Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 18, 2008

She Said What?

Michelle Obama today said that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction.”

Really proud of her country for the first time? Michelle Obama is 44 years old. She has been an adult since 1982. Can it really be there has not been a moment during that time when she felt proud of her country? Forget matters like the victory in the Cold War; how about only things that have made liberals proud — all the accomplishments of inclusion? How about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s elevation to the Supreme Court? Or Carol Moseley Braun’s election to the Senate in 1998? How about the merely humanitarian, like this country’s startling generosity to the victims of the tsunami? I’m sure commenters can think of hundreds more landmarks of this sort. Didn’t she even get a twinge from, say, the Olympics?

Mrs. Obama was speaking at a campaign rally, so it is easy to assume she was merely indulging in hyperbole. Even so, it is very revealing.

It suggests, first, that the pseudo-messianic nature of the Obama candidacy is very much a part of the way the Obamas themselves are feeling about it these days. If they don’t get a hold of themselves, the family vanity is going to swell up to the size of Phileas Fogg’s hot-air balloon and send the two of them soaring to heights of self-congratulatory solipsism that we’ve never seen before.

Second, it suggests the Obama campaign really does have its roots in New Class leftism, according to which patriotism is not only the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the first refuge as well — that America is not fundamentally good but flawed, but rather fundamentally flawed and only occasionally good. There’s something for John McCain to work with here.

And third, that Michelle Obama — from the middle-class South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Princeton 85, Harvard Law 88, associate at Sidley and Austin, and eventually a high-ranking official at the University of Chicago — may not be proud of her country, but her life, like her husband’s, gives me every reason to be even prouder of the United States.

Michelle Obama today said that “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction.”

Really proud of her country for the first time? Michelle Obama is 44 years old. She has been an adult since 1982. Can it really be there has not been a moment during that time when she felt proud of her country? Forget matters like the victory in the Cold War; how about only things that have made liberals proud — all the accomplishments of inclusion? How about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s elevation to the Supreme Court? Or Carol Moseley Braun’s election to the Senate in 1998? How about the merely humanitarian, like this country’s startling generosity to the victims of the tsunami? I’m sure commenters can think of hundreds more landmarks of this sort. Didn’t she even get a twinge from, say, the Olympics?

Mrs. Obama was speaking at a campaign rally, so it is easy to assume she was merely indulging in hyperbole. Even so, it is very revealing.

It suggests, first, that the pseudo-messianic nature of the Obama candidacy is very much a part of the way the Obamas themselves are feeling about it these days. If they don’t get a hold of themselves, the family vanity is going to swell up to the size of Phileas Fogg’s hot-air balloon and send the two of them soaring to heights of self-congratulatory solipsism that we’ve never seen before.

Second, it suggests the Obama campaign really does have its roots in New Class leftism, according to which patriotism is not only the last refuge of a scoundrel, but the first refuge as well — that America is not fundamentally good but flawed, but rather fundamentally flawed and only occasionally good. There’s something for John McCain to work with here.

And third, that Michelle Obama — from the middle-class South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Princeton 85, Harvard Law 88, associate at Sidley and Austin, and eventually a high-ranking official at the University of Chicago — may not be proud of her country, but her life, like her husband’s, gives me every reason to be even prouder of the United States.

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Kosovo, Russia, and China

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

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A Smidgen of the Bloom Comes off the Rose

As detailed here, the Clinton team has turned up the heat on Barack Obama for beginning to weave and dodge on his agreement to accept public campaign financing (and the spending restrictions that go with it) and for appropriating without attribution the words of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (who made the point, by way of quoting great historical phrases, that words do really matter).

As to the first, team Clinton, as we pointed out here, got a nice assist from John McCain. Both Clinton and McCain recognize the value in diminishing Obama’s image as a “different kind of politician.” (The fact that Clinton isn’t different and would not accept public financing herself does not apparently deter her from making the point that Obama is no better than the average pol.)

As to the latter issue, this is not exactly a replay of Joe Biden’s plagiarism of Neil Kinnock. In that case, Biden was in essence cribbing someone else’s life story. In the case, however, the slip seems potentially more damaging and does make Clinton’s point for her: anyone can (and many do) give nice speeches, but that doesn’t make them presidential material. It is, on its face, a small matter, but it goes to the heart of one of her main criticisms of Obama. If she can begin to expand on this theme (i.e. What has he really done? And are clever rock videos and soaring rhetoric the right measure by which we assess candidates?) without looking mean or petty she has an opening–albeit a small one.

As detailed here, the Clinton team has turned up the heat on Barack Obama for beginning to weave and dodge on his agreement to accept public campaign financing (and the spending restrictions that go with it) and for appropriating without attribution the words of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (who made the point, by way of quoting great historical phrases, that words do really matter).

As to the first, team Clinton, as we pointed out here, got a nice assist from John McCain. Both Clinton and McCain recognize the value in diminishing Obama’s image as a “different kind of politician.” (The fact that Clinton isn’t different and would not accept public financing herself does not apparently deter her from making the point that Obama is no better than the average pol.)

As to the latter issue, this is not exactly a replay of Joe Biden’s plagiarism of Neil Kinnock. In that case, Biden was in essence cribbing someone else’s life story. In the case, however, the slip seems potentially more damaging and does make Clinton’s point for her: anyone can (and many do) give nice speeches, but that doesn’t make them presidential material. It is, on its face, a small matter, but it goes to the heart of one of her main criticisms of Obama. If she can begin to expand on this theme (i.e. What has he really done? And are clever rock videos and soaring rhetoric the right measure by which we assess candidates?) without looking mean or petty she has an opening–albeit a small one.

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Austria’s Iran Connection

Next month will mark the 70th anniversary of the Aunschluss, in which Nazi troops marched into Austria and formally dissolved the state, merging it into Hitler’s nascent empire. Some time, then, for Austria to be propping up one of the most dangerous regimes on earth: Iran. According to a piece by Simone Dinah Hartmann appearing in the Jerusalem Post, Austria is one of the few Western countries engaged in massive investment in the Ayatollahs’ regime, most notably a 22 billion Euro natural gas deal signed last Spring.

The state-owned OVD company that signed the deal has a long history of unpleasant dealings: In 1968, just months after the Prague Spring, it signed the first Western gas deal with the Soviet Union; in the 1980s it worked closely with Libya; and in 2003 it was the last Western fuel company to pull out of Sudan. The OVD deal, like other deepening business ties between Austria and Iran, apparently have the hearty backing of all the major factions in parliament — including the ruling Social-Democrat party, which one might think would be concerned about Iran’s record on human rights.

This is a timely test for the new Europe, an opportunity for the more seriously anti-Iranian governments in France and Germany to show their influence on European affairs, and a scary reminder of how much can be forgotten.

Next month will mark the 70th anniversary of the Aunschluss, in which Nazi troops marched into Austria and formally dissolved the state, merging it into Hitler’s nascent empire. Some time, then, for Austria to be propping up one of the most dangerous regimes on earth: Iran. According to a piece by Simone Dinah Hartmann appearing in the Jerusalem Post, Austria is one of the few Western countries engaged in massive investment in the Ayatollahs’ regime, most notably a 22 billion Euro natural gas deal signed last Spring.

The state-owned OVD company that signed the deal has a long history of unpleasant dealings: In 1968, just months after the Prague Spring, it signed the first Western gas deal with the Soviet Union; in the 1980s it worked closely with Libya; and in 2003 it was the last Western fuel company to pull out of Sudan. The OVD deal, like other deepening business ties between Austria and Iran, apparently have the hearty backing of all the major factions in parliament — including the ruling Social-Democrat party, which one might think would be concerned about Iran’s record on human rights.

This is a timely test for the new Europe, an opportunity for the more seriously anti-Iranian governments in France and Germany to show their influence on European affairs, and a scary reminder of how much can be forgotten.

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Eventually, Even Clintons See Reason

Will the Democratic presidential fight go all the way to the convention? Obviously, it could, and my colleague Jen Rubin has been chronicling the myriad possibilities.

I’m a skeptic. If, by the middle of March, there is genuine evidence that Barack Obama has outdistanced Hillary Clinton in committed delegates, number of states won, and overall vote totals, and that she can only prevail by muscling the party leadership, she will not stay in it. Continuing her bid won’t make sense from that point on.

At that point, the chance of her prevailing at the convention would be very low, and at the end, she would be finished as a force in her own party. A victorious President Obama would freeze her out — indeed, he would have to freeze her out if he wanted to be seen as someone who can’t simply be walked over without consequence.

Or, if her hijinks were thought to have contributed to a Republican victory, she would become the pariah of all pariahs — a Ralph Nader who didn’t even do it out of principle, but just out of raw hunger for power.
Now, if she should pull out big victories in Texas and Ohio, she might well be tempted to battle on, claiming that she prevails in states with major populations while Obama primarily wins lightly attended caucuses. But how likely are big victories in those states? Obama is certain to do pretty well in them, which suggests she might eke out a one- or two-point margin. That is not enough to stop an avalanche.

Will the Democratic presidential fight go all the way to the convention? Obviously, it could, and my colleague Jen Rubin has been chronicling the myriad possibilities.

I’m a skeptic. If, by the middle of March, there is genuine evidence that Barack Obama has outdistanced Hillary Clinton in committed delegates, number of states won, and overall vote totals, and that she can only prevail by muscling the party leadership, she will not stay in it. Continuing her bid won’t make sense from that point on.

At that point, the chance of her prevailing at the convention would be very low, and at the end, she would be finished as a force in her own party. A victorious President Obama would freeze her out — indeed, he would have to freeze her out if he wanted to be seen as someone who can’t simply be walked over without consequence.

Or, if her hijinks were thought to have contributed to a Republican victory, she would become the pariah of all pariahs — a Ralph Nader who didn’t even do it out of principle, but just out of raw hunger for power.
Now, if she should pull out big victories in Texas and Ohio, she might well be tempted to battle on, claiming that she prevails in states with major populations while Obama primarily wins lightly attended caucuses. But how likely are big victories in those states? Obama is certain to do pretty well in them, which suggests she might eke out a one- or two-point margin. That is not enough to stop an avalanche.

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The Dems’ Afghan Shuffle

The Democrats have designated Afghanistan a permanent lost cause—and a useful one. As long as they can cite the Afghanistan war as a noble fight tragically abandoned for Bush’s misguided Iraq adventure, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have no need of a victory plan for the first battle in the global war on terror. This is convenient, as neither candidate has such a plan.

For the Democratic frontrunners, Afghanistan is not the proving ground of democratic revolution or American military forbearance, but a necessary talking point on the anti-Bush campaign trail. Any Democratic plan for military victory in Afghanistan is predicated on getting out of Iraq first. Viability notwithstanding.

Take, for example, this excerpt from an August 2007 Barack Obama speech entitled, too perfectly, “The War We Need to Win”:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I introduced a plan in January that would have already started bringing our troops out of Iraq, with a goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008. If the President continues to veto this plan, then ending this war will be my first priority when I take office.

We are now a mere forty-two days away from the date on which Barack Obama’s “plan” would have removed U.S. forces from Iraq. Forget the moral and strategic implications of abandoning that struggling populace to the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, al Qaeda, and hopeful Ba’athists; Obama’s fast-track to surrender is a logistical non-starter (as he well knows, evidenced by his recent hedging on troop withdrawal). If his “first step” in winning a live war is built on sheer fiction, consider the ongoing implications of such a wartime commander-in-chief.

More recently, the Clinton plan offers to move 3,500 ground troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. She could get some credit for using real world numbers, but 3,500 troops is actually the kind of build-up that the American and British governments routinely authorize without needing to siphon fighters from Iraq. Clinton’s plan is merely another symbol in the “Bush left Afghanistan for Iraq” narrative.

The Democrats’ Afghanistan plans all begin with troop withdrawal. We will have reached an important phase when we can properly rotate victorious troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, but to hang hopes of Afghan progress on surrender in Iraq is irresponsible. The war in Afghanistan is going on as I write this, and it can’t wait on the Democrats’ increasingly hazy formulations for troop withdrawal in Iraq. The broad, rhetorical campaign promises must contend with the reality on the ground. As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have tied their Afghanistan policies to an untenable precondition, they must be confronted about how they really intend to win what they consider to be the good war.

The Democrats have designated Afghanistan a permanent lost cause—and a useful one. As long as they can cite the Afghanistan war as a noble fight tragically abandoned for Bush’s misguided Iraq adventure, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have no need of a victory plan for the first battle in the global war on terror. This is convenient, as neither candidate has such a plan.

For the Democratic frontrunners, Afghanistan is not the proving ground of democratic revolution or American military forbearance, but a necessary talking point on the anti-Bush campaign trail. Any Democratic plan for military victory in Afghanistan is predicated on getting out of Iraq first. Viability notwithstanding.

Take, for example, this excerpt from an August 2007 Barack Obama speech entitled, too perfectly, “The War We Need to Win”:

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I introduced a plan in January that would have already started bringing our troops out of Iraq, with a goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008. If the President continues to veto this plan, then ending this war will be my first priority when I take office.

We are now a mere forty-two days away from the date on which Barack Obama’s “plan” would have removed U.S. forces from Iraq. Forget the moral and strategic implications of abandoning that struggling populace to the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, al Qaeda, and hopeful Ba’athists; Obama’s fast-track to surrender is a logistical non-starter (as he well knows, evidenced by his recent hedging on troop withdrawal). If his “first step” in winning a live war is built on sheer fiction, consider the ongoing implications of such a wartime commander-in-chief.

More recently, the Clinton plan offers to move 3,500 ground troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. She could get some credit for using real world numbers, but 3,500 troops is actually the kind of build-up that the American and British governments routinely authorize without needing to siphon fighters from Iraq. Clinton’s plan is merely another symbol in the “Bush left Afghanistan for Iraq” narrative.

The Democrats’ Afghanistan plans all begin with troop withdrawal. We will have reached an important phase when we can properly rotate victorious troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, but to hang hopes of Afghan progress on surrender in Iraq is irresponsible. The war in Afghanistan is going on as I write this, and it can’t wait on the Democrats’ increasingly hazy formulations for troop withdrawal in Iraq. The broad, rhetorical campaign promises must contend with the reality on the ground. As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have tied their Afghanistan policies to an untenable precondition, they must be confronted about how they really intend to win what they consider to be the good war.

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Out of the Box, or Off the Wall?

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

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You Think Republicans Have Problems

Howard Kurtz provides a candid assessment of the stunning media bias in the Clinton-Obama race. Conservatives often bemoan the lack of fair media treatment, but they have nothing over Hillary Clinton. How would you like to run in a race where reporters bring their children to your opponent’s rallies and dance to his tunes (literally)? The prospect of a post-partisan, minority candidate is too much for the media to resist. Does this mean the coverage of Clinton is unduly harsh? Perhaps a more accurate assessment is that she is receiving the proper amount of scrutiny for a frontrunning candidate who has botched her campaign while Obama receives virtually no critical coverage. If he gets the nomination we might hope to get more exacting coverage (or at least, for starters, a substantive interview on his foreign policy views), but it seems more likely that the media rooting will only intensify when the opponent is a Republican, even one widely respected by the media.

Howard Kurtz provides a candid assessment of the stunning media bias in the Clinton-Obama race. Conservatives often bemoan the lack of fair media treatment, but they have nothing over Hillary Clinton. How would you like to run in a race where reporters bring their children to your opponent’s rallies and dance to his tunes (literally)? The prospect of a post-partisan, minority candidate is too much for the media to resist. Does this mean the coverage of Clinton is unduly harsh? Perhaps a more accurate assessment is that she is receiving the proper amount of scrutiny for a frontrunning candidate who has botched her campaign while Obama receives virtually no critical coverage. If he gets the nomination we might hope to get more exacting coverage (or at least, for starters, a substantive interview on his foreign policy views), but it seems more likely that the media rooting will only intensify when the opponent is a Republican, even one widely respected by the media.

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The Dungeon of Fallujah

“This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.” – Lebanese Forces militia leader Bashir Gemayel.

FALLUJAH – Next to the Joint Communications Center in downtown Fallujah is a squalid and war-shattered warehouse for human beings. Most detainees are common criminals. Others are captured insurgents – terrorists, car-bombers, IED makers, and throat-slashers. A few are even innocent family members of Al Qaeda leaders at large. The Iraqi Police call it a jail, but it’s nothing like a jail you’ve ever seen, at least not in any civilized country. It was built to house 120 prisoners. Recently it held 900.

“Have you seen that place yet?” one Marine said. “It is absolutely disgraceful.”

“The smell,” said another and nearly gagged on remembering. “God, you will never forget it.”

I hadn’t seen or smelled it yet, but I was about to.

“Come on,” American Marine Sergeant Dehaan said to me. “Let’s go take a look.”

I picked up my notebook and camera.

“Leave the camera,” he said. “The Iraqis won’t let you take pictures.”

“Don’t you have any say in it?” I said. This was the first and only time during my trip to Fallujah that somebody told me not to take pictures.

“Nope,” he said. “The jail is completely run by Iraqis. They’ll freak out if you show up with that camera. If it were up to me, yeah, you could take ‘em. But it’s not.”

If the Marines wouldn’t mind if I took pictures, I think it’s safe to say the No Photograph policy is not a security measure. The Iraqis, it seems, don’t want you to see what I saw.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

“This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.” – Lebanese Forces militia leader Bashir Gemayel.

FALLUJAH – Next to the Joint Communications Center in downtown Fallujah is a squalid and war-shattered warehouse for human beings. Most detainees are common criminals. Others are captured insurgents – terrorists, car-bombers, IED makers, and throat-slashers. A few are even innocent family members of Al Qaeda leaders at large. The Iraqi Police call it a jail, but it’s nothing like a jail you’ve ever seen, at least not in any civilized country. It was built to house 120 prisoners. Recently it held 900.

“Have you seen that place yet?” one Marine said. “It is absolutely disgraceful.”

“The smell,” said another and nearly gagged on remembering. “God, you will never forget it.”

I hadn’t seen or smelled it yet, but I was about to.

“Come on,” American Marine Sergeant Dehaan said to me. “Let’s go take a look.”

I picked up my notebook and camera.

“Leave the camera,” he said. “The Iraqis won’t let you take pictures.”

“Don’t you have any say in it?” I said. This was the first and only time during my trip to Fallujah that somebody told me not to take pictures.

“Nope,” he said. “The jail is completely run by Iraqis. They’ll freak out if you show up with that camera. If it were up to me, yeah, you could take ‘em. But it’s not.”

If the Marines wouldn’t mind if I took pictures, I think it’s safe to say the No Photograph policy is not a security measure. The Iraqis, it seems, don’t want you to see what I saw.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

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Is John Edwards Right?

The latest media obsession is whether John Edwards will endorse either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and if so, which one. He visited Obama yesterday. His dilemma is described as follows:

People close to the Edwardses, speaking privately, say they have been torn about whom to support. The former North Carolina senator is concerned that Obama may not be ready for the presidency and that his health care plan is inferior. But Edwards was highly critical of Clinton — her policies, her ties to special interests and her character — during his campaign, making it more difficult to support her now.

This neatly sums up the problem that many Democrats face: do they choose the novice or a return to the Clinton melodrama. (While Republicans, despite fears of Obama’s electoral appeal, may be rooting for the fall of Clinton, they may also find the possibility of an Obama presidency — and his apparent foreign policy team — somewhat chilling.) As the race continues through the spring, into June and potentially up to the convention, it is not clear that either can put voters’ minds at ease. Clinton, after all, is who she is and comes with Bill and all he entails. Obama will not gain in experience or, absent some extraordinary situation, be able to dispel doubts about his toughness. It then is not surprising that Edwards, and many voters, find the choice a hard one.

Does Edwards really matter? In a race still close and likely not to be completed by June, small events take on exaggerated significance in the media storyline and, in this set of facts, may influence the superdelegates who will put one of the two candidates over the 2025 delegate mark. However, the more cynical among us may surmise that he simply wants to be on the winning side and will wait until the key March 4 primaries are decided. And remember, his 26 delegates might come in handy at the convention.

The latest media obsession is whether John Edwards will endorse either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and if so, which one. He visited Obama yesterday. His dilemma is described as follows:

People close to the Edwardses, speaking privately, say they have been torn about whom to support. The former North Carolina senator is concerned that Obama may not be ready for the presidency and that his health care plan is inferior. But Edwards was highly critical of Clinton — her policies, her ties to special interests and her character — during his campaign, making it more difficult to support her now.

This neatly sums up the problem that many Democrats face: do they choose the novice or a return to the Clinton melodrama. (While Republicans, despite fears of Obama’s electoral appeal, may be rooting for the fall of Clinton, they may also find the possibility of an Obama presidency — and his apparent foreign policy team — somewhat chilling.) As the race continues through the spring, into June and potentially up to the convention, it is not clear that either can put voters’ minds at ease. Clinton, after all, is who she is and comes with Bill and all he entails. Obama will not gain in experience or, absent some extraordinary situation, be able to dispel doubts about his toughness. It then is not surprising that Edwards, and many voters, find the choice a hard one.

Does Edwards really matter? In a race still close and likely not to be completed by June, small events take on exaggerated significance in the media storyline and, in this set of facts, may influence the superdelegates who will put one of the two candidates over the 2025 delegate mark. However, the more cynical among us may surmise that he simply wants to be on the winning side and will wait until the key March 4 primaries are decided. And remember, his 26 delegates might come in handy at the convention.

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Obama’s Teflon Passivity

Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of low-level flare-ups surrounding Barack Obama which he has, quite remarkably, been able to dismiss with a wave of the hand. Take, for instance, questions raised about his Farrakhan-loving preacher Jeremiah Wright. Those who made mere mention of Obama’s association with Wright were categorically condemned as smear artists little different from those who peddled stories earlier in the campaign that Obama was some sort of Manchurian Muslim candidate. The Obama campaign’s lame response to the Wright contretemps — that Obama doesn’t always agree with the preacher whose ministry he joined many years ago, whom he has praised as a mentor, whom he chose to deliver the invocation at the rally announcing his candidacy but whose invitation he withdrew at the last minute, who coined the vacuous term “Audacity of Hope” — did not nearly go far enough in explaining the Obama-Wright relationship.

Then there were the photographs that hit the blogs this week showing Obama’s Houston campaign headquarters festooned with flags of Che Guevara. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in his Sunday Boston Globe column, this was a strange thing to hang in the office of a candidate so often likened to the man who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Days after the story made headlines, the Obama campaign issued a press release stating that the display of Guevara’s visage “does not reflect Senator Obama’s views.” Good to know.

The latest incident was a story last week in the New York Sun, which revealed that Zbigniew Brzezinski, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, traveled to Damascus to meet with, according to his spokesperson, “high level people in the region.” Even though Obama himself has said he would meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, the campaign assured the Sun that, “Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq.”

It is understandable that Obama has not taken these challenges to his campaign seriously, seeing that Democratic primary voters probably care little — if at all — about a candidate’s associations with anti-Semitic preachers, campaign workers who revere Che Guevara or a foreign policy adviser who sips tea with a regime that kills Lebanese politicians. But these things will matter once the general election campaign begins, and I hope that Barack Obama drops his passivity accordingly.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a series of low-level flare-ups surrounding Barack Obama which he has, quite remarkably, been able to dismiss with a wave of the hand. Take, for instance, questions raised about his Farrakhan-loving preacher Jeremiah Wright. Those who made mere mention of Obama’s association with Wright were categorically condemned as smear artists little different from those who peddled stories earlier in the campaign that Obama was some sort of Manchurian Muslim candidate. The Obama campaign’s lame response to the Wright contretemps — that Obama doesn’t always agree with the preacher whose ministry he joined many years ago, whom he has praised as a mentor, whom he chose to deliver the invocation at the rally announcing his candidacy but whose invitation he withdrew at the last minute, who coined the vacuous term “Audacity of Hope” — did not nearly go far enough in explaining the Obama-Wright relationship.

Then there were the photographs that hit the blogs this week showing Obama’s Houston campaign headquarters festooned with flags of Che Guevara. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in his Sunday Boston Globe column, this was a strange thing to hang in the office of a candidate so often likened to the man who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion. Days after the story made headlines, the Obama campaign issued a press release stating that the display of Guevara’s visage “does not reflect Senator Obama’s views.” Good to know.

The latest incident was a story last week in the New York Sun, which revealed that Zbigniew Brzezinski, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, traveled to Damascus to meet with, according to his spokesperson, “high level people in the region.” Even though Obama himself has said he would meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, the campaign assured the Sun that, “Brzezinski is not a day-to-day adviser for the campaign, he is someone whose guidance Senator Obama seeks on Iraq.”

It is understandable that Obama has not taken these challenges to his campaign seriously, seeing that Democratic primary voters probably care little — if at all — about a candidate’s associations with anti-Semitic preachers, campaign workers who revere Che Guevara or a foreign policy adviser who sips tea with a regime that kills Lebanese politicians. But these things will matter once the general election campaign begins, and I hope that Barack Obama drops his passivity accordingly.

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