Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 24, 2007

State of the Union (and of Bush)

For once, the mainstream media’s incessant badmouthing of George W. Bush worked for him. In the day-long lead-up to his State of the Union address, news-readers previewed the speech in tones usually reserved for a crashing market or a dying patient. “Bush’s popularity is at an all-time low.” “Bush’s approval ratings are as low as Gerald Ford’s.” “[They’re] approaching Nixonian levels.”

But at the crucial moment, in a hostile chamber, the President delivered a crisp speech in a strong voice, with no fumbling or smirking in sight. Instead of the traditional laundry list of departmental initiatives, Bush limited his domestic policy projects to a solid, attainable few. He knows that the electorate and the new Democratic majority want more action in the domestic arena. Balancing the budget, cutting earmarks, cleaning up entitlements, moving toward energy independence—all of these ideas are non-controversial. His health-care proposals will be going nowhere soon (too much opposition from organized labor, which stands to lose from his plan to tax especially generous health benefits). But immigration, on which the President called for a discussion “without animosity or amnesty,” is a good bet for quick action. Now that he will be working with a Democratic majority that shares many of his views on the issue, GOP support will depend on details.

But the Bush legacy does not depend on the details of health-care policy. It will live or die by our success or failure in Iraq and in the war on terror and Islamofascism. Last night’s speech smartly separated these two struggles, and did an excellent job of mapping out the many, various threats from different branches of Islam.

Discussing Iraq, the President listed the successes of 2005, and acknowledged our enemy’s response in 2006. He memorably said, “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Still, when he spoke of turning our efforts “toward victory,” the Democrats (and a few Republicans) neither applauded nor rose.

George W. Bush knows that the struggle he is waging is not a popularity contest. It is a contest of will, force, and American credibility as the world’s leader. Last night’s speech signaled that he is again in fighting form.

For once, the mainstream media’s incessant badmouthing of George W. Bush worked for him. In the day-long lead-up to his State of the Union address, news-readers previewed the speech in tones usually reserved for a crashing market or a dying patient. “Bush’s popularity is at an all-time low.” “Bush’s approval ratings are as low as Gerald Ford’s.” “[They’re] approaching Nixonian levels.”

But at the crucial moment, in a hostile chamber, the President delivered a crisp speech in a strong voice, with no fumbling or smirking in sight. Instead of the traditional laundry list of departmental initiatives, Bush limited his domestic policy projects to a solid, attainable few. He knows that the electorate and the new Democratic majority want more action in the domestic arena. Balancing the budget, cutting earmarks, cleaning up entitlements, moving toward energy independence—all of these ideas are non-controversial. His health-care proposals will be going nowhere soon (too much opposition from organized labor, which stands to lose from his plan to tax especially generous health benefits). But immigration, on which the President called for a discussion “without animosity or amnesty,” is a good bet for quick action. Now that he will be working with a Democratic majority that shares many of his views on the issue, GOP support will depend on details.

But the Bush legacy does not depend on the details of health-care policy. It will live or die by our success or failure in Iraq and in the war on terror and Islamofascism. Last night’s speech smartly separated these two struggles, and did an excellent job of mapping out the many, various threats from different branches of Islam.

Discussing Iraq, the President listed the successes of 2005, and acknowledged our enemy’s response in 2006. He memorably said, “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.” Still, when he spoke of turning our efforts “toward victory,” the Democrats (and a few Republicans) neither applauded nor rose.

George W. Bush knows that the struggle he is waging is not a popularity contest. It is a contest of will, force, and American credibility as the world’s leader. Last night’s speech signaled that he is again in fighting form.

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Oren’s Error

In this morning’s New York Times, Michael B. Oren remarks, in an op-ed entitled “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground?,” that in the late 1990′s

American leaders agreed that the Syrian-Israeli track offered a promising alternative to the perennially stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, and that achieving peace between the Syrian and Israeli enemies would open the door to regional reconciliation.

All that was before Sept. 11, however, and Syria’s inclusion, alongside Iran and North Korea, in President Bush’s “axis of evil.” Once regarded as a possible partner in a Middle East peace process, the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad was suddenly viewed as a source of Middle East instability, a state sponsor of terrorist groups and an implacable foe of the United States.

Whatever the analytical virtues of Oren’s op-ed may be, the fact is that George W. Bush did not “include” Syria in the axis of evil, as the text of his speech shows:

[Our goal] is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror….
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

In any case, we’re sure our readers will be interested in Hillel Halkin’s very different take on the Golan issue, below.

In this morning’s New York Times, Michael B. Oren remarks, in an op-ed entitled “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground?,” that in the late 1990′s

American leaders agreed that the Syrian-Israeli track offered a promising alternative to the perennially stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, and that achieving peace between the Syrian and Israeli enemies would open the door to regional reconciliation.

All that was before Sept. 11, however, and Syria’s inclusion, alongside Iran and North Korea, in President Bush’s “axis of evil.” Once regarded as a possible partner in a Middle East peace process, the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad was suddenly viewed as a source of Middle East instability, a state sponsor of terrorist groups and an implacable foe of the United States.

Whatever the analytical virtues of Oren’s op-ed may be, the fact is that George W. Bush did not “include” Syria in the axis of evil, as the text of his speech shows:

[Our goal] is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror….
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

In any case, we’re sure our readers will be interested in Hillel Halkin’s very different take on the Golan issue, below.

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Law and Order

Did Scooter Libby write a letter to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in prison containing a coded hint that she should back up his story in court? So asks New York Times reporter Neil Lewis, referring to a curious passage in a missive Libby mailed to Miller in September 2005, ostensibly releasing her from her pledge not to reveal him as her source for the identity of CIA operative Valery Plame Wilson, but possibly suggesting something else entirely. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters because their roots connect them,” Libby wrote.

Asks Lewis: “Was that phrase a simple attempt at a literary turn? Or was it a veiled plea for Ms. Miller to ‘turn’ with him and back up Mr. Libby’s account that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson’s identity to her?”

The trial of Scooter Libby on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, now entering its second week, may not clear up the mystery of the clustered Aspens, if it is a mystery at all. And it may not clear up the new mystery, raised yesterday by Libby’s crack defense team, of whether their client was being sacrificed by White House operatives to protect Karl Rove. But the investigation of Libby and the Plame leak has gone a considerable distance toward resolving another conundrum that has bedeviled our legal system for decades: namely, whether newsmen are above the law. When the Supreme Court refused to hear Judith Miller’s appeal of her imprisonment on contempt charges, it stood by its own precedent set in 1972 in Branzburg v. Hayes that journalists, like all other citizens, are obliged to testify before grand juries regarding potentially criminal activities, including the criminal activities of their confidential sources. The “public . . . has a right to every man’s evidence,” ruled the Court.

A coalition of First Amendment activists and journalism associations is now lobbying Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision by passing legislation that would create a “reporter’s privilege.” With the Democrats in power in Congress, the prospects for success are now better than they have been for a generation. But at a moment when the country is facing mortal threats from Islamic fanatics and the press has been publishing counterterrorism secrets with reckless abandon, we need a reporter’s privilege as badly as the New York Times needs another Jayson Blair. As I argue in the February issue of COMMENTARY, such a law would manage to damage our national security and do violence to the First Amendment in a single swoop.

To help defray the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233

To help defray the even more considerable costs of prosecuting Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D37
Hyattsville, MD 20782

Did Scooter Libby write a letter to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in prison containing a coded hint that she should back up his story in court? So asks New York Times reporter Neil Lewis, referring to a curious passage in a missive Libby mailed to Miller in September 2005, ostensibly releasing her from her pledge not to reveal him as her source for the identity of CIA operative Valery Plame Wilson, but possibly suggesting something else entirely. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters because their roots connect them,” Libby wrote.

Asks Lewis: “Was that phrase a simple attempt at a literary turn? Or was it a veiled plea for Ms. Miller to ‘turn’ with him and back up Mr. Libby’s account that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson’s identity to her?”

The trial of Scooter Libby on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, now entering its second week, may not clear up the mystery of the clustered Aspens, if it is a mystery at all. And it may not clear up the new mystery, raised yesterday by Libby’s crack defense team, of whether their client was being sacrificed by White House operatives to protect Karl Rove. But the investigation of Libby and the Plame leak has gone a considerable distance toward resolving another conundrum that has bedeviled our legal system for decades: namely, whether newsmen are above the law. When the Supreme Court refused to hear Judith Miller’s appeal of her imprisonment on contempt charges, it stood by its own precedent set in 1972 in Branzburg v. Hayes that journalists, like all other citizens, are obliged to testify before grand juries regarding potentially criminal activities, including the criminal activities of their confidential sources. The “public . . . has a right to every man’s evidence,” ruled the Court.

A coalition of First Amendment activists and journalism associations is now lobbying Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision by passing legislation that would create a “reporter’s privilege.” With the Democrats in power in Congress, the prospects for success are now better than they have been for a generation. But at a moment when the country is facing mortal threats from Islamic fanatics and the press has been publishing counterterrorism secrets with reckless abandon, we need a reporter’s privilege as badly as the New York Times needs another Jayson Blair. As I argue in the February issue of COMMENTARY, such a law would manage to damage our national security and do violence to the First Amendment in a single swoop.

To help defray the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233

To help defray the even more considerable costs of prosecuting Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D37
Hyattsville, MD 20782

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Backroom Dealing on the Golan

Whether the back-channel “Israeli-Syrian negotiations” whose existence was revealed last week (and expanded upon Sunday) by the Hebrew daily Haaretz were, in fact, as claimed by the newspaper, really government-level talks, or whether they were simply an exchange between two private individuals, ex-director general of Israel’s foreign ministry Alon Liel and Washington-based Syrian businessman Ibrahim Suleiman, is largely an artificial question. Both governments knew of the talks, which reportedly involved an offer on Liel’s part for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the pre-Six Day war lines of June 4, 1967, and both, even if they took no active role in them, could have put a stop to them had they wanted to. They didn’t. Governments that encourage such unofficial mediation are not necessarily committed to its results, but neither are they uninterested in them.

That a government of Israel would consider, as several Israeli governments have done, a withdrawal from the entire Golan in return for a peace agreement with Syria that may or may not be honored in the long run is all but incomprehensible. That an Israeli government would consider withdrawing to the lines of June 4, 1967, at which time the Syrian army was illegally occupying several dozen square kilometers of territory along the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River that were officially part of Israel, is wholly incomprehensible.

There are many excellent reasons why Israel should never cede the whole Golan to Syria—military factors, water rights, tourism, national pride, the untrustworthiness of Syrian intentions, the unpredictability of Syrian politics, and the Golan’s having been officially annexed by Israel in 1982, thus making it as much a part of the country as is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. But of all possible reasons, none is so logically absurd to overlook as the fact that, by repeatedly demanding an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 lines, Syria has also repeatedly repudiated the 1923 border between it and Palestine drawn by the then-occupying colonial powers of France and England—the only Israeli-Syrian frontier ever recognized by international law. That a succession of Israeli governments has nevertheless continued to regard this border as a starting point for negotiations with Syria instead of trumpeting Syria’s own, repeated repudiation of it is, to my mind, one of the greatest stupidities of Israeli diplomacy.

Whether the back-channel “Israeli-Syrian negotiations” whose existence was revealed last week (and expanded upon Sunday) by the Hebrew daily Haaretz were, in fact, as claimed by the newspaper, really government-level talks, or whether they were simply an exchange between two private individuals, ex-director general of Israel’s foreign ministry Alon Liel and Washington-based Syrian businessman Ibrahim Suleiman, is largely an artificial question. Both governments knew of the talks, which reportedly involved an offer on Liel’s part for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the pre-Six Day war lines of June 4, 1967, and both, even if they took no active role in them, could have put a stop to them had they wanted to. They didn’t. Governments that encourage such unofficial mediation are not necessarily committed to its results, but neither are they uninterested in them.

That a government of Israel would consider, as several Israeli governments have done, a withdrawal from the entire Golan in return for a peace agreement with Syria that may or may not be honored in the long run is all but incomprehensible. That an Israeli government would consider withdrawing to the lines of June 4, 1967, at which time the Syrian army was illegally occupying several dozen square kilometers of territory along the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River that were officially part of Israel, is wholly incomprehensible.

There are many excellent reasons why Israel should never cede the whole Golan to Syria—military factors, water rights, tourism, national pride, the untrustworthiness of Syrian intentions, the unpredictability of Syrian politics, and the Golan’s having been officially annexed by Israel in 1982, thus making it as much a part of the country as is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. But of all possible reasons, none is so logically absurd to overlook as the fact that, by repeatedly demanding an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 lines, Syria has also repeatedly repudiated the 1923 border between it and Palestine drawn by the then-occupying colonial powers of France and England—the only Israeli-Syrian frontier ever recognized by international law. That a succession of Israeli governments has nevertheless continued to regard this border as a starting point for negotiations with Syria instead of trumpeting Syria’s own, repeated repudiation of it is, to my mind, one of the greatest stupidities of Israeli diplomacy.

Read Less




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