Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 11, 2008

Gates on Iraq

Two documents seized from Al Qaeda in Iraq members and released by coalition forces reveal that the world’s most deadly terrorist organization has fallen on hard times. As summed up in this news story:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an ‘extraordinary crisis’. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military ‘created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight’. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered ‘total collapse’.

While down, Al Qaeda is hardly out. Its terrorists continue to perpetrate atrocities such as employing women with Down’s syndrome as unwitting suicide bombers. Gruesome stories like that serve as a powerful reminder of the need to continue fighting and fighting hard. Taking too many American troops out of Iraq too fast could allow these monsters to get back on their feet, so it is good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is endorsing a pause on further withdrawals after our troop levels go down to 15 Brigade Combat Teams (from the current 19) by the end of July.

After meeting with General David Petraeus, who favors such a pause, Gates said:

I think the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense. I must say that in my own thinking I have been . . . heading in that direction as well.

In the past Gates has talked about reducing troop levels even more later this year, so it’s comforting to hear that he seems to be backing off. The only worrisome aspect of his comment is the modifier “brief” before the phrase “period of consolidation.” It may well turn out that to continue making progress in Iraq we may need to keep 15 BCT’s in Iraq (about 140,000 troops) for a considerable period. Gates would do well to prepare the public for that possibility.

Two documents seized from Al Qaeda in Iraq members and released by coalition forces reveal that the world’s most deadly terrorist organization has fallen on hard times. As summed up in this news story:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an ‘extraordinary crisis’. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military ‘created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight’. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered ‘total collapse’.

While down, Al Qaeda is hardly out. Its terrorists continue to perpetrate atrocities such as employing women with Down’s syndrome as unwitting suicide bombers. Gruesome stories like that serve as a powerful reminder of the need to continue fighting and fighting hard. Taking too many American troops out of Iraq too fast could allow these monsters to get back on their feet, so it is good news that Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is endorsing a pause on further withdrawals after our troop levels go down to 15 Brigade Combat Teams (from the current 19) by the end of July.

After meeting with General David Petraeus, who favors such a pause, Gates said:

I think the notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense. I must say that in my own thinking I have been . . . heading in that direction as well.

In the past Gates has talked about reducing troop levels even more later this year, so it’s comforting to hear that he seems to be backing off. The only worrisome aspect of his comment is the modifier “brief” before the phrase “period of consolidation.” It may well turn out that to continue making progress in Iraq we may need to keep 15 BCT’s in Iraq (about 140,000 troops) for a considerable period. Gates would do well to prepare the public for that possibility.

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Goldberg Vituperations

An editorial that appeared today in the New York Sun goes a long way toward straightening out the record on what it calls “a kerfuffle [that] has been sputtering on the World Wide Web over a question [Norman] Podhoretz asked in respect of the Kurds.”

Mr. Podhoretz asked the question five years ago at a banquet in New York honoring Robert L. Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis of Princeton, and Jeffrey Goldberg, then of the New Yorker. Mr. Goldberg, a marvelous reporter, was being saluted for a dispatch from Kurdistan that had helped light the way for American entry into the Battle of Iraq. Mr. Goldberg had just come in from Northern Iraq and spoke about Kurdistan. In a tour d’horizon of the Middle East in the January/February number of the Atlantic, Mr. Goldberg relates that after the event, Mr. Podhoretz asked him, “What’s a Kurd, anyway?” Mr. Podhoretz, in Mr. Goldberg’s account, “seemed authentically bewildered.”

Goldberg is surely capable of giving an accurate description of an event in which he himself was a participant. Yet what he does here is to make it sound as though I had never even heard of the Kurds. And this indeed is precisely how the story has been widely interpreted.

That his portrayal is false is confirmed by the author of the Sun editorial, who was also present at the banquet:

As it happens, we were either in the same or a similar conversation with Mr. Podhoretz at the same banquet, and we took him not as being ignorant of the Kurdish question; after all, Commentary during his years as editor in chief contained plenty of references to Kurdistan. We took him to be curious as to how Mr. Goldberg would answer a question of ethnography that has never been resolved.

The Sun editorial is right: I was, in fact, asking Goldberg about the ethnic and/or racial character of the Kurds. And that, as it happens, was and is a very good question — since, as I have since discovered, no one seems to know the answer. According to Wikipedia, “There are many different and diverging views on the origin of the Kurds,” and according to no less an authority than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, their ethnic origins remain uncertain. The only points on which there seems to be general agreement are (1) that they are not Arabs; (2) that they are mainly Sunni Muslims; and (3) that they speak “an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch.”

To tell the truth, after five years I don’t remember what Goldberg said in answer to my question, and neither, I would bet, does he. Why then does he go out of his way to bring it up after such a long time?

The answer is that, in his Atlantic article, Goldberg was trying to show that “neoconservative ideologues” are not “interested in the Kurdish cause, or even particularly knowledgeable about its history,” and having no solid evidence to back up this smear, he settled for a malicious representation of an old conversation with me (“the vicariously martial neoconservative who is now a Middle East adviser to Rudolph Giuliani”).

Thus did an animus against neoconservatism lead Goldberg to violate the most elementary standards of journalistic fairness. And there is an additional factor, which is that Goldberg, whose views are often dangerously close to those held by us “neoconservative ideologues,” is (like others I could name) so fearful of being stigmatized by that dread label that he can never resist an opportunity to demonstrate through smears and sneers that he is nothing of the kind. But that is another story, for another day.

An editorial that appeared today in the New York Sun goes a long way toward straightening out the record on what it calls “a kerfuffle [that] has been sputtering on the World Wide Web over a question [Norman] Podhoretz asked in respect of the Kurds.”

Mr. Podhoretz asked the question five years ago at a banquet in New York honoring Robert L. Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Lewis of Princeton, and Jeffrey Goldberg, then of the New Yorker. Mr. Goldberg, a marvelous reporter, was being saluted for a dispatch from Kurdistan that had helped light the way for American entry into the Battle of Iraq. Mr. Goldberg had just come in from Northern Iraq and spoke about Kurdistan. In a tour d’horizon of the Middle East in the January/February number of the Atlantic, Mr. Goldberg relates that after the event, Mr. Podhoretz asked him, “What’s a Kurd, anyway?” Mr. Podhoretz, in Mr. Goldberg’s account, “seemed authentically bewildered.”

Goldberg is surely capable of giving an accurate description of an event in which he himself was a participant. Yet what he does here is to make it sound as though I had never even heard of the Kurds. And this indeed is precisely how the story has been widely interpreted.

That his portrayal is false is confirmed by the author of the Sun editorial, who was also present at the banquet:

As it happens, we were either in the same or a similar conversation with Mr. Podhoretz at the same banquet, and we took him not as being ignorant of the Kurdish question; after all, Commentary during his years as editor in chief contained plenty of references to Kurdistan. We took him to be curious as to how Mr. Goldberg would answer a question of ethnography that has never been resolved.

The Sun editorial is right: I was, in fact, asking Goldberg about the ethnic and/or racial character of the Kurds. And that, as it happens, was and is a very good question — since, as I have since discovered, no one seems to know the answer. According to Wikipedia, “There are many different and diverging views on the origin of the Kurds,” and according to no less an authority than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, their ethnic origins remain uncertain. The only points on which there seems to be general agreement are (1) that they are not Arabs; (2) that they are mainly Sunni Muslims; and (3) that they speak “an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch.”

To tell the truth, after five years I don’t remember what Goldberg said in answer to my question, and neither, I would bet, does he. Why then does he go out of his way to bring it up after such a long time?

The answer is that, in his Atlantic article, Goldberg was trying to show that “neoconservative ideologues” are not “interested in the Kurdish cause, or even particularly knowledgeable about its history,” and having no solid evidence to back up this smear, he settled for a malicious representation of an old conversation with me (“the vicariously martial neoconservative who is now a Middle East adviser to Rudolph Giuliani”).

Thus did an animus against neoconservatism lead Goldberg to violate the most elementary standards of journalistic fairness. And there is an additional factor, which is that Goldberg, whose views are often dangerously close to those held by us “neoconservative ideologues,” is (like others I could name) so fearful of being stigmatized by that dread label that he can never resist an opportunity to demonstrate through smears and sneers that he is nothing of the kind. But that is another story, for another day.

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How Thoughtless!

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

Page one of today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece by Monica Langley about Barack and Michelle Obama. The article is intended as a portrait of the enviable power couple who have struck a charming balance through each other’s strengths and weaknesses. However, the reader should be immediately struck by something far less than ideal about the two of them. Here’s Ms. Langley writing about a brainstorming call between Barack, his advisors and his wife Michelle:

“Barack,” she interjected, “Feel — don’t think!” Telling her husband his “over-thinking” during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: “Don’t get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart — and your head.”

Is it not more than a little worrisome that the leading presidential candidate is a man for whom thoughts represent a hazard? Cognitions are “weeds” in which he shouldn’t get caught—and this is the assessment of his wife! Just imagine the headlines if this excerpt appeared in a story about George and Laura Bush: “First Lady Scolds Prez for Thinking Again” or “Laura Sits in on Brainshorting Call.” Perhaps what’s most shocking is not that Obama finds thinking a challenge or that his wife readily points this out, but that the candidate who spends his time concerned that he may be called upon to think while campaigning has had nothing to worry about so far.

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Gates in Munich

I just got back from the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of defense officials and policy wonks from both sides of the Atlantic. This year’s meeting lacked the drama of last year, when Vladimir Putin delivered a blistering anti-Western harangue. This year, senior Russian representative Sergey Ivanov, the first deputy prime minister, struck a more low-key note in his address. Instead of delivering threats, he mostly bragged about how rich Russia has become (“during the last 9 years the gross domestic product in Russia has increased by 80 per cent”), though even this mainly economic address carried an implicit geopolitical message—that the West would have to accommodate a newly powerful Russia.

But it is impossible for Russian officials at an international gathering to remain on their best behavior for long—especially when their supreme leader is so determined to foment conflict between Russia and the West in order to justify the rule of an increasingly repressive Kremlin clique. Thus the best exchange occurred when Aleksey Ostrovsky, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, put the following “question”—more like a challenge—to Defense Secretary Bob Gates:

At present the entire world faces the threat of terrorism which emanates primarily from Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization. Don’t you think that in the first place this organization for its appearance and the serious threat of terrorism we witness today, it is the fault of the leadership of your country and of your security services in the 1970’s and the 80’s of the last century, when for American money, with the active political support the Afghan mujahedin were fighting the Soviet troops who tried to support peace and order in that country. And after that when the Soviet troops left, for all intents and purposes, people who have been created by you were idle.

It almost sounds as if Ostrovsky has been reading Noam Chomsky. He’s repeating, after all, a favorite talking point of the Western left—that Al Qaeda is an American creation. He does however add a uniquely Russian spin with his defense of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he claims was designed “to support peace and order in that country.”

Gates is more mild-mannered than his predecessor, Don Rumsfeld, but he did not back down from this ludicrous challenge. His answer is worth quoting because it was an effective refutation of a canard that has gotten widespread support:

Well, with respect to the first question and the responsibility of the United States for a revived variety of ills, it reminded me of my old days in the CIA when people thought that not a leaf fell around the world without CIA knowing about it or being responsible for it. With respect to the threat from Al Qaeda and the notion that it is the fault of the U.S., I think we have a bit of a chicken and egg problem here. My own view is the threat from Al Qaeda began with the Soviet invasion of a sovereign state in December 1979, a state that up to that point had not represented a threat to anybody in the world, except to a certain extent its own people because of its weakness and poverty. It was the Soviet invasion that in fact created the holy warriors, the mujahedin, determined to take on the Soviet military. The United States does not shrink from responsibility for providing them with the tools and the weapons and whatever they needed in order to expel a foreign invader. That same kind of religious fervor that helped create the mujahedin and helped expel the Soviet Union in subsequent years was distorted and certain extremists among the mujahedin became stronger, and we have the problem we have. So I would say if the United States, if we bear a particular responsibility for the role of the mujahedin and Al Qaeda growing up in Afghanistan, it had more to do with our abandonment with the country in 1989 rather than our assistance to it in 1979. And I think that most Americans think that we erred in turning our backs on Afghanistan after the Soviets left.

Good job, Mr. Secretary!

I just got back from the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of defense officials and policy wonks from both sides of the Atlantic. This year’s meeting lacked the drama of last year, when Vladimir Putin delivered a blistering anti-Western harangue. This year, senior Russian representative Sergey Ivanov, the first deputy prime minister, struck a more low-key note in his address. Instead of delivering threats, he mostly bragged about how rich Russia has become (“during the last 9 years the gross domestic product in Russia has increased by 80 per cent”), though even this mainly economic address carried an implicit geopolitical message—that the West would have to accommodate a newly powerful Russia.

But it is impossible for Russian officials at an international gathering to remain on their best behavior for long—especially when their supreme leader is so determined to foment conflict between Russia and the West in order to justify the rule of an increasingly repressive Kremlin clique. Thus the best exchange occurred when Aleksey Ostrovsky, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, put the following “question”—more like a challenge—to Defense Secretary Bob Gates:

At present the entire world faces the threat of terrorism which emanates primarily from Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization. Don’t you think that in the first place this organization for its appearance and the serious threat of terrorism we witness today, it is the fault of the leadership of your country and of your security services in the 1970’s and the 80’s of the last century, when for American money, with the active political support the Afghan mujahedin were fighting the Soviet troops who tried to support peace and order in that country. And after that when the Soviet troops left, for all intents and purposes, people who have been created by you were idle.

It almost sounds as if Ostrovsky has been reading Noam Chomsky. He’s repeating, after all, a favorite talking point of the Western left—that Al Qaeda is an American creation. He does however add a uniquely Russian spin with his defense of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he claims was designed “to support peace and order in that country.”

Gates is more mild-mannered than his predecessor, Don Rumsfeld, but he did not back down from this ludicrous challenge. His answer is worth quoting because it was an effective refutation of a canard that has gotten widespread support:

Well, with respect to the first question and the responsibility of the United States for a revived variety of ills, it reminded me of my old days in the CIA when people thought that not a leaf fell around the world without CIA knowing about it or being responsible for it. With respect to the threat from Al Qaeda and the notion that it is the fault of the U.S., I think we have a bit of a chicken and egg problem here. My own view is the threat from Al Qaeda began with the Soviet invasion of a sovereign state in December 1979, a state that up to that point had not represented a threat to anybody in the world, except to a certain extent its own people because of its weakness and poverty. It was the Soviet invasion that in fact created the holy warriors, the mujahedin, determined to take on the Soviet military. The United States does not shrink from responsibility for providing them with the tools and the weapons and whatever they needed in order to expel a foreign invader. That same kind of religious fervor that helped create the mujahedin and helped expel the Soviet Union in subsequent years was distorted and certain extremists among the mujahedin became stronger, and we have the problem we have. So I would say if the United States, if we bear a particular responsibility for the role of the mujahedin and Al Qaeda growing up in Afghanistan, it had more to do with our abandonment with the country in 1989 rather than our assistance to it in 1979. And I think that most Americans think that we erred in turning our backs on Afghanistan after the Soviets left.

Good job, Mr. Secretary!

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Of Campaigns and Crises

In at least one important sense, Barack Obama really does represent a new breed of politician, and Hillary Clinton an old one: campaigning.

While Hillary has focused on a time-tested divide-and-conquer battle plan, Obama is holding a nationwide group hug. In debates, Hillary cites facts and figures to support her healthcare and immigration propositions, whereas Obama tends to deflect challenges with personal stories and sweeping judgments. Hillary’s invitation to have “conversations” with the electorate, though broadcast on the Internet, feels as predictably manipulative as a Lifetime movie; Obama’s most notable videos aren’t even his own, but rather the work of creative supporters spread organically in true viral fashion. If the medium is the message, Obama is running a practically post-modern campaign.

The ease with which Obama has moved into each successive phase of the primary season has freed him up to spot and douse fires before they gain attention. Whether it’s the fictional Islamist charge or the Rezko “scandal” or his (truly scandalous) drivers-license-for-illegals position, forward momentum pulls him through scot-free. The Clinton camp is so hooked on following their game plan that no one sees the speed-bumps coming or even senses them once the car has stopped. By the time she reined her husband in, for example, it was clear to the rest of us that he’d done formidable damage. So it’s no surprise that Hillary’s campaign crisis came to her as. . . a surprise.

Now, Obama may have already beaten Hillary to the next punch: Iraq. If she couldn’t recognize a crisis among her own people, it’s doubtful she sees the one in Mesopotamia. I’m referring to the crisis suffered by our enemy. Documents recently seized by U.S. forces in Iraq find al Qaeda officials in a fit over their losses at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis and U.S. forces. Interestingly, in a CBS interview with Steve Kroft, Obama seems to be backing off the timetable approach to troop withdrawal:

Kroft: And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?.

Obama: No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Hillary is stuck trying to satisfy pre-surge anxiety by (insincerely) offering up proposed presidential declarations demanding an end to the war. By the time she realizes she’s read the public wrongly on this one, it may very well be too late.

In at least one important sense, Barack Obama really does represent a new breed of politician, and Hillary Clinton an old one: campaigning.

While Hillary has focused on a time-tested divide-and-conquer battle plan, Obama is holding a nationwide group hug. In debates, Hillary cites facts and figures to support her healthcare and immigration propositions, whereas Obama tends to deflect challenges with personal stories and sweeping judgments. Hillary’s invitation to have “conversations” with the electorate, though broadcast on the Internet, feels as predictably manipulative as a Lifetime movie; Obama’s most notable videos aren’t even his own, but rather the work of creative supporters spread organically in true viral fashion. If the medium is the message, Obama is running a practically post-modern campaign.

The ease with which Obama has moved into each successive phase of the primary season has freed him up to spot and douse fires before they gain attention. Whether it’s the fictional Islamist charge or the Rezko “scandal” or his (truly scandalous) drivers-license-for-illegals position, forward momentum pulls him through scot-free. The Clinton camp is so hooked on following their game plan that no one sees the speed-bumps coming or even senses them once the car has stopped. By the time she reined her husband in, for example, it was clear to the rest of us that he’d done formidable damage. So it’s no surprise that Hillary’s campaign crisis came to her as. . . a surprise.

Now, Obama may have already beaten Hillary to the next punch: Iraq. If she couldn’t recognize a crisis among her own people, it’s doubtful she sees the one in Mesopotamia. I’m referring to the crisis suffered by our enemy. Documents recently seized by U.S. forces in Iraq find al Qaeda officials in a fit over their losses at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis and U.S. forces. Interestingly, in a CBS interview with Steve Kroft, Obama seems to be backing off the timetable approach to troop withdrawal:

Kroft: And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?.

Obama: No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Hillary is stuck trying to satisfy pre-surge anxiety by (insincerely) offering up proposed presidential declarations demanding an end to the war. By the time she realizes she’s read the public wrongly on this one, it may very well be too late.

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Israel Gets It Right

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

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The Road Ahead

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

Here and there among liberal pundits are suggestions that there is less than meets the eye in the Barack Obama message. If you lose Paul Krugman and Joe Klein thinks Obama-mania is getting “creepy” there may be a problem. Well, the Obama campaign did not get where it is by being dim. In Wisconsin, Obama is running an ad on an actual issue, health care. While the ad is not exactly a Brookings Institution policy paper, it does address a core issue for voters. I think, if he is the nominee, you will expect to see more substance, less chanting. It will be John McCain’s job, not an enviable one, to point out why, aside from the exceptional messenger, this is more of the same liberal domestic policy wish list agenda. It is never fun being the “No, you can’t” candidate, but it is a role that fits McCain well. (“No you can’t have the $1M Woodstock museum,” “No you can’t run a war on the cheap,” etc.) It remains to be seen whether he can do this without descending into the voice of doom and gloom and being painted as the naysayer. (His message can be phrased in positive terms, but “Yes, we can reach an acceptable outcome in Iraq” doesn’t exactly stir the masses.)

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Huckabee: Less Is More

We can speculate as to why Mike Huckabee is remaining in the race. (He needs over 80% of the remaining delegates to win so the reason is not “to win.”) He might want to increase what bargaining power he thinks he has regarding John McCain’s VP slot or he may think he is laying the groundwork for 2012. However, there is a good argument that the longer he stays in the worse impression he makes and the more damage he does to his future political aspirations.

The low down on the tempest in a teapot in Washington is here. (More votes were counted and McCain remains in the lead, although it appears not to be binding or impact the state convention.) Huckabee’s “woe is me/the big guys are out to get me” tactic is not likely to make McCain or anyone else in the GOP feel kindly toward him.

He is also stepping up his rhetoric against McCain at a time when many conservatives are largely making peace with their almost-nominee. (Ironically, many in the conservative base who liked Huckabee and his populist rhetoric and fuzzy foreign policy notions even less than McCain may come to appreciate McCain’s many assets, if only in comparison to Huckabee.)

In the short run, all of this may help the GOP frontrunner. Currently, Huckabee poses no threat to McCain’s nomination. McCain is likely to cruise to victories tomorrow and in Wisconsin, leaving Huckabee close to mathematical elimination. As Huckabee turns from amusing sparring partner to annoying crank, McCain can focus his attention to more viable running mates who may help him both with conservatives and with the general electorate. It was clear that Huckabee loathed Mitt Romney, but for his own sake, he might have been better off to have followed the lead of his rival and left the stage at the right time. For McCain, Huckabee’s ongoing presence may strangely help him make the case to skeptics on the right that he is not so bad after all.

We can speculate as to why Mike Huckabee is remaining in the race. (He needs over 80% of the remaining delegates to win so the reason is not “to win.”) He might want to increase what bargaining power he thinks he has regarding John McCain’s VP slot or he may think he is laying the groundwork for 2012. However, there is a good argument that the longer he stays in the worse impression he makes and the more damage he does to his future political aspirations.

The low down on the tempest in a teapot in Washington is here. (More votes were counted and McCain remains in the lead, although it appears not to be binding or impact the state convention.) Huckabee’s “woe is me/the big guys are out to get me” tactic is not likely to make McCain or anyone else in the GOP feel kindly toward him.

He is also stepping up his rhetoric against McCain at a time when many conservatives are largely making peace with their almost-nominee. (Ironically, many in the conservative base who liked Huckabee and his populist rhetoric and fuzzy foreign policy notions even less than McCain may come to appreciate McCain’s many assets, if only in comparison to Huckabee.)

In the short run, all of this may help the GOP frontrunner. Currently, Huckabee poses no threat to McCain’s nomination. McCain is likely to cruise to victories tomorrow and in Wisconsin, leaving Huckabee close to mathematical elimination. As Huckabee turns from amusing sparring partner to annoying crank, McCain can focus his attention to more viable running mates who may help him both with conservatives and with the general electorate. It was clear that Huckabee loathed Mitt Romney, but for his own sake, he might have been better off to have followed the lead of his rival and left the stage at the right time. For McCain, Huckabee’s ongoing presence may strangely help him make the case to skeptics on the right that he is not so bad after all.

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The Word for Katie Couric . . .

Embarrassing. Last night, Ms. Couric interviewed Hillary Clinton for “60 Minutes.” Given the level of access and deference that show receives, both Couric’s Clinton interview and the preceding Steve Kroft interview with Barack Obama were up to the minute and might have turned out to be enlightening and news-making interviews. Instead, Couric shamed herself with a vapid and childish series of questions to the potential Commander-in-Chief.

Among the tidbits we learned: Clinton drinks tea not coffee, that she’s given up diet sodas because “they give you a jolt but it doesn’t last,” that she washes her hands or uses Purell to stay healthy and that were she to lose her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, she’ll be happy to return to being a simple senator from New York. Is any of this information relevant when she’s facing the mother of all nomination battles?

Early on, Couric couldn’t seem to let go of one really nagging question: Doesn’t Mrs. Clinton get down? In her deepest darkest moments, doesn’t she think about losing? Thankfully, Clinton didn’t lower herself to the bait. She smiled and when Couric finally stopped blathering, replied that she didn’t let herself think that way.

Even when the interview got to substantive issues, Couric didn’t listen to her subject and failed to ask any challenging – or really any – follow-up questions. Clinton attacked John McCain for saying he’d be OK with the U.S. staying in Iraq for 50 or 100 years, saying she wold never let that happen. But we’ve been in Germany for over 60 years and we’re still in Korea and Vietnam, does Clinton want to get us out of those commitments, as quickly as she seems intent on getting out of Iraq? Couric didn’t care to find out. (Steve Kroft didn’t see fit to follow up on Obama’s similar attack on McCain, either.)

At the time, there was a lot of discussion about Couric moving from fluffy “Today” into hard news and becoming the first woman news anchor. Whether she can indeed deliver a serious news broadcast every evening is not at issue here. What is at issue is her ability to sit down with serious people, who are engaged in serious endeavors and talk to them at their level. Her performance last night proves that she really should just stay behind the desk and deliver the lines scrolling on the teleprompter.

Embarrassing. Last night, Ms. Couric interviewed Hillary Clinton for “60 Minutes.” Given the level of access and deference that show receives, both Couric’s Clinton interview and the preceding Steve Kroft interview with Barack Obama were up to the minute and might have turned out to be enlightening and news-making interviews. Instead, Couric shamed herself with a vapid and childish series of questions to the potential Commander-in-Chief.

Among the tidbits we learned: Clinton drinks tea not coffee, that she’s given up diet sodas because “they give you a jolt but it doesn’t last,” that she washes her hands or uses Purell to stay healthy and that were she to lose her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, she’ll be happy to return to being a simple senator from New York. Is any of this information relevant when she’s facing the mother of all nomination battles?

Early on, Couric couldn’t seem to let go of one really nagging question: Doesn’t Mrs. Clinton get down? In her deepest darkest moments, doesn’t she think about losing? Thankfully, Clinton didn’t lower herself to the bait. She smiled and when Couric finally stopped blathering, replied that she didn’t let herself think that way.

Even when the interview got to substantive issues, Couric didn’t listen to her subject and failed to ask any challenging – or really any – follow-up questions. Clinton attacked John McCain for saying he’d be OK with the U.S. staying in Iraq for 50 or 100 years, saying she wold never let that happen. But we’ve been in Germany for over 60 years and we’re still in Korea and Vietnam, does Clinton want to get us out of those commitments, as quickly as she seems intent on getting out of Iraq? Couric didn’t care to find out. (Steve Kroft didn’t see fit to follow up on Obama’s similar attack on McCain, either.)

At the time, there was a lot of discussion about Couric moving from fluffy “Today” into hard news and becoming the first woman news anchor. Whether she can indeed deliver a serious news broadcast every evening is not at issue here. What is at issue is her ability to sit down with serious people, who are engaged in serious endeavors and talk to them at their level. Her performance last night proves that she really should just stay behind the desk and deliver the lines scrolling on the teleprompter.

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Hillary Gives McCain Hispanic Votes

Operating under the law of unintended consequences, the Clintons’ divisive identity politics may have done John McCain a great favor. Their unapologetic apportioning of various ethnic groups could give him a sizable piece of the Hispanic vote in a general election against Obama.

In Slate, Micky Kaus wonders if “Hillary has a big general election advantage Obama can’t match, in that a large chunk of the Latino vote might abandon an Obama-led Democratic ticket and vote for immigration-friendly John McCain.” Hillary’s big election advantage takes on new proportions if she’s not in the general election. Playing to Hispanic voters, undoubtedly, Hillary thought she was subtracting from Obama’s support while making in-roads into McCain’s. In fact, she hurt herself by showing such transparent calculation and may also have hobbled the Democrats in November. Chalk one up for the forces against cynicism.

Operating under the law of unintended consequences, the Clintons’ divisive identity politics may have done John McCain a great favor. Their unapologetic apportioning of various ethnic groups could give him a sizable piece of the Hispanic vote in a general election against Obama.

In Slate, Micky Kaus wonders if “Hillary has a big general election advantage Obama can’t match, in that a large chunk of the Latino vote might abandon an Obama-led Democratic ticket and vote for immigration-friendly John McCain.” Hillary’s big election advantage takes on new proportions if she’s not in the general election. Playing to Hispanic voters, undoubtedly, Hillary thought she was subtracting from Obama’s support while making in-roads into McCain’s. In fact, she hurt herself by showing such transparent calculation and may also have hobbled the Democrats in November. Chalk one up for the forces against cynicism.

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Israel to Elections?

So, against my predictions, the Winograd Commission report came and went, and Ehud Olmert’s government weathered the storm, right? Not so fast. It is true that, to everyone’s astonishment, the report essentially gave Olmert a much-needed bye, and his biggest coalition partner, Ehud Barak of the Labor party, announced he is not resigning for now. But last week Israel was awash in scandal, when a member of the esteemed commission, Yehezkel Dror, implied in an interview that the commission’s findings were skewed towards protecting Olmert’s government for political reasons. As he put it, “If we believe that the prime minister could promote the peace process, this is quite a lofty consideration. If the peace process succeeds, this could save so many lives, and therefore this is a substantial consideration.” If the message were not clear enough, Dror added the following: “What would you prefer? A government under Olmert and Barak, or new elections that would see Bibi [Netanyahu] rise to power?” Subtle.

But the most important news comes from a third party in the coalition, Shas, which holds twelve seats and can bring down the government on its own. Thursday, the head of the party, Eli Yishai, told his supporters that “I don’t know how long this government will last. I estimate that soon we will have elections.” According to radio reports, Yishai also instructed his party’s local branches to begin preparations for elections this coming November — a year and a half earlier than scheduled. Ehud Barak has also hinted that he is leaning towards early elections.

There are good reasons to think that this is not just posturing. True, historically speaking Shas is one of the least likely parties to bring down a government — its main goal in life is to secure maximum government funding for its religious schools, and being in opposition is not very good for that. But today Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular, reeking of both corruption and incompetence. In such a case, parties that cling to the government do so at their peril: As soon as one party seriously considers bolting under popular pressure, the other stands to be left clinging to a sinking ship — and voters will punish those who didn’t leave when they had the chance. The result is that contrary to ordinary politics, where parties hold on to power as long as they can, prophecies of a falling government are often self-fulfilling, as each party jockeys for the best advantage in the next election. Stay tuned.

So, against my predictions, the Winograd Commission report came and went, and Ehud Olmert’s government weathered the storm, right? Not so fast. It is true that, to everyone’s astonishment, the report essentially gave Olmert a much-needed bye, and his biggest coalition partner, Ehud Barak of the Labor party, announced he is not resigning for now. But last week Israel was awash in scandal, when a member of the esteemed commission, Yehezkel Dror, implied in an interview that the commission’s findings were skewed towards protecting Olmert’s government for political reasons. As he put it, “If we believe that the prime minister could promote the peace process, this is quite a lofty consideration. If the peace process succeeds, this could save so many lives, and therefore this is a substantial consideration.” If the message were not clear enough, Dror added the following: “What would you prefer? A government under Olmert and Barak, or new elections that would see Bibi [Netanyahu] rise to power?” Subtle.

But the most important news comes from a third party in the coalition, Shas, which holds twelve seats and can bring down the government on its own. Thursday, the head of the party, Eli Yishai, told his supporters that “I don’t know how long this government will last. I estimate that soon we will have elections.” According to radio reports, Yishai also instructed his party’s local branches to begin preparations for elections this coming November — a year and a half earlier than scheduled. Ehud Barak has also hinted that he is leaning towards early elections.

There are good reasons to think that this is not just posturing. True, historically speaking Shas is one of the least likely parties to bring down a government — its main goal in life is to secure maximum government funding for its religious schools, and being in opposition is not very good for that. But today Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular, reeking of both corruption and incompetence. In such a case, parties that cling to the government do so at their peril: As soon as one party seriously considers bolting under popular pressure, the other stands to be left clinging to a sinking ship — and voters will punish those who didn’t leave when they had the chance. The result is that contrary to ordinary politics, where parties hold on to power as long as they can, prophecies of a falling government are often self-fulfilling, as each party jockeys for the best advantage in the next election. Stay tuned.

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How They Match Up

Barack Obama is making the argument to superdelegates and adoring groups of voters that he is more electable of the two Democratic candidates and that he will match up better against John McCain. For now, the polls agree, but less dramatically so than one might expect. But is this right?

Hillary Clinton’s “high negatives” are legendary and, if the Obama campaign has proven anything, it is that there is a hunger among Democrats and Republicans alike to jettison the Clintons from the national stage. However, there are several disadvantages which Obama has.

First, we vote, of course, by the electoral college. So the real issue is which states, if any, does he put in play which she does not. Yes, he has run well in red states, but no one seriously believes that he will beat John McCain in Nebraska. At least for now, Clinton polls better among Hispanics and would therefore have a better shot at states which actually are in play, such as Florida and New Mexico. In the habitually important state of Ohio with the famed Reagan Democrats, some of whom are socially quite conservative, there is a good argument Clinton, not Obama, is the stronger candidate. (We’ll find out on March 4 who runs stronger with Democrats, but in the fall Independents and Republicans will be at issue also.)

Second, there is something to be said for Clinton’s argument that she will not be blown off the stage by McCain. Watching Obama’s campaign speech in Alexandria yesterday on CSPAN, I was struck how little there is still there. The vast majority of the speech was utter fluff, lovely and soaring fluff, yes, but still fluff. The rest was rather bland aspirational liberal fare (“give our kids a world class education”). In an election that season that will last six months or more will this wear thin? (Quite possibly. And now that Saturday Night Live writers are going back to work we can expect some delightful spoofs of his video and political messaging.) On foreign policy the problem is more acute. In a debate will he sound credible, with McCain ready to pounce, that our real problem internationally has been our failure to visit with the world’s tyrants?

Third, his ranking by the National Journal as the most liberal Senator reveals a basic truth: for all of the “bringing together” and “reaching out” rhetoric he remains an unblemished and uncompromising liberal–on foreign policy, on judges, on taxes, on everything. I can think of no issue in which he has bucked the Democratic liberal establishment (other than a meek suggestion that merit pay for teachers might not be such a bad idea). If McCain can break through the din of music videos (or wait until they seem strangely stale) he might just make the argument to the great middle swath of the electorate that there is a reason other than soaring rhetoric why Teddy Kennedy endorsed him: he is an attractive spokesman for the platform of the Left that the country has repeatedly rejected.

So, although Clinton has fallen on hard times and is resorting to all manner of silly argument to retain her hopes for the nomination, we should give the lady her due: she may, in a general election, be the stronger of the two candidates.

Barack Obama is making the argument to superdelegates and adoring groups of voters that he is more electable of the two Democratic candidates and that he will match up better against John McCain. For now, the polls agree, but less dramatically so than one might expect. But is this right?

Hillary Clinton’s “high negatives” are legendary and, if the Obama campaign has proven anything, it is that there is a hunger among Democrats and Republicans alike to jettison the Clintons from the national stage. However, there are several disadvantages which Obama has.

First, we vote, of course, by the electoral college. So the real issue is which states, if any, does he put in play which she does not. Yes, he has run well in red states, but no one seriously believes that he will beat John McCain in Nebraska. At least for now, Clinton polls better among Hispanics and would therefore have a better shot at states which actually are in play, such as Florida and New Mexico. In the habitually important state of Ohio with the famed Reagan Democrats, some of whom are socially quite conservative, there is a good argument Clinton, not Obama, is the stronger candidate. (We’ll find out on March 4 who runs stronger with Democrats, but in the fall Independents and Republicans will be at issue also.)

Second, there is something to be said for Clinton’s argument that she will not be blown off the stage by McCain. Watching Obama’s campaign speech in Alexandria yesterday on CSPAN, I was struck how little there is still there. The vast majority of the speech was utter fluff, lovely and soaring fluff, yes, but still fluff. The rest was rather bland aspirational liberal fare (“give our kids a world class education”). In an election that season that will last six months or more will this wear thin? (Quite possibly. And now that Saturday Night Live writers are going back to work we can expect some delightful spoofs of his video and political messaging.) On foreign policy the problem is more acute. In a debate will he sound credible, with McCain ready to pounce, that our real problem internationally has been our failure to visit with the world’s tyrants?

Third, his ranking by the National Journal as the most liberal Senator reveals a basic truth: for all of the “bringing together” and “reaching out” rhetoric he remains an unblemished and uncompromising liberal–on foreign policy, on judges, on taxes, on everything. I can think of no issue in which he has bucked the Democratic liberal establishment (other than a meek suggestion that merit pay for teachers might not be such a bad idea). If McCain can break through the din of music videos (or wait until they seem strangely stale) he might just make the argument to the great middle swath of the electorate that there is a reason other than soaring rhetoric why Teddy Kennedy endorsed him: he is an attractive spokesman for the platform of the Left that the country has repeatedly rejected.

So, although Clinton has fallen on hard times and is resorting to all manner of silly argument to retain her hopes for the nomination, we should give the lady her due: she may, in a general election, be the stronger of the two candidates.

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Durban Blues

Good news: Following up on Canada’s example, which I mentioned in a previous post, the United States has decided to boycott next year’s UN conference on human rights in Durban, South Africa, known as “Durban II.” This, according to Senator Norm Coleman (R – Minn.), who says the state department is calling off its participation, in response to a letter he and 26 other senators sent to Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice. In the letter, he senators cited the debacle of the previous Durban conference, which deteriorated into a festival of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing; and the fact that the Durban II organizers include such humane governments as Libya and Iran. The conference, the let ter says, is “yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.” The senators are right; the U.S. has made the right decision.

Or has it? According to reports, a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, says no such decision has been made. Tom Casey, also at State, says that because the conference is being held after the current administration finishes its term, the decision will be up to the next one. On the other hand, he told reporters that “I certainly don’t think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity.”

Perhaps it is considered polite for outgoing administrations not to saddle subsequent ones with their decisions. Yet the question of whether to prop up one of the ugliest forums of world anti-Semitism or to deal it a belated diplomatic death is not next year’s—it’s today’s.

Good news: Following up on Canada’s example, which I mentioned in a previous post, the United States has decided to boycott next year’s UN conference on human rights in Durban, South Africa, known as “Durban II.” This, according to Senator Norm Coleman (R – Minn.), who says the state department is calling off its participation, in response to a letter he and 26 other senators sent to Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice. In the letter, he senators cited the debacle of the previous Durban conference, which deteriorated into a festival of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing; and the fact that the Durban II organizers include such humane governments as Libya and Iran. The conference, the let ter says, is “yet another example of a seemingly noble UN agenda item being hijacked by member states to spew anti-Semitism.” The senators are right; the U.S. has made the right decision.

Or has it? According to reports, a State Department spokesman, Karl Duckworth, says no such decision has been made. Tom Casey, also at State, says that because the conference is being held after the current administration finishes its term, the decision will be up to the next one. On the other hand, he told reporters that “I certainly don’t think that presently we view it as a particularly valuable activity.”

Perhaps it is considered polite for outgoing administrations not to saddle subsequent ones with their decisions. Yet the question of whether to prop up one of the ugliest forums of world anti-Semitism or to deal it a belated diplomatic death is not next year’s—it’s today’s.

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James Risen in Chains

Is the Justice Department subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times a threat to the rule of law? Or, as I argue in the latest Weekly Standard, is the subpoena amply justified?

Liberals and the Left have been surprisingly mute about the issue of leaks of classified information and the Justice Department’s response. A recent exception comes from Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who is highly alarmed by the DOJ’s action:

Grand Jury Subpoenas such as the one issued to Risen have as their principal purpose shutting off that avenue of learning about government wrongdoing — the sole remaining avenue for a country plagued by a supine, slothful, vapid press and an indescribably submissive Congress.

Greenwald’s analysis is worth reading in full. He offers some interesting speculation about why this issue is coming to the fore now, most of it centering on the appointment of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. But I found the most fascinating portion of his column to be the blank spot in its very center.

Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer, but he offers not a word of discussion about the legal and constitutional issues involved in the publication of classified information by journalists. This left me curious to know several things:

1.  Could it ever be a crime, in his view, for a “whistleblower” to disclose classified information?

2.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason for the Justice Department to issue a subpoena to a journalist (even the shield law making its way through Congress has a national-security exception, too narrowly drawn in my view, but an exception all the same)?

3.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason, in his view, for the Justice Department to prosecute a journalist who publishes classified information?

Perhaps Greenwald will come up with some answers at Salon and we will see the beginnings of a proper debate.

Is the Justice Department subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times a threat to the rule of law? Or, as I argue in the latest Weekly Standard, is the subpoena amply justified?

Liberals and the Left have been surprisingly mute about the issue of leaks of classified information and the Justice Department’s response. A recent exception comes from Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who is highly alarmed by the DOJ’s action:

Grand Jury Subpoenas such as the one issued to Risen have as their principal purpose shutting off that avenue of learning about government wrongdoing — the sole remaining avenue for a country plagued by a supine, slothful, vapid press and an indescribably submissive Congress.

Greenwald’s analysis is worth reading in full. He offers some interesting speculation about why this issue is coming to the fore now, most of it centering on the appointment of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. But I found the most fascinating portion of his column to be the blank spot in its very center.

Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer, but he offers not a word of discussion about the legal and constitutional issues involved in the publication of classified information by journalists. This left me curious to know several things:

1.  Could it ever be a crime, in his view, for a “whistleblower” to disclose classified information?

2.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason for the Justice Department to issue a subpoena to a journalist (even the shield law making its way through Congress has a national-security exception, too narrowly drawn in my view, but an exception all the same)?

3.  Could there ever be a legitimate reason, in his view, for the Justice Department to prosecute a journalist who publishes classified information?

Perhaps Greenwald will come up with some answers at Salon and we will see the beginnings of a proper debate.

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More Samantha Power

Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:

Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: “MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes.” Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!

Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:

Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: “MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes.” Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!

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