Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 23, 2008

I Know Him from Somewhere . . .

To judge from the dueling e-mails coming out of the McCain and Romney camps in the last few days, one would think we were back in New Hampshire. Romney is the flip flopper, McCain’s team explains; McCain, warns the Romney camp, is a tax-hiking open-borders proponent. However, aside from the e-mails, the race bears little resemblance to the one that took place only three weeks ago, in large part because McCain is running against a different candidate. Gone are Romney’s references to “full spectrum” conservatism and the “three legs of the conservative stool.” Romney’s latest TV ad does not even mention the word “Republican” and touts him instead as a Washington outsider. Phil Klein observes:

This is a clearly a persona that fits Romney much more comfortably, because it’s basically who he is–a moderate Republican businessman who believes that when competently managed, the government can help solve people’s problems.

There are at least a couple of problems with this. First, it assumes the Florida electorate reads no national newspapers and doesn’t watch the debates or national TV news. If this assumption is false, as it surely is, this becomes the “Darrin on Bewitched” problem–a whole new guy shows up and everyone is expected to act like nothing has changed. (Here, the two Romneys look more or less the same, but the transformation is no less startling.) This, of course, has the potential for voters to recognize another Romney “evolution,” this time from conservative stalwart to Ross Perot-like outsider.

The second problem is that there may not be an available voting bloc receptive to Romney’s message. Thompson’s absence and Hucakbee’s retreat from Florida were supposed to leave an opening for the New Hampshire Romney, the conservative standard-bearer. With Giuliani running on his New York success story and McCain on his role straightening out Iraq policy and rooting out government waste, it is not clear there is room for another Mr. Fix-It. Moreover, it is far from clear that Republicans want someone touting the wonders–like universal healthcare coverage–that can be achieved by an active federal government.

Nevertheless, as Klein points out, the newest Romney has a timely message and may be sincere. In that regard, he may actually win.

To judge from the dueling e-mails coming out of the McCain and Romney camps in the last few days, one would think we were back in New Hampshire. Romney is the flip flopper, McCain’s team explains; McCain, warns the Romney camp, is a tax-hiking open-borders proponent. However, aside from the e-mails, the race bears little resemblance to the one that took place only three weeks ago, in large part because McCain is running against a different candidate. Gone are Romney’s references to “full spectrum” conservatism and the “three legs of the conservative stool.” Romney’s latest TV ad does not even mention the word “Republican” and touts him instead as a Washington outsider. Phil Klein observes:

This is a clearly a persona that fits Romney much more comfortably, because it’s basically who he is–a moderate Republican businessman who believes that when competently managed, the government can help solve people’s problems.

There are at least a couple of problems with this. First, it assumes the Florida electorate reads no national newspapers and doesn’t watch the debates or national TV news. If this assumption is false, as it surely is, this becomes the “Darrin on Bewitched” problem–a whole new guy shows up and everyone is expected to act like nothing has changed. (Here, the two Romneys look more or less the same, but the transformation is no less startling.) This, of course, has the potential for voters to recognize another Romney “evolution,” this time from conservative stalwart to Ross Perot-like outsider.

The second problem is that there may not be an available voting bloc receptive to Romney’s message. Thompson’s absence and Hucakbee’s retreat from Florida were supposed to leave an opening for the New Hampshire Romney, the conservative standard-bearer. With Giuliani running on his New York success story and McCain on his role straightening out Iraq policy and rooting out government waste, it is not clear there is room for another Mr. Fix-It. Moreover, it is far from clear that Republicans want someone touting the wonders–like universal healthcare coverage–that can be achieved by an active federal government.

Nevertheless, as Klein points out, the newest Romney has a timely message and may be sincere. In that regard, he may actually win.

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Good News in Gaza

I’m going to have to dissent a bit from my friends here on Contentions as to the meaning of today’s drama on the Gaza-Egypt border. (I just returned from a wedding here in Jerusalem and have not had a chance to read all that much news, so my apologies for this being a very quick take.)

We westerners are accustomed to viewing chaos and violence — such as blowing up border fences — as bad things. But before reacting this way, think for a moment about the interplay between Israel, Egypt, and Gaza since Hamas took power in Gaza a little over half a year ago. What we have seen is a subtle and consistent attempt from the Egyptians not just to avoid having Gaza become their problem, but to ensure that the radical energies emanating from Gaza would always be sent in one direction: Israel.

This is why the Egyptians have been so complicit in allowing smuggling tunnels under the border fence, probably one of the reasons why they’ve recently become more friendly toward Iran (and by extension Iran’s nearby client, Hamas). When Israel asked Egypt to do a better job of policing the Sinai to prevent weapons smuggling, the Egyptians replied that they would like to do more, but cannot because the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt limits the number of soldiers that Egypt can station in the Sinai. In other words, Egypt simultaneously said to Israel: not only will we not help you suppress Hamas, but if you want us to even consider doing so, the price will be a renegotiation of our 30-year-old peace treaty to allow us a greater military presence on your border.

So Egypt has been trying to play a delicate game: keep Hamas in the game by allowing them to bring in weapons, cash, and terrorists, but not so conspicuously that it causes a serious American or Israeli backlash.

But today, Hamas just blew the border fence down. Suddenly, some of the pressure that has built up in Gaza over the past several months has been released, and it didn’t go toward Israel — it went into Egypt, and now the Egyptians are faced with a calamitous situation.

Egypt has been hoisted with its own petard, and it is really quite enjoyable to see from a strategic perspective. Hamas probably blew up the border fence with explosives that Egypt allowed it to smuggle into Gaza. Heh.

I’m going to have to dissent a bit from my friends here on Contentions as to the meaning of today’s drama on the Gaza-Egypt border. (I just returned from a wedding here in Jerusalem and have not had a chance to read all that much news, so my apologies for this being a very quick take.)

We westerners are accustomed to viewing chaos and violence — such as blowing up border fences — as bad things. But before reacting this way, think for a moment about the interplay between Israel, Egypt, and Gaza since Hamas took power in Gaza a little over half a year ago. What we have seen is a subtle and consistent attempt from the Egyptians not just to avoid having Gaza become their problem, but to ensure that the radical energies emanating from Gaza would always be sent in one direction: Israel.

This is why the Egyptians have been so complicit in allowing smuggling tunnels under the border fence, probably one of the reasons why they’ve recently become more friendly toward Iran (and by extension Iran’s nearby client, Hamas). When Israel asked Egypt to do a better job of policing the Sinai to prevent weapons smuggling, the Egyptians replied that they would like to do more, but cannot because the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt limits the number of soldiers that Egypt can station in the Sinai. In other words, Egypt simultaneously said to Israel: not only will we not help you suppress Hamas, but if you want us to even consider doing so, the price will be a renegotiation of our 30-year-old peace treaty to allow us a greater military presence on your border.

So Egypt has been trying to play a delicate game: keep Hamas in the game by allowing them to bring in weapons, cash, and terrorists, but not so conspicuously that it causes a serious American or Israeli backlash.

But today, Hamas just blew the border fence down. Suddenly, some of the pressure that has built up in Gaza over the past several months has been released, and it didn’t go toward Israel — it went into Egypt, and now the Egyptians are faced with a calamitous situation.

Egypt has been hoisted with its own petard, and it is really quite enjoyable to see from a strategic perspective. Hamas probably blew up the border fence with explosives that Egypt allowed it to smuggle into Gaza. Heh.

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Polling Iraq and Terrorism

Something curious keeps coming up in all the primary polling. According to the Pew Research Center, the war in Iraq is the number one issue for Republican primary voters, while “terrorism/security” comes in at number two. Among Democrats the war is also number one, but terrorism/security is number eight. The strangest thing about the poll isn’t the comparative results, but the delineation of the categories.

After September 11, 2001, most Americans understood that the war to eradicate the menace that killed 3000 of our civilians would last many years and involve numerous battles. Less than seven years later, the second of those battles has been wholly extracted from the larger cause and showcased as a Bush administration nuisance for which the candidate with the quickest fix wins a prize.

While the Left’s relentless harangue about administration lies hasn’t managed to end the war, it has removed the fight from its rightful context—that of an ongoing existential struggle with a peripatetic enemy. With the war separated from terrorism, the latter has quietly slipped back into the domain of criminal concerns. The notion that Iraq is part of the war on terror is now such a dead letter that even the pollsters treat them as distinct.

Never mind the fact that Ba’athists had trained thousands of foreign jihadists before the U.S. arrived, or the fact that Saddam was funding terrorists from the Palestinian territories to the Phillippines; if the left were simply to take their own charges seriously they’d have to concede that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror. For years they’ve said that the fighters in Iraq are foreign terrorists, not Iraqis.

At least Republican voters think Iraq and terrorism rub up against each other. The seven-place gap in the Democratic agenda is a dangerous indication of how a President Clinton or Obama may react to Iran and threats beyond.

Something curious keeps coming up in all the primary polling. According to the Pew Research Center, the war in Iraq is the number one issue for Republican primary voters, while “terrorism/security” comes in at number two. Among Democrats the war is also number one, but terrorism/security is number eight. The strangest thing about the poll isn’t the comparative results, but the delineation of the categories.

After September 11, 2001, most Americans understood that the war to eradicate the menace that killed 3000 of our civilians would last many years and involve numerous battles. Less than seven years later, the second of those battles has been wholly extracted from the larger cause and showcased as a Bush administration nuisance for which the candidate with the quickest fix wins a prize.

While the Left’s relentless harangue about administration lies hasn’t managed to end the war, it has removed the fight from its rightful context—that of an ongoing existential struggle with a peripatetic enemy. With the war separated from terrorism, the latter has quietly slipped back into the domain of criminal concerns. The notion that Iraq is part of the war on terror is now such a dead letter that even the pollsters treat them as distinct.

Never mind the fact that Ba’athists had trained thousands of foreign jihadists before the U.S. arrived, or the fact that Saddam was funding terrorists from the Palestinian territories to the Phillippines; if the left were simply to take their own charges seriously they’d have to concede that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror. For years they’ve said that the fighters in Iraq are foreign terrorists, not Iraqis.

At least Republican voters think Iraq and terrorism rub up against each other. The seven-place gap in the Democratic agenda is a dangerous indication of how a President Clinton or Obama may react to Iran and threats beyond.

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In Florida, The Bell May Be Tolling for Giuliani — UPDATED WITH SKEPTICISM

Jennifer, if that poll you cite is accurate, Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid may have just suffered a fatal blow. The poll says that in early voting, John McCain is besting Giuliani 31-25. The key remaining shard of hope inside the Giuliani camp was that the size of the early voting population in Florida — around 300,000 in an overall expected turnout of 1.4 million — was a good sign for them. Since Giuliani held a serious lead in Florida for so many months, some of his people believed he would dominate the early voting. If, in fact, John McCain is winning in the early voting just at the moment that he is showing momentum with the Republicans who will vote next Tuesday, on the day of the primary, there is no way to spin this in Giuliani’s favor. Unless the poll is wrong, or something significant happens in tomorrow night’s debate or over the weekend to shift things back his way dramatically, he is going to lose in Florida. And that will be that.

UPDATE: I’m hearing from someone in the know where polling is concerned that the Survey USA numbers are not harmonizing with the findings of other polls on early voting, which feature Giuliani in a stronger position and McCain in a weaker one.

Jennifer, if that poll you cite is accurate, Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid may have just suffered a fatal blow. The poll says that in early voting, John McCain is besting Giuliani 31-25. The key remaining shard of hope inside the Giuliani camp was that the size of the early voting population in Florida — around 300,000 in an overall expected turnout of 1.4 million — was a good sign for them. Since Giuliani held a serious lead in Florida for so many months, some of his people believed he would dominate the early voting. If, in fact, John McCain is winning in the early voting just at the moment that he is showing momentum with the Republicans who will vote next Tuesday, on the day of the primary, there is no way to spin this in Giuliani’s favor. Unless the poll is wrong, or something significant happens in tomorrow night’s debate or over the weekend to shift things back his way dramatically, he is going to lose in Florida. And that will be that.

UPDATE: I’m hearing from someone in the know where polling is concerned that the Survey USA numbers are not harmonizing with the findings of other polls on early voting, which feature Giuliani in a stronger position and McCain in a weaker one.

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Don’t Give Up on Democracy

Gideon Rachman has a good column in the Financial Times in which he argues against the fashionable impulse to ditch democracy promotion simply because President Bush is in favor of it. Rachman, hardly a firebreathing pro-democracy evangelist, says (rightly, in my view) that the problem with Bush’s democracy agenda has not been that it is too radical but that Bush has been too hesitant to back up his soaring words with appropriate actions.
But that doesn’t mean that the goal of spreading democracy should be abandoned by the U.S. or its allies. As Rachman writes:

Historical events usually throw up people who will push for political freedom at crucial moments. When such people emerge—whether they are Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Burmese monks in Rangoon, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Ayman Nour in Egypt—they deserve the strong support of the outside world.

Gideon Rachman has a good column in the Financial Times in which he argues against the fashionable impulse to ditch democracy promotion simply because President Bush is in favor of it. Rachman, hardly a firebreathing pro-democracy evangelist, says (rightly, in my view) that the problem with Bush’s democracy agenda has not been that it is too radical but that Bush has been too hesitant to back up his soaring words with appropriate actions.
But that doesn’t mean that the goal of spreading democracy should be abandoned by the U.S. or its allies. As Rachman writes:

Historical events usually throw up people who will push for political freedom at crucial moments. When such people emerge—whether they are Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Burmese monks in Rangoon, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Ayman Nour in Egypt—they deserve the strong support of the outside world.

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What Are They Up To?

Many people are looking for clues as to what impact Fred Thompson’s departure will have on the race. Mitt Romney fans, not surprisingly, are collecting scraps of evidence that these voters will turn to their guy. The reality appears, however, to be that his absence will be a wash. This indicates that local Florida politicians are dividing up among the remaining candidates. The Louisiana caucus yesterday, which some believed Romney would win (after organizing with only Ron Paul in opposition), yielded unintelligible results. Bottom line: Thompson was on average in single digits in Florida and barely at 10% nationally, so there frankly aren’t that many votes to divide. I think the mostly likely answer is that his absence won’t matter.

Meanwhile, McCain and Romney go at it just like they did in New Hampshire, with Romney claiming McCain’s positions on issues are insufficiently conservative and McCain claiming Romney has no fixed positions. (A McCain spokesman’s on the record quote declares that Romney deserves the “Olympic gold medal for flip-flopping” and proceeds to list the now-familiar litany of Romney’s position changes.) I suspect there are few voters who are yet to be swayed by this back-and-forth, but in a race the polls still show as close no allegation will be left without a response. (Unlike McCain-Rudy disagreements, Romney-McCain spats always suggest a degree of mutual personal animosity and disdain.)

Many people are looking for clues as to what impact Fred Thompson’s departure will have on the race. Mitt Romney fans, not surprisingly, are collecting scraps of evidence that these voters will turn to their guy. The reality appears, however, to be that his absence will be a wash. This indicates that local Florida politicians are dividing up among the remaining candidates. The Louisiana caucus yesterday, which some believed Romney would win (after organizing with only Ron Paul in opposition), yielded unintelligible results. Bottom line: Thompson was on average in single digits in Florida and barely at 10% nationally, so there frankly aren’t that many votes to divide. I think the mostly likely answer is that his absence won’t matter.

Meanwhile, McCain and Romney go at it just like they did in New Hampshire, with Romney claiming McCain’s positions on issues are insufficiently conservative and McCain claiming Romney has no fixed positions. (A McCain spokesman’s on the record quote declares that Romney deserves the “Olympic gold medal for flip-flopping” and proceeds to list the now-familiar litany of Romney’s position changes.) I suspect there are few voters who are yet to be swayed by this back-and-forth, but in a race the polls still show as close no allegation will be left without a response. (Unlike McCain-Rudy disagreements, Romney-McCain spats always suggest a degree of mutual personal animosity and disdain.)

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Ned Colt’s Inspiration

Yesterday on the Today Show, NBC broadcaster Ned Colt offered a disturbing and inaccurate portrait of Osama bin Laden.

Colt begins: “Murderous fanatic or hero of radical Islam?” Strange use of the word or, indeed. But that’s not the real kicker by a longshot.

COLT: In the West the Saudi born al Qaeda leader is blamed for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and two years later the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. And while he’s never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11, at the very least he inspired the attacks that left 3000 dead.

Bin Laden’s guilt isn’t a stone-cold fact, but a Western construction. And how does Colt know this? Because bin Laden has “never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11.” Actually, he has. But since when does a criminal’s culpability rest on his taking credit for a crime, anyway?

The only person Colt speaks with during this piece is Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds, who gushes: “History will remember Osama Bin Laden as the man who challenged the American superpower. The little David who actually stand up against the mighty Goliath.” Lest we miss the point, Colt closes with “American officials believe Bin Laden’s power [“inspirational”, Ned?] has only increased in recent years with his followers now active in at least 40 countries worldwide,” before throwing it over to Brian Williams.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to know if a prominent NBC news reporter considers Osama bin Laden a mass-murderer or a guiltless inspiration.

Yesterday on the Today Show, NBC broadcaster Ned Colt offered a disturbing and inaccurate portrait of Osama bin Laden.

Colt begins: “Murderous fanatic or hero of radical Islam?” Strange use of the word or, indeed. But that’s not the real kicker by a longshot.

COLT: In the West the Saudi born al Qaeda leader is blamed for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and two years later the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. And while he’s never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11, at the very least he inspired the attacks that left 3000 dead.

Bin Laden’s guilt isn’t a stone-cold fact, but a Western construction. And how does Colt know this? Because bin Laden has “never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11.” Actually, he has. But since when does a criminal’s culpability rest on his taking credit for a crime, anyway?

The only person Colt speaks with during this piece is Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds, who gushes: “History will remember Osama Bin Laden as the man who challenged the American superpower. The little David who actually stand up against the mighty Goliath.” Lest we miss the point, Colt closes with “American officials believe Bin Laden’s power [“inspirational”, Ned?] has only increased in recent years with his followers now active in at least 40 countries worldwide,” before throwing it over to Brian Williams.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to know if a prominent NBC news reporter considers Osama bin Laden a mass-murderer or a guiltless inspiration.

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Michael Clayton

Peter, I’m no fan of the Oscars myself, and I think your post is spot-on. But I have to disagree with you about Michael Clayton. Tony Gilroy–the Bourne writer whose career has been pretty undistinguished except for the remarkable Dolores Claiborne–shocked me with his razor-sharp script: the corp-speak, Tom Wilkinson’s demented opening monologue, Tilda Swinton’s allusive, fear-choked vileness. And the direction was equally impressive: energetic but restrained. This is to say nothing of the fact that Gilroy coaxed a real performance out of George Clooney, who normally can’t act his way out a paper bag. And all this from a first-timer! I’d have to say it was the best American purebred thriller I’ve seen since the criminally underrated Spartan.

Peter, I’m no fan of the Oscars myself, and I think your post is spot-on. But I have to disagree with you about Michael Clayton. Tony Gilroy–the Bourne writer whose career has been pretty undistinguished except for the remarkable Dolores Claiborne–shocked me with his razor-sharp script: the corp-speak, Tom Wilkinson’s demented opening monologue, Tilda Swinton’s allusive, fear-choked vileness. And the direction was equally impressive: energetic but restrained. This is to say nothing of the fact that Gilroy coaxed a real performance out of George Clooney, who normally can’t act his way out a paper bag. And all this from a first-timer! I’d have to say it was the best American purebred thriller I’ve seen since the criminally underrated Spartan.

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Florida Tea Leaves

The Florida state GOP has provided me with some helpful facts about what is going on in the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary. There is good reason why McCain, Rudy and Romney all have been working hard to win over Cuban Americans and other Hispanics. The Hispanic vote is significant–10.7% of Florida’s GOP voters. The state GOP does not have a party breakdown for veterans, but Florida does have the second largest veteran population (after California) at 1.7 million people. That may explain why, despite the economic news which is dominating the headlines, McCain continues to emphasize national security and is crowing about his latest endorser: General Norman Schwarzkopf.

Late-breaking events–or even tomorrow’s debate performance–may have a limited impact, since so many votes have already been cast. As of yesterday, 114,370 of the 285,259 outstanding absentee ballots had been returned. In early voting 113,755 votes have been cast. So as of yesterday, with the total rising every day, 228,125 votes have already been decided. (The state GOP expects turnout to be in the neighborhood of 1.4 million.) Early voting ends in some counties January 26 and on January 27 in others, which may spur even more people to make up their minds in the next few days.

According to this poll, McCain leads in early voting by six points over Rudy. This suggests that: 1) time is running out for McCain’s opponents; 2) despite the importance of economic news there is a substantial bloc of veteran voters (as in South Carolina) whom McCain can bank on; 3) we can expect to hear plenty about Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro at the debate; and 4) those counting on picking up Thompson votes should remember that a bunch of his supporters may already have voted for him.

The Florida state GOP has provided me with some helpful facts about what is going on in the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary. There is good reason why McCain, Rudy and Romney all have been working hard to win over Cuban Americans and other Hispanics. The Hispanic vote is significant–10.7% of Florida’s GOP voters. The state GOP does not have a party breakdown for veterans, but Florida does have the second largest veteran population (after California) at 1.7 million people. That may explain why, despite the economic news which is dominating the headlines, McCain continues to emphasize national security and is crowing about his latest endorser: General Norman Schwarzkopf.

Late-breaking events–or even tomorrow’s debate performance–may have a limited impact, since so many votes have already been cast. As of yesterday, 114,370 of the 285,259 outstanding absentee ballots had been returned. In early voting 113,755 votes have been cast. So as of yesterday, with the total rising every day, 228,125 votes have already been decided. (The state GOP expects turnout to be in the neighborhood of 1.4 million.) Early voting ends in some counties January 26 and on January 27 in others, which may spur even more people to make up their minds in the next few days.

According to this poll, McCain leads in early voting by six points over Rudy. This suggests that: 1) time is running out for McCain’s opponents; 2) despite the importance of economic news there is a substantial bloc of veteran voters (as in South Carolina) whom McCain can bank on; 3) we can expect to hear plenty about Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro at the debate; and 4) those counting on picking up Thompson votes should remember that a bunch of his supporters may already have voted for him.

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Oscar Time!

I’m on record as being an Oscar-cynic; as far as I’m concerned, the annual awards ceremony is, rather than a celebration of cinematic accomplishment, primarily an excuse for Hollywood to indulge in awesome displays of lavish narcissism. Everything about the night, from the $40,000 gift bags to the six-figure formal-wear to the clunky mechanical stage pieces, screams “Look at me! Look how wonderful I am! I deserve an award!

But as often as not, those receiving the awards don’t deserve them. Any idea that the Academy is a reliable judge of cinematic merit should have gone out the window by the time the organization named Crash Best Picture.

Yet for movie fans, it’s nonetheless hard not to be swept up in the buzz and excitement. This year, that’s especially true, as the nominations are unusually strong, particularly in the Best Picture Category. There Will Be Blood, Juno, and No Country for Old Men are all worthy contenders, and even Michael Clayton was mildly enjoyable, if overrated. Only Atonement, the lackluster period picture based on Ian McEwan’s novel, stands out as a poor selection – and this was to be expected, as it was virtually assured it a slot by its literary pedigree.

A few people seem to be surprised by the nomination of Juno, a scrappy, sharp-witted film about teen pregnancy by Thank You for Smoking director Jason Reitman, but its nomination is in keeping with the Academy’s tradition of nominating one slightly edgy but successful indie-style (if not actually independent) film each year; think of Little Miss Sunshine, Fargo, Moulin Rouge, or Lost in Translation. Call it the Pulp Fiction nod.

Instead, the film that stands out as odd to me is Michael Clayton. Yes, it received generally favorable coverage, but beyond a marvelously dour star turn by George Clooney in the title role, there wasn’t much to it beyond dreary moodiness and a melancholy anti-corporatism, and neither the critical buzz nor the box-office returns were particularly notable. The only explanation I can come up with is that it was nominated as the token “political issue film” because none of the year’s hideous crop of Iraq-war movies could justifiably take the slot. But who knows what lurks in the minds of the Academy’s members.

I’m on record as being an Oscar-cynic; as far as I’m concerned, the annual awards ceremony is, rather than a celebration of cinematic accomplishment, primarily an excuse for Hollywood to indulge in awesome displays of lavish narcissism. Everything about the night, from the $40,000 gift bags to the six-figure formal-wear to the clunky mechanical stage pieces, screams “Look at me! Look how wonderful I am! I deserve an award!

But as often as not, those receiving the awards don’t deserve them. Any idea that the Academy is a reliable judge of cinematic merit should have gone out the window by the time the organization named Crash Best Picture.

Yet for movie fans, it’s nonetheless hard not to be swept up in the buzz and excitement. This year, that’s especially true, as the nominations are unusually strong, particularly in the Best Picture Category. There Will Be Blood, Juno, and No Country for Old Men are all worthy contenders, and even Michael Clayton was mildly enjoyable, if overrated. Only Atonement, the lackluster period picture based on Ian McEwan’s novel, stands out as a poor selection – and this was to be expected, as it was virtually assured it a slot by its literary pedigree.

A few people seem to be surprised by the nomination of Juno, a scrappy, sharp-witted film about teen pregnancy by Thank You for Smoking director Jason Reitman, but its nomination is in keeping with the Academy’s tradition of nominating one slightly edgy but successful indie-style (if not actually independent) film each year; think of Little Miss Sunshine, Fargo, Moulin Rouge, or Lost in Translation. Call it the Pulp Fiction nod.

Instead, the film that stands out as odd to me is Michael Clayton. Yes, it received generally favorable coverage, but beyond a marvelously dour star turn by George Clooney in the title role, there wasn’t much to it beyond dreary moodiness and a melancholy anti-corporatism, and neither the critical buzz nor the box-office returns were particularly notable. The only explanation I can come up with is that it was nominated as the token “political issue film” because none of the year’s hideous crop of Iraq-war movies could justifiably take the slot. But who knows what lurks in the minds of the Academy’s members.

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Thanking Hamas

As Eric Trager has pointed out, Israel’s sealing off of Gaza raises some dangerous potentialities. One such potentiality has come to life, as Hamas just toppled a fence on Gaza’s Rafah border crossing allowing thousands of Palestinians to stream into Egypt. The New York Times describes the event as “a great bazaar” and seems to think the security breach represents a problem no greater than, say, Black Friday shoppers sustaining injuries during a door-buster sale. Meanwhile, the potential for arms replenishment is sure to be exploited to the hilt (as David Hazony notes below). But what really jumps out at the reader is this:

People began pouring over the fence before dawn, said one witness, Fatan Hessin, 45. She had crossed into Egypt to be reunited with a childhood friend from whom she had been separated by the border. “I am a Palestinian. I am not Hamas or Fatah, but I thank Hamas for this,” she said.

[…]

Ms. Hessin, who had used the breach of the border to meet up with her friend, Inshira Hanbal, on the Egyptian side of the border, said: “We are extremely tired of this life. The closure, the unemployment, the poverty. No one is working in my household.”

In these two quotes we see the flimsy declaration of Palestinian victimology for what it is: I’m not a terrorist or even politically-minded. I’m just a human being who wants to live freely. If Hamas delivers this freedom, then I thank them. But as for the poverty, the restrictions, and the violence that continue to quash my hopes for a decent existence—well, I’m extremely tired of it.

Ms. Hessin should thank Hamas for furnishing the daily hell that is her life in Gaza. Yet, she makes no connection between the Qassam rockets that regularly land on Israeli homes and the miserable conditions in which she lives.

As Eric Trager has pointed out, Israel’s sealing off of Gaza raises some dangerous potentialities. One such potentiality has come to life, as Hamas just toppled a fence on Gaza’s Rafah border crossing allowing thousands of Palestinians to stream into Egypt. The New York Times describes the event as “a great bazaar” and seems to think the security breach represents a problem no greater than, say, Black Friday shoppers sustaining injuries during a door-buster sale. Meanwhile, the potential for arms replenishment is sure to be exploited to the hilt (as David Hazony notes below). But what really jumps out at the reader is this:

People began pouring over the fence before dawn, said one witness, Fatan Hessin, 45. She had crossed into Egypt to be reunited with a childhood friend from whom she had been separated by the border. “I am a Palestinian. I am not Hamas or Fatah, but I thank Hamas for this,” she said.

[…]

Ms. Hessin, who had used the breach of the border to meet up with her friend, Inshira Hanbal, on the Egyptian side of the border, said: “We are extremely tired of this life. The closure, the unemployment, the poverty. No one is working in my household.”

In these two quotes we see the flimsy declaration of Palestinian victimology for what it is: I’m not a terrorist or even politically-minded. I’m just a human being who wants to live freely. If Hamas delivers this freedom, then I thank them. But as for the poverty, the restrictions, and the violence that continue to quash my hopes for a decent existence—well, I’m extremely tired of it.

Ms. Hessin should thank Hamas for furnishing the daily hell that is her life in Gaza. Yet, she makes no connection between the Qassam rockets that regularly land on Israeli homes and the miserable conditions in which she lives.

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Mr. Smith Bears Left

The collapse of even watered-down versions of Marxism has fruitfully pushed a number of leftist British intellectuals into a reconsideration of Adam Smith. The publication in 2001 of Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment set off a flurry of efforts to reclaim Adam Smith from “the Right.” Rothschild rightly saw that Smith was far from the caricature of a heartless demonic elitist so dear to left wing prayer books. Three years later, Gareth Stedman Jones followed up with his book An End to Poverty, which applauded Smith for his anti-statism.

Now, according to January 18 TLS, new books on Smith have entered the lists. Two of them—Ian McLean ‘s Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian and Gavin Kennedy’s Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy—try with a less than scholarly touch to claim Smith for New Labor. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scotsman, has written the introduction to the MacLean volume. Brown, playing up the Scottish card, claims that “Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his (1776) Wealth of Nations, was underpinned by his (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments” which saw “neighborliness” as crucial to mitigating the underside of economic competition. By this Brown, following McLean, argues that Smith was as much a theorist of social justice as an economist.

Taken in a Tocquevillian light this might seem innocuous. But, in the name of “neighborliness,” MacLean and Brown want if not to replace then at least to displace “the invisible hand” of markets with the “helping hand” of the state. This argument, depending on how you look at it, is either a hypocritical perversion of Smith or a thoughtful means of reconciling British leftists to global competition.

An answer, of sorts to Brown, comes from the Tory’s shadow chancellor George Osborne in his introduction to a new edition of The Wealth of Nations. Osborne sees Smith as the definitive answer to the shapeless anti-market ideology of the anti-globalization movement which has no positive program but is skilled at playing Cassandra. Osborne accurately sees economic nationalism as the road to perdition. But invoking Smith is scant guide for how either the Brits or the Americans should respond to the neo-mercantilist sovereign wealth funds of China and some of the Gulf States which invest politically in open societies while closing their own borders to foreigners.

Smith who was a moral ironist would no doubt be amused at the attempt by contemporary British politicians to enlist his writings in their causes. He once, after all, define an elected official as “that insidious and crafty animal vulgarly called a statesman or politician, whose councils are directed by the momentary fluctuation of affairs.”

The collapse of even watered-down versions of Marxism has fruitfully pushed a number of leftist British intellectuals into a reconsideration of Adam Smith. The publication in 2001 of Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment set off a flurry of efforts to reclaim Adam Smith from “the Right.” Rothschild rightly saw that Smith was far from the caricature of a heartless demonic elitist so dear to left wing prayer books. Three years later, Gareth Stedman Jones followed up with his book An End to Poverty, which applauded Smith for his anti-statism.

Now, according to January 18 TLS, new books on Smith have entered the lists. Two of them—Ian McLean ‘s Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian and Gavin Kennedy’s Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy—try with a less than scholarly touch to claim Smith for New Labor. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scotsman, has written the introduction to the MacLean volume. Brown, playing up the Scottish card, claims that “Coming from Kirkcaldy as Adam Smith did, I have come to understand that his (1776) Wealth of Nations, was underpinned by his (1759) Theory of Moral Sentiments” which saw “neighborliness” as crucial to mitigating the underside of economic competition. By this Brown, following McLean, argues that Smith was as much a theorist of social justice as an economist.

Taken in a Tocquevillian light this might seem innocuous. But, in the name of “neighborliness,” MacLean and Brown want if not to replace then at least to displace “the invisible hand” of markets with the “helping hand” of the state. This argument, depending on how you look at it, is either a hypocritical perversion of Smith or a thoughtful means of reconciling British leftists to global competition.

An answer, of sorts to Brown, comes from the Tory’s shadow chancellor George Osborne in his introduction to a new edition of The Wealth of Nations. Osborne sees Smith as the definitive answer to the shapeless anti-market ideology of the anti-globalization movement which has no positive program but is skilled at playing Cassandra. Osborne accurately sees economic nationalism as the road to perdition. But invoking Smith is scant guide for how either the Brits or the Americans should respond to the neo-mercantilist sovereign wealth funds of China and some of the Gulf States which invest politically in open societies while closing their own borders to foreigners.

Smith who was a moral ironist would no doubt be amused at the attempt by contemporary British politicians to enlist his writings in their causes. He once, after all, define an elected official as “that insidious and crafty animal vulgarly called a statesman or politician, whose councils are directed by the momentary fluctuation of affairs.”

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What The Wall Breach Really Means

This morning, masked gunmen blew a hole in the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Since then, according to the UN, some 350,000 Palestinians have crossed the border. Palestinian bulldozers have demolished much of the rest of the fence, as well.

We should have no doubt that the vast majority of the people who have crossed the border are in search of basic human needs such as food, fuel, and resellable merchandise. There is a war going on, and Israel’s blockade of Gaza has not been the prettiest part of it. But over the last two years, Israel and Egypt have worked together, to greater or lesser effect, to prevent the passage of what Hamas, Fatah, and the Islamic Jihad crave most: Weapons. Hundreds of underground tunnels have been exposed, through which small arms, missiles, and rockets have been smuggled for use principally against Israeli civilians. With the collapse of the border, it seems, all that tough digging has been rendered moot. Unless something is done very soon to re-establish the border, we should assume the worst: that a massive infusion of weaponry into the strip is about to begin.

So, what are we to make of the fact that Egypt, with probably the largest military in the entire middle east, has done nothing about the breach? Of all the anti-Western, terror-sponsoring regimes on earth, probably none are anti-Westerner and terror-sponsoringer than the one in Gaza. And now Egypt, in order to distance itself from the Israeli blockade and show its humanitarian feathers, risks making itself a direct accomplice to the arming of terrorists. This follows just a few weeks after it capitulated to Palestinian demands, against its promises to Israel, to let several thousand Palestinians cross back into Gaza through the security-lax, Egypt-bordered Rafah crossing, rather than go through a more rigorous weapons check at the Israel-bordered Kisufim.

In the middle east, friends of the West are often fickle when it comes to seriously fighting terror. Let’s keep an eye on Egypt.

This morning, masked gunmen blew a hole in the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Since then, according to the UN, some 350,000 Palestinians have crossed the border. Palestinian bulldozers have demolished much of the rest of the fence, as well.

We should have no doubt that the vast majority of the people who have crossed the border are in search of basic human needs such as food, fuel, and resellable merchandise. There is a war going on, and Israel’s blockade of Gaza has not been the prettiest part of it. But over the last two years, Israel and Egypt have worked together, to greater or lesser effect, to prevent the passage of what Hamas, Fatah, and the Islamic Jihad crave most: Weapons. Hundreds of underground tunnels have been exposed, through which small arms, missiles, and rockets have been smuggled for use principally against Israeli civilians. With the collapse of the border, it seems, all that tough digging has been rendered moot. Unless something is done very soon to re-establish the border, we should assume the worst: that a massive infusion of weaponry into the strip is about to begin.

So, what are we to make of the fact that Egypt, with probably the largest military in the entire middle east, has done nothing about the breach? Of all the anti-Western, terror-sponsoring regimes on earth, probably none are anti-Westerner and terror-sponsoringer than the one in Gaza. And now Egypt, in order to distance itself from the Israeli blockade and show its humanitarian feathers, risks making itself a direct accomplice to the arming of terrorists. This follows just a few weeks after it capitulated to Palestinian demands, against its promises to Israel, to let several thousand Palestinians cross back into Gaza through the security-lax, Egypt-bordered Rafah crossing, rather than go through a more rigorous weapons check at the Israel-bordered Kisufim.

In the middle east, friends of the West are often fickle when it comes to seriously fighting terror. Let’s keep an eye on Egypt.

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Out of Ideas in Gaza

Israel’s new strategy for dealing with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza has many troubling implications. For Palestinians, the fuel cuts mean the severe rationing of electricity, little or no heat during the cold of winter, and very limited mobility. Most alarmingly, the power shortage has threatened hospitals, with half the surgeries that were scheduled for Monday delayed at Gaza’s main hospital. Unfortunately, Palestinian civilians are unlikely to enjoy relief any time soon: Hamas’ leadership remains more committed to exploiting the crisis for propaganda purposes than simply ending the rocket attacks, and its first act in the wake of Israel’s fuel cut was to turn off the lights and hit the airwaves. We can thus expect to see more gas lines and bread lines in the days to come.

But Israelis should also be concerned. The decision to firmly seal Gaza, shut off its fuel supply, and limit the import of food suggests that Israel’s leadership has completely run out of ideas for how it should address Hamas’ continued aggression. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has thrown Israel’s counterterrorism playbook out the window, subjecting 1.5 million Gazans to an existence that is merely better than a “humanitarian crisis”—in Olmert’s own words—rather than narrowly focusing his strategy against the terrorists. Olmert’s lack of creativity has extended to his defense of this approach, which has implied vindictiveness. As he told Kadima officials on Monday, “As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza’s residents can walk.”

The sealing of Gaza has serious strategic consequences for Israeli policy. When acting against aggression, Israel typically faces a limited timeframe in which it can accomplish its goals before international pressure forces it to cease operations. It is for this reason that its greatest military successes—including the 1967 war and 2002 Operation Defensive Shield—have come with remarkable swiftness. Alternatively, its greatest failures—the 1973 war and 2006 Lebanon War—have come when conflict was halted before Israel could realize concrete strategic accomplishments. Particularly when fighting guerrilla warfare—which rarely lends itself to swift victories—Israeli leaders must therefore aim to establish conditions under which the IDF is afforded a maximal timeframe in which it can operate. This increases the likelihood of success.

Yet Olmert’s strategy in Gaza does the opposite. From the moment the fuel was cut, the clock has been ticking rapidly, with the international community deeply concerned that a serious humanitarian crisis looms. Yesterday, Israel retreated under pressure from its ill-conceived policy, delivering a new supply of diesel and cooking-gas a mere 24 hours after Olmert vowed to not do so. Meanwhile, rockets have continued to hit Israel at a steady pace.
If the cuts to Gaza’s energy supply do not stem the flow of rockets in the next few days, Olmert will probably be forced to retreat further. Thereafter, it may be a while before Israel is granted a free hand to deal with terrorism emanating from Gaza. In the worst-case scenario, a spiraling humanitarian situation might increase the pressure on Israel to reach a truce with Hamas. In short, insofar as the current strategy takes too great a toll on Palestinian civilians, it is unsustainable and self-defeating.

Israel’s new strategy for dealing with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza has many troubling implications. For Palestinians, the fuel cuts mean the severe rationing of electricity, little or no heat during the cold of winter, and very limited mobility. Most alarmingly, the power shortage has threatened hospitals, with half the surgeries that were scheduled for Monday delayed at Gaza’s main hospital. Unfortunately, Palestinian civilians are unlikely to enjoy relief any time soon: Hamas’ leadership remains more committed to exploiting the crisis for propaganda purposes than simply ending the rocket attacks, and its first act in the wake of Israel’s fuel cut was to turn off the lights and hit the airwaves. We can thus expect to see more gas lines and bread lines in the days to come.

But Israelis should also be concerned. The decision to firmly seal Gaza, shut off its fuel supply, and limit the import of food suggests that Israel’s leadership has completely run out of ideas for how it should address Hamas’ continued aggression. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has thrown Israel’s counterterrorism playbook out the window, subjecting 1.5 million Gazans to an existence that is merely better than a “humanitarian crisis”—in Olmert’s own words—rather than narrowly focusing his strategy against the terrorists. Olmert’s lack of creativity has extended to his defense of this approach, which has implied vindictiveness. As he told Kadima officials on Monday, “As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza’s residents can walk.”

The sealing of Gaza has serious strategic consequences for Israeli policy. When acting against aggression, Israel typically faces a limited timeframe in which it can accomplish its goals before international pressure forces it to cease operations. It is for this reason that its greatest military successes—including the 1967 war and 2002 Operation Defensive Shield—have come with remarkable swiftness. Alternatively, its greatest failures—the 1973 war and 2006 Lebanon War—have come when conflict was halted before Israel could realize concrete strategic accomplishments. Particularly when fighting guerrilla warfare—which rarely lends itself to swift victories—Israeli leaders must therefore aim to establish conditions under which the IDF is afforded a maximal timeframe in which it can operate. This increases the likelihood of success.

Yet Olmert’s strategy in Gaza does the opposite. From the moment the fuel was cut, the clock has been ticking rapidly, with the international community deeply concerned that a serious humanitarian crisis looms. Yesterday, Israel retreated under pressure from its ill-conceived policy, delivering a new supply of diesel and cooking-gas a mere 24 hours after Olmert vowed to not do so. Meanwhile, rockets have continued to hit Israel at a steady pace.
If the cuts to Gaza’s energy supply do not stem the flow of rockets in the next few days, Olmert will probably be forced to retreat further. Thereafter, it may be a while before Israel is granted a free hand to deal with terrorism emanating from Gaza. In the worst-case scenario, a spiraling humanitarian situation might increase the pressure on Israel to reach a truce with Hamas. In short, insofar as the current strategy takes too great a toll on Palestinian civilians, it is unsustainable and self-defeating.

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The Big Rock Candy Security Council

If they were familiar with American music, the mullahs would be humming the lyrics to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh, I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall and the wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in

As the Washington Post reported yesterday,

The United States and five other major powers agreed yesterday on a new draft U.N. resolution on Iran, but the compromise incorporates weakened language that calls only for “vigilance” or “monitoring” of financial and military institutions without most of the tough economic sanctions sought by the Bush administration…

To break an eight-month deadlock, the Bush administration accepted a plan that includes largely voluntary monitoring of transactions involving two banks, and calls for restraints on export credits, cargo traffic and business involving individuals or institutions linked to proliferation. The toughest restriction is a travel ban on key officials, the European officials said.

Nothing demonstrates the solidarity of the free world like a travel ban, I’ve always said. The most hilarious comment on the sanctions came from one of our own diplomats:

“This will come as a rude shock to the Iranians,” departing Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview. “They had been predicting that the Security Council was no longer unified enough to pass a third resolution, and they were wrong. The council will pass this resolution in several weeks, and it will add to the international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.”

I’ll see you all this coming fall, in the big rock candy mountains.

If they were familiar with American music, the mullahs would be humming the lyrics to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh, I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall and the wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in

As the Washington Post reported yesterday,

The United States and five other major powers agreed yesterday on a new draft U.N. resolution on Iran, but the compromise incorporates weakened language that calls only for “vigilance” or “monitoring” of financial and military institutions without most of the tough economic sanctions sought by the Bush administration…

To break an eight-month deadlock, the Bush administration accepted a plan that includes largely voluntary monitoring of transactions involving two banks, and calls for restraints on export credits, cargo traffic and business involving individuals or institutions linked to proliferation. The toughest restriction is a travel ban on key officials, the European officials said.

Nothing demonstrates the solidarity of the free world like a travel ban, I’ve always said. The most hilarious comment on the sanctions came from one of our own diplomats:

“This will come as a rude shock to the Iranians,” departing Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview. “They had been predicting that the Security Council was no longer unified enough to pass a third resolution, and they were wrong. The council will pass this resolution in several weeks, and it will add to the international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.”

I’ll see you all this coming fall, in the big rock candy mountains.

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532 Bush Administration Lies About Iraq

What is a false statement? If the New York Times, relying on an outside team of meteorologists, reports that there is 100 percent probability of rain in Central Park tomorrow, but tomorrow comes and the sun shines all day, has the newspaper lied to the American people? 

The question arises because of an article in today’s paper about a new online tool developed by an organization specializing in “investigative journalism in the public interest.”

In a story by John Cushman, the Times reports that “[s]tudents of how the Bush administration led the nation into the Iraq war can now go online to browse a comprehensive database of top officials’ statements before the invasion, connecting the dots between hundreds of claims, mostly discredited since then, linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda or warning that he possessed forbidden weapons.”

The database has been created by The Center for Public Integrity and can be found online here. It is introduced on the website by a statement declaring that “the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.” The most visible officials in the administration “made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.” On some 532 separate occasions, ranking officials “stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration’s case for war.”

But, reports the Center, “it is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose “Duelfer Report” established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq’s nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.”

What are we to make of all this? After delving into the database and reading the Center’s analysis, the question arises: did the Bush administration “methodically” lie to the public? The Center’s own answer is yes, and the same answer is the impression left by the news pages of the New York Times. Indeed, the paper reports that what the database exposes is akin to the worst political scandal of the American presidency: “Muckrakers may find browsing the site reminiscent of what Richard M. Nixon used to dismissively call ‘wallowing in Watergate.’”

Toward the end of its story, the Times notes that “officials have defended many of their prewar statements as having been based on the intelligence that was available at the time — although there is now evidence that some statements contradicted even the sketchy intelligence of the time.”

But that is an absurd way of putting it, minimizing and obscuring some central facts. Would it not have been more honest for the newspaper of record to recall that however “sketchy” the intelligence, it was not presented by the CIA to the administration as sketchy at all? Rather, it was presented as an iron-clad case, most memorably by CIA director George Tenet as a “a slam-dunk.” And would it not have been more honest to point out that the post-war studies of Iraq’s WMD program, like the Duelfer Report, had the benefit not merely of hindsight but the ability of investigators to roam freely through Iraqi archives and facilities? Back in 2002 and early 2003, when the U.S. was gearing up for war, things looked very differently than they did afterward.

This brings us back to the question which we began. What is a false statement? Did the Bush administration lie when it relied on the CIA’s estimates of Iraq’s WMD program, or is it the Center for Public Integrity that is now doing some lying, with the New York Times brazenly helping them along?

What is a false statement? If the New York Times, relying on an outside team of meteorologists, reports that there is 100 percent probability of rain in Central Park tomorrow, but tomorrow comes and the sun shines all day, has the newspaper lied to the American people? 

The question arises because of an article in today’s paper about a new online tool developed by an organization specializing in “investigative journalism in the public interest.”

In a story by John Cushman, the Times reports that “[s]tudents of how the Bush administration led the nation into the Iraq war can now go online to browse a comprehensive database of top officials’ statements before the invasion, connecting the dots between hundreds of claims, mostly discredited since then, linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda or warning that he possessed forbidden weapons.”

The database has been created by The Center for Public Integrity and can be found online here. It is introduced on the website by a statement declaring that “the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.” The most visible officials in the administration “made the most false statements, according to this first-ever analysis of the entire body of prewar rhetoric.” On some 532 separate occasions, ranking officials “stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration’s case for war.”

But, reports the Center, “it is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. This was the conclusion of numerous bipartisan government investigations, including those by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2004 and 2006), the 9/11 Commission, and the multinational Iraq Survey Group, whose “Duelfer Report” established that Saddam Hussein had terminated Iraq’s nuclear program in 1991 and made little effort to restart it.”

What are we to make of all this? After delving into the database and reading the Center’s analysis, the question arises: did the Bush administration “methodically” lie to the public? The Center’s own answer is yes, and the same answer is the impression left by the news pages of the New York Times. Indeed, the paper reports that what the database exposes is akin to the worst political scandal of the American presidency: “Muckrakers may find browsing the site reminiscent of what Richard M. Nixon used to dismissively call ‘wallowing in Watergate.’”

Toward the end of its story, the Times notes that “officials have defended many of their prewar statements as having been based on the intelligence that was available at the time — although there is now evidence that some statements contradicted even the sketchy intelligence of the time.”

But that is an absurd way of putting it, minimizing and obscuring some central facts. Would it not have been more honest for the newspaper of record to recall that however “sketchy” the intelligence, it was not presented by the CIA to the administration as sketchy at all? Rather, it was presented as an iron-clad case, most memorably by CIA director George Tenet as a “a slam-dunk.” And would it not have been more honest to point out that the post-war studies of Iraq’s WMD program, like the Duelfer Report, had the benefit not merely of hindsight but the ability of investigators to roam freely through Iraqi archives and facilities? Back in 2002 and early 2003, when the U.S. was gearing up for war, things looked very differently than they did afterward.

This brings us back to the question which we began. What is a false statement? Did the Bush administration lie when it relied on the CIA’s estimates of Iraq’s WMD program, or is it the Center for Public Integrity that is now doing some lying, with the New York Times brazenly helping them along?

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The Face Off

John observed a couple of days ago that a McCain vs. Rudy face off was inevitable in Florida. For a short while it appeared that Rudy might avoid personally going after McCain and simply let Romney do the heavy lifting in knocking down their mutual rival. That no longer seems to be the case.

His tone was respectful, but Rudy’s comments to Neil Cavuto that McCain voted twice against the Bush tax cuts and “doesn’t embrace supply side economics the way I do” left little doubt that he won’t hesitate to go directly after McCain. The tax issue is Rudy’s best hope to separate himself from McCain who appeals to essentially the same constituency (e.g. moderates, national security voters). Although Rudy has made a local appeal by touting his support for a national catastrophic fund, I doubt (at least I hope) the primary and the possibly the nomination will not hang on such a provincial issue. (McCain, true to his no-pander approach, gave the idea–as he did ethanol subsidies in Iowa and auto industry bailouts in Michigan–the thumbs down.)

Will the tax issue make a difference? McCain repeats in his latest ad that he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. So Rudy will have to convince voters that McCain won’t ,in the face of certain Democratic opposition, go to the mat for tax cuts. (Many conservatives harbor just such suspicions so Rudy may find a receptive audience.) Rudy’s other point of differentiation, which he also raised with Cavuto and has hammered at every debate, is of course his executive skills and competency in turning New York around. (“John has not been in charge of the budget. John has not been in charge of a city or a state or a business so maybe these things are not part of his experience.”) Will this make the sale? It may, especially with all of those transplanted northeasterners who are familiar with the renaissance of New York. However, here he finds competition from Romney, whose newest and perhaps most compelling moniker is “businessman/turnaround specialist.” (As for Romney, the anti-populist/un-Huckabee, the danger may be that he displays a certain cluelessness. As the country collectively bit its fingernails yesterday over the stock market and impending economic downturn, he declared, “Every time I’ve seen things get scary, I put aside that feeling and say, “Aha. Is this a buying opportunity?’” Aha, indeed.)

Even as the field narrows with Thompson’s departure and Huckabee’s fade, it becomes increasingly difficult for Rudy to carve out a niche in the race. With time running out, Rudy’s best and perhaps last chance to break through and change the direction of the race will be Thursday’s debate. Although I think it is unlikely to approach the Hillary/Obama 15-rounder, I suspect we’ll see what John predicted–an unavoidable clash between the two friends.

John observed a couple of days ago that a McCain vs. Rudy face off was inevitable in Florida. For a short while it appeared that Rudy might avoid personally going after McCain and simply let Romney do the heavy lifting in knocking down their mutual rival. That no longer seems to be the case.

His tone was respectful, but Rudy’s comments to Neil Cavuto that McCain voted twice against the Bush tax cuts and “doesn’t embrace supply side economics the way I do” left little doubt that he won’t hesitate to go directly after McCain. The tax issue is Rudy’s best hope to separate himself from McCain who appeals to essentially the same constituency (e.g. moderates, national security voters). Although Rudy has made a local appeal by touting his support for a national catastrophic fund, I doubt (at least I hope) the primary and the possibly the nomination will not hang on such a provincial issue. (McCain, true to his no-pander approach, gave the idea–as he did ethanol subsidies in Iowa and auto industry bailouts in Michigan–the thumbs down.)

Will the tax issue make a difference? McCain repeats in his latest ad that he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. So Rudy will have to convince voters that McCain won’t ,in the face of certain Democratic opposition, go to the mat for tax cuts. (Many conservatives harbor just such suspicions so Rudy may find a receptive audience.) Rudy’s other point of differentiation, which he also raised with Cavuto and has hammered at every debate, is of course his executive skills and competency in turning New York around. (“John has not been in charge of the budget. John has not been in charge of a city or a state or a business so maybe these things are not part of his experience.”) Will this make the sale? It may, especially with all of those transplanted northeasterners who are familiar with the renaissance of New York. However, here he finds competition from Romney, whose newest and perhaps most compelling moniker is “businessman/turnaround specialist.” (As for Romney, the anti-populist/un-Huckabee, the danger may be that he displays a certain cluelessness. As the country collectively bit its fingernails yesterday over the stock market and impending economic downturn, he declared, “Every time I’ve seen things get scary, I put aside that feeling and say, “Aha. Is this a buying opportunity?’” Aha, indeed.)

Even as the field narrows with Thompson’s departure and Huckabee’s fade, it becomes increasingly difficult for Rudy to carve out a niche in the race. With time running out, Rudy’s best and perhaps last chance to break through and change the direction of the race will be Thursday’s debate. Although I think it is unlikely to approach the Hillary/Obama 15-rounder, I suspect we’ll see what John predicted–an unavoidable clash between the two friends.

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The Immigration Non-Battle

Immigration was supposed to be the hottest of the hot button issues in this Republican primary season. The battle over comprehensive immigration reform last year did come close to sinking John McCain’s presidential ship. However, aside from some nasty ads and some debate banter, immigration has not been the make or break issue it was built up to be. Duncan Currie notes that McCain successfully diffused the issue by emphasizing border security. In truth, none of the candidates are in favor of “amnesty” and all are discussing a combination of border security and employer verification while delaying discussion of legalization for another day. Meanwhile, international issues including the success of the Surge and economic uncertainty have become the top concerns for voters. Now in Florida – the latest, “definitely” decisive primary venue – immigration has been a non-issue and a candidate like Romney who previously ran ads decrying college tuition breaks for illegal aliens instead launches his own Spanish language TV ads. Like so many other prognostications about the 2008 race, the notion that immigration would be central has proven to be plain wrong.

Immigration was supposed to be the hottest of the hot button issues in this Republican primary season. The battle over comprehensive immigration reform last year did come close to sinking John McCain’s presidential ship. However, aside from some nasty ads and some debate banter, immigration has not been the make or break issue it was built up to be. Duncan Currie notes that McCain successfully diffused the issue by emphasizing border security. In truth, none of the candidates are in favor of “amnesty” and all are discussing a combination of border security and employer verification while delaying discussion of legalization for another day. Meanwhile, international issues including the success of the Surge and economic uncertainty have become the top concerns for voters. Now in Florida – the latest, “definitely” decisive primary venue – immigration has been a non-issue and a candidate like Romney who previously ran ads decrying college tuition breaks for illegal aliens instead launches his own Spanish language TV ads. Like so many other prognostications about the 2008 race, the notion that immigration would be central has proven to be plain wrong.

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