Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 24, 2008

“They Don’t Want Us to Wave the White Flag of Surrender Like Hillary Clinton”

That line, just delivered by John McCain, is the key to his entire candidacy. If one believes that victory in Iraq is essential — and if a Republican believes that the Democrats are vulnerable because they have been thoroughly defeatist — then McCain is demonstrating he is the candidate who can take the fight right to his partisan rival. If the surge remains successful, and political reconciliation follows apace, that won’t be a bad fight to have in October.

That line, just delivered by John McCain, is the key to his entire candidacy. If one believes that victory in Iraq is essential — and if a Republican believes that the Democrats are vulnerable because they have been thoroughly defeatist — then McCain is demonstrating he is the candidate who can take the fight right to his partisan rival. If the surge remains successful, and political reconciliation follows apace, that won’t be a bad fight to have in October.

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In Debate: A Master Class on the Economy

Jennifer, I have to disagree. The opening minutes of the GOP debate tonight makes me think that the Republican party is once again at the front in the battle of ideas, at least on economics. Mitt Romney talked about corporate tax rates and private sector incentives; John McCain talked about pork barrel spending and the size of government; Rudy Giuliani spoke about the largest tax cut in history; Mike Huckabee made the case for old-style \ industrial policy and infrastructure spending; and Ron Paul argued for a strong dollar, better monetary policy, and deregulation. Despite the courtly tone, these are very different, if somewhat overlapping, views about the economy. Yes, these are broad, two-minute answers, but the various views are worth debating. Can anyone tell the difference on economic policy among Obama, Clinton, and Edwards? Obama
dislikes Reaganomics, Clinton hates corporations, and Edwards will spend
more on the poor. But is there any policy debate there?

Jennifer, I have to disagree. The opening minutes of the GOP debate tonight makes me think that the Republican party is once again at the front in the battle of ideas, at least on economics. Mitt Romney talked about corporate tax rates and private sector incentives; John McCain talked about pork barrel spending and the size of government; Rudy Giuliani spoke about the largest tax cut in history; Mike Huckabee made the case for old-style \ industrial policy and infrastructure spending; and Ron Paul argued for a strong dollar, better monetary policy, and deregulation. Despite the courtly tone, these are very different, if somewhat overlapping, views about the economy. Yes, these are broad, two-minute answers, but the various views are worth debating. Can anyone tell the difference on economic policy among Obama, Clinton, and Edwards? Obama
dislikes Reaganomics, Clinton hates corporations, and Edwards will spend
more on the poor. But is there any policy debate there?

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Debate: On The Economy

This is absolutely no fun. Everyone is on their best behavior, everyone supports tax cuts and no rebuttals are being allowed. Romney does not go for the jugular when given the opportunity to attack McCain, but does remind voters he voted against the Bush tax cuts. McCain gets in a small dig about Romney’s record of raising fees, but defends his own record of insisting on budget cuts. On balance: a draw.

This is absolutely no fun. Everyone is on their best behavior, everyone supports tax cuts and no rebuttals are being allowed. Romney does not go for the jugular when given the opportunity to attack McCain, but does remind voters he voted against the Bush tax cuts. McCain gets in a small dig about Romney’s record of raising fees, but defends his own record of insisting on budget cuts. On balance: a draw.

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Squeezing Iran

On Tuesday, the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany agreed to a new round of sanctions, including a travel ban on key Iranian individuals, limits on businesses and military branches involved in nuclear activities, and the monitoring of banks and other institutions implicated in Iran’s nuclear program. While the forthcoming resolution merely adds stronger monitoring to previous sanctions, it achieves a unified western front against Iran and establishes a diplomatic platform for future resolutions, as necessary.

This represents progress. (I disagree with Gordon on this point.) As Norman Podhoretz argues, it indicates that the National Intelligence Estimate may not be as damaging as previously thought. Indeed, rather than derailing the U.S.-led effort to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, the NIE simply convinced our allies that a military strategy against Tehran had been put on the back-burner, thus refocusing efforts towards a strengthened diplomatic strategy.

Yet two key hurdles remain in insuring the effectiveness of these new sanctions. First, Russia has downplayed their seriousness, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that the forthcoming resolution will not require tough measures against Tehran other than calling for “countries to be vigilant in developing trade, economic, transport and other relations with Iran so that these relations are not used to transfer illegal, banned materials that can be used in nuclear affairs.”

Second, the new sanctions may have little consequence for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s domestic standing, which will face a major test when Iranians vote in the March parliamentary elections. Over 70 percent of the reformist candidates have been disqualified, making it difficult for Iranians to hold Ahmadinejad accountable for his failed economic policies. It is thus hardly surprising that Ahmadinejad’s response to the announcement of new sanctions was typically defiant, indicating that increased isolation might yield few domestic consequences.

Still, courting the Iranian public provides one strategy forward. As the Washington Institute’s Mehdi Khalaji reports, a low voter turnout will significantly undercut the regime’s legitimacy. At Davos, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thus wisely declared Iranians “a proud people with a great culture,” vowing expanded trade should Iran end its enrichment of uranium. Yet Russia’s narrow interpretation of the sanctions threatens to undermine the authority of these appeals, mitigating the political damage that Ahmadinejad might incur on account of them. Bottom line: keep an eye on Moscow.

On Tuesday, the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany agreed to a new round of sanctions, including a travel ban on key Iranian individuals, limits on businesses and military branches involved in nuclear activities, and the monitoring of banks and other institutions implicated in Iran’s nuclear program. While the forthcoming resolution merely adds stronger monitoring to previous sanctions, it achieves a unified western front against Iran and establishes a diplomatic platform for future resolutions, as necessary.

This represents progress. (I disagree with Gordon on this point.) As Norman Podhoretz argues, it indicates that the National Intelligence Estimate may not be as damaging as previously thought. Indeed, rather than derailing the U.S.-led effort to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, the NIE simply convinced our allies that a military strategy against Tehran had been put on the back-burner, thus refocusing efforts towards a strengthened diplomatic strategy.

Yet two key hurdles remain in insuring the effectiveness of these new sanctions. First, Russia has downplayed their seriousness, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that the forthcoming resolution will not require tough measures against Tehran other than calling for “countries to be vigilant in developing trade, economic, transport and other relations with Iran so that these relations are not used to transfer illegal, banned materials that can be used in nuclear affairs.”

Second, the new sanctions may have little consequence for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s domestic standing, which will face a major test when Iranians vote in the March parliamentary elections. Over 70 percent of the reformist candidates have been disqualified, making it difficult for Iranians to hold Ahmadinejad accountable for his failed economic policies. It is thus hardly surprising that Ahmadinejad’s response to the announcement of new sanctions was typically defiant, indicating that increased isolation might yield few domestic consequences.

Still, courting the Iranian public provides one strategy forward. As the Washington Institute’s Mehdi Khalaji reports, a low voter turnout will significantly undercut the regime’s legitimacy. At Davos, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thus wisely declared Iranians “a proud people with a great culture,” vowing expanded trade should Iran end its enrichment of uranium. Yet Russia’s narrow interpretation of the sanctions threatens to undermine the authority of these appeals, mitigating the political damage that Ahmadinejad might incur on account of them. Bottom line: keep an eye on Moscow.

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A Blogospheric Observation (Only for The Obsessed)

Andrew Sullivan likes to drip scorn upon Hugh Hewitt’s pate for indulging in boosterism where the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney is concerned. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? Hasn’t Sullivan turned into nothing more than an uncritical Barack Obama shill? And isn’t Hillary Clinton receiving the same kind of hostile coverage from Sullivan that John McCain receives from Hewitt — and for the same reason?

Andrew Sullivan likes to drip scorn upon Hugh Hewitt’s pate for indulging in boosterism where the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney is concerned. Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? Hasn’t Sullivan turned into nothing more than an uncritical Barack Obama shill? And isn’t Hillary Clinton receiving the same kind of hostile coverage from Sullivan that John McCain receives from Hewitt — and for the same reason?

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Dennis Departs: Who’s Next?

Dennis Kucinich departed the race today. Rudy says he won’t, even if he loses in Florida. (A close second for Rudy with McCain in third might leave an opening, I suppose.) It’s not good to be asked about when you’re dropping out. The danger now is that his supporters, in an effort to cast a meaningful vote, may decide to choose either McCain or Romney. There is the debate tonight, but let’s be honest: not a single one of these has changed the trajectory of the GOP race, not even Thompson’s masterful performance in Myrtle Beach (which now seems a distant memory). I suppose someone could lose his cool or make a horrible gaffe, but by now all the contenders are exceedingly well prepared. The biggest question may be Huckabee. Is he running for McCain’s VP (and, hence, will he club Romney even if a McCain victory in Florida would doom Huckabee and the other candidates’ chances)? Or is he hoping to dislodge McCain, leaving February 5 unsettled and Red states ripe for his picking? I suspect the former, but we’ll find out in a few hours.

Dennis Kucinich departed the race today. Rudy says he won’t, even if he loses in Florida. (A close second for Rudy with McCain in third might leave an opening, I suppose.) It’s not good to be asked about when you’re dropping out. The danger now is that his supporters, in an effort to cast a meaningful vote, may decide to choose either McCain or Romney. There is the debate tonight, but let’s be honest: not a single one of these has changed the trajectory of the GOP race, not even Thompson’s masterful performance in Myrtle Beach (which now seems a distant memory). I suppose someone could lose his cool or make a horrible gaffe, but by now all the contenders are exceedingly well prepared. The biggest question may be Huckabee. Is he running for McCain’s VP (and, hence, will he club Romney even if a McCain victory in Florida would doom Huckabee and the other candidates’ chances)? Or is he hoping to dislodge McCain, leaving February 5 unsettled and Red states ripe for his picking? I suspect the former, but we’ll find out in a few hours.

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The Bloody End

Despite the consensus view that P.T. Anderson’s latest film is a searing, visionary work, numerous critics have complained about the final scene of There Will Be Blood. The New Yorker’s David Denby calls it “a mistake.” Ross Douthat writes in the most recent National Review that the film’s weakest part is its end. And Chris Orr, writing for The New Republic, argues that it “runs aground in its final act and, especially, its final scene.” But although the final scene is jarring, I think it’s a perfect close for both the director and the film’s central character. (As you might expect, spoilers lie ahead.)

A quick recap: After two and a half hours of quiet, tightly-controlled, poetic naturalism, in which Daniel Day Lewis’s fiercely independent oil baron Daniel Plainview manipulates and dominates everything and everyone around him, the film explodes into a wild—some might say unhinged—absurdism. He confronts Eli (Paul Dano), a wily spiritual huckster—and something of a competitor—who has come begging for help, and then, after growling and howling his way through a riveting, if borderline insane, monologue that features the line, “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE,” he begins hurling bowling balls at Eli and eventually kills him. It’s transfixing, brutal, uncomfortable, and defiantly weird.

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Despite the consensus view that P.T. Anderson’s latest film is a searing, visionary work, numerous critics have complained about the final scene of There Will Be Blood. The New Yorker’s David Denby calls it “a mistake.” Ross Douthat writes in the most recent National Review that the film’s weakest part is its end. And Chris Orr, writing for The New Republic, argues that it “runs aground in its final act and, especially, its final scene.” But although the final scene is jarring, I think it’s a perfect close for both the director and the film’s central character. (As you might expect, spoilers lie ahead.)

A quick recap: After two and a half hours of quiet, tightly-controlled, poetic naturalism, in which Daniel Day Lewis’s fiercely independent oil baron Daniel Plainview manipulates and dominates everything and everyone around him, the film explodes into a wild—some might say unhinged—absurdism. He confronts Eli (Paul Dano), a wily spiritual huckster—and something of a competitor—who has come begging for help, and then, after growling and howling his way through a riveting, if borderline insane, monologue that features the line, “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE,” he begins hurling bowling balls at Eli and eventually kills him. It’s transfixing, brutal, uncomfortable, and defiantly weird.

The first thing worth noting is that Anderson has finished other films with similar tonal shifts. Indeed, he seems to enjoy pushing his films both over the top and out of this world in their final moments. His last two pictures both started relatively small and naturalistic, but built towards grand, fanciful scenes of magical realism. Magnolia, an Altman-style California character drama, ended with a literal plague of frogs descending upon Los Angeles, and Punch-Drunk Love ended with a dream-like flight out of L.A. to a confrontation with a surly pimp in mattress warehouse. Anderson, in other words, has never been much for restraint in his finales.

And it seems to me that restraint—emotional restraint—is what finally does Plainview in. Lewis’s phenomenal performance (favored, correctly, I think, to win an Oscar) is centrally about one thing: domination. He’s a conqueror of men, land, and fortunes—not because he particularly cares for any of those things, but because he is driven to conquer simply for conquering’s sake.

And for Plainview, the will to conquer and dominate requires emotional constriction of the sort that is ultimately unsustainable. For most of the film, he’s a sharp tactical manipulator, coolly and calmly assessing his opponents—which is to say everyone—and how he can best them. But such a drive must, at some point erupt, must blow up, and is likely to result in the sort of hysterical violence found in the final scene.
There’s a reason, I think, that Plainview is drawn to oil; they share many of the same qualities, and they grow more alike as the film goes on. Like him, it is a source of great power, great wealth, and great misery, always pulsing, always flowing, always threatening to explode or ignite when others try to control it. One might even say the violent, oddly spectacular explosion in the final scene was inevitable: Like so many of the oil wells he built through his life, eventually Daniel Plainview was bound to blow his top.

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Don’t Blame Canada

Hats off to Canada, which has announced it is pulling out of next year’s UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. The last such conference, held in 2001, deteriorated into venomous Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, causing the U.S. and Israel to walk out in protest. That conference was a “circus of intolerance,” says Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Candian identity, Jason Kenney. ”Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it,” he said. ”We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.”

What could make Canada think the organizers have not learned from their past errors? Perhaps it is the fact that Libya is chairing it. Or that Cuba is vice-chair. Maybe the presence of Iran on the organizing committee gave them the creeps? Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said that the Canadians “had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 . . . conference would remedy the mistakes of the past. Despite our efforts, we have concluded that it will not. Canada will therefore not participate.”

This kind of clear thinking and refusal to bend to diplomatic nicety is a rare thing in the international arena. Let’s hope that American and European leaders will have the sense to follow suit, and we can finally put the Durban fiasco to bed.

Hats off to Canada, which has announced it is pulling out of next year’s UN conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. The last such conference, held in 2001, deteriorated into venomous Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, causing the U.S. and Israel to walk out in protest. That conference was a “circus of intolerance,” says Canada’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Candian identity, Jason Kenney. ”Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it,” he said. ”We’ll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.”

What could make Canada think the organizers have not learned from their past errors? Perhaps it is the fact that Libya is chairing it. Or that Cuba is vice-chair. Maybe the presence of Iran on the organizing committee gave them the creeps? Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said that the Canadians “had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009 . . . conference would remedy the mistakes of the past. Despite our efforts, we have concluded that it will not. Canada will therefore not participate.”

This kind of clear thinking and refusal to bend to diplomatic nicety is a rare thing in the international arena. Let’s hope that American and European leaders will have the sense to follow suit, and we can finally put the Durban fiasco to bed.

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Iran’s Grand Strategy

This week China and Russia unexpectedly dropped their opposition to a third set of U.N. sanctions on Iran for continuing its enrichment of uranium. Why did they do so? This could be a concerted effort to assist Tehran in its campaign to avoid Security Council involvement in its nuclear program. Unfortunately, the United States may be acquiescing in a course of action that will permit the “atomic ayatollahs” to keep their centrifuges.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained that the draft resolution does not contain “any harsh sanctions.” Instead, the draft, which has not yet been released, merely asks nations to be vigilant about transferring prohibited nuclear material. The terms of the new resolution, Lavrov explained, “will be enforced until the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns are resolved.”

This statement was certainly music to the ears of the mullahs. On the 12th of this month Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with, and lectured, Mohamed ElBaradei. “There is no justification for Iran’s nuclear dossier to remain at the U.N. Security Council,” Iran’s supreme leader told the head of the IAEA. At the same time Iran pledged to cooperate with ElBaradei’s agency and wrap up all remaining questions within weeks. In a sign of cooperation, Iran allowed ElBaradei and one of his chief deputies to walk around the site where it is developing its advanced P-2 centrifuge. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the IAEA was close to finishing its years-long inquiry on Iran.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, after failing to get Russia and China to agree to tougher sanctions, adopted a conciliatory tone and offered the prospect of better relations with Tehran. “We could work over time to build a new, more normal relationship—one defined not by fear and mistrust, but growing cooperation, expanding trade and exchange, and the peaceful management of our differences,” said the secretary of state, speaking from Davos yesterday. “This problem can and should be resolved through diplomacy.”

I admire her optimism. On the day she signaled compromise, both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili ruled it out. Rice of course insisted that Iran stop enrichment, but the direction of her remarks revealed that the United States had given up confronting the intransigent Iranians.

So, it appears that the IAEA will certify that Iran is not trying to weaponize the atom, the Russians and Chinese will insist that the Security Council end its oversight of Iran, and the United States will meekly go along.

This week China and Russia unexpectedly dropped their opposition to a third set of U.N. sanctions on Iran for continuing its enrichment of uranium. Why did they do so? This could be a concerted effort to assist Tehran in its campaign to avoid Security Council involvement in its nuclear program. Unfortunately, the United States may be acquiescing in a course of action that will permit the “atomic ayatollahs” to keep their centrifuges.

Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov explained that the draft resolution does not contain “any harsh sanctions.” Instead, the draft, which has not yet been released, merely asks nations to be vigilant about transferring prohibited nuclear material. The terms of the new resolution, Lavrov explained, “will be enforced until the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns are resolved.”

This statement was certainly music to the ears of the mullahs. On the 12th of this month Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with, and lectured, Mohamed ElBaradei. “There is no justification for Iran’s nuclear dossier to remain at the U.N. Security Council,” Iran’s supreme leader told the head of the IAEA. At the same time Iran pledged to cooperate with ElBaradei’s agency and wrap up all remaining questions within weeks. In a sign of cooperation, Iran allowed ElBaradei and one of his chief deputies to walk around the site where it is developing its advanced P-2 centrifuge. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the IAEA was close to finishing its years-long inquiry on Iran.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, after failing to get Russia and China to agree to tougher sanctions, adopted a conciliatory tone and offered the prospect of better relations with Tehran. “We could work over time to build a new, more normal relationship—one defined not by fear and mistrust, but growing cooperation, expanding trade and exchange, and the peaceful management of our differences,” said the secretary of state, speaking from Davos yesterday. “This problem can and should be resolved through diplomacy.”

I admire her optimism. On the day she signaled compromise, both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili ruled it out. Rice of course insisted that Iran stop enrichment, but the direction of her remarks revealed that the United States had given up confronting the intransigent Iranians.

So, it appears that the IAEA will certify that Iran is not trying to weaponize the atom, the Russians and Chinese will insist that the Security Council end its oversight of Iran, and the United States will meekly go along.

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Which Is The Good War, Again?

Iraq is the good war, Afghanistan the bad. So says State Department coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, according to timesonline.com. The evidence is substantial. The past six months in Iraq have brought not only a semblance of order to the chaos, but also the beginnings of political cooperation. The violence that continues to flare is restricted to a much smaller region than the country-wide theatre of one year ago. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan effort grows ever more hobbled by a self-restrained NATO, resilient Taliban, and political bedlam. From the Times:

It is the nature of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many deficits not present in Iraq. Iraq is a wealthy country, it has resources, badly used, but it has resources,” he said. It is rich. Iraq, for all its difficulty in unifying politically, has many quasi-democratic, recognisable political forces. Afghanistan has warlords,” he said.

Funny how Satterfield’s description of Iraq recalls the very points made by those of us who were optimistic about that country’s chances for democracy when the war began. Surely, this counts as pre-war intelligence of the non-laughable variety.

Satterfield also points out: “today more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq were more secure than at any time since the US invasion in 2003.” One should add that with pre-war estimates of state-murdered civilians at between 20,000–25,000 annually, more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq are more secure than at any time in the past thirty years.

One wonders how this novel flip-flop will play out politically. Will Hillary Clinton insert Afghanistan for Iraq in all her upcoming speeches? Not likely. That would be an acknowledgement of the fact that she’s based her withdrawal rhetoric on a sense of defeat rather than on having been lied to. But then, if public sentiment shifts, she’ll be sure to follow.

However, it’s most useful to think of these wars not in terms of good and bad, but as improving and waiting to improve. If General Petraeus moves to Central Command (as Max Boot suggested), he could inspire the clarity and ingenuity allowing us to call them both good wars.

Iraq is the good war, Afghanistan the bad. So says State Department coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, according to timesonline.com. The evidence is substantial. The past six months in Iraq have brought not only a semblance of order to the chaos, but also the beginnings of political cooperation. The violence that continues to flare is restricted to a much smaller region than the country-wide theatre of one year ago. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan effort grows ever more hobbled by a self-restrained NATO, resilient Taliban, and political bedlam. From the Times:

It is the nature of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has many deficits not present in Iraq. Iraq is a wealthy country, it has resources, badly used, but it has resources,” he said. It is rich. Iraq, for all its difficulty in unifying politically, has many quasi-democratic, recognisable political forces. Afghanistan has warlords,” he said.

Funny how Satterfield’s description of Iraq recalls the very points made by those of us who were optimistic about that country’s chances for democracy when the war began. Surely, this counts as pre-war intelligence of the non-laughable variety.

Satterfield also points out: “today more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq were more secure than at any time since the US invasion in 2003.” One should add that with pre-war estimates of state-murdered civilians at between 20,000–25,000 annually, more Iraqi citizens in more areas of Iraq are more secure than at any time in the past thirty years.

One wonders how this novel flip-flop will play out politically. Will Hillary Clinton insert Afghanistan for Iraq in all her upcoming speeches? Not likely. That would be an acknowledgement of the fact that she’s based her withdrawal rhetoric on a sense of defeat rather than on having been lied to. But then, if public sentiment shifts, she’ll be sure to follow.

However, it’s most useful to think of these wars not in terms of good and bad, but as improving and waiting to improve. If General Petraeus moves to Central Command (as Max Boot suggested), he could inspire the clarity and ingenuity allowing us to call them both good wars.

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McCain Unplugged

Lots of ads are out from the Republican side today. Romney, after a few days of Mr. Fix-It messaging, is back to flashing his conservative bona fides with this TV spot. He makes good use of his conservative endorsements, but then ends with a line from the Boston Globe–his liberal hometown paper which endorsed his rival McCain and criticized his every policy revision (not to mention his choice of lawn services). Odd.
The bigger splash comes from McCain, who offers up two video contributions. The first is his TV interview this morning in which he lambastes Hillary for “waving the white flag” on Iraq. The second is a clever web ad in which he calls himself “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.” (Actually, that may be Bill, as others have pointed out, but I digress.) The ad makes the electability argument, which is exceptionally strong, given that McCain in current polling narrowly beats both Democratic contenders while Romney loses to them by double digits. And it also serves the “bonding with the base” purpose for a candidate who is often criticized for being too friendly with conservatives’ Democratic foes. Both McCain offerings are being praised by conservative blogs, just the places he should be cultivating.

Lots of ads are out from the Republican side today. Romney, after a few days of Mr. Fix-It messaging, is back to flashing his conservative bona fides with this TV spot. He makes good use of his conservative endorsements, but then ends with a line from the Boston Globe–his liberal hometown paper which endorsed his rival McCain and criticized his every policy revision (not to mention his choice of lawn services). Odd.
The bigger splash comes from McCain, who offers up two video contributions. The first is his TV interview this morning in which he lambastes Hillary for “waving the white flag” on Iraq. The second is a clever web ad in which he calls himself “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.” (Actually, that may be Bill, as others have pointed out, but I digress.) The ad makes the electability argument, which is exceptionally strong, given that McCain in current polling narrowly beats both Democratic contenders while Romney loses to them by double digits. And it also serves the “bonding with the base” purpose for a candidate who is often criticized for being too friendly with conservatives’ Democratic foes. Both McCain offerings are being praised by conservative blogs, just the places he should be cultivating.

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The Big Squeeze

I’m starting to come around to Noah Pollak’s thinking on Gaza. Today Egypt’s president announced that he will keep the crossings from Gaza into his country open–meaning that in his own humanitarian moment, he put himself into a position in which the only way for Gaza to remain beseiged is if he does the beseiging.

The biggest problem with Gaza, from Israel’s perspective, is that Israel has withdrawn and yet the world still sees Gaza as occupied. An intolerable situation was created in which Israel sacrificed all the military and civilian advantages of being there but continued paying the price: Gaza remained dependent on the Jewish state for fuel and food. The only way to “end the occupation” was to cut itself off completely, which the world called a “seige” so long as Gazans had no way in or out.

The Israeli commentator Alex Fishman put it this way in a column today on Ynet:

Besides the Egyptian government, which shot itself in the foot, everyone is pleased: Businesses in Rafah are flourishing and in Gaza the price of a cigarette pack dropped by 80%. Israel has been presented with a golden opportunity for diplomatic gains: Yesterday, in fact, was the beginning of the real disengagement from Gaza . . . Yesterday Hamas caused an absolute and complete disconnection between the Gaza economy and the West Bank economy, ahead of the emergence of two separate Palestinian entities. The moment huge quantities of goods entered the Strip without coordinating it with Israel, all duty agreements were in fact breached. From now on, Gazans would not be able to export even a matchbox to Israel or to the West Bank.

Defense officials reached the conclusion that it’s all about physics, and that Gaza is like a toothpaste tube. You squeeze it powerfully and the paste comes out of the weakest side— Egypt.

With the floodgates open, there is no siege. The occupation is over. Gaza is now Egypt’s problem.

I’m starting to come around to Noah Pollak’s thinking on Gaza. Today Egypt’s president announced that he will keep the crossings from Gaza into his country open–meaning that in his own humanitarian moment, he put himself into a position in which the only way for Gaza to remain beseiged is if he does the beseiging.

The biggest problem with Gaza, from Israel’s perspective, is that Israel has withdrawn and yet the world still sees Gaza as occupied. An intolerable situation was created in which Israel sacrificed all the military and civilian advantages of being there but continued paying the price: Gaza remained dependent on the Jewish state for fuel and food. The only way to “end the occupation” was to cut itself off completely, which the world called a “seige” so long as Gazans had no way in or out.

The Israeli commentator Alex Fishman put it this way in a column today on Ynet:

Besides the Egyptian government, which shot itself in the foot, everyone is pleased: Businesses in Rafah are flourishing and in Gaza the price of a cigarette pack dropped by 80%. Israel has been presented with a golden opportunity for diplomatic gains: Yesterday, in fact, was the beginning of the real disengagement from Gaza . . . Yesterday Hamas caused an absolute and complete disconnection between the Gaza economy and the West Bank economy, ahead of the emergence of two separate Palestinian entities. The moment huge quantities of goods entered the Strip without coordinating it with Israel, all duty agreements were in fact breached. From now on, Gazans would not be able to export even a matchbox to Israel or to the West Bank.

Defense officials reached the conclusion that it’s all about physics, and that Gaza is like a toothpaste tube. You squeeze it powerfully and the paste comes out of the weakest side— Egypt.

With the floodgates open, there is no siege. The occupation is over. Gaza is now Egypt’s problem.

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Shame on You

Of all the people on planet Earth, is there anyone who has less standing to utter the words “Shame on you” than Bill Clinton? Yet there he was yesterday, scolding a television reporter for asking him about criticisms by other Democrats that he is leveling unfair and inaccurate attacks against Senator Barack Obama. For a man of bottomless dishonesty and irresponsible behavior to act morally offended about anything, especially for being asked about his own role in spreading false charges against a political opponent, is a remarkable thing to see.

Today’s Washington Post recounts that exchange in a front-page story. According to reporters Alec MacGillis and Anne Kornblut,

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s presidential campaign aired a new radio ad here Wednesday that repeated a discredited charge against Sen. Barack Obama, in what some Democrats said is part of an increasing pattern of hardball politics by her and former president Bill Clinton.

Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, accused the Clintons of using the “politics of deception.” A onetime Clinton supporter, Harpootlian said the Clintons’ recent tactics have been “all about deceit.” “This is harmful to the party, it’s harmful to the state,” Harpootlian added. “And I understand they want to win, but this is about–should be about–a competition of ideas, not who can pull the hammer harder.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who endorsed Obama last week, ripped into the former president for what he called his “glib cheap shots” at Obama. “That’s beneath the dignity of a former president,” Leahy told reporters, adding: “He is not helping anyone, and certainly not helping the Democratic Party.”

Furthermore, according to the Post,

For some rank-and-file Democrats, the tack against Obama is prompting a reevaluation of Clinton and her husband. Bill Clinton gained enormous popularity among Democrats in the 1990s partly because of his ability to achieve tactical triumphs over Republicans. Now, watching the use of rough-edged tactics against a fellow Democrat, some of those who supported him then are having second thoughts. “They’re obvious distortions,” said Ralph Byrd, a retired electrical engineer in Greenville, S.C., who voted for Clinton in 1992 and 1996. “We’ve had enough spin in the White House the last eight years, and we don’t need any more. It’s deliberate distortion that we don’t need.”

On MSNBC’s Hardball last night, the liberal radio talk show host Ed Schultz, agitated and fed up, said this about Bill Clinton: “He’s lying on the campaign trail… Bill Clinton is lying about Barack Obama’s record . . . He is embarrassing poor Democrats.” Now they tell us.

Democrats who stood by Mr. Clinton when he and his wife perfected the politics of deceit and personal destruction in the 1990′s are now shocked, shocked that he and his wife are employing the politics of deceit and personal destruction. But it is hard to condemn what you once applauded and even delighted in.

The late Michael Kelly understood Bill Clinton as well as any journalist ever did. And about Bill Clinton he once wrote this:

This man will never stop lying. To borrow a hyperbolic description of another of the century’s historic prevaricators, every word he utters is a lie, including “and” and “the.” He will lie till the last dog dies.

Barack Obama, who seems to be a political figure of admirable integrity, now faces the most ruthless political machine we have seen in our lifetime. We will see how the politics of hope does against the man from hope. If Obama succeeds in ending the presidential aspirations of this deeply cynical and corrupt couple, he will have done both his party and his country a favor.

Of all the people on planet Earth, is there anyone who has less standing to utter the words “Shame on you” than Bill Clinton? Yet there he was yesterday, scolding a television reporter for asking him about criticisms by other Democrats that he is leveling unfair and inaccurate attacks against Senator Barack Obama. For a man of bottomless dishonesty and irresponsible behavior to act morally offended about anything, especially for being asked about his own role in spreading false charges against a political opponent, is a remarkable thing to see.

Today’s Washington Post recounts that exchange in a front-page story. According to reporters Alec MacGillis and Anne Kornblut,

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s presidential campaign aired a new radio ad here Wednesday that repeated a discredited charge against Sen. Barack Obama, in what some Democrats said is part of an increasing pattern of hardball politics by her and former president Bill Clinton.

Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, accused the Clintons of using the “politics of deception.” A onetime Clinton supporter, Harpootlian said the Clintons’ recent tactics have been “all about deceit.” “This is harmful to the party, it’s harmful to the state,” Harpootlian added. “And I understand they want to win, but this is about–should be about–a competition of ideas, not who can pull the hammer harder.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who endorsed Obama last week, ripped into the former president for what he called his “glib cheap shots” at Obama. “That’s beneath the dignity of a former president,” Leahy told reporters, adding: “He is not helping anyone, and certainly not helping the Democratic Party.”

Furthermore, according to the Post,

For some rank-and-file Democrats, the tack against Obama is prompting a reevaluation of Clinton and her husband. Bill Clinton gained enormous popularity among Democrats in the 1990s partly because of his ability to achieve tactical triumphs over Republicans. Now, watching the use of rough-edged tactics against a fellow Democrat, some of those who supported him then are having second thoughts. “They’re obvious distortions,” said Ralph Byrd, a retired electrical engineer in Greenville, S.C., who voted for Clinton in 1992 and 1996. “We’ve had enough spin in the White House the last eight years, and we don’t need any more. It’s deliberate distortion that we don’t need.”

On MSNBC’s Hardball last night, the liberal radio talk show host Ed Schultz, agitated and fed up, said this about Bill Clinton: “He’s lying on the campaign trail… Bill Clinton is lying about Barack Obama’s record . . . He is embarrassing poor Democrats.” Now they tell us.

Democrats who stood by Mr. Clinton when he and his wife perfected the politics of deceit and personal destruction in the 1990′s are now shocked, shocked that he and his wife are employing the politics of deceit and personal destruction. But it is hard to condemn what you once applauded and even delighted in.

The late Michael Kelly understood Bill Clinton as well as any journalist ever did. And about Bill Clinton he once wrote this:

This man will never stop lying. To borrow a hyperbolic description of another of the century’s historic prevaricators, every word he utters is a lie, including “and” and “the.” He will lie till the last dog dies.

Barack Obama, who seems to be a political figure of admirable integrity, now faces the most ruthless political machine we have seen in our lifetime. We will see how the politics of hope does against the man from hope. If Obama succeeds in ending the presidential aspirations of this deeply cynical and corrupt couple, he will have done both his party and his country a favor.

Read Less

The Keystone Jihad

Darwin picks up the slack for NATO. Mercury reports:

A would-be suicide bomber fell down a flight of stairs and blew himself up as he headed out for an attack in Afghanistan, police say.

It was the second such incident in two days, with another man killing himself and three others on Tuesday when his bomb-filled waistcoat exploded as he was putting it on in the southern town of Lashkar Gah.

My only question? will the New York Times cite this as “evidence of increasing Taliban violence” or “a further example of the Americans’ failure to lend Afghans support for basic needs such as sound structures and new clothes”?

Darwin picks up the slack for NATO. Mercury reports:

A would-be suicide bomber fell down a flight of stairs and blew himself up as he headed out for an attack in Afghanistan, police say.

It was the second such incident in two days, with another man killing himself and three others on Tuesday when his bomb-filled waistcoat exploded as he was putting it on in the southern town of Lashkar Gah.

My only question? will the New York Times cite this as “evidence of increasing Taliban violence” or “a further example of the Americans’ failure to lend Afghans support for basic needs such as sound structures and new clothes”?

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Bad Medicine for Obama

At townhall.com, R. Emmett Tyrrell thinks he has the prescription for a winning Obama campaign:

Obama introduced two themes, both closely related. He asseverated that the Clintons represent all the bitterness associated with “the baby boomers” in politics. That they do. In recent weeks, we have tasted that bitterness all over again. What is more, with great subtlety, Obama brought up “the 1990s.” Hesto presto — the Clinton lead vanished among the Democrats, who supposedly adore the Clintons. As Democratic primary voters now have fresh evidence of the Clintons’ dirty tricks and bitter charges, Obama should revert to these themes. He now finds himself on the defensive in the rancorous atmosphere that the Clintons apparently thrive in. Obama should return to the high ground where he already has hurt Hillary badly.

Things aren’t that easy. If it was simply a matter of pointing to Bill and Hillary and saying, “Exhibits A and B,” the two of them would have been booed off the stage a decade ago. Tyrrell ignores the fact that the Clinton sociopathy he calls “bitterness” is thought of by most Democratic voters as an insignificant imperfection, while the rest label it “charm.” Has he forgotten that Bill Clinton’s perjury and other acts of malfeaseance were considered a necessary defense against a phalanx of cruel conspirers? The more Obama calls attention to the 1990′s, the more nostalgic Democratic voters will get. They view Slick Willie not with disgust but reverence.

At townhall.com, R. Emmett Tyrrell thinks he has the prescription for a winning Obama campaign:

Obama introduced two themes, both closely related. He asseverated that the Clintons represent all the bitterness associated with “the baby boomers” in politics. That they do. In recent weeks, we have tasted that bitterness all over again. What is more, with great subtlety, Obama brought up “the 1990s.” Hesto presto — the Clinton lead vanished among the Democrats, who supposedly adore the Clintons. As Democratic primary voters now have fresh evidence of the Clintons’ dirty tricks and bitter charges, Obama should revert to these themes. He now finds himself on the defensive in the rancorous atmosphere that the Clintons apparently thrive in. Obama should return to the high ground where he already has hurt Hillary badly.

Things aren’t that easy. If it was simply a matter of pointing to Bill and Hillary and saying, “Exhibits A and B,” the two of them would have been booed off the stage a decade ago. Tyrrell ignores the fact that the Clinton sociopathy he calls “bitterness” is thought of by most Democratic voters as an insignificant imperfection, while the rest label it “charm.” Has he forgotten that Bill Clinton’s perjury and other acts of malfeaseance were considered a necessary defense against a phalanx of cruel conspirers? The more Obama calls attention to the 1990′s, the more nostalgic Democratic voters will get. They view Slick Willie not with disgust but reverence.

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Musharraf: Going, Going . . .

This morning’s newspapers bring more news that Pervez Musharraf’s days as president of Pakistan are numbered. Even as the retired general is gallivanting around Europe, meeting with other movers and shakers at Davos, his base of support among the Pakistani military is crumbling. According to news accounts such as this one, more than 100 senior retired military officers have called on Musharraf to resign. It’s not hard to see why: The military sees that Musharraf’s credibility is shot, and they do not want him to tar the entire institution.

As the Musharraf regime teeters on the edge of collapse and Islamic extremists continue their reign of terror, the Bush administration’s Pakistan policy, which was closely tied to the general, lies in tatters. Pakistan is fast emerging, if it has not already, as the most critical battleground in the Global War on Terror, or whatever we’re calling it these days. Thus it is good to read that the U.S. is planning to offer more assistance to the Pakistani armed forces and perhaps even send more Special Operations forces to hunt down the terrorists.

But sending commandos and military aid is seldom enough to quell a growing insurgency of the kind that Pakistan faces. A prerequisite for success is a legitimate government that can mobilize the people against the terrorists. That is what Pakistan lacks at the moment, and will lack as long as Musharraf continues to cling to power. It is high time the Bush administration realized that, and pushed its pal out the door.

This morning’s newspapers bring more news that Pervez Musharraf’s days as president of Pakistan are numbered. Even as the retired general is gallivanting around Europe, meeting with other movers and shakers at Davos, his base of support among the Pakistani military is crumbling. According to news accounts such as this one, more than 100 senior retired military officers have called on Musharraf to resign. It’s not hard to see why: The military sees that Musharraf’s credibility is shot, and they do not want him to tar the entire institution.

As the Musharraf regime teeters on the edge of collapse and Islamic extremists continue their reign of terror, the Bush administration’s Pakistan policy, which was closely tied to the general, lies in tatters. Pakistan is fast emerging, if it has not already, as the most critical battleground in the Global War on Terror, or whatever we’re calling it these days. Thus it is good to read that the U.S. is planning to offer more assistance to the Pakistani armed forces and perhaps even send more Special Operations forces to hunt down the terrorists.

But sending commandos and military aid is seldom enough to quell a growing insurgency of the kind that Pakistan faces. A prerequisite for success is a legitimate government that can mobilize the people against the terrorists. That is what Pakistan lacks at the moment, and will lack as long as Musharraf continues to cling to power. It is high time the Bush administration realized that, and pushed its pal out the door.

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Worth It?

Rudy has been getting flak from fiscal conservatives (check out today’s Wall Street Journal) for his support of a catastrophe insurance fund for Florida. However, this may have been the price to pay for Governor Charlie Crist’s endorsement. Crist has been hammering away at the insurance industry and quizzing the GOP contenders for months on whether they will help “spread the risk” (i.e. offer up federal taxpayers as the liability backstop) for Floridians who live in hurricane territory.

On the subject of an endorsement, Crist sounds on the fence here, perhaps waiting to see if any other contender will pony up support for the fund. Crist has a 70 percent approval rating, so his nod would certainly help in a close race. But the prospect of a popular governor’s endorsement has to be weighed against the appearance of pandering. It would be nice to say that pandering doesn’t pay, but it seems not to have hurt Romney a bit in Michigan, where the topic was help for the auto industry. Although the Journal praises McCain’s disdain for the Florida venture and scoffs at Romney’s refusal to take a firm position, it is not certain whether McCain’s stubborn refusal to give the people what they want will pay off with the voters. In the end, Rudy’s position may get him some votes but not Crist’s endorsement. Unless Rudy’s poll numbers reverse course, Crist may well decide to remain mum.

Rudy has been getting flak from fiscal conservatives (check out today’s Wall Street Journal) for his support of a catastrophe insurance fund for Florida. However, this may have been the price to pay for Governor Charlie Crist’s endorsement. Crist has been hammering away at the insurance industry and quizzing the GOP contenders for months on whether they will help “spread the risk” (i.e. offer up federal taxpayers as the liability backstop) for Floridians who live in hurricane territory.

On the subject of an endorsement, Crist sounds on the fence here, perhaps waiting to see if any other contender will pony up support for the fund. Crist has a 70 percent approval rating, so his nod would certainly help in a close race. But the prospect of a popular governor’s endorsement has to be weighed against the appearance of pandering. It would be nice to say that pandering doesn’t pay, but it seems not to have hurt Romney a bit in Michigan, where the topic was help for the auto industry. Although the Journal praises McCain’s disdain for the Florida venture and scoffs at Romney’s refusal to take a firm position, it is not certain whether McCain’s stubborn refusal to give the people what they want will pay off with the voters. In the end, Rudy’s position may get him some votes but not Crist’s endorsement. Unless Rudy’s poll numbers reverse course, Crist may well decide to remain mum.

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About That Bell

John: yes, that bell is ringing rather loudly in Florida. Rudy–according to the latest batch of Florida polling–has slid into a third-place tie in Florida with Huckabee well behind McCain and Romney. Some polls have McCain up slightly and others have Romney in the lead, but all appear to be within the margin of error. This suggests : 1) Romney is gaining by picking up Thompson and Huckabee voters and 2) Rudy’s voters are moving to McCain. (#2 can be seen in California, New Jersey and New York as well.)

The shape of the race in the wake of this development is not yet clear. Are we moving to a two-man race, with conservatives lining up with Romney and moderates with McCain? Perhaps. McCain is certainly not willing to concede the conservative base to Romney. In Florida he is now positioning himself as the solid conservative (while Romney pursues his Washington Outsider theme) in an effort to secure a broad coalition of GOP voters. Romney still must fend off Huckabee, who may be a minor factor in Florida but likely will survive to fight in the February 5 states. But slowly, slowly the face off between the two bitter rivals is taking shape.

If we look beyond Florida, McCain may have the advantage.(And not just because the media and his opponents appear to detest Romney.) He has won South Carolina (Romney came in third). And word now comes that he sort-of won in Louisiana (the uncommitted pro-life slate won a majority, but McCain finished first among real candidates), making him competitive in the Red states in a way Romney has not yet shown himself to be. If Rudy does not win in Florida, McCain will likely continue to be the beneficiary in states in which Rudy previously dominated (e.g. New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California). In short, we may be heading for a McCain vs. Romney showdown, but one in which McCain’s advantage will grow if Rudy’s star continues to fade.

John: yes, that bell is ringing rather loudly in Florida. Rudy–according to the latest batch of Florida polling–has slid into a third-place tie in Florida with Huckabee well behind McCain and Romney. Some polls have McCain up slightly and others have Romney in the lead, but all appear to be within the margin of error. This suggests : 1) Romney is gaining by picking up Thompson and Huckabee voters and 2) Rudy’s voters are moving to McCain. (#2 can be seen in California, New Jersey and New York as well.)

The shape of the race in the wake of this development is not yet clear. Are we moving to a two-man race, with conservatives lining up with Romney and moderates with McCain? Perhaps. McCain is certainly not willing to concede the conservative base to Romney. In Florida he is now positioning himself as the solid conservative (while Romney pursues his Washington Outsider theme) in an effort to secure a broad coalition of GOP voters. Romney still must fend off Huckabee, who may be a minor factor in Florida but likely will survive to fight in the February 5 states. But slowly, slowly the face off between the two bitter rivals is taking shape.

If we look beyond Florida, McCain may have the advantage.(And not just because the media and his opponents appear to detest Romney.) He has won South Carolina (Romney came in third). And word now comes that he sort-of won in Louisiana (the uncommitted pro-life slate won a majority, but McCain finished first among real candidates), making him competitive in the Red states in a way Romney has not yet shown himself to be. If Rudy does not win in Florida, McCain will likely continue to be the beneficiary in states in which Rudy previously dominated (e.g. New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California). In short, we may be heading for a McCain vs. Romney showdown, but one in which McCain’s advantage will grow if Rudy’s star continues to fade.

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Don’t Worry, North Korea Really Means Well

Today’s Washington Post carries good news about the Hermit Kingdom. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department official, tell us there’s no reason for us to worry about the lack of North Korean progress in meeting its obligations under the various agreements it has signed. Indeed, the “finger-wagging, told-you-so naysayers in and out of the Bush administration should take a deep breath.”

To begin with, they argue, North Korea’s full declaration detailing the scope of its nuclear program, due on December 31, and now 24 days late, is not really late at all: “After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November.” The North Koreans there admitted came clean about their plutonium stockpile but they denied having “a uranium enrichment program.”

Albright and Shire acknowledge the “ample evidence that North Korea acquired components for a centrifuge-enrichment program” but they explain that few observers now believe that it actually managed to enrich any uranium. In any case, their efforts in this area are nothing to worry about: “The success or failure of this latest agreement with North Korea must not hinge on the uranium issue,” even if the full declaration was not really full at all.

Then there is North Korean cooperation with a covert Syrian nuclear program. This is “troubling,” Albright and Shire tell us, but “must also be kept in context.” What is the context? The necessity of keeping North Korea engaged in dialogue. In the face of Pyongyong’s provision of “sensitive or dual-use equipment to Syria,” the main imperative is “keeping the deal together.” This will help bring “North Korea into the fold, bit by bit, making it harder for it to slip back into the arena of illicit deals and keeping a bright light on its activities.”

As for the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel bombed in September after a North Korean shipment of some unknown sort arrived there, this also must be kept in context, and in any case “it is gone now and whatever has replaced it is almost certainly not a reactor.” Reports that North Korea provided plutonium to Syria “are baseless.” The evidence: “The transfer of such material for weapons would be a casus belli with dire consequences for both countries, and this surely is understood by both Kim Jong Il and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Albright and Shire complain that the advocates of the “the six-party process” have been “unfairly maligned.” Perhaps. But perhaps they are maligning themselves. In their op-ed, these advocates of the six-party process are adducing evidence that is not really evidence to explain away every North Korean transgression, large and small. Where they have no evidence, not even the tissue-paper-thin kind, they adapt a slightly different approach: they simply tell us to close our eyes to the North Korean violations in order to keep “a laser-like focus” on the talks.

Connecting the Dots has asked readers the same question before: What is the best word to describe such an approach to the North Korean nuclear problem?

Today’s Washington Post carries good news about the Hermit Kingdom. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department official, tell us there’s no reason for us to worry about the lack of North Korean progress in meeting its obligations under the various agreements it has signed. Indeed, the “finger-wagging, told-you-so naysayers in and out of the Bush administration should take a deep breath.”

To begin with, they argue, North Korea’s full declaration detailing the scope of its nuclear program, due on December 31, and now 24 days late, is not really late at all: “After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November.” The North Koreans there admitted came clean about their plutonium stockpile but they denied having “a uranium enrichment program.”

Albright and Shire acknowledge the “ample evidence that North Korea acquired components for a centrifuge-enrichment program” but they explain that few observers now believe that it actually managed to enrich any uranium. In any case, their efforts in this area are nothing to worry about: “The success or failure of this latest agreement with North Korea must not hinge on the uranium issue,” even if the full declaration was not really full at all.

Then there is North Korean cooperation with a covert Syrian nuclear program. This is “troubling,” Albright and Shire tell us, but “must also be kept in context.” What is the context? The necessity of keeping North Korea engaged in dialogue. In the face of Pyongyong’s provision of “sensitive or dual-use equipment to Syria,” the main imperative is “keeping the deal together.” This will help bring “North Korea into the fold, bit by bit, making it harder for it to slip back into the arena of illicit deals and keeping a bright light on its activities.”

As for the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel bombed in September after a North Korean shipment of some unknown sort arrived there, this also must be kept in context, and in any case “it is gone now and whatever has replaced it is almost certainly not a reactor.” Reports that North Korea provided plutonium to Syria “are baseless.” The evidence: “The transfer of such material for weapons would be a casus belli with dire consequences for both countries, and this surely is understood by both Kim Jong Il and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Albright and Shire complain that the advocates of the “the six-party process” have been “unfairly maligned.” Perhaps. But perhaps they are maligning themselves. In their op-ed, these advocates of the six-party process are adducing evidence that is not really evidence to explain away every North Korean transgression, large and small. Where they have no evidence, not even the tissue-paper-thin kind, they adapt a slightly different approach: they simply tell us to close our eyes to the North Korean violations in order to keep “a laser-like focus” on the talks.

Connecting the Dots has asked readers the same question before: What is the best word to describe such an approach to the North Korean nuclear problem?

Read Less




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