Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 16, 2008

McCain Conservatism

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

I just got off a conference a call with a feisty John McCain in South Carolina. The big news in his campaign is today’s endorsement by Senator Tom Coburn. Coburn’s sterling conservative credentials may help McCain get some votes among the fiscal and social conservatives who’ve had their doubts. (The ones who call for his head are another story.) It will certainly enhance McCain’s ability to further blur his version of conservatism with that of the staunch ideologues in his party.

In reviewing Romney’s Michigan win, he cited the hometown angle and the fact that he refused to promise people the return of their old jobs. Here one sees, as John Podhoretz put it in contentions last night, McCain’s “political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude.”

A questioner challenged the Senator on his 2006 recommendation of James Baker as Middle East peace envoy. McCain took the question as a cheap shot on his support for Israel. The Senator briskly stated that he respects Baker while disagreeing with him on various points, and that he stands on his own decades-long record as a friend of Israel.

Things turned a bit revelatory when the Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb asked McCain about his environmental stand. The Senator offered the boilerplate “most scientists etc. . .” but I was surprised and relieved to hear that he considers the question of climate-change severity an open one. I’m eager to see John McCain’s self-confessed truth addiction keep him on point when this comes up in the public arena. He could use some distance between himself and the global warming alarmists on the Left. Things got combative when Goldfarb questioned McCain’s support for a cap-and-trade emissions approach as opposed to a carbon tax. The Senator launched into a hearty defense of cap-and-trade as the obvious free market conservative’s choice. What’s interesting about Senator McCain among all the frontrunners is his detractors have meticulously highlighted his weak spots for him. With targets painted, it’s now a race to cover up before the shots ring out.

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The Road Map: 2003-2008

The Road Map is officially dead. Its cause of death: the Bush administration’s impatience. In a stunningly frank statement to the Washington Times, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begrudged the Road Map’s “sequentiality,” according to which the cessation of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli settlement-building were prerequisites for final status negotiations. “You don’t want people to get hung up on settlement activity or the fact that the Palestinians haven’t fully been able to deal with the terrorist infrastructure and prevent that from moving forward on the negotiations,” Rice said.

In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby lambasted Rice’s statements, arguing that they marked the end of the Bush doctrine:

In its hunger for Arab support against Iran – and perhaps in a quest for a historic “legacy” – the administration has dropped “with us or with the terrorists.” It is hellbent instead on bestowing statehood upon a regime that stands unequivocally with the terrorists. “Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Rice says.

Though Jacoby seems to forget that it’s Iran—and not Abbas’ current government—that “stands unequivocally with the terrorists,” he is right to confront Rice’s apparent A.D.D. After all, the Road Map was only launched once it became abundantly clear that countering Palestinian terrorism and final status negotiations could not be done “in parallel,” as Rice suggests—a historical detail that the Secretary has sadly forgotten.

Yet, as far as Israelis and Palestinians concerned, Rice’s sudden memory lapse will hardly matter. In the aftermath of President Bush’s recent trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, tensions have flared. Today, Palestinian militants fired 40 rockets from Gaza, while Israel has killed 24 Palestinians, including seven civilians, in the past two days. In short, the death of the Road Map has no consequence for Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, which have always been modest and remain so.

But as far as American credibility is concerned, Rice’s statements do not bode well. Indeed, if the sudden push for Israeli-Palestinian peace is really all about building a broad coalition against Iran, Rice’s dismissal of the Road Map—which was supported by the U.N., E.U., and Russia after much arm-twisting—is truly counterintuitive. Moreover, what kind of message does it send when the Secretary of State kills her own administration’s peace plan because she finds the first steps too challenging?

The Road Map is officially dead. Its cause of death: the Bush administration’s impatience. In a stunningly frank statement to the Washington Times, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begrudged the Road Map’s “sequentiality,” according to which the cessation of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli settlement-building were prerequisites for final status negotiations. “You don’t want people to get hung up on settlement activity or the fact that the Palestinians haven’t fully been able to deal with the terrorist infrastructure and prevent that from moving forward on the negotiations,” Rice said.

In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby lambasted Rice’s statements, arguing that they marked the end of the Bush doctrine:

In its hunger for Arab support against Iran – and perhaps in a quest for a historic “legacy” – the administration has dropped “with us or with the terrorists.” It is hellbent instead on bestowing statehood upon a regime that stands unequivocally with the terrorists. “Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Rice says.

Though Jacoby seems to forget that it’s Iran—and not Abbas’ current government—that “stands unequivocally with the terrorists,” he is right to confront Rice’s apparent A.D.D. After all, the Road Map was only launched once it became abundantly clear that countering Palestinian terrorism and final status negotiations could not be done “in parallel,” as Rice suggests—a historical detail that the Secretary has sadly forgotten.

Yet, as far as Israelis and Palestinians concerned, Rice’s sudden memory lapse will hardly matter. In the aftermath of President Bush’s recent trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, tensions have flared. Today, Palestinian militants fired 40 rockets from Gaza, while Israel has killed 24 Palestinians, including seven civilians, in the past two days. In short, the death of the Road Map has no consequence for Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, which have always been modest and remain so.

But as far as American credibility is concerned, Rice’s statements do not bode well. Indeed, if the sudden push for Israeli-Palestinian peace is really all about building a broad coalition against Iran, Rice’s dismissal of the Road Map—which was supported by the U.N., E.U., and Russia after much arm-twisting—is truly counterintuitive. Moreover, what kind of message does it send when the Secretary of State kills her own administration’s peace plan because she finds the first steps too challenging?

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Ron Paul’s Real Politics: The Case of Daniel Larison

One of the benefits of spending the past couple of weeks tracking down and reading Ron Paul’s old newsletters, interviewing his past and present associates and boning up on the history of libertarianism in America (see Reason editor Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, which I recommend) was learning about the strange history of libertarians and paleoconservatives (also explored today by Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez of Reason).

Daniel Larison is a prominent fixture in paleoconservative circles. He writes a regular column for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine and contributes to Buchanan crony Taki Theodoracopulos’s website. He also writes for the popular right-of-center blog The American Scene and is often cited by mainstream political bloggers and publications, including my own. He is no doubt an eloquent proponent of the paleoconservative cause.

He happens, in addition, to be a member in good standing (at least until 2005, when he celebrated ten years of membership) of the League of the South. A little background on the League of the South, which is the most prominent neo-Confederate group in America. The League describes itself as a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic” and “encourage[s] individuals and families to personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America.” For more on this merry band of would-be traitors, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2000 report on the League, which SPLC labeled a “hate group.”

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One of the benefits of spending the past couple of weeks tracking down and reading Ron Paul’s old newsletters, interviewing his past and present associates and boning up on the history of libertarianism in America (see Reason editor Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, which I recommend) was learning about the strange history of libertarians and paleoconservatives (also explored today by Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez of Reason).

Daniel Larison is a prominent fixture in paleoconservative circles. He writes a regular column for Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine and contributes to Buchanan crony Taki Theodoracopulos’s website. He also writes for the popular right-of-center blog The American Scene and is often cited by mainstream political bloggers and publications, including my own. He is no doubt an eloquent proponent of the paleoconservative cause.

He happens, in addition, to be a member in good standing (at least until 2005, when he celebrated ten years of membership) of the League of the South. A little background on the League of the South, which is the most prominent neo-Confederate group in America. The League describes itself as a “Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic” and “encourage[s] individuals and families to personally secede from the corrupt and corrupting influence of post-Christian culture in America.” For more on this merry band of would-be traitors, see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2000 report on the League, which SPLC labeled a “hate group.”

Larison was stirred to write about his membership in the League after reading Commentary and contentions contributor Max Boot’s review of the pro-Confederate Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, the book Ron Paul recently blurbed. Larison challenges, shockingly, both Boot’s citizenship bona fides and his loyalty, writing of “the first-generation American (and I apply the term here very loosely) Boot.” Such charges of disloyalty, particularly against Jews (I have no idea if Max is Jewish, though he is a neoconservative, and there exists no such distinction for paleocons) is a common trope in paleoconservative polemics and Larison’s is no exception.

Larison’s open nostalgia for the Confederacy is a marvel to behold. While deriding the “freethinking, Yankee spirit and empire that has gone on to devastate so many other societies” he reveres “the humane and decent civilisation of the South that took root in the Southland.” As with most teary-eyed Confederate apologists, he makes no mention whatsoever of that “humane” civilization’s most inhumane practice, referring obliquely only to the fact that the Confederate-era South “was never without flaws.” And it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army who fought to restore America to its founding principles, but those who joined the internal rebellion against the United States, men “who rose to defend, first by the pen and oration and then by the sword, the true political inheritance of the Republic” (emphasis added).

If you can stomach it, read his last paragraph:

The defeat of the Confederacy, though the Confederate political experiment does not exhaust the richness of Southern culture and identity, was a defining moment when the United States took its steps towards the abyss of the monstrous centralised state, rootless society and decadent culture that we have today. In sum, the Confederacy represented much of the Old America that was swept away, and with it went everything meaningful about the constitutional republican system, and the degeneration of that system in the next hundred years was the logical and ultimately unstoppable result of Lincoln’s victory. All of this is in recognition that we are beholden to our ancestors for who we are, and we honour and remember their struggles and accomplishments not only because they can be established as reasonable, good and true but because they are the struggles and accomplishments of our people, who have made this land ours and sanctified it with their blood in defense against the wanton aggression of a barbarous tyranny.

A 1988 edition of the Ron Paul Political Report put this idea much more succinctly:

Beginning with the Civil War and continuing to the present day, advocates of big government have sought to transfer the American people’s loyalty away from Constitutional liberty and to the government.

Larison’s neoconfederate sympathies form a crucial component of the “Old Right” tradition from which Ron Paul emerges. Indeed, the notion that this man is a “libertarian” is laughable; he is an equal mix of the paranoid nativism of Ross Perot, the conspiracy theorizing of Lyndon LaRouche, and the crude populism of Pat Buchanan.

Readers may recall that during the 2000 presidential election, John McCain got himself into serious trouble for far more tenuous ties to neo-Confederates, ties that were also exposed thanks to an article in The New Republic. It’s not my intention to play Kosher Cop (apologies to Larison for using such an un-American word, but my paymasters in Tel Aviv enforce a very strict quota) for the conservative movement. And of course, diversity of political opinion — Larison provides immoderate commentary in spades — is vital in any democracy. But it is inexplicable to me how respectable conservatives make room for views as repellent and noxious as these.

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The Fab Four Speak

Yesterday, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn repeated their arguments for complete nuclear disarmament in the Wall Street Journal. “With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous,” they write.

In this judgment the Fab Four of geopolitics are undoubtedly correct. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully deterred the other with mutual threats of annihilation. Today, we do not have a bipolar international system or even generally symmetric relations between ourselves and our adversaries. Dictators and autocrats seeking the ultimate weapon have big-power sponsors—China and Russia—and seem to believe they face weak and divided leaders in America and Europe. Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the West as to the nature of present nuclear threats or the means to deal with them. All this means that we cannot risk everything on the assumption that yesterday’s concepts of deterrence apply to today’s situation.

This argument is the intellectual foundation for the disarmament proposal made by Messrs. Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn. Yet it is, coincidentally, also the best reason for the use of force. In both North Korea and Iran we face nations led by hard men who might not be amenable to Western notions of persuasion or reason and may, in some circumstances, be unafraid of the prospect of massive death.

As Kim Jong Il, the generally unpredictable leader of North Korea once said, “If we lose, I will destroy the world.” And we all have read the millennial notions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad propagates. When it comes to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, we should all listen to the wisdom of the oft-ridiculed Dan Quayle. “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history,” he once said.

How we deal with really weird leaders of very dangerous states will depend on the exigencies of the moment, of course. Yet when we consider our options, we should remember that we got into today’s perilous situation by adopting middle-of-the-road measures and accepting unpromising compromises. Therefore, enduring solutions may come only from the extremes of the political spectrum. Whatever one may think of the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn proposal, it is a suggestion that will take decades to implement. In the meantime, we may have to accept their assumptions and be willing to disarm rogues the old fashioned way—by force.

Yesterday, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn repeated their arguments for complete nuclear disarmament in the Wall Street Journal. “With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous,” they write.

In this judgment the Fab Four of geopolitics are undoubtedly correct. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union successfully deterred the other with mutual threats of annihilation. Today, we do not have a bipolar international system or even generally symmetric relations between ourselves and our adversaries. Dictators and autocrats seeking the ultimate weapon have big-power sponsors—China and Russia—and seem to believe they face weak and divided leaders in America and Europe. Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the West as to the nature of present nuclear threats or the means to deal with them. All this means that we cannot risk everything on the assumption that yesterday’s concepts of deterrence apply to today’s situation.

This argument is the intellectual foundation for the disarmament proposal made by Messrs. Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn. Yet it is, coincidentally, also the best reason for the use of force. In both North Korea and Iran we face nations led by hard men who might not be amenable to Western notions of persuasion or reason and may, in some circumstances, be unafraid of the prospect of massive death.

As Kim Jong Il, the generally unpredictable leader of North Korea once said, “If we lose, I will destroy the world.” And we all have read the millennial notions that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad propagates. When it comes to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, we should all listen to the wisdom of the oft-ridiculed Dan Quayle. “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history,” he once said.

How we deal with really weird leaders of very dangerous states will depend on the exigencies of the moment, of course. Yet when we consider our options, we should remember that we got into today’s perilous situation by adopting middle-of-the-road measures and accepting unpromising compromises. Therefore, enduring solutions may come only from the extremes of the political spectrum. Whatever one may think of the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn proposal, it is a suggestion that will take decades to implement. In the meantime, we may have to accept their assumptions and be willing to disarm rogues the old fashioned way—by force.

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Huckabee’s Further Flip-Flopping

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

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Bill Kristol is Worse Than a Poisonous Mushroom

A reader of Connecting the Dots by the name of “Soccer Dad” has made a noteworthy point about the opposition of Clark Hoyt, the Times‘s ombudsman, to the appointment of Bill Kristol as a columnist.

It’s interesting that Hoyt greeted Kristol with such a lack of enthusiasm. When it came to giving the representative of a terrorist organization op-ed space, he endorsed the idea wholeheartedly.

Soccer Dad is referring to a column Hoyt wrote after the Times invited Ahmed Yousef, a spokesman for Hamas, to grace the newspaper’s op-ed page. Hoyt wondered aloud back then if there are some groups or causes so odious they should be ruled off the page?” Hoyt’s answer:

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

What logical inferences can be drawn from Hoyt’s opposition to Kristol and his welcome to Ahmed Yousef?

Are Kristol’s ideas perceived by Hoyt as more odious than those of a terrorist, more lethal even than a poisonous mushroom, so potent that they won’t even wither in the sunshine? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

 

 

 

A reader of Connecting the Dots by the name of “Soccer Dad” has made a noteworthy point about the opposition of Clark Hoyt, the Times‘s ombudsman, to the appointment of Bill Kristol as a columnist.

It’s interesting that Hoyt greeted Kristol with such a lack of enthusiasm. When it came to giving the representative of a terrorist organization op-ed space, he endorsed the idea wholeheartedly.

Soccer Dad is referring to a column Hoyt wrote after the Times invited Ahmed Yousef, a spokesman for Hamas, to grace the newspaper’s op-ed page. Hoyt wondered aloud back then if there are some groups or causes so odious they should be ruled off the page?” Hoyt’s answer:

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

What logical inferences can be drawn from Hoyt’s opposition to Kristol and his welcome to Ahmed Yousef?

Are Kristol’s ideas perceived by Hoyt as more odious than those of a terrorist, more lethal even than a poisonous mushroom, so potent that they won’t even wither in the sunshine? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

 

 

 

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A Race to the Bottom

On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

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On Saturday the Iraqi parliament passed the “Accountability and Justice Law,” which is intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to return to civil service jobs. While the details of the law need to be studied carefully, this appears to be precisely the kind of political reconciliation Democrats have been calling for, and its passage undermines one of their chief arguments against pursuing the conflict in Iraq to a favorable conclusion: the surge, while militarily effective, must be deemed a failure because we have witnessed no political progress.

This view has been contradicted by the “bottom up” reconciliation that has been taking place throughout most of 2007. Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, has said that reconciliation is more than national legislation. It’s also what we’re seeing in the provinces around Iraq – and there we are seeing more cross-sectarian political activity. Nevertheless, it’s true that the central government has been far too inflexible and unyielding when it comes to taking steps to unify Iraq. Yet even that appears to be changing. As Secretary Rice said yesterday, “When I hear that the surge was to give the Iraqi people a chance for political reconciliation, I say that’s absolutely right. And while it hasn’t always moved as fast as some of us sitting in Washington would like, it has certainly moved.”

What we are seeing in Iraq is a struggling Arab democracy—the words were once a contradiction—evolve and grow. And while that evolution has been slow and imperfect, as was America’s, it is something we should be encouraged by and build on.

The top three Democratic contenders for President, however, see things quite differently. During last night’s debate in Las Vegas, they were asked about Iraq. One might have hoped that the events of the last year and of the last week might lead them to reassess their unbending commitment to prematurely withdraw American troops from Iraq. One might have hoped that new evidence would lead them to draw new conclusions and draw up new plans.

Not a chance.

Last night Senator Obama proudly declared, “I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.” He added, “My first job as president of the United States is going to be to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, you’ve got a new mission, and that is to responsibly, carefully but deliberately start to phase out our involvement there, and to make sure that we are putting the onus on the Iraqi government to come together and do what they need to do to arrive at peace… I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there—I will end the war as we understand it in combat missions.”

Senator Clinton put it this way: “I’m on record as saying exactly that as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.”

And John Edwards, never to be outdone when it comes to embracing an irresponsible policy, said this: “I think I’ve actually, among the three of us, been the most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president of the United States. I will end combat missions and while I’m president, there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq.”

No combat troops, no permanent bases, no nothing. The Democratic position seems to be that we will simply wipe our hands of this unpopular war, come what may.

What is completely missing from the Democratic stance is the importance, and even the possibility, of a decent outcome in Iraq. One increasingly gets the sense that they view progress in Iraq as an annoyance, something that may prove to be an obstacle to their efforts. More and more Obama, Clinton, Edwards and their allies on Capitol Hill appear as if they are characters in the movie Ground Hog Day. Like Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors, they find themselves stuck in time. But Democrats find themselves stuck not on a particular day but in a particular year, 2006—and they are seemingly unable or unwilling to process the progress we have seen in 2007. They cannot even entertain the possibility that a nation that was in a death spiral is not being reconstituted.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are in a state of denial—and their apparently willingness, and even eagerness, to undermine all we have achieved in Iraq in order to maintain an ideological commitment is intellectually dishonest and reckless. If a Democrat wins in November, the best we can hope for is that the positions they are espousing now are merely cynical and not serious. We should be able to hope for more.

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Here Comes The Clinton Love

It didn’t take long for Bill Clinton to get his wish. The media is now bathing Hillary in the delirious adoration of which she’d been deprived during the Obama surge. If tears brought her to “likeable enough,” most everyone now seems to agree with Barack Obama when last night he pronounced Hillary “plenty likable.” Tim Russert had barely signed off before commentators began complimenting Hillary on taking the high road, taking control—in short, taking the debate. The first story to pop up on my Google News home page was entitled “Clinton Shines in Vegas.”

I think I saw the wrong debate. I saw the one in which both front-runners spent the first twenty-minutes to a half-hour in saccharine deference to each other, then about ten minutes in a shared state of wistful misgivings, and then divided the rest of the time between blaming their hirelings and splitting the hairs on their nearly identical policies. In fact, among the only things that did stick out in this blameless love-fest was the bristling calculation that seems lodged forever in Hillary’s throat—no matter what she says. Alessandra Stanley unintentionally nailed it in today’s New York Times when she described Hillary’s “using niceness like an ice pick.”

Yet, everyone’s been happily gouged. And she’s earning praise for the not-so-niceness, too. She said, “President Bush is over in the Gulf now begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic.” Instead of being called out as the over-the-line trash-talking that it is, this declaration is now hailed as Hillary’s crowning moment.

Calling the President pathetic while overseas goes several steps beyond describing his “bunker mentality.” But then, Mike Huckabee, cherished as he was, isn’t a Clinton.

It didn’t take long for Bill Clinton to get his wish. The media is now bathing Hillary in the delirious adoration of which she’d been deprived during the Obama surge. If tears brought her to “likeable enough,” most everyone now seems to agree with Barack Obama when last night he pronounced Hillary “plenty likable.” Tim Russert had barely signed off before commentators began complimenting Hillary on taking the high road, taking control—in short, taking the debate. The first story to pop up on my Google News home page was entitled “Clinton Shines in Vegas.”

I think I saw the wrong debate. I saw the one in which both front-runners spent the first twenty-minutes to a half-hour in saccharine deference to each other, then about ten minutes in a shared state of wistful misgivings, and then divided the rest of the time between blaming their hirelings and splitting the hairs on their nearly identical policies. In fact, among the only things that did stick out in this blameless love-fest was the bristling calculation that seems lodged forever in Hillary’s throat—no matter what she says. Alessandra Stanley unintentionally nailed it in today’s New York Times when she described Hillary’s “using niceness like an ice pick.”

Yet, everyone’s been happily gouged. And she’s earning praise for the not-so-niceness, too. She said, “President Bush is over in the Gulf now begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic.” Instead of being called out as the over-the-line trash-talking that it is, this declaration is now hailed as Hillary’s crowning moment.

Calling the President pathetic while overseas goes several steps beyond describing his “bunker mentality.” But then, Mike Huckabee, cherished as he was, isn’t a Clinton.

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Cheaper by the Dozen

Dan Murphy, a Christian Science Monitor reporter, files a piece from Gaza City improbably titled “Fertilizer, frustration fuel Gaza’s rockets.” One can’t come down too harshly on Murphy himself for the brazen stupidity of the title of his piece, as it was likely written by his (brazenly stupid) editor. But one can have a laugh at something Murphy writes in the piece itself, about the rocket fire from Gaza:

it has killed few Israelis but has traumatized communities near the border, particularly the town of Sderot, which has been hit dozens of times in recent years.

Actually, as anyone who even occasionally stumbles upon the news from Israel knows, Sderot has been hit thousands of times in recent years (by the New York Timesconservative estimate, 2,000 hits in the past four years; most tallies I’ve seen are much higher). It is impossible to believe that Murphy, who covers Gaza for the CSM, doesn’t know this. Sderot is sometimes the recipient of dozens of rockets on a single day–like today, for example. As I write this, at around 9:30 AM in Israel, Sderot and its environs have already been hit by close to 30 rockets.

UPDATE: Soccer Dad points us to a blogger, Elder of Zion, who maintains a very useful Qassam calendar, for all your missile-tracking needs.

Dan Murphy, a Christian Science Monitor reporter, files a piece from Gaza City improbably titled “Fertilizer, frustration fuel Gaza’s rockets.” One can’t come down too harshly on Murphy himself for the brazen stupidity of the title of his piece, as it was likely written by his (brazenly stupid) editor. But one can have a laugh at something Murphy writes in the piece itself, about the rocket fire from Gaza:

it has killed few Israelis but has traumatized communities near the border, particularly the town of Sderot, which has been hit dozens of times in recent years.

Actually, as anyone who even occasionally stumbles upon the news from Israel knows, Sderot has been hit thousands of times in recent years (by the New York Timesconservative estimate, 2,000 hits in the past four years; most tallies I’ve seen are much higher). It is impossible to believe that Murphy, who covers Gaza for the CSM, doesn’t know this. Sderot is sometimes the recipient of dozens of rockets on a single day–like today, for example. As I write this, at around 9:30 AM in Israel, Sderot and its environs have already been hit by close to 30 rockets.

UPDATE: Soccer Dad points us to a blogger, Elder of Zion, who maintains a very useful Qassam calendar, for all your missile-tracking needs.

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Not Team Players

says UN envoy to Iraq Staffan de Mistura of Iraq’s disparate political, religious, and ethnic factions:

“We do not feel a real spirit of reconciliation developing even if the government has accepted the law on reintegration of former Baathists,” he said.

“The little intercommunity game continues but Iraq has no more time.”

He said Iraq had six months to make political progress.

“After that, the former insurgents may be tempted to return to violence and we must absolutely avoid that. We see a light at the end of the tunnel but we have to move quickly,” he said.

This, from the institutional voice of an organization whose failures and incompetence brought you those world-famous massacres in Kosovo and Rwanda! An organization that engineered a highly profitable little business deal with Saddam. Anyway, you’d think the UN would be happy about the first step at de-Ba’athification

The law, adopted on Saturday, is the first in a series of measures Washington has pressed the Shi’ite Islamist-led government to pass to draw the minority Sunni Arab community that held sway under Saddam closer into the political process.

which prompted de Mistura’s comments. The Ba’athists might prove to be just as understanding of the UN’s needs as Saddam was…

says UN envoy to Iraq Staffan de Mistura of Iraq’s disparate political, religious, and ethnic factions:

“We do not feel a real spirit of reconciliation developing even if the government has accepted the law on reintegration of former Baathists,” he said.

“The little intercommunity game continues but Iraq has no more time.”

He said Iraq had six months to make political progress.

“After that, the former insurgents may be tempted to return to violence and we must absolutely avoid that. We see a light at the end of the tunnel but we have to move quickly,” he said.

This, from the institutional voice of an organization whose failures and incompetence brought you those world-famous massacres in Kosovo and Rwanda! An organization that engineered a highly profitable little business deal with Saddam. Anyway, you’d think the UN would be happy about the first step at de-Ba’athification

The law, adopted on Saturday, is the first in a series of measures Washington has pressed the Shi’ite Islamist-led government to pass to draw the minority Sunni Arab community that held sway under Saddam closer into the political process.

which prompted de Mistura’s comments. The Ba’athists might prove to be just as understanding of the UN’s needs as Saddam was…

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Sawdust or Bill Kristol?

Among my various regular household duties, sorting bottles, paper, metal, and other forms of refuse, as mandated by local recycling law, is irksome, especially because I suspect that all these form of garbage end up in the same dump. But of such daily chores, none is more bothersome than reading the editorials of the New York Times. It’s not so much that I disagree with them — which I almost always do — but the fact that they are almost always dead on the page. Apodictic, sententious, grim are three words that consistently come to mind; these editorial masterpieces are to reading as sawdust is to eating.

Now that the paper is locked in a competition with Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, either the Times will have to get rid of the sawdust or they will continue to lose this portion of the game to an editorial-page operation that is nothing but lively and full of high good humor. Already, the Times’s op-ed page — as opposed to the editorial page — seems to have gotten the message. How else are we to read the decision to give prime real estate — a weekly column — to Bill Kristol, a dreaded neoconservative, and the editor of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard?

That decision has provoked howls of outrage from free-thinking liberals who appear exceedingly anxious to avoid hearing the views of anyone with whom they might disagree. One of the more notable contributions to this choir of conformity is Clark Hoyt, the Times’s “public editor” or ombudsman. This past Sunday he wrote a column calling the decision to appoint Kristol a mistake. The headline was He May Be Unwelcome, but We’ll Survive. Hoyt’s is the kind of thinking that might ensure that the Times will not survive. Keep up the good work Hoyt!

I take a closer look at Hoyt’s argument today in Bill Kristol: Enemy of the People, over at realclearpolitics.

Among my various regular household duties, sorting bottles, paper, metal, and other forms of refuse, as mandated by local recycling law, is irksome, especially because I suspect that all these form of garbage end up in the same dump. But of such daily chores, none is more bothersome than reading the editorials of the New York Times. It’s not so much that I disagree with them — which I almost always do — but the fact that they are almost always dead on the page. Apodictic, sententious, grim are three words that consistently come to mind; these editorial masterpieces are to reading as sawdust is to eating.

Now that the paper is locked in a competition with Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, either the Times will have to get rid of the sawdust or they will continue to lose this portion of the game to an editorial-page operation that is nothing but lively and full of high good humor. Already, the Times’s op-ed page — as opposed to the editorial page — seems to have gotten the message. How else are we to read the decision to give prime real estate — a weekly column — to Bill Kristol, a dreaded neoconservative, and the editor of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard?

That decision has provoked howls of outrage from free-thinking liberals who appear exceedingly anxious to avoid hearing the views of anyone with whom they might disagree. One of the more notable contributions to this choir of conformity is Clark Hoyt, the Times’s “public editor” or ombudsman. This past Sunday he wrote a column calling the decision to appoint Kristol a mistake. The headline was He May Be Unwelcome, but We’ll Survive. Hoyt’s is the kind of thinking that might ensure that the Times will not survive. Keep up the good work Hoyt!

I take a closer look at Hoyt’s argument today in Bill Kristol: Enemy of the People, over at realclearpolitics.

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