Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 17, 2008

Belgium and Baghdad

This Fareed Zakaria column complaining about the slowness of political progress in Iraq put me to mind of this article I read last week about Belgium.

What’s the connection between a small, stable democracy in Europe and a big, unstable proto-democracy in the Middle East? It may not be obvious at first glance. But it seems that not so far beneath Belgium’s placid surface lurks some major discord. In fact, it has taken Belgian politicians nine months since the last general election to finally settle on a new prime minister. That is largely due to frictions between the Francophone majority and the Fleming minority.

As the Financial Times reports:

These frictions between the country’s regions were at the heart of an embarrassing 192-day political impasse after the election. At the height of the post-poll deadlock, the longest in the country’s history, there were fears that Belgium might even split in two.

If even boring old Belgium finds it hard to reach an amicable accord between differing ethnic groups, imagine how much harder the task is in Iraq, where it’s literally a matter of life or death. Zakaria is right that ethno-sectarian tensions remain a major problem in Iraq, though I think he is wrong to say that the situation has “not improved much.” While he can quibble about the details, there is no doubt that the Iraqi parliament has passed some important reconciliation laws. Even without the passage of a hydrocarbon law, moreover, the central government still manages to share oil revenues with the provinces (though it’s true that government at all levels has problems actually spending its money).

And then there is undeniable fact that some 90,000 men, mainly Sunnis, have joined the Concerned Local Citizens groups to protect their neighborhoods against terrorists. There is no question that tensions linger between these groups and the Shiite-dominated central government. But the situation is still much better than it was a year or two ago when many of the CLC members were actively fighting against the government and its American protectors.

Zakaria is undoubtedly right that even in a best-case scenario, Iraq will require a long-term presence of Americans “in the loop” in order to safeguard the very tenuous progress being made toward a modus vivendi among the competing factions. But that beats the alternative, which is an all-out civil war. The experience of Belgium should make us realize how much patience is required when dealing with deep-rooted tensions and how agonizingly slow political progress can be. That is not, however, an argument for throwing up our hands in despair, as the Democratic presidential candidates seem to be doing.

This Fareed Zakaria column complaining about the slowness of political progress in Iraq put me to mind of this article I read last week about Belgium.

What’s the connection between a small, stable democracy in Europe and a big, unstable proto-democracy in the Middle East? It may not be obvious at first glance. But it seems that not so far beneath Belgium’s placid surface lurks some major discord. In fact, it has taken Belgian politicians nine months since the last general election to finally settle on a new prime minister. That is largely due to frictions between the Francophone majority and the Fleming minority.

As the Financial Times reports:

These frictions between the country’s regions were at the heart of an embarrassing 192-day political impasse after the election. At the height of the post-poll deadlock, the longest in the country’s history, there were fears that Belgium might even split in two.

If even boring old Belgium finds it hard to reach an amicable accord between differing ethnic groups, imagine how much harder the task is in Iraq, where it’s literally a matter of life or death. Zakaria is right that ethno-sectarian tensions remain a major problem in Iraq, though I think he is wrong to say that the situation has “not improved much.” While he can quibble about the details, there is no doubt that the Iraqi parliament has passed some important reconciliation laws. Even without the passage of a hydrocarbon law, moreover, the central government still manages to share oil revenues with the provinces (though it’s true that government at all levels has problems actually spending its money).

And then there is undeniable fact that some 90,000 men, mainly Sunnis, have joined the Concerned Local Citizens groups to protect their neighborhoods against terrorists. There is no question that tensions linger between these groups and the Shiite-dominated central government. But the situation is still much better than it was a year or two ago when many of the CLC members were actively fighting against the government and its American protectors.

Zakaria is undoubtedly right that even in a best-case scenario, Iraq will require a long-term presence of Americans “in the loop” in order to safeguard the very tenuous progress being made toward a modus vivendi among the competing factions. But that beats the alternative, which is an all-out civil war. The experience of Belgium should make us realize how much patience is required when dealing with deep-rooted tensions and how agonizingly slow political progress can be. That is not, however, an argument for throwing up our hands in despair, as the Democratic presidential candidates seem to be doing.

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Nader Raiding

Ralph Nader’s still got it. And by “it” I mean the ability to put his foot in the path of the American voter and trip him on the way to the booth. A Zogby poll came out over the weekend showing that Nader would grab six percent of the vote in a general election three-way with John McCain and Hillary Clinton. If it comes down to Nader, McCain and Obama, the consumer crusader would nab five percent. (He only received two percent of the vote in 2000!) Here’s John Zogby:

Nader’s presence in the race can potentially turn a lulu of a race into an absolute tizzy. The messages to Democrats are clear — number one, Nader may win enough support to get into the general election debates. Number two, what could be at risk is support among several key constituencies that the Democratic Party candidate will need to win in November, notably younger voters, independents, and progressives.

Contrary to the popular notion that Nader’s strange political game is now too predictable and too old, 2008 finds the Democrats roaming an ideological landscape that’s uniquely welcoming to him. With Obama calling for a humble international presence and dialogue with enemies and Hillary’s promises of universal healthcare coverage, Nader just doesn’t look that wacky anymore.

Ralph Nader’s still got it. And by “it” I mean the ability to put his foot in the path of the American voter and trip him on the way to the booth. A Zogby poll came out over the weekend showing that Nader would grab six percent of the vote in a general election three-way with John McCain and Hillary Clinton. If it comes down to Nader, McCain and Obama, the consumer crusader would nab five percent. (He only received two percent of the vote in 2000!) Here’s John Zogby:

Nader’s presence in the race can potentially turn a lulu of a race into an absolute tizzy. The messages to Democrats are clear — number one, Nader may win enough support to get into the general election debates. Number two, what could be at risk is support among several key constituencies that the Democratic Party candidate will need to win in November, notably younger voters, independents, and progressives.

Contrary to the popular notion that Nader’s strange political game is now too predictable and too old, 2008 finds the Democrats roaming an ideological landscape that’s uniquely welcoming to him. With Obama calling for a humble international presence and dialogue with enemies and Hillary’s promises of universal healthcare coverage, Nader just doesn’t look that wacky anymore.

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Fuel for Terrorism

The New York Times ran a long, interesting article on Sunday detailing how Iraqi insurgents manage to siphon off oil from the Baiji refinery in order to fuel their terrorism. What caught my eye in particular was this sentence ,which describes other sources of funding for the extremists:

A military official familiar with studies on the insurgency estimated that half of the insurgency’s money came from outside Iraq, mainly from people in Saudi Arabia, a flow that does not appear to have decreased in recent years.

The Saudi government has made a big show of cracking down on Islamic extremists, as I got to see first-hand when I visited the kingdom in the fall. But while the Saudis have undoubtedly been effective in moving against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the terrorist group which most directly threatens Riyadh–it appears they have been less willing and/or less effective in stopping the flow of support from Saudi Arabia to other terrorists groups. Assuming that the New York Times is right, this is further evidence that the Saudis still aren’t doing enough to crack down on terror finances.

The New York Times ran a long, interesting article on Sunday detailing how Iraqi insurgents manage to siphon off oil from the Baiji refinery in order to fuel their terrorism. What caught my eye in particular was this sentence ,which describes other sources of funding for the extremists:

A military official familiar with studies on the insurgency estimated that half of the insurgency’s money came from outside Iraq, mainly from people in Saudi Arabia, a flow that does not appear to have decreased in recent years.

The Saudi government has made a big show of cracking down on Islamic extremists, as I got to see first-hand when I visited the kingdom in the fall. But while the Saudis have undoubtedly been effective in moving against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the terrorist group which most directly threatens Riyadh–it appears they have been less willing and/or less effective in stopping the flow of support from Saudi Arabia to other terrorists groups. Assuming that the New York Times is right, this is further evidence that the Saudis still aren’t doing enough to crack down on terror finances.

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BLT on Whites

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960’s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960’s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960’s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960’s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960’s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960’s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

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You Thought Hanging Chads Were A Mess

Unlike Michigan, which is inching toward a resolution of its delegate quandary, Florida is in a bit of a (dare I say it) quagmire. A mail-in re-vote has proved to be a nonstarter, an in-person re-vote is said to be too costly, and Senator Bill Nelson’s backup plan to award half of Florida’s delegates in proportion to the votes cast in January( i.e. Hillary Clinton wins but picks up 19 rather than 38 delegates) has been rejected by the Clinton camp. It is obvious why the latter is unacceptable for Clinton, especially post-Wright controversy: Clinton needs not just delegates, but new victories to demonstrate Barack Obama’s support is melting down.

In the old days, a savvy party chairman would step in and knock heads, but Howard Dean is no Bob Strauss (a point Ruth Marcus made on This Week). Dean’s shown little interest in intervening. And his suggestion that this can all be worked out by the DNC credentials committee would mean the nomination might be left undecided until August, with a gigantic rules fight dominating the Democratic Convention and the summer news.

So for Clinton either a full re-vote (perhaps funded by donors favorable to her campaign) or a quagmire leaves her alive to fight another day. For now the latter seems more likely.

Unlike Michigan, which is inching toward a resolution of its delegate quandary, Florida is in a bit of a (dare I say it) quagmire. A mail-in re-vote has proved to be a nonstarter, an in-person re-vote is said to be too costly, and Senator Bill Nelson’s backup plan to award half of Florida’s delegates in proportion to the votes cast in January( i.e. Hillary Clinton wins but picks up 19 rather than 38 delegates) has been rejected by the Clinton camp. It is obvious why the latter is unacceptable for Clinton, especially post-Wright controversy: Clinton needs not just delegates, but new victories to demonstrate Barack Obama’s support is melting down.

In the old days, a savvy party chairman would step in and knock heads, but Howard Dean is no Bob Strauss (a point Ruth Marcus made on This Week). Dean’s shown little interest in intervening. And his suggestion that this can all be worked out by the DNC credentials committee would mean the nomination might be left undecided until August, with a gigantic rules fight dominating the Democratic Convention and the summer news.

So for Clinton either a full re-vote (perhaps funded by donors favorable to her campaign) or a quagmire leaves her alive to fight another day. For now the latter seems more likely.

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The Religious Left

For the last quarter-century, the MSM has focused almost all of its coverage on faith on the religious Right. One of the consequences of all the attention being given to the hate-filled sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that it will draw attention to the religious Left in America.

It strikes me that the religious Left commits some of the same fundamental errors as the religious Right did during its heyday: too closely associating Christianity with politics; implying that a proper reading of the Bible will easily translate into a partisan agenda; tending to belittle and demonize political opponents. Both Pat Robertson’s and Jim Wallis’s willingness to vulgarize their Christian faith in order to advance their political agendas has been problematic for both sides.

But where the religious Left has set itself apart is in its stand on political issues. It was wrong, profoundly wrong, in its views on the nature and threat of Soviet communism; on its enchantment with “liberation theology” and Marxist dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega; in its unmitigated hostility toward capitalism; in its one-sided criticisms of Israel; in its opposition to welfare reform. The list goes on. And as Reverend Wright has reminded us, there is a very deep, almost bottomless, hatred for America that runs through the hard Left and among some on the religious Left.

For decades, all the media glare has been on the short-comings of the Robertsons and Falwells. Fair enough: they are deeply flawed figures. But it’s long past time to concentrate attention on the words and mindset of those on the hard religious Left–people who attempt to pretty up the noxious views of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky in the garb of religious faith and “social justice.”

If Jeremiah Wright’s ugly sermons highlight for Americans what the Left is preaching from its pulpits–and what they need to be held accountable for–that will be all to the good.

For the last quarter-century, the MSM has focused almost all of its coverage on faith on the religious Right. One of the consequences of all the attention being given to the hate-filled sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is that it will draw attention to the religious Left in America.

It strikes me that the religious Left commits some of the same fundamental errors as the religious Right did during its heyday: too closely associating Christianity with politics; implying that a proper reading of the Bible will easily translate into a partisan agenda; tending to belittle and demonize political opponents. Both Pat Robertson’s and Jim Wallis’s willingness to vulgarize their Christian faith in order to advance their political agendas has been problematic for both sides.

But where the religious Left has set itself apart is in its stand on political issues. It was wrong, profoundly wrong, in its views on the nature and threat of Soviet communism; on its enchantment with “liberation theology” and Marxist dictators like Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega; in its unmitigated hostility toward capitalism; in its one-sided criticisms of Israel; in its opposition to welfare reform. The list goes on. And as Reverend Wright has reminded us, there is a very deep, almost bottomless, hatred for America that runs through the hard Left and among some on the religious Left.

For decades, all the media glare has been on the short-comings of the Robertsons and Falwells. Fair enough: they are deeply flawed figures. But it’s long past time to concentrate attention on the words and mindset of those on the hard religious Left–people who attempt to pretty up the noxious views of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky in the garb of religious faith and “social justice.”

If Jeremiah Wright’s ugly sermons highlight for Americans what the Left is preaching from its pulpits–and what they need to be held accountable for–that will be all to the good.

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Even More About the Goofball

Why was Admiral William “Fox” Fallon forced into retirement? Mark Perry, a director of Conflicts Forum, offers his take in Asia Times. He points like others have to Thomas Barnett’s Esquire profile, which he says “has to rank as one of the most embarrassing portraits of an American officer in US military history. Both for Barnett, as well as for Fallon.”

One problem is Barnett’s style. Perry describes it as being in “pseudo Tombstone style — a kind of vague signaling that this is just-between-us tough guys talk – Barnett presents a military commander who is constantly on the go, trailing exhausted aides who never rest (oh, what a man he is!): Fallon doesn’t get angry (he gets ‘pissed off’); he doesn’t have a father (he has an ‘old man’); he doesn’t spend time (he does a ‘stint’); he doesn’t walk (he ‘sidles’); and he doesn’t talk, ‘he speaks in measured koans’.”

But it is not such lather alone that is the problem. Writes Perry,

[he’s] boorish and, very often, it’s just plain wrong. Thus, Barnett: “If, in the dying light of the [George W] Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon.”

Well, actually, yes — and no. The decision to go to war will come down to one man, but his name won’t be Fox Fallon, it will be George W. Bush. More accurately, the constitution of the United States places foreign policy in the hands of the president as the commander-in-chief and the decision for declaring war is in the hands of the U.S. Congress. Fallon’s role in all of this, as I am sure he must know, is to obey orders and to keep his mouth shut, a point that was undoubtedly made plain to him by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the immediate aftermath of the publication of this article. And, we might imagine, Gates put his objections to the article in the following terms: “Fox, just what in the hell do you think you were doing talking to Thomas Barrett?”

If that’s the question Gates posed, it was the right one. Given that Barnett is a well-known goofball, why exactly did Admiral Fallon collaborate with him? Selecting this particular journalist to write a puff-job about himself suggests that Fallon was not merely insubordinate but something of a goofball himself.

Why was Admiral William “Fox” Fallon forced into retirement? Mark Perry, a director of Conflicts Forum, offers his take in Asia Times. He points like others have to Thomas Barnett’s Esquire profile, which he says “has to rank as one of the most embarrassing portraits of an American officer in US military history. Both for Barnett, as well as for Fallon.”

One problem is Barnett’s style. Perry describes it as being in “pseudo Tombstone style — a kind of vague signaling that this is just-between-us tough guys talk – Barnett presents a military commander who is constantly on the go, trailing exhausted aides who never rest (oh, what a man he is!): Fallon doesn’t get angry (he gets ‘pissed off’); he doesn’t have a father (he has an ‘old man’); he doesn’t spend time (he does a ‘stint’); he doesn’t walk (he ‘sidles’); and he doesn’t talk, ‘he speaks in measured koans’.”

But it is not such lather alone that is the problem. Writes Perry,

[he’s] boorish and, very often, it’s just plain wrong. Thus, Barnett: “If, in the dying light of the [George W] Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon.”

Well, actually, yes — and no. The decision to go to war will come down to one man, but his name won’t be Fox Fallon, it will be George W. Bush. More accurately, the constitution of the United States places foreign policy in the hands of the president as the commander-in-chief and the decision for declaring war is in the hands of the U.S. Congress. Fallon’s role in all of this, as I am sure he must know, is to obey orders and to keep his mouth shut, a point that was undoubtedly made plain to him by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the immediate aftermath of the publication of this article. And, we might imagine, Gates put his objections to the article in the following terms: “Fox, just what in the hell do you think you were doing talking to Thomas Barrett?”

If that’s the question Gates posed, it was the right one. Given that Barnett is a well-known goofball, why exactly did Admiral Fallon collaborate with him? Selecting this particular journalist to write a puff-job about himself suggests that Fallon was not merely insubordinate but something of a goofball himself.

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More on “Experts” Power and Malley

This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malleyformer and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.

Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.

Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.

Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.

In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.

This weekend, the New York Times covered the trials and tribulations of Samantha Power and Robert Malleyformer and current Obama advisers, respectively, whose remarks on the Middle East have drawn fire. Unsurprisingly, much of this coverage trivialized their critics: a Daily News headline deriding Power as “Pretty Dumb!” was portrayed as representative, while Malley’s detractors were dismissed as “a handful of Jewish bloggers.” As I wrote last week, one need not be Jewish to observe that Malley has frequently called events in the Palestinian political sphere blatantly wrong, while Noah Pollak and Martin Kramer’s dissections of Power’s statements demonstrate that the attacks on Power have been substantive, rather than ad hominem.

Yet the real story behind Power and Malley’s poor public receptions should have little to do with their critics. After all, we were merely responding to their previous statements. Rather, the scrutiny that Power and Malley have faced should provide a cautionary tale regarding the limits that aspiring experts must obey if they value their credibility.

Let’s start with Power. Prior to achieving “top adviser” status on Barack Obama’s foreign policy staff, Power had established herself as a certifiable expert on genocide: from 1993 to 1995, she covered the Yugoslav wars as a correspondent in Bosnia, and she later traveled to Rwanda. Her first book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, drew on these experiences, exploring American responses to the genocides of the 20th century. Yet as her star kept rising, Power seemed to forget the limits of her true expertise, acting as if her study of genocide had imbued her with expertise in just about anything foreign policy-related. Downright ignorant statements on Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed, with critics rightfully questioning her depth as a consequence.

Malley’s story is different: although he has limited his statements to his area of expertise-the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-his writings frequently reflect the triumph of ideology over analysis. In this vein, Malley has continually furthered the myth that Palestinian national unity is an attainable prerequisite for Israeli-Palestinian peace, thereby advocating policies that have ultimately strengthened Hamas and undermined U.S. interests. For example, as I noted last month, Malley supported the inclusion of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections, and later predicted that the 2007 Hamas-Fatah Mecca Accord-which ended with Hamas seizing Gaza barely four months after its signing-would likely hold. Indeed, the scrutiny that Malley has faced is not a matter of pro-Israel bloggers vocally disagreeing with a pro-Palestinian expert on key assumptions. Rather, at issue is how Malley’s gushing over Yasser Arafat has motivated bad policy analysis.

In short, two lessons can be drawn from Power and Malley’s poor public receptions. First, aspiring “experts” should stick to their areas of expertise. Second, they should avoid the interference of political sympathies with policy analysis. Sadly, neither Power-who argued that her critics were really just attacking Obama-nor Malley-who thought that revealing his Jewish identity would allay his detractors’ concerns-seems to understand this.

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What Juan Williams Said

Juan Williams hit the nail on the head during his appearance on Fox News Sunday. He explained the importance of the Reverend Wright issue . (It is worth watching just for the reaction shots of the other Fox commentators, who can only observe in awe and stifle the urge to interrupt while Williams is on his roll). This goes to “character and judgment,” Williams explains, because we now can see that Obama was playing games on the race question. He exploited, in other words, his connection to Reverend Wright when it was to his advantage in the past, but is now playing to the public’s yearning for racial unity, since it better serves his presidential ambitions. For bonus points, Willaims explains how the brand of noxious black nationalism and paranoia exemplified in Wright’s sermons leads to statements like Michelle Obama’s.

Now, will average Americans be as insightful as Williams? Maybe not. But ordinary voters, I think, will sense that Obama has not been straight with them. Since his entire campaign is focused on him–his authenticity, his judgment, his blinding redemptive power to bring us all together– this is not just a bump in the road. This is the “ah ha!” moment Hillary Clinton has been hoping for, when voters do a gut check about Obama and perhaps decide there’s less there (or something altogether different) than meets the eye. Whether it will be enough to dislodge him from the lead in the race remains to be seen. After all, to do that, Democrats would have to decide that the Clinton they know is better than the Obama they’ve come to doubt.

Juan Williams hit the nail on the head during his appearance on Fox News Sunday. He explained the importance of the Reverend Wright issue . (It is worth watching just for the reaction shots of the other Fox commentators, who can only observe in awe and stifle the urge to interrupt while Williams is on his roll). This goes to “character and judgment,” Williams explains, because we now can see that Obama was playing games on the race question. He exploited, in other words, his connection to Reverend Wright when it was to his advantage in the past, but is now playing to the public’s yearning for racial unity, since it better serves his presidential ambitions. For bonus points, Willaims explains how the brand of noxious black nationalism and paranoia exemplified in Wright’s sermons leads to statements like Michelle Obama’s.

Now, will average Americans be as insightful as Williams? Maybe not. But ordinary voters, I think, will sense that Obama has not been straight with them. Since his entire campaign is focused on him–his authenticity, his judgment, his blinding redemptive power to bring us all together– this is not just a bump in the road. This is the “ah ha!” moment Hillary Clinton has been hoping for, when voters do a gut check about Obama and perhaps decide there’s less there (or something altogether different) than meets the eye. Whether it will be enough to dislodge him from the lead in the race remains to be seen. After all, to do that, Democrats would have to decide that the Clinton they know is better than the Obama they’ve come to doubt.

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