Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 7, 2008

No More Secret Promises

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he wants North Korea fully to disclose its nuclear weapons program by the end of this month. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they can certainly do,” he told reporters after a speech at Columbia University. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve already agreed to do.”

There is no question that the North Koreans failed to provide their promised declaration of nuclear activities by the end of last year. The issue is whether they have a legitimate excuse. Hill’s North Korean counterpart Kim Gye Gwan says the United States has failed to live up to its side of the bargain by not taking his country off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and keeping American trading sanctions in place. Both of these actions were covered in an agreement reached last February as a part of the so-called six-party talks.

So who is at fault? The North Koreans have been making the point that Hill has been making side deals on the pace of normalization and that Washington has not honored the commitments it has made. Although Pyongyang’s diplomats are especially proficient at lying, Kim’s charges are not entirely unbelievable this time. After all, the current flap over the terrorism-sponsorship list and trade sanctions is reminiscent of the dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau bank last year. During that imbroglio, Hill appeared to have made a secret commitment to Pyongyang to return those monies (which the United States eventually did in an especially humiliating climbdown).

Of course, we will never know what is going on until both the United States and North Korea open their archives. Yet there is one conclusion we can reach now: we always get into trouble when we engage in secret diplomacy with Kim Jong Il’s regime. There is no legitimate reason for the North Koreans to refuse to honor their promises. Yet we hand them excuse after excuse if we make secret concessions. If Hill can’t keep the diplomatic process on track without promising too much to Pyongyang, then the six-party talks are not sustainable and are not worth maintaining.

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he wants North Korea fully to disclose its nuclear weapons program by the end of this month. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they can certainly do,” he told reporters after a speech at Columbia University. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve already agreed to do.”

There is no question that the North Koreans failed to provide their promised declaration of nuclear activities by the end of last year. The issue is whether they have a legitimate excuse. Hill’s North Korean counterpart Kim Gye Gwan says the United States has failed to live up to its side of the bargain by not taking his country off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and keeping American trading sanctions in place. Both of these actions were covered in an agreement reached last February as a part of the so-called six-party talks.

So who is at fault? The North Koreans have been making the point that Hill has been making side deals on the pace of normalization and that Washington has not honored the commitments it has made. Although Pyongyang’s diplomats are especially proficient at lying, Kim’s charges are not entirely unbelievable this time. After all, the current flap over the terrorism-sponsorship list and trade sanctions is reminiscent of the dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau bank last year. During that imbroglio, Hill appeared to have made a secret commitment to Pyongyang to return those monies (which the United States eventually did in an especially humiliating climbdown).

Of course, we will never know what is going on until both the United States and North Korea open their archives. Yet there is one conclusion we can reach now: we always get into trouble when we engage in secret diplomacy with Kim Jong Il’s regime. There is no legitimate reason for the North Koreans to refuse to honor their promises. Yet we hand them excuse after excuse if we make secret concessions. If Hill can’t keep the diplomatic process on track without promising too much to Pyongyang, then the six-party talks are not sustainable and are not worth maintaining.

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Oh, Ye Obama Worshippers Of Little Faith

Look, chances are Hillary Clinton’s revival this week is only a pothole the Obama steamroller will have to fill in on its way to the nomination. He’s still ahead in delegates and in the popular vote. The math is against her. He’ll win the next few contests. She’ll win a few later. In a month’s time, his dominant standing will seem so obvious that the superdelegates will naturally gravitate to him and away from Hillary and effectively hand him the nomination. This is the likeliest scenario at the present moment. What will stop him, perhaps the only thing to stop him, is real trouble that the Clintons will have nothing to do with: Revelations at the Rezko trial, or a series of missteps of the sort that have afflicted his campaign in the past week (Susan Rice saying he’s not ready for that 3 am call; Samantha Power saying, well, just about anything).

If anything, Hillary is doing Obama a favor. She’s giving him a flavor of what he will get later on, and is toughening him up a bit and giving him room to develop stronger and more credible responses to the “he’s got no experience” charge that is McCain’s strongest card to play against him.

So why is Andrew Sullivan — the ultimate Obamamaniac on the web — having a hysterical, screaming, over-the-top fit about all this? I can’t link to a single item; you’d have to read two days’ worth of postings at andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com to get the full flavor of the rhetorical tantrum he’s pitching at Hillary Clinton’s refusal to stand aside and let America move on with its coronation of the Man Who Will Change Everything.

It’s not as though Hillary Clinton has no claim on the Democratic nomination. She’s not Ross Perot, who, in the end, ran for president solely to deny George H.W. Bush a second term in part out of a paranoid delusion about Bush disrupting Perot’s daughter’s wedding. She’s a hundred delegates back. She’s won a bunch of primaries, including in the nation’s largest states.

There is nothing illegitimate going on here. It’s an electoral contest. Hillary won Ohio and Texas fair and square. The very fact that the Obama fanciers like Sullivan and the entire cast of characters at the Huffington Post are so shaken by her unwillingness to lie down and die suggests to me that they are terrified Obama can’t handle the stress test she is forcing him to undergo. And if he can’t, then they shouldn’t want him to be the nominee, because he’ll collapse by Election Day.

Look, chances are Hillary Clinton’s revival this week is only a pothole the Obama steamroller will have to fill in on its way to the nomination. He’s still ahead in delegates and in the popular vote. The math is against her. He’ll win the next few contests. She’ll win a few later. In a month’s time, his dominant standing will seem so obvious that the superdelegates will naturally gravitate to him and away from Hillary and effectively hand him the nomination. This is the likeliest scenario at the present moment. What will stop him, perhaps the only thing to stop him, is real trouble that the Clintons will have nothing to do with: Revelations at the Rezko trial, or a series of missteps of the sort that have afflicted his campaign in the past week (Susan Rice saying he’s not ready for that 3 am call; Samantha Power saying, well, just about anything).

If anything, Hillary is doing Obama a favor. She’s giving him a flavor of what he will get later on, and is toughening him up a bit and giving him room to develop stronger and more credible responses to the “he’s got no experience” charge that is McCain’s strongest card to play against him.

So why is Andrew Sullivan — the ultimate Obamamaniac on the web — having a hysterical, screaming, over-the-top fit about all this? I can’t link to a single item; you’d have to read two days’ worth of postings at andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com to get the full flavor of the rhetorical tantrum he’s pitching at Hillary Clinton’s refusal to stand aside and let America move on with its coronation of the Man Who Will Change Everything.

It’s not as though Hillary Clinton has no claim on the Democratic nomination. She’s not Ross Perot, who, in the end, ran for president solely to deny George H.W. Bush a second term in part out of a paranoid delusion about Bush disrupting Perot’s daughter’s wedding. She’s a hundred delegates back. She’s won a bunch of primaries, including in the nation’s largest states.

There is nothing illegitimate going on here. It’s an electoral contest. Hillary won Ohio and Texas fair and square. The very fact that the Obama fanciers like Sullivan and the entire cast of characters at the Huffington Post are so shaken by her unwillingness to lie down and die suggests to me that they are terrified Obama can’t handle the stress test she is forcing him to undergo. And if he can’t, then they shouldn’t want him to be the nominee, because he’ll collapse by Election Day.

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Olmert’s Contradictory Strategy

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

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Keeping a Clear Eye on Havana

Powerful words from President Bush today in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing:

A few weeks ago reports of the supposed retirement of Cuba’s dictator initially led many to believe that the time had finally come for the United States to change our policy on Cuba and improve our relations with the regime. That sentiment is exactly backward. To improve relations, what needs to change is not the United States; what needs to change is Cuba. Cuba’s government must begin a process as peaceful democratic change. They must release all political prisoners. They must have respect for human rights in word and deed, and pave the way for free and fair elections.

So far, all Cuba has done is replace one dictator with another. And its former ruler is still influencing events from behind the scenes. This is the same system, the same faces, and the same policies that led Cuba to its miseries in the first place. The United States is isolating the Cuban regime, and we’re reaching out to the Cuban people. We’ve granted asylum to hundreds of thousands who have fled the regime. We’ve encouraged private citizens and charities to deliver food and medicine and other assistance directly to the people of Cuba. As a result, the American people are the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people in the entire world.

This assistance is easing burdens for many Cuban families. But the sad fact is that life will not improve for the Cuban people until their system of government changes. It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another. It will not improve if we prop up the same tyranny for the false promise of so-called stability.

As I told the Cuban people last October, a new day for Cuba will come. And we will know when it’s here. We will know it’s here when jailers go to the cells where Cuban prisoners of conscience are held and set them free….Until that day comes, the United States will continue to shine a bright and revealing light on Cuba’s abuses. We will continue to tell the stories of Cuba’s people, even when a lot of the world doesn’t want to hear them. And we will carry this refrain in our hearts: Viva Cuba Libre.

Powerful words from President Bush today in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing:

A few weeks ago reports of the supposed retirement of Cuba’s dictator initially led many to believe that the time had finally come for the United States to change our policy on Cuba and improve our relations with the regime. That sentiment is exactly backward. To improve relations, what needs to change is not the United States; what needs to change is Cuba. Cuba’s government must begin a process as peaceful democratic change. They must release all political prisoners. They must have respect for human rights in word and deed, and pave the way for free and fair elections.

So far, all Cuba has done is replace one dictator with another. And its former ruler is still influencing events from behind the scenes. This is the same system, the same faces, and the same policies that led Cuba to its miseries in the first place. The United States is isolating the Cuban regime, and we’re reaching out to the Cuban people. We’ve granted asylum to hundreds of thousands who have fled the regime. We’ve encouraged private citizens and charities to deliver food and medicine and other assistance directly to the people of Cuba. As a result, the American people are the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people in the entire world.

This assistance is easing burdens for many Cuban families. But the sad fact is that life will not improve for the Cuban people until their system of government changes. It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another. It will not improve if we prop up the same tyranny for the false promise of so-called stability.

As I told the Cuban people last October, a new day for Cuba will come. And we will know when it’s here. We will know it’s here when jailers go to the cells where Cuban prisoners of conscience are held and set them free….Until that day comes, the United States will continue to shine a bright and revealing light on Cuba’s abuses. We will continue to tell the stories of Cuba’s people, even when a lot of the world doesn’t want to hear them. And we will carry this refrain in our hearts: Viva Cuba Libre.

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Just Assume They Lie

This take on “fake disagreements” between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama suggests that we ignore the minor divergences on policy between the two. On NAFTA and Iraq we should know they’re both lying. Neither, despite their words, would tear up NAFTA. And neither would pull out of Iraq immediately, since withdrawing from Iraq would be “untenable and dangerous.” This is a novel way to look at the Democratic race. Just assume the candidates are lying, constantly! If this holds true for judicial appointments, taxes, and health care, we might be on the verge of what would amount to a third Bush term from either of them.

This take on “fake disagreements” between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama suggests that we ignore the minor divergences on policy between the two. On NAFTA and Iraq we should know they’re both lying. Neither, despite their words, would tear up NAFTA. And neither would pull out of Iraq immediately, since withdrawing from Iraq would be “untenable and dangerous.” This is a novel way to look at the Democratic race. Just assume the candidates are lying, constantly! If this holds true for judicial appointments, taxes, and health care, we might be on the verge of what would amount to a third Bush term from either of them.

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Must. Surrender. Somewhere.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.

Ta-da!

So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.

Let’s consider what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might now be saying if over the past six years George Bush had done precisely what the Democrats claim he should have regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. If the U.S. had beefed up forces in Afghanistan and ignored Saddam Hussein, I imagine the Democratic argument (as extrapolated from current policy positions) might go something like this:

We have now spent six years bogged down in George Bush’s Afghan war, while Saddam Hussein continues to build his palaces on the graves of innocent Iraqis. We’re locked into an endless commitment in Afghanistan, refusing to let the Afghan people shape their own post-Taliban futures, while intelligence reports continue to come in that Saddam Hussein is not only working on weapons of mass destruction, but associating with and even training the types of people who attacked us on September 11. We have leveled to dust a nation without the resources or operational knowledge to attack the U.S., while we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s Iraq build its deadly arsenal and expand its lethal network of associates. How does this make the U.S. look in the eyes of the world? And why should our allies tolerate it? Why should you, the voting public? I intend to restore our standing in the global community by beginning immediate troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and facing the real threat represented by dangerous regimes such as Iraq. America needs a real leader, not someone who won’t go into Iraq because his father had thought it would be too tough for America to handle.

As is happened, things took a different course. We went into Iraq while continuing to fight in Afghanistan. We’ve had our formidable challenges in both theaters, but the point is the Democrats can always plug in proper nouns as needed and make an argument like the one above. Which they’ve done. We know from Hillary that it’s too late to win in Iraq, and from Obama that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and pick up the pace in Afghanistan. We must, you see, stop fighting somewhere.

But how is this surrender argument to be maintained in the face of continued success in Iraq? This question will get tougher and more crucial for whichever Democrat is nominated to go up against John McCain. Well, today Ted Rall has a piece at Yahoo News which may suggest a new direction in such surrender mad-libs: We need to pull out of Afghanistan after all.

By any measure, U.S. troops and their NATO allies are getting their a–es kicked in the country that Reagan’s CIA station chief for Pakistan called “the graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan currently produces a record 93 percent of the world’s opium. Suicide bombers are killing more U.S.-aligned troops than ever. Stonings are back. The Taliban and their allies, “defeated” in 2001, control most of the country–and may recapture the capital of Kabul as early as this summer.

And, anyway, Afghanistan is the wrong place to fight the war on terror:

Afghanistan’s connection to 9/11 was tertiary. At the moment the first plane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, most of Al Qaeda’s camps and fighters were in Pakistan. As CBS News reported on January 29, 2002, Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi on 9/11. The Taliban militia, which provided neither men nor money for the attacks, controlled 90 percent of the country.

Ta-da!

So, it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan and fight in Pakistan. And then when we’re there? Well, we’d be ignoring Saudi Arabia, naturally. And once we’re in Saudi? We’d be insensitive cowboys treading on holy sand and ignoring the terror financing that comes from the UAE. And once there? We’d be turning against a “non-political” ally and economic partner. And on, and on, and on. The arguments will continue to chase the U.S. around the globe, and the U.S. will continue to act prudently, if imperfectly, to marginalize or destroy the enemies of liberal democracy. The very fact that America prevents the worst threats from materializing is what allows for this silly rhetorical fill-in-the-blanks game to begin with.

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McCain in The (Cosmic) Arena

John McCain’s new “Man in the Arena” ad seeks to place him alongside Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt as a brave defender of honorable principles, a man not content with pointing out problems from the sidelines. There are Churchill quotes and TR quotes interspersed with the words of McCain himself. The fact that the candidate doesn’t seem absolutely ridiculous inserting himself in such company says, I think, quite a lot.

What does strike me as odd is the cosmic imagery that pops up: supernovae and the black reaches of outer space. It’s one thing to try and elevate yourself to the level of an historical figure, but quite another to connect your cause to the basic, primal mysteries of existence. It’s hard to interpret the intended message without getting into very heady stuff. Is he making the claim that honor and courage are constitutive physical laws of the universe? Or is he trying to go phenomenon-to-phenomenon with Obama?

Karol Sheinin thinks he smiles too much throughout. But I say McCain can come off as a cranky warrior and could stand a touch of light-heartedness.

John McCain’s new “Man in the Arena” ad seeks to place him alongside Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt as a brave defender of honorable principles, a man not content with pointing out problems from the sidelines. There are Churchill quotes and TR quotes interspersed with the words of McCain himself. The fact that the candidate doesn’t seem absolutely ridiculous inserting himself in such company says, I think, quite a lot.

What does strike me as odd is the cosmic imagery that pops up: supernovae and the black reaches of outer space. It’s one thing to try and elevate yourself to the level of an historical figure, but quite another to connect your cause to the basic, primal mysteries of existence. It’s hard to interpret the intended message without getting into very heady stuff. Is he making the claim that honor and courage are constitutive physical laws of the universe? Or is he trying to go phenomenon-to-phenomenon with Obama?

Karol Sheinin thinks he smiles too much throughout. But I say McCain can come off as a cranky warrior and could stand a touch of light-heartedness.

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George McGovern, Free Marketeer?

Who would have thought that George McGovern would write an eminently sane column on the dangers of government paternalism? It has gems like this:

Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It’s as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

He even looks at the unintended consequences of bans on “payday lending,” long a bogey-man of liberals, and finds the cure is worse than the disease. He concludes:

Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society. Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life. The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

No, honest: George McGovern wrote that. Perhaps he could talk to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about their notions for solving the home mortgage crisis. I am sure he would advise Clinton of the unintended consequences of freezing rates on sub-prime loans, or warn Obama about the costs to taxpayers and consumers at large of a bail-out fund for affected homeowners.

All this raises a question: has McGovern become wiser as the years have passed or has his party has become dimmer? Perhaps both . . .

Who would have thought that George McGovern would write an eminently sane column on the dangers of government paternalism? It has gems like this:

Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It’s as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

He even looks at the unintended consequences of bans on “payday lending,” long a bogey-man of liberals, and finds the cure is worse than the disease. He concludes:

Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society. Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life. The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

No, honest: George McGovern wrote that. Perhaps he could talk to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about their notions for solving the home mortgage crisis. I am sure he would advise Clinton of the unintended consequences of freezing rates on sub-prime loans, or warn Obama about the costs to taxpayers and consumers at large of a bail-out fund for affected homeowners.

All this raises a question: has McGovern become wiser as the years have passed or has his party has become dimmer? Perhaps both . . .

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A Warning on McCain

A few years ago, I wrote a long profile of John McCain for a now-defunct magazine called Arizona Monthly (so defunct that I can’t even find a copy of the article), and had cause to spend days on Nexis and in the Congressional Record going through his career as a politician. Pace my friends on the Right, but what came through most clearly was not his hunger to curry favor with non-conservatives but rather his hunger to stand in opposition to a prevailing authority.

For example: McCain may now trumpet his Reaganite credentials, but as a very junior Congressman from Arizona, he was surprisingly vocal in his libertarian criticisms of the Reagan administration’s spending (sound familiar?).

Later, as the most senior Vietnam vet in government, he chose to set himself against the powerful populist movement to locate living Americans missing in action in Vietnam — disgusted as he was, and properly so, by the Chichikovian hustlers who preyed on the emotions of the families of American soldiers listed as MIA by selling them bills of goods about invented eyewitness accounts of Americans still in custody in Southeast Asia.

He continued his oppositionism by deciding to take on industries with a mercantilist relationship to federal, state, and local governments that did not act in ways to benefit their consumers — Big Tobacco for one, and cable television for another. Even as he was doing this in the 1990s, he was also at the Clinton administration’s throat for behaving fecklessly on the key issues of military readiness and the situation in the former Yugoslavia. And, of course, we know about his oppositionism to the Bush administration in the areas of tax cuts (foolishly against) and the conduct of the struggle in Iraq (against in the most visionary way).

McCain begins to lose his footing when he isn’t squaring off. That is, in part, what accounts for the disastrous turn his campaign took in 2007; he was the frontrunner, the establishment choice, and he simply didn’t know what to do or how to manage it. Fortunately for McCain, he will be running throughout 2008 as an underdog. But he will also have to be a figure of unity, a leader on whom tens of millions of people can project hopes and wishes and expectations. That is what it means to be a national leader. It will be a terrific challenge for him. But who said running for president is easy?

A few years ago, I wrote a long profile of John McCain for a now-defunct magazine called Arizona Monthly (so defunct that I can’t even find a copy of the article), and had cause to spend days on Nexis and in the Congressional Record going through his career as a politician. Pace my friends on the Right, but what came through most clearly was not his hunger to curry favor with non-conservatives but rather his hunger to stand in opposition to a prevailing authority.

For example: McCain may now trumpet his Reaganite credentials, but as a very junior Congressman from Arizona, he was surprisingly vocal in his libertarian criticisms of the Reagan administration’s spending (sound familiar?).

Later, as the most senior Vietnam vet in government, he chose to set himself against the powerful populist movement to locate living Americans missing in action in Vietnam — disgusted as he was, and properly so, by the Chichikovian hustlers who preyed on the emotions of the families of American soldiers listed as MIA by selling them bills of goods about invented eyewitness accounts of Americans still in custody in Southeast Asia.

He continued his oppositionism by deciding to take on industries with a mercantilist relationship to federal, state, and local governments that did not act in ways to benefit their consumers — Big Tobacco for one, and cable television for another. Even as he was doing this in the 1990s, he was also at the Clinton administration’s throat for behaving fecklessly on the key issues of military readiness and the situation in the former Yugoslavia. And, of course, we know about his oppositionism to the Bush administration in the areas of tax cuts (foolishly against) and the conduct of the struggle in Iraq (against in the most visionary way).

McCain begins to lose his footing when he isn’t squaring off. That is, in part, what accounts for the disastrous turn his campaign took in 2007; he was the frontrunner, the establishment choice, and he simply didn’t know what to do or how to manage it. Fortunately for McCain, he will be running throughout 2008 as an underdog. But he will also have to be a figure of unity, a leader on whom tens of millions of people can project hopes and wishes and expectations. That is what it means to be a national leader. It will be a terrific challenge for him. But who said running for president is easy?

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Re: No Great Shakes Either

Samantha Power has resigned, but not before she was caught telling the BBC “never mind” about Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq in 16 months. It appears to be a full time job for Barack Obama’s advisers, like Power and Austan Goolsbee, to tell people around the world that their candidate does not mean what he says.

On one hand, this could be good news: Obama might not really favor ripping up NAFTA and may not really mean to yank American troops out of Iraq immediately and without regard to the conditions on the ground. However, I suspect the Obama team will quickly come rushing forward to say, “No! No! We really do believe in economic and military retreat as an article of American foreign policy.” John McCain must be rubbing that lucky penny he keeps in his pocket. Political gifts like this don’t come along every day.

Samantha Power has resigned, but not before she was caught telling the BBC “never mind” about Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq in 16 months. It appears to be a full time job for Barack Obama’s advisers, like Power and Austan Goolsbee, to tell people around the world that their candidate does not mean what he says.

On one hand, this could be good news: Obama might not really favor ripping up NAFTA and may not really mean to yank American troops out of Iraq immediately and without regard to the conditions on the ground. However, I suspect the Obama team will quickly come rushing forward to say, “No! No! We really do believe in economic and military retreat as an article of American foreign policy.” John McCain must be rubbing that lucky penny he keeps in his pocket. Political gifts like this don’t come along every day.

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Samantha Power…

…has just resigned from the Obama campaign.

…has just resigned from the Obama campaign.

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The Kagans on Iraq

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics.  And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine.  History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda Iraq, had to blow off before a reaction, aided by the remarkable campaign led by General Petraeus, set in.

It is far too soon to start claiming victory.  The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.”  But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered.  According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:

that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of Baghdad is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia.

That last sentence is the crucial one.  Across the Middle East, surveys repeatedly show that many people describe themselves as Muslim first and as a nationality second.  In Egypt in 2000, for instance, 80 percent of those surveyed replied that, above all, they were Muslim.   This is quite compatible with the reality that most Muslims are not Islamists.  Nor does anyone in the Middle East need to place the state before God to achieve democracy: state-worship is never desirable.

But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists.  That is exactly what happened in Iraq.  Abe describes Iraq as moving towards a new faith in freedom. If the Times and the Kagans are right, it is more fundamental than that: it is the rise of a shared national identity, which is what makes freedom possible.

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No More Carrots for Iran

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

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Obama the Uniter?

It’s getting mighty ugly mighty fast in the Democratic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday Howard Wolfson, in response to the Obama campaign pushing for the release of Clinton’s tax returns, said, “I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for President.” For those who inhabit HillaryLand, to be compared to Ken Starr is slightly worse than to be compared to Charles Manson or Lucifer.

Returning serve, yesterday we learned that Samantha Power, one of Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers, apologized for describing Hillary Clinton as a “monster” during an interview with a Scottish newspaper. She added this: “You just look at her and think: ergh . . . The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.”

Welcome to a race against the Clintons, where the politics of hope quickly gives way to top aides calling her a “monster” and of being deceitful.

One might have some sympathy for Obama. After all, he is by all accounts a decent man who is running against a ruthless political operation. Obama’s problem, though, is that he has portrayed himself as a figure who will unify America, who will “turn the page” on the ugliness of the last decade, and who will not use negative attacks against his opponents. That is an admirable sentiment, and it has an appeal. But what do you do if your opponent has promised, publicly, to “throw the kitchen sink” at you? How long can you ignore the attacks? At what point do you shift from simply taking punches to throwing them? And when do you make the character of an opponent like Hillary Clinton an issue?

The young Illinois senator is learning what every major political figure eventually does: politics is a contact sport, not a garden party, and it has been since the founding of this Republic. Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. It is regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns in American history. According to one expert, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

These words shouldn’t be held up as a model for political discourse. Politics, after all, should be at its core a debate about issues and political ideology and the future of the country. Politicians should be judged by the manner in which they, and their aides, conduct themselves. There are tough things that are appropriate to say–and lines you should not cross over.

At the same time, it’s not surprising that in a fiercely contested race which might well decide who will become leader of the most important nation on earth, passions get stoked, harsh words get thrown about, and nasty things are said. High-mindedness can easily give way to a hyper-aggressive effort to set the record straight. And simply to assume, as Obama apparently did, that he would swoop in and magically do away with the “old politics” and the old divisions was both arrogant and naïve.

It turns out being a unifying figure in American politics isn’t as easy as Obama thought. Right now he can’t even unify his own party. And just think: the pounding has only begun. It’s five weeks until the Pennsylvania primary and five months until the Democratic convention. At this pace, Obama and Clinton may match Jefferson and Adams in their level of civility and good manners.

Somewhere, John McCain must be smiling.

It’s getting mighty ugly mighty fast in the Democratic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday Howard Wolfson, in response to the Obama campaign pushing for the release of Clinton’s tax returns, said, “I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for President.” For those who inhabit HillaryLand, to be compared to Ken Starr is slightly worse than to be compared to Charles Manson or Lucifer.

Returning serve, yesterday we learned that Samantha Power, one of Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers, apologized for describing Hillary Clinton as a “monster” during an interview with a Scottish newspaper. She added this: “You just look at her and think: ergh . . . The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.”

Welcome to a race against the Clintons, where the politics of hope quickly gives way to top aides calling her a “monster” and of being deceitful.

One might have some sympathy for Obama. After all, he is by all accounts a decent man who is running against a ruthless political operation. Obama’s problem, though, is that he has portrayed himself as a figure who will unify America, who will “turn the page” on the ugliness of the last decade, and who will not use negative attacks against his opponents. That is an admirable sentiment, and it has an appeal. But what do you do if your opponent has promised, publicly, to “throw the kitchen sink” at you? How long can you ignore the attacks? At what point do you shift from simply taking punches to throwing them? And when do you make the character of an opponent like Hillary Clinton an issue?

The young Illinois senator is learning what every major political figure eventually does: politics is a contact sport, not a garden party, and it has been since the founding of this Republic. Consider, for example, the first real political campaign in American history, between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800. It is regarded by scholars as among the nastiest campaigns in American history. According to one expert, “it reached a level of personal animosity that almost tore apart the young republic, and has rarely been equaled in two hundred years of presidential politics.” One pro-Adams newspaper predicted that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

These words shouldn’t be held up as a model for political discourse. Politics, after all, should be at its core a debate about issues and political ideology and the future of the country. Politicians should be judged by the manner in which they, and their aides, conduct themselves. There are tough things that are appropriate to say–and lines you should not cross over.

At the same time, it’s not surprising that in a fiercely contested race which might well decide who will become leader of the most important nation on earth, passions get stoked, harsh words get thrown about, and nasty things are said. High-mindedness can easily give way to a hyper-aggressive effort to set the record straight. And simply to assume, as Obama apparently did, that he would swoop in and magically do away with the “old politics” and the old divisions was both arrogant and naïve.

It turns out being a unifying figure in American politics isn’t as easy as Obama thought. Right now he can’t even unify his own party. And just think: the pounding has only begun. It’s five weeks until the Pennsylvania primary and five months until the Democratic convention. At this pace, Obama and Clinton may match Jefferson and Adams in their level of civility and good manners.

Somewhere, John McCain must be smiling.

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No Great Shakes Either

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

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Missing

When Will North Korea Return Our Abductees? is the title of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today by Kyoko Nakayama, a special advisor to Japan’s prime minister.

She is referring, of course, to the seventeen Japanese nationals, most of them young women, known to have been kidnapped in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, seized from streets and beaches in Japan and taken by submarine to North Korea to be used as tutors in a school for spies. Five of these abductees were returned to Japan in 2002, and Tokyo is still seeking information on the fate of the others.

Later this month a tremendously important book will be published in this country, The Reluctant Communist, by Charles Robert Jenkins, an American soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, and spent the next forty years in captivity there. Jenkins married one of the Japanese abductees and was allowed to leave for Japan in 2004, where he wrote his memoirs.

One of many significant facts he reports in his book is that not only Japanese citizens were abducted. The North Korean, he maintains, were seizing people from all across Asia, and also luring to a life of slavery unsuspecting people from Europe and the Arab world.

Attention has rightly been focused on the fate of the Japanese citizens whose lives were cruelly stolen from them. But these other victims of Pyongyang are also be in need of rescue. Even if rescue is impossible, which it is, they deserve an accounting. That too is likely to be impossible until the evil regime in North Korea is destroyed.

When will that day arrive? It is impossible to say, but tomorrow would not be too soon.   

When Will North Korea Return Our Abductees? is the title of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today by Kyoko Nakayama, a special advisor to Japan’s prime minister.

She is referring, of course, to the seventeen Japanese nationals, most of them young women, known to have been kidnapped in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, seized from streets and beaches in Japan and taken by submarine to North Korea to be used as tutors in a school for spies. Five of these abductees were returned to Japan in 2002, and Tokyo is still seeking information on the fate of the others.

Later this month a tremendously important book will be published in this country, The Reluctant Communist, by Charles Robert Jenkins, an American soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, and spent the next forty years in captivity there. Jenkins married one of the Japanese abductees and was allowed to leave for Japan in 2004, where he wrote his memoirs.

One of many significant facts he reports in his book is that not only Japanese citizens were abducted. The North Korean, he maintains, were seizing people from all across Asia, and also luring to a life of slavery unsuspecting people from Europe and the Arab world.

Attention has rightly been focused on the fate of the Japanese citizens whose lives were cruelly stolen from them. But these other victims of Pyongyang are also be in need of rescue. Even if rescue is impossible, which it is, they deserve an accounting. That too is likely to be impossible until the evil regime in North Korea is destroyed.

When will that day arrive? It is impossible to say, but tomorrow would not be too soon.   

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“The True Neocon”

If there are still conservatives out there fretting that John McCain (lifetime American Conservative Union voting record: 82.3%) is “too liberal,” they should check out this hit job from the house organ of the American left, The Nation. After reciting the tired clichés about what a terrible temper McCain supposedly has (something said about many other Presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), author Robert Dreyfuss recounts with horror McCain’s plans to “carry the ‘war on terror’ deep into the twenty-first century.”

He provides a brief overview of some ideas McCain has put forward, from reorganizing the CIA to creating a League of Democracies as a supplement to the UN. All of these come with a gloss of horrified quotes from the usual suspects, such as Larry Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s former chief of staff who has been one of the Bush administration’s most vociferous critics) and liberal foreign policy scholars Larry Korb and Ivo Daalder. Daalder is quoted as calling McCain “the true neocon,” which isn’t intended as a compliment–but may well be seen that way by some nervous conservatives.

Dreyfuss highlights McCain’s support for tough action to combat America’s foes, from Russia to the Middle East. But he doesn’t even mention a host of other positions McCain has taken that should horrify Nation-ites. The Republican nominee is in favor of the Patriot Act. He’s in favor of  reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with immunity for telephone companies that cooperate with the government. He is opposed to limiting the CIA to the interrogation techniques laid out in the Army interrogation manual. And while he wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which has become, rightly or wrongly, an international embarrassment), he hardly wants to let the inmates go free. He proposes to move them to the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth (where conditions would probably be more grim) and to try them through military tribunals, not through the normal criminal courts so many leftist activists want.

Perhaps these other positions could be the subject of a future expose in The Nation. As a supporter of (and foreign policy adviser to) Senator McCain, I can only hope for more such attacks, which should help to solidify the Right around his candidacy without alienating any centrists.

If there are still conservatives out there fretting that John McCain (lifetime American Conservative Union voting record: 82.3%) is “too liberal,” they should check out this hit job from the house organ of the American left, The Nation. After reciting the tired clichés about what a terrible temper McCain supposedly has (something said about many other Presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), author Robert Dreyfuss recounts with horror McCain’s plans to “carry the ‘war on terror’ deep into the twenty-first century.”

He provides a brief overview of some ideas McCain has put forward, from reorganizing the CIA to creating a League of Democracies as a supplement to the UN. All of these come with a gloss of horrified quotes from the usual suspects, such as Larry Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s former chief of staff who has been one of the Bush administration’s most vociferous critics) and liberal foreign policy scholars Larry Korb and Ivo Daalder. Daalder is quoted as calling McCain “the true neocon,” which isn’t intended as a compliment–but may well be seen that way by some nervous conservatives.

Dreyfuss highlights McCain’s support for tough action to combat America’s foes, from Russia to the Middle East. But he doesn’t even mention a host of other positions McCain has taken that should horrify Nation-ites. The Republican nominee is in favor of the Patriot Act. He’s in favor of  reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with immunity for telephone companies that cooperate with the government. He is opposed to limiting the CIA to the interrogation techniques laid out in the Army interrogation manual. And while he wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which has become, rightly or wrongly, an international embarrassment), he hardly wants to let the inmates go free. He proposes to move them to the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth (where conditions would probably be more grim) and to try them through military tribunals, not through the normal criminal courts so many leftist activists want.

Perhaps these other positions could be the subject of a future expose in The Nation. As a supporter of (and foreign policy adviser to) Senator McCain, I can only hope for more such attacks, which should help to solidify the Right around his candidacy without alienating any centrists.

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Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

Barack Obama may be the frontrunner in the Democratic race, but he lacks many things a frontrunner usually has: a substantive message beyond “new politics,” a record of accomplishment, and a dependable, broad-based core of support. What he does have may indeed already be dissipating. His rhetoric is growing stale. His attempts to remain above the fray have not worked, but he risks sullying his own image (and damaging his party’s chances in November) by getting into a mudfight with the Clintons.

Obama does still enjoy an advantage in delegates, as well as the benefits of an organization not rife with backbiting and dissension. But after weeks and weeks of cotton-candy rhetoric and press swooning, we’ve gotten down to the nub: all this froth has served to disguise a candidate who, on merit, is exceptionally vulnerable. It is only because his opponent is beset with personal deficits and organizational incompetence that it has taken so long for campaign watchers and voters to realize this. It’s difficult to maintain a candidacy that, at its core, is not honest with voters. Obama does not reach across the aisle (that’s the other nominee). He is not a “uniter” on policy. He is an unrepentant (and rather unimaginative) liberal. It’s hard enough to run as such when you have years of experience–look at John Kerry. But it’s infinitely harder when your public record is as thin as Obama’s.

Whether he pulls this out will have much to do, I suspect, with whether he can keep convincing voters that he offers a brilliantly new vision of politics. The fact is that he is new–but that he offers something deeply familiar.

Barack Obama may be the frontrunner in the Democratic race, but he lacks many things a frontrunner usually has: a substantive message beyond “new politics,” a record of accomplishment, and a dependable, broad-based core of support. What he does have may indeed already be dissipating. His rhetoric is growing stale. His attempts to remain above the fray have not worked, but he risks sullying his own image (and damaging his party’s chances in November) by getting into a mudfight with the Clintons.

Obama does still enjoy an advantage in delegates, as well as the benefits of an organization not rife with backbiting and dissension. But after weeks and weeks of cotton-candy rhetoric and press swooning, we’ve gotten down to the nub: all this froth has served to disguise a candidate who, on merit, is exceptionally vulnerable. It is only because his opponent is beset with personal deficits and organizational incompetence that it has taken so long for campaign watchers and voters to realize this. It’s difficult to maintain a candidacy that, at its core, is not honest with voters. Obama does not reach across the aisle (that’s the other nominee). He is not a “uniter” on policy. He is an unrepentant (and rather unimaginative) liberal. It’s hard enough to run as such when you have years of experience–look at John Kerry. But it’s infinitely harder when your public record is as thin as Obama’s.

Whether he pulls this out will have much to do, I suspect, with whether he can keep convincing voters that he offers a brilliantly new vision of politics. The fact is that he is new–but that he offers something deeply familiar.

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Toward a Hazier Understanding of Nothing

In a document that might as well be the DNR statement for mainstream news media, the Society of Professional Journalists has given up all pretense of the impartiality. Their “Diversity Guidelines” have recently been made available for on-line viewing and consist of sixteen recommendations, virtually all designed to render discussion of Islamic terrorism inoffensive to Muslims. Oops! Did I say “Islamic terrorism”? I just violated the twelfth directive!

— Avoid using word combinations such as “Islamic terrorist” or “Muslim extremist” that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity. Be specific: Alternate choices, depending on context, include “Al Qaeda terrorists” or, to describe the broad range of groups involved in Islamic politics, “political Islamists.” Do not use religious characterizations as shorthand when geographic, political, socioeconomic or other distinctions might be more accurate

Okay, no word combinations. Got it. So, the thing to remember about jihad—Darn! Did it again. That’s number thirteen.

— Avoid using terms such as “jihad” unless you are certain of their precise meaning and include the context when they are used in quotations. The basic meaning of “jihad” is to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself.

This definition would make the Society of Professional Journalists jihadists, no?

Frankly, I find the whole endeavor abhorrent. As do, I would suspect, a great many people. Close to 1.2 billion, to be exact. These guidelines, after all, soften the language and imagery used to describe those who destroy in the name of Islam. What moderate Muslim doesn’t find that offensive?

In a document that might as well be the DNR statement for mainstream news media, the Society of Professional Journalists has given up all pretense of the impartiality. Their “Diversity Guidelines” have recently been made available for on-line viewing and consist of sixteen recommendations, virtually all designed to render discussion of Islamic terrorism inoffensive to Muslims. Oops! Did I say “Islamic terrorism”? I just violated the twelfth directive!

— Avoid using word combinations such as “Islamic terrorist” or “Muslim extremist” that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity. Be specific: Alternate choices, depending on context, include “Al Qaeda terrorists” or, to describe the broad range of groups involved in Islamic politics, “political Islamists.” Do not use religious characterizations as shorthand when geographic, political, socioeconomic or other distinctions might be more accurate

Okay, no word combinations. Got it. So, the thing to remember about jihad—Darn! Did it again. That’s number thirteen.

— Avoid using terms such as “jihad” unless you are certain of their precise meaning and include the context when they are used in quotations. The basic meaning of “jihad” is to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself.

This definition would make the Society of Professional Journalists jihadists, no?

Frankly, I find the whole endeavor abhorrent. As do, I would suspect, a great many people. Close to 1.2 billion, to be exact. These guidelines, after all, soften the language and imagery used to describe those who destroy in the name of Islam. What moderate Muslim doesn’t find that offensive?

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