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Posts For: September 12, 2007

Peaches?

The most damaging revelation about General David Petraeus did not come out during the two days of Congressional hearings. It came out in a small article buried deep in the New York Times. The Times’s intrepid reporter, Paul Vitello, visited Petraeus’s hometown, Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., and learned that as a young man the four-star commander was called . . . Peaches, “a nickname some impute to a rough reduction of his name, and others to the youth’s lack of facial hair.” Whatever its origins, that’s the kind of exposé no warrior would appreciate.

 

But aside from this blockbuster revelation, what was most striking about the article was this line: “Some said they were aghast at the dimensions of the problem, some awed by General Petraeus’s seeming grasp of the wildly irregular forces in play; but almost none seemed to foresee a happy result for “our side,” as many in this conservative, Republican-voting place put it.”

 

You’ve got to love those quotation marks around “our side,” as well as the sneering explanation. Apparently viewing the American war effort as “our side” is the kind of naïve viewpoint espoused only by country bumpkins in a “conservative, Republican-voting place” like Cornwall-on-Hudson (which is near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point). Presumably New York Times reporters and editors, who live in a liberal, Democratic-voting place, are far too sophisticated for that kind of thinking.

 

If you want to know why the MSM are having trouble re-establishing a relationship of trust with the bulk of the population, here you have it in a nutshell. They’re not on “our side,” or (to be charitable) they’re not willing to admit that they are.

The most damaging revelation about General David Petraeus did not come out during the two days of Congressional hearings. It came out in a small article buried deep in the New York Times. The Times’s intrepid reporter, Paul Vitello, visited Petraeus’s hometown, Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., and learned that as a young man the four-star commander was called . . . Peaches, “a nickname some impute to a rough reduction of his name, and others to the youth’s lack of facial hair.” Whatever its origins, that’s the kind of exposé no warrior would appreciate.

 

But aside from this blockbuster revelation, what was most striking about the article was this line: “Some said they were aghast at the dimensions of the problem, some awed by General Petraeus’s seeming grasp of the wildly irregular forces in play; but almost none seemed to foresee a happy result for “our side,” as many in this conservative, Republican-voting place put it.”

 

You’ve got to love those quotation marks around “our side,” as well as the sneering explanation. Apparently viewing the American war effort as “our side” is the kind of naïve viewpoint espoused only by country bumpkins in a “conservative, Republican-voting place” like Cornwall-on-Hudson (which is near the U.S. Military Academy at West Point). Presumably New York Times reporters and editors, who live in a liberal, Democratic-voting place, are far too sophisticated for that kind of thinking.

 

If you want to know why the MSM are having trouble re-establishing a relationship of trust with the bulk of the population, here you have it in a nutshell. They’re not on “our side,” or (to be charitable) they’re not willing to admit that they are.

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Loss of Will

In his most recent column George Will writes:

Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.

This is in keeping with what Will has written in recent years. He may be the most visible conservative critic of President Bush’s Freedom agenda—that is, the effort to bring liberty to the Iraq and the Arab world. For example, in his May 4, 2004 column, Will wrote:

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

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In his most recent column George Will writes:

Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.

This is in keeping with what Will has written in recent years. He may be the most visible conservative critic of President Bush’s Freedom agenda—that is, the effort to bring liberty to the Iraq and the Arab world. For example, in his May 4, 2004 column, Will wrote:

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

It was not always thus. In an October 8, 2002 interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Will said:

I think the answer is that we believe, with reason, that democracy’s infectious. We’ve seen it. We saw it happen in Eastern Europe. It’s just—people reached a critical mass of mendacity under those regimes of the East block, and it exploded. And I do believe that you will see [in the Middle East] a ripple effect, a happy domino effect, if you will, of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies . . . Condoleezza Rice is quite right. She says there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy. And there’s an enormous ahistorical error when people say, “Well, we can’t go into war with Iraq until we know what postwar Iraq’s going to look like.” In 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor, did we have a clear idea what we were going to do with postwar Germany? With postwar Japan? Of course not. We made it up as we went along, and we did a very good job . . .

And more. Mr. Will spoke in favor of bringing “instability” to the Middle East and even to Egypt (“What is so wonderful about the stability of Egypt?”). His argument, which he made impressively, was that it is in America’s interest to bring about modernity to the Arab world—a prospect about which he was sanguine.

When asked, “Do you think [Iraq] will be a quick and easy conflict, if it comes to that,” Mr. Will answered, “Fairly quick, yes.” And Will said this about Afghanistan and nation-building:

[Afghanistan is], to put it mildly, a work in progress. The president, I think, admits this. This was part of his education as president, to say that his hostility to nation-building was radically revised when he saw what a failed nation, Afghanistan, a vacuum, gets filled with. Political nature abhors a vacuum, and when it fills up with the Taliban and the leakage of violence to these private groups, essentially, like al Qaeda, then you have to say, “Well, I’ve revised that. We’re going to have to get into the nation-building business.”

Will also distinguished between Afghanistan and Iraq when it comes to nation-building:

It’s different in Iraq because Iraq is a big, rich country with a middle class, with universities…

He added:

But you know, regime change didn’t just arise as a subject recently. We did it in Grenada, Panama, Serbia. Would the world be better off if Milosevic were back in Serbia? Noriega in Panama? I don’t think so.

Prior to the war to liberate Iraq, then, George Will thought Iraq and the Arab world were quite ready for democracy. He was a strong advocate for regime change and nation building. And he thought Iraq would be an easier undertaking than Afghanistan.
It’s fine—it can even be admirable—for an individual to change his mind in the face of new facts and circumstances. But some appreciation for one’s previous views should also be taken into account.

George Will ranks among the finest columnists ever to pick up a pen (quill or otherwise). Over the years his arguments and words have shaped a generation of conservatives, including me. And I wish the best thing I have ever written were half as good as the worst thing George Will has ever written. But it’s fair to ask that he not write as if he always knew better, as if any conservative worth his Burkean salt should have known that the effort to spread democracy to Iraq was Wilsonian foolishness that was fated to fail.

It wasn’t (and isn’t)—and once upon a time George Will thought so, too.

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The Liberal Moment?

Washington Post columnist and Georgetown professor E. J. Dionne has written a thoughtful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what he calls “The Liberal Moment.” With one eye on the polls—which show plunging support for Republicans among the young, Hispanics, and independent voters—Dionne writes that “American liberals and the Left now have their greatest political opening since the 1960’s and their greatest opportunity to alter the philosophical direction of the public debate since the 1930’s.” He’s right. But will liberals be able actually to seize the opening?

Dionne invokes the late social scientist Michael Harrington, arguing that the Left must embrace a program that “will radically improve the conditions of life of everyone in the society,” because “the politics of noblesse oblige simply will not mobilize a majority that includes a very large number of people who are not poor yet are still suffering from relative deprivation.” But the very mechanism by which the Left once was able to accomplish those goals—Keynesian pump-priming—has been obviated by the globalization of economies. And today the most frequent and vitriolic attacks on attempts by Democrats to use market mechanisms to advance liberal goals come from the Democrats: specifically, from the netroots activists. (The netroots, in other words, bring to the Democratic party the same blind and destructive partisanship Dionne rightly condemns in Karl Rove.)

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Washington Post columnist and Georgetown professor E. J. Dionne has written a thoughtful essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what he calls “The Liberal Moment.” With one eye on the polls—which show plunging support for Republicans among the young, Hispanics, and independent voters—Dionne writes that “American liberals and the Left now have their greatest political opening since the 1960’s and their greatest opportunity to alter the philosophical direction of the public debate since the 1930’s.” He’s right. But will liberals be able actually to seize the opening?

Dionne invokes the late social scientist Michael Harrington, arguing that the Left must embrace a program that “will radically improve the conditions of life of everyone in the society,” because “the politics of noblesse oblige simply will not mobilize a majority that includes a very large number of people who are not poor yet are still suffering from relative deprivation.” But the very mechanism by which the Left once was able to accomplish those goals—Keynesian pump-priming—has been obviated by the globalization of economies. And today the most frequent and vitriolic attacks on attempts by Democrats to use market mechanisms to advance liberal goals come from the Democrats: specifically, from the netroots activists. (The netroots, in other words, bring to the Democratic party the same blind and destructive partisanship Dionne rightly condemns in Karl Rove.)

And while the Bush administration, as Dionne rightly notes, suffered serious setbacks when it pushed for more market-oriented social programs (such as privatizing social security), liberals need to ask themselves why it is that in the very areas where their policies are most dominant (such as New York, or Boston, or Los Angeles), the social order is the least egalitarian. As a group, they won’t reconsider a social security program/tax that’s not only regressive and a job killer, but far more onerous for the lower-middle class than the income tax. They come up similarly empty-handed on education, where the powerful NEA is wedded to failure, and no amount of new spending seems to be able to improve the outcome. Nor, as a group, do liberals seem to be able to come to grips with the Jihadist thread within Islam. In short, the failings of the Republicans notwithstanding, it’s hard to discern the basis for a liberal revival.

Columbia sociologist Todd Gitlin, commenting on Dionne’s article, insists that liberals and Democrats represent the “party of reason.” (Was it reason, then, that motivated MoveOn.org to call General Petraeus “General Betray-us” in a full-page New York Times ad?) As long as the Left is still capable of rhetoric like this, there is not likely to be a “Liberal Moment” in the sense that Dionne means—just a political opportunity for the Democrats. And I’d say that, as was the case with Bill Clinton, the success of any future Democratic administration will depend on the degree to which it can break with liberal dogma.

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The Leak Wars

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

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“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

The conundrum is easily resolved. First, McConnell, as the nation’s top intelligence officer, and unlike any reporter or editor at the Times, is in a position to evaluate whether a given disclosure will cause damage to American security.

Second, McConnell has the authority, under law, to declassify information when he determines it is in the national interest. The New York Times claims the same authority under the First Amendment. But the First Amendment is compatible with a whole range of restrictions on the press, as in the law of libel, the laws governing commercial speech, and so forth. By contrast, the idea that the media is not obligated to follow laws currently on the books restricting publication of national-defense information flies in the face of both reason and precedent.  

Third, in disclosing the success of the U.S. surveillance program in averting a disaster in Germany, McConnell was not revealing anything new. Why not? Because the Times had already compromised the key facts about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance in a series of stories that began in December 2005.

The fact that even after the Times had tipped them off, terrorists continue to use readily interceptible telephones and email demonstrates how difficult it is for them to find alternative means of rapid long-distance communication. But that is by no means a justification for what the Times did. A host of governments officials–Democrats and Republicans alike–have attested to the damage inflicted on U.S. counterterrorism efforts by the Times’s reporting.

CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden, speaking earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, addressed the problem. His words are worth quoting at length:

Revelations of sources and methods or what seems to me to be an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room can make it very difficult for us to perform our vital work. When our operations are exposed–you know, the legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress–when those operations are exposed, it reduces the space and it damages the tools we use to protect Americans.

After the press report on how banking records in the international Swiss network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak–and I’m quoting now–”bears no resemblance to security breaches”. . . I could not disagree more strongly. In a war that largely depends on our success on collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements have been in the past. Now the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, and it extends beyond specific individuals. Each revelation of our methods in tracking terrorists, tracking WMD, tracking other threats allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. We’ll respond, but it takes us valuable time to readjust.

Now, some are out there who say there’s no evidence that leaks of classified information have actually harmed national security. As CIA director, I’m telling you there is and they have. Let me give you just two examples. In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate chilling affect on our ability to collect [intelligence] against a top priority target. In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counter-proliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the operation that was exposed lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret and so they stopped reporting.
. . . On their own, journalists often simply don’t have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I’ve heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of their story’s content with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story. . . [W]he the media claims an oversight role on clandestine operations, it moves that clandestine operation into an arena where we cannot clarify, we cannot explain, we cannot defend our actions without doing even further damage to our national security.

It’s important–as I say this, it’s important to bear in mind that my agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account, it’s your representatives in Congress.

George Tenet and Porter Goss, George Bush’s previous CIA directors, never said anything nearly as sustained or lucid on this vital subject–and they and we paid for their silence with an accelerating flow of leaks appearing in the media. It is unlikely that Hayden’s caution will be heeded by many in the press, least of all at the New York Times. But the issue, at least, has finally been joined in a serious way by the Bush administration.

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China Tells Off Thomas Friedman

At the end of last week, Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum completed its Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions in the Chinese port of Dalian. Perhaps the most interesting moment in the Forum’s three days of platitudes came when Thomas Friedman, prize-winning New York Times columnist, got “the middle finger in the Middle Kingdom,” as journalist-blogger Rebecca MacKinnon put it.

Friedman accused Beijing of being a “free loader” in the international system, letting the United States carry the burden of global “guardian” by itself. He specifically mentioned that China needs to do more to stop the Iranian nuclear program and to halt the genocide in Darfur. China’s most interesting diplomat, Sha Zukang, told Tom off—and showed how unprepared Beijing is to assume a helpful role in global affairs. Sha, now a U.N. undersecretary-general, said that China believes that countries should not assume world leadership but be elected to it. Beijing, he noted, treats all others as “equals.” China, therefore, is not going to lend a hand to the United States—or any other nation—to solve problems.

Amusing as it is to see Friedman told off, we have to ask ourselves seriously: should he really be encouraging a disruptive force to take an even larger role in world affairs? His theory (and the Bush administration’s) is that the Chinese, as they become enmeshed in the international system, will become a “responsible stakeholder” in it. But the Chinese are not yet ready to play this role. They’re still supplying small arms to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, still providing material and diplomatic support to the North Korean regime, and, in all probability, still transferring nuclear weapons technology to Iran. Engagement with China may be a necessary long-term plan, but it’s the wrong approach for a world in need of immediate relief. Beijing is a large part of the problem, not the solution. Tom, did you hear that? Mr. President, did you?

At the end of last week, Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum completed its Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions in the Chinese port of Dalian. Perhaps the most interesting moment in the Forum’s three days of platitudes came when Thomas Friedman, prize-winning New York Times columnist, got “the middle finger in the Middle Kingdom,” as journalist-blogger Rebecca MacKinnon put it.

Friedman accused Beijing of being a “free loader” in the international system, letting the United States carry the burden of global “guardian” by itself. He specifically mentioned that China needs to do more to stop the Iranian nuclear program and to halt the genocide in Darfur. China’s most interesting diplomat, Sha Zukang, told Tom off—and showed how unprepared Beijing is to assume a helpful role in global affairs. Sha, now a U.N. undersecretary-general, said that China believes that countries should not assume world leadership but be elected to it. Beijing, he noted, treats all others as “equals.” China, therefore, is not going to lend a hand to the United States—or any other nation—to solve problems.

Amusing as it is to see Friedman told off, we have to ask ourselves seriously: should he really be encouraging a disruptive force to take an even larger role in world affairs? His theory (and the Bush administration’s) is that the Chinese, as they become enmeshed in the international system, will become a “responsible stakeholder” in it. But the Chinese are not yet ready to play this role. They’re still supplying small arms to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, still providing material and diplomatic support to the North Korean regime, and, in all probability, still transferring nuclear weapons technology to Iran. Engagement with China may be a necessary long-term plan, but it’s the wrong approach for a world in need of immediate relief. Beijing is a large part of the problem, not the solution. Tom, did you hear that? Mr. President, did you?

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