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Posts For: March 4, 2008

Obama Rules Out Talk with Hamas

The ever-diplomatic Barack Obama seems to have just backpedaled slightly on diplomacy. Ynet reports that Obama now shares George W. Bush’s policy of rejecting talks with Hamas. At a campaign stop in San Antonio, the senator said, “You can’t negotiate with somebody who does not recognize the right of a country to exist so I understand why Israel doesn’t meet with Hamas.”

Did he flip through a foreign policy folder, put his finger down at random and decide to look tough on whatever issue was there? That’s the only explanation for his Hamas stance. After all, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has exhausted his thesaurus finding words for “destruction” in regard to Israel, yet Obama remains eager to chat with the man who is, as one analyst put it, trying to “hotwire” the apocalypse. Maybe Ahmadinejad’s feel for inclusive annihilation appeals to Obama’s multicultural sensibilities.

In any event, it is clear that Obama felt the need to appear strong. Perhaps the above-it-all, heaven-on-earth love-in has actually started to go stale. This little shift could be a response to Hillary’s recent efforts to prove she’s more of a force to be reckoned with than is Obama. Maybe he thinks he didn’t excel in Hillary’s Farrakhan challenge. It also may have to do with larger trends: the continued progress in Iraq makes talk of troop withdrawal look more transparently political by the day and reminds Americans that the military option remains a viable one. Obama’s campaign experiment in hardball is ultimately meaningless. As easily as he’s adopted this stance, he could reverse it with the flimsiest of justifications. There’s no reason to take this as evidence that he’s ceased to romanticize “talk.”

The ever-diplomatic Barack Obama seems to have just backpedaled slightly on diplomacy. Ynet reports that Obama now shares George W. Bush’s policy of rejecting talks with Hamas. At a campaign stop in San Antonio, the senator said, “You can’t negotiate with somebody who does not recognize the right of a country to exist so I understand why Israel doesn’t meet with Hamas.”

Did he flip through a foreign policy folder, put his finger down at random and decide to look tough on whatever issue was there? That’s the only explanation for his Hamas stance. After all, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has exhausted his thesaurus finding words for “destruction” in regard to Israel, yet Obama remains eager to chat with the man who is, as one analyst put it, trying to “hotwire” the apocalypse. Maybe Ahmadinejad’s feel for inclusive annihilation appeals to Obama’s multicultural sensibilities.

In any event, it is clear that Obama felt the need to appear strong. Perhaps the above-it-all, heaven-on-earth love-in has actually started to go stale. This little shift could be a response to Hillary’s recent efforts to prove she’s more of a force to be reckoned with than is Obama. Maybe he thinks he didn’t excel in Hillary’s Farrakhan challenge. It also may have to do with larger trends: the continued progress in Iraq makes talk of troop withdrawal look more transparently political by the day and reminds Americans that the military option remains a viable one. Obama’s campaign experiment in hardball is ultimately meaningless. As easily as he’s adopted this stance, he could reverse it with the flimsiest of justifications. There’s no reason to take this as evidence that he’s ceased to romanticize “talk.”

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Hillary with Jon Stewart

Hillary Clinton took time out last night to appear on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Neither she or he was all that funny, but–perhaps because her voice was raspy and she looked utterly exhausted–she came across quite sympathetically. She is obviously fighting for her political life. Stewart gave her a small hand in the “hope is overrated” department by joking that he’s been “clicking his ruby slippers together” without result. In the second part of the interview, she made her case for staying in the race, arguing that “big states” like Pennsylvania are important to the Democrats and deserve a say in who the nominee will be. She also claimed that her husband did not wrap up the race until June during his 1992 campaign. Unless she loses both big states today, I think it highly unlikely she will be leaving the race anytime soon.

Hillary Clinton took time out last night to appear on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Neither she or he was all that funny, but–perhaps because her voice was raspy and she looked utterly exhausted–she came across quite sympathetically. She is obviously fighting for her political life. Stewart gave her a small hand in the “hope is overrated” department by joking that he’s been “clicking his ruby slippers together” without result. In the second part of the interview, she made her case for staying in the race, arguing that “big states” like Pennsylvania are important to the Democrats and deserve a say in who the nominee will be. She also claimed that her husband did not wrap up the race until June during his 1992 campaign. Unless she loses both big states today, I think it highly unlikely she will be leaving the race anytime soon.

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An Iraqi Sea Change

Question: What is the most extraordinary thing about the following extraordinary sentence?

BAGHDAD — After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

Answer: It is the lead of a story in today’s New York Times. The paper of record, which for the past few years could accurately be described as a body count with a styles section, is now acknowledging the realization of the most ambitious goal of the Iraq War: the de-radicalization of Muslim citizens. This is, in its way, more important than political reconciliation and even more important than hunting down al Qaeda. This is the long war stuff, the hearts-and-minds stuff.

The goal was to offer freedom as an alternative to extremism; the criticism was that it was a dream; the reality is that it is happening. From the Times:

Such patterns, if lasting, could lead to a weakening of the political power of religious leaders in Iraq. In a nod to those changing tastes, political parties are dropping overt references to religion.

And the revelations don’t end there. Sabrina Tavernise, who wrote the piece, notes that the extent of Iraqis’ wholesale rejection of jihad is unique in the region:

The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religious practice among young people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced nationalism as a unifying ideology.

It is impossible not to infer that the Bush Doctrine and the commitment of the men and women in uniform has facilitated this shift. Far from “creating more terrorists” as the failed cliché goes, the war has helped to nurture an appreciation for liberty among Iraqi youth. A 24-year-old Iraqi college student is quoted as saying she loved Osama bin Laden at the time of 9/11. Now, after seeing the efforts of religious leaders to curtail her daily freedoms, she rejects extremism entirely. While George Bush’s critics can make no useful connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq, this young woman has no problem doing so.

Ms. Tavernise rolls out another shocker with the admission that Saddam Hussien was not the simple secular player that the war’s detractors had always claimed:

Saddam Hussein encouraged religion in Iraqi society in his later years, building Sunni mosques and injecting more religion into the public school curriculum, but always made sure it served his authoritarian needs.

Well, what do you know? Someone should tell Senator Carl Levin, who in 2005 described Saddam’s regime as “intensely secular.”

This Times piece represents a tectonic shift in the Iraq War and in the larger ideological struggle. From this date on, the War cannot be talked about in quite the same way. Those opposed to it can no longer snicker so easily when recalling the President’s assertion that people everywhere want freedom, and they may have to check their rage before declaring we’ve created more terrorists. There are some who understood that changing hearts and minds was the only way to triumph in the long run, but felt that Iraq was a huge setback in that pursuit. Martin Amis, a critic of the war, said of Islamism:

I think it will atomize. And also there will be sectarian strife within it. Also, I think that it is so fantastically poisonous that in its most millennial form, Islamism, not Islam, Islamism is so poisonous that it will burn itself out.

Amis may have thought going into Iraq was the wrong move, but there is little question that the embers have started to cool in Mesopotamia.

Question: What is the most extraordinary thing about the following extraordinary sentence?

BAGHDAD — After almost five years of war, many young people in Iraq, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.

Answer: It is the lead of a story in today’s New York Times. The paper of record, which for the past few years could accurately be described as a body count with a styles section, is now acknowledging the realization of the most ambitious goal of the Iraq War: the de-radicalization of Muslim citizens. This is, in its way, more important than political reconciliation and even more important than hunting down al Qaeda. This is the long war stuff, the hearts-and-minds stuff.

The goal was to offer freedom as an alternative to extremism; the criticism was that it was a dream; the reality is that it is happening. From the Times:

Such patterns, if lasting, could lead to a weakening of the political power of religious leaders in Iraq. In a nod to those changing tastes, political parties are dropping overt references to religion.

And the revelations don’t end there. Sabrina Tavernise, who wrote the piece, notes that the extent of Iraqis’ wholesale rejection of jihad is unique in the region:

The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religious practice among young people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced nationalism as a unifying ideology.

It is impossible not to infer that the Bush Doctrine and the commitment of the men and women in uniform has facilitated this shift. Far from “creating more terrorists” as the failed cliché goes, the war has helped to nurture an appreciation for liberty among Iraqi youth. A 24-year-old Iraqi college student is quoted as saying she loved Osama bin Laden at the time of 9/11. Now, after seeing the efforts of religious leaders to curtail her daily freedoms, she rejects extremism entirely. While George Bush’s critics can make no useful connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq, this young woman has no problem doing so.

Ms. Tavernise rolls out another shocker with the admission that Saddam Hussien was not the simple secular player that the war’s detractors had always claimed:

Saddam Hussein encouraged religion in Iraqi society in his later years, building Sunni mosques and injecting more religion into the public school curriculum, but always made sure it served his authoritarian needs.

Well, what do you know? Someone should tell Senator Carl Levin, who in 2005 described Saddam’s regime as “intensely secular.”

This Times piece represents a tectonic shift in the Iraq War and in the larger ideological struggle. From this date on, the War cannot be talked about in quite the same way. Those opposed to it can no longer snicker so easily when recalling the President’s assertion that people everywhere want freedom, and they may have to check their rage before declaring we’ve created more terrorists. There are some who understood that changing hearts and minds was the only way to triumph in the long run, but felt that Iraq was a huge setback in that pursuit. Martin Amis, a critic of the war, said of Islamism:

I think it will atomize. And also there will be sectarian strife within it. Also, I think that it is so fantastically poisonous that in its most millennial form, Islamism, not Islam, Islamism is so poisonous that it will burn itself out.

Amis may have thought going into Iraq was the wrong move, but there is little question that the embers have started to cool in Mesopotamia.

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Top Secret

Why do some government officials, entrusted with classified materials, choose to funnel them to reporters in violation of their oaths of secrecy and in violation of the law?

In 2002, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez formed an interagency task force to look into the question and see what could be done about it. One of its subgroups concluded, unsurprisingly, that “[p]eople leak information for any number of reasons: negligence, by accident, as an act of espionage, or as willful disclosure to satisfy some personal need.”

The same group suggested a variety of remedies:

Education can reduce negligence. Well-designed control mechanisms and work processes can minimize the accidental leak. Countering a well-planned, focused technical or human espionage operation is more difficult, as system vulnerabilities are systematically exploited. The willful disclosure by one with authorized access may be the most difficult leak to manage via technical controls. Individual motivation can be mitigated somewhat by “deterrents,” i.e., the use of technical interventions, psychological and behavioral threats that generate fear of detection and reprisal. But even the most sophisticated technology cannot prevent the authorized individual, intent on leaking, from memorizing or hand-copying information and passing it to an unauthorized person.

All of this true. But it is also incomplete. Some leaks pass on highly sensitive information and do enormous damage to national security. But some leaks are benign.

The CIA has just posted on its website a document that it declassified in 2004. It is a page from the 1976 Congressional Record, a statement by Congressman Robert Roe offering a salute to the people of North Caucasia on the anniversary of their independence. This particular document was never leaked. In fact, it couldn’t have been in that it was always available in the public domain. But if it had been, what harm would have been done?

Rampant mis-classification creates a climate in which officials feel free to treat cavalierly information stamped secret. Any solution to the problem of leaking has to address this side of the equation.

Why do some government officials, entrusted with classified materials, choose to funnel them to reporters in violation of their oaths of secrecy and in violation of the law?

In 2002, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez formed an interagency task force to look into the question and see what could be done about it. One of its subgroups concluded, unsurprisingly, that “[p]eople leak information for any number of reasons: negligence, by accident, as an act of espionage, or as willful disclosure to satisfy some personal need.”

The same group suggested a variety of remedies:

Education can reduce negligence. Well-designed control mechanisms and work processes can minimize the accidental leak. Countering a well-planned, focused technical or human espionage operation is more difficult, as system vulnerabilities are systematically exploited. The willful disclosure by one with authorized access may be the most difficult leak to manage via technical controls. Individual motivation can be mitigated somewhat by “deterrents,” i.e., the use of technical interventions, psychological and behavioral threats that generate fear of detection and reprisal. But even the most sophisticated technology cannot prevent the authorized individual, intent on leaking, from memorizing or hand-copying information and passing it to an unauthorized person.

All of this true. But it is also incomplete. Some leaks pass on highly sensitive information and do enormous damage to national security. But some leaks are benign.

The CIA has just posted on its website a document that it declassified in 2004. It is a page from the 1976 Congressional Record, a statement by Congressman Robert Roe offering a salute to the people of North Caucasia on the anniversary of their independence. This particular document was never leaked. In fact, it couldn’t have been in that it was always available in the public domain. But if it had been, what harm would have been done?

Rampant mis-classification creates a climate in which officials feel free to treat cavalierly information stamped secret. Any solution to the problem of leaking has to address this side of the equation.

Read Less

Now He Went And Got Them Mad

What started out as a spat has now turned into a full blown lovers’ quarrel. He doesn’t talk to us. He won’t spend time with us. He misled us. Yes, as detailed in this vivid account, Barack Obama is now openly feuding with the media, which (strangely enough) thinks he should answer more questions about Tony Rezko and what Austan Goolsbee was whispering in the Canadians’ ears (notice the highly contrived and very old-school tactic Obama employed in an effort to make the dispute about who called whom first).

The most telling part of the report is that, after the food fight with the media, Obama did not feel comfortable enough to come back to the press people on the plane to discuss their concerns. After all, he answered a whole eight questions from the media. What do they expect? That he’ll stay there like any other candidate and answer every question they have?

Lacking McCain’s easy-going and established rapport with the press, Obama now cannot venture into the lion’s den without risking another mauling. I think Howard Wolfson has finally achieved his goal: getting the press energized and willing to go after Obama. Worse yet, as Dana Millbank notes, “The questioning . . . has only just begun.”

What started out as a spat has now turned into a full blown lovers’ quarrel. He doesn’t talk to us. He won’t spend time with us. He misled us. Yes, as detailed in this vivid account, Barack Obama is now openly feuding with the media, which (strangely enough) thinks he should answer more questions about Tony Rezko and what Austan Goolsbee was whispering in the Canadians’ ears (notice the highly contrived and very old-school tactic Obama employed in an effort to make the dispute about who called whom first).

The most telling part of the report is that, after the food fight with the media, Obama did not feel comfortable enough to come back to the press people on the plane to discuss their concerns. After all, he answered a whole eight questions from the media. What do they expect? That he’ll stay there like any other candidate and answer every question they have?

Lacking McCain’s easy-going and established rapport with the press, Obama now cannot venture into the lion’s den without risking another mauling. I think Howard Wolfson has finally achieved his goal: getting the press energized and willing to go after Obama. Worse yet, as Dana Millbank notes, “The questioning . . . has only just begun.”

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