short term insulating foreign policy from Congress and the bureaucracy, and in the long term taking it over by the “infection” model(so there is a domestic component to this). I don’t know how successful it would be, but my implementation idea has been done before in our history, albeit in a flawed manner under a few administrations, so it’s possible.

    It’s something I’ve developed over years of thinking about it. As a disclaimer, I’m not an IR or political science major(though I do have some family reasons for being interested in this), so I fully confess that I could be wrong and these are the half baked fantasies of a mentally weird young man in his early 20s who spends way too much time thinking about stuff he can’t control. I’m a little hesitant and unsure of myself, to be honest, so you are free to think it’s nonsense. But if you want to PM me some time, I’d be glad to go into detail into what I believe should and can be done. (I don’t want to go into a multipage discussion here and now, I’m already addicted to the Internet and I really need to start focusing on my summer research today).

    That being said, the political feasibility of a fair chunck of it after 20 years of wracking up what we could call bad credit is up for debate. I do take this into account, but I have no way of knowing it will work.

    That being said, it’s a plan. That’s more than our 2016 candidates can say.

  42. Ian says:

    @michael reynolds:

    This is a digression, but one I’d like to add. I should also comment that the foreign policy plan consists of seperate but intertwined components for short, medium and long term challenges that I see. That’s part of why it’s pretty convulted. Another facet of this is a revamp of our intel community. We need a crack CI team rather than a 1000 more CIA agents in Western Europe or more nuclear bombs, and that’s not what the establishment wants to hear.

    It’s amazing what OSI can accomplish, on a different note. You’ll learn more from reading Xinhua in Mandarin than listening to what PLA generals say during golf games.

  43. Ian says:


    Saddam never built up his conventional capacity ever again, though. Why continue the screwing when he wasn’t going to be in Kuwait? Sure, he remained the genocidal bloodthirsty monster that he always was-and I don’t think anyone sane would deny that-but the point of the matter is, keeping him as a weakened power broker in the region had its uses. The region was better off with Saddam around, and so were we. The post Gulf War enviroment was also a perfect opportunity to start playing the Iran/Saudi game while the arms race could still be stopped as well as redefine our purely security based relationship with Egypt, neither of which we did. That our post Cold War cognescenti failed to pick up on the lesson and didn’t have any coherent plan for the world was not the fault of Bush I.

    To tie this into an earlier conversation, it was much like how in 1969 and 1970, we and the South Vietnamese would have preferred a chastened and more strongly anti-Communist Sihanouk following the anti-Vietnamese pogroms, who could win the loyalty of the rural people, to a newly unstable junta headed by Lon Nol to which Sihanouk would ally with the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese. Sihanouk wasn’t desireable, but he was a fact of life, and by 1969, we were finally realizing this before his political balancing act fell apart at home. Sometimes there is the “least worst” option, and that was Saddam. In the hothouse environement of post 9/11 DC, however, and with the neocons floating around…

    I think the economic and military components will inevitably be heavily intertwined, and Beijing seems to believe the same thing. And what Beijing thinks and does is what matters, not what Obama might or might not intend. It’s not that I object necessarily to the idea of a pivot, but the timing and manner of execution was a complete failure, and I have a bad feeling that given what she has said and done in past, Hillary is going to go down the human rights route with China. We would do better to focus on less countries in the region, but go deeper where we choose, as well as demarking a clear sphere of influence barrier. A reunited Korea, for example, is heavily likely to be part of a pro-Beijing bloc. It’s best to accept this in the long run, which is heavily important in North Korea policy. Sino-US relations will be the crux of the early 21st century, so it’s too important to screw up. Balance of power. But try explaining that to Congress.

    I think there is the crux of the disagreement. I agree that if this were 2004, I’d actively press for a different Russian policy than the one developing under Cheney, but now, Putin wants to change the order of things in a way that isn’t good for the West. He won’t be marching over European borders. He’ll use this combination of unconventional warfare combined with heavy intelligence efforst, and that’s exactly what we are vulnerable to given the lack of serious CI in DC and Brussels. It’s a shame, because I do understand a lot of what ticks off Putin about the neoliberal ruling class, but that’s how it is.

    Again, in the long run, he probably won’t succeed for reasons I’ve already elucidated, but I think the coalition has a lot of potential given the sheer alienation of much of the world from the US and Western Europe. Culturally conservative sentiment is a powerful thing, just as resentment against gung-ho rightists who believe that 1945 solutions are available is. DC appears so erratic to much of the world. Cairo, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Riyadh, New Delhi, they have all given signs of increasingly not really caring about what the West thinks. Can this be reversed? Certainly, but it will take action. And the EU’s future is far from rosy. It’s not just fiscal. Again, watch the far right in Europe. Le Pen in particular. There is a *lot* of discontent from Brussels among ordinary Europeans, and the social tensions regarding immigration are going to have to be honestly dealt with, or you will cede the issue to real demogogues.

    There is no such thing as the “right side of history”, contrary to Obama’s claims. Ask the Warsaw Pact how historical determinism turned out. You have to forge it and fight for it.

  44. Ian says:


    Especially given demographic trends, I should mention. Europe in particular has a lot of cause to worry, and this does play into my worries about geopolitics in the medium term with Russia. Demographics doesn’t have to be destiny, but it has a role to play. (On the positive side, robotics research should be boosted, and maybe we’ll start taking extraterrestrial colonization plans seriously).

    Hegemony of two to three states is over, if it ever truly existed. It’s been in the makings since the late 60s and early 70s(when all the wealth of the world was concentrated in the hands of Western Europe and the USA, and just the latter in 1945), with trends scientific, social, political, and economic. I don’t want to sound like an emo, so I will mention we haven’t done as badly as we could have done, actually. We are still here without a nuclear winter all over the world. That’s something.

    But that’s not going to be enough. The game is stepping up from the relative ease and calm of the 90s and even the 2000s. Nothing DC can do change this. But the next 15 years will show whether the transition can be involve as much minimal violence as possible, or otherwise. That’s something DC can have a lot of impact on, for good and ill. American just unilaterally withdrawing from world affairs will leave a very violent vacuum that won’t end well. The nature of the state itself will change with increasing human agency.

    Lot of potential for strife, proliferation, international crime, you name it, it’s there. Right now, I’m not filled with a whole bunch of reason for hope. But I think there is potential for a brighter future as well… there has to be a fight for it at the very least. Giving up is just not a worthwhile option, in my estimation.

    That’s the concrete, physical dimension of it. Not the only one in my personal opinion, but the one that can be safely mentioned public without people dismissing you as nuts.

  45. MBunge says:

    @Ian: she’s a far better politician

    I don’t know how to respond to that statement because it implies a definition of politics that is different from mine and, I think, most other’s. Hillary’s public life has pretty much demontrated that she’s bad at politics. Not as bad as Mitt Romney but there are rabid badgers who are better politicians than Mitt.

    I also find it hard to think of her as tougher than Obama, given how much of her political stature was built on people feeling sorry for her.

    There’s really one big issue with Hillary and needs to be openly discussed sooner rather than later. The two times she’s been the lead dog of a major political operation, the results were disasterous. Her 2008 campaign wasn’t nearly as bad as her stab at health care reform but both were a parade of strategic and tactical mistakes and plain old incompetence.


  46. JohnMcC says:

    @MBunge: Well, there were two senate campaigns. I suppose to a person who feels Ms Clinton’s political appeal rests on being a victimized woman, those can be explained away. Don’t recall a strong groundswell of voters rushing to elect her because they pitied her, myself. But believe whatever you like and we’ll call all bets in Nov ’16.

  47. MBunge says:

    @JohnMcC: Well, there were two senate campaigns.

    The fact that you are able to form complete sentences means you are smart enough to know that winning in New York proved that Hillary was still breathing and that’s about it.


  48. gVOR08 says:


    Anyhow, Bush the Elder did OK in the first Persian Gulf war

    You know, I’ve generally felt that way. But the more I contemplate the influence Israel and Saudi Arabia have had on US foreign policy, and the Saudis on the Bush family personally, the less good I feel about HW and Gulf I. Especially given subsequent events and hindsight.

  49. gVOR08 says:


    Jim Webb… has no chance against the Hillary Mammon machine.

    True. But on paper, as a southerner, veteran, and male, he makes a good ticket balancer.

  50. michael reynolds says:

    The rational long-term goal for US foreign policy should be a much more robust international legal and enforcement regime.

    We’re in an age of brushfire wars, terrorism, civil wars in marginal states and the ensuing refugee flood, cyber attacks, piracy, break-out nuclear states, and non-military problems like contagious diseases, currency manipulation, famine and localized repression. Earth needs a government and the US taxpayer is tired of carrying the load alone. We can’t afford to do it alone, we lack some of the necessary skill sets (witness our “training” of Iraqi troops) and we can’t effectively square the various circles.

    We need something that edges closer to a limited world government. The problem is that only some of the world’s national governments have the necessary small “l” liberal culture and ideology that would be necessary. We could form a nice little club of ourselves, Europe, much of South America, South Africa, India, South Korea and Japan. A sort of gated community of the wealthy all obeying the dictates of the property owner’s association, but essentially independent within our homes. But what’s to be done with the middle east, Africa, China and Russia?

    Still, I think if we’re really looking at a long term plan what we want is stability, free trade, secure borders, the usual good government litany.

    Now, how many milliseconds would such a plan last in the Republican Congress? We can’t do grand strategy because transparency and fanatical partisanship make diplomacy impossible.

  51. stonetools says:


    You’ve done some good analysis. But I still like the West’s hand better than Putin’s hand. Yes, western Europe has big problems, but Germany is rock solid and as Germany goes, so goes Europe. Putin will create problems, especially in Ukraine and around the Russian periphery, but those aren’t crucial areas, with all due respect to their inhabitants. Call me when Spain and Italy blow up. I also don’t believe that Putin has some kind of master plan. He is opportunistically exploiting problems, not executing some grand strategy to destabilize the West. Russia is not the old USSR, which frankly was never the mighty monolith the American right made it out to be.

    I think your analysis of the Iraq situation is counterfactual. I think its pretty clear the US policy post Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait is that they wanted Saddam gone. The Saddam as counterweight to Iran policy was in place pre Kuwait invasion, but when Iraq conquered Kuwait, HW seemed to take its a personal affront, and from that point on, US policy on Iraq focused on the removal of Saddam, regardless of the position of Iran. this was complicated by fitful efforts to reach out to Iran-efforts consistently torpedoed by hardliners on both sides.

    I cannot congratulate the US on its Mideast policy from 1979 to the present. Quite frankly, it’s been a mess. But then the ME is a mess and has been so since Europe decided to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and carve up its ME possessions. My opinion is that the ME is in crisis because Islam is in crisis, and that the ME is undergoing something like the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Thirty Years Wars rolled up in one right now. That was not a happy time for the West, and its not surprising that there is constant conflict in the ME. There is no way the West can solve this for the ME. About all they can do is contain the conflicts until the fire burns out in a generation or so.

  52. stonetools says:


    Hillary is not a great politician. But have you seen her Republican competition? She looks like FDR compared to those guys.
    You don’t need to be the fastest runner ever. You just need to be the fastest runner in your race.

  53. wr says:

    @MBunge: “The fact that you are able to form complete sentences means you are smart enough to know that winning in New York proved that Hillary was still breathing and that’s about it.”

    Which is why that famous Democrat Alfonse D’Amato held the seat for so long.

    I don’t know how old you are, but back before the Republicans went totally insane, New York used to vote for that now-extinct breed called “the moderate Republican.” That, for instance, is why they once had “Rockefeller laws” about drug use. It’s also why a certain nasty little thug still refers to himself as “America’s mayor.”

    But you keep right on inventing history. We’ll see what happens in a year.

  54. wr says:

    @gVOR08: “True. But on paper, as a southerner, veteran, and male, he makes a good ticket balancer.”

    That kind of thinking might have made sense twenty or thirty years ago. But the southerner thing doesn’t work any more — Dems can’t rely on the South for their victories. It’s like a network programming its schedule based on viewership patters from the 80s.

  55. stonetools says:


    The two times she’s been the lead dog of a major political operation, the results were disasterous. Her 2008 campaign wasn’t nearly as bad as her stab at health care reform but both were a parade of strategic and tactical mistakes and plain old incompetence.

    Would disagree with these characterizations . The 1994 attempt at heath care reform failed , because HCR is hard, and its time just had not yet come. HCR later succeeded only because the Democrats adopted and adapted the Republicans’ 1994 proposal, thus removing any alternative for the GOP to fall back on, and because of a confluence of political events that enabled Obama to sneak through HCR by the skin of its teeth.

    As to the 2008 race, what happened was that a fairly good candidate ran a good campaign , but was bested by a great candidate who ran a great campaign. Even then, Clinton won more primary votes than any other Democratic candidate in history-including the winner. To put it in sports terms, Clinton ran a 100 meter race in 10.00 seconds-only to be beaten by a competitor who ran it in 9.9.
    It’s early days yet,but I expect her to do better both in the primary and in general.
    Now I understand that you dislike Clinton on purity grounds, really. So do I. But is time to accept there just ain’t no purer, better candidate out there. Time to stop hoping for unicorns and rainbows and get on with the job of putting a Democrat in the White House in 2016.