Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 25, 2008

Now They Get Feisty

The day after the exquisitely polite debate, an nice old fashioned political food fight has broken out between McCain and Romney. McCain says Romney is a mere manager and not a leader. He also criticizes RomneyCare in a new web ad. Romney reads the oppo talking points to the media gaggle and tries to hang the New York Times endorsement around McCain’s neck and remind voters that McCain is cozy with Democrats. (The final point seems at odds with Romney’s assertion that only he comes to Washington free from animosity that prevents the parties from working to solve problems, but don’t look for consistency fours days before a critical election.) The public polling shows a dead heat, although some in the Romney camp are claiming they have this in the bag.

I tend to think that rather than these now predictable arguments, close elections turn on more mundane matters. Is McCain making progress with evangelicals? Does Mel Martinez’ endorsement monopolize local coverage going into the final weekend? Will Rudy sustain his support, cutting into McCain’s potential pool of voters, or will it slip away as the media picks up on the “what went wrong” theme?

Finally, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind that older voters turn out to vote in disproportionately high numbers. There are a lot of them in Florida and McCain in South Carolina and in some Florida polling has been doing well with his contemporaries. Despite Romney’s effort to woo back the over 65 set with an exemption from social security taxes (If Fred Thompson were around he’d be happy to point out how irresponsible this is given our entitlement crunch), they may be the deciding factor.

The day after the exquisitely polite debate, an nice old fashioned political food fight has broken out between McCain and Romney. McCain says Romney is a mere manager and not a leader. He also criticizes RomneyCare in a new web ad. Romney reads the oppo talking points to the media gaggle and tries to hang the New York Times endorsement around McCain’s neck and remind voters that McCain is cozy with Democrats. (The final point seems at odds with Romney’s assertion that only he comes to Washington free from animosity that prevents the parties from working to solve problems, but don’t look for consistency fours days before a critical election.) The public polling shows a dead heat, although some in the Romney camp are claiming they have this in the bag.

I tend to think that rather than these now predictable arguments, close elections turn on more mundane matters. Is McCain making progress with evangelicals? Does Mel Martinez’ endorsement monopolize local coverage going into the final weekend? Will Rudy sustain his support, cutting into McCain’s potential pool of voters, or will it slip away as the media picks up on the “what went wrong” theme?

Finally, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind that older voters turn out to vote in disproportionately high numbers. There are a lot of them in Florida and McCain in South Carolina and in some Florida polling has been doing well with his contemporaries. Despite Romney’s effort to woo back the over 65 set with an exemption from social security taxes (If Fred Thompson were around he’d be happy to point out how irresponsible this is given our entitlement crunch), they may be the deciding factor.

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Richard Darman, R.I.P.

Richard Darman, who died today at the age of 64, will be remembered by many Reagan Republicans as the man who persuaded George H.W. Bush to abandon his no new taxes pledge in 1990, thereby possibly dooming his reelection bid in 1992. But the truth is more complicated. Darman willingly played the White House bogeyman that Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich could assault, providing some cover for the president. Yet Bush 41 didn’t really need to be torn away from his tax pledge. He never had any ideological affilation with the anti-tax movement. He placed a far higher value on getting along with Congress. Darman simply provided a pseudo-sophisticated reason for doing it.

Darman thought he was a deep thinker about government and policy. Actually, he was a very smart but conventional thinker who reflected the temper of this times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, everyone in official Washington thought that the budget deficit was the greatest domestic problem facing the country. In such an environment, Darman became Machiavelli, whispering in the Prince’s ear. Darman saw all government through the lens of the annual budget process. He was interested in ideas only to the extent that they fit or did not fit within his budget scenarios.

There was some benefit to this view. Although his critics never admit it, the budget deal that Bush brokered with George Mitchell created a new way of categorizing spending in tight silos. Before this, Democratic flamethrowers would give speeches about cutting the defense budget in order to fund homelessness. Darman put a stop to all that, forcing questions about defense spending to remain within the confines of the defense budget. If less money were spent at the Pentagon, you could couldn’t shift the savings over to HHS.

This change may have been a more significant contribution to Washington politics if the entire budget debate hadn’t become obsolete so quickly. Within four years of Darman’s departure from the White House, the federal budget was balanced, largely due to huge inflows to the Treasury from the burgeoning 1990s economy. All the budget negotiations, the posturing, the background quotes to reporters, that were Darman’s life blood became arcane history. Even the arguments made by supply siders that the 1990 tax increase would be ruinous to economic growth were washed away by the gush of Silicon Valley stock options.

That said, Darman was a breathtaking political animal. I worked in the first Bush White House, and it was remarkable how much of the entire government he controlled. No policy discussion in any department or agency could have any legitimacy until Darman or his staff approved it. “How are you going to pay for it” dominated every policy discussion. At White House staff meetings, a single dismissive comment by Darman would doom any upbeat discussion.

Despite the claim that he cut his own hair — terribly — Darman was at the top rung of the Washington social circle. Many will remember that, in the late 1980s, Sondra Gottlieb, the popular wife of the Canadian Ambassador and something of the doyenne on Embassy Row, caused a stir when she slapped an employee in public before a black tie event. Why the slap? Because her aide had just told her: “Richard Darman can’t come this evening.”

Richard Darman, who died today at the age of 64, will be remembered by many Reagan Republicans as the man who persuaded George H.W. Bush to abandon his no new taxes pledge in 1990, thereby possibly dooming his reelection bid in 1992. But the truth is more complicated. Darman willingly played the White House bogeyman that Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich could assault, providing some cover for the president. Yet Bush 41 didn’t really need to be torn away from his tax pledge. He never had any ideological affilation with the anti-tax movement. He placed a far higher value on getting along with Congress. Darman simply provided a pseudo-sophisticated reason for doing it.

Darman thought he was a deep thinker about government and policy. Actually, he was a very smart but conventional thinker who reflected the temper of this times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, everyone in official Washington thought that the budget deficit was the greatest domestic problem facing the country. In such an environment, Darman became Machiavelli, whispering in the Prince’s ear. Darman saw all government through the lens of the annual budget process. He was interested in ideas only to the extent that they fit or did not fit within his budget scenarios.

There was some benefit to this view. Although his critics never admit it, the budget deal that Bush brokered with George Mitchell created a new way of categorizing spending in tight silos. Before this, Democratic flamethrowers would give speeches about cutting the defense budget in order to fund homelessness. Darman put a stop to all that, forcing questions about defense spending to remain within the confines of the defense budget. If less money were spent at the Pentagon, you could couldn’t shift the savings over to HHS.

This change may have been a more significant contribution to Washington politics if the entire budget debate hadn’t become obsolete so quickly. Within four years of Darman’s departure from the White House, the federal budget was balanced, largely due to huge inflows to the Treasury from the burgeoning 1990s economy. All the budget negotiations, the posturing, the background quotes to reporters, that were Darman’s life blood became arcane history. Even the arguments made by supply siders that the 1990 tax increase would be ruinous to economic growth were washed away by the gush of Silicon Valley stock options.

That said, Darman was a breathtaking political animal. I worked in the first Bush White House, and it was remarkable how much of the entire government he controlled. No policy discussion in any department or agency could have any legitimacy until Darman or his staff approved it. “How are you going to pay for it” dominated every policy discussion. At White House staff meetings, a single dismissive comment by Darman would doom any upbeat discussion.

Despite the claim that he cut his own hair — terribly — Darman was at the top rung of the Washington social circle. Many will remember that, in the late 1980s, Sondra Gottlieb, the popular wife of the Canadian Ambassador and something of the doyenne on Embassy Row, caused a stir when she slapped an employee in public before a black tie event. Why the slap? Because her aide had just told her: “Richard Darman can’t come this evening.”

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Whither the Disgust?

The Clinton campaign’s recent antics have been greeted with what feels like universal disgust. From pandering to blacks, to the bullying of Obama, to the brazenly tag-team nature of their every last gambit, a nonscientific survey of opinions finds the couple too much to stomach. At PJM, Michael Weiss has a worthwhile round-up of the bile directed at Bill. He adds, “Clinton likes to blame the media, but how can the media help itself? The aged and flabby Mr. Slick thunders and grumbles about the youthful and lean Mr. Smooth–copy like this doesn’t just hand itself to you every four years.”

Agreed. But does the lurid copy translate into a concrete revolt among Democratic voters nationwide? According to this poll, no. Here’s the Contra Costa Times:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., maintains a solid lead in her party’s presidential race among Democrat voters nationwide, despite a surge in support since late last year for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

Clinton was preferred by 42 percent of the likely Democrat voters polled, Obama by 33 percent — a significant increase for him since a similar poll in early December, when he was the choice of 21 percent. Clinton’s support remained virtually unchanged during that period.

Obama is gaining popularity without taking a bite out of Hillary. This speaks brilliantly to the peculiar lenses worn by the Clinton fan. Watching the Clintons waver between self-righteous belligerence and self-righteous victimhood, these die-hards can’t help but notice Obama’s superior character. Yet they can’t help dismissing it in favor of the familiar couple whose phony charms are as irresistible as fast food. The media may at last be nauseated, but the Clinton base is still gorging.

The Clinton campaign’s recent antics have been greeted with what feels like universal disgust. From pandering to blacks, to the bullying of Obama, to the brazenly tag-team nature of their every last gambit, a nonscientific survey of opinions finds the couple too much to stomach. At PJM, Michael Weiss has a worthwhile round-up of the bile directed at Bill. He adds, “Clinton likes to blame the media, but how can the media help itself? The aged and flabby Mr. Slick thunders and grumbles about the youthful and lean Mr. Smooth–copy like this doesn’t just hand itself to you every four years.”

Agreed. But does the lurid copy translate into a concrete revolt among Democratic voters nationwide? According to this poll, no. Here’s the Contra Costa Times:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., maintains a solid lead in her party’s presidential race among Democrat voters nationwide, despite a surge in support since late last year for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

Clinton was preferred by 42 percent of the likely Democrat voters polled, Obama by 33 percent — a significant increase for him since a similar poll in early December, when he was the choice of 21 percent. Clinton’s support remained virtually unchanged during that period.

Obama is gaining popularity without taking a bite out of Hillary. This speaks brilliantly to the peculiar lenses worn by the Clinton fan. Watching the Clintons waver between self-righteous belligerence and self-righteous victimhood, these die-hards can’t help but notice Obama’s superior character. Yet they can’t help dismissing it in favor of the familiar couple whose phony charms are as irresistible as fast food. The media may at last be nauseated, but the Clinton base is still gorging.

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A Revealing Poll

The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll shows McCain at 30 percent, Romney at 28 percent, Rudy at 18 percent and Huckabee with 14 percent. Some interesting internal numbers jump out. First, with Hispanic voters, McCain leads 60 percent to 16 percent over Rudy, while Romney draws only 10 percent. These voters are 10.7 percent of the GOP electorate and were thought to be a source of strong support for Rudy. But the numbers tell a different story. McCain may get a further bump today with the endorsement of Senator Mel Martinez, who may not be the favorite among conservative Republicans nationally but is very popular with Florida’s Hispanic population.

Even more startling is this nugget from the poll: McCain leads 37 percent to 25 percent over Romney among voters who say the economy is the number one issue. This seems counterintuitive in light of Romney’s improved messaging and his obvious command of economic issues. However, there may be something missing in his appeal. In a speech today at the Latin Builders Association he added some lines that we haven’t heard before:

I’ve had settings where I’ve had to lay people off. It’s an awful feeling. No one likes laying someone off . . . Someone who thinks that you’re a bad person if you lay someone off doesn’t understand. You feel bad. Its probably the hardest thing I’ve done in business.

Could it be that Romney comes across too corporate or too upscale and is now attempting a slight course correction? There is some evidence this is a problem for him. In New Hampshire, for example, he lost every economic group except those making $150-199K, and lost 22 percent to 39 percent to McCain among voters who considered the economy the number one issue. His focus on economics has intensified since then, and he has had much more time to demonstrate his expertise, but if the Florida poll is accurate it suggests he still has not connected with the majority of voters on what should be his best issue. Hopefully, he won’t resort to tears, but I do expect more ” I feel your pain” moments before Tuesday. (By the way, we should keep in mind that with over 700,000 early and absentee votes already in, half the voters expected to turn out have already voted.)

The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll shows McCain at 30 percent, Romney at 28 percent, Rudy at 18 percent and Huckabee with 14 percent. Some interesting internal numbers jump out. First, with Hispanic voters, McCain leads 60 percent to 16 percent over Rudy, while Romney draws only 10 percent. These voters are 10.7 percent of the GOP electorate and were thought to be a source of strong support for Rudy. But the numbers tell a different story. McCain may get a further bump today with the endorsement of Senator Mel Martinez, who may not be the favorite among conservative Republicans nationally but is very popular with Florida’s Hispanic population.

Even more startling is this nugget from the poll: McCain leads 37 percent to 25 percent over Romney among voters who say the economy is the number one issue. This seems counterintuitive in light of Romney’s improved messaging and his obvious command of economic issues. However, there may be something missing in his appeal. In a speech today at the Latin Builders Association he added some lines that we haven’t heard before:

I’ve had settings where I’ve had to lay people off. It’s an awful feeling. No one likes laying someone off . . . Someone who thinks that you’re a bad person if you lay someone off doesn’t understand. You feel bad. Its probably the hardest thing I’ve done in business.

Could it be that Romney comes across too corporate or too upscale and is now attempting a slight course correction? There is some evidence this is a problem for him. In New Hampshire, for example, he lost every economic group except those making $150-199K, and lost 22 percent to 39 percent to McCain among voters who considered the economy the number one issue. His focus on economics has intensified since then, and he has had much more time to demonstrate his expertise, but if the Florida poll is accurate it suggests he still has not connected with the majority of voters on what should be his best issue. Hopefully, he won’t resort to tears, but I do expect more ” I feel your pain” moments before Tuesday. (By the way, we should keep in mind that with over 700,000 early and absentee votes already in, half the voters expected to turn out have already voted.)

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More on Iran Sanctions

Yesterday, Eric Trager thoughtfully argued that the most recent Iran sanctions resolution, to be enacted by the Security Council in the near future, represents progress. He is right in that the five permanent Security Council members are tightening existing restrictions, sending a symbolic message to the mullahs, and, in Trager’s words, creating “a diplomatic platform for future resolutions, as necessary.”

And future resolutions will indeed be necessary. The U.N. has already imposed two sets of sanctions, the first in December 2006 and the second last March. Yet Iranian leaders have barely missed a beat as they issue increasingly defiant statements and continue to install centrifuges. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday, any Security Council resolution would be “ineffective.”

He knows that because he has the support of Moscow and Beijing. Yesterday, Iran received its sixth batch of nuclear fuel from Russia—11 tons of enriched uranium— for its Bushehr reactor. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that China National Offshore Oil Corp., a state energy company, is set to sign a deal to buy 10 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas from Iran’s North Pars field. This comes on the heels of last month’s $2 billion contract between Beijing’s Sinopec Group and Tehran’s oil ministry regarding the development of the Yadavaran field.

By now it is clear that Russia and China will not permit any Security Council resolution to interfere in their growing economic ties that sustain the country’s hardline theocrats. As Yin Gang of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says, “China hopes it can achieve a resolution that raises pressure but does not risk serious economic fallout.” Yet the whole idea behind sanctions resolutions is that economic fallout will be serious enough to convince Tehran to give up its nuclear program.

“We are not giving up on diplomacy and we will not give up as long as there is a chance it can succeed,” the State Department’s Nicholas Burns said yesterday. I can’t argue with that general proposition, but almost six years after Iranian dissidents revealed Tehran’s covert nuclear program it is clear that the American diplomatic strategy has not and cannot succeed. At one time, it might have made sense to accept lowest-common-denominator solutions to maintain a show of unity, but Iran is too close to obtaining the knowledge and expertise to build a nuclear weapon. The agonizingly long process of adopting weak U.N. sanctions is giving the mullahs the one thing they need most to weaponize the atom: time. China used the same delaying tactics to permit North Korea’s Kim Jong Il to build his weapon.

So diplomacy carries a high cost. U.N. resolutions against Iran will never be enough as long as we allow Moscow and Beijing to water them down. It’s time to consider Western sanctions against any nation that supports the Iranian regime. If that doesn’t work, the next stop, whether we like it or not, will be war.

Yesterday, Eric Trager thoughtfully argued that the most recent Iran sanctions resolution, to be enacted by the Security Council in the near future, represents progress. He is right in that the five permanent Security Council members are tightening existing restrictions, sending a symbolic message to the mullahs, and, in Trager’s words, creating “a diplomatic platform for future resolutions, as necessary.”

And future resolutions will indeed be necessary. The U.N. has already imposed two sets of sanctions, the first in December 2006 and the second last March. Yet Iranian leaders have barely missed a beat as they issue increasingly defiant statements and continue to install centrifuges. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday, any Security Council resolution would be “ineffective.”

He knows that because he has the support of Moscow and Beijing. Yesterday, Iran received its sixth batch of nuclear fuel from Russia—11 tons of enriched uranium— for its Bushehr reactor. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that China National Offshore Oil Corp., a state energy company, is set to sign a deal to buy 10 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas from Iran’s North Pars field. This comes on the heels of last month’s $2 billion contract between Beijing’s Sinopec Group and Tehran’s oil ministry regarding the development of the Yadavaran field.

By now it is clear that Russia and China will not permit any Security Council resolution to interfere in their growing economic ties that sustain the country’s hardline theocrats. As Yin Gang of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says, “China hopes it can achieve a resolution that raises pressure but does not risk serious economic fallout.” Yet the whole idea behind sanctions resolutions is that economic fallout will be serious enough to convince Tehran to give up its nuclear program.

“We are not giving up on diplomacy and we will not give up as long as there is a chance it can succeed,” the State Department’s Nicholas Burns said yesterday. I can’t argue with that general proposition, but almost six years after Iranian dissidents revealed Tehran’s covert nuclear program it is clear that the American diplomatic strategy has not and cannot succeed. At one time, it might have made sense to accept lowest-common-denominator solutions to maintain a show of unity, but Iran is too close to obtaining the knowledge and expertise to build a nuclear weapon. The agonizingly long process of adopting weak U.N. sanctions is giving the mullahs the one thing they need most to weaponize the atom: time. China used the same delaying tactics to permit North Korea’s Kim Jong Il to build his weapon.

So diplomacy carries a high cost. U.N. resolutions against Iran will never be enough as long as we allow Moscow and Beijing to water them down. It’s time to consider Western sanctions against any nation that supports the Iranian regime. If that doesn’t work, the next stop, whether we like it or not, will be war.

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Endgame Iraq

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

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The Real Warrantless Wiretapping Scandal

“A White House plan to broaden the National Security Agency’s wiretapping powers won a key procedural victory in the Senate on Thursday, as backers defeated a more restrictive plan by Senate Democrats that would have imposed more court oversight on government spying,” the New York Times reported this morning.

This is good news. The defeat of the Democratic Senators’ plan will make the country safer. It also makes clear exactly how phony the entire controversy over so-called wireless wiretapping is.

In making their case, the Senate Democrats, led by Senator Leahy, have pointed to past abuses, including especially the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP)  disclosed to the world by the New York Times

“In December 2005,” Leahy’s report on the FISA Act amendments states, “the American public learned for the first time that shortly after 9/11 the President had authorized the NSA to conduct secret surveillance activities inside the United States completely outside of FISA, and without congressional consent.”

One is compelled to wonder, in reading such statements, whether Leahy and his colleagues believe what they are saying to be true, or want the public to believe it to be true even as they know it to be false.

When the Bush administration initiated the Terrorist Surveillance Program, Congress was briefed on the program. The briefing was, of course, confined to the “gang of eight,” the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress, and the ranking members of the intelligence committees of the two chambers, but this was done according to Congress’s own rules regarding highly sensitive information.

More than a dozen successive briefings were repeated at regular intervals over the following years. Though Congress did not formally approve or disapprove of the program in a vote, that would not be a normal procedure for a highly classified program. In the context of secrecy, Congress did give its “consent” to the TSP program in the normal meaning of that word.

What is more, a key detail that the Leahy report fails to note, but which eight Republican senators on the Committee include in their “minority views,” is that the FISA Court itself, in a 2002 ruling, pointed out that all courts that have decided the issue, have held “that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. . . . We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power.”

The Democrats who are raising a hue and cry about illegal warrantless wiretapping are wrong on the merits, and if they have read their own report, including the minority views, they know they are wrong.

They are also, undoubtedly, wrong on the politics. Could it possibly be a winning theme to block one of the of intelligence community’s most critical efforts to connect the dots and avert a second September 11? The fact that the Senate yesterday voted by 60-36 to set aside Senator Leahy’s proposals, suggests that, in at least some quarters of the Democratic party, wisdom, or honesty, or perhaps mere electoral prudence, can still be found.

“A White House plan to broaden the National Security Agency’s wiretapping powers won a key procedural victory in the Senate on Thursday, as backers defeated a more restrictive plan by Senate Democrats that would have imposed more court oversight on government spying,” the New York Times reported this morning.

This is good news. The defeat of the Democratic Senators’ plan will make the country safer. It also makes clear exactly how phony the entire controversy over so-called wireless wiretapping is.

In making their case, the Senate Democrats, led by Senator Leahy, have pointed to past abuses, including especially the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP)  disclosed to the world by the New York Times

“In December 2005,” Leahy’s report on the FISA Act amendments states, “the American public learned for the first time that shortly after 9/11 the President had authorized the NSA to conduct secret surveillance activities inside the United States completely outside of FISA, and without congressional consent.”

One is compelled to wonder, in reading such statements, whether Leahy and his colleagues believe what they are saying to be true, or want the public to believe it to be true even as they know it to be false.

When the Bush administration initiated the Terrorist Surveillance Program, Congress was briefed on the program. The briefing was, of course, confined to the “gang of eight,” the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress, and the ranking members of the intelligence committees of the two chambers, but this was done according to Congress’s own rules regarding highly sensitive information.

More than a dozen successive briefings were repeated at regular intervals over the following years. Though Congress did not formally approve or disapprove of the program in a vote, that would not be a normal procedure for a highly classified program. In the context of secrecy, Congress did give its “consent” to the TSP program in the normal meaning of that word.

What is more, a key detail that the Leahy report fails to note, but which eight Republican senators on the Committee include in their “minority views,” is that the FISA Court itself, in a 2002 ruling, pointed out that all courts that have decided the issue, have held “that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. . . . We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power.”

The Democrats who are raising a hue and cry about illegal warrantless wiretapping are wrong on the merits, and if they have read their own report, including the minority views, they know they are wrong.

They are also, undoubtedly, wrong on the politics. Could it possibly be a winning theme to block one of the of intelligence community’s most critical efforts to connect the dots and avert a second September 11? The fact that the Senate yesterday voted by 60-36 to set aside Senator Leahy’s proposals, suggests that, in at least some quarters of the Democratic party, wisdom, or honesty, or perhaps mere electoral prudence, can still be found.

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Not The Expected Disaster

As Peter’s report on Iraq concilliation makes clear, there is a reasonable chance to achieve a good outcome in Iraq. The political ramifications of this should not be underestimated. Last night, Tim Russert gleefully attempted to force the GOP contenders to acknowledge that the Iraq war was not a mistake. This attempt to extract an “admission against interest” looks differently in light of the reality of events in Iraq and the turn in public opinion as conditions on the ground improve. Who will have the worst of it in November if there’s a McCain-Hillary match up: the candidate who voted for the war but then lost nerve and wants to pull the plug or the candidate who struggled mightily to rescue a decent result for America? (If the opponent is Obama the divide is similary striking, minus the hypocritical backtracking.) That, plus the belated recognition by the Democratic establishment and liberal media of the toxicity of the Clintons’ brand of politics, leaves open the possibility that 2008 may not be the Republican debacle so many expected.

As Peter’s report on Iraq concilliation makes clear, there is a reasonable chance to achieve a good outcome in Iraq. The political ramifications of this should not be underestimated. Last night, Tim Russert gleefully attempted to force the GOP contenders to acknowledge that the Iraq war was not a mistake. This attempt to extract an “admission against interest” looks differently in light of the reality of events in Iraq and the turn in public opinion as conditions on the ground improve. Who will have the worst of it in November if there’s a McCain-Hillary match up: the candidate who voted for the war but then lost nerve and wants to pull the plug or the candidate who struggled mightily to rescue a decent result for America? (If the opponent is Obama the divide is similary striking, minus the hypocritical backtracking.) That, plus the belated recognition by the Democratic establishment and liberal media of the toxicity of the Clintons’ brand of politics, leaves open the possibility that 2008 may not be the Republican debacle so many expected.

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Clintons, Rezko Say “Cheese!”

So, the Clintons posed for a photo with Obama’s slimy buddy Antoin “Tony” Rezko. Of course she’s telling the truth when she claims not to remember it. If she remembered it, she wouldn’t have raised her rival’s relationship with Rezko during the heated South Carolina debate in the first place. Therefore, the release of this photograph won’t make her (Them? One no longer knows how to describe this Siamese candidacy.) look like a liar. However, it automatically puts her on the defensive. Obama has endured his less-than-incriminating round of suspicion on the Rezko front; now it’s the Clintons’ turn. The way these things work, another photo may pop up, a witness to a conversation could step forward…who knows? The point is Hillary is very bad on the defensive. That’s when she’s least sympathetic, least competent, and thoroughly un-presidential. The “found my voice” Hillary is going to take a little hit.

This should be a lesson in cheap shots. Sure, Obama shouldn’t have had anything to do with the likes of a slick operator such as Rezko, but as a campaign issue, it’s pure swill. There isn’t a candidate who’s ever run for the highest office in the country who can’t be linked to some nefarious person. The lesson is: if it’s too easy, don’t do it. What’s tacky enough to stick to your opponent is tacky enough to stick to you as well.

So, the Clintons posed for a photo with Obama’s slimy buddy Antoin “Tony” Rezko. Of course she’s telling the truth when she claims not to remember it. If she remembered it, she wouldn’t have raised her rival’s relationship with Rezko during the heated South Carolina debate in the first place. Therefore, the release of this photograph won’t make her (Them? One no longer knows how to describe this Siamese candidacy.) look like a liar. However, it automatically puts her on the defensive. Obama has endured his less-than-incriminating round of suspicion on the Rezko front; now it’s the Clintons’ turn. The way these things work, another photo may pop up, a witness to a conversation could step forward…who knows? The point is Hillary is very bad on the defensive. That’s when she’s least sympathetic, least competent, and thoroughly un-presidential. The “found my voice” Hillary is going to take a little hit.

This should be a lesson in cheap shots. Sure, Obama shouldn’t have had anything to do with the likes of a slick operator such as Rezko, but as a campaign issue, it’s pure swill. There isn’t a candidate who’s ever run for the highest office in the country who can’t be linked to some nefarious person. The lesson is: if it’s too easy, don’t do it. What’s tacky enough to stick to your opponent is tacky enough to stick to you as well.

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Reconciliation?

According to Reuters,

Reconciliation between Iraq’s divided communities is gaining momentum at a national level, especially in parliament where lawmakers are working “intensively”, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said on Thursday. But Ryan Crocker said he was not about to predict that the dark days of 2006 and early 2007, when the country teetered on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war, were over. “Intense bitterness remains and there are a lot of challenges that are going to have to be carefully … managed to ensure there is no return because to be frank, all of the good things that have been accomplished during this past year could be reversed,” Crocker said in an interview with Reuters. He said much had been made possible on national reconciliation in the past few months by sharp plunges in violence… Iraq’s parliament — frequently chastised by U.S. officials and lawmakers last year for inaction — approved a landmark bill this month that allows former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to rejoin the government and the military… Asked if he was seeing a certain degree of momentum on national reconciliation, Crocker said: “I do. And with violence down, things previously impossible become possible…” Crocker said he was “hearing a new tone” on provincial elections, adding all parties wanted to hold them this year, an event he said could be “hugely important” in stabilising Iraq.

On the security side, we recently learned from Lt. General Raymond Odierno that ethno-sectarian attacks/deaths in Baghdad security districts decreased more than 90 percent from January to December 2007. Monthly attack levels in Iraq have decreased 60 percent since June 2007 and are now at the same levels as early 2005 and some points in 2004. Coalition forces also found and cleared more than 6,900 weapons caches in 2007, well over twice the amount (2,662) cleared in 2006. Iraq’s Security Forces grew by more than 106,000 personnel in 2007 and now stand at over 567,000. According to Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, “By year’s end, some 140 battalions of Army, police, national police, and special operations units were in the fight. About 122 of those 140 battalions are capable of taking the lead in conducting operations.” It’s worth noting, too, that our military estimates that more than 90 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq are foreign terrorists.

All of this progress needs to be set in context. Earlier this week General David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, told NBC, “We think we won’t know that we’ve reached a turning point until we’re six months past it,” Petraeus said. “We have repeatedly said that there [are] no lights at the end of the tunnel that we’re seeing.”

General Petraeus is surely correct in counseling caution. When he returned to Iraq in 2006, he remarked that it was the most challenging situation he faced in more than 30 years in the military. Iraq remains, even now, a fragile and fractured nation. Nevertheless, the precipitous drop in ethno-sectarian attacks/deaths in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital and the second-largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo), is a staggering achievement. And the reconciliation effort, which started from the ground up, seems to be expanding to the central government.

This doesn’t mean the war has been won. As Ambassador Crocker points out, gains that have been made can be reversed – and if we withdraw our troops too quickly, Iraq would begin cracking apart. But what is unfolding in Iraq demonstrates that progress is continuing to be made on almost every front. We now have in place the right strategy and the right man to oversee it. What once seemed impossible – a decent outcome in Iraq – is now within reach.

According to Reuters,

Reconciliation between Iraq’s divided communities is gaining momentum at a national level, especially in parliament where lawmakers are working “intensively”, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said on Thursday. But Ryan Crocker said he was not about to predict that the dark days of 2006 and early 2007, when the country teetered on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war, were over. “Intense bitterness remains and there are a lot of challenges that are going to have to be carefully … managed to ensure there is no return because to be frank, all of the good things that have been accomplished during this past year could be reversed,” Crocker said in an interview with Reuters. He said much had been made possible on national reconciliation in the past few months by sharp plunges in violence… Iraq’s parliament — frequently chastised by U.S. officials and lawmakers last year for inaction — approved a landmark bill this month that allows former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to rejoin the government and the military… Asked if he was seeing a certain degree of momentum on national reconciliation, Crocker said: “I do. And with violence down, things previously impossible become possible…” Crocker said he was “hearing a new tone” on provincial elections, adding all parties wanted to hold them this year, an event he said could be “hugely important” in stabilising Iraq.

On the security side, we recently learned from Lt. General Raymond Odierno that ethno-sectarian attacks/deaths in Baghdad security districts decreased more than 90 percent from January to December 2007. Monthly attack levels in Iraq have decreased 60 percent since June 2007 and are now at the same levels as early 2005 and some points in 2004. Coalition forces also found and cleared more than 6,900 weapons caches in 2007, well over twice the amount (2,662) cleared in 2006. Iraq’s Security Forces grew by more than 106,000 personnel in 2007 and now stand at over 567,000. According to Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, “By year’s end, some 140 battalions of Army, police, national police, and special operations units were in the fight. About 122 of those 140 battalions are capable of taking the lead in conducting operations.” It’s worth noting, too, that our military estimates that more than 90 percent of suicide bombers in Iraq are foreign terrorists.

All of this progress needs to be set in context. Earlier this week General David Petraeus, the commanding general in Iraq, told NBC, “We think we won’t know that we’ve reached a turning point until we’re six months past it,” Petraeus said. “We have repeatedly said that there [are] no lights at the end of the tunnel that we’re seeing.”

General Petraeus is surely correct in counseling caution. When he returned to Iraq in 2006, he remarked that it was the most challenging situation he faced in more than 30 years in the military. Iraq remains, even now, a fragile and fractured nation. Nevertheless, the precipitous drop in ethno-sectarian attacks/deaths in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital and the second-largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo), is a staggering achievement. And the reconciliation effort, which started from the ground up, seems to be expanding to the central government.

This doesn’t mean the war has been won. As Ambassador Crocker points out, gains that have been made can be reversed – and if we withdraw our troops too quickly, Iraq would begin cracking apart. But what is unfolding in Iraq demonstrates that progress is continuing to be made on almost every front. We now have in place the right strategy and the right man to oversee it. What once seemed impossible – a decent outcome in Iraq – is now within reach.

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Candlelight by Daylight

Illustrating the old adage that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on, the story of Israel cutting off power to Gaza continues to circulate. What really happened? Something very typical, alas: a collaboration between journalists and Palestinians in manufacturing anti-Israel propaganda. As Khaled Abu Toameh (among others) reports:

On at least two occasions this week, Hamas staged scenes of darkness as part of its campaign to end the political and economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalists said Wednesday.

In the first case, journalists who were invited to cover the Hamas government meeting were surprised to see Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his ministers sitting around a table with burning candles.

In the second case on Tuesday, journalists noticed that Hamas legislators who were meeting in Gaza City also sat in front of burning candles.

But some of the journalists noticed that there was actually no need for the candles because both meetings were being held in daylight.

A bit under a third of Gaza’s electricity is supplied by a power station inside of Gaza; a tiny bit is supplied by Egypt, and the rest is supplied by Israel. It was the power station inside of Gaza that was shut down, and not shut down by Israel, but by Hamas, in order to lend credibility to its effort to generate international pressure against Israel’s blockade of the Strip. For the media, it staged candle-lit scenes and trumpeted the fiction that Israel had plunged Gaza into darkness.

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Illustrating the old adage that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on, the story of Israel cutting off power to Gaza continues to circulate. What really happened? Something very typical, alas: a collaboration between journalists and Palestinians in manufacturing anti-Israel propaganda. As Khaled Abu Toameh (among others) reports:

On at least two occasions this week, Hamas staged scenes of darkness as part of its campaign to end the political and economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalists said Wednesday.

In the first case, journalists who were invited to cover the Hamas government meeting were surprised to see Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his ministers sitting around a table with burning candles.

In the second case on Tuesday, journalists noticed that Hamas legislators who were meeting in Gaza City also sat in front of burning candles.

But some of the journalists noticed that there was actually no need for the candles because both meetings were being held in daylight.

A bit under a third of Gaza’s electricity is supplied by a power station inside of Gaza; a tiny bit is supplied by Egypt, and the rest is supplied by Israel. It was the power station inside of Gaza that was shut down, and not shut down by Israel, but by Hamas, in order to lend credibility to its effort to generate international pressure against Israel’s blockade of the Strip. For the media, it staged candle-lit scenes and trumpeted the fiction that Israel had plunged Gaza into darkness.

The terrorists of Hamas may be brutal, but they understand how to wage war in the media far better than the Israelis do. They knew the fact that Israel had never cut the electricity to Gaza or even reduced it was entirely beside the point, and would probably not be investigated by reporters–and they understand that images of people sitting in darkness with their faces illuminated by candlelight are visually compelling and can do more to convince the world of Palestinian victimization than a hundred press releases could ever accomplish.

Yet the fact remains that the speciousness of this story is readily available to anyone with an internet connection and a basic sense of skepticism and curiosity. But that hasn’t stopped the rigorously fact-checked exemplars of the MSM from repeating it. Here is yesterday’s New York Times editorial:

We are deeply concerned about the many innocent Israelis who live along the border with Gaza and must suffer through the constant bombardment. But Israel’s response—shutting off power and other essential supplies—is a collective punishment that will only feed anger and extremism.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Times editorialists could become deeply concerned with getting their facts straight?

Here is the Washington Post‘s editorial:

Israel closed its border with the territory and disrupted power supplies over the weekend in response to a massive escalation of Palestinian rocket launches from Gaza at nearby Israeli towns.

And for the greatest hilarity, check out this photograph in TIME magazine, which is captioned: “The Palestinian Parliament was forced to meet by candlelight on Tuesday night.” Now look at the window in the upper left corner of the picture: The curtain blocking it has a rather curiously bright, luminous border around it, doesn’t it? Tuesday night? Do TIME’s editors know how gullible they look?

The New York Times, the Washington Post, TIME magazine: When it comes to Israel, the lies often find themselves traveling first class. I doubt corrections will be forthcoming.

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Behind The Scenes

In a debate as dull as last night’s, the best part was the e-mail stream pouring in from the campaigns. From the Rudy camp, we got word that the New York Times had endorsed McCain. Score one for the McCain rivals arguing that he’s too friendly with the liberal media and not conservative enough. Then we got this homage to the Kerry windsurfing ad from the McCain camp. Next came the oppo from two camps indicating that, despite his denial, McCain really had said that he knows less about economics than foreign policy and that he still needs “to be educated.” Does any of this matter? The McCain ad is cute and may get some play, and the NYT endorsement will provide fodder for Romney. However, in a debate this inconsequential, the chatter about the debate certainly won’t make many headlines. The most interesting incident last night may have been McCain’s closing praise of Rudy, a gentle way of suggesting to the voters McCain is trying to scoop up that you can admire Rudy and still not vote for him. If he can pull more of the voters away from Rudy, his competitor for moderate and national security voters, McCain will have gone a long way toward securing a win.

In a debate as dull as last night’s, the best part was the e-mail stream pouring in from the campaigns. From the Rudy camp, we got word that the New York Times had endorsed McCain. Score one for the McCain rivals arguing that he’s too friendly with the liberal media and not conservative enough. Then we got this homage to the Kerry windsurfing ad from the McCain camp. Next came the oppo from two camps indicating that, despite his denial, McCain really had said that he knows less about economics than foreign policy and that he still needs “to be educated.” Does any of this matter? The McCain ad is cute and may get some play, and the NYT endorsement will provide fodder for Romney. However, in a debate this inconsequential, the chatter about the debate certainly won’t make many headlines. The most interesting incident last night may have been McCain’s closing praise of Rudy, a gentle way of suggesting to the voters McCain is trying to scoop up that you can admire Rudy and still not vote for him. If he can pull more of the voters away from Rudy, his competitor for moderate and national security voters, McCain will have gone a long way toward securing a win.

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