Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2, 2008

A Neocon No Longer?

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, has written a must-read opinion article for Reason’s website. In it, he points out the blindingly obvious: that, contrary to myth, so-called neocons are not in control of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

The level of “neocon” influence has always been wildly exaggerated, as I argued in this Foreign Policy article all the way back in early 2004. Any “neocon” orientation is especially hard to find now outside of Bush’s grandiose speeches, which have little connection to policy. As Young points out:

Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran…. Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Young concludes: “That should please quite a few of Bush’s domestic critics. He’s returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.” Yet Bush isn’t getting much credit from his political foes for his shift in policy. Perhaps that’s because the new approach is proving less successful than the dreaded neocon policies of the past, which, lest we forget, cracked open the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, led Libya to renounce its WMD program, and, if the latest National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, caused Iran temporarily to suspend its own nuclear work in 2003. We are still waiting for any comparable achievements of the newly “realistic” second-term Bush administration.

Actually the administration has achieved something pretty impressive in the past year in Iraq, though that is the exception to the rule, perhaps because, when it came to the “surge,” the President reverted to his first-term instincts; he ignored the Washington establishment consensus that called for rapid troop drawdowns and instead listened to a few…neocons.

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, has written a must-read opinion article for Reason’s website. In it, he points out the blindingly obvious: that, contrary to myth, so-called neocons are not in control of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

The level of “neocon” influence has always been wildly exaggerated, as I argued in this Foreign Policy article all the way back in early 2004. Any “neocon” orientation is especially hard to find now outside of Bush’s grandiose speeches, which have little connection to policy. As Young points out:

Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran…. Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Young concludes: “That should please quite a few of Bush’s domestic critics. He’s returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.” Yet Bush isn’t getting much credit from his political foes for his shift in policy. Perhaps that’s because the new approach is proving less successful than the dreaded neocon policies of the past, which, lest we forget, cracked open the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, led Libya to renounce its WMD program, and, if the latest National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, caused Iran temporarily to suspend its own nuclear work in 2003. We are still waiting for any comparable achievements of the newly “realistic” second-term Bush administration.

Actually the administration has achieved something pretty impressive in the past year in Iraq, though that is the exception to the rule, perhaps because, when it came to the “surge,” the President reverted to his first-term instincts; he ignored the Washington establishment consensus that called for rapid troop drawdowns and instead listened to a few…neocons.

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Mike and Mike: A Response to John Podhoretz

There’s a good deal to agree with in John’s post on the Bloomberg presidential candidacy. His characterization of the politically “ambiguous coloration” of the pols and former pols gathering in Oklahoma is apt. It should be added that they’re all former big-time political players who, having been sidelined, would be given a chance to return to center stage by way of a Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg, with their backing, wouldn’t have to win, but would only have to help reframe the political agenda to provide himself and his backers with moral victory—money being no object.

Fundamental to John’s argument is the fact that political participation is up and thus post-partisanship will have no appeal. But look at matters through Bloomberg’s eyes. Suppose that by February 6, when more than half of the delegates have been chosen, the nominees are Huckabee and Obama; the former unacceptable to large sections of his own party, the latter who, having never run so much as a candy store, has a record that makes John Kerry’s look impressive. Then both parties, with the election ten months away, will suffer from a splenetic outpouring of buyer’s remorse. (This at a time when less that 30 percent of the country has a positive sense of either the GOP President or the Democratic Congress.)

Many independents and weak partisans—to judge from poll numbers that find that 58 percent of the electorate thinks it is “very important” that the next President be able to cross party lines to work with political opponents—may look on both Huckabee and Obama as the products of a hyper-polarized political process that has failed. Bloomberg, sheltered for the past four years by a financial services boom that has come to an end and a very friendly local press, would find such opponents irresistible. But the outcome could surprise people.

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There’s a good deal to agree with in John’s post on the Bloomberg presidential candidacy. His characterization of the politically “ambiguous coloration” of the pols and former pols gathering in Oklahoma is apt. It should be added that they’re all former big-time political players who, having been sidelined, would be given a chance to return to center stage by way of a Bloomberg candidacy. Bloomberg, with their backing, wouldn’t have to win, but would only have to help reframe the political agenda to provide himself and his backers with moral victory—money being no object.

Fundamental to John’s argument is the fact that political participation is up and thus post-partisanship will have no appeal. But look at matters through Bloomberg’s eyes. Suppose that by February 6, when more than half of the delegates have been chosen, the nominees are Huckabee and Obama; the former unacceptable to large sections of his own party, the latter who, having never run so much as a candy store, has a record that makes John Kerry’s look impressive. Then both parties, with the election ten months away, will suffer from a splenetic outpouring of buyer’s remorse. (This at a time when less that 30 percent of the country has a positive sense of either the GOP President or the Democratic Congress.)

Many independents and weak partisans—to judge from poll numbers that find that 58 percent of the electorate thinks it is “very important” that the next President be able to cross party lines to work with political opponents—may look on both Huckabee and Obama as the products of a hyper-polarized political process that has failed. Bloomberg, sheltered for the past four years by a financial services boom that has come to an end and a very friendly local press, would find such opponents irresistible. But the outcome could surprise people.

Yes, Bloomberg’s money is a political aphrodisiac, but it could also be a liability. Huckabee has been striking political gold with his “twenty to one” mantra, referring to the spending ratio between Mitt Romney and himself. Given the country’s sour mood on globalization, immigration, and the growth of income inequality—all exemplified by Bloomberg personally and politically—Mayor Mike is probably the one candidate who could make former Governor Mike president in a three-way race. On the other hand, if McCain or Giuliani and Hillary are the major party nominees, Bloomberg might well hold back, not wanting his educational failures to be subjected to the scrutiny of the national press. (Just imagine the ads! From either party!)

Bloomberg says he’s beyond politics and a great manager. But if a CEO were given unprecedented control, a longer worker day, and $7 billion to improve his company and produced nothing in the way of results—and that’s what Bloomberg got to run the New York City schools—you’d want to fire him, not make him President.

Bloomberg may have been able to fool New Yorkers, but the rest of the country is too smart for that. This said, the one thing we can expect in this extraordinary presidential race is to be surprised repeatedly.

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McCain and Giuliani: There Can Be Only One

With the steady decline in Rudy Giuliani’s poll numbers over the last six weeks has come the steady rise of John McCain’s, especially the latter’s vertiginous upward swing in New Hampshire — where, according to a new poll, McCain has taken the lead over Mitt Romney in the primary that will be held in six days. In the latest Pew poll of Republicans nationally, McCain and Giuliani are now tied for the lead, as they basically were during 2005 and the beginning of 2006. In those polls, they tended to split about 60 percent of the primary vote; in the latest, the number is closer to 40.

There was always a most interesting aspect to these numbers, since, for all intents and purposes, the candidacies of Giuliani and McCain are one and the same — a pitch to be the president best suited to fighting the war on terror based on strong leadership skills and personal heroism (I am not here comparing in any way Giuliani’s conduct on 9/11 with McCain’s years in the Hanoi Hilton, just noting the logic in the minds of voters). From the moment George W. Bush was reelected, the Republican voting public was offering signs that its ideal candidate would be a war candidate and that it would line up easily and quickly behind the right one. Unfortunately, McCain was saddled with a bunch of liabilities owing to his conduct as a presidential candidate in 2000, his peculiar votes against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and his full-throated support of immigration reform in a party with increasingly nativist tastes.

Giuliani’s candidacy was made possible by McCain’s weaknesses, and when the McCain campaign seemed to implode in the middle of 2006 (running out of money, firing a campaign manager and longtime aides), he seemed poised to benefit strongly from it — as voters jumped off the McCain bandwagon, it would only make sense for them to jump on Giuliani’s. And they did. But it turned out Giuliani hit his rough patch in late November and early December, with unfavorable news stories reminding people of his complex marital history and the poor behavior of some of his allies. And so it is McCain who, as New Hampshire approaches, is benefiting from Giuliani’s weakness.

McCain’s shot at becoming the Republican nominee seems dependent on Giuliani fading very fast. And Giuliani’s shot seems dependent on McCain’s surge in New Hampshire proving to be a single-state phenomenon.

With the steady decline in Rudy Giuliani’s poll numbers over the last six weeks has come the steady rise of John McCain’s, especially the latter’s vertiginous upward swing in New Hampshire — where, according to a new poll, McCain has taken the lead over Mitt Romney in the primary that will be held in six days. In the latest Pew poll of Republicans nationally, McCain and Giuliani are now tied for the lead, as they basically were during 2005 and the beginning of 2006. In those polls, they tended to split about 60 percent of the primary vote; in the latest, the number is closer to 40.

There was always a most interesting aspect to these numbers, since, for all intents and purposes, the candidacies of Giuliani and McCain are one and the same — a pitch to be the president best suited to fighting the war on terror based on strong leadership skills and personal heroism (I am not here comparing in any way Giuliani’s conduct on 9/11 with McCain’s years in the Hanoi Hilton, just noting the logic in the minds of voters). From the moment George W. Bush was reelected, the Republican voting public was offering signs that its ideal candidate would be a war candidate and that it would line up easily and quickly behind the right one. Unfortunately, McCain was saddled with a bunch of liabilities owing to his conduct as a presidential candidate in 2000, his peculiar votes against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and his full-throated support of immigration reform in a party with increasingly nativist tastes.

Giuliani’s candidacy was made possible by McCain’s weaknesses, and when the McCain campaign seemed to implode in the middle of 2006 (running out of money, firing a campaign manager and longtime aides), he seemed poised to benefit strongly from it — as voters jumped off the McCain bandwagon, it would only make sense for them to jump on Giuliani’s. And they did. But it turned out Giuliani hit his rough patch in late November and early December, with unfavorable news stories reminding people of his complex marital history and the poor behavior of some of his allies. And so it is McCain who, as New Hampshire approaches, is benefiting from Giuliani’s weakness.

McCain’s shot at becoming the Republican nominee seems dependent on Giuliani fading very fast. And Giuliani’s shot seems dependent on McCain’s surge in New Hampshire proving to be a single-state phenomenon.

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Encouraging Despots

“Here comes the world’s newest superpower,” writes Cahal Milmo in the Independent yesterday. “China is set to make 2008 the year it asserts its status as a global colossus.” Fareed Zakaria, in his recent piece in Newsweek, agrees, predicting that 2008 “is likely to be seen as the year that China moved to center stage.”

As we start a new year, predictions invariably mention that Beijing is set to take over the world. China in the past merely enticed and puzzled the West. Now, it threatens to dominate us. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins already calls the country “the most important power in the world.” Zakaria does not go that far, but he notes that “China has become the new x factor, without which no durable solution is possible.”

So here’s a question for us: Is it possible to solve any problem when a turbulent Communist state blocks all remedies? If we want to know why geopolitical disorders continue, we need look no further than Beijing. The Chinese have caused some of these maladies and contributed to almost all of the rest. Today, China proliferates nuclear weapons technology, supports murderous regimes, and is emerging as the core of a coalition of authoritarian states. The Beijing Consensus, touted throughout the developing world, is now the alternative to the West’s model of representative governance and free-market economics.

Washington’s approach has been to integrate the Chinese into the international community, to make their country “a responsible stakeholder.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is certainly correct when she said, replying to Mike Huckabee’s charge that the Bush administration has an “arrogant bunker mentality,” that it was “ludicrous” to say we have a “go-it-alone foreign policy.” The problem is not that we are going it alone. On the contrary, the problem is that we seek the assistance of unrepentant despots in solving the world’s most urgent problems.

So here is a question to ponder as we think about the coming year: Is it really a good idea to give increasingly aggressive autocrats a commanding role in shaping the global order?

“Here comes the world’s newest superpower,” writes Cahal Milmo in the Independent yesterday. “China is set to make 2008 the year it asserts its status as a global colossus.” Fareed Zakaria, in his recent piece in Newsweek, agrees, predicting that 2008 “is likely to be seen as the year that China moved to center stage.”

As we start a new year, predictions invariably mention that Beijing is set to take over the world. China in the past merely enticed and puzzled the West. Now, it threatens to dominate us. Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins already calls the country “the most important power in the world.” Zakaria does not go that far, but he notes that “China has become the new x factor, without which no durable solution is possible.”

So here’s a question for us: Is it possible to solve any problem when a turbulent Communist state blocks all remedies? If we want to know why geopolitical disorders continue, we need look no further than Beijing. The Chinese have caused some of these maladies and contributed to almost all of the rest. Today, China proliferates nuclear weapons technology, supports murderous regimes, and is emerging as the core of a coalition of authoritarian states. The Beijing Consensus, touted throughout the developing world, is now the alternative to the West’s model of representative governance and free-market economics.

Washington’s approach has been to integrate the Chinese into the international community, to make their country “a responsible stakeholder.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is certainly correct when she said, replying to Mike Huckabee’s charge that the Bush administration has an “arrogant bunker mentality,” that it was “ludicrous” to say we have a “go-it-alone foreign policy.” The problem is not that we are going it alone. On the contrary, the problem is that we seek the assistance of unrepentant despots in solving the world’s most urgent problems.

So here is a question to ponder as we think about the coming year: Is it really a good idea to give increasingly aggressive autocrats a commanding role in shaping the global order?

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Wanting Blair Back

Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.

But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.

Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:

And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.

Tony Blair saved the British Labor Party from self-destruction. He rescued its future when he became leader in 1994, and moved it away from its constitutional socialism to the type of New Democrat-style centrist-liberalism championed by Bill Clinton. It was largely Blair’s modernization of the party—pulling it away from the domineering control of the country’s obstinate labor unions—that was responsible for its landslide victory in 1997 and for its continuing governance of the country today.

But by the time Tony Blair resigned last year, his approval ratings had sunk and his friends were few. The conventional wisdom reads that Blair’s support for the Iraq War and his closeness to President Bush is to blame. This may be true, and if it is, it says much about the British electorate, seeing that their country has not seen an international statesman of Blair’s character since Churchill.

Michael Gove, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a prolific writer, had a piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal arguing that for all of Blair’s faults, his successor Gordon Brown’s mishandling of several key foreign policy issues ought to make Laborites pine for the old days. Brown has made clear his attempt to distance himself from Blair’s freedom agenda, appointing individuals like Mark Malloch Brown to key Foreign Office posts and deploying his international development secretary to Washington to warn against dependence on “military might.” Most ridiculous have been the British government’s secret attempts to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan—a rebel force conducting an insurgency against a coalition force comprising 8,000 British servicemen—allegations that Brown has denied. It’s hard not to agree with Gove’s conclusion:

And so Mr. Blair’s judgment has been vindicated on another issue as well—his succession. We can all understand now why he tried, for as long as possible, to avoid handing over power to his flawed No. 2.

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Huck’s (Mis)Calculated Flip-Flop

Mike Huckabee wants to have his cake and eat it too—because, after all, that’s what the people of Iowa deserve. The former Arkansas governor held a press conference to unveil the negative ad on Mitt Romney that he claimed he’s too decent to use. This laughably transparent bid to smear his competition (while demanding credit for not doing so) could be the undoing of a candidate whose tenuous popularity was built on charm.

Whatever appeal Huckabee had sprang from a certain unscripted innocence. His fans were drawn to a folksiness missing in all the gloss and hypercalculation of rival campaigns. Then when ultraglossy Mitt Romney shrank Huckabee’s lead, Huck decided to fight fire with fire. But he’s failed, and failed slickness is much worse than no slickness at all.

Now, his plucky one-liners and home-spun pronouncements grate more than ingratiate. And in trying to offer up this stunt as a populist gesture he attains pure parody: “I believe the people of Iowa deserve better, and we are going to try and give them better.”

One analyst said: “Iowans have a reputation for punishing politicians who go negative. The question is whether voters, particularly evangelicals who make up his political base, will believe Huckabee had the political equivalent of a deathbed conversion.”

Conversion? No. Deathbed? Very possibly. In defending his decision to pull the ad, Huckabee said, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” With days to go before the Iowa caucus, it’s doing the wrong thing that you have to look out for.

Mike Huckabee wants to have his cake and eat it too—because, after all, that’s what the people of Iowa deserve. The former Arkansas governor held a press conference to unveil the negative ad on Mitt Romney that he claimed he’s too decent to use. This laughably transparent bid to smear his competition (while demanding credit for not doing so) could be the undoing of a candidate whose tenuous popularity was built on charm.

Whatever appeal Huckabee had sprang from a certain unscripted innocence. His fans were drawn to a folksiness missing in all the gloss and hypercalculation of rival campaigns. Then when ultraglossy Mitt Romney shrank Huckabee’s lead, Huck decided to fight fire with fire. But he’s failed, and failed slickness is much worse than no slickness at all.

Now, his plucky one-liners and home-spun pronouncements grate more than ingratiate. And in trying to offer up this stunt as a populist gesture he attains pure parody: “I believe the people of Iowa deserve better, and we are going to try and give them better.”

One analyst said: “Iowans have a reputation for punishing politicians who go negative. The question is whether voters, particularly evangelicals who make up his political base, will believe Huckabee had the political equivalent of a deathbed conversion.”

Conversion? No. Deathbed? Very possibly. In defending his decision to pull the ad, Huckabee said, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” With days to go before the Iowa caucus, it’s doing the wrong thing that you have to look out for.

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Bring the Boys Home

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

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Edwards’s Obstinacy

It is truly astonishing how little adjustment leading Democrats have made in their rhetoric or policy prescriptions in light of the changing circumstances in Iraq. In this interview with the New York Times’s ace military correspondent, Michael Gordon, John Edwards pledges to remove virtually all U.S. troops, including trainers, from Iraq within ten months of assuming the presidency—exactly the kind of step that could undo all the progress that has been made in 2007.

Of course it’s unlikely that Edwards will ever occupy the White House. But he is one of the top three Democratic presidential candidates, so what he says is worth considering. And what he is saying is essentially what Democrats have been saying for the last couple of years. To wit: “I have never believed that there was a military solution in Iraq, don’t believe it today. I think the issue is how do you maximize the chances of achieving a political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia because I think that political reconciliation is the foundation for any long-term stability in Iraq.” (For more of Edwards’s pensées, see here.)

This is exactly the argument Democrats were making against the surge. Now the surge is succeeding, but they haven’t yet figured out a new argument, so they keep replaying the same old DVD.

By the way, if you want further evidence of how the surge is working, check out the latest casualty figures, which show that 23 American soldiers died in December, the second-smallest figure on record since the invasion began. (The runner-up was the month of February 2004 when 20 died.) Of course that news may be a little hard to find since it’s buried in news articles like this one, headlined “2007 Deadliest Year for U.S. Troops in Iraq.” The headline is accurate but misleading, since casualties have been falling precipitously over the past six months—ever since the surge started to take effect.

Why does it seem like not only some politicians but also some journalists are in a time-warp where signs of progress simply don’t register?

It is truly astonishing how little adjustment leading Democrats have made in their rhetoric or policy prescriptions in light of the changing circumstances in Iraq. In this interview with the New York Times’s ace military correspondent, Michael Gordon, John Edwards pledges to remove virtually all U.S. troops, including trainers, from Iraq within ten months of assuming the presidency—exactly the kind of step that could undo all the progress that has been made in 2007.

Of course it’s unlikely that Edwards will ever occupy the White House. But he is one of the top three Democratic presidential candidates, so what he says is worth considering. And what he is saying is essentially what Democrats have been saying for the last couple of years. To wit: “I have never believed that there was a military solution in Iraq, don’t believe it today. I think the issue is how do you maximize the chances of achieving a political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia because I think that political reconciliation is the foundation for any long-term stability in Iraq.” (For more of Edwards’s pensées, see here.)

This is exactly the argument Democrats were making against the surge. Now the surge is succeeding, but they haven’t yet figured out a new argument, so they keep replaying the same old DVD.

By the way, if you want further evidence of how the surge is working, check out the latest casualty figures, which show that 23 American soldiers died in December, the second-smallest figure on record since the invasion began. (The runner-up was the month of February 2004 when 20 died.) Of course that news may be a little hard to find since it’s buried in news articles like this one, headlined “2007 Deadliest Year for U.S. Troops in Iraq.” The headline is accurate but misleading, since casualties have been falling precipitously over the past six months—ever since the surge started to take effect.

Why does it seem like not only some politicians but also some journalists are in a time-warp where signs of progress simply don’t register?

Read Less

The Bloomberg Presidential Fantasy

With the coming of the New Year came major pieces in as all three New York papers on the growing possibility of an independent presidential big by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He will attend a confab next week in Oklahoma, hosted by former Democratic Senator and current University of Oklahoma chancellor David Boren that will include many prominent current and former politicians who claim deep frustration with the partisan polarization of the present moment — including lude one-time Sens. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and Chuck Robb, and one sitting Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

At lunch a few weeks ago, two prominent Democrats with long experience in electoral politics, both very sensible men not given to hysterical excitement, told me they they think he has a plausible chance of winning the presidency. This struck me as dumb-founding. After all, no independent has ever won the presidency. No independent candidate has even come remotely close to winning. So why would Bloomberg’s bid be different? The consultants said Americans have a profound sense that the political system is broken and that a candidate whose career transcends party and ideology — but who can make a strong case that he is a brilliant leader who gets things done — could bring something new to American politics.

It’s true Bloomberg, the 25th richest man in the United States, could bring something entirely new to politics, i.e., spending half a billion or more on his own candidacy. It’s hard to overestimate how attractive this makes him tos ome people who are intrigued by the possibility of a Bloomberg run, in part because they might actually personally profit by it. Who would pocket that half a billion anyway? A lot of it would go to consultants. Don’t think that’s not an element in the whispering campaign on Bloomberg’s behalf, because it very much is.

Otherwise, how to explain the theory whereby a Jewish billionaire liberal from New York who can claim to have managed New York City in an efficient but hardly inspired or inspiring fashion is the person to cause a revolution in American politics down to the cellular level? 

Here’s another possible reason: Bloomberg is thrilling to people because he’s nominally a Republican but actually a Democrat. Thus, he can gull foolish Republicans into believing he’s one of them while actually being one of us. Every one of the people who is gathering in Oklahoma next week has one thing in common: They were either Democrats who served in Republican states and therefore had to take on a more ambiguous coloration, or they were Republicans serving in Democratic states and had to do the same. They are all social liberals, but some of them have a dash of rightward-leaning thinking — a dislike of deficit spending, say, or a more hawkish bent — they sprinkle on their liberalism like tabasco on eggs. It’s no wonder Bloomberg has become their deus ex machina. He shares with them a passionate love for and worship of of his own political positioning, the conviction that there is something inherently superior about a person who stands at a remove from ideological conflict.

What’s hard to understand about the Bloomberg fantasy is the assertion that the nation needs someone like him. The past four national elections have seen a startling increase in the level of engagement on the part of voters, with turnout rising to historic levels in 2000, only to rise 22 percent higher in 2004. This indicates not a withdrawal from politics because of a disgust with the possible choices, but the opposite. And the results reflect that. The midterm elections in 2002 and 2006 saw voters making clear ideological and practical distinctions between candidates and parties, to the benefit of Republicans in 2002 and to the benefit of Democrats in 2006. Washington’s fractious divide between Right and Left is a mark not of a failure in the system, but is a fair reflection of the nation’s divided political reality.

Obviously, voters get angry. They were angry about the Iraq war from two directions — people on the Left because we were fighting it in the first place and people on the Right because we weren’t winning it. They don’t like the behavior of Washington politicians. But they do see to it that things change when they get upset. Selling the White House to a billionaire whose sole promise is that he won’t make anybody too angry is not an answer to what ails us. My guess is that Bloomberg is smart enough to understand this.

With the coming of the New Year came major pieces in as all three New York papers on the growing possibility of an independent presidential big by the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg. He will attend a confab next week in Oklahoma, hosted by former Democratic Senator and current University of Oklahoma chancellor David Boren that will include many prominent current and former politicians who claim deep frustration with the partisan polarization of the present moment — including lude one-time Sens. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and Chuck Robb, and one sitting Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

At lunch a few weeks ago, two prominent Democrats with long experience in electoral politics, both very sensible men not given to hysterical excitement, told me they they think he has a plausible chance of winning the presidency. This struck me as dumb-founding. After all, no independent has ever won the presidency. No independent candidate has even come remotely close to winning. So why would Bloomberg’s bid be different? The consultants said Americans have a profound sense that the political system is broken and that a candidate whose career transcends party and ideology — but who can make a strong case that he is a brilliant leader who gets things done — could bring something new to American politics.

It’s true Bloomberg, the 25th richest man in the United States, could bring something entirely new to politics, i.e., spending half a billion or more on his own candidacy. It’s hard to overestimate how attractive this makes him tos ome people who are intrigued by the possibility of a Bloomberg run, in part because they might actually personally profit by it. Who would pocket that half a billion anyway? A lot of it would go to consultants. Don’t think that’s not an element in the whispering campaign on Bloomberg’s behalf, because it very much is.

Otherwise, how to explain the theory whereby a Jewish billionaire liberal from New York who can claim to have managed New York City in an efficient but hardly inspired or inspiring fashion is the person to cause a revolution in American politics down to the cellular level? 

Here’s another possible reason: Bloomberg is thrilling to people because he’s nominally a Republican but actually a Democrat. Thus, he can gull foolish Republicans into believing he’s one of them while actually being one of us. Every one of the people who is gathering in Oklahoma next week has one thing in common: They were either Democrats who served in Republican states and therefore had to take on a more ambiguous coloration, or they were Republicans serving in Democratic states and had to do the same. They are all social liberals, but some of them have a dash of rightward-leaning thinking — a dislike of deficit spending, say, or a more hawkish bent — they sprinkle on their liberalism like tabasco on eggs. It’s no wonder Bloomberg has become their deus ex machina. He shares with them a passionate love for and worship of of his own political positioning, the conviction that there is something inherently superior about a person who stands at a remove from ideological conflict.

What’s hard to understand about the Bloomberg fantasy is the assertion that the nation needs someone like him. The past four national elections have seen a startling increase in the level of engagement on the part of voters, with turnout rising to historic levels in 2000, only to rise 22 percent higher in 2004. This indicates not a withdrawal from politics because of a disgust with the possible choices, but the opposite. And the results reflect that. The midterm elections in 2002 and 2006 saw voters making clear ideological and practical distinctions between candidates and parties, to the benefit of Republicans in 2002 and to the benefit of Democrats in 2006. Washington’s fractious divide between Right and Left is a mark not of a failure in the system, but is a fair reflection of the nation’s divided political reality.

Obviously, voters get angry. They were angry about the Iraq war from two directions — people on the Left because we were fighting it in the first place and people on the Right because we weren’t winning it. They don’t like the behavior of Washington politicians. But they do see to it that things change when they get upset. Selling the White House to a billionaire whose sole promise is that he won’t make anybody too angry is not an answer to what ails us. My guess is that Bloomberg is smart enough to understand this.

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Now Playing: Egypt and Iran

It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

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It seems as though Iran is making new inroads with key Arab states almost every few days. Three weeks ago, I wrote that Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie had called for a regional security pact that would include Iran, while I noted on Monday that Libya—which is slowly achieving normalization with western states—had signed ten agreements with Iran and supported the Iranian nuclear position. But Iran’s ever-expanding role in the Middle East got a major boost yesterday, when Ali Larijani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was welcomed in Egypt. Fully normalized Egyptian-Iranian relations—nonexistent since Cairo signed peace with Israel in 1979—appear imminent.

To some extent, revamped Iranian-Egyptian relations have been expected for some time. In 2004, Iran renamed a street in Tehran that it had previously dedicated to Anwar Sadat assassin Khaled Islambouli—a glorified “martyr” in Iran—thus dropping a critical sticking point between the two states. But yesterday’s meeting went well beyond typical diplomatic pleasantries: Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit announced his support for Iran’s nuclear activities and called for continued Egyptian-Iranian dialogue on regional issues, including Iraq and Lebanon.

For Egypt, these statements represent a stunning change of tune. In recent years, Egypt has been a key Arab opponent of regional Iranian ascendancy, lambasting Iranian-backed Hizballah for its actions during the 2006 Lebanon war, and supporting the Annapolis conference as an antidote to Iranian hegemony. Yet within Iran’s sphere of influence, Abul-Gheit’s comments were true crowd-pleasers, with Hizballah leader Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah gleefully declaring that improved Iranian-Egyptian relations “would help protect Muslim countries against major threats,” including those emanating from “the U.S. and the Zionist regime.” Meanwhile, Iran offered to help Egypt develop nuclear technology, crossing a major red line as far as U.S.-Egyptian relations are concerned.

The key footnote to this sudden Iranian-Egyptian engagement is the recent souring of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Last month, Israel showed U.S. officials a tape of Egyptian police officers aiding weapons smugglers crossing into Gaza, and Congress immediately threatened to withhold Egyptian military aid. Abul-Gheit first blamed the pro-Israel lobby for the impasse, then threatened “diplomatic retaliation” if Israel pursued Egypt’s alleged role in weapons smuggling further.

Of course, with President Bush set to touch down in Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, mending Israeli-Egyptian relations is the last thing with which the administration hoped to be dealing. Yet much of what Bush hopes to accomplish in the Middle East before leaving office—particularly Israeli-Palestinian peace and Iranian isolation—depends on keeping this relationship stable. The good news is that Bush will also visit Cairo. Asking the Mubarak regime to explain its recent tryst with Iran should top that agenda.

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The First (Bad) News of 2008

For weeks, we have known that the first news of 2008 would be unwelcome. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il’s North Korea did not disappoint. Pyongyang has, as expected, failed to complete the disablement of its sole working reactor in Yongbyon and, more importantly, to provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs, both of which it agreed to do by December 31st as initial steps toward giving up its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“The declaration is critical,” said Tom Casey, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, on Monday. “This has to be full and complete and that’s why, I think, this is taking extra time.” No, Mr. Casey, North Korea’s declaration is not delayed because Kim Jong Il wants to make sure his accounting to the international community is accurate and comprehensive. On the contrary, Pyongyang is trying to convince the United States that it possesses only 66 pounds of plutonium when it should have about 110. Moreover, the North Koreans maintain they have no uranium nuclear weapons program when there is substantial evidence to the contrary. The latest indication of the existence of such an effort surfaced late last month when it was reported that the United States had discovered traces of enriched uranium on aluminum tubing that the North Koreans had supplied to American investigators as part of the disarmament effort. The tubes, purchased from Russia in June 2002, are of the type used for the outer casings for centrifuges, which enrich uranium for bomb cores.

Instead of cooperating with the international community, North Korea in the last few days has lashed out, especially at the United States, in an apparent effort to excuse its noncompliance. Among other things, Pyongyang accused Washington of plans to attack the North. “The reality testifies once again that there is no change in the U.S. intention to invade us with force and occupy the whole of Korea,” the Communist nation said. “Dialogue and war attempts can’t stand together.”

Washington’s reaction to North Korea’s failure to honor its disarmament obligations has been mild. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it,” said the White House’s Scott Stanzel on Monday. Well, Scott, let me fill you in on a little history: there was already a timeline and North Korea has fallen woefully behind. And you’re missing the more pertinent point—it is impossible to disarm North Korea with indulgence. Kim Jong Il has apparently made the critical decision to keep his nuclear weapons programs. I can understand why he wants to retain his nukes, but I can’t comprehend why the Bush administration won’t see what is apparent to everyone else. It’s time, Scott, to stop playing make believe with Pyongyang.

For weeks, we have known that the first news of 2008 would be unwelcome. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il’s North Korea did not disappoint. Pyongyang has, as expected, failed to complete the disablement of its sole working reactor in Yongbyon and, more importantly, to provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs, both of which it agreed to do by December 31st as initial steps toward giving up its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“The declaration is critical,” said Tom Casey, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, on Monday. “This has to be full and complete and that’s why, I think, this is taking extra time.” No, Mr. Casey, North Korea’s declaration is not delayed because Kim Jong Il wants to make sure his accounting to the international community is accurate and comprehensive. On the contrary, Pyongyang is trying to convince the United States that it possesses only 66 pounds of plutonium when it should have about 110. Moreover, the North Koreans maintain they have no uranium nuclear weapons program when there is substantial evidence to the contrary. The latest indication of the existence of such an effort surfaced late last month when it was reported that the United States had discovered traces of enriched uranium on aluminum tubing that the North Koreans had supplied to American investigators as part of the disarmament effort. The tubes, purchased from Russia in June 2002, are of the type used for the outer casings for centrifuges, which enrich uranium for bomb cores.

Instead of cooperating with the international community, North Korea in the last few days has lashed out, especially at the United States, in an apparent effort to excuse its noncompliance. Among other things, Pyongyang accused Washington of plans to attack the North. “The reality testifies once again that there is no change in the U.S. intention to invade us with force and occupy the whole of Korea,” the Communist nation said. “Dialogue and war attempts can’t stand together.”

Washington’s reaction to North Korea’s failure to honor its disarmament obligations has been mild. “I’m not going to put a timeline on it,” said the White House’s Scott Stanzel on Monday. Well, Scott, let me fill you in on a little history: there was already a timeline and North Korea has fallen woefully behind. And you’re missing the more pertinent point—it is impossible to disarm North Korea with indulgence. Kim Jong Il has apparently made the critical decision to keep his nuclear weapons programs. I can understand why he wants to retain his nukes, but I can’t comprehend why the Bush administration won’t see what is apparent to everyone else. It’s time, Scott, to stop playing make believe with Pyongyang.

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Overlawyered in (ahem) Contention

For victory in the American Bar Association’s best law blog contest, that is. Walter Olson, of the Manhattan Institute, started overlawyered as a way of documenting the excesses of trial lawyers in our increasingly litigious society. The blog has since become a cult hit, within the legal community and without, while performing an invaluable service. They need your help to win. You can vote for them here (scroll down a bit and you’ll see where) and learn more about the contest here. Best of luck, guys!

For victory in the American Bar Association’s best law blog contest, that is. Walter Olson, of the Manhattan Institute, started overlawyered as a way of documenting the excesses of trial lawyers in our increasingly litigious society. The blog has since become a cult hit, within the legal community and without, while performing an invaluable service. They need your help to win. You can vote for them here (scroll down a bit and you’ll see where) and learn more about the contest here. Best of luck, guys!

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Bin Laden’s Year-End Whimper

In a year-end audiotape Osama bin Laden reportedly scolds Iraq’s Sunnis for turning on al Qaeda, and threatens to ramp up violence in the Palestinian territories. The world’s most wanted man also calls on Muslims to stand by a phantom:

Bin Laden said Sunnis should pledge their allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the little known “emir” or leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. U.S. officials have claimed that al-Baghdadi does not exist, saying Al Qaeda created the name to give its coalition the illusion of an Iraqi leadership.

It wasn’t long ago that the coming of the new year spelled elevated threat levels from Homeland Security and genuine fear in the hearts of Americans. Now, after six years of having the fight brought to them, all al Qaeda can muster is a tape-recorded finger wag. The fact is that the big story about Times Square this New Year’s eve was portable toilets, not bomb-detectors.

None of which is to say that victory over al Qaeda is complete. The gains made by the U.S. in the fight against Islamofascism are fragile. American troops have paid an enormous price for putting al Qaeda on the run, but as we saw in Pakistan last week, it takes just one thug to derail progress. Fortunately, momentum in Iraq and the increasing Muslim condemnation of suicide bombing make it clear that bin Laden is a thug whose influence is waning. His suspicious “help wanted” ads reek of desperation.
As for Israel, it should no longer be a secret that Palestinian terror is rank bin Ladenism decked out in nationalist threads. Whether or not Osama’s boilerplate threats portend coming attacks, Gaza’s increasing operational capabilities (courtesy of Syria and Iran) have raised the stakes. In 2008 every resource must be marshaled to stomp out Hamas in much the same way that the U.S. has marginalized al Qaeda over the past six years.

In a year-end audiotape Osama bin Laden reportedly scolds Iraq’s Sunnis for turning on al Qaeda, and threatens to ramp up violence in the Palestinian territories. The world’s most wanted man also calls on Muslims to stand by a phantom:

Bin Laden said Sunnis should pledge their allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the little known “emir” or leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. U.S. officials have claimed that al-Baghdadi does not exist, saying Al Qaeda created the name to give its coalition the illusion of an Iraqi leadership.

It wasn’t long ago that the coming of the new year spelled elevated threat levels from Homeland Security and genuine fear in the hearts of Americans. Now, after six years of having the fight brought to them, all al Qaeda can muster is a tape-recorded finger wag. The fact is that the big story about Times Square this New Year’s eve was portable toilets, not bomb-detectors.

None of which is to say that victory over al Qaeda is complete. The gains made by the U.S. in the fight against Islamofascism are fragile. American troops have paid an enormous price for putting al Qaeda on the run, but as we saw in Pakistan last week, it takes just one thug to derail progress. Fortunately, momentum in Iraq and the increasing Muslim condemnation of suicide bombing make it clear that bin Laden is a thug whose influence is waning. His suspicious “help wanted” ads reek of desperation.
As for Israel, it should no longer be a secret that Palestinian terror is rank bin Ladenism decked out in nationalist threads. Whether or not Osama’s boilerplate threats portend coming attacks, Gaza’s increasing operational capabilities (courtesy of Syria and Iran) have raised the stakes. In 2008 every resource must be marshaled to stomp out Hamas in much the same way that the U.S. has marginalized al Qaeda over the past six years.

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