contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.
This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)
When Hamas and Fatah established a national unity government in March of 2007, Norway was the first Western country to recognize this new government, ending Hamas’s diplomatic isolation. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gar Store announced today, during a visit to Jerusalem, that his government has reversed its policy and no longer recognizes Hamas.
Norway’s decision is a welcome one. Still, one cannot help noticing that, as early as April of 2006, Norway had invited Hamas representatives to visit in order “to maintain dialogue,” on the grounds that Hamas plays “an important role in developments in the Middle East.” It’s not clear which kinds of development the Norwegians had in mind. But I’m fairly sure that executing opponents in the streets in front of their families, throwing a tied-up 28-year-old cook off the roof of a fifteen-story building, and forcibly converting a Christian scholar to Islam are not “developments” at all, but war crimes or gross human rights violations.
There is a fascinating tidbit buried deep in this Washington Post story on America’s troubled relations with Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf. After explaining why U.S. officials are bothered by Musharraf’s lackadaisical response to the Islamist extremists who have found a refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick write:
Musharraf also had a complaint of his own: His leverage over the tribal militants had slipped because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Foreign fear of the might of the U.S. military, felt throughout the Muslim world immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was dissipating as U.S. troops became increasingly bogged down in Iraq. Now, he said, tribal leaders who had once cooperated with Musharraf because of his alliance with the Americans saw little reason to be afraid.
This confirms an essential and important point: that it was not the decision to invade Iraq per se that is causing an increase in terrorism, but our failure to secure victory, at least so far. And it contradicts one of the most common talking points used by Democrats such as Barack Obama, who argue for a pullout from Iraq: that a decision to leave Iraq will enable us to fight more effectively in Afghanistan. What this paragraph suggests—correctly I think—is that a pullout from Iraq would hurt us considerably in Afghanistan and other battlefields by heightening an impression, which already exists, of American weakness. It is that impression, as much as anything else, that emboldens our enemies, whether the Taliban or al Qaeda, to keep attacking us.
Is it possible that the New York Times could still be indicted for revealing the existence of the NSA’s Terrorist Surveillance Program in a December 2005 front-page story?
Shortly after the revelation appeared, a federal grand jury was empaneled to investigate the leak. A range of government officials, including Jane Harmon, then the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, pointed to the severe damage that the Times story did to our efforts to intercept al-Qaeda communications and thwart a second September 11. Shortly thereafter, President Bush called the newspaper’s conduct “shameful.”
I agreed with these assessments. In fact, I argued in March 2006 that the New York Times had also broken the black-letter law. It had breached the provisions of Section 798 of Title 18, which make it a crime to publish classified information concerning the interception of communications intelligence. Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez hinted that, in light of several statutes on the books, the New York Times’s conduct was under review by his department.
Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.
In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.
Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.